Educate, Agitate, Organize

The Left's engagement with the Sanders campaign is about more than one nomination in a rotten and compromised party.

Last night, Bernie Sanders achieved a stunning upset in the Michigan Democratic primary. Many leftists are riding high on the victory, a blow in equal measure to the pundits, the pollsters, and the political class.

I’m one of those leftists. It sucks to lose. I’ve done it more times than I care to remember, and believe me, it’s no picnic. And, as I’ve been saying over and over again, Sanders has a genuine shot.

But lest we get too caught up in the question of delegate counts, which Sanders is still trailing in, we’ve got to remind ourselves that there is a much more important long-term battle going on here. Not merely to gut the Democratic Party, but also to educate, agitate, and organize the body politic.

The Left loves social movements. I do, too. But social movements don’t happen in a political vacuum; they’re not immune to the mood and medium of electoral politics. There’s nothing quite like a presidential campaign for taking pots and kettles long simmering on the Left’s back burner and bringing them to a furious boil.

That means two things. First, we do have to remain focused on primaries and delegate counts. It’s only so long as there is a viable campaign that we have the opportunity for a conversation on such a massive scale. There’s a set of leftists who think the revolution will come from small conversations in socialist study groups and reading circles, that the way to radicalize is by simply “talking to people” — which really means talking at people — in the absence of some galvanizing question that brings those people to the table.

Anyone who’s selling you that line is either out of touch or trying to sign you up for their classes. They want to make you believe you can just get people to think and argue and reflect in a vacuum, without some real taste of power in the here and now. That’s not how it works.

But, second — and here is where these leftists do have a point — what we are trying to do is much more than win a nomination in a party that is rotten and compromised. We’re trying agitate the citizenry: not to tell people their interests (which they usually know) but to persuade them that if they act collectively, they can get those interests, which is something most people don’t know. No matter what happens, we’ve already begun that work.

And what really matters, long term, is what the syndicalists called the “militant minority” — all those legions of invisible activists, organizers, thinkers, agitators, people we’ve never heard of, who we don’t even know exist — who are just coming into their own during this campaign, who will one day, in our lifetimes, make a different world.