A Judean People’s Front moment

Why we left the Workers International League
The entire Portland branch and the majority of the San Francisco branch recently submitted our resignations to the Workers International League (WIL). Many of us joined the WIL over two years ago because of our fundamental agreement with the International Marxist Tendency’s (IMT) analysis of the Venezuelan revolution.

Um, if you want to organize the working class and stuff, then you will be working with people who are in danger of losing their homes and don’t know how they will feed the kids. They won’t care what your position on Venezuela is. Trust me.

Factional splits like these do seem comical from the outside. The view from inside is quite different. I’ve been there. It can be gut-wrenching.

But what does all this accomplish? Here’s two real smart, dedicated Marxists arguing about Obama, Carl Davidson and Louis Proyect. This argument gets endlessly repeated throughout the Left. In Green Party terms, it’s the realos vs. the fundies. In Marxist terms, it’s the pragmatists vs. the hard liners. The pragmatists says the hardliners are ultra-Left and self-marginalizing. The hardliners accuse the pragmatists of selling out and thus become useless as a political force for change.

There’s much sound and fury, and yes, there are real and genuine differences. But, in the final analysis, what impact does it all have, this endless discussion of tactics and theory?

If the Left isn’t having the desired impact upon society, then maybe the Left needs to seriously look at itself and figure out why. Then reinvent itself. Much of the language and jargon used by the hard Left is indecipherable to outsiders. It needs to be changed so anyone can understand it, and then delivered in a way that appeals to people. The right wing did this successfully for several decades. Now maybe the Left can do the same.

  • “But, in the final analysis, what impact does it all have, this endless discussion of tactics and theory?”

    In the final analysis, not much as it is ultimately a debate about being more correct than thou. But sometimes it does matter — it can matter a lot in regard to key questions: such as the Iraq invasion (some on ‘the left’ supported it) ; the war in the Malvinas back in 1982; the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia to over throw the Pol Pot regime; the nationalist struggle in Northern Ireland; defence of Cuba against US aggression; the Australian commitment of troops to East Timor during the referendum…etc

    My point is that debate can have a point to it on many occasions and it isn’t a simple thing of a plague on all of it. However most of the debate on the left is dishonest because it so seldom is about doing and merely about positioning.

    Our argument here is that it is unity in action that rules the roost and it is better to do rather than talk. Inasmuch as the rest of us in the Socialist Alliance could hold a half dozen far left groups together in the one formation for a few years, unity in action does indeed work until such time as these groups get anxious that their identity and political patent may be dissolving — “liquidating” — into a generic project.

    This is a massive tragedy but all groups will suffer from the curse primarily because it is so hard to navigate a radical agenda in capitalist society.That takes a political toll you see and rather than recognize the trap, most groups embrace it as a identity badge and settle into it as a comfort zone.

    The T shirt slogan should be : I love my bunker.

    Will they change it time? Assuming that they don’t implode before long, the base requisite is to prove in practice that broad collective pluralist projects can work and are the way to proceed.

    In my own formation — the DSP — suffered a major split recently because a section of the party leadership/membership refused to pursue a unity course and lost their nerve.The same has happened in England and in Scotland where rev rev revolutionary lefties have split , but elsewhere in Germany, France, Portugal, etc — unity/regroupment projects are variously buoyant.

    The key element I suggest is that you need an active core who are committed to facilitating such a project — who in effect have some idea about what they are doing. So it has to be conscious.

    In the US context I suspect the ISO could supply that if it had a mind to and there are some indications that their traditional rigidity is relaxing, due mainly I suspect from the experience of their work in the Green Party.

    But its’ no good saying that because such an outfit — a Marxist one — could be a primary catalyst then any project is cheapened as a consequence. I think the exact opposite: that a commitment from an already existing outfit — as happened in Scotland, as happened in Australia and is happening in New Zealand with the Residents Action Movement — can ensure that these initiatives proceed with a keener and sharper commitment to political change.

    This article by Pierre Rousset — Towards the foundation of a New Anti-Capitalist Party — is very useful because it explores the French experience. I find the French promise fascinating and if you look hard enough in a tour of the political globe you’ll find many variations on a theme — except in the USA and a few other countries. Present success varies of course and you can find any number of things to quibble about. But in the US history it’s well worth, I think, going back and studying Eugene V.Debs and the last few years of Malcolm X.

    It then becomes easy to recognise that you don’t have to be sell out or become ‘liquidationist’ — to embrace political holism on the left. That in fact , where there’s a a will….there’s a new anti-capitalist party to be created.

    Ultimately i suggest negotiating that course will; be the hardest thing any participant would have ever done.

