If the 13.2 million votes received by self-styled “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries accomplished nothing else positive, it put the questions of socialism and independent working-class politics up for public discussion. I have been critical of Sanders’s socialism because his policy platform was New Deal liberalism, not socialism. More importantly, by entering the Democratic Party, Sanders broke with the socialist principle of independent working-class political action. He became the “sheepdog” herding progressives, who had the option of voting for the Green ticket of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka in the general election, back into a party run by the billionaire class he professes to oppose. Nevertheless, the broad liberal to radical American left is now discussing what socialism is and debating whether the left should be inside or outside the Democratic Party—or both inside and outside. These are good discussions to have.
As we enter the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Trumpism is weakening under its own self-inflicted wounds, the ambivalent legitimacy of Trump’s election by a popular minority due to the eccentricities of the Electoral College, and a spreading realization that behind the economic populism of his campaign rhetoric is the most reactionary Republican economic and social policy agenda since the late nineteenth-century era of Social Darwinism and Jim Crow. A massive resistance against Trump and his administration has emerged, and it is in the main counting on a Democratic restoration to save us. The Democrats may replace the irrationalities and racist revanchism of Trump, but they won’t replace the austerity capitalism and militaristic imperialism to which the Democratic Party is committed. It is a key institution upholding the broad policy consensus of America’s ruling class and its political representatives in the two-party system of corporate rule.
To avoid the political cul-de-sac of choosing between a greater and lesser evil, the left must commit itself to building an independent, membership-based working-class party. Such a third-party insurgency in the United States must be built from the bottom up in two complementary ways. First, it must organize the working-class majority at the bottom of the social structure into a political party that speaks and acts independently for itself. Second, it must mobilize that base to participate in social movement and electoral activities to win and consolidate power and reforms first in cities, then states, and finally in the nation.