The following document — “Tasks for 2019” — represents a set of priorities that we think should be the focus of socialist organizing in the coming year.
Today the world is more unequal than ever before. Forty two billionaires hold the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population. In the U.S., the so-called recovery since the 2008 crash has restored profits for financiers and big business many times over, but the poorest 90% of U.S. residents are still worse off than they were in 2007. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns we might have as little as a decade to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius — or face generations of ecological and social catastrophe. Globally, the far-right is on the rise, and socialism is the only political force capable of uniting millions to combat this reactionary tide. The stakes for our movement could not be higher.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., politicians govern in the interests of the capitalist class. With Donald Trump at the helm, they will continue to advance an extreme anti-worker, pro-business, and ecologically destructive agenda while stoking racism, xenophobia, and sexism in support of state repression and political exclusion.
While deepening inequality, the dismantling of public institutions, and state repression in the form of mass incarceration and mass deportations have politicized millions, establishment Democrats have predictably refused to organize this progressive base. Even after winning the House, Democrats lack the political will to confront Republicans. Hitched to billionaire donors, they remain committed to a program of tepid reforms and a strategy of rhetorical gestures that will never succeed in building a working class movement.
Out of this political context, a new Left has emerged: thousands of mostly young, newly politicized people have joined the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) after Bernie Sanders’s spectacular 2016 primary campaign and a wave of teachers’ strikes swept the nation in 2018. Democratic socialism is resurgent in the United States and around the world, and the movement is re-drawing political lines. Just six years ago Barack Obama was attacked by the business press as a “socialist” for insisting on a market-based health insurance scheme. Today, abolition of the health insurance industry through Medicare for All is the most popular political demand in the country. Four years ago the “socialist” label was a political death sentence. Today, democratic socialists are winning elections on bold working-class platforms, and Sanders is the most popular politician in the country.
Democratic socialists believe it’s impossible to have democracy and social justice under capitalism. We want a society where everyone has what they need to survive and flourish — education, food, healthcare, housing — where decisions about what to produce, and how to produce and distribute it, are made democratically, and where every person regardless of gender, race, or cultural background has the opportunity to develop to their full human potential.
Socialists look to the working class–the vast majority of society, who need to sell their labor power to survive and whose workplace conditions are established by capital–as the only social force that has both the interest and the potential power to break the power of the capitalists and transform our society. Only an organized, united, militant, and class-conscious working class has the structural power and material interest to extract transformative concessions from the ruling class and ultimately take over society to run it democratically and in the interest of the majority.
But in the last forty years the working class has become increasingly quiescent. Defeat at the hands of an all-out bosses’ offensive beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s has left the working-class majority divided, disorganized, and resigned to the status quo.
We believe socialists must help to rebuild the power of the working class — this is the primary project of socialists today. We must work to bring the many disparate elements of the working-class majority into a class-conscious social force, willing and able to fight in solidarity for our own interests. Any hopes of living in a socialist world lie in the prospect of building such a working class. No matter how excited we may be about the rise of a proudly socialist left, everything rests on what comes next: can socialists fuse our ideas with a militant, diverse workers’ movement?
Rebuilding the power of the working class is already underway. The dismantling of the meager welfare state combined with the downward slide of wages and living conditions has inspired a new generation of workers to challenge both the economic logic of neoliberalism and the political class that led us down this path. The growing popularity of Bernie Sanders, the historic teacher strike wave, and the stunning growth of DSA are all evidence that elements of the working class are moving left and willing to fight. The role of the still small political Left, represented most of all by DSA, is to help deepen this process. We believe that organized class struggle — the direct conflict between capitalist and workers in the workplace, streets, schools, media, and at the ballot box — is the primary mechanism for strengthening the power of the working class. Class struggle raises class consciousness while uniting all oppressed and exploited groups against a common foe: capitalists.
DSA can encourage, support, and sometimes even lead these class struggles.
The actually existing Left, however, is not yet fully suited to this work. As the left was expunged from common life through McCarthyism and later through neoliberal politics, it retreated to the campus, divorced from the aspirations of working people. Meanwhile, neoliberal ideology eliminated class and class politics from the American political vocabulary. As a result, most working people, including activists politicized in their unions or in mobilizations against mass incarceration, deportation, anti-LGBTQ legislation, or abortion restrictions, do not view the socialist movement as relevant to their lives.
