This piece is part of a series on issues within DSA, written by members of the Refoundation Caucus during the 2018 campaign for vacant positions on the DSA NPC. For the full platform, see here. To support our candidates and these ideas, please sign our support petition.
The heart and soul of any socialist organization must be political education. DSA has grown by thousands in the last year, with many of these people brand new to politics. If these thousands of new members are to become the backbone of a new independent socialist party, their political education needs to be a top priority. The development of political education curriculum and materials that can be deployed throughout the whole organization is a task well-suited for a central national body: a combination of video series, curated reading guides, and the organization of study groups and day schools over the whole organization. In order to ensure good fusion between theory and practice, these political education materials must be combined with activism skill trainings. We will seek to strengthen the passed Resolution 28 from last year’s convention for movement trainings with Marxist political education as well.
To see how to develop this program, we will look to two models of successful political education at the local level. In Portland and Boston, rank-and-file members have taken it upon themselves to develop political education programs that have been successful at the local level. As we begin to think of ways to develop a more unified and consistent program for national use, we must look to local chapters who have successful models.
With recent publicity, DSA’s numbers continue to swell. In order to ensure that these new members are grounded in both an understanding of theory and praxis, it is the responsibility of national leadership to provide locals with guidance on how to conduct political education programs. A hands-off approach in the name of decentralization is dangerous and forces the labor onto locals who may not have the resources to fully develop their own program. Additionally, the lack of a national political education program has left at-large members without resources. A political education program that is standardized by the national leadership of DSA would benefit locals, at-large members, and the national organization by ensuring that all members were coming from the same basis of knowledge.
Portland DSA has been actively seeking ways to expand their political education program and reach people who may not be engaged. We reached out to our comrades in Portland DSA to learn what they have done. They reported back:
“On June 24th, 150-175 Portland DSA organized a day long series of workshops, most of which were taught form a Marxist analysis. The core organizers of the summer school were Refoundation members. The goal of the summer school was twofold: to raise the political level inside of DSA, and to engage DSA members who were not currently engaged in work, and to recruit them into ongoing organizing in caucuses or working groups (this occurred during the lunch break). A secondary goal was to build community, which we attempted to do with activities during the lunch break.
A related project that the organizers of the Summer School are helping with is a standing monthly training to all DSA members, where we focus on basic organizing and political skills, which we hope to use to engage members into the organizing work of the chapter. Workshops such as Organizing 101 have been useful to relieve the fear of new people to engage in the chapter’s work. Outreach to new members is prioritized before the event. “
The methods used by Portland DSA to engage their members can and should be adapted into a national program. Through this program, Portland DSA created a political education curriculum which could easily be included in a “political education starter pack” provided to chapters. National DSA could also standardize materials for Socialist Day School-esque programs, which could also be provided in the starter pack.” As procedure currently stands, all the labor is forced onto individual locals and members. We believe that this is not acceptable and that a National Political Education Program would combat that.
Another successful for local example of political education is the work being done by Boston DSA. We, as Refoundation, reached out to our comrades in Boston to ask for what sort of work is being done there. This is what they had to say:
“Boston DSA’s Political Education Working Group has been engaged in a project of figuring out what exactly political education looks like in a multi-tendency organization. If we don’t necessarily believe in the same end goal, how do we present opportunities for education that are largely useful to all DSA organizers? As a Working group, we’ve dedicated meeting time to studying this, reading and discussing books like Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as a group and examining our work through that lens.
This introspection hasn’t stopped us from putting on events for the chapter. We run a semi-monthly ‘Fundamental Socialism’ meeting providing info to new members about how to get involved in DSA as well as an explanatory lecture and discussion of topics like Imperialism, Marxism, or Cultural Hegemony. Recently, we’ve begun working with other Working Groups in our chapter and their coalition partners for events exploring their works as an introduction to socialist concepts. Later in July, we will be working with the Housing Working Group and their partner City Life/Vida Urbana to present on the capitalist roots of the housing crisis facing Massachusetts.
The past year has also seen us facilitate several reading groups, ranging from tackling all of Marx’s Capital, to a regular reading series of shorter Marxist Classics works. We’ve also put on smaller one off events like a panel on Socialist Feminism, a “Radical History Walking Tour” of Boston, and pamphlets and other materials for tabling and protests.
Our most successful outreach has been our political education newsletter, which is received by hundreds of non-members. It brings them a selection of socialist commentary both published by Boston DSA and from around the web, as well as a calendar of radical events happening in the Boston area. Earlier this year, we expanded our efforts to include a political education blog (bostonpewg.org), which has published general socialist commentary as well as allowing members to write and debate issues within the chapter itself.”
The success of Boston DSA’s political education program is due, in part, to the diversity of methods that they utilize. Too often, in discussion of political education, we default to dusty and inaccessible tomes of philosophy written by dead men. A National Political Education Program must rely on a variety of methods and forms including videos, readings–of a diverse and accessible nature–socialist reading groups, and day schools.
A National Program
Through this document, we have attempted to outline best practices for political education. While we do support a standardization of political education, we, in Refoundation, do not wish to create an organization that is single tendency or monochromatic in thinking. The multi-tendency nature of DSA is part of whence our strength as an organization comes. We also recognize the necessity of locals adding on their own pieces of political education. For example, a Southern Chapter may want to conduct political education surrounding the specific political history and context of their region. So too, a larger city with a high number of universities may want to add in a component about student organizing.
The goal of a national program of political education is to move DSA from a decentralized group of locals into a truly national organization. If we are to build power , we must understand that we are only as strong as our weakest member. Therefore, our national leadership must prioritize building and developing a strong political education program to ensure that we retain and train the new members we have, while also ensuring that our veteran members continue to develop and evolve our own thinking. We cannot simply sit by, complacent, applauding our new membership numbers. Complacency is entropy and entropy is death. We, in Refoundation, seek a political education program of evolution, not entropy.
We also realize that accessibility must be prioritized with any political education program. As such, any National Political Education Program should create a wide variety of materials that will allow comrades of all backgrounds, learning styles, and needs to access our education materials.
When the history of this political moment is written, there will be a chapter on DSA. We, today, get to decide what the chapter says. Will it say that we were a flash-in-the-pan, a briefly influential group who faded away into nothing? Or will historians write about the work that we did to turn the tide, to fight for a better world? We all hope for the latter, but are in grave danger of falling into the former.
The effects of a political education will echo throughout all elements of DSA. A strong basis of political education will begin to chip away at the microaggressions that make so many comrades feel unsafe. A strong basis of political education will allow all members to discuss strategic disagreements with a shared vocabulary. A strong basis in political education will simplify questions about electoral policy. We have many vital questions facing us as an organization, and if we don’t all have a similar vocabulary and knowledge base, there is no way for us to truly find common ground. Political Education is the lifeblood of an organization and we, as DSA, must prioritize it.