Bigger Than Bernie is a book published by Jacobin, the officially unofficial magazine of DSA and it was written by Megan Day and Micah Uetrich, two of my favorite Jacobin writers. It was written and published during the primary and was written when Bernie's campaign was on the upswing. It lays out what Day and Uetrich see as the viable plan going forward for the left after the Bernie Campaign.
So, with the collapse of the Bernie campaign one has to ask, will the book hold up?
I say, "Yes," with a "but..."
Let me begin by saying the book is incredibly well written. It offers not only a simplified explanation of modern leftist electoral politics but it offers an explanation of the DSA that is accessible even to a non-socialist laymen.
It also challenges all too common liberal assumptions about politics. In one paragraph Day and Uetrich completely destroy the liberal the idea of meritocracy in politics.
Since the myth of meritocracy maintains that people get ahead professionally because they’re smarter or better than others, the people who are in charge (both as candidates and behind the scenes) are presumed deserving of their pedestal - and proof of their deservingness is precisely that they’re in charge. It’s a dizzying tautology.
However the book, while incredibly well written, has a clear bias that does not represent DSA as a whole. Day and Utrich are both members of what is called the Bread and Roses caucus of DSA, and if you want to know what the Bread and Roses caucus believes, you need only to read this book.
Two chapters of the book are dedicated to what are essentially two of the most important tiers of the Bread and Roses caucus platform, the concept of class struggle elections and the rank and file labor strategy.
Both of these are important pieces of DSA’s current strategy, however it is a very specific tier of the left that prioritizes these strategies over all else, a tier that Day and Uetrich belong to in DSA and that is never acknowledged in the text.
I am not disagreeing with the authors about their definitions of the rank and file strategy or class struggle elections. I think that part of the book is very comprehensive and as I said before, accessible to the average person. However I will say because Day and Uetrich don’t cop to their own tendancies in the book it does present their caucus platform as the whole platform for DSA and the left. The subtitle of this book really should read “How we go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism, (According to the Bread and Roses caucus of DSA.)
The book seems to skip over some very real internal issues that exist in DSA and the modern left. Race in regards to socialism is never directly addressed in the book, and one cannot talk about the left or DSA without addressing race.
This is the most common criticism within DSA of the Bread and Roses caucus, they are often accused of a lack of attention to race and its effects on class, which leads to many socialists of color feeling erased or ignored or that any initiative on the issue of race by caucus members comes across as performative.
No socialist can avoid discussing the issues of race. A diluted outlook on race held Bernie's numbers back and effectively helped Biden win the election. Race continues to be a very real problem in DSA to.
I can’t comment too much on the issue of race without risk crossing the line of saviorism or attempting to speak for people who can already speak for themselves. But I will say that the left must be very intentional on the issue of race. Bernie was not intentional on race, DSA hasn’t been intentional on race, and any book titled Bigger than Bernie should address the issues that race has on the left in full.
I do not think Day and Uetrich intentionally avoided addressing race in the book. It should be remembered this book was written and published before Bernie dropped out and before the George Floyd rebellion started, and again, I want to make it clear, I enjoyed the book. I am simply reflecting on how the book will hold up in the future. As far as offering an accesible, though biased, look into DSA and modern leftist electoral politics, it is fantastic and timeless.
At the same time the book is very passive about issues that the left has been too passive about for too long, especially race, which now comes to a head as people take to the streets for black lives or challenge the whiteness in DSA.
If a new edition of the book comes out I think it would be good practice to add an epilogue reflecting on all that has happened since Bernie ended his campaign, especially the start of the George Floyd Rebellion. However, the fact that the issue of race could be addressed in the book as an afterthought is another problem in of itself, and it is one thing that will cause debate when the book is discussed in the future.
The book will age well in the sense that it offers concrete explanations of class struggle and rank and file organization. Yet the issues of race that go under-discussed in the book could dilute its message. I also find it interesting that Day and Uetrich never acknowledge their own leanings in DSA.
So, is Bigger than Bernie going to hold up? For the most part yes, but let us not act like it is an unbiased or completely comprehensive guide for socialism for the 21st century. It is a good book though.