[Marxism] reply to Joaquin

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Mon May 2 21:27:16 MDT 2005

My friend Todd Chretien writes: "Joaquin ... is, in my opinion, ... ignoring
or missing the overall political content. Which is, pretty clearly, some
people in the anti-war movement want to marginalize the ISO in the movement
OR only allow us to participate under certain restrictions."

I do believe what Todd describes as "the overall political content" is, in
fact, happening, it is going on, but I do not believe THAT is primarily what
is involved in THESE specific cases under discussion.

Nevertheless, I want to thank Todd --who I DO consider my friend as well as
comrade, even though, as he notes, we've not yet met face to face (maybe we
will at the socialism 2005 conference in Chicago, I'm hoping to make it)--
for raising it, because it is something we should keep in mind in discussing
these sorts of issues even within the narrow confines of Marxmail and
similar lists, and avoid taking exaggerated postures.

And, concretely, I want to urge other Marxmailers to endorse and support the
defense campaign that Todd and his friends have undertaken in the Bay Area. 

In the Fayetteville situation, the frictions arose pretty directly from the
decision of the local ISO comrades to try to get the coalition to adopt the
position of supporting the Iraqi resistance. 

That proposal that was put forward in North Carolina, frankly, that was just
surreal, especially in that context. There's no way you could have kept that
coalition together with groups like the Quakers and a bunch of others if it
had adopted that position. 

Now, I'm sure that it is true enough that some in the NC coalition were
reflecting the pressure from the overall political situation in the antiwar
movement to move to the right. I'm sure there are statements and incidents
that illustrate this and that got intertwined with the debate on supporting
the resistance and other things that came afterwards to some extent.

But the plain fact is, on the face of it, that does NOT describe AT ALL the
POLITICAL trajectory of the coalition in North Carolina as a whole. 

ON THE CONTRARY, it has stuck fast to the principled demand for immediate
and unconditional withdrawal and to a strategic approach of *NOT* relying on
and subordinating the struggle to the politicians, the Democrats, but of
building a movement "from below" with large, visible public protests as a
central component. And in that organizing they have chosen to facilitate and
give support to and privilege above all the antiwar organizing among members
of the armed forces and military families.

That is a tremendously important strategic choice, for the soldiers (and
sailors, etc.) are the soft underbelly of the imperialist war machine, as
Vietnam showed. U.S. imperialism lost the Vietnam War because it lost its
army as an effective fighting force under the blows of the heroic resistance
of the Vietnamese people and the world-wide repudiation of the U.S. war and
the impact of social struggles and the antiwar movement here in the states. 

The desperate effort to apply the "Vietnamization" strategy in Iraq (i.e.,
turning over the fighting and dying to the "natives") shows how conscious
the imperialists are of this. (There's a big article on this subject in the
latest NY Times Sunday magazine.)

This is why revolutionary socialist groups, like the ISO, Solidarity,
Freedom Road, the Black Workers League and I'm sure others, viewed the
Fayetteville protest not simply as one of many local/regional actions on
March 19, but as the leading national action. Because of this  exemplary
political character.

So while I agree with Todd it is necessary to keep these things in
perspective and view them in the context of the overall political situation
in the antiwar movement and the rightward drift of much of its leadership, I
would add it is also necessary to not simply dissolve the concrete into the
abstract, the specific into the general. The Fayetteville action fits into
"the drift to the right" picture in a specific way: it is an outstanding
example of how to COUNTER the drift to the right.

And, similarly, I would urge the ISO comrades to not liquidate into an
overarching framework the specific tactical question of whether it is
appropriate to sell Socialist Worker or ATC or some other left publication
at all times, in all places and under all circumstances.

I believe from Todd's comments we've gone a fair distance in sliding towards
a fairly silly and false polemic. I think Todd and I actually AGREE on this,
at least in principle, in general terms, as I'm sure do most of us both in
Soli and ISO, and generally here on Marxmail.

The evidence for this conclusion is his description of how he might approach
someone at an immigrant rights meeting. He makes fun of Stan and I and
others talking about people "whipping out" socialist worker and so forth,
noting that's not at all what he would do.

And he describes how he would engage someone in a conversation, try to
develop a relationship. I may not agree in a specific case how far to take
that sort of conversation, how guarded to be, whether to offer a paper or
some other literature in that setting. 

But, clearly, Todd recognizes that there are things people need to be
sensitive to, there IS a tactical question involved here. And so there is a
basis for a comradely discussion to help all of us think these things
through better, and even if at the end of it we still don't agree 100%, I
think we will be better off for it.

However, if merely raising these sorts of tactical issues has to be
subordinated to this overall framework of red baiting and exclusion inspired
by and flowing from ABB and what came afterward, there really is not much
room for discussion of the question as a concrete tactical question.

Stan, based on some significant amount of very direct experience which his
entire life's trajectory has placed him in, described the kind of small
organizing meeting that people in military families often have. I would urge
the ISO comrades to respect that, to accept it. He is in a much better
position to know than most of the rest of us. He's not only been there, done
that himself, he has a son in Iraq who has followed the footsteps Stan now
wishes he himself hadn't taken to begin with. This doesn't make Stan the
infallible Pope of organizing among military families, but it does give him,
I think, at least the right to be taken at face value, and not have his
concerns dismissed as some sort of reflection of a rightward drift among a
bunch of other folks.

Based on Todd's description of how he would function in an immigrant rights
meeting, I would hope Todd would be sensitive to the cathartic,
gut-wrenching, emotional nature of the kind of military families session
Stan describes, and decide to keep socialist worker in his back pack there. 

Trying to dissolve this all into the big picture of the rightward drift of a
lot of leaders of the antiwar movement is not the right way to take up a
concrete tactical question. 

