November 2018Strategy

The DSA of the Future

Whatever the election results on November 6, i.e., whether the Democrats retake the House (which I presently believe they will do based on Nate Silver’s 6/7 chance on 10/17), the fact is that two members thereof will be members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the inheritor of the more than century-old history and tradition of socialism in the United States. And not only will they be DSA members, but both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), of New York, and Rashida Tlaib (RT), of Michigan, will be the first avowed socialist women ever elected to the House. (We have had a few men there in the 20th century.) And with AOC being the youngest woman House member ever, and RT being the first woman of Palestinian heritage elected there, they and DSA have been making a bit of American history in the process, which should not be overlooked or underestimated. Their swearing in and seating on January 3 will be momentous historical events.

These circumstances have important political meaning and implications because they place upon AOC and RT the position and responsibility of speaking out on Capitol Hill as declared socialists, and being looked upon as DSA spokespeople (which they are not, any more than Bernie Sanders is, particularly because, in his case, he is not a DSA member). In all three cases they primarily represent the geographical constituencies that elected them.

On the other hand, they also represent an exciting trend in American politics today. They reflect a renewed leftward push from millions of Americans when they respond to the calls for Medicare for All, tuition-free public college, a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform, job equity, environmental justice and so much more, all demands that socialists have promoted for years. In fact, many of the historic sources of DSA’s founding had their roots in the plan for "realigning" the Democratic Party, to eliminate the most conservative and pro-capitalist forces while strengthening its efforts for the labor movement and workers, civil rights, feminists, the LGBTQ community, and environmental programs in such a way that the party would be forced to move profoundly to the left. The serious political struggles we have witnessed — both inside and outside the Democratic Party — over the last few years, are examples of how this process has been playing out. At the same time, the politics of the country is also moving in a reactionary direction with Trumpism seizing control of the Republican Party and exposing its worst features — white nationalism, militarism, racism, anti-unionism, isolationism, misogyny, and huge tax giveaways to the rich, just for starters.

We now have Trump and Trumpism on one side and the left-leaning trend on the other. On our side we have a broad Resistance, but we also have witnessed establishment Democrats whose opposition to Trump is tepid, focusing on his many faults, and not his dangerous fundamental policies. We have establishment Democrats who wish to be the beneficiaries of the Resistance but not full participants.

Enter socialists, who demand much more. In reality, we are witnessing a political realignment in full bore, almost everywhere you look. Correspondingly, those who seek to reconstitute a moderate center are having difficulty in gaining traction.

We are also blessed by time. We are living more than a quarter century after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We are fortunate that we no longer have to brace ourselves from wildly accusatory attacks from the right and we no longer have to differentiate ourselves from those who would champion a distortion of a socialism that was a catastrophe, one that offered a "model" that actually combatted the advancement of socialist democracy. Now we have the opportunity to build an inspired and liberated post-Communist left.

Back at home, the election of AOC and RT, as well as Bernie’s amazing Presidential primary campaign in which he received 13 million votes, are clearly the bases for DSA׳s incredible growth to date, to over 52,000, and hopefully increased future enlargement. Thus, it must be acknowledged that the growth of DSA is in some direct ways related to the success and perspectives of our socialist comrades in Congress, as well as to their many counterparts who have been elected to office on a state and local level. Indeed, one would hope that at some point soon a gathering of DSA’s “elected” will take place so that they might compare notes and establish working relationships to move our movement and its goals forward on the legislative front.

The difficulty that has been created by the aforesaid situation for DSA is that on a local and even national level, there are many members, representatives, chapters and factions who, for ideological reasons, oppose DSA electoral activity of any kind or, in some cases, oppose electoral activity or even support for candidates who do not expressly declare themselves to be socialists. Some urge the establishment of a socialist third party. Internal differences over foreign policy, especially relating to Israel, exist as well.

Looking at this entire situation, it will be difficult in the months and years ahead to reconcile these conflicting tendencies and forces, and internal conflicts may distract DSA from its commonly agreed-upon tasks, including recruiting and educating new members. In my view we need to address these issues honestly and maturely as socialists, with the goal in mind of avoiding destructive conflicts and rancor if possible, for the overall good of DSA and the cause of socialism. We aim to be a multitendency democratic organization, yet there are inherent conflicts in our views that have the potential to tear us apart. In my view facing up to these realities is essential if we hope to keep alive our common vision of moving toward a democratic socialist future that encourages debate and dissent but maintains mutual respect for differences of opinion and does not permit factionalism to cause us to self-destruct. We have had many bad experiences in the past. We must learn from them and avoid them now. At a time when the idea of socialism is receiving increasing support, especially from the young, DSA must be able to provide leadership and vision to encourage public confidence that the nation’s leading socialist voice, DSA, is coherent, intelligent and united notwithstanding our disagreements.

