Socialists should run as socialists

May 29, 2014

THE SOCIALISTWORKER.ORG editorial "Declaring independence from the 1 Percent" makes an excellent case for building alternatives to the two capitalist parties. What it doesn't do is provide any reason why socialists like Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones should run as Greens.

Is the Hawkins/Jones campaign analogous to that of Henry George, referenced in the editorial? Not at all. As the editorial states, the Hawkins/Jones campaign is "an opportunity to register a protest vote." But this protest vote, to the degree that it does occur, will be registered in the name and under the banner of the Green Party, despite the fact that both candidates are socialists (Henry George was not).

Is this utilizing every legal opportunity to put forward our views? Consider that, by contrast, Socialist Alternative has made very clear that they run socialist campaigns and candidates--even suing to win the right for their candidate, Kshama Sawant, to be listed as such on the ballot.

Dan Siegel does not appear to be a socialist of any stripe, but his campaign in Oakland, which seems to have genuine grassroots momentum, might be the kind of independent campaign described--backed by unions, against the Democrats, which could present socialists with "an opportunity to raise class demands within a wider political arena." Even so, it must be asked of Bay Area comrades: why no socialist campaign for any of the three Oakland City Council or five San Francisco Board of Supervisors seats up for election this November?

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We should bear in mind that socialists are not the only ones who can learn from Sawant's victory. The Democratic Party, which has a long history of making skillful use of figures like Dennis Kucinich and Elizabeth Warren, could advertise a "socialist" at the fringes of the party to help maintain its hegemony over left-leaning Americans. Democrats found success running one-time advocate of "democratic socialism" Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York and are already excited about the prospect of "socialist" Bernie Sanders running in the 2016 Democratic primaries.

Michael Kazin of the New Republic, in an article forwarded by Friends of Bernie Sanders, writes that a Sanders campaign could "excite and mobilize some of the young people who have grown disenchanted with Obama's achievements...if Sanders does run, he could perform a vital political service to Democrats in need of revitalization." And what are these young people to think if Democrats are "socialists" and socialists are "Greens?"

It was right for the International Socialist Organization's (ISO) electoral involvement to be centered on Green Party campaigns at the beginning of the 21st century. Though Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez were not socialists, their 2000 presidential and 2003 mayoral campaigns garnered significant working-class interest, and could be connected to the project of building a then-growing Green Party. At the time, this was probably one of the best places to find people who may have been moving toward socialist ideas, and to have an impact on them through joint work.

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A decade and a Great Recession later, as the Green Party has dwindled in numbers and significance, shouldn't the ISO be learning from Socialist Alternative's success and doing more to put socialism back in the American lexicon? Of course, when socialists run for office, they should welcome Green endorsements, but there is no reason for socialists to run as Greens.

Labels matter, and it would be a shame if we ceded such important and potentially galvanizing ideological ground. Let's follow comrade Sawant in wearing the badge of socialist with honor, and put our ideas forward boldly. We need socialists--real socialists--to run as socialists.
Bo Elder, San Diego

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