Today we have a historic opportunity to change that — for socialist politics to reenter the mainstream and for a working-class movement to rise.
To advance class-struggle politics in 2019, given the threats and opportunities that face us today, DSA should prioritize: participating in elections and Sanders’s 2020 run in particular; campaigning for Medicare for All; building a democratic, militant current in the labor movement; fighting against the oppression and prejudice that keep workers divided; launching a Green New Deal campaign; and developing a more robust political education program. Each of these will advance the socialist project.
Bernie Sanders and Class-Struggle Elections
We don’t believe we can elect socialists to office who can simply legislate in socialism — or even social democracy — from above. The view that we could, often called electoralism, ignores two essential features of our society.
First, the state under capitalism is not simply a neutral tool that can be wielded by whoever holds a legislative majority. Rather, legislatures and administrators are under immense structural pressure to advance a pro-business agenda and to block or water down progressive state action. Since billionaires and their corporations control most of the economic resources in society, they can buy a large degree of direct influence over elections. Even in countries with strict campaign finance laws, capitalists’ private control over investment decisions grants them an enormous source of indirect structural power over the decisions of democratically elected public officials.
Second, electoralism misunderstands the primary source of socialists’ power: organized, militant workers. Elections can be a vehicle for class struggle, and redistributing power and resources to workers will indeed require an ambitious legislative agenda and ultimately a socialist political party taking state power and initiating a formal transition to democratic socialism. But the power to achieve and defend these gains rests primarily in organized workers and their capacity to mobilize a mass social base to win these demands.
At the same time, the last three years have proven that elections and elected offices are essential terrain for socialists. Democratic socialist candidates and officeholders, Bernie Sanders chief among them, have used their substantial platforms to grow an increasingly class-conscious constituency, by competing against despicable corporate candidates, politicizing class struggle issues, and propagandizing against class enemies. This year, Sanders used social media, town halls, and op-eds promoting the grievances of Amazon workers, and legislation titled The Stop BEZOS Act, to target the Amazon CEO’s obscene wealth and his workers’ poverty wages. The result was Bezos’s raising wages for hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees to avoid further public scrutiny.
Through propaganda and an inspiring legislative agenda, socialists should use elections and elected offices to extend class struggle. Election campaigns can spur radicalization and working-class organization that must also be rooted outside the state, in workplace organizing and social movements.
DSA should exclusively run, endorse, and campaign for class struggle candidates. These are candidates who present a serious and explicit working-class challenge to the political establishment and the corporate-friendly status quo. These races help to raise class consciousness and worker organization by clarifying lines of class conflict. And by offering a viable alternative, class struggle candidacies can inspire ordinary working-class people to become involved in the political process in large numbers.
In 2018 DSA-backed class-struggle electoral campaigns laid bare the glaring contradictions in the Democratic Party coalition. By following DSA labor activists’ lead and pushing to repeal the New York State ban on public employee strikes, the Taylor Law, Julia Salazar and Cynthia Nixon forced not only Andrew Cuomo but also so-called progressive Mayor Bill DeBlasio and even public sector union leaders to come out in favor of the ban. East Bay DSA’s support of Jovanka Beckles against Clintonite carpetbagger Buffy Wicks included producing buffywicks.money, a website dedicated to revealing Wicks’s billionaire supporters, both Democrats and Republicans.
DSA should not support class compromise progressives, such as Beto O’Rourke or Elizabeth Warren. These candidates do present a “harm reduction” opportunity to stave off the worst of the Republicans and Democrats. But since they incorporate into their political coalitions elements of business and the business-friendly Democratic Party establishment, they obscure rather than clarify lines of class conflict. Therefore, while they might be the lesser evil in their specific races, they undermine the essential political process that is underway: strengthening and politicizing the working class on the basis of class struggle. The Left’s unabashed class politics are a more effective tool to beat Republicans than anything Democratic Party operatives have at their disposal, and it is up to DSA to prove this to the Democrats’ base and activist layer.
