Socialism returned to the United States in an odd way three years ago when pundits took to the airwaves to scream about gulags and breadlines, but the talking heads never actually explained what Socialism as a political ideology stood for. What better way to find out than to ask a real socialist, which is what we did this weekend when the Socialist Equality Party met at King Hall on the CSULA campus to discuss “The Fight for Socialism Today.”
We spoke with SEP National Secretary Joseph Kishore about his organization, the USA's favorite taboo word and what an actual socialist wants for the country. (Hint: It's a little different than what Barack Obama wants.)
The words Socialism and Communism are used interchangeably. What's the difference between the two?
Words take on different meanings. Communism, the term, has become associated in people's minds with Stalinism whereas Socialism has become associated with social democracy as sort of a reformist character.
The fight for the reorganization of society, the establishment of a worker's state in the interest of the working class that will democratize control of the economy, in fact, the vast expansion of democracy to the basic levers of power, the productive forces, that's genuine Socialism and that tradition is represented by Trotskyism which is the Marxist, Socialist, Internationalist opposition to Stalinism. Stalinism was, in fact, the opposite of Socialism. It was a bureaucratic degeneration of a worker's revolution in the Soviet Union.
We trace our heritage to the Russian Revolution but Stalinism was really a rejection of that and the counterrevolutionary current. Our tradition is Marxism, International Socialism and that's the perspective defended by the heritage of Trotsky.
There was a strong Socialist movement in the early 20th century with people such as Upton Sinclair nearly winning the governor's seat in California. How does the history of Socialism in the United States tie in with the history of the Fourth International?
There were various Socialist currents. He ran as a Socialist although he was really in the orbit of the Democratic party. That's not our heritage but, in an earlier period, Eugene Debs received two million votes. There was a lot of support for Socialism as there will be in the future.
There's a differentiation in the Socialist movement around the time of the Russian Revolution in which there was a political differentiation. There was the formation of a big Communist party. Actually, a lot of the people in the IWW, for example, ended up joining the Communist party and there was an establishment of a Marxist party before that. Debs was a Socialist but the political differentiation between revolutionary Marxism and social reformism was not yet established. That became established out of the Russian Revolution.
The degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the emergence of Stalinism immensely confused that political question. It's not only in the United States but internationally. We trace our heritage beyond the Fourth International. There is a Socialist tradition in the United States going back to Debs and the IWW but a lot of the political issues were first clarified after the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.
It seems that there has always been a segment of the population who has had an almost rabid response to both words especially since the days of Joe McCarthy.
I think that's much less now than it was before. Of course, you have a vibrantly, anti-Socialist ruling class in this country and anti-Socialism and anti-Communism has been the state religion of this country for many, many decades. Within the population, I think, the consciousness is very much shifting. What is the alternative? Capitalism? The political representatives of the Capitalist system openly declare that the preservation of their system requires a massive lowering in the living standards of millions of people. Everyone has agreed on this. They themselves have made their own argument for the historical inviability for their own system because they proclaim that to maintain the system, to maintain the wealth, the profits of the corporations or banks, workers have to pay.
Well, what is the alternative? The alternative is Socialism and I think, in our own experiences over the past decade, there's a shift and people are very open to a Socialist perspective and one that is uncompromising in its opposition to the whole system. People are fed up with this political system. They're fed up with the conditions in which trillions can be handed over to the banks and no one is held accountable. There's a massive financial catastrophe for which the ruling class is responsible and no one is put in prison. In fact, the bankers are wealthier than ever. The bonuses handed out this year surpass those of years prior to the crash and people are fed up with this entire system.
Is there anyone at all in the political establishment who you would even consider to be somewhat Socialist?
There's no one who represents the working class and no one who is Socialist in our view. Socialism is not just a word, it's a political perspective. Socialism doesn't just mean advocating a few additional social programs. Genuine Socialism means a society in which production is controlled democratically, the economy is controlled democratically in the interest of social need and not private profit. It's not someone who just advocates very limited social reforms.
Look at supposedly Socialist parties in France or Germany. All of these parties are carrying out right-wing policies. Social reform as a perspective, the idea that you can reform capitalism by introducing various social programs, that whole perspective has proven a failure. There's no way to address the interest of the working class outside of transforming society in a fundamentally revolutionary way. There's no one in the political system who will do that.
