“We have a world to win.” Here in 2019, this phrase seems like a relic of the past. When Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, the possibility of a socialist order seemed closer. The revolutionary wave that rocked the world at his time rose even higher into the next century, with socialism posing an ever-present existential threat to a capitalist global society.
Now, we stand in the ruins of the movements that preceded us. Countries, unions, and parties that once fought for socialism have either crumbled, ceded their power, or embraced their former enemies. ‘Revolution’ has become a word for idealists. And as the threat of climate disaster envelops us every more rapidly, the very world we’re supposed to fight for seems to be disappearing before our eyes.
What is the role of an organization like DSA in these times? Like a spirit refusing its own death, radical movements from BLM to DSA have swelled as political and economic degradation breathed life back into the very concept of socialism in the United States. It is a refusal of the “end of history” that the imperialist West’s ruling class triumphantly declared with the fall of the U.S.S.R.
With 55,000 members, well-known officeholders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ever-increasing publicity, and the right wing’s fear-mongering, the organization has raised the red banner of socialism in the U.S. for the first time in the living memory of most current DSA members. But as we have grown over the past two years, the fundamental question looms ever more urgently: What is to be done?
If you posed this question to three different members of DSA, there is a decent chance you would get three different answers. Some conceive of socialist politics as a matter of internal will and democracy, a question of creating a prefigurative space for socialism. This incorporates a desire to adjust bylaws by personal preference, focusing on internal taste and debates, and sidelining outward political activity. Such a conception of socialist politics looks at DSA and asks, “what do the members of DSA want it to be?” Another perspective conceives of DSA as advocates for neighborhoods and interest groups outside the organization, leading mobilizing or advocacy campaigns to local officials on their behalf. Here, the question is, “what does the working class want?”
But these questions don’t necessarily address power or societal relations at the bedrock level, and more importantly, how to change them. There isn’t a socialism to yet be found within an organization or a community, not even DSA. Our project isn’t to unearth an already existing socialist society hidden beneath us, but to make our present capitalist society become our future socialist one.
To accomplish this, we must engage with our political reality. This requires studying the existing dynamics of exploitation and domination within and across our communities, regions, and countries. One function of a socialist organization is to forge networks which tie together and sharpen our individual understanding of localized struggles into a collective understanding of a universal struggle. This collective understanding must consider the consequences of our actions, and what they mean for the strategies we’ve created.
Our chapter in Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky has won amazing victories. Members have saved the north building of Cincinnati’s downtown library from privatization, and successfully pressured officials to open two syringe exchange programs in the cities of Newport and Covington in Kentucky. Today, the chapter presses on with its work to open exchanges in Ohio, and continues to provide support for public employees in the region’s library systems.
As we analyze our past work and plan our future work, however, we do not value the raw achievement of immediate objectives as our guiding star. Rather, we orient our work around a more comprehensive focus which asks:
A socialist organization cannot be designed in the abstract, nor can it be a community shaped solely by the interests of its existing members. A socialist organization is a tool that must constantly adapt in an effort to answer the elemental question: “What is needed for the working class to prevail in its struggle against oppression?” We must always place our work in a historical context, asking what must follow and how the struggle continues. Only by answering these questions can we build the strategic horizon necessary to cogently define our priorities and create effective organizational structures.
Our hope is this and future issues of Build can stimulate us to ask what our current situation is and what we should do in light of it, so we can, to borrow yet again from Marx, “make the petrified conditions dance by playing them their own tune.”
Solidarity, comrades. We have a world to build.