Whither the Socialist Left? Thinking the “Unthinkable”

by Mark Solomon on March 7, 2013

Originally posted at Portside — On February 4, 2010, Gallup released its latest data on the public’s political attitudes. The headline read: Socialism Viewed Positively by 36% of Americans. While the poll did not attempt the daunting task of exploring what a diverse public understood socialism to mean, it nevertheless revealed an unmistakably sympathetic image of a system that had been pilloried for generations by all of capitalism’s dominant instruments of learning and information as well as by its power to suppress and slander socialist ideas and organization.

In sheer numbers, that means a population at the teen-age level and above of tens of millions with a favorable view of socialism.

Why then is the organized socialist movement in the United States so small and so clearly wanting in light of the potential for building its numbers and influence?

That is a crucial question. At every major juncture in the history of the country, radical individuals and organizations in advance of the mainstream have played essential roles in influencing, guiding and consolidating broad currents for social change. In the revolution that birthed this country, radical activists articulated  demands from the grass roots for an uncompromising and transforming revolution to crush colonial oppression. Black and white abolitionists fought to make the erasure of slavery the core objective of the Civil War while also linking that struggle to women’s suffrage and trade unionism. A mass Socialist Party in the early 20th century fought for state intervention to combat the ravages of an increasingly exploitative economic system while advancing the vision of a socialist commonwealth. In the Great Depression, the Communist Party and its allies fought the devastations of the crisis — helping to build popular movements to expand  democracy, grow industrial unions and defend protections for labor embodied in the historic New Deal.

Small left and socialist organizations in the sixties supported a range of progressive struggles from peace to civil rights to women’s liberation to gay rights and beyond. The limited resources of those groups were effective in galvanizing massive peace demonstrations and in campaigns against racist and sexist oppression.

But the Cold War and McCarthyism had eviscerated any hope for a major influential socialist current. Consequently, no large and impacting force existed to extend to the peace movement a coherent anti-imperial analysis that might have contributed to its continuity and readiness to confront the wars of the nineties and the new century. Nor was there a strong socialist organization to contribute to the civil rights struggle by advocating for reform joined to a commitment to deeper social transformation. Had such a current existed, it might have contributed to building a broad protective barrier against the devastating FBI and local police violence against sectors of the movement like the Black Panthers.

There should be little debate today on the left over the need for a strong socialist voice and movement in light of festering economic stagnation, war on the working class, looming environmental catastrophe, a widening chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us, massive joblessness and incarceration savaging African Americans and other oppressed nationalities, crises in health care, housing and education. Such a strong socialist presence could offer a searching analysis of the present situation, help stimulate a broad public debate on short term solutions and formulate a vision of a socialist future that could begin to reach the minds and hearts of the 36 percent who claim to be sympathetic to that vision.

Back to the question: why is there no large respected socialist organization today? The answer is complex and not readily subject to a consensus. The failures of the first socialist wave in the 20th century — the unrelenting demonization of socialism by the dominant political apparatus, internal sectarian cultures and narrow social composition that inhibit outreach to youth and oppressed nationalities — have all contributed to a weak socialist presence.

Doubtless, some if not all, existing socialist organizations would insist that they are growing, respected and effective. That can be argued, but it is valid to acknowledge that existing socialist groups, to one degree or another, have made and continue to make important contributions to the struggle for a just present and better future. This is especially true of the work of individual socialists in various unions and mass organizations.

However, the small size and inadequate resources or socialist organization nearly fatally inhibit their impact and influence. No matter how hard working and principled, small socialist groups are drowned out by the power and pervasiveness of the dominant tools of information and education. The Internet has opened a window to reaching mass audiences. But socialist websites (if one is successful in locating them) cannot substitute for the indispensable task of organizational outreach, of human beings making direct contact with other human beings, of physical debate and discussion, of well-orchestrated, highly visible mass actions.

The time has come to work for the convergence of socialist organizations committed to non-sectarian democratic struggle, engagement with mass movements, and open debate in search of effective responses to present crises and to projecting a socialist future.

There are socialist organizations already airing  divergent views within their ranks – reflecting  positions that overlap with other socialist  organizations committed to democratic struggle and  socialist education. The Committees of Correspondence  for Democracy and Socialism, the Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialists of America and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization have been meeting to explore  areas for cooperation in advancing the fight to defend the needs and interests of all working people. With involvement of their members, and with all who honestly wish a unity project to succeed, those organizations could constitute a starting point for other left and socialist groups and individuals to join as equal participants in building an imaginative,  revitalized socialist presence.

