If you’re wondering what the hell has happened to To Repeat, I should inform you that most of my political writing these days is appearing on External Bulletin, the website of the ISO Renewal Faction. Some articles may be cross-posted here, but posting is likely to be light until the faction marches to its inevitable triumph. Thanks for your patience!
On November 13, I rejoined the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Eight days later, the ISO Steering Committee addressed a letter to the Boston district (Cambridge and Dorchester branches) on the question of my membership. Four members of the Cambridge branch–including the entire branch leadership–issued a reply the following day (November 22).
I reproduce both letters in full below.
On November 13, I rejoined the International Socialist Organization (ISO), as a member of the Cambridge, MA branch.
The apologies to me that many comrades requested from the former all-Boston branch leadership and the regional organizer have not been forthcoming. This was unfortunate, but not different from what I expected. What I did not expect, however, was that the Boston district would be reorganized so as it make it possible for me to not to work under the direct leadership of those who publicly attacked me. (The regional organizer, as a non-elected position, plays a more or less advisory role; the comrade can only be seriously destructive when the elected leadership takes his opinion as writ.)
As I have made clear, on this blog and elsewhere, my resignation from the ISO was not due to any fundamental political disagreement, unwillingness to accept democratic discipline, etc. I said that the ISO was “the finest socialist organization in the US today,” which is still what I believe, and declared publicly that “of course I would like to be a member again.” My resignation was due only to the fact that the local leadership had created an impossible situation.
With a different leadership in the newly-formed Cambridge branch, and a shift away from an over-centralized district-wide decision-making structure, a return to productive work inside the group was possible. After the branch had got off the ground, I made a request to the Cambridge branch for readmittance, which was granted after a branch discussion (to which I was not party). I thank the Cambridge comrades for the opportunity to return. I am also willing to speak to anyone who wishes to discuss my reintegration into the normal life of the organization as a member.
Rejoining the organization in Cambridge during the Pre-Convention discussion period was initially suggested to the Cambridge branch leadership and me by Ahmed Shawki of the ISO Steering Committee when we met with him (separately) on October 6. The SC did not subsequently follow up on the matter themselves; nonetheless, I thank them for the suggestion.
My political perspectives have not changed, and I intend to argue for them inside the ISO–as indeed I was doing before. I particularly look forward to the Pre-Convention discussion as a space to collectively work through the legitimate political questions that have been placed on the table by internal and external critics.
ISO members have consistently told comrades making criticism from outside the group: you should rejoin us and try to change the group from the inside! I have not, in general, found this convincing. In the first place, what is important is the content of criticism, rather than its source. Secondarily, the critics may have had very legitimate reasons for leaving and for not returning. Certainly comrades who had been in the organization for many years or even decades would not have departed idly; I know I did not. Those who tell them to come back should, I think, independently investigate why they left in the first place.
Be that as it may: I was personally in a position to return; and I have. I hope that comrades do not “walk back” their invitation to critics to join, now that it has actually been taken up.
Our regular programming will resume shortly.
This essay is a criticism of the perspective that the 1990s and 2000s represented a “transitional period” between a “downturn” of class struggle in the US during the 1980s and the onset of a future “upturn.” This perspective, originally developed by the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the mid-1990s, found itself displaced in the SWP by the idea that “the 1990s are the 1930s in slow motion”; however, it was revived by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the US after its break with the SWP. The seminal remotivation of the perspective from the ISO is Ahmed Shawki’s “Between Things Ended and Things Begun,” which appeared in the summer of 2001. The perspective was upheld subsequently in an internal document for the ISO’s National Convention 2007.
Today, the “transitional period” perspective (TPP) seems to have been retracted by the ISO leadership; I say it “seems” this way because it has never been formally retracted in writing, despite being formally promulgated in writing. (Here I mean “retracted” in the strict sense that the perspective is admitted as having been wrong even at the time it was proposed.) The rejection of the TPP was indicated, in the first place, on the floor of the ISO’s Convention 2013, in response to arguments put forward in an earlier version of this piece. Later, at his Socialism 2013 talk on “Perspectives for the Left,” Shawki distanced himself from “Between Things Ended and Things Begun,” saying, “Rereading it, there are so many mistakes in that article.” Unfortunately, he didn’t go into detail, noting only the “absolute underestimation” of the neoliberal transformation of society; still, since the article’s main thesis is the TPP, it is fair to assume that this perspective has been abandoned, at least rhetorically.
Since I was, I believe, the noisiest critic of the TPP within the ISO, I suppose I should be happy that it has been effectively discarded. And indeed I am–but I am not happy that this has become yet another example of a “silent switch” in the group’s political policy. Additionally, and related to the preceding, I do not think that the comrades have really broken with the underlying schema of the TPP, which predicts that the US should be currently experiencing an “upturn” in class struggle. In any event, since my work is, to my knowledge, the only systematic attack on the TPP–as opposed to a mere “declaration” of its falsehood from some Subject-Presumed-To-Know–I thought it would be useful to reproduce the arguments in a more accessible medium. (The original document was a submission to the ISO’s 2013 Pre-Convention Bulletin series. It has been substantially revised.)
Many comrades in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) will have seen an appeal on my behalf, signed by many members across the country and submitted to the group’s internal bulletin, calling for my reinstatement to the group following apologies from the leadership of the Boston organization and the regional organizer. (If you are a member of the ISO and interested in signing on to the appeal, leave a comment below. I will be able to see your email–it won’t be displayed publicly–and I will put you in touch with Brian C in Providence, who is coordinating the effort.)
Since the appeal concerns me directly, I think I have the right to speak about it; but I stress that I speak here only for myself, and not on behalf of any of the signatories.
Comrades have asked me whether I approve of this appeal, and if I would entertain rejoining the ISO. The answer to both questions is emphatically yes. As I said in my previous post on this matter, I remain a supporter of the ISO’s political tradition and typically agree with the group’s positions; I think it’s the best socialist group in the US. So of course I’d like to be a member again. Indeed, I think being an independent socialist is rather like drinking crème de menthe: something to be tried only for lack of any credible alternative.
In the first installment of this essay, I introduced the topics of discussion and proceeded to an assessment of the recent March on Washington and the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) intervention in it. For this installment, which covers “the (ir)relevance of the united front tactic or ‘method’ in the present day,” I will assume that you have read the introduction, but not the subsequent material, since it has no bearing on the present matter at hand.
Which is interesting, isn’t it? How did my August 6 letter on the March, which never mentioned the united front, somehow–more than two weeks later and largely after the March was over–spur a theoretical debate on the united front? The point of departure is Paul D’Amato’s article on the united front, published on August 13. This article is almost entirely historical, save for a very brief concluding note on the ongoing relevance of the “methodology outlined by Trotsky.” But its real impact was brilliantly laid bare by MB’s letter of August 21:
I wonder if Paul intended the article to be a part of the recent debate about the ISO’s role in the March on Washington…. I initially read it that way, as I imagine many readers did, given the debate that has been taking place in SocialistWorker.org and in other places online, and because International Socialist Organization training and analysis would lead most members to say that we should participate in the March as part of a united front strategy.
If this is the case, I would like to suggest that it would be more productive to explicitly reference the March on Washington. Otherwise, the article has the feel of weighing in without actually addressing comrades’ concerns about the March. The article risks stifling a still-forming debate by invoking a core political idea–with all the authority that such an idea carries in the organization–without digging into the particular arguments and analysis that comrades have brought up in this particular debate.