It’s become very trendy of late among mainstream conservative news outlets and public figures to lament the resurgence of socialism in the American left. The discourse rarely rises above alternating between clickbait sensationalism that tars any attempt at reigning in monopolies or tax loopholes as socialist on the one hand or just laughing off figures like Ocasio-Cortez as naive or uninformed on the other. Although it is understandable that such critics may want to counter the specious claims of academics and activists who say that the atrocities of the twentieth century committed in the name of equality were not “real socialism,” the reality is that their counterattacks have proved impotent, as evidenced by socialism’s growing popularity among the younger generations of Americans and the rising number of self-identified socialists in government.
Against this ideology, the establishment Republican Party’s blend of neoliberal economics, foreign policy jingoism, and lackadaisical immigration enforcement has proven singularly ineffective: it was only by rejecting all three of these views, after all, that Donald Trump managed his 2016 upset. If the GOP wishes to emerge victorious over the burgeoning socialist movement in the United States, it must begin by not only rejecting the strains of itself that are both widely reviled and antithetical to traditional conservative principles, such as crony capitalism and entangling foreign alliances, but also understand that the socialism they are grappling with is worlds away from that of the Soviet Union.
Within the context of formal states, particularly in Latin America, a similar pattern has emerged. The Bolivarianism espoused by Hugo Chavez and company in Venezuela, for instance, prides itself on its purported commitment to popular decision making and economic planning at the community level but also features an ethnic component that outside observers have almost uniformly failed to recognize. Amy Chua, in her insightful book Political Tribes, discusses how Chavez effectively translated the discrimination felt by many darker-skinned Venezuelans who experienced “colorism” in Venezuelan society and thus felt excluded from the country’s economic benefits into a powerful source of support for his agenda by publicly expressing pride over his African heritage and promoting an inclusive platform that included widespread wealth redistribution at the expense of the mostly white elite.
Moreover, one of Bolivarian Venezuela’s most committed international allies, long-time Bolivian President Evo Morales, has been assiduously constructing a similar brand of “ethnosocialism” in his own country. He has done this by harnessing the grievances of the indigenous peoples (Morales himself is a member of the Aymara nation) to construct a majoritarian power base that is fueled by a potent blend of resource nationalism, traditional Andean communitarianism, socialism and an ideology known as indigenismo. Indigenismo seeks to redress the very real history of oppression indigenous ethnic groups have faced. Lastly, to show that the attraction of ethnically-charged socialism is not limited to the Western Hemisphere, the South African government has recently embarked on a comprehensive policy of land confiscation from the country’s white minority. No doubt this is a tactic seeking to outflank the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, who often deploy violent anti-white rhetoric in their calls to seize control of the country’s resources.
An important takeaway from all of these ethnosocialist movements is that they all lay claim to being not only democratic but morally superior to the liberal democracy that is widely viewed in the West as the only legitimate form of government. At its core, ethnosocialism is a form of majoritarianism, in which a majority of voters, organized primarily by ethnic identity instead of abstract political theory and incentivized by the promise of government benefits, use legitimate electoral processes to not only confiscate the goods of the minority, justifying this with claims of redressing past oppression, but also to systematically demolish any institution, like an independent judiciary or electoral college, that could serve to check their own power, thus ensuring a virtually permanent majority while still technically remaining a democracy.
The influx of migrants into the West, some of whom are used to seeing government as nothing more than a means for securing patronage for their ethnic group, coupled with the cultural hegemony identity politics enjoys in Western academia and popular culture, mean that the Western world is quite vulnerable to ethnosocialism and may not be able to guard against it. Already many on the American left have called for the outright abolition of the few remaining checks on mob rule in this country, denouncing the Senate, electoral college, free speech and judicial appointments as oppressive restraints on the wishes of the majority, if not outright vestiges of white supremacy. Through combining their formidable cultural power with the electoral might of a diverse corpus of voters that can be augmented whenever necessary by immigration and incentivized by promises of redistribution, it is not difficult to see ethnosocialism arising in a major Western country in the near future.