In February 2023, two years after members of the Las Vegas chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (LVDSA) won all the Nevada State Democratic Party (NSDP) leadership positions, the Las Vegas chapter of DSA published a statement detailing lessons of the experience. After making headlines for taking over the NSDP in 2021, the rug was pulled out from underneath them. The so-called “Reid Machine” of establishment Democrat politicians and functionaries quit the NSDP instead of even pretending to try to work with the socialists. The DSA coalition leadership ran on a progressive platform, yet had little accountability to it and drifted closer and closer to the political positions of the machine. Despite challenging machine politics less and less, the tenure of the DSA leadership ended on March 3, 2023 as a new NSDP leadership was elected.
This tactic of taking over the NSDP was in line with the general strategy followed by DSA electeds all over the country. There were hopes that DSA could “realign” the Democratic Party and wield the party infrastructure for socialist aims, and this was lauded as a massive victory at the time. The debate within DSA and the left regarding whether to run socialists using the Democratic Party ballot line continues to be an important issue.
Socialist Alternative welcomes the chapter’s release of this statement. It is crucial for political clarity that the socialist movement soberly review and analyze both our successes as well as our failures.
The Response From The Party Establishment
LVDSA’s press release is a rare window into the world of the Democratic Party as an institution. “After the Progressive Slate won the election… the famed ‘Reid Machine’… flipped a kill switch that effectively gutted the party infrastructure, transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the party coffers, giving the entire staff parachutes that allowed them to quit en masse, and leaving countless bills unpaid and files unorganized.” This is not surprising, because the establishment Democrats are pro-corporate to the bone and have repeatedly shown that they are willing to burn the house down before they let socialists or the left gain any kind of foothold in their party. Both of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns made that abundantly clear, and the NSDP’s anti-democratic actions are simply a continuation of the same principles that have always defined the Democratic Party as a party of the bosses.
The marginalization of the progressive-led NSDP and its later recapture by the pro-corporate “Reid machine” is a clear example of a corporate party ruthlessly protecting its resources from a class enemy. The main role of the Democratic Party relative to the left is to de-mobilize movements and working-class challenges into “safer” legislative channels where they can be defused in the interests of the billionaires. We saw this play out following the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. All that energy was channeled into calls to “vote for Democrats,” only for BLM to be completely dropped by Biden when he took office, and for Democrats across the country to push for racist “law and order policing.”
The Subsequent Choices Made By The Progressive Slate
The LVDSA had clearly expected that the Progressive Slate leadership – composed of DSA members and Bernie supporters – would work closely with DSA. “We deferred to the people who’d actually won these offices, naively expecting them to think of us as partners in organization and mobilization.” Instead of leaning on mobilization and activism, the new leadership chose to focus on collaboration with the establishment that had just stripped their funding. The statement continues: “Initially, […] we watched with pride while the NV Dems made some bold statements… [W]e saw no significant organization toward these positions, no push on legislators themselves, and no call to action for community members who wanted to see these political viewpoints moving more than just reactionary newsmen to action.”
This is unfortunately the same dynamic playing out at the national level with elected representatives, such as all but one member of “The Squad” voting to break a strike or Jamaal Bowman voting for Iron Dome funding. There is no real sense of how to hold these politicians accountable and this presents a huge crisis for DSA heading into the 2023 convention.
While the Progressive Slate moved to the right, it did nothing to expose the corruption of the party establishment, or to leverage the most important tool at their disposal – mobilizing ordinary working people around pro-working class demands. The DSA and Bernie supporters felt abandoned, and the establishment used the funding and resources they’d pulled out from the NSDP to operate independently.
In comparison to this experience, in Seattle, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has always run as an independent outside the Democratic Party. She has used her socialist politics to mobilize working people and youth on a consistent basis. She has not hesitated to expose Democrats who take corporate positions and oppose progressive legislation.
Working people, youth, and progressives should all read this statement for the lessons contained. It is a crucial warning against the failed approach pursued by many within DSA nationally of trying to use the Democratic Party as a shortcut to socialist change. It should be a clear refutation of the misconception that running as Democrats is simply a “ballot line tactic” and does not have serious consequences, including in failing to build power outside the Democratic Party. To quote the Las Vegas DSA directly, “the Democratic Party is a dead end. It is a ‘party’ in name only; truly, it is simply a tangled web of dark money and mega-donors, cynical consultants, and lapdog politicians.”
The final two sentences in their statement state their conclusion clearly: “We will prepare for a future where we can belong to a true worker’s party, one which is unapologetically anti-capitalist. We believe in socialism and that is the only fight we’ll be investing in.”
We agree and hope these lessons will be applied going forward, including in taking steps toward independent campaigns and a true workers’ party. Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant have launched Workers Strike Back to help build working-class political independence. As the demand says: No More Sellouts, We Need a New Party.