Editor’s Note: A couple of weeks ago, I reached out to Socialist Alternative, the ISO, and the Green Party with a “memo” regarding intelligent, practical cooperation – or at least dialogue – on The Sanders Question. Despite the piece being read and shared much more widely than I would have expected – thank you, good readers – I have not received a response from any of those I addressed. What I did receive, however, was an array of intelligent, critical comments that ran the Sanders Gamut. My favorite, a wonderfully scathing pro-Sanders comment, came from “PW”, who runs the People’s War blog (which is well-written and thought-provoking and worth your time). In order to further this dialogue, which seems crucial to me, I invited PW to write a dissenting guest post expanding on his views. He’s doing me one better and writing a two-parter; the following is part one.
I do not agree with PW when it comes to any strategy centered around organizing within the Democratic Party. But, in many ways, PW is *right*; his perspective represents not so much an opportunity to argue as to hear from those on the Left – and PW is very clearly one of Us on the Left – who believe supporting Sanders is a viable strategy, to understand where they are coming from and the impression they get from our parties’ statements and positioning and repositioning.
I asked PW two primary questions:
- Can you envision a scenario in which the broader left – pro-Sanders and Sanders-skeptics – works together alongside the Sanders campaign in a productive manner? What might that look like? How could we all benefit from one another while each of us simultaneously pursues the aims we believe to be right?
- What can pro-Sanders and Sanders-skeptics forces on the left do collectively to maintain the momentum and energy that the Sanders campaign is developing if Clinton wins the nomination fight?
With gratitude and respect, here is the first part of his answer.
Can the Pro-Sanders and Sanders-Skeptic Left Unite?
It’s difficult to envision the three aforementioned organizations working together productively for common strategic ends based on their current and past practices, and if forces that agree that the Sanders campaign is a false messiah can’t get their act together to forge a compelling alternative, how can cooperation between the pro-Sanders and Sanders-skeptic camps develop? If you can’t unite with yourselves, how can you possibly hope unite with us? While we will be consumed with campaigning for Sanders with ever-increasing intensity between now and the Democratic National Convention in summer of 2016, Sanders-skeptics will be focused on… Well, it isn’t clear what (if anything) Sanders-skeptics will be actually be doing between now and summer of 2016. The cynical, defeatist sheepdog thesis leads to no practical or actionable conclusions whatsoever. Skepticism is a guide to inaction that tells only what isn’t to be done, so in addition to being dead wrong, it’s also a dead end. The unstated plan of Sanders-skeptics seems to be: wait until Sanders loses to shout “A-HA! We were right!” in the faces of Sanders supporters and hope that some of us are so jaded by our defeat that we join either the ISO, SA, or the Green Party.
What I have outlined above is actually the best case scenario facing Sanders-skeptics from the standpoint of building bridges between them and Sanders supporters. On the flip side, there are not one but two worst case scenarios from the same standpoint:
- Sanders-skeptics might spend the next year campaigning hard for presumed Green Party nominee Jill Stein. The harder they campaign, the more the potential well of goodwill among Sanders supporters towards Sanders-skeptics will be poisoned since Stein has literally claimed (on Fox News, no less) that $1 for Bernie is $1 for Hillary.
- If, in the unlikely but not impossible event that Sanders does win the nomination fight, Sanders-skeptics will then be in the unenviable, untenable, and downright absurd position of campaigning for Stein against Sanders in the general election despite their sheepdog thesis being blown to pieces.
So no matter which way I look at it, the divergence between pro-Sanders and Sanders-skeptics forces on the left is bound to grow into a chasm that will be impossible to bridge in practice. Sure, we can continue comradely dialogue and debate throughout this process but that won’t paper over the fact that for all intents and purposes we are on opposite and antagonistic sides of this struggle for the foreseeable future. Until summer of 2016, we are competing with one another for dollars, organizing time, endorsements, and organizational supremacy.
The last point I’ll make on the issue of envisioning collaboration between pro-Sanders and Sanders-skeptics might actually be the most important one: Sanders-skeptic is not an accurate description of the Green Party, the ISO, and SA position on the Sanders campaign. Just as a Sanders-skeptical voter is someone who would like to vote for Sanders but does not believe he can win, a Sanders-skeptical Green Party would be frame Jill Stein’s candidacy as the Plan B to the Plan A of the Sanders campaign such that once Plan A fails – Sanders loses to Hillary Clinton – go for Plan B.
But that is not the approach of the Green Party, Jill Stein, the ISO, or SA, and therefore it is entirely erroneous to portray them as Sanders-skeptics since, even if he wins, none of them will endorse, campaign, or vote for him in the November 2016 general election. Jill Stein’s self-defeating fringe/spoiler campaign is their Plan A and that is why they are vociferously attacking our plan A – Bernie Sanders. All three groups are, in reality, part of the anti-Sanders camp that Monaco correctly characterizes as being “absolutist,” the difference being that they are less politically tone deaf in how they voice their substantively identical opposition. And it is substance, not tone, that is critical in debating what revolutionaries and socialists should do about the Sanders campaign.