March 20, 2000
ISO Internal Discussion Bulletin
For Members Only
How to use this bulletin
This bulletin addresses the serious factional situation that has developed between the ISO (US) and the SWP (GB). This bulletin should be copied and distributed to members only. Given the sensitive nature of this material, it should not be left for copying at a copy center. It should be used as a basis for discussions that are open only to ISO members in good standing. If you have further questions about the contents of this bulletin or about how to use it, please contact the ISO center at 773-665-7337.
Contents of this bulletin
This bulletin contains a number of documents and supporting material. The included documents are as follows:
1. Letter from ISO Steering Committee to SWP Central Committee, March 20, 2000
2. Letters from SWP to ISO Steering Committee, March 20, 2000
3. Reply from ISO Steering Committee to SWP Central Committee, March 20, 2000
4. Communication from Pranav J., Providence ISO, to ISO Steering Committee, March 11, 2000
5. Communication from Todd C., San Francisco Bay Area organizer, to ISO Steering Committee, February 25, 2000
6. Letter from ISO Steering Committee to SWP Central Committee, March 3, 2000
7. Attachments to March 3, 2000 letter from ISO Steering Committee to SWP Central Committee
8. Letter to ISO Steering Committee from Alex Callinicos and Tony Cliff, February 23, 2000
9. Letter to ISO Steering Committee from Alex Callinicos and Tony Cliff and Reply from ISO Steering Committee, February 20, 2000
10. "After Seattle," SWP discussion document for SWP national committee,
11. ISO Document on ISO work during the 1999 NATO war, July, 1999
12. SWP Central Committee "Reply to ISO" on Balkans war, July 2, 1999
Letter from ISO Steering Committee to SWP Central Committee, March 20, 2000
To the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party (GB)
March 20, 2000
We write in reply to your letter of today and to introduce the enclosed document that replies in detail to the charge about the ISO made in your previous letters.
This time we are told that ISO members "have only been permitted to hear one side of the argument and have been presented with a thoroughly distorted picture of the nature of the differences between the leaderships of our two organizations." In fact, we distributed this correspondence to our members some time ago. As we stated in our last letter, we have nothing to hide. Our views and perspectives have always been open, and were stated by our representatives at the International Tendency meeting in London last fall.
We can only view the decision by the SWP leadership to contact ISO members directly by e-maila breach of protocol in the Tendencyas an escalation of an attempt to engage us in a fight. Such a step is highly destructive towards the comradely and fraternal relations that we believe should exist between our organizationsrelations that have been seriously damaged by the manner in which the SWP comrades have intervened in the ISO.
Once again, we must note that the letter uses a misleading quotethis time from the March 8 ISO Notesto assert that the ISO "now agrees" that a reformist mood is developing in the U.S. As our document makes clear, we have been discussing this political changeand relating to itsince last summer, months before the demonstration in Seattle. Furthermore, the allegation that the ISO leadership has characterized the SWPs views as arguing that a "pre-revolutionary" situation exists is utterly baseless Our actual perspectives are contained in the attached document
In the interest of an open debate on perspectives, we request a copy of the SWP Party Notes e-mail list in the next 24 hours to ensure that the SWP membership is also clear about the real nature of the differences between the readerships of the two organizations.
ISO Steering Committee
Letters from SWP to ISO Steering Committee, March 20, 2000
I attach a document containing correspondence between the leaderships of the SWP and the ISO (US). As this makes clear, increasingly serious differences have developed between our two organizations over the perspectives for the ISO and the Tendency more generally after Seattle. The importance of these differences, the ISO leaderships refusal to discuss them seriously, and the efforts it is making to turn the groups members against the SWP leave us no alternative but to circulate the correspondence within the ISO and in the Tendency as a whole. We hope this will lead to a debate that can resolve the differences productively and strengthen all our organizations. Any group that has queries is welcome to contact me for clarification.
Date: 20 March 2000 11:15 Subject: Document from SWP Central Committee Dear Comrades,
Please find attached a document from the SWP Central Committee about the differences that having developed between the ISO leadership and us. We are aware that these differences have been discussed within the ISO, and we believe they should be aired generally throughout the IS Tendency. I will be happy to respond to any comments: my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
20 March 2000
Over the past year increasingly serious disagreements have developed between the leaderships of the International Socialist Organization (US) and the Socialist Workers Party (Britain). They first emerged during the 1999 Balkan War, when the ISO Steering Committee made strong criticisms of the general method used by the SWP and the rest of the Tendency in Europe and elsewhere in opposing the war. These disagreements were discussed, but not resolved at a meeting of the two leaderships at Marxism 1999.
It subsequently became clear that these disagreements involved much larger differences over general perspective Not only did the ISO leadership fail to mobilize significantly for the great Seattle protest in November-December 1999, but its general reaction was to play down the significance of an event widely acknowledged by the left internationally to be a major political turning point. Moreover, the ISO leadership has been briefing the groups membership about these and other differences. For example, the subject was discussed at the ISO National Committee meeting in February. But the groups leadership has made no attempt to air the issues openly with the SWP, let alone with the Tendency more generally).
The correspondence reproduced below was initiated by the SWP Central Committee in the belief that this state of affairs could not continue indefinitely. The issues are clearly stated in our letters. This initiative did not, in our view, meet with a serious response from the ISO Steering Committee. In their last communication, however, they did acknowledge that the debate should be made available to our membership, your membership and the rest of the IS Tendency. We are therefore circulating this correspondence to the branches of the ISO as well as to our other sister organizations.
In doing so, we are particularly concerned to address the comrades of the ISO. We believe that you have only been permitted to hear one side of the argument and have been presented with a thoroughly distorted picture of the nature of the differences between the leaderships of our two organizations. We regret that we have been forced to take this step, but we believe your leadership has left us with little alternative. We hope that, as a result of this and other material that we intend to release, you will get a clearer view of what is at stake. This will facilitate the debate that both our organizations and the Tendency as a whole now require.
The Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party
[Note: The correspondence referred to in the above document has previous/v been distributed. We reprint it below.]
Reply from ISO Steering Committee to SWP, March 20, 2000
Why we write this document
This document is written in response to two letters sent to the ISO on behalf of the SWP in February (both are attached). The letters raise a number of points of criticism of the ISOs work and perspectives. The letters state that the ISO has failed two critical tests in the last year and connects the two failures. The first was "failing the test of war" last year; the second, failing the "test of Seattle." In short, the charge is that the ISO has failed on the critical questions of the day. These charges are utterly false. By framing them in this manner, as we stated in our letter of March 3, we feel that the letters from the SWP have raised the political stakes massively and, it should be added, needlessly so. We do not believe that there are principled differences between the ISO and the SWP. Nor are some of the issues raisedespecially those of tactical flexibility and assessment of practical activity for individuals and branchesmatters that require complete agreement between revolutionaries, especially between revolutionaries in different countries.
Taken alone, the letters do not justify the tone and method used by the SWP in carrying out this fight. We are writing this document, however, because the letters cannot be taken in isolation. They are the latest installment in an attempt to find or create a political difference between the ISO and the SWP in order to justify the launching of a fight against us. This is a fight that has no serious political justification and threatens to seriously damage relations between our organizations. We do not want a faction fight. However, we feel compelled to answer the grave charges made against us in detailand restate our perspective to set the record straight.
The questioning of the political integrity of the ISO and its leadership has been extremely damaging to relations between the ISO and SWP and to the character of the Tendencys international work. The letters from Comrades Callinicos and Cliff are, we believe, not really directed at convincing the leadership of the ISO of anything. How else are we to understand a passing reference to the ISOs "failing the test of war" last yeara failure that did not merit a single word of public criticism in a roundup of the Tendencys work at Marxism 99 or at last Novembers international meeting? We had already refuted these charges at a leadership-to-leadership meeting between the ISO and the SWP. The February 23 letter urges that we make available to our membership and to the Tendency as a whole a secret ISO document critical of the SWPs perspectives, supposedly distributed at the ISOs February, 2000 National Committee meeting, so that we can conduct a debate, which, the authors say, "cannot be put off any longer." That would be difficult to do, since no such document exists. It would also be helpful to be informed of exactly what debate can no longer be put off. Had the International Tendency organizer, Alex Callinicos, bothered to call the ISOs national office and spoken with Sharon Smith, the national organizer, or with Ahmed Shawki, the ISOs international representative, he would know a great deal more about what we actually discussed at the NC and what the plans for April 16 are. But Comrade Callinicos hasnt made such a call in more than a year. But even without a phone call, simply reading our ISO Notes (which Comrade Callinicos receives regularly) or the NC documents would make clear that building for April 16 is a centerpiece of the ISOs winter/spring perspective. Instead we received a letter, dated February 20, that alleges that we are about to "repeat" our supposed failure.
The second letter from Comrades Cliff and Callinicos, dated February 23. tells us that they are interested in something much bigger than the composition of the ISOs leadership"how the ISO is placed in the post-Seattle left." As we stated in our reply, how well the ISO is placed is intimately related to what kind of political leadership it gets. The notion that we fail to reflect seriously and self critically on our failure" when the test and its results are being administered in London is clearly an attempt to insult or provoke.
Another issue that must be addressed is the SWP leading members call for the removal of one of our Steering Committee members. Ahmed Shawki. The February 23 letters indignant demand that "unsubstantiated allegations" be withdrawn simply will not do. An utterly personalistic and irresponsible faction fight has been conducted by leading members of the SWP against the ISO and its leadership. Whatever the root cause of the fight, the SWP leadership introduced something bigger than the proverbial "red herring" into the discussions between the two organizations when it tied its criticisms of the ISO to the role played by its historic and present leaders.
The ISO leadership fought out a brief faction fight over this very question in early January, as we reported to the ISO National Committee. Rather than splitting us, the resolution of the faction fight further united us around a common political perspective This perspective, laid out at the ISO NC meeting in early February, placed the April 16 demonstration at its center. The sudden emergence of a movement for a national moratorium on the death penaltya development requiring the ISOs participationnecessitated an amendment to the original perspective But far from abandoning the April 16 demonstration, as Comrades Cliff and Callinicos imply with their out-of-context quote (the ISO is "scaling back" its intervention), the revised perspective allows the organization to participate fully in both arenas of activity. This means more activity for the ISO. not less. The National Committee adopted these perspectives unanimously.
The NC reaffirmed by unanimous vote its confidence in the current ISO leadershipand the addition of three comrades to the organizations Steering Committee.
The views set forth here reflect the documents and discussions presented at ISO Conventions and National Committees as well as in our publications and ISO Notes. They also take up our point of view on issues raised in discussion with SWP comradessome contentious, some notin recent years. We are doing so for a very simple reason: we believe it is the only way to make clear our views, free of the distortions introduced by the SWP letters. And since we have reason to believe that the SWP leadership has shared its assessment of the ISO with other groups in the Tendency, we are making this document available to those groups as well as to the memberships of the ISO and the SWP.
Did the ISO "fail the test of war?"
One issue needs to be dealt with at the outset. The letter from the SWP leadership dated February 20 accuses the ISO of having "failed the test of war" during the 1999 Balkans war, As we noted in our response of March 3, this charge implies that we failed to take a principled stand against U.S. imperialism. We believed that this ludicrous accusation had been put to rest at a leadership-to-leadership meeting held at Marxism 99. No member of the SWP leadership made a public criticism of our work at either the International Tendency meetings at Marxism 99 or at the Tendency meeting in November. Moreover, Pat Stack, then a member of the SWP Central Committee, specifically said at our Summer School rallyin a speech later broadcast over national radiothat the ISO "passed the test of war." In addition, John Rees another member of the SWPs CC, met with two ISO Steering Committee members during the IS Canada convention in last fall. Comrade Rees stressed that the CC wanted to put the disputes of the summer behind us. Now that the accusations about our anti-war work have been raised again, we have decided to append a document we produced for the ISO-SWP discussion on the NATO war. In the interest of putting the dispute over the war to rest, we have not previously circulated this document. Here, we summarize the areas of disagreement. We stress nowas we did thenthat these disagreements were secondary and took place within our Tendencys common, principled and anti imperialist opposition to the war:
The role of the United Nations and the: united-front method. An SWP circular to the Tendency, Anti-War Notes #1, argued that the issue of the UN was a "red herring" in the Balkans war, since NATO was prosecuting the war. Responding to a request for comments, the ISO Steering Committee wrote that because of widespread illusions about the UN on the left, we had to take up the issue within the anti-war movement. We stressed that this had to be done within the context of the united-front method. The SWP comrades accused us of cutting ourselves off from our audience with this approach and thereby undermining our anti-war work. On the contrary, we proposed unity around the simple demand of "stop the war," while seeking to win those around us to our views about the UN and the imperialist nature of the war.
Imperialist rivalry and the nature of the war. The ISO Steering Committee agreed with the Tendency statement on the war that "the conflict is an imperialist war whose aim is to preserve the U.S. as the dominant power in Europe." We proposed taking note in the Tendency statement of the fact that other main NATO countries had interests that coincided with, but were not identical to, those of the U.S. The SWP replied that we overstated these differences within NATO, stressing instead possible economic goals such as access to Caspian Sea oila topic we never brought up.
Kosovar self-determination. The ISO Steering Committee look issue with the SWP comrades formulation that we support self determination for Kosovar Albanians "on the sole condition that this right is not fulfilled on, the back of another people and by the ethnic cleansing of territory." We argued that this condition should not be placed on the right of self-determination of oppressed nations. We did arguein full agreement with the SWP comradesthat the Kosovo Liberation Army had become a tool of NATO and therefore the slogan of self-determination should not be raised in the war. Nor did we do so. However, the SWP comrades accused uswrongly and without evidenceof making the issue one of overriding importance" in the anti-war movement.
Serbian nationalism The question of how to deal with Serbian nationalists in the anti-war movement faced several Tendency groups. In our comments m the SWP, we proposed a discussion of how to handle Serbian nationalism and pro-Serbian Stalinist groups, in particular by making slogans around Albanian refugees, such as "money for refugees, not for war and exposing NATOs hypocrisy. l he SWP comrades dismissed this as an "irrelevance." But in the ISOs experience, handling the issue of Serbian nationalism correctly was key to breaking out of the isolation of the initial anti-war protests.
The ISOs anti-war work. The SWP comrades link their disagreements with us about the war into a sweeping indictment of our anti-war work, alleging that the ISO responded in an abstract and hesitant way" and "your organization did not emerge from the war stronger and more confident" as the SWP letter of February 23 put it. In reality, the ISO pulled together as broad an opposition as possible, despite the fact that most liberal and left-wing opponents of the 1991 Gulf War supported NATO. We organized the first teach-ins and meetings in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and in several other cities around the country, with panelists that included people like Z Magazine editor Michael Albert and Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi. Besides building citywide protests, we organized demos on the campuses, where we launched broad anti-war groups. We systematically prevented sectarians from making support for Kosovar self-determinationor support for Serbiaa condition of participating in anti-war committees.
Two more points need to be added here. First the charge that "the International Socialist Review special issue came out relatively late in the war," argued in the letter of February 20, is simply wrong. In fact, the bombing began March 24, and the ISR appeared on April 15. The ISOs Socialist Worker, then a 12-page publication, produced two special 16-page anti-war issues and an anti-war poster before the appearance of the ISR. The ISO also produced several anti-war bulletins in ISO Notes instructing members on taking the steps toward building the broadest possible protests against the war. If publication dates are to be taken as a serious measure of anti-war activity, we must note that the April 1999 issue of Socialist Review contained little coverage of the war More substantial coverage was delayed until the regular May issue. International Socialism Journal articles on the war appeared after the war was over. Finallyjust for the recordcomrades all over the U.S. downloaded and used the SWPs Stop the War pamphlet immediately upon its publication.
Second is the question of whether the ISOs anti-war work differed in character in the San Francisco Bay Area. As our Bay Area organizer, Todd C., notes in response to your February 20 letter, "In the letter of February 20, the SWP comrades make various charges about our anti-war work. Unfortunately, their accusations are wrong on every point...I speak for the entire Bay Area district when I say that you have no idea what you are talking about when it comes to your critique of our anti-war work, which would not have been possible without the political guidance and agitational and theoretical tools provided for us by our Steering Committee. Lastly, we also want to disabuse you of the notion that the ISO is not "stronger and more confident" as the result of our anti-war work. Ask any member (new or old) and you will find you are (we are very happy to say) dead wrong " We attach Todds entire statement refuting "Bay Area exceptionalism" for further detail.
Did the ISO "fail the test of Seattle?"
The February letter from the British SWP accuses the ISO leadership of having "failed the test of Seattle." For the record, we are not sure when or why leaders of our Tendency have elevated the importance of this single demonstration to the political equivalent of an Imperialist war We in the ISO have viewed Seattle as an expression of, and reinforcement of, a broad political awakening and a revival of reformist ideas that hold tremendous possibilities for the ISO.
What we think of the Seattle demonstration and what it represented has been discussed at length in Socialist Worker, the ISR, at our National Committee meetingand in Sharon Smiths January column published in Socialist Review without revision. In fact, Lee Sustar from our steering committee flew to Seattle for the entire week of the WTO protests (and was arrested there). His first-hand account is printed in the first post-Seattle issue of Socialist Worker in Britain. Whats more, journalists from British Socialist Worker then solicited a letter from Sustar that was prominently placed in a later issue. We also note that Comrade Chris Harman of the SWP CC briefly discussed Seattle with Lee by telephone, and made no criticisms of the ISOs intervention. We assume that Comrade Harman was well aware of our role there from Comrade Charlie Kimber, who was in Seattle to cover the protest for British Socialist Worker.
The criticism of our intervention in Seattle falls into two categories: First, there is the question of what we didor more precisely what we allegedly failed to doaround the Seattle demonstration. Second, having asserted that the intervention was sub-par, the SWP letters draw the conclusion that we are blind to the effects of the Seattle demonstration and the underlying change in consciousness that it reflected. These assertions are then confirmed by (mis)quoting the ISO Notes to the effect that we are "scaling back" our intervention in the protest against the World Bank on April 16. Conclusion: therefore the ISO doesnt understand the "anti-capitalist mood" and will further isolate itself from the developing post-Seattle left.
The argument doesnt hold together even if its assumptions were accepted. There is no reason why a small turnout to Seattle makes (or made) it difficult for us to see how significant the event waswhich, to repeat ourselves, is made clear in all of our publications since November 30. Moreover, there is no reason why the "anti-capitalist" mood that the SWP refers to is necessarily limited to issues around trade, the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF. But more on that below. Let us first dispense with those assertions, which fall into the category of "red herrings," or diversions.
Our turnout at the Seattle demonstration was small, not by some abstract measureor to be perfectly honest, by the standards set for us in Londonbut small by the ISOs own standards and strength today. We ordinarily mobilize a much larger number for virtually any national demonstrationwhether or not we think that the demonstration is going to be "a turning point." Thus, for example, we mobilized nationally for a Mumia demo in Philadelphia in April 1999 even though it was organized by some of the most sectarian left groups in the country, was completely unrealistic in its slogan and expectations ("millions for Mumia") and therefore inevitably demoralizing for those in attendance. This doesnt mean that we refused to have anything to do with the demo. \ We not only attended the march, we were part of the leadership body that nominally ran it. We also made sure to politically prepare our members for what was likely to happen in Philadelphia so that we could cut against the confusion and pessimism which was especially likely to affect those not already on the left. Nevertheless, we mobilized comrades from around the Northeast and Midwest to be there via bus and car.
The point here is simple. The idea that we were happy with our turnout in Seattle, or that we underplayed the protest is just wrong. Who wouldnt want to have been there given what took place? It is a bit like having had a small turnout for the famous poll tax riot in Londons Trafalgar Square. We say "a bit like" because while we may have wanted to send more people, this was not a real possibility. To make the distances clear to comrades, the distance between Seattle and Chicago is greater than the distance between London and Moscow. The Bay Area, referred to in the letter as the "closest district," is almost as far from Seattle as London is from Vienna. Before it is asserted that we are passive and not willing to travel, 10 days before the WTO protest, some 200 ISO members took part in the 12,000-strong School of the Americas demonstration in Georgia, which was possible because the base of the ISOs membership is in the Northeast and Midwest.
Far from "not taking [the anti-WTO protest] seriously," the Seattle ISO branch was involved for months in building for the event on the college campuses and within the members unions. As we noted in our previous letter, our membership numbers reflect a long-standing geographical unevenness of the ISOthe obvious result of building a small organization in a country which measures 3,000 miles wide and 1,500 miles deep. Mobilizing larger numbers of people from the nearest district in San Francisco (800 miles away) would not have had a qualitative impact on our intervention, given the large size of the demonstration. Furthermore, the Seattle demonstration was primarily regional in naturethe Steelworkers were the only union to bring in large numbers from outside the Pacific Northwest states. The students and young people who attended were overwhelmingly from that region. The Canadian comrades relatively larger presence reflects the fact that they have more members in the area. Neither the Canadian IS nor the ISO mobilized its membership from outside the region.
Second. the numbers dont tell the full story of the ISOs intervention in Seattle and related events. Comrades sold 300 copies of Socialist Worker on the November 30 march. And the December I demonstration of union members and students would have been broken up by police had it not been for ISO comrades efforts to regroup it and lead it to the local AFL-CIO headquarters, where the single biggest mass arrest of the week took place (including a leading ISO branch activist and an ISO Steering Committee member). Comrades organized two campus speak-outs and initiated the labor-community solidarity demonstrations that took place in the following daysthe only official labor protests called in opposition to police violence.
If we were to adopt the method being used against the ISO nowof judging an organizations response to Seattle simply by numbers on demoswe would have to ask why the SWP Party Notes of December 6, 1999 does not mention the number of SWP members on the November 30 protests in Londoneven though SWP Party Notes of November 16 reads:
"Each branch has to build the NUS demonstration against fees on Thursday 25 November and protests against capitalism on Tuesday 30 November to coincide with the Seattle Summit.
We have identified a strong anti-capitalist mood. Both these protests give us a chance to tap into itparticularly in the colleges."
Nor could we help but wonder why a "mobilization" of the SWP membership for the March 4 Mumia Abu Jamal united front demonstration drew only 1.000 in London, where the Partys membership in the city presumably numbers at least 4,000. We are not passing judgement on the SWP based on those numbers. But we wonder why the SWP comrades use such criteria to pass judgement on the ISO,
Moreover, Comrades Cliff and Callinicos question our enthusiasm over Seattle. We note simply that if we were to judgeas they dofrom a selective quote from the ISO Notes, the SWPs position on Seattle as reported in Party Notes December 6, 1999 gives one reason to pause:
"Across the world millions will draw inspiration from this. In France over 100,000 people took part in demonstrations against the WTO..."
