The organizational crisis and its political roots

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has been in a general crisis since 2009. This has not been experienced or understood as a general crisis, but rather a series of disconnected and personalistic branch crises. But if we merely list the crises that we know about, the general nature of the problem becomes clear:

  • In 2009-11, political disagreements in the Bay Area result in the departure of six longstanding cadre; the Steering Committee is directly involved.
  • From 2009-11, a series of disagreements in the Chicago district–many of which were never raised to a political level–results in the departure of seven longstanding cadre (the Socialist Outpost group); members of the Steering Committee are directly involved, in particular the National Secretary.
  • In 2010, a modest document on recruiting and retaining members of color draws a furious reply from the New York City District Committee, throwing the district into crisis; the Steering Committee is involved, encouraging the DC to issue a “hard” reply. The repercussions of this reemerge in 2013, when a (correct) attempt to apologize for the reply reopens unresolved political problems.
  • In 2010, an expulsion in Washington DC leads to the resignation of eight other members–most (if not all) of the branch’s members of color. The expulsion is very possibly justified, but handled so badly that major damage is done to the branch; the Steering Committee is directly involved.
  • In 2010, differences in Boston over the possibilities for building a branch in Cambridge culminate in the resignation under duress of a leading cadre member and the subsequent loss of several members and contacts; the Steering Committee is involved via the Northeast Regional Organizer, who acts (by his own account) as its representative.
  • In 2013, Shaun J is publicly slandered by the Boston leadership, leading to his resignation; “coincidentally” he is the leading critic of the local and national political perspectives. Although the Steering Committee is not involved in that attack, they panic when Shaun rejoins the group, condemning his branch leadership as “provocateurs” and threatening their expulsion.

Even in branches where we cannot identify any particular cataclysm, we observe serious organizational problems:

  • The Los Angeles branch is extremely passive; while individual members may be quite active, the branch as a collective takes virtually no role in directing comrades’ activity. Our teacher comrades, for instance, operate as a fully-independent detachment.
  • The Seattle branch is, similarly, less a branch and more a series of related clubs. Furthermore, the sectarianism of the local (and national) leadership toward Socialist Alternative meant that the branch was a severe latecomer to the Sawant campaign.
  • Most of the Texas branches have shrunk significantly or collapsed. In Austin, the oldest Texas branch with the most cadre, about a dozen members have been lost in the last few months.

Taken altogether, it is likely that the majority of ISO members have experienced some form of organizational crisis, at least among those who have been members more than three years.

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The role of perspectives (Unredacted)

[Unredacted as of 12 February 2014; see our revised publication policy.]

The recent debates in and around the ISO have brought to light a core question: What is the role of perspectives and how should such perspectives be set?

What has become clear to us is a tendency in the ISO wherein our perspectives focus on “next steps” and “immediate opportunities” and emphasize the possibilities inherent in every political moment while downplaying the real challenges. The goal seems to be to keep the membership activated and (ultimately) trained, so that when the big struggles break out, comrades will be tested and steeled and able to act decisively.

The ISO’s perspectives, then, are structurally biased against having an accurate reading of the world and a strategy that flows from that. Rather, the perspectives are set so as to see within the world only the possibilities, successes and positives and keeping the membership focused on activity—even if that activity does not have clear political goals in the long-term.

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