Bernie Sanders’s two presidential election campaigns, in tandem with the resurgence of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), have captured political attention in the United States and beyond. The excitement inspired by the growth of this new left movement in the heart of the US empire is difficult to overstate. With Sanders’s second presidential nomination bid now fast receding in the left’s rear-view mirror, a sober assessment of the movement’s strengths and weaknesses is timely, especially as we move forward through the uncharted territory of the Covid-19 pandemic and aftermath.
What follows is an assessment of both Sanders campaigns, a reflection on the DSA’s strategic calculations and outcomes during this period, and an appeal to move beyond the narrow horizons of electoralist politics—both within and beyond the Democratic Party. Sanders’s electoral bids, the grassroots campaign surrounding him, and the tasks for the movement today must be understood in the context of the two-party political system and its historic chokehold on the US left. Unlike most other capitalist democracies, the US has no social democratic or labour party, just two pro-business blocs and a political system that structurally undermines the viability of third party candidates. The debate over how to break the grip of the two-party system is one of the central political questions for the US left today.
The origins of the DSA
Understanding the explosion of a new left in the US and its relationship with the Sanders campaigns begins with understanding the historical emergence and development of the DSA. The DSA is the main beneficiary of this new left movement and has been the driving force mobilising people—especially young people—for Sanders’s 2020 presidential bid. The DSA was historically one of the biggest socialist organisations in the US, with 5,000 members at its foundation in 1982. Its membership has risen to almost 60,000 today, with nearly 200 local chapters around the country, making it the single largest socialist organisation in the US.
Like most contemporary socialist organisations, the DSA was the product of splits and mergers within existing left formations. The group’s roots lie in the Socialist Party of America (SPA), which was founded in 1901. The SPA brought together left radicals in the tradition of Eugene V Debs, union activists associated with the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), progressive agrarian populists and moderate social democrats.1 The SPA’s early history was marked by successful electoral work, but also by a series of crises. The group staunchly (and correctly) opposed the First World War but lost members and faced repression over its pacifist position. During the same period the SPA fractured over its attitude to the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. Pro-war members left the SPA and headed into the Democratic Party, while its more radical elements left to join the Communist Party or the IWW. During the interwar years the SPA struggled to navigate Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, opposing these popular social reforms as a safety valve designed to temper the labour activism and social unrest of the Great Depression years.
In the 1930s the SPA experimented with a broader tent organisation and saw a brief influx of far-left socialists, but this quickly collapsed into factionalism and schism. Already a shadow of its former self, the SPA grew even more isolated over its opposition to the Second World War—most of the US left supported the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany. The McCarthyite attacks on the left during the 1950s further weakened the SPA. However, the group experienced a revival after the Soviet Union’s 1956 invasion of Hungary and its repression of anti-Stalinist political activity there. Many left Communist Parties around the world in the wake of the invasion and the SPA was a beneficiary of these resignations in the US. Around the same time the SPA also absorbed a group of young members surrounding the former Trotskyist Max Shachtman.2
One of those attracted to Shachtman’s current inside the SPA was Michael Harrington, who would go on to found the DSA. Harrington’s experience in the SPA was shaped by the group’s prominent role in the civil rights movement and the emergence of the New Left.3 In 1962 Harrington was among the group that founded Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which became the main organisational focus of the student movement of the 1960s. However, he left the SDS soon after due to what he considered its softness towards Communists. His experience of rising struggle during the 1960s and 1970s convinced Harrington that the US political landscape had transformed to the point that it no longer made sense for socialists to run their own political candidates against Democrats. Since the vote for socialists had declined from its height of a million around the First World War to a couple of thousand by the 1950s, Harrington argued that socialists must necessarily pivot to running with and through the Democratic Party in order to get left policies passed. Harrington’s contention was that sustained engagement with the civil rights movement and labour organising would enable socialists to pull the Democratic Party to the left. This was called the “realignment strategy”, which intended to purge the right-wing elements from the Democratic Party, strengthen its left wing, and eventually transform it into a social democratic party.
In the early 1970s the SPA split into two factions, both emphasising realignment within the Democratic Party but differing on tactics. The more right-wing faction became the Social Democrats (SDUSA), who were critical of the Soviet Union, the concept of the revolutionary party and the emergence of the New Left. Its members essentially operated as right-wing social democrats and labour bureaucrats. The left-wing faction, led by Harrington, became the Democratic Socialist Organisation Committee (DSOC). DSOC opposed the Vietnam War and, although critical of the Soviet Union, opposed the SDUSA’s staunch anti-Communism. While SDUSA retained a heavy focus on union organising, DSOC was drawn especially towards the New Left and recruiting activists who tended to be more middle class, including those campaigning around the progressive Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972. In 1982, DSOC merged with the New Left multi-party New American Movement (one successor organisation of the SDS), becoming the DSA.
Until its explosive growth following Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016, the DSA had a changeable relationship with electoral politics. The organisation gave critical support to Democratic presidential candidates through the 1980s (including Walter Mondale, who lost to Ronald Reagan) and enthusiastic support to civil rights activist Jesse Jackson’s second presidential nomination campaign in 1988. The DSA’s position since the mid-1990s is known as the “inside-outside strategy”—meaning that it refrains from choosing a single orientation of either working to build a new electoral formation outside of the Democratic Party or solely working inside the Democratic Party. As the DSA’s website explains:
If you are committed to a pluralist, democratic conception of a just society then you can join DSA’s collective project, regardless of your position (or lack thereof) on some arcane split in socialist history, or even whether you believe in the possibility of independent electoral work inside or outside the Democratic Party ballot line.4
This stance was reflected in 2000, when the DSA took no formal position on the presidential election. Some members backed Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, others supported Democratic Party nominee Al Gore, and others still campaigned for David McReynolds of the Socialist Party.5
What might be considered an open and flexible policy about which candidates to support is, at its heart, a contradiction. The structure and history of the Democratic Party, discussed in greater detail below, has shown repeatedly that there can be no principled or generative campaign within its confines. The Democratic Party establishment habitually undermines left-wing social movements, and the movements’ focus on getting Democrats elected has in turn helped silence criticism of their policies once in office, demobilising the left and facilitating a rightward shift in mainstream US politics. This trajectory has a long history, but reached its zenith with Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party’s own Thatcherite neoliberal, who is remembered for dismantling the US welfare state.6
One brief and contemporary example illustrates the point: the decline of the anti-war movement under President Barack Obama. In the early 2000s, anti-war protests against the Bush administration frequently numbered in the hundreds of thousands. In 2008, Obama campaigned to withdraw troops and end the wars in the Middle East. When he won the election, the anti-war movement considered this a huge victory, viewing Obama as their ally in the White House.7 Once Obama took office, the anti-war movement entered a period of steep decline. This was not because Obama followed through on his anti-war promises. He ramped up the war in Afghanistan and there are still, nearly two decades after the invasion of Iraq, US troops on the ground in Baghdad. In their study of the anti-war movement’s demise, Michael T Heaney and Fabio Rojas found that the organising coalitions that led the movement saw an exodus of Democratic Party activists after Obama’s election.8 This sort of experience is where the oft-repeated phrase “the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements” comes from. If this is the case consistently—that is, the social movements collapse, the activists are assimilated and the Democrats move rightward whenever the left campaigns for them—then it seems to stand to reason that the only viable alternative is for the left to run and support political candidates independent of the Democratic Party apparatus. For the US revolutionary left, engaging in this kind of independent electoral activity is one tactic to build a mass socialist organisation and challenge the two-party system.
