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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Louis Proyect and the ISO: A Response

In his article, Notes on a Staggering ISO, Louis Proyect criticizes  the International Socialist Organization (ISO), for having members only political discussions. Proyect defends anonymous sources leaking ISO internal documents to a blogger who is hostile to the organized left.

Proyect's position is since the government knows everything we're doing, anyway, there's no need for secrecy. I wonder what Proyect would have said, to the organizers of the 1930's Flint Sit Down strike, or the Minneapolis Teamsters organizaing drive, who conducted many of their meetings in secret? What does Proyect have to say to workers engaged in the initial phase of an organizing campaign, where secrecy is certainly required?

Much has been said, for or against "security culture" within leftist groups, on other forums. My response, with this article, will be to address the alternatives to Leninist or cadre formations that Proyect proposes, and the ISO opposition.

ISO Opposition

Historically, within the US Trotskyist movement, internal factional battles have usually been along clear cut lines. Examples include whether or not to defend the former Soviet Union against imperialism, disagreement,whether or not Cuba is a "healthy" or "deformed" workers state, or the relevance of the theory of Permanent Revolution.

This is not the case with recent factionalism within the ISO. Those who have left, within the last 5 years, or still remain within the organization, are all over the place politically. The most prevalent unifying theme is that the leadership is in error, defining the post 2008 recession period as one of "heightened class struggle." The opposition really never offered a concrete proposal on changing the direction of the ISO.

Former members are not exactly united. Historically, in most groups when an opposition leaves or is expelled they generally leave as an organized tendency or faction, and in many cases form a new organization. Most recent examples are Left Turn, by former ISO members, Committees for Correspondence by former Communist Party members, and Socialist Action by former members of the Socialist Workers Party/US.

As they were internally, externally former ISO oppositionists are all over the map, politically. Some work in single issue campaigns. I know of only one who has joined another revolutionary organization. One has thrown his lot in with the Anarchists. Another has written off organization altogether saying, "carrying out a revolution is like calling up some friends to go to a movie." I would advise this individual to cut back on his drug usage. It remains to be seen what political path that former members of the ISO Renewal Faction, who were expelled at the recent convention, will take.

Former members of the ISO tell me, that oppositionists were never able to contact each other because of not having the right to organize tendencies. The existence of the now defunct, as a result of their wholesale expulsion, Renewal Faction would seem to contradict this claim. In any event the right to form tendencies and factions, at least for pre convention discussion should be quarnteed.

A New Type of Party?

Louis Proyect calls for a new type of organization altogether. He wants to assign the term cadre, "to the dustbin of history." He doesn't quite get the military usage of the term cadre right. It's not just officers, but trained soldiers, around which units are bought up to full strength. The term in military usage, also refers to those responsible for training new troops. This includes drill sergeants, instructors, and yes, officers.

The politcal concept, is that when there is an upsurge, ideally a revolutionary one, the relatively small revolutionary organizations will be the core, to attract larger numbers, or I suppose one could say, critical mass. The most famous example is the expansion of the Bolsheviks in Russia, in 1917, from 10,000 members at the time of the February Revolution to 250,000 at the time of the Ocotber Revolution (old calendar). Though I haven't seen the figures, I assume that the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries also had significant growth during this period.

Proyect omits the significant role played by cadre type organizations in various struggles. Examples are the role of the Communist Party in labor organizing and eviction defense, during the 1930's, the role of the Socialist Workers Party in the Teamster organizing campaigns in Minneapolis in 1934. Later examples are the role, once again of the Socialist Workers Party, during the anti war movement during the Vietnam war, the role of Socialist Action in solidarity work with the Hormel strikers during the 1980's, the international conferences against neo liberalism in which Socialist Organizer played a significant role. Proyect seems unaware of the exemplary role played by the International Socialist Organization during the campaign to defend the Charleston 5, in 2001.

It could be argued, I suppose that  non cadre organizations, while having a smaller percentage of their members being active, would make up for this with a larger membership. In other words, a non cadre organization of 5000 could do the work of a cadre type organization of 1000. Fair enough, except where is this non cadre organizatin of 5000. Solidarity? Socialist Party USA? I don't think so.

Proyect calls for getting rid of the usual leftist symbols such as red stars, and go with American symbolism. Is Proyect proposing for example that leftist conferences, such as the annual Socialism Conferences sponsored by the ISO begin with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag? Is Proyect suggesting that instead of closing the conference with the singing of The Internationale, a more appropriate closing anthem would be God Bless America? Reminds me of an article by one of Proyect's co-thinkers a former member of the International Socialists Network,  in Britain: Down With the Internationale, Up With Rule Brittania! OK, the article wasn't quite that bad. Almost, but not quite.

There are some good suggestions by Proyect. For example:
     ......we need something like an American Syriza-a broad left-of-center party that can accept people on their own terms ideologically as long as they adhere to key programmatic demands such as:

 -Run election campaigns opposed to corporate rule, against both Republicans and Democrats.
=Organize campaigns against environmental despoliation from fracking to mountaintop removal.
-Strengthen the trade unions through organizing drives aimed at the most exploited workers.

While not bad suggestions, as usual the devil is in the details. Will this type of organization be an activist one or a talk shop? Will there be well organized campaigns, or will everyone do whatever they want to do, politically speaking?

The non cadre type organizations, such as Solidarity and Socialist Party USA, are both probably smaller than the ISO. The one attempt by former SWP members, to form such an organization, during the 1980's, the North Star Network, was nothing more than a personality cult around the late Peter Camejo. Why will Proyect's alternative be different?


Speaking for myself, I'm of the opinion that the entire left, all organizations as well as individuals, failed to understand the signifcance and impact of the "Great Recession." The entire US left regards the suffering and deprivation resulting from the economic down turn of 2008 as just one issue among many. 

This is hardly surprising. Issues of unemployment and poverty have traditionaly been the Achilles heel of the U.S. Left. Anarchists in the San Francisco Bay Area don't even believe that involuntary poverty and unemployment exists among native born workers. Others on the left believe that Bill Clinton resolved all the contradictions of capitalism. I submit that this failure, more than any organizational formula is the main explanation for the marginalization of the U.S. left.

For further reading:

1 comment:

  1. Apart from a link to a Pham Binh article at North Star and a video of her speaking to Boeing machinists, Unrepentant Marxist has had nothing to say about Kshama Sawant. That's because Proyect has always maintained that the US working class is too backward to vote for open socialists, so the best thing they can do is run as watered-down Green types. Proyectism proven wrong again!