Socialist Alternative: a fucking bummer disappointment

Part of the Imperial Diss List.

As a refresher, I am now Emperor of All Socialist Groups, deriving my authority from my awesomeness and my nature as the divine being Saturn Roman God of Time, and to remind the peasants of my reign in a painful Hunger Games ritual, I single out each group in a polemic one at a time.  If any group sends notice submitting to my will, unconditionally surrendering to my imperial rule, I will spare them.  Send up those white flags.

~

Doing this one actually kind of hurts my feels because I kind of had my hopes up in SAlt for a while, and it just hasn’t panned out.  We all thought they were going to make up for the ISO’s failures but they just reiterated them.  Well shit I guess DSA has taken that role, hasn’t it?

I thought SAlt was the workery group on the Left.  Not workerist, to the point of actual class reductionism, but workery, putting a healthy central emphasis on class organizing and economic demands.  Like an ambiguously romantic frenemyship, it just hasn’t worked out.

SAlt was one of the first and really only socialist groups to place a focus on the $15 minimum wage campaign, with their $15Now front group (which may have evolved some semi-independence, I say mainly out of respect to the coalition members who aren’t members of SAlt in there).  The backstory is that this originated with the union initially hope-inspiring but now largely top-down/bureaucratic union SEIU (Service Employee International Union) launching its Fight for $15 campaign, a total SEIU bureaucracy-controlled front, and SAlt wanting an independent force which could continue pressure and activity even when the SEIU bosses didn’t feel like it.  This is important and was a solid and righteous move by SAlt.

One of the tradeoffs is that it placed a certain distance between SAlt and the SEIU membership who constitute the FF15 campaign — but then, that distance would have existed anyway, because the SEIU controls when the meetings are called, how often, where they are, what they’re about, etc.  It’s not like anyone can be in regular touch with those SEIU members unless they themselves are employees at SEIU workplaces or SEIU union staffers.

So my real issue with the $15Now campaigns, as they are currently incarnated, is that they largely exist (existed? SAlt has probably moved on to the Trump protests) in a student/campus base.  They don’t really seem to reach out to much of the working class outside of that.

So you have a group that has an image of being broadly working class (yes I know students can be working class), because it has a focus on wages, but it’s really just another student-based socialist group.  Like I said in the title: a fucking bummer disappointment.

Why are we still focusing on students, when there is broad radicalization or at least class anger across all layers of society, as the Bernie campaign proved?

“Because that’s where the radicalization is,” I’m told, when I press SAlt members or members of any other sect on this question.  But this answer is fucking idiotic.

All the polls are showing that the radicalization isn’t primarily with college students, whose consciousness is distorted by liberal arts departments actually away from class consciousness towards an awful heinous horrific identitarianism.  You’ll be more of a socialist when you graduate and you actually have to work and pay bills and pay your student debt instead of just accumulating it.

It’s the post-college Millennials who are the real class-conscious radicals.  And it’s possible to locate and organize the youth outside of campuses.  See, this site made a nice map of where they all are in all the major cities.  It might be a few years out of date but it’s still helpful, you can figure it out and update it from there.  And in the case of Philadelphia it’s actually too narrow: the youth have spread out all across South Philly and West Philly as well, and it’s not just “gentrification.”  A lot of us are pretty broke.

But again, if there is a single movement reform demand model type struggle where you could get people to show up who aren’t your typical cute college kids OR Millennials who like civil rights and saving the whales and intersectionality, besides the Social Security retiree team, it’s $15/hr minimum wage.  You can get working adults to show up for that, in the same way they actually showed up and volunteered for Sanders.  Yeah that actually happened, I haven’t forgotten, I see you.  You just actually have to try.  You have to organize off-campuses, in public places.  Maybe you have to have forms of organizing that are more social, less “political,” like having a barbecue or party for $15 (and not a god-damned fundraiser, just to hang out and bring people together).

The fact may also be that $15 is just too high to be winnable at the moment in many cities and that a similar but lower wage campaign would actually be doable and still worthwhile — $10, $12.50 for example.  The pressure for $15 in many cities at least for Bernie to talk about it nationally so that helps as a propaganda effort.  There’s no reason not to assist or initiate efforts that could actually win though too.

Frankly a lot of SAlt’s organizing gets disrupted by chasing after the next big thing.  In Philly they shifted their emphasis to shutting down a new stadium, though I admit that was important and they actually won.

Socialist Alternative has played a complex role in the Trump protests, simultaneously deserving a bit of praise and a little bit of fun-poking.  For one, I think they have done a good job pushing back against the ridiculous identity politics dominating the protests and have brought a bit of class focus and socialist message and pushed back against the out-of-control Clinton love-gushing, condemning the two-party system instead of just attacking Trump and seeing Clinton as the savior waiting in the wings if Trump should fall.

 

However I think they’ve been guilty of what a lot of the socialist Left has been guilty of: not realizing that these anti-Trump protests are actually out of touch with a lot of Americans who see them as Democratic partisan protests.  This third bloc of workers are disaffected with the economy and probably didn’t vote for either candidate and are staying home from the protests because they see the protests as a continued vote for Clinton.  We need to reach out to those workers.

