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Thread: Recent expulsions from the ISO. ISO following SWP's trend?

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    Default Recent expulsions from the ISO. ISO following SWP's trend?

    The following message was posted on Leftist Trainspotters:

    -----------
    Here are three links to what appears to be a spate of recent expulsions and
    resignations from the ISO from somewhat-long-term members. Anyone know what's
    up?

    I was expelled from the ISO for oppositional activity
    http://tinyurl.com/expelledfromiso

    Why I Left the ISO and What's Next
    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?not...3284&id=410137

    Why I Got Kicked Out of the ISO—And Why it Doesn't Matter
    http://tinyurl.com/2bcrsv3
    ---------

    What are we to make of this? ISO is, whether we like it nor, the largest group in America. Them beginning to take a harder approach with their "members" will have consequences even beyond themselves. Serious Leftists expelled from the ISO will either construct new, separate groups or join others (I expect Solidarity will gain some new people, as their group seems quite adept at leeching from ISO, and one of their paid organizers is already closely following the Facebook threads).

    A lot of these people being expelled are also not white, with some referring to it as the "Bleaching" of ISO (as if it wasn't already 99% white...). I read an estimate this amounts to 10-15% of their entire North East operations, which is pretty serious. That's not only a loss of 10-15% of your people, but basically the same amount of people in the area who are now your enemies and will discourage new recruits from getting seriously involved.
    Last edited by Soviet dude; 6th August 2010 at 20:47.

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    I can't read any of them without a Facebook account, which I really don't want. Could you hook us up?

    Over here, one IS person also had to leave over political disagreements, although it wasn't quite an expulsion, and I don't think it was a very important member. Oh well. Not terribly interesting anyway.
    What's the matter Lagerboy, afraid you might taste something?

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    I'll post the three notes but not the comments on them (one has like 200 comments). In order of appearance:

    Quote Originally Posted by Zach Mason
    I was expelled from the ISO for oppositional activity

    Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 11:27am


    After nearly seven years of dedicated work as an ISO member I was summarily expelled about a month ago. The tensions had been building for well over a year, but I was still surprised by the response, as all tensions were around political (mostly tactical) disagreements that I believed to be well within the confines of democratic centralism. A year and a half ago myself and one other comrade voluntarily left the branch committee because of ongoing disagreements with other local leaders. Our intention was to focus on doing the work and concede the running of the branch to others, but the disagreements continued. Recently we began to clearly articulate an alternative perspective for our branch's work. 8 comrades in the branch contributed to a document that outlined how our branch could be more effectively relating to the broad left in DC. The document also articulated a criticism of dogmatic, rigid tendencies in the ISO and attempted to explain the origins of this rigidity.

    Shortly after the publishing of this document a member of the ISO steering committee arrived in DC and kicked out me and one other comrade. The reasons were either vague or false (in different cases), but it was clearly a response to us openly and democratically organizing an opposition. Since our expulsion, 7 other members of the branch (and counting) have resigned in solidarity. We are now an independent group of socialists operating in the DC area. I feel many things about this experience, sadness, betrayal, but more than anything, I think I feel relieved that the whole ugly experience is over. Maybe liberation can be handed down from above (lol). I am still committed as firmly as ever to the theory that the self emancipation of the working class is the path to a better world. I also am convinced that the ISO has distortions in its practice that will prevent it from playing its intended role. I believed that these distortions could be corrected by internal debate and struggle, but the degeneration has apparently set in quite deeply. Below is an excerpt from our document in which we attempt to apply a dialectical analysis to the historical experience of the ISO with the intention of explaining the distortions.

    I am appealing my expulsion as a matter of principle. I was never given any warning that my activities (which were open) of organizing an opposition could lead to expulsion. I was also never warned that any other non political activity I was supposedly involved in could lead to expulsion either. I know that a number of other people have been expelled from the ISO in other cities, it seems the leadership is tightening their grip and purging the organization of impurities. This is very sad as it seems that the objective conditions for socialist action are ripening. The ISO is well positioned to lead in some areas, while they are simultaneously withdrawing into more and more sectarian behavior. The process will be mixed and uneven, but it seems that the trend is clearly towards sectarianism. This saddens me as I gained so much from my membership in this group and had such high hopes for its potential, but the struggle continues.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Historical Context of Our Method of Organizing

    The past 30 years have been a very bad time for the left and the working class in this country. The far left groups that came out of the 60's and 70's with momentum all withered, splintered, or evaporated during the 1980's. The ISO, an upstart from 1977 scoffed at by many other revolutionaries at the time, proved the most resilient through the lean political years, more able to flexibly apply Marxism than any other group. In the 90's and 2000's the objective conditions for building revolutionary organization (so absent in the 1980's) improved somewhat and the ISO grew accordingly. The ISO is now the largest and most exciting revolutionary group in the US and the credit for this fact can be laid squarely at the feet of the committed longtime leaders of our group. What these comrades accomplished by carrying the torch of revolutionary politics through the dark years of Reaganism is an impressive and likely historically significant achievement.

    Yet, these adverse objective conditions in which the ISO evolved its internal culture and organizational habits have left their mark. To continue to build a revolutionary organization in conditions so hostile and alien to this project required a certain amount of rigidity. To come through a period like that without some entrenchment of leadership would have been nearly impossible. Also, it would be difficult for comrades, no matter how brilliant, to fully comprehend their own shortcomings and know how to address them. No historical comparison is perfect, but a dynamic from the early years of Bolshevism is relevant here. In Building the Party, Tony Cliff describes the years before 1905 and the period of reaction that followed it:

    "During the period of reaction, 1906-1910, it was not the committeemen who deserted the party in large numbers; they mostly remained loyal....Unfortunately, however, self-sacrifice and special abilities do not provide a guarantee against conservatism of the party machine...Lenin, who knew how to recruit, train and keep the loyalty of the committeemen, had to oppose their conservatism during the revolution of 1905...To survive during the difficult years of illegality and suffering, they [the committeemen] had had to evolve a discipline, which now became an impediment," (p. 146, Building the Party).

