Contemporary US politics are characterized both by a profoundly undemocratic electoral system and by the historical absence of a mass, working class, socialist party. The Socialist Party of the early years of the twentieth century or the Communist Party of the 1930’s might have evolved towards a mass left party. Both of them failed, though for different reasons. Instead, we have been left with a profusion of socialist propaganda groups, ranging in size from microscopic to very small. The Democratic Socialists of America with several tens of thousands of dues-paying members nationwide, is the largest. The historic absence of an independent working class political party has resulted in the disaffection of significant working class support for socialist ideas, moving from the Democrats not to the left, but rather to the right, most dangerously to the Trumpist right. 

As the social movements withered in the 1970’s and later, there was no organizational form that could bring the remaining viable currents together. By organizing around common objectives, it might have been possible to avoid the worst affects of social movement decline. In the best case, this might have taken the form of a broad left party that could merge social movements on the ground with electoral politics, a party that might have spanned the spectrum from left reformers to social revolutionaries, a party that might have brought together a range of political perspectives, and a party that might have had the potential to remain independent of the Democratic Party. 

In the last decades of the twentieth century, three factors arguably played a predominant role in the development and decline of the left globally: the rise of neoliberal globalization (including imperial wars), the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and the failure of the left following its episodic resurgence in the 1960’s/1970’s, and 1990’s. Out of this intrication, began new ideas about socialist organizing and practice began to emerge around the globe. The traditional social democratic parties moved increasingly rightwards, adapting to the demands of neoliberalism, often (but not universally) resulting in a loss of working class support. Communist parties were profoundly affected  first by destalinization, then by the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and finally by the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. Similar to the failure of social democracy, those Communist par ties that adhered to Stalinist orthodoxy lost their working class base of support to varying degrees. During the same time, a critical reevaluation within Communist parties took the form of Euro-communism or its equivalent outside of Europe. 

As the twentieth century came to a close, the conditions for the building broad left parties began to ripen. Significant preconditions were met, in particular an anti-capitalist political perspective joining together manifold struggles of workers, oppressed minorities, immigrants, women, and students. 

New thinking gave rise to new left-wing organizational forms. A partial list of these new parties, very broadly defined and differing in many important respects, includes Izquierda Unida and Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) in Brazil, La France Insoumise (nucleus of the Nouvelle union populaire écologiste et sociale) in France, the Red/Green Alliance (RGA) in Denmark, Socialist Alliance in Australia, Rifondazione in Italy, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) a, and Left Unity in Britain, among others. 

In the US, more recently and on a qualitatively smaller scale, the Green Socialist Organizing Project (GSOP) was founded in a belief in ecological socialism, anti-capitalism, anti-oppression, internationalism, and independent politics (1). GSOP defines independent politics as  building a dues-paying mass-membership party for green socialism based on oppressed and exploited working people that is independent of and in opposition to the two-corporate-party system of capitalist rule in the US.  

Howie Hawkins has elaborated these ideas in his International Socialist Review article (2) and his 2020 e-book, The Case for an Independent Left Party (3). These two works (whose principal content is essentially similar) focus on the history and problems of party building within the US. In this essay, I consider broad left party building experiences in three other nations: Denmark, Brazil, and Greece. Their successes and failures may help to illuminate the US condition from a perspective more advanced than our own. 

Three case studies 

Adapting a method from medical science, we focus on three example parties (Red/Green Alliance, PT, and Syriza) and two questions: 

  • How did these parties grow to have substantial working class support (all three), and even government control in the case of the PT and Syriza? 
  • How did they succeed, or not, in implementing an anti-capitalist political perspective? 

Red/Green Alliance (RGA – Denmark) 

The Danish Red/Green Alliance (4) (RGA, formally Enhedlisten, or Unity List) makes for a useful case study because its goal is to build a Green socialist party. The RGA was founded in 1989 as an alliance of three parties: the Left Socialists (VS), the Danish Communist Party (DKP), the Danish Socialist Workers Party (SAP), and a number of non-party, independent socialists5. The VS traces its ancestry back to a split with the DKP in 1959. The SAP was (and is) a li ated with the Trotskyist Fourth International. Though invited to discuss joining the emerging RGA, the Danish Greens declined to join the Alliance because, as the RGA website explains,  the Greens did not want to take part in a decidedly socialist project […] . 

