While New Zealand limps towards a 'business as usual' general election with the leaders of the two main political parties offering little more than a so-called choice of centrist and market driven policies, in the United States the American left is gaining ground and popularity.
THIS MONTH the Democratic Socialists of America held their biannual convention in Chicago. During the convention, attended by over 2,000 activists, it was announced that the DSA now has over 25,000 full subscribed members. This is a new peak for the party and it makes it the largest socialist organisation in the United States since World War Two. The myth that socialist ideas could never take root in the United States has well and truly been put to rest.
One of those 25,000 members was Heather Heyer, killed by a terrorist while she protested neo-Nazism and white supremacy in Charlottesville.
Before Donald Trump's presidential victory in November, the DSA had a membership of reportedly some 7,000. While the DSA has witnessed a remarkable upsurge in support, it is part of a general political trend in the United States. Many other socialist organisations are reporting substantial increases in their memberships as well.
While some of this upsurge in support can be explained as a reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump it is not the complete answer. Bernie Sanders overwhelmingly popular bid for the Democratic nomination for the presidency has done much to popularise the socialist cause.
The DSA itself recognises this, saying that Sanders has '“exposed countless young people to the idea of democratic socialism for the first time.”
Polling done earlier this year by the American Culture & Faith Institute found that 37 percent of American adults now say they prefer socialism to capitalism. Among millennials, the divide is even more significant. A Harvard University survey taken last year found that 51 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 no longer say they support capitalism.
Last week Winnie Wong, who spearheaded Bernie Sanders' social networking strategy for the presidential primaries, was the international guest speaker at the opening of the 2017 Socialism Forum, held by the Portuguese left wing party Left Bloc.
In her speech, she highlighted the political change brought about by the Sanders campaign, particularly among youth. She observed that according to recent opinion polls, a large number of under-25s "identify themselves as socialists, even if they do not know what that means."
Said Wong; "It was a historic campaign that made Bernie Sanders known all over the world. We succeeded in mobilising Americans and making them talk about socialism.'
|Winnie Wong: Americans are talking about socialism.|
She also condemned the Democratic Party establishment - "the corrupt apparatus" -that deliberately set out to sabotage the Sanders campaign during the primaries and prevent him getting the presidential nomination. By favouring the conservative and unpopular Hillary Clinton they had helped to get Trump elected.
But Bernie Sanders and his supporters are fighting back and his new organisation, Our Revolution , is working hard to get its candidates elected at the local level. Since it was established in August last year, Our Revolution has succeeded in getting 75 of its candidates elected to local councils.
Our Revolution won’t endorse any 2018 midterm congressional candidates until next year, but Brand New Congress, an organization founded by former Sanders staffers, is supporting several candidates looking to unseat corporate Democratic incumbents in Congress who have abandoned their voters.
The Bernie Sanders campaign has generated a groundswell of support for fundamental change in America - a nationwide movement that has rejected the politics and ideology still being pursued by both Labour and National in New Zealand. With the conservative Jacinda Ardern being falsely represented as a force for change, we have a long way to go before we can even begin to contemplate the kind of progressive political developments occurring in America taking root here as well.