    The ISO as a young group in the 1980's was by far more flexible and dynamic than the older groups around at the time, but the ISO in turn has developed its own rigidity of practice in order to stay grounded in hostile terrain. What was once necessary for progress has become a fetter; this is a historical dynamic that not even a Marxist organization is exempt from. The objective conditions inevitably led to distortions in our practice; the difficulty here is that these distortions are often exhibited more through an internal culture or leadership style than through problems with the actual structure of the organization (the latter would be far easier to clearly identify).

    Lenin writes again on February 11, 1905, "Really, I sometimes think that nine-tenths of the Bolsheviks are actually formalists... We need young forces" Later in the same quote Lenin declares, "Get rid of all the old habits of immobility, of respect for rank, and so on." And finally a few sentances later, "Allow every subcommittee to write and publish leaflets without redtape (there is no harm if they do make a mistake; we on Vperyod will "gently" correct them)." (p.147-148, Building the Party).

    This was Lenin's approach as the partial revolution of 1905 got underway. We have no illusions that we are entering a pre-revolutionary situation, but we are coming out of a peroid of reaction and into a period were the left can advance. Therefore, there are significant parrellels in the dynamics at work.
    Several decades later, Gramsci writes, "This order of phenomena," being the actions of a leadership to maintain control, "...is connected to one of the most important questions concerning the political party — i.e. the party's capacity to react against the force of habit, against the tendency to become mummified and anachronsitic. Parties come into existence, and constitute themselves as organisations, in order to
    influence the situation at moments which are historically vital for their class; but they are not always capable of adapting themselves to new tasks and to new epochs, nor of evolving pari passu with the overall relations of force (and hence the relative position of their class) in the country in question, or in the international field. In analysing the development of parties, it is necessary to distinguish: their social group; the mass membership; their bureaucracy and General Staff. The bureaucracy is the most dangerously hidebound and conservative force; if it ends up by constituting a compact body, which stands on its own and feels itself independent of the mass of members, the party ends up by becoming anachronistic and at moments of acute crisis it is voided of its social content and left as though suspended in mid-air." (Antonio Gramsci, State and Civil Society: Observations on Certain Aspects of the Structure of Political Parties in Periods of Organic Crisis.)

    Practices pointed out in earlier branch discussions such as repeated calls from different cadre members to younger members who raise innocent arguments either in the moment or in the days that follow, which we argue are common and systematic, stifle debate, lead to stale discussion, and scare newer members from clarifying points and moving forward in their understanding of Marxist politics and method. In other cases dissenting members are not browbeaten but are decidedly ignored instead. In either case, these members are alienated and the ideas they bring to the table are not given proper consideration. Within the context of recent issues inside the British SWP earlier this year when internal disputes led to leading members being pushed into resigning from the party, a British blogger wrote in a critique of the SWP (an organization from which the ISO inherited much of it internal culture), "Patterns of bad behavior... [are] a learned behavior, traceable back to the left’s social isolation but also ensuring it can’t escape that isolation." [1] The legacy of the ISO is deeply intertwined with that of the SWP and while the distortions in the SWP are far more severe than those in the ISO, they are relevant to us. The SWP has been shedding members and loosing credibility on the broad left for some years, we advocate for a changed course in the ISO to avoid these dynamics playing out in our group.

    Entrenchment is a type of organizational conservatism that reflects a fear of losing control and a mistrust of those outside the leadership. The BC's opposition to working within Empower DC and stated mistrust of their own comrades reflect entrenchment. Our view is that these distortions in the Leninist practice of free and open debate are reversible, but a correction will only be achievable by some significant alteration of leadership bodies. The "committeemen" of early Bolshevism were the professional revolutionaries who, due to years of hardwork, false starts, and defeats, were hardened and conservatized in their expectations. Lenin often sided with critical views that emanated from the ranks of the party and against leaders in the party, many of whom were in turn displaced from leadership. These events were seen as normal workings of internal democracy and not as "toxic" or "poisonous disturbances," as our organizing has been described by BC.
    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Kwoba
    Why I Left the ISO and What's Next
    Share
    Wednesday at 5:35pm
    Why I left the ISO and What’s Next

    I left the ISO after being a dedicated member for 6 years for a number of reasons (none of which are political), and I want to share some of my experience and what’s next. Leaving the ISO was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make in my life and in no way was it taken lightly. The reason why I am publicizing this note some months after the fact is that it has taken a while to process the decision. Also, I’ve recently heard from other similar experiences of people who were forced out (like Zach M, David T, Donna and the folks in DC, http://tinyurl.com/expelledfromiso and Troy from Ithaca/Chicago, http://tinyurl.com/2bcrsv3) that have only confirmed my conclusion that the ISO is not able and/or interested in taking on the process of internal transformation that would be necessary to make it an effective revolutionary organization. And I'm now ready to connect with others who have had similar experiences and talk about what's next...

    ===My recent experience in Boston===

    Ever since I came to the Boston branch from Ithaca in 2006, there were various things that I had noticed in the branch that I wanted to improve and during my 3 years in it, I noticed quite a few things more:

    1. The branch had unaccountable leadership roles. There was no system for people with leading roles to report back on their area of work and who was doing what. This meant that generally the branch as a whole had little to no holistic conception of what the branch was actually accomplishing. For example, as a treasurer or literature coordinator of the branch I was rarely, if ever asked to report on our finances or literature. Same with many other branch roles. And in general, I had no idea what was going on in the areas of branch work that I was not a part of.

    2. We had a culture as a branch where the leadership and older members diminished (often unintentionally) the growth and development of new members. The branch committee (the official branch leadership) gave almost all the public talks and chaired the majority of the meetings. They also created an intimidating atmosphere where any perspective that wasn’t in line with theirs was relentlessly attacked by a barrage of more experienced members. This stifled new ideas, induced rank-and-file passivity in the members, and fear on the part of newer activists to speak up or raise questions.

    As another example, last year I spent about months working on a proposal for how to transform our branch building method. I surveyed comrades on and off the branch committee, modifying things based on all the feedback I got, and incorporating a model with ideas from one of the fastest growing organizations in the country. When I finally completed the detailed 10-page proposal, the leadership first tried to convince me to abandon it. Then they tried to co-opt and neutralize it. When I finally presented it to the branch they all spoke against it, essentially convincing the branch to completely reject it in toto. It felt like they took the project into which I had poured my blood, sweat, and tears for so many months and just dumped it in the trash.

    3. The branch (and national organization) also was quite stagnant, growth-wise. Comparing my first day in Boston to my last one, I calculated that the branch had gained 6 new people, but that it had lost 6 people as well. Its not that we didn’t recruit more people in the 3 years I was here. It is that the vast majority of those we recruited just didn’t stay. In retrospect, I don’t blame them…but the branch committee usually did. (The rank-and-file were rarely told when all these people actually left—let alone encouraged to seriously consider why.) I wish this was only a Boston problem, but nationally, the organization appears to have basically stayed the same size for the whole 6 years I was in it. Not a good sign.

    ===What happened when I questioned these kind of things?===

    The leadership always responded to any criticism or questioning about any of these issues by blaming objective factors that no one can control. Arguments were always made that “There is no struggle, and we can’t expect to grow very much without struggle” or “there has been a 30-year class attack from above” or “the left is really weak” etc. These are indeed some of the objective factors limiting the growth of socialist organizations, but they’re beside the point because they are out of our control. If someone raises a criticism about things that ARE in our control(whether we had accountable leadership roles, how the organizational culture stifled new ideas, whether we have consistent reports about our work, etc.), it does no good to blame things that are NOT in our control (e.g. the left is too weak or the weather sucks)—unless the goal is to avoid the difficult task of actually confronting and working on one’s weaknesses.

    Eventually, my constant raising of new perspectives, dissident ideas, and proposals that weren’t “pre-approved” led to a personalistic campaign of persecution against me by the branch committee. It got really ugly and I began to feel uncomfortable in branch meetings—even though I was still bringing as many as 6 contacts at a time to them.
    Meanwhile in Cambridge, I was organizing large meetings with a handful of contacts about socialism, LGBT equality, student activism, and other topics that were consistently drawing 10-20 people. These contacts actually wanted to start an ISO branch in their own city, but I took the more moderate approach of proposing a fraction in the Boston branch devoted to developing the potential in Cambridge more fully. On the day of the branch vote, I found out that my proposal had been undermined in a secret meeting with my contacts THE DAY BEFORE the vote was to be taken. The Boston leadership lied to them about the nature of the branch and about me and my intentions, effectively sabotaging the proposal behind the back of the branch. This kind of back-room secrecy, malicious intrigue, and dishonest treachery is what you might expect from a drug cartel or mafia movie, but certainly not a revolutionary organization that takes its goal or its members seriously. At the same time, it was only the last straw in a long train of abuses and usurpations.

    ===Steering Committee Intervention===

    The coup de grace came when I met with the northeast regional organizer, who requested a meeting as a ‘representative of the steering committee’. I was told there was a “crisis of my membership” because the “consistent pattern” of my wrongdoing had gone too far. The regional organizer somehow never ONCE contacted me before about this “pattern”. And as soon as I tried to explain my unease with the pattern of personalistic attacks against me in the branch, I was abruptly interrupted on the grounds that it didn’t exist or was a diversion.

    I was accused of ‘dehumanizing’ comrades, ‘ridiculing the branch’ and ‘discouraging contacts from joining’, violating democratic centralism, and other lies and myopic distortions. He didn’t seem to ask himself: why would I work so hard to build large meetings about socialism that engaged new people with our ideas if I didn't want them to join? Why would I give rides to multiple people to branch meetings every week on my own time and dime if I wanted to discourage people? Why would I push for the branch to relate to them more systematically?
    Another charge against me: I was accused of having a “secret” plan to start a branch in Cambridge. What a crime! As I said openly in the branch, not secretly, I did think that the large, consistent meetings on socialist themes I had organized did demonstrate the potential for a branch in Cambridge. But this was, undoubtedly, the “wrong” perspective.

    After some wrangling, I was given an ultimatum: apologize to the branch committee, the branch, the contact coordinator, and my contacts(!) for all my wrongdoings, or else my case would be “referred” to the steering committee (i.e. I’d be expelled). So as I suspected, the meeting with the steering committee ‘representative’ was basically an ambush. It felt like I was being told to apologize to my bureaucratic persecutors…for my persecution. So I had no real choice but to resign. They basically forced me to quit so that they wouldn’t have to expel me.

    ===What next?===

    To be fair I must say that I think there is much good work that has been done by the ISO, and it was not an easy decision to leave it. The ISO does have a national organizational infrastructure (experienced activists, multiple branches, strong publications, etc.) that have been built over years of hard work by genuine and committed people. This is a serious accomplishment, particularly in the US, which is the most sophisticated, powerful, violent, repressive, vicious, reactionary, and hypocritical empire in world history.

    And I learned a great deal in the ISO, even in my last battle within it (which gave me a concrete experience with which to understand Trotsky’s struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy). But for all the reasons above and many others, I just could not continue to devote my time and energy to it. Here’s what I’m taking from the experience:

    1. If you have an issue or criticism to raise about the operations of your political organization, I would suggest raising it as PUBLICLY as possible as soon as possible, especially in meetings or venues that are open for the whole membership to see. That way those with bureaucratic tendencies can’t hide or run away from it, and the rank-and-file (particularly those who have been thinking the same thing but have remained silent) will be stimulated to engage the issue too. When you take your issue privately to one or more ‘leaders’ it is too easy for them to brush it aside—or to just disagree with you without consulting the membership. Taking a shortcut around the rank-and-file is a top-down conception of how to bring about changes within an organization, which is probably one of the biggest mistakes I made (and I made many) in the ISO. Under capitalism, corporations, national states, and even most trade unions, operate in leader-centric ways that train their members in passivity and deference to a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Hence, this method of organizing must be fought against tooth and nail in the vanguard of the working-class movement.

