If we quit the Race to the Correct Position, cool off and shut up a little bit, we might actually get something done

By Jay Monaco

(Author’s Note: I am a dues-paying member of Socialist Alternative in good standing, but the following represents my own views, and my own views alone. It should not be interpreted to reflect the opinion of any SA branch, nor CAJE, nor the other members of the Communique Collective. It is not intended to be a challenge to democratic centralism or even to indicate the beginnings of a military coup. It has not been vetted, edited, or endorsed by anyone, which is how I prefer it.)

There is a prevailing notion on the Left today that a substantive intramural debate is underway between the parties and factions as to how best to deal with the frustrating Bernie Sanders campaign and how to address the swelling ranks of his supporters. This is, at best, an illusion. At worst, it’s a self-deception. The truth is, nobody is talking in any practical way about how to deal with the Sanders campaign or how to address his supporters.

Are we going to get serious? Do we want to?

What’s actually the plan? Does anybody know?

On one end of the spectrum, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have joined the bandwagon wholesale. Their general position seems to be that there are some positive things about the Sanders campaign, some positive things are better than no positive things (the usual), so let’s chalk it up to a win. We deserve to feel good sometimes. Don’t fight it. We’re gonna realign it all, man! Feel the Bern!

I mean, okay. It’s certainly tempting, but at the end of the day, the Power of Positive Thinking isn’t usually considered a legitimate political outlook or strategy.

The parties further to the left have primarily taken an absolutist approach of opposition. The campaign is bourgeois sheepdogging, Bernie’s an imperialist capitalist shill, elections suck, and Bernie’s supporters are a bunch of idiots, PERIOD. End of discussion, we win the socialism.

On closer examination, pretty much everybody agrees about the sheepdogging aspect, and most of us also agree that Bernie is a – de facto if not de jure – imperialist capitalist shill. The rest of the Leftist Champion approach actually boils down to the antithesis of strategy, a hollow declaration of dialectical superiority and a return to normal operations, whatever those might (or might not) be. This approach could even be made more palatable were it coupled with an alternative path forward rather than an embrace of crypto-elite obscurity, but it never is.

Somewhere tumbling about in the middle lie Socialist Alternative (SA), the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and the Greens. For those keeping score, that’s the two big Trotskyist groups aligned with the Green Party, a confusing, occasionally anti-capitalist party whose organizational acumen grants them name recognition even if nobody comprehends what exactly they’re all about.

All three of these groups should be commended for the adoption of nuanced positions on the Sanders campaign. After all, like most political matters that involve breathing people rather than mere ideas, this is a nuanced issue. There’s a lot of gray here. Any practical strategy that is to lead to tangible long-term results requires grappling with that nuance. Nuance on the left is usually a sign we are doing something right.

What has thus far proven difficult for each of these three groups is defining this middle ground, carving and claiming a particular slice of it. It started on May 5, with the ISO’s Ashley Smith penning “The Problem with Bernie Sanders.” The piece represents a concise, compelling, and effective summary of Sanders’ deficiencies, his betrayal of the version of left-wing politics that he himself espoused for decades, and makes the case that some of the end results of this campaign could be very damaging to the broader left if not mitigated. His position (and by extension that of the ISO) differs from the dismissive purists in the sense that there is an acknowledgement that the electoral arena must not be abandoned, a recognition that some form of positive alternative strategy is needed, and no counterproductive desire to scorn Sanders’ supporters as feeble lost lambs.

This was followed, on May 9, by the Socialist Alternative position, delivered via Philip Locker, which was met with much more criticism than the ISO’s – even, in some cases, from SA members themselves. With no disrespect intended toward Comrade Locker, the critics can perhaps be forgiven for finding it confusing; the piece begins with effusive praise for many of Sanders’ policies, lightly criticizes others, denounces Sanders’ run as a Democrat while expressing a bizarre hope that he will change his mind about running as an independent after dropping out of the primary. After noting that Sanders is, theoretically at least, the furthest to the left of any national politician in at least a couple of generations, there’s a bit of a tenuous jump ostensibly connecting this notion with the importance of building mass movements, then suggesting that, for some reason, as long as Bernie isn’t going to win the nomination, he should be supported.

Yeah, there’s no two ways about it – it’s confusing. The party members’ complaint about the statement’s lack of clarity is justified. That said, the distillation of his view by those outside the party as an echoing of the DSA’s position is unfair. While it’s true that he does at times paint a rosy picture of the Senator from Vermont, the position he states is far from unqualified support. In character, it would not be properly described as blindly optimistic so much as cautiously, strategically aspirational. This aspect is most effectively stated in the statement’s final section, in which Locker calls attention to the fact that there is much opportunity in the present moment, opportunity which should not be wasted, and we should take advantage of the positive aspects of the campaign, mitigating the negative through sympathetic engagement with Sanders supporters.

