What we have emerging, then, is a new, diverse cohort of predominantly young people, the majority of whom belong to the working class or a collapsing “middle class,” now open to socialist ideas, clamoring for systematic change, and who are increasingly networked, trained, and experienced in organizing. The vast majority of these people are, like Bernie, not socialists in any specific historical sense, but they are willing to fight for major changes. The potential here is enormous, and for this, we have to thank the Sanders campaign, whether or not we like Bernie’s social democratic politics.
I’m not sure we know enough about the Sanders coalition to definitively state what that quoted paragraph says. As political coalitions the Sanders group is not all that diverse, actually; they appear to be mostly non-ideological, and they are largely comprised of the most flighty (in terms of political activity) demographic group in US politics. Moreover, it is not clear that they are “willing to fight for major changes”. Fight who? Fight how? So far this has been a costless fight, so it is presumptuous to presume depth of commitment.
Let’s think about this: if Sanders eventually endorses HRC and campaigns for her, and she serves two terms, will this coalition still be around in eight years? I doubt it. Will it have built up a bedrock of progressive representatives at lower levels that can support and sustain the “political revolution”? It isn’t even doing that now.
The potential may be enormous. I don’t think it is, mostly because the coalition fractures as soon as its members are required to answer questions about policy (which is why Sanders doesn’t discuss policy). There is not long-term politics here. In fact, the strategy so far has been the opposite: ride the wave as if it’s a one-hit-wonder. A long-term political strategy would involve the sort of down-ticket campaigning that Sanders has so far avoided, and the kind of organizing that he’s spent his entire career neglecting.
But the potential for the COUNTERREVOLUTION (with apologies to Jeff Isaac) is at least equally as great. Unlike Sanders, Drumpf’s right-populist faction has a long history of popular support in the US, and has had reasonably-large electoral showings as recently as Perot, Buchanan, and the Reform Party. Of course, at those times they did not have the nomination of one of the two major parties. Do not underestimate Trump… he’s an underdog but not as big of one as many people on the left are smugly assuming these days.
So there is a very real risk that the biggest medium-term effect of the Sanders campaign is to fracture the left, empower the right’s criticisms of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and thereby enable right-populists to gain control. We have already seen the first of these and are increasingly seeing the second. We are, in my view, much more likely to see the third than to see the emergence of a democratic socialist coalition in the wake of the Sanders campaign.
So, just thinking probabilistically, the Sanders campaign has been a goddamn disaster. But then I would say that.