Is There a Civil War Afoot in the Democratic Party?



Yesterday afternoon, the trendy boutique hipsters at Jacobin magazine, unofficial periodical for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), plopped this epistle into my inbox.

Oh do tell…

I’m not buying it.

I live in a reliably-blue Democratic-majority state, Rhode Island. In my home town, Providence whole cadres of future Democrats are trained at Brown University. So I know my Democratic Party and there is little indication to me that the rancid Chuck Schumer/Nancy Pelosi faction have anything to worry about.

  • The Democratic Socialists of America, which has lots of baggage, comes into existence in 1982 as a merger of a few different political elements, including the remnants of the Old Left Socialist Party, which was involved in a ton of questionable episodes during the Cold War, including very close connections with the CIA. (See my historical primer in Counterpunch for more.)
  • The modus operandi of DSA is a sort of corralling action by convincing activists that a) there’s an honest hope in hell for redeeming the Democratic Party, and b) encouraging members not to work with independent third parties, because members of DSA would never vote for either a third party or a Republican.
  • Thomas Frank called it the “They have nowhere else to go” theory of realpolitik in his recent polemic Listen Liberal!:
    As for those [“special”] interest groups themselves, [Bill] Clinton knew he could insult them with impunity. They had nowhere else to go, in the cherished logic of Democratic centrism. The most famous target of Clinton’s counter-scheduling strategy was the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson… At a 1992 meeting of Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition…Clinton went out of his way to criticize a controversial rapper called Sister Souljah… The exact circumstances of Clinton’s insult have long been forgotten, but the fact of it has gone down in the annals of politicking as a stroke of genius, an example of the sort of thing that New Democrats should always be doing in order to discipline their party’s base. [Emphasis added]
  • In the past two years, Pelosi and Schumer have moved the party further right and there’s zero sign of redirection. Even Bernie Sanders has gotten in on the game by submitting a Medicare for All bill to the Senate that is much more favorable to Big Pharma than the version in the House of Representatives. Despite delusions of grandeur that progressives have been fed via periodicals like Jacobin and similar social democratic outlets, email newsletters, and echo chambers centered in major metropolitan areas, the Democrats are not moving left. They are moving right and taking everyone for a ride.
  • The American Left is a mess that is broken down along either ethnic or single-issue cause demographics. In Providence, DSA had a period of disconnection from longtime organizing campaigns and autonomy from a larger urban coalition that made for uncomfortable episodes. Sectarianism reigns around topics like Is Trump’s government fascist? and Are we witnessing an American imperial decline?, not to mention debates around Syria, Russia and China.
  • All these are important because it takes a unified, viable progressive-left movement, autonomous from the mainstream political parties, to force real tidal change within the halls of Congress. Otherwise it’s all lip service. Only at that point, and not before, will you see a viable Congressional caucus of DSA members, and those of similar thinking, beginning to actually accomplish anything.

In closing, let me emphasize that I don’t hate DSA. It’s just that we have a long way to go before a viable governing coalition can make DSA’s legislative goals possible.

I am not holding my breath yet.


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