Letter: For Democracy, Not Democrats

Date: 2021-11-19T23:34:32+00:00

Location: cosmonautmag.com

Yesterday, members of the Socialist Majority Caucus released an open letter opposing the movement to expel representative Jamaal Bowman from DSA. This letter is pretty easy to reject out of hand by many due to the weakness of its arguments. However they do represent the political positions of a powerful opportunist tendency within the DSA. Breaking this letter down and learning lessons from this situation is important for determining the left’s “road to power” within DSA.

“As socialists, our concern is with making material progress towards justice, not simply with messaging about what justice is. Forcibly expelling an elected official whom DSA helped put in office may seem like an act of power, but it reflects weakness, not strength. Strong movements can shift allies and comrades towards their positions.”

This gets to these opportunists’ point here: we cannot break from the Democrats because we need them. We need to be in their coalition no matter what so we can get the “material progress towards justice” that will bring along socialism. They fail to realize the consequences of this strategy. By allowing DSA to be drawn along by the Democrats, socialists are taking responsibility for what they do. We are complicit in their crimes. Even if we make a fuss about the Democrats supporting Israel and the police, as long as we support their war and police budgets, we are nothing but loyal opposition. After something like a century of trying, Harringtonites are still convinced we can move the Democrats left. If the last 5 years of campaigns at all levels of government and across the country have shown, the democrats will mobilize everything to defeat socialists. Why continue to sacrifice for these people who are openly hostile to us? 

It is because the opportunist factions of DSA are impatient. They think we need to fix all these problems now. We should not wait to build a mass party of the proletariat that extends into all aspects of everyday life. They think anything worth doing is possible in our “democratic” two-party political system. The socialist movement in the US is just beginning to mature. It will realistically take decades to come to anywhere near political power. The right wants to take shortcuts at the expense of our organization’s independence and our ideals so they might get a concession or two and declare a phantom victory. 

It’d be better to liquidate into the Republicans, because at least they want to legalize weed.

“Expelling Bowman could send a strong signal about our position on BDS, but it will not provide any material aid to the Palestinian cause”

What is more material than giving billions of dollars to the apartheid and genocidal Israeli state? It is our responsibility as anti-imperialist democratic socialists to materially assist the Palestinian cause by doing what we can to stop war budgets. When our national leaders brazenly support (or at least don’t oppose) these budgets, they are materially assisting the extermination and colonization of Palestine. Based on Bowman’s continued support of Israel even after multiple interventions by DSA, we cannot trust him to not continue. By expelling him, we do not undo the damage he has done, but at least we will not be complicit in his support.

“Left anti-Zionist organizations in the US and Palestine have not asked DSA to sever our relationship with Bowman, and many are continuing to work with Congressman Bowman to move him towards a more just position. Members should understand that this action would not necessarily be embraced by those leading the work as productive or strategic.”

The right opportunist conception of democracy is pitiful. They see what we democratically agreed upon as an organization as a starting point in a negotiation with the bourgeois state. But I’m pretty sure when we voted to say we “Stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against apartheid, colonialism, and military occupation…,” we meant it. It’s not something we agreed to bargain over. The lives of Palestinians and all oppressed groups are not something we can horse trade for basic concessions. Democratic socialists have to stand by our ideals, particularly those that have been democratically decided on. Breaking with these ideals for even the possibility of short-term gain is surrendering to liberals and conservatives. This is not about being “productive” or “strategic.” It does not matter if “those leading the work” don’t like it. We are an independent organization and we should take ourselves and our democratic process seriously. 

“Our power to move (or remove) elected officials comes from the organizing we do in their districts, but this conversation is not being driven by the members of DSA on the ground there.”

As we do not have many members in national office, Jamaal Bowman national sway. Bowman is a national leader and any attempt to localize his influence is rejecting reality. If he wasn’t a national leader there would only be a Green New deal for Public School campaign in the Lower Hudson chapter. Our comrades in that chapter have to be listened to, but so does everyone else. He is as much a political leader for Wilmington DSA as he is for Lower Hudson or Las Vegas.

“Most calls for expulsion have come without any discussion or even acknowledgement of any path that could lead to reconciliation or to healing the harm caused by Bowman’s actions. As members of an abolitionist organization, we find this troubling. Holding someone accountable in this organization should not mean writing them off forever.”

What should we do to heal the harm Bowman has caused? It’s not DSA he’s hurting, at least not directly. He is actively supporting genocide in another country. He has two options to reconcile this. Either apologize and actually become BDS and pro-Palestine (like he did the first couple times we asked), or he leaves. This is not a difficult question. Using the language of abolition to frame this as a question of restorative justice comes off as disingenuous, especially since it’s being used to defend a supporter of Israel, home of the world’s largest open air prison.

“If the National Political Committee (NPC) expels Bowman, it would be an undemocratic rebuke to DSA’s highest decision-making body, our biennial convention. This year, 1,200 delegates representing 90,000 DSA members met to consider the question of whether DSA’s platform should be binding on members in CB 8 and resoundingly rejected it by a vote of 338-637. If the NPC bows to chapter leaders passing resolutions calling for an individual member from a different chapter to be expelled for violating the platformresolutions that in many cases were passed without any debate or discussion at membership meetingsthey would be undermining DSA’s democracy and setting a dangerous precedent.”

This entire episode began because several chapters decided that they did not want one of our political leaders materially supporting the Israeli apartheid. As CB8 was rejected, there is no formal process by which an elected official can be disciplined. However, the democratic centralist clause in the DSA’s By-laws says that “Members can be expelled if they are found to be in substantial disagreement with the principles or policies of the organization.” Madison DSA released a statement calling for Bowman’s expulsion using this exact clause. The democratic will of the membership is not being overturned through this. We are not asking for CB8 to be followed. We are going through the only democratically agreed upon process for discipline.

In my chapter, Wilmington DSA, the Madison statement was brought up at our monthly general meeting. We had about 45 minutes of discussion with everyone at least putting in a word, and voted unanimously in favor of it. In other chapters, the leadership moved without the membership. In Las Vegas, they are going to vote on this issue at their next general meeting. Either way, the membership will have the last say. This situation does set a new democratic precedent. Freedom of speech and criticism within the organization is required for a functional democracy. Further, no matter the outcome of this, chapters now know they can democratically agree to criticize National. During the long stretches between conventions, it is up to chapters to stay on the heels of the NPC to make sure they are doing their job. The majority of the membership (even the active membership) does not know about the politics of national DSA at all. Chapters should be active in politicizing the membership at all times not only on events in the bourgeois press. They should be aware of how the organization they pay dues to works. This is vital to building a democratic socialist organization. 

“DSA has already criticized and distanced ourselves from Bowman’s actions, which is appropriate. While workers strike, historic legislation fights for life, and the climate justice movement faces COP26, DSA leaders are forced to focus on an internal matter at the expense of external organizing. This will make our members and the public question who is DSA struggling against: the ruling class or itself.”

If DSA fighting itself means fighting the side that wants to liquidate what we have built into the Democratic Party, the current ruling party of the global imperial hegemon, then I do not see a difference between DSA fighting itself and fighting the ruling class.

To sign on, use this form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc0Rj_bd8jeQhgus3efJ4XpKw_Hq6qx30F78IZsTLbZLbjBLg/viewform 

Connor Willis

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