Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 28, 2019

Socialism 2019: the Left at a Crossroads

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,ISO — louisproyect @ 2:41 pm


For a number of years, the International Socialists Organization, once the largest Marxist group in the USA, held educational conferences either in Chicago or in various American cities. In 2004, I attended a plenary session of a regional conference at City College in New York, mostly to hear my old friend Peter Camejo who was the featured speaker alongside Ahmed Shawki, the disgraced former leader whose cover-up of multiple rapes in the ISO led to its dissolution this year. If Peter had lived, I am not sure what he would make of its demise. Although he was a sharp critic of “Leninism”, he had high regard for the ISO, as did the late Sol Dollinger, a member of Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman’s Socialist Union. The Socialist Union was the first attempt to break with sectarianism in the USA but dissolved in 1959 because of unfavorable political conditions not all that different from what we face today.

Those conditions played a large role in the ISO’s demise. If being a Marxist today is like swimming against the current (the aptly named magazine of Solidarity, another left group following in the Socialist Union tradition), the current period has left most socialist groups gasping for air like spawning salmons. The ISO was formed in 1977, just at the point when the Socialist Workers Party, the sect I belonged to, had begun a “colonization of industry” strategy that would eventually reduce its membership by 90 percent. The Maoist groups of the late 60s and early 70s had also begun to sputter out and die, their story recorded in Max Elbaum’s essential “Revolution in the Air”.

If Leninist groups have a shelf life, the 21-year history of the ISO is about par for the course. Except for Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative, there is no self-avowed Leninist group that amounts to anything in 2019. Those that still exist tend to be hermetically sealed sects like the Spartacist League or the Socialist Equality Party that have never sought to have an impact on the mass movement, seeing themselves instead as its high priesthood critics.

Continue reading


  1. Having spoke and worked with Peter many times on Bolivarian Revolution solidarity before his death, I think he had a different outlook about the ISO even then and didn’t think much of them at that time. As for Socialist Alternative they have some very good people and are very small, also with the splits happening in the Peter Taffe’s/CWI it’s days may be numbered. But I noticed you passed over the IMT (as always) which has grown over this period of time not only in the US but in many places around the world. I know people can become isolated in the big city and can’t keep up with all that is happening, so no reason to apologize for this Louis. Sending this short note from Mérida, Venezuela…Rojo Rojito, Cort

    Comment by Cort Greene — June 28, 2019 @ 4:40 pm

  2. So what is the thinking of the IMT, I.e., the ted grant/alan woods wing of the ex-militant tendency, on the DSA, Bernie and working within the Dems? Anything short and concise to read on it?

    Comment by Roy rollin — June 28, 2019 @ 5:14 pm

  3. Sanders is a dead man walking. He gave up any serious claim to actual socialism (if he ever had one) in order to become acceptable as a Democrat, and he is now being used as a stalking horse for the CIA/FBI/Pentagon/Goldman Sachs wing of the Party–which is to say, the Party. Furthermore, no children’s crusade on his behalf will have the slightest effect on actual politics. Remember George McGovern?

    The whole thing is a setup–a setup by a wing of the ruling class who won’t suffer much if at all from four more years of madness and destruction of the working class.

    Donald Trump is going to be re-elected in a landslide, probably bringing both houses of Congress along on his coattails. Meanwhile the I’m-not-really socialists who claims to support Sanders are going to find themselves in an unmarked mass grave. So much for playing it safe.

    Anyway, does anyone seriously believe that a Hispanic named Castro or a gay man with “butt” in his name could possibly be elected in born-again pinhead America? Ditto for the rest of the gibbering squeakers. It’s a bad parody.

    A real party unified two months ago behind a credible dark horse candidate with a serious mildly social-democratic platform might stand a chance. But after this bullshit “debate,” nobody does. That’s what it’s for.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 28, 2019 @ 7:38 pm

  4. What? You were a member of the Socialist Workers Party? Do tell!

    Comment by Max Power — June 29, 2019 @ 12:00 pm

  5. Jacobin just reprinted yet another piece by Lars lih, claiming that kautsky is the real author of the Russian revolution…since Lenin remained a true disciple by sticking to the democratic dictatorship line I all along. None of that ultra left April theses/permanent revolution stuff that us trots have pushed all this time.

    No doubt Sunkara and co want to remind their fans that if you stick to the tried and trust strategy of war of position/maneuver or attrition, ie , voting for democrats, at some point down the line, revolutionary results will surely follow.

    Comment by Roy rollin — June 29, 2019 @ 2:14 pm

  6. It ended up in the DSA’s hands because the ISO was never anything other than a campus based petty bourgeois democratic socialist outfit to begin with. Most of the ISO people moved seamlessly into the DSA where they can now promote Democrats more open and honestly. That is until their morbid self interested identity politics devour that organization too, most likely after Trump sweeps the next election by a landslide.

    Comment by Tray Dee — June 29, 2019 @ 2:58 pm

  7. Petty bourgeois? What the fuck are you? A coal miner? Any time I hear this stupid term, it is a clear sign that the person using it is probably pimply 17 year old who read Mao six months ago and now has fantasies like in the movie “Morgan: a suitable case for treatment”.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 29, 2019 @ 9:06 pm

  8. “Tray Dee” echoed something I said. This makes me sorry I said it.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 30, 2019 @ 9:23 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: