United States: Should the left back Bernie Sanders' campaign? Two views

The attitude to the presidential campaign of long-time independent US senator and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders has become a major debate on the US left. Some see his decision to run as a Democrat as the major dividing line, accusing him of sidetracking the left into support for the capitalist Democratic Party. Others, while recognising Sanders' shortcomings, point to the wider role his campaign can offer in providing a more radical pole of attraction in US politics at a time when the left is weak. Below Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal makes available two views from significant sections of the US socialist left. Readers' comments are encouraged in the comments box after the articles.

1. Dan La Botz: Sanders' campaign a political phenomenon that challenges preconceptions

By Dan La Botz

2. ISO (USA): The problem with Bernie Sanders

By Ashley Smith

May 5, 2015 -- Socialist Worker (USA, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The coming presidential contest was shaping up to be one of the most underwhelming in electoral history. An heir to the Bush dynasty, real estate magnate Jeb Bush, looked like the safest bet to become the Republican Party's presidential nominee, and challenge the anointed frontrunner from the Democrat Party's leading dynasty, corporate drone Hillary Clinton.

Few people on the left or even among liberals could manage any excitement or conviction about getting "Ready for Hillary Clinton," the former Walmart board member, regardless of the populist veneer she is trying to put forward as her campaign gets underway.

Thus, for many, the decision of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination offers an alternative. For example, Jacobin magazine's founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara argued, "Sanders' candidacy could strengthen the left in the long run. The tensions among Democrats are serious and raise the possibility for the realignment of progressive forces on a totally different basis."

Sunkara joined more than 50 activists, mainly from the Occupy Wall Street movement, in forming People for Sanders. Their founding statement says, "[W]e support Bernie Sanders in his bid to become the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. We stand firmly behind Senator Sanders as the strongest progressive possibility in the race right now. His commitment to our values is one of longstanding commitment. Sanders is the bold alternative."

But in running for the Democratic presidential nomination as the liberal outsider with almost no chance of winning, Sanders isn't very "bold"--no more so than the fizzled campaigns of Dennis Kucinich in past presidential election years. And by steering liberal and left supporters into a Democratic Party whose policies and politics he claims to disagree with, Sanders--no matter how critical he might be of Hillary Clinton--is acting as the opposite of an "alternative."


Sanders has positioned himself as a hero of America's downtrodden workers. He doesn't run from the label "socialist," but instead embraces it in his condemnations of corporate greed. He even has a portrait of the great Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs hanging in his office.

Certainly Sanders will bring all sorts of issues to the Democratic primaries that Clinton would prefer to tiptoe around or avoid altogether. He has promised to call attention to inequality in the U.S., the corporate hijacking of American politics and the imminent crisis of climate change.

With refreshing bluntness, he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News' This Week, "We need a political revolution in this country involving millions of people who are prepared to stand up and say "Enough is enough," and I want to help lead that effort."

But if Sanders really wanted to participate in mobilizing millions to resist the status quo in U.S. politics, he had other options to launching himself into the circus of a Democratic presidential campaign as the designated marginal renegade. And he rejected them.

For one, he could have set a very different example, with a far greater chance of success, if he ran for governor in Vermont against the Democratic Party's incumbent Peter Shumlin, who has betrayed promises to implement a single-payer health care system, create green, union jobs and much more.

Faced with a budget crisis, Shumlin and the state's Democrats refused to raise taxes on the rich to fulfill their promises. Instead, they imposed cuts in social services, education, and environmental programs, and laid off scores of state workers. Shumlin even went so far as to call for the banning of teachers' right to strike.

Sanders is Vermont's most popular politician. With the backing of the Progressive Party, he could have run for governor as an independent and easily defeated both the Democratic and Republican nominees, and never faced the accusation of being a spoiler that is inevitably thrown at any third-party challenger.

A victory for a truly independent campaign by Sanders would have been even bigger than Kshama Sawant's election to the Seattle City Council as an open socialist. In so doing, Sanders could have built momentum for a national third-party alternative to represent workers and the oppressed.

If Sanders had his heart set on national politics, he could have run for president like Ralph Nader as an independent, opposing both capitalist parties, the Democrats and Republicans. He would have been appealing for a protest vote, rather than any real chance to win, but Sanders rejected this possibility out of hand for a different reason. "No matter what I do," Sanders said in January, "I will not be a spoiler. I will not play that role in helping to elect some right-wing Republican as president of the United States."

