Centering Mass Movements

Avir W., Katie F., Dan D., Luci R., Benny Z., AJ A.

What is a “mass movement”?

All socialists acknowledge that it is going to take a mass movement to transition away from capitalism. However, the definition of “mass movement” has remained nebulous, allowing anything from electoral campaigns to single-day marches to be called a mass movement.

There are 5 defining features of a mass movement:

  1. Refusal of Delegation or Representation: Noone can call a mass movement into being.
  2. Heterogenous: Mass movements swarm with competing organizations and informal groupings and tendencies. Despite this, they tend to unite around an unequivocal goal, expressed through a simple slogan. Though they are not united by a single organization, this does not mean that they are disorganized.
  3. Negative Demands: Mass movements do not propose precise legislation or enter into the details of policy. Instead, they make demands that call for the immediate end of a particular feature of the prevailing order, such as “Defund the Police.” 
  4. Tactical Innovation to Confront the State: Because mass movements are inevitably met with state violence, they generate incredible innovation in tactics, which are frequently replicated across geographic, national, and cultural boundaries.
  5. Direct Experience of Collective Power: The direct and immediate collective struggles of mass movements show people the extent of their power and the degree to which they can actually change the existing system. Just as voting mirrors capitalism’s emphasis on the individual and reinforces the legitimacy of a State that ultimately serves capital, mass movements mirror socialism’s emphasis on the collective. They build community, awaken us to our true power, and prepare us to run society not for profit—but for ourselves. 

EBDSA’s Engagement with Mass Movements

If mass movements are alchemical, unpredictable, and sometimes short-lived, how should DSA interact with them? Right now, we are not prepared to engage with mass movements as they spontaneously arise. Our organization is too rigid and bureaucratic to respond to a quick change of events, a fact stemming from our focus on slow and deliberate electoral and single-issue campaigns. Nor have we organized deeply enough in our local communities to be effective and deeply trusted.

In the most recent wave of protests, we were largely caught flat-footed. While those who organized around the protests did a fantastic job, our involvement was scattered and limited. Because of our chapter’s over-emphasis on electoral work, we did not focus on developing the community relationships, structures––and sometimes skills––needed for direct action and mass movement work. This meant we had to scramble to figure out who would do the work and how it would be accomplished.

More importantly, though, is that, in the end, we brought very little to these movements. Certainly, we showed up as a contingent, a noticeable blotch of red in the sea of people, and we helped with backend logistics—crucial, to be sure. But, as an organization, we lacked the structural connections to apply pressure in strategic places to expand the movement outside of the simplicity of a street march.

What Can We Change?

Now is the time to begin building the necessary structures for the next uprising. This means engaging with our local communities and workplaces to understand the issues and to nurture networks that can respond to them. These activities range from mutual aid networks to tenant councils to connecting key sectors of labor to mass movements. The fundamental principle must be to develop connections and organizations in a way that builds real power outside of the State.

At all times, we should strive to develop and share an analysis of the interconnectedness of the struggle. 

Our end goal should be threefold:

  1. Develop and share an analysis of the interconnectedness of the struggle and the necessity for radical action
  2. Develop, through community organizing and base-building, a sense of agency and belief in collective action in communities that will sustain new movements as they arise
  3. Develop relationships with local communities so that we can act as trusted participants in the shared struggle