Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 4, 2014

The ISO versus Socialist Alternative

Filed under: Counterpunch,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 12:57 pm
Todd Chretien
CounterPunch WEEKEND EDITION JULY 4-6, 2014
The ISO Versus Socialist Alternative

Sectarian Delusions on the American Left


Another International Socialist Organization Internal Bulletin has been leaked to the public over on the External Bulletin website, home to a group of former members. It contains an article written by long-time leader Todd Chretien that targets Socialist Alternative (SAlt)—the group that is rightfully proud of their comrade Kshama Sawant being elected to the Seattle City Council and for her role in the passing of a $15 minimum wage.

I have been partial to Chretien in the past because of his close ties to the late Peter Camejo, whose gubernatorial campaign in California he helped organize in 2003. I worked closely with Camejo in the early 80s and confess to having stolen all my best ideas from him.

The ISO’s chief criticism of Socialist Alternative’s electoral strategy is that it is “triumphalist”, a musty term from the Marxist lexicon. Specifically, Chretien regards SAlt’s call for a hundred independent candidates to run in the 2014-midterm elections as an “overblown perspective”. In his view, her victory did not necessarily mean that political conditions had ripened to the point where such a large number of candidates would be forthcoming. Such “triumphalism” might even be catching–to the point where ISO’ers would be seduced into believing that it was feasible to form a new “broad” party in the near term, or that regroupment of the far left was the order of the day. Heaven forefend.

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  1. “The sad reality is that it is only a broad left party that can begin to reach those millions, something that neither the ISO nor SAlt is ready to acknowledge except as an abstraction. In reality it would require dissolving themselves into a much larger movement and thus losing their precious individuality.”

    But is this really necessary? I recall an article over at the North Star about SYRIZA where it was mentioned that SYRIZA is composed of quite a number of radical organizations that still retain their individuality within a larger collective context, with a decision making process that is inclusive and respected. Of course, there are probably nasty fights now and again, and yet SYRIZA has held together and moved forward. Perhaps, the problem in the US lies with leadership as it does with antiquated organizational and ideological practices.

    For example, I attended a rally and march in Oakland after the George Zimmerman verdict, and the ISO and the RCP, which admittedly provided resources in support, placed themselves front and center. Leaving aside the RCP, which is a cult, the ISO was prominent among the speakers and dictated the march route. But the young people of color would have none of it, and took over the march after it left Oscar Grant Park, redirecting it through the streets of West Oakland to the cheers of many who encountered it. Would it have been so bad if the ISO had stayed more in the background, and allowed members of the community to step forward, giving them more of a sense of participation?

    Comment by Richard Estes — July 4, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

  2. Louis, I recently ran across your Unrepentant Marxist and value it for some of its detailed comments on international affairs. However, I am appalled that you found any revolutionary worth in Peter Camejo, of whom I have been acquainted since my student days at UC-Berkeley. I’m afraid your affirmation of Camejo clearly illustrates some bankrupt Trotskyism on your part. Peter Camejo steadily moved right during his lifetime and was a blathering liberal by the time he ran for governor of California as a Green.
    Your “Camejoism” is also indicative of the state of the American “left” in 2014.

    Comment by Joe Barnwell — July 4, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

  3. Your “Camejoism” is also indicative of the state of the American “left” in 2014.

    You, sir, are a boob.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 4, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

  4. Louis, I’m definitely not a boob, but was quite rude toward you in my first comment on your site, which I find do find of value. I also need to be more careful, as I cannot muster your often impressive display of polysyllabic pyrotechnics. So I apologize for my aggressive invasion of your home base, and in no way wish to leave the impression that Peter Camejo was anything but a thoroughly decent person, albeit with a politics that devolved from left old hat to bald liberalism. I find myself more than cranky as I wake up each day to a “left” without a lingering trace of Marxism’s revolutionary intellect and spirit and find myself trapped within a systemic (global) triumph of capitalist structures and values within a human species that has been captured in mind as well as labor.

    The Green Party’s Ten Key Values are clearly anti-capitalist, yet in the 23 years since I was a minor part of the founding of the Green Party in California, I have yet to find a single Green who can or will discuss capitalism, and Camejo’s Avocado Declaration mentioned corporations 31 times while it carefully avoided any reference to capitalism.

    Comment by Joe Barnwell — July 5, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

  5. ‘I find myself more than cranky as I wake up each day to a “left” without a lingering trace of Marxism’s revolutionary intellect and spirit and find myself trapped within a systemic (global) triumph of capitalist structures and values within a human species that has been captured in mind as well as labor.’ I wholeheartedly endorse Joe Barnwell’s feelings.

    The question is how to socialists address this situation where, in my view, most existing national organisations lack credibility. The problem isn’t with democratic centralism as such – it’s what has happened to revolutionary organisations as a result of 40 years of neo-liberalism i.e. they have battened down the ideological hatches to such an extent that they are now run by self-perpetuating bureaucratic cliques who just bring into their leaderships people they know personally (regardless of their suitability), are obessed with fundraising largely to fund a bloated number of full-timers, who are overwhelmingly party hacks. These leaderships are terrified of members showing any critical faculties at all – hence their touchiness about internet discussion and debate. Most members of these organisations are dysfunctional human beings who find it difficult to relate to working class people and the normal lives they lead. For example, suggesting that they actually make an effort to get out and talk to people (e.g. during elections) is met with silence or hostility. They are living in a party bubble and have little social skills. That I’m afraid is the reality in England in my experience.

    Comment by Doug — July 14, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

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