Reject the Democratic Party, Embrace Democratic Socialism

A response to “On the Biden Resolution” by Jack Z., Penn YDSA.

Justin R. argues we shouldn’t endorse a third-party candidate: neither a full, Bernie-style national campaign for the eco-socialist Howie Hawkins (or the Leninist Gloria La Riva), nor a “paper endorsement,” where DSA would announce support for Hawkins or La Riva, but not dedicate time or resources to their campaigns. No, instead, Justin R. proposes DSA should merely “call for [Biden’s] removal as the Democratic nominee,” and that we should “focus on advancing our agenda through alternative means. Many in DSA, and likely Justin R. himself, would agree that dependence on the Democratic Party for social change—and corresponding fear of straying beyond Democratic electoral confines—would lead to DSA becoming the next “Justice Democrats”: absorbed into the Democratic mainstream, all radicality neutered (the Justice Democrats, who once opposed SuperPACs, recently formed their own SuperPAC!), and with no gains to show for it. And yet, Justin R’s argument embodies this Democratic Party-oriented mindset, and arguably lays the groundwork for total capitulation in the future.

But let’s discuss his actual arguments. He claims that neither Hawkins nor La Riva currently possesses sufficient political power to win and enact reforms, meaning any time invested in a third-party would neither “empower the working class [like] the Sanders campaign did” nor “spread a people-oriented vision [like Sanders did].” But both Hawkins and La Riva acknowledge their campaigns are not “in it to win it,” so to speak—they are there to offer transitional demands that contrast with the Democratic-Republican neoliberal axis, to offer programs that prove capitalism antiquated, and to introduce socialist thought to a wide base of Americans beyond niche Twitter subcultures. And yet, in the same paragraph, Justin R. recognizes that the success of DSA regarding the Bernie campaign was not a product of the reforms enacted—that is, through “winning”—but instead through the struggle itself, the mass organizing work conducted by DSA members, writing:  “the reason the DSA for Bernie campaign was successful for DSA…is that we did devote so much time, effort, and material to it.” And indeed, DSA found new life, outside the Democratic Party, not because of Bernie himself, but because of the independent campaign it engendered in DSA and its interaction with large numbers of people.

So, if the DSA for Bernie campaign truly was successful due to engagement with broad sectors of America’s working class and youth in “recruit[ing] new socialists” and generally “[serving] DSA as an organization,” which Justin R. writes are the benchmarks for a successful electoral initiative, and not the success of the candidate themselves in the election (which is certainly true—Bernie has not even made it past the primaries, twice), then why should we not similarly engage with these left-wing third parties to build our organization through a mass campaign, much like the Bernie campaign? Justin R. gives no answers. By concentrating on “winning,” in favor of  “the struggle,” he blatantly ignores his own writing from two paragraphs earlier in his own article.

Still, Justin R. argues, there are “alternative means” of advancing democratic socialism, in topics such as “[the] mass uprising for Black lives…millions of people unemployed…an incoming wave of severe austerity.” Let us simply ask: what are these alternative means? Justin R. might answer that we should be working with political groups to organize rallies, marches, and so on.

Fair enough. Now consider the uprising for Black lives: who was it that led 100,000 marchers through Philadelphia streets, one of the largest single-day marches Philly has seen so far, concluding with an outrageously anti-capitalist speech by comrade Eugene Puryear?

None other than the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL)—the party of Gloria La Riva, who Justin R. would rather ignore than support. By refusing to endorse a third party, Justin R. refuses to collaborate with those who engage in precisely the organizing work he praises. Perhaps he should stop praising it so much, and pay more attention to who is conducting it: we should be assisting the PSL and other genuinely left-wing groups in both their direct action and their electoral campaigns, which naturally would include a DSA for Bernie-level mobilization of our resources. The only real question should be which of the major “left” organizations should DSA endorse.

Finally, let’s consider his secondary argument, concerning a “paper endorsement.” Here, he claims that it was precisely the “[devotion] of time, effort, and material” to the Bernie campaign that made it successful for DSA in particular and socialism in general. Ignoring the severe cognitive dissonance between these two sections of Justin R’s article, this is not actually a harm to DSA; Justin R. finds no negatives to a “paper endorsement.” Add to that what he points out himself, which is that there are non-electoral means of building a socialist base, and we see there is no real harm to a “paper endorsement” sans campaign.

All told, Justin R. manages to successfully evaluate individual sections of DSA’s recent history: describing why the Bernie campaign revitalized DSA, recognizing non-electoral alternatives, and realistically understanding that neither Hawkins nor La Riva have a shot at winning. But he fails to piece together these individual observations into a coherent prescription for DSA, and even self-contradicts en route to his incorrect conclusion. In fact, curiously enough, his individual notes on DSA, Bernie, and the endorsement-versus-campaign question make a compelling case for a full campaign under either Hawkins’ or La Riva’s ballot line.

Jack Z. is on University of Pennsylvania YDSA’s Organizing Committee and an editor for The Activist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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