Bernie: Build a Mass Socialist Party of the Working Class!

The results are in from the final state primaries and the outcome is no real surprise. With the media, the Democratic Party machine, and big money behind her, Hillary Clinton has more pledged delegates than Bernie Sanders, and with the hundreds of superdelegates in her pocket, is all but the party’s nominee. Nonetheless, Bernie Sanders won primaries and caucuses in 22 states and more than 11 million votes. Sanders’s strong showing, including his latest victories in North Dakota and Montana, is proof that millions do not want to settle for Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump.

Given the nature of the Democratic Party and the forces arrayed against his campaign, Socialist Appeal believed that Sanders’s chances of defeating Clinton were slim, to say the least. We have consistently argued that he should have run independently of the Democrats, which represents one of the main pillars of big business rule. We think it is a mistake for him to continue his campaign within the Democratic Party. Sanders apparently believes he can influence the party platform if he stays in the race through the party convention in July. But it is Wall Street that really calls the shots in the US and the Democratic Party machine will fight tooth and nail alongside the Republicans against any reforms that threaten the wealth of the class, as modest as they may be.

The party tops are mercilessly pressuring him to get back into line. They want him to leave the race quickly so Clinton can focus on Trump, but they also want him to pull as many of his supporters as possible behind Clinton. It is a high-stakes balancing act, and you can be sure his meeting with President Obama wasn’t a friendly chat about the NBA finals. In fact, as Sanders clearly stated after the meeting, “I am going to do everything in my power, and I will work as hard as I can to make sure that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States.” He added that he planned on meeting with Hillary Clinton in the near future to discuss how they can “work together” to defeat Trump. This sounds very much as though he has made his choice—a choice that will anger and dispirit millions of his supporters.

However, this does not have to be the end of his campaign! On the contrary, we think this could be the real beginning for genuine revolutionary change.

 The working class needs its own party

The overwhelming majority of the American population are working class. If we don’t work for a paycheck, we will not eat. The small percentage at the top is the capitalist class that owns the big corporations—this top 1% owns more than the bottom 90%. In a genuinely democratic system, the majority would rule. But we are faced with a glaring contradiction: the working class in the US has no political party to represent its interests. The millionaires and billionaires have both major parties, the Democrats and Republicans. When one party is discredited, they use the other. They constantly dupe people into voting for the “lesser evil,” but eventually the inability of the “lesser evil” to ameliorate the systemic problems of capitalism brings about the “greater evil.” Both of these parties have moved so far to the right over the last four decades that it’s increasingly hard for people to tell which evil is “greater.”

The contradictions are growing and the working class is looking for a way to express itself politically. Unfortunately, the leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and NEA have not shown a way forward. For decades, the union tops have told the workers to elect Democrats, and this has led to a disastrous dead end. After eight years of the Democrats presiding in the White House, even during a capitalist economic recovery, un- and underemployment persists at high levels, wages are down, and the workplaces are brutal dictatorships of the bosses and their managers.

As a result, many workers and youth have looked to the Bernie Sanders campaign as a way to defend and fight for their political interests. Sanders identifies as a socialist and campaigns for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.” This has received a massive echo in the working class. More than 2.4 million people have financially contributed to his campaign. Millions more have given time and energy to get the word out. Given a lead, the millions in and around the Sanders campaign could form the basis of a mass socialist party in the US—a party of the working class. This party could build branches in every union, workplace, neighborhood, and school. The International Marxist Tendency believes that Bernie must break from the Democrats and call on his supporters and, in particular, organized labor, to form such a party. This will mean a new stage in the fight for socialism and for a government of, by, and for the working class.

 The cul-de-sac of the Democratic Party

“American Democracy” is the disguised rule of the capitalist class. On any major issue, the public has no say. In 2002, when Bush, with Clinton’s support, invaded Iraq, a majority of the US population did not agree and hundreds of thousands took to the streets, but this did not stop the invasion. In 2008, George W. Bush and the Democrats in Congress, supported by then-President–elect Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, bailed out the big banks and insurance companies. Most Americans opposed this. The vast majority of Americans support a single-payer health care system. But none of this makes any difference because working people do not control this country—the rich do.

