Joining the Party: Socialist Party USA (Part IV)

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the term “Socialist” gets thrown around a lot. It’s been used interchangeably with Marxism, it’s been used as a generic insult to describe government power, and- as I’ve found to be most common- it’s been used to describe large, centralized, social-program heavy governments typical of many European countries. With the current progessivist movement (endorsing more government programs, regulations,etc.) in full swing, I’ll admit I tend to be pretty cynical whenever I hear the term used. My disappointment with the CPUSA didn’t help my pessimism much, and I started off my investigation of the SPUSA worried that it worried that it too would prove to be tame and conciliatory.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Now my investigation of the SPUSA is far from complete- at the moment I’ve sent some questions over to an SPUSA party member to ascertain the party’s views on a number of issues, in particular the use of violence and the role/existence of the state. For now though, I’ll go ahead and lay out what I’ve seen so far.


  • Surprisingly, the SPUSA seems to be more radical than the CPUSA. Unlike the CPUSA, the SPUSA has remained staunchly critical of the Democratic party and has firmly rejected authoritarianism and the welfare state notion that so often accompanies the word “Socialist”.
  • The SPUSA makes repeated demands for unionization, collectivization, and for industries to be controlled by their workers and institutions to be controlled by the communities they benefit.
  • The SPUSA affirms that oppressed groups have a right to “self-defense in the face of attacks”. Now this point could stand to be more clear (does being exploited count as an attack, or only immediate physical threats?) but it remains fairly reassuring to see.
  • The SPUSA seems to generally support the basic tenets of Marxism.


  • The SPUSA platform does, at times, seem ambiguous. Exactly how much government power the SPUSA expects to exist in a Communist society is never fully defined- and as I’ve said before, I’m on the left of one of the most left-wing tendencies in the left wing. I want to see government so stripped down, people will question whether it actually exists.
  • The SPUSA never fully defines what constitutes “self-defense”. Indeed, the general feeling I get from reading the SPUSA platform is that they expect to enact social changes through democratic elections. While I’m all for working through the present institutions to fight on behalf of the oppressed, I don’t think it’s how we’re going to be able to bring about real solutions. Capitalism cannot be reformed- even Rosa Luxemburg, arguably the mother of Democratic Socialism, realized this, and advocated for total revolution. I’ve had this same issue with the CPUSA- the exploiters and oppressors in this world have no qualms about enslaving thousands- am I to expect that they’ll simply give up their power? I’m not saying that this is what the SPUSA believes, I’m saying this is the impression I’m getting from their writings. I’m still waiting on a SPUSA member to give me a definitive answer.

Now that said, my overall feeling towards the SPUSA is positive.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll join the SPUSA (again- still investigating), but on the whole the party seems like it’s worth attention.

2 Responses to “Joining the Party: Socialist Party USA (Part IV)”

  1. July 11, 2011 at 2:07 am

    Saw this from Pat Noble’s post, and thought I might add my two cents about my experience in the SP.

    First off, to address your last point in the “pros” section, I’d agree that the Socialist Party does advocate a more or less Marxist political strategy, though it doesn’t claim to be a Marxist party. In general I think this isn’t a bad thing, since it means we don’t require people to be overly knowledgeable in Marxist theory from Day 1, though in my opinion we could do better on internal education.

    I agree that the platform is somewhat ambiguous. The main reasons for that, I’d argue, is that the SP has been moving to the left since the 1990s and becoming a more explicitly revolutionary socialist party, so there’s leftovers from previous years and national committees. This feeds into vagueness on what self defence means and what our general political strategy is. There’s still a group of people in the Party that I would call social democrats, but more in the image of the European “left parties” (Die Linke in Germany, La Gauche in France, the Dutch Socialist Party, etc) than current social democracy. It’s still a problem because they don’t always act in a democratic fashion, but there’s also a revolutionary current (known as the Revolutionary Unity Group) that’s pushing for explicitly revolutionary socialist/communist politics.

    As for how to enact the type of change we want to see, I don’t think many people in the SP have illusions that we will simply be voted into power, the ruling class will say “Oh, you’ve won, congratulations” and allow us to expropriate them. While I personally don’t discount the possibility of winning an election majority without selling out our programme and principles, it will still mean harsh conflict with the capitalist class to actually enact the types of changes we want to see done. This isn’t to say that struggles for reforms aren’t important, just that for the working class to actually obtain political power, some violence will probably be inevitable since the ruling class won’t want to give up its privileged positions. Again, this is a somewhat debated issue within the SP, with some folks being more naive than anything else in my opinion, but support for the revolutionary transformation of society is there.

    In terms of other groups to look into, I’d suggest the Kasama Project if you haven’t looked at them already. It used to be a group of ex-RCP members, but has broadened into something much more (there’s a promiment SP member in Florida who’s also involved with the Kasama Project, and I’m friendly with some of their New York people). They’re not much of an activist organisation at present, but they do have local collectives in some areas.

    • 2 trotskyite
      July 11, 2011 at 3:58 am

      Thanks for the further clarification. I have come across the Kasama Project a couple times, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. At first glance, I thought it was a Nepali Maoist site- though I’ll be sure to further investigate in the days to come.

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