Can We Start Now? Suggestions for a New Socialist Organization

by James Bierly on August 24, 2013

Isaac Marx’s excellent article “Dare to Win, Dare to Govern” got me thinking:  Is there enough of a consensus on this website and throughout the post-Occupy Left that a party which engages in electoral politics is both possible, necessary, and capable of winning a large swathe of the country to its side in short order?  Most people here seem to believe in the possibility.  There also seems to be a gathering consensus that the socialist organization of the future should be a multi-tendency organization like Occupy, with significant Libertarian Socialist aspects, which rejects the “Leninist” small pure vanguard model.  

Can we pull these two threads of thought together and start putting together something we can actually put into action?

Personally, I’m starting to feel that we might be closing in on something well enough to start pulling together some basic principles and an underlying rationale for the project.  My hope is that as you read this article, you find yourself agreeing with at least 75% of what you read.  I would think that this might be enough agreement to start seriously putting together a real organization.   Furthermore, hopefully we will get enough meaningful feedback in the comments below the article in order to put together a revised version with which even more people can agree.

Below, I’ve attempted to pull together and present eight of the key reasons why people are talking about creating an organization of this sort. These are followed by 9 principles I think we should use to guide this organization, drawing in large part on discussions from The North Star website from the last few months.  My hope in writing this piece is to provide a more concrete launching pad for discussion and debate, which may hopefully help us move closer to a set of founding principles we can use to start building a real organization with a more detailed organizational platform, possibly as soon as next year.  

It’s time to do this thing!

Benefits of an Ideologically Broad, Electorally Focused, Large Scale Socialist Organization

1. Gathering Resources.

Some people have argued that part of the reason many activists want to see the shift to a political party model is to create jobs for themselves.  This is probably true and is not at all something to be ashamed of or disparage.  How many professional, full time strategists, organizers, media creators, talking heads, agitators etc. do the Democratic and Republican parties and their ancillary organizations employ?  A LOT, that’s how many.  If there’s any hope for an effective mass socialist movement, we’re going to need many professional political workers of our own (and if some folks want some of those professionals to be themselves, then more power to them).

Furthermore, as everyone knows, our system runs on money.  As Isaac Marx points out, winning higher office is a way to generate funds.  Public officials get paid and these funds can be funneled into a socialist organization (it might not be possible, however, according to campaign finance laws, to give all those funds directly to the electoral organization itself.  We’ll probably have to create some think tanks and issue-based super PACs).  Campaigns themselves are also a good way to generate funds.  People are much more likely to contribute during a heated campaign than they are to contribute to a general socialist organization that plans to do something, someday, “when the Revolution comes.”

2. Building Power.

Losing is dispiriting.  Losing over and over and over throughout a life of activism is dispiriting.  Getting the crap beat out of you on the street when all you were doing was joining a popular protest is dispiriting.  The “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” attitude of the contemporary Left breeds powerlessness and puts a tight cap on the size of the potential socialist movement.  If we want to recruit and retain skilled activists, then we need to start winning.  Winning builds faith in the power of our collective will, courage to act again in the hopes of success, and fellow-feeling with the people who helped make the victory possible.

Furthermore, winning is essential to attracting broad support.  A social movement that is not powerful and capable of defending itself in the political arena is a social movement that the average person will not consider supporting.  They will not support this organization because they will not see its goals as “realistic” and they will not support this organization because they have been conditioned to only back “winners.”  As far as most average human beings are concerned, Occupy did NOT “win” by “changing the conversation” (although we did accomplish that).  People are looking for something a bit more concrete than a rhetorical or conversational “victory.”  By focusing our collective energies on winnable electoral races, we can start showing that leftist ideas have the power to win real concrete victories in the real world.

3. Learning by Doing

Socialist sects in the U.S. often run candidates.  These are not typically serious campaigns, but publicity stunts.  The idea is to “expose the system” or “educate the people” or “build awareness.”  Unless you’re going to get a huge bang for your buck by doing this, “educational” campaigns are a waste of resources.  They’re a waste of resources because they don’t deliver a win that could be used to shift the balance of power, but they’re also a waste of resources because they do not educate or empower the activists running them.

