This from Marxism Leninism Today, in the USA (now with a stunning new design)


by Wayne Nealis

July 21, 2015


Sanders’ anti-One Percent message is welcome. Nonetheless, “political independence inside the Democratic Party” is a dead end. Progressives should take independent political action, break dependency on the Democratic Party and defeat the right wing.

The yearning among millions of Americans for a change in politics as usual is evident in the enthusiasm for Senator Bernie Sanders anti-One Percent campaign. In late June, on ABC’s This Week, Sanders said he would win because Americans are “…sick and tired of working longer hours for low wages while at the same time 99 percent of all new income generated is going to the top 1 percent and the top one-tenth-of-one-percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.” [1]

Those are fight’n words that have found traction among millions of voters. His message echoes Occupy Wall Street’s scrappy call to fight back against the greed and usury of the 1 percent. Those who see the need to build a political movement to challenge the two major parties should closely follow voters’ response to his campaign program, as it is a barometer of independent electoral opportunities.

In recent campaign appearances Sanders called for doubling the minimum wage, providing free college education, breaking up the largest banks, creating a universal health care system and expanding union rights. Hillary Clinton and the Democrat’s center-right leadership would not support any of these initiatives.

On foreign policy Sanders stands to the left of the Democratic Party’s imperialist center, but he is inconsistent. Sanders voted to authorize the invasion of Afghanistan, though he vigorously opposed the Iraq War. In 1999 he voted to authorize President Clinton’s use of military force and bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The first of many of U.S initiated illegal regime change adventures to come. Like most of his senate colleagues he refers to Israel as a key ally and friend. He publicly supported Israeli attacks on Palestinians.

He typically goes along with economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., for example, on Iran, Russia, Libya and Iraq before the 2003 war. Knowing sanctions are precursors to military aggression, his support is misguided. During the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya in 2011, Sanders noted an interview his constituents were upset there was no debate in congress before Obama acted. Yet, when asked if he would support a resolution to authorize the war under the War Powers Act, he said, “We’ll see.” [2]

In 2013, when Obama proposed bombing Syria, Sanders did not come out against the action, even after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly voted to authorize the campaign. Sanders said constituents calling his offices were nearly unanimous in their opposition, but he was going to continue to listen to the president’s arguments. [3] While Sanders does not have a war-hawk record like Clinton, neither is he an anti-war candidate.

What is curious about his otherwise radical sounding campaign is he seldom discusses foreign policy on the stump, in interviews or campaign statements. [4] The campaign website does not mention foreign policy, a critique of drone warfare or ongoing wars. Yet, it is quite clear from polling data that a majority of Americans are as tired of war as they are tried of Wall Street greed.

Could Sanders’ silence on foreign policy be to protect Vermont from losing military-related jobs? An air force base near Burlington, under review to be closed or downsized, was recently given a reprieve, when it was chosen to be the home base of the new, $400 billion F-35 fighter plane.  Sanders defended the plane and lobbied for it being located in Vermont. Vermont firms also depend on defense department engineering and manufacturing contracts. Sanders knows the political/military establishment is not above threaten critics with loss of contracts.

Perhaps his reticence to discuss U.S. imperialist aggression and interference in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine or closer to home, Venezuela or Honduras, is that it would mean Hillary Clinton would have to defend her hawkish record to a public tired of war. A reasonable question to ask is if his inattention to foreign policy is designed to avoid such a confrontation that could damage Clinton’s general election campaign. Or, does he agree with her, as his record in part shows? Many of Sanders’ supporters likely disagree with Hillary’s record. If so, they should begin asking their candidate some tough questions.

The appeal of Sanders’ domestic program

No doubt on domestic issues Sanders program for a political revolution resonates with a sizable percentage of the electorate, perhaps approaching 30 to 50 percent depending on the issue. So what are his chances of his winning the nomination? As much as his domestic agenda appeals to the disenchanted among democrats and unaffiliated voters the odds are stacked against him for the nomination as discussed in more detail below.

National polling shows Sanders with a respectable 15 percent of the vote among potential voters considering he has no national organization in place to sustain a general election bid. Among Democrats in early primary and caucus states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, polls shows he may garner support from 30 percent or more. Crowds at campaign rallies continue to grow with an estimated 10,000 in Madison, WI, July 1 and that number again recently in Phoenix, AZ.

These results show there is a constituency around Sanders’ social equity domestic agenda on which to challenge to the two major parties. Politically, 2016 is ripe for an independent run for president on a program like Sanders’. Discontent runs high and 50 percent of voters want more choices than the two major parties. The wild card played by social media provides an inexpensive means to reach the public, especially among young voters. Might the response to Sanders been greater if he had to chosen run an independent campaign?

