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[l] at 4/18/19 11:00pm
From the ISO

Members of the leadership team responsible for carrying out the decisions made by current and recently resigned ISO members in voting to dissolve the organization in late March report on the outcome of this process.

IN LATE March, current and recently resigned members of the International Socialist Organization took the highly unusual step of voting to dissolve the organization. This decision was guided by the recognition that the ISO’s demise was inevitable and that it should be carried out as responsibly as possible.

We are writing this to inform readers that this process has been finalized to the best of our ability. Our newspaper Socialist Worker has ceased production, and we are developing a separate, independent body tasked with reporting on the botched 2013 sexual assault allegation so that former ISO members and the rest of the left might learn from our mistakes. Existing caucuses and working groups are empowered to make their own decisions about where to go from here.

At what turned out to be the ISO’s final convention this February, we set out to begin the process of boldly transforming organizational structures and practices, which had been forged over 40 years of working class defeat and the marginalization of socialists, into ones that might contribute to the new and vibrant movement of the left.

Unfortunately, the impact of decades of undemocratic practices, including a hostility to caucuses and the self-organization of members of oppressed groups, as well as the recently revealed egregious treatment of allegations of sexual assault, meant that we were not able to recreate ourselves. We were faced with a situation of the organization becoming a barrier to our members playing important roles on the socialist left.

Articles reporting and reflecting on the ISO’s crisis are featured on SocialistWorker.org’s home page. You can read more about the ISO’s decision in “The ISO’s vote to dissolve and what comes next” and find an early statement on the mishandled sexual assault case in “Letter to the ISO membership.” For more reflections on the ISO’s crisis, see “What socialists can learn from #MeToo” and “Open letter to some ex-leaders of the ISO.” For more on the ISO and the fight against oppression, see “Apology to people of color in the ISO” and “Toward a critical defense of ‘identity politics’.” Also published at SW are commentaries on socialists and organization, including “We must continue to fight for socialism from below.”

The ISO and its members have done some incredible things that have done real good in this world; our failures have also done real harm. We will strive to learn from the new moment.

Not all ex-ISO members are going to agree about the next steps, and one month after a crisis of this proportion is not the time to make grand predictions or rush to conclusions. This is what the next several years are for. But we can say that we want to see the developing socialist movement grow to its full potential, and we believe that for that potential to be realized, the revival of working-class struggle seen in the current strike wave must be fused with the politics of anti-oppression, internationalism and socialism from bellow.

Signed by: Aaron A, Ashley S, Bekah W, brian b, Danny K, Doniella M, Doug S, Flynn M, Haley P, Hector A, Julian G, Natalia T, Nolan R, Phil G, Pranav J, Sean L, Sherry W, Todd C

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[l] at 4/10/19 11:00pm
Tess Carter

In light of the revelation of a sexual assault accusation that was grossly mishandled by once-leading members of the organization, Tess Carter reassesses her own experience as a survivor of abuse committed by an ex-ISO member.

I AM a survivor of sexual and emotional abuse that I believe was facilitated by the culture you helped to create in the International Socialist Organization.

It took all of about 30 minutes of being in an ISO space before a man took acute interest in me. All of a week before he gave me his number and asked if we could hang out sometime. All of a month before he made it clear we were dating.

That man was a serial rapist.

He utilized the passive vulnerable position I was in during an intense period of grief — having suffered the loss of my mother, grandmother, good friend and dog in a very short time period — to not only be intensely emotionally and sexually abusive, but also to lay the groundwork for discrediting my word to people in your organization.

He spread rumors that I was a drug addict and was manipulative, and that I had sexually assaulted him. After I broke up with him, these rumors — combined with the distorted ways that capitalism teaches us to misplace our sympathy — meant that despite the obvious public knowledge of the severity of my situation, people in that political space made it very clear their sympathies were with him because he was a “heartbroken” man.

Reflections on our crisis

It was made very clear to me that I was not welcome in that space. I was bullied, overlooked and discredited by the adults around me. I assure you that had I not already learnt how to deal with insidious socially abusive situations (mainly via slut-shaming and “heartbreaking” shame), it would have been impossible to deal with.

However, I am used to being disliked, and I had the ability to politically assess, articulate and dismantle what was happening to me. With little aid from my local Branch Committee (after initial complete invalidation), I took this to national bodies. I found two other women in the ISO who had been raped by the same man (one of the women had been successfully bullied out by the abusive branch culture) and two more whom he raped in non-ISO spaces.

Here, things finally began to be dealt with appropriately. My case received national attention; I was flown to Chicago to talk about it at the ISO convention. I was given time and space and validation. The “PDX Crisis” became an event and term people knew. You all gave me your support; I formed strong bonds with some of you.

BUT AS information came to light about the way some of the same national leaders horribly mishandled a 2013 sexual assault case, it became apparent that you didn’t care for myself or any of the other survivors of the ISO.

Instead, utilizing your roles of leadership, you had merely picked and chose which sides you would take (always resulting in your success) given any case of abuse brought forward. Based solely on what was best for the image of the organization (both internally and externally), and for your own personal interests.

I now see that had it not been for #MeToo; had the member of national I had spoken to initially not been so validating and adamantly fighting for me; had you not had biases toward certain members who in this particular case happened to be victims; had I not, from the very beginning, made it clear that if this wasn’t dealt with aptly, I would be utilizing every platform I possibly could to publicly expose the ISO; things would have been dealt with very differently. Coming to terms with that knowledge broke my heart.

I do believe you have convinced yourselves that you are acting in a politically appropriate way. I do believe that what your brains and bodies have done allow you to tell yourselves that you haven’t done anything wrong. There is a term for this; it is called a defense mechanism, a reaction far more advanced and powerful than we typically give credit.

I am a huge believer in redemption. My father was an abusive alcoholic until I was the age of five. We’ve all heard this story before — and we know how it typically ends. Mine, however, was rather unique. My mother had started attending Al-Anon meetings two years prior and he then joined AA. They did the work to get better.

Due to my familial guidance, I have inserted myself into emotionally intelligent therapeutic spaces when and where I felt they were applicable to me. Despite, of course, having some critiques, this was a stage of my own psychological journey that I would never minimize in regards to my own recovery and growth.

By accepting — and rejecting where I found it apt — the emotional knowledge of therapeutic spaces and psychological theory, and fitting that into my political understanding of the emotional realities of capitalism, I gained a somewhat unconventional perspective in my criticisms of the left: namely, that without psychological and emotional understanding, we will be incapable of delivering socialism.

I still have much to learn, but myself and the comrades around me who are rejecting the ISO’s former ways all have a fundamental emotional and political comprehension that you all lack.

I have been granted a model of dealing with one’s demons — I cannot fully express what a privilege that is. I have been granted the necessary tools to walk the difficult path of tackling one’s very self. It’s one of the foundational features of happiness, and one that, it seems apparent to me, none of you possess. You would not be acting this way if you did. While that may be an explanation for your abusive ways, it is not an excuse.

THERE IS a way forward for you. Currently, you are festering in shame and hatred for the exposure of your ways. Currently, you are attacking survivors of your own abuse, covering up that abuse and denying of the necessity of being held accountable. Currently, you are perpetuating rape culture and abuse.

And while it may be understandable, as you are human beings raised under the harsh emotional mind-fuckery of capitalism, it is fundamentally inexcusable.

You have all been blinded by your egos. The celebritization — or at least unaccountable leadership and unqualified respect — you each experienced throughout your time in the ISO has gotten to your heads. You have all lost the ability to see any rationality.

There are others who were also granted this dysfunctional power dynamic and abused that power, but who have been able to acknowledge it and not defend it. The difference between you and them is that they are taking accountability and choosing the right path forward.

Furthermore, the insular culture within the ISO — you could even call it a cultish tendency, which is more common in political organizations than people think — granted you even more security in your abuse. Because, fundamentally, you made the rules. While you claimed that that there would be a higher standard in our organization than the judicial system and all the other unjust institutions under capitalism, in reality, you mimicked them all perfectly — like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

At least in broader society — from Hollywood to mainstream politics — major public figures have to deal with intense public criticism alongside the absurd levels of adoration. But you got to shut any criticism down. You got to silence and invalidate. You got to completely eradicate anybody, singular or plural, who would dare take a stance against you.

In so doing, you sent out the gut-wrenching message that anybody who dared disagree with you would meet the same fate. I shall spare you the obvious parallels of your actions with those of any number of oppressors in our world’s tragic history.

Do the work. That is your one option here. Take time — serious time (I will not be engaging with any of you further than this for at least a year) — and assess your selves, your demons, your motives and your actions. Be honest with yourselves. Take off your masks, at the very least in front of the mirror.

Sadly, you are not alone. Far too many on the left take your same positions, and make your same mistakes. It is, in my opinion, a major contributing factor as to why we have not yet achieved socialism.

The time has come for the left to drop the abusive assumption that the emotional is in anyway estranged from the political. That the private is divorced from the public. That feelings don’t goddamn matter. There are no such thing as “personal issues” that are not political. People are political — and therefore so are all of our issues.

You’ve broken my heart. Please try mending yours.

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[l] at 4/8/19 11:00pm
ISO Steering Committee

Delegates at the ISO’s 2019 convention in February voted to direct the outgoing and incoming Steering Committee (SC) to publish a letter of apology to comrades of color for deficiencies in the organization’s internal practices.

Because a significant number of the outgoing members of the SC remained silent on this question, it was always going to be difficult to produce a unified document. Then came the revelation that the 2013 Steering Committee grossly mishandled an accusation of sexual assault, which led to a crisis that culminated in the vote last month by 70 percent of ISO members to dissolve the organization.

These developments make it impossible to fulfill the exact letter of the resolution calling for an apology letter, but the current Steering Committee believes it is important, even as we wind down the organization, to fulfill the spirit of the convention resolution by publishing the following statement.

MERRIAM-WEBSTER defines an apology as “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” This letter will address both aspects.

First, the admission of error.

For much of the ISO’s existence, its leadership adopted a hostile attitude toward challenges from comrades from oppressed backgrounds regarding aspects of political priorities and the organization’s positions on issues of racial oppression. Proposals for caucuses based on racial (or gender) identity were met with suspicion and were systematically blocked — often accompanied by accusations that those who raised questions about caucuses, independent study groups or formal affirmative action measures were being unduly influenced by “identity politics”.

Reflections on our crisis

The ISO devoted enormous organizing work throughout its history to anti-racist initiatives: fighting the KKK and apartheid; marching against deportations; standing strong for Palestine and BDS; campaigning against the death penalty and working alongside families whose loved ones were beaten or murdered by racist police. But this very real commitment to fighting racism existed alongside an internal culture that wasn’t open to the self-organization and self-advocacy of its own members of color.

In fact, the organization’s external track record was sometimes deployed to deflect calls for changes to an internal culture in which perspectives were largely managed by parameters set by leadership and narrowed in relation to other struggles and organizational priorities. Numerous examples abound, but we will refer to some specific instances to make it clear that these were not isolated occurrences.

IN 2010, several NYC comrades of color proposed very sensible ideas for focusing on training and educating members from especially oppressed backgrounds, including:

The explicit mention of recruiting and developing members of color as a serious project in our organizational perspectives.

Development of a systematic approach to membership development, with conscious effort made towards members of color.

An educational plan that develops our understanding of the socialist arguments on racism and capitalism so that all ISO members are confident in leading in anti-racist fights and are confident in making our arguments around racism with contacts of color.

Affirmative action-type approaches to invite developing cadre of color to convention — a period when the highest decision making body of our organization meets to discuss, debate, and vote on political and organizational perspectives.

ISO leaders in NYC responded defensively, mobilizing the trope that such proposals were concessions to “identity politics.” The leadership’s hostile reply and intellectual bullying intimidated the members who raised the proposal, leading them to doubt their own judgment. Although the NYC ISO leadership admitted its mistake and apologized to these comrades in 2013, the national Steering Committee took this as a sign of weakness and insisted it was wrong for the NYC leadership to apologize.

At the ISO’s 2015 Convention, one leading comrade of color, developing the recommendations made by NYC comrades in 2010, made the following proposal:

That a working group of cadre of color be formed with the members of the working group chosen from the Convention delegates and guest of the ISO’s 2015 Convention. This working group will continue to develop and organize, between Convention and Socialism Conference and in collaboration with SC and NC, a meet-up scheduled for members of color at the Socialism Conference 2015, with a possible follow-up meeting at the ISO’s 2016 Convention for cadre of color.

Thought not attacked with the same overt hostility as the 2010 proposals, the motion was subjected to similar suspicious and bad-faith arguments and was ultimately sidetracked and diverted into a promise for more focused education and training. In the ensuing years, any efforts by comrades of color to meet independently (much less form a recognized caucus with standing in the ISO) were either undermined or blocked.

THERE ARE also ways in which major weaknesses in the ISO’s culture of debate had a disproportionately harmful impact on people of color inside the organization.

For example, at the same 2015 convention, two senior members of the Steering Committee presented a one-sided analysis from the podium about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that January. Members who raised concerns about the approach of the French left towards Islamophobia, anti-immigrant racism and secularism (and ISO leaders’ defense of this approach) were sharply criticized without any significant right to reply.

Instead of recognizing the situation as one in which study and reflection and comradely discussion was critical, the Steering Committee approached the ISO’s official response to the killings as a litmus test. Arab and Muslim ISO members were some of the most prominent comrades raising these concerns — and the needlessly polarized atmosphere created by the Steering Committee’s approach to the debate had a lasting impact on some of these members’ confidence in the organization.

The organization could also take problematic approaches to debates over organizational priorities, with similar disproportionate impacts on members of color.

One example of this bad method was how the 2013 Bay Area district leadership and Berkeley branch committee handled the “Pivot to Asia” (PTA) study group, which had been formed the year before and organized primarily by Asian American members, with the goals of providing leadership on issues having to do with Asia and U.S. imperialism and helping to train and recruit more Asian American socialist cadre. Through the PTA’s existence, members spoke at meetings and conferences, wrote articles and helped to advance the politics in the ISO.

But when the ISO attempted to make a “sharp turn” to prioritize building ISO branch meetings after the collapse of Occupy and began pulling back from our members’ work movements, some PTA members who had different ideas of how to recruit to the ISO and who also wanted to continue PTA as a key political space to build an Asian American periphery were labeled as having “identity politics.” This experience contributed to Asian American members leaving the ISO.

A similar dynamic occurred in Chicago last summer, as the city prepared for the verdict in the trial of killer cop Jason Van Dyke for murdering Laquan McDonald. ISO leadership and members of color came into conflict over organizing priorities.

Despite years of dedicated organizing (by comrades of color and white comrades alike) against police brutality, including the Laquan McDonald case itself, ISO leadership prioritized publicizing semester kickoff meetings in place of preparing for potential mass protest. This conflict exposed long-running tensions in the district in which members of color reported mistreatment and repeated questioning of their commitment to the organization’s overall project.

THE ACTIONS described above were wrong, and they marginalized and silenced too many comrades of color. Worse, they were of our own making. The revolutionary socialist tradition abounds with examples of socialists from oppressed backgrounds coming together to caucus, study together, develop recruitment paths, prioritize anti-racist work and more.

In the ISO we polemicized against economic reductionism, championed the historic role of C.L.R. James and the Black Panther Party, studied books like Communists in Harlem, Hammer and Hoe and Women, Race, and Class and saw our own members produce books like From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, and Radicals in the Barrio. And yet a major contradiction existed between our studies of this theory and history and our organizational practice.

While these serious mistakes shouldn’t erase the important work that many ISO members of all races accomplished over the years — or that a number of members of color were able to develop themselves and others inside the ISO as revolutionary cadre — our positive accomplishments only goes to show how much more we could have done with a healthier political culture where more members of color felt full ownership and respect.

So we extend a frank apology to comrades who were harmed by our errors and actions. To current and former ISO members of color, we are sorry, and we commit ourselves to use this public reckoning as a basis for learning from our mistakes and building a stronger left that internalizes the principle that the oppressed will lead the way in fighting for their own liberation.

Our expression of regret stems from recognizing that our deficiencies set back comrades of color individually and as a collective, and they undercut our explicit goal of creating a multiracial, revolutionary organization led by people of color — especially young people of color.

Worse, rather than recognizing these destructive tendencies when they were raised and correcting them, criticisms of our mistakes were suppressed, compounding the damage. Thus, despite the fact that comrades of color (along with white comrades who supported them) finally won the debate at the 2019 convention, years of unresolved frustrations made acting on those intentions difficult because of a lack of mutual trust.

The 2019 convention decisions and leadership elections were the first step along a long path of restoring mutual trust and developing new practices. Unfortunately, the ISO’s dissolution will short-circuit that process.

However, hundreds of ISO members will continue our dedication to building a multiracial revolutionary movement, and we remain hopeful that our mistakes can offer useful instructions for the new socialist movement and social movements in general. No organization or movement has all the answers. We hope that some of our work offers positive examples, while the errors we have reviewed here provide useful warnings.

We are convinced that there can be no socialism without liberation of the oppressed, just as we believe that there can be no genuine liberation from oppression without the overthrow of the capitalist system. If aspects of our internal practices diminished our collective capacity to fight for those goals, then recognizing our past mistakes, and openly and publicly apologizing for them with resolve and humility, can be part of recovering our strength for the battles to come.

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[l] at 4/8/19 11:00pm
Obrero Socialista

Obrero Socialista informa sobre los resultados de un voto que se llevó a cabo entre todos los miembros de la ISO para determinar que sigue después de la crisis organizativa.

MIEMBROS Y ex-miembros de la Organización Socialista Internacional (ISO) han decidido disolver la organización y terminar la publicación de SocialistWorker.org y el Obrero Socialista en las próximas semanas. Al mismo tiempo, los y las compañeras, decidieron apoyar varios grupos de trabajo e iniciativas en el futuro, y trabajar hacia una colaboración continua hacia la reconstrucción de una organización socialista revolucionaria independiente.

Estas decisiones surgieron después a una semana de votación en línea que terminó el 29 de marzo sobre casi dos docenas de propuestas presentadas antes de una conferencia telefónica con todos los miembros el 24 de marzo. Participaron en la votación cerca de 500 miembros, participantes en células no afiliadas y miembros recientemente dimitidos.

Las decisiones se tomaron a raíz de una grave crisis en la ISO después de que surgiera información sobre una acusación de agresión sexual terriblemente mal manejada en 2013. Un comité disciplinario independiente en ese momento llegó a la conclusión de que un miembro de la ISO había violado claramente el código de conducta de la organización y debía ser expulsado, pero el Comité Directivo (SC por sus siglas en inglés) de 2013 intervino en la labor del comité, revocó su decisión y silenció de manera efectiva a todo aquel que disentía del curso que se había elegido.

Este informe está destinado a nuestros camaradas y amigos de la izquierda, en Estados Unidos y en todo el mundo para explicar lo que la ISO ha decidido en su votación y lo que viene después para nosotros. Habrá algunas reflexiones más sobre la crisis en nuestra organización y lo que significa para todos nosotros en el movimiento socialista en los próximos días antes de que dejemos de publicar — aunque tenemos la intención de mantener nuestro trabajo archivado en este sitio web en el futuro.

ALREDEDEDOR de un tercio de las propuestas activas sobre las que votaron los miembros de la ISO se referían al futuro de la propia organización.

Alrededor del 70 por ciento de los que votaron eligieron propuestas para disolver la ISO de alguna manera, frente a propuestas que posponían la decisión o favorecieron la continuación del grupo, aunque con cambios importantes.

La propuesta que obtuvo una mayoría absoluta de votos presentó un plan para un período de transición antes de la disolución. Un Equipo de Liderazgo de la Crisis — compuesto por miembros del recién elegido Comité Directivo y Comité Nacional, además de representantes del Consejo Nacional de Celulas de la ISO, el Grupo de Trabajo de Justicia para Sobrevivientes de abuso sexual y la Comisión #MeToo — está facultado para supervisar el proceso.

Una tarea importante en este período será proporcionar apoyo a los grupos de trabajo e iniciativas que continuarán después de la disolución de la ISO.

Muchos de los grupos de trabajo de la ISO y de los caucuses recientemente formados — que van desde el Grupo de Trabajo de Justicia para Sobrevivientes y otros grupos de trabajo hasta el trans caucus — planean continuar reuniendo a los activistas a nivel local y en todo el país.

Las propuestas que directa e indirectamente hablaban del futuro de estas formaciones obtuvieron un fuerte apoyo. En particular, hay un mandato claro para las propuestas que centran a las sobrevivientes y la luchan contra la agresión sexual. La votación también apoyó un proceso para continuar investigando el caso de agresión sexual de 2013 y cómo se descarriló una decisión, y para informar públicamente de los hallazgos.

En cuanto a SocialistWorker.org, continuaremos publicando durante un breve período de una o dos semanas. Después de que SW termina su publicación, se está estableciendo un nuevo blog o sitio web para que funcione, como lo ha hecho SW en las últimas semanas, como una continuación de la discusión interna entre los miembros y ex miembros de ISO.

Muchos miembros apoyaron apasionadamente el intento de mantener a SW en funcionamiento en diferentes formas, pero este sitio web y la edición impresa de SW siempre han estado ligados a la ISO, por lo que nuestro futuro como periódico no puede separarse de la organización que lo respalda. Sin embargo, planeamos mantener a SW en línea en el futuro como un archivo del activismo y análisis de la ISO que se remonta a varias décadas atrás.

Con el mismo espíritu, la propuesta para la disolución planificada de la ISO estableció un curso para mantener conectados a los ex-miembros de la ISO, con el objetivo de contribuir a la reconstrucción de una corriente socialista revolucionaria de la izquierda en el futuro.

Muchas, aunque no todas, las células de la ISO, incluyendo aquellas que votaron para desafiliarse del grupo en las últimas semanas, están comprometidas a permanecer juntas a nivel local. Y, por supuesto, las cosas que trajeron a la gente alrededor de la ISO en primer lugar — involucrarse en las luchas sociales y organizar en el sector sindical, así como proyectar políticas socialistas — continuará motivando a los que participaron en la ISO.

Otra propuesta con un fuerte apoyo mantendrá unido al comité coordinador del Consejo Nacional de Células de la ISO como un medio para conectar a las formaciones locales durante los próximos meses por lo menos.

Esto concuerda con el sentimiento expresado en la propuesta de disolución para que los miembros y grupos de miembros participen en futuros debates que extraigan las lecciones de la experiencia de la ISO y acepten el reto de organizar una corriente socialista revolucionaria en el futuro:

No estamos proponiendo que podamos simplemente reconstruir una nueva ISO. Después de una pausa que nos permita tener tiempo para cuidar nuestros cuerpos y nuestras mentes, debemos hacer un balance colectivo de las lecciones políticas que aprendimos en este proceso. Desarrollaremos una lista de correo electrónico para aquellos comprometidos a reclamar nuestra política, y nos reuniremos mensualmente para leer, discutir y debatir la política que nos puede llevar adelante y averiguar qué tipo de publicación y organización sale de este proceso.

Ya hay algunos planes específicos para avanzar en esta discusión. Por ejemplo, se apoyó la propuesta de que los antiguos miembros de la ISO organizaran reuniones y conferencias regionales en los próximos meses.

También lo hizo otra sugerencia para que los miembros y grupos de antiguos miembros de la ISO continuaran construyendo la conferencia Socialism 2019 como un espacio importante para toda la izquierda. La conferencia tendrá lugar en Chicago del 4 al 7 de julio con una alianza ampliada de patrocinadores, ahora organizada por Haymarket Books y el Center for Economic Research and Social Change.

Todos los que formamos parte de la ISO hemos pasado por un proceso desgarrador y un examen de conciencia profundo. Como señaló el equipo de liderazgo de la organización al publicar los resultados de los votos, nos llevará tiempo a todos nosotros procesar, reconstruir confianza entre nosotros y seguir adelante.

Pero para todos los que participaron, el voto de la ISO para disolverse fue el resultado de una discusión honesta y entusiasta sobre cómo podríamos sentar las bases de la esperanza colectiva que todos compartimos: proponer la política del socialismo desde abajo en las luchas del futuro.

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[l] at 4/2/19 11:00pm
Pranav Jani

This is an expanded and updated version of a document written by Pranav Jani during the period leading up to the ISO’s 2019 national convention in February. Along with a general call for more democracy and openness in the ISO amid the labor upsurge and growing socialist movement, people of color (POC) at the Convention demanded a recognition of their experiences of racism and discrimination in the ISO, and identified theories and practices that prevented the development and leadership of POC members.

Delegates at the convention elected POC comrades to national leadership in unprecedented numbers, including over 50 percent representation of POC/Native members on the Steering Committee. While the ISO voted to dissolve itself following news of a badly mishandled rape allegation in 2013 that decimated the group, many comrades will continue to work together in identifying what went wrong, and contribute to building a socialist movement that is truly grounded in fighting all instances of oppression.

THIS ESSAY calls for a critical defense of “identity politics” in order to better respect the experience and knowledge that people of color and those from other oppressed communities bring to socialist organizations in the U.S. — and to prevent their marginalization from these groups.

