“[Socialism] cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future.” – Marx
We are excited that Resolution #18: Internationalism and Mass Action (R.18) will be debated on the floor of DSA’s 2021 convention. DSA has taken huge strides in its approach to Internationalism and Anti-imperialism. There is no Socialism without Internationalism, so its elevation this year has been incredibly heartening. We can think of no better way to cap our term than by having leaders from across the nation take up and seriously engage with questions of how to best structure the international wing of our organization. As members of the International Committee (IC) leadership, we have learned so much from our tenure and R.18 is a culmination of those lessons.
We are also happy to see that our comrades, and former Cardinal compatriots, in the Collective Power Network (CPN) have taken the occasion to share their thoughts on Internationalism. Not only do we know CPN to be principled anti-imperialists (we have often fallen on the same side of strategic questions) but we generally believe it good practice to distribute caucus positions.
Furthermore, we have supported and been supported by CPN in outlining a vision of anti-imperialism for DSA over the last year. Emerge members who serve on the DSA IC , two on the Secretariat and one on the Steering Committee, were involved in the drafting of Resolution 14 (R.14) and provided language that appears in the final text. However, we didn’t sign on to R.14 because we believe a larger omnibus resolution is needed. We are also the same members of the Secretariat who voted to support joining the São Paulo Forum and participated in the delegation to Venezuela. The same members who originally suggested passing a memo that clarified our relationship to mass parties, which CPN spells out in their fifth article of belief. All of which makes it that much more unfortunate that their analysis included many mischaracterizations of our positions that this piece now seeks to clarify and correct. However, we hope that this article can overall be a good entry point for all delegates and DSA members to understand the rationale behind R.18.
Over the past year, the IC has reached new heights in popularity and general interest. Members anxiously wait for our reportbacks and seek ways to participate in our work. Yet the way the IC functions in reality, as many members find out after joining, can be somewhat disappointing. R.18 is an Omnibus resolution that seeks to address many of these problems that result in disappointment upon participation. To understand the proposal we should first clarify a few things that may be opaque to members not involved with the IC.
The International Committee is a national-level body tasked with the development of DSA’s international politics. It exists to:
- Counter US imperialism, resist US regime change operations and interventions in foreign conflicts, and disrupt the US war machine in solidarity with other socialist bodies and oppressed peoples across the world.
- Help inform DSA’s stances on unfolding global political events, and foster left internationalism among DSA membership and in the United States more broadly.
- Connect with like-minded socialist entities around the world.
- Prepare statements on DSA’s international positions.
- Help to facilitate DSA’s involvement in international movements against militarism, authoritarianism, imperialism, exploitation, and war, as well as in solidarity with left and labor movements.
The International Committee is currently comprised of:
- An International Secretariat, the principal diplomatic organ, which represents DSA in formal organizational communication between DSA and all organizations located outside the United States and dependent bodies.
- A Steering Committee, the leadership body that oversees the International Committee’s subcommittees and which supports projects related to international solidarity and political education within the United States, particularly among DSA membership.
- Nine Subcommittees led by Co-Chairs, which develop international solidarity and political initiatives for and in collaboration with DSA members and likeminded actors; the nine Subcommittees are: Americas, Anti-war, Asia & Oceania, Economics & Trade, Ecosocialism, Europe, Labor, Middle East & Africa, and Migration & Refugees. Each of these subcommittees has a Secretariat liaison and a Steering Committee liaison.
Currently, the Secretariat, Steering Committee, and Co-chairs are appointed by DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC). Committees’ general memberships are selected by each committee’s respective co-chair in consultation with their respective liaisons. Additionally, there are 3 NPC members that serve as NPC liaisons to the IC as well as 1 liaison to the NPC from both the Steering Committee and Secretariat, each. In theory, these 5 liaisons currently serve as the tether between the NPC and IC.
