Highly regarded Labor Secretary Tom Perez announced yesterday his candidacy for Chair of the
Democratic National Committee. Perez is thought to have been encouraged in his bid by the Obama-Clinton forces in the Democratic Party who are unhappy with Keith Ellison, the other major candidate for the DNC post. The stage is now set for a contest between the centrist and progressive wings of the DP.
Perez is considered a friend by much of the labor movement, including the AFL- CIO which has endorsed Keith Ellison. The major fault found with Perez by the unions is his advocacy of the TransPacific Pact as an emissary of the Obama administration, and some labor leaders are said to be annoyed that he delayed his announcement until after they had committed to Ellison. The process, they say, has been going on for months, and Perez should have indicated his interest earlier.
In the opinion of progressives, the election of Perez would pose several problems in the rebuilding of the DP from its catastrophic defeat in November. First, it would mean that the rebuilding process would be in the hands of those who have had undisputed control of the party machinery for the last eight years and who led the DP to disaster. Their inability and even unwillingness to confront the Republicans over working class issues is seen as helping cause significant defections from the Democrats in November. The likelihood that they would change course is considered remote, but without changing course, the party is likely to face the same electoral defeats that it did in 2010, 2014 and 2016, defeats that have left the three branches of the Federal government in conservative control.
A Perez leadership of the party might well infuriate the Sanders-Warren wing that is solidly behind Ellison. Certainly the activists who came into the party through the Sanders campaign are unlikely to continue as foot soldiers in a DP dominated by the same old same old Obama- Clinton supporters. More probable is a continuation of the battle for control of the party extending for years.
For social democrats, the key question is, who will be more likely to take the DP in the direction it needs to go to become a social democratic/progressive party, a party that will be responsive to the needs of the people? It’s probably fair to say that Perez is the status quo candidate and that Keith Ellison is the agent of change. It was in the belief for the necessity of change that SDUSA endorsed Keith Ellison this week.
The National Committee of Social Democrats USA, at its meeting on Wednesday, December 14th, endorsed the candidacy of Keith Ellison for Chair of the Democratic National Committee. The Committee’s resolution said:
” The National Committee of Social Democrats USA proudly joins major labor organizations including the American Federation of Labor- Congress of Industrial Organizations, the United Steel Workers, the Communications Workers of America, the American Federation of Government Employees and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and progressive and labor leaders including Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative John Lewis, Randi Weingarten (President of the American Federation of Teachers), RoseAnn DeMoro (Executive Director of National Nurses United), and Lee Saunders (President, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) in endorsing the candidacy of Representative Keith Ellison for Chair of the Democratic National Committee.
” We believe that, after decades of neoliberal control, the Democratic Party must regain its historic position as the party of America’s working class. The people of our country require a truly progressive Democratic Party, one that strongly advocates jobs for all at living wages, the rebuilding of the labor movement, healthcare for all without regard to ability to pay, fair taxation and public investment in infrastructure, education and child care. The Party requires a leader of vision and courage, one who does more than tinker with the machinery of the Party to make it run more smoothly. Representative Ellison is that person.
” Keith Ellison has promised to respond to the recent catastrophic defeat by building the
Democratic Party from the ground up. He listens and learns. He will hear the deep concerns of the working class base of our Party. He will bring into the Party the enormous progressive energy unleashed by the Sanders campaign, and he will listen to the voices of ordinary Democrats throughout the nation. Keith Ellison understands the value of coalition building: an early supporter of Senator Sanders, he became a tireless campaigner for Secretary Clinton when she won the Democratic nomination. He will bring change and unity.
” Social Democrats USA is a principled supporter of the State of Israel. We are proud that most of its principal founders were members of the Labor Zionist and Socialist Zionist movements to which we feel a kinship. We strongly favor an Israel at peace with its neighbors, and we support an independent Palestinian state at peace with its neighbors. We
were concerned, therefore, about allegations that Representative Ellison is anti- Israel and even anti- Semitic. In assessing these allegations, we rely on the witness of those who have worked closely with him, such as Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten, a practicing Jew
and a progressive Zionist, who called the allegations “swiftboating.” President Weingarten went on to say,” I can feel and smell anti- Semitism. Keith Ellison is no anti- Semite, and it is maddening when anybody who doesn’t know him or his record makes that ugly accusation…Keith is an agent of change, a fierce fighter for working folk and someone who understands that one has to fight against bigotry and hate and fight for the economic and educational opportunities that America’s working families need.”
