Leaked ISO internal bulletins, 2015 edition

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Below you will find the latest batch of internal bulletins from the International Socialist Organization, a US Trotskyist sect. Multiple concerned members, troubled by the group’s lack of transparency and accountability, sent me the documents via e-mail. Like last year’s set, these are marked “for members’ eyes only.” Such secrecy is usually justified by dusting off passages from Lenin’s 113-year-old tome What is to be Done?, which sought to adapt Marxist organizational principles to the tsarist police state. Police infiltration, monitoring, and surveillance of radical groups certainly continues to be a problem, as documents from 2008 confirm, but I would be hard pressed to find anyone who believes this is some sort of new COINTELPRO or Okhrana.

Don’t tell them that, though. They’re still under the delusion that their puny organization — fewer than two thousand members, even on paper — is the object of intense persecution by the United States government. When I posted the internal bulletins back in February 2014, there was lots of talk on the Kasama Project website about “security culture,” where an article by Mike Ely appeared under the title “Leaking internal ISO docs: A question of revolutionary ethics.” Beyond that, the ISO tried to smear me, issuing this defamatory prompt to be posted wherever people linked to my blog:

Anyone who considers defending or associating with Ross Wolfe should always have this reposted, a defense of the FBI arrests of Palestine solidarity activists, as a reminder of what he is. Not just an utterly racist, elitist, sexist troll with a creepy, nasty obsession with wanting Muslim women unveiled. But also an utter scumbag and danger to the Left, ready to call for a state crackdown on activists, no matter what their background. Know your enemy.

Following a recent row resulting from my disclosure of a reported rape coverup in Solidarity-US, which implicates a prominent “socialist feminist” initialed JB (Joanna Brenner?) in the obstruction of an internal investigation, Shaun Joseph of the ISO Renewal Faction reassured me: “Character assassination is basically how these people [leftists] work, as I know all too well. All this stuff about protecting the survivor’s identity is bullshit — it’s so transparently self-interested.” Shaun was expelled from the ISO a year ago, along with the rest of the Renewal Faction en masse. Last month people tried to claim I threatened to release information about the victims in the Soli case, which was, of course, a complete fabrication. They even led a “boycott, divestment, sanction, and unfriend” campaign against me (I’m not kidding), threatening to block anyone who still had mutuals with me on Facebook. It’s pretty sad that the most politically meaningful act anyone can imagine is an ultimatum to cut ties with some person on social media. Like cutting someone off from the leper colony of the contemporary Left is some great punishment. Most people outgrew this petty bullshit in middle school.

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Anyway, I’ve gone ahead and removed all names of individual ISO members in the documents, as well as the cities in which they live or are active. Not that I believe for one minute that anyone lost their job over last year’s leak, but this way they don’t even have that canard to hurl back at me. Here they are, available to download as PDFs:

  1. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 01
  2. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 02 — The complexities of rape and sexual assault: A contribution (Nov 16 2014)
  3. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 03
  4. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 04
  5. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 05
  6. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 06
  7. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 07
  8. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 08
  9. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 09 — Believing Survivors: A Response to Concerns (Feb 6, 2015)
  10. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 10
  11. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 11
  12. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 12 — Reply to “Believing Survivors” (February 10, 2015)
  13. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 13
  14. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 14 — Against the Proposals set forth in the document “Believing Survivors: A Response to Concerns”
  15. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 15 — Assessing the Response to Sexual Misconduct (February 11, 2015)
  16. ISO Preconvention Bulletin 16

Some highlights from the bulletins: First, responding to the whole issue of whether accusers should be believed when it comes to accusations of rape, harassment, or sexual assault, SS wrote:

The aims and strategies of state infiltrators need to be carefully considered [in assessing accusations of misconduct].

COINTELPRO — the FBI program to “disrupt, discredit, and destroy” left wing and social justice movements between 1957 and 1971 — involved a massive infiltration strategy. COINTELPRO operatives used any and all means to accomplish its aims — including sowing distrust between movement members that sometimes involved inventing fictional sexual activities. In 1974, a U.S. government investigation of this program revealed:

A distressing number of the programs and techniques developed by the intelligence community involved transgressions against human decency that were no less serious than any technical violations of law. Some of the most fundamental values of this society were threatened by activities such as the smear campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the testing of dangerous drugs on unsuspecting American citizens, the dissemination of information about the sex lives, drinking habits, and marital problems of electronic surveillance targets, and the COINTELPRO attempts to turn dissident organizations against one another and to destroy marriages.

