(editor’s note: this piece, written by the Communist League of Richmond, weighs in on the recent controversy of DSA politician Jamaal Bowman’s support for the apartheid state of Israel against the supposed principles of the DSA and its national leadership’s support of Bowman over their own organization’s principles)
For decades after its founding the DSA was content to be nothing more than a loyal opposition to the US empire. Founded by Michael Harrington, a fellow traveler of infamous “CIA socialists” like Bayard Rustin and Norman Thomas, DSA’s politics could be accurately described as cowardice at home, and betrayal abroad.
We are pleased to see that a new wind has arisen and begun to fill the banners of anti-imperialism in your organization. As Marxists, many of you have played key roles in this shift, and the Communist League of Richmond commends your efforts. Your elected leadership, however, hasn’t gotten the memo. In fact, a DSA spokesperson told the Huffington Post that not a single member of the NPC voted against their statement praising Bowman and declining to expel him.
We write to you to share our stance on this callous rejection of both DSA’s democratic will and proletarian internationalism, to open lines of communication with those in your organization that are disaffected by this inaction, and to illuminate a path forward.
While we are not members of DSA, your organization is the largest and most well known group in the United States that calls itself socialist– when your public-facing officials aid the violent crushing of the Palestinian people in the name of socialism, it affects the working class’s perception of the Left in general (not to mention the impact it has on Palestinian workers). And if you allow your leaders to sabotage the priorities to which you, the rank and file Marxist members, have committed yourselves you will fail at achieving any meaningful movement towards socialism in spite of your impressive strength in numbers.
We aim to show that only a Leninist mode of organization will allow you to achieve the goals you are pursuing and which DSA’s highest leaders are now openly opposing.
Imperialism and how to fight it
As Virginians, we don’t just live in the belly of the beast, as all American Marxists do, but at the epicenter of American military might. Decisions are made at the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. Explosives and propellants used in foreign conflicts are manufactured at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant in the Southwest, and the bloody fist of imperialism is built, modernized, repaired, and deployed across the world from the largest naval base in the world in Hampton Roads.
As such, Marxists in Virginia have a special duty to be absolutely uncompromising in our anti-imperialism. But what does this mean? To answer this, we have to understand what imperialism is and how it works – something which the NPC either does not or chooses not to do. Let’s first define ‘imperialism.’ Imperialism is the export of surplus financial capital to foreign markets and the use of military, political, and financial coercion to keep those markets and resources captive to the imperial nation.
All the attendant horrors of the empire have their roots in this exploitative relationship. As Marxists, we understand that imperialism is a fundamental and inescapable feature of modern capitalism, not a misguided policy that can be reformed through pressure campaigns on individual ‘progressive’ politicians. The chances that the next revolutionary wave will begin in the US, or anywhere else in the imperialist core, are low.
The first real test of the Marxist movement in the US will likely be mobilizing to stop the crushing of a revolution elsewhere by our own ruling class and its state. As such, the NPC’s decision not to expel Bowman despite his direct material support for imperialism demonstrates clearly either a failure to understand the nature of imperialism and the state, or a lack of commitment to the task of building a robust movement which could actually challenge imperialism here and abroad.
Why, you might ask, is this decision of such pivotal significance? Because Israel is a critical regional ally and garrison state for the interests of US imperialism in the Middle East. The United States government and private sector does not simply invest billions of dollars each year out of goodwill or any serious commitment to ensuring the Holocaust never happens again. They do it because it is good for business. As President Biden once said “it is the best 3 billion dollar investment we make. Were there not an Israel the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.” That this alliance rests on military occupation, illegal settlement, disparities of access to land and resources, economic exploitation, legal discrimination, and political violence is of no account.
The NPC’s decision not only betrays the most basic internationalist and anti-imperialist principles, but also sends a dangerous and false message to the sections of the US working class most sympathetic to socialism – and the working class at large – that support of Israel is compatible with socialism. The fact that the primary political leadership of the DSA agrees with the Jacobin editorial staff that support for one of the most brutal and oppressive outposts of US imperialism is simply a “difference of opinion” and a question of freedom of thought is unconscionable.
