“The socialist who aids directly or indirectly in perpetuating the privileged position of one nation at the expense of another, who accommodates himself to colonial slavery, who draws a line of distinction between races and colours in the matter of human rights, who helps the bourgeoisie of the metropolis to maintain its rule over the colonies instead of aiding the armed uprising of the colonies — for example, the British socialist who fails to support by all possible means the uprisings in Ireland, Egypt and India against the London plutocracy — such a “socialist” deserves, if not to be shot, then to be branded with infamy, but in no case merits either a mandate or the confidence of the proletariat.”
—Manifesto of the Second Congress of the Communist International
On September 24th, New York Congressman and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member Jamaal Bowman voted with the majority of the Congress to pay out over $4 billion in military funding for Israel, including $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome. Bowman doubled down on his public support for Israel shortly thereafter, joining a delegation which included a visit with Israel’s reactionary Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Bowman’s public support for Zionism initiated a sharp struggle within the DSA over the significance of the Palestinian struggle, accountability of socialist politicians, and democratic organizational norms. Beginning with a statement from the Madison DSA calling for Bowman’s expulsion for his betrayal of the Palestinian struggle, a movement for disciplinary action began which eventually brought together 28 DSA branches and 11 YDSA chapters. Unfortunately, a strong resistance to disciplinary action also grew, especially among the DSA’s national leadership, its politicians, and its thought-leaders.
DSA’s national leadership, the National Political Committee (NPC) placed itself against expulsion in its statement, On the Question of Expelling Congressman Bowman. On the one hand, the National Political Committee condemns Bowman on a number of counts of supporting Zionist organizations and the Israeli State, as well as acknowledging that he never feigned support for BDS or a single unified Palestine “from the River to the Sea.” On the other hand, the document frames Bowman as a recognized threat by the so-called Zionist lobby and cautions against losing a potential supporter of Palestinian liberation.
DSA’s national leadership has thus in practice rejected its 2017 convention commitment to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel to maintain its relationship with a politician who has crossed the picket line. This decision has revealed the unfortunate consequences of a strategy which prioritizes connections with politicians over principled commitment to struggles against exploitation and oppression.
Our Duty to the Palestinian Struggle
The Revolutionary Socialist Network stands with the forces within and outside of the DSA which have called for Jamaal Bowman’s expulsion from the DSA. Bowman’s material and verbal support for Zionist forces is a total betrayal of the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Military aid to Israel is used to prop up Israel’s apartheid regime in Palestine, outfitting the Zionist state with the material necessary to continue its ethnic cleansing, displacement, and dispossession of the Palestinian people of their land, liberty, and right to a decent life free from violence. Fighting by any means necessary to force the United States and Israel out of Palestine and the Middle East more broadly is not a secondary matter for the socialist movement in the United States, it is our duty. The United States is the heart of world imperialism, and Israel is its arm of imperial discipline in the Middle East. The working class and socialist movements in the imperial core must link up with the exploited and oppressed peoples’ of the world to tear out the heart of imperialism and open up a path to genuine self-determination and liberation for us all. Consequently Jamaal Bowman not only betrayed the Palestinian people with his vote to prop up their oppressors – he betrayed the cause of socialism in the United States.
While the Revolutionary Socialist Network is independent of the DSA, we found it necessary to speak out publicly on this issue. Self-proclaimed socialists in high office selling-out the struggle does not only harm the DSA, it harms our entire movement. The unfortunate truth is these traitorous politicians represent U.S. socialism to politicized people the world over.
The Perils of Electoral Socialism
Betrayals like Jamaal Bowman’s were the necessary consequence of the various electoralist excuses that have passed for socialist strategy since the failed Bernie Sanders campaign for the presidency in 2016. Whatever the justifications used, a significant portion of the socialist movement has accepted the notion that we can “strategically” use the Democratic Party ballot-line to elect socialists and “build power.”
This path appeared to be lined with successes – a number of self-identified Democratic Socialists won political office at the local, state, and national levels. A limited set of progressive ideas entered mainstream political discourse and socialism seemed to have struck a greater interest than it has in decades. However, the naive notion that one of the world’s strongest capitalist parties could be reformed, taken over, used, or split in favor of the working class and the socialist movement has run us into deep trouble.
A small subset of people looking to start a respectable career in politics have solicited cheap labor from enthusiastic young socialists using nods to a handful of progressive policies. These politicians were never accountable to our organizations and they cannot be under the current constellation of U.S. politics. They were elected thanks to the labor of the socialist movement, but when they make it into political office, they face myriad pressures from the capitalist politicians and their political lackeys to get in line with the Democratic Party’s bourgeois programme. In the current set-up, even the most principled socialist would break on the overt and covert methods of pressure applied by the ruling class to politicians. Our moral outrage or public censure of these politicians’ capitulations are nothing in comparison to bourgeois pressures. The only thing that can rectify the current situation is to expel opportunist politicians in the Democratic Party from our organizations and movement and start again with entirely different methods.
The DSA’s most consistent political strategy, enshrined by the decisions of its 2021 national convention, remains running and supporting Democrats for office. As Socialist Resurgence recently reviewed, in the most recent election this included Anita Prizio, an incumbent endorsed by the Pittsburgh DSA for the Allegheny County Council. Prizio is a factory owner who supports tax breaks for developers that provide “affordable” housing—a common scheme by gentrifying developers.” Jamaal Bowman’s betrayal on Palestine is not a fluke, it is baked into this type of electoralism. Compiling all the capitulations, reversals, and opportunist manoeuvres of the crop of socialist politicians in the Democratic Party would be difficult due to its frequency.
By submerging radicalizing young people attracted to the largest socialist organization in the United States into bourgeois politics, the leadership of the DSA is leading an important layer of today’s vanguard into class collaboration and support for US imperialism. This can only serve to disorient and demoralize large portions of these precious activists. In the context of some of the largest demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine in US history last summer, this is a blatantly opportunist and treacherous path.
The tens of thousands of rank-and-file DSA members are far more valuable potential supporters of Palestinian liberation than a single Democratic Congressman who is at the moment a conscious enemy of Palestine. Critical support for Bowman means a step by these tens of thousands of socialists away from supporting Palestinian liberation, and towards reconciliation with Zionism.
The Alternative to Opportunism
We need to build a principled revolutionary movement today which focuses its activity on intervening in struggles in our workplaces and communities to organize the capacity of the working class to fight and to organize ourselves. In this context, electoral campaigns are of secondary importance, but when we do run candidates, we need to use much more serious methods than the ones on offer today. We should only run candidates who are trusted cadre in our movement who are willing to subordinate their decisions and votes to the democratic processes of our organizations. We need to run entirely independently of the Democratic Party so that we can highlight the irredeemably capitalist nature of that party and cohere an opposition based in the working class. When we run comrades for office, we hold no illusions that we can reform or take over the capitalist state in any meaningful manner – instead we run people knowing that they will be combatants in the enemy camp. We measure our forces and cohere a working class opposition with the aim of exposing to every worker the true nature of the U.S. state which operates against them and all the workers of the world. Socialism can only be achieved when the working class wrests the reins of power out of the hands of the capitalists through strikes, struggles, and revolution. Consequently, socialist politicians who posture left when it’s convenient, but buttress the position of the Democratic Party and vote against the interests of the working class play absolutely no role in our struggle for power. In fact, they are barricades which must be bowled over to move the struggle forward.
We call on all socialists who are sickened by Jamaal Bowman’s capitulations to continue the fight for Palestinian liberation. It’s time to fight within our movement to build a revolutionary and anti-imperialist trend which can combat the misleadership which is sending us straight back into the clutches of capitalist politics.