Move Forward Or Pack It Up

In 1989, N.W.A was the world's most dangerous group, there were fourteen Democratic U.S. Senators in the states that made up the Confederacy, union density was nearly 18 percent, and the Soviet Union looked like it was on the way to political liberalization. None of this is true today.

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1989 was also the year that Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) co-founder Michael Harrington died. DSA, Harrington's family, and the rest of the world have moved on and changed. Well, that is with the great exception of Joe Allen and the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

Bhaskar Sunkara, former editor of The Activist (blog of the YDS) and founder of Jacobin Magazine, wrote a rather innocuous but thought-provoking piece for In These Times. The piece, “Lean Socialist,” challenged the anti-capitalist left to question some the strategies of our projects, such as our relationships with the liberals to our right. The democratic socialist Sunkara mentioned Harrington in passing in reference to both the man's stature as the most visible American socialist in his lifetime and his relationships with the liberal-left establishment.

Rather than addressing any of the major critical questions that Sunkara presented, Socialist Worker (the ISO website) via Joe Allen dedicated several articles to criticizing Harrington, DSA, and Sunkara. One of the major critiques had to do with DSA's position of building the left-wing of the possible and our strategy of supporting progressives and socialists under the Democratic Party line.

As in my open letter to comrade Dan LaBotz, I have contended that these caricatures of DSA are outdated and unhelpful. The vast majority of DSA and the Young Democratic Socialists' work, even in election season, is not around electing anyone -- Democrat or not. Yes, this type of electoral activity was a priority for Harrington and the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (one of DSA's predecessor organizations), but that was in the 1980s!

While Allen points out the obvious hard rightward drift of the Democratic Party, which makes it increasingly problematic as a venue for progressive energy, he doesn't conduct any honest assessment of the type of third-party politics that the ISO conducts. If the Democratic Party is a dead end, then we should also admit that supporting non-major party candidates has not exactly yielded anything substantial for organized socialists. Even today, there are most likely more DSA members holding office than members of any other socialist collective.

As Committees of Correspondence member Will Emmons and I argued in Jacobin, we need to have a real assessment of the democratic left's orientation towards electoral politics. Both strategies of building the left-wing of the Democratic Party or independent politics have their limitations and have largely failed. I contend that a new strategy could be to run in areas where there is no strong Republican candidate, as in New York City or Boston.

For example, Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant ran for a seat in the Washington State House, and garnered 20,000 votes against her Democratic challenger and State House Speaker Frank Chopp. Without a GOP candidate, Sawant did not play a divisive role; instead she presented people with a left-wing option against an incumbent and powerful Democrat. In my home state of Massachusetts, there are numerous races with no Republican contestants. If the left focused on those races, they could avoid the "spoiler" label and give many voters an option to vote against stale and machine Democrats.

The Left should be having a serious discussion of whether or not this is a valid strategy. We should not be dwelling on whether or not Michael Harrington was right on Vietnam. Focusing on arcane debates is a clear sign that a movement is in a possibly irrevocable decline. Personally, I prefer to hope that socialists can show outsiders how to grow a relevant and strategic opposition during this jobless recovery. Dwelling on personalities and mischaracterizations might build your cadre organization, but it doesn't build the mass anti-capitalist movement that we need. I hope the Socialist Worker will consider moving forward, or else we should all pack up.

David Duhalde is the Treasurer of Boston DSA and a student at Brandeis University.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 52 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
· 19 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
· 12 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
· 5 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
· 12 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.