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

DSA was formed in 1982 by a merger of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM). DSOC was the largest group to emerge from the splintering of the Socialist Party of America in 1973; two other Socialist Party factions went on to form Social Democrats USA and the Socialist Party USA. NAM was a coalition of writers and intellectuals with roots in both the New Left movements of the 1960s and the more traditional parties of the Old Left.

At its founding, DSA consisted of almost 5,000 ex-DSOC members and 1,000 ex-NAM members. By 1983 DSA reached 7,000 members, which it would not surpass until the early 1990s. When founded, Michael Harrington and socialist-feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich were elected as the organization's co-chairs. Recently, membership has increased to around 10,000. The DSA is the largest socialist organization in the United States.


The DSA was formed after a merger between the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM). Originally 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 backed relatively mainstream liberals such as Walter Mondale in spite of the dramatic growth of a left wing associated with Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. Subsequently DSA did enthusiastically support Jackson's second presidential campaign in 1988.

DSA's position on US electoral politics has since evolved; its present official position (roughly that held since 1993) is that "Democratic socialists reject an either-or approach to electoral coalition building, focused solely on a new party or on realignment within the Democratic Party."

During the 1990s, DSA began looking to the Religious Right's activism within the Republican Party as a model for how the Left could gain a greater foothold within the Democratic Party, which at the time was dominated by President Bill Clinton's "New Democrats" in the Democratic Leadership Council. The group gave the Clinton administration an overall rating of C-, "less than satisfactory".

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of 65 Democratic legislators in the U.S. Congress, worked with DSA against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. DSA's website included commentary supportive of the Progressive Caucus throughout much of the late 1990s.

DSA's involvement with the Democratic Party has largely been one of convenience, because certain Democratic politicians "possess strong labor backing and operative social democratic politics." 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, the Democratic Leadership Council in particular.

"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..."

In 2000, the DSA took no official position on the presidential election, with several prominent DSA members backing Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. In 2004, the organization backed John Kerry after he won the Democratic nomination. The only resolution on upcoming elections at the DSA's 2005 convention focused on Bernie Sanders's independent campaign for the U.S. Senate.

The 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.



Michael Harrington, the DSA's founding chairperson, had been a chairman of the League for Industrial Democracy in 1964 and was a former member of the national executive board of the Socialist Party of America from 1960 through 1968. In 1982 Harrington was elected co-chairperson of the DSA. When asked if the brand of socialism Harrington and the DSA promoted resembled the Communist system of the Soviet Unionmarker and Eastern Europe. Harrington said:

"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." The DSA was critically supportive of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Unionmarker, writing about them in their publication Democratic Left: "The aim of democrats and socialists should be [...] to 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." Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the DSA voiced opposition to the bureaucratically-managed economy of the Soviet Union and its satellite states.


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 Citymarker. the DSA website lists 24 chartered locals.

DSA publishes Democratic Left, a quarterly journal of news and analysis. 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.

Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) is the official youth section of Democratic Socialists of America. 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.

Media attention

2008 presidential election

The DSA gathered more attention after Barack Obama announced his presidential campaign in 2008. After learning of his plans to reform American health care, websites and magazines, the Right accused Obama of being a socialist. The criticism become more widespread when Sarah Palin and John McCain both accused Obama and his policies of being socialistic during the 2008 presidential election. This led to widespread media attention to American socialist organizations, such as the Socialist Party USA and the DSA. This led to a comment by Frank Llewellyn who said "Over the past 12 months, the Democratic Socialists of America has received more media attention than it has over the past 12 years." In a later interview with Fox News, when asked about the socialist movement in America, Llewellyn denied that the new administration had anything to do with socialism. Further quoting that of the "four people running for national office" Sarah Palin was the most socialistic because "she administered a state that says that the oil revenues are collectively owned" and used the revenue to give money to the people living in the state.

The DSA and other socialist organizations earned more attention when prominent members of the Republican Party and right-wing organizations accused the Obama administration and the Democratic Party of having a "socialist agenda." The administration denied these accusations, saying they are not part or affiliated with the socialist movement. Joe Conason from The New York Observer ridiculed McCain's labeling of Obama as a socialist and the idea that Obama was associated with the DSA, which he called "a rather moderate group of activists by left-wing standards." Conason claimed that "Calling out Obama as a 'socialist' is funny—in the dark sense that may be the only way anything in politics or economics is funny these days."

Membership growth

When founded, the DSA consisted of an estimate of almost 5,000 former members of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), and almost 1,000 from the New American Movement (NAM). By 1987, the DSA reached an estimate of 7,000 members, which it would not surpass until the early 1990s. The organization would continue its increase in membership, and in 2002 it was estimated by Fox News that the DSA had around 8,000 members. In August 2005, 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. Recently, membership has increased to around 10,000. Membership in DSA is defined primarily by payment of annual dues. The annual fees for a member ranges from $15 to $60 per year. The DSA remains the largest socialist organization in the United States.

See also


  1. Electoral Politics As Tactic — Elections Statement 2000, unsigned editorial. Democratic Left Spring/Summer 2000
  2. "WHERE WE STAND: The Political Perspective of the Democratic Socialists of America", section 5, on the DSA website. Accessed 3/24/06.
  3. " Are the Democrats the Third Party We Have Been Looking For?", Nathan Newman (accessed 3 November 2008).
  4. " Progressive Groups Issue Report Card on Clinton" (accessed 3 November 2008).
  5. " The Fairness Agenda for America" (accessed 3 November 2008).
  6. Electoral Politics As Tactic — Elections Statement 2000" (accessed 3 November 2008).
  7. Where We Stand -- The Political Perspective of the Democratic Socialists of America (accessed 3 November 2008).
  8. Democratic Left vol. 33 no.3 (Winter 2006), page 4.
  9. Democratic Left vol. 35 no.3 (Winter 2008), page 4.

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