It risks degrading the revolutionary consciousness of workers at a time when raising the consciousness of the working class – the only road to revolution – is the primary task before us. The NPC, trusting in the machinations of liberal politics over the independent strength to the working class, says to Bowman’s betrayal of the Palestinian people and internationalism “we can fix him!” As long as the US is an advanced, capitalist state, it will be imperialist. We must confront the capitalist state with a movement that can threaten it, not plead with it to become something it can never be. To see this, and to understand what kind of anti-imperialist movement we need to build, we only need to contrast two examples from recent US history: the Vietnam and Iraq anti-war movements.
While opposition to war in Vietnam certainly came to include many liberal and ‘progressive’ politicians, what separates it from other anti-war movements in US history is that it went far beyond liberal pressure politics. The anti-war movement both produced and was shaped by independent revolutionary organizations composed primarily of members of oppressed communities like the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords, as well as radicalized mostly white petit-bourgeois student groups like the SDS.
The most advanced sections of this movement operated largely outside the field of liberal electoralism and developed militant organizations that clearly articulated the necessity of principled internationalism in anti-capitalist struggle. At times, it even led US soldiers on the front lines into mutinies and other forms of overt resistance. This movement was perceived as a threat to “national security” and “the existing social and political order,” and was targeted alongside other leftist political movements for surveillance, infiltration, harassment, false arrest, disruption, and even assassination through an FBI counterintelligence program named COINTELPRO.
This intense repression was seen as justifiable and necessary because of the threat it represented to the ruling class. However, even in the face of such intense repression, historians agree that the domestic anti-war movement was a significant factor in the withdrawal from Vietnam. Compare this with the movement against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which was overwhelmingly oriented around liberal pressure politics and electoralism.
The undoubtedly courageous anti-war militants of the early 2000s were unable to even slow the march to war, let alone to stop it. While there were radical sections of that movement, they did not possess the independent organization or strength necessary to substantially direct or shape the movement as a whole. What was the result? The movement effectively evaporated overnight once Obama took office in 2008.
Obama withdrew the American military from Iraq in 2011, but its contractors and auxiliaries remained in place; the US military returned less than three years later. Indeed, under Obama (with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State), the US military intervened in Libya, Syria, and many African nations in the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions. The expanded scope of clandestine offensive military operations worldwide and the use of Special Operations troops in what were frequently referred to as shadow wars grew significantly. The Afghan war ultimately stumbled on for over a decade before the US was forced to retreat by a victorious insurgency.
The anti-war movement, despite mobilizing the largest demonstrations since the Vietnam war, failed miserably. What accounts for the difference in outcome? At least one part of the answer has to be a lack of independent organization coupled to a failed strategy which focused on supporting ‘progressive’ liberal politicians in their bids for office and then ‘holding them accountable’ – which, incidentally, is exactly what the NPC appears to believe is the best path forward today. In these and countless other cases, the lessons of the past are clear: to win, we must draw a line between the Marxist position and that of the liberals, no matter how “progressive” they are. The reforms that will actually materially help the Palestinians and challenge the power of US imperialism can only be achieved through principled struggle.
Just how democratic is the Democratic Socialists of America?
As of December 1st, 28 DSA and 11 YDSA locals, as well as several DSA working groups, have called on the NPC to expel Bowman. Beginning with a statement by the Madison-Area DSA, a spontaneous, grassroots, “bottom-up” movement of the locals and working groups coalesced around a demand that the NPC live up to its stated principles. This is exactly the kind of initiative that DSA leadership routinely reassures us is the ideal inspiration for national campaigns and the first time such a movement has come into being organically since the DSAs effective refounding five years ago.
Movement groups like Labor for Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jews for Right of Palestinian Return, and several others also called on the NPC to expel Bowman, showing that groups in the wider movement looked to DSA for leadership, a role which any socialist group that has as its goal the uniting of working class and oppressed people in the fight against capitalism should be eager to take on.This trend is positive and, along with recent solidarity trips to Venezuela and Peru, has encouraged several CLR members that DSA might be taking the first baby steps toward a proletarian internationalist line and away from the despicable third-campism of the Michael Harrington era.How did the NPC respond to this grassroots, rank-and-file movement demanding that the same anti-imperialist principles DSA has committed to be applied to one of its endorsed politicians?
