The challenges facing socialists today

Eric Ruder and Alan Maass, members of the International Socialist Organization's elected Steering Committee, examine recent critiques put forward by former members.

A contingent organized by the International Socialist Organization marching against union-busting in MadisonA contingent organized by the International Socialist Organization marching against union-busting in Madison

THE INTERNATIONAL Socialist Organization (ISO), publisher of this website, has come under criticism recently in several articles written by former members. The writers are from different cities (one writing in Boston, seven coauthoring an article in Chicago, six in the Bay Area), and their respective cases are sometimes focused differently, but they share common themes, and their authors at times reference one another favorably.

As these critiques of the ISO have been couched as contributions to a discussion about how socialists should organize today and related political questions, we would like to take the opportunity to respond to the major themes being put forward--though, of course, not to every detail. This, we believe, is a fair summary of these major themes:

First, the ISO has overstated the scale of the economic crisis since the 2008 financial crash and its political and social impact. Second, as a consequence of overblown perspectives, the ISO has "consistently exaggerated the potential coming struggles--always just over the horizon--and turning points that never became qualitative turning points." (Chicago) In the words of our former members from the Bay Area:

While in the ISO, we found an increasing gap between our experienced reality and ever rosier predictions of growth, postulates of continual "leftward-shifting consciousness," and claims of both an ever growing "radicalizing minority" and developing class consciousness (even growing revolutionary or Social Democratic consciousness) within the working class.

Third, the ISO leadership is hostile to dissent, largely due to a top-down interpretation of Leninism "inherited from the British SWP" (Chicago) and "an internal leadership method which isolates, marginalizes and silences dissenting voices, instead of amplifying and exposing them so problems can be resolved within the organization." (Bay Area) Fourth, the "hyperactivity" that results from overblown perspectives has a tendency to "burn out longstanding members." (Chicago)

We will consider each of these points in turn.

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1. Has the ISO overstated the impact of the Great Recession on the economic and political terrain in the U.S. and around the world?

The ISO has argued, as Shaun Joseph, the former member in Boston, aptly summarized, that the U.S. "entered a new economic, political and ideological period" since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, especially with the financial crash that came at the end of 2008. Shaun quotes from a 2009 internal discussion document put forward by the ISO Steering Committee:

Critically, the world economy is in its worst crisis since the 1930s, centered in the crisis of American capitalism. It is an era marked by the desire and need for change, both from above and from below...Obama's election has taken place during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s–with no end of this downward spiral in sight. As in 1929, the economic crisis has exposed the corruption and greed endemic to the capitalist system.

It's hard to take issue with any of these assertions, though, of course, the crisis didn't stay exactly the same as at the end of 2008--for example, its "center" shifted to Europe, especially Greece and other countries caught in the debt trap. But no one could look back on a time when the Wall Street Journal compared the financial system to "a patient in intensive care...[whose] body is trying to fight off a disease that is spreading" and not recognize it as the "worst crisis since the 1930s." The mainstream use of the term "Great Recession" represents the general acknowledgement that this economic slump is different and more severe compared to those of the recent past.

Shaun asserts that the ISO's leadership has recognized shifts in the dynamics of the crisis--but has failed to "acknowledge [this] 'silent switch' in the group's political policy." The error, according to Shaun, isn't necessarily the description of either 2008 or today, but the failure "to explicitly admit and carefully explain the change" regarding "a central policy issue of four years' standing."

The truth is that the ISO has done exactly this all along--explicitly admitting and carefully explaining what has changed, and what has not. Shaun has quoted from internal discussion documents, so we will do so as well, though with the proviso to readers that they were written with an audience of ISO members in mind.

In early 2010, the ISO Steering Committee put forward a pre-convention discussion document titled "U.S. Politics After Obama's First Year," which began by acknowledging that our previous convention had met on the eve of Obama's inauguration, when the first Black president in U.S. history enjoyed immense popularity, rivaled only by the "stratospheric expectations" of his supporters, as Socialist Worker wrote at the time.

At this point, it was still conventional wisdom that mainstream politics was about to be transformed under Obama--something captured by rival covers of the two main newsmagazines: Time featured a morphed image of Obama with Franklin Delano Roosevelt over the headline "The New New Deal," while Newsweek announced "We're all socialists now."

