Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 10, 2012

Another Socialist Left Is Possible: a Reply to Paul D’Amato

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,socialism — louisproyect @ 9:27 pm

Another Socialist Left Is Possible: a Reply to Paul D’Amato

February 10, 2012
by Pham Binh

The first response to my “Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists” piece written by a leading member of an American socialist organization is emblematic of what is wrong with the U.S. socialist left.

read full article here.

51 Comments »

  1. “Multi-tendency groups already exist on the American political scene: the John Reed Society at Harvard, the Revolutionary Students Union on campuses in Utah, the Socialist Student Union at the University of Michigan. They are far from being “still-born projects.” […]”…AND the Socialist Party USA which has been multi-tendency for years and years.

    Comment by Erik — February 10, 2012 @ 10:15 pm

  2. Some initial reations to this essay. Bihn, you seem to exclude the ex-Maoist left , like FRSO(either) or CCDS or various other networks in this regard. Is this intentional or simply you don’t include them in your own vision of what constitutes the “revolutionary socialist left”? I’m just curious.

    Initially I have to say I’m closer to D’Amato on this. You place the Occupy movement as a practical center of this discussion (as opposed to the debates around Lenin that have recently sprung up here, on Marxmail and on Links). You make generalities about practical work, down playing the historical polemics (as D’Amato does as well) of the ’60s and earlier, but you don’t try to distill the very practical work of the groups in question around Occupy itself. Is there a symmetry between all these Revolutionary socialist groups and individuals around Occupy? Maybe there is. In fact I’d defer to you on this since the majority of your own orientation is around Occupy. But you don’t provide those answers to your readers here. It’s begs the question as we are talking about practical work, in Occupy, yes? You need to be more specific.

    Secondly, the fact remains that there appears to be nothing *pushing* these groups together, toward regroupment. D’Amato notes, correctly, that many groups do work together. I know ISO works well with SA and Socialist Alternative in NY. SA and Soc. Alt. in Boston. SO and ISO in the Bay Area. These informal networks seem to work well and are highly productive. But I don’t see the imperative to be in the same organization. Not yet.

    In every case where these sorts of regroupements were initiated…almost all in the recent period can trace their origin to the establishment of the Socialist Party of Scotland…have failed. British socialists with the same view artificially created the Socialist Alliances and then a rival Respect. NPA in France seems to be floundering and other such efforts seem to be mechanical, not living, replications of the first attempt. The real differences with regards to elections, strike actions ond other issues caused this to fail. Their starting point was “we are all socialists”. Unfortunately that’s not enough.

    You also have to ask why a larger big-tent socialist formation hasn’t bee created exclusive of the above mentioned groups? The moderator of this list has pushed this idea, or a similar one, for more than a decade. Result? Zilch. Nada. You’d think with all the non-party socialists out there something would drive them together to build such a formation as you suggest. But again, it hasn’t happened and it’s not enough just to blame proprietary groups for maintaining sectarian boundaries.

    Real regroupment occurs when there is a *strong and sharp* movement in the class that groups (and individuals) are reacting similarly too. It is the class struggle that drives a real regroupment perspective, not just a checklist of similar practical ideas during periods of relative quiescence, the startling Occupy movement notwithstanding (where there remains differences on how to approach it). It took an actual revolution to do that in Russia.

    I’m just thinking out loud here and want to see this dialogue continue.

    Comment by David Walters — February 10, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

  3. In the interests of transparency, it must be revealed that David’s best hope for the left is the construction of a redeemed Fourth International, with his group–the Socialist Organizer–functioning as the American section (haven’t we been through this? Sigh!)

    From the Socialist Organizer website:

    We’ve learned that the fight to build the American section of the Fourth International cannot be separated from the struggle for a real Labor Party. We’ve learned that there’s no substitute for the Fourth International in the fight for the emancipation of humanity from capitalism. And perhaps most important, we’ve learned of the dangers of “national Trotskyism.” Our link with a real, functioning International—which now has sections in 48 countries—has provided the political and organizational basis for S.O. to rebuild the American Trotskyist movement.

    Without a doubt, S.O. has played a pivotal role in ensuring the continuity of the Fourth International and its program in the United States. This is a credit to the organization and to the reproclaimed Fourth International, which has assisted every step of the way in building the section of the FI in the United States.

    But the fact remains that Socialist Organizer has only begun the process toward rebuilding a party which can lead the American workers and youth out of the chains of capitalism. In the next period, the principal task of S.O. is to grow. Undoubtedly, the majority of the activists we recruit will be youth won to Trotskyist politics through our intervention in Revolution Youth, and a proper focus on youth work is a precondition for transforming S.O. into an organization capable of fulfilling its historic tasks. Hopefully, this text will enable many of these new activists to understand the history of our movement, our political traditions, and, therefore, why they should join S.O.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

  4. The basis for unity is always program informing action. Uniting socialists for unity’s sake is a useless endeavor since so many who call themselves socialist are too appreciative of capitalism and comfortable with its embrace. Many moons ago, brother Karl said that philosophers interpret the world. The job for revolutionaries was to change it. With that in mind, those on the left who make their focus interpretation are those who are the philosophers. The idea is to move the agenda. If one has the idea that moving the agenda means making things “right” within capitalism, then such a person cannot be revolutionary since they are trying to “correct” the capitalism. People who believe in correction simply do not understand capitalism and are somewhat myopic. The world is not so big. It is covered in capitalism. This capitalism causes untold misery, violence, and suffering, not the least of whom are the workers making iPads and such. Those who claim to have found a new economic form called “bureaucratic despotism” are simply ignorant of the facts. A long time ago, someone told me that it was useless to argue beliefs with someone. Beliefs fly in the face of reality. If one is trying to move an agenda and people in the unity believe that say, liberal capitalism is superior to “bureaucratic despotism” then that would be like engaging in a potato sack race. Things have to be called by their right names and those names have not changed from when Marx coined them and as Lenin and Trotsky elaborated on them. The reason for that is not belief, it is a discovered factual social law of the capitalist mode of economic production and the states that enforce it.

