This document is a collective project of the DSA Refoundation Caucus, spearheaded by DSA NPC member Delé Balogun and the Refoundation Electoral Strategy Committee. The strategy will be submitted to the NPC for debate and adoption at the January 26 – 28 quarterly meeting in Dallas, Texas.
We would like to acknowledge the following individuals in particular for their contributions to this piece: John Aspray, Patrick Gibson, Edward Golden, and Brad Lathem. Additionally, we want to thank the Refoundation Editorial Committee for assisting in the editing of this document.
Lastly, we want to thank the numerous socialist organizers and writers inside and outside of the DSA, whose ideas helped shape this document. As we fight for socialism in 2018 and beyond, we would be nothing without our comrades, past and present.
Contents of Strategy:
- Summary of Recommendations
- Historical Lessons
- Strategy for Building a Mass Socialist Party
- Structural Recommendations and Analysis
Below is a list of the main Summary of Recommendation points. The full document can be found here: Towards an Independent Socialist Strategy for DSA Electoral Work
A Break from the Democratic Party
Our organization should begin taking steps to move away from Harrington’s vision of DSA as being a pressure group on the Democratic Party. The DSA should seek to decrease and eventually cease the endorsement of Democratic Party candidates in favor of running socialists independently in order to build real working class political power and to establish a permanent base constituency. Such a base constituency can only be established by breaking from the capitalist two-party system.
A Vision for a Mass Working Class, Socialist Party
The vision of DSA working with other organizations and movements to build a working class party with independent socialist political power should be a goal that we strive for in the long term. Such a party cannot be created overnight; however, we should begin to lay the foundations for the type of party we envision now. This means rooting the organization in strategic base-building work nationally and reorienting our electoral work toward much more strategic aims which help build real independent political power.
Learning from Other Organizations
The DSA should begin open and formal communication and consultation with other anti-capitalist electoral formations. The lessons of past attempts at party formation must be studied intently by DSA’s leadership and rank-and-file, and national DSA should conduct political education to examine these issues.
Prioritizing Base-Building Over Electoral Efforts
In order to prepare for long-term development of a mass working class party, we must build a base constituency for socialism through struggle alongside and organization of the working class. Building a base constituency today is a step towards a long term goal of building a mass party. Undue emphasis on elections could be detrimental to the broader project of building the socialist movement. Our already scarce resources need to be utilized strategically in a way that builds our base and that builds independent working class power.
Prioritizing Ballot Questions over Candidate Campaigns
As a tactic for base-building, political education, and actually winning reforms, ballot questions (also known as measures) sidestep some of the more complicated aspects of candidate campaigns for direct engagement on an issue. Ballot question campaigns should be prioritized in electoral work as a way to center our socialist politics.
Strategic Targeting of Local and State Efforts
Recently, explicitly socialist candidates have had the biggest electoral success by running in local races; therefore, offices such as city council and Ward representative should be prioritized. Given the common occurrence of uncontested of state legislative races, there is enormous potential for socialist candidates to mount a strong working-class campaign against only one party in these districts. DSA should examine the strength of our base in these districts and target these seats.
Prioritizing Independent Campaigns over Democratic Party Campaigns
Independent socialist candidates should take priority over Democratic candidates or socialists running on the Democratic ballot line. Socialists who do run on the Democratic Party ballot line should only do so to strategically overcome ballot access hurdles and to force the Democratic Party machine to respond in a way that clearly shows where their class allegiances lie. Any Socialist running on the Democratic ballot line should do so in a strategic way that leads a base constituency away from the Democratic Party and toward independent political power.
Revised Tiered Endorsements System
In mid December, NPC approved a 3-tier system for endorsement of candidates. The tier system approved breaks down the level of support to candidates, but fails to describe the types of candidates and campaigns that are being endorsed which is important for any viable electoral strategy. The proposal below revises the tier system NPC approved in December:
Tier 1: Endorsements for Independent Socialists: We should reserve the highest support for candidates who are members of DSA or other socialist organizations and are running as explicit socialists on a socialist or independent ballot line. The vast majority—at least 80%—of DSA’s national endorsements should fall in this category.
