Comments on an Alex Callinicos letter to the Left Turn group
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Sep 23 13:26:51 MDT 2003
The full letter can be read at:
Left Turn was formed in the early months of 2001, on the initiative of
several comrades who had been expelled from the International Socialist
Organization, which had been, till then, the US affiliate of the IST.
I am not sure why Alex LoCascio was loath to acknowledge the midwife
role played by the British SWP when the topic of Left Turn first came up
on Marxmail. In any case, it is clear from this letter that we are
dealing with another rebellion by a branch office of the British SWP.
With the ISO already having gone this route, you'd think that Callinicos
and company would have learned from their mistakes.
History - particularly the Genoa protests of July 2001 and the emergence
of the anti-war movement after 11 September - has decisively settled who
was right in that debate. The ISO (US) leadership's refusal to recognize
reality reflected a larger sectarian turn by the group. The founders of
Left Turn were expelled because they expressed views similar to those
shared by the rest of the Tendency. Their expulsion and the ISO (US)
leadership's role in helping to engineer a split in the Greek Socialist
Workers Party (SEK) prompted an IST meeting held in July 2001 to exclude
the ISO (US) from the Tendency; that same meeting invited Left Turn to
attend meetings of the Tendency.
"Refusal to recognize reality". "Larger sectarian turn". "Expelled
because they expressed views similar..." Thank god I don't belong to any
movement that uses language such as this.
Though there had been comparatively little contact between the SWP
leadership and the founders of Left Turn before the latter's expulsion,
there was some intensive discussion between us as to the nature of the
new group. We encouraged the comrades not simply to form a new
revolutionary socialist organization (a New Model ISO) but rather to
create a looser anti-capitalist network. Our thinking was that through
an organic involvement in the new movements the comrades (who were
already active in different networks) could begin to crystallize around
them a cadre of revolutionary activists unscarred by the sectarianism of
the ISO (US). We took it for granted that building such a network was a
means to developing a much more healthy revolutionary Marxist
organization in the United States.
In other words, Left Turn was a means to an end: a more obedient branch
office of the British SWP.
In the early months of 2002, however, it began to become clear that
significant disagreements were developing between Bilal, Brian, and
other leading Left Turn activists, on the one hand, and the two IST
organizations in closest contact with them, the British SWP and the
International Socialists in Canada. The comrades were resistant to
public sales of Left Turn (for example, at the anti-WEF demo in February
2002) and to organizing any forms of Marxist discussion within the group.
Maybe hawking a magazine at an anti-WEF demo is not the way to go. And
maybe the Marxist discussion you speak of was seen as tied to the
political ambitions of the British SWP. Young people tend to be very
wary of hidden agendas. I can't say that I blame them, although I am as
old as the hills.
It slowly emerged that the comrades conceived themselves as a loose
network of experienced activists involved in different single-issue
campaigns (Palestine, Colombia, etc.). Some of these activists had been
in the ISO (US); others were members of orthodox Trotskyist tendencies.
They didn't need Marxist education, it was sometimes argued. At other
times, it was argued that it was too 'early' to start trying to create a
larger core of revolutionary socialists. Like all stages theories this
suffers from the difficulty that if you don't start the way you mean to
carry on, you don't get to where you intended.
It depends on what you mean by "intended". If there was resistance to
being a springboard to a new ISO, then it was well-justified.
Inevitably, practice reshaped theory. Having deferred building a
revolutionary Marxist organization to the future, the comrades came to
abandon it altogether as an objective (cf. Sasha and Legba: 'the
majority of Left Turn members do not see building the revolutionary
party as the project of our organization.') Logically enough, the idea
of recruiting new members came to seem an unattractive one. Recruiting
young radicalized students became associated with the ISO (US)'s
sectarianism. But what was wrong with the ISO's methods wasn't
recruiting youngsters, but rather trying to enclose them in a
hermetically sealed, intellectually arid organization, instead of
encouraging the new members to develop themselves through actively
participating in the struggles and debates inside the movement.
Bad-mouthing the ISO in this fashion is something to behold. Here is a
group that conscientiously tried to build something exactly like the
British SWP in the USA. If you read their magazines, you'd be
hard-pressed to find any serious ideological differences. In fact there
were none, despite Callinicos's lame assertion that it did not
"understand the lessons of Seattle". Basically the American branch
office questioned how money was being spent by the mother-ship, a clear
What Left Turn has, in effect, done is to accept the dilemma posed by
the ISO (US) leadership: the difference is that the comrades have opted,
not for a sect isolated from the movement, but for liquidation into the
movement. . .But simply to become part of the swarm is a form of
surrender. As I have tried to show in An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto, the
development of the anti-capitalist movement has posed a series of tough
theoretical and strategic problems: the state, imperialism, reform and
revolution, party and movement. The revolutionary Marxist tradition -
creatively applied to the present - can help activists to address these
questions. The movement needs Marxism - Marxism of the right kind, a
Marxism that is rooted in an active and organized participation in the
Callinicos raises genuine issues of concern, but Marxist participation
in the Global Justice movement, or any other social struggle for that
matter, has to be based on a totally new relationship defined by
transparency. Democratic centralism, as understood by the British SWP
and similar such groups, is the number one obstacle to the acceptance of
Marxism by a new generation of radicals. They understand that people
like Alex Callinicos, Chris Harman and John Rees work out in advance
what correct Marxist strategy and tactics are and then disseminate them
into the mass movement. Attempts to persuade the British SWP at a mass
meeting that its ideas are wrong is seen as an exercise in futility. We
need a movement whose discipline is based on the needs of the class
struggle rather than that of a self-defined vanguard that knows what is
best for the movement and dispenses its advice like cod liver oil to a
The comrades' regrettable decision doesn't mean that the US is a closed
country to the IST. We continue to have our supporters there - most
notably Mike Davis.
Now I understand why his name appeared on that wretched Joanne Landy
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