Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Socialism used to be a dirty word, but the US might be ready to embrace it

Voters’ feelings on socialism have shifted with half of those 40 or younger saying they would prefer to live in a socialist country

By Gary Younge  /  The Guardian

Socialism is a question regularly put in polls and a label that is popularly claimed, but even if it remains problematic for many, it is no longer like saying cocksucker.

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa has been an alderman in Chicago since 2015. When he ran four years ago, he “flirted with the idea of running as an open democratic socialist,” but decided against it.

“There were a number of people in the community who wanted to see me run, but said: ‘Carlos, don’t run with this group of socialists.’ You’re going to go out there and wave this red flag, and these folks who are pushing you to do that are going to stay on the sidelines,” he said.

Ramirez-Rosa credits the shift to US Senator Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist candidate who mounted a surprisingly effective challenge against former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and is running again.

“He talks so openly about being a democratic socialist — doesn’t run away from the label, but leans into it,” Ramirez-Rosa said, who earlier this year ran as a democratic socialist and won again.

“Having been involved in the work, I’m not surprised at all that we have six socialists on city council. But when I take a step back and put myself in the place I was in 2015, I think: ‘Wow, that’s tremendous,’” he said.

Rick Perlstein, a Chicago-based author who has chronicled the rise of the American right since the civil rights era, believes that some of socialism’s appeal comes from Republicans using it as an epithet against Obama in the midst of an economic crisis.

“I think a lot of people felt, well if that’s what socialism is, then how bad can it be?” Perlstein said.

I met Perlstein at a packed Martyrs’ nightclub in Chicago where the young dance, while older folk clap and stomp as Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird sing about gentrification, toxic masculinity and economic inequality.

Flitting between Yiddish and English, Kahn draws on pre-World War II left-wing Jewish traditions, adapting songs written by socialist Bundist leaders of earlier times.

“It’s an alternative to a Zionist identity,” said Kate Underhill of Chicago Yivo, the event organizer and a promoter of the cultural history of Jewish life in eastern Europe, Germany and Russia.

“It’s not a total rejection of it, but it tries to move beyond the two pillars of Jewish identity — Zionism and the Holocaust — by embracing left Jewish culture pre-World War II,” Underhill said.

Shtumer Alef, the Yiddish punk support band for Kahn, warmed the crowd up by getting them to sing along in Yiddish to: “Remember to always punch Nazis.”

“Trump has politicized everything,” said Lorrie, who sings in the band, as she pops out for a cigarette. “People talk about politics all the time, but the Democratic establishment keeps failing upward. That’s why they are so scared of someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s a powerful symbol of a different way of doing things.”

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