Thinking of Joining the ISO? A former member says don’t do it

“When I rise, it will be with the ranks, not from the ranks.” – Eugene V. Debs
“When I rise, it will be with the ranks, not from the ranks.” – Eugene V. Debs

Pham Binh was a member of the ISO for several years and wishes to dissuade you from joining. His experience in ISO mirrors mine in PSL. He sees the problems in Leninist parties as fivefold and anyone thinking of joining a Marxist groupuscule should ponder carefully what he says.

As for me, I see the Leninist model as practiced today as a mostly irrelevant anachronism filled with acolytes who consult the dusty tomes to determine what course of action they should take based on what someone living 100-150 years ago in a different world said. When the revolution comes I’m quite sure it will not be led by a Marxist group. They’ll never see it coming because they’re too self-involved in mini-empire building and arguing about how many Marxists can dance on the head of a pin.

Most of your time as an ISO member, day to day, week to week, is spent on two things: recruiting new members and retaining existing members. This is what the ISO means by “party-building.

Membership Figures: a Well-Guarded Secret
The ISO’s revolving door membership is obscured because national membership figures are kept secret from the organization as a whole although local membership figures are routinely discussed at the branch level.

The ISO and Movements
The ISO insists that there is no contradiction between building itself and various movements.

Internal Reform?
If I believed it was possible to reform the ISO and change the practices I’ve criticized through its internal democratic mechanisms, I would be a member today.

Merging the Socialist and Worker Movements
No socialist organization should devote most of its time and energy to recruiting and retaining members.

Eclectics or Dialectics? Unpacking PSL’s Defense of Racist, Collaborationist Tyrannies


Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends published by Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is as thin politically as it page-wise. Clocking in at 46 pages, most of the book consists of freely available published material: a reprint from PSL’s newspaper, a Dissident Voice interview with Brian Becker who is the national director of PSL’s front group ANSWER Coalition, and a historical document, the Basel Manifesto. The only original work is Becker’s essay, “Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends,” which claims that socialist debates over imperialist intervention into the Arab Spring are the modern analog to the split within the socialist movement over World War One with myself as Plekhanov and PSL as – who else? – the Bolsheviks. (Whether Becker gets to play Lenin and Mazda Majidi Trotsky or vice versa in their 1914-1917 reenactment is unclear.)

The book is a reminder that seven dollars doesn’t buy much of anything these days.

Majidi’s article, “When Justifying Imperialist Intervention ‘Goes Wrong’” is a Revleft-style response to my essay, “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong.” Majidi’s strawmen speak for themselves and need not be enumerated here. However, his underlying method is of interest. He begins by asserting that, “All demonstrations and opposition movements [are] not progressive.” Undoubtedly this is true, and Majidi cites the Nazis and the Tea Party as examples. So far, so good. He then adds what he calls “color revolutions” to this list:

“Most color revolutions occurred in the former Soviet Republics, such as Georgia’s Rose Revolution, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution. But there have also been (successful or attempted) color revolutions in other countries, such as Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution in 2005 and Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009.”

What is a “color revolution” according to Majidi?

“Color revolutions usually include the formation of coherent and unified pro-imperialist political forces, which draw upon public discontent with economic distress, corruption and political coercion. They involve several operations, including the creation of division and disunity in the military and an intense propaganda campaign. … Elements who participate in such street protests are often a small part of the population and do not represent the sentiments of the majority of the people, much less the interests of the working class. In fact, many participants in the protests may not support the agenda of the right-wing leadership and its imperialist sponsors. Still, the imperialist propaganda campaign utilizes the protests, however large or small, to promote regime change and the ascension of a client state. The imperialists are not fools to do so; this is precisely what such ‘democratic’ movements produce absent an alternative working-class and anti-imperialist opposition.”

This is a description of associated features, not a rigorous definition.

Many of these features were present in the Egyptian revolution. The “coherent and unified pro-imperialist political force” known as the Muslim Brotherhood rode to power drawing “upon public discontent with economic distress, corruption and political coercion.” Their regime enjoys a much larger and firmer popular base than Mubarak’s decrepit dictatorship and in that narrow sense U.S. imperialism was strengthened rather than weakened by the January 25, 2011 revolution.

Does PSL consider the Egyptian case to be a “color revolution”? Of course not. Thus, the only consistency to PSL’s method is its inconsistency. Eclecticism is inevitable because PSL continually substitutes description for definition.