A conversation with a veteran socialist historian about merger brought a nearly apoplectic response: that will never happen; too much history of mutual antagonism; too much institutional self-aggrandizement; too much belief within each organization of their ideological and strategic “certainties,” etc.

His bleak assessment may well be valid. One could list even more problems: the comfort of organizational silos, the complexity of sorting out and merging the physical resources of each organization, selecting a conjoined leadership, lingering political and ideological differences.

It can also be argued that a merger of organizations with a combined membership of a few thousand would still not be large or vibrant enough to make an impact on a country of over 300 million; nor would its combined membership include a sufficient component of youth, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc., commensurate with the country’s changing demographics.

That perhaps misses a crucial point. While growth and dynamism are not guaranteed, the open-minded and comradely spirit embodied in a merger could excite and inspire thousands of former members of those organizations to join a new, collaborative entity. Many others impressed by a revitalized commitment by socialists to put aside narrow interests and seek common ground could also be moved to join. The simple declaration of unity and amalgamation by old ideological foes will stir an energized, hopeful response on the left.

Among socialist organizations there is a long tradition of opposition to racism, sexism and homophobia; a concrete record of unwavering struggle for racial and gender justice as indispensable to all working class aspirations. With that experience and consciousness a renewed socialist organization with augmented resources would have the potential to speak directly to young people of color, to the jailed and formerly jailed, to a new generation of students, to teen aged youth, to the large numbers who joined the Occupy movement, the unaffiliated leftists and socialists who have joined the rapidly growing Jacobin journal, Labor Notes, the large Left Forums, the Left Labor Project, etc. Whatever its initial form, an alliance of socialists offers the promise of a continuous, enduring framework for democratic struggle, for discussion, for debate, for learning, for growing — all within a stable, political and organizational environment.

With a visible presence for outreach to emerging but undefined left forces, a merged socialist movement could presumably generate the financial resources to hire and train young organizers. With stronger organization derived from convergence, it could tap latent left and socialist sentiment in “red states,” especially the  South and Midwest that would reawaken the truly national presence of socialism that characterized the Socialist Party in the early 20th century.

Those augmented resources could open up space for expanded socialist education through debate and discussion, through a combination of new publications and continuing publications of the merged organizations, through classes, think tanks and through utilization of the Internet.  The present Online University of the Left is an excellent example of the potential for utilization on a large scale of new technology for socialist education.

Despite the enormous challenges inherent in convergence, there are a number of reasons to anticipate readiness for unified socialist organizing:

  1. First and foremost, the present crisis of world capitalism is systemic. While there will continue to be economic peaks and valleys, the overall prognosis is for enervation and stagnation that will increasingly demonstrate capitalism’s declining ability to provide decent lives for present and future generations.
  2. There is likely agreement among various organizations on the need for a long-range socialist transformation. There is a likely consensus on the validity of Marx’s basic critique of the contradictions inherent in capitalism: increasingly socialized production colliding with private appropriation of the fruits of that production — constituting the key source of the system’s inherent instability. Historically, the relations of production (manifested in social classes) become fetters upon the productive forces (human beings and machinery) — thus requiring the overturning of the old system — socializing the relations of production in order to bring them into harmony with highly socialized productive forces. With globalization of capital that contradiction between social production and private appropriation has itself become global — resulting in the accumulation of unimaginable wealth by a small minority while masses languish in deepening poverty and social misery.
  3. There is likely agreement that both the path to socialism and its essential character are subjects for study, debate and experimentation. There is much to study: the “solidarity economy” posits 21st century socialism with workers’ control of all essential institutions, a market function and imperative ecological concern.  There are a growing number of experiments in cooperatives, workers’ self-management, and local public ownership of energy. Other approaches stress confrontation with corporate power through mass struggle for control of state policy – aiming to expand the public sphere while reducing and eventually eliminating  corporate control of the economy and society. In sum, a new socialist organization will open avenues to fresh, challenging exploration of social transformation.
  4. There is a likely consensus among socialists that “vanguard” organizations and sectarian “cadre” groups have been negated by the existence of a broadly heterogeneous multiracial working class of women and men. The present-day working class and its allies are too diverse to be led by a single, narrowly conceived political current. A renewed socialist organization must reflect that heterogeneity as well as the determination of members to be full, controlling participants in present struggles and in charting a socialist future. The new organization’s structure would likely be neither fully “vertical” nor fully “horizontal.” In the past the former has often undermined democratic participation and the latter (illustrated by the experience of the Occupy movement) has often led to organizational incoherence and stasis.
  5. There is likely agreement that there should be no preexisting, standard for socialist organizing that mandates a “take it or leave it” rigidity. The door should be open to experimentation in exploring both organizational and theoretical issues. There is also likely agreement for the short-and-medium-term at least that a  converged organization should not be formed as party or electoral organization. The electoral issue, a major point of contention on the left, could be a major topic of exploration and debate. There should be no obstacles for those who sincerely wish to join the struggle against the ravages of the system and who seek a socialist alternative. In that regard it is important to note the variety of left and socialist movements around the world worthy of study. Clearly, there is no single “correct” path to 21st century socialism.