    I do not think that anyone has missed the boat with the “Occupy” movement. For the most part, Occupy is an intellectual exercise. It is primarily a middle-class, that is petty bourgeois ideology that does not remotely conceptualize the end of capitalism and the end of the capitalist state. It is then a moral reaction to the idea of billionaires’ greed. That is not a bad thing, it is sort of a “feel good” thing. It is not informative regarding the source of the problem and where the answers are. The answers are demonstrably not to be found in slapping the hands of the billionaires who have them stuck in the cookie jar abusing one union or the other.

    What revolutionaries need to realize is that What is to be Done is what needs to be done. The entire focus of activity needs to be supporting and educating on the need to get to dual power for the express purpose of moving that power to the 99% and away from the 1% and its state organs. That is the goal. That means moving the base of the army to the new power. It means moving the base of the workers to it as the prime movers. Where it already exists, it means supporting and elucidating that power instead of ignoring it as is primarily happening regarding the Arab Spring as it unfolds in Syria, Egypt, Libya, etc.

    All of the dual power movements must have indigenous leaderships. All that those on the outside can do is help point out what is what. It is up to the locals to figure out how to move their agendas to power by creating the political and practical organizations capable of acting on the agenda to power. Outsiders can illuminate the imperialist role in suppression via drone attacks, financing the reactionaries, reactionary propaganda, supplying the armies, etc.

    Now when it comes to living in the belly of the beast, should one spend time trying to find the path along the lines of the Occupy? Fabian socialism and vegetarianism is not going to move the agenda. If the workers are occupying the bastions of capitalism, then there are lessons to be taught and organizations to build. But one distinction needs to be made. “Occupy” means to take over and change the organs of capitalist power- whether it be Wallstreet or city hall. In its way, occupy then becomes a new liberalism, or even libertarianism with a focus on changing the persons in the seat, but not the seat itself. Maybe influencing the holder of the seat. The capitalist political system has long ago figured out how to side step these thrusts and to coop them. Anything short of elucidating the need to move forward on the entire agenda of transitional demands for the purpose of getting to dual power seems like a waste of time to me. I am not interested in a better capitalism or a better capitalist state. I’m not interested in seeking justice under capitalism since that is an oxymoron. As a humanitarian, I see that the world needs to end the capitalist system as soon as possible. It’s either going to end by replacement, or the imperialists are going to serve up a repression that will make the Nazis look like choir boys. Not because they just like repression and jack boots, but because they want the increased transfer of surplus value from us to them. It’s what they do. The destruction of Iraq is a good lesson on point of an imperialist solution to extraction of surplus value and resource control. Madeline says that 300,000 dead Iraqi babies is a good price for that oil. Who wants to reform that monster?

    “Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.” Satchel Paige.

    Comment by Eustacius — February 10, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

  5. Anything short of elucidating the need to move forward on the entire agenda of transitional demands for the purpose of getting to dual power seems like a waste of time to me.

    Well, been there–done that…

    Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

  6. “if you want to ignite a debate among socialists about what is to be done here and now in the middle of the Occupy uprising, don’t write about Occupy, write a critical review of a Lenin biography written in 1975 by someone who died over a decade ago. Then the sparks will fly.

    “This is exactly what’s wrong with us, the U.S. socialist left.”

    Word. We need a socialist party that’s at least as inclusive as the US’s Big Two. They tolerate disagreement over many approaches because they have their eyes on their prize: the growth of capitalism. Too many socialist parties would rather be pure and obscure than part of the messy business of politics.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — February 10, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

  7. Binh, are you calling for all existing Left organizations go dissolve?

    Comment by Morris Kennedy — February 10, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

  8. “There’s no doubt that a political party requires a coherent vision and program or platform. The real question is: why must that coherence include a single point of view or a narrow range of views on what precisely the U.S.S.R. was, or what Cuba is?” Who thinks this? The ISO formally dropped a position on the class nature of the USSR, etc. last year.

    “Again, these are issues we have to figure out in practice, as we go along. Socialism cannot be designed or created by an enlightened few armed with a detailed “Marxist” blueprint; if we wish to remain true to that vision, a common socialist organization that unites various trends cannot be dismissed because we don’t know in advance what it will look like, how it will work, the concrete moments of its development.

    What we can say with certainty is this: rejecting the multi-tendency model leaves us with its opposite, the single-tendency model.”

    Sorry, but what are you talking about? Whose views are you polemicizing against? Who has that vision of socialism? Who rejects the multi-tendency model?

    The contributions published on this blog vis-a-vis the question of social organization (and too often, other questions, to be honest) do nothing to further the very real discussions that are already, and fruitfully, happening on the left. Too many grand pronouncements, too little actual knowledge of the concrete circumstances or what the comrades that are the purported target of the interventions are actually doing.

    Having read Lars Lih (btw, you do realize that Haymarket published lars lih’s book, and that it distributed the HM symposium on his work), and essentially agreeing with him, it’s clear to me that Louis has entirely missed the point: the question of socialist organization is a contextual, strategic question. There are no trans-historical organizational models, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Louis simply inverts the purported conclusions arrived at by the targets of his polemics (not really, of course, since he inevitably but wrongly mistakes his own preconceptions of what others think or do for what they actually think) by implying an organizational cause and an organizational solution to the problems facing the left: in his case, “Zinovievism” serves as the original sin that led us down the blind ally of sectarianism, and immediate regroupment into a broad-left formation (of a yet-to-be-defined form) is the salvation. Yet, organizational forms were never the root of our problems. His attempts to analyze the left’s historical experience gloss over the real concerns and factors shaping specific strategic choices, not to mention the actual variation between “Zinovievist” groups. Sorry, but the European FI groups of the 1960s did not function identically to the US SWP, and organizational forms and norms that may have become anachronistic now, also might have been quite necessary at an earlier moment. Moreover, sectarianism will never really be a matter of formal organizational structures and norms, as I think Louis himself far too commonly demonstrates in his writings. Most importantly, the search for short-term organizational fixes to what are really political problems will continue to be a non-starter for the left. The appeal of that orientation reflects the weakness of the organized left during the past few decades, but it has had consistently negative consequences that belie the tremendous confidence of its proponents.

    This piece comes a bit closer to the mark, but it isn’t based on a real assessment of the actual challenges and opportunities facing us, let alone the strengths and weakness of our real work, and it also suffers from the fallacy of projecting your notion of what others should think for what they actually do think. That’s a real pity, because if folks would take a bit more of a comradely approach, would drop the snarky dickheadishness and the idea that somehow they were raising questions that had never occurred to the rest of us or that we needed to be saved – and most of all if comrades would show a little modesty about what they really know or undersand – then there are real contributions to crucial, ongoing conversations about organizational and other strategic questions that they could make.

    Comment by Jonah — February 10, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

  9. Correction to comment 7. Should read “to dissolve.”

    Comment by Morris Kennedy — February 10, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

  10. drop the snarky dickheadishness

    Sorry. I am incorrigible.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

  11. Sorry. I am incorrigible.

    ________________

    Yeah, I know. I can’t tell if it’s a personality thing, a style encouraged by the nature of internet polemics, or something about how 1960s veterans of groups like the US SWP were trained. But it’s a real hindrance to these discussions. And really it’s not just a matter of tone. Paul D’Amato described one of his interlocuter’s points as “profound.” That shows a real willingness to take seriously what others are saying. As far as I can tell, you barely read pieces that you subsequently write screeds against. It’s a horrible tendency, one that the left really does need to transcend.

    Comment by Jonah — February 10, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

  12. Although I did find the “red condom” metaphor titillating. Not based in anything that the people you ascribed it to had actually said, but titillating none the less.

    Comment by Jonah — February 10, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

  13. Paul D’Amato described one of his interlocuter’s points as “profound.” That shows a real willingness to take seriously what others are saying.

    Actually, someone who has spoken frequently with D’Amato and who is also a friend of mine told me that when my name came up in conversation with him, he let out a string of profanities.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 11:51 pm

  14. Yeah, I didn’t mean you.

    I have no idea if what you say is true or not, but if it is, then it dovetails with my point that his responses show a real willingness to actually take seriously what people on the other side of debates are saying.

    Try to avoid caricaturing others opinions, and please figure out at some point in your life which arguments deserve vitriol and which deserve a slightly calmer tone. Some of your interventions are reminiscent of the worst experiences I’ve had at left-wing meetings. Disconnected, over-the-top, etc.

    Comment by Jonah — February 11, 2012 @ 12:10 am

  15. Try to avoid caricaturing others opinions, and please figure out at some point in your life which arguments deserve vitriol and which deserve a slightly calmer tone.

    Jonah, I am practically old enough to be your grandfather. Don’t you realize how obnoxious it is to take such a patronizing tone with me? The problem is not showing respect for other people’s opinions. What is going on instead is that your temperature is rising because people are trying to explain to you that what you are doing is all wrong. I know that I would be as aggravated as you if someone tried to tell me something like this back in 1971 or so. But please drop the unctuous sermonizing.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2012 @ 12:35 am

  16. CCDS is already a ‘multi-tendency socialist organization.’ Some members only vote for Greens, the Free DC/Greens, or Peace and Freedom. Others, a larger majority, work for PDA and its candidates. We all support Occupy, work in unions, build the peace marches, and so on. On matters of history and theory, we argue, but have yet to see a need to split on it. We also have a number of ‘dual members’ with the SP, DSA, CPUSA and perhaps a few others. I suppose one can always re-invent the wheel, but we’re fairly serious these days about a ‘left unity’ that could bring us to scale. We’re ready to talk with anyone who’s serious about it.

    Comment by Carl Davidson (@carldavidson) — February 11, 2012 @ 1:08 am

  17. “But please drop the unctuous sermonizing.”
    Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2012 @ 12:35 am

    Sounds like the ol’ do as I say and not as I do.

    Comment by Morris Kennedy — February 11, 2012 @ 1:34 am

  18. Thanks for Louis for posting our intro from socialistorganizer.org Despite Louis…transparent attempt at sect baiting…by accident he raises an important point not discussed by any of Bihn’s very interesting essays on his web site, planet anarchy, and this is international affiliations, which some groups take quite seriously, the role of the international in these discussion and the implications of Bihn’s essay on how this plays out internationally.

    My own comments were directed at Bihn’s essay, and not toward my own group. Such self-promotion here is worse than pendandic, but perhaps that is Louis’ mode of operation. I seriously wonder that if a group was ever built according Louis political personality, their first act would be to deny his application for membership.

    Comment by David Walters — February 11, 2012 @ 1:39 am

  19. The John Reed Society is little if anything beyond a discussion list at this stage, sorry to say.

    Comment by Neil Peterman — February 11, 2012 @ 7:09 am

  20. In considering the historical signficance of all this, one also needs to bear in mind that after 1921 Trotsky was trying to suck up to the Old Bolsheviks who were busy booting him out of the party, at first through the back door then through the front. Hence his fawning remarks about the genius of Lenin and the impossibility of ever being right aginst the party. At his pomp in 1920 Trotsky remarked that he did not consider he was all wrong in his pre-revolutionary differences with Lenin.
    Trotsky’s efforts to organise his supporters after 1929 cannot really be described as a success now can they? Albeit circumstances were unbelievably difficult.
    More to the point given the tiny number of revolutionary socialists around today, and the frankly marginal tactical differences that separate them – the fact that they cannot unite in a single organisation is damning.

    Comment by billj — February 11, 2012 @ 11:47 am

  21. Another amusing point to reflect on is that the only socialist organisation in Russia to call for workers power in March 1917 was a Menshevik one.

