Socialists are Internationalists: A Response to DSA’s Recent Article

by Brandy Baker, North Star Editorial Board on February 19, 2018

The word “socialism” was 2015’s most searched term. This can be attributed to the Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for President. With this peak interest in socialism came waves of people becoming politically engaged for the first time. 

Despite his largely good record on domestic issues (though he voted to cut food stamps), Bernie Sanders has a pretty awful record on various foreign policy matters. Others have weighed in on this, so I won’t go into it here. Also, despite his past activism with Vermont’s Liberty Union Party, a statewide socialist party that was at its peak in the 70s, Sanders’s policies of $15 an hour minimum wage and single payer health care are not socialism: they are examples of mild social democratic reforms. Such reforms, of course, should not be dismissed, especially in the only industrialized country that does not have any form of universal health care and whose current minimum wage, when adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 1968. In a country whose political elites have been winning the one-sided brutal class war and whose two major political parties have worked to widen the wealth gap, Sanders’s social democratic talking points likely felt revolutionary. They especially felt revolutionary to many new activists who may live in the wealthiest country, but are trapped in heavy debt, and cannot access decent jobs or affordable housing. 

After the Sanders campaign, the Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) membership numbers ballooned. Currently, the rank and file consists of a medley of social democrats, socialists, and liberals who want a fairer society. Many are understandably still feeling for the light switch when it comes to figuring out their politics which can partly explain DSA’s diverse views. Another factor is that DSA historically has followed its founder’s (Michael Harrington) template on working within the Democratic Party to try to “take it back” from the corporatist wing that calls all the shots. DSA’s rank and file went against the old guard at last summer’s convention and supported the Palestinian-initiated and led movement for BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions). DSA as an organization is still working out its current political identity. Unfortunately, based on the most recent article on DSA’s site, its appears that the definition of socialism is being stretched by some in the organization to the point where it possesses no meaning.

In the article, “The Future China-U.S. Competition and Democratic Socialism”, author Daniel Casey Adkins argues that democratic socialism is needed in the United States so that the country can compete with China. 

“An opportunity for the left today is to show that democratic socialism is not only just, but also more functional at building a strong and resourceful country than neoliberal capitalism or mercantilism,” Adkins writes.  “A democratic socialist US would compete better with a mercantilist China because all our people would be able to learn and produce.  Having a $15 minimum wage is a start to moving people out of poverty and having time for learning.” 

While in an organization such as the DSA there are many different views, we should all be able to agree on this: socialism is the full emancipation of working people all over Planet Earth, that we as socialists are always internationalists, no exceptions. That we do not support nationalism, especially in a country like the United States, a nation that has wreaked havoc all over the globe with its expanding wars, its forced neoliberal policies that favour large corporations at the expense of public purses in other nations. We should all agree that socialism is a tool to liberate working people in the United States as well as our brothers and sisters in China and in every country on the world. Nowhere, no time, should we want to use socialism to promote US nationalism or to make sure that the US “stays on top”. Such a quest for US dominance is the antithesis to democracy or socialism.

Nationalism can be understood amongst persecuted peoples in places like Cuba, Palestine, and Quebec where larger, wealthier nations have bullied these populations to the point that nationalism is a natural refuge, a defense against domination, and is liberatory at its core. The provincial party Quebec Solidaire, an anti-capitalist party, and currently, one of the few viable left-wing parties in North America, was founded in 2006 through a merger of various political left currents. QS, a 12 year old party, currently hold three seats in the provincial government (National Assembly of Quebec). QS are sovereigntists; they wish to separate from Canada, but oppose the racism and xenophobia that embody most of the separatist currents in Quebec. They are a pro-immigrant party that envision a Quebec where all are welcome and treated equally. Amir Khadir, the first QS member to be elected to the National Assembly of Quebec states: “All my life, I have been an internationalist. Before being an independentist, a sovereigntist, I am an internationalist.”


