What are the conditions facing the global working class? How can socialists in the U.S. best help build its power?
Those questions are what Bread & Roses attempts to answer in our Tasks & Perspectives for 2022-2023. After months of discussion in advance, Bread & Roses members met in Jersey City, New Jersey in July 2022 for a three-day convention that debated and adopted this document.
We hope that by putting forward these Tasks & Perspectives, we encourage other activists and tendencies on the U.S. left to put forward their own perspectives and ideas for tasks. Open strategic debate is a crucial foundation for a stronger, more inclusive left.
Climate change, pandemic, recession, war, and a right-wing assault on democracy. These crises of capitalist political and economic stability foreshadow a new barbarism. Yet socialists today are also presented with new openings for resistance.
Since 2021, U.S. inflation has soared to a current annual high of 8.6%, undermining the nominal wage gains workers obtained during the pandemic. Though labor markets continue to empower workers, governments are now raising interest rates with the goal of creating another global recession. Another recession would throw millions into poverty, reversing the labor market dynamics that have encouraged class militancy in the U.S. Even in the absence of a recession, advanced capitalist states will remain locked into low economic growth, high inequality, and recurrent economic downturns.
In Ukraine, a new major war hints at a new era of regional imperialist conflicts and geopolitical instability. Without a stronger socialist movement, the escalation of inter-imperialist rivalries from 2022-2024 will allow capitalists and their political proxies to turn popular disaffection into nationalist, racist, and reactionary directions.
In the United States, the Republican Party ramps up its attack on political, civil, and individual liberties; the Supreme Court’s assault on abortion access and voting rights is only the beginning. The likely victories of the GOP in 2022 and 2024 will push this terrifying process further. Yet the Democratic Party has not been up to the task of either mobilizing to defend our rights or advancing a meaningful reform agenda that would undermine the electoral support for right-wing populists. Without a strong and independent left, the main beneficiary of the collapsing center is sure to be the extreme right.
And looming large over all of this is the shadow of climate catastrophe. We are now living through the opening years of heat waves, megastorms, species extinction, and more. Prospects for the near future look bleak, as the world’s ruling class whittles away our final chance to avert the worst of the coming catastrophe. The era we are entering now will be defined by this crisis above all others.
There are still some reasons for optimism. Left parties have won national elections or are likely to soon do so in several major Latin American countries in what could become a second “Pink Tide.” Socialists in the U.S. can gain inspiration and valuable lessons from these experiences.
Closer to home, signs of a newly militant working-class are also encouraging. New union wins in the U.S. at Starbucks and Amazon continue the rebirth of working-class consciousness and politics from Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign and the 2018-19 teacher strike wave. Millions participated in the second Black Lives Matter upsurge in 2020, and Democrats’ inaction in defense of abortion and voting rights is leading more and more people to embrace an oppositional mass politics. While the failing center of U.S. politics has spurred the growth of the far right, we are encouraged by the election of socialist politicians to local and state offices across the country, and the radicalization of millions of young people.
“Socialists have a historic role to play in making the most of these openings.”
Socialists have a historic role to play in making the most of these openings. Left to its own devices, the existing leadership of the U.S. labor movement will not be able or willing to organize the newly radical consciousness into a union resurgence. As they did in the 20th century, radicals must help organize within the unions to build a militant, left-wing, and rank-and-file driven labor movement. As in the unions, socialists can help build fighting social movement organizations whose power flows from masses of ordinary people, movements that refuse to subordinate themselves to the Democrats’ fixation on legislative propriety and electoral moderation.
The left must also lead a process of bringing together progressive movements and political organizations into something greater than the sum of its parts and capable of offering an alternative to the declining center: first a broad political organization, and ultimately a new political party of and for the working class. Amidst the crises of capitalist economics and the bankruptcy of liberal politics, socialists have an opportunity to promote an anti-capitalist critique with mass resonance.
To do that, we’ll need to overcome the challenges facing DSA and relaunch the momentum that defined the socialist left from 2016 to 2020. Since the end of the 2020 Sanders campaign and the decline of the Black Lives Matter movement, political disorientation and the lack of democratic oversight over the national director have too often left socialists on the sidelines of key conflicts. Now is the time to put forward democratic socialism as the humane alternative to the barbaric future of capitalism.
2. Building Power in the Workplace
2.1 Labor Perspectives
Despite the continued decline of union membership in the U.S., we are living through an upsurge in pro-labor sentiment. Approval of labor unions is at a 57-year high and a clear majority of American workers say that they would like to see a union at their own jobs.
And not only is the general public in a favorable mood towards workers and unions, the U.S. labor movement is experiencing a revival of militancy in unexpected places.
