We are a Marxist pole of attraction that works both within the DSA and outside of it to support the development of class struggle politics.
We believe that the only way to win socialism is through mass, working-class politics. Unfortunately, the DSA is far from a mass workers’ party: our membership is dominated by the professional-managerial stratum, academics, and college-educated millennials. In too many chapters, this skewed class composition has hardened into an impenetrable middle-class subculture that reproduces the pathology and dysfunction of campus activism. The result is an aesthetically radical liberal politics masquerading as socialism, where moralism displaces materialism, prefigurative politics displaces serious organizing, and an insular scene politics displaces class solidarity.
This must change. Socialism isn’t liberalism covered in red paint and roses. It isn’t a lifestyle, a subculture, a church, a social club, or a vehicle for career advancement. Socialism is about taking our wealth and power back from the capitalist class and giving it to those who created it. And to accomplish that, we need a true mass party where America’s diverse working class will feel at home.
There is presently no tendency or caucus within the organization willing to state this plainly, let alone organize to make class politics dominant within DSA. So let’s build that tendency together.
Our Shared Principles
1. Class politics, not identity politics.
Neoliberalism seeks to separate us into a vast number of groups according to factors such as race, gender, religion, and country or region of origin. Divided, we cannot advance our collective interests as working people. Liberal politics embraces this division and creates a political landscape where every group fights for “its” interests. Even those interests that we all share are treated as belonging to this or that group. The result is paralysis at best and class collaboration at worst, as the capitalists, bosses, and technocrats clothe their interests in the language of identity.
A true socialist politics allows working people to transcend this atomization and join with each other not on the basis of who we are, but of what we do. And what the working class does is work, because otherwise we starve. It is only by organizing around our shared class interests and strategically withdrawing our labor that we can challenge capitalism.
2. Material politics, not symbolism.
Liberal politics emphasizes the goodwill of noble benefactors and attempts to influence them rather than to empower working people to fight their class enemies. The inevitable result is the replacement of politics with charity, or worse, an ineffective and theatrical politics that focuses on symbolism and moral outrage.
Instead, we should strategically select our political priorities according to their potential to empower the working class and disempower the capitalist class. This means focusing on popular, universal social programs like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, massively-expanded public housing, and a jobs guarantee. It means working to strengthen and radicalize labor unions, both by helping to organize new unions and by forming militant caucuses within existing unions. And it means fighting to elect principled socialists running on bold, redistributive platforms without demanding they support unpopular, infeasible policy proposals chosen only for their aesthetic radicalism.
3. Mass politics, not subculture.
The DSA cannot serve as a vehicle for mass politics without first confronting its skewed class composition. We claim to champion the working class, yet our membership is overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie or its aspirants, in particular downwardly-mobile, college-educated millennials. This fact has given rise to a pervasive middle class “activist” culture that alienates working class people unfamiliar with the latest fads and taboos emanating from elite universities and the nonprofit complex.
This is unacceptable. If our goal is to take power, we need to commit to the principles of mass politics and inclusion. Let’s stop tailing liberal academia and corporate HR departments. Let’s reject alienating practices like callouts, clapping bans, and the progressive stack. Let’s stop pretending that the adoption of tokenist diversity quotas is high on the list of working people’s demands. Let’s acknowledge that wealthy DSA members with trust funds grandstanding about how we need to “Do Better” are, at best, misguided and counterproductive, and, at worst, class enemies. Let’s build a DSA that can earn the trust of this country’s broad, diverse working class.
4. A true workers’ party.
The DSA’s reliance on the Democratic Party is an existential threat. With no ballot line of our own, we have little leverage over any politicians we might endorse and help to elect, particularly at the federal level, and we face great difficulty in communicating an explicitly socialist political message to voters in Democratic primaries. More concerning still is the fact that sharing a party with liberals allows them to blur the lines between their own politics and ours, reducing socialism to mere “left-progressivism.” Our inability to enforce party discipline risks our assets’ and members’ being exploited to elect unscrupulous candidates that will ditch us once in office, as some already have.
We recognize, however, that a socialist third party has no chance of success under the first past the post electoral system used in the United States. We have little choice but to run candidates on the Democratic Party line – for now. But this involvement must be oriented towards the creation of an independent workers’ party that controls its politicians, rather than being controlled by them. We should adopt an antagonistic stance towards the Democrats even as we compete in their primaries. We should prioritize selecting candidates from within our own ranks and recruiting them to run for office rather than hunting for progressive outsiders to endorse. We should seek to exercise direct control over our elected politicians’ staffing decisions and votes. Eventually, we should require that elected members surrender their salaries in excess of the relevant median wage to the DSA, as many socialist parties elsewhere in the world already do. Finally, we should prioritize reforming the electoral system so that one day we might shed our reliance on the capitalist Democratic Party and take up in its place the banner of a true workers’ party.
1. Outwardly-directed organizing
The primary objective of all socialist organizing should be to arm working people with class politics. It is only through efforts to reach workers in the context of political and industrial action–such as canvassing door-to-door or discussions in the workplace–that we can persuade America’s diverse working class.
In service of this goal, we provide members with a network of socialists interested in organizing according to Our Shared Principles. We also provide practical guidance on being an effective organizer and making the most of organizing opportunities, especially campaigns and projects within the DSA.
2. Reforming our political organizations
We believe that socialist organizations should be dominated by popular, materialist politics, guided by the principles of Marxism. Thus, they should focus on class struggle—not liberalism, identity politics, or anarchism. Where there are no spaces in our organizations to pursue class politics, we want to create them. Where they exist, we want to protect them and help them grow.
In service of this goal, we provide members with a network of socialists who want to make socialist organizations, the DSA in particular, weapons for prosecuting class war. These socialists can serve as allies for attempts to reform our organizations in accordance with Our Shared Principles. We also provide advice for navigating internal DSA politics.
3. Marxist political education
In order for the DSA to be capable of coherent and effective politics, it needs ideological clarity. This clarity can only come about by means of principled, ideological debate, both between individual members and disciplined factions. In many chapters, venues for such debate are few and political education shies away from sensitive topics – topics that are often sensitive precisely because they are the most relevant to our present circumstances.
In service of this goal, we provide members with political education materials to sharpen their political acumen. We also encourage principled, ideological debate and discussion among our members so that they can develop and defend an incisive materialist perspective. By doing this, we also hope to normalize open, principled debate within the DSA.
This statement of principles was adopted on August 8th, 2019.
If you find yourself in substantial agreement with us, please consider joining Class Unity.