Learning from the Past, Planning for the Future

By Maria Svart

Capitalism has entered a new phase. Regardless of whether it is a sea change or a shorter-term window of opportunity, new possibilities now exist to build a socialist left in the United States and greatly strengthen and expand DSA. Essentially, capitalism is losing the flexibility to repair the damage caused by its own failures. As a result, the system is losing the once unswerving loyalty of a sizeable and growing portion of the population.

Despairing that the government is capable of applying sufficient stimulus, even former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers admitted recently that economic stagnation may be the “new normal” and could last for decades.

Compare Obama’s second term, in which food stamps and long-term unemployment benefits have been cut, to that of Franklin Roosevelt, when there were more than two million people in government jobs programs. Home Relief, Social Security, and the Labor Relations Act were passed. That was capitalism operating with great flexibility, allowing much of what popular movements demanded. Today, capitalists are straitjacketed by their own ideology and the reactionary political forces they helped to create: the Tea Party, rightist religious fundamentalism, neoliberal hedge fund billionaires, and right-wing talk show hosts, to name just a few.

This inflexibility has contributed to a drop in support for capitalism. The 2012 announcement that Barack Obama would shift to more progressive campaign language was a cynical, though frank admission that much of the Democratic electorate is to his left and that he couldn’t win without it. A November 2012 Gallup Poll was most revealing: 53% of Democrats said they had a positive view of socialism. Among self-identified liberals, it was 62%.

Some dismiss these statistics, pointing out that many people believe Obama is a socialist. This misses the point. He isn’t, but we are. And socialism is now an acceptable word among millions of people in the United States. That younger people poll more positively toward socialism is not surprising, as many are in debt, underemployed or employed below their skill level, and 3.5 million are unemployed, a ticking time-bomb in the existing social order.

These new conditions of growing disillusionment, popular acceptance of the word “socialism,” and large numbers of young, educated, and underemployed people force us to revisit our organizational practices and review lessons from previous years. For example, to what extent do we still look to European social democratic welfare states as a model when they are rolling back benefits due to the same stagnation in the underlying capitalist economy that plagues the United States? Are there alternative models elsewhere in the world? How do we deal with the white backlash against even moderate social and economic gains won by people of color? How can we address the convergence of the two main international crises of worldwide unemployment and climate change? How do we continue to participate in campaigns that address day-to-day problems of education, affordable housing, or low-wage employment while creating an alternative socialist culture that envisions a very different and not-so-distant future?

The conversation has begun, both in these pages and in DSA chapters as we begin the process of rethinking our strategy.

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Maria Svart is national director of DSA.

 

 

 

 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
· 31 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
· 39 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
· 90 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
· 25 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
· 1 rsvp

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.