Refoundation Caucus Voter Guide

As local members of Refoundation, we have developed voting recommendations for the proposed amendments at the Annual Convention. These are in line with our political aspirations for the chapter — our recommendations follow from a shared methodology, ideology and program. Refoundation is a national caucus seeking to consolidate the Marxist revolutionary left elements within DSA and is primarily oriented around a project of mass party-building. There are two identifiable through lines in our analyses of these proposals that can serve as an introduction. One is opposing a tendency towards structural solutions to political problems — there are a series of amendments that offer tweaks in the decision-making structure presumably in order to correct for some current deficiency. We consider most of these to be beside the point — that the current difficulties in the chapter stem from fundamental political underdevelopment that cannot be reduced to questions of organizational structure per se. By political underdevelopment, we mean a membership that is rarely required to identify, construct or advance a specific ideologically coherent political program — rather, a relatively depoliticized organization in which the politics of members remains unrefined and not deliberately cultivated.

Secondly, there are a series of amendments that work to introduce additional decision-making bodies or positions, or otherwise indicate a move in the direction of ‘horizontalism.’  We are opposed to ‘horizontalism’ as a fundamentally misplaced and anti-democratic set of processes — furthermore, we find each of these amendments rooted in a particular conception of leadership, specifically the role of the Steering Committee. Against the fear of political leadership, and general distaste for its exertion, we believe that strong leadership is precisely what is needed in the chapter in order to unify its disparate parts, mobilize and retain its membership, and politically focus its activities. We offer an altogether different vision — that of a leadership body prepared to take a direct and active role in framing and shaping the political character of the chapter. Only this will prevent the chapter’s ultimate diffusion to the point of ineffectiveness. With these propositions in mind, we offer these recommendations on the proposed amendments. We remain open to debating or discussing these positions, and those of Refoundation as a caucus, to all interested members.

Anti-Oppression Liaison Officers Proposal (AGAINST)

This proposal, at face value, extends a commitment we naturally support — we stand in solidarity with the mission of the Anti-Oppression committee and the difficult, long-term project of refashioning a more liberatory internal culture within the chapter. However, we view this as one of several proposed amendments that could be defined as attempted structural solutions to political problems. The creation of more bureaucratic roles cannot and will not, by fiat, solve the problems of coordination and political responsiveness of the organization — these problems will only be resolved by tackling them head-on. In this case, the Steering Committee is already tasked with coordinating the work of the chapter — functionally, therefore, we believe this is an amendment that works to decrease the effectivity of the Steering Committee’s role as political leadership of the organization. It appears rooted in a conception of the existing leadership bodies which we categorically reject — one which is purely administrative, and which is utterly lacking in political responsibilities.

There appears to us no reason why the Steering Committee and the Anti-Oppression committee, as they currently exist, cannot adequately keep the chapter widely aware of the current practices and recommendations of the Anti-Oppression committee. We see no reason to add an additional layer of formal ‘responsibilities’ to a new layer of ‘liaisons,’ but rather believe these responsibilities can be fully exercised within the organization’s current structure seamlessly.

Additionally, we remain profoundly skeptical of the implied authority of such ‘liaisons,’ and their presumed ability to monitor the activities of their comrades and parse them for ‘oppressive’ behavior. We believe the project of building a chapter culture that eradicates such behavior to be a common project — and one that also will require a reckoning of political disagreements — and that the implementation of a specific superintending body separate and above the general membership remains an inadequate solution.

Leadership-Membership Obligations Proposal (FOR)

We are strongly in favor of this amendment. Presently, the payment of dues is the only condition of membership in the entire organization. Without requiring dues — a barrier to membership which extremely low as is — we cannot imagine what precisely would constitute ‘membership’ beyond one’s mere declaration of such. We consider this, self-evidently, to be a rather unrealistic and threadbare organization structure. It would, in fact, cease to be a structure at all. To put the finest point possible on it — the proposition that one might hold membership without even paying dues is patently absurd and must be vehemently rejected.

Open Ballot Proposal (FOR)

This amendment is proposed by one of our members and we strongly support it. In order for the chapter to have the political culture that we desire, the clarification and transparent working through of political conflicts is absolutely necessary. This requires that members account for their political positions openly — the current structure of arriving at political decisions through anonymous online voting obscures and makes invisible the precise political composition of the chapter and works to prevent and repress opportunities for genuine political reconciliation. Only by publicly having to defend positions and respond to counter-arguments is political development accomplished — the absence of this creates a tendency towards passivity, where positions are weakly held and often unprincipled. This open debate encourages the readiness of members to proselytize for their ideas and would generally increase the level of confidence among members when engaged in any kind of political conversation. Comrades should be able to engage each other with the expectation that their mutual positions are not being deliberately withheld.

