As an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-gentrification organization, Serve the People-Los Angeles (STP-LA) always places our politics in command. This means that, regardless of the tactics used, our goal to destroy capitalism will always guide our struggles. This applies to all organizations we do not work with or do work with. We will not work with organizations, regardless of their tactics, if their politics are inherently antagonistic to our principles. Principally, in the context of this paper, this means that STP-LA will not work with political parties and/or political organizations whose primary reason for existing and primary goals are to reform the state. We may work with community organizations that push reformists tactics in their larger, principal goal of standing in solidarity with the community, but we will not work with organizations that use community organizing as a tactic for their larger, principal goal of reforming the United States as the answer to capitalism.
We are writing this piece because despite having a struggle session with the Democratic Socialists of America – Los Angeles’ “Food for Solidarity” committee and telling them to stay away from Boyle Heights for their shitty politics, it has come to our attention that DSA-LA plans to initiate a food distribution in communities in NELA . We refuse to accept this and will do everything that we can to stop these “Food 4 Solidarity” programs, if DSA votes to implement them. We will not bite back our tongues for the sake of “unity”.
We want to be clear here – we do not reject principled unity with DSA. We will unite with them against common enemies, such as fascists or slumlords. We will even applaud them when they fight these enemies of the people with militancy.
But there is a difference between principled unity and unprincipled unity. Unprincipled unity would be allowing them to organize not only in Boyle Heights but in any of the oppressed communities surrounding it. In fact, unprincipled unity would be allowing them to spread any of their reformist bullshit to any of the oppressed communities of LA.
Before we speak on why we do not want DSA organizing in our community or any community like ours, we need to put them in the context of contemporary US politics. We want to emphasize the difference between DSA distributing free food and a community organization, like a church or a school, distributing free food.
We would be lying to the community if we ever stated that even focusing on the smallest reforms (lobbying, registering people to vote, canvassing for “progressive” candidates, etc) is a step in the right direction to challenging capitalism. All reforms attack only minor aspects of a larger problem. They are band-aid solutions; they do not treat the wound, only cover it for the time being. Ultimately, they preserve the institution of capitalism which oppresses us with every breath we take.
Reformism: Opium of the People
When organizations like DSA-LA push reformist goals and focus principally on reforming the United States, they are serving the interests of the ruling class, whether or not they know it. If DSA-LA was insular, working only in activist circles and staying out of working-class communities, then we would see them as a less antagonistic threat. But it is primarily because they come into working-class communities and lie to the people living there (and, perhaps, lie even to themselves) that we see them as an antagonistic force and, in fact, possibly even class enemies.
When we say they are class enemies, we mean that their organization serves the ruling, bourgeoise class of this country, as opposed to the working class and its communities.
Nothing short of revolution will bring about socialism, which DSA-LA claims that it seeks to establish. However, regardless of their intentions, this organization’s shitty reformist political line will ultimately set the community back by leading them to capitulate to capitalism. In essence, regardless of what they say or call themselves, we see what they want to do as no different than the Democratic Party coming into any working-class community. Ultimately, they are tricking people for votes and calling themselves a solution to injustice when, in reality, they preserve the cause of injustice, capitalism. In the end, they will harm the communities they peddle their “Food4Solidarity” programs to.
We know that this is the case because that is what social democracy is. We know this is the case because the organization’s politics in command means working with the police and even having pigs in national leadership roles. We know that this is the case because we have seen the national organization gladly work with the Democrats since, when it comes to their politics and our livelihoods, they compromise and push quantity over quality. We know that this is the case because we have spoken to DSA-LA members and found that their big-tent organizing tactics include working with open Zionists. We know that this is the case because DSA is not an organization that is principally for the masses. There are times where they can almost read as a commercial. (Petty-bourgeois activists, call now and for the low, low price of $750, get a lifetime membership in DSA!!) DSA as an organization is spineless and their politics are empty. They cannot save or liberate anyone.
