Published on October 10th, 2014 | by Travis Dicken4
The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Rural Socialist
Openly declaring yourself a socialist in 21st-century America can be challenging. Over the last century, the left became increasingly fractured and splintered by internal ideological disputes. This combined with effective right-wing propaganda and “Red Scares” reduced the American left to a shell of its former self. Socialism used to have leaders like Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, Norman Thomas, and workers from all backgrounds and industries to vouch for it. However, during later half of the twentieth century, mainstream media and politicians effectively caricatured socialism in America as a ploy by nefarious Soviet ne’er-do-wells and Chinese zealots to destroy truth, justice, freedom, God and the Flag. If those campaigns hadnʼt proven so effective, the next step might have been cartoons of a saber-toothed vampire Lenin carrying off Middle Americaʼs daughters like Viking prizes.
Consequently, it is common that some comrades havenʼt “come out” to their friends and family. Although the Platform and the Statement of Principles of the Socialist Party USA are as dramatically different from the ideas of Mao and Stalin as they are from the platform of the Libertarian Party, the specter of the propagandized past hangs over the socialist movement like a nightmare. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding of socialism is perhaps at its strongest in the countryside. Rural Americans are more likely to be conservative, and to value an idealized (if mostly false) and dogmatic version of their country. Often, rural workers’ reactions to Socialist, feminist, and anti-racist ideas are akin to those they might have to the blood sacrifices to Moloch.
Combating these preconceived notions is slow going. This is because we are struggling against a century of insistence from the right, and its capital, that those who fly the Red Flag represent an evil that is incompatible with the “American way of life.” What this “way of life” actually represents is obscure, given that American is a country of immigrants from disparate global cultures, and was built on the backs of African slaves, over the bones of American Indians. Perhaps the usual maxims about being open to debate and conversation, being involved in your community, and organizing like-minded individuals still apply. But their realization can prove demanding, though not impossible, because workers are separated from other class-conscious people by miles of highway. Concerted political activity is made more difficult when workers are trying to survive on a working-class income that is rapidly approaching starvation wages.
Transportation can be a major obstacle for rural workers. For those spread out over vast areas, it is hard to organize or take part in the work being done in urban or suburban areas, given long drives that have to be planned around the work requirements and family obligations. For the rural working poor, such as myself, it can be even more difficult. Iʼve been a proud member of the SPUSA for roughly a year and a half. In that time, I have yet to meet another member in person or attend any SPUSA function. This is not due to a lack of effort from my comrades. Their compassion and generous offers of assistance have been truly appreciated, heartwarming, and inspiring, and I thank them all for it. Solidarity isnʼt just a slogan, itʼs very much alive in this Party. However, my job pays low wages, and its demands on my time should garner much more. This is commonplace, as the economically depressed rural areas of the “Rust Belt” have yet to recover from the offshoring of our industries. This leaves the Wal-Marts of the world as the only source of employment for many rural workers. I was fortunate enough, however, to attend a May Day event hosted by the Pittsburgh General Membership Branch of the IWW, an organization of which I am also a member. There I met some very friendly and supportive comrades. Neverthless, most people I meet are less than responsive to left wing politics.
Our urban and suburban comrades should know that those of us in the countryside, though few in number now, are working hard for revolution despite the challenges of personal finance, geography, and ideological hostility. Rural America is not lost to us, despite what the Facebook posts of “Real Americans” would have you believe. The storied past of the Socialist farmer and labour alliances of rural workers will begin to live again. So when talking to rural comrades, and if they sometimes seem a little tired or disheartened, let them know they aren’t alone, and that they have a place in the SPUSA. We definitely appreciate it and are glad to be here.
Whether rural comrades are part of this party, another party or organization, or no party at all, they should not lose heart. We are out there, and there are more of us than most people (even most socialists) think. With the growth of social media and the advancements in communications technology, itʼs becoming easier for those of us in the “middle of nowhere” to be part of the socialist movement. So if you are, as I once was, a rural worker who felt like he might be the only socialist left on planet Earth, seek us out. The social media pages of the Socialist Party USA are a great place to start, and a great way to begin experiencing the camaraderie that Iʼve found defines the SPUSA. Weʼll be glad to have you aboard, no matter who you are or where you come from.
Solidarity now, solidarity forever!