The wave of revolutionary politics that Bernie Sanders and his supporters are riding can be traced back to George W. Bush. When Bush decided to Invade Iraq in 2003 he ignited a counter protest movement of young activists that the country had not seen since the Vietnam War. The activism continued through the second Bush election when many felt inspired by Senator John Kerry’s run for president as a well-known anti-war advocate. A presidential run that failed for many reasons, one of which being Kerry positioned himself as anti-war, yet voted in favor of the Iraq invasion.
The movement continued to grow as then Senator Barak Obama gained momentum and his “Yes We Can” campaign slogan brought in young, energized voters that the country desperately needed. However, it was Obama’s failure to be the revolutionary politician he campaigned as they led to the biggest revolutionary shift in the country as he decided not to give the boot the oligarchy and instead bailed out the banks on Wall Street and big business all over the country.
It was this failure that led to the Occupy Wall Street movement as men and women, young and old had had enough. The occupy movement forever changed the language activists used when discussing wealth inequality. Suddenly everyone was talking about the 99 percent, the one percent, and demanding that student debt and rising healthcare costs be tackled once and for all. The movement believed if we had trillions of dollars to invade foreign countries, had billions of dollars to bail out fraudulent bankers than we must have the money to take care of those suffering and living in poverty.
It was the occupy movement that opened the door for a Bernie Sanders campaign. A government that still pandered to the capitalist class, that allowed the insurance giants to mold the Affordable Care Act and leaving millions of Americans with subpar insurance plans with premiums they cannot afford to pay. It is not by accident that Sanders is using occupy language at every campaign stop and in every debate. He genuinely seems to care about wealth inequality and found the ability to turn that into a presidential run that continued occupy’s work of keeping these topics in the minds of every voter, every day.
The economic conditions created by Obama’s administration and the inactive Republican-led congress created the perfect storm that allowed Sanders to rally millions of voters to a cause that would usher in a significant change in the country. Unfortunately, Sanders, a lifelong independent decided to run for president as a Democrat, a party that worked overtime to crush his chances of winning the party’s nomination and silencing his revolutionary ideas. In a sense, when and if Sanders stands on the podium at the Democratic National Convention and asks supporters to rally behind Secretary Clinton he will be betraying his revolution but that does not mean the revolution must come to an end.
Like the movements before, Sanders movement will live well beyond his campaign and should live well beyond what is likely his coming betrayal of the movement when he endorses Hillary Clinton and remains a member of the counter-revolutionary Democratic Party.
For the next stages of the revolution to continue it will need to push beyond the limits the Sanders campaign set. The revolution must be willing to look beyond constraints of capitalism and stop looking for ways to put bandaids on it and find ways to replace it instead.
Sanders made it clear he was not interesting in making sure that workers owned the means of production, but a movement beyond his should make that goal paramount. Without empowering workers to own their own labor, the revolution quickly loses steam as capitalists find new ways to exploit that labor and beat the working class back into submission.
Further conditions created by the ruling class have further prepared activists to ignite social change as well. As the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage grows, the Republican and Libertarian Party’s have questioned the need for not only an increase but for a minimum wage at all and the belief that the market can do a better job of controlling income. The same market-based argument is being made from the right for healthcare, retirement, and social safety nets. The war on the working class is growing though attacks on workers rights and unions though right-to-work bills. These are the conditions predicted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and the far left has noticed. Activists need to be inside factories, talking to workers, and working to build a real and vocal coalition of supporters who are no longer willing to be trampled on by the capitalist elite.
How the left responds to this and its success in organizing a mass movement beyond Sanders will become paramount to its success in the coming years. Its success cannot be realized by listening to Sanders forthcoming Clinton endorsement and joining the Democratic Party regardless of who they nominate. A strategy of just not being Donald Trump or the Republican Party is not going to excite change, it will only serve to usher in more of the same, or under a Clinton administration, continue to steer the country more to the right.
It is finally time for workers of the world to unite and realize they don’t actually have anything to lose and do, in fact, have the world to gain. It’s time to think beyond Sanders and time to think beyond capitalism.