New Beginnings for a New Time

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The crisis today is not just one of capital; it is integrally one of the Left, as well.  After a recent series of expulsions and resignations from the International Socialist Organization, a layer of cadre have staked the claim that, today, not only is more necessary from the Left, but more is possible in struggle.

Brian Kwoba, after spending 6 years in the ISO has, with others, recently inaugurated The New Socialist Project.  We welcome their insights and contributions to the immense tasks before us in the cause of working class revolution.

Why a new socialist project?

by Brian Kwoba

One feature of the US political landscape in 2010 is that despite all the war, poverty, and oppression that our society is dispensing every day, there is a historic opportunity for the growth of a socialist politics and organization. This task has particular urgency right now for two basic reasons:

(1)   The biggest economic crisis of US capitalism since the great depression is combining with the long-term crisis for US imperialism (from the Middle East to Latin America to Asia) to create a generational radicalization and opening for revolutionary politics like that of the 1930s or 1960s.

(2)   Because of the pace and trajectory of capitalism’s rampant and potentially irreversible destruction of the environment, this may be the last generational radicalization remaining in human history within which to build successful revolutionary movement to transform the system. The question is not “socialism or barbarism.” It is socialism or extinction.

These facts alone place the question of a radically different economic system—socialism—on the front burner. But in 2010 we find ourselves not only with the urgent  necessity, but also a historic opportunity for building a socialist movement in the US. Consider the following statistics.

  • A Rasmussen poll (April 2009) found that 20% of Americans prefer socialism to capitalism and among Adults under 30, the number was 33%.
  • An international BBC Poll (Nov 2009) asked a more sophisticated question about the system. They asked whether capitalism (a) “works well and efforts to reform it will result in inefficiencies,” (b) the “problems generated by capitalism can be solved through reform and regulation,” or (c) capitalism is “fatally flawed, and a different economic system is needed.” In the US, 13% agreed with the latter statement.
  • A Gallup poll (Feb 2010) found that 36% of Americans view “socialism” positively.

Using the smallest of all these figures, 13% of the 300 million Americans believing that we need a different economic system is 39 million people. Pick up on that. Despite over half a century of socialism being a monster bogey man, some 39 million Americans think that capitalism is fatally flawed and we need a different economic system.  Even if you think that half of those people aren’t really ready to begin a serious discussion about bringing about a different system, we would still find ourselves with a ready-made audience of nearly 20 million! If we only recruited half of these people over the next 10 years, we would have a mass party of 10 million people. Given this kind of historic opening, we cannot sustain the method which most socialist organizations (micro-sects) have developed: recruiting students and intellectuals in the ones and twos.

All of the micro-sect socialist organizations on the scene today have existed for the majority of their life in conditions that were unripe for large-scale socialist organizing: the collapse or retreat of the progressive social movements of the 1960s and 70s, and the dark decade of Reagan’s conservative 1980s, Clinton’s neo/pseudo-liberal 1990s, and Bush’s reactionary 2000s. Factors outside our control such as the state of the American left, the decades of ruling class attack on worker’s living standards, and historically low levels of social struggle certainly are the main objective reasons for stagnant growth rates for socialist organizations. But there have also been subjective weaknesses and factors that we must face up to. In a good year, the socialist micro-sects recruit a handful of students and intellectuals without training them and without any systematic development process. These sects are usually ruled by an unaccountable bureaucracy that runs its micro-empire of mini-branches with an iron-fisted combination of elitism and myopia, whether or not they have any internal ideology or rhetoric to the contrary.

Let us return to those who actually matter: the 39 million who want a “different economic system.” This figure represents a historic opportunity to build a new socialist movement in the US. If we aim to organize only half of these people (20 million) and we only end up reaching half of that half (10 million!), we can still transform this country from bottom to top.

To be sure, this is a monumental task that will take a bold new approach to building social movements and socialist organization. For example, we will need a nation-wide organization that is radically democratic, with a growth mindset, that fights for members of color and working-class members, and that welcomes new ideas and critical feedback.

In addition, unlike the multitude of micro-sects that are on offer in a few select cities, we need to aim wide—town and country, urban and rural, north, south, east and west. And beyond. We will need an organization with a profound sense of humility and excitement to learn from others, a rigorous system for educating and training ourselves, and the commitment maintaining honest alignment between what we say, think, and do.

That would be an American socialist organization worthy of the name.

We invite you to join in this project.

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29 thoughts on “New Beginnings for a New Time”

  1. I want to make three sets of comments:

    1. That there has been a “series of expulsions” is factually wrong. It hasn’t happened.

    It’s enormously problematic that the basis of this piece conflates capital and leftists groups, blaming both for the current crisis in a casual, unexplained way. If the analysis that followed had more substance I would probably give some time to that.

    But just one of these left organizations to blame is mentioned: the ISO, a group that a number of people responsible for this blog have worked with, who have working relationships with current members of the ISO. It’s incredibly disappointing to see this factually inaccurate slander-by-inference appear here without challenge.

    2. Brian’s revolutionary math is wildly over-simplified and optimistic. I cannot believe this is the founding document of a formation designed to rescue the left from itself. Really, projections for revolutionary organizing are centered on a poll and little else? Halving numbers does not automatically make for a cautious analysis.

    Of course there is enormous ideological potential in the failures of Obama, the Democrats, and capitalism in general. But the projection we can cruise into recruitment of 10 million people in the next ten years, with the numerical and political weakness of the left today, is absurd. The solution seems to be: send people into every town and city! We need to want this, people! Let’s go!

    As if we don’t want this? We need strategies and tactics grounded in the material, not pep talks.

    3. The end of this piece is where it really goes off the rails. Brian suggests we need a “bold new approach… unlike the multitude of micro-sects that are on offer.” But having visited the New Socialist Project’s website, what is put forward politically and organizationally seems more than a little familiar. It’s such a ripoff of the ISO that NSP should be called diet ISO (just like the original! Except without all the weight of decades of experience! Or thousands of activists! Or specifics!).

    Diet ISO proposes an organization of profound humility that somehow appears in towns and cities nationwide. I would suggest that a statement like this one, with all its grand pronouncements written on the back of a bar napkin, is the exact opposite of profoundly humble and is in fact profoundly disrespectful to the thousands of revolutionaries working tirelessly in all organizations.

    In my dealings with the members of UNS, I’ve seen some great politics and a willingness to consider issues seriously and democratically. I’ve not only been deeply impressed by some of the work you’ve done, I’ve sought to apply it to my own work. But support for this statement without qualification, from an organization with both the tendency to dialog and the ability to engage any number of ISO members in that dialog, seems like a back-door way of taking a shot. The revolutionary left that we all want to see in this country won’t be built on innuendo, and certainly not on sloppy math and grand pronouncements.

  2. Jason, we’re not unqualifiedly posting this piece and endorsing it. No U&S members have yet commented on it besides Jubayr in his short intro, it was just posted yesterday so you don’t really know what we think about it yet. I personally have a disagreements with the politics of the peice just like I have disagreements with the ISO. But I still want to welcome the New Socialist Group on the scene and I take seriously the questions they are asking which are a challenge not only for the ISO but also for the New Socialist Group, Unity and Struggle, and every other revolutionary organization. By taking them seriously it doesn’t mean we’re attacking the ISO. I’m not quite sure where your defensiveness is coming from considering, as you say, we have a track record of working in coalition with you and other ISO members.

    You write: “It’s enormously problematic that the basis of this piece conflates capital and leftists groups, blaming both for the current crisis in a casual, unexplained way. If the analysis that followed had more substance I would probably give some time to that.”

    If you look back over Gathering Forces discussions on the economic/ political crisis the past year, we’ve consistently emphasized that this historical moment also represents a crisis for the Left. When we say this we are NOT saying that the Left is responsible for the economic crisis. That would be absurd. So in that sense we are not conflating the Left and the ruling class who caused the crisis. Perhaps that could have been clearer in the intro to the piece here, but I’m sure it will become clearer as more folks comment.

    What we are trying to do here is continue/ widen a conversation we’ve been having on this blog for a year, aimed at asking the question: “why in this time of economic and political crisis, when the ruling class’s own politics are in profound crisis, has the Left been unable to grow and pose an alternative?” That is what we mean by the crisis of the Left. I think this has to do to some extent with factors beyond our control and I agree with you that simply encouraging folks to go out and organize more won’t solve the problem (It’s not clear to me that Brian is really saying that though). Some Leftists don’t organize enough, some organize too much, but organizing more by itself won’t answer the questions because getting involved in organizing pretty quickly poses the question of “what kind of organizing? what is to be done?”

    I do think the Left’s inability to grow in this moment has to do with subjective factors/ questions of strategy and program. The Leftists groups that survived the 80s, 90s, and 2000s often adapted themselves to the reality of low movement times and have learned not to expect too much from everyday people. This makes it difficult to engage with layers of oppressed people who are emerging right now who expect a lot. These layers are not a mass phenomenon. They are what Miami Autonomy and Solidarity have been calling “intermediate layers”, new militants who are in the process of becoming revolutionary. I agree with you that Brian’s use of the poll numbers is a bit mechanical but I see the point he’s trying to make: these new layers are emerging and the Left needs to support and engage with these layers, provide serious mentoring, support, and theoretical development, learn from these layers humbly, and work with these layers to develop new perspectives, programs, and strategies. To engage with Matt’s comment, I think that doing all of these things is not the same as simply trying to recruit these layers to our organizations. Any sort of mass revolutionary organization (I’m definitely NOT for building a party) will probably not emerge by simply adding numbers to any of the existing revolutionary organizations in the US today. It will likely emerge over time out of the convergence, rapproachment, and regroupment among these militant layers as they radicalize and become more consistently revolutionary layers.

    I am not assuming outright that ISO members are unable to do relate to these new militant layers. Jason, I’ve seen you do it repeatedly at demonstrations, when you’ve worked with us to block with the most militant youth of color in the crowds, encouraging folks to get on the megaphone and speak their minds, following up and discussing politics afterwards, etc. But I would say that most of our principled debates with ISO organizers and other Trotskyists we’ve worked in coalition with have centered on this question: how much is possible right now? Once in a coalition meeting an ISO member from Seattle said we can’t agitate for strikes because workers’ consciousness is not yet at that point, which is evident because the union leaderships would not support strikes. The counter-argument, which didn’t even come primarily from U&S members, and actually came more from rank and file workers who were becoming radicalized at that time, was that the bureaucracies don’t represent workers and a lot of workers want to go farther than their leaders would allow.

