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United States: Another socialist left is possible -- a reply to Paul D’Amato

[Click HERE to follow the entire debate on Tony Cliff's Lenin. For more discussion on revolutionary organisation, click HERE. Articles on left unity can be found HERE.]

By Pham Binh

February 10, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The first response to my “Occupy and the tasks of socialists” piece to be written by a leading member of an US socialist organisation is emblematic of what is wrong with the US socialist left.

I am referring to “The mangling of Tony Cliff”, written by Paul D’Amato, International Socialist Organization (ISO) member and managing editor of the International Socialist Review. He responds to my Tasks piece in his reply to a book review I did, writing:

Binh appears to be taking Trotsky’s pre-1917 “conciliationist” line (which Trotsky later repudiated) that the differences were not substantial enough (since both saw Russia’s revolution as “bourgeois”) for a split. After the Prague congress Trotsky attempted to organise the “August Bloc”, an effort to unite all the different factions of the movement. It began to collapse immediately after its first gathering. “The great historical significance of Lenin’s policy”, Trotsky later wrote of his policy of unity at any cost, “was still unclear to me at that time, his policy of irreconcilable ideological demarcation and, when necessary, split, for the purposes of welding and tempering the core of the truly revolutionary party”. Binh apparently rejects these conclusions. Perhaps his model is the August Bloc. This isn’t a guess. He says in his article “Occupy and the tasks of socialists”:

Out of clouds of pepper spray and phalanxes of riot cops a new generation of revolutionaries is being forged, and it would be a shame if the Peter Camejos, Max Elbaums, Angela Davises, Dave Clines and Huey Newtons of this generation end up in separate “competing” socialist groups as they did in the 1960s. Now is the time to begin seriously discussing the prospect of regroupment, of liquidating outdated boundaries we have inherited, of finding ways to work closely together for our common ends.

Above all else, now is the time to take practical steps towards creating a broad-based radical party that in today’s context could easily have thousands of active members and even more supporters.

First of all, is absurd to compare the sectarian rivalries of the 1960s, in which Maoist and Stalinist sects without practically identical politics railed at each other about who is the “true vanguard”, to the factional disputes in the Russian movement between its revolutionary and reformist wing—organisations that had become mass parties in 1905 with deep roots in the working class. Secondly, a “united” socialist organisation that has in its ranks both those who consider North Korea, China and Vietnam socialist, and those who think that they are bureaucratic despotism; both Stalinists and genuine Marxists; and both supporters and opponents of the Democratic Party would be a still-born project.

Lesson: if you want to ignite a debate among US socialists about what is to be done here and now in the middle of the Occupy uprising, don’t write about Occupy, write a critical review of a Lenin biography written in 1975 by someone who died over a decade ago. Then the sparks will fly.

This is exactly what’s wrong with us, the US socialist left.

The fact that there has been almost no concrete and explicit discussion on the US socialist left about the new tasks Occupy’s eruption has created for us is disturbing. What little discussion happens around these issues occurs either in international forums like Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal or on the personal blogs of unaffiliated socialists like Unrepentant Marxist instead of through the US socialist left’s existing infrastructure — web sites, newspapers and magazines. This is another strong indicator that something is deeply wrong with us and how we operate.

To reply to D’Amato’s points: we are not in situation remotely comparable to early 20th century Russia, no one is trying to unite forces with diametrically opposed practical orientations under one roof, nor am I remotely comparable to Trotsky (a real shock to some, no doubt).

The words “North Korea” do not belong in any serious discussion about socialist organising in the context of Occupy. Period.

D’Amato claims it is “absurd to compare the sectarian rivalries of the 1960s, in which Maoist and Stalinist sects with practically identical politics railed at each other about who is the ‘true vanguard’, to the factional disputes in the Russian movement between its revolutionary and reformist wing” a few lines after he makes that very comparison between my call for liquidating the outdated, inherited boundaries that divide today’s US socialist left and the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky’s foolish 1912 attempt to unite all factions of Russia’s socialist movement in an attempt to paper over profound practical differences.

What basis for unity?

Absurd comparisons aside, D’Amato raises a crucial point: on what basis can or should the socialist left unite?

D’Amato’s answer focuses on the negatives, on the divides he claims we can’t bridge. He writes: “a ‘united’ socialist organisation that has in its ranks both those who consider North Korea, China and Vietnam socialist, and those who think that they are bureaucratic despotism; both Stalinists and genuine Marxists; and both supporters and opponents of the Democratic Party would be a still-born project.”

Paul LeBlanc, a prominent ISO member, defends the Cuban government and does not support the “call for the revolutionary overthrow of that regime by the Cuban working class”. Does this make the ISO a “still-born project”? My answer is no. Perhaps D’Amato disagrees.