The politics of the RGA may be characterized as left social democratic. To summarize, the  Red-Green Alliance aims to create a better society to the bene t of ordinary people. In such a society democracy will encompass the entire society, including the economy, and solidarity will include everybody. We hold that people and the environment take precedence over market and pro t considerations. We believe that decisions should be made as closely to the citizens as possible, and that change should come from below. We believe that greater equality is the core of ensuring a sustainable and democratic society to the bene t of man as well as our planet. (6)

Initially the RGA was structured as an electoral coalition of the founding parties. By 1992, the RGA had transformed itself into a membership based party, no longer a multiparty coalition. The route from multiparty coalition to membership-based party is similar to one that has often been traversed in the development of broad left parties. 

The constituent parties which formed the RGA were not required to disband as part of this transition to a membership base, though they could no longer run for office independent of the RGA. The SAP, for example. no longer considers itself to be a party in the strict sense. It continues to exist, however, as Socialist Workers Politics and publishes a semi-annual periodical independent of the RGA (7). 

The RGA ran its first parliamentary election campaign in December 1990, receiving 55,000 votes (1.7%), not enough to win a seat in parliament (determined by proportional representation with a threshold, a common organizational form in Europe). Since then, the party has grown to win 13 seats in the Danish parliament, one seat in the EU parliament, and is represented in 69 out of 98 municipalities in Denmark (8). From 1992 to 2020, the RGA grew from 1,082 to 9,218 members. 

Workers Party (PT – Brazil) 

The Brazilian Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT) is arguably the most successful of the contemporary BLPs when measured in electoral terms. It has elected two presidents. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known universally as Lula) was elected in 2002, reelected in 2006. He is running again in 2022 and favored to win. The PT’s Dilma Rousse  succeeded Lula in 2011, serving until her impeachment (on arguably dubious corruption charges) in 2016. It is impossible in this essay to follow even the most important strands of PT history from its emergence in 1979 until the present. Therefore, I will focus on the founding years of the party, the time most relevant for our purpose. 

As Michael Löwy has observed (9), the  founding of the PT in 1979 marks the opening of a new chapter in the history of the workers’ movement in Brazil: the building of a mass party that expresses the political independence of the working class and working people; a democratic, pluralist, militant party, free of all ties to the dominant classes and their state, with a clearly anticapitalist program; a party in solidarity with workers’ struggles throughout the world yet independent of the politics of any particular post-revolutionary state […] What is in fact at stake here is a new type of party whose significance and interest extend beyond Brazil. (10)

The 1970s in Brazil were a time of increased class struggle in industry ac companied by increasing class consciousness and opposition to the military dictatorship. The PT emerged out of a diversity of experiences. It included leading militant trade unionists independent of the Brazilian state (like Lula), socialists with experience in a variety of tendencies in the Marxist organizational and ideological traditions, rural unions, peasant leagues, Christian communities, left-wing intellectuals, and parliamentary deputies from the left wing of the liberal Movimento Democratico Brasileiro (MDB). In 1980, the PT defined itself as a mass political party, both open and democratic. Their stated goal was to create  an alternative to power for the workers and the oppressed that advances along the path toward a society with neither exploiters nor exploited. In building this society, the workers are conscious of the fact that this fight is directed against the interests of big national and international capital (11). In 1981, the PT explicitly declared itself a socialist party, rejecting both social democracy and bureaucratic centralism (12). While the PT’s electoral practice has drifted rightwards toward social democracy over time, it still retains its earlier formal adherence to socialist principles. 