    At times I’ve seen Leftists go for quantity over quality. I’ve seen folks try to set up structures for mass political movements when millions are not yet moving. But in an attempt to reach those millions folks settle for putting forward a lowest common denominator set of demands, strategies, and perspectives. This can alienate the intermediate layers, the hundreds of militants who ARE ready to move now but who are tried of coming out to the same old kinds of rallies and will probably drift away if we don’t build something more daring. U/S has focused a lot of those intermediate layers, and that informs a lot of our strategies in mass work. We are going for quality over quantity, we aim to go through experiences in struggle with these new layers of militants around us (many of us were just “new militants”ourselves a year or 2 or 3 ago), training ourselves by studying theory together, and generally deepening our skills and perspectives so that we will be able to relate to more and more people as movements grow. I know we have disagreements with the ISO about this approach. I’m not sure whether we would agree or disagree with the New Socialist Group folks on this. If anyone from that new group is reading this, I’m curious to hear how ya’ll envision tackling these questions.

    I made some related points in my “Debate on Strategy in the Anti-Budget Cuts Movement” piece which was an engagement with Advance the Struggle’s “Crisis and Consciousness” and Socialist Organizer’s criticism of it. I was profoundly disappointed with the ISO’s own response to Crisis and Consciousness, which I felt didn’t engage at a serious theoretical level with the points Advance the Struggle was making. I’m bringing all of this up not to drag out old beef just for the hell of it but because those debates last spring were about exactly the questions we are discussing right now: how much should Leftists expect from everyday people today? How daring should we be? How many risks should we take? How do we understand this current moment, and folks shifting consciousness within it, and how do we engage with the people coming around us now who are increasingly impatient and who want everything? While I may disagree with some of the New Socialist Group’s answers to these questions, I’m excited they’re posing them and that’s the reason why we reposted their document here.

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  4. I wanted to say a few positive things about the post by Brian. For starters, the question of new groups starting and how to relate to it, is arguably tied to what perspective you are looking at it. That is probably a no brainer to everyone. The fact that I am not in the ISO obviously shapes how I see the NSP (New Socialist Project). I am sure it is easy for me to say this sitting on my US& perch. The ultimate test will be how I treat breakaway folks from US in the future—an almost guarantee!

    A political-organizational way I have tried to understand the crisis of the left in this period are the new groupings which are appearing on the internet. It seems almost every tradition in the American left from Maoism, Anarchism, and “Autonomous” Marxism has been going through immense re thinking of its own past, what to do in the current period, and how theory needs to be updated. (I am less aware of this same type of rethinking happening in the American Trotskyist organizations. Maybe it is happening and I am ignorant about it. I know Paul Le Blanc and Lous Proyject have written stuff that would warrant mentioning.) I tend to understand the NSP in this light although the direction they are headed is not clear. There is a broader question of what is the crisis of the left and Brian’s post gets at one of the problems—that the Left has been shaped by low levels of struggle and that it is not prepared to deal with the possible insurgent movements on the horizon. That it cannot make qualitative leaps with militants as they appear. That it is tied to the trade union bureaucracies, buried in academia, and the NGOs. That it is out of touch with millions of Americans. That it does not have a social base in this period. I think the reasons for this are many, but examining ourselves the crisis we face is critical. I think U&S sees itself as part of the crisis of the left and asks how can we break out of it. How do we approach this period? There are a lot of questions at stake. I think enough to fill a book!

    What I like about this post is the breadth of opportunity posed for the revolutionary left in this country. It is epic and the post appropriately begins to get at that. There is a crisis. Ruling class hegemony is not so unvarnished and millions of people are asking tough questions about what kind of damn world we live in. I also appreciate the deep sense of urgency. I thought point number 2 was pretty damn beautiful, shocking, and to the point when it comes to ecological destruction. It poses the need for a revolutionary solution to the ecological crisis facing the planet. Our generation might very well be the last group of people who can stem a global disaster. I understand that might be a little alarmist and people might look at you like you are a little crazy, but there is a dose of truth to that. What I also admire is the return to the people. While it can be read in populist ways, from what I can tell about the NSP that is not what they are doing. Most importantly, it seems the post is saying now is the time to break out of left-sub cultures. There are millions of people struggling and thinking about what is wrong. Agitate, Organize, and Struggle is what this post demands from everyone—in this period I love that!

    I guess my main criticism of the post is it is not clear if the question, “Why a New Socialist Project” is answered in the post. There are many revolutionary organizations in the country. What will NSP do that is different which warrants another group? (I am not being sarcastic, but trying to understand…). This can only be clearly answered with political, organizational and methodological questions which this piece does not fully address.

    Is the only problem the revolutionary left faces today of being old and around in period of low struggles? So does creating a new organization in this period alone solve the problems of the left? Are we in a period of heightened struggles? Do the poll numbers equal higher struggle and qualitatively more advanced revolutionary organizations? I think the post leaves such questions unanswered.

    While the title of the post can be distracting, I don’t know if that is the best measure of what this post is about. Anyways, just some thoughts…

    in solidarity and respect

    Will

  5. Interesting stuff, thanks for posting this. You probably saw it (hell, maybe I heard about it here, my memory is shot), but there was recently a similar break off from FRSO/OSCL I believe.

    I like Mamos’s point that “Any sort of mass revolutionary organization (…) will likely emerge over time out of the convergence, rapproachment, and regroupment among these militant layers as they radicalize and become more consistently revolutionary layers.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but this will also probably involve some splits from or dissolutions of or at least tensions with current political organizations.

    On a related tip, about the ISO, I’ve known some really good people who were individual members but at the moment I’m pretty irritated with this article in ISR, which contained some pretty irresponsible misrepresentations of some people I know, and who I believe some U&S members know as well —

    http://www.isreview.org/issues/72/feat-anarchism.shtml

    Here’s a reply I wrote —
    http://whatinthehell.blogsome.com/2010/08/10/were-the-actual-politics-of-the-brick-collective/

    cheers,
    Nate

    ps- I’m very glad to see Gathering Forces back in action after your internal retreat stuff made you take time off.

  6. Three quick points.

    1. “How much is possible right now?”

    This is surely an empirical question, one that will be proven in practice over the coming months and years. Indeed, this was one of the weaknesses of the debate in the budget cuts movement. One side wanted to suggest that mass strikes–even general strikes–were absolutely on the agenda last spring, and tended to blame the existing (tiny) forces of the revolutionary left when they didn’t happen. This seems pretty facile to me. We need a more honest perspective.

    On a related note, Mamos calls attention to the debate about strikes in Seattle. But I haven’t yet seen GF post an assessment of the attempted strike at UW in May and why it did or didn’t work out.

    2. The tendency has been for folks to place (in my opinion) too much emphasis on the subjective factor in analyses of the weakness of the Left. I see that in Brian’s document and also in some responses here. Trust me, I feel the same urge. In some ways it would be much easier to think that we’re doing something fundamentally wrong, that if we just tried harder, or read different books, or were less “hierarchical,” or whatever, we could recruit 10 million people to revolutionary socialism in the next 10 years.

    But the objective situation is critical. We can hardly put new ideas and organizational forms into practice if the level of social struggle is at historic lows.

    Furthermore, the new ideas being proposed are hardly new at all. That’s one of the most striking things for me. Marxist Humanism, operaismo, insurrectionary anarchism, left communism–all of the supposedly new ideas being put forward have already been tried and found wanting in earlier periods.

    I think the effort is worthwhile, which is one of the reasons I read Gathering Forces so closely. But I haven’t yet seen anything that strikes me as fundamentally new or original.

    3. I’m sorry Nate took issue with one of the details in Erik’s piece on anarchism. But I hope you’ll admit that it was a serious effort to engage with the politics of contemporary anarchism in a non-sectarian way. I thought the article was a big step forward in that regard.

  7. @James,
    you talk about the need for a more honest perspective but you are vague and seemingly passive aggressive in pointing out our differences. You say, “One side wanted to suggest that mass strikes–even general strikes–were absolutely on the agenda last spring, and tended to blame the existing (tiny) forces of the revolutionary left when they didn’t happen. ” — can you be clearer on who you are referencing and what arguments were being made and where you agree/disagree, or how you felt the ISO (?) was being blamed? Clarity is an essential part of honesty.

    Many of us here in Seattle have been discussing May 3rd and reflecting on that action. There are key differences in the way we organized for it, from the way the ISO organized around it. I just read the piece that some members of Seattle ISO put out as reflections on May 3rd and I have disagreements with their analysis, and misrepresentations of myself and other organizers who are part of, or friendly with U/S. I would say the clearest reason for the misrepresentation of our politics arise from ISO members’ lack of concrete interaction with the militant rank and file whom we were in touch with. We are honest in saying that the workers we organize with have serious contradictions, but their actions and words pointed toward a more militant and anti-bureaucratic direction, in fact, more so than many self-declared leftists and revolutionaries.

    I intend to write more about this. But one of the things that I take from Brian K’s piece is the need to be daring at this moment in time. Daring is different from voluntarism. Daring and sustainable political action and organizing, requires political analysis, mental stamina and concrete relationship building and agitation with “where people are at”– which I would say, is much further than what you seem to be credit for.

  8. Also, to be clear, part of our reflection process on May 3rd among U/S and friends have included, and will include reflections on pros and cons of our actions, critiques of ourselves, and strengths of what we did, etc — many of us intend for this to be a democratic reflection process that I hope organizers around the country who desire to take risks and be fearless, and who are not afraid of falling and picking ourselves back up again to strike back, can draw from. We need this spirit of self reflection and openness to asking questions about ourselves in these moments and I hope various organizations, even as established as they are, are able to do this in a healthy way.

  9. GF comrades, I don’t want to derail this so I’ll take this elsewhere if you like, let me know.

    James,

    About Kerl’s stuff, I have to ask, respectfully, did you read my reply? Do you think I’m wrong? I ask because I’m not sure what sort of disagreement we’re having. I can’t tell if you think Kerl’s right about that Chicago group or not. If you do, I’d like to hear why, because he just seems so very, very wrong to me…

    What I can tell is that we disagree about what our disagreement is about what Kerl said — we disagree on the stakes. On the one hand, yeah, I guess that’s just a detail, Kerl got an anarchist collective from Chicago wrong. Okay, big deal.