The next step in Majidi’s counter-argument is to ask, “What is the political character of the Syrian and Libyan rebels?” Earlier in the article, he poses questions of fundamental importance for approaching this issue:

“In his entire article, Binh conveniently assumes the very thing that needs to be proven—that the Libyan rebels and the Syrian opposition are revolutionary. This false premise, once accepted, leads to all sorts of false conclusions. What is the political character of the NTC-led rebels in Libya? What qualified them as revolutionaries? How does Binh determine that the Syrian opposition is revolutionary and the government counter-revolutionary? When analyzing an opposition movement anywhere in the world, this is the first question that needs to be asked.”


The first question that needs to be asked in assessing an opposition movement is: what is it a movement in opposition to? What is the class character of the regime it is coming into conflict with and why? Imagine trying to analyze the political character Occupy Wall Street without knowing the first thing about Wall Street! Majidi makes this exact mistake by assessing the Libyan edition of the Arab Spring without first examining the Ghadafi regime in any detail. Doing this would make defending the regime from the protest movement as PSL does impossible because the regime was guilty of the very things Majidi claims define the rebellion as reactionary and right-wing: racism, collaboration with imperialism, and pro-neoliberalism.

hanging4.7. 77
April 4, 1977, Bengazi. PSL’s “progressive” regime lynched students (without trial) every year on April 4 to “commemorate” the anniversary of a 1976 student uprising.

Racism: Much like the Polish, Ukranian, and other national minorities of Tsarist Russia, Libya’s Amazigh were forbidden from learning, speaking, or celebrating their language and culture by Ghadafi’s regime. Those that dared risked arrest and persecution.

Becker claims “Gaddafi had a lot of support from black Libyans who considered [his] Africa-centric foreign policy to be positive” (33). Does Becker believe Black Libyans supported Ghadafi when he made a racist deal with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to keep Italy free of Black immigrants, saying, “We should stop this illegal immigration. If we don’t, Europe will become Black, it will be overcome by people with different religions”?

Collaboration with Imperialism: Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends says not a word about how Ghadafi’s regime tortured people on behalf of the CIA and its British counterpart, MI6. Nor does it mention Ghadafi’s mass expulsion of thousands of Palestinian refugees in 1995 and his call on other Arab states to follow suit.

Neoliberalism: Majidi never discusses the Ghadafi regime’s embrace of neoliberalism, so comrade Becker’s words on page 27 may come as a shock:

“Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi’s government saw the handwriting on the wall and sought its own accommodation with the West. It adopted a set of neoliberal policies and invited major western oil companies to do business again, once sanctions had been lifted by Britain and the United States.”

So for PSL, it is acceptable for a racist, tyrannical regime to collaborate with U.S. imperialism and institute neoliberal policies but unacceptable for a revolt against this same regime to have racist, collaborationist, and neoliberal elements or characteristics. What is good for the goose is absolutely impermissible for the gander. When Ghadafi made deals with British Petroleum and other western oil companies, PSL said this was understandable and justified; when the post-Ghadafi government honored those same deals, PSL labeled it a pawn of imperialism.

This is doublethink masquerading as Marxist analysis.

Still, the question remains: was it correct to assume (as I did) that the Libyan edition of the Arab Spring was revolutionary and not reactionary, progressive and not regressive? If so, how do we make sense of PSL’s charges of racism, collaborationism, and neoliberalism on the part of the Libyan opposition?

The answer to the first question goes to the very heart of what the Arab Spring is – a series of bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Unlike socialist revolutions and national liberation movements, democratic revolutions are not necessarily anti-imperialist; the pro-imperialist post-revolutionary governments in Egypt and Tunisia prove this. While the socialist revolution is principally a struggle by and for the proletariat (in conjunction with other classes and oppressed groups to be sure) against the bourgeoisie as a whole, modern democratic revolutions pit oppositional sections of the bourgeoisie against ruling sections of the bourgeoisie. PSL points to the defection of neoliberal figures like Mahmoud Jibril from Ghadafi’s regime to the side of the rebellion as proof that it was reactionary while remaining oblivious to analogous neoliberal figures like Mohammad Morsi and Amr Moussa in the Egyptian revolution and Hamadi Jebali in the Tunisian revolution. PSL does not label these latter revolutions right-wing, reactionary, or “colored.”

Again, PSL’s consistent inconsistency is blindly obvious.

