History & Foundations
The Collective Power Network (CPN) is a caucus of Democratic Socialists of America. Our goal is to strengthen dialogue between DSA chapters and members, to develop, organize, and advocate for a political platform within DSA and to democratically organize for our politics both within local chapters and nationally.
CPN is organized democratically. Our members elect a steering committee by direct ballot to handle the day to day work of guiding our priorities and facilitating political discussion within the caucus. Our members are active in their DSA chapters around a variety of campaigns and issues and all seek to make DSA an organized and effective voice for workers.
CPN was founded primarily out of a specific program for the 2019 DSA Convention, rather than on a general set of ideological principles. It began with 28 members from only five chapters seeking to impact the Convention around a specific set of ideas and proposals. Once we had gone public we organized vigorously for our perspective, hosting digital and in-person town halls in chapters to present our ideas and holding countless one-on-ones. By the time of the convention hundreds of members from over 60 chapters had endorsed the CPN platform. The convention adopted most of our proposals, and from there we decided that we would continue to organize beyond convention to push for our political perspective.
CPN did not originally form as a caucus, but rather styled itself as a network. In practice CPN operated more like an internal campaign, attempting to draw in stakeholders to develop and build support for a narrow set of internal policies. This was also designed to afford us flexibility of not being required to take positions on every single issue that would come before convention as caucuses often do. As this project evolved however, we found that we had developed a broad political viewpoint that in reality made CPN a caucus in function if not yet in form. CPN held a convening in Fall 2019 where we resolved to re-organize as a permanent caucus of DSA.
We are constantly striving to identify shared points of unity. Over the course of our work, we’ve identified a few ideological points that CPN members share, and these points guide our thinking as we navigate DSA. These points of course do not represent the complete range of our views, but only to identify where we feel our ideas represent a definite and clear political trend within DSA. We share all the same fundamental commitments all DSA members hold, such as socialist feminism, anti-racism, eco-socialism, Palestinian liberation, and much more. The following is intended to give a sense of who we are and our unique vision as a caucus to strengthen and build our shared organization.
Building Power Requires Mass Organization
We believe there is tremendous opportunity for the socialist movement to become a truly mass force in US society. Our goal as the socialist movement should be more ambitious than being a pressure group or as a strictly activist movement at the doors of power, but a real force able to play a commanding role in movements, and ultimately to govern.
In order to do this though we believe DSA must become a mass organization organized along a party-structure model, one that has robust internal democracy and a broad working class base with deep social roots that is viewed by workers as a credible vehicle for political activity. This would not be a party in the sense of a ballot-line, but in terms of how it is internally organized and its mechanisms for feedback and decision making. Such a party-structure mass organization means striving to have a large membership, a dues-based democratic membership-model, and critically an organizational form that creates cohesion and unity of action from the neighborhood up to the National Political Committee.
Such organizations have and do exist, and we often look to organizations like Communist parties of 30s and 40s, Latin American Pink Tide organizations such as the Workers Party of Brazil and United Socialist Party of Venezuela, and to a lesser degree Western social democratic parties. Study of these examples is not intended as a value judgement about all the positions or actions these organizations took. It is simply an appraisal of internal models that are effective at cultivating a deep social base and enfranchising that base as a democratically empowered mass membership, so that DSA can learn from those forms to maximize the strengths of DSA’s membership and conditions.
Collective Power Network, “Towards Power”
Collective Power Network, “Communist Organization: A Study Guide”
Multiracial Organizing Requires Intentional Recruitment
We believe DSA can and should seek to serve as a political and social center for the workers movement at large. DSA members are, by and large, of the working class, and we should be encouraging our members to organize as workers. We reject the conception that DSA should serve as an advocacy or pressure group on behalf of workers. But in order to do that DSA must be proactive in diversifying our ranks. This means cultivating a composition that is diverse racially, with respect to gender and sexual orientation, immigration status and native language, disability and socio-economic position.
CPN has advocated a number of specific policies to address this. One has been to advocate making intentional recruitment efforts through mass campaigns and struggle – both generally and specifically to make DSA’s base membership more demographically reflective of the broader working class. We also believe DSA should not separate the issues of immigration and internationalism and have fought to integrate these areas of work wherever practicable. The Sanders campaign demonstrated the existence of a massive Latinx base for democratic socialist ideas. DSA must prioritize recruitment of Latinx workers and transform itself to become an effective vehicle for these workers to advance their interests.
Nat Steele, “Why Recruit?”
Blanca Estevez, “A DSA With Latinx Workers”
Internal Democracy Requires Effective Organization
We believe that DSA should be an organization where people from a variety of diverse socialist tendencies, as well as those who are new to socialism and have not fully figured out their politics, can organize together. We think that internal debates and discussions are highly productive and are wary of the calcifying impact that can result from rigid interpretations of democratic centralism common in American socialist sects. A deliberative and pluralistic organization which maintains the freedom to critically reflect on our direction and to openly organize for changes is important.
However, this does not mean that we think DSA should be a neutral forum in which every left-wing ideology is judged to have equal merits and equal access to resources. When the organization democratically adopts priorities or strategies which require coordinated action, we think it is important for members and chapters to pull together even if some of them retain misgivings.
Chapter level organizational structure should be cohesive and organize around democratically decided local priorities and avoid “siloization” of projects via committees. We believe chapters should steer towards organizational structures that advance collective ownership of major projects by a high percentage of the chapter’s membership, including so-called “paper” members. This does not mean banning or stopping other projects, but that democratically decided priorities should be the primary focus of the any chapter.
We also think that DSA should be a united organization whose members value the movement above its parts. Fostering a democratic culture means members and internal formations should have a sense of responsibility in their criticism and internal organizing, which should be conducted in a way which is conducive to generative discussion and strengthening rather than undermining DSA.
Building Rural and Southern Chapters Requires Strong Organization
There is an urgent need to grow our influence in areas where the socialist movement hasn’t been strong in generations—specifically rural communities, smaller urban areas, and the southeastern United States. We believe DSA requires a strong national organization to maximize our effectiveness and to have any hope of building in these regions.
We believe building strong locals and strong regional organizations are critical to this goal. Regional organizations can adapt national-level strategy to different state or regional contexts and could also pool resources so that chapters in regional population hubs can devote finances and personnel to supporting the development and maintenance of chapters in these areas.
Regional Organizations can also foster a meaningful two-way relationship between chapters and the national organization to keep chapters rooted in the nation-wide movement. An effective national organization paired with dynamic regional bodies and strong locals is a necessary piece of infrastructure to meaningfully support small and rural chapters as well as building an effective organization in every part of the country.
Electoral Organizing Requires Clear Strategy
Everywhere the ruling class is contesting for power is terrain for class struggle. Just as the workplace and the apartment building are sites of struggle between classes, so too is the ballot box. While we reject the notion that socialism can be won at the ballot box alone, we do not believe that ignoring electoral struggles is a viable path towards socialist power, and having socialists in office can create more favorable conditions at the grassroots by demonstrating the strength of our base to other political actors, as well as ensuring we have a greater ability to institutionalize what we’ve won by translating our demands into legislation.
While electoral organizing is only one terrain of struggle, it is still an indispensable one for socialists. It gives us specific in-roads to communities and coalitions we would not otherwise have access to and the scale of these campaigns gives many more members the chance to participate in a meaningful way while interacting directly with workers in our communities. We have seen how engaging in electoral campaigns, most notably the Sanders campaigns in the 2016 and 2020, have led to by far the largest engagement and membership growth of any DSA campaign. While campaigns like Bernie represent unique historical opportunities that can’t necessarily be replicated at will, electoral organizing as an approach is a critical avenue to growing our influence, our size, our diversity, and our power.
We support continuing to strategically use the Democratic ballot line to elect socialists. We reject the idea that third party ballot lines are a necessary precondition of a workers party or the pursuit of independent ballot lines as an end unto itself. By developing a party-like structure within DSA and using the Democratic ballot line where necessary, DSA can continue to both exercise democratic control over our own candidate selection and candidate discipline while also continuing to actually elect socialists to office. Our goal is for strategic campaigns that grow the capacity and diversity of our organization, bring our ideas to a mass audience, and reshape the political terrain upon which the workers movement operates.
