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Working-Class Power and the Road to Socialism: A Review of Bigger than Bernie

26-Aug-2020By Brandon Madsen

Whitney Kahn · Working-Class Power & the Road to Socialism: A Review of Bigger Than Bernie

3 key strengths from Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht’s recent book and 3 points of debate

Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 Democratic primary campaigns for President of the United States exposed millions to bold progressive policies and democratic socialist ideas, with both experiencing a surge in public support, especially among young people. But in the end, Sanders was never able to secure the nomination, leaving activists and supporters with the question: where to go from here?

Bigger Than Bernie, written by DSA Bread & Roses Caucus members and Jacobin staffers Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht while the 2020 Sanders campaign was still unfolding, is a book that faces that question head-on, attempting to draw out the lessons not only of the 2016 and 2020 Sanders campaigns up to that point, but of other attempts over the past 100+ years to build political formations, policies, and movements capable of taking the fight for socialist change to the next level.

One of the most laudable aspirations present in Bigger Than Bernie is that it attempts to answer, in a contemporary and accessible way, a number of the important theoretical questions Marxists have historically faced—questions which the authors correctly say must be answered if we want to achieve a socialist transformation of society. In their search for answers, they borrow heavily from the political tradition that emerged historically from left-wing opposition trends within European social democracy around figures like Ralph Miliband, and which has been advanced since by thinkers such as Leo Panitch and Vivek Chibber, promising a “democratic road to socialism” (p. 99) that supposedly avoids both the opportunist pitfalls of social democracy and the self-marginalization of most of the trends hailing from the Leninist tradition.

In borrowing from Miliband, Panitch, and others, however, Day and Uetricht take on board not only these thinkers’ insights, but many of their political and historical blind spots as well. This review focuses on three key strengths of the book and three important areas that necessitate further debate.

3 key strengths:

1. It really is bigger than Bernie.

The book genuinely delivers on the promise of its title. It really is bigger than Bernie, both in its aspirations and in the recognition that Bernie is leaving behind a movement much bigger than any one individual. The book’s subtitle boldly reads: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism. This broader vision and recognition of the need to look beyond Sanders and beyond the election is all the more commendable given that the book was written at a time when the outcome of the 2020 Sanders campaign was still uncertain. The authors present a sober, clear-eyed vision of the future when they write in the introduction:

If [Sanders] loses, the old problems remain, and the fight continues. If he wins, the fight is far from over: in fact it dramatically escalates, as the capitalist class will immediately seek to undermine our attempts to remake society. In both scenarios, the ability of the movement that has cohered around Sanders to stand on its own two feet and strategically exercise its power is the ultimate decisive factor.

2. Movement-building is given center stage.

Early in Chapter 2, “Class Struggle at the Ballot Box,” is this passage, which succinctly demonstrates the way that building mass movements is given top billing throughout the book:

Yes, the capitalist state is arranged against our project. And, yes, it is powerful—so powerful, in fact, that the only way to prevent annihilation at its hands is to give our movement a mass character that can fight the forces that seek to bury it. (p. 34)

But not only does the book advocate mass movements in general; it also names the working class as the key agent capable of carrying out the socialist transformation of society. Unions and labor organizing are justifiably given special emphasis, and the authors really stand out for how seriously they take the role of socialists in rebuilding a mass labor movement. They correctly tear down the failed strategies of focusing on labor law reform, too-clever campaigning gimmicks, and electing Democratic politicians.

Instead they point to the “rank-and-file strategy” of shop-floor-level organizing and emphasize the importance of training new layers of seasoned militants through encouraging an approach of active struggle and solidarity based on the ranks of regular workers, not an over-reliance on the labor officialdom.

The authors also draw out the deep connection between the labor movement and the wider struggle for socialism:

The rank-and-file strategy is fundamentally about winning socialism. If the working class is the key agent of change to win socialism, then the only way to get there is to expand the number of class-conscious worker organizers and activists—and rooting the socialist movement in this layer. Given the enforced decades-long divorce of socialists from the working class, reconnecting labor and Left is a particularly urgent task. (p. 184)

How does electoral politics fit into this picture? Day and Uetricht convincingly argue that when socialists participate in elections, our primary obligation is to use our campaigns and elected positions to build the power of the working class and mass movements. They correctly point out, in the “Not Me, Us” spirit of the Bernie Sanders campaign, that it is only through this type of power that socialists will be able to win meaningful reforms once in office.

