The Socialist Horizon: Building a New Party

mix of centralization and decentralization, its democratic ethos within a larger structure, its flexibility and yet its consistency speak to both the needs as well as the disaggregated shape and culture of today's millennial working class.The Democratic Socialists of America is a mix of centralization and decentralization, its democratic ethos within a larger structure, its flexibility and yet its consistency speak to both the needs as well as the disaggregated shape and culture of today’s millennial working class. (Photo: Northside Chicago DSA)

As the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) convention wound to its close at the beginning of August, I was struck with the historical strangeness of what I witnessed. Decades after proclamations of the “end of history” and critiques of institutional hierarchies and vertical structures of power, here were nearly 1,000 mostly young activists gathered in a giant lecture hall doing the work of building a radical political party: taking votes, making motions, electing a national leadership, making speeches for and against, observing the strange Anglo-Saxon strictures of Robert’s Rules of Order. 

The convention in Chicago has rightly garnered an enormous amount of attention, both for the unprecedented size of the organization, as well as for its increasingly red hue. The surge in membership makes DSA the largest socialist organization in the US since World War II, and its growth in strength and popularity is equally marked by its radical turn to the left: delegates voted to endorse the boycott, sanction and divest (BDS) movement against Israeli violations of human rights; they voted to embrace the creation of an Afro-Socialism Caucus that includes a platform for abolishing prisons and police; and they reaffirmed their distance from the Democratic Party and their role in creating an independent socialist movement. They did all this while strengthening the centralization and structure of the DSA by introducing monthly dues payments for members.

As Chilean activist and writer Marta Harnecker notes, the rise of globalization, neoliberalism and the end of the Cold War has also led to what she refers to as the “social disorientation” of both the working class and the left….

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