In seeking to be Democratic Party Presidential Candidate for 2016, Bernie Sanders attempted to inject “democratic socialism” into American politics. His campaign concentrated on the massive economic inequalities that riddle all areas of US society. This book, written by a researcher and organiser on his campaign, seeks to describe how his outsider radicalism crashed and nearly derailed the neoliberal, free market campaign of the Democrat establishment, epitomised by Hillary Clinton.
Heather Gautney describes the distrust felt by many Americans for the discredited establishment. She explains the ways in which the Democrats adopted many of the right wing formulations of the Republican consensus, and ended up mirroring many of their domestic and foreign policies. Clinton was distrusted by millions, tarred by the same brush as the rest of the self-serving, corrupt establishment — a distrust that the Trump campaign milked, but which could have been used by the left.
In fact, such was the appeal of Sanders’s radicalism, that many polls suggest that he could have beaten Trump. His campaign was markedly different from the focus group lead, money guzzling, PR-heavy, media friendly parades of recent election campaigns.
Like Corbyn in Britain, he relied on campaigning from below, refusing to accept massive corporate donations — he was funded by over 3 million small donors whose average contribution was $27.
He campaigned on the issues that mattered to millions of Americans — healthcare, education, housing and welfare. In so doing, he sought to unite all sections of what he described as “working and middle class America” against the elite.
Despite the wave of unparalleled enthusiasm which lead to him being described as the most popular politician in the world, with over 7 million followers on Facebook, Sanders was not able to break the stranglehold of the bureaucratic Democrat establishment. The use of superdelegates, media smears and a “rigged” selection process meant that his candidacy was eventually defeated, leaving Clinton as the unpopular victor.
However, the fact that an openly radical candidate could achieve such support shows that even in the straitjacket of the American system, it is possible to break the mould. Groups such as Our Revolution (rather similar to Momentum) have since been set up to both organise and campaign, but also to prepare the way for the next elections.
Something Gautney hints at but never develops is the inevitable contradiction between these two aims — is the priority to win the battle inside the party or in the outside world? Are elections or strikes and campaigns more important?
I’d also be interested to hear further discussions as to whether the Democratic Party is actually the best place for socialists and radicals to base themselves in order to have maximum effect in changing society.