    Comment by billj — February 11, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

  22. I thought Trotsky was pretty popular in the Soviet Union and really did not need to suck up to anyone. I visited the museum of the revolution in St. Petersburg and sure enough there were pictures of Trotsky and the Central Committee with Lenin and all those he would have been sucking up to. He was more centrally located in the constellation than the purported suckees. He was like, #2. Trotsky was not a bureaucrat and did not have the bureaucrat’s mindset. Russia was and is a country with a long history of bureaucracy. Stalin took advantage of this mindset and put it to work for his faction. By the time Trotsky was drummed out of the Party, there was an entirely new generation at the reigns, feeling its oats, and not caring a bit about the old guard. You know, kids who were 15 or so during the civil war then became new bureaucrats and they did suck up to Stalin. They brought along their entire families and placed them in the nicer jobs with benefits. They were arrogant SOBs. Imagine the ignorant TSA feeler-uppers in power and you can get an idea of the respect the armed bureaucrats had for the revolutionary zeal of the old guard and the theory of permanent revolution. Scrounging around the Soviet Union for resources was not exactly the same as exporting revolution to other countries. A bureaucrat will do anything to keep from actually having to work. If you have ever observed a union bureaucracy, you can get a little idea of how it works. You have to imagine them with guns and the power to arrest and kill you. My wife’s grandfather was picked up and killed by them in 1937 in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) after a month of torture and interrogation. He was dumped in a mass grave along with 1,000s of others who had done absolutely nothing wrong. The armed bureaucrats were totally out of control and arrogant AOs. The Terror had quotas block-by-block. Anyone who was not 100% pro-Stalin’s faction was picked up and killed. People who had preferable jobs were targeted so the relatives and friends, comrades, of Stalin’s faction could get the jobs, the apartments, etc. It was not really an abstract debate at the street level. Our Russian guide’s grandfather was tipped off that he was on the list, so he skipped town. He came back after the heat had died down and was never picked up. He had lost his nice position to a newcomer at the Admiralty though. The NKVD sent its henchmen out in black panel trucks. The locals called them Ravens. When they saw a raven, they knew someone was going to get it. The families of those targeted by the Ravens had to completely erase any history they had of the person, destroy photos, etc., as if they never existed. The reality was extremely grim and depressing. Stalin’s faction sucked the life out of the revolution. Of course the imperialists and the failed revolutions elsewhere were big factors along with the collapsing economy. But to try and blame Trotsky for Stalin’s consolidation as head of the armed bureaucracy just shows complete ignorance of the situation. David King in Britain has published some photo books on this and thousands of photos. Maybe you should get them and you’d have a better idea of the reality instead of writing about who sucks. We all have opinions on that.

    Comment by Eustacius — February 11, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

  23. David: My own comments were directed at Bihn’s essay, and not toward my own group.

    Huh? You belong to a group that is fundamentally opposed to thinking outside the Fourth International box and you tell me that your comments were only directed at Binh’s essay? I guess that is true in a way since the main purpose was to undermine it. As I tried to make clear, you come at it as an opponent of such an approach whether it is successful (since it would obviously be a Pabloite swamp) or not.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

  24. My views are my own. My group doesn’t see the linear and vertical development of SO as THE party, Louis. We see the working class as a class developing political independence and building their own vehicle. The quote you extracted reflects what we want to do with SO, it does not at all preclude HOW that is going to occur or exclude all sorts of organizational development by revolutionaries. It’s not how we function. It’s not how we see our selves. Of course we want to grow. Duh. But beyond that it’s quite unpredictable.

    This is why what’s MORE important than ‘regroupment’ (either the positive way poised by Bihn or the sectarian way you argue for) per se and unfortunately left out of Bihns writings is independent working class political action. I think this will really determine the working together/fusion/regroupment/splits on the socialist left more than what those groups decide. The issue of whether an actual party of the working class get built is primary as i see it, not if the small socialist groups can come together and form a bigger yet smaller group of the same type or slightly looser. In fact I see this larger struggle..that at this point doesn’t even exist, as a precondition for the kind of regroupment Bihn is talking about.

    Bihn sees the Occupy movement as kind of/sort of playing this same role. This is why I want to read what he thinks in more detail about this. I also think, in fact I know, Bihn rejects your POV on ‘dissolving’ left groups into nothing.

    Comment by David Walters — February 11, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

  25. “!By the time Trotsky was drummed out of the Party, there was an entirely new generation at the reigns, feeling its oats, and not caring a bit about the old guard”

    What the new generation of Zionviev, Kamenev and Stalin?

    “But to try and blame Trotsky for Stalin’s consolidation as head of the armed bureaucracy just shows complete ignorance of the situation.”

    As Trotsky said – Lenin created the apparatus and the appartus created Stalin.

    So who’s ignorant?

    Comment by billj — February 11, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

  26. “What the new generation of Zionviev, Kamenev and Stalin?”

    Maybe you need to understand a little more history of the Russian CP, before the revolution, during the revolution, and after Lenin. Ever hear of the “Lenin levy?” The party was bloated with hundreds of thousands of sycophants, and it was this group of newly consolidated party hacks that Stalin represented and they served as his power base. I guess you do not know what the hacks did to Zinoviev and Kamenev and nearly 100% of the party leaders who led the revolution? Lenin played the central role in creation of the revolutionary party. Stalin played the central role in creating the bureaucratized, reactionary party. Daubing over that distinction shows a pathetic conceptual understanding of revolution and reaction, as if the two are the same. You must be from Missouri, one of those people who can’t understand something unless they see it. Seems like you are against the idea of a revolutionary Leninist party since you equate one to a reactionary party.

    Comment by Eustacius — February 11, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

  27. My group doesn’t see the linear and vertical development of SO as THE party, Louis.

    Nor does any other group that comes out of the Fourth International tradition, except maybe the dregs of the Healyite movement. But in the meantime, you, the ISO, Socialist Action et al continue to build your own little sect all the while paying lip-service to the idea that down the road there might be fusions with other groups moving in the same direction. Don’t forget, David, I was in the SWP for 11 years and heard this kind of malarkey all the time.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2012 @ 6:08 pm

  28. “We see the working class as a class developing political independence and building their own vehicle.”

    That is an interesting concept that is fairly at odds with the idea of a Leninist-type party. The working class has never created a revolutionary “vehicle” capable of taking power via spontaneous generation. The reason a party is the vehicle is because broad masses of the population are incapable of “developing political independence”. While people may misplace hope in such spasmodic creations as Occupy, whatever it is, it is not going to develop revolutionary consciousness or action to power. The reason for this is to be found in the everyday lives of the people with its thousands of bourgeois ideological reinforcements that occur on a semi-conscious level. The idea of party is to educate and direct consciousness so that a new paradigm can explain the reality.