According to reporting by the Huffington Post the only NPC members who didn’t vote in favor of the statement to keep Bowman took the cowardly way out by abstaining, a gross dereliction of duty on such an important question that should disqualify them from leading any organization whatsoever. This is far from all. For years the national DSA hid its opportunism behind the argument that as a “big tent” organization and not a party, it has no central political philosophy or set tactical orientation beyond opposition to capitalism. This, of course, was never true.
As Marxists we understand that without theoretical struggle and principled commitment to a Marxist, proletarian line, any organization will eventually bend under the weight of the default liberalism that saturates our society. As Marx pointed out “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” The NPCs’ decision, though they lacked the courage to say it outright, commits the DSAs to an electoral approach which the organization had previously fallen into by default.Any talk of pushing the “Overton window” left can be dismissed as empty rhetoric now that Bowman remains.
The NPC has openly endorsed the idea that the path to socialism is through pressure on the liberal wing of the capitalist Democratic Party – that the goals of socialism can somehow be achieved through the capitalist state. Nevermind the fact that the state itself is the instrument through which the ruling class – the bourgeoisie – maintains its rule over other classes! As Marxists, we understand that the state has its own history and function; that it is not simply a necessary outgrowth of a complex society, but a reflection of a society that is divided into antagonistic classes with opposed interests. The state is fundamentally coercive and has at its disposal special armed bodies and legal structures (cops, jails, courts, etc) that exist to protect the interests and private property of the ruling class.
But the NPC has committed to the line that somehow this can all be reformed away! If only the DSA can elect ‘progressive’ liberal candidates and “shift” them to the left… It seems the NPC would prefer to betray your Marxist principles in the interest of maintaining these relationships with ‘progressive’ liberal politicians, rather than stand behind the democratic will of its own organization’s members. Did any of you vote for this? Does the NPC have the ability to make this kind of sweeping strategic decision?
On Liberal Imperialism
Instead of the principled and strategic action demanded by Marxists and others on the left, including several Palestine solidarity organizations, the NPC offered its members a statement replete with legalistic hairsplitting, rhetorical gymnastics, and empty buzzwords to conceal their complete abandonment of even the most basic anti-imperialist principles.
Their strained and frankly ludicrous assertion that Bowman’s actions are somehow tolerable because other DSA-endorsed politicians have been similarly faithless with respect to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict requires no serious attention. Any organization should struggle to improve its politics, not point to its past mistakes to justify new ones. Other than a bare assertion that the NPC has “worked with” DSA’s luminary abstainers and opportunists and “shifted” them politically, the statement doesn’t provide any substantive evidence that the NPC or DSA more generally has meaningfully held its endorsees accountable. In what way does it “build power for Palestine” to have politicians pay lip service to their electoral base while voting to increase funding for the Iron Dome to the tune of $1 billion dollars? Who cares what someone “publicly supports” when their actions say otherwise?
Even more ludicrous is the fraudulent claim that Jamaal Bowman somehow represents a real threat to Zionism and the interests of US imperialism in Israel. They cite an alarmist statement by Nachman Shai, current Minister of Diaspora Affairs of Israel, as evidence. What does this prove?
It’s almost a banality that spokespeople in the Israeli government, pro-Israeli lobbyists, and Zionist organizations will use sky-is-falling, alarmist rhetoric when their allies fail to demonstrate anything other than total and unquestioned support for Israeli apartheid. Recall the alarm and antipathy Zionist organizations expressed towards Barack Obama, or former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s famous conflicts with him.
The same Barack Obama who in his last few months in office signed a $38 billion military aid pact with Israel, the “single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in US history” according to the US State Department, which Netanyahu said “not only serves in our security interests, but the security interests of the US as well.”
Perhaps it is also worth pointing out that in the same address, Netanyahu said about his diplomatic disputes with the Obama administration that “These are disputes you have between family,” which “had no effect whatsoever on the great friendship between Israel and the US.” Are we to believe he was a real threat to Zionism and the interests of US imperialism in Israel too? Even the English pop star Dua Lipa has been declared an anti-semite and a threat to Israel by more extremist Zionists in response to several anodyne social media posts.
Unlike Bowman, whose political calculations and concern for public opinion in his district have led him to abandon Palestinians when it matters, Lipa has refused to apologize. What does it say that pop musicians are taking bolder stands on Israeli apartheid and imperialism than a politician endorsed by the largest socialist-identified organization in the United States?In actuality, liberal Zionists like Bowman are absolutely vital to maintaining Israeli apartheid. Just take a look into the history of apartheid in South Africa.
Those who supported the National Party’s racist regime seldom justified it outright. Instead, they promoted “constructive engagement” as an alternative to sanctions. While proponents of South African BDS fought to make South Africa a “pariah state” and to directly affect their bottom line via sanctions, advocates of constructive engagement like Ronald Reagan assured the public that they might not like every aspect of apartheid but keeping up normal relations and showering the regime in money would somehow in fact hasten the freedom of Black South Africans.
Bowman is a direct inheritor of Reagan’s political calculations. Given Likud’s identification with the Republican Party in the US, having a Democrat willing to mutter mealy-mouthed criticisms of Israel while maintaining normal relations with their leaders and shoveling billions of dollars into their war machine provides a path to shepherd the Democrats’ voting base into supporting imperialism, in spite of their discomfort with Israel’s atrocities. Bowman remaining in the DSA now tells the working class that socialists believe that “even if you have problems with Israel, the solution is to increase military aid.”
This reveals how rancid the NPC’s claims about “shifting” Bowman are– they aren’t shifting him towards supporting BDS: they are allowing him to shift the progressive, left-leaning working class away from BDS– and he is doing it in DSA’s name! The NPC claims that expelling or taking other disciplinary action against Bowman would compromise his career and would effectively result in “handing the perfect tool to the establishment to stoke divisions within the Palestine solidarity movement, the left and the working class.” Nonsense!
We know from historical experience what the most effective tools against apartheid and imperialism are: i) boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS); ii) a large organized revolutionary working class movement. This entire episode reveals how hollow the NPC’s claims about “shifting” Bowman politically are. They aren’t shifting him towards a more consistent, principled line on imperialism or materially supporting BDS; rather, they are allowing him to shift the progressive, left-leaning working class into tailing the Democratic Party and effectively supporting imperialism – and doing so with the endorsement of DSA!
The NPC says that consequences for Bowman would stoke divisions within the Palestine solidarity movement, the left, and the working class. It should. The fact of the matter is that any line of principled demarcation marks a division in a movement. This would be a move in the right direction, insofar as it opens us the possibility of a clean break with the Democratic Party – the graveyard of social movements – and liberal opportunism!
Just consider the following example: “populist” reactionaries, such as the ‘patriotic’ socialists, loudly assert that supporting the rights of migrants divides the US working class. In a sense, it does. Internationalists draw a line of demarcation over the rights of immigrants and work to educate and organize the working class so that they will choose the correct side.
A picket line divides the working class – the workers who refuse to cross the picket line and boycott in solidarity are demonstrating a qualitatively different and higher form of unity than those workers who cross the line from either a lack of commitment or reactionary anti-union views. Not all unities are the same. Israel is a US imperial outpost and client state. The US working class, which develops and manufactures significant quantities of arms and military equipment for Israel, and consumes enormous quantities of goods and services from Israel, represents a great potential force against imperialism.
But this power will only be realized if the working class is united around a principled opposition to imperialism and united in solidarity with the Palestinian people. How can we build a principled socialist movement that can win without falling into opportunism? At issue here is how the DSA is formed, and how it operates.
Ask your working class coworkers and family or strike up a conversation at your city’s bus transfer hub and see if any of them know who Austin González, Matt Miller, or Jen McKinney are. Indeed, ask less active DSA members if they know who is on the NPC. Follow this by asking if they know who AOC, Cori Bush, or Jamaal Bowman are. While Bowman may not have the name recognition of the first two, the likelihood that they’ve heard of him is orders of magnitude higher than the members of the NPC mentioned above.
Of course, the number of social media followers a person has is not a direct reflection of their popularity in the real world, but it’s instructive that as of December 1, NPC member Aaron Warner has fewer than 900 Twitter followers. Jennifer Bolen has around 5300.
In contrast, Bowman has more than 350,000 followers, as well as regular appearances on radio, television and in other media. When working class people hear about the DSA and want to know what it stands for, they look to AOC and Bowman – not the opinions of Justin Charles. In all likelihood, if they know about DSA, they probably first learned about it through its electoral campaigns.