In other words, Sanders refused to consider an independent presidential campaign not because he had little chance of winning, but because he didn't want to compete for vote with the Democrats' eventual nominee. There's no reason to believe he will be a "bold alternative" at the end of his doomed campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In jumping into the Democratic Party primaries, Sanders appointed a quintessential corporate party insider, Ted Devine, to be his campaign manager. Devine has worked for a series of Democratic presidential campaigns, stretching back to Walter Mondale and running through to John Kerry.

Sigh of relief

The Democratic Party establishment can breathe a collective sigh of relief. It doesn't, in fact, fear liberal Democrats like Kucinich or Sanders, but third-party challenges like Nader's that have the prospect of breaking their stranglehold on votes from workers and the oppressed, as several local and statewide campaigns have shown over the last few years.

Hillary Clinton certainly doesn't regard Sanders as a threat. She knows that the election business follows the golden rule: Whoever has more gold, wins. Clinton is expected to amass a war chest of more than $1 billion, mostly from Wall Street and Corporate America, to pay for advertising, an army of paid staff and Astroturf support. This will overwhelm Sanders' fundraising goal of $50 million and his underdeveloped volunteer infrastructure.

In fact, Clinton regards Sanders as an asset to her campaign. He will bring enthusiasm and attention to Democratic primaries that promised to be lackluster at best. He will also help her frame the election on populist terms that have widespread support. That benefits the Democrats and undermines the Republicans, who have little to say about inequality, except that they like it.

As liberal writer Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post:

Bernie Sanders isn't going to pull her to the left because she was already moving that way. She's talking about issues like inequality and criminal justice reform in terms that she might not have used 10 or 20 years ago ... Talking about them in more liberal terms isn't just good for her in the primaries, it's good for her in the general elections.

No wonder Clinton celebrated Sander's entry into the race. "I agree with Bernie," she wrote on Twitter. "Focus must be on helping America's middle class. GOP would hold them back. I welcome him to the race."

You can expect that Clinton will agree with Sanders during the campaign, rearticulating some of his themes in a "more realistic" fashion and occasionally chiding him for taking things too far. Sanders can be counted on to concentrate most of his fire on the Republicans, the Koch brothers and their reactionary positions, as he has been doing for years.

Sanders admitted the truth in what was perhaps a Freudian slip: "If I decide to run, I'm not running against Hillary Clinton. I'm running for a declining middle class."

At this stage, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to emerge as the Democratic nominee. If she stumbles in some irreversible way, the corporate establishment that controls the Democratic Party will come up with another more mainstream candidate, like Obama in 2008. Either way, the eventual Democratic presidential nominee will toe the capitalist line.

However much he disagrees with that candidate, Sanders will agitate for trade unionists and social movement activists to vote for the lesser of two evils. The result is that he will help corral people on the left from taking any steps toward building a genuine alternative to the two-party status quo.

Thus, Sanders will follow the well-trodden path of other liberals like Kucinich. In the 2004 Democratic primaries, Kucinich excoriated Kerry and other candidates for voting for George W. Bush's wars, implementing neoliberal trade agreements like NAFTA, and supporting the racist death penalty.

But Kucinich was very conscious of keeping the left and liberals from building a third party. At one point during the campaign, he said: "The Democratic Party created third parties by running to the middle. What I'm trying to do is to go back to the big tent so that everyone who felt alienated could come back through my candidacy."

Kucinich thus became the bait on the hook for the Democrats to catch their liberal base. After he lost the primaries, he called on his supporters to support the very candidate he had roundly criticized.

Sanders' campaign will serve the same function. He is already serving that function by luring people on the left, like the Occupy activists who launched People for Bernie, into a Democratic Party campaign when they might have concentrated their energies on politics outside the Democrats.

This is especially ironic when you remember that the Occupy Wall Street encampments were attacked and cleared on orders from Democratic Party mayors--many of them known for being liberals--from Boston to Chicago to Portland to Oakland.

Break with Debs

Sanders' decision to jump into Democratic Party presidential politics represents a decisive break from the man he calls his hero: Eugene V. Debs. Debs spent his whole life building the Socialist Party as an alternative to the two capitalist parties. Year in and year out, he insisted that "[t]he differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties involve no issue, no principle in which the working class have any interest."

Debs understood that his call for working-class people to break with the two capitalist parties meant supporting a political alternative that might not win--but he believed this was a necessary challenge to a two-party system that offered nothing to workers. "I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it," Debs once wrote, "than vote for something I don't want and get it."

Sanders' retreat is based on a liberal strategy of attempting to transform the Democratic Party from within that has failed for generations. Instead of shifting the Democrats to the left, the leftists who join the Democrats get dragged to the right. Sanders himself is, in many ways, a prime example of this process.

