The Democratic Socialists of America Are Coming: Do They Represent America’s Future?

August 8, 2018 Updated: August 9, 2018

News Analysis

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is the largest, most active, and fastest growing far-left socialist membership organization in the United States. It’s not a political party, but rather a tax-exempt 501(c)4activist” nonprofit that, according to the IRS, “must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.”

In the view of some observers, the DSA, in reality, has become a politicized vehicle to advance hardcore Marxism.

Evidence for this can be found on its website. The DSA offers an online “Socialist School” course titled “A Basic Introduction to the Thought of Karl Marx.”

Video taken at the DSA’s 2017 national convention shows attendees enthusiastically singing “The Internationale,” the musical expression of allegiance to the ideals of the Soviet Union and the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that brought the communists to power in Russia.

In an email on Aug. 6, Diana West, the author of “American Betrayal” and a nationally syndicated columnist, commented: “It’s quite clear that DSA is both communist and Marxist—and ‘progressive’ and Alinskyite and Fabian as well—in the sense that all of these groups and factions seek to remake America according to the same socialist, centrally planned, varyingly totalitarian vision.

“All of them would create the kind of tyranny that our founding fathers would have had to declare independence from all over again.”

Rapid Growth

It may seem surprising then to learn that the DSA has significantly increased its membership and its chapters, especially on or near college campuses in the United States.

According to the New Yorker, “In 2016, the DSA had about five thousand members; today, there are more than forty-five thousand, and the median age has plummeted, from late sixties to early thirties.”

The DSA’s surge in its dues-paying membership has been aided by, and advanced in tandem with, the increasingly radicalized resistance to President Donald Trump since his election in November 2016.

After the DSA’s 2017 national convention, CNN described its members as “the new socialists [who] have podcasts, internet memes, and a vibrant independent media.”

As of Aug. 7, the directory of DSA and YDS (Young Democratic Socialists of America) chapters and organizing committees listed 212 active chapters, across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2016, according to the DSA, as cited by the Daily Wire, there were only 15 chapters.

Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (right) campaigns with congressional candidate Randy Bryce at a rally on Feb. 24, 2018 in Racine, Wisconsin. Bryce takes left-wing positions and is referred to by Wisconsin Republicans as a socialist. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (right) campaigns with congressional candidate Randy Bryce at a rally on Feb. 24, 2018 in Racine, Wisconsin. Bryce takes left-wing positions and is referred to by Wisconsin Republicans as a socialist. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Running as Democrats

The DSA burst on the national political scene in June after one of its members, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York Democratic primary election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, and the positive mainstream media attention accorded her, encouraged a number of other leftists running as Democrats, such as “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic state primary, to openly declare themselves as socialists and members of the DSA.

In recent years, the DSA has published a sophisticated and detailed plan on how it intends to increase its numbers and to position its members to run in elections as Democrats.

The DSA’s national convention in 2017 adopted three goals. The first two, endorsing Medicare for All and supporting organized labor, were pro-forma. The third one, however, outlined a bold new proposal to elect open socialists by running them as Democrats. Last November, Politico quoted a DSA official, Daniel Moraff, who said: “We are here to win elections.”

The official minutes of the 2017 DSA convention indicate that it “commits the NPC (National Political Committee) to expand the work of the National Electoral Committee in supporting chapters’ efforts to develop and run viable openly socialist candidates for office (either in Democratic primaries or as independents).”

Additionally, at the 2017 national convention, the “DSA passed a resolution by over two-thirds to call for total abolition of police and prisons.”

On Aug. 3, the DSA wrote on its official Twitter account: “Democratic socialists don’t just want to fix capitalism, they want to replace it,” and then linked to an article about the DSA in In These Times subtitled “Democratic socialism is having a moment. From electing open socialists to ending capitalism.”

The article, by Marianela D’Aprile, a member of the DSA’s NPC, notes: “We believe that we must replace capitalism with a system that puts both the economy and political decision-making under democratic control.”

Endorsing Harassment

In recent months, DSA members have actively participated in the public harassment of Trump administration officials, such as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and other Republican officeholders.

In an op-ed in The Wall Steet Journal on July 11, former DSA member Michael S. Bernick wrote:

“Today’s DSA endorses the anti-Trump ‘resistance’ tactics of personal harassment. Last week, a group stalked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he left a Louisville, Ky., restaurant. The Louisville DSA chapter tweeted a video of the incident, noting that ‘several’ of its members participated. The national DSA then retweeted it from its verified account. One man in the video shouts: ‘We know where you live, too, Mitch!'”

The DSA was the most prominent supporter of the radical Occupy ICE Portland tent encampment, which was shut by the city as a biohazard on Aug. 1, after largely being left alone for five weeks. The DSA continues to endorse the other ongoing Occupy ICE demonstrations and direct actions taking place in a dozen or more U.S. cities.

Raising Money

This summer, Ocasio-Cortez, occasionally joined by her mentor, socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has embarked on a national grassroots tour to support and raise money for like-minded socialists running as Democrats.

Last week in California, according to Politico, “[Ocasio-Cortez] starred in two sold-out fundraisers in San Francisco—one an exclusive $2,500-a-head event, the other a $27-per-person event that sold out in hours after it was announced on social media. Demand for the latter was so high that organizers said they changed the venue twice to accommodate larger crowds; they announced at evening’s end that it had raised $15,000, all via donations of under $50 from activist grass-roots followers.”

A young man wears a Democrat Socialists of America t-shirt at the victory party for socialist congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on June 26, 2018 in New York City. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)
A young man wears a Democrat Socialists of America t-shirt at the victory party for socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has just become the Democratic candidate for New York’s 14th congressional district, on June 26, 2018 in New York City. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Ultimately, the impact of the DSA and the far left on the Nov. 6 congressional midterm elections won’t become clear until Nov. 7 and afterward. Meanwhile, as many political analysts have noted, the strongest grassroots momentum leading up to the midterms appears to be with the far left—and the DSA.

Michelle Goldberg, in a June 30 op-ed for The New York Times titled “The Millennial Socialists Are Coming,” says the DSA and its members “have no memory of the widespread failure of communism, but the failures of capitalism are all around them.”

Concluding the article, Goldberg wrote: “There are more candidates like Ocasio-Cortez out there, and the Democrats should welcome them. It needs their youth and zeal and willingness to do the work of rebuilding the party as a neighborhood institution. And they’re coming, whether the party’s leadership likes it or not.”

Follow Peter Barry Chowka on Twitter: @pchowka

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