The crisis today is not just one of capital; it is integrally one of the Left, as well. After a recent series of expulsions and resignations from the International Socialist Organization, a layer of cadre have staked the claim that, today, not only is more necessary from the Left, but more is possible in struggle.
Brian Kwoba, after spending 6 years in the ISO has, with others, recently inaugurated The New Socialist Project. We welcome their insights and contributions to the immense tasks before us in the cause of working class revolution.
by Brian Kwoba
One feature of the US political landscape in 2010 is that despite all the war, poverty, and oppression that our society is dispensing every day, there is a historic opportunity for the growth of a socialist politics and organization. This task has particular urgency right now for two basic reasons:
(1) The biggest economic crisis of US capitalism since the great depression is combining with the long-term crisis for US imperialism (from the Middle East to Latin America to Asia) to create a generational radicalization and opening for revolutionary politics like that of the 1930s or 1960s.
(2) Because of the pace and trajectory of capitalism’s rampant and potentially irreversible destruction of the environment, this may be the last generational radicalization remaining in human history within which to build successful revolutionary movement to transform the system. The question is not “socialism or barbarism.” It is socialism or extinction.
These facts alone place the question of a radically different economic system—socialism—on the front burner. But in 2010 we find ourselves not only with the urgent necessity, but also a historic opportunity for building a socialist movement in the US. Consider the following statistics.
- A Rasmussen poll (April 2009) found that 20% of Americans prefer socialism to capitalism and among Adults under 30, the number was 33%.
- An international BBC Poll (Nov 2009) asked a more sophisticated question about the system. They asked whether capitalism (a) “works well and efforts to reform it will result in inefficiencies,” (b) the “problems generated by capitalism can be solved through reform and regulation,” or (c) capitalism is “fatally flawed, and a different economic system is needed.” In the US, 13% agreed with the latter statement.
- A Gallup poll (Feb 2010) found that 36% of Americans view “socialism” positively.
Using the smallest of all these figures, 13% of the 300 million Americans believing that we need a different economic system is 39 million people. Pick up on that. Despite over half a century of socialism being a monster bogey man, some 39 million Americans think that capitalism is fatally flawed and we need a different economic system. Even if you think that half of those people aren’t really ready to begin a serious discussion about bringing about a different system, we would still find ourselves with a ready-made audience of nearly 20 million! If we only recruited half of these people over the next 10 years, we would have a mass party of 10 million people. Given this kind of historic opening, we cannot sustain the method which most socialist organizations (micro-sects) have developed: recruiting students and intellectuals in the ones and twos.
All of the micro-sect socialist organizations on the scene today have existed for the majority of their life in conditions that were unripe for large-scale socialist organizing: the collapse or retreat of the progressive social movements of the 1960s and 70s, and the dark decade of Reagan’s conservative 1980s, Clinton’s neo/pseudo-liberal 1990s, and Bush’s reactionary 2000s. Factors outside our control such as the state of the American left, the decades of ruling class attack on worker’s living standards, and historically low levels of social struggle certainly are the main objective reasons for stagnant growth rates for socialist organizations. But there have also been subjective weaknesses and factors that we must face up to. In a good year, the socialist micro-sects recruit a handful of students and intellectuals without training them and without any systematic development process. These sects are usually ruled by an unaccountable bureaucracy that runs its micro-empire of mini-branches with an iron-fisted combination of elitism and myopia, whether or not they have any internal ideology or rhetoric to the contrary.
Let us return to those who actually matter: the 39 million who want a “different economic system.” This figure represents a historic opportunity to build a new socialist movement in the US. If we aim to organize only half of these people (20 million) and we only end up reaching half of that half (10 million!), we can still transform this country from bottom to top.
To be sure, this is a monumental task that will take a bold new approach to building social movements and socialist organization. For example, we will need a nation-wide organization that is radically democratic, with a growth mindset, that fights for members of color and working-class members, and that welcomes new ideas and critical feedback.
In addition, unlike the multitude of micro-sects that are on offer in a few select cities, we need to aim wide—town and country, urban and rural, north, south, east and west. And beyond. We will need an organization with a profound sense of humility and excitement to learn from others, a rigorous system for educating and training ourselves, and the commitment maintaining honest alignment between what we say, think, and do.
That would be an American socialist organization worthy of the name.
We invite you to join in this project.