Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 9, 2020

The Twilight of the Political Revolution

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 8:05 pm

On the morning after the Nevada primary, Jacobin/DSA heavyweights Dustin Guastella and Connor Kilpatrick proclaimed “It’s Bernie’s Party Now.” Even before losses in South Carolina, Texas, Minnesota and elsewhere a week later, I deemed their triumphalism a bit premature. Before enumerating the powerful institutions that gird the longest still-functioning capitalist party in the world, I wrote that “it is pretty obvious that the Democratic Party is not an empty shell. Even if most people continue to vote for Bernie Sanders up until the convention, they have no other relationship to him except as an endorser.” It turned out that I was perhaps a bit swayed by the impressive victory in Nevada in failing to warn the democratic socialist comrades that the Nevada vote might have been an outlier.

Hope springs eternal in the democratic socialist breast apparently. Despite opinion polls giving Biden a 24-point advantage in Michigan, a state with 147 delegates, the Jacobin/DSAers still feel like destiny favors them. Matt Karp argued on March 4th that Democratic voters are more aligned on the issues than they are with Biden but admits that their overwhelming desire to deny Trump a second terms might persuade them to not take chances on a “socialist”. In any case, Sanders faces an uphill battle since even if he comes to the convention with a plurality of delegates, he must face a runoff that would allow the centrist super-delegates to cast their 771 votes with Biden. If Biden racks up the kind of victory in Michigan and other northern states tomorrow, it is conceivable that Sanders will drop out.

Just as was the case in 2016, Sanders will stump for Biden like he did for Clinton. Yesterday, he told Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd, “Look, Joe Biden is a friend of mine. He has indicated that if he wins the nomination I will be there for him. Together, we are going to beat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country, but you can’t — we live in a democracy, and we have to contrast his — our records and our ideas, our vision for the future.”

You get the same thing from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told late-night comedy host Seth Meyers that “what is so important is that we ultimately unite behind who that Democratic nominee is.” Since she also made the same pledge to back Andrew Cuomo for Governor, you can only conclude that she will never pretend that she is anything but a liberal Democrat. Adept at speaking out of both sides of her mouth, however, she is also on record as saying, “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party.” That presumably means that if the two were in Sweden, he’d be in the Moderate Party and she’d be in the Social Democrats. Given the Social Democrats’ shift to the right over the decades, that’s hardly reassuring. As is the case generally with these democratic socialists, they are for the idea of Scandinavian model that today is a Platonic ideal summoned from the past more than anything.

In 2018, the BBC reported that Social Democrats accused the Moderate Party of “wrecking” social welfare by encouraging the arrival of foreigners – especially Muslims – who they argue do not share Swedish values. Nice.

Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jacobin has the ability of straddling the left and the not so left. On the anniversary of Olof Palme’s death, it described him as an “internationalist hero” and someone who “Today’s Social Democrats Should Be More Like,” even as the magazine also publishes Kjell Östberg, who wrote that Palme used all his prestige to help pacify the Portuguese revolution by bringing the country into the Western European fold and keeping it in NATO.

Unlike most socialist magazines, you can find analyses that are at odds with each other in Jacobin just like these. If nothing else, I suppose it helps to boost subscription sales. What there seems to be, however, is virtual unanimity on the left getting on the Bernie Sanders bandwagon. Back in 2015, you could still find articles critical of Sanders written by Ashley Smith and Lance Selfa, who were in ISO. Now that the ISO has dissolved, you will find well-known ex-ISOers like Paul Heideman writing for Jacobin, but in their post-conversion mode are as gung-ho as any other Jacobin/DSAer. As for Smith and Selfa, they are unrepentant Marxists like me and write elsewhere.

Within the Sanders fan club on Jacobin, there are some writers who may be even more anxious to remain within the Democratic Party than others, no matter the shit that is shoveled on Sanders and his followers. On February 21, just a day after the Nevada victory, Sam Lewis and Beth Huang wrote an article titled “Democratic Party Elites Are Ready to Steal the Nomination From Bernie Sanders. We Need a Plan to Stop Them.” It reviews all of the factors mentioned above and concludes that it would be a big mistake to abandon the Democratic Party:

In the event that the convention is contested or stolen, the “DemExit” strategy, a 2016 attempt to form a new third party by splitting Sanders supporters from the Democratic Party, will likely reemerge.