My argument, which applies broadly but centers race, has two aspects: 1) rejecting the ISO’s understanding of identity politics as oppositional to Marxism, a position I reluctantly enforced for many years; and 2) suggesting that the Bolsheviks’ critical support for anti-colonial nationalism in the 1920s provides an excellent template for defending identity politics in a critical way.

But first, in light of current discussions about assessing the ISO as we begin the process of dissolving the organization, let me explain a bit about my own experiences in the ISO, and how this argument fits in a bigger picture.

Building an anti-racist socialist organization

I joined the ISO as a graduate student in 1995, when I was 23 years old. Brought up at the heart of a South Asian immigrant community in New Jersey with two unionized educators, I held a mix of ideas, from anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and pro-labor positions on the one hand, to fairly conservative positions on gender and sexuality on the other.

Reflections on our crisis

While I was starting to learn about Marxism in my classes, it was nothing like the education I got in the ISO. Besides learning about an entirely new way of looking at the world through study groups, meetings and discussions, I went to my first picket lines, organized my first rallies and actions and coalitions and started working with activists from a variety of backgrounds and communities — challenging and transforming my political ideas.

Make no mistake: despite disagreements on how we talked about race I stayed in the ISO for nearly 24 years because of our consistent anti-racism and anti-imperialism, which we placed at the center of the fight for socialism.

The ISO’s politics and organization gave me space to lead on these fronts again and again: fighting against our campus police having guns in 1995; launching a branch of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in 1996; organizing against Bill Clinton’s crime bill, welfare cuts and “humanitarian” wars; challenging NYC police brutality in the late 1990s; building the global justice movement after Seattle 1999; rejecting post 9/11 Islamophobia and militarism; protesting the Iraq War of 2003; organizing for immigrants rights in 2006; mobilizing for Trayvon Martin in 2012; supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2014 and after; building campaigns for BDS and Palestinian rights; fighting fascism and white supremacy after Trump; and on and on.

On the theoretical front, the ISO always aimed to reject the sort of class reductionism that is interested in race, gender, sexuality and the like only as a function of economics. With whatever limitations we had — and this essay is about a major limitation — we never argued that the fight against oppression was a secondary issue that would miraculously solve itself once we did away with capitalism.

And we would be innovative as well. In recent years, for example, I have had ample room to develop our understanding of colonialism, racism, and anti-colonialism through talks on Indian revolutionaries like M.N. Roy, the 1857 Rebellion in British India, African liberation movements, and Marxist theories of colonialism.

And yet, despite all of these incredible experiences and ideas, and despite our layer of experienced POC leaders across the nation — absolutely visible at the convention — the ISO had a dubious track record in encouraging the leadership of POC, in retaining POC cadre, and encouraging POC spaces for communication and development.

On the individual level, as comrade after comrade publicly testified at the Convention, we experienced disrespect and belittling, severe pushback when raising arguments for caucuses or for new ways of approaching identity and privilege and aggressions and microaggressions that, frankly, are our daily experiences in white-majority spaces.

Time after time, we were kept from leadership positions. In an organization with a historically low number of POC leaders at the national level, I only joined a national leadership in 2017, after over two decades of work. Many other POC comrades can share stories of being passed over despite ample evidence of their political ability to lead.

As many have noted, POC comrades ourselves often enforced these arguments to other POC. This shows that the issue was systemic and not only individual. Mainstream society trains everyone to diminish people of color — so it is quite easy for people of color in positions of authority to do the same.

Or, we learned to hold our tongues. In the middle of so much good activist work against racism and imperialism, and with the absence of alternatives on the left, we often raised debates but then let them go after facing a wall of resistance. This was precisely my experience when challenging the ISO’s positions on “white skin privilege” and “identity politics” over the years.

To be clear: I reject the idea that the group that I helped to build for decades was a racist organization. That would erase the hard work of comrades of color, especially, and doesn’t explain the whole story.

But I also reject the idea that anti-racist practices and ideas themselves could have made the ISO, or could make any white-majority socialist group, immune to the racism that rages around us. Whether through direct acts of racism from individuals, ideas that ended up targeting and invalidating POC experience or undemocratic practices that had a disproportionate impact on POC, comrades have been victimized for years. And we are the ones who stayed.

The socialist left, if it is ever to be successful, needs to transform itself to meet the needs of POC comrades, and to stamp out the ugly presence of racism wherever it raises its head.

Rejecting the dismissal of “identity politics”

Socialists can start by rejecting over-simplified criticisms of what is called “identity politics.” In fact, we should probably stop using the term altogether because its meaning is unclear and imprecise — and gets in the way of connecting with people from marginalized and oppressed communities.

At worst, the criticism of identity politics seems to minimize subjective experiences of social reality — and to suggest that comrades who have not experienced racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and the like are in the best position to advise and correct those who have.

For Marxist organizers, the knowledge and perspective that develops through someone’s direct experience of oppression/exploitation should be not only worthy of our full respect but a crucial building block to revolutionary consciousness.

We know this in practice, as evidenced by decades of Socialist Worker pieces foregrounding people’s own voices when talking about politics and struggle. Frankly, the ISO would have never been able to organize a single rally or action or strike, not to speak of recruiting comrades from marginalized backgrounds, if its members didn’t have a fundamental understanding of this central point.

Yet, we persisted with an approach that said we needed to “win people away from” or “break people from” identity politics. We cited “identity politics” as a shorthand for a negative political assessment of comrades, and lost the opportunity to actually dialogue with them beyond this label.

Such practices construct a rigid barrier between socialists and those who — precisely because of oppression — tend to foreground their identity in articulating their politics.

In fact, at its worst, “identity politics” could be used like a club to silence people — doing a great deal of harm to members and contacts of the ISO who were POC, queer, trans and/or otherwise marginalized in society.

The historic argument against Black or POC caucuses in the ISO — which I also made, for years — is a clear example of how our excessively critical approach to identity issues tended to push oppressed communities back.

The implicit assumption here is that POC getting together would somehow weaken our project of building a multiracial socialist organization. Such lack of trust is extremely harmful, and reproduces the marginalization that POC feel in society everyday.

In 1938, speaking to the Socialist Workers Party (US), C.L.R. James went much further than caucuses, arguing that:

The awakening political consciousness of the Negro... takes the form of independent action uncontrolled by whites. The Negroes have long felt, and more than ever feel today, the urge to create their own organizations under their own leaders and thus assert...their claim to complete equality with other American citizens. Such a desire is legitimate and most be vigorously supported even when it takes the form of a rather aggressive chauvinism.

Why is it that we always defended the right of the oppressed to resist in any way they choose, but restricted our own members from doing so?

How can we, as the broader socialist left, embrace the knowledge and perspectives coming from the experience of oppression and recognize it for what it is — a strong, potential basis for revolutionary and socialist organizing?

Expanding Marxist theory

What I’m saying here is in line with much bigger shifts and developments inside the ISO starting at least a decade ago — and the tremendous work by our comrades in conceptually applying and developing Marxist methods to understanding social oppression and resistance.

By 2019, ISO members were asked to understand the relationships between capitalism and sexuality, disability, gender, race and settler colonialism — a far cry from years past. Intersectionality, social reproduction theory, the contributions of Black feminism, trans liberation, Native liberation — these were now part of the language we used and the radical traditions we cited.

For many of us, these changes took far too long. It seems outright laughable that “feminism” was not a term we used regularly before, seeing it as a stand-in for middle-class, bourgeois ideology.

But the shift was real, and reflected our taking seriously the idea that Marxism is a living, breathing tradition, that other radical traditions have concepts and observations that can be compatible with Marxism and that we need to explore what we can learn from them.

My call for a critical defense of identity politics aims to continue this opening up of Marxism and socialist organizing. Socialists need to better understand the identities and experiences of the oppressed, and learn how to link them more firmly to the development of revolutionary consciousness.

Talking identity

As Marxists, we stand (and ought to stand) for the unity of the working class across lines of social identity (race, gender, sexuality, nationality, caste, religion, etc.). We maintain that:

the working class is composed of people of all identities;
ruling-class ideology and the workings of capitalism fragment the working class and turn it against itself; and the historical development of capitalism is integrated with and reproduces structures and institutions that perpetuate social oppression (settler colonialism, slavery, colonialism, the family and patriarchy, gender binaries, etc.)

Identities, then, are constructs, and products of historical divisions and conflicts.

But saying identities are constructs doesn’t mean they are therefore “fake” — any more than saying race is a historical construct wipes away the realities of racism. Identity plays a big role on the level of consciousness, self-perception and self-pride for oppressed groups — and often opens up a path to understanding oppression as part of a system.

Identity has at least two aspects: a name or category that a person chooses for themselves, and a box that a person is shoved into when they enter the world. In fact, the two are inseparable.

Even if a person feels their self-definition is utterly unique, and that they or their community are distinct from everyone else, that desire itself should be seen by Marxists as a product of history, not just as the projection of an individual.

And in fact this history is one of oppression and alienation — commonly known as “othering”. Those from oppressed and marginalized and/or minority groups often are the ones who rush towards identifying themselves as distinct; those of majority groups, comforted in being seen as “normal” or even “universal”, don’t often feel such a need — except in response.

This is why “Black power” and “women’s rights” in the U.S. can articulate a radical position and the expansion of liberation, but “white power” and “men’s rights” points to a world of greater oppression.

Criticism of “identity politics” from the left is something to think very hard about and question. Not just today, when the right is falling all over itself to go after identity politics, but even in earlier decades.

Some have argued that identity politics in the 1980s and 1990s was a product of postmodern anti-Marxism and therefore had to be fought sharply by those seeking to preserve a socialist current.

There is some truth to this, but we need to ask more questions and dig deeper. Why is it that, when we read the postmodernists, they too are quite critical of identity politics, seeing it as opposed to “difference”? How did “identity politics” as used by the Combahee River Collective in their manifesto of the late 1970s differ from and/or contend with the postmodernist critiques of the term?

One might have criticism of how a particular worldview linked to an assertion of identity answers important questions like why oppression happens, what liberation looks like and who are allies and enemies. But it’s best to criticize that worldview, not the origins and experiences that produced it.

In fact, we would be better served going in the opposite direction, asserting the value and importance of identity and experience first, before becoming suspicious of “identity politics.”

Valuing experience

Valuing experience is not new for the socialist and Marxist left. In fact it’s crucial to our ideas about history and change. We know that reporting the experience of the oppressed and the exploited is central to contesting ruling class ideology and media, which projects ruling class experience and interests as universal truth.

When someone walks into a meeting or up to a mic and shares their experience — of being a person of color, of being a worker, of being disabled — we value that immensely, even if we don’t agree with all of their political framework or ideas.

And when we assert that grassroots movements are what makes change, or that revolutions are festivals of the oppressed or that the “emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class itself,” we are showing how much we value people’s ability to think and act against capitalism and oppression because of their own experiences, and the understanding that flows from that.

Marxists critical of identity politics are actually opposing — and should continue to raise questions about — a set of ideas and practices that refuses to see capitalism as linked to social oppression, or sees anyone who does not experience a given oppression as automatically complicit in that oppression or encourages reactionary politics on the name of fighting oppression.

Nothing I am saying is about dropping these positions. Rather, I’m saying they should not be counterposed to “identity politics” (which appears to critique the origins of the politics) but to the political positions themselves, with a method and approach that begins by respecting the oppressed and marginalized person’s experience and knowledge.

Parallels with national liberation

Marxism, especially in its Leninist formulations, already offers a great template for valuing an oppressed group’s self-definition and identification while also maintaining a critical approach.

I’m referring to the tradition’s historic approach to anti-colonial nationalism — particularly in 1921 and 1922, after the Comintern brought together Bolsheviks and anti-colonial and anti-racist revolutionaries from around the globe — including MN Roy, Claude McKay and many others — who themselves participated in shaping the policy.

A very brief outline of the position is as follows:

1) Marxists value the self-determination of oppressed nations, and regard this is crucial to the fight against imperialism, against capitalism and for true and democratic internationalism.

2) Anti-colonial movements are made up of diverse elements but tend to be objectively against capital — and need to be defended by Marxists.

3) But this defense is critical, not absolute. The cross-class alliance inherent in any anti-colonial struggle is repressing a clash of class interests. Marxists side with the workers and peasants within anti-colonial movements, as well as oppressed groups within the movement, because only a fight against capitalism and oppression — not just the securing of an independent nation-state — can bring genuine liberation.

4) Some anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles are reactionary, and supporting them would go against the current that potentially flows from national liberation to socialism. Working classes and oppressed groups within oppressed nations are targeted by and need to fight such elements, and our affiliation is with the oppressed.

The term “identity politics” is so broad that it cannot be simply blended with anti-colonial nationalism. While the latter’s fight to win political freedom is in part motivated by identity and culture, it is also sharply defined by the centrality of land recovery and democratic self-rule.

But the method and principles by which Marxists have developed the critical defense of anti-colonial nationalism shows us what a critical defense of identity politics would look like.

Moving with, not against, identity and experience

Beyond listening to people, not writing them off, and other good practices that we should always strive for, we need to get away from a mindset that says “we need to get people to be critical of identity politics, but for now we want to connect with them.”

Instead we should be for moving, with the stream, from people’s identities and experiences toward Marxist understandings of oppression and exploitation — with an appreciation of identity and experience as crucial places where people from marginalized groups first cut their teeth in questioning a world that others them and oppresses them.

Besides becoming more and more open to the radicalization today, this understanding will alleviate a huge burden that many of us, including myself, have always felt in squaring our theory with our practice within socialist spaces.

Rather than feeling we are going into battle when speaking with contacts and new members who radicalized out of their experience of marginalization, rather than feeling we have to name their questions as “identity politics” (either to them or in reporting to contact organizers), rather than seeing Marxism as an “inoculation” against the “pull” of identity, socialists can see our task as engaging with what people already know and feel, listening and learning from this exchange, and putting forward ideas and perspectives that we have in a comradely dialogue.

I’m not arguing that revolutionary socialists shouldn’t voice disagreements and arguments with people. If we don’t share a vision of working class organizing across identities and experiences, then we might be in disagreement about some fundamental questions regarding oppression, resistance and change. This needs to be acknowledged and discussed.

My argument is simply that we need to recognize that people from marginalized communities who engage with socialist groups are already radicalizing, way before they meet us.

In terms of POC comrades, the socialist left must realize that those who come to our meetings and events are already expressing an interest in multiracial organizing. They/we are already facing censure from “our own” communities for working closely with or within a (white) socialist formation.

The left, in this period of working class fightback and rising white supremacy, must — at minimum — do everything we can to reduce the barriers between such POC comrades and socialist organization.

Only then can we even start to think about the layers and layers of POC and specifically Black leadership that would be necessary to imagine a workers’ revolution in the U.S.

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[l] at 4/1/19 11:00pm
From SW

SocialistWorker.org reports on the results of an organization-wide online poll to determine what’s next in the wake of the ISO’s organizational crisis.

MEMBERS AND recent ex-members of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) have decided to dissolve the organization and end publication of SocialistWorker.org over the coming weeks, but also to support several working groups and initiatives going forward, and to work toward continued collaboration in rebuilding independent revolutionary socialist organization.

These decisions followed a week of online voting that ended March 29 on nearly two-dozen proposals put forward ahead of an all-member conference call on March 24. Nearly 500 members, participants in disaffiliated branches and recently resigned members took part in the vote.

The decisions came in the wake of a severe crisis in the ISO after information surfaced about a horribly mishandled sexual assault accusation in 2013. An independent disciplinary committee at the time came to the conclusion that an ISO member had clearly violated the organization’s code of conduct and should be expelled, but the 2013 Steering Committee interfered with the committee’s work, overturned its decision and effectively silenced anyone who dissented from the course it chose.

A message from Socialist Worker

This report is meant for our comrades and friends on the left, in the U.S. and around the world to explain what the ISO has decided in its voting and what comes next for us. There will be a few more reflections on the crisis in our organization and what it means for all of us in the socialist movement going forward in the coming days before we cease publication — though we intend to keep our work archived at this website into the future.

AROUND ONE-third of the active proposals that ISO members voted on concerned the future of the organization itself.

Around 70 percent of those who voted chose proposals that dissolved the ISO in some fashion, versus proposals that delayed the decision or favored the group’s continuation, though with major changes.

The proposal that won an outright majority of votes put forward a plan for a period of transition before disbanding. A Crisis Leadership Team — made up of members of the recently elected Steering Committee and National Committee, plus representatives from the ISO’s National Branch Council, Survivors’ Justice Working Group and #MeToo Commission — is empowered to oversee the process.

One important task in this period will be to provide support for working groups and initiatives that will continue after the ISO disbands.

Many of the ISO’s working groups and newly formed caucuses — ranging from the Survivors’ Justice Working Group and other working groups to the trans caucus — plan to continue to draw together socialists on a local basis and around the country.

Proposals that directly and indirectly spoke to the future of these formations won strong support. In particular, there was a clear mandate for proposals that center survivors and fight sexual assault. The vote also supported a process for continuing to investigate the 2013 sexual assault case and how a decision then was derailed, and to report the findings publicly.

As for SocialistWorker.org, we will to continue to publish for a brief period of a week or two. After SW ends publication, a new blog or website is being established to function, as SW has for the past several weeks, as a public-facing continuation of the internal discussion among ISO members and former members.

Many members passionately supported trying to keep SW going in different forms, but this website and SW’s paper edition have always been bound up with the ISO, so our future can’t be separated from the organization behind it. We do, however, plan to keep SW online into the future as an archive of the ISO’s activism and analysis going back several decades.

IN THE same spirit, the proposal for the planned dissolution of the ISO set out a course to keep soon-to-be-former members of the ISO connected, with a goal of contributing to the rebuilding of a revolutionary socialist current on the left into the future.

Many, though not all, branches of the ISO, including those that voted to disaffiliate from the group in recent weeks, are committed to staying together on a local basis. And, of course, the things that brought people around the ISO in the first place — being active in struggles and organizing work, as well as projecting socialist politics — will continue to motivate those who participated in the ISO.

Another proposal with strong support will keep the coordinating committee of the ISO National Branch Council together to be a means to connect local formations during the coming months at least.

This matches the sentiment expressed in the proposal for dissolution for members and groups of members to participate in future discussions that draw out the lessons of the ISO’s experience and take up the challenge of revolutionary socialist organization in the future:

We are not proposing that we could simply rebuild a new ISO. After a sufficient national break that allows us time to take care of our bodies and minds, we should do a deep dive into the political lessons collectively. We will develop a listserv for those committed to reclaiming our politics, and we will convene monthly Zoom calls to read, argue and debate the politics that can take us forward and figure out what kind of publication and organization comes out of this process.

There are some specific plans already for advancing this discussion. A proposal for former ISO members to organize regional meet-ups and conferences in the coming months won support.

So did another suggestion for members and groups of former ISO members to continue building the Socialism conference as an important space for the whole left. The conference will take place in Chicago on July 4-7 with an expanded alliance of sponsors, led by Haymarket Books and the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.

All of us who were part of the ISO have been through a wrenching and soul-searching process. As the organization’s leadership team pointed out when releasing the vote totals, it will take time for all of us to process, rebuild trust and move ahead.

But for everyone who participated, the ISO’s vote to dissolve was the outcome of an honest and passionate discussion about how we could lay the basis for the collective hope we all share: to put forward the politics of socialism from below in the struggles of the future.

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[l] at 3/28/19 11:00pm
Haley Pessin

Haley Pessin argues that the failures of the ISO should be understood and used in order to improve the revolutionary socialist project, not abandon it.

IMMEDIATELY BEFORE the crisis currently rocking the International Socialist Organization, our members fought hard to change it.

We fought to transform our group into one that would be run by its own members, open to multiple perspectives (without any illusions that only the “leadership” had the right answers), and fit to bring the politics of socialism from below into and alongside a growing, radicalizing left — and we won.

In the aftermath of this crisis, I was furious that our victory was being cut short by the retroactive impact of leaders whose actions proved more damaging than we could have imagined.

It seems like we are at the beginning of one of the moments revolutionaries prepare their whole lives for — a rebirth of a socialist left, complete with the return of class struggle and movements for social justice. And yet, the discovery that the leaders of an avowedly anti-sexist organization intervened such that a member accused of rape was allowed to rise to our highest leadership body has been so destructive that it is hard to figure out how we can participate and move forward.

Reflections on our crisis

But I keep coming back to something my dad (who is also an ISO member) raised in response to the crisis: What if our organization had imploded due to these revelations not now, at the very beginning of a rebirth of the socialist left, but once we were much further along in the development of this new left?

It is no accident that this crisis happened after a change in leadership — not because we were wrong to fight to democratize the ISO, but because that was the only context in which there was a realistic sense that any exposure of wrongs by the past leadership would get a hearing.

Of course, whatever was rotten in the ISO is not reducible to its leadership, past or present — there are bigger, explicitly political and organizational questions that this throws up not just for us, but for the whole left. But I also don’t believe these revelations invalidate the need for revolutionary organization or the project of fighting for socialism from below.

My work in the ISO is still the thing I am most proud of. My most fulfilling experiences as an activist have come at the height of struggles in which the ideas of thousands of ordinary people suddenly matched or exceeded the sense of possibility that, most of the time, was only held by a tiny section of us on thelLeft who insisted that another world is possible.

It’s why this beautiful Howard Zinn quote still resonates so much with me: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.”

NONE OF this is invalidated by an organizational structure, leadership or practice that was never worthy of our members or our politics, even if we are right to raise big questions about what needs to change and how we can open ourselves up to the traditions, ideas and (most of all) people who we were previously trained to write off because they “didn’t have our politics.”

I understand that grappling with this, for many of us, means we will need to proceed at a much slower pace or even take a step back from activity for now. But I still believe there is a need for an organization that both unites and captures the collective strength, knowledge, experience and dedication of militants, organizers and activists who agree on the fundamental need to win a society run by those who make it run, in the interests of the majority, and not for profit.

And while its true, and an excellent thing, that we aren’t (and never were!) the thing ensuring that a revolutionary party representing the interests of the working class will develop in the U.S., and while it’s true that we are just at the beginning of this rebirth of the left, the stakes remain high — for defeating the right, for protecting the future of the planet, for rebuilding the labor movement and the infrastructure for sustaining struggles against all forms of oppression.

The need for revolutionary organization remains because there is still a need to unite the militants who have (unevenly) drawn these conclusions, and because there are no guarantees that we will win.

Even if, as others have said, the ISO can no longer be the vehicle for connecting people who share these convictions, or who are coming to these conclusions and eager to figure out where to plug in and fight, I don’t think we should dissolve without a strategy for maintaining our connections to each other.

I’m committed to figuring out what that looks like with whoever is ready and willing to do so. And, thankfully, I know I’m not alone.

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[l] at 3/28/19 11:00pm
brian bean

The crisis in the ISO has generated a lot of interest in various writings about the challenges of building small revolutionary organizations, including a couple articles by Hal Draper, who was a theoretical leader of the International Socialist tradition. Here, brian bean offers a critical appraisal of Draper’s contributions to this debate.

THE RECENT situation in the ISO has rightfully produced a trenchant criticism of what has been termed the “micro-party” form of revolutionary socialist organization.

One of the pieces that has been dusted off and heralded as affording valuable insight is Hal Draper’s 1973 essay “Anatomy of the Micro-Sect.” This and the similar, though less known, 1971 “Toward a New Beginning — On Another Road” reflect Draper’s polemics against the group that he helped form — the International Socialists (IS) — which he left in 1971 as part of a small split that became the International Socialist Committee (ISC).

Undoubtedly, one reason that these essays are being shared is that the author is one of the founders of the IS and a theoretical leader of the tradition, imbuing his criticism with particular force. “Even your (or our) founder broke from this project, so it must be wrong” is what seems to be implied.

While much of Draper’s work is incredibly important, I think “Anatomy of the Micro-Sect” has flaws as an analytical piece and is less helpful than its seeming popularity would reflect.

Reflections on our crisis

My argument is not intended as a defense of the micro-party, which should be a matter of debate that — I hope — is enriched by our reflections on the ISO. One such piece that I think is more helpful than Draper’s is David McNally’s 2009 essay “The Period, The Party, and The Next Left.” But it’s worth noting that McNally’s piece largely presents a negative case and does not attempt to present a “recipe” for an alternative.

What’s good

Draper’s description of an atomized far left — DSA notwithstanding — sadly still resonates today. He depicts a tangle of orthodox Trotsky sects of “super sophistication in Marxism and futility in practices” and Maoist/Stalinist groups that have an “amnesia,” “ignorance” and “primitivism” of Marxism and political practice. His primary critique is that any left organization that “counterposes” its “programmatic points against the real movement of the workers in the class” is a sect.

This is a valuable insight, and Draper’s description of the way in which adherence to “program” can lead groups to define themselves primarily in terms of how they differentiate themselves from the working-class movement as opposed to how they can try to work to further working class self-activity is illuminating.

