American Left Has Socialist Moment Even as Socialism Struggles Abroad

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

Socialism is having its moment here in America, even as socialism abroad is collapsing in disarray.

“You don’t have to worry about the word ‘socialist,'” socialist/Democratic candidate for president Bernie Sanders tells the Des Moines Register. Judging by the size of the crowds coming to see him, many Americans agree with him. Sanders drew 7,500 people to an event in Maine Monday night. In famously liberal Madison, Wisconsin, the number was 10,000.

Recent polling also shows Sanders is gaining ground on Hillary Clinton. Though he still has a way to go with most elements of the Democratic party; Quinnipiac polling in Iowa shows he already leads Hillary among the party’s left wing. The surge of support for Sanders is substantial enough that Hillary’s camp is reportedly nervous about it.

Politico reported Monday that some Democrats are feeling a bit embarrassed to have an avowed socialist doing so well in their party. After spending the Obama years trying to distance themselves from that label, Sanders’s plea not to worry about the word must seem confusing to some.

Perhaps the most curious thing about the socialist surge at home is the fact that socialism abroad has been a disaster that has made the news frequently over the past couple years. France elected a socialist government and attempted to raise taxes to 70 percent. The tax increase was struck down by the French Supreme Court, and the country has enjoyed 0 percent annual growth two years in a row. President Francois Hollande hit a record low in polling last year at just 13 percent approval. That rebounded briefly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks but is now back down in the 15-20 percent range.

France is a booming capitalist paradise compared to Venezuela. Since the street violence that made news last year, the socialist country’s economy has continued to circle the drain. Inflation was the highest in the world at around 62 percent last year. This year, the government simply stopped publishing data but, based on the skyrocketing exchange rate, the current annualized rate of inflation is certainly in the triple digits and still climbing.

Food and basic necessities have become so scarce that most Venezuelans wait in line for hours just to see what is available. The government added fingerprint scanners at checkout stands to prevent shoppers from buying staples more than once a week. Air carriers have cut routes, and some U.S. businesses will only accept payment in scarce dollars, rather than their currency. And that’s not even mentioning the problem of out-of-control street violence and government repression that exists in Venezuela.

And then there’s Greece. The Greeks grew tired of austerity (aka paying its debt) and, earlier this year, elected a new government. Lest readers suspect I exaggerate, here is how the Independent newspaper described the ruling Syriza party:

The constituent parties making up the coalition are diverse: they include various shades of eurocommunists, Maoists, left social democrats, ecologists and Trotskyites. By far the largest constituent party was a democratic socialist group Synaspismós, which current Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras led. Most of the strands of the party are united by a philosophical commitment to Marxism.

Syriza’s time in power has been an unmitigated disaster. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has offended creditors like Germany and, not unlike Maduro in Venezuela, made a series of impossible promises about what his government could achieve, i.e. end austerity while sticking with the Euro. And the referendum he proposed and held on whether to accept the latest bailout offer was probably illegal. Despite this, Tsipras is being hailed by the leaders of leftist parties in Italy, Spain, and Portugal—all of whom are eager to ride the debt crisis to power in their respective countries. The Greeks also, to bring this full circle, received a message of support from socialist candidate for president Bernie Sanders.

As we’re seeing now in Venezuela, and Greece, and to a far lesser degree in France, it is possible to run out of other people’s money. That’s apparently a lesson which those showing up for Bernie Sanders’s rallies have yet to absorb.


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