Rising worker militancy has its roots in the pandemic, deep organizing by the militant minority, and the rebirth of the socialist movement. The pandemic showed us that frontline workers were disposable from the point of view of the ruling class, but it also showed us how much power we truly have. The militant minority has slowly been building itself for decades supported by projects like Labor Notes. It played an indispensable role in bringing together like-minded workers within their unions and across their unions. When reformers win power, as in the Teamsters and in many teacher locals, they are set up to play a leading role in the years to come. And the emerging socialist movement has brought newfound militancy to the labor movement.
The future is promising. A contract campaign at UPS — where 340,000 workers could go on strike in 2023 — could set an example for how to take on employers and is a good opportunity for DSA chapters to do serious strike support. The Amazon Labor Union opened eyes about how to organize in unorganized shops and its win energized thousands. And Starbucks Workers United is bringing unionism to a new generation.
“We believe strongly that the decisive force in the coming period will be the power of organized rank-and-file activists.”
We believe strongly that the decisive force in the coming period will be the power of organized rank-and-file activists. Many union leaders today remain wedded to conservative business unionism and are trapped playing a subservient role to the Democratic Party. It’s the task of democratic socialists in the labor movement to link up with the militant minority of workers who want to organize to fight their bosses and push for a new class struggle unionism — one that fights to democratize the labor movement, put it on a fighting footing to take on corporate power, and champion allied causes that build working-class power broadly. Rebuilding a fighting, rank-and-file led, democratic labor movement is at the core of our strategy to build a democratic socialist future in the United States.
2.1.1 DSA and the Labor Movement
DSA has contributed to this labor upsurge where it can, including by supporting the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC) alongside the United Electrical workers (UE), the Logistics Committee organizing, and the Solidarity is Brewing campaign to support organizing at Starbucks. DSA chapters have also supported local strikes when they arise, sometimes playing important roles in supporting workers’ struggle.
Nevertheless, challenges loom on the horizon. Socialists lack capacity to carry out all the tasks before us in the labor movement. Experienced comrades and cadre must balance leadership roles that they have in their local DSA chapters, the organizing they do within their unions, and the day-to-day labor they provide as workers.
Lack of skills and enthusiasm has led to inconsistency in our labor work. In order to expand the numbers of people who can participate in the vital work of rank-and-file organizing, we must build more structured and systematic programs for leadership development and political education. More broadly, we have not yet won over all of our comrades to our vision of mass action and rank-and-file power from below. Limitations on DSA's labor work have also been aggravated by a lack of political will and interest when staff time is allocated.
2.2 Labor Tasks
The key tasks for democratic socialists in the labor movement include: 1) supporting new organizing, union reform, and contract negotiation struggles, 2) building out industry groups of rank-and-file organizers, 3) boosting direct struggle against the boss on the shop floor, and 4) connecting workplace militancy to political action.
We look eagerly towards the coming contract fights and new organizing battles at Amazon, Starbucks, UPS, and beyond. These big battles that pit workers against their profit-hungry (and highly-profitable) companies will define the class struggle in the next two years. Democratic socialists’ place is in these fights and in others in the education and healthcare sectors.
Additionally, democratic socialists should encourage fellow socialists to take rank-and-file union jobs and work toward building networks or organizations within their unions or industries.
Militant, democratic, bottom-up struggles on the shop floor are essential for building working-class consciousness and organization. The power of the labor movement flows from the strength of shop-floor organization and shop-floor struggle that changes worker consciousness. These struggles help workers learn that they are the union — not the officers or the staff — and that they hold the power. Socialists prioritize creating the conditions for these struggles in their workplaces by developing workplace leaders and helping to organize fights against the boss. This is how we build a militant minority.
“The global crises workers face today — climate change, public health, democratic backsliding and the stripping of civil rights including abortion — cannot be solved without worker power.”
Socialists should support and build the campaigns of DSA Labor, like national and chapter efforts around labor solidarity and logistics organizing. We should build Labor Notes, by organizing local Troublemakers Schools and trainings, bringing coworkers to conferences and online trainings, getting coworkers to volunteer for Labor Notes’ new outreach program, and pitching stories about local labor struggles. Socialists should prioritize organizing with rank-and-file caucuses like UAWD, TDU, UCORE, and others yet to be built. We should help workers build new organization through EWOC. And socialists should build projects to recruit and mentor young people to take union jobs, develop industry groups to strategize, lead strike solidarity projects, and other tasks that further the rank-and-file strategy.
The global crises workers face today — climate change, public health, democratic backsliding and the stripping of civil rights including abortion — cannot be solved without worker power. Workers at the point of production in energy, building trades, logistics, and healthcare can play a fundamental role in leading the fight to address these crises. Our immediate task is to build and cohere militant workplace action on the shop floor and movements to take back our unions. Workers in motion who are connected with each other in union reform movements and in the broader left wing of labor, including Labor Notes, are positioned to join with political movements to win our classwide demands. And, in the long term, it's these forces that will transform the labor movement into one that leads the transition to a socialist society.
