The Build Primer
Yes, in good time we are going to sweep into power in this nation and throughout the world. We are going to destroy all enslaving and degrading capitalist institutions and re-create them as free and humanizing institutions. The world is daily changing before our eyes. The sun of capitalism is setting; the sun of socialism is rising. It is our duty to build the new nation and the free republic. We need industrial and social builders. We Socialists are the builders of the beautiful world that is to be.
— Eugene Debs, The Canton, Ohio Speech, June 16, 1918
The History of Build
In recent weeks, comrades have asked us many questions about Build: Is Build a caucus? Is it political? Does it have a platform? Will it run slates? How does one join? Where does it fit in DSA? How does it relate to DSA’s caucuses? While we’ve answered these questions in various places and published our values on our website, we haven’t issued a policy platform—nor will we. However, because we believe our own actions should be a model for the transparency we wish to see in the national organization, we must clearly explain what Build is, what our shared values and goals are, and what we’re working on.
So here’s what we’ve got.
Build is an organizing project within DSA dedicated to the multi-year task of growing and nurturing the base the socialist movement needs to win. We don’t call Build a “caucus” because most in DSA define “caucus” as a group with a defined policy platform or prescription for political action. We very intentionally don’t have a defined platform, so we don’t call ourselves a caucus.
Instead, Build is a team unified by the political belief that DSA can only succeed in this particular historical moment if socialists of all stripes collaborate on projects ranging from electoral work to direct action to building counterpower, without one tendency dominating or restricting the work of others. For this reason, we’ve sometimes called ourselves a “meta-tendency”—each of us have a constellation of questions about political action and theory that we believe we can only effectively explore in a pluralist environment, without prematurely attaching ourselves to one of the existing tendencies within DSA.
Build is the product of many things, but it primarily arises from our perception of DSA’s current limitations. In mid-2018, Build’s founders came together from diverse backgrounds and tendencies, united by their personal experiences with the Momentum faction’s toxic behavior and weaponization of majoritarian proceduralism. We attempted creating a new caucus with a unified set of beliefs and tactics—and failed. Our politics were a microcosm of the wide variety in DSA, and cohering around one tendency was impossible.
Yet, in analyzing this failure, we realized something transformative: we’re stronger working together around our shared values while maintaining and learning from our differences. When we stepped back, this realization helped make sense of the wild, wonderful, sometimes infuriating organization we call our political home. We realized many DSA members are new to the movement and still forming their politics. We realized the harsh fact that the American Left as an organized movement with a durable base is still in its infancy after decades in the wilderness, and we thus lack the evidence needed to categorically declare which strategy is best. Most of all, by working across tendencies, we realized, in this particular moment, genuinely embracing the diversity of beliefs and tactics in DSA is a strength, not a weakness, and friction created from diversity can and should be generative rather than harmful.
Why is DSA’s pluralism its strength? It encourages our organization to experiment, and to synthesize new strategies and projects through tactical combinations impossible in single-tendency organizations. Theory and debate are vital, but political divergences shouldn’t be resolved with overwrought thinkpieces and factional squabbles. Most DSA members don’t fall into hardline factions. Our politics are in constant motion. Many of us want to develop our theoretical knowledge and organizing projects, rather than become Robert’s Rules experts or subscribe to a single socialist blog. This fluid dynamic is why many of us joined DSA. The organization’s pluralistic energy enables DSA to be a hub for radicalization and building a mass movement.
Build unified around these realizations, and with our formation came obvious follow-up questions: what does a functional, sustainable, multi-tendency (or “big tent”) organization look like in practice and theory? Where do we go next? How can we present a unified front against capitalism and create a culture focused on doing the work, while also encouraging comradely, good-faith political discussion? Before we can proclaim what DSA must work on or where we ought togo, however, we must first determine who we are and what we want to be—not just now, but five and ten years in the future.
Our Shared Values
We’ve repeatedly referenced our shared values above. That’s because, as a “meta-tendency,” these are our points of unity and ground everything we do. Our collective work is based on advancing these values and defending them against factional threats. While policy platforms have their place, we haven’t laid out a prescribed set of external policies ourselves. Instead, we’re unified around facilitating and protecting the pluralist structure that will allow political discussions about platforms and policy points to occur within DSA more broadly. Our goal is to establish in DSA the democratic political culture that we want to see in the world.
Here’s the values we think are critical to ensure DSA continues to advance, both in its theory and its practice:
Listen to the Locals: Locals are fighting for change. Build features case studies of what’s winning, what gets DSA’ers excited, and what DSA’ers are learning along the way. Our team wants to hear from chapter organizers everywhere. Local experimentation is good, and whether it works or doesn’t, we should share it with others to inspire action and discussion elsewhere. There are always critical lessons and struggles we can learn from and share. We must listen to the locals.
Pass the Hat: DSA’s resources are neither equally, nor equitably, nor optimally distributed. Because we are an all-volunteer organization financed by its members, any given chapter’s financial means is directly tied to the financial means of its members. This results in many chapters in wealthy areas being relatively well-funded, while others lack the bare financial resources necessary to effectively build their locals. This not only has the perverse result of replicating the nation’s glaring socioeconomic inequality within DSA, it directly affects the ability of locals to organize in the fertile grounds of the nation’s poorest regions, the regions where the cost of organizing is lowest and the need of the working class is highest. We must carefully assess where our organization’s resources are needed most and use every tool at our disposal, including redistributive dues sharing where appropriate, to ensure that chapters that need and can most effectively use our scarce resources are the first in line to receive them.
Protect the Tent: DSA is a big tent. We all want to organize and fight capital for many reasons. That provides strength, along with challenges. We value this big tent. Let’s enhance the resilience that comes from having multiple points of view and strong disagreements. We want to work with the inherent difficulties of this, and as members we have shared values to guide us. We want unity with difference, not the unity of indifference. We must protect the big tent.
Fight exploitation, fight white supremacy, fight patriarchy: In everything we say, think, and do with DSA, whether it is internal or external organizing, we must fight innumerable oppressive societal forces, including: capitalist exploitation, white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism. Such forces are mutually reinforcing, and much be treated as such. If we want a truly “mass” movement, it must include sex workers and the disabled, homeless people and farmers. Every perspective and identity matters. They are the roots of the movement’s tree. We must know ourselves and others as the working class in the fullest sense possible.
One foot in the institutions, one foot in the streets: For generations, activists pitted tactics like direct action against tactics like electoral politics. For so long, activists in the street wouldn’t and couldn’t work with politicians in the halls of institutional power. We must work with both. We must see tactics in context and decide when and how to deploy each. Electoral victories are not an end unto themselves. Those victories must serve the movement. Direct action shouldn't happen in a vacuum or for its own sake, independent of larger goals or a broader strategy. The working class isn’t identical to the labor movement. We must keep one foot in the institutions, one foot in the streets.
Yes, AND! All these slogans have something in common. We take a “yes, and…” approach to DSA organizing. One piece connects to another, often several others, which then build into solidarity networks and community support systems. We see the space, flexibility, and necessity for so much. Our horizon is wide. We want national DSA to match that horizon.
This brings us to our ongoing and future work as Build. We don’t have definitive answers to the question of how we can best position DSA to work to create a socialist world, but we firmly believe that finding those answers is a collective process. To do that, we must preserve DSA’s pluralistic nature, nurture local chapters as they work, and provide avenues of good-faith discussion where political conflict can occur—but winning and losing is a growing process, rather than one faction crushing another.
With the launch of the Build ‘zine in August 2018, we started creating the infrastructure necessary for finding the answers. As of today, we’ve propagated or are developing the following platforms, projects, and networks:
A weekly email condensing the organization’s constant chatter into a readable digest of recent discourse and helpful organizing materials;
The Build ‘zine, through which organizers describe their concrete projects and the theories underlying these projects in their own words, so DSA members nationwide can learn from the experiences of their comrades;
Our What We’re Building report, a quantitative survey of the types of work local chapters are engaged in across the country;
BuildFest conferences, beginning in Philadelphia in January 2019, which gather organizers for productive discussion and cross-pollination, minus the toxicity of adversarial, majoritarian debates;
Horizon, our upcoming facilitated political discussion and education series, which will include post-mortems of and calls discussing some of DSA chapters’ most exciting campaigns, with the goal of expanding our analysis of what organizing works and what doesn’t;
Build’s national network of organizers, which enables us to share information and organize around our shared values, bringing new ideas and perspectives into our collective project;
Local Builders teams, which will create dedicated spaces at the chapter level to organize around Build’s values, including around the National Convention; and
A National Convention team, which will work with delegates to build the coalitions needed to pass convention resolutions and elect NPC candidates who share Build’s values.
Working together on these shared projects and building personal relationships is the best way to learn from one another, sharpen our politics, and begin finding the answers we seek. Everyone has something to contribute to DSA, the socialist movement, and society, but nobody can do this work alone. We’re here to help construct infrastructure and build a support network so all of our comrades can access the tools and resources we need to win.
Build’s Membership and Structure
In recent months, our gradually expanding core of organizers developed Build into the team it is today. Along the way, we’ve grown our team by adding people who expressed interest in joining, shared our values, and were willing to work together on our various projects. Our lack of a public means of joining Build before now has not been a conscious decision. It’s simply been a function of the fact that we have still been determining who we are, what we want to do, and how we want to do it. As we’ve developed, however, it’s become clear that the Build project would benefit by having a more open process for joining.
To that end, any DSA member in good standing who commits in good faith to supporting our shared values may join the team and be added to our internal communications with the right to vote on team-wide decisions. We welcome members from any and all ideological tendencies, from social democrat to democratic socialist to anarchist to Leninist to Maoist. We also welcome members of any caucus or grouping which, while promoting a particular political or tactical preference, is sincerely dedicated in words and actions to preserving DSA’s multi-tendency nature. As detailed in our What We’re Building report, DSA members of many different tendencies across the country are working together on a wide variety of issues. Build seeks to foster this diversity of practice, and we’re eager to work with anyone whose organizing is compatible with this goal. Of course, we do reserve the right to reject requests to join by members who do not share our values, or if a specific person would create an unsafe or personally hostile environment.
Members will be able to plug into the Build projects that suit their interests and skill sets. We are still determining how to best arrange our internal structure, but we anticipate groups focusing on the following areas:
Publications – In the coming months, we will continue publishing organizing stories in the Build ‘zine, several special issues (e.g., poetry and cookbook issues), and more political writing through Horizon. We are looking for members to contribute as editors, authors, and illustrators, as well as to help solicit articles.
Event Coordination – We will also organize cross-chapter gatherings through BuildFests and support other DSA groups as they plan similar gatherings. We want to work with members to plan and coordinate these events.
Convention Organizing – As discussed below, we will be actively organizing to promote our values at the National Convention. Accordingly, we will work closely with members organizing for delegate elections, resolution drafting, and other activities, including through creating chapter-level Builders teams.
Fill out this interest form if you would like to contribute to this project.
Our Approach to the 2019 Convention
Last but not least, Build is actively organizing for the 2019 National Convention. Since the 2017 National Convention, DSA has done an incredible amount of vital work. But DSA has not reached its full potential. Other necessary work has been stifled and members turned away by an almost unending stream of drama, anti-democratic actions, and other problems emanating from the national organization and from certain chapters. While some of these issues are simply growing pains and the inevitable result of putting too many responsibilities on overburdened volunteer leadership and paid staff, other issues are reflective of deep divides within the organization.
We believe that most of the national organization’s troubles are the direct result of escalating factionalism, personal attacks, and a zero-sum approach to internal political differences. As discussed, the founding members of Build came together united by their own personal experiences on the receiving end of this toxicity. These behaviors are unacceptable, and so we are now organizing our network to elect delegates who will pass internal reforms to increase transparency and good governance in the national organization, and to enact our shared values.
But, beyond this, we recognize that governance reforms themselves are not enough to protect the big tent. As the past two years have shown, a factional NPC can ignore or gut bylaws and convention resolutions it deems inconvenient, and when it does so there is no meaningful internal recourse for the membership. Thus, we must work to elect an NPC that will work collaboratively to put our shared values into practice.
As for slates, we want to be very specific about what we will and won’t do. Because we are not a “caucus”—which, as defined above, we take to mean a faction with a defined policy platform or narrow prescription for political action—we will not run a traditional, single-tendency ideological slate of candidates. What we do intend to do is help bring together potential NPC candidates, caucuses, and factions to negotiate the creation of a multi-tendency coalition slate that can win a majority of NPC seats and work productively together after the convention. The 2019 National Convention is our only realistic opportunity to defeat the factionalism that has tainted the work of the national organization, and set it on firmer ground going forward. Build will not let this opportunity pass DSA by. We invite all DSA members who share our vision to work with us in finding the collective answer to our common questions.
For we are going to sweep into power in this nation and throughout the world.
We are going to destroy all enslaving and degrading capitalist institutions, and we will recreate them as free and humanizing institutions.
The world is daily changing, but the sun of capitalism is setting and the sun of socialism is rising.
We socialists are the builders of the beautiful world that is to be.