D’Amato continues:

It is one thing for leftists of different politics to “work together”—this has and will continue to happen. It is another thing to think that simply lumping forces together with diametrically different politics and methods of work will create any kind of functional, practical unity. Certainly that is one lesson of the Bolshevik experience worth preserving. That is not to say that broad socialist party independent and in opposition to the Democratic Party wouldn’t be a great advance if such a thing were possible in the United States today—what Binh proposes, however, would not produce such a result.

D’Amato’s formulations raise more questions than they answer. Are we to believe that the International Socialist Organization, Solidarity, Socialist Action, Socialist Organizer and Socialist Alternative have “diametrically different politics and methods of work” that preclude “any kind of functional, practical unity” in a common socialist organisation?

There’s no doubt that a political party requires a coherent vision and program or platform. The real question is: why must that coherence include a single point of view or a narrow range of views on what precisely the USSR was, or what Cuba is? Does anyone in the 99% have a burning desire to know where we stand on these historical and theoretical issues when so many of us face motgage foreclosure, eviction and long-term unemployment?

If the ISO can include in its ranks comrades who disagree on Cuba, what reason is there for organisational boundaries to separate most groups on the socialist left? Why insist that each group replicate each other’s publications, study groups, educationals and public meetings with almost identical political content as Dan Dimaggio pointed out instead of pooling our scarce resources and creating a more fruitful division of labour so that the socialist left can communicate with people in a 21st century manner as the far right has begun to do?

These are the questions we should be debating and figuring out answers to, not who is a modern-day Menshevik and what can’t be done.

Many comrades have asked me, “why can’t socialist groups work on joint projects using the ‘united front’ method where we ‘march separately, strike together’?”

Of course we can continue to work together on a united front basis. United fronts are necessary, but not sufficient for the tasks Occupy has put before us. Limiting our cooperation to united fronts means accepting the weak, fractured state of the socialist left inherited from our predecessors as a given instead of challenging, undermining, circumventing and eventually overcoming it.

Marching separately in the middle of a major social upheaval makes it difficult for us to strike together in the way that we need to if we want to have a meaningful, practical impact on the direction and character of Occupy.

Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists figured this out and, in conjunction with other forces, launched the Workers’ Democratic Party; why can’t we do the same?

If the socialist left emerges from Occupy somewhat larger, with more cooperation between some of its component parts, and its present divided state intact, then we will have failed to capitalise on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unify our ranks, re-merge with the working class and make socialism a force to be reckoned with on the US political landscape once again. Missing such an opportunity would be criminal, especially when almost one-third of the population of the United States has a positive view of socialism.

The question remains: on what basis can or should the socialist left unite?

I don’t have all the answers (remember, I’m not Trotsky).

My suggestion is to start with the obvious: opposition to capitalism (theory) and fighting all forms of austerity (practice). Every self-respecting socialist and even some who identify with anarchism could get together in a common organisation on this theoretical-practical basis.

What about ...?

What about reform versus revolution? What about the Democratic Party? What about (insert your worrisome issue here)?

As D’Amato says, “Today we are very far from such considerations.” These issues can only be resolved along the way, in practice, as we run up against them in our common journey in a common organisation that does not yet exist, but can and should.

The socialist left produces very convincing propaganda explaining “the need to break with the Democratic Party” but has proven unable to engineer such a break in the past seven decades. Refusing to unite “as a matter of principle” with forces and people who disagree with us (or who are confused, undecided or vacillate) on the Democratic Party in a common socialist organisation is the first step to ensuring that such a break never happens.

The Socialist Party of the Eugene V. Debs era established a tradition of (1) refusing to vote for Democratic politicians, (2) opposing what was then called “fusion” with the Democratic Party and (3) competing with both parties of the 1% whereever and whenever possible. This tradition arose on the basis of the experience gained by the populist movement, the first of many grassroots uprisings diverted by the Democratic Party.

The US socialist left can revive this old tradition for the following reasons. Half of the voting population abstained from presidential elections even before Occupy. The popularity of Ron Paul among occupiers and young people is a strong indication that people are so desperate for someone to run against the political system that they are willing to overlook the racist newsletters his campaign opportunistically produced for fundraising purposes, his opposition to regulating Wall Street and his refusal to break with the Republican Party. Last but not least, for many occupiers, President Obama was their last hope that the US political system might be able to somehow redeem itself. Nothing inspires direct action like electing a fresh-faced newcomer talking about hope and change who puts a knife into your back the minute he becomes commander-in-chief.

Now is the time for us to think big, take bold initiatives and fearlessly experiment. Doing so will lead to difficulties, false starts and even failures, but without failures in Wisconsin and Bloombergville Occupy Wall Street would not have succeeded. We cannot continue to cling to the existing state, methods and boundaries of the socialist left out of fear, inertia, or both, if we hope to create a broad revolutionary movement that threatens the rule of the 1% in this country.