Running a serious electoral campaign means thinking deeply about how to communicate your ideas to average people (and probably failing at this an awful lot in the beginning).  It means finding allies outside your group, building bridges, making compromises.  It’s the dirty, complicated work of real politics necessary to win people to our cause.  An unserious “educational” campaign does not force the participants into this kind of difficult learning experience.  We need these kinds of experiences in order to develop the skill and wisdom to build a mass party, and these experiences only come from conducting serious campaigns with a real chance of winning.

4. Broadening the Scope of Our Outreach.  

Part of learning by doing will be learning how to create winning coalitions and how to expand our base.  We will need to learn how to function in rural settings.  These are some of the cheapest areas in which to run a campaign (with some of the most exploited manual workers).  An effective campaign could be launched in many rural districts, with few resources.  These are areas socialists generally ignore.

We will also have to be figure out how to appeal to another neglected democraphic: religious people and faith-based groups.  We will have to be able to peel off some voters from more conservative congregations as well as be able to radicalize some progressive religious people.

The need for funds will require finding wealthy and middle class “progressives” willing to break ranks with the Democrats.  We’ll have to find the pieces of the socialist agenda (probably those dealing with ecology and civil liberties) that can appeal to people with means as well as those without.

Now, some of these groups may not agree 100% with the principles of the organization.  There is a legitimate concern based on numerous historical examples that these necessary alliances would somehow corrupt the purity of the socialist organization.  But winning real power necessarily involves making alliances and compromises.  The problems this entails are problems we must face head on.  This certainly won’t be easy, and will require a lot of creativity and determination to overcome.  But it should not let the possibility of co-optation dissuade us from the task of building a mass political party at all!

But broadening the scope is not all about compromise.  Some of the groups we will need to focus on have good reason to be more revolutionarily minded than the average worker. For example, a national organization would have the resources to employ bilingual workers and run bilingual ads targeting first and second generation Latin American immigrants and would be impelled to do so by the increasing electoral importance of this group.  A strong national organization would not only mean sometimes allying with people who make us hold our noses, but also having the resources and the impetus to reach ever broader segments of the working class.

5.  Supporting Direct Action.  

There’s a false dichotomy which is often set up among Leftists that either you pursue a strategy of electoral politics or you pursue a strategy of strikes, boycotts, protests, and other forms of direct, militant action.  There’s no reason a renewed emphasis on the first approach couldn’t be used to help the second approach.

For example, the legal barriers to unionization are only going to keep increasing until we have politicians who can reverse the attacks and increase union rights.  Politicians make the laws.  If you believe strongly in unionization as the key to social change, then you should believe in a strong , radical electoral party.

If reds in office weren’t a threat, they wouldn’t expel us.

Direct action and street protests often involve breaking the law.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a mayor who wouldn’t enforce those laws so strongly, or legislators who could respond to demand on the street by changing a law for the better?  If you’re going to be engaged in unconventional politics, it’s a nice thing to have a few people working infiltrating conventional politics that have your back.

6. Creating an Embryo of the Future.  

A truly socialist society would need to have large-scale organizations to coordinate production, resolve disputes, build an army for defense against the reaction, etc.  Even many Anarchists believe this (they just call the biggest organization a “regional federation” or somesuch instead of a “state”).  So what would that organization look like?  How can liberty of thought be maintained in an organization large enough to compel unity in action?  That’s a question that can be posed and answered every day in the context of an organization that’s serious about building real political power.  As we experiment with organizational models, striving to retain democratic principles in an increasingly large and powerful organization, we can use the party as a means by which to address these central concerns to the revolutionary project.  In time, when people ask “how could socialism work?”, we can point to the organization itself as an illustration.

7. Breaking the Media Barrier.  

In the developed world, we live through our screens.  Something isn’t “really real” in the public consciousness until they see it on cable news.  This is a major barrier for small third parties trying to make an impact.  We need to keep in mind, however, that there are certain unwritten “rules” about how the media works. Yes, some of those involve serving as lapdogs for the CIA and being willing to do anything for “access.”  But the media also thrives on controversy and sensationalism.  Once socialists start winning national office, there will be plenty of controversy.  Free coverage will come with success.  The greater resources of a national organization will also allow for a higher quality of our own media, and the ability to advertise to some extent.

