Protest politics in the age of Trump

So who else is mad as hell about the sym­bol­ic trans­fer of power between rival fac­tions of the bour­geois­ie? Remem­ber all the demon­stra­tions that spon­tan­eously broke out eight years ago, when Barack Obama was first in­aug­ur­ated? And then the acute sense of out­rage we sus­tained throughout his two terms in of­fice, hold­ing reg­u­lar protests as the gov­ern­ment he over­saw de­por­ted a re­cord num­ber of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants?

Oh wait…

None of that ever happened. In fact, the first is­sue of In­ter­na­tion­al So­cial­ist Re­view re­leased dur­ing Obama’s pres­id­ency fea­tured one of his 2008 cam­paign slo­gans: “Yes we can!” Des­pite the fact his for­eign policy plat­form was vir­tu­ally identic­al to that of his pre­de­cessor (save some stuff about shift­ing fo­cus away from the Middle East, to­ward East Asia), and al­though do­mest­ic­ally he merely fol­lowed through on Bush’s bail­out of the banks, most self-de­scribed Marx­ists sat back and cheered to them­selves as Obama was sworn in. The lead ed­it­or­i­al an­nounced that

the elec­tion of Barack Hus­sein Obama as forty-fourth pres­id­ent of the United States is a wa­ter­shed event. In a coun­try where Afric­ans were brought in chains, were slaves un­til 1865, where leg­al (or de facto) se­greg­a­tion was the rule, and where the ma­jor­ity of Afric­an Amer­ic­ans were not giv­en the right to vote un­til 1965, Obama’s elec­tion is his­tor­ic… En­gage­ment is the or­der of the day.

By con­trast, this same pub­lic­a­tion frowns upon any sort of en­gage­ment with the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Res­ist­ance” is the or­der of the day: “Let the res­ist­ance be­gin. The churn­ing fear and re­vul­sion swirl­ing in­side us as we watch Don­ald J. Trump take the oath to be­come the 45th pres­id­ent of the United States will be at least some­what bal­anced by the sat­is­fac­tion of watch­ing in­spir­ing and un­pre­ced­en­ted levels of protest rising up to greet an in­com­ing pres­id­ent…” Con­jur­ing up the ghost of fas­cism, any­one who en­ter­tains the idea of en­ga­ging with the new pres­id­ent is branded a col­lab­or­at­or.

What’s so dif­fer­ent, though? You’d think that a Marxoid sect that traces its lin­eage to Len­in would re­mem­ber his fam­ous para­phrase of The Civil War in France (1871) in State and Re­volu­tion (1917): “Marx grasped this es­sence of cap­it­al­ist demo­cracy splen­didly when, in ana­lyz­ing the ex­per­i­ence of the [Par­is] Com­mune, he said that the op­pressed are al­lowed once every few years to de­cide which par­tic­u­lar rep­res­ent­at­ives of the op­press­ing class shall rep­res­ent and repress them in par­lia­ment!” Ob­vi­ously it would be folly to ar­gue that both ma­jor Amer­ic­an parties are identic­al. Yet neither rep­res­ents the in­terests of the work­ing class, so why en­gage with either? Continue reading

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

The case of “Comrade Daniel”

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What follows is an account written by the person described by the Steering Committee in Preconvention Bulletin 19 as “a member of a different socialist organization…extremely hostile to the ISO.” This individual, who has asked to remain anonymous, is close friends with the woman who accused “Comrade Daniel” of attempted rape. In the following, the author disputes some elements of the account presented in PCB 19, or at least what he feels are some glaring omissions. Slight grammatical edits have been made, but have been reviewed and accepted by the author as conveying its original substance unchanged.

My only editorial comment is that what is at issue here is not whether the alleged incident mentioned at the outset actually occurred. This may seem a provocative position to take to some, but I do not think anyone reading this is in a position to weigh in on the guilt or innocence of “Comrade Daniel,” especially as no details of the event in question appear. (Indeed, the accuser prefers that such details be withheld). What is at issue, however, is the International Socialist Organization’s response to these allegations. Or, more accurately, its lack of a response. As the author of the following makes clear, cases like this are hardly exclusive to the ISO.
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We were out drinking with a friend when she started telling myself and two other friends that she was having some problems with her boyfriend. She shared her story, and while Document 19 takes great pains to inform the reader that the majority of the [city name redacted] branch and at least some members in national leadership think that while it was obviously a violation of consent, it didn’t amount to attempted rape. However, I’m confident that if the reader was aware of what happened they would characterize it correctly.

