The Left of the Left: A Radical Agenda
Despite—or perhaps because of—its increasingly solidified position within the American political landscape, it is crucial to understand that the DSA is a deeply radical organization with views that are far outside the ideological mainstream. It may be most accurately understood as a revolutionary movement aiming to overturn the very foundations of American society.
A comprehensive political platform adopted by the DSA in 2021 defines the socialism that it seeks as “popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.” The specifics of implementing this would entail societal transformations that go far beyond the statist economic central planning that is most often associated with socialist politics. Indeed, it is telling that the platform devotes more words to the section on “International Solidarity, Anti-Imperialism, and Anti-Militarism” than to “Economic Justice” and more to the “Abolition of White Supremacy” than to “A Powerful Labor Movement.” An entire 900+ word section of the platform is dedicated to “Gender and Sexuality Justice.”
To be sure, the DSA’s platform contains plenty of traditional socialist language about the need for the working class to “liberate itself from its own shackles” and deliver “all of humanity from the parasitic death-drive of capitalism.” This is a timeless call to Marxist agitation that could have easily been written more than a century ago. The platform demands the total “abolition of capitalism,” to be replaced by a centrally planned economy complete with a variety of welfare state pillars: a government-guaranteed job for “everyone who wants one,” alongside free water, energy, transportation, food, and various “other necessities.” The DSA proposes “using state action to acquire private property and transform [it] into public democratically controlled housing.” The state would also initiate agricultural collectivization and directly regulate food production and prices, nationalize/socialize all important industries (finance, health care, real estate, utilities, manufacturing, technology, media, etc.), and aggressively regulate those remaining business “not susceptible to nationalization or social control.” Broad-spectrum economic redistribution is the order of the day.
From there, however, the DSA’s platform goes off in all sorts of directions. There are specific calls for “free abortion on demand” and for prohibitions against requiring parental consent when minors try to “access gender affirming care.” There is a proposal for government to disincentivize air travel and the use of personal automobiles, and a patently ridiculous demand to “decarbonize the economy” within 10 years via solar, wind, and geothermal energy. It calls for the government to pay race-based reparations at the local, state, and federal level. On the institutional front, the DSA wants to abolish the Senate and Electoral College, pack the Supreme Court, and transition to a parliamentary electoral system in which non-citizens and violent felons are given the right to vote.
Some of the DSA’s proposals transcend radical leftism into the realm of self-defeating absurdity. For instance, while the group promises that public education would be fully funded in a socialist society, students wouldn’t actually be required to attend school, behave themselves, or learn anything if they did. The DSA explicitly demands the repeal of all truancy laws, supports a categorical prohibition against suspending or expelling troublesome students, and wants to “minimize[e] testing at all levels of education.”
Most striking of all, the DSA wants to completely deconstruct law enforcement in the United States—apparently replacing it with some ambiguous form of communal anarchism that is devoid of any meaningful consequences for criminal behavior. The DSA aims for the total abolition of police and prisons, and its platform states that all people should be released “from involuntary confinement.” It also wants to categorically eliminate misdemeanor offenses—which can include crimes such as assault and battery, driving under the influence, and animal cruelty. While felonies like murder, rape, and kidnapping would presumably remain criminalized, it is unclear how offenders would be detained or punished in a socialist society purged of its police and prisons.
Although the group’s platform is comprehensive, several official DSA working groups at the national level illustrate specific issues that are most important to the group’s membership. An Antifascist Working Group seeks “to organize with local antifascists in opposing the far right.” Its establishment was internally controversial due to the rather obvious association it would create between the DSA and Antifa. The Abolition Working Group focuses on doing away with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. The Disability Working Group wants to expand the DSA’s campaign to eliminate police and prisons to include “nursing facilities and psychiatric institutions.” The BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group operated until 2023, when it was absorbed under contentious circumstances into the DSA’s broader International Committee.
Internal DSA politics are defined by a set of caucuses, which are distinct from the working groups and reveal much about the collective ideological leanings of the organization’s active membership. Some like the Socialist Majority Caucus and the North Star Caucus are considered relatively more moderate and reform-minded, while others—like the Bread & Roses Caucus, the Reform & Revolution Caucus, the Red Star Caucus, and the Communist Caucus—espouse a more hard-left line. At the DSA’s 2023 national convention, a majority of those elected to the national political committee were affiliated with this leftmost wing of the DSA, and at least five of the 16 committee members represent caucuses that are explicitly revolutionary Marxist and/or communist in their outlook.
For example, two committee members including the national secretary were elected from the Marxist Unity Group, which adheres to full-blown revolutionary communism. It seeks “nothing less than a working-class, socialist revolution” in which the “legitimacy of the U.S. Constitution” is eroded “through combative political agitation.” After the working class takes power “by any means necessary,” the Marxist Unity Group intends to establish a “revolutionary Popular Assembly” in which only political parties “that accept the laws of the new revolutionary order will be free to operate.” Eventually, global communism will supposedly herald “the true beginning of human history.”
One conspicuous feature of the DSA’s ideology—which it shares with the American Left more broadly—is its emphasis on differentiating between kinds of people, whether on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or some other immutable characteristic. Not only is this one of the more ominous aspects of the DSA’s worldview—there are precious few examples from history where positive outcomes have been realized through dividing a society up along such lines—but it also undercuts what has traditionally been the core socialist message. It is difficult to understand how making largely superficial human differences so central to its political positioning will advance the DSA’s self-defined goal of having “millions of working-class people stand together” to fight their supposed capitalist oppressors.
This brings up the question of how the DSA handles situations in which two or more interests that it purports to favor come into conflict with one another. In such cases, a hierarchy of sorts emerges that serves to distill the group’s highest priorities. For example, anti-police sentiments trump pro-labor sentiments. While the DSA asserts that the importance of organized labor to socialism “cannot be overstated” and claims to support the right of all workers (including military service members) to unionize, it specifically excludes one category of worker: law enforcement. Far from advocating for their right to unionize, the DSA’s platform demands that all police unions be decertified and expelled from labor federations.
In the next installment, DSA’s foreign policy demonstrates an unequivocal hostility toward Israel along with a general anti-Americanism.