The Iowa Caucus results are in. Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself a socialist and calls for a “political revolution against the billionaire class”, was defeated by Hillary Clinton by a mere 0.3%. Millions of Americans are desperately looking for a way out of the crisis and Sanders has filled the vacuum on the Left.
The Iowa Caucus results are in. Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself a socialist and calls for a “political revolution against the billionaire class”, was defeated by Hillary Clinton by a mere 0.3%—far less than the statistical margin of error. One year ago, Clinton was set to cruise unopposed to the Democratic Party nomination. Sanders was portrayed as an irrelevant protest candidate and trailed her by 50 points.
Millions of American workers and youth are desperately looking for a way out of the bleakness of American capitalism and, with no labour party alternative, Sanders has filled the vacuum. In spite of the Clinton and Democratic Party machine and the millions they receive from big business, Bernie Sanders’ reformist, left-populist message has gained a big echo amongst the working class and young people in particular, as indicated by the fact that he has received millions of dollars in contributions averaging just $27 per person.
This is democracy?
We have explained many times that the Democratic Party is neither democratic nor a party in the usual sense of the word. It is a massively corrupt capitalist electoral machine with no unified program and no democratic internal organisational structures through which the rank-and-file can hold its leaders accountable. The vast majority of voters merely “self-identify” as Democrat or Republican, as there is no standard criteria for membership. Although many workers vote for the Democrats and are encouraged to do so by the labor leaders (more often than not as a “lesser evil”), the unions are seen merely as another “special interest,” almost akin to lobbyists, and there is no formal or organic connection between them and the party.
The truth is that Sanders may have actually won the vote in Iowa, even though the way delegates are allocated to the different precinct caucuses was skewed against him. Apparently, the Democratic Party machine mismanaged many caucuses and when the numbers did not add up, they “resolved” this with a coin toss, mostly in Clinton’s favor. This is literally what the so-called “democratic” process in the pre-nomination contest has been reduced to.
As reported by The Atlantic, “Coin flips are a longstanding feature of the Democratic caucuses, and games of chance actually have a long history in deciding close electoral contests in the US… And their use underscores the fact that even small shifts in individual precincts can have an outsized impact in a race as tight as this one.”
Furthermore, when one drills into the demographics of caucus attendees, it is obvious that the deck was heavily stacked going in. The Iowa Caucus Project, an independent organisation of Drake University, dedicated to research on the caucuses, provides a deep look at the types of people who participate in the caucuses at the outset. First and foremost, those who are closest to the party are more likely to participate, and half are 45 or older. Sanders, who only became a Democrat during the race, won a dominating 84 percent of the under-30 vote. It was also noticeable that amongst those who said they were participating in caucuses for the first time, Sanders beat Clinton 59% to 37%. If we look at the vote by household income , we can also see that the richer the household, the more likely it was to vote for Clinton. In households with an income below $30,000 a year, Sanders beat Clinton 57% to 41%, while amongst those making over $100,000 a year, Clinton beat Sanders 55 to 37%. This shows that Sanders has managed to enthuse particularly the youth, the poorer and new participants.
But going into the primaries, Sanders had to fight an uphill battle against the Democratic party apparatus. Iowa has more than 3.1 million people, but fewer than 180,000 participated in the Democratic Caucuses.
The Democratic Party’s thumb on the scale
The opening shots rang out in October of 2015, as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, went on television calling for more debates. This would have favored Sanders, who has not been given nowhere near as much airtime on the mainstream media outlets. Her rationale was, “to give the American people the opportunity to hear from these presidential candidates, to listen to what they’ve got to say, to hold them accountable for their views and their positions.” The Democratic Party apparatus’ response to Ms. Gabbard’s call was to promptly uninvite her from attending the first debate. Ms. Gabbard’s own comment on the incident hardly requires supplementary commentary: “It’s very dangerous when we have people in positions of leadership who use their power to try to quiet those who disagree with them… When I signed up to be vice chair of the DNC, no one told me I would be relinquishing my freedom of speech and checking it at the door.”
Later, as a result of ongoing DNC vendor technical errors, Bernie Sanders’ national data director, Josh Uretsky, was able to improperly access campaign data from the Clinton campaign. Although the Sanders campaign promptly fired Uretsky, its access to the DNC national voter file—an invaluable document upon which campaign operations hinge—was frozen. The story took a strange twist when it was revealed that Uretsky was recommended by the DNC itself and the DNC provided the data logs that show access to the Clinton and not the Sanders campaign. An unnamed advisor for Sanders went so far as to insinuate that the incident was arguably conspiratorial: “I don’t know how you can more centrally connect this thing than those two entities, [and] here we are being attacked by both of those entities when, in fact, they recommended this guy to the campaign.” The debacle climaxed on December 18 as the Sanders campaign filed a lawsuit against the DNC itself!
