DSA & social democracy
Source Chris Lowe
Date 99/05/01/02:28

/* Written 10:32 AM Mar 23, 1998 by in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "DSA & social democracy" ---------- */
> From Sun Mar 22 17:44:33 1998
> Date: Sun, 22 Mar 1998 18:44:00 -0700 (MST)
> Subject: DSA & social democracy (fwd)
> this was on the Labor Party list last December. since it was about DSA, I
> thought you guys might be interested.
> Dave Anderson
> Date: 15 Dec 1997 13:32:41
> From:
> To: Recipients of conference
> Subject: DSA & social democracy
> Chris D.,
> Thanks for your message. I have to say it is a little ironic for me
> though. Actually I am not that much in touch with DSA anymore & did not
> renew my membership. That's partly because their politics seem
> increasingly incoherent to me, but partly because you among other people
> persuaded me against dividing my time too much.
> Against this there is at least one person locally here who wanted to
> persuade me to put more of an LP push on inside DSA. I think what he would
> like to see would be on the one hand a coherent LP caucus in DSA that would
> give a focus to class-conscious political work not done through the DP or
> New Party in or by DSA & its members, and on the other hand, a more
> organized social democratic/ democratic socialist (meaning
> non-democratic-centralist) presence in the LP.
> I would have thought you would see this as aimed at a secondary
> constituency, and as a secondary issue inside the LP. I seem to be
> mistaken -- the amount of time you spend worrying about DSA/CoC etc & now
> this proposal suggests that your views have changed.
> I will ask that person if he knows if anything specifically concerning the
> LP happened at the convention.
> Within DSA prior to the convention, two things seemed to me to be going on,
> each of which may have some relevance for the LP. One was that a proposal
> was floated out of the National Political Committee for discussion about
> DSA taking a lead in forming (or, as I think, trying to form) a new
> national movement with a program and style of work very similar to DSA's
> but that would not call itself socialist. The underlying theory being that
> there were a lot of folks out there who would agree with the program, but
> were put off by the word socialist. The vision being that they could move
> to a new level of scale (100,000 as opposed to 10,000 members) & use
> increased resources to hire actual organizers.
> Interestingly, this conforms exactly to your sense of DSA as effacing the
> liberal/ soc dem distinction; here the proposal was to do it quite
> deliberately.
> However, I don't buy the view that the problems limiting DSA boil down
> basically to the word socialist. There was nothing in the proposal that
> seemed to me to address their more serious issues, concerning incoherence
> over organizing vs. lobbying, national office vs. constituency commissions
> vs. locals vs. isolated "at large" members structurally, reliance on &
> promotion of "honorary vice-chairs" as media figures who however rarely
> identify themselves with the group or even democratic socialism in their
> most prominent locations, reliance on mail-order membership politics etc.
> The one thing the proposal might do is remove certain obstacles to doing
> electoral work in Democratic campaigns. Some of the forces backing it I
> think were people who were excited by what they see as successes in certain
> interventions in congressional campaigns in '94 & who are excited about a
> program going on to recruit more members of congress into the Progressive
> Caucus. To me it looked like this: attachment to the DP as Clinton/Gore
> and the DLC drag the DP to the right is dragging DSA to the right too, into
> giving up a socialist identity in hopes of reconstituting a mass liberal
> movement as such in what is perceived as now being a vacuum where
> liberalism used to be too.
> The proposal was vague about whether it would mean actually dissolving DSA
> and I think some questions about that have led to backing off that possible
> implication; but that means divided resources in trying to keep two groups
> going. But I am not sure, since I don't know what happened at the
> convention.
> Meanwhile there is another axis of debate inside DSA that I think has some
> relevance for us in the LP. There is a (not entirely organized) tendency
> in DSA, or in the debates around the DSA milieu, which is trying to promote
> a "laborist" line as opposed to things that are getting labelled as
> "identity politics", i.e. politics and groups concerned with issues of
> gender, race/ ethnicity and sexuality in particular. The idea is that
> class unites where identity politics divides. But in fact the way this
> line is being pursued is incredibly divisive; a new version of sectarian
> "unity movements" in my view.
> There are two possible ways to criticize "identity politics" as it evolved
> in the last 20 years or so. The critique I think is right is to oppose
> those kinds of politics that define merely asserting or expressing an
> identity as the purpose of politics. If I have my identity, I have won.
> That's ridiculous, but very popular on college campuses, which is the frame
> of reference for lots of DSAers.
> But the other critique is the one prominent in DSA now: that to identify
> on any basis other than class divides the movement. This is nonsense. It
> depends on a view of class that says it is only class where it isn't
> touched by gender or race or age or language or any of the other multiple
> identities we all have. Real working people have to work all of those
> things out, as the LP's program recognizes. The point is that for a class
> identity & movement to be unifying it has to incorporate, not suppress
> other identities, and suppress the oppressions people face due to race,
> gender, citizenship, sexuality and so on. I think Theresa El-Amin's
> remarks recently, and Michael Eisenscher's speak to the reductiveness of
> that sort of false opposition.
> The laborist line is closely linked in my mind to _Dissent_ & to Scholars,
> Artists and Workers for Social Justice, who have been doing the campus
> teach-ins & work closely with Sweeney & the new AFL-CIO leadership. There
> is opposition in DSA & it cross-cuts the lines about working with
> Democrats. E.g. Chris Riddiough who is heavily into the congressional work
> is one of the clearest voices against the divisiveness of the laborist view
> of class.
> The point here is the incoherence. But I have a difficulty persuading
> DSAers because the LP is not doing much better with its own internal
> problems; we are also incoherent in practice at this point, however good
> the theory of a labor party is.
> But what I really want to suggest to you, is that worrying and arguing
> about what the social democrats are or aren't doing endlessly on the list
> seems pretty similar to dividing our energies among the SD groups. If we
> care what they are doing, and it really matters, then we should be joining
> them and trying to influence them. If we think that's a waste of time,
> that the main constituency lies elsewhere, then we should spend the time
> building our own activities and bringing our own pressures and if they
> start working, rely on that to bring over the SD's who will get disaffected
> by the incoherence & rightward drift.
> in solidarity,
> Chris L.

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