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 2024 DSA is the largest socialist organization in the United States, with over 90,000 members and chapters in all 50 states. 

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 work. 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.

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).

Shorter readings:

Diving Deeper

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.

A few more recent books that may be of interest are listed below; the catalogs of Verso, Haymarket, and AK Press include many more.

Our Labor Working Group has also collected a variety of resources for workplace organizing.