Edit: apparently anarchists are already doing this, and I will give details as I learn them
This is one of those long articles, sorry.
THE S-WORD IS HOT
So there was the infamous Rasmussen poll which discovered that only 53% of people liked capitalism anymore, and 20% of the country liked socialism, plus 1/3% of people under 30 liked socialism.
Then there’s the more recent Gallup poll which says that 39% of Americans like socialism, and 53% of Democrats like it. (I won’t even begin to go into why I don’t think we can work with the Democratic Party – maybe its followers – except that it would take a literal revolution to unseat the corporatists in the Dems, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well go further.)
Capitalism and socialism were also some of the most looked-up words of 2012, along with some other goodies.
The S-word is now hyper-useful. We don’t have to fight for it to cease being a dirty word – anyone saying that is way behind. Instead we need to plaster it everywhere relentlessly and use it to draw people to us.
It’s also useful because it seems capable of including everything from left-liberalism to bolshevism to anarchism – and yet, while left-liberals like it, it still carries strong connotations of class war and systemic change. So it’s the perfect rallying cry of a left convergence.
So let’s create a socialist convergence, because this historical moment is critical and besides the existing socialist groups cannot do it on their own, but only by creating a brand image that the socialists are getting together and this is the place to be if you are one.
Every socialist group wants to be THE group that gets big by itself, becomes the publicly-known socialist group, and pretty much tell other groups that they can lose their identities and join, or continue their irrelevance elsewhere. This is a completely capitalist/competitive viewpoint that places the movement second, and the dominance of your particular sub-strain of socialism first. But besides being gross, I just doubt it will work. All the existing, competing groups are designed to be factions of a larger socialist argument, but without a publicly-known go-to socialist group, they remain irrelevant factions-of-nothing.
WAYS IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE
Quebec Solidaire is a Quebecois socialist group that recently got 6% of the national popular vote and played a significant role in the student protests against imposing fees for college. Apparently Quebec Solidaire formed out of a merger between leftist party Union des Forces Progressistes, and a large activist coalition Option Citoyenne. UFP in turn formed out of a merger of a group of Progressives, a group of old Communists, a group of Social Democrats, and a group of the International Society Tendency. The “progressive” group was itself a previous attempt to create broad unity between different left currents, suggesting that the process of convergence may take several iterations and name changes in order to assuage the egos of groups getting involved. Granting a new name allows groups to feel like they are equals in merging instead of being consumed by something else.
SYRIZA, a radical left coalition in Greece, basically formed by dragging a social democrat group Synaspimos (SYN) further left and a bunch of little radical left splinters getting in on it, plus a bunch of previously unaligned individuals getting on board. This process was not out of nowhere but happened out of a conference for the explicit purpose of encouraging collaboration between the different left groups. THAT MIGHT BE A HINT FOR US. The SYRIZA example is also tricky, though, because the US has no pre-existing semi-large/medium group like “SYN” to pull left.
The United Socialist Party of Venezuela is another example to study, with a whole complex history that I don’t yet pretend to understand.
The American Socialist Party, when it was a big deal back in Eugene Debs’ time, was actually formed when Marx exiled the First International to the USA mainly because he didn’t like it anymore and wanted to get rid of it. It pretty much became the US Socialist Party.
This makes it a rather less useful example, though it is a great historical instance of seeding playing out in an unexpectedly successful manner.
HOW IT MIGHT HAPPEN HERE AND NOW
Do I expect immediate merging? No, there needs to be a process of socialist groups warming up to each other at the local level, maybe have a conference together at the national level, and a general rebirth of socialists toward identifying as socialists first and partisans of their little group second. But once we get past that…
As mentioned above, whenever you create an umbrella group for several left or socialist forces, you end up having to give it a name that is different enough from any one sub-group so people feel like they’re equals in merging instead of just being eaten. Silly thing is, if you need to add new groups later, and the umbrella has already been in existence for some time, the new groups will often perceive the existing umbrella name as an obstacle. They will feel like they are just being consumed. But since it’s just a fucking means to an end, you say okay, let’s re-form the coalition with a new name so instead of it being like a merger where the umbrella eats the new groups, it’s a new macro-umbrella including the old umbrella and the new groups. This may have to happen a few times.
Speaking of ego, any merger has to be preceded by a process of whittling down the egos of the existing left splinter groups to the point that they take themselves a little less seriously, and are ready to place themselves second and a broad left first.
