Iowa Democratic Party Caucus Shows Need for Socialist Labor Party

The Iowa Caucus results are in. Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself a socialist and calls for a “political revolution against the billionaire class,” was defeated by Hillary Clinton by a mere 0.3%—far less than the statistical margin of error. One year ago, Clinton was set to cruise unopposed to the Democratic Party nomination. Sanders was portrayed as an irrelevant protest candidate and trailed her by 50 points.

Millions of American workers and youth are desperately looking for a way out of the bleakness of American capitalism and, with no labor party alternative, Sanders has filled the vacuum. In spite of the Clinton and Democratic Party machine and the millions they receive from big business, Bernie Sanders’ reformist, left-populist message has gained an echo from many workers and youth, as indicated by the fact that he has received millions of dollars in contributions averaging just $27 per person.

We have explained many times that the Democratic Party is neither democratic nor a party, in the usual sense of the word. It is a massively corrupt capitalist electoral machine with no unified program and no democratic internal organizational structures through which the rank and file can hold its leaders accountable. The vast majority of voters merely “self-identify” as Democrat or Republican, as there is no standard criteria for membership. Although many workers vote for the Democrats and are encouraged to do so by the labor leaders (more often than not as a “lesser evil”), the unions are seen merely as another “special interest,” almost akin to lobbyists, and there is no formal or organic connection between them and the party.

This is democracy?

The truth is that Sanders may have actually won the vote in Iowa, even though the way delegates are allocated to the different precinct caucuses was skewed against him. Apparently, the Democratic Party machine mismanaged many caucuses, and when the numbers did not add up, they “resolved” this with a coin toss, mostly in Clinton’s favor. This is literally what the so-called “democratic” process in the pre-nomination contest has been reduced to.

As reported by The Atlantic, “Coin flips are a longstanding feature of the Democratic caucuses, and games of chance actually have a long history in deciding close electoral contests in the US . . . And their use underscores the fact that even small shifts in individual precincts can have an outsized impact in a race as tight as this one.”

Furthermore, when one drills into the demographics of caucus attendees, it is obvious that the deck was heavily stacked going in. The Iowa Caucus Project, an independent organization of Drake University dedicated to research on the caucuses, provides a deep look at the types of people who participate in the caucuses at the outset. First and foremost, those who are closest to the party are more likely to participate, and half are 45 or older. Sanders, who only became a Democrat during the race, won a dominating 84 percent of the under-30 vote. It was also noticeable that among those who said they were participating in caucuses for the first time, Sanders beat Clinton 59% to 37%. If we look at the vote by household income, we can also see that the richer the household, the more likely it was to vote for Clinton. In households with an income below $30,000 a year, Sanders beat Clinton 57% to 41%, while among those making over $100,000 a year, Clinton beat Sanders 55 to 37%. This shows that Sanders has managed to enthuse particularly the youth, the poorer, and new participants.

But going into the primaries, Sanders had to fight an uphill battle against the Democratic party apparatus. Iowa has more than 3.1 million people, but fewer than 180,000 participated in the Democratic Caucuses.

The Democratic Party’s thumb on the scale

The opening shots rang out in October of 2015, as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, went on television calling for more debates. This would have favored Sanders, who has been given nowhere near as much airtime on the mainstream media outlets. Her rationale was “to give the American people the opportunity to hear from these presidential candidates, to listen to what they’ve got to say, to hold them accountable for their views and their positions.” The Democratic Party apparatus’s response to Ms. Gabbard’s call was to promptly uninvite her from attending the first debate. Ms. Gabbard’s own comment on the incident hardly requires supplementary commentary: “It’s very dangerous when we have people in positions of leadership who use their power to try to quiet those who disagree with them . . . When I signed up to be vice chair of the DNC, no one told me I would be relinquishing my freedom of speech and checking it at the door.”

Later, as a result of ongoing DNC vendor technical errors, Bernie Sanders’ national data director, Josh Uretsky, was able to improperly access campaign data from the Clinton campaign. Although the Sanders campaign promptly fired Uretsky, its access to the DNC national voter file—an invaluable document upon which campaign operations hinge—was frozen. The story took a strange twist when it was revealed that Uretsky was recommended by the DNC itself and that the DNC provided the data logs that show access to the Clinton and not the Sanders campaign. An unnamed advisor for Sanders went so far as to insinuate that the incident was arguably conspiratorial: “I don’t know how you can more centrally connect this thing than those two entities, [and] here we are being attacked by both of those entities when, in fact, they recommended this guy to the campaign.” The debacle climaxed on December 18 as the Sanders campaign filed a lawsuit against the DNC itself!

Faced with this, the campaign petitioned the bourgeois state for assistance in combating the apparatus’s potential conspiratorial conduct. It then responded by appealing to its supporters to raise funds with an email which highlighted the improper conduct of the party: “The reality is that the huge turnouts that we’ve had at our meetings, our strong fundraising, our volunteer base, and quick rise in the polls have caused the Democratic National Committee to place its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” One million dollars was raised in just one day, showing the enormous support for Sanders. This should serve to show the real nature of the capitalist Democratic Party.

