Outsider in the White House

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This Socialist Senator’s campaign to be president shows that the appetite for a left wing alternative to establishment neoliberal politics is as strong in the US as it is in Britain, Greece and Spain.

Sanders has repeatedly managed to get elected as a democratic socialist, not for either the Democratic or Republican parties. His politics were shaped by participation in the civil rights and anti Vietnam war movements of the 1960s.

His hero is Eugene Debs, a socialist who ran for president from prison, having been jailed for opposing participation in the First World War.

This book describes consistent opposition to the big business policies of the two main US parties and his advocacy of the interests of working people.

It contains a powerful denunciation of all that is wrong with an America dominated by big corporations, a country that has seen class war against the working class lasting over three decades. “There is something profoundly wrong when the top one tenth of 1 percent owns as much as the bottom 90 percent,” he rightly comments.

Sanders has pulled together a coalition of trade unionists, women’s organisations, war veterans and small farmers in support of progressive policies in Vermont.

Despite being the only socialist in Congress he has shamed majorities into voting to increase the minimum wage, cut state subsidies for the arms industry and raise funding for healthcare.

While being very clear that US politics is controlled by big business and the interests of the super-rich, Sanders has total faith in the power of the vote. “If voter turnout in this country reached the levels of Canada or Europe...American society would change substantially”, he writes.

Sanders’ socialism is of the moderate social democratic variety, looking to win reforms through the state. He supported workers taking strike action against union derecognition in Wisconsin and other states and the Occupy movement, but most of the book is focussed on election campaigns and what he does in Congress.

Sanders helped set up a progressive caucus in Congress but has been criticised for not doing more to build a national party of the left.

This does not detract from a consistent opposition to the neoliberal agenda and some real practical achievements.

His campaign is taking the fight against austerity, racism and inequality into the mainstream. But the fact remains that real change will only come through mass struggle and building a socialist alternative to the parties of big business.