    Comment by Eustacius — February 11, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

  29. Erik: being multi-tendency is not a magic bullet. Every political choice we make comes with tradeoffs and creates different challenges. The RSDLP was a multi-tendency organization and the Bolshevik wing of it led a revolution. Obviously that doesn’t mean the SPUSA can or will. This should go without saying.

    David: In my Tasks piece I mentioned Max Elbaum and Dave Cline, so my views on the Maoists should be clear. Cline was a Viet Nam veteran, postal worker militant, and RCP member for many years before leading VVAW and Veterans for Peace. He was a great man, and his death was a huge loss for the left in this country. I’m not sure when/why he left, but I’ll never forget what he told me when RCPers split from VVAW to form “VVAW Anti-Imperialist”: “Well, I guess that makes us pro-imperialist!”

    In my book Cline is up there with Camejo, but that’s just a personal thing for me. Clay Claiborne is also out of the Maoist left, as is Mike Ely; it would be sheer stupidity on my part not to be open to working with people with 4 decades of revolutionary work behind them towards our common ends.

    You write, “the fact remains that there appears to be nothing *pushing* these groups together, toward regroupment.” Of course not. They are all still competing against one another for adherents. It’s like a bunch of mom and pop burger joints that come together on the same block to hold a street festival; they play nice together for the most part but in reality they have better burgers than their competitors.

    Re: NPA, SSP. All of the failed experiments people point to in these discussions exist in countries with mass social democratic/communist parties that have deep roots in the working class. Are you seriously saying their problems are our problems?

    Morris: No. I mentioned some local socialist organizations that are doing excellent work. These types of groups should be in a common, national organization.

    Jonah: Is the ISO a multi-tendency organization, in your view? Do ISO members have the right to form tendencies or factions?

    You write, “This piece comes a bit closer to the mark, but it isn’t based on a real assessment of the actual challenges and opportunities facing us, let alone the strengths and weakness of our real work, and it also suffers from the fallacy of projecting your notion of what others should think for what they actually do think.” And where is your or the ISO’s assessment of all the questions you claim my piece came up short on? I have yet to read anything that is as concrete and explicit as I have been in this piece and the earlier one I wrote. What is the ISO’s view about the new tasks Occupy has put before us?

    Comment by Binh — February 11, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

  30. Incorrigible

    I’m Proyect’s age and I agree with Jonah. Except for Binh and some of his stammtisch cronies from the mailing list, Louis routinely treats people with zero courtesy and is often a stranger to the civility that he likes to boast about. He pisses on his fellow codgers and the young equally.

    Admittedly he seems to work a lot and certainly produces a lot of output, probably with great haste in non-abundant spare time. The work is often very intense and scholarly, and I can understand a certain impatience under those circumstances.

    Better kissed off by Louis than trading obscenities with some half-literate admirer of Bernie Sanders.

    But judging from the number of times Louis–I wonder if I dare call him that–suggests he might slug someone, I gather that he just enjoys feeling like a tough guy and thinks its cute to ignore the decencies he exacts from others.

    I wonder if he talked like that when he was trying to organize factory workers.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 11, 2012 @ 11:05 pm

  31. Something A New Party Would Need

    A new party would need better news reporting–especially better reporting than Chris Hedges is capable of. Other sources of intelligence wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

    The video shown on Proyect’s blog of Black Blocs in Greece last year is a significant document and germane to many things but it’s grainy, badly done, minimally informative, and in any case gives no information about what Black Blocs mean in the U.S. in the context of OWS. You wouldn’t show Greek union militants and say, “there’s OWS.” What proof do you have that the U.S. black blocs with or without police attachments are the same scary chaps shown in this video?

    People like Hedges waking up in the middle of the night and yelling “Murder!!” at the tops of their high, white voices are the last thing OWS–or a new socialist party–needs. Leftists aren’t the only ones listening.

    Binh, who is the soul of patience, gently informed me yesterday that it is never possible to get the inside skinny on police provocations and secret ops, so the idea of discrediting the Black Blocs by exposing their police ties factually will never fly. I gathered that any schoolboy is supposed to know this.

    Here are two links, albeit to a Place that Does Not Exist in the Minds of the Virtuous, that show beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is possible to get actual info on police dirty tricks. I make no other claims for the posts or their source. You will have to copy and paste.

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/feb2011/kenn-f03.shtml

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/feb2011/poli-f01.shtml

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 12, 2012 @ 4:36 am

  32. Joe, your links prove my point that that kind of information would almost certainly come from a whistleblower; the officer in question turned his back on the state he worked for. Intrepid reporting had nothing to do with bringing this out into the open, although once it became public the scandal spilled over and that spillover was picked up by the press.

    I never claimed it was “impossible” to get inside information; I merely pointed out the realistic means for accomplishing.

    Furthermore, why does your reply to me re: exposing the work of the political police belong in this thread?

    Comment by Binh — February 12, 2012 @ 4:59 am

  33. You said what I said you said. My point is valid and your response is disingenuous to say the least.

    The post is where it is because I chose to put it there, which is reason enough.

    Move on. Your mask at least has now been removed.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 12, 2012 @ 10:56 am

  34. “I guess you do not know what the hacks did to Zinoviev and Kamenev and nearly 100% of the party leaders who led the revolution? Lenin played the central role in creation of the revolutionary party. Stalin played the central role in creating the bureaucratized, reactionary party.”

    And who puts those hacks in power? Lenin. According to Zinoviev only 2% of the members of the 1921 party had been members before 1917. After Lenin smashed the Workers Opposition in 1921 – pointing out that its leader
    Schylapnikov deserved “the bullet” for demanding workers control – no inter party dispute was ever taken outside of the apparatus.
    By 1922 after Lenin had organised or at least tolerated police measures against his internal opponents a mere handful of WO delegates were reelected to the next congress. Lenin celebrated the smashing of the opposition.
    By 1923 the troika of Zionviev, Stalin and Kamenev had taken over. This was the point when Trotsky explained that it was impossible for an individual to be right against the party.
    Trotsky did not even sign the “Platform of the 46”, probably authored by Preobrahenzsky, but for some reason included in Trotsky’s documents of the left opposition. Trotsky always opposed forming a faction in order to not split the party. Even when the opposition were being expelled and deported to concentration camps in 1929 they swore their loyalty to the unity of the party.
    So the actual history does not fit so neatly into the traditional Trotskyist schema.
    The so called “differences” between all of the left Trotskyist groups are less than within the Bolshevik faction of 1917. So why is there no realistic prospect of them uniting? They have after all, hardly been successful, so far. Its partly the legacy of history, the terrible bureaucratic tradition of the Comintern fostered by Zinoviev under Lenin’s tutledge, and partly that there are material interests – that is an apparatus – in each of these groups who benefit by the division of the left.