You’re not alone if you detect a difference in tone but not much of one in substance. To satiate the masses demanding more of this (no), Locker and Todd Cretien of the ISO issued new dueling statements together. This serves to clarify the primary difference between the two parties as one of approach. The ISO adopts a negative (insofar as it is primarily denunciatory) focus on Bernie’s politics, the futile, dangerous, traitorous endeavor that is running within the Democratic Party, and they want to talk with Sanders supporters. SA, in contrast, adopts a positive approach focusing on Sanders’ best policy proposals, while also rejecting his politics, and they want to talk with Sanders supporters.

There’s a joke out there among the socialists that the difference between the two is actually that SA’s statement ends in a semi-colon and the ISO’s ends in a period. Sure, leftists aren’t known for making great jokes, but it’s not all that far off. One thing both have in common? Neither of them proposes anything more specific than “engaging with the Sanders people.”

Here’s the kicker – nobody actually cares about any of this. Yes, we care. I guess it’s cool that somebody does. But as virtually all the different parties to this “debate” have pointed out in one context or another, the left is tiny and weak. I would respectfully posit that we will remain so if we use ourselves as a barometer for the things the working class cares about or, even worse, if we insist on berating ordinary people for caring about the wrong things.

I mean, come on, how is this a debate? The only leftist actors actually attempting to answer the question at all are the Trots and Greens in the middle. But not only do these groups not truly seem to disagree on any major points, so much as tone, one more cheerful than the other, but there seems to be some hesitation in terms of moving on from the tonal discussion to anything specific. There are no real tactics being defined here, and surely no strategy.

This fact is underscored by the two most recent salvos in this riveting contest: the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins’ “Bernie Sanders is no Eugene Debs” on May 26 (appearing in the Socialist Worker, an ISO publication), followed after a bit of a delay by SA’s Bryan Koulouris on July 7 (“A Response to Howie Hawkins: How to Win Sanders Supporters to Independent Working Class Politics”). Both pieces are, in fairness, at least attempts at clearly-defined proposals, even if both fall short.

Both devote the vast majority of their collective many thousands of words to subjects on which they entirely agree, whether they’ll admit it or not. At times, it seems unclear as to whether they even realize this is the case. Each of the writers uses an ostensibly competing aspect of the early 20th-century Socialist Party of America, of which Eugene Debs was a member, to illustrate, as though in unison, the agreed-upon importance of an independent workers’ party. Both of them, vehemently and enthusiastically, consider the Democratic Party to be the graveyard of social movements. Both agree that there needs to be a “Plan B” for when Bernie drops out of the race. Both agree that Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee for president, has a major role to play in all of this. Both agree that the approach toward Sanders supporters should avoid condescension. Both agree that the present moment is an important opportunity for the left to seize.

Perhaps the most significant development to be found here is the fact that both, each after their own fashion, seem to agree that we need to be organized, politically realistic, and even (gasp) politically savvy.

If you searches hard enough, of course, you can discover a few emergent differences worth noting, although a few of them might actually be based in misunderstanding rather than legitimate disagreement. When Hawkins writes, “Unfortunately, too many self-professed socialists in the U.S. have abandoned the socialist principle of independent political action. They argue instead that whether or not to support a Democrat or an independent candidate is a question of tactics, not principle,” he sounds as though he is arguing with the DSA, despite calling out Socialist Alternative by name. Whatever the deficiencies in the SA position’s clarity, it is sufficiently clear that they have indicated no such thing.

From here, Hawkins launches into an exploration of the heroic Debs and his maintenance of principles rooted in strategy throughout his participation in electoral politics. Debs’ denunciations of the major parties sound nearly identical to our “two wings of a single Corporate Party” mantra, and his approach by running with the Socialist Party was sound and admirable. To this point, however, Koulouris points out that the SPA of Debs’ era was itself the kind of inconsistently leftist party prone to damaging compromise that Hawkins decries. So is, it’s worth noting, Hawkins’ own Green Party. In fact, the SPA was something of a left-leaning umbrella sheltering everyone from left-liberals to ultra-leftists. Many people held dual membership in SPA and either more radical parties or even, yes, the Democratic Party.

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Koulouris does not suggest, as DSA members might, that the Democratic Party can itself be transformed into such a wide left-leaning canopy, but he does effectively demonstrate that Debs’ independent party membership is itself more of a gray area than some of us would like to admit. He points out that the “party also did not emerge ‘fully-formed’ as a working-class organization…it came about through splits in populist and progressive movements that consisted of farmers and small business owners alongside working-class people.” It is here, in particular, that Koulouris and SA have the edge and perhaps come closest to the heart of the matter. Their focus on Bernie’s best policies, the things even more of us agree upon, enables greater flexibility to “address consciousness as it actually exists rather than as we wish it would be.”

As I previously stated, both pieces are strongest in the sense that they aspire toward actually playing the game of politics. Things like analysis, intentional planning, competent organization, and even something as lowly as cleverness are required, not merely for victory, nor even merely for our advance, but perhaps it is required if we are to have so much as any hope of avoiding outright extinction.

