By Robin Jackson
The US Democratic Party primary campaign is now getting well underway and the most important issue in this contest, from the point of view of the interests of the US working class, is whether Bernie Sanders can secure the party’s nomination for President. From the point of the capitalist class, the principal issue is how to stop Bernie Sanders being elected President in 2020.
The reason the ruling class is so opposed to Sanders is because he pursues a left reformist agenda that would shift resources from capital to the working class and cut the US military. This clashes with the most fundamental current priorities of the US ruling class, which are to increase the rate of exploitation and expand the military’s role. So a Sanders’ Presidency is totally unacceptable to US capital in the present situation.
Sanders is the first significant candidate for President in almost a century to call themself a socialist, reflecting a recent shift in attitudes within the Democratic Party. He is not a ‘socialist’ in any sense it is understood in Europe, however he puts forward a radical platform, by US standards, of redistributive policies and reductions in military spending. Unlike the other Democrat contenders for the Presidential nomination, with seats in the Senate, he has voted against all three of Trump’s proposed increases in the military budget.
In 2016, when Sanders previously ran for the Democratic Party, he demonstrated he could beat Donald Trump. In nearly every poll at the time, for example here on PollingReport, Sanders had a wider lead over Trump than Clinton.
The advance of the Sanders’ left in US Democrat politics is a similar process to the rise of Corbyn in Britain. Following the 2008 financial crisis the US has experienced a prolonged period of economic stagnation, which has led to the current polarisation of US politics. On the right a section of white voters is backing Trump, having been deceived into blaming immigrants, black people, Muslims, refugees and ‘foreign countries’ for the running down of their communities and the pressure on their living standards. On the left another section of working class voters wants a President who defends its living standards and blames big business, not ‘foreigners’, for it being worse off.
The 2016 campaign
In the 2016 Democrat primaries the party establishment became so alarmed that Sanders might win the nomination that they directed the use of the party machinery to intervene against Sanders and in favour of Clinton’s nomination. WikiLeaks revealed how Democratic National Committee staff were deployed to pursue these ends. The party establishment is tied to US big business and is more concerned with defending those interests than in defeating Trump. Despite this interference Sanders was still able to win the Democratic primaries in states like Michigan and Wisconsin which Clinton went on to lose to Trump in the Presidential election.
The 2020 campaign
Trump may fail to secure a second term. An economy which is growing more slowly than under any previous post-World War II President is heading for a slowdown in the run up to the November 2020 Presidential election. He is not widely popular beyond his base, having had negative approval ratings for most of the past two years.
At the most recent national election, the midterms in November 2018, the Democrats won the popular vote in the House of Representatives elections by a margin of 6.8 per cent and performed well in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, three states that were essential to Trump winning the Presidency in 2016. So whoever secures the Democratic Party nomination could well be elected President.
For the 2020 Democratic Party primaries 23 candidates have now entered race. Some of them are positioning themselves to try to weaken Sanders’ support. The party’s official hustings begin this month. Voting will then take place in a series of primaries and caucuses from February to June 2020 and these will select approximately 3,800 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention that will meet in July 2020.
Sanders is promoting the clearest alternative to Trump, attacking him for being a racist, sexist, homophobe, xenophobe and religious bigot who enriches the wealthy. His campaigns include: Medicare for all, free college tuition for all, the Green New Deal, higher taxes on upper incomes and the dismantling of the ‘rigged economy favouring the wealthy’. His radical anti-Trump framework has forced the other Democrat candidates to shift their rhetoric leftwards.
Stop Sanders campaign
Big business is determined to stop Sanders being elected President. He is seen as a threat by health insurance companies, military contractors and the tech giants that are influential with the Democratic Party establishment and it is being reported that the party machine is again working to stop a Sanders’ nomination.
The party establishment’s principal right wing candidate is Joe Biden. He is the former Vice President, to Obama, with a history as a Senator backing various right wing causes, including the war on Iraq. He has made clear that nothing will change, including: ‘No one’s standard of living would change’ if he is elected President. As would be expected he is receiving much favourable media coverage. In recent polls of Democrats Biden has been ahead of Sanders with the other 21 candidates generally trailing behind.
The party establishment is also promoting a candidate to cut into Sanders’ base of support on the left – Elizabeth Warren. She is a fake left candidate, who rivalled Sanders recently in some polls of Democrats. She is a Senator who supports some progressive domestic reforms, but on international issues pursues a significantly pro-imperialist agenda. For example, she is concerned that climate change is undermining US ‘military readiness’ and she campaigns for the military to play a role in implementing the Green New Deal.
This is still an early stage of the primary campaign and approximately two thirds of Democrats have yet to decide who they will vote for next year. If Sanders wins the Democrat nomination next July then a ‘third party’ candidate may well be put into the field, such as Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks CEO – the aim being to try to split the Democrat vote at Presidential election, to defeat Sanders, which would secure Trump’s re-election.
While by no means an extremely left wing candidate in international terms Sanders genuinely presents the oppressed and disenfranchised US working class with a real alternative to the racist, protectionist, pro-war, neo-liberalism of Trump. Sanders’ fight against Trump, Biden and Warren is at present a central political battle in the world’s most powerful imperialist country. The advance of his campaign strengthens the international working class, and deserves flat out support from every progressive person.