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California's Feminist Socialist Political Party

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Home News Past Campaigns Symposium on the Sanders Campaign Feeling the Bern? Or getting burned?

Feeling the Bern? Or getting burned?

By Mary McIlroy

Posted on January 6, 2016 by the Communications Committee

This article is the fifth to appear in The Sanders Campaign: A Symposium.

It is understandable that so many working class people are "Feeling the Bern." Self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, the independent Senator from Vermont currently seeking the Democratic Party nomination for President, says a lot of things that resonate with us. He wants to raise taxes on the rich and regulate the banks. He is for free health care for all, and free college education for our children. These are things that are in the Peace and Freedom Party platform. So why aren’t all of us in the Peace and Freedom Party excited about the Sanders campaign?

Many of us are highly doubtful that Sanders will get the Democratic Party nomination, no matter how well he may do during primary season. Mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal won’t even recognize that Sanders may have won the first debate. They continue to marginalize Sanders and his campaign.

Without getting into definitions of socialism and democratic socialism, there are differences between many of us in the Peace and Freedom Party and Bernie Sanders. He thinks that capitalism can be "corrected" to get rid of its worst abuses. This is where things such as bringing back Glass-Steagall come in. If Wall Street is regulated, then the market won’t collapse, banks won’t make sub-prime housing loans, and people won’t lose their retirement funds. This ignores the fact that regulation came in after the collapse of Wall Street in 1929 and the Great Depression, and was subsequently repealed, starting with the Reagan administration, and continuing through the Clinton and both Bush administrations. In other words, Congress can regulate financial sectors, and Congress can repeal those same regulations in the future.

While Bernie Sanders supports American workers and the protection of American jobs, generally, this type of protectionism comes at the expense of workers in other countries. Yes, we want American workers to have a decent standard of living, but, socialists are also internationalists, so we want our fellow workers in other nations to also have a decent standard of living as well. We want an end to the exploitation of the working class in the United States and the rest of the world. After all, the Communist Manifesto says, "Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains."

Sanders is problematic for the Peace and Freedom Party on international issues. He has voted for funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has supported US military aid to Israel. We in the Peace and Freedom Party want to see an end to all US intervention in other nations, and a drastic reduction in the military budget.

The biggest problem with the Sanders campaign is that it’s a campaign for the Democratic Party nomination. At the Peace and Freedom Party State Central Committee held in November, 2014, a resolution was passed inviting Bernie Sanders to seek the PFP nomination for president if he was going to run an independent campaign for president. Sanders chose to seek the nomination of the Democratic Party instead of running as an independent. It is understandable that he would choose to do so. Sanders, as a senator, caucuses with the Democrats. He has to work with them, and will continue to do so, regardless of the outcome of his presidential bid. There are many, especially in the leadership of the Democratic Party, who continue to blame Ralph Nader for the loss of Al Gore in 2000, conveniently ignoring the role the United States Supreme Court played in that election, the Electoral College, purges of the electoral rolls, etc. Sanders does not want to become persona non grata in the Senate, either as a senator or as president. A run as an independent would alienate him from those in the Democratic Party he works with.

There is another issue around seeking the Democratic Party nomination rather than run as an independent, and that is the implication that those who do run independent campaigns or in so-called third parties, are not serious about their campaigns. There are most definitely more obstacles running outside of the two larger parties. The media tends to ignore these candidates, such candidates are rarely invited to participate in debates, and it’s much harder to get one’s message out. But these obstacles are put in the way of independent and third-party candidates by, in part, the two larger parties themselves aided by the mainstream media, so it becomes a loop: a candidate is ignored until she/he gets above a certain percent in the polls, but it’s almost impossible to go up in the polls when ignored by the media, who ignore… And so it goes. It is in the interests, especially of the Democratic Party, to limit the message of those candidates who challenge the two parties of Wall Street, and are attractive to working people.

The biggest problem of the Sanders campaign for those of us in left/socialist electoral parties is that we have seen this time and time again. It’s nothing new to us. There is a candidate who speaks to us. McCarthy, McGovern, Jackson, and Kucinich come to mind. Many on the Left get excited, enthusiastic, and we mobilize. We walk precincts, make phone calls, and attend rallies. We vote, and our candidate loses. He or she may lose in the General Election, but more likely, fails to get the nomination of the Democratic Party. Then what do we do? We end up voting for whatever mediocre, middle-of-the-road Democrat gets the nomination. If said candidate is elected, as in the case of President Obama, we become sadly disillusioned. The wars haven’t ended, bankers haven’t been jailed, and we still feel uneasy and betrayed. Some of us give into cynicism, and give up trying to change things. Some of us give into the “lesser evil” mentality. So what are we, as individuals and as a class to do?

The working class in the United States needs a political expression of our own. We need our own party. Such a party needs to have socialist demands, not just demands to reform, fix, or make the capitalist system "nice." Capitalism is not nice. It is a system which feeds on our labor for the profits of the few, the one percent. It pits us against each other. It gives us false illusions, through consumerism. It allows us to ignore the destruction of our entire planet. It forces us to sell our children’s future. The Democratic Party is not our party. It is not the party that will get us, as a class, what we need and want.

As a class, we need to break from the Democratic Party. The relationship the working class has with the Democrats is a dysfunctional one. We are continually lied to by those seeking office. We are made promises, which are broken. We are led down the Primrose Path and into a brick wall. The Democratic Party is full of elected officials who are millionaires, and who get campaign contributions from the insurance industry, big pharma, oil companies, and the tobacco industry. We are told that there must be compromises on ending the wars, reform of health care, education, the list is endless.

The working class needs to form its own political party. We know the issues of concern to us as a class. We want the wars to end, so our sons and daughters aren’t brainwashed into joining the military. We want free education, from pre-school through post-graduate university level. We want real health care for all. We want an end to racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the other hateful ideologies that divide our class.

We are told that it is unrealistic to think that a socialist, or any third party candidate, can become president. The best we can hope is that someone like Bernie Sanders can raise issues of importance to us. We should think that it is unrealistic for the Democratic Party to take us for granted. We in the Peace and Freedom Party especially, but those of us on the Left in California and the United States, must start acting as though we have a legitimate point of view, that what we are demanding is realistic. It may not be realistic under capitalism, but we want an end to that system of exploitation. Our demands are not unreasonable under socialism. We must start being the Party and Movement we want if we are to expect the rest of our class to see that we can run society, that we can control the means of production, distribution, and exchange. We must realize that, in the words of James Connolly, "Our demands most moderate are/We only want the earth."

We do see that the Sanders campaign is significant. Socialism is being talked about, and not just in a dismissive, condescending way. The issues Sanders is talking about are our issues, and have been since our founding in 1967. However, the Democratic Party is not the party of the working class, and whomever their presidential nominee is, will not be our candidate. The stakes are extremely high today. We need to build a party that will destroy capitalism before capitalism destroys us.

Mary McIlory is a member of the State Central Committee from Alameda County and serves on the website editorial board.

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