One year later, though, we wrote:

The current situation could not be more different. While Obama still remains more popular than unpopular (at about 53 percent in the Gallup Poll, 2/14/2010), there is a widespread (and accurate) perception that his administration has lost momentum and authority...Today, political momentum lies with the right. "Populism" against elites and the banks is the media and political establishment's characterization of the current national political mood. But incredibly, the political right (e.g., the Tea Party "movement"), at least according to the media, appears to have a corner on that mood.

A document from the year before had recognized that: "Obama has the biggest opportunity since Ronald Reagan's presidency to reset American politics and policy for a generation. But as a creature of the U.S. political establishment, he retains deference to conventional wisdom and its many purveyors in Washington and academia." The latter influence won out, as we wrote a year later in explicitly explaining the change in our analysis:

As of this writing, in mid-February 2010, we can say definitively that the Democrats have not "taken advantage of the expectations their election raised to marginalize the GOP." On the contrary, Democratic failures and Obama's concessions to conservatives have actually given the right the opportunity to rebuild its base and confidence. And while Obama's administration has not been a rerun of Clinton's, it is certainly appearing to be a lot closer to Clinton's than it appeared it would be only a year ago.

The document went on to state:

The economic crisis gave the incoming administration the leeway to challenge the neoliberal consensus whose policies of tax cuts for the rich, deregulation and "flexible" labor policies were largely responsible for the economic meltdown and declining living standards. Instead, the Obama economic team--drawn largely from pro-Wall Street Clintonites--appropriated the crisis to spend enormous amounts of taxpayer money without really changing their neoliberal policy assumptions.

The Obama administration did pass a massive economic stimulus package in its first month in office--though even then, it was more weighted toward corporate tax breaks than champions of Keynesian government intervention had hoped. But very quickly thereafter, the administration reverted to the dogmas of neoliberalism, so familiar to all of Washington's policy-makers, to drive a relentless austerity agenda that continues to this day.

This, it seems to us, is an "explicit" and "careful" explanation of what took place.

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2. Has the ISO overstated the degree of radicalization and/or the development of class consciousness among working people, or exaggerated the potential and character of the struggles that have taken place?

The 2010 discussion document quoted above emphasized that the right wing was on the ascendancy at the time it was written. As a consequence, it argued that the organization's chief task would be engaging with relatively smaller political developments:

These are the changes at the molecular level that we have to attend to, even while the national political debate focuses on the right. Until this radicalizing minority expresses itself in struggle, the brain-dead two-party debate between the center-right Democrats and the further-right Republicans will dominate national politics.

While we cannot force the pace of events, we can be part of creating the alternatives on the left that are so needed. The ISO is involved at the ground level in city after city in the kinds of struggles that are the building blocks of the larger movements that can shape national politics. This gives us a great opportunity to shape the movements and the left that will bring us closer to the day this radical minority will make its voice heard.

This seems to be the kind of sober assessment of the challenges facing socialists that our former members seem to think the ISO is incapable of. But given that this document was written in 2010, a year that would end in the Republican landslide in congressional elections, perhaps the ISO's "over-exaggeration" of radicalization and struggle came later--after the Egyptian revolution, after the Wisconsin Capitol occupation, after the general strikes and mass street protests in Western Europe, and after the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

At the end of that year, the headline on the final issue of Socialist Worker was: "2011: The Year of Revolt." Nevertheless, our analysis of the political period recognized the real weaknesses of even the biggest struggles--particularly their episodic and uneven nature--and the long distance still to go to turn the tide against the ruling class offensive. As we wrote in an internal document from the end of 2011:

The most obvious characteristic of mainstream politics, almost without exception anywhere in the world, is the commitment across the political spectrum to austerity policies that are deeply unpopular with the mass of the population. A systematic assault on living standards and conditions for workers, whether private sector or public, is being carried out by consensus among the political and business establishment, with almost no dissent within the mainstream beyond rhetoric--and often not even that.

This is producing a deep pool of bitterness that can break out in unpredictable and powerful eruptions of protest and mass action in different forms. We have seen this around the world this year, from the Arab revolution in North Africa and the Middle East, to the revival of working-class and youth militancy in Europe and elsewhere, and even in the U.S., starting with the upheaval in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting and continuing since then in struggles as varied as the CWA's strike at Verizon and the Occupy movement today.

