Emidio “Mimi” Soltysik, along with his running mate Angela Nicole Walker, are the Socialist Party USA’s candidates for the 2016 presidential election. The Socialist Party played a major role in American politics at the turn of last century (actually taking a significant number of votes under the candidacy of Eugene Debs), but after a series of splits and fragmentations, the party has been divided between a number of small groups made up of dedicated activists for the socialist cause. While few believe the Socialist Party will make major inroads in electoral politics, candidates like Soltysik continue to push for more radical alternatives to those offered by mainstream Democrats. I sat down for an online conversation with Mimi to discuss his campaign and how the left should approach the problems facing workers today.
You can read the Socialist Party USA’s platform and follow the Solytsik/Walker campaign at Rev16.us.
Dodds: Good morning Mimi Soltysik. Thanks again for sitting down with me to answer a few questions.
Why did you decide to run for office under the Socialist Party USA? How long have you been involved in socialist politics and how did you get to where you are politically? What does your campaign team look like?
Soltysik: I’ve been a member of the Socialist Party USA since 2010. The radicalization process was a pretty long journey for me. I grew up a skateboarding, punk rock kid who got into a lot of big trouble. From there, I was a musician for about fifteen years. I had a lot of fun, still got into trouble, and also picked up some substance abuse problems along the way that really took a toll on my health. By my early-thirties, I was pretty lost. I sincerely doubted my ability to learn. But, I thought I might give life a try and I started to put one foot in front of the other. I started to listen and I started to learn. I think that, when folks take a moment to listen to the voices in their communities and to establish a sense of connection with their sisters and brothers throughout the world, socialism isn’t going to be too far around the corner.
Regarding the decision to run this particular campaign, a few of us were wondering about the possibilities of running a different sort of campaign. As a radical organization, even with the considerable history of the Socialist Party USA, the media generally pays us little mind. That changes a bit during a general election, and with the inclusion of Sanders in this election cycle, the attention has been even greater. So, we were thinking that we might use that attention to deliver an explicitly socialist message, political expediency be damned. Socialism is not something that can be won in the general election. It starts at the local level with the people and works its way up. So, our hope was that, as folks saw our message, they’d respond with curiosity and/or interest in getting involved in their communities. The idea was that, when folks reached out expressing fear about involvement with revolutionary organizing, we’d do what we could to help address those fears. When folks reached out expressing an interest in getting involved locally, we might be able to help them make connections wherever they might be. When folks reached out expressing a sense of isolation, we’d find ways to include them. And that’s what we’ve been doing. Angela Nicole Walker and the rest of the campaign team make themselves incredibly accessible to the people. When folks write the campaign, they are going to get a quick, direct response from the campaign, and in the process, they are establishing relationships with the campaign that will extend far beyond election day.
The campaign isn’t about Angela or me. It’s about the people, and frequently, we use the campaign to tell the stories of the people, in their own words. The campaign team is filled with folks who have a passionate desire to see revolutionary change, understanding that a reformed capitalism will continue to be racist, sexist, oppressive, imperialist, and will continue to destroy the planet.
Dodds: There is no doubt your campaign has been accessible. Going back to your childhood, where did you grow up? I grew up skateboarding in Southern California before turning to socialism in my youth as well; skateboarding seems to be a natural link to radical politics, but I am not sure why.
Soltysik: I’m from a place called Reading, Pennsylvania, a city devastated by neoliberalism. Good point about skateboarding and radical politics. If you’re on the skateboard, you know there are potentially painful risks. Folks involved with radical politics also face potential risks, whether it be ridicule, harassment, or even physical violence. Both move forward in the face of those potential risks.
Dodds: It’s refreshing that you are willing to talk about substance abuse in your past. How do you think those personal struggles have informed your campaign?
Soltysik: On a personal level, I think I realized that I had a lot of catching up to do. Much of my life up until the point where I started to get my head together was a bit of a haze. There is a real sense of urgency with all of this. We know how thoroughly devastating capitalism has been for so much of the world, and, unless we see its overthrow, we’ll see continued devastation. When we factor in climate change, it would appear that we have very little time to figure this all out.
