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Interview with Stephen Shenfield, Spokesperson, World Socialist Party of the U.S.

If you’re occasionally taken aback by the number of socialist, anti-capitalist and otherwise radical-left parties in the United States and worldwide, this interview may not fully satisfy you. However, if you are equally impressed with the thoughtfulness, critical-mindedness, and honesty of many members of such groups, this interview will impress you. And if you have an appreciation of the history of such movements, the way they are intertwined with the very history of America itsef, you will want to learn more about the World Socialist Party of the U.S. Formed in 1916 by members of the increasingly “reformist” Socialist Party of America, the WSPUS has never had more than 150 members, but has unrelentingly put forward a revolutionary, internationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-statist perspective.

Stephen Shenfield is a widely published writer and analyst, and a spokesperson for this small socialist party, which will not be running candidates in the 2012 elections, because, as Mr. Shenfield starkly says, the WSPUS lacks the resources to do so. His analysis of politics in America today, as well as the history of his own movement and party, is nonetheless extremely illuminating.

POLITICALCONTEXT.ORG: Is your party running candidates in the 2012 elections?

STEPHEN SHENFIELD: No. We lack the necessary resources.

PC: In your opinion, what are the chief barriers to the viability and 
success of third parties in the United States?

SS: Several reasons:

— the “first-past-the-post” electoral system;
— the financial cost of effectively fielding candidates;
— excessive requirements for registering candidates (e.g. number of signatures to be collected within a given time);
— exclusion of third parties from media coverage and the dominant political discourse;
— ownership and control of mass media by interests supportive of the Republican and Democratic parties, together with contraction of public space (e.g. locales for outdoor speakers and literature distribution);
— ability of the “progressive” wing of the Democrats to absorb popular discontent.

PC: Does your party make the opening of space to alternative candidates a major part of your public message? Do you have a strategy for the 
opening of political space which you have laid out for voters and 

SS: No.

PC: Do you work in solidarity with other political parties? If so, 
ones? If not, why not?

SS: No. We have a unique message and do not want to jeopardize its uniqueness by working together with other parties, especially if (as in most cases) those other parties are stronger than us.

PC: How do you raise funds for your operations? What methods of 
fundraising have proven to be most successful for your party in the 

SS: Members’ dues, donations, literature sales.

PC: A broad, philosophical question: Why does your party exist?

SS: Our party (like the World Socialist Movement of which it forms a part) exists to raise awareness of the need to establish a cooperative global society based on common (not state) ownership and democratic control of the means of life in the interests of the whole world community.

PC: May we have a copy of your most recent national platform–either as a word document, or the link to where it can be found on the web?

SS: The Declaration of Principles of the World Socialist Movement (WSM) is on the web at http://wspus.org/about-us/declaration-of-principles/.

PC: What else would you like our readers to know about your party?

SS: The WSPUS sees itself primarily as part of a worldwide movement for socialism (the World Socialist Movement) and only secondarily as an American political party. This is because we view socialism not in national terms but as a worldwide system of cooperation that has yet to be established. Key features of socialism as we envision it are: production for use not profit, distribution according to need, voluntary work, and no social divisions based on class, sex or race. We would like to draw attention to the websites of the WSPUS (wspus.org) and of the WSM (worldsocialism.org), and also to the latest publication of the WSPUS – a book on the political career, behavior, and policies of Barack Obama – No He’s Not: Socialists Take a Look at Obama (World Socialist Review No. 22), available at https://www.createspace.com/3564931 or through Amazon.

PC: May we have a brief bio from the person answering these questions? May we also have bios for the current Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary, and Executive Director of your party?

SS: My name is Stephen Shenfield. I grew up in London and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), another companion party of the WSM, at the age of 16. In my twenties I worked as a government statistician. In the early 1980s I specialized in Soviet Studies and later in international relations. At this time I was also active in the nuclear disarmament movement (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and European Nuclear Disarmament). I came to the US (Providence, RI) in 1989 to take up a position on the faculty of Brown University. In recent years I have been a self-employed translator and researcher. I am the author of two books (The Nuclear Predicament, Routledge 1987, an early analysis of Gorbachev’s “new thinking”; Russian Fascism, M.E. Sharpe 2000). Since rejoining the WSM in 2006, I have contributed to the literature of both the WSPUS and the SPGB (under the pen name Stefan). I am a member of the WSPUS editorial committee. I can be contacted for interview at sshenfield@verizon.net.

The WSPUS does not have a Chairperson or Executive Director. The Corresponding Secretary is Karla Rab, a member since 1962 who has served at various times as Secretary of Boston Local, Joint National Secretary, Postal Corresponding Secretary, and on the National Administrative Committee. She has also written a book on the history of the WSPUS (see below). She can be contacted for interview at karla.rab@rcn.com. The Treasurer of the WSPUS is currently Peter Vachuska. He can be contacted at plv@wspus.org.

PC: In what city and state is the national party headquarters located?

SS: Although Portland OR and Boston MA are centers of some local activity, there is currently no national party headquarters. An elected National Administrative Committee confers through telephone conferences.

PC: What year was the party founded?  

SS: 1916.

PC: Who were the leaders that founded the party?

SS: We have never had leaders and are opposed to the principle of leadership. However, the founding member with the greatest personal influence was Isaac Rab (1893—1986). A biography of Rab has been written by his granddaughter Karla Doris Rab (Role-modeling Socialist Behavior: The Life and Letters of Isaac Rab, published by lulu.com in 2010 and available through Amazon). Most of the 42 founding members were former members of the Detroit Local of the Socialist Party of America, though a significant role was also played by members of the Socialist Party of Canada and Socialist Party of Great Britain who had left their countries to avoid conscription for World War One.

A brief history of our party is available at http://wspus.org/about-us/a-brief-history-of-the-wspus/.

PC: Any significant “firsts” for the party–Who was your first candidate on a ballot, who (if any) was your first candidate elected 

SS: The Boston Local of the WSPUS ran candidates regularly in the 1930s. In the summer of 1935, our comrade Nathan Krigman ran for president.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.