9. Establishing a Central Rallying Point. 

For a brief, shining moment, while Occupy was still alive, everyone who knew the system was broke had a place to go. Now, Leftists are paralyzed by the paradox of choice.  When a group starts winning real power in real campaigns, even if these campaigns are very small and local at first, they will start becoming the “default” organization for budding activists to join (particularly if they are not an organization burdened by cultish “Leninist” style organizing).  We saw already the potential power of having such a rallying point.  Who knows what forces will be unleashed when we have one again?

Potential Guiding Principles for This Organization

  1. Never pick a fight we don’t have a reasonable chance of winning, without the prospect of SIGNIFICANT propaganda value from the fight.  We must start at the bottom of the electoral ladder and work our way up. Regional and municipal fights need to be the #1 focus in the beginning and they need to be chosen in places where the Democratic is clearly a corporate police state shill and the Republican is insane. Plenty of those races exist, and they don’t require enormous resources to compete in them successfully. If we select our battles based entirely on the criteria of our capacity to actually win a contest, no matter how small, and channel the resources of a national organization in the direction of those races, then we will start winning.

  2. Stay in one electoral domain until significant influence or even dominance is achieved.  Once we start winning, the temptation will be to gallop on past local races to state legislature races and national representation prematurely.  We should keep our resources concentrated on local, winnable races, building a good sized power base before challenging higher office.  Building power is a slow, long process, not a one-off event.

  3. Double back to a lower domain if a higher domain campaign fails.  The Sawant campaigns are a great example of this principle in action.  We are bound to overreach and overestimate our strength. When that happens, we can take the energy of the higher office campaign and win a local office.  As long as the power base is growing steadily, we are winning.

  4. Ensure candidates remain utterly accountable to the grassroots through the use of legal contracts, instant recall, and other such methods.  We must ensure that our politicians remain fully controlled by the party.  They should be made to sign legal contracts to turn most of their pay as elected officials over to the party, and be paid from party coffers instead.  They should be subject to instant recall by the party (in practice this would mean expelling them from the party, even though they can’t be forced to give up an office once they occupy it).  They should not take corporate donations.  Other methods can be discussed and debated in the course of the development of electoral campaigns.  But the bottom line is that the voters should be able to put their trust in the politicians they are electing, and socialist politicians will need to be held to a higher standard than that to which Democratic and Republican politicians are held.

  5. Retain as much of the libertarian spirit of democratic socialism as possible.  We should experiment with organizational forms in the beginning.  There’s no reason a new mass party must look like mass parties of the past, let alone the organization of the Democratic Party.  We should retain the emphasis on consensus when possible, active participation in decision making by all members when possible, and horizontal organization when possible.  Although some degree of hierarchy will probably result as the organization develops, there’s no reason it needs to be present in the beginning when the organization is small and we’re experimenting with different models.  Anarchists should be welcomed into the organization if they see value in a national electoral organization (I will argue later in the article that they should see value here), and complete freedom of speech, debate, faction forming etc. should be allowed within the party.  A Federalist model could be used wherein most decisions and real power rests with local organizationsand the national organization is primarily an executive tool.  Whatever organizational forms ultimately develop should be based in the idea that socialism is a profoundly democratic concept.

  6. Focus on electoralism, but not as the only priority.  The American left has neglected serious engagement with electoral politics for too long, but this doesn’t mean some great work hasn’t been happening.  The new organization will build political strength and visibility and it can use this to support, legalize and subsidize street level action.  Direct action can also help build support for electoral candidates- the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.  The organization’s priority can be winning elections, but members can also engage in foreclosure defense, food distribution, boycotts, strikes, workers centers etc.  But Principle One should be kept in mind.  None of these things should be done aimlessly.  Direct actions should be chosen based on how achievable a direct goal is, as well as the potential for rallying people to the organization’s banner.  The goals of direct action and political action should be aligned.

