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
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 8,900 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Trump Is a Symptom of a Sickness That Is Raging All Across The World
1 min · 7,068 views today · This is why we are here. And this is what we need to remember. 
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 4,942 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 3,804 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
What Is My Activism Really About? to Love, Serve and Remember
Tim Hjersted · 3,326 views today · I have made a promise to this world that I will carry with me to my last days. It is my vow to lessen the suffering of the world while I am here - it is to ensure that every...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,628 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 2,399 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 2,300 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 887 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 624 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 609 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...
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 601 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 504 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 496 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
The Greening of the Self: The Most Important Development of Modern Times
Joanna Macy · 407 views today · Something important is happening in our world that you are not going to read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time...
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 326 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 318 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 302 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
Watch How Europeans Carved Up African Land They Never Owned
56 min · 263 views today · Watch how Europeans gave away African land they never owned, then expressed anger when Africans resisted. The film is called Africa: A Voyage of Discovery, Episode 6: The...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 257 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
The 'Sanders Democrat' Is Paving the Way for the Radical Left