My contention is that the central question for the US left today is not whether to work inside or outside the Democratic Party, but whether to focus on electoral politics or building non-parliamentary social movements and class struggles. Although different sections of the DSA and the wider left argue that socialists must see elections as a tactical consideration rather than a political silver bullet for defeating the two-party system, a great deal of discussion on the US left today revolves around electoral politics in self-limiting ways. This electoral focus is understandable in a country where there is no mainstream social democratic party—just two capitalist parties whose differences are matters of tone and degree rather than substantial political content. But both the “inside” (campaigning for progressive realignment inside the Democratic Party) and “outside” (looking to build a third electoral party) strategies seriously underestimate the level of class struggle necessary to achieve either result.
There is, of course, a keen awareness among left-wing activists in the US that electoral politics alone cannot transform society. Most DSA members will explain that electoral work is a way to expand political consciousness and struggle, not an end unto itself.9 But the kind of activism people do on the ground is not necessarily consistent with this critical attitude. Much of the left threw itself into both the 2016 and 2020 Sanders campaigns without a non-electoral strategy planned for his likely—now confirmed—defeat. But those who remained outside the Democratic Party did not put forward a viable strategy either. The revolutionary left did not successfully direct its efforts into building labour struggles or social movements from below—not in the years prior to Sanders’s first run nor in the years since. No socialist organisation offered a clear alternative model for socialist activity beyond realignment inside the Democrats in particular or beyond the electoral realm in general. To be sure, there were the objective conditions: the decline of social movements and labour and the ascendance of neoliberalism, which occurred across much of the world during those decades. But the subjective choices the independent left made during these years have nevertheless shaped the extent to which popular discontent can be channelled in productive political ways in the present. Electoralism on the one hand and abstentionism on the other is the dual legacy we confront on the US left today.
The first Sanders run
The emergence of Sanders and his subsequent popularity must be understood as a reflection of the discontent bubbling under US capitalism’s surface since, at least, the 2008 global financial crisis, if not earlier with the emergence of the anti-globalisation movement of the early 2000s. The same rage at decades of neoliberalism, implemented by traditional parties of both the left and right all over the world, is what fuelled the Occupy Wall Street movement against inequality in the US, the occupations of the squares across Europe, and the Arab Spring revolts across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. Sanders is the electoral expression of this social discontent in the US.
Obama was propelled into office by the same discontent, offering a liberal alternative to the George W Bush years. Like Sanders, Obama decried the billionaires, but his campaign was thoroughly couched in terms of improving the lives of the US “middle class”. Moreover, unlike Sanders, there was an enormous gap between his rhetoric and his donor base—Obama’s campaign had far more corporate backing than his Republican opponent, John McCain.10 Compared with Obama’s 2008 presidential run, Sanders’s 2016 campaign was a clearer articulation of the ideology (if not the substance) of pro-labour, social democratic politics—the sort that were neither available nor popular in the US electoral mainstream since at least the 1930s. The weaknesses and limitations of the Sanders campaign notwithstanding, it advanced the idea that billionaires should not exist, medical care and tertiary education should be universal, the economy should be environmentally sustainable and that a tax on the wealthy could pay for all of these things. Sanders’s 2016 run marked a qualitative shift in US political consciousness after years of labour movement decline and social movement defeats.
Like the DSA, Sanders himself emerged from the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s. As a university student he was active in the civil rights movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality. He ran in several local elections in Vermont unsuccessfully through the 1970s and thrice served as the independent mayor of Burlington. In the 1990s he became an independent congressperson and still holds the title for longest serving independent in the House. He went on to become an independent senator, a position he still holds today. A thorough analysis of Sanders’s time in office prior to 2016 is beyond the scope of this article; it suffices to say that he was, by and large, the most left-wing elected official serving at a national level in US politics for a generation. These credentials put him in good stead to capture the post-Obama social discontent during his 2016 election campaign.
The outcome of the 2016 Democratic Party primaries is well-known: Clinton took the nomination with 2,842 Democratic National Convention delegates to Sanders’s 1,865, and then lost to current US president Trump. What is more instructive than the final delegate count is Sanders’s popular vote, the demographic makeup of his electoral base and the nature of his campaign apparatus. Over 13 million people voted for Sanders in the Democratic primaries. This is an enormous level of support for a self-described socialist in a country where, for at least a generation, “socialist” was considered at best a fringe identification, and at worst a curse word. In general, traditional Democratic voters cast their ballot for Clinton. Sanders, however, picked up substantial votes among people who traditionally considered themselves independents, as well as new voters and former non-voters.11 Sanders overwhelmingly won the youth vote in all demographic categories, even more decisively than Obama had before him, although Clinton fared better among traditional Democratic bases such as women, older black voters and Latinx people.12
Aside from his voting base, Sanders’s donors skewed towards young people and the working class. Campaign financing in the US is dominated by political action committees (PACs), where the wealthy pool their resources in order to back their preferred candidates. Sanders famously rejected this type of financing—his only “super PAC” was the National Nurses United trade union. His typical 2016 campaign contribution was under $30 and came from a health or education worker.13 Often, and somewhat surprisingly, his financial support came from unemployed people.14 Importantly, Sanders had the lion’s share of individual union endorsements.15 Many unions normally endorse whoever becomes the Democratic nominee, but during Sanders’s runs the endorsements have been politically contested. This information about Sanders’s 2016 voters and donors paints a picture of a new generation fed up with the politics of the past. This is reinforced by the fact that both Sanders and Trump positioned themselves as political “outsiders”. However specious the claim is, Trump presented himself as a “tell it like it is” businessman from outside the Washington elite. Although Sanders has caucused and voted with Democrats throughout his political career, the fact that he came from outside the Democratic establishment was a draw for many of his supporters in 2016. Both candidates reflect the ongoing crisis in capitalist democracies, in which both traditional conservative and social democratic parties have lost their constituents to new formations.
It is no overstatement to say that the 2016 presidential election was shocking and disorienting for the US left. Most people thought Clinton would win comfortably. When she did not, the left entered a period of confusion, trying to understand how a brutish fool such as Trump could have become president. For some, the experience was proof that trying to transform the Democratic Party was impossible. For many others, Sanders’s popularity was a sign that US politics could be changed through the Democratic Party—because Sanders had come so close to winning the primaries. There was a great deal of hope that 2016 could be replicated, but successfully, first on a local level and then again on the national level. There was also a sense of urgency on the left as Trump entered office. Prominent left commentator Doug Henwood writes in New Republic that just prior to Sanders’s first presidential nominee run, the DSA had around 6,000 members nationally. It passed 10,000 in November 2016 around the time of the election, ballooning to over 40,000 after New York’s DSA-endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her Congressional primary in June 2018.16
The DSA under Trump
To understand the development of the new left under Trump, it is important to distinguish between the work of the Sanders campaign proper and the grassroots movement surrounding it during this time, which is intimately connected to the DSA. For instance, Sanders has been rightly criticised over some of his foreign policy stances, and the DSA is often to the left of Sanders on questions of imperialism. Sanders supports the dead-end two-state solution in Israel-Palestine and has condemned Palestinian resistance to the occupation, but in 2017 the DSA endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and the 2019 convention resolved to create a national BDS working group. Some local chapters also run anti-imperialism study groups.17
The DSA is a federal organisation with chapters around the country. In areas with large memberships, chapters are divided into branches. In Los Angeles, where I am active, the chapter has four branches divided by geographical area. The organisation’s highest decision-making body is its national convention, which meets at least every two years (it held one in 2019 and will hold a 2020 convention in September). Local chapters are entitled to a certain number of delegates, relative to their paying membership, who are elected locally prior to conventions. Between conventions, the DSA is led by a 16-person National Political Committee, which meets four times each year and oversees the implementation of decisions made at national conventions. The National Political Committee also elects a five-person Steering Committee, which carries out the day-to-day work of the national leadership. The organisation has a youth wing (the Young Democratic Socialists of America), a paid staff and a quarterly publication called Democratic Left.
