Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 28, 2019

The ISO has become unstuck in time

Filed under: Kevin Coogan,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:33 pm

By Todd Chretien

via The ISO has become unstuck in time


  1. Interesting post. At one its attempt to show redemption, perhaps sorrow, and a messianic nature. Better than Barnes but really waxing wrongly, if eloquently, about how they tried. As if the ISO’s demise was just a failure of “color blind bolchevismo” and not a material disconnect combined with political shortsightedness. “We” all really need to be better students of the world and of the Principles and not the scriptures of Marxism.

    Comment by mtomas3 — March 28, 2019 @ 5:08 pm

  2. The long slow death of the absurd political pretensions of post-war Trotskyism continues.

    We could try an alternative course of building an organic socialist presence in real class movements in a patient and methodical manner.

    But the intense rituals of Trotskyist hyper-activism and party-building don’t allow for such a course.

    So we have to wait until the contemporary Trotskyist groups slowly consume themselves, to hopefully clear the ground for an empirically-grounded politics of socialism. Or “scientific socialism” as an old German once called it.

    Comment by Mike — March 29, 2019 @ 6:09 am

  3. absurd political pretensions of post-war Trotskyism … .

    What actual Marxists are there in the current political scene except for Trotskyists and former Trotskyists? And what’s so “absurd” about Blanc anyway–seems like a pretty intelligent guy … . “David North’s” weird cult SEP actually influences people (eg Chris Hedges) … . No idea what’s up with the CPUSA, which apparently still exists but with zero influence … .

    On the other hand, why does one “have to wait until the contemporary T. groups slowly consume themselves” before organizing the necessary brigades? What’s stopping you/us … .?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 29, 2019 @ 12:57 pm

  4. It strikes me that a lot of these sects, like the Labor Committee, were held together by the delusional belief that the members were some morally superior vanguard out to save the world and enlighten the masses with their profound wisdom. In that sense, I don’t see much of a difference sociologically between these vanguard sects and messianic church fundamentalists who created their own little churches with their own “correct” interpretation of sacred texts, by they from Marx or the Book of Mormon.

    I can’t help but think that Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity view of religion was reborn in a secular form in the countless cult/sects. The difference in them is that some of them are very nasty (LaRouche/Healy), some of them are bureaucrat nasty (Barnes), some of them are boringly benign and then turn nasty (ISO), and some of them are really off the wall (LaRouche taking first prize honors on that one at least among the Trotsky line).

    Decades ago Janja Lalich wrote a very interesting study of the cult/sect she was trapped in for years called the Democratic Workers Party led by Marlene Dixon that is well worth reading in this context. Also Alexandria Stein’s book Inside Out on her really unreal life in a Maoist sect in Minnesota. Her book is truly astonishing in its mix of Kafka and Orwell and Mao.

    In my view what makes all these sect/cults chug along is the narcissism of the members who elect to stay year after dreadful year and who believe that by being in the sect/cult (the boundaries are fuzzy and one can bleed into the other) they are members of the “elect” and that ego puff makes them stay when it is clear that they are just treading water at best. At worst, they contribute decades of unpaid “surplus labor” to the group to keep “leadership” in top rate booze as with Dixon or they serve as a vanity press for the likes of a LaRouche or a Healy. They do so because somehow they believe their very “sacrifice” for “the struggle” makes them better than everyone else. There is definitely a symbiotic relationship. Again, I am sure you could find parallels in different Christian sects. Both derive psychological benefits even if it it all emotional junk food.

    In a relatively benign sect, who cares? I am guessing that News and Letters will go on forever and a day rather like the last followers of Daniel De Leon whom I met in NYC in the 1980s. But when they turn nasty, they can become a real problem. However in 99.99% of the time they turn nasty towards their own followers and none of this has any impact in the world outside the cult. So no one notices. Of course, as the sects/cults with a “Leninist” frame have a far easier time suppressing dissent. I would say the key difference between a sect and a cult is the degree of internal democracy and transparency (including financial transparency). Sects are transparent and operate more democratically; cults do not. Hence you can start out a sect and morph into a cult but it is almost never the case that it works the other way round.

    In any case, there is an obvious sociology/psychology of all these groups that has nothing to do with “correct” or “incorrect” interpretations of Marxist or Christian scripture and a lot to do with issues of personal identity. Over time, most people in these sects wise up and get out but some of them simply transfer their loyalty to a different sect to find the same mental reward. Or they go from serf in one sect to boss in another.

    Comment by HH — March 30, 2019 @ 11:31 pm

  5. I’m wont to make comparisons with Scientology. I hesitate to do that since Scientology devolved into a crucible of extremely abusive behavior. There are important overlaps, though.

    In its heyday, Scientology offered various personal benefits to members. You could use the pseudo-therapy to help deal with their personal demons. You could use the social networks to find jobs in Scientology itself, industry or Hollywood. You made friendships. You could also build an entire epistemology to explain your life and society based on the writings of Hubbard. Even people who leave Scientology still adhere to some of the beliefs as pseudo-truths. It’s no different than people who follow astrology, or are former Catholics or Jews.

    Most relevant of all was Scientology promising to save the world from its ills. There is a lot of similarity between “clearing the planet” and “revolutionary socialism”. Most damaging of all, is leveraging this religious salvation to convince people to volunteer their time and money to buy and sell newspapers and books, do political organizing, pay dues, and recruit new members.

    The point of this equivalency isn’t to malign the ISO. It may be a way to help understand what the challenges and possibilities are going forward. There are prominent DSA members who are using the opportunity to dunk on the ISO as a means to promote the DSA, but I hope there is more comradely engagement with ISO members.

    I was never in ISO, but I recognize Todd as someone who was a voice of reason in their paper and their internal bulletins. However, people like Todd always seemed like an exception of the rule. I’ve hung out with rank and file membership, a lot of ISO folks don’t have these qualities. These people have learned some bad ideas and shorthands, including the contradiction “democratic centralism”. They have accepted a lot bad leadership decisions because they put the organization on a pedestal. It’s easy to understand this when you’ve made a lot of personal sacrifice to the cause.

    Comment by aaron — March 31, 2019 @ 4:10 pm

  6. From unstuck in time to without time: https://socialistworker. org/2019/04/02/the-isos-vote-to-dissolve-and-what-comes-next

    Comment by Jara Handala — April 2, 2019 @ 4:41 pm

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