We talk about socialism in America: where it comes from, what it means, why it's so associated with Bernie Sanders and whether it can actually reach the White House. What's the difference between democratic socialism and social democracy? How would the workers gain control of businesses like Facebook and Amazon? Who are the workers these days anyway? Plus, we ask what a Sanders vs Trump contest would actually be like. With Adom Getachew, from the University of Chicago, and Gary Gerstle.
In the U.S. context, is there a meaningful difference between democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders and social democrats like Elizabeth Warren?
Warren is more focused on politics: reforming the Senate, imposing taxes on corporations, etc.Sanders sees socialism as a revolution, but his actual aims are fairly modest: strengthen labor, etc.Warren wants to break up Amazon; Sanders wants to empower the workers to take on Amazon themselves.One key difference is that Sanders comes out of a grass-roots, movement-type politics. Warren does not, and she’s explicitly denied a commitment to socialism.
Can you have socialism without a labor movement? What takes its place?
In 1935, 35% of American workers belonged to a union. Today it’s only 11%.There have been a number of strikes during the Trump presidency, such as the teachers strike.We need to reimagine who the working class. It’s not the industrial working class anymore. It’s the service sector, and these are historically unorganized labor forces.Today it’s the precariat, not the proletariat.How does a labor movement speak to a radically altered working population?
For many young people, the Occupy movement was a moment of political awakening.
The establishment seemed unable to deal with the crisis, and this opened up a new sense of political possibility.For many young Americans, who have grown up in the absence of a real Left, Sanders represents an authentic commitment to a different kind of politics.There may be some problems for Sanders. For example, his reluctance to support reparations opened him up to criticism about a blindness to racial justice.A socialist in the U.S. has never become a major party nominee. The historical role of socialism in the U.S. has been disruptive, pressuring centrist candidates to move left. Can Sanders break that mold?The American political project is designed to be slow. To have big change, you need a mass movement outside of politics too.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Adom’s new book, Worldmaking after EmpireIsaac Chotiner interviews the editor of the Jacobin on American socialism
Alissa Quart on the “precariat”More on the history of American socialismThe Talking Politics Guide to… the U.S. ConstitutionGreen New Deal?
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: