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BERNIE SANDERS AND THE SOCIALIST STRUGGLE IN UNITED STATES

Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the presidential primaries of the Democratic Party has excited Brazilian militants and activists who are looking for new experiences of struggle around the world. The recent victory in New Hampshire and the manipulation of the results of the Iowa plenary sessions – to prevent Sanders’ victory in this state – demonstrate the strength of the Socialist senator’s candidacy and the impressive popular movement in his favor, represented politically mainly by the independent organization Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA.

In Donald Trump’s country, where we find the largest and most organized far-right in the world, one of the most promising socialist movements on the planet is also growing. Deep polarization is the hallmark of the North-American political scene, leading both to the Republican Party’s surrender to outsider Trump and the emergence of a radical socialist among the favorites in the Democratic primaries. On the one hand, the racist and misogynist magnate carries out harsh attacks on the country’s working class, especially against black and immigrant populations, which is answered by the left-most political program in recent decades. The so-called political center empties and the level of social tension increases.

Analysis of the situation in the United States and the lessons of building its socialist movement can tell Brazilian socialists a lot about how to face the extreme right. Extremely young and with little recent political tradition, the North-American democratic socialist movement is profoundly classist and combative, dragging the general political debate to the left by supporting strikes and guiding demands seen as impossible a few years ago, such as Medicare for All (assistance universal medical), the cancellation of student debts, the end of mass incarceration, among others.

In a moment of existential crisis on the Brazilian left, international examples are essential to think about the future of our country and the trends that the world reality presents. The advance of authoritarian neoliberalism defended as an alternative by the world extreme right marks our time as much as the responses – sometimes desperate – of diverse peoples around the world. And even though we are quite late in building an effective international political tool, recent examples not only in the United States but also in Chile, Ecuador, Sudan, Algeria, France, Hong Kong, among others, remind us that history moves.

Inside the belly of the monster

Inside the belly of the monster is an expression used by North-American comrades to symbolize the situation of their socialist movement built within the largest imperialist power in the world. This element is not less, it prints several characteristics and imposes tough challenges for the construction of a political alternative in the country. To understand the democratic socialist movement, it is necessary to keep this in mind because the conditions of political organization in the USA have always been very difficult.

Historical persecution against North-American socialists has always been extremely harsh. Political arrests and executions have marked the history of the country, such as those of Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti in the 1920s or the Rosenbergs in the 1950s, and both local police and intelligence agencies have proven their expertise in espionage and intervention within the union movement and other social movements. The murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and the countless deaths in the urban uprisings of black communities, in the struggles of workers and student mobilizations are examples of the harshness of the internal repressive apparatus of this imperialist power, as well as the criminal secret interventions promoted by agencies such as the FBI or the CIA within the movement against the Vietnam War and the Black Panther Party.

In addition to state repression, the economic power of the bourgeoisie gives certain market characteristics to political relations, with the practice of widespread lobbying and electoral campaigns functioning as large companies whose viability is determined by their collection capacity. Despite certain democratic characteristics inherited from its revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, the striking element of the political struggle in the country is the relationship between financing and the capacity for institutional pressure on governments and legislators. In contradiction to the individual freedom constantly evoked by the right, freedom of organization is systematically reduced by regulation and repression.

An evident example of the restriction on the right to organize is the prohibition of strikes by civil servants in the great majority of states, preventing concrete measures of struggle and stimulating corporatism and capitulation promoted by bureaucratic unionism. Another example is the widespread policy of police repression, which systematically threatens and imprisons members of black and immigrant communities, in addition to strongly affecting any mobilization recognized as a threat by the status quo.

This also influences the definition of the political field there. Democratic socialists affirm the importance of democracy as opposed to the examples of authoritarianism and camping present in several revolutionary experiences throughout the 20th century, affirming the need for the majority of the population to participate in decision-making processes. It is important to take into account the location of these socialists to understand the development of their program because, although there are some theoretical confusions inside (which is not unanimously Marxist, also incorporating reformists and anarchists), it is an extremely progressive mass movement.

Not me, us

Not me, us is Bernie Sanders’ main campaign motto and refers to the impressive collective action that the campaign represents. In addition to the DSA, political organizations like Our Revolution, Sunrise Movement, and Socialist Alternative, among others, declare their support for Sanders. Among the unions, membership is also increasing, with national entities such as the American Postal Workers Union (of postal workers), National Nurses United and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (of health), in addition to several local unions of the education, health, transport, and industry.

Bernie is by far the favorite candidate among the youth, and in schools and universities the support is very great. The USA has a long tradition of struggle in the student movement, marked by the fight against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s and also more recently against the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Several campuses throughout the country are true strengths of the Sanders campaign and in many of them, the popularity of Marxism as a theoretical and political tool also grows.

The recent process of renewing unionism is also part of this scenario, which started with the heroic strikes of teachers in states traditionally governed by Republicans (called red states because the color of the Republican Party is curiously red) and spreading to several other categories, such as health workers, transportation, big companies like Amazon, among others. The growing wave of support from unions and federations to the Bernie campaign indicates this renewal, as does the movement of young socialists into the categories of combative workers.

The strength of the campaign also comes from extremely diverse popular support, with thousands of volunteers from different backgrounds campaigning from door to door and a huge diversification in the number of donors. Bernie’s campaign is financed mainly through small donations from workers, such as teachers and nurses, and in the last month of January alone he has already received $ 25 million with an average of less than $ 20 per donation.

