When I received an email invitation from Gus Cochran inviting me to speak to his April 17 political science class on democratic socialism at Agnes Scott, I jumped at the opportunity. Talking up democratic socialism and the work of DSA would be an experience I could only relish. In my conversation with Gus, I learned that the Sanders campaign had prompted him to offer a first-time class on democratic socialism entitled the “Politics of Social Democracy.” Gus had begun teaching at Agnes Scott in the 70’s and helped bring Michael Harrington to speak at the campus in the early 80’s.
The syllabus included readings by Marx, Bernstein and Lenin in a survey of socialism in the first part of the 20th century. In assessing the prospects of democratic socialism in the 21st century, he examined movements in the US – Occupy, Black Lives Matter and the Sandernista political revolution – as well as the alternative left political parties in Europe – Die Linke, Syriza and Podemos. A most pleasant surprise was the inclusion of The ABCs of Socialism (Jacobin) as a key reading.
My presentation revolved around a packet of literature I distributed to the 20 students in class: Isserman’s history of the American Left, Cornel West’s flier on the alternative to capitalism being socialism, and copies of our own MADSA pamphlet, newsletter and Douglass Debs 2016 program booklet.
The students raised interesting questions: “How does democratic socialism differ from social democracy? How can millennials talk to their parents about democratic socialism? How does the Democratic Socialists of America as an organization relate to the Democratic Party?” A high point of the morning came after class when several students expressed interest in starting a Young Democratic Socialists chapter on their campus.
(Note: Our national office now employs a YDS organizer to help campus groups form chapters of our youth section. See http://www.ydsusa.org/start_a_chapter)