First published by Talking Union.
Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) believes that the Left must balance two crucial tasks in the November 2016 elections:
- On the one hand, the progressive movement must roundly defeat Donald Trump’s racist, nativist, Islamophobic and misogynist presidential campaign, as well as isolate and delegitimize the far-right hate groups that his campaign has strengthened.
- On the other hand, the Left must sustain and expand the independent electoral and social movement capacity built by the insurgent Sanders campaign, while broadening it out in an explicitly antiracist and multiracial direction.
Thus, through November, DSA will prioritize two goals:
- Building an independent “Dump Trump” movement, primarily in swing states where we have the capacity to make an impact, and
- Developing local multiracial coalitions and campaigns that can build independent socialist organizing capacity and challenge neoliberal, pro-corporate Democrats in November.
As an organization primarily oriented towards social movement building, DSA does not normally endorse presidential candidates. We decided to encourage Bernie Sanders to run for President — and then proudly participated in his movement — because he offered a political program that genuinely advances the democratic socialist vision. Hillary Clinton’s politics are quite different, and therefore DSA will not offer her our endorsement.
Nonetheless, DSA recognizes that a Trump “law and order” authoritarian administration would threaten the most elemental rights of immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women, workers and the LGBTQ community – as well as bring greater repression of left movements such as Black Lives Matter. Even bracketing the many other actions he could take through executive branch agencies or in league with a Republican-controlled Congress, Trump’s capacity to appoint at least two new Supreme Court justices alone would spell disaster for many of these communities. Further, having witnessed the radical rolling back of voting, labor, reproductive and immigrant rights brought about by Republican control of all three branches of government in 25 states – including Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio – we have a clear picture of just how devastating GOP control of all three branches of the federal government would be. While we also vehemently oppose the pro-corporate, imperialist policies of neoliberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton, we recognize that defeating the authoritarian Donald Trump is a crucial step toward building both a strong opposition to neoliberal democrats as well as a powerful democratic socialist movement.
Dump Trump in Contested States, Down-Ballot Races and Multiracial Social Movement Work in Safe States
As a result, many DSA chapters, particularly in swing states, will work within what we believe will be a growing independent “Dump Trump” movement. Through this work, which will consist largely of registering voters in black and Latino communities, fighting voter suppression and attending/organizing anti-Trump rallies, DSA and other radicals can increase the likelihood of a Trump defeat without working with the official Clinton campaign.
While many DSA chapters in swing states will be focusing on Dump Trump work, many of our chapters in non-contested states will focus on down-ballot races that feature Bernie Democrats, as well as explicitly socialist candidates both within and outside of the Democratic Party. Many chapters will also continue focusing on grassroots, multiracial campaigns against police brutality, mass incarceration, and white supremacy, and for affordable housing and high quality K-12 education.
Finally, while most DSAers in contested states will likely vote for Clinton and work actively to defeat Trump, some members in non-contested states will vote for, and/or work for the Jill Stein presidential campaign. DSA believes, however, that for any third party effort to be viable in the long-term, it will have to focus less on largely symbolic efforts at the presidential level and more on building the grassroots base necessary to win partisan races at the local and state level.
Fighting Neoliberalism: Building a Multiracial, Antiracist “Post-Bernie” Trend in U.S. Politics
Both before and after November, DSA’s more general objective will be to broaden the base of “the post-Sanders trend” both within and outside of electoral politics. The Clinton neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party rose to power in the 1980s and 1990s on a program of financial deregulation and a racial politics of punitive “welfare reform” and harsh federal criminal justice policies that can be best described as “Republican lite.” The Sanders campaign demonstrated that many rank-and-file Democrats are deeply opposed to this trend within the party. The campaign showed that both millennials and older working-class voters realize that they and their children cannot have secure and meaningful lives without an expansion of public goods (such as universal, free higher education and publicly financed childcare and paid parental leave) financed by progressive taxation.
The Clinton campaign’s description of this moderate social democratic program as “unrealistic,” “unaffordable,” or “socialist” failed to scare off a Democratic primary electorate that has an increasingly favorable view of the “s” world. The term may not yet mean democratic control over the workplace and economy to many, but an increasing number of voters equate socialism with a more just and egalitarian society. This is a base from which to build a powerful socialist movement that fights to expand political, civil and social rights while fighting to democratize control over the economy and social life.
The left wing of the Democratic Party’s base has long opposed neoliberal policies. Many in the Congressional Progressive, black and Latino caucuses have progressive voting records. For example, only 40 House Democrats out of 190 supported fast track for the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP). But it was not until the Sanders campaign that many of the positions long advocated by progressives within the Democratic Party started to see the light of day in the party’s official statements. The strength of the Sanders campaign led to platform concessions on, to name a few: a $15 per hour minimum wage (indexed to inflation), free higher education, a commitment to overturn Citizens United, the expansion of Social Security, the addition of a public option to the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicare coverage to those 55 and over.
While it is highly unlikely that a Clinton presidency would free itself from corporate influence and actively champion these initiatives, the relatively progressive platform won by the Sanders movement provides at least some momentum for progressive movements to press for the enactment of these promises.
But the failure to win an explicit condemnation of TPP or to use the word “occupation” to describe illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank demonstrates the persistent power of the Democratic establishment, as does the clear bias of the Democratic National Committee against the Sanders movement and the partial continuation of the superdelegate system, among many other examples.
Building a Strong Socialist Left within the Post-Bernie Progressive Movement Beyond the November 2016 Elections
DSA views the November elections as just one tactical stage in a long-term effort to build an independent grassroots, antiracist and feminist Left capable of exercising political power. Such efforts will have to creatively link social movement insurgency to democratic socialist electoral activity independent of the pro-corporate political establishment of both parties. Given the structural biases of the federal and state electoral system in favor of two major parties, much of this activity will come through insurgent campaigns in Democratic primaries. But DSA’s goal is build an independent democratic socialist movement powerful enough – in coalition with other progressive forces – to take on the power of corporate America and to build forms of international solidarity that can confront global capital.
We see dumping Trump, while also building independent left electoral and social movement capacity through the fall 2016 electoral season as just one step in this imperative long-term project. Going forward, DSA believes that it is only by prioritizing work around issues of racial justice – broadly conceived – that the emerging Sanders trend in U.S. politics can become a truly multiracial, majoritarian movement. Only by legitimating anti-racist and feminist democratic socialist politics and fighting for the ultimate democratization of economic and social life – what is known around the world as “democratic socialism” – can we build a society that serves the needs of the 99%.