It's too bad Enrique Calvo (see related article, this issue) didn't attend the May 24 DCDSA event where a mix of more than 30 old and new DSAers, both women and men, debated what our relationship to the Socialist International should be. It was an interesting and informative discussion, and I think it changed the minds of many who attended.
After Margaret McLaughlin's introduction, Chip Gibbons spoke at length about the bad, "neo-liberal," pro-capitalist policies that many SI member parties have followed in recent years, and made a lengthy case that DSA is getting little or nothing from continued membership in the organization.
Jack Clark, who spoke in favor of DSA maintaining an observer status with the SI, agreed with Gibbons that many current SI members, although not all, are today far from being "socialist" in anything but their names. He also agreed with many SI critics in DSA, both here in the Metro DC area and elsewhere, who have said that DSA can and should find ways to continue our relationships with the better parties who belong to the SI.
But Clark concluded that DSA doesn't need to maintain paid membership status in the SI in order to do this, and he concluded that we should not remain full members, but only commit to an observer status.
There appeared to be surprisingly little disagreement with Clark's position, in this writer's estimate. Several of the more pro-SI people present, including Clark and Chris Riddiough, pointed out that the SI sometimes has taken progressive positions in recent years, and that DSA members have made some useful contacts with socialists in various other countries through the medium of the SI.Â
But even the SI's defenders agreed that we needn't remain full SI members to enjoy these benefits, and there seemed to be agreement in the room -- except for the points that Calvo raised in his letter, which was read aloud in his absence -- that most new and existing DSA members are not particularly interested in the SI one way or another.
In reply to questions about whether leaving the SI could split DSA, and whether most new members are attracted to DSA thanks to our being the SI's official member party in the US, even those pro-SI members present replied that our leaving the group would not be a major factor in how DSA operates going forward. "If you asked the average person on the street whether DSA should stay in the SI, I think most people wouldn't know what you were talking about," Riddiough commented.
There was a bit of parliamentary argle-bargle toward the end of the meeting over the details of how we should organize the vote on this issue. However, we ended with a plurality voting to retain membership status in the SI, while about a quarter of those present opted to leave entirely. Roughly a quarter abstained. No one present supported the option of DSA remaining a paid member within SI. A count later tweeted by Deputy National Director David Duhalde, who was in attendance, was "The results: 16 stay - 9 leave - 7 abstain."
If Washington Socialist readers will excuse a bit of personal editorializing, I would like to argue that in leaving SI -- if that's what DSA as a national organization decides to do -- we should pay our back dues to SI, which are currently in arrears. These amount to just a few thousand dollars.
I think it does no credit to DSA as an organization if we seem to be leaving the SI partly in order to default on our debts. I hold with Antonio Gramsci, a thinker greatly admired by Michael Harrington, who argued that to win the battle for socialism, leftists urgently need establish our own "counter-hegemony" against the powers that be. I think this means we need to strive for a public reputation as more moral than the capitalists, as well as more truthful and more intelligent.
If we seem to be dropping out of the SI for petty financial reasons, we hurt our own efforts to build a more hegemonic DSA. Let's find some way to send SI the sums we owe, even if we don't want to continue supporting the organization.