Taking Democracy Seriously

An argument in support of the “Winning the Battle for Democracy" resolution at the upcoming national convention.

No one in DSA believes the United States is a democracy. Not really. Some say it is, but primarily to justify their particular approach to electoral strategy. On deeper reflection, they know and freely grant that the US has an “extremely undemocratic political system.” Others call the US a “bourgeois” democracy and advocate moving directly to a socialist democracy without concerning themselves overmuch with the particular institutional forms by which the bourgeoisie actually rules in the US. But they also know the US Senate and Supreme Court stand alone as undemocratic bastions of power even by the conventional standards of “bourgeois” democracy. The Marxist Unity Group does not divide the meaning of democracy in two. We hold to the classic meaning of democracy developed by genuine democrats themselves in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, the French Constitution of 1793, the British People’s Charter of 1838, the best aims of the Abolitionists and Radical Republicans, and the political programs of classical Marxism: the establishment of a single, sovereign representative assembly of the people elected by universal and equal suffrage.  With democratic state power in our hands, the working class will have the ability to, as Marx put it, “wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie.” Socialist democracy is just the extension of democratic republican legislative power into the domain of private capitalist property relations in order to transform it into the common property of society as a whole.

If we are in basic agreement on the structure of the US constitutional order and the ultimate goal of socialism, where do we disagree? Primarily in what we think our main political message should be. Many in DSA see the building of socialist political power as a combination of electing socialists to office and supporting the working class in its ongoing economic struggle with the employer class. By fighting for and winning gains in both the political and economic spheres, the thinking is that socialists will eventually build a majority capable of taking over the machinery of government. Consequently, the main message connected with this line of thought is “keep up the fight. We may have a long way to go, but look how far we have already come in such a short time. There is no need to change course. We are on the right path. We just need to persevere until we reach our final goal.”

The Marxist Unity Group also wants to keep up the fight, and we, too, want to reach the final goal, but we don’t think the current path of DSA will get us there. The main obstacle blocking our way is the structure of the US political system itself. It is not as if gains have not been won under this system. The New Deal and Civil Rights Movement prove gains are possible, but those gains will never be stable, secure, or complete without full democratization. In addition, the strength and dominance of US capitalism has also weakened since those victories, making further gains less likely as it cannot afford concessions as easily. That is why the Marxist Unity Group says “winning the battle for democracy” and establishing a genuine democratic republic should be DSA’s central task, and that is why I support the “Winning the Battle for Democracy” resolution that will be debated and voted on at the upcoming national convention.

There are other socialists who also find fault with the current majority electoral and trade union policies of DSA and want to move directly to socialist advocacy free of any entanglement with the Democratic Party at all. However, this conception of a clean break from both capitalist parties too often carries with it a clean break from addressing the undemocratic structure of the political system itself. The Marxist Unity Group doesn’t have a fully worked out plan on how to operate within the US electoral morass yet, but we do draw a distinction between ideological independence and the tactical issue of using possible opportunities within the existing electoral structure. We don’t think the dangers of reformism can be solved simply by withdrawing from utilization of the Democratic Party’s electoral apparatus and campaigning independently as socialists. We are not only socialists. We are democratic republican socialists who believe DSA’s political strategy and message must address the political and economic aspects of capitalist domination and exploitation in all their dimensions. We feel we will be forced into using the Democratic Party primary system and ballot line in order to get our message across, but at the same time we condemn and will work to change the constitutional and legal order that restricts our ability to run candidates freely in a democratic system of proportional representation based on one person, one equal vote.

The political message of the Marxist Unity Group is clear: we believe winning the battle for democracy is the principal priority of the US socialist movement. Our main ideological and political rival in pursuing this strategy is the Democratic Party, a party that calls itself democratic and presents itself as the only reliable defender of democracy against attacks from the Right. The exact opposite is the case. Because the Democrats refuse to pass popular legislation that would undermine the appeal of the Right’s demagoguery, the Democrats are in fact responsible for facilitating the Right’s rise. From a longer and deeper historical perspective, the Democrats’ failure to identify the Constitution itself as the source of the country’s political problems, much less do anything about it, is the reason we find ourselves in our present situation. The Marxist Unity Group believes there is only one way out of our predicament: to fight for the establishment of a genuine democracy in the US. We think you should join us.