Duncan Cameron
Socialism: The most-searched term in 2015

| December 22, 2015
Image: Mike Licht/flickr

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Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist, astounding for a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Whatever the reasons, the socialist is highly popular with Democrats, giving Hillary Clinton a run for the 2016 nomination.

Sanders is hardly a typical party partisan. When Vermont elected the former mayor of Burlington to the U.S. Senate, Sanders sat as an independent socialist, not as a Democrat.

Sanders' support has grown strong despite weak media coverage. By most counts, he is more popular with Americans than the widely covered Republican aspirant to the same exalted position, Donald Trump, while running in a virtual media blackout. 

Even the Democratic National Committee seems determined to keep Sanders from connecting with the voting public, scheduling candidate TV debates for times when few Americans are available to watch them.

When Sanders set out his socialist creed in a speech at Georgetown University, it got little coverage in the U.S. Granted, it takes a few minutes to read; and U.S. editors do not assign political thought pieces to reporters.

Socialism is of interest in the United States, however. The U.S. Merriam-Webster Dictionary reports it to be the most-searched term of the year.

Sanders puts his democratic socialism in a familiar context: American political history, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Everything important done by FDR was called "socialism" by his opponents, Sanders pointed out, yet the achievements of the Democratic president provided the basis for middle-class prosperity in postwar America. Why not embrace socialism, he argues -- it works.

Sanders says he wants to transform the U.S., not just hold its highest office. The need for change is obvious given record American inequality: "the top one-tenth of one per cent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent," Sanders told his Georgetown audience.

The Democratic New Deal fashioned by FDR was undermined by Ronald Reagan (1981-89), and finished off by the New Democrat Bill Clinton (1993-2001), much as Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair completed the work done by Margaret Thatcher in dismantling the U.K. welfare state.

Support for Sanders comes from regular Americans, left out by a money-led political system Sanders describes as "not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt."

Similar concerns about corruption and the shortcomings of politics as usual has an echo in the strong performance of the young anti-austerity party Podemos (We Can) in the Spanish national election held December 20.

With unemployment well over 20 per cent, housing shortages, and failing health-care and education systems, 5.4 million Spanish electors turned away from the ruling People's Party (conservative) and the PSOE (socialist).

Podemos emerged with over 20 per cent of the vote. It is a parliamentary outgrowth of the widespread "Indignados" (indignation) movement that swept Spain in the wake of austerity brought in by the centre-left PSOE.

In a New York City speech, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias set out the national plan for a social Europe his party is fighting for, starting with debt relief, not balanced budgets.

Mainstream social democratic parties are in trouble in Europe. Syriza in Greece and now Podemos offer a more radical politics. They challenge bipartisan orthodoxies embraced by the centre-left, not just the centre-right.

Democratic socialism is at heart an economic doctrine based on a critique of capitalism. Politically it represents a desire to supplant the ruling capitalist class with a thorough-going democracy that reaches deep into the economy, transforming daily life, and giving regular people a bigger stake in society.

What Sanders and Podemos both represent is opposition to mainstream consensus about politics. Podemos is openly a political movement, not just an electoral machine, while Sanders has launched a frontal attack on the Clinton Democrat pact with the Wall St. crowd from within the Democratic party. Both Podemos and Sanders abhor the economic status quo where the rich win at the expense of everyone else.

It's a bold rejection of the dominant economic model that is failing America. Spain gives hope to disenchanted people, and it has begun to engage citizens.

As Iglesias announces, "hope is changing sides."

Duncan Cameron is the president of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image: Mike Licht/flickr

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