Sanders campaign reaches its climax

donderdag 14 juli 2016

This article was written for my Libcom blog. You can find it there already.

Bernie Sanders finally announced his support for Hillary Clinton as Democratic candidate for the US presidency. That was what he was supposed to do all along. Working through the Democratic party demands support for the candidate that wins the primaries.of that party, whoever it turns out to be.. That support – almost guaranteed beforehand – functions as a sign of loyalty and trustworthiness towards that party. It was also what he was expected to do by all but the most credulous. The whole Sanders operation was an effort to help restore something of the progressive mass base of the Democrats, in support for one of the two capitalist parties, and for the political system itself. In that sense, the Sanders phenomenon was business as usual, albeit in a somehat unusual fashion. The announcement shows both what is usual and what is unusual about Sanders and his fanhood.

It start outs as a hymn of praise to this supporters and all their work. He talked about the “movement – the political revolution – you and I have created over the last 15 months.” It is a bit much. He did not create any ‘movement’. He tapped a mood that was left behind by earlier movements against corparate domination, by Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots, by the campaigns for a higher minimum wage and similar phenomena. Elsewhere, I described the Sanders campaign as “Occupy goes to the polling stations”(1). Therein lies its defeat, even before it got started, for the one good thing about that Occupy thing was exactly its non-electoral dynamics, built around forms of direct action and prefiguration, if often in a weak, distorted form. Bringing Occupy sympathizers to the polls is taking them away from their strength, and bringing them in to an arena where we lose beforehand, even if ‘our candidate’ is winning.

Sanders continues in this vein of hymns-singing. “We mobilized 13 million voters across the cpontry. We won 23 Democratic primary and caucus contests. We had litterally hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country. We showed (…) that you can can run ac ompetitive national grassroots campaign without begging millionaires and billionaires for campaign contributions.” Yes, Mr. Sanders – or is it Comrade Sanders? – and now you are bringing that campaign into the fold of the billionaires candidate named Hillary Clinton. Well done!

The he mentiones the fact that his campaign had brought issues to the fore, “issues the establishment has pushed under the rug for too long”, especially the enormous gap between a very rich minority and the overwhelming majority of the population which is relatively, and in enormous number also absolutely, impoverished by neoliberal policies. He claims credit for bringing these issues to daylight but, again, this had been done already by Occupy and similar forces. It is not as if, before Sanders raised the issue, people were unaware about the metaphoric One and Ninety-Nine percent, the “billionaire class” against “ordinary Americans”.

He turned a mood into an electoral force, and yes, he did that succesfully. That was unusual, for earlier efforts to do a thing like this had much less success. Neither Jesse Jackson nor Dennis Kucinic – earlier examples of Democrats playing the role of progressives – came anywhere near the position that Sanders finds himself in this year. But electoral force is exactly not how the mood behind it can translate its desires into reality, however widespread this mood may be and however big the crowds and the numbers of voters Sanders has attracted

All the paragraphs he uses to sing his supporters’ praise and boast about their and his results, function both as introduction and as sweetener for the bitter medicine he now administers. Let ‘s critically follow his text, sentence by sentance, for a while. Ready?

“In terms of the presidential election this November, there is no doubt that the election of Donald Trump as president would be a devastating blow to all we are fighting for.” Yes, and the election of Hillary Clinton would come down to the very same thing: a victory for neoliberal policies and preferences, a victory for big money, corruption, the “billionaire class”, the “one percent”. That is what many Sanders supporters were aware of. That is why Sanders became popular: because they saw Clinton and her Democratic party as an enemy. Now, he sings a different tune, as could be expected.

Back to the Trump danger. “His openly bigoted and pro-billionaire campaign could precipitate the same decades-long shift in American politics the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.” That turns things on their head. There was a rightward shift. But it did not originate in 1980, and its creator was not the Reagan victory. Already under Democratic president Carter, a shift away from Keynesianism towards what was then called monetarism was noticeable, as was a hardening in Cold War attitudes, with a new stress on arms modernization and expansion. Meanwhile, right wing forces – Christian fundamentalists, anti taxation networks , supporters of ‘law and order’, as a code word for racism – , had been busy from the late Sixties to take over the Republican party. 1980 was their breakthrough. But the idea that it all depended on Reagan winning is bad history and worse politics. As is the follow up: “That righward shift under Reagan infected not just politics as a whole, but led to the ascendancy of the corporate wing of the Democratic party – an era from which we arte still recovering.” As if the Democratic party was ever led by some kind of non-corporate wing before the age of Reagan! As if corporate forces – big business forces – were seriously less in control under Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Carter! As if progressive forces in the Democratic party ever were on top! The shift in the Democratic party was never between anti-corporate control towards corporate control. It was a shift from Keynesian corporate priorities and policies towards neoliberal corporate priorities and policies. Yes, union bosses and civil righs leaders became even more marginalized during the process than they always were. But the idea that they ever dominated the Democratic party belongs to the realm of fiction.

