By Scott Costen
THE Democratic Socialists of Canada are reporting continued growth despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and criticism from some on the political left.
Founding member Joe Roberts told Redaction Politics the DSC has recruited more than a thousand members since forming in January and has established chapters in Montreal, Toronto, London, Calgary, and Victoria.
There are about a dozen organizing committees in other communities across the country, a few of which are close to certification, he said.
“We had no expectation it would grow as quickly as it has.”
The DSC is currently led by a six-member national political committee with representation from its five chapters and several campus organizing groups. That structure is expected to change following the organization’s first convention next summer.
“We kind of built the structure based on the (Democratic Socialists of America) model, which is you have to create an organizing committee first, and once you have 15 paid members in good standing, then you can apply for a charter, which gives your chapter rights under our constitution to put forward policy suggestions and things like that at convention,” Roberts said.
In addition to building its membership and infrastructure, the DSC has been working on policy development through its offshoot, the Centre for Canadian Progress, which he described as “the only democratic socialist think tank in Canada.”
The DSC has also launched a weekly podcast called New Left Radio, which recently featured an interview with progressive stalwart Noam Chomsky.
Roberts is quick to point out the DSC is not a political party but rather a vehicle for supporting socialist causes and candidates and “mainstreaming” left-wing ideas.
“We’re definitely not a party,” he said. “I don’t think we have aspirations to be a party. I think our goal is to move the national conversation.”
The organization is also “not revolutionary,” something Roberts said reflects the mindset of most Canadians.
“It sounds so ‘out there’ to them and it’s unrealistic,” he said. “Now, if we start talking about revolution at the ballot box and transforming the country through systems that people trust and understand, I think that’s much more tangible to people.”
Roberts, a dual US-Canadian citizen who previously worked for the Israel Project and is now executive director of Jewish London, was attacked in a widely circulated blog post shortly after the launch of the DSC.
The post’s author, Myka Conners, called Roberts, who is Jewish, “an American liberal Zionist settler with no place at the head of an organization claiming to be radical.”
“Those are all of the buzzwords you use to cancel someone on the Canadian left,” claimed Roberts, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for an Ohio congressional seat in 2010.
He responded to being labelled “Zionist” by describing the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as “a moral stain on the face of Israel and the Jewish people.”
“I think we have an obligation under Jewish values to change that,” he said. “I am very critical of the Netanyahu government. I think it’s Trumpian. It’s a fascist government in a lot of ways.”
As for the claim he is a liberal, Roberts admitted he supported a candidate in the Liberal Party of Ontario leadership race just months before the DSC was formed.
But he said that was an example of his bridge-building philosophy in action rather than evidence of partisan loyalties.
Further criticism of the DSC appeared in an April article in Briarpatch magazine.
The organization was derided for its “breezy digital socialism” and “the slick, uniform styling of [its] carefully managed brand.”
Roberts said the DSC has simply applied a winning formula that’s widely embraced in conservative politics around the world.
“One of the challenges we have on the left is we’re just not as organized as our opponents on the right,” he said. “They understand how to win. They’ve created a blueprint for success and it works.”
While spending more than $5,000 on Facebook ads may seem unusual for a new socialist organization, Roberts said it’s par for the course in 2020.
“This is political organizing in the modern age,” he said. “That’s how you grow. That’s how you connect with people.”
This digital outreach helped the DSC connect with Nazanin Eslami, a university student who is now helping to organize a Vancouver chapter.
“I would like to see Canadians develop an interest in politics and I think we can do that through our local chapters,” she told Redaction Politics. “We’re trying to improve this country, not just for people who believe in democratic socialism, but for every single person that’s living in Canada.”
Eslami, who works as a server, said the DSC’s practical concern with “everyday citizens” is important to her.
“We are focused on workers’ rights, which is, surprisingly, something that’s kind of missing on the left,” she said.
“It’s turned a little bit into this scholarly space where we’re discussing very much theoretical broader stuff, but we’re not focusing on the day-to-day people out there, who are working and trying to get the best out of their lives in a system that’s clearly not benefiting them.”
Ultimately, Roberts believes the DSC can help advance socialism in Canada by engaging with people from all walks of life as part of a long-term strategic plan.
“We believe that being in a Marxist reading group is not going to change our society,” he said. “There’s only one place where policy changes are implemented, and that’s from a seat of power.”
Featured Image: Joe Roberts (credit)
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