On Wednesday, March 30, the Madison DSA voted and passed a resolution titled “For a Democratic, Internationalist DSA.” In short, this resolution is the opening salvo of a split. It begins the process of chapters voting to have a special convention in order to call a vote of no confidence on the NPC.
DSA simply does not have the resources to host another convention this year. If chapters representing 2/3s of DSA’s membership join this petition and a special convention must be called, the organization will not survive. This is the latest in a series of attacks upon DSA by a group of small caucuses such as the Tempest Collective, remnants of the Renewal slate, and Reform and Revolution. They have used real grievances about the democratic structures of DSA such as disciplining Representative Jamaal Bowman and the right of the NPC to choose the leadership of the BDS working group as wedge issues in an attempt to delegitimize and overturn the democratic decisions of the majority. This piece will discuss the implications of the movement to have a special convention.
The forces pushing for this emergency convention are in the minority. They are leveraging bullying and harassment tactics to force the majority of DSA to their will. Discourse on almost every platform does not function because of mob harassment. From these actions it’s quite clear this is not about the lives of Palestinians or democratic discipline. Palestinian activists and supporters of disciplining Bowman have been harassed and bullied for speaking their mind. Even if groups like Reform and Revolution and Marxist Unity Group believe they are working in good faith to develop DSA, they are politically tailing the Tempest Collective and Renewal. The former is explicit in its aims to destroy DSA and Renewal is an opportunistic group that has little political program beyond taking political power for themselves. This entire crisis is the result of groups and individuals who refuse to be held accountable for their actions and those who have no interest in working in DSA in good faith.
None of this is to put DSA’s national leadership in a blameless position. The “NPC majority,” the plurality of the NPC that consists of the Green New Deal slate and the Socialist Majority Caucus, has completely failed to resolve the multitude of political crises paralyzing DSA. After months of debate online and promises of better communication, the NPC never had any kind of official dialogue with the membership. Though it is absolutely within the authority of the NPC to act as it has to decharter the BDS working group and suspend its leadership, they never once held a town hall or even contacted chapter leadership in an official manner about this situation. All communications have been done by individual members of the NPC posting on the forums or using back channels. The lack of basic organizing opened the way for a social media savvy opposition to create a false narrative without push back.
NPC members of the Bread and Roses caucus in their article in the Call on the vote to charter the BDS working group are correct in principle. There should have been town halls and other forms of democratic buy-in before the vote. The only problem is that they started to publicly advocate for this after the vote to decharter had already occurred. The question of democratic buy-in was not relevant at this point. Instead of pushing for the rest of the democratic process to be more open, the Bread and Roses majority instead decided to use this lack of existing buy-in to delegitimize the NPC by voting to reinstate the working group. This cowardice is what opened the way for wreckers to try and split the organization. Not only has the behavior of SMC, GND, and BNR been destabilizing, it shows the political incompetence of DSA’s leadership.
As shown by the recent battle over the dechartering of the BDS working group, the movement is well organized. Over the last 6 months, they have gotten practice in collecting signatures and pushing resolutions in locals. Splitting DSA is the culmination of this month’s long campaign. It is no coincidence Madison DSA both started the trend of chapters dissenting from the NPC decision and this movement to split DSA. There are three ways this movement goes forward. Suppose they rally enough support to get 2/3rds of the membership represented. In that case, this will lead to the organization’s financial collapse or a convention dominated by a large toxic bloc. If the movement fails to garner this supermajority, they will take the chapters on their side and leave DSA. Though a large split seems unlikely, any number of chapters voting to support this resolution will be destabilizing. It is the responsibility of leaders in DSA to come together to limit the scope of this split.
DSA’s structure is out of date for the kind of organization it has become. Basic things such as an inter-chapter harassment grievance process and standardized leadership training are paralyzed under the current constitutional system. DSA desperately needs changes to the way its democracy functions. However, this needs to be done with rigorous public dialogue between members. Even if DSA could afford to host a special convention, it would put the entire organization at the mercy of a vocal minority of the members. Through their harassment campaign, they would create an extremely toxic convention environment. The convention would over-represent these voices at the expense of the majority of members who are not on Twitter, particularly impacting members of color and of other oppressed groups. Having a special convention under duress from a toxic minority will only lead to a convention reminiscent of the Huron convention that led to the collapse of SDS 53 years ago.
Further against the democratic health of the organization, a special convention would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of staff time. These resources would actively prevent the ability to fulfill any of the 2021 convention commitments. This anti-democratic move would effectively rule the obligations of that convention null and void by siphoning money and staff time. For instance, it would make it infeasible to hire a labor staffer or execute any other plans from the 2021 convention that are already delayed.
DSA has to have constitutional changes. However, to be forced to the table by a twitter hate mob would distort the outcome of this convention. DSA’s 2023 summer convention must be assembled to create a more democratic constitutional system that is more receptive to the voices of our nearly 100,000 members. There must be open and free dialogue among members of DSA about the issues plaguing this organization. Members at all levels, from at-large members, chapter leadership, working groups, and the NPC, have to have civil good faith debate. Further, there must be a national effort to get DSA back into the political sphere. If DSA remains marginalized without any effort to break out through mass action campaigns, this will only happen again.
DSA is a vibrant organization that has campaigns working at hundreds of chapters across the country. In the current moment, attempts to fracture DSA are negatively impacting chapter’s ability to work on these campaigns. It has wasted the first quarter of this NPC term and has limited its ability to fulfill its democratic mandate. Those among us do not care about these campaigns and simply want to protect themselves and force their political vision on us. DSA is by no means a perfect organization. However, in the context of the socialist movement, few organizations have been as democratic and influential. It is the responsibility of all members of DSA to protect this legacy. To do this, we must defend DSA’s democracy from those who wish to abuse it.