Stop leftist hand-washing, support Sanders

by Jon Hochschartner on October 21, 2015

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 in Lyndonville, Vt. Sanders is in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom taking his populist message to students at Lyndon State College. Sanders said Tuesday he's held more than 40 such meetings as he seeks re-election to the Senate. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

I’m sick of my fellow socialists who decry presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders for being insufficiently left-wing. In doing so, they appear completely detached from political reality and to value purity over progress. Far more than any third-party candidate, whether they be from the Green Party or some fading socialist sect, Sanders is getting our issues on the table before a national audience. If supporting his candidacy is lesser-evilism, it’s the kind socialists have to accept in order to have any sort of relevancy, at least for now.

Many of Sanders left-wing critics, and here I mean those unwilling to critically support the campaign, have specific policy disagreements with the senator. For instance, they don’t like his position on Israel. In Socialist Worker, Ashley Smith wrote, Sanders is a “Zionist who supports Israel consistently, even after its escalation of the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.” Similarly, many leftists don’t think Sanders is socialist enough, wishing he was more than a European-style social democrat. But in the absence of a plausible alternative to the senator’s left, these reservations often look like moralistic hand-washing. Working people have bills to pay, and lack time to wait for a perfect vessel for a class-conscious campaign.

Many other left-wing critics say they approve of Sanders on the issues, but his choice to run as a Democrat eliminates him from consideration. This objection seems to rest on the idea that by running as a Democrat, Sanders and his supporters will catch corporate cooties. Never mind that, by running in a bourgeois party, he’s reaching infinitely more people than he would otherwise, and reversing decades worth of Cold War associations between socialism and the Soviet Union. Let’s not pretend that socialists haven’t run on the Democratic Party ticket before. For instance, Upton Sinclair, the muckraking journalist behind “The Jungle,” ran for the governorship of California as a Democrat after two unsuccessful bid for congress as a Socialist Party candidate. He lost as a Democrat as well, but it was a far more successful campaign.

“The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label,” Sinclair said, explaining his tactics. “Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to ‘End Poverty in California’ I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them.” That said, it must be pointed out that, while running as a Democrat, Sanders continues to openly describe himself as a socialist.

This election represents a significant testing ground for American socialists. It will demonstrate the degree to which we value political purity or actual progress. Don’t be one of the hand washers, waiting for the perfect class warrior, who, at least at the moment, doesn’t exist or stand a chance. As imperfect as he might be, Sanders is far and away our best hope. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

The Ghost of Lenin October 21, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Bernie suxxxxxxx


Curtis October 21, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Sanders said the other day that he prefers the term “progressive” to “socialist”. We should take him at his word and believe him then. He’s a progressive running as a Democrat, he said it himself. He openly supports the Capitalist system, he just wants a Social Democracy arrangement which is still Capitalism. A strong welfare state does not Socialism make.

What we can do, as actual Socialists, is key into the conversations around Sanders and educate people attracted to Socialism for the first time about what Socialism actually is. We can take advantage of the public interest in Socialism without signing off on Sander’s betrayals of actual Socialism.


Robert Kaufman October 27, 2015 at 9:38 am

Good Idea! Then maybe with your “one blog post at a time” reeducation campaign, in 8 years of Hillary followed by 8 more of Chelsea, you can finally get an Independent candidate some small grassroots support and win 8% of the electorate! Not a bid deal though, because Chelsea had low approval ratings, Republican candidate Barbara P Bush will save America….


tucker October 27, 2015 at 10:32 am

That wouldn’t be the Robert Kauffman from ACS, would it?


Joaquín Bustelo October 21, 2015 at 9:29 pm

Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist” and I think he makes it perfectly clear he is a social-democrat. The currents this article complains about are “revolutionary socialists” or “revolutionary social-democracy” (Lenin’s term) or Communists.

This broad use of “socialist” to encompass different political currents associated with working people was already well-established when Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto.
Thus, in several introductions to it written in the 1880s, Engels explained:

“When it appeared, we could not have called it a socialist manifesto. In 1847, two kinds of people were considered socialists. On the one hand were the adherents of the various utopian systems…. On the other, the manifold types of social quacks who wanted to eliminate social abuses through their various universal panaceas and all kinds of patch-work, without hurting capital and profit in the least…. The section of the working class, however, which demanded a radical reconstruction of society, convinced that mere political revolutions were not enough, then called itself Communist.”

By the 1870s working class parties were emerging in some countries that called themselves socialist, and Marx and Engels began to use that word for their current, since all of these adhered, at least nominally, to the general outlook of the Communist Manifesto.

But in reality there were still different currents, as would be shown by the debates in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and that split into different parties with World War I.

I don’t begrudge Bernie calling himself a socialist, especially as he makes quite clear what he means (Denmark). I think historically and politically, it makes sense.


