On a deeper, and far more important. level, the question is whether the organization is interested in systemic or societal change, or is merely a vehicle for virtue-signaling.
We have an answer now, at least for the New York chapter, and it is that the comfortable merely want to feel comfortable about being comfortable, which is why they black-balled a talk by one of the most prominent African American Marxist scholars in the nation, Adolph Reed.
They did so, because he argues that class struggle is at the core of the current problems in our society, rather than eschewing class analysis to focus exclusively on racial and ethnic oppression.
I will admit that I am not an expert in the finer points of socialist theory, but I cannot see how one can possibly call themselves a Socialist if you deny the centrality of class struggle:
Adolph Reed is a son of the segregated South, a native of New Orleans who organized poor Black people and antiwar soldiers in the late 1960s and became a leading Socialist scholar at a trio of top universities.What the f%$# does, "We want to win white people to an understanding," mean, beyond perhaps, "I'm a tenured professor living a comfortable life, so f%$# the poor to keep my taxes low, and stop the cops from pulling me over for driving a nice car."
Along the way, he acquired the conviction, controversial today, that the left is too focused on race and not enough on class. Lasting victories were achieved, he believed, when working class and poor people of all races fought shoulder to shoulder for their rights.
In late May, Professor Reed, now 73 and a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, was invited to speak to the Democratic Socialists of America’s New York City chapter. The match seemed a natural. Possessed of a barbed wit, the man who campaigned for Senator Bernie Sanders and skewered President Barack Obama as a man of “vacuous to repressive neoliberal politics” would address the D.S.A.’s largest chapter, the crucible that gave rise to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a new generation of leftist activism.
His chosen topic was unsparing: He planned to argue that the left’s intense focus on the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black people undermined multiracial organizing, which he sees as key to health and economic justice.
Amid murmurs that opponents might crash his Zoom talk, Professor Reed and D.S.A. leaders agreed to cancel it, a striking moment as perhaps the nation’s most powerful Socialist organization rejected a Black Marxist professor’s talk because of his views on race.
“God have mercy, Adolph is the greatest democratic theorist of his generation,” said Cornel West, a Harvard professor of philosophy and a Socialist. “He has taken some very unpopular stands on identity politics, but he has a track record of a half-century. If you give up discussion, your movement moves toward narrowness.”
The decision to silence Professor Reed came as Americans debate the role of race and racism in policing, health care, media and corporations. Often pushed aside in that discourse are those leftists and liberals who have argued there is too much focus on race and not enough on class in a deeply unequal society. Professor Reed is part of the class of historians, political scientists and intellectuals who argue that race as a construct is overstated.
“Adolph Reed and his ilk believe that if we talk about race too much we will alienate too many, and that will keep us from building a movement,” said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Princeton professor of African-American studies and a D.S.A. member. “We don’t want that — we want to win white people to an understanding of how their racism has fundamentally distorted the lives of Black people.”
A contrary view is offered by Professor Reed and some prominent scholars and activists, many of whom are Black. They see the current emphasis in the culture on race-based politics as a dead-end. They include Dr. West; the historians Barbara Fields of Columbia University and Toure Reed — Adolph’s son — of Illinois State; and Bhaskar Sunkara, founder of Jacobin, a Socialist magazine.DSA, at least the New York chapter to be more interested in mental masturbation than it is in either socialism or real change.
They readily accept the brute reality of America’s racial history and of racism’s toll. They argue, however, that the problems now bedeviling America — such as wealth inequality, police brutality and mass incarceration — affect Black and brown Americans, but also large numbers of working class and poor white Americans.
In years past, the D.S.A. had welcomed Professor Reed as a speaker. But younger members, chafing at their Covid-19 isolation and throwing themselves into “Defund the Police” and anti-Trump protests, were angered to learn of the invitation extended to him.
None of this surprised Professor Reed, who sardonically described it as a “tempest in a demitasse.” Some on the left, he said, have a “militant objection to thinking analytically.”
Professor Reed is an intellectual duelist, who especially enjoys lancing liberals he sees as too cozy with corporate interests. He wrote that President Bill Clinton and his liberal followers showed a “willingness to sacrifice the poor and to tout it as tough-minded compassion” and described former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as a man whose “tender mercies have been reserved for the banking and credit card industries.”
“I’ve never led with my biography, as that’s become an authenticity-claiming gesture,” he said. “But when my opponents say that I don’t accept that racism is real, I think to myself, ‘OK, we’ve arrived at a strange place.’”
Professor Reed and his compatriots believe the left too often ensnares itself in battles over racial symbols, from statues to language, rather than keeping its eye on fundamental economic change.
“If I said to you, ‘You’re laid off, but we’ve managed to rename Yale to the name of another white person’, you would look at me like I’m crazy,” said Mr. Sunkara, the editor of Jacobin.
“Liberals use identity politics and race as a way to counter calls for redistributive polices,” noted Toure Reed, whose book “Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism” tackles these subjects.