We are fewer than ten days removed from the 2018 midterm elections, but it would be easy for old guard U.S. liberals to conclude that they are on a path to containing, co-opting and neutralizing the new socialist movement that has taken shape rapidly since the global financial crisis convulsed our economy and our politics a decade ago. Much of that movement consists of young people who were traumatized and embittered by the economic hardships and stagnation of the Great Recession. For them, the recession came as a broken promise and generational betrayal. But as the economy improves, at least for one half of the population, some of the dissident energy mobilized by the economic crisis may dissipate. As these young adults continue to move into better paying jobs, gradually lessen their heavy education debt loads, and form more traditional households, the desire for radical change may abate.
Also, the term “socialism” has been bandied about in confusing and inconsistent ways. For some of the new self-identified socialists, it is hard to detect much difference between their ostensibly new socialist views and earlier forms of liberalism or progressivism, although perhaps the new variants are being pushed with a more strident and demanding enthusiasm. So, liberals might conclude that the socialist wave can be safely absorbed into previously existing, mildly reformist tendencies in the liberal capitalist tradition. Already, aspiring candidates are probing the political zeitgeist and lining up for the Democratic nomination in 2020, and the main contenders so far don’t look much different from the party regulars of the past. The election industry in double-party America tends to exert a pulverizing, flattening pressure on activism and is deadly to radical ideas, so if people are shifting their political focus from grass roots activism to party politics and elections, socialist radicalism might well be tamed.
So, is the new socialism expiring before it has even entered its prime? I think not.