Ask a Democratic Socialist

Ask a Socialist

Have questions about democratic socialism? Ask away and a member from the Socialist Party USA will give you an answer. If you are interested in joining the Socialist Party USA, please visit

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My Question About Democratic Socialism:

5 Responses to Ask a Socialist

  1. Editor says:

    This question is from Derek.

    “I’m a communist and thus already have been introduced to radical Socialism…. I’m wondering what is your response to the possibility of potential Trotskyists to joining the party, or working with those that have Trotskyist sympathies?”

    1. David

    The SPUSA does not rule out people’s “isms.” Rather, its interest is in whether people agree with our principles and platform. People generally have their own interpretation of “isms” and, as a multi-tendency party, we don’t have approved definitions of “isms.” An example might be someone who admires the accomplishments of the Chinese Revolution, Russian Revolution, Cuban Revolution, or 20 others; and associates acknowledged leaders of the revolutions with the revolutions themselves. That’s a natural way to think, though many of us don’t see leadership that way.

    At the same time, some “ism” words raise questions. The obvious one is fascism. The word “Trotskyism” evokes “Leninism” because Trotsky claimed that the Fourth International was the heir to Leninism. One idea associated with Leninism is a form of disciplined organization that we, as SP members, don’t agree with. Words like “cadre”, “vanguard”, and “democratic centralism” are associated with Leninism and Trotskyism.

    We expect all our members to voice their own ideas freely within the organization; not to follow the discipline of a caucus or organization that as members in and out of the SP.

    2. Steve

    I’m afraid that this is a subject which may not have a quick nor easy answer. Like the saying goes, “Put two leftists in a room together and they will come out with three political parties.” That is part of our common left dilemma. If only the political right were as dysfunctional.

    The best place for all the good revolutions of the past is the history books. It is amazing the number of studied Marxists and socialists of all varieties who are ready to throw down a major split in an organization over the correct line on, say, the Russian Revolution or a crisis in Sarajevo. This is good and fine for scholarly discussion, but it usually tends to detract from serious socialist organizing. To this end, I personally feel that the Trotskyists in general have done more than their part in disrupting serious organizing.

    I almost unilaterally agree with Trotskyist ideology, what with the concept of permanent revolution and all. My problem seems to lie with Trotskyite methodology, wherein the philosophy appears to be that if one cannot win a preferred organization model in a given group discussion, than one will shit on everything until they totally ruin whatever organization good may have existed.

    So to wrap, I must say that the old definitions should dissolve and we look towards the future and not the gang wars of the past. If you, Derek, would like to join the SP, you are quite welcome to do so. However, please consider moving forward rather than re-living the past.

  2. Editor says:

    “Ask a Socialist” has a special treat for our readers. Our reader Deniz submitted some timely questions concerning the SPUSA that are relevant to the current presidential election. How better to offer a socialist response than one from the SPUSA’s presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik! Please enjoy and follow the links for more information on the SPUSA and the 2016 Soltysik/Walker campaign.

    The Editor


    From our reader Deniz:

    Hello, I am studying third political parties in the United States and have a few questions.

    How is the Socialist party different from democratic socialism?

    Mimi: I think this depends on how you define “democratic socialism”. I’ve been seeing, with some frequency, folks equating “democratic socialism” with “social democracy.” Perhaps the best way to gain insight into what the SPUSA stands for is by taking a peek at our Statement of Principles at

    Denize: Do you support Bernie Sanders? Or do you support your own candidates for president?

    Mimi: I think we welcome the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with those who are perhaps newly interested in socialism. Our 2015 National Convention nominated a ticket for the 2016 election. Folks can find out more about the Socialist Party USA’s Soltysik/Walker 2016 ticket at

    Deniz: How many members do you officially have?

    Mimi: I don’t know that we have official numbers, but I believe we have somewhere in the ballpark of 800 dues paying members, with another few hundred who sit just outside the threshold of “member-in-good-standing.”

    Deniz: What are the biggest issues that you are currently advocating?

    Mimi: I think that system change, from capitalism to socialism, is core. Reforms to capitalism will not eliminate oppression, exploitation, and imperialism; and it will not sufficiently address climate change. We can acknowledge that we’ll likely see reforms along the way to our ultimate goal, but our ultimate goal is revolution.

    Denize: And feel free to add anything else you would care to mention about your party.

    Mimi: I think this is a great time for folks to get involved. Everything is at stake. I am confident when I say that folks will find a welcoming and inclusive environment when joining the Socialist Party USA.

  3. Editor says:


    From John:

    I am thoroughly convinced that the way of the future is socialism, however the quarrels I have with the transition to it are tactical in nature. Does the SPUSA ever plan to adopt the DSA, so we can have a stronger party membership and actually be an internationally aligned socialist party. The SPUSA is not, though it should be because it has its own candidates.