  7. Include distinctively revolutionary leftist language from the outset, but do not alienate anyone from the three main branches of socialism.  Like Philly Socialists, the group should include Social Democrats (provided they are anti-capitalist and agree to a thoroughgoing socialist society as an ultimate goal), Marxist Communists (provided they are committed to a bottom-up approach to socialism) and Anarchists (provided they are of the sort that can see a benefit to building a broad organization that engages in electoral politics).  We should be explicit about the goal of a non-capitalist society, and exclude those who do not agree.  Other than this condition the membership should be broad and diverse.

  8. Foster transparency and maintain zero tolerance for abusive behavior.  The same kinds of safeguards that will be applied to politicians running in the name of the organization should also be applied to anyone in a leadership position within the organization (if we decide we even need formal leadership roles).  All meeting minutes will be made public, and all members must agree to abide by the democratic process.  There will be an open and transparent process for the expulsion of members found to be at odds with the goal of the organization or actively harming the organization in some way.  Furthermore, this will not be an organization that is ideologically opposed to turning someone over to the police for, say, raping someone else.  If your opposition to the law enforcement establishment is so strong that you’d defend a rapist, then you’d probably be better off in some other group.

  9. Develop a sensible ideological and organizational platform through discussion with consensus as the goal.  Repeat the discussion and revise the framework on a regular basis (perhaps annually).  Early in the life of the organization, all members of whatever ideological stripe should come together in a series of talks to develop a general set of principles and initial organizational form with which all members can agree.  The goal of the group should be tactical unity, which necessitates a certain level of theoretical unity.  The level of theoretical unity necessary, however, will probably be much lower than has traditionally been required by Leftist sects due to the inclusive and democratic nature of the new organization.

So what do people think?  Would you help found an organization like this?  Would you join it once it was up and running?  What would need to change in order to get your support?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Deran August 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm

In addition to what’s happening here at North Star there is also a parallel project, Campaign For a United Socialist Party, that is focused in a similar direction. I see all these efforts being seeds of a similar thing

http://socialistconvergence.webs.com/

CUSP’socialist convergence also has a lively Facebook group.
I think comrade Bierly really sets out all the key points abt why the time is now for such a project.

My only addition would be that in creating the written basics we agree on ideologically, and that are there to show the “public” are as jargon free as possible. Most people can readily get the jist of “democratic socialism” when they see the words and it is explained in simple direct, real world terms. Once you get off into “hegemony” and such, not so much. I’m not a member, but I think the Peace and Freedom Party has done a pretty could job in their bylaws Preamble and in the opening of their platform of creating a jargon free introduction to socialism. I’m not saying exactly what they have written, but something easily read and understood, or at least easily explained, is very important.

It would be interesting to engage comrade Casey Peters of the P&FP, I don’t know him personally, but I know he has been active in trying to get the P&FP to become a nationwide multitendency democratic socialist electoral/movement party.

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Chris Lowe August 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Would not help found. Would not join at present.

When you get to the point of agreeing that a party must have definite leadership roles, post that. While that’s still open, it’s not a serious proposal.

Given my experience with Occupy Portland, I would be skeptical of a party that tried to organize on any kind “leaderless” basis, even one with definite roles that are rotated and shared, and probably not join and certainly not help found or organize.

Creating a culture in which lots of people step up, take responsibility to bottom line tasks, and make themselves accountable, is excellent. The powerful way anarchists/anti-authoritarians in Portland did that was impressive and taught me a good deal.

But a party needs persistent responsibility and accountability for recursive tasks, and division of labor. The question is how to keep such persistence transparent, prevent it from becoming an exclusionary basis of power, ensure sharing, rotation, education and skills/capacity development. The ideology of “leaderlessness” can obscure those needs and often is false, with covert and shadow leaders who are recognized by anyone familiar to an organization.

And a party that not only adopted a leaderlessness ideology, but also rejected leadership *roles*, even on a rotational or sortition basis, would be a complete waste of time, ineffective, and would collapse quickly. Setting out intentionally to be a tired Will Rogers joke is just a weird idea.

Consensus poses nearly as much of a challenge for me. Occupy Portland used “modified consensus” which of course was really ultra-super majority / tiny minority veto, and not consensus at all. Maybe it was/is different in NYC. If so, I’d love to know how it worked/works, and if it was in practice restricted to a small inner group.

