Issues that might arise in founding a socialist electoral alliance. This was originally written for something more tightly coordinated, but the same issues will probably arise even in a loose formation.
We can abandon most of the inheritance of the past Left in terms of organizational behaviors. We can simply make our own experiments and do what works. Socializing is a massive part of an organization’s real existence. We don’t need to require routines or practices which don’t translate in a certain locale. We need to brainstorm ways to meet people and work with people unique to our own local circumstances. Often running for office is a great way to doorknock and gather people. Some cities have a very active cultural life where social encounter is constant. Small town America often never encounters itself except in church, in charity and volunteer groups, in school sports, or during campaign season. Do what you have to do. Have fun, or make it fun. Be yourself. Meet people. Do it however you have to do it.
An early Internet party could be immediately besieged by floods of Internet trolls.
Some of them could be marketing robots, which can be taken care of by filters, and no political debate would prevent from immediate deletion.
However there are other kinds of destructive entrance.
Early in the party’s life, there is bound to be several voices who spend all their time loudly declaring that the party must take this or that position, perhaps not understanding that we are a multi-tendency party which contains disagreements, or believing that their pet issue is an exception. They will spend most of their time just demanding people take certain positions, speaking in highly moral and denunciatory terms. They won’t talk much in terms of helping the party actually find its legs organizationally.
For one thing, there needs to be a distinction between discussion of wider, overall social issues, not immediately connected to any party decision, and discussions immediately pertinent to what we are going to do or what formal positions we would consider taking. The wider political discussion is necessary for a healthy party, and it’s also necessary that not every discussion about concrete action get bogged down in flame wars over the latest issue in the news.
Regarding those who insist they contribute mainly by arguing for positions…Are they actually committed to the project of expanding this party, or just abusing it as one more space to blast their views? All this often does is increase the amount of noise that people have to sift through in order to get to the real work of building a functional, visible pole of attraction.
There also might be people who turn against the core foundational principles of the party. People will argue it shouldn’t be socialist, it should be something else. People will argue that it shouldn’t be electoral, but that it should be a direct-democractic organization that focuses solely on movements and not on elections. People could question the direct democracy. People will, as stated above, demand we abandon our multi-tendency ways by requiring the entire group to agree to one position on some issue in the news.
Banning authority is possibly established by election, but more so by making clear rules about what gets banned. Core principles can establish what the party is, and is not, about; people who appear specifically for the purpose of advocating against the party’s democratically-selected, or foundationally-selected, core stances.
The usual hate speech is of course a banning offense. However this should probably not be extended to any-and-every instance of political incorrectness, because there are many widely-varying analyses of oppression and how to combat it. We must, for example, be able to include BOTH comrades who believe in privilege theory AND comrades who do not, while expecting everyone to acknowledge and oppose oppression.
In order for a network to turn into a real organization, it will need to have a space to breathe and percolate, like a social network – but it will also require individual attention being given to each person, to discuss the organizing they are doing in their own locale, or to help give them some ideas and get them started.
A party born over the Internet will tend to struggle with the fact that, at first, virtually none of its members live in the same place.
This will at first make the online conversations seem completely divorced from any practical reality. It doesn’t, however, have to stay that way.
Members who have been in past movements and groups, and who know how to organize, can begin by organizing more people into the party locally. They can also, however, play a critical role in training and building up the confidence in other members to do the same.
Building something when you are literally the sole member where you live feels initially insurmountable. The first thing you have to get over is the fact that it takes effort, it’s a process which occurs over time, and that whether you feel confident or not right now, it’s necessary to resolve that you will attain the confidence you need to do this.
Building a scene around you yourself can involve several approaches – coalitions, socializing, getting to know whatever groups are around, getting active in the more apolitical activities of your community.
However, the fortunate thing is, our organization is founded around pursuing a method which can give you an audience and a following in virtually any community –running for office.
Yes, you might have to run for office. In fact, if you are the only member in your locale, it is probably the best possible thing you could do to get your initial base of meeting people and developing social and political connections.
Preparing for this – whether you run for office, or choose a less daunting route like building a solidarity network or political discussion group – involves some rather personal considerations, which might not seem organizational, but are actually critical to organizing.
Sometimes organizing takes resources. Your personal economic situation might be something you have to focus on.
If you’re running or office, you will need speaking confidence – if not enough confidence to speak in front of a crowd, then at least enough confidence to make a basic case for yourself and for socialism when you knock on people’s doors. You will need confidence in your political informedness, your articulation of socialist concepts, and local politics awareness. It takes asking people what’s going on locally, it takes learning and discussing online, it takes reading books, it takes practicing talking about these things with friends, or on phone calls, or whatever.
You will need to figure out where it fits in your life – do you really have time to do this? Is there a way you could make time? If there isn’t, is there some way you could contribute to the cause in a fashion that is suitable to your situation?
Since we are beginning as an online network, the transition to practical activity is going to be hard.
When you are in a tough situation, the best thing to do is focus your efforts, so that no effort is wasted.