"The SWP was alone on the left in relating to this anti-capitalist mood. The impact of the protests organized last week [what protests is not mentioned] far exceeds their size.
"That was also true of the Miss World protest. Its size, 100 women mainly brought by us, was outweighed by the coverage it got.
"Across Britain & the world people were watching Seattle & wishing they could be there. Similarly with the Miss World protest."
Is "the great Seattle demonstration" referred to in the "After Seattle" document for the SWP National Meeting really to be equated to a protest of 100 at the Miss World contest? The SWP comrades may well reply that we are taking the quote out of context. Yet this is exactly the method employed in the SWP letters to the ISO, as opposed to a serious discussion of our actual views.
The ISOs building for April 16
Indeed, we are puzzled as to why the SWP letters take issue with the ISOs supposed "scaling back" for the April 16 demonstration. First of all, the ISO Notes of January 16 begin with the heading, "Build for the April 16 protest against the IMF/World Bank meeting in Washington, D.C.," and continue, "we should do everything we can to build this event, which is being built, like the anti-WTO protest, against corporate greed." And as noted above, a simple call to our national office would have made it clear that the "scaling back" meant only that the ISOs national perspective would include building both for April 16 and for a national death penalty moratorium. The ISO Notes of Feb. 11, 2000 makes this perfectly clear:
But the ISO must shift its perspective nationally in the face of this new movement, to make a much higher priority of anti-death penalty work. This means, by necessity, scaling back somewhat on building for the April 16th IMF/World Bank demonstration in Washington, DC. This doesnt mean we are abandoning this workbigger districts and campuses planning buses or vans should continue to do sobut it means, especially for smaller branches with fewer resources, making a choice to prioritize building for a moratorium on the death penalty.
As time goes on, we will be able to clarify further what steps to take. [Emphasis added].
The following week, the ISO Notes of February 17sent out three days before the first SWP letter critical of our planned interventionre-emphasized the importance of the April 16 demonstration:
Comrades involved in the Washington, DC host committee for the IMF/World Bank protest report a sharp increase in labor union participation over the last few weeks. Meanwhile, the Steelworkers union has announced it will send 1,500 union members to the protest, This participation is welcome news, since it offsets the dominance of hard-core anarchists within the host committeeand also makes it much more likely that the demonstration itself will be a much broader show of force. And most importantly. of course, it will place class politics front and center at the April 16 protest.
"We will attempt to find out more information about which unions are mobilizing and how (there has been no grass-roots organizing as of yet).
But comrades who are in unions in the East Coast or the Midwest should ask their own union locals or the local labor federation to organize a bus.
We stress here that these ISO Notes were sent to the International Tendency organizer, Comrade Callinicos, as usual. Therefore, Comrade Callinicos knew that we have repeatedly emphasized the importance of our mobilization plans for April 16well before the letter was sent. More recently, Robert Naiman, a leading member of 50 Years is Enough and a main organizer of the April 16 protests, was a speaker at the opening panel at the ISO East Coast Regional Socialist Conference March 18. Other speakers on the panel included Jerry Dominguez, a UNITE organizer involved in cross border solidarity, Amy Goodman, the U.S.s leading radical radio journalist, and Ahmed Shawki of the ISO. The SWP comrades easily could have found out this additional information by contacting our national office, but chose not to do so.
Moreover, our decision to participate in building a movement for a moratorium on the death penalty has been shown to be the right one. At the initiative of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, leading death penalty opponents and organizationsincluding Jesse Jackson, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Sr., Actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, Amnesty International leader Sam Jordan, and Sen. Russell Feingoldhave agreed to join forces to campaign around an open letter to Clinton and Congress calling for a death penalty moratorium. Bianca Jagger, head of Amnesty Internationals anti death penalty work, has also signed on, as have several former Death Row inmates. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty has organized rallies and demonstrations across the U.S. over the last two monthsincluding a protest in Austin, Texas (where there is an ISO branch of 20 members), in which 350 Campaigners surrounded George W. Bushs Governors Mansion. On national television, Bushs primary election victory speech was interrupted by chanting Campaigners.
It is difficult to understand why SWP comrades apparently take issue with the ISOs decision to step up activity around the death penalty. Indeed, the Central Committee resolution passed at the SWP national meeting January 16 lists a number of issues and stresses the need for flexibility to relate to all of them:
"Our periphery expects us to be active on each and every one of these issues. If they are not they will look elsewhere. This will require us to break from a one issue a month approach to one of building simultaneously round a number of issues or disputes. "
The SWP Party Notes, dated the following day, makes the same point: "In a situation like this, with so much happening, it is inevitable we will have to shift." The ISOs move to include the death penalty moratorium in its winter/spring perspective was just such a "shift." The question we are left with is, why is the ISO being accused and found guilty of being "isolated"sectarianwithout even a cursory investigation of the facts?
The ISOs perspectives
After making the false charges described above about the character of our work, the letter from the SWP leadership of February 23 urges us to make available to our membership a (nonexistent) document critical of the perspective of the SWP leadershipa document that we supposedly distributed at our February National Committee meeting. The accusatory method used by the SWP comrades certainly does not contribute to the "frank and open debate" called for in the letter. But, as always, we are certainly willing to state our perspectives, which have been discussed at length in documents at our 1999 Convention, before the International Tendency meetingand which the now-alarmed SWP comrades did not publicly criticize at the time. And as stated above, our National Committee documents were all made available to our members and to the Tendency international organizer as soon as they appeared.
The one disagreement that did surface in a separate meeting between the ISO representatives and the SWP Central Committee was what one SWP CC comrade referred to as the "theory of the 1930s in slow motion." Comrade Ahmed Shawki did in fact voice disagreement with the usefulness of this parallel in his presentation at the ISO Convention last October, during a discussion of how the ISOs perspective developed over the course of the 1990s. This was part of a discussion that, yes, looked back self-critically in assessing the ISOs own perspective over the last decade.
Our convention document, "Assessing the 1990s," stressed again "the radical political break from the politics of the 1980s" following the collapse of Stalinism and the 1991 Gulf Warand the ISOs "outward, interventionist approach to tap the wider audience for genuine socialist ideas." In the early 1990s the ISO tripled in size, and given the lingering effects of the world recession and the resulting political instability, we anticipated a similar rate of growth and a rise in the level of class struggle. It was during this period that we, like the rest of the Tendency, used the analogy that the 1990s were like the "1930s in slow motion"with sharp class polarization, crises of mainstream political parties and, in Europe, the electoral gains of Nazi and far-right parties.
In the U.S., Clinton was able to enjoy a honeymoon from voters tired of 12 years of a Republican White House. When people were disillusioned after Clintons failure to deliver on promises of health care and other reforms, the Republicans were able to take Congress in 1994 thanks to a very low voter turnout of the workers who had voted for Clinton two years earlier. This shocked and demoralized many who had great expectations of a Clinton White House delivering reforms, and the ISO found its rate of growth slowed. It was quite easy to recruit new members, but a much greater challenge to successfully integrate them into ISO branches.
Many of those around us thought that the right was on the rise, pointing to the Christian right and the growth of militias, etc. However, we argued against the conventional wisdom that this signaled a return to 1980s-style Republican success. Indeed, Republican leader Newt Gingrich was soon the most unpopular politician in the U.S.. and was finally driven from office in 1998 amid the Clinton impeachment debacle. This showed that we were right and that conservatives were out of touch with the popular mood.
By posing as the lesser evil to the Republicans, Clinton was able to rebuild his popularity and win reelection in 1996and remains popular today. Key to this has been the continued economic recovery. Of course, U.S. mainstream commentators took the collapse of liberalism and the low level of workers struggle as evidence of "contentment," fueled by the economic recovery, and many on the liberal left agreed.
The ISO, however, took a very different view. We stressed that the boom was based on an enormous class polarization, which fueled the continued development of working class consciousness on a scale unseen in the U.S. in decadesand far to the left of mainstream politics. In the course of the 1990s we effectively dropped the analogy, "the 1930s in slow motion" as we responded to the changing political situation. This was a fine-tuning of our perspective, one which SWP comrades were well aware ofand not by any means a return to the "downturn" perspective of the 1980s.
Of course, the state of the U.S. economy marks the biggest difference between the 1930s and today. In the 1930s, one quarter of the U.S. working class was unemployed. Today in the U.S., unemployment stands at record lows. Between 1929 and 1932, the U.S. economy contracted by 30 percent. It did not recover until the Second World War buildup. In February 2000, the U.S. economy broke its previous record for the longest continuous expansion. Throughout the U.S. boom, we have continuously stressed its contradictions, the fact that the gap between rich and poor has expanded, and the fact that the workforce is working harder for less, and that large sections of the population have seen no improvement in their living standards at all. (See, for example, Joel Geier and Ahmed Shawkis "Contradictions of the American Boom," ISR 3; and Joel Geiers "Can the U.S. Escape the Global Crisis?" in ISR 6).
Despite this, U.S. capitalism has recovered from the early 1990s recession. We note that Chris Harmans article "Paradigm Lost" in Socialist Review (February 2000) makes many of the same points about the American boom that we have over the last several years. After the 1998 financial crash we expected economic crisis to spread to the U.S. within a few months. Instead, the boom acceleratedeven if the methods used to prolong it will exacerbate a future recession.
The fact of continued economic growth has affected the pace of political developments in the U.S. Signs of the "1930s in slow motion," like bourgeois political instability and the growth of the far right, receded in the late 1990s. After a period of instabilitywhen Ross Perot, a third party crackpot, could win 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 presidential electionthe two major parties have reestablished their hold on official politics. The far right (from abortion clinic bombers to the KKK) has been further marginalized in U.S. politics. If we have moved away from using the "1930s in slow motion" formulation, its because it didnt provide a guide for us to building in the late 1990s. Rather, we maintained our perspective for growth (while facing up to the reality that integration of new members was a major challenge given the low level of struggle) and shifted our focus to how all the benefits of the "miracle economy" went to the bossesthat it was high time that workers got their share of record profits or CEO pay.
Class consciousness hasnt yet found expression in widespread struggle. The number of strikes in 1999 was the lowest in more than 50 years. Indeed, the 1990s was characterized by a sharp rise in the level of class consciousness coupled with a very low level of class struggle, in a period of sustained economic recovery. The 1930s in the US, in contrast, was a period during which both the level of class consciousness and class struggle rose sharply, during a period of economic depression. No matter how much all of us would wish the pace of events to be faster, and the level of struggle higher, we cant leap beyond the objective conditions we face. To be sure, this situation could change suddenly. If the New York transit workers had defied vicious anti-strike injunctions and laws just days after Seattle, it could have sparked a major confrontation between labor and employers. Yet they didnt have the confidence and organization to do so.
When ISO representatives raised these points about the boom at past international meetings we were accused of having a "pessimistic" outlook. We dont believe that looking reality in the face should be characterized in this way. Moreover, our assessment of the period has never led us to downplay the degree to which new peopleeither workers or studentscan be won to socialist ideas. Indeed, the opposite is the case. As we have said many times, the period of the American boom has been one of a "political awakening" among large sections of the U.S. population. The fine-tuning of our perspective has positioned us to relate to this sentiment and to build our organization within it.
As we noted in our convention document on the 1990s, another reason the level of opposition was so low was the rapid disappearance of the U.S. far left after the collapse of Stalinism in 1989. For example, many of the activists who formed the core of the Central America solidarity movement, the anti-apartheid movement and even the anti-Gulf War movement became virtually inactive. Many of them supported the NATO war in the Balkans. Meanwhile the broad lefts fealty to Bill Clinton prevented even a liberal opposition from developing against his attacks on the working class as the 1990s progressed. This virtual collapse of the left made it much more difficult for the ISO to find allies when we attempted to initiate activity against measures like welfare cuts or criminal injustice. We did not abandon the search for allies (we were able to build a broad opposition to the Iraq sanctions in 1999, which included Noam Chomsky), but at times, as during last years NATO war, our search was less successful than we would have hoped or expected.
None of this is to argue for "American exceptionalism." The U.S. is not a fundamentally different form of societymerely one without a social democratic party. As we noted in our 1999 Convention document, "Assessing the 1990s," there is a clear parallel between the U.S. and Western Europe, even though the levels of struggle in countries like Italy, Germany and especially, France, were much higher in the mid-1990s than in the U.S. Yet even in France, where there was a public sector general strike in 1995, and a revival of working class combativity, there remains "an uneasy standoff between employers and the labor movement," as Jim Wolfreys put it in Socialist Review (March 2000).
And as Alex Callinicos notes in International Socialism 85, there are important differences between European countries:
"The main exception to the pattern was, of course, Britain. The defeats suffered by British workers during the 1980s had been much more severe than in any other major European country. However bitter they might have felt, rank and file workers lacked the confidence to act independently, while a deeply demoralized trade union leadership did everything it could to prevent strike action taking place in the desperate hope that the election of a Labour government would allow it to win the concession for which it was unwilling to fight. "[p. 10]
Although workers in Britain expressed their opposition at the ballot box in 1997 with a massive Labour landslide, the level of struggle remains low. Today, Clintons policies are the model for British Prime Minister Blair and the social democratic and labor parties in office in most of Europe, which are pushing many of the same pro-market policies as their predecessors. As Lindsey German put it in International Socialism 82 in 1999:
"The defeats of the 1980s still mark the working class movement and still mean that employers are relatively confident, and organized workers often feel demoralized and unable to really bring about change. Blair has found better friends than he has deserved among the trade union leaders, who have repeatedly argued that nothing can be done to alter policy apart from quiet behind the scenes lobbying."
This assessment closely parallels our own analysis of the balance of class forces in the U.S. in the 1990sand shows the importance of making a specific assessment of the balance of class forces and political situation in particular countries, within the context of a common understanding of the political period. The fact that the ISO leadership does not find useful a particular metaphor, such as the comparison with the 1930s, does not in any way detract from our thoroughgoing agreement with the fundamental nature of the current period as accepted by our entire Tendency after the fall of Stalinism. We again stress that fine-tuning our perspectives is in no way a return to the 1980s.
Membership growth and cadre development in the ISO
We are not in disagreement with the fundamental perspective for building our organizations that is shared by the rest of the Tendency. On the contrary, we were able to recruit and undertake initiatives on a variety of fronts that we could have only dreamed about in the 1980s. Moreover, recruitment continued at levels far beyond that of the 1980s throughout the 1990s.
Nevertheless, we had to face up to the real problems that existed during the second half of the decade. Internally, this meant overcoming problems of retaining members, given the low level of struggle and the political inexperience of new recruitsnot to mention the low level of politics in U.S. society as a whole. We found it essential to undertake a systematic effort to develop a layer of cadre who could provide a strong, independent leadership at the branch levela basic task of any revolutionary socialist organization, especially in a country the size of the U.S. We do not counterpose reading books to activitynor do we place "political development" as a higher priority than activity. As we will show below, the ISO is a very active, outward organization, one that throughout the 1990s has been involved in campaigns against racism, police brutality, supporting labor struggles, and so on. This allowed us to begin to deepen our connection with workers while continuing to build on the college campuses. But to undertake such work and to build strong ISO branches, we needed to develop a cadreone with a basic understanding of Marxism. This means encouraging members to readbooks such as How Marxism Works, Lenin: Building the Party and eventually, the Marxist classics. We dont counterpose cadre development to activity. Rather, we stress that cadre must be able to lead outside the organization as well as inside. Cadre development is an ongoing process, combining both activity and reading.
Throughout the 1990s we maintained a policy of open recruitment and stressed the importance of growth. We do, however, require branches to update their membership lists every few months. If someone signed an ISO membership card several months earlier, but the branch has been unable to win him/her to paying dues, selling Socialist Worker or active involvement in the branch at some level, we do not continue to count that individual as a member. We do continue to try to win that individual to the ISO, but we would be dishonest if we claimed him/her to be a member of the ISO. If we approached this issue differently, and claimed all card signers for the next twelve months as ISO members, the ISO could easily claim 2-3,000 members today. But to do so would grossly exaggerate the size and influence of the ISO. And it would also seriously disorientand demoralizebranch activists who have faced one frustration after another in trying to chase all of them down. We believe that there should be a clear relationship between branch membership lists and those who participate in the life of the branch. If most of those listed as members are never around, the atmosphere will be passive and unconfident, no matter how engaged the active membership is. Counting what is really a periphery as members effectively avoids the work and political arguments needed to turn those who sign cards into integrated, active members.
We note that SWP comrades face this same problemthe Party Notes argued on January 31, 2000 that SWP comrades should no longer distinguish between "core and peripheral members" because "these people hate the system as much as we do." While this may be true, we do not consider this to be the appropriate measure of membership of a revolutionary socialist organization. Similarly, Party Notes has repeatedly stressed throughout the autumn and winter that comrades must make sure that "every member gets Socialist Worker each week." (See, for example, Party Notes dated September 27, 1999.) We believe that this is too passive a definition of membership. The goal is to convince all members of the need to sell the paper, not merely to receive it. Some ISO members, most of them workers, cant regularly attend meetings, but pay dues and sell SW at work. After a certain period of time, those who are not convinced to sell SW arent actually members. This is not sectarian or dismissivethe goal is always to win them, even if they are dropped from the membership list. There must be a clear distinction between members and supporters. We believe this to be consistent with the definition of membership in the revolutionary socialist tradition.
Furthermore, we take note that the SWP CC resolution approved at the National Meeting in January stressed the importance of branch meetings and cadre: Far from an increase in activity and in our audience diminishing our emphasis on systematic Branch organization it makes it even more vital. Branch meetings are key to training a new Marxist cadre."
To be sure, the process of integrating new members and developing cadre will be much easier and faster as the level of struggle picks up. And, even in the last few months, as the level of struggle in the U.S. as begun to rise somewhat, so has the ISOs membership. But we believe that it is the relative strength of the ISOs branches (which is reflective of the strength of its cadre) that is making it easier to grow now than it would have been had we not shifted the emphasis of our perspective over the last several years.
Seattle and the revival of reformism
The letter of February 23 states that "we find it bizarre that Seattle should have galvanized and inspired the entire Tendency, along with millions of others in the U.S. and around the worldwith the exception of our American sister organization." We are stunned that the SWP comrades give not a shred of evidence to support such a sweeping denunciation of the ISO. The most cursory reading of our publications, documents and our work show the absurdity of this statement. Our February 2000 National Committee Organizational Perspectives document argued that the Seattle protest was a crucial confirmation that mass consciousness had moved to the left:
The large turnout to the WTO protest was both a result of the shift leftward in mass consciousness over the last year, and in turn has furthered that shift leftward. Disgust with corporate greed predated the protestit has risen commensurate with class-consciousness over the last decade. But the protest showed the world how widespread this disgust has grown, and provided an example of how to fight back.
But the Seattle protest had its most profound and lasting influence upon activists. Most importantly, it showed the possibility for unity among broad layers of activists, and the power of numbers in fighting back. It legitimized the very idea of mass demonstrationssomething liberals had virtually abandoned throughout the majority of Clintons presidency. The sight of tens of thousands of activists standing up to the Seattle police injected a new sense of confidence into activists at all levelsfrom the newest to the most seasoned veterans, among students and within the labor movement. The idea of standing to corporate greed inspired the idea of more such actions in the aftermath of the WTOthe most important being the April 16th demonstration against the World Bank/IMF meeting in Washington, DC.
Far from being "uninspired" by Seattle, we noted in our Organizational Perspectives document for the February National Committee:
...the legitimacy of both reformism and soft anarchism have been strengthened in the aftermath of Seattleagain, most significantly among activists. This is a very positive developmentit is a good thing for revolutionary socialists when a wider layer of people become committed to changing the system, even if the hold of competing ideas is strengthened in the first instance. Within discussions of how to fight back and how to best to build a movement, socialists can put forward strategies and argumentsmany of which can be tested in practice.
We do wonder, however, whether it isnt an exaggeration to state, as John Rees does in the January 2000 issue of Socialist Review,
"Above all the Battle of Seattle shows that the anti-capitalist mood is not something ephemeral, not something to be dismissed as a passing discontent because it has not yet reversed every defeat of the 1980s. The anti-capitalist mood is a profound shift in working-class consciousness, as real as a strike wave or a mass demonstration."
Our assessment is different. The leftward shift in working-class consciousness in the U.S. predates Seattle by several years. It emerged in the course of the escalation of the employers offensive in the 1990s. These included the bitter defeats of Caterpillar workers in two separate strikestogether lasting more than two yearsthe two-and-a-half year Staley lockout in Decatur, Illinois, and the Bridgestone/Firestone strike. The UPS strike of 1997 managed to break the pattern of total defeat when it forced the company to back downand its widespread popularity highlighted the growth of working-class consciousness. Yet the company refused to abide by the contract for the next two-and-a-half years, while the federal government ousted the Teamsters union president who led the strike. The 1998 GM strike over the threatened closure of two parts plants had a similar dynamic. The strike forced the company to back down in the short term, but a year later GM sold off the entire parts division with no opposition from the union.
To be sure, there have been some important strike victories in the second half of the 1990s, such as those at Bell Atlantic and by transit workers in San Francisco and Philadelphia. This highlights the major difference of the 1990s with the downturn of the 1980s. "Strike" no longer automatically means "defeat." Yet none of the major defeats of the 1980s have been reversed. Union leaders continue to push "partnership" with employers. Union density and membership only just stopped declining over the past two years despite the lowest unemployment rates in 30 years. Even the best contract settlements, such as that at Boeing or in auto, have failed even to slow the hemorrhaging of union jobs. Moreover, several long strikes have been allowed to go down to defeat by mass scabbing. Strikers were willing to fight heroically for months on end, but didnt have the confidence to challenge union leaders, the cops and courts. Strikes for 1999 were the lowest since records were first kept in 1947.
