International Socialist Tendency
Breaking off links The Socialist Workers Party has finally broken off links with the US International Socialist Organization. The ISO Steering Committee has circulated this document to all affiliates to the SWP's 'international', the International Socialist Tendency. It demonstrates that the attempt to build a bureaucratic international of like-minded sects will inevitably produce one split after another - since differences are always regarded as a problem, not an opportunity for mutual enlightenment
We write to address the continuing degeneration of the International Socialist Tendency under the leadership of the SWP Central Committee.
1) In a February 13 circular to the Tendency, the SWP Central Committee accused the ISO of departing from Leninist norms in its internal matters. In fact, it was the SWP CC that violated democratic centralism by immediately siding with six members expelled from the ISO against the rest of our organisation.
Alex Callinicos and Chris Bambery, writing for the CC, did not even consult with the national leadership of the ISO before proclaiming allegiance to a tiny minority expelled for factional and hostile activity. By siding with six former members without even asking the ISO leadership why or how their membership was terminated, the SWP Central Committee has made a mockery of democratic centralism.
2) The fact that a major portion of the Greek Tendency organisation SEK has now split over perspectives gives the lie to the idea the ISO is running against the grain of the entire Tendency. We have been told time and again that the whole Tendency - with the exception of the ISO - is completely united under the rubric of 'anti-capitalism' and the SWP's method of relating to it. Clearly, the entire Tendency is not united on this point and has not been for some time.
3) The breakdown in relations between our groups is entirely the SWP leadership's responsibility. The SWP CC's political differences about the character of the period and how to relate to it have been used by the SWP CC as the basis for unending attacks, internal meddling, and, now, threats of a split. We believe that the source of the continuing degeneration is the SWP leadership's insistence that every Tendency group adopt every formulation and method dictated by the SWP CC. We reject this approach and plan to remain an autonomous organisation bound to the Tendency by our common political principles.
The crisis in the International Socialist Tendency
We have taken up the various attempts by the SWP leadership to place us outside the IST - and indeed outside the Leninist tradition - elsewhere. Today we ask the leading members of Tendency organisations to face up to this crisis and join us in taking steps to overcome it.
The crisis has its origins in the degeneration in the functioning of the IST. We have always argued that disputes involving differences which are based neither on theory nor principle are best relegated to fraternal debate based upon a recognition that we are an international tendency rather than a centralised international. We consider this approach to be (at least in the past) one of the hallmarks of our Tendency, and one of its strengths.
Today the IST resembles the toy internationals erected by orthodox Trotskyists. Perspectives and pronouncements about the period are tied to highly specific organisational shifts imposed from London - no matter what the specific national situations of the countries in question.
The problem in the SWP leadership's method of organising the IST was compounded by the dogmatic insistence on the adoption of the entire Tendency formulations like the "30s in slow motion" and "the anti-capitalist mood". This is a very poor substitute for coming to grips with the specific problems of the period and their manifestation in particular countries - such as the boom in the advanced western countries, its impact on the balance of class forces, the conservative policies of the liberal and social democratic parties in office, and the politics of the various forces in the new radicalisation - a radicalisation that we all agree exists.
By developing a perspective that fits the situation in the US - a period of boom, not 1930s-style slump and stagnation, in slow motion or otherwise - the ISO was able to build an expanded secondary leadership. We continued to grow modestly even when the expectations of more rapid growth in the early 1990s did not pan out. Nevertheless, we established new branches in important areas, such as southern California and the south east. This put us in an excellent position for what has been our best year in 2000 - playing leading roles in organising the anti-IMF/World Bank demonstrations in Washington as well as the protests at the Republican and Democratic conventions.
We have been at the forefront of the growing movement against the death penalty. We set up Nader campaign organisations weeks before the official campaign took shape and played a leading role in campus and neighbourhood groups. Moreover, we played a prominent role in organising for the anti-Bush demonstrations around the US this January 20 and organised a panel in Washington that was the only event that brought together most of the protesting groups. The ISO's membership today stands at more than 1,000. It enjoys excellent relations with the broad left and is widely acknowledged as the largest, youngest and most dynamic group on the left in the US.