The authors also make clear that we can't settle for social movements simply coexisting alongside socialist elected officials; there need to be direct links between the two, both formal and organic. Socialists in office need to see themselves as agents occupying office on behalf of the movement, and accountable to it.

Crucially, the book correctly highlights the need for socialists in elected office to be in open opposition to the political establishment—not willing to tone down their politics to stay in its good graces. We need to rely on the power of our own movement, not on cutting deals with the powers that be.

3. It highlights the critical role of socialist organizations—particularly DSA.

Bigger Than Bernie really shines when it comes to underlining the central importance of building strong socialist organizations:

We think that socialist organizations have a special role to play in building an independent working-class movement and eventually a party. They offer invaluable education, a coherent direction and common analysis for organizing around the most pressing issues of the day, a strategic orientation toward the working class, and a deep sense of comradeship and purpose. Right now, there’s no better political home for those who want to join the fight than the Democratic Socialists of America, the country’s largest socialist organization. (Introduction)

Day and Uetricht, both DSA members themselves, trace out how the organization was essentially reborn after Trump’s election in 2016 as at least tens of thousands of people—overwhelmingly young people—felt an immediate need to not only fight back but also get organized. DSA has experienced several additional growth spurts since then. In fact, just since this book was written less than a year ago, DSA has added more than 10,000 new members to its ranks.

The authors correctly argue that the main assets that allowed DSA to grow so rapidly were its lack of sectarianism, its democratic structures, and its big-tent nature, allowing many different trends to unite under a common banner of socialist struggle even while maintaining full rights to organize into separate caucuses to campaign for their ideas and approach within the wider organization.

The book makes the case for how being organized helps socialists get a level of training, experience, and political education that can allow them to play a disproportionately valuable role in the wider struggles they participate in, which in turn can help bring the whole movement forward.

3 important points of debate:

1. What is the relationship between reforms and socialist revolution?

One of the central theoretical and practical questions Day and Uetricht explore throughout Bigger Than Bernie is the nature of the connection between struggles for partial reforms under capitalism and the end goal of achieving a fundamental socialist transformation of society.

They make very strong points about how every struggle for a given reform can and must be used as an opportunity to build the consciousness, organization, and fighting capacity of the working class and social movements. In doing so, they direct the reader to the arguments of Rosa Luxemburg, including this excellent seminal quotation from her 1899 pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution (the same quotation, incidentally, that serves as the key inspiration for the name of our caucus):

The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions, offers to [socialists] the only means of engaging in the proletarian class war and working in the direction of the final goal—the conquest of political power and the suppression of wage labour. Between social reforms and revolution there exists for [socialists] an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim. (quoted on p. 149; substitutions in square brackets are Day and Uetricht’s)

The authors also correctly point out how the working-class consciousness, organization, confidence, and strength that are built through fights for reforms are precisely what will eventually allow us to make a socialist world a reality.

This idea of approaching existing movements for reforms in a way that forges a path toward a real socialist transformation is sometimes known in Marxist theory as the “transitional method.” A list of demands that lead the way from the struggles of today toward what is objectively needed for a socialist transformation is called a “transitional program.”

The intent of the name is to differentiate from classical European social democracy’s division between the “minimum program” of immediate reforms within the bounds of capitalism and the “maximum program,” which is the set of steps that would constitute the creation of a socialist order. Even before those social-democratic parties were turned into instruments of neoliberalism and renounced altogether the goal of abolishing capitalism, their minimum program was what would be used outwardly for campaigning and elections, while the maximum program was kept high up on a shelf, and only dusted off for use on special occasions like internal conferences.

In general terms, Bigger Than Bernie does advocate to link the struggles of the present to the aim of a future socialist transformation of society—a kind of transitional approach (though the term is never used explicitly). However, whenever they go on to speak about today’s struggles concretely, there is no mention of what socialists can do to build a bridge toward this radical democratic socialist change. That is why, in its concrete application, where it matters most, the authors’ approach comes out looking more like a minimum program. They seem to believe that the farther-reaching components of the program will flow automatically from the struggle for reforms, as long as socialists can help get the ball rolling in the right direction. For instance, the authors approvingly quote Jacobin’s founding editor, Bhaskar Sunkara: “The route to a more radical socialism will come from the crisis of social democracy our very success initiates. Class-struggle social democracy, then, isn’t a foe of democratic socialism—the road to the latter runs through the former” (p. 148).

