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|National Director||Maria Svart|
|Merger of||Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee|
New American Movement
|Headquarters||75 Maiden Lane, Ste 702|
New York City, New York, United States
|Student wing||Young Democratic|
Socialists of America
The DSA has its roots in the Socialist Party of America (SPA), whose most prominent leaders included Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas and Michael Harrington. In 1973, Harrington, the leader of a minority faction that had opposed the SPA's rightward shift and transformation into the Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA) during the party's 1972 national convention, formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). The other faction that split following that convention was the Socialist Party USA (SPUSA), which remains an independent democratic socialist political party. The DSOC, in Harrington's words "the remnant of a remnant", soon became the largest democratic socialist group in the United States. In 1982, it merged with the New American Movement (NAM), a coalition of intellectuals with roots in the New Left movements of the 1960s and former members of socialist and communist parties of the Old Left, to form the DSA.
Initially, the organization consisted of approximately 5,000 ex-DSOC members and 1,000 ex-NAM members. Upon the founding of the DSA, Harrington and the socialist feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich were elected as co-chairs of the organization. The DSA does not run candidates on its own ballot line in elections, but instead "fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people". These reforms include decreasing the influence of money in politics, empowering ordinary people in workplaces and within the economy and restructuring gender and cultural relationships to be more equitable. The organization has at times endorsed Democratic electoral candidates--notably Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson, John Kerry, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders--and the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.
The DSA is not only by far the largest socialist organization in the United States in the 21st century, it is also the largest socialist organization in the United States in over a century. By the end of 2017, membership in the organization had risen to 32,000, primarily because of the influx of youth in reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump. As of September 2, 2018, membership stood at 50,000 and the number of local chapters had increased from 40 to 181. As of December 2017 , the median age of its membership was 33, compared to 68 in 2013. In the 2017 election, fifteen candidates who were members of the DSA were elected to office in thirteen states, most notably Lee J. Carter in the Virginia House of Delegates, adding to the twenty members already holding elected office nationwide. In November 2018, two DSA members, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, were elected to the House of Representatives while eleven were elected to state legislatures.
Formed in 1982 after a merger between the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM), the DSA is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. At the time of the merger of these two organizations, the DSA was said to consist of approximately 5,000 former members of the DSOC, along with 1,000 from the NAM. The combined Old Left and New Left heritage of the DSA was created from this merger (Dorothy Ray Healey served as Vice Chair in 1982). The DSOC was founded in 1973 from a minority anti-Vietnam War caucus in the Socialist Party of America (SPA)--which had been renamed Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA) while the NAM was created as a successor organization to the disintegrated Students for a Democratic Society. At its start, the DSOC had 840 members, of whom 2% had served on its national board--approximately 200 of whom previously held membership in the SDUSA or its predecessors (the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation, formerly part of the SPA) in 1973, when the SDUSA stated its membership at 1,800 according to a 1973 profile of Harrington.
The red rose is part of the official logo of the DSA, having traditionally been a symbol of socialism since the 1886 Haymarket Affair and the resulting May Day marches from the 19th century to the current day. It was drawn from the logo of the DSOC, its precursor organization, and previously of the Socialist International, which shows a stylized fist clenching a red rose, the fist being substituted with a bi-racial handshake pertaining to the DSA's staunch anti-racism. The fist and rose logo had been originally designed by Didier Motchane and others for the new French Socialist Party founded in 1971 and was later shared by socialist and labor political organizations worldwide.
In electoral politics, the DSA was very strongly associated with Michael Harrington's position that "the left wing of realism is found today in the Democratic Party". In its early years, the DSA opposed Republican presidential candidates by giving critical support to Democratic Party nominees like Walter Mondale in 1984. In 1988, the DSA enthusiastically supported Jesse Jackson's second presidential campaign. Since 1995, the DSA's position on American electoral politics has been that "democratic socialists reject an either-or approach to electoral coalition building, focused solely on a new party or on realignment within the Democratic Party". During the 1990s, the DSA gave the Clinton administration an overall rating of C-, "less than satisfactory".
