by Larry Burks
from The Socialist Party of Kansas
Intro: Comrade David McReynolds’ work as an activist for Peace and Socialist Justice spans nearly six decades. He joined the Socialist Party of America (SPA) in 1951 and is one of the founders of the Socialist Party USA (SPUSA). McReynolds was the SPUSA’s presidential candidate in the 1980 and 2000 election, he ran for Senate in the state of New York in the 2004 election.
Larry Burks: Comrade McReynolds thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Before we begin could you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
David McReynolds: I was born in Los Angeles, went to UCLA, and graduated in 1953, a very long time ago. My hobbies are photography, music (collecting it – I can’t play any instruments), cooking, gardening, and sharing my little apartment with two cats. (This isn’t a hobby just companionship.)
LB: If you had to describe socialism in a sentence or two, what would you say?
DM: Socialism is not “state control” of everything, including your toothbrush. It doesn’t mean there won’t be small business. It would mean that the major corporations would be socially owned and democratically controlled, and that the economy would be planned to put social needs ahead of private profit.
LB: There is no doubt that the legacy of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc is one that we in the Socialist movement must address. What was your impression of the Soviet bloc?
DM: The question of the Soviet Union (and of China) is very complex and can’t be answered in a few sentences. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was certainly an event which shook the world. And it had the support of working people all over the world. But the fact that the revolution was isolated very early, that the West imposed a cordon sanitaire* to block trade with it, funded counter-revolutionary groups, combined with the errors of Lenin and Trotsky in setting up a one-party state, meant that in some ways Stalin was inevitable. The East Bloc was never democratic, it was oppressive, but it was also a reaction to world events.
It was a State existing in a condition of paranoia and fear of Western intervention. The Eastern Bloc after WW II was less an “expansion of Soviet Revolution” than a buffer zone for the Soviets against the Germans – remember that Russia had been invaded by Germany three times in just over a hundred years.
LB: What was your reaction to the fall of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc?
DM: There are few lessons, really, we can learn from the Soviet Union and/or from China. Whatever chance there is of a progressive movement in the US will be based on understanding the culture of our own country. The United States is like every other country “exceptional”.
LB: You’ve been a part of the Socialist Movement for sometime, can you tell us about what led you to the Socialist Party?
DM: I joined the Socialist Party because at the depth of the Cold War it represented both the hope of freedom, and of social revolution. I was certainly impressed by the tradition of Eugene V. Debs, and while I felt my own position to the “left” of Norman Thomas, I had great respect for Thomas. knew him and worked with him.
LB: What changes within the party have you witnessed over the years?
DM: When you ask about changes in the Socialist Party the reality is that there is no real left today in the US. When I joined the SP in 1951 there were strong Communist and Socialist movements, and a minor but still significant Trotskyist movement. Today the Communist Party and the Socialist Party are tiny, the other socialist movements are smaller, the Trotskyists are split into a dozen factions, and there are one or two Maoist groups.
LB: What would your advice be to today’s Socialist activists as far as building up the Pro-Socialist Left and making socialist solutions known to the general public?
DM: I think the beginning of wisdom is to realize how isolated The Left is, and the tradition of the Democratic Marxist movement is in this country is not as significant as many of our counterparts in other countries. Socialists need to work together where possible to defend fiercely the concept of democracy and civil liberties.
We also need to work at educating the general public in the various ways that socialism is the sensible alternative. This means both what you might call “immediate demands” (such as shutting down Guantanamo), and deeper demands, such as closing all oversees military installations. It means both working for a single-payer medical system, and also working for a stronger labor movement, building the cooperative movement, and working for community democracy.
LB: What does the success of Barak Obama and the Democratic Party in the last general election mean for the American Socialist Left?
DM: Obama’s election may open doors for us to push the public further to the left. Obama is not a radical, but neither is he Bush. He has opened the way for serious discussion of much deeper changes on foreign policy than he has personally suggested. I think radical movements do better in this kind of political climate than we do under a more conservative one.
LB: What do you think about the current economic crisis?
DM: I have to be honest and say I don’t have quick answers to the economic crisis. These are recurrent problems with capitalism, but non-capitalist countries have also had serious problems with growth. Why shouldn’t we propose that the Big Three auto makers be socialized, and ownership transferred to the unions? And we need to question the idea of “growth” itself, we need to take a “green” approach, in which we create jobs for everyone but not to destroy the environment in the process.
LB: Despite the current hardships, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the mainstream who is questioning Capitalism itself. Would you agree? If so, why do you think that is?
DM: I think there are people questioning capitalism – and we should be leading the way!
LB: How do we get Socialist viewpoints into the mainstream?
DM: The Socialist (our magazine) is doing a good job – I wish it was published more frequently, had more pages, etc. I think local groups like the Socialist Party of Kansas, the New York City party organization, and other local groups around the country, should arrange visits with each other, regional conferences, and reach out to groups more in the center than we are. It isn’t our job to try to recruit socialists from other groups (though that is fine when it happens) but to bring in people who had been Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.
A stronger socialist movement cannot be built by adding a dozen sectarian socialist groups to each other – we have to reach folks out there who are ready now for a serious question of how our system is working, how it could work better, how we can build a more humane, democratic society. And I hope if SP members from Kansas are passing through New York City they will give me a call – I’d love to sit down and hear about what folks are doing there.