Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/896/22536
Bernie Sanders campaign an opportunity to build a new party of the 99%
Tony Saunois, Secretary, Committee for a Workers' International
The US presidential election campaign represents a turning point in the country and the struggles of the working class and all those exploited by capitalism.
The two party political system is now disintegrating. US society is gripped by a mass politicisation and rejection of, or mass opposition to, the established political parties and their leadership.
26% of the electorate are registered Republicans and 30% Democrats. Yet the largest group registered are 'independents' - 43%. This indicates some of the potential support for a new party.
Both capitalist parties - Republicans and Democrats - are riven by division and upheaval. The emergence of the right-wing, racist, reactionary populist, Donald Trump, signifies a loss of control of the Republican Party by the ruling class. At the same time there is a massive struggle under way to win the Democratic Party nomination, as millions have rallied to support "Democratic Socialist" Bernie Sanders' challenge to the pro-Wall Street, Hilary Clinton.
At root, these developments reflect a massive class polarisation which has opened up. It is reflected in the enormous inequality which has opened like a chasm ripping society apart.
Following the application of 'Reaganomics' (the neoliberal policies of 1980s president, Ronald Reagan), the richest 1% saw their income increase by a staggering 270% while the rest remained stagnant or declined. If wealth distribution was the same today as in the 1970s the bottom 20% would each be $11,000 a year better off!
Among young people in particular there is a revolt against the "system" and thirst to listen to socialist ideas as an alternative to the still powerful but decaying US imperialism. The Wall Street Post carried an article entitled: "Our socialist youth: Why millennials are embracing a bad old term... This week, we're talking about the rise of socialism".
The bold intervention of the CWI co-thinkers, Socialist Alternative, (especially the victory of Kshama Sawant in the Seattle council elections), has been one factor which has contributed to developments around the Sanders campaign, and assisted in putting the issue of socialism on the table for debate in the election.
The capitalist press and media have downplayed, ignored or attacked Sanders' campaign. However, over five million people have donated to his campaign. Following his landslide wins in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii he raised a further $4 million in two days!
His results in the primaries on 16 March are an indication of his growing support. In Illinois, which includes Chicago he went from being 20 points behind to lose by only a few percentage points! In Chicago he polled 45.5% of the vote despite having the entire rotten Democratic Party machine pitted against him.
In Chicago a bitter struggle is taking place against the hated Democratic Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former Chief of Staff. Emanuel, who endorsed Clinton in the primary, is carrying out vicious attacks involving the sacking of teachers and closure of public schools. The militant teachers' union, the CTU, called a strike on 1 April, joined by fast food workers demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
In state after state, mass rallies of thousands - even tens of thousands - have taken place. One of the most recent was in Seattle - attended by 20,000 people - called at two days' notice! It was also addressed by Socialist Alternative member and councillor Kshama Sawant, who called for 'a new party of the 99%'.
Yet the undemocratic nature of the Democratic primaries and Democratic Party means that it is still unlikely Sanders will win a majority of the elected delegates.
The Democratic Party has hundreds of 'super delegates' - former and current senators, governors, presidents, party officials and others - who are mainly defenders of the ruling class and whose votes can act as a veto on Clinton's behalf.
In reality it is not a party with individual membership but an electoral machine with no democratic check or accountability.
In Arizona there is a major upheaval following Clinton's victory as it has emerged that tens of thousands of people were prevented from voting due to lack of sufficient polling stations, ballot papers and people being wrongly registered. There is a demand for a re-run of the election. But the election system is designed to block the type of revolt that is currently taking place.
Despite the fact that the un-democratic primary system and super delegates are likely to prevail and endorse Clinton, the party convention in July is set to be a battleground. This will pose the crucial question of what next for Bernie should Clinton, as is most likely, secure the nomination.
The CWI and Socialist Alternative have argued that it was a mistake for him not to run as an independent and use the campaign as the basis to build a new party of the 99% and the working class that will fight Wall Street and the ruling class.
Nonetheless, Socialist Alternative launched the 'Movement for Bernie' to try and assist those drawn to this movement to reach the conclusion of the need to build a new party and for Bernie to run independently if blocked by the Democratic Party.
What should Bernie do if he loses the convention? Urgently call a national assembly of Sanders supporters and those who want to fight to defend all workers' interests, against racism and build a new political alternative to the capitalist Republicans and Democrats and the ruling class they represent. This could lay the basis to harness the movement his campaign has unleashed and debate the next step to take the struggle forward.
If blocked at the Democratic convention his struggle should continue and he should stand as an independent or on the Green Party ticket in the November Presidential elections.
This is the way to ensure the mass movement that has developed is taken further forward and the next stage of the struggle prepared for. From this the basis could be laid to build a new party from this movement.
At the outset of his campaign Bernie declared that if defeated for the Democratic nomination he would endorse Clinton. This would risk dissipating the mass movement aroused in this struggle.
While it is entirely understandable that Bernie and many of his supporters want to defeat the right-wing Republicans and especially a racist populist like Trump or Cruz, endorsing Clinton is not the way to do this.
Firstly, it is far from certain that Clinton would be able to defeat them, such is the mistrust in her. All recent opinion polls show that the candidate most likely to beat both Trump and Cruz is Bernie Sanders.
The real fear of a big layer that standing independently could "split the anti-Trump vote" could be answered, if there was a real threat of the racist Trump winning, by Bernie standing in most states, but not in the tightly fought swing states. This would allow him to fight in the majority of other states and forge together the forces for a new party.
Standing as an independent and using this campaign to lay the basis for building a new party would ensure that a weapon is forged for the US working people to use in the struggles that will erupt under either a Clinton or Republican administration and future elections to the House of Representatives and Senate two years later.
Recently Bernie has been more conditional about endorsing Clinton. He in effect placed conditions on her saying she needed to support a programme of: Medicare for all, a single-payer healthcare system, a $15 hourly minimum wage; rebuilding of crumbling infrastructure, action on climate change, free tuition at colleges and universities, a tax on Wall Street speculation and an ending of all corporate loopholes.
This reflects the dynamic of the campaign and pressure from the new fresh forces supporting him. At the same time he wrongly raised the idea of transforming the capitalist Democratic Party rather than building a new party.
As the CWI has pointed out previously the formation of new workers' parties rarely takes place in a pure form, especially where conscious socialists or Marxists are not at the head of the process.
These upheavals in the USA have crucial lessons for the international workers' movement and are an anticipation of the developments that will rock other countries. They will have a big impact on the international workers' movement as they are unfolding in the world's largest imperialist power.
The CWI and Socialist Alternative are actively involved and participating in these struggles, assisting workers and to youth draw the conclusion that a new independent party of working people is necessary and taking the steps needed to help build it.
In The Socialist 6 April 2016:
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist readers' comments