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As in my open letter to comrade Dan LaBotz, I have contended that these caricatures of DSA are outdated and unhelpful.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

Feminist Working Group

December 14, 2016
· 49 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the election.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Turning Members into Leaders

December 28, 2016
· 17 rsvps

Are you starting a new group? Or have you been doing most of the work for your longtime group? Has it been hard to keep new people involved or get them to take responsibility? But suddenly everybody wants to jump in at the same time! Learn how to mentor new leaders and make sure they have all the information and tools they need to succeed.

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

NOTE: This training is at 9:00pm Eastern (8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific). Please RSVP.

Instructor:

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

In Leadership Development you will learn:

The proven steps to developing the leadership skills and commitment of more members:

  • identifying potential leaders
  • recognizing what each one brings to the group
  • asking people to volunteer
  • giving them specific tasks
  • supporting them in their efforts
  • creating opportunities for new leadership
  • following up.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for local leaders who will lead campaigns in their chapters.
  • 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 think you can't do it by computer, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  • You can participate in every workshop or just attend once in a while.
  • Workshops will generally be on a weekends or evenings.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance -- by midnight Monday.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

January 19, 2017
· 55 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.  8:30 PM ET; 7:30 PM CT; 6:30 PM MT; 5:30 PM PT.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 10 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.

Full film available on Vimeo.