Where Does DSA Stand Today?

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Reading List & Discussion Questions below.

Selections from “Building the Next Left: The Political Perspective of the Democratic Socialists of America”

  1. Does DSA have a unified vision for social change? If not, why not? Do you agree with this theoretical orientation?
  2. What, according to this document, are the primary threads that unite all DSAers under the banner of socialism? Given the nearly 20 years between this document’s publication and the present,  are these unifying elements still correct, should they be different? If so, in what ways?
  3. This document focuses on the feminist and anti-racist character of DSA’s vision, but many locals still struggle with gender/racial parity. Can you think of any ways that our strategic vision might be altered to more forcefully emphasize the importance of women and people of color in our organization?
  4. What, according to this document, are the primary contradictions in free-market ideology? Why do we say that democracy only exists in the political sphere, but not in the economic sphere?
  5. What role does this document see for markets in a socialist society? Do you think this discussion is too detailed or not detailed enough? How would you change this section to reflect your own vision of a socialist economy?
  6. How does this document conceive of the relationship between economic exploitation and other forms of oppression based on race, gender and sexual orientation?
  7. How have contours of capitalist globalization changed since this document was written in the mid-1990s? Is transnational capital more or less restricted in its movement across national borders? Have we progressed or regressed with respect to international labor regulations? Has the work of international development institutions like the World Bank changed in a way that better accounts for the needs of indigenous communities? Are we still seeing declining living standards as a result of globalization?
  8. Has the geostrategic role of the United States as a global hegemon changed in the last 20 years? If so, how? Does the rise of new economic powers such as China, Brazil, Russia and India suggest the possibility for a more accountable, multi-polar world order?
  9. Why, according to this document, is it no longer possible to base a majoritarian progressive politics on the welfare state liberalism model of the 1960s? How would you assess the successes/failures of the “next left” discussed in this document, especially with respect to attempts revitalize the labor movement, and to increase the efficacy of grassroots community organizing?
  10. Have today’s social movements succeeded in transnationalizing themselves? If not, why not, and how might they be more successful in the future?
  11. How have the prospects for economic democracy changed in the last 20 years? Do you see progress in the development of alternative economic institutions such as coops and worker-managed firms? If the robustness of the welfare state determines the quality of political democracy, how would assess the quality of democracy today compared to the mid-1990s.
  12. What are the two most likely sources of revenue for rebuilding the welfare state in the United States? Have we progressed or regressed in these areas since the mid-1990s, and why?
  13. How would you characterize DSA’s orientation toward electoral politics, based on this document? Do you see any political developments from the last 20 years that would suggest the need to rethink this orientation, and if so, how would you envision changing it?

Joseph Schwartz and Jason Schulman, “Towards Freedom: Democratic Socialist Theory and Practice”

  1. While reading the piece, think about how the various institutions of a democratic socialist society would fulfill the democratic values of equality, freedom, democracy, and solidarity? (Think about why democratic socialists believe that a democratic state would likely persist under socialism, as would democratic, accountable “public provision” or the welfare state, as would a variety of  institutional forms of democratic control over production.)
  2. Why is it important that democratic socialists reject the conservative stereotype that socialists believe in a “levelling-down” form of (what Michael Walzer calls “crude”) equality – in which everyone is the same. That is, why should socialists  favor of a more sophisticated conception of equality (Walzer calls it “complex”) that enables each individual to develop their unique human potential (and diverse interests and abilities)?
  3. Do democratic socialists believe that political and civil rights are simply creations of the “bourgeoisie” aimed at “buying off” the working class? If not, why not?
  4. How does the class map and nature of production in a post-industrial capitalist global economy make socialist politics (and coalition politics) more complex than Marx envisioned?
  5. How do other forms of cultural identity complicate the traditional Marxist view of class consciousness and class identity
  6. Tease out the pamphlets' critique of the traditional Leninist or “instrumentalist” view of the state. On the other hand, why does the pamphlet imply that capitalist democracy remains structurally biased in favor of capital? That is, how does the need for “business confidence” and reinvestment by capital limit the political possibilities of a democratic socialist government elected on the terrain of democratic capitalism?
  7. (Another way of getting at this dilemma for democratic socialists is to think about the following: “bourgeois democracy may be too democratic to be purely bourgeois, but too bourgeois to be fully democratic?”)
  8. Given the above, why did Gramsci place great emphasis on the need for a socialist party to build “counter-hegemonic” forms of organization and consciousness within the institutions of “civil society?”
  9. The proper balance between worker-owned firms, state regulation of the economy (and perhaps state control of parts of the banking system and some forms of investment capital), and the existence of markets in labor and consumer products (and perhaps some forms of capital markets) will, of course, be the outcome of democratic political decisions made by a socialist society.
  10. But what might a plausible institutional sketch of a democratic socialist economy and society look like? And given the economic failures of state-controlled authoritarian communism, why might socialists have to be able to outline the workings of, in Alec Nove's words, “a feasible socialist society?”
  11. Would there still be a role for public or “decommodified” provision of certain basic needs under a socialist society? Think about the following: in a society characterized by market-coordinated worker-owned firms, why might the society still have a need for unemployment insurance and job re-training programs? Why might we still need a national health care system and why might a publicly-financed retirement system still exist, even in a socialist economy characterized by a considerable amount of worker-owned firms?
  12. How does the globalization of capitalist production complicate the struggle for socialism? Why does it transform “socialist internationalism” into not just a moral imperative, but also a practical one? Also, why do many radical, but reform-oriented, left trade unionists and democratic socialists talk of the need for a “global New Deal?” What type of reforms in international labor, trade, investment and ecological practices would be needed to achieve such a “global New Deal?”

Michael Hirsch and Joseph Schwartz, “Back to Basics: Coalition Politics and Public Socialist Education”

  1. How and why does the document argue that going to “back to fundamentals” means that DSA locals and YDS chapters would engage in “coalition politics” in both social movements and electoral politics, while also engaging in popular socialist education?
  2. What does it mean for DSA to be a “ginger-group” or “socialist leaven” in social movement politics? How does DSA differ from a multi-issue progressive organization (say Progressive Democrats of America, United for Peace and Justice)?
  3. How does the weakness (some would say collapse) of New Deal liberalism (and the industrial union-urban-minorities coalition that underpinned it) make DSA’s task more difficult?
  4. Related to question 3, why does DSA often find itself defending “old school American liberalism,” such as  universal social programs and progressive taxation, when democratic socialists believe that one must go beyond the capitalist welfare state to democratic control over capital? (This dilemma is also highlighted by David Harvey’s lament that mainstream intellectuals and politicians no longer are familiar with the insights of Keynes, yet alone Marx.)
  5. How can DSA play a key role in bridging the gap between left-wing grassroots activists, who emphasize “movements of resistance” in civil society, and trade union and progressive electoral activists who believe that who holds electoral (and thus state) power makes a crucial difference  in the lives of ordinary people and in the terrain of struggle against capital?
  6. Why have youth and students always played a leading role in movements for radical social change?

Chris Maisano, " Play the Long Game: DSA Strategy in the Crisis of Democratic Capitalism"

  1. Thought piece submitted by a DSA member.

Tim Sears, “On Democratic Socialist Strategy: Into the Mainstream”

  1. Thought piece submitted by a DSA member.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 44 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
· 13 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
· 9 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
· 4 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
· 7 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.