The Real Bernie-Haters Are in DSA

The National Political Committee (NPC) of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), of which I am a member (DSA, not its NPC), has voted 13 to 4, against the following resolution:

“Should DSA ask members in swing states to consider voting for Biden?”

I joined DSA after leaving the Federal government in 2017, enthused by the wave of support for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. It seemed well-positioned to take that wave forward into something enduring. My optimism was elevated by the emergence of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “the squad.” This sort of political success was associated with the growth of DSA to an organization of over 60,000. There had been nothing like it on the left for decades.

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It should not have been surprising that such growth also attracted those to the left of DSA. Some were like me, resigned to the impossibility of revolutionary transformation, looking for constructive, realistic alternatives with some promise of winning incremental, progressive reforms. In our flaming youth, DSA’s entrapment in Democratic Party politics was viewed as bankrupt, and DSA leaders like Michael Harrington viewed with contempt.

It cost decades of unproductive activism and disappointment, but eventually it became clear that the old DSA view is now, if it wasn’t always, the best of a bad set of political options. The political rules in the U.S. render third parties impractical, and the social reality makes socialist revolution impossible.

Others are fully committed to one or another form of left politics that is founded on third party initiatives or some kind of unstated, hallucinatory scenario of smashing the State. These latter types are practicing what is sometimes called “entrism.” When you can’t make any catches in your own little pond, you go where the fish are. If I were of like mind, it’s what I would do too. I can’t fault their intentions.

Like these folks, who are mostly young, my twenty-year old self wouldn’t have listened to me today either. It was great to know everything. The recent appeal by veterans of Students for a Democratic Society was met with scorn. You could reanimate Gene Debs or V.I. Lenin and they would get the same reaction. Scolding doesn’t work.

The problem now is that this view effectively controls DSA and will drive it into a ditch. There is a fundamental difference between voters energized by Sanders, AOC, and the like, and a DSA leadership that can’t bring itself to urge a vote against Donald Trump. The issue here isn’t the electoral outcome. I doubt the NPC’s utterances will have any appreciable impact. What is more at stake is DSA itself and the future of the U.S. left.

An article in Politico from December 2019 detailed the shape of Joe Biden’s inner circle or ‘brain trust.’ This claque stinks to high heaven. The story makes it clear that absolutely nothing new will come out of his Administration, aside from the non-trivial facts that it will dethrone a neofascist regime, will probably shore up the right to vote (for its own sake, if no other’s), and will hopefully alleviate the impact of the current pandemic.

The argument that renunciation of progressive initiatives by a Biden Presidency paves the way for the next, worse version of Trump has merit. But much more so does a second Trump term, given its likely damage to our surviving democratic institutions. The DSA proclamations may have little electoral impact, but the course of the U.S. left will matter for resistance to fascism, as well as progress beyond neoliberalism.

I want to acknowledge that at the local level, DSA people are doing many useful things, including supporting viable progressive electoral campaigns. I am not announcing my resignation – nobody would care, obviously – nor would I urge anyone else to leave. Quite the contrary, by all means, join DSA and find some congenial activist project. They have many. Only then would you have any chance of influencing the trend of the organization.

That notwithstanding, to my way of thinking the good local work lacks any national coherence. That is supplied by an NPC dominated by political naïfs. Some in DSA would oppose a Sanders endorsement if he ran for president as a Democrat. DSA includes a caucus under the rubric of libertarian socialism. There is a “communist caucus,” imagine that. The apple has rolled a good way from the tree.

These enragees are apparently unaware of the differences that Trump, Obama, and Biden have brought to actual policymaking. For instance, there is a difference between allowing DACA people to stay in the U.S., which Obama did, and the threat to deport them, which could not be more obvious, coming from the Trump White House. Don’t they know? There are many such examples. Speculation about Hillary or Biden wanting to go to war with Russia or whoever is not a serious response.

I am not going to bother posting this on any DSA forum, because I know the responses will be mostly inarticulate “LOLs” and “you condone rape.” It’s not worth my time. We need a political formation focused on fighting fascism as well as promoting progressive reforms. The fascist threat will not disappear after a Biden victory. There is no real space inside of DSA to promote such a view, but we could hope that DSA would migrate to it as its importance and popular support became more obvious. The cure for left entrism is to build something big enough to dissolve the irritants.


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