Irrespective of whatever the NPC, officers, or rank-and-file think, Bowman is an official representative of the organization as an endorsed politician. His platform is substantially larger than the NPC. Both a local DSA chapter and the NPC have endorsed him. And, more importantly, he has loudly proclaimed himself a member of DSA in his campaigning. The failure to hold him to the standards of an official spokesperson of the organization does not make him any less of a spokesperson. It makes him a spokesperson who is unaccountable to the organization, motivated by his own career ambitions rather than the organization’s principles, values, and priorities.
As Marxists and Leninists in CLR, we hew to the conception and practice of democratic centralism. What is democratic centralism? It is a form of party organization in which members elect leaders and officers as well as determine policy through free discussion, and the decisions are binding upon all members of the political party.
Another way to frame it is there are robust democratic decision making procedures to determine a course of action, and unity of action in carrying out that decision. Plenty of historical left groups have adopted a distorted version of democratic centralism to demand lockstep rule of the rank-and-file by party leaders, but a real democratic centralism achieves the exact opposite of this: it allows the rank-and-file to hold their leaders accountable to what the group as a whole has decided.
In a proper democratic centralist organization, if a higher elected body like a National Convention makes a commitment, the elected officials and spokespeople are responsible for executing that commitment. And they are held accountable if they refuse to enact what the organization has decided democratically.
These elected officials can be recalled and removed from office, or otherwise subjected to party discipline – including expulsion. The practice of ‘unity in action’ is common sense in nearly all voluntary political associations, though for ideological reasons, some non-Leninist leftists might dispute this claim. To help demonstrate what this looks like practically, imagine that you are on a football team. While the rest of the team prepares to execute a particular play, you decide independently that you will carry out your own play separate from the rest of the team.
You collide with your teammate and leave a hole in your defensive line that results in your quarterback getting sacked. Not only have you lost the game, but you very likely will not be starting and could even be cut from the team. Why should any serious political organization, which concerns itself with issues and policy decisions of grave importance for potentially millions of people, permit its decisions and priorities be sabotaged by its own representatives?
The misleaders in the NPC clearly not only reject democratic centralism and the ‘unity in action’ it demands, but they implicitly reverse it. They allege in their statement that unnamed Black and Palestinian socialist organizations have “implored” the DSA and it’s officers to “be strategic” and “maintain a high degree of discipline” about holding elected officials accountable in public.
In their perverse formulation, it is not Bowman, who voted in favor of giving $1 billion dollars in military defense systems to Israel and participated in a photo-op with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who needs to be disciplined – it’s the members of DSA calling for him to be disciplined who need more discipline! Remember, not a single member of the NPC voted against the statement. Many have even taken to social media to praise their own wisdom and statesmanship.
To add insult to injury, many of these same NPC members are currently asking for money to fund “anti-imperialist” trips abroad, where obscure DSA members completely unknown to the general working class make symbolic gestures of solidarity with countries on the receiving end of US imperialism – while effectively glossing over and permitting one of their organization’s most visible members to materially support the very imperialist forces they claim to oppose. And they have the indecency to demand that you, the Marxists of DSA, be more disciplined and shut up about it!
What’s at Stake
So what is the solution to this situation? As Marxists, you surely find imperialism to be intolerable, and supposed “comrades” licking the boot of the US empire in your name to be even more so. But can you count on waiting until the next convention to vote out the totality of the current NPC and start over?
All signs point to no. While the resolution approximating democratic centralism (ie, making officials accountable to your organization’s platform) failed at the last convention, the BDS resolution passed by a wide margin five years ago. The organization rededicated itself to Palestinian solidarity only two years ago with the creation of a national level BDS working group.
The current batch of NPC members did not run (for the most part) as myrmidons of the Democrats– many asserted themselves as Marxists, anarchists, and anti-imperialists and yet not a single one of them dissented on the statement to praise Bowman and keep him in the organization. Even the “left” of the NPC took to social media to mock your solidarity with Palestine and demands for a democratic organization as taking a “talk to the manager” attitude implied to be rooted in whiteness.
