By Paul Buhle
A recent sneering op-ed in the New York Post was titled, “Suck it, Bernie Bros—the socialist dream is dead.” But is that dream really over? Today, as the unfolding COVID-19 crisis finds the economy in a tailspin, has the hope brought to millions by Sanders, the “Squad” of newly elected Congressional progressives, and a large peaceful army of organizers truly ended?
"Bigger Than Bernie" by Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht
A new book offers a reassuring message. Bigger than Bernie, written by Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht, a staff writer and editor, respectively, at Jacobin magazine, both active members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), reminds this reviewer, in form and content, of the old pre-1920 socialist popularizations: confident, good-humored, and easy to read. It shows that, minus the theoretical or dogmatic terminology and the projections of better societies somewhere else in the world, socialism looks suspiciously familiar. Maybe even American.
The authors rehearse a history that’s well-known to many readers: the socialist movement’s recent return from obscurity, Sanders’s long journey toward his political apex, and the hopes now raised by today’s activists.
Bigger than Bernie highlights how successful local socialist activity has been in recent years, most notably within the electoral realm where socialists have long done poorly.
Since 1980, hundreds of Socialists have run for office (either as Democrats, or in nonpartisan elections) and have actually been elected, most famously in Chicago where they hold six seats on the city council.
Fellow members of Democratic Socialists of America in the Bay Area have a similar tale, but with a sharper edge. Here a socialist-like Teamster activist Jovanka Beckles, a queer black Latina immigrant, made a compelling pitch to working class voters in running for the California state assembly in 2018. Though losing narrowly, she racked up 90,000 votes. It was something to build from.
And build they did. The infrastructure created in this campaign allowed the East Bay DSA to play the key support role in the Oakland teachers strike a few months later.
Bigger than Bernie radiates optimism, from chapter to chapter, because of the sense that American capitalism has overstepped its capacities, outraging the young in particular, who seek a path to a better future.
Another recent volume on American socialism, We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Style, is at once more ambitious and more distant.
"We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Style" edited by Kate Aronoff, Peter Dreier, and Michael Kazin
A collection of essays edited by Kate Aronoff, Peter Dreier, and Michael Kazin, the book has been described by leading DSAers as the perfect compromise between “social democracy” and “democratic socialism,” lying somewhere between Hillary Clinton’s more or less neoliberal views and Sanders’s vision of a different kind of society.
These outlooks are not so easily reconcilable, from foreign policy (sometimes hawks versus determined doves) to health care (Obamacare versus Medicare for All). But read carefully. All the writers in this volume, on issue after issue—corporate responsibility, immigration, race, families, urban life, and others—make thought-provoking arguments.
Perhaps the great value of We Own the Future may be its outlining of the current debate within the Democratic Party: How far does Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy need to move leftward to encompass the vision of Sanders and his supporters?
In Bigger Than Bernie, the authors stress the importance of rebuilding the labor movement. “Without a strong, organized working class that can challenge capital at the point of production in the private sector, and challenge government-imposed austerity at all levels in the public sector,” the authors write, “we will continue to encounter serious roadblocks to progress.”
Sanders’s campaigns in 2016 and 2020, the authors say, “put class politics back on the map at an electoral level, but also helped stir organizing and militancy at workplaces throughout the country.” People were reminded “what they could demand and had the power to demand,” from schools to transportation.
Perhaps it is too bold to say so, but Bernie Sanders shifted the ground under which we do our political work.
BOOK REVIEW DISPATCHES SOCIALISM BERNIE SANDERS
Reposted from the Progressive.
Paul Buhle, a retired labor historian, produces radical comics and is author and editor of four books on Madison, Wisconsin history.
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