On the one-year anniversary of the overturning of Roe v Wade, former President Donald Trump promised his supporters that if elected he would deport all “communists, Marxists, and socialists” from the U.S. With Trump the likely Republican candidate for 2024, and Biden plagued by the same low voter enthusiasm that doomed Hillary Clinton in 2016, we’re reminded that as imperfect as liberal democratic rights are, they are worth protecting for socialists and the working class.
As DSA meets this week to set our strategy for the next two years, combatting the extreme right and defending civil rights and democracy must be top priorities for us. We can’t risk another muddled response to one of the most visible political questions that will confront the left in the coming years: the 2024 U.S. presidential race.
It’s not an easy question to answer: we want to defeat the Republicans and the extreme Right, but we hope to maintain independence from the Democrats’ lackluster defense of civil rights as well as their political priorities that disorganize the working class. But refusing to take up the question at all is its own choice; if delegates put off the decision now, we are committing to a disorganized response, public infighting among DSA members, and unclear expectations for our elected officials.
To chart a clear but flexible path for the org through the 2024 presidential campaign, delegates should vote yes on our Member-Submitted Resolution #2, Defend Democracy Through Political Independence resolution. The resolution commits DSA and the NPC to:
- Create a multi-tendency committee tasked with creating a national platform and organizing plan for the 2024 election. The platform will have input from across the org and be put to a full membership vote, ensuring buy-in and heading off infighting. The committee will also create comms resources, campaign materials, organizing plans, and trainings that all chapters can draw from through 2024, as well as clear expectations for our endorsed electeds.
- Offer chapters support in the event local DSA electeds do endorse Biden. It’s inevitable that some of our endorsed electeds will go for Biden or appear at rallies for centrist Democrats. The resolution will offer chapters support and boilerplate response text as needed to express disapproval and a positive political vision of socialist independence, protecting us from public meltdowns and damaging calls for expulsion.
Defend Democracy Through Political Independence (MSR #2) is the only resolution at the 2023 convention that directly takes up the question of our approach to the 2024 election (another proposal mentions preparations for 2024 but does not speak to how DSA and its electeds will relate to Biden). We urge delegates to vote “yes” so we can get started on building an exciting and critical campaign showcasing DSA as a home for working-class political independence and civil rights organizing.
Defending Democracy on Our Terms
We already know how the 2024 election will feel: it will be yet another “most important election of our lifetimes” between two capitalist candidates, and the pressure to do something will be immense. If DSA doesn’t prepare our own national campaign well ahead of time, many chapters, especially small chapters and those without developed field programs, will likely choose to liquidate themselves into coalitions led by liberal NGOs or local Democrats in order to have some chance at talking to workers during a moment of heightened political awareness.
These types of coalitions are a modern take on the discredited “popular front” strategy. In many cases, liberal NGOs will want to control field work, messaging, and tactics, leaving DSA’s members as little more than a free volunteer pool of labor for a campaign they have no meaningful stake in.
The DSA for Bernie campaign, which was organized around a platform and provided messaging and tools and training to chapters just like this resolution calls for, proved we can mount an impressive independent nationwide campaign that grows and strengthens DSA. Just as we did during the Bernie campaign, MSR #2 will allow us to defend democracy on our own terms, not those dictated to us by the Democratic Party establishment. It will also move DSA in a more party-like direction by helping chapters raise their profiles and build skills to run more insurgent local electoral campaigns.
A Mandate for a Member-led Effort
After Bernie’s primary loss, the chaos of COVID-19, and the scramble to join the George Floyd uprisings, DSA was too disoriented to mount a cohesive response to Trump vs. Biden in 2020. The “Bernie or Bust” resolution from the 2019 convention mandated that we not endorse Biden, but did not provide for the creation of a body to coordinate a response. Instead, messy debates about what to do played out publicly, with members circulating open letters, fighting on Twitter, and chapters taking different tacks to eventually joining the electoral fray. We cannot allow 2024 to catch us flat-footed again.
An effective national effort in the 2024 election will require a clear political vision and broad support from members, tendencies, and chapters across the organization. This is why MSR #2 tasks the NPC with organizing a broadly representative committee to draft a platform describing our approach to the election for membership ratification. With a platform in place, the committee can then coordinate with chapters that want to participate to create an organizing plan, providing a two-way channel of decision-making and development: bringing chapter leaders into a national structure to shape its direction, and learning from chapter leaders which organizing tactics and campaigns could work best with their conditions. The end result will be a well-planned, coordinated, and cohesive DSA response to the 2024 election.
Neither Condemning nor Absolving Elected Officials
Instead of scrambling to respond to electeds who support Biden or other centrist Democrats and watching helplessly as an ugly intra-DSA dispute plays out on social media, the 2023 convention can vote for DSA to prepare a sensible, clear response plan ahead of time.
In the event that a DSA elected says or does something that goes against the 2024 DSA election platform, the MSR #2 resolution includes a provision that will prepare chapters and the NEC to issue statements expressing disapproval and clarifying that our position is different from that of the endorsed candidate or elected official.
We can head off some of these confrontations by tasking the NPC with communicating with elected officials and candidates around the positive program outlined in the proposal and message of being against the extreme Right but not explicitly for Joe Biden or other corporate Democrats. However, this will not look like the NPC or a national body issuing directives. Instead, it would consist of political education, trainings, communications, and producing materials — all so that our chapters can effectively fight the Right and advocate for a stronger democracy, and in turn provide support for our endorsed candidates and elected officials as they take on these positions.
Vote “Yes” on Defend Democracy through Political Independence
Even if we continue to have a Democrat as president, we still need a national member-led approach to campaigns to defend democracy and civil rights and make the case for our program, democratic socialism, and independent working-class institutions. Most importantly, if we do hope for DSA to punch above its weight while undertaking this essential work, the organization needs to get broad buy-in from the organization’s membership. Convention delegates should vote “yes” on Member-Submitted Resolution #2: “Defend Democracy through Political Independence.”