But running for president on a domestic program like Sanders’, without a host of like-minded congressional candidates, is strategically flawed. Voters are less likely to take it as a serious effort, see it as a spoiler or symbolic, a flash-in-the-pan campaign. A slate of congressional candidates running on the same program would mark a serious effort at a political revolution. This would attract more local media coverage and extend the organizational capacity of the congressional and presidential candidates without adding additional resources. So, far it appears Sanders has not recruited any sitting or prospective congressional candidates to take up his domestic program. This adds to skepticism about the intent of his campaign.

It appears from outside Sanders and his supporters had insufficient discussion with left, progressive, peace, labor, women’s and civil rights groups, immigrant rights and other forces before launching the campaign. Such a discussion even for a symbolic campaign to raise issues is incumbent on someone challenging the center-right, pro-war, corporate forces that control the Democratic Party.

These discussions might have concluded a more effective strategy would be to run as an independent left of center candidate. Even if this were not the outcome, discussions might have generated initiatives to run, left, independent or progressive democrats for House or Senate seats in 2016 and beyond. Sanders would also likely also have been confronted with demands he take a firm stand against the militarist foreign policy of interventions and war.

Why no critique of Democratic Party?

Sanders entry into the Democratic primary with little or no critique of the party raises concerns as well. Millions of U.S. workers see the Democratic Party as part of the problem, not the solution – a party solidly in the hands of big business and servants of Wall Street not the working class. The recent fight over Fast Track Trade authority reinforced this sensibility, especially among union workers. Front-runner, Clinton stonewalled aggressive AFL-CIO union leaders demands for her to speak out against Fast Track. Not surprisingly, she refused.

Sanders, on the other hand, vigorously opposed it. He deserves working people’s thanks. Still, he has not questioned Hillary on her rebuff of labor or her position on Fast Track. This is after all an issue for what Sanders calls the middle class. Since Sanders is running in the party that gave us NAFTA and is now trying to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems incumbent on him to challenge Hillary.

Aligning a domestic reform agenda like Sanders’ within the Democratic Party is to dance with corporate and political figures that categorically oppose that agenda. Furthermore many Democratic elected officials and their corporate backers supported policies that contributed to creating the health care crisis, wage inequality, declining union membership and rising tuition and student debt. The very problems Sanders’ program is designed to correct.

I concede the Sanders campaign for the nomination may move public consciousness left and it does resonate with the discontent with politics as usual. As such, it could open future opportunities for independent political action. No doubt, as Sanders concluded, it would be more difficult to reach an audience running outside the Democratic Party. However, it could have been more effective.

The deck is stacked and the game rigged

It is a bit naïve to think a candidate who opposes powerful interests within the Democratic Party [5] on major domestic issues can win the nomination. It assumes the entire the party apparatus, that is essentially owned and funded by wealthy donors, will be handed over to a challenger, in this case to a self-describe democratic socialist, whose platform would end private health insurers, raises taxes on the wealthy, support labor law reform and cut profits of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. [6]

The last time a non-establishment candidate threatened the Democratic Party, was when George McGovern’s anti-Vietnam War insurgency captured the nomination. What happened? Party organizations at many levels sat out the election. Some party benefactors and even officials formed and funded Democrats for Nixon and by covert and overt means subverted the McGovern campaign. After they defeated McGovern, they set about changing party rules so such a challenger could not again upset the proverbial apple cart. These rules have only grown more restrictive and under Bill Clinton and his partners the party rules tightened.

With this in mind, consider the following. The Democratic Party under Obama’s leadership kept the idea of single payer health care off public hearing agendas for fear the public might see it as a viable alternative to the president’s ACA legislation. In some cases officials had single-payer activists escorted out of hearing rooms or even arrested for attempting to participate. Why? Top party leaders are in alliance with the firms and financiers profiting from health care. These firms, ranging from General Electric, to Medtronic to United Health Care, are not about to support Sanders even if he were to win the nomination. Rest assured they are working behind the scenes to derail Sanders’ campaign with their ally Hillary Clinton and other party operatives.

In light of these factors one might wonder whether building an independent electoral organization to run in 2016 might have been a more fruitful and no less difficult. And more importantly, demonstrate a way forward i.e. a working class exit from the confines of the Democratic Party.

Too late in the game, why? If Sanders had signaled his intent even a year earlier, creating an independent campaign network would have been realistic, but in any case a better prepared primary run. Yet, in a Playboy interview, late in 2013, he said he was 99 percent sure he would not run. [8] This timing indicates Sanders late spring debate about running independently or as a democrat might not have been genuine.