The focus on self-activity, on the emancipation of the working class being carried out by the working class itself, exemplifies the best of the tradition of “socialism from below.”

Additionally, his anatomy — in the lesser read “Toward A New Beginning” — of the dangers of an organizational method of the “small mass party” acting “as if“ it was already that mass party is salient and should be a caveat for any left organization.[2]

This critical insight of Draper’s is not completely unique. This same emphasis on working to break out of the sterile orthodoxy of “toy Bolshevism” also exemplifies some of the best work of the British IS, later the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

Tony Cliff’s “Trotsky on substitutionism” is one such work where he criticizes the “leadership shown by small sects as ‘blackboard socialism’...in which didactic methods take the place of participation in struggle.”[3] He counterposes this with an organization that “conducts a dialogue” and “learns from the experience of the mass movement.”

Duncan Hallas’ work also continually grapples with this. In Hallas’ “Sectarianism”, he writes:

Sectarians, for Marx and Engels, were those who created “utopias,” abstract schemes derived from supposed general principles, to which people were to be won by persuasion and example — co-operative “islands of socialism” and suchlike — as opposed to the Marxist emphasis on the real movement, the actual class struggle. It was with this in mind that Marx wrote: “The sect sees the justification for its existence and its point of honor not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from the movement.” (The emphasis is Marx’s own.)

This dynamic, of aversion to what Hallas calls “program fetishism” and “building the leadership,” was also being theorized in the late 1960s and 1970s in a different context that attempted to articulate revolutionary organization in a non-sectarian manner, holding the primary importance of the self-activity of the working class as the ultimate requirement for building a socialist movement.

There is a humility to these writings that are an important revolutionary attribute. Small groups pretending to be today’s equivalent of the Bolsheviks are both arrogant and pitiful. Draper’s article shares this humility, and while there are certainly reasons to be critical of the trajectory of the British IS/SWP, I think that there is much more to be explored without what I think is Draper’s drastic overcorrection.

As Draper begins to lay out his vision for how to avoid the pitfalls of the micro-sect, he puts forward two arguments against two possible solutions.

The first is that a unity of sects, what I would call a “regroupment-first” model, is not the answer, and in this, I agree wholeheartedly with Draper. The second argument Draper takes on is against “broad tent” organizations. Draper argues that even if groups organize around a “minimum socialist (or radical) basis on which ‘everyone’ can agree,” even if it be “abstract socialism,” that is still too much of a differentiation from the working-class movement.

By this definition, even groups like DSA (not sure at what numerical threshold Draper would discontinue his sect definition) and indeed any organization based on political ideas in social movements and the union struggle fail, in Draper’s opinion.

While the questions he asks are good ones (and are also grappled with elsewhere in the International Socialist tradition), one must still ask what is the solution to this dilemma — unless one is content with complete liquidation and the unimportance of socialist ideas. This brings us to what Draper advocates in his conclusion.

What is not good

For Draper, those interested in building a mass socialist party without replicating the errors of the micro-sect should group themselves around a “political center.” Draper argues that individual socialist militants should organize where they are and try to organize informal “socialist circles” around some kind of publication.

In my opinion, however, this solution is woefully inadequate, and this greatly detracts from the usefulness of Draper’s critiques.

Firstly, there is the historical context that is important to note. When Draper was first writing these pieces arguing that “micro-sects” would de facto fail to engage with building a worker’s movement, the IS was just beginning to form in 1969 and was composed of several divergent ideological forms that took almost three years to sort out.

However, in 1974 — one year after publication of “Anatomy of the Micro-Sect” — the IS in the United States was beginning to engage in some of its most effective and important trade union work, including the building of rank-and-file movements and caucuses around the country.

Groupings such as Teamsters for Democratic Union came from this activity, and this was a part of a surge of labor activity that culminated in 1974 in highest number of strikes since the Second World War.

In the UK, the IS/SWP from 1971 through 1974 was similarly making a turn, participating in and building a nascent shop stewards movement. The IS/SWP initiated factory branches, recruited worker militants, deepening its implantation in the trade union movement, and expanding readership of its publication.

Meanwhile, the ISC — Draper’s side of the split from the IS — turned out to be a flop, and it is barely a footnote to history.

So at the same time that Draper condemned the potential for small socialist groups to break out of their isolation, a couple actually took modest steps in that direction, managing to positively engage in building a rank-and-file movement of militant workers.

The flip side of this is that Draper perhaps had some prescience about the period of radicalization hitting its peak in 1968-69. Neoliberalism would rear its head just a decade later, and the downturn in struggle was just around the corner. Both of these groups would go on to encounter difficulties and make significant political errors as the overall climate for revolutionary groups became much more challenging.

So while these two organizations had their shortcoming, categorizing them as irrelevant sects does not exactly describe them in their totality; meanwhile, Draper’s own attempt at building a “political center” was failing.

Draper’s approach seems very propagandistic organizationally at a point in time in which it was proven that revolutionary groups could play modest activist roles in building movements. The best ideas can’t substitute for organization.

Secondly, one can see that Draper’s model has not passed the test of time. The examples of a “political center” that Draper hoped would train and cohere a new socialist movement included the journals Monthly Review and Dissent. Draper hoped that publications such as these could serve as the nuclei around which informal socialist circles could be organized.

Needless to say, it’s difficult to sustain the idea that the core of the new socialist movement has come from publications such as these. Additionally, Draper makes the argument that the “sect” model makes it more difficult to keep the socialist movement independent of the Democrats.

In the intervening decades, without organization to help cohere a core of independent politics, publications like these have generally succumbed to the swampiness around the Democratic Party. Though they may offer critiques of the party, various authors take a multitude of positions around the various strategies that focus on reforming, taking over, or influencing the Democratic Party through an inside-out strategy.

One could make the argument that the more recent success of Jacobin might be the best example of what Draper argued. However, one cannot separate the effect of Jacobin from the organization of the Democratic Socialists of America.

This problematizes the seeming ease of the “make a journal” approach of the political center that Draper advocates. A membership organization that can be a “mutual center of training and debate,” as Hallas calls it, is the level of organization required to be able to actively combat the fact that the dominant ideas of any age are those of the ruling class. A high level of organization is required to be combat — even ideologically — these dominant ideas that are perpetually generated and highly funded by our class enemies.

Lastly, there’s the problem of a hypothetical “political center” anchored by a publication without some kind of organization connected to it. Draper places the emphasis on an editorial board to give shape to the outlook of the political center.

But a publication independent of any organization means that these editors are an unelected, unaccountable body of people in charge of a set of ideas that then in turn informs all these informal socialist circles.

Obviously, a good publication can reflect lively debate among its readership, but Draper’s opposition to any kind of political organization means that he imbues the editorial board with unelected authority while the socialist militants grouped around the publication, who per Draper’s prescription have no say over the publication, should go out and build reading groups around a publication they have no control over.

Draper’s solution to building a “political center” is a flimsy solution to a real challenge. The questions he is trying to grapple with are indeed substantial ones, which in my opinion the IS tradition at its best has attempted to tackle. It is clear that the question of the method of the “micro-party” needs to be further explored, and yet I find that Draper’s piece is a false lead.

There is much more theoretical work that can be done, and the David McNally piece and some of the pieces from the British SWP in the Haymarket volume Party and Class provide a better starting point. Additionally, the documents generated by the debate about democratic centralism in the British IS in 1968 are fascinating.

IS (U.S.) member Sam Farber’s critical analysis of the British IS in 1973 is also worth a read. The split documents of the 1977 split that created the ISO in the U.S. is also instructive in many ways, especially the letter to the IS (U.S.) from the IS (UK) central committee (drafted by Hallas and, I think, unavailable online). Paul Le Blanc too recently penned some reflections.

All this is to say that the left must engage in some serious political and theoretical work to grapple further with the question of organization and that Draper’s late work is less helpful in this task.

But wrestling with these questions is essential, and this wrestling must be related to an analysis of the current moment with all of the challenges and opportunities it presents us with today. Ambiguity and abstraction will not serve us well in this process.


1. Most notably his multi-volume Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution and the essays “Two Souls of Socialism,” “Who’s Going To Be the Lesser Evil in 1968?,” “The Mind of Clark Kerr,” “ABC of National Liberation Movements,” Draper’s writings on free speech, among others too numerous to mention.
2. I believe that the conception of the “small mass revolutionary party” came from Max Shachtman.
3. Cliff, in my opinion, is a highly contradictory figure. On the one hand, he exemplified the “small mass party” approach I am critiquing in his three-volume political biography of Lenin that equated in toto the building of a small propaganda group with that of a revolutionary party. On the other hand, his work also exuded a focus on self-emancipation in which he is often startlingly clear. This no doubt comes from both his attention to Lenin, his early Luxemburg-ism, and the influence of the libertarian socialist Cornelius Castoriadis’ Socialisme ou Barbarie group.
4. Draper’s history is dodgy as well. In “Anatomy of a Micro-Sect,” he holds the newspaper that Lenin edited — Iskra — as a positive example but does not mention that Iskra was a publication of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which had a program and definitely did not have a mass base in Russia. The party conferences elected the editorial board.

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[l] at 3/27/19 11:00pm
Don Lash

Don Lash argues that competent investigations into sexual assault are capable of following both of these important principles.

THE ISO was less than the sum of its parts. Comrades in the ISO did fantastic work in labor and social justice struggles and helped to build important institutions distinct from yet linked to the ISO, like Haymarket Books, WeAreMany.org and the International Socialist Review.

Yet the ISO itself, as an organization, seemed not to register any discernible progress politically. Its version of Leninist democratic centralism seemed shopworn, and its branch routines seemed stale. Neither seemed terribly relevant to the context in which members did their organizing.

There was, moreover, a top-down leadership style that mocked its professed allegiance to the adjective in democratic centralism. We now know there were hidden horrors that most of us were unaware of, and others were only vaguely aware of.

At this point, it’s clear that the ISO as it existed is now gone, and there are discussions about what can and can’t be salvaged from it.

Reflections on our crisis

But aside from that, there needs to be a reckoning: a forensic examination of what happened in 2013, what other horrors and abuses may have been covered up, and how members of the leadership were able to maintain a culture of silence.

Even if nothing of the ISO is to survive, comrades who have spent years or decades within the organization deserve to know what was happening, and what destroyed the organization they had contributed to.

Those who have left or will leave deserve not to have a cloud hanging over their association with the ISO because of a mysterious mess of undisclosed secrets. If there is an entity built to replace what’s worth salvaging from the old ISO, the larger left needs to know that it does not contain any toxic elements of what went before.

We should remember that the world is full of other organizations and entities that have tolerated and encouraged rape culture, shielded and promoted rapists and abusers, bullied less powerful individuals within their ranks and maintained massive cover-ups. Even on the left, the ISO is far from the only organization to be rocked by such a scandal.

So there is an opportunity to demonstrate how a group of comrades can purge itself of corrupt and bankrupt leadership, expose the misdeeds, mistakes and compromises, and still maintain a measure of continuity with what they have been working for.

Incompetent, opportunistic and reckless

This accounting is related to, but distinct from, a restorative justice approach to allow healing and reconciliation, and should precede any attempt at restorative justice.

I make the distinction because my sense is that because of the spectacular failure of the 2013 disciplinary process that has come to light, there has been a loss of confidence in the ability to undertake some kind of fact-finding process.

The Steering Committee members who manipulated and bullied the members participating in the process did so by making a fetish of due process, which some have characterized as “bourgeois legalism.” This is actually giving it too much credit.

The Steering Committee members who dictated due process standards to the 2013 Disciplinary and Appeals committees were incompetent, opportunistic and reckless.

Incompetent in that they spouted rules of evidence and procedure they didn’t really understand, in a context in which they were unnecessary or unduly restrictive.

Concepts like the inadmissibility of hearsay evidence, the right to confront all witnesses and the need to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt all developed in the context of a criminal trial, in order to restrain the power of the state to deprive someone of their liberty. The ISO never had such power.

The only power the ISO had was to tell one of its members that it chose not to have him associated with its political project, and that it no longer chose to allow him to exercise power at any level over members and contacts.

There was no reason for the Disciplinary committee not to make a determination that it found the written statement of the complainant more credible than the testimony of the respondent, and the former member who revealed the process gave a well-reasoned rationale for doing so.

Similarly, the statement that the Disciplinary committee could not make findings about any breach of the code of conduct other than the core allegation of rape was absurd and arbitrary.

Even more absurd was the assertion that a hearing had not been held, culminating in a forced admission by the people who had conducted the hearing that they had not in fact conducted a hearing. It is still unclear what the leaders thought a hearing consisted of, but by any measure appropriate to the context, the respondent had received a hearing, and had been given the opportunity to be heard and to advance his arguments.

Beyond their ignorance of what due process actually means, the leaders were opportunistic in that it served their interest in protecting a younger comrade, in whom they no doubt recognized the hubris they had come to see as indistinguishable from leadership potential.

Placing an incorrect definition on the term “preponderance of evidence,” claiming that written statements were not evidence, and falsely denying that the respondent had received a hearing were all consistent with the outcomes they desired: bullying the Disciplinary committee into declaring a “mistrial” and then essentially directing a verdict of unsubstantiated from the Appeals committee.

Finally, they were reckless in disregarding the risk to the organization and the members participating in the process.

Some, like the former member who later revealed the process, were driven out by their own disgust at how the process was manipulated. Others maintained an uneasy silence because of dictates about confidentiality, meaning that today, they struggle with feelings of complicity over having been silent regarding a cover-up designed to protect a rapist, supposedly justified by a concern for the privacy of his victim. They are damaged as well.

All in all, the seemingly inevitable exposure of the cover-up has effectively destroyed the organization the leaders purported to serve.

Believe survivors AND presume innocence

While we don’t yet know everything that occurred in 2013, it’s clear that the members who sat on the Disciplinary and Appeals committees were fully prepared to do the jobs they had taken on. In the case of the Disciplinary committee, despite a lack of clear, simple guidance as to the process, they actually did the job, only to be undermined and manipulated by the Steering Committee.

So rather than conclude that a forensic examination is discredited because the 2013 process proved that investigative measures are ineffective and don’t support real justice, we should conclude that we have among us individuals capable of completing the necessary fact-finding, provided they are given fair, relatively straightforward and clear guidelines by people not wedded to a particular outcome.

We can also protect the confidentiality of anyone who feels vulnerable to retaliation, intimidation or worse without giving anyone else a reasonable basis to complain about unfairness.

Perhaps most troubling about the 2013 process was the proposition put forth by some Steering Committee members that the principle of believing survivors is not consistent with the presumption of innocence. These SC members appear to have been successful in creating some confusion on this point among the membership of the Disciplinary and Appeals committees. This needs to be addressed before any type of forensic examination begins.

Each of us is entitled to the presumption of innocence until the point that evidence that we are not innocent is deemed more credible than the evidence and arguments we produce to the contrary. Especially in a forum where the standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, the statement or testimony of a complainant, if it is credible, may well be enough to overcome the presumption.

Believing survivors is not a rule of evidence. It is a political recognition that because sexist normative assumptions are pervasive in our society, the testimony of women regarding sexual harassment and violence are not credited if their behavior does not conform in every respect to those assumptions.

Applying that political recognition in an investigative context means adopting operating principles that caution the fact-finder to reject inferences based on how women are “supposed” to act before or after sexual harassment or violence.

Rejecting those inferences, and shutting down questioning and arguments intended to advance those inferences, does not deny any accused individual of the presumption of innocence. It simply says that the complainant’s testimony will be evaluated on its merits and not on the basis of sexist prejudices and unwarranted assumptions.

By the account of one SC member, the argument that believing survivors is inconsistent with the presumption of innocence came in its most dramatic form from another SC member, who scribbled an accusation of rape against a comrade on a paper, signed his name and proclaimed that this would be sufficient to prove guilt in future cases if the findings of the Disciplinary Committee were not overturned.

The stunt was as ridiculous as it was obnoxious. What he produced was a bald accusation, not evidence, and would not overcome the presumption of innocence in any rational proceeding. The statement of the complainant that the Disciplinary Committee considered, on the other hand, specified the location, circumstances and timing of the assault and seems to have had other indicia of reliability.

What is important about this is that we need to refute the false argument that by adopting the principle of believing survivors we are somehow agreeing to abandon the presumption of innocence in cases of sexual violence or harassment, or to affording a lesser standard of due process in this category of cases than we do in others. The principle of believing survivors demands no such compromise.

My hope is that, before making any final decisions about what ultimately happens with the ISO, we designate an inclusive, representative fact-finding body to organize all the documentation that has come out or will come out, solicit testimony and statements, and develop and summarize findings.

Such an investigative body should have the benefit of clear guidelines as to acceptable, appropriate investigative measures and practices and should have ongoing assistance in applying the guidelines, from individuals who have no authority to participate in developing the findings. With appropriate attention to confidentiality, the findings should be published to the membership and the wider audience on the left.

Once in possession of the findings, the membership will be in a better position to assess what happened in the past and what it means for the future. Next steps, if any, such as reformation or a restorative justice process can then be undertaken with the assurance that there has been full disclosure and a factual framework for accountability.

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[l] at 3/27/19 11:00pm
Steve Leigh

SW has been publishing articles on the question of how socialists should organize as part of the reflections on the ISO’s crisis stemming from a sexual assault case. Here, Steve Leigh offers some comments on the discussion of organization and the ISO.

THANKS TO Socialist Worker for its series on the lessons from the internal crisis of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and to the participants for their thoughtful contributions. The lessons learned will be influential in the shaping organizing at least among a layer of people on the left.

The detonator for this crisis is an appallingly mishandled sexual assault case. Members learning the details of what happened are rightly horrified, including at the behavior of some leaders who did what they did in the name of Leninism.

That is an ugly picture that other contributors have taken up, and I support many of their conclusions. But I wanted to write to focus on other questions related to the future of the ISO and revolutionary socialists — in particular, the possibility that outrage at a top-down and unaccountable version of Leninism will lead some to reject Leninism altogether.

Many people reflecting on this crisis have cited a criticism made by David McNally in an essay recently reprinted at SW:

One of the great problems with the dominant model of “Leninism” on the far left is the idea that the legacy of Bolshevism involves steadfastly building a small group that eventually wins leadership of the working class movement. Given that there is no army, no class vanguard, ready to be lead, the small group project becomes the construction of an ostensible leadership-in-waiting.

This then gets transmuted into the notion that the task is to make sure “we’ll be ready” — with a disciplined cadre and a determined leadership — when the masses look to the left.

Reflections on our crisis

This is an accurate criticism of the model of many left groups today. I do not believe that it actually applied to the way the ISO organized.

ISO self-definitions always stressed a different goal: The ISO was a propaganda group that wanted to be part of the process of building an actual revolutionary socialist vanguard party. This meant that it wanted to influence the politics of the organic leadership of the working class, which would develop as class struggle increased. This vanguard, not the current ISO, would need to form a party to lead the working class revolution.

The vast majority of ISO members did not see their leadership as the leadership of the coming revolution. Nor did ISO members see the ISO as even the embryo of a future revolutionary party.

From the beginning, modesty and a sense of humility was part of the DNA of the ISO. For example, the ISO broke with the Socialist Workers Party-Britain (SWP) in part over its attempt to create a disciplined revolutionary international of tiny groups when there was no material basis for a real revolutionary international.

SO IF the distortion of Leninism cited by McNally and the Canadian comrades in their letter wasn’t the problem in the ISO, what was?

The problems flowed from an over-rigid propaganda group model. A discussion group is open to almost any ideas. All is up for consideration.

By contrast, a propaganda group distinguishes itself in trying to propagate a definite set of ideas to the world. Since offering a set of ideas to the world is the unifying goal, there is pressure for all in the group to conform to those ideas. Dissidence from those ideas is seen as distracting from the project.

The leadership sees its role in part as enforcing the discipline of the organization’s reason for existence — that is, its unique viewpoint. Within the organization, the membership as a whole feels the same pressure. The pressure for this was increased during the period in which the ISO arose — a period of downturn in class struggle when most of the left was disintegrating or moving to the right.

When a left organization is small and unable to regularly lead struggles, the propaganda group model makes sense. If a group can’t widely influence struggle, it can influence the ideas of a certain set of activists and lay the basis for the future.

Preserving revolutionary ideas under siege is a worthy goal. Using those ideas to influence struggles as much as possible is also important even in a period of low struggle. The ISO was able to make significant contributions to the success of particular struggles and to spread and clarify Marxist ideas. In the face of the collapse of Stalinism for example, it clarified the real Marxist tradition of workers’ self-emancipation.

The problem comes with over-rigidity in the model. While putting forward an analysis of the world that clarifies long-term goals and helps influence struggle is essential, developing self-critical comrades is just as important.

It is also just as important to always apply, update and make relevant the basic ideas of the group. This means encouraging debate, even when it challenges the official position of the organization, is just as important as maintaining a set of Marxist principles.

The ISO did encourage debate, but the debate was hobbled by the drive for unity flowing from the rigid propaganda group model. Members with dissident positions were often seen as bad members and were sometimes pressured out of the organization. This sometimes happened at the direction of the leadership, but often even at the behest of rank-and-file members.

Accelerating this process was, in the interpretation of the British SWP, an aspect of Leninism known as “bending the stick.” The idea was that the whole organization needed to, at the leadership’s direction, uniformly and quickly move in a set direction. Those who questioned the new perspective were seen as conservative obstacles to the success of the group.

The fundamental politics of the organization were confused to an extent with whatever the new perspective was. This often resulted in wild swings that overcorrected for previous wild swings.

One example of this was the overreaction against “identity politics” and adherence to a rigid campus perspective, which in turn downplayed struggles of the oppressed. This in turn set up the situation that led to the current crisis from disastrously wrong handling of a rape allegation.

HOW CAN this be avoided without making a group so diffuse as to be ineffective?

Ironically, considering the current crisis in the ISO, it was already moving toward a more open application of the propaganda group model, even while moving toward engaging in more agitation and intervention in movement activity — this was described as “becoming an organization of struggle” — though the bending-the-stick approach hadn’t yet been modified.

As a result of the problems with the 2018 ISO convention, several changes took place at this year’s convention. National leadership bodies were elected on an individual basis rather than by slates. Each nominee had the opportunity to state their own political positions to motivate their election. The national leadership was revealing debates among itself on perspectives and organizational issues. Summaries of those debates were to be open to the full membership.

These changes helped to legitimate structured debate within the organization and legitimate debate in general. This resulted in the formation of several “platforms” for the 2019 convention. Instead of the previous denunciation of factionalism, the right of factions to organize was supported. Overall, debate and transparency were rapidly rising in the ISO.

Even before the 2019 Convention, Socialist Worker had opened up its pages to a debate on if and how the ISO should relate to Democratic Party campaigns. This debate went on from summer 2018 through the February 2019 convention and beyond. This was a debate on even a fundamental principle: independence of the working class from capitalist politics.

For the ISO or any future organization on the left, these new improvements in ISO practice are important. We want organizations that encourage internal debate not just in theory, but in practice. We want transparency — i.e., we want to know what leaders actually think before and after electing them. We don’t want organizations that are monolithic in every aspect of their politics.

But given this need for openness, debate and transparency, is there anything we can adapt from Leninist principles of organization?

OF COURSE, Leninism will be applied differently in different periods depending on political circumstances, the size of the organization, how rooted it is in class struggle and so on.

However, there are some key Leninist principles that apply even to propaganda groups that are small, but that also engage in struggle.

We want to make the maximum impact on the debate over political ideas and tactics that we can. Therefore, Lenin’s idea that the party or organization should be revolutionary is essential. This means that it should only be open to those who accept the need for revolutionary transformation. An organization that includes large numbers of revolutionaries and large numbers of reformists leads to a muddle with no clear solid influence on struggles.

Adherence to other fundamental principles such as opposition to all forms of oppression and imperialism and support for internationalism are also needed in order for the group to provide a clear analysis and influence movements in a productive way .The early history of the U.S. Socialist Party is testament to the disaster that can result from lack of clear unifying principles.

This is not to say that broader organizations have no place. It is just to say that Leninist organizations have a particular contribution to make.

Secondly, within a revolutionary organization, democratic centralism — often summarized as “freedom of discussion, unity in action” — allows for the maximum influence to be exerted by the group. If an organization adopts a campaign, it will have more impact if everyone carries it out. This allows for a scientific evaluation of the success of the campaign.

In the realm of ideas, the organization should take clear stands in its publications. It should allow for dissent from members and others, but the position of the majority of the organization should be clear.

Though members should be recruited to the fundamental ideas of the organization as expressed in the Where We Stand or other foundational statements, once they join, debate on all aspects of the groups politics should be open.

This means that comrades with minority viewpoints should be seen as good members as much as those who fully agree with majority positions. Comrades should be free to explain their differences with the majority in branch meetings or in other public forums, while letting people know what the majority position of the group is.

As the watchword of the recent ISO convention debate put it: “Unity in action, not necessarily unity in thought.”

This approach will allow the ISO or any new group to have the maximum impact on the world while also developing new theory and critical, thoughtful comrades who can most significantly contribute to struggles and organization.