The recent Boeing engineers strike victory highlights the contradiction of the period. On the one hand, it marks a big step forward, reflecting the enormous growth of class consciousness even among workers were the union tradition is weakest. Yet the machinistsone of the strongest groups of U.S. workerscrossed the engineers picket lines from day one of the strike, even though Boeing is in the process of laying off tens of thousands of them. The strike of course takes place in Seattle, scene of the anti-WTO march, at which about 1,000 Boeing machinists served as marshals. Machinist leaders and other union officials gave militant speeches at the rally that played to workers bitterness and anger. But rank-and-tile workers havent yet developed the confidenceand organizationto make union leaders match words with action. Pranav Jani, an ISO comrade in Providence, makes a similar point in his response to the letters from the British SWP:
"Ultimately, the SWPs assessment of the ISOs "failure" at Seattle rests on an overblown idea of what Seattle was, a turning point in the fight against international capital (letter. Feb. 20, 2000). The letter also approvingly quotes a German publications characterization of Seattle as the beginning of a war against capitalism. Such a position fails to explain, however, why the same unions that mobilized workers for Seattle are doing little to combat oppressive contracts against corporations on a day-to-day basis. If the war has begun, implying a decisive shift in working-class consciousness, why arent we seeing more militancy from the Steelworkers and the Machinists for better wages? Where are the rank-and-file organizations, the products and mid-wives of such a war, that could push unions towards such struggles? The SWP acts as if the objective factors have changed before the subjective means through which that war could be waged have even developed." (See attached letter).
Moreover, we have to question what Comrade Rees means by saying that a shift in consciousness is "as real as" a strike wave. If he means that the two are equivalent, we must disagree. The dilemma of the current period faced by revolutionary socialists in both the U.S. and Britain has been precisely that the high level of class consciousness has not been matched by a high level of class struggle. The SWP document, "After Seattle" makes a similar point:
[W]e understand that the organized working class isnt one pressure group among others, but the decisive agent of social change. This doesnt mean in an abstract syndicalist way counterposing strikes to street protests -particularly in a country like Britain where the level of economic class struggle is still so low. Rather it means arguing from a strategic point of view with those influenced by the anti-capitalist mood that only the organized working class can transform society, and that therefore any effective movement for change must base itself on that class.
None of this is to downplay the importance of Seattlerather we need to be as clear as possible of its significance. The Seattle demonstration is the biggest expression yet of the revival of protest and the beginnings of a radicalization in the U.S., but its not the only one. It has expressed itself in renewed activism on several frontsand holds out tremendous opportunities for socialists. Examples of this include the School of the Americas demonstration mentioned above, the 46,000-strong South Carolina protest against the Confederate flag in January, the demonstration of 10,000 for affirmative action in Florida, continued protests over police violence in New York, and the big transit workers demonstrations in New York City. Furthermore, an increase in activity against the death penalty was key in forcing a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois. Indeed, a reformist mood is at last being reflected in mainstream politicsalthough of course in a dim and distorted way. Bradleys and Gores proposals for health care reform, numerous liberal proposals made during Clintons 2000 State of the Union address and even the Republican McCains call for campaign finance reform highlight this shift. More than 1,000 college students traveled to New Hampshire to campaign for Bradley, sleeping in churches and knocking on doorsalso a reflection of this mood.
It should be noted that much of the activity described above was organized by people who know relatively little about Seattle and the issues around it, other than the vicious police crackdown that took place. They are reacting to a series of issuessuch as racism, opposition to U.S. imperialism, and the criminal justice system, as well as the outrage against corporate greed the fueled the WTO protests. That is why we characterize mass consciousness both before and after Seattle as reformist, rather than as an "anti-capitalist mood," as British comrades have done. To be sure, a considerable number of Seattle protesters were consciously anti-capitalist, especially the organized anarchists and left environmentalists. But for most workers and young people, it was their first protest and first entry into left politicsand the political level is still low. Many students who hold soft anarchist ideas and who were inspired by Seattle were among the 1,000 student volunteers who worked for Bill Bradleys New Hampshire campaign. Most of them will vote for Al Gore in the fall elections. And the Steelworkers, who were the backbone of the labor turnout in Seattle and are involved in the April 16 protests, also led the fight in the AFL-CIO for an early endorsement of Al Gore, who sold NAFTA and free trade for Clinton. Now theyre spearheading the anti-China protests for April 12, rather than the April 16 protests, which marks a step away from the internationalism displayed in Seattle. The AFL-CIO has to date declined to endorse the April 16 demo and is unlikely to do so, although a number of local unions will attend.
Thus we dont view Seattle and other struggles against globalization as the prism through which we view every other political question. First, such an approach overstates the degree to which protesters against the World Bank IMF, etc. are coming to revolutionary conclusions. Of course, somea minorityare drawing these conclusions. We have a responsibility to convince them to join our organization right away. But others come from traditions that are hostile to socialism (mainly anarchism), and many more are becoming radicalized without a clear ideological point of view. Secondand, more importantlyit underestimates the degree to which people fighting racism in South Carolina, marching against U.S. imperialism in Georgia, calling for a moratorium in Illinois, or fighting for wage and benefit increases at Boeing can be won to socialist politics. The key is the intervention of socialists and socialist politics.
We compare the situation today with that of 1992-93, when he experienced our most dramatic growth ever. Most of those new recruits voted for Clintonso we certainly dont dismiss the new audience simply because they want to vote for the Democrats. On the contrary. Todaydespite the minimal promises of Al Gorethere is a growing sense that something can and should be done to improve the lives of ordinary people, especially given the record profits, stock market boom and obscene displays of wealth. Clintons recent liberal turnendorsing the demands of the WTO protests for labor and environmental standards in world tradehas helped boost his popularity to 63 percent. (Even Gore has adopted the slogan, "join the fight!" and taken up the language of the AFL-CIO leadership). The cover of the January 2000 Progressive magazine on Seattle captured the mood on the U.S. left: "What Next?" The Democrats will be the initial beneficiaries of this reformist mood. This is not a surprise for us. In our 1999 Convention documents we quoted Trotskys article from Bookmarks Party and Class on this point:
Workers in general do not break easily with the organizations that have awakened them to conscious political life...Only gradually, only on the basis of their own experience through several stages can the broad layers or masses become convinced that a new leadership is firmer, more reliable, more loyal than the old.
Today we are engaging new activists around the April 16 protests as well as a variety of other issues. Many will join now, others after more arguments. The point of characterizing these developments as evidence of a revival of reformist ideas, rather than as an anti-capitalist mood, is to be able to relate to our audience in the most precise way that we can. We want to orient not just to the relatively small group of self-described radicals, but to wider groups of young people and workers who are just now becoming politically conscious but who can quickly be won to socialist politics. In fact, our biggest argument with those building for the April 16 protests is about making sure that organizing for the demonstration reaches as wide a layer of people as possibleand trying to convince them that they shouldnt cut themselves off from others who have not yet reached radical conclusions. And the seemingly most "radical" people arent necessarily our audience, as the SWP comrades well know. As the Party Notes of February 7, 2000 argues, "It is very important round the anti-capitalist mood that we get our audience right. The sorts of groups which provide a focus are Jubilee 2000, People & Planet & World Development Movement. The anarchists dont," and points out that the organized anarchists are "very sectarian. "
The ISOs work today
As we wrote in our second letter to the SWP leadership, we completely reject the notion that the ISO is sectarian and "isolated" on the left. In fact, the organization is more engaged with others on the left than it ever has beenboth at the national and branch levels. What follows are somebut not allmajor examples:
School of the Americas. As noted above, the ISO mobilized 200 members for the demonstration of 12,000 in Ft. Benning, Gal, to protest U.S. military training of Latin American death squads. ISO members worked with peace organizations, the Catholic left, student groups, held teach-ins on campuses, and worked with other groups to organize buses. (West Coast branches that were unable to make the trip organized teach-ins and speak-outs on the issue).
Marx in Soho play: Howard Zinn has endorsed, along with South End Press, a tour of the play, with proceeds going to the International Socialist Review. It has drawn hundreds of people in cities across the country, and will be featured at the upcoming Socialist Scholars Conference in New York City and Rethinking Marxism conference in Massachusetts. Zinn has attended several performances, introducing the play. He also agreed to allow our new book, Why You Should be a Socialist, by Alan Maass, to include Zinns afterword on Eugene Debs.
Publication of Iraq Under Siege and book tour: Two comrades, Anthony Arnove and Sharon Smith, have chapters in this book, along with Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Dennis Halliday, Howard Zinn and others. The book, edited by Arnove, will be the focus of a tour against the sanctions around the U.S. and the U.K. The book, which is favorably reviewed in the March 2000 issue of Socialist Review, grew out of a New York Times signature ad against the sanctions, which was initiated by ISO comrades and paid for out of a grassroots effort.
"No Sweats:" The ISO has been involved in the United Students Against Sweatshops since its beginning last year. ISO members make up two of the seven people in the organizations national leadership. Over the last month, ISO comrades have been key in launching several campus sit-ins.
Campaign to End the Death Penalty: As mentioned in our previous letter, the Campaign was central to building the protests that pressured the Illinois governor into declaring a moratorium on the death penalty in late January. Since then the Campaign has been at the center of the effort for a national moratorium described above. Jesse Jackson, Jr. is helping the Campaign to organize a summit of death penalty organizations to plan a national strategy for winning a moratorium, along with a national press conference. His father, Jesse Jackson, has written to the Campaign praising its work and offering to help in any way that he can. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin contacted the Campaign in his effort to prepare legislation for a ban on the death penalty for federal crimes.
These examples show clearly that the ISO is neither dismissive of nor sectarian toward other forces fighting for change. We never have been. Years of effort and of building as broadly as possible locally have enabled ISO comrades to have a much larger impact on a variety of fronts, particularly within the last year.
The SWP letter of February 20 makes an implicit criticism of the ISOs approach. It distinguishes between "many activities that are far from being a general challenge to the system," such as the British comrades experience in the Anti-Nazi League, and (wrongly) criticizes us for failing to mobilize for the April 16 demonstration that "targets world capitalism itself."
Two points should be made in response. First, the demonstration targets the IMF and World Bank as agents of that system, not the system itself. (Organized labors demands, for example, are for fair trade vs. free trade, "a seat at the table" at the WTO and to keep China out of the WTO.) Making this point doesnt make the demonstration any less important, but rather helps us to clarify its purpose.
Second, the SWP letter states that "ANL work is at the margin or our general party activity. At every level, from the Central Committee down to the local branches, we devote comparatively limited resources to the ANL as a campaign that concentrates on one particular aspect of the system." We find this argument curious, given Alex Callinicos comments in his 1994 article in International Socialism 63 on the SWPs rapid growth in the early 1990s:
"[T]he SWP and OSE [the Greek comrades] have combined this stance of principle with a thorough and unsectarian involvement in whatever struggles have taken place...Of special importance has been the SWPs role since 1991 in building the revived Anti-Nazi League as a mass anti fascist movement uniting almost all those committed to fighting racism. In this way the two pitfalls of the European leftreformist accommodation and purist sectarianismhave been avoided."
Our experience with the Campaign is similar. While certainly not a mass movement, Campaign activity has helped the ISO branch in Austin, Texas grow and was key in establishing new branches in Chapel Hill, N.C. and Atlanta. This growth in the Souththe most difficult place to build in the U.S.is critical to building a socialist alternative in the U.S. Given the role of racism in U.S. societyparticularly within the criminal justice systemthe ISOs focus on this area of work has helped us to begin to build a base in predominantly Black and Latino areas. We believe that this work has contributed substantially to the multiracial composition of the ISO and is helping the organization to build roots among Black working class people.
Comrade Jani of the ISO underscores this point in the letter quoted above:
"As Leninists, we see the movements for economic and political justice as united; the SWPs characterization of the anti-WTO protests as a general fight against capitalism itself artificially re-divides the economic and political. What we need to do is assess the different movements based on their composition, our strength, and our ability to grow from them. At this point, as I see it, the relationship we have developed with Black working-class activists and communities around the country by pushing around criminal justice issues is at least as important as our mobilization around April 16.
We find the reasoning in criticizing the priority placed by the ISO on fighting the death penalty to be quite shallow. The barbarism of the US injustice system exposes the barbaric nature of capitalism. That is why multiracial protests of thousands erupted after the police murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999 and again more recently with the cops acquittal in the case. Those who are outraged by the death penalty and police brutality are also potential socialistsas evidenced by the large number of ISO members who have been recruited through this activity. Revolutionaries are, after all, the best fighters for reforms.
The deterioration of relations between the ISO and the SWP
All the arguments and disagreements outlined above can and should be had in a comradely and frank manner. This is certainly the method of operation within our own organization. Therefore we take no responsibility for the factional situation that has developed between the SWP and the ISO. This compels us to take up the way in which relations between our groups have deteriorated.
As the SWP letter of February 20 notes, "there have been very long-standing and close connections between our two organizations." Indeedthree of the founding members of the ISO had been members of the SWP. This makes the character of the current debate all the more troubling. Rather than a comradely disagreement, we have been accused (again) of failing to oppose U.S. imperialism in a time of war and of leading the ISO into isolation. Moreover, we have been treated in an antagonistic and factional manner. We are referring here to the call by leading members of the SWP for a removal of a member of the ISO Steering Committee, as discussed in our previous letter.
The collaboration between the two organizations dates back to the very origins of the ISO. Yet today, the ISOwhich has no principled differences with the SWP (GB)faces charges whose aim is to show that we are out of step with the Tendency. Never in the past has the SWP attempted to intervene in the details of our organization. Our organization has its own elected leadership which sets the ISOs prioritieswhich are best decided in the U.S., not in London.
The SWP also needs to be held accountable for its actionsits mistakes as well as successes. And, since the SWP is the leading organization in the Tendency, its actions and the current state of our Tendency need to be discussed, openly and fraternally.
Second, any interventionespecially in another countryshould be carefully measured and take account of the views of the leadership involved. We are not suggesting that only the ISO leaderships view of every event in the U.S. must be accepted as gospel truth. But if we dont believe that of ourselves, why should we reflexively accept the British CCs views of political conditions in the U.S.? Still, any serious assessment of the ISO and its work needs to at least take into account what we think. As we have stated several times already, the International Tendency organizer made no such attempt to find out. As a result, the SWP letters presented us with a caricature of our views, organization and work. The letters then attack that caricature. And when we object, we are attacked again for not taking a serious and self-critical view of ourselves.
Third, it is difficult to understand how Comrades Cliff and Callinicos can arrive at the conclusions they do and then state: "We have great admiration for the way in which members of the ISO have built an independent socialist organization in the United States over the past 23 years, often in very difficult circumstances." This seems to be an alibi for an intervention that is totally unjustifiableone designed to raise grave doubts about the ISO and its leadership. Whats more, the letters denial of the earlier demand to remove a member of the ISO Steering Committee is clearly not meant for the ISO SC. We documented that attempt in our last letter.
The Balkans war was the most serious disagreement between our organizations in recent years, but not the only one. In 1998, Marxisms organizers scheduled a major public meeting with David Hilliard, a former leader of the Black Panther Party. Before Marxism, members of the ISOs Steering Committee objected to Marxism organizer John Rees about the featuring of Hilliard in this way. We pointed out that the Hilliard of 1998 was not the Hilliard of 1968. At the time, Hilliard was a campaign official for now-Oakland, Calif. Mayor Jerry Brown (former Democratic governor and former chairman of the California Democratic Party). We objected to passing off Hilliard as a revolutionary today ("30 Years a Revolutionary" as the British Socialist Worker centerspread on Hilliard put it) when he was clearly a Democratic Party operative. Not only did we object to the idea of presenting Hilliard as something that he was not, but we also believed featuring Hilliard in this way could have been used to discredit the Tendency. Our disagreement with the SWP over Hilliard was left unresolved. We and the SWP "agreed to disagree" on this question, despite the fact that the Hilliard issue would affect the ISO most of all.
The following year, a dispute similar to the one around Hilliard developed around our attitude to the writer Christopher Hitchens. Our international representative, Ahmed S. objected to Bookmarks hosting a book signing for Hitchens, who had made news in early 1999 for his collaboration with right wing Republicans during their impeachment witch hunt against Bill Clinton. Little did we know that when Hitchens appeared at Bookmarks, both of our organizations would be in the midst of building an anti-war movement against the NATO war. Hitchens knowingly took the opportunity of the book signing to argue for the war in the bookshop, as noted in a letter to British Socialist Worker. Rather than recognize the Hitchens debacle as a mistake, the SWP leadership apparently took our attitude to him (and possibly to Hilliard) as evidence of the ISOs "isolation" from other figures on the left.
We did not see these disputes as being of overriding importance and did not press the issue. Yet they contributed to a decline in our relations that manifested itself in the debate over our work in the Balkans war. Rather than argue through differences in a comradely fashion, the SWP comrades leveled unsubstantiated charges at us that compelled us to defend our record and in a meeting at Marxism 99. Now we find ourselves forced to do so again. Only this time the charge is far more seriousthat we "failed the test of war"and linked to a criticism of our intervention around the Seattle protests.
Certainly the Tendency has had plenty of sharp, polemical debates in the past without adopting the destructive methods the SWP is employing against the ISO. For example, the Greek comrades maintained a position of neutrality on the Iran/lraq War of the l980s after the U.S. intervened to back Iraq, unlike the rest of the Tendency. This was debatedhardat International Tendency meetings and at Marxism. At the Tendencys assessment of its work against the 1999 NATO war (held at Marxism), several Tendency organizations admitted that their political mistakes impaired their mobilizing against the war. These organizations (the French, German and Irish) credited sharp argument from the SWP for correctly reorienting them. As a Tendency, we should take pride in the fact that all of our organizations stood the test of NATOs war. Instead, Comrades Callinicos and Cliff have singled out the ISOwhich did not make the same mistakes as other Tendency organizationsnot only for criticism, but for allegedly "failing the test" of the war.
Given this degeneration of our fraternal relationsfor which we hold the SWP completely responsiblethe question we ponder is "Why?" Clearly, it has nothing to do with our real practice. On the contrary, we believe this shift in attitude toward the ISO began after Ahmed Shawki asked for a simple report on the state of the Tendencys international work. A faction fight had toppled the former leadership of the French organization. Tendency organizations for which the ISO had raised money in South Africa and Eastern Europe had ceased to exist. Comrade Shawki raised these questions because we believe that we are accountable to our members. ISO members had asked us about these fraternal organizations that we had raised money to help them grow. We felt we owed them an explanation.
At the time, the international organizer and the British CC rebuffed our requests. The Tendency wasnt an "International" and each of our organizations shouldnt be in the business of knowing the ins and outs of all of the other organizations in the Tendency, Ahmed was told. To be sure, the IS Tendency has always, and rightly, opposed the pretension of being an International, as the orthodox Trotskyists have purported to be. We also have opposed that kind of formalism. Nevertheless, we believe the Tendency should have some means to assess our international work. As it stands now, international work is completely cavalier and haphazard. Some groups get frequent phone calls with an official liaison from the SWP; we get none. And in our case at least, destructive and apolitical methods have replaced fraternal argument. This is no way to build an international Tendency with self-confident leaderships trained to think for themselves.
Cliff makes this point in his criticism of the Communist International (Volume 4: The Bolsheviks and World Revolution):
Protected by the aura of Bolshevism, the Comintern aparatchiks became increasingly high-handed in dealing with foreign communist parties. Instead of letting the leaders of the national sections learn by experience, they simply replaced them at every point of crisis, thus preventing the leaders and cadres from gaining real experience, and learning from their mistakes and successes. Instead, an obedient leadership was gradually selected, with no independence of judgement, self-reliance or capacity.
Leaving aside unstated aims, what is the real political purpose of the letters from Comrades Cliff and Callinicos in February? If we really are wrong in our assessment of Seattle, April 16, the "anti-capitalist mood, " the NATO war, and other issues raised, where is the evidence that would convince us that we are wrong? In place of a political argument, we get unfounded assertions ("your organization did not emerge from the war stronger and more confident") and pedantic trivia (ISO members didnt appear on a video).
We are proud members of the Tendency and concerned to strengthen its overall development. Our work on behalf of comrades in the international Tendency is beyond reproach. In the last seven years, the ISO has spearheaded three New York Review of Books signature ad campaigns for comrades facing political repression in Greece and South Korea. In these campaigns, we have mounted literally dozens of demonstrations at Greek and South Korean consulates and embassies in cities across the U.S. In 1995 and 1998, we picketed appearances of South Korean presidents Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung, receiving quite a bit of publicity for the comrades case. In 1993, Greek nationalists physically assaulted several of our members during a picket for our Greek comrades. In 1998, South Korean security police attacked our members during a demonstration at the Seattle consulate. We also sent ISO contingents to Canada for a protest against LePen in Montreal and for the Toronto General Strike.
The point here is not to toot our own horn. Of course we have difficulties. We wish we were larger and stronger. But we object to being forced to justifyagainour political record in detail to our sister organizationover disputes that do not involve principled disagreements.
We put a high priority on restoring comradely relations between the ISO and the SWP and throughout the Tendency. This will require a clearing of the air. But this can only be accomplished if all concerned are honest and forthright about the real issues involved.
Duncan Hallass 1977 letter from the IS (GB) to the IS (US) is for us a model of how frank and comradely political debate between fraternal revolutionary socialist organizations should take place. We therefore quote it here:
[T]hese are harsh criticisms, and designedly so. You may very well reply: And what are you? Are you then, a mass organization? No we are not. We would apply to ourselves much the same description that we apply to you but with these differences: we are somewhat further along the road than you are and we do not deceive ourselves (or seek to deceive others) about our real strength and influence.
The point is that a very high price has to be paid for exaggerated claims and exaggerated expectations. Lenin said: Tell the truth to the workers. It is if anything, even more important to tell the truth to the party members. A leadership which fails in this respect is piling up terrible trouble for the future.
The truth is, that we are still very small and weak in relation to the British workers movement. We know it and we tell the truth to our members. Because that is the only way a movement can be built on solid foundations. To build on the politics of bluff, chest beating and high-pressure salesmanship is to build the movement on sand.
As we stated at the outset of this document, we do not want a faction fight and have sought to avoid one. We write this document only because the extremely serious charges against us leave us no other choice. Thus we are putting forward the following proposals in the hopes of reversing this dangerous deterioration of relations between our two organizations.
1. We ask that you rescind in writing the unsubstantiated charges you have raised against the ISO.
2. We ask that the SWP stop all factionalism in relation to the ISO.
3. We request a full discussion of all issues raised in this document with the SWP Central Committee at Marxism 2000.
4. We seek a reorganization of International work on a more collaborative basis. Specifics are to be worked out in discussion among members groups of the Tendency and decided at the next International Tendency meeting.
