Bernie Defines Socialism - Where Do We Go From Here?

BernieDebs.png
Steve Liss/the LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

By Duane Campbell

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made his promised substantive speech on democratic socialism to a packed crowd of 700 students and press at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. on November, 19, 2015.  He explained democratic socialism and his policy proposals by touching upon New Deal liberalism, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement, Lyndon Johnson, and Pope Francis. He also addressed current issues facing the nation’s voters, with an emphasis on climate change, global terrorism, and the promise of young people.  The speech is available here.

Two DSA vice-chairs have prominently commented on the talk in the media and offered ideas important for socialists to examine in considering both the speech and its limits.

DSA Vice Chair Harold Meyerson , editor of the American Prospect and a regular columnist in the Washington Post,  describes themes of the speech in an article titled "Bernie Defines Socialism" noting that while Sanders built the speech on the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt,

Getting down to particulars, Sanders continued that democratic socialism meant creating an economy that works for all, a universal health-care system based on the principle that health care is a right, free tuition at public colleges and universities (and higher Pell Grants and lower interest rates on student loans, which would also make private colleges more affordable), a governmental commitment to full employment, a living wage (with a minimum wage of $15), paid family and medical leave, more progressive taxation, and the automatic voter registration of all Americans when they turn 18.

Meyerson also describes some of the development of the democratic socialist movement in the U.S., which Sanders did not.

Michael Harrington argued in his 1967 book Toward A Democratic Left that the presumably socialist-free American political landscape actually harbored within the Democratic Party what he termed “a hidden social democracy.” The nation’s more progressive unions, the civil-rights activists, the middle-class liberals (then mounting protests against the Vietnam War)—these were the groups whose European counterparts made up those nations’ social democratic parties. Accordingly, Harrington concluded, American socialists should enter—publicly, unashamedly—the Democratic Party, those hidden social democrats’ political home, where they could work for the kinds of social changes attainable in everyday politics while also campaigning for a future of a more democratic economy and society. In 1973, he founded an organization, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (now known as the Democratic Socialists of America), which did just that. (Full disclosure: I’m a vice-chair of DSA, though—also full disclosure—I haven’t been to a DSA meeting in years.)

In an interview entitled “A leading socialist explains what Bernie Sanders’s socialism gets right – and wrong” DSA vice-chair,  Bhaskar Sunkara, responded to the Sanders speech in Vox. Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin, a magazine that offers "socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture. The print magazine is released quarterly and reaches over 10,000 subscribers, in addition to a web audience of 600,000 a month.”

Sunkara characterized the speech as

a decent start and not far enough. Socialism has been lost in American politics for a generation, swallowed up by Cold War politics and the broader assault on the labor movement, and the defeat of even the most modest of incremental reform tendencies within liberalism, so just having someone calling themselves a socialist on the national stage is incredible. It gives people like me the chance to contrast our vision of socialism with Sanders's, while still being broadly supportive of many of the things he wants to do and the impulses of those who support him.

Sunkara says,

Socialists support struggles for redistribution. They're vital. But our focus is often on ownership and control, not just these questions of distribution. So while we support things like breaking up the banks, we do so as a prelude to something like bank nationalization and socializing finance.

Sanders is, in many ways, a good social democrat. That's not a bad start, but we want to not only build a welfare state, but go beyond it. We want a society in which political democracy is extended into economic and social realms as well, where workers own and control their places of employment, not just get a decent wage.

The Sanders speech and his campaign opens an important political space for a discussion in the media of democratic socialism and the need for political and economic change, an opportunity that has been substantially closed for most of the last 50 years.

Bernie’s view of democratic socialism is substantive. He was able to make his case in an hour-long presentation, not the 2 minute time limits of the so-called national debates on television.

The speech and reactions to it provide an opportunity for the left to dialogue and to discuss our differences.  More importantly, we need to create a broad left with the ability to reach out to millions of working people.  We need 10,000 organizers able and willing to discuss and clarify these issues while building a political movement that builds on the Sanders campaign and continues to build after the campaign.

Frankly, we can’t build socialism individually.  We need to work together. DSA is committed to both helping people to understand the nature and necessity of democratic socialism AND to building the organization and infrastructure to create a vibrant socialist movement.

People of good will can join us in Democratic Socialist of America. Readers can sign up at the link at the upper right.  

Many hands make the burden lighter.

Duane Campbell is a professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, a union activist for over 40 years, and former chair of Sacramento DSA. He blogs on politics, education and labor at www.choosingdemocracy.blogspot.com and www.talkingunion.wordpress.com.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

Paid for by Democratic Socialists of America (www.dsausa.org
<http://www.dsausa.org> ). Not authorized by any candidate or candidate¹s
committee.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
· 34 rsvps

Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
· 43 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 93 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 26 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 5 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.