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.
“Michael Harrington.” It’s a name that gets tossed around by members of DSA, sometimes in negative and derogatory ways. But simply put, DSA, as an organization advocating democratic (as opposed to authoritarian) socialism, that fights for free, honest and open elections for achieving socialism based on democratic self-determination and for transformative change for the here and now, is Harringtonist to its core. Harringtonism is the guiding ideology of democratic socialism in the US, and the basic set of political principles that separates DSA from the authoritarian, totalizing, and revolution-fantasy nostrums of anarchism and Marxism-Leninism.
by Leo Casey
1) How should the left approach the 2020 elections? Here are my thoughts. The paramount objective must be the defeat of Trump & the retaking of the Senate from GOP. This is the ‘prize’ on which we must keep our eyes.
2) If we do not win this ‘prize,’ the elections will be catastrophic for American democracy, those targeted by Trump’s authoritarian populism & the left. But much of the discussion on left twitter and facebook takes place within a political vacuum, as if context was irrelevant.
3) There will be a vigorous campaign over which presidential candidate would be the best standard bearer in that all important battle. But the very breadth of the current field means that there are many authentic progressives who are credible prospects.
4) Rather than rush to anoint a particular candidate as the one and only prospect, it makes much more sense for the left, at this early point in the campaign for an election two years down the road, to be focused on promoting issues that it wants the Democratic Party and whomever is the candidate to embrace.
5) Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’s ability to put the #GreenNewDeal on the agenda before she was even sworn in illustrates what the democratic left can – and should be – doing to advance an agenda that will address critical issues such as climate change and economic inequality & set the stage for 2020.
By Max Sawicky
Ferment inspired by the execrable Trump presidency and Republican Congress has returned Democrats to a majority in the House of Representatives, but their incoming leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), is maneuvering to squelch that ferment with a new “rules package” that will discourage progressive legislation.
The two moves in question are reinstituting a “PAY-GO” restriction on legislation, and neutering a new committee dedicated to advancing the Green New Deal (GND).
PAY-GO, short for “pay-as-you-go,” requires any proposal for new spending or tax cuts to be accompanied by offsetting measures that preclude any increase in the federal budget deficit over the ensuing decade. Under this rule, a bill violating this requirement is subject to a “point of order” on the House floor. That immediately interrupts consideration of the bill, which can then be killed absent consent by the Democratic leadership, meaning Nancy. It is possible for the restriction to be waived, but that would require buy-in from you guessed it, Nancy, so it will be her way or no way.
In practice, of course, a speaker who has the support of her caucus has dictatorial control over the House. She or her can block any bill at any time. What PAY-GO does is give Pelosi an excuse for letting something die before it has a chance to get a vote by the full House. Her fingerprints on the blockage are not as obvious. Instead of the headline being, “Nancy says she doesn’t like this bill,” it will be, “Green New Deal falls afoul of PAY-GO rules.” Meanwhile, the new committee dedicated to advancing the GND, besides being hampered by PAY-GO, would lack subpoena power. So compared to other Congressional committees, it will be like the kids’ table at Thanksgiving.
Why, oh why, would the great San Francisco liberal be doing this? A few possibilities come to mind.
The worst is that she is committed to the same nostrums of fiscal responsibility that have helped the Democrats lose political battles since Walter Mondale in 1984. If you’re old, you may remember Mondale’s bold announcement in his presidential campaign that he would raise taxes to fix the deficit. That November, he lost 49 states to the addled Ronald Reagan. In 1993, new president Bill Clinton rammed through a deficit-reduction-minded budget deal that was followed in 1994 by Democrats losing both the Senate and the House, the latter for the first time in forty years. In 2010, Barack Obama promoted a health care reform that, out of deficit concerns, was insufficiently funded, among other deficiencies, resulting in a plethora of difficulties in operation of the new law, and some impact on flipping the Congress to the Republicans. There’s a pattern here.
The wonder about mainstream Democratic affection for PAY-GO is that the deficit fears upon which it is premised are no longer subscribed to by Democratic economists, even relatively moderate ones such as Larry Summers, Obama’s chief economic adviser, or Jason Furman, head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Summers has written of his worries that the economy is in a long-term rut of “secular stagnation.” Furman recently acknowledged in the Wall Street Journal that deficits resulting from Trump’s tax cut had a positive boost for the economy, albeit limited and temporary.
There is a reasonable case for higher deficits even now with a low unemployment rate (and many remaining labor market drop-outs). Moreover, there is no reason to expect current conditions to persist for a full decade. In particular, policies that strengthen the “automatic stabilizers” in the budget (i.e., those that automatically increase spending and cut taxes when the economy slows down) would be beneficial for the long term.
