The Life of the Party (Or, Back to Square One)

Ok, so after my brief stint in the SPUSA, I’m leaving empty handed. We all know where this is going, so let’s just get this over with.

I was wrong, you were right- the criticisms concerning the SPUSA turned out to be true, and it was a mistake to have joined this organization. Mea culpa.

Now before we get right into the details of why I won’t be renewing my membership in the SPUSA, let’s just take a quick moment to recall why I joined in the first place.

After general disappointment with other Leftist parties as being either too small to be especially effective, too localized, or too creepy (RCPUSA, I’m looking at you), the SPUSA ranked high on my list, with both a platform I could agree with, internal democracy, and a large, (reportedly) active membership spread out across the country. Granted, the core values seemed more conciliatory than I’d have liked, but I figured that this was a result of the party being “multi-tendency”, that is, representative of a wide array of Leftist tendencies- a major pro in and of itself. After all, what I believe as a Communist now is not what I’d have believed four years ago, so exposing myself to a “thousand schools of thought” contending would be infinitely more productive than joining a party whose platform I totally and completely agreed with (we’re talking about Socialist Action here).

Like I said, I was wrong.


While I entered into the SPUSA with the hope that I’d be right in the action, I, in the weeks following the acceptance of my membership application, received no orders (or even suggestions) from the party on what I could be doing to further the cause. I’m not knocking personal initiative here- I fully understand that, as individuals, we ought to be addressing the issues that we’re facing in our day-to-day lives and that are affecting the local area. However, if I didn’t need to join the SPUSA to do that. Again, I’m not saying that I require orders from on high to act. It just seems strange that the SPUSA advocate a society based on utilizing individual talents for a common purpose, but not be in contact with its members on how they can best contribute to the movement. I think one commenter on this blog said it best when he stated “The SP-USA doesn’t have 1,000 members…it has 1,000 donors…”.


See, ultimately, my goal in joining a party or organization was to contribute my time, talents, and efforts to a concentrated and directional campaign to advance Marxism, or, at the very least, the principals espoused by the left. I realize again that my location in the backwoods of New York (most of the year) make networking and collaborating difficult, but nevertheless there has got to be something I can do. Have a comrade running for office? Let me help campaign on his or her behalf? Writing a statement on the Arab Spring? Let me get input and info from some of my contacts. Need funds for a project? Let me try to raise funds (ok, technically membership fees do play into that, but you get the idea).

Let's get our hands dirty

The way I figure it, the party should, in and of itself, be an example of Communism at work. A democratic, egalitarian group collectively pooling resources, skills, and effort to make a united effort to combat injustice, oppression, ignorance, and inequality. Getting a magazine is a nice perk, but its not the reason I chose the SPUSA. I chose the SPUSA because I thought that what the organization lacked in core principals, it would make up for in its ability to draw from the various schools of Leftism represented and channel this diversity into a powerful, coherent movement.


Again, I might be coming across as overly harsh on the SPUSA- after all, I have friends there, and I don’t believe that the party is without merit or achievement. At the same time, the general criticism that the party lacks “direction” or “discipline” as a result of it not being based in Leninism does have a lot going for it, and while I think the SPUSA is trying to address the issues surrounding us, it simply isn’t being aggressive enough, certainly in part due to its multi-tendency background. As much as I’d like to assert that we are all on the same side, the simple fact of the matter is that if we try to adopt an approach that is acceptable to everyone, from the most gung-ho direct-action Anarchist to the most diplomatic Democratic Socialist, we’re not going to get anywhere. At some point, someone’s got to put their fist down and say “Look, this is what needs to be done, contribute as much as you feel your conscience allows and then step back- this is gonna be messy!”.

Emphatic Marxist Giant is Empahtic

Look, I’m not going to say that my time in the SPUSA was a waste- I do feel that I’ve learned, even if my learning has stemmed out of a generally negative cause. You can’t sacrifice principals for resources- push come to shove, a small, poor group with direction is going to be advancing the cause further than large, well-funded group without one (or at least, with only the most general of goals). There’s something to be said for the Leninist model of the vanguard party- for all the criticism it receives on both sides of the left-wing spectrum, it’s effective.

