[Marxism] Paul LeBlanc: Why I Am Joining the ISO

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Oct 29 01:56:00 MDT 2009

Why I Am Joining the ISO

Paul  Le Blanc 

I have decided to join the International Socialist Organization (ISO)
because I believe socialists can and must, at this moment, intensify the
struggle to bring about positive social change.  I have been active in this
struggle for most of my life - as a member of the "new left" in the 1960s
and early '70s (first in SDS and briefly in the New American Movement), then
in the Trotskyist movement (the Socialist Workers Party for ten years,
briefly in Socialist Action, the Fourth Internationalist Tendency for
another eight years).  I have always considered "Trotskyism" as the same as
revolutionary socialism, associated with some of the most useful ideas and
most inspiring traditions that ever existed - something I will come back to

Since 1992 I have been a member of Solidarity, which over the years has
attracted a number of fine people who have done excellent work, although it
has never proved able to sustain a membership of more than 300.  I feel I
have done all that I can to help build Solidarity.  At this point I believe
I may have more to contribute to building the International Socialist
Organization (ISO) and am hopeful that the ISO can play a badly-needed role
in the intensification of the struggle to bring fundamental social change. 

In this decision, I feel there is a continuity with commitments and efforts
of more than four decades, and I definitely do not intend to cut myself off
from the friends and comrades in other organizations.  I want to touch on
such things more in this statement, but first I want to emphasize the sense
of urgency that has caused me to take this step.  

Urgency and Hope

Developments unfolding over the past decade have been propelling me in this
direction.  These include the horrific events taking place in my own country
on September 11, 2001, combined with the horrific events involved in the
subsequent invasions and occupations by my own country of Iraq and
Afghanistan - making me feel a greater urgency than ever that we must
eliminate the underlying causes of such deadly horrors.

There were also ten years of right-wing Republican Party rule under George
W. Bush - in which big money and fear and lies and bigotry were used to
fabricate a "virtual reality" that seduced many millions of good people,
hurt in multiple ways by the policies they were being fooled into
supporting.  No less instructive has been the performance of the Democratic
Party, which vacillated between, on the one hand, assuming conservative
postures to "out-Republican" the Republicans, and on the other hand assuming
a more liberal and "progressive" posture while being no less tied to
preserving the power of the multi-national corporations at the expense of
the rest of us.  Time and again we have experienced stirring and hopeful
rhetoric being hollowed out by pathetically disappointing performance. 

Particularly sobering has been the impact of what is gently referred to as
"the economic downturn," which has been - and will continue to be - so
damaging for many millions in my own country, and for billions world-wide,
even as politicians and governments rally to put the best face on it all and
to assist the big corporations, banks, and wealthy businessmen who have done
this to us.  Even more sobering is the ongoing degradation of the Earth's
ecosystem, the dramatic acceleration of global warming, the multiple forms
of pollution and poisoning that have become so much a part of the world
around us.

There is something more hopeful that also motivates me.  It is related to
the saying, "Because things are as they are, they will not stay as they
are."  The terrible things that have been happening have caused more and
more people to think, and to think again, and to think more deeply - to go
to the root of these problems, which is the original definition of the word
radical.  There is a radicalization process that has been going on in our
society.  Barak Obama recognized this when he campaigned for the U.S.
Presidency - and because so many millions of people responded so hopefully
to the inspiring radicalism of his rhetoric, he was able to win.  But there
is a growing realization among millions of people that his victory was not
our victory.

There is a potential for the crystallization of a mass radical movement in
our country - one that can push effectively against the terrible and
destructive realities that have become so evident, and that can help to
bring about another world than the one in which we find ourselves.    

Socialism and the Future of the Working Class

I want to see a world in which humanity's economic resources are
socially-owned, democratically controlled, and utilized to allow for the
free development of all people, and this in a manner that does not threaten
to destroy the thin film of life which covers our planet.   That is the
definition of socialism.  This is something I have believed in since I was
16 years old, a belief shared with members of my family going back at least
three generations before I came into this life.  It stands in contrast to
bureaucratic tyrannies and paternalistic compromises that have sometimes
been called "socialist."  Socialism means rule by the people over our
political and economic life, with liberty and justice for all.  

