For decades, liberal activists have had a fairly straightforward strategy. On Election Day: vote for the least bad candidate, usually a corporate-funded Democrat. After Election Day: use lobbying campaigns run by single-issue nonprofits, sometimes involving some grassroots energy, to appeal for incremental changes.
We’ve seen the failure of that strategy again and again. The working class has won very little while Republicans, and sometimes Democrats, have forced through big changes to shred what remains of the social safety net, wage wars, trash the climate, and slash taxes for the rich and powerful.
A new strategy started to emerge in 2015, after a wave of social movement energy around Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and labor upsurges, culminating in Bernie Sanders’s first presidential campaign. At the center of that strategy is the mobilization of the working class into ever-bigger struggles, through unions and electoral campaigns. At the core of this strategy is the idea of class struggle — organizing and mobilizing large numbers of workers against an identifiable enemy and for greater democracy and material equality.
DSA has proudly carried out that strategy ever since, and we’ve done so in several domains.
At the ballot box
We run bold, class-struggle campaigns for electoral office modeled on the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. These campaigns name the enemy (the billionaire class), propose clear, popular demands that draw out the fact that the interests of capitalists oppose those of everyone else, and rebuild bonds of solidarity across the working class. And these campaigns support and empower mobilizations and movements outside of elections.
In the workplace
We know that the real power of the working class lies in the workplace. It is in those warehouses, hospitals, schools, and offices that workers can stop production, halt the flow of profits to the capitalist class, and force them to make concessions. We build public support for strikes, join picket lines, and organize our workplaces. Our members are active in their unions and organize with other rank-and-file workers to transform their unions into militant, left-wing, and internally-democratic organizations. We know that only a bold, empowering labor movement can organize the millions of unorganized workers in the United States to win.
In the streets
We also mobilize alongside our neighbors, family, and friends in the streets. Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and mobilizations across the world have shown the power that millions of people have if they come out and fight for what they believe. These massive mobilizations build people’s consciousness of the horrors of police brutality and the injustice of income and wealth inequality. As people’s consciousness grows, and as their mobilizations gum up the system, new demands become possible to fight for and politicians and elites have to find ways to make concessions.
In our neighborhoods
We build power in our communities by organizing around the most pressing issues in the places where we live. Where rents are rising and our housing is neglected, democratic socialists work with our neighbors to build tenant unions that make demands on landlords and real estate companies. We work with our allies to win rent control, develop campaigns for paid sick leave, and pressure local governments to stop closing libraries and schools. We do mutual aid work to help each other get through hard times. We meet working people where they are, and we use these fights to connect local struggles to the wider conflict between the wealthy and working class.
In the battle of ideas
We fight in the ongoing battle of ideas in our society by debating, creating independent media, and constantly studying and developing our ideas. We do not believe that ideological fights are distractions. To build a massive movement of the working-class, we need to talk about politics with our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. We need to equip ourselves with the best arguments to persuade people that a better world is not only necessary, but possible to win. Some people have accepted liberal or right-wing worldviews, and we need to convince as many of them as we can that socialist demands will actually make their lives better instead. We have to prepare ourselves to win those arguments. Many more people are simply resigned to the way things are, and we need to inspire them to believe that the world can be changed if we organize.
We do all of this work because we think a transformational strategy must go beyond elections because the power of the ruling class extends far beyond the halls of Congress. We need to build our own counter-power in the political arena, but also in the economy, society, and culture to wage a many-sided battle for a better world.
Building our power
Unlike in almost every other country, American socialists have never succeeded in building a long-lasting, major political party rooted in the working class.
Because of this unique historical fact, our work in every domain is less effective today than it could be. DSA is not a political party, nor is it part of the Democratic Party. We run candidates in Democratic primaries not because we support the political agenda of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, and the many institutions, lobbyists, and consultants who make up the Democrats’ real network of power — we don’t — but because U.S. election law makes it difficult or impossible to have an independent ballot line now.
In the long term, however, DSA is committed to building a movement that can accomplish what the Socialist and Communist parties in this country attempted to do in the 20th century: build a long-lasting, independent political party. We need such a party, free of corporate influence and accountable to a socialist platform and working-class activists, that can push our fights forward and offer the working class a real choice and a chance to set its own agenda. We need a party independent of the Democrats and Republicans in the United States that can unite activists from unions, the housing movement, immigrant groups, anti-racist struggles, women’s organizations, LGBTQ groups, and environmental fights. We need a party that can empower those activists to debate strategy and platforms collectively and build a real mass base for democratic socialist politics.
