Although he may not have been successful in becoming the Democratic candidate to go against Donald Trump, it appears that Bernie Sanders’ legacy is only just beginning to come into fruition. If there is one thing that we can credit Sanders with it is the introduction of the concept of ‘democratic socialism’ to the mainstream political discourse in the US despite already being a well-established ideology in many parts of Europe.
Since Trump’s election the Democratic Socialists of America, the nation’s largest socialist organisation, has tripled in size over the last year to claim more than 19,000 dues-paying members, a record for the DSA, which was founded in 1982.
So where has this surge come from? Well, David Duhalde, the deputy director of the Democratic Socialists of America’s national leadership suggests that “People really felt that they had to do something to combat the incoming Trump administration”. Duhalde describes the organisation as “not only somebody you can resist Trump with, we’re somebody you can build a better world with.”
As recent surveys have suggested, this surge in popularity can be at least partly attributed to changing attitudes towards socialism amongst young Americans. This can be seen as a consequence of the end of the Cold War in 1992 which ended the decade spanning institutional ideological conflict between Western capitalism and Eastern Communism. Unlike their parents, this generation has not grown up the same state sponsored anti-leftist rhetoric that framed any form of ‘socialism’ as inherently contradictory the values of Western culture.
It is important to note that the DSA forms only a small part of America’s growing ranks of activists. For example; The American Civil Liberties Union has attracted hundreds of thousands of new members after Trump’s victory and the fast-growing and liberal-centric “Indivisible” movement claims 4,500 associated groups compared with the 121 chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Despite this, socialism been this prevalent in American politics in several decades, and many leftists say they feel rejuvenated. New members of the Democratic Socialists of America say they want to build a grassroots movement engaged at the local level — and either pull the Democratic Party leftward or alternatively do away with it altogether.
The main philosophy of the DSA is to focus where the Clinton campaign failed so drastically which was at a grass roots level. This is shown by their emphasis on the importance of its local chapters over its national leadership.
Among many on the left, the DSA is considered a “big-tent” organisation. Decisions are made by topic-specific committees rather than via adherence to rigid ideology, which allows for a relatively wider range of opinion than other groups. The group also takes a more incremental approach to reining in free-market capitalism.
“As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people,” says the group’s website. “Our vision is of a society in which people have a real voice in the choices and relationships that affect the entirety of our lives.”
It’s yet to be seen what kind of impact the group might have. Socialism has never been a dominant force in American electoral politics. Previously, its most successful American leader was Eugene V. Debs, who won 6% of the presidential vote in 1912 running on the Socialist Party of America ticket.
Although they may be dismissed as left-wing fanatics by many of the more delusional members of the American right, some of the harshest criticisms come from those who accuse the organisation of not being radical enough.
According to Marc Wells, a Trotskyist from the World Socialist Web Site, “The farthest they can go is supporting elements such as Bernie Sanders,”. The site is published by the International Committee of the Fourth International, which, like other Marxist groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, advocate harder-line approaches than the DSA.
In Wells’ view, Sanders and “pseudo-left reformism” only perpetuates capitalism rather than leading to a necessary revolution, and the result is that “the working class is led back into the Democratic Party.” By contrast, Wells said, “We seek to prepare the working class to seize political power.”
This may be partly down to the fact that this new wave of socialism has developed almost independently from its more traditional predecessors. Many new members say they heard about the group via Twitter, where Democratic Socialists of America members and supporters often place red rose emojis next to their user handles as a digital badge. The group have received widespread publicity thanks to celebrity figures such as Rob Delaney, star of Catastrophe who regularly promotes the DSA to his 1.36 Million Twitter followers.
As Duhalde has stated, over half of these new members that have joined after the election are under 30, suggesting that it is likely we are only seeing the beginning of a movement that may come to shape the world as we know it in the not too distant future. Whilst Trump may have won the 2016 election, every action has a reaction and with his large baby boomer demographic slowly dwindling as well as his increasingly exposed incompetence, the future, for better or worse, may well be red.