A Rose by Any Other Name
The Democratic Socialists of America have thoroughly captured the Democrats.
When a friend slipped me the latest draft of the Democratic Socialists of America’s 2021 platform, I couldn’t help but laugh. According to the document, the problems facing the American working class are deeply intertwined with the real issues of Samoan self-determination, queer-affirming healthcare, and reparations to Cambodia.
But the laughter was short-lived. This is, after all, not a joke: the DSA is completely serious and its obsessions provide the ideological energy for today’s Democratic party. This is an organization that boasts sitting congresswomen, city aldermen in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles (among other cities), and state representatives. It is all silly until you realize these people pass laws.
The modern Democratic party towers over contemporary society. Culture, bureaucracy, corporations, the military; all are increasingly, if not already, dominated by the Democrats. This is to say nothing of Democratic control of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the presidency. Where it goes matters, and therefore its ideologues matter. Ask yourself who is the future of the Democrats, and if you come up with an answer other than the young and wildly influential Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, and Rashida Tlaib, you are merely fooling yourself.
And all of them are card-carrying members of the DSA.
The New Ideology
The Democrat Socialists of America descends, at least according to its own mythology, from the Debsian socialist party of the early 20th century. It was founded by Michael Harrington, a former socialist party member who thought that the inability of the so-called “new Left” to participate in the Democratic Party had been a political failure. The post-‘60s far Left infiltrated America’s leading cultural and academic institutions; the DSA’s founding notion is that it should have infiltrated the Democratic Party too. Harrington intended to push forward the “left wing of the possible,” by which he did not mean policy realism but an expeditious march through the American left of center.
To his credit, Harrington did have a genuine human love for the poor, sick, prisoners, and so forth. His organization, up until 2016, mostly focused on advocating for Democrats to expand the welfare state, regulate big business, and unify the Left away from kooky sectarian groups LARPing as Marxist-Leninists or cosplaying as violent anarchists. Up until the end of the Cold War, DSA also pointedly opposed the Soviet Union’s human rights abuses, although they hardly adopted the sort of hard-line anti-Soviet philosophy espoused by other leftists such as Ronald Reagan’s friend, and member of the Committee on the Present Danger, Bayard Rustin.
After Trump’s election, however, the DSA managed to use the “threat” of “fascism” to push its numbers up from a few thousand to nearly a hundred thousand. While some attribute the growth to Bernie Sanders campaign, it was not in fact, during the Bernie campaign that the numbers grew at unprecedented rates. The real catalyst was the successful presidential campaign of Donald Trump. The DSA themselves admit as much when they write in the latest draft of their platform that “In the four years of the Trump administration, DSA membership exploded and is currently approaching our goal of 100,000 members.” With the growth of the organization, the average age plummeted all the way to barely 30 years old, and the old guard was pushed out. What came next was a takeover of the organization by a totally new ideology.
The new ideology can be summed up by this latest document as “anti-oppression-ism”. The document makes its ideology quite clear:
Our fight to end capitalist exploitation is inextricably tied to our fight to end oppression. A democratic socialist society must end all systemic domination, whether it’s based on race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. The historical development of U.S. capitalism was heavily reliant on the theft of people’s lives and land, through the enslavement of Black people and genocide of Indigenous people. Our legal, economic, and social institutions continue to perpetuate racialized oppression. We will never be able to unify a multi-racial working class without confronting structural racism.
Likewise, a democratic socialist society must end the economic subjugation of women in the workplace, violence and harassment affecting women and non-binary people, and the entire system of unpaid, gendered work. We strive for the emancipation of all people by forging the multiracial working class into an organized, fighting force on the terms of its most oppressed members. In overcoming the old, barbaric order of capitalism, the working class will not only liberate itself from its own shackles, but all of humanity from the parasitic death-drive of capitalism. As capitalism’s climate crisis ravages the whole Earth, the well-being of the working class is ultimately aligned with the survival of the whole planet.