    On the other hand, he really drastically misrepresented their politics in a way that suggested directly that they were enemies of the left who saw the left as their enemies. Now, I’m biased because I know some of those people personally, consider some of them friends and mentors, so I probly care more than most. But I also only knew to check Kerl’s sources because his claims sounded fishy to me as someone who knows those people. And this isn’t just a matter of the recent past – several of the people misrepresented are active in anarchist organizations (in my view, the best of N American anarchism right now) across the US. So this sort of thing speaks very directly to how the ISO relates to other political tendencies present right now.

    Believe it or not, I’m not knee-jerk opposed to your group. As I think I said, I’ve known some great individual ISO members. Ideologically, I’m more deeply committed to and aware of the marxist tradition than the anarchist tradition, I regularly read the Kasama site, and I generally think that anarchists benefit greatly by engaging with Marx and marxism. But serious engagement across traditions and organizations requires a level of trust and comradeliness if it’s going to be anything beyond a debate between set positions and some point-scoring. Kerl’s take on that Chicago group is at best so sloppy it’s irresponsible, given the seriousness of the claims he makes about them (saying someone is an enemy of the left who views the rest of the left as an enemy is one of the worst political things to say about someone, after calling them a police informant or a scab). That misrepresentation makes me more hesitant to take y’all seriously or to trust the ISO’s claims to want to engage with contemporary anarchists in a mutually beneficial fashion. In that sense, the piece went into a lot more depth than many but I’m not sure how much of an advance it really was. A real advance in my opinion would be to identify common problems (perhaps theoretical but practical would be better yet) that we all wrestle with and seek to find ways to engage those problems together so that we all learn from it.

    take care,
    Nate

  10. James wrote, “But the objective situation is critical. We can hardly put new ideas and organizational forms into practice if the level of social struggle is at historic lows.

    Furthermore, the new ideas being proposed are hardly new at all. That’s one of the most striking things for me. Marxist Humanism, operaismo, insurrectionary anarchism, left communism–all of the supposedly new ideas being put forward have already been tried and found wanting in earlier periods.”

    James, you have to see the point. Its about a revolutionary method that actually alters real struggle. What the ISO does is build organization. When it comes to build struggle, its weak. When it comes to build organization its strong. What if we were to flip that method. Where building organization is based on building struggle? What if the organization was shaped on struggle and not reproduction. With that starting point, militants relate to the dynamic of struggle differently. Connecting this beginning point with real discussions with small sections of the working class about struggle, could develop real class struggle situations and developments. Waiting for everyone to be on board would be waiting for a dynamic that we are part of building with the most militant section of the working class. Because the ISO has never done this, they think this is theoritically and programitically impossible. Its not a question of trying hard and will. Nobody beleives that (well some do). Its developing a class struggle method through investigation and anaylisis, and requestioning the old system that has proven not to work that well.

    I got to go.. Im sure you will respond with fire James… il be waiting.

    Javs UCSC SWCJ 2005 strike mobsters!!!!

  11. I agree strongly with Jomo and Javs

    Here are some more responses to add to the mix:

    1. James wrote: “How much is possible right now? This is surely an empirical question, one that will be proven in practice over the coming months and years.”

    – I agree it is a question that will only be proven in practice over the upcoming months and years. We don’t know for sure which strategies will prove right and which ones won’t. That’s why, as Jomo said, we need to be bold and daring in experimenting in struggle; sometimes we’ll succeed with that and sometimes we’ll fail, but we’ll learn in contact and conversation with hundreds, and possibly thousands of others and that will help us gather revolutionary forces necessary to advance the struggle.

    In empirical scientific method, don’t you need a variable and a constant? You test and make changes in the variables and see what happens. With the ISO it seems like all you have is constants and no variables. Every time the ISO assumes people don’t want to move and therefore propose a rally instead of anything more than that. That’s your constant. You have no variable to compare it to. How do you even know nothing more than that will work if you don’t try? If you don’t listen to rank and file workers when some of them say they want more daring struggle, and if you don’t try to generalize this desire by convincing others to get on board with those who want it, by showing that it is possible if folks work together, how can you really presume to know exactly “where people are at” and “what is possible”?

    Now you could reply that this kind of daring experimentation is dangerous because this is not a game, it’s real people’s lives at stake and people could get hurt. That’s true. We are working people too, and we are also taking risks. As Jomo suggested, some of the foremost criticisms of the ISO’s caution around the May 3rd strike in Seattle came from rank and file workers who were organizing for the strike in their own workplaces (custodians and Academic Student Employees). We did not put these workers at risk, as ISO members suggested, these workers pushed each other, us and everyone else to take a risk. And it wasn’t like we did something foolhardly. We weren’t going around saying “if you just believe in yourself we can win, so let’s fight the cops right now.” We had very practical reasons to propose a strike, which I lay out below. The strike was not a major success, but it also was not a major setback to the movement. In the end, noone lost their job becuase of it, noone dropped out of the movement because of it, and in fact a lot of the people who started the cycle of struggle as relatively new to radical politics in Seattle in the fall or early spring, and who built the strike, are now committed revolutionaries building new struggles in Seattle and New York. The diminished forces of the Seattle Unity and Struggle local are not because everyone burned out after May 3rd (though we did work too hard), it’s because folks are building now in other cities and we’re rebuilding here.

    2. Now all that being said, I’m not sure reducing something like consciousness and possibilities of struggle to an “empirical question” is a particularly Marxist method. I thought Marxism goes beyond just taking a sociological opinion poll of workers and asking what they want. I thought it involves analyzing the contradictions in folks’ thoughts and actions, understanding these in terms of broader contradictions in society, and looking at the motion within these contradictions, the possibilities that might open up if these contradictions intensify.

    The biggest contradiction in consciousness I see in Seattle is the following: there are hundreds if not thousands of people who are totally fed up with the system and want daring action and don’t think polite rallies or lobbying works. If these folks moved they could ignite a struggle involving tens of thousands, at the scale of the WTO uprising. Who knows what that could lead to. However, these folks don’t move because they don’t see each other, they dont’ interact with each other… each relatively small group of people who feels this way assumes noone else feels this way, so folks conclude nothing can be done right now because no-one is ready to struggle. I hear this from youth in the ghetto when I ask them to come to a rally against police brutality and they tell me “that’s too dangerous the cops would just come after me later on and retaliate. But let me know when folks are ready to riot and I’ll be there for sure.” I hear this from custodians who say “all state workers should just stop working if they try to cut our healthcare” but then they conclude that it wouldn’t be possible because the union doesn’t have the guts to do it and the rank and file is too divided to stand up to the union leaders and force them.

    It’s that contradiction that motivated us to propose the May 3rd strike. We saw this sentiment among some Academic Student Employees, some custodians, and some undergraduates, and we thought that if we could bring all these layers together into a cross-sectoral action which involved showing their labor power (hence a strike) then they could feel their collective social weight. This might enlarge the layer of militants in each respective sphere and the sum could become greater than the whole of it’s parts and a real strike could develop. This was not unrealistic considering March 4th was unexpectedly and spontaneously huge and was very energetic because this kind of convergence between high school students, undergraduate student of color groups, and custodians was going on in the crowd. We tried to continue that convergence past March 4th into May 3rd. There were small wildcats going on in other AFSCME/ WFSE locals against the healthcare cuts coming down, and the UAW bureaucracy seemed to be backed against the wall in negotiations and might not have any other option but to agree to rank and file workers’ demands (and repeated votes) to strike. We tried to qualitative advance the struggle by showing that these movements were related and could win if they united in a strike. We never called it a general strike and never claimed we would shut the campus down; we just tried to unite rank and file labor actions across workplaces with a student walkout.

    This didn’t work out as we expected for many reasons. For one, the state pulled back from the worst health care cuts aimed at AFSCME (probably fearing exactly this type of action) which demobilized some workers, and the UW administration co-opted the struggle by making concessions in the UAW negotiations which were not adequate but were enough to divide the workforce (TAS over RAS) and demobilize, confuse, and demoralize folks. Custodians were ready to go and were prepared not to cross the picket lines, but in the end their consciousness outstripped that of students who were confused by the campus paper’s announcement that the UAW strike was called off and thought that therefore the student portion of the strike was called off too. When everyone saw it was going to be small they went back to their assumption that noone else is ready to struggle and hence what’s the point so they either didnt’ come out or didn’t stay on the picket lines. But this doesn’t mean they didn’t A) see the need for something more than a rally and B) want to participate in it. There was just nothing for them to participate in so the more conservative side of the contradiction within their consciousness ended up winning out: the conclusion that noone wants to fight.

    In the end, we probably underestimated how difficult it would be to overcome this contradiction, and underestimated the possibilities of co-optation and division. We learned that folks might be militant and willing to take lots of risks “when the time is ripe” but are not yet willing to emerge in large numbers as organizers who can help the time ripen. Like the ISO we expected more people to become organizers after March 4th to build May 3rd but this didn’t happen so we had to carry a lot more of the weight of building May 3rd than we should have and it was exhausting. We learned from this mistake, and perhaps we do have a more realistic understanding now of where folks on campus are at. But I still think where they are at is a lot more contradictory than where the ISO thinks they are.

    Would a smaller rally of 100-400 people, as the ISO proposed, have prevented folks from concluding that noone wants to struggle? Would it have helped folks feel their collective weight more than a failed strike? I’m not convinced. After March 4th, a lot of these militants might have just looked at the flyer for another rally like that and said “man, these campus activists aren’t really serious, they just keep doing the same thing over and over again” and that could have also reinforced the sense that noone really want to fight. In the absence of the legislative session as a concrete pressure point to rally around, students needed something else to rally around where they would feel their actions could actually stop some cuts, and a UAW strike could have played that role if the bureaucracy had pulled the trigger instead of just bluffing about it. A rally against cuts in the abstract with no concrete target might not have given that practical focus. With the movement dying out after March 4th all over the country, May 3 may have been small even smaller if we hadn’t built it as a strike linked to the UAW contract negotiations.

