Where We Stand: LSC in 2021
For the Libertarian Socialist Caucus, the intensifying crises and contradictions of the 2020s are opportunities for reconsidering the path forward under conditions of intensifying crisis and weak institutional development on the left. We affirm our commitment to four foundational principles: abolition, anti-racism/anti-fascism, internal democracy and structural change, and dual power and autonomy. Our analysis requires both internal reform and the support of a collaborative National Political Committee. It also demands that we build political power inside and outside the organization.
For Abolition & a Liberatory Horizon:
We stand for abolition and a liberatory horizon in which the security state and incarceration are supplanted and systems of care and transformative justice take their place. To bolster the work of the newly created Abolitionist Working Group, we support the passage of Res. No. 3 - “Empowering DSA’s Mass Abolition Work” - from constituents of the defunct multi-faction Cardinal formation. It includes clear goals and programs for achieving those goals.
We emphasize abolition because ending the dominance of the security state is critical to ending authoritarianism and racial capitalism. From surveillance and street searches to budgets on the local, state, and federal level, these practices are predicated on racial domination as a means to undermine racial solidarity and the collective struggle against exploitative capitalism. Our efforts involve confronting several constraints and features within late capitalism. They include the state’s reliance, starting in the neoliberal period, on private debt and financial speculation, incarceration, and austerity as a replacement for productive industry. They also involve ending a two-tier labor and political systems for immigrants and forms of extraction and pollution that are co-located in immigrant, POC, and indigenous neighborhoods. They require the more fraught work of building new systems of justice and social care that replace the carceral practices endemic in our society. Finally, we call for international solidarity to end the broader systems of sanctions and collaboration that maintain oppressive systems worldwide.
On the local level and now the national level, there are now Abolitionist Working Groups and projects that had led actions, prison support, and campaigns and assembly projects to defund the security state and fund social care and the other methods of transformative justice. These have been critical to challenging the increasingly coercive function of the state at all levels under neoliberalism. We also call on the organization to support campaigns for protestor’s rights. Those constitutional and statutory rights were already under attack from police and vigilante violence but are now under threat by statutory law. We support the resolution and the development of independent capacity and to challenge the coercion and racial exploitation that is at the heart of the liberal project and which an institutional right moving toward authoritarianism and outright fascism seeks to intensify. We must fight against legislators’ embrace of vehicular terrorism against protestors and attacks on freedom of speech even as we continue to support local assemblies and actions that challenge the social basis for a critical component of modern capitalism in the U.S. and beyond. We keep ourselves safe and build our own power by liberating everyone.
For Internal Democracy & Structural Change:
From the history of the U.S. and global left, we discern a pattern that it is difficult or impossible to win and sustain organization without a democratic, membership formation. If DSA has expanded rapidly and encountered the limits of its previous structure, it can learn from the troubled contemporary history of nonprofits from Indivisible to the BLM Global Network that at best have attempted to create autonomous organizations without real power at the national level. It can also learn from a long trajectory from the First and Second Red Scares to the New Left in which leader and caucus-dominated nonprofits and unions--as well as sectarian left cadre organizations--have demobilized members while attempting to conciliate and compromise with capital. These organizations are ultimately unable to confront elites inside or outside the state and to develop the independent capacities of their members. It has been member self organizing that has instead allowed teachers to organize in conservative states and to drive abolitionist organizing.
As we did in our statement “Democratize Everything,” we call for an organization that builds powerful local organizations and supports state and regional structures. By developing a culture and structure that supports multi-tendency organizing, we can synthesize ideological positions and grow the organization rather than foment intractable factional battles over resources and direction. These changes can be achieved in part through what we propose in “National Technology & Communications Policy” (Res. No. 25; Res. Amdt. 11): better communications and data systems that allow members to do what has been difficult in certain chapters--communicate and organize with each other in a friendly and productive space. They can also be achieved by leadership that is supportive of a variety of internal demands and and organizing strategies and proposals around housing, building independent organizations, and training members to accomplish those goals through strategies inside and outside the state and elections. Finally, we have to mandate internal procedures and rules that encourage direct member participation and deliberation through mechanisms such as “National Referendum” (CB No. 2), direct elections for NPC replacements and other transparency requirements (CB No. 5 - “For a National Leadership Elected by and Accountable to DSA members” - Tempest Magazine; CB No. 3 - “Adding Candidate Membership to the NPC” - CPN) rather than gamesmanship by well-organized but sometimes marginal tendencies.
