Words and ideas **are** material

Posted at — Jan 1, 2022

During the most recent DSA meeting, a comrade argued against expelling Jamaal Bowman by stating that the resolution to expel him was “resolutionary socialism” – that is, that those who proposed it were just doing a lot of huffing and puffing, and not seriously engaging in the task of building real power.

In fact, this position against “resolutionary socialism”, despite having a cute punny name, is totally incoherent. Made more explicit, its claim is that public commitments made by an organization have 0 impact, and perhaps is even resting on a deeper belief that words and ideas in general have 0 impact.

In countering this little pun, it is useful to begin with a Marx quote: “theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses”1. Extrapolating from here, we can say, ideas have some effect on the actions of those who hold them. And if certain ideas are present in enough people, then the combined action can be historically significant.

Seen from this point of view, it’s clear that even the wayward comrade mentioned above believes this. Otherwise, they would not be at a socialist organization that they probably joined based on the name alone.

But more than the general material force of words and ideas, there is a particular force which we can see in this instance: the national DSA is now on record as not supporting (even in the smallest way) the causes of Palestinian liberation and anti-militarism. As a result, people to whom these causes are important are (correctly!) less likely to trust DSA national in the future.

Individual chapters cannot completely rub off the stink that the NPC has put on the organization, but by passing resolutions at the chapter level calling for expulsion, we can at least get some of it off and perhaps win some trust back locally.

There is no way even the comrade who raised this point lives it in their own life. For example, they joined DSA probably at least partly for reasons related due to the name alone, and the ideological positions implied by that name.

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