    How close we were to mobilizing a cross-sector strike is evident by how worried the UW administration was and the level of police surveillance they deployed to try to disrupt and encapsulate the movement.

    A lot more can be said about May 3rd, and there are many folks who participated in it who have key perspectives that may differ from my own. My goal here is not to do a comprehensive analysis of May 3rd, I’m simply using examples from that experience to show that that a dialectical, not an empirical method is necessary.

    3. James wrote: ” Indeed, this was one of the weaknesses of the debate in the budget cuts movement. One side wanted to suggest that mass strikes–even general strikes–were absolutely on the agenda last spring, and tended to blame the existing (tiny) forces of the revolutionary left when they didn’t happen. This seems pretty facile to me. We need a more honest perspective.”

    – This is a straw-man mischaracterization of our positions. We did not say mass or general strikes were absolutely on the agenda. We said STRIKES of some sort MIGHT be on the agenda and as revolutionaries we should try agitating and organizing for them and see if it works. It was ISO members that said strikes were absolutely NOT on the agenda, and I still think that was a narrow and overly cautious perspective.

  12. James, your argumentation is based off a volunteeristic political practice that never took place in reality.

    We are living in an era of global strikes ascending on the political landscape. The sucessful wildcat strikes in China Honda factories is a historic positive shift in contemporary class relations. There should be political militants who can discuss with workers from an eray of trades and industries about the political nature of class struggle ascending in this era. We cant just talk about and unite around public education defensive campaigns, while ignoring the political reality of how one class is destroying and raping another class as part of the built in behavior of capital. Such serious class antagonisms demands effective weapons for war. The marxist method is effective, when it is effective. Not when it is isn’t. Simple?
    Contemporary class struggle is ascending in consciousness within the working class. Have you thought about what is the dynamic within the motion of that consciousness that is moving around in different parts of the working class?
    Recent student class struggle energy had develoved into a campaign of scatter, due to the unprincipled class combined character of the October 7th student strike day of action calling for adminstrators to fund Universities because students are positive agents of a productive economy. These groups do not dare challenge capital head on as its true enemy, but shoots rubber bands from around the corner as a theatrical play with cameras all around for the news.
    The ISO has demonstrated that its programatic method cannot solve our problem of organizing potential class struggle. And yes critiques are not useful without a better alternative. Thats the point, the ascending global class struggle demands theoritical, practical and organizational expression that can help facilitate the classes own potential. Is that what the ISO is? Marxism is about implanting the method with the dynamics of history understanding that potential organization can grow in so many forms, with many being an autonomous formation that no political party controls. Such a characteristic is not just the position of underdeveloped revolutionary movements, but represents a principle within the very nature of understanding marxism as a political system.

    New forms of marxism are emerging. They will all develop different forms of understanding marxism and have different political programs for action and theory. The should all openly debate. And see what happens.

    But besides that, check out this letter by some of these Italians:
    In May 1962 Panzieri formulated the tasks of the group in a letter to the editorial member Asor Rosa in the following way:

    “I believe that we have to put the strike over the collective agreement of the metal workers in the centre of our work […] I am more and more convinced of the existence of possibilities that are open for a revolutionary line. But we have to get rid of the last of the ‘minority’ complex and carry the spark, the search for a new strategy, into the crisis of the organisations. This is even more vital for us as we don’t want to be a small sect that is in possession of the truth, but rather militants who make a valuable contribution to the necessary new organising of the working class, a problem that is facing thousands of militants at the moment, including within the organisations. In my opinion we have to revise, modify, and if necessary totally change, our intervention instruments using this criteria. […] We can see the emergence of a new workers’ movement, but preparing a strategy for them is not a spontaneous process. That we can see this new movement defines our tasks today, tasks that are really new. The features of the material figure of the collective worker are not simply hidden within the heart of capital, he can only become conscious himself in his own way and collectively. These features are anticipated within the struggle and within the struggle the unity and revolutionary potential grows […]. It is about finding some forms of mediation. Because whilst capital distorts the workers’ struggle and presents it as an ‘un-mediated’ reply to capitalist development, it puts to mind false strategies. The ‘new’ potentials for revolution do not arise from capitalist planning, but from the anticipation-reversal of the decisive elements of capitalist planning by the workers”.

    What does all that mean? Its about developing a class struggle method. What was Marx between 1864-67, where in the first year he help found the First International and in 1867 the publication of the first volume of Capital? The combined theory and practice, within less people that are more quality, can have much more impact then larger organizations that are tied to each other through an array of political structural systems that are not specifically organized for class struggle. The method then degenerates. It must be brought back, investingating consciousness through inquiry, anaylized through the categories of Capital, and reaching conclusions of struggle that are also born out of struggle. These political party groups that have 20-30-40 years of existence are bueacratized fossilized political organizations that have a fossilized program making them ill equipment for tasks of class battle. A flexible but principled class struggle program must ascend offering theoritical clarity of our historical position, and a perspective for navigation of our political jungle like realities. Such sucessful organizing will produce organization. ISO has a German Kautskian organizational understanding of building, that is antithetical to the true revolutionary dynamic of the marxist method. Raya Dunayevskaya’s critique deserves respect, of Tony Cliff social democratic understanding of Lenin political process, with Cliff unable to see Lenin’s key internal revolutionary reptures.

    One can fight for existing 20-40 year old programs to make revolution. Or one could be honest and know why such ‘solutions’ begin bankrupt. Revolutions are made from revolutionary content that convergences theory with practice, action with conscioussness, sponteniaty and organization. No such organization of the left, that has been around for more than twenty years, has the ability to apply a dynamic program to our situation to alter struggle.

    We must admit the truth of our miserable position, and move forward from such a position with confidence in our path from our method. The insititutionalized reproduction of conferences days are of the narrow past, new forms of organization are demanded for ascending struggles. A method is needed to reproduce such struggles. A new organization is demanded to materialize that reality. History opens its doors for all organizational contendors and becomes the ultimate judge of its own process.

  13. “We must admit the truth of our miserable position, and move forward from such a position with confidence in our path from our method.”

    I don’t have too much to add to what is an already excellent conversation except that from my own miserable position in Durham, NC, these words ring out like a bell in the night.

    Recently, folks have been organizing actions against specific acts of repression by the state. These actions are necessary to be sure, but they raise questions about the miserable position of the left and its relation to a stale practice, and how that stale practice is ultimately derived from stale assumptions.

    To be more specific, how do we break through the set-piece rallies and demonstrations that the left as currently constituted suggests as the answer to every damn problem the movement faces? We’ve all been there – the tepid chants, the uninspired speeches, the posing for photos to put on facebook (!), and the home-in-an-hour mentality.

    Or if it’s not that, it’s the naive optimism, the refusal to admit the truth of our miserable position. This article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sally-kohn/one-nation-march-sometime_b_750722.html) from Huffington Post is indicative of the problem (not exactly a revolutionary perspective, but when self-professed anarchists start posting this junk without qualification it becomes worth taking note of) .

    It suggests that, in spite of the fact that the turnout for the “One Nation” rally was far smaller than that of Glenn Beck’s rally, “The hundreds of national and grassroots organizations behind the One Nation march represent the vast majority of Americans — literally, through their millions and millions of members.” This will not do. We need to admit the truth of our miserable position.

    The truth is that the left today – like labor unions – finds itself in the position it does based in some ways (though not exclusively) on its philosophical underpinnings. Starting from the assumption that ordinary people need THEM in order to be self-governing, that THEY are more conscious and know best what working people want, they organize set-piece rallies and demos, tired pieces of political theater that ordinary people see very clearly for what they are. Then when the numbers don’t show up, they make ridiculous and sort of sad arguments about how in spite of the turnout, we are going from strength to strength in the movement.

    So like I said, great conversation, and I just want to reiterate once again that this is a common problem all over and demands a common solution based in political reality and a realistic assessment of our own forces, where we’ve made mistakes and where we’ve been right in the past, what that may mean for the future.

  14. Thanks for the responses, everyone.

    @Nate: I skimmed your response to Eric. If he got one particular detail wrong you should write to the ISR and correct him. I know for a fact that Eric takes anarchist politics very seriously and would never deliberately misrepresent them to score points. I think if you’re honest you’ll admit that the article as a whole is a serious engagement with developments in contemporary anarchism–more serious than we’ve ever produced, and more serious than almost any other Marxist group is attempting right now. However, “post-Left” anarchism *does* exist, even it’s not espoused by that particular group. Politics are important, comrade, and I’m afraid we need to do better than “can’t we all just get along.”

    @Jomo: It wasn’t just U&S and AS who put forward that perspective during the budget cuts movement–the insurrectionary currents did too. I remember during the GSC occupation at UC Santa Cruz last September, someone was distributing a leaflet claiming that the action would provoke mass rioting and popular insurrections. And people absolutely *were* calling for a general strike at the height of the budget cuts movement last year–that’s not a strawman.

    Having said that, the clearest expression of the tendency to blame the left for the limitations of the struggle was the AS piece “Crisis and Consciousness.” Apologies if I was unclear about that. It’s actually a huge credit to AS that they put forward by far and away the most visible and accessible statement of the perspective. Even if I think they got some things wrong, we all learned from the debate.

    I think we’ve established now that the ISO comrades in Seattle were right about the possibilities of a strike on May 3. You think they were right for the wrong reasons, I guess, which is fair enough.

    @Javs: You and I have already talked about this at great length and we’ll just have to agree to differ. I’m on vacation and not feeling all that fiery–sorry to disappoint!

    @ Everyone: Getting to read all of your views on what’s possible today has been very illuminating. I’m still formulating my own thoughts.

    I think Javs is right to point to the tremendously exciting developments in places like China and France. But they’re not happening here and it doesn’t seem to me like they’re on the agenda any time soon. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think the ISO or any other revolutionary group is in a position to decisively alter the balance of forces. And pretending that we are, or that if we only did things a little differently, the situation might change dramatically…well, that seems to me like a recipe for burn-out and demoralization.

    We’ve already seen it happen. Many of the left communist/insurrectionary groups from last year seem to have fallen apart, and if a recent post on this blog was accurate, so has Labor’s Militant Voice.

