LSC does not belong to DSA: We Caucus Wherever We Are
This post was written as a series of reflective pieces by individual Caucus members as we discuss and debate the role and form of the Libertarian Socialist Caucus going forward. It does not represent the consensus of the body at large.
It is important for those on the left, and especially those on the outside looking in, to know that the Libertarian Socialist Caucus does not belong to the Democratic Socialists of America and never has. It has never been formally recognized at the national level, and we should consider a course of proceedings by which it never should be. This however is not a manifesto for independence. This is a reification of Libertarian Socialism and its mode of operation: interaction.
LSC members have and create organizational memory. This organizational memory spawns theories of change which need to be tested in reality, and the resulting wins and failures return to change and develop our memory and reproduce this cycle. LSC’s experiences at the DSA National Convention in 2019 and 2021 inform where we started, where we departed, and where we’re going. The Libertarian Socialist Caucus’ founding in 2017 was to some, probably most, a notion that LSC could agitate among DSA membership, offer up programs and directly democratic processes to be adopted, and turn DSA into a Libertarian Socialist formation based on the structure and values apparent which were voiced throughout the organization, that any Socialism for America must emphasize Democracy. In 2019 LSC entered a coalition with Build, another caucus with shared values, and together they brought a slate of bylaws amendments and resolutions to the National Convention. These hopes were dashed against the wall. The Coalition's presented items were for the most part rejected by the delegate body. It seemed clear, you cannot parliamentarize towards other people holding your values.
The resulting reaction within LSC of course saw Caucus members canceling their DSA memberships and other more impassioned calls for LSC in full to break from DSA. How different is this from calls for DSA to break from the Democratic Party? When it comes to LSC and DSA, there is nothing to break from, as our only connections to DSA are decentralized and usually informal; the most solid connection between LSC and DSA is a member of both. Unlike the membership of Build, which fell apart due to their own internal problems, a true want from all sides emerged: LSC wanted to stay together, whether members wanted to engage with DSA or not. It was then in 2019 that the bylaws were edited to allow non-DSA members to remain in LSC and to allow non-DSA members to join the Caucus, if they were part of an LSC local. This has at times led to tensions and arguments between those still in DSA, those who left, and those who never joined DSA to begin with, especially leading into the 2021 DSA National Convention. Nevertheless, our current composition is a fertile dynamic environment, which with reflection any LSC member can come to recognize and form programs of action to carry out on the basis of. Put more simply, our DSA members and non-DSA members benefit from interacting with each other within LSC. We have created a dialectic condition within ourselves which can synthesize towards unimagined Libertarian Socialist ends.
Part of preparation for the 2021 DSA National Convention was the democratic approval of three plans: one internal to LSC, one external to LSC, one for LSC’s engagement with Convention. One of these strategy documents outlined a system for local LSC’s to assess their relationship to various DSA chapters to quote:
“DSA locals are heterogeneous to say the least. Some are highly hostile to LSC’s organizing priorities ... while some have major LSC membership ... and then some in between. However, most DSA chapters are nominally democratic in that with some organizing effort, LSC values can at least gain a foothold in the main chapter.”
A later part of the document calls for a traffic light system to help local caucuses assess what their orientation towards their local dsa chapter should be. Firstly, ‘Red’ being mainly outside the chapter’s main work due to highly centralized leadership hostile to LSC’s values. Secondly, ‘Yellow’ wherein the local LSC manages to push forward priorities relatively uninhibited, but without the actual levers of the chapter helping. And lastly, ‘Green’: where the majority of chapter leadership is friendly to LSC’s goals and will use chapter resources to help LSC aligned projects off the ground. Elsewhere in the strategy document it is noted that often people join DSA in order to join LSC. The ‘Bern Out’ is an archetypal bloc of new applicants which LSC and other left caucuses experienced after both of Bernie Sanders’ primary losses wherein, of course, dejected social democrats lose most if not all hope in electoral politics as a theory of change and look for a new one to fill the void, especially if there is lack in their personal lives driving them to need one. Our caucus statement Dual Power: A Strategy To Build Socialism In Our Time is very often the piece that fills that void.
