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Sunday 11:45am

Left challenges inside the Democrats: Jesse Jackson’s campaign for president

US history and politics

Introduced by Nick Everett. Nick has been involved in radical socialist politics since the late 1980s. He has been a union delegate with state and federal public sector unions and an activist in antiwar, Aboriginal, East Timor and Palestine solidarity movements. Nick is a regular contributor to Red Flag and has recently contributed a chapter to the second edition of Radical Perth, Militant Fremantle.

Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign has become a pole of attraction for American socialists who argue that that the campaign will raise class consciousness, widen divisions inside the Democratic Party and strengthen ‘independent socialist politics’. Some have argued that by working alongside Sanders’ supporters inside the Democratic Party they can prepare the ground for a ‘dirty break’ and the launch of a new working class party. In the 1980s, a similar strategy was pursued by a significant section of the American left, who backed the candidacy of Jessie Jackson and saw his ‘Rainbow Coalition’ as a vehicle for a new party. Jackson popularised the term ‘economic justice’ in rebuttal to Democratic and Republican candidates’ embrace of neoliberalism and ‘unfettered capitalism”. In contrast to his Democratic Party rivals, Jackson opposed US intervention in Latin America and the Cold War arms race, calling for US military spending to be redirected to poverty alleviation. However, like Sanders today, Jackson was firmly wedded to the Democratic Party and fundamentally unwilling to break with it. This talk will examine how Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition serves as a historical example of the dangers of electoralism, opportunism and liquidation when socialists throw their support behind a candidate for the ‘B team’ of the US ruling class.


Davis, Mike, 1986, “The Lesser Evil? The Left and the Democratic Party.” New Left Review, 155, Jan/Feb, https://newleftreview.org/issues/I155/articles/mike-davis-the-lesser-evil-the-left-and-the-democratic-party

Everett, Nick, 2020 (forthcoming), ""We’ve been down this road before: Jessie Jackson, the Democrats and the Left, Marxist Left Review, 19, Summer, https://marxistleftreview.org/

Misnik, Joanna, 1988, The Rainbow and the Democratic Party— New Politics or Old? A Socialist Perspective, https://solidarity-us.org/rainbow1988/

Sustar, Lee, 2016, ""How the Democrats got over the Rainbow"", Socialist Worker, 25th July, https://socialistworker.org/2016/07/25/how-democrats-got-over-the-rainbow

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