[In the January 24, 2014 edition of the ISO Notes, the ISO Steering Committee (SC) calls on the Renewal Faction to repudiate an on-line comment of Shaun J., a member of the faction, as this comment “crossed the line,” in the estimation of the SC. As the ISO Notes are an internal document, we will not publish the text here, in conformity with the faction’s policy on publication of ISO internal documents. But as the SC has refused to publish Shaun’s response to attacks on him by ISO members in the ISO’s internal publications, we publish the faction’s response here. This response has also been submitted to the ISO’s internal publications.]
The ISO Renewal Faction rejects the Steering Committee’s demand that we repudiate Shaun J. for his comment on Facebook. We see this as a diversion, yet another attempt by the SC to delegitimize the faction’s existence so as to avoid having to engage directly and honestly with the political questions the faction is raising. However, we believe this incident does highlight some key political questions that are worth examination.
The ISO Notes points to a comment Shaun made in a Facebook thread, in which he stated that Keegan O. had talked at length to Boston police about political activities. According to the SC, this amounted to a dangerous accusation against Keegan. We agree that accusing a comrade of being a police informant would be unacceptable without strong evidence. But Shaun did nothing of the sort; he only stated that Keegan gave political information to the police in one interview—as clearly demonstrated by the document linked in the Facebook comment.
The police report that reveals Keegan’s conversation with the Boston police has been posted publicly online since October 2012 as part of a highly-publicized release of Boston Police Department “intelligence reports” on the antiwar movement following a lawsuit by the ACLU and National Lawyers Guild. When Shaun read these documents, he was shocked and disturbed to discover that Keegan had conveyed political information to the police. He spoke to the Boston district organizer about the matter on at least two occasions, asking him to address it with Keegan. This was never done. Shortly thereafter, as Shaun has documented in External Bulletin, Keegan played an important role in undermining the Boston ISO’s support for Shaun in his trial on criminal charges stemming from his false arrest during an antiwar protest.
No one is accusing Keegan of being a police informant. No private or sensitive information was “leaked” as a result of this Facebook exchange. And presumably, the police know who they spoke to already, so there is not a question of alerting the repressive apparatus of the state to some new situation. What is the real danger here: that Keegan gave political information to the police, or that Shaun pointed out, with reference to a public document, that this had happened? More importantly, should the SC be more concerned with a member who is on record having spoken to the police, or with a member who points out this fact?
Furthermore, the SC uses Shaun’s comments to “illustrate” how his presence in the Boston ISO branch must have “poisoned the atmosphere.” Yet the SC is silent on the numerous insults thrown at Shaun on Facebook by various members, not only of the Boston ISO, but also of people in positions of national leadership. The SC has never addressed the allegation in the appeal for Shaun launched internally in October that the regional organizer played a particular role in marginalizing Shaun; and in prejudicing the leadership of the Boston ISO against Shaun before he even moved there in 2011. The blame for producing a hothouse atmosphere in which political disagreements are turned into personal insults lies firmly with the formal leadership, not with the individual who was isolated by means of epithets (“ultra-left”) and then ignored when he raised real concerns about the concrete operations of his branch. Now they accuse Shaun of creating a scandal. But it was the leadership that failed to address the situation properly and fairly. The failure to deal with this crisis discreetly is theirs, not Shaun’s.
What about internal discipline in the ISO? Does the ISO not have mechanisms for dealing with charges of damaging and uncomradely behavior on the part of members? If the SC believes that Shaun’s behavior crossed the line, the SC should bring charges against Shaun before the Disciplinary Committee. Of course, in that case, we would expect that Keegan would recuse himself from the Disciplinary Committee (of which he is an elected member). But we utterly reject the SC’s skirting of the ISO’s formal structures and mechanisms of due process in order to delegitimize the faction as a political formation within the ISO. Although the Renewal Faction is “disciplined” in the sense that we have a common platform that we are all obliged to promote, as explained in our Rules, we do not attempt to monitor and control all of our members’ comments on social media or elsewhere. We reject the SC’s cynical attempt to reduce the faction to one person, so as to scare the rest of the faction members into silence. We agree with Shaun politically; to distance ourselves from him because of his alleged “misbehavior” would simply undermine us as an organized expression of political ideas.
What this whole incident demonstrates is that the ISO leadership faction has created a culture in which “leaders” or “stars” who support the leadership’s policies uncritically are permitted to do anything, regardless of the potential or actual harm to the organization, while those who draw attention to problems are denigrated for doing so. There is an unspoken double standard within the organization, based on whether members openly challenge the leadership, or publicly agree (while perhaps hiding their actual disagreements). Ultimately the environment the SC is creating by this mode of operating is one where people are learning to keep their heads down if they have any serious criticisms, opening up the possibility that serious crises may be ignored or spiral out of control while no one dares to point out the actual danger. It is impossible to build a party that aims to take down capitalism on this basis. This attitude may work for a sect or a cult, but ISO members must reject it if we wish to contribute to building a revolutionary socialist movement.
The Steering Committee has asked us to renounce Shaun’s behavior. Yet the comrade has told the truth, a truth that members and collaborators of the ISO should know, especially given the leadership’s amazingly indifferent attitude. To renounce someone for telling the truth is to renounce the truth itself. We refuse to so do.
Alden E., Seattle
Amanda HG, Cambridge
Ben S., Atlanta
Brian C., Providence
Chris Ma., Providence
Chris Mu., Providence
Ian G., Providence
Mary R., Providence
Neil P., Cambridge
Paul H., Providence
Vanessa B., Washington, DC
Yuval S., Cambridge