    2. Because of their institutional role, people entrenched in leadership positions often develop a tactical conservatism, in the interest of not ‘risking’ the health of the organization by trying new things. Lenin called these people the ‘bureaucratic committeemen’ of a political party. And had Lenin given up on his April Theses after they were voted down by the Bolshevik central committee and the Petrograd district committee, there would be no October revolution in 1917. Lenin went public especially to the rank-and-file of the party and by winning his case there, he was able to pressure the Bolshevik leadership and conservative committeemen from below. Of course, my former persecutors probably think this is an anti-leadership or maybe even anti-Leninist(!) argument.

    3. The ISO is not the be-all and end-all of socialist organizations in the US, and there is no better time to build a new one. In a world racked by economic crisis, endless war, and environmental destruction, 36% of Americans (100 million people!) now view “socialism” positively (Gallup poll, Feb 2010). Even if most of them have only a vague idea of what socialism is, we still have a historic opportunity to build the socialist movement in the US. Even if we aim at only 1/4 of these people (25 million) who are seriously interested in socialism and we only recruit only 1/4th of those people (6 million!), we can transform this country from bottom to top.

    Of course, this is a monumental task that will take a bold new approach to building social movements and socialist organization. I have many big ideas about this, but we also need not start totally from scratch. I am in touch with a network of people including many with the experience of being in socialist organizations. What we need is an organization that is democratic, with a growth mindset, one that fights for members of color and working-class members, welcomes new ideas, critical feedback, and that does not tolerate unaccountable and bureaucratic forms of organization.

    In addition, unlike the ISO, I believe we will need a sense of humility and interest in learning from others, a rigorous system for imparting our strategies, methods, and skills to every member, and the commitment maintaining honest alignment between what we say, think, and do. In short, we need to build a revolutionary party worthy of the name.

    I invite you to join in this project.

    Sincerely,

    Brian Kwoba
    bdubkwob@gmail.com


    p.s. feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested. Thanks!
    Quote Originally Posted by Troy Pasulka
    Why I Got Kicked Out of the ISO—And Why it Doesn't Matter
    Share
    Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 11:34pm
    So, this morning, I woke up, checked my email, and found the following email:

    Subject line: Your membership status

    Content: Hi Troy,

    I wanted to let you know that I'm removing you from the internal ISO discussion [email] list, and putting you onto our announcement [email] list. As a result of the failure to implement the agreements which were reached during your meeting with Shaun and Lauren earlier in the semester we can't consider you a member at this point. If you want to follow up about this feel free to contact Shaun.

    Please do keep me posted on things that you're involved in, as I look forward to continuing to collaborate going forward.

    Best,

    John

    Now, I could inquire into how the decision to kick me out of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) was made and who made it. I could challenge this decision, too.

    For example, I could point out that there were no “agreements which were reached” at the meeting referred to in the above email. In fact, I entered this meeting between myself and two Chicago ISO leaders with an idea of what activism I’d be participating in over the coming month and, though I shared my plan with them and asked them several times for their input, they offered no suggestions. The only “agreement” which I can imagine having come out of that meeting was the agreement that I should “think about whether the ISO is the right organization for me.” I agreed to this suggestion. But shouldn’t every person think about this? That’s not much of an agreement—and it’s one that I implemented! Anyway, the fact that these two ISO members had nothing to contribute to my plan for activism and only wanted to get me to “think about whether the ISO is the right organization for me” obviously indicates that they did not want any substantive “agreement" to come out of this meeting; they wanted me to voluntarily leave the ISO.

    I could also point out that this meeting was called for basically nonsense reasons. At the meeting, I was charged with (a) not wanting to participate in this pointless meeting, (b) going to an LGBT rights activist meeting that an LGBT rights activist who had recently joined the ISO invited me and all other Chicago ISO members to, (c) making “reformist” arguments in a book discussion (though, neither of the two people I met with had been at this book discussion and they didn’t know what the arguments I made were—they just had “trusted sources”), and there might have been a few other charges that I can’t recall at the moment—but I think that’s basically it. I should also explain that I knew that this meeting would be pointless because it wasn’t the first such meeting I had participated in: a year or so ago I was charged with sending four separate “unacceptable” emails to the Pilsen, Chicago ISO list-serve. (The emails I had sent: one had a link to Earthlings, an animals rights video [I guess this was “bad” because animals aren’t important to some ISO members]; one had a link to a Todd Chretien Socialism 2009 talk about State and Revolution and a link to a piece by some anarchist on State and Revolution [I guess this was “bad” because we shouldn’t read diverse perspectives]; one had a link to a book about the development of global political economy in modern times [I guess this was “bad” because it was written and published by a member of some other socialist group]; and, finally one had a piece I had seen written about the Henry Louis Gates incident that I wanted commentary on [I guess this was “bad” because, again, we shouldn’t read diverse perspectives]. I have a whole document that details this episode, if anyone is interested.)

    So, I could talk more about these incidents. But I won’t. Because it doesn’t matter whether I’m in the ISO or not—and this is what I really want to talk about.

    I guess I’ll talk about what it means to be a “member” of the ISO. Membership requirements basically include:

    a. going to meetings
    b. paying membership dues
    c. weekly tabling/public outreach
    d. following superiors’ orders

    I stopped going to meetings a few weeks ago. They were pretty useless. I was often one of a small group of members actually getting new people to come to the meetings; sometimes I was the only one bringing new people. I’m too busy to waste time at these meetings anymore but, if I wanted to start going again at some point, I wouldn’t need to be a member to do this.

    Same thing with paying dues: whether you’re a “member” of a group or not, they’ll usually take your money, if you’re willing to give it to them. (Though, I’ve heard a few members take the bizarre position that they wouldn’t want “non-member” money… just an example of the sorts of wacky ideas you can come up with when you start with an irrational premise like “’membership’ is all-important.”) And the ISO does some good stuff with the money they collect; however, I don’t think I’ll be giving much more to the ISO since they waste a lot of it paying people to do things like set up nonsense membership meetings where they charge members with laughably trivial offenses.

