What I saw in Fallujah

Dahr Jamail set out to report the truth about the US invasion of Iraq and its terrible impact on dai

On the day martial law was declared, US tanks began rolling into the outskirts of Fallujah, while war planes continued to pound the city with as many as 50,000 residents still inside. Iyad Allawi, the US-installed interim prime minister, laid out the six steps for implementing his "security law". These entailed a 6pm curfew in Fallujah, the blocking of all highways except for emergencies and for government vehicles, the closure of all city and government services, a ban on all weapons in Fallujah, the closure of Iraq's borders with Syria and Jordan (except to allow passage to food trucks and vehicles carrying other necessary goods), and the closure of Baghdad International Airport for 48 hours.

Meanwhile, in the US, most corporate media outlets were busy spreading the misinformation that Fallujah had fallen under the control of the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There was no available evidence that Zarqawi had ever set foot inside the city. It was amply evident that the resistance in the city was composed primarily of people from Fallujah itself. However, that did not deter the establishment media, which portrayed the assault on the city as a hostage intervention situation.

As they had done during the April siege, the military raided and occupied Fallujah general hospital, cutting it off from the rest of the city. On 8 November 2004 the New York Times reported, "The assault against Fallujah began here Sunday night as American Special Forces and Iraqi troops burst into Fallujah General Hospital and seized it within an hour." Of course, this information was immediately followed by the usual parroting of US military propaganda, "At 10pm, Iraqi troops clambered off seven-ton trucks, sprinting with American Special Forces soldiers around the side of the main building of the hospital, considered a refuge for insurgents and a centre of propaganda against allied forces, entering the complex to bewildered looks from patients and employees."

Harb al-Mukhtar, my interpreter and driver, arrived at my hotel the next morning in a sombre mood. "How can we live like this, we are trapped in our own country. You know Dahr, everyone is praying for God to take revenge on the Americans. Everyone!" He said even in their private prayers people were praying for God to take vengeance on the Americans for what they were doing in Fallujah. "Everyone I've talked to the last couple of nights, 80 or 90 people, have admitted that they are doing this," he said as I collected my camera and notepad to prepare to leave. Out on the streets of Baghdad, the anxiety was palpable. The threat of being kidnapped or car bombed, or simply robbed, relentlessly played on our minds as Harb and I went about conducting interviews that had been prearranged. We tried to minimise our time on the streets by returning to my hotel immediately on completing interviews. The security situation, already horrible, was deteriorating further with each passing day.

That night, when Salam Talib arrived at my hotel to work on a radio despatch with me, he had a wild look in his eyes and sweat beads on his forehead. "My friend has just been killed, and he was one of my best friends," he said staring out my window. Salam went on to tell me that a relative of another of his friends had been missing for six days. "This morning, his body was brought to his family by someone who found it on the road. The body had been shot twice in the chest and twice in the head. There were visible signs of torture, and the four bullet shells that were used to kill him had been placed in his trouser pockets. This news has driven me crazy, Dahr. The number of people killed here is growing so fast every day," he said, his hands raised in that familiar gesture of despair. "When I was a child, it was common to have some family member who was killed in the war with Iran. But now, it feels as though everyone is dying every day."

Not yet one full week into the latest assault on Fallujah, the flames of resistance had engulfed much of Baghdad and other areas in Iraq. In Baghdad alone, neighbourhoods like Amiriyah, Abu Ghraib, Adhamiya and al-Dora had fallen mostly under the control of the resistance. In these areas, and much of the rest of Baghdad, US patrols were few and far between, since they were being attacked so often. People we interviewed showed no surprise at fighting having rapidly spread across other cities. It was expected, because the general belief was that the resistance had fled Fallujah prior to the siege. Most of the fighters had melted away to other areas to choose effective methods to strike the enemy. Fighting had thus spread across much of Baghdad, Baquba, Latafiya, Ramadi, Samarra, Mosul, Khaldiya and Kirkuk just days into Operation Phantom Fury.