    Comment by billj — February 12, 2012 @ 11:48 am

  35. Binh

    I’ll only add this. The WSWS–is one supposed to call them “Healeyite dregs”?–understand better than you do how to report facts and use them. I found not one but half a dozen posts there that illustrate the very constructive point I am trying to make.

    The reason why this post is here and not where you, Comrade, have decreed it should be, is that thinking of it led to the helpful assertion that mastering those well-known techniques would be a useful asset to your proposed party.

    Your pointlessly contestatory response–like Proyect’s contemptible bellicosity about Hedges’ indefensible essay–illustrates a fundamental weakness of Marxism-Leninism as practiced by most of those sects that you hope to unite, which is its insistence on correctness at all costs and the belief that endless bullying exchanges in the interests of correctness are the only way to move forward.

    The anarchists–and I am not speaking of Black Blocs here–understand the importance and fundamental nature of free cooperation, which is how they sometimes achieve stunning successes, such as the original success of OWS.

    This does not seem to strike the average Leninist as a point carrying any theoretical weight. But it does.

    How you will incorporate any tincture of this in a formation that includes Maoists is beyond my conception. Good luck.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 12, 2012 @ 11:53 am

  36. “Seems like you are against the idea of a revolutionary Leninist party since you equate one to a reactionary party.”

    Yes I’d have to say I am. The Leninist party of 1921 on was a terrible bureaucratic monolith. It was this party that was spread across the world under the aegis of the Comintern. It is this party that forms the basis for the various left groups around the world today.
    The Bolshevik faction from aroun 1910-1917 on the other hand allowed diverse opinions and did not indulge in bureaucratic measures to silence opponents. It was this party that actually lead a revolution – after the rank and file overcame the conservatism of their bureaucratic leaders that it.
    Another interesting though to ponder is that in the dispute over the trade union question in 1921 Lenin denounced the Workers Opposition as “syndicalists” for demanding trade union control of industry. Bizarrely, trade union control of industry was actually the position of the Bolshevik Party at the time.
    In fact by excluding the working class from controlling industry, at a time when the soviet did not exist and factions were banned in the party, it meant the untrammelled rule of the bureaucrats over the working class. This measure massively accelerated the consoldiation of the bureaucracy and smashed democracy in the trade unions. Rykov the leader of the trade unions suffered internal deportation in 1921 cos he failed to prevent the Bolshevik trade union faction from including a phrase about “according to the norms of working class democracy” in the founding principles of the trade unions.

    Comment by billj — February 12, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  37. Bihn writes:
    “You write, “the fact remains that there appears to be nothing *pushing* these groups together, toward regroupment.” Of course not. They are all still competing against one another for adherents.”

    You are mixing metaphors here, Bihn. There is nothing pushing them together, we agree. But competition for ‘adherents’ is not what is keeping them apart. It is actually very practical work that that keeps them apart. And we can talk about this, these differences, etc., that would make working in an openly public tendency ‘big tent’ left group not impossible, perhaps desirable to you, but IMO, politically impotent.

    I think this is one of the criticism of Solidarity, the only other group that I know of besides CCDS and FRSO that is organized in support of various forms of regroupment. People often leave Solidarity for other groups precisely because it’s incapable in it’s organization, and the politics that flows from this, because of it’s a multi-tendency organization. There is virtually nothing keeping anyone out of Solidarity, and yet it’s limitations in becoming an magnet for this sort of regroupment continues to escape them.

    I think the bigger picture is how to regroup the working class politically, out of the Democrats, into something in it’s own class interests. Socialist regroupment may actually be an obstacle to this, I don’t know.

    I just want to thank you for writing this essay and replying. Obviously there needs to be a venue for this sort of continuing discussion.

    D.

    Comment by David Walters — February 12, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

  38. Binh,
    Do you really think that your not yet published article “Thinkiing About Joining the ISO?” is the way to open a dialogue with ISO members? That would be like me opening a dialogue with my neighbor, by standing outside of his house and throwing rocks through his front room window.

    Comment by Morris Kennedy — February 12, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  39. Joe, I didn’t decree anything. I asked you a question, and you gave a revealing answer. I’ve worked with wsws.org a bit at OWS and have had extensive discussions with an ex-SEP member who is also glad to work with me, so I have an inside and outside view of how they work, what they do, and so on. Maybe they’ll disown me since my “mask” has fallen off.

    David, so what are these practical differences that are unbridgeable in a common organization? It seems like there is a contradiction between noting the “highly productive” joint work the various groups do together and saying that the practical differences are too great to be in a common organization. I don’t understand.

    The fact that we are using (or abusing) someone’s personal blog for this kind of discussion only highlights the point I made in the piece that the U.S. socialist left’s practice is not terribly healthy.

    Morris, you’ve already judged the content of a piece that has yet to be written by its provisional, working title? I suppose I could write something a little more Trotskyist like wsws.org does, like “the ISO Supports Obama, trade union bureaucrats, and the petty-bourgeois 7th International!”. Perhaps that would make Joe happy. Feel free to make a better suggestion for a title if you have one.

    Comment by Binh — February 12, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

  40. Binh: fair enough. Too many comments from me. I am resting

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — February 12, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

  41. My understanding is the purpose of the article not yet published is to discourage anyone from joining the ISO. If I’m incorrect I’ll withdraw my previous criticism.

