The Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is used to rallies a bit bigger than just under a hundred people. The turnout for this one was not bad, though, because it took place not in the US but in London.
Organised by Sanders supporters in London, the meeting was addressed by Sanders' brother Larry, who is a UK Green Party activist, by Owen Jones and by chair Eric Lee, who Workers' Liberty people will know better as the founder and organiser of LabourStart. Most of those present were American, but there was a good number of British lefties too.
In addition to the general interests of the topic, the discussion was very wide-ranging and informative, covering everything from gun control, to racism and the politics of America's black communities, to the nature of the Clinton campaign in London ($500 dollars to get into the last event).
Among the Americans, there seemed to be a mix of views from pretty moderate liberalism (one person argued that Sanders should redefine socialism as “entrepreneurial capitalism”) to more like socialism. Some said they were also active in the Labour Party and in Momentum, and Momentum NHS got a good response. The discussion didn't focus too much on the American labour movement (though Eric did talk about union bureaucrats backing Clinton and grassroots enthusiasm for Sanders).
I asked two question, one about the unions and one about the nature of the Democratic Party – what the huge amounts of corporate money and numerous right-wing politicians in it would do if Sanders (who was not a Democrat until this campaign) got the nomination. I didn't really get an answer, though Eric offered to speak at a Workers' Liberty meeting, an offer we will definitely take up.
Owen Jones' speech also dodged this question, talking about Labour's labour movement roots and links with the unions, but not really addressing the core nature of the Democratic machine. In other ways his speech was excellent – quoting Frederick Douglass (“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”) and highlighting the long and rich history of working-class and emancipatory struggles in America, from the Civil War to Eugene Debs' socialists to Black Lives Matter, though the problem was posed when he also seemed to include FDR's New Deal in that list.
Larry, Owen and Eric all stressed that for many years Sanders has stood by his views, even when they were unpopular, and hammered away at a clear, sharp, consistent, positive message – something the British left, of various stripes and degrees of radicalism, has not been very good at. That is what made the remarkable upsurge around his candidacy possible. Whatever we think about how American politics is likely to shift, and the limits the nature of its bourgeois two party system places on that, we should be inspired by that approach and draw the lessons for what we are doing in Britain.