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. Continue reading

Tony Cliff’s legacy today

James Heartfield
Platypus Review
July 24th, 2014
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Tony Cliff’s recognition in his own moment of a certain kind of impasse within Trotskyism and his attempt to overcome it require full consideration and appreciation both in terms of the merits of its potential and a consciousness of its limits.

A panel on the legacy of Tony Cliff opened the panel discussion at the Sixth Annual Platypus International Convention held in Chicago on April 4th, 2014. What follows are the opening remarks by English journalist and author James Heartfield.
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International Socialism and the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky
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I became a Trotskyist in 1933. The theory of state capitalism is a development of Trotsky’s position…But at the end of the Second World War, the perspectives that Trotsky had put forward were not realized. Trotsky wrote that one thing was certain: the Stalinist bureaucracy would not survive the war. It would either be overthrown by revolution or by counterrevolution…The assumption was that the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracy would be a fantastic opening for the Trotskyist movement, for the Fourth International. The Stalinist bureaucracy not only didn’t collapse but it expanded…Therefore, at that time, Stalinism had a fantastic strength. And we had to come to terms with it.

— Tony Cliff, interview with
Ahmed Shawki (1997)

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Let me start by saying how grateful I am to be invited here today. I’ve been a keen watcher and reader of Platypus. It is really useful that we look critically at the thinking and reasoning of the Left because if the Left doesn’t become self-reflective, it won’t have any importance whatsoever. In my comments on the International Socialist Group, which was founded by Tony Cliff and a few others, I want to say roughly this: the best way to understand the intellectual development of Tony Cliff and of the International Socialist Group is to see it in context.

Tony Cliff was very interested in an argument about socialist organization derived from something Lenin said in the early 20th century. In the pamphlet What is to Be Done? Lenin “bent the stick,” as Tony Cliff used to say, and very forcefully made the point that the spontaneous consciousness of the working class would not go beyond trade-union consciousness and that political, theoretical reflection upon that would necessarily be, as Lenin wrote in the pamphlet, “introduced from the outside.” That argument of Lenin’s was anathema to Tony Cliff and a point he criticized; he criticized it in a 1959 book he wrote about Rosa Luxemburg and in a 1960 pamphlet on Trotsky called Party and Class.

Now this is the core of the argument. What Lenin is doing is very old-fashioned in philosophical terms in that his argument is derived from an Enlightenment view. He’s saying that in essence there is a distinction to be made between higher thought and opinion, between rational or reflective thought and immediate or natural thinking. That distinction would be commonplace amongst Enlightenment thinkers like Hegel or Locke; it would be easily understood by them.

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Did it have the sectarian implication that Cliff saw in it? I suggest not.

Lenin, like Hegel, understood that when he talked about higher thought or reflective thought or theoretical reflection, and distinguished it from the merely spontaneous reflections of people in their activity, he understood that essentially they were the same — they were the same stuff, the same substance. That reflection, that theoretical thinking, was not separate and apart wholly — it was not an absolute distinction — but it was of the same material. It was a distillation of experience, but that distillation was not something that could happen unbidden. That was the very point: it could only come about through organization; it would have to be reflected through organization. Continue reading