Winning socialism today is more important than it has ever been. Every year that passes without serious efforts to counter the rising threat of climate change brings us closer and closer to oblivion. Severe weather events, droughts, and heat waves, that threaten the lives of billions, make it clear that climate change is a crisis that can no longer be ignored. In spite of this urgency, the ruling class will not lift a finger if it means giving up even a single cent of profit. Instead they either continue to deny the very real dangers which we face, or provide “solutions” that do little or place faith in dubious technology. As Marxists, we understand that climate change is not merely an unfortunate by-product of capitalism, but intimately woven in the logic of capitalist exploitation. We cannot reform our way out of it, we require a fundamentally different approach and understanding of economic life. Socialism is the only economic and political system capable of avoiding or mitigating the bleak future that awaits us.
To achieve socialism, however, the working class needs power. With union density continuing to decline, and political power through the ballot box still a dream, the working class has not been so weak and fractured as it is today for well over a century. Reversing this trend will be a herculean task. Yet there is some room for optimism. Following its revival in 2016, DSA has grown into a political organization with incredible potential. Across the country, DSA chapters are campaigning and engaging in crucial political work to reshape the terrain of American politics. We have won important victories, and bettered the lives of countless members of the working class. No other currently existing socialist organization can claim the same kind of influence, membership numbers or power that DSA can.
Our organization is an opportunity for the working class, but it is also a fleeting one. As it stands, DSA will never be in any position to seriously contest the ruling class’s hold on the levers of power. Significant structural and normative barriers limit our capacity, and weaken the organization. Far from a cohesive whole, DSA is a decentralized jumble that prevents our democratic leadership from implementing much needed reforms, let alone carrying out campaigns or making strategic decisions. Many chapters are in permanent stagnation or decline, doing no serious political work, instead wasting time on dead end strategies that have time and time again been shown to be ineffective. With the stakes higher than we can imagine, the kind of amateurism that has characterized much of DSA’s activity in its juvenile period is unfathomably irresponsible.
DSA has a choice. We can fix our broken systems and give ourselves a real chance to fight for a better world, or we can continue on the current path, die as an organization and fail. We have a responsibility, not only to ourselves, but to all future generations, to choose the former. There are simply no other options. The clock is ticking and it is nearly midnight.
Socialism Through Mass Organizing
For the working class to win socialism, we will need to engage in many different tactics across a variety of terrains. What works for one time and place cannot be neatly transplanted to another. Given the contours of US politics, we believe that mass organizing is our best strategy. On their own, the individuals that make up the working class can do little. The working class’s strength is in our numbers, and unlocking this potential is critical for the socialist project. Only by organizing into a mass member socialist party can we grow our power. While DSA’s current size is a good starting point, to fulfill this vision, we will need to grow far larger. As such, we believe that recruitment is one of the most essential activities for DSA to undertake. This is particularly true for prioritizing growth in marginalized groups and communities that are often underrepresented in DSA.
However, internally facing work, such as recruitment, cannot be the only activity a chapter is engaged in. No one wants to spend what little free time they might have on an organization that does nothing for them and has no real purpose. Internal efforts to grow DSA and external campaigns therefore should have a symbiotic relationship: our campaigns must both engage our members and have a sense of stakes, by having real material impacts to provide a reason to stay involved, while our recruitment must be towards the purpose of expanding our ability to successfully campaign. For this reason, while DSA should invoke a wide variety of tactics, we believe some are more viable than others for the long term success of the organization. We believe that only by mass organizing the working class via electoral politics, labor organizing and tenant organizing, will we achieve socialism and a better future for all. These three tactics are not only the most effective means of contesting for power, but provide avenues for recruitment, mobilizing DSA’s membership, and winning victories with concrete goals.
While by no means the only activity DSA should be involved with, electoral organizing is often one of the most important, and one of the most visible. Elections are by and large how most people engage politically, which makes them a useful tool for recruitment, with significant evidence pointing to membership spikes occurring after major electoral victories. It is equally critical for mobilizing our current members, with canvassing and other electoral volunteering being one of the most accessible ways for our membership to get plugged into chapter work. Furthermore, winning nets us actual power, which can be used to both provide direct benefits to the working class, as well as shaping other political terrains to our advantage. We therefore believe that electoral organizing should be a high priority for DSA chapters when it is possible.