As a general matter, it makes sense to finance infrastructure — investments that provided benefits over an extended period of time — with borrowed money, as business firms often do. Defraying the interest on such debt is the real pay-as-you-go. Denying such investment is just cutting your nose to spite your face.
We might also linger on the thought that a reduced national debt would not be much consolation after the advent of irreversible, catastrophic climate change. Investment will be one of the pillars of addressing this threat.
Deficit reduction politics by now should be recognized as a gigantic loser for Democrats. Republicans are never constrained by deficit impacts in any of their proposals. Either they are ignored, or measures like the Trump tax cut are magically transformed into deficit-reducing miracles.
On the Democratic side, any “fully-funded” spending bill provides opponents of the bill with a nice array of groups negatively affected by the offsets upon which to base a counter-mobilization. Knowledge of the PAY-GO obstacle will strangle potential progressive initiatives in the crib.
Nancy’s rules are probably designed to restrain the energized progressive contingent of House Democrats. She’s smart, after all; she can’t be unaware of the impact of her rules. However effective she was in mobilizing her caucus behind Obama’s initiatives in 2008 and 2009, her vision of political possibilities does not seemed to have evolved with the times. She reminds us of defeated Senator Claire McCaskill, who wondered how someone like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez had become “the new, shiny object.” Something is happening and she don’t know what it is.
One rationale for stifling discussion of social legislation is to keep the spotlight on toppling Trump. While there is no reason not to unleash the full fire and fury of the House majority on our vicious, kleptocratic administration, there is a pragmatic reason to maintain attention on the issues that arguably flipped the House: meat and potatoes stuff like health care, the minimum wage, etc.
It is true that no progressive initiative is likely to make it through the Republican Senate, much less Trump’s White House, but that’s the cynic’s view. Proposing hopeless initiatives is the beginning of providing some hope for them. Republicans seem to understand that better than Democrats.
It’s always possible that the commitment to PAY-GO, like most other decisions, is more an artifact of what wealthy donors have indicated they prefer, rather than ordinary voters. Or as Nancy says, “We’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is.”
Reposted from Jacobin blog with the permission of the author.
Max B. Sawicky is an economist and writer living in Virginia. He has worked at the Government Accountability Office and the Economic Policy Institute.
Ed note; Congresswoman Alexandria Acosio-Cortez was one of 3 Democrats to vote to oppose the Pay-Go rule.
We are witnessing an explosive revival of the far right across the globe. It is happening in Europe, Latin America, Russia, the Middle East and Asia. But it is particularly ominous that it is also happening in the United States, the dominant and oldest democracy, after the election of Donald Trump.
Last month, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of Greece, launched Progressive International, which hopes to create a united front against the far right by mobilizing “a global network of individuals and organizations that will fight together for dignity, peace, prosperity and the future of our planet.” They issued a call to action:
“There is a global war being waged against workers, against our environment, against democracy, against decency.
“A network of right-wing factions is collaborating across borders to erode human rights, silence dissent, and promote intolerance. Not since the 1930s has humanity faced such an existential threat.
“To defeat them, we cannot simply go back to the failed status quo of the last few decades. Unfettered globalization promised peace and prosperity. But it delivered financial crisis, needless war, and disastrous climate change, instead.”
The announcement was delivered at an inaugural three-day event in Burlington, Vermont, by a new think-tank called the Sanders Institute, which is led by the senator’s wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders. She said that the Institute was founded in 2017 but the gathering was deliberately held after the midterm elections:
“The Democrats took back the House, so the ideas that we’re coming up with have more of a shot of being brought forward in the House and even possibly pass depending on how strong the progressives are and that will help us in terms of moving the principles and the values and ideas that we have forward.”
The gathering brought together some 250 progressive thinkers, politicians and activists. The attendees included Cornel West, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Danny Glover, Our Revolution president Nina Turner, The Young Turks founder Cenk Uyger, labor leaders Roseann DeMoro (National Nurses United) and Peter Knowlton (United Electrical Workers), and Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Speeches and panel discussions dealt with winning Medicare for All, solving the climate crisis with a Green New Deal, reforming the criminal justice system and creating affordable housing.
Shortly after the gathering, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Iceland’s Prime Minister, announced on Facebook her support for Progressive International because it represents “the struggle for general welfare, security, and dignity for all people,” and that a trans-border network of those on the left would help “alleviate social and economic inequality, make changes to the global financial system, turn away from the arms race, and stop climate change.”
Jakobsdóttir, who’s been described as “the anti-Trump,” is the leader of Iceland’s Left-Green Movement, which is in a coalition government with two more conservative parties. John Nichols of The Nation notes that she is “the first elected head of state who comes from a new breed of Nordic left-wing parties that link democratic socialism, environmentalism, feminism, and anti-militarism. She is, as well, one of a number of young left-leaning women who have emerged as prime ministers and party leaders in countries around the world at the same time that the United States has been coming to grips with the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the election of Donald Trump.”
