The 2023 Convention and Red Star’s Tasks For Leadership

The 2023 Convention and Red Star’s Tasks For Leadership

By John Lewis, Megan Romer, and Sam Heft-Luthy

At the 2023 DSA Convention, the three of us from the Red Star caucus won our seats on the National Political Committee, alongside 15 other comrades from across the country. In the two years since the collapse of the Cardinal Slate ahead of the previous Convention, Red Star has worked to develop a robust political analysis, coalesced around a shared vision of good governance for the organization, and worked to recruit strong leaders into the caucus.

Red Star is a small caucus of around 30 members; electing 3 NPC candidates was a result of working hard to earn the support of both caucused and uncaucused delegates by offering a path out of the stagnation caused in part by failures of governance from the 2021-23 NPC. Our Leadership Pledge was signed by a supermajority of the Elected NPC, and was seen by many delegates as an important indicator of candidates’ seriousness. We’re grateful that even candidates who chose not to sign joined the conversation about how they planned to contribute to building a robust, rigorous, socialist democratic culture.

This convention resulted in a narrow majority of the “left” of DSA, composed of Red Star, Marxist Unity Group, the Anti-Zionist Slate, an Independent candidate, and the shared vote of two left-leaning YDSA co-chairs, with alignment from Bread and Roses on at least some essential points of internal governance. This NPC is by no means unified on every question, with significant divisions on any number of issues (internationalism likely being a primary one).

This NPC election represents a development of factional politics for DSA; only one independent candidate won this year versus five in the 2021 convention. The vast majority of viable candidates were part of one formal faction or another, and slates were organized principally around well-understood political positions. In particular, the left bloc came into convention with much more organization than it had at past conventions, which likely explains their success this time. In previous years, delegates were often presented with a choice between a chaotic “political” left independents and organized “do the work” right slates. This time however, the left was more prepared and ran a number of leaders with strong backgrounds in campaign work, theoretical development, or both.

Red Star’s Tasks for the National Political Committee

A principal goal of this NPC needs to be the development and practice of a new system and style of leadership, learned through hands-on work, honed by strong theoretical grounding, and consciously administered by elected officers of DSA. This will require the replacement of opaque, NGO rule-by-mandate leadership culture with a transparent decision making process, an effort to coordinate currents and factions within DSA rather than suppress them, and serious, sustained work to build consensus through robust internal debate.

Red Star has aligned on four major tasks for our NPC members. These tasks do not capture the entirety of our work as leaders in DSA, but they are areas of focus that will require coordinated work and cooperation across the NPC. In the next two years, DSA will continue to build an electoral apparatus to challenge local and state races, though many questions remain about how to support and work with socialist electeds in office. DSA will continue to be a major participant and partner to the labor movement, though many questions remain about how to prioritize our work and how to orient on internal union matters. These four tasks are areas where we feel that the incoming NPC should be putting special attention, and where Red Star plans to focus our energy through coordinated activity. 

We also believe it’s important for us to share these tasks publicly so that other members of the National Political Committee can understand where we’re coming from as we engage in the political debate that will be guiding our work going forward, and encourage other factions to put forward similar documents so we can understand where we have alignment and difference.

1. Launch a united 2024 campaign for democratic rights and bodily autonomy

Four resolutions were passed by convention that call for DSA to fight on the terrain of democratic rights and bodily autonomy: “A Fighting Campaign for Reproductive Rights and Trans Liberation” and “Defend Democracy Through Political Independence” both outline campaigns for DSA to push forward a vision of socialist democracy, trans liberation, and reproductive rights. “Consensus Resolution Amendment L: Fighting the Right by Defending Abortion Rights, Trans People, and Democracy”  and “Consensus Resolution Amendment O: Run DSA Candidates for School Board” both task DSA’s National Electoral Committee with specific electoral work to support these issues as well.

Organizers around the country are already excited about the opportunity to fight for trans liberation and reproductive rights; the Queer Socialist Working Group has seen an influx of new members in the week since convention, and we believe the NPC is in a position to channel this energy toward a fighting campaign for a socialist vision of democracy, with trans liberation and reproductive justice as the “sharp edge” of the campaign’s political messaging.

Red Star believes the National Political Committee should lead the organization and synthesize these passed resolutions into a multi-tactic campaign for democratic rights and bodily autonomy as a major part of our work for 2024. We believe this campaign should equip chapters with a multitude of options for fighting for democracy, trans liberation, and reproductive rights, from labor organizing to win gender-affirming care to legislative campaigns to defend abortion, from direct actions against Crisis Pregnancy Centers to running DSA leaders for school board to directly challenge reactionary power. Chapters with endorsed elected officials or capacity to run and win electoral campaigns should be equipped to make major strides in securing rights through the ballot box and legislation, and all chapters should have resources to help them support local teachers and librarians in the fight to protect queer and trans kids.

It will fall to the NPC to ensure that these resolutions can unite divergent currents within DSA around shared tasks, and build local and national organizing capacity. To do that, the NPC will need to engage multiple committees, caucuses, and factions by tying different arenas of struggle under one banner.

