A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Last week, I went to a reception. Twenty years ago, a friend won a First Amendment case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. We joked about the left celebrating the only fight we’ve won in the last twenty years. Without going into the intricacies of this case, in part my friend was able to win her argument because of her willingness to utilize existing political infrastructure, in this case the American Civil Liberties Union. The evening ended with laments about the lack of an organized left.
We no longer have a liberal party and a conservative party. We have a far right party, the Tea Party; an extremely conservative party, the Republicans; and a right of center party, the Democrats. Which leaves leftists where?
We need a well organized, well financed, well defined democratic socialist party. We need a permanent critique of capitalism that has, as its basis, a platform defined by moderate socialist values like the promotion of a mixed economy. We need a democratic socialist party that is comfortable with hierarchy, infrastructure, loyal opposition, and raising serious money. I’m talking about a businesslike party that is comfortable with blue suits and socialism. I’m speaking of the socialist who is comfortable having lunch with a banker – then asking that banker for a donation.
I am talking about core values and policies that define positions that critique capitalism, encourage investment and trade, and define a line beyond which this left will not move to the right.
What would a democratic socialist party look like? I think the platform of such a party would include, among its core principals:
There are related topics, urgent current issues, issues that need to be addressed through the application of the principals just enumerated. Among these issues are:
The British Labour Party grew directly out of the trade union movement. The party had the benefit of relying on such organizations as the Trade Union Congress. My point being that they were comfortable with, and indeed desirous of, hierarchy and political infrastructure. We need to apply a similar mindset. But one significant problem is that many on the left value a kind of vague inclusion, which, in practice, amounts to a kind of “Y’all Come” membership, an everyone-gets-to-speak meeting, and an everyone’s-opinion-has-equal-value platform. It’s true that representative democracy values the idea that everyone should a voice. But a political party is defined by its demarcations.
Thus the need for a few words about, frankly, exclusion. Democratic socialism is a defined position. There are things that it is not. It is not communism, for example. It is democratic. Few functional parties can be run by consensus. Lest there be any question, I advocate a businesslike party. Many have a sentimental attachment to the revolutionary left. On a personal note, it’s true what they say: you get more conservative as you get older. In my twenties, I was an atheistic communist. Now I’m a Catholic socialist. Many of us also have a sentimental fondness for the representative of Unshorn Apocalyptic Revolutionary Party. We’ve all been to the meeting where this representative, of his party of six, has gone on for half an hour. But a businesslike approach assumes the ability to say, bluntly, “We have an agenda, and this isn’t it.”
Is such a party possible in the United States? I can only answer that question with the next obvious question. Why not? As I said, we have a far right party, the Tea Party; an extremely conservative party, the Republicans; and a right of center party, the Democrats. The left is ripe for organization. And viable parties have been formed from less need than American now has. The problem with many on the left is that we want to take a “Y’all come” attitude toward organization – which means no organization at all. Occupy Wall Street was extraordinary, but consensus killed it. A democratic socialist party, one built upon the traditions of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, must act like a party. That means definition, things we are and things we are not, people we are and people we are not. It means hierarchy. It means infrastructure. It means money. It means blue suits that are a bit – Dare I say it? – conservative.
— By John Samuel Tieman