In the last few months (now the last two years) the Socialist Party USA has lost about 50% of its membership (now 80%). While I don't subscribe to Marxian economics or political theory, I'm sad to see one of the few humanitarian-based political movements disappear. So I offered the following analysis of the State of the Party.
The principal and various Socialist Parties in the US live on the fading glory of the accomplishments of their forebearers. Current members no longer do anything that affects the political structure or the actions of the nation. All thoughts are turned inward, and what little action is taken affects only themselves. They argue about how things might have been different if things had been different, and periodically rearrange their organizational furniture and refine or dilute their principles.
Because there is nothing else to do, someone eventually accumulates enough institutional power to exclude those who object to such power gathering. Because there is nothing else to do, the excluded ones and their friends re-group to insure that such exclusion shall not happen again.
In this way the various parties, tendencies, and factions proliferate while getting ever smaller. New members are recruited from those who appreciate the group's history and principles, but they soon leave on finding that there isn't any there there. Those who aren't bothered by this lack of substance stay to participate in the furniture moving, historical fantasizing, principle polishing, power accumulating, and re-grouping.
Occasionally a more power-hungry group begins to prey on other groups (which may or may not be Socialist) by infiltrating them and sowing dissension about furniture placement, etc., and offering safe haven for the disaffected or excluded.
Through the individual exercise of socially useful skills and abilities, some members may achieve public office. But the Party neither funds nor supports them because they will not take stands which will surely alienate the larger public. And though they may claim to abide by the greater principles of socialism, they must co-operate with other politicians if they wish their own agendas to be supported. This further isolates them from the Party until the Party no longer recognizes them at all.
Some party members find that a career of denouncing the Socialist Party is lucrative, and even affords influence and power among parties with principles antithetical to Socialism. Their influence increases with the vehemence of their denunciation, and their rewards increase with their ability to portray Socialism as a vast structure with grave threats and dangers.
In all these ways, everyone gets to feel that they have been taken advantage of or that they are a persecuted minority. This justifies any action they might individually or collectively take, such as power accumulation, exclusion, regrouping, predation, isolation, or denunciation. It also justifies not taking any action at all, which relieves everyone of the responsibility and guilt for breaking tradition and actually succeeding at something. A secure position of inaction also allows one to criticize any action plan proposed, and undermine it if it is pursued.
And so the Socialist Party in the US continues.
When you find yourself helplessly perpetuating a self-defeating neurotic cycle, the first thing you must do is to stop doing that. If you must, analyze why stopping hurts so much. Then do something entirely different.
Next week: What to do instead.
First published in Tribe, February 28, 2007 -