” We polled our members, and while we did not get a strong sampling, the responses were in favor of endorsing Ellison. We, therefore, ask our members and friends to join us in urging the Democratic National Committee to elect Representative Keith Ellison as its Chair.”
Minnesota progressive Congressman Keith Ellison picked up support today for his campaign to become DNC Chair from Democracy for America, a group founded by Howard Dean. Dean, a former
DNC Chair, recently withdrew his candidacy for a new election to that position. In its announcement, DFA said that 87.4% of those voting in its poll favored Ellison. The organization prides itself on its successful support of Howard Dean’s bid for DNC Chair in 2005. In a further sign of Ellison’s support from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Senators Sanders and Warren and teachers’union president Randi Weingarten will join Ellison in a livestream event for Our Revolution on Wednesday, December 14th, at 8 P.M Eastern time.
However, Ellison’s path to the top may not be entirely smooth. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez
is said to be moving closer to entering the race. If he does throw his hat in the ring, it would be be as the candidate of President Obama and the centrist wing of the Party, and the stage would be set for a battle between the centrist and progressive wings. Having been chewed up in the November election, Perez’ supporters are said to be uncertain if they want to take on Sanders and friends at this time. Obama is, after all, leaving the presidency, and Secretary Clinton seems to lack the will to enter another contest. The centrist Democrats are giving to have to live with the progressives, without either Obama or Clinton, so maybe a fight now would be foolhardy.
We now move from the theoretical to the practical: concrete ways to get SDUSA’s message to as large an audience as possible, particularly to activists who are working in the groups that are coming out of the Sanders campaign. I want to make clear that I don’t have a monopoly of experience or ideas in this area. Your thoughts about reaching people are very much wanted, and I encourage you to share them in the comments.
In the previous post I suggested that advocacy and education were likely to be the principal
ways in which SDUSA could relate to the new progressive movement that is growing from the
Bernie campaign. J. Michael Holmes added that organizational expertise was another way that SDUSA members could add value. In this post I want to suggest practical activities to carry out those functions, activities that by necessity could be done by a small group or even a single individual.
Broadly speaking, these tasks involve communication and participation, and the first means of communication is the one that you are now reading, Socialist Currents. It is a tool that we have to get “News and Comment” to members and sympathizers, and it is fairly cheap (writers don’t get paid!). Another cost-effective way to communicate is our active Facebook page. In the far past, our predecessor organization constantly lived hand to mouth because of the expense of producing and distributing a national newspaper; it could do little else, as a practical matter. Today Socialist Currents and Facebook give us a virtual national newspaper, and we can spend most of our funds on other ways to reach people.
One method to reach many people is a conference sponsored by SDUSA. Our Buffalo, NY people have just put on such a conference. A major advantage is that not all speakers have to come from SDUSA, and SDUSA gains prestige from being to carry out such a task. Another advantage is that organizers can shape the discussion by selecting the speakers and panelists. The drawback is probably that conferences are labor-intensive and beyond the resources of a single person.
Another way to reach a lot of people is conferences sponsored by other organizations. Frequently organizers want to raise some revenue, and they allow groups- for a fee-
to “table.” Tabling is something that can be done by a single person. It usually only requires a banner, pamphlets to distribute and a pad to take names. The conversations that tabling makes possible are valuable in recruiting new members and in just getting to know other progressives in the community. If the SDUSA member has a selection of high-quality
materials available for distribution, tabling becomes an important way to educate progressives.
Back in the day, pamphlets were produced at fairly extended intervals by the Socialist Party- Social Democratic Federation. A serious pamphlet had to be printed and so was
relatively expensive (there were some mimeographed materials but they were not held in the same respect as printed pamphlets). And let’s be blunt: however they were produced, the
content was sometimes not very good.
We are in a very different position today. There are several progressive think tanks, and they produce high-quality papers that are supportive of social democratic positions. Most
Of the time these papers are not copyrighted and can be reproduced by anyone with a laser printer. We just need to run off the needed quantity, hit the papers with an SDUSA rubber stamp, and behold, we have a stack of SDUSA pamphlets!