    Weekly tabling and public outreach I’m cool with. I like doing it daily. Some ISO members take weeks or months off. But it doesn’t seem to matter to ISO leaders: as long as those people are “members”—and following orders—all is well. Whatever. My point is that you don’t need to be a member of the ISO to interact with people.

    That leaves following superiors’ orders. Some might ask: How can one not willing to use force and with no economic or social power expect to have their orders followed? Some might ask: Why would progressive people seek to be giving orders and forcing compliance instead of persuading people? Those are good questions—and I can’t think of how any rational and progressive person could imagine that such orders should be given or expect that such orders would be followed. Persuasion and voluntary compliance have always worked for me when it comes to organizing progressive social movements. (I wrote a national ISO leader about this topic but I never got a response; I posted the email on facebook here, y’all can take a look if you’d like further info/discussion about this topic: http://www.facebook.com/notes/troy-pasulka/democratic-centralism-in-the-case-for-socialism/377109914217)

    So, I guess I’ll stop there. Not much else worth saying about the subject at this point; I’ve got more important things to talk about. For instance, everyone in the Chicago-land area should consider joining the Green Party float at the Gay Pride Parade this Sunday and check out Rich Whitney’s website (WhitneyforGov.org—he’s the Green Party 2010 candidate for Illinois Governor)! I’ll be at the parade at 9:30am with a bunch of other people talking to the crowds!

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    While I know this doesn't have much to do with the ISO:

    and check out Rich Whitney’s website (WhitneyforGov.org—he’s the Green Party 2010 candidate for Illinois Governor)!
    Why would a 'socialist' implicitly endorse a green candidate, especially in a note that has nothing to do with the Greens?

    Now back on topic, what would be the motive behind these expulsions per se?

    Is there factions in the ISO? Is one faction maneuvering to rid of the other?
    "My heart sings for you both. Imagine it singing. la la la la."- Hannah Kay

    "if you keep calling average working people idiots i am sure they will be more apt to listen to what you have to say. "-bcbm

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    Brian Kwobe
    3. The branch (and national organization) also was quite stagnant, growth-wise. Comparing my first day in Boston to my last one, I calculated that the branch had gained 6 new people, but that it had lost 6 people as well. Its not that we didn’t recruit more people in the 3 years I was here. It is that the vast majority of those we recruited just didn’t stay. In retrospect, I don’t blame them…but the branch committee usually did. (The rank-and-file were rarely told when all these people actually left—let alone encouraged to seriously consider why.) I wish this was only a Boston problem, but nationally, the organization appears to have basically stayed the same size for the whole 6 years I was in it. Not a good sign.

    ===What happened when I questioned these kind of things?===

    I was one of the 6 people Brian mentioned. In the short time I was with them I always had the strong feeling the real decisions were being made behind the scenes. I thought highly of Brian and a few other members. The organzation was strange though.
    To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget

    Arundhati Roy


    Lenina Rosenweg is a glorious beacon of light

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    I used to be a member of the ISO, so the problems that I will be talking about come from witnessing them first hand. The importance of a national organization with regards to a local branch is that national structure can provide some support and leadership to the branch. That’s part of the reason a person would pay dues and fundraise for such a national organization. From what I’ve seen, ISO fails to do this. What does ISO give back to their branches in terms of support? When a branch joins, they are given a start up package which consists of books, magazines, and newspapers. All of which are not free, but provided for the purpose of selling them. Even after being members for quite some time, you are still not given any benefit of being a member (besides a cool red card). When you go to regional or national conferences, they are run at a profit so members still have to pay for everything in order to go to them (travel, room/board, food, and actually attending the conference). At these conferences they bring in speakers (the higher ups and authors of the Haymarket books), yet they still must provide the money for the speaker’s travel expenses. So what is the real benefit of being a member?
    In terms of the national structure, it is guided through a steering committee which is comprised of the paid organizers and authors of the Haymarket Books. They push the idea that going to the college campuses and selling the books, newspapers, and magazine are essential in building cadre. But “look for the person who benefits.” When you have a paid committee of book writers who benefit from the book sales, you have to wonder. They emphasize that selling their books, especially Meaning of Marxism, is necessary to building cadre. Apparently, previous books written by Marx or Lenin just weren’t good enough and that all Socialism really needed was Paul D’Amato to summarize the thoughts of Marx and Tony Cliff. I guess it has to do with the Trotskyite tradition of selling newspapers and books, but what the ISO adds to this is where the majority of their work lies. They try to build cadre from college campuses with the “intent” of those leaders ending up in the workforce (which are grad, med, or law school, managerial positions, etc.). This is highly problematic especially because the masses are not doctors, lawyers, professors, etc. They often deny the fact that ISO mainly focuses on college campuses, but if you ever go to their conferences it’s mostly white college students. Moreover, you don’t see the members actively fighting in the labor movement. So it is no longer socialism from below at this point; it is socialism from above. For it is the college educated who are the ones to deliver the working class from clutches of capitalism. So as a result, you have an organization of mostly college students selling books thinking that when they get into these petite-bourgeois positions, they can still educate the rest of their workforce into building a revolutionary party. The higher ups, especially Ashley Smith (who is not even a real Marxist – a post-structuralist), say that people do not learn through struggle, either. This is also because there is no struggle really going on. As he said in response to talking about workplace struggle, “there is no struggle in the workplace, it’s called being fucked.” So with no real struggle going on, I guess the only way for people to learn is through newspapers.
    The organization does not support its branches other than gracing their presence with organizers (which branches have to pay for). Naturally, you wonder what the expenses of the organization are and how they spend their revenue. You will not be able to find this out because it is kept secret. The organization pushes the sales of books, while the authors of those books not only sit on the steering committee but also benefit financially from those sales. They will also say that this is not true. At that point the message for the branches is to sell the books, and they end up working for free (since there is no support given back) in order to build revenue for the organization. On top of that every year there is a fundraiser, where each branch gives money to the national. Branches are pressured by the higher ups to throw as much money as possible back to the top, and when a branch pledges an amount that is too low for them, they are told, “you can do better than that.” Where is the support back to the branches? A capitalist’s dream is to have free labor, so unless you believe delivering newspapers and selling books is the best path towards socialism the ISO may not be for you. Perhaps it again falls on the Trotskyite tradition, but what revolution was ever led by Trotskyite ideals.