Their mutual recognition that the current position of the left is one of marginalization, weakness, and diminutive numbers does not lead them fully to the question nobody is answering. That’s why, at long last, this is still not a debate. Posed seriously, the question is: What must we do to become less marginalized, more strong, and greater in number? The follow-up: How do we do those things?

Both Hawkins and Koulouris dance around the problem. While others outside of this exchange have suggested Bernie’s claim to be a socialist to be an important step toward normalizing the word in our cultural discourse, Hawkins is correct from a political perspective in recognizing the flip side, the harm inherent to confusing people as to what socialism truly is. He is practical about this, putting it forward as a necessary key component in any interaction with supporters who might be confused about the word’s meaning.

He is also correct, from the position of political reality, to scoff at the insistence held by Koulouris and others at SA that Bernie could be persuaded to run as an independent after the primary. “How can it be ruled out that if Sanders comes under intense pressure from his supporters he could be pushed further than he currently intends?” Koulouris asks. As though anticipating the question, Hawkins had previously written, “By trying to get Democratic politicians to say and do what the left wants them to say and do, the left has been engaged in a pathetic and hopeless attempt at political ventriloquism.”

With more refreshing political realism, Hawkins goes on to point out that such an independent campaign is not even logistically possible. Several states ban candidates from appearing on the ballot as an independent after running in the primary of a major party. In the states that remain, an effort would need to be started now to ensure a ballot line. No one is doing this, Sanders least of all. Hawkins here presents his party’s candidate, Jill Stein, as a central component of the political path forward, pointing out that efforts based exclusively around someone running in the democratic party might be hindering Stein – who is actually going to run as an independent candidate in this universe – in her efforts to marshal volunteers to gather the signatures required to get on the ballot.

Koulouris counters with tepid support for Stein’s candidacy, but a disinclination toward diverting time and resources to the Greens’ ballot drive when the Sanders campaign is garnering so much more attention than Stein and the Greens can hope for. Here, finally, we arrive at the closest thing to a brass tacks discussion. Here at last is a political disagreement. In dispute is which has greater strategic value, a ballot line for the kind of independent left party that both claim to be of central importance, or communicating with people where they are – in this case, as distasteful as it may seem, around a democratic primary campaign.

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The possibility explored by neither as they talk past one another is that both might be important, and with the right plan and effective implementation, both might be doable.

Further along these lines, Hawkins teeters between the brilliant and the obtuse:

“Some argue that we should just build movements outside the electoral arena for now, and that when they get big enough, an independent left party will emerge from them. Social movements making demands on the system are simply lobbying the Democrats in the absence of an independent left electoral alternative. An independent left party is needed so the Democrats are forced to respond to movement demands or lose votes to the left. Movements ebb and flow. A party is needed to keep activists organized and engaged during the downturns in social movements and provide organized support and perspectives when movements expand.”

Not only is no one arguing any such thing, but we have again the mistaken assumption of a zero-sum situation. Building non-electoral movements – recent examples being the nationwide minimum wage fight, Black Lives Matter, even Occupy to a certain degree – have, at this point, sufficiently demonstrated themselves to work a tremendous effect. Those socialists, in SA or otherwise, who advocate for issue-based mobilization, are not doing so instead of trying to form a party, or because they don’t want to form a party.

Sometimes, to be honest, I think it’s because they don’t know how. Hawkins, to be sure, has more electoral experience than virtually anyone on the Left besides Stein. He has undoubtedly been exposed to the finer points of the broader politics game, but little of this is apparent from the argument presented in his piece. I do look forward to hearing more from him on the subject.

Both Koulouris and Hawkins wrote at length about the Socialist Party of America of a hundred years ago, but neither gets into the weeds of how we might replicate that relative success. The fact is, if we quit the Race for the Correct Position, maybe cool off and shut up a little, maybe even kinda get our act together, we can effectively reach out to Sanders supporters, lay the preliminary foundation for the long process of building that party we all say we want, get Jill Stein on all 50 state ballots so the Left is at least tacitly represented in the Big Vote, and maintain our ideological purity.

In other words, we’d better be careful or we might risk actually being able to get something done. And while I, sadly, have no magical formula to hawk here today, I do have some specific strategic and tactical proposals I would present for consideration and (actual) debate.

  1. Selectiveness, Precision, and Clarity in Communication

Everyone participating in the discussion so far agrees that we should be attending Sanders events and talking with supporters. But what is our overall objective? If we’re serious about this, we shouldn’t be trying to convert the hopeful enthusiasts of relatively compassionate Keynesian capitalism into born-again Marxists. Not overnight, at least.

