[Marxism] A reply to the ISO Steering Committee

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Feb 16 16:36:46 MST 2014

This just showed up as part of a forward to Mike Ely's Open Letter to 
Ross Wolfe from the ISO's internal bulletin #27. Wolfe had put the ISO's 
internal documents up on his blog and Ely deemed it tantamount to 
snitching. Wolfe is a former member of the Platypus group, a leftish 
discussion club of graduate students and junior faculty enamored of 
Adorno for some reason and hostile to the existing left. From the ISO 

This discussion is clearly ongoing. And the confusions abound. Louis 
Proyect of Marxmail conflates “Leninism,” operating in 
“semi-clandestine” manner with the simple right of organizations and 
movements having the right to debate internally without the expectation 
that all their discussions are posted for the world to see.

ISO Steering Committee

There's a double-standard at work here. On May 29, 2013 an open letter 
condemning the Platypus group appeared on Richard Seymour's blog that 
was written by Ben Campbell, who had developed a rather unhealthy 
obsession with the Platypi at the time. Ben was a former member with a 
grudge about being poorly served. As I told Ben at the time, he was 
making a mountain out of a molehill. What if he had spent 11 years in a 
cult that he had donated over $25,000 to and then was booted out like I 
was? In any case, I signed the open letter since it wasn't going to have 
any impact on them one way or the other and because there's nothing I 
love better than scandals and pissing contests.

Among the signatories is Sherry Wolfe, a well-known member of the ISO 
who has an asterisk next to her name indicating that she is speaking for 
herself rather than the organization. Right...

It was brought to my attention by Ross Wolfe (no relation to Sherry 
obviously) that the letter's prima facie evidence for ostracizing the 
Platypus group from the left rests on the very use of private email that 
was cited without the author's permission:

As one important example, Platypus' opposition to left solidarity with 
Palestine leads Cutrone to the following, decidedly non-leftist, 

     Now I am going to say something for internal consumption only (this 
is perhaps a "closeted" position): At this point, the only hope that the 
Palestinians have is in and through Israel, precisely as a "settler 
colonial state," not independent of, let alone opposed to it. Just as 
the only hope for Native Americans has been through integration into the 

As should be clear from Chris Cutrone's words, the comment was meant 
only for the eyes of those receiving the email ("something for internal 
consumption"). But that did not stand in the way of Ben disclosing it 
without Cutrone's permission, nor Sherry Wolfe adding her signature.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

In terms of the other business about "Leninism" and "semi-clandestine" 
operations, I probably will have a lot more to say about this in a piece 
for Counterpunch but will close this post with a comment I made to FB 
earlier today:

On the fallacies of secret internal documents.

You know, my memory (and my eyesight) ain’t what it used to be. 
Fortunately there are other parts of my anatomy that are in surprisingly 
good shape for a 69 year old.

Anyhow, on my way back from Fairway, a great grocery store that is one 
of the few remaining pleasures of living in NY, I just remembered that 
after every SWP convention when I was a member, there were articles in 
the Workers League and Spartacist League newspapers commenting on our 
line resolutions that had obviously come into their hands. They really 
let us “Pabloite revisionists” have it with both barrels. Somehow we 
survived such attacks, only to perish from the “turn to industry” 
orchestrated by our own leaders.

We knew that they had people in the SWP and even could figure out who 
they were. In Boston we had Dick and Carole, a couple of ex-Workers 
Leaguers who supposedly had a road to Damascus conversion that persuaded 
them to join the SWP. When we saw them walking out of the headquarters 
with a new batch of documents, we knew that they were going to be mailed 
to the WL national office.

Big fucking deal.

Who could care less about Tim Wolforth ranting and raving about how we 
were tail-ending Black Nationalism? Or Jan Norden writing that our 
failure to adopt a slogan like “Victory to the Vietnamese Revolution” 
was a sign of capitulation to imperialism? In fact the documents were 
most often a restatement of the positions adopted at a previous 
convention. Reading them was like reading the Militant. There were, of 
course, documents written by minority tendencies but their views, like 
those of the Sparts and the WL, hardly mattered.

Within the Leninist left, loyalty is understood in relative terms. 
Before James P. Cannon knew about the Left Opposition, he was loyal to 
the CP. Afterwards, he connived to split it and form a new group—an 
obviously disloyal act. That’s how Leninist politics operates, after 
all. If you are looking for purity, you’d better join the Jehovah’s 
Witnesses or the Seventh Day Adventists. Or better yet, stop messing 
around with sectarian practices including the “cadre-building”, 
security-fetishizing, hammer-and-sickle iconographasizing (yes, I know, 
this is not really a word) bad habits of the Leninist left. We need a 
movement that rests on transparency and accountability. In that 
movement, we’d function like the Bolsheviks who kept no secrets from the 
working class.

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