You may have heard that the Trotskyist group Socialist Alternative has been blazing a new trail among the Left for, rather than its typical routine of running hopeless no-name campaigns or avoiding elections altogether, has actually been running its own candidates. This isn’t the most recent update, but it summarizes the three candidacies.
You may have also heard that one of their candidates actually got 29% in her vote!
SALT has been describing its campaigns not as simply its party running alone, but more broad-based campaigns involving community groups, unions, Occupy groups, or other activist movements, plus campaign staff drawn from members of the previously-apolitical general public who simply got excited by a socialist message when they heard one.
The good news is, these claims seem to actually be true! I should also note that SALT also has another critically important strategic orientation down, by focusing on the recent fast food/restaurant worker campaigns in various cities, such as Fast Food Forward.
As with many unity projects, there is often a healthy fear that when a group says “everyone unite,” what they really mean is “everyone unite behind us.”
When I have spoken to Socialist Alternative members about socialist convergence, they have typically been skeptical, as many people in Trotskyist groups often are. The Trotskyist mentality is that it’s better to go it alone with the right idea and the right method than mix everyone together into what will boil down into one big mess. On the surface this seems intelligent but after years of splits and more groups than I care to count, maybe it’s not so great, and maybe it’s only served to marginalize the Left and it make it easy not to take seriously.
However that being said, SALT members have not been completely hostile to the idea, and have granted that maybe in the future some kind of joint electoral activity will be possible. Indeed, they actually have invited other socialist groups to get involved. However, I’m not sure it’s as simple as that…
There is a certain unfortunate incident. SALT members claim to have invited the ISO to get involved in the Sawant campaign, but at very late notice, and then repeatedly bring up the ISO’s non-involvement as a way to score points against the ISO. This is not a way to build diplomacy, and not a way to increase the chances that the ISO will lends its relatively considerable resources to future efforts.
In fact the truth may be more insidious, that they wanted to look friendly while keeping the campaign name to themselves, and not running Sawant as a “United Socialist” candidate, but running her as a Socialist Alternative candidate, perhaps with broad support, but not sharing the banner with the people offering that broad support. After all, they are a broad coalition, not SALT members.
I know I sound cynical but after years of socialist groups viewing each other as competition instead of as allies, all sorts of horrible shit is pulled. I will say innocent until proven guilty though.
So maybe it’s a rough start but truth is, even if my horrid conjectures turn out true, I still think SALT’s electoral activities are pretty much the best foot forward to getting the socialist Left to get together and form a united electoral front that can actually start taking over precincts and city council and state house seats, and start actually being relevant to US national politics. Problems aside, I am very delighted by what Socialist Alternative is doing. They are leading the way. My hope is that, rather than going it alone and putting their name first, they will continue building broad and form an electoral front with other existing socialist groups/networks, not just community allies, to bring online all the community allies that those socialist groups can gather and turn this into a real thing. Time will tell, but for once I’m optimistic.