The Rise of Socialism in the United States: American “Exceptionalism” and the Left After 2016

  • Jonah Birch


This chapter traces the rise of a new socialist movement in the United States, which crystallized in the aftermath of Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign. The origins of this phenomenon lay in the disappointed hopes of the Obama presidency, following the disastrous Iraq War and the 2008 economic crisis. Subsequently, growing concerns over declining economic opportunities, rising inequality, and the effects of exploding student debt drove support for Sanders’ unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination in 2016 under the banner of "democratic socialism." Since then, the emergence of this new movement has been embodied in the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which now has over 50,000 members. DSA’s emergence marks the first time American socialism had such broad organizational support since the heyday of the Communist Party during the 1930's. This development, I argue, reflects a historical irony that the traditional weakness of American socialism has now become an advantage. In recent years, the absence of an electorally viable socialist or social-democratic party has also meant that, unlike in Europe, the US left bore none of the stigma for austerity, inequality growth, and chronic economic instability. As a result, socialism is now seen by many younger Americans as a new and progressive force. I conclude by arguing that in order to build on this momentum, the new movement must resolve a variety of challenging political and organizational questions.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonah Birch
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyAppalachian State UniversityBooneUSA

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