Statement adopted by vote of the North Star membership. Jan.1,2022.
The Political Moment
Successful coups d’état can follow failed ones. On the one-year anniversary of the January 6th assault on the Congress, we in the U.S. face the threat of an authoritarian movement seizing state power, dismantling our democratic institutions, and launching repressive attacks on progressive organizations. Republican-controlled state governments are expanding voter suppression, gerrymandering, and administrative control of elections. Over 60 percent of Republican voters believe President Biden’s election to be fraudulent. Among them is a hard core of heavily-armed fanatics who believe violence is necessary to purify the nation.
The authoritarian threat is global. Donald Trump’s collaborators include Narendra Modi in India, Victor Orban in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Describing such demagogues as populist obscures their neo-fascist nature and their support from corporate interests. Theirs is a budding alliance that strengthens corporate interests’ ability to perpetuate climate-destroying fossil fuel consumption and accumulate wealth from wage theft, tax evasion, and financial deregulation. Their drive for profit runs roughshod over workers’ rights and concentrates growing economic power in fewer hands. Their neglect of the common good precluded effective responses to Covid-19 and enabled an anti-vax movement, leading to catastrophic loss of life.
We in North Star would like to emphasize the gravity of this threat, but we also recognize the historical precedents for an effective movement against it. People of color are already playing a leading role in resistance to neo-fascism in the United States. Growing voices across the political spectrum support the fight for universal, fundamental human needs and human rights. White people are increasingly aware of the importance of white supremacy in corroding U.S. democracy.
The 2020 Senate and 2021 local election results in Georgia were an excellent example of how multi-racial unity with active participation from left and progressive forces can increase grassroots activism and produce victories.
The labor movement has fortified its power through advocacy for the $15 minimum wage. Upsurges have come from gig workers, teachers, and fast food workers. Challenges mount against such exploitative mass employers as Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks. Workers are voting with their feet against low wages and unacceptable working conditions, refusing unrewarding jobs. Undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children – the “Dreamers” – have become symbols of the contributions immigrants make to this country. Abuses visited upon new immigrants and asylum seekers have revolted public opinion.
Working Together in Defense of Democracy
DSA and the broader Left must join forces to confront the international rise of authoritarianism. Together we should work to build a center-left coalition in defense of democracy. DSA must jettison a growing tendency towards a “go it alone” approach that devalues coalition work and glosses over the importance – indeed, the necessity – of a center-left coalition to defend democracy from neo-fascism.
The immediate task is mobilizing to prevent the Republican Party from retaking Congress in this year’s midterm elections and strengthening its hold on state and local governments. We cannot accept the conventional wisdom predicting inevitable Democratic Party defeat. A Republican takeover would shut down investigations of the January 6th attack on the Capitol and set the stage for the House of Representatives choosing the next president. To prevent a Republican takeover, efforts should focus on winnable races.
With over 90,000 dues-paying members and significant organizing staff, DSA should help to build a "Mississippi Summer"-style mobilization, actively seeking joint leadership with organizations focused on racism, labor, climate change, immigration, reproductive rights and other leading priorities. Not incidentally, a Left that takes a leading role in defending democracy against authoritarianism will win supporters from a variety of political communities.
Our focus on democracy and anti-fascism should include the full range of issues important to the working class. Our support for basic needs such as health care, the Fight for 15, free college, and the like answers the question, “Democracy, for what?” In this way, the campaign simultaneously meets the political moment and sets a progressive agenda for the future.
The best messages to employ in the current crisis are elaborated in the "race/class alliance" approach proposed by Ian Haney Lopez in the book Merge Left:Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America, and by Heather McGhee in The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Lopez and McGhee show that undecided and even right-leaning voters will respond to appeals framed around the concept that we are each better off when we are all better off. The objectives are to overcome color-blind economism and condescending, do-gooder attitudes toward people of color, and to expose the economic roots of the ruling class’s divide and conquer strategy of pitting white workers against people of color.
One method for delivering these messages is called "deep canvassing." It emphasizes shared humanity, where canvassers express genuine curiosity about the lives of others and the reasoning behind their political views. Thousands of activists are being trained in this method. It has been used successfully in community issues, labor, and electoral campaigns.
DSA’s initial task is to forge working relationships with like-minded organizations on the Left. Such an alliance will then be well-situated to reach out to broader political strata.
