Statement on the Question of Endorsing the Bernie Sanders Presidential Campaign

This statement was written by members of Red Star San Francisco and endorsed by the caucus during March of 2019. You can read more about our caucus or subscribe to our mailing list for updates from us.

The National Political Committee of DSA is currently debating the question of whether or not to endorse Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president. While Red Star San Francisco does not have a common stance on whether the national organization ought to endorse his campaign, we are united in a critique of it, and in an understanding of our role as socialists engaging in electoral struggles.

First, any vote to endorse Sanders must account for his recent record in the Senate, which is marred by votes and statements which are unequivocally anti-worker. We denounce his support of SESTA/FOSTA, which has further criminalized sex work, and has also had a chilling effect on online networks and resources used by sex workers and LGBTQ people in particular. We also denounce his vote to keep the government open with funding for security measures at the southern border, which capitulates to the nativist rhetoric of both capitalist parties and ignores the role that airline industry workers played in ending the latest government shutdown. We are dismayed at his vocal opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which the delegates to the last DSA convention voted to endorse. And while his actions in Congress to end the US’s involvement in the humanitarian disaster in Yemen are historic, we believe he has not been sufficiently critical of US empire more broadly, especially for someone who many view as the standard bearer of the socialist movement in America.

Second, DSA must honestly interrogate its relationship with Sanders. He is not a member of our organization, nor an official representative of it. He has not communicated to the organization that he is seeking our endorsement — or, if he has, it has not been made known to the membership. He has not offered us an opening with which to express our political differences, which ought to be the starting point from which an endorsement is considered. We may not have much leverage to exercise over his campaign or his platform, but we should be clear about what DSA might want from him before we endorse his candidacy. Sanders has moved on policy questions in the past when other groups have pressured him, and there is no reason we shouldn't make a good-faith effort to do so before offering our endorsement. But Bernie Sanders is not currently looking to DSA when he creates policy. Rather, we are looking to him — when Sanders’s last Medicare for All bill left out long-term care, DSA quietly removed that demand from our program. We would be opportunists, not principled movement-builders, if we were to offer him unqualified support.

Third, we must exercise restraint towards electoral campaigns, particularly those of career politicians such as Sanders. While we believe that electoral campaigns and victories can lead to improved conditions for organizing and offer workers leverage against the bourgeoisie and the state, it is not immediately clear how a Sanders campaign, or even a Sanders victory, would deliver these. We are wary of how the Democratic Party worked to prevent Sanders from winning the nomination in 2016, and the party has not significantly reformed its anti-democratic practices since. We are equally wary of whom Sanders will endorse should he lose the primary. Sanders stumped for and vocally supported Hillary Clinton after he lost the 2016 primary, and there is no reason to expect that he will not endorse the winner of the 2020 primary should he lose again. It would be a disastrous error for DSA to offer tacit support to, say, Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar by extension of Sanders’s endorsement.

Our points of unity say “To the extent that socialists engage with capitalist parties at all, it should only be to provide a revolutionary pole through which those workers who have been energized by the prospect of social democratic reforms can be radicalized.” DSA should acknowledge that there is a great deal of difference between the political activity of Bernie Sanders and his organization, Our Revolution, and that of DSA, the latter of which is currently a dynamic and diverse network of organizers taking on myriad fights against capitalism and oppression in their communities. We should be honest about what a Sanders campaign could win us while continuing to fight for the revolutionary change we need, which is a complete upheaval of the capitalist rule over our society and an organized movement of the working class towards seizing this power for ourselves.

It should also be stated that the Democratic Party is the left wing of capital, and Sanders contesting or even winning the party’s nomination for president does not change this fact. By participating in the Democratic Party's nomination process, he draws politically activated people who are interested in a socialist program into a capitalist party. If we are to build lasting power, our orientation must be to draw those same people into a politically independent workers’ party. Sanders’s platform may correctly identify capitalism as the root of many of society’s ills, but it does not fundamentally threaten it. Even if DSA decides to support this campaign, we must be prepared to push beyond the limits of what a Bernie Sanders presidency can offer.

We urge DSA members, both on the NPC and in the rank and file, to take this debate seriously, and to consider what we might be sacrificing or neglecting if we dive headfirst into a nearly two-year campaign. Regardless of whether DSA endorses Bernie, and whether he wins the presidency, our core task remains the same: to organize the working class not to extract concessions from the ruling class, but to take our destiny into our own hands.