The Political Party Bernie Sanders Helped Found Isn't into Him Anymore
Vermont's Liberty Union Party says Sanders was instrumental to the group's founding. They also recently voted to "brand him as a war criminal."
Photo via Flickr user Michael Vadon
In 1971, future presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, then a recent transplant to Vermont, joined a fledgling antiwar organization called the Liberty Union Party, a group that, according to its own website, had been founded the previous year by a motley group of 20 activists, former politicians, and "urban dropouts." Over the next six years, Sanders became the party chief and unsuccessfully ran for office several times on the Liberty Union ticket, before parting ways with the organization in in 1977. He told the press at the time that he was frustrated with the Liberty Union Party for not keeping up the fight against corporations and banks during non-election years.
But the party's leaders fought on, among them Liberty Union co-founder Peter Diamondstone, who, at 81 years old, remains general secretary to this day. Even without Sanders, Liberty Union earned a reputation as "Vermont's third party" for decades. But after failing to win 5 percent of the vote in 2008, Liberty Union lost its status as a major party in Vermont. As the state's voters head to the polls on Tuesday, there's no Liberty Union Party candidate in the primary; Sanders, meanwhile, is expected to win the state by a landslide as a presidential candidate on the Democratic Party ticket.
VICE recently tracked down Diamondstone to find out whether the Liberty Union Party has forgiven Sanders for his defection, and whether its members plan to endorse him in the Vermont primary. Speaking on behalf of his party, Diamondstone opined about his former friend, and he told us that despite all the Red menace fear-mongering in the right-wing media, Bernie is actually no socialist—and never really was.
VICE: How important is Bernie Sanders to the history your political party?
Peter Diamondstone: Liberty Union could never have gotten to where it is without him. We branded him one of the "silver tongues" in our party, along with Nancy Kaufman and Michael Parenti, and a couple of others.
So are you proud of how far he's come as a Democratic candidate?
I don't feel pride in any of it. He and I fought from day one, and we were friends when we did it, right up until 1984. He left the party in '77, and I continued to be his close friend until '84. He stayed at my house. I stayed at his house. We'd sit up all night yelling at each other. I'd be downstairs on the couch and he upstairs in bed. We'd argue with each other over the stupidest things you could imagine, and sometime around 3 o'clock one of us would say, "Alright, we got to get some sleep." It'd be silent for a couple of minutes, and then all of a sudden somebody would start it right up again. We'd fight till dawn.
Liberty Union voted a couple of months ago to brand him as a war criminal. -Peter Diamondstone
But don't you feel like you can take some credit for some of the recent conversations that he's started, about socialism and economic justice?
He never was a socialist! I have never heard him advocate community ownership of the basic means of production and distribution. He talks about Denmark and Sweden being socialist. They're as capitalist as the United States. They just have substantially better social safety nets than the United States.
Wait, when he was working with your party, he never once qualified as an actual socialist?
He never did. Never advocated a single class, never advocated "to each according to need, from each according to ability." You can pick out any tenet of socialism, and he never really did [support it.]
In that case, do you feel like he should stop using the label "socialist"?
I think he's made that word finally acceptable in the United States, even though people don't know what he's talking about.
Other than leave the party, what has he done to alienate himself from the Liberty Union membership?
Sanders has always supported the war budget, and he recently supported the supplement for Israel, so it can commit war crimes in Gaza. He's a part of the approval process to make a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, so Saudi Arabia can use outlawed weapons like barrel bombs. He approved of that sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia to be used against Yemeni people.
We got together around our position for the war in Vietnam—that's what our party was built on. He's always supported the use of military violence, except Vietnam.
Was there a final straw?
Sanders not only said "hold your nose and vote for [1984 Democratic presidential candidate Walter] Mondale," he went out on a stump for Mondale. He actually traveled to 10 stops in Vermont supporting Mondale. That was the beginning of the end for me and him. We parted company permanently at that juncture.
In your view, why is Sanders such a popular candidate right now?
Sanders brings a level of energy I don't think any other 74-year-old person could bring to what he does. He keeps himself in good physical condition. I think he's psychologically resilient, and he's very strong physically. I think he has something to offer, but it's not for me.
I'm glad he's a candidate, pulling a little bit to the left, but Liberty Union voted a couple of months ago to brand him as a war criminal—that the whole US Congress was war criminals—and we are probably going to support one of two socialist [candidates] who are available. [Gloria] La Riva in California, who's going to be the candidate of Peace and Freedom, and there's a World candidate.
Could you at least be on friendly terms with Sanders again?
He won't even talk to my kids. He won't talk to any of us. He used to sleep at our house and one of my kids—when my spouse Doris Lake and he were candidates together in the special election they sometimes had to have their kids with them—and he would carry [his son] Levi, and my wife would carry [our daughter] Paula. He would hold both kids when she spoke, and she would hold both kids when he spoke. It was a very close relationship. Then, at one point, that daughter who he cared for during my wife's speeches greeted him at a television broadcast, and he turned his back on her. It's not a friendly relationship that we have anymore, and it really ceased in 1984 with Mondale.
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