Don’t get Bernt

The enthusiasm generated by the US presidential campaign of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders indicates that there are many people, particularly young people, who live “in the heart of the beast” and reject its beastliness. Among other desirable objectives, Sanders supports universal public health insurance, enhanced rights for unionists and a big rise in the minimum wage.

Through a series of modest reforms, he wants to make the United States more tolerable for those who live there and, he thinks, more economically viable. His socialism is not anti-capitalist. His notion of revolution does not involve smashing the capitalist state.

Sanders is not opposed to the beastliness of US foreign policy. He is an unashamed imperialist.

Like Jesse Jackson before him, he is also a shill for the Democrats, and not a naive one. That’s what Daniel Lopez’s comments in Red Flag issue 66 miss.

The Democratic Party is a vehicle for the US ruling class. It has had more working class and minority supporters than the Republican Party. But the gains and losses workers and minorities have made and suffered have depended on the level of struggle from below, not on the party affiliations of presidents, governors and congressional majorities.

The exploited and oppressed need a party of their own.

The Sanders campaign, as he has repeatedly insisted, will become a tributary of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency when he loses the contest for the Democratic nomination. Trying to “relate to” ordinary Sanders supporters through feverish activity on the periphery of his campaign is no route to an organisation committed to ending capitalism.

Registering people as Democrats and proclaiming the merits of voting for him just boost the credibility of his tactics within the rigged political system.

“Working alongside Sanders supporters” in that way increases the chances that they will either be demoralised or even more thoroughly coopted into the Democratic machine once Bernie is defeated and then urges them to continue the fight against the evil Republicans by mobilising for Hillary.

The minuscule forces of the US left are keen to win over people enthused by Sanders’ policies to anti-capitalist politics. They are more likely to be successful by doing two closely related things.

One is providing clear explanations, as concretely as possible, of how capitalism, including political institutions such as the Democratic Party, operates and how the system can be changed.

The Democratic Party has long been “the graveyard of social movements”. The other task of revolutionaries is to try to channel some of the energy Sanders has generated into struggles, such as those against racism or for improved wages, conditions and union rights, that build confidence in the ability of ordinary people to change the world rather than into the sewer of conventional electoral politics and faith in politicians to make things nicer for us.