Back in the 1980s, as mayor of Burlington--the largest city in Vermont, known back then as "the People's Republic"--Sanders did genuinely challenge the two-party system. He went so far as to build solidarity with the left-wing Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua at a time when Republicans and Democrats were supporting the Reagan administration's dirty wars in Central America.

In the 1990s, however, Sanders set his sites on higher office--not by building an alternative party, but by running as an independent who maintained a collaborative relationship with the Democrats.

Once ensconced in Washington as a member of the House and Senate, he abandoned his principled opposition to the two-party system. As Vermont Democrat Howard Dean--a former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination himself--stated, "He is basically a liberal Democrat, and he is a Democrat at that--he runs as an Independent because he doesn't like the structure and money that gets involved...The bottom line is that Bernie Sanders votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time."

Since he made his arrangement with the Democrats, Sanders has uncritically supported them in Vermont elections. As a result, when his ally, Gov. Peter Shumlin, declared war on state workers, Sanders didn't even issue a statement in opposition. His silence led many in Vermont to ask: "Where's Bernie?"

Nationally, Sanders supported Barack Obama in both of the last two elections, despite the president's betrayal of his progressive promises and his record of continuity with many Bush policies, from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the bailout of Wall Street.

And the Democrats have rewarded Sanders. They instructed their Vermont candidates not to oppose him and sent corporate lackeys like Sens. Charles Schumer and Barbara Boxer to campaign for him. Even worse, Sanders accepted a $10,000 donation from Hillary Clinton's Hillpac back in 2006, during his first run for Senate.

Sanders, the supposed independent, was a bitter opponent of third-party challenges Ralph Nader's campaigns against Al Gore and John Kerry. In 2004, he announced, "Not only am I going to vote for John Kerry, I am going to run around this country and do everything I can to dissuade people from voting for Ralph Nader...I am going to do everything I can, while I have differences with John Kerry, to make sure that he is elected."

Less radical

With his slide into becoming a Democrat in everything but name, Sanders became less and less radical on a host of issues, including cherished ones like class inequality. For example, Sanders rightly denounces the minimum wage as a "starvation wage," but he doesn't support the low-wage workers' movement demand for $15 now. Instead, he proposes a more "realistic" increase to $15 "over a period of years, not tomorrow."

Sanders has similarly moderate positions on many social issues. While he boasts a good voting record on the rights of oppressed groups, it doesn't stand out among most other liberal Democrats.

In fact, on the decisive issue today of racist police brutality, Hillary Clinton is actually posturing to Sanders' left. She has raised questions about the drug war and ending mass incarceration--though, of course, largely to cover her complicity with Bill Clinton's vast expansion of both. By contrast, in a recent CNN interview, Sanders, after expressing sympathy for cops' supposedly "difficult job," managed to call only for jobs and community policing.

His foreign policy positions are to the right of many liberal Democrats. Sanders voted in favor of George W. Bush's original Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution that gave the administration a green light to launch the war on Afghanistan. While he did vote against Bush's invasion of Iraq, he repeatedly supported funding resolutions for both U.S. occupations. He is also a Zionist who supports Israel consistently, even after its recent escalations of the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.

Sanders' backing of U.S. imperialism compromises his support for workers' rights. For example, Sanders supports the basing of the new F-35 warplane at Burlington's airport, despite the fact that the fighter-bomber's ear-shattering noise made scores of working-class housing unsafe for habitation.


Like many leftists before him, the Democratic Party has co-opted and changed Bernie Sanders, using him to help hinder the development of a genuine alternative to the capitalist parties.

His campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination will be, at best, a re-run of Jesse Jackson's primary runs in 1984 and 1988. Jackson's campaigns galvanized an entire section of the left, channeled it toward the Democratic Party and directed its remnants to vote for a succession of corporate candidates like Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.

Based on his experience as Dennis Kucinich's former press secretary, David Swanson has drawn the conclusion that the left should not support Sanders. "The best place to put our resources is into uncorrupted, principle, policy-driven, nonviolent, creative activism--including activism needed to create fair, open, verifiable elections," Swanson wrote.

He's right. As the great socialist historian Howard Zinn argued, "The really critical thing isn't who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in--in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating--those are the things that determine what happens."

The recent uprising in Baltimore proves this. Without that revolt, the Baltimore state's attorney would never have charged the six cops who killed Freddie Gray. Without more struggle, they will certainly not be convicted.