Jason Schulman October 22, 2015 at 2:17 am
Tucker October 25, 2015 at 4:44 pm

I knew while reading this agreeable article just now from New Politics that it was dated, even before I scrolled back up to see it was written in June. I wonder what the author would say differently today?
Let’s not follow Sanders; let’s applaude his ideas when he’s right, and keep our critical minds engaged and speak to his weaknesses. Nobody should miss this opportunity to publicize correct thinking in front of a mass audience in this country.
We sorely need it.


Jason Schulman October 25, 2015 at 5:34 pm

I doubt that Steve Shalom would say anything different today than he said back in June. If he’d changed his mind, he’d write about why he changed his mind.


Tucker October 22, 2015 at 6:32 am

I agree with the author of the above. You don’t have to agree with everything Sanders says to love and support him.
It is probably close to irrelevant whether Socialists get involved with Bernie’s campaign, but if this country is finally going to have a widespread debate about Socialism, it would be useful if people who have given it a lot of thought to engage in the discussion and not leave the defense of working people to naive progressives.
Let’s not argue about whether Belgian or Swiss chocolate is your preference, when finally we are getting chocolate on the table.


Jonathon October 22, 2015 at 9:24 am

Sanders isn’t putting my issues on the table until he talks about ending US imperialism and perpetual war. Until then, I have no interest. If US global military domination is a minor policy issue to you, and you don’t mind being used as a pawn to prop up the Democratic Party, then by all means, dive in.


tucker October 22, 2015 at 9:43 am

There are a lot of effete ideological comments being made here. Working people don’t have time for this kind of intellectual purity and snobbery.
Get out of the door if you can’t lend a hand…


Kurt Hill October 22, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Well, Tucker, there are a lot of us working people who don’t have a hell of a lot of time to support a sheepdog like Bernie. If he had run as an independent, I likely would have supported him.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY


Ed Jones October 23, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Effete ideological comments? Intellectual purity and snobbery? What about nattering nabobs of negativity? That was Spiro Agnew’s phrase. You pretend to speak for “working people”? On what basis can you (or anyone else) make that claim?


tucker October 23, 2015 at 7:00 pm

Easy. So easy.
I’ve been a working person for over 40 years.


Curtis Hinson October 23, 2015 at 7:07 pm

And every working person sees it just as you do right? That’s rather remarkable.


tucker October 23, 2015 at 7:12 pm

I am not on a soap box.
I am in the trenches,
and I speak only for myself,
and my perception of the beliefs of my comrades.
If anyone can show me how I am seizing the vanguard as a spokesman for leadership over others, just shoot me.


Ed Jones October 24, 2015 at 10:58 am

Valid points have been raised (you refer to them as effete ideological comments and intellectual snobbery). You end the debate through the absurd (shoot me!). I joined the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (Local 1296) 45 years ago as an apprentice. Does that mean that my 45 years trumps your 40 years? Should I also tout my proletarian origins (mother a letter carrier, father a furniture-maker)? Reminds me of the posturing of two Maoists in my local (Local 25) after I moved to Los Angeles. They demeaned the intelligence of other carpenters (and the working class, in general). They were both UCLA grads and thought that they were “getting closer to the working class” through the deliberate use of poor grammar and other backwardness. They made my skin cringe. Just speak to the issues. Don’t cloud it with nonsense. The foundations of the socialist movement have always been internationalism and a rejection of nationalism. How “socialist” were Hitler’s or Mussolini’s (former editor of Avante) variants of national socialism?


tucker October 24, 2015 at 1:46 pm

That’s interesting, Ed. My girlfriend Chryse was the first woman to join your union in New York around 1979. Perhaps you knew her?


Jonathon October 24, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Dude, the war machine is threatening the entire existence of humanity. Permanent war is hardly an ‘effete ideological’ issue. And I have no idea what door you want me to go out of. I’m not in your fucking house, moron.


Tucker October 22, 2015 at 8:17 pm

Hi Kurt,
I bet your heart is in the right place. My kids are your neighbors in Brooklyn.
I am a graduate of Amira Baraka and the RCP, and I do have fine points and opinions.
However, we can sort out the fine points of Marxist/Leninist/Mao-Tse Tung Thought after the revolution is in full swing.
In the meantime, there are 200,000 or more people in this nation who deserve to hear what we have to say.
Bernie is currently the spark to light the fire, even if you think he should be declared as a non-existent Green or Social Democrat party.
Don’t support the man (ever), support the clarity and wisdom. The rest will follow. The working class is not stupid, and when we hear the truth, we will recognize it, even from a ‘Democrat’ or ‘Progressive’.


rararoadrunner October 22, 2015 at 10:00 pm

Another way of putting this: crush the independent left!


tucker October 23, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Who are the Independent Left?
I thought we all were dependent on each other.