Any affiliation with the Party of Socialist Liberation (PSL)?
That's here in California. I can't speak at length about them. We're not affiliated and I don't know their program that well. One has to study the programmatic differences. People always say “well, there are all these Socialist groups. Why don't they get together?” Well, there are fundamental, programmatic differences.
We're fighting to build the Socialist Equality party as the leadership of the working class. We don't ask people to take it for granted that we represent the interests of the working class. It has to be studied. Study our program, study our perspective. One has to make a determination on that basis.
There are certain fundamental issues which separate us [such as] the issue of the Democratic party, our position on the trade unions that…they're organizations which serve to smother opposition to prevent the independent opposition of the working class, our opposition to identity politics, our insistence that the issue is class and that all workers of all races and genders are united by their class interest.
The promotion of identity politics found its apotheosis in Obama, the first African-American president, who is now carrying out the most right-wing policy in U.S. history.
What is the purpose of today's conference?
This is part of a series of conferences throughout the country. We held one in Ann Arbor last weekend. We'll have another one in New York City on April 30. The theme is The Fight for Socialism Today. The conferences will be outlining a series of resolutions and outlining basic political questions facing the working class and we'll develop out of the discussions and the resolutions an independent Socialist response to the crisis, an independent Socialist perspective for the working class and propositions to the Democratic and Republican parties.
We're fighting for the independent organization of the working class and the basis of a Socialist program to carry out a struggle. The ruling class is at war with the population. On Friday, the Republicans in the House passed a bill whose aim is to eliminate Medicare and Medicaid. The Obama administration earlier in the week announced its own plans for cuts up to four trillion dollars over twelve years.
All factions within the political establishment agree that the working class has to pay for the economic crisis that the ruling class created. This is a product of their own policies and a failure, ultimately, of the Capitalist system but everyone has agreed within the political establishment that the working class has to pay.
Our view is that the workers are going to fight against this attack and they have already begun as we've seen in Wisconsin. The key question facing workers all over the country and, indeed, internationally is the question of a new program, a new party and a new leadership. That's what we're fighting to do with these conferences: build a leadership for the working class.
That means an irreconcilable fight against the Democratic party, against all those forces which support the Democratic party, the trade unions, the middle class organizations who promote the Democrats as somehow the lesser of two evils, that somehow they can be pressured to represent the interests of the working class. We say “No, a new party has to be built and that party is the Socialist Equality party.”
We're fighting to win the leadership of the working class in this struggle and we have every confidence that we will going out of these conferences.
It's not just a question of increasing taxes on the wealthy. It's a question of changing the ownership of production. The giant banks and corporations have to be democratically controlled. There's no solution to the crisis people are facing which does not attack the foundation of the problem which is private ownership of these corporations, really a corporate dictatorship which exists in the United States and internationally.
That's the fight for Socialism: the reorganization of the world economy in the interest of social need and not the profit interest of the corporation. We're not trying to do this by pressuring the Democratic party or any section of the political establishment. We have an entirely different conception which is that genuine change is going to take place in a political movement in opposition to this entire political structure which is not fundamentally a democratic system. We don't accept the framework of this system.
Our aim is not to gain influence within the existing political system. It's quite clear that the experience of Obama has demonstrated that change is not possible within this political system. He was the candidate of change, that was his whole line, and he comes in and carries out the policies of the Bush administration on every front. Domestic policy, the war, now you have a new war in Libya, the attack on democratic rights, the assault on the working class, all of this has continued.
The political system in this country represents the ruling class. For the workers to fight for their interests, it has to be outside the framework. We're fighting for a mass social movement, political movement of the working class in opposition to this entire framework.
Finally, let's jump to a hot-button issue of the left: globalization. What is the SEP's view on globalization?
We're for a global transformation of a capitalist economy to a socialist economy. We're internationals. We're not for national constraints within the framework of capitalism. In our view, the problem is not globalization if it means possibilities to global production, a globally integrated economy for the improvement of the living conditions of everyone, for a rational distribution of the world's resources. The problem is not globalization per say, it's Capitalism, private ownership of production.