United States: Did the Socialists Break the Republican-Democratic Duality?

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Ahmed Kouaou (access the author's page)

Democrats and Republicans on their own no longer seem to embody political antagonism in the United States. Between the two camps there is a nascent socialist current focused on anti-racism and social and ecological struggles.

It is against a backdrop of political tension, a resurgence of demons of racism and a surge of extremism that the United States approaches the presidential election of November 3, 2020.

If, officially at least, the fight will pit the Republicans against the Democrats, everything suggests that an openly socialist and increasingly audible left is keen to say its word, even if it does not yet ambition to conquer the House- White.

This is because, as Donald Cuccioletta, a researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair with whom we spoke, points out, the usual interpretations are showing their limits today, at a time when the fault lines are shifting and reshaping political cartography. of a changing country.

Throughout the week, Radio-Canada offers you a series of reports on the deep divisions shaking the United States in the run-up to the presidential elections. Don't miss the special Two americas, one electionThursday evening at 8 p.m. on ICI TÉLÉ, ICI RDI and Radio-Canada.ca

Donald Cuccioletta, researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair.

Donald Cuccioletta, researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair

Photo: Radio-Canada

The United States gives the image of a country torn by deep dissension. Can we really lock him into the traditional duality between Democrats and Republicans or is there another trend that emerges?

The currents you described apply to the United States of the 20th century: Republicans on the right, Democrats on the center-left with different positions on the left depending on circumstances, the economy, etc.

These two currents, during the 20th century and especially since World War II, really described what the United States was. On one side, the Democratic Party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who lived a long time beyond John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson.

On the other hand, the Republican right, which in the aftermath of World War II developed into extremely radical conservatism and that gave rise to Richard Nixon and the other Republican presidents. The Republican Party has consolidated since then.

At the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, we see that the Democratic Party is no longer the party of center-left Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but has become more and more center-right, then will be confined to the right. Republicans will once again stick to right-wing extremism and, under Trump, they will become far-right populism.

Donald Cuccioletta, researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair

At the end of the 20th century, a new generation emerges. African Americans, Spanish speakers, Native people, white youth are beginning to be more and more involved in politics, with the help of some individuals, like Ralph Nader who spoke about ecology, and others as well.

Starting in 2010, a man named Bernie Sanders became a senator and said for the first time in 100 years: I am a socialist! But I am a democratic socialist, to distance oneself from sovietism, communism, etc. It has grabbed the world, it has grabbed this new generation who are starting to wake up to politics and want to find something different in it.

So in the 21st century, in addition to Republicans and Democrats, there is also this American-style socialist movement, which we had not seen since the beginning of the 20th century and which was carried by the famous socialist of the Indiana Eugen V. Debs, still highly revered in the United States today.

This third current begins to develop, which causes the political – and even ideological – spectrum to begin to change.

There is a third current that begins to appear. He is weak, he is not able to capture the presidency of the United States, but we see that he is present at different levels of American society, at the level of municipalities and certain states.

Donald Cuccioletta
Protesters face police in riot gear.

The American socialist left is present in the field of the anti-racist struggle.

Photo: Getty Images / Brandon Bell

Is this fragmentation of American society racial and ethnic only, or is it ideological?

It is ideological too, it is very ideological. Young people who want to change American society, they want to do it in a profound way. They are somewhat the heirs of the 1960s (period of protest in the United States, especially for civil rights and against racial segregation).

Now they are going to say openly: I am a socialist and I love Karl Marx. There is an ideological aspect to all of this. We feel that, more and more, it is not just a question of politics, a way of relating to one political party or another, it is really a fundamental ideological question.

When you read the magazines that represent this current, we find references to Karl Marx, to the Bolshevik revolution (of 1917 in Russia), we will talk about the Paris Commune (revolutionary period in 1871).

It's all this history that keeps coming back, that many generations have never known. For them, this is completely new, they tap into it, they go and find what they need. So, in the end, in the United States, there is not just one socialist left, there are several.

We have seen a lot of this left recently in the field of anti-racist struggles. It has become his workhorse …

Absolutely! Because for these young people of today who call themselves socialists, yes, it's a question of classes, it's a question of economy (capitalism economy versus more social economy), but there are also others questions: the whole sexual identity, the identity also in the sense: I am African-American, I am Spanish-speaking, I am Native.

