Opinion: DSA’s ‘Big Tent’ Has Room for Zionists, Imperialists, and Enemies of the People

Note: This article was updated after initial publication to include comment on a public statement by the DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC) released on Thursday.

By David Martinez

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is in a crisis over the politics of one of their most prominent members and elected officials, Jamaal Bowman, who has taken actions in support of the Zionist State of Israel, a reactionary State based on the illegal and oppressive occupation of Palestinian land. A call by some DSA members for Bowman’s expulsion from the organization has been renewed since his recent trip to Israel and meeting with the fascist, genocidal prime minister, Naftali Bennett. Bowman’s actions are the perfect embodiment of the DSA’s fundamental approach towards politics—strengthening US imperialism, while wearing the costume of being ‘progressive,’ ‘leftist,’ or even ‘revolutionary.’

The DSA’s liberal and toothless version of ‘leftism’ is apparent in their proud self-promotion as a ‘big tent,’ supposedly meaning that there is room for competing ‘leftist’ positions, but with unity that advances the goals of all its members. In practice, because of DSA’s foundation as an election-focused, reformist, and specifically anti-Communist group, all the competing politics (represented by an eclectic grab bag of caucuses) are funneled towards the purpose of reinforcing US imperialism at all levels. Reinforcing capitalism by claiming ‘socialism’ is the role of social democrats the world over, who claim to be revolutionaries but only go as far as to run for office as ‘reformists’ and taking up their posts in bourgeois states.

Bowman is a New York congressman in the US House of Representatives, and a member of the so-called ‘Squad,’ which includes reformist politicians backed by the DSA such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC), Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Cori Bush. Bowman’s recent Israel trip is only the latest in a string of his conciliatory positions toward the Zionist State of Israel, starting with his opposition to the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a civic movement to cut off relations with Israel through monetary, academic, cultural, and travel boycotts.

In September, Bowman voted for the US to provide $1 billion in funding for Israel’s anti-rocket defense system known as the ‘Iron Dome,’ which protects Israeli settlers from the righteous armed resistance of the Palestinian people. The vote came only two months after Israel’s major assault on Palestinians in May, which, according to bourgeois agencies, killed at least 250 Palestinians and injured thousands more. AOC, the unofficial leader of the ‘Squad,’ voted “present” rather than “no” on the Iron Dome funding, casting her vote through tears in a sick attempt to seek pity for her servility to US imperialism.

Bowman’s trip to Israel in November was sponsored by the Zionist lobbying group, J Street. During the trip, Bowman met with Nafthali Bennett, Israel’s prime minister, who has notoriously stated, “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.”

Israel fully depends on the financial and military backing of the US imperialist State to maintain its occupation of the Palestinian territory through fire and blood. Bowman, like all members of US Congress, whether part of the DSA or not, swears his allegiance to this decaying US imperialist system that not only keeps Palestine a colony of Israel, but dominates most of the world’s people economically, militarily, and culturally. In a concentrated example of Bowman’s service to US imperialism, he has remarked that he considered the recently deceased warmonger Colin Powell “an inspiration.” All the members of the ‘Squad’ share this same allegiance to the US State and want to keep the dying husk of US imperialism on life support.

Despite these apparent contradictions with the DSA’s phony anti-imperialism, Bowman and other DSA politicians retain support from the organization, protected by top leadership, as well as from their critics in the organization themselves. Many DSA members may claim to differ with Bowman, but have no stomach for actual ideological struggle or political consistency. They don’t want to ‘scare off’ their precious elected officials. Jacobin magazine, the unofficial mouthpiece for the DSA, published an article opposing Bowman’s expulsion, which claimed that in order to advance the fight for Palestine solidarity in the US, the organization cannot “isolate” politicians like Bowman.

Additionally, while the DSA’s BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group’s statement against Bowman has gained the signatures of a small handful of chapters, an opposing statement by at least 52 major DSA chapters and many individual members reveals where the majority of the organization lies. This statement says that expulsion would be “a performative act that will only create a dynamic with elected officials and movement leaders that can always drive them away, but never bring them closer to our position.”

DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC), which sets the program and policies of the organization, released a statement on Thursday opposing Bowman’s expulsion, saying that they “recognize the threat that Bowman and other members of the squad pose to the Zionist lobby.” It is twisted logic to claim that accepting trips to Israel from the Zionist lobby threatens them, but this is what happens when your politics are built on seeking positions in the US state and protecting any politician who emptily claims to be socialist.

The DSA wants peace with imperialist politicians. The leaders of the DSA repeat the same refrain that the Democratic Party has for decades—vote for us and we will bring a progressive character* to the State. They further attempt to dupe people with the empty claim that the Democratic Party can be ‘pulled left!’

Fighting for Revolution is Proletarian Internationalism

The DSA is a pit of quicksand for the Democratic Party—its goal is to trap progressives while allowing the Democratic Party to falsely pose as sympathetic to ‘socialism’ or even ‘Marxism.’ Meanwhile, the DSA backs candidates who vote in near lockstep with the Democratic Party and stand with the ultra-reactionary president Joe Biden, considering him a ‘lesser evil.’ AOC dutifully appeared during the Democratic National Convention to endorse Biden’s nomination as the Democratic candidate for president.

Sincere leftists and anti-imperialists who may have been lured into the DSA have here received a clear message that their expectation for a ‘revolutionary’ organization is mere fantasy. They should take the DSA’s practice of imperialist politics at face value, and flee an organization which will only use progressive and revolutionary politics as cover for the reactionary US state.

DSA members are sadly mistaken if they believe that the DSA will ever be a vehicle for transforming the US imperialist State into a socialist society. The DSA believes that electing district attorneys (i.e., ‘top cops’), justices of the peace, and judges to oversee the courts and prosecute the people in the ruling class’s justice system is part of the path towards progressive change. Some are even under the delusion that this is the path towards revolution, but this does not mean that sincere revolutionaries have to seek unity with those who function as an arm of the bloodthirsty US imperialist State.

The Palestinian people who heroically struggle against the Zionist occupation and US imperialism do not need politicians like Bowman, nor do they need organizations such as the DSA who put candidates into the halls of the very US Congress which arms the soldiers who invade their homes and kill their children. The duty of revolutionaries and progressive peoples in the US is to practice true proletarian internationalism, and this means drawing clear lines between the people of the world and their enemies. The US is the principal enemy of the world’s people, without dispute.

To serve the efforts of the oppressed countries of the world who struggle to free themselves from US imperialism’s grip, revolutionaries in the US must take up the fight for an actual socialist revolution to topple the US State. This revolution will not involve electing fake socialists to imperialist offices, but, in the words of Marx, “can only be attained by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” that is, violent revolution.

The concrete path to socialism is to support the efforts to reconstitute the Communist Party of the United States, which is the only possible means to develop the forces that can actually challenge the US imperialist State and conquer Power. The Communist Party is a proletarian party opposed to all bourgeois parties, not a vote-harvester for imperialists. It has deep ties to the masses, but it is not a ‘big tent,’ or a ‘mass party.’ In the model of Lenin, it is made of the most dedicated, professional revolutionaries, who come from the people and serve them, and adhere to a strict discipline and centralization.

A Communist Party is driven by ideological struggle, but struggles for principled unity, not false unity. When resolutions are made and positions are taken, it holds its members to these, as well as politically disseminating these positions among the people. The Party generates its positions based on the concrete application of proletarian ideology to answer the questions of the revolution across the world. Today, this ideology is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, not eclectic interpretations that twist revolutionary theory to justify all types of deviations from the revolutionary path.

Whether the DSA were to expel Bowman or not, this would not change the character of the organization. The DSA’s principal purpose is to pull the people into the cesspool of bourgeois elections. In place of electoral servility, revolutionaries in the US and worldwide call for the boycott of bourgeois elections, meeting the majority of the working class and people where they are at. The poorest of the people and the most exploited parts of the working class recognize that voting does not change the fundamental oppression and exploitation of this society, and demonstrate this by abstaining from voting in massive numbers. Instead of dressing up imperialist ideas as ‘Marxism,’ the struggle for socialist revolution advances by putting proletarian politics and principles in command, and makes these ideas reality with revolutionary action. Principles are not tossed aside to make them acceptable to the very system that oppresses the people.

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