The nucleos (nuclei) are key to understanding the early development of the PT. The nucleos were committees of PT members in workplaces, schools, and communities throughout the country. They served for education, organization, democratic representation within the PT, and action, maintaining the PT as a bottom-up party and helping to insure the party’s democratic mass character (13). While the initial promise of popular party control of the leadership may not have been realized, the from-the-bottom-up theory and practice led to dramatic growth. The PT was estimated to have over 1.6 million members in 2021 (14)

The PT under Lula, and subsequently Dilma Rousse , moved towards the political center in its accommodation to neoliberalism (15). Continuing his shift towards the center, Lula has announced that he will be running in the October, 2022, presidential election with center-right politician (former electoral opponent) and leader of the Brazilian Socialist Party) Geraldo Alckmin, as his running mate (16)

In 2004, a significant section of the PT split to become the Partido Social ismo e Liberdade (PSOL – not to be confused with the US Party for Socialism and Liberation – PSL)). The left split occurred as several left-wing PT parliamentary representatives opposed Lula’s pension reform. They saw this as part of a broader shift by Lula towards an adaptation to neoliberalism. It is note worthy that the PSOL/PT split came about over programmatic and strategic differences, but not over the question of broad left party building. PSOL continued as a multi-tendency socialist party, albeit to the left of the PT (17). In 2022, PSOL had eight parliamentary delegates, while the PT had 58 (18)

Syriza (Greece) 

Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) is of special interest in understanding both the strengths and vulnerabilities of broad left parties. Syriza succeeded in growing to become the Greek governing party in 2015. Once in government, however, it appeared to many on the left that the Syriza leadership betrayed the trust of those who supported its rise by capitulating to the EU-imposed austerity which it had opposed until shortly before (19)

Origins. Syriza developed in an historical context determined in large part by the intrication of three factors: (1) the speci c history of the Greek left, (2) destalinization and the collapse of the Soviet bloc; and (3) the  financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath. 

Greece has maintained a strong left wing and working class political tradition for over a century. Neither the German occupation during World War II, nor the military defeat of the Greek communists in the civil war (1946-1949), nor the repression of the military junta (1967-1974) were able to destroy the Greek left. 

Greek Eurocommunism emerged in the wake of destalinization in the 1970s and 1980s. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc (1989-1991) accelerated the ferment within the Greek Communist Party, as it did throughout Europe and elsewhere. The direct predecessor of Syriza, Synaspismos (SYN – Coalition of the Left and Progress), was founded in 1991. SYN emerged from this milieu as an electoral coalition which included the Communist Party of Greece (KKE, which withdrew from SYN in 1994) along with Eurocommunists and left social democrats. 

In late 2003, during a time of growing popular movements against neoliberalism and globalization, several additional left parties and unaffiliated activists joined with Synaspismos to form Syriza. The founders agreed that Syriza would be a political front in which constituent parties and individuals would retain their independence, that Syriza would work by consensus of its component organizations, and that elected deputies would not be bound by coalition decisions (20)

By 2009, political thinking about Syriza’s organizational model had evolved. Syriza began the transformation into a  party of members  who could be organized into currents (tendencies), rather than a coalition of parties (21). Although this decision was met with strong opposition from within one wing of SYN, 

the changes were completed formally in 2013, when Syriza transitioned from a federated coalition to membership-based, unitary party (22). One (possibly unintended) consequence of the way in which the reorganization was implemented, however, opened the road to increased autonomy of the leadership around Alexis Tsipras, former student activist and leader of the Synaspismos Youth, at the expense of control by the party membership. 

Victory and defeat. The  financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing austerity hit Greece particularly hard. Mass popular resistance to the austerity policies of the Troika (composed of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) in Greece included over 30 (one, or occasionally two day) general strikes between 2010 and 2015, numerous local strikes, workplace occupations, and the occupation of the squares, the Greek equivalent of Occupy. Syriza became the widely recognized political representation of the uprisings from below, not only within Greece, but within Europe more generally. 

The effect on Syriza was profound. Following the parliamentary elections of January, 2015, Syriza came within one vote of becoming the parliamentary majority. The congenitally sectarian communist party (KKE) rejected a coalition with Syriza. Rather than forming a constitutionally permitted minority government, the Syriza leadership chose to form a bloc with the right-wing, Greek nationalist (and therefore anti-EU) ANEL party. Alexis Tsipras became prime minister. In a troubling sign for the future, ANEL was given the ministry of defense. An anti-immigrant right-winger was put in charge of the police. These appointments signaled to Greek capital and the military that Syriza did not pose a fundamental threat to their continued rule. 

