Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sanders: Will the Real Socialist Alternative Step Forward

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Green Party USA

This is an interesting flier. I got it at the meeting held here in Oakland at a fundraiser for Kshama Sawant who is a Socialist Alternative member on the Seattle City Council. Many of the readers of this blog are aware that myself and four other members of Labor Militant were expelled from that organization in 1996.  Both Labor Militant and the new named Socialist Alternative are affiliated to the Committee for a Worker’s International. (CWI).

Like most organizations of the Trotskyist tradition, LM and, certainly up until this point, never supported, campaigned for or endorsed the Democratic Party or any individual Democratic Party candidate on principle.  The Democratic Party is a party of the big capitalists and Wall Street and has historically been the graveyard of social movements.

When I saw this flier I thought it was a Bernie Sanders flier for obvious reasons. Both the term, Billionaire Class and Political Revolution are trademarks of the Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the US in the elections later this year. Sanders explained that by political revolution he means increasing the voter turnout. It is very similar to what Robert Reich is saying, more votes for Democrats.

I drew the conclusion that Socialist Alternative is wooing the many young people drawn to the Bernie Sanders campaign and active in it. I also commented on Socialist Alternative’s position on Sanders back in September when I wrote:

Reading their website they argue that Sanders should run as an independent as opposed to in the capitalist Democratic Party and that he should do this in order, “to help build a political alternative to the corporate-owned political parties.” They accept that there will be a crisis in 2016 when, as is most likely, Sanders will not get the nomination and will call on his supporters to support the Democratic Party machine candidate, most likely Hilary Clinton. In this scenario, SA hopes that by building a strong enough base among Sanders supporters’ “A strong left current can mobilize Sanders’ supporters to demand Bernie continues running, or lead as much of the campaign as possible away from the Democrats if Bernie insists on endorsing Clinton.”

I said back then, “Where is Socialist Alternative leading Sanders supporters to? They do not make this clear although I will hazard a guess that what they have in mind is “join Socialist Alternative”, but are not saying this and that adds more confusion because it’s not telling workers the truth.”

But now I hear from an SA member that Socialist Alternative has changed this previous approach which was flawed anyway and is endorsing Sanders which is a conclusion most people would make from their actions and the flier above. If this is true, it is strategically an historic change of course, not for supporting an FDR styled reformist but supporting a Democratic Party candidate.

I still cannot imagine Sanders winning the nomination but it can’t be ruled out and I am less convinced than I was 6 months ago.  Those of us around this blog have learned after years in the organized left that we have to be less conditional about these things especially in these highly volatile times. 

These comments point more so to the flawed approach of Socialist Alternative and all the left when it comes to this issue. There is nothing wrong with changing one’s perspective and from that ones position as long as it is in response to objective reality, is open, discussed from the ground up and debated freely. If SA has now openly moved to endorsing a Democrat for President of the US, I for one would disagree with it, but this should have been done through a thorough democratic debate inside the organization. If it is the usual top down decision and from what I understand, it is, this will lead to further crisis and splits within Socialist Alternative leading to demoralization among what could have been a new, fighting layer of young political activists and socialists.

The position we have taken on this blog with regards to Sanders can be read here.   We urge them to join the Green Party, not simply to vote for its candidate but to build it and work to orient it closer to the unions and toward becoming a socialist party.  We took this position as we could not see a way to overcome the view that to support Sanders is fraught with problems. Asking Sanders’ supporters to join a small insignificant group is not viable and simply calling on them to abandon Sanders and “build an alternative” is also not viable.

So it seems, and I’m sure SA comrades will contradict me if I have been misinformed, that Socialist Alternative is at this point campaigning and endorsing Sanders. There are also many Greens who are campaigning for Sanders, many of them in an attempt to defeat the hated Hillary Clinton in the nomination process.

But the question I have had to those people is; What do you do if he wins?  So now Greens are supporting a Democrat for president instead of building the Greens as an alternative?   If Sanders wins Socialist Alternative will then also be supporting the Democratic candidate for President.  In Britain, the Socialist Party members , Socialist Alternative’s sister organization, won’t even join the Labor Party. Read more on the Socialist Party here.

As I said, if Sanders were to run as an independent, or as a Green, or spit the Democratic Party and move to build a genuine third party, a left alternative based on workers, unions, community rather than Wall Street and the bankers, we would have to look again. There is nothing wrong with changing course as the facts on the ground demand it.

Opportunist zig zags are another matter.

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