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TL; DR: Occupy Wall Street + NDAA = I join the Socialist Party.

I’d had an affinity for socialist ideas for years, but since that already put me on the left wing of the Democrats, I didn’t see any point in figuring out whether I truly was a socialist by definition. What was the point? The Democrats and Republicans were locked in a fierce, eternal battle, with the Democrats often losing, much to the detriment of our country. All I could hope to do was fight for the Democrats in the attempt to heave America ever so slightly to the left.

You could argue that my change of heart on the matter is all thanks to Occupy Wall Street. The website for Occupy Los Angeles (my local occupation) had a reading list that included Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which I’d been meaning to read, and so I finally did. If you’ve read it, you know that Zinn is quite critical of the two parties, holding that they are both controlled by major corporate interests, like two brands run by the same company, without truly representing the will of the people. He even equates “bipartisan” efforts to the single state of totalitarian governments.

At the same time, the National Defense Authorization Act was going through congress, and all three of my representatives—all Democrats I’d voted for—voted for it in spite of the provision that allowed the indefinite detainment of American citizens, and Obama, whom I’d also voted for, had called off his threat to veto it. Now, I’m not even particularly obsessed with habeas corpus and due process the way I am with labor issues and poverty. But maybe it was the very fact that I’ve taken those rights for granted all my life that the idea of stripping them away (no matter how “legal” according to the Constitution) was unthinkable.

I reasoned that I could not, in good conscience, vote for anyone who voted for the NDAA, no matter what amendments they promised to work towards to ameliorate the offending provisions, and even if it meant risking that a Republican would take their place. Throwing not only my vote but my time, energy and money behind them (as I did during the Obama campaign) no longer made any sense.

‘But if I don’t vote Democrat, I’ll just be wasting my vote and the Republicans will win!’ my conscience cried. This is, indeed, a serious concern, which is why I’ve long thought that we desperately need instant run-off voting (IRV). The fact that it hasn’t been implemented it in even one federal election in spite of how incredibly simple, fair and rational it is is, to me, a frightening testament to the stranglehold the two major parties (i.e. the plutocrats) have on the system. Of course they haven’t implemented IRV; that would mean allowing the competition to become a legitimate threat to their control.

But doesn’t that then mean that I should continue to support the Democrats until we have IRV? No. Firstly, there’s the usual folk wisdom in support of voting for third parties: the odds that you’ll be the one deciding vote in a major election is basically nil; it’s not a wasted vote since it shows how many people don’t support the two major parties, etc. But more convincingly, imo, Howard Zinn asserts—and he has tons of historical examples to back it up—that real change comes not from the ballot box but from direct action by citizens. If this is true, then you may as well vote according to your conscience and devote most of your energy towards non-electoral activism.

I decided that I would no longer allow myself to be bullied into voting a particular way because otherwise the “bad guys” would win. Just as the Republicans held funding for social programs hostage in exchange for extending tax cuts for the wealthy, so does the Democratic Party hold a quantum of justice and equality hostage in exchange for voting them into office.

At the same time, I’d been reading up on the mechanisms involved in social organizing, and one article mentioned that the first important step in a movement is defining what your goals are (anarchists may note that this is exactly what a leader does first, and thus what every individual has the responsibility to do instead of just following the crowd as I had done for so many years). And so I realized that it was time to figure out what I thought the best possible society would be and to decide once and for all whether I really was a socialist.

Although I knew for sure that a strong welfare state would be great (as amply proven by Sweden, Norway, et al), all the examples we have thus far of countries that have attempted socialist or Communist systems have, unfortunately, turned into totalitarian governments. At the time, I had not yet encountered anarcho-socialism, but I did check out Looking Backward, a socialist utopian novel, which, instead of merely showing how super-duper amazing a socialist world would be, gets into the nitty-gritty of how it could actually work. I reread the Communist Manifesto, which I hadn’t revisited since the ninth grade, when I hadn’t yet worked a day of my life. It resonated with me much more strongly this time around.