They welcomingly greet the crisis that a militant strategy in the struggle for reforms will provoke, but offer no advice on how to prepare to resolve this crisis in favor of the working class. This sort of omission throughout the book gives the impression that on some level the authors believe the movement is capable of simply improvising its way through such a crisis, or perhaps that the crisis will resolve itself in some predetermined fashion. They write in the abstract about being prepared for such moments, but never articulate what such preparation entails.

What the authors neglect to mention is: in order for the struggle for reforms to lead in practice to the political and organizational strengthening of the working class for a future revolutionary rupture, those who have drawn more far-reaching conclusions about the next stages of the fight need to organize and campaign to win the wider layers of the movement to that outlook explicitly. Such an approach means always pointing beyond the present struggle to what comes next, preparing and representing the future of the movement.

No matter how exciting or positive any individual reform or set of reforms may be, it will never be enough on its own to prepare the movement for the next stage. Day and Uetricht seem to ignore that there will always be forces within the working-class movement (disproportionately in the leadership) that represent and reflect the pressure of the ruling class and its ideas on the movement. These forces will seek to settle, go slow, or sell out sections of our movement in exchange for vague promises or a seat at the table, which can have the effect of confusing, disorienting, or demoralizing the movement. As socialists, we must be prepared to identify and counter those forces and their ideas within the movement. To delve into the nature of this task and how to go about it would be one important step towards concretizing the book’s correct-but-abstract prescription that socialists should fight to keep the wider movement’s focus on building independent working-class power.

2. How should socialists approach the issue of state power?

Perhaps the richest, deepest, and most fascinating issue that Bigger Than Bernie grapples with—and one which is necessarily deeply intertwined with the previous topic—is the question of how socialists should relate to the existing capitalist state.

The book starts out strong in this area, by putting a marker down early that “the state isn’t neutral territory: under capitalism, the state is fundamentally biased toward capitalists and pro-capitalist policies,” and that “[b]ecause of these structural constraints, we can’t simply vote the new world into being” (p. 35). They also correctly balance this observation by stressing how important it is to nonetheless “make good use of the democratic structures and processes available to us (and to improve and expand them) in order to advance our cause” (p. 99), affirming that “socialists can engage in electoral politics in a way that democratically builds the working class’s capacity for self-organization” (p. 36).

The authors identify themselves as advocates of “the democratic road to socialism” (p. 99). The selling point for this strategic framework is that it supposedly avoids the pitfalls of both reformist, sellout social democracy on the right and what they see as hopelessly insurrectionary Leninism/Bolshevism on the left. This concept is expanded upon at length and somewhat defies brief citations, but the most succinct explanation in the book is when the authors quote the description given by Chris Maisano: “a strategy that pursues ‘election of a left government (likely over multiple contested elections) mandated to carry out a fundamental transformation of the political economy, coordinated with a movement from below to build new institutions and organizations of popular power in society’” (p. 102).

If I were to attempt to summarize the authors’ description of the “democratic road” myself, I would say it involves an extended period where socialists, through elections, win and hold positions of substantial power within the capitalist state, using those positions in combination with mass movement pressure from below to enact reforms that erode the repressive power of the capitalist state and widen its sphere of democratic involvement (“democratizing the current state,” p. 101), until eventually the socialists have enough formal state power to stop the capitalists from carrying out the full scale of repression they’d like to against the mass movements—and from running off with the country’s capital.

According to this theory, the combination of two crucial ingredients—formal government power from above (“the project of wielding state power,” p. 102) and informal mass-movement power from below—will at last “clear the path for those movements as they confront their class enemies” (p.102) and implement the types of transformative socialist policies we all aspire to. This combination is what will deprive the capitalist class of sufficient power to stop us—though, as history shows, they will still try, and when they do we must defend ourselves.

The authors explicitly laying out this theory constitutes a welcome step forward compared to the overall lack of clarity on these questions in the wider socialist movement today, and in doing so they are making a valuable contribution to the discussion. The theory itself, however, falls short in key places. For me, the fact that the authors repeatedly use the phrase “contesting for state power” (pp. 52, 72, 89, 102) as the technical term for running in elections particularly set off alarm bells that there is something amiss in their conception of what “state power” really entails.

