Monday, April 1, 2019

ISO Breaks up - Will MORE Be Affected?

There's lots of news about how the International Socialists (ISO) has decided to disband.

There's an article on the Socialist Worker
Haley Pessin argues that the failures of the ISO should be understood and used in order to improve the revolutionary socialist project, not abandon it. 
We fought to transform our group into one that would be run by its own members, open to multiple perspectives (without any illusions that only the “leadership” had the right answers), and fit to bring the politics of socialism from below into and alongside a growing, radicalizing left — and we won.
In the aftermath of this crisis, I was furious that our victory was being cut short by the retroactive impact of leaders whose actions proved more damaging than we could have imagined.
It seems like we are at the beginning of one of the moments revolutionaries prepare their whole lives for — a rebirth of a socialist left, complete with the return of class struggle and movements for social justice. And yet, the discovery that the leaders of an avowedly anti-sexist organization intervened such that a member accused of rape was allowed to rise to our highest leadership body has been so destructive that it is hard to figure out how we can participate and move forward. ... But I keep coming back to something my dad (who is also an ISO member) raised in response to the crisis: What if our organization had imploded due to these revelations not now, at the very beginning of a rebirth of the socialist left, but once we were much further along in the development of this new left?
I was recently in touch with Haley who is the daughter of Marc Pessin, who played a major role in the UFT opposition in the 1970s and 80's. Marc is an ISO member? Oy! I have to give him a call.

And last Friday I went on a trip with Schirtzer and his class and the guide was a former teacher and ISO member who talked about their issues -- he's a good guy and I may stay in touch. I still like some ISO people I've met. But I think the group dynamic often trumped the instincts of the individual.

I have wanted to write a piece on the tactics groups like ISO have used to exert control over mass organizations in the UFT like MORE. My personal experience with ISO in GEM and then MORE taught me a lot about the operation. Even back before ICE formed and Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) as a choice, many on the independent left would stay way because of the presence of a core of ISO people in TJC, along with the Labor Notes/Solidarity group.

But I do have friends in other cities who say ISO did not operate that way. The late George Schmidt claimed the CTU/CORE ISO people were more open - and some of them supported George even when he butted heads with CTU President Jesse Sharkey, who is ISO.

It was that sense of being in a controlled caucus that led us to form ICE in 2003/4. A left leaning independent group that would never allow sectarian leftists to gain control. When ICE discussed going into MORE, a core of left ICEers refused mainly due to ISO.

I don't have time to get into too many details of what has roiled the ISO recently -- left groups often seem to go into these convulsions. This is important in how it will affect MORE and other caucuses around the nation where ISO members have a lot of influence. Of the ten officer positions, three are ISO and one is a former ISO.

The key thing to be clear about- ISO operated on democratic centralism - like Unity Caucus - which means every member is obligated to go along even if they disagree. Thus whatever the ISO people decided to do in MORE, their entire block went along, thus exerting a level of influence beyond their numbers. (It was Mike Schirtzer calling them out on this that got him into so much trouble in MORE.)

But it was noticable how many ISO people passed through MORE over the years and seemed to lost interest  - in MORE and possibly ISO.

I will get into more details on the left in general and the impact of left-sectarian groups like ISO. In all the years of MORE not one person from the considerable ISO block in MORE ever varied from their group decision from the most minor to the major. Those of us who knew what was going on would wink at each other.

They clearly were making decisions about MORE outside the regular MORE process and bringing their pre-decisions into the group and shut down many discussions that might have gone outside the bounds of where they wanted MORE to go - always aligned with ISO policy.

From the first meetings of MORE, some of us have been in conflict at various times with the ISO faction of MORE. ISO constituted a block within MORE -- a caucus within a caucus - but not openly. In fact at the very first meeting I called out all the blocks within MORE and warned that unless these factions were open there would be conflicts. The only block of sorts within MORE - was the ICE faction. And ISO often justified their actions by citing ICE - except ICE was never dictated by an internal process that everyone must go along and support what the organization decided. ICE never operated under democratic centralism - and not even by voting -- but consensus - which is antithetical to groups like ISO.

The entire situation that took place in MORE over the past few years was instigated by the ISO faction and its allies. They were able to take control through their brilliant idea of recruiting from the democratic socialists which tipped the balance of MORE. Given how the new recruits played silence of the lambs while democracy was violated I use quotes around "democratic."

All the guesses out there are that nothing will change in MORE with the same people in control. ISO people will put their efforts into the DSA and will form and join in factions - and don't be surprised to see some of the same type of divisions arise in DSA as we saw in MORE. Sectarians just don' change the color of their stripes.

I will have more to say, but not right now. Not having ISO around as a formal organization will help some people sleep better at night.

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