The Means Not the Ends

  • Statement about: Jovanka Beckles and Gayle McLaughlin
  • For these candidates: I support a strong endorsement with a commitment to "boots on the ground" support from DSA.
  • Summary: The endorsement represents an opportunity for our members to engage with the working class beyond a narrow section of Oakland and Berkeley.

Written by East Bay DSA member Dan Deck

The Means Not the Ends

I fully support the endorsement of both Gail and Jovanka and believe that the EB DSA should dedicate significant resources to their campaigns. The endorsements represent a significant opportunity for our members to engage with the working class beyond a narrow section of Oakland and Berkeley. Building organic ties to other working class organizations is essential for growing both our organization and a mass working class movement. The DSA needs to be at the front of the movement providing a distinctly socialist analysis that will help navigate the hurdles and roadblocks that lie ahead. Not accepting the call at this historic juncture would be the worst form of solipsism. Refusing to engage with the working class and movement where they are at is the path to becoming a micro-sect.

I believe there are only two principled responses for members to choose from, opposition to endorsing these candidates or a strong endorsement with a commitment to "boots on the ground" support from the DSA. I strongly encourage members to reject the opportunist position of minimal endorsement, without a commitment to "boots on the ground" support. This position defeats the whole purpose of the endorsement, getting members in motion and making connections with the working class. It also reeks of liberal politicking and branding. To be clear, the EB DSA should not overcommit resources. The resources dedicated must be at a level that's appropriate for the organization and should not detract from ongoing projects. With that unpleasantness aside, let's consider the two principled choices.

Oppose Endorsing the Candidates

There are actually several possible reasons a socialist might oppose endorsing these candidates that are worth a brief discussion. It is my firm belief that the large majority of member will reject these positions are careful consideration.

  1. Rejection of electoral politics as a terrain of struggle. This is generally the position of ultra-left tendencies who believe that parliamentarianism inhibits the autonomous activity by the masses that is necessary for revolution. It is beyond the scope of this discussion to offer an extensive critique of this position. Needless to say, this position has been rejected by Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc. It is true there can be no gradual, peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism. What can and must be gradual and cumulative in a socialist strategy is the preparatory phase, the gradual application of a coherent program of reforms, which sets in motion a process leading to a revolutionary crisis. While a socialist strategy of gradual reforms should not be conceived as a simple electoral conquest of a majority, it presupposes power both inside and outside representative governing bodies necessary to win these reforms.
  2. Support should be limited to "home-grown" DSA candidates. This argument inevitably rests on the accountability issue that was raised at the first endorsement meeting. While this is a significant issue that generally needs to be considered, the impact in this specific situation is negligible. Neither Jovanka, nor Gail, will be in a position to provide ameloriation to working class should they win. I also don't believe the DSA is asking anything in return for their endorsement. We are not engaging in transactional politics. Therefore concerns for accountability in this situation are unfounded. In the unlikely event either candidate takes positions or votes in ways that are contrary to the values of the EB DSA membership, we should not hesitate to make our voices heard and potentially withdraw or withhold future endorsements. Finally it is worth restating, the whole purpose of the endorsement is getting members in motion and making connections with the working class, not conquest of state power.
  3. The EB DSA's values and interests don't align with RPA's. We considered this question as a group at the last endorsement meeting. The vast majority of those present agreed that the RPA represents working class interests. This is the fundamental point, not whether they have social-democratic politics or what ballot line they are running on. The RPA is a staunchly anti-capitalist, working class organization with a track record of running a city government and taking on big corporations. And they live right next door to us. We have much to learn from them.

Strong Endorsement with "Boots on the Ground" Support

I believe I've made a strong case for this position throughout the piece so instead I'll leave you with a quote by Engels from 1893 regarding the socialist movement in America. "The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained they will soon find the right direction ... To expect the Americans to start with the full consciousness of the theory worked out in older industrial countries is to expect the impossible ... A million or two working men's votes next November for a bona fide working class party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform. But anything that might delay or prevent that national consolidation of the working class party – on no matter what platform – I should consider a great mistake."

The statement above is the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the opinions of East Bay DSA, its local council, or its members.