Democratic Socialists of America

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Democratic Socialists of America
Founded 1982
Headquarters 75 Maiden Lane Suite 505
New York, NY 10038
Ideology Democratic socialism,
Social democracy,
Political position Fiscal: Center-left
Social: Center-left
International affiliation Socialist International
Democratic Socialists of America

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is a social-democratic organization in the United States and the U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International, an international federation of social-democratic, democratic socialist and labor political parties and organizations.

DSA was formed in 1982 by a merger of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM). Under the leadership of Michael Harrington, DSOC had become America's largest democratic socialist organization, despite having started, in Harrington's words, as "the remnant of a remnant"—with Harrington having been the leader of a minority caucus of the Socialist Party of America in 1972 when it changed its name to Social Democrats, USA.[1] NAM was a coalition of writers and intellectuals with roots in both the New Left movements of the 1960s and the former members of socialist and communist parties of the Old Left.

Initially the DSA consisted of approximately 5,000 ex-DSOC members and 1,000 ex-NAM members. Upon the DSA's founding, Michael Harrington and socialist-feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich were elected as co-chairs of the organization.

Organizational history

The DSA was formed in 1982 after a merger between the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM).[2][3] At the time of the merger of these two organizations, the DSA was said to consist of approximately 5,000 former members of DSOC, along with 1,000 from NAM.[4]

At its start, DSOC had 840 members, of which 2 percent served on its national board; approximately 200 had previously had membership in Social Democrats, USA or its predecessors in 1973 when SDUSA stated its membership at 1,800, according to a 1973 profile of Harrington.[5]

In electoral politics, DSA, like DSOC before it, was very strongly associated with Michael Harrington's position that "the left wing of realism is found today in the Democratic Party." In its early years DSA opposed Republican presidential candidates by giving criticial support to Democratic Party nominees like Walter Mondale Wp→ in 1984.[6] In 1988, DSA enthusiastically supported Jackson's second presidential campaign.[7] DSA's position on US electoral politics states that "democratic socialists reject an either–or approach to electoral coalition building, focused solely on [either] a new party or on realignment within the Democratic Party."[8]

During the 1990s, DSA gave the Clinton administration Wp→ an overall rating of C-, "less than satisfactory."[9]

The DSA's leadership believes working within the Democratic Party is necessary because of the nature of the American political system, which rarely gives third parties a chance politically. That said, DSA is very critical of the corporate-funded Democratic Party leadership.[10] The organization believes that

"Much of progressive, independent political action will continue to occur in Democratic Party primaries in support of candidates who represent a broad progressive coalition. In such instances, democratic socialists will support coalitional campaigns based on labor, women, people of color and other potentially anti-corporate elements... Electoral tactics are only a means for democratic socialists; the building of a powerful anti-corporate coalition is the end..."[11]

Electoral positions

In 2000, DSA took no official position on the presidential election Wp→, with several prominent DSA members backing Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

In 2004, the organization backed John Kerry Wp→ after he won the Democratic nomination. In its official magazine the DSA's Political Action Committee declared:

"While we have no illusions about how a Kerry administration would govern — absent mass pressure from below — and are not impressed with his delayed criticism of the war and his earlier commitments in favor of 'free trade,' we also realize that the Bush administration is as reactionary as Reagan’s. A Kerry defeat would be taken not as a defeat of the US political center, which Kerry represents, but of the mainstream Left. As a result, it would embolden the Right and demoralize the Left (as well as trade unionists and people of color) as much as Reagan’s Wp→ 1984 defeat of Mondale Wp→ did. On the other hand, a Kerry victory will let us press onward, with progressives aggressively pressuring an administration that owed its victory to democratic mobilization from below."[12]

The only resolution on upcoming elections at the DSA's 2005 convention focused on Bernie Sanders' independent campaign for the U.S. Senate.[13] The organization's 2007 convention in Atlanta, Georgia featured record-breaking attendance and more participation by the organization's youth wing. The convention was highlighted by a keynote address from Senator Sanders.[14]

In 2008, the DSA supported Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama Wp→ in his race against Republican candidate John McCain Wp→. Following Obama's election, many on the right,[15] began to allege that the policies of his administration may be "socialistic," a claim rejected by DSA and the Obama administration alike. The widespread use of the word "socialism" as a political epithet Wp→ against the Obama government by its opponents caused National Director Frank Llewellyn to declare that "over the past 12 months, the Democratic Socialists of America has received more media attention than it has over the past 12 years."[16]

Membership size

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Members march at the Occupy Wall Street protest on September 17, 2011

Membership in DSA is obtained through the payment of annual dues, which in 2010 range from a "low income and student" rate of $20 to a "sustainer" rate of $130, with a basic rate of $45.[17] Every member receives a paid subscription to the organization's quarterly newsletter, Democratic Left (commonly known as DL).[18] The organization also offers "family memberships" at the rate of $80, which include only one subscription to DL,[17] and sells subscriptions to the publication to non-members for $10 per year.[19]