Joe Allen, Paul DAmato, Katherine Dwyer, Joel Geier, Alan Maass, Marlene Martin, Bill Roberts, Elizabeth Schulte, Lance Selfa, Ahmed Shawki, Sharon Smith. Lee Sustar, David Whitehouse
ISO Steering Committee
Communication from Pranav J., Providence ISO, to ISO Steering Committee, March 10, 2000
Dear Steering Committee:
I am submitting this letter as a discussion and refutation of the political criticisms brought up by Tony Cliff and Alex Callinicos, leading members of the SWP, concerning the ISOs work against the NATO bombing of
Serbia in the spring of 1999 and in the anti-WTO protests in November-December 1999. Its the first time live heard of either debate, and the SWP intervention strings them together to draw a general picture of the ISO going in the wrong direction, failing the "tests" of Kosovo and Seattle. I think that the SWPs assessment, both of these interventions individually and the ISO generally, is incorrect reflecting a surprising failure to grasp the larger political context in the US.
This is especially clear in the implication that the ISO should consider its work against the death penalty as being "at the margin of general political activity," just as the SWP considers its Anti-Nazi League work presently (SWP letter, Feb 20, 2000). is precisely our ability to foresee the fight against the criminal justice system in the US as central to the fight against the capitalist system, and not as "a campaign that concentrates on one particular aspect of the system," that is winning important political gains for the ISO. If anything, given the US context and the composition of these emerging movements, our work against the death penalty and police brutality right now will draw more working-class militants towards us than the April 16 mobilization (for which, of course, we are mobilizing for nationally).
The SWP presents the ISO as becoming more and more isolated from the general mood of the post Seattle US (SWP letter, Feb 23 2000), flowing from both an overestimation of what Seattle represented and an underestimation of our death penalty work. This position is quite far from the truth. The next step for the ISO is not to "get involved" but to recruit from the growing periphery that is a result of our active involvement in the key fights of the day.
I realize that the debate has not been conducted on such clear political grounds. This is quite unfortunate. The proof of this is not in the emails attached to the public release of the letters but the SWPs insistence that it is severely criticizing the direction of the ISO yet not criticizing its leadership. If a Leninist organization in the US is isolating itself from "the growing anti-capitalist mood right across the advanced capitalist countries" (SWP letter, Feb 20 2000) and this can be detected from a series of failures, then it represents a severe failure in leadership as well (whether or not this implies changing the Steering Committee). The SWP should either call for a drastic shift in leadership in clear, political channels, or reconsider its thoughts on the direction of the ISO and on Seattle itself.
As far as the ISO is concerned, we should use whatever we can from the SWP letters to strengthen our own perspective on Seattle and the death penalty and our general direction, and not get derailed by them. We cant be naive about this faction fight, but we cant let it confuse us either.
It is absolutely ludicrous for the SWP to imply that the ISO was "side-tracked by questions such as Serbia nationalism, Albanian self-determination, or the United Nations" as opposed to directing 90% of our fire at NATO (SWP letter, Feb 20, 2000). In fact, it is precisely because we did not get side-tracked by these questions but, at the same time, dealt effectively with them that we came out of the war, like our sister organizations, "very proud of our activity and our politics." I dont know what kinds of forces in Britain protested the NATO war and what kind of political rhetoric was used to mobilize support for it. In the US, however, the argument that drew liberals to support the war was "humanitarianism" and comparisons of the war to World War 11, another, "good war." I he forces on the Left were tiny, composed of the ISO, some Stalinist groups, and a few hard-core peace activistsóquite far from the 98% anti-war sentiment in, say, Greece, making direct comparisons ridiculous. Add to this Serbian nationalists, defending Milosovic and sometimes even ethnic-cleansing, wrapping themselves in Serbian flags during demonstrations.
The mobilization against the 1991 Gulf War is not even a basis for comparison. The liberals who turned out against George Bushs Gulf War were, for the most part, absent from these demonstrations, tied as they were to the Democratic Party and its humanitarian cover. Perhaps the SWP is minimizing the absence of a labor or social-democratic party in the US and, thus, the hold of the Democrats on liberals. And yet, the US government drew the line at sending ground troops: although some liberals were, in their enthusiasm to do good, calling for such troops, Vietnam syndrome dictated that support required shelving a ground war. In this context, the growing anger of working-class people in the US was not expressed through opposition to the war (as it has been in the fight against the criminal justice system). Certainly, a mixture of protectionism and anti-war sentiment produced a situation in which workers did not give a green light to ground troops. Perhaps a general anti-war sentiment could have developed, but it did not exist at the time of the war.
Consequently, it was precisely the ISOs nuanced position, combining a fierce opposition to NATO with a criticism of Serbian nationalism and a defense of the principle of national self-determination, that allowed us to make important political gains not only in the Bay Area, as the SWP states, but around the country. From my own involvement in the anti-war coalitions at Brown University, a quite liberal campus, and Providence at large and from what I have heard about the Bay Area work it was our criticism of Serbian nationalism and our position against the war that allowed us to move forward and relate to workers and students. Any oversimplification that merely opposed the war and drew back from the stickier issues would have actually alienated us from people who were confused by them. When images of refugees are being beamed over the air-waves to buttress support for NATO, talking about ethnic cleansing and nationalism is not a distraction but a necessity.
As such, we did emerge from the war experience "stronger and more confident," against the SWPs characterization. For me, the proof that this was happening nationally and not just in Providence was Summer School 1999, in the presence of new members drawn from the anti-war work and the confidence of older members in public interventions and individual conversations.
Seattle and After
The Steering Committee has already responded to the question of our involvement in Seattle in your letters to the SWP and will be composing another document on the issue, so I will not dwell on the intervention itself. The main point to make about our intervention, as I see it, is as follows: It is one thing to say that we wish we could have been in the middle of the Seattle protests (although our national labor organizer did help lead a key Steelworkers demonstration), but it is quite another to say that what Seattle eventually became was "clear in advance" (SWP letter, Feb 20, 2000). The backbone of the Seattle protest that which made the events relevant to working-class people in an immediate way was organized labor, and that force was wafting on the issue in light of its endorsements of VicePresident Gore for the 2000 general election. On the other hand, the School of the Americas protest was clearly one in which the size and politics of the ISO could and did make a decisive impact.
Its not about "realizing our mistake" at Seattle: we always need to make assessments based on what we know about the composition of the event and our subjective strengths. The question of the ISOs political gains in light of Seattle does not rest on whether we had 500 placards there that were seen by the media, as the SWP letter says when it compares our Seattle intervention with our Austrian organizations intervention in the anti-Haider protests. The SWP knows better than that: Its not about flooding the demonstration with propaganda but actually building meetings, rallies, paper sales, and teach-ins on the issue. And this is what the ISO has done all over the country, with great success, and plans to continue into the April 16 demonstrations. Ultimately, the SWPs assessment of the ISOs "failure" at Seattle rests on an overblown idea of what Seattle was, a "turning point" in the fight against international capital (letter, Feb 20, 2000). The letter also approvingly quotes a German publications characterization of Seattle as "the beginning of a war against capitalism." Such a position fails to explain, however, why the same unions that mobilized workers for Seattle are doing little to combat oppressive contracts against corporations on a day-to-day basis. If the war has begun, implying a decisive shift in working-class consciousness, why arent we seeing more militancy from the Steelworkers and the Machinists for better wages? Where are the rank-and-file organizations, the products and mid-wives of such a war, that could push unions towards such struggles? The SWP acts as if the objective factors have changed before the subjective means through which that war could be waged have even developed.
As I mentioned above, the over-emphasis on Seattle leads to a de-emphasis of the movements against the criminal justice system. As Leninists, we see the movements for economic and political justice as united; the SWPs characterization of the anti-WTO protests as a "general" fight against capitalism and the anti-death penalty and anti-police brutality movements as "marginal" artificially redivides the economic and the political. What we need to do is assess the different movements based on their composition, our strength, and our ability to grow from them. At this point, as I see it, the relationship we have developed with Black working-class activists and communities around the country by pushing around justice-system issues, is at least as important as our mobilization around April 16. We will have to gauge coming developments: will our successes around the death penalty continue to grow and build? Where will the general sentiment against police brutality go? Will unions on the East Coast organize for April 16 as Pacific Northwest unions did for Seattle? Will we recruit activists out of the teach-ins we are helping to organize for April 16? But for the SWP to dismiss, out of hand, the importance of a Left organization in the US establishing strong links with the Black working class, reveals a blindness to the larger context in which we are operating.
As I have tried to show, the questions we are face as we continue our work against the death penalty and the World Bank/IMF arise not from any pattern of degeneration or isolation of the ISO, but in complete contrast to this from the fact that the ISO has become increasingly relevant to these movements. This is not to over-state our size or importance, but to state directly that we are becoming more involved in the struggles against the capitalist system than ever before, with a simultaneous deepening of political understanding among our cadre. The SWP needs to look at the broader context of US society in analyzing Seattle, and, correspondingly, the broader context of the ISOs work in judging the ISOs involvement with the protests against globalization.
Communication from Todd C., San Francisco Bay Area organizer, to ISO Steering Committee, February 25, 2000
The Myth of "Bay Area Exceptionalism"
In the letter of February 20, the SWP comrades make various charges about our anti-work. Unfortunately, their accusations are wrong on every point.
The ISO passed that test magnificently during the 1991 Gulf War, but failed the test of the 1999 Balkan War. The SWP and other IS organizations in Europe recognized very early on that, as revolutionaries in NATO countries, 90 percent of our fire-power in agitation, demonstrations, meetings, etc., had to be directed against NATO.
Our main slogans were "Stop the Bombing" and "NATO Out. "
We refused to be side-tracked by questions such as Serbian nationalism, Albanian self-determination, or the United Nations. Because of this clarity, the members of the SWP, of SEK in Greece, and of many other sister organizations came out of the war very proud of our activity and our politics.
However, the idea that we could pretend the above named issues were not central to building an effective anti-war movement seems foolish. I do not know what the situation was like on the ground in Greece, but after a lengthy discussion with Pat Stack at our 1999 Summer School, the situation in Britain seemed to me to be very similar to that in the U.S. At first the demonstrations were dominated by Serb nationalists, whose "Kosovo is Serbia" chants presented a real barrier to united action as well as a repulsive factor to genuine anti-war activists. As in Britain, we had to maneuver to break the stranglehold of these right-wing nationalists on anti-war action. Far from being "side-tracked" by arguments about Serbian nationalism, we found that we needed to present a clear-headed and prominent critique of the Milosevic regime in order to convince people that they should oppose the war despite the Serbian regimes horrible crimes. Had we not featured this Marxist explanation of the roots of the crisis (based on the extraordinarily rapid appearance of the 50 page "Stop NATOs War" Special Issue ISR), then the anti-war movement would have been dominated by (and destroyed by) the Serbian right-wingers (who nearly got into fist-fights with Albanian refugees at one protest after raising the three-fingered salute and chanting "Well get you too!").
Also, the strong Stalinist left-overs in the Bay Area early on dominated the anti-war movement, claiming that "there were no Albanian refugees!" It was apparently all just a CNN plot to build support for the war and anyone who said any differently was a pawn of the CIA. Needless to say, most sane people thought this was crazy and were repelled from attending demonstrations led by this type of nonsense. Raising the slogan, "Bring the Refugees Here" helped convince people who hated the bombing, but who were not indifferent to 500,000plus refugees, that the only way to end the crisis was to oppose the war and call for NATO to get out. Far from being a barrier to forming an united front with liberals, pacifists, students, and labor, this was the necessary position. If we had not taken these arguments head on, we would have just tailed the Serbian Stalinists and permitted them to destroy the anti-war movement. Maybe it was different in Britain, but unfortunately, had we followed your advice in the Bay Area, we would have done a disservice to the anti-war movement, the ISO and the International Tendency.
By comparison. the ISO leadership allowed itself to be diverted by the side issues, and responded to the war in an abstract, hesitant and defensive way. Thus, for example, the International Socialist Review special issue came out relatively late in the war: the much smaller French group, after some initial confusion, translated and published our Stop the War pamphlet in five days. In consequence, despite the effective work done by ISO comrades in some cities (for example, in the Bay Area), your organization did not emerge from the war stronger and more confident.
Socialist Workers first issue after the war broke out dedicated nearly its entire 16 pages to the war and was titled "Stop This War NOW!" It featured a special pullout poster that people used to wheat paste and used as placards at anti-war marches. We sold a huge number of this extremely important issue early in the war.
The ISR went from writing to production to arriving in the branches in three weeks time and included 6 articles, Notes of the Month and book reviews all dedicated to the war. In short, the SW more quickly covered the ground that your very good pamphlet did (except that we aimed more fire power at the U.S. and less at Britain for obvious reasons) and the rapid production of the ISR deepened our understanding and influenced a very wide periphery more profoundly than a pamphlet could. Thus, the issue of the French Group translating the pamphlet in 5 days seems to me to be, at best, a red herring.
The idea that we "responded to the war in an abstract, hesitant and defensive way" is either based on misinformation or on a dishonest attempt to carry out some other unspoken agenda. I sincerely hope it is the former. Either way, I speak for the entire Bay Area district when I say that you have no idea what you are talking about when it comes to your "critique" of our anti-war work, which would not have been possible without the political guidance and agitational and theoretical tools provided for us by our Steering Committee.
Lastly, we also want to disabuse you of the notion that the ISO is not "stronger and more confident" as the result of our anti-war work. Ask any member (new or old) and you will find you are (we are very happy to say) dead wrong.
Bay Area Organizer, ISO
Letter from ISO Steering Committee to SWP Central Committee, March 3, 2000
We write this in response to your letter of February 23. In it you restate your criticisms of the ISOs intervention in the WTO protest in Seattle. You say that our alleged "failure of the test of Seattle" is part of a developing and more general political failure and connect this to political differences that you state that we have with the International Socialist Tendency. We will respond to these allegations in a later document, which we will, as you ask, make available to our membership, your membership and the rest of the IS Tendency.
Far from taking your letters lightly, we think they are the latest effort on your part to find some issuepolitical or notto engage the ISO in a fight. Whyor for what aimwe are not sure. But we will not idly stand by as you elevate your criticisms of our activity against NATOs war from being "passive" or "sectarian" (which, while false, are not principled differences) to the level of "failing the test of war." This is a charge we take very seriously, as any revolutionary should, especially revolutionaries who have been consistent opponents of U.S. imperialism-and who are building in the heart of the beast.
This charge is a very serious allegation, implying that we failed to make a principled revolutionary socialist opposition to U.S. imperialism. Not even our enemies would make such an accusation. Indeed, we refuted these charges in documents and in a meeting at Marxism 99. Furthermore, no member of the SWP Central Committee raised any criticisms of the ISOs anti-war work at the Marxism 99 international tendency meeting to discuss such matters or at the following international tendency meeting last November.
Now the charge has been raised again, at a much more serious leveland attached to an assessment of the ISOs work around Seattle protests. The most recent letter states that the ISO is "responding to past mistakes by isolating yourselves still further." Any serious assessment of our workindeed, of our publications aloneshows this statement to be nonsense.
The work of the organization in the last few months is a testament to our growing political engagement with other political forces from a variety of backgroundson several different fronts. Less than two weeks before Seattle (and our comrades reported on this mobilization at the international meeting) the ISO mobilized 200 members for the 12,000strong School of the Americas demonstration.
More recently, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty has played a key role in winning a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinoisand is centrally involved in a campaign for a national moratorium involving Jesse Jackson, actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, Amnesty International, Joseph Lowrey, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and others. Furthermore, the ISO is deeply involved in the campus anti-sweatshop movement, which includes two ISO members recently elected to its 7-member leading body. In the last two weeks, ISO members have been involved in several campus sit-ins. Each performance of the ongoing tour of Howard Zinns Marx in Soho play has drawn hundreds in major cities, featured Zinn at several performances, and will be featured at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York. The entire tour, with Zinns agreement, has been a fundraiser for the International Socialist Review. Furthermore, last years New York Times signature ad against sanctions on Iraq has led to the publication of a book and related speaking tour on the issue in the U.S. and the U.K. The book, Iraq Under Seige, is published by South End Press and Pluto Press and edited by ISO member Anthony Arnove, and includes chapters by Arnove and Sharon Smith. Finally, we note that three speakers at Marxism last year, Howard Zinn, Manning Marable and Dan Georgakas, attended the event because we were in touch and work with them here.
But these are facts you could easily surmise from reading our organizations literature. Instead you choose to focus elsewhere. We can only conclude that this is due to a crisis you are havingnot one to do with us.
We will state our views on Seattle in more detail at a later date. Here we point out only that the difference in size between our Canadian comrades contingent and ours is mainly due to the fact that they have more members in the Pacific Northwest than we do. (They sent 3 members from outside British Columbia; we sent 5 from outside the region.) It should be noted that San Francisco, the nearest city with ISO branches, is a 16-hour car ride away. Since the protests, every ISO branch has held meetings on Seattle and related issuesand used the protests as inspiration to initiate activity. Two days after the WTO, the San Francisco district played a central role in organizing a 300-person demo against a WTO official. (Regarding your remark about the ISOs lack of visibility on video, we find this a rather odd way to measure the success of an intervention. But for the record, an interview with an ISO steering committee member, Lee Sustarone of two ISO members jailed in the protestswas aired on CNN for an entire day, as reported in British Socialist Worker. Sustar and the other ISO member were arrested while helping to lead a labor demonstration through downtown Seattle. The mass arrests led to a 3,000-strong labor march two days later protesting the arrests.)
Regarding the April 16 demonstration: As we stated in our response to your first letter, we have been involved in planning for the protestas part of the Washington,D.C. host committeefrom the outset and are mobilizing our East Coast and Midwest membership for it. The latest SWP Party Notes lists the SWP and Canadian IS as sponsors for the eventbut not the ISO, which has also endorsed (we expect this to be noted in the next Party Notes). All this could have been confirmed with a phone call to the ISO national officebut we have had no such call from the tendency international organizer for the past year. Instead, we received an accusatory letter charging us with a "refus[al] to reflect seriously and self-critically on your failure and to change your perspectives and activity accordingly." Further, you make the outlandish claim that we circulated a secret document at our National Committee meeting critical of the SWPs perspective on the impact of Seattle. This phantom document does not exist. All documents at our NC were distributed to our membershipand to the tendency international organizerimmediately after they were adopted by the NC.
All this forces us to conclude that rather than try to engage in a serious political discussion, the authors of the letters are going out of their way to look for a fight. Even worse, the intervention in the ISO has been conducted at the level of informal backroom meetings and petty gossip, and has broadened to include other groups in the tendency. We have attached two e-mails that give evidence of this. Also attached is the statement from the ISO Steering Committee from November 1999 stating that we will not tolerate such an intervention in the ISO, which can only be viewed as factional. We stand by that statement today. In your most recent letter you note that "something much bigger" than the leadership of the ISO is at stake"where will the ISO be placed in the developing post-Seattle left?" We think the composition of the ISOs leadership is central to answering that question.
Furthermore, the intervention in the ISO by leading members of the SWP reflects a crisis in international work of the tendency and can only be destructive to the entire tendency. We demand to know whether the letters sent to us on February 20 and 23 were the individual interventions of Comrades Cliff and Callinicos or reflect the position of the entire Central Committee. We ask that you discuss this matter at your next regular CC meeting and inform us of your position.
It is not us but you who have reduced the issues to a "petty internal wrangle" with the destructive behavior described above. While we have sought to avoid a needless fight, we see answering the questions you raise about our work as critical to the development of not just the ISO in the post-Seattle left but to the entire IS tendency.
Therefore we are drafting a document on these questions to be distributed to the memberships of our respective organizations as well as to the other member groups in the tendency. We do not believe this is the best or most fruitful way to conduct this debate, and that you have raised the political temperature and stakes of this discussion well beyond what they should be. But this is ground we have already coveredand will have to let others judge in the end.
ISO Steering Committee
Attachments to March 3, 2000 letter from ISO Steering Committee to SWP Central Committee
Date: Wed, I Mar 2000 13:50:35 -0800 (PST) From:
<email@example.com> Subject: Latest
Exchange with SWP
I just received a copy of the email Jana sent Brian about her conversations with Linksruck regarding the leadership of our organization. I was greatly concerned because on our recent vacation in [NAME DELETED FOR SECURITY PURPOSES], we were asked by a mutual friend about gossip he had heard (presumably from Britain) about problems that were taking place in your marriage with Ahmed. He said he wanted to ask us about it because he assumed that there must be a political reason for the gossip and that it would only be spread if there was some difference between our groups. He couldnt understand any other reason for it.
Obviously, I was concerned because after reading Janas email it appeared that there was an international campaign against us. I hope that we can getto the bottom of this and resolve it. Feel free to call me if you want to talk further.
Date: Tue. 29 Feb 2000 14:46:25 -0500
From: "Brian Campbell" <firstname.lastname@example.org> X
Sender: "Brian Campbell"
To: Jana Silverman <email@example.com>,
Jana, If you have any criticisms of the leadership, either locally or nationally, I suggest you write a document which the entire organization can benefit from. I have no interest in faction fights when the atmosphere in NY is more political than it has been for a long time. I have forwarded your e-mail to both local and national leaderships because we are involved in a dispute with the SWP leadership and your criticisms match exactly those that we as a national organization have rejected. I think before you pass judgement you should consider the political/economic environment the ISO and Linksruck are operating in. Germany has been wracked by economic crisis since the early 1990s because of the cost of reunification. In America on the other hand, a very confident ruling class has enjoyed an economic boom. Therefore our level of growth is understandable. The criticisms that I had last year were actually against the sort of triumphalism that your e-mail exudes. If you wish to discuss this further, I am more than willing to meet with you.
Jana Silverman wrote:
>As you might know, I just got back from Germany, where I visited a bunch of Linksruck branches and met with their central committee. They are doing fantastically well they have doubled in size in the last 2 years, at a time when the ISO has completely stagnated. I think this may mean that the leadership of the ISO is underestimating the period and our capacity for growth during it and that this is damaging us in practice. I remember that you had some rather astute criticisms of the leadership I yr ago...and I was wondering whether you would like to meet up some time to discuss this further. Write back or call me at work - 212-854-9046 -and please do not mention this to anyone yet - I do not want to be accused of starting a faction fight before that is tactically necessary.
Letter from ISO Steering Committee to SWP CC, November 19, 1999
To the SWP CC:
Based on our discussion in July and the agreement to disengage and reduce tensions between our two groups we note the following:
1) The political questions and disagreements raised then have narrowed or disappeared.
2) Comrade John R. confirmed to comrades Lance S. and Bill R. in Canada that as far as he was concerned the dispute of the summer was behind both groups and that most questions on perspectives were close and that further clarifications should take place in our respective publications.
