Recently, while giving a final exam in one of my French classes, a student raised her hand to ask about the meaning of a word in the reading, a passage on changes in the workplace in France since 1975. “What does ‘cadre’ mean?” Naturally, as an American, she pronounced it as any American socialist would: “KAH-dray”, rather than the French “kɑdʀ”. Given the context of the classroom, and wanting to speed the exam along without getting hung up on simple vocabulary needs, I naturally responded: “Manager”. But I had to stop and chuckle to myself.
You see, I was recently expelled from an organization that had as one of its stated goals to train a socialist “cadre” in preparation for a future (or present?) mass radicalization that would bring about the formation of a mass revolutionary party, to which we would contribute our “cadres”. While the faction of which I was a part developed critiques of many aspects of said organization, what I found increasingly troubling was the difference between the stated (or implied) conception of what socialist militants should be doing, and the reality of what the leadership thought (and thus, directed into reality).
The following document, written by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) West Coast organizer Todd Chretien and a leading Chicago member, appears in the group’s Internal Bulletin #1 (June 2014), pp. 2-8. We are publishing it on External Bulletin because it makes a number of slashing criticisms of Socialist Alternative (SAlt) in a forum in which SAlt cannot possibly respond; we also suspect that the ISO’s perception of its own centrality in, say, the Chicago Socialist Campaign would be of interest to other campaigners. What’s more, we consider the existence of two distinct and mutually-inconsistent discourses within the ISO–one for public consumption, the other “real” one for those “in the know”–to be incompatible with the development of an open and critical left.
Furthermore, while we are amazed by the arrogance and sectarianism displayed in this document, we believe that there is a rational core to some of the criticisms lodged at SAlt. Debate about SAlt’s highly sanguine perspective, and about Kshama Sawant’s ultimate support of the Seattle minimum wage measure, should be had out–publicly.
The document below is unchanged from the original, except to correct obvious typos; to add hyperlinks; and to redact names of ISO members who are not staff or otherwise prominent members.
[I wrote the first draft of this essay as a report for the Renewal Faction’s second in-person meeting in late December 2013 and completed the draft below by the end of January. Although it is written from the perspective of someone still formally within the IS Tradition, it expresses a deeply critical attitude towards it–and a desire to transcend it. I have reproduced it here without revisions; even though some of the formulations are clearly outdated, I think it may still be useful to comrades who are navigating these issues. –SJ]
Given the crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the series of crises and splits in the International Socialist (IS) Tendency, and the problems we ourselves are confronting in the US International Socialist Organization (ISO), it is natural for comrades to ponder the fate of the “IS Tradition” generally. One may even ask: is the IS Tradition finished? This is, of course, an ironic nod to Alex Callinicos’s “Is Leninism finished?” but by no means do I wish to repeat the hoary IS device of asking the question in a purely rhetorical way in order to refute it.
In the first place, it’s a serious question that ought to be seriously considered. In the second place, I think that the IS Tradition is indeed finished in a quite substantial sense, as I’ll argue here.
Over the past several decades, much of the international Left has come to question the “Leninist” party-building model that was hegemonic among Western socialists for the majority of the twentieth century. In the United States, it appears that the crisis of “Leninism” has sharpened in the years since 2008. While “Leninist” groups are notoriously prone to factional strife in general, this period seems to have witnessed an intensified tendency toward splinters and splits within these groups. Inevitably, this trend has generated new scatterings of disaffected ex-members, at least a portion of whom remain active in politics and activism. This process has been aided by the writings and (in some cases) the ongoing interventions of previous generations of ex-”Leninists,” who have, no doubt, helped many newly purged and “bureaucratically excluded” comrades to make sense of their experience within the sect-based Left. To this end, influential roles have been played by the likes of Louis Proyect and other former members of the 1970s-era U.S. Socialist Workers Party. Many former “Leninists” have also been influenced by such historical critics of sect-based socialist organizing as Hal Draper and Bert Cochran.Continue reading →
A recurring complaint of the Renewal Faction, and before that me personally, regarding the political method of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) was that the group rarely assessed its own activity. It seemed, therefore, that it would be gauche for me not to attempt an assessment of the faction itself. I should stress that these are my views as an individual on questions that were more often than not disputed within Renewal itself–the ISO leadership faction’s image of us as a clique ruled by one person (me) notwithstanding. I think other Renewal comrades would (and should!) produce different assessments.
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.
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.