Sanders and Corbyn: Two Coalitions Compared

The remarkable campaigns of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders were supported by certain left constituencies while being rejected by others.  Itemizing what some of these were provides important information about where the left’s strengths and weaknesses lie and how we should direct our energies in the future.

1) Organized Labor

British unions almost unanimously endorsed Corbyn while over here, with a few honorable exceptions,  they just as unanimously rejected Sanders. As I pointed out previously, the latter was a gigantic fuck-up which was almost certainly decisive in Sanders’s defeat.

2) Party Establishments

Both the institutional Democratic and Labor parties were deeply hostile, though in the case of Labor the hostility was slightly mitigated by the traditional left maintaining a presence within the LP “back bench”. In the DP, New Deal liberals had been almost entirely purged by the neoliberal juggernaut of the 1980s and 1990s.  This brings up the observation that the absence of a Sanderite “bench” is a serious obstacle to the chances of it moving forward.  Our Revolution, Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, all of which I strongly support, have been conspicuously unsuccessful so far in rectifying what may be a fatal liability.

3) Liberal/Moderate Left Media

The British press’s slanders of Corbyn were truly stunning in their relentlessness and dishonesty and extended across the political spectrum.  In contrast, the contempt for Sanders while dominant, and which sometimes included the liberal left, didn’t always do so. One example is sufficient to give an idea of the difference: the vicious rejection of Corbyn by the Guardian compared to The Nation which combined Clintonite talking points and approved smears form Katha Pollitt and Joan  Walsh with an official endorsement of Sanders.  Also, over here, In These Times, the Progressive and even The New Republic were at least minimally supportive, providing some balance to the predictable ridicule and contempt of the mainstream. Nowhere near what was necessary, but, in sharp contrast to the solid wall of derision from the establishment left media that Corbyn confronted,

4) The Far Right

It’s unclear how many UKIP voters returned to Labour, though at least some did with Labour gaining seats in its traditional strongholds in the North, as Paul Mason suggests on today’s Democracy Now. Both Corbyn and Sanders actively courted this constituency, refusing to concede these regions and those victimized by the post-industrial economy to the right. Clinton famously denigrated them as irredeemably racist “deplorables” as do elements of the the “hard” left (see below) now targeting them for “Nazi punching.” This, as I pointed out previously. is a suicidal strategy which will contribute to ensuring continuing right wing dominance of what should be at least swing districts, if not strong support of a Sanders type insurgency.

5) Socialist/Marxist “hard” left.

Self-defined independent socialists or Marxist organizations remain marginally influential on the left though probably more so there than here.  For years, the most important of these was the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) which was gravely damaged by a sexual assault scandal in 2013.  This may have been  a blessing in disguise: Had they remained viable, they would have been invested in protecting their own brand possibly resulting in a rejection of Corbyn and a fracturing of the coalition.  After its implosion, a significant core of the SWP migrated to the left wing of the LP, functioning within Corbyn’s campaign.  In sharp contrast, the alphabet soup of left sects here were largely hostile to Sanders, maintaining a steady stream of villification of him as a “sheepdog” herding activist energies into a Democratic Party which, according to the longstanding criticism, functions as “a graveyard of social movements.”

6) Greens

It is notable that the sheepdog term was invented by a Green Party operative who, with some justification, regarded the Sanders insurgency as presenting an existential threat to the national GP. The Greens by and large served as a small but perhaps not insignificant obstacle to achieving the broad coalition which a Sanders victory required. In contrast, rather than embracing their role as spoilers, as did Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein,  British Greens stood down in many close local elections likely providing a crucial margin of victory for Labour in several seats.

7) Corbyn vs. Sanders Rhetoric

Both Corbyn and Sanders self-identify as socialists but are conspicuously and rigorously undogmatic banishing entirely the insular, off-putting and frankly ugly Marxist jargon of the verticalist left. Corbyn, in what may be his most beautiful speech (and yes, John Cassidy/New Yorker, many of his speeches are rhetorical masterpieces), states that he doesn’t care what you call his form of politics. “I call it socialism. You might call it sharing. It doesn’t matter.” (That’s a paraphrase-need exact quote). Sanders rhetorical styles is similar resulting in attacks from the hard left for not being “a real socialist.”


The bottom line seems to me that Sanders had significant disadvantages which were not due to his campaign or platform both of which were similar in many crucial respects to Corbyn’s. Rather Sanders’s set-backs were imposed on him due to importantly dysfunctional elements within the left, such as it is.

We will need to deal with these if a comparable insurgency is to succeed here.


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2 thoughts on “Sanders and Corbyn: Two Coalitions Compared”

  1. The Financial Times has polling information up that shows, amongst other things, vote shifts between the 2015 election and now. If these are accurate, than the Conservatives were the greatest beneficiaries of the UKIP by far, with over half of the membership defecting to vote for them. Labor did gain some voters from UKIP, but they gained larger amounts individually from the Lib Dems, Greens, and even the Torys. The class assessment doesn’t seem to hold up, either, since Labor appears to have offset a massive decrease in working-class support with a massive increase in middle-class support. If there’s a deciding factor at play, it would appear to be age over anything else.

    I don’t see anything, either from data or anecdotally, to support the idea that Corbyn “actively courted” far right voters, and if he did, he certainly wasn’t very successful. I’m in complete agreement with you regarding Nazi punching, but I don’t think this is a case that proves that point.

    (polling data from

    1. Thanks. That’s very useful.

      I was basing my assertions on the following anecdotes from Paul Mason’s Democracy Now interview:

      “We added 3 million votes to 9 million we already had. What were those votes? Well, in the last election, two years ago, a quarter of young people under the age of 24 voted. Last night it was 72 percent. But it wasn’t just that. Corbyn mobilized the previously conservative-minded white working class. We think we were getting at least a third, maybe more, people switching from our equivalent of the alt-right to Corbyn, working-class families on extremely low incomes who—you know, all this terrorist scare stuff was targeted at them, but they saw Corbyn offering them something: hope, in general, and money, specifically, absolute pots of money taken from the rich, through wealth taxes and through income tax, and given to them.”


      “(W)e sent teams of campaigners, and some of them trained by people from the Sanders campaign who came over here—we sent them to two constituencies, two voting areas, that the party HQ said could not be won. And they tried to turn them away. They said, ‘Go to places that we need to win, not these crazy places.’ We won both of them. In other words, we, I think, are able to now inspire our colleagues on the center and right of the Labour Party, and as I think the Democrats—you know, the left of the Democrats are going to have to engage their centrist colleagues, in action, by showing that it can be done.”

      Mason doesn’t specify what regions these “working class voters” derived from, or where the “teams of campaigners” ended up being successful. I assumed “the industrial North,” though if you’re right, I shouldn’t have. In any case, it was reasonable to expect that the bulk of UKIP voters would have gone to the Tories. The question is whether Labor was able to peel off some not insignificant fraction of them. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that, even if they didn’t succeed in doing so this time, they might in the future.

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