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Socialism is Making a Comeback Among U.S. Democrats

Though he lost the Democratic nomination to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the popularity of his policies has forced the Democratic Party to reexamine their more mainstream policies. 

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, and D-N.Y., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center, walk down the House steps to take a group photograph of the House Democratic women members of the 116th Congress on the East Front Capitol Plaza on Capitol Hill. VOA

For much of U.S. history, socialism was a dirty word — more of a political smear than a description of someone’s political ideology.

Socialism typically was confused with state ownership of the means of production, communism or even totalitarian governments. Socialist Party candidates struggled to attract popular support. At the height of the socialists’ popularity in 1920, Eugene V. Debs received roughly 915,000 votes in the presidential election.

But socialist ideas are increasingly popular in the United States, according to recent polls, to the point where Democratic candidates seeking their party’s nomination in 2020 are embracing economic, tax and social policy platforms closely allied with the socialist cause.

“There’s a nagging sense that we are being screwed here, that there are things that are not available to Americans that could be in a rich country like this,” Dr. Richard D. Wolff, an economics professor and author of “Understanding Marxism,” told VOA. “So that there are some people like (billionaire Amazon owner) Jeff Bezos … and the rest of us can’t figure out how to get our kids through their last semester of college.”

Some 44 million Americans carry student debt, according to Wolff’s estimates —a situation that an increasing number of Democrats are addressing in their campaigns.

FILE - Former Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders takes the stage during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016.
Former Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders takes the stage during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. VOA

During his 2016 presidential bid, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-identified Democratic Socialist, mobilized a generation of voters seeking progressive policies like free college tuition and universal health care.

Though he lost the Democratic nomination to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the popularity of his policies has forced the Democratic Party to reexamine their more mainstream policies.

Even before Sanders declared his candidacy for president on Tuesday for the 2020 Democratic nomination, fellow presidential hopefuls had begun shifting further to the left with their proposals for expanded health care, tax policy and climate change.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks to local residents during an organizing event, Feb. 10, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks to local residents during an organizing event, Feb. 10, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. VOA

Five of the six Senate Democrats who have announced their candidacy — Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sanders — have pledged to seek “Medicare for all,” once an unthinkable proposal for many Democrats because of its seemingly prohibitive high cost. Only Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has declined to endorse the concept.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and other Republicans persistently use the term socialism as a smear — denouncing and mocking the proposals of freshman lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a former Sanders campaign staffer.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., smiles as she speaks at an event to advocate for the Paycheck Fairness Act on the 10th anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., smiles as she speaks at an event to advocate for the Paycheck Fairness Act on the 10th anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. VOA

Trump recently tweeted: “I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called ‘Carbon Footprint’ to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!”

“America will never be a socialist nation,” Trump declared in his Feb. 5 State of the Union speech.

But despite the right’s opposition to the concept, 57 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of socialism, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

“Definitely, Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign had a huge part in destigmatizing the word socialist,” said Lial Harrison, a Philadelphia volunteer for Socialist Alternative, a nationwide chain of smaller groups that claim to “fight injustice” in local communities.

“People, regular working-class people, were like, ‘I need a $15 an hour minimum wage. I need Medicare for all. I need free college. I guess I’m a socialist,'” she told VOA.

Since Trump’s election in 2016, the Democratic Socialists of America, the leading national group of self-identifying socialists, boasts roughly 60,000 members, compared with just 5,000 in 2015, before Sanders’ first presidential run.

FILE - Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is joined by Democratic Senators and supporters as he arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 13, 2017.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is joined by Democratic Senators and supporters as he arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 13, 2017. VOA

Health care for all

Arguably the top issues for both self-identifying Democratic socialist voters and Democratic voters in general is universal health care.

When Sanders introduced a Medicare for All bill in 2013, he could not get a single co-sponsor. Today, a similar bill in the House, sponsored by progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington State, is expected to have over 100 signatures by the time the bill is formally introduced.

Medicare for All has become a litmus test for Democratic presidential hopefuls to prove their commitment to progressive ideas, according to political analysts.

“Obviously it’s not the same as when Bernie was running against the miserable Clintons,” Bob Muehlenkamp, a 2016 Sanders delegate and co-chair of Sanders campaign in Maryland, told VOA.

“It was an easy decision for people. There are a lot of good people running,” he said, referring to the large number of Democrats who have already declared their candidacy for 2020, or established exploratory committees.

But despite conservative and far-right opposition to the concept, 57 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of socialism, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

There is little consensus among Americans about what socialism means for U.S. politics. Despite Republicans likening socialism to Stalinist Russia, the socialism proposed by left-wing candidates does not infringe on political freedoms, but instead advocates for increasing taxes on the rich to support policies such as universal health care, paying college tuition, and increasing the minimum wage.

“Young people, particularly who didn’t go through the Cold War, weren’t brought up fearing that there would be a nuclear bomb dropped by the evil’ Russians,” Wolff said.

