Making the case for the “Towards an Independent Working Class Party” resolution, Vanderbilt College YDSA’s Matt C. argues that socialists should urgently lay the groundwork for a new, socialist, working class party, by starting to run on an independent ballot line in key states and building coalitions with other left organizations.
I invite you to take a trip with me to New York City: not our modern Big Apple, but to the city of the past. It’s the dead of night, Zuccotti Park, November 2011. Herds of desperate people, tired after months of waiting, are sleeping in crowded tents, ready to continue protesting against the political-capitalist class’s looting, overseen by the Obama administration—but for now, they rest. That is, until 1 AM, at which point scores of NYPD Stormtroopers appear. They beat protesters, drag them out of the park, and destroy most of their camping gear by dawn. When a court concedes that protestors have a right to occupy the park, the NYPD simply ignores the ruling and cordones Zuccotti off with rows of riot police. Mayor Bloomberg and the Democratic city council had ordered the NYPD to protect Brookfield Properties, the owner of the public space.
Eight years later, in the 2020 primary, Mayor Bloomberg has become a celebrated hero of the Democratic establishment for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep progressives like Bernie out, and donating generously to the DNC.
Flash forward six years. In a momentous court case in May of 2017, after allegations of rigging the 2016 primary against Bernie, the DNC asserts that it is a private corporation with no obligation to be impartial to any candidate.
Flash forward another three years, to today. The Democratic nominee for President, Joe Biden, is one of the preeminent authors of the 1994 Crime Bill, a champion of the healthcare corporations and Wall Street, and one of the most willing participants of the Bush-Obama years of brutal imperialism and interventionism across the world.
Former Nixon aide Kevin Phillips famously declared the Democratic Party “History’s second-most enthusiastic Capitalist Party.” Indeed, the Democrats have the prized distinction of being the oldest capitalist party still in existence today. It is for these reasons that it is essential that the DSA eventually escape the long shadow of the Democratic Party, and emerge as a fully-independent mass workers’ party. From my participation in the DSA, I know we have strong principles, but so did the Populists of the 1890s, the Suffragettes of the 1920s, the New Deal labor organizers of the 40’s, the anti-war, New Left of the 60’s and 70’s, and Occupy Wall Street discussed above. Every group, with the exception of Occupy, which partially gave rise to the DSA, eventually dissolved into the capitalist chasm of the Democratic Party, forgotten and ignored by history and the establishment. Socialism will not survive the medium- or long-term in the United States without an independent working-class party. This is why some comrades have submitted a resolution calling upon us to work ‘Towards an Independent Working Class Party’.
Of course, there’s one massive problem with establishing a workers’ party in the United States: it would be trampled by the Democrats and Republicans in any general election, and join the scores of irrelevant left-wing third parties that exist today. The comrades proposing a third party are well aware of this, and are therefore proposing it in qualified terms. We would still use the Democratic ballot line whenever it is tactical to do so, while looking for ways to incorporate either an independent or Democratic Socialist ballot line, and towards this end would organize conferences with other groups interested in this project to discuss strategy and debate over the need for a working class party. Our “party” in the short-term would be limited simply to local parties in four states: California, Washington, New York, and Maine.
California and Washington have nonpartisan primaries where only the top two contenders, regardless of party, enter the general election, and two DSA members in California have already beat out the Republican to enter the general election on November 3rd (Washington is yet to have its primary, on August 6th). These states’ nonpartisan primaries, along with the relative strength of the Seattle DSA (which may be able to count on the support of Socialist Alternative comrades) and the LA-DSA, and political environments fertile to the left, provide an opening for left-wing challengers to take on the establishment.
Fortunately, the prospects of an independent Democratic Socialist Party in New York are even better. New York allows candidates to be on multiple party lines, allowing for the stable existence of the Working Families Party, a semi-progressive advocacy group on the left wing of the Democratic Party. It is lucky for the DSA that the NYC-DSA is arguably our largest and most powerful chapter, because it could hypothetically create its own powerful socialist ballot line that wouldn’t preclude famous figures such as AOC or Jamaal Bowman from also running as Democrats.
Finally, Maine may be the most fertile ground for an independent workers’ party, because it recently ushered in ranked-choice voting for federal and statewide elections. Because the law was passed last fall, it has not been used in a general election so far, but it is widely considered to be a massive step in decreasing the power of the two-party system, as the age-old argument “Well, I like your candidate but I don’t want the Republican to win” can no longer be used.
It must be made clear that establishing semi-successful third parties in these four states does not mean we have fully constructed an independent mass workers’ party, but they are realistically achievable first measures. As new states change their voting processes, like Maine in 2019, the DSA party can slowly but surely expand into those states. Meanwhile, in the short-term, in other states, the DSA will simply keep its status as a non-party political group that usually runs candidates under the Democratic line.
There are also a few assorted points to make note of. One must remember that most municipal council seats across the country are already nonpartisan, and many have already been taken by the DSA, which will bolster our efforts nationwide to create a real political party. Some have voiced concerns that DSA should not invest precious organizing time on a project the New York and California chapters should do themselves. Although that has some truth, no DSA chapters will ever register their own state parties without the permission of the national DSA, and, in any case, a national party would greatly raise the profile of the DSA in general.
Additionally, I must make clear that the 2020 Convention proposal “Towards an Independent Working Class Party” simply calls for the discussion of this topic and a national meeting towards that end. It makes no definitive promises, and is open-ended to member discussion. The YDSA will not be able to make even these state parties by itself, but the commitment of the YDSA towards creating a party will spur and bolster efforts within the DSA to create a party.
Another discussion that will have to be had relates to a secondary amendment I added to the proposal, inviting all “Left of Democrat” groups and parties to the proposed party discussion meeting. Although hopeful and perhaps not likely, it would be a great victory symbolically and for boosting activist numbers to consolidate the Green Party, SPUSA, PSL, CPUSA, WFP, Socialist Alternative, Movement for a People’s Party, and WFP under one red banner, or a functioning electoral coalition.
Thus, in the interest of the survival of the DSA and socialism as a relevant political ideology, I invite you to vote “Yes” on this resolution in the 2020 YDSA convention, without any amendment that reduces its ambition. Rather than forming another hapless, quixotic third party, it is an intelligent and thought-out attempt to use electoral openings in socialist strongholds to lay the groundwork for a real mass workers’ party.