Three members of Red Star San Francisco, a revolutionary Marxist caucus in DSA SF, write in favor of DSA Resolution #14: Committing to International Socialist Solidarity, which will go before the national convention later this week.
This week marks DSA’s biennial national convention, where delegates from across the organization will meet to determine the structure and political priorities of DSA for the next two years. Red Star San Francisco members are proud to be listed co-authors on Resolution #3: Empowering DSA’s Mass Abolition Work and Resolution #14: Committing to International Socialist Solidarity. Both resolutions are on the consent agenda, meaning that they received over two-thirds support of the hundreds of delegates who took the pre-convention poll.
Despite this, some within DSA have recently written to critique the new turn for DSA’s international work that Resolution #14 will continue. Natalia Tylim’s piece in Tempest Magazine, “Is this what solidarity looks like?” argues that DSA’s recent delegation trip to Venezuela is tantamount to “uncritical support for state regimes,” and Dan La Botz’s “DSA’s Flawed International Outlook: The Appeal of the Mass Party and its Contradictions” critiques what he perceives as a current in DSA that believes it’s “the left’s job to justify and apologize for leaders, parties, or governments that may call themselves socialist.”
As some vocal members within DSA begin a full-court press against the changing currents of international solidarity, we wanted to write in strong defense of Resolution #14 and the continuation of DSA’s positive work on the international stage.
DSA’s international work
Like many aspects of the organization, DSA’s work on International Solidarity organizing has transformed radically since 2016, taking on a more mass character and transcending the “micro-sect” orientation that has characterized socialist movements in the collapse of the pre-World-War II American left.
In 2019, DSA passed “Resolution #4: Building the DSA International Committee” (IC). This resolution called upon the IC to “establish relations with left, socialist, and working class organizations across the world through a strategic vetting process accountable to the NPC.”
As Collective Power Network members Morgan Dowdy and Jack Suria-Linares wrote in their article “DSA, Internationalism, and the 2021 Convention: Which Path Forward?”:
“Since the passage of R-4 and the development of a well-conceived structural blueprint by a few veteran IC leaders, a root-to-stem reorganization of the IC was undertaken by the NPC. The “new” IC was launched in Summer 2020 with a diverse NPC-appointed leadership and an application process open to DSA members in good-standing. Since then, the NPC and IC have made dramatic strides in implementing the 2019 Convention’s will for an anti-imperialist, internationalist program focused on engagement and relationship-building with the mass, organized left in Latin America.
The sea change that has taken place in DSA around international policy was desperately needed. Previous to the reforms triggered by the 2019 Convention, the IC was one of the most controversial and unaccountable bodies in the organization. While most members of the “old” IC were talented and capable comrades, a minority of members—especially the small grouping of Trotskyist dual-carders—steered the Committee into positions that were often woefully out-of-step with the politics of the membership. These positions generally retained a Cold War “Third Campist” orientation and included, for example, a dramatic hostility to socialist projects in countries like Cuba and Venezuela.”
DSA is taking important steps to drive forward a strong anti-imperialist analysis, both at the national level and in our chapter. Red Star members have worked within the reformed International Committee, serving on its Steering Committee as well as members of the Labor, Americas, Anti-War, and Asia/Oceania subcommittees. Here in San Francisco, our chapter has upheld the national organization’s line to protest the blockade and sanctions of the Cuban people, and participated in the Block The Boat action that turned away a ship owned by the Israeli ZIM shipping company in June amidst Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory in Jerusalem. At our chapter meeting on Wednesday, DSA SF will consider a resolution to continue this work with chapter-elected leaders and in partnership with the International Committee.
We are proud of this work to radically improve our international perspective, and support the continued work at both national and local levels to build mass opposition to U.S. empire.
Our position on the U.S. empire (it’s bad!)
We do not expect that every DSA member or even the national organization will share our exact analysis on global socialist movements, but we wanted to share some of the considerations that have led us to our more flexible and generous read on the process of socialist development around the world, and why we see these changes within DSA as positive.
While DSA does not hold state power or the levers to dismantle U.S. imperialism (yet), our analysis affects the actions we take today to build the socialist movement. We see socialism as a scientific process by which the working class studies the motions of history in order to determine a path forward, and that means being able to take a clear and historical analysis of the origins of imperialism.
We recognize imperialism today as a consequence of the ever-expanding greed of capitalism. That wasn’t always so clear — in the early 20th century, social scientists (both Marxist and non-Marxist) sought to describe this new form of expansion. In “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism”, Vladimir Lenin, working off the analysis of John A. Hobson and Rudolf Hilferding, described the process by which the consolidation of capital into monopolies within capitalist powers like Germany and England led to an increasing need to export capital abroad to seek more profits. Where capitalism in its early stages was characterized by competition between capitalists to capture domestic market power conditioned by the growing capitalist state, imperialism represented a more thorough fusion of individual states and their highly-aggregated monopoly capitals.