Multi-tendency party

What would a common socialist organisation look like? How would it function?

Again, these are issues we have to figure out in practice, as we go along. Socialism cannot be designed or created by an enlightened few armed with a detailed “Marxist” blueprint; if we wish to remain true to that vision, a common socialist organisation that unites various trends cannot be dismissed because we don’t know in advance what it will look like, how it will work, the concrete moments of its development.

What we can say with certainty is this: rejecting the multi-tendency model leaves us with its opposite, the single-tendency model. This model has crippled both the Stalinist and the Trotskyist wings of the socialist movement internationally for decades, although in radically different ways, producing defeats of world-historic proportions for the former and competing sects, mutual excommunications and permanent irrelevance for the latter.

Multi-tendency groups already exist on the US political scene: the John Reed Society at Harvard, the Revolutionary Students Union on campuses in Utah, the Socialist Student Union at the University of Michigan. They are far from being “still-born projects”. They produce propaganda, engage in agitation, put on cultural events, create literature and bring people together socially, recreating on a small scale the vibrant, comradely culture that was once part and parcel of our movement’s glory days when Big Bill Haywood, Eugene Debs, Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman and other titans differed with one another while fighting the battles we read about in our labour history books.

Another socialist left is possible. We can build it together.

Anyone who wants to participate in making these possibilities into realities should email thenorthstar.info@gmail.com.

[Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Occupied Wall Street Journal, The Indypendent, Asia Times Online, Znet, Counterpunch, International Socialist Review, Green Left Weekly, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and thenorthstar.info, a collaborative blog by and for occupiers from across the US. His other writings can be found at www.planetanarchy.net.]

Comments

Some comments from Louis Proyect's posting of this article

I just saw these comments at Louis Proyect blogs

FPFC secretary

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“Multi-tendency groups already exist on the American political scene: the John Reed Society at Harvard, the Revolutionary Students Union on campuses in Utah, the Socialist Student Union at the University of Michigan. They are far from being “still-born projects.” [...]“…AND the Socialist Party USA which has been multi-tendency for years and years.
Comment by Erik — February 10, 2012 @ 10:15 pm

Some initial reations to this essay. Bihn, you seem to exclude the ex-Maoist left , like FRSO(either) or CCDS or various other networks in this regard. Is this intentional or simply you don’t include them in your own vision of what constitutes the “revolutionary socialist left”? I’m just curious.

Initially I have to say I’m closer to D’Amato on this. You place the Occupy movement as a practical center of this discussion (as opposed to the debates around Lenin that have recently sprung up here, on Marxmail and on Links). You make generalities about practical work, down playing the historical polemics (as D’Amato does as well) of the ’60s and earlier, but you don’t try to distill the very practical work of the groups in question around Occupy itself. Is there a symmetry between all these Revolutionary socialist groups and individuals around Occupy? Maybe there is. In fact I’d defer to you on this since the majority of your own orientation is around Occupy. But you don’t provide those answers to your readers here. It’s begs the question as we are talking about practical work, in Occupy, yes? You need to be more specific.

Secondly, the fact remains that there appears to be nothing *pushing* these groups together, toward regroupment. D’Amato notes, correctly, that many groups do work together. I know ISO works well with SA and Socialist Alternative in NY. SA and Soc. Alt. in Boston. SO and ISO in the Bay Area. These informal networks seem to work well and are highly productive. But I don’t see the imperative to be in the same organization. Not yet.

In every case where these sorts of regroupements were initiated…almost all in the recent period can trace their origin to the establishment of the Socialist Party of Scotland…have failed. British socialists with the same view artificially created the Socialist Alliances and then a rival Respect. NPA in France seems to be floundering and other such efforts seem to be mechanical, not living, replications of the first attempt. The real differences with regards to elections, strike actions ond other issues caused this to fail. Their starting point was “we are all socialists”. Unfortunately that’s not enough.

You also have to ask why a larger big-tent socialist formation hasn’t bee created exclusive of the above mentioned groups? The moderator of this list has pushed this idea, or a similar one, for more than a decade. Result? Zilch. Nada. You’d think with all the non-party socialists out there something would drive them together to build such a formation as you suggest. But again, it hasn’t happened and it’s not enough just to blame proprietary groups for maintaining sectarian boundaries.

Real regroupment occurs when there is a *strong and sharp* movement in the class that groups (and individuals) are reacting similarly too. It is the class struggle that drives a real regroupment perspective, not just a checklist of similar practical ideas during periods of relative quiescence, the startling Occupy movement notwithstanding (where there remains differences on how to approach it). It took an actual revolution to do that in Russia.

