Karl Marx must be laughing in his grave.
Socialism is no longer a "dirty word" in the United States, that bastion of Western capitalism. Not that the mainstream media is taking note of this phenomenal development and touting its impact on the American body politick. They seem only content in ribbing Senator Bernie Sanders from time to time about him being a self-declared Democratic Socialist (or maybe he means Social Democrat?). I have to give him credit for "coming out," in a manner of speaking, because most Democrats run for the hills at the mere mention of the word "socialism." But he was not the one that made it now fashionable, albeit on the down low. No sir. That started over 20 years ago as America and the West experienced the tumultuous upheavals in the global capitalist system.
Marx called these economic and political undulations and convulsions the cycles of boom and bust. And he also said that capitalism was a necessary precondition for socialism to triumph, arguing that no nation could ever achieve genuine socialism without first developing an educated and conscious working class and that was only possible within capitalism itself (I believe V.I. Lenin further elaborated on the stages of socialism). Hence, to paraphrase Karl Marx the seeds of socialism (and capitalism's destruction) will be planted in the capitalist system itself.
In the context of the above let us look at today's United States.
The 2016 presidential elections have exposed the fact that millions of Americans do not look at the word "socialism" with fear and trepidation as what occasioned in the 1970s and 80s. It would have been unthinkable and risking political suicide if a Democratic candidate declared that he's a social democrat back in those post-lynching days. But look at the support that Senator Sanders is getting, people are not keeping their distance and bolting for the hills. Rather, the young and not so young are embracing Sanders and claiming outright that socialist mantra.
So consider the following:
In a poll just before the Iowa caucus more than 40% of likely Democrats said that they were socialist. And a Boston Globe poll taken on the eve of the New Hampshire primary found that 31% of New Hampshire Democratic voters called themselves socialists. Among voters under 35 years of age over 50% did. That is astounding when you look at the demographics -- both states are over 70% white and Caucasian. But wait, there's more. In South Carolina a Bloomberg poll found that voters in the Democratic Primary 39% described themselves as socialists, the vast majority of whom voted for Hillary Clinton. And more importantly 39% of South Carolina Democrats who called themselves socialists exceeded by 13 percentage points the number who actually voted for Bernie Sanders.
And if you think that this is just a fluke, a flash in the pan, a fad so to speak, a recent New York Times poll, back in November 2015, found that 56% of Democrats, including 52% of Hillary Clinton's supporters, said that they held a favorable view about socialism. These poll aggregates topped by a Pew research poll in 2011 concluded that 49% of Americans, not just Democrats, under 30 years old hold a positive view of socialism while 47% had a favorable view of capitalism.
So what's driving this new found love of socialism and the fact that Americans now, at long last, have a favorable view of a system that has been so maligned, misunderstood, used as a "red bait," to paint political opponents, and equated with communism?
Well, for one thing Americans who grew up after the anti-communist McCarthy era and the Cold War were generally fed a steady diet of the socialist/communist bogey man and a government that takes people's property, make you marry donkeys, discourages individual development and growth and where life and death are controlled by the all-seeing and knowing state.
George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 were anti-socialist/communist classics reinforced and deified in movies and schoolrooms, further reinforcing and hardening America's anti-socialist/community position. But today's Americans are more informed and now privy to many political viewpoints, opinions and literature that was hitherto the arrival of the Internet and Google closed to them. Now research is easy and young Americans are exposed to other points of view and have ready access to information that makes both right and left wing propaganda almost something of the past. America is more informed now and old barriers are crumbling. Old canards of the socialist dictator are being reexamined and reanalyzed.
However, the curious thing about Americans embrace of socialism is that you can be a Democrat and still be a socialist. Senator Sanders is running as a Democrat; he remains in one of the duopolies and still can promote his views and political platform as a socialist. For example, over 60 members of the United States House of Representatives agree with Senator Sanders, although many have not endorsed his run for the presidency, on the issue of single-payer health insurance.
Moreover, Sanders campaign has undoubtedly helped to remove the old stigma and stench of government control "Big Brother" politics that socialism was pegged to be. And too, the Internet and a 24-hours news cycle have allowed young Americans to explore and engage with the Western Europe experience and those countries social democratic governments. They are now able to compare them with the system of government in the United States. They can now see both systems strengths and weaknesses. They now know that it's no accident that people in Western Europe's social democratic nations suffer from less income and economic inequality when compared to the United States.