Rules of Engagement for Bernie 2020

Lead Contacts: Matthew Taylor


It is now a fact of the political landscape that Bernie Sanders is running for president in 2020 — four years after his initial run transformed the dimensions of the American political terrain. For a broad swath of the public, the original Sanders campaign represents their initial point of contact with and principle understanding of socialism — his 2016 campaign was the most dramatic and popular challenge to the bipartisan neoliberal consensus coming from within the American political establishment in a generation — it gave millions of people their first experience of political activity and it bears some sizable responsibility for the emergence of DSA as a visible, semi-prominent organization.

Given the failure of the Democratic Party to offer a viable opposition to Trump in favor of disciplining and maintaining control of its left flank, their increasingly pathetic political defeats, as well as the ongoing collapse of the political ‘center’ the world over, the Sanders campaign will register as a significant instance and site of struggle. It is the most striking manifestation of a re-centering of class as a primary political category — the explicit reappearance of class struggle. As such, it is of obvious importance that the DSA must approach its campaign with interest and intention — the National Political Committee has already indicated it is likely they will endorse Sanders. The Sanders campaign will all but impose itself as a necessary priority for the chapter. This resolution is an attempt to outline strategically coherent ‘rules of engagement’ with the Sanders campaign.


Be it resolved that —

  • DSA-LA will make a deliberate and significant intervention in the presidential primary, specifically in relation to the Sanders campaign.
  • The overriding purpose of its intervention will be to support, deepen and clarify the fundamental antagonisms brought about by the Sanders campaign — to offer a more sophisticated and developed notion of working-class revolutionary politics and to exacerbate the fracturing of the Democratic Party ‘base.’
  • This intervention will be pursued with the explicit purpose of recruitment to DSA.
  • Through a purposive strategy of recruitment and retention, these new (and established) members will be placed and embedded in the organization — this will coincide with a deliberate reorientation of the organization away from volunteerism and towards permanently establishing itself as an embryonic party-form — accordingly, it will be accompanied by a requisite restructuring in which the component parts of the organization transition from city-wide committees into geographically-specific branches; and the city-wide organization is replaced by a federalized structure of branches, districts and regions. A specific attempt at articulating this restructuring is the content of a separate priority resolution by the authors.
  • DSA-LA will explicitly reject ‘realignment’ and carefully demarcate its positions from those that support entryism or struggle within the Democratic Party. At all levels of engagement, it will clarify that it does not support efforts to reform or exert influence within the Democratic Party — but views the Sanders campaign as an opportunity to convey the necessity of establishing an independent, working-class political party.
  • In the course of its engagement in the electoral arena, DSA-LA will seek to draw attention to the necessity of mechanisms of accountability for member-candidates and set itself the goal of establishing such mechanisms internally.
  • In increasing its internal and external political education activities, DSA-LA will place a priority on the historical experience of social democracy with an emphasis on its diminution and ossification, as well as the history of its contradictory position within historical Marxism.
  • Through centrally coordinated and locally designed and implemented areas of engagement, DSA-LA will seek to articulate the political planks of the Sanders platform from an explicitly socialist perspective; recruit members into the DSA; assist in the ‘branch-ification’ of the organization; maintain that only through permanent implantation in organizations of class struggle can the ‘demands’ of the Sanders campaign be realized and defended; exercise a meaningful left ‘pull’ on the campaign by being willing to maintain an uncompromising criticism when it contradicts our own political orientation; and, insofar as any of the above aims are not unduly limited or constrained, attempt to increase likely voter turnout for Sanders in the election.

Timeline and Resources

California will hold its primary in March of 2020 — passing this resolution would commit DSA-LA to prioritizing, at least until that time, active party-building, agitation, recruitment and popular internal and external education related to the Sanders campaign and targeted at constituents activated through engagement around the campaign. This is not to be misrepresented as targeting Sanders ‘supporters,’ but using our relation to his campaign to attract, recruit and retain any and all potential supporters of DSA-LA’s political orientation. This resolution explicitly does not seek to prioritize electoral ‘results’ nor confine itself to the set of the population contained in ‘the electorate.’ It maintains the necessity of engaging the Sanders campaign as a political phenomenon, not a particular electoral contest.