I’m just thinking out loud here and want to see this dialogue continue.

Comment by David Walters — February 10, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

In the interests of transparency, it must be revealed that David’s best hope for the left is the construction of a redeemed Fourth International, with his group–the Socialist Organizer–functioning as the American section (haven’t we been through this? Sigh!)

From the Socialist Organizer website:

We’ve learned that the fight to build the American section of the Fourth International cannot be separated from the struggle for a real Labor Party. We’ve learned that there’s no substitute for the Fourth International in the fight for the emancipation of humanity from capitalism. And perhaps most important, we’ve learned of the dangers of “national Trotskyism.” Our link with a real, functioning International—which now has sections in 48 countries—has provided the political and organizational basis for S.O. to rebuild the American Trotskyist movement.

Without a doubt, S.O. has played a pivotal role in ensuring the continuity of the Fourth International and its program in the United States. This is a credit to the organization and to the reproclaimed Fourth International, which has assisted every step of the way in building the section of the FI in the United States.

But the fact remains that Socialist Organizer has only begun the process toward rebuilding a party which can lead the American workers and youth out of the chains of capitalism. In the next period, the principal task of S.O. is to grow. Undoubtedly, the majority of the activists we recruit will be youth won to Trotskyist politics through our intervention in Revolution Youth, and a proper focus on youth work is a precondition for transforming S.O. into an organization capable of fulfilling its historic tasks. Hopefully, this text will enable many of these new activists to understand the history of our movement, our political traditions, and, therefore, why they should join S.O.

Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

The basis for unity is always program informing action. Uniting socialists for unity’s sake is a useless endeavor since so many who call themselves socialist are too appreciative of capitalism and comfortable with its embrace. Many moons ago, brother Karl said that philosophers interpret the world. The job for revolutionaries was to change it. With that in mind, those on the left who make their focus interpretation are those who are the philosophers. The idea is to move the agenda. If one has the idea that moving the agenda means making things “right” within capitalism, then such a person cannot be revolutionary since they are trying to “correct” the capitalism. People who believe in correction simply do not understand capitalism and are somewhat myopic. The world is not so big. It is covered in capitalism. This capitalism causes untold misery, violence, and suffering, not the least of whom are the workers making iPads and such. Those who claim to have found a new economic form called “bureaucratic despotism” are simply ignorant of the facts. A long time ago, someone told me that it was useless to argue beliefs with someone. Beliefs fly in the face of reality. If one is trying to move an agenda and people in the unity believe that say, liberal capitalism is superior to “bureaucratic despotism” then that would be like engaging in a potato sack race. Things have to be called by their right names and those names have not changed from when Marx coined them and as Lenin and Trotsky elaborated on them. The reason for that is not belief, it is a discovered factual social law of the capitalist mode of economic production and the states that enforce it.

I do not think that anyone has missed the boat with the “Occupy” movement. For the most part, Occupy is an intellectual exercise. It is primarily a middle-class, that is petty bourgeois ideology that does not remotely conceptualize the end of capitalism and the end of the capitalist state. It is then a moral reaction to the idea of billionaires’ greed. That is not a bad thing, it is sort of a “feel good” thing. It is not informative regarding the source of the problem and where the answers are. The answers are demonstrably not to be found in slapping the hands of the billionaires who have them stuck in the cookie jar abusing one union or the other.

What revolutionaries need to realize is that What is to be Done is what needs to be done. The entire focus of activity needs to be supporting and educating on the need to get to dual power for the express purpose of moving that power to the 99% and away from the 1% and its state organs. That is the goal. That means moving the base of the army to the new power. It means moving the base of the workers to it as the prime movers. Where it already exists, it means supporting and elucidating that power instead of ignoring it as is primarily happening regarding the Arab Spring as it unfolds in Syria, Egypt, Libya, etc.

All of the dual power movements must have indigenous leaderships. All that those on the outside can do is help point out what is what. It is up to the locals to figure out how to move their agendas to power by creating the political and practical organizations capable of acting on the agenda to power. Outsiders can illuminate the imperialist role in suppression via drone attacks, financing the reactionaries, reactionary propaganda, supplying the armies, etc.