    In America and Western Europe, a number of socialist organizations and parties have taken a new role in the left. The emergence of ISO and other Trotskyite organizations had developed for a specific reason. The lines these groups take, their main recruitment focus, and what each of these groups do are all connected. With specific reference to the ISO, as it is a self proclaimed trotskyist group, their existence has come about similarly to other organizations in the west.
    The membership of ISO largely consists of college students and recent graduates, with a lot of its branches being set up in small college towns. This is an undisputable fact. Of course, the ISO’s main recruitment focus of students is no secret, but this leads to many issues. The reasoning behind their recruitment of students is to have cadre enter the working class, and to go from there to build a revolutionary party. However, the issue with this is whether or not you actually consider those students, some of which are graduate and post bachelor levels, really the same as working class people. ISO is quick to equal the two by saying they both work on a salary, but of course, that is only to their benefit. To some degree, they are correct in equating the two, because neither really controls any means of production. The truth of the matter, though, is that not even a fifth of Americans actually have a bachelor’s degree. So it would be safe to say that the majority of workers do not have college degrees nor have a lot of them even attended college.
    Why is it so easy to recruit college students? The ISO has a specific line on basically every socialist country that has ever existed – they are or were not socialist. In terms of China and Cuba, the ISO states that they had absolutely nothing to do with socialism. Taking this sort of line makes recruitment very easy, especially when engaging non-communists. By taking this line, the ISO strategically removes itself from an argument. This argument would be about anything having to do with Stalin, Mao, the USSR, etc. In the West, these things are generally regarded as horrible equating Stalin and Mao with Hitler. A person may push these sort of loaded questions onto a socialist, asking them if they supported the genocide in the USSR, for example. While, the USSR was no utopia the argument is still there. However, by considering the USSR state-capitalist (something Trotsky even rejected) or by saying that Cuba has nothing to do with socialism, you remove yourself from any loaded question a non-socialist would have. So it would take no real step for that non-socialist person to call themselves a socialist. This makes recruiting students that much more easy.
    Why college students? The thing about college students and activists, over anybody else, is their willingness to work for free, and their acceptance/open-mindedness of ideas. An organization could really take advantage of this. Essentially what the ISO does is use this free labor to sell its books, magazine, and paper. So it would make sense that many of the higher-ups in the organization would denounce websites like Marxists.org, a website with free Marxist literature (as they have done so many times before). This would not be a problem if there were not people at the top getting pay checks, at the end of day. It does not even matter if they’re living lavishly off of the backs of students, either. This is because as long as they receive a paycheck and benefit they will still have an incentive to exploit free labor. This is even worse for those writers published under Haymarket books.

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    When I was first looking into getting involved with a group, I considered joining the ISO. After hearing about multiple experiences about how they act around other parties and personally engaging with a few members, I'm glad that I never joined them.

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    After nearly seven years of dedicated work as an ISO member
    I left the ISO after being a dedicated member for 6 years for a number of reasons
    Wait, some people stay in ISO past college? lol takes all kinds.
    The SOCIAL ORDER OF THE FUTURE ...blends the fullest democratic control with the most absolute expert supervision, something unthinkable of any society built upon the political State. — James Connolly, "Industrial Unionism and Constructive Socialism"

    We will sing of the great crowds AGITATED BY WORK PLEASURE AND REVOLT; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops...Standing on the world's summit we launch once again our insolent challenge to the stars! — FT Marinetti et al., "The Futurist Manifesto"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raúl Duke View Post
    Why would a 'socialist' implicitly endorse a green candidate, especially in a note that has nothing to do with the Greens?
    The ISO itself has endorsed Green candidates in the past, and was considering endorsing this campaign in Illinois. The person that wrote the note has been very active with the Green Party since leaving the ISO, and he's simply plugging that.

    Now back on topic, what would be the motive behind these expulsions per se?

    Is there factions in the ISO? Is one faction maneuvering to rid of the other?
    I'm tagged in one of the notes and have been in contact with the writers of all three, in addition to a few other people who have recently left the ISO. It's not really a case of factions, the ISO would never allow that.

    I think that in periods of low struggle, it's easy to sit around and be a cog in the organizational machine, which is why you have people that have been in the ISO for several years finally having problems. It is not easy to sit and watch the world around you fall to shit while your "comrades" are too busy trying to sell you books and hawking an irrelevant newspaper to actually devise ways of connecting with society.

    This isn't the ISO cleaning house, and it isn't an organized group of people leaving together. These are isolated incidents which are indicative of the level of stagnation in the ISO. A new period of struggle calls for new methods, and the ISO has yet to realize this. Until they do, I would expect to see more of this.

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    Also, any accusations of racism or "Bleaching" are just plain ridiculous. Any attempt at calling out racism simply serves to detract from the real points of criticism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raul Duke
    Is there factions in the ISO? Is one faction maneuvering to rid of the other?
    AFAIK I think they have the same organisational model as the SWP, in that there are no factions within the ISO, and factions are only allowed in the run-up to national conference and must disband after it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Proletarian Ultra
    Wait, some people stay in ISO past college? lol takes all kinds.
    Alternatively, you could stop being a tankie stereotype and actually contribute something meaningful to the thread.
    Coalition of Resistance - Fight Back Against the Cuts!

