I was not one of those who were anxiously hoping for another Sanders campaign. The Democratic Party has been rightly called a “corporate-funded dumpster fire,” and by choosing to run for its Presidential nomination, Bernie will conceivably bring hundreds of thousands of folks into the Democrat fold. These hundreds of thousands ought to instead be working to create the independent socialist workers party that we so desperately need. There are numerous other legitimate criticisms to be made of Sanders’ politics. His lack of anything approaching a coherent anti-imperialist foreign policy, his focus on economic oppressions almost to the exclusion of all else, his vague definition of what socialism even means, his lack of affiliation with (let alone commitment to) an actual socialist organization beyond his own campaign – all of this and more are reasons for concern. The prospects for what might happen if he were to actually win the nomination and the Presidency might also give one pause. We will still have a Congress that is owned by Corporate America. There are any number of scenarios one can imagine where Sanders’ success would actually be detrimental to the socialist cause.
Despite all of these misgivings, I believe that socialists ought to support Bernie for 2020. Here’s why.
Sanders is the face of socialism in America. Bernie is not only the most prominent figure on the American left of our time, he is the most visible (at least nominally) socialist leader in two or three generations. You’d have to go back to Eugene Debs to find another American socialist who could draw millions to the ballot box. There’s certainly a contrast to be drawn between Debs (whose efforts were rooted in the labor movement, and who kept a commitment to independent socialist organizing through his life) and Sanders (not so on either count). But the cold fact of the matter is that we do not have a Eugene Debs at the moment. I hope for the day that we do. At the moment, Bernie is the leader we have. His influence is huge, and the potential for his 2020 campaign to win millions to our side is heartening. The downside of missed opportunities is too steep to pursue.
What’s the alternative? Is there another way to engage with the Presidential Election of 2020 that will better help to advance the cause of socialism? If there is, I don’t see it. In 2016, many of us saw the Green Party’s campaign as our best opportunity for organizing and holding up an alternative vision during the elections. It would also certainly be nice if an explicitly socialist party such as SPUSA were poised to command people’s attention. But with Sanders already positioned as frontrunner for the Democratic nomination this cycle, it’s hard to argue that the third party campaigns will add anything to the debate, or will offer much in the way of opportunities for organizing or building the strength, confidence and consciousness of the working class. I would genuinely love to hear other perspectives on this, though.
Here’s where we should draw the line. Absent a Sanders nomination, socialists should abandon the Democrats’ 2020 Presidential Campaign. Despite the lure of “lesser evilism” we simply ought not support a candidate whose policies and track record are not aligned with our ideals. There is, as yet, no one in the Democratic field other than Bernie who deserves our support.
What else should socialists do? In terms of other work that can be done to move things forward, socialists who don’t choose to support Bernie will still find a lot to do, and bless them. They can continue to organize, to agitate, to educate, to support the struggles of the oppressed. In fact, this is where the bulk of our time ought to be spent even during the campaign cycle. Struggle raises consciousness and confidence in ways that an election campaign cannot.
I just don’t think that sitting on the sidelines of the entire election cycle proclaiming a message of “Bernie’s campaign is problematic” (though this is certainly true) will do a lot toward building the sort of mass movement for socialism that we need. If we don’t find ways to engage positively with Bernie’s campaign, we’ll be looking back with regret in a couple years.