Sanders’ Challenge to the Right–and Left

For a while, I’ve been making the case that the Sanders campaign should be supported based on its potential for destabilizing the Democratic Party thereby opening the field for independent, third party alternatives.

By this point it is apparent that it has done just that.

But there’s an even stronger argument to be made and that is that whatever its effects on the Democratic Party, Sanders’s run has already benefitted millions.  The way that it has done so is by making the establishment aware of a substantial, organized block to its left which has the ability to pose a real threat to its dominance. Recognizing that their hold on power depends on their ability to begin to address the massive suffering which is everywhere apparent, they are required to respond, albeit within limits imposed by the plutocratic class whose interests they serve.*

That something of the kind is now occurring on the national level is most conspicuous in shifts in Clinton’s stances on the minimum wage, trade agreements, campaign finance, a federally subsidized jobs program and banking reform. These, as minimally skeptical observers are aware, have little chance of materializing in a Clinton II administration, likely to offer, in a recapitulation of Clinton I, neoliberal austerity accompanied by “I feel your pain” rhetoric.

Much more consequential than Clinton’s rhetoric in response to Sanders are changes in substance which have already benefitted millions. One example is the significantly higher wages, benefits and working conditions achieved for tens of thousand of workers due to the favorable resolution of the Verizon strike. The settlement, as CWA director Bob Masters noted in a recent interview was crucially aided by “a credible national candidate for president on a nationally-televised debate calling out the CEO of a big corporation.”  In conversation with other union leaders, Masters deadpanned that unionists should “remind ourselves never to call a strike again unless it’s one week before a competitive New York state primary in which a socialist is running.”

It is not only Verizon employees who have benefitted from the Sanders campaign. As Zaid Jilani reported in The Intercept, Sanders having made expanding rather than cutting Social Security a “central theme” of his campaign has resulted in Obama now calling for an “increase (in) benefits ‘so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned.’”  This as Jilani notes, is “a far cry from Obama’s position on the program in late 2012, when his administration argued for reducing Social Security benefits by recalculating the way cost of living adjustments are made” via the chained CPI.

The direct beneficiaries are retirees and the disabled who will now have a few extra hundred dollars in their pockets each month, making the difference for some between a decent life and destitution.

As has been frequently noted  these positive results were more or less predictable based on the previous history of serious left electoral challenges to the establishment center.  It comes as no surprise that they were bitterly opposed by elites who contributed billions to the Clinton campaign hoping to strangle the Sanders campaign in the crib, and heading off the shift in the center which it would necessarily presage.  As is now apparent, they did not succeed.

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While despicable, the response of the corporate right makes perfect sense.  What is baffling is not their predictable hostility but that of a small but not insignificant portion of the left which committed itself to ensuring that, in their words, no one should “become a campaign volunteer, do phone banking, door knocking, get the vote (sic.), and certainly don’t send (Sanders) a dime of your money.”

Fortunately, for the significant fraction of the working class already benefitting from Sanders’s run, enough of us rejected their advice and did the exact opposite. Had more of us been more active, it is not impossible that we could now be celebrating a major party nominee who would be in a position to force still greater concessions from the system.

While that was not in the cards, we should be aware that some of the same forces on the left who were dismissing Sanders then are now advising the left not to bother opposing the nightmarish candidacy of Trump.

We should have long since learned to ignore the segment of the left who have become reconciled to defeat, dragging the rest of us down with them.  The job of the left is not to provide therapy for a few sociopaths**, it is to reach out to and help the countless millions who are the perpetual victims of a violent, exploitative and increasingly corrupt economic and political system.

The Sanders campaign has shown that we are capable of doing just that and we need to do it more.

*The electoral success of the New Haven Green Party which I participated in (detailed here) resulted in a leftward shift of the Democrats, as did victories by the San Francisco Green Party and, more recently, the Vermont Progressive Party.

** Noam Chomsky has recently weighed in along similar lines: “This is kind of ‘feel-good’ politics; I gotta do what makes me feel good, not [engage with] what happens to the victims. You see this all over the place, and it’s a real defect of the activist Left. You have to think about the consequences for the victims, not whether you feel good about it. It doesn’t matter if you feel good about it.”

4 thoughts on “Sanders’ Challenge to the Right–and Left”

    1. It doesn’t strike me as obvious that it is necessarily a good idea to do so for two reasons. 1) The Greens have failed miserably to do what they should have been doing for four decades-build from the bottom up, i.e. from a local level, an electoral infrastructure. Rather they have focussed to a much greater degree on national elections in which their showing has been embarrassing. (Bernie got more votes losing Queens than Stein did in the entire country.) The reason for this is institutional-they have a national office whose salaries are based on maintaining their national profile and fielding national rather than local candidates, exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. So there’s an inherent problem with their organizational structure which will be aggravated by their receiving an infusion of cash via the Stein campaign. 2) The Greens third way ideology, which , as you know, has its roots in their history in opposition to the left wing parties in Europe in the 70s, is explicitly hostile to socialism in some instances and in many instances explicitly pro-capitalist. As Sawant (and Sanders) have shown, the time is ripe for a party which not only socialist in fact but in name also. Supporting the Greens would be a step backward.
      So there are two reasons for skepticism. Not sure what I’ll do but seems to me they should be kept in mind.

  1. Sam-A good step, though given the near total organizational dysfunctionality of the Greens it’s pretty hard to have much confidence that it is reflective of anything other than a few people got together and decided it was a good idea.

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