The Faction Comes to a Close

On May 17, 2014, members of the (former) ISO Renewal Faction met for a final discussion of the outcome of our protracted factional struggle.  This statement marks the conclusion of the faction, and the transformation of External Bulletin into a forum for broader discussion among revolutionaries, particularly those that find themselves outside of any particular organization.

While comrades in the faction had differing perspectives and at points disagreed quite vigorously, a few general themes emerged from the discussion, summarized here.  This summary is not intended to be exhaustive; after this statement, individual comrades will be adding their own assessments and perspectives to the discussion.

The starting point for our discussion is that the ISO’s leadership faction did everything in their power to obscure and disrupt the process of drawing out the political differences, and instead threw at us the charges of disloyalty.  At no point did the leadership faction ever admit the legitimacy of the faction’s existence, nor any aspect of our critique or our perspectives.  The dénouement of this story, in the style of a show trial, did nothing to further clarify the issues.  That work is left undone, and thus we start there.

The Faction started from some of the broadest real issues for contemporary Marxists: the analysis of the current conditions, and the need to develop a broad but coherent analysis of neoliberalism and the onset of capitalist crisis since 2008; a reassessment of the methodology of building an organization of revolutionary socialists in the current conditions; and a critique of the crises that the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in particular had experienced since 2008, generalizing those localized crises to an overall crisis of the organization, and placing that crisis within the context of the overall failure of the international revolutionary left to advance since 2008.

The course of the factional struggle led us to investigate particular areas of concern about the organization that turned out to be of broader relevance to the left today.  When we published the documents on CERSC and on the allegations of sexual assault within the ISO, we reached the point of no return.  What is notable about these documents, however, is that the issues raised in each one are not specific to the ISO, but in fact are germane to the entire left.  Thus, when we raised questions about the impact of the NGO on the direction of the ISO, we lost support not only from those in the ISO who are employed by CERSC, but also from a broader layer of intellectuals whose interest is to cultivate a good working relationship with the publishing house, whatever their disagreements with the leadership of the membership organization.  And the ISO is far from the only left organization to have internal issues with sexism and sexual assault—the real question is how the leadership reacts on a practical level to such situations.  On both accounts, telling the truth about the organization was the unpardonable sin.

We locate the particulars of our struggle within the broader context of the international crisis of the far Left, which we think is derivative of the crisis of the international working class generally.  While the financial crisis of 2008 had a massive impact on the capitalist classes of the world, they figured out ways to pass the costs of that crisis off onto workers.  As such, the crisis has been much deeper and much more painful for the working class as a whole.  While we are clear about the intensification of the contradictions of capital, and the disastrous consequences for workers internationally, we are absolutely opposed to fooling ourselves into thinking that this equates to a “mass radicalization” in which a small group of socialists, essentially a sect attached to an NGO, is going to find itself in a position of leadership over large class struggles.  The effect of Stalinism on the far left—even on those in the Trotskyist tradition—is likely far deeper than we’ve realized as yet.

Did we succeed?  Our initial goal of opening up space within the ISO for further discussion and debate about the initial questions has certainly ended in failure.  But in sticking together and further developing our critique, despite the pressure brought to bear on us by the leadership faction and the inquisitional atmosphere of the National Convention, we succeeded.  Did we convince anyone?  We certainly failed to convince many within the ISO of the correctness of our ideas, but we nonetheless succeeded in further developing and fleshing out our critiques of the group.

Did we make serious mistakes? Yes, two major mistakes.  The first “mistake” was to disagree with the leadership, and to tell the truth about the problems that plagued the organization.  When people raised to us the critique that we were “doing it wrong”, whether that was appealing for Shaun J.’s reinstatement, forming a faction, or disagreeing with the leadership, we asked those people to explain to us how to do it “right”.  The problem is that within a “Leninist” group like the ISO, there is no right way to do it.

The second mistake, far more substantive, was that we basically all came to the conclusion, likely by January 1, that there was no way to reform or renew the ISO.  We were perhaps a bit dishonest even with ourselves in thinking that we could continue within the organization after publicly raising criticisms.  We stayed in, and continued to the Convention, with support of comrades outside the organization who thought there was still some hope.  We do believe that by sticking it out until the Convention, we at least succeeded in carrying the argument to its practical conclusion.  The ISO will now be unable, as it regularly does, to reimagine this episode in its history without questions raised.  (We note, with some bemusement, that unlike the past two years, Socialism 2014 does not promise a session on the “History of the ISO”.)