Consider distinguishing a small set of foundational issues that require super majority or consensus to establish and to change, as a basis for trust among potentially divergent tendencies. But day to day issues or even candidate endorsements require a majority vote system IMO for simple functionality.

The U.S. masses including on the left do not understand true consensus processes. A mass party is by definition not a kind of organization best run by a process that requires deep commitment to extended process and works best with long established trust relationships. Process would kill the party.

Also, you need clarity a) that the party *will* take collective action jointly as a body according to a decision process, including adopting persistent positions, campaigns and so on, and b) specify what if any kinds of accountability exist with respect to that, minimally specifying who can speak authoritatively for the party — you don’t have agree or act against disagreement, but you can’t misrepresent the actual position of the party or claim to speak for it against collective decisions.

———-

To be more constructive, the counterposing of electoral politics to “direct action” feels a bit odd, while in some sense both are tactics, they aren’t exactly parallel. I suggest that the range of potential tactics be considered in relationship to the concept of making demands on the state. Making demands on the state is the sine qua non of a party. From that perspective, other kinds of tactics emerge, for instance issue campaigns spearheaded by the party that make demands on sitting legislators and governors of other parties, or on municipal, county or regional governments.

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Chris Lowe August 24, 2013 at 3:51 pm

More generally, I agree that such a party is necessary, but don’t think it’s possible or likely to win large swathes quickly.

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Isaac Marx August 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Correct on both counts. Bierly’s biggest error is on the question of timing. He says, “Is there enough of a consensus on this website and throughout the post-Occupy Left that a party which engages in electoral politics is both possible, necessary, and capable of winning a large swathe of the country to its side in short order? Most people here seem to believe in the possibility.”

The honest answer to this is no and any suggestion otherwise vastly overblows the prominence and importance of this website. If the far left is a fringe movement in American politics, The North Star is the fringe of the fringe, or maybe even the fringe of the fringe of the fringe. A real party project cannot be based on something with 1,500+ Facebook ‘likes’ and certainly not “possibly as soon as next year. ”

That is completely utopian.

What’s needed to create and open up that possibility is the creation of dozens what Draper in his piece called ‘hang-loose’ local red groups, like Philly Socialists. In Russia, these pre-party precursors were called ‘circles’; anarchists call them ‘affinity groups’. All refer to the same thing. Only by building where we live and/or work, from the absolute bottom upwards, can there even be the basis for talking about forming a party or party-like structures that will actually mean something and not be some top-heavy paper scheme. Such local red groups could do the kinds of things Philly Socialists does or it could act more like Seattle Solidarity Network, fighting landlords and small boss tyrants for things like getting a tenants’ security deposit back. There’s no cookie-cutter that fits all times, places, and circumstances — the Black Panthers served breakfasts and collected clothes to distribute, the Vietnamese National Liberation front taught peasants to read, to sing, and formed choirs — but party-building has to grow upward, from the bottom up. Only when that happens in a real way, in an organic way, in a dozen or more cities in at least a handful of states, can talk about linking those initiatives together in some loose, confederated way be real and serious. The more local elections such formations can win, the faster and stronger that process will be. If one Bernie Sanders can create the Vermont Progressive Party (VPP) after 1-2 decades, we need to think about how we get the next 5 or 10 Sanderses, the next 2-3 VPPs, over the next 1-2 decades, and create some means of keeping those forces together/coordinated as they get build.

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John Halle August 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm

While it’s sometimes a mistake to dampen enthusiasm, I think it’s probably justified here. I’d also like to reinforce the suggestion that running candidates for local office can serve to bootstrap the kinds of left political circles-nascent though not actual parties- into existence. The main reason why this approach hasn’t succeeded in recent years is that it hasn’t been tried-at least, that’s my opinion.

That said, once these get off and running it might come as a surprise how quickly they proliferate-at which point a national party might no longer seem as out of the question as it does at present.

Thanks for the excellent discussion.

