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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The North Star Run Amok

The leftist North Star web site,, describes itself as a "forum for discussion, debate and the ruthless criticism of everything existing." An ambitious goal, indeed. The format is an article, followed by space for comments. It's not unusual for some articles to draw over 100 comments.

The North Star is opposed to the very existence of the organized left, especially groups that describe themselves as Leninist, vanguardist, or cadre type organizations. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) one of several such groups, seems to draw the most attention, especially from the moderator of the site, Pham Binh, who is a former member of the ISO.

The North Star, and Pham Binh have received notoriety within the Left, for supporting U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war.  The justification used by Binh and his fellow "humanitarian interventionists," is nearly identical to those who supported the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Not  content with espousing this view on the North Star site, Binh is now resorting to trolling  other sites, such as the Kasama Project,,


Binh was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Occupy Movement. It's fair to say, that Occupy caught most of the Left by surprise. This was a new movement outside of the experience of most veteran activists, who were accustomed to organizing  single issue campaigns, such as opposing a war, or supporting a union struggle. By opposing raising demands, Occupy was unable to organize a fight back against the conditions of austerity that resulted from the economic meltdown of 2008.

Relating to a movement, without demands, was unprecedented for many on the left.  After the initial surprise most leftist organizations participated.  Binh, who apparantly believes in the concept of original sin, instead of understanding the initial hesitancy of most experienced leftists, believes that everyone in the organized left is obligated to forever dress in sack cloth and ashes while repeating mea culpas.

The Organized Left, and Especially the International Socialist Organization

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a former member of the ISO, who left on good terms, for personal reasons. Most of the attacks against the organized left are directed at the ISO, by virtue of it being the largest socialist group in the U.S. While usually naming the ISO, these attacks are, in reality attacks against all socialist groups.  It would seem that Binh can never forgive the ISO for accepting him as a member. Groucho Marx said, "I would never join any organization that would have me as a member." Pham Binh says, "I will never forgive any organization that had me as a member."

 These anti -organization types,  even suggest all member based socialist revolutionary groups should liquidate themselves, and then build a brand new group, not before, but during an actual revolution. Good luck with that one.

John Lacny

All cadre organization bashers, take great delight in a 1998 article , by John Lacny , On the American International Socialist Organization: The Joy of Sects that has been circulating in cyber space for the last 15 years. Lacny first met the ISO, while attending the University of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania. At the time there was a strike by support staff at the university. Lacny wanted to become involved in strike support work. Much to Lacny's dismay,  the only organization doing such work, was the Pittsburgh branch of the ISO, whose membership included students attending the University.

Lacny, by his own admission joined the ISO, under false pretenses. He had no agreement with the politics nor interest in building the organization. He only wanted to support the strike. Did Lacny even consider the possibility of organizing a strike support committe? I don't know what the enrollment of the University of Pittsburgh was in 1998, but latest figures show 18,000 undergraduate students, and 10,000 graduate students, which is probably similar to the 1998 enrollment. If he had made the attempt, to even recruit, let's say, one in two thousand students, that would have been an initial strike support group of 14.

While a student at Columbus College, Columbus, Ga, I helped organize a sort of generic left group of  8 on a campus with an enrollment of 4,000 in 1973. If I could organize a left group of one in five hundred students, in the south, in a city that is the home of one of the largest military bases, Fort Benning, then surely Lacny could have built an organization of 14 at the University of Pittsburgh.

The difference, was I made the attempt and Lacny didn't. The moral of  this story, is that anyone wanting to get a hearing from current or former ISO members, using John Lacny as an authority figure, will doom such efforts to failure. When shaking hands with Lacny, it's always a good idea to count your fingers afterwards.


There's a debate at North Star, as well as the rest of the left, on how to relate to the recent events in Egypt. Those commenting on North Star, while putting emphasis on the role of the Egyptian military, conveniently overlook the 17-30 million, out of a total population of 84 million, in the streets, and the 22 million who signed petitions calling on former President Morsi to step down.

My favorite, in an ironic sort of way, argument of those who support Morsi, such as Arthur Dent (a pseudonym),  is that "it was wrong to overthrow a democratically elected president." What in the hell do they think a revolution in the United States, or in any country, with a bourgeois democracy is going to do? For a start, overthrow the "democratically" elected executive and legislative branches of government, and probably a lot of other institutions, in the process!

Accomplishments of the Organized Left in the U.S.

The contributions of the organized left to various anti-war, labor and human rights struggles are too numerous to list here. Just to name a few struggles where members of cadre organizations played  an important role, are the labor upsurges of the 1930's, to include the Minneapolis Teamster, and the San Francisco general strikes. The Socialist Workers Party contributed greatly to organizing the anti war movement opposed to the U.S. war in Vietnam during the 1960's. Socialist Action mobilized their members to provide support for the striking meatpacker workers of Local P9, United Food and Commerical Workers, at Hormel, Austin, MN in the mid 1980's.The ISO played a key role in the Charleston 5 Defense campaign, during 2001. These are just a few examples among many, too many to list here, in which organized cadre type socialist groups played an important role.

A Party of a New Kind?

The eventual alleged goal of the majority of North Star supporters is a the formation of a new left organization, that would replace the existing groups. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, if these people were truly serious. If they were truly serious, they would be organizing local networks, meetings, and conferences to launch such  a project. Such efforts do not seem to be forthcoming.

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