Media repression

Media repression during the second siege of Fallujah was intense. The "100 Orders" penned by former US administrator Bremer included Order 65, passed on 20 March 2004, which established an Iraqi communications and media commission. This commission had powers to control the media because it had complete control over licensing and regulating telecommunications, broadcasting, information services, and media establishments. On 28 June, when the US handed over power to a "sovereign" Iraqi interim government, Bremer simply passed on his authority to Iyad Allawi, who had long-standing ties with the British intelligence service MI6 and the CIA. The media commission sent out an order just after the assault on Fallujah commenced ordering news organisations to "stick to the government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action". The warning was circulated on Allawi's letterhead. The letter also asked the media in Iraq to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear".

On the ground, aside from the notorious bombing and then banning of al-Jazeera, other instances of media repression were numerous. A journalist for the al-Arabiya network, who attempted to get inside Fallujah, was detained by the military, as was a French freelance photographer named Corentin Fleury, who was staying at my hotel. Fleury, a soft-spoken, wiry man, was detained by the US military along with his interpreter, 28-year-old Bahktiyar Abdulla Hadad, when they were leaving Fallujah just before the siege of the city began. They had worked in the city for nine days leading up to the siege, and were held for five days in a military detention facility outside the city.

"They were very nervous and they asked us what we had seen, and looked through all my photos, asking me questions about them," he said as we talked in my room one night. He told me he had photographed homes destroyed by US war planes. Despite appeals by the French government to the US military to free his translator and return Fleury's confiscated camera equipment and his photos, there had been no luck in attaining either. (When I had last seen Fleury in February 2005, Hadad was still being held by the US military.)

The military was maintaining a strict cordon around most of Fallujah. As I could not enter the city, I set out to interview doctors and patients who had fled and were presently working in various hospitals around Baghdad. While visiting Yarmouk Hospital looking for more information about Fallujah, I came across several children from areas south of Baghdad. One of these was a 12-year-old girl, Fatima Harouz, from Latifiya. She lay dazed in a crowded hospital room, limply waving her bruised arm at the flies. Her shins, shattered by bullets from US soldiers when they fired through the front door of her house, were both covered by casts. Small plastic drainage bags filled with red fluid sat upon her abdomen, where she took shrapnel from another bullet. Her mother told us, "They attacked our home, and there weren't even any resistance fighters in our area."

Victims' testament

Fatima's uncle was shot and killed, his wife had been wounded, and their home was ransacked by soldiers. "Before they left, they killed all our chickens." A doctor who was with us looked at me and asked, "This is the freedom. In their Disneyland are there kids just like this?"

Another young woman, Rana Obeidy, had been walking home in Baghdad with her brother two nights earlier. She assumed the soldiers had shot her and her brother because he was carrying a bottle of soda. She had a chest wound where a bullet had grazed her, but had struck her little brother and killed him. In another room, a small boy from Fallujah lay on his stomach. Shrapnel from a grenade thrown into his home by a US soldier had entered his body through his back and was implanted near his kidney. An operation had successfully removed the shrapnel, but his father had been killed by what his mother described as "the haphazard shooting of the Americans". The boy, Amin, lay in his bed vacillating between crying with pain and playing with his toy car.

Later, I found myself at a small but busy supply centre in Baghdad set up to distribute goods to refugees from Fallujah. Standing in an old, one-storey building that used to be a vegetable market, I watched as people walked around wearily to obtain basic foodstuffs, blankets or information about housing. "They kicked all the journalists out of Fallujah so they could do whatever they want," said Kassem Mohammed Ahmed, who had escaped from Fallujah three days before. "The first thing they did was bomb the hospitals because that is where the wounded have to go. Now we see that wounded people are in the street and the soldiers are rolling their tanks over them. This happened so many times. What you see on the TV is nothing. That is just one camera. What you cannot see is much more."

There were also stories of soldiers not discriminating between civilians and resistance fighters. Another man, Abdul Razaq Ismail, had arrived from Fallujah one week earlier and had been helping with the distribution of supplies to other refugees, having received similar help himself. Loading a box with blankets to send to a refugee camp, he said, "There are dead bodies on the ground and nobody can bury them. The Americans are dropping some of the bodies into the Euphrates River near Fallujah. They are pulling some bodies with tanks and leaving them at the soccer stadium." Another man sat nearby nodding his head. He couldn't stop crying. After a while, he said he wanted to talk to us. "They bombed my neighbourhood and we used car jacks to raise the blocks of concrete to get dead children out from under them."