The DSA's elected leadership has often seen working within the Democratic Party as necessary rather than forming or support third parties. That said, the DSA is very critical of the corporate-funded Democratic Party leadership. The organization has stated:
Much of progressive, independent political action will continue to occur in Democratic Party primaries in support of candidates who represent a broad progressive coalition. In such instances, democratic socialists will support coalitional campaigns based on labor, women, people of color and other potentially anti-corporate elements.
Electoral tactics are only a means for democratic socialists; the building of a powerful anti-corporate coalition is the end.
In 2000, the DSA took no official position on the presidential election, with several prominent DSA members backing Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader while others supported Socialist Party USA candidate David McReynolds and others voting for Democratic nominee Al Gore. In 2004, the organization backed John Kerry after he won the Democratic nomination. In its official magazine, the DSA's Political Action Committee declared:
While we have no illusions about how a Kerry administration would govern -- absent mass pressure from below -- and are not impressed with his delayed criticism of the war and his earlier commitments in favor of 'free trade,' we also realize that the Bush administration is as reactionary as Reagan's. A Kerry defeat would be taken not as a defeat of the US political center, which Kerry represents, but of the mainstream Left. As a result, it would embolden the Right and demoralize the Left (as well as trade unionists and people of color) as much as Reagan's 1984 defeat of Mondale did. On the other hand, a Kerry victory will let us press onward, with progressives aggressively pressuring an administration that owed its victory to democratic mobilization from below.
The only resolution on upcoming elections at the DSA's 2005 convention focused on Bernie Sanders's independent campaign for the Senate in Vermont. The organization's 2007 convention in Atlanta featured record-breaking attendance and more participation by the organization's youth wing. Sanders gave the keynote address.
In 2008, the DSA critically supported Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in his race against Republican candidate John McCain. In an article written in the March 24 edition of The Nation, senior DSA strategists Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr., along with Tom Hayden and Danny Glover, announced the formation of Progressives for Obama. In the article, the four issued a joint statement arguing that Obama was the most progressive viable Democratic presidential candidate since Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
Following Obama's election, many on the political right began to allege that his administration's policies were "socialistic", a claim rejected by the DSA and the Obama administration alike. The widespread use of the word "socialism" as a political epithet against the Obama administration by its opponents caused National Director Frank Llewellyn to declare that "over the past 12 months, the Democratic Socialists of America has received more media attention than it has over the past 12 years".
For the 2016 presidential election, the DSA endorsed Sanders as the favored presidential candidate. While making it clear that Sanders' New Deal-inspired program did not fulfill the socialist aim of establishing social ownership of the economy, the DSA considered his campaign as a positive development in the context of contemporary American politics. The DSA noted the importance of his candidacy as a self-identified democratic socialist candidate as well as "a lifelong champion of the public programs and democratic rights that empower working class people". The DSA managed the #WeNeedBernie campaign, an internally focused initiative directed towards mobilizing DSA supporters for Sanders. After Sanders' defeat in the 2016 Democratic primaries, the DSA called for the defeat of Donald Trump, but it did not officially endorse Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In the United States elections of 2017, the DSA endorsed fifteen candidates for office, with the highest position gained being that of Lee Carter in the Virginia House of Delegates. DSA members won 15 electoral offices in thirteen states, bringing the total to thirty-five (the DSA, having changed its electoral strategy at its national convention, had anticipated picking up approximately five seats): city council seats in Pleasant Hill, Iowa (Ross Grooters), Billings, Montana (Denise Joy), Knoxville, Tennessee (Seema Singh Perez), Duluth, Minnesota (Joel Sipress) and Somerville, Massachusetts (JT Scott and Ben Ewen-Campen); and the seat in the Virginia House of Delegates contested by Carter, among other offices. 56% of the DSA members who ran in this election cycle won compared to the 20% previously in 2016. These results encouraged dozens more DSA members to run for office in the 2018 midterm elections.