At the same time, the left shouldn't abandon the electoral arena to the two capitalist parties. If we do, we create a vacuum that the Democrats will fill, co-opting movement activists, demobilizing unions and social movements, and redirecting their precious time, money and energy into electing candidates who then betray workers and the oppressed.

We need to win the new left born out of Occupy, public-sector union struggles and the Black Lives Matter movement to breaking with the Democratic Party and building an electoral alternative as a complement to struggle from below. Bernie Sanders' campaign inside the Democratic Party is an obstacle to that project.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 08/01/2015 - 21:18


Connecting Sanders' Audience’s Aspirations to Clear Working Class Political Alternatives

The following document was discussed at Solidarity's 2015 Convention last weekend and approved by a majority vote, with the addendum that our organization also has many members engaged in the Green Party and that we support their work and the Jill Stein campaign. This resolution is intended to outline an approach to the Sanders campaign and his supporters, and not as an evaluation as Sanders himself or his political views.

Solidarity understands the strategic imperative of organizing a mass base for independent working class political action that unites working people, the independent social movements, and organizations of the oppressed in a battle for their common interests against capitalism and its political representatives. Unlike those on the left who continue to see the Democratic Party as a lesser evil that can be influenced from within, we regard the Democratic Party as unreformable, committed to imposing capital’s neoliberal project. History has shown all too many times that the Democratic Party remains the graveyard of social movements. We reject being drawn into the slippery slope of Democratic Party politics.

Nevertheless, any significant advance in independent working class politics requires a fracturing away of the Democratic Party’s mass base. As an austerity-first party, Democratic lesser-evilism has lost much of its allure. We strongly disagree with Bernie Sanders’ approach of running in the Democratic primary and his pledge to support the Party nominee. However, it would be a mistake for the left not to recognize the enormous significance and potential inherent in the millions of people rallying around his campaign looking to fight against corporate America and what they perceive as the highjacking of the democratic process. Despite Sanders running as a Democrat, we appreciate the significance of the mass support he is receiving for his basic message. It is the message of Occupy--the 99% versus the 1%--proving that eight years into the devastating recession and deepened neoliberal austerity presided over by the Obama administration it is very much alive and embedded in the consciousness of big layers of the US population. This is particularly true of young people who are just entering national electoral politics inspired by Sanders’ message.

We should welcome this outpouring of fight back spirit, and seek to work together on the issues they raise while emphasizing that a Democratic Party orientation is a dead end; and instead win them over to the need for independent politics and building movements that can change society. We urge Solidarity members, those we can influence, as well as other revolutionary socialists to find ways to connect with the millions of people who are being drawn to the Sanders campaign, most of whom will have no patience for the Democratic Party establishment, much less see themselves in an ongoing fight to take the leadership of the Party. This is a key audience to connect with and make inroads into if we are to accomplish any sort of breakthrough for independent left politics. Many Sanders supporters are already involved in, or can be won to, organizing ongoing independent anti-austerity and other social movements, to local independent electoral campaigns, and to the Green Party’s fledgling effort to build a national independent party/movement.

We are supportive of the rank and file rebellions within labor, such as the independent, grassroots Labor for Bernie formation, that are developing around this election. They provide an opportunity to discuss what program and objectives should drive labor’s political choices. The rebellion and disgust with bureaucrat driven, transactional, business as usual politics poses the need, and possibility, to build rank and file networks within labor that demand a real democratic process of endorsements, and that fight to hold the bureaucrats accountable to supporting only candidates that actually support union policies. Political endorsements will not "save" our unions or the working class. But a struggle over internal democracy inside our unions such as the one that has erupted in the AFT can build rank and file power.

Our job as socialists in the labor movement includes a strategy of fostering cracks in labor’s slavish alignment with the Democratic Party establishment. A fissure in terms of a Sanders endorsement is a good thing. We are not indifferent to this fight. A mass, independent working class party will not be created in this country without the activity of the labor militants who are supporting the Sanders campaign. This is also the milieu of labor activists that grasp the necessary task of building the political capacities of workers--something far beyond the scope of any electoral insurgency.

We should embrace movements and mobilizing efforts around specific demands that grow out of the Sanders campaign. There is now a call by young people activated by the campaign for a million student march on Washington this fall, building on Sanders’ call to make public universities and colleges tuition free.

We have yet to see the emergence of a large-scale challenge to austerity and a clear working class political alternative at the national level. An effective left politics, one that can win and implement a left program, requires an organizational infrastructure and political culture that does not exist right now. With a lack of ongoing, successful independent left politics, we have to contend with the reality that anger at the corporate control of politics reflects itself in vague populism and often within the Democratic Party.

