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).
We are forty years into that phase of capitalism that those in economic and radical circles know as “neoliberalism.” Margaret Thatcher famously defined it as “There Is No Alternative.” No alternative, that is, to the free market, the free flow of capital.
In brief: the last forty years have seen a massive push by the capitalist classes of the world to privatize, deregulate, capitalize, deunionize, undemocratize. Many books have been written about this process, wherein the US working class has lost 20 per cent of its purchasing power, while union density has dropped from 28% to 12%; wherein the world is now, for the first time in history, more than 50 per cent proletarian; wherein all the old certainties about economics, politics and society are now dead. Consciousness lags behind the course of material changes, so perhaps we should not be surprised that so many, particularly of the older generation, view all of this as a loss of what was a golden age, and cling so doggedly to notions that are now simply a lost cause.
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.
[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.
It is the current view of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) leadership that neoliberalism has survived the crisis of 2008. I think this is a wrong formulation. If by “neoliberalism” we mean to indicate a certain period of capitalism, then I believe that neoliberalism is over–or perhaps one should say “passing away” or “negated,” since undoubtedly many aspects remain. This is especially true in the higher realms of the capitalist superstructure, which always lag behind changes in the material base.
If the era of secular capitalist growth that began in (roughly) the mid-1980s ended in 2008–which it definitely did–then the economic preconditions for the neoliberal period have ended. Even if the policy (re)actions during the current “global slump” follow the same neoliberal grooves–financial bailouts, capitalization of the public sector, preference for raising exploitation over real capital investment, etc–they operate in a different context.
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.
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.
In broad outlines, we propose the following as a course of action for the national organization in the coming period. At the present moment, we are prepared to indicate a general direction; in future documents, we will concretize this direction in the form of specific proposals for the National Convention.