    You all have a strong grasp of Marxism and solid organizations so you’re better equipped to weather the storm and make corrections, but I still believe (as I hope I’ve made clear by now) that you’re drawing the wrong conclusions from what happened in the budget cuts movement.

    As a couple folks pointed out, the situation is contradictory. Millions of people (particularly youth) are radicalizing and are wide open to an anti-capitalist argument. At the same time, though, the level of struggle in this country is at a historic low. Confidence and continuity of organizing are very, very weak. In many ways we’re starting from scratch, which is why I’m counseling patience (with ourselves and with each other) and a sober assessment of what’s possible in the short and medium term.

    Anyway, the only way we’ll get things right is if we keep having these discussions and collectively assessing the work we do. Even if I seem polemical I think GF is one of the best places online to do that.

  15. It’s great to see some perspectives on the “failure” of the UW May 3rd strike (I bunny ear “failure” because I think the event accomplished positive things, if never fully became a strike). I was a general participant on the day of the event, just another warm body, definitely not an organizer. Before joining in the event, I didn’t think about the event on the level that this conversation is taking place, e.g. I didn’t think about how it fit into class struggle or on a wider macro-level. I probably should have. But at the same time, maybe this will make my perspective unique, or maybe it won’t.

    I agree with Mamos that one of the strike’s failures was in not giving the people willing to fight a sense of their strength and numbers. As someone who wants to fight but can get timid without others backing me up, that was my feeling at the event, as a general participant.

    And while there are things to be said about the plusses and minuses of the general strategy and how it fits into orientations towards class struggle, from my perspective as a participant in the event I think some of the “failures” of the strike don’t come down to the prematurity of a strike or some other radical action, or the confusion sown by the union’s lack of action, (for all I know there were elements of both) but rather relatively simple logistical problems.

    The main problem, I thought, was the location for the strike picket line, on the edge of campus, away from all major foot traffic thoroughfares. It makes sense that organizers were trying to picket a main vehicle entrance to the university, but as a central point for gathering people together it was really bad. The success of March 4th, on the other hand, I think had a lot to do with being in the middle of campus, which allowed the crowd to swell with students in their passing periods, greatly adding to the strength of the crowd. I bet several hundred people wandered in and out of the strike on March 4th throughout the day, but because it was a poor location for building a crowd (as opposed to Red Square for instance), it made it easy for folks to wander away as well. There’s something to be said for the power of being in a large anonymous crowd, and the May 3rd strike location made that tough.

    This is just my 2 cents on this specific action. Don’t know if it adds to the conversation. Though I haven’t seen the ISO’s critiques, I think my actual experience of the event may lend more credence to the UNS position on strategy. I don’t know that the strategy was wrong so much – more just a simple tactic. Could the strike have succeeded (or been more successful) if it took place in a more crowded area of campus? There’s no way to know for sure, I suppose, but from my limited experience at the UW I’d have to say yes.

  16. OK, just read the ISO Seattle piece. It looks like they try to leverage the point about the bad location of the strike into their general opinion about the prematurity of the militant action. I guess my opinion would be that the bad location of the strike doesn’t mean the militant action was premature.

  17. Sorry, missed this from Mamos on my first cursory read-through:

    “Every time the ISO assumes people don’t want to move and therefore propose a rally instead of anything more than that. That’s your constant. You have no variable to compare it to.”

    This is nonsense. The ISO approaches these questions on a concrete case-by-case basis. Which is why the Seattle comrades were *right* about the strike at UW. And it’s also why we were *right* that a strike was possible at UC Santa Cruz on March 4. And we played a leading role (along with our allies–hat-tip to Socialist Organizer in particular) in making it happen.

    Incidentally, ISO members also played a leading role in the GEO strike at UI Urbana-Champaign last year–read more here: http://socialistworker.org/2009/11/19/grad-employees-strike-victory

    So Mamos is either ignorant of the facts or being dishonest to the readers of this blog.

  18. James wrote, “hope I’m wrong but I don’t think the ISO or any other revolutionary group is in a position to decisively alter the balance of forces.”

    Again James, your reducing political possibility to the stregnth of organization. But where do the origins lie within the strength of this organization? Your obscuranting the agency the marxist method has in history as a method to alter class relations way beyond its formal organizational power. This type of thinking is the Kautskian strangle hold that lies within the ISO method. Your not seeking where the worker resisting their own labor-power exists as the starting point for class struggle. We must start talking to workers about their conditions, and what possibilities of struggle exist in their workplace, independent of the unions position on the matter. Such information should be cycled through the categories of capital, looking at relationships of exploitation, and what micro steps can be taken to developing class struggle content from this process.

    There needs to be a small organizational form that can seek this approach, and pursue the logic of the method into the battle-field of struggle. That is what should be discussed, and formed into our prism to understand organization’s political validity- ISO, US, AS ETC ECT-

    What is the method of ISO class struggle? It tailed a left-wing course in Santa Cruz, and conservative ones in many other places. Why such inconsistency?
    But lets not argue about the past, and think about what is the content of ISO class struggle method? How will it generalize due to its effectiveness?
    The alternative needs to be built, with a holistic and complete program. As long as that doesnt exist, ISO has the superficial upperhand, “we actually do stuff and organize, you guys criticize from the sidelines.” The reason why other revolutionary formations are developing completely autonomously from the ISO, even though much common theory is shared, is due to the conditions the ISO has created that are severly unfavorable for the development of class struggle militants and its programatic expression.

  19. Good discussion ya’ll… this is raising key points and I’m glad it’s continuing to be larger than just a debate between U&S and the ISO about tactics in Seattle.

    James, I’m critqiuing your empirical method here, not your specific tactical interventions , which are sometimes correct and sometimes incorrect. When they’re correct that’s great. I still think the method is flawed which is why I’m willing to work in coalition with ya’ll but also see the need to develop struggle independently and to debate ya’ll when need be.

    With the point about constantly proposing rallies I was talking about the ISO in Seattle. I’m glad you guys supported strikes in other cities. But from what I’ve heard of the Santa Cruz work it sounds like you trailed an already existing trajectory of years of rank and file worker organization. When people built strikes and showed you it was possible then you decided it was empirically possible based on local conditions. This is different than trying to alter conditions by developing close contact with rank and file working class militants who have a role in producing these conditions in the first place, as Javs argued (which is what we’re trying to do here). That’s the difference between an empirical method that treats people as statistics who are “at” a certain place where they need to be “met” and a dialectical (Marxist) method which treats people as subjects of history who transform their material surroundings as they are shaped by them. The agency in the first situation is a vanguard organization with a correct “scientific” understanding of worker’s consciousness. The agency in the second situation, as Javs laid out, is autonomous layers of workers and oppressed people who will move in ways that can’t be controlled by the self-proclaimed vanguard.

    And no, I do not think Seattle ISO comrades were *right* about the struggle at UW. If they had won the vote in the UW strike comittee there would have been no attempt to build a May 3rd strike. I still think that would have been unfortunate. While the strike did not materialize the effort to build it did bring together intermediate layers of militants who radicalized thorugh the process and who sharpened their methods of struggle. These folks are still active. The strike did not set the movement back, if anything it’s “failure” just meant we moved forward less than we would have if it had suceeded. I am not convinced we moved foward less than we would have if we had just had a student-focused rally with union endorsements, with no orientation to independent rank and filie cross-workplace agitation for the strike, which is what it sounds like the Seattle ISO folks are saying we should have done.

    Some of the folks who grew through the process of attempting the strike are key worker leaders who went from being progressive dissident trade unionists to being formidible rank and file militants who are now actively working to build networks of such militants across the city. Folks like that are crucial if we want to overcome the narrow defensive and pro-capitalist politics of isolated “defend public education” type struggles which have brought the current student movement to an impasse as Javs described. We’re working to overcome that Oct 7th impasse by meeting other workers off campus and allying with Seattle Solidarity Network who are doing great work. We have a long, long, long way to go but this is a start.

    Take for example the high school students of color who still remember the May 3rd strike and were energized by the picket lines and road blocks and who now feel a common class bond with the custodians. Who knows what role they could play in future high school walkouts and strikes. They were not demoralized by the low turnout on May 3rd, and they learned about labor struggles and workers’ power and their own power in a way that a simple rally would not have taught, even if it had been a little bit bigger than the May 3rd pickets. So when we talk about things like the Oct 23rd Oakland anti-police brutaltiy work stoppage it makes a lot of sense to them because of these experiences. I’m not saying it’s all a steady course to revolution, there are contradictions for sure. One of the most dynamic, charismatic, and brilliant young people I was mentoring during that cycle of struggle went on to run the WA State Dream Act Coalition. He and I have major disagreements about the Dream Act, along the lines of the debate we’re having now on this blog. But I still respect him a lot and I’m glad that the May 3rd strike was part of his developing political trajectory.

    I agree with James that if any of us expect mass movements to break out right now and just try to will it to happen through harder work we will burn out. I agree this could be one of the reasons the insurrectionists are burning out. But, contrary to the ISO’s repeated attempts to lump us in with the insurrectionists, we are not the same. We never expected our actions would spark insurrection, let alone mass struggle. To the extent that some of us may have had unrelastic expectations of mass struggle and to the extent that some of us may have been volunteeristic , it is a product of uneven development and our own contradictions which we need to overcome. It is not an inbuilt part of our method which somehow dooms us to failure. (Now to be clear, I think a lot of the people invovled in the insurrecionist camp are not doomed to failure either – some of them are very smart, courageous, and sincere people and I’m sure we will hear more from them shortly as they regroup and figure out new ways to move forward).

    Since May 3rd, we’ve pretty consistently refocused our attention on evenly and democraticallly developing our methods, and thanks to the comrades in Miami Autonomy and Solidaritry, we’ve been using the concept of the “intermediate layer” (explained in comments above) and it’s been helping us a lot. It has reconfirmed our understanding that mass struggle won’t pop off right away but we can do what Javs describes and advance the existing struggle with those intermediate layer militants. Our method based in that focus is one of the reasons why we’re still standing right now as the dust settles and haven’t fizzled out like a lot of the insurrectionists.

    Also, were our comrades in Durham and Austin wrong when they proposed more militant actions and took risks this spring? In both cases, their actions have helped cohere new layers of militant youth of color who are in it for the long haul and could play a major role in future struggles. It would be extremely unhelpful polemics to simply reduce all of Unity and Struggles’ methods to what happened on one day in Seattle.