Against any objection that publicly revealing the names of members constitutes a risk, we maintain that publicly supporting the politics that one desires to build a mass movement around is an absolutely minimal expectation. Anyone who desires not to be publicly affiliated with DSA should not join.

Time Equally Put Forward For Debate (Proposing Amendment)

We have proposed an amendment to this amendment removing the commitment to “equal time,” and thus rewriting it to be a formal commitment to public debate as such. We strongly support the spirit of any move to prioritize and encourage political debate within the chapter as we find the present culture to be one which tacitly discourages debate and encourages an uninterrogated consensus wherein comrades are expected to modify their positions to conform to the broadest level of agreement. We fully support the continuation of DSA as a multi-tendency organization and for that to be meaningful, and not a simple reversion to “agreeing to disagree,” we need a sharp enough level of discourse to draw out what actual tendencies are latently present.

Motivating our amendment is the knowledge that we have all witnessed numerous scenarios in which tiny cliques of perennial malcontents have attempted to hold back the movement of the chapter whenever any decision is remotely disagreeable to them. We don’t think a formally mandated “equal time” for every position is in the interests of true democratic discussion. We instead propose only that a commitment to formal debate becomes realized and the structure of each specific debate be defined by the parameters of the issue at hand. We believe a free-flowing conversation among all members and all positions, without a proscribed “point-counterpoint” structure, more closely resembles a naturally-occuring debate and encourages more participation and reconciliation between positions.

Elect Officers at Annual Convention (AGAINST)

Our opposition to this proposal is based on the idea that all our elected officers should be viewed as political leaders and not merely as administrators. We think that elected positions should be contested, either as individuals or as slates, on the basis of articulated political platforms. If our elections happen at our annual convention – even if we extend the length of the event to give adequate time to every contest – the primary concern of every member will be the question of the next set of officers, rather than the proposals and resolutions coming from the chapter as a whole.  Elections would be better conducted well after the Convention, both as a means to determine whether a leadership is carrying out the will of the Convention and whether or not newer political considerations are necessary. It would be simplistic to expect that a single annual gathering of the chapter could determine the course of the chapter for an entire year.

We maintain that forcing every democratic contest together into a single, annual event, will have a dampening effect on both member enthusiasm and on the political content of each contest. We endeavor to construct an environment in which officer elections are held to ensure the carrying out the will of the convention. We must provide ample time between each type of event, to ensure that both the Convention and the election of officers take place in a context which can maximize political debate and participation.

Creation of Local Assembly (AGAINST)

We consider this another amendment that identifies a real and significant problem in the chapter – and yet the proposed solution remains structural and bureaucratic. The formal creation of additional deliberative bodies cannot solve the political issues of incoherence and fragmentation. Instead, we must rethink our attitude towards the bodies that already exist, the role they play, and the expectations of membership in general. The creation of a ‘local assembly’ also exacerbates a tendency within the organization to simultaneously ‘check’ the ‘power’ of the Steering Committee, while also implicitly acknowledging the Steering Committee’s own reluctance to assert whatever power it does hold. We maintain a straightforward position on how to solve this dilemma: through a directly assertive Steering Committee that openly takes on the role of political leadership of the organization.

In addition, the composition of a body such as this would be misrepresentative of the organization in the extreme, with each committee being equally represented despite their massive differentiations in size and influence. This, more than any other amendment, represents the phenomenon of a structural solution to a political problem. It remains utterly unexplained how this newly birthed structure will lead to its desired outcome outside of wishful thinking. We believe that to “close the gaps” of communication and political decision-making in the chapter, we simply need a transparent Steering Committee that makes confident political decisions and is answerable to them. As is, we don’t see any measures taken by the Steering Committee that warrants this fear of elision of the committee leadership, which operate at a level of near total autonomy. Given that committees and rank-and-file members already exert a substantial influence over the organization’s course, we see no compelling reason for the creation of this body.

Member Called Meetings (Proposing Amendment)

As principally in support of a democratically accountable member-led organization, we support formalizing the ability of membership to force an emergency meeting and see it as necessary. However, as currently worded, the level of membership required for such a measure is extremely low — at fifty members, it represents under 5% of the organization. Were this standard to be adopted, we believe calling an emergency meeting would be so easy as to be an effective tactic towards wrecking the operation of the organization.

With these concerns in mind, we are proposing an amendment to this amendment that keeps the measure but increases the necessary quorum to 20% of the organization’s members. At any threshold lower than this, the status of granting genuine ‘emergency’ powers seems unadvisable. This is currently the quorum for the local convention and we consider it a proper, consistent standard to initiate this process.