What is the future of DSA? The NPC Debates.
A DSA Observer summary of the panel held on January 26, 2023
On January 26, 2023, the DSA National Political Committee (NPC) convened to debate amongst a number of its members questions which involve DSA’s future as an organization, the state of mass organizing amongst socialists, and DSA’s position amongst the broader socialist left. Debate participants included Ashik Siddique, Jennifer Bolen (Jenbo), Justin Charles, Kristian Hernandez and Sofia Guimarães Cutler. The event was moderated by Jose Alejandro La Luz. Before the debate began, attendees were informed that as part of DSA’s 2023 Convention planning, the NPC solicited resolutions from key national working groups and committees. She announced that proposed resolutions and constitutional changes for convention would each need to meet a threshold of 300 signatures from members in good standing, and there will be a centralized forum to share resolutions across the organization.
Following Kristian’s announcements, Sofia gave a presentation outlining key details of the 2023 Convention. The NPC will be seeking consensus resolutions from the following key national working groups and committees: National Labor Commission (NLC), National Electoral Committee (NEC), Housing Justice Commission (HJC), Green New Deal (GND), Multiracial Organizing Committee (MROC), Growth and Development Committee (GDC), International Committee (IC), and Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA). She informed attendees of NPC’s preparations for the convention and outlined the proposed timetable for Convention which will be held from Friday, August 4, 2023, to Sunday, August 6, 2023.
The debate itself was recorded and uploaded on DSA’s YouTube channel, and the approximately 80-minute video can be found here. A link to the specific time at which each participant began giving their answer can be found throughout the text of this article in square brackets.
The debate began with the question: “In a time that is not propitious for the left, how does DSA reorient itself for the long-term struggle for socialism? What strategies, practices, or structural changes prepare us for intentional growth in the long-term?” Justin began by advocating to “politicize our everyday lives” and encouraged DSA members to take up avenues of struggle where we currently are [12:50]. Kristian argued that DSA is important in this time for bringing socialism to everyday people and encouraged keeping capacity high during periods of retrenchment [15:38].
Jenbo argued for members to “share terrains of struggle” and emphasized the need for one-on-one relationship building in spaces where capitalism has “disproportionately target people of color” [18:32]. Ashik argued in favor of restructuring DSA resources and dues as well as further dues drives to support the creation of more staff positions, which he argued was in line with many major unions [20:42]. Sofia argued that there will be a major crisis of capitalism coming and that we should use this opportunity to assess our strategy and our moment. Sofia also used the moment to criticize DSA members in congress who voted along Democratic party lines on issues such as Iron Dome funding, and the national rail worker tentative agreement [23:23].
Jose then posed the second question: “How does DSA build independent organization and identity while participating and taking stances in electoral campaigns?” Kristian answered the question by arguing for electoral work, even in the face of possible cooptation, while highlighting the need for “clarity” on what an independent worker’s party would look like, and cited NYC DSA’s socialist electoral slate as a positive example of this work [27:03].
Jenbo argued for “clear unapologetically socialist messaging” in all campaigns including critical messaging for DSA electeds who vote against the DSA platform [29:30]. Ashik argued for the need to develop a “proto-party and independent program” arguing that DSA should work harder to share resources from successful DSA campaigns to replicate them in different areas and under different conditions [31:33]. Sofia argued against adopting strategies similar to liberals and progressives, and to instead use electoral campaign to agitate people around the divide between workers and capitalists, again criticizing DSA members in congress [34:06]. Justin argued in favor of being present in socialist campaigns outside of election cycles to make our work during elections more meaningful [36:44].
Jose posed the third question: “What organization reforms, if any, should be adopted to reflect our commitment to a membership-led democratic organization, like ours?” Jenbo began by proposing several reforms including building cohesion between the NEC and the NPC endorsement process, greater transparency of the grievance process, and bringing in new people to leadership of national bodies [38:50].
Ashik argued for closing the gap in understanding between DSA members and DSA national bodies and cautioned against giving DSA resources to “functionally separate organizations” who may not follow DSA’s model [40:55]. Sofia said that DSA often behaves too much like a staff-led NGO and argued in favor of electing political staff positions including the national director, and for making certain NPC positions full-time jobs [43:26]. Justin argued for building a “formal layer of leadership” between the NPC and the membership as well as for the Convention to be about deciding how we are going to bring DSA national decisions and work back to our chapters [45:48]. Kristian argued in favor of expanding the NPC beyond 16 people and argued for greater respect for democratic decision-making [47:44]. Kristian said that DSA members should be allowed to express their opinions “without fears or attacks or harassment” citing the Zoom emoji reactions that were happening on the live webinar at the time as a counterexample of this behavior [49:44].
Jose posed the fourth question: “What is the best strategy for fighting the far right?” Ashik argued that socialists are positioned well to fight the far right by posing real alternatives to the failures of neoliberalism, and cited DSA’s participation in abortion liberalization ballot measure campaigns as evidence of the strategy’s success [50:40].
Sofia argued that socialists must lead the fight against the far right citing NYC DSA state senators’ opposition to the nomination of Hector LaSalle, and Brazilian left parties’ fight against the attempted Bolsonarista coup of January 2023 [53:17]. Justin argued that the right has built and maintained institutions in civil society unlike both liberals and socialists and argued to develop those institutions first by embodying socialism in our everyday lives [55:24]. Kristian argued for DSA’s participation in voting rights campaigns as well as for abolitionism and defund efforts and emphasized the need to create a “positive narrative to counter” right wing attacks on minority groups [57:32]. Jenbo argued in favor of forming united fronts with community-based organizations who can respond quickly to fascist threats, and to start building the relationships with those organizations [59:36].
Jose posed the fifth and final question: “Given our current political-economic conditions, what should be our strategy for building power for workers in the workplace?” Sofia cited DSA’s strike solidarity as an organizational strength. She urged socialists to be present in the workplace in key industries and cited the Chicago Teachers Union and the UAW elections as a sign of rapidly increasing worker militancy [1:02:07].
Justin concurred with Sofia arguing that DSA must have a greater presence in the labor movement, and cited DSA’s presence at Labor Notes 2022 as a hopeful sign of this [1:04:47]. Kristian argued that DSA’s campaigns to pass the PRO act and to fund the NLRB as examples of DSA’s involvement with the labor movement, and cited teachers’ unions as an important sector to organize in. Kristian also spoke highly of EWOC’s work, and suggested DSA labor and electoral formations could work together on issues like right-to-work repeal [1:06:55]. Jenbo argued that labor struggles should be a permanent priority for socialists and argued in favor of increasing resources to the NLC [1:09:16]. Ashik closed the debate portion of the meeting by arguing that DSA can help with further strike support as well as media coverage and argued that as part of a proto-party program DSA should have a strategy developed in partnership with “top left-leaning unions” [1:11:07].
After the end of the debate, Sofia continued her Convention orientation presentation. She announced the dates and timeline for DSA’s 2023 convention, including the timelines for chapter delegates, at-large delegates, resolutions and bylaws changes, and NPC elections. She described DSA’s apportionment strategy (which will be distributed in a 1:75 ratio for chapter members) with a goal of 1,361 delegates and alternates at convention. She stated that apportionment will be based on chapter membership as of March 17th of this year. She took a moment to promote the February membership drive, and then announced the DSA NPC end-of-year report.
The Q&A portion of the debate was postponed due to technical issues with the Q&A form which had been sent out to members upon registration. Kristian then announced that the Q&A portion of the debate would be sent out to members, as well as the slides presented, choosing to end early. Kristian said the FAQ for convention would be included in a post on the forums at a later date.
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