As the largest socialist organization in the US, DSA faces two critical questions: What is the most promising strategy for building socialism in the 21st century? And what kind of organization must DSA become in order to carry it out?
In developing our answers to these questions, we have drawn on the work of thinkers and organizers like Naomi Klein, Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Jane McAlevey, Gøsta Esping-Andersen, Mike Davis, and many others. But most of all, we have learned from our own experiences organizing in DSA, whether that’s raising voters’ expectations at tens of thousands of doors, leading coalitions to beat back right-wing power grabs, or moving people through discouragement and fear into action as committed organizers.
Despite many differences within DSA, we are able to come together around a basic principle of socialist movements: We must organize the working class to win. Yet across US history, class consciousness has proven uniquely difficult to build, as workers must cross myriad divisions to find solidarity, including religion, geography, industry, skill level, ethnicity, immigration status, culture, gender, sexuality, and above all race. While we are now seeing very promising stirrings of renewed organization through labor struggles, we are nowhere near the level of worker organization that could begin directly implementing a socialist program, whether through revolution, concerted labor actions such as general strikes, or an independent socialist-labor party.
As such, we believe the most vital goal of the left in the near to medium term is class formation—politicizing the working class to support and fight for our socialist program as a unified, self-conscious force.
How do we go about this profoundly challenging project? History shows that organizing workers into class-based institutions such as labor unions can build both working class power and leftist worker consciousness. We must continue to follow this path, building independent working class power to the greatest extent possible. Yet because the US working class is uniquely heterogeneous and divided, even well-organized working class institutions cannot easily be cohered into a single workers’ movement.
In order to develop class-wide solidarity and struggle, we must combine direct organizing of workers—on shop floors, in buildings, and across neighborhoods—with the struggle to win and effectively wield state power.
We can use independent working class organization to seize enough state power to implement transformative reforms: state policies and programs that materially shift the balance of power towards the working class, whether by increasing share of social goods or expanding ability to organize. Successful reforms will help to build an increasingly unified working class political constituency, which in turn will open the way for more powerful working class organization. The goal is to repeat this cycle to the point where whole elements of the economy can be fully decommodified—moving us towards our ultimate goal of socialism.
We call this strategy, which reshapes the political terrain in order to unite the diverse elements of the working class, Class Alignment.
The class alignment strategy relies on the dual goals of working class organization and state power. Along with many in DSA, we believe the best path forward for worker organization is building and ultimately helping to lead the US labor movement. As with the working class itself, the US labor movement is profoundly heterogeneous; as such we cannot approach it with a one-size-fits-all strategy, but rather a diversity of tactics. Our approach to labor should include all of the following elements:
Winning and wielding state power will allow us to accomplish the following critical goals, all of which are necessary complements to our independent working class organizing:
We believe the best way towards state power is combining our electoral and legislative efforts into a unified political strategy, coordinated across local, state, and federal government. We should understand our electoral and legislative work as fundamentally inseparable—two sides of the same coin. Here is how we understand these overlapping projects:
Our organization has succeeded in developing a winning formula for electing socialists; our present task is to better integrate our electoral work into a comprehensive, longer-term organizational strategy.
We can do so by following these guidelines:
We believe that legislative campaigns should be our third major priority alongside labor and electoral. By passing sweeping reforms, we can use the state to create new politicized constituencies that can then be organized into further, more ambitious struggles. In developing our legislative campaigns, we should follow these guidelines:
The three-fold program articulated above—labor, electoral, legislative—is designed entirely around the project of class formation. Yet this project is doomed to fail if we do not analyze and engage with the many other vectors of oppression that exist in US society alongside class-based exploitation: white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia and ethnonationalism, homophobia and transphobia, and ableism, among others.
Stuart Hall famously posited that “race is the modality through which class is lived”; taking up the spirit of his statement and expanding beyond the category of race, we can say that one’s objective position in relation to production—i.e., one’s class—is frequently mediated by and experienced through other categories of identity. For example, in a society so profoundly structured around white supremacy it should not be surprising that a Black person may experience Blackness as the primary cause and marker of their oppression. One may say that fundamental tool of Marxist analysis is class, and in the final analysis our goal may be a classless society, but if our organizing does not meet people where they are—in their own experience of their oppression, which includes factors beyond class per se—we can hardly hope to unite the class. To put it simply: We are unlikely to win the class struggle without winning all of our other struggles.
From a concrete organizing perspective, this principle means that in all of our organizing we must acknowledge the multiple structures of oppression people face and seek to overcome not only class exploitation but the entire suite of oppressions that structure US society.
Much debate about the organization and activity of DSA has centered around the party question: should we form an independent party, seek to realign the Democratic Party, or establish a party-like formation somewhere in between? We deemphasize this formal—and almost always ideological—question and instead concentrate on a practical one: How do we build durable political power in the context of the chaotic, highly uncoordinated party system of the US? We believe that DSA should build a Party Infrastructure, which can carry out the functions of a political party, whether it legally constitutes one or not. We should focus on developing the following functions:
Within DSA there is much debate over what our strategy should be, but very little over how to actually develop strategy. We believe a lack of consensus on the principles and practices of strategy making is an underappreciated cause of conflict in our organization. With an eye towards opening up this conversation, we propose the following vision of strategy:
Strikes? Legislation? Elections? Mass action? No single tactic or issue area will win socialism. We need a dynamic, democratic strategy that ensures our diversity of tactics work in tandem instead of in competition. So much of disagreement in DSA stems not from conflicting values, but lack of consensus on what our near and medium term goals actually are, let alone how to assess them. With a guiding strategy, we can not only accurately assess our goals in a constructive, coordinated, and sustainable fashion—we can better win them.
And we can win them. While still far off, the level of power DSA has built today is enough that, if used strategically, can be grown into exponentially more. That means engaging in what Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò calls Constructive Politics: “a world-making project aimed at building and rebuilding actual structures of social connection and movement, not mere critique of the ones we already have.”
A culture of constructive politics enables every one of us to have the courage to try to change the world, together. That culture, says Táíwò, “would focus on outcome over process, the pursuit of specific goals or end results rather than avoiding complicity in injustice or promoting purely moral or aesthetic principles.”
While many of us came to the left through our “ruthless criticism of all that exists,” and are even fueled by it, a constructive politics means using this critique in the service of action and improvement, not inaction and obstruction. Let’s leave behind the destructive infighting tendencies of a pre-2016 left more focused on avoiding the wrong action than taking the right one, and enter the unknown world of a left that is a legitimate player on the American political stage.
We must treat every aspect of recruiting and maintaining membership with the same gravity as any other campaign—if not more. Too many who agree with our values and vision are driven away by a lack of standardized onboarding, limited pathways into meaningful action, and the toxic image that dominates social media.
When we actively cultivate welcoming, accessible, and engaging communities, we can make DSA a place we feel comfortable inviting anyone who shares our values.
As so many of the shared institutions and even physical spaces that let people meet have been privatized and destroyed, DSA can offer not just a political home, but also a rare place to make friends that isn’t a school or workplace. This is accomplished through the unique bonds of shared political struggle as well as more classic social events like block parties, sports clubs, and informal interest groups around hobbies like cooking, music, or even gaming.
These efforts must also extend beyond physical meetings and events. As tempting as it is to write off the toxicity of online political spaces as “not real life,” it is a mistake. The truth is, much of modern life is lived on digital platforms, and the communication there is just as real as any other kind between people. Given that these platforms are owned by corporations that profit by actively fostering conflict and amplifying the most bad faith forms of any statement, we must work to ensure the area in which most people first encounter DSA—including the media—looks like one anyone who agrees with our vision would want to be a part of.
Yes, the stakes are high, and righteous anger and sadness are an inherent part of organizing. But so are creativity and joy. The truth is, there is no better feeling than finding those who care about the same things you do, and fighting alongside them together to make it a reality. Let’s make sure everyone knows it!
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