Will This Country Choose Democratic Socialism, or Barbarism?


We Stand at a Crossroads

By Maria Svart, DSA National Director, January 31, 2017

On November 8th, voters had a choice between two pro-capitalist candidates, after a primary season with a viable democratic socialist candidate. Voter apathy after years of economic neglect and racist voter suppression by the GOP took their toll.

Donald Trump’s actions since his inauguration Friday confirm our greatest fears.

He undermines the free press through clear lies and threats. He directs federal agencies to ignore the checks and balances provided by the rulings of the judiciary and re-shuffle to increase his personal power.

He pits us against each other with racist rhetoric and fear-mongering, because he and his cronies understand that a divided working class is a defeated working class. When any working people are driven underground through fear and violence, it weakens us all.

Trump’s actions this week both consolidate his power and distract us from his radical moves to benefit the billionaire class.

But there is hope. The mass non-violent occupations of airports and protests in town centers across the country this past weekend demonstrate a popular will to resist his dangerous administration.

We know collective solidarity is the single greatest form of self defense that ordinary people possess.

That why DSA chapters across the country mobilized Jan. 28-29 to say NO! Thousands of DSAers rushed to action, from JFK and LAX to Houston, Lincoln, Eugene, Portland (ME and OR), Orlando, Albany, Detroit, Boston, Omaha, Seattle, Rochester, Atlanta, and beyond!

Mass protest is critical to stop Trump, Steve Bannon and the other members of his cabal in their tracks. The victory for legal permanent residents is an example. But it is not enough.

Our job is also to build a long-≠≠term democratic socialist political vehicle capable of moving thousands of people to strategic, independent and sustained action, in and outside the formal political system, as quickly as possible.

History shows us that only massive resistance and unprecedented organization will save us.

DSA members can play a key role in the current struggle for freedom and democracy.

  • Our bottom-up democratic practice and grassroots base make us resilient and allows us to use a diversity of tactics, from direct action to electoral. Our growing groups from Spokane to El Paso, Omaha to Little Rock, Akron to Orlando, each pursue the strategy that makes the most sense locally for building power. At the same time, groups coordinate with each other to leverage local pressure on national decision makers.
  • For us, socialism means democracy in all areas of life, so we refuse to choose between economic justice and racial justice. The U.S. was founded on colonization and slavery intertwined with capitalism, so our strategy must be address the legacies of both or it will fail. We fight for reforms that confront corporate power and also the particular ways institutions and culture oppress women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ folks, people of color, religious minorities, people without papers and other marginalized groups.
  • We are serious about building multiracial, working-class power, which means taking effective collective action is our number one goal. We believe that when you confront the powerful, hand in hand with others across differences, you are transformed. In order to win and to bring more and more people into the democratic socialist movement, we work in coalition, especially with organizations rooted in poor and working-class communities and communities of color, prioritize bringing in new voices through organizing people long ignored by the elites in both major parties.
  • We work for a “leaderful” movement. This means member volunteers are engaged at all levels of the organization, including not just the day-to-day nuts and bolts organizing work, but also in a consistent, long-term capacity. Our local and national elected member leaders carry out high level strategic thinking, management, and policy formation for DSA. Most importantly, we are always working to bring people with new and diverse perspectives and skills into DSA, and into our leadership.
  • We foster the big-tent, respectful political discussion that helps us make good short and long term strategic choices. We value the diversity of political perspectives and life experiences we hold in our broad and democratic organization, and the ability to ask each other difficult questions. It means we can learn as we go and we have a clearer understanding of what it will take to win.
  • We are visionary: we see the real roots of the problem and the alternative future. Donald Trump is part of an authoritarian global trend. We are not the only country where a weak left and the misery caused by capitalism are creating space for the far right to rise. We face the choice between democratic socialism and barbarism, and the path to victory is a strong, multiracial, democratic socialist movement working hand in hand with a broader progressive movement.
  • We are strategic about elections and about building power, which means being flexible. We can work with anti-corporate Democrats—and use the Democratic Party ballot line when it makes sense to run democratic socialist local candidates. But we prioritize an inside/outside strategic approach towards the Democratic Party as an institution, and that means also building an independent mass base and even running candidates independently when it makes sense in context.
  • Since the election, we have more than doubled in membership.
  • We have tripled in the number of organized local groups in schools and communities, many in red or purple states, and many in high schools and on college campuses.
  • Some of our 95 local groups are forming state federations that can fight the billionaire class’s agenda state by state.

You and many others have recognized these strengths.

We are in an unprecedented moment of danger. But this crisis is also an opportunity to build a democratic socialist organization in the United States and use that organization to wield working-class power.