What I mean to say is, do we want people to listen to what we are saying? Do we want our words to be heard, much less considered? If so, we need to be deliberate. Hawkins and the ISO folks provide few specifics in this regard beyond the need to tell people that the democratic party is bad for the working class. Koulouris, on the other hand, wants to talk to them about a $15 minimum wage, a “massive jobs program”, socialized medicine, and rejecting austerity, with simultaneously presented demands that Bernie be better about police brutality and Israel and refuse to endorse Hillary.

Neither approach is sufficient. The SA approach guarantees that the audience will be confused, while the Green/ISO approach guarantees the audience will be bummed out. We’ve got to do better than that. And if it seems like I’m sounding an awful lot like mainstream political strategists with regard to “messaging,” that’s because I am. I don’t apologize. There are plenty of political tactics and methods which are inherently immoral or unjust, but most are simply tools, neutral but for the hand that wieldeth them.

I’m not talking about deceiving anyone. It’s just a matter of identifying the best way for our message to be heard and to have maximum impact. Since people don’t like to feel stupid or condescended to, we must not take a dismissive approach to their enthusiasm for Sanders. Since people don’t like it when their bubbles get popped, we can’t show up shouting about how evil the Democratic Party is or rail about how Bernie supports Israeli apartheid. Personally, these facts are of crucial importance, but it’s not about me. Our audience will hear these words and promptly tune out the rest.

In fact, because people tend to resent the feeling of being told what to do, we shouldn’t even be shaming people who want to vote for a Democrat in November ’16. “Vote your conscience,” we should tell them. “Only you can decide what’s right in the ballot booth. Just remember that real power, real democracy, and real freedom can only come from the people and the streets.”

Again, I’m not suggesting we obscure or withhold information – far from it. Whenever we encounter responsive people, we will be asked questions, and we will answer them simply and honestly – about Bernie’s foreign policy, the evil democrats, Marxism, whatever. We just have to see this more as relationship-building and less as preaching a sermon.

“Bernie’s a great guy,” should be our approach. “Aren’t we all grateful we have someone running in the primary to say all these wonderful things and advocate for all these popular social programs and key society-transforming reforms? It’s too bad he’s not going to win, though, and the other democrats are just going to preserve the status quo. We don’t want all this to die, though, right? We need a real, lasting movement to carry this on. Isn’t that what you want?”

It’s not a sales pitch for Sham-Wow or anything, nor is it a script to be copied verbatim, but it’s the kind of communicative attitude that will make people like us without realizing it – and consequently interested in what we have to say. Koulouris is right to suggest we need to discuss specific policy movements and working class causes, but we can’t rattle off 27 of them and expect anyone to walk away remembering any of it. Let’s pick three. Minimum wage is pretty good, an especially strong choice due to the recent successes in cities and states nationwide. Universal Basic Income might be an even better choice, given that it’s a more radical and destabilizing reform – and also because it is actually a much more popular notion than many people realize. What about talking to them about a support system for workers who don’t have the benefit of unions – which is most of them – a system that leads toward more easy unionization and democratization of the workplace? Rent control? Public internet? Child allowances?

We can legitimately argue what our talking points should ultimately be. In fact, that’s precisely the kind of debate I wish we were already having. It doesn’t ultimately matter which of our awesome policy proposals we choose, nor are we bound by those that Sanders is supporting. The key is to pick a small number of easily digestible concepts and present them simply, as though each were common sense (which they are, more or less).

We can’t try to be the evangelists of socialist conversion, and that’s an approach that rarely works in the long run, anyway. What we want to be is the people they remember when they’re in despair because the ride is over and Bernie’s with Hillary and the world is crashing down.

  1. Maybe We Can Cooperate

Seriously, SA, the ISO, and the Greens should work together during this election cycle. We all agree that the Sanders campaign is an opportunity to reach more people than would otherwise be possible, and we also agree that Jill Stein’s candidacy is a net positive and should be supported. Working together, in whatever fashion or form that takes, we can track Sanders campaign events, ensure there is representation from the true left, and we can collectively determine where greater focus must be allocated toward pushing Stein’s line on the ballot.

Ideally, we’d go even further than this and embark upon some actual collaboration, where we meet together, plan together, form committees together, and resemble something of a unified effort. Maybe that’s too much of a stretch. Cooperation, however, manifested in a looser affiliation, affinity, affection, and broadly common goal, should be feasible.

If even this basic level of unity is not possible or desirable, at the very least we should coordinate with one another, communicate regularly, keep all the sister parties generally informed of one another’s activities and endeavors.

How else can a true independent workers’ party begin? Surely, we all realize that there are national media cameras at these things. If we put on a good enough show, they’re gonna eventually have to talk about us, which will boost our collective position considerably.

  1. Get Their Names!

It’s important to recognize that party-building and political organization goes well beyond the warm and fuzzies of speaking truth to fellow people into the much less sexy realm of data collection. Besides straight cash, the biggest operational advantage the major parties have on us is their voter databases. They know who everyone is, where they are, how they vote, and how to get hold of them. Just as we lack access to their millions (billions, really), we cannot expect such a resource to fall into our laps any time in the foreseeable future.