Greece, in the midst of existential crisis, has given rise to Syriza, merging a remarkable range of organizations despite sharply different ideological and historical roots into a unified party whose platform rejects austerity, demands the cancellation of Greece’s debt and reform of the European Central Bank. Syriza emerged in 2001 from a group called “Space for Dialogue for the Unity and Common Action of the Left.” In June 2012, Syriza received  almost 27% of the vote in parliamentary elections, making it the main opposition party and positioning it as the potential future governing party.

In France, a coalition of left and socialist parties has formed a Left-Front coalition that ran a unified campaign in the last national elections. Germany has “Die Linke,” the Left Party formed from a coalition of the successors to the old ruling party in the German Democratic Republic and a militant West German labor organization. An all-European Left Party is a continental formation of an impressive array of left and socialist parties and organizations. Latin America is perhaps the region with the greatest left and socialist experimentation that generally stresses democratic and participatory engagement at the grass roots in building alternatives to capitalism. The Latin American left in particular has advanced some of the most compelling interpretations of Marx’s thinking concerning the crucial issues of ecological preservation and survival. It has also engendered, country-by-country a variety of social experiments based upon distinct national conditions involving various degrees of mixed, transitional economies on the road to socialism.

Speaking only for myself, I would like to see the creation of an entirely new organization. However, a total merger of organizations at this time can justly be viewed as utopian at best and naïve at worst. One must acknowledge the need for a patient process — for ongoing consultation, for gradual building of mutual comfort and mutual confidence, for a possible stage of confederation or alliance. Crucially, joint activities to defeat austerity and the right wing offensive constitute a sound basis at this juncture on the road to convergence. In the long term, the next generation and generations beyond will determine the form and content of the struggle for social transformation based on changed circumstances that cannot now be fully envisioned.

That does not negate the need for “all deliberate speed” in building an advanced, effective political instrument to help forge the linkages between the economic crisis, the environmental crisis and the crisis of militarism and war. That instrument is needed to help provide political depth and interconnectedness to burgeoning movements on the environment, immigration, gun control, women’s rights, the prison-industrial complex, voting rights, student debt, protection of Social Security and Medicare, jobs and union rights, and the struggle against interventionism and the national security state. Above all, the urgency of the deepening crisis of capitalism demands the political will of socialist organizations to take those bold and resolute steps to forming a strong new alliance capable of having a powerful and lasting impact on the struggle for justice, peace and a socialist future.

Mark Solomon is past national co-chair of the United States Peace Council and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He is author of The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-1936 and is currently working on a memoir/narrative at the Du Bois Institute at Harvard University on the freedom and peace movements in the 1940s and 1950s.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Louis Proyect March 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Nice to see something from Mark Solomon crossposted here. His book on the early CP and Black Nationalism is super-important.



Pham Binh March 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm

“The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, the Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialists of America and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization have been meeting to explore areas for cooperation in advancing the fight to defend the needs and interests of all working people.”

This is good news, but it raises a lot of questions:

– Why only these four groups? Why not include (or continually) invite the rest of the alphabet soup — ISO, PSL, WWP, Solidarity, SP USA, socialist members of the Green Party, the other FRSO, WIL, IWL, Socialist Alternative, FSP, Kasama?

– Are these discussions happening locally or only nationally, i.e. between elected leaders?

– How can independents show their support and get involved in these discussions/initiatives? Although that question may be premature, the reality is that the number of independent socialists in this country is probably equal to if not greater than the combined membership figures of all the existing groups.


Ben Campbell March 7, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Self-identification as “socialist”, “Marxist”, “anti-capitalist”, etc. is a rather dubious grounds on which to base “unity.” Successful “unity” must be based not on one’s interpretation of the world, but on how one sets out to change it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but are not the four organizations listed all tightly linked to the Democratic Party? Support for the Democrats is also characteristic of the “rapidly growing Jacobin journal” which some have sadly confused for an intellectual rebirth of socialism (how does an “unaffiliated leftist” “join” this project anyways?). Perhaps that is how those organizations “positions overlap”, and why these groups have not invited the other groups Binh has listed. But then, the question becomes, why stop at socialists? What actually distinguishes these “socialists” from the far more numerous “progressive” groups, and the rank and file liberals of the “netroots”? Virtually everything that has been said here, about fighting austerity, racism, etc. would be embraced by the left-liberal crowd. It would seem silly (and frankly, sectarian) to limit this coalition only to those who embrace the term “socialism”. And so you see how this type of “socialist unity” leads not to the revitalization of the socialist project, but actually to its liquidation — which most in these groups have already done in everything but rhetoric.

