[This document originally appeared in the ISO's Internal Bulletin #2, published on 24 September 2013, while the author was still a member of the organization. Although the "branch-building" focus of the document is no longer relevant to either him or us, it still offers both critical insights into the pitfalls into which "Leninist" groups have fallen when trying to organize outside the campus setting; and positive ideas for how socialists should approach these tasks. It is republished with the author's permission. --ed]
In a session on “The History of the ISO” at Socialism 2013, I raised a question: What are we doing when we’re building city branches? What are we building in cities? Brian Jones responded more or less like this: we know what we’re doing on campuses; we have some experience building in workplaces; we have nowhere near as coherent a framework for building “community” branches. Brian’s response was an important starting point to a question I’ve been pondering for at least two years. The ideas in this document are a distillation of the positive and (rather more numerous) negative lessons of organizing in the city of Providence, RI, population 170,000. Many ISO comrades throughout the country have been through Providence at some point in their political careers, almost all as students at Brown University. I have been here for 15 years as a public employee, union member, and active ISO member throughout that entire time, and I’ve learned a number of things about city organizing that I want to lay out to spark a discussion on our framework for building city branches.
The main idea of this document is that our city branches should be organized around a plan for rooting our organization in the working class. All of our routines, contact work, recruitment, everything should be focused on this imperative. Along these lines, what I want to lay out in the following document is, first, a series of observations about what is important and helpful in building a city branch (versus a campus branch) and what is not; thoughts on the development of perspectives; considerations on the concentric circles of the ISO; some thoughts on how to organize the branch around the city and the political priorities it imposes on us; and finally, a plan for getting the branch in Providence rooted in the city in a productive way.
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.
[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.
[The following document was written in preparation for a perspectives discussion meeting held by the Atlanta branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) on 10 December 2013. The document was then published in the ISO’s Pre-Convention Bulletin (PCB) #9 in January 2014. In the latter version, the ISO leadership apparently made the decision to remove the document’s opening paragraph, which calls for “replacing some or all of the organization's current leaders.”
The version of the document published below restores this passage in full. Additionally, this version includes a few corrections and updates. Most notably, I have added links to several relevant documents published in the period since this piece was originally written. A passage that rehashes the Renewal Faction's core arguments from "The organizational crisis and its political roots" has been omitted. I have also made a few minor adjustments to the document in order to avoid providing information that recognizably identifies former members and contacts of the ISO Atlanta branch.
As a final note, let me conclude by stating that, over the course of the past few months, my views on the crisis within the ISO and the state of the group in general have evolved considerably from the one presented in the document below. As I summarized in my “Letter of Resignation from the ISO,” I have come to "question the viability of the ISO as a vehicle for revolutionary Marxist politics." --BS]
As Atlanta branch comrades are by now well aware, I have been profoundly influenced by the recently-released collection of documents by the ISO Renewal Faction. The central claim that underlines these documents is that, since 2009, the ISO has been in a state of organizational and political crisis. This assertion forms the basis for the Renewal Faction’s appeal. Indeed, the group’s stated goal is to solve the current crisis through revivifying the ISO’s internal intellectual life, correcting the organization’s bogus current perspectives analysis, replacing some or all of the organization’s current leaders, and adopting a practical program that’s congruent with the organization’s goal of becoming rooted in the working class.
Despite the centrality of this claim to the Renewal Faction’s appeal, the observation that the ISO is currently undergoing a period of crisis is by no means universally accepted within the organization. This said, a number of recent decisions by the organization’s leadership seem to indicate that there is significant disillusionment within all ranks of the organization. For one thing, the leadership has (correctly) asserted that there exists a world-wide crisis in the revolutionary Left. To a great extent, however, the ISO has adopted a defensive approach to trying to understand this problem. This seems to have been the basis for the organization’s decision to call for replacing the fall regional conferences with regional “day schools,” which centered on reading a series of well-known texts from the ISO’s established canon of Marxist literature.
We receive the International Socialist Organization (ISO) leadership’s statement “A response to slander,” published in the Socialist Worker (SW) of 19 February 2014, with sadness. It is written by people who evidently think little of their audience. The authors assume that their readers cannot or will not acquaint themselves with the facts of the matter; that they cannot or will not independently investigate a controversy and make up their own minds. The statement is an argument for those who need no argument; persuasion for those who require no persuading.
On 17 February 2014, the National Convention of the International Socialist Organization voted to expel the Renewal Faction. Our delegates were excluded from this session, as they have been from the last two days of the Convention.
A longer statement is forthcoming, but we wish to take this opportunity to thank our comrades inside and outside the ISO who supported us during this difficult struggle.
Freedom and Renewal!
Update: The resolution to expel the Renewal Faction is reproduced below. It is recorded as passing “Many for, 6 no, 1 abstention.”
Whereas the Renewal Faction has refused to renounce and remove specified documents from their website, in defiance of an ISO convention resolution that required them to do so or face disciplinary action; continues to engage in snitch jacketing; exploits confidential information for the cynical purposes of point-scoring; exposes our organization to state attack; and spreads slanderous lies about the ISO leadership:
We, the delegates of the International Socialist Organization’s 2014 convention, the highest decision-making body of our organization, declare that members of the Renewal faction are no longer considered members of the ISO.
Jonah B. (New York City), Héctor A. (New York City), Phil G. (Madison), Sherry W. (New York City), Lauren F. (Chicago), Melissa R. (Chicago), Elizabeth W.-F. (Madison), Tony P. (San Diego), Bekah W. (Atlanta), Tom G. (Atlanta), Jonathan E. (Atlanta), Sean P. (Atlanta), Keegan O. (New York City), Brian K. (Poughkeepsie), Nisha B. (New York City), Royall S. (Greensboro), Ann C. (Boston), Amanda A. (Boston), Alpana M. (Boston), Khury P.-S. (Boston), Madeline B. (Boston), Akunna E. (Boston), Sid P. (Bay Area), Avery W. (San Diego), Fermin V. (Amherst), and Rigo G. (Chicago)
(For anyone that wants the short version of this document, feel free to skip to the Lies and Accusations section at the end of the document to read a summary of what I’ve been accused of by the ISO Steering Committee and my responses.)
This document goes into detail about my activity in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and includes examples of how the organizational culture created by the leadership faction leads to comrades being ostracized, bullied, pushed out, slandered, and expelled for having disagreements, even when those disagreements are within the boundaries of the ISO’s politics.