Reply to Convention (Updated)

The ISO National Convention demands that the Renewal Faction take down External Bulletin by the morning of Monday, 17 February, on pain of disciplinary action; and that the Renewal delegation repudiate the last four statements of the faction, on pain of exclusion from Convention.

The Renewal Faction, including delegates and guests to the Convention, declines to renounce or remove anything on External Bulletin. We can’t renounce what we think.

Update: Based on the notes of our delegation, we present below the text of the resolution that excluded us from Convention. This may not be an absolutely faithful reproduction, as delegates were not given a written version, but we believe it to be accurate in substance. We are, as always, willing to correct any errors brought to our attention.

There has been a shift by the Renewal Faction, as a result of not finding significant political support for their initial perspective in the ISO, towards more destructive actions that put the organization at risk.

These include but are not limited to:

  1. The External Bulletin post on CERSC, which puts the nonprofit at financial risk and makes individuals named vulnerable.
  2. The “snitch-jacketing” of a comrade and defense of this by the faction.
  3. The External Bulletin post declaring that the faction will no longer redact internal documents from its website, even without permission from our organization or individual members, which in practice has already censored comrades from making important contributions to the Convention.
  4. The External Bulletin post that slanderously accuses the ISO Steering Committee (SC) of “instinctively disbelieving a woman who brought a sexual assault complaint,” and reflecting “the sexist and patriarchal logic of capitalist society,” based on a misrepresentation of Pre-Convention Bulletin #19, without notifying the authors.

We feel that we can no longer operate on grounds of mutual trust in an organization where this behavior is allowed. We call on the Convention, our highest decision-making body, to vote on the following:

  1. We call on all Renewal Faction members to retract support for the aforementioned actions in writing to the SC and by removing all materials from their website; or face disciplinary action, including expulsion, as deemed necessary by the SC immediately following Convention.
  2. We call on all Renewal Faction delegates and guests to retract their support for the aforementioned actions in writing to the SC in order to be readmitted to Convention on Sunday morning.

Aaron P (Detroit); Elizabeth WF (Madison); Aaron A, Jason F, Jonah B, Leia P (New York City); Brian K (Poughkeepsie)

16 thoughts on “Reply to Convention (Updated)

    • Well, we’re kind of through the looking glass already. The Convention is sovereign and can do whatever it wants; although if on the first day it throws out the minority, one wonders what the point of having a Convention is.

      Now if you want the real truth, the thing that the leadership faction really didn’t want us to hear was the report of the Disciplinary Committee this morning.

  1. Even the Callinicos-Kimber & Leather factions in the British SWP never went this far.

    How little the ISO majority has learnt. What are they afraid of: difference? But I thought differences are to be celebrated, especially in the new spirit of openness declared by Ahmed Shawki at Socialism 2013? (from 30′; please excuse the love-fest atmosphere)

    Their interpretation of the Stalinist creation that is Leninism is getting very confusing. As was said on the International Socialist Network site the other week, where is Paul Le Blanc when you need him? Oh, he’s probably there – but what is he saying?

    And what would Lenin have made of all this? Just as well he never thought his politics meant he had to join a faction – all sorts of things could have happened to him.

    ‘Democracy from below’ remains as dangerous as ever – especially when it threatens to fracture homogeneous thinking. It’s no accident that ISO internal documents have repeatedly bemoaned the lack of diversity of views within the organisation, identifying, more worryingly, that there are incredibly strong conforming forces bearing down on members, inhibiting independent thinking.

    That is why it is of great credit that this post ends in saying, “We can’t renounce what we think”. They are right not to kowtow. The duty of a revosocialist is to always express their own opinion, moreover when they go against the grain, against the current. The minority have the right to argue their way into a majority. Defending & promoting all this is to display true loyalty to any organisation that is worthy of being in practice revolutionary socialist.

    • Can you explain what you mean by “where is Paul Le Blanc when you need him? Oh, he’s probably there – but what is he saying?”

      In this whole thing he has worked very closely with the leadership to give intellectual and theoretical cover to what they do. He talks to them as much if not more than the people in his own branch, I know, I was a co-organizer with him. As far as I’m concerned, the reason they tried to so hard to recruit him was because he writes things about Leninism that just reinforce the current popular sectarian myth of a united Leninism suspended in time but with the weight of a PhD. He doesn’t even read Russian, which is why I go to people like Lars Lih if I want to know what “Leninism” was in Lenin’s own time and it certainly didn’t involve slates elections or a ban on factions.

      But I’d be very curious what you mean by saying this and perhaps I just have a skewed perspective because I’m too close to it.

