Friday, May 2, 2014

Why Oregon Socialist Renewal?

A project for socialist renewal by members of the Committees of Correspondence for Socialism and Democracy (CCDS) and Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), and Willamette Reds.


Regardless of what generation you may have been born into, you likely have received a steady dose of anti-socialist and pro-capitalist propaganda throughout your entire life. Previous generations of activists for social justice have found the idea of a more humane socialist model appealing, but the sheer weight of anti-socialist propaganda and manufactured hostility has made the challenge of establishing a viable mass socialist movement in the US downright scary.
Yet, the socialist ideal, in which humanity and our planet take priority over the system of private profit, has never been extinguished. Many socialist-minded activists over the past several decades immersed themselves in the labor movement or other movements for social justice, putting their broader ideals for a truly democratic and humane socialist society on hold.
Recent developments signal a growing openness to socialist solutions to the fundamental injustices and inequalities of capitalism. Recent polling on attitudes toward socialism and capitalism show growing numbers of people looking for fundamental solutions to the problems caused by capitalism.

The economic and political elites were shaken by the upsurge of protests centered on the Occupy movement, and the polls themselves, conducted over just the last couple of years, indicate a base of support among a significant sector of the population for the establishment of a viable socialist movement in our country.

While the polls do not show an overall majority with a positive view of socialism, they do show a significant minority, approaching a third of the population with positive views. In a country of over 350 million people, these numbers, as a starting point, are not too shabby.

The more interesting numbers are revealed when looking at young people, and Democrats (Yes, Democrats). A Pew poll shows a progressive Democratic base. Democrats are almost equally split in their appraisal of capitalism and socialism. Forty-seven percent see capitalism as positive but 53% do not. And 44% of Democrats define socialism as positive, linking their negativity about capitalism to a positive affirmation of socialism. In the Pew poll, just 43% of Americans under 30 describe “capitalism” as positive. Even more striking, the same percentage, 43%, describe “socialism” as positive. In other words, the new generation is equally divided between capitalism and socialism.

And we have ground-shaking developments out of Seattle, where Kshama Sawant, an open socialist from an organization called Socialist Alternative, ran for and won a citywide City Council seat, beating out an established liberal Democratic incumbent, where she received nearly 100,000 votes. The political establishment, and the left and right, have all sat up and taken notice at this achievement. Clearly, the Sawant campaign did something right. She ran on a left populist plank – a $15 minimum wage, a millionaire tax, etc., that has resonated with many in Seattle and around the country. She ran as an open socialist and proved it can be done. The Sawant campaign destroyed the myth that there is no mass audience for socialist ideas.

Some critical questions the left needs to address now are how to relate to the electoral arena, how to relate to the Democratic Party, strategy and tactics of socialists when we win office, how we address and organize around racism and white supremacy (one of the main pillars of capitalist hegemony) and the connection between the day-to-day struggles for justice (the reform struggle) and our ultimate goal of replacing capitalism with socialism. We think (and we know there are others out there who would agree) that many of the existing socialist organizations offer a simplistic view of electoral politics and the Democratic Party.

This is a conversation we want to pursue within the broader socialist left.

That’s where this project comes in. There are many ideas as to what socialism is in the eyes of the general public, even among those open or favorable to the concept of socialism. But that’s okay. We find ourselves at an historic moment, where increasing numbers of people find themselves open to socialism. Can the broader socialist left rise to the occasion and build on these favorable conditions for socialist organizing? Is the time ripe for independent or unaffiliated socialists to take steps toward increased organization? Will the impressive victory of the Sawant campaign in Seattle be sustained and built upon elsewhere around the country?

These are burning questions before us today that we would like to dialogue with you about. We hope you’ll find these questions, and this moment, as compelling as we do.


  1. Are there local, regular meetings? I recently moved to the Salem, OR area and I'd love to find information on in person meetings with planning and social justice projects. In the meantime, I'll be catching up on the writings here.

    1. LaTonya, my deepest apologies for missing your post until now. We'd love to have you join us at our next meeting, which is sunday Dec 21 at 2pm(usually runs 1.5 to 2 hrs) at the Ike Box coffee house, 299 Cottage St Ne, Salem, OR 97301