Why I Joined The Democratic Socialists Of America
So as I’m sure some of y’all have already gathered, I joined DSA recently after going to some events and doing some work with them (mostly on the New York Health Act). It was a decision that I put a good amount of thought into, one I’m still processing, so I wanted to write out why and maybe that will be helpful to some of y’all who may also be considering getting involved with them. Basically my only hesitation to join stemmed from certain political differences I have had with DSA (though as an “umbrella” group it can be difficult to pin down what exactly their stances are on certain issues) and disliking the behavior of some of their more prominent members (which I won’t be naming but I’m sure it isn’t too difficult to guess).
The political differences essentially boil down to how the Democratic Party should be interacted with and how the US Left should relate to the rest of the world, especially when it comes to socialist countries and imperialism. I do not believe there is any utility in engaging with the Democrats in anything other than an adversarial manner. While I am not against electoral politics completely, I believe the focus should be on getting expressly socialist people into office, mostly because the campaigns and subsequent government platform are great for raising consciousness (even if actual policy successes are severely limited). In fact I left Socialist Alternative for, among other reasons, endorsing Bernie Sanders because I and others correctly predicted that he would be a sheepdog.
So how can I justify getting involved with DSA, who also endorsed (and still frequently evoke) Sanders? To begin with, at least thus far, DSA does not exert the same kind of pressure to follow the party line on this issue. They did what Socialist Alternative tried to do: used Sanders to get people involved with actual socialist politics. While I still disagree with it, I can’t ignore how many people it has drawn in, most of whom show no signs of leaving. And DSA has begun to run their own candidates for office. In the end this will likely remain an issue where I’m not with the majority of DSA, but not one that creates enough tension where I would wind up quitting.
Then there is international issues. DSA’s “peace agenda” may depart from the outright imperialism of the Russophobic liberals or Islamophobic Republicans, but it still fails to actively express solidarity to countries like Venezuela which need such international support now more than ever. Many of the talking points in the NY Health Campaign have focused on comparisons to social democratic health systems like NHS in the UK. While I understand they are better when it comes to talking with the public and certainly electeds, it seems odd for a socialist organization to not focus on the enormous success of the Cuban healthcare system.
That being said, two factors mitigated this issue for me. First, the DSA’s positions on these issues seem very much in development as the membership, and consequently politics, is in flux. Many members have expressed to me their own desire to have DSA more adamantly stand against imperialism and I’m hardly the only person in DSA to talk about Cuba as a model healthcare system. Second, I’ve already met a number of DSA members who are veterans. I recently finished “The Will To Resist” by Dahr Jamail and it reminded me of the important role veterans can play in rejecting US imperialism.
This factor goes to a broader question I have been mulling over: what does it mean to be an anti-imperialist in the heart of the world’s largest empire, the United States? I was dismayed today to see a comrade say that, since anti-imperialism should be the utmost priority of the US Left (which I do not disagree with) that struggles for universal college education or even healthcare were illegitimate or distractions. It’s a strange claim: all three being issues of federal budgetary allocation, they are intimately connected at their core.
If we really want to fight imperialism from inside the empire, then we must take the kind of material action that undermines it: moving budget allocations elsewhere, creating employment outside the military-industrial complex, creating free college to take away one of the biggest reasons why people enter the military, etc. We can say “Hands Off Syria,” and I certainly say it quite a bit, but it doesn’t matter much if it isn’t coupled with action that actually prevents US imperialism. Not marches and rallies, but direct action. And DSA seems more capable of taking those actions than any other socialist group I’ve interacted with.
So that’s pretty much it. I’d love to hear what y’all think: does this make sense? Do you disagree with anything here? Is my tankie card revoked?
Please comment or tweet @emmacaterine.