Amir Khadir, Quebec Solidaire

Internationalism is vital for socialists precisely because we do not want to elevate one group of workers at the expense of another or allow ourselves to be suckered into feeling superior to working people in other lands. Nationalism informs the racist views of French-Canadians in Quebec who feel that only the “pure laine” can and should be part of Quebec, as well as the Zionists who may have liked living on the kibbutz, but their admittance committees kept out Arabs and non-white Jews. And of course, Zionism justifies land grabs, ethnic cleansings, and the erasures of true history throughout Palestine that have been going on since 1948. The lack of solidarity between Irish indentured servants and enslaved Black Americans pre-Civil War was a gift to the landowners. These two groups of people who came to the United States from many different countries did not come together because the Irish indentured servants were made to feel that they were better than those enslaved. The examples of divide and conquer amongst nations and peoples are endless: I could type for days and not sink a millimetre into that pond. Lack of internationalism has also resulted in Bernie Sanders supporting the war in Afghanistan, Israel’s bombing of Gaza, and the funding of US occupation in Iraq. They aren’t Americans: they are “other”. Lack of internationalism breeds nationalism, distrust, racism: traits that are not only morally repugnant, but hinder solidarity in the worst way. Socialism contained in one country is a capitalist’s dream: the capitalists, in the US and elsewhere, benefitted greatly from socialism staying contained in Russia after 1917. Russia, though now capitalist, is still a boogyman: see the aftermath of the 2016 election.

You cannot have socialism without internationalism, and internationalism calls for the erasure of borders. Open borders, a great idea that socialists can get behind, but not necessarily by itself a socialist position, was once a fringe view one could only read about in socialist publications. It has now however garnered support in various mainstream media sources. Such a set-up would make international solidarity not only easier, but inevitable.

There are other problems with the DSA article that are beyond the scope of this piece, but hitting the point about internationalism makes the rest of the arguments moot. I write all of this not to excoriate or attack in any way the writer or DSA as an organization (I am a member). With all of the apathy in the US, it is good that we have comrades who want to put forth analysis and enter the discussion. There is no need for hostility or callouts here. I am only putting forth this analysis to illustrate that there needs to be a tighter consensus on the definition of socialism. Not everything can be left up for individual interpretation, it cannot be a free for all. Socialism cannot mean anything we want, it does not mean $15 an hour or libraries or other municipal services. It damn sure does not mean police (we would abolish cops under socialism), and it certainly cannot mean American exceptionalism. Nailing down the definition of socialism can only come through internal education, something the DSA leadership should not fear. The withering US socialist sects, as harmful as they were internally to ex-members and externally to solidarity efforts on the Left, were good, albeit flawed, sources of education and study. An organization like DSA could gives its members a good education on socialism and its history while giving the membership a level of flexibility, freedom, and creativity that the brittle, paranoid full-timers leading the sects would and could never provide. The rest of the Left has had the polar opposite problem from the sects: they have promoted extreme decentralization, fear of leadership, and hesitancy to hold one another accountable constructively, all which have been a recipe for organizational chaos and social media viciousness. Educating is seen as hierarchical. We do the next generations a great disservice with such a mindset. Strong, accountable leadership and gentle corrections are not Stalinism.

Socialism is for all working people in Quebec, Cuba, Kenya, France, China, everywhere. Internationalism is the integral part of socialism that can combat nationalism, white supremacy, and distrust. We cannot have socialism without it.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

joe February 19, 2018 at 2:07 pm

hell yeah dude


Jota February 19, 2018 at 6:10 pm

“Lack of internationalism has also resulted in Bernie Sanders supporting […] Israel’s bombing of Gaza”

Citation, please.


Brandy Baker February 19, 2018 at 8:55 pm
Jason Todd February 19, 2018 at 10:37 pm

You had me until ” we would abolish cops.” Totally agree that internationalism and socialism go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly, but common dude, beyond the need of occupational law enforcement, what happens if someone breaks into your home? What if your child is missing? Hell, what if you just have the gut feeling something is wrong and you want a neutral party who’s been trained to deal with emergency situations on the scene? I get that cops aren’t protecting and serving like the paragons of justice they’re supposed to be, but that doesn’t negate the societal need for individuals within a community to protect and serve said community within the impartial confines of the law.


Brandy Baker February 20, 2018 at 11:25 am

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