by Robert Gabrielski
There’s little point in a left debate on whether or not to support the Sanders campaign. Those who are committed to supporting Sanders are unlikely to change. While 58% of the US public in polls want a new major party, those committed to independent political action are unlikely to work in the Democratic Party. In fact, for nearly 100 years neither independent political action nor working within the Democratic Party has proved successful for an incipient US left. Outside of local, legislative and an occasional Congressional campaign, it’s unusual for a candidate of the independent left to get more than 2% of the vote. A potential left has been no more effective within the Democratic Party. The US left has been most successful as a direct action opposition movement in the streets rather than at the polling place. Such as strategy, limited to direct action and eschewing the electoral arena relieves the left from actually governing and leaves it as a kind of permanent opposition. We should remain in the streets and continue to build a movement based on mass action, but we can’t go on working solely through non-electoral channels. In a democracy, with all its shortcomings, political power is attained through winning elections. We need a new force, at every level of government, but how such a movement is to be built remains a point of contention. Those committed to Sanders and those committed to independent political action have similar tasks, in different milieus.
As Sanders has pointed out, if he wins, it’s unlikely he’d be able to implement the program of reforms he’s advocating without the support of a strong progressive wing in Congress. Prior to that, if he gets the nomination, he couldn’t win the Presidency without supporters capturing the machinery of the Democratic Party, winning a majority in the Democratic Party county committees. Despite the enthusiasm of supporters, impressive poll numbers, and Sanders’ own admonitions to supporters (channeling Debs) on their responsibility to organize and lead themselves, there’s little effort by Sanders supporters to take over the apparatus of the Party, win a progressive majority and create an adequate structure for an effective Sanders Administration.
What if Sanders loses the nomination? Advocates of independent political action need to have an alternative ready, a place for Sanders supporters to go. They face practical issues similar to the Sanders campaign, though independent of it. There’s a drive by the Jill Stein campaign in the Green Party to get on the ballot in all 50 states and DC. This could help build a major independent party of the 99%. The Green Party has permanent ballot status in about 20 states. Seeking ballot status in all 50 could at least double that number, laying the groundwork for a genuine national party. This could assist the growth of existing social movements as the institutional mechanism that can unite various social movements under a single framework. It would be the organizational manifestation of a movement of movements, exponentially increasing the strength of each through its solidarity with the others.
The Sanders campaign needs to work in and take over the structures of the Democratic Party, while those committed to independent political action, especially where permanent ballot access hasn’t yet been achieved, must build a new party from the ground up. In concrete terms this involves getting people to switch from their existing party or independent status to a commitment to the new party. For registered Democrats that’s a monumental choice, as it would deprive them of the opportunity to vote for Sanders in the primaries. There are those who would like to have it both ways, to vote for Sanders but also build a new party. In most of the US that’s legally impossible. If people attempt to do both simultaneously and it’s discovered, both efforts would be invalidated, so rather than helping both, it would help neither.
Where the Green Party already has permanent ballot status supporters must build strong, county level party organizations, and locate viable candidates for every level of public office. While the Green Party is currently the strongest independent political movement at the national level, organizationally it barely exists and it’s unlikely it will become a new major party of the 99% by incremental growth. It’s probably more reasonable to look upon the Green Party as a place holder until such a formation develops and undoubtedly as a significant element in such a development, but a real majority of the 99% will necessarily include major elements of organized labor and all the other progressive movements currently ensconced in the Democratic Party, along with countless numbers of the unorganized or unregistered.