Socialist may be the most common word used in the 2016 election. Of course, this dates back to 2008 when it was the best insult the Republican Party could find to use against then-Senator Barack Obama who was running for president on a platform of healthcare reform, something the GOP deemed socialist.
Obviously, the Affordable Care Act became anything but socialist and played right into the capitalist hands, turning insurance into its own market, ready to prey on those forced to pay for sub-par coverage.
Fast-forward to today, and you have self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders making his bid for the White House. While his moniker may cry socialist, his policies more closely align with social-democracy, and not socialism in the Marxist sense of the word.
That is not the case, however, for the Socialist Party USA’s presidential nominee, Emidio “Mimi” Soltysik and his running mate, Angela Nichole Walker.
The Socialist Party USA has a rich American history, dating back to the early 1900s as the Socialist Party of America, running labor leader Eugene V. Debs five times for the presidency, and helping elect over 1000 local politicians including more than 800 mayors. The party dissolved in the 1970s but new parties arose from the ashes, including today’s Socialist Party USA.
I had a chance to ask Mimi a few questions about his bid for president, Bernie Sanders, and why Mimi is running with such massive odds stacked against his ticket.
Socialism is getting some more time in the spotlight in the last 10 months than it has in recent years, aside from Republicans throwing the word around anytime Obama speaks. However, it seems that people still fail to understand the difference between Sanders idea of socialism (democratic socialism) and actual socialism. Can you explain, briefly, what makes your brand so much different?
I’m not sure that my interpretation of “democratic socialism” is the same as what Sanders seems to be promoting. He appears to be referring to social democracy, similar to what we might see in Scandinavia – a stronger social safety net. For the most part, “democratic socialism” is a bit redundant, as socialism is inherently democratic. I suppose “democratic” may be added to stress that someone isn’t referring to Stalinism, which wasn’t socialism, but a good portion of the U.S. still might see Stalinism and socialism as synonymous as a result of Cold War-era propaganda. When we say “socialism”, we are referring to worker control of the means of production, community control, and radical democracy. We aren’t seeking reforms within capitalism. We are seeking the overthrow of capitalism. You aren’t seeing Sanders talking about these kinds of approaches.
It’s undeniable you do share similar goals with Sanders, maybe slightly less with the Democratic Party as a whole, but you support universal healthcare, a $15 minimum wage, abolishing the death penalty, etc. With those similarities and the good that could come from those being passed into law, do you see a benefit to radical leftists supporting Sanders in as much to stop Clinton or other more moderator or right candidates?
I think the first thing to stress is that we seek a $15 minimum wage indexed to the cost of living. For example, if you are a single parent with one child in Los Angeles, you need to earn $25 an hour to earn a living wage. That’s what we’re talking about. The Sanders campaign has expanded the scope of the conversation around the term “socialism”, and that has presented the U.S. Left with an opportunity to engage in what is hopefully a meaningful dialogue with those turned on by the Sanders campaign. However, Sanders is raising funds for the Democratic Party and his foreign policy record is deplorable. I think a thoughtful approach to the Sanders campaign is the way to go for radical leftists.
I don’t think you’re shocked to understand you won’t be elected, and I believe I read that you said if elected, it would be awkward because you’d have to fire yourself on day one. Yet, this run for the presidency seems to me, to be a serious one, and one looking to leave its mark. What do you hope to get out of this run for president?
I think we’re achieving what we set out to do. We know that, as a radical organization, mainstream media generally pays little attention to what we’re up to. That changes a bit during a general election, and with the inclusion of the Sanders campaign, it’s changed significantly. So, using those media opportunities, we express our ideas, pulling no punches. As folks respond with either curiosity or interest, we respond in a way that, ideally, helps them to take a step forward into movement work. This might mean we work to address fears folks might have. It might mean we help connect them to comrades in their communities who are involved in this sort of work. It might mean we help to connect folks who are already doing movement work. So far, it’s been a blast.
It’s been said that nearly 30% of Sanders supporters don’t plan to support Clinton in the general election should she become the nominee. That seems like it’s going to leave a big open gap for someone to sweep in and build off the momentum he built for voters, especially young voters, sick of the political status quo. Do you have a plan to reach out and show those voters what you and your party have to offer?
We’re doing it every day. Along with the folks working with the campaign, Angela Nicole Walker and I make ourselves very accessible to the people. We use technology to reach people who we might not be able to reach in person, hosting open video conferences with the campaign. We answer questions directly. We offer support whenever and however we can. There are no barriers between the candidates and the public. We are members of the community. We are co-workers, fellow students, friends, and family. That didn’t change when we became candidates.