Democratic socialists elected to public office should act as organizers and campaigners first and as legislators second. Their prime goal should not be to “work with” their colleagues or, at this early stage, to think they will get legislation passed. It will be extremely difficult for them to resist the co-optive pressures of the party establishment, and we should expect to lose some officeholders to those pressures. Our candidates should think of themselves as class-struggle fighters dropped behind enemy lines, with an orientation outward to their base, which needs to remain mobilized.
Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK offer an excellent model of how socialists elected to office can be effective mobilizers and campaigners for an ambitious reform agenda.
Our class struggle perspective means we are committed to political independence from the capitalist class. In the near term, this means rejecting a strategy of reforming, transforming, or “realigning” the Democratic Party and instead building an electoral, fundraising, and mobilization infrastructure that is independent of Democratic Party institutions and NGOs. Still, DSA should maintain tactical flexibility with regard to ballot lines. Depending on the local context, socialists should run as independents, socialists, Green Party candidates, or in the Democratic primary — whichever ballot line will best allow us to run class-struggle candidacies. Many municipal elections are nonpartisan, making it easier to run campaigns not connected to the Democratic machine.
In the medium term, political independence means laying the foundations for a mass working-class political party, independent of the Democrats and their ballot line. Such a party will be essential for sustaining organization and mobilization in social movements and in electoral politics, deepening political education and socialist cadre development, and fusing disparate currents and activities of struggle into coherent and strategic political action. Exactly how or when such a party will come about — through a dramatic split in the Democratic Party coalition or through some other process — we cannot now predict. But by carrying out class struggle politics in 2019 — in elections, in the statehouse, by fighting for Medicare for All, by building a militant labor movement, and by building working-class resistance to oppression — we can accelerate the delegitimization of both Republican and Democratic parties and widen the space for an independent alternative party in coming years.
The perspective outlined here translates into three concrete tasks for DSA in 2019.
First, DSA should call on Bernie Sanders to run in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries and endorse his candidacy as soon as he announces. A Sanders run will only further the campaigning he began in 2015 and has kept up since. This time, however, he will begin the campaign in a much stronger position: as the most popular politician in the country. Backed by an enthusiastic national DSA campaign, a 2020 Sanders run has the potential to politicize millions of workers through class struggle politics.
Second, DSA should adopt a simple platform of policy demands at our 2019 national convention. Demands should include a universal job guarantee, Medicare for All, social housing, tuition-free college, ending mass incarceration, progressive immigration reform, transition to a clean energy economy, repeal of Taft-Hartley, defending voting rights, and democratic reform of the Constitution. Such a platform should guide our 2019 and 2020 endorsements and give DSA a clearer and more unified political identity —based in class struggle and solidarity, within and beyond the electoral realm. A detailed platform can provide a level of ideological coherence, guide and unite our campaign work at the national and local level, and bring us closer to establishing democratic socialists as a fully independent political and electoral force. This platform should be limited in its breadth and used as a means of judging potential DSA candidates.
Third, DSA should develop a serious and coordinated strategy of candidate recruitment. The National Election Committee should send out a call ASAP for ideas for strong potential candidates among DSA’s activist base, and meet with chapter leaders about developing a plan to assess the viability of the candidate, convince the candidate to run, and ensure the candidate will be a tribune for socialism in the campaign. The National Election Committee should focus on identifying candidates in states where the growth of socialist electoral projects appears most promising, particularly in the Rust Belt. This will allow us to rely increasingly on organic DSA candidates, who see DSA as their primary organization and see their primary mission as candidates and in office as advancing democratic socialism.
Finally, at the 2019 DSA convention we should promote a resolution stating that while DSA currently supports class-struggle candidates running on the Democratic Party ballot line, it considers that the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is a party permanently tied to the capitalist class. Therefore, DSA sets itself the strategic goal of helping build a mass workers’ party in the US.
This resolution would state that in the current period, the level of class struggle and organization is still far too low to immediately achieve this goal. But important steps can and should be taken today to use elections to move in this direction and rebuild a mass socialist pole in U.S. political life.
