I had many questions for Eugene Puryear, the real-life socialist politician seated across the table from me. Did he really want to nationalize the Fortune 500? Why wasn’t he on board with Bernie Sanders? And why had he suggested we meet at a Washington, D.C., fast-casual chain restaurant—the kind of place that practically screams “post-industrial capitalist exploitation”?
At the last question, Puryear, an affable 30-year-old with a round face and scruffy beard, grinned sheepishly. Having just finished hosting his weekly radio show on the left-wing Pacifica network, Puryear was digging into a plate of Mediterranean chicken. He tried, he said, not to participate in capitalism’s worst excesses; he was considering downloading an iPhone app that alerted users to the latest social-justice boycotts. But the larger problem was a systemic one: “If you look at the global capitalist system, working people are being treated terribly to produce every commodity, from the clothes we wear to the furniture we use,” he said. In his view, capitalism is exploitation, so the only way to stop exploitation is to overthrow capitalism—as he proposes to do.
Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, surprised the party establishment and the commentariat this year by becoming the last candidate standing against Hillary Clinton. I wanted to know how the socialist movement felt about his candidacy. So I sought out Puryear, who is running for vice president on the ticket of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, a socialist organization that expects to be on about a dozen states’ ballots this November. The ticket is headed by Gloria La Riva, a San Francisco–based labor and antiwar activist who has been agitating for social justice since the 1970s.