Now we learn that comrade C. has approached comrade Lee S. in private and demanded that the ISO leadership remove comrade Ahmed S. from our SC.
We categorically and unanimously reject this method of operation. It breaks every norm of fraternal relations and rekindles tensions we thought had been laid to rest.
We believe that personnel questions are to be addressed and resolved by the democratically elected leadership body of the group concerned. Comrades Lindsey G. and Alex C. assured us this summer that this was their position too.
At this point it is not clear if comrade C. represents the whole CC. We would like this to be clarified. Is this Cs position alone, or does he speak for the CC?
If this is Cs position only, the CC should ask him not to desist from such interventions and not exacerbate the tensions between our groups.
If he speaks for the CC, what reasons have led you to reassess your position of this summer and why was this communicated in a totally inappropriate manner?
Again, we will restate our position: We see no point to this fight over personnel. We see no major differences with the ISO and the rest of the tendency and believe that the discussion at the international meeting proved this so. Personnel questions are to be decided only by the democratically elected bodies concerned. Any further fight around this issue can serve no constructive purpose for either group or the tendency in general.
The ISO National Steering Committee
Letter to ISO Steering Committee from Alex Callinicos and Tony Cliff, February 23, 2000
To the Steering Committee of the International Socialist Organization (US)
We greatly regret the fact that you have chosen not to respond seriously to our letter of 20 February. We too are very busy, but we nevertheless regard the protests at Seattle and the developing anti-capitalist mood of the most vital importance, not merely to the ISO and the SWP, but to our Tendency internationally. That is why we regard it as quite tragic that the ISO Steering Committee failed to mobilize for Seattle, when it is clear that activists from all over the United States did so. Last Saturday our tiny young Austrian sister group Linkswende, with some 40 members, produced 500 placards for the huge anti-Haider demonstration in Vienna, and was very prominent in the media coverage. We were shocked that, by contrast, the ISO, a far larger and stronger organization, does not figure in the Seattle video.
Yet you refuse to reflect seriously and self-critically on your failure and to change your perspectives and activity accordingly. We find it bizarre that Seattle should have galvanized and inspired the entire Tendency, along with millions of others in the US and around the world - with the exception of our American sister organization.
Your entire approach to our letter is to treat it as part of some petty internal wrangle. Thus you introduce the red herring of our alleged attempts to change your leadership, writing: the only difference that has developed since the international meeting is your shift from demanding the removal of two members of our leadership to demanding the removal of the entire leadership. Something rather bigger has happened since the International Meeting at the beginning of November -Seattle. That, as far as the SWP is concerned, is why we are having this argument.
But, since you have made these allegations, let us take this opportunity to repudiate them completely. We have never called for the removal of any members of the ISO Steering Committee. You should withdraw these entirely unsubstantiated allegations. Nor did our letter say anything about the composition of the Steering Committee. It is up to the ISO to decide who leads them. What interests us is something much bigger: where will the ISO be placed in the developing post-Seattle left? We are desperately worried that you are responding to past mistakes by isolating yourselves even further. We notice, for example, that the latest issue of your paper (18 February) barely mentions the Washington DC demonstration against the IMF and World Bank on 16 April.
We think this debate is too important to be left till Marxism 2000 in July. Though you disdain to respond to the arguments in our letter you know perfectly well that these reflect the perspective put forward by the SWP leadership at the International Meeting (with which your representatives did not publicly dissent) and further developed in our document, After Seattle, that was circulated throughout the Tendency in January. We gather that your National Committee meeting earlier this month discussed a document criticizing this perspective. We urge you to make this document available to your membership, and to the Tendency generally to facilitate the frank and open debate that cannot be delayed any longer.
Finally, we were puzzled by your postscript since Ahmeds e-mail proposing a Death Penalty Campaign speaking tour in Europe was only sent to us on 19 February. We will be happy to organize a meeting in London. Julie will be contacting Marlene to arrange the details.
Yours fraternally, Tony Cliff and Alex Callinicos
Letter to ISO from Alex Callinicos and Tony Cliff, February 20, 2000 and
Reply from ISO Steering Committee, February 22, 2000
To the Steering Committee of the International Socialist Organization (US)
We are writing to you because we are very concerned about the future of the ISO. As you know, there have been very long-standing and close connections between our two organizations. We have great admiration for the way in which members of the ISO have built an independent socialist organization in the United States over the past 23 years, often in very difficult circumstances.
It is precisely for this reason that we were so disturbed by the Steering Committees failure to mobilize for the protests at the WTO meeting in Seattle in November/December 1999. It was clear in advance that because of the growing anti-capitalist mood right across the advanced capitalist countries Seattle would be a very important event. Indeed, the protests proved to be a turning point. The united defiance showed by trade unionists and students in the face of the riot cops has had enormous reverberations both in the US and internationally. The German news-weekly Der Spiegel- which is a left-liberal, not a socialist publication - summed up the protests significance with the headline: Seattle - the beginning of a war against world capitalism.
It is a tragedy that the ISO leadership failed to take the Seattle demonstration seriously and did not send as many comrades as possible there. Some 20 members took part, compared to a delegation of about 40 from IS Canada, which mobilized its British Columbia membership. (The socialist placards shown in one of the photos in the latest issue of International Socialist Review were produced by the Canadian comrades.) It is therefore not surprising that the Showdown in Seattle video does not show any ISO members participating in the protests.
The demonstrations represented enormous efforts by trade unionists and other activists right across the US to send people to Seattle. The ISO could have been part of this network. Instead, the Steering Committee did not mobilize more than a tiny number of comrades even from the nearest district of any size, in San Francisco -even though many protesters travelled to Seattle from the Bay Area. Yet your National Committee Bulletin, while analysing at length the mood after Seattle, does not acknowledge, let alone discuss the fact that the ISO leadership had failed the test of Seattle.
This failure is particularly worrying because it comes after your weak intervention in the movement against last years Balkan War. The greatest test of every revolutionary organization is war, The ISO passed that test magnificently during the 1991 Gulf War, but failed the test of the 1999 Balkan War. The SWP and other IS organizations in Europe recognized very early on that, as revolutionaries in NATO countries, 90 percent of our fire-power in agitation, demonstrations, meetings, etc., had to be directed against NATO. We refused to be side-tracked by questions such as Serbian nationalism, Albanian self-determination, or the United Nations. Because of this clarity, the members of the SWP, of SEK in Greece, and of many other sister organizations came out of the war very proud of our activity and our politics.
By comparison, the ISO leadership allowed itself to be diverted by the side issues, and responded to the war in an abstract, hesitant and defensive way. Thus, for example, the International Socialist Review special issue came out relatively late in the war: the much smaller French group, after some initial confusion, translated and published our Stop the War pamphlet in five days. In consequence, despite the effective work done by ISO comrades in some cities (for example, in the Bay Area), your organization did not emerge from the war stronger and more confident.
It is inevitable that revolutionaries will make mistakes. The important thing, as Lenin said, is to recognize them and to correct them quickly. But our fear is that, far from learning from your mistakes over Seattle and the Balkan War, you are about to repeat them. We were very disturbed to read in ISO Notes of 11 February that the Steering Committee proposes scaling back the ISO mobilization for the 16 April IMF/World Bank demonstration in Washington DC. The Washington demonstration is likely to act as a very important focus for the anti-capitalist mood after Seattle.
Of course the SWP is engaged in many activities that are far from being a general challenge to the system We have for many years been involved in the Anti-Nazi League, on several occasions mobilizing tens of thousands against the fascists. All the same, our ANL work is at the margin of our general party activity. At every level, from the Central Committee down to the local branches, we devote comparatively limited resources to the ANL as a campaign that concentrates on one particular aspect of the system. Your failure to mobilize for a demonstration that - for all the political weaknesses of many of the organizations backing it - targets world capitalism itself would be another tragic mistake.
To lead is to foresee. If you had foreseen the development of the war or the significance of Seattle, you would have acted completely differently. Now, if you foresee the potential of the Washington demonstration, you should pull out all the stops to mobilize everyone in the ISO to go to Washington.
We hope this short comment will help you.
Yours fraternally, Tony Cliff and Alex Callinicos
Reply from ISO Steering Committee, February 22, 2000
Your letter of February 20, 2000 catches us in the midst of a great deal of activitythe drive for a national moratorium on the death penalty, preparations for our spring socialist conferences, the spring tour of Howard Zinns "Marx in Soho," and yes, mobilization for the April 16 demonstration in Washington. (For the record, ISO comrades have been part of the "host committee" for the April 16 demonstration since it formed.) Because we are so busy, we trust you will understand why our response to your letter is so brief.
We thank you for your "concern," but were not really sure what youre concerned about. Since you have neglected to communicate with our national organizer, we cant understand how you can make any judgements about work, our priorities or our perspectives. Instead youve chosen to send us a letter that resurrects unsupported and mistaken charges (about the NATO war) which we thought were long since behind us. None of these issues were raised at last Novembers international meeting.
Actually, we believe that your letter says more about the political situation within the SWP leadership than it does about the ISO. Quoting as. evidence of an "anti-capitalist" mood a headline from Der Spiegel is not a serious analysis. Neither is building a case against us by isolating a single line from an edition of ISO Notes. If we followed the same method, we might ask why youve decided the Green slogan "Think globally, act locally"which incidentally, you can find plastered as a bumper sticker on thousands of yuppies Volvos in places like California and Vermont-is "almost Leninist." (Party Notes, February 21, 2000)
As far as we can tell, the only difference that has developed since the international meeting is your shift from demanding the removal of two members of our leadership to demanding the removal of the entire leadership for "failing the test of Seattle," whatever that means. We reject this intervention in our leadership. Earlier this month, we informed our National Committee about the situation that has developed between our two organizations. The NC took a unanimous vote of confidence in the ISOs present leadership and perspectives.
If there are serious political differences between us, then these should be raised and discussed openly. We propose a meeting at Marxism 2000 to discuss these issues with as many members of our leaderships as can attend.
However, if you feel the need to discuss this earlier, please note that our national organizer, Sharon Smith, will be touring Britain with Anthony Arnove to promote Plutos publication of Iraq Under Siege. Other members of our leadership, including Ahmed, will be traveling in Europe with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty tour.
Steering Committee, ISO (U.S.)
P.S. We have yet to hear from Julie Waterson concerning plans for the Campaign tour. We find this shocking, since the moratorium campaign in the U.S. presents us with the possibility of winning one of the most important political victorieson any issuein 25 years. A successful tour in Britain and the rest of Europe could help us to win this fight. Also, we cant understand whygiven your activity on Mumias casethat you wouldnt want to help organize meetings with Mumias lawyer, Leonard Weinglass. A successful tour would help both of our organizations. Please let Comrade Waterson know that we urgently await her reply.
"After Seattle,"SWP internal document (circulated to IS Tendency), January 13, 2000
1. The great demonstration against the World Trade Organization in Seattle on 30 November 1999 represents a political fuming-point of the first importance. Ten years ago, the collapse of Stalinism ushered in an era of capitalist triumphalism summed up by Francis Fukuyamas announcement of the End of History. The experience of a decade of growing poverty and inequality, obscene wealth for the rich, welfare reform for the poor, and environmental destruction world-wide has provoked in reaction a revolt that targets the very system that was supposed in 1989 to have finally vanquished all rivals. As the German weekly Der Spiegel put it, the new millennium has begun with a rebellion against capitalism.
2. Seattle is the most spectacular example to date of the emergence of a new anti-capitalist consciousness at the very core of the system. In Britain we have seen the massive demonstrations against Third World debt, the closure of the City of London by a Festival against Capitalism on 18 June last year, and the growth of People and Planet among students. A similar mood has developed considerably further in France since the mass public sector strikes in the autumn of 1995: it is reflected in the emergence of Pierre Bourdieu as the leading public critic of neo-liberalism and in the growth of currents such as those associated with the monthly Le Monde diplomatique and with ATTAC, which campaigns for the taxation of international financial transactions. Throughout France, more than 30,000 people demonstrated against the WTO on 27 November at the initiative of ATTAC and other organizations.
In Europe this anti-capitalist mood overlaps with the revival of reformist consciousness in the working class that swept social-democratic governments to office in the second half of the 1990s (see A. Callinicos, Reformism and Class Polarization in Europe, International Socialism, 2.85, 1999). Within this massive shift in social consciousness, a minority is going further and demanding, not the mere reform of the system but its fundamental transformation. They are doing so sometimes because of an awareness of the limitations of social democracy, certainly in the form practiced by the likes of Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder, Lionel Jospin, Massimo dAlema, and Costas Simitis, but perhaps more often because they are aware of the fundamental injustices that exist at a world scale, and of the danger to the very survival of the planet posed by unrestrained capital accumulation.
Undoubtedly the experience of the Balkan War has helped to harden these attitudes. The sight of social democratic governments waging a humanitarian war against Serbia infuriated large numbers of people. Those involved in the anti-war movement were able to cut through the official rhetoric, and to recognize that the fundamental issue was asserting the power of NATO under American leadership. Many drew the connections between different issues: they understood that, in effect, NATO was the debt collector for the International Monetary Fund, whose neo-liberal policies threw Yugoslavia into profound economic crisis in the 1980s and thus helped precipitate the present round of wars in the Balkans.
3. Seattle nevertheless represents a qualitative change in the development of this anti-capitalist consciousness. Both the scale and the character of the demonstration represented something new, occurring as it did at the very heart of the systemin a booming US, indeed in the capital city of the supposedly cool new capitalism of Microsoft and the world-wide web: indeed, some of the symbols of this capitalism, like Starbucks and Gap, were among the main targets of the protectors fury.
What happened is well expressed by the film-maker and broadcaster Michael Moore:
On the morning of November 30, 1999, as government officials from 135 nations attempted to meet with the largest gathering ever of corporate executives, tens of thousands of average everyday working Americans shut down the city of Seattle and physically prohibited the hoped for historic and official merger of the earths political and business elite ... It was a massively representative body of Americans (and Canadians and Brits and French, etc.), all of us standing there on the streets between Pine and PikeTeamsters and turtle-lovers, grandparents and Gap clerks, the homeless and computer geeks, high school students and Alaskans, nuns and Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., airplane mechanics and caffeinated slaves from Microsoft. A few were professional protestors, but the majority looked as if it were their first exercise in a constitutionally protected redress of grievances. There were no leaders, no movement, no idea of what to do to except stop the World Trade Organization from holding its secret meeting ... Mark it down, this last great date of the 20th century -November 30, 1999 - The Battle of Seattle, the day the people got tired of having to work a second job while fighting off the collection agents and decided it was time the pie was shared with the people who baked it. (Michael Moores Newsletter, 7 Dec. 1999, wvw.michaelmoore.com)
4. The decisive characteristic of the Seattle demonstration was the coming together that it represented of key sections of the organized working classnot just the Teamsters, but longshoremen, steelworkers, Boeing machinists, UPS workersand the array of largely student-based coalitions that have been campaigning around issues such as the environment, poverty and exploitation in the Third World, and the like.
The American working class has suffered terribly over the past twenty-five years as a result of corporate restructuring, downsizing, and union busting. Average real hourly earnings were forced down while corporate profits soared, helping to fuel a stock-market boom that has massively enriched executives, speculators, and the upper middle class. But there have been some signs these past few years that relatively high growth rates and falling unemployment have emboldened sections of the American working class to try to take back some of what they have lostthe result has been the successful strikes at UPS in 1997 and General Motors in 1998, as well as victories elsewhere, for example, in several airlines.
These successes have not put an end to the corporate offensivein revenge for the UPS strike the federal government removed the Teamsters leader Ron Carey and expelled him from the union, and management reneged on the deal they had made to end the dispute. Nevertheless, some sense that the pendulum was beginning to swing back in workers favour maytogether with the anger and bitterness that has built up over the past twenty five years have helped fuel the mobilization at Seattle.
5. The explosion in Seattle has provoked a furious response from the apologists of liberal capitalism, whether of the Thatcherite or the Blairite variety. The neo-liberal columnist Martin Wolf raged at the cranks, bullies and hypocrites who came to Seattle: "anarchists" who want governments to use force to stop international trade; "consumer activists" who want to prevent people from buying cheap imports; and "altruists" who want to prevent the exploitation of the poor, particularly when they produce goods for export competitively (In Defence of Global Capitalism, Financial Times, 8 Dec. 1999).
New Labours Secretary for International Development, Clare Short, called the \\TO a precious international institution arid said that those who make blanket criticisms of the WTO are working against, not for, the interests of the poor and the powerless (Independent, 30 Nov. 1999). Another Downing Street toady, columnist Andrew Marr, argued the real beneficiary would not be the funky idealism and self-righteous anti-capitalism of the Seattle protectors but protectionist Republicans, nationalist Europeans and Japanese conservatives (Friend or Foe?, Observer, 5 Dec. 1999).
6. Of course, one can identify negative characteristics in the Seattle protests. Various dubious characters associated themselves with them, including the odd capitalist such as Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. Undoubtedly, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy has a protectionist agenda, and is hand-in-glove with the Clinton Administration. Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., owes his presidency of the Teamsters to government interference in the union. He and the rest of the AFL-CIO leadership would love to parlay the pressure built at Seattle into greater influence over a Gore presidency.
Union marshals tried to keep the workers away from the clashes in downtown Seattle Gores need for union support for his presidential bid helps to explain the administrations relatively sympathetic response to the protesters (though this didnt stop the Seattle police running amok on I December, after the main union demonstration had dispersed). Some of the more respectable NGOs are part of the same axis that bound many leaders of the demonstration to the Clinton administration: on 30 November, Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange called on the police to arrest the relatively small number of demonstrators who trashed shops.
But one must always ask in these cases: what was the dominant character of the demonstration? Was it a carnival of American nationalism and trade-union sectionalism, or was it rather a key episode in a widening process of political generalization? Plainly the latter. Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, who called for a global minimum and maximum wage at the union rally went down much better than the union bosses trying to drum support for Gore. To adapt to the mood of the protectors, the AFL-CIO leaders had to steer left, in rhetoric at least. Gerald Mclntee, leader of the public-sector union AFSCME, and an avid Clinton-Gore supporter, revived an old 1960s slogan, telling the rally: We have to name the system ... and that system is corporate capitalism (M. Cooper, Street Fight in Seattle, The Nation, 20 Dec. I 999).
All great movements are learning processes. The protectors who were beaten, tear-gassed, and jailed by Seattles imperial storm-troopers have learned something about the real nature of American democracy. Many workers have learned that their interests can only be effectively defended as part of a much broader movement against exploitation and oppression. This awareness was beautifully summed up by a UPS worker, Doug Sabin. He told Charlie Kimber of Socialist Worker: l used to think these kids talking about the environment were just wingnuts. Now I think theyre part of the big us that is going to have to change the world. Millions in the United States and around the world shared in the same learning process as they watched the battle in Seattle on their television screens.
7. There is always the danger that, faced with the sudden emergence of a mass movement with its own characteristics, some revolutionaries will react in a sectarian and defensive way. The French Trotskyist organization Lutte Ouvriere provides an example of this response. LO did not take part in the demonstrations in France on 27 November, dismissing them as a bloc of left nationalists and right-wing Gaullists, and denounced the entire anti-WTO movement:
Today the internationalization of the economy, under the aegis of the capitalist states, is a fact. To wish to oppose it, in the name of tainted protectionist ideas, of nationalism, is to risk drifting towards openly reactionary objectives. It is moreover no accident that, at Seattle, one can find united on this terrain as well Third World nationalists as the leaders of the American car workers union UAW, who did not hesitate to organize punitive operations against the American owners of Japanese cars in the 1980s. Because, for both, their opposition to internationalization seeks to bring about a convergence of the interests of the population with that of their national bourgeoisie ... this is why, instead fighting the internationalization of the economy or the WTO, it is necessary to give ourselves the objective of bringing down this capitalist system, beginning to fight the bosses and the capitalists who arent in Seattle, but here, in France, directly at our front door. (F. Rouleau, LEnnemi, est-ce la "mondialisation" ou le capitalisme?, Lutte Ouvriere, 3 Dec. 1999).
Lenin attacked precisely this kind of abstract sectarian Marxism when he rounded on those revolutionaries who dismissed the 1916 Easter rising in Dublin as a petty bourgeois putsch:
To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, "We are for socialism", and another, somewhere else and says, We are for imperialism", and that will be a social revolution! ... Whoever expects a pure" social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip service to revolution, without understanding what revolution is. (The Discussion of Self-Determination Summed Up, Collected Works, XXII, pp. 355-6)
People enter mass movements carrying with them the beliefs and expectations they acquired during periods of relative stability. These attitudes often involve illusions in leaders who simply want to improve their bargaining position with the ruling class. But the experience of struggle puts traditional consciousness under pressure, and promotes a process of radicalization. Real revolutionaries have to make themselves part of the mass movement, sharing in its experiences, in order to draw people towards the only consistent solutionsocialist revolution. Fake revolutionaries, who denounce and abstain from the movement because it isnt pure, condemn themselves to sterility and irrelevance.
8. We have to be able to distinguish between a rising and a declining movement. Sometimes they can share superficially similar features. During the 1980s we learned to denounce as tokenism the style and tactics adopted, for example, by activists within the peace movementfor example, at Greenham Common. We rightly saw these as gestures by activists whose lack of understanding of the real forces for change corresponded to a situation in which the workers movement was in retreat throughout Western capitalism in the face of the bosses offensive led by Reagan and Thatcher.
The new anti-capitalist mood can express itself in what seems like the same approach. Many activists today, for example, have been influenced by Green ideologies that involve mystical conceptions of the relationship between humanity and the rest of the natural world. They often also, in seeking an alternative to global capitalism, have illusions in a strengthened United Nations or even (in the case of the leadership of People and Planet) a reformed WTO. It would, however, be the worst kind of sectarianism to start from our disagreements with these views. These attitudes reflect a confused but real desire to change the world on the part of a new generation that is now erupting into political activity. Our starting point has to be that we share this desire and will fight shoulder to shoulder alongside those expressing it.
9. This means that we need to adapt ourselves to the new anti-capitalist milieu. We need to approach it not as outsiders, but make ourselves part of it. We must learn its language and style, and participate in its initiatives. We have to show that issues such as the environment are our issues, not questions concerning which we offer abstract Marxist lectures. Every fresh season brings new evidence of global warming, while new scientific studies predict that its future effects will be quicker and more devastating than had previously been anticipated. We have an analysis that shows that all this is a consequence of unrestrained capital accumulation on a world scale: capitalism is destroying the planet. We must translate this intellectual understanding into a real involvement with those movements trying to bring this Juggernaut to a halt.
