Brief comments on the Libertarian Socialist Caucus’ 2018 platform

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Some brief, preliminary comments on the new platform released by the Democratic Socialists of America-Libertarian Socialist Caucus. A good sign, but should there be more?

On the 23rd of September, the Libertarian Socialist Caucus (LSC) of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) released their official platform, a collaborative document apparently worked on over weeks of discussion and member input. The LSC is a self-stated broad tent of ‘libertarian socialists’, a vague term that apparently includes all manner of people, from anarcho-communists to syndicalists to mutualists to Bookchinists to Apoists to God knows what else, all collected under the banner of libertarian socialism, all invested in the DSA political organisation.

From a glance, the document itself seems to reflect more of Bookchin’s ideas than anyone else’s; his advocacy for ‘radical democracy’ is all there, as is his interest in local elections. There is no anarchist language anywhere. No calls to abolish government, or to abolish private property. The closest thing to the latter is a demand that candidates for national DSA offices disclose ‘major private property ownership’.
I feel very (maybe irrationally) optimistic about socialism’s prospects in the USA, but I don’t feel very confident in this document. It seems to downplay everything that makes libertarianism – i.e., anarchism – great, and introduces a variety of watered-down things that seem more to do with plain localism than actual existing socialism.

Libertarian socialism or anarchism?

The ‘libertarian socialism’ label actually has an interesting origin story. The phrase had floated around the anarchist scene of the 19th and early 20th centuries, in use by anarchists who wanted to avoid the language of anarchy for one reason or another. The pioneering sin-adjetivos Fernando Tarrida del Mármol preferred it, as apparently did the educationalist martyr Francisco Ferrer and Bakunin’s comrade James Guillaume. To the best of my knowledge the most direct advocacy for the term came from Gaston Leval, the French syndicalist, making the case clear in his 1956 article ‘Libertarian Socialist! Why?’. Leval and a cluster of French anarchists around him formed a group to promote the usage of the term and the associated ideology which, all things considered, did not differ drastically from other forms of organised class-struggle anarchism.

Somewhere along the line, the term began to be used to describe not only a kind of worker-oriented anarchism, but other forms of anti-Leninist socialism that maintained an opposition to domineering, centralising states. Council communists, guild socialists, DeLeonists, autonomists, and any number of other -ists got put under this title. It’s in this spirit that the LSC issues its platform, and it’s in this spirit the platform weakens.

Liberty and equality will never be fully realised as social forces unless government is abolished, and with it all other forms of authoritarian relationships: private property, wage slavery, chattel slavery, patriarchy, imperialism, racism, and so on. The localising and decentralising tendencies of the LSC are positive and point in the direction, but there is still a large gulf of oppression between outright abolition of authority and the mere delegation of it to local bodies.

Electoralism

In realistic terms, electoralism is not likely to win socialism for anyone; socialism is not something that can be imposed by fiat, by legislated decree or by above. It can only come from the ground up, either through grassroots constructive building in the form of co-operatives and credit unions, or through outright revolution. Or both. Preferably both! ‘From below’ does not mean from one smaller sub-section of government to a greater one, it means from below, where the victims of authority take control themselves, and abolish the institutions that oppress them.

Even ignoring the moral quandary of claiming to be against centralising authority whilst aspiring to wield it yourself, ‘libertarian’ electoralism will serve only to siphon the positive energies of activists away from constructive, essential tasks that not only lay the groundwork for socialism, but remain consistent with libertarian beliefs too. Propagating anarchist information, engaging in direct action, organising a workplace – all these things don’t take care of themselves, and by focusing on the fairly time-consuming activity of trying to win elections, you put the other stuff on the backburner.

✯✯✯

The DSA, as it stands now, cannot succeed in the fight to achieve socialism or libertarianism. The organisation is structured as a centralised hierarchy, with an intense internal bureaucracy. The LSC advocates for the ‘democratisation’ of national policy-setting party institutions, but this is not enough; the organisation itself needs to be reoriented away from a kind of activist hub and pressure group model towards something that will galvanise and assist workers and other oppressed people in fighting for what’s theirs. If that can be achieved, then the demand for the addition of ‘a low-income category to national political committee diversity requirements’ would be superfluous.

