In the devastating aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, many young Americans who felt betrayed by capitalism were introduced to socialism by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns. Meagan Day, a staff writer for the popular left-wing magazine Jacobin and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), serves as an example of how the Vermont senator radicalized a generation with a platform that called for policies like Medicare for All and tuition-free college. Day credits Sanders with her decision to choose socialism when she felt the time came to “pick a side” in American politics and has since been working to understand how the socialist resurgence the Democratic candidate inspired can grow without him in the White House.
That’s largely why, along with Micah Uetricht, the 31-year-old journalist chose to write “Bigger than Bernie: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism,” a book she discusses with host Robert Scheer on the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.”
“Micah and I decided to write this book because we understood that something very significant was happening in the Bernie moment,” Day tells Scheer, “which is that forces were amassing on the left that had great potential, but that there was not really a roadmap for what to do with that potential after the Bernie moment was over.
“Of course it was difficult,” she adds, “because we didn't actually know what was going to happen [with the 2020 Democratic primaries]. We had to write a book that would actually be relatively useful if Bernie Sanders won or lost.”
Scheer adds a historical context to the discussion on socialism and democratic socialism, noting that after the Great Depression, the terms were used quite a bit by politicians and others before they were demonized during the Cold War. The podcast host remarks on how Sanders’ decision to identify as a democratic socialist is what establishment Democrats and mainstream media most used to vilify him. And yet, unbeknownst to the Vermont senator and his critics, not long after it became clear Sanders would not be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, the coronavirus pandemic seemed to prove his ideas were not only sensible, but utterly essential to America’s survival.
“Oddly enough we seem to be at a moment now where,” says Scheer, “quite aside from Bernie Sanders, but because of this incredible collapse of the conceits of American capitalism, and the inability of our medical system in particular--not because of a lack of heroism from medical workers, but the way it's constructed, the for-profit industry--turned out to be perhaps the least prepared in the world of all of the different systems to deal with this.
“And suddenly Bernie Sanders' advocacy of Medicare for All, I would think to most people in this country would seem like a no-brainer. So hasn't the mood radically shifted the objective conditions in your direction?” he asks Day.
“I think so,” responds the “Bigger than Bernie” co-author. “There are new opportunities for organizing, and the half-decade of Bernie Sanders helped put us on better footing to organize toward [his] short-term platform and toward a longer-term vision of a world in which people are not subordinated to profit.
“One phrase that I like to use is that Bernie Sanders lost, but he didn't fail,” she adds. “Because his goal was not merely to win the presidency. Obviously we would have liked, we would have all liked for him to win the presidency; that would have been extremely useful in terms of building toward our long-term goals. But he didn't fail, in the sense that he didn't actually fail to contribute in a meaningful way to building a movement that could actually usher in a political revolution.”
That political revolution, pandemic or not, has already seen considerable gains. Day points to several DSA members and affiliates who are not only running for elected office, but winning seats across the country. The most famous democratic socialist who came out of the Sanders resurgence is of course Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but, according to Day, beyond the New York representative, there are many others who actually came out directly from DSA. While the left-wing organization has been around for quite some time, the Jacobin writer argues it was “reborn” in 2016 and one its main aims is already materializing.
“What passes for progressive in United States politics is actually pretty far to the right,” says Day. “So DSA's role is to actually yank politics to the left in the United States. That's one of its primary purposes. And that means that it is going to always be perceived as too radical. It's going to be perceived as, you know, extremist or unrealistic. And I think that that's because people simply aren't used to having a political bloc that unapologetically demands things like a universal right to shelter, a universal right to a home, right? Or that demands that people have health care because it is a basic human right.”
Listen to the full discussion between Day and Scheer as they discuss the roots of American socialism as well as its promising future in the new material reality being reshaped by the medical and economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and a reinvigorated class struggle against a system that oppresses the majority of Americans, especially those who are Black and brown.