R and B argue, “We feel that a straightforward policy that trusts survivors in the absence of direct counter-evidence will decrease the likelihood that this sort of accusation could be used by the state against us. If the policy is uniform and clear, there is far less to be gained by the state through false accusations of rape.” But R and B’s approach actually makes it easier for the state to successfully harm its targets inside the organization — since the assumption of guilt will automatically result in the expulsion of those accused (by anyone, including a state infiltrator) of sexual assault.

This strikes me as delusional at best, and cynical at worst. SS attempts to scare up sympathetic paranoia in the ranks of the membership, so that any accusation of misconduct might be greeted with suspicion. Who’s to say the accuser is not some sort of state agent or government saboteur? Once this specter is raised, the whole imperative to “believe the survivor” is chucked right out the window. Personally, I believe there should still be a presumption of innocence no matter what the charge — though such charges are not made frivolously, and must of course be taken with the utmost seriousness. But that doesn’t mean an organization can’t at least suspend a member in the meantime while they check out the evidence. Marxist organizations are not, nor do they need to be, courts of law. It’s not like a bunch of crusty sectarians have the power to send someone to jail, so the burden of proof shouldn’t have to be so high.

You can’t have it both ways, however: either you believe the accuser or you believe she or he might be a plant. The leadership is clearly ready to cast aspersions on anyone who would dare to accuse its cadre of wrongdoing.

After larger contingent of ISO members responded in Bulletin #9 that they hadn’t heard of any cases where infiltrators tried to accuse their comrades of misconduct, DB, a leader in [redacted], shot back:

[T]he authors claim to lack knowledge of any case in which a left organization was harmed by expelling members accused of sexual assault, this ignores that in the COINTELPRO era, the FBI used just such a tactic not uncommonly. But we may not be able to cite to more recent examples because COINTELPRO is likely not a widespread tactic employed by law enforcement anymore (though not saying it doesn’t occur at all) — simply due to the relative weakness of the left vis-à-vis its 1960’s counterparts.

The document then completely discounts the potential — when the left does become bigger and thus more of a threat to the capitalist state — for law enforcement to concoct accusations of sexual assault to marginalize leading members of left organizations. The authors then assert its foolhardy on our part to think we could discover that tactic even if it was taking place, citing to the Black Powers movement only discovering same after-the-fact. And while the Black Panthers (to cite one example within the Black Power movement) were largely unaware of the extent of the infiltration or the forms it was taking, it is also unclear that they had a formal complaint & investigation procedure in place such as the one we’re currently looking to implement. However, the point is that we probably would have difficulty in discovering a false accusation of sexual assault put on by a 21st-century COINTELPRO.

Using paranoia to crush criticisms or complaints is nothing new, though it’s a tradition more strongly associated with Stalinism than with Trotskyism. Time was that you could get rid of troublemakers in the party simply by suggesting they might be “wreckers” or “British spies.” Paul Heideman and Carlos Rivera-Jones insinuated I was an informant or a snitch. Not much has changed, it seems. But it’s hard to read lines like the following as anything other than a paranoid misogynist entrapment fantasy: “If the state were to attempt to harm our organization by making false claims via infiltrators, we can assume that they would most likely do so by having consensual sex with a member, and lying afterward to claim that the encounter was non-consensual.”

It doesn’t end there, though. Lingering doubts about the (mis)handling of sexual misconduct allegations last year surface in some of the Bulletin#15. ER wrote, “I don’t feel that the role of the steering committee has been resolved though. After the initial accusations a steering committee member was aware.” He goes on to note that the account in the infamous Preconvetion Bulletin #19 last year contradicted claims made in the ISO’s public “Response to Slander”:  “This statement is in conflict with the events described in PCB#19, which describes just this sort of behavior [indifference and inaction] by the ISO branch, but also by the Steering Committee.”

