Four Theses On DSA

The working class must unite beyond political tendencies to build a powerful workers movement that can fight together for political and economic struggles in a united front from below. 

“The ship of Communism must not be wrecked on the rocks of revolutionary romanticism and putschism, and it must not be allowed to founder on the shoals of opportunism. Our ship must steer a straight course, full steam ahead over the stormy waves of revolutionary mass actions and mass struggles. To the masses! Win over the masses! Let us therefore, while not neglecting the struggles for the every-day needs of the masses, reveal to them the ideal of Communism.” – Clara Zetkin

  • The DSA historically developed as an organization of the labor bureaucracy attempting to push the Democratic Party to the left as the US moved into neo-liberalism and the post-war compromise collapsed. Founder Michael Harrington was committed to a strategy of Democratic Party entryism, believing that it was the only viable channel for the working class to make gains in the system through empowering their representatives in the professional class. This loyalty to the Democratic Party has made the historical DSA a reformist organization that has acted as a weak lobbying group for the Democrats. Harrington’s strategy that the DSA based itself on, that of Democratic Party entryism, has proven to be fruitless. The Democrats are committed to being as economically neoliberal as possible, and are structurally compelled to move more to the right. They are a cartel of finance capitalists and other factions of the bourgeoisie, not a mass membership party than can be influenced with internal opposition. For more info on the history of the early DSA and the failures of Democratic Party entryism, read Robert Brenner’s Paradox of Social-Democracy. 
  • The DSA of 2017 is however a different beast than what we reference above as the historical DSA. The rise of Sanders and Trump in the aftermath of social movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter created a need for a political alternative that was at least formally independent from the Democratic Party. Because of their organizing skills and infrastructure, the DSA is the org that most young socialists looking for change beyond reforming capitalism came to, despite the past history of the org. Because the DSA is a mass membership organization that is meant to be democratically run, this mass influx of young radicals shook up the traditional politics of the org. This fundamentally changed the character of the DSA, as evidenced by their exit from the traitorous Socialist International and endorsement of the Anti-Zionist boycott BDS in their last convention. The formation of caucuses such as the Refoundation Caucus and Libertarian Socialist Caucus, as well as the Praxis slate at last convention, also shows the development of what is essentially an internal struggle in the DSA to break from the pro-Democratic Party and pro-Imperialist politics of the old DSA, with old time bureaucrats already quitting because of the endorsement of BDS and driving out of cop union organizer Danny Fetonte.
  • The development of this internal struggle in the DSA gives an important opportunity for the US left to create a “pole of attraction” for all socialists that is independent from the Democratic Party. This will have to take the form of internal struggle using the democratic process to push against Democratic Party cooption in locals as well as engaging in the national politics of DSA to push for a break with the Democrats. While the DSA’s large size and infrastructure may be credited to their cooperation with the Democrats in the past, the time for a complete break is now. DSA now has the size and organizational capacity to steer an independent course. Committed Communists should not be afraid to join the influx of new members who are pushing the org away from the politics of Democratic party accommodation and towards an expression of independent working class politics. However this doesn’t mean Communists should abandon building independent organizations that are based on a distinctive Communist platform and put all of their organizational effort into the DSA.
  • The Communist League of Tampa has no interest in entryism, or covertly infiltrating the DSA to take over its leadership. We believe that the DSA exists best as a multi-tendency organization where different tendencies of the left can form a united front in labor and political campaigns. Our aim is to facilitate the DSA’s movement to the left, (pushed by the recent influx of young members), learn organizing skills, promote discussion on Socialism/Communism, and ultimately help build the DSA as a united front of the labor movement in Tampa. As democratic communists we feel that it is best to be open and transparent about our intentions in any group we work with.
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9 thoughts on “Four Theses On DSA

  1. Thanks for the post Donald. Happy that you’re joining DSA and organizing with us. I think this is a generally friendly post. We’re all on board with your general analysis of the Democratic party; even the DSA members and allies who also organize with the Democrats! However, I don’t think it follows from that analysis that “the time for a complete break is now.” I explained why I think that in a Facebook comment in DSA new members, where the discussion got a bit heated and I think some good points were lost among bad ones. I’ll repost here:

    DSA didn’t have a massive amount of growth recently just because of Sanders’ campaign. Sanders showed how socialism can WIN and I think that DSA’s influx of new members want to not just be socialist, but to win as socialists. Part of what worked for Sanders was using the democratic party structure to contrast socialist (albeit light socialist) policies with the policies of typical corporate Dems. In the near term at least, running socialist candidates in Democratic primaries is usually the best way to win. This isn’t really a disagreement with the Refoundation caucus, since they encourage the same strategy.

    The platform and brand recognition the Democratic party provides is irreplaceable in the short or even medium term. DSA Tampa recently endorsed and worked on a special election campaign for Ahmad Saadaldin. Ahmad ran as an independent in a republican leaning district. He took no corporate money and manged to muster almost 200 volunteers to support him in an off year election.His democratic opponent was, to be brutally honest, a joke. The man has lost five elections and was completely uninspiring when he spoke at community forums. He also engaged in bigoted Muslim baiting and I believe was convicted for some sort of domestic violence. But this joke of a candidate got more than four times the vote Ahmad did, largely because of the (D) next to his name on the ballot.

    Ahmad has both principled and personal reasons to not run as a Democrat, and I’m glad he didn’t and happy TBDSA supported him. He received, I believe, more votes than any other Muslim candidate in Florida history. However, some of his supporters think that, in order to win, he’ll have to run next time as a Democrat. I think the same would apply to most other left/progressive candidates in the TB area who want to WIN, and this contradicts the piece’s call for a complete break now. Happy to discuss the issue though and I hope you will be able to attend our next reading group, which will be focused on strategies in electoral politics.

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      • Isn’t it opportunistic to try to work with an organization that is fundamentally part of the left wing of capital? The correct thing to do should be to ruthlessly criticize the DSA and show to workers why its cannot meet their demands. Also I would avoid fetishizing democracy. It was ultimately formalized democratic processes that allowed Stalinism to take over. What are your thoughts on Bordiga’s take on democracy?

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      • I think Bordiga has very dangerous views on democracy and uphold democratic centralism. Also, it’s possible to work with a group on specific projects and still have the freedom to criticize each other, it’s basic united front stuff. Even Bordiga applied united front tactics.

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  2. lets face it college students should not be the face of the left wing. most of them come from middle and upper classes and have no idea what its like to struggle like the working and lower classes. the proletariat must rise up without these future yuppies and hipocrites.

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