“Unity” based on action, rather than rhetoric, will be based around alliances with those who support common political strategies. And those of us who support independent political action against the parties of capital have little in common with those who support Democratic Party politics. To be sure, we have common interests in “movements”, labor or otherwise, but then again so too do we have that common interest with many anarchists, progressives, liberals, etc. It is a basis for cooperation in certain instances, but not “unity”.

Don’t get me wrong; socialist groups willing to communicate and work together in joint actions is obviously to be commended. That is, after all, the purpose of this site. But it is a big leap from that to some vague “socialist unity” project.


Pham Binh March 8, 2013 at 10:33 am

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but are not the four organizations listed all tightly linked to the Democratic Party?”

Yes. The reason I brought up all the other organizations not mentioned is two fold:

1) If these four groups successfully create nominally non-sectarian, united socialist project on their own, they will pull many independents into their orbit, and by extension, the orbit of the Democratic Party, just as Jacobin has. The way to combat that is to broaden the terms or boundaries of what they’re trying to do to include the hard left/anti-Democratic Party elements which could hopefully influence the direction of their rank and file in a leftward direction.

2) The American socialist left has so degenerated politically that fights over what were once basic, foundational principles — reform and revolution, political independence from the capitalist parties, taking power within the capitalist state by winning bourgeois elections — need to be had out all over again. That can only happen and can only lead to meaningful progress in a common organization that embraces all (micro) trends within American socialism.

“Why stop at socialists? What actually distinguishes these ‘socialists’ from the far more numerous ‘progressive’ groups, and the rank and file liberals of the ‘netroots’? Virtually everything that has been said here, about fighting austerity, racism, etc. would be embraced by the left-liberal crowd. It would seem silly (and frankly, sectarian) to limit this coalition only to those who embrace the term ‘socialism’. And so you see how this type of ‘socialist unity’ leads not to the revitalization of the socialist project, but actually to its liquidation — which most in these groups have already done in everything but rhetoric.”

Left-liberal netroots folks don’t want to end capitalism. That’s a very basic difference.

I’m also unsure of what you mean re: “the liquidation of the socialist project,” as if we aren’t already there! How do you think things could get any worse in this regard?

“‘Unity’ based on action, rather than rhetoric, will be based around alliances with those who support common political strategies. And those of us who support independent political action against the parties of capital have little in common with those who support Democratic Party politics. To be sure, we have common interests in ‘movements’, labor or otherwise, but then again so too do we have that common interest with many anarchists, progressives, liberals, etc. It is a basis for cooperation in certain instances, but not ‘unity’.

“Don’t get me wrong; socialist groups willing to communicate and work together in joint actions is obviously to be commended. That is, after all, the purpose of this site. But it is a big leap from that to some vague ‘socialist unity’ project.”

This is identical to the arguments advanced by the “Leninist” microsects against regroupment. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, but let’s be real for a minute here: why is there almost no unity “based on action” between the forces “who support common political strategies” among the pro and anti-Democratic elements of the socialist left?

The socialist left has been using the “unity in action” and saying “we’ll cooperate in certain instances” to deflect the regroupment question for decades. Where has that led? To the dead end we all bemoan.


David Berger March 8, 2013 at 1:02 am

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but are not the four organizations listed all tightly linked to the Democratic Party? Support for the Democrats is also characteristic of the “rapidly growing Jacobin journal””



Deran March 8, 2013 at 1:06 am

I’m well aware it coems with it’s own baggage, but the Peace and Freedom Party also launched another national coalition party building effort. PS&L, Freedom Socialist Party, and Socialist Alternative I believe as bservors. At least with the P&F effort it is strictly independent and scialist, no taint of affiliations or assignations withe the Democratic Party. And I am think of a nationwide P&FP as an electoral alliance more than anything else. It could be a vehicle for socialist political education, as well as for united front particiation in community activities and popular mobilizations against war and such.


Brandy Baker March 8, 2013 at 4:15 am

Now THAT is doable. And FSP and SA seem to be the two healthiest socialist groups, willing to work with others electorally, etc.


