Eric Lee (“A socialist President in the White House?”, Solidarity 390, 20 January 2016) is right that, were Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic presidential nomination, it would represent an “earthquake” in American politics. But is he also right to argue that the success of Sanders’s campaign is a vindication of those on the American left who attempted to orient it away from independent party-building, and towards intervention in the Democrats? I’m not sure.
Sanders has committed in advance to supporting Hillary Clinton if she wins the nomination. That was an effective precondition of being taken seriously as a Democratic primary candidate. But in doing so, he risks reducing the dynamic, energetic, and radical movement that has developed around his campaign into little more than an electoral stage-army for the very neo-liberal politics he has spent his campaign denouncing, which Clinton represents as surely as the Republicans. And if he wins himself, which, while still unlikely, cannot be discounted as a possibility, his lack of any perspective for building a socialist, or even social-democratic, party-type organisation independent of the Democrats will leave him firmly within the confines of a framework that is not really a “political party” system at all, but a factional struggle within the ruling class for the right to administer American capitalism and its state.
Running as a Democrat rather than an independent has, it’s true, given Sanders a media profile and access to platforms he would not otherwise have had. But it has also trapped him in the same system he calls for a “political revolution” against. He’s trapped inside a building, in other words, that has very reliable shock absorbers to deal with the “earthquake” his victory would represent.
Eric seems to have been blinded by the light somewhat over the last six months. Back in July, in Solidarity 372, he was busy calling out “the problem with Bernie Sanders”, namely that his campaign had no perspective for building an ongoing, independent organisation of the left. (It might be noted that, as the official organiser of the Sanders campaign amongst American citizens living in the UK, Eric is probably better placed than any of this paper’s other columnists or readers, or indeed any of the residents of these islands, to do something about this.) Eric believes this organisation could “be built inside the Democratic party or outside of it”, an assessment I disagree with, but he was clear in his emphasis that the necessary perspective was one of independent organisation, to create an insurgency that would break out of the existing framework of American politics. In January, that seems to have gone out the window, in favour of a laudatory article praising Sanders’ decision not to chart an independent course. I’m with the Eric of issue 372! I