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

April 24, 2017
· 36 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 51 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 6 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

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

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

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

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 44 rsvps

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.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 68 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
· 17 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.