The ISO’s internal crisis opens up a crucial and important re-evaluation of the best ways to structure socialist organization. We should learn the lessons of ISO history, but also retain the historical lesson of the need for revolutionary political organization from previous periods. We should not throw out the Leninist baby with the overly rigid bathwater.

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[l] at 3/26/19 11:00pm
Paul Le Blanc

Veteran socialist Paul Le Blanc , author of numerous books including Lenin and the Revolutionary Party and October Song: Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy, reflects on perennial questions about socialists and how they organize amid the crisis facing the ISO because of an appallingly mishandled sexual assault charge.

RECENT DISCUSSIONS with European comrades, whom I have known for many years and whose experience in the struggle goes back many more years, have stirred a desire in me to draw together some political thoughts long swirling and at least partially coming together in my mind.*

Working in Europe during the period from mid-January to mid-April of 2019 took me away from a political earthquake and aftershocks hitting my organization in the United States, the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Regarding aspects of both the earthquake and the after-shocks, I have formed only tentative and partial judgments. An impending dissolution of the group seems likely.

What I have written is not a commentary on these recent specifics. Yet they have deepened my desire to draw together these longer-range thoughts and find reflection in what I have to say here.

Reflections on our crisis

The gist of what I am reaching for involves several things:

1. I feel compelled to continue the work, in which I have been engaged for some time, of seeking to identify aspects of the nature of the revolutionary approach, organization and politics that are needed at the moment of history in which we find ourselves.

2. I am concerned that the proliferation of elitist manipulations (even when based on the best of intentions and cleverest of analyses), cropping up within diverse revolutionary as well as reformist currents, have generated confusions and disillusionments that are obstacles to engaging with the tasks we face.

3. I am haunted by the challenge posed if the revolutionary approach actually brings the mass revolutionary consciousness and organized force many of us have been reaching for. In such places as Brazil and Greece, which seemed for many of us to be exciting experiences to emulate, it turned out that the revolutionary promise would culminate in humiliating disaster.

I believe it is crucial to be wrestling with these and related questions, given the nature of the present period. We are facing questions of life and death, as the crises of global capitalism seem to be deepening and pushing massive numbers of people into greater hardship, turmoil, and calamity.

It is an open question as to whether climate change, in upcoming decades, will be tipping into something increasingly deadly for many millions of people. Economic inequality and crisis seem to be intensifying — austerity, poverty, joblessness and semi-joblessness, lower incomes for all but the wealthy and their minions, degradation of living standards and conditions, multiple insecurities.

In reaction, we see around the world the rise of an anti-humanist right, fake-populist authoritarians, with even worse elements beginning to mobilize to offer their own horrific “solutions” (with the multiple bigotries — racism, misogyny, homophobia, and more) to the terrible problems that are shaping up.

At the same time, a deep and long-term process of radicalization — in the best sense — is also becoming manifest in multiple ways. In the United States, this has been reflected in the Occupy movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the million-woman mobilization against Trump, the #MeToo movement, the growing strike wave spearheaded by teachers, and the amazing impact of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the accompanying mushrooming of Democratic Socialists of America.

Things are incredibly complex, fluid, horrible, hopeful...and yet to be determined. What we do and fail to do — each and every one of us — makes a difference. All the vibrant, interactive specks of humanity, all of us, are part of the amazing equation whose solution is not yet clear.

In order to help deal with such realities, we need to face, and move beyond, the long-term crises afflicting the left — that segment of the political spectrum that is defined as favoring rule by the people, with liberty and justice (social justice, economic justice) for all. And we need to wrestle with the age-old question of what is to be done.

For many on the revolutionary left, there is a need to move beyond the shambles in which we find ourselves in order to do what we need to do. There is much good, over time, that we have contributed to struggles for human liberation, but we must learn from limitations and recent failures if we are to do more.

The God that failed — or not

Over the years, I have seen crises, unravelings, implosions, explosions and quiet disintegrations of many organizations on the left. I have sometimes witnessed such things from the inside: Students for a Democratic Society, Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Action, the Fourth Internationalist Tendency (the only one here intending to go out of existence at the appropriate time and did), the Labor Party emerging from its more accurately named predecessor Labor Party Advocates, Solidarity, Committees of Correspondence and the Green Party.

(Some of these have, of course, continued to exist as shells or fragments of their former selves. In some cases they would continue in reinvented forms, generally with new and quite different leaders, but, from what I can see, generally without the earlier vibrancy, effectiveness and impact.)

Varied critics have cited one or another demise as the inevitable consequence of embracing or failing to embrace a truly revolutionary program, the absence or presence of certain organizational structures or policies, the wickedness of specific leaders, the absence or presence of Leninism, etc.

Looking back on almost six decades of experience, it seems to me that the complexity of factors cannot be reduced to any single or simple cause — one must look at the multiple specifics in each case to comprehend what actually happened in each case. (This is something I have tried to do in my two essays on the SWP in the Breitman, Le Blanc and Wald volume Trotskyism in the United States, and in my reviews of books by Peter Camejo, Leslie Evans and Barry Sheppard in my collection Left Americana.) At the same time, I have seen certain patterns common to many of these experiences.

Often, members and supporters are inclined to idealize or even deify (unconsciously, of course) the specific organization: it will live forever, manifesting in itself, and at a future glorious time bringing into the world, all that is Good.

But — consisting exclusively of mortal creatures — no organization can live forever, and for the same reason, no organization can manifest in itself all that is Good. Organizations can, if their members operate intelligently, help to create a better world — but if they aspire to do more than they can possibly do, profoundly debilitating results are inevitable.

Related to this tendency toward idealization or deification, members of the organization can make a variety of mistakes.

One is to approach the organization uncritically, as a Beloved Community, an affinity group that validates one’s own Goodness or superiority — rather than as something that can and must be utilized to accomplish real-life practical goals that will actually contribute to meaningful change and, ultimately, a better world. Another mistake is to allow an exasperated or dismissive or contemptuous or condescending attitude toward those not adhering to the organization (especially if they are in different, especially competing, organizations).

Connected to this is the illusion that the organization must do more than it actually can do — and in this, falling prey to a sort of magical thinking that (abra-ca-dabra!) in some way, or some how, the organization will be able to Do What Must Be Done to create a beautiful (perhaps socialist) future, even though an objective analysis would reveal that the actual members of the organization lack sufficient resources, knowledge or expertise to make this so.

At best, the organization can be part of a process preparing consciousness, experiences and conditions, and in this, helping to bring together the massive and diverse forces that will actually be capable of doing what must be done. This should mean being more respectful of, and inclined to learn from, those who are not in one’s organization — and also avoiding unrealistic actions that will isolate, demoralize, disappoint and exhaust the organization’s membership.

The organization’s inability to live up to some members’ idealized or deified conceptions may, at decisive moments, feed into feelings of betrayal, disillusionment, and bitterness. While such feelings have often been justified by truly negative practices or policies within the organization, such negative dynamics are hardly to be found only in organizations on the left. One could almost say they are inseparable from the human condition. Still, the traumas suffered have sometimes become as debilitating as the previous idealization and deification, in regard to aspirations and efforts to change the world for the better.

There are two concluding notions that occur to me as I seek to relate these reflections to the struggles against oppression and for a society of the free and the equal.

One is that, since no organization existing today can possibly be the force we need to lead the struggle for such a future society, it is crucial to push against the idealization and deification of any organization on the left. We must see our present organizations as part of a process — each organization may have strengths, but each is limited and must go out of existence, feeding into the future richer, more massive organization that we need.

The second concluding notion is that organizational mistakes, frustrations or failures must not be reduced simply to matters of psychology, sociology, ethics, tragedy or comedy. They may have each of these dimensions — but they also have an essential and practical relevance to politics, economics and human survival. Regardless of the fortunes of one or another currently existing organization, we must labor as best we can to learn from and build on our experiences in a way that can really, truly, practically advance the struggle for liberation.

This struggle for liberation was once described by the young Karl Marx as overturning all conditions that make people oppressed, damaged, mutilated beings, prevented from realizing all that is wondrous within them as free (self-determining) and creative beings living in genuine community.

This aspiration has sometimes been restricted, with the multiple identities of those who make up the rich tapestry of humanity being belittled in preference to a very abstract, idealized or deified understanding of one of these identities (an absolutely crucial one, to be sure) — class, with special reference to what in capitalist society has become the great majority, the working class. This tangle, too, must be undone in order to help us make sense of what is to be done (or less imperiously, what we need to do).

The wondrous, mundane, multifaceted, actual working class — all of us

It is possible (and among certain socialist, communist, anarcho-syndicalist currents, it is the norm) to idealize and deify the working class. This can become a huge barrier to revolutionaries who wish to overcome multiple forms of exploitation — thinking of people as glorified abstractions instead of actual people.

Actual people have a variety of ages and cultural preferences, different genders and sexual orientations, different sets of biases and prejudices, different levels of knowledge and insight, various neuroses and other mental-emotional problems, divergent attitudes on multiple questions, and more. All of this is true of the working class, given that it is composed of actual people.

The classical definition of the working class is: those who make a living (get enough money to buy basic necessities and perhaps some luxuries) by selling their ability to work (their labor power) to an employer. Out of the labor-power, the employer squeezes actual labor in order to create the wealth that is partly given to the workers (usually as little as possible), with the rest of this labor-created wealth going to the employer.

In the early decades of the Industrial Revolution in patriarchal and capitalist Europe, men were often considered the “real” workers (even though many women worked), and factory workers were often considered the “real” working class. But men and women, and many, many children, too, were part of the working class the way we have defined it, and that was the case whether they produced goods or services, regardless of specific and proliferating occupations, skill sets, levels of income, levels of occupational pride, etc.

As a class, the immense collectivity of people just described have been oppressed and exploited in order to enrich the tiny and powerful minority that owns and controls our economy. But there are powerful and terrible forms of oppression that bear down — in multiple ways — on people through their non-class identities, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, age, distinctive physical specifics and more.

Not only must fighting against such oppression be central to all that activists do in the struggle for human liberation, but the interrelationship of such forms of oppression, and of the struggles against them, must be understood.

In particular, the class struggle must be seen as involving determined, creative, uncompromising struggle against all forms of oppression. “Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected,” Lenin once emphasized.

He specified that this includes oppression around freedom of speech and expression, cultural freedom, the rights of religious minorities, the rights of racial and ethnic groups, the rights of women, of soldiers, of students, of peasants. He argued that such oppression must be seen by the worker (here Lenin was presumably speaking of male workers) as coming from “those same dark forces that are oppressing and crushing him at every step of his life.” A revolutionary must be a “tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of people it affects.”

Good as Lenin was, however, he had his limitations — not least of which is that he was a mortal human being who never said the last word on anything. An amazing collectivity of people have addressed these and related questions over the years, and their insights can be indispensable for those seeking to advance the struggle for human liberation. (Among those who have influenced me, in novels, in non-fictional works or both, are: Simone de Beauvoir, Doris Lessing, Rita Mae Brown, James Baldwin, C.L.R. James, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Sheila Rowbotham, Alexandra Kollontai. There are many more.)

Also worth considering, in this regard, are the comments of someone I knew personally, and who became one of my mentors — a seasoned working-class intellectual named George Breitman, who put the matter this way half a century ago:

The radicalization of the worker can begin off the job as well as on. It can begin from the fact that the worker is a woman, as well as a man; that the worker is Black or Chicano or a member of some other oppressed minority, as well as white; that the worker is a father or mother whose son can be drafted; that the worker is young as well as middle-aged or about to retire. If we grasp the fact that the working class is stratified and divided in many ways — the capitalists prefer it that way — then we will be better able to understand how the radicalization will develop among workers and how to intervene more effectively. Those who haven’t already learned important lessons from the radicalization of oppressed minorities, youth and women had better hurry up and learn them, because most of the people involved in these radicalizations are workers or come from working-class families.

The integration of such understandings as these into one’s thinking, and into the very core of one’s political collective or organization, is necessary, I believe, for anyone who genuinely wants to see a revolution. Yet simply doing that will not, by itself, bring a revolution. Which leads to further sets of reflections.

Aspirations and realities

“You say you want a revolution,” sang the Beatles in 1968. “Well, you know, we’d all love to change the world.”

What kind of change has been a focal point of revolutionaries for generations. We have been told that Spartacus defined it as “a world without slaves.” It is said that Jesus projected the Kingdom of God as something to exist “on earth as it is in Heaven” — which meant that all would be equal before their Creator, living in brotherhood and sisterhood, with all things in common, animated by the Golden Rule of each person treating all others as they themselves would want to be treated. Architects of, advocates for, and participants in various utopian projects in more recent centuries sometimes advanced very detailed plans that reflected — in one way or another — their distinctive communitarian ideals and aspirations.

Marx added three compellingly realist notions to the mix:

1. The actual possibility of this hoped-for cooperative commonwealth must be grounded in a serious, disciplined understanding of the realities of the present and an understanding of history (social sciences).

2. The dynamics of capitalism, despite their inherent destructiveness, have created technological possibilities providing the material conditions for a society of the free and the equal in which all might realize their full human potential for freedom, creative endeavor and genuine community.

3. The dynamics of capitalism have also created a complex but truly amazing force, increasingly global, of working-class majorities (those whose labor collectively creates the wealth, goods and services, through which society lives). These majorities have the potential, if their vast numbers are drawn together through consciousness and organization, to bring to birth a new and better world.

Rosa Luxemburg brilliantly emphasized essential aspects of this realist standpoint, particularly in regard to a controversy arising among Marxist-influenced socialists. Some of her comrades argued the hoped-for future could only be brought about by a revolutionary mobilization of the working class to overturn the existing capitalist order and create a workers’ democracy for the socialist reconstruction of society.

Others insisted that this could be achieved more gradually, with the accumulation of reforms (in part secured through compromises with pro-capitalist liberals) that would over time transform a problematical capitalism into a harmonious socialism. Such differences continue to find expression today — including in what is now by far the largest socialist organization in the United States: the Democratic Socialists of America.

Luxemburg insisted that it is foolish to think one could simply choose different paths to socialism — one a quicker, more radical (but trickier, if spicier) path, the other a slower, more moderate (milder, but less risky) path, as if one were selecting mild or spicy sausages at the market.

The realities of capitalism make it impossible to compromise that system out of existence — the effort would involve an entanglement in and adaptation to capitalism, with an ultimate erosion and corruption of reformist achievements. The “mild” path could not actually lead to socialism, but only to a partially (and impermanently) “reformed” capitalism.

The underlying reasons making the reformist pathway to socialism utterly unrealistic flows from the incredible dynamism, and inexorably destructive dynamics, of capitalism. Luxemburg explored this in her classic The Accumulation of Capital (an irreplaceable contribution, whatever its imperfections). This text also decisively challenges, it seems to me, the notion that any conscious person can afford simply to withdraw from political activism, tend to interesting hobbies and one’s own little garden, and let the problems of the world unfold as they may. For committed political activists, such realities intensify the challenge: What is to be done?

Collectives and cadres

Many adages from past movements and struggles continue to resonate: An injury to one is an injury to all; in unity, there is strength; if we fail to hang together, we may be hanged separately; and so on.

The understanding — throughout their political lives — of such figures as Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, Zetkin and their many co-thinkers takes such elemental notions further. There will be no inevitable triumph of human rights, freedom, creativity, community, and a better future. Such things must be fought for, and they must be fought for against oppressive and exploitative elites that are powerful and well organized, with immense resources. They can only be overcome by the force of the majority, but only if that majority has the necessary consciousness and a high degree of organization.

Obviously, not every human being who is part of “the majority” has the same thoughts and values. Some are drawn to multiple forms of bigotry and/or fear and/or passivity and/or submissiveness, etc. Only a portion — a layer — of the working-class majority is at this moment inclined toward a revolutionary class-consciousness, commitment against all forms of oppression and inclination to fight for a better world.

Within this layer, there are some who have developed some skills in actually fighting back, in analyzing what’s what and in waging effective struggles. Anarcho-syndicalists have referred to this as “the militant minority,” and such a minority has sometimes been able to provide leadership in sustained struggles that result in victories. Many among those inclined to read a document such as this happen to be part of the broad vanguard layer of the working class.

Based on what has been said so far, it seems clear that this vanguard layer or militant minority must not substitute itself for the majority (let alone arrogantly claim that it is the majority).

Rather, it must seek to win more and more individuals, more and more of the majority, to forms of consciousness and activity through which they too will either become part of the vanguard layer or increasingly conscious and active supporters of what that layer is reaching for — against all forms of oppression, and for a world in which the free development of each will become the condition for the free development of all.

Just as the entire working class or the entire majority of the population is not telepathically connected, thinking the same thoughts and automatically inclined to carry out the same actions, so those who are part of the vanguard layer do not all have the same thoughts and understanding, including about pathways that make sense and what to do next.

To be effective, individuals who are part of this layer must join together to pool their energies, their ideas, their resources, their insights, their commitments. Without the development of such a collaboration of thinking and activism, without a political collective (in fact, a network of collectives), there can be no effective plans of action that can be carried out to change the world.

Such collectives cannot be sustained, cannot grow, cannot carry out the broad array of educational, consciousness-raising and practical political activities, without people who have developed the skills to make this so. The word cadre has been used as a tag for such people.

Such a person has developed the interactive blend of knowledge, understanding, experience, and skills to do the things that must be done.

How does one organize a meeting that is coherent and democratic and effective and has good practical results? How are those good practical results achieved, and how can various comrades be helped to make sure that they are achieved? How can one’s specific collective be sustained in order to ensure the development and effectiveness of its various comrades and the collective as a whole?

How does one size up an actual situation in the community or the workplace, figure out the kinds of things that need to be done, and figure out how they can be done in order to realize a specific goal? How does one organize an educational forum, a picket line, a strike, a rally, a mass demonstration, an election campaign, a struggle for a specific reform, etc.?

What can we learn from other struggles, at other times, from other places, that can help us be strong and effective in our own struggles? How can these be applied to our specific situations?

Not everyone can answer such questions — but a cadre is someone who can answer some of them, and can help create collaboration in which further answers can be developed and tested in practical action. A cadre is someone who can help ensure that the collective can be what it must be, who can help others see the need to become part of the collective, and who can help members of the collective (and even people who are not members of the collective) to become cadres in the sense that is suggested here.

With the proliferation of cadres, with more and more and more of us developing as cadres, we can see the growth of a mass movement that is capable of being effective in the fight against all forms of oppression, forging pathways in the struggle for a better world of the free and the equal.

As we seek to realize such goals, we necessarily come to additional and interrelated sets of reflections — on structures and strategies.

Democratic and revolutionary structures

There are two fundamental issues that must be of concern to revolutionary activists. One involves the organizational forms and policies through which we structure our collective efforts. Another involves the actual purpose of the organization: getting from the “here” of our present-day realities to the “there” of our hoped-for socialist goals — strategy being the term often used to refer to that specific and practical pathway. As has been suggested already, it would seem that the effective approach to developing both must be democratic and revolutionary.

Focusing on the matter of organizational structures for a moment, it occurs to me that the old and much-maligned and sometimes grotesquely distorted term democratic centralism continues to make a considerable amount of sense.

I am absolutely opposed to the follow-the-leader interpretation which tells us that some central authority (the wise leader, the top cadres, the central committee or whatever) should be the brain that does the thinking and gives the orders — after which we should “democratically” discuss it all and then carry it all out as disciplined little soldiers. That is the opposite of the actual democratic centralism I believe in — a phony “Leninism” associated with pretentious clowning and the organization falling flat on its face (to paraphrase Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder).

Democratic centralism was not quite the hallmark of Leninism that many make of it. Use of the term has been found in the German workers’ movement of the 1870s, and it seems to have been introduced in a positive way into the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party around 1905 by the Menshevik faction, although the Bolsheviks embraced it as well. It seems to me to involve a democratic common sense for any serious organization, and at the same time its implementation necessarily involves a reasonable flexibility.

If the organization has a full, democratic discussion regarding actions to be taken and makes a decision (determined by majority vote) — then the organization carries out the decision that was democratically decided upon. If the decision is to support a strike action, or an antiwar action, or an antiracist action, then no comrade is to work against the action.

On the other hand, if a majority of comrades in the organization have a specific position regarding a philosophical question, or an understanding of history, or a specific political analysis, there is no reason why dissident comrades cannot openly, publicly state their own views, if they have them. Nor are they prohibited from expressing disagreements with the leadership or with majority decisions on other matters as well, even publicly.

But if the collective decides to do one thing, it is not acceptable for dissident members simply to do the opposite. Only on questions involving basic revolutionary principles is there validity in breaking ranks (Lenin himself did this at certain decisive points) — but this is generally an indication that a political break may be in the offing.

Related to this mode of functioning is the elective principle in regard to selection of leaders (with no mandatory slates chosen by “outgoing” but actually self-perpetuating leaderships). Full and critical-minded discussions must occur prior to national conventions of democratically elected delegates, where the basic decisions are made and leaders chosen. Leadership bodies, elected at the local and national level, are answerable to and replaceable by the membership.

Insights, experiences and energies of all members are needed by the organizational collective. Individual members must be animated by the sense that this organization is theirs, collectively, and by the understanding that each and every comrade makes a difference. This is enhanced by collective decision-making and the collective testing out of the decision in practice, in action.

The democratic mode of functioning must, in repressive contexts, naturally be modified to help protect members and thwart the forces of repression. This has proved to be the case with organizations forced into underground work by vicious dictatorships, and those initiating armed struggle. But such restrictive organizational policies (problematical even when necessary) have also cropped up in less repressive contexts. The utilization of “security” precautions that dispense with transparency and accountability must be avoided as much as possible.

Experience has shown that the absence of openness, transparency and democratic accountability can result in self-inflicted wounds, internal abuses and victimization of some comrades by powerful but disoriented comrades. Organizational secrecy provides enhanced opportunities for dirty tricks and provocations on the part of the state’s repressive apparatus.

Especially damaging has been the separation of select cadres “in the know” from their comrades (which can distort political judgment), and also narrowing the involvement of the organization’s active membership and potential social base in the revolutionary process. Which brings us to questions of strategy.

Strategic challenges

The democratic mode of functioning seems most consistent with the revolutionary strategic orientation of classical Marxism. This orientation was powerfully advanced by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto.

The actual struggles of the laboring masses of the exploited and oppressed are the essential element in the struggle for a better world, according to Marx and Engels. Revolutionary socialists have relevance only to the extent that they merge their ideas and energies with such struggles.

Struggles at the workplace by trade unions, as well as struggles for human rights and for life-giving reforms through social movements, must ultimately be combined with struggles for political power by the working class — “winning the battle for democracy” through a developing and triumphant labor party. The revolutionary-democratic triumph would set the stage for the transition to socialism.

This strategic perspective was enriched by later revolutionaries who embraced it: Luxemburg’s reflections on reform and revolution and on the mass strike; Lenin’s notions of revolutionaries as tribunes of the people fighting against all forms of oppression, plus the need for a worker-peasant alliance and especially the centrality of the struggle for radical democracy in the fight for socialism; Trotsky’s formulation of permanent revolution, highlighting the revolutionary internationalism shared by all being discussed here, and his insights on the obstacles and dangers of bureaucracy; Gramsci’s profound contributions on cultural dynamics, the masses/vanguard interplay and his utilization of the concept of hegemony.

These and contributions from yet other 20th century Marxists have been invaluable for those seeking to develop strategic perspectives — how to develop practical pathways of struggle that can get us from the “here” of present-day capitalism to the “there” of a socialist future.

The compelling nature of such theoretical contributions poses its own dangers.

One could spend one’s entire life simply studying and discussing such things, with little time to spare for actual efforts to change the world. An alternative to such passive individualism is to form activist collectives dominated by what my Uncle Adrian (a class-conscious worker) called “the words of wisdom guys” — leaders who would call the shots regarding what the organization should do. This approach can involve greater or less sophistication, but it has proved, over time, to be problematical.

An obvious danger is for leaderships to mechanistically superimpose previously developed theoretical perspectives and experiences (a sort of tyranny of the past) on today’s realities in ways that make no sense, given dramatically changed conditions.

Another danger, even among sophisticated leaders, is to conclude that — as keepers of revolutionary Marxism’s amazing Truths — they must ride herd over the organization’s membership, preventing deviations from the that Truth. After all, the hope for the future depends on that specific revolutionary collective (sometimes perceived as the Party, or the Nucleus of the Future Party) guided by this Truth. This is strategically barren, not really helping us get from “here” to “there.” Instead, the priority becomes maintaining the specific organization that is the keeper of Truth.

Even among more sophisticated comrades and dynamic organizations there can be problems. Pierre Rousset recently reminded me of something he had pointed out when he was the director of the International Institute for Research and Education in Amsterdam, when I attended back in the 1980s.

There is a fatal pattern among revolutionary organizations — not an iron law, but a recurrent tendency. This tendency can even involve quite creative and insightful efforts (but flawed efforts) to use revolutionary theory for the purpose of developing genuinely revolutionary strategies. I want to try to describe this “fatal pattern” here, because it has implications regarding the interplay of revolutionary strategy and democratic organization.