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José M. Tirado August 24, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Sensible and in the right direction. And it is about time. Although for the past 40 years I have heard this sensible talk before…still, I remain an optimist and believe it can be done. No reason to think it can´t – the times, and the dire straits of the planet-demand such. Ditch zero-sum thinking, accept hierarchies but demand accountability, cooperate among formerly divergent streams by naming a set of 5-10 basic conditions any candidate must meet, and always thank those who work tirelessly to help you. In 1990 I was with 2 old communist friends who shared different but important insights aboujt the LA riots: the first, the older man and a relative of one of the main Smith Act defendants pointed to rows of cops and then the kids thorwing rocks at them and he remarked “What they need remember are that the cops are not the enemy–they are functionaries of our enemy.” That struck me as an important “keep your eyes on the prize”-type reflection. The other gentleman, a veteran founder of SDS on reflecting with a more youthful (and spirited) me that our sided needed to take more direct action everywhere said “Tirado, our cause doesn´t need more martyrs, we need victories.” He was right. If you believe our struggle worth it only it we “win” in the next 5r, or 10, or even 15 years, go home, you are not helpful at all. If you believe in people, and care about people, real people, not ideological props for well-rehearsed talking points, then you will understand that our cause will continue long after we are dust–as it should. For we must always fight the centripetal forces which cause us to ossify and lose sight of the fact that we are ever developing and ever requiring new eyes to tackle new problems. And there will always be new problems later on. Good luck.

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Daniel August 24, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Organizational principles:
I second Lowe’s statements.
A mass socialist organization is, I think, absolutely necessary. That’s not to say that a group of the most advanced members shouldn’t form their own tighter group, perhaps Leninist in nature. But few are willing to jump in that quickly. American politics are so far to the right that most people, even organizers, are starting on the ground floor with no distinctly leftist political ties: a Leninist organization like the ISO is just too much for them to jump into.
Moreover, I think it is vital to incorporate the theory of Paulo Freire (critical pedagogy) and also of Guy Debord (la societe du spectacle) into a new party structure. I see these two traditions as majorly absent in current organizing, and this is a great weakness. Look them up if you don’t know who they are or what they did.

Strategy:
As far as I’m concerned, the BOTTOM LINE is that we need MONEY to higher PROFESSIONALS. The capitalist class has the entire middle class perpetuating the spectacle of bourgeois society via media, marketing, product design, advertising, the NGO-buyoff, and various other mechanisms. We can’t possibly compete for people’s attention, much less overcome a lifetime of indoctrination, without professionals working for us.
We need not just media professionals, we need marketing & advertising professionals, and we need political strategists. They don’t need to be drawn from our own ranks in all cases, since most are mercenaries to the highest wage. We DO need funding to accomplish anything.
This, in my view, is the greatest failure of the ISO: its inability to higher more full-time organizers, partially because of funding campaigns which aren’t successful enough. Professional organizers who can draw their paycheck from their work are FAR less likely to burnout and will be a bastion of strength which is more difficult to accomplish (and difficult to expect) with volunteer-based leadership.
We need not just funding from committed leftists, we need MIDDLE CLASS WEALTH, like the kind that helped drive the Civil Rights Movement in the 70s. We need to set up NGOs which can take the resources which the middle class currently throws away at bureaucratic, bourgeois organizations and use those resources for legitimate ends!

I read on a Tea Party email that one of their major successful strategies is leveraging the low turnout of primary elections to affect who runs in a race. From what I’ve seen, and from the disproportionate success the Tea Party has had, I’d say this is likely a sounds strategy.

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occidental August 24, 2013 at 9:12 pm

first off I agree with your statement that the left needs to engage in electoral politics .your statement about professional political operatives is troubling .a new breed of party should be composed of dedicated people not strictly volunteer but not professional political operatives .Second I see no reason to limit commiting the party only to battles based solely on the prospect of victory while political success might win over a limited number of persons I think that any cause woth fighting for is worth the risk of a loss it helps build solidarity as well as demonstrating your commitment to the cause nobody likes a fair weather friend I wont even touch the p.a.c aspect of the piece people are turned off with politics of this sort as they should be the point is creating a new party type not the same type with different politics .Iagree we need a party to put forward demands and further our goals I would probably join this type of outfit but would fight for the type of organization I think would be most worth being a part of factional disputes while unavoidable should be resolved in a constructive democratic process while maintaining the unity of the party open vigorous debate done in a inclusive comradely way will insure party unity people should be free to debate all issues without fear of retaliation or alienation while insuring the so called losers will maintain party discipline but feel free to engage and contribute and collaborate within the party .I am not a fan of the police but rapist should be called out and handed over to the police .people are looking now more than ever for a new politics they see the failure of the capitalist system and the politicans that support it we should try to attract with out limiting ourselves too much the basic points we can agree on I think let the debate continue