Movement from the top down is still movement...

At the end of the day, I’d like to think of myself as a pragmatist. I have my own theories, my values, and my general concept of how things ought to be done, but my perspectives and beliefs are, as they should be with all of us, a means, not an end. I’m a Trotskyist (Anarcho-Trotskyist, if you want to get needlessly specific), but I’ll throw my weight behind whatever and whoever is actively and effectively working to advance the cause of freedom, equality, and justice. My support goes not to who I have ideological similarities with, but to those who are actually implementing Marxism, be it the Maoist-inspired Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (the old BPP- not the new one) or the unionization efforts made by various elements of the New Left.

So where am I now? Back to square one.

I haven’t changed my views on joining a party- I do feel that I ought to be networking and collaborating with other revolutionaries, but I am at a bit of a loss as to where to proceed from here. My other top choices for membership (ISO, Socialist Action) still have the same cons attached to them, and recent comments (and I am grateful for the comments) seem to indicate that both organizations have a lot less going for them than I initially thought.

So again my question is- where do I go from here? Any thoughts?

17 Responses to “The Life of the Party (Or, Back to Square One)”

  1. 1 CWest
    December 22, 2011 at 6:23 am

    Seems like a similar situation I’ve found myself stuck in. As a socialist I’ve considered and may still join the SPUSA, but it worries me exactly for the things you’ve stated. The problem seems to be there is no legitimate party in the US doing what we’re looking for. This is the consequence for how the country views Marxism. For a first political party I want to actually contribute too, would the SPUSA be worthwhile?

    • 2 trotskyite
      December 22, 2011 at 6:29 am

      You’d have to keep in mind that I spend the majority of my time in a very rural area- I can’t comment as to how you might be able to be involved in the SPUSA in more urbanized area. It’s your call, but if I were in your place, I’d probably try to work with an active, localized group like California’s Peace and Freedom Party or the Pacific Northwest’s Socialist Freedom Party. They’re small, but it might give you a chance to get involved in a way that SPUSA and the other major parties don’t offer.

  2. December 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I’ve had a good experience with the ISO, but I’m in an urban environment. I was actually pretty surprised how close that party matched my specific views. The Socialist group at my high school sort of ostracized me for being too Marxist, but the ISO embraces the ideals of the Communist Manifesto pretty strongly. The one thing that sort of bothers me about that party is that every time there is a meeting on campus, there is someone there selling books from Haymarket books. I mean, the books themselves are interesting and I’m sure the publishers do good work, it just doesn’t seem like a good time to be doing that. But anyway, that’s my experience. I don’t know how they network with people outside the bubble.

  3. 5 Young Marxist
    December 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

    If you ever get the chance, move to NYC and check out the ISO. I’ve been a member for over a year now. This is a serious organization and we need people’s talents, initiative, and dedication so that we can build that vision together. I know we have a branch out in Rochester and a couple of other upstate locations, not sure where but I know it’s listed on the main website, but NYC is ground zero for the movements right now. I hope you have better luck in finding what you’re looking for.

    In struggle and solidarity

    • 6 all right already
      May 27, 2012 at 2:34 am

      The ISO is not an org where one can use creativity as you are told what to do, how to do it by branch leadership. Selling propaganda papers? Hello, we are in the 21st century.

      If you do not “get in line” by “towing the line” you are out on your arse.

  4. 8 Thomas Lane
    February 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you comrade. I have the same experience. The American parties have become soft, bourgeois expressions of socialism. The Socialist Party USA IS comprised of donors. It is the only Socialist organization in my area that charges up to $500.00 for an annual membership. The Democratic Socialist Party and Communist Party USA are a phantom parties who collaborate with bougeois capitalists in the Democrat Party who impoverish the American wage earners, regardless of the amount of wages earned They do this through their marriage through the imperialist New Word Order and its oppressive banking monopoly. Even American trade unions are organizations that represent bourgeois interests. The RSP is creepy, and thet are Stalinist pigs. I do not advocate the violent overthrow of the US government, which has so many weapons of mass destruction at its disposal that we would be picked off one by one by drone attacks; that is suicide and it does not help to further the cause in the United States. I too am at a loss.

