What The ‘Democratic’ in DSA Actually Means

In a recent article In These Times editor Joel Bliefuss commented on the Democratic Socialists of America’s 2019 Convention. Bliefuss summarizes some of the tensions people felt going into the convention but concludes that things are looking optimistic for the organization. Bliefuss also pays particular attention to one of the resolutions passed by the convention’s delegates, the “Class Struggle Elections” resolution. The language of the resolution commits DSA to centralize class and labor solidarity in our electoral work henceforth.

While the article maintains an overall positive tone about the DSA convention Bliefuss misinterprets the language of the resolution and as someone who served as a delegate at this convention and supported this resolution I must correct this misinterpretation.

Bliefuss summarizes the majority of the resolution correctly, his misinterpretation focuses on one piece of language from the resolution:

“The resolution included a caveat that says DSA’s ultimate goal is to break with the Democrats “and their capitalist donors,” and “form an independent working-class party,” rather than reform the party from within.

A new party? It’s socialist Dems who are already changing the nation’s political conversation…”

Bliefuss is interpreting the language to mean that DSA is moving to break with the Democratic party as a whole with this resolution, this is not the case. There is truth in that the DSA is often arguing amongst ourselves about how much we want to get involved with the Democratic party, but the language “form an independant working class party” does not mean “DSA is going to become a third party.” And our “break” with Democrats “and their capitalist donors” means we seek to do things 1. Differentiate democratic socialist candidates from liberal democrats and 2. break with the capitalist element of the Democratic Party. Blieffuss’s analysis reflects that he interprets a break with capitalist democrats to mean a break with the democratic party all together, this misinterpretation comes from a place that hyperbolizes the language of the resolution.

The language in this part of the resolution is very general and open to interpretation, which I think lends itself to Bliefuss’ hyperbole. However as a delegate I feel the language was kept general for a good reason, it is too early for DSA to decide to form it’s own party, any third party with less than a million active, dues paying members is doomed to fail in the United States.

The language of this resolution allows us flexibility, and gives us the chance to decide for ourselves how we want to build an independent working class party. We have multiple options, the two most likely being we can either take over the democratic party by filling it with socialist delegates and abolishing its anti-democratic safe guards such as the super delegates, or we can wait for the Democratic party to collapse on itself while we build DSA to the point where we can become the new party of the working class.

The author then goes on to cite the various other DSA members and endorsed candidates who have won elections recently, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, most of whom ran and won their elections as democrats. Bliefuss’s conclusion about their success stories is however mistaken. “Most of these pols have run as Democrats (without “capitalist donors”) and won by turning out registered Democratic voters.”

This is a misconception of the current political landscape. It was not just a matter of motivating the democratic party base, most of whom will vote for the democrat’s candidate no matter who is running, these candidates won by motivating the unmotivated, by pulling in non voters and giving them a reason to vote.

While the article is mostly complimentary and attempts to paint the DSA and our convention in an overall positive light, Bliefuss misinterprets one of the conventions most important resolutions and uses a disprovable argument to justify his interpretation. He does not misinterpret the whole resolution, but he does make over generalizations about one, very small, caveat of the resolution. DSA did not resolve to become a third party, we resolved to create a working class party, what that will look like will be for the organization to decide as it marches into the future.