A debate on Bernie Sanders was organized by the Peace and Freedom Party in Oakland yesterday ((Oct. 3). The debate gave an insight into the justifications for those who support Sanders. Some of them were the most banal. for example, the representative of the Tri-Valley Democratic Party Club (which has endorsed Sanders) said that in part they support him because, “Bernie has reached across the aisle (to the Republicans)… to get things done.”
Steve Early, a long-time union activist and supporter of the “progressive” wing of the union establishment, claimed that Sanders will “create opportunities” and will “strengthen the left.” But he gave his game away when he said that it’s an open question for him whether to stay in the Democrats or build a third party. In other words, the Sanders campaign is a conduit for a layer of “the left” to get engrossed in Democratic Party politics.
The corollary to this is the strategy of reforming the Democrats, and several other speakers in effect betrayed this as their goal. One Sanders supporter, for example, called for “build(ing) a movement to push Bernie to the left.” But “Bernie” doesn’t exist in a vacuum; he’s part and parcel of the Democratic Party, so pushing him “to the left” really means pushing the Democrats in that direction.
Another Sanders supporter showed the same strategy when he pointed to the example of the effect of the Tea Party on the Republican Party. His view was that Sanders could have a similar role in the Democrats. (This is a fairly common view, but it forgets that the Tea Party has major capitalist backers, such as the Koch brothers.)
Then there was the lesser evil line. This writer spoke with one Peace and Freedom Party member who is supporting Sanders. When Sanders’ foreign policy was pointed out, all she could say is that he’s the best of the lot. The Democratic Party representative was similarly clear. “You could be (politically correct) and end up with Donald Trump,” he warned. This, of course, will be similar to the line he and the Democrats will use in the general election, no matter who wins the nomination of either the Republicans or the Democrats.
Then there were the usual attacks for alleged ultra-leftism. Steve Early rode that hobby horse into the ground, attacking those for whom a candidacy of “Chris Hedges or Leon Trotsky” wouldn’t be enough. “Some people really need to loosen up a bit,” he said, as he denounced the “sectarian tendency” that leads some to not support Sanders.
But just saying something doesn’t make it true. All the Sanders supporters completely refused to respond to the criticisms – the practical experience that some cited in showing how working inside the Democratic Party is a complete dead-end, for example. Others pointed to the example of the Jesse Jackson campaigns of the 1980s – campaigns that led nowhere but to right back into the Democrats. The example of the campaign for governor of California of Upton Sinclair in 1934 was raised. Despite the fact that he campaigned as a Democrat, he was far enough to the left that the entire Democratic Party (the party of FDR) refused to support him.
And then there is Bernie’s foreign policy, including his support for the racist, expansionist State of Israel and his support for state terrorism through drone warfare. Especially in the era of global capitalism, it is impossible to build real workers’ solidarity as long as you support a candidate who supports these policies. The same domestically, where Sanders has closed his eyes to racism and police terrorism as much as he can get away with.
There is no escaping the fact that Sanders supporters are basically saying that the workers’ movement and the interests of Corporate America are compatible, that the workers should lie down with the capitalists. As one of the speakers, Gerald Sanders, explained, this is really what Jesse Jackson called for when he talked about the lion lying down with the lamb. “There’s only one time that the lion will lie down with the lamb,” he explained. “Dinner time.”