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Sanders and Warren: The need for a progressive front

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Whether organizations endorse Sanders or Warren, left organizers must form a united progressive front to defeat Biden, and then Trump.

As the Democratic primaries unfolds, clear patterns are emerging in the polls. Joe Biden has held on to a steadily diminishing but still significant lead. Bernie Sanders has held a relatively steady proportion of support. Elizabeth Warren has emerged from the pack to be level or sometimes ahead of Sanders, while all other candidates lag behind. While there is much to be said about how to read these early polls, the most important takeaway is that the two candidates with the most progressive visions and campaigns have together surpassed the party’s centrist standard-bearer.

Bhaskar Sunkara, founding editor of Jacobin, wrote an opinion piece in the Guardian this past June arguing that the most important task for progressives during and in the lead up to the Democratic primaries is to build an anti-Biden front. Perhaps anticipating the possibility of a split among progressives between Sanders and Warren supporters, Sunkara noted then that even if Sanders loses, a united anti-Biden front could push the Democratic Party left and improve the odds of defeating Donald Trump. Sunkara had flagged the importance of ousting Trump in an earlier interview: “If push comes to shove and I were in a swing state in 2020, of course, I would vote for anyone in the Democratic field over Trump. I think that’s common sense. It should be hegemonic on the left.”

We agree with those views. Indeed, for months, most left organizers have been working within a broad strategic orientation that aims to defeat Trump and the GOP at the ballot box, and to do so in a way that enables the left to emerge much stronger.

Yet, many social movement organizations in the US are weighing heavily how to navigate the presidential endorsement process, some for the first time. Some left organizers strongly believe that Sanders is by far the best choice in 2020 (including several members of the Organizing Upgrade editorial collective). That decision is not obvious for all social movement groups, however, particularly because the organizations, institutions, and (in some cases) the social bases that those groups organize are themselves not all lined up behind Sanders. 

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We believe that base building groups should assert themselves in the primary process and we believe firmly that the different decisions groups reach to endorse either Sanders or Warren should not produce irresolvable contradictions. Instead, we contend that building a primary-stage front against the party’s conservative wing should be our rallying cry. And as Bernie Sanders himself stresses time and again, even that front should be built in a way that does not preclude pivoting toward maximum unity behind whoever wins the Democratic nomination in order to defeat Trump in the general election.

Unfortunately, this political posture did not survive even its first major test. The Working Families Party’s endorsement of Warren led to immediate rebuke from Sunkara and fellow Jacobin editor Micah Uetricht, who make the inflammatory claim that “The Working Families Party has written itself out of history.”

The WFP endorsement has raised concern from many quarters. Some have critiqued the party’s endorsement process. (Maurice Mitchell and Nelini Stamp respond to those concerns, we think convincingly, here.) Others have expressed disappointment with the resulting endorsement and its political implications as well as with the perceived failure of organized labor to understand the history, politics, and possibilities manifest in the Sanders campaign. There has also been an abhorrent series of racist attacks on the WFP leadership, which has been forcefully responded to here.

There is merit in holding a vigorous debate over the differences between Sanders and Warren (and other candidates) as well as the obstacles to winning ever-larger numbers of people to a social justice agenda. But we maintain that building the progressive front and challenging the Democratic Party’s old guard are critical goals during the primaries and beyond, particularly as we continue mobilizing to defeat Trump and the right.

We urge all left-progressive forces to take seriously what will be required to create a united progressive front capable of defeating Biden and going on to expand its influence even as we unite in an even broader coalition to defeat Trump. And to remember that we not only need cooperation on the electoral battlefront, but cooperation at scale in building mass direct action, revitalizing the trade union movement, and organizing large numbers on a host of urgent issues. After all, even if Sanders or Warren wins the presidency and the GOP loses control of both houses of Congress, it will take massive pressure from below to win a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, end mass incarceration, close the border concentration camps, change US foreign policy and begin the new cycle of progressive advance that is an existential imperative for the world’s most vulnerable and the entire human race.

We have to quickly establish sufficient political unity to uphold a progressive front, so that we may develop the technical capacities and infrastructure to allow this progressive front to work together (regardless of whether they have endorsed Sanders or Warren). Though preserving space for constructive debate over left electoral strategy and tactics will be critical, we urge doing so in a way that does not detract from the important task of reaching outward, engaging the unconvinced and unorganized social forces we will need to win.

To that end, Organizing Upgrade will be publishing a number of pieces in the coming week from left organizers of varied perspectives that discuss the WFP endorsement, the DSA’s “Bernie or Bust” resolution, and other developments related to the 2020 elections. Our goal is to continue engaging left organizers in strategic dialogue during a pivotal moment in history and we welcome you to join the conversation. The stakes could not be higher.

The Organizing Upgrade Editorial Collective
Rishi Awatramani, Calvin Cheung-Miaw, Julie Chinitz, Kim Diehl, Max Elbaum, Harmony Goldberg, Maria Poblet, Eric Robertson, Stina Rose Marie, Jacob Swenson-Lengyel, Claire Tran, and Bob Wing

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