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Bernie ascendant: Socialism gains momentum in U.S. politics

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Last night saw the once presumed establishment Democratic Party Presidential nominee Hilary Clinton squeak out, apparently, the narrowest of wins over self-described democratic socialist upstart Bernie Sanders. While Iowa Democratic officials, as of the time of this posting, have not as yet declared officially who won, Clinton has crowned herself the victor. Either way, Iowa is not a "winner take all state" so both Sanders and Clinton will emerge with a basically equal number of delegates.

But this victory, even if confirmed,  may yet prove to be a Pyrrhic one.

As Sanders himself put it:

"Nine months ago, we came to this beautiful state, we had no political organization, we had no money, we had no name recognition and we were taking on the most powerful political organization in the United States of America."

Despite the many obstacles and the alleged aversion of Americans to socialism, Sanders' momentum has been steadily building to the point where he is no longer a fringe voice simply trying to put some ideas out there, but is actually a serious contender.

The importance of this in efforts to revive a socialist and anti-capitalist electoral movement in both the United States and Canada cannot be overstated.

Many have pointed to the obvious limitations of Sanders -- from his vague and not terribly progressive foreign policy ideas to the fact that his "socialism" often seems to be really a very aggressive form of reformism or statist New Deal-style liberalism -- though these quibbles would often seem to miss the point.

The significance of Bernie Sanders lies not in the minutiae of his socialism or its purity, but in the fact that today one can read an opinion piece on the CNN website that states:

A few months ago, the notion that a democratic socialist could seriously challenge a front-runner who has been preparing to win in the Iowa caucuses since 2008 would have seemed ludicrous. But that is no longer the case.

Sanders has made the ludicrous and unthinkable thinkable. He has put the idea of socialism, however vaguely conceived or constructed, as a possible electoral reality and alternative back into the discourse in the United States in a way it has not been in decades.

Whatever the flaws of Sanders, this represents a huge reversal of fortune and victory for the idea that there can even be a socialist idea in America. This is a remarkable accomplishment totally unforeseen even a few months ago.

He has also shown that there is a very real, palpable thirst out there for genuine alternatives to the neoliberal austerity consensus of the last 30 years that has delivered a society of staggering inequality and runaway corporate power, as well as to "Third Way" notions of "progressiveism" that essentially accept this "reality" while hoping presumably  to tinker with its worst excesses.

In the United Kingdom with Jeremy Corbyn we also saw this pushback against the Blairite clones who had led the U.K.'s Labour Party for a generation and had alienated it from those who it had always been meant to represent, regardless of whether that would result in nominal electoral successes that really changed little for the vast majority of people.

Yet in Canada the once social democratic NDP under Tom Mulcair has seen this tired Blair vision of capitulation to right wing narratives that flowed out of the 1990s become firmly entrenched as its ideology and vision of governance.

With Bernie ascendant in the U.S. and inspiring huge crowds and packed to capacity rallies to a fever-pitch of excitement at the notion that possibly an economy and government that is entirely beholden to corporations and the wealthy is not inevitable, and with a Labour Party returning to its roots and seeing a stunning growth in its membership and in the enthusiasm of its base, maybe it is time for those on the electoral left in Canada to stop simply applauding these developments abroad and to do something -- whether inside or outside the NDP -- to make them happen at home.

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