The Pale-Pink Democratic ‘Socialists’ of America (DSA)

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The Pale-Pink Democratic ‘Socialists’ of America (DSA)


Social democracy has seen a resurgence in the U.S. as the word socialism has gained popularity as workers and youth seek answers to capitalist exploitation, war, climate destruction and racism. Unlike the opportunists of Socialist Alternative (Soc. Alt.) who cheered on social-imperialist Bernie Sanders campaign against Hillary, while at the same time denying they were supporting him, the Democratic Socialists of America were able to capitalize on the Sanders surge big-time.  DSA has tripled their membership to 22,000 plus since the 2016 election.  Not that DSA are the better opportunists, but political honesty has a charm all its own. DSA since its inception has had few qualms about supporting the Democratic Party of U.S. imperialism, either through outright support to political candidates or otherwise. No need for the tortuous and twisted logic that the reformist social democrats of Soc. Alt. have to employ in denying their support for a capitalist party or candidate. If what you want is world socialist revolution, you want to look somewhere else!

Workers and students don’t be fooled!  With capitalism in crisis all the hucksters and useful idiots are engaged by the ruling class to shore up faith in their “representation” con game.  Knowing youth are no longer afraid of socialism the ruling class is acting quickly to keep a growing layer of young workers and students from straying too far from “legitimate political activity.” That’s where the DSA comes in. Feeling just a little redder than your pink parents who pushed for Hillary, DSA has a place for you, not too far left and still in the capitalist Democratic Party and you can still come home for a white Christmas. This is how to achieve nothing!  Just like at the end of Occupy and after Wisconsin, the Democrats show up to corral the discontented off the streets and into the elections for capitalist candidates. They will not fight for socialism, they won’t fight to expropriate Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Agra.  Instead they use the discontent of the masses to promote themselves on the back of half steps they never intend to win, cannot win and dare not organize you to win for yourselves.

It was revolutionary German Communist leader Rosa Luxemburg who stated that “social democracy is nothing but a stinking corpse”.[i]  This was in response to the collapse of the social democratic 2nd International into social chauvinism by supporting their own ruling classes in the first imperialist World War and the German social democrats hostility to the Russian Revolution. It was the Freikorps, the predecessors to the Nazis in Germany, that were unleashed by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) government who murdered Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and crushed the 1919 German workers revolution in blood.  This is the historic role that social democracy has played, ultimately as counterrevolutionary defenders of the capitalist system. European social democracy in this era of capitalist decay has waged attacks on the working class, on social gains and on immigrants.

Social democracy was only possible in Europe through the super-exploitation of the colonies and semi-colonies and the pressure of social revolutions.  The European working class advanced and won reforms through class struggle and organized their own mass working class political parties (albeit reformist bourgeois workers parties). It was necessary for the capitalist ruling class to shore up social democracy as an anti-communist bulwark against the “spectre of communism” in the wake of the Russian Revolution and in the aftermath of WW II, where the Red Army victory over the Nazis resulted in social overturns of capitalist property relations in Eastern Europe and the Balkans  The existence of the bureaucratically degenerated (Soviet Union) and  deformed workers states (Eastern Europe) and the post-war social revolutions (China, Vietnam, Cuba) that also resulted in deformed workers states forced the bourgeoisie to make reformist concessions to the working class.  With the lack of a class conscious workers movement and a mass working class party and divided by racism, the U.S. ruling class never found the overhead of social democracy necessary.  The U.S. has a minimal social safety net, for example lacking a universal healthcare system, unlike every other major industrialized nation.  With the 2007-08 capitalist crisis and the capitalists still seeking to recover their lost rate of profit, with a greatly weakened trade union movement, and the dearth of class struggle, the U.S. ruling class is not going to grant any major reforms such as universal healthcare.  There is no room for major reforms short of attacking the capitalist system itself.  And they certainly are not going to be won through Sanders, or the Democrats or otherwise except through sharp, mass working class struggle against the capitalist system. DSA is a political obstacle to struggle.

As we wrote in Class War, Vol. 3, No. 1, “Snakes Bite: Healthcare in Capitalist America Kills:

“DSA has been growing dramatically, riding the momentum of a renewed interest in socialism and the popularity of the Sanders’ campaign.  That well-meaning workers and youth subjectively wanting to fight for socialism are joining DSA is undeniable.  The leadership of DSA, which is where it counts politically, are little better than the left flank of the Democratic Party. “Democratic”, as in Democratic Party, is a very appropriate title for DSA, but they miss the mark by a wide margin on the “Socialists” part.  DSA has their origins in the Cold War anti-communist, social imperialism of the Socialist Party (who supported the U.S. in the Vietnam War), which split eventually into the DSA led by Michael Harrington in the early 1970s.  Part of the social democratic Socialist International, the political step-child of the Second International (ed. DSA at their recent convention disassociated from the Socialist Intl.), DSA has been entrenched in the Democratic Party from the start, supporting Mondale, Jackson, Kerry, Sanders and Obama through the decades of exploitation, war, racism and poverty. DSA never let such things as imperialist bombings by Democratic Party administrations (Clinton, Obama) or cutting welfare (Clinton) interrupt their support for the Democrats. Harrington quite clearly stated his politics and those of the DSA: “I share an immediate program with liberals in this country because the best liberalism leads toward socialism…. I want to be on the left wing of the possible (New York Times, “Michael Harrington, Socialist and Author, Is Dead”, August 1989).”  Harrington saw that “the left wing of realism is found today in the Democratic Party (Newsletter of the Democratic Left, March 1973, p. 5).”

And also from the same article:

“DSA serves to prop up working class illusions in the Democratic Party of U.S. imperialism; the party of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, and the current MENA wars; a political party of exploitation, war, poverty and racism. DSA is providing a left cover for a political party of the ruling capitalist class under the banner of ‘socialism’ and are a political obstacle to building a class struggle workers’ movement and a class conscious working class.  DSA bolsters illusions in electoral politics, reinforces pro-capitalist ideology within the workers’ movement and promotes liberal bourgeois reformist politics at the expense of a working class political program that points the way towards workers rule.”

DSA Fake-Socialist ‘Tagtails’ of the Democrats

DSA is currently a muddled, mishmash (much like the bourgeois Green Party) of various political tendencies as can be expected from a fast-growing social democratic party with a liberal political program. So different branches reflect the political terrain they operate on, with some locals more to the left than others.

But make no mistake.  The DSA leadership is very much tied to the Democratic Party.  They brag about it:

Aren’t you a party that’s in competition with the Democratic Party for votes and support? No, we are not a separate party. Like our friends and allies in the feminist, labor, civil rights, religious, and community organizing movements, many of us have been active in the Democratic Party. We work with those movements to strengthen the party’s left wing, represented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus…

….For now, we will continue to support progressives who have a real chance at winning elections, which usually means left-wing Democrats. ” –, “Aren’t you a party that’s in competition with the Democratic Party for votes and support?

In December of 2016, DSA endorsed Keith Ellison for Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) with the following statement that pretty much sums up their politics:

“Great change is needed within the Democratic Party. The DNC’s gross mishandling of the primary election between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton demonstrates the need for a reinvigorated party that appeals to working-class voters of all races, ethnicities and genders. Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss to the most unpopular candidate in history — Donald Trump — clearly highlights the urgency of change….

….Transforming the Democratic Party leadership from servants of Goldman Sachs to servants of everyday workers will be extremely difficult. We do not know if it will ultimately be possible [ed. our emphasis].

What we do know is that positive change never comes from politicians acting alone, but always from masses of ordinary people taking politics into their own hands. We will get the party we need when we build a majoritarian progressive movement…”

This is in stark contrast to early American socialist Eugene Debs, who knew which side of the class line he was on:

It is as foolish and self-destructive for workingmen to turn to Republican, Democratic, and Progressive parties on election day as it would be for them to turn to the Manufacturers‘ Association and the Citizens’ Alliance when they are striking against starvation wages. The capitalist class is organized economically and politically to keep the working class in subjection and perpetuate its power as a ruling class….Every vote cast for a capitalist party, whatever its name, is a vote for wage-slavery, for poverty and degradation. Every vote cast for the Socialist party, the workers’ own party, is a vote for emancipation….” – “Debs Attacks ‘the Monstrous System’ of Capitalism

We would add that any vote for a capitalist party or politician is a vote for imperialism.

For all the talk of socialism in DSA study groups, it is liberal politics that dominate.  DSA Boston members (Ewen-Campen and Scott) are running for city council in Somerville, Massachusetts on the typical liberal demands such as a “green future”,  “strong and fair local economy”,  “dignified wages”, “responsible growth”,  and affordable housing. Per the Boston DSA, Ewen-Campen and Scott “received a higher level of endorsement” from DSA with assigned volunteers, despite their politics being levels below even good old-fashioned municipal “sewer socialism.” DSA has also latched onto the Democrats’ Medicare for All demand which abandons the historic workers political demand of free, quality healthcare for all. Instead they support a continuation of for-profit capitalist health care.

