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Can Bernie Sanders Overcome His Movement's Greatest Weakness

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The often quoted words of Canadian Scholar, Roland Wright, have a much deeper meaning than the many who quote them realize. In “Short History of Progress, ” Wright quipped: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” This, of course, pointed to the widespread belief in “rags to riches” Horatio Alger stories, and the idea that the US free-market system creates endless opportunities to become wealthy, available to anyone if they work hard enough.

In 2020, as socialism is becoming more popular and as a self-described “Democratic Socialist” is the front-runner in the Democratic Party’s Presidential primary, these deep-seated beliefs among the population have not really changed. Socialism, to most Bernie Sanders’ supporters and millennials, simply means “the government providing more services” while capitalism still means “working hard to get ahead.” Socialism is becoming more popular because the American dream is in decline.

A generation of young people, facing lifelong assignments of short-term service sector jobs, crippled by student debt, gripped with depression and hopelessness, and heavily medicated, believe that asking the government for more social services is not unreasonable. Since the 1950s, the rhetoric of Neoliberalism has declared that programs like cash assistance, student financial assistance, minimum wage laws, workplace protections, food assistance, and other mechanisms for aiding the downtrodden are “socialism.” The Neoclassical economics taught in American universities proliferates this deception.

Americans who think they are knowledgeable about economics will recite about how in “real capitalism” the government steps aside, and free competition produces the optimal outcome. The postal service, the paved roads, and social security for the elderly are found to be contrary to the sacred American free market, and an example of “socialism.”

Due to the fact that the debate has been relentlessly framed in these distorted terms, “Socialism” has become more popular. Millennials feel as if the American dream is dead. The ideal suburban home has been foreclosed. The well-paying factory job has been replaced by a short-term, part-time gig at Starbucks. The dignity of adulthood has been stripped away, with millions of young people living at home, working under the burden of student debt. The younger generation is looking ahead to a declining standard of living and feeling that some form of economic relief must be provided. This generation says “Ok, fine! I guess we are socialists.”

A Different Socialism Throughout US History

But if one goes back to the days prior to the Cold War and McCarthyism, when Socialism was widespread and popular in the United States, it was not rooted in pessimism and a belief that the American dream was dead. On the contrary, the implementation of a centrally planned economy was said to be the ultimate fulfillment of the American dream.

Communist Party General Secretary, Earl Browder, who ran for President in 1936 and 1940, and presided over an organization of hundreds of thousands of people who were key in the Roosevelt Coalition, and helped coin his slogan: “Communism is 20th Century Americanism.”

William Z. Foster, the Communist Party Chairman who ran for President in 1932, composed a booklet entitled “Toward Soviet America” to describe his vision of a post-capitalist society. Foster’s text spoke of mobilizing the population relentlessly to increase social wealth, and praising Stalin’s five-year plans. The vision of the US Communist Party was one of transforming the USA into a high tech utopia of unlimited abundance by eliminating the........

© New Eastern Outlook