YDSA at UVA’s Central Committee argues that identifying as an anti-capitalist or socialist isn’t enough — in order to build and wield power for the working class and actually overturn capitalism, socialists need strong organizations that can run campaigns, win real victories, and train more socialist organizers.
Social justice — a vague euphemism for all things good — isn’t ideological. Instead of social justice, we need to be socialists, and fight for socialism. This distinction is important at UVA, because most people you meet at UVA have some criticisms of capitalism. In this way, a number of people can be characterized by the broad label of anti-capitalist. What this means is that they recognize that capitalism is the system which fundamentally structures economic exploitation and social oppression. It reaps profits off of their backs, the backs of their families, and devastates our neighborhoods as well as countries abroad. Ask whether capitalism is bad — whether it causes suffering of others, war, poverty, etc, and I’m certain, much like the consistent polling, a majority would agree. But it isn’t enough to identify as an anti-capitalist, as a socialist, or a communist; what we need to do is organize as socialists for socialism. But, what is the difference between being a socialist, and organizing as a socialist?
Saying you are a socialist (while more common now than in previous decades) still carries a weight to it. You assert that on some level this society should be owned and operated by the working-class, for the working-class. You transport the historical victories of the working-class led world-wide by socialists and communists.
Single-issue campaigns have a strategic and important place in winning change., However, the organizers doing this type of work who view themselves as socialists gain something by helping direct the collective work of a socialist organization. And this is important: no organization, no matter how large, can fight for every pro-working-class demand at once. Socialists must decide where to direct their limited time, energy, and resources.. This is informed by the deep commitment we all share to building a socialist world. An ideological commitment means fighting for the working-class even when the most immediate fight isn’t one that most directly affects you. We become more powerful and bolster the power of the working-class through this sort of collective decision making.
At the most basic level, a socialist organization fights for socialism. No liberal group, no matter how true their aims are, is organizing for socialism. A socialist organization like Young Democratic Socialists of America makes collective democratic decisions and actions. Many people know that collective action is more powerful than individual action, but the way collective action is done is through organization. Political debate and discussion are means of determining the most pressing actions for socialists to be taking. We struggle with figuring out how to make a revolution and then act — not just imagine a better world. There is no other type of organization fit for such a task.
Consider the lone socialist; they are committed to their ideals, and truly believe that what we need is a full-scale overhaul of the capitalist system. Suppose they engage in an organizing project in their immediate workplace and successfully unionize a previously unorganized shop. In no small way have they won a victory for themselves and their co-workers. However, the victory stops there. At a personal level they wish their union could be a vehicle for larger class struggle projects, like a hypothetical prospective tenants union organizing a few neighborhoods away. A socialist organization has the ability to both aid in organizing unorganized shops, as well as organizing tenants, merging the neighborhood interests with the workplace. If organizing tenants were a priority of the socialist organization, a workplace leader who is part of that organization would know this, and could pressure their union to devote resources to affordable housing struggles like a tenants union. Suddenly a lone effort to democratize one’s workplace has turned into leveraging the resources and power of a union into providing physical, and monetary aid to new organizing projects, increasing the power of the working-class in the respective area. A lone socialist has turned into a socialist organizer, now fighting for the whole working class.
Socialist organizations try to build movements and contest for power differently than other types of organizations. In single-issue campaigns there is a specific demand that is being made of the state or an institution. Run a rent control campaign and the goal is to exert the power of the campaign to force local governments to adopt rent control measures. Run a living-wage campaign and the purpose is to force the hand of an administration or boss to pay workers a living wage. Campaign for an end to police brutality and you seek to disarm and discipline cops, as well as decrease the number of cops on patrol. These issues can form movements in their own right and leverage the multi-racial working-class in a way that expresses power. Single issue campaigns serve valuable purposes, but the nature of single-issues is that they aren’t permanent. A socialist movement seeks to constantly and meaningfully contest power at all levels of society, from neighborhood, to workplace, to the ballot box, and university. Because capitalism is constantly waging a struggle against the working-class, we need a permanent mobilization for working-class interests,
Building power means that we seek to wield power by and for the working-class. A socialist movement is always organizing, even in the best of economic conditions, or in the most unfavorable conditions, like a pandemic. In the last year YDSA has worked to organize around College for All, an effort needed to freeze costs of attending UVA. Our analysis pointed to the obscene wealth of the university, while students were being asked to pay more and more. We do this because we recognize that the fundamental contradictions of capitalism and the subsequent social world mean that a crisis is always on the precipice. As the COVID-19 crisis has revealed our analysis to be correct, we see that our work was just the beginning, and needed to have been even more expansive in order to effectively respond to this crisis. Organizing as a socialist means constantly struggling to win a majority even when the conditions of the world render seemingly impossible.
Our university and community faces a crisis that will likely only get worse. We can fracture into demands that call for one slice of the massive crisis to be addressed, sometimes contradicting one another. Or we can move forward as socialist organizers, fighting for a response that meets the needs of the working-class in this extraordinary setting.For whatever flaws DSA and YDSA have, they are the only organizations that are moving in the direction of a socialist movement for the entire working-class. It is necessary for some people to devote the majority of their time to issue-based campaigns, as the work being done on migrant-justice, racial-justice, and worker’s rights is always essential. Indeed, it is through this work that a larger base of people is reached, and that many new people become socialists themselves. But merging issues with ideology is a central task of students and working-class people. Remaining a socialist only in our personal lives, without taking collective action prevents us from fully exerting our power, and winning demands that remake the world to be more equitable and just. We have a world to win, but we need to organize as socialists to do it.
Want to support The Activist and help build a mass working-class movement by and for student socialists? Become a YDSA member today! YDSA members: we want to hear from you! Find out how to submit your work to The Activist here.