At “MEDICARE FOR ALL” rallies in Iowa City on May 20th, DSA and Our Revolution lined up a host of Democratic Party state senators, assembly persons, local county supervisors and wannabe Democratic Party hacks. These are the people the fake socialists are supporting and they are leaving the direction history takes, and your fates, up TO THEM!!  This rally was organized to “take the fight to the Senate” to defend the ACA and then build upon the ACA success. Nary a word for free quality healthcare for all, while what is needed now is hard class struggle, not deputizing the creations of the political donor class to somehow do our bidding in secret meetings!

Oakland Socialist (which has opportunistically formed a Debs Caucus within DSA, see below), commented on a Counterpunch article about the Democratic Party, Sanders and Sanders’ single-payer healthcare bill:

Is their memory so short that they’ve completely forgotten what happened in 2009, with a Democratic majority in congress and a Democratic president? Have they forgotten all the hearings on health care reform, where they refused to allow any single payer advocates to testify? Have they forgotten how they got some of those advocates arrested for agitating in favor of single payer? Why do they think it is that the Democrats are only piling on now, when they are in a minority, meaning that there is absolutely zero chance of the bill passing? No chance whatsoever. Zero. Did they ignore what happened here in California just a few months ago, when the speaker of the House in Sacramento killed the single payer bill? Then, the leader of the “progressive” caucus of the Democratic Party in California….

….We are being taken for a ride again. The Democrats are simply riding this issue back into a majority in 2018 and into the White House in 2020….

….In other words, dangle the carrot before the horse again. Anything to prevent the outbreak of starting down the road of political independence through a mass working class party.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” How about fool me 200 times? That’s what the union bureaucracy and other liberal reformists are participating in. And meanwhile, these same liberals are completely ignoring the twin issue of hospital consolidation and the fact that single payer would only exacerbate that. As this article explains, what’s really needed is socialized medicine.Oakland Socialist, “Sanders single payer bill: ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…’

DSA is in essence placing a false socialist label on Democratic Party liberalism. What good is socialism if it is not a living, breathing program of the working class? And Karl Marx’s International Workingmen’s Association, the First International, was very clear on the question of working class independence and for a workers political program:

Against the collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes.” –

However, our politics must be working-class politics. The workers’ party must never be the tagtail of any bourgeois party; it must be independent and have its goal and its own policy.”

DSA is corralling leftward moving youth and workers into a collaborationist popular front with the capitalist ruling class.  In essence, the same thing that the labor bureaucracy has done for decades and we all know how that has worked out!

Trotskyists wrote about these popular front, class collaborationist lashups that we are seeing today with the DSA, Our Revolution, Sanders, and the Democratic Party. Only the actors have changed:

It is the specific question of LaFollette and LaGuardia. The movements backing them are not dreams, but the genuine, homespun authentic American type of ‘Farmer-Labor’ and ‘Labor’ Party. And what sort of movements are they? About this no elaborate argument is needed. Are they ‘anti-capitalist’? Not one of their leaders would dream of pretending so. They are dedicated heart and soul to the preservation of capitalism…. Are they ‘free of all entanglements with capitalist parties’…? How absurd: their chief task in 1936 was to gather votes for Roosevelt. Do they run genuine representatives of the proletariat for office? LaFollette and LaGuardia are the answer.

The Farmer-Labor Progressive Federation and the American Labor Party are both vicious muddles of class collaboration, Popular Frontism, outworn Populism and atavistic liberalism, the docile instruments of labor bureaucrats and careerist ‘progressive’ capitalist politicians.

Support of these movements at the present time in actuality represents the perspective of the liquidation of independent working-class politics. That is the long and short of it.” —“A Manifesto to the Members of the Socialist Party,” Socialist Appeal, 14 August 1937

The Capitalist State

DSA’s political methodology is not to organize the working class for the conquest of state power, but the typical liberal pressure politics on the capitalist state and the capitalist parties and politicians. Reformism is not merely electoral fetishism.  Street protests do not a revolutionary make.  The Marxist definition of reformism is the belief that the capitalist state can be reformed to serve the interests of the working class and build socialism. Historically, there have even been reformist with guns, such as the Sandinistas, who after conquering power were willing to junk all the social gains made at great human sacrifice by fortifying the bourgeois state against socialism with a bourgeois parliamentary election, to much acclaim of U.S. liberalism and today’s ‘Sandernistas.’ DSA tells you to refuse this lesson from modern history.