Recommit to the Medicare for All Campaign
Perhaps no other demand since the postwar era has provoked as powerful an opposition as the demand for Medicare for All. The ruling class knows just how much the socialization of health insurance threatens its power. If socialists wish to realize that threat, we need to devote even more energy to campaigning for Medicare for All. The business community has the money, the media, the politicians, and the courts. We have members and the real grievances of a frustrated working class.
As with other demands for universal social programs, for housing, education, and jobs, Medicare for All demonstrates three core principles of class-struggle politics. First, capitalist markets cannot justly distribute public goods like healthcare, education, and housing. They should be taken out of the market and put under public democratic control. In other words, these basic needs should be decommodified.
Second, public programs should be universal and inspire solidarity across the whole working class. That means no eligibility requirements or means testing; everyone is included. Medicare for All is a natural and binding political demand for solidarity across all sectors of the class. From white collar workers with college degrees and unionists with strong contracts, to low-wage service workers and the unemployed, we all feel the crisis in health care. Black workers, white workers, immigrant and native born all suffer under the barbarism of the American health care system. In the words of Quentin Young, founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, “Everybody in, nobody out.”
Finally, universal, public, and democratically controlled social programs should achieve massive redistribution of wealth and power. Free and high-quality healthcare, housing, and education should be paid for by taxing the rich and their corporations. This way we can usher in the end of austerity politics, which have meant lavish tax cuts for the rich and corporations and shrinking social programs for everyone else.
Few other demands have the potential to unite this broad a coalition of the working class, but, more important, no other demand is now so popular that it can make that potential a reality. Now effectively a litmus test for Democratic candidates, Medicare for All even has the support of a majority of Republican voters. With Bernie Sanders’s championing, Medicare for All has skyrocketed from an impossibility to an eventual inevitability. It will be the most popular policy of his 2020 campaign and delegitimize both Democratic and Republican establishments.
DSA can play a major role in pushing this demand forward and should recommit to what has been the largest coordinated campaign in its history. The Medicare for All campaign is a testament to what DSA can be, an all-volunteer effort with no real financial resources that has mobilized thousands of members in over a hundred chapters. Medicare for All will be won through mass education campaigns, pressure tactics in key congressional districts, ties with the left wing of the labor movement, door-to-door canvassing, and most important, mass demonstrations and strikes in the healthcare industries. Without socialists insisting on uncompromising class-struggle politics in the fight, the demand will be co-opted or deferred by corporate Democrats and liberal NGOs.
The Medicare for All campaign should expand to even more DSA chapters. None is too small or too remote to contribute. Chapters should develop stronger ties to our single-payer allies in the union movement, and DSA unionists should push their unions to join the fight and recruit their coworkers to DSA’s campaign activities.
DSA should sponsor speaking tours and town halls across the country. Our Medicare for All Campaign Committee (MFACC) should coordinate a speakers bureau of high-profile speakers.
These events should culminate in a summit with leading unions and social movement organizations to develop a unified Medicare for All movement combining a legislative strategy and a ground game.
Last, our MFACC should identify short-term political goals at the state and municipal levels to provide benchmarks for locals. We see Austin DSA’s paid sick leave campaign and the unique opportunity in New Jersey to expand Medicare to the entire state as two potential local examples. Despite our doubts about the efficacy of any state-level single-payer plan, we nonetheless see the state single-payer bills in California and New York as good organizing tools. The MFACC should develop a research team to explore opportunities for state-level actions and create a database that activists can use to develop creative state-level work.
Work in the Unions, Support Strikes
DSA today is still largely confined to a relatively small section of downwardly mobile, well-educated, white and young workers and professionals. If democratic socialists are to have a serious impact on developing the capacities and desire of the working class to wage class struggle, we must embed ourselves and our ideas solidly in the largest and most diverse institution of the organized working class, the labor movement.
Socialists and radicals have always formed the core of labor’s “militant minority,” offering skills, commitment, strategic clarity, independent organizational support, and inspiring political vision to working-class struggles. As the working class is the central agent of progressive social transformation, the workplace is the central site to build working-class power. By bringing a class-struggle perspective to workplace organizing, socialist labor activists can begin to cut through the class collaboration championed by most of the U.S. labor bureaucracies and push for active, worker-led organizations.
