CM: You were saying that the left denies its own collectivity. Is that only in the US? Is that unique to the US culture of the left?
JD: That’s a really important question, and I’m not sure. Traveling in Europe, I see two different things. On the one hand I see a broad left discussion that is, in part, mediated through social media and is pretty generational—people in their twenties and thirties or younger—and that there’s a general feeling about the problem of collectivity, the problem of building something with cohesion, and a temptation to just emphasize multiplicity. You see this everywhere. Everybody worries about this, as far as what I’ve seen.
On the other hand, there are countries whose political culture has embraced parties much more, and fights politically through parties. Like Greece, for example—and we’ve seen the ups and downs with Syriza over the last two years. And Spain also. Because they have a parliamentary system where small parties can actually get in the mix and have a political effect—in ways that our two-party system excludes—the European context allows for more enthusiasm for the party as a form for politics.
But there’s still a lot of disagreement on the far left about whether or not the party form is useful, and shouldn’t we in fact retreat and have multiple actions and artistic events—you know, the whole alter-globalization framework. That’s still alive in a lot of places.
“I think holding on to the word ‘communism’ is useful, not only because our enemies are worried about communism, but also because it helps make socialists seem really, really mainstream. We don’t want socialism to seem like something that only happens in Sweden. We want it to seem like that’s what we should have at a bare minimum.”
CM: You mentioned the structure of the US electoral system doesn’t allow for a political party to necessarily be the solution for a group like Occupy. Is that one of the reasons that activists dismiss the party structure as something that could help move their agenda forward?
JD: We can think about the Black Panther Party as a neat example in the US context: A party which was operating not primarily to win elections but to galvanize social power. That’s an interesting way of thinking about what else parties can do in the US.
Or we can think about parties in terms of local elections. Socialist Alternative has been doing really neat work all over the country, organizing around local elections with people running as socialist candidates not within a mainstream party. I think that even as we come up against the limits of a two-party system, we can also begin to think better about local and regional elections.
The left really likes that old saw: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” And then it rejects parties—even though political parties are, historically, forms that do that, that actually scale, that operate on multiple levels as organizations.