PF October 23, 2015 at 11:39 am

And what happens when, after he loses the nomination, he throws his support to the nightmare of Hillary Clinton? What will have become of his “organizing”? The same as with Kucinich. In the end, they are simply “good Democrats” and support the party, not these vague notions of fighting inequality. This so-called socialist is on good terms with one of the most ruthless murderers and corrupt politicians this country has so far produced, Ms. Clinton, and will undoubtedly campaign for her later. Really, support this?


Ed Jones October 23, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Sanders is no more than a nationalist left foil for Hillary Clinton. Socialism and nationalism are completely incompatible. The tragic legacy of Socialist parties that backed their own national governments in August 1914 is a testimony to that. The reemergence of nationalism in Stalin’s 1924 proclamations regarding socialism in one country set the stage for further betrayals culminating in the murder of an entire generation of socialists and the ensuing destruction of World War II. These may be small points to people that hunger for a warm spot at the side of the national hearth but they disrespect the memory of those that perished and, unappreciated, endanger the future of humanity. There are just some basic principles that are non negotiable and this is one of them.


Darwin26 October 23, 2015 at 5:00 pm

While i’m highly dissatisfied with Bernie’s foreign policy esp his Israhell First dementia… i will support his candidacy holding my nose and barf bag handy…and maybe even a bumper sticker. I do agree he has domestic issues that support stronger Socialist platforms and hopefully he’ll defeat the Frump and the Trump ~ in the meantime maybe those close to his ear will notify him how much more he could be if he was clued in about the virulent US State Dept ie the Statagon.
For those that can’t get on board,i understand … but what have you got to lose at the moment? I don’t see the Green’s getting any traction (glad they revamped their pathetic platform on Palestine); It’ll take more than one president to dung out the US State Dept… but perhaps this is a start that doesn’t sound like hopey changey from a CIA operative IE Obama-Crypto-fascist!


Jonathon October 24, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Sanders is the pre-show, he’s just warming up the crowd. He’s not in the final act. He is here to prop up US empire, not take it down.

And I know all too well that most working class people in this country don’t give a shit how many third world people our government kills, to the point that insisting on an end to imperialism is somehow an issue of ‘ideological purity’. But I do, and I’m not voting for this pro-war piece of shit.


tucker October 24, 2015 at 1:39 pm

This is heartening. Glad to hear you all are becoming activists.


Ed Jones October 24, 2015 at 2:13 pm

1296 is in sunny San Diego. House and apartment framing mostly. Still have all my fingers. I had a friend in San Francisco who told me that there were female members in his local. That would have been in the early 70’s.


tucker October 24, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Yeah, I still got ten fingers, but my knees are giving out!


Ed Jones October 24, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Try glucosamine (fixed my problem about ten years ago). If that doesn’t work – titanium.


tucker October 25, 2015 at 9:47 am

Yes, a friend who plays racquetball and was close to quitting recommended the same. It solved his problem, but he still has a lot of right wing sympathies.
Are you sure this is a MarxistLeninist approved treatment plan?


Ed Jones October 25, 2015 at 2:27 pm

I can’t comment as a medical authority. My doctor told me that glucosamine chondroitin “helps” 70% of the time. My knees were making clicking noises when I walked up stairs. I took the recommended dosage and within three months that went away. That was about ten years ago. I was referred to specialist in the initial period and his answer was steroid injections. I was not too enthusiastic about that. Glucosamine is over-the-counter so if you haven’t tried it I would give it a whirl. I also do a lot of cycling so that low-impact exercise probably also helps. Good luck with your health. Marxism Leninism? I admire and consider myself a student of both Marx and Lenin but I think Marxism Leninism is a cult-like term used by Maoists. Mao was a Stalinist and Stalin authored the murder of an entire generation of revolutionary socialists. Tens of millions in the Soviet Union alone lost their lives as a consequence of Stalin’s criminal activity (among other things he slaughtered the officer corps of the Red Army right before the start of WWII). I would suggest that you study the analysis of Leon Trotsky. Leon Trotsky was acknowledged by Lenin (Lenin’s Last Testament) as an outstanding leader of the Russian Revolution (and leader of the Red Army) and, no, contrary to the absurd, frame-up allegations of the 1937 Moscow Trials, he and Kamenev and Zinoviev and Bukharin, etc. were not agents of a Japanese/German Fascist conspiracy against the Soviet Union.


Tucker October 25, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Lots to learn from Trotsky, who like Malcom, received his ice pick as an inside job, but lots to learn from many in the past, including Engels, Darwin, and even Thoth.
I am more about looking ahead, and don’t follow anyone. I am more of an anarchist at heart, but one that wants Public Libraries and a Department of Sewers, so that puts me back as a Socialist.
Thanks for the advice on the knees, I’ll try it. My mind and spirit are in good shape, so the body will probably come along for the ride.
Mourn for the Dead, fight like hell for the Liviing!


