ISO and SWP Split
Internal ISO document
from ISO Steering Committee
March 12, 2001
As some comrades will have already heard, the SWP Central Committee has severed all ties with the ISO and is encouraging other groups in the International Socialist Tendency (IST) to do likewise. On Monday, March 5, the ISO received a letter (attached) signed by Alex Callinicos and Panos Garganas (of SEK in Greece) announcing that they no longer considered us part of the IST. The letter asserts that the "final straw" prompting our expulsion was our alleged engineering of a split in the Greek organization, SEK. Two days later we received a document which attempts to lay out the case for our expulsion from the tendency. The document, which the SWP has also posted on their website, is an embarrassment. It is littered with falsehoods, substitutes assertion for argument and stands reality on its head. The writing and public distribution of this document is an indictment of the SWP leadership, which apparently thinks that if lies are repeated often enough they can be passed off as the truth.
The ISO leadership had no part in encouraging a split in SEK. Nevertheless, though not one single member group in the Tendency has bothered to discuss the matter with us, they have swallowed the SWP CC's accusations wholesale. The letter sent to the Tendency by Panos Garganas captured better than anything else the hostility of SEK's leadership to the ISO and the gutter level to which politics has been reduced in the IST, when he ended with the statement "Tendency beware."
We no longer accept the SWP's judgement of who is and isn't part of the IS tendency uncritically and believe we should judge for ourselves. (It is worth noting that the Greek organization, SEK, continued to maintain relations with a split from the Turkish organization a little more than two years ago. But, as far as we know, SEK was not threatened with expulsion from the Tendency.)
Three other organizations, the SWP in Ireland, the IS in Canada and the SWO in New Zealand have sent us letters ending their ties with us-indicating that the proposed international meeting will simply rubber stamp this decision. The speed with which the leadership of the four organizations acted suggests that the decision to split with us was arrived at without even allowing a discussion of the matter inside their respective organizations. After our last convention the SWP declaration of support for 6 former members of the ISO made clear their intent to expel the ISO from the Tendency. Such an expulsion cannot be justified politically, so the ISO has been charged with breaking the norms of democratic centralism and engaging in "thuggish" behavior-again, claims that have no basis in fact. As comrades know, these charges have been made for international consumption.
The two leading members of the British SWP and two members of the Canadian IS who attended our convention never raised these charges during the convention where we allegedly engaged in this "thuggery." Indeed, Alex Callinicos' intervention at our convention stressed how small the differences between the two organizations were (after having only recently informed the SWP's own National Conference that the ISO needed to be "saved" by the SWP). The Canadian comrades told us that they did not believe we failed the test of war or the test of Seattle, and even went so far as to renounce the ultra-left slogans that they marched with on April 16 in Washington, D.C. ["One Solution, Revolution"]. Whatever else can be said about the ISO and its membership we would never stand idly by while comrades' democratic rights were trampled. The expelled comrades, who are now referred to as representatives of the IST in the U.S., had all of their documents published in the pre-convention bulletins. They were invited to present their case at two meetings in both New York and Washington, D.C. before the convention, were invited to attend the convention (since they were not delegates and the one delegate who supported them was seated), had full speaking rights at the convention where the issues under debate occupied the first day of the meeting. Alex Callinicos did not attend the first day of the convention, but arrived, and left, the second day of the convention.
As comrades know, ISO delegates at our last convention unanimously rejected the faction's views, and voted a resolution calling upon the SWP CC to cease its factional activity inside the ISO. After the convention, the six continued their factional activity, including reducing or suspending dues payment, convincing other ISO members to quit the organization and refusing to meet individually with a member of the steering committee to discuss these matters. After the convention, they boycotted branch meetings and sales of Socialist Worker and continued to operate as a faction refusing to work with or under the direction of the local and national leaderships. For this (and not for their political views) they were expelled from the ISO. Had anyone bothered to look into the matter they would have discovered these plain and indisputable facts. Yet the SWP leadership can, without the slightest blush of shame, remove the ISO from the tendency for allegedly engaging in the very same practices that it has engaged in toward the ISO.
