Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders, Profile Books, £14.99, ISBN 9781781258538, pp304
Reviewed by Colin Darroch
Our Revolution chronicles Bernie Sanders political career over the past 35 years. He majors on his campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016 and concludes with his Agenda for a New America. Sanders was born and brought up in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Polish immigrants. After graduating from the University of Chicago, he worked as a journalist for several Vermont State newspapers. He stood unsuccessfully as a Liberty Union candidate for the US Senate but was later elected as an independent mayor for the Vermont town of Worthington in 1981 with a majority of just ten votes.
His political journey had started in earnest. He created a number of Mayor’s Councils including youth, the arts, women, senior citizens, health care and tax reform. He instituted the largest infrastructure improvement programme in the state’s history; developed some of the most innovative affordable housing developments in the country; and was named one of the best mayors in America by US News & World Report. Working class people were able to purchase their own homes from the Burlington Community Land Trust below market value. This housing remains affordable in perpetuity as the selling owners must agree to accept only a reasonable return on their original investment in lieu of current market value.
In 1990, he was elected to Congress as Vermont’s sole representative. He was elected as an independent but was co-opted by the Democratic Caucus. He spoke out against the invasion of Iraq which was supported by Hillary Clinton in the Senate. In 1999, he accompanied some of his constituents to Canada to enable them to purchase medicines at a price they could afford – something that was, and still is impossible in the States where they have to pay the highest prices in the world thanks to the drug industry lobbyists. In 2006, he was elected to the US Senate with 65% of the vote. The defeated Republican candidate was the wealthiest person in the state. As a senator Sanders helped to create the Defending Social Security caucus which defeated attempts to cut payments to the poorest Americans.
Sanders began his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the US Presidency in April 2015. The mainstream media dismissed him as a fringe candidate but he managed to attract 1.4m to his rallies and millions more watched live on local cable TV stations. His campaign was financed by 8m individual donations averaging $27 each. Most of this came via social media. By June 2016, he had obtained 46% of the vote in the run-off against Hillary Clinton. The majority of his vote came from the under 40s who had been enthused by his campaigning on: a $15 per hour minimum wage; closing tax evasion loopholes; breaking up the ‘too big to fail’ banks; switching from fossil fuels to combat global warming; justice reform including abolition of the death penalty; a jobs programme to put millions back to work; and tackling income and wealth inequality.
Alas the Democratic establishment prevailed and chose Clinton as their ‘safe’ candidate to take on Trump. This was probably inevitable. After all, Clinton was far better known than Sanders. She had stood against Barack Obama eight years previously, and was later appointed as his Secretary of State. She had also been active in her husband’s two presidential campaigns. The Clintons had created their own think tank – The Center for American Progress and the international Clinton Foundation. They also had, by far, the most powerful fund- raising machine in the Democratic Party.
Although Clinton received 3m more votes than Trump, he picked up more support in the electoral college. We will never know what the outcome would have been if the Democrats had chosen Sanders. He has moved a generation to the left. Hopefully, his revolution is not over.
Colin Darroch is a former Glasgow District councillor
For more information and analysis on Sanders, see previous Scottish Left Review issues (no 95 Sept/Oct 2016 and no 97 Jan-Feb 2017) where US progressive, Gerry Friedman, writes.