In the 2018 midterm elections, the DSA had anticipated seeing the first DSA member in Congress and reaching 100 elected officials nationwide from its strategic down-ballot campaigns. 42 formally endorsed people were running for offices at the federal, state and local levels in 20 states, including Florida, Hawaii, Kansas and Michigan; Maine's Zak Ringelstein, a Democrat, was its sole senatorial candidate. Local chapters have endorsed 110 candidates. Four female DSA members (Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee, Elizabeth Fiedler and Kristin Seale) won Democratic primary contests for seats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, two of them defeating conservative male Democratic incumbents. Additionally, Jade Bahr and Amelia Marquez won their primaries in Montana for the State House and Jeremy Mele won his primary for the Maine House of Representatives. In California, Jovanka Beckles won one of the top two spots in the primary and advanced to the general election for a State Assembly seat in the East Bay.
On June 26, DSA member and endorsee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary against incumbent Representative Joseph Crowley in New York's 14th congressional district in a surprise upset, virtually guaranteeing her the congressional seat in the heavily Democratic district which spans parts of the Bronx and Queens. However, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi dismissed the win as "not to be viewed as something that stands for anything else" and argued that it only represented change in one progressive district. Conversely, head of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez proclaimed her to be "the future of our party" whereas the Trotskyist International Committee of the Fourth International critiqued her and the DSA as being a "left" cover for the "right-wing Democratic Party", particularly in regard to foreign policy. Six weeks after Ocasio-Cortez's primary victory, DSA member and endorsee Rashida Tlaib won the Democratic primary in Michigan's 13th congressional district. Both Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib went on to win their respective general elections to become members of Congress. Ultimately, about a dozen members (or non-members who were endorsed) won office in their state legislatures. In the aggregate, the DSA had backed 40 winning candidates at the state, county and municipal levels.
Ocasio-Cortez's victory and the subsequent publicity for the DSA led to more than 1,000 new members joining the organization the next day, approximately 35 times the daily average and their largest ever one-day increase in membership. These signups helped boost the organization to 42,000 members nationally in June 2018. That number increased to 50,000 by September 1, 2018.
The 2019 Chicago aldermanic elections saw six DSA members elected to the 50-seat Chicago City Council: incumbent Carlos Ramirez-Rosa as well as newcomers Daniel La Spata, Jeanette Taylor, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, and Andre Vasquez.
Membership in the DSA can be obtained through the payment of annual dues, but no one is turned away for lack of funds. Every member receives a paid subscription to the organization's quarterly newsletter, Democratic Left. The organization also offers "family memberships" at the rate of $80 which includes only one subscription to Democratic Left and sells subscriptions to the publication to non-members for $10 per year.
In the early 1980s, the estimated membership of the DSOC was 5,000, but after its merger with the NAM the membership of the organization grew to an estimated 7,000 in 1987. In 2002, Fox News said there were 8,000 members in the DSA and three years later the organization announced on its website that its membership had increased by some 13% since July 2003 as the result of a direct mail campaign.
The DSA does not release annual membership numbers, nor do officials of the organization state them with precision in the press. However, it does publish annually its sworn declaration of "Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation" in its official magazine so as to qualify for subsidized postage rates from the United States Postal Service. As this publication is sent out to paid members, with few copies sold through other channels, this provides an excellent proxy for paid membership. The total paid distribution numbers of Democratic Left over recent years are as follows:
|Year||Average total paid circulation||Issue where statement appears|
|2001||5,846||Vol. 29, no. 3, p. 15|
|2003||4,890||Vol. 31, no. 3, p. 2|
|2004||4,535||Vol. 32, no. 3, p. 2|
|2005||4,622||Vol. 33, no. 3, p. 15|
|2006||4,883||Vol. 34, no. 3, p. 3|
|2007||5,443||Vol. 35, no. 3, p. 3|
|2008||5,710||Vol. 36, no. 3, p. 3|
|2009||5,707||Vol. 37, no. 3, p. 3|
|2010||5,874||Vol. 38, no. 4, p. 15|
|2011||5,707||Vol. 39, no. 3, p. 12|
|2012||6,204||Vol. 40, no. 3, p. 3|
|2014||6,445||Vol. 42, no. 3, p. 13|
|2015||6,216||Vol. 43, no. 3, p. 10|
|2016||6,745||Vol. 44, no. 3, p. 11|
|2017||19,594||Vol. 45, no. 3, p. 8|
|2018||31,271||Vol. 46, no. 3, p. 7|
Following the election of Donald Trump as President, the DSA experienced a rapid expansion of its paid membership. In 2017, the organization passed a resolution calling for the national office to provide the group's paid members with a copy of a financial report in non-convention years. A first such report covering the whole of 2017 and the first half of 2018 was published in August 2018.