His hesitation to break with the Democrats may simply be a practical one. Inside the party makes logistic sense for a politician who has no national organization to mobilize, as for example the Green Party does even though small in numbers. But then the question remains, given the prospect of winning: What is the reason to run? Especially, in the Democratic Party?

Is Sanders intent to influence Hillary’s position on the issues? This is as unlikely as changing Hillary or Obama’s thinking on TPP. The Democratic Party leadership and financiers? After eight years of experience with Bill Clinton and now Obama’s administration and the party’s congressional leaders the lesson should be quite clear. Influence the Democrats convention platform? It’s likely already agreed upon, and nominees routinely ignore any troublesome plank. Hillary’s commitments if elected president? Recall how fast labor unions’ signature legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, disappeared from Obama’s agenda. Or, the no NAFTA pledge of candidate, Bill Clinton, after his inauguration.

Yes, again, this last question assumes Sanders has no chance of gaining the nomination. He knows this, regardless of his fight’n bravado on This Week. Even if he had a majority of elected delegates at the Democratic convention he would not be nominated. The center-right party leadership constitutes about 20 percent of the delegate slots more or less ensuring only a pro-business candidate who supports an imperialist foreign policy can be nominated.

A revolution in politics without congressional campaigns? So, what’s the purpose of Sanders’ campaign? I find it difficult to believe a politician with Sanders decades of experience, is not aware his program has not a chance of succeeding without a congressional re-alignment. This would require building an electoral movement to oust dozens of incumbents, Democrats and Republican’s, but he is not advocating or encouraging such organizing for 2016 or in the future.

At the very least, to pass any part of his program would require electing 50 to100 new House members. House Democrats’ sponsorship of single payer health care legislation has not exceeded in gaining more than 60 to 80 firm commitments in a decade – nearly 200 votes to few. As for free college tuition, a 180-degree change in power relationships is required.

Sanders often mentions Scandinavian nations’ plethora of social benefits compared to Americans, yet workers in these nations won them by organizing unions and political parties that elected majorities in national governments to win their demands for free education, health care and paid parental leave. As well, the threat of workers opting for socialism applied pressure on big business and the wealthy to compromise.

Not to say such a sea change is not possible in the U.S., it is, but the Democratic Party will not be leading it. Given the discontent in the country if labor unions, civil rights and environmental groups and others united behind a domestic program like Sanders’,  it is possible to alter power relations or at least threaten to do so in as few as two or three presidential cycles, but not in 18 months, and not in the Democratic Party. Sanders could contribute to this even now, but so far he is not expanding his campaign to encourage independent action or candidates even to challenge GOP incumbents. Again, one has to ask why?

The good news is that the enthusiasm for Sanders domestic program shows the demands fit the times. Polling analysis indicates perhaps 30 percent of the electorate now supports such a broad economic justice agenda. This is enough support on which to begin building an independent electoral and political movement to garner the power to make it happen. Sanders could give this strategy a push by telling his supporters they will need to build a movement outside the Democratic Party to win his program of radical change.

Those who own the Democratic Party, and it is not unions, civil rights or women’s groups, will not tolerate using the party to advance Sanders’ “new deal” for the working class and poor. Corporate and political operatives spent decades ensuring the party cannot stray from the neo-liberal agenda of free trade, complaint unions, financial deregulation, privatization and an imperialist foreign policy. They are not about to change course.

Breaking with the two-party horse race for president

Some will still say that despite these arguments Sanders’ run will create excitement about the election and rally voters. To do what? Vote for Hillary? Or, to vote for the Green Party? The Green’s candidate Dr. Jill Stein is running on a domestic program similar to Sanders, but calls for a 50 percent cut in the military budget, an end to support for Israeli occupation and a radical change in foreign policy. Which one will Sanders choose to support?

Objectively, it appears Sanders’ run inside the party, intentional or not, is a means to rally the progressive, left, civil rights and others to support Hillary as the lessor bad of the two major party candidates. So what’s a peace activist, or black lives matter or climate change activist to do? One might consider not spending time and money supporting Sanders and instead, challenge the two parties by taking independent political actions.

First, it is necessary to escape thinking about the two-party horse for president. In 2017 we will have an imperialist, pro-corporate, Wall Street president. Yes, there are serious differences on social issues between the GOP and Democrats, but these can be weathered and deterred, even if the GOP were to win the presidency and a majority in both the house and senate. The left and other forces for social change must jettison the fear of a bogeyman of right wing legislative coups or another Iraq war venture like that of G.W. Bush. This fear effectively makes independent politics and a challenge to the two-party monopoly impossible.