Today, the socialist struggle advances steadily on every front. In early 2020, the most decisive fight is the campaign to elect Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s campaign brings to a head years of social movement struggles. His platform, similar in many ways to the one we’ve outlined here, is the most ambitious platform of any credible candidate in the history of the United States. His campaign continues to inspire millions of working people to see themselves as part of a united working class that can win a better life for all.
Win or lose, the Bernie campaign is reshaping American politics by inspiring primarily young, working-class activists. As the Democratic Socialists of America, we’re waging a class-struggle, independent campaign to help elect Bernie, first and foremost because we want to be part of building that new movement of activists and giving them the experience to run a national campaign. We’re running an independent campaign because we know that one-off electoral campaigns alone aren’t enough — we need to build democratic organizations like DSA for the long haul, train organizers, and tie together different struggles.
But we also believe that of all the candidates running for president, Bernie has by far the best chance to beat Donald Trump on November 3rd. That’s why we’re going all-out to make sure Bernie wins the primary.
If Bernie wins the primary and goes on to win the presidency, we could be entering a new period of struggle that is unprecedented in recent U.S. history.
That won’t be the case if our movement demobilizes after Election Day. If that happens, Bernie’s ambitious program would be dead on arrival even if the Democrats retake Congress, because the overwhelming majority of Democratic Party politicians are bought and sold by corporate lobbyists. They will not fight for any of the programs at the center of Bernie’s and DSA’s platforms.
But if, on the other hand, we rise to the occasion and escalate our activity, we can win major gains. Fighting for our platform regardless of which of the two major parties controls Congress in 2021 will involve starting a permanent campaign from day one. We will need massive mobilizations on the scale of what is happening in Chile, France, Lebanon, and beyond — mobilizations that physically prevent business-as-usual from being carried out and create the space for Bernie to demand Congress enact major concessions to the working class. And we will need to immediately begin preparing for the 2022 midterm elections to replace recalcitrant Democrats and every Republican with working-class leaders who are ready to enact the emancipatory demands and universal programs that are so desperately needed.
Work on that front is already under way. Alongside Bernie’s campaign, DSA is running down-ballot candidates all over the country for Congress, state legislatures, city councils, and the courts. Inside and outside our Bernie campaign, we’re developing the next generation of socialist, working-class leaders who understand how to win elections and use them to build working-class consciousness and multracial organization. We are electing officials who will use their office to grow popular support for our democratic socialist demands and mobilize their supporters into long term, working-class fights. And we’re building the necessary counter-power outside of the halls of “official politics” — from transformed unions to tenant associations and propaganda projects. Regardless of whether Bernie wins or loses, this work is laying the groundwork to win a better world.
Democratic socialists use electoral politics, political office, and grassroots legislative campaigns to advance our agenda. In this work, we fight for demands that raise the living standards of working-class people, end state oppression and right-wing terrorism, solve the climate crisis, curb the power of the billionaire class, and put power in the hands of the people. All of this work is oriented towards laying the foundation for a new world beyond the capitalist profit motive.
Specifically, our national-level demands include…
Emancipatory demands are designed to end the cruel and unjust treatment of people by the government and to stop right-wing, racist, and sexist violence. As democratic socialists we believe that everyone has the right to live a fulfilling life free of domination. To guarantee that right, we need a comprehensive strategy to free people from oppression at the hands of abusive cops and prison guards, domineering immigration officers, right-wing terrorists, and bigots.
Emancipatory demands include ending mass incarceration, abolishing prisons, stopping government surveillance, and ending cash bail. They also entail extending full rights to all immigrants, overcoming the racial wealth gap, and passing HR 40 to develop a plan for reparations. And they include defending and expanding rights to abortion, equal pay, and the rights of LGBTQ and disabled people to live free and fulfilling lives without discrimination.
We need to build programs that take essential goods like healthcare, housing, and education out of the market and make them a right for everyone. Means-tested social welfare programs are too complicated to work, and are not politically sustainable. That’s why we support universal programs that cover everyone, without exception. These programs include Medicare for All, the Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education to end school segregation and dramatically improve public schooling, College for All, and a massive new national housing program. We also support a jobs guarantee and the expansion of Social Security.