According to this August 2018 report, DSA membership was "consistently about 6,000" for the 2011 to 2015 period before experiencing the following growth pattern:
|June 1, 2016||Just before Democratic National Convention||6,500|
|November 1, 2016||Just before 2016 general election||7,600|
|November 17, 2016||Just after 2016 general election||10,000|
|January 30, 2017||Just after inauguration of Donald Trump||15,000|
|April 4, 2017||Date membership milestone reached||20,000|
|July 31, 2017||Date membership milestone reached||25,000|
|October 16, 2017||Date membership milestone reached||30,000|
|June 29, 2018||Date membership milestone reached||40,000|
|July 12, 2018||Date membership milestone reached||45,000|
|August 16, 2018||Closing date of National Office report||49,000|
This rise comes mainly from supporters of Bernie Sanders (the Senator from Vermont who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 as a self-described "democratic socialist") as well as a growth in interest in left-wing politics amongst American youth, spurred on by social media organizing on Twitter, publications such as The Baffler and Jacobin and the popular podcast Chapo Trap House. Independent of the Sanders effect, polling indicates that Americans under age thirty have been warming up to the idea of socialism since the Obama administration and the Occupy movement.
Given its burgeoning membership, the DSA faces several tactical and strategic issues, such as its relationship to the Democratic Party (particularly electoral politics vis-à-vis base building), the administrative and ideological role of the national leadership in a bottom-up, deeply democratic organization, and its own demographic representation in an increasingly diverse country.
As a big tent on the left with an emphasis on inclusivity, the DSA is not politically monolithic and its decisions are often made by topic-specific committees. Furthermore, chapters may organize themselves as horizontally or vertically as they see fit, a matter of some contention. While DSA chapters may choose to follow national initiatives, they sometimes focus on local, on-the-ground concerns such as brake light clinics to reduce interactions with the police,disaster relief or Medicaid expansion. In late March 2018, for example, as a matter of policy the Denver Democratic Party adopted an anti-capitalist plank thanks to fifteen DSA members who had been elected at their caucus earlier that month. Issues ranging from municipal Wi-Fi to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel had been discussed, but ultimately "something along the lines of the original Clause IV of the British Labour Party's constitution, which explicitly advocated for common ownership of the means of production" was decided upon.
The DSA is organized at the local level and works with labor unions, community organizations and campus activists on issues of common interest. Nationwide campaigns are coordinated by the organization's national office in New York City. As of 2017 , the DSA website listed 85 local chapters, two statewide chapters, 29 Young Democratic Socialist chapters and 63 organizing committees. As of April 2018 , 181 chapters were extant.
Governance of the DSA is by the group's National Political Committee (NPC), which since 2001 has been a 16-person body. The DSA's constitution states that at least eight of the NPC's members shall be women and at least four members of "racial or national" minority groups. A 17th vote is cast by the representative of the DSA's youth affiliate who elect one male and one female delegate who split the vote. The NPC meets four times a year.
The NPC elects an inner committee of six, including five of its own members and one representative of the youth section, called the Steering Committee. At least two of these are constitutionally required to be women and at least one a "person of color", with the National Director and the Youth Section Organizer also participating as ex officio members. This Steering Committee meets bimonthly, either in person or by conference call. The DSA has a Religion and Socialism Commission in which Cornel West has played a leading role. John Cort was a founding editor of the Commission's magazine Religious Socialism.