Organizational skills are a major contribution that SDUSA could make to the new movement. A number of us learned skills as young people in the labor and socialist movements, but as SDUSA grows, we will have to find ways to train a new generation in the art of organizing. We older people had the chance to learn in a larger movement than we have today, but now we have think in terms of training new members to work effectively by themselves or in small groups. One way to do this is to offer scholarships to training schools such as the Midwest
Academy; for approximately $2,000 to pay for tuition, lodging, board and travel, a person can attend a five-day organizing course.
Of course, none of this is free– economical but not free. I think that the national organization should help individual members and small groups communicate. Pamphlets, for
example, could be produced nationally and shipped as needed to local members. But to work effectively with the new movement and to arm its members with a thorough knowledge of Social
Democracy, we need to raise adequate amounts of money. A good beginning would be for everyone on this mailing list who agrees with SDUSA to join as a member. The form to apply is on this website, and memberships are available in various categories.
I hope that some of you will add your own ideas for communicating with the progressive community. But most of all, I hope that everyone will catch the excitement of this movement. We are literally looking at the possibility of a movement of social democrats with a membership in the hundreds of thousands!
Faithful and patient readers will know that I have been using this space to talk about “the social democratic moment” and to urge the potential of the new movement that is forming out of the Bernie campaign. That such a moment was coming was sensed by my comrade Rick D’Loss
several months ago, writing in Socialist Currents, and we had a glimpse of it at the SDUSA convention in 2014 when we discussed the possible effect of a Left candidacy within the Democratic Party, not knowing that any candidate would actually be forthcoming. Such a candidacy became a reality; now we can assess its impact and start to think about the possible role of SDUSA in the new movement.
The impact of the Bernie candidacy was substantial and it has not diminished since the election. If anything, the Trump victory has stiffened the spine of the American Left as it braces for a coordinated attack by the Right against many of the programs that have made up a frayed, but vital, safety net. Bernie’s example has demonstrated the way that the Left
can develop power: by running a credible candidate with a feasible, but radical, program in the Democratic primaries. Important for us, his platform was social democratic, and he showed that there are millions of social democrats out there, although they don’t use the phrase. The new movement will be social democratic, and that creates opportunities for Social Democrats ((upper case) that we haven’t seen for decades.
Our Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation forebears who had the vision to see the importance of a realigned liberal-labor party also considered how a socialist group could relate to such a party. For reasons that I discussed elsewhere, I think it will be more effective to create, with others, a mass progressive organization and then use it as our vehicle in the Democratic Party. The SDUSA relation will be to the progressive movement, probably in the states, rather than to the DP as a whole. In its 1960 political statement the SP-SDF outlined such a relationship:”…We look toward the liberal-labor party as the arena in which we can function even more meaningfully than we have in the past. As a loyal and honest democratic socialist wing of that party, we look forward to fulfilling a profoundly important political and educational role: that of offering long range ideals to serve as a yardstick while vigorously pursuing everyday actions consistent with those ideals.”
Given its resources, that was a tall order for the SP-SDF, and, in fact, it never came close
to executing the strategy, even in places where it might have been possible. Some members did join the nascent Democratic club movement in places like New York and California, but they functioned as individuals and had no common, guiding purpose. It’s much more difficult for SDUSA because small as the SP-SDF was, we are smaller, and poor as the SP-SDF was, we are poorer. Nevertheless, we have a vision and we have a message. Unlike our forebears, we have an audience that is sympathetic and ready to listen.
As we begin to think about a strategy by which we can influence the coming progressive movement and about practical tactics to implement such a strategy, I think we need to have some common understandings and expectations:
1. SDUSA will not be a mass movement and doesn’t have to be a mass movement, or even very large, to be effective. We certainly need to recruit and welcome new members to join in our work, but we should expect that they will be relatively few.
2. Our electoral activity will be carried out, all but exclusively, by the larger progressive movement whose direction and program we are trying to influence.
3. SDUSA, as an organization with a unique message, should be independent of the larger movement but its members and sympathizers should be part of it. SDUSA should continue to issue its own platforms and comments on political events. Socialist Currents should be strengthened so it is a means of communication to the wider movement.
4. The new movement is unlikely to engage in education of its members. Few American political organizations do. Our focus, then, should be on providing in-depth programmatic
material to movement members, based on social democratic ideals and their implementation.
Using those understandings as a basis, we can begin to think of creative, practical ways to