Adapting to and participating in the developing anti-capitalist milieu does not mean adapting our ideas. There are important arguments to be had. The mass of workers is still mainly influenced by reformism, and will sometimes be attracted towards protectionist solutions. The students and ax-students in the new activist coalitions are likely to see the organized working class as part of the problem rather than as the key to the solution. Moreover, it is one thing to reject capitalism, but it is another to see socialism as the alternative.
All these arguments, however, must be pursued on the basis of much larger agreement and participation in common struggle. In a rising movement consciousness tends to move to the left. The problem isnt to protect our ideas from contamination, but to throw ourselves into the milieux where they will find a ready audience because we are cutting with the grain. In general, we are likely to find ourselves 90 percent in agreement, and only 10 percent in disagreement with those influenced by the anti-capitalist mood.
10. Nevertheless, in the discussions that we have with those drawn into the anti-capitalist struggle, the 10 percent disagreement is extremely important. Three themes stand out in particular. First, as Marxists we dont see whats going on as a collection of loosely related issues. We have an understanding of capitalist society as a totality. We can see the connections between the crises in East Asia and Russia, the wars in the Balkans and Chechenya, the machinations of the IMF and the WTO, and the gyrations of the financial markets.
Other people are also making many of these connections. This reflects the fact that the trend is to the left. A movement is developing organically from one issue to another as people become politicized. A member of our sister organization in France, where events have been moving more rapidly than in Britain, described how comrades in a Lyons university are under pressure from their periphery to draw the connections between different issues: We built around a strike on campus, then we came under pressure from contacts to build an ATTAC group and now people want to build protests around the Davos summit [the World Economic Forum]Forum plus theres activity coming up about womens rights.
Secondly, we understand that the organized working class isnt one pressure group among others, but the decisive agent of social change. This doesnt mean in an abstract syndicalist way counterposing strikes to street protestsparticularly in a country like Britain where the level of economic class struggle is still so low. Rather it means arguing from a strategic point of view with those influenced by the anti-capitalist mood that only the organized working class can transform society, and that therefore any effective movement for change must base itself on that class.
Thirdly, we understand that building such a movement requires socialist organization Some in the anti-capitalist minority are influenced by anarchist or semi-anarchist ideas hostile to any form of centralized organization. We have try to show them through both argument and example that an organization that seeks to connect a Marxist understanding of the totality with the daily life and struggles of the working class is an indispensable condition for achieving real liberation.
11. The anti-capitalist mood offers our party the prospect of real growth. This growth need not be merely linearthe recruitment of a few individuals. If we operate correctly, we can grow qualitatively, by recruiting, not ones and twos, but whole milieux. This will only happen, however, if we fully participate in these milieux, while at the same time not ducking the real political disagreements we will find there.
To aid this process, we must use the united-front tactic. The anti-war movement taught us again how to build united action with people with whom we have many political disagreements. Relating to the anti-capitalist mood requires the same approach. An example is the local forums we are building around the theme People and Protests: Where Next After Seattle?, with speakers not just from the SWP but from People and Planet, Jubilee 2000, and other organizations. These can act as launching pads for further anti-capitalist activities in the months ahead.
12. The developing anti-capitalist mood represents a real test for the Socialist Workers Party and for our Tendency internationally. If we denounce it from the sidelines we will condemn ourselves to sectarian irrelevance. If we throw ourselves enthusiastically into it, we can greatly increase the influence of revolutionary socialist ideas and organization.
ISO Document on ISO work during the 1999 NATO war, July 7, 1999
We write this document in response to the July 2 British SWP CC letter to the ISO. We hope it will serve to clarify positions in the spirit of argument within the revolutionary movement. In fact, it was within this spirit of argument between comrades that we responded to your invitations to comment on the Tendency statement on the war and on Anti-War Notes. Unfortunately, we believe that the SWP has cast our arguments in the most negative light. We believe this mischaracterization of our positions has generated a SWP critique of the ISOs work in the anti-war movement which carries very serious consequences.
Before we discuss the substantive issues, we want to establish our view of the exchanges between our two organizations through the course of NATOs war against Yugoslavia. On April 9, we, along with the Greek and German IS Tendency organizations, received from Alex Callinicos a draft copy of the Tendency statement against the war. We responded to Alexs messages request for replies and comments with an email endorsing the statement. In our reply, we raised a few points which we thought would clarify specific parts in the statement and, we thought, generally would improve it as a means of building opposition to the war. Alex responded on April 10 with a short message thanking us for the comments, and accepting our suggestion for a "call to action" at the statements conclusion (a suggestion Florian in Germany made as well) Later, we differed in our assessment of the content and usefulness of the French intellectuals anti-war statement as the basis for a broader signature ad campaign. Finally, we responded to Anti War Notes #Is solicitation for comments with a document, dated May 9, 1999, which endorsed the Notes main points, but raised notes of clarification on these questions: 1) tensions between the U.S. and its European allies in NATO; 2) the Notes definition of the United Front; 3) the UN and its role; 4) the issue of Kosovar self determination and the KLA; and 5) the issue of Serbian nationalism in the anti-war movement. As we stated then
All of the questions discussed above are tactical and strategic questions which should be argued with) the context of building a "united front" against the war. To be clear, we are not arguing that we should set up roadblocks between ourselves and other forces opposed to NATOs war. It would, however, be unprincipled to ignore these questions within the anti-war movement.
On May 10, Alex acknowledged receiving our document and reported that he had circulated it to the Central Committee. He commented that our document raised important points "over which you believe there are real disagreements among us. Our feeling, however, is that, given the immense pressure that anti-war activity is currently putting on all of our time, that this is not the best moment to be discussing these issues in any great detail."
Both our letter responding to the IS Tendency anti-war statement and our May 9 document expressed general agreement with the SWP (and, we assume, with the rest of the tendency). The letter said of the draft statement that we considered it "very good," but believed it "too internal" to appeal to a broader audience outside the orbit of our organizations. Likewise, our May document stresses: "the Anti-War Notes and the anti-war position statement circulated by the Socialist Workers Party (GB) contain a number of formulations which are very useful in constructing a unified perspective for this tendency: 1) first and foremost, we stand for the defeat of NATO in this war; 2) for NATO to achieve its stated aims would require the war to be protracted and may (though not necessarily) involve the introduction of ground forces; 3) we should build a broad-based anti-war movement." Later, our May document states, "The tendencys position statement written by Alex Callinicos is correct to emphasize that this war is a war for NATOs credibility, and that it is an imperialist war whose aim is to preserve the US as the dominant power in Europe." And again later, "The Anti-War Notes is absolutely right to argue that we must not support the KLA or the arming of the KLA, because the KLA is becoming an arm of NATO. The Notes is also correct to argue that in the context of the current war, therefore, revolutionaries should not raise the slogan of self-determination for Kosovo." Observing that Anti-War Notes #I called attention to the ISOs experience in building a movement against the Gulf War, we felt that spelling out how the question of the UN related to the "united front" approachboth in 1991 and in 1999would help other Tendency organizations.
We received no further response to our comments on Anti War Notes #1 until we received the July 2 SWP document. In that document, the SWP Central Committee has raised a number of serious criticisms of the ISOs politics and practice during NATOs war. The summation of those criticisms is as follows: The ISO steering committee has raised disagreements that constitute a "defensive position," a hiding "behind a protective barrier of abstract and misleading arguments." Among the assertions are that we "dogmatically" separate economic and strategic interests; that we engaged in "excessive speculation," and argued in a "Europe vs. America" framework. Worse, we focused too much on two "red herrings," the question of the UN and the "relatively internalized and abstract" question of Kosovar Albanian self-determination. The SWP document states the ISO made "a big deal of the UN," turning it into a "key point of differentiation" and thereby cutting ourselves off from a larger layer of anti-war activists. In fact, the SWP document suggests, we "spent so much time attacking the UN" that we "pissed off the soft pacifists, and so the movement stayed small and dominated by the wrong people." There was "such a divergence" between the ISO "and the rest of us" in the IS Tendency around the war, that the ISO had a "much less positive" experience building an anti-war movement than its sister organizations. In short, the ISO failed to build a larger anti-war movement because it was mired in abstract internal debate and obsessed with a sectarian desire to differentiate itself from the rest of the anti-war movement.
We are taken aback at the seriousness of the accusations leveled at the ISO. The SWP document not only exaggerates the points of political difference between our two organizations, whose central political lines we believe were essentially the same, but takes things a step further and accuses us of positively obstructing the building of a mass anti-war movement in the U.S. This accusation is not supported in the least by any evidence in the SWP document.
Some of the issues raised in the SWP document are not even issues that we have raised. The question of Caspian Sea oil, to which the SWP document devotes several paragraphs, responded to a one-sentence aside made by Ahmed Shawki at a speech during our Socialist Summer School and a subsequent discussion with Pat Stack, the CCs representative. Nor, do we believe, is there any disagreement about the relationship between imperialist strategic and economic interests. Likewise, the fact that we raised slogans about the refugees does not represent any fundamental difference in the approach of our two organizations, since both pointed out the hypocrisy of the NATO allies over the refugees and the refugee crisis they helped to create. In fact, having something to say about the refugees bolstered our anti-war case, since Clinton was playing on sympathy to the refugees to build support for the war.
We believe the SWP document misleads when it takes our differences on secondary questions to reflect the sum total of our approach to the war. Our responses were "skewed" toward the questions raised in Anti-War Notes #1 (Kosovar self determination, the UN, the United Front, etc.), and included comments on other issues we thought important to the Tendency (i.e. Serb nationalism). The correct political practice on this matter would simply have been to carry on a political dialogue/debate in a fraternal spirit and with the aim of achieving the utmost clarity on our joint approach to the war. Despite the time pressures all of us faced, this sort of discussion could have been carried out. In fact, by the SWP documents own admission, the SWP took time out to draft a response long before we received the July 2 SWP document. Whats more, if the SWP truly believed that the ISO was obstructing the building of an anti-war movement in the heart of world imperialism, it had a duty to argue with us during the war so that we could correct our practice. Approaching these questions after the war is not a serious way to conduct an important discussion/debate.
Lets revisit, in turn, the arguments we raised, and finally, the ISOs practice in the war.
The UN, the anti-war movement and the united front method
The United Nations continues to play a key role in the designs of U.S. imperialism, despite NATOs sidelining of the UN in launching the war against Yugoslavia. The U.S. and Britain call on the authority of the UN Security Council to justify their continuous bombings of Iraq and the maintenance of sanctions against Iraq. Our position on the UN starts with this recognition of its role as a tool of imperialisma position we would hold whether or not sections of the left had illusions in the UN.
The SWP document says we misread Anti War Notes #I by stating that it was the argument that "UN sanctions as an alternative to war," not "the idea that the United Nations represents a disinterested international community" that had been "put paid to." Yet it is precisely because people have illusions in the UN as a "disinterested international community" that they are still willing to entertain the "idea of sanctions as an alternative to war," despite the experience of Iraq. That is why Noam Chomsky could both sign the anti-sanctions New York Times ad and nevertheless support the return of UNSCOM to Iraq, as we pointed out in our document.
But as the SWP document puts it, "The critical question, however, is this: what is the significance of these illusions in the present situation?"
The success of the Times anti-sanctions ad reflects an important shift among many liberals and peace activists to question UN policy and the UNs relationship to the U.S. and the Great Powers. But questioning is not the same as shedding all illusions. That is why most liberal and left critics of the war in the U.S. continued to call for a UN-brokered settlement despite the UNs role in Iraq. That is why we believe it is wrong to view the UN as a "red herring" and "no longer a point of political differentiation," as the Anti-War Notes #1 does. Rather, it is an issue on which revolutionary socialists must be clear when building anti-war activity in order to build an anti-imperialist political current and recruit activists to our organizations. The settlement of the warwhich, as in Bosnia, provides a UN cover for what is essentially a NATO colonial operationdemonstrates this. Indeed, the considerable space that the SWP document spends in detailing the UNs pivotal role in the settlement only underscores why the UN should not be dismissed as a red herring in the anti-war movement.
Neither in our document nor in practice have we ever stated that the role of the UN in the Kosovo conflict was identical to its role in the Gulf War. Nor did we argue that opposition to UN involvement should be a condition of anti-war activity Rather, our document stressed that we built anti-war committees in the Gulf War that specifically did not make opposition to the UN a point of unity. We further argued:
The character of the current war is different from the Gulf War. It is NATO, rather than the UN, carrying out the bombing, to name just one important difference. Nevertheless the method remains the same. We wand to work with anyone who opposes the bombing, but we will argue within that framework a number of political pointsincluding arguments against Serb nationalism, and against the illusion of a " UN solution " [emphasis added ].
The SWP document says this formulation risks "making opposition to imperialism in effect a condition of participation in united action" and that "we worry that this is what you have been doing." Elsewhere the document refers to our alleged "obsession" with the UN and goes on to declare:
Making the UN a key point of differentiation may have become a vicious circle in which the anti-war movement was small and dominated by the wrong people, you spent so much time attacking the UN that you pissed off the soft pacifists, and so the movement stayed small and dominated by the wrong people.
Where is the evidence that the ISO is guilty of "making the UN a key point of differentiation?" Certainly not in Socialist Worker. In the April 9 issue, the UN is mentioned in two paragraphs in an editorial and in a very short sidebar to a feature on "The myths of humanitarian intervention." The following (April 23) issues center spread on Bosnia concentrated on NATOnot the UNdespite the UNs role in the protectorate. The most extensive discussion of the UN in Socialist Worker is in the June 18 issue. It includes an editorial analyzing the settlement"the UN peace at gunpoint"as well as a centerspread on how NATO is using the UN as its cover to set up a colonial regime in Kosovo.
Nor is there evidence that we made the UN a "key point of differentiation" in our other publication, the International Socialist Review. The special anti-war ISR #7 contained an article entitled, "Can the UN bring peace? This was a detailed historical article that mentioned Kosovo in four paragraphs in five pages. Surely this is not evidence of "obsession." Indeed the issue begins with a special call to "Stop This War," stating that "weve produced this special issue as a contribution to the anti-war effort." Even the lead editorial of (post-war) ISR #8 discussing the settlement of the war discusses the UN in terms of the dynamics of inter-imperialist rivalriesjust as the SWP document does.
What of the ISOs practice? Our internal ISO Notes (May 7) took up the question of UN in detail and cited widespread illusions in the U.S. and concluded:
Does that mean we want nothing to do with individuals who hold these views? Absolutely not. On the contrary, we will to work alongside them to end the warand will continue to argue with them in the event of a negotiated end to the war which involves NATO or UN troops. This means we march in the same demonstrations, work in the same anti-war committees, and so on. But revolutionaries have a duty to do more than simply build the movement. Using the united front method, our approach is clear. We build unity in struggle around a limited demand or set of demands, but we do not tie our hands politically for the sake of unity. That would lead to movementism. A comrade [in Chicago] who spoke recently at an anti-war teach-in, sharing the platform with a pacifist, put it this way: We disagree on the role of the UN, but we are agreed that we must unite to stop the bombing. The pacifist ended up agreeing with our comrade, and disagreeing with his own organizations support for the UN. At nearly every anti-war teach-in, town meeting and rally against the war in which we participated, activists raised questions about the UNoftentimes before our comrades did.
Our approach to building was in fact informed by the united front method outlined in our May document and quoted above. The SWP document takes issue with it on the grounds that ...[Y]ou make concessions to the misconception that the way in which revolutionaries differentiate themselves within united fronts is by "putting the arguments" which set us apart from other forces in the united front.
The SWP document further states that in "the ANL, it is more often through being the most dynamic and militant force in building the movement in question that we distinguish ourselves and draw new people towards us."
Certainly we seek to be the most dynamic and militant force in a movement. But winning new people to our organization requires "putting the arguments" as well. As Lindsey German wrote in her article, "The United Front" (Education for Socialists 2, 1986):
The various parties to the united front could not have unity around the whole of their political programs without submerging their differences. For the minority of revolutionaries, the likelihood would be that their politics would be submerged by the dominant reformist ideas. This was exactly what Trotsky and the leaders of the Communist International wanted to avoid. In fact, they wanted the opposite. The revolutionaries had to be open about their differences so that they could unite in areas where they did agree.
This seems to us a clearer and better formulation of the united front method than the one in Anti-War Notes #1 with which we took issue: "working constructively with others opposed to the warpacifists, left reformists and the likewhile not allowing their politics or the arguments of left sects to impeded the development of a movement based on activity." As we wrote in our May 9 document, "this definition must be further clarified."
Our criticism was aimed at helping to make our Tendencys intervention in the anti-war movement more effective. It is unfortunate that rather than discussing how to use the united-front method in anti-war work, we are forced to defend ourselves against unfounded assertions of our alleged "obsession" with the UN that undermined the effort to build opposition to the war in the main imperialist power.
The UN, imperialist rivalry, and the nature of tire war
Our May document began by agreeing with the Tendency statement that "the conflict is an imperialist war whose aim is to preserve the U.S. as the dominant power in Europe." We simply proposed taking note in the Tendency statement of the fact that other main NATO countries had interests that coincided with, but were not identical to, those of the U.S. This indeed became clear in the debate over the use of ground troops between Blair, Schroeder and Clinton. These partially divergent interests helped to shape the settlement of the war, as analyzed in detail by the SWP document and Alex Callinicos column in Socialist Worker (G.B.)
It is in this context that the editorial in ISR #8 asserts that the main NATO powers see the European Security and Defense Identity as a means to be "less dependent on U.S. control." We did not state or imply that this was necessarily contrary to immediate U.S. interests. Nor did we state or suggest that the European powers were about to pursue imperialist interests at odds with those of the U.S. Rather, the ISR editorial argued simply that this European military buildup would further destabilize the world: "The NATO war against Yugoslavia has thus set the stage for further conflictsboth in the Balkans and elsewhere in the world." We are therefore puzzled by the attention that the SWP document devotes to a supposed debate with the ISO on "strategic" vs. economic" imperialist interests in the war. We have never erected a wall between the two in any of our publications. The speech by Ahmed Shawki cited in the SWP document stated that the war "was about the main military and economic power in the world trying to show that it says who gets what, when and how." And since we agree that the central aim of the war is to "preserve the U.S. as the dominant power in Europe," it follows that the program of U.S. dominance has both strategic and economic elements. There is no "attempt to discover differences" on our part. Indeed the SWP documents lengthy discussion of imperialism and Great Power interests seems to us beside the point.
The SWP document claims that a "preoccupation with relatively internalized and abstract arguments is reflected in [the ISO documents] remarks on this subject." It continues:
We are indeed struck by the fact that, as the war went on, you seemed in your material to place less and less emphasis on the question of Kosovo self determination, despite your insistence on its overriding importance for the anti-war case.
"Less and less emphasis" as "the war went on?" Socialist Worker (U.S.) ran exactly two articles on the questionone of them written by Alex Callinicos. Both stressed that the KLA had become a tool of NATO. The second articlethe center spread headlined "NATOs war wont free the Kosovars"appeared in the June 4 issue towards the end of the war. (The special anti-war issue of ISR containing the historical article, "Why Kosovo is not Serbia" made the same argument in brief.) The allegation that Socialist Worker changed its emphasis in the course of the war simply isnt supported by the record. Alex Callinicos article on the KLA appeared in the April 23 issue (the second 16-page paper produced during the war) alongside our main feature, an interview with a woman from Kosovo of Serb and Albanian extraction. Indeed, the interview was later reprinted in British Socialist Worker.
Nor did the ISO raise the slogan of Kosovar self-determination in the anti-war movement. We have no idea why you believe we did so. In fact, we fought successfully on several occasionssuch as in the April Labor Notes conference and in the San Francisco and New York anti-war committeesto keep sectarians from making such a demand the basis for anti-war unity. Moreover, the ISO Notes devoted only a single paragraph to the question in its April 19 issue. The April 19 ISO Notes said, in part: Of course as revolutionary socialists we support self determination for the oppressed Albanian majority in Kosovo. But the [KLA] does not represent the vehicle for winning self-determination for Kosovar Albanians...for all intents and purposes, the KLA is acting as a tool for U.S. imperialism. For this reason, comrades cannot take up the slogan, Victory to the KLA. This weeks Socialist Worker contains an excellent article by Alex Callinicos which explains the issue more thoroughly. All comrades should read it.
If we had fundamental differences with the SWP on this question, we would not have run the article so prominently and urged our members to pay close attention to it.
Again, we would rather discuss what we did say and write about Kosovar self-determination rather than point out what we did not. But the SWP documents assertion that we devoted "overriding importance" to the question of the KLA self- determination (like various Trotskyist groups) leaves us no choice but to devote space to setting the record straight.
The difference we raised in our document concerned the Bourdieu statements formulation of the national question, quoted in Anti-War Notes #1: For the duration of the war at least, the KLA are becoming an arm of NATO. There is, therefore, no way that genuine revolutionaries can support them. We support the right of self-determination of the Kosovar Albanians, just as we do not [sic] that of all oppressed peoples, butas an excellent anti-war statement signed by Pierre Bourdieu puts it"on the sole condition that this right is not fulfilled on the back of another people and by the ethnic cleansing of territory." KLA leaders are committed to a "Greater Serbia" embracing Kosovo and parts of Macedonia, an objective that could only be realized through, for example, the expulsion of the Serbian minority in Kosovo.
Note that this passage refers to (despite the typographical error) the right of all oppressed nations to self-determinationprecisely the position the SWP document criticizes us for supposedly holding. In fact, our document makes no such statement. Therefore the argument that our position would lead us to support "self determination" for Zionist settlers in Palestine is nonsensicalleaving aside the fact that the revolutionary socialist tradition has always rejected the Zionist project. The SWP documents conflation of Jewish victims of the Holocaust with Zionist settlers in Palestine is a bit of a sleight of hand. Our tradition didnt view Zionism as a solution to Jewish oppression any more than it believed the Second World War allies claims to be fighting a war against fascism. [In fact, ISR #7 ran an article on the Second World War and the Holocaust exposing Western myths about "the good war."] In any case, socialists opposed the Zionist state not only because it rested on the expulsion of Palestinians, but because the creation of the state of Israel was only possible through the sponsorship of imperialism. The Kosovar Albanians relationship to imperialism is the key consideration in evaluating the struggle of Kosovar Albanians as well.