“Dual Power is a strategy that builds liberated spaces and creates institutions grounded in direct democracy. Together these spaces and institutions expand into the ever widening formation of a new world ‘in the shell of the old.’ As the movement grows more powerful, it can engage in ever larger confrontations with the ruling class—and ultimately a contest for legitimacy against the institutions of capitalist society.”
Did you Bern Out? I know I did. I joined DSA to join LSC. I wanted to try to carry out a Dual Power theory of change in DSA-LA, with any institutional power and resources as backing. In early 2020, the chapter was solid Yellow, by feature of the LSC local having disbanded into dormancy. Comrades and I put in the work to rebuild an LSC-LA, and despite falling behind on drafting clearer rules for ourselves we are at least a loving affinity group of now close friends. Beyond us, DSA-LA has drifted over the course of the year from Yellow very nearly into full Red. We are experiencing in microcosm that same debate, knowing we are under attack, ideating for a break, wanting to stay together, but needing to know with certainty what we’re going to do. I pose the thesis of this essay in microcosm, and have for some time:
LSC-LA does not belong to DSA-LA: We Caucus Wherever We Are
Again, this is not a manifesto for independence. I say ideating for a break, because it’s something we may never do, and also that in theory there are no formal bonds to break. And to re-up Libertarian Socialism’s mode of operation: interaction. Newer conceptualizations in Libertarian Socialist theory lay out an understanding of this, their historical roots, and a way of applying it in the present. I would draw first and primarily from an essay published by Usufruct Collective titled Communalism and Especifismo. It proposes a synthesis between Communalism, as theorized by Murray Bookchin and subsequent thinkers, and Especifismo, “... a tendency initially developed by FAU in Uruguay building off of already existing organizational dualist tendencies within anarchism.”
Organizational Dualism is a concept introduced early on by theorists like Mikhail Bakunin and Errico Malatesta, although I would think that non-Anarchist conceptualizations are possible. The historical example of Organizational Dualism to point to is the CNT-FAI in revolutionary Spain, a series of Anarchist affinity groups, the Iberian Anarchist Federation, within the CNT, the National Confederation of Trades Unions. Should there be any question of whether or not the FAI belonged to the CNT? Would it have mattered? Especifismo extends Organizational Dualism beyond just Trades Unions to Social Movements and other Popular Institutions more broadly. To quote further at length from Especifismo and Communalism:
“Whereas communal assemblies–and other kinds of groups like radical unions– are designed to be popular organizations with common processes and practices, theoretically specific libertarian communist groups … are made out of people who have a sufficient degree of tight-knit theoretical unity. Members of such theoretically specific groups function as an ‘active minority’ within social movements. … The major purpose of such theoretically unified libertarian communist groups is to do social insertion: that is to create and participate in social movements, social movement groups, and popular organizations in and out of the workplace (such as community assemblies, mutual aid projects, unions, tenants’ unions, issue specific social movements, etc) in such a way where members of such theoretically unified libertarian communist groups help to develop and assist liberatory processes and practices within social movements and popular organizations. … The goal of social insertion is to spread such libertarian socialist processes and practices and not to get any particular person or group to proclaim any specific ideology– however in the process of spreading liberatory practices and giving reasons for them various corresponding theories will likely spread to people and become more generalized. ”
The point I’m getting at more broadly via this essay’s title is that LSC, from its very conception, whether by design or coincidence, has been attempting to fulfill this function within DSA as a popular movement and series of social institutions (Chapters, etc.) We skipped step one! We didn’t start as an independent Libertarian Socialist organization, broad enough umbrella term as it is, we went further from the jump! This on the one hand is exactly what we’re meant to be doing as Libertarian Socialists; on the other hand, the authors caution the reader:
“If libertarian socialists merely organize with libertarian socialists, then they will lose contact with the broader population they need to be reaching. If libertarian socialists merely join social movements without advocating various libertarian socialist practices that can be used, then social movements can easily drift into being susceptible to reformist, unstrategic, liberal, and leninist tendencies and opportunists.”
Comrades have told me that in the early days of LSC, organizing in DSA was a great way to hone and develop our perspectives and find newly minted libertarian socialists. It was not a waste of time, but the question remains, whether or not it is still a waste of time. If you ask me, it’s too early to call it for DSA as a whole, but on a chapter by chapter basis, on a working group by working group basis, it has been called, and is being sussed out. Spend any amount of time in DSA and you will encounter opportunists.