    Comment by Morris Kennedy — February 12, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

  42. Jonah: Is the ISO a multi-tendency organization, in your view? Do ISO members have the right to form tendencies or factions?
    You write, “This piece comes a bit closer to the mark, but it isn’t based on a real assessment of the actual challenges and opportunities facing us, let alone the strengths and weakness of our real work, and it also suffers from the fallacy of projecting your notion of what others should think for what they actually do think.” And where is your or the ISO’s assessment of all the questions you claim my piece came up short on? I have yet to read anything that is as concrete and explicit as I have been in this piece and the earlier one I wrote. What is the ISO’s view about the new tasks Occupy has put before us?

    __________________________________

    All politics is contextual, and the various issues related to formal rules and norms, organizational boundaries, the question of tendencies, etc. is no less so. Revolutionary parties tend to have semi-permanent or permanent tendencies and factions that reflect substantive and far-reaching strategic disagreements which can also be settled in practice, and involve significant social forces engaged in struggle. The practical unity of such parties, as well as the divisions within and around them over how to respond to strategic problems, are shaped by the actual experiences of various layers of the class in real movements. We’re dealing with a context in which there is an enormous and widespread radicalization, embodied in the growth of the Occupy movement, but that process is still marked by the long-term disintegration of the organizations and institutions of the left and the labor movement since the 1970s. There is no working-class vanguard in the US. That creates a range of difficulties and challenges even in a moment of immense opportunities, which can’t be solved through organizational formulas or pat solutions. The multi-tendency model, to the extent that I understand what you mean by that (and it seems like neither of you are entirely clear on what you mean, or at least it changes all the time), in these circumstances, would be a recipe for pointless, often personalistic or totally abstract infighting which would quickly be reduced to those with the time and inclination to engage in argument for the sake of argument. More importantly it would mean organizational incapacitation and a decline in the far-left’s ability to engage in productive activity in the burgeoning movements. That’s not because we’re all dumb and only you guys understand what to do, it’s because of the conditions we’re forced to operate in. By the way, if comrades who write so confidently about organizational questions on the internet knew anything they would know that we are hardly the most efficiently or tightly organized current within the Occupy Movement.

    The ISO, as far as I understand, it shares not a “program” (whatever that means exactly), or a rigid commitment to specific analyses of conjunctural or historical questions, but a broad political tradition that draws elements from the British SWP/IST, the American IS, as well as a range of other sources – for example, comrades will often read Mandel, Lowy and (*shudder*) previous generations of writers from the US SWP like Cannon, Breitman, and Novack. As the political circumstances have shifted, so to has the ISO. With a higher level of politics across the organization, and more struggles in which our members can be engaged, the level of debate and discussion in the organization has also gone up. We’re all trying to figure out how to move forward, but frankly the quality of these conversations demonstrate a rootedness in real political work and a sophistication that is far beyond what appears on blogs like this one.

    Dozens and dozens of ISO members are involved in many different Occupy-related groups all over NYC – that’s setting aside the rest of the country, which I know less about. Some comrades are in smaller, community-based GAs or other working-groups, or in campus-based groups that have had to figure out exactly how to proceed when that isn’t always clear, how to relate the movement to the concrete concerns motivating students, etc. Others have participated in some of the most exciting work, such as Occupy the DOE:

    http://www.ny1.com/content/top_stories/155700/protesters-rally-against-school-closures-to-no-avail

    In fact, some have been involved since the planning stages. At every moment there have been productive, fruitful debates and discussions within the organization and between comrades and the huge pool of activists that we work with. Inevitably, those conversations have been influenced by our past experiences. For example, I myself argued against comrades who were super excited about Occupy before it began, not for any of the reasons you seem to think, but because of my own experiences with Bloombergville – a permanent encampment near City Hall to protest budget cuts last spring – which petered out after a couple of weeaks. If I learned the wrong lessons from that, it’s not because of the organizational conservatism of socialist groups, or rigid propagandistic methods, or anything like that.

    The funny thing is Binh, no one that I’ve talked to remembers seeing you at any of these meetings or actions. Have you taken on any political responsibilities related to the movement? Had to figure out next steps for any related campaign or struggle? Really, I wonder when’s the last time you went to an Occupy-related event of any sort. Because no one who knows you remembers you being at any of them. Indeed, have you talked face-to-face with an ISO member since you left the group, for personal reasons, six years ago?

    I say this, not because I want to attack you personally, but because to the extent that they are cognizant of what you write, comrades here in NYC that I’ve talked to get frustrated because you’re confident claims about the dynamics of the movement bear no relationship to the actual work they do, its strengths and weaknesses, or their actual experiences in the movement. You can imagine why that might inspire more than a little annoyance.

    It seems to me that what you’re really asking is why the ISO hasn’t responded directly to your various pieces or in the forums you choose to operate in. I speak only for myself, and have had no discussions with anyone outside of NYC, but my feeling is that it’s because we’ve learned that they’re not the most productive venues in which to have real discussions about important political issues. Even those of us that spend inordinate amounts of time on the internet seem to have learned from hard individual experience that when people start citing blogs filled with absurd rumors about the functioning of the organization, or when articles appear making incredibly confident pronouncements about what we are and aren’t doing, it’s best not to engage with them.

    Comment by Jonah — February 13, 2012 @ 12:44 am

  43. Jonah: I look forward and enjoy the International Socialist Review when it arrives in the post. I mean that. I read it cover to cover and then re-read it again. After that I pass it on to friends who, in turn, do the same. That said, the ISO is about as ecumenical as a cloistered abbey… and an uncouth one at that, where an ex-parte ideo litmus test is conducted prior to admitting a mourner at a ISO members memorial service.

    Now, it is high time for a broad left coalition based on a presentation of an alternative to the two party status-quo vetted by Wall St. Perhaps we might look to the coalition which enabled Allende to assume power….The Partido Comunista de Chile along with the Partido Socialista formed a United Front.

    …and there is plenty of finger pointing to go around as well… I just read Zizek in LRB yesterday (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n02/slavoj-zizek/the-revolt-of-the-salaried-bourgeoisie..*) He is routinely pilloried here on UM. And yet I think we all have it it in us to set aside the petards we hoist one another on for the sake of a world which suffers ad-nausuem the pettiness of the american left.