Throughout my reading, it was as if I was going down a checklist on what I agreed with, and my mind just kept going check, check, check. Lest you might say, well, of course you agreed with these glowing, sugar-coated portraits of socialism, I’ve read glowing, sugar-coated portraits of libertarianism, too, and they did not quite meet with the same warm welcome. Atlas Shrugged made me fit to be tied; I found it practically a handbook on how to be a sociopath.

Some things you read lock into your mind, make you recognize what you suspected all along, which you know to be true. And there are other things that just make your bullshit detector go off immediately. Everything I read on socialism made me feel the former rather than the latter.

Moreover, I found the Socialist Party’s history in America, most active in the 1910s, worthy of being proud of, especially in the writings of Upton Sinclair and the formation of the unions, and I wanted to be a part of it. It had been a glorious surge of populism that was cruelly dismantled by the corporatocracy, including the distractions of World Wars I and II and the deliberate inculcation in the public an irrational fear of socialists, or, in other words, the fear of their own power and rights.

In admitting to myself that I was indeed a socialist, and that I would go public with it, I felt what I can only describe as what I imagine it feels like to come out of the closet: a sense of relief and honesty as well as fear of not being accepted. However, the response so far has been surprisingly positive: one of my friends was horrified only because I wouldn’t be voting for Obama, but immediately rationalized, “Well, he’ll win California anyway.” My sister was actually glad I was no longer in the Democratic Party, which I was surprised by, and she mentioned that she’s an independent, which I didn’t even know. A friend of mine “liked” the announcement of my new party affiliation on Facebook. I know that sounds ridiculously petty; I wouldn’t mention it except for the fact that she’s a corporate attorney whom I had no idea would be supportive of it.

But these are close friends and family, and due to the strong stigma against socialism and the threat it bears against the powers that be, part of me is afraid that there might be tangible repercussions from my membership. Who knows, if the wrong person at work (where many people, especially those in high places, of course, are conservative) finds out, I could find myself out of a job. However, if that’s indeed the case—if there’s that little de facto freedom of speech in this country—then that’s all the more reason to be a member of the party.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Now what? (3+ / 0-)

    At least the Greens can get ballot status some places.  

    God luck to you.  I hope you will work with Democrats on  issues where we agree, regardless of electoral politics.  

    I'm from the Elizabeth Warren and Darcy Burner Wing of the Democratic Party!

    by TomP on Tue Jan 17, 2012 at 05:46:02 PM PST

    •  Occupy! (0+ / 0-)

      Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. :) I actually considered joining the Greens--and heck, might still do so. I met a guy at a Socialist Party event who's a member of both.

      The answer to "now what?" for me actually has little to do with the Socialist Party and everything to do with the Occupy Movement. Joining the party was important to me in terms of acting on my conscience, but in terms of political involvement, I think my energy might be better spent on direct action than struggling to put Socialists on the ballot (for reasons mentioned in my article).

      But yes, on issues where people agree, of course they should work together! That's one of the crazy things about SOPA--how (some) Republicans AND Democrats actually agree (on both sides on the issue)! It's like hell has frozen over.... ;-)

  •  Good Luck. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomP, cassandracarolina, Gooserock, exlrrp

    The 'problem' with third parties is being in them takes away some of the abilities to change the system from within.   You can't become any sort of precinct captain, committeeperson, etc, within the Ohio Democratic party, for instance, unless you're actually a Democrat.  Go figure...

    So because folks on the left aren't controlling enough low level parts of the political machinery, we keep winding up with corporate tools or even DINOs to vote for when elections roll around.

    There are a lot of activists around, but if you cede the actual choice of potential candidates from the start, the problems flow forward.  The number one thing leftist activists seem to be doing to shoot themselves in the foot is not actually getting into the local political machinery and taking over.  It's great to be protesting from the outside, but we need to take control from the inside to create the kinds of candidates who actually will take their cues from the will of the people, and not from the big money donors.

