Over the last year or so we have seen an inspiring increase in support for socialists, especially with the contest for the Democratic Party nomination in the US – where Bernie Sanders, standing as a socialist, came near to defeating the establishment candidate. But also in other countries socialists have increased their support. In Greece, Syriza came to power in February 2015. In Spain, Podemos only established two years ago, dreamed of overtaking the Socialist Party in the elections in June of this year.
However, in all of these cases our dreams were not quite achieved in reality. There is a lot more work to do to build a real socialist alternative.
In the US, Bernie Sanders won 43% of the vote against 55% for Hilary Clinton. Almost 12.5 million people voted for him and he beat Clinton in 23 states. Bernie became the most popular candidate among under 30s in US history, exceeding Obama’s appeal to young people in his first presidential run. Despite not winning the nomination, this was the best electoral showing for a socialist in the US for a generation.
It shows the widespread support socialists have in the imperialist heartland. The question is what happens next? Bernie is not prepared to break with the democrats and form an alternative left party – as has happened in several European countries over the last few years. Many of his supporters want to go further with widespread chants of “Bernie or bust!” in his later rallies. They do not want their candidate just to give in and provide support for Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign – many will now switch to support the Green candidate. The current candidate for the Green Party says that she would stand aside to be replace by Bernie Sanders.
Sanders succeeded against all the odds precisely because his proposals – like redistributing the wealth by taxing Wall Street and the rich or creating a fairer health care system–are radical, at least by the standards of current American politics.
As the author Naomi Kline argues, “The spell of neoliberalism has been broken, crushed under the weight of lived experience and a mountain of data. What for decades was unsayable is now being said out loud – free college tuition, double the minimum wage, 100 percent renewable energy. And the crowds are cheering. With so much encouragement, who knows what’s next?”
This may be true, but the actual policies of neoliberalism will continue until we create social movements and organizations capable of countering and reversing them.
So in Greece, despite the Syriza winning a referendum and being elected as an anti-austerity alternative to the traditional socialist party, they caved in to the IMF and EU and have reduced pensions and extended the privatisation programme.
In Spain, Podemos had hoped to follow the example of Syriza and overtake the socialists as the main opposition in the June 2016 elections – in reality they lost a million votes after their excellent showing in the previous general elections in December 2015.
In France and Italy governments are introducing labour ‘reforms’ which will make it far easier for workers to be sacked. In France the new labour law faced repeated massive demonstrations – but the law was forced through parliament by the Socialist government after opposition by many members of parliament who refused to vote for the law.
In Italy, the Five Star Movement won the votes for mayors of the capital, Rome and another major city, Turin (and 17 smaller towns) in June.
The revolt against the labour law has radicalised thousands of working class people beyond the limits set by the union leaders and parliamentary left in France. However, at the same time the fascist National Front are expected to dominate the elections next year.
This is also part of the changed international political agenda. We have seen the growth of support for socialists and their ideas, but also the appearance of right wing and fascist movements. These have included, for example, Donald Trump in the US and Austria where the far-right Freedom Party almost won the presidential election against a left-wing former leader of the Green party.
Globally, socialist ideas are receiving wider support than they have done for several decades. This is demonstrated by support for socialists in main-stream parties like Bernie Sanders with the US Democrats, Jeremy Corbyn with the British Labour Party. Left alternatives to the traditional progressive parties have also done very well with Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Left Party in Germany. In other countries, other protest parties like the Five Star Movement in Italy or the Green Party are seeing growing support.
In this environment, we have a much greater possibility of building serious socialist organisations like the Socialist Workers League in Nigeria. But we still face stiff opposition, the IMF may be admitting that at least some of their neoliberal policies may not be working, but they still call for the end of fuel subsidies and further privatisations. The last general strike in Nigeria also shows that careful and patient organisation is needed and that splits in our ranks can lead to defeat.
by Tina Ndi