Another refugee, Abu Sabah, an older man in a torn shirt and dusty pants, told of how he escaped with his family, just the day before, while soldiers shot bullets over their heads, killing his cousin. "They used these weird bombs that first put up smoke in a cloud, and then small pieces fell from the air with long tails of smoke behind them. These exploded on the ground with large fires that burned for half an hour. They used these near the train tracks. When anyone touched those fires, their body burned for hours."

This was the first time I had heard a refugee describing the use of white phosphorous incendiary weapons by the US military, fired from artillery into Fallujah. Though it is not technically a banned weapon, it is a violation of the Geneva Conventions to use white phosphorous in an area where civilians may be hit. I heard similar descriptions in the coming days and weeks, both from refugees and doctors who had fled the city.

Several doctors I interviewed had told me they had been instructed by the interim government not to speak to any journalists about the patients they were receiving from Fallujah. A few of them told me they had even been instructed by the Shia-controlled Ministry of Health not to accept patients from Fallujah.

That night I interviewed a spokesman for the Iraq Red Crescent, who told me none of their relief teams had been allowed into Fallujah, and the military said it would be at least two more weeks before any refugees would be allowed back into their city. Collecting information from doctors in the city, he had estimated that at least 800 civilians had been killed so far in the siege.

The second assault on Fallujah was a monument to brutality and atrocity made in the United States of America. Like the Spanish city of Guernica during the 1930s, and Grozny in the 1990s, Fallujah is our monument of excess and overkill. It was soon to become, even for many in the US military, a textbook case of the wrong way to handle a resistance movement. Another case of winning the battle and losing the war.

Conquerors' truth

I would like to say that I decided to go to Iraq for philosophical reasons, because I believe that an informed citizenry is the bedrock of any healthy democracy. But I went to Iraq for personal reasons. I was tormented by the fact that the government of my country illegally invaded and then occupied a country that it had bombed in 1991. Because the government of my country had asphyxiated Iraq with more than a decade's worth of "genocidal" sanctions (in the words of former United Nations Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq Denis Halliday). The government of my country then told lies, which were obediently repeated by an unquestioning media in order to justify the invasion and occupation. I felt that I had blood on my hands because the government had been left unchecked.

My going to Iraq was an act of desperation that has since transformed itself into a bond to that country and so many of her people. There were stories there that begged to be heard and told again. We are defined by story. Our history, our memory, our perceptions of the future, are all built and held within stories. As a US citizen complicit in the devastation of Iraq, I was already bound up in the story of that country. I decided to go to learn what that story really was.

While the vast majority of the reporting of Iraq was provided by journalists availing themselves of the Pentagon-sponsored "embed" programme, I chose to look for stories of real life and "embed"myself with the Iraqi people. The US military side of the occupation is overly represented by most mainstream outlets. I consciously decided to focus on the Iraqi side of the story. The story of the many oppressed peoples of the world is rarely recorded by the few who oppress. We are taught that the truth is objective fact as written down by the conquerors.

The above is extracted from "Beyond the Green Zone: Despatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq" (Haymarket Books, £13.99), which is available from 8 November

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq uncovered

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Bernie Sanders and the future of the American left

How an old, white guy is bringing class-based politics to the Democratic primary.

One thing is immediately striking: as he addresses primary rallies across America, arms flailing like a giant bird coming in to land, snow-white hair fizzing skywards like Doc Brown’s in Back to the Future, eyes startled behind the robust spectacles he has worn since childhood, Bernie Sanders looks quite unlike any other presidential candidate.

Perhaps the surprise in those eyes is sparked by the size of the crowds Sanders has been attracting. They are enormous, rivalling the numbers who turned out for Barack Obama back in 2008, and unprecedented for a candidate who is not shy of describing himself as a socialist: 28,000 in Portland and LA, 25,000 in Boston and 15,000 in Seattle. Even in Dallas, not a renowned centre of radicalism, 8,000 turned out to “feel the Bern”.

In these days when slick suits and expensive haircuts are increasingly a turn-off for a public weary of smooth politicians they see as delivering only for the wealthy, Sanders’s persona, like that of Jeremy Corbyn, his equally unkempt British counterpart, has proved popular. But it is his message – an angry chronicling of the depredations facing so many Americans and a solid social-democratic programme for putting things right – that is really pulling in the crowds. Sanders, who is 74, and the main challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, doesn’t just look different. With his confident calls for a “revolution” to break up the banks and impose higher taxes on the rich, he doesn’t sound like any other recent presidential contender, either.


