Ellie Hamrick, a proud member of Athens (OH) Revolutionary Socialists, is running for Athens city council. Oaklandsocialist recently interviewed her. Here are some excerpts (along with some comments from Oaklandsocialist):
On conditions in Athens:
“There are a lot of really stark inequalities and problems in Athens County. The Democrats have run the county with virtually no opposition for decades… since at least George W. bush was in office and they’ve done exactly nothing about the fact that Athens County is the poorest and most unequal county in Ohio….
On the socialism and the capitalist crisis:
It just feels like the pressure is on in winning socialism sooner rather than later, so any role I can play in winning that message and getting people talking about socialism – running for city council seemed like a great platform to do that in a way to gain media attention and an excuse to knock on doors to talk about socialism.
On “democratic socialists” (or social democracy) and revolutionary socialism:
I think of democratic socialists as my comrades and I want to work with them as closely as we can. That being said, I do think there are some pretty significant differences and the debates are important. We’re at a crucial moment in defining the goal of socialism and articulating exactly what it is that we’re fighting for. I’m a revolutionary socialist because of the ideas and the urgency of what we’re fighting for. I don’t think we can reform or elect our way to the changes we need to see in the short time we have. I think elections and reforms have a role, but I don’t think we can win socialism simply by electing enough socialists into government.
I think socialism means something more than just the government does stuff. I think that the socialism that we’re fighting for is one where the workers have democratic control over their own work places and over all of society. I think that complete transformation in turning the world as it is upside down is actually the only way to win the changes that we need to see is the only way to win those changes and keep them.
I also think that especially with the question of climate change and ecological disaster — like, the climate literally cannot sustain one single more decade of economic growth. And so for me, if we had social democracy, that doesn’t stop climate catastrophe. Even if we had a Green New Deal, it’s premised on continued growth. It’s premised on economic growth and expansion, and that simply will not work to stop ecological catastrophe. [Oaklandsocialist on Can the Green New Deal Save the Planet?.]
I’ve also been thinking a lot recently about how if we were to win social democracy in the United States, which is a colonizing and imperialist country, it would be dependent on continued exploitation of people in other parts of the world, on continued imperialism. Also on continued strength of borders….
And so, because I’m an internationalist, because I believe in open borders, because I’m against imperialism, I think we need a deeper transformation than social democracy affords.
We think there are two key issues here.
First is the issue of which class rules society. Revolutionary socialists – or Marxists – believe it must be the working class, and our class cannot do so through the present capitalist state. Instead, what’s needed is to replace that state with workers’ democracy and a workers’ state. See our pamphlet “What is Revolution?” for a fuller explanation of our view.
Second is the issue of economic planning. From the time of hunting and gathering societies to capitalism, the general trajectory of human society has been towards planning. But real planning is impossible under capitalism, where every capitalist bases her or his investment decisions on the blind laws of the “free” market and individual profits. What’s needed is conscious planning through such a workers’ state. See “What is Socialism?” )
On the need for a working class party and working within the Democratic Party
We definitely need a workers party sooner, rather than later. We should have had one yesterday… Part of the reason I’m running is that I think a lot of people are thinking that our path towards a workers party is this “dirty break” strategy. [That is the strategy of calling for a working class party in the future while working inside the Democratic Party for now.] I wish them luck, but I’m pessimistic as far as that actually panning out. So I want to show the viability of independent runs. And I see winning not only in terms of winning the election but also in terms of building working class power in Athens and be able to show that independent runs can be a step forward towards building a workers party.
So far that I’ve watched a lot of people, comrades, go in with this strategy of “we’re going to make a dirty break” and it
seems like it’s turning into “let’s elect these social democrats.” It may pan out in different ways, but I think running as an independent is a much more straightforward way of expressing independence from the Democrats.
A working class party would be different from the capitalist parties and one of the ways that it would have to be different is in rooting in struggles that is far beyond electoral politics. So, to me it makes complete sense that a working class party would have roots in organic struggles in the streets and work places or what have you.