A primary purpose of studying revolutionary theory is not only to comprehend the past and understand the present, but to develop an understanding of how things are likely to play out in the future — or, to use a common term, predictions. The more sophisticated theorists, employing the best of Marxist social science, often base strategic orientations on an analysis of trends and tendencies in the present that point to likely outcomes in the foreseeable future.

There are various plausible predictions that have been advanced over the years. Capitalist and Stalinist elites seemed likely to be swept away throughout Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. A Third World War seemed likely, in the early years of the Cold War, between imperialist capitalism and the Stalinist degenerated workers’ states. Experiences of the late 1950s and early 1960s suggested a wave of guerrilla wars culminating in triumphant liberation struggles throughout the Latin American continent.

The dynamics of social struggles and economic problems in the United States from the 1960s through the 1970s indicated a deepening radicalization that would culminate in a class-conscious working class moving to center stage of the political arena in the 20th century’s final decades.

Strategic orientations developed and implemented on the basis of these predictions were disastrous failures.

The social sciences lack the exactness of such natural sciences as mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, physics. (Even with these “exact sciences,” there are multiple variables.) Social science can identify past patterns, current structures and dynamics, and possible developments, but can hardly grasp all of reality’s complexities. Far-reaching predictions are too weak a reed on which to forge coherent strategies, even when articulated by the most sophisticated “words of wisdom guys.”

Strategic orientations are essential if one truly hopes to get from the capitalist “here” to the socialist “there.” But strategies must be based on more than the abstract theory and prediction-connected analyses offered by the words of wisdom guys. Historical and political and economic developments impact powerfully, but in complex ways, on the essential and infinitely complex human factor. And it is this human factor that is the key to strategy — the incredible variables and possibilities in what people, masses of people, actually think, do, desire, and are inclined to try out.

A democratic collective process is needed by revolutionary activists. Naturally, we must understand trends and tendencies of history, of capitalism and of our times. These impact on popular perceptions and moods and consequent political responses and struggles or inclinations to struggle.

It is the vanguard layer’s alertness to these popular responses, thanks to their connections with masses of people, that help generate struggles and suggest strategies that will make sense. A democratic process within revolutionary collectives provides the basis for our getting from “here” to “there.” Our organizations must be structured and developed to enable such a revolutionary-democratic process to flourish.

And yet...

The problems of how to get from here to there have hardly evaporated by virtue of any theoretical flourish that might be teased out from what I have written so far. A few years ago, I wrote that “Leninism is unfinished,” and this is certainly true of revolutionary organization and strategy in general, and in more than one way. They remain relevant to our time, but they remain as fluid as the complex realities of today and tomorrow, presenting much to struggle with, much to struggle over, much to work out.

I want to conclude with additional brief reflections regarding strategy.

As an exuberant young activist back in the 1970s and ‘80s, I advocated the creation of a labor party based on the trade unions — which would give the working-class a political voice of its own, greatly advancing class struggle and class consciousness.

I could point to our Northern neighbor, Canada, a country similar to our own, as having exactly what I was advocating — in the form of the New Democratic Party. And in the province of Ontario, in 1990, the NDP ran a militant campaign with strong reformist demands, backed by strong and left-leaning unions conducting their own militant campaigns, and it was swept into power — just as an economic recession was beginning. And I learned a bitter lesson.

Apparently, the NDP leaders had not expected to be swept into power, and they had no idea of what to do. The found themselves enmeshed in a capitalist state, grounded in a capitalist society, and they responded to the situation, in their new governmental positions, by managing that capitalist state and working to salvage the capitalist economy — implementing austerity measures and anti-union policies that were the opposite of what they had campaigned for (not to mention a betrayal of the socialist principles with which some of them had spiced their speeches). This hopeful model that I had pointed to seemed totally discredited.

More recently, triumphant new “broad parties of the left” (far more substantial and radical than the NDP) — in Brazil, for example, and in Greece — crystallized and won decisive elections. And each in their own way, for their own specific reasons and in their own specific circumstances, then traveled along a similar trajectory.

My friend John Riddell has, in response to an earlier draft of these reflections, appropriately noted that “even when the power of the masses is fully mobilized,” global capitalism “has proved able to wall off the process, isolate it, undermine and strangle it.” He pointed to Greece and Venezuela as examples, but of course, there have been and, quite likely, will be others.

This highlights the necessity of revolutionary internationalism — not as an abstract slogan or as a simple appeal for solidarity work, but as an essential element in developing a strategic orientation capable of interlinking revolutionary struggles and triumphs in a variety of countries.

It is time to bring these reflections to a close. This is not the place to take up the challenge of the recent experiences just referred to, which will require more detailed engagement than is possible in this conclusion. But it is essential that there be such critical engagement, analyzing what went wrong, what might have been done, and what must be done in the future. That is essential for anyone truly wanting to find pathways from the “here” of capitalism to a society of the free and equal.

What seems clear to me, also, is that this can best be done by serious activists in a collective and democratic manner, with revolutionary organizations helping to provide the kind of cohesion and comradeship that can enable us to struggle effectively for a better world.

Friends directly influencing the crystallization of the current draft of reflections presented here include: Michael Löwy, Eleni Varikis, Pierre Rousset, Helen Scott, John Riddell, Joost Kircz, Peter Boyle and Tamas Krausz. It should not be assumed that any of them necessarily agree with all that is said here.

Another version of this article was published at Links.

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Maryam A

Maryam A offers an analogy for the experience of being in a political organization going through an intense period of crisis.

THE HOUSE felt like a mansion when we lived inside. Or maybe a packed house where too many of us lived in triples and quads. But it was our house. Over the years, people moved in and out. For most of us, it was home when we were there.

After years, wrestling the house away from our landlord-housemate, we made it a co-op house. We told the landlord-housemate they could stay, but they couldn’t make executive decisions for the whole house anymore. (This would prove too much to ask of them.)

Making it a co-op didn’t change our feelings about the other housemates. We love some of them; others’ dirty dishes still drove us up a wall; you still can’t stop thinking about those who made you want to break your lease all those times. But it was actually our house now.

The walls were full of mold. The electrical wiring was completely frayed. Sometimes, the door hinges were abnormally creaky. Some of us had asked the landlord to fix one or more of these things, or asked each other if the ceiling was supposed to be that color, or why the lights flickered when it thundered. There was a gas leak that only a few knew about.

Reflections on our crisis

Maybe someone dropped a cigarette in anger or to celebrate the co-op. Maybe a match was thrown. Maybe someone lit the stove, to brew a kettle for tea. Maybe they knew that if they lit the stove now, right by where they knew the gas leak was, then everyone would realize all the other things wrong with the house. Maybe they loved us when they wanted to make us tea.

The house is burning down now. Or maybe it’s already burnt to the ground. I can’t tell because there’s ash in my eyes.

I’m kneeling on the lawn with nothing but the shreds of my own shirt to stay the blood and wipe off the soot from the people running out from inside the house. I’m working with only a rudimentary knowledge of first aid, stuff I learned when I was 13 and trying to get a babysitting license. We have little to no real supplies, but adrenaline is pumping through my veins and my tunnel vision is on the burn victims, the ones with their lungs clogged with ash. We are untrained and unskilled, but we have our shirts, vague memories of what someone once told us, and love for these people with whom we shared a home.

THERE ARE people running in and out to save things from the house. Part of me wants to yell, “Not now, you will get hurt; not now, we need you on the lawn for first aid; please!”

I don’t yell. I know they need what they’re running back for. I know that there are things in that house that kept us alive when we lived there. Some only bring back an inhaler, some frantically pack large suitcases, some try and carry out our favorite sofa together. I am still holding my makeshift rag. I think I will go back for what I need when the fire has run its course.

I am not the only one holding tatters of shirt like this. Sometimes, the ash clouds the corners of my vision, and I don’t see them, but they are there and running and kneeling and sometimes holding their rag to the burns I barely feel on the backs of my legs. Others are offering the inhaler they ran inside for to anyone who needs it. Others have the bottle of water they happened to be holding when the fire started; they offer it now, rationed to wash off the rags, or as inadequate salve on raw throats.

There are some who ran from the house, across the lawn, and kept running. My mouth falls open as they cross the lawn and keep going down the street. I don’t stop any of them. Some just need to get away from the fire. Some run to an EMT training. I wonder if I would be better right now if I went to EMT training, but more people are running out of the house and collapsing on the grass.

I look over my shoulder at those running and I miss them already, but my feet are glued to the ground, and my shirt-rag-blood-towel is clutched tight in my hand. I turn back around to the house, to my housemates on the grass, gasping for air. I kneel beside them again, and say a prayer for all of us.

I know the house is going to burn all the way down. I know that I don’t have enough water, that the gas and the electrical wiring and the damaged walls meant we were vulnerable, that it is nigh inevitable the house won’t be there when I look up, not the house I loved. But as I run around with the rag, I whisper prayers over and over. I pray for my housemates. I pray for burn cream and bandages and a magic wand to heal us. I pray for the opportunity to hold hands with those that I love. Even, especially, the ones who ran away.

I want to walk through the ashes. I want to mourn. I want to sit in the wreckage to remember all that I’ve lost. I need to walk slow. I need to sift the ashes in my hands; and if there’s a pearl necklace left in the wreckage, it will be my lifeline.

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Obrero Socialista

El Comité Directivo de la Organización Socialista Internacional envió esta carta a su membresía informando sobre una profunda crisis interna. Ahora la compartimos públicamente aquí en Obrero Socialista. La hemos editado ligeramente para su difusión en un sitio web público y hemos agregado información actualizada.

HACE TRES semanas, la ISO celebró su Convención más importante, y también la más dolorosa. Gran parte de la Convención se dedicó a discutir los efectos dañinos de nuestras prácticas políticas y nuestra cultura política interna. A medida que se han ido reportando estas discusiones en nuestras células, se han abierto más discusiones, y han surgido más ejemplos de una cultura política dañina. Esta breve carta del nuevo Comité Directivo (SC, por sus siglas en inglés) fue escrita para informar a las y los camaradas sobre estos incidentes y dar una actualización sobre los pasos que vamos a tomar para cumplir con los mandatos emitidos por la Convención, y al mismo tiempo ofrecer algunas ideas sobre cómo proceder.

Mientras esta carta se redactaba, el SC (así como varios miembros del Comité Nacional (NC, por sus siglas en inglés) y varias aliadas socialistas-feministas) recibieron un documento escrito por una ex-miembra (EM de aquí en adelante), que detalla las formas en que el SC electo en 2013 había mal manejado una denuncia de violación ese mismo año. Además, el documento explicaba que el demandado en la acusación recién había sido electo para nuestro SC en la Convención de este año. EM fue parte del Comité Disciplinario Nacional (NDC, por sus siglas en inglés) que originalmente escuchó el caso. El recuento de EM ha sido corroborado por otros miembros del NDC de aquel entonces que siguen activos en nuestra organización. Agradecemos a EM por haberse tomado el tiempo de escribir esto y comunicarse con nosotros. EM copió también en el correo electrónico a aliadas y aliados fuera de la ISO con quienes hemos trabajado en activismo socialista-feminista y queer.

El SC tuvo una reunión de emergencia el martes (12 de marzo) por la noche y luego una reunión conjunta el jueves (14 de marzo) por la noche con el NC e integrantes del comité organizador ad-hoc del Consejo Nacional de Celulas (NBC, por sus siglas en inglés), el caucus de sobrevivientes y la comisión #MeToo, para comenzar una discusión sobre las implicaciones de este documento y qué pasos se deben seguir. Estos son algunos de los pasos inmediatos que hemos tomado:

Respondimos inmediatamente a EM y a las aliadas y aliados que fueron copiados en el correo electrónico para agradecer a EM por enviarlo, informándoles que lo haríamos circular para ser discutido en nuestra condición de líderes de la organización, y para expresar que reconocíamos la seriedad del caso.

El martes (12 de marzo), después de que integrantes del SC solicitaron que el acusado se identificara y renunciara, este lo hizo, renunciando voluntariamente al SC y diciendo que tomaría un permiso de ausencia. El SC votó y acordó suspenderlo, estipulando que se tomaría una decisión sobre su membresía más adelante.

El jueves, la reunión conjunta de NC, SC y demás miembras y miembros acordaron por unanimidad expulsar al demandado de acuerdo con la decisión original del NDC. Además, la reunión votó para suspender de la membresía a tres miembros del SC electo en 2013 que influyeron directamente en el resultado del caso, mientras se lleva a cabo una investigación completa de lo que sucedió en el 2013. La reunión también votó para suspender a los miembros del SC de 2013 de sus puestos de dirección, junto con un miembro recientemente electo al NC que había tenido un rol en el socavamiento del trabajo del NDC, mientras se lleve a cabo la investigación.

Ahora necesitamos empoderar a una comisión independiente del SC actual que pueda investigar la conducta del SC del 2013 y otros participantes en el mencionado proceso del 2013. Aún debe determinarse que grupos formarán parte de esta comisión, pero formaran parte la recientemente creada comisión #MeToo, y el NDC o algún otro organismo, pero esto se decidirá pronto.

Se llevó a cabo otra reunión el sábado 17 y el lunes 18 para informar a nuestras bases del estado de la discusión y el proceso para hacer una declaración pública al respecto. También se discutió cómo crear espacios para la discusión del tema entre las bases.

Una compañera de Portland está organizando una llamada de apoyo para sobrevivientes de violación y otros compañeros que necesiten acompañamiento para lidiar con el caso discutido en este documento. También se formó un caucus de sobrevivientes y se compartieron recursos para ayuda psicológica para las y los sobrevivientes de violación y abuso.

El documento de EM es muy claro, y en lugar de editorializar, dejaremos que los compañeros lo evalúen por sí mismos. Escribiremos mucho más y ofreceremos un espacio para el análisis y la discusión de lo que ocurrió, las lecciones aprendidas y lo que debe cambiar en las próximas semanas. Creemos que se trata tanto de fallas de nuestra cultura política que hemos identificado, así como las fallas para abordar adecuadamente las necesidades de sobrevivientes, una falta de comprensión de la dinámica de la violación y la agresión sexual, y el error a la hora de crear un proceso que nos ayudara a determinar la verdad de lo sucedido por sobre los procedimientos burocráticos del caso. Esto no está separado de otros temas que hemos estado abordando y de la cultura interna que estamos tratando de transformar, aunque esta experiencia es una manifestación particularmente aguda y devastadora de esta cultura. No hay manera de salir adelante sin la mayor honestidad y evaluación crítica.

El fracaso del proceso disciplinario en 2013 fue una de las peores consecuencias de la cultura asumida por un liderazgo que ejercía demasiado control con poca rendición de cuentas. Pero hay muchos otros ejemplos. Compañeras y compañeros de grupos oprimidos sufrieron desproporcionadamente bajo estos métodos y esta cultura. En muchos casos, a estos compañeros se les cuestionó el compromiso con la organización y con el socialismo revolucionario, y se les crítico acusándolos de enarbolar “políticas identitarias” y el derecho de camaradas a agruparse en camarillas se aplastó en la práctica. Camaradas con décadas de experiencia sindical fueron vistos con sospecha al temer que se alejaban demasiado del curso establecido por el SC. Así mismo, compañeras y compañeros que levantaron críticas sobre el papel de la ISO en el nuevo movimiento socialista fueron acusados de violar principios políticos de la organización. Además, la dirección de la ISO catalogó las preguntas sobre recursos y personal como expresiones ilegítimas de sentimientos “anti-dirección”.

En la Convención, iniciamos el proceso para abordar estos temas, con miras al futuro de la ISO y la izquierda socialista. Si bien la lucha por el socialismo desde abajo sigue siendo la guía para nuestro trabajo, somos conscientes de la necesidad de hacer una pausa y mirar de cerca lo que está saliendo a la luz en estos momentos. Nuestra primera prioridad es ser responsables y rendir cuentas a los compañeros y las compañeras perjudicados por estas prácticas. También debemos aprender de estos errores y graves ofensas, y trabajar para reparar el daño causado a las personas, en la medida de lo posible. Esta es nuestra obligación con nuestros compañeros, pasados y presentes, y para toda la izquierda.

En el período previo a la Convención y luego de ella, hemos empezado a reflexionar sobre cómo un proyecto cuya intención es luchar con los oprimidos por el socialismo desde abajo pudo salir horrorosamente mal. Reconocemos que una clave para entender esto es que estamos saliendo de un período de varias décadas de retroceso y retirada de la izquierda, y ese período dio forma a las prácticas de la ISO, tanto externas como internas. Nos endurecimos para sobrevivir en medio de una izquierda mayoritariamente debilitaba.

Es importante subrayar que sin un compromiso con y una evaluación política del mundo que nos rodea, las lecciones sobre estos graves errores se pueden reducir al plano de las dinámicas interpersonales. Por eso pensamos que se requiere tiempo para escuchar, discutir y desarrollar lecciones de este caso. Si bien las dinámicas interpersonales son importantes, si nuestra evaluación se limita a esto, es poco probable que obtengamos una explicación suficiente y una ruta a seguir.

Esta carta no puede ser un sustituto de los cambios estructurales, los debates y las disculpas públicas requeridas por la Convención que están en proceso, por lo que nos restringiremos aquí a enumerar algunas de las acciones que tomará el SC en las próximas semanas para reasegurar a todas las y los camaradas que las decisiones tomadas en la Convención son vinculantes. Entre estos:

1. Establecer una comisión interna de #MeToo y comenzar a planificar la organización de una conferencia activista de #MeToo. Estas son tareas que el SC y otros organismos abordarán en las próximas semanas.

2. Perspectivas públicas que establecen los objetivos y áreas de trabajo de la ISO para que estén a la vista de todas y todos (esto tenía el mandato de aparecer a fines de marzo)

3. Desarrollar una política de Acción Afirmativa (estamos formando un subcomité para estudiar la contratación, los recursos y más)

4. Disculpa pública del SC saliente y entrante a camaradas de minorías étnicas (la Convención establece un plazo de 90 días, pero esperamos que esto se publique para fines de marzo)

5. Un Comité de Elecciones para apoyar candidaturas independientes e iniciativas de electorales, y estudiar la cuestión de cómo la ISO puede relacionarse con las campañas socialistas ejecutadas bajo la afiliación con el Partido Demócrata. (El SC designará este comité en las próxima una o dos semanas).

6. Apoyar la preparación para una Convención Especial de la ISO en septiembre enfocada en la estrategia electoral y las luchas contra la opresión.

La Convención de 2019 reestructuró radicalmente la dirección de la ISO, incluido un Comité Nacional rediseñado, un Consejo Nacional de Celulas empoderado y un Comité Directivo compuesto por dos tercios de nuevas y nuevos miembros, incluidos 50 por ciento de camaradas de minorías étnicas. Por nuestra parte, como SC nos comprometemos a facilitar apoyo a nuestras y nuestros camaradas escuchando, facilitando la discusión y sanando el daño a medida que avanzamos a través de este proceso necesario, pero difícil, hacia una nueva dirección para la ISO. Como revolucionarios, sabemos que el cambio nunca es fácil, siempre es desafiante y los resultados exitosos no pueden garantizarse.

A medida que revisamos este caso, algunos de nosotros somos más responsables que otros de estos errores. Todos compartimos la doble tarea de analizar lo que hicimos bien y lo que hicimos mal. Muchas de nuestros errores tienen lecciones para nosotros, pero otros problemas que confrontamos son relevantes para todas las fuerzas de la izquierda. Desafortunadamente, problemas de racismo y conducta sexual tóxica existen en nuestra sociedad y en la izquierda. Como tal, en lugar de tratar de esconder nuestros debates, creemos que debemos discutir y evaluar públicamente nuestros errores, y pedir a nuestros compañeros de lucha y nuestros aliados que ofrezcan consejos, asesoramiento y experiencia. También esperamos que al hablar y actuar abiertamente, las lecciones que aprendamos al enderezar nuestro barco puedan ser de alguna utilidad para que los movimientos puedan evitar algunos de nuestros errores.

A las y los compañeros que han decidido renunciar a la ISO, ya sea debido a la tensión y el estrés de los últimos años, o por haber evaluado que sus habilidades son más útiles en otros lugares en el nuevo movimiento socialista, nos comprometemos a encontrar un camino para poder volver a trabajar hombro a hombro como revolucionarios en luchas comunes.

A los y las compañeras que cuestionan si la ISO puede corregir el rumbo y emerger como una fuerza revolucionaria más efectiva, diversa y colaborativa, prometemos honestidad y esperamos que se pueda construir nuestra confianza colectiva.

A los y las compañeras que se quedan para construir el ISO y mejorar el trabajo que — con todos sus problemas — hemos cosechado a lo largo de los años, les pedimos que tengan paciencia con las y los compañeros que tienen dudas, trabajen constantemente para lograr mejoras concretas y ayuden a construir un nuevo tipo de confianza en nuestro proyecto.

Nos brindan aliento las recientes convocatorias inaugurales de camarillas de personas trans y la camarilla de personas minorías étnicas. También hay compañeros y compañeras que están reflexionando sobre sus propias acciones y las de otros en nuestra organización, y están tratando de poner sus ideas a la altura de las circunstancias para hacer frente a los errores. Estos son todos pasos necesarios para responder a las exigencias del momento, y ya no se diga para el futuro de este proyecto.

No podemos separar la tarea de cambiarnos a nosotros mismos de nuestra responsabilidad de cambiar el mundo. Pero tampoco podemos dejar a un lado la primera en favor de la última. Este será nuestro reto para los próximos meses (y años). Necesitamos crítica, debate e ideas para mejorar a medida que avanzamos juntos.

Invitamos sus comentarios, preguntas y discusión.

Publicado el 15 de marzo de 2019. Traducido por Damián Reyes y Héctor A. Rivera

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[l] at 3/21/19 11:00pm
Maryam A and Nikki W

In the weeks after the 2019 convention of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and in the days after the revelation that members of the 2013 Steering Committee had interfered with, overturned and silenced an independent committee’s finding that an ISO member had committed rape, survivors in and around the ISO organized in solidarity with one another and to point a way forward for the left.

As survivors committed to the project of socialism from below, they have stepped in to fill vacancies in the ISO’s leadership and begin to theorize what it will take for their justice. Moreover, they say to their abusers, to rape apologists and to those who refuse to acknowledge their existence: We exist in defiance of you, and in love with ourselves.

The following statement was written by Maryam A and Nikki W of the Interim Coordinating Committee of the ISO Survivors’ Caucus.

TO BE a revolutionary does not exempt one from the broader context of capitalism. Despite our best efforts to unlearn the logics of the ruling class, the left cannot assume itself immune to racism, sexism, transphobia and other oppressions, simply because it identifies itself in opposition to oppression and exploitation.

The ISO is in the midst of understanding the depths of this simple statement.

The Survivors’ Caucus was proposed at the 2019 February Convention, partially in response to the #MeToo movement. We had no idea how necessary the self-organization of survivors would become in the coming weeks. We had no idea how closely we would cling to one another, how much we would hold one another, and learn from one another in the fire.

Reflections on our crisis

The convention affirmed the explicit need for survivors to organize and collectivize their experiences personally and politically. The crisis that unfolded in the past week has made this more imperative than ever.

The #MeToo moment reemphasized for us what many feminists have articulated through decades: interpersonal sexual violence reflects heteropatriachy in society at large and that to confront sexual violence in all its forms often means confronting entire societal structures set up in opposition to survivors. As Marxist survivors, the intersection of the personal, the intimate, the structural and the political is raw, and yet necessary to confront, in order to understand ourselves and the world we’re trying to change.

There is much to say about alienation, about justice, about trauma and about violence. We hope members of our caucus can use the coming weeks and months to write from the vantage point of their experiences around these issues. Yet, at this early stage of crisis, we have a few simple things to say.

We are revolutionary socialists. We are survivors. We are committed to the safety, security and ardent defense of survivors. We are committed to a project of restorative justice, not to rehabilitate remorseless and unaccountable abusers, but to provide ourselves the opportunity to ask what healing means and what justice looks like for us.

WE ARE not the first revolutionaries who are also survivors. Sexual violence is pervasive in our society, and across the left. We say this not to deflect from, but to underscore the gravity of the crisis facing the ISO today. To step back and take time to assess the crisis and the underlying culture is of utmost importance.

For us, the question is not do we leave or do we stay (and caucus members have made both decisions), but more simply that there is work to be done. Exiting one organization or another won’t solve the problem of sexual violence on the left. We are too aware that the left is lacking in structures and cultures that protect and believe survivors. The left must be able to recognize and combat gender-based violence in our own spaces if we are going to fight it in the world with any success.

The international working class is made of women, queer people, disabled people, indigenous women, sex workers and many others disproportionately prone to sexual violence. As revolutionaries, we must be able to provide an alternative vision of a world without violence, but we also must be able to confront the harms we are particularly vulnerable to before worldwide transformation. Building a project that does not stand for sexual violence is necessary to be at all worthwhile to the working class and to ourselves. We are committed to building that project.

