Bill Scher is a Contributing Editor for Politico Magazine, the senior writer at the Campaign for America’s Future, and co-host of the Bloggingheads.tv show “The DMZ.” This interview was conducted during January 2016 as part of Bill’s reporting for Politico Magazine on how long-standing socialist parties have reacted to the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Scher: Besides yourself and Seattle Councilor Kshama Sawant, are you aware of any other self-described socialists — either official party members or otherwise — holding office at the state or local level?
Noble: To the best of my knowledge, the only two socialists currently holding elected office at a local or state level are myself in Red Bank and Kshama Sawant in Seattle.
Scher: What Socialist Party USA candidates do you expect will be running for office at the state and local level in 2016 (or 2017 if anyone is thinking that far ahead)? Is this part of a strategy to emulate your individual success and build a roster of elected officials? Is there an individual in charge of candidate recruitment, and if so, would I be able to interview that person?
Noble: The Socialist Party’s 2015 National Convention, which was held this past October in Milwaukee, nominated Mimi Soltysik and Angela Walker as our presidential slate for the 2016 elections. Mimi is a former National Co-Chair and the current Chair of the Socialist Party of California.
Angela is an activist in Wisconsin that ran for Milwaukee County Sheriff in 2014 as an independent socialist and received over 67,000 votes (20%) in the process. Along with the presidential campaign, we will have a number of candidates running throughout the country.
Our electoral campaigns allow us the opportunity to deliver a radical alternative to the messages and policies being put forward by the Democrats and Republicans. Success at the ballot box does happen in some instances, but the real victories come through engaging our communities and having our democratic socialist message resonate with working class people. Our aim is to build and participate in a larger, mass movement to replace capitalism with a new system of radical democracy. Electoral action is one tool to further that goal.
Scher: Has the Bernie Sanders campaign inspired more socialists to run for office? Are there specific examples of people I could talk to?
Noble: I don’t know of any candidates running specifically because they have been inspired by Bernie Sanders. Regardless of who is running as a presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, which we advocate complete independence from, I think it’s fair to say that our candidates run out of a desire to promote democratic socialism and challenge the capitalist system.
Scher: Has Sanders made “socialist” a more acceptable term? Does that make your job as party co-chair easier?
Noble: There’s no denying the Sanders campaign has brought the term socialism back into the public discussion, though his interpretation of socialism, specifically democratic socialism, is significantly different from the vision put forward by the Socialist Party and our Statement of Principles. In his recent speech at Georgetown University, Senator Sanders described his version of democratic socialism as largely based on FDR’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s New Society – reforms that do not address the larger need for a new system and a radical transformation of society. In contrast, the Socialist Party’s Statement of Principles calls for a “radical democracy that places people’s lives under their own control – a non-racist, classless, feminist, socialist society in which people cooperate at work, at home, and in the community.”
Scher: How did you initially win your race? Was your campaign based on national socialist themes? Or did you focus on more local concerns? Was your constituency inclined to elect a socialist or was your opponent flawed?
Noble: In my 2012 school board campaign, as well as my 2011 campaign for Monmouth County Freeholder, I was very clear on who I am, what my politics are, and what party I am proud to be a member of. Being as open and clear as possible on those three points was important to creating a viable alternative in at least one election on the ballot.
Scher: I presume there are differences in electoral approach and issue platforms between Socialist Party USA, Socialist Alternative and the Green Party. How do you perceive these differences, and do they complicate the effort to elect socialists?
Noble: As I stated before, our electoral campaigns allow us the opportunity to deliver a radical alternative to the messages and policies being put forward by the Democrats and Republicans. The Left encompasses a broad spectrum of ideologies and beliefs, as well as a large number of organizations and individuals with different interpretations of those ideologies and beliefs. That includes the groups you mentioned; Green politics from the Green Party, Trotskyism from Socialist Alternative, and democratic socialism from the Socialist Party USA. Describing this variety of beliefs as complicated was an accurate choice of words on your part, but it also underscores the fact that a mass movement to bring about a world that is free of capitalism will involve a lot of different viewpoints and positions. All I can say to that is let’s get to work.
Scher: How many state ballots do you expect then Soltysik-Walker ticket to get on?
Noble: My understanding is that the presidential campaign is focusing on ballot access in around a dozen states. That being said, the Soltysik/Walker campaign is a national campaign and will be campaigning throughout the country, regardless of ballot access or write-in status. As I said before, the purpose of our presidential campaign is to promote democratic socialism and the Socialist Party, as well as provide a radical alternative to the capitalist parties. Ballot access is a tool towards that purpose, but is by no means a requirement or deal-breaker.
Scher: What’s your opinion of the Left Elect group? I see that Soltysik and Walker were part of its recent conference. Do you expect that group to unify socialists behind the Jill Stein campaign?
Noble: Both Mimi and Angela endorsed the Future of Left & Independent Politics Electoral Action Conference, but they did so as individuals and not as representatives of the Socialist Party. Due to a focus on our issue campaigns that we felt should be prioritized, the SPUSA declined to participate in the conference.
I’m not following the activities of the Left Elect group, so I don’t have an expectation on their role in the upcoming presidential election. Looking at the organizations involved, I know some have endorsed Bernie Sanders and others are looking towards whoever the Green Party chooses as their presidential nominee. In all honesty, I’m less interested in what other political parties on the Left are doing amongst themselves and more interested in how the Socialist Party and Soltysik/Walker campaign can better organize ourselves to bring more people into the movement for social justice and economic democracy.