At the time of writing, the DSA’s national priorities include universal medical care, climate justice and reviving the US labour movement. Although all of these priorities are connected in some way to Sanders’s electoral platform, they are also non-electoral organising spaces. The Democratic Socialist Labour Commission, for instance, unites DSA members active in their workplaces, particularly in education and more recently in healthcare and the restaurant sector.18 The year 2019 saw important debates about the DSA’s labour strategy, with the Bread and Roses Caucus arguing for a rank and file strategy,19 while the Collective Power Network called for a decentralised local labour strategy to organise formerly unorganised workers.20 There are several national working groups that campaign around specific political issues and forms of oppression, plus each local chapter also has its own set of committees.21 In Los Angeles, in addition to the DSA chapter’s four branches, there are sub-groups that organise around climate, healthcare, homelessness, labour (especially in the entertainment industry and non-profit sector), prison abolition and immigration justice.
Politically, the DSA is a hugely heterogeneous organisation, ranging from right-wing social democrats to anarchists and revolutionary socialists. The organisation has several contending political currents, which are organised into caucuses. Some of these have a national presence and produce publications, while others mainly operate locally. The debates and fissures between the different caucuses can be opaque to all but the most active DSA members. Some caucuses are shown in table 1. The presence and influence of each caucus varies a great deal from place to place, as does the balance of electoral and non-electoral work in each chapter, branch and committee. This makes forming a general picture of the organisation’s political perspectives between the two presidential elections challenging. Nevertheless, it is clear that the DSA tended to play a leading role in local electoral races during this period. After losing the 2016 Democratic primary, the Sanders campaign proper created Our Revolution. This initiative aimed at using the national profile of the Sanders campaign to get progressive Democrats elected and left-wing bills passed in state and local elections (often called the “down-ballot strategy”). It is not surprising that the campaign went in this direction. Our Revolution grew out of Sanders’s explicitly electoral formation inside the Democratic Party, seeking to replicate Sanders’s campaign on state and local levels, particularly during local races in 2017 and the 2018 midterm elections. In actuality, the DSA has implemented this strategy on the ground more consistently than Our Revolution, which saw some successes in 2018 but primarily sank resources into the national Sanders campaign following that.22 This strategy helped the successful electoral bids of progressive Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (known as “AOC”) in New York, Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. Together, they are known as “the squad”, all women of colour who won Congressional seats in 2018 and have stood up to Republicans, and sometimes their own party, over various policies.23
Table 1: Some caucuses and other organisations in the DSA
*not technically a caucus
Source: Author. Based on a diagram produced by the “Red Caucus” in Portland, Oregon in mid-2019.
Big tent anti
DSA Libertarian Socialist Caucus
Communist Caucus (based in
Emerge (based in New York)
Collective Power Network*
Ocasio-Cortez is a particularly notable Our Revolution and DSA-backed candidate. She ran in the predominantly black and Latinx neighbourhood of the Bronx, ousting corporate Democrat incumbent Joe Crowley. A former restaurant worker whose father comes from the US-occupied island of Puerto Rico, she is the youngest woman to ever hold a seat in the House of Representatives. Ocasio-Cortez ran an impressive political campaign. Her platform included socialised medicine for all and the break-up of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—the federal government agency that rounds up immigrants at gunpoint to deport them. Her win gave hope to those disgusted with the Trump presidency and the feeble resistance that most Democrats had mounted over the previous two years.
DSA chapters and members campaigned for 35 winning candidates in the 2017 elections and 110 in the 2018 midterms. These included Ravi Bhalla, a Sikh from New Jersey who ran to become mayor of the city of Hoboken and won, despite a vicious racist smear campaign against him. In Virginia, Danica Roem became the first openly trans woman to win and serve in a state legislature. She defeated Republican incumbent Bob Marshall, whose final act in office was introducing—and losing—a transphobic bathroom bill. Again in Virginia, DSA member Lee Carter ran and won a seat in the state House of Delegates. This IT worker was inspired by Sanders and ran on a platform for universal healthcare. Initially the Democrats enthusiastically backed him. But Carter stood firm against corporate donations, refusing to take money from electricity company Dominion Energy and opposing its plans for a gas pipeline. Dominion is a huge contributor to both Democrats and Republicans in Virginia. So the Democratic Party quietly abandoned Carter, but he unseated Republican Jackson Miller anyway.24
These are not insignificant wins for the DSA but their context is important. The 2017 and 2018 victories were viewed by many in the DSA as proof that their strategy was working, and that these electoral gains would feed into an electoral victory for Sanders in 2020. However, victories for DSA-backed candidates were the exception rather than the rule in the 2018 midterm elections. With fewer than half the Democratic primary races won by progressives earlier in the year, the ultimate winners in the midterms were overwhelmingly establishment Democrats. In fact, many were funded by the Republican billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who then went on to masquerade as a Democrat during the 2020 primaries before dropping out of the race.25 Losing some elections is not an indictment of the DSA—or left-wing electoral campaigns in general. There is no straight line between the amount of “effort” that goes into an election campaign and winning the seat. But the question for the DSA from 2016 right up to the present is whether this electoral work has strengthened the left and taken class struggle forward in the US.
The way the DSA is set up makes these questions difficult to answer with certainty. The organisation has certainly grown in absolute terms. But the minimum requirement for membership in the DSA is a monthly contribution; there is no general standard of activity, no national political perspective beyond the general priorities outlined at its national conventions and no centralised mechanisms for accountability, even at the local level. For instance, Ocasio-Cortez is often the only congressperson to oppose regressive legislation or speak out about inequality. Ocasio-Cortez ostensibly ran in New York as a DSA member but she is not accountable to the DSA membership and she cannot be recalled by the organisation. Although she has stopped short of formally endorsing Joe Biden for president, many DSA members are angry that Ocasio-Cortez has said she will vote for him in the 2020 presidential election. She will also join Biden’s climate policy panel if he is elected in November, a move that is more likely to shift Ocasio-Cortez to the right than create space for her to shift Biden to left.26
Similarly, after a year in office, the less prominent Lee Carter in Virginia voted for a Medicaid expansion that was contingent on forcing people in unemployment to work in order to receive their benefits. Carter could have refused to vote for the legislation on principle, but progressive politicians like him face pressure to be pragmatic and play the game of politics, even if it means making concessions. This is disappointing, but not surprising. After all, politicians are known for their capacity to disappoint their electorates. The key issue is whether there is a movement outside of Congress, rooted in workplaces and communities, that can hold progressive leaders to account and pressure them to stand firm on their commitments. It is difficult to build this kind of political power when campaigns are locked into the continuous short-term cycles of local elections. Whether this prioritisation on the DSA’s part during the first Trump term has strengthened the left and taken struggle forward is open to question. Of course, there is a general sentiment against capitalist “politics as usual” and in favour of left-wing policies that Sanders and down-ballot progressive candidates represent, such as universal healthcare and climate action. However, there is not yet the extra-parliamentary social weight to carry or defend these kinds of policies in the US.
