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.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 44 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 13 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 7 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.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 4 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.