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Workers Vanguard No. 1113

2 June 2017

Donkeys in Sheep’s Clothing

DSA: Democratic Party “Socialists”

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) reflects two truths in its name—Democrats and America. As to the “socialist” claim, therein lies the lie. When “political revolution” reveries were dashed after Bernie Sanders pledged allegiance to the hated, neoconservative Clinton, who was in turn defeated by the loathsome Trump, the DSA recruited former Sandernistas angry over stark economic inequality. Boasting thousands of new members and heralded as a “leader in the national resistance against Trump’s administration” by Rolling Stone (8 February), the DSA has stepped in to resuscitate the battered Democratic Party.

It doesn’t take much to recognize that the brazenly corporate Wall Street Democrats are not “accountable” to the little guy. But the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Sanders serves the interests of the same ruling class. Witness his support for U.S. imperialist wars and military adventures abroad, not to mention for the infamous 1994 “anti-crime” mass incarceration bill and his disregard for Black Lives Matter. After Sanders was kicked to the curb by the Democratic Party, the DSA called to support Hillary in contested states and to “vote your conscience” in “safe” states. In effect, this meant prominent DSAers like Cornel West could endorse Jill Stein of the small-time capitalist Green Party—which itself functions as a way station for disgruntled liberals on their way back to the Democratic Party fold.

Nothing new here. For decades, the DSA and its social-democratic forebears have rallied behind the “lesser evil” capitalist Democrats in the name of the “left wing of the possible.” Today, the DSA promotes “fight the right” candidates, including running its own members for local offices like city council, to defeat both Republicans and establishment Democrats. Nonetheless, even the DSA’s alleged left wing, which claims to reject the longstanding policy of “realignment” with liberal Democrats, cautions against “an immediate and total break from voting for or supporting any Democratic candidate” (, 29 October 2016). Millions of people desperate for decent jobs and affordable housing, education, and health care are not offered a pretense of relief by the Democrats. But the DSA does their donkeywork to contain social discontent and refurbish their image in time for the next elections.

Buyer beware: socialists cannot transform the Democrats, but the Democrats will co-opt self-proclaimed socialists. The precondition for any successful revolutionary struggle is the complete political independence of the working class from all parties of the capitalist class enemy. The working class creates the wealth of society and has the objective interest and social power to overthrow the capitalist order. It can liberate itself and all the oppressed only through socialist revolution.

Eager to become more palatable to millennial activists, DSAers launched the journal Jacobin, which includes a broad spectrum of other leftist and reformist contributors. DSA vice-chair Bhaskar Sunkara, founder and editor of Jacobin, claims that Jacobin offers a “Marxist analysis,” while denouncing leftist “crazies” and making clear that he’d “rather engage with the mass mainstream of U.S. liberalism” (Boston Review, 18 December 2012). Indeed, Sunkara has been praised by MSNBC Democratic Party media hack Chris Hayes for his “amazing magazine.” Looking to cash in, fake socialists like the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Alternative are backers of Jacobin’s social-democratic project.

Behind his left-academic smokescreen, Sunkara provides old garbage in new pails. He argues that the “resistance movement” must also be directed against “the failed leadership” that allowed Trump to get elected, i.e., he seeks to replace “unpopular Democratic Party leaders” with those a little less so (, 31 January). Hostile to genuine socialism, Jacobin’s perspective does not extend beyond the so-called Scandinavian model of a supposedly gentler bourgeois rule. Such a strategy poses no threat to the capitalist profit system.

Across West Europe, many of the social programs known as the “welfare state” were granted by the capitalist ruling classes in the aftermath of World War II to head off powerful workers movements and as a response to the existence of the Soviet Union which, despite its Stalinist degeneration, represented an alternative to capitalist exploitation and misery. Since the Soviet Union’s destruction in 1991-92, the capitalist rulers have upped their drive to eliminate the social and economic gains won in prior struggles. Several of the social-democratic parties in power have helped carry out massive austerity, union-busting and anti-immigrant attacks, a far cry from cushy working-class paradises.

A resurgent popularity for social democracy among idealistic young activists in the U.S. must be understood against the backdrop of capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and East Europe, a momentous defeat for working people and the oppressed worldwide. Among left-leaning youth, subjected to two-plus decades of “death of communism” propaganda, Marxism is widely perceived to have been a failed experiment. It is a measure of the extreme rightward shift in society, marked by limited and isolated social struggle, that the DSA, a group so committed to upholding imperialist “democracy” and the Democratic Party, can appear as socialist.

From the Graveyard of the Second International

A “stinking corpse”—that’s how revolutionary Marxist Rosa Luxemburg described the reformist social democrats of the Second (Socialist) International, to which the DSA is still affiliated. The Second International’s decisive moment of betrayal was World War I, when its dominant parties each supported the war efforts of their “own” imperialist bourgeoisies. Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin denounced this betrayal and called for a break with the social chauvinists. The split between the revolutionaries and opportunists laid the ground for the first successful proletarian seizure of power, the 1917 Bolshevik-led October Revolution in Russia, which the social democrats opposed. The line between social democracy and Leninism is drawn in blood: in January 1919, amid proletarian upheaval in Germany, Luxemburg and fellow Spartacist Karl Liebknecht were assassinated by reactionary military forces at the behest of the social democrats.

