Road maps, dead ends and the search for fresh ground -- How can we build the socialist movement in the 21st century?

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[For more discussion on how socialists organise, click HERE.]

By Dan DiMaggio

December 2010 -- Cultural Logic, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Dan DiMaggio's permission -- For the past seven-plus years I have devoted much of my life to effort to build a socialist movement in the United States. As a member of one of the many tiny socialist groups on the US left, I have organised dozens of anti-war, labour solidarity, immigrant rights and other rallies and campaigns. I have toured the country to speak at college campuses about socialism. I have set up numerous study groups and conferences and written and edited hundreds of articles for socialist publications. Most people might say, “Dan, you’re crazy if you think that socialism can be achieved in a country like the United States!” But despite the challenges, I hope to continue doing this for the next 50 or so years.

Lately, though, I’ve started to wonder just how the &*^$ a viable socialist movement can actually be built in the US. I’ve been grappling with this question for much of the last year as I attempt to overcome a funk rooted in my sense that the current organisational forms of the socialist movement, to which I and many others have given so much of our time and energy, are a dead end. Recently it seems like every time I try to raise a finger to help the movement, I am overcome by a crippling sense of the futility of it all.

My paralysis does not stem from pessimism about the possibilities for social change in the US. Rather, it is rooted in frustrations with the current methods of organisation dominant in the socialist movement, methods which make a difficult task even harder – if not impossible. I can’t shake the feeling that despite our best intentions, we are wasting resources by taking roads that lead to nowhere. It doesn’t help that the main form of organisation – tiny, competing groups divided by marginal differences – is out of tune with the content of our aims – “the full material and spiritual liberation of the toilers”. I’ve come to feel that all the heroic effort in the world cannot invest inherently barren forms with meaning.

This piece is my attempt to stimulate critical thinking about the way forward for the US socialist movement. I hope that it will be of interest to practicing socialists as well as other progressive activists, because I think that a healthy, attractive socialist movement can help contribute to the rebuilding of a broader and more powerful left. I realise I am not the first person to say what is written below, and there is much that remains unexplored and unanswered. But I hope it will lead to a productive and collaborative discussion that might open new possibilities for anti-capitalist organising.

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Discussion: Road maps, dead ends and the search for fresh ground -- How to build the US socialist movement ...