When formed, the estimated membership was 5,000, after the merger with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC),[20] the membership had grown to an estimate 7,000 in 1987.[21] In 2002, Fox News claimed there were 8,000 members in the organization,[22] and three years later the DSA announced on its website that its membership had increased by some 13% since July 2003 as the result of a recent direct mail campaign.[23]

DSA does not release annual membership numbers, nor do officials of the organization state them with precision in the press. It does, however, publish annually its sworn declaration of "Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation" in its official magazine so as to qualify for subsidized postage rates from the United States Postal Service Wp→. In the 12 months previous to its 2009 declaration, the group indicates that Democratic Left had an average "Total Paid Distribution" of 5707 copies.

The "Total Paid Distribution" numbers of Democratic Left over recent years are as follows:

Year Average Total Paid Circulation Issue Where Statement Appears
2009 5,707 vol. 37, no. 3, pg. 3
2008 5,710 vol. 36, no. 3, pg. 3
2007 5,443 vol. 35, no. 3, pg. 3
2006 4,883 vol. 34, no. 3, pg. 3
2005 4,622 vol. 33, no. 3, pg. 15
2004 4,535 vol. 32, no. 3, pg. 2
2003 4,890 vol. 31, no. 3, pg. 2
2002 not published
2001 5,846 vol. 29, no. 3, pg. 15


DSA is organized at the local level, and works with labor unions, community organizations, and campus activists on issues of common interest. Nationwide campaigns are coordinated by the organization's national office in New York City. As of 2006 the DSA website lists 24 chartered locals.

Governance of the DSA is by the group's National Political Committee, which since 2001 has been a 16-person body.[24] The organization's constitution states that at least 8 of the NPC's members shall be women and at least 4 members of "racial or national" minority groups.[25] A 17th vote is cast by the representative of the DSA's youth affiliate, the Young Democratic Socialists, who elect 1 male and 1 female delegate who split the vote. The NPC meets four times a year.[26]

The NPC elects an inner committee of 6, including 5 of its own members and 1 representative of the youth section, called the "Steering Committee." At least two of these are constitutionally required to be women and at least 1 a "person of color," with the National Director and the Youth Section Organizer also participating as ex-officio members. This Steering Committee meets bimonthly, either in person or by conference call.[27] The DSA has a Religion and Socialism Commission, in which Cornel West has played a leading role. John Cort was a founding editor of the Commission's magazine, Religious Socialism.

DSA publishes Democratic Left, a quarterly newsletter of news and analysis. This publication continues in an uninterrupted run from the original Newsletter of the Democratic Left published by DSA forerunner the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee since its establishment in 1973. In 2008, DSA members active in the U.S. labor movement founded Talking Union, a blog that focuses on labor politics, working class struggles and strategies.[28]

Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) is the official youth section of Democratic Socialists of America. The YDS publishes a quarterly newsletter called The Red Letter and maintains an online blog called "The Activist".

National conventions

The highest decision-making authority of the organization is the organization's national conventions, which are held biannually. These gatherings of the organization are as follows:

Year Dates of Convention Location
2011 November 11–13 Vienna, VA Wp→
2009 November 13–15 Evanston, IL Wp→
2007 November 9–11 Atlanta, GA Wp→
2005 November 11–13 Los Angeles, CA Wp→
2003 November 14–16 Detroit, MI Wp→
2001 November 9–11 Philadelphia, PA Wp→
1999 November 12–14 San Diego, CA Wp→

Social media

In January, 2013 DSA rolled out a redesigned website which incorporated contemporary social media tools.


The DSA's ideas are greatly influenced by those of writer Michael Harrington, the chairman of the League for Industrial Democracy in 1964 and a member of the national executive board of the Socialist Party of America from 1960 through 1968. Opposed to capitalism and communism alike as cruel and anti-libertarian social systems, Harrington advocated working for a realignment of the US Democratic Party away from an amorphous amalgam of often contradictory ideas towards making it a principled party of the left.

Throughout his life, Harrington simultaneously embraced the thinking of Karl Marx while at the same time rejecting the "actually existing" Communist systems of the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe. Harrington said:[3]

"Put it this way. Marx was a democrat with a small d. The Democratic Socialists envision a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning...and racial equality. I share an immediate program with liberals in this country because the best liberalism leads toward socialism.... I want to be on the left wing of the possible."

Harrington made it clear that even if the traditional Marxist vision of a marketless, stateless society was not possible, he did not understand why this needed to "result in the social consequence of some people eating while others starve."[29]

Before the collapse of the USSR, the DSA voiced opposition to that nation's bureaucratically managed economy and control exerted over its satellite states.[30] The DSA welcomed Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Union. Sociologist Bogdan Denitch wrote in DSA's Democratic Left:[31]

"The aim of democrats and socialists should help the chances of successful reform in the Soviet bloc... While supporting liberalization and economic reforms from above, socialists should be particularly active in contacting and encouraging the tender shoots of democracy from below".