This collective movement expressed by Sanders represents the wave of mobilization that arose in the United States mainly from the Occupy movement, which started on Wall Street and spread across the country. The struggle of the youth crowd against the 1% of the population that controls a large part of the wealth was the seed of a wave of protest that today materializes in the campaign of the Democratic primaries. The idea of ​​a broad popular movement as the only alternative to defeating Trump is very concrete and has been spreading more and more both inside and outside the Democratic Party.

Beating the machine

Beating the machine is the name given to the process of confronting the independent socialists over the Democratic Party’s electoral machines in choosing candidates. Federal deputies Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, as well as Bernie himself, are the greatest examples of the ability of youth and other sectors mobilized against the apparatus that controls Democratic candidacies. Responding to the polarization stimulated by Trump with real proposals to improve life for those living in the United States, these new names in politics represent a new and viable way of doing politics in the country.

The North-American bipartisan system greatly influences socialist electoral tactics because it is very difficult to dispute the process outside the centennial structures of the Democratic and Republican parties. Presidential elections are not defined by direct elections but by an Electoral College elected from the states by a mechanism in which a simple party victory means the election of all state delegates. In this model, it is possible (and increasingly common) that the victorious candidate in the elections is not the one who got the most votes and Trump himself won the last elections despite receiving almost 3 million votes less than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Another difference is in the voter registration of each party, the equivalent of party affiliations in Brazil, because the North-American system is much more fluid and in some cases, the voter can change his party registration at the time of the preliminaries. This theoretically makes the parties more malleable to the participation of the population as a whole while in practice it makes it difficult to build party alternatives. Also, there is the practice of gerrymandering, that is, a legal maneuver in which the parliamentarians of each state or city can geographically alter the electoral districts according to their needs, generally reducing the representativeness of black and immigrant communities.

It is important to note that, despite running again in the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders is an independent senator and most of his supporters are not members of the Democratic Party. The DSA itself is often mistaken for a Democratic trend or satellite party but it is an independent organization that fights strongly against this party in its primaries. This confusion leads to errors of assessment as if the democratic socialists were trying to “dispute the Democratic Party from the inside” when in fact these comrades are impacting the electoral process independently.

Another important factor in the process known as beating the machine is the affirmation of radical, and often anti-capitalist, positions, as opposed to the Democratic leadership financed by major investors in the financial market. Far from wavering in the face of defending the status quo, democratic socialists see the radicality of their positions as the only way out to dialogue with the diverse North-American working class and youth to defeat Trump. As the polarization of the society grows, traditional political proposals have less and less appeal and are replaced by both far-right rhetoric and the increasingly popular outlets presented by socialists.

I believe that we will win

I believe that we will win! it is a famous chant of the fans in North-American stadiums and gyms that today is also repeated in socialist demonstrations and rallies across the country. The idea that it is possible to win, so distant in the North-American mobilizations in the last decades, becomes more and more concrete and sensitizes an increasing number of supporters. Hope emerges as a central feature of those that cross cities and states in favor of the Sanders campaign and even the mainstream media is already obliged to recognize the impressive popular support for both Bernie and socialist ideas.

A recent Gallup Institute survey released in November 2019 shows that socialism is already as popular as capitalism among adults, and receives even more support among youth, demonstrating a historic shift in the country’s ideological framework. This change is felt in all communities and is quite strong among poor, black or white immigrant youths and represents a vector that will still greatly shake the US political and social scene.

But the challenges are also enormous. Firstly, because the Democratic Party’s nomination of Sanders still seems very difficult because of the economic and political power of this party’s machine, which has already changed support rules to allow the billionaire and former New York Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg to run in the primaries starting from Super Tuesday (day when a large number of states hold their primaries simultaneously). Besides, the influence of the “superdelegates”, with automatic seats in the primaries that represent almost 15% of the votes in the Democratic Convention, is another tool that can prevent the victory of the socialists.

There is no doubt that the Democratic Party faithfully represents the interests of big capitalists in the electoral process and can carry out any kind of maneuver, or even fraud, to prevent Bernie’s nomination for the Democratic presidential candidacy. There is also no doubt that many Democratic leaders would prefer another Trump administration to the risk posed by a viable socialist candidacy, and these two elements are central to reflecting concretely on the real possibilities posed in the country’s electoral chess.

This scenario opens up a series of questions. Is it really possible for the Democratic Party to accept Sanders’ victory? If not, would there be the possibility of a third socialist candidacy? What would be the impact of this hypothetical candidacy in the face of the need for unity against Trump? And, perhaps the most important question: what´s the stage of development of the forces seeking to build an independent political alternative in the USA?

These answers are still far from being defined, despite the dynamism of the political situation, but they represent the indications of the path to the future of the class struggle in the United States. And the course of the class struggle there affects the course of the class struggle around the world, forcing socialists from different countries to accompany and support our North-American comrades. And, in any scenario, it is important to take into account that the process there is just beginning, there is a long road and tough tasks ahead of democratic socialists. And yes, they can win.

A new page to support and build new alternatives in Latin America and the world, defending the power of the workers and people against the 1% of the rich and privileged, and a society without exploitation.

Writing office

  • Pedro Fuentes
  • Bernardo Corrêa
  • Charles Rosa
  • Clara Baeder