The prospects for labor are bright. They give us hope that a better future can be won — and that the end of labor’s multi-decade decline is in sight. We call on our comrades in the socialist movement to go all in on building a militant, democratic, and left-wing labor movement.
3. Towards a Working-Class Party
3.1 Electoral Perspectives
As socialists, we believe that the contest for state power is essential to the organization and consciousness of the working class, and that the state will have a key role to play in constructing a democratic socialist society. Outside pressure on politicians is not enough; socialists need to win elections and fight within the political system to support mass movements for social transformation. Since 2016, insurgent socialist campaigns for office have politicized millions and expanded the organized socialist left by the tens of thousands. Although the significant electoral wins of the socialist left and DSA represent a crucial starting point for building a mass workers’ party independent of the two capitalist parties in the United States, such a goal remains distant.
We remain committed as ever to independent political action, organizing separate from and against the Democratic Party leadership. Working-class political independence is all the more crucial as the Democrats sideline any pretense of reformism and double down on the strategy of prioritizing high-income professional voters, while trying to lock down working-class votes through the institutionalized blackmail of the two-party system and a minimalist defense of the status quo.
3.1.1 DSA and Electoral Politics
Since our caucus’ founding in 2019, the socialist left has accumulated a wealth of experiences that allow us to combine theory and practice. DSA rallied behind Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign, while DSA-endorsed candidates and members continue to win elections at the national, state, and local level, typically by running in primaries against centrist Democrats or in nonpartisan races.
However, the socialist left has also experienced considerable challenges to our electoral strategy since 2019. While they deserve credit for taking principled, oppositional stances, members of the “Squad” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other self-identifying socialists frequently defer to the Democratic Party hierarchy and seem to have no intention of building independent political organization. This stance has not resulted in significant concessions from the Democrats or the capitalist class. To the contrary, at the national level, progressive priorities like Medicare for All remain distant possibilities, while the Democrats continue to allow their right wing to obstruct most reforms.
Meanwhile, for all its importance, the electoral project of DSA and its National Electoral Committee remains incomplete; neither the national body nor the NEC have played significant roles in DSA chapters’ local electoral successes, and the electoral priority that DSA voted on at its last convention remains a dead letter. Electoral strategy continues to be made at the chapter level, while meaningful logistical and financial support for chapters from the NEC is rare. Last, socialists in office often lack connections to an organized mass base outside DSA that could allow them to successfully resist the pressures of capitalists and their political proxies.
3.2 Electoral Tasks
How should socialists overcome the limitations of our electoral approach?
In order to combat the tendency of socialist electeds to defer to the superior forces of the Democratic Party, Bread & Roses proposes to prioritize building class-struggle electoral campaigns and recruiting class-struggle candidates — socialist cadre who have a history of movement organizing, strong links to working-class organizations, and understand and unequivocally support working-class opposition to capitalist priorities. We should expect these candidates to take a confrontational approach toward the Democratic Party establishment, while running and once in office.
“We need to use our elected offices to build the power of rank-and-file led unions, to recruit organic leaders in key industries, and to organize strike support.”
Second, the socialist left should focus on cohering citywide and statewide caucuses of elected socialists as in Chicago and NYC, as well as broader progressive formations with a working-class base (like the Richmond Progressive Alliance in California). Socialists within these projects should push to orient them towards building a mass party for the working class. Towards this end, DSAers should create a stronger culture of democratic decision-making around electoral and legislative work, build more cohesive statewide DSA collaboration, and start running some candidates independent of the Democratic Party ballot line where it makes sense. We also continue to advocate for reform of DSA’s National Electoral Committee, so that national endorsements involve real resource commitments (especially money and staff time).
Third, the socialist left should work towards deeper and more intentional connections between socialists in office and working-class constituencies in unions and workers’ organizations. The rank-and-file strategy will play a key role in building a political base among militant workers, winning union leadership, and breaking unions’ subservience to the corporate-backed Democratic Party. Socialists should develop programs at the local level for rank-and-file DSA members to organize their unions to put forward union members as candidates. And we should ensure in turn that socialist officials use the full power of their offices to support their working-class constituencies and help convince union members of the need for a new party representing the working class. We need to use our elected offices to build the power of rank-and-file led unions, to recruit organic leaders in key industries, and to organize strike support.