I have my doubts about painting Leninist tendencies with a bad brush. At the same time, for as much sympathy I have for the theoretical contributions of Leninist schools of thought, as well as sympathy for comrades of mine who count themselves in the Leninist tradition, said theoretical contributions are often poorly understood throughout the left, historically, and have been abused, leading to power hoarding behavior and harm. So I ask any Leninists reading this, please read your theorists deeply, critically, dialectically, and keep an open mind. Where I ask any liberals reading this, please read more, this is not an introductory text.
These cautions and advocacy of the interaction of an active minority within popular movements are rooted as far back as the 19th century in the writings of Mikhail Bakunin:
“That association starts from the basis that revolutions are never made by individuals, nor even by secret societies. They are, so to speak, self-made, produced by the logic of things, by the trend of events and actions.... All that a well organised society can do is, first, to play midwife to the revolution by spreading among the masses ideas appropriate to the masses’ instincts, and to organise, not the Revolution’s army — for the people at all times must be the army — but a sort of revolutionary general staff made up of committed, energetic and intelligent individuals who are above all else true friends of the people and not presumptuous braggarts, with a capacity for acting as intermediaries between the revolutionary idea and the people’s instinct … The numbers of such individuals, then, need not be huge. A hundred tightly and seriously allied revolutionaries will suffice for the whole of Europe. Two or three hundred revolutionaries will be enough to organise the largest of countries”.
As we all know, LSC is not the only caucus in DSA, not by a long shot. The organization is full of theoretically specific groups of all stripes, agitating within and throughout to organize DSA toward their ends. And at a larger scale DSA agitates within a larger organizational ecosystem. Following 2019, LSC is one of the few caucuses primed for a critique of DSA as being an institution, not the institution for the North American Left. Against calls for LSC to become an independent institution for itself, I quote the conclusion of Usufruct Collective’s essay:
“Part of what distinguishes communalist especifismo from classical communalism is the emphasis upon the distinction and need (or more moderately desirability) for both theoretically specific libertarian socialist organizations and popular organizations as well as social insertion for purposes of revolutionary social change. Without the distinction between theoretically specific and popular organizations, it is quite possible to form a group that tries to do the functions of both yet functionally does not fulfill the functions and aspirations of either (a problem some organizational dualist tendencies are consciously responding to). Part of what distinguishes communalist especifismo from especifismo is agreeing with the most salient features of communalism such as the notion that communal assemblies in harmony with the features of communalism are ‘keystone organizations’ to be developed before, during, and after revolutions. Such a communalist orientation is not essential to especifismo despite overlap between especifismo groups and communal assemblies. Communalist especifismo does not and should not mean a reduction of especifismo groups to only interfacing communal assemblies: merely an additional emphasis upon communal assemblies as keystone organizations to be prefigured and developed before, during, and after revolutions (for ethical and strategic reasons). A communalist especifismo group would be composed of people who agree with especifismo and communalism and who are actively engaged in trying to develop such a revolutionary project.”
It is clear the interaction between the active minority and the popular organization operates in a dialectic; the interaction iterates onward towards more robust and informative ends which can then interact and produce further synthesis and contradiction. The interaction is itself a contradiction being worked out by the participants. The question for LSC members in regards to DSA in their specific circumstances, is whether this is an antagonistic or non-antagonistic contradiction. Antagonistic contradictions can only be resolved through conflict, whereas non-antagonistic contradictions, on the other hand, can be resolved through dialogue, debate, etc. It is important then for LSC members to investigate the level of antagonism they experience, the traffic light system from earlier is simplistic but useful.
To further place the above quote in context, a critique of DSA is that it may be an organization which is trying to be theoretically specific and a popular institution at the same time while fulfilling the functions of neither. A fully independent LSC would reiterate the same problem unless it continues its caucusing function. However, to paraphrase the quote above, LSC’s caucus function does not and should not mean a reduction of LSC to only caucusing within DSA: merely an additional emphasis upon DSA as a potential keystone organization, and it is not the only keystone organization out there; the same could be said of workplaces, labor unions, community centers, ATUN, Progressive International, Cooperation Tulsa, and any popular organizations yet to be built. In conclusion, this is where we find ourselves. LSC does not belong to DSA because we should Caucus wherever we are.