    I do agree with Andrew on the tactical point about where the picket lines should have been located in Seattle on May 3rd. I’m sure there are other tactical errors we made which we should discuss and learn from.

    At times I also think Javs’ critique of the ISO could also have applied to U&S folks… we were overly focused on perfecting organizational structures like the Student Worker Coalition that we missed opportunities for advancing the struggle, like doing more one on one contact work and working class flyering around linking the budget cuts and immigrant rights struggles.

    Two of the highlights of the whole May 3rd process were less formal organizational interventions which I think at times we didn’t give ourselves enough credit for because they were not products of the long hard slog of organization building which we prided ourselves on. One was our informal contingent at the May Day rally where hundreds of people were chanting “Huelga!” gathered around a big banner saying “strike May 3rd”, and later on we confronted some white supremacist counter protestors as a bloc with other Leftists and militants in the crowd. The other was International Workers and Students for Justice’s Queer People of Color Dance Party where our friend, a dope up and coming emcee named Militant Child performed one of her first shows and totally rocked it, and several hundred people came out and met each other for the first time, helping develop a sense of a mlitant queer scene independent of the white middle class gay male gentrifier leadership of the pro-Gay marriage movement. We were so focused on buidling formal organizational structures that we missed some opportunities to informally follow up and kick it with the folks invovled in those moments. This contributed to both burnout for some of us and lost opportunities to struggle together. I am personally learning a lot from Advance the Struggle about their pedagogy, their positive group culture, and their methods of struggle, and I’m also learning from my comraes in U/S who are experimenting along similar lines, and it’s helping me correct some of these mistakes in my own practice.

  20. Very exciting developments with the NSP folks. I wanna echo Will’s sentiments and challenges and I’m hoping continued engagement with the NSP can clarify those questions. While this might seem like making a mountain out of a molehill, they have a banner with Malcolm which is an exciting indication that perhaps they are trying to take more seriously the centrality of race in class struggle. In general it seems that the ISO orients to race in a popular frontist fashion; whether its the Park51 mosque where they ignore the divisions among the Ummah or writing about immigration as if they are observing it, not as if they have a stake in the fight. I’m sure there are individual ISO folks are open to organizing around those class divisions among people of color communities and that they see the struggle over immigration as their own. These are the impressions I get through reading SW and ISR.

    I think Mamos is right that the question of U&S method can’t be based on a specific tactical move on behalf of Seattle cadre and their comrades in DI and IWSJ. I’d like to say the same for the comrades in ISO; that their opposition of the ISO to the May 3rd strike (or their support of the UCSC strike) is not indicative of their general method. I’m led to believe otherwise through the experience we’ve had in Austin with the ISO that is laid out in “March 4th at UT-Austin” http://gatheringforces.org/2010/03/16/march-4th-at-ut-austin/ as well as in the experiences we’ve had following that.

    I’d like to discuss some of that here and, of course, I invite ISO members in Austin to qualify their position. I won’t recap the whole March 4th reflection, but in several actions over the summer that took place around immigration, I’ve noticed a similar approach where the ISO plays a tailist role.

    What didn’t get expounded on in our March 4th reflection unfortunately was the part of our method that Mamos has elsewhere (I believe on Advance the Struggle’s blog) referred to as kindling an insurgent mass democracy. This occurs when you have a concentrated mass of people like a rally or march and it involves talking with individuals and small groups in it about where to take things when people seem bored from long speech after long speech or who are generally wanting to go farther than what the organizers plan for. On March 4th we went into the crowd to raise the possibility of marching through the UT administration tower and when it seemed a significant minority was down for it, we led the march into the tower. While later there was some lack of coordination and communication (of which ¡ella pelea! is partly responsible) and general disagreement about what was planned for March 4th, we consistently raised in UT Stop the Cuts meetings being flexible, that not everything can be planned, that the people themselves are the variable and at any time could show more militant than we expect. As it turned out, ISO is okay with flexibility in the abstract, but in the reality of the moment they cling to the Plan which is safer and where organizers feel they are in control (I’m not making assumptions that ISO cadre feel that way).

    Of course we were called “undemocratic” by the ISO for this because it wasn’t a boardroom decision where they attempted to plan everything down to the most remote minutiae; instead their bureaucratic understanding of democracy (and going through all the official channels in planning the march) was outflanked by both the militancy of the crowd and by ep. That is insurgent mass democracy. Had they shown some leadership and intervened they could have stopped the march as easily as we had pushed for it to go into the tower and we would have been willing to open the debate into the crowd about which way forward. Instead they decided to chide us individually. To be fair, several ISO folks were happy with the direction of the march still if they didn’t dare defend us when we were crucified at subsequent UT Stop the Cuts meetings.

    This dynamic of the Plan vs adaptation and flexibility is something that has characterized the ISO’s role in budget cuts and immigration over the Spring and Summer. There were a couple of ISO folks who attended a counterprotest that ¡ella pelea! helped organize with other militants of color and some ARA members. What might appear ironic is that the whole intention of the counterprotest was to confront the white supremacists and white populist Tea Party-types who were holding a demonstration in favor of Arizona’s SB 1070 law–an action that I would think many ISO folks would have considered as “adventuristic” since that is what they branded us on March 4th for something far more tame (marching into a public building), but it is actually consistent with their history of tailing the dominant force in the moment.

    On July 29 a group of organizers and some individual ep folks helped to organize a vigil to coincide with the enactment of SB 1070. One of those organizers energized from the June 13 counterprotest was pushing for a march to the Travis County Jail to protest ICE and Secure Communities which would appeal to the potential anger of those showing and also connect the struggle between them. ISO didn’t help organize this event and didn’t know about the proposed march, but when they showed up and the crowd began to march, they showed what reflects a consistent pattern of non-engagement. By the time we got to Travis County, the bulk of the crowd, majority people of color and women, were chanting “No justice, no peace, fuck the, police!” The ISO stood way off on the sidelines and didn’t engage with the crowd at all in what appeared to be a show of disapproval. I’m speculating on this but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because they weren’t prepared for such militancy to emerge.

    I think these are a reflection of a history not attempting to alter the balance of forces in struggle in favor of the oppressed. Instead all they can do is to defend the left-wing of capital and State (including the union bureaucracy) and tail the most liberal and centrist people of color organizations. When some centrists in the Anthropology Graduate Student Association tried to privilege-bait ella pelea and call us, a majority women and queer group, “heteropatriarchal,” (because we could have jeopardized international students–as if they have no agency) the ISO fell in line (which substantiates their objective tone in their writing on immigration). I personally feel that a lot of them don’t agree with AGSA on this, but perhaps they don’t want to alienate their good relations with liberals and centrists in other groups.

    This orientation isn’t class struggle at all and in general holds back the potentiality for class struggle to emerge. And that’s why I think describing the ISO as part of the decay of the Left is accurate. I agree with Mamos, though, that U&S has emerged as part of that decay and so the onus is on new militants to develop a praxis that can see the way out of the centrism that dominates much of the revolutionary Left today. That is just one end of the stick, though. I think insurrectionism is problematic for its own but related reasons.

    Whatever my experience has been with the ISO, I’m still open to working with them on a united front basis and to individual ISO militants moving beyond some of the organization’s conservatism.

    I have said to many others that I have a historic respect for the ISO in being able to build an organization in deep periods of repression and low activity. Unfortunately the categories of that kind of organization is holding them at the throat and they can’t negate their current practice. How is such a change to emerge if those who want to adapt the organization are booted or asked to resign?

  21. hi James,

    As I tried to say before, I think Eric Kerl got more than just “a particular detail” wrong, I think he grossly mischaracterized the politics of the people he was talking about (and from talking to some of those people, they feel the same), and so it’s hard to see “politics is important” here — because we can’t have a real discussion of important matters if those matters are misrepresented. I’ll take your word for it that this was an accident on Kerl’s part, I’m glad to hear that, sincerely. I know it’s easy to make mistakes when we’re balancing political work with jobs and busy lives. That gives me more reasons to write my reply into a submission for ISR and I’ll be sure to moderate my tone there, I wrote that reply while angry and that comes out I think.

    Beyond that, I realize that this is not really what this discussion thread is about and I probly shouldn’t have raised it here, so I’m going to leave off after this. I’d be up for discussing this with you further, though, if you’re interested, please, at my blog or by email or by phone (I think the GF people will vouch for me that I’m trustworthy enough to talk to on the phone, if you want to contact them privately to be sure I’m legit). And when I get time I think I will take your advice and edit my reply to Kerl into a submission to ISR.

    Last thing – respectfully, I don’t it’s helpful to say things like “I think if you’re honest you’ll admit….” I mean, let’s say I said “I think if you’re honest you’ll admit that the article as a whole is a response to the ISO feeling threatened by a growth in anarchist perspectives among youth and social movements.” I’m NOT saying this is the case, by the way, but if I said that and prefaced it by “if you’re honest…” that would set this up as a matter of my view vs dishonest views. That sort of framing is not conducive to comradely discussion of differences. Kerl’s article was widely read in US anarchist organizations. Few people I know in those circles thought it was even handed or fair (I don’t know any who did, but maybe they just were quiet). This may be a matter of differences in the cultures of anarchist groups and the anarchist milieu vs the culture of the ISO, I’m not sure what it is. Like I said, I trust you that Kerl was acting in good faith in writing his piece and voicing his positions and that others in the ISO are doing the same. I’ll ask you to also trust that I’m acting in good faith in expressing my disconnects from and disagreement with the piece and that others in US anarchist groups are doing the same — that is, all of us on all sides of disagreements on this are being honest and yet what appears to you as an even-handed serious engagement appears to organized anarchists as not so even-handed and serious. I’m for that sort of engagement, that’s why I’m for discussing this further, some place where it’s not a distraction from the discussion in this thread. I won’t derail further here, but please do get in touch with me to talk about this, if you have time.

    take care,
    Nate

  22. @Nate: I’ll get in touch with you to talk about this more. If you’re the same Nate who commented on my blog I have your email.

    @Krisna: I can’t speak to your experiences in Austin because I know next to nothing about the situation there. Some of your claims are pretty contentious. I hope we’ll get chance to discuss them at greater length at another time and place.