Tier 2: Endorsements for Socialists Running on the Democrat ballot line: There are cases where independent ballot access is made very difficult, and that socialist candidates may seek to run on the Democratic ballot line in those instances. While we should be critical of that decision, there are some special cases where this might constitute a strategic decision. These candidates should agree to conditions such as not receiving any material resources from the Democratic Party machine. Only resources from socialist and working class organizations should be used. This ensures accountability to a socialist program while strategically using the Democratic ballot line. No more than 20% of DSA’s national endorsements should be for these cases.
Tier 3: Statements of Critical Support: DSA national should use paper endorsements to offer support of non-socialist candidates for certain aspects of their campaigns on a tactical basis; however, these endorsements should explain where the candidate and DSA disagree (“critical support”) and request or suggest specific improvements to the candidate’s platform (“positive demand”).
Confronting Ballot Access and Election Hurdles for Independent Candidates
Both major parties work together to employ a range of hurdles in order to block third party and independent challenges. Any serious socialist electoral strategy must confront these hurdles head on or remain electorally marginalized, unable to mount a serious electoral challenge on a broad national scale. Remaining in our current marginalized position is not an option for a serious socialist organization. Therefore, the DSA should create a task force, staffed with legal professionals and our members, in order to explore working with other organizations to fight and defeat ballot access hurdles across the country. Additionally, this task force would explore fighting for alternative voting systems such as Instant Runoff Voting and Ranked Choice Voting to replace First Past the Post Voting in areas across the country.
Eliminate Run-to-Win Language from Endorsement Criteria
A socialist organization’s participation in elections is a tactic in a broader strategy of building working-class political power; therefore, in addition to running socialists in elections in order to fight for working-class interests as an elected official, socialists use elections as a platform to speak to the working class. Such a campaign platform can be used to help facilitate the building of a base constituency in some areas: this means that we would be, at times, running socialist candidates in elections where chances of winning are minimal; in these instances, chances of winning would be subordinate to building working class power and building the DSA through an electoral platform.
Candidate Political Accountability
Candidates endorsed and or run by DSA should be held accountable to the political program and standards of our organization. Mechanisms should be put in place to hold candidates accountable which may include rescinding endorsements, revocation of membership, and dissent statements for candidates and elected officials who stray significantly from the political positions and platform they ran on. This does nothing but strengthen our standing as an organization serious about building real working-class power.
Robust Internal Democracy & Debate around Endorsing Candidates
The electoral decisions of a DSA Local impact all other Local work; as such, when evaluating candidates for endorsement, Locals should conduct robust processes that engage broad sectors of the membership. It is especially important that members be able to vote on endorsements in a Local-wide capacity.
Encouraging Membership-Driven Platform Development on the Local Level
DSA Locals that engage in electoral work should democratically create a policy platform. Having a clear, explicitly socialist platform that is subject to amendment helps to clarify the political aspirations of the DSA Local and centers our politics in discussions about strategy.
Aspiring to Run Candidates, not just Endorse Candidates
DSA Locals should actually contest for power directly in elections where possible. DSA Locals that conduct electoral work should use the creation of a platform as an entry point into actually running candidates to advance that platform in local elections.
Incorporating DSA Locals as 501(c)(4) Nonprofits to Build Electoral Infrastructure
Under the current base-building and community organizing approach of DSA, DSA Locals should seek to incorporate as nonprofits and obtain 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. This structure, provided it operates under extremely democratic bylaws, can be a flexible legal form for a nascent socialist party, and can accommodate our electoral efforts for the time being. When political circumstances change, DSA should consider changing to a formal party organization, but doing so now does not make sense.
Restructure the National Electoral Committee to Facilitate Broader Participation
The creation of the National Electoral Committee last spring was an important step to creating a national electoral apparatus for DSA; however, it was not structured in a way that allowed it to effectively make recommendations around electoral strategy, carry out campaign work, and help develop cohesion between electoral activists on-the-ground. The existing NPC Electoral Committee should be merged into a restructured National Electoral Committee. This new NEC would be made up of elected representatives from Local electoral committees across the country, led by a member of the NPC chosen to chair the Committee, and 3 other NPC members.
You can view the rest of the document here: Towards an Independent Socialist Strategy for DSA Electoral Work