This discussion doesn’t add much

December 10, 2013

AS A male member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), I agree that we need to collectively shut down sexism whenever it arises within our organization. This said, in cases when male comrades reveal sexist tendencies in their personal life, I think it's important to address such actions on a personal level--at least initially--well before they become manifest on a political level.

Of course, whenever sexism has an open political impact on the organization, this behavior needs to be denounced. By doing this, we can help to create an organizational culture that empowers female comrades to break away from the sexist molds that are systematically created by capitalism.

This said, while it's important to challenge sexism on an individual basis, such actions will never fully root out this scourge so long as we continue to operate within the framework of capitalist society. In other words, in order to abolition sexism, we'll have to abolish capitalism--and vice versa.

With this broader perspective in mind, I've found myself becoming increasingly frustrated by the recent "Brocialism" debate in Socialist Worker and within the ISO in general. Thus far, a total of four pieces have been written to Socialist Worker specifically addressing this subject ("A word for calling out sexism," "Our struggle is for the liberation of all," "A too-serious take on a silly word?" and "Brocialism or fauxcialism?"). Many ISO comrades have also engaged in detailed debates on Facebook about "brocialism." In general, this debate is overwhelmingly semantical and sub-political; it has little to say about the theoretical and political challenges that we're bound to face in future struggles for women's liberation.

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Indeed, from a general perspective, I find the very fact that people have devoted so much time to this discussion to be indicative of a broader trend of intellectual stasis that has beset the organization as of late. Instead of writing detailed tracts about "brocialism," I think it would be far more productive to conduct a systemic analysis of recent changes in the nature of women's oppression since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. This could be coupled with an examination of the various tendencies and organizations within the contemporary women's rights movement in the United States. Such a concrete analysis could then be used to craft a practical program designed to push the struggle for women's liberation forward.

IN ADDITION to the distractive nature of this debate, there's also a potentiality for arguments about "brocialism"--if followed to their logical conclusion--to be extremely destructive. Such debates aren't unprecedented in the history of the revolutionary left.

Historically, there have been a number of leftist groups in the United States, at certain stages in their development, became preoccupied with internecine struggles waged in the name of rooting out racism and sexism internally.

Such developments have tended to occur during times of intense organizational and theoretical decay. For example, during the late 1940s, the CPUSA sponsored a campaign aimed at rooting out "white chauvinism" from the organization. Initiated by the chairman of the Party's Negro Commission, Pettis Perry, this campaign coincided with a period of party decline and isolation. In practice, the "white chauvinism" crusade took the form of a series of witch-hunt trials against white members of the party.

Not surprisingly, these trials tended to target, among others, members who were perceived as a threat by the Party's increasingly entrenched and autocratic leadership. According to Junius Scales, a prominent Communist from North Carolina, this crusade began when Pettis Perry wrote an article in the CPUSA's monthly journal Political Affairs about "white chauvinism" within the party. As Scales recounts in his autobiography, Cause at Heart: A Former Communist Remembers:

In a short time, at every level throughout the party, zealous inquisitors began searching for evidences of white chauvinism in white comrades. White comrades were quite often among the instigators. Perry himself traveled over the country demonstrating the evolving inquisitor procedure: a priori any white members, and especially any white leader, was suspected (and probably guilty) of white chauvinism; Negro comrades were encouraged to describe the white-chauvinist words and deeds of white comrades; if a Negro comrade had observed none, it was implied that he or she was either weak or intimidated by the whites; if a white comrade resisted or denied charges, he or she was usually considered a "hard case" and mercilessly attacked or humiliated; a white comrade who soul-seared and self-criticized for real or imagined white chauvinism would be forgiven but remained on perpetual probation, at the mercy of any Negro or white comrade who might be nursing some resentment or frustration. The message seemed to be that with the proper technique and effort white chauvinism could always be "discovered."

The consequences of this crusade were tremendous. For one thing, the campaign undermined party democracy. It also did much to weaken solidarity between Black and white comrades. As Junius Scales notes, "Ultimately, irreparable damages were done to the trust and warmth which had previously existed between comrades." Finally, this campaign did absolutely nothing to challenge the systems of structural racism and Jim Crow that defined American society.

The reason why I bring this up is not to accuse the partisans of the "brocialist" debate of being akin to the CPUSA's misguided crusaders against white chauvinism. Nor do I hope to equate the current political and theoretical problems faced by the ISO to be akin to the crisis faced by the CPUSA during the late '40s. Rather, I simply aim to point out that there's tendency, particularly in the context of intellectual stasis and democratic breakdown, for these types of internally focused, divisive debates to become destructive within revolutionary left groups.

With this in mind, I'd like to see the letters and stories in to start to address the subject of women's liberation and oppression on a political and theoretical level--not on a sub-political level. In addition, there's much work to be done analyzing the structural political, social and economic situation that exists in the world today. In order to change the world, we have to understand it--and vice versa.
Ben Smith, Atlanta

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