      • Simply that having read a fair bit of what Paul Le Blanc has written on interpretations of Lenin’s practice, including his exchanges with Lars Lih & with Pham Binh, I wouldn’t have thought that he would have gone along with the attempts to silence any voices within the ISO.

        So what you say surprises me.

        To make the discussion more informed do you know what reasons & arguments he has put forward?

      • Of course I don’t know what role he played in the whole factional struggle, but like Jara I’m somewhat surprised to hear that about Paul Le Blanc. He always struck me as far more independent, flexible, and considerate than the other major figures in the ISO. So it’s disappointing to hear that his various writings on Leninism (which I consider at least thoughtful, though he’s somewhat overmatched by Lih) used to shore up the leadership’s position.

      • I agree with Courtney’s assessment.

        Here’s what Paul L. had to say about the ISO Renewal Faction in his document from PCB #18, “Challenges facing the ISO — working toward solutions”:

        “The comrades of the ‘Renewal Faction’ have sought to take up the challenge [of addressing problems in the ISO] in a way that has proved disappointing to many of us in Pittsburgh (as reflected in recent branch discussions here). ‘Renewal’ seems heavy on expressions of disappointment, blame-the-leadership accusations, and what strike some of us as dubious theorizing, quite short on practical proposals.”

  2. I think the ISO leadership just guaranteed that “External Bulletin” remains up for a long time yet. Every trick in the book is used to silence minority views.

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  4. So basically:

    1. It is not permitted to criticize CERSC or the ISO’s relationship with it in any way, shape or form. Members are to contribute heavily to CERSC, but CERSC is not to be held to any standard of accountability. Referencing CERSC’s IRS Form 990, which is publicly available and readily obtainable, and which nonprofits are required to produce for many routine transactions, constitutes putting the organization at “financial risk” and makes those involved “vulnerable”.
    2. Noting that an ISO member spoke to police about the ISO’s political involvements — a matter of public record disputed by no one — constitutes “snitch-jacketing”.
    3. Refusing to redact internal bulletins is unacceptable because it may result in the self-censorship of potential contributors (one wonders whether those so deterred also write for SW pseudonymously and attend demonstrations and public meetings in disguise). Actual censorship of RF documents, including arbitrary refusal to publish them, is acceptable, because… well, because Ahmed & co. say so.

    Am I missing something?

    • Nope. Not missing anything. I have come to value very much Louis Proyect’s reaction to this on Counterpunch which basically says, “This is what a sect does.” And sects are just a symptom of an incredibly weak Left. The end up devouring themselves, even ones as well-financed, high-profile and (in terms of their publishing house) important.

      The interesting thing I keep thinking of is that had there not been leaking and a scandal around Comrade Delta in the UK, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the document in Document 19 would have ever been written and submitted. The entire chain of events begins in the UK. After that, it was inevitable it would be written about for once and in the midst of the Renewal battle, inevitable that the information would be leaked. People from Kasama can talk all they want about revolutionary ethics and I think they have thought-provoking things to say, but I cannot imagine it going down any other way. Just like I can’t imagine the Faction not being expelled. It could have been scripted. The dynamics were just there. The Renewal faction took on the dynamics and culture of a pretty well-insulated, self-assured sect, but I think they won in a sense by putting up an organized fight to begin with. The sect seems to be able to deal best with opposition on a case-by-case basis. It tested them and brought out the very worst aspects of the organization culture to organize together to try to accomplish something.

  5. I used to be wary of calling the ISO and similar groups sects. It seemed like an unwarranted slur, the kind of word that certainly applies to the Sparts or the SEP, but not a flawed organization with some questionable methods and notions which nevertheless does some good work. I now think it’s entirely appropriate, especially when you consider the more common (original?) use of the term as applied to religious splinter groups. The sort of group psychology that characterizes the ISO is very close to that found in insular religious groups, as anyone who’s had friends or family involved in the latter can attest.

    On social media, I see people who’ve privately voiced to me precisely the same kinds of criticisms as the RF now fervently denouncing the faction. Some of these members held their noses and joined some time after the split with the IST, knowing full well about the ISO’s problems but hoping it could now be reformed. And when the opportunity to begin a process of reform presented itself, they turned away. Shameful but not unexpected.

    Insufficient democracy is a matter related to, but not identical with, sectarianism. Trade unions aren’t sects, but many of them, to be sure, suffer from insufficient democracy, and haven’t hesitated to quash movements of the rank-and-file. The real issue, I think, is that fulltimers in movement themselves become a kind of professional-managerial stratum, inclined to treat their organizations as their own private property — unless thoroughly subordinated to the membership.

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