(Oaklandsocialist comments: Historically, social democrats at least based themselves on a party that was distinct from the capitalist parties. It was the liberal wing of the Democratic Party – for example FDR and then Hubert Humphrey – that was later rebranded as “progressives” and now is called “democratic socialists”. In their present role, they help keep the working class tied to the Democratic Party. So the question we need to consider is whether they are really social democrats, or just rebranded liberals.)
On Imperialism and social democracy:
Imperialism is the key question and so many of these social democrats or democratic socialists are so weak on the question of imperialism is for me not a coincidence. It’s a very clear indicator of the limits of their strategy.
(Oaklandsocialist comments: Hamrick hits the nail on the head here. Historically, social democrats defended their own capitalist class in fighting their rivals for who got to rape, plunder and pillage the rest of the world, most famously in that mass slaughter of workers known as WW I. This directly affects workers today. For example, look at how the role of US imperialism in Central America has driven masses of working class people to try to move to the United States, leading to the refugee crisis at the US/Mexican border.
On Trump supporters:
[You see houses with] Trump banners. You see confederate flags around for sure.
We experience harassment. Like (when) an interfaith group organized a vigil for the folks in concentration camps, we definitely got yelled at and harassed.
Definitely we’ve experienced a lot of sexism campaigning, especially when it comes to these people who troll you interpersonally…. Like when we’re out tabling… I remember this one guy I told him for half an hour “go away; please leave; this is not how I want to spend my time,” [and he ignored my request]. Finally a male comrade told him “hey, it’s time for you to go,” and he was like “okay, cool,” and left. So there’s a lot of sexist harassment….
I haven’t [had any fruitful conversations with Trump supporters]. I’m not saying that’s out of the realm of possibilities, but I haven’t. [Hamrick also commented that the Trump supporters tend to be a mix of middle class frat-boy bullies at Athen’s Ohio State University and working class types as well as a layer of the ruling class, including the slumlords.]
On who is supporting her campaign:
We have the most support by far on the West side of town, which is the poorest district…. And on the West side there are “elect Ellie Hamrick” signs everywhere. I couldn’t believe it.
On the general consciousness and mood, and the looming environmental disaster
There are quite a few people who already identify as socialist or anti-capitalist…. Most people don’t know what that is or don’t know what they are or they say they don’t pay much attention to politics or they think some mix of capitalism and socialism might be best…. It’s a lot of opportunity to explain what socialism means, what capitalism is.
On the environment:
It’s going to give a lot of opportunities to “you should really be thinking about these things. And I think people are walking around with the knowledge that the world is ending in the back of their heads, like everybody knows that ecological catastrophe is coming and it’s coming quickly and even people who think they don’t think about politics and don’t know what they are… a lot of people have this sense that something’s got to give. so that’s been a good starting point to speak to people like “okay, you should really think about which side you’re on. Things are going to get shaken up here one way or another.”
In my lifetime… Even if you’re not using the language of climate change, you can say like “remember a few years ago when you used to hear frogs chirping at night and you could walk around your neighborhood and see toads and snakes?” and they’d be like “yeah, yeah, I don’t hear them anymore. I don’t see them anymore.” Things are changing before people’s very eyes. So I think there is a way to connect with everybody around this environmental crisis.
Note: We didn’t have a chance to ask Hamrick about her views on the labor movement. For us, as with for most union members, there is a huge divide between the rank and file and the union leadership, and it’s impossible to really support the unions without also supporting the need for union members to organize to transform their unions.That’s clear, for example, with what just happened in the UFCW and the Carpenters Union.
Ellie Hamrick’s conclusion:
We have a lot of problems and only the working class can solve them.
On what she hopes to accomplish in this campaign:
And this is an experiment, right? Like, not a lot of people are doing this, and it’s too early in the campaign to be able to say “here’s what worked and here’s what didn’t.”
So, it’s a little premature, but basically it’s an opportunity to learn and to be able to contribute some lessons to the campaign about how we can use elections towards building a working class party. And I can’t do that myself, but I hope a lot of people will jump in and assess what they see as the workings of this campaign.
We have donated online to Ellie Hamrick’s campaign. You can too.