Brandy Baker March 8, 2013 at 1:06 am

Ben is right, and what happens in these type of “unity” projects is that the more conservative wing will work to take the energies into the Democratic Party and when the left-wing protests, they’ll paint you as “divisive”, “sectarian”, etc. I have seen it many times.


Arthur March 8, 2013 at 5:54 am

The whole tone is content free waffle typical of the politics that went nowhere because it had nothing to say.


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David Berger March 8, 2013 at 10:28 am

If anyone has any doubts about what this is all about, here’s a gem from the CPUSA, one of the groups that “[has] been meeting to explore areas for cooperation in advancing the fight to defend the needs and interests of all working people.”

In my opinion, there is a sentiment on this website for blocs with the Democrats, supporting joint candidates with the Democrats and finally supporting the Democrats. Comrades should be aware of this.

Incidentally, and I was unaware of this, in Barry Shepherd’s review of Camejo’s memoir, The North Star, he points out that Camejo supported Jesse Jackson’s campaign in 1984 only three years after he left the SWP (and later thought is was a “major political mistake”). Camejo, however, according to Shepherd, was dishonest in not recording that that “mistake” led him to a much great one: supporting Mondale, the Democrat, in 1984, after Jackson lost the nomination. I hope people around here are not prone to such “mistakes.”


CPUSA: Some think the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans. Others go further and say that the Democrats are worse because they create popular illusions that change is possible within the two-party system. Still others say the electoral process is so compromised by corporate money that participating in it is a fool’s errand. And finally there are advocates of running a third-party presidential candidate in this election.

I can understand these sentiments, but only up to a point. Like it or not, millions go to the polls in spite of their misgivings. They are invested in the electoral process. Voting is a sacred duty. And the Democratic Party is the vehicle of reform for tens of millions, the majority of whom are working and oppressed people.



David Berger March 8, 2013 at 10:29 am

My bad: The quote from the CPUSA should begin after the first paragraph.


Brandy Baker March 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I liked Camejo’s auto-bio, North Star and got a lot from it,but even as I was reading it, I found it to be too sanitized. Camejo, as a top gun in the SWP never participated in any expulsions, never made grave errors? I think that the book would have been richer if a few of these would have been included. An account of the SWP here on NS cites Camejo calling Barnes,”the American Lenin”, hearing from Camejo on this would have been helpful.

Back to the topic: the CP was heavily represented on UFPJ and in Feb 2005, I was there at the conference as they morphed into a pro-Dem lobbying group, but none of the left forces were organized to stop it.


Pham Binh March 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Berger neglected to mention that Camejo was in the midst of writing the book when he died. I think it’s unfair to accuse Camejo of being dishonest when he didn’t have the chance to finish his work.


Brandy Baker March 8, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I never accused him of being dishonest, Binh, I don’t think that at all. A memoir of course can never be objective, it would have just been nice if mistakes on an individual level could have been analyzed, but that is hard to do with one’s own experiences.

And as you said, the work was never completed, but throughout the book, it did seem a bit sterile, to me at least.


Pham Binh March 8, 2013 at 4:09 pm

You didn’t. Berger did.


Brandy Baker March 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Oh I know, I was just stating that I do *not* share that perspective :)


David Berger March 9, 2013 at 1:11 am

(1) Camejo supported first Jackson and then Mondale. That’s quite a political turd for someone only three years out of a revolutionary Marxist organization.

(2) Either (a) he did not mention his support of Mondale, in which case he was being dishonest; or (b) he intended to mention this political turd or his, he died before he could revise his text; or (c) someone altered his text. I find (a) to be by far the most compelling explanation, leaving the assertion of dishonesty to be the most reasonable.


Ben Campbell March 9, 2013 at 1:52 am

David Berger: “In my opinion, there is a sentiment on this website for blocs with the Democrats, supporting joint candidates with the Democrats and finally supporting the Democrats. Comrades should be aware of this.”

This is unsubstantiated nonsense. I don’t know of anybody who has ever advocated that around here. That is not to say people are not free to advocate those positions — if a DSA member would like to submit an article arguing for working within the Democratic Party, then we would certainly consider posting it for debate — but thus far nobody around here, and certainly not the editors, have advocated such positions.

Peter Camejo’s historical political judgment is of little relevance to this site. We do not base our politics on what Camejo did or did not do. Having said all this, I have long agreed with David Berger that there is a worrying tendency of some former sectarian Marxists to drift towards the Democratic Party as they flee their sectarian past. This happened to Camejo, and he admitted his error and left the Rainbow Coalition. The reason why this site, The North Star, exists is precisely so that people will have somewhere to go for open radical left discourse without having to choose between ineffectual “Leninist” groups and the Democratic Party. It is in that sense that the Camejo reference is made.


David Berger March 8, 2013 at 11:22 am


Consider the pathetic, tattered, discredited, isolated remnants of Occupy Wall Street. Out there in the wilderness (it’s snowing today in New York), exiled from their home in Zuccott Park (most groups have actually passed into the Great Left Beyond). No moreare the General Assemblies, the Spokescouncils, the Direct Action Committee (which could sometimes boast of 200 souls at one of its tumultuous meetings). Occupy Sandy is transforming itself into a network of NGOs. Occupy the Debt has put out a book that wavers between liberalism and self-help. All is lost.

Or is it? No, actually, it isn’t. One section of Occupy Wall Street is quite alive. And if it isn’t the vigorous adolescent it was a year and a half ago, the Labor Outreach Committe, along with its allies, 99 Pickets, Occupy Your Workplace and several others are slouching along towards Bethlehem. The are engaged in planning for a massive march on May Day, working on organizing drives, cooperating with unions in various ways, including strike support, etc.

And why has this group of mostly oldsters (one is a veteran of Gettysburg, two were in on the storming of the Winter Palace and a couple led Debs’s last presidential campaign) managed to keep something quite real going? Because they are socialists! By no means all members of the Labor Outreach Committee, 99Pickets, etc., are reds, but many are. And, gasp, several of them are actual members of what the French call “groupuscules.” (Doesn’t that sound better than “sects”?)

In truth, sometimes steadily, sometimes fitfully, members of four different left groups, several of which were involved in the storming of the Bastille and the Long Parliament, are actually working together on projects, efforts, campaigns, whatever, in, with and around the working class, organized and unorganized. For real.

Forgive the snarky tone. It’s Friday, and it’s been a long week. I just want people to know, that actual Left Unity may be occurring while no one is looking.

David Berger (aka “RED DAVE”)


David Berger March 8, 2013 at 11:46 am

I forgot to mention, silly me, that along with the members of the four groups (names withheld to protect the innocent) there are independent socialists, like myself, various unaffiliated radicals and even, gasp, a few genuine woikuhs.


Richard Estes March 8, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Max Rameau of Take Back the Land has some interesting things to say about this. In Miami, he emphasized the necessity of people working through their political and social perspectives before undertaking direct action because minor differences of opinion can become problematic in the crucible of confrontations with the police and political figures. It isn’t that everyone has to fully agree, but, rather, everyone has to know where everyone else is coming from, so as to avoid surprises on the front lines.

Rameau organized an effort to address the exploitation of African American communities. Hence, he was insistent that blacks make the decisions, while seeking assistance from others, such as anarchists, who were willing to provide it. In his situation, that makes sense, just as it would make sense for the left more broadly to vest as much as power in the people most directly affective by the abuses of capitalism within a specific context, such as immigrants, workers and people of color, with those less affected operating in a secondary role. For example, if the action is related to the mistreatment of immigrants, then they should be to the forefront.

Of course, this runs contrary to the vanguardism of many Marxist groups, but this approach may, over time, create a mass base for the left that is currently absent. In other words, there is an urgency towards working from the bottom up, not from the top down, which has failed.


Deran March 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm

While agree with Mr. Berger’s critiques of the CPUSA et al, it seems rubbishy to talk as if this article is anything but another, among many, discussions of building an independent, multi-tendency socialist party.

It seems like Mr. Berger never has any actual suggestions about what could be done?

I still say the Peace and Freedom Party could easily be a viable nationwide multi tendency socialist feminist, ecologist electoral and activist political party. As I said, I realize the P&FP has baggage, but nonetheless.

Mr. Berger, speak to proposals, or propose your own, rather than snark on like a teenager with a new twitter account.


David Berger March 9, 2013 at 1:16 am

Asd to my “actual suggestions about what could be done,” the piece above is exactly about the cooperation of four different revolutionary socialist groups, plus independent socialists and radicals and others. This cooperative action involves “projects, efforts, campaigns, whatever, in, with and around the working class, organized and unorganized.”

Those are my proposals. The working class is slowly, sometimes glacially, moving into action. There is more than enough work for socialists to do without fucking around around and in the Democratic Party.

By the way, the proper form of address for socialists, should you care to use one, is “Comrade,” not “Mr.”


Deran March 9, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I apologize Comrade Mister Berger!


Marlon Pierre-Antoine March 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Pham Binh mentioned the IWL in his post. (We’re known as the Socialist People’s Party now.) At any rate, he makes a solid point that other commenters here, in my opinion, must engage with before dismissing the project beginning to take shape: that we as socialists must engage with Democratic-inclined Leftists who have not yet made a firm break with the parties of Capital.