We have come to the conclusion that ISO does indeed represent a socialist sect, and that since 2008 in particular, the worst aspects of sect existence have come into greater evidence.  As such, while we remain revolutionary socialists and even Leninists by conviction, we have no ambition whatsoever to take part in building another socialist sect.  At the conclusion of our meeting, we resolved to maintain our political and personal connections to each other, albeit loosely and without expectation of particular involvement or production.  We continue to be politically active in our own cities, and we hope to contribute in the future, both practically and theoretically, to answering questions about how socialists should organize, how socialists should be rooted in, guide and also learn from the class, etc.

Lastly, we resolved to continue our publication of the External Bulletin, turning it over to a broader discussion of all questions facing revolutionaries today in the US and internationally.

The Renewal Faction is hereby dissolved.  Long live the Faction!

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3 thoughts on “The Faction Comes to a Close

  1. I like the tone of this bulletin. However, I disagree with ‘mistake #2’. I don’t think it was possible, even had the Renewal Faction not gone public, to stay in the ISO and reform or renew the organization. The ISO, at it’s head, propagated an incorrect political line that permeated the whole organization. While the ISO has a relatively long history, with an entrenched leadership, while the membership/cadre were still relatively young, and relatively unsophisticated politically. This last statement is not meant to be a snark, rather an observation backed up by discussion with former ISO members. That combination, careerist leaders and young cadre with little confidence due to minimal or myopic understanding of Marxism, could only have led to a split in the organization. The entrenched leadership had a hold on the cadre, not unlike some all knowing mystical being, where the cadre were basically following political line on faith (that the leaders are of course correct). Breaking from that, which the Renewal Faction courageously did, was risky from the start because it was almost impossible to gather support from the confused cadre not in Renewal. Without that mass base, without the possibility of a movement, there is no way the leadership would give credence to Renewal and jeopardize their positions. So, what I’m saying is, while I am impressed with the Renewal Faction for breaking (or being broken) with the ISO, the concrete conditions within the ISO were not right for honest, principled, polemicizing, struggle for unity. Part of the reason for this is that the Renewal Faction was, while beginning to make the break, subject to and dominated by the incorrect political line of the ISO. So, it is sort of like trying to beat the capitalists while playing by their rules. If your basic political line is the same as the one you are going against, (at least initially), then how can a distinction be formulated? Of course, this is a process, and Renewal has moved forward in this process. I’m just trying to help to see why Renewal was doomed (even if you had done everything correctly from beginning to end), due to the contradictions within the ISO between leadership and cadre, between correct and incorrect line based on incorrect analysis of the current situation. I look forward to reading future posts by dissenting comrades regarding the final summation of Renewal. We are on a long journey together, comrades. We know a lot of stuff from the past, which, if assessed correctly, will guide our present and future, but not blindly or dogmatically like a blueprint. As we know, our numbers overall as conscious forces are small, but the comrades who are around are good fighters for the working class. We have a lot to learn, mainly, how do we adapt Marxism to the present situation in such a way as to build organization among the masses, to identify and develop and give leadership to the struggles of the masses, and to do the most damage to the ruling class. We need to study, discuss, debate, struggle, and reach unity. During all this, we need to be involved with the masses in their day to day struggles. This is most likely a long and difficult process. We must be patient with ourselves, but most importantly, be patient with the masses. Being patient with the masses is something we weren’t good at in the New Left of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It appears we haven’t gotten much better in recent years. Impatience leads to mistakes of ultra-leftism and idealism. This is what we all want to avoid. I get the feeling I’m rambling again (lord I was born a rambling man). In Struggle for Unity, rf

    Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:00:46 +0000 To: ralfforchewn@hotmail.com

    • Well said, comrade.

      I’ll simply add that the Renewal Faction was well aware from a somewhat early point in the factional fight that we were irrevocably headed to a split with the ISO. There was no way that the ISO leadership was going to tolerate our continued existence in the group — we would either be purged or forced to self-purged.

      To paraphrase Ahmed Shawki, from the outset, we were headed down a cul-de-sac that was bound to lead us out of the organization.

      Anyway, I like the point that you make about the virtues of revolutionary patient during times like the one we’re living through:

       We must be patient with ourselves, but most importantly, be patient with the masses. Being patient with the masses is something we weren’t good at in the New Left of the 1960′s and 1970′s. It appears we haven’t gotten much better in recent years. Impatience leads to mistakes of ultra-leftism and idealism.

      This is certainly a lesson that — it occurs to me — everyone on the Left needs to take to heart. We must be patient, even while we struggle against the tendency toward complacence.

  2. In general the critique that ‘I agree with you but your not going about this the right way’ etc, etc usually speaks to deep problems with the democratic culture in any organisation. I mean if one is a tough Leninist in a Leninist organisation diplomacy shouldn’t be an issue. Just an observation.

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