One very positive thing about the book is that the authors attempt to root their arguments about the state in the historical experience of the working class. Unfortunately, however, I believe the authors base themselves on a selective and impressionistic view of history that overlooks the sharp limits to how much the capitalist state can be “democratized,” and which fails to draw the necessary conclusions from the consistently ruthless and antidemocratic record of the capitalist class and their state machinery toward every serious attempt at socialist change.

Karl Marx developed his theory of the state based on the first attempt of the working class to take and hold power, the Paris Commune of 1871. He saw brutal, relentless repression, with the French bourgeoisie preferring invasion by the German military over allowing the workers to gain the upper hand. He saw the workers, recognizing the capitalist state was not a viable vehicle for achieving their aspirations, form their own fundamentally different apparatus to meet the needs of their struggle, to beat back the state military forces of both France and Germany, and to start to reorganize Parisian society around them in accordance with their vision of a more just world.

Watching all this and more play out, Marx recognized the nature of the capitalist state as an armed body specially honed to be used by the bourgeoisie for repressing the resistance of the workers. Accordingly, he drew the conclusion that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes” (The Civil War in France). Marx and Engels considered this lesson so crucial that they added this passage as a correction in the 1872 edition of the Communist Manifesto (no small matter, as it was already considered an important historical document by that time). This confirmed and built upon Marx’s earlier hypothesis, also based on the experience of revolutionary developments in France, that “the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution” (Marx’s summary of the last chapter of his Eighteenth Brumaire, from a letter to Dr. Kugelmann, April 12, 1871; italics are Marx’s).

The question is: has subsequent history—especially the development of more advanced capitalist democracies—disproved Marx’s original theoretical conclusions, or at least made them obsolete? On the contrary, historical evidence has only continued to mount in support of Marx’s theory of the state. For instance, dynamics similar to those of the Paris Commune led to Russian workers creating soviets (which were not, as some seem to think, the brainchild of the Bolsheviks) in the natural course of their class struggle, and to analogous workers’ councils (and precursors to them, like popular assemblies) springing up in a wide variety of countries and across different historical periods since then.

We have also seen again and again that when faced with anything resembling a real political threat from the working class, the capitalists will rip up democratic reforms and cast them aside like so many scraps of paper, leaving just the bare bureaucratic-military repressive apparatus that is always lurking at the heart of the state. All the “formal” power in the world means very little in a period of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary upsurge.

This is one of the key lessons to be learned from the 1973 coup against socialist president Salvador Allende in Chile—an event which the book mentions, but from which it merely draws the general conclusion that the mass movements needed to be stronger. It is not a wrong conclusion, per se, but it leaves unanswered the question of specifically what the movement was lacking and how this might have been corrected. The mass movement in Chile certainly was not lacking in size or militancy. What it lacked was its own organ of class power capable of challenging the dominance of the capitalist state. What Allende lacked politically was any plan or inclination for building such a force.

In reality, Allende essentially sought to carry out the authors’ proposed strategy: using the formal power of the existing state combined with outside pressure from mass movements to democratize the state and carry through what some might call “non-reformist reforms.” Formally, Allende could hand-pick the leadership of the Chilean armed forces, yet that did not stop those very same state forces from taking up arms against him in a bloody coup, suspending the constitution, and carrying out ruthless repression against the whole working-class movement. This should lead us to question whether the inside-outside strategy toward the state advocated by proponents of the “democratic road to socialism” is really sufficient for carrying out a revolutionary transformation of society.

Socialists must recognize that there can be no question of an extended period of stable, prosperous rule under a left government, during which the repressive power of the state can be chipped away at. Capitalist reaction will come long before any serious chipping away can be done. This strategy is like trying to battle a tiger by pulling its teeth out one-by-one.

If socialists find themselves in the position of wielding executive power within a capitalist state, there are three key things to do to uphold their role as unambiguous fighters for the multiracial working class: (a) consistently base themselves on the power and democratic structures of the mass movements; (b) take away the economic power of the capitalist class and turn over the key corporations to democratic public ownership, with workers’ control and management; and (c) overcome the resistance of the whole old state bureaucracy by quickly dismantling as much of it as possible, while rapidly transferring all essential functions to organs of working-class power in preparation for an imminent life-or-death struggle with capital.

To give one concrete example: on his first day in office Allende could have moved to fire the entire general staff of the military, then distributed arms to the workers’ movement (which actively marched to demand them as a defense against a coup), and arranged for officers to be elected democratically out of the mass of ordinary workers and soldiers. These measures, combined with the leftward political momentum at the time, would have made it much more difficult for the capitalist class to successfully stage a coup. It is no accident that, even without these measures, it took them almost three years to accomplish it. They needed time to reclaim the political initiative. By not taking the approach outlined above, Allende allowed them the time and space they needed to prepare for success.