A January Axios poll shows that Generation Z voters, those ages 18-24, actually prefer socialism (61 percent) to capitalism (41 percent). The numbers are significantly higher than the national average, of which 39 percent prefer socialism and 61 percent prefer capitalism.

“Republicans … overused the attack on people as socialist or communist or Marxist or any of the words that are used like that … for half a century in the United States,” Wolff said. “And like everything else, it doesn’t get better with age. It gets stale.”

FILE - Samantha Montgomery of Denver holds up a sign during an immigration rally and protest in Civic Center Park Saturday, June 30, 2018, in downtown Denver.
Samantha Montgomery of Denver holds up a sign during an immigration rally and protest in Civic Center Park Saturday, June 30, 2018, in downtown Denver. VOA

Many polls suggest support for socialist policies is higher than identification with the actual term socialism. For instance, a January Fox News poll found that 70 percent of registered voters support increasing taxes on families earning more than $10 million per year.

Also Read: Saudi, India Admit of Putting Pressure on Countries Supporting Terrorism

“I would like for everybody to have free access to health care,” Adriana Ortiz, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania who does not identify as a socialist, told VOA.

“When I turned 26, and I was taken off my mother’s insurance, I went through craziness trying to just figure out the hospital systems, the medical system. And it got to the point where I don’t even want to see a doctor,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. To Begin Search Through The Remnants Of The Islamic State’s Final Enclave

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

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Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol near the village of Baghuz in the Syrian countryside, March 20, 2019. VOA

U.S.-backed forces are starting to search through the remnants of the Islamic State’s final enclave in northeastern Syria, looking for fighters, mines and booby-trapped explosives.

The effort Wednesday to sift through the broken buildings and shredded tents that litter the landscape in the town of Baghuz comes a day after Syrian Democratic Forces took the area from IS fighters in what officials described as a significant blow to the terror group.

SDF officials said as many as 1,500 more people surrendered following Tuesday’s incursion into IS’s final stronghold, including hundreds of injured IS fighters.

Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

But concerns run high that fighters lurk in trenches dug all around the former IS enclave, as well as in a complex network of caves and tunnels, which some officials said could run for more than two kilometers.

An unknown number of IS fighters have also retreated to a sliver of land along the Euphrates River, and there are no estimates for how many fighters could be hiding in other parts of Baghuz.

“A group of Daesh in Baghuz still fight back and hold their families as human shields,” Zana Amedi, a media official with the YPG militia, which has been supporting the SDF offensive, told VOA Wednesday, using the terror group’s Arabic acronym.

Despite the official caution, small celebrations broke out Wednesday around Baghuz, with some groups of SDF fighters playing music and dancing.

“We have won. We have eliminated the enemy, the terrorists,” Majid Hejjo, an SDF fighter, told the French news agency.

“The comrades are tired, and the battle is over,” said another SDF fighter.

No ‘complete victory’ yet

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump was equally effusive, telling reporters on the South Lawn of the White House that the very last speck of IS-held territory would be liberated within hours.

“There is no red,” Trump said just hours after an intelligence briefing, showing off a map that compared IS-held territory now and the day he was elected. “In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot, which will be gone by tonight.”

Still, SDF officials and U.S. defense officials have been wary of saying the fight against the terror group’s self-declared caliphate is over.

It has been three months since Trump first announced the defeat of IS in a tweet,and more than a month since he told a meeting of ministers from coalition countries that the end of the caliphate “should be formally announced, probably sometime next week.”

More recently, multiple SDF officials have also forecast the fall of IS within days or even hours, only to see efforts slowed by fierce fighting and the presence of tens of thousands of civilians, mostly the wives, children and family members of IS fighters.

They now say more than 5,000 people have fled Baghuz since SDF resumed its final assault on IS just over a week ago, despite earlier saying only about 1,000 civilians and 300 fighters were holed up in Baghuz shortly after the operation to liberate the town got under way last month.

Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group's last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019.
Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group’s last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019. VOA

In all, SDF says more than 5,000 IS fighters have surrendered or been captured over the past month, while another 1,300 have been killed in the fighting.

The U.S.-led coalition also said Wednesday there has been no letup in efforts to ensure the terror group is defeated.

“The ground offensive, coalition airstrikes and artillery continue as needed,” coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told VOA. “The SDF feel they are in control of the area, but as long as Daesh puts up any type of fight and hides in tunnels, they cannot declare complete victory.”

Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

‘Tens of thousands’ of fighters

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

Thousands of SDF troops have massed around Baghuz for weeks, laying siege to the town in an effort to liberate the final IS enclave in Syria. Officials said Kurdish special forces from Iraq also had been brought in to help with the operations.

Also Read: After Failed Hanoi Summit, U.S. Imposes First North Korea-Linked Sanctions

Even once an official announcement is made, U.S. defense officials caution IS still has “tens of thousands” of fighters working either as part of sleeper cells or as part of an active, clandestine insurgency.

Additionally, senior officials believe most of the group’s senior leadership, including its self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain at large. (VOA)