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It’s Not Your Father’s DSA
by Jonathan Nack
Sunday Oct 22nd, 2017 11:12 PM
DSA’s membership has more than tripled since Bernie Sanders’ campaign, ballooning to around 30,000. It is now the largest socialist organization in the USA in 60 years. The new members are of a younger generation, with many being millennials.
OAKLAND - On Friday night I attended a party in San Francisco. The Red Ball celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and was also a benefit to aid grassroots organizations in Puerto Rico. It was organized by the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

It was immediately apparent that this was not the old DSA I had known. A dj was spinning dance music which to my old school ear was a kind of blend of Hip Hop and House music. It was a young crowd, with the great majority in their twenties or thirties. Above the stage in red balloon letters was the word “REVOLUTION.” Many were in costume as Russian revolutionaries or their favorite historical revolutionary figure. Red balloons, which were scattered across the floor and which adorned the walls, were playfully batted into the air as people danced.

I was aware DSA was changing. I had started to receive a steady stream of notices for local DSA public events, including door to door campaigning for Single Payer health care, informal socialist meet ups, as well as local meetings. That’s why I decided to go to one.

I had also read about how DSA’s membership has more than tripled since Bernie Sanders’ campaign, ballooning to around 30,000. It is now the largest socialist organization in the USA in 60 years. The new members are of a younger generation, with many being millennials.

I also read how a significant and influential radical caucus has emerged within DSA, calling itself Refoundation.

The caucus has proclaimed that it aims to help birth a workers party. Its website states:

“...we certainly cannot afford to rely on the Democrats any longer to deliver anything worthwhile to us. DSA’s recent, more radical trajectory puts it on a collision course with its staid practice of support for the Democratic Party. The challenge of political independence — a mass workers party that fights for socialism — is an urgent one.” “...we plan to fight alongside comrades of other tendencies both within and outside of DSA to [bring it about].”

A “communist” caucus has also emerged. There is now even a Libertarian Socialist Caucus within DSA which aims to represent “...syndicalists, council communists, anarchists, cooperativists, and municipalists, among many others...”.

I first came into contact with DSA back in the mid 1970s while attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison. At that time, DSA was focused on being a left-wing pole within the Democratic Party. It’s slogan was “the left of the possible” to distinguish itself from communist vanguards it considered hopelessly ultra-left, sectarian, and just plain out of touch.

Indeed, the formation of DSA was an outgrowth of the anti-communist left. It sharply criticized the old communists such as the Communist Party USA, the various Trotskyist outfits, and vanguard formations which came out of what was then known as “the new communist movement.”

The old DSA would have nothing to do with those it viewed as apologists for the Soviet Union, or China, or Cuba, or parties leading Third World liberation movements; other than to argue against them. It related not to other socialists groups, but to progressives and liberals active in the Democratic Party, in academia, and the labor movement. It viewed anarchists as a curiosity not to be taken seriously.

As the decades of the eighties and nineties went by, and beyond the turn of the century, little changed within DSA. It didn’t do much outside of the Democratic Party, was only tangentially involved in social movements, and its membership became more academic and intellectual as it aged and grayed.

Then came the endless war on terrorism, the Occupy movement, global warming, the Black Lives Matter movement, and most of all, the Sanders campaign. A newer new left emerged. There grew increased interest in socialism as an alternative to a dismal future of more corporate capitalism, which had been sliding to the right for decades, had little real democracy, and showed pronounced signs of entering a new age of fascism.

A significant section of the newer left has coalesced within DSA. They have invigorated and radicalized the organization. It has become more of a big tent for a much wider variety of socialists.

At DSA’s national Convention, held in Chicago this past August, the impact of the new members was felt. The Convention voted to end its affiliation with the Socialist International, which is dominated by establishment center-left parties infected by neoliberalism. It also voted to make grassroots work for Single Payer health care a priority. More controversially, it voted to endorse the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction campaign against Israeli apartheid.

Longtime DSA members were both welcoming and uneasy with the new members, the emergence of caucuses, and slates of candidates for the National Political Committee.

The tidal wave of new members is certainly bringing profound changes to the organization, but nobody should read this as meaning DSA’s longstanding relationship with the Democratic Party is over. The ties that bind remain strong. There are the Berniecrats, ties to organized labor, the Progressive Caucus of Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus, and other progressive constituency groups too numerous to mention; none of which are signaling that they are ready to break from the Democrats.

There are increasing numbers of DSA members that believe such a break is imperative and are looking to play a role in making it happen. Dr. Cornel West is one notable longtime DSA member who is playing a leading role in the campaign to Draft Bernie for a People’s Party. Others, such as Jabari Brisport, a candidate for the New York City Council, are with the Green Party. Many others are with Our Revolution, a new independent organization arising out of the Sanders campaign that is endorsing mainly progressive Democrats, but which has endorsed some Green Party candidates.

Much of the new DSA was reflected at the Red Ball benefit. The youth, the radical spirit, and the collaboration with other socialist groups. A solicitation was made on behalf of Ginger Jentzen, a member of Socialist Alternative running for the Minneapolis City Council. Members of the International Socialist Organization staffed a literature table for that group’s publishing arm, Haymarket Books.

One constant was also apparent. It was an overwhelmingly white turnout. Becoming a multiracial organization with membership representative of the racial diversity of the U.S. population remains a major challenge.

DSA faces nothing but major challenges in the age of Trump, as do we all. Not the least of which is hanging together as a multi-tendency socialist group in which its caucuses participate in a rich and productive internal discourse rather than fighting each other. If they can accomplish that it will be a big step forward for the county’s budding socialist movement.
§DSA national convention in Chicago in August, 2017
by Jonathan Nack Sunday Oct 22nd, 2017 11:12 PM
Photo by
§The political revolution starts now!
by Jonathan Nack Sunday Oct 22nd, 2017 11:12 PM
Image from DSA Boston Chapter
§Author Barbara Ehrenrich is a DSA MEMBER
by Jonathan Nack Sunday Oct 22nd, 2017 11:12 PM
Photo from DSA website
§Dr. Cornel West is a DSA member
by Jonathan Nack Sunday Oct 22nd, 2017 11:12 PM
Photo from DSA website
§Bay Area DSA chapters in the streets
by Jonathan Nack Sunday Oct 22nd, 2017 11:12 PM
Photo from the Red Ball Facebook event page
§A DSA symbol
by Jonathan Nack Sunday Oct 22nd, 2017 11:12 PM
Image from DSA website