    • 9 all right already
      May 27, 2012 at 2:32 am

      One has to take initiative to get involved with the SP. On the SP’s page, there are commissions, tendencies, and lots of other stuff going on. If you want to write statements, a commission is the best bet. The “1,000 donors” critique is a bit unfair.

      The problem with the Left is that they try to do things with either NO budget or are too shy to ask members to pony up. If anything, the dues in the SP should be significantly higher.

  5. 10 Jim Sanders
    July 25, 2012 at 12:19 am

    When I was in the SPUSA the commissions were dead. There are some great people in the SP, but the best work is done at a local level and you don’t need a national party for that. What a national party can do, theorize and represent the ideas of socialism, SP has trouble doing because of the limitations of the way that “multi-tendency” is used. The party ends up going nowhere because a diverse group of people can’t agree on a direction.

  6. 11 andrewraygorman
    July 25, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Hello comrade,
    My membership in the SPUSA just ran up. I am taking a break because the organization has some issues that need to be fixed (some of which you point out here). I am writing down all the issues that those who have left recently (and there have been a few) due to these. I do think the party can change, but perhaps a draft of the changes I will propose will come soon.
    Yours for the Revolution,
    Andrew Ray Gorman

  7. 12 drew
    August 20, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Great blog! In reference to your experience with different socialist political parties in the USA, what would you say are the main _ideological_ differences between the ISO and SA? I myself have been investigating such parties with an interest in joining, and have narrowed my options to these two. However, I have found little _ideological_ difference between the two. Please advise!

  8. 13 Andrew
    August 23, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Other than size and dues, how is Socialist Action ideologically different from the ISO? These groups seem so similar, I wonder why they do not simply merge. Is there some deeper ideological difference between these two parties that I am missing here?

    • 14 trotskyite
      August 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm

      Beats me- I believe they had some tiff about Cuba and the ISO’s brief support for the Nader campaign, but other than that the two are practically identical. I’m guessing it has less to do with anything substantive, and more to do with the pride and stubbornness of certain individuals within the parties…

  9. 15 xx
    August 25, 2012 at 12:40 am

    if I may,

    the only way to know for sure if the ISO or SA is worth investigating is to check them out for yourself.
    I’m pretty much in the same boat you are, and I never know what I’m going to find until I show up somewhere and see how it is. I’d like to know what you’d make of the ISO in particular.

  10. 16 James Allen
    November 24, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    I am a Trot. Communist as well. I think it could be healthy if I gave you a heads up on some of the parties you’ve considered. I wouldn’t join the Party for Socialism and Liberation. They’re notorious for they’re crypto-Stalinism. The Peace and Freedom Party are social democrats… enough said. The ISO, although I sympathize with them, advocate political revolution in CUBA! I think that’s very unnecessary. Socialist Action is a good choice, I actually know the General Secretary. I personally would advise you to remain independent, like I have until you’ve found a party which fits your political views. PS, the SPUSA aren’t all that bad. I think that they’re, although slowly, moving towards Trotskyism. I’m not alone in thinking this, even the Social Democrats USA think so.

  11. August 6, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    Hey remeber me? Back before Pres Obomber was elected in 2008 I am the one who pissed off a lot of thin skinned SPUSA memebers on the SPUSA list when I advanced the position that the USA was or was becoming becoming being of functioning as a fascist police state long before Chris hedges and Ralph Nader dared to suggest such a matter. I though your article was something I might of wrote as it articluated why I also did not renew my dues. After all it is bad enough when I have to get into online shouting matches with right wing reactionaries, so as to make the left wing reactionaries seem over kill and redundant. I am not big on factions multi tendancy groups or freeforalls. So I did not enjoy what I have concluded has become part of the right wing game paln to suppress the left from the inside in the constant war of nerves the intelligence is all so well trained to cope with. In what is currentlly encouraged by the lack of non-dogmatic non-sectarian left leadership.

    Where online the left has more spies than a baptist convention has bibles. If you can muckrake the spies out of their holes I will always be interested for at this point I trust no americansos as tainted.

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