High-up union officials are often hesitant or openly resistant to worker-led militancy, progressive politics, and union democracy. They would rather maintain the comfortable (for them) system of deals made through Democratic Party officials and friendly relations with employers, which are much easier to control than strikes or shop-floor actions that involve the leadership of the rank and file. Class struggle entails workers’ own organization and leadership, not arrangements among bosses and bureaucrats made behind closed doors. DSA should always stand with movements pushing for militancy, democracy, and class struggle, such as Labor Notes, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), and United Caucuses of Rank-and-File Educators (UCORE).
Socialist movements have recognized that left politics are a non-starter without deep involvement in the labor movement. It is at the workplace that workers can develop both power and a sense of their power. Workplace organizing has some advantages over community-based or electoral efforts: there is an obvious community of interest in which shop floor organizers have natural access to those they’re trying to reach, with never a shortage of issues. At the same time, unions at their best are also a way to make ties in surrounding communities.
We see the teachers strike wave as a prime opportunity for DSA unionists to organize and agitate. There is no greater tool than the strike to not only extract concessions from capital and the state but also to teach workers where their true source of power lies. Not only are teachers located in a strategic sector capable of having an outsized influence on politics and society, their specific goals ––from West Virginia to Los Angeles –– are class-wide demands. Teachers across the country are demanding more than wage increases for themselves, they are pushing to raise the social wage for the whole class. That is, teachers have insisted upon better funding for public schools, wage hikes for all public employees, smaller class sizes, and a health insurance system that works for all.
A critical aspect of the 2018 teachers strikes was their rank-and-file character. Officials in the teachers unions are particularly connected to the Democratic Party establishment and have an interest in preventing confrontation organized from below. These strikes were initiated and organized by rank-and-filers who managed expertly to work with and around officials to achieve their goals–while winning public support.
If teachers strikes continue, DSA should make a priority of supporting them and participating in a national movement to save public education.
DSA teachers and other K-12 school workers should encourage the tender shoots of the strike movement, with the support of the Labor Commission (DSLC) and the Democratic Socialists Teachers network. Whether or not there are DSA members in the ranks of a striking teachers union, DSA members should participate in pickets, organize strike support, raise money, and amplify strikers’ political demands. In such scenarios, members may be particularly helpful in organizing community support. The DSLC and the teachers network should coordinate regular calls and develop shop floor strategies and a “rapid-response” system for impending workplace actions that will allow DSA chapters to quickly mobilize. While DSA chapters should support strikes in any sector, strikes in public education are a unique opportunity to catalyze a wide political awakening.
DSA should develop labor groups, branches, or committees within chapters, led primarily by rank-and-file workers. Labor branches serve a dual role. First, they give socialist union members a place to strategize about their unions and to develop a specifically socialist pole within their local labor movements. Second, they provide a comfortable place to recruit worker activists into DSA, or at least to introduce them to socialist ideas. Third, chapter labor groups are a channel for DSA members who are not in unions to learn about the labor movement, support labor organizing and solidarity work, and receive the training and support to either organize new unions or find strategic rank-and-file union jobs.
DSA should support labor education for union and non-union members alike. This could include chapter educationals/night/day schools on the basics of labor and helping to organize local Labor Notes “Troublemakers Schools” and “Secrets of a Successful Organizer” trainings. Such schools give those not in the labor movement a clear picture of what is and isn’t happening in today’s labor movement and connect socialists with exactly the sort of worker activists DSA should be recruiting.
DSA should encourage members to seek jobs in union workplaces where they can work with co-workers to foment class struggle in ways large and small. It makes sense for members to choose a few key industries to concentrate in, to multiply our efforts rather than scattering them. For different reasons, for now those priorities should include K-12 public education, health care, and logistics.
Chapters should develop strong support for members who seek these jobs, including ongoing education, mentoring, and networking beyond the local level. DSA members who are already union members can be a big resource here. And DSA should encourage members to organize with their co-workers to form unions where they are.