We recognize that electoral initiatives like those of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, the late Chokwe Lumumba in Mississippi, the Vermont Progressive Party, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, United Working Families in Chicago, Howie Hawkins Green Party campaign, and others, while they have their limitations and problems, represent a challenge to the hold of the Democratic Party establishment. We support efforts to run pro-worker and labor candidates as independents or on the ballot line of non-corporate parties.

We are interested in working with people who are attracted to a campaign that warns that, “The best president in the history of the world …will not be able to address the major crises that we face unless there is a mass political movement, unless there’s a political revolution in this country.” We should emphasize Sanders’ call for building an ongoing movement beyond this election cycle. Yes, we do not expect the Sanders campaign itself to build lasting grassroots organization. The ball is in our, broadly defined, court. We should seize this potential organizing opportunity, reaching out to people excited by the Sanders campaign with the message, “Let’s not waste this moment where folks are coming together around an anti-corporate, anti-austerity program by ending with the whimper of voting for Hillary and calling it a day. Let’s build up our power.” The tragedy would not be so much people pulling the lever for Clinton, but dissipating and disbanding this mass outcry, having nothing to show for our bottom up efforts.

Jesse Jackson, despite winning 8 million votes in 1988, chose to demobilize the ostensibly independent Rainbow Coalition organization after losing the Democratic nomination so no ongoing coalition went on to continue working around issues of economic and racial justice after the campaign ended. This time, the left should urge Sanders supporters to keep the fight going through joining anti-austerity struggles, social movements or building local, multi-racial coalitions, including independent electoral infrastructures, that live on well after the presidential campaign.

We agree with Howie Hawkins when he says: “We should talk about why independent politics is the best way to build progressive power, about the Democratic Party as the historic graveyard of progressive movements, and about the need in 2016 for a progressive alternative when Sanders folds and endorses Clinton. I don’t expect many will be persuaded to quit the Sanders campaign before the primaries. But I do expect that many of them will want a Plan B, a progressive alternative to Clinton, after the primaries.”

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 08/07/2015 - 12:09


Councilmember Sawant Gives Socialist Welcome to Bernie Sanders “Working People Need to Organize Against the Billionaire Class”


Socialists share stage at 50th anniversary of Social Security and Medicare

Saturday, August 8th @ 1:00 PM
Westlake Park
4th Ave & Pine
Invite friends on Facebook

On Saturday August 8 the most well known socialists in the U.S., Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Seattle Socialist Alternative City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, will share the same stage to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s very exciting to have Sanders join us in Seattle. It’s a great opportunity to build the socialist movement to take on the billionaires that are strangling our economy and democracy. The support Sanders is receiving is a resounding confirmation of what my election showed in 2013 – people are hungry for an alternative to corporate politics,” remarked Councilmember Sawant.

“Bernie Sanders says the political system is broken and we need a political revolution. Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress. I’ve seen an identical process on the Seattle City Council. It is not the Council that controls big developers and business, it is big corporate interests that control the Council,” said Councilmember Sawant. “That’s why we need to use the momentum of Sanders’ campaign to build a new kind of political organization, independent of corporate cash, in opposition to right-wing Republicans, but also independent from the Wall Street-dominated Democratic Party.”

“When I ran in 2012 and 2013 I was almost alone as a candidate in calling for the $15 minimum wage workers were demanding. Yet even now after the passage of $15 in Seattle, San Francisco, L.A., New York, and all 10 campuses of the University California system, the majority of corporate-backed candidates continue to drag their feet. Sanders, along with Jill Stein of the Green Party, are virtually alone as presidential candidates calling for a $15 federal minimum wage,” Sawant continued.

“Sanders stands out from the rest of the presidential candidates in refusing to take corporate money. I also do not accept corporate cash. Corporate CEOs are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat me and elect their hand-picked representatives to the rest of the Seattle City Council. Sanders will face an even larger storm of corporate money against him. The billionaire class controls the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic parties, as the recent vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership demonstrated,” said Sawant.

“If Bernie is unable to win the Democratic Party primary – which is dominated by corporate cash – we cannot support Hillary Clinton or other corporate Democrats who will not be our allies in the fight against the billionaire class,” argued Sawant. “Together working people can get organized and begin building a new political party that ends big business’ political monopoly.”

“I appeal to the thousands of supporters who have donated or volunteered for my campaign to join me at the Sanders rally. Let’s make Saturday’s rally a show of force to the billionaires who think they can buy our elections. Wear your 15 Now or campaign t-shirts and let’s greet Bernie Sanders with a sea of red supporters. Let’s show him how strong the socialist movement is in Seattle!” declared Councilmember Sawant.



