How Upton Sinclair Upended California’s Democratic Party and the Lessons for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Run

Never in American history has a socialist been elected governor of a state, but in 1934 Upton Sinclair came close. He almost became governor on a program known as EPIC — End Poverty in California.

American socialists typically think of Eugene V. Debs’ 1912 presidential campaign as the high point of their movement since Debs won 6% of the vote, or just over 900,000 votes. Sinclair nearly matched that in 1934 by winning 879,000 votes, some 37% of the electorate. With two dozen EPIC candidates elected to the California legislature in 1934, Sinclair’s 37% was a far more politically meaningful result than Debs’ one-in-a-lifetime single-digit showing.

Despite nearly matching Debs’ power at his peak, the EPIC Sinclair campaign of 1934 has all but disappeared from the historical memory of American socialism. Almost a century later, it is the greatest story never told. These days, EPIC warrants but a single misleading mention by one Leninist journal and seems forgotten by the Democratic Socialist of America, a group that advocates the very strategy Sinclair and his followers pursued in 1934 — capturing the Democratic Party for socialism.

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Socialists Won 300,907 Votes in 2014

Candidate Group Votes % of Votes
Owen Hill International Socialist Organization* 3,725 27.0
Jess Spear Socialist Alternative 8,143 17.1
Adam Adrianson Socialist Party USA* 33,920 1
Eugene Puryear Party for Socialism and Liberation* 11,504 3.5
Angela Walker Solidarity 67,346 21
Howie Hawkins Socialist Party USA* 176,269 4.7
TOTAL   300,907
*Green Party candidate/ballot line.

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