The tendency, rightly, would have considered it absurd if the ISO issued a letter to the tendency declaring that we no longer consider the SWP part of the tendency because they have behaved in such a relentlessly sectarian, bullish and hostile manner toward their sister organization in the U.S. We believe, therefore, that expelling the ISO from the IS tendency is a reckless, sectarian and irresponsible act.
In expelling the ISO, the SWP CC is applying a hypocritical double standard. The SWP leadership can, apparently, engage in factional intervention in the ISO, backing a tiny faction, and openly siding with that faction against the ISO, but our decision to send a comrade to Greece is considered grounds for expulsion from the Tendency. We plan to write a response to the SWP's document and circulate it soon. But it should be noted that the central assertion of the document-that we are incorrigible sectarians-was refuted once again by the conferences that we held in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco and Austin March 3. The East Coast Socialist Conference New York City, drew 275 people;the San Francisco Conference 150; the DC conference 170. Featured speakers there were Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, Bob Naiman, a key organizer of the A16 protests last year and a leading FTAA organizer, and Arturo Griffiths the head of the D.C. Statehood Green Party. The Bay Area Socialist Conference featured Medea Benjamin, a key organizer of the Seattle protests and a Green Party Senate candidate.
Speakers in New York City included a reprsentative from NOW, Al Sharpton's top assistant, Dedrick Muhammad, and a lead organizer from SalAmi in Montreal, a French Canadian direct action group that is organizing for the FTAA protest. Our featured speaker was Leonard Riley, from the Charleston dockers who are facing criminal and civil charges for standing up to riot cops on a picket line last year. Besides mobilizing for the FTAA protest in Quebec, an ISO Teamster comrade in Seattle got his Local to lead labor efforts for a bi-national protests on the Canadian border near Vancouver. In Southern California ISO comrades initiate what will be a historic protest along the San Diego-Tijuana border. They initiated a recent teach-in that featured David Bacon (mentioned prominently in Harman's ISJ article),Jaime Cota, a maquiladora organizer and a laid-off Boeing worker. We just got the endorsement of the San Diego central labor council as well as maquiladora organizers for the border protest. Our comrades are traveling to Mexico City to meet with Zapatista leaders to request their endorsement as well.
The politics and organization of international socialism have suffered a severe blow. The tragedy is not the alleged hopeless sectarianism of the ISO, but the fact that the SWP failed to provide the leadership necessary for the tendency to grow in the 1990s. This is not a crime. The crime is to cover up that failure and then search for scapegoats abroad. In spite of our expulsion, we remain proud adherents to the traditions and politics of the international socialist tendency, and will continue to work with any organizations who are willing to have open, fraternal relations with us, whatever our disagreements may be.
There is no precedent for expelling an organization wholesale from the tendency in this manner-and we intend to answer the slanders about us, defend our organization and urge others to join us in fighting the bureaucratic degeneration of the tendency's leading group.
The SWP leadership has now been involved in six splits in as many years in IS Tendency groups internationally. Whatever the immediate cause of each split, these splits point to a method that the SWP has applied throughout the tendency. For all the talk of nonsectarianism and of new methods of work, our expulsion has been conducted along the lines of the worst traditions of the sectarian left. Far from being outside the growing radicalization we are at the center of rebuilding the left in the U.S. We are deeply involved in the new radicalization and in all aspects of the developing struggles. But we have never counterposed the new radicalization, the new movement, to the building of revolutionary organization. We are against any attempt to say that party building is sectarian or counterposed to involvement of the struggle. The IS tradition proudly fought to maintain the legacy of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg-summed up in the first four congresses of the Communist International. We believe that this tradition provides us with the best guide to facing the coming battles and stand proudly in the tradition we have helped build and develop. The ISO will, as it has always done, continue to struggle alongside all those fighting to win a better world.