Beware the Ocasio-Cortez Bump: On Electoralism in DSA

by Anonymous

For leftists in the United States of Amerikkka,* the current situation looks dark. Ever-more-open fascists are in positions of power throughout the government. White supremacy runs rampant through our society. Inequality is on the rise. In this situation it is natural to search for points of light, places where the left can claim a victory and find cause to feel hopeful. But to paraphrase another, one self-described socialist wins an election and Amerikkkan socialists become a bunch of liberals. Without solid analysis hope can easily be misplaced and a Marxist understanding of the situation replaced with liberal idealism. The latest case where this is happening is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s election victory.

An analysis should begin with what specific gains can be expected. And we should be completely honest with ourselves and each other—there is NO chance that anything she has run on will become law. All three branches of this government are controlled by the far-right wing. And even if, against the odds, a “blue wave” sweeps the nation electorally, all we must do is look back to see what difference that makes. The crowning achievements of Obama’s years are wildly disappointing: a flawed healthcare expansion law, a slew of executive orders that have been overturned, avoiding a full economic collapse in exchange for the Great Recession. The rest of Obama’s legacy is enraging: deporting more people than any other president, the continued growth of the police state, bailing out businesses and banks while prosecuting none, an expansion of imperialist wars. After two terms as president, the socialist left is no stronger and a utilitarian calculus to determine “harm reduction” is impossible. It makes no sense to expect a sole congressperson to be able to leave behind a more inspiring legacy. This is not a victory for “harm reduction”—there is no evidence to support such a claim. Instead we have another politician making promises they can’t keep, covering “socialism” with the same filth and distrust most Amerikkkans feel towards the mainstream parties.

Even if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could enact all her proposals, they are far from perfect. Valid critiques have been made of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s positions but as is usual for debates within DSA, the most important aspect of global capitalism—imperialism—has escaped mention. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has laid out a vision of socialism that focuses on a more equal distribution of wealth among Amerikkkans, ignoring where that wealth comes from while speaking positively about veterans and “ALL who’ve sacrificed in our armed forces.” This is both extremely dangerous and utterly disgusting. Amerikkka rules the world with an iron fist, killing millions with its armies, arms, and resource/wealth extraction policies. A “socialist” on a national stage that refuses to even name this reality, nevermind making the dismantling of this system a center of their platform, is no ally to the global proletariat. They are instead pursuing a politics blinded by nationalism, which in the case of Amerikkka equates to support for a global regime of white supremacist capitalist imperialism.

Some have claimed that this victory will bring media attention and therefore legitimacy to the cause of socialism. What possible reasons could one have to believe that media attention will be beneficial to socialism? Nearly every mainstream outlet is controlled by a handful of corporations, and day-in day-out spread stories that reflexively defend capitalist governments and the white supremacist status quo while defaming leftists and workers the world over. Again, most Amerikkkans (rightly!) view politicians with disgust and, at least instinctively, understand that they serve a set of interests that is not the same as those held by the people. What part of further tying the idea of socialism to the sham that is bourgeoise electoral politics will give further legitimacy to socialism in the eyes of the people?

Similarly, it has been said that this campaign “centers class conflict.” How this vague idea does anything to advance socialism in the eyes of the people is unclear. Ask any worker, they clearly understand that their bosses are screwing them. Ask any immigrant, homeless person, or member of another marginalized community—they understand that the system is stacked against them. The people don’t need an elected official to tell them these truths, they live them. And even further than that, I’ve seen nothing from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that couldn’t have come from the mouth of a progressive capitalist. An explanation of socialism that is so weak that it could be picked up by any progressive capitalist does nothing for improving class consciousness or creating socialism. What is needed is working class organization, a way to wield their power to build a society for themselves instead of one for the capitalists. And instead of building such an organization, finding ways to create something new and powerful, this victory has sunk thousands of hours into reinvigorating a Democratic Party primary. It reinfores the typical lie of liberal democracy that is told to all radicals: “Don’t worry, don’t act out, don’t create something for yourself—put all your energy into getting this one leader elected, this one ballot measure passed, this law overturned, and the system will take care of you.”

Which brings us to the topic of being co-opted by the Democratic Party. Some have raised concerns that this election is a victory but that we must be ever-vigilant against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being co-opted. Why would the Dems need to co-opt one of their own? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will sit in Congress as a Democrat. She will stand there as a beacon to progressives, social democrats, democratic socialists (and apparently even some revolutionary socialists) that the Democratic Party can be fixed and changed. Her mere presence in Congress, if not the actual words from her and her supporters, screams: “All you need to do is vote a little harder, do electoral politics a little harder, really, we promise.”

I’m sure this take will get some backlash: “But what about spreading socialism? What about all the new members this will bring into DSA?”

To the first question I’d ask: what kind of socialism? Surely, we can look to the historical examples globally to see that a socialism that is socialist in name alone does nothing positive for actually creating a communist future. DSA recently left the Socialist International because it is full of political organizations that adopted the socialist name but advanced policies that have only harmed the cause of actually creating socialism. And given all the issues outlined above, what makes this case better or different?

To the second question I’d say: you reap what you sow. DSA already has problems stemming from the class/race character of its membership. This is in some ways due to the source of its membership. The electoral campaigns that have fueled DSA membership speak to a certain class. Certainly, there is broad appeal in the message of Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but the type of people who find such campaigns so inspiring that they are willing to volunteer to continue such electoral efforts are predominantly of a particular background. Altogether this creates a cycle—the grouping of individuals who are excited by (and more importantly have the time and ability to get involved in) electoral politics join DSA, which causes DSA to then focus on electoral campaigns, which excites and recruits more similarly-minded individuals. There is no clear off-ramp for this cycle, with each electoral campaign, if it succeeds or fails, only further cementing the current reality that DSA will focus on electoral politics before and above any other effort.

You want to make DSA into a revolutionary workers party? Start doing revolutionary work, clearly separate from all electoral efforts and directly improving the lives of the workers, and recruit and grow membership from the people that are excited by that work.

*Editors’ note: This piece originates from a comment received in response to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Win Is Exciting, but What Comes Next? and has been edited for sense, but terminology is the author’s own.

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