I first met Bernie Sanders in 1996. I was the publisher of his book Outsider in the House, a political autobiography that appeared the following year (and which has just been reissued by Verso with a new foreword, and more than a hint of optimism, as Outsider in the White House). The occasion was a benefit concert during his successful bid to be re-elected to the House of Representatives from the small, rural state of Vermont.

Sanders’s early years are not well documented, least of all by him. He devotes less than three of the 300 pages in Outsider to the first three decades of his life. He doesn’t much care for the “humble roots” narrative beloved of so many politicians, generally millionaires whose ancestors lived in broken-down cabins. But the raw material is certainly there. The son of Polish immigrants, Sanders grew up in a working-class Jewish family in Flatbush, Brooklyn. At home, money was tight: “Every major household purchase . . . would be accompanied by a fight between my parents as to whether we could afford it,” he wrote.

It was an achievement to gain admission to the University of Chicago, and though he described himself as “not a good student”, that was a result of sacrificing coursework to the cause of social activism. He settled permanently in Vermont at the age of 27, having bought an 85-acre farm in the north of the state for $2,500. Four years later he moved to Burlington, the state capital, where he became involved in city politics, at first in the tiny Liberty Union Party and then as an independent. In 1981 he was inaugurated as mayor and commenced a series of tilts at the state’s congressional seat. He finally entered the House of Representatives in 1991 – the first independent candidate to enter Congress in 40 years.

By the time I encountered him, Sanders was seeking to defend his seat for the third time. The concert where we met was taking place in an old art-deco theatre in Brattleboro, perhaps the most hippiefied community in a state where tie-dye remains as ubiquitous as dairy herds. It was headlined by Pete Seeger, who ran through a panoply from his folk songbook to a packed crowd that knew all the words.

Ten years earlier, Mayor Sanders, a long-time admirer of Seeger, had recorded one of his songs, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, on a surreal folk/rap album. Now, he waited until Seeger had finished his set before taking the stage and, speaking in the only manner he seems to know – a gruff, shouted staccato – exhorted Vermonters to join him in the fight against Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole to stop the Republicans from taking over the presidency and the Senate. The response was rapturous. Sanders left the stage like a president concluding a State of the Union speech, gladhanding lines of admirers as he made his way out of the hall.

A few weeks later I met him again, this time at his congressional office in Washington, DC. On the wall of his office I spotted a plaque of Eugene Debs, who ran for Congress and the presidency on a socialist ticket, travelling to every part of the country on a train he called the Red Special and picking up 6 per cent of the popular vote in 1912, when he finished fourth, behind Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

Sanders had invited me to lunch and so we headed off through the underground passageway that leads from the office building to the congressional dining room. We were accompanied along the way by one of his assistants who, in true West Wing style, peppered him with questions and made notes on a clipboard as we walked. We had just started our food when John Kasich, then congressman for Ohio and now governor of the state and a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, wandered over for a chat. Despite Kasich’s reputation as a fiscal conservative, it was evident that he and Sanders had a cordial relationship, and indeed, Sanders invited him to join us for lunch.

It was difficult to reconcile these two contrasting snapshots of Sanders: the rousing air punch in Vermont and the bridge-building handshake in DC. But the more one looks into his career, the clearer it becomes that this dual approach is integral to his remarkable political ascent. Sanders plays it quite differently inside and out, but he plays both sides very hard.

“Bernie doesn’t see a contradiction between working within the system and campaigning to change it,” the journalist Matt Taibbi told me, recalling the time when he shadowed Sanders for several weeks in 2005 while researching a piece for Rolling Stone. “I remember one Thursday afternoon I made a snarky comment about members of the House already sneaking off home for a long weekend and how it seemed to me that many of them were pretty lazy. Bernie scolded me, insisting that most of the people in Congress work very conscientiously. He doesn’t believe the system functions for ordinary people, but he’s not cynical about it either.”

This point was reiterated by Heather Gautney, an associate professor of sociology at Fordham University in New York who previously worked as a researcher in Sanders’s Senate office. “Working with Bernie in DC, I realised what a difficult place it was for someone more interested in movement-building than passing legislation,” Gautney said. “But Bernie was known for getting substantial chunks of the Republican vote in Vermont and he used that same skill to connect with some pretty unlikely allies in Congress.”