Bernie or Bust!
The left’s post-mortem of Sanders’s second run is still in progress. Now that we face an unprecedented public health crisis and an economic catastrophe, it is even more essential to draw concrete and productive conclusions. The 2020 campaign drew in many more activists than in 2016 and the stakes seemed far higher with Trump running for re-election, compared to last time when most people thought Clinton would comfortably win.
Again, the distinction between the Sanders campaign proper and the DSA’s movement is important to understand. From the beginning, Sanders made it clear that he would back whoever became the Democratic nominee. His formal endorsement of establishment Democrat—and credibly accused sexual abuser—Biden on 13 April was disappointing, but not surprising. Similarly, Sanders ruled out running as an independent presidential candidate long ago. These actions all affirm that Sanders is embedded in the Democratic Party and continually choses having a seat at the table over building any independent political power, whether electoral or otherwise. On the other hand, the DSA’s 2019 national convention passed a “Bernie or Bust” motion, arguing they would campaign exclusively for Sanders and not follow his lead in endorsing whichever Democrat eventually became the nominee.27 This represented a step forward. Too often the Democratic machine receives the support of all mainstream left organisations, regardless of its track record. The DSA’s vote to only campaign for Sanders put the Democratic Party on notice, showing that the left’s organisational and electoral support was no longer guaranteed to the Democratic Party.
The prospect of a Biden versus Trump election is dispiriting. Predicting what will happen in November is difficult, but it remains possible that Trump could win re-election in 2020. More accurately, it will be Biden’s race to lose. The Democratic establishment has thus far deployed the same losing strategy it did in 2016. Clinton’s main talking points were that she was experienced, a member of the Obama administration and that she was not Trump. Biden’s talking points during the Democratic debates earlier in 2020 were nearly identical: experience, Obama, not Trump. It is difficult to imagine Biden clawing back the votes that Clinton lost by using precisely the same strategy that handed Trump the midwest in 2016. There have been quiet rumblings in the press that suggest some Democrats may be souring on Biden due to his apparent cognitive decline and the credible sexual violence allegations from his former aide Tara Reade.28 One opinion piece in The Hill in April even suggested Biden may nominate Clinton herself as his vice-presidential candidate and then step aside at the last minute so she can finish what she began in 2016.29 The way the Democratic Party establishment has rallied around the worst, most corporate, least inspiring candidates during the past two races is a large reason why Sanders has not progressed to nominee. It is also throwing up the ever-present political question for the DSA: can the Democratic Party machinery be harnessed in favour of the working class?
Looking at what the “bust” component of the “Bernie or Bust” slogan means is critical. After the South Carolina primaries in February, the Democratic establishment united behind Biden, pressuring the rest of the establishment Democrats to drop out and back him. He won decisively on Super Tuesday and in Wisconsin, thanks partly to the confusion and disorientation produced by the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic collapse.30 Biden’s win in Wisconsin was also the product of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) manoeuvring.31 While the DNC’s antics are both undemocratic and indefensible, it is not enough to blame these factors for Sanders’s loss, as DSA members Paul Heideman and Hadas Thier argue in Jacobin.32 There must be a genuine and sober political assessment of the grassroots campaign’s strengths and weaknesses on their own terms if we are to learn anything moving forward.
In a New Politics article from April, socialists Charlie Post and Ashley Smith explain that this time around Sanders actually lost even more decisively than in 2016.33 Responding to those who locate the defeat in the pandemic, Post and Smith correctly point out that “the turning points were the South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries, well before Covid-19 changed the terrain of politics and everyday life.” Sanders’s share of the primary popular vote did not rise above 30 percent (compared with 43 percent last time) and the campaign, although it did become more diverse, did not win over crucial demographics such as older black voters.34 While working people overwhelmingly support Sanders’s policies such as “Medicare for All”, they generally ended up casting ballots for Biden. This is partly due to the narrow horizons of what people consider possible in the US: the establishment argues that whatever Biden lacks in inspiration, he makes up for in realism. Post and Smith rightly argue that, unless there is a sustained level of class and social struggle that convinces working people of their own power, people tend to accept a “realistic” status quo option like Biden. This is not simply a question of the Democratic establishment rallying behind Biden. It is that the level of class struggle was insufficient to propel Sanders into office. Crucially, the DSA and the rest of the far left did not throw themselves unequivocally into building that kind of power. They tried to skip this crucial step by rallying around Sanders’s electoral effort instead, often conflating the two types of struggle.
The 2019 “Bernie or Bust” motion has been condemned across the liberal media as short-sighted, even petulant. There is an astonishing amount of moral pressure placed on people in the US to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee, and for political organisations to endorse and campaign for them, no matter that candidate’s record or policies. This expectation has been foisted on the DSA with even more ferocity due to the urgency of removing Trump from the White House, including by the DSA’s own earlier generation of activists who sent an open letter to the organisation urging them to back Biden.35 The 2019 convention motion was a fissure in this status quo. Not only did the DSA make a clear national decision regarding which candidate they would back, but it also drew a line in the sand to say it would not accept the logic of “lesser evilism” this time—a term best explained in the 1967 pamphlet by US socialist Hal Draper in which he outlines the self-limiting political pitfalls of the left simply choosing the least objectionable capitalist candidate at election time.36
The Democratic Party
There is a general recognition in the DSA and across the US left that the Democratic Party is a capitalist party. The main debate lies in whether the party can be reformed or not. There remains hope among some DSA members that, with the continued election of progressive candidates, the party can be shifted. On the revolutionary left, by contrast, the general understanding is that the Democratic Party cannot be reformed, but that its support base can be wrenched away from the party, pulled to the left, and this in turn may lay the foundations for a new political party. One strategy for breaking apart the Democrats’ base is the “clean break”—forming a third electoral party as soon as possible to run independent or socialist candidates. While there are two existing third electoral options already, the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, both are tiny formations that are hamstrung by the two-party system. Their presidential candidates received 1.07 percent and 0.53 percent of the popular vote respectively in 2016. The other strategy is a “dirty break”, where a grouping within the Democratic Party agitates for a left-wing split in order to form a third party, taking the most radical elements with them.