    •  The Rightwing Organized Outside and Rammed (3+ / 0-)

      candidates and issues into the Republican Party. I don't think they took control first at least not all the time.

      We've had 35 years to see that working within the party has not prevented it from being a conservative party that has advanced the 1% at the cost to the 99%, individual legislative victories notwithstanding.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Jan 17, 2012 at 06:06:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Have we had 35 years of actual working within the (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TomP, Whimsical

        party, though?  Remember, my point is that simply being a voter, or doing volunteer work, or anything else doesn't actually advance progressive candidates.  Liberals, progressives, whatever you want to call them have to actually take over the party machinery and advance progressive candidates, not let political malfeasance lead to things like people switching from Republican to Democrat to run in elections simply because they did poorly when they ran in previous Republican primaries. (OH-08, this year.  McMasters or whatever his name is, truly is a DINO, he ran in the 2010 Republican primary against Boehner.)

        Unless we're actually pushing forth progressive candidates, it doesn't matter how much 'support work' we do to 'get Democrats elected', we won't be getting progressive elected officials.

    •  Change from within the system (0+ / 0-)

      Hi Erich,

      Good point. I have two things to say to that:

      1. On the local level, historically, third parties actually have managed to make a dent. The Socialist party, towards the beginning of the 20th century, had many elected officials in city councils and such. I assume third parties have attempted to do the same ever since, but have not succeeded for the usual 2-party system reason.

      2. I think the problem with the idea of change from within (which my article alludes to) is that doesn't seem to work. You say that we need "candidates who actually will take their cues from the will of the people, and not from the big money donors," but without big money donors, how will they get elected? It's a Catch-22. I know Obama had a great deal of funding from individual, middle class donors, but he ALSO had a lot of funding from major corporations and probably would not even have won the primary without them.

      This is, of course, why we desperately need campaign finance reform. But the reason we STILL don't have campaign finance reform, of course, is because the people who benefit from the system have the power and the desire to keep it in place. It's another Catch-22.

      We do have people like Bernie Sanders (who, though independent now, was originally elected while in the Democratic Party) and Barbara Lee, who don't appear to be beholden to corporations, but they're obviously in the minority.

      The question then is: why are they in the minority? It appears to be because they come from very left-wing areas. This begs the question, why aren't there more left-wing areas? This is sort of answered in the book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" The Republicans managed to connect free market ideals to God and country. I think a lot of blame can be laid on Fox News, which--surprise surprise--is run by big money interests!

      So how can we dismantle all these Catch-22s?? From what I can tell so far, the only way is to build a critical mass in the people, including the dissemination of correct information to counter the lies on Fox News and other right-wing media. If that means the election of more progressive candidates will become more feasible, then great! But that will be impossible without first laying the groundwork.

  •  Are We Limited to Membership in Only One Party? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Horace Boothroyd III

    Sure at primary time we can only vote in one party, but why couldn't we belong to half a dozen of them if we want?

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Jan 17, 2012 at 06:04:17 PM PST

    •  Belonging to half a dozen - (4+ / 0-)

      It's no problem to register as a Democrat, donate to the Fourth International's Social Equality Party, donate to the Democratic Socialists of America, join the RCP or the CPUSA.

      It is a problem should you throw away the form that gets you a ticket to vote in a primary - or become a Delegate at State or Local conventions, or get elected to the Democratic PArty's Central Committee -  even though the two-party system is intentionally designed to stabilize politics around a meagre set of 'centrist' capitalist ideas.  

      I am a registered Democrat, and a regular contributor to a number of Socialist political organizations. Call me the Rose Party. I donate to the WSWS.

      I will vote for every Progressive Democrat, and send Bernie Sanders campaign contributions, as I have done many times over the years.  I will vote for Obama. But in the streets, my banners are RED.