The new Syriza-led government adopted a series of anti-austerity measures, including tax increases, privatizations, and others designed to placate the Troika. Although draconian for the working class and the youth, these concessions proved inadequate for the Troika, who pushed for yet deeper concessions. 

The crisis came to a head in June/July, 2015. 62% of Greeks voted ‘No’ in the July 5 referendum when asked if they supported yet more burdensome austerity measures, Within days of the ‘No’ vote, Tsipras effectively capitulated to the increasingly harsh demands of the Troika. To consolidate their control of the party, the Tsipras leadership drove the anti-capitalist Left Platform from Syriza just weeks before new parliamentary elections. The Syriza/ANEL government maintained a diminished parliamentary majority, retaining power until 2019. 

But confidence in the Syriza leadership had been profoundly shaken. 

What went wrong with Syriza? Any understanding of the rise and fall of Syriza must take account of the intrication of political, economic, and organizational factors. Not surprisingly, this has been the subject of considerable debate since 2015. Here I would like to sketch a summary view of the political and organizational difficulties that Syriza faced. Our goal should be to learn from their experience, understanding that we are dealing with historical hypotheticals that can have no definitive answer. One central question emerges: did the Syriza leadership really have a choice of anything short of full capitulation when confronted with the united resistance of the Troika? 

One ideological factor stands out, as Kevin Ovenden has argued (23). This is the stance that the Syriza leadership took towards the political economy of capitalism. Tsipras and his finance ministers, Yanis Varoufakis and Costas Tsakalotos, were all effectively left Keynesians. As a result, their economic proposals were framed within a fundamentally capitalist perspective. Varoufakis emphasized the need to reform EU and Greek economic (and especially financial) institutions to restore growth while retaining Greek membership within the Eurozone (24). Tsakalotos emphasized the need for a united European strategy for the  taming of the  financial markets (25) while opposing a Greek break from the Euro. Simply stated, the Syriza leadership lacked a consistent anti-capitalist perspective (or at least failed to act on one). They might have, but did not, call for the repudiation of the unsustainable debt transferred from the private banks to the government ledger. They might have, but did not, call for the nationalization of the Greek banking system (the true bene ciaries of Troika enforced austerity) and its replacement with a publicly owned banking system (26)

These political shortcomings were made easier through the relative absence of intra-party democratic control over the party leadership, as Left Platform leader Antonis Davanellos argues (27). Davanellos cites especially the autonomy of Tsipras and his close associates within the party, and the independence of the parliamentary group and the committee charged with drafting the party platform from effective democratic control by the party membership.  No collective body of Syriza , Davanellos writes,  ever approved the government’s turn com mitting it to pay all debt installments ‘complete and on time’ (per the agreement of February 2015) or the de facto recognition that a left government must limit its political activity to negotiations with creditors.  As was also the case within the Brazilian PT, formal intra-party democracy proved insufficient to the tasks at hand. 

Some lessons learned

As Marx famously wrote in 1845, our goal is not simply to interpret the world, but to change it (28). Each nation has its distinct political and social challenges. In the US, we face strong resistance from the intricated forces of a weak, divided, left and an anti-democratic electoral system. Lessons from the experiences of other nations cannot map directly onto our context. It may still be useful to draw some inferences from the diversity of broad left party-building experiences elsewhere to help guide our work. Although the organizational and the political intertwine, I will group my comments into those that are principally organizational and those that are principally political. 

On organization

Broad left parties have emerged typically through a regroupment of existing left parties, working class organizations, and other social movements. This was true of each of the three example parties we looked at. Both Syriza and the RGA were founded as a coalition of existing left parties. The PT was based in large part on activist trade unions as well as left parties and other formations. 

Successful BLPs transition from a multi-party alliance to a membership based structure. This was true of each of the three example parties. 

BLPs should respect political diversity within the party. This includes the right to organized tendencies within the party. It also entails the right to carry out propaganda independently of the BLP. It does not extend to running election campaigns in opposition to the BLP. 

Party leadership must be responsible to democratic control by party members. This is the critical lesson to be learned from both the Syriza and the PT experiences. 

