[This document originally appeared in the ISO’s Internal Bulletin #2, published on 24 September 2013, while the author was still a member of the organization. Although the “branch-building” focus of the document is no longer relevant to either him or us, it still offers both critical insights into the pitfalls into which “Leninist” groups have fallen when trying to organize outside the campus setting; and positive ideas for how socialists should approach these tasks. It is republished with the author’s permission. –ed]
In a session on “The History of the ISO” at Socialism 2013, I raised a question: What are we doing when we’re building city branches? What are we building in cities? Brian Jones responded more or less like this: we know what we’re doing on campuses; we have some experience building in workplaces; we have nowhere near as coherent a framework for building “community” branches. Brian’s response was an important starting point to a question I’ve been pondering for at least two years. The ideas in this document are a distillation of the positive and (rather more numerous) negative lessons of organizing in the city of Providence, RI, population 170,000. Many ISO comrades throughout the country have been through Providence at some point in their political careers, almost all as students at Brown University. I have been here for 15 years as a public employee, union member, and active ISO member throughout that entire time, and I’ve learned a number of things about city organizing that I want to lay out to spark a discussion on our framework for building city branches.
The main idea of this document is that our city branches should be organized around a plan for rooting our organization in the working class. All of our routines, contact work, recruitment, everything should be focused on this imperative. Along these lines, what I want to lay out in the following document is, first, a series of observations about what is important and helpful in building a city branch (versus a campus branch) and what is not; thoughts on the development of perspectives; considerations on the concentric circles of the ISO; some thoughts on how to organize the branch around the city and the political priorities it imposes on us; and finally, a plan for getting the branch in Providence rooted in the city in a productive way.
It is with the greatest regret that the Brown Branch of the International Socialist Organization announces its unanimous decision to collectively resign. This was not a decision we made lightly. We realize it will mean the loss of access to many of the resources that the ISO provides and that it will greatly hinder our work to no longer be part of a national organization. It is therefore only because things have gotten to a point where it is no longer possible to envision our work with the ISO as productive to furthering the cause of socialism that we have resigned. We remain as committed as ever to the cause of revolutionary socialism but we have been forced to organize independently of the ISO.
[I began writing this during Convention, but the Renewal Faction’s exclusion from Convention, followed two days later by our expulsion from the ISO, led me to abandon it. However, as it contains some possibly useful considerations of a general nature, plus some possibly funny jokes, I’ve decided to publish it, in spite of its incompleteness and abrupt ending. –SJ]
The “Organizational Perspectives” of the Steering Committee appear in Pre-Convention Bulletin (PCB) #27, which was promulgated to the International Socialist Organization (ISO) membership–and dozens of others who happen to be on an “internal” list–on 14 February 2014 at 6:31PM. The Convention began the next morning; that is, the Convention is expected to pass judgement on a document that it will have seen just the night before. Or if you want the real truth: it is not expected to pass judgement on the document. It is expected to accept it.
(For anyone that wants the short version of this document, feel free to skip to the Lies and Accusations section at the end of the document to read a summary of what I’ve been accused of by the ISO Steering Committee and my responses.)
This document goes into detail about my activity in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and includes examples of how the organizational culture created by the leadership faction leads to comrades being ostracized, bullied, pushed out, slandered, and expelled for having disagreements, even when those disagreements are within the boundaries of the ISO’s politics.
To all my comrades both inside and outside the ISO:
This letter is intended to announce my resignation from the International Socialist Organization. This decision has been prompted by my experience in the months since I first publicly expressed my support for the ISO Renewal Faction late last year. To summarize in brief, as a result of my endorsement of the Faction, I’ve been effectively isolated and iced out of both the Atlanta branch and the national organization as a whole. This has made it all but impossible to continue my involvement within the group.
In addition to this, my experience within the Atlanta branch–which, I should note, closely parallels and interlocks with that of my comrades in the ISO Renewal Faction–has led me to question the viability of the ISO as a vehicle for revolutionary Marxist politics. In sum, I’ve come to doubt the ability of the ISO to fulfill its stated purpose of “playing a role in laying the foundation for a [revolutionary socialist party].” Despite this conclusion, I remain as dedicated as ever to the politics of revolutionary Marxism and socialism from below.
[Prefatory note from the Renewal Faction Committee. The following document was submitted by Shaun J to the ISO Pre-Convention Bulletin on December 23. As of January 10, he has not received even an acknowledgement of receipt; therefore we are publishing it on External Bulletin. Although it contains internal material that we normally would not publish, we cannot deny Shaun the right to reply to the misleading document “Boston Response to ‘Appeal for Shaun,'” which makes a number of attacks on him personally. Any blame for the publication of internal material lies entirely with the ISO Steering Committee, which should have published his reply in the Pre-Convention Bulletin.]
This is a reply to the “Boston Response to ‘Appeal for Shaun J’” signed by some members of the Dorchester branch of the ISO. The “Response” is basically dishonest, and on occasion overtly lying about events with which at least some signatories are completely familiar. In order to demonstrate this, I will present documentary evidence and name all sources of information whenever possible. All documentary evidence has, furthermore, been available to the Center since October 6 or earlier.
In order to make my reply manageable, I have broken it into installments. This, the first installment, will deal with the question of my trial against false charges brought by the state, and how the leading members of the Boston district failed to prioritize my defense.
Before going on, however, I should explain why I am writing this lengthy reply. It is not because I enjoy going over this material; it is, in fact, very painful, and I should prefer to leave it all behind me in order to discuss political ideas. But ideas do not come out of nowhere, nor emanate disembodied from the Conjuncture; they are developed by people, by concrete individuals. It is no coincidence that my experience in the ISO became steadily worse as I persisted in my criticism of the group’s perspectives. This document is therefore also a kind of warning to comrades: to either act to reverse the degeneration of the organization’s political culture; to commit yourselves, in advance and permanently, to agree with whatever the leadership says; or to quit.
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.