Now when it comes to living in the belly of the beast, should one spend time trying to find the path along the lines of the Occupy? Fabian socialism and vegetarianism is not going to move the agenda. If the workers are occupying the bastions of capitalism, then there are lessons to be taught and organizations to build. But one distinction needs to be made. “Occupy” means to take over and change the organs of capitalist power- whether it be Wallstreet or city hall. In its way, occupy then becomes a new liberalism, or even libertarianism with a focus on changing the persons in the seat, but not the seat itself. Maybe influencing the holder of the seat. The capitalist political system has long ago figured out how to side step these thrusts and to coop them. Anything short of elucidating the need to move forward on the entire agenda of transitional demands for the purpose of getting to dual power seems like a waste of time to me. I am not interested in a better capitalism or a better capitalist state. I’m not interested in seeking justice under capitalism since that is an oxymoron. As a humanitarian, I see that the world needs to end the capitalist system as soon as possible. It’s either going to end by replacement, or the imperialists are going to serve up a repression that will make the Nazis look like choir boys. Not because they just like repression and jack boots, but because they want the increased transfer of surplus value from us to them. It’s what they do. The destruction of Iraq is a good lesson on point of an imperialist solution to extraction of surplus value and resource control. Madeline says that 300,000 dead Iraqi babies is a good price for that oil. Who wants to reform that monster?

“Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.” Satchel Paige.

Comment by Eustacius — February 10, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

Anything short of elucidating the need to move forward on the entire agenda of transitional demands for the purpose of getting to dual power seems like a waste of time to me.

Well, been there–done that…

Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

“if you want to ignite a debate among socialists about what is to be done here and now in the middle of the Occupy uprising, don’t write about Occupy, write a critical review of a Lenin biography written in 1975 by someone who died over a decade ago. Then the sparks will fly.

“This is exactly what’s wrong with us, the U.S. socialist left.”

Word. We need a socialist party that’s at least as inclusive as the US’s Big Two. They tolerate disagreement over many approaches because they have their eyes on their prize: the growth of capitalism. Too many socialist parties would rather be pure and obscure than part of the messy business of politics.

Comment by Will Shetterly — February 10, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

Binh, are you calling for all existing Left organizations go dissolve?

Comment by Morris Kennedy — February 10, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

“There’s no doubt that a political party requires a coherent vision and program or platform. The real question is: why must that coherence include a single point of view or a narrow range of views on what precisely the U.S.S.R. was, or what Cuba is?” Who thinks this? The ISO formally dropped a position on the class nature of the USSR, etc. last year.

“Again, these are issues we have to figure out in practice, as we go along. Socialism cannot be designed or created by an enlightened few armed with a detailed “Marxist” blueprint; if we wish to remain true to that vision, a common socialist organization that unites various trends cannot be dismissed because we don’t know in advance what it will look like, how it will work, the concrete moments of its development.

What we can say with certainty is this: rejecting the multi-tendency model leaves us with its opposite, the single-tendency model.”

Sorry, but what are you talking about? Whose views are you polemicizing against? Who has that vision of socialism? Who rejects the multi-tendency model?

The contributions published on this blog vis-a-vis the question of social organization (and too often, other questions, to be honest) do nothing to further the very real discussions that are already, and fruitfully, happening on the left. Too many grand pronouncements, too little actual knowledge of the concrete circumstances or what the comrades that are the purported target of the interventions are actually doing.

Having read Lars Lih (btw, you do realize that Haymarket published lars lih’s book, and that it distributed the HM symposium on his work), and essentially agreeing with him, it’s clear to me that Louis has entirely missed the point: the question of socialist organization is a contextual, strategic question. There are no trans-historical organizational models, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Louis simply inverts the purported conclusions arrived at by the targets of his polemics (not really, of course, since he inevitably but wrongly mistakes his own preconceptions of what others think or do for what they actually think) by implying an organizational cause and an organizational solution to the problems facing the left: in his case, “Zinovievism” serves as the original sin that led us down the blind ally of sectarianism, and immediate regroupment into a broad-left formation (of a yet-to-be-defined form) is the salvation. Yet, organizational forms were never the root of our problems. His attempts to analyze the left’s historical experience gloss over the real concerns and factors shaping specific strategic choices, not to mention the actual variation between “Zinovievist” groups. Sorry, but the European FI groups of the 1960s did not function identically to the US SWP, and organizational forms and norms that may have become anachronistic now, also might have been quite necessary at an earlier moment. Moreover, sectarianism will never really be a matter of formal organizational structures and norms, as I think Louis himself far too commonly demonstrates in his writings. Most importantly, the search for short-term organizational fixes to what are really political problems will continue to be a non-starter for the left. The appeal of that orientation reflects the weakness of the organized left during the past few decades, but it has had consistently negative consequences that belie the tremendous confidence of its proponents.

This piece comes a bit closer to the mark, but it isn’t based on a real assessment of the actual challenges and opportunities facing us, let alone the strengths and weakness of our real work, and it also suffers from the fallacy of projecting your notion of what others should think for what they actually do think. That’s a real pity, because if folks would take a bit more of a comradely approach, would drop the snarky dickheadishness and the idea that somehow they were raising questions that had never occurred to the rest of us or that we needed to be saved – and most of all if comrades would show a little modesty about what they really know or undersand – then there are real contributions to crucial, ongoing conversations about organizational and other strategic questions that they could make.