The whiole picture of the right wing as a product of the Reagan ascendancy is misleading. But Sanders needs this picture, as a scare tactic: we are under a similar Republican threat, now a similar horror movie about to start, with Trump in the Reagan role. He spells out the threat: “a complete Republican takeover of Washington – a takeover by a candidate who demonizes Latinos, Muslims, women, African Americans, veterans and others.” So we should fall behind a candidate who may not demonize all these groups in Trump-like fashion. She just uses them as voting fodder, to be ignored or spat upon whe she is safely in the White House, forever in debt to Sanders for his assistance.

Thus we get to the climax of the Sanders campaign. “Today, I endorse Hillary Clinton to be our next president.” And he continues: “I know that some of you will be disappointed” – as they might well be, because Clinton is opposed to almost everything that m any supporters think Sanders stands for. Which is why they supported him and not Clinton in the first place. “But I believe that (…) our country, our values and our common vision for a transformed America, are best served by the defeat of Donald Trump and the election of Hillary Clinton.” First,“our country”, that abhorrent nationalist mythmaking device. The country – any country – is theirs, not ours, no matter which party runs the show, as long as capital is in charge and states hold us down. Identifying the country you live an as in any factual sense yours, is a trap. It should be our, everybody ‘s, country, not as a matter of ownership bus as a metter of “a common treasury for all” as Leon Rosselson sings it in his beautiful song “The World Turned Upside Down”. But this side of anticapitalist transformation, it never will be ours in that sense. Not under Trump, not under Clinton, not under Sanders, not under Jill Stein.

In as much as Sanders’ supporters stand for a “common vison for a transformed America” it is a vision that clashes fundamentally with both Trump and Clinton, their parties and the business interests behind both of them. There is no sense in which Clinton is less beholden to big money than Trump. She is, literally, on well-rewarded speaking terms with theso-called one percent, as her highly paid talks to bankers and business organizatuions so clearly symbolize. She stands for evil, and not the lesser kind of evil. Why stand, even in the most limited and ‘tactical’ sense, for her?

Sanders then explains that things are not as bad as they seem. You see, we made some good deals inside the democratic party, we got a number of promises on policy. On a rise of the minimum wage, on big investments in helath, on “free tuition at public colleges and universities for working families.” He concludes: “The truth is our movement is responsible for the most progressive Democratic platform in the history of the country.” Maybe so. But platforms are words, grouped in sentences. They are not policies, not even policy-in-becoming. Nobody seriously expects presidents to keep their campaign promises. Remember Obama promising to close down Guantanamo? In his last year of his second term, he still did not manage to close the thing. Yes, Congress did not help. And yes, when you are busy droning Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen – personally checking the list of targeted individuals to be killed – , bombing Iraq and even sending new troops there, bombing Syria… maybe you have no spare time left for keeping promises. That was Obama. Clinton stands somewhat on the right of Obama, and no progressive party platform changes that reality. Sanders is selling hot air here, to pacify his supporters, and to motivate them to hold their noses and vote Clinton.

Pointing at the platform promises he says: “none of these initiatives will happen if we do not elect a Democrat in November. None!” So, vote Clinton, vote lots of Democrats into Congress, and keep that under some pressure by the Sanders movement. Only then, we will get that minimum wage, those health and education reforms and what not. It is not just blackmail. It is rubbish. Reforms like the ones in the Democratioc platform do not depend on votes. They depend on force, on serious pressure. Workers striking demonstrating, rioting, sabotaging, ferociously figting for what they demand, deserve and desire… that is what can put enough fear in the establishemnt tomove them towards concessions. The Vietnam war escalated under relatively liberal Democrats in the White House. It was brought to an end under Republicans Nixon and Ford. Not because elections moved towards peace, but because soldiers revolting up to the point of mutiny, combined with lots of people demonstrating up to the point of urban rebellion helped to make continuaing the war a losing option, literally. There is some kind of lesson hidden somewhere there.

Threatened with drastic loss of control in their companies and institutions and on the streets, the may come to see concessions – higher wages, affordable healthcare and education, welfare and social security, an end to police occupation of black communities and so on, as their version ofthe ‘lesser evil’. In the meantime, the whole idea that electing Clinton against Trump is electing an truly lesser evil is a dangerous nonsense. And no, switching support from Sanders to Jill Stein and her Greens is not a serious way out.


Peter Storm, “De hoop achter Sanders, de angst achter Trump”, Buiten de Orde 2016/ 2, also on (in Dutch).

Peter Storm

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  1. #1 by John on 2016/07/15 - 09:35

    Hoi Peter,

    Je loopt een beetje achter op de actualiteiten. En daar zou ik op willen reageren met de woorden “I am Nice”

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