Delegates from chapters across DSA gathered in Chicago August 4 through 6 for our biennial National Convention. The Convention is DSA members’ main opportunity to come together to debate—and set—the direction and strategy of DSA as a whole.
This Convention represented a shift in DSA strategy away from class collaboration in the interest of short-term gains, which has shown diminishing returns, toward a greater focus on independent working-class institutions. Internally, delegates’ votes on resolutions and on election of NPC members reflected desires for more member input and better transparency.
Setting the stage
Seattle DSA sent 24 delegates and 2 alternates. Unfortunately two of our delegates had to cancel at the last minute, so our alternates were bumped up to delegates.
Debate began before the Convention. The initial agenda included only proposals which already had broad support among delegates, which meant that it mostly did not include questions about major controversies of the last two years—such as DSA’s relationship to members in elected office, in the wake of votes by DSA congress members approving aid to Israel and prohibiting rail workers from striking, and the organizational relationship of DSA to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Working Group and to the broader BDS movement. Yet because of confusion about the delegate survey, the agenda included a debate about the motion to appoint Bud the official DSA mascot.
72% of delegates surveyed agreed that Bud is a fun little guy and should go on the consent agenda, but only 49% indicated support for the resolution—a clear indication there was no desire for debate about Bud.
Before the Convention, several caucuses and non-caucus factions came together to negotiate an amendment to the agenda. The amendment would move some non-controversial items, such as Bud, to the consent agenda—a group of proposals considered as one for adoption by consent at the beginning of convention—and restore three items: one regarding a campaign for trans and reproductive rights (MR-21), another setting red lines for DSA representatives (CR-6-P, which was based on Seattle DSA’s similar resolution passed at Chapter Convention), and a third calling for steps toward anti-Zionist praxis in DSA (MR-12).
The agenda amendment passed by a 53% vote, which set the tone for the convention: members wanted room to discuss political strategy.
In keeping with the design of the Convention, delegates mostly reaffirmed the ongoing work of DSA. The consensus resolutions passed handily. Some amendments passed easily as well, on matters such as running candidates for school boards; directing electoral work toward defending abortion rights, trans rights, and democracy; supporting local Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC) formations; and a dues-based income drive.
Other, more controversial amendments sought to set DSA’s strategic direction. For example, an amendment directing DSA to build independent infrastructure for electoral work, passed with just over 3/4 of the vote; an amendment promoting a party-like electoral strategy, which would have placed “red lines” (expectations) on DSA endorsees, failed with just below 50%. A labor amendment calling for focusing on formations other than Labor Notes failed with 46%; another, for striking out language prioritizing relationships with rank-and-file workers over union bureaucracy, failed with less than a third of the vote. And an amendment to the international committee resolution, which was criticized as third-campist, failed with less than a quarter of the vote.
“Two proposals sought to address DSA structure,
which most delegates appeared to agree
is in need of change.”
Two proposals sought to address DSA structure, which most delegates appeared to agree is in need of change. CB1, “Democratize DSA,” would have effectively replaced the NPC with a significantly larger body (originally 51 members) and moved most of the NPC’s power into the NPC Steering Committee, a body elected from the NPC which would in turn be enlarged to 13 members from the current 5. Since this is a bylaws change, it would have required a two-thirds majority to pass; it failed with 62% in favor. The other proposal which made it to the agenda—MR10, which establishes a multi-tendency Democracy Commission to bring a structure proposal to the next Convention—passed with 90% of the vote.
Two resolutions sought to direct how DSA engages in campaigns. One resolution, “A Fighting Campaign for Reproductive Rights and Trans Liberation,” calling for a unified campaign across DSA’s areas of work, passed with 62%. The second, “Defend Democracy through Political Independence,” calls for class-independent electoral work and support for working-class institutions. It passed with 65% support, minus a sentence calling for the NPC to express disapproval for electeds rejecting the strategy laid out; that sentence was rejected with a 49% vote.
Unfortunately there was no time to hear some resolutions, so they were referred to the NPC. These included a resolution requiring the National Harassment and Grievance Officer be a staff position rather than a contractor. That resolution also terminated the contract for our current NHGO, but the NPC had already moved to do so before the Convention. Other resolutions referred to the NPC included one requiring reauthorization for national bodies at each convention and another, MR-12, “Make DSA an Anti-Zionist Organization in Principle and Praxis.” However, a related NPC Recommendation—submitted late, just days before the convention—passed on a razor-thin margin to move the BDS Working Group under the International Committee.
Overall, the votes at Convention showed a growing commitment to political independence in practice and a desire to break from dependence on electeds, particularly in national office.
The other mandatory task of the National Convention is to elect the National Political Committee, or NPC, for a two-year term. This year, 41 candidates ran for the 16 seats. The large field, compared to past years, meant that candidates had to campaign in order to articulate how their positions and factions differed and aligned. Nearly a dozen panels were held before the Convention, grilling candidates on topics from governance and international perspectives to labor and electoral strategy.
NPC elections represented
a major shift
in the balance of power
The NPC election was held Saturday night, and the results were announced Sunday afternoon before the end of the Convention. The incoming NPC is composed of two members of Marxist Unity Group; three of Red Star; three Bread and Roses; one from the Anti-Zionist Slate; one independent, associated with Portland’s Red Network and DSA International Committee; six from the Groundwork slate, associated with 2021’s GND Slate; and two from Socialist Majority Caucus.
These elections represented a major shift in the balance of power within the NPC. In the previous NPC, the “right wing” of DSA, represented by SMC and the GND slate, held a majority on the NPC Steering Committee and, for part of the term, the NPC as a whole. This resulted in an NPC deadlocked on most political questions when an SMC member resigned late in 2022.
With the National Convention done, 2023 marks a new chapter for DSA. Since DSA’s rebirth in 2016 and ’17, it has struggled to retain new members, to forge an identity for itself, and to express a socialist message independent of the Democratic Party and progressive liberals. Delegates voted to commit to an independent identity and program, to invest in DSA, and to recommit to work that goes beyond the electoral arena.
The incoming NPC represents not only a left-wing majority, but a multi-caucus one, with only one NPC member not representing a caucus or slate. This is a step forward for factions in DSA: as members continue to organize for their vision, we’re also working together even as we debate our differences. This is different from the factionalism—really, internal sectarianism—that DSA members rightfully oppose: factions, whether caucuses or less formal formations, can offer a political home for members, a pole of the big tent that is DSA, so long as they are not sectarian about differences.
Debate is a major part of the National Convention. Even though it was short, with only three speakers for and three against each item, debate helped members understand their comrades’ perspectives and make informed decisions.