Comment by Jonah — February 10, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

Correction to comment 7. Should read “to dissolve.”

Comment by Morris Kennedy — February 10, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

drop the snarky dickheadishness

Sorry. I am incorrigible.

Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

Sorry. I am incorrigible.

________________

Yeah, I know. I can’t tell if it’s a personality thing, a style encouraged by the nature of internet polemics, or something about how 1960s veterans of groups like the US SWP were trained. But it’s a real hindrance to these discussions. And really it’s not just a matter of tone. Paul D’Amato described one of his interlocuter’s points as “profound.” That shows a real willingness to take seriously what others are saying. As far as I can tell, you barely read pieces that you subsequently write screeds against. It’s a horrible tendency, one that the left really does need to transcend.

Comment by Jonah — February 10, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

Although I did find the “red condom” metaphor titillating. Not based in anything that the people you ascribed it to had actually said, but titillating none the less.

Comment by Jonah — February 10, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

Paul D’Amato described one of his interlocuter’s points as “profound.” That shows a real willingness to take seriously what others are saying.

Actually, someone who has spoken frequently with D’Amato and who is also a friend of mine told me that when my name came up in conversation with him, he let out a string of profanities.

Comment by louisproyect — February 10, 2012 @ 11:51 pm

Yeah, I didn’t mean you.

I have no idea if what you say is true or not, but if it is, then it dovetails with my point that his responses show a real willingness to actually take seriously what people on the other side of debates are saying.

Try to avoid caricaturing others opinions, and please figure out at some point in your life which arguments deserve vitriol and which deserve a slightly calmer tone. Some of your interventions are reminiscent of the worst experiences I’ve had at left-wing meetings. Disconnected, over-the-top, etc.

Comment by Jonah — February 11, 2012 @ 12:10 am

Try to avoid caricaturing others opinions, and please figure out at some point in your life which arguments deserve vitriol and which deserve a slightly calmer tone.

Jonah, I am practically old enough to be your grandfather. Don’t you realize how obnoxious it is to take such a patronizing tone with me? The problem is not showing respect for other people’s opinions. What is going on instead is that your temperature is rising because people are trying to explain to you that what you are doing is all wrong. I know that I would be as aggravated as you if someone tried to tell me something like this back in 1971 or so. But please drop the unctuous sermonizing.

Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2012 @ 12:35 am

CCDS is already a ‘multi-tendency socialist organization.’ Some members only vote for Greens, the Free DC/Greens, or Peace and Freedom. Others, a larger majority, work for PDA and its candidates. We all support Occupy, work in unions, build the peace marches, and so on. On matters of history and theory, we argue, but have yet to see a need to split on it. We also have a number of ‘dual members’ with the SP, DSA, CPUSA and perhaps a few others. I suppose one can always re-invent the wheel, but we’re fairly serious these days about a ‘left unity’ that could bring us to scale. We’re ready to talk with anyone who’s serious about it.

Comment by Carl Davidson (@carldavidson) — February 11, 2012 @ 1:08 am

“But please drop the unctuous sermonizing.”
Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2012 @ 12:35 am

Sounds like the ol’ do as I say and not as I do.

Comment by Morris Kennedy — February 11, 2012 @ 1:34 am

Thanks for Louis for posting our intro from socialistorganizer.org Despite Louis…transparent attempt at sect baiting…by accident he raises an important point not discussed by any of Bihn’s very interesting essays on his web site, planet anarchy, and this is international affiliations, which some groups take quite seriously, the role of the international in these discussion and the implications of Bihn’s essay on how this plays out internationally.

My own comments were directed at Bihn’s essay, and not toward my own group. Such self-promotion here is worse than pendandic, but perhaps that is Louis’ mode of operation. I seriously wonder that if a group was ever built according Louis political personality, their first act would be to deny his application for membership.

Comment by David Walters — February 11, 2012 @ 1:39 am

The John Reed Society is little if anything beyond a discussion list at this stage, sorry to say.

Comment by Neil Peterman — February 11, 2012 @ 7:09 am

In considering the historical signficance of all this, one also needs to bear in mind that after 1921 Trotsky was trying to suck up to the Old Bolsheviks who were busy booting him out of the party, at first through the back door then through the front. Hence his fawning remarks about the genius of Lenin and the impossibility of ever being right aginst the party. At his pomp in 1920 Trotsky remarked that he did not consider he was all wrong in his pre-revolutionary differences with Lenin.
Trotsky’s efforts to organise his supporters after 1929 cannot really be described as a success now can they? Albeit circumstances were unbelievably difficult.
More to the point given the tiny number of revolutionary socialists around today, and the frankly marginal tactical differences that separate them – the fact that they cannot unite in a single organisation is damning.

