The International Socialist Organization vs. the Party for Socialism and Liberation over China


The International Socialist Organization just whopped the Party for Socialism and Liberation upside the head for their support of the Chinese government crackdown in Tiananmen Square (because it supposedly supported socialism.) PSL fired back with a scathing article slamming ISO. Much sound and fury will no doubt result, with party bigwigs on both sides holding feverish meetings to determine what to do about this assault by the unbelievers and apostates.

And I bet you don’t care even slightly, do you? Didn’t think so. The far left in the US has so marginalized itself that it doesn’t have much to do except attack each other over issues that the working class they claim to want to organize cares little if at all about. Like a worker who just lost his job, pension, and is trying to hold on to his house will be attracted to a socialist micro-party because of its stand on Tiananmen Square. Not that such parties are actually trying to organize such folks anyway. Factional infighting is much more exciting and is a much better way to attract party members. Thus they doom themselves to irrelevance.


  1. Y’know, next time someone calls me “far left,” I’ll have to remember that it took me until the second paragraph to realize these parties were even in the United States.

    • To them you are a reformist, collaborationist, social democrat sell-out. And you probably didn’t even know being called a social democrat was an insult (to them), right?

      Since I, fairly recently, was purged from such a far left party, apparently for being insufficiently doctrinaire and appreciative of the truth as revealed by them, I am thus an apostate, one who knew the truth then tragically fell from it. Thus my thought crimes are even more grievous than yours.

      All of which might concern me deeply except then I think about that Monty Python skit about the Judean People’s Front and start giggling.

  2. This is a purposeful misrepresentation of the organized left. The idea that left groups exist only to attack each other without actually organizing the working class is a false one. At least in the case of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). I’m not going to take up space here talking about how the ISO works within working class organizations, student groups, etc.

    The debate the author mentions between the ISO and the PSL is an important one because it gets to the heart of what socialism is and how we can achieve it. Can it be brought from above, as the PSL believes, or is socialism democracy from below, like the ISO believes. Marx wrote that socialism will be brought about by the self-activity of the masses, not brought from above and handed down by a Castro. The debate is a friendly one, not an attack, between two ideas of socialism.

    • A primary problem with vanguard parties like PSL and ISO is that their goals are conflicting. You can’t genuinely organize the working class, which consists of all types of people and politics, if you insist on being elitist and exclusionary and filtering the membership and leadership to only those who agree completely with your party line. Because then you drive the moderates away, piss off the other far left groups, and thus remain a microscopic mini-party way out on the fringes.

      PSL has maybe 300 active members, ISO isn’t a whole lot larger. For them to attack each other (and this is hardly the first time) seems an exercise in irrelevance and does nothing to build genuine broad-based organizations that might actually lead to socialism.

    • Obviously Juan is partial to the ISO. However, Jaun does not (yet) realize that although Castro’s Cuba may appear to be top-down when compared to the “democratic socialist” rhetoric of the ISO, Cuba as a revolutionary, workers’ state is much more democratic and bottom up than ISO is as a so-called vanguardist organization.

      Unfortunately, PSL is not much of an alternative to ISO, but at least they’re politics are more consistent to the class struggle. For instance, ISO adores Lenin (rightly so), but vilifies Castro as some sort of authoritarian oddity. The ISO recognizes the “Safe Darfur” campaign as a Western front for imperialist intervention, but at the same time, they blindly champion the “Free Tibet” campaign and the bourgeois media’s coverage of the Iranian demonstrations against Ahmadinejad, despite the fact that the same forces (National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA, etc.) are behind all three of these campaigns!

      • Kim Il Sung???? Nice name. You may disconnect yourself with PSL but your basic logic seems to reflect the elementary Stalinist logic that PSL possess. ISO embrace Lenin for his contribution of revolutionary theories in relation to socialist revolution as well as party organization. ISO also embrace Lenin in relation to his position of Russian politic until Civil War. But ISO is also critical toward Lenin in terms of his mistakes after Civil War. However ISO also note the importance of recognizing Lenin’s(and Bolshevik’s) mistakes as his failure of accomplishing socialist alternative and as retreat from such objective due to conditions that Russia was in in relation to defeat of workers in other countries as well as Civil War and famines.

        ISO recognizes Castro under different light. That despite the fact that Cuban Revolution should be celebrated as national liberation of Cuba from U.S. imperialism, that its political system and Castro’s leadership doesn’t substitute with workers’ control and democracy as Juan put it. Major medias are all controlled by state rather than workers and union isn’t organizational unit of workers but more of managerial position that reflects the interests of state itself. Internet isn’t being operated in Cuba which isolate Cuban people from rest of the world. The fact that Che Guevara recognized North Korea as model that Cuba should follow indicated their reference of state controlled authoritarianism.

        What really is being consistent with class struggle? Defending any regimes that happened to be enemies of U.S. imperialism even if they themselves oppress and exploit workers like China or ban homosexuality like Iran and Cuba or banning workers’ right to strike like North Korea?

        This is exactly how PSL position themselves. They essentially don’t believe that class struggle and workers’ movements in dominant capitalist countries alone can’t overthrow capitalism but they believe that it is actual regimes that are opponents of U.S. imperialism that plays important parts. So they(and you…ummm…Kim Il Sung) supports Chinese invasion of Tibet since China is also rising power that can potentially balance with U.S. imperialism like the way Soviet Union was. And in consequences, PSL is actually alienating workers of these regimes by embracing these very regimes that are oppressive toward workers. And anyone who uncritically embrace these regimes as “socialist” are falling into same trap. ISO is different where their idea of workers’ struggle is politic of internationalism while maintaining relevancy to U.S. society such as immigrant, race and etc… (However, last time when I debated with someone from PSL, he stated that “internationalism” is “idealistic” and “unrealistic”. Is this mean that he doesn’t believe in internationalism of working class?)

        Now one can still criticize ISO in relation to how successful they are in relation to connecting race and immigrant issues with class issues. In theoretical debate, ISO is pretty good at it. However, one can still be suspicious of how successful ISO is in relation to actually mobilizing the movement from immigrants and race issues with actual labor struggles. I think that is also true with PSL and other socialist movement in U.S. today. Then again, no one should push U.S. working class for the development of class consciousness.

        And it is also important to note that despite such criticisms from one another, both ISO and PSL are also capable of uniting together for common cause. So the idea that all they do is criticize each others is simply wrong. And as Juan said some of these debates actually touches fundamental issues of socialism. Do workers want socialist society where they are in control or where they are constantly being demanded for “self-less sacrifice” for state security under the name “socialism”? This is where actual importance is between ISO and PSL.

        • The problem with PSL (and probably ISO too) is that such parties are microscopic and use their various front groups primarily to recruit for the party rather than build genuine mass movements. You can’t do both. Because if you want a genuine mass group, you must let moderates into positions of power, you must build a genuine coalition, not one just composed of front groups. PSL is incapable of doing that, thus remains, tiny, ineffectual and way on the edges, ranting and fanatic.

          The Alinsky model is way more effective. Go to a community. Organize by listening to what they say. Let them run it. Then leave.

        • Also, such groups, by their prose and speeches, generally massively inflate their importance and impact to pretend they are major players and have a genuine impact on events. Like the working class in India is waiting, filled with expectations, for the latest missive from some micro socialist groupuscule in the United States…

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