YDS Winter Conference Report


The 2010 winter Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) conference at Norman Thomas High School (a location aptly named after a prominent socialist from the early 20th century) in Manhattan, was a snap shot of the current socialist movement in the United States. Headlined by several of the most prolific and renowned social critics of our day, such as Cornel West, Gayatri Spivak, and Frances Fox Piven, to name a few, it is sure to have enriched the intellectual understanding of socialism for all in attendance. YDS chapters from William Paterson University in New Jersey and Temple University in Philadelphia were very strongly represented, in addition to members from as far away as Kansas, Michigan, and Las Vegas.

The three day conference provided a unique opportunity for student activists to meet comrades from around the country, trade stories, share experiences, and build the solidarity necessary to be resilient in the face of the overwhelming forces opposed to a true socialist agenda in America. The plenary with Cornel West provided a moving and insightful approach to reminding the audience why democratic socialism is something we must continue to fight for. As he said “indifference is the essence of inhumanity” and we must not fall victim to striving only for material success and becoming “well adjusted to injustice.” The other plenaries also helped shape our general understanding of the state of democratic socialism from various perspectives. Gayatri Spivak delivered the final, and in my opinion most thought provoking plenary. She asks us to think internationally as we move forward, and presented the idea that while capital will always exist, and is not necessarily a bad thing, we must harness it with a “will to socialism.”

The various workshops held throughout the conference helped supply attendees with advanced knowledge on particular topics thanks to the expertise of the panelists at the conference. In depth looks at issues such as the state of the labor movement, strategies for the Left, responding to Obama’s wars, race and gender, and many others were offered. These panels offered background knowledge on the issues, up to date statistics, rhetorical points, and advice for those seeking to confront these problems. Armed with these intellectual tools, and a stronger sense of purpose and solidarity, the YDS members left the weekend conference to continue the struggle against capitalism.

Alan Stowers is a second year student at William Paterson University of New Jersey, studying psychology and philosophy.

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  1. I must admit I was completely unable to follow Gayatri Spivak’s talk, and if we have her speak again at a YDS conference, I would suggest that she not be the final speaker. (“Capital will always exist”? Huh? In what sense is she using the word “capital”? Does she just mean “human-created resources”? Of course those will always exist, provided that humanity doesn’t destroy itself. But to say capital will always exist is to say that capitalism will always exist…capital is a relationship, after all…an avowed Marxist like Spivak surely knows this…like I said, I was totally confused…)

  2. Cornel West calls for people to join DSA and his reflections on the importance of the socialist project as an activist and intellectual endeavor were great to hear. He seemed more enthusiastic about his DSA membership at this youth conference than my first. YDS’s ability to get around 150 students for a great learning experience is always rewarding.

    I did find Bertha Lewis’ panel with Joe Schwartz and Dan Cantor the most politically diverse. I thought Cantor’s opinions that Obama is a politician – not an opponent or ally – were important for young left wing activists. Young democratic leftists and socialists need to see people in a nuanced view – not the black and white characters certain people paint.

  3. I found Dan Cantor’s comments frustrating. Politicians are not just weather-vanes that turn any which way the wind blows, left or right. They have allegiances. Obama’s are to Wall St. and corporate America. He loves bankers and business and refuses to attack “success.” This should be clear by now. He is not in any sense on our side. He is opposed to a real social democratic agenda.

    Socialists have an obligation to tell the truth even if it is an unpleasant truth which some will have a hard time dealing with. Harsh criticism of — and, effectively, left opposition to — the Obama administration is warranted, even if we are all forced to hold our noses and vote for him in 2012 for the lack of a credible left alternative.

  4. I think the harsh truth is he sways with the balance of corporate power and organized progressive social movements. I think it’s hyperbole to say he “loves’ banks. Regardless, a real social democratic agenda is not on the table – Obama or not – until you can elect a left of center president, rebuild the labor movement, have progressives in the state and federal levels in office, and strong movements to put pressure on politicians. As always, the right-wing is the real opposition; centrists such as Obama are potential allies or obstacles.

  5. From Bloomberg, via Politico’s Morning Money:

    OBAMA DOESN’T ‘BEGRUDGE’ BONUSES FOR ‘SAVVY’ WALL STREET EXECS, Bloomberg’s Julianna Goldman and Ian Katz report: ‘President Barack Obama said he doesn’t ‘begrudge’ the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay. The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is ‘an extraordinary amount of money’ for Main Street, ‘there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don’t get to the World Series either, so I’m shocked by that as well. I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,’ Obama said … ‘I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.’

    So, yeah, Obama loves bankers.

  6. Would it be inappropriate to simply say I love the graphic for this article?

  7. Does anyone have a transcript of Bertha Lewis’ address?


  8. I was wondering why you all believe that capitalism is a bad thing. Why do you think that working hard and achieving success while the guy next to you sits on his rump and gets fired is some how corrupt and unjustified. People in an urban enviroment have the opportunity to succeed. Hey! Supposedly Obama did this. Now the problem with socialism is that you lose productivity from the guy that would work his a@@ off to excel and be promoted while also providing profit for the company, and instead cause him to do the bare minimum. Who does this help and why would a country full of people like them help the poor when nothing is being succesfully ran? Back in the day when Americans weren’t taxed to death, they were a much more caring and helping community. But nowadays, we have the idea of, “Well, the government is gonna send them money anyways, so I’m not giving them any more.” You guys are relying ALL your ideas on the false premise that these politicains that YOU want to put into office are not going to stuff their pockets and will take your “good intentions” to heart and help the world. Listen, the world will be a better place (which is what I believe you guys want) when we have the ability to see ourselves succeed LEGITIMAYELY and WITHOUT a handout and CHOOSE to help our neighbor. I’m guessing the majority of you have never had a job getting paid the same as the lazy guy next to you and asked why am I getting paid the same. Please correct me if I am wrong. Forced charity IS NOT CHARITY!! So please enlighten me where I am wrong here. Thank you


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