Faced with this, the campaign petitioned the bourgeois state for assistance in combating the apparatus’ potential conspiratorial conduct. It then responded by appealing to its supporters to raise funds with an email which highlighted the improper conduct of the party: “The reality is that the huge turnouts that we’ve had at our meetings, our strong fundraising, our volunteer base, and quick rise in the polls have caused the Democratic National Committee to place its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” One million dollars were raised in just one day, showing the enormous support for Sanders. This should serve to show the real nature of the capitalist Democratic Party.
On the day of the caucuses, Sanders’ campaign warned of alarming signs that Hillary’s camp might be up to foul play. USA Today has asked whether the correct winner was called, the Des Moines Register reported on precinct scrambles to report Sanders’ win, and Sanders’ camp criticized the state party for failing to collect votes. Some have even insinuated that fraud may have been involved. In the end, Sanders’ camp has admitted that the actual result may never be known.
Even if Sanders ekes out a victory in a majority of the upcoming caucuses and primaries, unless he absolutely commands the lead, which is increasingly unlikely, he has to face up to the most undemocratic aspect of the entire selection process: the “superdelegates”.
These “superdelegates” are unelected and seated automatically, based on their status as current or former party leaders or elected officials. These delegates account for approximately 30% of all delegates at the party congress. They serve as a “safety check” to ensure the party remains firmly under the control of the apparatus, while still giving the illusion of democratic input by party supporters. This means Sanders could win more delegates than Clinton in the various state primaries and caucuses and still lose the nomination. Based on a recent AP report, Clinton has already pocketed the vast majority of the super delegates. Sanders’ campaign manager believes that based on the Sanders’ strong showing so far, “superdelegates will change their minds and come over to him.” This could be categorized as delusional, at best.
What would happen if Sanders became the nominee and then went on to win victory in the general election? He would be hard-pressed to implement even the most modest of his progressive proposals. In conditions of capitalist crisis his program, however moderate, cannot be implemented. The US ruling class cannot allow the introduction of adequate parental leave, universal single-payer health care, free college tuition, a living minimum wage, etc. And if he doesn’t toe the line and fall into place, as we have explained before, he would be forced to battle the entire ruling class, something he himself seems to recognise as he has explained the need to build a political movement. However, such a movement cannot be created inside the capitalist Democratic Party. He would only be able to count on relatively meagre resources inside an extremely hostile organization. Tsipras in Greece, at least had his own party and still he was forced to capitulate as he was not prepared to break with capitalism. This is an important lesson.
Should he not win the Democratic nomination, he could still run as an independent, though he will have lost many months playing by the DNC’s rules, instead of building an independent electoral machine and working to break the unions from the Democrats. If he follows through on his promise to call for a Clinton vote if she wins the nomination—a call for the status quo after months of calling for “revolution”—this will only further disillusion and confuse millions of workers and young people. No matter what happens, the pressures building within the Democratic Party will stress it in ways that are hard to predict, and we can say with confidence that the days of the Democrat-Republican duopoly are limited.
The Democratic Party machine working against Sanders goes back a long way. It was originally built as a party of slave-owners and unimaginably corrupt party machines (like Tammany Hall), which after the Civil War was transformed into a party of Jim Crow segregationists. After the massive labor upsurge in the 1930s, it cynically morphed into the “progressive friend of labor” by passing the New Deal—which, far from being “socialism,” was a series of programs designed to save capitalism from itself. How can one have illusions in the same party responsible for the forced internment of Japanese and German Americans, the Vietnam War, NAFTA, and the enforcement of Taft-Hartley, not to mention the financing of Islamic fundamentalists such as Osama Bin Laden, and the deportation of the highest number undocumented workers in history? If you’re a worker and you want a better life for yourself, your family, and your class you can’t fight for it through the Democratic Party.
The coming years hold many bitter lessons in store. Many workers and young people, who have flocked to Sanders because they want fundamental change, will learn from this experience and will be searching for genuinely revolutionary ideas. Starting with the advanced layers, we will continue to cut through the fog and confusion fomented by the ruling class and their media.
Our task is to patiently explain that the program put forward by Sanders, and which has generated such enthusiasm, can only be achieved by breaking with capitalism and implementing a socialist transformation of society. By patiently explaining of the ABCs of Marxism, our analysis of the crisis of capitalism, and the need for a socialist revolution, many will be attracted to the ideas of the IMT.
