Is the International Socialist Tradition finished?

[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 I have reproduced it here without revisions; even though some of the formulations are clearly outdated, I think it may still be useful to comrades who are navigating these issues.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.

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The great Lenin debate of 2012

(Or, the bankruptcy of “Leninism” Rediscovered)

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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.[1] Continue reading