In 2018, a record number of women were elected to office in the U.S. But we still have a lot of catching up to do. Americans have a problem hearing that we can learn from the experiences of other countries. Politicians are always telling us that we are the greatest and most wonderful country on the planet. This arrogant notion that we are an isolated shining city on a hill is a dangerous delusion. We are not immune from the forces of history.
It can happen here. America can become fascist.
In September, Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis wrote a pair of op-eds in the Guardian about the need for a Progressive International. Sanders asked:
“Three years ago, who would have imagined that the United States would stay neutral between Canada, our democratic neighbor and second largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia, a monarchic, client state that treats women as third-class citizens? It’s also hard to imagine that Israel’s Netanyahu government would have moved to pass the recent ‘nation state law’, which essentially codifies the second-class status of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, if Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t know Trump would have his back.
“All of this is not exactly a secret. As the U.S. continues to grow further and further apart from our longtime democratic allies, the U.S. ambassador to Germany recently made clear the Trump administration’s support for rightwing extremist parties across Europe.”
Varoufakis said that fascism can become attractive to desperate people:
“Our task is not unprecedented. Fascists did not come to power in the mid-war period by promising violence, war or concentration camps. They came to power by addressing good people who, following a severe capitalist crisis, had been treated for too long like livestock that had lost its market value. Instead of treating them like ‘deplorables,’ fascists looked at them in the eye and promised to restore their pride, offered their friendship, gave them a sense that they belonged to a larger ideal, allowed them to think of themselves as something more than sovereign consumers.”
But he says, “That injection of self-esteem was accompanied by warnings against the lurking ‘alien’ who threatened their revived hope.” Progressives can offer a positive alternative to both the fascists and the establishment — a global Green New Deal.
Reposted from the Boulder Weekly. Dec.13,2018. https://www.boulderweekly.com/opinion/the-anderson-file/building-a-global-progressive-network-to-combat-fascism/
Dave Anderson is a long time member of NAM and DSA. He was a
paralibrarian at the University of Colorado Boulder for 30 years and
has been a free lance writer. He was the president of the university's
AFSCME Local 3592. He has been an activist in the labor, single payer,
peace and environmental movements.
In the face of an openly racist campaign by Trump and the Republicans in the November 2018 elections, voters opted for Democrats by 9 percentage points in a record turnout, resulting in the largest Democratic gains in the House in a half-century. Two of the those Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Rashida Tliab, were women of color who ran and were elected as open members of DSA. The mid-terms resulted in the largest number of women ever elected to the US Congress, in eight African-American Congresspersons elected from majority white districts, and in the passage of several progressive referenda, such as the Florida vote to restore voting rights to ex-felons. On the other hand, the Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate, and widespread voter suppression in Georgia, Florida and Texas brought narrow GOP victories over the historic progressive campaigns of Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke.
What does all this mean for the political terrain on which DSA and the broader progressive movement fight going forward?
North Star DSA invites all members and friends to participate in a discussion of these questions, with a panel led by People for Bernie founder Winnie Wong, American Prospect Executive Editor Harold Meyerson and long time union organizer and writer Bill Fletcher, (above) followed by questions and answers.
Here is the discussion. We encourage further discussion on the North Star discussion board. For those who couldn't make the call for any reason, here is the recorded video of the call.
The North Star interim steering committee met by Zoom call on November 12, 2018 and resolved to continue building the North Star caucus. As several of our members have pointed out, our political project is just beginning.
During the midterm elections, many leaders and members of North Star dedicated their energies towards campaigning for a better future. Around the country, socialists and other progressives were elected into office at every level of government. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to the United State Congress. Rashida Tlaib became one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Marc Elrich was elected to become the chief executive of a jurisdiction with over one million residents. Several of our candidates to state legislatures also won elections or re-election. The broader progressive movement had many more historic victories with both elected officials and ballot measures.
We look forward to getting back to strengthening and growing North Star.
The toxicity in DSA has not dissipated. Electoral engagement is still criticized by some members as a waste of time. There remains a tendency to deny political participation to the broader, less active DSA membership. DSA is currently not doing enough to engage with our natural allies in coalition work or movement building. Political purism continues to distract from socialist organizing, even as some members openly reject the principles and tradition of democratic socialism. North Star exists to challenge these tendencies and make DSA a better organization.
We dismiss the notion that DSA should exist without caucuses.
