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Just a decade ago, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) had just 6,500 members. Now, with over 90,000 members across the country, Democratic Socialists of America is the largest socialist organization in the United States.
DSA’s membership exploded in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, bringing about a new activist energy. But, in recent years, DSA has returned to its social democratic roots, and to an overwhelming focus on electoral politics — specifically, on supporting the Democratic Party and progressive Democratic candidates in elections, like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and on trying to push the Party to take up progressive reforms.
But despite DSA’s popularity, the group’s founder, Michael Harrington, remains relatively obscure.
Michael Harrington was the most important advocate of democratic socialism in the U.S. in the second half of the 20th century. He was a public intellectual and political activist who once led the Socialist Party, and he founded DSA in 1982.
Throughout his life, Harrington advocated for working within the Democratic Party — being on the “left wing of the possible,” as he put it. His conservative “socialism” led him to rein in the more radical elements of the Left, forging alliances with liberals, and making whatever deals were necessary to avoid alienating Democrats. But Harrington’s influence goes far beyond merely founding DSA — his politics, strategy, and vision are alive and well in the organization, and in the wider U.S. Left.
On this episode, we interview Doug Enaa Greene, the author of a recently biography of Michael Harrington called “A Failure of Vision: Michael Harrington and the Limits of Democratic Socialism.” Greene is an independent communist historian who is also the author of “Communist Insurgent: Blanqui’s Politics of Revolution.”
In this interview, we discuss who Michael Harrington was, his politics and where they led him, and his legacy, particularly the ways in which Harrington continues to cast a long shadow over DSA.
“A Failure of Vision: Michael Harrington and the Limits of Democratic Socialism” is available here
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