As peace and justice activists age, we tend to become somewhat pessimistic about the possibility of progressive economic and political change. We view ourselves as a tiny beleaguered minority with little real influence upon society. Our continuing peace and justice activities are motivated largely by a sense of moral obligation rather than a belief that they will help the world. Yet pessimism cloaked with moral fortitude cannot produce progressive social change. This requires the political energy generated by robust optimism about the future. Moreover, history suggests that an effective progressive movement is likely to be created by young people.
But an antidote to creeping pessimism is now at hand. Socialism is no longer a dirty word in the United States. Opinion polls show that large numbers of young people dislike capitalism and are willing to consider a socialist alternative. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is growing by leaps and bounds and now has 48,000 members. Not only is DSA the largest current U.S. socialist organization, it is the largest American socialist organization in over a century. It currently has 181 chapters scattered all over the country with an estimated median membership age of 33. DSA appears to have the optimism, energy, and political acumen needed to build a strong movement for fundamental social change.
Democratic Socialists of America is not a political party, and does not run candidates for political office. However, it does endorse truly progressive candidates who can pass a stringent review process. DSA is a broad organization of socialists rather than a narrow ideologically driven sect. Its concept of socialism is radical democracy extended to all realms of social life, particularly the economy. The emergence of socialism will be an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary process, and will be based upon the growth of working class power. This will require (1) the spread of socialist consciousness (i.e. belief in social equality and radical democracy); (2) international working class solidarity; (3) grassroots organization in workplaces, neighborhoods, and elsewhere; and (4) democratic socialist control of the state. The institutional structure of a socialist society cannot be determined in advance, but will emerge in a natural way from the practice of an ascendant democratic socialist movement.
DSA was founded in 1982 by a merger of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, an offshoot of the Socialist Party, and the New America Movement, a descendant of Students for a Democratic Society and the New Left. In the last two years DSA has experienced three waves of explosive growth associated with the Bernie Sanders campaign, the reaction to the election of Donald Trump and the recent primary victory of DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the 14th Congressional District of New York.
The political strategy of DSA involves focusing upon practical issues and avoiding divisive ideological combat as much as possible. For example, the Boulder County DSA works upon rent control, Medicare for all, preventing fracking, building socialist feminism and outreach to other progressive organizations. The website address of national DSA is dsausa.org. The website address of Boulder DSA is boulderdsa.org. For progressive folks who need an antidote to creeping political pessimism, Democratic Socialists of America is your ticket.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.