There is the whole cultural aspect that is becoming a political issue today. When we look at the youth who call themselves socialists, they bring something completely new to that socialism: we add all the other cultural and social elements which have become political, even ideological. This shows that the ideology of the left is not static, it evolves over time, especially with the new generations.

That’s why we see bands like Black Lives Matter. People are ready to occupy cities, to face police forces, things are getting violent in the United States. There is something much deeper being created in this country that I have not seen before except for civil rights and the Black Panthers (black American struggle movement founded in 1966). ), but it goes even further. It goes to the very bottom of how the United States was created.

When we talk about systemic racism, we mean slavery. We know that in the United States, we never face slavery, ever! It’s as if we were ignoring it.

Systemic racism, for me, it comes from believing that black people, men, women and children, are not even second class citizens, but third class citizens. It’s that again and it’s dreadful!

Donald Trump, holding up a Bible in front of St. John's Church.

According to Donald Cuccioletta, Trump has only crystallized and galvanized an already existing right-wing current.

Photo: Associated Press / Patrick Semansky

Trump embodies and crystallizes this right-wing America, but he did not create it, it was already there. He just kind of galvanized her …

Yes, he galvanized her by realizing – not him, but the people around him, like his ex-advisor Steve Bannon – that you have to go on the populist side. Bannon understood very well that the United States, it is very populist, has always been populist, without this tendency dominating politically and ideologically. Bannon said: This is the time we dominate, so this is far right populism.

This is how Mr. Trump understood that he can become President of the United States. Does he himself believe in this deeply? I think like any businessman he finds it to be a great vehicle to sell his salad so he can be elected.

There is a base for the American right. Right-wing libertarianism was born with the American Revolution. It's not for nothing that in Washington you have the Cato Institute, which is an extreme right-wing libertarian institute.

The right has always existed in the United States. In the 1920s, 1930s, people on the right condemned Franklin Delano Roosevelt and called him Stalin, Stalin's friend, Stalin's cousin. They even formed a Citizen's Committee for American Patriotism. His role was to beat Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was the acolyte of Joseph Stalin.

More recently, it was Ronald Reagan who revived American conservatism, the American right, by taking a bit of the ideology of Margaret Thatcher (former British Prime Minister), which was called neoconservatism.

So it was Reagan who put the map, on the American political and ideological spectrum, neoconservatism. It was there that the right came back to consciousness of its existence.

If we have Trump today, it was Ronald Reagan who laid the groundwork for this.

Donald Cuccioletta
Close-up photo montage of Joe Biden and Donald Trump

Americans claiming to be socialist risk playing a role in the upcoming duel between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Photo: Getty Images / Reuters / Win McNamee / Kevin Lamarque

The presidential election next November will be a struggle between these two traditional camps or not? Will this socialist left have a say?

The socialist left, at the moment, presents itself mainly at the municipal level and at the level of legislatures (in the states). Because it costs less and there are fewer obstacles to cross. Getting to the presidency, the House of Representatives or the Senate requires a lot of money, good contacts and political experience that the American socialist left does not have today. She had it before, at the turn of the 20th century, but she no longer has it.

She's still doing her classes and that's why she's running for municipal and state. The victories they are going to have there, that will help them to solidify, to anchor, to root the idea of ​​socialism. They will manage certain cities, they will manage at the level of certain legislatures, and then they will demonstrate that they are capable of governing. It’s for the long haul.

Now, is the socialist left going to be divided? Most likely. There are people who will say: in my riding, the guy who will represent me in the House of Representatives is a Republican and I will do everything to beat him. If I have to pinch my nose and vote for the Democrats, I'll go for the Democrats. It’s going to happen.

There are those who will abstain or will vote for socialists at the municipal level, at the state level, but at the federal level, it is very likely that most will try to go to the side of the Democrats in the hope of finding in their riding (…) a candidate who has progressive ideas, if only to stop the Republican, who is also likely to win.

Socialists are caught in this situation, because the socialist left does not have a structured movement and neither does it have a structured party.

It further demonstrates the weakness of the socialist left, which is unable to truly offer the American population a valid, strong and entrenched third force.

Donald Cuccioletta

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Some answers from Donald Cuccioletta have been reworded for clarity.

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