A majority of the people that I have known and loved and cared about are,
like myself, part of a vast and multi-faceted working class - those who make
a living (or are dependent on a family member making a living) through
selling one's ability to work for a paycheck.  This is the class whose
energy and creative labors make our society possible.  Men and women of all
races and ethnic backgrounds and national origins, of all ages and religious
persuasions, of all sexual orientations, of all cultural preferences, of
multiple occupations - that's us, the U.S. working class.  Each and every
one of us has a right to the tree of life, and we can make that happen if we
join together in a struggle to make it so.   

The ISO is committed to this majority class taking political power in order
to establish a socialist democracy.  The ISO seeks to help people
understand, struggle against, and put an end to all forms of oppression -
seeing the source of much of this oppression flowing necessarily from the
authoritarian, a-moral, destructive qualities inherent in the capitalist
system.  The ISO believes, as I have believed for many years, that only
through the struggles and triumph of the working class majority - through
winning the battle of democracy - can we bring about a better world. 

Revolutionary Marxism and U.S. Revolutionary Traditions

There are other organizations sharing these commitments.  Many of them -
like the ISO - also share a connection with the theoretical and political
tradition associated with Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, developed as part
of the working-class movement in the 19th century.  Carrying this Marxist
orientation into the 20th century were such revolutionaries as Rosa
Luxemburg, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Antonio Gramsci, and others.
Times have changed since these people lived and died.  But the intellectual
and political tools that such people developed - basing themselves on
profound analyses and the experiences (both defeats and victories) of mass
struggles - still have relevance for our own time.  It is important to me to
be part of the political tradition associated with them.

There is more.  The revolutionary democratic ideology one finds in the
Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, and even in some of
the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance, is at the core of my own beliefs.
I draw inspiration especially from the most radical of the American
Revolutionaries, such as Tom Paine.  I identify with those who sought to
make our early republic live up to its revolutionary democratic ideals -
Francis Wright, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick
Douglass, and many more.  I am no less influenced by such radical pacifists
as Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  I am inspired by
the contributions to our democratic culture of such people as Henry David
Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg,
Claude McKay, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, Mary McCarthy, and C. L. R.
James.  I identify fiercely with the radical labor traditions associated
with such people as Albert Parsons, "Mother" Mary Jones, Eugene V. Debs,
"Big Bill" Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Ben Fletcher, A. Philip
Randolph, Carlo Tresca, James P. Cannon, Genora Dollinger, and so many, many

The question is how can such intertwined traditions be taken seriously and
utilized to help bring about the changes we so badly need.  It seems to me
that the ISO is striving to take these traditions more seriously than some
of the other groups have been able to do, and with no hint of apology or
embarrassment.  I like that very much.  But it is heartening to be able to
emphasize that there are other groups and currents sharing these very same

Relevance and Openness

The fact that the ISO is by far the largest socialist organization in the
United States today, attracting to revolutionary ideas a much larger number
of young activists than any of the others, is very definitely part of the
attraction of that organization for me.  I believe this is a reflection of
the actual and potential relevance that the ISO has to the U.S. political
scene.  I believe it is also related to a certain openness that is
developing, among the ISO comrades.  I have experienced this openness in
regard to my own point of view, and I want to address that matter before
going on to broader dimensions of this reality.  

I have been quite explicit in discussions with ISO comrades about views that
are at variance with details of their own specific tradition.  I continue to
identify with the Fourth International, established by Leon Trotsky and his
co-thinkers in the 1930s, and more recently associated with such figures as
Ernest Mandel and Livio Maitan and with the on-line journal International
Viewpoint.  While the ISO had its origins in a British current led by Tony
Cliff which left the Fourth International in the early 1950s, I find that
the ISO presently maintains a positive relationship with the Fourth
International (along with various other international revolutionary
currents), and my own ties to it are no obstacle to ISO membership.

I have also been clear with ISO comrades that I continue to adhere to
Trotsky's analysis of the USSR as representing a bureaucratically
degenerated workers' state, not something called "state capitalism."  I
don't agree with the "state capitalist" conceptualization developed by Tony
Cliff and his closest co-thinkers.  But there are, in fact, already
different points of view in the ISO on such questions - and at the same time
an agreement throughout the organization on what I believe is a key point:
the institutionalization of workers' democracy (including freedom of
expression, the right to organize, and other requirements for genuine
majority rule) remains essential for any healthy workers' state, and there
is no possibility of genuine socialism without that.  Lenin was fond of
quoting the poet Goethe -"theory, my friend, is gray, but ever green is the
tree of life."  As we struggle together for a socialist democracy in the
complex swirl of life (in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky and Luxemburg),
we can allow ourselves differences in theoretical conceptualizations
regarding what used to be the USSR.

