The Sanders Movement. A long-awaited breeze for social democracy










The rise of Bernie Sanders (unexpected perhaps even to himself) has changed the rules of American politics.

It was assumed fact that anybody to the left of the Democratic establishment could never get anywhere in the United States and yet a self-proclaimed socialist did. It was established wisdom that class politics was dead in America and yet it wasn’t.

Admittedly, Sanders didn’t win the primary. That is hardly a surprise, considering the fact that the Democratic establishment was arrayed against him to preclude the possibility.

More proof of that is still coming out. Most recently we found out that a secret agreement gave the Clinton campaign control over who the Democratic Communications Director would be during the primary.

But what can social democrats in Finland and the rest of the world learn from Sanders relative success?

He’s certainly to the right of the United Kingdom’s Jeremy Corbyn.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that supporting the worst excesses of the free marketis no longer a vote winner. In fact, it’s a vote loser. It may not have been the only reason Clinton lost, but her comments that the main aim was to “save capitalism from itself”
can’t have helped. It’s important not to overstate that. Sanders is a social democrat, but a relatively mild one. He’s calling for a regulation of capitalism, but with the basic structures left intact. He’s certainly to the right of the United Kingdom’s Jeremy Corbyn.

Sanders calls for some smoothing off of the worst edges of capitalism, but he’s hardly calling for significant nationalisations. Still though, the fact even mild social democracy got so much traction in America has wider lessons. If Sanders is popular for that call,
arguably those countries with more of a tradition of social democratic solutions have far more potential for new approaches.

America is not Europe and the lessons from Sanders can’t just be transplanted across the ocean without modification.

One definite take away from the Sanders experiment is that it is time for the left to look again at populism. Too often the European left has a pathological fear of anything so much as resembling populism. But Sanders proves conclusively that it is vital to be able
to talk about the interests of ordinary people against the elites.

Some would claim that to do so is to give strength to the right, but that is to miss the point entirely. The right are already more than willing to harness populism for their own ends. The option then is not between a political discourse that taps into populism and one that omits it entirely. It’s between one where the right has a monopoly on the use of populist techniques as a weapon and one when the left is able to adequately respond in kind.

The final point to look at is the need to build new coalitions and look for support in different places. One of the most noticeable things about the Sanders campaign was his ability to actively enthuse young people, a group who are traditionally seen as apathetic. (Despite claims that Sanders had no support from people of colour, this was also the case for those people of colour under thirty). While it’s not enough by itself, this mobilisation of the young along with other non-voters would bring any movement a long way towards

Obviously, America is not Europe and the lessons from Sanders can’t just be transplanted across the ocean without modification. But Sanders results were impressive enough that the European social democratic movement would be well advised to take them seriously.


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