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>
To: Socialists <236 at>, alkalimat 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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