Advertisement

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

  • Jonah Birch
Chapter

Abstract

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.

Bibliography

  1. Archer R (2007) Labour politics in the new world: Werner Sombart and the United States. J Ind Relat 49(4):459–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Archer R (2010) Why is there no labor party in the United States? Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arndt C (2014) The electoral consequences of third way welfare state reforms: social democracy's transformation and its political costs. Amsterdam University Press, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  4. Bacon P (2016) Huge split between older and younger blacks in the democratic primary. NBCNewscom. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/huge-split-between-older-younger-blacks-democratic-primary-n580996. Accessed 28 May 2016
  5. Bartels LM (2008) Unequal democracy: the political economy of the new gilded age. Russell Sage Foundation, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Beinart P (2015) Why America is moving left. The Atlantic Monthly. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/why-america-is-moving-left/419112/. Accessed 22 Dec 2015.
  7. Betz H-G (2015) The revenge of the ploucs: the revival of radical populism under marine Le pen in France. In: Kriesi H, Pappas T (eds) European populism in the shadow of the great recession. ECPR Press, Colchester, pp 75–89Google Scholar
  8. Brenner A, Brenner R, Winslow C (2010) Rebel rank and file: labor militancy and revolt from below during the long 1970s. Verso, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Burnham WD, Rogers J (1984) The appearance and disappearance of the American voter. In: Ferguson T (ed) The political economy: readings in the politics and economics of American public policy. M. E. Sharpe, Armonk, pp 112–139Google Scholar
  10. Chaddock GR. (2009) Healthcare reform: Obama cut private deals with likely foes. The Christian Science Monitor https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2009/1106/healthcare-reform-obama-cut-private-deals-with-likely-foes. Accessed 6 Nov 2009
  11. Charney A (1995) Present progressive. Democratic Left, March 1995Google Scholar
  12. Cohn J How they did it. The New Republic. https://newrepublic.com/article/75077/how-they-did-it. Accessed 21 May 2010.
  13. Davis M (1980a) The barren marriage of American labour and the democratic party. New Left Rev 124:43–84Google Scholar
  14. Davis M (1980b) Why the US working class is different. New Left Rev 123:3–44Google Scholar
  15. Davis M (1986a) Prisoners of the American dream: politics and economy in the history of the US working class. Verso, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Davis M (1986b) The lesser evil? The left and the democratic party. New Left Rev 155:5–36Google Scholar
  17. Davis M (2017) The great God Trump and the white working class. Catalyst: J Theory Strateg 1(1)Google Scholar
  18. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) (2018) What is democratic socialism? https://www.dsausa.org/about-us/what-is-democratic-socialism/. Accessed 21 Nov 2018
  19. Dirnbach E (2018) US workers are striking again. Jacobin. https://jacobinmag.com/2018/09/strikes-work-stoppages-united-states-bls. Accessed 8 Sept 2018.
  20. Easley J (2017) Poll: Bernie Sanders Country's most popular active politician. The Hill. https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/329404-poll-bernie-sanders-countrys-most-popular-active-politician. Accessed 9 June 2017.
  21. Eidlin B (2018) Labor and the class idea in the United States and Canada. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fertik T (2016) The new political arithmetic. New Labor Forum 25(3):42–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Foner E (1984) Why is there no socialism in the United States? Hist Work J 17(1):57–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gaffney A, Woolhandler S, Angell M, Himmelstein DU (2016) Moving forward from the affordable care act to a single-payer system. Am J Public Health 106(6):987–988CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gilens M (2005) Inequality and democratic responsiveness. Public Opin Q 69(5):778–796CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gordon C (2017) A brief history of American health reform. Jacobin. https://jacobinmag.com/2017/07/trumpcare-obamacare-us-health-care. Accessed 25 July 2017.
  27. Hacker JS (2004) Privatizing risk without privatizing the welfare state: the hidden politics of social policy retrenchment in the United States. Am Polit Sci Rev 98(02):243–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hacker JS (2005) Bringing the welfare state back. In: the promise (and perils) of the new social welfare history. J Policy History 17(1):125–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Heideman P (2016) It’s their party. Jacobin, 2016Google Scholar
  30. Heideman P (2017) The rise and fall of the socialist Party of America. Jacobin. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/02/rise-and-fall-socialist-party-of-america/. Accessed 20 Feb 2017.
  31. Jones JM (2018) Obama’s first retrospective job approval rating is 63%. Gallup.com. https://news.gallup.com/poll/226994/obama-first-retrospective-job-approval-rating.aspx. Accessed 15 Feb 2018.
  32. Karp M (2016) Fairfax County, USA. Jacobin. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/clinton-election-polls-white-workers-firewall. Accessed 28 Nov 2016.
  33. Katznelson I (1978) Considerations on social democracy in the United States. Comp Polit 11(1):77–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Katznelson I (1980) Accounts of the welfare state and the new mood. Am Econ Rev 70(2):117–122Google Scholar
  35. Kelley RDG (1990) Hammer and hoe: Alabama communists during the great depression. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel HillGoogle Scholar
