Friday, February 12, 2010

The SD,USA-SP,USA in the Next Decade

Towards a Strategy for the Next Decade

We are not sure what others wish to accomplish with the revival of the Social Democrats, USA. We undertook the project with the idea of actually reviving the Social Democrats to which we belonged. The SD,USA is the lineal decedent of the socialist party of Victor Berger, Eugene Debs, and Norman Thomas. By 1972, the party was called the Socialist Party, USA. In its second convention of that year, a majority of delegates voted. on New Year's Eve, to officially change the name of the group to the Social Democrats, USA.

It probably says something about these people that they were meeting on New Year's Eve. It says even more that the very small band of former revolutionary Trotskyists called the Independent Socialist League had captured the Socialist Party and were now major force in American ideological debate. Not bad for a group that never had more than three hundred members. We need to remember why the Social Democrats, USA came into existence. The 1960s had seen an explosion of interest-group politics. There were feminists, environmentalists, anti-war activists, Black power advocates, young radicals, and a host of other groupings all vying for power within the Democratic Party.

This was called "the New Politics Movement". The SD rejected the New Politics in favor of the broad Labor-Liberal coalition which had governed the Democratic Party since 1932. This was the coalition of the New Deal and the Great Society. This was the coalition that won World War II and rebuilt Europe and Japan. It was the coalition of that passed civil rights legislation. The coalition was damaged by Vietnam, but remained the only credible voice of working people in America. Now, if the SD was wrong about the Liberal-Labor coalition and it is possible to build "a patchwork majority" of various leftist strains within the Democratic Party, then it would be senseless to revive the Social Democrats, USA. We would be better off as a caucus in some other group. The United States needs a new left wing sect like the average person needs a new back passage. The left is an alphabet soup of organizations that have minimal impact on real politics.

It is again important to remember that two other groups emerged from that New Year's Eve conclave, in 1972. The larger was called the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. It sought to reach out to every variety of leftist and left-liberal to create a broad, "big tent" organization. That actually worked for a while. After the merger with the New American Movement, the new organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, grew to have 12,000 members by the early 1990's. We can claim, very legitimately, to be founding members of DSA. We were the ones who dropped the balloons at the moment of merger. Even then, we realized there was something very wrong. It wasn't that anyone was evil, or disingenuous, or unwilling to do his or her share of the work. It was that we were trying to blend two completely separate organizational cultures.

The New America Movement held a convention every summer of its ten year existence. At this convention generally six to seven hundred of the one thousand total members showed up and debated passionately. DSOC had 5,000 members by 1982 and likely never had more than 300 of them in any one place. That does not mean that DSOC members were not as passionately involved as NAM members. DSOC members were union officers, union staff, elected officials, local committee people. In other words, they were busy doing real politics. DSOC created a coalition called Democratic Agenda which seriously challenged the policies of a sitting Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, at both the 1978 mid-term and the 1980 Democratic conventions. At one time, three DSOC members held seats in the United States Congress. Other DSOC members were elected as the mayors of New York City and Chicago, while still others sat in political bodies ranging from the state legislatures, numerous city councils, boards of education and county committees. We were both elected DP committeemen.

Today, if any DSA member holds public office, even committee person, it is a closely guarded secret. DSA has perhaps thirty-five hundred paper members, one hundred of whom are active in some significant way. DSA has six functional chapters, with functioning being defined as holding a general membership meeting at least every three months. It used to be said that DSA was the socialist group that worked in the Democratic Party. Now it is the socialist group that talks about maybe someday in the future being the socialist element of a progressive group that works in the left fringe of Democratic Party. As very active DSA members we must accept some of the blame for where DSA is today.

The second group to emerge from the 1972 schism attempted to reconstruct the Socialist Party, USA. In response to the threat of civil suit from the Social Democrats, that group adopted, in 1977, the name the Socialist Party of the United States of America. Today, it has about five hundred members, with perhaps. five functioning locals. In 2008, the SP of the USA's presidential candidate actually got less votes than the candidate it ran in 1976. The SP of the USA is an irrelevant left wing sect.The SP of the USA is about five years from going the way of the Socialist Labor Party, i.e. extinction. We were both members and take no pleasure in stating this truth.