One advantage of being in our insignificant little position politically is that we’re not even trying to reach the broad voting population. That’s years away. What we need to do is figure out who our people are, the ones who are sympathetic but don’t know it or haven’t yet made the leap or, maybe, nobody’s talked to them yet. For the next six months, all of our people will be at Sanders rallies.

It’s important to maintain perspective with regard to Sanders supporters and their willingness to leave the two-party system. I would estimate, optimistically, that 75% of Bernie supporters will happily, or at least quite willingly, vote for whomever the democratic nominee turns out to be. But the other 25%? Those are our people. We need to go and meet them, we need their names, email addresses, contact info, etc. I’m not talking about recruiting people into one party or another. If any of us find new members organically at Sanders events, that’s great, but if we’re showing up just to try to swell the ranks of our particular sect, we’re wasting our time.

It is here, as many other areas, in which cooperation becomes especially important. Let’s worry about who wins which recruits further down the line. For now, let’s share the contact info we get. Let’s experiment with ways we can communicate with the people we identify, be it through a Facebook group or an email list or some other more effective medium.

When the day comes, and it will, when our people experience crisis as Bernie drops out, we not only want the disappointed masses to know how to find us, we want to know how to find them.

Party building. It’s worth a shot

  1. Tangible Resources

No, I don’t mean pamphlets about the dangers of the two-party system. I mean cash money, I mean people, and I mean food and supplies. I’m not trying to be flippant. We’re all limited on the Left, and I know that, but I also know neither SA, nor ISO, nor especially the Greens, are broke. Everybody has some money, it’s just a matter of it being spent where it can do the most good. Funds for printing original, creative, carefully-worded and visually appealing literature – preferably kept to one page – would go a long way if executed properly. Cash can do many things, of course, whether it’s purchasing food or coffee for groups of people we wish to reach, social media advertising, even to seed the kind of grass roots local initiatives that are likely to boost our credibility while at the same time, perhaps, likely to outlast the Sanders campaign and provide us a bridge to our post-crisis efforts.

All three parties have people, and we need them – dedicated, committed people who will sign up to cover events and follow through so that we have a substantial and noticeable presence, especially the larger ones. One of the strengths of the Left is precisely this relatively high level of commitment among party members. Between our organizations, we can find plenty of people willing to do the work. We just have to be organized and aware enough to get people where they are most needed.

Perhaps I’m biased, but New Hampshire itself provides the perfect example. Because of the first in the nation primary, a substantial percentage of the events Sanders holds in the entirety of his campaign will be held here. The state is geographically small and easy to cover, especially considering the fact that most of the events are held in the southern part of the state. Get up here. Get the money here. Everybody – SA, ISO, Greens, and anybody else who wants in.

* * *

Everything we seek to accomplish, from educating working people, to building the strength of organized labor, to running independent campaigns, to taking advantage of the campaigns of others depends upon action. We need not hesitate. Yes, we will screw up. Mistakes encountered through tangible efforts are inevitable – but preferable to paralytic inaction without missteps. This will be a learning process for all of us, but it’s a process that can’t begin until we stop talking and actually try things. We definitely don’t have anything to lose.

Few things, after all, are as likely to draw people into a movement, to gain their confidence and enthusiasm, than seeing that movement do things. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to be that movement, the one that does things – or, at the very least, tries.

[Edit 7/20 1552: Post revised to reflect that Ashley Smith’s gender is male and Eugene Debs was active within the Socialist Party of America, not the SPUSA, which formed many decades later. Thanks to the loyal readers below for calling these errors to my attention.]

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38 thoughts on “Let’s Get It Together: A Memo to Socialist Alternative, the ISO, the Green Party, and Everyone Else about Bernie Sanders

  1. It is a good well thought out article.but I have disagree with the premise that you will grow the left by showing up at Bernie rallies while not supporting Bernie. People will see what you are doing and be turned off and be resentful. I think the left should get behind Bernie, and offer its critique in that light. It will be received much more readily. If Bernie wins then you can hold him and his supporters accountable much more effectively. In the process of supporting him you can much more effective recruit people into sa or the greens. The left need not marginalized itself so effectively all the time being so reactionary. It is clear that Bernie represents different. If you guys would honor him and the people who believe in him and their hopes you would endear yourselves to the masses who are not as intellectually sophisticated and ideologically committed.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Ed! The issue I have with that approach is that there is no “if Bernie wins.” He isn’t going to win. If we adopt this approach then, when he loses, we have neither credibility nor a position from which to speak.

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  2. Ashley Smith’s gender is male. Other than that confusion, this article makes a lot of sense.

    The far, principled left is a tiny, insignificant, thing. It’s not only marginalized, I think it has declined in influence since it had a mass audience circa 1999-2005. It hasn’t been able to turn flash in the pan movement interventions into larger numbers, much less sustainable movements. It’s produced a lot more former members than it has memberships.