Having exposed PSL’s inability to grasp that bourgeois and neoliberal forces inevitably play a prominent role in modern democratic revolutions, what of their charges that the Libyan opposition was racist against Blacks and collaborated with imperialism? Does this not invalidate the claim that the Libyan opposition was democratic in character?

Historically speaking, democratic revolutions were not anti-racist nor even consistently democratic, the American revolution in which white slaveholders and racists played a dominant role being a prime example. The fact that bourgeois-democratic rights were not accorded to Blacks in 1776 and that America’s post-revolutionary government ruthlessly exterminated the continent’s indigenous peoples does not change the revolution’s democratic character. Libya’s democratic revolution in 2011 is no different in this respect.




Salem Al-Shoushan

Libya’s Black Revolutionary Democrats

The problem for PSL and all those like Richard Seymour who saw Libya’s revolutionary democrats as little more than an anti-Black lynch mob is that they either deliberately ignored or were blissfully unaware of the significant number of Black Libyans fighting Ghadafi’s forces. This would have been impossible if anti-Black racism was the rule rather than the exception among the rebels. Southern rebel brigades made up of the Tuareg and Tebo peoples were almost all Black.

Libya’s rebels had more Black commanding officers than the Union did during the Civil War and they commanded non-Black and mixed race units.

Right: Rebel commander Wanis Abu-Khmada berates a group of rebels in the first days of the revolution for their lack of discipline.

Right: Rebel commander Abdul-Wahab Qayed. After the revolution, he was put in command of Libya’s border protection forces.


Thus, PSL’s depiction of Libyan rebels as Klansmen is counterfactual slander.

As for the charge of collaborating or allying with imperialism, undoubtedly this is true. The problem for PSL is that democratic revolutions – unlike socialist revolutions – are not anti-imperialist by definition, and there is no socialist equivalent of the 10 Commandments that forbids such collaboration on a temporary or limited basis. Majidi concedes this, writing:

“It is possible for one imperialist country, or a grouping of imperialist countries, to temporarily aid independence movements in the oppressed world in order to weaken the hold of their imperialist rivals in a different country.”

By the same token, it is possible for one imperialist country, or a grouping of imperialist countries, to temporarily aid democratic revolutions in rival states just as monarchist France aided America’s democratic revolution against British colonialism. Only a fool would conclude that independence movements and democratic revolutions in the oppressed world are reactionary because they receive temporary or limited aid from a reactionary power.

At the root of PSL’s litany of errors is their utter failure to understand democratic revolutions as Lenin and Marx did. This failure leads them to invent a distinction between the “good” Arab Spring (against pro-U.S. dictatorships) and the “bad” Arab Spring (against anti-U.S. dictatorships) instead of realizing that the Arab Spring is an internationalist struggle against all dictatorships. Every country affected by the Arab Spring saw a fight between bourgeois anti-democratic states on the one hand and bourgeois-democratic mass movements on the other; every one of these struggles and movements had and has progressive, democratic political content compared to the tyrannical governments they struggled to reform or remove.

Supporting one freedom struggle and not another is an exercise in the kind of selective hypocrisy characteristic of liberalism, as is the inability to recognize the difference between revolution and counter-revolution; PSL does both while claiming to be a Marxist organization.

PSL’s attempt to pass off eclecticism as Marxism is even more apparent in its internal documents. Richard Becker’s “A Class Analysis of the Revolutionary Upsurge in the Arab World” is a 6-page chronological summary that is as broad as it is superficial. It reads more like a Wikipedia entry than a thoroughgoing study of Libya’s development since 1969 when a bourgeois nationalist military coup ended the monarchy and inaugurated Ghadafi’s 42-year tyranny from the standpoint of historical materialism. Becker’s 277 words “analyzing” (read: describing) Libya contain no discussion of how Ghadafi imported right-less migrant labor to staff the oil industry, creating an unemployed lumpenproletariat among native Libyans, no discussion of the country’s changing class and state structures, and no recognition of Ghadafi’s impoverishment of the standing army in favor of irregular armies of snitches, spies, and enforcers dressed up as “revolutionary committees.” The national oppression of the Amazigh is invisible to Becker, mirroring Ghadafi’s racist insistence that the Amazigh people and culture simply did not exist.

