One thing you could always count on in state and federal elections was that a party with the word “socialist” in it would field a candidate in at least one contest somewhere in the United States. This year, however, was different. According to Ballot Access News, in 2011, no party with ‘Socialist’ in its name placed any nominees on the ballot in any state for any regularly scheduled federal or state election. That hasn’t happened since 1886. New Jersey is a good indicator of the state of socialist candidates. According to Ballot Access News, “usually, in odd years, either the Socialist Party, or the Socialist Workers Party, places nominees on the ballot in New Jersey for state office. New Jersey elects all its state offices in odd years, and has easy ballot access. But in 2011, neither party got on the ballot for state office in that state.” Maybe it’s just an off year for candidates [as are many odd-numbered years]. And maybe we’ll see the customary slate of socialist candidates in 2012, when the stakes are the highest. But it’s still disturbing to note that socialists couldn’t muster more candidates this year. [However, a handful of candidates for local offices ran under the banner of the Socialist Workers party and the Socialist party.] Is this the tipping point? In the toxic political screeching that passes for discourse, has socialist become a radioactive, four-letter word—the political kiss of death? As someone who sympathizes with many of the tenets of socialistically named groups, I hope not, because there’s a lot to connect with in some [note that I use the word “some”]of the very-contemporary and relevant principles laid out by socialist political groups. And these viewpoints need to be part of the dialogue. For example, here are some points from the Socialist Workers Party:
…Support workers’ struggles to organize trade unions and to use and extend union power to defend themselves and other working people from the bosses’ assaults. Defend the labor movement from the continuing offensive by the employers and their twin parties of capitalism—the Democrats and Republicans. Build a labor party, based on the unions, that fights in the interests of working people … For a massive federally funded public works program to put millions to work at union scale. ..No cuts in present or future Social Security benefits, Medicaid programs, or workers compensation. Extend Social Security to cover universal, government-guaranteed, lifetime health care for everyone in this country. …Abolish the death penalty …Working people face an unrelenting offensive by the employers, who—driven by the need to reverse the decline in their profit rates—are intensifying speedup, lengthening work hours, eroding job safety, cutting pensions and health-care coverage, and seeking to undermine Social Security and break down class solidarity.
In my earlier years, when [I thought] Democrats stood for labor, workers’ rights, equality and the common good, I viewed socialist candidates as fringe-y, superfluous and irrelevant—a political joke. Today, as our two, dominant political parties are bought and paid for by corporations that value greed over good, I see that candidates running on a socialist agenda are staking out a political territory that has been abandoned by Democrats and Republicans. People who run as socialists are both quixotic and courageous, and I can only hope that they continue to fight their way onto the ballot. Norman Thomas, where are you now that we need you?