To be sure, we have plenty of the difficulties and challenges that confront every IST group. If we feel compelled to cite our advances, it is because we have been the object of an unceasing slander campaign by the SWP leadership. Alex Callinicos - who attended our convention for only one day - compared ISO comrades' enthusiasm to a "revival meeting" in his report to the Tendency, along with allegations of physical intimidation by the leadership.
Yet he failed to even speak to any member of the ISO leadership about these matters - or anything else - while he was in Chicago. Instead, he returned to Britain and used his authority as Tendency organiser to try and discredit the ISO. And the campaign continues: the most recent letter accuses the ISO of "abandoning Nader" and tailing "liberal Democrats." Presumably this charge is based on the fact that we emphasise the issue of black disenfranchisement in Bush's stolen election - something that any revolutionary organisation worth its salt would do.
Most serious is the charge that the ISO leadership physically threatened and later expelled six people because of their support for the SWP's views. The facts are these: the six were given repeated access to our internal bulletin. Four were invited to the convention, since only one won election as delegate. After delegates overwhelmingly rejected their views, they boycotted the majority of the convention, withdrew financial support from the ISO, and urged others to quit. When they refused to meet with a Steering Committee representative to discuss the situation, their membership was terminated. (The absurd charge of "thuggery" centres on the fact that a lone comrade followed three of these members outside the building to continue a discussion.)
The former members have stated their intention to pursue their democratic right to appeal to the ISO's elected Appeals Committee, in which the Steering Committee holds just one of three positions. But now the SWP has tried to pre-empt this process by appointing itself the Supreme Court of the ISO - and, by extension, the entire Tendency - and seeks to overturn the democratic vote of the ISO convention. This would be laughable were it not for the fact that it represents an effort by the SWP to impose a de facto split on the ISO.
Where we go from here
Instead of discussing and debating differences with the ISO in a comradely and collaborative way, the SWP has made formulations like "anti-capitalism" and "1930s in slow motion" into sectarian shibboleths with which we and every other IST group must agree - or else. Leadership has been reduced to the selective administering of a series of 'tests'. The ISO has been accused of failing the tests of the Kosovo war, the Seattle demonstrations, and now, we are told, even the Nader campaign - even though Alex Callinicos praised our Nader work in his intervention at the ISO convention.
To be sure, a test has been failed - the test of revolutionary leadership in the IST. We find it curious that while the SWP Party Notes of February 12 prominently featured "ISO USA expulsions", and the entire Tendency received a "report" on our convention, no notice has been forthcoming from the SWP about the split in SEK.
The split in Greece comes after those in France, Turkey, South Africa, Belgium and a number of other IST groups. The IST has never even had a formal discussion to assess these developments. Yet the SWP CC has circulated a wildly distorted account of our convention to the Tendency and urges SWP members to buy a special bulletin full of documents by a tiny group of former ISO members.
In this respect, the SWP's international work now resembles that of the original Fourth International groups, in which Trotsky urged members of each group to intervene in one another's internal life - a method sharply criticised by Tony Cliff. "The problem with Trotsky's approach," Cliff wrote, "was that it is very difficult to draw immediate tactical lessons from one branch of a national organisation for another. How much more difficult is it to do the same on the international scale? Compare this idea of one section intervening in the tactical disputes of another with the practice of the Comintern under Lenin and Trotsky where it was quite uncommon" (T Cliff Trotsky Vol. 3).
The crisis has pushed the Tendency to the breaking point. The SWP has declared its support for a tiny group that got zero support at the ISO convention. The logic of this is to force Tendency organisations to choose between supporting a handful of ex-members or a dynamic and growing organisation of more than 1,000 revolutionaries. Let's be clear about the consequences. If the Tendency chooses to follow the lead of the SWP CC on this question, the IST risks losing not only one of its largest organisations, but the one that is building in the heart of world imperialism.
Turning back will require not only an open discussion of the real questions of revolutionary perspectives, but a complete rejection of the hothouse fictionalising that currently passes for Tendency international work. We call on members of the Tendency to repudiate the efforts of the SWP leadership to engineer a split in the ISO, and join us in a call to rebuild open, collaborative and principled political relations among our organisations.