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.


Showing 3 reactions


commented 2014-04-15 15:04:31 -0400 · Flag
I don’t think voting is selling out because I have nothing to sell. My freedom is already gone. My free speech in only free because it means nothing. My democracy is long gone if I ever had it. My input into the system through our current political and economic structure is only my consumption. For the last 40 years I have seen the tax burden shift to the 99% and most of the decent jobs go to China. The media has successfully interpreted the word “socialism” into a curse word. I still vote for spite.
commented 2014-04-15 11:06:16 -0400 · Flag
There is certainly more than a dime’s worth of difference between some democrats and republicans. Do I disagree with how many democrats vote and with many policies of the national democratic party? Yes. Does this mean I paint all democrats with the same brush, or that I think a political strategy that looks at the specific conditions, limitations and possibilities created by our present electoral system is selling out? No.
commented 2014-04-15 10:59:45 -0400 · Flag
If there is not a dime’s worth of difference between democrats and republicans does voting for either have any meaning for those who toil for a living?

Starting a Local Chapter from Scratch (9pm Eastern)

October 04, 2016 · 8 rsvps
Webinar, RSVP required for sign in information

So you are now a member of DSA, but there is no local chapter where you live. You are thinking of starting a local chapter, but you're not quite sure how to do it.

In Starting a Local Chapter from Scratch you will learn:

  • how other locals got started in recent years
  • how to find out who is already a member
  • the importance of a comrade
  • how to recruit new members
  • the importance of a mentor
  • how to become a recognized organizing committee
  • how to become a chartered local
  • what works best to bring new people in.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org 607-280-7649.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. You can participate in every webinar or just attend once in a while.
  7. Workshops will generally be on weekends or evenings.
  8. Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance -- by midnight Sunday for Tuesday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

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DSA New Member Orientation Call

October 19, 2016 · 22 rsvps
DSA New Member Orientation

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

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