Last fall, I was fired from my job as a servers’ assistant (SA) at an upscale restaurant located in the premier bourgeois business district of a large Southern city. Despite the restaurant’s highfalutin location and its pretentious clientele, the job was in all too many ways brutal and oppressive. Throughout the summer and fall, workers at the restaurant were subjected to an increasingly unbearable regime of oppression and exploitation at the hands of management. A flyer that I wrote and distributed to my fellow workers in late September provides some insight into the situation we faced:
As it stands today, SAs — and, for that matter, all employees at the restaurant — face a number of difficulties on the job. For one thing, SAs are often subjected to a great deal of disrespect and maltreatment at work. Our workplace environment often feels toxic and mean spirited. We constantly have to struggle in order to prevent people from treating us like doormats. It’s worth noting that this atmosphere of toxicity also impacts the vast majority of workers in all other job categories as well, albeit in varying degrees. This includes the cooks, dishwashers, servers, bartenders, and hostesses.
This situation is unacceptable. All workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their job classification or pay grade.
Recently, while giving a final exam in one of my French classes, a student raised her hand to ask about the meaning of a word in the reading, a passage on changes in the workplace in France since 1975. “What does ‘cadre’ mean?” Naturally, as an American, she pronounced it as any American socialist would: “KAH-dray”, rather than the French “kɑdʀ”. Given the context of the classroom, and wanting to speed the exam along without getting hung up on simple vocabulary needs, I naturally responded: “Manager”. But I had to stop and chuckle to myself.
You see, I was recently expelled from an organization that had as one of its stated goals to train a socialist “cadre” in preparation for a future (or present?) mass radicalization that would bring about the formation of a mass revolutionary party, to which we would contribute our “cadres”. While the faction of which I was a part developed critiques of many aspects of said organization, what I found increasingly troubling was the difference between the stated (or implied) conception of what socialist militants should be doing, and the reality of what the leadership thought (and thus, directed into reality).
Questions regarding the human species relationship to the natural world can be complicated to understand. It encompasses all three categories of Marxist “philosophy”: dialectical materialism, historical materialism, and scientific socialism. First, let me say that I’m sympathetic to discussions on this subject matter in general; but I find the way Jon Hochschartner’s article compares animal “’exploitation” to human slavery objectionable.
The following document, written by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) West Coast organizer Todd Chretien and a leading Chicago member, appears in the group’s Internal Bulletin #1 (June 2014), pp. 2-8. We are publishing it on External Bulletin because it makes a number of slashing criticisms of Socialist Alternative (SAlt) in a forum in which SAlt cannot possibly respond; we also suspect that the ISO’s perception of its own centrality in, say, the Chicago Socialist Campaign would be of interest to other campaigners. What’s more, we consider the existence of two distinct and mutually-inconsistent discourses within the ISO–one for public consumption, the other “real” one for those “in the know”–to be incompatible with the development of an open and critical left.
Furthermore, while we are amazed by the arrogance and sectarianism displayed in this document, we believe that there is a rational core to some of the criticisms lodged at SAlt. Debate about SAlt’s highly sanguine perspective, and about Kshama Sawant’s ultimate support of the Seattle minimum wage measure, should be had out–publicly.
The document below is unchanged from the original, except to correct obvious typos; to add hyperlinks; and to redact names of ISO members who are not staff or otherwise prominent members.
We are forty years into that phase of capitalism that those in economic and radical circles know as “neoliberalism.” Margaret Thatcher famously defined it as “There Is No Alternative.” No alternative, that is, to the free market, the free flow of capital.
In brief: the last forty years have seen a massive push by the capitalist classes of the world to privatize, deregulate, capitalize, deunionize, undemocratize. Many books have been written about this process, wherein the US working class has lost 20 per cent of its purchasing power, while union density has dropped from 28% to 12%; wherein the world is now, for the first time in history, more than 50 per cent proletarian; wherein all the old certainties about economics, politics and society are now dead. Consciousness lags behind the course of material changes, so perhaps we should not be surprised that so many, particularly of the older generation, view all of this as a loss of what was a golden age, and cling so doggedly to notions that are now simply a lost cause.
To develop a Marxist animalism, we must situate non-humans within the labor theory of value, building on the intellectual groundwork laid by anti-speciesists like Barbara Noske and Bob Torres. The vegetarian socialist George Bernard Shaw reportedly argued, “I don’t need a theory of value to tell me the poor are exploited.” I’m sympathetic to such anti-intellectualism. But the truth is that for animalists to effect the species politics of Marxists, who have a disproportionate ideological influence on the far left, we must learn to speak their language. While I am very far from an expert on the minutiae of communist theory, this is what I have attempted to begin doing here.
[I wrote the first draft of this essay as a report for the Renewal Faction’s second in-person meeting in late December 2013 and completed the draft below by the end of January. Although it is written from the perspective of someone still formally within the IS Tradition, it expresses a deeply critical attitude towards it–and a desire to transcend it. I have reproduced it here without revisions; even though some of the formulations are clearly outdated, I think it may still be useful to comrades who are navigating these issues. –SJ]
Given the crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the series of crises and splits in the International Socialist (IS) Tendency, and the problems we ourselves are confronting in the US International Socialist Organization (ISO), it is natural for comrades to ponder the fate of the “IS Tradition” generally. One may even ask: is the IS Tradition finished? This is, of course, an ironic nod to Alex Callinicos’s “Is Leninism finished?” but by no means do I wish to repeat the hoary IS device of asking the question in a purely rhetorical way in order to refute it.
In the first place, it’s a serious question that ought to be seriously considered. In the second place, I think that the IS Tradition is indeed finished in a quite substantial sense, as I’ll argue here.