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The Exercise of Power
The “class-struggle social democracy” of Bernie Sanders is exceedingly difficult to pull off. If he wins, he'll face structural pressure to compromise: administering a capitalist state requires maintaining corporate profits. We'll need to create our own pressure through strikes and protests.
Quite simply, despite the promising revival of socialist ideas, despite the recent growth of the Democratic Socialists of America, despite the popularity of left-wing leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we’re in an almost unprecedented state of weakness. But we can’t just wait for street movements to appear out of nowhere. We need to contest elections, to use the opportunity to communicate our message to millions. More than that we need to actually win those elections and “exercise power” today, laying the groundwork for more radical change in the future, while at the same time depriving the Right of strength.
We need, in other words, a Bernie Sanders presidency. Sanders advocates social-democratic demands. But they represent something far different from modern social democracy. Whereas postwar social democracy morphed into a tool to suppress class conflict in favor of tripartite arrangements among business, labor, and the state, Sanders encourages a renewal of class antagonism and movements from below.
To Sanders, the path to reform is through confrontation with elites. Rather than talking about an entire nation struggling together to restore the US economy and shared prosperity, and rather than seeking to negotiate a better settlement with business leaders, Sanders’s movement is about creating a “political revolution” to get what is rightfully ours from “millionaires and billionaires.” His program leads to polarization along class lines; indeed, it calls for it.
Sanders was trained as a student in the Young People’s Socialist League and through trade union and civil rights organizing. His worldview was formed by this unusual background. He doesn’t represent a moderate alternative to more militant socialist demands, but a radical alternative to a decrepit liberal center.
Our solution is a vague one, but it involves creating some pressure of our own. Street protests and strikes can discipline wayward candidates for not going along with a redistributive agenda and force businesses to make concessions to reformers once they are elected. Elected officials, too, can push measures that make it easier to undertake these actions.
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The Jimmy Dore Show
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A Radical Choice
As part of his campaign rollout in late February, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders appointed four national co-chairs to helm his bid for the presidency. While the selection of Ohio state senator Nina Turner, California representative Ro Khanna, and Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen surprised few, Sanders’s fourth choice was atypical.
Carmen Yulín Cruz is, by all traditional measures, an odd choice. The current mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital city, San Juan, she has neither fundraising acumen nor a substantial electoral base that will play a major role in the Democratic primaries. Never before has a Puerto Rican officeholder been given such a prominent position in an American presidential campaign. Not once has a presidential contender so explicitly embraced a Puerto Rican politician on the left-wing of one of the island’s two major political parties.
When she came to prominence in the aftermath of Hurricane María, Cruz was at the beginning of her second term as mayor of San Juan. She had first stepped into this role in 2012, in one of the most surprising recent upsets in Puerto Rican politics.
But Yulín Cruz defied expectations. Her speeches on the campaign trail were electric; her shrewd use of social media and cultivation of the press helped her overcome a dramatic disadvantage in fundraising. Her alliances with trade unions, student groups, and pro-independence factions all proved astute, as did her promises to administer the city transparently.
Her first term saw a marked improvement in San Juan’s infrastructure as well as success in ratifying collective agreements with municipal employees. Those achievements, coupled with a mediocre opponent, ensured her reelection in 2016 — even as the rest of her party was decimated at the polls. To the chagrin of the unimaginative PDP elites — who resent her popularity and question her more strident denunciations of Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the United States — she is, by far, the party’s most potent electoral force.