It is important to note that the IC currently has no bylaws. While there was an attempt to draft them by volunteers, including the author of R.18 (in consultation with the NPC liaisons and in an open working group), that attempt was indefinitely tabled as leadership couldn’t come to a consensus on how best to structure the IC. Instead, the IC operates in accordance with DSA’s National Constitution, along with a set of provisional, and often loosely binding, documents: a blueprint, interim Code of Conduct, and guidelines for rapid corrective actions.
There are a few problems with this structure. Those being that 1) the existence of distinct but parallel decision-making bodies (Steering Committee and Secretariat), 2) the many layers of bureaucracy and liaisons that separate the bodies, and 3) the structures for the IC’s general membership are not very democratic or participatory.
At the moment there is not much work for subcommittees beyond hosting educational events. The intent of R.18 is to begin to build a framework that facilitates mass political work on the part of the subcommittees. If committees are to onboard more members, then they will need a form suited to attain a truly mass character. That, in our opinion, isn’t possible without democratizing the IC (to a certain extent). The committees need to be allowed to elect their own leaders and oversee and determine their own work.
While we are sympathetic to the “From Below” Resolutions ( R.15 and R.16), ultimately the problem is that IC general membership is self-selected and, as such, represents no democratic constituency. R.18 represents a compromise where the IC is given a large amount of autonomy, while also being checked by a democratically elected body, which is itself under the supervision of the democratically elected NPC.
Our vision is that in doing so these subcommittees can be transformed into engines that can coordinate multiple integrated campaigns. This could include things such as:
- Organizing national legislative, lobbying, and pressure campaigns.
- Organizing public demonstrations and direction actions.
- Organizing Educational events and educational materials to be distributed to local chapters.
- Coordination among the IC Subcommittees to determine priorities and strategy.
- Coordination with chapters to organize local campaigns.
- Targeting local and state legislators.
- Coordination with the National Electoral Committee to produce integrated strategies.
- Producing artwork and media in support of campaigns and strategic priorities.
- Coordinating social media campaigns.
It’s important to note that we believe that transforming the International Committee into an engine of solidarity is urgent precisely because we’ve seen the power of this model work in other spaces: namely NYC-DSA’s Anti-War Working Group (AWWG). AWWG has hundreds of members and vibrant campaigns, one of the authors of this resolution helped found it and build its lasting structure.
To more clearly understand what R.18 aims to solve, let’s engage directly with some mischaracterizations of R.18 from the text CPN has put forward (mentioned aboved):
“First, the good. We more or less support resolved clauses one, three, and four. Essentially, the first clause is already in force—opening up IC membership with a process that prioritizes first and second-generation immigrant members was a practice established by R-4 in 2019, reaffirmed by the NPC in 2020, and implemented shortly thereafter. We support continuing the policy. ”
The IC is only “open” in that members can apply for subcommittees. However, their acceptance is still currently at the discretion of the co-chairs. “Opening up” in R.18 means allowing all members in good standing to join.
“The third clause directs the IC to further democratize its structures and processes in general terms. Who could disagree with this? Of course, the meaning of “democratize” is a political question with sharp differences of opinion, as we’ve already seen and shall see again.”
In practice, CPN has repeatedly opposed calls for more democracy in the IC – both opposing every single convention resolution put forward to do so as well as in internal IC draft bylaws deliberation. While CPN continually alludes to supporting democracy in theory, there are, as of yet, no concrete suggestions for what that looks like in practice.
“Moving on to the bad. The second clause sets down that IC members will participate in electing IC leadership. The language here is simple enough that it could seem anodyne. But when it comes to such prescriptions, details are crucial. Because of the open-ended language in R.18’s second clause, conceivably any model could be implemented—including some form of R-15 and/or R-16, whether or not the Convention rejects or adopts those specific proposals. On democratic principle, as well as for organizational reasons detailed above in the ISP resolution discussion, we strongly favor NPC-appointed IC leadership because we believe that the Convention and the NPC alone should set the priorities and orientation for DSA’s international work.”