4. Mass Action for Democracy and Social Justice
4.1 Movement Perspectives
The Supreme Court and Republican Party are launching an assault on American democracy and civil rights. While the majority of Americans oppose rolling back federal abortion protections, demand action on climate change, and want stricter gun legislation, the Democratic Party has been incapable of achieving progressive change. Democratic control of the White House and Congress since 2021 has done almost nothing to address our nation’s deep racial and economic inequalities or put up a serious fight to defend democracy and the climate. Millions of Americans are increasingly seeing the failure of the Democrats to protect them from the far right but have few options for what can be done in response.
Like much of the world, the U.S. has seen repeated mass protest upsurges since 2008, including Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter in 2014 and 2020, climate marches including over six million people, student walkouts against gun violence and homophobic and transphobic laws, and recent protests to defend abortion rights. However, most of these protests have been fleeting and disorganized, and often lacked even basic demands or slogans. While they have had an enormous effect in changing consciousness — including putting many on the path to becoming socialists, joining DSA, and organizing unions — these protests have by and large accomplished little in either building permanent organization or achieving policy change. Decades of defeat and “horizontalist” or “anti-organization” ideas have left today’s movements without a healthy ecosystem of grassroots organizations or the skills to build fighting movements. Without a mass-action-oriented strategy and more durable organization, these movements have little prospects of winning progressive changes.
Where movement organizations do exist, they’re often top-down, foundation-funded, and staff-driven NGOs that claim the “turf” of different issues but leave little room for the initiative, participation, or leadership of the mass of ordinary people who care and want to fight back. On the other hand, a reborn DSA has used its large membership lists to run “DSA for…” campaigns in support of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. But given the still-limited base of organized socialists and the NGO-style methods of DSA’s national organization, these campaigns have not evolved into mass struggles far beyond DSA’s membership. These limitations are exacerbated by the fact that relatively few DSA activists are experienced at organizing mass actions or protests or building social movement organizations. Compare this to the socialist movement of the 1930s, where socialist cadre cut their teeth building mass labor and unemployed struggles during the Great Depression, or in the 1960s, where cadre were radicalized through participation in massive and disruptive Civil Rights campaigns like sit-ins, freedom rides, and boycotts.
“Socialists have often been the most dedicated and skilled fighters helping build mass movements for social and economic justice.”
Socialists have often been the most dedicated and skilled fighters helping build mass movements for social and economic justice. Foundation-funded nonprofits and Democratic Party–linked advocacy groups naturally pursue a self-defeating strategy of compromise and conciliation. Socialists’ job, instead, is to build movements that aren’t afraid of confrontation and that rely on the weapons of grassroots democracy and the mass action of ordinary people instead of polite and elite-centric lobbying.
Absent mass, democratic, and broad organizations fighting for democracy and economic and social justice, the millions of working-class people of all ideological stripes touched by these issues have little prospect of building power and changing the world.
4.2 Movement Tasks
Today’s left needs to build broader social movements and movement organizations. This could mean rank-and-file DSA members joining existing movements fighting around issues like abortion or climate change, helping build their campaigns and organizations, and pushing them toward a grassroots, mass-action, and working-class strategy (instead of a top-down, technocratic, and elite-centric one). It could mean DSA joining with such organizations in local, statewide, or national issue-based coalitions. Or it could mean DSA members working to start new campaigns and new organizations that are broader than DSA. The important thing is for socialists to go beyond just organizing “DSA for…” campaigns and committees. We need to build mass organization and mass action toward social justice demands that attract and develop organizers who are not yet ready to self-identify as democratic socialists. DSA is of course an important hub for this work. It recruits, connects, and trains new socialists, supports these campaigns and coalitions, and develops orientations toward the mass movements we take part in.
Socialist transformation is not on the immediate horizon, and movements today are at best fighting for more basic demands like abortion, racial justice, democratic freedoms, healthcare, climate action, workers’ rights, and rent control. DSA members should nevertheless work within movements to advance socialist ideas, especially among movement cadre who are becoming open to radical politics. Just as in the labor movement, these groups of people, already in motion around a mass struggle, are also prime recruits for building a strong socialist movement.
5. Inter-imperialist Rivalry and Socialist Internationalism
5.1 International Perspectives
While the United States’ ruling class and political elite remain the dominant global power, the post-Cold War era of unipolarity is coming to a close. This geopolitical shift has vast and unpredictable consequences: although the ability of the U.S. to single handedly shape the world since 1989 has often been overstated, its military, economic, and cultural dominance have had immense influence. What we do know is that absent international solidarity movements, the cost of rising interimperial tensions will be borne by the global working class. As capitalism proves incapable of resolving the climate crisis and struggles for resources intensify, capitalists in powerful states will intensify the exploitation of the global South while seeking to divide and conquer workers with the tools of nationalism, war, attacks on immigrants, and the demonization of domestic anti-imperialist forces.
