Political chess game: Socialists, Sanders and the Green New Deal

By Paul Le Blanc

February 4, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Politics is like a multi-dimensional chess game. I am reminded of that as I look at and think about the current Democratic Party primary campaign.

The “liberal” capitalist elite

The quite powerful “liberal” wing of the corporate-capitalist elite dominating the Democratic Party (and which will never be willing to give up control) is obviously very much opposed to Bernie Sanders’ campaign against "the billionaires" and for a social-democratic power shift that would take some of the wealth and power from the rich and give it to the rest of us. 

This wing of the elite also hates Donald Trump, whose egocentric, bigoted and bullying policies and mode of functioning damage and jeopardize the long-term stability of the system. If they cannot tame him, they would like to remove him. 

The growing systemic crisis has weakened the elite sufficiently to up-end what had been politics-as-usual, generating an expanding and deepening popular discontent that has made possible both the Trump and Sanders phenomenon. Such developments necessarily impact upon the calculations of the Democratic Party elite.

They may conclude that even Sanders’ relatively mild “socialism” is too threatening and will do all that they can to destroy his campaign. It is also possible that they will shift if they conclude that his campaign will be the best way to dislodge Trump. If they cannot gracefully prevent enough of his primary victories, and if they cannot find an alternative who they believe could actually defeat Trump, they might conceivably end up accepting Sanders (for now) and do what they can to help him win the Presidency. 

If Sanders is able to mobilize sufficient popular support to overcome the vicious assaults of the Trump wing of the corporate-capitalist elite, thereby becoming President, then a unified corporate elite (including all their publicists, the bulk of the mass media, the various right-wing centrist “grassroots” entities, almost all of the other figures who have been his competitors for the Democratic nomination, not to mention the various forces of repression) will seek to limit and tame the so-called “political revolution.”

If Sanders wins

It is possible that President Sanders will be too much of a “realist” to actually stick to his stated program and will simply cave in and betray it, to the accompaniment of all kinds of flowery phrases, of course. It may be possible, however, that Sanders will instead attempt to mobilize a serious fight for his program (this will be dependent not only on his character, but especially on the moods, commitments and actions of his popular base). 

If the less “realist” and more hopeful (socialist) direction is chosen, then push will quickly come to shove. Under certain circumstances, this could lead to a revolutionary situation in which the working class wins the battle for democracy, defeats the corporate capitalist elite, and begins a transition to socialism. But given the actualities of our situation – relative organizational and political inexperience and weakness of anti-capitalist forces (including among the red-hot revolutionaries who denounce Sanders from the left) – what is much more likely is defeat and repression. 

Since reality so often turns out to be more complex than we think, a “middle way” may emerge that, for example, allows Sanders to implement some New Deal-type reforms within parameters set by the corporate elite (while maintaining certain essentials, including some variant of an imperialist foreign policy).

Building the socialist movement

The most likely variant, by far, is that somewhere along the way – if not sooner, then almost certainly later – the Sanders campaign’s “political revolution” will be blocked or defeated. The primary reason for that is that we do not have a strong enough socialist movement capable of bringing victory. 

Regardless of how reality unfolds, it is essential for socialists to remain focused on the task of building a mass socialist movement, one which will have the necessary development of consciousness and understanding, the necessary accumulation of actual experience in the struggles of our time, and the necessary building-up of organizational structure and know-how. 

For some, this overall task will include giving critical and active support to the Sanders campaign as long as it remains true to its stated program (while at the same time arguing for the need to be ready to go further). For others, this is not the choice that will be made. That is, in my opinion, a tactical decision – not unimportant, worth discussing and arguing about, but not worthy of raging denunciations or snide put-downs among serious revolutionaries.

The basis for my decision to support the Sanders campaign (and serious electoral efforts of other socialists, including those using the Democratic Party ballot-line) is that it has drawn together and given focus (and will be giving essential experience) to many thousands and millions of people who are moving in the direction of socialism and can be an important component making up the cadres and mass base of a serious socialist movement.

Beyond electoralism and anti-electoralism

Electoralism by itself is a trap, just as anti-electoralism by itself is a trap. No less important for all of us is helping to build mass social movements and struggles – for good public education for all, for a good public health care system for all, for good mass transit for all, for decent housing and communities for all, for decent jobs and wages for all, etc.

An essential aspect of our mass struggles must also be opposition to all forms of oppression, involving race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. No less essential is the need for an independent foreign policy for the working class – opposing imperialism and war, and supporting genuine freedom, economic justice and self-determination for peoples all around the world.

But there is something that deserves particular attention. We need to defend a livable environment for our planet, and this must be an integral part of our practical political program. It is essential to educate around, mobilize around, fight for, and build consciousness through a mighty push to implement an honest, radical variation of the Green New Deal. 

If current scientific assessments are correct, we have one or two decades to accomplish this. And if Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg and others are right about the dynamics of the capital accumulation process, that accomplishment will not be realized within a capitalist framework.

A serious fight for the Green New Deal, involving the mobilization of masses of people in the decade that has now begun, is crucial for the future of humanity. It is also crucial for building a mass socialist movement, regardless of which politicians are winning elections. Here perhaps more than any other struggle within capitalist society is the crux of Luxemburg’s battle-cry for the socialist movement: “The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim.”