Two things here are important to note. First: this brief statement perfectly aligns with the gist of Democratic Party operatives’ present-day rhetoric. Second, despite the tut-tutting about ending capitalist exploitation, the organization seems to be more focused on structural racism and past “injustices” than anything resembling a coherent agenda to take up the question of poverty or social decay in present day society. The ideology at work here is a sort of parodic spin off of a dozen different “critical theories” coming primarily out of elite universities.
It only gets worse. On crime, the DSA calls for the state to “free all people from involuntary confinement” and for cities and states to “end investment in police training or facility renovations”. Apparently, what the working class needs is for violent criminals to roam its streets freely.
Oddly enough, the DSA seems very content to supply our growing dearth of police officers with…themselves and their operatives. They want to “allocate funding for free at the point-of-service social care infrastructure, wellness resources, neighborhood based trauma centers, non-coercive drug and alcohol treatment programming, peer support networks, and training for healthcare professionals.” The new ideology of the DSA is to fund the people with advanced degrees while defunding those without them.
Also included is the expansion of state-run childcare facilities—because obviously traditional family arrangements where parents raise children, are repressive. Repealing the Hyde amendment—forcing the (mostly religious) American working class to pay for abortions—is of course also on their wish list. Free college, so that the top 30% of students receive a subsidy for “doing the work” of indoctrination, is added without any equal mention of trade schools for the remainder of the population. Something called “queer-affirming healthcare” is on the list as an entire section of the document, but veterans (a far larger portion of the US population than the constituency for queer affirming healthcare) get two words in one sentence further down.
If “middle America” is considered to still basically want traditional family life, to live out their faith honestly, to work as policemen, soldiers, tradesman, and so forth, this document gives them basically nothing. Of course, it is unclear that the DSA actually believes such people exist, or that their loyalty to the place they live is anything other than backwards. Hence the DSA demands that America become a borderless nation: “end all deportations and enforcement actions, immigration detention, private prison contracts, and deputization of local police forces”—in other words, end any enforcement of a border.
Since recent technological advances in artificial intelligence may well make many currently existing jobs superfluous, it would in fact be worthwhile to have a serious discussion about how capitalism will function in the future. The DSA, however, is not interested in hosting such a discussion. It is not even really interested in serious Marxist critique of existing power structures. It is simply interested in shoring up power among an affluent young elite, and using overcooked jargon to demonize any challengers to that power.
Know the Enemy
Democrats have warmly invited the DSA and its hundred thousand members into their tent. But the older generation of Democrats appears to have been blindsided by the extent to which this cohort of people has demanded total ideological conformity. Already, Joe Biden, a supposedly religious Catholic, has dropped his support for the Hyde amendment, proposed a “Green New Deal”, and opened up the border to massive groups of migrants. The White House, the congressional leadership, and the Democratic party as a whole have adopted, nearly word-for-word, much of the language churned out by this organization.
And they’re going further. When Ilhan Omar went on a bizarre anti-Semitic rant on Twitter about how Jews have bought off the government for Israel, Democratic leadership immediately caved to DSA demands. Instead of adopting a simple condemnation of the congresswoman’s anti-Semitism, they adopted a weird statement condemning a plethora of prejudices, most of which had no relevance to the controversy at hand.
The new platform, if it stays roughly the same as this draft by the time the organization publishes it, will cement within the Democratic party a bloc of people firmly committed to the destruction of the desires and folkways of America’s working and middle classes, our constitutional traditions, and the idea of America itself. It will lodge within the ruling party a faction firmly committed to advancing college-educated America’s most revolutionary interests with little regard for everyone else. Since few young Democrats reject the DSA’s ideology and remain in the party, the future for the Democrats is absolutely AOC, not Henry Cuellar.
What old “moderate” Democrats remain in leadership are becoming pawns. Don’t let the propaganda confuse you: with this platform, and virtually every recent policy decision by Democrats in power, it becomes clear that the DSA and the Democrats cannot be treated as separate entities. They are partners in the fight for oligarchic dominance, for the erasure of America, and for the destruction of all forms of traditional familial and religious association. Conservatives failed to detect what was going on in America’s universities until it was spreading to kindergarten classrooms. Failure to understand what the opposing party is thinking will only waste more of the precious time needed to undo its revolution.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.