None of these benefits to electoral work mean that we must engage in it uncritically of course. We should not be so foolish as to think that the US state is a neutral institution, or that winning an election guarantees anything. The ruling class does not play fair, and will do everything in its power, legal or otherwise, to ensure the continuation of capitalist domination. Nor should we kid ourselves that we can vote our way to socialism. Reforms have their limits. However, given the material and political terrain that currently exists, strategic use of electoral work is one of the most effective means of building a mass socialist organization.
- We support pragmatically engaging in electoral organizing to expand the power of the working class and grow our organization.
- We are for DSA controlling our campaigns and moving towards recruiting candidates from our own membership and base that are accountable to us.
- We oppose attempts to establish an independent ballot line as neither practical nor really necessary. Instead DSA should intervene on the Democratic ballot line when it is strategic, and continue to build the organization into a party surrogate.
- We oppose taking over state Democratic parties, running for positions within the Democratic Party apparatus or any other attempts at “realignment”. Such efforts do not provide meaningful gains for the amount of work they require, and are ultimately futile.
- We believe DSA should only endorse openly socialist candidates, not simply any progressive or left of center candidate.
- We support running to win and only believe DSA should endorse candidates who have a realistic chance of success. Endorsements should only be made that when looking at a variety of factors, such as the particular candidate, district, and geography, suggest that the race is winnable.
- We believe that symbolic campaigns, over endorsements and paper endorsements waste time, volunteers and resources, all of which are limited, as well as make DSA look weak.
- We support a rigorous endorsement process, and carefully selecting who, if anyone, in a particular race should be backed.
- We believe in a strong NEC that is able to connect socialist electeds and provide support for chapters’ local electoral organizing.
- We believe that the power of DSA is in the volunteer membership. As a result mass canvassing is one of our greatest strengths.
Marxist analysis tells us that the working class is uniquely capable of winning socialism. This fact is true not because of our superior morality or righteousness, but because our labor is the basis for all capitalist production and profits. This material reality is what ties socialism to the labor movement and what makes labor organizing so crucial in the fight for socialism. However, we must also grapple with the reality that union density in the United States sits below 11%. There is no way around the fact that the supermajority of American workers are not currently unionized and many do not know anyone in a union. The last fifty years have seen a dramatic rollback of collective bargaining rights, and labor law protections. Rather than ignoring these inconvenient facts, we must engage with our existing material conditions, while simultaneously looking towards the future to expand not only what is possible, but what is probable. As such, we believe DSA should be seen as a place to organize, connect with likeminded members of the working class, and receive support towards organizing efforts. This means providing resources, training, and support to members looking to recruit their co-workers to DSA, and proactively reaching out to workers in sectors which are underrepresented by DSA’s current membership.
- We believe DSA members should participate in existing unions whenever possible.
- We believe that the absence of a formal union should not deter DSA members from organizing their workplaces. Every union begins as co-workers talking with one another about their working conditions and this is something available and accessible to all DSA members.
- We believe DSA members will be more effective remaining in their current workplaces, rather than attempting to change jobs or career paths in order to agitate for union organizing or internal reform. We reject entryism and believe that Organizing Where You Are At is a more viable labor approach for DSA.
- We support recruiting workers to DSA and providing them the resources and support necessary to bring in more members from their workplaces to DSA.
- We believe that to win mass organization, we must reform the laws which govern our ability to organize. Therefore we support campaigning for changes to labor law that will make organizing new unions easier, and relieve pressure on existing ones.
- Right to Work laws have seen a drastic uptick in the last fifty years and repealing it at the state level offers DSA chapters opportunities to engage with labor unions in their communities as well as cross-chapter collective action towards a common goal.
- We believe that DSA chapters should engage in strike support when possible.
- Like with electoral work, we believe in fighting to win. We do not support leading workers into efforts that are bound to fail, and will have serious consequences, like job loss. Such campaigns actively discourage workers from getting involved in labor organizing and socialist politics more generally.
- We support a strong DSLC that is able to play an active role in facilitating DSA’s labor work across the country.
We believe that the tenant struggle must be a class struggle, and that power in this struggle is directly exercised by working-class tenants engaging in conflicts with landlords, real estate capital, and the state institutions they control. As Marxists, we reject the idea that tenants are a separate class to workers, and reject the idea that through universal homeownership (whether cooperative or otherwise) we can dissolve the housing question. Instead, we believe tenant struggles must be connected to the broader class struggle, bolstering and being bolstered by our labor and electoral organizing.