    I’m not sure how else to respond here. I don’t feel like Javs and Mamos brought anything substantially new to the discussion in their latest posts. With the greatest possible respect, it seems to me that Mamos is dancing around the facts, and Javs seems stuck at a pretty high level of abstraction.

    Until we have some evidence to plug in here, I’m not sure that the debate can move forward in a fruitful way. Simple disputation about who did what and when is not terribly useful, it seems to me.

    For example, Mamos writes:

    “But from what I’ve heard of the Santa Cruz work it sounds like you trailed an already existing trajectory of years of rank and file worker organization. ”

    It’s such a tendentious statement that it’s almost impossible to respond to. If you mean that the March 4 strike built on years of organizing on the campus then there’s no dispute at all. I never claimed that we did it all ourselves, or that it came like a bolt from the blue. But the March 4 strike does directly contradict some of the wilder claims you made earlier about the ISO only being interested in rallies. Your interpretation here is no ungenerous that I struggle to imagine how we can have a serious discussion. Even if we disagree on some important points, you can at least give credit where it’s due, surely? Especially since you really have very little idea what actually happened in Santa Cruz.

    Readers interested in what actually happened in Santa Cruz on March 4 can read more here: http://thirdreconstruction.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/debating-the-lessons-of-march-4/

    Ultimately, AS and US will need to demonstrate in practice that there’s meat on the bones of these ideas. At the same time, I hope you’ll assess the future practice of the ISO in a more honest way than I see happening here.

    For what it’s worth, this debate got me thinking and was part of the motivation for the latest post on my own blog: http://thirdreconstruction.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/hot-or-not-autumn-2010-revisited/

    I think it looks at some of the same questions from a slightly different angle.

  23. James, I read your blog post and I think the way in which you reduced the arguments is problematic. To imply that the main critiques about your stance is that it is conservative and that folks have responded by simply saying the left should be more daring is not the meat of this argument. This back and forth has been centered on a debate around strategy and the methodology that informs it.
    That being said, it seems like there’s an infatuation with figuring out “how much is possible now.” What people have been saying is that it depends on what analysis/methodology you are informed by.This has been a dialogue about interpretation of theory and history and how it has been applied. If the place you are asking how much is possible you may want to revisit the dialectical method. An understanding of it and it’s historical use may prompt you to understand where folks are coming from.

  24. Yeah, I agree with Nightwolf. James I think you’re still missing the point. I agree with you that mass mobilization at a large scale (in the hundreds of thousands or millions) may not be on the immediate horizon. Who really knows? It’s very difficult to tell given the maze of variables and the scale of politics in such a large and complex country like the US. I have no illusions that our actions will automatically generate mass mobilization. What I do think could be possible is to gather and strengthen the intermediate layers of students and workers who have been radicalized by the economic crisis into medium-sized, broad-based democratic fighting force which could take some actions, even if we don’t “win” and could grow and lay the basis for mass mobilization when the time for that does come. But to do that, as Javs has stressed, we need the right method and political content, not just the right organizational forms.

    If what I mean by “intermediate layers” is not clear from the posts above, please check out this outstanding articulation of the concept by a comrades from Miami Autonomy and Solidarity: http://anarchowhat.blogsome.com/2010/03/13/the-intermediate-level/

    I have still not heard a substantial response from James or other ISO cadre to the arguments put forward by MAS in that piece, or to Unity and Struggle’s arguments about building political centers, or Advance the Struggle’s arguments about contact work. With some important variations and differences, all three of these concepts are attempting to get at the same issue: the question of methods of struggle for our times and how to generalize these methods through high quality pedagogy and political association that goes beyond just building coalitions, recruiting to our organizations, or selling newspapers. Meanwhile, I keep hearing complaints from ex-ISOers and even some current ones about the ISO’s troubles relating to these radicalizing layers of youth and it’s troubles adequately developing the leadership of oppressed people from these layers who do join the group. I’m not claiming U/S has the silver bullet answer to these problems ourselves, but I do think it’s a real question that the ISO should take seriously and should not simply dismiss as “dishonest” or overly subjective.

    In terms of our immediate debate, how specifically am I “dancing around the facts” James? Also, Javs’ points seem pretty concrete to me, maybe because I’m in the process of putting them into practice in organizing.

    Again, about Santa Cruz. I do give credit to the ISO for the good work some of their members did building for the strike there. Like I said before, sometimes the ISO does get specific strategies and tactics right, and that’s great. I still have criticisms of your underlying methods of political analysis and practice, criticisms which I think you still have not substantially responded to.

  25. I don’t have a lot to add and honestly haven’t been able to keep up with all the comments, but I was involved in organizing for may 3rd as part of fadu (the grad student worker group). I just want to reiterate what mamos, jomo and others laid out, and to be clear that militancy went FAR beyond U/S cadre (I was not cadre at the time, and I think there were only 5 cadre in UW organizing at the time). On and before May 3rd, ustodians were calling us constantly trying to coordinate w/TAs to build strong picket lines, and ase’s were insisting on strike to the union leadership (they even passed a resolution for the leadership to strike that articulated FaDU perspectives but was written and prpposed by a totally non-affiliated rank and file of UAW–Mamos already talked about why the UAW not calling the strike lead to confusion, and rank and file perspective and even some liberal union bearocrats from other unions was that this was a mistake on the part of UAW leadership). I think ISO folks in seattle got confused about where people “were at” because they didn’t organize in ASE or custodian workforces, so didn’t know that there was intense militancy among workers and so now say that U/S cadre did the agitating for the trike. This is factually not true, and not only an insult to U/S cadre and our honesty and accountability to people we work with, but also a misreading and huge disrespect to working people at UW. the iso’s arguments to us and debates after the action and in james’ comments above makes it seem like U/S cadre pushed workers to strike before they were “ready”. This analysis misses U/S’s entire strategy, which is why I joined after never being in a rev organization a year after organizing with DI in seattle.

    Furthermore, the strike in seattle was heavily influenced by serious police repression for a year leading up to the action (go to nobudgetcutsuw.blogspot.com for more details). In U/S we are working in layers of militant workers and constantly learning from them, and bringing people who wanna be in rev organizations closer so that we can build together, not offer a line for people to take. I can say this confidently as a new member, and someone still closely connected to non u/s cadre in seattle who work closely with U/S folks and have extremely high consciousness, militancy, and strategic smarts–whether or not people join, U/S recognizes this militancy, learns from it, and helps build the struggle as javs describes.

  26. Hi ,
    The responses to the NSP article have raised important issues for revolutionaries. Jason has responded on the over-optimistic nature of the NSP projections. Here I just want to address some of the issues raised around strategies and tactics and clarify the Leninist approach that the ISO consistently uses.

    Many of the posts incorrectly accuse the ISO of tailing union bureaucrats and liberal leaders. The record of the ISO since its founding in 1977 is clear. Our Where We Stand calls for rank and file organization in opposition to the union bureaucracy which we see as a mediating layer between the bosses and workers. This layer must use but dampen the class struggle and is ultimately committed to the maintenance of capitalism. We carry this out this opposition consistently. We are today involved in numerous opposition caucuses throughout the U.S. which oppose the political direction of the bureaucracy. Examples can be found in our newspaper Socialist Worker or on request. We take this approach in all movements, not just workplace movements.

    However, political opposition does not mean opposition to all united fronts! Following from the Comintern’s united front strategy, Trotsky in the late 20’s and early 30’s , called for a United Front between the Communist Party and the Social Democrats in Germany against the Nazis. The Social Democrats were as treacherous as any U.S. union bureaucrats today ( in fact , they had 10 years earlier murdered revolutionaries Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibnict !). Yet if they could be convinced to mobilize the rank and file, a united front with them would help stem the rise of the Nazis. If the leaders refused, they would expose themselves before the rank and file of the Social Democrats. Unfortunately the Stalinist Communist Party refused to use this approach and Hitler came to power. Trotsky’s approach was followed in Britain in the 70’s by the Anti-Nazi League which held back and defeated the fascist National Front. On March 4, the fact that several unions officially endorsed the day of action was a positive thing! It helped build the action. To win official union endorsement and even to work with union leaders on particular issues where we agree is not necessarily a sellout. Lenin , in” Left-Wing Communism , An Infantile Disorder” heavily criticizes those who on principle will never compromise. The goal of the united front is not to “tail” or build up the bureaucracy, but to mobilize the rank and file. Often rank and file workers at least to a degree look to their union leaders. Attempting to move official union structures and leaders can be more effective than by-passing them if our goal is to mobilize the workers.

    A rigorous assessment of the balance of class forces AND the balance of forces WITHIN the class are key to any successful strategy. Strategies and tactics must be based on this. There is no tactic or strategy that is the best at all times and places. Wishful thinking can lead to failure and often can lead to disaster. Those who ignore this have “ mistaken their desire, their ideological /political attitude for actual fact. THIS IS THE MOST DANGEROUS MISTAKE REVOLUTIONARIES CAN MAKE” Lenin. The ISO in Seattle argued in advance that a strike on May 3 , which at first meant an attempt to actually shut down the whole campus, would not work.—i.e. would not win majority or even large minority support from workers or students. Mamos makes the excuse that factors arose that were unforeseeable—the responses of union leaders and UW management. These factors were NOT unforeseeable. In fact, ISO members argued IN ADVANCE that some form of these moves were likely.

    The actual results of the strike , ( see assessment by Amy and Chris, UW Student Worker Coalition activists in the ISO, http://socialistworker.org/2010/10/21/the-movement-at-uw), showed that calling a rally, march etc. would have been more effective than calling a strike. Those who have argued that the “strike” should have been at a central location are in effect agreeing with us that a rally should have been held instead of a strike. Strikes MUST focus on campus entrances.

    How to relate to the disgusted but apolitical people— When we run into these people , if they are open to discussion we should try to convince them to be politically active in movements ,why this activity can win reforms, why to take a long term view, why to take their rage and channel it into understanding the world and organizing others and why building a revolutionary socialist organization is key. There is no point in agonizing over people who refuse to take POLITICAL action. Revolutionaries should not tail or adapt to people who have given up ( at least for now) on politics. Rallies, strikes etc. are political mobilizations—not primarily venues for entertainment. People will move politically when they feel compelled to by the attacks of the system and secondarily by arguments from activists.

