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As in my open letter to comrade Dan LaBotz, I have contended that these caricatures of DSA are outdated and unhelpful.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.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 34 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
· 50 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
· 4 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
· 42 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.