Working Smart in the Class Struggle

By Maria Svart

When billionaires claim, as investor Sam Zell has, that “The 1% work harder,” I can only respond, “Why yes, you are working harder than the rest of us in the class struggle. Of course we are envious of your wealth—you stole it from us!”

Make no mistake: over the last 40 years, a small group of people has gained much at the expense of almost everyone else. The right wing governs “top to bottom” in almost half of the states and seems poised to extend that dominance at the federal level. They have rigged the game, and the only way for our side to win is to organize.

But understanding economic injustice isn’t enough. Conditions for protest have changed. There is no such thing as “work-life balance.” Most people are perpetually anxious about meeting their boss’s demands to work longer and faster. They wonder how they will make the rent, whether they should pay down their debt or start a family, whether one illness will wipe them out. Folks know they are getting the short end of the stick, but it seems that action is useless.

There are two main reasons for this. The first was articulated by Margaret Thatcher, who claimed that “there is no alternative.” We cannot underestimate the sense of futility, particularly among young people, that is created when popular mobilizations (most recently, Occupy Wall Street) fail to create immediately visible changes in public policy around finance capital. When collective action seems to have no effect, people retreat to individualistic explanations and solutions. This makes movement building difficult.

Second, now that the effects of de-unionization and declining real wages are being felt by more (white, “middle class”) people, the right wing has ramped up racial scapegoating to fan fears of a black or brown parasitic “other” sucking the hard-earned cash away from virtuous (white) “middle class” people. This divisiveness, which has a long and dishonorable history, also makes movement building difficult.

Yes, there is a class struggle. And, at the moment, we are not winning it. We understand the systemic nature of our economic problems, and history shows us that in this country movements arise when people can feel some hope. We know that racism has been used since colonial times to keep us from uniting against a common opponent, and it is being used blatantly again. This does not mean that we will retreat to our couches and order an escapist movie. It means that we will redouble our efforts, but do so more thoughtfully.

And that’s what our chapters are doing. Atlanta DSAers helped build the Georgia Moral Mondays movement. Several members were arrested in the state capitol while demanding that the governor expand Medicaid. At the same time, the chapter organizes “socialist education circles” for political discussion and engages in solidarity work around a staggering list of issues. Sacramento, Seattle, and other DSA chapters joined the “Fight for 15” minimum wage campaign with other socialists and labor activists, and Philadelphia DSA assisted Temple University YDS in a campaign against the politically motivated firing of a prominent African American studies professor and activist. Local chapters across the country participated in the National Network of Abortion Funds bowl-a-thons in April, raising money to help low-income women gain access to safe abortions. Putting the “social” into socialist, many chapters organize happy hours to build community and welcome new members. We combine organizing and education to build the kind of community we want to see everywhere—and the kind of cooperation it will take to win.

One-percenters like Sam Zell work hard in their offensive against the 99%. We have to work harder and smarter.

Maria.JPGMaria Svart is national director of DSA.







Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
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If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 95 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
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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.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
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Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
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  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay,
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Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
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Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.