In Iowa City where reactionary Senator Joni Ernst was holding a town hall, DSA was promoting a “WELCOME JONI RALLY” on the basis of letting “Joni know that it’s time to put the PEOPLE over corporate profit”.  One would have thought that “Joni” Ernst was known by all as a bought and paid for shill for capital. In the days of speaking truth to power we would put her in the stock and hung a sign around her neck, i.e., anti-socialist. In truth, we want those who want the socialist revolution to know that cross-class political projects are guarantors of the political dictatorship of Capital! Nothing but! DSA has trouble understanding that whole Labor vs. Capital thing, apparently. Likewise there are those who propose to fix the ills of structural racism with more Black mayors, such as with the Chamber of Commerce’s labor peace candidate Tishaura Jones in St. Louis, even now after the experience of 50 years of the capitalist parties’ Black mayors!

As if electing the cop “union” organizer Danny Fetonte to the DSA National Political Committee at their last convention wasn’t bad enough, the Pittsburgh DSA local has endorsed attorney Mikhail Pappas for district judge.  For Marxists, the cops and the courts are the core of the capitalist state. It was Frederick Engels who stated that the “public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds.”  Judges issue strikebreaking injunctions and the cops try to enforce them.  That is when they are not sentencing black youth to long prison terms.  And that is even assuming black youth make it to court and are not executed on the street by the racist cops!

DSA Caucuses: From Ostensible Socialism, into the DSA and for the Democrats in 2018!

Several left-wing caucuses have formed within DSA, forming a chain from ostensible socialists and anarchists, through DSA straight to shackles of the Democratic Party.  While welcoming Democratic Party liberals into their ranks, DSA makes sure to have the machinery in place to exclude the Reds.  DSA has anti-communism written into its constitution that allows the DSA National Political Committee (NPC) to revoke charters for locals or youth sections “if a majority of members of the Local is under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organization.”  Democratic-centralist means Reds in DSA terms.  So, a little bit of workers democracy is fine, as long as it doesn’t go too far! What the hell kind of socialist organization is DSA?  This is as far from Leninism as one can hope to get.  What hope can anyone calling themselves a communist going into this melange reasonably have? Democratic centralism means your vote is a promise and that the majority decision will be carried out by all members. A fake socialist organization that exists to satisfy the needs of the enemy social class cannot possibly permit democratic centralism, which is democratic and effective by definition!

The DSA Spring Platform caucus that is largely apolitical and focused more on logistical and democracy questions, does have this little gem of an insight into internal ‘democracy’ within the DSA:

“Yet in the absence of organized tendencies key political questions are resolved largely based on staff and elected leaders interpreting what the “mainstream” political views of DSA are, and key strategic differences within the organization are never discussed explicitly. This results not only in undemocratic decision-making (similar to the way the absence of political parties undermines the effective aggregation of political preferences among a given electorate), but also produces limited clarity among DSA’s membership about the key issues facing the organization and strategic incoherence around DSA’s political decision-making.”

Here they are confessing to the reproduction of the norms of capitalist rule, where “…key strategic differences within the organization are never discussed explicitly….” They confess to undemocratic decision making a la the class dictatorship of who else(?), the capitalist ruling classes of different electorates. Do the members have ‘limited clarity?’ That’s by design, in another class’ interest. This is not a plan for any future workers’ combat party.  There are very good reasons for reformist fake-socialist leaders to hate the workers democracy of democratic-centralism.

The DSA Praxis caucus is also largely apolitical, although they mention socialism and such, with their platform focused on logistics such as “regional structure”, “base building”, “national training” and so on.  Even their “FIGHTING FOR RACIAL JUSTICE & SOCIALIST FEMINISM” plank degenerates into logistics.

Some anarchists have jumped on the DSA bandwagon with their DSA Libertarian Socialist Caucus. Anarchists who usually froth at the mouth the moment a workers party is mentioned, have no problem with the Democratic (Party) Socialists.  Their political program talks of radical democracy, individual self-determination, solidarity, direct action, mutual aid and so on, completely sidestepping the question of the independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie.  Smashing the capitalist state like the anarchists of yesteryear is not on their agenda either, nor “in the seizure of state power by a political party, but rather in the creation of independent institutions in civil society that give the working class and ordinary people direct power over their lives. Thus they [ed. Libertarian Socialists] tend to advocate the creation of worker-owned firms, radical trade unions, workers’ and neighborhood councils, popular assemblies, credit unions and alternative banking systems, community land trusts, and other more directly democratic non-state institutions…”  This is a utopian, candyland plan Democrats will allow polite discussion of, i.e., community gardens and pizza collectives ad infinitum, while capitalism turns the atmosphere into a toxic gas dump. Fetishizing individualism (“individual self-determination”!) and a less-developed order of social production to somehow satisfy human need is not a real world option, but this is what they insist upon instead of revolution. This petty-bourgeois politics finds a home in DSA. No one should be surprised.

