Reply to William Kaufman’s “The Sanders Paradox: a Brief for Bernie” by Millie Phillips

Click here to read “The Sanders Paradox.”

I always question those who blatantly shame others. That’s something the “hard left” gets blamed of doing, often correctly, but Kaufman is acting like the very caricature he is denouncing. People of goodwill can respectfully disagree with each other on such matters. His commentary lacks that goodwill. Besides, whenever you denounce somebody, especially when lecturing them with intentional sarcasm and condescension, you greatly limit your ability to persuade them. Thus, this is not a sincere effort to persuade the “hard left” to support Sanders, but merely a diatribe against those he is labeling and stereotyping.

Kaufman is right that those on the “hard left” in the US have no mass influence in the current moment, so why should he care about their lack of support to Sanders? It’s not like they (or “we” for those of us among them) control huge blocks of votes that will get in the way of a Sanders victory.

I agree that Sanders is raising consciousness on the issues and reaching an audience none of us currently has the power to reach. Generally speaking, I think some good will come out of that, regardless of the actual electoral result. I don’t denounce Sanders and I don’t think anyone else should do so either. But, that doesn’t obligate anyone to campaign or vote for him or keep silent about those areas in which he falls short. Unlike Kaufman, I respect that others with the same overall goals as myself may draw their electoral lines in different places, but some of us draw them at not supporting Democrats at all, or not supporting those who sometimes vote for US military actions, or at failing to counter Zionism, or at voting for policies that have had racist results in the US. These are real issues: lives have been lost unnecessarily because of votes that Sanders joined. I’m not a perfectionist, but I cannot take that lightly. Sanders has chosen to participate in a political process where, in the absence of a true mass movement, it is impossible to remain in office without being compromised regardless of your party affiliation—it’s the nature of the game. I don’t think he is the problem; I think he is sincere about wanting to make a positive difference within the limits of the context he has chosen. My issue is with the limits of the two-party system itself.

As far as electoral tactics, I think that for small hard-left groups to run presidential candidates is pretty silly and leaves us open for the very types of criticism Kaufman makes. In most cases, I think strictly propagandistic campaigns are a tactical mistake. But that doesn’t preclude building up coalitions from the base that can run local independent candidates successfully and be able to hold them accountable while in office, which could lead to serious campaigns for higher offices down the road. The key for me is building those movements, not who you endorse for president, since without these movements, even the best office-holders will be unable to carry out any aspect of their platform that seriously limits the ruling class agenda.

If we in LFN can agree to disagree on Sanders, with full respect for each other, why can’t Kaufman?

Millie Phillips is a retired former member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who lives in Oakland, California. She is a member of the Steering Committee and Administrative Committee of the Labor Fightback Network.

About elnwebmaster

This is the discussion blog of the Labor Fightback Network, an auxiliary to the website. It is designed to facilitate discussion among labor activists concerning the critical issues facing working people in the current economic crisis. Readers’ comments are welcome, but flaming is not. Any comments which are racist, sexist/homophobic, or disrespectful on a personal level will not get past moderation.
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