This type of focusing Is not fun because it means making tough choices and cutting out options – the exact opposite of what an open-ended party like us would want to do. In fact, we are in such a tough starting situation, that it might make sense for our practical activity to focus entirely on one thing.
Let’s face it – we cannot remotely compare to other Left groups in terms of our ability to start issue-based campaigns, or to call demonstrations.
Does this mean that we should never participate in these things? Of course not. It’s just a matter of how.
In our case, it might be best to let the other groups do the work of organizing those things (which also, essentially, lets them take the credit for leading them, and denies us that – a loss we’ll have to live with for now). We can show up and provide extra bodies. We can mix with the crowds and get to know people. We can let our soft participation in the movements educate us about how stuff gets done and also the details of the day’s political issues. And, in our electoral work, we can take up the demands of these movements as part of our campaign platforms.
But what is the rest of the Left – NOT doing? What is the missing key ingredient that is so badly needed?
RUNNING FOR OFFICES AS SOCIALISTS.
This is the main thing our party was founded to do, in addition to having a framework which is democratic, accessible, tolerant of disagreements, and which utilizes the power of social media.
We can still be a party of movements. We can just be flexible about the demands we place on ourselves in being such.
Nationally-coordinated action can occur without relying on the compulsion of hardline democratic centralism.
In such an environment, coordinated activity happens when someone persuades multiple activists or local bases to take up the same project in multiple locations. These forces can then communicate, comparing notes on how their attempts are proceeding.
This can totally “start from the bottom” of an organization. It does not require leadership sanction. It does not even necessarily require majority sanction. It is simply an idea and a practice that may be contagious, to greater or lesser degree.
Given that local bases often have their own campaigns unique to their own contexts, what may often emerge is not necessarily one coordinated national campaign, but instead a similar style of approaching these different situations, and the comparing of notes about this style of organizing (applied in different ways).
Nonetheless, someone may still end up making a compelling argument within an organization that the entire organization should launch some kind of national campaign by spearheading it themselves, and using their collective, coordinated weight to do this. Self-initiated projects are inherently audacious and risky (though these are the last things that should be daunting to a socialist – better to fear pointless tedium).
Such true, nationally-coordinated activity can be extremely powerful. In bureaucratic groups, it is easy to pull off, because the group culture is compliant uniformity. Everyone does the same thing everywhere as a matter of course (though any advantages in coordination are countervailed by these groups having less flexibility for connecting to local activity). In democratic groups, especially ones with a federal, non-compulsory structure, it is much harder to actually make this happen. But if a person can make a strong case for why material conditions, untapped sentiment, and other factors align to make a certain approach into a huge opportunity, then an enthusiasm can sweep the organization and the project becomes more-or-less national.
An organizing can have majority resolutions without compelling its whole membership to agree with these public statements. This way, the party’s membership can exert a collective voice, while allowing those who disagree with a particular expression to disagree publicly, and without disciplinary retaliation.
After all, many issues in US politics rapidly emerge, and a socialist party would be remiss in not responding to them. On the one hand, we need to tolerate multiple stances. However, practiced incorrectly, this can cause the organization to be neutral on all issues, whereas there are obvious issues like universal healthcare which should not be divisive for socialists.
However, making a distinction between a party majority position, and a required position, is an important distinction. Another important distinction is between a permanent position, and a resolution. Resolutions are for the moment; positions can be forever until reversed. Of course, resolutions aren’t necessarily meaningless; they represent the majority sentiment of an organization at that time, and can precede calls to action, whether carried out centrally, or by whoever sympathizes. (Then again, resolutions can also be meaningless if not followed up.)
Frankly we should keep permanent and required positions to a minimum, because the more of those we have, the less truly multi-tendency we are. The more hard positions we take, the more people respond to any disagreements they might have by saying, “well I guess I have to leave this group and look for another,” as opposed to saying “I don’t agree with this, but I agree with so much else, and if they really let me keep my opinion on this particular issue even while I disagree with theirs, I guess it makes sense to be a part of this.”
We can also have layers of issues, demands, and positions.
We can have our full list of positions. This is for general reference, and can get somewhat detailed about the full variety of social issues. (Many of these should probably be understood as majority positions, not required positions.)
Then there is the “stump speech” list. A stump speech is a short speech a political candidate repeats as they travel from event to event. It is the core content of their campaign which most of the people hear. If the party has 100 positions, they cannot all go in this speech. The numeric range might be from five to twenty (though the more you include, the briefer the mentions must be). This list also might be the kind of thing that goes on a lengthier pamphlet in a campaign.
Then there is elevator speech list. An “elevator speech” is when you have, say, twenty seconds or three breaths to give someone a summary of what you’re about. (The phrase comes from how long you have to talk to someone in an elevator ride.) This is critically important because in a world of competition over people’s attention spans, people tune you out within seconds, unless in those first few seconds your initial pitch catches their interest. (The Left needs more marketing majors.) This list should be from one to four issues long.
Though this gets into controversial territory, one way to address the tension over reform vs. systemic change is to include both mentions of immediate issues and larger, radical social changes in the stump speech list, and possibly even in the elevator speech list.