When you click DemExit, you will be directed to a CounterPunch article from August 5, 2016 that was written by Calvin Priest and Pam Keeley, two members of Socialist Alternative. Although Trotskyists, the group, which includes Kshama Sawant, urged a vote for him in 2016, just as it does this year—even more fervently. Priest and Keeley, who took part in walkouts after Sanders got royally screwed, wrote:

We need a real #DemExit, a real walkout on corporate politics, and a new mass party of the 99%.

The formation of a new political party was a key step on the road to ending institutionalized slavery in the US. In other countries it took new parties of the working class to win socialized medicine, paid parental leave, and free college education.

It will take a new mass party of working people in the United States to bring a real challenge to corporate politics and the failed system of capitalism.

This is the last thing that Lewis and Huang want to see. They lay out a perspective that implicitly projects a takeover of the Democratic Party by democratic socialists:

Without a clear avenue to supplant either of the two major parties, DemExit risks spoiling elections for the Republicans. Additionally problematic, DemExit takes the social movement left out of a contest for power that we are currently winning. The Sanders campaign and coalition represent the greatest threat to corporate power in the party since its decisive turn towards neoliberalism in the 1970s. No one will breathe a bigger sigh of relief than the party establishment if we, the movement behind Sanders, pack our bags and go home.

While party elites have resources and undemocratic levers of power that we do not, they are also few in number. With a plan, organization, and a mass movement on our side, we can win the convention in July, win the election in November, and begin the next phase of the struggle to transform American democracy.

The next phase of the struggle to transform American democracy will not take place at the Democratic Party convention, nor will it be conducted inside a voting booth on election day. While I am not in the business of fortune-telling, the odds favor Joe Biden and Donald Trump as the two candidates in the general election in November, with Trump returning to the White House for a second term.

Trump’s second term will be marked by deepening class polarization as the intractable problems of the capitalist system grow more acute. Today’s meltdown on Wall Street will likely have the same kind of effect on the economy as it did in 2007, perhaps with fewer long-term consequences but with little assurance that job growth will continue as it has. On top of that, you can expect Trump to target Social Security and Medicare as a way of keeping military spending untouched. Black people and immigrants will continue to face repression from the cops and women will find it even harder to get an abortion. As for the publicly-owned land in the Western states, there will be encroachments that will accelerate the extinction of protected species like the wolf and the grizzly bear. On top of that, climate change will produce even more vicious hurricanes and forest fires.

Against that backdrop, there will be little interest in building up the same kind of energy for another Bernie Sanders campaign in 2024 unless the DSA wants to pin its hope on an 82-year old candidate using a walker and wiping the drool from the corner of his mouth. After this year’s elections, Sanders will go back to his well-paid job as a Senator and continue to write books about the need for a “political revolution”. Like everything else in capitalist society, it will have a rather short shelf-life.

With its 65,000 members, the DSA is in the driver’s seat politically. The Leninist groups have largely disappeared or become adjuncts of the DSA, like Socialist Alternative. Given a willingness to make a clean break with the Democratic Party, it could beef up its leadership, become more professionally organized, and spearhead mass campaigns that will tap into the growing fury of the American people.

It could also begin to run candidates in its own name who are not afraid to speak the truth about the causes of our misery, namely the private ownership of the means of production. Instead of the mealy-mouthed formulations about taking on the billionaire class (whatever that means), it could raise slogans that go to the heart of capitalist production, like nationalizing the banks and making a job with a living wage a right guaranteed by the government.

Of course, they can continue on their merry way and let someone else take their place. Nature and politics both abhor a vacuum.




  1. “On the morning after Super Tuesday”? Can that be right? And: ” If Biden racks up the kind of victory in Michigan and other northern states tomorrow, it conceivable that Biden would drop out.”? You might want to slow down a bit and read these over before you send them out.

    Comment by Murray Reiss — March 9, 2020 @ 8:11 pm

  2. Thanks for the head’s up.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 9, 2020 @ 9:07 pm

  3. I guess that phrase should read “……it is conceivable that Sanders would drop out”. Been there, done that!

    Comment by tomasoflatharta — March 9, 2020 @ 11:12 pm

  4. Some of us are stat nerds! Checking the numbers, Sanders is already far behind Biden – I leave it to comrades in the USA to assess if a reversal is possible. Separately, I will post a link from the dogged investigative journalist Ed Moloney who insists Joe Biden is going senile. Over here in Ireland, people trained in Marxism will say that even so, the right-wing of the Democratic Party will spring another rabbit from the hat to crush Sanders https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2020/president/democratic_vote_count.html

    Comment by tomasoflatharta — March 9, 2020 @ 11:19 pm

  5. This is Ed Moloney’s post on the mental state of Joe Biden – Ed lives in New York https://thebrokenelbow.com/2020/03/05/bidens-mental-problem/

    Comment by tomasoflatharta — March 9, 2020 @ 11:21 pm

  6. It is interesting to compare the role of the Afro-American voter in bringing down Sanders with that of the Northern English working class bringing down Corbyn. Things will have to get much worse before both groups turn towards socialism. Things are of course about to get much worse.