  •  Socialism (0+ / 0-)

    I don’t think there’s an irrational fear of socialists.  Most people, at least in the Democratic Party, would be sympathetic to most of the goals of the Socialist Party.  However, as you rightly point out, socialist governments have the tendency to slide into totalitarianism.  Most of us have a healthy distrust of overwhelming government power and would feel uncomfortable with having our lives guided if not outright controlled by the government, however well intentioned it may be.  When things start going wrong, and they always seem to in socialist countries, that power tends to get wielded in ways meant to protect the government, not for the benefit of the populace.

    Economically, social democrat countries like Sweden, Norway, etc., have been successful in running economies, but any further toward socialism and you start ending up with economic basket cases.  I’d like to have more economic equality and justice, but not at the expense of a dynamic economy that can create wealth and not just redistribute it.

    •  Anarcho-socialism (0+ / 0-)

      Hi Sky,

      If at the end of the day, it turns out that the welfare systems of Sweden and Norway are the best socialism can get, then I am A-OK with that. They have the highest quality of life in the entire world.

      However, since anarcho-socialism (aka libertarian socialism) has not been tried in a modern country (the closest thing to it in practice is probably the Iroquois Confederacy), I'm down to try it instead of dismissing it as infeasible because it's never been tried.

      I highly recommend checking it out. It basically sets up a system in which there is no central government at all, let alone one that has the power to repress the people. Of course, some people may have problems with this, too, but since government control is something you're concerned about, I present it to you just as something to check out as a method by which socialism could work without such control.

      In full disclosure, I don't know what an "anarchist economy" would look like (haven't read enough about it to find out), but as Robert Reich says in his excellent book, "Reason", the vibrancy of the economy isn't directly correlated to the average quality of life.

  •  Good Job. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    costello7, Horace Boothroyd III

    We want more and better Democrats, but it seems we really have to prod them along to get those.

  •  You mentioned IRV. (0+ / 0-)

    But have you heard of Approval Voting?

    The advantages of Approval Voting:

    1. In order to win, a candidate must have the majority of votes and not just a plurality.
    2. People can vote for as many candidates as they choose.
    3. Third parties are given a fair chance since they can't spoil it for the "major" parties and when third parties have a fair chance, that helps break the 2 party stranglehold on our government and politics.

    "Progress is possible. Don't give up on voting. Don't give up on advocacy. Don't give up on activism. There are too many needs to be met, too much work to be done." - Barack Obama

    by eaglekid85va on Tue Jan 17, 2012 at 08:11:55 PM PST

    •  Approval Voting (0+ / 0-)


      No, I had not heard of it! What happens if there is no majority?

      •  The way Approval Voting is designed, (0+ / 0-)

        the only time there can not be a majority is a tie in the number of votes, but all democratic voting systems can have that (very rare)problem, and the way of dealing with ties is a seperate issue.

        To give you an example of Approval Voting, just picture Plurality Voting, but instead of only being able to pick one choice, you can pick as many choices that you like. This will give 3rd parties a fair chance, as they can't spoil things for the "major" parties, and 3rd parties have a better chance to be elected.

        Since Approval Voting is so simple, it easier to sell to people then IRV. Also, IRV has a track record of maintaining massive two-party domination everywhere it has seen long-term widespread use. The most noteworthy example is Australia, where IRV has been used in their House of Representatives since 1918.

        "Progress is possible. Don't give up on voting. Don't give up on advocacy. Don't give up on activism. There are too many needs to be met, too much work to be done." - Barack Obama

        by eaglekid85va on Thu Jan 19, 2012 at 07:59:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Sinclair's CA Gubernatorial Campaign (0+ / 0-)

    Sinclair's platform was End Poverty in California or the EPIC plan:

    There's more to American Socialism than Upton Sinclair, however.  

    EV Debs is only one other good person to look at.