We reject the notion that the housing struggle can be advanced by socialists through alliance with either reactionary homeowner groups or real estate capitalists and their proxies. The class struggle in housing requires socialists to establish ourselves as a separate, organized force which fights on all fronts for tenant power and rights, the socialization of land and housing, and sustainable, accessible, desegregated, and high-quality homes for all.
- We believe that DSA should actively participate in the formation of new tenant associations and unions, which should be entirely member-funded and independent of philanthropic capital.
- We believe tenant unions should be organized along lines of solidarity and struggle against specific targets – with the building-level tenant association as the nucleus of organizing equivalent to a single shop being organized by a union, then broadening out to multiple buildings owned by a single landlord.
- We do not believe that DSA itself should be a tenant union, but do believe that DSA can and should organize tenant unions through DSA projects that work to politicize and expand struggles along class lines. We believe this to be core to efforts to build DSA into a multiracial working-class organization.
- DSA projects should function as a chapter-wide center for coordinating volunteers for organizing, political education, power-mapping and strategic targeting, and intentionally recruiting tenant leaders to a broader class project – learning from their experience and struggle and providing them with the tools to organize fellow working-class tenants into shared working-class struggles.
- We believe DSA-organized tenant unions should participate in whatever constellation of tenant and housing justice organizations exist in their city or region on the basis of considered strategy – engagement with nonprofit-led coalitions should generally be less intensive than with tenant unions with a genuine organized base which engages in direct struggles with landlords.
- We firmly oppose the notion that DSA should decline to organize tenants of color or tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods on the basis that nonprofit or ultraleft activists believe we are not trusted in such communities. We believe that DSA builds such trust by building power alongside our neighbors, and while trust-building is a crucial element of tenant organizing, appeasing activists often runs counter to that actual goal.
- We support building towards a medium-term goal of organizing tenants in multiple cities against specific landlord targets identified through national or regional structures in DSA.
- We believe that legislative wins, particularly around rent control, good cause eviction, right to organize and free legal counsel, and funding for public social housing, can magnify the impact of our organizing and also constitute some of our most successful legislative campaigns.
- We believe that tenant unions organized by DSA have a role to play in pressure campaigns where a sober power analysis shows we could help make the difference between passage and failure; however the majority of resources should generally be focused on expanding tenant union density.
- DSA electeds should be asked to participate in tenant union actions, to raise the morale and visibility of tenant struggles, as well as to connect the introduction of pro-tenant legislative measures to direct struggles with landlords.
- We are highly skeptical of the scalability of schemes that claim to decommodify housing without the use of state power, and as such oppose efforts to focus DSA resources on creating housing cooperatives and CLTs.
- We are generally skeptical of efforts to involve DSA in local so-called “YIMBY/NIMBY” fights in affluent areas which are largely contests between different sections of capital.
Our Vision for Developing DSA
Just like the working class is far stronger united, so too are DSA’s chapters better as a part of a national organization. Taken separately our chapters are relatively powerless. While they can make interventions in local or sometimes even state level politics, these are still relatively small scale. Socialism cannot be won locally, it by definition, must by a national (and international) movement. It is therefore critical that we grow DSA into an organization that can struggle at all levels of power, from the municipal to the federal. While gaining momentum through successful campaigns can get us part of the way there, with DSA’s current structure we will always be held back.
A loose network of chapters, with a weak center, is not an organization capable of putting up a serious fight. Little has been done to reverse the extreme level of disorganization that plagues DSA. Instead of an organization that can stand united against capitalism, we have chapters that are only incidentally connected to one another at best. Instead of formalized links, relations between chapters and between chapters and the national organization are often through already existing personal relationships or caucuses. This is especially problematic for smaller and declining chapters, who are essentially thrown out into the world and told to organize, with little direction or guidance. The solution to these woes, and many of DSA’s other problems, is to further integrate the organization into a cohesive, and centralized organization with strong national leadership. By empowering the center, we will develop DSA into an organization that not only has functional chapters in major urban centers, but across the country.
We also, first and foremost, believe in a democratic DSA. Democracy should be enshrined as the highest governing principle of the organization. While DSA is far more democratic in character than nearly every other institution one encounters elsewhere, the reality is that democracy in DSA is seriously limited by several constraints. By far the largest of these is a total aversion by many actors within DSA to democratic decision making. With our weak national org, it is easy to simply ignore any decisions made by our democratic structures, and instead doing whatever one wants in a local, or working group, or even individually. Democracy does not simply mean that voting happens, and certainly does not mean that individuals or working groups are empowered to follow their whims. Rather democracy is a collective process in which the decisions made are actually followed through and carried out. In part, this means we support empowering the NPC, as it is the only elected leadership of the organization.
