Socialists have always been some of the leading elements and key players in every social movement, from the struggle to build unions to the fight against racism and sexism, from the fight against fascists to decent housing for all.
The reason for this is not because socialists are simply the most dedicated and most active, or that they are simply the "best people" (although they often are). It is because socialists have the best political understanding of the system and how all the issues - from unions to the racist death penalty - are interlinked. Lenin aruged that revolutionary socialists should be:
the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny
and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the
people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce
a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to
take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his
socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and
everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of
As I argued earlier in "Do socialists fight for reforms?", short of leading the working class to take power, socialists are going to spend most of their time organizing and fighting for reforms. But in the fight for reforms, socialists have to make the connection between different issues and link them to the fight for a better society, to the fight for workers' power.
Every fightback, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is part of a wider war; understanding it as such allows socialists to link issues and broaden the base and appeal of every struggle. For example, the fight against the racist death penalty is not only a fight against the execution of innocent people (although it is) - it opens up the issues of racism and class bias in the criminal justice system. People in this country are executed not on the basis of guilt or innocence, but on the basis of skin color, on the basis of how much (or how little) money they have. That is the real injustice of the death penalty, and that's why it should be abolished. But in fighting the death penalty, it also raises issues of why people commit crime in the first place, what the "war on drugs" is really all about, and shows how racist scapegoating through the issue of crime diverts genuine anger around real issues into false solutions.
So which fronts do we fight on, which issues do we organize around? This is a complicated question with a complicated answer, and it goes beyond the scope of this article. But some general rules do apply.
Given the size (small) and strength of revolutionary socialist organization today - there is no mass revolutionary workers' party in the U.S. today - we have to enter the doors that are already open, or beginning to open. This means fighting around globalization, the war, the death penalty, and the new civil rights movement - all of which are growing movements. But it also means responding quickly when a new outrage or injustice happens, like the recent drive to war, or the police murder/beat (yet another) black man. It means standing in solidarity on a picket line, or standing up and saying something at a school board meeting to protest budget cuts.
We may not be able to start or initiate campaigns around all the issues we like, but we need to support and be part of whatever struggles develop in order to help lead them, and in order to win people to revolutionary socialist politics and the possibility of a better world.