    Also, is there any interest in bridging the gap between ourselves and our Marxist sister party, the CPUSA–they have become too weak to even put out their candidates and now are reduced to voting for Democratic Party capitalism.

    From Paul:

    My questions are this: Does the SPUSA cooperate with other socialist parties? If so, under what circumstances? Are there any circumstances in which it would not cooperate with another party or group?

    Response from Greg:

    The Socialist Party USA is a democratic socialist organization that supports independent political action as well as a multi-party political system. Every individual has the right to join an organization which best represents her/his/their political ideas. DSA, CP USA and many other
    socialist organizations exist because they represent different ideas, ideologies and strategies. The Socialist Party will continue to work with many organizations (like-minded and not like minded) on issues that effect us all, but we cannot ignore some of these ideological and strategic differences. The organized left in the US is very small, and even if all the left groups united, we would barely make a dent on the political landscape. At this time, the strategy has been to build the left and the many ideas these organizations present.

  4. Editor says:

    Many thanks to all of those who have submitted questions to “Ask a Socialist.” It is not surprising that readers of The Socialist continue to ask challenging, thought-provoking and topical questions. Given that the SPUSA is a multi-tendency party, “Ask a Socialist” offers two responses from Party members, representing different but interrelated socialist perspectives. The views expressed are those of the respondents and not necessarily of the SPUSA.

    Editor, The Socialist


    Our reader, Kaileb, asks:

    I’ve only just begun understanding the parties involved in politics. I plan to move to Finland within the decade, and currently I’m looking into Bernie Sanders for 2016. My question for you is: What is socialism’s response to the voluntarily unemployed who have no intention of working when living on government programs?

    Response from Aaron:

    Frankly, I think it’s perfectly fine. Contextually, the state apparatus is an inherently oppressive structure in that it forces the population to bend to it’s will and law. One of these “wills” comes in the form of taxation. Taxation allows the state to rob what little financial stability the working population already has, which allows the state to continue to thrive. Government programs are nothing more than a pacifier, something to keep the poor from getting too rambunctious with this situation. When people decide to “leech” off these programs, they are really just trying to gain the basic needs of human survival, that being shelter, food and medical care. If people want to leech off these programs, go ahead. You’re just taking what was paid for with your own labor and money to begin with.

    Response from Jim:

    The question invites much speculation. What is the “socialism” to which you refer? Is it the capitalist social democracy familiar to Europeans, and one now advocated by Bernie Sanders; or is it an economic democracy based upon worker ownership of the means of production and distribution of good and services? Is “voluntary” unemployment always undesirable? Some voluntarily unemployed people labor to create things or offer services that are quite useful, yet receive no wage compensation. This labor creates what Marx calls “use values.” For example, parents may choose to remain unemployed in order to provide free day care to their working children. Should we exclude them from considerations regarding socialist “responses” to voluntary unemployment? What do we envision as the “government programs” under consideration? Finally, the reasons why responses are required particularly by socialism, versus capitalism, are not clear. We can untangle some aspects of these complex questions by examining relevant SPUSA Principles, with an eye toward illuminating important issues confronting socialist unemployment policy. From there, we can extrapolate to some modest speculations that address these concerns.

    Let us take the Principles of the SPUSA as representing the socialism under consideration.

    We are committed to the transformation of capitalism through the creation of a democratic socialist society based on compassion, empathy, and respect as well as the development of new social structures. Socialism will establish a new social and economic order in which workers and community members will take responsibility for and control of their interpersonal relationships, their neighborhoods, their local government, and the production and distribution of all goods and services.

    …[W]e call for social ownership and democratic control of productive resources, for a guarantee to all of the right to participate in societal production, and to a fair share of society’s product, in accordance with individual needs.

    Humanitarianism and personal responsibility are fundamental to the socialist ethic. Socialism encourages citizens to be productive, and to donate personal time to beneficial programs in their communities.

    This ethic will determine socialist unemployment policy. For example, the SPUSA calls for full employment with a livable guaranteed annual income and proposes generous financial and retraining support for the unemployed. Full employment would eliminate voluntary unemployment resulting from people leaving the job market out of frustration or for other significant personal reasons. Living wages economically benefit workers and their communities, and reduces the significant social costs of subsistence wages.

    The socialist ethic is this regard is summarized in the adage, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Nevertheless, not every able-bodied person would be expected to work. For example, retirement is considered a social benefit under socialism, and some sort of social security and social supports for the elderly would likely remain. The collective support of vulnerable citizens is both reasonable and consistent with socialist benevolence. Socialists defend the right of seniors to a dignified life, free from economic hardship, social isolation, and discrimination. Sufficient income, housing, health care, medication, and access to social services would be guaranteed to all elders.

