We never really knew if the Party would emerge from a merger of groups, or one group pulling ahead of the rest. In reality it will probably emerge from groups merging with the one that is pulling ahead, and that’s probably what we’ll see over the next decade, with Democratic Socialists of America at the center.
It increasingly meets the positive criteria:
- Size: DSA just hit 20,000 members, far exceeding the growth of any other socialist group
- Tolerance of pluralism: DSA has actually managed to tolerate an alternative caucus/faction, unlike many other groups
- Down to earth pragmatic focus on issues that ordinary people actually need, “Bernie Sanders issues,” ie Economic Justice, rather than typical inward-looking Left preoccupations
- A caucus that is increasingly oriented away from the Democratic Party, a critical key element to be relevant to the goals of most socialists
So what’s the catch? What does DSA need to do, to become the future socialist mass party?
Ultimately DSA will have to begin recognizing itself as The Party, not as a faction or pressure organization attempting to persuade the Democratic Party, but an organization unto itself, attempting to build itself into an independent socialist party.
It has the potential to do this. It simply has to have the backbone to dare it.
In Building the Party, not a perfect book but a good start, Tony Cliff showed how the relatively small organization can bloomed into a mass organization of a huge scale over the course of only a few years, in a period of mass radicalization and upheaval, as long as it has an orientation toward the working class, which DSA does.
For example, in 1905, the Bolsheviks had 1,000 members, in 1906 13,000, in 1907 46,000. They lost a lot during an intervening period of repression and war. In February 1917 they had less than 10,000 members, by April they had 100,000, by October they had 350,000.
So why can’t DSA just stick with its traditional orientation of reforming the Democratic Party?
First things first.
Even if it was possible to reform the Democrats, it wouldn’t be enough to reform them into a vaguely “progressive” party. It would have to be at minimum a working class party (and Bernie is saying this, not just me),
because the rhetoric of “progressive” is something many Democratic politicians drape themselves in before then delivering continuous betrayals and having no material anchor actually rooting them to the demands of our side. Turning the party into a working class party would be implemented by following the Sanders campaign’s model of blankly refusing all donations from corporations. This wealth-excluding model I find superior to UK Labour membership-based models, which end up being bureaucratic obstacles to participation, as we saw with Corbyn and Sanders in the Democratic primary.
It would also happen by embracing Sanders’ platform of economic justice. There is literally no one in the Democratic Party as left on economics as Sanders, and Sanders is literally the very minimum we should accept.
And let’s be real:
Even Sanders was a compromise for socialists.
What do we as socialists want?
- We want a working-class seizure of the workplace to be run democratically by workers, and an economy and government based on a federation of these workplaces.
- We want a popular seizure of the disgusting wealth of the wealthy for social use – and we want this to be permanent. We want to permanently abolish the wealthy. We are socialists, not liberal capitalists.
- We want a collective social seizure of the distribution chain, ie Walmart etc., for social use.
- We want radical restructuring of government and policing themselves (Black Lives Matter will never truly be successfully addressed any other way) to be radically more democratic, popular, and participatory.
A welfare state is not enough. “Democratic socialism” shouldn’t mean, leave capitalism in place, just give us full benefits and union jobs. “Democratic socialism” should mean, actual socialism, just without dictators and secret police, with actual free democracy. If the first is a stepping-stone to the second, fine; actually that’s a good strategy. But we don’t stop forever at the first.
These above bullet points were not Bernie’s platform. Bernie’s platform was good, it was an incredible and necessary advance over the state of American politics as it existed up until his campaign, but it was not these. We must both acknowledge strengths and also admit weaknesses.
But none of this “reforming the Democratic Party” is even possible anyway. The party can’t be reformed into any of these things, neither meaningfully “progressive” nor working-class. The furthest you will get is a minority faction that makes some headway, and then meets one of two fates: (1) It is tolerated to lure people in, to what will be a permanently corporatist-majority party in effect, or (2) it is actively stamped out, or forced to split out of the party.
Recognize that the Democratic Party will literally illegally, illegitimately, unfairly, or forcefully rig its internal processes to prevent the rise of a progressive faction coming to, let alone the rise of a working class faction.
We have seen time and time again the Democrats would literally prefer to obliterate their own chances of winning general elections than concede to leftist forces within their own ranks. They would rather die as a party than be overtaken by leftist forces.
Why? Because that’s just what elections mean in capitalism.
We have to face off with the fact that congresses, parliaments, and even major parties that have developed under capitalism are not neutral bodies, but consist of people from wealthy class backgrounds, and that the power dynamics of elections in any given country are not free and fair proceedings, but tightly stage-managed and controlled processes which reflect the power dynamics of the hierarchical, ruling-class economic and political order in that country.
You can’t live in an economic dictatorship of the rich and expect its elections to be fair or legitimate.
Is there a past historical exception, the New Deal and Great Society eras, when this seemed to be not the case? When the Democratic Party actually passed economic justice legislative agendas? Sure those happened, but it’s seriously underestimating the extent to which the corporatist faction has entrenched itself at the top of the party now, and the total disrespect of democratic legality it possesses. They simply view themselves as supreme, and if electoral results would remove them, they simply view those results as null and void, and disregard them. We should also acknowledge that these eras were responses to struggles and movements, not the work of reformists working within the party. Finally like many “progressive” stances, much of them were temporary compromises eroded and rolled back at the first opportunity.
If DSA stopped working on Democratic elections, what could it do instead?
A few things:
- Union solidarity, which I’m pretty sure they already do and they don’t need anyone to tell them
- Become to go-to group for all Economic Justice issues like universal healthcare etc., ie Bernie Sanders issues, even in the absence of a Bernie campaign or any overt agitation by Sanders himself…again, they may already do this, but if not
- Politicized socializing, ie continue the SPD 2nd International tradition of socialist community-building with no direct apparent focus on any political issues at all – people need to blow off steam
- Rather than feeling obligated to “do” anything, see themselves as the rallying point of gathering, rallying, maintaining, and consolidating the socialist demographic in society – to simply act as a growing socialist faction in society, consolidating our growing numbers to the point that we have a critical mass in society capable of establishing a new social system – this is, after all, the true core fundamental task of a Socialist Party, not all those elections and movement work
One last thing. It would be nice if DSA became a little self-aware about the need to make room for opinion beyond just Left Caucus and old guard. The increasingly negotiated bilateral peace between the two is making those two organized poles dominant, and potentially leaving little room for the individual randos of the world, ie everyone else, who might not neatly fit into either of those molds. Then again, speaking as someone who hasn’t even been a member, this is more just a thought to keep in mind than some kind of definite harsh criticism.
So in conclusion? DSA is already on the way to becoming the mass socialist Party.
It just has to embrace what it is already becoming, and take it all the way.
Just do it.