Enemies of workers revolution, the social democrats have always actively promoted counterrevolution in countries where capitalist rule was overthrown—such as the Soviet Union or Cuba today. Genuine Marxists—i.e., Trotskyists—stand for the unconditional military defense of these workers states, while fighting for political revolution to oust the Stalinist misrulers and replace them with governments based on revolutionary internationalism and workers democracy.

In the 1960s and ’70s, a period of heightened class and social struggle, hatred for the U.S. government and the Democratic Party was elementary for any self-identified radical. It was distinctly in opposition to this radicalization that the predecessors of the DSA cohered. Organized in the Socialist Party (SP), the social democrats during the Cold War acted as loyal servants of the U.S. government and made careers out of anti-Communist crusading around the world. One of these “State Department socialists” was the late Michael Harrington, who left the SP when it split up in 1973 and went on to found the DSA.

While in the SP, Harrington worked tirelessly to keep the civil rights movement within the confines of bourgeois reformism and the Democratic Party. Among Harrington’s claims to fame was braintrusting John F. Kennedy’s, and later Lyndon B. Johnson’s, bogus “war on poverty” with his 1962 bestselling book The Other America. During the U.S.’s losing war in Vietnam, Harrington and his cohorts appealed to the right wing of the antiwar movement, which saw the war as not in America’s best interests. Meanwhile, a growing layer of youth despised U.S. imperialism and wanted a victory to the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese workers and peasants. While Harrington echoed the campaign on behalf of counterrevolutionary imperialism, stating, “I am anti-communist on principle—because I am pro-freedom,” the Spartacist League raised the call: “All Indochina Must Go Communist!”

In 1976, Harrington campaigned for vicious union-buster Jimmy “ethnic purity” Carter, whose human rights campaign was aimed at boosting U.S. imperialism’s credentials in a renewed Cold War drive. The DSA stood side by side with the imperialists who, posturing as champions of “democracy,” funneled arms and money to right-wing military dictatorships and reactionary regimes around the world.

Acting as loyal advisers to U.S. imperialism is in the DSA’s DNA. When the DSA criticizes U.S. bellicosity, its purpose is to paint the warmongers with “humanitarian” colors. In an April 8 statement condemning the recent bombing of Syria, the DSA joins the imperialist hue and cry against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The DSA calls on Washington to “join the international community” in condemning Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons. They go on to urge the United Nations to send weapons inspectors to Syria! The UN and its inspectors have always acted as agents for the imperialists, as in Iraq when they provided a pretext for the 2003 U.S. invasion.

DSA: The Right Wing of the Impossible

The DSA’s website declares, “At the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means and end.” When the term democracy is raised, Marxists always ask: for what class? There is no such thing as “pure” democracy. Capitalism is a class society ruled over by a narrow layer of exploiters. As Lenin wrote in 1918: “Bourgeois democracy, although a great historical advance in comparison with medievalism, always remains, and under capitalism is bound to remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor.”

The democratic facade is designed to obscure the fact that the capitalist state, with its cops, courts, prisons and military, is an instrument for organized violence against the working class and oppressed at home and for military onslaught against the peoples of the world abroad. For the DSA, touting “democracy” is simply an appeal to liberal, anti-communist public opinion.

For some activists, the DSA/Jacobin is a social milieu for causes like combating racism, anti-immigrant chauvinism, and bigotry against women and gays. To the extent that the DSA has any use for the oppressed, it’s to offer them up as voting cattle. Like the bulk of the reformist left, the DSA acted as cheerleaders for Obama in 2008 and 2012, pushing the lie that his election would bring some relief to the masses. But having a black overseer of the capitalist plantation didn’t change the reality of black oppression, which is endemic to American capitalist rule.

The DSA also offers up its supporters as aspiring recruits to the pro-capitalist, sellout labor bureaucracy, which ties workers to the class enemy through the Democrats. Labor officialdom, assisted by the fake-socialist hangers-on, has long rejected the class-struggle methods that built the unions. In the 1940s and ’50s, the social democrats helped spearhead the McCarthyite red purges in the unions, driving out communist militants and setting the stage for decades of defeat. No wonder most young activists don’t recognize the working class as the agency for social change.

One of the biggest labor defeats was the 1981 PATCO air traffic controllers strike. When President Reagan fired the workforce of 12,000, we called on labor to shut down the airports. But “Wimpy” Winpisinger, president of the IAM machinists union, which organized the ground crews and mechanics, refused to call solidarity strike action. Winpisinger was a self-declared “socialist” and leader of the DSA. As we wrote at the time, “Betrayal is the only name for this backstabbing!” (“Unchain Labor!” WV No. 288, 11 September 1981).

The course charted by the reformist left today, that is, a progression of baby steps of reform through building “movements” that will supposedly pressure the capitalist state into enacting a decent social order, has never worked anywhere, at any time. Socialism requires the abolition of wage slavery and private property through workers revolution. Only then can we lay the basis for rationally planned economies based on production for need, not profit, and for qualitative development of the productive forces, opening the road to the elimination of scarcity and to the creation of an egalitarian society. Exposing the fake-socialist pretensions of organizations like the DSA is crucial to removing the obstacles to workers and young radicals seeking a revolutionary alternative to this system of exploitation, poverty, racism and war.


Workers Vanguard No. 1113

WV 1113

2 June 2017


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Quebec: Construction Workers Show Their Strength


Donkeys in Sheep’s Clothing

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