The National Convention of the Democratic Socialists of America is currently under way. An estimated 700 to 800 delegates representing 25,000 members nationwide are participating in the four-day event at the University of Illinois in Chicago. In the weeks preceding the convention, numerous resolutions were put forward by individual members and groups, some of which were circulated throughout the organization to be presented for discussion and vote at the convention.
On Saturday (Day 3), the discussion centered on amendments to the DSA’s constitution as well as the organization’s national priorities.
The delegates voted to sever relations with the Socialist International, a conglomeration of parties that have embraced and in some cases implemented neoliberal policies around the world (ie., the German SPD, Hollande’s Socialist Party in France, Peña Nieto’s PRI in Mexico, the Indian Congress Party, and the Greek PASOK).
The resolution that passed stated, “Our affiliation with the Socialist International hinders our ability to develop stronger relationships with parties and social movements that share our values and which, in many cases, are bitterly opposed to their country’s SI affiliate(s),” and, “In many countries, they have helped to lead the attack on the welfare state and on the rights of workers and unions.”
The DSA has been affiliated with the Socialist International since its founding in 1982. Saturday’s vote to leave the international marks a historic shift, signaling the political leanings of the exponentially growing new membership.
At the same time, some members are putting forward proposals for building “stronger relationships with new left parties and movements” outside of the SI, “from Podemos (Spain) to PSOL (Brasil) to Momentum in Britain” (from DSA Momentum Platform ).
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On Saturday, the assembled delegates voted to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. The bulk of the resolution is an indictment of Israel’s occupation of Palestine:
“Israel has engaged in a program of rapacious colonization (‘settlements’) of the Occupied Palestinian Territories…Israeli settlers in the West Bank are given the rights of Israeli citizenship, subject to civilian law, and are permitted to drive on roads barred to Palestinians…Palestinians in the West Bank are not Israeli citizens, are subjected to military law, including being tried in military courts with a 99% conviction rate, are forced to drive on different roads…[T]here are today at least 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
“…[A]ll of the aforementioned constitutes apartheid…”
With this vote, the DSA has taken a stance that leaves behind the Democratic Party’s line and that of Bernie Sanders, who, when asked whether he supported the BDS during an interview with Al Jazeera , bluntly replied, “No, I’m not a supporter.”
The decision immediately rippled through social media and was lauded by many inside and outside the organization.
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Also on Saturday, delegates voted in favor of a resolution by members of the NYC and North Jersey members of the Afro-Socialist and Socialists of Color Caucus. The proposal included formal recognition of the Caucus by the National organization. It included a statement in support of reparations in the US to “communities descended from slaves” and the Global South “nations who have suffered hundreds of years of economic exploitation” by “imperialist nations.”
The statement pointed out,
“Reparations won’t erase the shamefully violent history of our country, or the irreparable damage 400+ years of free labor has caused the black community. It is, however, a means of redistributing wealth to the communities descended from slaves, which could ease the material burdens they face today.”
Of note, in an amendment that was eventually voted down, New York City members proposed to replace the preamble of the “Priorities Resolution” with language around the DSA’s relationship to the Democratic Party:
“We should recognize that the Democratic Party is not our party, even if we sometimes run or support candidates within it. We have, therefore, no interest in its internal battles, such as the fight between Keith Ellison and Tom Perez. We should refrain from endorsing or supporting Democrats engaged in political struggles within the Democratic Party. Taking part in such internal Democratic Party fights only disorients our members, leading them to believe that the Democratic Party can be a vehicle for the aspirations of working people.
“We believe it is important to emphasize this point because the Democratic Party has historically been the biggest challenge to progressive movements.”
The proposal did not advance a clear break with the Democratic Party; it was milder in content, but was still struck down at the convention.
Although the DSA’s electoral strategy and the question of full independence from the Democratic Party has proven difficult to resolve, the events taking place at the DSA convention signal auspicious changes brought on by the growing new members and influx of youth.