We need structures that protect and believe us. We deserve justice. We deserve safety in spaces where we fight for human liberation. While our organization’s future is unclear, we are committed to justice for those who have been hurt in our name. Whatever the future of revolutionary internationalist socialism from below, we will bring with us our commitment to survivors.

We do this work as people traumatized by the current revelations within the ISO. We do this work because we believe in the politics of socialism from below and liberation for all oppressed people. We do this work because we believe it is our duty to live up to those politics now more than ever.

If you are or were a member of the ISO and are a survivor and would like to join us in this work, please email isosurvivors@gmail.com.

We hope you can join us in solidarity as we seek justice for one another.

Towards a world without violence,
Maryam A and Nikki W
on behalf of the Interim Coordinating Committee for the Survivors’ Caucus

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[l] at 3/21/19 11:00pm
David McNally

In this essay, socialist author David McNally contributes to the discussion about forms of socialist organization in the 21st century. During these weeks of reflection on the crisis of the ISO, we hope to publish articles that take up questions of organizational models.

In early 2009, I wrote a lengthy letter to the international organizer for the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S. The letter, which I hoped would be circulated to the membership, urged a sharp break with the sectarian practices associated with “micro-party” politics. In light of recent debates in the ISO and on the wider left, I have chosen to publish it now (more than 10 years after it was written). I have edited out a bit of extraneous material that discussed the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France, but all the core points remain intact. (The acronym IST refers to the International Socialist Tendency associated with the SWP.) It is my hope that these reflections might be of service today in helping to orient the building of a new radical left.

Dear comrade,

Predictably, it has taken me longer to get around to setting down some thoughts on our conversations than I would have liked. I will send further thoughts on a variety of other issues later. But, for the moment, let me stay with some larger themes. I have written all this much too hastily, so some of the formulations will need refinement, but it is better, I think, to send it now and to keep this dialogue going. I have also written at more length than is probably necessary, but I have wanted to lay out the coordinates of my own thinking (which expresses a wider project of political rethinking in and around the New Socialist Group), so that we might have as fruitful a dialogue as possible.

Protesters in New York City rally against the murder of Trayvon Martin

For the sake of convenience, I have labeled these comments “The Period, the Party, and the Next Left.”

The period and the revolutionary left

There seems little doubt that the global economic crisis represents the opening of a new period. Economically, it is the first generalized world crisis in a quarter century — since the deep recession of 1980-82. And for a whole number of countries — Germany, Japan, South Korea, among others — it will be much worse. The German economy is now expected to contract 2.5 percent this year, compared with a postwar worst contraction (thus far) of 0.9 percent in 1975; forecasts suggest unemployment will hit 16 percent in Spain; the government of Iceland has just fallen over mass opposition to the crisis and the deal signed with the IMF. Moreover, despite unprecedented bailouts, the financial system continues to wobble, with new bank crises at the like of Citigroup and UBS. And massive job losses — 70,000 job cuts announced today alone, according to the Financial Times — will feed back into the financial crisis, deepening it, and further impacting the manufacturing and service sectors. As a result, the slump is likely to be both deep and prolonged.

Traumatized by the severity of the crisis, ruling classes have been forced to abandon a whole series of neoliberal platitudes about the virtue of free markets. Practically, they have had little option but to adopt massive Keynesian style state intervention and stimulus, and initiate both real and effective bank nationalizations. All of this figures in a severe ideological disorientation on the side of ruling classes forced to acknowledge the demonstrable failings of “self-regulating” markets. Politically, too, it signals, though in very complex ways, shifts in mainstream bourgeois politics — most significantly, perhaps, in Obama’s election, but also in the massively interventionist and protectionist direction taken by governments in countries like France. The moves away from doctrinaire neoliberalism also intersect with much larger breaks from neoliberalism in parts of Latin America, most notably Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador, where new space has been created for the growth of radical working class and socialist currents. And all of this figures importantly in heightened prospects for forces from the radical left in Greece, France and Germany, whose electoral fortunes appear to be on the upswing, and where social protest has shown a capacity to flare up quickly.

But even outside parts of Latin America and Europe, even where major electoral coalitions and left regroupments are not on the cards at the moment, the crisis will put new demands on serious forces of the revolutionary left. We are going to have to think and act on a larger scale if we are to rise to the challenge and the possibilities of this moment. On the one hand, real space has been opened up for alternative worldviews. Meetings on the crisis in Toronto, for instance, have been surprisingly large and openings for radical analysis have been surprisingly wide (I personally have never done so many radio and TV interviews as a Marxist political economist discussing the crisis). On the other hand, the earliest signs of resistance, while nowhere equal to what is required, are promising, as indicated in the riots and strikes in Greece, the occupation at Republic in Chicago, and the very large mobilizations around Gaza (including the wave of university occupations and your recent teach-in meeting in Boston), which are part of the larger picture of the political changes over the last year in my view. Clearly, then, there is an urgent need to rally larger forces to resist the effects of the crisis and to campaign for alternatives. Something of this, I think, is captured in the theme for your Socialism 2009, “Building a new left for a new era.” It is indeed a new era, and the left we need to build needs to be something qualitatively different from the left that existed prior to it.

It is worth observing that these new challenges for the left come at a time of considerable flux within the largest currents of international Trotskyism. The creation of the NPA in France and the dissolution of the LCR signify the most important attempt by a significant current in the Trotskyist tradition to break out of the small group legacy of the anti-Stalinist revolutionary left. Whatever its weaknesses, which are inevitable given the weaknesses of independent working class politics and institutions and the long-term marginalization of revolutionary organizations, the creation of the NPA represents a vitally important effort to launch a new anti-capitalist party that might become a more meaningful political force of the radical left. This raises incredibly important questions about the small group project generally, to which I return below.

At the same time, recent debates in the SWP (and their potential fallout across parts of the IST) could create space for genuinely democratic forces in the SWP to challenge the organization’s anti-democratic culture and flawed perspectives, and might create possibilities for undermining IST sectarianism (at least in many parts of the world) towards other groups and towards real joint work. This could open up opportunities for dialogue and collaboration of a sort that haven’t existed previously.

So, the challenges posed by the crisis, on the one hand, and the possible shifts and realignments within the international revolutionary left, on the other, raise crucially important questions as to how Marxist currents in North America and elsewhere orient themselves.

The problem of the “micro-party”

As I see it, the necessity of “a new left for a new era” forces all of us to confront — and break with — the legacy of the micro-party approach. At its heart the micro-party perspective consists in believing that building a small revolutionary group is in essence the same thing as constructing a revolutionary party. Fundamentally, then, this perspective involves a simple syllogism:

There can be no socialist revolution without an authentically revolutionary party;

Our group is the custodian of the authentic revolutionary tradition;

Therefore, there can be no socialist revolution without our group (i.e., building our organization is the key to constructing a mass revolutionary party)

Rather than address the really crucial questions — how is the left to rebuild practices, organizations and cultures of working class self-mobilization so that a working class vanguard might actually be re-created, and a meaningful party built in its ranks — real social-historical problems get reduced to questions of building the small group: recruiting more members, selling more papers, creating new branches. Now, let me be clear: effective socialist organizations are indispensable to the task of rebuilding what I have called “practices, organizations and cultures of working class self-mobilization.” For this reason, we need dynamic and growing socialist forces. There is nothing wrong with socialist organizations trying to extend their reach; on the contrary, this is necessary and important. After all, the rebuilding of a real working class vanguard — as opposed to small groups that claim to be such (even if only in embryo) — will require organized socialist activists dedicated to that task. The problem comes when the building of small groups is seen as the building of a revolutionary party per se.

In the original IS tradition — associated with the Socialist Review Group and the International Socialists in Britain and also with much of the theory and practice of Hal Draper — to conflate these two things was seen as a classically substitutionist error. Elitist socialism, what Draper called socialism from above, was rightly said to substitute the rule of other social groups for the self-rule and self-organization of the working class. On a smaller scale, substitutionism was also said to involve small groups imagining that their membership comprised a revolutionary vanguard, thereby substituting themselves for a real working class vanguard of tens or hundreds of thousands of class conscious, socialist working people. In this self-declared vanguardism, argued Duncan Hallas, “the real vanguard, the more advanced and conscious minority of workers” is displaced by “sects or self-proclaimed leaders.”[1] Substitutionism of this sort, the idea that a small group is a revolutionary vanguard party in embryo, was seen as contributing to ludicrous delusions of grandeur on the part of small groups, to utterly distorted self-understandings and internal regimes, and to politics which veered away from trying to build real movements of working class struggle.

For Marx and Engels, substitutionism was part of the tradition of bad utopianism. Rather than trying to perfect a doctrine that would enlighten the workers (or other possible agents of ostensible change), Marx and Engels insisted on the need to build the real working class and democratic movements of the day while promoting a revolutionary orientation within them. The task of from-below revolutionaries was to participate as the left-wing of the real movement, rather than preaching to it from the outside. Describing the approach he and Marx had taken during the 1848 revolution in Germany, Engels wrote:

...if we did not want to take up the movement, adhere to its already existing, most advanced, actually proletarian side and to advance it further, then there was nothing left for us to do but to preach communism in a little provincial sheet and to found a tiny sect instead of a great party of action. But we had already been spoilt for the role of preachers in the wilderness; we had studied the utopians too well for that...[2]

So, as Hal Draper rightly emphasizes across the volumes of Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Marx and Engels broke decisively from the sect model characteristic of the utopians. They set their task as that of working within the “most advanced, actually proletarian side” of the real movement of the day while trying to “advance it further.” This “most advanced, actually proletarian” stratum is, of course, what later gets described as a working class vanguard — the advanced guard of the real workers’ movement.

It is not until the terrible isolation of revolutionaries from such mass movements, itself a product of horrendous working class defeats and prolonged capitalist expansion, that the sect model re-emerges as a dominant form of organization and operation within the revolutionary left. The sect model is utterly foreign, for instance, to the traditions we identify with Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, and Gramsci. But, after the capitulation of the KPD in the face of Nazism, Trotsky’s “desperate gamble” — the declaration of a new International in the absence of any mass base in a single working class movement — the micro-party model came again to the fore. Tiny grouplets now proclaimed themselves the representatives of world proletarian revolution. However noble their intentions and courageous their commitments, their terrible isolation from real struggles tended to push these groups toward delusions of grandeur, unreal perspectives, and the otherworldly internal cultures that come with these. Trotsky was himself endlessly frustrated by all of this — indeed the “French Turn” can be seen as an anxious attempt to get out of this cul-de-sac. But, particularly after the end of World War Two and the shift of capitalism into a prolonged boom, the micro-party model became orthodoxy within the movement he had established. The building of tiny organizations detached from real mass movements became identical with the building of revolutionary parties. Within the radical far-left, both the Socialist Review Group in Britain and the currents associated with Draper in the U.S. tried to promote a saner, healthier political orientation, one that challenged the substitutionist illusions of the micro-party model.

One of the political roots of small group substitutionism — which I am calling the micro-party model — grew out of a mechanical transposition of revolutionary perspectives from the 1920s and 1930s to the dramatically changed conditions of the post-World War Two period, a transposition that followed from Trotsky’s predictions. In the 1920s and 1930s, there was indeed in many parts of the world an actually existing working class vanguard, a social layer comprised of millions of workers who identified themselves as socialists and often belonged to mass organizations of the left — trade unions, socialist and communist parties, unemployed workers’ movements, socialist women’s organizations, and so on. Moreover, there was a succession of pre-revolutionary crises, largely in Europe, across the years 1917-23, and then periodically from China to Spain between 1927 and 1937, in which winning the working class vanguard to a revolutionary movement was key to the historical moment. In that context, the principal political problem could be defined not as the creation of a vanguard layer but its transformation and reorganization by way of an ideological and organizational break with reformism. And so, revolutionaries sought, through steadfast participation in the struggle, to win this vanguard layer to new parties based on a different (and authentically revolutionary) political project. To be sure, this orientation involved a qualitative development of this vanguard layer; but that layer itself could be said to have existed as a real social force.

The combined effect of fascism, Stalinism, Cold War and postwar economic expansion was to largely destroy this vanguard layer. To pretend after these events that the key problem was “building the leadership” or “winning the leadership” of the existing movement was utterly misleading. A class conscious, socialist layer of the working class had to be rebuilt; it was not there “for the taking,” if only the tiny group could get to it. That is why Duncan Hallas, writing around 1970, posed the problem of building a revolutionary socialist party in the first instance in this way:

In human terms, an organized layer of thousands of workers, by hand and brain, firmly rooted amongst their fellow workers and with a shared consciousness of the necessity of socialism and the way to achieve it, has to be created. Or rather it has to be recreated.[3]

Hallas said this at a time when the Labour Party had a much more active mass working class membership, when a dynamic shop stewards movement was spearheading strikes and union agitation, when Thatcherism, neoliberalism and deep recessions had not yet done their damage to working class organization, consciousness and combativity. Yet, even then, he posed the problem of the revolutionary party in the first instance as one of creating a vanguard layer of workers. Indeed, it is arguable that one of the things that really distinguished the IS group in Britain in the 1960s and early 1970s was its incredible attentiveness to workplace organization and struggle, to building the shop stewards movement in particular.[4] It saw the building of these class networks and institutions — part of what Alan Sears has called “infrastructures of dissent” — as absolutely central to the work of rebuilding revolutionary socialism in Britain, as part of creating a real mass vanguard.

Much of this legacy has now been lost, or at least deeply submerged, in the IS Tendency. For a whole variety of reasons, to which I cannot do justice here (in part because this is not meant to be a critical examination of the IS tradition) the IST has in practice largely adopted the micro-party model, treating the building of its small groups in various countries as the fundamental task of revolutionaries today.[5] Even in its recent attempts (since 1999) to break from the propagandism of the 1980s and 1990s, and to build wider alliances and movements of the left, even in its theoretical commitment to new party formations of the radical left, the SWP and its satellite groups have been hamstrung by the micro-party approach — a point to which I return in a moment.

Of course, there are periods in which zealous commitment to the micro-party model can give a group considerable durability and staying power. The belief that building your group is the key to a future socialist revolution may create a zeal and fervor that can see a group through difficult times. But all of this comes at great cost. The more the group clings to the messianic notion that its small cadre of members is the historical embodiment of proletarian revolution, the less attentive it is to real developments within the wider society, the more it is prone to mistrust any social movement it does not control, the less capable it is of learning from new developments, the more closed off it is to influence and reshaping by emerging radical forces. To once again cite Hallas, “the semi-religious fanaticism that can give a group considerable survival power in adverse conditions” comes “at the cost of stunting its potentiality for real development,” i.e. of dulling its capacity to become a revolutionary expression of a real social and political radicalization.[6]

Of course, there are periods in which small revolutionary currents have little option but to huddle together and keep the red flag flying — circumstances in which the building of significant movements (as opposed to the occasional campaign) is simply not in the cards. But we are now, I think we agree, in a period in which the revolutionary left has to think in larger and more radical ways. The survival of small groups as custodians of a revolutionary tradition is not the first order of priority. Instead, the task is to find ways of building much larger radical movements than any single tendency is capable of. This means that new alliances, coalitions, regroupments are vital. To be sure, these will all look quite different according to concrete circumstances. What is possible in France, Greece or Venezuela will be different from what can be achieved in Canada or the United States. But these differences do not detract from the urgency of breaking with “business as usual” methods and trying to operate in ways that are more appropriate to this moment. But the micro-party perspective is generally an obstacle to this.

Thinking about the road to a revolutionary party

One of the great problems with the dominant model of “Leninism” on the far-left is the idea that the legacy of Bolshevism involves steadfastly building a small group that eventually wins leadership of the working class movement. Given that there is no army, no class vanguard, ready to be lead, the small group project becomes the construction of an ostensible leadership-in-waiting. This then gets transmuted into the notion that the task is to make sure “we’ll be ready” — with a disciplined cadre and a determined leadership — when the masses look to the left. In the process, a completely undialectical notion of leadership develops — one in which ostensible “leaders” can be selected and trained outside the process of building a real mass working class movement. A hot house conception of leadership thus comes to the fore, according to which revolutionary cadres can be artificially bred in the atmosphere of the disciplined small group. All of this produces a fetish of leadership. Since we are incapable of building a mass organization, goes the thinking, we’ll do the next best thing — maybe even the best thing — and build the leadership without which revolution is impossible. And all of this — the building of a leadership and disciplined membership — comes to comprise the core of a doctrine called “Leninism.”

The following passage is interesting in this regard: “The party is governed by leaders. If the Party is the vanguard of the working class then the leaders are the advanced post of this vanguard....The special feature of the Communist Party is its strictest discipline...” Now, we are both familiar with these kinds of arguments. This one comes from a text called Lenin’s Teachings About the Party by the Stalinist V. Sorin.[7] But, as we both know, similar versions of “Leninism” are regularly invoked within the Trotskyist movement, even within currents that claim to know better.[8] So obsessive becomes the cult of leadership that a set of vapid slogans gets created, utterly lacking in political content. I’ll offer here my favorite example of such stupidity: “The job of leaders is to lead.” What an empty tautology. After all, the job of drivers is to drive, and of bakers to bake. But drive where, and how? Bake what and how? Never mind — just drive, just bake, just lead. This is the complete substitution of form for content. Rather than training a layer of independent and critical Marxists, such nonsense creates hack systems governed by commandism. And so the equally empty injunction to “be hard,” as if that were an end in itself, becomes a substitute for having genuinely strong politics, measured by the ability to nurture committed and critically minded Marxist activists. And the results are predictable. Rather that Gramsci’s “army of persuaders,” we get a small battalion of haranguers. And all of this is justified on the basis of an utterly crude, simple-minded caricature of the actual Russian experience.

It is amazing how Trotskyist groups can so readily recycle the fable that a revolutionary party is built essentially by being small, brave and single minded. In a heroic myth, victory comes to the determined. Lenin was determined, single-minded — and he won, the story goes, so we will simply act the same. Meanwhile, the real, complex history of building a revolutionary movement in Russia completely disappears.

While it is true that there are important elements of continuity across the history of Bolshevism, the elements of discontinuity, of sharp breaks that effectively produce a new organization, particularly in 1917, are equally crucial. Indeed, without these ruptures, there would have been no mass party of revolution in 1917. When Lenin argued in early 1917 that “Old Bolshevism must be discarded,” he was signaling the vital importance of precisely such historical breaks. The party of revolution was in a very real sense a new party. It involved a fusion of the pre-1917 Bolsheviks with multiple currents and social layers: with Trotsky’s group (the Mezhrayonka, or Internationalists), a number of whose key leaders, like Lunacharsky and Joffe, immediately joined the party leadership, as did Trotsky, on condition, accepted by Lenin, that he need not call himself a Bolshevik; with currents associated with anarcho-syndicalism and the Left Social Revolutionaries; and, crucially, with an overwhelmingly young layer of revolutionary workers. What emerged was something radically new, a synthesis of multiple revolutionary currents within the Russian working class movement under a set of political perspectives that broke with many of the historical traditions of Bolshevism, and which were opposed by much, often a majority, of its longstanding leadership.

The myth of continuity, which conforms nicely to the micro-party model, prevents revolutionary socialists from genuinely learning from the Russian experience, offering up instead a set of pithy dictums that ill-equip us for the genuinely complex work of contributing to real mass parties. In studying the actual history, Marcel Liebman challenges what has been the dominant myth of Bolshevism. “For a whole generation (at least) of revolutionary militants,” he writes:

This history was seen as a unified whole, as though a single schema and a single process of conditioning had shaped the Bolshevik Party, as though history had carried out upon it and through it a task that was continuous and linear. The Party that triumphed in 1917 was identified with the Party that from 1903 to 1914, and during the First World War, had prepared the way for this triumph...Yet this view is not entirely correct. For historical analysis shows that in 1917, in the course of the revolution that made of Bolshevism a universal model, the Leninist organization underwent profound transformations, a kind of metamorphosis that makes it dubious, even false, to identify, without qualification, the Party of the revolution, the Party that “made” the October revolution, with the Party that prepared the way for it under the Tsarist regime.

...the Party opened itself in 1917 to the life-giving breeze of democracy. The rules of underground work, though they did not vanish, became less important than the methods of public discussion. The monolithic character that Lenin had tried to give the Party during the last pre-war years disappeared entirely, yielding place to a variety of tendencies...The requirements of discipline and “absolute obedience” faded away, and, at the same time, the rigid centralism that was a corollary of this discipline and hierarchical spirit declined, under the influence of a thousand tumultuous, ungovernable pressures. In other words, 1917 saw the birth of a new or renovated Party...[9]

Now, I do not for a moment want to suggest that it is this experience that is directly applicable to our circumstances; I have no interest in substituting one historical analogy for another. What I want to emphasize is that “the party of revolution” was essentially a product of an immense historical regroupment and reconfiguration of revolutionary currents, and that its history was characterized by leaps and ruptures, not simple accumulation of cadres. True, the Bolshevik Party became the vehicle for this regroupment. But this was by no means inevitable, as that party had to be utterly remade, by the influx of new forces, tendencies, and political perspectives, if it was to become an authentically revolutionary party in 1917.

Understanding this is important because it assists us in grasping the complex social process of building revolutionary parties. It completely disrupts the micro-party model and forces us to think about necessary processes of regroupment and renewal at each new historical stage in the development of the Marxist left. And this becomes especially important when a real working class vanguard must be recreated, rather than assumed to exist. Contra the experience of the 1920s, the task is not to win over an existing class vanguard, but to foster practices, forms of struggle and institutions of the left that assist its germination. Only in the midst of such processes can a meaningful revolutionary organization (never mind party) be built.

Moreover, I would suggest that in our circumstances — where Marxist currents are utterly marginal and working class vanguards must be rebuilt — we need to imagine processes of fusion and regroupment out of genuine radicalizations. New Lefts will produce new leftward-moving social movements and new radical forces — modern equivalents of groups like DRUM and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; rank and file movements in unions; insurgent movements for sexual liberation and the rights of migrant workers; new radical workers’ centers; new movements of women workers; new student lefts — whose most militant elements will need to be brought together even to establish meaningful “pre-party formations,” to create much larger, more rooted revolutionary currents that might move us onto a whole new level in the building of revolutionary organizations.

While local initiatives may figure centrally, we also need to explore possibilities for initiatives on a larger scale, such as (national and semi-international) conferences . . . sponsored by a variety of serious left publications, which can bring together hundreds of people from different radical and revolutionary backgrounds to engage in discussions and debates, share experiences, and discuss how to move the work of the genuine left onto a larger field.

I have no recipes for any of this. What I do have is a profound sense of the possibilities of the moment and the need for a “cultural revolution” in our midst, one that shakes up all the remnants of the micro-party perspective and allows us to move forward together in exploring and building new possibilities, unhindered by small group “truisms” that were always misleading.

Making this happen will require a lot of discussion and education in our own groups, and a growing dialogue between members of different groups. It will require an ability to experiment and innovate, to create new vocabularies that bridge different traditions on the revolutionary left, to try out different forums for dialogue and joint action.

If I have gone on at more length than is necessary here, it is simply in order to help push forward on the discussions we all need. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and those of other comrades and to continuing this dialogue between now and when I see you at Socialism 2009.