At the same time, it must be recognized that the spectacular growth of DSA, from about 8,000 in 2015 to over 52,000 today, comes from (for lack of a better term) “Berniecrats,” including those millennials who joined on the heels of AOC and RT’s victories. And with both AOC and RT in Congress, it can be expected that both will not only join up with the more radical wings of the Progressive Caucus, but will also be the House counterparts for Bernie’s independent legislative initiatives. Indeed, they themselves might propose meaningful socialist-inspired  legislation of their own on health care, poverty, education, housing, work standards, the environment and beyond. And, like all other members of the House, they will have to begin their own re-election campaigns as well as support the election of other like-minded candidates, declared socialists and others. Indeed, they already have been doing so. For the foregoing efforts, they are entitled to the individual support of DSA members, chapters, and DSA nationally.

As far as one can tell, the expanding number of DSA chapters around the country have an overwhelmingly local focus on issues of unionization, strike support, wage theft, workers’ rights, housing, discrimination in all of its forms, education, gentrification, homelessness, immigration, environmentalism and much more. This local “on-the-ground” focus is most commendable, especially because it often puts DSA at the forefront of people’s local struggles for social and economic betterment and justice and, frankly, expands the reach and good name of DSA and socialism. And it serves to educate local progressives concerning what socialists and DSA are about. For example, local projects like tail-light repair of cars undertaken by several chapters has been effective to help minority communities avoid costly traffic violations and run-ins with law enforcement. Other similar community interventions by DSA chapters are possible as well.

Moreover, bringing a socialist perspective — inside and outside of electoral work — to the anti-Trump Resistance is central to building a new and relevant DSA. That also means fostering alliances and relationships with those who are engaged in political change, especially those which have arisen over the last two years, including the recent Bernie-sourced Our Revolution, the older Progressive Democrats of America (instrumental in getting Sanders to run), the innovative and reformist Indivisible, the exciting the #MeToo movement, and the outrage from coast to coast over the Trump administration's response to climate change, and its racist anti-immigrant policies.

At the same time, the arrival of two DSA members to Congress will require the DSA membership to pay greater attention to the reach of the federal government, to the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine democratic values, norms and institutions; to dismantle the New Deal and later safety net programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; to privatize the Postal Service; to undermine federal legislation and agencies that provide benefits and protections to all Americans; and to use the tax laws to give huge subsidies to the rich, thereby increasing economic inequality.

Indeed, I can imagine AOC and RT׳s offices being besieged by DSA supporters from everywhere (not just their districts) for help in responding on such matters. For DSA, this is good for many reasons, including educating and broadening the perspective of members and chapters on the relationship of Washington (and state capitols) to matters of local concern. Think about a time when DSA might be lobbying Congress and state legislatures for progressive legislation just as many other progressive organizations have long been doing. We need to catch up and start leading in this process from a socialist perspective. Actually, the Resistance in general, and some close allies in particular, also need DSA’s presence and assistance.

The foregoing speaks to beginning this education and leadership process as soon as possible, even before AOC and RT are sworn in on January 3. DSA must begin thinking about how it plans to relate to AOC and RT as members of Congress, and correspondingly, they need to begin thinking through their side of the equation and their continuing relationships with DSA. And DSA must begin to think about itself as a national organization, and its national presence and voice, as its predecessor organizations were viewed. As was the case, for example, with Norman Thomas, DSA must be looked upon as our country’s national conscience, and establishing ourselves as a primary national voice for equality and social justice for all. But we also cannot settle for being a conscience in isolation, from afar. We need to engage in practical and visionary left politics that needs to become central to the growing Resistance.

I have not fully addressed the national issue of Trump and Trumpism thus far, but the fact is that despite his horrible encroachments on the rule of law, his takeover of the Supreme Court, his domination and control of the Republican Party, his incredible and continuing giveaways to the rich (including himself, his family and his cohorts), his racism and sexism, and his incivility, misogyny, duplicity and congenital lying, he has managed thus far to hold on to a base in the range of 30 to 40 percent of the public. Hopefully, the election on November 6 will be a solid repudiation of Trumpism, although it looks as if the Republicans will keep the Senate, which to me means a continuation of his packing and stacking the federal courts with reactionary judges who will do violence to voting rights, anti-discrimination laws, labor rights, etc.

As some of you may know, over a year ago I began an online “Petition for Redress of Grievances” under the First Amendment, asking both the Senate and the House of Representative to censure Trump. Since then the petition has grown to over 60 grounds for Trump’s censure and has accumulated over 60,000 signatures. This was done at practically no out-of-pocket expense, and once the election is over I plan to expand its reach. Keeping a running inventory of Trump’s incredible number of transgressions has been a valuable resource to prevent his despicable record from being overlooked. Presumably, opposing and fighting the creeping fascism that Trump represents is something that the entire DSA membership should be prepared to lead on, support and rally around.

I would hope that by the time of the next DSA Convention, in August of next year, many of these issues will have been resolved (but I doubt it). That is the reason that I have put keystroke to iPad. My thought is that this is the beginning of a conversation throughout the new DSA that deserves further input from many.

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