10 Feb 2016

Bernie Sanders: the radical moment has begun

Even Lebanon voted for Bernie Sanders. As I write, the small rural upmarket Grafton County, NH has Sanders beating Clinton by 32 per cent. The county is 94 per cent white, 3 per cent Asian, 1.8 per cent Hispanic and 0.9 per cent Black. It’s middle-class white America and they voted, on a large turnout, for the first serious left-wing candidate in the history of the Democratic Party.

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What does it mean? Quite simply that the radical progressive sentiment that’s swept Greece, Spain, Scotland and the British Labour movement has now hit America. It’s the same basic pattern: protest movements against austerity and financial power in 2011 were heavily repressed. They did not peter out, but simply worked their way into mass consciousness.

The unequal global recovery did the rest. That and the sight of political elites revelling in the rising inequality that results from sustaining growth through printing money. Oh, and the abject failure of the West’s expeditionary warfare doctrines, which have produced — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya — four spectacularly failing states.

In Spain, so entrenched was the elite culture in politics, that the alternative had to come out of nowhere — in the form of Podemos and the En Comu community activist movements that now control three major cities and 20 per cent of the vote.

In Greece it came via an old political formation — Syriza — newly infused with protesters and disaffected social democrats. In Britain it’s flowing through many conduits: the tens of thousands of pro-independence left-wing Scots who flooded into the SNP after the failed referendum, the millions who made Ukip the third largest party by share of the vote in 2015; and the hundreds of thousands of people who joined Labour to support Corbyn.

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In the USA it’s going to work out differently. US politics is now — despite a bunch of rigmarole dating from the era of Meet Me In St Louis — highly networked. What we saw in NH was effectively a swarm — with new voters, young activists and middle-class older voters — responding to an effective media campaign by Sanders: switching and swarming to achieve last night’s result.

Sanders — like Syriza and Corbyn— is a known quantity. His politics are clear and actually have deep roots in US culture: a mix of Keynesian economics, America-first trade policy, opposition to expeditionary warfare, critical support for Israel, legalising 11m undocumented migrants while restricting future migrant flows through visa reforms, and a universal healthcare system.

What’s put him on a roll — both in Iowa and New Hampshire — is simple: the failure of elite control in the Democratic Party. A whole host of candidates could have bridged the gap between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, offering greater choice. The list is long, if admittedly non-spectacular, of people to the left of Clinton, or with reputations less encumbered, but for some reason the entire Democrat establishment assumed that, if everyone withdrew, it would be a shoo-in for the former First Lady.

So now the Democrat establishment faces two choices: throw everything at Sanders — detaching itself from the mass base of enthusiastic support; or hedge its bets by filtering resources, experts and cautious public support in return for pledges to moderate his platform if selected. With Trump himself having won big in the Granite State, the prospect of a Sanders v Trump race will almost certainly tempt a third establishment candidate like Mike Bloomberg to run.

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Two things make a potential Sanders nomination unique. First, when Corbyn took over Labour, it was a signal moment of panic for the UK establishment: it understood for the first time since George Lansbury left office in 1936 that the party was no longer under establishment control. In the USA the Democratic Party is far more amorphous as a political machine, because of the federal system and powerful local governments. It can, I think, tolerate Sanders as a figurehead in a way Labour and the PLP have found it hard to tolerate Corbyn.

The second thing is, America is a country big enough to enact Sanders’ programme with ease. There is no European Central Bank to stage what looked to many in Europe like a financial coup; no bond market big enough to stage a run on Treasuries at the promise of higher debt and public spending; no military power capable of bullying it into submission. Sure, there is a bunch of mad-as-hell militia types on the populist right, but a Sanders nomination would actually appeal to their sense of fair play.

What we are seeing all over the developed world is the detachment of ordinary voters from an entrenched, increasingly hereditary elite, wedded to high finance and high inequality.

Weirdly, what New Hampshire showed, is that the elite’s head office — the haut Democratic networks of the east coast — has very few defence mechanisms against the radical surge. Above all, unlike in Britain, Spain and Greece, it cannot rely on the much of the established media to destroy Sanders because the broadcast media long ago destroyed its own credibility by becoming a self-imitating entertainment circus; and because, well, the internet.

It’s by no means over. There’s the unions, there are the powerful city mayors. There is identity politics, which in America can break towards the establishment as much as the challenger.

But on both the left and right of American politics, the radical moment has begun.

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8 reader comments

  1. c says:

    The times are a changing,
    What they cannot stop is the next generation of angry and aware young americans, .
    Social media savvy, spiritually focussed and born with a strong moral compass of unity, fairness, equality and justice .
    They have seen the tide of the Humane left rising in Europe, nows the wave is spreading, where it is needed most.
    Hilary Clinton is old school and past her expiry date.
    Bring in old Bernie, welcome in the New..