Yours for a new left for a new era,


1. Duncan Hallas, “Towards a Revolutionary Socialist Party” in Party and Class (London: Pluto Press, n.d.), p.19.
2. Frederick Engels, “Marx and the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (1848-9),” MECW, v. 26, p. 120.
3. Hallas, p. 9.
4. Cliff and Barker, Incomes Policy, Shop Stewards and Legislation (1966) was a pioneering expression of that orientation. I would also argue that the emergence of Women’s Voice and Flame broadened out that orientation to wider sections of the working class, particularly sections that were not part of the established industrial unions. I leave aside here the question of how the groups around these publications functioned as the working class struggle turned down, — but I consider Cliff’s campaign against them to have been extremely crude and seriously damaging to the development of the IS/SWP in Britain.
5. I would enumerate some of the key (inter-related) reasons as follows: 1) a series of vulgar and undemocratic elements in Cliff’s idiosyncratic version of Leninism, all of which emphasized “leadership” against democratic participation of members; 2) the British IS’s redesign of itself as a “party” just as the class struggle was turning down, leading to a new “party” that actually declined in numbers and experienced sharp debates and loss of longstanding members in its early years; 3) the development in the SWP of a practice of monolithic leadership that systematically mistrusts its membership (see Neil Davidson’s perceptive comments on this); 4) the parallel development in the SWP of a culture of bullying and heresy-hunting in which dissenters are to be “smashed” and discredited, rather than persuaded — all of which produces a de-politicized membership and a hack system that rewards loyalty, not the creative development and application of Marxism in theory and practice; 5) the launch in the 1980s of an IS Tendency that basically apes the practices of self-styled “Internationals,” whose leaderships are expected to show unflinching loyalty to the key leaders of the SWP (as if the latter were the Executive Committee of the Comintern), and who are expected to model themselves on the micro-party practices of the SWP, even though their groups have no meaningful base in the working class movement; 6) the dogmatic insistence since 1992 that we are in “the 1930s in slow motion” and that this requires all these small groups to operate like mini- vanguard parties, and their leaderships to adopt the commandism of the SWP CC, because time is of the essence and the party must be built. Taken together, all of these factors have produced significant elements of the very practices of “toy bolshevism” — substitutionism, delusions of grandeur, sectarianism towards other currents, nasty internal regimes, theoretical dogmatism (after all, empirical evidence has not been allowed to dislodge the claim that the period 1992-onwards has been like the 1930s) — that the IS tradition once rightly derided in much of “orthodox Trotskyism.” To be clear, I don’t say this is the whole story. I recognize that in recent years there has been a rhetorical commitment to building new parties of the radical left, although, as I suggest below, practice I this regard has left much to be desired. More important, however, the recent democratic upsurge in the SWP indicates that there is a cadre who still subscribe to good chunks of the politics of socialism from below and the democratic aspects of “democratic centralism.” But it must be said that such forces have been utterly on the margins for a very long time, however much I applaud their recent resurgence. And in other parts of the IST, where such traditions among members are considerably weaker, it is not clear that such democratic resurgences are possible.
6. Ibid., p. 25.
7. As quoted by Paul Le Blanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1990), p. 5.
8. So, in his reply to Neil Davidson, Chris Harman tells us that “the essence of Leninism” is “the idea that when the leadership decides on a certain course of action it has to struggle vigorously for it in the party,” while being “responsible to the membership” for the results of the policy (Chris Harman, “Some Comments on Neil Davidson’s Document,” SWP Special pre-conference Bulletin, December 2008, p. 23). Now, Harman knows better than this at some level. If pressed, he would probably agree that the “essence of Leninism” is not just leaders fighting for their views. But the fact that he can argue this in a debate over leadership and democracy in the SWP speaks volumes about methods of leadership and their theoretical justification inside the SWP over a very long time. And Davidson is absolutely right to connect this to Cliff’s appalling recommendation that the leadership ought to observe an “organized distrust” of the membership, an orientation that quickly undercuts the meaningfully democratic elements of “democratic centralism.”
9. Marcel Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin (London: Merlin Press, 1975), p. 148.

First published at David McNally’s website.

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[l] at 3/20/19 11:00pm
Helen Scott

Helen Scott wrote the following letter to her branch as part of her own reflections on how to regard the many years she spent as a member of the ISO.

WE ARE all devastated by the revelations about the rot — sexism, secrecy, abuse and cruelty — in sections of the national “leadership” of the ISO. These are profound betrayals and far worse than anything we could have imagined. The behavior is devastating precisely because it is antithetical to everything we hold dear. This is not the organization we thought we were building.

We must not let these wrongs negate the larger project of socialism from below. The list of our achievements is immense, and I am proud of all we have accomplished. This is true at the national and local level: the strikes, protests, movements, and publications.

Although I have not been very active in the branch in recent years, I have been immensely proud of the work of Burlington comrades — the strike support, coalition work, effective protests, political and cultural events that have drawn large crowds and enriched the community. I am proud to count you as comrades. You have given me a community based on the principles of solidarity, equality, justice and compassion, and intolerance for all forms of prejudice, exploitation, oppression.

I reject the idea that the worst of this organization invalidates our project. In good faith, we have variously committed ourselves to and participated in building a revolutionary socialist current that is absolutely necessary in the U.S. and the world. We were right to do so. I do not regret my part in this, because I know we have made a difference, and helped carry forward the tradition of socialism from below. I believe it has also made me a better person, and has helped me to understand the world and our place in it.

Reflections on our crisis

I always knew that the organization was only the vehicle, not the destination. I always knew that it was flawed, but I believed it could be used and changed, and I didn’t see a viable alternative. I’ve come to realize that in fact our best achievements have been despite the organizational model, not because of it.

IN THE last week I have repeatedly asked myself how this contradiction — between my experience of the ISO and the behavior of its corrupt leadership — can exist. I do not have all the answers but I have some. We know that the filth of our society gets into every institution and walk of life, and this is true for the left and progressive movements as well as the establishment.

We are also starting to see more clearly that there are things about the form of the organization itself that made this more likely. We inherited this “micro vanguard” model, built in a period of defeat, and accepted its emphases on ideological conformity, vertical leadership, de facto isolation of a layer of national “trusted leaders” from the rank and file of the membership.

These systemic problems generated flawed methods and approaches, including moralism, hyper activity, an “all or nothing” mentality. The fact that I have not been able to be an active member of my branch because I have MS is itself evidence of a failure, and I wish that I had said this and argued for a change, rather than simply remove myself from the branch when the work conflicted with my wellness.

Why didn’t we see all this? Partly, the structure itself explains this. We were relatively isolated from the Chicago clique, and our daily experience was mostly positive. On the whole, our branch has operated with transparency and democracy. While we have certainly made mistakes and have used methods that stem from a faulty model, we have always been guided by socialist principles. The closer members got to the official national leadership — really a clique — the more they saw of the problems, but for most members these were invisible.

At the same time, many of us did see problems. Some left, and some didn’t raise their concerns. Others tried to point some of this out, and we didn’t listen. While we encouraged full political debate, we didn’t have a culture that allowed for systemic criticism of the organization itself. This was part of the syndrome.

The fight in the Steering Committee and the breaking of silence by comrades of color about racism precipitated the dramatic transformation of the leadership witnessed at the last convention. These were urgent and positive changes, leaving us with a new leadership, set of principles and operating assumptions. The revelations about sexism have come out now because of that opening up and are part of a profoundly necessary and important process of assessment and redress.

The task now is separating all that was good and valuable in our project from all that was rotten. I have been encouraged and inspired by seeing the continuing efforts of the current leadership to move forward, and I hope that they lead to the kind of organization based on the best of what we are, without the fetters.

However individuals decide what comes next, I support each of you. As you go forward, be careful to avoid the pressures towards hyperactivity and self-sacrifice. The success or failure of the project of socialism from below does not rest on any individual. When the pace becomes frenetic, remember that nobody should do more than they are able.

Remember there is a world out there: we are always at our best when engaged in class struggle and world politics, rather than internal operations. Take care of your own physical and emotional health, be kind to each other, and shun the toxic blame culture. Socialism at its core is about deep faith in the potential of humanity, and it calls on us to treat each other with respect and compassion.

I know I’ll be in struggle with many of you now and in the future. Whatever happens I celebrate what we have done, and treasure my work with you.

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[l] at 3/20/19 11:00pm
David Camfield, Todd Gordon, Brian McDougall and Sandra Sarner

This statement was published on Facebook by David Camfield , Todd Gordon , Brian McDougall and Sandra Sarner last week, the day after Socialist Worker published a letter from the Steering Committee of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) detailing the gross mishandling of a 2013 sexual assault accusation and the resulting organizational crisis. We hope to publish more pieces in the coming weeks that take up the questions of organizational models raised below.

WE WRITE from the Canadian state in the hope that the way you grapple with the challenges confronting your organization will strengthen the forces of socialism from below in the U.S.

We were heartened to learn of decisions made at the ISO’s recent convention. We were dismayed to read in the Steering Committee’s public letter of March 15 about the 2013 mishandling of a sexual assault allegation. That letter invites “friends and allies to offer advice, counsel, and expertise” and so we write to raise a concern and share an analysis developed in the New Socialist Group (the NSG officially dissolved in 2017 but we continue to be active in local groups with the same politics).

We’re concerned that some people will respond to the ISO’s crisis by jettisoning revolutionary socialist politics and/or the effort to politically organize around them in some way. This letter doesn’t address the range of challenges with which you are grappling at this difficult moment. We write at this time to argue a single point that we think is important: the tendency to jettison socialism from below politics and organizing is increased when people mistakenly believe that the “Leninist” way the ISO has long organized itself — using what we call the micro-party model — is an essential part of revolutionary socialism.

Reflections on our crisis

In the name of “building a Leninist organization,” the ISO (like so many other Trotskyist groups) has practiced what Hal Draper called the “organizational method... of ‘as if.’” The heart of this is trying to:

act as if we were a mass party already (to a miniscular degree, naturally, in accordance with our resources)...[But] there is a fundamental fallacy in the notion that the road of miniaturization...is the road to a mass revolutionary party. Science proves that the scale on which a living organism exists cannot be arbitrarily changed...Ants can lift 200 times their own weight, but a six-foot ant could not lift 20 tons even if it could exist in some monstrous fashion. In organizational life, too, this is true: If you try to miniaturize a mass party, you do not get a mass party in miniature, but only a monster.

The basic reason for this is the following: The life-principle of a revolutionary mass party is not simply its Full Program, which can be copied with nothing but an activist typewriter and can be expanded or contracted like an accordion. Its life-principle is its integral involvement as a part of the working-class movement, its immersion in the class struggle not by a Central Committee decision but because it lives there. It is this life-principle which cannot be aped or miniaturized; it does not reduce like a cartoon or shrink like a woolen shirt.

Like a nuclear reaction, this phenomenon comes into existence only at critical mass; below critical mass, it does not simply become smaller, it disappears. Hence, what can the would-be micro-mass party ape in miniature? Only the internal life of the mass party (some of it, in a way); but this internal life, mechanically carried over, is now detached from the reality which governs it in a real mass party.

THE ISO has practiced a modified version of the micro-party model developed by the British SWP. This approach has been less damaging than other versions. But we believe that any attempt to apply some approximation of a Leninist party model to a small group (whether that model originates with the Bolsheviks, the earliest years of the Comintern or, as has been more common among Trotskyists, the Comintern after it was “Bolshevized” under Zinoviev from 1924) — and the ISO is a tiny group in the context of U.S. society — is a mistake. This attempt is one of the causes of the ISO’s difficulties.

As our comrade David McNally wrote in 2009 to someone who was until recently a member of the ISO Steering Committee:

One of the great problems with the dominant model of “Leninism” on the far-left is the idea that the legacy of Bolshevism involves steadfastly building a small group that eventually wins leadership of the working class movement. Given that there is no army, no class vanguard, ready to be lead, the small group project becomes the construction of an ostensible leadership-in-waiting.

This then gets transmuted into the notion that the task is to make sure “we’ll be ready” — with a disciplined cadre and a determined leadership — when the masses look to the left. In the process, a completely undialectical notion of leadership develops — one in which ostensible ‘leaders’ can be selected and trained outside the process of building a real mass working class movement. A hothouse conception of leadership thus comes to the fore, according to which revolutionary cadres can be artificially bred in the atmosphere of the disciplined small group.

All of this produces a fetish of leadership. Since we are incapable of building a mass organization, goes the thinking, we’ll do the next best thing — maybe even the best thing — and build the leadership without which revolution is impossible. And all of this — the building of a leadership and disciplined membership — comes to comprise the core of a doctrine called “Leninism.”

McNally continues:

Rather than address the really crucial questions — how is the left to rebuild practices, organizations and cultures of working class self-mobilization so that a working class vanguard” — in other words, a layer of anti-capitalist fighters of the kind that hasn’t existed in the U.S. for decades, as Charlie Post and Kit Adam Wainer discuss in their pamphlet Socialist Organization Today, elements of which are just starting to emerge in the U.S. thanks to the exciting radicalization that’s happening — “might actually be re-created, and a meaningful party built in its ranks — real social-historical problems get reduced to questions of building the small group: recruiting more members, selling more papers, creating new branches.”

Now, let me be clear: effective socialist organizations are indispensable to the task of rebuilding what I have called “practices, organizations and cultures of working class self-mobilization.” For this reason, we need dynamic and growing socialist forces. There is nothing wrong with socialist organizations trying to extend their reach; on the contrary, this is necessary and important. After all, the rebuilding of a real working class vanguard — as opposed to small groups that claim to be such (even if only in embryo) — will require organized socialist activists dedicated to that task.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT and assault are problems in all organizations in societies where gender oppression exists. But there is often a connection between the micro-party approach and inadequate responses by a socialist group to oppressive actions by members. This approach tends to inflate the importance of the group in the minds of its members. Preserving the group often becomes an end in itself. When people make the stability or preservation of the leadership and its “Leninist” authority their top concern, they may avoid suspending or expelling members, especially “leaders,” for oppressive behavior.

Organizing on micro-party lines with a “fetish of leadership” can fuel an abusive group culture. That kind of culture reproduces rather than challenges our societies’ oppressive forms of behavior. And socialist groups that treat their own expansion as what matters most are usually resistant to opening themselves up to struggles against oppression, learning from them, and changing.

We’re convinced that what should be discarded isn’t socialism from below, but the “Leninist” micro-party model. We don’t offer you another model. Instead, we encourage you to draw on your experiences and those of other socialists and engage in informed experimentation.

As Duncan Hallas put it, “useful argument about the problems of socialist organization is impossible at the level of ‘universal’ generalizations. Organizations do not exist in a vacuum. They are composed of actual people in specific historical situations, attempting to solve real problems with a limited number of options open to them.”

We hope that you will be able to develop a new way of organizing that helps you to contribute to advancing the self-organization of the exploited and oppressed in the situation in which you find yourselves.

With our best wishes,
David Camfield, Winnipeg
Todd Gordon, Toronto
Brian McDougall, Ottawa
Sandra Sarner, Toronto

First published on Facebook

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[l] at 3/19/19 11:01pm
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field looks at how the global discussion of sexual harassment and assault over the past two years has shaped ISO members’ understanding of a mishandled sexual assault case from 2013.

SINCE THE devastating revelation that members of our national leadership — including our then-national organizer — grossly mishandled an accusation of sexual assault, our organization has been reeling.

We are furious and heartsick, and the newly elected leadership from our recent convention has taken a number of immediate steps, including expulsions and suspensions that are referred to last week in the letter to ISO members from the Steering Committee.

We are in the process of forming a national #MeToo commission (established at the convention) to seek out stories from our members, former members, and movement allies to understand where our culture and processes need to change. (I’m one of the people who proposed this commission and I’m part of the group setting it up now.)

And we formed a survivors’ caucus of members and former members that is leading our response to this crisis alongside our newly elected leadership.

Reflections on our crisis Reflections on our crisis

These immediate responses are only the very beginning of understanding how we allowed this to happen, what it means about how socialist organizations need to operate to root out rape culture inside our organizations, and what it would look like to create a socialist movement that centers survivors.

These are questions for the left as a whole and need to be answered in dialogue with other organizations and traditions. But we have a responsibility to actively initiate and pursue that dialogue.

This article is meant to begin one strand of that dialogue. I believe that one way to understand the worst of what our organization did in 2013 and the best of how we have responded in 2019 — and how to never again repeat the former and build on the latter — is through articulating the lessons of the #MeToo movement.

A note on language: Because I believe the accusation and am writing from my own perspective, I am going to use straightforward rather than legalistic language: rape rather than alleged rape, survivor rather than complainant, and rapist rather than respondent.

A personal note on 2013

In 2013, I lived in the same city as the rapist — Madison, Wisconsin — and we were good friends until the day our ISO branch learned of the rape accusation. I believed the accusation immediately.

I felt sick for the survivor and for having so misjudged my friend. I also felt personally afraid because I believed the rapist had a key to my house and I feared that after we expelled him, as I assumed we would, he might seek retaliation.

I never read either party’s statement (which were confidential), but I didn’t feel that was necessary in order to believe the allegation. Only months earlier we had watched the British Socialist Workers Party begin to fall apart because they had covered up a rape; my comrades and I had watched in horror and committed to ourselves and each other: We will do better than that.

Yet although I immediately assumed the accusation was true, over a period of several months, I was uneasily convinced by our process that it must not have been. Our leadership core used a pretense of confidentiality and protection for the survivor (whose interests it’s now obvious they never cared about) to hide key information from us, including that the comrades we had elected to determine what had happened had unanimously voted to expel the rapist.

At the end of our process I believed that about fifteen of my comrades, including female comrades who I had worked closely with on feminist initiatives, had seen both parties’ statements and had each, in five separate groupings that didn’t confer with each other, concluded that we did not have sufficient grounds to expel the rapist. I now know that wasn’t true.

In reality, our national disciplinary committee was browbeaten into reversing, on procedural grounds, the vote we were never informed of; our national appeals committee had been given instructions designed to produce a conclusion of insufficient evidence; our members in Madison, including the supposed advocate for the survivor, believed myths about what real rape stories look like; and our national organizer cared more about making this disappear than getting it right.

I spent six years simultaneously feeling guilty that I had apparently wronged my comrade — he was my friend and I had assumed he was guilty without ever even asking him for his side — and continually coming back to the question, but didn’t I have the right response? Isn’t that how I would want to respond again?

I never understood how to put those two thoughts together and that conflict has haunted me for six years, until just over a week ago, when I received the whistleblower’s document, saw the pieces that had been hidden from me, and knew immediately and irrevocably that the accusation was true all along.

That is part of this story: how our processes served to make many of us doubt our own judgment and things we knew to be true.

Believe survivors

I believe that many strands of bad politics were woven together in the process that resulted in burying the rape accusation in 2013 despite the deep alarm of many of us who were aware of it. The first strand we must begin to unravel is rape culture.

The former member who I believe is a rapist wrote a striking email to some of our members when this emerged last week.

The email (which we in the ISO aren’t circulating further to avoid causing any additional harm to the survivor) seemed to me to be designed to draw credibility from a number of widespread ideas about rape: that rape is always violent in an obvious way; that it is never committed by people who are charismatic and profess to value women; that taking advantage of intoxication is different from other ways of violating consent; that women make up rape claims in response to anger following consensual sex. All of these ideas are lies.

Tragically, and infuriatingly, I believe that the response of some former members of the ISO branch in Madison echoed rape myths and this influenced the way they evaluated the plausibility of the rapists’ and survivors’ accounts.

Due to conversations in the last week between people who were in the Madison ISO in 2013 — conversations we were prevented from having at the time — I now know that some then-members who were central to the ISO’s process of determining what had happened were strongly influenced by the erroneous assumption that rape survivors immediately recognize what has happened to them and understand it in the same way over time.

The #MeToo movement has brought into public discussion the experiences of survivors, and those experiences make it plain that that assumption simply isn’t the case.

Survivors have many reasons for shielding themselves from a full accounting of what was done to them, including sometimes in further interactions with their rapists. Sometimes positive emotions they have about their rapists (many survivors, after all, were raped by people they liked or loved), and sometimes fear of future harm, make it difficult to acknowledge the extent of their rapists’ actions.

Sometimes whatever meanings we attach to what it means to be a survivor of rape are baggage that we resist incorporating into our conception of ourselves. (Research backs up what we know from the testimony of so many survivors.)

We have to unlearn so much of what we are taught about rape, rapists and rape survivors, and learn from what survivors are telling us instead.

Full respect for survivors’ privacy but no concessions to secrecy

One of my deepest beliefs is that all of us own our own stories. #MeToo has brought into relief how the particular ways that institutions respond to sexual violence can force us to violate basic principles like that one.

I have personal experience of this: the filthiest I have ever felt is when, in my capacity as a professor, I recently filled out a form to report to my university’s office that handles Title IX violations the sexual assault of a student in my class who had disclosed it to me but not consented to having it disclosed further.

My university’s position is that failing to report students’ assaults violates their civil rights (and so university employees can lose our jobs if we don’t submit these reports); many feminists disagree. I believe that when someone has had control over their body and life taken from them, it is imperative that they retain control over their own narrative.

In the 2013 investigation in Madison, this respect for privacy was used against us. Of course, we were right to respect the confidentiality of the survivor. But our respect for that right was perverted by our leadership core to prevent us from talking with one another about the accusation in the name of protecting the survivor.

In conversations in the last week, it has become obvious to me that if those of us in the rapist’s city who instinctively believed the accusation had been able to find and talk with one another or the members of the disciplinary committee and appeals committee that investigated it, it would have become clear to many of us what was happening.

Yet I am left with many questions about what it means to protect survivors’ stories, to keep them held by as few people as possible when that is what the survivor wants, without making room for a handful of people to act without any real check on their actions, and for those who might disagree to be kept in the dark with only fragments of information that only make sense when they can be fitted together.

So much of the #MeToo movement has been about saying out loud what before was only ever whispered, and people acting together, inspired by each other and in solidarity with one another, who can only do so because stories have finally been brought into the light. I’m thinking in particular of the many survivors who have come forward out of a sense of solidarity with other survivors who had already accused the same offender. That sense of solidarity, usually between strangers, has for me been one of the most inspiring aspects of #MeToo.

In the #MeToo commission that we are setting up, one thing we’re exploring — learning from discussions in campus campaigns against sexual assault that many of us in the ISO have been part of — is ways to give survivors and those who’ve experienced sexist behavior more control over their stories.

Many of us have the experience of brushing aside what seem like small offenses by people we assume were well-intentioned, but would feel differently about if we knew that what we experienced was part of a broad pattern of behavior.

The #MeToo commission expects to hear a lot of experiences for which the person reporting them may not be seeking any particular restitution but wants to register the experience as something that should not have happened.

What if, when comrades report these experiences, they could indicate whether they want to be contacted if someone else reports a related experience with the same offender, and given the option to be put in touch? What if all of those comrades could then decide together whether the offense still seems small, and how it should be addressed?

Start from truth and harm, not rules and procedures

One reading of where we erred is that our process was obsessed with procedure rather than with truth and mitigating harm.

Rules are important: they can temper our worst impulses. Rules tell us what features of a situation are relevant and what response they should trigger. Believe survivors is a rule that tells us that our judgment about individual situations is likely to be distorted by rape myths, personal loyalties, and what we wish were true, but that we can try to override those impulses.

Our ISO rule that, whenever a severe accusation is made against a member, we suspend the immediately until we know what has happened, is a good rule (one that I now believe we have not always followed). Whatever else we change, let’s keep that one.

But our fidelity isn’t to rules; it’s to truth. Our highest principle should be to seek the truth in any ways consistent with our principles. So, for example, our MeToo commission shouldn’t approach people for stories in ways that might traumatize them or violate their privacy — violating the principles of don’t do further harm to survivors and respect that everyone owns their own story — but we should make every avenue available for hearing stories that are hard to hear.

When we honestly believe that our rules are a barrier to discovering the truth, then fuck the rules.

But the approach taken by our National Organizer in 2013, and through her the approach taken by the Steering Committee representative to the disciplinary committee and by the entire appeals committee, was precisely to privilege rules above truth.

At one point, that organizer sent a letter to the disciplinary committee outlining the body’s supposed mistakes, as a justification for taking the determination of what to do away from the comrades who (we now know) had already voted to expel the rapist and giving authority instead to a new body (the appeals committee) who would operate with a radically narrowed remit.

This letter reads like a Monty Python sketch — particularly a part giving a Bill Clinton-esque parsing of the meanings of past and future to argue that the disciplinary committee was wrong to try to learn from comrades in Madison whether the person accused of rape also had a history of predatorily using his position in the ISO to find sexual partners.

The instructions given by that organizer to the appeals committee made much of the survivor’s having declined to participate in the ISO’s process beyond giving us her story — as though we couldn’t evaluate the obvious plausibility of her claims without also hearing her say “No, he’s lying” about the lies her rapist told about her in his own account. (Expecting this of her, of course, is monstrous.)

So one reading is that aspects of our process were so tunnel-vision-focused on following a bizarrely legalistic process (drafted and carried out by people with no actual legal knowledge) that they lost sight of the task before us, which was to decide if we have good reason to think that this person should no longer be allowed to participate in our group.

This reading of what went wrong gets something right, but it gets something wrong, too. Because we have not always been obsessed with rules.

For many years, that same National Organizer who intervened to overturn the judgment of the disciplinary committee in this case also used her own individual judgment, with no process (or accountability) whatsoever, to adjudicate any allegation that rose to the attention of our national office.

In fact, her interventions in this 2013 case were themselves violations of our rules, since the entire point of the new national disciplinary body was to be independent of our Steering Committee.

To paraphrase a comrade of mine in a recent conversation about this paradox, we always talk as though what defines a bureaucracy is its obsession with procedures at the expense of what’s sensible or right. But aren’t bureaucracies really often defined by exactly this selective enforcement of rules — inflexible when it serves the interests of their authorities, but much more flexible when it suits authorities for them to be so?

What I believe the rules really did was provide a veneer of legitimacy to our organizers’ interest in burying the case and protecting the organization from losses: a loss of legitimacy, of an energetic member, and perhaps of others in our leadership who supported him vociferously.

The rules gave a way, as they so often do, to change the conversation. Everything we were told about how the case was proceeding was organized around the question of whether the disciplinary committee had followed its own procedures. What was lost was the question of whether our member had raped someone.

This, too, is familiar in the wider #MeToo moment. As survivor after survivor has come forward we have watched the conversation be changed to procedural questions: Why didn’t you report this earlier? How can we believe you if we haven’t had a legal process? And we have learned to resist this obfuscation, too.

This is one form of doublethink at the heart of the problem we’ve had in the ISO: we’re just following our process — except when we aren’t. I think it’s closely related to a second doublethink that the #MeToo movement has brilliantly exposed: we can’t afford to lose valuable people — except that we never stop to think about those we are losing because of them.