To understand why there is such a focus on electoral politics on the US left, it is necessary to understand the structural limitations of the two-party system. Although most advanced capitalist countries have political systems dominated by two major parties, their grip is especially firm in the US. The Democratic Party hardly acts as a political party at all. It is not a membership organisation; a person becomes a Democrat by registering as one in time to cast a ballot during a primary election. There is a party platform, but no accountability mechanisms or requirements for people who run as Democrats to campaign on or pursue policies consistent with that platform. The fictional presidential candidate Selina Meyer in the popular television show Veep famously described the party platform in the show’s season finale: “It’s like a to-do list of things we’re not gonna do”.37 There is also no elected or accountable party leadership other than the presidential candidate themselves and some congressional officials. This is in contrast to the social democratic parties that formed in other places around the world, such as the Labour Party in Britain. For all of their own serious limitations, these types of parties are member-based, have contested political leaderships, and generally have some organic connection to the working class through the trade union movement. The Democratic Party has none of these features. The party was described by French political scientist Maurice Duverger as a “caucus-cadre” party of “notables”. In his book on the history of the Democratic Party, Lance Selfa elaborates:
In this type of party…small groups of prominent people (politicians and business leaders) hire themselves activists, a cadre, to maintain the mechanisms of a party (getting out the vote, distributing patronage). These prominent people (the notables) are not interested in involving more people or expanding democratic participation… The cadre is motivated to work for the party less by a shared commitment to shared values or ideology than by career advancement—the possibility that they could climb the ranks of the party to become part of the circle of notables.38
The party’s superdelegates, who cast votes for the presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention regardless of what voters or members have expressed during the primaries, mean the party has an in-built anti-democratic mechanism to undermine progressive contenders. The DNC, which runs the convention where the presidential candidate is chosen, is a window into the deeply undemocratic nature of the Democratic Party. The DNC was founded in 1848 but got its first permanent staff in 1932, which was paid for by two capitalists, one in the auto industry and the other in chemical manufacturing. It was an attempt to professionalise the Democratic Party leadership and operates today mainly as a fundraising arm of the party, but also directs strategy and polling for the presidential candidates.39 The DNC’s emails were famously leaked during the 2016 elections, revealing how the party leadership worked to undermine Sanders and bolster Clinton. Early in the 2020 primaries the DNC again worked to undermine Sanders, seeking to change the convention voting rules to favour superdelegates and the Democratic Party establishment.40
Like any bourgeois political party, the Democrats use the state to mediate the interests of capital and the interests of working people. Where the Democratic Party has proven most successful is by touting progressive causes in name but serving the capitalist class in substance. Obama’s 2008 run is a case in point. His victory was historic in a country built on the slavery of black people. But Obama also had the solid backing of capital, both in campaign contributions and political support for his near $800 billion bank bailout during the financial crisis. In September 2009 an Economic Policy Institute poll found that only 13 percent of people felt the average working person had benefited under the Obama administration, while 64 percent said Obama had helped large banks and 54 percent said Wall Street had benefited.41 This was not just a matter of opinion—it was factually accurate. A University of California, Berkeley study found that 95 percent of the wealth created during Obama’s first term in office went to the wealthiest 1 percent.42 Similarly, the promise of affordable healthcare was dashed by the Obama administration’s wholesale embrace of the insurance and pharmaceutical industry bosses. The pattern here is familiar: the Democratic Party is a master at channelling frustration at the system and hope for left policies toward candidates that are backed by, and serve the interests of, capital. Unlike Obama, Sanders has the benefit of never having governed as president, which means that he still represents hopes unfulfilled, rather than hopes betrayed. But we do not need to see these candidates elected in order to understand the strategic limitations of the campaigns surrounding them. There are lessons to be learned from previous campaigns to reform the Democratic Party.
Although not an exact analogue for the Sanders phenomenon, one useful comparison is Reverend Jesse Jackson’s presidential bids in 1984 and 1988 and the experience of his Rainbow Coalition. The Rainbow Coalition was the last major insurgent left campaign inside the Democrats before Sanders. It aimed to be a progressive alliance of people who had been excluded from politics in the past. It represented people of colour, LGBT people and the poor. Like the DSA now, the Rainbow Coalition argued that its work was not purely electoral and was aimed primarily at building a mass progressive movement. In 1984, Jackson lost the primaries and endorsed his opponent, Walter Mondale, who promptly dismissed all of the Rainbow Coalition’s main demands. The Democratic Party’s machinations undermined Jackson and the coalition. Jackson and the campaign apparatus had invested a great deal in attempting to shift the Democratic Party and, when they returned in 1988 to run again, the campaign was far more mainstream and respectable, campaigning on nationalism and drug reform. It was also dependent on black Democratic establishment endorsements and support, rather than an insurgent base of the oppressed and marginalised. Sanders’s second run did not move to the right as Jackson’s did. The Sanders campaigns, particularly in 2020, were far more grassroots than the Rainbow Coalition in 1988. Nonetheless, the central lesson remains: the Rainbow Coalition did not build an alternative to the Democratic Party, either electorally or as an extra-parliamentary social movement.
Nearly everyone on the US left understands these arguments in the abstract, and many are familiar with Jackson, Obama and the long and sorry history of left-wing attempts to reform the Democratic Party. Yet there is a significant gap between understanding the theory and history of the Democrats, and actually charting an alternative path in practice. One organisation worth mentioning for its work in this respect is the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), the largest revolutionary group in the US before it disbanded in 2019.43 The ISO’s response to the DSA’s contradictory inside-outside strategy was to call for an unequivocal break with the Democratic Party. Although the ISO’s formal theory on the Democrats was a necessary and valuable contribution to the US left, the group did not show in practice how a left that is independent of the Democratic Party could be built and its intervention was largely at the level of ideas, not practice. The ISO spent many decades turned inwards, focussed on internal Marxist education, strict party-building routines and critical commentary from the sidelines. Although the organisation’s self-liquidation was precipitated by the membership’s discovery of a mishandled sexual misconduct case some years ago, the deeper political roots of the ISO’s crisis stem from the group’s inability to adapt to the new left terrain of Sanders’s 2016 run and a growing DSA. With much of the ISO’s former cadre entering the DSA over the past 18 months, these debates live on in the US left despite the ISO’s dissolution.
Discussion about the different types of breaks from the Democratic Party filled the digital pages of the ISO’s newspaper Socialist Worker, with some prominent members eventually leaving the ISO prior to its collapse in favour of a campaign inside the Democratic Party for the “dirty break” strategy.44 But prospects for a dirty break quickly vanished from discussion once the 2020 Sanders run began in earnest. As Post and Smith argue, some leading DSA activists in fact spoke out explicitly against forming any new, independent electoral formation to challenge Biden. These included Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara and Teamster unionist Dustin Guastella, both before and after Sanders’s electoral defeat became clear.45 Responding to Post and Smith, another former ISO-turned-DSA member Todd Chretien argues these examples are straw men, and that the tweets and writings of Sunkara and Guastella do not necessarily represent the DSA as a whole. This may be so; after all, the DSA is politically heterogeneous.46 The organisation’s 2019 convention, alongside the “Bernie or Bust” motion, resolved to use elections tactically, planned to use the process to grow both class struggle and the DSA as an independent organisation, and ultimately affirmed the need to break with the Democratic Party. Yet, as Andrew Sernatinger convincingly argues, the DSA has overwhelmingly dedicated its resources to Sanders’s campaign—without the same attention to these other critical components as planned (and voted upon).47
After dropping out of the presidential race, Sanders called on his supporters to join the DSA. This is, of course, far better than calling on the DSA to endorse Biden, as Sanders himself has done. Sections of the organisation are still convinced of the down ballot strategy.48 Unless there is a concrete alternative political path for DSA members to take, we may see the cycle of Democratic co-option and left demobilisation repeat itself over the coming years.