    How to relate to the militant minority, Mamos’s “intermediate layers” etc.( this layer in contrast to the above is explicitly political, i.e. it wants to develop an organized response to win reforms)—–There are times when a minority can provoke an effective strike that will quickly win majority support ( The 1937 Flint sit downs–when only a minority occupied the plants, but the majority supported it and fought the police. Many other examples.) Whether this is feasible , likely or even possible is a question of objective circumstances and the state of mass consciousness at any given time. It is not a question of “always” or “never”. However, if you assess the situation incorrectly, a minority strike attempt can be disastrous ( the 1921 German CP “general strike” when the working class was not ready , resulting in a major setback and loss of 10’s of thousands of members). This means that often revolutionaries have to counsel patience to this layer of people. Instead of an immediate strike—let’s propagandize for a strike, organize a militant caucus in the union, have an informational picket to win support, hold a public forum, hold a rally, pass out leaflets etc. The goal should be to cohere as much of this layer as possible, organize it, develop a strategy together with them to confront the union bureaucracy and win over a majority in the union to a more militant strategy. Because some of this layer is impatient does not mean that revolutionaries must adapt to impatience. Impatient , rash action can lead to burnout, defeat, demoralization and firings etc.

    . If we believe in the self-emancipation of the working class, there is no substitute for winning a majority to more militant strategies and tactics. This entails organizing, politicizing and strategizing with the militant minority with that goal in mind , not just accepting whatever action impatient people want to take.

    Related to this is the issue of small actions. One post said “quality is more important than quantity”. This could mean that small groups of militants should take militant action on their own. This is fine as long as the goal of such action is to win a majority. Adventurism is counter-productive to this goal. Calling a “strike” with nowhere near majority support is counter-productive and demeans what a strike actually is.

  27. Hi Steve,
    Sorry it took me so long to reply to your comment, I’ve been swamped with organizing. Here are a few responses:

    1) I never said the ISO follows lock step in line with the union bureaucracy. I see that you are involved in union reform caucus work. I think this kind of work can be important in some cases and I’m not opposed to it. I recognize the work you are all doing in my own industry, education, building the S.E.E. caucus in the Seattle teachers union to try to push the union to fight more definitively against privatization, charter schools, and budget cuts. This directly affects me and I appreciate it. At UW, Unity and Struggle members and workers we organize closely with have done caucus-type work as well, including getting WFSE and UAW on campus to endorse the March 4th strike and securing a commitment from WFSE to inform the membership about their right not to cross UAW picket lines if UAW strikes and if the workers don’t feel safe to cross. None of us are dead set opposed to this kind of organizing.

    2) That being said, we don’t think union reform caucusing is enough. We see the need to build independent workplace groups like For A Democratic University, a group of UAW 4121 members at UW. These groups can take action against budget cuts, managerial abuses, and union busting whether the union bureaucracy takes action or not. In other words they don’t have to wait to get permission from the bureaucrats to take action. Informal independent workplace groups among the UW custodians have played a similar role and have always been the basis for our organizing in International Workers and Students for Justice (IWSJ)

    We also see the need to link up rank and file activists from different jobs in cross-industry solidarity networks, and to link these workers up with unemployed folks, youth, homeless folks, etc. This is what IWSJ is doing now and this is why we are partnering with Seattle Solidarity Network. We are supporting independent workplace organizing in multiple workplaces while bringing working class people together to fight bad bosses and landlords, budget cuts and police brutality.

    Again, I don’t see this model as opposed to caucus work, and I could see us working with union reform caucuses like S.E.E. If we haven’t done that so far it is simply because we have limited resources and time as organizers, not because we are opposed to it ideologically. As a teacher I appreciate the work S.E.E. is doing, I’m just swamped right now organizing with youth of color and UW workers against the police brutality my students are regularly facing. I hope we can link up this youth organizing work with the teacher organizing work ya’ll are involved in.

    3) On that note, I agree with you, I am for building united fronts. Certainly we need a united front kind of mutual defense pact against fascists and white supremacists. We also need to build united fronts against state repression, budget cuts, police brutality, etc. Despite our disagreements, we were able to build the Student Worker Coalition at UW together, right? This shows Unity and Struggle folks are not for abstaining from coalition work around reform demands. We just don’t want to be limited to that and we don’t want to be told to subordinate our politics in order to reach the liberals (the Seattle ISO has not told us to do that but others have). I agree with you sometimes rank and file workers are sympathetic to union leaders and want to work with them, and when that happens its important that we go to actions called by the bureaucracy and support the rank and file workers there. What I think the ISO at UW has missed sometimes though is the depth to disillusionment and frustration with the union bureaucracy expressed by the majority of workers we have organized with over the past year and a half. If we were to confine ourselves only to caucus work and united fronts with the bureaucracy we would actually loose contact with a lot of workers who would not take us seriously. The ISO always talks about “meeting people where they’re at” and this is exactly what we are doing when we criticize the bureaucracy. In fact, once IWSJ organized a rank and file initiated event without the union bureaucracy’s permission. Then the union signed onto the event, then they backed off and decided to hold their own separate event at the same time. The ranks came to the IWSJ event, leaving the union bureaucrats standing there alone. A member of IWSJ spoke to the crowd at our event when it was almost over and suggested we march over the union leaders’ event as a sign of good will and compromise. He was literally booed by the crowd who insisted we stay where we were.

    4) Steve your argument about May 3rd sounds a lot like you’re simply saying “I told you so.” Maybe you successfully predicted the outcome of the strike, and that’s great. But you are still missing some key aspects of the strike, which we will clarify when we have time to put out a more thorough self-assessment and self-critique of the strike and our role in it (we’re working on that now).

    5) The whole point of focusing on a militant minority or “intermediate layer” is to cohere the layer of new activists who will be able to win over a majority. I also believe in working class self-emancipation and agree this requires the majority of the class to become active in order to make a revolution. In 2010 the majority of the class worldwide are poor people of color. A small self-proclaimed vanguard can’t substitute itself for that mass activity.

    6) I am also not saying that we should do whatever the people around us are calling for. For example, almost every day I hear someone say they would like to kill a cop in retaliation for police brutality. I don’t encourage this, I usually say look that will just mean they’ll replace that dead pig with another racist pig tomorrow. I then open up a conversation about other kinds of militant actions we can build for – copwatch, mass strikes against police brutality, militant demonstrations moving toward uprisings and revolution…… – collective actions that could change the balance of forces between the police and oppressed peoples. But this is really different from couseling patience as if I’m some all-seeing social scientist and the person I’m talking to is just rash and overly emotional. When folks say this sort of thing it is a rational response, even if it’s one I disagree with… they are expressing a real political position based in a real reaction to a fucking horrific objective situation and my role should be to fight in solidarity and to help create real practical alternatives – not to give a lecture about the proper consciousness workers should have. Steve, maybe you agree with me on this, I’m not assuming you dont’, but I’m just highly uncomfortable with this division you’re making between “us” as revolutionaries and “them” as the people around us. To be real, at times the people around me are more revolutionary than I am and I am pushed forward by them. I think if you look at your own work you might see the same pattern. This is why neither of us should be claiming to be the vanguard of the revolution. Who the vanguard is shifts constantly based on the rise and fall of struggle and can’t be frozen into one single organization.

    7) I agree with you that premature strikes can be deadly. People can get shot, fired, and can starve and this can lead to mass demoralization which fascists and other scum will take advantage of. Maybe that’s what happened in Germany, I’d have to study that history more thoroughly to weigh in on that. But I think it’s a bit of an over-exaggeration to compare the failed German strike which paved the way for the rise of the Nazis to our “failed” May 3rd strike. Sure, May 3rd failed to develop as an actual strike as we had agitated and organized for. We failed to strike, but we didn’t fail completely in our aim of stopping budget cuts. If we hadn’t agitated for a strike the UAW contract would have been even worse. We played our role, along with workers in other WFSE locals who wildcatted and who marched in Olympia, in stopping healthcare cuts to state workers.

    But perhaps even more importantly, everyone active in IWSJ, FADU, Democracy Insurgent, and Unity and Struggle – all the folks who worked hard to try and build the strike and who argued with you about whether we should have a strike – all of those people are still active around the country. Sure, there was some temporary burnout after the strike failed to materialize, but it’s not like everyone dropped out! On the contrary, a lot of folks radicalized through that struggle, learned a lot, and became leaders. CG’s comment points to that. Also, noone was fired for organizing, noone was even arrested! This is hardly the horrible defeat leading to a period of demoralization that the ISO portrays it as. If anything, May 3rd helped build FADU which is still active on campus, and it helped solidify IWSJ as a serious organization which is also still active and is slowly but steadily growing. Finally, building the strike helped us make connections across the country with rank and file workers who are organizing against budget cuts. FADU’s literature agitating for the strike and some of our analyses here on Gathering Forces are being studied around the country and hopefully rank and file UAW workers in other locals will be able to build real strikes learning from FADU’s successes and failures. Again, while we didn’t succeed at what we planned to do, it wasn’t exactly a crushing defeat.

    8) Is the ISO going to write a similar critique of the “failure” of the I-1098 electoral initiative you organized heavily for this fall? (For those who don’t know this would have instituted an income tax on the wealthy in WA state). At the end of your critique of the May 3rd strike you posed working around 1098 as an alternative that could meet people where they’re at and help grow the movement. Is this what happened? Did new people become radicalized through canvassing and organizing for 1098? Will they now be able to help fight the budget cuts? Are they now prepared to support labor struggles at UW and around the city? Will they be able to relate to the smoldering movement against police brutality here which could erupt again? Or will they be demoralized by the electoral defeat and drop out of organizing? To be clear, I’m not opposed to 1098 and I do think we need to tax the rich in WA state. I’m just asking these questions because these are the kinds of questions we all should be asking ourselves right now when we assess our strategies, and if the ISO poses them to us I think it’s fair that we pose them to you as well.

  28. sorry, that last smiley face was supposed to be the number 8, I’m not sure why the software turned it into a smile. There is nothing to smile about considering that the defeat of 1098 will lead to more budget cuts which might mean unemployment for me and a lot of my close friends.

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