The key to understanding politics today is to recognize the scope and severity of the ruling-class offensive--and how deeply unpopular it is with the working majority of the population, even if the dissatisfaction isn't always expressed in struggle and the struggles that do emerge aren't always victorious or sustained.

We think that is an accurate depiction of the state of radicalization and struggle in the current period--and a stark contrast to the conclusions our former members have drawn since they left the ISO (at different times). The assessments reflected in their various articles go beyond a more "tempered" understanding of the last five years and deny that there has been a radicalization or significant change in the level of struggle.

In particular, the former Bay Area members appear to have adopted extremely narrow and anti-political ideas about what constitutes class consciousness and the interplay between consciousness, struggle and organization.

These former members dismiss the ISO's use of "polls, election results and sporadic demonstrations...to paint a picture of a working class on the move and on the cusp of an 'upturn.'" In their view, the real measures of class consciousness are "the unionization rate among workers, the total number of days workers have been on strike, the character of those strikes (economic or political), the size of the revolutionary organization within the class, and the breadth and depth of the implantation of that organization."

As a consequence of our error, they write, "the ISO national perspectives have inverted the relationship between consciousness and struggle and continually see workers ideas as ahead of their actions and organization. This is thoroughly idealist, non-materialist and non-Marxist."

Here, our former members are substituting crude formulas based on strike statistics and the like for an analysis of the totality of economic, political and social factors that impact class consciousness. The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky--writing in 1929, in a polemic against Stalinism, specifically about the degree of radicalization of the French working class--challenged precisely these mechanistic ideas:

From the fact that strikes have not as yet embraced the main mass of French workers, one must by no means deduce a denial of the beginning of radicalization; but what can and must be arrived at is a concrete evaluation of the extent, depth and intensity of this radicalization. Chambelland, evidently, agrees to believe in it only after the whole working class is engaged in an offensive. But such leaders who wish to start only when everything is ready are not needed by the working class. One must be able to see the first, even though weak, symptoms of revival, while only in the economic sphere, adapt one's tactics to it and attentively follow the development of the process.

The former Bay Area members are correct, of course, that strike days and the level of unionization have stagnated or continued to decline in the current period. Readers of SocialistWorker.org will be familiar with these facts because we have continued to draw attention to them, as we have for many years previously. But they are mistaken to dismiss everything else happening in the world.

In the 1980s--beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan, the government's busting of PATCO, and drastic concessions taken by the core unions of the labor movement--the levels of unionization, strikes, workdays lost to strikes, etc. were higher than today. Do our former members contend that the level of class consciousness was therefore higher in the 1980s, a period in which reactionary ideas were on the rise among workers? That the so-called "Reagan Democrats" during that decade represented a higher level of radicalization than the widely embraced Occupy slogan of the "1 Percent versus the 99 Percent"?

Class consciousness is not simply a recognition by workers of the need for struggle at the point of production. Inherent in the idea of class consciousness is a recognition of workers' interests as a class--the difference, as Karl Marx put it, between a class in itself and a class for itself. Thus, our understanding of class consciousness must go beyond economistic questions to also embrace political ones. In Lenin's words:

Every trade union secretary conducts and helps to conduct "the economic struggle against the employers and the government." It cannot be too strongly maintained that this is still not Social-Democracy, that the Social-Democrat's ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation.

In this respect, opinion polls that show a greater acceptance of LGBT rights, a greater opposition to war and a growing rejection of government spying represent the strengthening of opinions consistent with greater class consciousness.

But opinion polls show more than changes in attitudes on "social issues." A January 2012 Pew Research poll found:

About two-thirds of the public (66 percent) believes there are "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between the rich and the poor--an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009. Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense. According to the new survey, three-in-ten Americans (30 percent) say there are "very strong conflicts" between poor people and rich people. That is double the proportion that offered a similar view in July 2009 and the largest share expressing this opinion since the question was first asked in 1987.

The follow-up survey in 2013 found that the numbers of people citing the conflict between rich and poor as the number-one divide in society have declined, with the partisan conflicts of the two mainstream parties taking its place. But the report points out that: 1) the pollsters aren't sure why that happened other than the "recency" effect of the 2012 election compared to the heyday of Occupy Wall Street; and 2) the number of people citing the rich/poor conflict as the most important are still significantly higher than at the beginning of the recession.