We now stand at 15,000 members, and our hope is that each and every member will take action to throw sand in the gears of the Trump agenda, whether through fighting for visionary reforms like Medicare for All, taking direct action to prevent immigrant deportations or grassroots organizing around campaigns like increasing the minimum wage to bring into our movement the almost 50% of voters who didn’t participate in the last election.

DSA Strategy in 2017

DSA’s strategy is to build a powerful, organized and visible democratic socialist movement to work on multi-racial coalition campaigns that both combat the Trump administration’s national agenda and build upon the organization and energy of Sanders’ Political Revolution to elect diverse democratic socialists to office. We fight to put power into the hands of poor and working people at the state and local level.

We need a real opposition, not just resistance.

  • We want to win the battle of ideas, not preach to the choir.
  • We will build effective, independent democratic socialist organizational capacity that can play a meaningful role in larger progressive struggles.
  • We will elect both democratic socialists and true anti-corporate progressives, including our own members, in strategically chosen districts. We do not want to run protest candidates.
  • We will leverage real power to win victories, help people feel their own power and make real changes in people’s lives.
  • All politics is local. We will focus on nurturing our grassroots.

To do so, DSA members, chapters and state federations will fight on three levels:

  1. Defensive struggles as part of a broad multiracial front, engaging in self-defense and solidarity with those most targeted, whether migrants and refugees, the disabled facing health care cuts, or communities targeted by unaccountable police.
  2. Social democratic struggles where possible to win reforms that actually redistribute power from corporations to working people, such as expanding unions into the “gig economy,” winning state-level single-payer health systems, or establishing state or local public banks or public utilities, and to leverage this organizing to build political power through elections.
  3. Ideological struggle through education and media work, to change the story about who is to blame and reframe the problems we face as the result of a rigged economy and political system.

We will do this through: Training our MEMBERS to organize wherever they are at:

  • Ramping up our infrastructure to support at-large member action, whether through phone-banking, online organizing, national working groups or other forms of activism.
  • Mobilizing members nationally in solidarity with targeted local struggles, such as Standing Rock in North Dakota, North Carolina resistance to the GOP coup, or Kentucky work to protect reproductive justice and union rights.
  • Developing a popular education program with an emphasis on racial and gender justice and a critique of capitalism and highlighting case studies of effective organized working-class resistance.
  • Training members to intervene in media and counter the “deflect, divert and distract” strategy of the right, by:

Take Action as an At-Large Member


Helping our GRASSROOTS GROUPS build working-class power locally and wield it strategically to prevent rollbacks and win meaningful victories for working and poor people. Face-to-face community building brings the social support that will be necessary in the dark times ahead:

  • Coordinating with progressive and Left allies nationally to facilitate local coordination.
  • Helping build multiracial progressive coalitions locally, putting special emphasis on:
    • Working with the Bernie Sanders base from the primary.
    • Pushing those forces to connect with groups rooted in working-class and poor communities of all races.
    • Developing models for rural, suburban and urban local chapters to identify and map the sources of power in communities and to organize effectively.
    • Building an explicitly democratic socialist but broad base, particularly organizing those who abstained from voting or were prevented from voting by the GOP (poor and working-class people, young people and people of color).
    • Engaging in issue campaigns using a combination of mass protest, non-violent direct action, media work and systematically reaching out, listening, and moving new people into this work:
      • Protecting each other and the most vulnerable under attack.
      • Identifying and pressuring corporate Trump supporters and elected officials.
      • Preparing to run openly democratic socialist candidates for local office, in and outside the Democratic Party. We will use DSA’s resources to identify and support diverse DSA members running openly as democratic socialists in local races. Where we cannot support DSA members running for office, we will focus our efforts not only on defeating Republicans, but also on taking out pro-corporate, neoliberal Democrats in primaries.
      • Click here to find a local DSA campus, high school or community group, and if there’s not one near you, get started on forming one by filling out the interest form.
      • Click here to go to the “Indivisible Guide” and find ways your DSA group can organize local events pressuring elected officials in-district
      • Click here to find upcoming DSA organizing skills trainings for chapter activists (done via conference call or webinar).

Take Action in a Local DSA Group

In closing, please remember that you’re in an organization with an important history.

DSA was founded in 1982 of a merger of two organizations on the U.S left, though our roots are much deeper.

Our socialism is deeply democratic, as embodied in the words of early 20th-century socialist organizer Eugene V. Debs, who said, “I would not be a Moses to lead you into the Promised Land, because if I could lead you into it, someone else could lead you out of it.”

Debs understood the need for democratic grassroots power.

I hope to work with you in the coming days as we fight to build an economy that works for all of us, defend our imperfect democracy, and stand strong with the most vulnerable.

This election demonstrated the need for an independent and explicitly democratic socialist organization rooted in communities across the country.

Don’t mourn. Organize with DSA!

¡La lucha sigue! The struggle continues!

Maria Svart

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.