DSA’s top three priorities for political work over the next two years, until our next national convention in 2021, should be:
2. Addressing Climate Change and Promoting the Green New Deal
Our second priority is the promotion of the Green New Deal (GND) to address climate change, through political, educational, direct action, electoral and legislative campaigns.
The environmental ravages of unbridled global capitalism have led to increasingly dramatic climate change, with humanity headed toward the brink of planetary ruin. In this crisis, the U.S. has been among the world’s leading polluters, in large measure because corporate interests have put their profits before the health of the environment. Under Trump, the US has even withdrawn from the limited Paris agreement to address climate change with modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Without quick, dramatic and far reaching action, climate change could soon become irreversible, with disastrous effects on humanity and life on earth.
The negative effects of this environmental crisis are not limited to the environment. Climate change impacts the economically vulnerable global South in ways that are more severe, with greater cost in human suffering, than the global North. The growing refugee crises out of the global South are inextricably linked to climate catastrophes that are triggering and exacerbating desperate scrambles for safety from many of the poorest areas of the world. While climate change is not the only cause of these refuge crises, it is a central factor: these crises cannot be solved without taking on the cause which is increasingly fueling them.
Defeating Trumpism and Electing Democratic Socialists and Progressives.
A proposed priority policy developed by the North Star Caucus.
Be It Resolved:
THAT DSA’s top three priorities for political work over the next two years, until our next national convention in 2021, will be:
Our first priority is the electoral and political defeat of Donald Trump, the Trumpist Republican Party and all of the authoritarian forces aligned with them. The white nationalist authoritarianism of Trumpism poses a‘clear and present danger’ to working people and their unions, to people of color, to women, to LGBTQIA people, to immigrants, to members of minority religious faiths and to democracy itself. Trumpist victories in the 2020 elections would mean the consolidation of an authoritarian state with the most reactionary politics, the expansion of imperial aggression abroad and the collapse of the political space for democratic and left forces at home. The defeat of Trumpism is thus a strategic imperative, the most important political task of our time.
Given the central role of racism, white nationalism and bigotry against immigrants and Muslims in the political agenda of Trumpism, and the echoes of the most shameful racist moments of past U.S. history in Trumpian discourse, a failure to prioritize its defeat would be nothing less than the abandonment of the struggle against racism.
To be best positioned to defeat Trumpism, the Democratic Party and candidates for office running as Democrats must adopt a progressive platform the breaks decisively with neo-liberal politics and economics, rejecting the policies of austerity, privatization, economic deregulation and ‘race to the bottom’ free trade under corporate hegemony. DSA should promote the development of such a progressive platform, one that places the interests of working people and their unions over corporations and the 1%, that takes on the economic impact of institutional racism and sexism in employment and social services, that addresses increasingly catastrophic climate change, and that promotes the well-being of the great mass of Americans, especially in the provision of fully-funded, universally accessible public goods in health care, education, housing and mass transportation.
- Bill Barclay, CPEG and Ventura DSA
The first two posts in this series described two proposals for attacking the overarching problem inequality by directly taxing wealth, one during and after the lifetime of the wealth holder. The first, Warren's proposal for a wealth tax, is new in U.S. political discourse and the other, Sanders' reform of the Estate Tax, draws on a longer history of assaults against obscene inequality. This post discusses a proposal, the "Jobs for All Act," (Act) that also has a long history as part of countering inequality through restructuring the market for labor but the proposed Act is new in its scope.[i] I'll begin by outlining the history of efforts to create a full employment economy in the U.S., then sketch the major features of the Act and finally discuss the class dynamics of the Act.[ii]
I. The Right to Work: Seeking Full Employment the "Jobs for All Act" (HR 1000)
At the 2017 convention, DSA passed - by an overwhelming margin - a resolution in support of legislation that would guarantee a well paid job for anyone "willing and able to work." This was the language of the "Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act" that that we in CPEG, as part of the National Jobs for All Coalition,[iii]had worked on during the Great Recession with Rep. John Conyers' (at that time the only DSA member in Congress) staff. It is also close to FDR's call, in his 1944 State of the Union, that Congress establish "the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation."