The DSA publishes Democratic Left, a quarterly newsletter of news and analysis. This publication continues in an uninterrupted run from the original Newsletter of the Democratic Left published by the DSOC (the DSA forerunner) since its establishment in 1973. In 2008, DSA members active in the American labor movement founded Talking Union, a blog that focuses on labor politics, working class struggles and strategies.
The Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) is the official student section of the DSA. The YDSA chapters and members are encouraged to pursue and promote a democratic socialist political education and participate in social justice activism, often taking part in anti-war, labor and student-issue marches and rallies. The YDSA publishes a newsletter called The Red Letter and until recently also a blog titled The Activist. The organization's national activities revolve around supporting the DSA campaigns and initiatives and organizing various student conferences, usually held in New York City.
The DSA received an unexpected boost in membership the very day National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre excoriated socialism in general and the YDSA in particular at the Conservative Political Action Conference session of February 22, 2018, whereupon more than 100 people signed up, three times the daily average.
The highest decision-making authority of the organization is the organization's national conventions which are held biennially. These gatherings of the organization are as follows:
|Year||Dates of convention||Location|
|1999||November 12-14||San Diego, CA|
|2001||November 9-11||Philadelphia, PA|
|2003||November 14-16||Detroit, MI|
|2005||November 11-13||Los Angeles, CA|
|2007||November 9-11||Atlanta, GA|
|2009||November 13-15||Evanston, IL|
|2011||November 11-13||Vienna, VA|
|2013||October 25-27||Emeryville, CA|
|2015||November 13-15||Bolivar, PA|
|2017||August 3-6||Chicago, IL|
|2019||August 2-4||Atlanta, GA|
Throughout his life, Harrington embraced a democratic interpretation of the writings of Karl Marx while rejecting the "actually existing" systems of the Soviet Union, China and the Eastern Bloc. In the 1980s, Harrington said:
Put it this way. Marx was a democrat with a small "d". The Democratic Socialists envision a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning [...] and racial equality. I share an immediate program with liberals in this country because the best liberalism leads toward socialism. [...] I want to be on the left wing of the possible.
Harrington made it clear that even if the traditional Marxist vision of a marketless, stateless society was not possible, he did not understand why this needed to "result in the social consequence of some people eating while others starve".
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the DSA voiced opposition to that nation's bureaucratically managed economy and control over its satellite states. The DSA welcomed Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Union. Sociologist Bogdan Denitch wrote in the DSA's Democratic Left (quoted in 1989):
The aim of democrats and socialists should be [...] to help the chances of successful reform in the Soviet bloc. [...] While supporting liberalization and economic reforms from above, socialists should be particularly active in contacting and encouraging the tender shoots of democracy from below.
Harrington voiced admiration for German Social Democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, which sought to reduce antagonism between Western Europe and Soviet states. As co-chairman of the DSA, Michael Harrington wrote:
[Willy Brandt] launched his famous ostpolitik (Eastern policy), and moved toward detente with the Soviets and Eastern Europeans--a strategy that was to win him the Nobel Peace Prize. Disaster came in 1974. There was a spy scandal--a member of Brandt's inner circle turned out to be an East German agent--and the chancellor resigned his office.
One older leaflet detailing the group's official ideas, "What is Democratic Socialism? Questions and Answers from the Democratic Socialists of America", states that "no country has fully instituted democratic socialism". Nonetheless, according to the DSA there are lessons to be learned from "the comprehensive welfare state maintained by the Swedes, from Canada's national healthcare system, France's nationwide childcare program, and Nicaragua's literacy programs". The "tremendous prosperity and relative economic equality" established by the social democratic parties of the countries of Scandinavia and parts of Western Europe are lauded.
The DSA's ideas are somewhat influenced by those of its first chairman Michael Harrington, Chairman of the League for Industrial Democracy (1964) and member of the National Executive Board of the Socialist Party of America (1960-1968). Opposed to capitalism and then-existing versions of socialism alike as cruel and anti-libertarian social systems, Harrington advocated working for a realignment of the Democratic Party, transforming it from an amorphous amalgam of conservative, centrist and left-liberal politicians into something like a Western European social democratic party, within which the DSA would be the anti-capitalist left-wing. The DSA Constitution outlines the basic notion behind its ideology as follows:
We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability status, age, religion, and national origin, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are socialists because we are developing a concrete strategy for achieving that vision, for building a majority movement that will make democratic socialism a reality in America. We believe that such a strategy must acknowledge the class structure of American society and that this class structure means that there is a basic conflict of interest between those sectors with enormous economic power and the vast majority of the population.