Comment by billj — February 11, 2012 @ 11:47 am

Another amusing point to reflect on is that the only socialist organisation in Russia to call for workers power in March 1917 was a Menshevik one.

Comment by billj — February 11, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

I thought Trotsky was pretty popular in the Soviet Union and really did not need to suck up to anyone. I visited the museum of the revolution in St. Petersburg and sure enough there were pictures of Trotsky and the Central Committee with Lenin and all those he would have been sucking up to. He was more centrally located in the constellation than the purported suckees. He was like, #2. Trotsky was not a bureaucrat and did not have the bureaucrat’s mindset. Russia was and is a country with a long history of bureaucracy. Stalin took advantage of this mindset and put it to work for his faction. By the time Trotsky was drummed out of the Party, there was an entirely new generation at the reigns, feeling its oats, and not caring a bit about the old guard. You know, kids who were 15 or so during the civil war then became new bureaucrats and they did suck up to Stalin. They brought along their entire families and placed them in the nicer jobs with benefits. They were arrogant SOBs. Imagine the ignorant TSA feeler-uppers in power and you can get an idea of the respect the armed bureaucrats had for the revolutionary zeal of the old guard and the theory of permanent revolution. Scrounging around the Soviet Union for resources was not exactly the same as exporting revolution to other countries. A bureaucrat will do anything to keep from actually having to work. If you have ever observed a union bureaucracy, you can get a little idea of how it works. You have to imagine them with guns and the power to arrest and kill you. My wife’s grandfather was picked up and killed by them in 1937 in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) after a month of torture and interrogation. He was dumped in a mass grave along with 1,000s of others who had done absolutely nothing wrong. The armed bureaucrats were totally out of control and arrogant AOs. The Terror had quotas block-by-block. Anyone who was not 100% pro-Stalin’s faction was picked up and killed. People who had preferable jobs were targeted so the relatives and friends, comrades, of Stalin’s faction could get the jobs, the apartments, etc. It was not really an abstract debate at the street level. Our Russian guide’s grandfather was tipped off that he was on the list, so he skipped town. He came back after the heat had died down and was never picked up. He had lost his nice position to a newcomer at the Admiralty though. The NKVD sent its henchmen out in black panel trucks. The locals called them Ravens. When they saw a raven, they knew someone was going to get it. The families of those targeted by the Ravens had to completely erase any history they had of the person, destroy photos, etc., as if they never existed. The reality was extremely grim and depressing. Stalin’s faction sucked the life out of the revolution. Of course the imperialists and the failed revolutions elsewhere were big factors along with the collapsing economy. But to try and blame Trotsky for Stalin’s consolidation as head of the armed bureaucracy just shows complete ignorance of the situation. David King in Britain has published some photo books on this and thousands of photos. Maybe you should get them and you’d have a better idea of the reality instead of writing about who sucks. We all have opinions on that.

Comment by Eustacius — February 11, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

David: My own comments were directed at Bihn’s essay, and not toward my own group.

Huh? You belong to a group that is fundamentally opposed to thinking outside the Fourth International box and you tell me that your comments were only directed at Binh’s essay? I guess that is true in a way since the main purpose was to undermine it. As I tried to make clear, you come at it as an opponent of such an approach whether it is successful (since it would obviously be a Pabloite swamp) or not.

Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

My views are my own. My group doesn’t see the linear and vertical development of SO as THE party, Louis. We see the working class as a class developing political independence and building their own vehicle. The quote you extracted reflects what we want to do with SO, it does not at all preclude HOW that is going to occur or exclude all sorts of organizational development by revolutionaries. It’s not how we function. It’s not how we see our selves. Of course we want to grow. Duh. But beyond that it’s quite unpredictable.

This is why what’s MORE important than ‘regroupment’ (either the positive way poised by Bihn or the sectarian way you argue for) per se and unfortunately left out of Bihns writings is independent working class political action. I think this will really determine the working together/fusion/regroupment/splits on the socialist left more than what those groups decide. The issue of whether an actual party of the working class get built is primary as i see it, not if the small socialist groups can come together and form a bigger yet smaller group of the same type or slightly looser. In fact I see this larger struggle..that at this point doesn’t even exist, as a precondition for the kind of regroupment Bihn is talking about.

Bihn sees the Occupy movement as kind of/sort of playing this same role. This is why I want to read what he thinks in more detail about this. I also think, in fact I know, Bihn rejects your POV on ‘dissolving’ left groups into nothing.

Comment by David Walters — February 11, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

“!By the time Trotsky was drummed out of the Party, there was an entirely new generation at the reigns, feeling its oats, and not caring a bit about the old guard”

What the new generation of Zionviev, Kamenev and Stalin?