Yet this historical difference does come into play regarding the question of
Cuba today.  There is a tendency in the ISO to depict the current regime as
a variant of "state capitalism."  I don't agree with that, nor do I call for
the revolutionary overthrow of that regime by the Cuban working class.  My
own views are similar to those developed in the U.S. Socialist Workers Party
by such comrades as Joseph Hansen and George Breitman - involving critical
support while calling for radical reforms to institutionalize workers'
democracy.  Indeed, my adherence to that position after 1980 (when the SWP's
new leadership developed a very uncritical attitude and broke from
Trotskyism) was one of the causes for my expulsion.  The positions I share
with all ISO comrades - favoring workers' democracy in Cuba, insisting that
the Cuban people themselves must have the decisive say in such matters, and
absolutely defending the self-determination of Cuba in the face of
imperialist hostility and aggression - provide ample common ground on which
to stand.  The kinds of thoughtful evaluations I have heard from some ISO
members and supporters in regard to the legacy of Che Guevara and regarding
current struggles in Latin America - Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, and
elsewhere - also provides much common ground on which to stand.

It is not the case that ISO comrades with whom I have differences are
inclined to sweep these under the rug, or to shrug off their own particular
theoretical traditions.  But neither are they inclined to establish a
sectarian Orthodoxy with which to prove their own superiority to all others.
Another way of saying this is that the ISO does not see itself as "The
Revolutionary Vanguard" - although it is very much committed to helping
create a genuine revolutionary vanguard, that is, an actual layer of the
working class having revolutionary class-consciousness that would be the
base for a genuinely revolutionary party.  It seems to me that ISO comrades
are generally inclined toward a serious, and therefore open and
critical-minded, approach to the interplay of revolutionary theory and
political practice.  This makes it possible for us to come together.  And it
helps the ISO play a valuable role in the struggles of our time.

I have seen the ISO relate very positively to outward-reaching political
initiatives in which other political tendencies have considerable influence.
As a member of the Political Committee of Solidarity some years back, I
worked closely with ISO comrades and others to organize what I think were
valuable sessions at gatherings of the World Social Forum movement in Mumbai
and Boston.  I also was impressed by the serious collaboration of the ISO
with Peter Camejo (formerly a leader of the old SWP) in the important effort
to build effective left-wing campaigns of the Green Party.  There has also
been the ISO's very positive approach to the incredibly important Labor
Notes project initiated by and to a large extent sustained by comrades who
identify with Solidarity.  Another example has been its active engagement in
the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations,
in which members of Socialist Action have played an outstanding role.  Last
year the ISO joined together - in a comradely and fruitful manner - with
many of us who were veterans of the SWP (representing a diversity of
perspectives) to help organize a successful and valuable conference on "The
Legacy of Leon Trotsky and U.S. Trotskyism" (July25-27, 2008).  And many of
us in Pittsburgh can attest to the excellent coalition work the ISO engaged
in to help build effective responses to the G-20 Summit taking place here in
September 2009.  

More than this, the pages of the ISO's widely-distributed political
magazine, International Socialist Review, have for years featured articles
by various figures on the U.S. and international left who come from
political traditions other than their own.  The same is certainly true in
regard to the publications of Haymarket Books and of other publishers which
the ISO energetically helps to distribute.  One finds the same dynamic in
regard to the speakers at its impressive educational "Socialism"

All of this flows, I think, from the ISO's very healthy desire to reach out
to more and more people, and also relates to the notion that a future mass
working-class socialist party will involve the coming together of activists
from different historic traditions - but with a principled commitment to
revolutionary socialism.  That is what explains the fine role I have
increasingly seen ISO members playing in mass struggles against war, racism,
sexism, homophobia; for workers' rights, global justice, human rights,
preservation of our planet, and more.  I see ISO members gaining experience
in building coalitions and united fronts of diverse forces, and in some
cases helping to lead such forces in winning victories.  At the same time, I
see them working hard to spread and deepen socialist consciousness - which
is a precondition for the better world that we so badly need.

Now more than ever is the time to intensify the struggle for social change.
In order to do that more effectively, I have decided to join the
International Socialist Organization.   

(October 2009)

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