December 26, 2018


Do America's Socialists Have a Race Problem?: Inside a raging debate that has split the country's most exciting new political movement (MIGUEL SALAZAR, December 20, 2018, New Republic)

At one point, Tur-ha Ak, a black organizer with Brooks's Anti-Police Terror Project, asked to speak. As his turn approached, the young man who was chairing the meeting asked if Ak was a member. A number of white people had spoken before him, including Forrest Schmidt, 42, who was attending his first DSA meeting. "None of us had our credentials called," he said. "Nobody said, 'Are you a DSA member?'" When Ak responded that he was not a member, the chair asked him to take a seat.

The room erupted. The procedural rules were racist, Ak proclaimed, raising his voice over a cacophony of protests and chants. "The energy," Brooks recalled, "turned into that of a white mob." She decided to take the floor. "My name is Cat Brooks," she said. "I've been organizing in this city longer than most of you have lived here." In a brief, piercing speech, she accused the largely white crowd of being gentrifiers and then walked out, leaving members confused and outraged.

The debate quickly moved to Twitter, Reddit, and other corners of the internet. In an online essay, Jeremy Gong, an East Bay member who sits on DSA's National Political Committee, the organization's highest decision-making body, argued that Cat Brooks "weaponized" her race to coerce DSA into supporting her candidacy. He would not endorse her. The July DSA meeting, he wrote, was a textbook example of "race reductionism and liberal guilt politics." By insinuating that white members were "the problem" when it came to Oakland's gentrification, he claimed, Brooks had mistakenly reduced what was fundamentally a class conflict into a racial one.

Though a dustup among a small group of lefties in Oakland may seem to be a parochial affair, the controversy surrounding Brooks is part of a fierce debate about race within the newly invigorated socialist movement. Since 2016, when it had only 6,500 members, DSA has added nearly 50,000 members and over 125 chapters across the country. In 2018, two of its members--Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, both women of color--were elected to serve in Congress, and 21 more won seats in state legislatures. Though DSA is separate from the Democratic Party, some of its members represent both institutions, while DSA itself is at the cutting edge of the broader progressive movement, a loud, insistent voice on issues ranging from universal health care to debt forgiveness.

But unlike other progressive groups, DSA has to contend with internal factions that are very seriously wedded to a certain strain of socialist ideology--one that emphasizes, as Karl Marx did, a churning class war that governs the history of humankind. For these socialists, an anti-capitalist movement must be anti-racist, since capitalism has been instrumental in the subjugation of minorities. But they are also weary of liberal politicians who, they say, exploit race to pander to minority groups, all while skirting the deeper class conflict at work. In the past year, these hard-liners have clashed on numerous occasions with other socialists, often minorities themselves, who contend that righting America's unique wrongs requires an approach distinct from the universal precepts of historical materialism--one that emphasizes racism's special impact on inequality, supra-class.

In the Brooks controversy and other incidents, these tensions have come to a head, badly dividing the movement and raising difficult questions about socialism's potential as a political force in the United States.

Posted by at December 26, 2018 8:09 AM