Dump Trump with the DSA?
No week goes by without another “outrage of the week” sponsored by Trump. Climate change, immigration policy, abortion rights or LGBTQ-rights; it seems like everything is under constant debate and attack since Trump took office at the beginning of the year. But, instead of being overwhelmed and accepting the new situation, his opponents have mobilized against him. For example, hundreds of thousands took to the streets on the “Women’s March.” Across the United States, and beyond, more than two million have demonstrated against his policies.
The slogans “Not my president!” or “Dump Trump!” not only mobilized people but also convinced new activists to search for a political form of organization against the Trump presidency. Although the Democratic Party, mostly mediated through the Sanders movement, tried to transform these mobilizations into political capital for itself, more radical organizations on the left also saw an increase in membership numbers. This signals a very encouraging development in comparison to the anti-organizational atmosphere in protest movements like “Occupy Wall Street.” The organization left of the Democrats that seems to have gained most out of the mobilizations is the “Democratic Socialists of America,” DSA.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the Democratic Party
Founded in 1982 as a merger between the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, DSOC, and the New American Movement, NAM, the DSA established itself as a reformist organization with an adherence to the program of a European style Social Democracy.
The DSOC had worked as a distinct current within the Democratic Party, seeking to build an alliance of progressive forces, feminists and anti-war activists, and this was carried on by the DSA. Since Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Democratic Party has held the allegiance of many within the Black Civil Rights Movement, the National Organization of Women, NOW, many of the AFL-CIO unions, the liberal intelligentsia, despite being one of the two historic bourgeois parties in the US. In short, big parts of the US-working class have allegiance to the Democrats, instead of having a party of their own.
By the 1960s, repeated failures in the 1880s, 1920s, 1930s to create a Labor Party or to expand the Socialist Party into a mass electoral force had convinced US Social democrats that forming a third party was impossible, at least for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, developments within the Democrats suggested an alternative: taking over the party for radical policies. From 1972, the year George McGovern won the party’s Presidential nomination, a flood of antiwar, feminist and black radical activists entered the Democratic Party. This fostered illusions that the Party could be won for radical or even socialist policies. The experience of the Clinton and Obama years, however, undermined this perspective once again.
The surprising success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, combined with his self-identification as a “democratic socialist” revived both perspectives, that is, standing independent socialist candidates and/or working within the Democrats to commit them to a reformist socialist platform. The DSA combines, or rather oscillates between, these two strategies, but has seen a fivefold increase in membership over the past year.
This is a progressive development for those parts of US society that are searching for a left answer to the problems we are currently facing. People are struggling with huge debts, even with several underpaid jobs. People of Color or with sexual orientation outside the norm are being attacked by state institutions, reactionary politicians or white supremacists. The struggle against the 2008 crisis that was first expressed through, for example, the “Occupy Movement” is making a qualitative jump forward to the political level. Parts of those past movements, as well as new activists, are now joining the DSA in their search for answers.
This positive development needs to be further encouraged by campaigning for political issues that not only meet the needs of the US working class but also connect with a perspective of “How to dump Trump?” and our goal of socialism.
To break or not to break?
Under its longstanding leadership, the DSA has maintained its affiliation to the Democratic Party, despite that orientation being proven wrong over and over again. Now, however, with the influx of new activists with more radical ideas and hopes of finding a path to Socialism, this strategy seems no longer to be set in stone.
At the last DSA national convention, 40 percent of the delegates voted against any kind of collaboration and instead wanted to disaffiliate DSA from the Democratic Party. Although, the motion for disaffiliation was defeated, the debate showed that the DSA is an organization in which longstanding strategic goals are open to question and might even be overturned. The fact that a motion to disaffiliate from the Second International was adopted underlines this. Furthermore, it also shows that the debates within the DSA are not only focused on a national, but also on an international level.
The controversy in the group about how to deal with the Democratic Party is also referred to in the strategy paper* published after the National Convention. It highlights the importance of the question for the DSA and also the fact that the group is far from having a final answer to this question. For now, there is a compromise between the old reformist leadership and the newly joined activists:
“The nature of our electoral activism will vary based on local political conditions. But it will include supporting progressive and socialist candidates running for office, usually in Democratic primaries or as Democrats in general elections but also in support of independent socialist and other third-party campaigns outside the Democratic Party. In the medium-to-long-term we will work to build the organizational capacity necessary to run candidates of our own (as one of DSA’s predecessor organizations, Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, and DSA itself were able to do in the 1970s and 1980s), to forge larger socialist electoral coalitions both within and outside of the Democratic Party and ultimately to create a majoritarian electoral coalition in support of socialist political and economic reforms.”