On the day of the caucuses, Sanders’ campaign warned of alarming signs that Hillary’s camp might be up to foul play. USA Today has asked whether the correct winner was called; the Des Moines Register reported on precinct scrambles to report Sanders’ win; and Sanders’ camp criticized the state party for failing to collect votes. Some have even insinuated that fraud may have been involved. In the end, Sanders’ camp has admitted that the actual result may never be known.

Even if Sanders ekes out a victory in a majority of the upcoming caucuses and primaries, unless he absolutely commands the lead, which is increasingly unlikely, he has to face up to the most undemocratic aspect of the entire selection process: the “superdelegates.”

These “superdelegates” are unelected, and seated automatically, based on their status as current or former party leaders or elected officials. These delegates account for approximately 30% of all delegates at the party congress. They serve as a “safety check” to ensure the party remains firmly under the control of the apparatus, while still giving the illusion of democratic input by party supporters. This means Sanders could win more delegates than Clinton in the various state primaries and caucuses and still lose the nomination. Based on a recent AP report, Clinton has already pocketed the vast majority of the super delegates. Sanders’ campaign manager believes that based on Sanders’ strong showing so far, “superdelegates will change their minds and come over to him.” This could be categorized as delusional, at best.

What would happen if Sanders became the nominee and then went on to win victory in the general election? He would be hard pressed to implement even the most modest of his progressive proposals. In conditions of capitalist crisis, his program, however moderate, cannot be implemented. The US ruling class cannot allow the introduction of adequate parental leave, universal single-payer health care, free college tuition, a living minimum wage, etc. And if he doesn’t toe the line and fall into place, as we have explained before, he would be forced to battle the entire ruling class, something he himself seems to recognize, as he has explained the need to build a political movement. However, such a movement cannot be created inside the capitalist Democratic Party. He would only be able to count on relatively meager resources inside an extremely hostile organization. Tsipras in Greece at least had his own party, and still he was forced to capitulate, as he was not prepared to break with capitalism. This is an important lesson.

Should he not win the Democratic nomination, he could still run as an independent, though he will have lost many months playing by the DNC’s rules, instead of building an independent electoral machine and working to break the unions from the Democrats. If he follows through on his promise to call for a Clinton vote if she wins the nomination—a call for the status quo after months of calling for “revolution”—this will only further disillusion and confuse millions of workers and young people. No matter what happens, the pressures building within the Democratic Party will stress it in ways that are hard to predict, and we can say with confidence that the days of the Democrat-Republican duopoly are limited.

The Democratic Party machine working against Sanders goes back a long way. It was originally built as a party of slave owners and unimaginably corrupt party machines (like Tammany Hall), which after the Civil War was transformed into a party of Jim Crow segregationists. After the massive labor upsurge in the 1930s, it cynically morphed into the “progressive friend of labor” by passing the New Deal—which, far from being “socialism,” was a series of programs designed to save capitalism from itself. How can one have illusions in the same party responsible for the forced internment of Japanese and German Americans, the Vietnam War, NAFTA, and the enforcement of Taft-Hartley, not to mention the financing of Islamic fundamentalists such as Osama bin Laden, and the deportation of the highest number undocumented workers in history? If you’re a worker and you want a better life for yourself, your family, and your class, you can’t fight for it through the Democratic Party.

The coming years hold many bitter lessons in store. Many workers and young people, who have flocked to Sanders because they want fundamental change, will learn from this experience and will be searching for genuinely revolutionary ideas. Starting with the advanced layers, we will continue to cut through the fog and confusion fomented by the ruling class and their media.

Our task is to patiently explain that the program put forward by Sanders, and which has generated such enthusiasm, can only be achieved by breaking with capitalism and implementing  a socialist transformation of society.  By patiently explaining of the ABCs of Marxism, our analysis of the crisis of capitalism, and the need for a socialist revolution, many will be attracted to the ideas of the IMT.

In the aftermath of Iowa, which has confirmed Sanders’ enormous support, it is to be expected that the Democratic machine and the capitalist media will step up their campaign against him. It will become clear to many that the Democrats cannot serve as a vehicle for fundamental change—for truly revolutionary change.

That a candidate describing himself as a socialist, exposing the fact that American politics is rigged by big business, and calling for a political revolution, is attracting huge crowds and massive support, even in traditionally conservative parts of the country, shows the potential that exists. However, those who imagine that the Democrats can be a vehicle for the change so many people want and need will find only disappointment. Even before he formally announced his candidacy, Socialist Appeal warned that you cannot use the Democratic Party to provide workers with the party they need. It was a mistake for Sanders to lead those fed up with the status quo back into the Democratic Party, which, like the Republicans, is a party of, by, and for big business, linked closely with the state.

The potential that exists can only be realized in the form of a class-independent labor party based on the unions, fighting for a socialist program. Although the exact trajectory of this path cannot be predicted in advance, it is along these lines that the third American revolution will be victorious. We invite you to join us and support us in our efforts!

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