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Abraham Marx August 24, 2013 at 9:26 pm

We’re getting to nuts and bolts questions of organization and platforms and the like. This is good. But again, we’re going around in circles. The perfect platform would lead to the perfect party would lead to the perfect revolution.

But, how is it launched? Alot of sects and middling media outlets and nonprofits would need to converge, or be brought on board. And what of distinctly hostile parts of the country? Are you in contact with sects amenable to this idea? Would it take a conference to do this?

Boiling down what you write further, 1 and 7 out of the first set of points are the most important goals within reach. How do we pool resources and break into a hostile media environment?

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Steve K August 25, 2013 at 3:22 am

I agree with most of the points made in this article, but I think a party only makes sense in the context of a mass movement, and it’s that mass movement we should be seriously thinking about how to bring into existence. It’s a mistake to think that electoral politics will be the primary thing that brings people into that movement. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be running candidates in places where it makes sense (doing so is part of how we can establish that we are “serious”), but we need to think carefully about how we can get ordinary people politicized, organized, and participating in a movement that truly belongs to them. We need a kind of populist but anti-capitalist agenda (as outlined in point 7), but we also need to do large scale outreach around that agenda, and we need to figure out how to do that outreach without relying on large amounts of money. I think it would make sense first to get a create a good social networking website of our own, and then get a volunteer canvassing team together and start canvassing neighborhoods in urban areas to 1) get the contact information of people who agree with our agenda (and get them to sign up to our website and help plan direct actions in their communities) and to 2) to encourage them to come out and help us canvass their neighborhood. If we did that for a few years, we would start to get media coverage, people would see us as a credible and radically different kind of political party, and we would be in a position to start winning high profile elections.

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Alan L. Maki August 25, 2013 at 3:23 pm

We have two fine examples which left us foundations to build on: the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and the Progressive Party.

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Derick Varn August 25, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I am always cautious about ‘fine’ examples given that none of them have ever actually scaled up in a realistic matter. Not to say they aren’t, but I think we have to look at why they haven’t been scale-able when we say things like that.

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J.B. August 26, 2013 at 11:08 am

Chris, thank you for your input. You’ve certainly stimulated a lot of thought, as you can see by the size of the comment below J There is an earlier version of this comment which may pop up on the site as well. I’m not sure, but I think the comment program ate my comment and doesn’t have a record of it. Oh well, technology, can’t live with it can’t live without it.

I don’t think I can give a definitive answer to what the leadership and accountability structure would ultimately look like, as I think this is something that should be decided in face-to-face discussions during the founding of the party. But I will give you a sketch of what I think it should look like if I were to magically conjure the thing into existence without consulting with anyone else. Basically, I’d try to retain the focus on local groups from Occupy, but use this focus I order to build up a larger scale organization. I imagine an approach where primary power is exercised at the local level, in terms of agenda and platform. Each local group would design a local platform with local issues that can be addressed from a socialist perspective. Possible elements depending on the local area might include things like a foreclosure moratorium, creation of public utilities, civilian review boards for the police, etc. The particular issues and strategies would depend on local groups.

Individual local groups would elect representatives to a regional committee which would develop a similar platform and strategy for a region (probably a region would be a state, but it wouldn’t have to be. For example, it might make more sense to have a “Cascadia” region than just an “Oregon” region. Or perhaps we might prefer to go with smaller regions, such as a coastal region, a Willamette Valley region, a Southern Oregon region etc. Or both smaller and larger regions could be created, with a ladder of regions moving up to the national level. I would think this would be up to the individual groups in a region, and could be open to change and revision based on what works best for a given region. I don’t think this is something anyone could know before hand without getting in and starting the project, then adapting to meet challenges.

