Actually, the US followers of Bernie Sanders are calling themselves “Berniecrats” — at least, those who are answering Bernie’s call to “transform” the Democratic Party are doing that, mostly to signal that they are NOT the neoliberal Democrats of the Establishment. This means they do support single payer, European-style healthcare, a livable weage, free college tuition, and so on.
The “movement” supporters however are tending to call themselves “Democratic Socialists” rather than “Social Democrats.” The differences on policy may be more in terms of style than of substance, philosophy rather than policy. Nonetheless, the differences are significant and important to point out:
Americans are embracing the term “Socialist”
In post-war Europe, while the US and the West faced a threat from the USSR, I think there was a real need to avoid using the term “socialist.” Rather, the term “social” was preferred, and “Social Democrat” was a way to convey the idea that the economic policies outlined in FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights (1944) would be respected, but the politicians would not go so far as to promote “socialism” — which the US considered synonymous with Communism.
And so “Social Democracy” became the Estrablished norm in Western European politics. But within that Social Democratic framework lay the seeds of Neoliberalism. NATO and pressure by the US to join in military adventurism, expand their opwn military industrial complexes, meant that the Social Democracies of Western Europe were pulled into the hyper-cvapitalist, Neoliberal orbit of the USA. Thatcher came along as Reagan’s soulmate, privatised ewverything, and even harboured designs on privatising the NHS — the “third rail” or “sacred cow” (choose your metaphor) of UK politics. We see it today, with successive PM’s from Blair on down toe-ing the Neoliberal line, chipping away, bit by bit, at the socialist institutions that still remain. And until Jeremy Corbyn came along, “socialism” was a naughty word in the UK.
Likewise, in other Western Democracies, governments were quick to join the Capitalist gold-rush following the collapse of the USSR. The Cold War was over, and it seemed Capitalism had won. The EU became ever more Neoliberal in its institutions and its economic policies. Socialism faded.
Bernie, however, proudly describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist”, and Socialism has simply rocketed in terms of popularity in the US — especially among Millennials, who now prefer Socialism to Capitalism.
This seems hard to believe, I know. But it makes sense when you think of it. There is no question, from a purely poli-sci point of view, that much of what FDR did in the New Deal was socialist. It’s just that no one wanted to call it Socialism becauser of that big bad USSR thing. But the Soviet Union has been gone for 30 years now, and the new generation, who did not grow up with “duck and cover” drills and incessant “red-baiting” by the GOP, have a different view. They grew up under neoliberalism, where Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama rolled back all the “socialist” programs and attitudes that had been fostered by the New Deal.
The result is that, for America’s young people, Socialism is something new, something different. It’s a fresh approach, it’s hope for the future, it is a promise that things can be different. It is not a failed system, not something that was tried and discarded, but rather an alternative to what they have experienced, and one that dovetails perfectly with the other “liberal” issues of sustainability, social justice, global awareness, etc.
Socialism is expanding globally
As Socialism gains traction in the US, we will see more cooperation between Democratic Socialists in the US and in Europe. The success of Corbyn and the Labour Party in the UK was feverishly followed and commented upon in the US, as was the election in France, where Melanchon was viewed favourably while Macron was rightly criticised as a Neoliberal who was ideologically closer to Hillary Clinton than to Bernie Sanders. As a long-time observer, I must say that this was the first time that the American media and the public actually had a clue about French politics. And the rghetoric of Sandewrs and Corbyn are extremely similar. Bernie rails against the “one percent” and the “billionaire donor class” while Corbyn campaigns “For the Many, Not the Few.” Remarkably similar.
Indeed, the trip that Bernie Sanders made to the UK in the days prior to the election seems to have fired him up with renewed vigour and a refreshingly combative attitude towards the Establishment. His criticisms of the Democratic Party have become more harsh, more blunt, and more unforgiving than ever before. He is literally going around the country saying that the Democratic Party is a “total failure.”
Meanwhile, a plethora of Socialist organisations are growing up all over America like mushrooms after a spring rain. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is gaining members everywhere, as are Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress. What unites all these organisations, however, is a platform and a set of policies that can only be described as “Socialist.”
I foresee a joining of Socialist forces, driven by the young people in both the US and Europe, and supported by ageing boomers like myself who still remember a time prior to Reagan-Thatcher and the rise of Neoliberalism. I am cautiously optimistic that the great pendulum that I saw swing Right in 1980 may finally, inexorably, be swinging back.