Starter Pack for Reforming DSA
For more than a century many have worked to chart the path to socialism, and yet we still live under the dominance of capital. How we might reshape the DSA into an instrument for achieving socialism is difficult to determine. It currently lacks clear goals and a vision of what achieving socialism would mean. In the absence of that guiding vision, socialist organizations lower their horizons and lose their way, becoming parochial, limited to short term struggles, bouncing from one protest or political controversy to the next.
We need to think on a timeline of decades rather than months and years. We need to clarify our goals and assess our strategic and tactical choices exclusively in reference to those goals or we will never move towards anything greater than an amorphous sum of individual successes and failures.
While recognizing that the following measures would not in themselves resolve these issues, we hope that they will spur the DSA towards developing a stronger idea of what it wants, allowing members to think more clearly about what could be accomplished now and in the future that would make steps towards that which is currently out of reach possible.
Some of these points will provide the basis for resolutions proposed by Class Unity members during future national conventions.
- Grant democratic representation to organizing committees who, by no fault of their own, are stymied by the DSA’s inefficient, overloaded process for onboarding new chapters. If a local organizing committee which has met the 15 member threshold has waited in excess of 30 days for review by national DSA, they should be granted tentative rights by default to send a delegation to national DSA conventions equivalent to what they would be allowed as an officially recognized chapter.
- Implement Single Transferable Vote (STV) ranked choice voting as the means of conducting all leadership elections within the DSA, with membership provided the raw results of each vote to verify for themselves. This system would most accurately reflect voter preferences and ensure proportional representation of factions. If necessary, the DSA would fund the creation of an open source software package for conducting secure STV elections.
- Translate DSA’s website and essential documents into Spanish, soliciting volunteers to translate all essential documents going forward. It is the primary language of a significant sector of the American working class, and we will have to coordinate across divides of language and culture in order to take on capital, which is prone to utilizing nationalist tensions in service of pitting workers against each other.
In addition, add the ability to request contact with a DSA member proficient in a needed language for the benefit of those reaching out to the DSA who are not fluent in English or Spanish.
- Comprehensively reform the national leadership structure in favor of accountability to the organization’s membership. The DSA needs a strong, centralized, democratic national infrastructure. Anything less allows the regional, state, and chapter-level organizational bodies underneath it to devolve into individualism and even opportunism. There are currently not enough opportunities for the membership to interface with the national organization and conventions should be held annually rather than biannually to address this. The membership must be able to decisively assert our platform and strategy, and be led by disciplined, democratically-elected leaders of the national organization to provide reliable administrative services and resources to carry it out. The current NPC structure needs a lot of work to meet this aspiration.
- Transition chapters to a universal committee structure that serves the chapters’ programmatic priorities while guarding against misuse and mission creep. The current working group model has unfortunately resulted in chapters containing small unaccountable projects operating in independent silos, some co-opted as vehicles for personal advancement, others limping along out of inertia as “zombie working groups” towards no discernable purpose, bound to voluntaristic rather than democratic decision making processes. Activities such as electoral or housing organizing are not goals in and of themselves, but rather must be carried out in service of grander tasks.
We must also take care to avoid the creation of permanent NGO-style leadership boards that are inadequately committed to or responsible for the priorities of the membership and ultimate goals of the organization. Permanent status should be limited to committees that fulfill needs of utility and universal necessity (i.e. accounting, outreach, education). All further committees should have measurable and achievable objectives, produce regular progress reports to the membership, and be dissolved on a predetermined date by default. All committee positions should be elected by STV vote in elections scheduled after the committee’s establishment is approved.
- Create full time organizer positions sustained by member dues along the lines of “professional revolutionaries” in earlier organizations such as the SPD and CPUSA. Task them with completing key projects, hold them to high standards of professionalism and expectations of work, and typically have them serve for the length of projects rather than indefinite permanent positions. The DSA currently relies almost entirely upon unpaid part time volunteer labor, which limits capacity and the scope of our activities. Absent circumstances requiring great secrecy, these positions should be elected.
- Require that conflicts of interest be continuously disclosed, especially in DSA elections and decision making processes. Examples of conflicts of interest include but are not limited to being in management positions at foundation-funded NGOs, charter management organizations, and other industries that otherwise increase privatization. Enforce restrictions on membership not just upon law enforcement officers but upon residential landlords, management consultants, human resources managers, Republican and Democratic Party operatives, and others that inherently jeopardize security and class independence.
