DSA: Where do you go from here?
By Carl Pinkston,
On April 8, 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his national electoral campaign to win the nomination for the Democratic Party. Sander’s campaign was a grassroots, multiracial, and multigenerational crusade that focus on fighting for progressive causes i.e. Medicare for All, New Green Deal, free college education, etc. Or as Sanders stated, “We have taken on Wall Street, the insurance companies, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and the greed of the entire corporate elite.” To progressive activists, this was an important struggle against the corporate elite, but at the end of the day, this was essentially an electoral campaign.
Let us be clear, there has not been a major national electoral endeavor by a commanding socialist since Eugene V. Deb. In 1912, Debs ran on a ticket as Socialist Party of America and received 901,551 votes. Not since that time and with all the combined left organizational members and supporters together has a socialist candidate been able to reach a quarter of Deb’s numbers. We would have to wait until 2016, when Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, entered the electoral race within the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders has been able to elevate the word socialism which for a short moment dominated working people’s consciousness. In the 2016 Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders received 13,168,222 (43.14%) votes and in 2020, Sanders received 7,708,599 (23.07%) votes. Moreover, in the last CNN debate, 9.9 million national viewers, 848,000 Spanish-language viewers, and 608,000 live-stream viewers watched Bernie Sanders educate the public about socialism. This is after the ruling class had declared socialism dead, and Bernie brought back socialism onto working people’s kitchen tables. Even the combined left platforms (newspaper, radio, TV) in the United States can not compare to Sanders’s reach and impact.
However, Bernie Sander’s campaign was not a movement for socialism, but for a form of regulated capitalism. The political demands were not revolutionary, no matter how Bernie described it, but, in fact, was demanding concessions from the system by advocating for more government control in health, infrastructure, and social safety net.
Impact on DSA
During Bernie Sanders’s presidential election campaign, the Democratic Socialist of America membership added about 10,000 new members, but Bernie’s exit brought into the organization with phenomenal members over 85,000. Let’s be clear this new membership base was activists from the Bernie election campaign and not principally from the social movements of the day: Black Live Matter, Environmental, anti-poverty campaigns, and others. In many ways, DSA has become the home of an emerging new electoral movement that is trying to find a way to hold everyone together. It had many demands, no clear focus, but to build an electoral base.
This formation is a united front of various forces newly held together under a rubric of building an electoral force. DSA is unable to be the electoral united front, because of the many fractions contending to move DSA in various directions. One fraction suggests that DSA should move in the direction of a purely political party that would lead the masses to liberation. Drawing a line of absolute demarcation by using a rotating political firing squad to knock out some folks and make DSA a small vanguard for the people. Well, I’m sorry to inform some of them, but we have been here before in the 70s and now we do not exist as a force for change. The ultra-left has a tendency to attack before building for change – they love the revolution without the work. More importantly, DSA, whether we want to want to recognize this or not, is consolidated around one strategy – the electoral arena.
Since, the 2009-10 economic crisis, the ruling class has been trying to address the contradictions of neo-liberalism and emerging movements. The 2016 election opened the door for the ascend of neo-confederates and neo-fascist to challenge liberal democracy. The question before DSA is what it should do next. I would like to suggest that it build a mass movement to fight the neo-confederates and neo-fascist. In other words, support initiatives that create a united front for an expanded democracy. This democracy is in the workplace, ending voter suppression, proportional representation, ending filibusters and other anarchic rules, participatory budgeting, and others. This united front is based on uniting the many to defeat the few – democrats, progressives, independents, activists, labor and led by people of color.
Second, the electoral arena is one, but not the only one, of the key battlegrounds in the movement. Socialists will need to continue to struggle within the Democratic Party to raise the contradictions, but until the activists from labor and person of color fully recognize the bankruptcy of the party, a critical mass for a new electoral party will not be sustainable. Thus, at this time, a working-class electoral party led by people of color will have to come thru the Democratic Party. The struggle for a new electoral working-class party should take place within and outside of the Democratic Party.
Yes, at this moment and at this time, this is the principal contradiction – the mass majority against the reactionary forces. This is not a question of supporting Biden or any democratic candidate, but about how we will unite the many to defeat the reactionary forces that will limit and push us back in our struggle for working people. I know this will not be easy, but no concrete material struggle is. Thus, I ask you now should we engage in this fight or sit this out? The working-class demand that we are not talker but doer; that we are conscious builder and not ivy league intellectual; and that we will walk with the working class in the most difficult of struggle and not simply write about them from afar.
Socialists are open, never hide their agenda, and are clear about their immediate and long-term goals for change.
Carl Pinkston. Operation Director of Black Parallel School Board (Sacramento) and Director of the African Research Institute. as well as former member of Liberation Road and Institute for Social and Economic Studies.
For more on the history of this political direction see. https://www.dsanorthstar.org/blog/manning-marable-1950-2011-a-radical-intellectual-a-dsa-founder
Editor’s note. A concrete way to implement this direction now, is to sign and endorse the Unite Against the Right resolution. Time is running out. Signatures are needed by April 14, 2023.
The resolution is here.
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