A week before he was replaced by Keir Starmer as leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn gave an interview to the BBC. The coronavirus pandemic has discredited a decade of Conservative Party-imposed austerity, Corbyn claimed, and vindicated the case for the kind of expansive public spending he had called for during the 2019 U.K. general election. In an article for the Guardian published on May 2, less than a month after suspending his campaign for the presidency, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, writing with U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, echoed Corbyn’s sentiments.
Corbyn’s crushing defeat at the hands of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the general election on Dec. 12, and Sanders’ subsequent inability to consolidate control of the U.S. Democratic Party primary race, might have marked the end of the democratic socialist movements that have emerged in Britain and the United States over the past five years. Instead, as the coronavirus crisis has deepened, forcing more and more people out of work and onto the benefits system, leftists on both sides of the Atlantic see radical political space opening up in front of them.
Something strange and unexpected is happening in US politics.
“Under the guise of Medicare For All and a Green New Deal, Democrats are embracing the same economic theories that have stifled the liberties of millions over the past century,” GOP Vice President Mike Pence told a major gathering of the American right—the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—outside Washington D.C. last week. “That system,” he continued, “is socialism.”
Can the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the United States be replicated here in Canada by the NDP, in time for the next federal election in 2019?
If you ask filmmaker and left-wing pundit Avi Lewis, the answer is a very emphatic ‘yes.’
In May 2015, Bernie Sanders, a 73 year old Senator from a small, rural state – Vermont – launched an unlikely bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Fourteen months later, he conceded defeat to Hillary Clinton. But not before he had chalked-up 13 million votes, 23 caucus and primary victories, and nearly 2000 pledged conference delegates, far exceeding both his own initial expectations and those of the Beltway press.
Sanders’ success in the Democratic primaries should have set alarm bells ringing at the top of the Democratic party. He was a political outsider with little support on Capitol Hill. He was adept at using social media to communicate simple messages to a mass audience. He was a critic of free trade. He spoke the language of economic populism. He charged the “donor class” with “rigging the system” against middle and low income Americans.