UFCLP Statement – The Jamaal Bowman Controversy in the DSA
April 24, 2022
The current controversy within the Democratic Socialists of America over Congressman Jamaal Bowman’s vote for Israeli military funding is a reflection of a longstanding contradiction within the socialist movement in this country. For too long, Leftists & progressives in this country have aligned themselves with the Democratic Party. Indeed, they allow themselves to be led by the Democratic Party and its agenda.
When Bowman voted last July to fund the Israeli apartheid state’s military to the tune of $3.3 billion — just months after a brutal Israeli bombing campaign that killed hundreds of Palestinians, maimed thousands, and displaced tens of thousands — he forever discredited himself and lost any claim to being a socialist. Absolute opposition to imperialism is an inviolable principle of the socialist movement. Any organization calling itself socialist was duty bound to immediately break all ties with this rotten opportunist and expose his role — and that of the Democratic Party — in sponsoring war crimes. Instead, the DSA leadership, over the protests of much of its membership, declined to take any action. In September, Bowman voted for an additional $1.1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome. The “progressive” congressman then traveled to Israel with a Democratic-Party delegation, where he met with the far-right Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — who supports apartheid law and the annexation and colonization of Palestinian territory — alongside the “pro-Israel” and anti-BDS advocacy group J Street.
When you join an organization, it’s because you uphold its political platform. When Bowman votes to spend billions of dollars for the Zionist’s military budget (or AOC votes ‘present’), they know exactly what their vote is designed to do and they certainly understand what their actions will entail in the real world of imperialism. So why are they allowed to remain in DSA?
The calls for Bowman’s expulsion from the DSA have mounted in recent months, with rank-and-file members in local chapters throughout the country refusing to let this trampling on socialist principles go unanswered. Yet the DSA’s National Political Committee has declined to expel Bowman, opting only to withhold (for now) their endorsement for the next election! The DSA leadership defends its decision with the claim that Bowman has shown “movement” to the left. But the real function of Bowman’s “movement” is to provide political cover for the Democrat’s war crimes with rhetorical gestures to the struggles of people of color, even as he votes for the weapons that will be used to kill them. The DSA leadership’s refusal to expose this fact makes them complicit in this attempt to deceive and betray working people and people of color everywhere. They are afraid to break ties with the “progressives” in Congress, and so allow themselves to be strung along by Bowman, AOC, and “The Squad,” who are in turn strung along by the Democratic Party. The DSA leadership tells us again and again to support some progressive candidate, mobilizing all of our efforts to support these people who always sell workers out.
The BDS working group in the DSA has rightly subjected the National Political Committee to scathing criticism for these actions. In response, the NPC voted last month to dissolve the working group and ban its leaders from elected positions (supposedly over some infraction on Twitter!). This has only escalated the controversy. The leadership was quickly forced to reverse its decision to dissolve the working group, but has not reversed its decision on the group’s leadership.
In order for the DSA or any other socialist party to represent the interests of working people and the oppressed, it must be torn free of the grip of the Democratic Party. For this to happen, members in positions of political power must be held to account. What is required, first of all, is a political program, written and voted upon by the membership, and binding on all members. Bhaskar Sunkara and other DSA leaders’ make mealy-mouthed protests that this will undermine the unity and inclusiveness of the organization. They say they need to protect DSA from being taken over by “sectarians.” But what this crisis has shown is that the biggest obstacle to the success of the DSA is not sectarianism but its opportunist leadership.
The struggle against the NPC’s opportunism taken up by the BDS working group, and caucuses and locals around the country, points the way forward. DSA needs a movement from below, to throw out the opportunist leadership and achieve a thorough-going democratic reform of the organization. Working-class struggle is on the rise in this country, and if and when the DSA is able to represent working people, it will grow far faster and wield far more influence than any number of Jamaal Bowmans could offer.
There will be no transformation of DSA without a fight in the unions against the corrupt bureaucracies, which support imperialism and Zionism. The bureaucracies of the AFL-CIO and other unions try to shut down any debate or discussion, and try to block workers from expressing solidarity with Palestinians and other victims of imperialism. The DSA leadership doesn’t want a fight with the bureaucrats, just as they don’t want a fight with the “progressive” Democrats, but working people will be compelled to take up this fight as they struggle to organize Amazon, Starbucks, and other industries, and revitalize the labor movement.
We need united fronts against privatization and fascism, for working-class housing, and for mass worker/community actions and strikes to win unionization at Amazon, Fed-Ex, and elsewhere. This was how millions were organized during the 1930s – not by appeals to the NLRB or by limiting ourselves to Democratic-Party legislation like the Pro Act.
As inflation rises and poverty becomes ever more widespread as a result of the deepening economic crisis in this country, workers will most definitely question and challenge politicians like Bowman and AOC, who vote to send our tax dollars overseas for wars. Workers will begin to realize that what they really need is a political party that is of the workers, by the workers, and for the workers, unequivocally. This is why all those who are working for a better world need to fight to build a genuine Workers’ Party. The dance with the Democratic Party must come to an end. It is time to Unite the Left in the fight to advance the working-class struggle for socialism.
Break with the Democrats And Build A Mass Democratic Workers’ Party!