Published on November 12th, 2015 | by Jen McClellan0
“Town Hall” Interview with Socialist Party USA’s Presidential Candidate Mimi Soltysik
Jen: I’m here with Mimi Soltysik who has recently been nominated as the presidential candidate of the SPUSA. Mimi, would you say a few words before we get started.
Mimi: Yes, I would. First, I want to thank The Socialist for the chance to participate in this interview. Again, I wanted to express my gratitude to the folks at the convention for nominating Angela, for vice president, and myself. Also, I want to thank everybody for the questions they submitted for this interview. Thanks and solidarity with all.
“Would you consider yourself leaning more towards left libertarianism or more towards Marxist-Leninism?” — Noah Toth from Marlborough, Connecticut
Mimi: I’m generally not really the biggest fan of binding myself to one specific label. Perhaps where I might feel the most comfortable is a bit more with anarchism/libertarian socialism, but there’s so much to learn from, and there are so many things that you can throw into the mix to guide you on your way. I also think in addition to Marx, or Kropotkin, or Subcomandante Marcos, or bell hooks, or Emma Goldman; I learn just as much if not more from the people that I do this kind of work with, like the LA local folks or the Ventura local folks, that we see all the time. So, I’m not necessarily comfortable saying, “I am this one thing.” You know? Sure, I’m a Marxist, but sure, I’m also a Jen McClellanist.
“What do you think socialists, your campaign, and the SPUSA can do to educate, energize, and include working class people who currently see no point in political participation?” — Travis Dicken from Ligonier, Pennsylvania
Mimi: One of the first things that we do, and this is one of the things we talk a lot about locally; is treating people with respect, compassion [and] kindness. [We don’t treat them as] an audience and we’re somehow righteously qualified to be delivering a sermon to the people. [I’d] rather approach the people with love and with a willingness to listen and to share stories, to share laughter and to actually care about the relationships with the people. I think frequently there can be sort of a trap where we feel like we know the answer and we’re in this position where we need to be teaching all the time, and as a result we feel like the people need to be listening. I think that’s often a failure. I myself have been on the receiving ends of those sorts of situations where I have felt like, “This feels condescending to me and I want to leave.” People are already dealing with an intimidation about being involved with this sort of thing, or a fear, or whatever it might be. Why would we want to make it harder by obnoxiously preaching?
“Which social issues are your campaign going to prioritize in addressing?” — Emily Marshall from Moorpark, California
Mimi: I don’t think we’re going to soften the message about the need to destroy capitalism. Any approach we take with this campaign is not going to be a reform-based message. The goal here is ultimately revolution. There are more than enough folks working on reform-based stuff. At the top is a no-holds-barred approach to destroying capitalism, knowing that inherent to capitalism [are] all these forms of oppression: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Also inherent to capitalism is climate change. So by moving forward in a direct, revolutionary way, we’re attacking those other issues that are inherent to capitalism.
“What would the shift from a capitalist economy to a socialist economy look like under your presidency?” — Emily Marshall from Moorpark, California
Mimi: The first thing I want to say is there really would be no Soltysik presidency, because, in this system as is, I legitimately feel that I would have to resign after winning this hypothetical election. [There] would be no way for me to make it to that point without… thoroughly compromising my ideas and my beliefs. The people are going to direct the transition. The idea of democratic socialism says we all have direct participation in the institutions that directly affect our lives, so we’re all going to do this together.
Jen: So it would be a bottom-up democratization of the work force?
“What would you want to say to someone who is on the fence about how well a socialist economy would work in this country?” — Emily Marshall from Moorpark, California
Mimi: I would say so many folks are feeling the extraordinary pain of capitalism. In my experience, when you take the time to dialogue with someone and you discuss that pain, they’re generally able to pinpoint the causes of that pain…[A]s you’re having this discussion, folks become aware that there’s a root and that it’s capitalism…[W]hen you discuss what socialism means, often times the response is, “Why aren’t we doing this already?,”… “This makes so much sense,” and at times, “How can I get involved? What can I do to help?”
Jen: What’s an example of a pain?
Mimi: I can’t feed my family. I can’t feed myself. I can’t make rent. There’s no work for me. My stomach is empty. Those basic things. I don’t have a place to stay. I’m crushed by my student loan debt. I’m being exploited by my boss. We all feel there’s an incredibly stifling quality to hierarchy and to patriarchy. When we talk about those things out loud and express our feelings to one another and share those feelings, that can be a really liberating and empowering sort of feeling.
“What are your stands on international policy for the crisis in the Middle East, and what would you do if elected POTUS to help end the suffering over there?” — George Pacatte from Valencia, California
Mimi: Again, I’d state my position about me being president. (There really would be no Soltysik/Walker presidency.”) My feeling is one of the best ways to relieve the suffering in the Middle East is to stop being the fucking cause of it.
