Democratize Everything 2021: A DSA by and for its Members

- DSA Convention 2021

DSA’s rapid rise from a relatively obscure organization of about 6,000 members in 2015 to comparatively massive and significant left vehicle it is today resulted in internal transformation and a push for internal democratization at the 2017 and 2019 DSA National Conventions. As we approach a 2021 DSA National Convention with fewer but more politically oblique proposals for structural reform, we want to illuminate the ideological fights that motivate proposals that we agree with as well as those we reject. Although our historical and contemporary differences with other factions are familiar to long-term members, we call on qualified support for certain democratizing proposals as well as reiterating our stance of supporting rank-and-file power commensurate with the need for social and dual power to achieve our goals.

LSC began at the 2017 DSA National Convention with a recognition of the critical stakes and the need for a robust structure that facilitated the development of members capacity and organization. in 2019 adopted the Democratize Everything program and a statement on the 2019 DSA National Convention to ensure that members had the power and ability to address crises and to correct for limitations involving a top-down program and strategies based around mobilization. In tandem with our proposal for Dual Power and independent organizational tactics and an expanded and municipalist electoral strategy to build socialism in our time, these form the core of a strategy to avoid the problems of a co-opted left since the mid-20th century. While we did not achieve all of our goals, we were successful in shifting the organization toward collaboration and approval of working groups around projects such as Mutual Aid, Abolition, and Antifascism.

Those efforts continue to be led by an organizational left that includes LSC, constituents of the defunct multi-faction Cardinal formation (including CPN and local left caucuses), local left caucuses such as Emerge and Communist Caucus, and Tempest Magazine and include the following:

  • Pushing for reforms to dysfunctional national and local grievance systems that require “Building Transformative Justice through a National Committee of Grievance Officers” (Res. No. 28 - Emerge NYC and the defunct Cardinal multi-tendency faction)
  • LSC has long fought for changes to the grievance and harassment system.
  • A “National Communications & Technology Policy” that will facilitate democratic deliberation and self-organizing through member-to-member communications and control over resources while shepherding the National Technology Committee’s resources and planning and allowing us to discern whether we have resources for more ambitious goals (Res. No. 25 & Res. Amdt. No. 11 - LSC)
  • National Referendums for members to be able to propose, with a relatively small threshold of signatures, and vote on key democratic decisions about DSA policy and strategy (CB No. 2 - Tempest Magazine)
  • Voting on vacancies, accountability, recall, and transparency on the National Political Committee (CB No. 5 - “For a National Leadership Elected by and Accountable to DSA members” - Tempest Magazine.)
  • There is an alternative from the ex-members of the Collective Power Network by which high vote recipients would serve ex-officio on the NPC and would fill vacancies. (CB No. 3 - Adding Candidate Membership to the NPC.)

As we explain in other statements, we also support forms of autonomous organizing that we and others have proposed as being inherently democratic and effective mechanisms for building revolutionary working class power and self-organization.

  • Building local tenant union power and a national network, political education, and legal support as part of a project of base building and developing independent social power (Res. No 20. & Res. Amdt. No. 9 - “Class Struggle on the Housing Terrain: Building Power in the Tenants’ Movement” - Communist Caucus)
  • Fostering independent organizations and tactics beyond elections and legislative lobbying (Res. No. 26 & Res. Amdt. No. 12 - “Developing Independent Organizations & Training Organizers for Emerging Conditions” - LSC)

By the 2021 convention, there can be no doubt that clear principles about centralization and autonomy have become complicated by factional goals and a more complex strategic landscape. We acknowledge the principle of internal democracy but are not endorsing different proposals to democratize the International Committee that have been proposed by dueling factions around support for anti-imperial causes or for other principled values, also pejoratively referred to as anti-imperialism/campism and third-campism. These proposals are based around different forms of democratic selection and accountability that may preserve the power of factions on the international committee and are based around visions of international work and solidarity that are inextricable from ideology.

  • Structure of the International Committee’s Steering Committee (Res. No. 15 - International Solidarity Platform)
  • Subcommittee Leadership in the International Committee (Res. No. 16 - International Solidarity Platform)
  • International Committee and Mass Organizing (Res. No. 18 - Emerge NYC)
  • An Amendment strikes language directing overseas members to organize in local political parties and organizations. (Res. Amdnt. No. 8 - Internationalism from Below.)

There is a proposal to allow members outside of core U.S. territory to form chapters on which the External Strategy & Convention Working Group is neutral. (Res. No. 13 - “Allow DSA Members Living Abroad to Form International Chapters” - Internationalism from Below). It presents a form of direct democratization in response to promises that overseas members would be able to organize through foreign parties and political organizations or through the International Committee. It also raises issues about conflicts with other socialist organizations in places like Puerto Rico and the integration of those members in work beyond U.S. elections and limited issue campaigns.

A proposal from the Bread & Roses tendency to elect a National Director, meanwhile, offers a vision of democratic control over staff who may have contrasting political leanings. (CB No. 4 - “Electing DSA’s National Director.”) On a practical level, however, it might be difficult to avoid the type of factionalization common to organizations with elected directors and ensure that the person has the skills necessary to succeed rather than the ideological backing necessary to win.

We have qualified opposition to the decision by National Ecosocialist Working Group & Green New Deal Campaign Committee leadership to propose a resolution that would dissolve their working group into an unelected committee. (Res. No. 12 - “2021 Ecosocialist Green New Deal Priority”) They held no vote or and engaged in no pre-decisional deliberation with working group members, a majority of whom recently supported expanding internal democracy or transparency in a bylaws amendment battle. We acknowledge the effectiveness of the working group’s mobilization and electoral and legislative lobbying campaigns. But we also stress the need to avoid the fate of hierarchical/non-donor non-profits in the environmental space that have consistently demobilized members. It is no accident that those non-profit organizations have avoided the most effective and bottom-up strategies for achieving objectives that have to be as radical as the scope of the multiple ecological crises we face.

For the same reasons, we fully reject Socialist Majority Caucus’ proposal for an intermediary national body referred to as the “National Organizing Council.” (CB 6 - Establishing a National Organizing Committee.) Its members would not be subject to recall, would cement the power of large chapters by regional area, would be voted on by delegates rather than individual members, would have overlapping powers with the NPC, and would be able to change organizational bylaws. A similar structure in the NYC-DSA chapter referred to as the Citywide Leadership Caucus and tends toward internal politics rather than open deliberation --and often votes against the will of their respective branches. It parallels the outcomes in unions dominated by a leadership faction and labor federation models that are disconnected from other structures and democratic accountability. There are amendments that require building state and local structures before the structure comes into effect and only allow the NOC to propose that the national convention consider constitutional and bylaws amendments. These amendments address problems that the proposal itself creates but would not clearly ensure accountability or support subsidiary structures.

As the far-right rises and socioeconomic and ecological crisis intensify, it will take all of us to win our program for socialism. In this context, demands for internal democracy are the most compelling where they are based on principle as well as accomplishing immediate objectives. No matter what ideological tendency or strategies you favor, we are stronger if our members are able to develop their skills and political analysis and to self organize.