Our former members in the Bay Area must reject these results as significant because they insist that class consciousness can only develop in the context of struggle. But even this is not sufficient--because, they write, "in the absence of conscious intervention by socialists, most people will begin to doubt that they have learned anything new by taking action and will drift back towards bourgeois ideology that has been pounded into them since the day they were born."

Their argument employs the basic insight of Marxism that the ideology of the ruling class will remain dominant until capitalism is overthrown to draw the elitist conclusion that workers can only remain conscious of their interests as a class if socialists are there to explain it to them.

More could be said about the shortcomings of the analysis put forward from these Bay Area former members. But let's step back and consider the political developments they must ignore to maintain their contention that there has been no significant radicalization in the current period: the rise of a radical mass movement demanding marriage equality, culminating in the 2009 National Equality March that brought 250,000 to Washington, D.C.; the uprising in Wisconsin, with its occupation of the state Capitol in defiance of Republican union-busting; the Occupy Wall Street movement that took off in New York City and spread to encampments and mobilizations in cities, towns and campuses across the U.S.; the Slutwalk demonstrations, representing an upsurge of protest against sexism and sexual assault; the mobilization for immigrant rights that pressed the demands of the earlier mega-marches into the Obama era; the Chicago teachers' strike in September 2012 that galvanized community support in a struggle for union power and education justice; the many mobilizations to demand justice for Trayvon Martin and oppose racist violence. And these are only the highlights.

The scale and intensity of these struggles is confirmation of our expectation that the onset of the crisis in 2008 would produce a radicalization, class polarization and a higher level of struggle. At the same time, most, though not all, of these struggles have not produced victories or sustained progress in building resistance. This is a consequence of the ruthlessness of the ruling class offensive in this era--but also the weakness of working class and left organization after several decades of defeats and demoralization. The struggles of the last five years have contributed toward rebuilding such organization, but these developments haven't kept pace with the attacks on our side.

These real weaknesses weigh on all radicals; they demand to be analyzed and understood if we are to move forward. But it does no good to conclude that the level of struggle and the degree of radicalization hasn't changed.

Furthermore, as internationalists, our perspectives are based on world economic and political developments. Other parts of the globe have seen dramatic and unambiguous evidence of class radicalization and a rise in struggle--the years of massive strikes and popular mobilizations in Greece, the revival of the general strike generally in Europe, mass protests and occupations in countries ranging from Spain to Turkey to Brazil, the student rebellions in Chile and Quebec.

Most important of all are the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions that swept away U.S.-backed dictators, and the associated revolutionary stirrings across the Arab world. These rebellions face difficult challenges today. But the Arab Spring that began in early 2011 heralded the opening of what will be many years of struggle and instability in a region of the world of crucial importance to global capitalism and particularly U.S. imperialism.

These developments beyond the U.S. don't fit our former comrades' analysis--so they skip over them.

A socialist analysis of the world and perspectives for action shouldn't pick and choose what to consider, nor bob up and down with the different waves of the struggle, but present a full picture of what we are encountering, an understanding of how to participate in the struggles and political openings that do exist, and a strategy for building up our organization's experience, maturity and influence to go forward in a stronger position.

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3. Has a top-down model of Leninism "inherited from the British SWP" led to repeated campaigns within the ISO to marginalize those who raise differing opinions?

First, it must be stated, counter to what the various authors of articles critiquing the ISO have stated or implied, that none of these former members were expelled, forced out, silenced, denied the right to air their views or victimized by campaigns against them.

When they were a part of the ISO, these former members didn't seem to hesitate to voice their opinions--sometimes quite vociferously--in branches, districts and the national organization. Those who know them can confirm they were not a shy bunch. A number were elected to branch and district leadership positions, including after they expressed some of the disagreements they have developed since and written about now.

The former members from Chicago, in particular, make reference to the Socialist Workers Party-Britain, with which the ISO shared comradely relations from our founding in 1977 until 2001, when the ISO was expelled from the International Socialist Tendency, the grouping of organizations sympathetic to the politics of international socialism.

As the authors of these articles know well, exaggerated perspectives were exactly the substance of the ISO's increasing disagreements with the SWP, stretching back to the early 1990s, which culminated in our expulsion.

In the wake of the collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe, the SWP insisted that the world had entered an "era of wars and revolutions"--and that the 1990s were "the 1930s in slow motion," certain to produce the same economic and political polarization, growth of the far right and a sharply rising level of class struggle.