    But first we are about to see that the British Labour Party cannot be the vessel for a socialist revolution. A right wing leadership will re-emerge and the purges will begin.

    Similarly or even more so with the Democrats. Of course I wish Sanders well and have cheered him on on twitter but he was never going to be able to reform the Democrats. Not ever. Never



    Comment by Gary MacLennan — March 10, 2020 @ 12:32 am

  7. Of course the Democratic Party will never let a social democrat, even a wishy washy one like self-styled “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, take the reins as the Party’s presidential candidate.

    And Sanders makes it easy for them by constantly appeasing his enemies within the party (“Joe is my friend”) and bringing a knife to the scraps while his opponents pack firearms. Meanwhile another great “friend”, Hillary Clinton, who he enthusiastically campaigned for and supported in 2016 even after the DNC fucked him over, smears him as a Russian dupe and goes around bad mouthing him every chance she gets. And Bernie responds by…saying nothing.

    This milquetoast is the guy who, as president, his supporters trust is going to go up against the neoliberal establishment and get his way? Jesus wept. He’s already done a good job of Corbynizing himself by letting his adversaries tear him to pieces while he turns the other cheek and calls them his friends.

    American social democrats must have a strong masochistic streak…they really are gluttons for repeated punishment. The fact is, overcoming the neoliberal’s grip on power will take hard work and sacrifice. Making a few phone calls, knocking on a few doors and checking boxes on a ballot (or a screen) every two to four years ain’t gonna cut it.

    The internet gives people the illusion that “stuff is happening” and that they are “doing something.” In reality they are sitting isolated behind their screens and hoping for a political superman savior like Sanders to ride in and rescue the day. That is not going to happen. The left is scattered and weak and outmatched by its “centrist” and right wing opponents.

    Sanders (and Corbyn) flaming out is the last blast of the center left momentum that was built up after the 2008 market crash and the subsequent Occupy movement. Will the left finally clue in that meaningful political and economic change will not arrive via electoral politics and the Democratic Party and look to history for examples of how to wrest power from the capitalists, or will the same masochistic farce be repeated in 2024 and beyond?

    Comment by Eric Blair — March 10, 2020 @ 10:55 am

  8. So once again a Children’s Crusade disappears with a squeak into the hellmouth of the Democratic Party, leaving its supporters stranded. This wouldn’t be a disaster if the type of organization required to knock on doors, man the websites, answer the phones, etc. was immediately translatable into a highly organized and more disciplined mass party not focused exclusively on elections. But when has that ever happened?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 10, 2020 @ 12:59 pm

  9. Pity the American left. On the one hand, plenty of opportunists. On the other hand, plenty of sectarians. When will the American workers leave both in the dust of the class struggle..?

    Comment by Kurt Hill — March 10, 2020 @ 5:46 pm

  10. […] The Twilight of the Political Revolution — Read on louisproyect.org/2020/03/09/the-twilight-of-the-political-revolution/ […]

    Pingback by The Twilight of the Political Revolution – Bernie Sanders Chooses Lesser-Evil Politics in the USA – Joe Biden Versus Donald Trump is The Evil of Two Lessers | Tomás Ó Flatharta — March 11, 2020 @ 7:51 am

  11. […] The Twilight of the Political Revolution — Read on louisproyect.org/2020/03/09/the-twilight-of-the-political-revolution/ […]

    Pingback by Bernie Sanders Chooses Lesser-Evil Politics in the USA – Joe Biden Versus Donald Trump is The Evil of Two Lessers | Tomás Ó Flatharta — March 11, 2020 @ 10:11 am

  12. Louis writes: “Unlike most socialist magazines, you can find analyses that are at odds with each other in Jacobin just like these.” In a nutshell, this quote from your comment is strong evidence both as to why socialists have political difficulties and why many socialists should be kept far, far away from power. Good policy requires the airing of diverse viewpoints, strategies and tactics. Political movements that seek conformity have largely undermined themselves and, in power, have generally brought misery to their subjects. So, at least one cheer for Jacobin which allows diverse viewpoints on its pages but shame on “most” other socialist magazines.