Ed Jones October 25, 2015 at 8:07 pm

Good luck.


RHytonen October 26, 2015 at 1:05 am

Bernie “didn’t stand a chance” until YOU decided to vote for him.
We will not stop corporate rule by voting for a candidate running with corporate funds (IN THE GENERAL.)
They did not become – and do not remain – rich, by not getting what they pay for.
GPUS– NO corporate funds.


Tucker October 26, 2015 at 7:31 am

How exactly are we going to stop corporate rule? Has someone discovered a mechanism that works?
With the weapons and resources at their disposal, maybe a head on assault would be unwise.
How about we take the opportunity Sanders has opened up to arm the majority of citizens with information? How about we just publicize the facts and don’t bother with opinions; do we really not trust our fellow country folk to make up their own minds?


Naj HK December 29, 2015 at 12:18 am

It’s not that he “isn’t left wing enough.”

The left and right wings of capital work together, even in opposition, to run the capitalist state.

The issue, at least for any genuine communists left on earth, is that he is a bourgeois politician. He represents sections of the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie that want to reform capitalism to make it less volatile.

Communism, in its real essence, is a movement of the working class that aims to abolish wage slavery and the law of value worldwide. It has nothing to do with higher wages. It wants to abolish the wages system!


Ed Jones December 29, 2015 at 1:29 am

Several points:
1) The conflict between the bourgeoisie and the working class is objective – whether or not people either understand or are conscious of it.
2) Reforming capitalism is a fool’s errand – it’s not possible. Capitalism has been in its extended death agony since 1914. The only two alternatives are socialism or barbarism. The reform of capitalism is excluded for multiple reasons.
3) The law of value (presumably meaning exchange value) is not something to be abolished. It’s private ownership of the means of production and the bourgeois state that defends those related property rights that needs to be abolished.
4) The above requires the resolution of the crisis of leadership in the working class.
5) That requires the coordinated building of revolutionary parties with a common international perspective.
6) That, in turn, requires the construction of the movement led by Leon Trotsky – the Fourth International.
7) That must be based on an honest evaluation of the history of the Fourth International.
8) Bernie Sanders is a hopeless and reactionary diversion.


Naj HK December 29, 2015 at 7:30 pm

If you don’t know what the law of value is and why the working class must abolish it I suggest you spend more time reading Marx and less time posting made up programs on blogs.


Tucker December 29, 2015 at 6:58 am

Pretty lame, re-chewed dogma. Not that you are wrong, but out of touch and uninspired. If we can wake up the current working class to go outside the established drone of main stream news, that’s a victory in itself.


Tucker December 29, 2015 at 7:01 am

No. You are just wrong,
nestled in the cozy blankets of do nothing irrelevant purity.


Ed Jones December 29, 2015 at 11:54 am

I’m outta here. There’s nothing like reading the received wisdom of committed, cynical flatlanders. As they say, there’s no fix for stupid.


Ed Jones December 29, 2015 at 3:46 pm

One parting thought to all the flatlanders – the starting point of knowledge is the recognition of ignorance. You will obviously never get that far. You’ve been suffocated by the noxious elixir of American exceptionalism, are content with scraps and worse for mental sustenance (like all no-nothings), foolishly think yourselves superior to others (especially the working class), and will remain forever doomed. As Marx said of the Bourbons (the French aristocracy not the beverage), “They remember everything and learn nothing.”


tucker December 29, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Kinda wonder who he’s talking to…


Ed Jones December 29, 2015 at 5:37 pm



Ed Jones December 31, 2015 at 2:10 pm

You sound like a fairly ignorant Maoist (my guess). This is my reading of Marx. All commodities have both use and exchange value. Exchange value is equivalent to the socially necessary labor-time required in the production of that commodity. You can abolish private ownership of the means of production but you can no more abolish the law of value than you can abolish the law of gravity. How do you think money evolved as the universal exchange commodity? Money preceded the development of capitalism. Calculations concerning socially necessary labor and investment in a planned economy will follow capitalism.


Oliver Steinberg February 4, 2016 at 1:17 am

Furthermore, Bernie is getting young people to pay attention to political issues again, so good for him! Socialist schisms have always given great satisfaction to the ruling class. I believe the nomination process is so rigged, and the corporate media so biased, that Bernie’s campaign won’t win the nomination. Yet he is smart enough, i think, to try to direct it so that it ISN’T “Bernie’s” campaign, but a popular movement that will generate both bottom-up organization and grassroots leadership. Then we can have all the doctrinaire debates we crave, once the spark is rekindled and the phenomenon of idealism seeks some ideas to arrange itself with.


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