DSA’s 2021 National Convention: Continuing Down the Slippery Slope to Democratic Party Politics

By the Editorial Board

Over the summer, the DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] held its national convention over zoom, with the participation of approximately 1,100 delegates representing close to 100,000 members, according to the various convention reports.

Many domestic and foreign policy issues were discussed at the convention, but the issue of DSA’s stance toward running and supporting Democratic Party candidates occupied most of the space in the numerous written reports about the convention.

One such report, considered by many delegates as the most comprehensive and accurate, was written by David Duhalde of the Socialist Majority caucus, one of the many caucuses in DSA. Concerning the issue of DSA’s electoral strategy, Duhalde wrote:

Concerning electoral politics, a motion from Reform and Revolution, a group primarily not exclusively composed of former SAlt [Socialist Alternative] members who have joined DSA, and one from some members of the Bread & Roses caucus (which was not backed by the caucus as a whole) were both defeated. The latter amendment sought to emphasize a ‘dirty break’ to electoral strategy; discourage DSA-backed candidates from endorsing corporate Democrats; and explore alternatives to VAN, a Democratic Party-sponsored voter database. The Reform and Revolution-backed amendment was defeated in a 359-623 vote, but the ‘dirty break’ amendment failed by a narrower margin, 442-577.

I was happily surprised this amendment failed; its defeat demonstrates a shift against the official ‘dirty break’ position the national convention adopted in 2019. As the new DSA matures, a consensus seems to be building that emphasizing a ‘break’ with Democrats per se can be alienating to voters we need to win over and put DSA-backed elected officials in a difficult position.

“DSA did not need to officially endorse Biden over Trump in the 2020 election, but it likely would have been counterproductive to ask elected officials to do the same. If DSA had asked elected officials to not endorse, this likely would have alienated the organization from officeholders rather than producing non-endorsements. Both DSA itself and DSA officeholders need to maintain flexibility on these questions.”

The “dirty break” strategy was first developed a number of years ago to justify running DSA candidates on the ballot line of the Democrats, and/or supporting “progressive” Democratic Party candidates. The rationale for adopting a policy that had long been rejected — and repudiated — by socialists, going back to Eugene V. Debs, goes something like this:

Running on the Democratic Party ballot line is not an endorsement of the Democratic Party; it’s a tactical, not a principled, question. Amassing a large number of DSA-supported candidates inside the Democratic Party over an extended period of time would then, at some point down the road, scare the Democratic National Committee and compel the party leaders to expel the rebellious DSA wing of the party. Once expelled, this wing would go on to establish a Workers Party. Hence the “dirty break” — as opposed to a “clean break,” which opposes running or supporting Democrats, in whatever guise, as a matter of principle.

In previous issues of The Organizer, we noted that the “dirty break” with the Democratic Party is no break at all; it is just left cover to support one of the two parties of capitalism and imperialism. Based on the lessons of the past 100 years, we explained how every radical tendency that sought “inside-outside,” or “dirty break” politics (often using different names) always got co-opted into the mainstream of Democratic Party politics. We demonstrated how this applied, in particular, to Bernie Sanders and the AOC-type “progressives.”

In our past articles, we noted that it was simply a matter of time before the DSA slid further down the slippery slope into Democratic Party politics.

Two years after the DSA embraced the “dirty break” strategy, the party has now “matured” to the point where it does not want to alienate its Democratic Party elected officials by raising even the specter of a break with the Democrats and the formation of an independent Workers Party.

The ”dirty break” strategy served its purpose: to derail a movement of tens of thousands of young activists back into the Democratic Party, the gravedigger of all social movements — all in the name of “socialism.”

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