Today the organization issues few statements about overriding principles while frequently commenting on matters of public policy. One primary leaflet detailing the group's official ideas, "What is Democratic Socialism? Questions and Answers from the Democratic Socialists of America," states that while "no country has fully instituted democratic socialism," nonetheless there are lessons to be learned from "the comprehensive welfare state maintained by the Swedes, from Canada’s national health care system, France’s nationwide childcare program, and Nicaragua’s literacy programs".[32] The "tremendous prosperity and relative economic equality" established by the Social Democratic Parties of the countries of Scandinavia and Western Europe is lauded.[32]


  1. The New York Times reported on the Convention for three other days:
  2. Hunt, E.K. (2002). Property and Prophets: The Evolution of Economic Institutions and Ideologi. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 260–261. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mitgang, Herbert. Michael Harrington, Socialist and Author, Is Dead. The New York Times. URL accessed on November 5, 2009.
  4. John Haer, "Reviving Socialism," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 1, 1982. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  5. O'Rourke (1993, pp. 195–196):

    O'Rourke, William (1993). "L: Michael Harrington". Signs of the literary times: Essays, reviews, profiles, 1970-1992'. The Margins of Literature (SUNY Series). SUNY Press. pp. 192–196. ISBN-13: 9780791416815. .  <p>Originally: O'Rourke, William (13 November 1973). "Michael Harrington: Beyond Watergate, Sixties, and reform". SoHo Weekly News 3 (2): 6–7.,+%22Michael+Harrington%22,+%22New+York+Times%22&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q=Michael%20Harrington&f=false. </span> </li>

  6. Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the US Working Class. London: Verso; pp. 256-260, 275-276.
  7. Manning Marable, Beyond Black and White: Transforming African-American Politics. London: Verso, 1996; pg. 61.
  8. "Where We Stand: The Political Perspective of the Democratic Socialists of America," section 5. Retrieved March 24, 2006.
  9. ""Progressive Groups Issue Report Card on Clinton.", Retrieved November 3, 2008.
  10. "Electoral Politics As Tactic — Elections Statement 2000." Retrieved November 3, 2008.
  11. "Where We Stand — The Political Perspective of the Democratic Socialists of America." Retrieved November 3, 2008.
  12. "DSA PAC Statement on Kerry Campaign," Democratic Left, vol. 32, no. 4 (Fall 2004), pg. 8.
  13. "Convention Resolution: DSA Priorities," Democratic Left, vol. 33 no.3 (Winter 2006), page 4.
  14. Michael Hirsch, "Economic Justice Agenda Adopted," Democratic Left, vol. 35 no.3 (Winter 2008), page 4.
  16. Frank Llewellyn and Joseph Schwartz, "Socialists Say: Obama is No Socialist," Chicago Tribune, November 1, 2009. Retrieved November 4, 2009.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Join Us," Retrieved September 26, 2010.
  18. "Change the USA! Join the DSA!" Democratic Left, vol. 37, no. 3 (Winter 2009), page 16.
  19. "Change the USA! Join the DSA!" Democratic Left, vol. 37, no. 3 (Winter 2009), page 3.
  20. Haer, John. "Reviving Socialism", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wp→, May 1, 1982. Retrieved on November 9, 2009. 
  21. Oreskes, Michael. Jackson to Shun Socialist Backing. The New York Times. URL accessed on November 5, 2009.
  22. Baker, Harlan. Group Accuses Socialists of Voter Fraud. Fox News. URL accessed on November 5, 2009.
  23. Direct Mail Yields Membership Increase. Democratic Socialists of America. URL accessed on November 5, 2009.
  24. "Convention 2003," Democratic Left, vol. 31, no. 3 (Winter 2003-04), pg. 12.
  25. "DSA Constitution and By-laws," Article VIII, Section 2.
  26. "DSA Constitution and By-laws," Article VIII, Section 1.
  27. "DSA Constitution and By-laws," Article VIII, Section 3.
  28. Talking Union: A Project of the DSA Labor Network. URL accessed on November 8, 2009.
  29. Bella Stumbo, "A Socialist Utopia," Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1987. Retrieved November 8, 2009.
  30. Michael Harrington and Barbara Ehrenreich, "In Spirit of Glasnost, a Half-Toast to Perestroika; U.S. Left Supportive," New York Times, June 16, 1989. Retrieved November 8, 2009.
  31. Harrington, Michael and Ehrenreich, Barbara. "In Spirit of Glasnost, a Half-Toast to Perestroika; U.S. Left Supportive", The New York Times, June 16, 1989. Retrieved on November 8, 2009. 
  32. 32.0 32.1 "What is Democratic Socialism? Questions and Answers from the Democratic Socialists of America", Democratic Socialists of America. Retrieved on February 24, 2010. 
  33. </ol>

Further reading

External links

See also

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