When Lenin, Hobson, and Hilferdung wrote about imperialism in the early 20th century, they lived under a state-competitive framework of empires vying for power and territory through capitalist expansion. World War I represented an explosion of this competition among imperialist powers and let loose all of its tightly-wound conflicts. But just as capitalism continued its development into imperialism through the 18th and 19th centuries, imperialism too has undergone qualitative changes since 1916 that we must recognize.
Though imperialism as a global system has continued, today this system is structured through maintenance of the United States as the premiere capitalist power that spans the world. The history of the 20th century is the history of the development of U.S. empire and the consolidation of global capital into its orbit. Following the unprecedented destruction of industrial capacity in World War II, capital recognized the need to gather under the banner of a single global hegemon, and the United States stepped in to play that role.
The formation of U.S. empire involved:
- Incorporating the war-decimated imperial powers of Europe into American hegemony. Most notably, German imperialism in the form of the Third Reich was less dismantled than simply distributed across the world under U.S. control, with projects like Operation Paperclip and the clandestine OSS-backed transfer of Nazi officials to Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.
- Obstructing the Soviet and Chinese communist projects through continual military and economic isolation. This is considered the “cold” part of the Cold War, notwithstanding the massive decrease in human life expectancy caused by the U.S.S.R.’s collapse and the devastation of Korea at the hands of the U.S. Air Force.
- The “hot” part of the Cold War: a constant assault on the self-determination of neocolonized people through overt and clandestine means. The result was the deaths of millions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America whose major crime was struggling for liberation against U.S. empire
In examining all the frustrations of the global struggle for socialist transformation this past century, we see that the hand of U.S. empire has always been there.
As scientific socialists, we see socialist formations around the world as experiments in the struggle against the global order of U.S. empire. This doesn’t mean that these experiments aren’t sometimes messy, contradictory, unsuccessful, or unable to resist being batted around by the winds of international capital, but we recognize these contradictions as aspects of their development that we should study and learn from.
For example, some may decry the fact that Cuba’s desire for productive growth to alleviate poverty has led its people to vote to allow small businesses to operate in a larger sphere of the economy. This does allow the reentry of certain capitalist economic relations to the economic life of the island that weren’t there previously. Standing here in the U.S. as students of Marx we might frown at this type of move. But Cuba’s correct focus on its principal issues — poverty, a need for self-reliance due to the U.S. blockade — shouldn’t be derailed by the secondary question of the role of a small petit bourgeois contingent within the country. We should be able to understand why the country makes the decisions it does as part of our support of the Cuban people and their revolution against U.S. empire and the global capitalist order.
Some Latin American countries with large socialist parties contending for power may have abortion and LGBT rights positions that we regard as regressive, and due to their geographic positions these countries may pursue a policy of nationalizing their oil and mineral resources. Some might understandably oppose these positions on social justice or environmental grounds, but we also recognize that these internal conflicts are used as wedge issues by U.S. empire against the self-determination of these countries. For example, “anti-extractivist” and “anti-authoritarian” critiques from the Western-backed Ecuadorian presidential candidate Yaku Perez were a major factor in the defeat of the left-wing candidate Andreas Arauz. This resulted in the victory of banker Guillermo Lasso who sought to privatize the country’s mineral resources, against the interests of the people of Ecuador.
While DSA’s orientation to China will not be settled with any debates in the next week, we must remember that the Chinese people remain affected by the impact of Japanese and British colonization followed by a turbulent revolutionary process in the almost 75 years of the People’s Republic of China. The form that the class struggle should take as China modernizes is a live question, both among the 95 million members of the Communist Party of China and within the rest of the country. But the Chinese people have also managed to make great strides in eradicating extreme poverty, developing a counterbalance to the IMF-backed global development order, and providing far greater support towards global COVID-19 vaccine distribution than the United States. As “great power competition” becomes the guiding ideology of U.S. foreign policy, China is now the main target in the crosshairs of a New Cold War which the U.S. left must build the capacity to oppose.
A variety of countries around the world are not socialist or part of any “socialist camp,” but we nevertheless must recognize the impacts of U.S. empire on their internal development. Iran has been struggling under the U.S. sanctions regime and a variety of imperialist actions intended to destabilize them and open up their oil reserves to foreign capital. And, of course, the U.S.’s global drone war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and other countries causes countless deaths and massively stunts the development and living standards of people across the world.
