The 'Sanders Democrat' Is Paving the Way for the Radical Left
The 'Sanders Democrat' Is Paving the Way for the Radical Left
By Bhaskar Sunkara / washingtonpost.com
Mar 27, 2016

In 2006, when I told people that I was a socialist, they looked at me like I was crazy. To be a socialist was to be on the margins of American political life, wedded to a lost cause that disappointed millions. It was the political equivalent of being a Milli Vanilli fan.

A lot has changed in a decade. The financial crisis made the hope of shared prosperity for all even more fleeting. Capitalism, it seemed, had little to offer for a new generation. After years of dormancy, social movements are once again visible and active. Whatever their respective shortcomings, movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and the student uprising in Wisconsin captured the imaginations of millions.

Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a democratic socialist, is perhaps the country’s most popular politician. In the lead-up to this year’s caucuses, 43 percent of Iowa Democrats said that they would use the word “socialist” to describe themselves. According to Pew polls, Americans between ages 18 and 29 have a more positive view of socialism than older generations.

Of course, socialists still have a long way to go. Many of the young people now trumpeting socialism aren’t clear about what they mean by the word. It’s safe to guess that they’re referring broadly to the tattered social protections that do exist in the United States or to the more robust Scandinavian welfare states that Sanders often speaks of. Worker ownership of the means of production is not on the agenda for Sanders socialists just yet, nor are other questions about democratic control and social rights, ones key to the traditional socialist worldview.

But increased interest in socialism generally does make it clear that discontent with decades of stagnating wages and the pain caused by the 2008 economic crisis are starting to take a political form. Foreclosures, unemployment, debt burdens — for millions of Sanders voters, these are no longer seen as individual problems or the result of personal mistakes. Instead, voters are responding to reassuring reminders that the difficulties they face are not their fault, and that they deserve more than they are getting. They look for collective solutions to social problems, rather than the “bootstrap” ones they’ve been sold for years.

Moreover, the rise of even a vague socialist sentiment calls upon the anger that many are feeling. Sanders not only suggests social-democratic policies that speak to economic and social insecurities, but he also rallies his supporters to a “political revolution” and names the forces and individuals that benefit from the way the country’s resources are currently distributed — big capitalists and their political allies, the people Sanders calls the “billionaire class.”

The polarization that Sanders offers, a vision of class warfare to achieve political victories, captures emotions that could otherwise swing in the direction of right-wing populism and the scapegoats it offers — immigrants, minorities and foreign countries. In many ways, the moral and political choice facing the next generation of American voters is one between Sanders and Donald Trump.

The role of socialism, then, is to offer an outlet and a direction for anger, to help in the struggle against those who would keep things as they are. Sanders’s socialism calls for a bold set of solutions that would expand the welfare state. The tenor of these plans couldn’t be more different from the tepid policy proposals — like Obamacare or cap-and-trade — that have flowed out of establishment liberalism for decades.

This all points to the emergence of a “Sanders Democrat,” a group that is disproportionately young and calling for massive redistributions of wealth and power. Even if Sanders fades in the coming months, this group is poised to continue a long struggle inside and outside the Democratic Party. It’s bad news for current Democratic leaders, but it’s good news for those on the radical left who have been struggling in isolation, with little social base for their politics, for decades.

The Sanders Democrat might not be ready to storm the barricades with us yet, but this is a sound starting point that would been inconceivable 10 years ago. After all, if we can’t win a majority for social-democratic politics in this country, we have no chance of winning a majority for anything more radical than that.

Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine

3.8 ·
1
Trending Today
7 Signs of Tyranny
2 min · 11,500 views today · Consider yourself warned.
Bertrand Russell & Buckminster Fuller on Why We Should Work Less, and Live & Learn More
Josh Jones · 7,667 views today · Why must we all work long hours to earn the right to live? Why must only the wealthy have a access to leisure, aesthetic pleasure, self-actualization…? Everyone seems to have...
How Independent is Hollywood?
4 min · 4,503 views today · A huge number of big-budget Hollywood films, especially those featuring war, conflict or terrorism, are influenced by Hollywood's close relationship with the United States...
4.1 Miles
21 min · 2,632 views today · Kyriakos Papadopoulos is a 41-year old local captain of the Greek Coast Guard. He has two wonderful young daughters Vivi and Melissa, and before the refugee crisis exploded in...
How Comedy Can Disarm Bullies
3 min · 2,429 views today · As long as you're funny, it can get you out of almost anything - even getting mugged, as co-founder of Between Two Ferns Scott Aukerman recounts. Unfortunately, not everyone...
Why Would Any of Us Want to Live like a Savage?
Juan Pablo Quinonez · 2,115 views today · Let’s not be romantic. Industrial civilization is no utopia. For every creature comfort we have, something or someone pays the price. The wilderness is no fairy tale either...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 1,834 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Globalization Makes No Sense
Chris Agnos · 1,227 views today · When I lived in San Francisco, I often would marvel at the movement of goods through the ports across the bay in Oakland. Full container ships would enter the bay one after...
What It Takes to Change Hearts and Minds
Colin Beavan · 1,209 views today · To get someone’s support, you need more than just facts.
Immigrants For Sale (2015)
33 min · 994 views today · The detention of migrants has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which immigrants are sold to the highest bidder and traded like mere products. The Corrections...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 948 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 891 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Mark Greene · 879 views today · Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
Proof of Evolution That You Can Find on Your Body
4 min · 772 views today · Vestigial structures are evolution's leftovers — body parts that, through inheritance, have outlived the context in which they arose. Some of the most delightful reminders of...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 766 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
The Trump Report - The Real Fake News About The Dakota Access Pipeline
2 min · 631 views today · President Trump is sick of the lying fake news media, so he's doing the news himself. Today on The Trump Report: Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline (great...
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 528 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 525 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Where the Term "Redneck" Came From
15 min · 461 views today · If you don't know this story, you'll never look at the word the same again.  This is just a window into the sometimes shocking, subversive and untold history of the United...
Without Saying a Word This 6 Minute Clip From Samsara Will Make You Speechless
6 min · 390 views today · Can you put this video into words? It's a clip from the phenomenal documentary Samsara, directed by Ron Fricke, who also made Baraka.  If you're interested in watching...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
The 'Sanders Democrat' Is Paving the Way for the Radical Left