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    The ISO is too sectarian to even endorse socialist presidential candidates. Why go Green? Why not instead collaborate towards at least the re-establishment of the United States Labor Party?
    "A new centrist project does not have to repeat these mistakes. Nobody in this topic is advocating a carbon copy of the Second International (which again was only partly centrist)." (Tjis, class-struggle anarchist)

    "A centrist strategy is based on patience, and building a movement or party or party-movement through deploying various instruments, which I think should include: workplace organising, housing struggles [...] and social services [...] and a range of other activities such as sports and culture. These are recruitment and retention tools that allow for a platform for political education." (Tim Cornelis, left-communist)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sam_b View Post
    Alternatively, you could stop being a tankie stereotype and actually contribute something meaningful to the thread.
    I spent two years in ISO and have mostly favorable memories of it. I believe ISO has the only really serious program of Marxist education for its members of any US Leninist organization. While I was being sarcastic, there's a serious part to what I said - ISO is a high-turnover group. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. I left because I no longer agreed with the political line, but a high-impact working group like ISO s going to have natural in and outs. You want a party where people sit around for decades and never leave there's the CPUSA and any number of useless old duffers' clubs.

    At least one of the stories reflects some blameless but unfortunately dumb naivete. I think it's a shame that a comrade worked hard trying to get a Camrbidge branch going only to be expelled for it. But really, poaching the most fertile leftist suburb out from underneath the Boston branch was bound to end in trouble.
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    The ISO's program is no where close to the educational program of Spark. I was in that organization six months, and I learned more in that time than many comrades I know who were in the ISO for years. I had to read a book a week. And while I couldn't keep up with that pace while also in college, I still read more in those six months than most comrades I know have ever read.

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    Quote Originally Posted by theblackmask View Post
    Also, any accusations of racism or "Bleaching" are just plain ridiculous. Any attempt at calling out racism simply serves to detract from the real points of criticism.
    It would be wrong to call the ISO or any active member of it racist, but...hm...in my experience, there was a tendency to dismiss black and brown viewpoints as petty bourgeois nationalist etc. Basically if you involved yourself closely with civil rights, Africa or Latin America issues, you had to be constantly on guard against violating Cliffite orthodoxy. It was much easier to stick with antiwar, LGBT and anti-cuts and not touch race.

    That was my personal experience, but I hope other people's was different.
    The SOCIAL ORDER OF THE FUTURE ...blends the fullest democratic control with the most absolute expert supervision, something unthinkable of any society built upon the political State. — James Connolly, "Industrial Unionism and Constructive Socialism"

    We will sing of the great crowds AGITATED BY WORK PLEASURE AND REVOLT; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops...Standing on the world's summit we launch once again our insolent challenge to the stars! — FT Marinetti et al., "The Futurist Manifesto"

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    Quote Originally Posted by chegitz guevara View Post
    The ISO's program is no where close to the educational program of Spark. I was in that organization six months, and I learned more in that time than many comrades I know who were in the ISO for years. I had to read a book a week. And while I couldn't keep up with that pace while also in college, I still read more in those six months than most comrades I know have ever read.
    Spark? Which group?
    "A new centrist project does not have to repeat these mistakes. Nobody in this topic is advocating a carbon copy of the Second International (which again was only partly centrist)." (Tjis, class-struggle anarchist)

    "A centrist strategy is based on patience, and building a movement or party or party-movement through deploying various instruments, which I think should include: workplace organising, housing struggles [...] and social services [...] and a range of other activities such as sports and culture. These are recruitment and retention tools that allow for a platform for political education." (Tim Cornelis, left-communist)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soviet dude View Post
    Here are three links to what appears to be a spate of recent expulsions and
    resignations from the ISO from somewhat-long-term members. Anyone know what's
    up?
    These seem to be isolated cases. People leave all sorts of groups Marxist and anarchist groups all the time, people join these groups all the time. While it's too bad when someone decides that they don't agree with our politics or when there is an intractable difference of opinion that forces the organization to revoke their membership (and even worse when this happens on bad terms) it doesn't always indicate some problem other than different political views.

    Quote Originally Posted by Troy P
    I stopped going to meetings a few weeks ago. They were pretty useless.
    Well, why would he have wanted to stay in the group then? He obviously was not on the same page as the rest of the branch who did think their meetings were worth it. Branch members decide on meeting topics and what they want to emphasize politically with these meetings, and if Troy thought it was useless, then he his no longer trying to build the group and project the politics that the group is trying to promote.

    This is the whole point of a revolutionary group vs. a general membership group where you have a bunch of followers or voters for the Social-Democrats or Greens, but they aren't involved in the day to day political decisions or activities. It sounds, from Troy's POV, that things maybe could have been handled differently so that Troy did not feel so alienated from the group and could have chosen to change his relationship to us by canceling his formal membership but retained friendly ties and a activist relationship.

    In another case where members were expelled in a large number (3, I think), a group of the members decided that they no longer agreed with our understanding of the USSR. They wanted, in their own words, to have an orthodox trotskyist view and so they simply were no longer able to be members because this is one of the central ideas of our political tradition and the basis for a lot of other political positions.

    The idea that we just pump money into our publications is also a ridiculous charge since we are not doing this to "make money" (we'd be publishing vampire romance novels if this was the case ) but trying to raise the political profile of our politics and reach various different audiences with them (SW for a general audience, ISR magazine for a left-wing and activist audience, and books for a range of different political needs from basic to in-depth and even some academic stuff to promote these ideas to left-wing teachers and so on). When new people join, it is important to explain why we do this, why we have articles (now mostly online now by the way since we no longer have community tablings with the paper as our primary tool for trying to promote our ideas and arguments) - if they do not agree that this is a good method and we can not convince them why we think it is, then they should not join our group. It would be like if I wanted to join the CP but was against, supporting the Democrats or was not convinced that the electoral focus of the CP is good... why would I join that group? Or if I joined an anarchist affinity group but wanted to support North Korea as the perfect example of communism... or that I thought the affinity group should run anarchists for office, but others in the group disagreed... would that affinity group be tyrannical if they kicked me out? Of course not, there's a political disagreement on a fundamental level that would require people on different political paths to go different ways.

    RE: READING

    The claims that we are against reading primary Marxist texts (by some of the sectarian comments here) or that we don't read texts by different political traditions (as Troy argued) is just not true. Troy's problem was that we were not using official branch time to talk about or read other political traditions. Well maybe the branch members did not do a good job of explaining or maybe he just didn't like what we focus on, but official branch meetings are not informal study groups designed for self-enlightenment, they are political meetings where we are discussing our political ideas and positions. We try to have a balance between learning and talking about and studying our political ideas and tradditions, while also being an active branch that teaches new members how to be activists and put these political ideas into action. Outside reading weather in groups or on our own is not required, but expected. We do not force new members to read X stack of books and answer questions correctly on a test, the requirements are that you agree with our basic positions (hence a basic book explaining our positions) and that you actively participate in the decisions and activities of the branch.

