[Marxism] "For members only" ISO documents now available: when will they ever learn?

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Thu Feb 13 23:26:16 MST 2014

TRIGGER WARNING: There will be discussion of sexual assaults below.

On 2/13/2014 3:47 PM, Andrew Pollack wrote:
> Even if you think an organization should not keep documents and discussions
> members only -- which is a pretty big if in these days of
> hyper-homeland-security -- it is NOT the business of any nonmember to
> override the democratic decision of the members of that group.
I am not a member of the ISO and therefore I am not bound by its 
discipline. I did not override anything. I simply publicized that these 
documents were available.

Why did I do that?

a) Because it is of interest to a layer of people. I am a journalist. 
It's what I've done my whole life.

b) Because I am against the "secret handshake" culture of the toy 
Leninist parties.

c) Because the ISO (and all the rest of them) try to monopolize and make 
their own private property what are in reality words and ideas --brands, 
if you will-- that are the common property of millions of people.

Their contention that they are the Socialists, or the Leninists, or the 
Marxists, or whatever, means that the rest of us Socialists, Marxists, 
Leninists or whatever are impacted by what they do, including, I am 
afraid, really terrible crap like an alleged rape by a leading ISO 
member in San Diego and how the situation was handled (see bulletin #19).

Perhaps a year ago everyone could pretend this sort of thing was just an 
issue of the British SWP, but since then I've become aware that it 
happened in the US SWP; it happened in Solidarity; it happened in 
Occupy; it happened among anarchists; and it happened in the ISO.

Painful as it may be, I think it is time the rape coverups end; 
including an alleged one that, in the wake of my looking at these ISO 
documents, someone in Solidarity that I trust pointed me to emails 
saying has been covered up by my organization, apparently for roughly 
two decades.

Perhaps this rape coverup charge about Solidarity is untrue, and I wish 
I could honestly believe that.

But I don't.

* * *

The idea that "these days of hyper homeland security" somehow JUSTIFY 
the ISO's members-only "security" policy is too idiotic for words. Even 
in the good old days of J. Edgar Hoover, "For Members Only" ACTUALLY 
meant "For Members and Cops Only." Today, the idea that distribution has 
to be restricted so that the FBI, CIA and NSA don't get the bulletins is 
risible. They get them before anyone else.

The pdf files that have been made public are coming from --obviously-- 
people who are or have recently been ISO members. Nor are the "leaks" 
limited to this pre-convention discussion.

Over at the Charnel House blog, you can find the documents not just from 
the upcoming convention, but the three previous ISO conventions as well 
as assorted internal bulletins.

The last time it leaked like that, Noah built himself a boat.

WHY it is happening is a matter of speculation. But it obviously 
reflects tensions in ISO circles.

There is a Renewal Faction that had put up a web site it calls External 
Bulletin, which is here: http://externalbulletin.wordpress.com/

Renewal claims the right to include people it believes have been 
bureaucratically excluded from the ISO. Renewal supporters also claim 
they are being driven out of the organization. Ben S. from Atlanta writes:

"To all my comrades both inside and outside the ISO:

"This letter is intended to announce my resignation from the 
International Socialist Organization. This decision has been prompted by 
my experience in the months since I first publicly expressed my support 
for the ISO Renewal Faction late last year. To summarize in brief, as a 
result of my endorsement of the Faction, I’ve been effectively isolated 
and iced out of both the Atlanta branch and the national organization as 
a whole. This has made it all but impossible to continue my involvement 
within the group.

"In addition to this, my experience within the Atlanta branch–which, I 
should note, closely parallels and interlocks with that of my comrades 
in the ISO Renewal Faction–has led me to question the viability of the 
ISO as a vehicle for revolutionary Marxist politics. In sum, I’ve come 
to doubt the ability of the ISO to fulfill its stated purpose of 
“playing a role in laying the foundation for a [revolutionary socialist 
party].” Despite this conclusion, I remain as dedicated as ever to the 
politics of revolutionary Marxism and socialism from below.

"In general, the most disappointing thing about my experience over the 
past few months has been the way that the ISO Renewal Faction and its 
members have been treated by the organization. We’ve been essentially 
depicted as a hostile and alien political force...."

