We Cannot “Win Before We Win”

I’m seeing a lot of folks on social media punching at DSA for allowing “The Case for Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution” piece to be published to their member-submitted blog. It is indeed a miserable article — moreover, one that should be impossible to publish after knowing what we know re: the overwhelmingly far-right, ultra-reactionary composition of the “rebels”. Moreover, it undermines the fundamental anti-war tenet of the socialist project by too-easily aligning with the neo-conservative projects for regime change, which has made an anarchic hellscape out of far too much of the Middle East and North Africa.

But this legitimate criticism quickly turns into a more generalized disdain for DSA as an inchoate, disorganized, multi-tendency organization where “anything goes.” So I started thinking to myself: why is a group like DSA such a punching bag for the broad left? Surely, we could attribute this disdain to envy, given that DSA is now the fourth-largest socialist party in U.S. history. But that strikes me as insufficient. And then I realized that mass, multi-tendency groups on the left are anathema to the insecurities, shortcuts and divisive tactics of the broad left.

Demanding 100% ideological and strategic unity from the outset is an attempt to “win before you win.” And if you can’t win, simply carve out an artificial space in an ideal, leftist terrain. Voila! And while it feels good to “achieve” this commonality of purpose, you’ve done nothing concrete besides build a wall between yourself and the people you need in order to actually win anything meaningful.

A multi-tendency organization appears to be a dangerous thing because there is no easy way to claim false victory. Instead, you must actually win — that is, you cannot throw up false divisions or expel your enemies: you have to change them, and/or democratically develop the institutional power to change the organization, itself. This is far more like the project of building socialism in the real world. Yes, it’s dangerous. Sure, it might fail. But it’s the real thing. And that’s why I became a socialist many years ago.

There are also some new folks inside of DSA who are drawn to the appeal of “winning before you win”. This is reflected in a few of the recent DSA conference proposals that attempt to carve out the most radical positions imaginable in the hopes that boldly stating our militant bona fides will be enough to attract folks to the real mass movements and coalitions that could win these demands. This is another case of hoping to “win before you win.” It’s fine to talk about a maximal program — I, myself, hold some pretty radical aspirational views — but mistaking this maximal stance for the kind of out-facing posture we must have to build the movement is a grave mistake.

The proposal to establish an autonomous “Afro-socialist & Socialist of Color Caucus” within DSA certainly falls within this category. In short, this proposal aims to leach street-cred from (Ford Foundation-funded) Black Youth Project 100, as well as to align formal DSA tactics with the movement for Reparations. Even if we believe that these are important issues for DSA to align itself with — and there are many reasons to believe that farming out our strategic orientation to a top-down, non-democratic foundation is a really bad move — rather than argue for the broad adoption of these strategies and positions, this proposal attempts to stage an end-run around what should be a mass debate. [A more formal and detailed statement will be forthcoming re: this proposal, so stay tuned.]

But there is no easy way to make an end-run around the broad organization, nor can we outmaneuver the broad coalition that comprises the multi-racial working classes. Even if you “win” that way, what have you really won? A program? A flashy statement? These are illusory victories.

There is no way to win before you win.

[If you’re a DSA member and would like to organize for the convention re: these matters, reach out to me @deadpundits on Twitter, or deadpundits (at) gmail (dot) com]

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