A big reason the ruling class gets away with this is because they control both major parties. Many legal obstacles, big money and their control of the media hamper new parties from arising to challenge them. It was likely because of this that Bernie Sanders made a “pragmatic choice” and ran for president as a Democrat, even though he was a lifelong independent and had been highly critical of the Democratic Party in the past. This “pragmatism” led him to support the Democrats “from the outside” and work with them while he was in Congress. The problem with pragmatism, as opposed to a dialectical materialist view of reality, is that it only reveals one part of the overall process and therefore obscures reality. Bernie may have received far more coverage running as a Democrat than he would have as an independent, but in exchange he has been chained by their rules—rules that will not allow him and the working class to win.

It seems that Bernie himself didn’t expect to do so well, so he probably hadn’t fully thought through what would happen if he had actually won the Democratic nomination and the presidency. He knows full well that most of the Democrats in Congress would have sabotaged him, never mind the Republicans and Wall Street. The only way to fight against this and to win is to build a mass party that is made up of, democratically controlled by, and accountable to the working class. In such a party, members of Congress would pledge to accept a worker’s wage and donate the rest of their salary to the movement. They would be bound to fight and vote for the policies democratically determined by the membership of the party.

Trump’s whip of reaction

The Marxists explained that Obama’s election in 2008 and reelection in 2012 would mean that the “School of the Democrats” would teach workers and youth that that party provides no solution to the problems facing the masses. Drawing some conclusions from this experience with Obama, many moved to Bernie Sanders. While this happened on the left, another layer of society, including many workers disenchanted with the Democrats, as well as small business owners frightened by the capitalist crisis, started to buy into the right-populist demagogy of Donald Trump.

Trump connected with the long-simmering anti-establishment mood and defeated all 17 candidates of the party officialdom. The “neo-conservatives,” who controlled the party during George W. Bush, were elbowed out, as were the traditional Reagan Republicans. The appeal of the Republican Party in recent decades was precisely its conservatism. After the turmoil of the 1930s, World War II, and again in the late 1960s and 1970s, the party successfully tapped into the desire of millions of people to conserve what they have, to prevent tumult and change, and to maintain the status quo. But the capitalist crisis has upended the status quo and its failed defenders have been deeply discredited. Donald Trump personifies this discontent and has himself added further to the instability. He is seen as a “threat to the rule of law” by conservative scholars and has virtually single-handedly shattered the Republican Party in its modern form.

Trump is spewing openly racist rhetoric that is rarely heard in public in the mouths of serious presidential candidates. Nixon and Reagan used to use code words to wink to the racists, but would not openly speak the words that Trump has used. This is yet another sign of the degeneration and decay of American capitalism and its representatives.

However, historical experience shows again and again that reactionary attacks can turn into their opposite and can actually fan the flames of revolution. Many young people will not let Trump and his racist rhetoric go unanswered. This was seen recently in San Jose, California, and in Chicago before that. Ultimately, Trump’s campaign is creating a more politicized youth to fight against him and the class he represents. If he wins the election, his presidency will be an unstable one, to say the least.

And yet it is the very instability of life and the decrease in the standard of living that makes demagogues of the Trump variety possible. Lesser evilism will not defeat Trump. It was the failure of the Obama “lesser evil” that led to the frustration that gave rise to Trump as a viable contender in the first place. Supporting Hillary Clinton to defeat Trump is—to quote from the late David Bowie—“putting out the fire with gasoline.” If Sanders does not run in November, some polls show that as many as 20% of his supporters would vote for Trump. Trump must be fought with mass mobilizations and workers’ solidarity, but something bigger is needed—a mass socialist party armed with a program that can meet the needs of the 99%, starting with jobs for all, higher wages, free education and healthcare, public ownership of the Fortune 500, and democratic workers’ control of all workplaces. To end Trump and those like him, we must end capitalism!