“But to try and blame Trotsky for Stalin’s consolidation as head of the armed bureaucracy just shows complete ignorance of the situation.”

As Trotsky said – Lenin created the apparatus and the appartus created Stalin.

So who’s ignorant?

Comment by billj — February 11, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

“What the new generation of Zionviev, Kamenev and Stalin?”

Maybe you need to understand a little more history of the Russian CP, before the revolution, during the revolution, and after Lenin. Ever hear of the “Lenin levy?” The party was bloated with hundreds of thousands of sycophants, and it was this group of newly consolidated party hacks that Stalin represented and they served as his power base. I guess you do not know what the hacks did to Zinoviev and Kamenev and nearly 100% of the party leaders who led the revolution? Lenin played the central role in creation of the revolutionary party. Stalin played the central role in creating the bureaucratized, reactionary party. Daubing over that distinction shows a pathetic conceptual understanding of revolution and reaction, as if the two are the same. You must be from Missouri, one of those people who can’t understand something unless they see it. Seems like you are against the idea of a revolutionary Leninist party since you equate one to a reactionary party.

Comment by Eustacius — February 11, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

My group doesn’t see the linear and vertical development of SO as THE party, Louis.

Nor does any other group that comes out of the Fourth International tradition, except maybe the dregs of the Healyite movement. But in the meantime, you, the ISO, Socialist Action et al continue to build your own little sect all the while paying lip-service to the idea that down the road there might be fusions with other groups moving in the same direction. Don’t forget, David, I was in the SWP for 11 years and heard this kind of malarkey all the time.

Comment by louisproyect — February 11, 2012 @ 6:08 pm

“We see the working class as a class developing political independence and building their own vehicle.”

That is an interesting concept that is fairly at odds with the idea of a Leninist-type party. The working class has never created a revolutionary “vehicle” capable of taking power via spontaneous generation. The reason a party is the vehicle is because broad masses of the population are incapable of “developing political independence”. While people may misplace hope in such spasmodic creations as Occupy, whatever it is, it is not going to develop revolutionary consciousness or action to power. The reason for this is to be found in the everyday lives of the people with its thousands of bourgeois ideological reinforcements that occur on a semi-conscious level. The idea of party is to educate and direct consciousness so that a new paradigm can explain the reality.

Comment by Eustacius — February 11, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

Erik: being multi-tendency is not a magic bullet. Every political choice we make comes with tradeoffs and creates different challenges. The RSDLP was a multi-tendency organization and the Bolshevik wing of it led a revolution. Obviously that doesn’t mean the SPUSA can or will. This should go without saying.

David: In my Tasks piece I mentioned Max Elbaum and Dave Cline, so my views on the Maoists should be clear. Cline was a Viet Nam veteran, postal worker militant, and RCP member for many years before leading VVAW and Veterans for Peace. He was a great man, and his death was a huge loss for the left in this country. I’m not sure when/why he left, but I’ll never forget what he told me when RCPers split from VVAW to form “VVAW Anti-Imperialist”: “Well, I guess that makes us pro-imperialist!”

In my book Cline is up there with Camejo, but that’s just a personal thing for me. Clay Claiborne is also out of the Maoist left, as is Mike Ely; it would be sheer stupidity on my part not to be open to working with people with 4 decades of revolutionary work behind them towards our common ends.

You write, “the fact remains that there appears to be nothing *pushing* these groups together, toward regroupment.” Of course not. They are all still competing against one another for adherents. It’s like a bunch of mom and pop burger joints that come together on the same block to hold a street festival; they play nice together for the most part but in reality they have better burgers than their competitors.

Re: NPA, SSP. All of the failed experiments people point to in these discussions exist in countries with mass social democratic/communist parties that have deep roots in the working class. Are you seriously saying their problems are our problems?

Morris: No. I mentioned some local socialist organizations that are doing excellent work. These types of groups should be in a common, national organization.

Jonah: Is the ISO a multi-tendency organization, in your view? Do ISO members have the right to form tendencies or factions?

You write, “This piece comes a bit closer to the mark, but it isn’t based on a real assessment of the actual challenges and opportunities facing us, let alone the strengths and weakness of our real work, and it also suffers from the fallacy of projecting your notion of what others should think for what they actually do think.” And where is your or the ISO’s assessment of all the questions you claim my piece came up short on? I have yet to read anything that is as concrete and explicit as I have been in this piece and the earlier one I wrote. What is the ISO’s view about the new tasks Occupy has put before us?

Comment by Binh — February 11, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

Eustacius: "That is an

Eustacius: "That is an interesting concept that is fairly at odds with the idea of a Leninist-type party. The working class has never created a revolutionary “vehicle” capable of taking power via spontaneous generation."

Never? Not in Paris in 1871? Not in St Petersburg in 1905? Never? Really?

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