The Democratic Socialists of America, whose membership ballooned after the 2016 candidacy of allied Sen. Bernie Sanders, announced its endorsement this week of the Vermont lawmaker in his second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“Sanders is the only Democratic Socialist running for president in 2020, and the only socialist in American history with a serious chance of winning the presidency,” said the DSA in a press release. “Sanders’s platform — Green New Deal, Medicare for All, College for All, ending cash bail, strengthening unions, and a living wage — would transform American society by ending the worst forms of poverty and inequality while empowering workers to fight for even more.”
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While the endorsement comes as little surprise, some democratic socialists had raised concerns that Sanders is not socialist enough.
“Sanders 2016 revived the progressive left and turned DSA into the largest socialist organization in America in seventy years,” former Sanders campaign worker Dan La Botz wrote on the DSA website in opposition to a Sanders endorsement. “Flooded with young people angry at the Democratic Party, DSA became a radical, activist organization projecting the need for a total socialist transformation of America.”
“Sanders 2020 will not have the same effect,” La Botz wrote. “Bernie will not appear to be much different than other progressive Democrats and his campaign threatens to lead DSA deep into the Democratic Party.”
About a quarter of some 13,000 DSA members responding to the organization’s poll before the decision to back the senator said they did not support the endorsement of Sanders.
But other DSA followers, who have debated among themselves whether they should seek to gain influence within the Democratic Party or on their own under the socialist banner, see Sanders as their ticket to growth.
An apparent DSA member identified only as “Neal M.” wrote on the organization’s website: “DSA benefited hugely from being the only socialist organization to actively endorse Sanders in 2016. If we enthusiastically support Sanders in 2020, DSA could become a 100,000 member organization, with significantly greater capacity and resources.”
“The number one lesson we should learn from 2016 is that small socialist organizations must participate in the big movements that dominate national politics.”
Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist. He announced his Democratic presidential bid last month, saying his campaign is about “creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”
Sanders spoke to striking university workers in Los Angeles this week and complained about “a war being waged against the working people.”
The DSA puts its membership at more than 56,000 as of March. Its long-term mission is to run candidates as socialists, and not under the Democratic Party banner.
Ella Mahony of the DSA’s national political committee said in recent days that democratic socialists have a unique spotlight right now to further their anti-capitalist agenda and convert more Americans to socialism. Not backing Sanders, she said on the DSA website, would mean losing an opportunity to push their message on a national stage.
“The combination of the Sanders campaign and the teachers’ strike wave has made our job as socialists so much easier,” Mahony said. “Now, we can go into our campuses or workplaces and find people willing to identify not just as union activists or as socially conscious but as Democratic Socialists.”
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“It is our duty to take full advantage of this moment and run out the radicalizing processes happening in the formal political sphere, in labor, and in society as far as they can go, she added. “Whatever the details of his program may mean to us, to the rest of the world, the Bernie Sanders campaign will be a referendum on socialist politics in the United States.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.