Bernie and His Critics

Majumdar, Nivedita

Publisher:  Jacobin
Date Written:  01/02/2016
Year Published:  2016  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX18675

Bernie Sanders has provided an opening that we can't squander.



The problem with the analysis is not that it’s wrong, but rather that aspects of it are apolitical. The point is not whether Bernie can be criticized on his economic or foreign policy positions. Of course he can. The question is whether his campaign offers the Left an opening to bring our politics out from the margins. We should be excited at the opportunity afforded by a presidential candidate capturing the imagination of tens of millions by attacking wealthy elites and their political system.


It seems that decades of isolation and insularity have made the US far left forget a cardinal principle of politics — that it is fundamentally about embedding yourself in mass work, not maneuvering among small groups of like-minded activists.

Sanders’s campaign should be welcomed by the radical left because it provides us with a spectacular opportunity for organizing. Hundreds of thousands of people are coming out to meetings and rallies because he has tapped into a deep revulsion at the ruling class. They are coming out because they are inspired by his railing against the corporate capture of political power, his deepening critique of the carceral system, and his call for working-class mobilization. He has made “socialism” a part of the political lexicon for the first time in decades.

If you’re an organizer, you know that words matter, ideas matter, transforming popular common-sense matters.


If Sanders does win, it would be essential for the Left to make him deliver on his promises and push him further left. And if he loses in the primaries, I do not doubt that he will try to point his supporters toward Clinton. But will this really trigger a flow of socialists into the Democratic Party? Who are these activists who will be so easily swindled?

Sure, some will heed his call. But we have to be real here. The Left, such as it is, is so small, so marginal right now, that the biggest challenge it faces is not the possibility of losing some members to the Democrats — but to grow to the point where we might in fact matter, where we might have some social weight beyond campuses and a small set of unions.

In engaging with the campaign, left activists can make links with thousands of working-class Americans who are disgusted with the corporate takeover of America and who are not put off by the idea of socialism. This is an invaluable opportunity to grow, and even to learn. But it is only possible through engagement.

We need to understand that it’s ultimately not about Sanders. It’s about the political moment the campaign has created and its possibilities. Sanders’s anti-corporate, pro-working-class electoral campaign, which has against all odds electrified millions. Whether the Left rejects or chooses to take advantage of this opening may well define its trajectory for a long time to come.
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