In the aftermath of Iowa, which has confirmed Sanders’ enormous support, it is to be expected that the Democratic machine and the capitalist media will step up their campaign against him. It will become clear to many that the Democrats cannot serve as a vehicle for fundamental change—for truly revolutionary change.
That a candidate describing himself as a socialist, exposing the fact that American politics is rigged by big business and calling for a political revolution is attracting huge crowds and massive support, even in traditionally conservative parts of the country, shows the potential that exists. However, those who imagine that the Democrats can be a vehicle for the change so many people want and need will find only disappointment. Even before he formally announced his candidacy, Socialist Appeal warned that you cannot use the Democratic Party to provide workers with the party they need. It was a mistake for Sanders to lead those fed up with the status quo back into the Democratic Party, which, like the Republicans, is a party of, by, and for big business, linked closely with the state.
The potential that exists can only be realised in the form of a class-independent labor party based on the unions, fighting for a socialist program. Although the exact trajectory of this path cannot be predicted in advance, it is along these lines that the third American revolution will be victorious. We invite you to join us and support us in our efforts!
Published on In Defence of Marxism
Reformism, Revolution, and the Crisis of US Capitalism
By Socialist Appeal, USA
In order to provide some political background to the US presidential primaries, we publish here this recent editorial from Socialist Appeal, USA.
These days, it would seem that nearly everyone is a socialist of some sort or another. That was certainly not the case back when Socialist Appeal was founded fifteen years ago. To be sure, what most people understand as “socialism” at the moment is far from the fully revolutionary conception defended in the program at the back of our paper. But this marks a dramatic change in consciousness nonetheless.
Only a generation ago, in 1989, we were informed of the End of History by Francis Fukuyama: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
In a world torn apart by war, terror, racism, ignorance, and poverty, and with a repeat of the 2008 economic implosion implicit in the situation, it’s no wonder people are nervous about the future, angry about the status quo, and anxiously looking for a way out. There is a growing crisis of confidence in the system—fertile ground for populism on both the right and the left.
Part of this process is the decomposition of the tried-and-true American political setup. Supported for decades by relative economic prosperity, the Democrats and Republicans formed part of the apparently immovable bedrock of capitalist rule in the world’s richest country. But the grinding crisis has stressed the institutionalized two-party system to the breaking point. The capitalists are losing the firm grip they had on politics for decades. As Democratic strategist Anita Dunn put it, “[if there’s one thing] we’ve seen in 2016, it’s that politics is not playing by the rules it previously did.”
In the final analysis, political parties express the interests of one class or another. While they may rely on voters from other classes to win elections, they can ultimately represent only one class. Both the Republicans and Democrats are defenders of the capitalist class. The US working class has never had and does not yet have a mass party of its own. For several generations, the Democrats were able to lean on working class voters, and union members in particular, who, for lack of an alternative, would hold their noses at the polls and vote for the lesser evil. But that too has its limits.
Without a multiparty parliamentary system or a mass labor party to channel the aspirations of the workers and youth, the need for a political outlet is being expressed at this stage through the major party machines that do exist—with potentially explosive and chaotic consequences. In the case of the Republicans, the stress is channeling into Donald Trump’s candidacy, pushing the party even further to the right. The possibility of an independent bid and an outright split in the party is not ruled out in the short term. Enthused by Trump’s demagogic call to “make America great again”, frustrated small business owners and backwards layers of the working class make up his base of support.
On the Democrats’ side, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has upended all the expectations of the Democratic strategists. They hoped he would serve merely as left cover for Hillary Clinton, part of their quadrennial “bait-and-switch”, a ploy to trick people who consider themselves on the left into voting for pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist candidates. But they miscalculated badly and his candidacy has gathered enormous momentum. Based on social media, he won the Democratic Party debates by a wide margin in some key demographics. His popularity among black and Latino voters, long considered virtually guaranteed for Clinton, is on the rise, and he actually has a stronger grassroots get-out-the-vote apparatus than his party rival in almost every state. Were it not for the trade unions, most of which have thrown their resources and volunteers into her campaign—though not without resistance from the rank and file—Clinton would be in an even more precarious position.
Interest in Sanders’ policy proposals—limited in substance but radical in the context of American capitalism—have struck a chord among millions of young people in particular. Had he run as an independent, calling on the unions to break with the Democrats to build something new, Sanders could have been well on his way towards establishing a serious challenge to the two-party system. Instead, he deliberately chose to throw his weight into burnishing the image of the Democrats—who, over the last 100 years, have ruled for the capitalists nearly twice as long as the Republicans. Now, there is a real possibility of his winning the nomination and even the presidency—and thereby be directly responsible for managing the crisis of capitalism, which will only intensify in the years to come.