Since FDR spoke, there have been several efforts to assure jobs for anyone willing and able to work. The most important were the Employment Act of 1946 and the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978. A major component of both Acts was direct job creation by the federal government.[iv]
Neither Act, nor the policies of the Federal Reserve, have created anything close to full employment, at least in the usual English language meaning of the term. What has happened is the political redefinition, led by too many economists, of full employment as 4% unemployment - and only counting those people actively seeking a job. How much difference does the definition make? In January 2019 the official unemployment rate was 4%, or 6.5 million people. However, there were another 5.1 million people working part time who wanted a full time job but couldn't find one and 5.3 million people who wanted to work but were not actively seeking a job in the four weeks prior to the unemployment census so not included in the "unemployed." These numbers total to 16.9 million people or 10% of the U.S. labor force.[v]
II: The "Jobs for All Act" (HR 1000)
- Bill Barclay, CPEG and Ventura DSA
As I argued in my first “Taming Capital” post, the political landscape defined by the 2018 midterms has reinvigorated the discussion of economic inequality and what we can or should do about it. The problem of inequality was a focus of the Occupy movement. It was also the core 2016 campaign message of Bernie Sanders – who just announced he is running for president in 2020. Like Warren’s wealth tax, Sanders understands that the obscene levels of economic inequality in the U.S. today cannot be countered simply by raising the minimum wage or a more progressive income tax structure. The concentration of wealth must also be addressed. And Sanders has put forth an important proposal for doing so – but also one that has a long history in the U.S.
Making the Estate Tax Real: Bernie Sanders
The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes.
- Theodore Roosevelt, 1910
Over a century ago under urging from Theodore Roosevelt, Congress created the modern estate tax.[i] TR understood the need for an estate tax in terms that apply equally or even more so today: the problem of an inherited aristocracy based on private capital accumulation, arising from some combination of good fortune, innovation and, very importantly, coupled with institutional supports that allowed an individual to amass large amounts of wealth in a single generation. As TR argued, such inheritances were, for the next generation, free and unearned money. Not only were the inheritors of the next generation no more deserving of this wealth than any other citizen, TR believed that they would all too often fritter in away in lavish living – think of Paris Hilton, the $37 million dollar ranch that Bill Gates bought his daughter Jennifer because she likes to ride,[ii]etc.
Taming Capital? - Part 1
- Bill Barclay, CPEG and Ventura DSA
The midterms have not simply given the Democratic Party a majority in the House; they have visibly expanded the range of political discourse, the so called "Overton Window". This impact is particularly marked in terms of the issue of economic inequality. In the past few weeks, three major progressive - perhaps even socialist? - initiatives have been proposed. In chronological order, these are Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax, Bernie Sanders changes to the Estate Tax, and HR 1000, guaranteeing a job to all willing and able to work, a true "right-to-work." Each treads on what has been seen by the right as the prerogatives of capital. For those of us on the left, each raises the question of to what extent it is possible to intervene in the market allocation of wealth and income in a capitalist political economy, perhaps even altering the dynamics of capital accumulation and use the resulting revenues for social rather than private ends.
In this first post I'll look at Warren's for a wealth tax. The next two posts will analyze Sanders Estate Tax revisions and then HR 1000.
An Annual Tax on Wealth: Elizabeth Warren
Because it is unique in U.S. political discourse - and probably doomed whatever small chance she had of being the Democratic nominee for president - Warren's wealth tax proposal
could be considered the most radical of the three. The idea behind the proposal is conceptually simple: she calls for an annual tax on wealth with two rates: 2% on household wealth over $50 million and less than $1 billion and 3% on wealth over $1 billion. This is an unprecedented proposal for a nationally known political figure, because it places wealth, rather than income, at the center of the problem of extreme and growing inequality in the U.S.
There are several things to like about Warren's proposal.
National DSA, through the NPC, has initiated a process to begin considering the endorsement of a candidate for U.S. President. The process seems structurally sound and open. Here
North Star welcomes DSA’s new caucus, Socialist Majority. We agree with you on many issues and look forward to working with you to discover new strengths and then build a diverse, democratic, DSA.
Yours in Solidarity,
DSA North Star
The caucus for Socialism and Democracy
AOC’s Achievement: Making Americans’ Progressive Beliefs Politically Acceptable. Of all the reasons that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is driving the right crazy, one of the most important is this: She’s advancing presumably radical ideas (by the right’s standards, anyway) that actually have massive public support.
Green New Deal? Fuzzy though its meanings may be, it brings together regional development policies for the huge region of the country that private capital has long since abandoned, climate change policies in a nation where climate-change apprehension is at an all-time high, full employment and decent wage policies for a nation where even voters in Republican states are casting ballots for higher wages and better jobs. Before AOC, whose radar was a Green New Deal even on? Since she joined the protestors in Nancy Pelosi’s office, a far-flung majority of Americans now see it as a way to address all manner of problems.
Likewise with taxing the rich. When AOC made the case for a 70 percent tax rate on annual income over the $10 million threshold, CNN’s Anderson Cooper responded as if she’d just called for collective farms. Now that Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing a wealth tax that would compel the rich to pay an even fairer share of their bounty to support the common good, pundits are beginning to notice that the public has been supporting much higher taxes on the rich for a very long time. Since 2003, Gallup has annually asked the public whether they believe the level of taxes the rich pay is too high, too low or just right. The percentage saying “too low” has been in the 60-percent-to-70-percent range every year.