Rather than admit to this obvious inconsistency, the Steering Committee decided to heap yet more scorn upon the banished Renewal Faction:

From the beginning, the Steering Committee disputed as factually incorrect the claims contained in the document about the leadership’s handling of this case. We believed then, as we do now, that the original documents’ authors were sincerely attempting to correct what they believed to be mistakes made in the case. The Renewal Faction, however, deliberately and destructively misrepresented the facts of this matter, accusing the Steering Committee of engaging in a “cover up” of sexual assault. In addition, the Renewal Faction chose to post the original document (and numerous other internal ISO documents) online a year ago, seriously compromising the privacy of the accuser in this case. For this reason, the Steering Committee chose not to respond to the accusations in our internal publications and instead issued a public statement. We continue to stand by the public statement of the Steering Committee and the National Committee.

Nevermind the fact that the accuser was overjoyed the documents were leaked. So much so, that she gave her friend the okay to publish the whole sordid tale (anonymously) on this blog. But this is a common tactic, trying to discredit those who expose an organization’s bungling by saying they violate the victim’s wishes. Maybe we should just take their word for it, and no one on the Steering Committee knew anything about the accusations. How could anyone find out either way, unless they released all e-mail correspondence between the Steering Committee and the branch members? Assuming, of course, it hasn’t been deleted already.

Chuck Stemke’s — er, Comrade Daniel’s — article on the Bob Filner sex scandal is still up on Socialist Worker’s website, after all. “We have to think through who might see the documents and what implications they might have for our political work,” warns Bulletin #1. “Disgruntled former members and sectarians can exploit and twist the documents to fit their own convenient narratives (as we saw earlier this year). At our convention, documents were cynically exploited, putting the anonymity of a survivor of sexual assault at risk, for example.” Have a look for yourselves in the documents above. See whether the professional revolutionaries of the ISO were misrepresented in any way, by myself or Renewal Faction or anyone else.

18 thoughts on “Leaked ISO internal bulletins, 2015 edition

  1. Thanks for this, Ross — but one thing you and others on the revolutionary left fail to consider is why this sort of thing keeps happening, year after year, across the generations and in practically every far left current. Still less do they attempt to construct a class analysis of this almost fatal defect.

    I have tried to rectify that glaring omission here:

    http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_02.htm

    Summarised here:

    http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Nine-Part-02.htm

    And no, I don’t blame this on dialectics…

  2. Anyone who considers defending or associating with the Concept of The Internal Bulletin is an utterly racist, elitist, sexist troll with a creepy, nasty obsession, & should have this stapled to their forehead:

    Joaquín Bustelo, ‘Lenin Was Not a Leninist’, March 2013
    http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=7727

    Bustelo makes it plain that Lenny the Vlad never wrote a single word in the Holy Form known as the Internal Discussion Bulletin. Everything he wrote was published, in front of ‘the class’ – and their cats and dogs.

    Know your enemy.

    • I’m not sure how you validly get from ‘it is offensive to talk as though covering up rape and rape enabling is better than leaking internal bulletins’ to ‘internal bulletins are awful things to have in general’.

      Also, no-one has writings that are 100% public. No-one.

  3. Everything Lenin WROTE was published EVENTUALLY, some POSTHUMOUSLY. He was no transparency fanatic. At the end of his life he was trying to figure out how to keep state documents out of the hands of the People’s Inspection, an impotent oversight group Lenin founded in lieu of real worker power. The proletariat could watch, just not participate in decision making.

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  5. Below is an edited copy of an email conversation I had with a friend and is a bit off topic, but it deals with how deadly internecine battles within the organizations under discussion can become once any real struggles begin. It is certainly lighter slogging than the heavily researched commentary by Rosa above. And, call me a dilettante if you want, but I don’t get the value of spending all that time and effort dissecting a litter of mice when the global military and police power of the late capitalist cat could, if it so choose, round them up and disappear them in a week – starting with the leadership while they gather at one of their glorious international gatherings – all 300 of them (before the last split).