Green New Deal
The Green New Deal is a bold plan to simultaneously save the planet and raise the living standards of working-class people, at the expense of the billionaire class. It includes enacting universal programs and fighting against the sources of environmental racism. But most importantly for the planet, it calls for the investment of trillions of dollars to build a sustainable and advanced economy.
As part of the Green New Deal, we want to win 100% renewable energy provided by public power, a drastic expansion of public transportation, a global strategy for combating climate change, and a fair transition for fossil fuel workers.
Democratic socialists want to take from the rich and give to everyone else, period. We are living in the Second Gilded Age, an era of unprecedented inequality in which the billionaire class and a small number of highly-paid professionals and managers claim all the rewards of economic growth. Redistributive reforms are necessary to make those at the top pay their fair share so that we can enact and pay for universal programs and a Green New Deal.
We demand want to win a dramatically more progressive income tax, a wealth tax that confiscates the wealth of billionaires, and new corporate and financial taxes that put the burden of paying for new programs on the individuals and companies that can afford to pay.
Our democracy is in crisis. The billionaire class has imposed a golden rule over us: they hold the gold, so they get to rule. As democratic socialists, we know that a just and sustainable society can only be built if millions of people have the right and the power to participate in building it. We want to put our democracy on firmer foundations by enacting deep democratic reforms.
We want to reform elections to ensure public financing of campaigns and to make voting easier. We want to protect and support a corporate-free media system. We want to give statehood to Washington, D.C. And we know that we need to make more drastic changes to the US Constitution, including hemming the power of the “imperial presidency,” unelected judges, and the absurdly anti-majoritarian Senate and Electoral College.
The workplace is where working-class people have the most potential power. The capitalist system in the United States depends on the hundreds of millions of people who show up to work every day and produce profits for the billionaire class. To make deep social changes in our society, we need to make big changes to the balance of power in the economy.
That means empowering workers on their job by guaranteeing that everyone should have a union and be covered by a collective bargaining agreement. And it means ensuring that all workers have rights to paid sick time, vacations, parental leave, and just cause termination.
Our vision of a better society does not stop at the U.S. border. We want to be part of an international movement to build an ecologically sustainable, democratic socialist world without war.
We fight to win a world with no more wars. That means stopping US military intervention. We want to win a Global Green New Deal. And we want to protect the rights of colonized people across the world, like those in Puerto Rico, Palestine, and tribal nations in the United States, to determine their own futures.
These reforms are just the beginning of the kind of social transformation we as democratic socialists believe is necessary. Ultimately, we know that the capitalist class will not permit us to build a better society, and will use all of their economic power to try to stymie and roll back the gains we make.
That’s why we’re also committed to deep structural reforms aimed at actually eliminating the power of that class. The goal of these reforms, in broad strokes, is to socialize the large enterprises in our economy so that they are controlled by public authorities — whether at the national, state, or municipal level — and to turn over most remaining enterprises to worker cooperatives. Eliminating the ownership rights of the billionaire class and wealthy shareholders would remove the last vestiges of their power in society. Expanding public ownership and the cooperative sector would in turn democratize our economy.
Parts of our platform above move us closer to that goal, including demands like Medicare for All, public housing, and public utility companies which socialize significant sectors of the economy. But we know that we need to go further, and as fast as possible. Bringing the financial sector under public control would be an important first step, as would socializing other major companies like telecommunications firms and tech giants.
Socialists have a lot of work to do in developing a more concrete platform of structural reforms to advance our vision of a democratic economy dominated by public enterprises and worker cooperatives. As democratic socialists, we are fully committed to building out that ambitious vision.
We don’t yet know what the outcome of the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign will be. But we do know that, win or lose, our fight against the capitalist class is just beginning. The DSA for Bernie campaign, the DSA Medicare for All campaign, our fight for a Green New Deal, the election of DSA members up and down the ballot, our support of unions, workplace organizing, and street protests — as well as the many other DSA projects building power all over the country — are all interconnected. They are the tools we use to help build the working-class movement. Through each campaign, DSA members become stronger organizers, sharper political actors, and more committed socialists.
Without that movement and the leaders we develop through it, the bosses, the Democratic Party, the CEOs, and those who fight for the interests of big business will continue to win. They have consolidated wealth, lowered wages, gutted our social services, and bought countless politicians to represent them. They have been winning the class war.
But things are changing. For the first time in a generation the working class is in motion at the same time that an American socialist movement is waking up. People are starting to believe in the power of democracy again. The power of organizing. This is our moment. We have a world to win — now, let’s organize and win it!