We are not supporting a proposal to require them in leadership elections (CB No. 7 - “Hold All Leadership Elections by Single Transferable Vote” - Class Unity Caucus) but do call on them to be used to select the National Political Committee at the 2021 convention. We must ensure the centrality of a semi-autonomous working group model that is associated with the growth and success of the U.S. left over the last three decades--regardless of their ideological foundations of institutions. The escalating climate crisis, among others, illustrates that we do not have time to recapitulate the failures of centralized left and nonprofits and have to prevent depoliticization and demobilization of members. We support or do not oppose the sometimes dueling efforts to build internal democracy within working groups, the Democratic Socialist Leadership Committee, and the International Committee to the extent that they are effective, participatory, and pluralistic rather than designed to preserve the control of leadership factions. (Res. 5, 13, 15-16, 18.) But we oppose efforts to dissolve them or replace member power with unaccountable leadership. (Res. No. 12 - “2021 Ecosocialist Green New Deal Priority” - Ecosocialist WG/Green New Deal Campaign Committee leadership.)
At the 2019 convention we and other tendencies proposed the “Democratize Everything” statement and the Assembly of Locals Constitutional & Bylaws Amendment. These promised an institutional transformation that would increase regional representation and internal accountability and we continue to embrace those demands while we recognize the barriers to implementing them in a multi-tendency organization. But our measures, along with similar types of reforms from the Collective Power Network and Socialist Majority Caucus, did not secure close to the supermajority necessary for passage. We continue to oppose the amendment re-proposed by Socialist Majority Caucus for a “National Organizing Council” (CB No. 6) that would cement the power of delegates, prevent them from being recalled, and allow large chapters to oversee working groups and amend the national constitution and bylaws without check from the membership. There are no shortcuts to developing an organized working class that can fight and win its own liberation on its own terms.
For Anti-fascism & Intersectionality:
Our internal efforts to ensure that we have an inclusive and sustainable organization parallel the need to defeat the rise of a Republican party and broad right tending toward vigilantism, irrationality, and subverting democracy.
There is no effective working class organization in the United States, just as important, that is not inclusive: anti-racist, non-sexist, non-homophobic, non-xenophobic, and non-ableist. Elements of both the liberal class and the right will exploit our internal differences against us as they have weaponized them throughout U.S. history. This is a familiar process in the history of the Americas that has only intensified as the legitimacy of political systems has collapsed and the right has opted for increased repression. It is therefore critical that we create inclusive and democratic organizations that are run by members rather than distant and alienating structures. We should also ensure that organizers have the resources they need to win concrete victories and receive training. Just as critical is that we build effective grievance structures that can respond in a legitimate and democratic manner to real complaints. The organization has relied on the national level on corporate-style investigations that have proceeded at a slow pace or even been employed in a weaponized or contested manner. In order to address the type of harassment and abuse that historically harms or destroys organizations, we need the new structure proposed by local grievance officers in Resolution No. 28, “Building Transformative Justice through a National Committee of Grievance Officers.”
We also support or do not oppose programs that are based around racial justice and inclusion, especially where they build intersectional movements from below. These changes are needed to develop a broad-based socialist movement that can fight and win.
- Res. No. 1 - “Resolution on the Defense of Immigrants and Refugees” - Immigrant Rights WG
- Resolution No. 2 - “Formation of a National Committee for Reparations to Black People” - Bread & Roses
- Res. No. 3 - “Mass Campaign on Voting Rights” - Socialist Majority Caucus
- Res. No. 31 - “Making DSA a Multiracial and Anti-Racist Organization” - Socialist Majority Caucus
- Res. No. 36 - “Prioritizing Working-Class Latino Organizing in DSA” - Latinos Socialistas
At this juncture, the NPC has implemented a 2019 resolution to create a National Antifascist Working Group and instituted a Red Rabbits Committee that can support local efforts to keep our organizers safe in the streets and to demonstrate the massive numbers we can present in opposition to the right. We need to develop methods to protect our members and their data during all phases of organizing. But as we propose in Resolution 26 & Res. Amendment 12 (“Developing Independent Organizations & Training Organizers for Emerging Conditions”), we also need to develop methods that can ensure that we are not just present at what are two fraught points of interaction with the state--elections and lobbying--but through innovative forms of direct action. Our policy program must also reflect not just demands for restoring liberal democracy and social democracy but confront the forces that support authoritarianism and corporatism through municipalist democracy, referendums, and other institutional transformation. At times, these forces have embraced elements of a social democratic or left program--from green forms of nationalism and fascism to welfare programs for those who deserve them. We must safeguard against this tendency of a right that is grasping for a popular program while aiming to confuse and delude outsiders about its deeper programmatic aims.
To defeat the growth of the right and the tendency toward ahistorical and ineffectual class reduction, we need to revamp our Harassment and Grievance systems, support and build our Antifascist organizing, and address the state and militia violence at the core of U.S. capitalism.
