A Brief Critique of DSA’s Electoral Strategy

Four candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America won Democratic primaries yesterday. Many DSA members were celebrating this morning, but after reading through each candidate’s website I don’t see much reason to celebrate. The platforms for each candidate were generally the same: medicare for all, more education funding, criminal justice reform, etc. Of course, all of these things are fine reforms worth fighting for. The problem is that by all indications the candidates are not socialists but progressive liberals. They did not run on a socialist platform, but a progressive liberal one. They did not run as independent socialists, but within a capitalist party. The main focus of the campaigns has been on reforming capitalism to make it more palatable to working people. As nice as these reforms would be, they don’t constitute socialism.

Socialism is not simply a strong welfare state. Socialism is the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, in other words a world where the working class runs society. Any candidate who does not endorse this vision of the future and make it a central feature of their campaign does not deserve the endorsement of a socialist organization.

The DSA has been content to endorse progressive liberals who simply critique the worst facets of capitalism without pointing towards a new social system. A socialist electoral candidate should be a “tribune of the people”, who critiques capitalism at every opportunity and openly advocates for socialism. That doesn’t mean fighting for reforms within capitalism is wrong, it is just not enough. The only way to use electoral politics to de-stigmatize and educate people about socialism is to give real socialists platforms to spread their ideas. Endorsing progressives that offer a remedy to the worst excesses of capitalism instead of a way beyond it is a dead end and muddles the definition of socialism.

Let organizations like Our Revolution campaign for progressive Democrats. If the DSA wants to be a socialist organization with any amount of influence it should endorse candidates that openly and unabashedly advocate for socialism, not a social democratic welfare state.

This backwards electoral strategy that the DSA is pursuing is built on the foundation of reformism. The right and center of the DSA believe that revolution is impossible in the 21st century. Their end goal is to bring about a strong welfare state through electing socialists and progressive liberals.

Their lack of vision is stunning. Not even Kautsky was as severe of a revisionist as this. A better world is possible beyond the failed social democratic states of the post war years and the only way it can be brought about is through rupture with the current socioeconomic system. There is no way for the proletariat to take power within the bourgeois state. Power can only be taken with the destruction of the bourgeois state and the construction of a proletarian republic.

Our job is to articulate this point while building a base in the working class so when the objective conditions for a rupture arise the proletariat will be able to take power and wield it against the bourgeoisie. This may take a long time, and it will require patience, but there is no electoral shortcut to working class power. Lenin, speaking after 1905, explained how socialists were able to lead the revolution of that year, “Do you think, my dear sirs, this came all of a sudden, or was the result prepared and secured by years and years of slow, obstinate, inconspicuous, noiseless work”. Our entire existence should be the preparation for the day when the proletariat can take power. This doesn’t exclude electoral campaigns, but it does exclude attempts to infiltrate one of the most successful capitalist political parties in history with watered-down progressive liberal campaign platforms, and it does exclude elections as the primary function of a socialist organization.

Our vision of the future should be a world without exploitation, not a world with less exploitation, and our candidates should share this vision at every opportunity. Anything less than this is not enough.