What do we do now? Socialists in the US are trying to make sense of the Sanders moment a plot a course for the future. The conclusions one draws from the Sanders campaign are bound to affect our sense of what to do next.
Over the last month, a number of socialists have put out their perspectives in hopes of shifting the debate and influencing the direction the movement goes: the Red Nation, an indigenous revolutionary socialist organization with What’s After Bernie Sanders?; the Emerge caucus in NYC DSA, Reflections on Bernie’s Loss; and Charlie Post and Ashley Smith spawned a debate with their article Facing Reality: The Socialist Left, the Sanders Campaign and Our Future with responses by Peter Drucker, Marianella D’Aprile, Todd Cretien and myself. (That’s a lot of reading.)
While many of these pieces are staking out positions, it would be helpful to lay out what are some of the major questions that need to be considered when making assessments — many of the pieces discussing Sanders carry with them assumptions, which inform the conclusions but may need to be brought to the fore. What follows are some questions that all socialists should thinking about as we consider the results of the Sanders campaign.
Before opening any of these, this has been presented largely as a question of cause and effect — and while an argument may edge on one side or another of a given question, as a discourse this will need to be considered dialectically with a both/and relationship rather than trying to resolve any tension as either elections or struggle, Bernie or Not-Bernie. A last word: in any conversation people respond to what is said as well as what is not said; this is tricky. If we choose not to take up a point, is that indicative of banal ignorance, dismissal, or a willing silence?
1) What are our evaluations of Sanders’ run? How well did he perform? How do we account for the lower vote counts (even in states he won) and shorter run in 2020 compared to 2016? Why did the campaign ultimately fall short? What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Sanders campaign?
2) What made the Sanders campaign possible? Why did it happen in 2016 and 2020 and not before, in the 80’s, 90’s or 00’s?
3) What are our critical evaluations of socialists in the Sanders campaign (particularly DSA for Bernie), both positive and negative? What went well, what went poorly, what things should be different?
4) How have the openings for socialist politics changed, and how are we evaluating them? 2010 was the first-time polls showed that young people preferred socialism to capitalism. If this trend predated Sanders’ presidential campaigns, what conclusions should we draw after the close of the 2020 campaign?
5) Has the Bernie Sanders campaign raised expectations or otherwise created better ground to fight on? However you answer this, what calculations factor into your conclusion?
6) Did the Sanders lead to significant growth of political organization and/or non-electoral activity? Which organizations and what kinds of activities?
7) If DSA is going to run class struggle elections, what are the objectives? If we wish to break from the Democratic Party, how are we going to do that? How will DSA keep members and endorsed allies elected to public office accountable to our aims?
None of these are intended to be framed as ”Gotcha!” questions — they’re presented for the purpose of constructive discussion and debate. Political conclusions about tasks for the future will ultimately come from how we make sense of these questions — the what, why, when and how should inform our evolving conclusions about what we do going forward.
Special thanks to Natalia Tylim in thinking through this piece.