Life moves by pretty quickly. I learned a lot of my lessons the hard way. I’m determined to make the rest of my days count.
Dodds: Socialism has played a larger role in this Democratic campaign than it has in the past due to Bernie Sanders running as a self-avowed democratic-socialist. What do you think of Sanders and his campaign? How do you see your political platform differing from his?
Soltysik: A few thoughts on Sanders. For starters, his campaign has most certainly expanded the public discussion. I’d be lying if I said that a few of the mainstream media opportunities we’ve had weren’t a direct result of his campaign. Having said that, Sanders appears to be more of a social democrat. He advocates for reforms within capitalism, a stronger social safety net, etc. The differences between his campaign and ours are fairly striking. We are talking about worker control of the means of production. We aren’t seeking reforms to capitalism. We are seeking the overthrow of capitalism. He also has a strong history of support for war and for the apartheid state of Israel. We do not see imperialism as part of any sort of socialist program. We also don’t place a higher priority on U.S. lives over our sisters and brothers throughout the world. We are one family.
Dodds: Since you touched on foreign policy, what is your campaign’s stance, or that of the Socialist Party USA for the matter, towards Syria?
Soltysik: The situation in Syria is obviously pretty complex. I think we see Syria in the context of our total approach to foreign policy. Imperialism is not the answer. As a matter of fact, we’d instantly reduce the current military budget to fifty percent of its current total, with an eye toward reducing it to ten percent of its current total. We’d block the U.S ability to operate as an imperialist power. Perhaps it’s time we stop creating the conditions that contribute toward the development of fundamentalist organizations like ISIS, yes? Perhaps it’s time we stop supporting states who consistently violate international law, who are among the world’s human rights violators, yes?
Dodds: As an activist of the left in America, you have seen the rise of a number of right-wing political forces over the last few years. With Trump and the alt-right, as well as right wing populist parties in Europe, there has been a resurgence of ideas that many thought unthinkable a few decades ago. What do you think is the best way for socialists to confront these forces?
Soltysik: Directly. Strategically. With courage. Those responses might sound like abstractions. They aren’t. We are in the midst of an incredible fight and everything is at stake. Together, we will prevail.
Dodds: Many Republicans have been shocked to learn that the average Trump voter does not share the conservative movement’s ideas about flat taxes and free trade. In fact, many of his blue-collar supporters are demanding an end to free trade deals like NAFTA and a return of industrial jobs to this country. What would you say to those working class voters who are voting for Trump?
Soltysik: We have these discussions frequently. When we can engage in a respectful dialogue with the working class Trump folks, we find that, at times, we can make progress, At times, we’ll hear things like “I didn’t know that” or “that sucks”, and they’ll mention that they’re going to do some research. Obviously things don’t always run that smoothly, to say the least. But, it does happen.
Honestly, folks don’t have to take our word for it. The information is there. If we can help point them toward the information and they feel a sense of empowerment in their political development, we’re getting somewhere.
Dodds: Do you think the Socialist Party USA can work with more moderate groups (like the Democratic Party) to confront the new right? Why or why not?
Soltysik: Our Statement of Principles is clear about our independence from the capitalist parties. As a matter of fact, one of the main reasons the Socialist Party USA even exists is because of its independence from the capitalist parties. The origins of the organization lie within the Socialist Party of America. A split occurred in 1972, with one faction seeing strategic benefit to working within the Democratic Party. Another faction, called the “Debs Caucus”, sought complete independence from the Democratic Party. The Debs Caucus was also staunchly opposed to the Vietnam War. Our history lies with the Debs Caucus, and I am thankful. The history of seeking revolutionary change from within the Democratic Party is horrid, and I just don’t think we have time to continue that cycle of failure and disappointment.
Dodds: What’s next for your campaign? How can people get involved?
Soltysik: Every day is a new days to engage the people. While we have put on campaign events (we’ve had in-person events in Philly, Lancaster, PA, Thousand Oaks, CA, Indy, Los Angeles, and Denver so far) and will continue to put on events, we’re also here every day to help in any way we can with establishing relationships, to facilitate discussion, to help plug folks into movement work. It’s been incredibly inspiring. If folks would like to learn a bit more about the campaign, our website is www.rev16.us