A friend of mine, Jack Ross, was traveling the country recently on a tour for his new book: The History of the Socialist Party of America and I attended his stop in St. Paul about a month ago. There, members of the Democratic Socialists of American (DSA) were signing up people who attended to work on Sen. Bernie Sanders campaign for President.
I applauded their efforts because it reminded me of the way non-major party activists were helping Ron Paul in the Republican Party presidential nominating process back in 2007. But the larger question is whether such efforts will make an impact upon the larger Democratic Party in the same fashion as Paul's campaigns did upon the GOP. The answer will only be found out whether Sanders has a great appreciation for the legacy of the old Socialist Party than he has displayed so far in his career.
Forget the arguments about Sanders being a socialist, whatever that means. We are all socialists, just to varying degrees, some less and some some more. This is true even of libertarians. The only ones who could be called true non-Socialists are Randians and they're devotion to utter selfishness and narcissism makes them so beyond the pale they're not worthy of much mention. No, what's important about Sanders' "socialism" as far as it goes is where he started from and where he is now and what can he say, if anything, which would challenge Hilary Clinton.
As Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com points out, Sanders started out on the hippie, localist antiwar left when he first came to Vermont from Brooklyn, then became more radical by supporting the Socialist Worker's Party in 1980 before steering himself back to the localist Left he abandoned in 1977 when he was first elected mayor of Burlington in 1981. But Sanders considered "socialism" differed greatly with local activists. As one of them pointed out: "At the very least, Sanders’ commitment to an industrially-based socialism was colliding with the community-based peace movement's commitment to ending foreign intervention and violence. The casualties were some mutual trust – and the workers who later lost their jobs as demand for GE’s Gatling guns waned."
Thus, it should come as no surprise (which was always to the ire of Vermont Independence supporters) that Sanders has no problem voting against certain wars like Iraq and yet supports the purchase of F-35 jets for Vermont Air National Guard. His views are fairly conventional mix as one would find on the far Left of Democratic Party but hardly more than that. That he considers himself an “independent” is a merely a fig leaf for himself which say more about the politics of upper New England than what socialism means.
Which is too bad, because if there’s one issue Hilary Clinton would be vulnerable on in the context of a Democratic primary or caucus (especially in states of Iowa and New Hampshire) it’s her foreign policy views. They are views which could be exploited to give Sanders more traction and support among Democrats and which Clinton would have a hard time co-opping for herself, which she seems to be doing with every other issue Sanders brings up. He could attack her over Libya and Syria and denounce the Military-Industrial –Complex as being bad for democracy, self-government and person freedom.
Indeed, this what the original and real Socialists back in the 19th and 20th centuries stood for. This is what Ross makes clear in his book. Unlike other socialist parties which split over World War I, the Socialist Party in America stayed true to anti-interventionism. Socialist Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs even went to jail over it. Sanders could adopt this legacy, and I believe his campaign would prosper or at least do better than give Clinton an excuse to celebrate every Tuesday early next year. We’ll see if he does but his past track record suggest a lot of doubt.