LSC-DSA: Our Caucus’ Vision for the DSA 2023 Convention
If the last decade featured historic gains for the left in places even the most ardent partisans had abandoned, it has also been an era of crisis and repression that has fostered increasingly general political confusion. Today, socialists have achieved breakthroughs inside and outside the state from Rojava to Barcelona to Chiapas to New York City. DSA-endorsed elected officials are among leading political actors in the U.S. and leftists have advanced an abolitionist program and secured union and community leadership as well as national elected office in countries like Colombia and Bolivia. But these transformations have occurred even as the climate crisis and imperial conflict intensify and fascism and the erosion of the limited gains of liberal representation and social democracy have been normalized in western states and the global south alike.
There have been sure victories in electoral campaigns and legislative fights for climate legislation along with tenant and worker militancy and self-organization. (These have happened in part through DSA's Emergency Tenant Organizing Committee and Emergency Worker Organizing Committee as well as the assistance of the United Electrical Workers and Autonomous Tenant Union Network.) At the same time, within DSA, repeated defeats, self-generated crises, and displays of incompetence and ideological hostility to multi-tendency debate and member self-organization inside and outside our own organization threaten further member attrition and a downward spiral in finances and capacity. These factors, taken together, threaten the possibility of even conventional social democratic victories.
LSC has learned from this uneven landscape of failures and achievements along with other formations on the organizational left. As we began to articulate prior to the 2021 DSA convention, our strategy and program honestly confronts the conditions we face in a wealthy, atomized, and historically exclusionary society and the limitations of bureaucratic NGO-style formations with their self-declared experts and unaccountable leaders. We also aim to avoid the reliance on staff and factionalization that have undermined successful projects, intensified members' drift from the organization, and led to ideological and tactical inflexibility. By securing a transformative program that transcends electoral and legislative battles, structural reforms, training and empowering members, and electing accountable and competent leadership that includes our NPC slate, we can ensure a militant but inclusive trajectory responsive to the novel conditions that will confront an organization critical to the success of the emerging U.S. left. We will be putting forward a full set of recommendations on the DSA 2023 Convention.
Our NPC candidates, C.S. Jackson (San Diego DSA) and Tom Julstrom (Duluth, MN DSA) both have experience as chapter leaders and Julstrom in YDSA. They have been principled advocates for a functional and democracy multi-tendency organization.
As they elaborate on in their candidate announcement, our external programmatic goals are as follows:
- Maintain DSA’s anti-racist, abolitionist commitments
- Upholding anti-imperialist principles and practicing solidarity with oppressed peoples
- Organizing beyond the federal spectacle
- Setting basic expectations for national endorsements
Our internal goals include:
- Fostering a member-led organization
- Greater national transparency
It's essential that DSA adopt a more radical strategy and horizon. While significant effort has gone into national efforts to win a Green New Deal, for example, the results of coalition work with non-profits have been a few tangible victories, mostly on the state and local level, and mixed outcomes for both the planet as well as our deeply indebted and financially unstable social base. On the national level, even gains like the Investment Reduction Act are a double-edged bargain. Protecting an expansive military and sanctions strategy and the uncertain profits of domestic manufacturers and oil extraction–not international solidarity and cooperation–is at the core of even the limited legislative and regulatory gains under the Biden administration. The Democratic Party's "progressive" agenda is only attractive as an alternative to neoliberal austerity and the financial and technological speculation that threatens our information commons, renewed global financial collapse, and the future of all life on earth.
In response to the 2020 uprising, in fact, the right inside and outside the Democratic Party have moved to reject the post-Civil Rights order and even honest historical accounts while using state violence and international power as a means of social repression and alienation rather than co-opting or conciliating social movement demands. The Democratic Party, in this context, tends to foster dynamics that reinforce fascism rather than being capable of defeating it. As a corrupt and irrational judiciary intensifies the oppressive dynamics of the constitutional order to end basic civil rights and benefit the white supremacist and corporate class, we need to offer a radical countervision because liberals or their social democratic partners are unable or unwilling to do so. We must develop that vision and deploy political education and confrontational tactics as part of a disruptive strategy that can both defend oppressed groups and develop effective class power.
LSC Vision & Structure
In response to dynamics in the organization, DSA-LSC restructured in late 2022 as a multi-faceted organization called the Horizon Federation. We continue to operate in DSA as the DSA-LSC Circle and engage in a strategy of social insertion to shift the strategy and ideological valence of popular institutions while aiming to develop dual power institutions. These strategies are ones that we pursue in coalition with other organizing and political education groups that include the Emergency Committee for Rojava and the Symbiosis Federation.
Organization & Power
The problems of democratic organization are not confined to DSA as anybody familiar with corporate power and the hollowed-out structures of traditional political parties and even institutions such as unions will attest. They have emerged since the end of the New Left and the turn toward non-profits and an initially productive strategy of realignment. But their surprising persistence in DSA on the national, state, and local levels has led to multiple scandals and problems of ineffectual, divisive leadership.
At times, these parties appear more interested in self-preservation and proximity to power than adaptive and revolutionary action. Their actions include everything from the only partially abandoned project to eliminate and constrain the leadership of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Working Group over tweets that critiqued member representatives for taking action contrary to our democratically adopted national platform to subsequent and deeply political limits on the fundamental work of the National Technology Committee. Procedural aspects of national DSA governance have become factional and dysfunctional. The organization has failed to follow requirements to hold public meetings and follow requirements for voting under D.C. non-profit law. It has also created a chaotic and distrusted dispute resolution system even as it paid until recently high fees to a contractor serving as National Harassment & Grievance Officer that has largely abandoned robust and cross-tendency member governance pursuant to prior resolutions.