“Would you consider getting ballot access in Indiana? (As it stands, the only third party with strong ballot access in Indiana is the Libertarian Party.)” — Walter Thomas Beck from Avon, Indiana
Mimi: Ballot access is not one of the primary goals of this campaign. I don’t think we’re measuring success versus ballot access [or] versus total of votes. Success here is based on how we can help to connect people using this campaign. How can we help them build working relationships that sustain? How can we point people, when they’re interested, toward community work that’s happening where they live? Now having said that, I fully understand that for many folks ballot access is important to them and I certainly don’t mean to sound disrespectful…[A]s a matter of fact, if that’s what they want to work on, if that’s what’s important to them, by all means we want to support that work and we’ll do all we can to support that work. But that also means being very considerate about the capacity we might have in any given area…When we look at the ballot requirements for a state, I think it’s very important to weigh the value of beating the hell out of ourselves to get ballot status in a state. If those thresholds, if those requirements are maybe higher then we can reasonably expect to gain, maybe there might be a better use of our efforts. You know? So I think that would be a collaborative effort between folks in Indiana and the campaign.
“Do you feel worker cooperatives/collectives are central to a socialist economy?” — Bill Rogers from Dallas, Texas
Mimi: I certainly think that worker ownership is central to a socialist economy. Worker control, worker’s democratic participation, of course these things are incredibly important to a socialist economy. I don’t think there is a socialist economy without those things. There are many co-ops in the US and as we make this transition from capitalism to socialism, we’ll see more collectives and co-ops.
“Is Bernie Sanders a real representative of true socialist values?” — Stewart Alexander from Murrieta, California
Mimi: I can’t really say how Bernie Sanders sees himself and I can’t really speak for him. As a bystander, what I see [is] a candidate who’s running on the Democratic Party ticket. To me, [Sanders] sounds more like a progressive democrat/social democrat. I don’t see him putting forth a socialist proposal. I’m not seeing him talk about workers owning the means of production. I don’t see imperialism as a part of any socialist platform, period. So I think that there are some very fundamental differences.
“While some socialists attempt to help the poor and exploited, they often don’t spend enough time on LGBTQ issues, considering how large of a portion of the poor they make up. How will the campaign approach issues such as these?” — Ryan Davis from Orange County, California
Mimi: Dialogue. Listening. Standing in solidarity. Support. Not being afraid to get involved. The fact that there’s not enough time spent on LGBTQ issues is incredibly sad. I honestly don’t know how you can proceed with a socialist campaign and not have LGBTQ issues as one of the key focuses of your campaign.
“Currently the United States has nearly 5000 nuclear warheads. What steps should we be taking towards nuclear disarmament and to ending proliferation of weapons of this magnitude of destruction?” — Michael Anderson from Alma, Michigan
Mimi: Complete disarmament now! Doing so in a way that’s environmentally responsible, but having said that, complete disarmament now! There’s no question about this. We bear such tremendous responsibility for nuclear proliferation therefore we bear responsibility for disarmament.
“What is your take on the conservative right’s grip on rural communities across the country, and how do you see radical left politics playing a role in that?” — Nicholas James Lentz from Negaunee, Michigan
Mimi: I know that sometimes our comrades that are in rural areas can feel isolated and left out of strategic planning, and I think that’s terribly unfortunate. How we might be able to address the issue…is by doing a much better job of being inclusive with comrades regardless of where they live in the country…When you have that ability to dialogue, share ideas, strategically plan with folks, that’s terribly empowering. As a result of that empowerment, the strength that those comrades in those rural areas can bring to their communities can have a tremendous effect. And it’s completely reasonable to expect that that effect will yield a loosening of conservative grip over rural communities. I know we have a lot of work to do in this area.
“Mimi. First, congratulations to you and Angela and the Party! Exciting times.
To make the party and the campaign personal, one of the things I encounter in the day to day with fellow Party members, other lefties, as well as left leaning friends who aren’t ready to make the leap into full on socialism, is the use of revolutionary language, metaphor and imagery. On the left, especially among those of us who are committed to actual socialism, it’s clear that revolution is the right word to use. The changes we are talking about are revolutionary. There’s no other way to describe it.
But the way I understand socialism is that it evolves naturally out of capitalism. Not peacefully and not easily, but it is the logical next step in economic and social evolution. It can’t be a regression. The world we dream about is a world with more freedom, more dignity, less poverty, and less misery. That isn’t what the Paris barricades or the Russian revolution ultimately produced. Socialism is about building a better world. Not a meaner one.
But how can we talk about revolution without falling back on adolescent fantasies that would just leave the world looking like Mad Max after the revolution? How can our revolution learn from past mistakes and be better? How can we remember that at the heart of socialism is a concern for our brothers and sisters well being? In short, what does “revolution” mean to you?” — Jonathon Edwards from Huntsville, Alabama
Mimi: First thing I want to say is thank you so much for the kind words. I have such tremendous gratitude for the support that folks give for something like this campaign. I find it very humbling, and in turn I want to deserve that support. So I just want to say, sincerely, “Thank you.”