We agree, the democratic form this could take has many potential variances. The reason that this doesn’t outline a model is that we believe that this is ultimately a bylaws discussion and, as such, should be collectively deliberated and determined by the IC. The purpose of including it in the proposal is to determine a clear mandate to democratize the IC which CPN fails to support in practice despite their undisclosed theoretical opinions. Emerge members on the IC are of the belief that shared agreement is strongest when it is arrived at together through iterative deliberation. However, the idea that “anything goes” is not true given that the IC, and its bylaws, are ultimately subject to approval by the NPC.
“It would significantly decentralize national DSA by diluting executive power by 50% and separating political leadership into discrete domestic and international spheres. Sixteen NPC members would be responsible for DSA’s labor or electoral work, while only seven voting Secretariat members would be tasked with DSA’s international work.”
R.18 creates a telescopic structure that has members working at different layers. It puts the NPC at the very top maintaining holistic leadership off all parts of the organization, underneath the secretariat developing international relations as well as providing oversight to the rest of the IC (both still subordinate to and under the supervision of the NPC), and finally a democratic IC semi-autonomously conducting campaigns. As an aside, we do not believe DSA organizing work should be exclusively contained to labor and electoral spheres as CPN seems to suggest here.
Additionally, electing the Secretariat serves the two important further purposes:
1) It democratically empowers highly sensitive diplomatic work. One concern that arose as a result of the Venezuela trip was that members assumed that only the IC had formed the delegation. While half the delegation was from the (elected) NPC, it nonetheless provoked questions regarding the appropriateness of unelected members doing such sensitive diplomatic work. While some may argue that diplomatic work is not usually elected, it’s clear that DSA holds itself to different standards. Electing the Secretariat will not only ensure that such work has a mandate but also empower the Convention to determine the course of international work more directly. And it does so because;
2) It elevates Internationalism and anti-imperialism at our convention as it ensures that international political positions are specifically discussed and represented.
“And where NPC candidacies usually require chapter leadership experience to be politically viable (in other words, NPC members come out of DSA chapters), Secretariat members would be nominated by IC subcommittees.”
Currently, NPC candidates need to be nominated either by their respective chapters or national bodies which amounts to merely affirming that these candidates are active members. This would be essentially the same thing for the IC.
“Moreover, as we laid out in CPN’s internationalist principles, segregating the “domestic” from the “international” is another way to diminish potential worker power and ensure a future where a weakened left continues to be divided and crushed under the imperial boot of capital.”
Our vision for the IC is an integrated one. If we carried these misinterpretations further one could argue that the very existence of the IC acts to segregate domestic and international issues.
“Sure, R.18 allows the Convention to rubber stamp IC-nominated Secretariat candidates. And sure, R.18 includes a provision that the NPC technically holds veto power over IC decisions. But again, why trigger a “constitutional crisis” every time some part of the IC goes against the will of the Convention?”
Diminishing the democratic decisions of convention delegates and characterizing it as “rubber stamping” followed by tacit admission that the proposal does in fact make NPC supervision explicit, puts CPNs arguments against R.18 in conflict only with itself.
If we truly wanted to set up a parallel body, we would need to have proposed a constitutional amendment. Given that we have not done so, no constitutional crisis would be triggered as the constitution quite clearly enshrines the NPC as the highest decision-making body outside of conventions.
Our resolution maintains that the democratic legitimacy of the IC is not in question, while a fully autonomous IC, as envisioned by R.15, would not be legitimate. The restructuring we propose is not to address a crisis of legitimacy but to build infrastructure for mass organizing.
Additionally, by placing the NPC liaisons directly on the Secretariat it helps eliminate some of the byzantine bureaucracy and liaisons that separate the day-to-day work of the IC general membership from those vested with decision-making power. In this scenario, a member elected Steering Committee could work directly with the Secretariat, which is again not only subordinate to the NPC but whose voting members include the 3 NPC liaisons to the IC.