So it’s not hard to see why AOC is driving the right crazy. Forget the dancing, not to mention the racism and sexism that underpins many of the right’s complaints. It’s that she’s giving voice to progressive ideas that the public actually supports but that have long gone unvoiced by nearly everyone in power who has a megaphone they could use. She’s game-changingly brilliant at promoting progressive public policy. To the right, if I may steal from the Bard, such women are dangerous. ~ HAROLD MEYERSON
Photo Credit: Gretchen Dohart
If there is a heaven, and it reserves a place for virtuous skeptics, I imagine the late Michael Harrington looking down with celestial satisfaction at the recent growth of Democratic Socialists of America, having played such an essential role in its founding 35 years before.
Harrington, who would have turned 90 in February 2018 but who died too young at age 61, was born in St. Louis and moved to New York City in 1949 to become a writer. In 1951, he began a life-long commitment to radical politics when he joined Dorothy Day’s anarchist-pacifist Catholic Worker movement.
Mike soon shed his anarchism as well as his parents’ Catholicism, and in 1952 left Day’s community for the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), youth affiliate of the battered remnant of the Socialist Party (SP). YPSL counted 134 members nationwide that year. And it was about to get smaller, because Mike joined a faction that split away to form an even fringier group, the Young Socialist League (YSL), whose adult mentor, Max Shachtman, had a long history of radical in-fighting.
In the late 1950s, the Shachtmanites rejoined the SP. As newly appointed YPSL national organizer, Mike hitch-hiked across the country, visiting campuses from Brandeis to Berkeley to recruit young socialists (among those who joined in those days was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago named Bernie Sanders). Tom Hayden and other campus activists, in the process of creating Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were among those Harrington influenced. Mike famously wound up quarreling with Hayden and other SDSers at their founding convention in Port Huron, Michigan, in 1962, over some serious issues (the Cold War, the Soviet Union, anticommunism), but also over unspoken generational tensions. It was a rift he later deeply regretted.
In the mid-1960s, following the publication of his book The Other America, Mike became famous as “the man who discovered poverty.” He was invited to take part in planning sessions for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1964 and advised Martin Luther King Jr. on the civil rights leader’s plans for a Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. Like King, Mike wrestled with the political and moral dilemma posed by LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War, reluctant to sever ties with an administration that, domestically, had been so committed to a progressive agenda. King’s breaking point came in 1967, when he publicly denounced and marched against the war. Mike, for complicated reasons including ties to the comrades of his youth, the increasingly right-leaning Shachtmanites, took much longer to do so. It was probably the costliest political mistake of his life, among other results undermining any remaining influence he had over the New Left in the later 1960s. Mike never abandoned his opposition to communism as the antithesis of his own democratic socialist beliefs. But, through painful experience, he learned from King’s example that a morally consistent politics also proved, in the long run, a pragmatically sound politics.
By the early 1970s, the old SP was hopelessly divided over the war in Vietnam and other issues, and in 1973, Mike and others, breaking with the right-wing Shachtmanites, created the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), which grew to several thousand members. Nine years later, in 1982, DSOC merged with the New American Movement (NAM), which had been founded some years earlier by former New Leftists. The new Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) represented a partial healing of old generational/political divisions.
Now that they are in Congress, both Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez will almost certainly develop broadened political bases largely independent of DSA. Organized labor and liberal advocacy groups will be in their camp now. The Congresswomen may, out of conviction or good will, continue to pay DSA dues, and show up for rallies, fundraisers or other socialist gatherings, as Dellums and Owens did. But it’s unlikely they’ll have the time or inclination to devote much more in terms of direct involvement. If they are going to do their jobs right, serve their constituents—and get re-elected—they are going to be very busy and in a much bigger arena.
Volunteer power from DSA, however, did help both Tlaib and, perhaps more so, Ocasio-Cortez, win their contested primaries. That involvement shows what kind of an impact the organization can have on electoral races, and will likely inspire other insurgent candidates to seek DSA’s endorsement in future races. And as more politicians begin to adopt the label of “democratic socialist”—while advancing the values and policy priorities of the group, DSA will continue to grow in power as a player in American politics.
It is this growth that is more important for the organization’s continued success than discussions of strict accountability to DSA. After all, as elected representatives, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez are accountable to a number of different groups that helped elect them, and first and foremost—and rightly so in a democratic system—to the voters of the districts they represent. And as a matter of practicality, DSA currently needs Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez more than either of them need DSA.
This reality is worth remembering if the newly reenergized DSA is to help expand the socialist caucus in the House of Representatives beyond the two it currently counts.
Maurice Isserman, a charter member of Democratic Socialists of America, is the author of The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington (2000)
This post is dated. We intended to post it back in November, however our blog was not functioning at that time.
The opinions expressed here are those of members and allies of DSA North Star Caucus meant to educate, inspire discussion and encourage comradely debate.