By JOHN LESLIE
On April 8, Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his presidential campaign, saying, “I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful, and so today I am announcing the suspension of my campaign.” This makes former Vice President Biden the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. Sanders is keeping his delegates and will remain on upcoming primary ballots in an attempt to negotiate for the inclusion of some of his agenda in the party platform. Sanders has pledged to support the party nominee, just like he did in 2016 with the neoliberal Hillary Clinton.
The Democrats, the pro-Democratic media, and a section of capital have thrown themselves behind Biden, a flawed and often incoherent candidate. These forces pulled out all the stops to derail the Sanders campaign. The Democratic establishment and their paymasters on Wall Street would rather lose with a bland centrist than with a liberal reformer. Socialists should understand that Sanders’ mild reformist measures would never get through Congress. Democratic Party centrists hold the balance of power in the party and in Congress.
We must reject the notion that Sanders’ campaign is anything resembling a popular working-class mobilization. Yes, he’s a sincere reformist, but he’s also a component part of the Democratic Party. Some leftist Sanders supporters claim that he can be pushed to break with the party. This wishful thinking is contradicted by the senator’s own words: “As a member of the Democratic leadership and the United States Senate, and as a senator from the state of Vermont, this is something that I intend to intensely be involved in over the next number of months, and that will require an enormous amount of work.” Similarly, Sanders has reiterated his support for the eventual Democratic nominee.
The purpose politicians like Sanders serve is not to win gains for the working class but to act as a shock absorber for a system in crisis. Social democrats like Alexandria Occasio-Cortez (AOC) and Sanders are not “independent,” as some claim. They are loyal builders of the Democratic Party. They may criticize the party’s right wing, but they are team players at the end of the day.
The current situation only reinforces the fact that the Democrats are not a party for workers and the oppressed, but a capitalist party that subordinates workers and the oppressed to Wall Street.
This situation poses a question for socialists—what to do next? For months, sections of the left, both reformists and a layer of former revolutionaries, have immersed themselves in the Sanders effort in the vain hope that the Vermont Senator’s campaign would open space for socialists. Some of these socialists have also insisted, despite numerous historical examples to the contrary, that it is possible to change or capture the Democratic Party. Many of these reformist and neo-reformist socialists have succumbed to the idea that the left can use the Democratic primaries. Grassroots political campaigns like the movement against climate change, for example, have been given short shrift as activists and organizations put emphasis on electoral campaigns.
We call on all sincere socialists to make a clean break with the Democratic Party, the graveyard of social movements. The unions and organizations of the oppressed have been subordinated to the Democrats for too long by leaderships who have hitched their fates to the needs of Wall Street.
The Democrats have a long history of attacks on the poor and working class. They have been enthusiastic cheerleaders for neoliberalism and accomplices in every imperialist misadventure overseas. The left wing of the Democrats plays a crucial role in keeping the working class people and oppressed peoples captive to the logic of lesser evilism. Going forward, there must be a decisive break with lesser evilism and the Democrats.
The party we need
Socialists reject the idea that there is an electoral road to socialism. The U.S. ruling class is ruthless and would resist an elected socialist or working-class government by any means necessary, including the mobilization of fascists. The lesson of Chile serves as an example for all of us. An elected reformist government was overthrown by the military with the collusion of the CIA and U.S. multinational corporations. Thousands were slaughtered by the fascistic military regime. Salvador Allende, the elected Socialist Party president of Chile, was overthrown and murdered. Allende’s illusions in bourgeois legality kept him from arming and mobilizing the working class in defense of the government.
The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the corruption of our ruling class and their disregard for human life. The ruling rich are willing to sacrifice the lives of the most vulnerable in society to preserve their wealth. Workers and oppressed people need a party of our own—a fighting Labor Party based in the unions and organizations of the oppressed. Such a party must fight every day in the streets and at the ballot box. The fight for a working-class party is necessarily a combined struggle to build a class-struggle leadership in the unions and to construct a revolutionary organization worthy of the name.