“To begin with, why set up conditions for unending micropolitical contests at every level of the IC?”
What is reproved here as “upending micro-political contests” is in fact the very work of political deliberation that builds consensus. What we wish to establish is a dynamic and mass political instrument. CPN denounces what they call the “breathtaking radicalism of R.18’s bureaucratic democracy.” And yet, their vision for the IC is simply a top-down elected leadership served by a lean depoliticized bureaucracy.
“We wish the comrades who authored R.15, 16, 17, and 18 had drawn inspiration from the organizational models and political strategies of actually-existing mass political organizations and labor unions.”
While we do draw inspiration from our forebears, there has never been mass socialist construction in the United States. The answers to many of the contradictions we face have yet to be put forward.
However, we did draw inspiration on an actually-existing model: the structures of the communes in Venezuela. One of the authors of this resolution was also member of the Venezuela delegation, and experienced, firsthand, the existence of similar telescopic structures that engaged in democratic deliberation and decision-making at every level during visits to the communes. Venezuelan communes are composed of 5-12 Communal Councils. Communal Councils are themselves comprised of:
- Citizens’ Assembly
- Executive Body
- Financial Management Unit
- Unit of Social Oversight
- Community Coordination Collective
Furthermore, the current pressing political issue amongst the communards is the construction of Communal Cities, a conglomeration of communes.
The 2019 resolution put forward by CPN authors went a long way to operationalize the IC. However, in our opinion, it has been an incomplete transformation. What we have found during our tenure is that this structure has some serious limitations, especially if we hope to use the IC as an instrument for fomenting a mass internationalist movement. We believe this to be the task of our time. This is why we implore all delegates to vote yes on Resolution #18: International Committee and Mass Organizing
Here is the Rose. Now Dance.
- The Authors of R.18
Postscript on Amendment #8 to Resolution #18
As a member of IC Secretariat, the Growth and Development Committee (GDC) forwarded my contact information to many members organizing DSA abroad groups several months ago. They told me that sections of national leadership had been unresponsive to their inquiries and they were hoping I could provide some answers on the status of recognizing Abroad Chapters as well as what leadership thought about supporting a resolution mandating their recognition. While as a member of the Secretariat I had been made aware of these conversations I wasn’t directly involved with them as I was not yet a Secretariat Liaison to NPC, the member of the Secretariat who regularly meets with the NPC members to discuss the big picture ongoings of the IC. Nonetheless, I conducted an investigation where I asked leadership (both NPC and IC) thoughts about these groups and how to best incorporate them into the org as well as asked them to provide all documentation they had. I then relayed all this information I found to these groups.
What I discovered was that both NPC and IC were deeply divided on what to do with groups abroad and whether they should be chapters. This disagreement spawned various lines and can’t be neatly fitted into opposing camps. I also learned that the staff was very anxious, about not just the legality and compliance but about staff hours and resources required to have abroad chapters legally incorporated into our structure. Anxious enough, that my understanding is they would veto any such proposal at that moment. Finally, I learned that the GDC had outlined a temporary compromise. It was this outline that this proposal took its cues from with the added language about a Memoranda of Understanding which we added after speaking with representatives from abroad groups so that we would have a clear understanding of the expectations of support they desired.
We personally have no feelings on chapters abroad other than we wish to see their work incorporated into the national organization while also acknowledging that we needed to engage with this question slowly so as not to dismiss the real concerns that our staff have. We apologize if some were hurt by the language of the proposal. We did not mean to diminish the work that had been done but to try to use neutral language that we thought was elastic enough to appease different opinions held by leadership. We clearly failed but the intent on our part was not to undermine organizing abroad, quite the opposite, as I hope DSA abroad leaders whom we’ve met with as early as June 2nd will hopefully confirm. Our only desire here, as with the whole proposal, is to acknowledge certain organizational limits to our current structure and provide workable solutions to them that would satisfy a variety of different interests.
- Marvin Gonzalez, IC Secretariat