    But the idea that we don't read anything outside of Haymarket or our magazine or our political tradition is simply not true. Members are urged to do their own reading based on self-motivation and are encouraged to read what they are interested in and what will help them become better radicals. We have done this formally at times and at other times more informally based on decisions within branches and the organization as a whole.

    RE: STAGNATION

    This is really the only criticism with a grain of truth, but that grain is totally taken out of context. I don't want to go into too much detail about the internal discussions of this, but over the last decade basically we have experienced a situation where there have been large movements where lots of people get involved, but then when the wave of activity recedes, people have become demoralized and coalitions fall apart and activists disappear. This has happened most strikingly with the anti-war movement, but also the first wave of immigrant rights (although this is hopefully changing) and things like the Tookie Williams and Oscar Grant movements here in Cali. This has had an effect on the entire left and the ISO, as a small group riding big political waves, is not immune. While we picked up some people in these movements only to loose them later, there are many who did stick around, me included, who probably would not have remained active past the collapse of a movement without joining this kind of group.

    So this argument IMO is a straw-man because I'd like you to show me a group that did grow significantly from the end of the anti-war movement to the Obama campaign while also intervening in these movements. I can name you several groups who split or collapsed in this same time period.

    We take this stuff seriously and try and do what can be changed subjectively, but we are also subject to bigger changes in the political climate and will probably continue to rise and fall a little with the tides of the entire left.

    RE: RACIST ISO:

    A lot of these people being expelled are also not white, with some referring to it as the "Bleaching" of ISO (as if it wasn't already 99% white...).
    Can you back up that lie? While the percentage of all people is lower than what we'd like it to be - defiantly the low level of some ethnic groups is something we are always trying to overcome (I would hope every left-wing group in the US is also trying to do this). Since most of the US left is dominated by white people, I don't see how anyone (well anyone who wasn't just being a crude sectarian) could blame the ISO for not springing a black liberation struggle from it's forehead like Zeus when the level of black struggle and membership in the left is low to begin with. In California we have many latino members and this is due to an upsurge in radicalization of many young Latinos because of the racist backlash against immigrants (particularly Latino). So on the subjective end, we try and specifically reach out to people from various backgrounds as part of a commitment to building a multi-racial radical group, but we still have to deal with the objective problems and the objective situation of the left and US society in general.

    In fact, we are probably over-represented when compared to the population as a whole) for some ethnic groups and our organization is as diverse as any in the US when it comes to gender and sexuality.

    To criticize us for not growing at a time when much of the left was stagnent, and to blame us for not yet having a vastly multi-racial group at a time when US society is increasingly re-segregating and the whole left is more white than it should be... well you might as well criticize the ISO for not currently being a mass revolutionary party organizing general strikes.

    That's all I really want to say on this thread (which is basically just sectarian rumpus room time anyway) - all radical groups have falling outs with members from affinity groups, to Leninist, to anarcho-syndicalist. It's sad to see it happen - particularly when it leads to bad blood, but it is not necessarily an indication of anything about the groups ideology other than each side takes their ideas seriously. The ISO is not perfect and is a work in progress and we are learning collectively as we go, we have had many debates over the last decade and changed a lot of our practices and I think we have come through a uneven and hard political decade (post 9/11) fairly well with important lessons learned both in the positive and negative that will help us increase our ability to get our ideas out there (through our publications) and also put these ideas into practice (by working with people on a grassroots level in workplace struggles, the student movement, the LGBT movement, the immigration movement, and so on) where it counts, in struggle.
    Last edited by Jimmie Higgins; 9th August 2010 at 08:14.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Die Neue Zeit View Post
    Spark? Which group?
    The Spark is the US affiliate of the French Trotskyist Lutte Ouvriere. They are the hardest-core group I have come across. For instance, because of my background and job, I basically could not become a member of the group. That is how seriously they take keeping a working class composition and an industrial orientation. They are theoretically rigid, but I think they follow classical Marxism the most closely of any group I've come across.

    The downside of Spark as far as I can tell, is that they follow a very strict model of a Party, where one can really only get into it as an active working class militant --- and so they grow only very slowly. However, that also gives them a lot of stability.

    Honestly, I know a good number of groups, and the only one I can see leading a general strike into a revolution and establishing communism in a western country, is Lutte Ouvriere (like the Spark but with many more members). They showed their militancy in their work in the Martinique and Guadeloupe indefinite general strikes, where they basically led both by the end, without any opportunism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slobjob Zizek View Post
    blah
    This post, while containing the seed of valid critiques of the ISO (studentism, and all the other stuff as outlined in the messages from the people who were expelled/quit), goes way overboard, including using hackneyed cheap shots about it being "white" or "Trotskyites" being "too high and mighty" to analyze or engage with events in Cuba etc. You also say they don't believe in workers' struggle... ok. Honestly, I doubt you were ever in the ISO. Your post is just a shoddy hit job.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob
    The ISO is too sectarian to even endorse socialist presidential candidates. Why go Green? Why not instead collaborate towards at least the re-establishment of the United States Labor Party?
    Because it's better to be explicitly (i.e. openly) opportunist instead of being implicitly opportunist.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmie Higgins
    In another case where members were expelled in a large number (3, I think), a group of the members decided that they no longer agreed with our understanding of the USSR. They wanted, in their own words, to have an orthodox trotskyist view and so they simply were no longer able to be members because this is one of the central ideas of our political tradition and the basis for a lot of other political positions.
    So how has that view furthered your party in the US the past 50 years? I'm dying to understand the rationalization behind this. You call yourselves a "revolutionary party" yet you have absolutely nothing in common with actual revolutionary parties throughout history. You're a sect.

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