This is not to say that all members of DSA-LA are spineless or have empty politics. We know that this absolutely is not true. There are many members who are new to the organization that might be unaware of other community organizations that they can turn to. There are many members who might have misguided politics but truly wish for liberation – they simply don’t know how to get there. To these folks, to people who truly care about serving the people and liberating the masses, we encourage you to question the politics of your organization. Why does DSA simultaneously criticize Democrats and run candidates as Democrats? Why do they work with pigs and pig unions? How is DSA revolutionary? How can its social-democratic politics change the system of inequality and oppression in the long-term? That DSA can not answer these questions is a reflection on both the local chapter of DSA-LA and of DSA nationally. It is a reflection of other revisionist organizations and parties that state they are building socialism when in fact they will happily work with enemies of the people (like pigs and politicians), push reforms and even run as Democrats. DSA may quote revolutionaries but these quotes only mask their hollow, liberal politics.
Therefore, this organization, as opposed to other community organizations we do work with, stands on the side of the oppressor. They will beg for scraps and call it revolutionary. They will work within the limits of the law, even when they know full well that the laws of a bourgeois society are laws for the bourgeoise, established by capitalists and their servants to maintain their hegemonic control over the masses. These bourgeois laws will always be on the side of the oppressor. This has been true since day one and it will not change because some fools will campaign for Bernie Sanders and call themselves socialists.
An organization like this stands in opposition to community organizers precisely because of these politics, because they are social-democrats. As opposed to DSA-LA and other revisionists organizations, community organizations, made up of the community, organize because they stand in solidarity with their neighbors. Community organizers organize because they understand the precarious conditions their neighbors in Boyle Heights and Los Angeles live under. To them, it is a necessity to organize and act in solidarity with other community organizations. Although they may push reformists tactics in campaigns, they principally organize to act in solidarity with their neighbors. STP-LA has been honest with all the organizations that we work with; we tell them directly that we know voting will never accomplish anything. But because we both have the primary goal of acting in solidarity with the community, we are able to work with these organizations non-antagonistically. In fact, in some cases, these organizations even applaud our militancy. This is because their only goal is to truly help the people and they know that militancy gets things done. This is opposed to DSA which will always bow down to to its long-term goal of pushing reforms and electing “progressive” candidates. While the community organizers we work with prioritize the community and use reforms as a (incorrect) tactic to help them, DSA prioritizes reform and uses the community as a tactic to pass these reforms.
Fauilure of Red Charity
We have discussed our own experience with food distributions in previous summations. We know now that food distributions are economist programs which act as a band-aid to cover larger wounds in the community. STP-LA is an organization that wishes to end the principal injustice of capitalism by creating an army in the community that will defend itself against all oppressors. Food distributions can not get us to this point. We know this from our experience of distributing free food in Boyle Heights for over 2 years. Of course food scarcity is a real problem, especially in oppressed communities. However, we have seen that most folks in the community see these programs as types of charities and, therefore, treat them as one. Although charities provide necessary materials in the community, they also hinder revolutionary organizing and therefore, should be avoided.
Organizations that are truly seeking to build socialism should avoid economistic mistakes. We know that the masses make history and we also know that they must be organized and mobilized against their class enemies. Handing out free food does not organize or mobilize anybody. It did not do anything progressive in our case, despite our revolutionary politics and militancy. It will not do anything progressive in DSA’s case and, in many cases, will deter the community because of their reformist tactics and faith in the electoral system.
We criticize food distributions because we know that charity ultimately work against community interests. If hundreds of people are starving in our communities and an organization provides basic resources to a handful of them, it is likely that these people will not organize. So, ultimately, this will hurt their interests and the interests of the community at large. Like we have said, this is a decaying band-aid on a bullet wound. It will never cure the underlying problem of capitalism.
We will not lie to community organizers we have worked with in our community about food distributions. We will tell them to their face – food distributions will not and cannot address the root of the problem. They are decaying band-aids on a bullet wound. But we do not blame these community organizations because we know that their primary reason for existing is to feed and help people in the community. Again, they share our goal of helping the masses. They might be unfamiliar with why hunger exists or how to ultimately combat injustices in Boyle Heights. But we will still work with them because they are a part of the community and they share our goal of empowering the community. As we have said before, they have no ulterior motives of reform.