Given the paucity of votes to expel Bowman, increasing the representation of Emerge, Red Star, or Renewal on the NPC will result in the same disgusting outcome. You should not hope that a victory at the next convention will bring change because in many senses you, the left wing of DSA, won the vote at the last convention, but your will has not been respected or enacted.
The rot in DSA is fundamental and structural. As an organization founded on the principle that socialism can be legislated into existence by the capitalist state (a principle it did not successfully shed after the Bernie Bump) DSA has a natural tendency to subordinate the extra-parliamentary aspects of the socialist movement– and indeed the most basic bedrock principles of the socialist movement– to the imperatives of attaining high office. The fact that DSA’s right wing and center have tied the organization to the graveyard of social movements, the Democratic Party, has worsened this problem considerably.
Leninists have seldom shied away from using elections as well, but they don’t merely field and vote for different candidates– we have an altogether different approach to electoral work. Genuine Marxists understand that the capitalist state will never legislate its way to socialism, so we ensure that electoral candidates are purely in the service of the socialist struggle, rather than contorting the struggle to fit the conveniences of a candidate.
Marxist elected officials see their principle duty as representing their party by loudly using their bully pulpit to uphold the party’s platform, to rally the working class to the cause (and channel them towards effective extra-parliamentary avenues), and to unambiguously expose the irreparable rottenness of capitalism and the capitalist state. Elections are but one means of organizing and preparing the working class for revolution, readying the class not to liquidate themselves into the capitalist state but to smash it and replace it with a workers’ state.
Building the Party
All of this, however, is contingent on the existence of a real Communist worker’s party. Some decrepit sects still exist that refer to themselves as communist parties in the United States. While many contain a smattering of hardworking and intelligent activists, none actually has a mass working class base and none can say that its members represent a sizable portion of the vanguard of the proletariat.
Our small local group, the Communist League of Richmond, is certainly not so deluded as to believe that we constitute a bona fide party. How can a party be built? We see two main objectives for principled Marxists at this conjuncture – i) increase the overall degree of organization and revolutionary consciousness of the working class, and ii) make concerted efforts to link up with other Marxists who understand the vital importance of a revolutionary party.
By organizing the unorganized, by working to strengthen already-existing working class organizations, and through political education, we are helping to develop a working class constituency with a greater degree of organization, consciousness, and experience in the struggle. Furthermore, we know that by drawing fresh workers into the struggle we will inevitably bring in workers with a great degree of leadership potential – that is, members of the vanguard of the working class, the only group capable of leading a social revolution.
CLR mandates that all of our members regularly participate in our organizing efforts in the Richmond working class, and we know that much of DSA’s non-electoral work has been impactful – from migrant solidarity to tenant unions to workplace organizing, your role in reigniting the class struggle has been impressive!But merely increasing the magnitude of class struggle, while necessary, is not sufficient to generate a revolutionary vanguard party with a mass base. History shows that parties are not only the result of general historical circumstances, but also the hard work and conscious effort of revolutionaries themselves.
And the consequences for not making the decision to organize a vanguard party can be dire. Just look at the example of Germany after World War I – it was well known that careerist politicians, followers of academic fads, proponents of “socialist imperialism”, and advocates of the peaceful cooperation between classes found a welcoming home in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Genuine revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were also proud members. But by the time they finally split from the SPD to follow the example of the Bolsheviks and lead the working class to revolution, it was too late. Their new communist party, the KPD, made a series of amateurish mistakes and had a minority base in the working class. When the SPD made the choice to prefigure the tactics of Nazism and sent proto-fascist gangs to massacre the heroes of the German Revolution, the KDP lacked the strength to prevail.
The sad story of the German Revolution holds an important lesson for us – that we must have an experienced revolutionary party rooted in the working class well in advance of a successful revolution. In an age of anti-imperialist struggles, a capitalist market in near-permanent crisis, increasing worker militancy, and privations and instability caused by climate change we can be assured that revolutions will occur at some point in the future. The question is whether Marxists will wait until it is already too late to form a party, or if we will begin that long journey while we still have time.