Our perspective on socialist internationalism focuses on learning from and connecting to working class-led movements, including activists in parties, unions, and social movements. This differentiates us from some other tendencies in DSA and some on the broader socialist left, who focus on building relationships with nominally left parties in office, with too little attention to their political or class character. Socialists cannot ignore the fact that struggles against foreign domination often result in contradictory alliances of workers and domestic elites; unless the working class has a leading role, the result is often greater exploitation by domestic capital. In order to understand the class nature of international struggles and where they might lead, we cannot uncritically rely on official relationships between leaders in DSA and established “left” political parties or on the official narratives of those parties. Rather, DSA and the broader U.S. left should directly connect to a broad spectrum of activists and anti-capitalist militants abroad in order to develop an internationalist perspective and movement.
“What we do know is that absent international solidarity movements, the cost of rising interimperial tensions will be borne by the global working class.”
Socialists are a long way from having the kind of power necessary to influence the foreign policy of the imperial core. While our lack of leverage should inform the demands we focus on, it should not serve as an excuse to ignore questions of U.S. foreign policy and our relationships with international left movements.
5.1.1 The Return of Interimperialist Rivalry
Increasing tensions between the U.S., China, and Russia are emblematic of the new period of interimperialist rivalry. Since at least Obama’s second term, U.S. elites have gone from viewing China primarily as a lucrative growing market and labor source to perceiving it as a potential economic challenger and regional security threat in Southeast Asia. Using hostile trade agreements, the U.S. has sought to isolate China. If the belligerent nationalism of the Trump presidency has partially subsided, tensions with China continue under Biden.
Alongside this, the unjustifiable Russian invasion of Ukraine has once again brought nuclear powers into a deadly proxy war, where the only sure outcome is the devastation of Ukraine. The position of Ukraine in Europe has been a simmering tension since the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the behest of the U.S., NATO has gone out of its way to exclude Russia from an all-European security agreement, even when this posed risks to supposed European allies and made armed conflict more likely.
Nevertheless, while we recognize the U.S.’s share of responsibility for the return of overt conflict between major states, we reject the position that regional powers like Russia and China, merely by virtue of being in opposition to the United States and its Western allies, constitute a progressive force in global politics. Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia is an anchor of global reaction, offering support to extreme nationalist parties while articulating a conservative nationalism inspired by Russian Tsarism. Meanwhile, after taking the “capitalist road” in the 1970s under Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese Communist Party has recently adopted a neoauthoritarian personality cult under Xi Jinping, stamping out critical Marxists and incipient working-class insubordination. Though our primary task is to oppose U.S. imperialism, we should not apologize for these regimes. Our commitment to democratic socialism and anti-imperialism determines our stance: no to the imperialism of the U.S. and its allies — the dominant force in the world today — and no to Russian and Chinese imperialism, its major challengers.
5.1.2 A Second Pink Tide
After years on the defensive, progressive forces across South America have succeeded in pushing out right-wing governments. We’ve already seen the victories of Gabriel Boric’s government in Chile, Luis Arce in Bolivia, Gustavo Petro in Colombia, and Pedro Castillo in Peru. Hopefully, there will be a new Lula presidency in Brazil, accountable to both the PT and PSOL, center-left and left wing parties.
These developments are inspiring, but also require us to be sober in our expectations. In attempting to implement even moderate social-democratic reforms, they will be hemmed in by U.S. imperialism, the resistance of domestic elites and right-wing forces, the threat of capital flight, and the highly punitive global debt system. But socialists should also recognize that progressive leaders in these countries are not preparing for a break with capitalism — in many cases they’re actively trying to build alliances with capital. U.S. socialists should pay close attention to these developments both to learn lessons and discover avenues for supporting socialist forces in these countries.
5.1.3 So-called “Left-wing” Authoritarian Governments
In the name of resisting U.S. influence, some self-described left-wing governments have become increasingly undemocratic and hostile to their own working class and internal leftist critics. Such a process is tragic because there is truth to their claims that the U.S. consistently interferes in their domestic politics and violates their national sovereignty. But acknowledging this reality does not justify defense of the authoritarian policies of countries like Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro, Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega, and Cuba under Miguel Díaz-Canel. Socialists in the United States can oppose the imperialism of our ruling class without being apologists for authoritarianism abroad.
And we know that a turn to authoritarianism is not the only way to fight back against U.S. imperialism. In Bolivia, the Movimiento al Socialismo resisted a U.S.-backed coup attempt without turning to authoritarian methods. And we saw this in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, who remained committed throughout his life to a democratic transition to socialism.
