“Never, and under no circumstances, may the party of the proletariat enter into a party of another class or merge with it organizationally. An absolutely independent party of the proletariat is a first and decisive condition for communist politics.”
– Leon Trotsky, 1929
Over the years, I’ve been called a lot of different names by various people within leftist circles and, particularly, the social activist population at large – a radical and a militant, a Trotskyist and an idealist. Naturally, despite my interpretation, these phrases were not meant to be ones of praise, but ones of slander and insult. The “revolutionaries” of today are the reformists of yesterday, those who somehow still believe – despite generations of evidence to the contrary – that a system built on genocide and exploitation can be reformed via the same avenues in which it was constructed. These people have neither imagination nor courage and are a stain upon the ideals of revolution and the legacy of those who promote and execute it.
The news exploded in late June when a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, bested Joe Crowley, a 20-year Congressman, in a Democratic primary election in a district in New York. Headlines across the nation heralded a “Red Alert,” discussed the shock of seeing a “socialist” make history by beating an establishment politician and analyzed the in-and-outs of the impacts that “socialism” would have on the Democratic Party. Progressive liberals swooned while radical leftists shook their heads and not-so-silently wept over yet another assault on our ideals. That the media equates progressive neoliberalism, and membership in a largely reformist organization, with radical leftism is no surprise to anyone, but that people who actually consider themselves radical leftists would hail this as some sort of victory for the cause of revolutionary socialism is both shocking and appalling.
To be fair, Ocasio-Cortez is a vast improvement upon the alternative – her largely populist agenda, not dissimilar from that of former-presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, was pro-Palestine and called for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, universal healthcare and a federal jobs guarantee program – but she is far from the champion of socialist politics that she is being made out to be. In an NPR interview following her victory, Ocasio-Cortex clarified her vision for “abolishing ICE,” which essentially called for reforming the agency to make it more “humane.” But even her version of humanity is distant from that of a revolutionary socialist – when asked if she supported open borders, Ocasio-Cortez refused to answer to “false accusations” and reinforced that she supported a “secure border” to make illegal immigration more difficult. Later in the interview, Ocasio-Cortez stopped short of calling on establishment Democrats to be voted out of office, specifically House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and spoke enthusiastically of Democrats regaining a stronghold in Congress.
Entryism, pulled from the ancient playbook of reformism, is the radical notion that a leaky canoe can be repaired if we only improve the duct tape we’re using to patch it and it is nothing new to leftist thinking – revolutionaries of every epoch have been plagued by it. This notion requires a much more idealistic assessment that the notion that a leaky vessel must be reconstructed rather than continually patched if we hope to see it cease taking on water. One must first maintain faith in the current system to believe that, by succumbing to its constructs, we can somehow radically change it into a system equitable for the whole of society. Further, one must be delusional to the point of insanity to trust the integrity of one who would tout their belief in the red flag and yet run campaigns beyond its folds. This type of thinking is not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination and it does nothing to further the goals of revolutionary socialism.
First and foremost, equating reformist politics with radical leftism only further dilutes the meaning of our ideals and goals – as people grow more comfortable with this new and wholly misguided definition of socialism, we end up with a generation entirely miseducated to the true definition of revolutionary socialism; it becomes a progressive neoliberalism, distanced by wide expanses from the worker-led society of our dreams. It hinges on the notion that what the people need are more government programs, organized by the same capitalist villains who have caused our monumental despair, to lift them out of their suffering. But without an anti-capitalist outlook – and by this I do not mean an opposition to capitalist politicians and beneficiaries, but support for the complete unraveling of the entire capitalist system worldwide – we are only patching a hole that will, in short time, only need to be patched again. These modern “socialists,” elected under the banner of the Democratic Party, have not only failed to uphold the anti-capitalist vision of true socialist revolution, but they have now tied our movement to one of the foremost standard bearers of international capitalism.
Secondly, one who calls them-self a socialist and yet fails to run under the banner of a socialist political party does extreme damage to the ideal of establishing a mass socialist party, one separated completely from the capitalist parties that have been running our nation since its inception, which is the only vehicle by which electoral revolutions can be won and sustained. Again, the idea that we can continue to use the same roadways, which have time and again led to dead ends and roadblocks, to reach the promised land we envision, takes a much more misguided idealism than I am able to muster. We do not reach revolution through reform – reform, by nature, maintains the status quo and adjusts it just enough to placate the populace until the next election cycle – and revolution is what is necessary to fundamentally change any disintegrating organism. And we must surely be able to agree, even those who advocate for reformist policies, that we are most assuredly living within a disintegrating organism and, if that organism is not changed completely from top to bottom, inside and out, we will rot and vanish within its gut. For this reason, all people who consider themselves radical leftists or revolutionary socialists must tirelessly advocate for the sustenance of an independent socialist party – that sustenance comes from a membership base that continues to grow, both in numbers and education, and moves in unison toward the goal of revolutionary change. In the United States, there is only one such political party in existence – though there are many socialist organizations, factions and clubs – and I am a member of it.
Finally, and wholly separate from the flawed candidates – who truly believe their programs to be of a socialist nature – and their misguided supporters – who truly believe this to be the path by which revolution is realized – is the cowardice that entryism, and its father reformism, breeds into the movement for a socialist nation. To create revolution, a courage and conviction of great proportion must be realized within the unified mind of all comrades within the struggle – that courage requires that one take stands which are unpopular among lesser educated activists and organizers; that conviction requires that one hold steadfast in their beliefs despite persecution and alienation. Even within our own party, we have lost comrades over this argument – to be fair, any comrade who takes up the mantle of reformism is not one to be sorely missed among the revolutionary ranks – and we will continue to.
These people are better served among the ranks of an organization which believes reform to be a platform of revolution, which is to say an organization which misunderstands completely the definition of revolution, for that organization will be pushed out of existence once real revolution is created and sustained upon our shores. And for good reason – reformism has no place within revolution and, therefore, reformists have no place among revolutionaries. We do not promote our agenda by filtering it through the lens of capitalist politics and cultural acceptability – we don’t dilute it, for if we do then we recruit diluted comrades; we don’t soften it, for if we do then we remove the hardened edge from our struggle. We promote our agenda through honesty and integrity, through perseverance and certitude.
Most assuredly, I will continue to be called many names by many people with less confidence than I – what they see as merely an issue of pragmatism in politics, I see as a sacrifice of integrity; what they see as a tiny step in the right direction, I see as a fainting spell backwards; what they see as a radical militant, I see as a believer in the ideals of revolutionary socialism and one committed to seeing it established for the good of all people. And, rest assured, it will not be the pragmatic tiny-steppers who get us to that desired plane, but the radical militants who settled for nothing short of truth and sacrificed all they had aside from their convictions and integrity.
Adam Powell is a lifelong resident of Montgomery, Alabama, joined SPUSA in November of 2016 and was a founding member of the party’s first chapter in the state, the Socialist Party of Central Alabama (SPCA). Powell graduated from Troy University with a degree in Print Journalism and Creative Writing in 2005 and since then has worked for newspapers and online news sources all across the state and nation. He also teaches classical guitar and music theory and performs throughout the Southeast. He is married to Sara Powell and they have two children, Fionola and Kieran.