Most US students think of elections as the only field of political struggle. Supporters of Resolution 8 argue that YDSA needs to take advantage of this and use the 2024 presidential election to grow both our organization’s membership and capacity to carry out class-struggle elections.
Elections are the primary means by which people in this country engage with politics and for the vast majority this is where politics begins and ends. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns were the first times millions of people ever heard of “democratic socialism” and his campaigns led to an explosion of DSA membership growth. While campaigns that advance labor and social movements should serve as YDSA’s priorities, we would be remiss to ignore electoral organizing completely. Strategic socialist electoral campaigns serve as a way to talk to workers and students about an alternative vision for society, organize people into conflict with capital, materially improve workers’ lives, and recruit new socialists. It’s important that these types of campaigns are done effectively with the proper guidance and support. We urge delegates to vote “Yes” on “Resolution 8: Recommitting to Building an Independent Working-Class Socialist Party” to provide this guidance and support, and point YDSA’s electoral work toward a class-struggle, party-building orientation.
The Strategic Importance of Electoral Campaigns – Especially in 2024
Students are tired of picking between a “lesser-of-two-evils.” While many students begrudgingly cast their ballot for Joe Biden in 2020, many look on his time in office as a necessary evil. He does too little, too late, but at least he’s not Donald Trump. Students are fed up after Biden’s inaction following the overturning of Roe v. Wade and his gutting of the welfare state even further – which will lead to an estimated 15 million people losing their health insurance. It’s clear that the Democratic establishment is not just complacent in the face of inequality and injustice, but actively perpetuates a system which unfairly targets the poor, working-class, women, and people of color.
YDSA can seize this political moment to recruit and mentor a new generation of passionate socialist organizers. Election years – especially at the presidential level – are when the most people become politically engaged. Across campuses for the next year and a half there will be classrooms, student centers, and student publications hyper focused on the presidential election. YDSA can present an alternative for building a better world to young people despondent with the choices between a neoliberal Democratic Party and a reactionary Republican Party, as the youth wing of a future independent socialist party. If we are able to capitalize off the discontent with the Biden administration and the lack of a viable alternative, we will be able to recruit many student organizers who desire a more equitable and just world, and point them toward building independent working-class power as the solution.
For the Fall Drive in 2023 and 2024, YDSA should show our commitment to building the future of a worker-led independent socialist party so that students will not have to choose between the lesser-of-two evils. To this end, the Fall Drive materials for 2023 and 2023 – including a social media kit and canvassing and tabling materials – should be curated around criticizing both the Democratic and Republican parties, displaying the inability of Democratic Party centrism in defeating the far-right, and presenting YDSA as the future youth wing of an independent socialist party. Instead of deferring to the choices put forward by capital and their representatives, we can show young people the alternative: taking charge of building a different future through organizing in the labor movement, building social struggles on and off campus, recruiting, developing, and educating new socialist organizers, and engaging in class-struggle, party-building electoral work.
Doing Electoral Organizing Well
While many DSA chapters engaging in electoral work have developed endorsement processes, electoral working groups, or other mechanisms of campaign success, students don’t all have the institutional memory about how to engage in electoral campaigns that support the growth and development of YDSA. That makes it harder for us to stand on our own, separate from the Democratic Party and break away from the use of their resources and candidates.
Endorsement processes, for one, are an important framework for identifying and developing class-struggle candidates that see themselves as beholden to our socialist organization once in office. We don’t currently have a framework for what endorsement processes look like for student chapters. YDSA members who engage in electoral work should be able to refer to a central resource on how to run relevant endorsement processes and the day-to-day operations of a campaign. Not everyone has a local DSA chapter with institutional knowledge on door knocking, fundraising, campaign filing rules, designing literature, running a “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) operation, etc. That’s why R8 proposes a national YDSA handbook to provide this guidance to chapters.
We already have several handbooks published by national YDSA that are used and sent to chapters on a regular basis and can help to provide context on certain organizing topics. Something as formulaic as an electoral campaign suits the format well, providing a baseline understanding that our national organizers can then build upon in discussions with chapters. An important part of creating this handbook will be establishing contacts with organizers who have electoral experience so that YDSA members have people to reach out to with any questions. This will allow us to build institutional knowledge as an organization and support ongoing electoral campaigns for years to come.
At the 2022 National Summer Convention, YDSA passed “Resolution 15: For An Independent Working Class Socialist Party” and established a vision for what being the future student wing of a socialist party would look like. It’s important that our handbook and materials reflect that. We should discuss the importance of class-struggle socialist candidates and communications, as well as how we can begin to build a socialist political party rooted in a mass multiracial working-class movement, while still using the Democratic Party ballot line where tactically necessary. This way, we can continue with our electoral work while moving away from relying on the Democratic Party’s resources, institutions, and politicians.
Elections are how the vast majority of Americans engage with politics. Especially in the case of 2024 – given the last two contentious elections – the presidential election cycle will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and students are overwhelmingly discontent with their options. YDSA should use this strategic political moment to recruit students during the Fall Drive and create a central resource on how to support socialist candidates, which will build institutional knowledge within YDSA, eventually enabling us to break away from the Democratic Party and its resources and form an independent socialist party.