Perhaps this is a talent that I retain from my days as a Catholic and its teachings about full consent of the will in the commissioning of a sin but I for some reason am capable of putting myself into the shoes of other people from time to time. In this sense I am able to understand the mindset of the average Bernie-crat and how their thinking operates.
First, I think there are a few objective observations that should be acknowledged. The most immediate and important one for me is the simple fact that the Sanders campaign, despite its milquetoast demands and actual status as merely New Dealer Keynesian welfare state capitalist politics, did indeed finally break the longstanding Cold War liberal taboos around the word ‘socialism’. After decades of Democrats running away in terror from the label, most recently in the case of Barack Obama, Sanders demonstrated that one can run as a socialist in American politics and not earn the immediate opprobrium that previously was attendant such a self-assigned adjective. This can be attributed to the fact that we now live in a world where adults over the age of thirty have no recollection of the Soviet Union, including the present author. I was in diapers by the time the Berlin Wall fell and in kindergarten when Yeltsin took power from Gorbachev.
As a footnote, it should be added that this notion of socialism that is now acceptable to millions of voters is still effectively the so-called ‘Scandinavian model’, which must be analyzed for its massive flaws. This model, a state capitalist welfare state with a robust social safety net and a comparatively tiny military, is still defined by allowance for racism, xenophobia, and imperialism. The population homogeneity of these constituent social democracies is caused by a legacy of restrictive immigration policies, an embrace by their Labor/Socialist parties of eugenics, and a soft gloves treatment of Nazism in the last century. The dreadful and barbaric mayhem wrought by Anders Breivik in July 2011 was illustrative of a dark underbelly in Scandinavian politics that exploded into a vicious moment of carnage targeting innocent children and civilians in Norway due to paranoid fantasies about ‘cultural Marxism’. Another illustration of this comes from the multivolume Millennium series by the late Stieg Larsson, published in the US as The Girl with the Dragon’s Tattoo. Larsson was a Trotskyist muckraker who found a deeply disturbing strain of misogyny and violence on a systemic level within his home country of Sweden and sought to give voice to his concerns through the detective stories about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, the reason why the original Swedish language title of the series was Men Who Hate Women.
Second, Sanders did not, despite claims to the contrary, create a movement. Instead he magnetized towards him a variety of domestic movements that predated his campaign announcement. Members of Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Nader presidential campaigns, and recent environmental protest movements made up his base. To suggest that their support for Sanders bars them from being up to par is mistaken, though I myself admit that I made that mistake. I have plenty of respect for people in Rhode Island who were enthusiastic about Sanders, I just find the lack of understanding of power dynamics so frustrating.
Third, with all these things properly understood, it would seem quite obvious that the members of his presidential campaign base should now be defining the American political agenda and they yet they are not doing so. If one observes headlines over the past twelve months, we have instead seen a proliferation of stories about the dread alt-right and how the relatively smaller demographic of voters who read the Breitbart cesspool are a serious threat to public safety. Admittedly this is partially due to a fear mongering and sensationalism that is offered by the press outlets that are in the bag for the Democratic Party. But another reason is because the Sanders base lacks the cohesion and leadership it needs to move forward. Our Revolution is hindered by internal debates over leadership and other existential anxieties. The effort to create a new People’s Party that would draft Sanders to run as its first presidential candidate went over like a fart in church almost as soon as it began. The Green Party, which sought to court Sanders voters at the time of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, is beholden to its own internal contradictions.
A hundred years ago, the course of human history was undeniably altered by a certain socialist who dared ask ‘what is to be done?’
I would respond with the words of the late Grace Lee Boggs, a Providence native, who said shortly before her death “we are the leaders we have been waiting for.” It is time for the Sanders base to do a little political self-education and examine the writings of the great C.L.R. James. In particular I would advise they familiarize themselves with the works Every Cook Can Govern and a short piece titled Lenin and the Vanguard Party, which both explain how James felt about the Communist movement and what sort of direct democracy should be created by the working class to establish a new form of governance. Those who are interested in something in print are invited to read the anthology A New Notion, edited by Noel Ignatiev.
These writings, along with the ecological praxis described by the late Green theorist Murray Bookchin, are what should be embraced by the Sanders base if we are to see a real resistance to the Trump administration. Bernie Sanders is a politician who did some good things. But his followers are capable of so much more than he is and are honestly much better people. The suggestion that he somehow must be seen as anything substantial and profound is demonstrative of either a rather mistaken grasp of political power or alternatively a lack of interest in actual political change. The absurd argument that one must be reverential and nice to a Democratic politician (and that is what he is, a New Dealer Democrat but nothing more) is a demand which will hinder the implementation of the very programs that he claims to be the harbinger of.
Case and point illustrative of this is the matter of Israel-Palestine. Prior to his presidential run, Sanders made disgusting and unforgivable statements at a town hall meeting during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. What he said was racist and demonstrably wrong.
But then something rather astounding happened. Over the course of his campaign, BDS activists followed him to every campaign stop and hounded him, rightfully so, for his support of Israeli slaughter of civilians and children. They drove him up a wall.
Then the old man did something that blew my socks off. While Hillary Clinton made her obligatory pilgrimage to AIPAC so to kiss the ring of the Israeli lobby, Sanders passed and instead offered a (very flawed) speech about how he was in favor of a just settlement for the Palestinians. Hell, even Norman Finkelstein described it as “not great, not a total disaster”!
Say what you want about him afterwards, the fact is that he did something historic there. He pushed the envelope way out there as a Jewish presidential candidate who rebuked the lobby and spoke out in favor of something different than the usual hasbara. That’s a great thing that will ripple into future elections for years to come.
But it only happened because the people led him to that place and not the other way around. We are the leaders we have been waiting for.