The chapter resources committed to this proposal would be commensurate to a year-long chapter-wide priority implemented with the expectation of mass recruitment and the proliferation of geographic branches throughout the city. It would be premature and utterly speculative to attempt to itemize the ‘resources’ or pre-establish a ‘timeline’ beyond the obvious — the resources would be substantial and the ‘timeline’ should be considered as the uninterrupted pursuit of the resolution’s objectives. The full range of tactics for our engagement with the campaign would need to be the result of a more prolonged and vigorous debate within the chapter and should not be established prematurely. Priority resolutions should confine themselves to setting the chapter’s dominant orientation. That said, a provisional timeline could appear with the following benchmarks —

  • Within 3 weeks of a Sanders announcement (or within 4 weeks of the adoption of this resolution, if he has already announced at the time of the convention), the Steering Committee will convene at least two chapter-wide branch meetings to discuss, debate, and decide the precise tactics to be used in pursuit of the goals of this resolution outlined above.
  • After the tactics have been decided upon, each branch will hold (at least) a monthly new member orientation to help acclimate new members with DSA-LA's position vis-a-vis the Sanders campaign as outlined above and to insert them into the ongoing work of the branch.
  • After its election but before the turn of the year, the new Steering Committee will convene another chapter-wide meeting to evaluate the tactics used up until then and adjust them as necessary for the upcoming months heading into the primary voting season.

Coordination of the work would be superintended by Steering Committee or a working group thereof and devolved through the inter-subgroup officer forum and the branch coordinators — while all committees have to align their activity with the aims of the resolution, the intention is to establish structures cum branches to organize and implement the work on a localized basis. Committees that serve an internal function, such as Membership and Political Education, would superintend and coordinate projects related to the resolution insofar as it coincided with their objectives.


This resolution is proposed with the intention of enabling the organization to succeed in realizing its already extant ‘organizational priorities,’ and, furthermore, to propose an alternative model specifically suited to realizing those priorities least manageable under DSA-LA’s current structure and method of operation. It is the presumption of the authors that under its current structural configuration DSA-LA is objectively incapable of the levels of growth that are achievable and necessary for its reproduction. It is also a presumption that absent a chapter-wide clarification of its political composition (which the resolution seeks to produce), it will struggle to achieve both the internal reforms and external positioning necessary to exert its full potential strength. The resolution seeks to elaborate a political trajectory, an explicit recruitment strategy and a structural

recomposition. It is predicated on an argument about the organization’s capacity to grow and what currently inhibits it from doing so.

The Sanders campaign self-evidently would link numerous ‘levels’ of the organization and require a coordinated articulation between national, state, chapter and branch components of the DSA — it would also open the opportunity to both collaborate with and seek hegemony within the various, innumerable political actors and bodies that will also surround the campaign. It would require the careful assessment of our membership base, mobilization capacity, growth rate, geographic reach, and other relevant statistical metrics of effectivity.

I.e. it is aligned with our organizational priorities insofar as it builds organizational structures that can support and manage anticipated growth of the chapter; forges and maintains intentional and deliberate relationships with other organizations; undertakes to exchange resources and engage in campaigns with other DSA chapters; articulates numerical benchmarks and defined paths for member engagement; develops and implements training materials and protocols; develops internal capacity to recruit, engage and retain members; maintains transparent decision-making structures which allows members to democratically shape and engage in chapter decision.


There is no component of this resolution that is not explicitly tied to the authors’ commitment to a ‘base building’ strategy, which is here meant to refer to a series of propositions — that DSA-LA should be a mass organization, that it should assume a party-form, that its membership should be actively and aggressively engaged, that this active membership constitutes its base and that this base, when tactically coordinated, can constitute a formation that can generate and wield power. This is the imagined metamorphosis from DSA as currently constructed. We wish to transition from a concept of membership that is volunteerist towards one that is habitual and disciplined; from a concept of power that is coterminous with political representation towards one that is the generative effect of working class self-organization; from a concept of organization that is horizontalist, overextended, inchoate and redundant towards one that is democratic, deliberative, purposive and unified. Our strategy proposes a possible method of metamorphosis.

An intervention in the primary season directed towards constituents of the Sanders campaign — sharply bounded by its goals of political independence, party building and recruitment — can provide DSA-LA an invaluable opportunity to expand its capacity, clarify its ambitions and set itself the task of building an organizational model that can — and should expect to — grow substantially in the coming period.


As should be standard practice, any chapter-wide priority ratified at the local convention should be supported by all subgroups of the local. The resolution does put forward a reorientation from committee-based organization towards a drive to localization — the superintending bodies in this case remain Steering Committee, Inter-Officer Subgroup Forum and Branch Coordinators.

It is clear, regardless of the rapidity of this transition, that currently existing committees would be able to direct their work towards the goals of the resolution with ease — committees such as Climate Justice, Healthcare, Labor, and Housing and Homelessness all have areas of focus that are directly referenced by main planks in the Sanders platform. Electoral Politics and Membership are already involved in projects to coordinate membership engagement across geographical regions — while the Sanders campaign is an electoral effort, the strategy as outlined here does not prioritize electoral results and thus the Electoral Politics committee, while having a primary use in identifying how to relate to the broader Sanders ‘coalition,’ is not to be understood as having priority. Agitprop, Communications and Political Education will all be instrumental in a strategy emphasizing outreach, political agitation and intensified education and political clarification.

Click here to view signatories