Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/888/22193
Sanders' socialist message rattling the establishment
The opening US presidential primaries showed support for 'non-establishment' candidates in both the Republican and Democratic Party caucuses. Significantly, in the Democratic Party contest, avowed 'socialist' Bernie Sanders is expected to win the New Hampshire primary, having run establishment front runner Hilary Clinton to a 'virtual tie' in Iowa. Against this electoral backdrop, Joshua Koritz of Socialist Alternative (co-thinkers of the CWI in the USA) looks at the prospects for developing a genuine socialist voice to represent the majority of Americans.
For a candidate openly calling himself a "democratic socialist" who, a year ago, was 40 points behind Hilary Clinton in opinion polls, the Iowa result marks a victory for Bernie Sanders. His call for a "political revolution" against the billionaire class interrupted the coronation of Clinton as head of a Wall Street-dominated party. The Sanders campaign is inspiring young people and working class people to get active and fight to elect a candidate standing up for their interests.
The Iowa polls showed high turnouts, driven mainly by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters who explicitly wanted outsider candidates - yet more evidence of the enthusiasm and attention that Trump on the right, and Sanders on the left, are generating.
Working people all over the US are looking for alternatives to the broken political system. On the right, the growth of sexist, racist, and anti-immigrant ideas presents a real threat and needs to be answered.
However, despite the incessant media focus on Trump, Sanders' results reflect the generalised move to the left in US society. This shift in the past period is also seen in the massive impact of the "Black Lives Matter" movement, the victories for LGBTQ equality, and the progress of campaigns for $15 an hour minimum wage.
The impact of the Iowa and New Hampshire results will affect subsequent primaries. The standard media narrative is that Nevada and South Carolina, still to vote before "Super Tuesday," states with larger non-white populations than Iowa and New Hampshire, will be much tougher terrain for Sanders.
But Sanders' support in the black community is growing fast and is intersecting a growing revolt against a Democratic establishment which pretends to have an anti-racist agenda while presiding over mass incarceration and police brutality.
In addition, polls reveal Sanders' massive popularity with young people, especially young women. The growing support for Bernie in this demographic, mere months ago considered a stronghold of the Clinton campaign, is just another symptom of the profound mistrust and anger against the corporate political system and its corporate candidates.
All told, Sanders has real possibilities of doing well in a number of upcoming primaries.
Strong results for him will push the Democratic Party establishment towards increasingly overt hostility towards Sanders. This is already starting to happen. As Sanders wins delegates and the media is forced to take his campaign seriously, policies like a $15 an hour minimum wage seem more realisable to more Americans, despite establishment hostility.
Yet there should be no illusions on how difficult it will be for Sanders to win the nomination against the massive resources of the Democratic establishment and the corporate media.
It will take building a movement truly independent of the Democratic Party machine to defeat it. Recent polls showing Sanders would defeat Trump by a bigger margin than Clinton are undermining her claim to be more electable. But the Democratic leadership and establishment will not accept having a candidate who refuses corporate money and stands for key reforms in the interests of working people. It will do everything in its power to prevent this outcome.
The Democratic Party establishment will point to the threat represented by Trump and Cruz as a reason to rally behind Clinton, along with continuing attacks on Sanders as too far left and unelectable.
To combat these arguments, Sanders supporters who want to win his programme and win the nomination will need to organise independently from the Democratic establishment to fight for Sanders' "political revolution."
Let's build the #Movement4Bernie that Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative have launched - independent of corporate cash, independent of the Democratic Party machine.
Trump and the right
In the Republican Party, the continued rightward trajectory of its base has meant that Cruz, Trump, and Carson collectively demolished the establishment corporate candidates by two to one. This reflects the degree to which the whole process has gotten out of the establishment's control.
Most revealing - the corporate darling, Jeb Bush, who has a Super PAC (Political Action Committee - a fundraising organisation) with over $100 million in it, received barely 3% in Iowa and was beaten by outsiders Ben Carson and Rand Paul.
Marco Rubio did gain significant momentum in Iowa, and if the anti-establishment vote continues to be split between Trump and Cruz, this may represent a path to victory for Rubio and the Republican establishment.
But let's be clear: Rubio is no moderate. For example, he opposes abortion rights even after rape and incest, and has pledged to roll back marriage equality.
In Iowa, while Cruz won big with regular caucus goers, Trump was heavily popular with first-time caucus goers who put a premium on their candidate being an "outsider."
Large numbers of voters have rejected corporate mainstream politics. Political space is opening for the left to use to build an independent party that unapologetically fights for working people. Otherwise, the threat from the right wing, with its misogyny, racism, and pro-business populism, will grow.
Sanders' predicted win in New Hampshire, on top of an impressive showing in Iowa, means his "political revolution against the billionaire class" could gain momentum.
While young people and progressive workers grow more and more excited, the political establishment will step up its attacks against Sanders and his platform. The Democratic Party establishment will prove, by its actions, that winning Sanders' platform is not possible through their party - further alienating a new generation who will increasingly search for answers outside the two-party system.
This is why Socialist Alternative and #Movement4Bernie are calling for building a new party of the 99%. While Bernie has repeatedly and mistakenly said he would support Hillary if he loses, we see in his campaign the outlines of a desperately needed, new left political force in American society.
For updates on the presidential election contest and more US political issues see www.socialistalternative.org
Bernie Sanders has neutralised Hillary Clinton's wide lead for the Democratic presidential nomination since the start of year. Both candidates are dead-heating nationally, says a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted between 2-5 February, following the Iowa caucus
In The Socialist 10 February 2016:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
What we think
Momentum, Labour and the Socialist Party
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
International socialist news and analysis