For Dual Power & Autonomous Organization:
In recognition of the structural weakness and political crisis of U.S. liberal democracy, it is necessary to embrace dual power organizing that enables the creation of powerful and class-independent organizations. Only with this level of counterpower and base building will we be able to confront the business oligarchy that dominates the democratic party and the more atavistic and tribal elements of the elite that fund the right.
The problems of U.S. electoralism should inform our approaches to organizing. Within DSA there has been a tendency to advocate for electoral strategies that veer from reformist to pragmatic to revolutionary. Social Democrats call for a continuation of a realignment strategy in which DSA plays handmaiden to the belles of the ball. In essence, this requires the DSA to remain a junior coalition member that will support the candidacy of Joe Biden and not challenge the patronage and funding structures that empower the Democratic Party and its connected nonprofits and labor organizations. There are calls to embrace a party surrogate that develops internal structures while competing in Democratic Party elections along the lines of the early U.K. Labor Party or a dirty break at some distant point in the future with the Democratic Party, while employing its ballot line. The latter strategy invokes the early success of the early 20th century North Dakota Non-Partisan League and Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party as a means for moving toward independence. Finally, more revolutionary elements call to start new independent parties, hoping this time will be different, or to avoid electoral politics entirely.
Although LSC has many members who fall into the last camp, members also advocate that we should embrace certain aspects of municipal-level direct and electoral democracy as well as building independent caucuses within party structures.
But we believe that there is a more fundamental step that is necessary to build an effective left than electoralism. We face a brutally short time-line on which to organize and obstacles unique in the liberal democratic world with respect to both electoral and legislative work. As such, we embrace dual power because it leads to a democratic and autonomous public that is capable of shaping history rather than the direction of social movements under the control of often privileged or well-situated leaders and cadres. Liberal constitutionalism or even social democracy may not be sustainable under current economic and social conditions of alienation but it certainly is not achievable without a working class that is militant and organized at points of production, logistics, and social reproduction. Counterpower would be necessary, in any case, for us to begin to win adequate representation and executive offices that would enable us to implement our agenda.
For those reasons, it is urgent that we build on existing efforts on the national and local level to develop autonomous efforts through the Mutual Aid WG and Housing Justice Commission. We can support independent organizations in the form of autonomous tenant unions, cooperatives that include media, care work such as childcare (Res. No. 23; Res. Amdt. No. 10), mutual aid organizations, and community land trusts as proposed in several resolutions that include:
- Class Struggle on the Housing Terrain: Building Power in the Tenants’ Movement (Res. No. 20; Res. Amdt. 9 - Communist Caucus)
- Prioritizing Tenant Organizing (Res. No. 21 - Housing Justice Commission)
- National Communications & Technology Policy (Res. No. 25; Res. Amdt. 11 - LSC)
- Developing Independent Organizations & Training Organizers for Emerging Conditions (Res. No. 26; Res. Amdt. 12 - LSC)
These institutions are less vulnerable to subversion and are historically the basis of other effective collective projects. As is the case with the Autonomous Tenant Union Network and the Symbiosis Network, base building organizations can develop the democratic capacities of ordinary people and empower and render legible the demands of the most excluded members of the working class. In other words, they are aligned with intersectional and feminist demands. They also confront the weakened position in which organized elements of the broad left find themselves even after two decades of uprising. The painful legacy of deindustrialization, carcel and security state growth and impunity, and austerity has alienated people and diminished our effective organizations.
At the same time, these institutions can be vehicles for developing a powerful response to the ecological collapses and escalation of individual catastrophes--rendering people homeless as it erases their history--associated with climate change. These answers may rely at least initially on the state but simply redeveloping the state industrial systems and utilities of social democratic Britain or the USSR does not address a transformed historical and economic reality. These systems must be public and they must respond democratically through worker and social control--not merely be controlled by technical experts and vulnerable to capture.
Our challenge is to rebuild social power in the same way that libertarian socialists have always done it–from the Mexican Revolution and its connection to anarchist organizing in the U.S. to the social revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Contemporary history from Bolivia to France and Spain also proves that we can confront the state through the commune and through institutions that are not dependent on state largesse and networks of institutions connected to corporate-dominated parties and the ruling class. In this way, we can answer the challenges of ecological restoration and the exclusion of people from forms of care and sustenance. Through these efforts we can guide people toward a horizon of progress and communism and away from deep cynicism and pessimism. We can control our housing, develop our own sustaining institutions, provide media that is not under the control of corporations, and care for our communities and members. By embracing these systems, we also make sure that we are in a position to sustain an organization or all members of the working class against fascism and domination. We ensure that we can win the coming struggles -- whether our approach is based around reforms or a more fundamental project of liberation.