- Recognize and protect the right of members to form permanent factions and caucuses within the DSA. Every political organization has factions, whether this is openly acknowledged or not, and it is better to have formal factions based on ideological principles rather than informal factions based on personal cliques and group chats. Existing caucuses based on identity categories should be opened to all who self-identify with that category, with explicit acknowledgement that identity caucuses represent their members and do not speak on behalf of all socialists who could be labeled with the associated racial, national, religious, gender, or orientation identity category.
- Create a socialist tenant union network under the umbrella of the DSA, with a pipeline for training tenant union members and recruiting them into the organization.
- Create a credit union for the purposes of handling the banking needs of the DSA and other socialist organizations that choose to participate and contribute.
- Create interest-bearing funds to support labor campaigns and other long term efforts.
- Develop a “wish list” of things that the DSA would do with different amounts of dollars or other assets, both to set targets for fundraising and in case there are wealthy individuals interested in being a modern Alexander Parvus. What would the DSA do if it received $2 million, was gifted land, buildings, etc?
- Establish a political program, a strategy document guiding how the DSA would take power, and make it binding. This would contain both a minimum program with immediate core demands the DSA pursues now, and a maximum program of demands the party thinks are necessary for achieving the ultimate goal of socialism. The program would be based upon questions of strategy and unity around actions, rather than “correct” ideological positions on items such as which 1930s socialist faction gets the blame for Franco winning the Spanish Civil War, or this or that personal lifestyle choice.
This process must be open to debate and democratically voted upon by the membership with regular opportunities for revisions. Members and factions must be free to agitate and organize to change the program without fear of retaliation, but in the meantime must recognize the program in place as binding upon actions.
- Strengthen electoral work by requiring that in order to be endorsed by the DSA, candidates must be socialists who have held membership in the DSA or a similar organization like Socialist Alternative or Socialist Party USA for a minimum of one year, and agree to implement the DSA’s program.
- Create a socialist strategy think tank dedicated to the task of producing plans and sample legislation to fulfill the political program while recognizing and working against the anti-socialist nature of the current US political system and Constitution.
- Establish a recurring assembly for collaboration and debates between socialist theorists, economists and historians for the purpose of sharpening our understanding of the current world and raising historical consciousness on the left. There would be an underlying principle of freedom of speech and inquiry, with liberal use of Chatham House Rules and an expectation that there be no sacred cows. The discussions would inform DSA’s political education efforts, emphasizing Marxism as a method of learning and inquiry rather than a collection of unalterable tenets accepted on faith.
- Expect members to see themselves as part of a collective project rather than as individual activists building a brand. Social media and press policies similar to those used by political parties around the globe should be adopted that place boundaries on litigating internal matters via social media, and on members claiming to speak or act on behalf of the DSA as a whole to the press without prior organizational approval and vetting.
- Normalize political debate within the DSA. This includes establishing internal bulletins and holding regular debates that all factions may use to share their perspectives, and revamping and centralizing the Harassment & Grievance procedures to depoliticize them and end their weaponization in the context of routine political disagreements.
- Update the DSA’s organizational texts and online materials to remove passages applauding the collapse of Soviet Union and the “democratization” (in practice, ransacking) of the former Eastern bloc. The DSA should acknowledge our commitment to learn from the experiences of the former USSR and similar states while neither whitewashing nor demonizing them. Blanket condemnations of communism and central planning should be removed from the DSA FAQ, as well as claims that markets are necessary and praises of the Democratic Party’s Congressional Progressive Caucus. In general, there is a disconnect between the older pre-2016 Harringtonite vision of the DSA and the present trajectory of the organization lingering in many of the DSA’s resources and publications.
- Maintain, above all else, freedom of action and agitation when coordinating with other groups and considering coalitions. In broad strokes, alliances and coalitions should be structured on a United Front model (united across political sections of the working class) and reject those resembling the Popular Front model (class collaborationism). In particular, the DSA must maintain the freedom to criticize any organizations or tendencies—whether progressive or ostensibly socialist—that it forms fronts with. It must exercise this freedom constantly in order to delineate itself and the idea of socialism. If it does not, it will undermine class independence and automatically fail to take ideological leadership and thus obscure the meaning and necessity of socialism.
- Remove the ban on democratic centralism, and pursue negotiations with other socialist organizations and parties to assess whether cooperation on the grounds of shared programmatic unity is viable.
- Implement a program for “swapping members” for set terms with socialist parties and organizations in other countries. There should be a particular focus on Latin America, given the history of workers in the US and in Latin American countries being played off against each other and attacks by the United States government on socialist efforts and basic political autonomy there.
- Embark on a public outreach campaign to make contact with audiences not on social media and proselytize for socialism through means such as billboards, television and radio spots, mailers, and flyering.