Members of the Libertarian Socialist Caucus of Los Angeles (LSC-LA) have constructed this guide through careful deliberation and a commitment to horizontalism. In our discussions, we let our shared values and beliefs in socialism, solidarity, and freedom guide our decision making. We proudly have no master plan, but we are committed to maintaining our chapter’s unique and successful formation, building upward from a strong foundation of solidarity through which we can work to achieve socialism.
In our analyses of this year’s bylaws amendments we have noticed a troubling trend of attempting to solve the chapter’s cultural problems through the use of top-down, heavy handed procedural mechanisms. We do not reject the chapter’s bylaws or the amendment process out of hand. Several LSC-LA members are in fact proposing an amendment. However, what sets our caucus apart is that we place a special priority on clarifying the differences between, and the appropriateness of, hard-power versus soft-power solutions. Does a cultural problem always require an institutional response, or would the membership be better served through policies that can change and adapt as the organization evolves?
We in LSC-LA recognize the urgency of the challenges ahead: the bosses have more money, the state has more soldiers, the Earth is dying. Through the creativity and flexibility that are the hallmarks of collaborative horizontalism, we can find solutions to the capitalist crisis and realize a world of true liberation.
LEADERSHIP MEMBERSHIP OBLIGATIONS (FOR)
This amendment is being moved by three members of LSC-LA and we support it. As the national LSC is currently in the midst of a membership drive (as is our own chapter), it is critical that members of DSA, especially those in leadership, commit themselves publicly and materially to the organization.
As libertarian socialists, issues of power are of the utmost importance to us. The notion that an elected leader, one who holds formal and informal influence over a subgroup or even the entire chapter, could be a non-member is a thought that should give anyone pause. As horizontalists, we believe that members can only be led by other members. Despite mischaracterizations of horizontalism, we are not opposed to leadership in all its forms. Instead we oppose leadership that bears no connection to the membership it claims to be in service of.
Our support for this amendment is bolstered by Steering Committee’s recent announcement of a dues sponsorship program that will enable members to sponsor dues for those who may not be able to pay. We commend Steering on this proposal and agree that it is important to recognize that an organization founded in the politics of the working class should not be recklessly excluding potential leaders for financial reasons. However, in our efforts to make our organization more accessible to those of a lower income we must avoid condescending liberal notions that working class individuals cannot or will not contribute materially to communal efforts.
OPEN BALLOT (AGAINST)
LSC-LA strongly values open, democratic discussion among DSA members. However, we believe that forcing every chapter and subgroup vote to be public and recorded is tantamount to using a flamethrower to light candles on a cake. There are simply better ways to achieve the stated goal.
We concur with the majority Steering Committee opinion that offering up our entire membership list and voting records to any person, business, or political group hostile to our organization’s mission for the low, low price of $27 is profoundly foolish. We should not be scared to openly associate with DSA, but there is no need to hand our political enemies a neatly compiled directory of all our members.
The scope of this amendment is also troubling as it applies to all votes across the chapter, at both the local and subgroup level (and conceivably even the groups within subgroups, like #HollywoodLabor). Everything from trivial subgroup decisions (many of which already happen in person and in an open manner, but are not recorded) to steering committee elections would be subject to the open ballot requirements, meaning they would have to be recorded, catalogued, and then made available upon request in perpetuity. The amount of busywork this amendment would generate is staggering.
One question we asked ourselves when debating this amendment was: “Will open voting grow DSA-LA or not?” While the answer did not solely guide our decision making, we believe that in this critical moment for our chapter, with membership falling and dues crashing, this amendment will stop prospective members in their tracks and scare away for good those members who haven’t renewed their dues. Tactically, adopting this amendment would be unwise at this time.
We appreciate the desire by more experienced members, well-versed in their tendency and able to quote chapter and verse, to want to politically spar with members who take an opposing view. Open voting would certainly make it easy for those experienced members to seek out and have conversations with those holding opposing views. But for many in the chapter, this leftist world is new and intimidating, and they are slowly figuring out where they fit among a constellation of ideas. Open voting and record preservation are not the proper tool to foster political growth.
Furthermore, voting by secret ballot does not prevent a healthy, open political culture from flourishing. Major propositions being put to a chapter-wide vote have public statements for and against published on DSA-LA’s Web site. Discussion in various channels, both online and in person, are rarely anonymous, especially among members of the local. Preserving a secret ballot also respects those who wish to remain anonymous, especially on a controversial issue.
Lastly, we are troubled by how this amendment seeks to address what we identify as a cultural problem (in this case a lack of a mature political culture) through a heavy-handed structural solution. Rather than introduce a bylaw that would drastically change how we work as a chapter, it behooves those of us in political caucuses to take on the burden ourselves. Creating a mature, politically engaged membership cannot be accomplished by top-down decree. Instead, it will require on-the-ground efforts and direct engagement with our fellow comrades. To that end, we in LSC-LA look forward to hosting political education events, informal debates, and issuing position papers on pertinent issues to raise the chapter’s political consciousness.
TIME EQUALLY RESERVED FOR DEBATE (AGAINST)
A common theme in the amendments presented at this year’s convention is a call for open debate. While we agree that thorough, robust discussion is imperative for maintaining an organization that is fundamentally member driven, LSC-LA disagrees with the method proposed. It is crucial that our organization ensures that all voices can be heard. However, this process must not always take the form of a debate. The proposed amendment implies that there will always be two polar views on any given issue. Our experiences as both organizers and as people simply engaging with others tells us that reality doesn’t always conform to that model. Creating a procedure based on this questionable assumption could hamper group discussion rather than enrich it.
LSC-LA disagrees with the use of the term debate as the primary mechanism for reaching an agreement, as the word carries with it the implication of deliberate contention. Instead, we advocate a focus on discussion, which fosters a more inclusive, productive, and meaningful way for multiple voices to be heard. Thus, we are against the amendment and the proposed amendment from our comrades in Refoundation.
Currently, Article VI of the DSA-LA bylaws does not specify the methods by which member feedback should be solicited and presented to the rest of the membership prior to a chapter-wide vote. We agree with the analysis presented by Steering Committee that this omission was purposeful and meant to create a flexible way for our chapter to hold discussions and make decisions. We also agree that DSA-LA would benefit from more input from members on how we solicit feedback, hear dissenting opinions, respond to concerns, and answer questions before chapter-wide votes. One such suggestion is to continue providing facilitation trainings for members, as well as bolstering anti-oppression guidelines for meetings so that all committees have the skills and confidence needed to engage in safe, productive, and meaningful conversations with our comrades.
ELECT LOCAL OFFICERS AT ANNUAL CONVENTION (AGAINST)
LSC-LA does not support the proposal to elect local officers at the Annual Convention, on the grounds that doing so will not benefit either the Convention or the electoral process. This year, our chapter will meet on a single day to discuss and vote on 14 amendments and resolutions. If DSA-LA continues to grow (and some of the other proposals under consideration are passed), we can probably expect a larger number of proposals to discuss and vote on in 2019.
Last year, several LSC-LA members served as delegates at the 2017 DSA National Convention in Chicago. Over the course of three days, we gathered to discuss and vote on a series of amendments and resolutions. At the same event, we also held an election for members of the National Political Committee (NPC), the DSA's highest administrative body. The amendment now under consideration, if passed, would transform the Annual Convention into something that more closely resembles the national one. This concerns us, because we feel that the discussion process in Chicago was given short shrift. The delegation as a whole clearly needed more time, but attempts to extend discussion and clarify the finer details of the proposals under consideration conflicted with our other commitment to a robust and democratic NPC election. While many positive things came out of (and a lot of hard work went into) the Chicago convention, we feel that the experience should not be duplicated here in Los Angeles.
In addition, it should be noted that the Steering Committee is presently responsible for organizing the Annual Convention. For Steering to assume direct control over an election in which Committee members may also be running as candidates presents an alarming conflict of interest.
LSC-LA endorses the current practice of holding officer elections on a different day, one far enough removed from the Annual Convention that it provides the chapter with sufficient time to prepare for and recover from those events (physically, mentally, financially, and perhaps spiritually). We agree with the amendment's authors that these processes are important, but we are confident that the existing approach is more likely to do justice to each.
CREATION OF A LOCAL ASSEMBLY (PROPOSING AMENDMENT)
LSC-LA believes in cross-committee collaboration whenever possible, and in providing the means and tools for those collaborations to thrive and flourish. We commend the spirit of the “Creation of Local Assembly” amendment but find serious issues with it as written. We believe that the Steering Committee’s informal efforts to hold meetings of subgroup coordinators fills the role that this amendment in spirit seeks to codify into our bylaws.
Unfortunately, we find the language in this amendment to be extremely concerning, namely the notion that the local assembly will have the ability to “advise the Steering Committee.” Not only is this language vague, it is not unreasonable to believe that it could be interpreted as creating a new deliberative chapter body with the mandate to dictate political opinions and strategy for the rest of the chapter. With no defined parameters for this body, nor any codified means of checking its powers, the creation of a “local assembly” (as written) would constitute the introduction of “representative democracy” into our chapter, something we believe to be wholly anti-democratic. We do not believe that this new formal body made up of elected subgroup heads is in keeping with the spirit of DSA-LA’s horizontal bylaws that recognize that power is vested in the subgroups and by extension their members, not their leaders.
That noted, we do agree with the spirit of the amendment and will be proposing an alternative that formalizes the aforementioned informal meetings of subgroup coordinators. To this end we are proposing that the meetings be named the “Inter-Subgroup Officer Forum” so as to emphasize their role in fostering collaboration and communication. We will also be deleting language that may be interpreted as endowing the body with political, structural, or organizational powers. By doing so it is our hope that we can bring the spirit of the amendment to the forefront while removing anything that dilutes the power of the subgroups and individual members.