Democratic Socialism Could be One of 2021’s Biggest Winners

Author: Luiza Cavalcante (Leftist)

Before Judie Whitmer, a democratic socialist who won her election a few weeks ago to become chair of the Nevada Democratic Party could celebrate, she received an email from the party’s executive director. The message got straight to the point: the director would be quitting. So was every single other employee. And so were all the consultants. 

On March 8th, a slate of progressive candidates backed by The Left Caucus and DSA organizers swept leadership positions in Nevada’s democratic party. All but one of the slate candidates were card carrying democratic socialists, and their ascendance to power signals a significant shift in voters’ attitudes towards far left political ideology. 

For a party that preaches unity, the Democratic establishment does have quite a knack for detrimental division. After the Nevada socialist slate won their seats they found themselves not only with no staff- but no funds either. Suspecting losses, the Democrats had drained $450,000 out of party accounts prior to the election and moved the funds to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who will use it to finance the 2022 re-election campaign of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

“We weren’t really surprised, in that we were prepared for it. But what hit us by surprise and was sort of shocking is that they claimed that they were all about unity, and kept this false narrative of division going on throughout the entire campaign — in fact, they kept intensifying that — that’s what was surprising about it, was the willingness to just walk away, instead of working with us.”

Whitmer told The Intercept

The Democratic Socialists of America, a labor oriented nonprofit that pushes for decreasing the power of money in politics, empowering workers, and restructuring towards a more equitable society, is the largest socialist organization in the United States. Initially, the party had just 5,000 members, but it now reports 85,000. Recent surges are attributed in part to the wave of Bernie Sanders supporters that migrated to the party after the Senator left the 2016 presidential race, and in part in response to Trumpism. By far the greatest membership uptick, however, is owed to the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020 the DSA reported 10,000 new members since March. Then, just seven months later, the number of card-carrying, dues-paying total members had climbed to a whopping 85,000, a 30% increase. 

Maurice Iseman, a history professor at Hamilton College and a member of the DSA, told The Atlantic that the party’s ascendance is “as impressive as anything that’s happened in left wing history” since the Socialist Party of America reached its peak in 1912. 

“It’s a good time to be a socialist,” DSA Denver Labor Chair, Mariah Wood, notes. But arguably, this is also a time that necessitates socialists. Wood’s chapter has recruited more than 200 laid-off workers since the start of the pandemic and has launched a campaign to push Governor Jared Polis to cancel rent and mortgage payments. With the help of local groups including an array of trade unions and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, they’ve been successful- a temporary ban on evictions was ordered by Polis. The DSA historically has a radical reputation, one that makes the ready alliance of community groups to its efforts unlikely. But the pandemic’s magnification of social ills has changed that. With the democratic party failing to forge sustainable paths forward over the past year, progressive tactics have been able to prove themselves as remedies for now exposed societal instabilities.

The DSA will continue to face an uphill battle in successfully pushing for reforms in part because of the organization’s size- 85,000 members doesn’t hold a candle to the 600,000 member strong Libertarian party for example, in part because of how prevalent anti-socialist attitudes continue to be in the United States, and in part because of retaliation from the Democratic Party. But, Democratic Socialists have been campaigning for affordable childcare, universal health care, and environmental reform for decades, a track record that prepares the party to capitalize on the mass unrest the pandemic’s social determinants have posed. The future of the party may be uncertain, but it is also hopeful. All in all, it’s a good time to be a socialist.

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