Socialists and elections
Several analyses of the 2020 Democratic primaries and the future of the US left have been published since Sanders left the race, and many more will follow. They are generally marked by a preoccupation with politics in the electoral arena, sometimes to the exclusion of all other political activity. For instance, Paul Heideman, a former member of the ISO and current DSA member, argues in Jacobin that the left cannot return to the “movementism” of the pre-Sanders era, claiming that the left during that time was simply a subcultural backwater whose opposition to electoral work prevented left-wing ideas or activity from entering the mainstream.49 “Mass politics” of the kind surrounding Sanders, he goes on to say, is the way forward, despite the structural difficulties of the Democratic Party. Heideman is right that a return to inward-looking sects on the left is no strategy for moving forward. What is missing from his analysis is a political strategy that could move the left from our current position to one in which we have a strong enough social base to win any of the reforms Sanders or other progressive Democrats have campaigned for since 2016. If we accept Post and Smith’s contention that the Sanders campaign in 2020 was in fact less successful than in 2016, this signals that we need a different strategy, not a repetition of 2020 or 2016. Heideman references the anti-war movement and its ability to break out of the left’s own self-imposed marginality, but neglects to mention that the movement then collapsed—precisely because of the pull of Democratic electoral politics, as discussed above. Heideman does not elaborate on whether “mass politics” must take place within or outside of the Democratic Party, but the conclusion is clear: electoral politics, not social movements, are the space that he considers most fruitful for the post-Sanders left.
Responding to Heideman, Natalia Tylim, another ISO-turned-DSA member, rightly points out in New Politics that Heideman’s argument only states what the left should not do (dumpster diving, drum circles—as if anyone is seriously arguing for this within the US left), offering nothing in the way of strategic focus for the post-Sanders left now.50 Tylim, again correctly, argues that the key limitation of the Sanders campaign was its lack of social weight beyond the electoral and ideological realm. Tylim argues that by directing resources into electoral work, the left has neglected the slow and often unglamorous work of building the independent social movements and class power that could propel and sustain a president such as Sanders: “Raising popular demands is not the same as sustained vehicles for working-class struggle, and conflating electoral campaigns with rebuilding ‘infrastructures of resistance’ will not help us develop a mass left politics in the US.” Pointing to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s election defeat in Britain, she argues that regardless of where one lives and organises, focussing on getting a candidate elected is no substitute for a strong, independent, activist left. Whereas Heideman triumphantly concludes that the “achievements of the Sanders campaign have been hard-won and need to be fought for to be preserved”, Tylim points out that the experience of door-knocking to get the vote for a presidential candidate is not the same as, for instance, organising in a workplace rank and file caucus or building a grassroots movement for immigrant rights. She concludes that any future electoral work must be complementary to those tasks, not a central focus on its own. This means tactical, independent electoral work—not electoralism.
Without a deeper strategy for building the socialist left, electoral work ceases to be one tactic among many and becomes the central focus instead. In an early post-Sanders analysis, Connor Kilpatrick writes in Jacobin that the structural inequality in US society, which laid the groundwork for Sanders’s popularity, is here to stay, which means the base for Sanders and Sanders-like candidates will only grow in the US in the coming years. Kilpatrick’s proposed strategy to capture and then ameliorate this discontent is to play the long game inside the Democratic Party: working to create a left flank within it (which he argues does not currently exist); strengthening the party’s organised Latinx bloc; and fighting to elect more Sanders types in, for instance, the western states of the country.51 But rather than treating electoral work as one tactic among many, within a wider strategic political orientation that can open the space to break with the Democratic Party altogether, Kilpatrick’s call, echoing Harrington at the DSA’s founding, for realignment inside the Democrats over the coming decades actually promises to reinforce the politics of electoralism. If this is the strategy the DSA and left pursue now, there is a danger that some of today’s radical DSA activists will get dragged back into the established Democratic Party machine over the long term. The greater danger is that this new layer of insurgent activists inspired by Sanders will grow frustrated and demoralised by the Democrats’ machinations. Those who remain activists may go on to do serious and valuable labour or community organising, but demoralisation from battling the Democratic establishment and a lack of political alternative is liable to leave people jaded and sceptical about the possibility for political organisation at all.
In a similar vein to Tylim, Post and Smith argue that electoral work is most fruitful “when it advances organising our power from below—something that is impossible within the Democratic Party”.52 Their solution is to shift from Democratic Party electoralism towards building class struggle, particularly as it relates to the Covid-19 crisis, alongside building a new socialist party. It is not clear if this entails launching a new broad left electoral coalition, a Leninist revolutionary party, a combination of the two or some other conception entirely. While a break from the Democratic Party is necessary, it is difficult to imagine successfully launching a new electoral formation of any kind at this time. If there was not a sufficient social base behind Sanders in 2016 or 2020, it seems highly doubtful that the left has the base to launch a new electoral party. Aside from this, Post and Smith’s contention that social movements and labour struggles must be the left’s priority going forward is compelling. They agree with Tylim that participating in elections can be a complementary tactic for socialists, as long as they are understood in a wider context of building sustained, rooted grassroots social movements and labour struggles. Mass socialist parties emerge as the political expression of these kinds of movements on the rise; they are not a thing that can be declared in advance.
Responding to Post and Smith, Peter Drucker writes that they offer a vision of a new left party that is both vague and indefinitely postponable.53 Drucker points out that the debates we have on the US left about Sanders and left strategy are hardly new. He cites the work of new left parties in Brazil, Denmark and Portugal, but for our purposes, the troubled experiences in Greece and the Spanish state are most revealing. Syriza, the radical left coalition in Greece, won elections in 2015 on a groundswell of frustration and radicalism. Years of miserable austerity imposed by the “Troika” following the global financial crisis saw occupations of workplaces and public spaces and 32 general strikes in the lead-up to Syriza’s electoral win.54 The promise of a left government that pledged to stand up to the Troika’s debt repayment demands captured the left’s attention around the world. However, a year later, Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, was slashing pensions, defunding public health, abusing asylum seekers, compromising with right-wing parties, cosying up to the bosses, and agreeing to do whatever the Troika asked. Greece saw another wave of struggle and strikes—this time against the left electoral coalition.55 The centre right New Democracy party was returned to office in the 2019 elections.56 In the Spanish state, the similar new left formation Podemos emerged in 2014. It skyrocketed in popularity, to the surprise of the established parties, and ran on a platform for universal basic income and against austerity. Podemos’s popularity grew out of mass people’s assemblies across the country called “circles”.57 But Podemos progressively shifted to the right and is now ruling the Spanish state in coalition with the mainstream social democratic Socialist Party (PSOE). These experiences in Greece and the Spanish state deserve their own longer discussions, but even a cursory look at Syriza and Podemos provide important lessons. When these parties entered government, they were faced with the same problem that all left parties in bourgeois parliamentary democracies face: managing the capitalist state. If the conclusion in both Greece and the Spanish state over the past few years is that a disproportionate focus on electoral politics drags the far left into the machinations of the capitalist state, then this is a warning we in the US must also heed.
