We’re just two months away from the first Democratic primaries and caucuses for the 2020 presidential election. One generational trend is setting the stage to make 2020 different: young people love socialism. Two-thirds of Millennials would vote for a socialist, and Generation Z reacts to the word “socialism” just as positively as “capitalism.”
Who should newfound socialists look to as a model in 2020? Bernie Sanders? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Our columnists at the Indiana Daily Student suggest a Hoosier name: Eugene V. Debs.
Eugene V. Debs — from Terre Haute, Indiana — helped found one of the largest labor unions in the US. He ran for president as a Socialist five times in the early twentieth century, back when the word “socialist” was less taboo. He won 6% of the vote in 1912, the year that the Socialist Party held its national convention in Indianapolis with a platform that called for a minimum wage and an end to child labor. In 1920, he ran for president from prison.
In short, Eugene V. Debs is the socialist icon we need in 2020.
— By Tom Sweeney
Matt Begala | IDS
Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has led a long and impressive political career, but of course, he is not the first socialist to capture the American political scene. He has stated in the past that Eugene V. Debs is one of his greatest inspirations, and even has a portrait of the man hanging on the wall in his office.
Debs is perhaps best known for his work fighting for labor unions, opposing corporations and opposing World War I. Many of his endeavors landed him in prison, but he continued to fight and even ran for president 5 times, once from prison.
These are issues that are important to Sanders as well, with his campaign issues ranging from Medicare for all, workplace democracy, taxes on the rich and responsible foreign policy. Their core goal is the same, and that is to fight inequality in all of its forms.
These goals have been fought for by the activist movements of the 20th century, but the most prominent figures, or at least the ones to which the media gave attention, did not always organize in the context of socialism.
The Red Scare brought government officials cracking down hard on any socialist organization and the subsequent Cold War created a strong negative connotation with the word “socialism,” tying it directly to the negative Western view of the Soviet Union. No matter the goal or who was fighting, socialism was a bad and scary word in mainstream American politics. This is not to say there were not socialists at all, because there were many, but they found themselves silenced by the government.
Luckily, Sanders is not afraid of fighting to bring socialism back to the American political stage, and he has a large audience. He is campaigning against establishment Democrats that are backed by billionaires and build their campaigns on neoliberalism, as is par for the course, but this proves a stark and obvious contrast—Sanders, much like Debs, is fighting for the equality of the people instead of for his own self-interest.
It’s difficult to break out of the political box the U.S. has created in which everyone should work only for their self-interest, picking themselves up by their bootstraps and working for individual wealth.
The truth is, it’s not realistic in a country in which so many barriers to equality exist. This is what Debs fought for and what Sanders, and many activists even more radical than him, continue to fight for, because if compassion for other people isn’t at the core of your political beliefs, then what is the point? Debs said, “I am for socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough.”