No socialist organization, whether it conceives of itself as reformist or revolutionary, Marxist or anarchist, can sustain victories and develop counterpower if it treats members as volunteers. It cannot sustain a multi-tendency formation if factions dominate and foreclose democratic deliberation and the projects supported by other tendencies. If it is tied to a role as junior coalition member in a Democratic party movement ecology (or ad-hoc "popular front") without leverage in hoped-for but vague popular fronts, there is no reason to expect different results from what we already witness: the rise of the far right and multiple deepening crises. This is the case even if some short-term wins come in the form of electoral offices and a legislative strategy largely premised on harm reduction and aligned with the instrumental top-line analysis of Democratic Party strategists. Our vision, while not premised on the formation of a mass party, encompasses the need for class-independent organizations, from DSA itself to radical tenant and workplace unions to cooperatives and worker and municipalist electoral assemblies,that will train, educate, and empower organizers as well as hold elected officials accountable to our program.
The dominant campaign-forward and technocratic strategy, in fact, has won notable climate and housing bills such as the Build Public Renewables Act–some with support from sectors of capital–but few funding and tax demands despite high-capacity campaigns around budget justice in places like Los Angeles and New York State. While those legislative campaigns have employed clever media tactics and outreach derived from the work of NGO partners, the track record of both national electoral and legislative campaigns reflects internal difficulties and increasingly tough external challenges from capitalist forces. Those efforts, instead, have at times succeeded in exhausting or even demobilizing members while ensuring our members receive limited training and have limited capability to organize beyond major party politics. A corresponding reliance on staffers, by national leaders and tendencies, with the aim to direct a depoliticized core of members ignores the historical necessity in successful left organizations for mass participation and open deliberation about strategy.
We recognize the substantive and ideological limitations we confront inside and outside of our movements and, in particular, DSA. LSC in response puts forward a slate of candidates who embrace transparency and, in tandem with the candidates of aligned caucuses and slates, will deliver competent and democratic administration and a substantive strategy focused on social and political transformation. From town halls to regular communication with chapters and membership to championing internal democracy at all levels, we can form the practices and open debate central to moving on from internal crises.
While we acknowledge the importance of a socialist vision and revolutionary program experience shows the U.S. left must have a corresponding praxis. As part of this project, our NPC candidates will focus on developing sustained institutions, bottom-up and inclusive campaigns, and disruptive tactics from strikes to occupations that help us build leverage and class power across lines of difference and confront repressive state and vigilante forces. This will be accompanied by and facilitate organizational changes that empower chapters and members, emphasizing the role of those from excluded groups. Our slate members have both served in chapter leadership and engaged in YDSA and DSA National debates. This experience and record of even-keeled but principled leadership demonstrates that they will have the intent and skill to avoid the mistakes of recent NPCs and leaders, from insider visions to self-aggrandizement to disengagement from membership.
The emerging challenges suggest the difficulty of relying mechanically on past organizing frameworks even as they call for revolutionary analysis and action. We therefore will be putting forward a set of recommendations on constitutional and bylaws proposals and resolutions at the 2023 national convention.
As a caucus that unites tendencies such as autonomist communists, municipalist organizers, platformists, syndicalists, and anarchists, our program overlaps and aligns in part with Marxist tendencies. Our program, we propose, emphasizes the best aspects of the theory and praxis associated with those tendencies. An emblematic example of tactical and strategic nimbleness is the campaign to Stop Cop City–which has brought together occupations, coordinated street protests, pressure on legislators, a progressive front with environmental, civil rights, and abolitionist groups, news collectives, political education, and a bottom-up referendum campaign. We aim to ensure that such efforts can not only involve DSA but be led by an organization that has credibility in these fights. We support developing, as part of this broader strategy, accountable and popular municipal and state electoral efforts, referendums, popular assemblies, affinity groups, cooperatives, mutual aid programs, social institutions, militant/rank-and-file worker and tenant union organizing, anti-fascist counter-actions, as well as disruptive direct actions and occupations.
We center efforts grounded in current revolutionary projects such as the drive in AANES/Rojava and Zapatista territories in Chiapas to transcend the patriarchy and social hierarchy that over millennia have been associated with coercive state structures. As Marxists and Anarchists confronting deep social and political crises, we need to secure material gains for our members but have to plan for concurrent ruptures rather than state collapse. We need to respond to the crisis of legitimacy that confronts a liberal state built on oppression, stolen bodies, and stolen land not only through critique or mechanically applying past models. In doing so, we aim to comprehend changing material conditions and to develop new and robust modes of revolutionary, democratic strategy.
As a key part of our program, we have always supported direct member participation and decision-making, as set out in our Democratize Everything statement, that build internal cohesion and power. It is critical that we have, for these reasons, member control of working groups and commissions and intermediate organization in the form of a National Delegates Council as critical. We recognize that electoral power is meaningless or even demobilizing if representatives are not accountable to organizational structures. In this context, we recognize the necessity that we not only build projects outside of the electoral, legislative, and policy systems; we also aim to transform DSA and develop autonomous institutions that can secure class independence as well as transforming existing ones through our efforts into revolutionary vehicles. Freedom may not be an endless meeting, but it's also not a revolving cycle of top-down campaigns and procedural and structural features that prevent member power over organizational control, structure, and strategy.
We hope to win that vision of empowered organizers and revolutionary strategy with you. If you're interested in joining, please reach out us at dsa-lsc.org and firstname.lastname@example.org.