Everyone matters and no one is indispensable

THE PEOPLE I hold most responsible for abetting this rape and other abuse in the ISO are people who formed our longstanding leadership core (a phrase I use to identify the small group of people that ran our organization for decades even as others moved in and out of various leadership roles.)

While much was hidden from us, all of us had seen one or more them behave in ways that should have made us profoundly distrustful of their leadership. Yet, speaking for myself, I really trusted them. Why?

One hard lesson of this failure is seeing clearly how we treated a handful of people as indispensable.

I believe that there is a general tendency for organizations to treat people who are powerful within their ranks that way; I also believe that there are things specific to our organization, and our understanding of the specific ways we would contribute to the broader Left and working-class movement, that badly exacerbated this general tendency.

I think that sorting out what is specific to us (and should no longer be part of how we understand our contribution) is going to take a long process of thinking, reading, engagement with political traditions far-flung from ours, looking at our own tradition’s history with new eyes and paying close attention while we work in the new movements taking shape around us.

But for now, we can at least try to take stock of this second paradox: that at the same time that some of our leaders were treated as indispensable, we were discouraged from asking too many questions about why so many longstanding members didn’t stick around. We were discouraged from seeing the true costs of our “indispensable comrades,” in human terms, certainly, but also in terms of our own project.

This, too, is a lesson of the #MeToo movement. Being an organization that tolerates abuse means losing the contributions of those who are abused.

Every time a powerful and successful man, a creator of beloved products, loses some of his status as a result of his violence or abuse, our culture feels so keenly the loss of his work. We are invited to mourn the loss to politics (in the socialist movement or in Congress) or to art (film, comedy, books) and to decide that the loss is too great to bear.

Yet #MeToo reminds us that our true losses are so much greater than we can envision. We don’t know what the survivors would have made. We can’t even imagine what we have lost.

The paradox should run the other way around: every comrade is indispensable in the sense that everyone committing to our struggle is precious. Our members in struggle, along with our political vision and principles, are our two indispensable resources; they are everything we have and are. They matter. But no one is so indispensable that they shouldn’t be accountable for their actions, even when that means they can’t be part of our struggle any longer.

This extends beyond individuals to organizations. An organization that protects itself, rather than the interests of our movements, isn’t worth protecting. Nor is an organization that needs to be protected in that way, by hiding its faults.

The thing that has given me hope in the last awful week has been the willingness of my comrades to stop protecting our organization and hold its failures up to the light, so we can understand them, so we can change them.

My comrade Nikki Williams, one of the founders of the survivors’ caucus, shared the perfect place to start. It comes from James Baldwin, who wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed — but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Our chief concerns are survivors, not offenders

An observation made by so many in our survivors’ caucus is that our existing disciplinary processes have been aimed at addressing a series of questions about offenders or purported offenders. Are they guilty? What does that mean they deserve?

It does matter to expel rapists. It is, among other things, a way of trying to keep each other safe, and trying to make recruiting to our organizations and our movements something that gives people something beautiful, rather than placing them in danger. It is one way of being very clear that survivors matter.

And yet it is not the only way. As so many of my comrades in the survivors’ caucus have pointed out this past week, why aren’t our processes focused on what survivors need instead of what offenders deserve?

This is a lesson that, in fact, we have learned in the struggle against sexual assault and sexual harassment in colleges and universities.

Even as we have fought for consequences for rapists, we have also fought for real attempts at redress. Maybe a survivor needs a new dorm room. Maybe she needs paid research time and intensive mentoring once she can’t work any longer with the advisor who harassed her. Maybe she needs something we would never have thought of until we asked her.

I said before that we need to prioritize seeking the truth. And yet, to quote my comrade Maryam Abidi:

“Due process” is often about forcing all allegations up against a series of bureaucratic rules designed by those in power under the guise of “truth seeking,” or more accurately: the process of figuring out exact what rule was broken and the exact actor that broke the rule, nothing more. Any socialist response would instead place at the center truth and healing — or more accurately: finding out what harm occurred, what are needs/obligations/responsibilities of all affected parties, how do we collectively meet those needs/fulfill those responsibilities to the best of our ability?

There are a lot of conversations I want to have about due process, which should mean something different in the criminal justice system, a workplace, a campus and a political organization.

Everyone has a right to respond to accusations against them, although the form that right takes depends on the context: the harms that a state can impose in a criminal justice proceeding, and that interests that it has, are fundamentally different from a voluntary organization determining who its members should be.

But Maryam’s point that it isn’t just a matter of seeking the truth, but which truths we think matter most, matters. We are all for due process. But one of the main messages of #MeToo is that due process has been denied on a mass scale to, for example, women who have lost their jobs because they tried to resist harassment. We certainly offered no fair process to the survivor in Madison.

If we are for due process, and we are, it needs to be an expansive due process that protects everyone. And even the best on-paper procedure will never really be fair when the people carrying it out believe myths and lies about rape. There is no procedural reform without cultural reforms at the same time.

These are lessons to carry forward as we address what accountability looks like for our members who have failed. We can distinguish failures of values from failures of judgment: both matter, both harm, but they have different implications for what is needed to rebuild trust.

We can consider what people say now about what they did then and what they do to try to redress it. There are people who I trusted deeply who I will never trust again. It matters to know that. But it is not the biggest or the most important question.

What is the political process that we are trying to create that centers survivors? Our survivors’ caucus is leading us through this crisis, and yet we are only at the very earliest start of figuring that out. That is, perhaps, the biggest question.

Learning from #MeToo and more

EMERGING FROM these autopsy notes is a collection of principles that we violated in 2013 and are trying to live up to in 2019: believe survivors; everyone owns their story; prize privacy but never secrecy; our allegiance is to the truth; all of us and none of us are indispensable; an organization that needs to be protected by hiding its faults isn’t worth protecting; start with who has been harmed.

What do we do with those principles? How do we fight for them in the world at large, a world that is hostile to them, and run by institutions that are systematically hostile to the very idea that all of us matter? How do we at the same time fight for them inside our own organizations that exist in this world, and fight to embody them ourselves?

The answer to that will not come from any single group or any tradition. It has to come from so many of us fighting in our separate spaces coming into dialogue and collaboration with one another.

We in an organization that has gotten this so abysmally wrong have a special obligation to pursue that dialogue, to learn from everyone we can.

Every socialist movement has had to learn from the struggles around it, or has died because it could not. Marx learned from Indian workers’ struggles against colonialism, as much as from the workers’ uprisings in Europe. The American socialist movement learned from Black struggles and, thanks to the intervention of Black socialists and communists, from rebellions against colonialism around the world and a vision of a revolutionary socialist movement united with them.

Socialist organizations one after another have failed to live up to the political vision of equality for women and other oppressed gender identities, the right of everyone to control their own body, and the fact that none of us are a means to somebody else’s end.

The way that the ISO’s core leadership in 2013 manipulated our process to protect one member from being exposed as a rapist was an utter betrayal of what we who have given so much of ourselves to build this organization believed we were fighting for.

Three weeks before this crisis emerged, the ISO elected a new leadership because our members overwhelmingly wanted to both democratize our organization and integrate our socialist politics more fully with all of the struggles happening around us.

Those tasks are connected; we saw that it is our broad swath of members who have been most deeply immersed in those struggles who have a compelling vision for the socialist movement now, not the ossified leadership that tried to insulate itself from critique.

The weeks following have shown that this was even truer than we knew. Our old leadership and the organizing model that supported them for so long were deeply rotten, and it is a long task ahead of us to sort out what from our model we want to keep and what must be discarded. Some of us will do this in an organization together and some not, but all of us will have to do it.

And at the same time, our new leadership — both the formally elected leadership bodies and the many comrades who have stepped forward to lead us in this crisis, through the survivors’ caucus and other bodies — acted immediately and decisively to face up honestly to our failures.

I believe that it is because of the effect of the #MeToo movement and other struggles on us that we understood immediately that this was the only possible response.

And I know (because it was the very first sentence of her letter to us) that our new leadership, and the #MeToo commission specifically, are why the whistleblower finally felt safe to come to us now. We are only at the very beginning of collecting the stories that will provide the texture and detail to let our principles come to life.

To me, the socialist movement in the United States today feels behind the curve in catching up to the lessons of #MeToo, as well as #blacklivesmatter and the other anti-racist struggles of the last seven years in particular.

Yet at the same time it is obvious that those struggles have shaped us profoundly as people, in our aspirations and in what we expect of our movements and ourselves, and are as much a part of the widespread understanding that capitalism is failing us as the economic crisis and rampant inequality are.

For those of us from the ISO, whether we have remained members or not, whatever path we take forward from here has to head toward bringing everything that we possibly can from #MeToo and the other movements around us into the socialist movement.

The whole Left needs to learn this, and we have something to offer, in great humility, from understanding how our organization failed us and failed the survivor who trusted us.

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[l] at 3/19/19 11:00pm
From New Zealand socialists

People around the world were gripped by horror as they learned the details of the Christchurch massacre, in which a right-wing terrorist murdered 50 Muslims at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15.

With permission, we are reprinting a statement issued by the national committee of the International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa/New Zealand, which traces responsibility for this Islamophobic assault to, among others, the mainstream political figures in New Zealand who have legitimized these noxious views.

IT IS almost beyond comprehension. Fifty people are dead. Another 50 are injured. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people face grief, unimaginable loss. This was an attack on Muslims as Muslims, targeted at their holy places, carried out on their holy day. It was an act of terror. Our starting point is solidarity: with those hurt and killed, with their families and loved ones, and with all Muslims and migrants in these islands. This terrorist violence — a race massacre — aimed to divide us. We unite with those hurting.

A vigil after the mosque massacre in New Zealand A vigil after the mosque massacre in New Zealand

The barbarity of this act defies belief, but it has a political logic. This was an act of calculated terrorism, drawing on fascism and Islamophobia. There is no great mystery here, and Muslims leaders have been speaking out for years about the normalization and mainstreaming of Islamophobic hate. Every politician, every columnist and talk show host, every intellectual and media celebrity who has played a role in normalizing anti-Muslim bigotry bears some responsibility for this tragedy. Trump’s “Muslim ban” and the “war on terror” globally have set the scene, but local figures have contributed their part. Stuff and New Zealand Herald columnists lined up last year to defend the “rights” of fascists Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. Sean Plunket promoted Jordan Peterson earlier this year. At one event, Peterson was seen smiling alongside a fan wearing a “Proud Islamophobe” t-shirt. Simon Bridges, Judith Collins and the National Party have flirted with alt-right and far-right rhetoric around the UN. It is socially and politically acceptable in mainstream circles to talk about Islam and Muslims as a problem or an issue to be dealt with. Hundreds rallied in Auckland last year against “Sharia law,” and ACT’s Stephen Berry was there to support them. Fascist groups in Christchurch disrupted election meetings in 2011, and Muslims, Jews and other visible minorities have reported graffiti, harassment and abuse at their gathering places across the country for years. All this while most commentators would have us believe that “identity politics” and the decline of free speech are the issues of the day. This is the context that grew fascist violence. Many of those murdered were refugees and migrants. There is an added cruelty that those who came here fleeing persecution in their old homes should face it in their new, and that too has a political logic. The truth is that every political party in the current parliament has, in some form over the last decade, toyed with and promoted anti-immigrant rhetoric. Winston Peters talked about the “real impact immigration is having on the Kiwi way of life” in 2017. National opposed doubling the refugee quota. Murderous fascism may be extreme, but it cannot exist without the wider anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant political culture promoted by the mainstream.

This is not a mysterious event. It must be understood as an expression of Islamophobia and white supremacist ideology, and countered accordingly.

Racism permeates New Zealand society, nowhere more so than in policing. The Muslim community has known the threats they face for years, and yet nothing was done. Anjum Rahman of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand has written about how her organization pleaded and begged with authorities for anti-Muslim threats to be taken seriously. Millions of dollars have been wasted on persecuting Māori activists on trumped-up “terror” charges, and on surveiling mosques such as Linwood’s. Peace activists were prosecuted and harassed for protesting weapons conferences in Wellington, with more money still wasted on bogus prosecutions. And yet killers were able to organize undetected. Serious questions need to be asked about the priorities, politics, and prejudice of the police.

And what has the response of the police been since the tragedy? To discourage Muslims and visible minorities from gathering in public and to try and keep people away from vigils and protests. They are utterly without moral authority.

There is a different path. That is the path of solidarity. Every gathering, every vigil, every protest that stands with Muslims shows the power we can have as a collective. Terrorism tries to isolate and divide us. Mass mobilizations, trusting ourselves as workers, show that we will not let Muslims be isolated and we will not be divided. That can give comfort, and courage, to the oppressed, and it can challenge other workers to show further solidarity.

We need to build solidarity rallies in the coming weeks to hammer this message home: Muslims are welcome, racism is not; down with Islamophobia and white supremacist hatred!

We are united in grief, but this is a political grief. It responds to a fascist hatred. Fascism loathes our freedoms — the religious and civil freedoms of Muslims, the rights of our diversity, workers’ power as collectives — and we must show our rejection of the hatred motivating this race massacre by exercising those freedoms collectively. Mourning and respect, in this context, mean staying on the streets. Union events must go ahead. Rallies, strikes and stop-work meetings are the engines of class unity and power, the very things the far right hate. They give us a chance to be together in working-class unity, Muslim and non-Muslim, visibly united and fighting. We argue against any calls to postpone or cancel trade union activity.

Fascism is the politics of despair. It hopes to bring despair in others, through bestial acts of cruelty like those in Christchurch. It feeds racism, bigotry, fear and loathing of the other. It grows in hopelessness. Socialism is the politics of hope, of working-class unity, of cooperation from below against white supremacy and the divisions promoted from above. The mass rallies across the country since this atrocity show a way forward: solidarity, hope, defiance. Confronting fascism, and driving anti-Muslim and anti-migrant bigotry out of society, is an urgent task for us all today.

First we mourn, now we organize.

First published by the International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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[l] at 3/18/19 11:00pm
From SW

By devoting ourselves to reckoning with the crisis that has gripped our organization, we hope to serve both current and former members of the ISO and the wider socialist left.

THE INTERNATIONAL Socialist Organization (ISO), publisher of Socialist Worker, is in a deep crisis whose immediate cause is the exposure of a 2013 sexual assault case that was horribly mishandled by our national leadership at the time. Last Friday, Socialist Worker published a public version of the letter written by our recently elected Steering Committee to ISO members regarding the revelation and initial steps that had been taken in response.

The news about the 2013 case came shortly after a momentous convention devoted to addressing the organization’s unaccountable leadership structures and a damaging internal culture that had a disproportionate impact on people of color and others with oppressed identities, The convention resulted in a thorough change in our national leadership and a commitment to chart a new direction so the ISO could be more engaged in struggle and with the new socialist movement.

In the convention’s aftermath, many ISO members felt a mixture of hope, pain and uncertainty. Those feelings have been replaced by ones of rage, despair and betrayal. Some have felt they can no longer be a part of the ISO. Those who remain recognize how difficult it will be to reckon with this crisis and all the damage it has done.

A message from Socialist Worker

Certainly, there is a shared understanding among all that the only future for the ISO begins with a frank and searching discussion. So regardless of what the future brings, the main goal of Socialist Worker in the coming weeks is to be of service to current and former ISO members and the wider left by providing a platform for socialists to grapple with the many issues that have led us to this point.

A message from Socialist Worker A message from Socialist Worker

It’s unclear at what pace these articles will appear. We plan to begin this process with contributions from current or recently resigned ISO members, and we won’t rush those into publication. So as much as we want SW become a forum for continuing discussion and reflection, we can’t yet say how regularly we will be running articles in the coming days.

We are of course aware that even as we experience this trauma, important events—from the horror of the Christchurch massacre to the hope of the student climate strike--continue to unfold in the wider world that we’ve all come together in a collective project to change for the better. Once we’ve begun publishing about our own crisis, we plan to start running reports and analysis from other struggles, although at what pace and quantity we can’t yet say.

We hope our readers understand that as Socialist Worker brings an intense focus over the coming days and weeks to the situation inside the ISO, we are not ignoring the exciting new opportunities and challenges confronting the U.S. left, but understanding that at this moment the most important contribution we can make to that left is to begin and continue an honest and open reckoning with our failures.

For all of its flaws, the ISO has over the years recruited and trained many brilliant and talented people with a deep commitment to the politics of socialism from below, internationalism and the belief that we need a revolutionary transformation to create a world free of oppression and violence.

Some of those comrades left the organization or are leaving now, but many remain and are working with determination to organize a collective reckoning and, perhaps eventually, a rebirth. Socialist Worker aims to be a platform for their efforts.

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[l] at 3/14/19 11:00pm
ISO Steering Committee

The International Socialist Organization’s Steering Committee sent this letter to members about a deep crisis in the ISO. We are sharing it publicly here on SW. We have edited it slightly to be published on a public website and have added updated information.

THREE WEEKS ago, the ISO held its most important convention, which was also its most painful. Much of the convention was devoted to reckoning with the damaging impacts of our past practices and internal political culture. As branches have reported back and opened up these discussions, more examples of a damaging political culture have come to light. This brief letter from the new Steering Committee (SC) was written to update comrades on those incidents and on timelines with respect to mandates voted on by Convention delegates, while offering some thoughts on how to proceed.

As this letter was being drafted, the SC (as well as several members of the National Committee (NC) and several socialist feminist allies) received a document from a former member (FM from here forward) on March 11, detailing the ways in which the 2013 SC had badly mishandled an allegation of rape in 2013. Moreover, the document explained that the respondent in the allegation had recently been elected to our SC at this year’s convention. FM was on the National Disciplinary Committee (NDC) that originally heard the case. FM’s account has been corroborated by other members of the NDC at that time who remain active members of the organization. We are grateful to FM for having taken the time to write this and reach out to us. FM also copied on the e-mail allies outside of the ISO whom we have worked in socialist-feminist and queer activism.

Statement of the International Socialist Organization

The SC held one emergency meeting and then a joint meeting with the NC and other members, including members of the National Branch Council ad hoc organizing committee, the survivors’ caucus and #MeToo commission, to begin a discussion of the implications of this document and what next steps need to be taken. Here are some of the immediate steps we have taken:

We immediately responded to FM and to the allies who were copied on the e-mail to thank FM for sending it, informing them that we would be sending it out and discussing as a leadership, and stating that we take this very seriously.

After SC members asked that the respondent identify himself and resign, he did, voluntarily resigned from the SC and said he would take a leave of absence. The SC voted to suspend him and stipulate that a decision would be made on his membership status later.

The joint meeting of the NC, SC and other members agreed unanimously to carry out the original decision of the NDC to expel the respondent. In addition, the meeting voted to suspend from membership three members of the 2013 SC directly involved in the outcome of the case, while a complete investigation of what happened in 2013 takes place. The meeting also voted to suspend from a position on any leadership body any member of the 2013 SC, along with a recently elected NC member who had played a role in undermining the work of the NDC, for the duration of the investigation.

We now need to empower a body independent of the current SC that can investigate the conduct of the 2013 SC and other participants in that 2013 process. Whether that should be the recently formed #MeToo commission, the NDC or some other body still needs to be determined, but will be soon.

Another joint meeting of the same participants this weekend will continue the discussion and develop a process for a further public statement. It will also be discussing how to create spaces for membership-wide discussion. All members are invited to a meeting via conference call that is being set up for Monday.

A member from Portland is organizing a support call for survivors or others triggered by this document. It will include trained mental professionals who can help comrades to process this. We will send these details out today; you can also reach out to them if you need resources or support before the call.

The document from FM is very clear, and rather than editorializing, we will leave comrades to assess it for themselves. We will be writing much more and providing space for analysis and discussion of what took place, lessons learned from it and what needs to change in the coming weeks. We believe it speaks both to failures of our political culture that we have identified as well as failures to adequately address the needs of survivors, a lack of understanding of the dynamics of rape and sexual assault, and the failure to create a process that could prioritize doing our best to determine the truth of what happened over bureaucratic proceduralism. This is not separate from the issues we have been reckoning with and the culture we are fighting to transform — though this experience is a particularly acute and devastating manifestation of this culture. There is no way to move forward from this without the utmost honesty and critical assessment.

Offenses like the failure of the disciplinary process were the worst products of culture presided over by a leadership that exerted control and had far too little accountability. But there are many other examples. Comrades from oppressed backgrounds were disproportionately impacted by these methods and this culture. Their commitment to the organization and to revolutionary socialism was questioned under the guise of a broad “identity politics” umbrella and comrades’ right to caucus was squashed in practice. Comrades with decades of trade union experience were held in suspicion for fear that they might stray too far from a course set out by the SC. Comrades who raised real questions about the ISO’s role in the new socialist movement were accused of violating principles. And the ISO’s leadership treated genuine concern from members about resources and personnel decisions as illegitimate expressions of “anti-leadership” sentiment.

At convention, we began the process of addressing these things, and doing so with an eye to the future of the ISO and the socialist left. While the fight for socialism from below remains the guide for our work, we are aware of the need to take pause and look squarely at what is coming to light right now. Our first priority is accountability — to members and non-members harmed by these practices. We must also learn from these grave errors and offenses, and work to repair damage done to people, insofar as we can. This is our obligation to our membership, past and present, and to the whole left.

In the lead-up to Convention and since, we have begun to reflect on how a project whose intention is to fight with the oppressed for socialism from below could go so horribly wrong. By way of understanding that, we recognize that we are coming out of a several decades-long period of a Left shrinking and in retreat, and that period shaped the ISO’s practices, both external and internal. We steeled ourselves to survive amid an otherwise languishing Left.

Without a political assessment and engagement with the world around us, the important internal issues that need time to be heard out, developed, and transformed will narrow to interpersonal dynamics. While important, if our assessment stays there, it is unlikely to provide a sufficient explanation and way forward.

This letter cannot be a substitute for the Convention-mandated structural changes, debates, and apologies that are in process, so we will restrict ourselves here to listing some of the actions the SC will be taking in the coming weeks in order to assure comrades that decisions made at Convention are binding. Among these:

1. Establishing both an internal #MeToo commission and starting to plan for organizing an activist #MeToo conference” on tasks the SC and other bodies are addressing in the coming weeks.

2. Public perspectives laying out the ISO’s goals and areas of work for all to see (this was mandated to appear by the end of March)

3. Developing an affirmative action policy (we are forming a subcommittee to study hiring, resources, and more)

4. Public apology from the outgoing and incoming SC to comrades of color (Convention mandated 90 days, but we hope to have this published by the end of March)

5. Elections Committee to support independent candidates and ballot initiatives, and study how the ISO can relate to socialist campaigns run on Democratic ballot lines. (The SC will appoint this in the next week or two.)

6. Support preparation for a Special ISO Convention in September focused on electoral strategy and anti-oppression struggles.

The 2019 Convention radically restructured the ISO’s leadership, including a redesigned National Committee, an empowered National Branch Council, and a Steering Committee composed of two-thirds new members, including 50 percent comrades of color. For our part, the SC is committed to helping support comrades by listening, facilitating discussion, and making amends as we move through this necessary, yet difficult, process and toward a new direction for the ISO. As revolutionaries we know that change is never easy, it is always challenging, and successful outcomes cannot be guaranteed.

As we pass through this reckoning, some of us bear more responsibility for our mistakes than others. We all share the dual task of analyzing what we did right, and what we did wrong. Many of our faults were self-inflicted, but others arose from challenges that all left-wing forces must face. Unfortunately, questions of racism and sexual misconduct exist throughout our society and the left. As such, rather than trying to keep our debates quiet, we believe we must publicly discuss and assess our mistakes, and call on friends and allies to offer advice, counsel, and expertise. We also hope that by speaking and acting openly, the lessons we learn in righting our ship may be of some use to the new movement in avoiding some of our mistakes.

To comrades who have decided to leave the ISO, either due to the strain and stress of the past years, or owing to their assessment that their skills can be better put to use elsewhere in the new socialist movement, we pledge to find a path to working with you as revolutionaries in common struggles.

To comrades who are questioning whether the ISO can correct course and emerge as a more effective, diverse, and collaborative revolutionary force, we pledge honesty and hope our collective trust can be built.

To comrades who are staying to build the ISO and improve on the work — with all its problems — we have accomplished over the years, we ask you to be patient with comrades who have doubts, work consistently towards concrete improvements, and help build a new kind of confidence in our project.

We are heartened by the recent first calls of the trans caucus and people of color (POC) caucus. There are also comrades who are reflecting on their own actions and those of others in our organization, and trying to put our heads together to address the wrongs. These things are all necessary for what the present requires of us, let alone any future of this project.

We cannot separate our tasks of changing ourselves from our responsibility to change the world. But neither can we push the former aside in favor of the latter. This will be our challenge for the coming months (and years). We need critique, debate, and ideas for improvements as we move ahead together.

We invite your input, questions, and discussion.

As of 10/20/19 11:10pm. Last new 4/19/19 7:56am.

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