DSA has both strengths and weaknesses in meeting this political moment. Given its growth over the past five years, it has the most potential of all groups on the Left. It has more active members and has realized political victories, especially in electoral politics. The youth, energy, technical, and organizing capabilities of our members are impressive. Most who have joined in the past five years are confident and optimistic.
At the same time, DSA suffers from self-imposed constraints. In particular, unity against authoritarianism requires working with those who hold some views that we do not accept. Unity on the Left in the first instance means rejection of sectarianism, especially identification of centrist forces as a political enemy equivalent to Trump’s movement.
A failure to recognize the authoritarian threat was reflected in our unwillingness to acknowledge the need to vote for Biden-Harris in 2020. It has resurfaced in hostility towards Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman with regard to Israel and Palestine, or worse, in calls to expel Bowman from DSA. To limit DSA support to avowed democratic socialist candidates forces impossible choices on DSA members working in community coalitions on behalf of progressive candidates for elective office. It is particularly inimical to the development of the broad coalition that we need.
Many members seem to endorse a “go-it-alone” strategy that envisions DSA at the center of a working-class, socialist upsurge in the foreseeable future. The reality is that only a minority of working people is ready to identify as socialist. By its support for a broad array of progressive issues, DSA can show that socialism is relevant to people’s lives. Recitation of dogma will not bring working people to socialism.
Political breakthroughs, such as the election of five avowed democratic socialists to the U.S. Congress, are viewed by some members with suspicion, if not hostility. Attacks from our ranks on members of Congress who are the public face of democratic socialism are utterly counter-productive.
DSA has attracted radicals who are so disgusted by both political parties that they fail to understand that our growth and current strength are due primarily to our coalition efforts in electoral politics, especially our role in the Bernie Sanders campaigns, AOC’s victory, and the expansion of ‘the Squad’ and the Progressive Caucus in Congress. DSA’s membership grew in large part out of broad opposition to President Trump’s egregious behavior and policies. A “go it alone” approach devalues coalition work and glosses over the importance – indeed, the necessity – of a center-left coalition to defend democracy from neo-fascism.
Another factor holding DSA back from coping with the crisis is an unawareness of the key role white supremacy is playing now in the U.S. Despite the unprecedented barrage of attacks being launched against people of color, DSA itself is still a mostly white organization. Our shortcomings are two-fold.
First, there is a failure to appreciate the internalized bias prevalent among white intellectuals. We may think our politics purges us of everyday prejudices. It does not.
Second, DSA is plagued by economist reductionism that downplays the devastating impact of racist ideology on the working class. This is a basic reason why DSA is not viewed as a home by thousands of activists in BIPOC organizations who are otherwise supporters of democratic socialism. DSA alienates by its arrogant adherence to a race-neutral, purportedly class focus, not granting the centrality of white supremacy.
In addition, DSA purports to be a socialist feminist organization, but in this respect its practice is wanting. Our internal culture and organizing abound with such patriarchal attitudes as arrogance, competitiveness, and interpersonal venom. Toxic behavior is socially condoned, as are white supremacy and classism. All interfere with our ability to organize. To embody our values and be true to our “big tent” identity, DSA must foster the “soft” qualities of tolerance and dialogue, qualities essential to the project of building a broad, anti-authoritarian coalition.
In summary, we argue that DSA lacks a viable strategic perspective on how to build power: a Gramscian understanding of the political terrain on which we struggle, with an analysis and long-term strategy for how to best situate ourselves on that terrain, choosing battles that we have the best chance of winning and avoiding those that lead to almost certain political defeat. We also need to see our internal political and democratic cultures as works in progress, with much room for improvement.
North Star’s Role
North Star has assets it can bring to bear on the challenges DSA and the Left face. Among us are veteran organizers located throughout the country with contacts in the progressive, civil rights, labor, feminist, and environmental movements.
Given the above, North Star understands its role in DSA as:
North Star’s next steps include:
We must not fail to take this opportunity to act in defense of democracy. It is a pivotal point in the struggle for human needs, human rights, and global sustainability, without which there can be no democratic socialism.
Approved by the North Star Caucus Steering Committee 12/26/2021
The opinions expressed here are those of members and allies of DSA North Star Caucus meant to educate, inspire discussion and encourage comradely debate.
North Star caucus member pages
antiracismdsa (blog of Duane Campbell)
Hatuey's Ashes (blog of José G. Pérez)
Authory and Substack of Max Sawicky
Online University of the Left
The Washington Socialist
In These Times
Black Agenda Report
Working Families Party
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