I for one believe this is an engagement we can come out on top of, with the effect of laying the foundations for a renaissance (if you will) of socialism as a “known factor” in American political life. But refusal to consider anything that’s *moving* in the direction of greater class unity & independence simply on the basis that this independence is not yet an accomplished fact, taken for granted before we can get on to the “real business”, is a recipe for decades more of marginalization.


Ben Campbell March 8, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Of course we must “engage Democratic-inclined Leftists”. The question however is what you mean by “engage” — engagement is not the same as organizational “unity”.


Pham Binh March 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Agreed. However, Solidarity, the ISO, and the rest of the anti-Democratic Party reds have been engaging the Bill Fletchers, Carl Davidsons, and Michael Harringtons for 3-4 decades and achieved exactly what?


PatrickSMcNally March 9, 2013 at 9:42 am

I would hope that no one imagines that Bill Fletcher, Carl Davidson or Michael Harrington could ever be won away from the Dmocratic Party by anything short of a massive proletarian revolution exploding across the USA. There certainly is no particular strategy by any part of the Left that would win such people over. That doesn’t mean that nothing can be achieved in a narrow sense with such people. As I recall, CD was involved in the Civil Rights Marches of the 1960s. That wasn’t a proletarian revolution, but there were some accomplishments achieved and no socialist has any reason to dispute that. I can recall that one of my early ventures into activism after high school was giving out copies of a supplement which the Guardian had made up about apartheid in South Africe, and very likely CD had some editorial role in getting that issue assembled. But while there can still be some activist events in which socialists may act together with Bill Fletcher, it’s unrealistic to think that real dividing lines can or should be removed. It’s better that such lines be recognized as permanent.


Brian S. March 9, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Yes – I’d totally forgotten that Davidson had a Maoist moment.


Pham Binh March 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm

It’s not about these individuals but about their followers, the many thousands and tens of thousands who think like them. Engaging and winning them over aside from individual conversion requires common struggle and that can probably only happen in a common organization. DSA locals occasionally back Greens instead of Democrats, for example, but the anti-Democratic Party reds have no strategy to take advantage of those temporary divergences and deepen them aside from continually denouncing the evil of the “lesser evil.” It’s the difference between calling on others to “break with the Democratic Party” and taking it upon ourselves to break the Democratic Party.


Deran March 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm

“Engaging” with those who cosnder themselves the Leftwing of the Democratic Party is fine, but as Pham Binh said, what has it actually accomplished over the last 40 years?

I would put the 1984 Jesse Jackson campaign in the category of a time/initiative that brought a broad range of Lefties in to it, and the ’84 Jackson campaign had a much more Lef of Center program and ambience than did the ’88 Jackson campaign. There was a momenet, when Jackson was talking about running as a progressive independent for Senate in S Carolina when it seemed like his campaign could have been the vehicle for an independent Left political party, but Mr. Jackson was easily (unfortunately) convinced he could have a role in the Democratic Party and that was the end of the hope. Had there been a strong socialist party at that time, they could have recruited from that campaign, but there was not.

In 2008 there was some Leftist involvement with the Obama campaign, but unfortunately there was not a strong independent socialist political party to engage those people.

I think the thing is to build a socialist political party, that is not a Leninist cult, and then engage those in the Democratic Party’s Left.


Deran March 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Sorry, I don’t mean to suggest there was a moment when Jackson’s campaign would have lead to a new socialist party, I meant there was the possibility of an independent progressivist party coming out of the ’84 Jackson campaign.


jp March 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm

it’s a common assertion that no group on the left has accomplished anything much over the years… except we have to make an exception for ‘those who consider themselves the Leftwing of the Democratic Party,’ who have the astounding success of….having elected a president of the usa (!) in 2008


Andrew March 14, 2013 at 2:55 am

“Agreed. However, Solidarity, the ISO, and the rest of the anti-Democratic Party reds have been engaging the Bill Fletchers, Carl Davidsons, and Michael Harringtons for 3-4 decades and achieved exactly what?”

The ISO and Solidarity have built small but relatively dynamic organizations that train and educate socialist activists. On the other hand, all of the efforts at “left re-groupment,” “non-sectarian left unity” etc. advocated by The North Star have amounted to absolutely zilch. The massive amount of ink spilled attacking groups like Soli and the ISO reflects not your strength but your weakness.


Pham Binh March 14, 2013 at 6:12 am

You seem to be unaware that Solidarity itself is an effort at the “left re-groupment” and “non-sectarian left unity” you so deride.