A Call to Action
You must keep fighting. Continue to release and sign on to statements calling for expulsion. Do not let the NPC tell you this is a done deal. Demand that this indefensible decision be reversed. Draw a line in the sand beyond which your principles will not allow you to go and use this stand to gather the anti-imperialist Working Groups, caucuses, Locals, and rank and file members into a bloc capable of wielding real influence in the organization.
Demand the NPC revisit the issue. If you belong to a caucus that is represented on the NPC, move to expel NPC members from your caucus, and publicly condemn them. If the NPC remains unmoved? Article V, Section 2 of the DSA constitution states that “Special National Conventions may be called by a three-fourths vote of the National Political Committee or by petition endorsed by Locals representing two-thirds of the membership or by one- half of the membership.” A steep hill to climb to be sure, and one that may seem unreachable at the moment, but that’s never discouraged Marxists before.
Discuss with your comrades in your chapters and your caucuses what sort of betrayals in the organization would justify a split, as well as what events external to your organization would cause a split to be necessary. Patiently explain to rank and filers who are sympathetic to your views or who are confused by the NPC’s embrace of imperialism why the Democratic Party is a dead end, and why a nationwide revolutionary Marxist party is needed to further the struggle for working class power.
Bring over as many to your side as possible, and do not despair over those who are so dogmatically dedicated to the NPC’s line that they cannot be persuaded otherwise. We ask that you make serious plans with other Marxist members, chapter officials, and caucuses to coordinate together and to prepare for a split. In whatever way the split arrives, the Bowman decision is stark evidence that it is coming.
Principled Marxists cannot coexist in the same organization with social-democrats and progressive liberals that openly support, or excuse the support of, imperialism. No stable or effective socialist organization can simultaneously be anti-imperialist in ideals while actively supporting imperialism in reality.
We are not trying to begin a split of the DSA, because the DSA is already split. We are pointing out a crack that already exists and is growing wider. We encourage you to be prepared and organize with fellow Marxists in the DSA. The only alternative to proactively preparing for a split is to follow the disgraceful path of the “left” members of the NPC – prepare to mindlessly obey the right wing of the organization, even when the right’s views are in the minority.
“Split” is a dirty word on the Left. This is understandable. Many leftists are rightfully turned off by the older Left’s tendency to fracture over the slightest disagreements.
But it would be a mistake to abandon historical materialism and blindly apply the experiences of tiny microsects suffocating under reaction to the modern Left which, for better or worse, was reborn only five years ago. Principled splits are not bad things in themselves, but essential to the workers’ movement. When matters of principle are concerned, a split may be the only way to lay the foundation for a stronger, healthier movement in the future. Unity at any cost, papering over principled disagreements in search of a hollow and meaningless “solidarity” (which could not be farther from true solidarity), can kill a movement just as quickly as it allowed that movement to rapidly expand at its founding. As Engels famously pointed out,
One must not allow oneself to be misled by the cry for “unity.” Those who have this word most often on their lips are those who sow the most dissension… Those unity fanatics are either the people of limited intelligence who want to stir everything up together into one nondescript brew, which, the moment it is left to settle, throws up the differences again in much more acute opposition because they are now all together in one pot…–or else they are people who consciously or unconsciously… want to adulterate the movement…A party proves itself a victorious party by the fact that it splits and can stand the split. The movement of the proletariat necessarily passes through different stages of development; at every stage one section of people lags behind and does not join in the further advance.
No group that exists today will lead us to socialism. For that we need a Marxist workers’ party, and, as we already pointed out and every clear thinking person knows, no such party exists today in the United States. Historically, such parties arose from a series of splits and fusions, a process that picked up as the class struggle intensified and political questions took on a seriousness they lacked before.
But that process of splits and fusions cannot continue forever. The most principled revolutionary strains of thought must be unified in a party eventually or end in spent futility. The longer that process takes the more time we waste. We must prepare now. In that spirit, we also encourage you to reach out to and engage smaller Marxist organizations like ours as well as any other principled comrades in DSA to begin the first, small steps towards creating a pre-party formation rooted in a sound strategy and an ironclad commitment to Marxism and anti-imperialism.
Together, we can and will leave behind political formations that condemn the left to being junior partners to the Democratic Party and accomplices to imperialism. We can and will set off on the road building a revolutionary party. We can and will advance towards socialism.
Dare to struggle, dare to win!
– From the Communist League of Richmond