Socialism in America: What Bernie Sanders’ Iowa Success Means for Canada and the World

Bernie Sanders Iowa Speech

As the news set in over Iowa yesterday, flashbacks of Monday night’s Democratic and Republican primaries were playing on loop on every TV screen in the state. The most amazing development, that made its way to every morning talk-show throughout the nation, is that Socialism and Social-Democratic ideals have taken center stage in a Democratic Primary for the first time since probably Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda.

As Noam Chomsky said last week, Bernie Sanders is far from being a Marxist-Leninst in any way, unfortunately for the red-baiting  Clintonites and Republicans who would love to mark him as such, but his showing in Iowa is nothing short of revolutionary and it says a lot about the current shift within American society. This is manifest in the exhilarating progression of Sanders’ claim on the Democratic nomination and the way he went about opening up an avenue to victory.

From the day Bernie Sanders launched his presidential bid, it seemed by current standards he was doomed to run within an unequal playing field without any of the perks of the American political system such as private financing and Super PACs. But Bernie’s unorthodox take on politics went well beyond just political financing when faced with and compared to the “Trump insurgency” in the Republican camp.

Bernie took a completely divergent path. For every outlandish xenophobic comment Donald Trump made, the Sanders camp refocused their message on the profound class divisions that divide America and it seemed to hit a nerve.

Despite what some of Clinton’s most vocal supporters have stated in the past few weeks, Bernie is in fact the anti-Trump movement. Anti because he succeeds where Trump fails in giving a voice to the preoccupations of the American working-class, precarious youth, impoverished racialized communities throughout the United States and large swathes of marginalized Americans.

This is evident when you compare Trump and Sanders’ speeches last night. Trump’s was all form, no content. Sanders’ was a vision to channel frustration, to build on the anger, to convert it into hope. Where Trump’s populism is merely an orgy of  self-fulling masturbatory rage, Bernie converts the righteous indignation of his supporters over a rigged system and a broken economy into the energy that has fueled his rise. Where Trump’s support evaporates, Bernie’s support solidifies.

The foundation of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon resides in the fact that he has quite skillfully crafted a new gravitational center within the Democratic Party with new political reference points and mobilized a different political rhetoric using the symbols that had resonated with American during the Occupy Movement.

Bernie Sanders, like his Spanish counterparts in Podemos, understands that with left-wing populism rooted in concepts and mottos like the 99% versus the 1% and the have-alls versus have-nots, properly framing a new paradigm is essential to hatching a viable anti-establishment movement.

Marx, in the 19th century, spoke of the revolutionary subject, a concept that would influence Marxist and critical theory for decades. For Marx, writing from the deepest bowels of the European Industrial Revolution, the revolutionary subject of his age, on which all of his theory revolves, was the nascent European working-class. One of the most amazing developments yesterday, beyond the fact that a self proclaimed democratic socialist got 49.6% of the vote in an Iowan democratic primary, is the proof that the conceptualization of a new revolutionary subject in North American advanced capitalism isn’t a far-fetched idea.

The coalitions that led SYRIZA to victory last year in Greece and Podemos to victory in Spain, the political coalition that brought Evo Morales to power and the Venezuelan social movement at the backbone of the Bolivarian revolution, although existing within very distinctive sociopolitical environments, have striking parallels. Youth, urban poor and precarious minimum wage workers were at the forefront of these diverse movements.

What pushed the SYRIZA, Podemos and Latin American movements to seize power was that they broadened their horizons and political constellations. That will be the Bernie Sanders phenomenon’s ultimate test. Can this movement pick-up stream in South Carolina among African-American voters? Among Latino voters in Nevada?

Bernie needs to break the Clinton hegemony in these groups and truly integrate questions of racial justice and speak to the issues that affect women and women of colour in particular. He must tackle the hypocritical idea that a candidate financed by America’s biggest financial institutions, those which maintain a corporate patriarchal system with obscene levels of pay inequality and back up the prison-industrial complex, is somehow more apt to speak on issues of gender and race inequality.

While the shockwaves Bernie sent right through the spine of the Democratic National Committee are marvelous for us left of center spectators, the real landmark accomplishment is that a whole generation of Iowa caucus goers identified a self-proclaimed socialist as their champion. For the political left in Canada, Bernie’s showing in Iowa and his campaign in general is a call for us to re-think our strategy.

A while back, after SYRIZA’s victory in Greece, the Tyee featured an article that begged the question: “Is a Canadian SYRIZA possible?” I don’t know if it is, or even if that’s what we should want, knowing what happened to them. A Bernie Sanders-type movement, however is possible in Canada.

The success of Bernie’s brand of nominal Socialism is reason for some on the Canadian left to reconsider their so-called third-way-ism, but beyond that Bernie’s tackling of Clinton can give us ideas on how to tackle the fluffy progressiveness of the Liberals. Also, his polarization of the political debate can teach us how redefine the political debate here in Canada, allowing the emergence of a true left-wing, right-wing divide.

We have a lot learn from Bernie’s emergence within the saturated American political spectrum.

A luta continua

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