Instead of attempting to wield the unwieldy capitalist state, the working class needs to replace it with its own apparatus, designed to represent the interests of the working class and repress the reaction from the capitalist class. This type of apparatus has been called a “workers’ state,” but this name can lead to misunderstandings. The only thing it has in common with the capitalist state is that it is a means for one class to repress the resistance of another. But a workers’ state represents the majority—not a tiny capitalist minority—and the instrument the workers will need for this task is of a fundamentally different design than the one used by the capitalists to repress workers.

It is essential for socialists to be aware that a capitalist state cannot be converted into a workers’ state by means of its own built-in processes and structures. This would be like trying to change out the engine of a car while in the middle of driving it—using only the steering wheel, pedals, and gear shift to do so.

3. How can the obstacle of the Democratic Party be overcome?

The biggest weakness of Bigger Than Bernie lies in its approach to the question of how to overcome the obstacle posed by the electoral monopoly of the Democratic Party over the left. The authors advocate for Eric Blanc’s “dirty break” strategy, which they summarize as follows:

The strategy aims to go beyond the two-party system by going through it. We can use the Democratic Party ballot line strategically, for our own purposes: to wage campaigns that heighten the level of class consciousness in society, encourage people to take militant action in the form of strikes and other kinds of protest activity, and even raise awareness of and interest in socialism.

In the meantime, we can sharpen the contradictions between the Democratic base—the working-class and generally progressive rank-and-file members of the party—and the wealthy Democratic Party funders who don’t want anything to do with the base’s demands… The idea is to agitate within the party, in full view of the party’s base, in order to engage as many people in the discussion as possible, making it harder to ignore. As conflicts between the base and the funders grow, the aim is to build up and cohere a powerful working-class pole, whose growing strength will eventually pose the practical question of a split with the Democrats and the creation of a party of our own. (p. 123)

I agree with the basic premise of a dirty break from the Democratic Party. This is a strategy that is clearly having some wonderful effects, most recently with the “DSA for the Many” slate of five candidates in New York City sweeping their elections. But, in my opinion, the weakness in the authors’ approach is the lack of intermediate steps to build party-like structures or to lay the organizational groundwork today for a new party of the future.

We are entering a period where there will be a major battle opening up to break from the Democrats. A Biden presidency will bring all the built-up contradictions of an uprising for socialism within the framework of the through-and-through pro-capitalist Democratic Party to the forefront. (The less likely scenario, where the Democratic Party manages to lose to Trump again, would also put the question of a party able to fight Trump and Trumpism much more sharply on the agenda.) The dirty break as outlined in Bigger Than Bernie does not include sufficient preparatory steps for that battle.

Day and Uetricht mention the intense pressures Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came under after being elected, but they don’t fully draw out the conclusions: namely, that we need structures for DSA to begin holding its elected officials accountable now; otherwise, we will even further increase the likelihood of losing democratic socialist candidates to these pressures, to the sticks and carrots of careerism and pragmatism. This line of thinking is not seriously explored. Also absent is a clear recognition of the simple reality that there will never come a “perfect storm” moment where everyone agrees that the time has come to break from the Democratic Party.

The dirty-break strategy argued for in this book, while containing a number of broadly correct points, is not elaborated concretely enough to effectively grapple with and meet the needs of this moment in history. Instead, while recognizing in the abstract the necessity of a break from the Democrats and of building a new party, it effectively relegates these tasks to the eventual, long-term future.

It is important to recognize that the relationship between the Democratic Party and the working class is not a straightforward linking-up of base, party, and leadership, as the authors seem to imply. Most working-class people, including millions within the camp of Bernie Sanders supporters, do not at all see the Democratic Party as “their” party. Nonetheless, with the help of the sophisticated two-party system and the looming threat of a bigger evil (Trump), these millions are held in check—so far, at least. But being trapped like this breeds increasing hostility and resentment on the part of the prisoners, and there are limits to what this cage can contain.