Finally, individual groups would also elect representatives to the national level. A simple proposal for how many votes each group gets would be just to give everyone two representatives. Other schemes based on population in an area or group membership could be explored as well. Again, however, I don’t think this can just be decided a priori without getting all the interested parties together and hashing it out.

Anyhow, at every level (local, regional and national), executives would be elected to carry out responsibilities that each level finds necessary. Some may choose to have chairman or chairwoman, some may not. Most will probably have roles such as Public Relations, Recruitment, Membership Maintenance, Media Specialist etc. These elected individuals then have the authority to speak on behalf of the group, design publications, organize forums, select candidates etc. If one of them starts doing something really crazy or out of keeping with the values of an organization, then they should be subject to immediate recall by 2/3 vote of their home branch.

As far as accountability for the rest of the membership goes, I don’t think you can really have a truly mass party and impose strict party discipline. Like most political parties in America, we’d need to work at cultivating a base of members and supporters, encouraging them and firing them up when elections roll around, and constantly fundraising and agitating. We should have an ideological barrier to entry, in that anyone voting should agree with one of the three main branches of socialist thought and be willing to sign a statement to this effect. People may want to introduce additional stipulations such as no one who employs others may join, or police can’t join or somesuch, but again this would need to come up later in a series of founding discussions. And we should make sure the barriers to entry aren’t so high that the organization is not easily accessible to average working people. No one should be forced to sign onto complicated dogma or sell newspapers or agree to always do what their leadership says.

In terms of your concerns about accessibility and meeting length, I think these could be addressed by putting a time limit on meetings and sticking to a meeting plan, as well as providing child care at every meeting. We should also probably plan to have three meetings a month at the local level- one in the day for nighttime workers, one in the evening for daytime workers, and one on the weekend for people who couldn’t make the other two for some reason. Votes would have to be tabulated from all three meetings in order to make decisions, which might add some small level of cumbersomeness, but I think it would be worth it to make a decision making process that was truly accessible, unlike the endless Occupy process which basically ran on full time activists without real jobs or families. Votes should probably be conducted according to a basic majority rule or modified majority rule format, but with an internal culture which strives to reach consensus first and doesn’t vote unless it’s really necessary.

There’s a lot more I could say about all of these topics, but I think this should give you a sketch of the sort of thing I’m thinking of in terms of organization, decision making process and leadership. Does this address your concerns?

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Jeff Klinger August 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

” There also seems to be a gathering consensus that the socialist organization of the future should be a multi-tendency organization like Occupy, with significant Libertarian Socialist aspects, which rejects the “Leninist” small pure vanguard model. ”

That isn’t Leninism. Please read this:

http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1990/myth/index.htm

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Saturn August 26, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Not to spam but it’s directly relevant; a project I’m part of called CUSP is directly working on precisely this.
http://socialistconvergence.webs.com/

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Charles August 28, 2013 at 7:19 am

I agree with a lot except for one thing: I’m sticking to the masses in remaining part of the Democratic Party. Despite all the craziness, working on the left of the DP feels a lot more reasonable than 3rd party nonsense.
The absence of a 3rd party to the left isn’t the result of some failure of will or analysis. It’s a reflection of the real. When large, well organized segments of unions, community organizing groups and progressives commit to a well coordinated turning away from the DP – then we’ll have our 3rd party. Not before.

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Abraham Marx August 28, 2013 at 10:02 am

This is a realistic position. But I personally find it hard to stomach, because of how much disappointment and loathing I hold for the DP. And, well, most of the masses don’t vote….

What do you think the fissure lines in the DP are, and what would be the best way for splitting it up?

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J.B. August 29, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Reading these comments, and seeing that mine managed to materialize, I have to say that I basically agree with Abraham Marx in that the party/organization/whatever you want to call it should go from the local level up (I’m thinking basically a political party run on the Federalist model). However, I do think a larger organization could be built much earlier than Abe thinks, with its primary goal in the beginning being to support, initiate and connect these smaller groups. It certainly wouldn’t run any candidates of its own in the beginning, but I think it could play a real role in expediting the building of the local groups on the scale necessary to eventually result in a mass party. It would develop and grow along with the locals, and give an organizational form to the bonds of solidarity between them.

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