Stand Up For DSA As members of the Democratic Socialists of America, we believe in our historic responsibility to fight for the world of democracy, equality, and human flourishing to which we aspire.
Recently, DSA and the future of the democratic socialist movement in the USA have been threatened by ill-informed sloganeering – especially on matters of international affairs, such as the Israel/Palestine conflict. Sectarians substituting dogma, purity, and vanguardism for real democratic debate have corroded DSA's organizational culture. Making matters worse, the media has spread outright lies without fact-checking, prompting widespread condemnations of DSA.
Some long-time comrades and elected officials are now leaving DSA, outraged by apparent support by some DSA members and chapters for Hamas’s horrific attacks on Israeli civilians. We share our departing comrades’ outrage. Israel’s increasingly repressive and violent treatment of Palestinians does NOT justify Hamas murdering civilians and hostage taking, just as the offensive of Hamas and others does NOT justify Israel’s retaliating through bombardment and cutting off food, water and other necessities to Gaza.
But we are not leaving DSA. We are staying to fight on two fronts: to develop a stronger, more thoughtful, and more humane approach to international affairs, and to build a truly democratic DSA.
What Really Happened
Before going further, it is necessary to separate fact from fiction. The current outcry began with a New York Post hit job. The Post published “Democratic Socialists of America cheer murder and kidnapping of Israels at the hands of Hamas terrorists.” The editorial skewered NYC-DSA for organizing a rally scheduled for later that day.
NYC-DSA did not organize this rally or co-sponsor it. No DSA leaders spoke or were seen there. No DSA members flashed swastikas or applauded the deaths of Israeli civilians.
Yet CBS and other news outlets repeated the lies on a national TV news segment, without fact checking. Congress members from New York leapt at the chance to denounce DSA as anti-Semitic; one demanded the expulsion of DSA members from elected office. NYC Mayor Eric Adams conflated the Times Square rally with the rally in Grand Army Plaza that was organized by Jewish groups supporting peace and equality in Palestine. With reckless disregard for truth, Adams accused the DSA officials of speaking at a rally where people flashed swastikas and called for exterminating all Jews. Fortunately, other media sources set the record straight.
The timing of a NYC-DSA tweet, promoting the Times Square rally during the initial Hamas assault, was rash and insensitive. So was the embedded national DSA tweet declaring solidarity with Palestinians before expressing grief for the Israeli civilians killed. The NYC chapter subsequently apologized, and issued a statement expressing grief for all civilians killed well before the Mayor grossly misrepresented the organization.
Statements by some chapters were far worse, seeming to celebrate the initial Hamas assault on Israeli civilians as a brave strike for national liberation.
What We Stand For
Let us be clear: The principles of democratic socialism recognize that all lives, Israeli and Palestinian, deserve respect and justice. Criminal acts of war are both immoral and contrary to our goals of achieving freedom, equality and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians. If not stopped soon, the death tolls will mount ever higher in Israel and Palestine, and spread outwards. Hezbollah, Iran, and the U.S. could enter a regional conflict that kills millions.
DSA has been organizing chapter and national phone banks to ask our members to urge their representatives to support a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation., sponsored by Reps. Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Bowman, and Bush.
Organizational Democracy Matters
Ill-advised statements by DSA chapters including on the war in Ukraine, elected officials, or policing have misrepresented DSA’s positions and values and were used by the media and political opponents to attack our endorsed candidates. The Israel/Palestine issue, however, is particularly fraught with emotion. Careful messaging is critical.
Sparked by Bernie Sanders’ runs for president in 2016 and 2020, DSA’s membership increased ten-fold. DSA, however, failed to develop a structure and internal programs appropriate to its greatly enlarged size. DSA today has a structure built for an organization of 10,000 people, not 100,000. Most crucially, it lacks a shared understanding of organizational democracy. Developing an international policy in particular, will force us to debate some difficult issues. Entering into these debates in good faith is part of our second task: building a more democratic organization.
Self-Protection and Integrity
Despite these problems, DSA has accomplished a great deal since our membership surge began. Hundreds of people have run for elected office under the DSA banner. Many have won: There are more socialist elected officials in the U.S. than ever before. DSA has also played a leading role in passing vital eco-socialist and tenant protection laws, and defeating statewide abortion bans. We have played an important role, too, in revitalizing and democratizing the labor movement.
The actions of a few members and chapters threaten to destroy all we accomplished. While some recent missteps may be innocent mistakes or insensitive blunders, there are organized caucuses that we believe are actively seeking to wreck DSA and using the Israel/Palestine issue to do so.
We have been here before: Some of us were leaders of Students for a Democratic Society, which played a key role in the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s, before fights between the Progressive Labor and Weatherman factions consumed it. SDS fell apart.
Some of us were leaders of socialist feminist groups in the early 1970s, such as the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, that dissolved after fights for control led by various sects exhausted and disgusted most members.
These and other experiences prompted DSA to include in its founding bylaws a provision that specified that “members may be expelled if they are found to be in substantial disagreement with the principles of the organization or if they consistently engage in undemocratic, disruptive behavior or if they are under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organization.” While we adamantly oppose efforts to expel members for disagreeing on particular issues (not principles), we believe this part of our bylaws remains crucial to organizational health and self-protection.
We are staying in DSA because we believe it would be wrong to abandon our democratic socialist comrades, leaving them to combat the sectarian wreckers. Our experience and reading of U.S. history also leads us to believe there is no hope that a new organization—a party, an activist group, or think tank—would not suffer the same fate that has destroyed many organizations in the past and now threatens DSA.
If we fail to counter the sectarians, DSA will crumble or become just another irrelevant sect. If we fail to develop a political education program for new members and a shared understanding of what constitutes internal democracy, DSA will slide into oblivion, and the democratic socialist movement in the U.S. will be associated with cruelty and repression.
It is time to fight back. Leaving allows the sectarians to win. It allows them to exploit and destroy the only national-scale democratic socialist organization in the United States. This letter is a call to action, a call to organize, and a call to educate.
All of us pledge to do what we can to bring forth a better world by building a better, more democratic DSA.
We invite those who agree with this statement to sign on here.
Signatures will be appended to this text.
North Star caucus members
antiracismdsa (blog of Duane Campbell)
Hatuey's Ashes (blog of José G. Pérez)
Authory and Substack of Max Sawicky
Online University of the Left
In These Times
The American Prospect
Black Agenda Report
Dollars and Sense
Working Families Party
Poor People's Campaign
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Progressive Democrats of America
Democracy for America
Black Lives Matter
Movement for Black Lives
The Women's March
Jewish Voice for Peace
National Abortion Rights Action League
National Organization for Women
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights