We’re Starting a Caucus

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From the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib to Congress to the wave of teacher strikes across the country and the growing excitement about the launch of a Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, socialist politics and working-class militancy took a giant step forward last year. And as its membership inches closer to 60,000 and its activists lead critical campaigns all across the country, the Democratic Socialists of America — by far the largest organized expression of this new politics — has proven that it’s here to stay.

DSA still has a long way to go before it can play the role we need it to in this moment, however. It must become an organization that can lead major struggles against the capitalist class, chart an independent political course for socialists and working people, and truly represent the whole working class of the United States. All of us who are members of DSA and who pour much of our free time into building it know this better than anyone.

Since launching The Call back in August, our goal has been to use it to help build a stronger organization. We believe that part of building a better DSA means strengthening its internal democracy, moving towards more principled debates between different perspectives, and more effectively training cadre who form its volunteer backbone.

To achieve these goals, we started by making principled debates in the organization more public and accessible. We’ve used this site to offer our perspective on what direction we think DSA should go in and to engage in discussions with our comrades.

We also noted that The Call was one part of a larger project that we were participating in to build a political tendency inside DSA, built in part around the Momentum platform that was put forward during the 2017 DSA National Convention. In the last six months, those of us who produce The Call have been working with comrades throughout DSA — many of whom reached out to us after we founded this site — to articulate a strategic vision for such a tendency. That vision is anchored in a Marxist analysis of the political situation today. It also has an organizational focus on building a democratic and effective DSA, one that pushes back on “horizontalist” ideas that we think undermine the strength of the organization as a whole.

As part of these preliminary discussions, we’ve drafted a new version of the Where We Stand statement that we launched The Call with, as well as a vision for what projects we think will be most important in 2019 and a basic set of operating rules for the caucus itself.

Later this January, we’ll be taking the next step by holding a conference in Philadelphia. We’ll debate and adopt our founding documents (all of which we’ll publish publicly once amended and approved by conference attendees) and choose a leadership team. And we’ll discuss our plans as a caucus for 2019. Those plans will include figuring out what issues and ideas we want to bring to the national DSA convention this coming summer — in the form of resolutions as well as priorities for a slate of NPC candidates we’ll support — and figuring out which other tendencies in DSA (declared or otherwise) we have a substantial amount in common with, and who we can work closely together with on specific projects.

After our founding conference we’ll be launching a much larger drive to invite those who agree with the ideas and plans we’re putting forward to join up with us. And we’ll be reaching out to all the different tendencies and groups in DSA to find ways in which we can work closely together.

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Organized tendencies are hardly a novelty in socialist groups. They play an important role in almost every major left-wing, democratic party in the world. Today, among others there’s Momentum and Labour First in the British Labour Party; Democratic Socialist Forum, Socialist Left, and Anti-Capitalist Left in Germany’s Die Linke; and Socialist Unity, the Left Socialist Movement, and Insurgencia in Brazil’s Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL). And in DSA itself, in the last year several political caucuses have formed including North Star, the Libertarian Socialist Caucus, and Refoundation (now dissolved).

We believe that DSA will benefit from having more organized tendencies that can train organizers and structure debate about different possible directions for DSA, both nationally and in our chapters. Though we don’t share their political perspective more broadly, we agree for the most part with our comrades in DSA’s North Star caucus who recently articulated why caucuses can be an important part of a vibrant, democratic organization:

The organization needs organized factions — caucuses — that put DSAers who think alike and do similar work in touch with each other, allowing members to develop and present their political views and strategies to the organization as a whole. Interaction among such caucuses is the essence of democracy in any large organization. Without public caucuses, cliques will still form underground to deliberate, organize and push their politics. However, the great preponderance of the membership will be left with no access to this decision-making. Insiders “in the know” should not be allowed to make all the important decisions without real accountability in the form of organized dissent.

The idea that DSA can do without caucuses is not all that different from the idea of our country’s founders that the republic could do without political parties. The principle is bound to fail because it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how politics works in large organizations.

We believe that DSA’s strength comes in part from being an organization made up of different perspectives and viewpoints that complement and challenge each other. Every member and every group of members has the right to propose ideas and plans for the organization to support, and the whole membership has the final say — either by approving resolutions directly in general membership meetings and delegated conventions or by electing leaders.

Sometimes these debates can be heated, but for DSA to succeed they must not devolve into petty faction fights driven by rival cliques. Organized and public tendencies can help us to avoid that. And as a group of DSA members who are coming together to formally declare the fact that we share one common perspective, we recommit ourselves to doing everything in our power to make debate principled and to respect and protect the big tent nature of DSA.

The coming year will bring new tests and new opportunities for democratic socialism. We look forward to fighting alongside all our comrades in DSA, the wider socialist movement, and all those who want to tackle the challenges ahead on the path to building a better world.