Part of the Struggling for Coherence on the US Left series.
Most socialist groups have assessed the Bernie Sanders phenomenon incorrectly. It’s boiled down to an argument over whether he is socialist, whether or not he is a Democrat, whether or not he is principled.
All those debates miss the point.
Instead it should be a debate over whether he is politically useful and whether he is moving huge masses of people in our direction in a way that we can capture, consolidate, and further radicalize.
When phrased this way, it should be obvious that the net effect of Bernie Sanders, while engaging some people in the Democratic Party, has overall been to crystallize a much deeper class-consciousness and reform program in the minds of the working class of the United States, which rather than obstructing revolution is a key part of the Jacob’s Ladder mutually reinforcing dialectic between revolution and reform, and whenever you find yourself trying to explain to a layperson on the street what socialism actually means or what we actually need to do, Bernie’s program or “the kinds of things Bernie supports” (like his recent excellent rebuttal to Trump’s first address to Congress) inevitably enters the conversation as a useful and necessary reference point, indicating the expanded horizons of possibility he has created.
If you’re not having these kinds of conversations, then you’re disconnected. If you’re disconnected, then you’re not leading the revolution. The only way you can be leading the revolution is if you live the movement. Living the movement doesn’t mean you have to be at the core of it. It means you have to dabble in it, it means you have to talk politics. And if you’re living the movement, it means there’s no way you’re not feeling the Bern at some level, at least using him as a reference point, and if you’re using him as a reference point, that means he’s actually part of your struggle.
And since he has, indeed, expanded the horizons of possibility and imagination, while also playing a contradictory and co-opting role, there’s no reason not to realize that Sanders actually is one of the leading forces and members of the American neo-Kautskyist movement.