The point made in our document is straightforward: socialists support for the right of Kosovar Albanians to self-determination is unconditional precisely because they are historically oppressed. As Lenin put it, this is a negative demand. Socialists can support the right of self determination, including secession, without advocating it. Therefore spelling out the "sole condition" on which self-determination of an oppressed nation should be supportedas the Bourdieu statement doesis irrelevant at best and lead to reactionary conclusions at worst. That is why we cited the example of the Russian minorities in the Baltic states. Concern over the fate of the Russians after independence served as a cover for Russian chauvinist opposition to self-determination for those nations.
Of course, political movements for self determination in oppressed nations take on all political colorationsfrom internationalist to reactionary/clerical, and we have to evaluate them accordingly. But thats not whats being discussed in the case of Kosovo or the KLA. The national movements relationship to the forces of imperialism is key to assessing the struggle for national self-determination at any given point. Our support is forthcoming "so long as we judge that struggle to be progressive," as the SWP document puts it. In the case of Kosovo, the KLA has wedded the struggle to U.S./NATO imperialism, so it is obviously no longer progressive. The analogy with the subordination of the Serbian struggle against Austria to the inter-imperialist conflicts in the First World War, cited in the SWP document, is an apt one. The article on "Marxism and War" in ISR #8 quotes Lenin on this point at length. Lenin did not withdraw his support for the right of Serbian self determination in a struggle with Austria. Rather, he stressed that it could not be achieved through imperialist war and therefore could not be a political slogan in the First World War.
The SWP document dismisses our point that Anti-War Notes #1 should have addressed the issue of Serb nationalism by stating that "our experience seems to be out of line with the rest of the Tendency." Yet it is our understanding from Comrade Stack that the SWP was forced to withdraw from a demonstration in London because of physical confrontation with the Serb nationalists. Your experience in handling that situation and dealing with Serb groups in the anti-war movementmentioned briefly in Anti-War Notes #2no doubt contained important lessons for other groups in the Tendency. Certainly this was the challenge that we faced in the U.S. Here the greater numbers of Serb nationalists in absolute and relative terms made it necessary for us to address the issue on an ongoing basis. As we put it in our document:
While the question must be approached tactically in order to meet specific national contingencies, revolutionaries must make an independent standwhich does not directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, lend support to Serbian nationalists who support Milosevic. This means, when necessary, raising some slogans that differentiate ourselves from the reactionaries.
The SWP document states, in apparent disagreement with our document, that "we find the most effective way to rally internationalist opposition is directly to address the main arguments about the war itself." However, it goes on to state an approach to Serb nationalism virtually identical to that of the ISO document quoted above:
Does this mean we never raised the question of Kosovar self determination Absolutely not. In situations where Serb nationalists or their sympathizers peddled their myths about Kosovo. we challenged them.
This is essentially the same approach taken by the ISO. That is why our document stated that failure to emphasize the question of the refugees (a question, not, in fact, equivalent to that of Kosovar Albanian self-determination) among Serbs "could lead comrades to adapt to Serb nationalism." Also, what was the question of the refugees if not one "of the main arguments about the war itself? Our approach did not alienate us from ordinary Serbs. In fact we organized alongside Serbs in most cities, particularly with Serbian-American students, many of them radicalized by the war.
The character of the anti-war movement in the United States
Our reading of the reports in Anti-War Notes #2 and #3, suggested that our experience in building against the war did not differ dramatically from the experiences of other Tendency organizations, with the exception of the Greek SEK. That said, we also believe the anti-war movement was smaller in the U.S.not necessarily in comparison with movements in the other NATO countries, but in comparison with the anti-war movement during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. In fact, we addressed the question "Why is the anti-war movement so small?" in the May 28 issue of ISO Notes, because many of our members were asking the same question. After more than two months of a high level of anti-war activity, our members were confronting the fact that the widespread skepticism and passive opposition to the war had not turned into large-scale, active anti-war opposition. For years. we have argued that the present period is characterized by a level of broad left-leaning consciousness that is not matched by the level of struggle. The war against Yugoslavia provided another illustration of this. Yet the ISO is no more responsible for the small size of the anti-war movement in the United States than our tiny Italian group is responsible for the mass demonstrations which took place in Italy. Nor, for that matter, is the SWP responsible for the low level of class struggle in Britain today.
There were, of course, differences in the scale of U.S. mobilization in the Gulf and in Kosovo. Clinton opposed escalation to a ground war in a large part because he wanted to avoid the social costsand widespread oppositionthat a ground war would bring. But all this doesnt explain why the existing passive opposition to the war didnt become active. For this we can thank the liberals. We believe that the primary explanation for the small size of the anti-war movement lies with the collapse of liberalism into "Clintonism" and, as a result, into support for "humanitarian" U.S. military interventions. Some leading left intellectuals such as Chomsky, Said and Zinn (although it should be pointed out that Zinn took several weeks to "think through his position" on NATOs war, in his words), became vocal opponents of NATOs war. But too many others became NATOs cheerleaders.
The left wing of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Socialists of America quickly voiced support for NATOs war, and along with its youth group, raised the demand for ground troops. The New York Review of Books, a forum for left-liberal intellectuals which distinguished itself from mainstream liberals as an early and consistent opponent of the Vietnam War, became a pro-war organ (and pro-ground war, at that). Early in the war, Jesse Jackson appeared on television to proclaim that Dr. Martin Luther King would have supported NATOs humanitarian mission. Only later, after NATO atrocities started to kick up some discontent within Democratic ranks, did Jackson transform himself into a peacemaker, endorsing the EUs demand for a bombing halt. Teach-ins often turned into debates over whether or not to support NATOs war. In New York, at a panel organized by actor Tim Robbins and attended by 300 people, half the speakers were pro-war and were well-received. Even at the biggest teach-in, one of a 1,000 sponsored by The Nation magazine and California State Rep. Tom Hayden in Los Angeles, a number of invited speakersincluding the editor of the liberal L.A. Weekly, Harold Meyerson (a member of DSA), spoke in favor the war. With so much liberal opinion lending its support to Clinton, the right opportunistically posed as opponents of Clintons war. One of the principal anti-war speakers at the LA teach-in was right-wing dilettante Ariana Huffington. The "antiwar.com" Web sitewith links to both left wing anti-war sites as well as to far-right isolationist siteswas set up by the Republican Right!
These figures influenced much of the popular debate around the war. But these individuals are not activists. The activists who had taken the lead in organizing opposition to the Gulf War in 1990-91 were by and large absent this time around. This includes individuals such as Leslie Cagan from New York, who took the lead in pulling together the national anti-Gulf War coalition in 1990 and Richard Reilly from Chicago, who led the Chicago city-wide coalition during the Gulf War. Our New York organizer contacted Cagan to invite her involvement in an effort to build an anti-war coalition. Cagan declined, saying she was "confused" on the war.
Reilly, who has collaborated with us on various issues since the Gulf War, actually supported NATOs war (as he earlier supported Western arming of the Bosnian Muslims). The list of figures like Cagan and Reilly goes on and on. Very early on we contacted every anti-war, Third World solidarity, etc. organization or individual we could in cities across the country to initiate anti-war activity. We did the same when the US invaded Somalia and Haiti, and when it bombed Sudan and Afghanistan last fall, and when the US bombed Iraq in December.] We got little response, with the exception of pacifist groupings such as Peace Action, which is well-intentioned but with few forces on the ground. Even other groups on the revolutionary left are today fewer, smaller and more demoralized than they were in 1990-91. While they participated in demonstrations, their influence was quite small.
The Workers World Party, which formed its own national anti-war coalition in 1990-91, did the same again. But they too are smaller than they were in 1991, and this time around they opportunistically allied themselves with Serb nationalist organizations. In the earliest demonstrations organized by the WWPs front, the International Action Center, WWP members led chants, "Kosovo is Serbia" and made speeches denying the existence of any ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. [It should be noted that our members and contacts attended these demonstrations.] Later, operating under the auspices of the Emergency Mobilization to Stop the War, they toned down their blatant pro-Milosevic rhetoric. They called national anti-war demonstrations in San Francisco and Washington for June 5. This call received the endorsement of a layer of activists broader than the WWP/IAC periphery (people like Zinn, Rev. Thomas Gumbleton, the Catholic bishop of Detroit, etc.). The ISO also endorsed these demonstrations, although the ultra-Stalinist WWPs sectarianism assured that our name didnt appear on any leaflets or posters advertising them. At the June 5 demonstration of 6,000 in Washington, D.C., WWP organizers prevented an ISO comrade from Washington, DC. They chose another speaker from the DC coalition to speak, even though the DC coalition had elected our comrade to speak on the coalitions behalf.
With or without Workers World, large demonstrations of Serbian nationalists took place in the first weeks of the war. For example, in Chicagoa city with 300,000 Serbs, the largest concentration of Serbs outside of Serbia2,000 Serbs marched behind nationalist banners and slogans, compared with fewer than 100 ISO members and contacts on the Saturday after the war started. In this context, we in the ISO had to worry about our own safety if we raised alternative slogans. We sold Socialist Worker and engaged individual Serbs in discussion. Many of them were quite willing to talk about the issues. As time went on, our aim was to build an anti-war movement that would involve Serbs, but outnumber the Serbian nationalists. We sought to differentiate ourselves from the Serbian nationalist slogansfor example, by raising the slogan "Money for refugees, not for war." In Chicago, a few weeks after the demonstration described above, the ISO-initiated city-wide coalition organized a demonstration against a NATO general speaking at a downtown hotel. (Wesley Clark was the original speaker, but he canceled.) About 450 people, half of them Serbs, turned up. At the demonstration, anti-NATO and pro-refugee slogans predominated over attempts by nationalists to chant "Kosovo is Serbia."
What the ISO said and did during the war
The broad left, as we stated in our initial reports, was by and large confused, if not pro-war. Nevertheless, the ISOs strategy was to build the broadest movement possibleand to reach out to as many new people as possible. In the first Socialist Worker issued after the war began, we included an anti-war poster, which said: "NATO war means more horror: STOP THIS WAR NOW!" (See the motivation for the poster below.) We produced six issues of Socialist Worker (including two 16-page issues with special anti-war supplements). The front-page headlines of each Socialist Worker aimed to agitate against the war. SW headlines during this period read, in chronological order: "Stop this War NOW!"; "Stop the Bombing!;" "The price of NATOs Terror (with a subhead: "Money for Refugees, not for War."); "Blood on Clintons Hands"; "NATOs War Crimes"; and finally, "NATOs Bloody Peace." The ISR team produced a special issue on the war which reached branches in two weeks. Its preamble concluded, "We hope this special issue will provide anti-war activists with the background and arguments they need to build a movement against this war." The 3,200 copies of the special issue sold out. Comrades sold 100 copies at the national demonstration to free Mumia Abu Jamal on April 24. Distributors in New York and Seattle called to order extra copies after they sold out. The follow up issue of the ISR, produced just after the war ended is headlined, "Masters of the Balkans." The ISR played a key role in winning the activists we met and worked with during the war to socialist politics.
On March 25, 1999the day after NATO commenced bombingthe ISO Notes issued a call to ISO members to shift their priorities to building an anti-war opposition. We encouraged right away the holding of teach-ins with the aim of launching anti-war committees from them. We turned our paper sales into mini anti-war rallies. We followed with a special anti-war circular which argued (we quote at length):
Stop the bombs-Bring the refugees here! US bombs are never "humanitarian"! NATO bombs cant bring peace!
Comrades must immediately shift onto an anti-war footing for the duration of the NATO attack over Kosovo. Comrades did an excellent job of responding to the bombing when it first began, holding demonstrations and town meetings. Our activity must be stepped up. The slogans listed above are the slogans of the anti-war movement we must aim to build.
How to build the opposition to NATO bombing
1. Socialist Worker will be printed on Tuesday and shipped according to the regular schedule. It includes a special supplement which takes up all aspects of the arguments against this insane war. Every comrade should read it immediately so that you have a full understanding of the revolutionary socialist basis for opposing the war.
2. Enclosed in every copy of Socialist Worker is an anti-war poster. We have also printed extra copies so comrades can get as many as they want. This poster should be used everywhere possible-posted on dormitory doors, around campuses, on union or workplace bulletin boards when possible, as placards on demonstrations, on signs over ISO lit tables, etc. It is meant to open up discussion about why everyone who is interested in justice for the Kosovans must oppose the bombing-and to point to the need to build an opposition.
3. International Socialist Review has sped up its schedule and is planning to finish a special issue on the Balkan crisis next week. We will get it out to comrades as quickly as possible, as it will provide a more in-depth analysis, history of the Balkans and articles laying out the revolutionary socialist approach to imperialist war. Comrades can use it when preparing meetings and anti-war speeches. This issue should be sold at every ISO activity. Branches should hold meetings on some of the topics using the articles. And we should use this issue of the Review to win the people in our periphery to joining the ISO.
4. Organize teach-ins. Because there is so much confusion about the issues involved in the NATO bombing, it is essential that comrades organize teach-ins wherever possible. Use the teach-ins as a way to work with others who are opposed to the war, and to build up a core of anti-war activists, especially on campuses.
5. Organize demonstrations, especially over the issue of ground troops or after a significant number of civilian casualties. We must use every opportunity to publicize the real horror of this war, and the human tollboth actual and potential.
6. Keep a long term view. Even if our numbers are small right now, it is absolutely wrong to think that the opposition cannot grow. Historically, wars are always at their most popular at the very beginning, before the human casualties and economic consequences show themselves. It took several years for the anti-war movement against Vietnam to build to large numbers. And it must not be forgotten that World War One enjoyed massive support throughout Europe, including Russiawhere sentiment against the war several years later led to the massive growth of the revolutionary left.
In practice, we put a great deal of effort into seeking out anyone who was opposed to NATOs war and engaged in joint activity. For example, ISO members took the lead in organizing teach-ins and anti-war panels in every city and on every campus where we had members (except for the L.A. branch, which was in crisis). Far from excluding those who did not agree with us on the issue of the UN (or a range of other issues, for that matter), we welcomed their participation, as long as they were against NATOs war. The list of people who spoke on these panels or teach-ins includes: Howard Zinn (who canceled at the last minute due to ill health), Michael Albert, editor of Z-Magazine; leading members of the Serbian-American Alliance; Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio (who also spoke at our Summer School); George Capaccio (who also spoke at our Summer School) and others from Voices in the Wilderness; Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi; an assortment of professors, Yugoslav historians, and anti-war activists. The teach-ins drew anywhere from 20-300 people, depending on the campus.
Our comrades also initiated city-wide coalitions against the war. The Workers World Party was invited to participate, as was everyone who was opposed to the war. By and large the WWP refused to take part, as they do in any organization which they do not control. The city-wide coalitions tended to attract pacifists, the organized left, as well as small numbers of newer people who were opposed to the war. In both New York and San Francisco (the two places where Workers World focused its efforts) many of the people who helped form the anti-war coalitions were thoroughly alienated by the uncritical support for Milosevic which dominated Workers World demonstrations. However, in both places, the ISO successfully argued against including a demand to "end ethnic cleansing" as a principle of unity, on the grounds that this would blunt opposition to the war which the politicians and the media were selling as a war against ethnic cleansing. We argued instead for the simple slogans, "Stop NATOs War" and "U.S./NATO Out of the Balkans."
In Chicago, we initiated, with the local Peace Action organization, an anti-war coalition which organized several demonstrations (including the one against the NATO general, discussed above), teach-ins and other events. Most of the coalitions efforts focused on two main events in the Chicago area: a region-wide demonstration against Clinton when he spoke at the University of Chicago graduation ceremonies; and another region-wide demonstration against Albright, who was scheduled to speak at Northwestern Universitys graduation (on the same weekend as our Summer School). A few days before her scheduled appearance, Albright canceled.
At individual campuses, including places where we had no members before the war we had great success in organizing anti-war committees (e.g. San Francisco City College, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, DePaul University in Chicago). However, we were unable to successfully build more than a few stable anti-war committees on campuses. Is this because we alienated new people? No. It is, quite simply because it took some time to convince enough students to be against the war to form the basis for an anti-war committee. The teach-ins we helped organize, rather than simply being anti-war forums, tended to turn into debates over whether or not to support the war. Then schools began letting out for the summer. Our plan was to start up where we left off in the fall, if the war continued.
Pat Stack asked us why the anti-war movement was largest in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assure you it is not because our comrades in San Francisco operated on a fundamentally different basis than the rest of the organization. Our comrades in the Bay Area, to be sure, did excellent work. They initiated anti-war coalitions on three campuses as well as a city-wide coalition that organized demonstrations which drew up to 1,500. The San Francisco organization was in regular touch with the center and the comrades carried out the organizations anti-war perspective. The higher level of anti-war activity in the Bay Area originates in an interesting demographic fact about the areaa substantial portion of the revolutionary left settled there after the 1960s (recall the importance of Berkeley and Oakland during the 1960s). The left in the Bay Area is bigger than in most other areas. Virtually all left-wing movements there are bigger than in other U.S. citiesthe anti-war movement during the Gulf War of 1990-91, the campaign to free Mumia Abu Jamal, and the opposition to NATOs war in 1999. The labor movement often takes a more left-wing political stance as well. The San Francisco Federation of Labor, for example, quickly passed a resolution to oppose NATOs war. Unfortunately, it was the only city-wide labor federation to do so, to our knowledge. [Recall, earlier this year, that the San Francisco Fed also endorsed our demands to free the Korean comrades, and its secretary-treasurer led a protest delegation to the South Korean consulate.]
Given the example of the San Francisco Federation of Labors anti-war resolution, we decided to propose at the Labor Notes conference (held in Detroit in April) that Labor Notes sponsor a meeting on "Trade Unionists Against the War." More than 60 people (from a conference of about 750) turned out for the meeting, even though conference organizers gave us the worst possible meeting slot of (Sunday morning, 8 am). After some debate, the meeting endorsed its formation. One of our Teamster members took part in launching it, along with Dan Lane (a former locked-out Staley worker with whom weve collaborated since the mid-1990s "War Zone" struggles in Central Illinois) and a couple of other left-wing union activists. Dan LaBotz, a leading member of the Solidarity organization, agreed to work with us to build "Trade Unionists Against the War" in the Labor Notes network of labor activists. "Trade Unionists Against the Wars" aim was to gain labor unionists signatures to an anti-war statement for publication; secondly, to campaign to win other union locals to pass anti-war resolutions similar to the San Francisco Feds resolution; third, to organize contingents to march in demonstrations. The initiative did not get far, chiefly because the Solidarity instructed its representative, Dan LaBotz, not to work with the ISO. Despite his initial enthusiasm for the project, he withdrew. Since Solidarity provides the main cadre that holds the Labor Notes network together, Solidaritys decision meant that Labor Notes would not build "Trade Unionists Against the War."
The ISOs perspective in the six weeks leading up to our Summer School was, as stated in ISO Notes: "1) Build the anti-war movement; 2) Build the ISO summer school-Build the ISO!" Comrades did an excellent job of carrying out this perspective. That is why our Summer School was the biggest we have ever had (reaching 500 for the first time, with 450 in attendance throughout the weekend). The Summer School reflected a high level of recruitment through the anti-war activity, as well as through building against the death penalty and police brutality. The session on Contract 99 featured two key rank-and-file leaders from the Boeing strike of 1995 and the GM strike of 1998two of the most important strikes in the U.S. in recent years. The atmosphere was enthusiastic, the level of politics higher, and our roots in the class deeperespecially around the issues of the death penalty and police brutalitywhich Pat Stack, representing the SWP Central Committee, pointed out in his wrap-up speech. More than 100 comrades stayed in Chicago an extra day to attend a cadre class on branch building. To us, this was a sign of the high morale of the cadre.
We feel that the ISOs actual experience in building the anti-war movement, as laid out here, sharply contradicts the SWP central committees assertion in its document that the ISOs "experience of the war seems to have been so different from and so much less positive than it was for that of much of the rest of the Tendency." We disagree completely with your conclusion that "there has been such a divergence between you [the ISO] and the rest of us." The facts speak for themselves. When Pat Stack spoke at our Summer School final rally, he reported that the SWP recruited 300-400 people during the war. If 300-400 people were recruited by the SWP, a party of 10,000, the proportionate equivalent would have been 30-odd people recruited by the ISO, an organization of 800. The ISO summer school alone recruited 25 new people, not to mention the dozens of new members in attendance (many of them recruited from anti-war activity).
The reality of our anti-war work has been far different from the scenario imagined in the SWPs document. We believe that the evidence we have presented here shows thisbased upon the ISOs publications Socialist Worker, the ISR, and the ISO Notesas well as the concrete activities of our organization in building the anti-war movement and the ISO.
The United Front Method
Why we are in the position of justifying the ISOs role in the anti-war movement is another question. The ISO has been in existence for 22 years, with more or less the same leadership for the last 16. Our organization has grown from a handful of members meeting in living rooms to what we are today, with a solid cadre and an outward orientation. We will be the first to admit that our mistakes have been many, but they have not involved confusion around the united front method. Indeed, we believe that our work against the death penalty over the last five years and our campaign to end the sanctions against Iraq clearly demonstrate our understanding of the united front method. These campaigns have achieved measurable results. In both cases, we have managed to work constructively with others who do not agree with us on a variety of issues.
The Summer Schools "Live from Death Row" rally showed how many families of inmates and victims of police brutality play an active role in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in the Chicago area. Some of these activists have joined the ISO; others are moving closer to us politically. The Campaign has been key in building a multiracial ISO branch on the South Side of Chicago.
The campaign against the Iraq sanctions was also initiated by the ISO, after last Decembers bombing. Its purpose was to publish a full page statement in the New York Times. ISO comrades on the East and West Coasts and in Chicago played the central role in reaching out to a much broader layer of activists. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Edward Said agreed to sponsor the ad right away. Later Angela Davis agreed to sponsor, and the ad was signed by a variety of figures well-known in the U.S. (Barbara Ehrenreich, Kurt Vonnegut, Eduardo Galeano, Denis Hallidaythe former ASG for the United Nations in Iraq, who quit the UN because of the sanctionsDaniel Singer, Cornel West, Manning Marable, and others.)
With a great deal of collaboration and some argument, we managed to publish an ad which called for an end to all sanctions against Iraq (despite the fact that many people still support the military sanctions). More than 1,500 signed on to the ad, and we raised more than the $35,000 necessary for the New York Times. The statement appeared in the New York Times on April 28. It also appears on the back cover of The Progressive magazine this month. Next we plan to publish it in The Nation. Furthermore, South End Press has asked Anthony Arnove-because of his key role in the ad campaignto edit a book it plans to publish on Iraq sanctions. Contributing authors will most likely include central figures in the signature campaign (such as Chomsky, Zinn and/or Said), as well as Sharon Smith of the ISO.