Having failed to properly examine the context and the regime that gave rise to protests in Libya, Majidi moves on to sketch an alternate history of the revolution that conforms all too perfectly with his description of “color revolutions.” He uses the fact that the Libyan revolt could not beat the regime militarily in spring of 2011 as proof that it was not popular, not progressive, nor a genuine revolution; perhaps he has never heard of the Paris Commune of 1871 that was also unable to triumph militarily, or perhaps he believes the Commune to be the very first “color revolution” (orchestrated by German and British imperialists, no doubt). Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that Libya was the first instance in the Arab Spring where a capitalist state used lethal force against peaceful protests on a mass scale – the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions were fortunately never tested by this kind of wanton bloodshed. Ghadafi was the bloody vanguard of the Arab Spring’s counter-revolution, and his violent escalation prompted the democratic opposition led by the National Transition Council to seek military aid from imperialist powers that previously they rejected as unwanted and unnecessary.

If anyone is to blame for NATO’s intervention in Libya, it is Ghadafi. He chose to shoot unarmed protesters en masse, handing NATO the political capital it needed to step into what began as a peaceful struggle.

Majidi goes on to argue that because the NTC did not have the “support of the entire population,” it was a fake, reactionary, unpopular “color revolution,” as if there has ever been a revolution in world history that was an exercise in unanimity! As evidence of popular support for Ghadafi, he points to a single state-sponsored rally of hundreds of thousands held in Tripoli “in the midst of the massive NATO bombing” (never mind the fact that NATO attacked only a handful of targets in Tripoli’s vicinity that day). What he omits is that Ghadafi was an unelected autocrat with an entire state apparatus (including a secret police) at his disposal to coerce people to show up, and, most damningly, that there has been not one pro-Ghadafi rally in all of Libya in the almost two years since the regime’s demise. If Ghadafi’s support emanated organically from the grassroots and not from the networks of patronage created by his regime’s oil money, this would not be the case.

Regardless of what position one took on the character of the Libyan opposition back in 2011, what is indisputable today in 2013 is that Ghadafi’s repressive bourgeois state machine was smashed and razed to the ground by the self-armed population organized in militias, that there is no secret police to terrorize the masses, that strikes, protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins are now regular occurrences, that freedom of the press and expression exist, that victims of racist oppression like the Amazigh have made advances, that unlike Kosovo NATO has no bases there, and that free and fair elections for a legislature were held to inaugurate a democratic republic. All of this is a great leap forward, a tremendous democratic gain for Libya’s oppressed and exploited that vindicates those who understood the Libyan opposition to be progressive, revolutionary, and democratic in character and serves as an irrefutable rebuke to those like PSL who slandered the opposition as monarchist(!), racist, unpopular, and reactionary.

Even stranger than PSL’s defense of racist, collaborationist tyrannies in Libya and Syria from the Arab Spring’s democratic revolutions is their assertion that today’s imperialism and the tasks it poses for socialists remain almost totally unchanged from Lenin’s time. In the face of wars like Libya and Mali where Iraq-style colonization is not the name of the game, PSL can evidently only repeat 100-year-old formulas about anti-colonial wars and revolutionary defeatism.


Standing with independent bourgeois nationalist governments as they slaughter their own peoples by the tens of thousands because said governments have conflicts of interest with imperialist powers is altogether different from standing with national liberation movements like the Vietnamese NLF who battled the slaughter wrought by French and American occupiers. The first is criminal stupidity, the second is anti-imperialism.

Two opposing trends indeed.

The Party for Socialism and Liquidation: PSL as Assad’s Bloodhounds

“Someone has to be the bloodhound.”

Social Democrat Gustav Noske uttered these words in 1919 before organizing the right-wing death squads that killed Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknicht, two revolutionary former leaders of the very same German Social Democratic Party Noske belonged to.

Almost a century later, some on the left have once again taken it upon themselves to be the bloodhounds, not on behalf of the capitalist system but of one of its henchmen, Bashar Al-Assad, hereditary dictator of Syria. Despite the many differences between the Arab Spring and the era of wars and revolutions that rocked Europe from 1914-1921, one thing is remarkably similar – both divided the left internationally into three trends: pro-revolution, anti-revolution, and centrists in the middle who align with one camp and then the other depending on the issues and circumstances.

As far as anyone can tell, there is no wing of the Syrian opposition that seeks to physically liquidate the revolution the way Noske did. Instead, we find Assad’s biggest bloodhounds abroad, outside of Syria’s borders, on the so-called anti-imperialist left in the West. They never tire of airbrushing the records of bloody, collaborationist “left” tyrants like Muammar Ghadafi and Assad while smearing revolutionary movements against their rule as terrorist, racist, pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist, and neoliberal in character.