The logic among revolutionaries involved in this kind of work, and the position put forward by Post and Smith, is that the struggle to create a new left electoral formation will not necessarily successfully usher in parliamentary socialism, but that the experience will aid working people’s political learning, consciousness and confidence. In other words, it is a conduit to fighting for greater political power. In the US, this strategy has an added currency as a way to break the chokehold of the two-party system in general, and the Democratic Party’s hold over the left in particular. These goals can be furthered through left electoral ventures, but only when they are understood as complementary tactics to a wider independent struggle on the streets and in workplaces. Otherwise, the risk of repeating Syriza’s and Podemos’s mistakes is very high.
Where now for the new left?
The Covid-19 pandemic has not only made the political scene extremely unpredictable, it has also made the necessity for socialist politics and organisation all the more urgent. The US is currently at the centre of the pandemic, the private healthcare system cannot handle the scale of the crisis, the economy is in freefall and it is hard to imagine a worse president overseeing the whole debacle. In the wake of the pandemic, and since leaving the presidential nominee race, Sanders’s campaign infrastructure moved towards a fundraising and financial relief model. While this is welcome among many who face immediate and devastating economic hardship, it is more akin to the work of a non-profit relief effort than a political vehicle for deepening class consciousness and expanding working people’s power. As we well know, the DSA is both separate from the Sanders campaign proper and its internal politics are heterogeneous. Some DSA chapters and committees have rightly pivoted to organising in industries on the Covid-19 frontline.58 But large sections of the organisation similarly look toward a financial relief and mutual aid strategy as a response to Covid-19. My own DSA chapter in Los Angeles is primarily focussed on Neighbourhood Solidarity Networks that assess need and coordinate aid, as well as organising DSA members to lobby their local government officials for rent suspension and eviction moratoriums. Our Immigrant Justice Committee has led an important campaign to redistribute stimulus cheques to undocumented people excluded from the state assistance and others in need, but at the time of writing this is conceived primarily as a relief effort, not an organising drive. In the same way that an orientation chiefly towards electoral politics is not a substitute for class organisation, neither is mutual aid. This kind of solidarity and working class support for the most vulnerable is not unimportant work. The Covid-19 mutual aid networks and efforts can be a gateway to deeper political organisation, but this will not happen automatically.
At the time of writing, there is a rising wave of national resistance to the racist police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. This explosive rebellion follows a lineage of the enormous women’s marches against Trump and sexual violence more generally, the airport protests against the Trump’s Muslim Ban, the teachers’ strikes in 2018-19 and now growing industrial action in frontline workplaces fighting for Covid-19 protections. This is where the left’s energies must lie in the coming months and years. Electoral work may play a complementary role in this, but it is a question of which to prioritise—and which kind of work disciplines the other. As I write, the DSA has issued a statement calling for justice for Geroge Floyd, and my own chapter has worked to mobilise members at the anti-police brutality marches.59 However, overall the DSA is participating in—not leading—this work, an unfortunate situation given that it is the country’s largest socialist organisation. The future of these anti-racist protests and their ability to win change depends on their ongoing organisation and leadership, but this is a role the DSA has not yet stepped into.
It is easy to criticise from the sidelines but it is necessary to show in practice what kind of left we need in the US in whatever modest ways possible. Over the past 12 months, socialists, some of whom had been members of groups in the International Socialist Tendency elsewhere, former ISO members in the US and formerly unaligned socialists have launched a new revolutionary socialist network called Marx21.60 The formation is very small, but has branches in Southern California and New York City, and members in other locations across the country. We are waging the arguments outlined here in our communities, workplaces, movements, in the DSA, where most of us are also members, and on the wider left. We are committed to the politics of socialism from below—and to building non-sectarian united fronts against oppression and exploitation alongside our DSA comrades. We believe that creating this kind of left can wrest the activists away from the Democratic Party’s grip and begin mounting a serious challenge to the two-party systems that the capitalist state relies on. Such an orientation has been missing from the US left for many decades, but it is the kind that can build a working class movement capable of finishing what the Sanders campaign began.
Clare Lemlich is a socialist in the United States and a member of Marx21.
1 Debs was a central figure in the emergence of socialism in the US, standing five times for the presidency as the SPA candidate, from 1900 to 1920, and winning 6 percent in 1912. Although Debs was in the revolutionary wing of the SPA, the party leadership included more moderate reformist figures.
2 Shachtman broke with Trotsky during the Second World War. A central issue was the characterisation of the Soviet Union, which Shachtman came to view as a “bureaucratic collectivist” class society.
3 The New Left was a set of radical political currents that emerged in 1956 out of disillusionment with the Soviet crackdown in Hungary and Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech. It grew with the radical movements of the 1960s and articulated a rejection of Stalinism.
4 Schwartz, no date.
5 The Socialist Party was founded in 1973 by former members of the SPA who were unhappy with both the DSOC and the SDUSA. They hoped to revive a Debs-style socialist organisation.
6 For a deeper discussion, see Selfa, 2008, chapter 3.
7 Smith and Ruder, 2009.
8 Heaney and Rojas, 2011.
9 D’Aprile, 2020.
10 Selfa, 2008, pp9-10.
11 Silver, 2016.
12 Dutton, De Pinto and Backus, 2016. “Latinx” is a widely used gender-neutral form of the word “Latino/Latina”, pronounced la-TEE-nex.
13 Mehta, Pesce, Moore and Zhang, 2016.
14 Thomas, 2016.
15 Arain, 2020.
16 Henwood, 2019.
17 Democratic Socialists of America, 2019a.
18 For the DSA’s strategy in education, emerging from a wave of teachers’ strikes across the US in 2018-2019, see the Democratic Socalists Labor Commission’s pamphlet, available from https://teachers.dsausa.org/
19 Blanc, 2019 and Eidlin, 2019.
20 Mosgrove, 2019 and Vera, 2019
22 Duhalde, 2020.
23 Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts is also a member of the squad, but she is decidedly less left-wing than the others, endorsing Elizabeth Warren rather than Sanders during the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.
24 Donnelly, 2019.
25 Burns and Kulish, 2020.
26 Kapur, Sotomayor and Helsel, 2020.
27 Democratic Socialists of America, 2019b.
28 Lenz, 2020.
29 Peek, 2020.
30 Super Tuesday is the day on which the greatest number of US states hold primary elections for the presidential nomination. It is traditionally a strong indicator of who the ultimate victor will be.
