Since Bernie Sanders’s defeat in 2020 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US left has been largely disorganized. The time is ripe for Bernie and the Squad to create a new mass organization to confront today’s crises.
t’s hard for leftists in the United States to find much to celebrate these days. After the excitement of Bernie Sanders’s victories in the early 2020 Democratic primaries, our hopes were dashed when the center consolidated around Joe Biden and handed him the nomination. The wave of inspiring uprisings against police brutality later that summer was followed by disappointment too, as demands for serious reforms to attack racial and economic injustice were co-opted or sidelined. The Left, as some have put it, finds itself in purgatory.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s administration has turned out to be what his most astute critics predicted: a presidency that, despite some early bright spots, has failed to meaningfully tackle economic inequality, the climate crisis, or much of anything else. Biden’s approval ratings are now at record lows as inflation batters the economy. (It’s unclear whether a last-minute compromise deal with West Virginia senator Joe Manchin on climate, health care, and taxes will salvage the administration’s popularity.) On top of that, the Supreme Court is rolling back abortion rights and threatening our democracy, and Biden and Democratic Party leaders are dragging their feet on any sort of response. The increasingly reactionary GOP now seems set for victory in the midterms.
There are some positive signs: Left-wing ideas are more mainstream than they have been in decades, in part thanks to Sanders’s presidential campaigns. Along with other insurgent politicians like “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, Sanders has put policies like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and free public college into the mainstream. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has nearly one hundred thousand dues-paying members, four members in Congress, and dozens of elected officials at the state and local levels. The labor movement is stirring again, with this year’s successful Amazon warehouse unionization effort in Staten Island, the ongoing wave of Starbucks organizing, and the election of a strike-ready leadership to the 1.3-million-strong International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Still, the Left hasn’t been able to coordinate effective political interventions at the federal level, let alone exercise power. With leftists still a tiny minority in Congress, progressive priorities like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal are off the agenda, and even less ambitious reforms are consistently stymied by conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin. And despite growing their legislative presence, socialists and their allies have failed to expand beyond deep-blue districts.
Sanders’s presidential campaigns brought in tens of thousands of volunteers, millions of voters, and a huge number of small-dollar campaign contributions (many from working-class donors). But it wasn’t enough to win, and the underlying theory of the campaigns — that class-struggle rhetoric and a popular platform of wealth redistribution could turn out masses of working-class nonvoters to carry Sanders to the nomination — didn’t pan out. Despite the popularity of Sanders-style politics and mass discontent with the status quo, socialism remains largely the preserve of young, college-educated professionals in solidly Democratic districts — isolated from the broader working-class constituency it purports to represent.