If we had a socialist alliance between the various groups, or at least a
more fluid relationship between the leaderships of the groups, these issues
might have been better taken up that way. But we don't. 

Marxmail right now is as close as we get to the discussion bulletin of the
socialist alliance or united organization we don't yet have. 

That's WHY Stan sent his post here, because he wanted to start a dialogue
with the ISO comrades and others who are perhaps closer to the same
traditions that the ISO springs from than Stan's own circles, because he
thinks there is a problem with some of the ways some of the ISO comrades are
functioning, and he thinks it is something that there is a reasonable chance
can be ameliorated. 

And actually, if people were to ask me, Joaquín, what are you for, what are
you trying to get to, my answer would be, I want to get to where I can be in
the same socialist group that both Stan and Todd are in. 

We're not there yet. 

The point that some of us have been trying to make is simply that we believe
Stan when he says that some ISO comrades do sometimes display a lack of tact
and good sense on this issue of newspaper sales, not because they're stupid
but because they're sometimes inexperienced (especially in work in these
kinds of milieus) and also because the ISO as a whole tends to have an
overly ideological/propagandistic approach to politics. And we believe Stan
because what he describes fits with some of our own experiences with the ISO

*  *  *

In my case, I cited experience in Atlanta at a workplace. Todd says he can
cite many counter-examples. Yes, I'm perfectly aware of that. If that
WEREN'T the case, I wouldn't waste my breath. As I understand things,
comrades from Solidarity and ISO work very well together in a series of
union situations in California, New York and other places, especially in
public sectors like teachers.   

But I think he missed the point -- which was the general "leftist," careless
approach that these two comrades came into the workplace with. Doing
plant-gate socialist newspaper sales at your own workplace when you've JUST
been elected a shop steward and are involved in a developing rank-and-file
movement is bad tactics. At least in the private sector, in a right-to-work
southern state where "union density" is very close to zero, and in a union
local dominated by supporters of right-wing national bureaucracy that faces
--and has faced for a long time-- a real challenge from a broadly based
pro-democracy rank and file movement.

Yes, it is true, the ISO comrades here in this workplace were victimized by
management, as Todd notes, for putting out a leaflet calling for a sickout.
My point is that the comrades made it so *easy* for management to do it and
to get away with doing it. And ALSO, it was a BAD THING that the ISO
comrades handled themselves so poorly, it had negative consequences, and not
just for them. 

It put the workers, the union, on the defensive. It meant that the sickout
that would have happened to some significant extent on the appointed day
(the MLK holiday) did not happen AT ALL, management was able to go over to
the offensive and intimidate the workers.

There were all sorts of things wrong with what the two comrades did, two
quite new people doing it without any real base, two white young people
fresh out of college doing it around a Black issue in a mostly Black
workplace, their doing it against the emphatic advice of a  Soli member who
had been there much longer, with whom they'd been collaborating closely and
who had been instrumental in getting the ISO comrade elected shop steward,
even just doing it without consulting with other ISO members with more union

I'm not saying this is *typical* of ISO functioning, but I cite it to show
that in my own local organization's brief experience, ISO members do,
sometimes, make what are clearly, beyond even a shadow of a reasonable
doubt, ultraleft mistakes. 

And so when a comrade like Stan reports some of the issues that have come up
with some comrades in the military families milieu, I don't just assume this
is being driven by the drift to the right of some leftists like a number of
leaders of the groups in UFPJ and resulting red-baiting. I take it at face

And actually in Stan's case it is fairly easy to check out whether he's part
of the drift to the right. Because Stan writes *a lot*, and you'd soon see
this rightward drift reflected there if he were infected with it. Instead,
what you see is someone who is ALSO aware of that problem, who is ALSO
fighting it, as he did in that excellent counterpunch article.

And if you go back to the time of the elections, look up Stan's article on
his trip to Haiti, where he explains how he was delayed in coming back and
thus did not get to vote against BOTH the Democrats and Republicans for
President like he wanted to. He wasn't part of the ABB crowd, not by a long

So I wish the ISO comrades would get themselves out of this mindset of
viewing every comment and discussion of an issue in the framework of
red-baiting driven by the rightward drift of a lot of leaders of the antiwar
movement, and simply take the points raised up on the merits, as Todd, at
least, begins to do in some parts of his post.

On those points, the selling of the press, and what it symbolizes generally:
I think there is a very real question involved here, even though Todd tends
to dismiss it, which is the wearing of two hats or the changing of hats. 

And I think that when, yes, someone makes a sales pitch for a socialist
newspaper in the middle of a small immigrant rights organizing meeting, or a
military families organizing meeting (not a big rally or public protest or
demo), or stands outside the door of that kind of meeting as people are
coming in or out, I think that's a sectarian way to behave, and one that can
lead to problems for the immigrant rights or families or whatever kind of
group is involved.

In unions the issues is even more intense, because often you wind up in
situations where you will stay for many years. And if you uncautiously brand
yourself a red, there's no way to put the genie back in the bottle. You're
stuck with it, or changing jobs to a different sector with a different union
and hoping your mistake doesn't catch up with you. Sure, in something like a
university teachers union that might not be a huge problem. But in a large
UAW or IBT organized plant, and especially in the South, it's an entirely
different story.

It wouldn't be much of a heated issue if people generally hadn't been their
entire lifetimes so thoroughly propagandized against socialism. But they
have been, and right now the general political atmosphere isn't one of
questioning and radicalization that tends to favor a great deal of

Todd dismisses the way Stan made this point (the bit about we're the people
who want to overthrow the government) as some sort of frame-up of the ISO. I
think Stan's writing was perfectly clear: he said this is how someone with
anticommunist prejudices would perceive it. I think the efforts of the ISO
comrades to try to make it seem as if Stan had said something else fall flat
on their face when one reads the original text.


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