As much as we criticize food distributions, we are not saying that food distributions should never be organized. We are not against food distributions in and of themselves. We can see how they have been utilized by organizations such as the Black Panthers in the past to gain community support. Even we ourselves will provide whatever possible resources that we can to fulfill the community’s immediate needs. However, this is primarily as a last resort and not because it is a solution to anything. For example, we have fixed broken doors, pipes, and leaky roofs for tenants we work with because certain repairs are very urgent and landlords will wait months to fix them. However, this is a short-term solution because ultimately, it is on the landlord to fix it. And seeing as the majority of the community we work with have these issues as tenants, we know that we cannot fix all of their problems over and over again. STP-LA nor any other organization can be anyone’s savior. The people must learn to fight for themselves. It is on them to take back what is rightfully theirs and demand landlords fix whatever is broken. Our role as organizers is principally that – to organize them, to work with them, to stand side by side with them. Organizing them is only the first step forward and it must serve the long-term goal of destroying capitalism, not of electing a “leftist” candidate. Any organization that puts elections first is betraying the people.
If it isn’t obvious already, we do not uphold the incorrect and treacherous line of left unity, i.e. unprincipled unity. We do not seek unity with the left – we seek unity with the masses. And, although this message is directed towards DSA, we are addressing all red capitalist organizations here. We will not allow these groups to betray the masses and sell them false liberation. In the final analysis, all those who are against the masses are our enemies. We advise the conscientious members of DSA to abandon and denounce their reformist leadership and join the ranks of the revolutionary masses. If they refuse to do so, no one can say we did not warn them. Collateral damage is an inevitable part of war.
We want to state that we will not recognize DSA-LA’s politics. Ultimately, we see them as a threat to the working-class communities of Los Angeles. We will not allow them to lie to the people and promise them false messiahs in liberal politicians. If DSA-LA refuses to listen to us, we will continue to win over the community they pretend to serve and show who they are at face-value. We will shed no tears for their organization being run out of the hood.
As we said, we have previously struggled with DSA-LA on this very topic. We thought we made our message clear but apparently we didn’t. For that, we self-criticize and we will boldly restate our position. As DSA-LA cowardly whispers criticisms of neoliberalism, STP-LA will shout to the sky our hatred of capitalism and our love of the masses. We proclaim that all attempts to trick the masses into reform will end in one result; a traitor’s conviction. We will let DSA-LA decipher the verdict.
STP-LA has been organizing in Boyle Heights for three years and we can proudly say that, in this time, we have established a mass base. The masses trust us and we trust them. They have united with our line to join our ranks. However, the first two years of our organizing were marked by the economist practice of food distributions. We can say with confidence that DSA-LA, with their “Food 4 solidarity” initiative, will resurrect failure and death.
DSA states that Food 4 Solidarity will “strengthen the organization and move us closer to building socialism from the ground up”. In reality, they want to generate good traction to push them on the ballot and push the nation closer to welfare capitalism. DSA simply wants capitalism with a better healthcare package. That they call themselves “socialist” is a spit in the face of every revolutionary socialist who has given their life to serve the people. They do not grasp that, at its very core, socialism can only be built through the violent confrontation between the working class and its exploiters. All organizing efforts must aim to bring forward this confrontation and end exploitation once and for all. DSA’s planned economism seeks to liquidate class antagonisms, hide contradictions, and call small concessions victories. At their core, food distributions aim to make capitalism more bearable for the exploited – thus, they give another leg for capitalism to stand up on. Food distributions trick the masses into becoming dependent on small guarantees. This is a lesson we have learned in the last two years. Food distributions are a dead end – they mechanically distribute food week after week, empowering no one. They cannot fulfill the primary goal of any revolutionary organization, which is to transform the masses into militants who are ready to wage war. We declare that the seizure of political power is the principle objective for organizing. As the masses have stated,”tenemos nada y queremos todo.”. We know that they will seize todo by force, whether it be against a pig or a capitalist with a red rose banner.