An argument against a number of resolutions concerning electoral politics for the upcoming national convention.
BY SAM LEWIS - 2023 DSA NATIONAL CONVENTION DISCUSSION
Since DSA’s contemporary era started in 2016, the organization’s “big tent” approach has evolved to encompass a broad range of organizing tactics and strategies. Most energy in the organization has been at the local level, and chapters have pursued elections, protests, mutual aid, new publications and media strategies, labor organizing, tenant organizing, coalition building and legislative campaigns, all in pursuit of growing the socialist movement and building power. Much of DSA’s internal political development, including the evolution of its caucuses and factions, has been less about clear ideological differences than about which of these projects members see as most important.
If these different projects all exist within DSA’s big tent, conflict at the national level has largely not been about trying to halt or constrain any particular type of work, but about competition over prioritization and resources. While the organization has had worthwhile debates over our approaches to labor strategy or mutual aid, there has not to date been any effort to seriously clamp down on the diversity of tactics being deployed by DSA locals. The lone exception to this admirably humble and open-minded approach has been electoral politics. This year, delegates will be once again asked to consider at convention massive, disruptive changes to DSA’s electoral work that could undo much of what has been accomplished by DSA members since 2015, and halt the development of the electoral project within DSA.
In some ways, for those of us involved in electoral work the recurring focus on dictating DSA’s electoral approach from above is flattering. It amounts to an acknowledgement that electing socialists to office has a central role in keeping socialism relevant to the lives of everyday people in our present moment. DSA members and delegates are right to take our electoral strategy seriously, and should indeed be focused on how it unfolds.
The stunning success of the two Sanders campaigns, and the election of hundreds of locally and nationally endorsed DSA candidates to office, as well as hundreds more non-endorsed DSA members, are all part of an important development: for the first time in a century, democratic socialism is once again a meaningful current in US politics. DSA’s growth over the same period is intimately tied to this development, as are our prospects for advancing the socialist cause. We cannot take those developments for granted, or think that our leading role in shaping the program and politics of democratic socialist electoral politics is something to which we are entitled. This means delegates must read the proposals at convention carefully to understand their potential impacts, and reject those that could use noble sentiments to justify self-defeating ends.
Many of the proposals on offer at the 2023 convention would have precluded endorsing Bernie Sanders and most of the socialists who are currently advancing our cause in city councils, state houses, and Congress. Too many of the resolutions focus on elevating abstract principles, devoid of political context, as litmus tests that can be used to punish elected officials–for the most part with no argument for how such an approach will advance the cause of socialism. Many of the resolutions focus not on DSA’s endorsed candidates who we actually worked to put in office, but on any DSA member who holds elected office, setting up pointless conflicts and potential purges that are divorced from the source of our political power. Worst of all, some of these resolutions would pull DSA out of the fight against the growing right-wing authoritarian threat in the US, and have us cede leadership of the working-class opposition to liberals by allowing them to be the most effective opponents of right-wing attacks on abortion, trans lives, labor, and democratic rights. Building an elected bloc that can advance our politics and policies means DSA must keep building our electoral threat and keep building public support for our positions–discipline applied robotically by resolution, devoid of context, is a shortcut that is doomed to fail.
Abstract litmus tests don’t build our power
North Star caucus members
antiracismdsa (blog of Duane Campbell)
Hatuey's Ashes (blog of José G. Pérez)
Authory and Substack of Max Sawicky
Online University of the Left
In These Times
The American Prospect
Black Agenda Report
Dollars and Sense
Working Families Party
Poor People's Campaign
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Progressive Democrats of America
Democracy for America
Black Lives Matter
Movement for Black Lives
The Women's March
Jewish Voice for Peace
National Abortion Rights Action League
National Organization for Women
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights