by José G. Pérez,
At first glance the proposed DSA platform seems to be a semi-organized collection demands where calls for a constitutional convention hang out with petitions for a little better funding for education. From that point of view, it is harmless albeit not useful. Its role would seem to be a sandbox for the delegates to play in while the cool kids – the ones who lead the caucuses-- fight it out behind everyone’s back.
But there is another side to the platform, its strategic core, and that is denying the agency of oppressed people except as part of “the multiracial working class,” which in reality is dominated by white people and white interests.
The easiest way to see this is to compare the hyping of the “labor movement,” (which has been in an uninterrupted decline since I was a kid, and I’m now on Medicare) with what it says about the Black movement.
The document singles out “the importance of a vibrant, fighting labor movement,” asserting this “cannot be overstated,” and moreover claiming to see “the rise of a fighting spirit” among workers and admonishing:
It is imperative that DSA members fan that flame, by taking rank-and-file union jobs, organizing new unions in their workplaces, building reform caucuses that fight for democracy in their unions, and providing support to workers on strike. It will take a huge fight to win any improvement to the lives of working class people. An organized, militant working class is the only force capable of winning these fights. [Emphasis added]
But ask yourself: what has been more significant in the last couple of years in the United States: strikes and union organizing drives or Black Lives Matter? So why does the platform explicitly bring up teachers strikes but does not even mention the George Floyd protests?
Where was the “organized, militant working class” in last summer’s movement? Where were the union banners and union contingents in the marches? How many union leaders got arrested? And I must have missed the ringing, fighting proclamations from the AFL-CIO.
I hold that the working class was there, in the streets, in the form of a mass upsurge against killer cops led by Blacks as a people. But not as a “militant working class” organized by the unions that the class-reductionist wing of the DSA fantasizes about.
And having just turned 70, I ask myself: what has been more important in my lifetime, in actually changing the United States, union battles or the Black liberation movement?
And in changing the world in my lifetime? So-called “labor,” or the national movements of oppressed and colonial peoples?
You might object, but these struggles of oppressed nationalities like Black people are actually also expressions of class struggles. That is exactly my point.
So find me where the platform says the DSA must unconditionally support Black Lives Matter as a movement, or the Latino movement or the immigrant movement? It doesn’t.
The sole active protagonist that the DSA platform identifies with in the United States is the “multiracial working class”.
We strive for the emancipation of all people by forging the multiracial working class into an organized, fighting force on the terms of its most oppressed members.
The phrase “in the terms of its most oppressed members” is a lie. That’s never been true of the U.S. labor movement, which has thrown Blacks, Latinos and women under the bus at every opportunity to secure gains --or at least the mirage of gains-- for unionized workers.
Why were farmworkers and domestic workers excluded from protection under labor law? Why were states in the South and Southwest allowed to keep anti-union “right to work” laws?
These were “compromises” to secure relative privileges for union workers in the rest of the country --overwhelmingly white union workers.
The operative part of the platform, when it discusses specifically where and how people should organize, says that the only real progressive movement of strategic significance is the union movement.
All other movements are implicitly denied, even if they are not explicitly denounced.
But think of how much focus and care it must have taken to produce an 8,000-word, 21-page putatively “socialist” platform in the United States in 2021 and not have the phrase “Black Lives Matter” pop up anywhere in the document.
That absence is not an accident, but a conscious choice, and it tells us the real political thrust of the platform: the rest is just cover-your-ass verbiage.
A bad document may seem like no big deal. The real problem is that the platform faithfully reflects the DSA’s actual practice, both as a national organization and in my chapter.
Our sole national priority is the PRO Act when it could not possibly have been clearer that the central issue in U.S. politics today, around which everything else hinges, including the PRO Act, is voting rights. Because the PRO Act is just a “messaging bill,” a glorified leaflet, until and unless the filibuster is smashed. And the one issue which might break the filibuster is voting rights.
So the very week the first big battle around voting rights came to a head in Georgia, the Atlanta DSA Chapter voted to make our priority phone banking for the PRO Act.
In what is above, I have mostly used the example of Black struggles, but let me add this.
First, the DSA’s class-reductionism impacts everything because what is denied is the legitimacy and autonomy of all independent movements.
Second, specifically in relation to oppressed peoples, there is a chauvinist tendency in the DSA to liquidate the specific, distinct struggles of different nationalities into racialized abstractions like “BIPOC.”
This isn’t just wrong but offensive. Latinos are not now, nor have we ever been “People of Color” as the American racial construct would have it. And this has very clear reflections in the platform.
The first draft of the platform did not even mention Latinos once, not with an “x” or an “e” at the end, or even under the name Hispanics. This second draft mentions Latinos twice, in both cases to liquidate our specific issues into the anglo BIPOC construct.
Decarceration and eventual abolition of the carceral state, which disproportionately targets and impacts Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other people of color.
Establish community based response systems, entirely seperated from the carceral state, in order respond to targeted anti-asian, anti-latino, antisemitic, anti-black, anti-indigenous, islamaphobic, and all types of racist violence.
Notice the phrase “racist violence.” But an everyday aggression against Latinos has nothing to do with “race,” it has to do with language. Latinos are systematically ostracized, persecuted and even violently attacked for speaking Spanish.
Latinos are not a “race,” we are a people defined by common elements of origin, language and culture. Our oppression as a people is intimately and centrally tied to U.S. imperialist domination of Latin America and our language and culture.
And for that reason, I consider this document as one more an anglo insult against my people.
I very much fear the DSA’s blindness to its white and anglo chauvinism is going to doom the organization. Voting down this platform will not fix it, but it would be a start.
José G. Pérez, Atlanta.