    Though we may be proud of what little good we have done in our own circles, or what moral witness we have born, there is no correctness to defend there. The old allegiances and divisions appear increasingly irrelevant and burying ourselves in history books or “traditions”, however helpful, has not translated in results.

    I think most smart members and ex-members of these groups realize they can learn more, and accomplish more, by having planning discussions with broader circles: rather than waiting for “the centre” to come up with a really smart plan independently. If we’re going to accomplish anything at all, it will come from horizontal communication and joint action.

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  3. Socialist Alternative’s position is an attempt to have it both ways — be supportive of Sanders but don’t endorse him. This is problematic at best, deceptive at worst, and now that Sanders supporters have caught on, they are pissed! See here, here, and here.

    The ISO and the Hawkins/Stein Greens are hiding their sectarianism behind the sheepdog ‘analysis’. I can tell you right now, as someone who has been active in the Sanders campaign since he announced, that neither group wields any influence among his followers or the campaign’s organizers. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

    Even worse (from the ISO/Hawkins Green standpoint), none of us are even open to hearing whatever criticisms ISO/Greens have of us or Sanders because they see us as duped sheeples and/or the enemy. The more ‘nuance’ these groups develop with regards to the Sanders campaign, the more energy they waste since, as you say, none of care why you hate and/or oppose us and/or Sanders and/or his strategy.

    However, we are very interested in the doings of the pro-Sanders Greens who apparently are being suppressed in some places by the Green Party leadership. Many/most Sanders supporters say they’ll vote for Stein despite all her trash-talking about us if Clinton wins the nomination or won’t vote at all but the antics of Hawkins, Stein, and the overall Green Party have almost burned whatever bridges and friendliness that existed previously between left-wing Sanders supporters and the Greens. It would take a lot of hard work and persistent good faith efforts for the Green Party to undo this damage, but I see no evidence that they care to do anything along these lines. So what will happen as a result of all this? The Green Party will emerge from 2016 weaker organizationally and in terms of grassroots support than it has ever been even though the Sanders campaign will likely drive up Stein’s presidential totals just as Zephyr Teachout’s primary campaign against Gov. Cuomo drove up Hawkins’ vote into 5% territory.

    You’re welcome, Howie. For all his experience, he’s still rather clueless about how to build a third party. For that, I recommend studying the tactics and strategies of the Vermont Progressive Party, the only successful left third party in the country operating on the city and state levels.

    The only socialist group with any cred among Sanderistas is Democratic Socialists of America because they did the right thing and have not only endorsed Sanders but are putting time, effort, money, resources, and man/womanpower into campaigning. People are linking Sanders’ “democratic socialism” to DSA, discussing DSA articles, and so on.

    I personally think it would be great if DSA and the reds and Greens all got together and formed a coherent left faction/Red-Green Army operating within the Sanders campaign because they could act as a pull away from endorsing Clinton if Sanders is defeated and, more importantly, we could really use people who know what they’re doing and are familiar with politics and basic concepts of socialism and capitalism, but I’m not holding my breath for sects to change and play a progressive role in actually existing struggles. They seem content to piss away a historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach and influence a truly mass audience and the direction of national politics for the sake of trying to force-fit 20th century principles into 21st century conditions.

    I’m glad there’s at least one blog/blogger out there among these groups that is independent-minded enough to at least pose some hard questions that the pseudo-debates in the left sects raise and — despite my harsh words above — I look forward to comradely discussion of these issues. It’s long, long overdue.

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    1. After a severe bout of writer’s bloc, part 2 is finally getting underway. Do you want me to send in just part 1 first since the combined length of the response to your 2 questions would induce a severe case of TL;DR to all but your most dedicated readers? That would also buy me time to finish part 2 and possibly incorporate responses to my arguments addressing your first question.

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  4. I think we have to start with a sense of perspectives, mainly the need for the US working class to have its own movement, leading towards its own political party, independent from Corporate America. It seems to me that that is the task of the hour – not what we socialists want, but what history imposes. Then we have to look at how a political party is build, especially in this country. Only then can we understand this particular event – the Bernie Sanders phenomenon. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with going to Sanders rallies and being friendly with Sanders supporters. But not at the cost of sugar coating things. And knowing a little history doesn’t hurt either. Here’s my thoughts:

    http://oaklandsocialist.com/2015/05/21/elections-and-the-workers-movement/

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  5. By the way, I should add something else: My name is John Reimann, and I was one of the founding members of Labor Militant, the predecessor to Socialist Alternative. Way back when, Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination. He didn’t have the “socialist” label, but he did have the background in the Civil Rights movement. His campaign was in many ways similar to that of Sanders, and we in Labor Militant took a similar approach. We called on him to split from the Democrats and lead a movement to build a mass workers’ party. The CWI leadership took us up on that. They pointed out that it is a serious mistake to call on a capitalist politician – no matter how “left” – to lead the workers’ movement. We discussed that and agreed; we’d made a mistake.

    Socialist Alternative is making the same mistake, but unfortunately this time it seems the CWI leadership is going along with it.

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  6. It seems that most of the stuck in the mud US Left can’t seem to jettison the System any more than Bernie Sanders himself. Why is this come every 4 years selectoral-schism the big issue in this crowd instead of building a true and nonstop functioning antiwar movement? I think it is because these big USA Today marxists are scared of confronting the US population, most of who remain enthusiastically pro military and pro militarism. So instead of doing that, they go around pretending to themselves that they are participants in what is a totally rigged corporate selection system.

    Build the damn antiwar movement, Socialists. You gave up trying to accomplish that and you have not accomplished anything since.

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    1. I think you have a point regarding the dead anti-war movement. With regard to elections themselves, I would counter that I’m not sure the left is clinging to a view of themselves as participants in a rigged selection system so much as *attempting* (albeit badly, most of the time) to take advantage of the greater attention paid by the general public to politics in general around election season.

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  7. I think what people fail to realize, including the author, is that all of these political campaigns are mostly orchestrated. All of the upper echelon campaign workers are public relations/advertizing/sales/media experts. They are there to do a job, and that is to sell their product by appealing to the consumer. They will use every trick at their disposal to do that. The two main parties use emotional triggers and manipulation. The Democrats use hope, equality, reform and fairness as their emotional trigger. The Republicans use Pessimism, latent racism and a strong Patriarchal/hierarchical trigger. We think we have a choice in who represents us, but that process has been largely manipulated by several factors. If you define the narrative and narrow the parameters of choice, you can have control of a vast majority of the outcome. Further, if you offer only two or three choices, and you get to decide what those choices are, you have pretty much complete control of the whole process. All you have to do is give the choice of either your wildest dreams, or maybe a little less than that. This is how the elite 1%’s maintain the status quo.The process of narrowing of parameters is further cemented by the Democratic Platform of super delegates and the electoral college to make sure that progressives don’t get into the main discussions and forever remain like a side group they have generously included. My opinion is that “both” parties are merely their to protect and insulate the elites and their power structure from the common rabble. If you look at the last several Presidential elections you can begin to see a pattern emerging that is pretty clear that the whole thing is an orchestrated event, like professional wrestling. The problem I see with Bernie supporters is that they seem to have had their emotions manipulated yet again by the Democratic party, and their cognitive dissonance prevents them from seeing or even acknowledging that fact. It’s frustrating for me, because it’s like trying to convince an alcoholic who is drunk to stop. The reaction is irrational and can become violent. I also have a special hate in my heart for the Democratic party for all of the betrayals I’ve endured over the years, and it is especially galling to see people that I normally share most values with falling under the old Democratic Party spell yet again when I thought they would know better. Also the time we spend squabbling about it could have been spent building a better voter platform and movement. I’m sure this is in the best interests of the elites and probably designed to do so. I pretty much think that the whole “Democratic Process” is a complete farce, but I in no way want to discourage people from participating. That would be counter productive. The way I think I’m going to go is to just wait and see if there is a chance of Bernie winning the nomination (which, going by past events will happen just about when hell freezes over). If he does win, I will support him to a certain extent, and maybe even vote for him if it comes down to the wire on this. A leftist type candidate is better than nothing I suppose. I’m pretty sure the way it will work out is by me saying “I told you so” to these people and greatly increase my measure of smugness.

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    1. I hear you – I’ve hung around the fringes of many a bourgeois campaign and I know some of the public relations/advertising/sales/media experts on contract. I get it. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  8. I’m concerned at the excessively outer and materialistic frame of this essay. Peoples’ behavior and voting of course is driven by what they think they know, and what they think they want. The origins of these things lie in the deep psyche– sometimes called the unconscious, even the soul.. but anyways, before cognitive processes. And people are not much more adept at cognition than we are at understanding the unconscious.

    Countless speakers outside politics have spoken in recent years about a crisis of civilization, crisis in capitalism, destruction of the biosphere. This comes after literally generations of us worried about nuclear armageddon, a growing awareness that ‘god is dead’, and subliminal panic there’s no “new story” anywhere.

    The bankruptcy of the ‘old story’ of excessive individualism, selfishness, and destructive competitiveness is very real. It has consequences on politics– usually driving alienation and despair, but also idealism. Having your finger on the pulse of this very powerful, deep movement would inform better policy, and more articulate public communication. There is no way forward, under the old paradigm. When you articulate the inner as well as you have articulated the outer, people will respond with near insane levels of commitment and energy.

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    1. Interested in hearing more on this, Todd. Of course, we Marxists DO by definition tend towards materialist analyses. What does articulating the inner look like to you – perhaps in greater detail? I’m certainly not opposed to the notion personally.