For these bloodhounds, every revolution against “left” dictators is a fresh chance to run over the man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square, an opportunity to mow down the protestors who brought down the Berlin Wall with machine gun fire and re-open Stalin’s beloved gulags under new management.

One of the worst offenders on the Marxist left is the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) with Workers World Party not far behind. PSL refused to support Libya’s revolutionaries in February of 2011 before they begged the imperialist West to use its military superiority over Ghadafi to counter his military superiority over them (at which point the Western left’s centrists joined PSL in falsely claiming that there was no Libyan revolutionary movement worthy of the name and agitated in conjunction with the bloodhounds against NATO’s attacks on Ghadafi’s forces).

Hezbollah’s boots on the ground. Aleppo Citadel, Syria.

PSL seized on the popularity of the pre-Ghadafi Libyan flag among protestors as “proof” that the rebellion was monarchist in character, nevermind that it was a revolution directed against a man who proclaimed himself the “King of Kings,” nevermind Libya’s first free and fair elections for a national legislature that now rules in his place. Today PSL loyally parrots the Syrian state media as it makes victims out to be criminals and criminals out to be victims by talking about foreign-backed “terrorist” rebels while studiously ignoring Iran’s and Hezbollah’s boots on the ground, playing up sectarian elements within the Syrian opposition while pretending Shia support for the revolution does not exist, and raising a hue and cry over interference with Assad’s counter-revolution from the imperialist West while “forgetting” about the arms, fuel, and economic subsidies provided to the regime by the imperialist East.

This is what passes for Marxist analysis these days!

Thankfully, we will never see the Ghadafi masoleum that PSL plans to erect in Washington, D.C.’s Red Square after a PSL-led revolution here because they (like their three-letter “competitors”) are incapable of accomplishing anything so audacious or liberating. Bloodhounds are dangerous not because of their rigorous arguments, convincing analysis, or ability to inspire and lead successful mass movements but because of their ability to track, attack, and kill. If that is all they can do, they should at least bark in support of the right side: the bourgeois-democratic revolution, not the bourgeois counter-revolution!

Once upon a time, Marxists were the biggest, staunchest champions of bourgeois-democratic revolutions not in spite of their socialist convictions but because of them. “[B]oth the direct interests of the proletariat and the interests of its struggle for the final aims of socialism require the fullest possible measure of political liberty and, consequently, the replacement of the autocratic form of government by a democratic republic” is how a party resolution Lenin quoted approvingly put it.

Political freedom is the best and indeed the only road to a sustainable post-capitalist order (whether that end point is labeled socialism, anarchism, communism, or horizontalism is not as important as actually getting there; we are long overdue). Lenin was prescient when he wrote along these lines in 1905 that “whoever wants to reach socialism by a different road, other than that of political democracy, will inevitably arrive at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and the political sense.” The history of the 20th century is littered with reactionary absurdities of this type. All of them failed without exception. Hitching the wagon of the socialist movement to the governments of the USSR, China, Albania, Cambodia, and now (for the bloodhounds) Ghadafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria helped drag the international socialist movement back to the fringes where it was before the days of even the First International.

Working and oppressed peoples will never flock to the banner of Marxism again unless and until we prove in practice to be the biggest and most ardent champions of not just their social and economic freedom but their political freedom as well. Freedom from want is just as important as freedom of thought, expression, and assembly. Lenin, following Marx, understood that we will never get to the former unless and until we win and utilize the latter.

To “win the battle of democracy” we must first win the battle for democracy.

This battle for democracy rages in every country affected by the bourgeois-democratic revolutions known as the Arab Spring. Claims that the Egyptian, Tunisian, and Yemeni bourgeois-democratic revolutions were genuine mass revolts while their Libyan and Syrian counterparts were foreign-engineered or foreign-backed-and-therefore-hijacked – advanced by bloodhounds and centrists alike – are laughable fairy tales unworthy of self-proclaimed Marxists. This is not the reality on the ground anddoes not correspond in the slightest with the experience of the Arab and North African masses who are toppling autocrats “left” and right alike using all available means, including imperialist airstrikes on their enemies when unavoidable. They simply do not care about the Western left’s attachment to “socialist” policies such as Ghadafi’s free housing or “principled” opposition to Western intervention which, in the case of Libya, they exploited for their own ends: ousting Ghadafi and completing the first stage of their revolution.

