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Tue Jun 9, 2015, 10:57 AM

Political Revolution (x-post from Bernie Sanders group)

Bernie Sanders has been saying that his campaign begins a political revolution.


I’m thinking about what he means by that. In my youth, Democratic Socialists often said that they wanted a social revolution, not a political revolution, as “political revolution” was a phrase that was then associated with violence and dictatorship. (And every coup d’etat in a minor country was called a “revolution,” though nothing important to a Democratic Socialist was changed.) But that was before the “Reagan Revolution.”

Pretty clearly what Bernie means is not violent regime change, nor even regime change within the electoral system, but something both more and, maybe, less. I would describe it as a definite shift in the persistent balance of power within our electoral system. Can that happen? Yes, since it clearly happened here at least twice in the 20th Century: the New Deal and the Reagan Revolution. Cases from Europe could also be given.

What about the New Frontier/Great Society/Civil Rights revolution? I’m just not sure. I’m inclined to say that the electoral balance established by the New Deal really persisted into the Seventies, and that the New Frontier/Great Society was more of a “Hurrah Period,” renewing and extending the New Deal. The Civil Rights Revolution was new, but more a consequence of direct action than of a shift in the electoral balance of power per se. (Direct action was also important in the early period of the New Deal, mostly by labor unions.) It is often said that Nixon was “more liberal” than recent Democratic Presidents. That, I suggest, is because he was operating within the electoral balance of power established by the New Deal, while frantically maneuvering to escape from it.

The Reagan Revolution was not supported by direct action (at least, not open direct action) and was, on the whole, a little less successful than the New Deal in that no conservative popular majority was ever created. However, I attribute the conservatism of the Clinton and Obama presidencies to the fact that, like Nixon mutatis mutandis, they were operating within the Reagan balance of electoral power.

This Bernie hopes to change. Can he? I suggest that in a very small way he already has, by establishing that socialism can be substantively discussed in an American election. Of course, in order to swing the balance of power he has to win, and much more than that, and that’s always a tall order. But it has been done – at least twice in this country.

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