The required transformation of the organisation is obviously not something that can be done by snapping your fingers; it will take hard work and it may never fully come to fruition. I am loath to lecture activists I don’t know in a country I’ve never been to about what they should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s for this reason I’ve tried to write in a spirit of solidarity and not scorn. If members of the LSC are reading this and feel I am being too caustic, I apologise. However, I hope at the very least that my comments cause you to think more and seek out more about anarchism and libertarian socialism. For decades, libertarian socialism had more to do with starting uprisings, fighting as part of a revolutionary union and street-corner speaking than it did with mayoral elections and school district boards. If we want the future of our dreams, then we have to turn to the methods of revolt, rather than the methods of assimilation.

Comments

rubra
Oct 3 2018 15:54

First i should say that many people, myself included, consider communalism a type of anarchism. Bookchin specifically advocates for abolition of hierarchy and even pushes it in his philosophy of social ecology. I should also note that anarchists have been advocating for the delegate system communalists advocate for since the days of kropotkin, tho on a smaller scale. It's called worker councils.

Also 'radical democracy" isnt just a Bookchin term. anarchists use it too.

This article is upset that they didnt include abolition of private property or the state. their founding document https://dsa-lsc.org/2017/09/01/founding-document/ calls for the abolition of private profit tho not necessarily property, as well as other things. But all socialists who join already know we need to get rid of private property. next he is upset the DSA cannot "as it stands right now succeed in the fight to acheive socialism or libertarianism." ok? as it stands RIGHT NOW. Ok? did they say RIGHT NOW? Or do they prefer to pave the way towards socialism in the future and to radicalize newcomers towards libsoc ideas? Also the author is upset about the term libertarian socialism. so what, its come to be an umbrella term, and its changed meaning whether we like it or not. besides, whats wrong with libertarian left unity? Its a better idea than general left unity with the authoritarians. The libertarian left doesnt really fight that often. sometimes council communists and anarchists get in quarrels about the definition of the state, and ancoms & mutualists might fight about the role of money, but the free territory for instance had regions with money, some without. they worked together, and council coms helped the anarchists during the spanish civil war. libertarian left unity is possible, has been done, and can be done again.

"The required transformation of the organisation is obviously not something that can be done by snapping your fingers; it will take hard work and it may never fully come to fruition. " but he just said they cant achieve it now. literally in the former paragraph. come on, we realize it wont happen in the snap of a finger. everyone recognizes that. LSC is important because it helps to radicalize people into anti-authoritarian ideas and spread our ideas

libsoc's shouldnt engage in infighting. thats idelogical purity. ancoms only associate with ancoms, mutualists only with mutualists, etc etc. come on we know we cant get places that way.

The autoritarians have a tight grip around many organizations around the world and we need to loosen that, we wont win by shaming the LSC for not including a few terms, or for naming controversies

edit: i want to stress, i love both libcom and the LSC and i think both are important in the struggle for socialism

R Totale
Oct 3 2018 18:32

By the way, IGD just did a podcast interview with two people from the LSC: https://itsgoingdown.org/elections-power-and-the-dsa-3-beyond-broken-brake-lights/

klas batalo
Oct 4 2018 04:42

the LSC gives libertarian socialism a bad name...

the weakest softest fake anarchism on the left

more substantial critique to come later some day

Mike Harman
Oct 4 2018 19:30

Just listened to the interview, couple of things:

1. It seems more like a rank and filist initiative within the DSA - i.e. very bound up with internal DSA elections and platforms and trying to democratise it. Which seems like a recipe to have a more internally democratic organisation that still ends up endorsing Democrats for senate and state governor etc. i.e. extremely focused on form rather than content.

This was very different to the DSA communist caucus interview where they seem to be getting on with their own things like tenant organising/worker inquiry and mostly using the DSA to meet people and for publicity. I don't completely get that either, but it seems like less chance of completely wasted effort at least.

2. They're very, very open to people running for city council elections and similar, and this seems to go as far as municipal socialism (i.e. beyond Bookchin's town hall + recallable delegates municipalism - it seems like both pro-Bookchin and anti-Bookchin people just assume it means municipal socialism these days, let alone that being the least interesting thing about Bookchin). Not getting involved in national elections is expressed as a lack of interest rather than a critique of the state as such.

sherbu-kteer
Oct 4 2018 22:43

First off, I want to stress that these are my own personal opinions, not the opinions of libcom as a whole.