The Libyans dared to win and the centrists and bloodhounds dared to castigate them for it.

The comrades who lined up with the bloodhounds over NATO’s Libya operation under the slogan “hands off Libya” are doing so again over Syria under the slogan “hands off Syria.” In doing so, they provide a perfect example of why the “revolution yes, intervention no” and “no to dictatorship, no to intervention” trend on the Western left is centrist: when imperialist powers intervene against counter-revolutionaries, the centrists join hands with the bloodhounds while claiming they are still for revolution, their alliance with the revolution’s enemies to act against the revolution’s interests notwithstanding.

Think twice before joining hands with the bloodhounds. The Syrian revolution has enough enemies. It does not need frenemies.

On leaving PSL

(Reader EnCee on why he left PSL. Promoted from the comments to my Abstaining from bad sects post yesterday. The image is of my choosing.)

This is just a little blurb on my own departure from the PSL after 6+ years. There is so much to get into, but I promised Bob I would keep this short so I will just go into the immediate reason for my departure from PSL.

The political question which led to my immediate departure is kind of a doozy. Basically you had to vote for all the slots on a delegate ballot to have your ballot count in an election. Problem was, if not all the choices available were to your liking then you were kind of in a bind. Either vote for someone you don’t really want to fill up slots on your ballot just to have your ballot count or basically abstain from the whole voting process because you couldn’t fill up a couple slots.

Whenever I have explained it to anyone outside the PSL they have given me mostly quizzical looks. (I have explained it to some people in PSL too and they have not been able to give me an adequate explanation.) Sometimes I think they assume they are missing something but even in those cases given a modest amount of time for a thorough explanation the extent of how warped a sense of political participation the PSL leadership has is allowed to sink in and can only be described as unbelievable.

The situation is so warped that it almost reaches the level of caricature. Remember that book about farm animals that Orwell wrote that was such a favorite tool of red baiters? Well, I hesitate to say it, but it’s kind of on that level of bad. Up is down, bad is good, and full participation means behaving like a good little soldier and voting for something you don’t want to vote for. Because, that’s democracy for you — and if you don’t like it”¦ well, you were probably always unhappy anyway so it must have been a problem with you. (Isn’t it always?)

The fact that I was shouted down at an internal political meeting when I brought up the democratic point related to this flawed voting process just takes the cake when I talk to people about it. Saying people should be forced to vote for something they do not want is flat wrong. It doesn’t even matter if they have strong feelings about it, but when they do it’s even worse. For the vast majority of people, voting is supposed to be an affirmative act. It is supposed to be something you want to do, for something you want to vote for. We already lived in a flawed democratic system where the people we vote for usually don’t represent our interests. Why would you start off a new group that’s supposed to work for progressive causes on the wrong foot by tying it down to a flawed voting process from the beginning?

But, even allowing that there was some unseen rationale for justifying these types of procedures, why would you shut down discussion on the issue?

It’s almost ludicrous the way these people approach political participation. They act like they are the lords and you are the subjects and you will only be allowed to speak when they deign to let you do so.

Fact of the matter is you can’t have a democratic discussion when one person gets to decide who does or does not speak. Doesn’t matter if people come to that person’s defense or support them after the fact.

It’s almost like a bad stereotype of an authoritarian Marxist “leader.” Maybe other people have had enough experience to know better. Who would have thought anyone could be so afraid of losing control that they would be afraid of a little discussion. Last time I checked someone raising their hand to talk about democratic participation is not something that should strike fear in the hearts of man. Obviously this was a naïve position.

If there is no truly democratic forum then you can not truly address issues of substance. After looking at it a while, it seems pretty clear that’s what was intended all along. There have been a number of reprehensible behaviors which certain people (ie, the “leaders”) have been allowed to get away with. Some of these involve class privilege, chauvinism, women’s oppression/domestic abuse, undemocratic tendencies, etc. It has been in the interest of those in control to keep a tight lid on any dissent or even information about people’s behavior in order to make sure things go as planned. What that “plan” is the leaders have not deigned to let us know. I guess we’re just supposed to “trust them” but they never seemed too interested in wanting to trust us.

I will just give one glaring example, which is real, but almost seems like a caricature of a “Marxists” group. (There are many other examples, some of which I consider worse.)