That’s why we’re putting forward a short resolution to the National Political Committee’s Steering Committee this week to affirm that this campaign will be one political task for the incoming NPC, and begin a process of development to ensure that the relevant resolutions will be executed on this term.

2. Ensure a strong organizational commitment to BDS and Palestinian Liberation

Another task is ensuring the continuation of DSA’s work on Palestinian Liberation and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) work. Convention approved an NPC recommendation to move the BDS Working Group under the umbrella of the International Committee, an act that was widely viewed as an attempt to curtail its work. Due to the construction of the Convention Agenda, Member Submitted Resolution #12 “Make DSA an Anti-Zionist Organization in Principle and Praxis” was not voted on by delegates, although a proponent of the Resolution and Member of the BDS WG, Ahmed H., was elected to the NPC.

It’s clear that while neither side of last session’s conflict around the BDS working group has a clear mandate, DSA membership feels strongly that this work needs to be continued. This NPC will have the task of repairing the broken trust that resulted from bureaucratic mistreatment of the BDS WG, to put our work in this arena on a firm, well-supported, and disciplined footing, and to integrate BDS work into the vibrant democratic structure present in the International Committee, complete with the organizational support that the IC can offer.

3. Improve the functioning of the National organization, and guide the work of the Democracy Commission 

Red Star members are excited to work with the incoming NPC and the national staff to help the organization run more effectively. Much of this will involve implementing new ideas for our own work, socializing them to other members of the NPC, and trying to build consensus to apply them to the organization at-large. For example, in order to address issues of capacity that were shared by NPC members last term, we’ll be relying on a back office of Red Star members to assist with political and logistical work of our NPC members, and sharing structures and processes that have worked for us to do so with other factions so that we can learn from one another. We also are excited to partner with rank-and-file staff to bring in volunteer work to support them (within the important confines of their collective bargaining agreement) and give staff the ability to focus on more complex and interesting organizing challenges, for example by re-seating leadership for the National Tech Committee, and expanding the Growth and Development Committee to handle basic chapter trainings and other functions, freeing up staff to do the higher-level organizing work that they are well-trained for but too overburdened to fully thrive in. The previous NPC term saw an alarming number of abrupt staff exits, particularly from the rank-and-file sector, which indicates a need for better support structures and reporting process for staff dissatisfaction.

We also hope this NPC’s term will see an overhaul in how the national organization interfaces with local chapters. It’s almost cliche to hear at this point that many local members studiously avoid National, seeing it as an impediment rather than an aid to their organizing. National in many ways functions like an independent and well-funded Super Chapter, rather than the governing body of hundreds of locals. Both campaigns run by the national organization and bodies like the Growth and Development Committee have an opportunity to better connect with local chapters and sharpen their political and organizational work.

We’re also excited to guide and provide input into DSA’s Democracy Commission, which will study left parties across the world and provide recommendations on how DSA can restructure itself for the new political position it finds itself in post-2016. Tying this together with the State of DSA Report that was commissioned by Red Star’s Growth and Development Committee Consensus Resolution Amendment will help us not only diagnose the structural and cultural problems with the org itself, but offer well-tested solutions based on the experience of comrades around the globe.

4. Ensure DSA lands on a firm financial footing

Finally, the NPC has to do all of our work while under imminent threat of financial collapse. The previous NPC built DSA for boom years, and 2021-2023 was a sustained bust. Without significant changes to our trajectory on spending and membership, DSA will be bankrupt by next convention. NPC members who signed our Leadership Pledge committed to serious work doing fundraising for the org, in coordination with our professional fundraising staff. This financial situation also makes it likely that budgets that Convention allocated to certain projects will have to be reduced or eliminated. This will be a political decision that NPC makes, and our Red Star NPC members understand that it will be a difficult choice that has inevitable fallout for members. The organization’s financial health, of course, ties back into our commitment to support our rank-and-file staff: between open staff positions putting undue burdens on sitting staff and the looming fiscal cliff putting unfair emotional pressure on those same staffers, resolving the budget crisis is a crucial support measure and must be addressed with due diligence and urgency.

We have already seen a significant bump in dues income since the convention, a combination of a few factors: comrades feeling positive about the direction of the organization, the deliberation and passage of a resolution to affirm the NPC’s decision to implement an income-based dues structure, and an effort from staff to boost member social media posts related to income-based dues.

A coordinated fundraising push that highlights the political work DSA is involved with, and solicits active local participation by tying an income-based dues drive to efforts to establish local dues will be a major priority of Red Star’s work for the coming term, and we’re excited to recruit NPC members to join us in establishing and participating in the effort.

Our future perspective for DSA

The last NPC session shows that the most essential part of governing will be lowering the heat on factional conflict, and inoculating against entrenched, unproductive bureaucratic warfare. Red Star candidates didn’t run in order to end or inhibit electoral work, to demand ideological purity from membership, or to purge dissenters, as some of our more escalated opposition has claimed. 

Red Star has a vision of a DSA with robust internal debate, political leadership that instinctively seeks democratic buy-in for its work, and a large and developed membership of organizers that are equipped to take on truly mass work on the scale that will be necessary to build socialism in the U.S. We think that vision can resonate with our allies as well as our opposition, and we hope to work with leaders across DSA towards making it a reality.