But Socialist Alternative’s continuous catering to the protests, and the protester’s strong liberalism and identitarianism, takes them totally out of touch with the mentality and attitudes of the stay-at-home third bloc of the disaffected-but-class-conscious, who if they voted anyone supported Bernie and possibly Trump out of disgust with the economy and neoliberal reality.  The last thing this third bloc shares is liberal moralism.  They are hard-nosed economic realists and pragmatists.  They care about wages, jobs, and healthcare.  They like Bernie’s platform.  The protests don’t engage these people.  And rhetoric attempting to engage and recruit from the protests doesn’t just fail to engage these people, it actually turns these people off.

How do we engage these people?  We need a strategic shift.  We need to pivot and figure out a completely new way to engage this audience instead of the Trump protest audience.  Maybe we can figure a way to engage both audiences at once.  I’m not sure.  But it’s a serious issue that Socialist Alternative and every other socialist group needs to wrestle with seriously instead of dismissing, because the protests contain a lot of Clinton people, who are a defeated political minority of low quality.  We want the silent majority of the working class, who may not be part of the current anti-Trump protest spectacle whatsoever, who may be much more engaged say by Bernie’s town hall debate against Ted Cruz for example.

One thing we should realize about Socialist Alternative is, the Kshama Sawant city council victory in Seattle was awesome, but it’s not something they’re going to be able to spread or replicate.  It’s not their fault necessarily, it’s just a bummer we should all be honest about and acknowledge before thinking they’re going to repeat the Kshama feat anywhere.  Still even in one location it’s accomplished a lot so we should give them credit for that.

A lot of people will criticize them for supporting Bernie.  I don’t give a shit about that, they were right about that if anything.  Their main mistake was to be too rigid and mechanical of a party-line Trot-bot organization to retain anybody they may have gained from their participation in the Bernie movement.  All the Bernie people went to DSA instead.

It is admittedly hard to tell from the outside whether SAlt is a cult with an entrenched permanent clique steering it, as in the obvious case of the International Socialist Organization, or a cult ruled by a chaotic revolving door of various leaders and the plasmic waves of groupthink originating from across its entire membership.  They’re both unhealthy and the latter may seem more democratic but it’s actually not because democracy requires human beings with freedom of dissent and individual cognition, and cults lack that, even if they have formal democratic voting.

However the fact that SAlt answers to an “International” usually means that those things are horrifically bureaucratic and top-down, and they make sure their sections fall in line, and they ensure the structures of their sections reflect that imperative, which would mean giving them a reliable core backbone of staff, or at least some kind of built-in cultural guarantee that the leadership layer agrees to a list of highly specific party line stances on deep theoretical positions.

Fact is their international basically expelled people over Marx’s theory of the rate of profit to fall, so, this isn’t just a theory.  I’m not sure people who make an issue over the theory of the rate of profit to fall are exactly my personal heroes, but then again it did seem to tie into bigger issues of strategy and tactics, which then tied into the question of, do we have a right to propose a different path forward?  Which ties into fundamental questions of democracy — which is my issue.

People ask, what is a cult?  There’s no definition!, people say.  No, there’s a real easy one.  It’s an organization with a high insistence on and degree of mental conformity.  Socialist groups actually don’t need this.  We need to agree on socialism.  We don’t need to get offended when someone disagrees with the group’s stance on one issue of the day or whether selling newspapers makes sense or whether this movement is a good thing to spend time on or not, but SAlt is the kind of group where exactly those types of disagreements could make people very touchy.

Did I mention SAlt is Trotskyist?  Not orthodox Trotskyist like International Marxist Tendency, Catholic School Trotskyism, whom they expelled, but at least vaguely Trotskyish, Trotsky-descended?  Like, critical of the USSR’s authoritarianism, placing itself in the tradition of the guy who opposed and got assassinated by Stalin?  The guy famous for, you know, dissent?  So it’s kind of fucked up that would themselves have such a rigid, cultish, authoritarian internal culture when claiming to place themselves in the lineage of a man who died bravely fighting against all of that.  Of course Trotsky himself was a mixed bag who veered between embodying resistance and repression at different points in his life, some of it justified, some of it questionable.  Sadly like many modern Leninist groups or socialist groups in general, Socialist Alternative is anti-Stalinist in the ideology they believe, but Stalinist in the way they organize themselves.

Finally there is my typical disappointment in the political correctness and identitarian moralism of Socialist Alternative’s cultural atmosphere.  Like I said, I thought Socialist Alternative would be the workery group, and instead it turned out to be just as heinously plagued by all that  “You can’t say that because you’re a man” or “you can’t speak on that subject because you’re white” type bullshit, which as we know does more to divide the class and prevent communication than to foster solidarity between groups and unite it.  This totally happened because it ended up being a student group.  But it also happened because of an opportunism where the cadre let the student members take total control of the branch with no direction of what the national organization as a whole is supposed to be about.

Paradoxically the deep structure remains in place such that the real cadre/decision-makers lurk in the background ready to invoke their authority whenever necessary and rein things, enforcing the ultimate unstated boundaries.

(Of course these types of organizational inner life descriptions are always met with “You’re not even in the organization!  You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Followed by a year or two of brooding reflection and wrestling with demons then ultimately a confession that the picture painted was 100% on point.)

~

Part of the Imperial Diss List.

Anyway you know the drill.  If you want the polemics to stop just send up the white flag and unconditionally surrender to my imperial rule.

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