Socialism and Electoral Politics in the US: An Interview with Mimi Soltysik

Originally published by The Hampton Institute, July 30, 2015

Tell us about yourself and your politics.

I’ll forward the statement I made when I announced my intent to run for the Socialist Party USA’s POTUS nomination. I think it fairly-well captures who I am and where I stand politically:

¨The campaign I will be running will not be about votes, will not be about ballot status, and will not be about revenue raised. It will primarily focus on the unique media opportunities that are presented during a general election. Given the Bernie Sanders candidacy, it may be reasonable to expect that any candidate from a democratic socialist organization might see enhanced opportunities to discuss socialism from an explicitly anti-capitalist perspective. Failure to take advantage of those opportunities in this general election would be a crucial mistake, in my opinion. I am not a fan of respectability politics. It doesn’t resonate with me or many of the others who I have spoken with throughout my time as an organizer. Frankly, in a fairy-tale situation where a democratic socialist would actually take the White House, my belief is that the candidate would have to need to fire herself or himself the moment victory was declared. Why? In this electoral system, a democratic socialist would have to so thoroughly compromise and/or concede her or his beliefs, beliefs that inspired the votes leading to victory, and would be so incredibly beholden to corporate interests, that she or he would be completely unfit to govern once taking office. I am not here to play nice with those who support our money-driven electoral system. I also believe this is an opportunity to take a few dramatic shots at capitalism and our current electoral system, to convey a radical message, and to stress revolution from below. Much of the messaging will focus on what folks throughout the country can do to swiften the revolutionary pace, helping in any way possible to connect the people to existing social movements. Finally, I believe that the campaign can be a unifier, offering support to local socialist campaigns throughout the country. This is an opportunity to smash sectarian walls where they exist while still maintaining a democratic socialist identity.¨

How did you come to socialism? How do you define socialism?

To be completely honest, the roots of my socialist evolution lie in behaviors perhaps highly antithetical to a socialist perspective. For years, there was little that I cared about. I was incredibly self destructive, self absorbed, and almost entirely focused on instant gratification. By the time I reached my early 30s, I felt as if I had bottomed out. Substance abuse had taken a heavy toll on my health, both physically and mentally, and I found myself in a position where I was essentially starting from scratch. In the process of rebuilding, I started to become acutely aware of how my past behaviors had a direct impact on the suffering of others – my consumption, care for others (or the lack thereof), self-care (or the lack thereof), willful ignorance, etc. I came to the conclusion that, if the first half of my life was spent tearing humanity down, the second half of my life would be dedicated to making a substantive difference. When I say ¨making a difference,¨ I didn’t want to help apply band-aid solutions to a cancer. I wanted to attack the cancer directly.

While I understand that socialism is a contested term, the following portion of the Socialist Party USA’s Statement of Principles offers, in my opinion, a wonderful articulation of the term: ¨Socialism is a new social and economic order in which workers and consumers control production and community residents control their neighborhoods, homes, and schools. The production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. Socialism produces a constantly renewed future by not plundering the resources of the earth.

How do you differ from Bernie Sanders? Do you see him as an actual socialist?

Well, for starters, I am not running for the Democratic Party nomination whereas Sanders is. From what I see of Bernie Sanders, he appears to be delivering a social-democratic message. That’s not where I am coming from. I do not see solutions existing within the capitalist system. Capitalism cannot be reformed. Capitalism is inherently classist, racist and sexist. Do we want kinder and gentler classism, racism and sexism? Kinder oppression? I know that I don’t.

I may have seen Sanders define himself as a democratic socialist. I suppose he can define himself however he chooses. What I see is something of a reformist, and as I mentioned, a social democrat. I think what’s important at the moment is developing some sort of dialogue with those who are supporting Sanders. Regardless of what Sanders is or isn’t, I think dismissing or shaming Sanders supporters is a bad move. If Sanders loses in the primaries, where do his supporters turn? If we can establish a dialogue, can that dialogue grow into something meaningful for the U.S. Left? I think it can.

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