I would also hope that the reader is understanding with the position I’m placed in as someone who is outside of the ISO, knows the story, and yet didn’t have the event happen to them, making me unwilling to share it with the world. Because of the leak of Document 19 however, I have decided that I will share my side of what happened, especially as the Document saw fit to mention me, and generally obscured the matter more than it revealed.

Anyway, she said she wanted the ISO to know what happened since the perpetrator was elected leadership in the branch and was carrying himself as a strong anti-sexist. That’s how their relationship started and she was worried he would use that as a predatory tool. We discussed it and decided the first thing to do would be to have the woman who was with us talk to a female friend in the branch. We figured that would lead to a report to leadership, as she was part of the leadership herself, there’d be some form of disciplinary hearing, and the perpetrator would be expelled.

Unfortunately that didn’t go as planned. The ISO member we informed, herself a longtime friend of the perpetrator, said that it didn’t amount to attempted rape — because “if he really wanted to, he would have” — and she refused to report it. I was stunned when I heard her say this, but the woman who spoke to her said while she was disappointed as well, she had actually expected that response. As a former member of the ISO herself, she said that complaints with the party, political or personal in nature, are usually viewed with hostility due to the party’s siege mentality.

Some time later, maybe a little under a year, someone on my Facebook feed shared a new article written by the perpetrator [later dubbed “Comrade Daniel”] in Socialist Worker about the importance for men to stand with women against sexism. At the time the SWP-UK thing was still pretty fresh, but out for long enough that everyone who was curious about it could look it up and see what had happened. The Left in general seemed to be more on edge and vigilant about this sort of thing.

But as far as I was concerned, the victim’s worst fears were coming true before my very eyes. The perpetrator was continuing to build a reputation for his anti-sexism work. Furious, I reposted the article, adding that its author liked to prey on women. Continue reading

Know your enemy

Image: Pierre-Paul Prud’hon
Nemesis and crime (1808)

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It would appear that the International Socialist Organization has launched a defamatory campaign intended to discredit me. Various members of the ISO have been gunning for me ever since I leaked a number of embarrassing internal bulletins from their organization last week. These were sent to me by several different members and former members of the ISO who were troubled by some of the developments taking shape within the organization of late. Some of these documents revealed their leadership’s inaction in resolving an incident concerning a member who had been accused of rape. Apparently this went unreported to the rest of the organization’s membership for more than seven months, until accidentally being brought to light by a few errant statements made in public regarding “Comrade Daniel” (the ISO’s rough equivalent to “Comrade Delta” across the pond).

Preconvention Bulletin 19 — which was only released a couple weeks ago — explained the sequence of events as follows:

During the investigation, it was revealed that two members of the current (2013) XVBC [Xville Branch Committee] had known a year prior that an accusation had been made, one of whom was also on the SDBC with “Daniel” at the time of the incident (July 2012). As of July 2013, no one had spoken to the victim, no disciplinary action had been taken against “Daniel,” no fewer than five Xville comrades knew that there was an accusation, including two members of the (2012) SDBC, and the ISOSC [ISO Steering Committee] was also aware.

Who knows if it would have ever been disclosed to the general membership if someone hadn’t posted about it on Facebook? How embarrassing. No wonder they’re so upset.

Anyway, enough about what the ISO mishandled or got wrong. There’s a clearly established protocol for how to deal with such leaks. If they don’t like the message that someone is spreading, the easiest way to resolve the matter is to kill the messenger. So let’s what calumnies they’ve concocted to convince people that I am untrustworthy. Right now this is the message they’ve decided to circulate:

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.