Sanders’s legislative record is strikingly good. In the decade after the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 1995 no other lawmaker attached more amendments to bills that were voted on. He achieved this by using his position as an independent to put together coalitions that spanned both of the main parties, and also by sheer hard work. In his Rolling Stone article, Taibbi describes Sanders waiting patiently for hours to table an amendment in the office of the House rules committee, “a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on Earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish”.

Sanders’s method of working across party lines is not without its critics. Especially on the left, there are voices that wonder if the compromises that inevitably accompany playing the system in DC are too large. Many of Sanders’s positions on foreign policy have skewed towards the militarism and careless disregard for human rights that prevail among the Washington establishment. Although notably, and unlike Hillary Clinton, he opposed the initial vote on the Iraq War, Sanders voted for every bill that came before Congress to fund the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. He has supported basing the new F-35 fighter plane at Burlington Airport in Vermont, despite widespread concern from residents about the environmental impact. And he did not oppose the Senate resolution that supported Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2014, which left as many as 2,200 Palestinians dead.

Sanders is clearly happier talking about problems inside the US than foreign policy. In his opening statement to last Saturday’s televised debate between the Democratic candidates, he segued awkwardly from condemning the attacks in Paris to excoriating America’s “rigged economy”. Yet on domestic issues, too, some of his stands have given progressives pause for thought: his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade agreement championed by Barack Obama, has always been grounded in an argument in favour of saving jobs for American workers, rather than any notion of international solidarity. His slowness in expressing support for the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement, something which his campaign has latterly striven hard to correct, was less of a surprise to those aware of his consistent support for the police union while mayor of Burlington. And his position on guns (he voted against the Brady Bill, which mandated background checks on buyers of firearms) is the only area in which Clinton outflanks him to the left.

But perhaps the biggest issue for many progressives is Sanders’s decision to run for president through, rather than outside, the Democratic primary. Though he began his political career in the Liberty Union Party and has stood in every election since as an independent, he is, as Howard Dean, the progressives’ challenger in the Democratic primary of 2003/2004, put it, “basically . . . a Democrat . . . [who] votes with the Democrats 98 per cent of the time”.

As Sanders relates in Outsider in the House, faced in 1996 with the choice of backing Ralph Nader, “a personal friend and an exemplary progressive” running as an independent, or Bill Clinton, whose policies on health care, welfare reform, trade, gay marriage and military spending he sharply disagreed with, Sanders decided to “support” Clinton. “Perhaps ‘support’ is too strong a word,” he frets in the book. “I’m planning no press conferences to push his candidacy, and will do no campaigning for him. I will vote for him, and make that public.”

Sanders has called for a vote for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since Jimmy Carter left office in 1981, and early this month, on ABC’s This Week, he appeared to have completed a long transition, asserting: “I am a Democrat now.”

This failure to build an electoral force outside the Democrats always leads to a dead end, according to Anthony Arnove, a prominent member of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) who is also a publisher and literary agent representing a range of leftish writers, including Arundhati Roy. “We’ve seen it over and over,” Arnove said: “a left challenge fires up the base and is then defeated in the primaries by a centrist, or, more accurately, right-wing candidate, who goes on to betray everything those people were mobilised around.”

Sanders’s fundraising almost matched Clinton’s over the summer – in the third quarter they raised $26m and $28m, respectively – and in September he became the first candidate to attract more than a million individual donations. (The average donation to his campaign has been $30.) But his dip in the polls after Hillary’s strong performances in the first nationally televised primary debate, and then again at her House select committee hearing on the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, suggests he will struggle to win the nomination. As of early November he trailed Clinton nationally by 25 points.

In Arnove’s view, Sanders “won’t get further than Super Tuesday [at the beginning of March], when he’ll direct his base to vote for Clinton. This is exactly how the Democrats become a graveyard for progressive politics, when what we desperately need are social movements that can remain independent of both establishment parties and push for their own agenda.”