Although the strategy paper does not clearly state it, the electoral strategy of the leadership is clear. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 28-year-old alderman from Chicago, who joined DSA and served as a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Committee said,
“I’m serious about winning. I’m not dogmatic and I’m extremely pragmatic. We need to assess how it is that we can win and elect Democratic Socialist values and that’s going to take different forms in different places. In the end, the Democratic Party is not an end unto itself, nor is a third party an end unto itself, a party whether it be the Democratic Party or a third party, is a means to an end.”
Maria Svart, DSA’s national director spoke in similar terms, “As a historian and a movement person, I know that when people win, they are motivated, and when they lose, they are not motivated. So that’s a big part of why we think it’s really important to take that into account and be really pragmatic and realistic.”
The leadership could not be clearer on the question of how they see the future relationship of DSA with the Democratic Party, especially regarding the 2018 midterm elections. For them, the decade old pragmatic and realistic alliance with the “progressive forces” within the Democratic Party is necessary to at least gain some success.
Every activist who wants to fight for socialism and joined the DSA to do so, should continue to argue for a break with the Democratic Party and an orientation towards progressive forces within the migrant communities, people of color communities, the women’s movement and the struggles of the trade unions. In short, the DSA needs to actively engage with the US working class and its struggles on the streets, instead of focusing on alleged “progressive forces” in the Democratic Party. The current discussions around potential compromises between Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi regarding the Dreamers and further immigration laws, show us where these progressive politicians will lead us.
Now it’s time for revolutionaries to help fight this strategic struggle within the DSA! A pragmatic and realistic way to Socialism means a break with the Democratic Party. The DSA should not only openly break with the Democrats, but also call for other political forces, like the unions, to do so as well! These and other organizations should set up discussions about the real pragmatic and realistic way to Socialism! The way to our own party – a Workers’ Party of the US!
A party of the workers for the workers!
Is such a task too big? Isn’t the DSA umbilically tied to the Democrats? Isn’t it too wedded to reforming capitalism to really become a fighting workers’ party, a party of class struggle?
Only struggle will tell. At the moment it offers an opportunity.
Certainly, today’s DSA is far from being an organization with revolutionary goals. But it is a party that thousands of left-wing activists have joined, seeking practical answers. It has proven that it can attract the militant rank-and-file being politicized by current events. It is, therefore, a potential focal point for reorganizing the working class. To succeed it needs to be won for a clear action program to fuse the various different struggles being waged by the working class and the socially oppressed. Movements like Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, #Me Too, show that the will to fight is growing and their progressive goals need to be connected to a perspective of working class power and socialism.
We need an action program to achieve this fusion. Such an action program needs to be discussed in every chapter of the DSA but also with a broad range of activists outside of it – indeed wherever people are organizing resistance to Trump, fighting the reactionary state governments, stopping cops murdering black youth or hounding migrants. Above all, we need to raise it inside the trade unions, as well as the organizations of women, people of Color, youth and LGBTQ community. We need to involve all these sections and unite them in a common struggle. Dividing ourselves along lines of “identity” can only weaken each fight back. Together we can contribute hugely to developing such a program. For a start, we believe it should include:
•Defend the right to abortion! End rape and sexual harassment! Equal pay for equal work!
•Free health care for all. For the nationalization under workers’ control of all private hospitals, Pharma companies.
•For the nationalization of the energy industry under workers’ control! Decisions over how we produce and use energy should not be left to a handful of bosses.
•Free education for all, from K1 to university! Annul all tuition debt!
•End Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy! Tax the super rich (the “1 percent”) instead of the working and middle classes.
•End the killer cops reign of terror against Black youth, end the “ New Jim Crow” jailing of Black and Latino people and robbing them of the the right to vote.
•End all the “right to work” and anti-union laws that keep us unorganized and under the bosses’ thumbs.
•Down with Trump, his walls and migrant hunting, his threats of a nuclear arms race and war!
•For a third American revolution in the interests of the 99 percent and a workers’ government!