    Excerpt starts here:

    Your liberal namesake is missing a big part of your point, that is the issue of CLASS. [the original conversation dealt with gay marriage]

    First a long segue. Just reading Victor Serge’s history/analysis of the first year of the October Revolution (he was not there, arriving in 1919). It’s hard to fathom the chaos in which this revolutionary baby was delivered. What struggles ensued, including war communism and the brutality of all sides in this fight to the death.

    In an email exchange with a friend who recommended “The Man Who Loved Dogs” which I have referenced to you earlier, I said the issue of Kronstadt is still up for discussion, In about one minute of “research” online, I found that the Director of the Cheka was in power from 1917 until 1926.

    Please see this excerpt – the particularly pertinent section appearing in the final paragraph here:

    As far as the Kronstadt rebellion goes, upon further research, my head is spinning; each side to the debate quoting sources which, obviously, support its point of view.

    Just one example: whether or not the composition of the garrison had changed substantially from 1917 when the sailors were amongst the strongest supporters and fighters for the revolution to 1921 when, according to the pro-Bolshevik side, the majority of those sailors had already been killed or were still participating in and/or as leaders within the Red Army fighting in the civil war. Sources the anarchists or other anti-Leninists quote say that more than 95% of the sailors aboard the two great ships of the fleet, Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol, had mustered aboard these vessels before 1917 and, hence, were the same sailors who had fought so gloriously for the Russian revolution.

    It appears Serge himself came down on different sides of the discussion at different times.

    I suppose whatever the “true” facts are here, it is worth noting that the director of the Cheka between 1917 and 1926 when he died of natural causes was Felix Dzerzhinsky; that is he remained at his post under the auspices of Lenin and Trotsky and Stalin during the last two years when Stalin began his consolidation of power. Even staunch Leninists and Trotskyists will admit to the ruthlessness of the Cheka in support of Bolshevik control of the revolutionary state and are not embarrassed to rationalize its activities in the name of preserving the germ of the future international world-wide workers paradise.

    I won’t bore your with any further reiteration of this period with which I’m sure you’re familiar, accept to say, even then the petite bourgeoisie vacillated and ultimately lined up with the counter-revolutionaries in support of the Russian bourgeoisie and their European Allies – namely the Kadets, the SR’s (at least they were up for a revolution), et al.

    Ironically, in the “long view of history” we were taught by Cannon and friends, did that revolution make a huge difference to what kind of global world capitalism we endure today?

    At least the other David was kind enough to respond to your critique, notwithstanding he apparently missed the point that American electoral politics are a complete farce and to support the Democrats over the Republicans has brought the masses within the world’s largest imperial power to a level of political consciousness which would make a Russian peasant or floor sweeper in a Russian factory in 1917 scoff with derision – both perhaps having just discovered the benefits of literacy.

    “I guess you can bring a petite bourgoisie to history, but you can’t make him think.”

      • No, the person who first told me about the incident in Solidarity contacted me and asked that it be taken down. She told me about it a year before, and though she wasn’t a victim of the accused member herself, she said she was planning to go public with it as soon as she quit Soli (which she did eight or nine months ago). Two weeks before I posted it, she notified me via an intermediary that they were still planning on going public “soon.” I got impatient, not sure why she was dragging her feet, and posted it. Then suddenly it turned out the women didn’t want to go public. I was skeptical but didn’t want to add to her stress.

  6. Rape has been weaponised by bourgeois identitwats in their war against socialism. Henceforth I will NEVER believe another rape accusation.

  7. Ross, It appears this site is starting to attract trolls. I suggest you move on with your usual eclectic take on, among other things, Marxism, Soviet history, art, architecture. etc. Kudos on all your fascinating work.

    • Par for the course. I’ve said my piece on the matter, and do hope the story travels further. The ISO and other dinosaur sects that cover up or make excuses for sexual misconduct need to die, and the sooner the better. Won’t dwell on it any further for now, though.

  8. Err…, to be replaced with what, Ross? Several cohorts of leftist bloggers? Yet more obscure, academic Marxist ‘philosophers’?

    I think the IST and the old UK-SWP were excellent up until the death of Tony Cliff, after which they rapidly went downhill. I know you disagree (as do many others), but I’d like to see your blueprint for an alternative.

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