The DSA sees itself as a big tent and multi-tendency organization with members expressing a wide range of socialist and anti-capitalist views. DSA members have views ranging from eco-socialism,democratic socialism,revolutionary socialism,libertarian socialism, and communism, to social democracy. Some of these views are represented in different working groups and caucuses within the DSA including the Communist Caucus, the Refoundation Caucus and the Libertarian Socialist Caucus.
The DSA regards the abolition of capitalism and the realization of socialism as a gradual long-term goal, therefore the organization focuses its immediate political energies on reforms within capitalism that empower working people while decreasing the power of corporations:
As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.
On its website page "What is Democratic Socialism? Q & A", the DSA characterizes its vision of socialism as an economic system based on maximum decentralization that can be supportive of a range of models for social ownership, including publicly owned enterprises and worker-owned cooperatives. The DSA rejects centralized economic planning in favor of a combination of democratic planning and market mechanisms:
Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Democratic socialists favor as much decentralization as possible. While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives. Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.
Because the DSA does not believe capitalism and private corporations can be immediately replaced with socialism, it is favorable to using government regulations and organized labor to make private businesses more accountable to the public interest:
In the short term we can't eliminate private corporations, but we can bring them under greater democratic control. The government could use regulations and tax incentives to encourage companies to act in the public interest and outlaw destructive activities such as exporting jobs to low-wage countries and polluting our environment. Public pressure can also have a critical role to play in the struggle to hold corporations accountable. Most of all, socialists look to unions to make private business more accountable.
At the 2017 DSA Convention, the group announced its withdrawal from the Socialist International (SI). The resolution passed states that the DSA will "[build] direct relationships with socialist and left parties and social movements around the world that we can learn from and which share our values. [...] Our affiliation with the Socialist International hinders our ability to develop stronger relationships with parties and social movements that share our values and which, in many cases, are bitterly opposed to their country's SI affiliate(s)". It also passed a resolution which solidified the DSA's solidarity with the cause of the Palestinian people and with the movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: "Democratic Socialists of America condemns all efforts to deny the right of Palestinians in the United States and their allies to free speech, assembly, and academic freedom". The resolution further condemned Israeli actions, comparing those actions to apartheid.
The DSA has shown its solidarity with Ahed Tamimi. The organization called for immediate release from detention. The statement also reiterated the DSA's support for the liberation of the Palestinian people.
In 2016, the DSA issued a statement of solidarity with Venezuela. The statement called the sanctions placed on Venezuela by the Obama administration unjust and illegal. It called for the United States to cease its interference in Venezuelan affairs, saying: "We call on the President and Congress to reverse these actions and stop seeking to undermine the Venezuelan people and their legitimate, democratically elected government".
The DSA opposes United States intervention in the Syrian Civil War. A statement issued in April 2017 called the intervention by the Trump administration both a violation of domestic and international law. In the same statement, the DSA called for protests of Trump's actions and for the lobbying of Congress to halt any further intervention.
The DSA maintains itself as an anti-racist and anti-fascist organization. Members have been present at various anti-fascist marches and protests, including counterprotests against the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Boston Free Speech Rally and many other right-wing rallies surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials. The DSA positions itself with other left-wing groups who fight fascism in the United States, including the Industrial Workers of the World and groups involved in the antifa movement. The organization also criticizes the police in the United States for their handling of anti-fascist activities and activities of such groups as Black Lives Matter.
The DSA connects this fight with fascist groups to its broader struggle against capitalism, saying on its website: "We believe that the terror unleashed on our comrades can be defeated. We also believe that the wider system of racist oppression can be defeated, but only with the ending of the capitalist system which birthed it". The organization believes in defending communities from neofascist violence and building a multi-racial working class movement. This involves deplatforming reactionary and racist groups and events, believing that a united front of left-wing organizations needs to confront these forces wherever they appear.