We must pursue policies that transform this country into a nation that affirms the value of its people of color. That starts with addressing the four central types of violence waged against black and brown Americans: physical, political, legal and economic.

Physical Violence

Perpetrated by the State

Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Samuel DuBose. We know their names. Each of them died unarmed at the hands of police officers or in police custody. The chants are growing louder. People are angry and they have a right to be angry. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that this violence only affects those whose names have appeared on TV or in the newspaper. African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

Perpetrated by Extremists

We are far from eradicating racism in this country. In June, nine of our fellow Americans were murdered while praying in a historic church because of the color of their skin. This violence fills us with outrage, disgust, and a deep, deep sadness. Today in America, if you are black, you can be killed for getting a pack of Skittles during a basketball game. These hateful acts of violence amount to acts of terror. They are perpetrated by extremists who want to intimidate and terrorize black and brown people in this country.

Addressing Physical Violence

It is an outrage that in these early years of the 21st century we are seeing intolerable acts of violence being perpetuated by police, and racist terrorism by white supremacists.

A growing number of communities do not trust the police and law enforcement officers have become disconnected from the communities they are sworn to protect. Violence and brutality of any kind, particularly at the hands of the police sworn to protect and serve our communities, is unacceptable and must not be tolerated. We need a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter, and racism cannot be accepted in a civilized country.

  • We must demilitarize our police forces so they don’t look and act like invading armies.
  • We must invest in community policing. Only when we get officers into the communities, working within neighborhoods before trouble arises, do we develop the relationships necessary to make our communities safer together. Among other things, that means increasing civilian oversight of police departments.
  • We need police forces that reflect the diversity of our communities.
  • At the federal level we need to establish a new model police training program that reorients the way we do law enforcement in this country. With input from a broad segment of the community including activists and leaders from organizations like Black Lives Matter we will reinvent how we police America.
  • We need to federally fund and require body cameras for law enforcement officers to make it easier to hold them accountable.
  • Our Justice Department must aggressively investigate and prosecute police officers who break the law and hold them accountable for their actions.
  • We need to require police departments and states to provide public reports on all police shootings and deaths that take place while in police custody.
  • We need new rules on the allowable use of force. Police officers need to be trained to de-escalate confrontations and to humanely interact with people who have mental illnesses.
  • States and localities that make progress in this area should get more federal justice grant money. Those that do not should get their funding slashed.
  • We need to make sure the federal resources are there to crack down on the illegal activities of hate groups.
Political Violence


In the shameful days of open segregation, “literacy” laws were used to suppress minority voting. Today, through other laws and actions — such as requiring voters to show photo ID, discriminatory drawing of Congressional districts, not allowing early registration or voting, and purging voter rolls — states are taking steps which have a similar effect.

The patterns are unmistakable. An MIT paper found that African Americans waited twice as long to vote as whites. Wait times of as long as six or seven hours have been reported in some minority precincts, especially in “swing” states like Ohio and Florida. Thirteen percent of African-American men have lost the right to vote due to felony convictions.

This should offend the conscience of every American.

The fight for minority voting rights is a fight for justice. It is inseparable from the struggle for democracy itself.

We must work vigilantly to ensure that every American, regardless of skin color or national origin, is able to vote freely and easily.

Addressing Political Violence
  • We need to re-enfranchise the more than two million African Americans who have had their right to vote taken away by a felony conviction.
  • Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act’s “pre-clearance” provision, which extended protections to minority voters in states where they were clearly needed.
  • We must expand the Act’s scope so that every American, regardless of skin color or national origin, is able to vote freely.
  • We need to make Election Day a federal holiday to increase voters’ ability to participate.
  • We must make early voting an option for voters who work or study and need the flexibility to vote on evenings or weekends.
  • We must make no-fault absentee ballots an option for all Americans.
  • Every American over 18 must be registered to vote automatically, so that students and working people can make their voices heard at the ballot box.
  • We must put an end to discriminatory laws and the purging of minority-community names from voting rolls.
  • We need to make sure that there are sufficient polling places and poll workers to prevent long lines from forming at the polls anywhere.
Legal Violence

Millions of lives have been destroyed because people are in jail for nonviolent crimes. For decades, we have been engaged in a failed “War on Drugs” with racially-biased mandatory minimums that punish people of color unfairly.

It is an obscenity that we stigmatize so many young Americans with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy. This must change.

If current trends continue, one in four black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during their lifetime. Blacks are imprisoned at six times the rate of whites and a report by the Department of Justice found that blacks were three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop, compared to white motorists. African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. This is an unspeakable tragedy.