Pretty boring stuff, really. The only problem with this kind of rhetoric is that it loses a lot of its effect when such accusations (“racist,” “sexist,” “troll”) are so routinely and casually made. Indeed, these all come from the ISO’s standard repertoire of abuse, terms used to tar anyone who crosses their path. When articles written by a few former members of the ISO critical of the leadership were published on Counterpunch a few months back — on “The Merchants of Shame” and “The Theory and Practice of Idealism in Trotskyism and the ISO” — the response was to dismiss the criticisms out of hand based simply on the venue where the articles had appeared. Sofia Arias wrote up this neat bit of guilt-by-association in an article hilariously titled “Contributing to a Constructive Debate”:

[The Renewal faction has] definitely found a new home at Counterpunch. Counterpunch is literally the last dwelling place that anyone with principled anti-oppression politics would ever go. And I take you to be sophisticated enough to know this, which is why I’m saying it. It has a dwindling readership of the old (white) (male) left. Why? Because it continuously repeatedly uses sexism and misogyny to attract readers (“Angelina Jolie Under the Knife: Of Privilege, Health Care, and Tits”), anti-Semitism (defense of Gilad Atzmon against a campaign initiated by Omar Barghouti, Ali Abunimah, and other BDS activists), out-and-out transphobia (initiating a series of “debates” sympathetic to Trans Exclusionary Rad Fems).

Counterpunch was called out by Jacobin magazine this past summer for its transphobia, and was subsequently threatened with a lawsuit by the vile trans-misogynist Cathy Brennan, who locks arms with the state to destroy trans leftists. Which publication, Counterpunch or Socialist Worker, republished Jacobin‘s call for solidarity? You can take a wild guess.

No one needs to lecture me about some of the truly odious material Counterpunch has been known to publish. With regard to anti-Semitism, one can look not only to Gilad Atzmon but also to Israel Shamir, an apologist for Pol-Pot and Holocaust denier. Should the former ISO members’ decision to have an article published on a site like this be considered an excommunicable offense? I really could care less what someone chooses to publish an article. But evidently the ISO prefers quasi-Stalinist tactics of “amalgamation,” guilt-by-proximity. Continue reading

More leaked ISO documents [UPDATE]

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Unsurprisingly, the leaked ISO Pre-convention bulletins I posted yesterday generated a lot of buzz and feedback. Most of the responses were supportive, though the ISO leadership was somewhat nonplussed. Another member, not the person who sent me the other bulletins, sent me one of the Pre-convention documents I’d missed, as well as three more short bulletins. Notes from the meetings should be forthcoming as well, from a few different sources.

(At least one of the new bulletins has sufficient foresight to recognize this fact, the “non-privacy” of electronically-circulated secret files for members’ eyes only).

Otherwise, I’ll add only this. Posted on social media by a member obviously embittered by the proceedings thus far, and by the ISO Steering Committee more generally:

So this is how the ISO steering committee works, I guess:

If someone sends angry e-mails to an important Lenin scholar — start getting involved later that day.
If someone’s critical of the leadership and is late paying dues (or hasn’t paid “enough”) — send an e-mail saying he or she isn’t a member anymore.
If a member rapes someone — don’t do anything for over a year, hide this from most members of the branch in question, and take it to the disciplinary committee only after the rest of the branch finds out accidentally.
If someone leaks documents showing that the steering committee covered up the above-mentioned rape to “bad” socialists like Ross Wolfe — make snarky Facebook comments attacking the offending member for being disloyal.

Maybe they were just having another 3 margarita meeting!

The following photo was attached:

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Here are the other documents. Only three this time:

  1. Internal Bulletin 01
  2. Internal Bulletin 02
  3. Internal Bulletin 03

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Update

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A flood of leaked documents from the International Socialist Organization’s 2011, 2012, and 2013 conventions has been forwarded to me for immediate release. I haven’t had the chance to read through them, and thus cannot summarize (or even sketch) their contents. My guess is that 2012 might have some interesting stuff responding to Occupy at the domestic level and the Arab Spring/European anti-austerity abroad. Should be interesting seeing how they handled the SWP rape allegations coverup, also, especially in light of the way the ISO’s handled the reported rape offense within its own ranks as revealed by the 2014 documents.