This “whittling down” process can happen a number of ways – it can happen through crises in the little groups , through shocks as mass movements bypass most left groups, through an increasing number of ex-members of various groups critiquing the narrowness of the existing groups (even if their initial attempts are poorly-executed or equally sectarian), and finally maybe by some maturity, humility, and pragmatism on the part of members of existing left groups.
And now, some things I think will not work:
DEAD END: LABOR PARTY
It’s a common orthodox-Trotskyist position to everywhere “advance the slogan” of starting a Labor Party. (Along with a Black Party, and an uncompromising Socialist Party, and I’m not sure how these multiple election campaigns, run on basically no budget or staff, are supposed to overlap or interact.)
It’s putting the cart before the horse. The expectation is that there’s going to be some kind of semi-spontaneous comeback of the labor movement, which will then be a recruiting ground for socialists.
Nah, won’t happen, or won’t happen spontaneously. In fact, it’s the reverse: it will take a full-blown contagion of socialist ideology becoming popular in the USA for organized labor to make a comeback. It won’t be a labor party that helps the socialist movement, it will be a socialist party that helps the labor movement.
Why is this? It’s because people can eat the same shit over and over again for basically eternity without changing their response (or essentially, their non-response). It’s when people have a different framework to interpret their horrible experiences, that response becomes possible. (Is there a chicken-and-egg process, where a class war analysis slowly becomes prevalent because of an eternity of eating shit? Yes! People’s ideas come from their experiences! But those ideas can linger unarticulated for decades until someone spells them out explicitly, so I think ideology is the critical step.)
It’s true that we should have a worker-oriented party, and any third party alternative should seek or would probably have support from at least some unions. However, in the popular consciousness, there is not very much association between the Occupy-influenced image of wage-slave/unemployed rebellion, and the unresponsive, bureaucratic dinosaur unions which sometimes almost seem like corporations unto themselves. To call something a “labor” party would give people the image of unions, not of the overwhelmingly non-union working class. To call it a workers’ party is also useless: you can throw together a workers’ party, but what is a “workers’” or “worker-ist” stance? It sounds radical to base something on a demographic instead of a set of ideas, but actually it’s just vague and self-defeating. Unless the politics of it are explicitly geared toward class warfare, people might as well stay in the Democrats or Republicans, who have plenty of voters who are workers. Especially since the meaning of socialism is now so broad and inclusive, any “workers’ party” that can actually emerge will be a socialist party – so let’s just call it that!
DEAD END: GREEN PARTY
Funny that I’m calling the Greens a dead end because they’re basically the only party I’ve ever voted for besides a few crank socialists. So it goes.
The first thing I hate about the Greens is their astonished moral outrage. There’s just something so terribly out of touch with reality about a group whose tone seems to be “the system is supposed to work and it doesn’t, so we are outraged.” It’s like a shot civilian being so shocked that the Geneva Convention is actually not a deflector shield that appears in front of all innocents but is just a piece of paper that everyone ignores. It’s like they haven’t made the break in their minds that things are fucked beyond repair. Anything that is not in touch with the cynical reality frankly reeks of activist culture in the bad sense of the phrase, and will never be popular with the majority.
A socialist party would be more in touch with the pragmatic working class, whom when faced with atrocities, does not say “How could they?!” but instead replies “yeah same shit different day.” The dominant culture within a socialist party would tend not be alarmed over how the system doesn’t work, but would instead take that as its starting assumption and reason for existence.
There is a branding issue with the Greens where the wider population mistakes them for a primarily environmentalist party, because after all, they are the Green Party. Some people might think that political stances are the key thing and other trifling issues like that are secondary, but actually if our mission is to build a link in people’s minds between social change and a specific institution, then a stumbling block in branding could actually inhibit the whole project. Sorry, just facing reality here.
Finally, Greens seem to be “progressives” who “are concerned about every issue” in the classic random, postmodern intersectionality sort of way. There is nothing suggesting that class is at the center of their approach. They just seem like another set of liberals with a big list of causes that make people yawn.
Their stances are good, to be sure, and any socialist party should match most of them. But the dividing line is that the Greens seem to throw in class war as one more issue. But when a party is explicitly socialist, people know that we are on the warpath over class, that all other stances notwithstanding class war is why we exist, and that is what they want to see, that is what gets them out in the streets.
Again, as with the labor party, any left convergence will probably involve some Greens. I’m sort of a Green I guess, it’s the only party I’ve ever voted for. But in order for the thing to take off, it will probably be Greens figuring that they don’t care about the label so much as the message, and climbing onto a socialist bandwagon.