The ISO was expelled for disagreeing with these overblown and wrong assessments. However much the early 1990s may have been a break from the decade of Reaganite and Thatcherite conservatism that came before, it was clear that this wasn't the 1930s at any speed. The ISO insisted on acknowledging that the U.S. economy, by the end of the 1990s, was in the midst of its longest period of expansion since the Second World War. We were also critical of the SWP's exaggerated claims about each new movement and initiative it decided to involve itself.

In the course of those international debates and in the dozen years since, the ISO developed and projected a conception of Leninism that elevated the importance of debate and discussion, and of collaboration among forces on the left from different political backgrounds.

We employed that conception of Leninism practically. For example, as the debate sharpened between the ISO and SWP, the ISO shared exchanges of documents with its whole membership, while the SWP shielded members from the discussion (at one point, SWP leaders e-mailed documents to our entire membership, only to discover our members had already received them). When the SWP found a small number of ISO members who agreed with their point of view about the 1990s, the debate about perspectives took place before the whole organization, with time given at our convention for those who disagreed to present their views to the entire membership.

We believe our organization has been shaped by breaking with organizational practices and perspectives of the SWP. Our willingness to confront exaggerated perspectives and fully air dissenting views allowed us not only to survive our expulsion from the IST, but take new steps forward as the largest revolutionary socialist organization in the U.S., with increasing international relationships. To the many comrades who were members at the time and have remained so, it is obvious that this has remained our method for carrying out discussions on these questions.

One other point common to several of the critiques of the ISO bears particular comment. The Chicago former members, for example, claim that the ISO's "top-down" methods were responsible for squelching discussion about the 50th anniversary March on Washington this past August. This may come as a surprise to regular SW readers, since our website ran a number of articles debating the character of the march and how socialists should relate to it.

It's true that we disagree with our former members' approach to the march, which they dismissed as having been organized "by some of the worst liberal shills connected to the Democratic Party." By contrast, the ISO's attitude was to recognize that tens of thousands of African Americans would be traveling to Washington, D.C., to protest racism, regardless of who made the call. Relating to all expressions of resistance to racism is part of the ABCs of building a socialist organization in the U.S., in our opinion.

In Chicago, ISO members can be proud of their efforts at helping bring together unions--including the Chicago Teachers Union, National Nurses United, National Association of Letter Carriers and Service Employees International Union--with other organizations to charter buses and mobilize for the March on Washington. The "Chicago Labor Freedom Riders" initiative was an excellent opportunity for collaboration among antiracists, trade unionists and activists generally.

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4. Has the "hyperactivity" of the ISO had the effect of burning out members and turning the organization's attention from more productive activism?

The articles critiquing the ISO sometimes have contradictory things to say on this point.

At one point, the article by the former members in Chicago characterizes the ISO as passively "waiting for Godot" and concludes that we should do more to "initiate new centers of organizing."

We consider the ISO's ability to recognize emerging struggles and participate in them a point of organizational pride. In the last few years, because of its relatively larger profile on the left, the ISO has been able to take a leading role in diverse initiatives--including, to take a few examples, the 2009 National Equality March, a socialist contingent at the national One Nation march in 2010; and the formation of the Ecosocialist Contingent at the national climate change demonstration last February, and subsequently the creation of the System Change Not Climate Change network.

These seem to be precisely the kinds of efforts recommended to us by our former members in Chicago. Perhaps they think we should be bolder, as they also raise the idea of regroupment and building a broad organization that could provide a home to the "few thousand Marxists in the U.S. who are quite politically principled, but have no desire to be a part of what seems to be a mere sect." We look forward to seeing their contributions to that project. But in our view, it seems like collaboration on the left in these other, more limited arenas may be more productive for now.

At other points in their article, however, the Chicago former members agree with those in the Bay Area that the ISO has "emphasized cheerleading and exhortation over sober assessment of the challenges we were facing"--thereby burning out members.

The problem here is that our former members seem to want us to predict the failure of whatever efforts we might take part in or initiate before they begin--otherwise, we are failing to make "a sober assessment of the challenges we are facing." We confess that we don't understand how any activist can organize on the basis of predicting the defeat of the struggle ahead of time.

In the end, the question of "burnout" depends on an assessment of perspectives: Do our efforts as an organization contribute to building stronger movements, a stronger left and a stronger socialist organization?