You can download them below. Continue reading

British Parliament votes against immediate military intervention in Syria

Glad the British Parliament stood up and finally determined not to be the US’ bomber-buddy. Funny though, because what’s being projected for Syria is so much less involved than in Iraq, and they went in all guns blazing with that one. Somewhat surprised, to be honest. Apparently the Blairites are going ballistic — threatening to resign, moralizing blather about the West’s supposed “humanitarian” duty, and similar histrionics.

Anyway, I can’t help but wonder:


Continue reading

Conversations on the Left: What is to be done?

Bhaskar Sunkara, James Turley, & Ben Blumberg

Platypus Review 57 | June 2013

On April 18th, 2013, the Platypus Affiliated Society organized a conversation at New York University between Bhaskar Sunkara, the editor of Jacobin, James Turley of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and Ben Blumberg of Platypus, to discuss the differences and similarities between their organizations. What follows is an edited transcript of the discussion.

Tri Logos

Bhaskar Sunkara: It is impossible to deny that the Communist Party of Great Britain’s (CPGB) Weekly Worker is an important publication. It is a publication that is right about many things, without a doubt more right than their peers on the British left, and their ideas deserve more engagement, so I am very pleased that Platypus has us together on this panel. There is no regular party publication on the American left that comes close to the Weekly Worker’s competence, especially considering the small size and resources of the CPGB. They have been consistently against the perversion of democratic centralism and lack of accountability by the leadership in groups like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). I have been reading it for a couple of years and I think they have a really nuanced view of Trotskyism’s legacy. They also have a solid critique of Eurocommunism and other coalition politics. What I like most of all is their openness about their small size and their limited influence as an organization. For someone like me, who has been around the Left and its posturing, we at Jacobin think the Weekly Worker is far more refreshing and useful than organs that herald the coming of every new socialist movement as if it is going to resurrect the Left. Platypus’s approach is also sometimes useful on this point. Jacobin doesn’t share the same politics, but only because we are operating in different contexts. We aim to reach a different audience. Jacobin, as a political project, is a publication that cannot substitute for the role of a political organization or the role of a party. It also cannot have the uncompromising and coherent vision and perspective of a propaganda group. And it is subject to lots of different pressures and forces — such as the market and the petty-bourgeois culture of writing and publishing.

Our different orientations affect whom we are trying to reach. Jacobin was always two projects. It is something of an intra-left project: emphasizing a Marxist perspective towards organization building. But our main project has been an outwardly directed one: engaging with American liberalism. We have always been geared towards the general public. We are liberals articulating radical ideas and we do so in a way that is clear and accessible. If we have any measure of mainstream success, it is intentional. We have sought to be a terrain for deep theoretical debates. It has been said that we are visible reminders of a long-forgotten socialist tradition, which would define us politically somewhere in between Leninism and the Democratic Socialists of America. One result of this is that the level of politicization of Jacobin’s readership is not quite the same as the level of politicization of our editors, and you could probably say there is a lot more political parity between the readership and the editors of the Weekly Worker and the Platypus Review.

James Turley: The CPGB is not a party. It doesn’t exist; it is a name. The name comes from the older official communist party that has since wound up. The name represents an ideal that we look towards. The far left is divided into small propaganda circles and some of them deny that they do propaganda. The SWP would be a good example; the International Socialist Organization (ISO) is another. They think they are talking to the masses, but it is bad propaganda reaching a mass audience. The CPGB identifies openly as a propaganda group and so probably would the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) or the Spartacist League. So there is a very similar landscape out of which the CPGB of the 1920s was formed. The original CPGB was formed from one wing of the Socialist Labour Party, which was a kind of syndicalist sect, and the large majority of the British Socialist Party. At that time, it was a far-left Marxist sect rather than the mass party form that existed in continental Europe. Along with the South Wales committee, their forces together totaled about four to five thousand. If you add up the people in Britain today committed to some form of socialist revolution, you get a ballot figure of about five thousand. After 70–90 intervening years we are, in a sense, back where we started. That says something about the 20th century. Continue reading