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      The USA is a v big country.
      You may recall the name of President Franklin D Roosevelt? He it was who had the political courage to expand the USA’s public sector to get the workers working, introduced US social security and was crucial in the fight against the fascism in Europe and SE Asia. Of course, he was radical and revolutionary for his time. Perhaps just a little bit ahead of Bernie too?

      BTW, Karl Marx was the European correspondent for the NY Tribune for 10 years and set-up the first communist international congress in – where else – Philadelphia. Because he observed that America was more sympathetic to his radical views than Europe. There continues to be a US Communist Party that puts up candidates in a few States from time to time.

  2. Boffy says:

    Spot on. What it represents as I discuss in my new novel 2017, is the collapse of the political centre. But, what it also represents, and what is the real material basis of the collapse of that political centre, is the reassertion of basic economic laws.

    You cannot actually build real wealth on the basis of fictitious capital, of astronomically inflated prices of paper assets, and to the extent that policy attempts via QE and austerity to keep those bubbles inflated by diverting money away from productive investment, it sows the seeds of its own destruction, which has been seen via the continual fall in yields on shares, bonds and property to zero and below, and which has only been compensated by an even bigger undermining of the basis of those yields, through what Andy Haldane described as “capital eating itself”, but is really a process of interest-bearing capital, eating productive-capital, because the representatives of shareholders on company boards, have used their control to ensure that higher payouts are made to those shareholders than are justified by purely economic laws.

    What we are actually seeing being played out on the political stage is a conflict of interest between two forms of property. On the one hand the form of property represented by this fictitious capital, and which has been dominant for the last thirty years, and on the other the form of property represented by socialised productive-capital, which is ultimately the source of all social wealth, including the interest paid, and the potential for capital gain on those financial assets. It is why we have seen calls for changes in the laws of corporate governance. It is why there have been stories in magazines such as “Moneyweek” about the true nature of company ownership and control.

    Its time to recognise that shareholders do not “own” companies, or the productive-capital of those companies. They are merely lenders of money-capital to those businesses, and should have no more right to control the operations of those businesses than does any other lender. No one would accept the right of a bank that lends money to someone to buy a house, to then tell the borrower what they should do in that house, what colour they should paint it and so on. Nor should shareholders have that right simply because they have lent money to a company. They get interest on the money they have lent (dividends) and that is all they are entitled to, the price for using that money-capital.

    Germany has its co-determination laws, the EU started drafting similar laws, and the Bullock Report in Britain, drew up proposals for the Boards of companies to be elected by their workers.

    Anyone wanting to understand what is going on, and how these political conflicts are manifestations of underlying conflicts between different forms of property, should read Marx’s “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      “…merely lenders of money-capital to those businesses, and should have no more right to control the operations of those businesses than does any other lender”.
      Hello Boffy,
      Employees also ‘lend’ their skills to the development of both commercial and government services, but have little rights to control either. [More accurately, they invest their skills in those employers. But I accept your description].
      Neither lenders nor shareholders have significant rights to control commercial operations either. Had they such rights, I doubt if they’d have authorised the reckless lending and investing of either of the two Scottish Banks that brought such losses to their shareholders and our government. Perhaps they should have had such rights? What do you think?

  3. Philip says:

    At last someone from the main media pointing out what has been obvious to many. The problem in the UK is that parts of the media are still relatively respected, despite essentially playing the tune of the greedy establishment…and even when you might expect some critical challenge of the elite from the left – the New Statesman and Guardian have become toothless stooges of the establishment in the flimsiest of disguise. They are all beginning to forfeit trust because of the increasing use of the internet…and if that is how democracy has to be reestablished in the UK, so be it

  4. Adrienne says:

    What you call radical, we call grassroots, because that’s what it’s always been. We have always had far out candidates, but the difference with Sanders, as with Obama, is that people are starting realizing that poverty is becoming normal for much of the populace. There’s a very nice documentary on PBS called The Roosevelts. Teddy and FDR were unstoppable and fearless. It shows what happens when Americans get fed up with the political elite. We know what that kind of leader looks like. It’s not radical, for us, it’s business as usual.

  5. Paul Brennan says:

    Strange there is no mention of the super delegates that are normative for the democratic party. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Democratic_Party_superdelegates,_2016 Sanders needs to win almost everywhere by a larger margin to get the nomination.

    The RNC allows for super delegates too, but but there are less of them, 210, and less bound into the hierarchy.

    The shock to people is that the game is rigged, for once far more on the democratic side, where outside candidates are unlikely winners.

  6. Andrew Dundas says:

    Where’s the insider money going?
    Hillary is way out in front to be President at odds of 10/11. Bernie, alas, is hardly rated as a runner.

    You read it here first.

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