31 Reed, 2020.
32 Heideman and Thier, 2020.
33 Post and Smith, 2020.
34 Golshan, 2019.
35 Former Leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society, 2020.
36 Draper, 1967.
37 Season 7, episode 7.
38 Selfa, 2008, p12.
39 Selfa, 2008, p12, p18.
40 Siders, 2020.
41 Orr, 2009.
42 Saez, 2013.
43 I write as a former member of the ISO.
44 See the debates archived at Socialist Worker here: https://socialistworker.org/series/debate%3A-socialists-and-the-democrats
45 Post and Smith, 2020.
46 See, for instance, the debate regarding the DSA in Iowa: www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/09/democratic-socialists-bernie-sanders-strategy/598015/
47 Sernatinger, 2020.
48 See, for instance, Batista, 2020.
49 Heideman, 2020.
50 Tylim, 2020.
51 Kilpatrick, 2020.
52 Post and Smith, 2020.
53 Drucker, 2020.
54 Callinicos, 2015. The Troika is composed of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
55 Sewell, 2016; Clark, 2018.
56 Clark, 2019.
57 Sewell, 2014.
58 Greenhouse, 2020.
59 Democratic Socialists of America, 2020.
60 See marx21us.org
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Blanc, Eric, 2019 “DSA’s Labor Strategy—A Reply To CPN”, The Call (July 24), https://socialistcall.com/2019/07/24/dsa-labor-strategy-rank-and-file
Burns, Alexander and Nicholas Kulish, 2020 “Bloomberg’s Billions: How the Candidate Built an empire of Influence” (15 February), New York Times, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/02/15/us/politics/michael-bloomberg-spending.html
Callinicos, Alex, 2015 “Syriza and the State”, Socialist Worker (3 February), https://tinyurl.com/y777l7no
Clark, Nick, 2018, “Syriza Signs up for Decades More Austerity as Final Bailout Deal Ends in Greece”, Socialist Worker (20 August), https://tinyurl.com/ydbpbsw8
Clark, Nick, 2019, “The Downfall of Syriza in Greek Elections is a Crucial Lesson for the Left”, Socialist Worker (8 July), https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/48606/The+downfall+of+Syriza+in+Greek+elections+is+a+crucial+lesson+for+the+left
D’Aprile, Marianela, 2020, “Reality Check: We Need Class-struggle Elections”, The Call (8 May), https://socialistcall.com/2020/05/08/dsa-bernie-campaign-lessons
Democratic Socialists of America, 2019a, “Democratic Socialists of America Commit to National BDS Organizing”, BDS Movement website (13 August), http://bdsmovement.net/news/democratic-socialists-america-commit-national-bds-organizing
Democratic Socialists of America, 2019b, “2019 Convention: A World to Win”, www.dsausa.org/2019-convention-a-world-to-win
Democratic Socialists of America, 2020, “DSA Condemns the Public Execution of George Floyd at the Hands of the Minneapolis Police” (28 May), www.dsausa.org/statements/dsa-condemns-the-public-execution-of-george-floyd
Donnelly, Sofia, 2019 “Democratic Party a Dead End for the Trump Rebellion,” Solidarity Magazine (4 December), www.solidarity.net.au/mag/back/2017/109/democratic-party-dead-end-anti-trump-rebellion
Draper, Hal, 1967, “Who’s Going to be the Lesser-evil in 1968?”, Independent Socialist (January and February), https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1967/01/lesser.htm
Drucker, Peter, 2020, “Left politics after Sanders: Think Internationally, Historically and Dialectically”, New Politics (27 April), https://newpol.org/left-politics-after-sanders-think-internationally-historically-and-dialectically
Duhalde, David, 2020, “Our Revolution Failed to Live Up to Its Potential. But the Bernie Movement Needs a Mass Organization Now”, Jacobin (28 April), www.jacobinmag.com/2020/04/our-revolution-bernie-sanders
Dutton, Sarah, Jennifer De Pinto and Fred Backus, 2016, “Who’s Voting in the Democratic Primaries?” CBS News (17 May), www.cbsnews.com/news/democratic-primary-electorate-key-findings-from-the-exit-polls
Eidlin, Barry, 2019 “DSA, The Rank-and-file Strategy, and Organizing the Unorganized”, The Call (3 July), https://socialistcall.com/2019/07/03/dsa-organizing-unorganized-labor
Former Leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society, 2020, “An Open Letter to the New New Left From the Old New Left”, The Nation (16 April), https://tinyurl.com/yaqd9ofv
Golshan, Tara, 2019, “Bernie Sanders’s Real Base is diverse—and very Young”, Vox (7 March), www.vox.com/2019/3/7/18216899/bernie-sanders-bro-base-polling-2020-president
Greenhouse, Steven, 2020, “Bernie’s Army Redeploys to Support Covid-19’s Frontline Workers”, In These Times (29 April), https://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/22491/frontline-workers-organize-with-DSA-UE-EWOC-Bernie-campaign-organizers
Heaney, Michael T and Fabio Rojas, 2011, “The Partisan Dynamics of Contention: Demobilization of the Antiwar Movement in the United States, 2007-2009”, Mobilization: An International Journal, volume 16, issue 1 (February), https://www-personal.umich.edu/~mheaney/Partisan_Dynamics_of_Contention.pdf
Heideman, Paul, 2020, “Mass Politics, Not Movementism, Is the Future of the Left”, Jacobin (12 April), www.jacobinmag.com/2020/04/bernie-sanders-democratic-socialism-mass-politics-left
Heideman, Paul, and Hadas Thier, 2020, “Bernie’s Campaign Strategy Wasn’t the Problem”, Jacobin (21 April), www.jacobinmag.com/2020/04/bernie-sanders-campaign-strategy-democratic-party-biden-trump
Henwood, Doug, 2019, “The Socialist Network”, New Republic (16 May), https://newrepublic.com/article/153768/inside-democratic-socialists-america-struggle-political-mainstream
Kapur, Sahil, Marianna Sotomayor and Phil Helsel, 2020 “Ocasio-Cortez Joins Biden’s Climate Policy Panel”, NBC News (13 May), www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/Ocasio-Cortez-joins-biden-s-climate-policy-panel-n1205886
Kilpatrick, Connor, 2020, “We Lost the Battle, but We’ll Win the War”, Jacobin (8 April), www.jacobinmag.com/2020/04/bernie-sanders-presidential-campaign-democratic-socialism
Lenz, Liz, 2020, “Joe Biden Should Step Aside. We Can’t Sacrifice Another Woman for Political Gain”, Washington Post (4 May), www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/05/04/biden-should-step-aside-we-cant-sacrifice-another-woman-political-gain
Mehta, Seema, Anthony Pesce, Maloy Moore and Christine Zhang, 2016, “Who Gives Money to Bernie Sanders?”, Los Angeles Times (3 June), https://latimes.com/projects/la-na-pol-sanders-donors
Mosgrove, Ryan, 2019, “You Can’t Have a Strategy Without Priorities”, The Organizer (22 July), https://tinyurl.com/y8xr4olc
Orr, Andrea, 2009, “Tracking the Recovery”, Economic Policy Institute (6 October), www.epi.org/publication/big_banks_seen_as_big_beneficiaries_of_government_economic_policies
Peak, Liz, 2020, “As Biden Struggles, Hillary Waits for the Call”, The Hill (30 April), https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/495371-as-biden-struggles-hillary-waits-for-the-call
Post, Charlie and Ashley Smith, 2020, “Facing Reality: The Socialist Left, the Sanders Campaign and Our Future” New Politics (14 April), https://newpol.org/facing-reality-the-socialist-left-the-sanders-campaign-and-our-future
Reed, Christopher, 2020, “From the Primaries to the Pandemic”, Marx21 US (26 April), https://marx21us.org/2020/04/26/from-primaries-to-pandemic
Saez, Emmanuel, 2013, “Striking It Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States”, UC Berkeley (3 September), https://eml.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2012.pdf
Schwartz, Joseph M, no date, “A History of Democratic Socialists in America 1971-2017,” Democratic Socialists of America, www.dsausa.org/about-us/history/
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