A lot of attention has been showered on the growth of socialism in the United States; in particular the Democratic Socialists of America , a self-described democratic socialist organization, has been featured in many articles , all of which boast about the spurt of membership.
The Democratic Socialists of America is a valuable organization, but there is a powerful emphasis there on reforming the Democratic Party and supporting democrats in electoral politics. As I’ve argued , not only can the Democratic Party not be reformed, but the effort is a waste of time since we don’t need it in order to get the progressive changes so desperately needed.
With that in mind, those interested in getting involved in more activist-based socialism rather than electoral-based socialism might begin by reading a fantastic article on The Hampton Institute on what it means to be politically conscious. The Socialist Party USA , in my estimate, is a grassroots party more authentically engaged with the realities of progressive social change than the DSA. SPUSA rejects working within the political establishment, recognizes the people and their communities as the true source of progressive change. The points of agreement say, “Our tactics in the struggle for radical democratic change reflect our ultimate goal of a society founded on principles of egalitarian, non-exploitative and non-violent relations among all people and between all peoples.” This is a call, not for donations, or sign-holding liberals, but to engage with revolution as a fundamental value of our lives. To adopt respect, cooperation, struggle, resistance, community power, and love in an effort to make the world a better place.
In 2016 the SPUSA ran Emidio “Mimi” Soltysik and Angela Nicole Walker as their presidential ticket. Their message was clear: community-based, grassroots revolutionary socialism. Soltysik says, “We don’t look to a presidential campaign to provide solutions, we look to the people.” When asked if there were encouraging words she could say to activists, Walker said “Remember your power!” What a stark contrast to Secretary Clinton’s motto of “I’m with her!”
Obviously, the campaign was run to bring attention to socialist issue and solutions. Soltysik notably commented that if his ticket somehow won, he would be morally compelled to fire himself, because no one can win in the current political system without engaging in immoral behavior. But Soltysik/Walker showed those of us who came in contact with them what a genuine revolutionary activism could look like in the United States. Revolutionary spaces are not provided for; they have to be created, and those of us who don’t already have access to them are often shut out. That campaign allowed many of us to join in activism and to understand revolution as a value to be realized in our lives.
In The Hampton Institute article linked above, Kevin Bailey writes,
Previously what it meant to be an activist was someone who had been transformed politically, either through a long struggle or through a “revelatory” event (think of the young people who were radicalized by seeing the mass killings in Vietnam on television), and then submerged themselves in the stream of the mass movements and participated in the class struggle for definite political ends.
I think this kind of activism is still around, and it was probably meeting Mimi Soltysik that constituted my “revelatory” event. Since then, I’ve been plugged into the network of activists through the party and in my local area, and there is hope for profound progressive change through this kind of activism.
Yes, activism, like all things, is subject to commodification under capitalism. Not only the “buy-from-amazon-to-support-black-history-month” stuff, but even the faux-socialism of the DSA, which focuses so much on “reforming” a fundamentally capitalist institution. But the more revolutionary activism of those who see politics beyond the two-party realm, as wider then the legalistic spectrum, or as greater of the established parameters of political thought and action, is still present, and it is those forces, not the forces of liberalism or reformist social-democratism, which will be the most effective in fighting for progressive change in this country.
The Socialist Party USA calls on its members to be not merely liberals or Sanders-style progressive activists, but to be revolutionary democratic socialists who commit to working toward the fundamental reorganization of our society. The new, revolutionary society would be based on co operation and a fundamentally democratic form of governance over industry. This would allow the people access to the most basic things they need to live. It would also abolish the fundamental institutional need for racism, sexism, immigrant hatred and various other prejudices, since those are weapons of working-class division. The revolution would have to be a permanent one, in order to keep up with the vicious pace of development by the forces of reaction in the world. As Howard Zinn said in his 1971 debate with William F. Buckley,
We must change some very fundamental things: we must change how we think about one another. Men about women, old about young, black about white, white about black…which none of the previous revolutions manage to change…We need a revolution in the mode of making a revolution. We need to revolutionize the concept of revolution so that it becomes a deeper, more persistent, and more important thing than revolution has ever meant. This means a more long-term process…it means beginning to build new forms of co operative societies, on a small small scale, decentralized within the old society.
It’s groups like the Socialist Party USA, moreso than the Berniecrat organizations or the Democratic Socialists of America, who embody the kind of genuine, radical revolution that Zinn spoke about, and which is needed if we are ever going to challenge the apparently intractable problems we face.