- We believe that only a national organization will be able to win socialism in our lifetime, and believe a strong national center is critical for DSA’s success.
- We support growing ties between chapters and building common campaign work on national priorities. We also believe the best way to overcome the isolation many chapters feel from one another, is by bringing together DSA into a more cohesive body, and oppose localist trends within the organization.
- We support having national campaigns that chapters across the country can easily get involved with, such as DSA for Bernie, the GND for the PRO Act campaign, and the 100k drive.
- We support efforts to curb the autonomy of working groups both nationally and locally. As self-selected bodies they do not represent the membership as a whole, and should always be under the authority of the democratically elected leadership of DSA, the NPC. Furthermore we believe that any national working group or committee that does not have an active campaign should be dissolved.
- In chapters, we believe that campaigns should be decided by the membership as a whole and not be siloed into committees. While work on secondary projects can happen, the primary focus of every chapter should be democratically set priorities, which should be limited in number.
- We believe that committees and committee leadership should always be subservient and accountable to the general membership, and that no special difference should be given to committees or their membership. No one body can own an issue.
- We support having specific goals that make it clear cut what is a win and what is a loss.
- We support standardizing chapters bylaws and structures.
- We oppose so-called “horizontalism” and “localism” as being both undemocratic and ineffective at advancing our political goals.
- We support a democratic DSA, with democratically elected political leadership accountable only to the convention as the organization’s highest body.
- We call for deleting all DSA social media accounts except for that of the org itself, YDSA and chapter accounts. We further believe all communications should be centralized through official, democratic, channels.
What Organizing is Not
It would be an understatement to say that there are many different ideas as to what constitutes effective organization strategy in DSA. While experimentation can be productive, it cannot last forever. We believe it is clear that certain strategies and tactics are more effective than others, and those (electoral, labor, tenant) should be prioritized over dead ends, particularly mutual aid. Attempts to turn DSA from a political organization into a community are at best depoliticizing and at worst actively aiding our class enemies. Similarly, posting statements or holding rallies about “our demands” do little to advance the project of socialism. Campaigning and recruiting members of the working class is how we win, not by appealing to a niche of online sectarians.
For too long DSA has been beholden not only to its membership, but extremist Twitter accounts who do not respect the democratic processes of the organization. We believe that the relationship DSA has with the ultra left fringe, both inside and outside the org, has been an immensely harmful one. Those who have nothing but disdain for DSA, its goals, or culture of democracy have no place in our organization. There is nothing to be gained by continuing the forced association between DSA and the ultra left. Every year that it continues will only further damage our reputation, prevent necessary reform and facilitate our slow decline into irrelevance. We will never emerge as a serious force for socialism in the United States and world without shedding our relationship with ultra leftism.
While we oppose ultra leftism, this does not mean DSA should embrace liberalism and the non-profit sphere with open arms. On the contrary, the reason why DSA’s success is so crucial is because of our differences from non-profits and the general progressive milieu. We do not need yet another progressive non-profit or advocacy group. Non-profits are incapable of winning socialism or organizing the working class due to their reliance on wealthy donors, and technocratic structures. At best, they are temporary coalition partners, who can be useful allies in particular campaigns, but this does not mean DSA should ever be overly deferential to them or be concerned with co-opting their work or taking up space. DSA should also not aspire to merely be the left flank of a broad left of center bloc. Setting our sights this low will get us nowhere, and will make us subservient to the whims and objectives of our class enemies. What DSA needs to be is a mass working class organization, with its own independent base and democratic structures.
Unfortunately, we equally need to take a stand against the immense amount of harassment, abuse and unacceptable behavior that occurs in DSA. Conflict aversion and failures from both leadership and membership alike have enabled wreckers and abusers to proliferate throughout the organization. In many cases, this goes hand in hand with ultra politics. Conflict has spilled over from within the normal bounds of debate into open harassment and smear campaigns, and bogged down our leadership, who are unable to carry out their normal duties, as they are busy cleaning up messes. This is extremely detrimental to the organization, weakening us from the inside, and pushing away possible members who view DSA as a hostile and toxic place. We therefore believe it is of the highest importance that we uphold the Code of Conduct and stamp out abuse.
- While we recognize that mutual aid can be useful in limited situations, for example after a disaster, we do not believe that mutual aid has the efficacy its proponents claim. We reject the idea that mutual aid is somehow meaningfully different from charity, and that it should ever be the main work of a chapter.
