Socialist Alternative: DSA Can Build a Party of 100,000 Socialists!

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Socialist Alternative leader Philip Locker is very excited about Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) explosive post-election growth and is calling on DSA to launch an inclusive, multi-tendency socialist party with a federal structure:

“With a bold lead from DSA, a new party of 50,000 to 100,000 members could be rapidly built. Of course, without further steps toward political clarification of key strategic issues such a formation would have an unstable character. Nevertheless, this would represent a qualitative step forward for the socialist movement.

“A new party should have a broad, federal-type character, allowing organizations coming from different backgrounds to affiliate with full democratic rights. Socialist Alternative will bring our political ideas to the discussions in such a formation. It would allow different trends to join forces while collectively discussing and testing out the best way to build a fighting, socialist pole within the broader movement.

“A new Socialist Party would need to be a party of struggle. Our key power in this society comes from organized collective action. A new party should also boldly run candidates independent of corporate cash and independent of the corporate-controlled Democratic Party.”

Locker’s enthusiasm towards DSA stands in stark contrast to the usual attitude of socialist groups towards their ‘competitors’ which usually oscillates between silent resentment and sectarian denunciation.

What is missing from Locker’s welcome call is:

  • Any self-reflection about why Socialist Alternative failed to experience similarly massive growth as DSA out of its work in the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. DSA went from 5,000 to 20,0000 members in a few months after the 2016 election, Socialist Alternative went from 200 to 800 members over four years (2012–2016).
  • An explanation as to why or how the proposed federal socialist alliance would grow “rapidly” to roughly five times DSA’s current size of 20,000 members. Are there really 80,000 socialists or socialist-wannabes in the U.S. who are sitting on the sidelines unwilling to affiliate with any existing group who would rush to join a new all-socialist alliance? Is talk of rapid, massive growth really based on a hard-headed assessment of the objective situation and subjective possibilities?
  • A justification for the continuing existence of any socialist group in the U.S. not named DSA. DSA is 10 or 20 times the size of all other socialist groups combined, so why shouldn’t these ‘competing’ groups liquidate themselves and join DSA and transform DSA into the multi-tendency socialist organization Locker proposes? Especially when DSA already has a federal structure thanks to its constitution and when there is a Left Caucus within DSA to join and influence? Are existing socialist organizations a means to an end or an end in and of themselves?

If there is any organization in the U.S. today that can build a socialist party or alliance with 100,000 members, it is DSA. But there is no compelling reason for DSA to reproduce itself in the form of a new socialist party or alliance given both the lopsided balance of forces among America’s actually existing socialist groups and DSA’s open and pluralistic nature. Furthermore, even if DSA implemented Locker’s proposal to the letter, the new formation would be incredibly DSA-dominated and smaller ‘competing’ groups like Socialist Alternative would find themselves out-argued and out-voted most if not all of the time, particularly if rapid and massive growth in membership fails to materialize.

Dissolving one’s own organization to join that of a former rival is obviously a bitter pill to swallow but what other path to the goal of a united socialist movement in the U.S. exists today? The 2016 Sanders presidential campaign transformed the geography of the socialist left and rewarded DSA’s hard work within the campaign by turning DSA into something of a mass organization. This transformation means that every socialist group in the U.S. not named DSA now faces an existential choice:

  • Desperately cling to old, outdated organizational boundaries and continue to re-litigate strategic debates even after lived experience has decisively vindicated one side of those debates and repudiated the other.
  • Learn from lived experience and struggle to apply fixed and unchanging principles anew to the evolving and unexpected conditions that confront socialists today.

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Groupthink is a contradiction in terms.

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