There was this guy, lets call him Martie McWar, who used to call for the expulsion of people in the PSL/ANSWER because they did not meet his “high standards” of what he considered to be a revolutionary. Now, some people like me would tell him outright that was wrong while others who I guess were sympathetic to him would say “we’re not at that point yet.” But Mr. McWar would not be dissuaded. So, while everybody thought things were cool he went around to the people he thought should be kicked out and made them feel unwelcome on his own time. For others he would pretend to be friendly then while they were drunk he would goad them into saying negative things, especially about the “leaders.” Mr. McWar would then run and snitch to the leaders and be protected because according to them he was just being “loyal.”(!)

It’s like some weird demented macho frat boy quasi-Stalinist mentality which is hard to describe. Read that again and remember that I’m talking about a group that describes itself as Marxist-Leninist.

Suffice to say I’m glad I stood up for myself and no longer have to put up with this type of behavior. I kind of look at it more and more like getting out of an abusive relationship. When you’re in one it’s hard to see how you could survive outside of it, but ultimately you need to draw a line, stand up for yourself and leave these abusive patterns of behavior behind. It’s hard not being in a political group but it’s even harder not standing up for your principles.

Abstaining from bad sects

Sectarianism, left cadre organizations, and ultra-leftism too often create a squabbling, ineffective, sometimes fanatical left, filled with schisms and splinter groups. Chip Berlet explores this in an article written in 1999 but just as true now.

An excerpt.

Ultra-leftism is an egocentric form of mythopoetic martyrdom whereby practitioners anoint themselves as the beleaguered guardians of the one true political line. They read long impenetrable manifestos at public meetings. They show up at mass demonstrations with helmets and hockey sticks for a game of self-fulfilling prophecy that often results in violence as they hurl themselves at police. They inevitably urge a course of action that is hopelessly out of touch with reality. Even Lenin called this an “infantile disorder.”

They also see themselves as the true leaders of the coming revolution, the vanguard whom the working class will unquestionably recognize one day. Then they (the self-appointed anointed) will lead the masses in smashing capitalism. That dozens of other left grouplets also view themselves as the true leaders does indeed lead to sometimes vicious factional fights.

I was purged from such a group, PSL, two years ago (but was walking away anyway. PSL was formed a few years ago when several dozen members of Workers World split off, the result of a internal struggle. At that time WW controlled the ANSWER Coalition. The members who left took ANSWER with them and started PSL.

I was in ANSWER prior to the split and was thinking of joining WW. I asked Peter Camejo, who I knew from the Green Party, about them. He said he’d talked with WW and that they were upfront with him about starting ANSWER as a way to recruit for the party. He was trying to warn me off. The split happened, and I joined PSL mostly out of curiosity but increasingly got disillusioned with their ever-hardening myopic party line and tactics. It took me three years to understand Camejo’s warning. He was right and had been there himself. He ran for US president for Socialist Workers Party in 1976 and got expelled a few years for refusing to back the SWP policy of forcing members to work in factories, often by making them move too, so they could be proper proles.

The problem with groups like this, and their front organizations, is you can’t have it both ways. Either you build a genuine mass organization, which means moderates and those not affiliated with your group have a real say or you use the front group primarily as a recruiting tool, which means the stated purpose for the group is secondary, and you will never become a mass organization because you deliberately exclude all but the true believers.

ANSWER organized massive anti-war protests that sometimes drew hundreds of thousands. This was important. But it never translated into a genuine mass movement because WW and PSL would not allow moderates to have any genuine influence or power. So, the whole process ends up being self-defeating and self-limiting.

One thing I genuinely do not understand is the almost complete failure by the left to organize on the financial crisis the way they did on the Iraq War. We have a humongous crisis of capitalism and the response from the left has mostly been crickets. I don’t get it.

It might be because there’s a tendency for lefties to say ‘capitalism is bad’ and leave it at that, perhaps because they don’t really understand economics and financial matters that well.

Contrast that with blogs written by financial insiders like Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, and The Big Picture. They tend to be more libertarian but are seriously pissed. ZH broke stories about high frequency trading and dark pools, and on at least one occasion, forced Congress to take action. Their articles are in-depth, knowledgeable, and scathing.

The left can do this too, and in the process will attract interest and followers, and that can lead to the building of a genuinely an mass organization to fight against the current financial excesses and predation.