And if you want to brag how an organization that has been around since 1977 has accomplished so much more than a web site that has been around for a little over a year, be my guest. It smacks of desperation and confirms my point that not much has been achieved after almost four decades of tremendous effort.


Andrew March 14, 2013 at 8:35 am

No, I’m very well aware that Solidarity aims to regroup the left. But they wish to regroup the revolutionary left, not the pro-Democratic Party grouplets that you express enthusiasm above about possibly being lumped together (CPUSA DSA, CofC, etc.)

I think it is important to be very modest about what the organized revolutionary left in the US has accomplished. But between them, Solidarity and the ISO put out some excellent publications– Against the Current, the International Socialist Review, and Socialist Worker. The ISO initiated what has become one of the top left-wing English-language publishing houses, Haymarket Books. Solidarity initiated Labor Notes and is still involved in its operation. ISO and Solidarity members have helped to lead some very important recent struggles, including the successful Chicago Teachers Union strike. Most importantly for my mind, the two groups make a systematic effort to train activists in the Marxist tradition. Both groups have an intellectual and political culture that is quite open, and both try to relate socialist politics to living struggles.

In contrast, what have the various broad-left re-groupment efforts created? As far as I can see, very little. Is the North Star an exception, building a network of activists that can relate socialist politics to real-world struggles? I don’t see that happening. What I see is an effort to deflect your own shortcomings. The “Leninist left” which you constantly argue is weak, small, ineffective etc. is paradoxically also somehow, in your imagination, the central obstacle to building the broad left party/network you believe is needed. Hence the endless ink spilled attacking the organized far left groups.


Pham Binh March 14, 2013 at 10:01 am

I’m curious, what did the ISO accomplish in its first year of existence, besides surviving and publishing 12 issues of Socialist Worker (actually 9 issues since the first one is dated April 1977)?

It’s also strange that you try to pin the blame for the ISO’s sectarian refusal to endorse or campaign with Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant in Seattle on The North Star. If you want to know why “various broad-left re-groupment efforts” have created “very little” in the past year in the U.S., I have a mirror with your name on it.


Andrew March 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm

This is the sort of deflection that I mean. Rather than changing the subject, why not let your readers know what sort of progress the North Star has had in building a socialist activist network?


Pham Binh March 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Sorry, we don’t do “Leninist” deflection here:

Perhaps someday in its next four decades the ISO will publish a metrics-based assessment of its success that includes membership figures as Lenin and the Bolsheviks did under Tsarist repression. I won’t hold my breath.


Andrew March 14, 2013 at 9:21 pm

What you have provided is more or less a recap of articles that have appeared in the North Star.

My understanding was that the NS was also trying to construct a network of activists. Is that not in fact the case?


Ben Campbell March 15, 2013 at 12:27 am

Andrew, we have let our readers know of our progress. Your purpose seems to be primarily to belittle our efforts. We have not pretended to be anything other than a small website; readers who like what we are doing can collaborate with us in many ways to help us grow. If you do not like what we are doing you are free to ignore us.

BTW, you completely misunderstood Pham Binh’s point about “Solidarity, the ISO, and the rest of the anti-Democratic Party reds.” But hey, it allowed you to make your point: Haymarket Books is better than this website. We admit it. Might as well close up shop.


Andrew March 16, 2013 at 4:05 am

Ben: There is nothing wrong with running a small website. And usually I would not bring up the (very modest) achievements of the ISO. But when it is slandered and ridiculed the way it is so frequently on your website, I think the organization’s supporters have every right to say, in so many words, “ok, but who the f**k are you?”


Brandy Baker March 16, 2013 at 8:40 am

Slandered? I have seen no slander here. Critique is *not* slander, though it is seen as much by groups who thinks that they are never wrong, can never be told that they are wrong, and verbally and emotionally abuse those in their org who dissent or even question too much.


Christian March 16, 2013 at 4:06 am

I think the North Star is doing a lot of what I wish the ISO’s members need. Particularly, horizontal communication, comments sections under articles, serious political engagement with individuals outside of one’s one tendency, and encouraging individuals to ask questions and present fresh ideas based on their own thinking and experience.

North Star isn’t a membership organization. It is a website. A website with readers is limited in what it can do. I still think the ISO has many great members in it and most of what it does is right. The people in that group, and the people who have joined it but are no longer a part of it, are many of the most intelligent and driven radicals in the country. Any serious regroupment will involve many of them.

Personally I think something like the North Star is exactly what the ISO needs, and I look forward to continuing collaboration and communication between the two groups.


Brandy Baker March 16, 2013 at 8:47 am

Thanks Christian, yours is the best comment on here.

North Star is a healthy space for discussion, learning, and in time, for organizing.


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