[Marxism] New tO tHe LISt, Response to M. Junaid Alam
itsrevolution at gmail.com
Thu Mar 31 04:01:48 MST 2005
"The ISO in Boston consisted of maybe 20 people, none of them Black. I
had an epiphany then, a major sense of disconnect between theory and
practice, and it was then I began to realize that no organization
based on a vanguard or pre-party formation with an absolute line on
everything in the universe was ever going to connect with people on
the ground en masse, no matter how much they glorified any section of
society in the abstract."
"we live in a country where you can create gated enclaves of tens of
thousands of lower middle-class white workers out in the fucking
desert somewhere in Arizona, drench them in XBoxes and Krispy Kreme
donuts, and turn them into homophobic and racist God-drenched
Republicans in a matter of a few months"
"Selling newspapers and shouting slogans is not enough. We need to
find a way to directly improve people's lives on the ground in
concrete ways and cultivate some kind of renewed spirit of solidarity.
This requires flexiblility and ditching of outmoded litmus tests."
( I fear this turned into a somewhat rambling letter, I apologize for
Glad I can be on this list. It think forums like this are great for
discussing ideas between comrades.
I loved the piece that Mr. Alam posted on the democrats (I actually
found that article on counter-punch and then found this list through
them). However, I was disappointed with one of your latest postings.
To me it sounds like you are extremely pessimistic about the
possibility of actually creating change. Also, being a member of the
ISO myself I would like to respond to some of the things that were
It was implied pre-party or vanguard organizations are inherently
dictatorial because they have an "absolute line on everything". You
seem to then say therefore that a vanguard of pre-party can't connect
to real people and further on, "We need to find a way to directly
improve people's lives on the ground in concrete ways and cultivate
some kind of renewed spirit of solidarity.This requires flexibility
and ditching of outmoded litmus tests." Essentially, stop selling your
paper and do something that really matters to real people.
I think this is an a-historical view on organization, miss represents
the important work that socialists have been doing and the
possibilities for change today.
1. First off, you are mostly correct if you are talking about radical
organizations for the last fifty years. The twin evils of Stalinism
and McCarthyism have distorted (destroyed if you will) the
organization and politics of revolutionary socialism. Or any case,
has relegated the left to splintered groups that have a tendency to
degenerate easily because of these twin evils. Therefore, political
debate has been pulled out of the socialist tradition and the result
has been that every group has an "absolute line on everything" which
separates them from the other socialists.
Politically this situation leaves the left incoherent amd not able to
connect to real people. But to say that this is true of vanguard or
pre-parties in general seems wrong.
Obviously the Bolsheviks pop to mind as a good example of how a
Leninist party doesn't have an "absolutely line on everything".
Witness Kamenev outing the revolution and making arguments against it
a few days before the insurrection to Novaia Zhizin. Not mention the
military organization almost acting on its on in the July days and all
the times Lenin was in a minority with-in the party. - see Alexander
Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power
Furthermore, looking at the early years of the communist party in this
county, it had internal debate and was also able to connect to a huge
segment of the population. They put the necessary work in the first
ten years to build a multi-racial organization because were some of
the first socialists to recognize the specifically oppressed status of
African-Americans in this country (the IWW did 20 years before and
some others). -see James Cannon, The First Ten Years of American
So I agree that to just carry the absolute line is a recipe for not
connecting to real people. However, it is a-historical to say that
vanguard parties have not been flexible enough to meet different
circumstances and connect to normal people.
2. Concurrently, I think socialists today are doing the best that they
can to have internal debate and be as flexible as possible. I can
only site my own personal experience for this for I don't know what
other organizations do.
I was on the other side of the debate about endorsing Nader. I was
against it for some of the reasons that have been presented on this
site previously. There was a full discussion and debate with in our
organization about the ramifications, in which all sides were able to
voice their opinions. In the end the vote was to endorse and help
build the Nader Campaign and so as a group we tried to put it in
practice. Full discussion and debate and unity in action. And
assessment after to see if it was the right decision (it was, I was
If this in not flexible then I don't know what it is. I think that
Marxism has to be applied to an analysis of each situation
differently. Recognizing the democrats as the main barrier to
building a multi racial working class party, it was right to support
Nader even if he takes halting step in a left ward direction.
It is intellectual masturbation to apply formulas from the past to
current situations. They never fit exactly. Although I do recognize
that we have to learn from mistakes or successes of the past ( for
instance the mistake of the German CP giving up on insurrection in
1923, or the success of building the Scotts Burrow case here in the
So, given our history, socialists today are trying the best they can
to apply Marxism to new situations. We are learning lessons and are
constantly trying to make our politics more of a reality.
3. That being said, I don't think that you give enough credit to
socialists for fighting to improve people's lives in a real way. You
state "The ISO in Boston consisted of maybe 20 people, none of them
Black. I had an epiphany then, a major sense of disconnect between
theory and practice"
The first thing to say is that every single revolutionary socialist
(of every tendency) out there is aware of the need to build a
multi-racial working class organization and is committed to building
such an organization. We all see fighting racism as a key task for the
American working class.
Its not as if you say, "We need to recruit more people of color." and
then it happens. CP USA started with a few black members and grew to
the largest multi-racial socialist party that the United States has
That being said, various places are making more progress than others.
The branch I am in is 2/5ths people of color and a majority are women
(especially in leadership positions). So race baiting a whole
organization seems disingenuous based on small sample size and it
takes time to build this type of organization (especially when the
left is so fragmented).
4. Further, socialists are instrumental today in fighting against the
war in Iraq, building unions, stopping exactions by the state, and the
hundreds of little fights that have been happening all across this
county that don't make it into the mainstream press.
We don't just sell papers and shout slogans. And frankly, when you
put it that way you are discounting all of the work and commitment
that all comrades (with a newspaper and slogan) have to a whole better
world. We sell our papers not because we like it or have no better
ideas but because it works to build socialists and to build up the
politics of other activists. Papers are the concrete tools for human
beings to open up and debate politics with others. And it is the most
effective tool that we can use.
5. It is also disturbing to hear your characterization of America
(especially since it came straight from the NY Times). It is
strikingly similar to the Democrats theories about why they lost the
election. Basically, that socialist ideas can't connect people who
live in the suburbs because they have x-box's and Krespy Kreme donuts.
The democrats answer is to move right and find ways to "connect"
with middle America's issues. You seem to be making the same mistake
when it comes to socialism. Except, your answer is to give up on
selling the paper, shouting slogans and building a revolutionary
6. Its not that people don't believe that socialism is a better
alternative to capitalism. It is that people don't believe it's a
possibility. I believe that there are hundreds of thousands of people
in this country that would be socialists if they though that their
activity and actions could actually make a difference in this world.
Xbox's are not holding us back but creating a large enough party that
can actually reach those hundreds of thousands with ideas and actions
is what is holding us back.
7. I hope that you take this letter in comradely manner, for that is
its intention. I have great respect for you and your work. And I
certainly hope that I am not putting words in your mouth or arguing
:D avid Russitano
ps. Whew.... how do you guys post so much. I have spend too much time
writing this and not enough sleeping.
ps2. please excuse any misspellings or bad grammar. Not my strong
point and it is 244am here.
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