To me, if we consider that we live in a capitalist society and the pressure that we feel from living within that, when someone makes a decision to lend their efforts to the socialist cause, that’s revolutionary to me. So the way I see it, Jonathon, you are revolutionary. Jen, who’s giving this interview, is revolutionary. Lynn, my wife, is revolutionary. Angela Nicole Walker is revolutionary. When we really consider the scrutiny, ridicule and condescension that we might receive for proclaiming ourselves openly as socialists in this capitalist society, I think it’s okay to say, “Wow. That’s some revolutionary shit!”
Now, do I think that if a socialist revolution were to happen there would be bloodshed? Absolutely, I do. There is no way (and I think that we see this all the time) the capitalist is going to concede power without a fight, and we’re likely talking about a fight to the death … I think as we make advances, that response is going to be incredible. So do we say as socialists, as we make our advances, “Go ahead and slaughter us, and you’ll get no response?” I don’t think that pacifism in the face of violent repression is necessarily a rational response. We see already…the state [and] law enforcement murders people of color, so I don’t see how expecting people who are targets of the state to succumb and say, “It’s okay, you can go ahead and kill me” makes any kind of sense. Often times I hear people say, “Hey watch the violent talk.” The way I hear it, it almost feels like what they’re saying to me is, “Well. I wish you weren’t here ‘cause this is making me uncomfortable.” I think we have every right to organize to make forward progress and to have an awareness that as we do that we expect a response. We saw it with COINTELPRO with the Black Panther Party. I mean, that was assassination. With the military power that this country has and the incredible power of law enforcement, oh yes, they’re going to respond with force.
Jen: I think that people, when they think about a violent revolution, think of the violence starting with the revolutionary party; but the violence has been coming from the state to us and it’s just us responding.
“I want a change! I’m sick and tired of Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee. But I’m afraid that if I don’t vote for the lesser evil of the two Tweedles, things will be even worse than they are, if that’s even possible. I’d like to vote socialist but I’m afraid of what might happen if I waste my vote on you! What should I do, Mr. S?” — Robert Schwartz from Oxnard, California
Mimi: Ask the family of the child that was killed by a drone strike, if that felt like it was a lesser evil. You have evidence all the time of what “lesser evil” means in practice. What has lesser evil done for the working class? What has lesser evil done for oppressed communities? Lesser evil has meant murder. Lesser evil has meant imperialism. Any way you slice that, what you’re dealing with is evil, but…packaged in a kinder, gentler wrapping. The stakes are so high. This is a life or death situation. It always is. If we’re going to be honest with ourselves and have the courage of our convictions, we know what the answer is here. The answer is not a lesser evil. They’re both evil.
“Okay, Mimi, I understand that your idea of socialism isn’t Soviet-style communism, and I know lots of people out there are hurting. But what exactly would you change if you were President. I have a nice job and a good life, and I wouldn’t want that messed up. Can Socialism help the oppressed and still keep things good for the rest of us?” — Robert Schwartz from Oxnard, California
Mimi: If we [point out to someone,] “If you know that that nice life you have, you have because someone else is suffering and they’re suffering mightily because you have that,” and they say, “I really don’t give a shit, I want what I got,” to me, that’s sociopathic. I tend to believe that people are highly capable of compassion, care and consideration. By having this dialogue about what you have being predicated on their suffering, that changes the conversation, and I think you as a person of conscience are capable of what I feel to be the right answer.
“Hey, man, I’m totally down with the SPUSA platform, but get real! Even if you did get elected, how could you possibly get those ideas actually implemented?” — Robert Schwartz from Oxnard, California
Mimi: Those ideas aren’t going to happen because of an election. We’ll see those things happen from the bottom up, from community participation and involvement. Washington D.C. politics and the pretense that that’s somehow going to change the situation is farcical. If we’re going to see our platform realized, that’s going to happen because you, me, our fellow neighbors, our fellow workers, our fellow students, our community. We are going to make those changes happen from the bottom up and we’re gonna gut this shit at the top.
“What specifically is your goal?” — Dee Gavcus from Chatsworth, California
Mimi: The goal is revolution. We get there by building working relationships that focus on care for one another. One thing we’ve done in Los Angeles, every few months, [is] this thing called Radical Ruckus. And what we do is: We invite folks from all across the left, a whole bunch of different left groups, to come share food and drink, share laughs. [T]he idea there is that we can build working relationships so, when there is a project we want to work on as part of this whole big picture on this path towards revolution, there’s some real care there. It really goes a long way to strengthen those working bonds. Instead of, when a project comes up, saying, “I won’t work with so-and-so because they’re part of organization such-and-such;” what we’re saying is, “That’s my friend. I really enjoy that person. I’m looking forward to working with that person.” If we can transport that idea nationwide… look out! That’s an incredible threat to capitalism and I really feel like we’re onto something with that!