    The socialist ability-need principle acknowledges that social factors, personal circumstances and shared social values affect if and how individuals participate in production. This is because abilities and needs vary widely among individuals and often asymmetrically so. This asymmetry informs policies that involve, for example, those whose employment opportunities are impeded by disability, or able-bodied workers who do not have access to adequate transportation to work sites. In addition, socialists take the creation use values, other than those commodified for profit under the capitalist wage regime, as a fundamental social good. According to the SPUSA, “The primary goal of economic activity is to provide the necessities of life, including food, shelter, health care, education, child care, cultural opportunities, and social services.” Since socialism places creation of use values over the production of commodities for profit, the maxim might be alternatively expressed, “From each according to their ability to create goods and services for use and not profit, to each according to collective policies based upon socialist humanitarianism.”

    The Socialist full employment policy takes into account actual constraints upon employment and socially sanctioned unemployment. Unemployment does not necessarily mean “unproductive.” For capitalists, if a worker does not create use values for profit, that worker is deemed unproductive. For socialists, if a worker creates no use values at all, that worker becomes unproductive. This observation highlights a central distinction between capitalist and socialist concepts of labor value.

    Socialism is committed to helping people develop to their fullest potential in harmony with others. It demands an end to employment discrimination and exploitation based upon color, gender, sexual orientation or criminal history. This policy can alleviate some factors that hinder entry into the workforce. In addition, socialism intends a revolution that replaces neo-liberal consumerism and Social Darwinism with a needs-oriented and collective worldview. Socialists recognize the social value of the virtues of compassion, empathy, and respect, and the social and economic benefits of the unpaid creation of use value. This recognition, manifested in a socialist social consciousness, can provide a strong incentive for people to offer their abilities under a wide range of productive activities for the common benefit.

    Concerns of non-socialists about socialist policies are often expressed in neo-liberal terms that reject the socialist ethic. Capitalists create jobs if only if profits are forthcoming; human needs are secondary. Capitalism discourages full employment because it causes labor costs to rise. Talent acquisition and retention become more difficult when people can move easily between jobs, or decide to contribute use values outside of employment. Capitalists work to insure sufficient general employment and unemployment to maximize profit. Socialists wish to establish a compassionate and democratic society based upon the primacy of use value. Thus, every individual’s talents and circumstances would be considered during the formulation of workforce policy. Since the socialism eliminates the capitalist class, workers collectively insure that every able-bodied adult can work if they choose.

  5. Editor says:

    What is the Socialist Party’s views on:

    • 1-A Crime, Prisons, Punishment/Restitution
    • 1-B Registries, such as the Domestic Abuse, Animal Abuse, sex offender, Methadone, etc. (Many more are out there and more are popping up all the time)
    • 1-C illegal Drugs in general, Marijuana (Medical and Recreational use)

    1-A) The Socialist Party recognizes the inherent injustices in the prison industrial complex. A disproportionate amount of the outrageous number of prisoners in the United States are Black or Latino. The poor and People of Color are overly policed in their neighborhoods, arrested at much higher rates than their wealthier white counterparts, and the injustice system perpetuates much longer after people are released from prison. The SPUSA’s national commission End the Prison Industrial Complex works with other organizations to make connections between crime, cycles of poverty, and racial justice. In terms of crime, it is obvious that it exists due to the economic devastation that has left entire populations destitute and without opportunity. The Socialist Party People of Color Commission maintains an emphasis on the racial aspects of economic injustice and poverty, which results in policing, inflated levels of crime, and disproportionate jail populations of Black and Brown individuals.

    1-B) While registries seem like a good thing because you want to know if you’re living next to a sex offender so you can keep your kids safe, it is important to recognize registries as yet another tool for the current state to exert its power. Transformative justice is one alternative to relying on two party impositions of order-keeping. Transformative justice is a general philosophical strategy for responding to conflicts. It takes the principles and practices of restorative justice beyond the criminal justice system. For example, I would refer a heroin addict to Narcotics Anonymous rather than a methadone clinic 100% of the time, and on my honor I’d bet that would empower the person seeking help to get better 100 times more often then a methadone registry would help anyone.

    1-C) Over-policing and unjust sentences for drugs such as cocaine vs crack cocaine have racist roots, and unjust laws such as these must be eliminated immediately. Drugs such as marijuana should be legalized nationally and taxed in order to generate revenue for education, health care, and infrastructure. The classist legislation and implementation of the so-called “War on Drugs” was never intended to curb drug use or even promote public health; it was intended as a revenue stream for police departments and the injustice system. Because of its slanted, oppressive enforcement, drugs should be legalized and regulated in order to capitalize on tax revenue for the state, but also to regulate, decriminalize, and promote the health and safety of addicts.

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