    Here we have our National Conferencecoming up in just under two weeks and we are trying to navigate a path in the context of a movements’ hiatus. We’ve been disowned by the hard left — the Monty Python far left — but we are partnering a significant sector of the migrant and indigenous far left at the same time as we bust a gut consolidating a struggle left wing in the trade unions. Because of the ascendency of the Greens our electoral weight is still very small. But what our detractors don’t realize is that we are ‘it: the only show of its kind in town. We’re holding the line for all in left politics and proving on the street and shop floor that we are serious about what we do. We;re anticapitalist without being specifically one type of ideological socialism. Our strength — such as it is — has to be in what we do and not so much a penchant on relying on what we say.

    I fear that folk like yourself, Bob, think along a sort of “if only…” mindset. And while I agree with the ideal and the sentiment the proof of any (mind) pudding has to be in the eating. This is a very hard thing to do — to overcome Judean People’s Front thinking and take a different tact because it isn’t a simple business of ‘building it and they will come.’ Schematism can be a major handicap and it can so easily format your thinking.

    There aint no formulas — only the doing.

  • Great comment, Dave. I’m quoting part of it tomorrow in another post along the same lines.

    It”s not so much “if-only” but more that the utter lack of any historical memory and perspective in the States on anything even remotely socialist just doesn’t exist like it apparently does in other countries.

    I mean, Obama was attacked for being socialist, a charge which must appear ludicrous in any country with a history of socialism and active, visible socialist groups. But such groups here are just itty bitty.

    Part of it is the terminology, it needs to be rephrased in a way that doesn’t take weeks of explanation. It needs to be understandable in five minutes. And it’s nowhere close to that now, at least not in the States.

  • Well the whole Obama phenomenon tells us a lot : the people in their millions crave change. We may know that he won’t deliver but really that’s beside the point.

    While “we” don’t have $650 million to argue for our perspective as Obama has had ; and we don’t have the CNN allocated talk space to strut our stuff — at some stage we have to go beyond hope and get into doing.

    Our problem is that we can just as easily do something else.For what we know of “the left “– there’s often a career beckoning. And to put it frankly, political and social change takes pain, effort and sacrifice. You have to invest in the long haul and so often trade one thing for another.

    Our problem is also that we expect some one else to do it for us. It is easier to project onto an Obama rather than get down and do it yourself.

    Our problem is that it takes tactics to proceed. It’s not necessarily a natural attribute to engage politicallly and do what’s needed.To a significant degree spontaneous activism can get you so far. That’s why movements wax and wane. This mercurial aspect of political existence bears down on the hard left brutally — warping its “personality” ( if you like).

    In regard to this comment:”Part of it is the terminology, it needs to be rephrased in a way that doesn’t take weeks of explanation. It needs to be understandable in five minutes. And it’s nowhere close to that now, at least not in the States.”

    Many of my friends are currently in Venezuela as part of an Australian brigade — such that here we are working short staffed. And there they are being exposed to the process there.

    But gain there, even for the good guys who have the high moral gain isn’t a straight line. These Vene zuelan elections weren’t as much a major advance as it was hoped. The process survives but it has to be deepened in more layers of the population. This may indeed be :”socialism for the 21st Century “– but it is socialism by hard yards.

    Our problem is to also recognize that gains aren’t won easily even when you may be on a roll.

    So the question of terminology is a bit of a distraction, because it’s not so much words as actions. As Trotsky remarked(although he didn’t keep so much to the principle himself), “we believe that in the beginning was the Deed.The Word followed as its phonetic shadow.”

    Any group can be taught to speak if they are “merged” with the struggling whatevers. That’s the point, because while they remain alien or marginal to everyone’s everyday political existence then they won’t have the tongue to talk the talk.

    They won’t belong.

    When you read Howard Zinn or listen to the late Studs Terkel — it’s clear that there is a language by which the political divide can be crossed in the United States.

    There is this wonderful tradition of advocacy and argument that is not esoteric. I think Peter Camejo captured that as this interview in 1976 proves so well.

    But language can only take us so far and it is a mistake to think that rhetoric, propaganda or agitation alone can rule the day. To grab peoples attention you need to be up front doing stuff.To grab peoples attention you need to be leading.

    You have to prove that you’re not a bull shiter. We know</i that others get away with it but that’s because they have so much spin on their side. We cannot afford that luxury. For is, advocacy is harder because we are now so seldom buoyed up by activism around us.

    Without getting into an old political debate about spontaneism — our problem is that the anti war movement is in a lull, that the trade unions are on the defensive, that the womens movement is in hiatus, that a layer of middle class ascendant Blacks has stymied so much radicalism in the Afro American community….

    But the Obama result tells us how powerful these sectors can be if they are marshaled…and the Dems are doing the marshalling for now.

    The Obama election indicates how successful was the Afro American struggles and how much they have failed. That’s the dichotomy and the contradiction.

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