In an organization of 50,000 members, many if not most new to democratic socialism, the old DSA without caucuses is no longer viable. The organization needs organized factions – caucuses – that put DSAers who think alike and do similar work in touch with each other, allowing members to develop and present their political views and strategies to the organization as a whole. Interaction among such caucuses is the essence of democracy in any large organization. Without public caucuses, cliques will still form underground to deliberate, organize and push their politics. However, the great preponderance of the membership will be left with no access to this decision-making. Insiders ‘in the know’ should not be allowed to make all the important decisions without real accountability in the form of organized dissent.
The idea that DSA can do without caucuses is not all that different from the idea of our country’s founders that the republic could do without political parties. The principle is bound to fail because it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how politics works in large organizations.
What does need to be addressed is how caucuses conduct themselves: do they operate in a factional way, putting the interest of the caucus above the interest of DSA as a whole, and even more importantly, above the interest of the movement as a whole? North Star has never played that game and never will
We invite you to join us as founding members of a new caucus within Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). For now, we are calling ourselves DSA North Star: The Caucus for Socialism and Democracy. You can find our provisional statement of principles here. We are going public on May Day in honor of International Workers’ Day.
We are reaching out to DSA and YDSA members in all geographic regions of the country, and we are asking those of you receiving this statement to help with that outreach. Our movement right now in 2018 must focus on defeating as many of Trump’s allies in the Republican Congress as possible. To do that, we must ally with a broad array of forces in the resistance to the Trump Administration and its enablers.
The provisional statement of principles expands on our purposes for organizing. Suffice it to say here that all of us are committed to democracy as both a means and an end. Socialism cannot be achieved except through democratic struggle. “Come the revolution,” a society shaped by that struggle would be profoundly democratic and egalitarian. In advancing that struggle now, we all believe that socialists need to engage in the fights people are already waging for immediate demands. Most immediately, we define ourselves as loyal participants in the resistance to the Trump Administration and its allies in the Republican Congressional majority. Defeating Republicans in the 2018 election and removing Trump from office are minimal conditions to restore decency and democracy right now. We’ll work with lots of non-socialists to achieve those ends. And we will be clear that those minimal conditions are just that—minimal. In the broad majoritarian struggle, we will work alongside our allies while seeking to educate them and the broader US public about the need for fundamental changes in our economic, political and social life.
It’s an exciting time to belong to DSA. The most recent elections in Virginia, Montana and elsewhere demonstrate the great potential for democratic socialists to engage in and begin to transform US politics. We’re still living off some of the fantastic momentum of the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign, where Senator Sanders forced his opponents and the media to deal with his self-identification as a democratic socialist. DSA has grown to more than 30,000 national members, with organized groups in nearly every state in the union. In many locations, DSA chapters have developed great programs of activity, ranging from Medicare for All advocacy, to electoral engagement, to defense of immigrant communities, tenant organizing and more.
So why organize a caucus at all and why now?
As stated above, socialists are starting to enter and to transform US politics. Keeping an eye on the prize of transforming US politics is what all of us signing this statement of principles think DSA is about. Unfortunately, we’ve seen some less healthy developments in the organization. Nearly 40 percent of the delegates to the recent national convention voted to reject any joint work with Our Revolution, the group explicitly organized by Senator Sanders’s supporters to carry on the work begun in the 2016 campaign. What was the objection to Our Revolution? It’s not pure enough. It doesn’t support only explicitly socialist candidates. That stance of political purism has a long and not a very proud tradition in US left politics. Those holding it end up isolating themselves—and DSA—from the very people we need to reach.
Even more disturbing, we’ve seen a trend of people, often operating through anonymous social media but sometimes identifying themselves openly, behaving in a manner that can be only described as toxic. They demonstrate a willingness to scrap any hint of due process or democratic deliberation and to organize digital mobs to enforce some sort of orthodoxy. If DSA heads down that path, the best outcomes would be driving good people away from DSA and a descent into irrelevance; a much worse outcome would be that an organization with a toxic internal culture infects the larger liberal left.
DSA can and must do better.
We hope you can and will choose to join the caucus by signing our provisional statement of principles.
Here’s our plan:
We’d appreciate your response to this letter and to our statement of principles. If you support the statement of principles, please sign on as a founding member of our caucus. If you disagree, we’d welcome further discussion.
DSA North Star: The Caucus for Socialism and Democracy
See who we are: www.dsanorthstar.org
This space will have a wide range of debate in coming weeks but for today please head over to our Statement of Principles and join if you agree.
In the meantime, just a quick way to show support is to add DSA North Star icons to your twitter and Facebook profiles.
For adding a DSA NorthStar emoji to your Twitter handle, use a combo of the Eight Pointed Star available in twitter with a red rose. You can copy from each of these URLs directly into your twitter profile next to your name when you edit your profile:
Add a DSA Northstar Frame/Icon to your Facebook profile picture
The opinions expressed here are those of members and allies of DSA North Star Caucus meant to educate, inspire discussion and encourage comradely debate.