The recent election primaries have stolen much of the progressive thunder-badly. Barrack Obama’s stentorian voice and uplifting rhetoric, two qualities often passed as “progressivism” in the United States, gets incredible press while the personal venality of the Clintons and their surrogates, (which mask serious policy choices anathema to a truly progressive agenda) is overly analyzed. Some substance!
Both candidates are imperial Democrats, supporting the 800 or so military bases around the world, and the hegemonic dominance that assures. Both candidates will not support an end to insurance company mobsterism in health care, and instead opt for what most modern Western democracies have: a single-payer health system. Both candidates talk only in the vaguest of generalities about the importance of unions (but neither support an end to Taft-Hartley), the environment (yet both support nuclear power and neither will reign in destructive corporate agriculture), or “working families” (but neither supports a living wage). What all this means is that, simply put, a progressive agenda is once again relegated to the backburner in exchange for the maddeningly inevitable mantra of “change”, which in American politics means changing the prison guards and keeping the Left locked away from mainstream debates.
Here in Iceland where I live, the Left-Green Movement, a Green-Socialist-Feminist coalition, is part of the government, and its leader Steingrímur Sigfússon delivers the most impassioned and inspiring speeches, winning respect from even opponents for his integrity and vision. But they represent only 14.3% of Parliament. The Socialist Alliance, a Social Democratic, center-left coalition (perhaps the equivalent of a more liberal version of New Deal Democrats) holds 26.8% of Parliament and so between them, almost half of the total seats. Together they get attention and more importantly, some legislation passed that fits a progressive description. While this is not the place to recommend a proportional system of representation for the US (though I do) or a whole new way of configuring movements and political parties (which I do), I think it time some of us on the US Left reassess our choice of words (and fear of others) and earnestly support where we can an openly socialist agenda electorally. What this means is giving a new look to an old friend, the Socialist Party-USA (SP-USA).
Even as large numbers of progressives, including socialists joined the Green Parties in the 80´s (and technically there still remains 2, without counting the arcane mergers and configurations within individual states) the Greens have been hobbled by infighting and crass manipulation by Dems in Green clothing. And while Communists (CPUSA) and other socialist parties exist, they have neither the traction (organization or ballot access) nor the independence (the CP, for example, supports the Dems as a tactical, and “practical” endeavor) to make more waves than a pond ripple. For progressives, these are disheartening signs.
In addition, we have seen the movement of radicals, Leftists, and other progressives drift towards the Republican candidacy of Ron Paul. His unswerving opposition to American imperial adventurism and undeclared wars, and strong support of the Constitution make him appealing. Yet many of his other positions are questionable, to say the least. Why aren’t we reassessing a group that has always opposed wars, imperialism and unjust policies at home and abroad?
The Socialist Party is the US´s oldest socialist party, does not favor top down “democratic centralism”, is adaptable to distinctly American political realities and has a platform remarkably consistent with progressive (and Green) views without the nutty baggage that hampers any Left discussion of politics. At one time, in its heyday, the Socialist Party had numerous elected officials in office and Eugene Debs once received almost a million votes—while he was in jail! By openly supporting the Socialist Party, we would be making a statement loud and clear that can push the debate much further to the Left than it is at present.
Yet, if history teaches us anything it’s that movements matter and that unified struggle beats divisive sectarianism. Hopping from one political party to another is now an unfortunate, inevitable consequence of US ballot access laws. Thus, a socialist may have to vote Green in order to have her vote count (or in order to simply be able to vote) or a Green to support an Independent candidacy in order to be heard.
But what if we simply agreed that what we want, at its most basic, is found pretty squarely inside that SP-USA platform and that, wherever possible, by voting Socialist we are helping a noble party get back into the consciousness of Americans and giving an alternative vision the chance it needs to compete. While I have for 20 years committed myself to Green politics, I think it may be time to shift back to where my heart says I should go for me to feel I am not wasting my vote, or my time—to the Socialist Party. And if, and when we can form our version of a Left-Green Alliance, in whatever name, I’ll be right there too.