In our opinion, the answer to this question isn't really about whether anyone predictied "turning points," as the former members suggest. We have no illusion that any eruption of struggle, no matter how inspiring, will lead evenly and uninterruptedly forward--the documents cited above, among many others, attest to that.

We believe the critiques of the ISO and our response are ultimately about how to understand the current period and what socialists should do as a consequence of that understanding. Is it correct to say that the economic crisis of 2008 ushered in a "new period?" Is there a radicalization taking place? If so, what can our efforts and resources do to advance it and translate anger into action?

In hindsight, we can say that the uprising in Wisconsin in February 2011, with its galvanizing occupation of the Capitol building in Madison, was defeated. Rather than advance, the movement was channeled into a failed campaign to recall Gov. Scott Walker. He and the Republicans forced through their union-busting measures, and the impact on the Wisconsin labor movement has been harsh.

But in the heat of the battle two-and-a-half years ago, to not recognize the enormous advance that the uprising represented and the potential it held to succeed would have been foolish. To focus one-sidedly on the limitations of any struggle is to passively bow to what exists--rather than to figure out what can lead the struggle forward, and attempt, within our limited capacities, to act on that basis.

This means being very clear about the real obstacles that face any struggle. In the case of Wisconsin, our former members in the Bay Area back up their claim that we operate by cheerleading and exhortation with the charge that we downplayed or avoided the question of the role being played by local Democrats and trade union officials who wanted to channel the uprising into electoral politics.

This is simply untrue. We are very proud of the efforts of ISO members in Madison to build a coalition of unionists and activists committed to "Kill the Whole Bill." Our SocialistWorker.org coverage of the struggle focused continually on the challenges facing the struggle (for a sampling, read this, this, this and this).

By contrast, the Bay Area former members, so adamant in their denial of working class radicalization today, don't even bother to square their analysis with the experience of the Chicago teachers' strike, which pushed back against the corporate school reform drive, with widespread support among working people in Chicago.

Instead, the former Bay Area members accuse the ISO of "tailing" union leaders, declaring that "extending the strike was the right thing to do and would have produced a better outcome." Somehow, they missed the fact that the CTU's House of Delegates--with the support of the union leadership--did vote to extend the strike until members had an opportunity to debate a proposed agreement and decide on their picket lines to direct their representatives how to vote.

Instead, the Bay Area writers demand more critical articles about the CTU in Socialist Worker. They won't acknowledge that, at a time when the leaderships of the two national teachers' unions are in full retreat in the face of the corporate school reform drive, the CTU held the line, marking what was widely seen by union members and employers alike as a rare labor victory in a major strike.

Even the most radical periods in history have an episodic nature--with ups and downs, defeats and victories. Because of the weakened state of the left and broader working-class and movement organizations today, it is that much more difficult to build in the period between the high points and crystallize the positive lessons of what we've been through. In the aftermath of a struggle like Wisconsin, it can feel as if "nothing happened."

Our job as revolutionaries is to remember, for ourselves and others, that something did happen--and to utilize both the inspiration of the struggle at its high point and the lessons of its setbacks to try to make future upheavals less episodic and more sustained. That can only be done if we recognize the potential of a struggle like the Wisconsin uprising to advance and win.

Vigorous debate and ongoing assessment about all these questions is the only way serious activists and revolutionaries can identify what is to be done in the here and now. As a national organization, the ISO draws on the experiences of our members across the country and their work with other activists and radicals in many different arenas in order to have as thorough an understanding of that way forward as possible. Disagreement and discussion, based on respect for our shared project, is an inevitable part of this process.

It must be said that the authors of these various critiques of the ISO all left the organization voluntarily, at precisely the time when that project became more exciting, as well as more complex and challenging. They say they have written with the best of intentions to offer a constructive critique. But this is difficult to accept given the various articles' bitter depictions of the ISO--of an elected leadership that allegedly searches out dissent in order to squelch it, and a membership that is too meek and manipulated to disagree.

The comrades are entitled to their opinions. But they can't complain when we disagree, quite strongly--or when we point out that their accusations join the chorus of liberal and left voices that equate all organization and all leadership with autocratic methods and bureaucracy.

We believe that the ISO's last five years--the main timeframe for the critiques made against us--have been more important than any that came before. Because of the efforts of its members--in discussion and in struggle--the ISO is more experienced and more engaged than ever, and more prepared to continue the struggle for a better world.