While we oppose anti-democratic policies, socialists’ primary task in the United States is to defend sovereign nations from American interference. We oppose all actual and threatened military actions and economic war in the form of sanctions, and we support ending the embargo on Cuba. The only way working people will be able to build more democratic societies is with the freedom to make their own choices, unencumbered by the constant threat of foreign aggression.
As the primary ally of Israel, supplying it with immense military aid and protecting it from criticism, the U.S. government is second only to Israel itself in being responsible for the Israeli apartheid regime. Because it is within the power of the United States to force a change in Israeli policy towards Palestinians, support for Palestinian national liberation must be non-negotiable for U.S. socialist organizations and socialists in office.
The Israeli lobby in the U.S. is extremely powerful. Calling into question the treatment of Palestinians threatens a huge number of interests, arms manufacturers who value the Israeli market not least among them. These groups take a maximalist approach to repress any critique of Israeli apartheid, causing most progressive and even socialist candidates to shy away from taking a stand. We believe that as a general rule DSA should not endorse politicians who do not accept the importance of the struggle for Palestinian national liberation. Rolling back the influence of Israel and its allies in U.S. politics will require a movement firmly committed to Palestinian self-determination.
5.1.5 Migration and International Labor Solidarity
International economic competition pits national working classes against one another. The loss of jobs and industry to foreign countries or domestic immigrants is a frequent issue of concern for U.S. and global workers. Socialists and workers’ organizations must oppose economic nationalism and xenophobia. Instead of appeals to economic nationalism or xenophobia, socialists must develop the democratic power and solidarity of working-class movements as the path to go beyond national competition.
Socialists must fight in solidarity with all working-class immigrants, including advancing freedom of movement and freedom to stay. Migration across national borders will only grow as capitalism proves incapable of dealing with the climate crisis. As increasing disasters and forced migration risk dividing us, organized solidarity between international working people will be especially important to protect people fleeing war, natural disasters, and economic devastation.
5.2 International Tasks
Though we currently lack the power to change U.S. foreign policy, socialists have two important internationalist tasks in the United States:
1. Develop and maintain relationships with working-class movements abroad. Socialists should develop direct political relationships with organic leaders and rank-and-file participants in international working-class movements, including bilateral relationships with leftists in parties and movements abroad, both through DSA’s International Committee, and independently of it where that makes sense. For example, it may make more sense for DSA to develop relationships with broad left parties and for tendencies within DSA to develop relationships with tendencies inside other parties. Both projects will help build a stronger international left. In both cases we should put greater emphasis on developing ties to rank-and-file and worker-led parties and movements than on top-down connections. In particular, U.S. socialists should emphasize connections with Latin American comrades.
2. Develop and communicate internationalist perspectives within working-class movements at home. DSA should incorporate internationalism into our labor and electoral work through discussions with fellow activists, and, where broad interest exists, organize for agitation or solidarity actions by unions and socialists in office. U.S. socialists should oppose war — direct or proxy, initiated by the U.S. or other regional imperialist powers — and advance an internationalist, democratic perspective as outlined above.
In our labor and electoral work, socialists should prioritize building connections with local immigrant activists, especially those connected to left movements in their countries of origin.
6. Building a Democratic DSA
6.1 Perspectives on DSA
Since its rebirth and membership explosion over the course of 2016 to 2020, DSA has become the largest socialist organization in the United States and the first choice for most people looking to turn socialist ideals into organized activity. Bread & Roses affirms the need for socialist organization and advocates for a vision for DSA that would allow it to fulfill its promise of becoming a real political force and the home of socialism in this country. To that end, DSA should adopt the following perspectives.
1. DSA should aim to change the world. The central aim of socialists and their organization should be to build a working-class movement that can materially challenge the power of the ruling class, ultimately winning a democratic socialist society.
2. DSA should be democratic. The struggle for democratic socialism is the struggle for working-class self-emancipation. That means the organizations we create to advance the cause of socialism, including DSA, must be built around democracy and member control. Elected leadership and members should have the power to effectively direct our collective resources and staff time toward democratically-decided priorities and important political work.
3. DSA should remain a “big tent” organization. DSA’s “big tent” or multi-tendency character is a hugely positive development for socialism in the U.S., allowing anyone interested in democratic socialist politics to join and participate in organized political work.
4. DSA should be politically independent. Historically, DSA followed the model of any other junior partner in the Democratic Party sphere of influence, relying on relationships between influential “grass-tops” leaders within DSA, NGOs, and union bureaucracies. Instead, DSA should be a politically independent, member-led organization that takes a grassroots approach to politics.