The election of 1860

Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860. He came in first with less than 40% of the vote.  Usually, less than 50% of the vote would mean a defeat, but there were four major candidates running that year. The country was in crisis and deeply divided on the eve of the Civil War, a titanic conflict between Southern plantation slavery and Northern industrial capitalism. Things have not yet reached such a fevered pitch, but the tensions between the classes and within the ruling class are mounting. Depending on how things play out, 2016 could be similar to 1860. Having vanquished his rivals, the upstart Trump (who used to be a Democrat), has stirred up a political civil war within the Republican Party, leading to the potential for a multi-candidate election.

The Libertarian Party, a right-wing party that poses as “pro-freedom” and anti-interventionist, is at 10% in some polls. Others on the right, in particular those around conservative analyst Bill Kristol, are seriously considering running another “traditional” neo-conservative candidate against Trump and Clinton.

On the left, the Green Party has been courting Sanders for some time. However, this is a bit like the mouse appealing to the elephant. Although interest in the party is growing in the midst of the current electoral chaos, the Greens are ultimately a party of the liberal petty bourgeoisie. They do not fight for socialism and the end of capitalism, and have never had a mass base. Stranger things have happened, and nothing can be ruled out in a year such as this, but it seems highly unlikely that Sanders and his millions of supporters would join a small party of this character when he has the base of support to launch something far bigger on his own.

As we have explained, now is the perfect time for Sanders to launch a mass socialist party and run in all 50 states, not merely to send a message, but to win. In a multi-party race, he could well end up on top. After all, Trump and Clinton have the lowest favorability ratings of any candidate in decades. And even if he loses, whoever does win will preside over more austerity and instability and very likely a deep economic slump. This would prepare the ground for even bigger political and economic struggles in the future. As Marxists we stand for class politics, not lesser evil politics.

The role of the individual in history

Marxists explain that in the final analysis, the class struggle—the struggle over the surplus produced by the laboring classes—is the motor force of history. Individuals sometimes rise out of the mass and play a role that ultimately expresses class forces, although not always consciously. In this context, an individual in the right place and right time can play a major role to bring the movement forward—or can frustrate the movement and lead the working class into a costly defeat or detour.

Bernie Sanders is at a critical moment in history. Because he was an independent Senator, the only one of 100 to identify as a socialist, he was able to fill the gaping vacuum on the left of American politics, and ended up channelling the aspirations of the advanced layers of the working class. At this moment, he could single-handedly turn US politics upside down by transforming his campaign into a new party.

65% of millennials and 52% of all supporters want him to run as an independent. Only 24% of millennials want him to endorse Clinton if he is not the nominee. If Sanders ends up endorsing her, even if it is “on his own terms,” there will be deep disappointment and widespread demoralization. It would likely postpone the building of a mass workers’ party for several years, perhaps even longer. But there would also be enormous anger and a search for answers, a deep-seated desire to draw the lessons of this experience. In the grand scheme of things, even an outright capitulation would have only a temporary effect, as the situation demands that the working class find a way to build its own party. In one form or another, this will be accomplished.

Those who have seen in his campaign a beacon of hope for a socialist future have been transformed by the experience. After they pick themselves up from the dust, they will be eager to lay the foundations for a future mass socialist party, with or without Bernie. The path will not be easy or linear, but it is a path the US working class must tread sooner rather than later.

Help build a real leadership of the working class

If Sanders or the movement around him launch a mass left-wing party, all IMT supporters will fight to build this party and convince its members that it must adopt a revolutionary socialist program that includes ending the dictatorship of capital, and the expropriation of the top 500 corporations. There is still time for Sanders to make a truly lasting impact on US and world history. There is no time like the present! However, if he throws away this historic opportunity and supports the candidate of Goldman Sachs and Charles Koch, his supporters should keep the long view of history in mind: the fight for socialism is far from over, and it is natural that there will be some defeats on the way.

We urge all those who want to see the working class have its own party, and who want to struggle for socialism to join us in the IMT. The IMT stands for revolutionary working class politics and an end to capitalism. Only a socialist society can bring about the social, racial, and environmental justice that Sanders’s supporters so fervently desire. Together we can prepare the forces that can intervene in and lead the colossal class battles that lie ahead.

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