    Comment by Neal — March 11, 2020 @ 1:45 pm

  13. I’m so delighted that Jacobin has an open mind. They need one, given the calamity visited on the left by the braindead strategy of a) tacitly assuming that Sanders would win, and b) expecting a mass movement to grow spontaneously out of a presidential campaign, even a successful one. All I’m hearing from those bourgeois careerists is “but … but….but”

    NB: For what it’s worth, I actually like Bernie Sanders in much the same way in which I like Noam Chomsky, despite the difference in their intellects. He did, temporarily, make the word “socialism” utterable, though Biden, the senile son of a bitch, is doing everything within his failing powers to erase that. That is not the point.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 11, 2020 @ 1:56 pm

  14. Don’t blame the Northern English working class. Many of us are socialists and love Jeremy Corbyn.

    Comment by johnsonkaren7 — March 11, 2020 @ 6:31 pm

  15. End of a revolution? Seemed more like a tea party.

    Comment by Victoria Woodhull — March 11, 2020 @ 10:50 pm

  16. 5 million people have supported Sanders becoming President.
    There are 50,000 members of the D.S.A

    This is the biggest support for Socialism since the Debs era.

    Shouldn’t the fact that the D.S.A allows “different voices” in its media be an argument in favour of participating in it?

    If Sanders doesn’t get the nomination (as seems increasingly likely),these activists should head to the Democratic convention to express their opposition to the bewildered Biden standing and keep pressuring Sanders to stand as an Independent.

    Even if you’re right, preaching from the sidelines doesn’t win you any supporters.

    Shouldn’t the approach should be:-

    Or perhaps in this case, meet me in Milwaukee, Shawkey.

    Comment by prianikoff — March 12, 2020 @ 3:50 pm

  17. Even if you’re right, preaching from the sidelines doesn’t win you any supporters.


    I am not interested in “supporters” if it means sidestepping the question of the left backing Democratic Party candidates.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 12, 2020 @ 4:04 pm

  18. Old crank sez: forget about the presidential election this year. Organize community response to coronavirus, try to gin up mutual aid for the unemployed and infected. It would be lovely to bring in doctors from Cuba, but probably impossible. God it would be great! Maybe a hospital ship or ships in international waters just offshore … Actions–a presence in communities oppressed by the Demo-Republican ordnung–someone you can actually talk to …… Of course strikes and demonstrations too … Let people associate “socialist” with someone helpful that they know and can call on and an org. they can join and not with some damn spectre on TV.

    Organize communities for self-defense.

    Biden will cut social security and medicare and raise the defense budget and reach out to “our friends across the aisle” and perhaps promote a Red Scare just like Wilson, who set the pattern McCarthy and co. made use of.

    Never forget who killed Liebknecht and Luxembourg–and those were actual social democrats–the centrists could be even worse…. They’re persecuting Julian Assange (not my hero but …) as we speak–not for any crimes he may have committed but for a) exposing US war crimes (true) and b) embarrassing the DNC with the truth about their snaky operations… Him being a politically clueless naif full of libertarian bullshit don’t enter into it. It’s a warning …. They want him dead and may get their wish.

    These Democrat and Deep State assholes are potentially far more deadly than the fascists that we spend so much time worrying about.

    I sound like someone from social media but just had to get that off my chest one more time. Get boots on the ground where working people live if at all possible …. please … The rest of this is just in a manner of speaking …

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 12, 2020 @ 4:26 pm

  19. The DSA is a freak show. Watch the videos of their 2019 convention in Atlanta. Horrifying.

    Comment by Victoria Woodhull — March 12, 2020 @ 10:28 pm

  20. Why this obsession about Sweden? Just leave the country alone, plus there is no “Scandinavian” model, Scandinavia is a region, not a country. If the US were to be democratised and civilised to some degree, the best example to follow would be Canada, for pretty obvious reasons.

    Comment by Maximilian1979 — March 13, 2020 @ 5:18 pm

  21. Instead of the mealy-mouthed formulations about taking on the billionaire class (whatever that means), it could raise slogans that go to the heart of capitalist production, like … making a job with a living wage a right guaranteed by the government.

    Curious criticism. I could not agree more that the right to a good job goes to the heart of capitalist production. But of course, Sanders, AOC, Jacobin etc do support that right.

    Comment by Calgacus — March 22, 2020 @ 8:16 pm

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