We do not describe these experiences to exaggerate their significance, but merely to demonstrate that we have achieved some success at building according to the united front method. This method has guided our approach to building anti-war movements as wellfirst during the 1990-91 Gulf War and again during NATOs recent war. We therefore do not understand why the SWP Central Committee raises such far-fetched accusations in its July 2 document. We believe that our record speaks for itself.
We have taken some length to recapitulate our arguments and to document our anti-war activity. We believed this was necessary to clear up any misunderstandings the SWP may have had about our arguments or our work during the anti-war movement. This will put our July 12 meeting with SWP CC members on a sounder footing, so that the discussion will be based on an assessment of real issues we raised and on the real work we did. We look forward to a frank discussion that will result in greater political clarity and stronger collaboration within our . Tendency.
The ISO (U.S.) Steering Committee
"Reply to ISO" on Balkans war, July 2, 1999
To the Steering Committee of the International Socialist Organization:
Your document raised a number of important points. Before responding to them in detail, it may be helpful to say something about our reasons for producing first the Tendency Statement Against the War (reprinted in the April Socialist Review) and Anti-War Notes.
Quite early in the war it became clear that a number of European groups had responded in a confused and abstentionist way. They were influenced by the general tendency of the far left, in Europe at any rate, to adopt a curse on both your houses position towards NATO and Serbia and even to support the KLA. Even the German group was deeply confused and partially paralysed for the opening weeks of the war. We therefore considered it imperative to take the initiative at the level of the Tendency in order both to clarify the key arguments and to give a general direction to the anti-war work.
These initiatives were generally welcomed in the Tendency. SEK went as far as to reprint the Statement as a special supplement to its paper. The impression conveyed by the reports in Anti-War Notes 2 and 3 was that the experience of building the anti-war movement was very positive for many very differently placed groupsnot just the Greeks, but, for example, the Canadians, the French (despite the feeble response of the PCF, LO, and the LCR), and the Poles (in the most pro-war country in East-Central Europe). We were therefore flabbergasted to discover the extent of your disagreement with our arguments and the very different approach that you took in the US. Let us hope that this response may help to remove these differences by clarifying the issues involved.
(1) The Nature of the War. Of course, as you say, the NATO powers are a band of warring brothers. Nevertheless, any assessment of these divisions is only useful in the context of an analysis of the driving forces in the war. In our view the decisive factor was NATO expansion, justified by means of the ideology of humanitarian intervention, as a means of allowing the US to maintain its position as the leading military and political power in Europe. The attack on Serbia was planned as a relatively brief bombing campaign (two days, according to the Chief of the British Defence Staff) to establish a precedent for unilateral NATO interventions on humanitarian grounds. When this went wrong, as numerous commentators were quick to observe, NATO found itself stuck with winning the war to avoid the wrong kind of precedent being set.
Your analysis of the origins of the war appears to be along broadly similar lines. Yet you to object to any reference to the economic stake the West has in the oil and gas reserves of the Caspian Sea. At your Summer School Ahmed Shawki used the formulation that the war was dictated by strategic and not economic interests. This seems to us to be a rather false counter-position. Of course it is ridiculous to assert that economic interests directly dictated NATOs attackfor example, as some Stalinists claim, that German imperialism has long lusted after the Trepca mine, or even, according to various orthodox Trotskyist sects, that the US wants to stamp out the last workers state in Europe! Nevertheless, the strategic interests of any Great Power are invariably bound up with maintaining or increasing its economic stake.
Thus, in the heyday of Victorian imperialism, even if grabbing a new colony offered no immediate economic pay-off, its possession was usually seen as indirectly contributing to the colonizers ability to preserve or expand its share of global resources. In the epoch of imperialism, when competition between capitals takes the form not merely of market rivalries but of military and diplomatic conflicts among states, strategic and economic interests become closely interwoven.
Joel Geier makes, in effect, the same point with respect to the Balkan war: The US has no immediate economic interests in this war, but if it emerges victorious, it will use its strengthened military position as leverage to gain economic concessions in global trade. (Marxism and War, ISR, Summer 1999, p. 30) But why stop at the potential consequences for the US bargaining position in trade negotiations? It seems absurd not to take into account the Caspian as well.
Central Asia is, as John Rees documents in Socialist Review. June 1999, an area of intense Western activityreflected, for example, in the formation of the GUUAM bloc of ex-Soviet republics during the Washington summit, speculation about Georgia joining NATO, and a military exercise in Kazakhstan last year for which 3,000 American paratroopers were flown directly from the US. It is worth stressing that Western interest in Central Asia is strategic as well as economic. It borders on Russia and China, the two powers that the Pentagon regards as the main longterm military threats to the US, and on the Middle Eastof course, a region of paramount importance to the advanced capitalist countries generally.
NATO is developing into the framework through which the US pursues its interests through much of the Eurasian landmass. These interests include, among others, keeping the EU in line for both economic and political reasons, isolating Russia. and securing access to the Caspian. It would be absurdly mechanical to reduce the war to a drive for the Caspian. But it seems equally absurd dogmatically to seek to separate out strategic and economic interests when they are so manifestly interrelated. The effort to do so seems to us to reflect a desire to discover differences where, on any reasonable approach informed by the Marxist theory of imperialism, none should exist.
(2) Inter-Imperialist Conflict. Of course US dominance is resented by the major European powers, notably Germany and France. Nevertheless, the debacle of European policy during the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Clinton administrations eventual success in imposing a settlement of the Bosnian war underlined that, like it or not, the EU depends on American military power by its own security. The war, by demonstrating this dependence, may encourage the development of a distinct European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI): already in the St Malo agreement last December, the French and British governments backed such a move, and it was endorsed by NATOs Washington summit in April.
All the same, International Socialist Review is mistaken when it describes the ESDI as an attempt to create a European-wide military force within NATO to be less dependent on US control (Notes of the Quarter, Summer 1999, p. 5, emphasis added). A greater European technical and organizational capability to mount limited military operations with the NATO framework does not necessarily threaten the dominant position of the US. Indeed, it may to a certain extent be to Washingtons advantage.
As Nicole Gnesetto puts it, in the absence of European military networks sufficiently organized to be credible, but above all in the absence of a common European will to transform the European Union into a responsible strategic actor, the United States finds itself finally, in each crisis, compelled to intervene ... The more powerful America is, the less she is free. So the hypothesis of an increased strategic responsibility for the Europeans is far from contradicting, in principle, the political interests of the United States itself. (Quoted in Le Monde Diplomatique, June 1999.)
The Kosovo occupation regime indicates what this means in practice. The US supplied the air-power and the overall political leadership, the Europeans are providing most of the garrison troops, dominating the proconsular administration, and picking up the tab. This division of labour means that the Europeans are carrying most of the burden of dealing with the enormous mess created by the war. This set-up in no way threatens Washingtons leading role in Europe: on the contrary, it leaves the US in the driving seat, but keeps it out of the front line.
Of course, it is perfectly possible that, over time, the EU will develop into an independent strategic power. This certainly would unleash serious inter imperialist conflicts. Doing so would, however, require that the European ruling classes overcome massive obstacles for example, their own national antagonisms, the weak and fragmented nature of the European defence industry, and the tight constraints on significant increases in military budgets imposed by the public spending constraints required by the Growth and Stability Pact. Excessive speculation about such possibilities is therefore likely to be unprofitable (and, in the case of the German group, caused some disorientation during the war)
(3) The United Front and the United Nations. You write: The united front involves, of course, building the broadest possible opposition to the war. But, within that opposition, it is also crucial to build an anti-imperialist current. This is a perfectly correct formulation in the abstract. Concretely, everything depends on which side of the formula one stresses. If one emphasizes too strongly the second aspect, there is a danger of making opposition to imperialism in effect a condition of participation in united action. When we read your insistence on the importance of putting arguments against Serb nationalism, and against the illusion of a "UN solution" we worry that this is what you have been doing.
Lets first get rid of the red herring that we believe illusions in the UN no longer exist. You misread Anti-War Notes 1: it was the argument for UN sanctions as an alternative to war, and not the idea that the United Nations represents a disinterested international community, that we suggested the experience of Iraq since 1991 had put paid to. Maybe even this claim was exaggerated, but it seems undeniable that the credibility of sanctions has been gravely weakened, as the success of your New York Times ad shows.
Of course, there are massive illusions in the UN on the reformist left. The people we worked with in the anti-war movement in Britainleft Labour MPs like Tony Benn and Alice Mahon, peace activists like Bruce Kent have them, or have equivalent illusions, as Tariq Ali and Peter Gowan of New Left Review do in the EU and even in Russia. The critical question, however, is this: what is the significance of these illusions in the present situation? This question can be most usefully addressed at two levels.
(i) The Role of the UN. First of all, there is the standing of the UN in the Balkan war. The situation was fundamentally different from the Gulf in 1990-1. During that conflict, with the Stalinist regimes in collapse and disarray, the US-led Coalition could get the UN Security Council to rubber stamp their actions. In 1999, however, it is clear to all concerned that there are long-term strategic conflicts between the US, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other. This means that Washington and London often find themselves blocked on the Security Council (by Paris, manoeuvring as usual between the different blocs, as well as by Moscow and Beijing). It is probable that the architects of the Balkan war consciously welcomed the prospect of NATO attacking Serbia without UN authority in order to establish the precedent that NATO - i.e. the US-led military bloc - can act around the world without reference to the Security Council.
From this perspective, a UN-brokered settlement that ended the war by introducing into a Kosovo a force that was in substance multi-lateral (with, say, a big Russian, Chinese, and Third-World component) rather than the NATO core demanded by the West would have represented a significant defeat for the US and its allies. We would, of course, still have had to warn against the dangers of relying on the UN and point out that it reflects the very unequal distribution of global power rather than the interests of the peoples of the world, but this would have not altered the setback Washington and London in particular would have suffered.
In the event, the actual outcome of the war fell somewhere between such a settlement and an outright victory for NATO. It is clear from the condition of the Serbian forces as they withdrew from Kosovo that they were not significantly degraded by the NATO bombing, and that they emerged from the war with their morale, discipline, heavy weaponry, and armour largely intact. Of course, had the war continued, NATO could have deployed sufficient force to have crushed the Serbs militarily. But this would have involved a ground offensive, potentially with serious NATO casualties.
Clinton and Schröder were desperate to avoid this Clinton because of the weakness of both establishment and mass support for the war in the US, Schröder because of a ground war might have brought down the Red-Green coalition in Germany. It is a mistake to treat, as you do (Notes of the Quarter, ISR, Summer 1999, p. 5), the G8 agreement which provided the basis of the eventual peace terms as reflecting the assertion of European interests against those of the US. Clinton seems to have worked closely with Schroeder during the end-game. According to the Guardian (5 June):
For the first half of the Kosovan conflict, Mr Clintons primary European confidant was Tony Blair. But, after the NATO summit in late April, ... Gerhard Schröder became increasingly influential. In the final weeks of the war, US policy has become more closely calibrated towards German caution than British belligerence.
The US-German axis as not motivated simply to avoid a ground war It was also concerned to draw Russia back in, both because Washington and Berlin realized that the unilateral nature of the attack on Serbia had dangerously antagonized the entire Russian ruling class and because Moscow was needed to mediate between the two sides in the search for a settlement. The eventual deal, apparently negotiated by a Swedish financier linked to the Russian government who worked closely with the Germans, was a compromise which offered Milosevic far more than he had been presented with at Rambouillet-including a much higher-profile role for the UN. But NATO then, in effect reneged on the deal once it had been signed, trying to use its military strength on the ground and Russias chronic economic weakness to transform the compromise into both a symbolic and an actual victory for the West.
The complexity of this process is worth underlining for various reasons. Undoubtedly it reveals the reality of inter-imperialist competition. It does not, however, fit into any simplistic Europe vs. America framework. And it shows the shifting status of the UN, depending on the relative strength of the major powers. The fact that the Western powers do not always regard the UN as a fining instrument is hardly surprising: why should an institutional structure created by the victors of the Second World War and formed largely during the Cold War necessarily reflect the very fluid relations of the major capitalist states in the era of instability that opened up in 1989? For the future, we need to have a clear understanding of the UN as both a tool of the Great Powers and an arena for their conflicts, on this basis warning against entertaining any illusions in it, but not becoming obsessed with it.
(ii) Building the Anti-War Movement. Let us now move to the second level at which the question of the UN should be addressed, namely its implications to our anti-war activity. In Anti-War Notes 1, we wrote: the UN is not today the important point of political differentiation that it was in 1990-1, and we should not press the issue in a way that cuts us off from other opponents of the war. You object to this assertion, and insist we do not tie our hands politically for the sake of "unity". This would lead to movementism.
Who said anything about tying our hands politically? In practice we all have to work with people who have illusions in the UN and in many other things as well (indeed the Radical Philosophy Association statement which you preferred to the Bourdieu letter with its reference to a multinational police force appeals not merely to the UN Charter but to the North Atlantic Treaty and the Constitution of the United States). But the critical question is: what are the key arguments we need to address in order to build a militant, active, mass anti-war movement? In 1990-1 the connected issues of the UN and sanctions were demobilizing and confusing the left and it was therefore of central importance to address them.
In the Balkan war, however, this was simply not the case. Outside sectarian left circles obsessed with Kosovan self-determination, the important arguments were quite different. They were: Is Western intervention genuinely humanitarian? Is the bombing helping the Kosovars? Is Milosevic another Hitler? Why is NATO waging the war? What is the alternative? These are the questions we had to address Abstract polemics against the UN were irrelevant to this task.
Our worry was that by making a big deal of the UN you cut yourselves off, less from the hardened peace activists, but from a larger and much looser layer of people with vaguely pacifist illusions. It is by uniting with these people in broad anti-war coalitions that you could have begun to outflank the Stalinists and Serb nationalists who seemed to dominate anti-war activity in most American cities. Making the UN a key point of differentiation may have become a vicious circle in which the anti-war movement was small and dominated by the wrong people, you spent so much time attacking the UN that you pissed off the soft pacifists, and so the movement stayed small and dominated by the wrong people . . .
Beyond this, you make concessions to the misconception that the way in which revolutionaries differentiate themselves within united fronts is by putting the arguments which set us apart from other forces within the united front. In our experiencefor example, of the ANL, it is more often through being the most dynamic and militant force in building the movement in question that we distinguish ourselves and draw new people towards us. Of course, this process leads to arguments, but these develop from the concrete situation rather than being produced by some abstract duty to disagree with everything else. That certainly was our experience in building the anti-war movement in Britain.
(4) Kosovo Self-Determination. A similar preoccupation with relatively internalized and abstract arguments is reflected in your remarks on this subject. Kosovo self determination became the leading obsession of all the sects as well as the means through which some larger organizations (eg LO and the LCR in France) effectively abstained from the anti-war movement. You agree that Kosovo self determination was not an agitational slogan during the war, and that we should not support the KLA. Good. Nevertheless you jib at Anti-War Notes ls endorsement of the Bourdieu letters support for Kosovar self-determination, on the sole condition that this right is not fulfilled on the back of another people and by the ethnic cleansing of territory. This wrong because, you say, revolutionaries support for the right to self-determination of oppressed peoples is unconditional.
Is it really? The Jewish people in 1948, in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, were undoubtedly oppressed. Did this mean that we would have supported their right to self-determination in the shape of the State of Israel, either conditionally or unconditionally? Of course not, and for the very reason so well captured by the Bourdieu formulation because the establishment of the Jewish state took place on the Palestinians backs and through what would be now called the ethnic cleansing of their land. Our support for the right of national self determination even of oppressed peoples is never automatic, but always springs from the concrete context in which that right is asserted. That is why, as Chris Harman points out in the May Socialist Review, Lenin did not support the Serbs against Austria-Hungary in the concrete context of the First World War.
The formula of unconditional but critical support springs from debates about the Marxist attitude towards movements such as the IRA which wage a progressive anti-imperialist struggle on the basis of revolutionary nationalist politics. The unconditional aspect of the formula captures the fact that our support is not dependent on our political agreement with the programme, strategy, or tactics of the movement. Hence the need for political criticism, but hence also this criticism does not affect our support for the struggleso long as we judge that struggle to be progressive. This judgement depends on an assessment of the concrete context in which the demand for self-determination is raised, and therefore may change as the situation changes. In that sense, our support for the right to national self determination is never unconditional.
This general position is confirmed by the outcome of the war. What would it mean to put forward the slogan of Kosovar self-determination now, when the NATO occupation has unleashed a wave of KLA attacks on Serbs and aid agencies estimate that over 70,000 Serbs have left the province since the end of the war? Are we in favour of the ethnically pure Albanian state for which at least a significant section of the KLA leadership is driving? Of course not. Clarity on this kind of question depends on concrete analysis, not abstract slogans.
(5) Serbian Nationalism. Your insistence on drawing these (in our view) mistaken distinctions seems to spring from a concern that, unless we made clear our support for Kosovo self-determination, we ran the risk of being swamped by Serbian nationalism. More specifically, you suggested that if comrades did not raise slogans about the refugees, they might adapt to Serb nationalism.
Your experience here seems to be out of line here with the rest of the Tendency. As Anti-War Notes 2 shows, where Serb nationalists initially dominated the protests, their influence was usually diluted as the anti-war movement developed. Your particular concern that, in Greece, a large section of the anti-NATO forces espouse reactionary, pro-Serb and racist, anti-Albanian ideas seems somewhat misplaced. The SEK report suggests that the predominant character of the movement there was internationalist, as is indicated by the Albanian anti-war demonstration in Athens on May Day and an Albanian and a Serb speaking at the main anti-war rally at Greek Marxism.
We also know of no case of any comrade in the SWP or elsewhere in the Tendency making concessions to Serb nationalism. Had we come across any such case, we would have challenged the comrade(s) concerned very strongly. But comrades generally seem to have grasped the distinction between opposing the war and supporting Milosevic without any difficulty.
We did not make the issue of the refugees a central slogan in Britain. Of course, it could be used effectively to expose the NATO countries hypocrisy, but in our experience those who highlighted the refugees have tended to be those (Labour lefts, groups like the Socialist Party, even some of our own comrades) who wished to evade taking a hard, open position on the war. Of course, this is not true of you. Nevertheless, we find the most effective way to rally internationalist opposition is directly to address the main arguments about the war itself.
Does this mean we never raised the question of Kosovar self-determination? Absolutely not. In situations where Serb nationalists or their sympathisers peddled their myths about Kosovo, we challenged them. But, once again, challenging Serb nationalism was not the key to building an anti-war movement of any size in the NATO countries.
In Serbia itself, of course, it would be a different matter. It is clear that even with the best Serb democrats Albanian national rights tend to be a blind spot (and one that, of course, Milosevic has exploited again and again to weaken and divide the opposition parties). Tariq Ali compared this to the historic attitude of most British workers towards Irish self-determination. Even then, our experience in Britain has been that many Serbs abroad have gone through a process of radicalization during the war which made the most advanced of them open to revolutionary arguments including that in favour of Albanian national rights.
This confirms our view that it is perfectly possible to build a group based on our politics in Serbia today. For such a group the question of Kosovo self determination would be important. But we are not in Belgrade, but in London and Chicago and other cities in the NATO countries. Here the central issue is opposing NATO, not Milosevic. Once again we see that revolutionary politics is always concrete.
We are indeed struck by the fact that, as the war went on, you seemed in your material to place less and less emphasis on the question of Kosovo self determination, despite your insistence on its overriding importance for the anti-war case. In our view, this reflects the fact that the logic of the political arguments demanded by the situation pushed you to make the same kind of emphasis made in the rest of the Tendency. Thus the last issue of the US Socialist Worker to have reached us (18 June) targets NATO and its phoney humanitarianism in much the same way the rest of us have. For us, this is a practical demonstration of the irrelevance of the questions of which you have tried to make so much.
(6) In conclusion: we fear that your preoccupation with these questions represents an overly defensive assessment of the situation. We do not believe that this attitude was dictated by objective circumstances. Indeed, the situation in the US during the war does not seem to us to have been qualitatively more difficult than it was in western Europe. According to a Gallup poll quoted in your own paper, American public opinion at the end was evenly divided over the war47 percent for and 47 percent against. This is much more favourable than in Britain, where the line up was 54 percent for and 33 percent against.
It wasnt just in America that the first anti-war protests were small and dominated by Serb nationalists and their hangers-on. That was true in most places. But, the reports in Anti-War Notes demonstrate, in many countries, as the movement developed, its character became broader and more internationalist. Often this was as a result of the initiatives taken by our groupsnot necessarily on a national level, but, as the reports show, often in a particular city, neighbourhood, or campus.
A necessary condition of these interventions was the initial process of political clarification about the issues at stake in the war In Britain, for example, we established in the first few days of the war that the central issues were NATO and US imperialism, and that Kosovo self-determination and the UN were red herrings. In Greece, the comrades of SEK arrived at the same conclusions independently. Elsewherefor example, in France and Germany it was necessary to discuss extensively with comrades in order to help them arrive at the necessary clarity. The Statement and Anti-War Notes were part of this process of collective self-clarification.
The effectiveness of this process can be judged by the results. Many groups were able, whatever their different circumstances, to take initiatives that began to change the situation for the better, by stimulating the development of anti-war coalitions that were active, open, and attracting new people. This means that they emerged from the war politically and organizationally stronger. We are sure that this will be reflected at Marxism this year; it will also boost the morale and the confidence of the groups concerned.
The fact that our two organizations have had serious disagreements over the war isnt in itself a disaster. Argument is an essential part of the process of building revolutionary organizations, internationally as well nationally. If we think the positions you have taken are mistakenwell, weve made plenty of mistakes of our own. It would be a disaster if you were to entrench yourselves in a defensive position, behind a protective barrier of abstract and misleading arguments. This would have a damaging effect on your ability to respond to, and gain from the new crises of imperialism that we all know lie ahead.
We appeal to you seriously to consider our arguments. Our aim is not to push you into a corner. On the contrary, if anything we have been too cautious in pressing our disagreements with you, in the process inadvertently causing yet more offence. We think it is a shame that in the main imperialist power, where we have an excellent sister organization, the experience of the war seems to have been so different from and so much less positive than it was for that of much of the rest of the Tendency. Before dismissing what we say out of hand, please consider seriously why there has been such a divergence between you and the rest of us.
The Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party