The Eugene Debs Caucus of EBDSA (East Bay DSA) has formed with a stance for class political independence. They call for a mass working class party and for DSA to run independent working class candidates. They rightly point out that DSA “cannot run independent working  class  candidates  and  support  any  Democrats  at  the  same time.  If we support  some  Democratic  Party  candidates,  then  we  are  in  effect  supporting  at  least the  “progressive”  wing  of  the  Democrats,  which  is  not  an  independent  wing  of  that  party.  There is a reason the Democrats  have  been  labeled  “the  graveyard  of  social  movements””.

It is not just a question of independent working class candidates, but also a question of political program.  If independent politics means just raising the politics of the liberals like Fight for $15 or some type of affordable housing, then that does nothing to advance class interests, but instead builds illusions in the liberal wing of the ruling class.  As Trotskyists, the CWG subscribes to the method of Trotsky’s Transitional Program (also see Class Warrior, Volume 1, Number 5, November 2013, “BART Strikes: Method of Trotsky’s Transitional Program”) that seeks to bridge the gap between the immediate felt needs of the working class and the necessity for socialist revolution, to raise class consciousness and point the way forward to working class’ historic task which is the abolition of the wage system. Capitalism has long ago objectively outlived progressiveness. The conditions for socialism exist, but what is lacking is the subjective factor, the class conscious working class organized in revolutionary workers parties and a revolutionary workers International armed with a revolutionary political program.

Entry into mass working class parties by revolutionaries to wage a political struggle to win over revolutionary elements is a tactic, so long as the organization is politically independent of the capitalist class. But entry into DSA as long as they are in a class collaborationist alliance in the Democratic Party by those claiming socialism is unprincipled and opportunist.   With DSA, what you will be doing is work for an organization that is advancing a liberal bourgeois political program and propping up Democratic Party politicians on the podium for the next elections.  This is the political price paid for collaboration with liberal Democrats, the subordination of working class politics. Historically, this is the role popular frontism (class collaboration) has served. And the leadership in DSA is not going to tolerate much criticism of this class collaboration.

The question of questions at present is the People’s Front. The left centrists seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the People’s Front. In reality, the People’s Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism. For it is often forgotten that the greatest historical example of the People’s Front is the February 1917 revolution. From February to October, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, who represent a very good parallel to the ‘Communists’ and Social Democrats, were in the closest alliance and in a permanent coalition with the bourgeois party of the Cadets, together with whom they formed a series of coalition governments. Under the sign of this People’s Front stood the whole mass of the people, including the workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ councils. To be sure, the Bolsheviks participated in the councils. But they did not make the slightest concession to the People’s Front. Their demand was to break this People’s Front, to destroy the alliance with the Cadets, and to create a genuine workers’ and peasants’ government.

“All the People’s Fronts in Europe are only a pale copy and often a caricature of the Russian People’s Front of 1917, which could after all lay claim to a much greater justification for its existence, for it was still a question of the struggle against czarism and the remnants of feudalism.

—Leon Trotsky, “The Dutch Section and the International” (15-16 July 1936), in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36), [emphasis in original]

So are these caucuses within DSA going to help organize for popular front Democratic Party rallies? Think they will be carrying DSA signs calling for a break from the capitalist parties and for a working class party?  Sooner or later, and most likely sooner, such a fraction would be told to ‘shut up with the commie politics and toe the class collaborationist line’.

The CWG recommends to any individuals or factions within DSA who are seeking socialist answers to capitalist exploitation, war and racism to quickly coalesce whatever subjectively revolutionary forces exist in DSA, particularly youth who have been newly radicalized, and get the hell out.  Remaining as a faction of DSA only serves as left cover to class collaboration. Starting today will not be too soon for a balance sheet and public declaration. To fight for class-political independence and world socialism, join the CWG!

[1] Speech by Rosa luxemburg to the founding conference of the German Communist Party  (KPD) (Der Gründungsperteitag der KPD, Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1969, p.194.)


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