    Coincidentally, I have been going over some stories about union organizing around NYC in the 1890s through the 1920s in the last few days.  The organizer I was reading about started when he was 15 and was a soap box orator who faced down hecklers, survived a couple of knife attacks, confronted gunmen carrying sawed off shotguns as well as police detectives determined to stop him from speaking.  It took a lot of courage to get decent working conditions.  He writes about "industrial citizenship," noting that workers have interests in industry that go beyond work hours and work conditions.  Seems to me that concept goes together with Gandhi's idea of trusteeship for owners.  This organizer described Socialism as the practical application of the Golden Rule.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Tue Jan 17, 2012 at 09:46:36 PM PST

    •  Eugene Debs (0+ / 0-)

      Cool, thanks for the link. :)

      I've read about Debs as well; he's featured pretty prominently in A People's History.

      That's so cool that you've been looking into union organizing; I've started to a bit as well. It's so great to learn from--and I'm not at all surprised it wasn't taught in public school lol. :P

  •  What I'm really concerned about (0+ / 0-)

    are some of the areas you've posted in regard to reasons one would not join a 3rd party.  I'm concerned because I share them to some degree.  While I'd say that no vote is wasted, in a practical sense that ballot is cast against your primary interest, or at least mine would be.  Mittens is bad enough, but Paul would set the stage for a new nationalist fascism.  I couldn't condone my own vote that may contribute to either of the two.

    I've always considered myself more of a Social Democrat than Democrat even though I'm registered an Independent mostly because of the dixiecrat roots I grew up being disgusted by.  Meaning that equality was for folks who could afford it.  The rest of us got extra hours on the line with a shovel.

    But as the 21rst century looms ahead, I too have to wonder whether or not Democrats are really paying attention.  Too few nationally renowned Democrats actually talk like democrats.  Obama himself seems swayed by inequality only when it serves the purpose of electability.  In much the same way that I felt betrayed by Clinton, Obama too has failed what I considered to be his mandate.  

    As for publicly announcing my social democrat tendencies, I've enough trouble in the middle of Oklahoma even in the "Ivory Towers" of higher education!  I dare not put a Planned Parenthood sticker or DNC insignia on my car.  I'm a contractor.  There are no protections whatsoever for the 3rd market.  I'd starve and condemn my family to starve with me.

    While I would agree that what is needed is a new breed of socialism on a national scale, it cannot happen until we address the illness at the core of our society.  Money has to be removed from not only politics, but law.  There must be an equal quality of justice for every person.  Without that we're only handing the tools of our enslavement to a different master.

    Hamilton's test of a society has to become our own before we can continue to experiment with state-sponsored industry.  We must repair the fourth estate.  We must ensure quality of justice for all.  And they must happen first.

    What a man can be, he must be. -- Abraham Maslow

    by Mr Jones on Tue Jan 17, 2012 at 10:52:46 PM PST

    •  Ron Paul v. Obama (0+ / 0-)

      Hey Mr Jones--

      Excellent points. I came across something from Noam Chomsky that said that there's nothing morally wrong about choosing the lesser of two evils. If someone offered you a choice of being shot in the foot and being shot in the face, you'd of course choose your foot.

      If it came down to a really close race between Paul and Obama in California (god, that'd be insane), I might have to vote for Obama. However, I would not spend my time campaigning for him. I feel ok with not doing so because of the wider sweep of US history, brilliantly conveyed by A People's History. In reading that book, you see the people settling for the slightly more liberal choice time and time again, as well as expending most of their energy in electoral politics (which as I mention, is not the most conducive pathway to change), and it just makes you go, why don't you people fight for what you want?? I've been trying to think of the world and of history as if I've lived forever, and if I had, I think I'd be like, enough is enough!

  •  Good for you (0+ / 0-)

    from a proud socialist wobbly type. who registers as an independent.

    "I took a walk around the world, To ease my troubled mind. I left my body laying somewhere In the sands of time" Kryptonite 3 doors Down

    by farmerchuck on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 05:02:07 AM PST

  •  Your comments are awesome! (0+ / 0-)

    Can I just say that I'm really gladdened and heartened by all the thought-stimualting, intelligent, civil comments I've come across here?? Wow! :)

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