Recall that under Reagan and both Bush administrations, even when the Democrats control one or both houses of congress, anti-working class legislation and war measures passed. And for those worried about an actual right wing take over, whatever that might mean, it could take place with a democrat as president or any combination of majorities in power. It is a small handful of people who would make that choice and all but a few of the real democrats would fall in line. The left must convince other peace and justice groups and individual activists at all political levels it is time to break with the Democratic party. Not in 2018, but now. Even if just to take small steps.

Until the break is made, we cannot know how many people a domestic program like Sanders’ might inspire. Only a clear alternative political program will be seen as worth people’s time, energy and passion. Such a strategy is not a spoiler role if the goal is to build political force to challenge the two parties. At some point, the risk must be taken, in federal, state and local elections.

And, on the question of war and peace, the past few decades show the only risk is not having an honest, even if small, alternative to demonstrate a way out of the two-party monopoly. Candidates opposing U.S. imperialist foreign policy and backing a Sanders-like domestic program, even if they were to cause a defeat of a Democrat, are not playing a spoiler role. They are giving voters an honest alternative to politics as usual. Workers and youth, in particular, yearn for such a choice.

Making 2016 a referendum on war and peace

In 2016 what must be challenged is the endless march to war. If Bernie Sanders would, he might be worth investing time and resources, but so far he has shown no inclination to do so. This is the greatest threat to humanity, more so than global warming. Even unchecked global warming allows years for humanity to adjust, but an accidental or intentional nuclear war? Even a nuclear skirmish? No more needs to be said.

For this reason and this alone, the 2016 election must become a referendum on war and peace. All other issues balance on this task. Capitalism’s global imperial project is economically driven, but has ideological roots in white supremacy, disregard for the earth’s resources and environment, for human health, women’s rights and even joy in living. All these are manifest domestically.

Two fronts are needed, not just Sanders’ domestic front. The two parties of U.S. capitalism are not about to abandon their creator and benefactor. If the goal is to pass Sanders’ domestic plan of economic renewal and expand social benefits both of these institutions stand in the way. No doubt strong allies exist among Democrat elected officials at all levels, especially in minority and progressive caucuses, but they will need to defy the center and right forces to do what’s right.

Despair is not an option. Inaction is not an option. Instead of pouring resources and time into the presidential race, the more practical and effective strategy would be to focus on congressional races and challenging candidates and incumbents on the question of war and peace, global warming and racial justice. No candidate should be able to hold a fundraiser, rally or news conference without confronting a visible presence of those agitating for peace, equality and justice.

Nearly a year remains before filing deadlines to run independent, left or progressive democratic candidates to challenge pro-war, anti-labor or law-and- order incumbents. Imagine if 25 independent candidates in 25 House districts, including Green candidates, left and progressives, were run on Sanders’ domestic program for hope and change. This work would contribute more to a revolution in politics than Sanders’ run.

When he loses his bid for the nomination, will Bernie help lead such an independent movement for his “revolution in politics”? Would Sanders, his staff and progressive backers support such organizing? So far, Sanders has not encouraged such an initiative, yet it is clear a sea change in Congress is required to pass his program. Perhaps, when Sanders loses, he and his staff will support Hillary and the status quo?

That would be a dead end, no matter the strength of convictions, passions or noble ideas riding the Sanders’s wave.


[1] Benjamin Bell, 2015. “Sen. Bernie Sanders Predicts He’ll Win White House,” June 28, 2015 via This Week. URL: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/sen-bernie-sanders-predicts-hell-win-white-house/story?id=32083075

[2] Fox News 2011, Trish Turner. “Sanders Questions “War” in Libya.” March 28, 2011. URL: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/03/28/sanders-questions-war-in-libya/ 

[3] John Nichols, 2013 “Bernie Sanders: Billions for ‘Another War,’ but No Money for Needs at Home.” The Nation, September 6, 2013. URL: http://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-billions-another-war-no-money-needs-home/ .

[4] I reviewed several dozen such items since he announced and I found scant evidence of foreign policy. These included an extensive Nation interview by John Nichols, on July 6, 2015, where not one question was related to foreign policy and war. Foreign policy is also missing from his stump speeches in Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

[5] Consider a few industries that would stand to lose enormous profits by Sanders’s program: pharmaceutical, medical device makers, Wall Street firms and health insurers. Individual firms and their management are major players both parties.

[6] Add it up: free post-secondary education, single payer health care, expanding Social Security, etc.

[7] Source: http://www.playboy.com/playground/view/bernie-sanders-playboy-interview.

– See more at: http://mltoday.com/evaluating-the-sanders-candidacy#sthash.AXsO3kwq.dpuf

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