  36. Kitschelt H (1999) European social democracy between political economy and electoral competition. In: Lange P, Marks G, Stephens JD (eds) Continuity and change in contemporary capitalism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 317–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Klehr HE (1984) The heyday of American communism: the depression decade. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  38. Kroeger T, Gould E (2017) The class of 2017. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/the-class-of-2017/. Accessed 4 May 2017.
  39. Lichtenstein N (1997) Walter Reuther: the most dangerous man in Detroit. University of Illinois Press, UrbanaGoogle Scholar
  40. Lipset SM, Marks GW (2001) It didn't happen here: why socialism failed in the United States. W.W. Norton & Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  41. Meyerson H (2018) The return of American socialism. The American Prospect. https://prospect.org/article/return-american-socialism. Accessed 11 Oct 2018.
  42. Mishel LR, Bivens J, Gould E, Shierholz H (2012) The state of working America. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  43. Moody K (1988) An injury to all: the decline of American unionism. Verso, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  44. Nachtwey O, Spier T (2007) Political opportunity structures and the success of the German left party in 2005. Debatte: J Contemp Central East Eur 15(2):123–154Google Scholar
  45. Naison MD (2005) Communists in Harlem during the depression. University of Illinois Press, UrbanaGoogle Scholar
  46. Newport F (2018a) Democrats more positive about socialism than capitalism. Gallup.com. https://news.gallup.com/poll/240725/democrats-positive-socialism-capitalism.aspx. Accessed 13 Aug 2018.
  47. Newport F (2018b) The meaning of ‘socialism’ to Americans today. Gallupcom. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/243362/meaning-socialism-americans-today.aspx. Accessed 4 Oct 2018.
  48. Pauly M (2018) Europe’s social democrats are having a hard time. EUobserver. https://euobserver.com/political/140635. Accessed 22 Jan 2018.
  49. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2018) The generation gap in American politics. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. http://www.people-press.org/2018/03/01/the-generation-gap-in-american-politics/. Accessed 1 March 2018.
  50. Pfaller A (2009) European social democracy—in need of renewal. International Policy Analysis, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  51. Post C (2018) What strategy for the US left? Jacobin. https://jacobinmag.com/2018/02/socialist-organization-strategy-electoral-politics. Accessed 23 Feb 2018.
  52. Robin C (2018) The new socialists: why the pitch from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders Resonates in 2018. New York Times, August 26, 2018Google Scholar
  53. Roundtable (2017) Assessing Obama, Jacobin. http://www.jacobinmag.com/series/assessing-obama. Accessed 20 Jan 2017
  54. Schlozman KL, Verba S, Brady HE (2013) The Unheavenly chorus: unequal political voice and the broken promise of American democracy. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  55. Schmitt J, Gould E, Bivens J (2018) America’s slow-motion wage crisis: four decades of slow and unequal growth. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/americas-slow-motion-wage-crisis-four-decades-of-slow-and-unequal-growth-2/. Accessed 13 Sept 2018.
  56. Singer D (1997) Requiem for social democracy. Monthly Review, January 1997CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Skocpol T (1992) Protecting soldiers and mothers: the political origins of social policy in the United States. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  58. Snegovaya M (2018) When left-leaning parties support austerity, their voters start to embrace the far right. Washington Post, November 20, 2018Google Scholar
  59. Sombart W, Husbands CT (1976) Why is there no socialism in the United States? Macmillan Publishers, Translated by PM HockingCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stepan-Norris J, Zeitlin M (2003) Left out: reds and America's industrial unions. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  61. Streeck W (2016) Social democracy’s last rounds. Jacobin. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/02/wolfgang-streeck-europe-eurozone-austerity-neoliberalism-social-democracy/. Accessed 25 Feb 2016.
  62. Taylor K (2018) Western Europe’s center-left parties continue to lose ground. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/09/12/swedish-election-highlights-decline-of-center-left-parties-across-western-europe/. Accessed 12 Sept 2018.
  63. Uetricht M (2017) The world turned upside down: ‘our revolution,’ trump triumphant, and the remaking of the democratic party. New Labor Forum 26(2):20–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Uhrmacher K, Schaul K, Keating D (2016) These former Obama strongholds sealed the election for trump. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/2016-election/obama-trump-counties/. Accessed 9 Nov 2016.
  65. Upchurch M, Taylor G, Mathers A (2009) The crisis of ‘social democratic’ unionism. Labor Stud J 34(4):519–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Waitzkin H (2010) Selling the Obama plan: mistakes, misunderstandings, and other misdemeanors. Am J Public Health 100(3):398–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Weinstein J (1984) The decline of socialism in America, 1912–1925. Rutgers University Press, New BrunswickGoogle Scholar
  68. Wilson V, Rodgers W (2016) Black-white wage gaps expand with rising wage inequality. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/black-white-wage-gaps-expand-with-rising-wage-inequality/. Accessed 20 Sept 2016.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations