National Political Committee Special Feature: Interview on the Platform Process

At this year’s convention, we will be discussing and voting on a political platform for DSA. NPC members Justin Charles and Dave Pinkham have led the platform-drafting process, working with comrades from all over the country to write a platform, incorporate feedback, and prepare a document that we will vote on at the convention.

In this interview, they speak with fellow NPC member and Convention Co-Chair Marianela D’Aprile about the platform, why DSA should have one, and what the process of developing it has been like.

First, why should DSA have a political platform?

Justin: The political context that we’re in right now — coming off Bernie losing in the primary in 2020, the economic crisis as a result of the public health crisis of COVID-19, a Biden administration that sometimes sounds good but mostly looks like what we’d expect it to, a far right that is intent on rolling back what little democracy we still have left  — there is a bit of a vacuum in staking out a vision about the world we want to build, the world we think our class deserves. I think it’s important for DSA to be out front and say, in an ambitious and pragmatic way, what we ought to be doing now to build for that future. 

When people ask me — you’re in DSA, that’s cool, what are you about, what do you do? — it’s sometimes hard to say succinctly what that is. Our members are involved in such different things in breadth and depth. So, the platform is a propagandistic tool we can use to say what we’re about and what we’re after. And, more than that, we can also say: if you’re on board, join us in this fight.

Dave: In this moment, very large numbers of people are disillusioned with and disconnected from the political offerings on the table. We are in not just a moment of crisis, but a decade of crisis. I say a decade because the bank crisis is a wedge that sticks in people’s minds; they haven’t forgotten. As socialists, our task is to provide an alternative to what’s on the table and, especially, an alternative to nationalistic far-right politics. 

In my view, on a basic level, these politics are based on wealthy people duping working-class people into believing that they have their best interests in mind. They whip up racism, sexism, xenophobia to pit people against each other, and our task is to provide a concrete alternative to that, an alternative that people can identify with and become a part of. Naomi Klein said this — “no” is not enough — so if we want to build a socialist party, a working-class organization, our task is to build a concrete alternative.  How can we do that if we don’t have a concrete document that says who we are? The platform, I hope, will be the most coherent way that DSA has identified ourselves, certainly since I’ve been aware of the organization and since I’ve become a member.

What are the goals of the platform?

Dave: I think one of the goals — to me it’s a primary goal — is political education. With so many people being interested in working-class, socialist politics for the first time in their lives, because they don’t see any other alternative on offer that they feel is worth a damn, it’s critical that we take this opportunity to have these conversations internally. DSA is still pretty unformed politically, so this is an opportunity for us to have collective political education and to reach a synthesis that helps to give more coherent shape to our politics.

Justin: In the process of developing the platform, we’ve been able to assess the level of our shared politics. It’s easy to lean into the differences in our multi-tendency organization, and they do exist, but we really do share more than we usually think. What the platform has allowed us to do is make a concrete plan about how to get to where all agree we want to be.

Dave: That process of education and agreement on a shared vision has been really helpful as a starting point for members to get better at talking to people who aren’t members but maybe are interested in socialism. When I talk to people I work with or encounter about politics, their ideas about socialism can be all over the place. Anything we can do for our members to help them have better conversations at the doors or in their workplace, we should do. Even if the people they talk to end up not agreeing with everything, they might agree with some things.

I work with a lot of people who are right-wingers, and they think a lot of the same things as us! I work with a guy who thinks we should have a 4-day, 32-hour workweek. Those things are big entry-points to at least shifting people’s understanding of what socialists are after and to make clear that we’re not just Democrats.

Justin: And related to that, spelling out clearly the kinds of demands we’re making in a platform is really helpful. So much of our problem right now is that people see no place for themselves in the political landscape. It’s a really disempowering, demoralizing realization. What we’re trying to do is make clear to people that these are the areas where we can intervene in the political system, and it’s not that hard if you want to get involved. The barrier to engaging in struggle is low; we just have to make it clear what we’re trying to do and where we’re going. When we do that, like we’re trying to do through the platform, it becomes easier to engage more people in struggle.

Dave: That kind of political nihilism, that people think they can’t effect any change no matter what they do, is really pervasive — but what if we could say with confidence that there’s a political organization getting people together to fight for these things? Getting people to realize that is the first step.

How does the platform engage with the work of DSA chapters on a more local level?

Justin: I can say for sure, on any given plank, the points are informed by the work that is actually happening in our chapters. For example, the demands we’re making around defunding the police in New York City — which has also been going on all over the country — really influenced the platform. There are other wins we’ve made locally that can influence what comrades do elsewhere. In Colorado, for example, we won universal Pre-K. So we can say, through the platform, this is something we think we should be going for, and we can even show you how they did it in X or Y chapter.

Dave: The platform gives political direction to people who might have just started a chapter and are trying to figure out what to do. They can look at what’s happening in their context and use it as a sort of measuring stick, a way to gauge what’s happening and how they can tie that into a bigger picture, a broader vision of what the world that we want looks like.

That worked really well here in Austin, when we were just starting the chapter, floundering and not sure what to do. The fact that the national organization had this priority campaign around Medicare for All, that there was a way to combine that fight into local issues — for us it was winning paid sick days — it allowed us to talk about not just being able to take off work when you’re sick, but also to make the point that everyone should have the healthcare that they live. And it allowed us to talk about how healthcare is connected to your conditions as a worker, that people are totally dependent on their jobs for their subsistence and their ability to provide healthcare for themselves and their families. 

Justin: In the platform, we’re talking about federal demands, which chapters can’t necessarily win on their own. But — they can make and win demands at the local level. They may not win us Medicare for All, but there’s a snowball effect, when we win demands and then we go for more. The more you win, the more you want to keep winning, and that can lead to us building power locally that amounts to national power.

What has the process of writing the platform been like? 

Justin: We were able to integrate feedback from our working groups and other comrades working on campaigns. I’ve been pretty happy with the process, and I think we were able to address concerns with the process and with the content of the platform itself pretty thoroughly.

Dave: We do share more than most of us think. It was tough to write it by committee! Even the documents we were using as historical reference points — a lot of those platforms were written by one or two people and then approved by party delegates at their conventions. We were able to write this with a decent-sized group of people, and through that process get input from members in different ways. People had criticisms, made us realize what we overlooked. There were also points of disagreement, which I think will come out at the convention, and that’s great! We should debate them. But the pretty high level of consensus that exists already is really heartening to see.

We have a lot more to do. We’re all learning all the time. But the fact that so many people already share this much in common in their vision of what they want DSA to be about is great, and doing it this way, involving so many people in the platform-drafting process, reinforced that.