Collective Power Network, “On Electoral Organizing”
Ben Davis, “The Democratic Socialist Constituency”
Collective Liberation Requires Socialist Internationalism
DSA, as the largest socialist organization in the most powerful imperialist country on Earth, has an urgent responsibility to vigorously oppose the violence and exploitation waged by the U.S. ruling class against our fellow workers in other countries. Internationalism is much more than a matter of moral duty. The global nature of capital means that there can be no emancipation of the US working class without the emancipation of the working class worldwide.
DSA must fully embrace its role as a truly internationalist organization: this means both integrating and supporting the struggles of immigrant and migrant workers here in the U.S., while also forging institutional relationships with working class organizations abroad. The process of DSA growing from scattered constellations of socialist activists into a mass organization of workers cannot take place in a vacuum. We believe in an internationalism that goes beyond a series of resolutions and statements. Internationalism, like racial justice or gender equality, must be operational and programmatic. If internationalism doesn’t translate into activity then it effectively does not exist.
Nationally this means an International Committee that is proactively building relationships with left organizations, movements, and governments across the world, but especially in the global South and the Western Hemisphere. Through common dialogue our organization can develop campaigns that are able to counter imperialist attacks on a coordinated international basis. These international discussions can be translated to the local level through a real plan of action. We believe this sort of activity can be a step to socialist internationalism that is organized and coherent.
Morgan Dowdy and Jack Suria-Linares, “Toward an Internationalist DSA”
Socialist Power Requires Organizing at the Point of Housing
The dispossession of people from their homes is key to the accumulation of capital. Across the globe, landlords, developers, and investors are making exorbitant profits off skyrocketing rents and manufactured land values, while wages stagnate for working-class tenants. We should aim to develop DSA into a mass working class organization able to build and wield power in our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and at the ballot box. With only 11% of the U.S. workforce in existing labor unions, organizing workers at the point of production can be challenging, but we can also organize at the point of social reproduction and dispossession. Tenants must organize to fight rent increases, evictions, landlord and police harassment, housing discrimination, and more.
Labor Organizing Requires a Multifaceted Approach
Labor forms an essential field of struggle for socialists that must be engaged in at all levels of society. However the uneven legacy of left purges in unions, racist Jim Crow labor laws, and anti-worker legislation means that the situation for labor is highly varied and can look many different ways based on region. Different local conditions demand different labor organizing tactics. It is necessary for each DSA chapter to be able to identify the most pressing labor issues in their immediate area and agitate in a way that builds a majority, wins support of unions, and advances socialist struggles. Winning regional labor battles relies on an organization able to coordinate support for strikes, labor militancy, and organized action. Our national has a key role to play in developing these struggles and our national strategy must take regional conditions into account.
Nationally, we seek a DSLC that is both strong and democratic, and tactically mobilizes around national struggles to build the capacity of our local chapters and regional organizations. The labor struggles we engage in must support organizational priorities and the advancement of DSA overall. Building strong and effective labor committees in chapters is an essential precondition of our work.
We recognize that DSA members are almost entirely working-class in the Marxist sense and thus have an interest in organizing in their current workplaces and communities. DSA members must see organizing their workplace as a basic and universal function of their political work. Unionizing unorganized shops is a task that DSA can and should engage in. In fact we believe that if socialists do not take this up as an urgent task it is difficult to see where these initiatives will come from on the scale necessary to reverse the gutting of the labor movement that has occurred that past few decades.
Existing unions have the ability to wield immense power as working-class institutions; subsequently the advancement of socialist politics relies on the agitation of organized working-class people for the whole working-class. We support the democratization of unions, and the political mobilization of unions for the interests of the working-class. The path towards these goals runs through the recruitment and victory of democratic socialism among all layers of the labor movement.
Collective Power Network, “Mass Movement Labor Strategy”
Ryan Mosgrove, “You Can’t Have a Strategy Without Priorities”
If you believe you share CPN’s vision for DSA and want to help bring these ideas to your chapter and DSA nationally, you should consider joining CPN. Fill out our interest form here and an organizer will be in touch with you soon.