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  9. What’s missing in all these “position papers” is what Bernie is really after, and that is, 25-35% of the delegates to next summer’s Democratic National Convention. The Democrats’ proportional rules for their primaries and caucuses (which served Barack Obama well in 2008!) will keep Bernie in this race all the way to the end of next summer.
    This entire campaign is an act of desperation on the part of everyone involved in Bernie’s campaign, including Bernie himself. In some ways he’s actually the “anti-Nader”! Consider that Nader had been a life-long Democrat (and some would argue he still is) who went to the Greens in despair of moving the Dems. With Bernie we have a life-long “independent democratic socialist” who sees the only opening left as playing the insiders’ game of winning over the roughly one-third of Democrats who still have any adherence to a leftist ideology.
    My focus for the last couple months, and for the next few, is to demand that Bernie include in his program and to the debates among the Democrats is an opening of the political system to other voices and other choices. Specifically, we want him to call for direct popular election of the President, with a majority vote requirement, and we want him to call for a shift to proportional elections in a multi-party system. It’s the least Bernie can do, and it would be enough for me to tolerate his kowtowing to the two party system.

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    1. Interesting contrast there between Nader and Bernie and their respective political trajectories. I hadn’t considered it that way before. While I am a bit skeptical that, even with proportional awarding of delegates, Bernie will ever get the 25-35% you put forth, I’m interested in the ways in which you believe he can be pressured to include these elements in his platform.

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      1. I’m in New York and a new poll I heard about this morning shows Bernie at 19%. Along with his status as the only candidate of the “Democratic left” that number will only increase. And if he does really well in Iowa and New Hampshire, which is likely, one-third of the votes across the country become possible.
        If Bernie’s strategy is to win then he has to break through the “electability” wall and there are only two ways for him to do that. Bernie must either moderate the message, which isn’t likely at all, or he must reach out beyond the one-third of Democrats who might be receptive to his message now. That means he must appeal to “47%’ers” who don’t typically show up at general elections and never show up for the primaries, and “independent leftists” like me who need more than an appeal to our better instincts. We want Bernie to answer “the Nader question”, which is in its current form, “Should Nader have been allowed into the debates between Bush and Gore?” In fact, it might be useful to find out what he said at the time!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jesse Jackson managed to win about that many pledged delegates so it’s a pretty good chance that Bernie will win that much if not 40% or more. In any case, he’s going to shatter the old Eugene Debs record of most votes a socialist presidential candidate has received.

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      3. Eugene Debs’ vote count wasn’t complete. It’s a certainty that many of his votes around the country weren’t reported. He was also running in a general election, against a Democrat, so it really isn’t the same thing, is it?

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      4. Never said it was the same thing. But if Sanders manages to defeat Clinton as Upton beat the establishment candidate in the CA governor’s race in ’34, Sanders is a shoe-in for the presidency and he’ll crush ol’ Debs’ record by like 60-80 million votes.

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  10. I notice that many of the comments seem to focus on the impotence of the left and whether or not it can gain influence (and recruits) by “getting involved with” – which really means supporting – the Sanders campaign.

    In the first place, I think we should look at the impotence of the left from starting from the point of view of the objective situation. For many decades now, there has been a lack of motion from below – from working class and poor people. There is nothing that “the left” could have done to really alter that situation. Now, we are seeing thousands of people attend rallies for a capitalist politician, just like we did back in 1987 when Jesse Jackson ran for president. The demographics are different, but the dynamics were pretty similar. The whole thing focused around a left liberal capitalist politician and as soon as his campaign ended the crowds went home. Many of the socialist groups came to the Jackson rallies, handed out leaflets, sold newspapers. (I remember one Jackson rally in Pittsburg, CA, where Labor Militant sold over 100 papers.) There was some positive reaction to some of the literature, but that wasn’t what the whole dynamic was about. There was no thought to actually organizing to change things ourselves; it was all about supporting this particular capitalist politician.

    Isn’t it the same thing now?

    I’m not against going to Sanders rallies, but I really don’t think that “the left” is going to influence things very much — not until people are motivated more by the drive to make a change themselves. They might pick up a few recruits here and there, but that’s different from expecting these crowds of people to join the fight for socialist en masse. This doesn’t mean being opposed to the movement running its own candidates, but that’s when the political campaign flows from the mobilization of working class people rather than serving as a substitute for it.

    One last point: There was a true mass mobilization of people to assert their will recently: In Ferguson in August of last year. I was there. It looked like the entire black community had turned out. I hardly saw the presence of a single socialist group. Maybe it was just as well, though, since I doubt any of them would have known how to relate to that development.

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  11. On Sanders chances of winning the nomination: The unelected “superdelegates” are 20% of the voters at the Democratic convention. I think it’s safe to guess that 3/4 of them will vote for Clinton or some other more conservative figure. That means that Sanders has to get about 65% of the elected delegates’ votes. I can’t see how he can possibly do that.

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