Quote:
First i should say that many people, myself included, consider communalism a type of anarchism. Bookchin specifically advocates for abolition of hierarchy and even pushes it in his philosophy of social ecology. I should also note that anarchists have been advocating for the delegate system communalists advocate for since the days of kropotkin, tho on a smaller scale. It's called worker councils.

I didn't use the term 'communalism' in this post for a variety of reasons, including the ones you describe here.

Quote:
Also 'radical democracy" isnt just a Bookchin term. anarchists use it too.

Sure, but when it's deployed in the context of advocating for participation in local elections, it is not very related to anarchism.

Quote:
This article is upset that they didnt include abolition of private property or the state. their founding document https://dsa-lsc.org/2017/09/01/founding-document/ calls for the abolition of private profit tho not necessarily property, as well as other things. But all socialists who join already know we need to get rid of private property.

If all members agree that we need to get rid of private property, then why not state it clearly in organisation manifestos and founding documents? The document you link instead calls for the abolition of private profit (which doesn't really make sense... what does private profit mean? Is there some kind of public profit that we support?). It says "we reject an economic order based on private profit", which is vague, and is not the same in meaning as "we reject an economic order based on private property". And I mean this is presuming that all members do support the abolition of private property, which is not necessarily the case.

Quote:
next he is upset the DSA cannot "as it stands right now succeed in the fight to acheive socialism or libertarianism." ok? as it stands RIGHT NOW. Ok? did they say RIGHT NOW? Or do they prefer to pave the way towards socialism in the future and to radicalize newcomers towards libsoc ideas?

I'm not following. I obviously support radicalising newcomers and paving the way towards socialism. What I am saying is that for this to happen, the DSA needs a colossal amount of internal reform, and that the DSA-LSC's current manifesto does not go far enough in addressing this.

Quote:
Also the author is upset about the term libertarian socialism. so what, its come to be an umbrella term, and its changed meaning whether we like it or not. besides, whats wrong with libertarian left unity? Its a better idea than general left unity with the authoritarians. The libertarian left doesnt really fight that often. sometimes council communists and anarchists get in quarrels about the definition of the state, and ancoms & mutualists might fight about the role of money, but the free territory for instance had regions with money, some without. they worked together, and council coms helped the anarchists during the spanish civil war. libertarian left unity is possible, has been done, and can be done again.

My issue isn't really with the term 'libertarian socialism', it's with the caucus' usage of it. As you say, it's become an umbrella term, but one that encompasses a number of decidedly un-libertarian trends, unrelated to what the term was originally meant to mean – revolutionary anarchism.

I completely support working together with other libertarians for actual libertarian goals, like organising unions, engaging in direct action to stop things like state abuse of immigrants, setting up constructive projects like bookshops and co-ops, etc. I don't support working together with 'libertarians' when all that means is engaging in electoralism, advocating for the localisation of the state's powers, etc.

Quote:
"The required transformation of the organisation is obviously not something that can be done by snapping your fingers; it will take hard work and it may never fully come to fruition. " but he just said they cant achieve it now. literally in the former paragraph. come on, we realize it wont happen in the snap of a finger. everyone recognizes that. LSC is important because it helps to radicalize people into anti-authoritarian ideas and spread our ideas

Again, I'm not following, I think you've misunderstood what I said. I wrote this to explain why I really don't want to arrogantly lecture people on what to do and what not to do, as the people involved know how to best utilise their time and energies, not me.

Quote:
libsoc's shouldnt engage in infighting. thats idelogical purity. ancoms only associate with ancoms, mutualists only with mutualists, etc etc. come on we know we cant get places that way.

I don't support infighting, but I do support critically engaging with the ideas of the people on 'our side' when done in a friendly manner, in the spirit of solidarity, as I have tried to do here. Also, I'm more or less a synthesist. I'm the last person to think along the lines you describe.

Quote:
The autoritarians have a tight grip around many organizations around the world and we need to loosen that, we wont win by shaming the LSC for not including a few terms, or for naming controversies

Again, I agree, we need to fight against authoritarianism. I am not intending to shame the LSC for using terms I don't like, I'm criticising them for avoiding important concepts necessary for human liberation, the ultimate goal of everyone here. Saying you want to decentralise the state and prevent excessive private profit is not the same as saying you want to abolish the state and abolish private property. The differences between these things is not merely semantic, they have real-world consequences. Or at least they would have real-world consequences if we weren't all so small in number, but you know what I mean.