It is morally repugnant and a national tragedy that we have privatized prisons all over America. In my view, corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars. We have got to end the private-for-profit prison racket in America. Profiting off the misery of incarcerated people is immoral and it is immoral to take campaign contributions from the private prison industry or its lobbyists.

The measure of success for law enforcement should not be how many people get locked up. We need to invest in drug courts as well as medical and mental health interventions for people with substance abuse problems, so that people struggling with addiction do not end up in prison, they end up in treatment.

For people who have committed crimes that have landed them in jail, there needs to be a path back from prison. The federal system of parole needs to be reinstated. We need real education and real skills training for the incarcerated.

We must end the over incarceration of nonviolent young Americans who do not pose a serious threat to our society. It is an international embarrassment that we have more people locked up in jail than any other country on earth – more than even the Communist totalitarian state of China. That has got to end.

We must address the lingering unjust stereotypes that lead to the labeling of black youths as “thugs.” We know the truth that, like every community in this country, the vast majority of people of color are trying to work hard, play by the rules and raise their children. It’s time to stop demonizing minority communities.

We must reform our criminal justice system to ensure fairness and justice for people of color.

Addressing Legal Violence
  • We need to ban prisons for profit, which result in an over-incentive to arrest, jail and detain, in order to keep prison beds full.
  • We need to turn back from the failed “War on Drugs” and eliminate mandatory minimums which result in sentencing disparities between black and white people.
  • We need to invest in drug courts and medical and mental health interventions for people with substance abuse problems, so that they do not end up in prison, they end up in treatment.
  • We need to boost investments for programs that help people who have gone to jail rebuild their lives with education and job training.
Economic Violence

Weeks before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a union group in New York about what he called “the other America.”

“One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality,” King said. “That America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. . . . But as we assemble here tonight, I’m sure that each of us is painfully aware of the fact that there is another America, and that other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.”

The problem was structural, King said: “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”

Eight days later, speaking in Memphis, King continued the theme. “Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day?” he asked striking sanitation workers. “And they are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen, and it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.”

King explained the shift in his focus: “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

But what King saw in 1968 — and what we all should recognize today — is that it is necessary to try to address the rampant economic inequality while also taking on the issue of societal racism. We must simultaneously address the structural and institutional racism which exists in this country, while at the same time we vigorously attack the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality which is making the very rich much richer while everyone else – especially those in our minority communities – are becoming poorer.

In addition to the physical violence faced by too many in our country we need look at the lives of black children and address a few other difficult facts. Black children, who make up just 18 percent of preschoolers, account for 48 percent of all out-of-school suspensions before kindergarten. We are failing our black children before kindergarten. Black students were expelled at three times the rate of white students. Black girls were suspended at higher rates than all other girls and most boys. According to the Department of Education, African American students are more likely to suffer harsh punishments – suspensions and arrests – at school.

We need to take a hard look at our education system. Black students attend schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers, compared with white students. Black students were more than three times as likely to attend schools where fewer than 60 percent of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.

Communities of color also face the violence of economic deprivation. Let’s be frank: neighborhoods like those in west Baltimore, where Freddie Gray resided, suffer the most. However, the problem of economic immobility isn’t just a problem for young men like Freddie Gray. It has become a problem for millions of Americans who, despite hard-work and the will to get ahead, can spend their entire lives struggling to survive on the economic treadmill.

We live at a time when most Americans don’t have $10,000 in savings, and millions of working adults have no idea how they will ever retire in dignity. God forbid, they are confronted with an unforeseen car accident, a medical emergency, or the loss of a job. It would literally send their lives into an economic tailspin. And the problems are even more serious when we consider race.

Let us not forget: It was the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street that nearly drove the economy off of the cliff seven years ago. While millions of Americans lost their jobs, homes, life savings, and ability to send their kids to college, African Americans who were steered into expensive subprime mortgages were the hardest hit.

Most black and Latino households have less than $350 in savings. The black unemployment rate has remained roughly twice as high as the white rate over the last 40 years, regardless of education. Real African American youth unemployment is over 50 percent. This is unacceptable. The American people in general want change – they want a better deal. A fairer deal. A new deal. They want an America with laws and policies that truly reward hard work with economic mobility. They want an America that affords all of its citizens with the economic security to take risks and the opportunity to realize their full potential.

