Mass Politics Wins at YDSA Convention

Cautious optimism filled the virtual air as Bread & Roses YDSA members began this year’s convention. The first online convention in YDSA and DSA history presented uncharted territory, defenestrating conventional wisdom and leaving even the most experienced organizers without access to their usual convention-floor strategies.

Political dynamics at convention were driven by the interventions of three groups: Bread & Roses, Towards Power, and Revolutionary Power; a fourth, Green Bloc, sprung up halfway through and played a less central role. Bread & Roses YDSAers were part of the national DSA B&R caucus, while Towards Power, Revolutionary Power, and Green Bloc were associated to varying extents with Collective Power Network, Reform and Revolution, and the Libertarian Socialist Caucus, respectively, but did not fully overlap in membership. No caucus dominated among delegates; Bread & Roses, the largest, counted only 19 delegates, or 14% of the convention total. Nearly half of delegates represented chapters that sent only one or two delegates, who were far less likely to fall into caucuses’ spheres of influence.

The battleground for convention success was therefore not internal caucus meetings and chapter delegate meetings but instead the convention floor. This benefited those who acted comradely and presented constructive, well-reasoned arguments, rather than those who attempted to rely on existing relationships to influence delegates. Indeed, the online setting of the convention contributed further to this; gone were much of the personal dynamics that would typically dominate in-person proceedings.

Bread & Roses members connected our positions on individual resolutions to our political outlook and theory of change, and won over unaligned delegates in the process. We staked out public stances on nearly every resolution, advanced these positions on the debate floor, and each succeeded by a significant margin. Yet our convention success cannot be boiled down just to debate.

Fundamentally, there is and has been a strong appetite for a mass-oriented YDSA, evidenced not only by this year’s proceedings but also by past success such as that of the Militancy slate, which was not made up exclusively of Bread & Roses members but advanced a similar Marxist perspective, in 2019.

There is an underlying reason why YDSA is such fertile ground for these politics. Our perspectives as organizers are shaped by our material conditions, and most YDSA members developed socialist politics and entered socialist organizing through Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaigns. Our views of what an organized socialist movement should look like have been informed by two of the closest things to a mass movement in recent American history. We have come of age in an era when, for the first time in decades, the socialist movement in the United States is on the rise and labor militancy is being revitalized. YDSA members therefore tend to understand that the path forward lies with a mass-oriented, class-central approach. Our job is to help working class leaders create the conditions for a mass upsurge, no longer confining ourselves to the fringes of political normalcy.

Three of Bread & Roses’ four resolutions were largely uncontroversial, indicating that YDSA is far more united in its strategic vision than any Twitter battleground might indicate. Resolutions on developing a robust national political education program, adopting a national tasks and perspectives document, and growth and diversification passed virtually unanimously, providing a clear mandate to strengthen political education on a national, regional, and local level; cohere our identity and theory of change as an organization around a single document; and transform YDSA into an organization more representative of the multiracial working class.

As expected, the debate over the rank-and-file strategy was among the most significant and polarizing of the weekend. The resolution in question, proposed by Bread & Roses, was centered around one tactic of the rank-and-file strategy: building a rank-and-file graduation pipeline and developing trainings, political education materials, and other resources to support YDSA members looking to organize in the labor movement upon graduation. Reflecting the rank-and-file strategy’s status as a contested issue within DSA as a whole, this resolution was the only notable point at which Bread & Roses and Towards Power held sharply diverging positions.

Arguments mirrored existing debates around the rank-and-file strategy, and opinions were exchanged ahead of convention on The Activist, YDSA’s publication. Towards Power also suggested that YDSA did not hold the organizational capacity to pursue this project and that we should instead focus solely on their Campus Labor Organizing resolution, which, while not incompatible with the Rank-and-File Pipeline resolution, instead emphasized campus organizing over post-graduate organizing. Outgoing National Coordinating Committee members, most of whom are not Bread & Roses members, argued otherwise, contending that the previous Labor Committee’s struggles resulted from YDSA’s failure to commit decisively to carrying out the pipeline, not a broader lack of capacity. Ultimately, delegates chose decisively to back the organizing pipeline resolution, with 70% voting in favor.

While anybody can undertake the rank-and-file strategy, students, upon graduation, can far more easily take jobs where they intend to organize without uprooting our lives and existing commitments, and many in university can even tailor our education curricula to suit the respective sectors where we plan to get jobs. YDSA members are therefore particularly receptive to the importance of centering the rank-and-file strategy in our approach to the labor movement. Learning from the failures of student socialist movements past that were disconnected from the organized working class, we understand that a successful socialist movement must be rooted in the labor movement.

In sum, the proceedings and outcome of this year’s convention demonstrated a clear embrace of and desire for mass politics in YDSA. Our ability to act on the delegates’ mandate, carry out our priorities, and develop large-scale buy-in from chapters and individual members throughout the country will be the metric of success. Bread & Roses is prepared to act on this mandate, through the work of the National Coordinating Committee, YDSA’s executive leadership and decision-making body, on which six of our members sit; the National Organizing, Labor, and Political Education committees; and organizing at the chapter level.

The opportunity to lay the groundwork for a mass-oriented organization rooted in the multiracial working class has never been greater. If YDSA can seize this opportunity, the future will undoubtedly be bright.