The DSA-Democratic Party Debate
Two years ago, a group of activists aligned with DSA out-organized the legacy Reid machine and swept Nevada’s state party leadership elections. But the victory came with a price. The entire state party staff resigned rather than work with the new leftist leadership.
This was a blow to progressive activists in Nevada. But it wasn’t the only setback.
What is DSA?
DSA’s membership is growing as more left-leaning Democrats embrace its policies. But electoral tactics are only one part of the strategy: Building a powerful anti-corporate coalition is the real goal.
Last month, a slate of progressive candidates won control of the Nevada Democratic Party with the help of Las Vegas DSA. The establishment reacted by forcing the state party’s entire staff to tender their resignations.
The LVDSA statement went on to list grievances like the lack of funding and communication between the two parties. It also criticized Whitmer for her lack of leadership in the state’s BDS working group.
While many of DSA’s policy positions fall short of their ultimate goals, they’re gaining momentum. That’s good news for progressives like Jonathan Williams, who recently joined his local DSA chapter. The group offers a platform for activists to connect with each other and collaborate on campaigns. They can organize to support local community organizations, as well as run for legislative and executive offices.
What is DSA’s Strategy?
After the Sanders campaign, many activists in Nevada began to build their own political organizations that would allow them to mobilize progressive voters independent of Democratic Party structures. They allocated organizational resources, deployed members from other districts, and identified allies in their work toward common goals such as ending U.S. support for Israel apartheid.
Nonetheless, some comrades believe that using this organizing power to run candidates for elected office is the wrong approach to take, particularly given how weak and ineffectual the official Democratic Party apparatus is. They argue that a better strategy is to use the new leadership positions won in the state party’s recent election to step up grassroots, movement-building work.
This view is not shared by all DSA currents, but some are strongly committed to it. For them, treating the Democratic Party as a battlefield inevitably leads to abandoning the socialist project. Consequently, they are willing to do whatever it takes to establish a purely revolutionary pole within the mainstream of American politics.
What is DSA’s Approach to Taking Over the Democratic Party?
The debate roiling DSA over its relationship with the Democratic Party raises core questions of political strategy. Those issues have consequences far beyond the local political campaigns of DSA-endorsed candidates.
The success of socialist politicians like Ocasio-Cortez and Dina Titus has sparked a debate over whether DSA should seek to elect more socialist lawmakers, or focus instead on building a strong base outside the electoral system. But DSA’s experience shows that a pure revolutionary formation would be less powerful than an organization that engages with electoral politics.
DSA’s current strategy is to prioritize electoral politics and support progressive candidates in low-dollar state and local races, where voters are more likely to be receptive to leftist politics. But this approach limits the group’s impact and is unlikely to lead to major policy victories. Moreover, it risks alienating members who are more interested in organizing workers and fighting for social justice. And it could make it harder to build a mass workers’ party in the future.
What is DSA’s Strategy to Build a Socialist Party in Reality?
The core questions animating the debate roiling DSA revolve around how to use this political moment to break free of the constraints that have hindered Left politics for nearly a century. Some comrades believe that it’s necessary to form a new party-within-a-party to accomplish this goal, a strategy sometimes referred to as “the dirty break” or a “party surrogate.”
Others are convinced that forming an untainted revolutionary pole within mainstream U.S. political life is a more realistic goal, despite the fact that such a project would require substantial resources and organization.
Currently, most DSA members focus on working with Democratic Party candidates and elected officials who share their views. This has given the organization a measure of clout in states such as Nevada, where the DSA-backed slate swept the state party’s leadership elections. In other cases, such as in California, DSA-backed state lawmakers can organize enough Democrats to pass left-wing priorities that the Democratic establishment opposes.