Who said Socialism is dead and gone? Bernie Sanders’ latest victory in Michigan has given critics something to stew over
Michigan was in the bag for Hillary Clinton, at least, it was supposed to be. Yet, despite the odds, Bernie Sanders took the state by 2.1 points. He may have won by a tiny margin, but it was a massive game-changing victory that upsets the current media narrative which has all but handed Clinton the arty nomination.
Sanders’ mention of the industrial Midwest is no accident. One of the reasons Sanders took Michigan is because of his stance on trade and his defence of unions. Clinton had tried to attack Sanders for not supporting the 2009 bailout of the auto industry, a decision that greatly affected those in Michigan, one of Americas last auto manufacturing states. Her attempts to turn the auto industry workers against Sanders failed. So the question arises: Is it really too late for Sanders? Recently, claims have been made that Sanders’ view on democratic socialism is more in line with what the people of America want … they just don’t realise it …
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, political commentators pronounced the death of socialism and the triumph of the United States. Amid the celebration, the ideological and military defeats in Southeast Asia less than two decades earlier were soon forgotten. Francis Fukuyama, one of the country’s most prominent political scientists, for example, wrote a nearly 500-page treatise that posited that the world had witnessed its politico-economic endpoint: liberal democratic capitalism. It proclaimed: ‘The United States triumphed. Democracy triumphed. Capitalism triumphed. The Soviet Union failed. Dictatorship failed. Socialism failed’. And yet, not all the pieces of the U.S. political puzzle fit together.
In the same year as the Soviet collapse, Bernie Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, first sauntered into Washington as a congressional representative from Vermont. Five years later, local citizens elected former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich, who, although he never voiced an affinity for socialism, recurrently challenged corporate capitalist excess.
Put simply, Sanders has promised to democratize access to our national resources.
Fast-forward to the 2016 presidential race and Fukuyama’s thesis appears remarkably premature.
On the surface, Sanders’ rise as a serious presidential candidate is indeed startling. For many U.S. citizens, the idea of socialism connotes authoritarian rule, queuing in lines, and the absence of individuality. In 2012, the Pew Research Centre found that six in ten citizens evidenced a negative reaction to the idea of socialism. More recently, in a 2015 Gallup poll, less than half of respondents (47 per cent) said they would vote for a socialist. To put that in perspective, Gallup respondents reported that they were more likely to vote for an atheist (58 per cent), a Muslim (60 per cent), and an evangelical Christian (73 per cent). Perhaps it’s the surface-level understanding of socialism that has provoked such a sharp response …
Instead of Soviet-style authoritarianism, what Sanders has in fact proposed are comparatively (by international standards) modest reforms that will equalise access to national resources and end the privileges that exist only for a finite number of individuals as a result of the chance of birth. The basic promise of Sanders is to democratise access to national resources. This includes hospitals and medical facilities, universities, the political system, and the economy. For Sanders, this is what true democracy entails — allowing all to participate and benefit regardless of location in the socio-economic hierarchy.
The most covert obstacles Sanders now faces are the politicised mental shortcuts that many have collectively assumed: Socialism equals dictatorship, socialism equals disincentive, socialism equals control. Let’s not forget that it was the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate, Eugene Debs, who was arrested in Canton, Ohio, in 1918 for delivering a speech against U.S. militarism and subsequently ran in the 1920 presidential election garnering nearly a million votes, from a federal prison cell.
Whatever the outcome, the durability of Sanders and his campaign is nothing short of historic. He has initiated a national rehabilitation of the idea of democratic socialism. In doing so, he has struck a national chord that will reverberate for decades to come.
Sanders’ fight for the position of Democratic nominee is still a massive uphill battle. But by winning one of the biggest primaries in the nation, when he was predicted to lose by such a large margin, signifies that the campaign is not dead in the water and that Sanders will continue to bring the fight to Clinton, perhaps in his more democratic socialist way.