6.1.1 Obstacles to Building DSA
Since the end of the 2020 Democratic primary and the passing of the Trump era, DSA’s meteoric growth has stalled and perhaps even reversed. In the face of internal disorganization that often makes it almost impossible to meaningfully intervene in national politics, we must come to terms with a number of serious structural challenges in the organization. These challenges make it difficult for DSA to offer a coherent political vision and make reform in the organization difficult or impossible to achieve in the short term. They include:
1. Lack of democratic oversight over the national office: We believe the political priorities of the national director and lack of real democratic decision-making over key resources like staff time and money are major threats to the organization. Decisions around priorities and resource management are completely opaque to members and even difficult for elected leaders to discern. Moreover, DSA’s number one expense, staff time, is effectively outside the purview of democratic control or oversight. Reflecting its pre-2016 NGO-style organization, even elected leaders struggle to direct the organization in meaningful ways. Most proposals adopted at biannual national DSA conventions are ignored by the national director, who instead chooses which projects the staff focuses on. Despite being portrayed as merely “administrative” and not “political,” DSA’s national director has great influence on the political and organizational priorities of DSA.
In contrast to the paltry resources spent on political work, an enormous amount of time, money, and energy is put into administrative functions, such as the handling of grievances. The majority of staff is hired for administrative positions, while the “political” staff is mostly field staff, who focus the bulk of their time assisting chapters with administrative skills-training, rather than helping chapters to do political work that could make an impact in the world. Criticisms of the lack of democratic oversight in DSA are misrepresented as “anti-staff” harassment by the national director and some groups in DSA.
2. An ineffective National Political Committee: The NPC has been relegated to administering large internal projects that could be led by staff. As a result, NPC members are left with very little time for political leadership. The priorities of the organization are often those of the national director, with little regard either for the preferences of NPC members or the priorities voted at convention. In order to push through action on democratic decisions, NPC members often have to fight for months in meetings and by email, and perhaps even take their campaign public, for their project to be allocated resources that were decided on by the national convention. This dynamic exacerbates the de-politicization of the national convention, in which NPC candidates contend in often uncompetitive elections with unclear political lines and members see little value in debates over political direction.
3. The class and social composition of our members: While DSA members as a whole are members of the working class in the sense that they are employees, not employers, they reflect particular segments of the workforce: highly educated, disproportionately white, and with some degree of autonomy at work. In many instances, DSA still doesn’t feel relevant to large segments of the working class, and it can be difficult for our organizers working in the labor movement to bring coworkers into the organization. While DSA has provided many members with a shared purpose and camaraderie, it has also struggled with a subcultural social scene, especially online.
4. Contradictions in the “big tent”: DSA’s “big tent” has been a boon to the socialist movement and a source of creative tensions. At the same time, it presents enormous obstacles to developing a coherent political strategy. Any attempt by a minority faction to centralize power within the organization has proven dangerously destabilizing. The ongoing controversy over DSA-backed Congressmember Jamaal Bowman’s support for Israeli military aid — and the NPC’s handling of this controversy — highlights growing challenges in the organization.
6.2 Tasks for DSA
At the chapter level, DSA members should maximize our real engagement with the working class by prioritizing external work to build class power through labor work, electoral campaigns, socialist night schools and other political education projects, local DSA publications, and the opening of DSA chapter offices and the hiring of local staff. B&R members will also take an active role in building state-level DSA organizations where possible.
Nationally, B&R will continue to promote our vision of an independent, democratic, member-led socialist organization in DSA. Much of DSA’s currently misspent national resources should be shifted away from administrative work and towards electoral work, labor work, political education, democratic socialist communications, YDSA, and international solidarity — with the aim of building a majority within the socialist movement that rejects the top-down machine politics of Democratic Party-aligned organizations. DSA should reorganize internal campaigns and committees to encourage more collaboration and less siloing of work.
B&R will work with other DSA members to advance organizational reforms that will make DSA more effective and politically coherent. DSA needs an expanded political leadership structure, democratically accountable to membership, with a stronger role for elected leadership in overseeing staff and organizational resources. DSA needs positive reforms to repair our fractious political culture, such as a more effective grievance system, better enforcement of the membership code of conduct, and new avenues for open political debate.
“Nationally, B&R will continue to promote our vision of an independent, democratic, member-led socialist organization in DSA.”
We will work in DSA to build its ability to fulfill its function as a socialist organization. This means building a layer of committed socialist cadre through comprehensive political education on socialist history and theory, putting forward clear socialist political perspectives, and developing rich and deep social ties between members.
At both the chapter and national level we should also institute the practice of drafting tasks and perspectives documents, to focus the organization on democratically deciding questions of political strategy. DSA should prioritize campaigns and organizing tasks which make more socialists, build the power of DSA, and build the power of the working class.
7. Organizing a Democratic Socialist Student Movement
7.1 Perspectives on YDSA and Student Organizing
Growing up in the context of economic and political crisis has led young people in the United States to be far more radical than other sections of society. In the past few years, more than 200 YDSA chapters and organizing committees have sprung up across the country thanks to a combination of political conditions and concerted work.
Young people become politicized far more quickly and deeply than other segments of society and are far more receptive to making the necessary practical commitments that flow from our politics. Their futures are far more open than older people with established careers and lives, making them prime recruits for the rank-and-file strategy. Students are also used to being part of campus groups, being asked to do things, and getting involved in leadership. High-turnover rates due to graduation and smaller chapter sizes creates an emphasis on leadership development. Within a few months of joining, a new recruit might be a chapter leader with skills to conduct one-on-ones, run meetings, and organize political education. Campuses also tend to be a place where we’ve been able to successfully recruit cadre from more socioeconomically-diverse backgrounds.
YDSA chapters and national committees have supported young socialists by providing political education and training in organizing skills, and helped some YDSAers build struggles on their campuses and new student-worker unions. YDSA mentors have played an integral role in recruiting and training up a new layer of young socialist leaders. Labor plays a far more central role in YDSA than DSA — labor education is a central part of YDSA political education, many YDSAers have taken rank-and-file union jobs or are planning to, are salting or planning to, and have been a core leadership layer of the newly emergent student-worker unions around the country. YDSAers also recognize connecting with and supporting campus labor activity as an important responsibility as campus socialists.
“Within a few months of joining, a new recruit might be a chapter leader with skills to conduct one-on-ones, run meetings, and organize political education.”
Despite its strengths, YDSA has some important limitations. YDSA lacks autonomy and doesn’t receive significant resources from DSA. While YDSA is ostensibly a member-run democratic organization, its nationally elected leaders aren’t empowered to lead. Until this year, YDSA did not have its own independent budget and requesting funds for projects from the DSA Budget Committee was an arduous process. In 2022, the NPC granted YDSA an independent budget: a measly $15,000. The YDSA National Coordinating Committee (NCC) has limited ability to direct staff time toward membership-determined priorities and committees. Staff instead is primarily self-directed based on what they view to be priorities. YDSA is also severely understaffed and efforts to increase staffing have been consistently stonewalled.
The second limitation is a general lack of experience in working in and building broader movements and organizations. This leads to an inward-focused tendency of building national committees and local chapters for their own sake, rather than broader movement work intervening in the world. There is also a tendency for experienced organizers to be recruited to run the national organization and take on various administrative duties in national committees, diverting their attention and time away from building local struggles on campus. Despite the climate crisis, attacks on abortion, and other major issues that young people care deeply about, there are few if any mass movements or organizations for students and young people to participate in. In addition to strengthening YDSA, the socialist pole on campus, Bread & Roses YDSAers must also figure out how to build struggles and organizations beyond the group of young people who are already convinced of the need for socialism and socialist organization.
Due to these limitations, thus far the organization has been unable to provide systematic support for campaign work or YDSAers seeking to enter into the labor movement as rank-and-filers. Meanwhile the majority of students on campus remain apolitical or don’t have clear ways to get involved in radical politics.
7.2 Tasks for YDSA and Student Organizing
In light of this, there are three major tasks for YDSAers.
First, socialists must help build campus struggles that allow students to experience collectively fighting over the conditions of their own life in mass democratic movements. These struggles will sometimes be housed in YDSA, and will sometimes be housed in broader movements and organizations that YDSA will organizationally support and YDSAers will help lead — such as student-worker unions. We want to put students in motion, regardless of their self-identification as socialists or willingness to join socialist organization. Through the process of engaging in mass struggle alongside socialists, we can win students over to our ideas and socialist organization. Over the coming year, YDSA should prioritize building broad student-worker unions around the country, building labor struggles on campus (through direct involvement where possible and labor solidarity elsewhere), and helping to build broad movements in defense of abortion rights and other civil liberties.
Second, YDSA should aim to produce lifelong socialist organizers — cadre. We should prioritize systematic mentorship and organizer development, training up the next generation of socialist leaders, preparing many of them for a lifetime of socialist organizing and labor activism as rank-and-file workers in strategic industries. Cadre will be developed through a combination of participating in and leading struggles on campus and in their communities, rigorous one-on-one mentorship, and political education. We should be directing cadre toward short-term salting projects while they are students and toward long-term careers as rank-and-file union members in strategic industries.
Third, YDSA should act as a socialist pole on our campuses, convincing students to become democratic socialists and join socialist organization. YDSA should work to win students over to the idea that a democratic socialist reorganization of society is necessary to address the permanent social injustices and crises created by capitalism and that such a society can only be won as an act of working-class self emancipation. We must convince students interested in social justice that their tasks are to build a democratic, class-struggle labor movement, mass democratic and disruptive social movements, and an independent workers party.