- We firmly believe that DSA should be a political organization, not a community or group of friends. While friendships and a sense of community do sprout up from engaging in common struggle, the bottom line should always be politics, and the long term goal of achieving socialism.
- We believe that DSA needs to think and act strategically and consider the wider context for our actions, statements and decisions. We have a responsibility to the socialist movement to be disciplined.
- We do not believe that putting out statements is meaningful organizing work. Chapters and working groups need to be conducting sustained efforts to change the material reality of the world, not merely post about it.
- We believe that DSA’s big tent nature has been to its detriment. While we continue to support having a membership policy that makes it easy to join, we believe that the stated ideological outlook, goals and mission of the organization should be narrowed significantly to exclude various ultra tendencies. This does not mean we support ideological dogmatism or turning inward into sectarianism. We still support a pluralistic DSA. In essence, we favor a “medium tent” over the current “big tent.”
- We believe that it is critical to take a hard line against “wreckers” and other disruptive individuals. While disagreement is bound to arise during debates, deliberately undermining a chapter, or acting in a way that alienates members should be unacceptable.
- We support the NPC trusteeing chapters that are clearly non-functional or have been taken over by bad faith actors.
- We strongly oppose attempts by charismatic members to accumulate power, particularly by using social media clout. We further believe that the culture of celebrity in DSA is a problem that needs to be tackled head on.
- We believe that DSA should be accountable to its members, through its democratic channels, not to internet mobs.
- We call for DSA’s rules and Code of Conduct to be upheld. We strongly condemn efforts by various individuals to skirt accountability.
- We do not believe that members should be enabled to use marginalized identities as a shield from criticism or consequences, or demand deference because of them.
- We oppose efforts to reshape DSA into a traditional progressive non-profit or copying the campaigns and tactics that non-profits use.
- We oppose calls for DSA to give away funds to other organizations, non-profits or individuals.
Socialism is an inherently international struggle. Since its inception, the socialist movement has fought for solidarity between the working classes of each country, as we recognize that we have more in common with our fellow workers than the ruling classes who would pit us against each other. In this time of increased international tension, we believe it is critical to unequivocally oppose wars and other forms of aggression. This includes efforts by imperial powers, particularly the US, to undermine legitimate governments in the Global South. However, we should not debase ourselves by falling into the trap of campism.
- We believe DSA should look to form ties with socialist parties, labor unions and other left organizations across the world, but with a particular focus on those in the Western Hemisphere. DSA should always stand in solidarity with workers everywhere.
- We believe DSA should be opposed to imperialism in all its forms and should be a proudly anti-imperialist and anti-war organization.
- We believe that a key element of DSA’s international orientation should be towards supporting the political and labor struggles of immigrant and migrant workers in the US.
- We believe it is important to work with our electeds to oppose militarism and imperialism rather than pushing them away due to impurity and weakening our ability to create change.
- We believe that our international work should be firmly grounded in real campaigns with clear political objectives for advancing working class solidarity.
The international working class is not only diverse in its cross-national character, but domestically as well. In the United States it is a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-ethnic class, made up of individuals of every identity. This includes people of all genders and sexualities, and both trans and cisgender people. If DSA hopes to represent the working class, it will need to make inroads into a broad array of communities. Simply making DSA a “welcoming space” will only go so far in this, we need to make intentional recruitment an active part of our strategy. Claims that DSA is an inherently white organization should be dismissed. If we are to win socialism, we will need to bring together all members of the working class. As part of this struggle we need to work to combat police violence, and mass incarceration. Likewise DSA should do its part in helping defend the rights of our queer and trans comrades. However this does not mean we should ignore the many ways in which our other political work are as beneficial for people of color and queer and trans people, with issues such as housing, wages or healthcare often impacting them far more than others. We should not be ashamed or embarrassed of DSA, and should not shy away from bringing in new members or feel the need to be deferential to other organizations.
- We believe DSA must represent the working class in all its diversity and efforts should be made to recruit in communities that are currently underrepresented among our membership.
- We firmly reject the position that the demographics that currently make up DSA’s membership are the only ones that can ever be represented.
- We believe that DSA should strive to combat white supremacy and integrate abolition and opposition to police violence into our political work.
- We believe DSA should take an active role in defending the rights of queer people, particularly as a new wave of anti-trans hate is ongoing.
- We oppose calls for DSA to be deferential to other organizations or individuals.