2020 elections

Jesse Jackson, Bernie Sanders and DSA

By Mike Howells

Bernie Sanders and Jesse Jackson in 1988

In 1988 “independent” socialist Bernie Sanders and the DSA both endorsed 1988 presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and his presidential Rainbow Coalition campaign. That an African American and well known civil rights veteran could run on a liberal left platform and emerge as a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination obviously left a deep impression on Sanders and the DSA. The DSA openly stated that the Jackson Rainbow Coalition represented a golden opportunity to forge a working class, people of color, and labor movement capable of beating back the ascendancy of the Reaganite Republicans and the capitalist offensive against workers sweeping through the US in the 1980s.

Jackson’s victory in the Michigan primary briefly turned him into the front runner in the Democratic presidential race. At this point the DSA and Sanders surely believed that Jackson was pushing the American political landscape to the left. Both the DSA and Sanders were wrong. Jackson lost the Democratic nomination and from this point onwards did everything in his power to transform the Rainbow Coalition into a strictly liberal Democratic Party pressure group.

Jackson went on to campaign for Michael Dukakis

Jackson ended up supporting the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Mike Dukakis every bit as enthusiastically as Sanders supported 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The DSA’s tailing of Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign and than Jackson turning against left critics of Democratic presidential nominee Dukakis, a political centrist, left many with the impression that the leaders of America’s largest social democratic group were more a source of political gullibility than political insight.

The GOP presidential nominee, George H W Bush, went on to win the November 1988 presidential election.


The right wing of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Leadership Caucus (DLC), used Dukakis’s defeat as an opportunity to seize control of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Under the hegemony of the DLC the Democrats ran Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton as its 1992 presidential nominee. Clinton pushed the Democratic Party sharply to the right. The DSA sank even deeper into the margins of American political life.

Sanders, in contrast to the DSA, did manage to emerge as a mainstay of Vermont electoral politics. On the other hand Sanders electoral fortunes did not prevent Washington’s hard right turn in its management of the nation’s oppressed and exploited in the 1990s. And the hard right turn occurred just after the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s.

Of course the DSA can always say but this time its different. Bernie is not Jesse though he has been just as loyal to the Democratic Party in deed if not word as Jackson. And the DSA leadership can say we know of all these thousands of young people fed up with the status quo so much so that they are willing to call themselves socialists. True but… The Jackson/Rainbow Coalition of the 1984 and 1988 campaigns had thousands of young supporters every bit as eager to bloody the nose of the political establishment of that time as the thousands of young Sanders supporters are eager to bloody the nose the USA political establishment of today. And many of these youth saw in the Rainbow Coalition the nucleus of future mass party to the left of the Democrats, just as many young Bernie enthusiasts today see in the Sanders presidential campaign the nucleus of a future mass party to the left of the Democrat Party. And of
All of this leads me to believe that people expecting that Sanders and the Sanderistas will lead to a turning point in the class struggle in favor of the working class will be unpleasantly surprised.

Oaklandsocialist adds: The main point is that we should look at what is happening around the world, from France to Chile to Iran and Iraq. It was through mass, disruptive protest movements that things changed in this country in the past. That was so from the labor movement of the 1930s to the civil rights movement of the ’60s. Those who support Sanders today are very unlikely to change their minds. But the main point is that the should not allow the Sanders campaign to completely lure them away from the mass movement from below, the movement similar to what is happening in countries all around the world

Bernie Sanders and Jesse Jackson in 1988

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.