Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary victory over Congressman Joe Crowley in New York suggested a pronounced shift of the Democratic Party toward Socialism. But progressive voters should consider another model other than the left-leaning Democrat: a new socialist party.
Last month, the Maryland Board of Elections certified a new socialist party, Bread and Roses, granting it the right to place candidates on the ballot in November 2020. Rather than running in Democratic primaries, these socialists will run against Democratic Party nominees, possibly even their candidate for president in 2020.
Bread and Roses emerged after the Maryland Democratic Senate primary last June, in which, running as a socialist, I challenged Sen. Ben Cardin, a senior figure in the Democratic Party, who has held office for the last 50 years.
Although I put out ads referring to myself as “Maryland’s Bernie Sanders,” and called the contest “The Ben or Jerry Primary,” I failed in my effort to replace my establishment opponent.
It didn’t help that I was one of seven candidates challenging Mr. Cardin. Early polling suggested a large anti-Cardin vote, with barely over 50 percent saying he deserved re-election. In the end, without Mr. Cardin having lifted a finger, he won all but 20 percent of the vote.
At the outset of my Senate campaign, I had some name recognition because of my three decades of work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I challenged Mr. Cardin on two fronts. I first singled him out as the Senate’s leading representative of AIPAC and as a knee-jerk supporter of the Benjamin Netanyahu government. Secondly, I put forward a “Bread and Roses Agenda” — a new synthesis of ideas that merges aspects of the socialist tradition with the simple living strain of American culture, both modified by an emphasis on the importance of beauty and creativity in life. I laid out these ideas in my 1999 book, “Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream.”
Bread and Roses refers to itself as “socialistic,” and our version of socialism isn’t quite the same as that espoused by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Both Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez have to some extent identified socialism with the New Deal, or, now, The Green New Deal. Our brand of socialism is somewhat different. We identify with the utopianism of the pre-Marxist socialists and with the early Marx, especially his economic and philosophic manuscripts on alienated labor, and the role of money in human interaction. Further, we embrace the Marxist social contract: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” At the same time, we are not in love with big government, and our roots are wider than merely the socialist tradition.
Socialist or socialistic, although relatively well-funded, my campaign never took off. The press paid no attention to my challenge to AIPAC, although this was a first in American politics. I called on Bernie Sanders for an endorsement in an open letter in The Washington Post, and got no response. And Maryland progressive organizations were so caught up in the gubernatorial primary, which resulted in the selection of Ben Jealous to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, that they largely ignored the Senate primary. In fact, not one progressive organization in the state even bothered to endorse a candidate.
In the Senate primary, I received over 20,000 votes. A few days after the election, I resigned from the Democratic Party and set out to establish “Bread and Roses” as a new third party. That effort reached fruition on Jan. 17th, when the Board of Elections certified the party, based on a petition signed by 10,000 Maryland voters. This only scratches the surface of our potential appeal. During the primary our polling found that over 70 percent of Maryland Democrats thought it was time to “rethink” the American dream.
Come 2020, Bread and Roses will be able to field a wide range of candidates in Maryland, including, should we choose, our candidate for president. In 2022, we may run a full slate of candidates for governor and the General Assembly. Which races we enter will depend in part on whom the Democrats nominate. Going forward, the Democratic Party, starting in Maryland, will have to consider that if they don’t nominate candidates along the lines of socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they may find themselves running against Bread and Roses socialists.
I’m happy either way.
Jerome M. Segal is the state chairman of The Bread and Roses Party of Maryland.