The Socialist Project in America

By Sener Akturk

How do we establish a successful Socialist Party of America, which would run candidates, not only in local and Congressional elections but also in the Presidential elections? The most important aspect of success in politics is certainly popularity. Hence, the most important goal for a successful socialist party in America must be to become popular. Unfortunately, socialist groups today are marginal groups composed of environmentalists, anarchists, and college students. Their socialist nature is really debatable; I personally don’t think that any of the above-mentioned groups should be part of the main body of a socialist party. In order to succeed over its two giant and ossified rivals, a socialist party needs a giant yet dynamic base of supporters, who will carry it to the seat of power. How should we build the popular base of the Socialist Party of America, so that it can establish itself as a strong third party, at least as strong as the other two if not stronger?

First and foremost, the Socialist Party of America should be a party of disadvantaged minorities. As many political sociologists assert, racial politics have replaced class-based politics in America. Hence, by virtue of being disadvantaged, two crucial minority groups, African-Americans and Hispanics, must be the two electoral pillars of the new SPA. According to the census data that I read in the Chicago Tribune last year, African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population while Hispanics make up 12 percent. Put together, African-Americans and Hispanics constitute nearly 25 percent of the population, and this percentage is growing due to the unprecedented growth of the Hispanic minority. African-American people in this country have a very strong and radical progressive tradition. Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Amiri Baraka, and the Black Panther intellectuals in general, were, in my opinion, certainly Marxists. At least the speeches of Malcolm X and the writings of Black Panther intellectuals that I’ve read display a radically Marxist-socialist interpretation of society. And both Malcolm X and the Black Panthers have been very popular among African-Americans, a lot more popular than any existing socialist group can hope to be. Hence the African-American minority is historically inclined towards supporting socialist movements. Therefore, it would be necessary for an American socialist party to nominate an African-American as its presidential or at least vice-presidential candidate. It is also possible and desirable to incorporate Native American and Muslim-American minorities into the solid electoral base of such a socialist party. These groups respectively represent the historically most discriminated against minority and the newest object of discrimination.

If discriminated-against minorities make up one branch of our prospective socialist party, labor unions and working families must make up the other main branch. The AFL-CIO has 13 million members; this number corresponds to roughly 5 percent of the population and certainly a larger share of the registered voters. Labor unions around the world, but especially in Europe, are politically affiliated with the socialist Parties in their countries. CGT in France is certainly on the side of socialist parties in that country, while the British labor unions bolster the Labour Party. Italian labor unions support the Italian socialists and communists. The same must be case with a successful socialist party in the U.S. If the chief executives of the AFL-CIO do not accept their organization’s being incorporated into the popular base of the Socialist Party, American socialists should make sure that the members of the AFL-CIO accept a socialist agenda and replace the current leadership of this labor union with a socialist one. Once this task is fulfilled, the AFL-CIO and the workers in general will have a minimum quota in the representative assemblies of the Socialist Party of America.

The disadvantaged and discriminated-against minorities mentioned above and the unionized workers of the AFL-CIO together make up more than one-third of the electorate. This is the immediate target, the first base that a successful socialist party has to conquer. The Socialist Party of America has to distinguish itself from today’s elite political establishment and be unique in nominating African-Americans and AFL-CIO representatives as its presidential candidates. Socialism, by definition, has to be popular and on the side of the disadvantaged. A movement that is not popular does not deserve to be called socialist. Another aspect of building a popular alliance around a socialist party is to use the appropriate rhetoric and the appropriate bundle of ideas. In order to succeed and be historically consistent, the prospective socialist party should claim the American Revolution, Civil War, Civil Rights movement, and New Deal as part of its own progressive history, as well as claiming Eugene V. Debs, Jack London, and John Steinbeck as part of its heritage. This socialist party should appear as the only party capable of and willing to continue that same revolutionary tradition which began with the American people’s war against British colonialism. In a way, a popular socialist party must be a nationalist and populist party, in a positive way. A successful socialist politician should be able to mobilize all the popular sentiments at once, emphasizing the socialist aspect in each one of them. For example, depending on one’s intentions, one can positively interpret Christianity as being supportive of socialism, while on the other hand, a racist can interpret the same religion as being supportive of anti-semitism. A socialist must take the right route and favor the first interpretation and use this interpretation in building a popular alliance around the socialist party. Using the egalitarian ideas and sentiments among the people, the Socialist party can grow out of its initial electoral base, which I suggested is 33 percent of the population. It will eventually gain the majority of the electorate, thus transforming our liberal democracy into a socialist democracy, with the largest party being the Socialist Party of America at the center and the Conservatives (Republican) and Liberals (Democrats) constituting the opposition.