[Marxism] The ISO, "State capitalist theory", and dialectics

Lou Paulsen loupaulsen at sbcglobal.net
Mon Nov 1 10:42:18 MST 2004

A few brief thoughts on this discussion:

First, I think we all recognize (or ought to) that the ISO is a major
left organization in the US, has sincere and able people, and does a
lot of good work opposing imperialist war, opposing the death penalty,
frame-ups, etc., etc., and also in introducing people to socialist
ideas.  We of the WWP have been in coalitions of one kind or another
with the ISO many times and this will doubtless continue.

Second, though, I think that their adherence to Cliff's theories of
"state capitalism" has always (a) been wrong, (b) been evidence of an
undialectical approach to things (if you don't think Cuba is a good
enough socialist country to count as being socialist, you are too much
of a purist by far), and (c) served as an "escape clause" allowing them
to recruit members and friends who don't want to be really identified
with existing socialist countries.

Third, as is implied by point (c) above, having this bad position is
not necessarily going to prevent the ISO from growing.  Sometimes a bad
position helps you grow, particularly in a bad period.  In a period of
reaction, if you say "we stand unequivocally with socialist Cuba (or
the DPRK)," it can put people off, whereas if you say "we don't think
the US should attack Cuba, but please don't confuse us with supporters
of 'boss' Castro (or Kim Jong Il)", there is a stratum of people
(including a lot of anti-authoritarian youth) who will be attracted by
this.  In ecological terms, I think the ISO fills a niche.

Fourth, I have to agree that the immediate practical importance of the
ISO's "state capitalist theory" in organizing workers on the shop
floor, people of the oppressed communities fighting the death penalty
and police brutality, anti-war demonstrations, etc., is not great and
is in fact less now than it was before the collapse of the workers'
states in the USSR and Eastern Europe.  However, a communist
organization in the US cannot have a 50-states vision if it is going to
do what we have to do here.  We have to be internationalists and we
have to have a socialist vision.  And I think it is a BIG problem for
an organization that is going to function in the international
communist movement if it takes the position that the Communist Party of
Cuba is an enemy organization, a bosses' party, or (if this doesn't
represent accurately the nuances of the ISO's position) at any rate
something tainted and compromised.

Fifth, if someone were to ask me why we in WWP do not just all join the
ISO, thus creating a larger and more effective socialist organization,
the other thing I would say, in addition to the above, is that we can't
accept their position on the national question in the US, which has
historically been one of overreadiness to attack nationalists and other
formations in the oppressed community rather than defending their right
of self-determination against the bourgeois and racist state.  I am
talking about headlines denouncing Farrakhan and that sort of thing. 
And this DOES have immediate practical implications for organizing.  Of
course I don't challenge the sincerity of the ISO in opposing the
racism of the ruling class and its state, but they have taken an
undialectical approach to nationalist leaders and formations and have
been all too ready to denounce them as "reactionary".  

Sixth, I believe the ISO's "state capitalist" analysis of the socialist
countries is the SAME KIND of error as their "reactionary nationalist"
analysis of movements in the oppressed community.  Both of them reflect
an undialectical approach to what is progressive, an ultraleftism in
form which is in fact a concession to the pressure of bourgeois public
opinion (directly or being transmitted through the radical
petty-bourgeoisie).  I believe this is a very basic problem with the
ISO and is actually a defining feature of the niche that they occupy
and of their adaptation to it.

Well, that's my opinion, anyway -

Louis Paulsen
member, WWP, Chicago

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