Finally, DSA’s labor activism should include deep collaboration with the revival of Labor for Bernie and the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. Both these groups offer socialists an opportunity to work with union members, creating pressure on many of the same Democrat-friendly union bureaucracies that early and undemocratically endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary over the protests of their members. Along these lines, DSA’s National Political Committee should convene a meeting with Labor for Bernie and those unions who will likely be major players in a Sanders campaign to discuss a national strategy and to establish stronger institutional relationships with these unions.
The programs described above are one step toward fighting oppression and prejudice, which are used to pit workers against each other in the struggle to make ends meet. Capitalists, reactionaries, and their political cronies employ prejudice, state repression, and material and political exclusion — for example, mass incarceration, redlining, vote suppression, deportation, wage differentials, inadequate public services, and abortion restrictions — to increase profits, cut their taxes, or sow divisions among working people. These strategies have only escalated under Trump.
Many people first come to political consciousness and activism through their experience of or struggles against racial and gender injustice. In order to make the socialist movement more diverse, DSA must make clear in words and deeds that not only do socialists take seriously fights against oppression but also that working-class unity and class-struggle politics are the most effective strategy to combat oppression. Socialists have always been at the center of battles against racism and sexism, fighting to integrate the labor movement, oppose Southern white supremacist terrorism, and spark the Civil Rights movement. We can demonstrate to a new generation of newly politicized workers that the socialist movement is their rightful political home.
The program described above — fighting for Medicare for All, building a militant and politically independent labor movement, and running insurgent working-class candidates — is an indispensable element of any anti-oppression agenda today. The ongoing legacies of racial and gender oppression are manifest in appalling inequalities that serve to entrench prejudice. People of color and immigrants are far more likely to be poor, uninsured, burdened by student debt, or homeless. Working women face high barriers to abortion, may be dependent on relationships to remain insured or housed, and still do the lioness’s share of childcare and eldercare. Meanwhile, the economic power of employers, landlords, banks, and insurance companies enables them to discriminate against, harass, and underpay working-class women, people of color, and immigrants who fear that complaining or quitting their job risks deportation, homelessness, or loss of health insurance. These injustices and insecurities would be deeply undermined by free and universal social guarantees of housing, healthcare, education, childcare, pensions, and good jobs, and by a growing and militant labor movement.
But we can go further. Socialists can fight oppression head on by including demands and agitation particularly oriented to oppressed groups within our class-wide organizing or campaigns. The Chicago teachers strike of 2012 and the contract campaign by Los Angeles teachers today, as well as the campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Julia Salazar, show how class-based movements benefit by incorporating specific demands around racial justice. The platforms of the candidates DSA backs should include anti-oppression demands such as ending cash bail, repealing the Hyde Amendment, or abolishing ICE.
The last dozen years, from the giant immigration marches of 2006 to the nationwide protests against police brutality in 2014 and 2015, have shown that hundreds of thousands of people can come together in the streets to fight oppression. These protests have opened Americans’ eyes about citizenship rights and police brutality. DSA should also support campaigns such as defending Roe v. Wade, to convict killer cops, and for immigration rights. Socialists can bring important assets: the strategic clarity of class unity, independent mass action tactics, concrete demands that address the problem head on and blame capitalists (rather than vague sentiments like “Love Trumps Hate”), and independence from the Democratic Party and from foundations and NGOs. In general, our approach should be to help build movements that have the potential to attract significant support.
Launch a Green New Deal Campaign
As the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found, we face an immense and urgent set of tasks to mitigate climate change and repair then environmental degradation caused by capitalism. A radical transition is needed towards a completely decarbonized economy in the next 12 years in order to hold global temperatures to a 1.5C increase above pre-industrial levels — beyond which devastation from climate change threatens billions. Global emissions must be cut by 50% by 2030, an order of magnitude more ambitious than current efforts. Meanwhile even a 1.5C temperature rise will trigger significant changes in our global ecology, and we will need to undertake massive projects of adapting our existing infrastructures (cities, agriculture, transportation, water, etc.) to become resilient to the changes already locked in for our world.
