Bernie Sanders is a socialist? Some on the far left say sellout is more like it
As Los Angeles activist and aspiring officeholder Mimi Soltysik ponders the Democratic ballot in the race for the White House, the words he blurts out include “warmonger,” “imperialist” and “status quo.”
And that’s before he even turns his attention to Hillary Clinton.
Not every leftist is enamored with Bernie Sanders. Some see him as a sellout.
“He has had a long history of support for war,” said Soltysik, who is running for president under the banner of the Socialist Party USA. “And he has also had a healthy support for Israel, which we tend to see as an apartheid state. Some things he has done and advocated for are completely incompatible with a responsible socialist program.”
Sanders may have burst into the country’s consciousness over the last year as the unlikely socialist presidential candidate, but some on the far left still find he has too much in common with Clinton, the establishment favorite. Yet even the absolutists like Soltysik, who envisions a collectivist state in which there is no private ownership, no military and no centralized police force, are scurrying to seize the momentum Sanders has built around the idea of a political revolution before he closes ranks with Democrats.
“This is such a critical moment for the U.S. left,” Soltysik said as he leaned forward in a threadbare, leopard-print chair that sat in the middle of an apartment cluttered with alt-rock memorabilia and cat toys. “I don’t mean the Democratic Party left. I mean the left. He has opened the door for the country to hear from radical-slash-revolutionary perspectives.”
Sanders finds himself in an awkward place as such activists seek to lure the political neophytes he mobilized their way. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein implored Sanders in a letter last month to ditch the Democrats and “explore an historic collaboration to keep building the revolution beyond the reach of corporate party clutches.” She said in an interview that Sanders never responded.
Asked before he took the stage at a Santa Monica rally Monday whether he was considering the offer, Sanders’ reply was curt with a hint of grumpiness: “No.”
Stein is undeterred. She envisions a migration toward the Green Party, whether Sanders is on board or not.
“This is going to be a huge game-changer for the Green Party,” she said. “We have seen many former Greens coming back, and new Greens coming in that have been dismayed by the treatment of the Sanders campaign at the hands of the Democratic Party.”
“Cops are being called out on his supporters amid the outright and outrageous manipulation of the system,” Stein said. “Bernie is learning firsthand, in a painful way, why it is that the social movement needs an independent political voice. That voice will not be allowed inside of political parties funded by predatory banks, war-profiteering companies, fossil-fuel giants and the usual suspects.”
The Green Party harbors few illusions about winning the White House. But if even a small portion of Sanders voters cast ballots for Stein, it could prove transformative for the organization. It has struggled to meet the threshold for public financing of its campaigns. Green Party U.S. co-founder Howie Hawkins has been doing back-of-the-envelope calculations that conclude if 1 of every 5 Sanders supporters votes Green in November, the party will get there.
Hawkins said the wrinkle in the plan, though, is Sanders himself, who is determined to keep his supporters in the Democratic Party. Hawkins, an upstate New York UPS worker who has known Sanders since handing out leaflets for the Vermonter’s 1972 gubernatorial campaign on the Liberty Union Party ticket, calls Sanders’ bid to move the Democrats to the left a “fool’s errand.”
Sanders may get pilloried by the right for his policy agenda, but it is on the far left where there is the most skepticism for his motives. Hawkins still resents Sanders’ maneuvering in Vermont, where he accuses the democratic socialist of a political nonaggression pact with the local establishment. He says those on the left who are disappointed with Sanders’ plans to stay aligned with the Democrats “do not know Bernie that well.”
“Some of us are not surprised or angry because we did not expect anything else from Bernie,” he said.
But even if Sanders decided to go Green, some of the activists assembled at a Stop LAPD Spying Coalition gathering last week across from MacArthur Park still would not vote for him. The small event was a big draw for Socialists (with a capital “S”) who first came together to fight plans by the city to use small drones for police business and now organize against what they charge is unlawful surveillance, intimidation and abuse by law enforcement.
“He’s still a capitalist,” said Samuel Williams, a 33-year-old union iron worker who was visiting from St. Louis. “Classic socialism has nothing to do with capitalism.”
After the group feasted on a tray of samosas, it broke into pairs for an exercise in which each person announced his partner’s hopes for the coalition. The goal of Soltysik, whose T-shirt that day implored “Kill Your TV,” was the full dismantling of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Back at his apartment, Soltysik had said that the Denmark socialist model that Sanders advocates leaves Socialist Party voters wanting. They are not fans of the Soviet system, either.
Asked to explain what exactly it is they are seeking, Soltysik displays one of his heavily tattooed arms. Nestled among Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” album cover and a screenshot from the ‘80s arcade game Tempest is a quote about revolutionary speech from Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the leftist Zapatista rebellion in 1994 seeking rights for indigenous Mexicans.
The Zapatista movement is the closest to an ideal for Soltysik. “They have that radical democracy where community is directly involved in decision-making,” he said.
So then what would Soltysik do if he were to actually win the presidential race?
“We would have to fire ourselves on the first day,” he said. “You can’t do that job without becoming a war criminal.”
Follow me: @evanhalper
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our bureau chiefs in Sacramento and D.C.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.