Organizational perspectives

In broad outlines, we propose the following as a course of action for the national organization in the coming period.  At the present moment, we are prepared to indicate a general direction; in future documents, we will concretize this direction in the form of specific proposals for the National Convention.

1. Open an extended period of discussion on the current political and economic conjuncture of global capitalism, the shape of the global working class, etc.  Devote the intellectual resources of the ISO to the development of a theoretical framework for understanding capitalism at the end of the neoliberal era.

The current framework for the discussion of our overall perspectives is too narrow.  The question is not one of “optimism vs. pessimism”, but rather of looking at what is in front of us, analyzing the objective structures of capitalism as it appears at the end of the neoliberal era, in the midst of a crisis in which the world’s working classes, restructured over the past generation, find themselves on the receiving end of a ruling class offensive, without much in the way of either economic or political organization.  The perspectives should be based on serious research as well as direct input from all our branches and all our trade union members; they should be geared toward an understanding of the objective conditions of the class struggle, clearly identifying the key material contradictions of the current period and the challenges confronting the working class; they should not be intended as a means of keeping the organization “optimistic” and on alert at each moment.

We should replace our Internal Bulletin with a public Discussion Bulletin supplementing Socialist Worker.  In particular, we should support and promote the elaboration of heterodox views and alternative analyses to those we’ve previously relied on—analyses which clearly have not been sufficient to advance the organization.  In conditions where the entire international Left is faced with major challenges that it has not yet been able to handle on a theoretical level, let alone a practical level, we absolutely must be open to the broadest possible range of opinion on the Marxist Left.  We cannot afford to retreat to a defense of Marxist or Leninist ideas as we have conceived them previously; we must instead attempt to understand the applicability of these principles in new conditions.  This requires a complete rejection of any dogmatism in theoretical debates; those who disagree with the ISO’s accepted line on such questions should not under any circumstances be automatically labeled as “hostile” to the organization.

2.  Develop a strategy for moving the ISO in the direction of implantation in key economic sectors and workplaces, social strata, and geographic locations (e.g. the South) where we expect the contradictions of capitalism to be most ripe for the development of class struggle.

In conjunction with and flowing from the theoretical work outlined in the previous section,  the organization should map out a national and international strategy for placing itself in the key sectors and areas where we think the exercise of workers’ power could explode the contradictions of capitalism.  We already have a certain implantation in the areas of education and healthcare, which have been on the front lines of the neoliberal bosses’ offensive.  We should expand our horizons systematically, by developing a strategy for organizing the South (and putting resources from northern branches into that organizing), as well as areas of logistics (transportation, telecommunications) and any other areas we think might be significant on a national scale.

However, the national perspective must be supplemented by serious local plans for implantation in our cities and metropolitan areas.  Branches—meaning workplace/sector branches, movement formations, and campus chapters—need full autonomy to implement organizing strategies that work for them.  We believe that if we trust our members to develop their own political priorities, the routines will flow from those priorities; and with this local control and experience, the national organization will be better able to grasp what organizational practices (e.g. around SW, dues collections, political education) make most sense.  There are no national movements right now to speak of; a national sense of what’s going on in international capitalism combined with a local analysis and plan of action is what will move us forward.  Federalize the initiative, centralize the political lessons.

3.  Move to formalize and democratize the internal structures and operations of the ISO.

While the ISO has always had formal democratic structures, it has developed over time a number of structures that have no official standing in the Rules of the Organization.  While the proposed changes to the ISO’s Organizational Rules include some advances, notably the formal right to form a faction, in other places they limit those rights while continuing to ignore a range of structures that have a real impact on our organizing.

In the first place, we must openly recognize the role of paid staff in the organization.  All paid positions, their job descriptions and terms of employment, should be spelled out in writing in the rules of the organization.  We must clarify the terms of these positions, the duties and responsibilities attached to them, and the question of how paid staff are hired (and potentially also fired).  We currently have paid district and regional organizers, as well as paid staff for the Socialist Worker and on the Steering Committee (not to mention the role of ISO members as paid staff for CERSC).  These comrades are employees of the entire organization; their standing as such should be at the discretion of membership of the entire organization, and routine reports of their activities must be made available to the membership, in particular to the National Convention.

The second step we must take is to substantively and practically subordinate the Steering Committee (SC) to the National Committee (NC).  Currently, the SC is the true political leadership of the organization, even though the NC is formally superior. Because the SC is dominated by the full-time staff—nine of the 14 current SC members are full-timers—the formation of the organization’s perspectives and strategies are dominated by a narrow and tight-knit group that lacks implantation in the working class. This increases the tendency to idealism and voluntarism.  Furthermore, the NC does not perform the “control” function essential to a superior body. Formally, it has no power to recall and reconstitute the SC: since the SC is elected directly by Convention, only Convention can change the SC’s composition.  Subjectively, the NC does not function as superior to the SC.  In practice NC slates are nominated by the SC.

Because it is able to act as a truly broad leadership, large enough to draw in comrades from across the whole organization and its multiple political currents, the NC should become, in form and in fact, the political leadership of the group. Its size should be fixed by Convention each year and, in general, elected by individual vote (including election by platform). In order to act as a leadership, it must meet more often: once every three months, plus conference calls on particular topics as needed.

Thirdly, the organization should investigate and elaborate the function of supra-branch structures—in particular, district and regional committees and organizers—so as to integrate these structures democratically and systematically into the organization.  The ISO in some places has grown too large to simply have one branch in each city, and we have compensated for this by developing district structures, but these structures have no formal standing within the ISO’s Rules.  Furthermore, there is clearly more discussion that needs to happen as to how district structures are organized.  In particular, we believe the entire organization would benefit from a generalization of the debate that took place in New York City as the summer came to an end; the debate over geographically-organized branches vs. movement-based (or workplace- or sector-based branches) would be illuminating for every branch in the country.

The lack of democratic regional structures in the ISO is surprising given the huge size and federal organization of the US. Such regional organization as there is derives from how full-time organizers are allocated to branches by the Center, which is not explained to the membership. The ISO should establish a democratic and transparent system of regional leadership. Each year at its first meeting, the NC should partition the branches of the group into Regions. Each Region should be led by a Regional Committee populated by members elected by the relevant branches. The composition of each Regional Committee should be determined by the respective Region, subject to the approval of all branches in the Region.

Fourth: all leadership bodies of the ISO–national, regional, and local–must publish minutes of their meetings to the membership. This is a key way for rank-and-file members to evaluate their leadership. Minutes should record all decisions made–including how each member voted–and make special note of all disagreements.  In cases where it is not possible to minute the discussion (eg, security concerns) then the minutes must note this and give a brief explanation (without revealing content).  This would also help with the current situation in which the organization is not aware of the debates that take place in leadership bodies, and only hears the unified position after such debates are resolved.

And lastly, all positions of leadership in the ISO should be based on the elective principle: branches should elect their own branch organizers and committees; districts and regions (once formally established in the ISO’s rules) should elect their own district and regional leaders and organizers.  The control of the organization must at all levels and at all times be in the hands of the membership as a whole; and no formation or body within the ISO should have leadership imposed on it from above.  This is precisely why paid leadership positions must be spelled out and made subject to approval and recall by the membership; and all appointees of the SC must be approved by the collective of the comrades over whom those appointees have organizing authority.  Only by putting the reins of the organization firmly in the hands of the members can we become a truly democratic centralist organization.

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