No doubt, Day and Uetricht are absolutely spot-on when they say that the focus of our fight must be to actively break millions away from the Democrats; we cannot confine ourselves to abstract propaganda or shouting from the sidelines in an effort to keep our hands clean. However, the Democratic Party itself represents a much smaller proportion of the total battleground in this struggle than the authors seem to suggest. The main challenge lies not in exposing the Democratic Party and heightening its contradictions (the party often does quite an impressive job of that on its own) but in posing a viable alternative. In the effort to develop a new mass working-class party, democratic socialists need not plant our seeds in the hostile soil of the Democratic Party; we can root ourselves in the already-existing anger of millions who, in their hearts, already see themselves as “outside” the two-party system, and who long for the opportunity to be free of it in reality.

In a context where the key figures the movement looks to are people like Sanders and AOC (who don’t call for a break with the Democratic Party, dirty or otherwise), it is necessary to take steps now that will put a special emphasis on clarifying the need for a break. If we truly see a workers’ party as a key strategic goal on the road to socialism, then we need to be asking whether and how any proposed tactic furthers consciousness and organization toward that goal. Without this component, the approach advocated in Bigger Than Bernie will have a de facto tendency to feed into and strengthen the forces invested in “realigning” the Democratic Party—a prospect which Day and Uetricht correctly identify as unrealistic.

This tendency is especially clear in moments like the present, where Sanders and AOC have both endorsed Biden and participated in the “task force” for drafting his platform. They are regularly giving interviews where they provide cover for Biden from the left, with Sanders attempting to sell voters on the idea that a Biden presidency might be the most progressive since FDR.

The only way we can avoid being knocked off course by the forces in our movement intent on sowing illusions in realignment is by clearly articulating an alternative, taking steps now to hold elected officials accountable, and proposing ways to build toward that alternative in the present moment.

Underlying the book’s lopsided emphasis appears to be a belief in a mechanical notion of how change happens, where all that our strategy must accomplish is to “sharpen the contradictions” (p.123) within the Democratic Party and broader society. Little or no attention is devoted to the direction in which these contradictions might develop, or to what we can do to increase the chances that the crises caused by these contradictions are resolved in a way that strengthens the socialist movement rather than sets it back. The timing for when these crises occur might not be of our choosing. Shouldn’t we as a movement ready ourselves for those crises now?

There is an implicit fatalism and mysticism, as if, under the right conditions (enough socialists in elected positions, high enough union density, big enough movements, etc.), all the tensions will simply resolve themselves. Therefore, the logic goes, we just need to mature the conditions to a riper state. It’s not our role to plan for a break; only to foretell it in the abstract, as something that is bound to happen when the conditions are right.

Even if we were to decide against launching a new party in the short term, there would still be a need for DSA to start acting increasingly party-ish in the meantime, starting today. A slate with a joint platform, like that of the New York City DSA candidates mentioned above, is a good start and should be replicated. All voter information should be pooled within DSA, and not fed into the Democratic Party databases like VAN or ActBlue. In 2021, DSA members in Congress and in state legislatures should form their own Democratic Socialist Caucus with its own banner and messaging.

DSA should also urgently organize conferences on the question of how we move toward the formation of a new Democratic Socialist political party, as one petition currently circulating has suggested. We could invite prominent activists who have also called for a new party, like Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein; left-leaning unions that endorsed Bernie, like the NNU, UTLA, CTU, ILWU, CWA; as well as the various left groups that have sprung up since the Bernie Sanders campaign and during the Black Lives Matter movement. Initiating these discussions as part of the process of launching a new party of 100,000 or more would give an important lead in the direction of a wider break with the Democrats, and could be used to popularize the idea of the need for a party of, by, and for the working class as a whole.

There are many local and state-level elections where only one of the two corporate parties stands a chance (or even bothers to field a candidate), and in those cases there’s clearly no need to run on the Democratic ballot line. We will often be better positioned to reach more people and gain more exposure by running in the general election under our own banner rather than restricting ourselves to the Democratic primary electorate.

The dirty break strategy, if it is to be implemented successfully, must not be separated into a “dirty” part now, and a clean break at some vague stage in the future, as socialists of old attempted to separate a transition to socialism into a minimum program for now and a maximum program for later. The dirty break requires a constant push and pull at the limits of what’s possible.

The fact that all of these more nuanced possibilities are concretely posed in front of the socialist movement today, but are rejected out of hand by the authors without any serious consideration, instead being relegated to the “eventual” future, constitutes the single biggest weakness in what is on the whole a very well-written, thoughtful, and valuable book.

Brandon Madsen is a member of Portland DSA, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2157, and DSA’s Reform & Revolution caucus.