What is to be Done?

If we are to revive the SDUSA, it should be to claim the heritage that the SD lost during its dalliance with neoconservatism. We are not the Reagan socialists. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was in a position to understand these things, once said, "Reagan is two-thirds Orange County and one-third Yipsel". The collapse of the world wide capitalist economy shows us why the compromise made by many social democrats with capitalism was a mistake. Given the real dangers of the Cols War it was an easy mistake to make, but a mistake none the less. Capitalism is inherently unstable, prone to boom and bust. It is not in regulating a capitalist economy, but in thoroughly reforming and democratizing it, that we will create stability. In the meantime, the founders of the SD,USA were absolutely correct in their critic of the New Politics Movement. Further, they were correct in being the anti-totalitarian force on the American Left.

As we look around for allies on the anti-totalitarian left, there are very few. Americans for Democratic Action is about the only venerable liberal organization which still has significant ties to organized Labor. We can and should work with what remains of ADA. Most other liberal and progressive groups have little existence outside cyberspace and the odd convention. Most of these groups have little in common with us, except for being registered Democrats. If we try to be all things to all people, we will end up being nothing to anybody, including ourselves.

It is necessary that we build Community-Labor coalitions that put forward significant pressure to rebuild infrastructure, create industrial jobs, build a green industrial base, and re-establish a unionized workforce in this country. To do this, we need to work with those labor unions that still exist and with the large mainline churches that have as part of their teaching the "Social Gospel". We have immediate goals in things like the Employee Free Choice Act and longer term goals like federally guaranteed full employment. This is more than enough for our organization to work on for a decade. Hopefully, it is not too much to do well.

We therefore, propose that we work to establish "Hubert H. Humphrey Democratic Clubs" in as many cities as possible and that we use these clubs to find and groom a generation of young Democratic leaders who will work to rebuild the tradition of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Hubert Humphrey. This would be a Democratic Party that realizes that the United States has a mission in the world, That mission is to be a beacon for human rights, freedom of conscience, and an end to poverty. It would be an America which stands against totalitarianism and militarism simultaneously. Further, this Democratic Party has a historic mission to support the worker and the minority in their just struggle for equal opportunity and gainful employment with justice here and around the world.

Our Party Inside Their Party

There is no abandonment of the socialist cause here. Vice-president Hubert Humphrey sent Norman Thomas a telegram of congratulations on the latter's eightieth birthday. Our group was still called the Socialist Party in 1964. To many of us it will always be "the Party". The fact that we run few independent candidates should strengthen not erode party discipline. Entryism likely requires more discipline than partisan electioneering. We will continue to work with the Socialist International and its member parties and affiliated groups like the Party of European Socialism, the Women's Socialist International and International Union of Socialist Youth, and with the occasional political party outside the S.I. like the Workers' Party of Brazil. We will also work with inter party groups like the Fabian Societies of the British and Australian Labour Parties. We will continue our internal education and discussion so that we can present a coherent alternative to the collapsing capitalist system. We will not downplay our heritage, with all its ups and downs for momentary political advantage. We also will never allow the loony left to steal or pollute our history without a stern rebuke.

If we can do this, we can create a Social Democrats, USA / Young Social Democrats which, within a decade, might have 5,000 members and a 1,000 activists, in twenty chapters around the country.Hopefully we will have twice that many involved with the Humphrey Democratic Clubs and the projects of League for Industrial Democracy. Our organizations will be a respected friend of Labor, community, and human rights organizations. It will have a small group of elected officials as members and some "expert analysts" to make our critique credible. It will have the web and hard copy facilities to make that critique known to America.

Above we have laid out plenty of goals for our organization. Let us work hard and well at these tasks for ten years and then we can begin solving the rest of the world's ills.

David Hacker

Gabriel McCloskey-Ross

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