I am reading Michael Harrington’s 1968 book, “Towards A Democratic Left.” Harrington’s book was published 48 years ago but it is a book about right now and especially one of his disciples, Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, to a certain degree, during his recent and soon to be concluded run for President, sought to bring to the forefront many of the issues Harrington discusses in his very famous book. It is, in fact, quite striking to read Harrington write the following: “The American system doesn’t seem to work any more.” Or, “supposedly practical people propose that the country make a social revolution but without the inconvenience of changing any basic institutions.” Finally, “what used to be the Left,” Harrington writes, “is now the Center.”
Harrington’s book is about the lies of America regarding its social structure. America, and its purported longing to fix its problems, its policies, according to Harrington, “make the rich richer, the poor poorer, and incite the globe to violence.” Few are for this and especially those who supported Bernie Sanders’ now failed campaign for President.
But the real importance of Harrington’s book I see is it, at least, offers a critique of the left and offers up some direction for real change or reform. Harrington, to his credit, sees New Deal policies under FDR as “conservative” and criticizes left reformers as not really proposing much that is revolutionary at all.
Yet, what I have taken away from reading the book so far is the book challenges Bernie Sanders’ supporters to take some kind of action that will alter the country’s course. The hard right has taken action. They tossed all of their politicians in the creek. It might be reckless on their part and they might be uninformed but they have sent a message loud and clear: you’re out.
Many Sanders’ supporters typlify the weakness of the left as identified by Harrington back in 1968. The direction forward for Sanders’ supporters is scattered and uncertain and many propose only the following so far: don’t vote for Hillary Clinton. Others, very few, propose either not voting at all, or voting for Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee. This is not a plan.
This is kind of a cause for alarm and it should be a matter of great concern. There is no coherent left in the U.S. Michael Harrington’s book could not be more clear. Those who supported Bernie Sanders and his policies have some soul searching to do. It is not just about voting against Hillary Clinton; it is about what do you want and how can you begin to achieve these goals in the modern era where politics is corporate. In part II of this, I will further explore Harrington’s ideals and if and how they relate to the problems of the left going forward.