This document marks the beginning of a new chapter for Red Star.
When Red Star formed from the remains of the San Francisco local of the Refoundation caucus, we were a group with ostensibly shared political views, but without a shared political strategy. While the points of unity we started with were a useful tool with which to assess the situation of DSA, both locally and nationally, they did not produce a clear course of action for us to take. We attempted to undertake many different projects and operated mostly by trial and error.
In January of this year, the caucus held a strategy meeting to discuss our past and future. Over the course of an afternoon, we discussed our strengths and weaknesses, assessed our structures and practices, and debated the principles that will guide our work going forward. The process was rich with analysis and self-criticism, and we ultimately arrived at a set of conclusions that we believe will guide us well in the coming year.
We hope that this document and the process that produced it represent a clarification of our path towards the revolutionary horizon. We have sought to understand our successes and failures, and to reflect on the state of the caucus and the chapter. We believe that DSA SF, despite its faults, is still capable of playing a role in laying the groundwork for proletarian revolution, and we have laid out interventions that we believe will contribute to this process. We are excited to share the fruits of our labor.
About Red Star
Red Star is a caucus of revolutionary Marxists in DSA SF. Formed after the dissolution of the Refoundation caucus in 2018, Red Star has endeavored to advance and support projects within DSA SF that align with our shared vision of revolutionary socialism. We have produced educational materials on Marxist theory and concepts, supported the chapter’s new labor organizing work at Anchor Brewing and Tartine bakery, launched a childcare program at general meetings, and become a fixture in the chapter’s presence at anti-war and anti-imperialism demonstrations.
Observations From the Strategy Meeting
A major area of focus and discussion during our strategy meeting was reflecting on the caucus’s relationship with the chapter. We are aware that some of our comrades in DSA SF perceive us to be a group of naysayers and critics, quick to argue against a campaign (especially an electoral one) that we don’t agree with politically. While we take issue with this characterization, we want to acknowledge our position in the chapter and hope to strengthen it through good faith engagement. We believe that making our positions on particular chapter matters public, clear, and available in advance will demystify some of the roots of these disagreements. Ideally, this will draw this type of conflict out of the realm of bad group dynamics and into a place where there can be healthy discourse and political debate—something that we feel the chapter doesn’t generally approach well, but that it needs to.
The need for productive conflict over the crucial questions of political strategy, vision, and tactics is part of a broader trend we observe within DSA SF: the simultaneous lack of and hunger for political discussion and development. We see the chapter’s education program as underdeveloped, underutilized, and generally disconnected from what most would consider “the work.” Members join the organization and may participate in an Intro to Socialism class, but they are then funneled into committees that, more often than not, forego any education or discussion beyond that immediately logistically related to their projects. We think it’s important for the chapter to develop the membership’s understanding of political and economic concepts—and we’ve seen a lot of interest in this kind of development based on the response to our educational materials.
With the question of politicizing our program in mind, we faced the question of how Red Star takes ownership of the projects we have supported within the chapter. Whether this is the labor organizing work that Red Star members have been instrumental to, the Child Watch resolution which was authored and implemented by members of the caucus, or the caucus’s steadfast presence at anti-imperialism demonstrations, the line between what’s “ours” and the chapter’s is hard to define. We don’t have a perfect solution for this yet—but collectively, we feel strongly that we support the things we do because we think they are good for the chapter, and we want to be able to make our support of and involvement in them significant to the chapter as well.
We also reflected on the structure of the chapter and some of our frustrations with it. We feel that the aforementioned hunger for theoretical development is related to a dearth of strategic planning and discussion in the chapter. Without a shared understanding of the purpose of the organization itself, the chapter’s approach to work often feels aimless. Instead of focusing on building collective power to exercise against capital, some of the chapter’s projects take their utility as self-evident and leave the question of power unanswered. Instead of contributing to a unified strategy stemming from a shared purpose, the chapter’s projects feel disjointed and unrelated to one another. The chapter’s committees often feel like their own activist organizations, and the chapter’s purpose is reduced to a brand that is applied to the projects that these committees produce.
A final area of reflection at our meeting was our internal structure and how we approach our work as a caucus. Specifically, what obstacles have we faced in accomplishing our goals? We sought to create internal committees responsible for subsets of internal function, not unlike the chapter’s committee structure. However, this led to projects suffering in their silos. This gave rise to a question for us to reflect on as we take up a more developed program: if the group decides on a course of action with several distinct parts, what is needed to ensure the progress on the project at large beyond the components? Put another way, how do the parts support the whole?
These are consequential issues for this caucus, this chapter, and this organization. The fight for socialism is a historical task that spans continents and generations. It is bigger and more significant than any one of us, and we should approach it with the seriousness it demands. It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.
Red Star San Francisco, after assessing ourselves and our position, has adopted the following program for 2020 in our efforts to make DSA SF the best vessel for socialist organizing it can be.
In our discussions of how best to draw DSA SF in a revolutionary direction, we have identified four main areas of focus for the caucus in the year ahead. It is not an exhaustive program for the chapter, but rather a concrete course of action for Red Star that we feel would greatly improve the chapter and help build towards the potential for a revolutionary movement. We believe this program will help the chapter as a whole critically engage with the task of winning socialism, make us more effective organizers, and train our eyes towards anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements beyond our borders. We also hope that by making our aims and purpose clear in chapter matters that we will be seen by our critics not as unrelenting naysayers or a shadowy network of influence, but as equals and principled comrades in the chapter’s struggle to build a better world.
I. Expanding Political Development
We can’t make ourselves and our comrades into better organizers if we don’t have an understanding of what we’re fighting for. Many DSA SF members joined because they see and support the work the chapter does, but they do not arrive with a concrete notion of socialism and are not formally introduced to it. We seek to remedy this by (i) organizing a recurring series of events that will introduce core principles of Marxism, meant to be taken as a course, (ii) hosting or participating in panel discussions of theory, history, and current political trends, and (iii) producing zines, videos, and writing aimed at DSA members. We believe that this will help us politicize the work that we do, as well as share the conclusions from our own internal political development with a broader audience.
II. Advancing Labor Struggle
While we recognize that simply increasing labor union density is not sufficient for a socialist revolution, we believe that workplace organizing is a critical component of any revolutionary program. Workers have power to act at the point of production, and being able to organize and act around that point is a tactical necessity for exercising and ultimately seizing power. Therefore, in addition to supporting the Labor Organizing Committee’s new organizing work, we plan to work with the LOC to begin holding workplace organizing trainings on a regular basis. As an entryway into organizing for people with socialist politics, DSA SF has an opportunity to train members to become leaders in their workplaces. We should take advantage of it.
III. Maintaining an Anti-Imperialist Pole
The US state depends not only on exploited and repressed labor within its borders, but on a violently enforced international order that spans the globe. We believe the task of usurping this order is paramount in the struggle for uniting and liberating the working classes of all nations, and we must not let it fall by the wayside as we fight for a better world. Red Star has heretofore been a vocal and visible proponent of anti-war actions and protests against the firms that prop up the US’s empire and border regime, and we will not falter. We will agitate for and maintain an unequivocally anti-imperialist and internationalist position within the chapter and the organization, support local protests and demonstrations against war and other forms of imperial statecraft, and try to always connect the work of the socialist movement in the United States to the struggles of working people around the world.
IV. Proactive Engagement with the Chapter
We will not always have unity regarding what the chapter does, but to the extent that we do, we think it will contribute to productive political struggle in the chapter to make our positions as a caucus clear and available. We believe that by doing so, we will play a part in improving the chapter’s approach to debates. We hope that by making our unified positions on political issues clear, we can add more to political debates than our individual voices speaking in support or opposition would. We will seek to offer nuanced and empathetic critique instead of a chorus of antagonism, which serves nobody in the chapter whether they are ideologically aligned with us or not. We are doing this because we are committed to this chapter and DSA, and believe that both have a role to play in organizing the working class.
Revolution in our Lifetimes?
Faced with the immediate and increasingly dire threats of catastrophic climate change, consolidation of power by the extreme right, and looming economic devastation, we don’t have the luxury of treating revolution as a distant hypothetical. Our species might not survive another century of capitalist domination.
At the same time, we recognize that the Democratic Socialists of America does not yet wield the power or influence to bring about revolutionary conditions in the United States, or even to take advantage of them were they to arise independent of us. As such, we must focus our efforts on the primary lever of power available to us: organizing our fellow workers into a revolutionary class that can topple capitalism in our lifetimes.
This is no less than a matter of life and death. How much longer can we stand by as people suffer and die without healthcare? How much longer can we tolerate the murder of innocents on our streets and overseas in the name of profit? How much longer can we allow the wholesale destruction of our natural world and the theft of food from the mouths of future generations?
Our protests fall on deaf ears, and our votes are ground to dust in political machinery. But together, we can bring the economy of the ruling class to its knees. We can demand a world that works for all people, free of war and exploitation and needless misery. We can spell out our just demands and envision a better future founded on them, one that instills hope over despair.
But it is not enough to simply be right. We are running out of time to prognosticate. The old order is unable to contain the social, environmental, and geopolitical chaos it wreaks. The world we know is going to ash. We must bring about a new one.
What You Can Do
If the program we have outlined here in this document sparks your excitement, we invite you to join us in our push to make DSA SF the organization that we need it to be. Here are some ways you can help to move the chapter in a revolutionary direction.
First, take the time to invest in political education. We cannot defeat capitalism if we do not understand it, and we believe that a strong base of knowledge can give meaning and focus to all work within DSA SF. The chapter’s Education committee, as well as our zines and short videos, are great places to start. We also ask members to join us in bringing a strong theoretical bent to the projects they take on - an example we have tried to set and will strive to improve on.
On a related note, it’s worth analyzing and organizing around the struggles in your life. Whatever your class position or material circumstances, we ask all members to spend time analyzing their own access to the levers of strategic power within capitalism, and focus their work on the opportunities they have to organize around those struggles. Socialism is not simply organizing for the benefit of the less fortunate, but a project that demands recognition of your own skin in the game.
Additionally, we hope that this program will consider our organization’s strategy. What can we understand about the organization by analyzing the paths it has chosen? Do the tactics we employ build power, and how? We believe that we are here to fight for the working class, and if the working class is to win, then the owning classes must lose. We ask you to join us in organizing for this victory, and to think critically about how we might be able to achieve it.
Finally, we hope you’ll stay in touch. Subscribe to our newsletter and social media to stay informed about our progress towards these goals. We will provide regular updates about events, materials, and writing as we produce them. We also hope to expand our ranks this year by working to advance our positions through staunch and active engagement with the chapter. We will note that maintaining a degree of shared ideological unity is something we seek to prioritize in our recruitment in order to maintain the caucus’ strategic focus. If you have questions about the caucus, talk to a member: many of us proudly sport Red Star buttons, and we table at chapter general meetings. If you are interested in contributing to our revolutionary project, please visit redstarsf.org/apply/ to find out how to join us.