With deep pockets and hundreds of Democratic National Convention “superdelegates” firmly on Clinton’s side, Sanders’ nomination is still an uphill battle. But much can change between now and the later caucuses and primaries. The fact remains that in less than a year, he has overcome a 50-point deficit to match or even pull ahead of Clinton in several key states. If the general election were held today, polls indicate he would defeat Trump by a margin of 15%, undermining the Clinton camp’s go-to argument against him: that Sanders is unelectable, and she is the party’s best bet to keep out the rabid right. With widespread suspicion in her credibility and trustworthiness, due to her close ties to Wall Street and her tenure as Secretary of State, Clinton may well be “unelectable” herself.
Sanders’ socialism is a mild social-democratic reformist variant at best. His proposals include universal healthcare and education, to be funded through modestly higher taxes on the rich, while maintaining the basic structures of capitalism. Like FDR’s policies during the Great Depression, this so-called “Scandinavian” socialism aims to take the edge off the most glaring inequalities of the system—in order to stave off social unrest and save the system from itself. Even Hillary Clinton agreed with this during one of the early Democratic debates, saying: “Our job is to rein in the excesses of capitalism so it doesn’t run amok.”
However, this is not socialism, in the scientific sense of the word. This kind of tinkering with capitalism can never eliminate the root cause of inequality, exploitation, and oppression—the capitalist system itself. Given the depth of the crisis and the intractable arrogance of the most powerful capitalists, a Sanders presidency would be hard pressed to deliver on even the most modest of his proposals—thus paving the way for an even more reactionary “greater evil” in the future.
There are two types of reformism: that which seeks to bring about limited social reforms within capitalism, and that which imagines it possible to gradually reform capitalism out of existence altogether. Both of these are counterposed to revolutionary socialism, which understands that while reforms within capitalism must be fought for, the system must ultimately be overthrown altogether, through the conscious, revolutionary mass action of the working class. Only genuine socialism, in which the key levers of the economy are socially owned and democratically administered by the working class, can use the extraordinary wealth of society in the interests of all. Such a perspective clearly poses an existential threat to the capitalists.
In the past, talk of socialism would have been laughed off or repressed outright. But since the capitalists can no longer deliver the goods, they cannot take these ideas head on. Hence the need to co-opt the meaning of the word socialism. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! In recent months there has been a concerted campaign, most notably in the New York Times—the mouthpiece of the liberal billionaire wing of the ruling class—to define what socialism is and what it isn’t. Even conservative columnists like David Brooks seek to fill the word with content safe for the continued domination of capitalism. Incredibly, he has declared that what the Republican Party needs is . . . a socialist presidential candidate! Not a “statist”, as he put it, but someone concerned about social welfare. This is an unprecedented change of tune, to say the least.
The more shortsighted representatives of capital are licking their chops at the short-term profits and union busting bonanza that a Trump, Cruz, or Rubio presidency would bring them. But the more thoughtful analysts understand that this would unleash a mass working class struggle—a repeat of the Wisconsin uprising in cities across the country. They would therefore prefer the far more malleable and familiar Clinton. But they are increasingly ready and willing to mold Sanders to their needs should he emerge as the eventual winner.
Growing interest in socialism and the rise of reformism are a reflection of the objective contradictions within the system itself, which is organically incapable of offering a way out. As night follows day, the crisis of capitalism will be accompanied by a crisis of reformism in all its forms. Without delivering real and substantial reforms, reformism has a limited shelf life.
Under these conditions, interest in revolutionary Marxism will also grow by leaps and bounds. The task of revolutionary Marxists is to explain what is, to tell the truth, “warts and all”. We cannot foment illusions in capitalist parties and politicians. We must explain that socialism won’t come about through the ballot box alone, but will require years of hard struggle, education, and organization in the workplace and on the streets. We cannot water down our program to conform to the lowest “socialist” common denominator. We must steadfastly resist all efforts to co-opt our ideas and principles. In the end, the truth will prevail. It may sound like a broken record, but there is simply no solution within the limits of capitalism. Those who seek artificial shortcuts today will find themselves outside the stream of history and incapable of playing a catalyzing role when the revolutionary upsurge inevitably comes.
2016 promises to be an exciting and tumultuous year. The building pressure is palpable. When, where, and in what form the dam will burst is hard to say—but burst it will. We must therefore have a sense of urgency and strengthen the forces of revolutionary Marxism in the US and around the world. There’s no time like the present to get involved with the IMT in the struggle for the world socialist revolution.