A reply to Snehal S (Updated)

Comrade Snehal S, formerly a leader of the Austin branch, posts on Facebook:

An open note to the “ISO Renewal Faction”: please check your facts. There are no “12 people” who have “been lost”…we know where they all are and only two of them have left the organization. This is at best irresponsible on your part, our political disagreements aside.

This is in response to the following from our platform document on the organizational crisis:

In Austin, the oldest Texas branch with the most cadre, about a dozen members have been lost in the last few months.

Here I’d like to briefly reply to Snehal, because his reaction typifies how many comrades delude themselves about the existence of a crisis in the ISO.

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What is the crime? To publish internal documents–or to criticize them?

A common “charge” against the ISO Renewal Faction–popular with the leadership faction especially, as it avoids engaging in politics–is that we have not respected the organization’s Pre-Convention process inasmuch as we have published internal documents. But in fact the faction has not published anything that can be credibly interpreted as internal, as Nurit T has explained.

The leadership faction has an amusing rejoinder to this: they consider it an offense to publish anything submitted to the Pre-Convention Bulletin, including our own writings. This (improvised) “norm” is said to apply even if we redact all internal material. Continue reading

A guide to bad arguments and distractions

One of the elements of the degeneration of our democratic structures has been an infestation of distractions and bad arguments, sometimes called logical fallacies, that have all too often replaced reasoned debate. If we are to renew our democratic culture, we need to recognize these problems in both other comrades’ arguments and our own. It must be emphasized that while this document was written in preparation for debate around the ISO Renewal Faction criticisms, most of the these have been going around for years, and they aren’t acceptable in any debate.

  1. That’s not Leninist
  2. That’s anarchist
  3. That’s anti-leadership
  4. The ISO is under attack!
  5. These criticisms should have been brought up earlier
  6. This is the wrong way to bring these issues up
  7. They’re on their way out of the ISO
  8. Why should we care, they’re just ex-members
  9. They want to destroy the ISO!
  10. Of course they would say that, they’re middle class
  11. Here’s a list of exciting things!
  12. That’s factionalizing
  13. Other problems

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Has neoliberalism survived?

It is the current view of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) leadership that neoliberalism has survived the crisis of 2008. I think this is a wrong formulation. If by “neoliberalism” we mean to indicate a certain period of capitalism, then I believe that neoliberalism is over–or perhaps one should say “passing away” or “negated,” since undoubtedly many aspects remain. This is especially true in the higher realms of the capitalist superstructure, which always lag behind changes in the material base.

If the era of secular capitalist growth that began in (roughly) the mid-1980s ended in 2008–which it definitely did–then the economic preconditions for the neoliberal period have ended. Even if the policy (re)actions during the current “global slump” follow the same neoliberal grooves–financial bailouts, capitalization of the public sector, preference for raising exploitation over real capital investment, etc–they operate in a different context.

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A note on the Faction Rules

Several comrades have asked why the Faction Rules are so strongly centralistic, with so much decision-making power invested in the Faction Committee. This is a good question that reflects some real shortcomings in our current approach; but also demonstrates some misunderstanding of what the faction is trying to do.

Let’s start with the latter point. It should be kept in mind that we are a faction within a larger organization–not a new organization. As our Organizational Perspectives make clear, we advocate a far more democratic and less centralized regime within the ISO, which flows out of our understanding of the conjuncture. However, in order to fight for our views, we felt that it was necessary to organize ourselves in a very disciplined way.

We emphasize the necessity of a fight precisely because of the ways in which we have seen the leadership increasingly act to undermine our political positions by way of maneuvers, and to use that same method of bureaucratic maneuver to exclude members with critical views from the ISO. Comrades need to understand that an argument over the political direction of the organization is not a simple matter of the exchange of differing views, eventually reconciled through detached reflection. It is in fact a struggle over the character of our intervention in the class struggle. Our leadership self-consciously (and wrongly) acts as a permanent faction for its own preservation; we refuse to close our eyes to these facts.

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A reply to two arguments against the faction

In response to our faction not being legitimate because it is open to members that have been bureaucratically excluded:

The problem is that not including bureaucratically excluded members would mean accepting the Steering Committee’s (SC) exclusion of Shaun J, which has been little more than them not wanting him to be in the organization but also not expelling him. No satisfactory reasons have been given for this.

Back on October 6, the response of the SC to the appeal for Shaun was that the idea of reinstatement didn’t make sense because Shaun had left out of his own volition, and thus it wasn’t up to them.

Shaun, along with another member that had resigned, were allowed to rejoin the branch in Cambridge. After that it was deemed that Shaun was not a member by Ahmed S, who was acting as a representative of the SC. The SCs letter to Boston after Ahmed’s visit does not explain why Shaun is not a member (except vague references to his having left in a splash and having agreed with external critiques). To see more on the exchange, see here.

If we want to get technical, there are currently no rules on how factions should or shouldn’t be composed (there is only a proposal by the Rules Committee, to be voted by this convention), but on the other hand, the SC has effectively excluded Shaun without going through any of the appealable procedures mentioned in the rules (suspension, censure, expulsion). It seems kind of bizarre to consider those grounds for not including someone that has been crucial for the conversations that created these documents, which are being widely discussed and debated in the organization.

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Contributing to External Bulletin

The ISO Renewal Faction announces that our website, External Bulletin, is open to contributions from all comrades. By taking this step, the faction hopes both to be more responsive to criticism (friendly or not); and to create a space for discussion of higher quality than Facebook yet greater speed than the Pre-Convention Bulletin.

These “unofficial” contributions will be held in the category Discussion. They will be published under the author(s) name(s). Articles published in this category do not define faction policy and are not binding on members of the faction.

Critical pieces are welcome, but we will only accept submissions that are broadly sympathetic with the aims of the faction. (Comrades who are hostile to us are invited to start their own websites.) We reserve the right to refuse publication and to edit for publication. Edits will be discussed with authors prior to publication.

Nurit T (New York City) and Shaun J (Boston) are named as editors.