By James Moules
IN a 2017 interview on BBC Newsnight, Evan Davies asked Noam Chomsky about the rise of right wing populist figures across the world, from Trump in the States to Le Pen in France.
Why was it that those people who had been left behind in the wake of the Great Recession were flocking to these far-right figures as opposed to those of the left – namely Bernie Sanders.
Chomsky pointed out that this was not entirely accurate. People had flocked to Sanders.
He said: “The most remarkable thing about the last election was actually Bernie Sanders, not Trump.
“Bernie Sanders broke with a century of American political history. In American elections for to back in the late nineteenth century, elections were basically bought. Literally.
“You can predict with remarkable accuracy electability simply on the basis of campaign funding.”
He went on: “Sanders came along, no support from the corporate sector, no support from the wealthy. The media simply dismissed him as ridiculous, he was basically unknown. He even used a scare word – socialist.
“And he would have won the Democratic nomination if it hadn’t been for the shenanigans of the party managers.”
Five years have now passed since Bernie Sanders emerged from relative obscurity to seek the Democratic nomination for the 2016 election – a nomination that was supposed to be granted to Hillary Clinton without dissent from any corner of the party’s ranks.
Despite taking no financial donations from the corporate sector, Sanders proved a sizeable challenger to Clinton, winning numerous primaries and caucuses in a contest that was set to be a foregone conclusion.
But after a second shot at the Democratic nomination this year, Sanders has – to all surface level appearances – ended up as another Syriza or Corbyn, another disappointment from the once promising left wing surge of the past half decade.
Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht’s new book Bigger than Bernie: How we go from the Sanders campaign to Democratic Socialism, offers a more hopeful picture. It explores the phenomenon of the Bernie Sanders campaigns and their role in opening up a whole new array of possibilities for the American left.
While it was written before the ultimate fate of the second Sanders campaign was sealed, the book’s insights remain just as relevant regardless – and perhaps even more so.
Opening with a glimpse at the backstory of the man behind the movement, the book traces Sanders’ personal and political development up to the point at which we know the man today. A young man at the height of the social movements of ’68, we follow him through his early failures at seeking political office, through to his time in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and, of course, his two presidential runs.
Sanders’ consistency in his principles through the high and lows of his career are striking. Yet Day and Uetricht never set out to portray him as perfect. After all, as they themselves point out, Sanders’ record on foreign policy as some black spots – notably his vote in favour of the invasion of Afghanistan.
The chapter is called The Man and the Movement, and, after all, the title of this book is Bigger than Bernie.
Sanders is one of the most principled politicians in America, and one who has opened doors for a whole new generation of socialists and radicals. But this book is about far more than just one man.
How the Sanders campaign can lead to Democratic Socialism is the key question this book tackles.
Yet one of the critical points is how Sanders has enabled once fringe leftist movements to become empowered and emboldened by his meteoric rise to prominence.
The book takes a fascinating and accessible charge through the history of the US labour movement, detailing various workers’ struggles from strikes in the early 20th century to fresh campaigns off the heels of the 2016 election.
This, of course, includes of the most notable political upsets in recent memory – the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the New York congressional primary. She took down Joe Crowley, one of the highest profile Democrats in the nation, to sit as the youngest congresswoman in US history.
Crucially, she found her strength not through big corporate donations, but through grassroots support on the ground. This was a movement that toppled the Democratic Party machinery.
However, Day and Uetricht are also careful to point out the perils that a future socialist movement faces. They cite warnings from history of where an unprepared socialist governments found themselves caught out by crushing opposition – from Mitterand’s France to Allende’s Chile.
The book strikes a fine balance of examination of the past and inspiration for the future. Many socialists in the West have been left feeling bruised and disheartened by the events of the last few months – most notably the end of the Sanders’ second bid for the presidency and the catastrophic defeat of the UK Labour Party last December.
Bernie’s bid may be over, but this by no means suggests that his politics have been defeated. As Chomsky pointed out, people flocked to the Sanders in droves in spite of his lack of corporate support and the derision of the mainstream media.
Bigger than Bernie offers a stirring look at what could come next.
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