The revolution to which Sanders often refers is a long way from the sort envisaged by Arnove’s ISO. He is pursuing a fairer capitalism, not its overthrow. “He’s not Trotsky,” as Taibbi put it to me. But there are those inside his campaign who think its primary focus should be building a grass-roots organisation capable of transcending the four-yearly coming together of presidential elections, to create a more permanent basis for a broad, progressive movement.

One such advocate is Adolph Reed, a writer and academic who is campaigning for Sanders in South Carolina. Working with local unions and Labor for Bernie Sanders 2016, which has 70,000 signed-up members, Reed sees the potential in using Sanders’s programme, with its emphasis on basic economic demands such as the minimum wage, universal health care and free college tuition, as a way of drawing together various groups campaigning around single issues such as housing and police racism.

For Reed, who is black, class trumps race as the key to building a movement. “In New Orleans everyone talked about Katrina as having a devastating effect on black people in the city, which of course it did. But when you analyse it, class was a much better predictor of who suffered most there,” he told me. The centre of a class-based movement, Reed argues, will have to be provided by the trade unions. “Despite the fashionability of protests without any specific demands or elected leaderships, no movement initiative is going to have staying power without being anchored in the trade unions.”

Recruiting the unions to work alongside Sanders’s campaign in the way Reed envisages isn’t easy. The American Federation of Teachers and the machinists’ union have already thrown in their lot with Hillary Clinton. And Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO (America’s national federation of trade unions), has warned individual unions against coming out for Sanders. But Reed can point to significant declarations of support, from postal workers and the National Nurses Union. The AFL-CIO chapters in Vermont and, more surprisingly, South Carolina have also backed his run.

“It’s important to keep Bernie in the race for as long as possible, but the ultimate objective is to develop structures that can continue beyond the election,” Reed said. “It’s premature to say what this network will look like, but Bernie’s campaign provides an important boost to putting it in place.”


From Jesse Jackson to Dennis Kuci­nich to Howard Dean, an array of people’s champions has made a splash in the recent history of Democratic presidential primaries. None, however, has been as explicitly critical of capitalism (or so gruff about it) as Bernie Sanders. His no-nonsense, class-based politics are a measure of how the disenchantment with the ideology of a free market that arrived like a train in the 1980s and ran off the rails in 2008 is now finding its way into the mainstream.

Up until now, the critical moments of left advance in America – the Seattle WTO protests, the anti-war movement, Occupy Wall Street, the campaign for gay rights and, today, Black Lives Matter – have occurred outside electoral politics. There are a couple of good reasons for this. The US electoral system, like Britain’s, makes third-party challenges extraordinarily difficult. And inside the Democratic Party these movements would have been crushed by a conservative leadership around the Democratic National Committee, put in place by Bill Clinton.

One result is a paucity of new progressive voices inside the party. At a moment when, as Gramsci once put it, the old order no longer works but the new order has not yet been born, Sanders, with his New Deal politics and firebrand demeanour, seems not so much a successor to the old order as a throwback to a time that pre-dates it, when politicians spoke with conviction and the society they represented was less unfair. As such, he provides a staging post for a new progressive consciousness (according to a poll by Pew at the end of 2011, more Americans aged 18 to 29 would prefer to live under socialism than under capitalism) that is not yet sufficiently coherent to enter mainstream politics in its own right, either through a serious third-party challenge or the transformation of the Democratic Party.

As a middle-class white man, Sanders has been able to get a pass to promote bold positions that someone with a less privileged identity might have found hard to sell. And his age, paradoxically, has proved not to be a disadvantage with a youthful constituency dismayed by the surrender to expedience that disfigures so much of contemporary American politics. His record has been constant over such a long period that, again like Jeremy Corbyn, he can be relied on not to sell out. Though his politics are less radical, his venerability provides a messianic cloak from the same closet as the one worn by Noam Chomsky, another hero for many young progressives.

So it’s not just today’s professionally polished politicians to whom Sanders presents a stark contrast. Recent progressive movements have embraced an identity politics that was much less prevalent when Sanders started out back in 1970s Vermont. In order to forge the sorts of alliances that are necessary to mount a credible challenge on the national political stage, they will likely have to borrow extensively from his unifying class politics. But their leadership will be younger, blacker, less straight and less masculine than Sanders. In that sense, he represents the last hurrah for the old white guy.

Colin Robinson is co-publisher at OR Books (, based in New York

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The age of terror