The letter goes on to recount how on Feb. 7 (one week before the 
convention), Ahmed S. wrote him a letter telling him he was not a member 
in good standing whereas others who support what appears to be the 
majority who are also behind on dues have not been challenged.


I'd be disinclined to give too much weight to this sort of thing except 
that, on its web site, the renewal faction denounces the leadership for 
manipulating the discussion, citing, for example, that Renewal's 
documents were not published promptly but held back so the Steering 
Committee could print a response in the same bulletin.

Even then I thought it was really small change, until I read the 
Steering Committee's response that the announcement of the Renewal 
faction was accompanied by.

First, from what I can see most of the major documents from the 
leadership for the convention are signed by an individual "for the 
Steering Committee." Not this time. This is signed officially by the 
Steering Committee.

Second, it is an indictment of the faction's behavior, not a response to 
its politics -- from where I sit and what I've lived through, basically 
the pre-announcement of the faction's expulsion:

"This factional formation has a number of problems that we believe must 
be highlighted.," the Steering Committee proclaims.

"Instead of presenting their positions as proposals to be discussed and 
decided at the upcoming national convention—the highest decision-making 
body of the ISO—they have taken preemptive action that violates the 
ISO’s current rules and standard procedures."

It is a multi-point indictment that charges them with everything from 
having formed their faction secretly to making it public, Renewal is 
denounced for "lack of internal democracy" and castigated because it 
"openly defends having strict internal
rules and discipline far more stringent than the ISO’s."

Ironically, the ISO Steering Committee quotes Farrell Dobbs, the central 
leader of the US SWP in the 1950s and 1960s, saying people shouldn't 
rush to form factions but only ideological tendencies. I say ironically 
because: a) The ISO's internal norms provide only for factions, not 
tendencies; b) the SWP's norms never once succeeded in containing 
differences but invariably led to purges and splits; and c) the SC's 
response was plagiarized not from Dobbs but the mad-dog factionalism of 
the SWP leadership headed by Jack Barnes that I was a part of from 
1979-1985 and that turned that group into the surreal madhouse that 
exists today.

So this idea that the group as a whole gets to rule on how a caucus 
conducts its affairs is strictly a Barnesite invention.

Now, I'm sure Renewal has broken all sorts of rules. That's what happens 
when you try to set up some sort of toy Bolshevik "party" that has 
perhaps three members for every million people in the country. They are 
basically a public faction, just like Lenin and his friends, the 
Bolsheviks, were a century ago. The difference being that you can purge 
a faction from a tiny propaganda sect pretty easily; not so from a real 

The SC goes on to say:

"[T]his faction was formed not merely, as its opening documents states, 
as a necessary precondition 'for a full and democratic debate.' Such a 
debate is possible—and has been taking place—without the formation of a 
faction that openly flouts the decisions of the ISO’s national 
leadership. We believe that the faction is attempting to create an 
artificially hothouse environment, which, rather than encouraging 
comradely debate, deliberately discourages it. It appears to us that the 
actions indicate a purposeful effort to 'test' the ISO’s policies and 
practices in order to provoke a response rather than present its views 
and proposals for measured, comradely debate."

* * *

You'd have to be a Trotskyism nerd to realize this, but what the ISO SC 
does in its INITIAL response to a faction representing 14 people, or 
less than 2% of its supposed 1000 members, is PRECISELY what textbook 
Trotskyism says must NEVER be done. Do not raise organizational 
questions of discipline and such until the POLITICAL differences have 
been fully clarified because organizational disputes GET IN THE WAY of 
political clarification.

We in the SWP leadership pissed all over that norm, too, on our way to 
the purges and I really have little hope that the Renewal comrades won't 
be expelled at the convention or driven out right afterwards. And unless 
they have a lot more support than is reflected in the bulletins, they 
may not have anyone at the convention at all.

Despite that let me issue a word of caution to comrade Ahmed and the 
other comrades of the ISO SC:

Be a little careful about expelling people and driving them out. Two or 
three decades hence, they may be the only political allies you have.


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