Media coverage of the US presidential elections is dominated by talk of primaries, caucuses, and delegate numbers. But behind the complex details a great social process is being revealed.
The real story is not so much Republican Donald Trump as Bernie Sanders. It’s a story that should boost everyone on the left. Over seven million people have already voted for Sanders, who calls himself a socialist, to be the Democratic Party presidential candidate.
More people aged 18 to 29 have voted for Sanders than for Democratic establishment candidate Hillary Clinton and Trump combined.
Sanders defeated Clinton by 56 percent to 44 percent in the state of Wyoming last Saturday. It was his eighth win in the last nine Democratic contests.
For decades any widespread discussion of socialism in the US has been virtually impossible. Years of anti-Communism and red-baiting created an atmosphere in which candidates for office feared to be dubbed “liberal”, let alone socialist.
Now Sanders is rising not in spite of his socialist label but because of it. Three months ago dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster announced that “socialism” was the most looked-up word on its website on 2015.
Millions of people want change from a society where the wealthiest 1 percent soar away from the rest. A society where well paid secure jobs are scarce. Where police gun down people—especially black people—with impunity. And where no action is taken over climate change.
Sanders’ proposals are woefully inadequate to tackle the vast power of the corporations, the bankers, the military and the rest of the state machine.
But he does offer change. He packs tens of thousands into public meetings because he is such a contrast to Clinton.
Barack Obama’s slogan in the run-up to the 2008 election was “Yes we can”. Clinton’s slogan ought properly to be “No we can’t”.
She thinks we can’t have the things Bernie Sanders supports—such as free tuition in state-funded colleges or a health system like the NHS.
Yet millions agree with Sanders that all of this—and much more—is possible using the wealth at the top of society.
Class is returning to political debate. In the US it’s very rare to hear the media or a politician use the term “working class”—everyone says “middle class”. But now 57 percent of people aged 18 to 35 describe themselves as working class.
Sanders’ success is a partial reflection of movements. The last two years has seen the Black Lives Matter movement, strikes and campaigns such as the one by the Chicago Teachers Union, the climate change movement and the battle for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
US unions traditionally get behind the Democratic frontrunner, and the majority back Clinton in this election. But so far four national unions and over 80 union locals (branches or districts) have backed Sanders.
Sometimes workers have ignored their national leaderships to support Sanders. The US media and organising project Labor Notes says, “The Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) came out for Clinton in January. But a month later, Northern California UFCW Local 5, whose 28,000 members work in grocery and food processing, endorsed Sanders.”
Mike Henneberry is the local’s director of communications and politics. He said “For us, it was not a very difficult decision. Compare an individual who’s been supporting workers since he was mayor of Burlington with someone who’s been on the board of Walmart.”
Clinton is still ahead in the battle for the nomination, although the gap is narrowing. The New York primary on 19 April will be under intense scrutiny.
If Sanders wins, it will terrify the establishment and give even more energy to his campaign.
But the movement for change and socialism needs to break free from the Democratic Party. Its politics, hierarchies and practices make it one of the two main pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist parties. The mood coursing through the Sanders challenge needs to express itself through struggle and to find a political home that can really change the US.