In reference to this.
You know why ISO internal bulletins suck? Because they’re unnecessarily long, grandiose, and infected with jargon, and you have to dig through all that to figure out what they’re even saying. Unfortunately that’s also kind of how I felt when I was reading through the ISO Renewal Faction’s various essays (which multiple people immediately showed me in succession; apparently I’m becoming a minor beacon to the “ex-ISO but still actually doing shit” crowd).
I’ll save everyone the pain of repeating the mistake of meandering, and get straight to my points: I think the Renewal Faction should
- drop the weird neoliberalism analysis, not as individuals, but as a factional point of unity
- place democracy front and center, above not below the neoliberalism analysis
- stand for acknowledgment of new opportunities which even the ISO mainstream is not seizing, quite the opposite of the Renewal Faction’s current role as the voice of neoliberal pessimism
- explore and consider advocating Philly Socialists’ use of the socialization-based theory and practice of recruitment and retention, which is having amazing success
- consider taking up the cause of inter-tendency electoral collaboration
Neoliberalism? Wha? Also DEMOCRACY
Some weird perspective about neoliberalism – as a requirement for factional membership?? – honestly makes the Renewal Faction sound like the embryo of a new sect. It repeats the Trotskyist mistake of thinking that perspective is everything.
The way the Renewal Faction stakes so much of its identity on this weird neoliberalism perspective honestly reminds me of how people in the Spanish Civil War focused too much on defending the bourgeois republic and fighting fascism. Well, no one cares about those things. Because they’re abstract! You may score some points among the hyper-abstract crowd (ie not me) but it sure as shit will not move passions in the way necessary to win a faction fight.
Democracy, however, is a real tangible issue that many ISOers possess suspicions and tension about, articulated and unarticulated. Isn’t the real issue not necessarily this or that perspective, but the fact that to even articulate a unique, original, different or alternate perspective within the ISO places you on a trajectory toward being socially ostracized and, if you persist, bureaucratically removed? And also holy shit, there is absolutely no effective membership control over the paid staff, the leadership operates as a faction which campaigns within the organization for its version of the “right” position, perspectives are formed for us and not by us, etc. etc.
Really, I find the problem with the ISO (and every other group) to be that they demand you to have far too narrow, unified a perspective to the point of really spurning any kind of free-flowing thought. The fact that the Renewal Faction is based on another such extremely specific perspective, as a condition of membership, makes me suspect that it has really no more hope of fixing the ISO than the rest of the ISO does.
Ambition and opportunities, not pessimism
I respect the Renewal Faction’s right to their differing perspective, even if I think making it a point of unity is a mistake. However, I should also admit I just think that perspective is wrong. If the perspective about neoliberalism is pointing toward pessimism and a future lack of struggles, it is completely out of touch with the recent evolution of consciousness in the USA. Obviously there was Occupy, and there is also the rise of limited but awesome fights in the private sector around low-wage workers. In November 2012, a Gallup poll found that 39% of the USA thinks socialism is a good thing. That same year, “socialism” and “capitalism” were the most-looked-up words in the dictionary. Now we have the election of Kshama Sawant, which is giving us merely a tiny taste of what possibilities exist for us to fill the post-Occupy void of massive Left sympathy but no Left organization.
The rise of the web site The North Star was due to its original mover’s focus on (1) how the ISO was not democratic enough (2) how the Left had opportunities for unification, expanded size, and expanded struggles which the ISO (and everyone else) was not acknowledging. Everyone has post-Occupy depression, without admitting that they do. They are all practicing a certain pessimism of expectations, without keeping in mind that Occupy showed tremendous possibilities, showed the true face of people’s thoughts. Occupy disintegrated, but not out of a lack of popular sympathy – it disintegrated for being poorly organized. The public mass sympathy is still there. Use it! (Or lose it?…)
The Philly Socialists’ model
People are not robots, their involvement in groups is based just as much on the deep, transformative power of human relationships as it is articulated ideas. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere so I will link here and here and include this picture:
Inter-tendency electoral collaboration
Something is definitely changing on the socialist Left. There is less hostility between the serious groups. Previously people used to lump all other groups in with the crazy hostile sectarians, but now people are distinguishing that there are some groups which are “maybe wrong about a few things but at least sane and, well, they’re socialists” and then yes the crazy hostile sectarians do unfortunately still exist.
There are many unaffiliated socialists, people sick of the crap of both the hair-splitting divisions and the group bureaucracies, who are beginning to see the narrow identities of each group as something which isn’t simply a problem in itself, but which also empowers the groups’ bureaucratic-centralist leaderships.
Since the Sawant incident, people are talking about it everywhere. It’s really hard to ignore. It’s an issue which is so powerful that it has already forced the ISO to budge and acknowledge another group’s success, even after the ISO was rather rudely smacked by that very group!
The point is, unity is bigger than anyone can control. It has a power of its own, which marches hand-in-hand with the right of ordinary participants to form their own perspectives. It’s a wave of support which does not need to be generated because it is already happening. And it is already being entertained and even welcomed by many rank-and-file ISOers, quite of their own volition and independently of the leadership. The fact that the Renewal Faction does not have an intuitive sense of this extremely radical, independent trend makes me squint and blink and wonder whether they really have the collective-subconscious-awareness necessary to be an Opposition. I find myself wondering if they and I even have anything in common at all. Maybe not. Maybe today we all learned something, but not what we hoped. Or maybe if they’ve come this far, they can learn and adapt.
The ISO is a cool group in that, despite the fact that I have some serious beefs with it (see entire above essay), it may actually just be able to transform into something greater than it currently is. The democracy issue has been stewing for a long time, so I am glad a faction has finally emerged, but for that faction to make meaningful change or even achieve any following at all, it will probably have to change its style.