This paper, much like the Weekly Worker, spends a lot of time discussing, criticizing and reporting on the left. It is important that organizations on the left engage in active discussions and debates to reach a common ground that leads us one step closer to unity. On that note, I interviewed Mimi Soltysik, the Socialist Party USA candidate for California State Assembly District 62 (including South Los Angeles and stretching to the Pacific) on behalf of The Red Vine:
What made you decide to run?
A few years ago, when we were organizing the Socialist Party Los Angeles Local, we set as a goal the possibility of supporting a local electoral campaign within two years. Two years later (2013), we discussed the idea again as a group, took a survey of our capacity to approach something like this, voted on the idea and decided to give it a shot. The approach was, while I would file the petitions and it would be my name on the ballot, we really wanted to use the campaign as a way for the members of the L.A. and Ventura Locals to engage in a dialogue with the community using a vehicle that had some built-in familiarity, to learn more about what our neighbors are facing, and to have an extended opportunity to listen.
We knew we were going to run an explicitly socialist campaign that pulled no punches, and thought that engaging the folks in the 62nd District with an electoral campaign might be a good way to begin this process. We had comparatively little in the way of financial resources, and we were fully aware of who and what we’d be facing as challengers, but we have a lot of hustle and determination. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit surprised about the final tally of votes. We were really pleased.
Being an open anti-capitalist isn’t a common choice. What lead you to become a socialist in the first place?
To be totally honest, for so much of my life, my focus was on self-gratification. I was insanely selfish and careless. Eventually, that focus on self-gratification began to take a toll on both my mental and physical health. I was really exhausted, and began to feel that it might be time to turn things around and perhaps consider a different path. A few of us in Los Angeles began an activist group that would organize things like bicycle drives for children in South L.A. and clothing drives for victims of human trafficking.
Gradually, this feeling like we were trying to cure cancer with a band aid started to become really prevalent. So, we started to do some research, looking for a place where we could make some sort of positive contribution to eliminating the cancer, and a small group of us joined the Socialist Party USA. For me personally, it had been years, probably since high school, since I really dug into any sort of socialist or communist theory, and I began to reacquaint myself with a lot of the ideas, feeling that, if any progress was going to be made, eliminating capitalism would be at the core.
What does the socialist future look like to you?
I’m going to quote the Socialist Party USA’s Statement of Principles here. I think it’s a great expression of how the future could look in a socialist society. The SoP reads “In a socialist system the people own and control the means of production and distribution through democratically controlled public agencies, cooperatives, or other collective groups. The primary goal of economic activity is to provide the necessities of life, including food, shelter, health care, education, child care, cultural opportunities, and social services.” I dig that. A lot.
What was the on-the-ground experience like during your campaign, in terms of reactions from working class voters and the capitalist electoral process (such as California’s undemocratic “top two” primary system)?
This was perhaps one of the greatest joys throughout the experience. Aside from one instance at a candidate forum where someone got upset about my tattoos, the response from the folks we’d meet was overwhelmingly positive. We would talk about things like revolution, about worker control, about ecosocialism, and it was amazing to hear people say things like “it’s about time.” It definitely left me with a feeling of optimism for where we might be headed in L.A.
Your platform raised only one democratic demand – police reform. In the Red Party we would be critical of that approach. Do you feel that elevating economic demands (living wage, health care…) above the radical extension of democracy (proportional representation, ballot access / campaign finance reform, electoral recall etc) was correct?
Scott Tucker, a member of the L.A. Local and a writer for Truthdig, wrote a piece for the campaign titled “The Lives of Workers are Worth a Fight”. We largely pulled from that piece when putting together the campaign’s platform, feeling that it would be a good segue into the SPUSA’s Platform and Principles and a broader discussion about democratic socialism. Time will tell if it was the right choice.
Your vote total (725) shows that there is some support for socialism in the L.A. area. What are your goals now – what do you hope to work on next?
We have already begun going back out into the communities where we canvassed in an effort to extend the dialogue that was established, and to build relationships that will hopefully last as we continue our march to revolution. I love and have tremendous respect for my comrades, and it’s been amazing to see them work through this process. I am learning a lot. The results also gave us some optimism about the possibility of running more candidates in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see more Socialist Party USA members in California consider running electoral campaigns over the next few years. Ultimately, that’s a decision for the locals to make, but I get the feeling that there is some excitement about the possibility.
Was there any effort in your campaign to reach out to other socialist organizations, to build a Left united front campaign?
We sure did! It was truly humbling to receive endorsements and support from other organizations and people throughout the U.S. Left. The Socialist Party USA’s L.A. and Ventura Locals maintain really friendly working relationships with others on the Left. It makes the work we do a real joy.