Reply to Ben Burgis on the International Socialist Tendency

Jim Jaszewski jjazz at
Sat Oct 28 13:49:27 MDT 1995

	Here's a well-put description of the type of problems STILL
occurring between `vanguardist' groups and the general progressive
movements (the good stuph's at the end...)

	Seems like some people haven't learned a goddamned thing from the
`Kollapse of Kommunism'...

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Date: Sat, 28 Oct 1995 08:31:54 -0700 (PDT)
From: Chris Faatz <cfaatz at>
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    Alan Freeman <100042.617 at>,
    steve bloom <bloom at>
Subject: RE: Reply to Ben Burgis on the International Socialist Tendency (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 28 Oct 1995 09:43:11 -0400 (EDT)
From: Steve Bloom <bloom at>
To: Chris Faatz <cfaatz at>
Subject: RE: Reply to Ben Burgis on the International Socialist Tendency (fwd)

On Thu, 26 Oct 1995, Benjamin Burgis wrote:

> How does Solidarity
> "really constructively build" movements in a way that the ISO does
> not?
> 	I could see the possibility that Solidarity would grow faster
> than the ISO because the only qualification for joining(as I
> understand it) is thinking of yourself as a "socialist"(a bit like
> the old Socialist Party and the SDPs elsewhere), but that kind of
> growth doesn't seem to me to mean very much.
> 	Are we not constructive because we build our own group at the
> same time as building various movements(the position of
> "movementism")? If so, I would simply reply that a larger, stronger
> ISO means larger, stronger movements--the more, for example, that
> we recruited in abortion rights struggles, the more that there were
> to organize against the Gulf War. The more people we recruited from
> the movement against the Guld War, the more there are to organize
> against the Ku Klux Klan today.

I would like to say two things in reply to this.

First, and a relatively minor aspect, I don't know where the idea
comes from that "the only qualification for joining [Solidarity]
is thinking of yourself as a `socialist.'" Solidarity has a
founding statement that defines the basis of the organization.
Potential members are asked to read and agree with it. The
statement takes clear positions on a whole series of
problems--including the struggle against bureaucracy, political
class independence in general and opposition to working in the
Democratic Party in particular, the need for democratic
functioning in the revolutionary organization and in the mass
movement, opposition to imperialist interventions around the
world, etc.

Perhaps Ben will say that the formulations in this document
aren't adequate and leave too much room for interpretation.
That's certainly something we can discuss. But it hardly creates
the basis for his original assertion. My guess is that Ben got
this understanding by talking to people in the ISO about what
Solidarity represents rather than looking into the matter for
himself and asking Solidarity directly. That's not a particularly
reliable method.

The second issue I want to address is the difference between
Solidarity's attitude toward movement work and that of the ISO. I
agree with what Nathan Newman and Chris Faatz have said, so I
will only add a few additional thoughts.

Whenever I talk about this I like to go back and quote Marx and
Engels in the Communist Manifesto: "Communists . . . have no
interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a
whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own
by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement."

>From what I have observed, ISO seems to measure its participation
in the mass movement by the yardstick of how many people it can
recruit to itself, not by how well it can help advance the
specific interests of the movement as a whole. Whenever these two
things come into conflict, or seem to come into conflict, the ISO
comes down on the side of building itself.

Of course, no one should object that the ISO attempts to recruit
members as a result of its mass activity. Solidarity tries to do
the same thing. (Many of us in Solidarity actually think we don't
try to do enough of it.) The problem is that for the ISO,
building itself is its _main_ priority, around which everything
else revolves. Solidarity's approach, by contrast, centers on the
movement. Recruiting to Solidarity is useful only if it is a
_byproduct_ and a _result_ of real work that puts building the
movement first.

Of course, the ISO approach can be rationalized through a certain
kind of logic: The ISO is the vanguard and building it is
essential to making the socialist revolution in America. Making
the revolution, in turn, is essential to the future well being of
all mass movements for social change. Therefore putting a
priority on building the ISO is in the interests of the movement
as a whole.

But I don't buy it. I don't think many others will either. It is
a typically sectarian kind of logic.

My personal experience with the ISO and its approach to movement
work took place in the Haiti Anti-Intervention Committee in NYC.
In some ways the ISOers contributed a great deal--producing
literature and distributing it widely, helping do mailings, and
donating much time and energy in other ways. But there always
seemed to be a quid-pro-quo in the form of an ISO speaker,
identified as such, as a featured part of the committee's
programs and activities. No other group that was involved (and
there were quite a few) asked for similar treatment.

I was also struck by the role of ISOers during meetings. You
could never engage them in a real discussion. It was clear that
they always briefed themselves beforehand and knew what they
wanted the broader group to decide. All they could do in the
collective discussion was present specific proposals and
prearranged arguments they already had when they entered the
room. If others in the committee raised questions or objections
the ISOers couldn't respond to the subsance of the problem unless
they had previously anticipated those very questions and figured
out what to say before they were posed. It was kind of bizarre.

Of course, again, I am not opposed to cadre organizations
participating in movement groups in a disciplined way to try to
influence their direction. That's simply a part of left-wing
politics. But if there is no possibility for a real dialogue with
others then this becomes a largely sterile exercise. Somehow the
ISOers were not able to comprehend even that this constituted a
problem, let alone bridge the gap.

In the end there was no significant upsurge around Haiti, and
therefore no significant milieu of potential recruits to the ISO.
The ISO reconsidered its commitment to this organization and
hasn't been around for more than a year. I would suggest that
it's not because the Haiti Anti-Intervention Committee hasn't
done some good work--in defense of the Haitian people and
educating about the effects of the U.S. intervention. These
things have happened. Rather, I tend to think the ISO dropped out
simply because the activists in the committee are all pretty
experienced political people, tend to know where we stand in
the general spectrum of radical politics, and are not likely
recruits for the ISO.

Steve Bloom

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