The DSA has long been a supporter and defender of the labor movement in the United States and has also argued for the increase of international worker solidarity. The DSA believes in a livable minimum wage for all workers, but it notes that this fight only goes so far and is only the first step in building a more humane economic system: "Ultimately the minimum wage only works for those lucky enough to find a job - even a low paying one - and it doesn't really "work" for them, because it doesn't come with health benefits, adequate schools, or enough money to set aside for retirement". The DSA members have been supporters and active participants in fights to increase the minimum wage across the country, including the Fight for $15 protests, stating:
As socialists we believe there is no strong socialist movement without a militant and powerful labor movement.-- Democratic Socialist Labor Commission
The DSA opposes right to work laws, which are seen as an attack on the rights of workers and the historic advances or the labor movement. It is argued that the enactment of these laws reduces the efficacy of collective bargaining agreements, putting workers at a disadvantage. In a statement released in 2014, the organization said: "Such "right to work" laws consciously aim to weaken union strength; they are the main reason why the "right to work" is, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, "the right to work for less".
The DSA argues that financial elites have consciously fought to destroy union power in an effort to solidify the hegemony of markets and corporate power. The organization believes that for an equitable and sustainable economic system that the production of wealth should be under the democratic control of those who produce it. The DSA also emphasizes the role played by immigrants, women, disabled workers, LGBTQIA+ and workers of color in the broader labor movement, believing that all barriers between working people must be broken in order to help create and maintain a broad and unified labor movement.
The DSA is committed to the rights of the LGBT community, connecting anti-gay prejudice to capitalist exploitation. This includes pushes for equal rights and protections for all those who identify as LGBTQIA+ as well as rights to housing, jobs, education, public accommodations and healthcare. The DSA recognizes that those who are most discriminated against based on identity are disproportionately women and people of color. The organization also seeks to ensure public schools are safe places for LGBTQIA+ students and that students should have total access to facilities which reflect their gender. The DSA supports protection of same-sex marriages, but it "views marriage as only a first step in recognizing the diversity of human relationships".
The DSA aligns itself with the socialist-feminist movement. The organization holds that capitalism is built on white supremacy as well as male supremacy. The DSA maintains that reproductive rights are central to the feminist movement. Connecting democratic socialism and socialist feminism, the DSA says "that birth control and safe abortion should be provided as part of a comprehensive single-payer healthcare program". Believing that electoral politics can only take socialist feminism so far, the organization also says that the emphasis must be on community based grass roots movements. The DSA further says that socialist feminism must include the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The DSA is opposed to Zionism and the current form of the State of Israel. Members view them as imperialist and a form of ethnostate. The DSA formerly supported Israel throughout much of its history, including socialist and progressive individuals and movements inside the state. In 2018 Jo-Ann Mort, former vice-chair of DSA, described the group as formerly having been "the place to go on the left if you were a socialist and you were pro-Israel".Alternet noted that this has been a dividing issue, with older members "tried to reconcile socialism with Zionism" while younger members recognize the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as a "time-tested means of nonviolent protest" and "the most powerful force to combat Israeli apartheid in the 21st century". On August 5, 2017, members of the organization voted almost unanimously to pass a motion to formally endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Jewish Solidarity Caucus, a subgroup formed by Jewish DSA members prior to the motion, stated in their founding declaration that "Zionism cannot vanquish antisemitism" and "as socialists we detest all exclusivist nationalisms".
The party has criticized the Second Amendment calling it a threat, in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida and claimed that the working class has done nothing to prevent mass-shootings, while also claiming Americans have become accustom to mass-shootings due to their frequency and lack of action regarding gun control.
Originally: O'Rourke, William (November 13, 1973). "Michael Harrington: Beyond Watergate, Sixties, and reform". SoHo Weekly News. 3 (2). pp. 6-7.
DSA believes in the abolition of capitalism in favor of an economy run either by "the workers" or the state
DSA's national platform calls for abolishing capitalism