Addressing Economic Violence
  • We need to give our children, regardless of their race or their income, a fair shot at attending college. That’s why all public universities should be made tuition free.
  • We must invest $5.5 billion in a federally-funded youth employment program to employ young people of color who face disproportionately high unemployment rates.
  • Knowing that black women earn 64 cents on the dollar compared to white men, we must pass federal legislation to establish pay equity for women.
  • We must prevent employers from discriminating against applicants based on criminal history.
  • We need to ensure access to quality affordable childcare for working families.

August 10, 2015

Bernie Sanders’ Bid for President: What Would Eugene Debs Think?

Bernie Sanders and Eugene V. Debs

It’s clear why fed-up voters are attracted to Bernie Sanders. He rails against the billionaires and calls for a U.S. political revolution. Who doesn’t want to end the rule of banksters and CEOs? Who doesn’t want to stop the corporate harvesting of all things profitable at the expense of people and the planet? Who doesn’t want to hear the needs of working people promoted for a change?

Sanders’ self-professed hero is U.S. revolutionary socialist Eugene V. Debs. As a Socialist Party candidate, Debs ran for president five times in the early 1900s, twice gaining over 900,000 votes. But Debs understood that workers and the poor need a party independent of the duopoly of power. In a 1904 speech, he said:

The Republican and Democratic parties … are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principle.

With either of these parties in power one thing is always certain and that is that the capitalist class is in the saddle and the working class under the saddle.

… The ignorant workingman who supports either of these parties forges his own fetters and is the unconscious author of his own misery.

In contrast, Sanders is running as a Democrat; he has chosen to hitch his wagon to the overlords in the saddle. He has promised to support whoever wins the Democratic primary. In Congress, he votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time, and he consistently supports their presidential candidates.

His function in this election is the same as left-identified Democratic presidential contenders like Jesse Jackson, Dennis Kucinich, and others before him. It is to bleed off protest against the two-party chokehold over U.S. politics and to make sure that unionists and progressives once again vote — against their own interests — for a Democrat acceptable to big business.

And what about Sanders’ actual record? It’s seriously at odds with his image.

Wall Street — Sanders promises to reform Wall Street. But this can’t be done through tweaks such as taxing certain financial transactions, as Sanders proposes. Given the devastating power they wield over people’s lives, the banks need to be nationalized under workers’ control! Also, Sanders aims his anti-corporate fury almost entirely against Republicans, while giving a pass to Democratic friends of finance capital.

War — Sanders accepts the U.S. role as World Cop. In Congress, he has voted to fund nearly every imperialist military action by the U.S., from Iraq and Somalia to Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. He refuses to denounce Israel’s war on Palestinians, and endorsed the sanctions that killed over a million Iraqi civilians.

Labor — Sanders’ version of defending U.S. workers is of the jingoistic, “America First” variety. He points to immigrants and foreign workers as the source of job loss, rather than the bosses’ policies of speedup, automation, and the global “race to the bottom.” But, internationally, an injury to one truly is an injury to all! Even when it comes to U.S. workers, Sanders hasn’t stepped up to the plate when it counts. Earlier this year, he didn’t resist when the Democratic governor of Vermont, his ally, pushed through a budget that meant cutting hundreds of union jobs.

Civil rights — The Vermont senator has supported racist federal legislation, like Bill Clinton’s Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which props up the prison-industrial complex. He has not championed the Black Lives Matter movement or other groups aimed at ending police murders and the criminalization of youth of color.

In his campaign speeches, this supposed socialist generally has refused to pinpoint capitalism as the problem and socialism as the solution. While more and more voters are identifying their affiliation as “independent,” Sanders is headed in the opposite direction.

He excels at rousing populist oratory, but considers Hillary Clinton, warmonger of U.S. foreign policy, his “good friend.” Sanders is the man for the job for the beleaguered Democratic Party in these times of growing anger and dissent. Not as president, mind you, but as the latest in a series of perennial false hopes for a kinder, gentler party — and social system.

On the socialist Left, there are groups, like the Socialist Alternative of Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who give Sanders direct or indirect support, ignoring or downplaying the ugly parts of his record and wishing away his longtime collusion with the Democratic Party. This is no way to build a movement for lasting fundamental change.

What would be productive is left cooperation rather than competition on the electoral battlefield. By joining forces, it would be much more possible to give people opportunities to vote for bold, honest, radical opponents of the profit system and its ravages at home and abroad.

A big part of any joint anti-capitalist effort would have to be challenging the tangle of state and federal laws that keep Left and independent labor candidates off the ballot. And a possible outcome of such an effort could be the launch of a new national party to defend working people and the oppressed. The Freedom Socialist Party is for a national conference that could discuss these ideas and get something moving. And the sooner the better! U.S. voters need relief!