The challenges faced by countries fighting for socialism and against U.S. imperialism are ones that we as U.S. leftists will need to reckon with if we are ever to build a movement large enough to capture state power and develop a working-class apparatus for social development. Though the role of these global movements in socialist transformation is yet to be determined, we cannot simply prejudge that role and cut ourselves off from the global movement to dismantle and disempower U.S. empire.
And it’s difficult to imagine the fledgling U.S. left’s efforts playing out differently. Had Bernie Sanders won the 2020 Democratic Party nomination, he would be seated with a confusing and contradictory mandate from the people of the U.S. A significant minority of Americans believe abortion should be illegal, still, and the specter of a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade looms over Washington. In parts of the U.S. new laws threaten abortion access with less direct but still threatening enforcement mechanisms. Meanwhile, parts of the country’s police force remain controlled by violent gangs. There are socialist organizations within the U.S. that claim positions both to DSA’s left and to its right. What steps should a socialist party building power take here? How would it navigate internal and external challenges from those who would sooner see millions dead than a single successful socialist project? These are the kinds of lessons we can learn from engaging with mass socialist parties worldwide.
The path forward
National Resolution #14 will have DSA continue the path the organization is on, building connections with a broad spectrum of the Latin American left and bringing a critical but empathetic analysis of formations working to build socialist transformation around the world. This is perhaps best expressed in the resolution’s call for DSA to apply for membership in the Foro De São Paulo (The São Paulo Forum), a convention of socialist and communist parties from across the Americas gathering to discuss the future of the socialist movement.
DSA sent a 2-member delegation to the Foro as observers in 2016; the delegation’s report was written by observing attendee Dan La Botz, who is a member of the minority opposition to DSA’s anti-imperialist turn, fighting to bring back the “old” International Committee and all its Third Campism along with it. In the report, La Botz argues that “the Foro overall does not represent the democratic socialist ideals to which Democratic Socialists of America aspire.” He provides a transcript of the speech he gave to the Foro’s attendees on the situation in the United States, in which he seemed to put far more emphasis on driving forward an analysis of other parties attending than describing the American situation:
“The bourgeoisies of Latin America do not need the U.S. bourgeoisie to tell them what to do; they are perfectly capable of making their own coups d’état. And the Latin American left bears some responsibility for developments.
While responding to American imperialism, this is also an opportunity for reflection and self-criticism. I was surprised that in afternoon’s panel, there seemed to be no serious discussion of the mistakes made by the Brazilian Workers Party. I am also concerned to know if reports in the left press that the United Socialist Party of Venezuela government had destroyed the headquarters of the Marea Socialista, an independent socialist group in that country, [are true].”
A more thorough response to La Botz’s report is out of the scope of this article. But we think the instinct to attend the Foro as an invited guest and to choose to spend our time telling the Latin American left they “bear some responsibility for developments” while we all work under the oppressive conditions of U.S. empire is fundamentally misguided. While we must of course work to understand the tensions at play in any socialist movement, we don’t find these arguments convincing enough to make our primary orientation that of gatekeeping what should count as “left” enough to deserve our blessed attention.
Last month, DSA sent a delegation to the Congreso Bicentenario de los Pueblos in Caracas to meet with socialist organizations of different tendencies from across the Latin American left as well as to engage with various formations organizing on the ground within Venezuela. From International Committee member Tom W:
“Each delegation from all around the world was given an opportunity not only to opine on conditions of Venezuela, but also conditions of their own country, which people were speaking of in great detail. It was a really profoundly beautiful moment of togetherness with the international community, and frankly a fantastic example of the socialist internationalism that we’re trying to cultivate in our organization…We were told multiple times that people had heard of the struggles that we were engineering in the States. This was a wonderful thing, this was a tremendous leap forward, and I am extraordinarily grateful to have participated in it in the capacity that I did.”
The contrast between the tone of La Botz’s Foro report and the Venezuela report-back is striking. The former is an academic critique of left-movements judged from afar, and the latter is an honest and open report on the struggle of the Venezuelan people and our connection with other socialist movements across Latin America. It’s an example of the work DSA has done to transform its international orientation, work that will be continued with DSA Resolution #14.
Just like you can’t build socialism in the United States without connecting into and developing the struggle of the working class, we can’t build socialism on Earth without helping drive forward the movement against U.S. empire. Join us in building a principled and powerful movement against U.S. empire! Ratify Resolution #14 and continue the positive direction of DSA’s International Solidarity work!
Elizabeth M and Sam H-L are co-authors of Resolution #14: Committing to International Socialist Solidarity and members of DSA San Francisco’s Steering Committee. Michael S is a member of the DSA International Committee’s anti-war and Asia/Oceania subcommittees.