    So yeah, we all must give a little. You might start with a bit of humility when confronting a lion. Be thankful for a person like Louis or be prepared show us all what you got.

    (* “It is the very success of capitalism (greater efficiency, raised productivity etc) which produces unemployment, rendering more and more workers useless: what should be a blessing – less hard labour needed – becomes a curse. Or, to put it differently, the chance to be exploited in a long-term job is now experienced as a privilege.”…. Priceless!)

    Comment by Pablo — February 13, 2012 @ 2:45 am

  44. “At every moment there have been productive, fruitful debates and discussions within the organization and between comrades and the huge pool of activists that we work with.” Why not publish these debates among ISO members and others on socialistworker.org? What is the need for keeping a tight lid on internal debates among members? It really does make the organization appear cultish and sect-like, a lot of people perceive the organization that way and the ISO does not appear to have taken constructive steps to address this problem. Also, as Binh said earlier, it is problematic that a discussion as important as this one is confined to the comments section of someone’s personal blog.

    Comment by jon — February 13, 2012 @ 4:20 am

  45. Try forming tendencies or factions in the ISO. They will throw your ass out in two seconds.

    Ahmed will hop on a plane, expel all involved and call for an “emergency meeting”. Anyone showing sympathies to those expelled will be thrown out as well after the meeting.

    They nip that shit in the bud right quick.

    Comment by geez — February 13, 2012 @ 5:19 am

  46. Binh’s piece on Tony Cliff has generated a strong critical response from the ISO (US) leadership. Auch! First, his book review questions the core of the ISO ideological hubris (a schematic false ideology, that is); and second, it demystifies a post war centrist political figure whose contributions to revolutionary politics are nil. At this point, one might agree or disagree with some of Binh’s arguments –carefully laid down in his book review. This book review has—in a matter of days— touched a raw nerve. On a different note, implying that Binh left the ISO due to personal reasons is a typical tactic used by this propaganda sect. It serves a clear, purpose, though. That is, to avoid talking about whatever political disagreements Binh had inside the ISO. By the way, what a prick Jonah is: tons of members have left for “personal reasons” after Obama came to power. Why pick on Binh? What about the rest? BTW, the ISO leadership does not expel its members. What it does, however, is ignore those who dare disagree with the leadership, ostracizing them in the process.

    Comment by Ari — February 13, 2012 @ 5:33 am

  47. “the ISO leadership does not expel its members. What it does, however, is ignore those who dare disagree with the leadership, ostracizing them in the process.”

    They do both.

    Comment by geez — February 14, 2012 @ 3:56 am

  48. Jonah: you did not answer my direct questions: Is the ISO a multi-tendency organization, in your view? Do ISO members have the right to form tendencies or factions?

    Instead, you choose to question my involvement in Occupy which is well documented in reports that I began writing a few days after OWS began: http://planetanarchy.net/articles.htm I have not written an all-encompassing “resume” of my involvement with the direct action, comfort, open source, town planning working groups that would pre-empt weak personalistic jabs. I suggest you talk to more people, Jonah, because I have certainly seen ISO people in some of these meetings.

    You are quick to say the things I have written fall short but it seems the ISO does not have anything written (yet) that discusses the new tasks Occupy has put before the socialist movement, except for D’Amato’s insistence that regroupment in the context of Occupy is not on the cards because of disagreements on N. Korea. The reason I wrote the Tasks piece in the first place is because I saw no discussion of any of our new tasks anywhere on the socialist left. What I would like to see is more discussion of those issues, with or without my name in it makes no difference to me.

    You claim that I got the “dynamics of the movement” wrong. If this is so, let’s hear what I got wrong. Truth is concrete.

    If you or the ISO choose to avoid forums were people are discussing live issues in a clear, concrete, and specific way I would say that is your loss and a poor way to spread the ISO’s political influence.

    jon: Those are good questions. Let’s see what Jonah has to say (if anything).

    Ari: Unfortunately geez is correct, as the links I posted in a comment reply to Paul LeBlanc indicate: http://links.org.au/node/2719 I did leave in ’06 for personal reasons — I had to work two jobs, 60+ hours a week, 7 days a week, for three years to pay the bills. Clearly this was the beginning of my Menshevism.

    Comment by Binh — February 14, 2012 @ 6:11 am

  49. Morris: Since I am guilty until proven innocent, you’ll be happy to know there are two presidential candidates in the coming election who share your approach. Happy voting.

    Comment by Binh — February 14, 2012 @ 11:55 pm

  50. Some photographic evidence of my involvement at Occupy: http://images.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/09/29/at_occupy_wall_street/goals_meeting_400x300.jpg (I’m in the plaid shirt on the lower right taking stack next to Ted at what was then the open-source working group.) The pic was taken by a Salon reporter. I’m was the “tax the rich” guy: http://www.salon.com/2011/09/29/at_occupy_wall_street/ This meeting was what I wrote about in my Nuts and Bolts piece.

    It’s sad that the ISO and similar groups do not want to even consider changing how they operate to rise to the challenge of Occupy. There’s so much more they (really, we) could be doing but instead they insist on clinging to well-worn formulas and organizational methods that have already been tried and not succeeded.

    If the SWP couldn’t make “Leninism” work in the 1955-1975 period with a more significant base in the union movement and people of Camejo’s caliber leading that organization, I don’t think the same basic model will work now with lesser forces, talents, and abilities today.

    Comment by Binh — March 7, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

  51. Pablo @43 wrote:
    “Now, it is high time for a broad left coalition based on a presentation of an alternative to the two party status-quo vetted by Wall St. Perhaps we might look to the coalition which enabled Allende to assume power….The Partido Comunista de Chile along with the Partido Socialista formed a United Front.”

    Replace “Allende” with “Pinochet” and you will be historically accurate.

    Allende, in fact, never did “assume power”. Rather, a section of the bourgeoisie allowed him to assume the presidency of Chile only after he agreed to not tamper with the command structure of the armed forces. His main function was to provide a focus for the anti-working-class rage of the middle and upper classes, at the same time facilitating the political disorientation and physical disarming of the militant working class.

    Comment by Red Snapper — May 11, 2012 @ 8:58 pm


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