What Kind of Organization is DSA?
DSA has its roots in the Socialist Party of America (SPA), whose most prominent leader was Eugene V. Debs. In 1973, Michael Harrington, the leader of a minority faction that had opposed the SPA’s rightward shift and transformation into the Social Democrats USA (SDUSA), formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). In 1982, it merged with the New American Movement (NAM), to form DSA. Over the next 35 years, national DSA membership remained close to 7,000. After the election of Donald Trump, membership exploded to 32,000 by the end of 2017. As of July 2021, membership is over 94,000 with no sign of slowing down.
DSA is a nonprofit political organization, not a party. We are also a “big tent” organization, which means we are multi-tendency, have no litmus tests and are open to people from all corners of the socialist left who share our anti-capitalist vision for the liberation of all people from the systems of oppression empowered by the status quo. For the first time in over a generation, socialist ideas and movements are once again gaining ground and legitimacy in mainstream political discourse and setting the stage for real and meaningful change to take place in society.
What are DSA’s Goals?
We seek to build local, national, and international mass movements for social justice and transformative change while also establishing an openly socialist presence in the Portland metro region. Our chapter is made up of both longtime organizers and people completely new to socialism and political engagement. As socialists we share a vision of a collective, sustainable, and just society beyond the exploitation of the capitalist system; one based on radical democracy, public control of resources and production, economic planning to meet human needs, racial and gender equality, and the free development of all people.
Here in Portland, we work toward those goals through a variety of labor, electoral, direct action, and mutual aid campaigns. We also organize educational events like panel discussions and book clubs, as well as happy hours and other social activities that help us connect and grow with other like-minded individuals. Check our calendar for the full list of public events. You can read about many of our activities in our print newsletter, Bread & Rose City, and its 2017 precursor: Issue 1, Issue 2 (audio), Issue 3, Issue 4.
OK, But What Exactly is Socialism?
Glad you asked. In the wake of decades of anti-communist cold war rhetoric most of the information floating around the mainstream media about what defines “socialism” spans from misinformed to flat out wrong. It is often ignored or disregarded that the broad ideas of socialism—ideas promoting a mutually collective and egalitarian society—have actually been with humanity in different forms since its earliest beginnings. While there are lots of different tendencies under the broad tent that is “socialism,” there is a common understanding that it is a system based on:
- A society structured around inherent human equality and dignity which promotes and supports the prosperity and free development of all people
- Democratic worker control of a collective economy designed to meet human needs
- Radical democracy where power is evenly and justly distributed and which grants everyone an equal voice in the decisions that affect their lives
For most of us, articulating our personal vision for a society that meets those goals and strategizing about how to create it is an ongoing journey. Read on for a collection of educational resources we hope will be helpful in your journey to define what socialism means to you and to advocate for your position.
Introductory Videos and Readings
Below is an hour-long, locally produced lecture on socialism; you can find more of Portland DSA’s “Red Talks” on our YouTube channel. Also of potential interest is the brief Angela Davis speech below, which touches on intersectionality in the struggle for democratic socialism and her outlook in 1994 (transcript).
- “But at Least Capitalism Is Free and Democratic, Right?”, Erik Olin Wright, 2016
- The ABC’s of Socialism, Bhaskar Sunkara, 2016
- Feminism for the 99%, Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, Nancy Fraser, 2019
Below are some historical texts that have played a significant role in the development of leftist thought; many more can be found at marxists.org and libcom.org.
- Discourse on Inequality, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1755
- The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762
- What is Property?, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1840
- The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848
- Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx, 1875
- Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Frederick Engels, 1880
- The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde, 1891
- The Conquest of Bread, Peter Kropotkin, 1892
- Social Reform or Revolution?, Rosa Luxemburg, 1899
- Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Peter Kropotkin, 1902
- The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell, 1914
- The State and Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, 1917
- The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, 1967
A few more recent books that may be of interest are listed below; the catalogs of Verso, Haymarket, and AK Press include many more.
- Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Mark Fisher, 2009
- The Next Revolution, Murray Bookchin, 2015
- The End of Policing, Alex Vitale, 2017
- How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century, Erik Olin Wright, 2019
Our Labor Working Group has also collected a variety of resources for workplace organizing.