Building the left beyond the Democrats

April 28, 2016

RICK GREENBLATT'S Readers' View response ("How do we describe Sanders?") to Danny Katch's SW article ("Why I won't be voting for Bernie") takes Danny's piece as a jumping-off point to evaluate Bernie Sanders' campaign on the basis of the International Socialist Organization's "Where We Stand" statement. It's not really a response to Danny's points--which, in fact, read as a strong counter to Rick. I encourage people to read the original. Here, however, I will respond to Rick's application of "Where We Stand."

First, Rick claims that since the Democratic Party's establishment overwhelmingly (and, we probably agree, undemocratically) supports Clinton at Sanders' expense, Sanders is not at this point a candidate of the party, which is one of the points where the "Where We Stand" draws a line.

But the establishment's maneuvers and partially hostile attitude to Sanders don't mean his campaign isn't strengthening the Democratic Party. By participating in its primary structure, Sanders is playing the role (with unusually strong support) that the Democratic Party's left wing always plays--convincing the broader left (falsely) that this corporate-owned capitalist party can be taken over by "the people" or the working class.

Image from

And from the beginning, when Clinton welcomed Sanders' entrance into the race, to her recent speech praising him for bringing young people and issues of inequality into the spotlight, she and the whole party establishment have seen Sanders' campaign as a net positive that they will ultimately benefit from. So one can respond to Rick's claim by saying that running in the Democratic primaries means, as a rule, that you are a candidate of the party, and this response has a substantive, and not just formal, meaning.

Next, Rick claims that Sanders meets the ISO's "Where We Stand" criterion of a "genuine left-wing" candidate. He does this by correctly stating that Sanders' domestic platform (or "program," as Rick says) qualifies on this score. Danny's piece says as much, too. But what Rick misses is that the words "genuine left-wing" and "independent" can't be separated in the analysis of the ISO's "Where We Stand." Nor can we evaluate a candidate's leftism, independence or genuineness solely by their stated platform/program.

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

Sanders puts forward strong left-wing domestic proposals (which Danny correctly embraces and runs with "independently") on education, health care, wages, incarceration, the environment, etc. But Sanders disarms his supporters for the fight to realistically achieve these--precisely because he doesn't admit that the Democratic Party "establishment" (read: structure) must be radically fought.

In this sense, you can't be a "genuine left-wing" candidate unless you are "independent" of the Democrats. That's a comment on Sanders' strategy, not his sincerity.

LASTLY, RICK says that despite Sanders' "subjective" intention to get his supporters to eventually vote Clinton, his campaign is "objectively" causing them to consider going independent, perhaps by voting for the Green Party's Jill Stein.

Firstly, if it is true that 25% of Sanders supporters say they won't support Clinton today, it should be understood that the two-party electoral system works to prevent left independence through a process in time. So the inevitable, built-in pressures of a lesser-evil election will work powerfully to lower that favorable number as November approaches.

It is true (and enormously important) that Bernie's campaign has begun to bring together a new mass left-wing constituency. Rick agrees that this constituency can either be dissipated and demoralized through the Democratic Party, or salvaged and built upon through independence from it. He argues that a primary vote for Sanders "stands in solidarity" with this all-important new constituency.

I argue that offering concrete alternatives to a vote for Sanders--building independent grassroots struggle, voting for the Green Party's Jill Stein, checking out socialist organizations--can back up a principled stand against voting for Democrats in a way that neither alienates nor capitulates to Sanders supporters. This is the only position that encourages the future independence and salvage of "the Bern" as a movement.

As Rick and I agreed in a conversation earlier today, the better Bernie does in the election, the better the conditions for socialists. But that's only because his campaign creates a base that can potentially become self-determining and free of the pro-corporate Democratic Party.

We don't expect many "Sanderistas" to agree with this goal before November. But if revolutionaries can convince numbers proportionate to our size to make the leap all the way to independence, even at this early stage in the process, so much the better.
Avery Wear, Lemon Grove, California

Further Reading

From the archives