But as socialists, we know that climate change is not simply a technical problem with a technocratic solution. Mitigating the worst and adapting to the inevitable are political problems that require political solutions. They will involve large-scale redistribution of wealth and power from fossil-fuel capitalists to the working class. And so, to save the planet, socialists look to build a mass movement of the working class — the only social force with the power to enact such a massive, progressive transformation at the expense of capitalists and political elites. That’s why the primary task of socialists should be building the power of the working class to carry out ambitious fights for a better world.
As the Gilets Jaunes movement in France has shown, we can’t trust liberal technocrats like Macron to provide the solutions to climate change. Regressive carbon taxes that let corporations off the hook and squeeze the budgets of working people. Climate policies that call on working people to simply tighten their belts and don’t offer alternative solutions for an abundant, ecologically sustainable life for all will be met with indifference at best or even, as in France, mass resistance from below. We need a climate program that empowers the working class, rather than just shaming them into using less carbon in a neoliberal capitalist framework.
DSA must thus be educating, agitating, and organizing a working-class social base around the demand for a Green New Deal. Such a campaign should be based on the following five principles: (1) full decarbonization by 2030, (2) full employment by 2025, achieved by direct federal creation of tens of millions of jobs in energy transition, environmental impact mitigation, as well as low-carbon sectors like socialized healthcare and education, (3) public, democratic ownership of major energy systems and resources, (4) massive investment in climate adaptation and resilience for our communities, agriculture, and transportation systems, and (5) paid for by progressive taxes on dirty industries, corporations, and the wealthy.
For decades, the environmental left has focused its energy on well-meaning but small-scale projects. On the progressive left, this has involved things like introducing some solar or wind power into our energy system, lobbying for some carbon taxes or carbon markets, or rallying around non-binding international climate accords. The more anarchist-inspired left has either tended to embrace individualistic acts of moving “off the grid,” or what Naomi Klein has called “Blockadia,” using physical resistance to stop pipeline projects and the like.
But a true transition to an ecologically sustainable civilization will necessarily involve both millions of workers reconfiguring the basic infrastructure of our society, and millions more willing to shut down the capitalist economy to force fossil profiteers to concede.
We can’t simply be against pipeline projects. We need to be for a concrete, viable program that tens of millions of ordinary working people — whose priorities are rightly their immediate prospects for jobs, healthcare, housing, and education — can get behind. More to the point, we need to rally around such a program fast — efforts must be underway by the early 2020s to have a hope if keeping the world at 1.5C warming. The Green New Deal’s newfound popularity, driven in part by democratic socialist Congressionwoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, means that the moment is right for socialists and working-class movements to take the lead on mass demands for a just transition to an ecological economy.
Starting in 2019, DSA should build up a national campaign for a Green New Deal. Recognizing the amount of time, effort, and infrastructure that this project would require, it might make sense to attach the bulk of that organizing to a broader campaign for Bernie Sanders — the only likely presidential candidate who consistently frames the climate issue as one of class conflict and could actually fight for its passage as president — and then maintain an independent GND campaign focused on research, media, and public actions.
Building a massive and militant working-class movement is absolutely necessary for the ecological transition we need. So we should not see a Green New Deal as somehow a “separate issue” from Medicare for All, the labor movement, or class-struggle electoral campaigns, and should work to incorporate this demand into our broader work.
Develop Consistent Political Education
One of the key jobs of a socialist organization is political education. Historically, the socialist movement has offered a coherent perspective to help people make sense of the world and, crucially, to change it. Our strategies should develop from a political and economic analysis; for that, we need to learn from the rich history and theoretical debates of the socialist movement. DSA should be the political home and school where socialist activists can develop their capacity to read, write, and debate about politics and strategy. We need cadre able to tackle every kind of political and organizational problem and eager to participate in internal democracy.
DSA should commit sizable resources to a national Political Education Committee tasked with designing education for members and chapters.
We should support chapters in organizing regular Socialist Night Schools and periodic Day Schools and other study groups. These sessions can both educate our members and offer an easy-entry activity for recruiting new members.
Finally, DSA should produce pamphlets on the issues in our platform, to help members articulate our democratic socialist vision.
We have a world to win!