BLPs are most likely to emerge where the left has a strong history. The was true of the three example parties. This does not mean we should abandon the task of party building where there is not a strong left, working class tradition and historical continuity. It means that our task is more di cult. 

BLPs have emerged typically in nations with relatively democratic electoral institutions (i.e., parliamentary systems with proportional representation). It will therefore be more di cult to establish a BLP in the US, where the electoral bars to entry for new parties are especially burdensome. 

BLPs can grow dramatically during upsurges in class struggle. This was the case with the PT during its early years and, even more strikingly, with Syriza during the post-2008 debt crisis 

On politics

As a starting point, here are some key political principles that may serve as a basis for further discussion. A viable broad left party must have: 

An anticapitalist, anti-neoliberal, and anti-imperialist perspective. We need to address real problems faced by real people, embodied in program, strategy, and practice. Our solutions need not be limited simply because they come into conflict with the perceived interests of capital. 

Ideas that are understandable to a broad audience. There are millions within the US who see no viable future within the current system, or within the Democratic Party in particular. Yet neither do they see a viable alternative outside the system. We need to be able to  nd ways to listen to and talk with them, to share ideas with one another. 

A vision of a democratic socialist future. We will need to develop a strategy for going beyond capitalism. Such a strategy cannot be picked up o – the-shelf at a bookstore or found through searching on the internet. It will need to be created out of a critical understanding of our history and experience, a realistic balance sheet of current strengths and weaknesses, and a clear vision of the future we want and need. We must also articulate a critique of so-called socialism as it existed in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe prior to the 1989- 1991 collapse, as well as the socialist market economy as it currently exists in China. 

An open, democratic, and pluralist form. A viable BLP will need to be open to a range of opinions across the socialist spectrum, from reform to revolution. Party membership should be on an individual basis as soon as feasible, open to those who are in substantial agreement with the party’s program and agree to pay dues. It should recognize the existence of tendencies within the party, grouped according to political positions consistent with the overall perspective of the party. It should also the allow recognize identity-based caucuses for members of marginalized groups. Party-wide internal democracy must be the norm at all levels. 

A combination of electoral and activist work. We need to build a party with an electoral perspective, but whose center of gravity lies outside electoral politics, in our collective struggles and social movements, to paraphrase Murray Smith (29). It is important to emphasize this in the US context. No electoral third party has succeeded in the US since before the Civil War, more than 160 years ago. History demonstrates that all principally or exclusively electoral parties have already withered and have died or, most likely, will wither and die. 

This does not mean that we should abstain from electoral politics. Electoral politics allows us both to expand our audience and to gauge our popular support. Electoral politics alone, however, are insufficient to bring real structural change, all the more so given the profoundly undemocratic US electoral system. While this makes an electoral strategy di cult to conceive and implement, it should not be seen as an excuse to bypass elections. Elections o er an opportunity for our views to be heard. They allow our elected representatives to provide an example (however limited it may be) of how we might govern if we had the opportunity. Elections themselves provide us with a data about the relation of forces at the ideological and political planes. 

Political and organizational independence from the capitalist class and its parties. Working within the Democratic Party may yield short-term bene ts, but history strongly suggests that these apparent opportunities come at the cost of subordination of independent, class-based political activity. This was, example. the fate of the Jesse Jackson campaigns of 1984 and 1988. A similar process now seems to be playing out within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, as the recent example of DSA member and Democratic congressional representative Jamaal Bowman’s repudiation of Palestinian solidarity bears witness. 


Neoliberalism and capitalist globalization, ideologically dominant since the 1970’s, are showing signs of political and economic strain. The curtain of defeat that has hung over the left since the collapse of the Black Power, student, and women’s movements in the 1970’s and the anti-globalization movement in the 1990’s, may be lifting. In the last several years, Black Lives Matter protests, recent victory of Amazon and Starbucks union organizing drives, episodic climate activism, and militant teachers strikes on places like Chicago and Minneapolis point in the direction of increasing (and increasingly con dent) popular mobilization from below. This militancy has overlapped with a rise in anticapitalist and anti-neoliberal political sentiment, expressed largely until now through the mass support for the Sanders/AOC wing of the Democratic Party and the qualitative growth of the DSA. Disaffected youth, and minority youth in particular, are at the core of this reawakening. 

