Socialists See an Opening for Change

By JASON SIBERT

Social Democrats USA passed key resolutions and discussed a strategy to move the country forward in their Biennial National Convention in Carnegie, Pa. on Aug. 11-12.

Social Democrats USA is a faction of the old Eugene Debs/Norman Thomas Socialist Party. The Socialist Party of America merged with the Social Democratic Federation, once a part of the Socialist Party, in 1956 to form Socialist Party/Social Democratic Federation. Socialist Party/Social Democratic Federation changed its name to Social Democrats USA in 1972.

Internal differences led to a three-way party split. One faction formed a political party, Socialist Party USA, which still exists to this day, and another faction formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. The DSOC later merged with the New American Movement to form the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that still exists today. The Democratic Socialists of America has experienced a membership surge in the aftermath of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. SDUSA is a smaller organization.

“We trace our beginnings right back to the old Socialist Party of Eugene Debs,” SDUSA secretary-treasurer Rick D’Loss said. “There’s no other group around today that can say that. Debs originally belonged to a party called Social Democratic Party of America.”

SDUSA’s national office, once located in New York City, folded in 2005. This left the organization with a local affiliate in Johnstown, Pa. The people from the local spearheaded a revival in 2007. D’Loss believes in the potential for average people to work for change.

“Your average person that isn’t political or even particularly progressive believes in making things better,” he said. “The Democratic Socialists of America are pretty much radical leftists and not everyone is going to join a group like that. The guy on the street doesn’t see himself as a radical leftist and Social Democrats USA is a place where an average guy can fit in and say ‘we just want to make things better than they are now. We think people should be able to go to the doctor or make a better wage.’ They’re not radical people, they just want to make things better.”

At the SDUSA Board meeting on Aug. 11, the board passed a resolution supporting the decriminalization of marijuana. The resolution said decriminalization would mean less contact between police forces and those they police. Less contact would mean a more positive environment between police forces and the civilian community. In addition, the resolution also supported drug treatment programs.

The SDUSA Board also passed a resolution supporting the liberating force of religion as well as the separation of church and state. The resolution also committed the organization to a pro-choice position on abortion. It also supported expanded access to adoption services and sex education. The Board also committed Social Democrats to the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s People’s Budget which includes bold planks like universal healthcare and education, taxing Wall Street and transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

The Board also discussed a resolution supporting arms control and a foreign policy where diplomacy is front and center. The newly introduced resolution will be discussed at a later date. The resolution might be considered a break from the past. Some past members of SDUSA became what is termed “neoconservatives.” In the 1970’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee head Michael Harrington criticized the organization for its “obsessive anti-communism.” Harrington supported German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, a policy of dealing with the Soviet Union in a diplomatic manner.

Carl Gershman, who was Executive Director of SDUSA from 1975-1980, served in the Reagan Administration as the US Representative to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights. Joshua Muravchick also belonged to SDUSA at one time. Muravchick, an advocate of the 2003 Iraq War, served on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion from 2002 to 2009.

Shortly after passing the resolution, SDUSA National Chair Patty Friend conducted a meeting on organizing SDUSA locals. Friend presented a simple philosophy on organizing.

“The biggest part of organizing is showing up,” she said. “Organizing is everything. It’s wonderful to have a broad base of people that think like you, but it’s not enough to have a base of people thinking the right thoughts. You need to be able to take action. The power of a group will always be bigger and more long-lasting than the power of one.”

Friend said the organization wanted for members to be active in local progressive causes and to charter locals. The national convention included a forum on Aug. 12 at Off the Wall Productions in Carnegie. Stressing the democratic ideology of the group, there was a banner that said “pro-democracy, pro-labor,” displayed in front of all live speakers. Friend, D’Loss and Michael Mottern moderated a discussion with European social democratic leaders via Skype. Veselin Tonev and Emil Knyazhin of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, Zsolt Csiszár of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party and Christian Hörbelt, a graduate Student at the Europa-Universität Viadrina, discussed the rise of European right-wing populism, the past of social democracy in Europe and the steps it has to take to regain a foothold on the continent.

The second session featured Union Edge talk radio host Charles Showalter speaking on the accomplishments of the labor movement. Union Edge is the only labor-oriented talk radio program in the Pittsburgh region. Carnegie is an inner-ring suburb of Pittsburgh. Showalter talked of the struggles of organizing unions amongst a hostile political environment and also the positive economic side of the union movement. He said that higher union wages lead to more money being spent in local communities.

The third section included University of California at San Diego Sociologist Lane Kenworthy. Kenworthy penned a book “Social Democratic America.” The sociologist reiterated the point stressed in his book and that’s that the United States will become more social democratic in the next 50 years. He talked about the need for wage-loss insurance, a higher minimum wage, increased educational opportunity, expanded early childhood education and more generous unemployment insurance and social security.

Jason Sibert worked for the Suburban Journals in the St. Louis area for over a decade and is currently executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis, Mo. Email jasonsibert@hotmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2017


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