In the 2020’s, as in the 1970’s and the 1990’s, we lack a political organizing center that can serve as a bridge connecting otherwise disparate movements independent of the ruling class and its organizations. To address this problem, it is time to consider seriously the initial steps towards building a broad left party within the US. 

What might be our next step in working towards a broad left party here in the US? I believe that the time has not yet come, and our influence is too narrow, to jump directly to a call for the foundation of such a party. Now is the time to continue laying the foundation. The best way we can start the process is to look for ways to popularize the BLP idea within the left. Let’s see if we can get people thinking about and talking about these ideas. 

The potential for broad left party building was implicit (at the very least) in the Hawkins/Walker 2020 presidential campaign, summarized succinctly by the #LeftUnity hashtag, itself evoking the Left Unity Party (a broad left party) in Britain (30)(31). The #LeftUnity theme has been taken up more recently through the formation of a joint Green/Peace and Freedom slate for the June 7, 2022 primary election in California (32)

Socialist political theory and practice are an ongoing journey of exploration, a journey whose road map is never complete and always imperfect. Ahead of us, we see the looming near certainty of climate heating and the real threat of thermonuclear annihilation. Behind us lie both hard-fought victories and the ruins of our failed aspirations. We have been given yet another collective opportunity to change history. Let us prepare both politically and organizationally for the challenges we face. 


abbreviation  definition
ANEL  Independent Greeks (political party)
AOC  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
BLP  Broad Left Party
DSA  Democratic Socialists of America
DKP  Danish Communist Party
EU  European Union
GSOP  Green Socialist Organizing Project
KKE  Communist Party of Greece
PSOL  Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (Brazil)
PSUV  Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela
PT  Partido dos Trabalhadores (Brazil)
RGA  Red/Green Alliance (Denmark)
SAP  Socialist Workers Party (Denmark)
SYN  Coalition of the Left and Progress (Greece)
Syriza  Coalition of the Radical Left (Greece)
VS  Left Socialists (Denmark)



1); accessed 4122022 

2); accessed 4/21/2022

3); accessed 4/21/2022

4); accessed 4/21/2022 

5); accessed 4/21/2022 

6) 151663; accessed 4/21/2022 

7) navn; accessed 4/21/2022 

8); accessed 4/21/2022 

9) My understanding of the early history of the PT relies heavily on French/Brazilian ecosocialist Michael Löwy’s  A New Type of Party – The Brazilian PT , Latin American Perspectives, 14(4), 1987, pp. 453-464. 

10) Löwy, op. cit., p 454 

11) Löwy, op. cit., p 458 

12) Löwy, op. cit., p 462 

13) Löwy, op. cit., p 460 


15) Je ery Webber, The retreat of the pink tide in Latin America. International Socialist Review 110:Fall 2018, 

16) bolsonaro-era;- accessed 5/9/2022 

17) Dan La Botz, Brazil’s Party of Socialism and Freedom, PSOL: Another Way of Doing Politics, New Politics (November, 2014). 


19) This section draws heavily on the work of Kevin Ovenden’s Syriza: Inside the labyrinth, Pluto Press and the writing of Antonis Davanellos, e.g., years-after-the-syriza-government-and-the-referendum/ 

20) A. Davanellos, index.html 

21) Davanellos, op. cit. 

22) Ovenden, op. cit., p142 

23) Ovenden, op. cit., Ch. 8 

24) Ovenden, op. cit., pp162-163. 

25) Ovenden, op. cit., p165 

26) C. Lapavitsas (2015), grexit-syriza/ 

27A. Davanellos, and-the-referendum/ 

28) K. Marx (1845), Theses of Feuerbach, 1845/theses/theses.htm 

29); accessed 4/4/2022. Smith’s writings are essential for understanding the broad left party experience in Europe. 

See especially; accessed 4/1/2022. 

30); accessed 4/7/2022, 

31) ?type=3; accessed 4/8/2022 

32) freedom-party-2022-elections; accessed 4/8/2022 


This document is licensed under CC BY 2.0