Posts Tagged ‘ISO

02
Jan
12

Podcasts for Leftists

Once again I’m putting off writing on a more difficult subject, so I’ve written up three brief reviews of podcasts you benefit from. All are free from iTunes, though I believe you can also download audio files directly from the various host websites.

 

Socialism Conference:

Every year, the ISO helps in the hosting of two major conferences for revolutionary socialists in the cities of Chicago and Oakland (both historically significant cities for the left, but more on that later). Covering a wide range of topics, the conference speakers offer insightful and informative lectures on such issues as the victories and defeats of Marxism in the US, the ever growing problem of mass incarcerations, the Palestinian freedom struggle, feminism, culture, and international politics. I would personally recommend the 2010 Oakland conference lecture “Legal Lynching in America”, in which family members of Oscar Grant, a young man murdered at the hands of the police, call for justice. “Breaking the Siege of Gaza” is also well worth listening to, as the speakers were actually participants in the tragically ill-fated first Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

If there’s criticism to be had of the Socialism Conference lectures, it’s that they, like much contemporary Communist dialogue, tend to be based in analysis of the past, rather than focusing on application. That said, the analysis is great.

 

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Radio Essays:

Incarcerated Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal has, with the help of Prison Radio (a site well worth visiting), been putting out three minute essays on his views on current events, politics, economics, culture (with a soft spot for music), and history, generally focusing on the struggle of African Americans. His involvement in the radical leftist movement, as well as his thirty years experience inside the prison system, serve to bolster his challenging, simply-stated perspectives. Many times I find myself wondering how it is that Mumia, in solitary confinement, is able to speak with greater authority and accuracy on the state of the world than most pundits and politicians.

If there’s a downside to these podcasts, it’s that they leave you wanting more.

 

I hesitate to add “Occupy the Airwaves”, only because I myself have yet to make up my mind about it. A collection of interviews with various OWS members (primarily in California), “Occupy the Airwaves” was created to give people who have yet to make up their minds about the movement a chance to hear some of the backgrounds, perspectives, and demands of the protestors, hopefully raising greater support for the movement as a whole.

 

Now while these podcasts (at least, the five I’ve listened to so far) are informative and interesting, I do often myself frustrated with the host who consciously avoids interviewing what he calls “the regular suspects”, that is, “veteran” protestors (not to be confused with protestors who are veterans, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive). His reasoning for this is that his target audience is one that will be moved to action through seeing “normal” people for whom the OWS movement is their first protest, allowing the listens to relate. Of course, the problem I have with this is that (1) it’s making that assumption that the protestors who demonstrated at the WTO or G12 meetings are not normal or sympathetic, and (2) that a hefty portion of those who have both planned and attended the OWS movement are not being able to voice their own (more radical) views. In the host’s defense, he has interviewed one anarchist, and while I was initially hoping to hear more from the far-left, I’ll take what I can get.

 

Is it a revolutionary podcast? Not at all- the host has a strange obsession with political philosophy John Rawls that, frankly, isn’t an answer to the root problem of inequality and injustice. That said, Occupy the Airwaves is professionally done, and while I certainly don’t agree with the perspectives of the host, it still merits looking into.

21
Dec
11

The Life of the Party (Or, Back to Square One)

Ok, so after my brief stint in the SPUSA, I’m leaving empty handed. We all know where this is going, so let’s just get this over with.

I was wrong, you were right- the criticisms concerning the SPUSA turned out to be true, and it was a mistake to have joined this organization. Mea culpa.

Now before we get right into the details of why I won’t be renewing my membership in the SPUSA, let’s just take a quick moment to recall why I joined in the first place.

After general disappointment with other Leftist parties as being either too small to be especially effective, too localized, or too creepy (RCPUSA, I’m looking at you), the SPUSA ranked high on my list, with both a platform I could agree with, internal democracy, and a large, (reportedly) active membership spread out across the country. Granted, the core values seemed more conciliatory than I’d have liked, but I figured that this was a result of the party being “multi-tendency”, that is, representative of a wide array of Leftist tendencies- a major pro in and of itself. After all, what I believe as a Communist now is not what I’d have believed four years ago, so exposing myself to a “thousand schools of thought” contending would be infinitely more productive than joining a party whose platform I totally and completely agreed with (we’re talking about Socialist Action here).

Like I said, I was wrong.

 

While I entered into the SPUSA with the hope that I’d be right in the action, I, in the weeks following the acceptance of my membership application, received no orders (or even suggestions) from the party on what I could be doing to further the cause. I’m not knocking personal initiative here- I fully understand that, as individuals, we ought to be addressing the issues that we’re facing in our day-to-day lives and that are affecting the local area. However, if I didn’t need to join the SPUSA to do that. Again, I’m not saying that I require orders from on high to act. It just seems strange that the SPUSA advocate a society based on utilizing individual talents for a common purpose, but not be in contact with its members on how they can best contribute to the movement. I think one commenter on this blog said it best when he stated “The SP-USA doesn’t have 1,000 members…it has 1,000 donors…”.

 

See, ultimately, my goal in joining a party or organization was to contribute my time, talents, and efforts to a concentrated and directional campaign to advance Marxism, or, at the very least, the principals espoused by the left. I realize again that my location in the backwoods of New York (most of the year) make networking and collaborating difficult, but nevertheless there has got to be something I can do. Have a comrade running for office? Let me help campaign on his or her behalf? Writing a statement on the Arab Spring? Let me get input and info from some of my contacts. Need funds for a project? Let me try to raise funds (ok, technically membership fees do play into that, but you get the idea).

Let's get our hands dirty

The way I figure it, the party should, in and of itself, be an example of Communism at work. A democratic, egalitarian group collectively pooling resources, skills, and effort to make a united effort to combat injustice, oppression, ignorance, and inequality. Getting a magazine is a nice perk, but its not the reason I chose the SPUSA. I chose the SPUSA because I thought that what the organization lacked in core principals, it would make up for in its ability to draw from the various schools of Leftism represented and channel this diversity into a powerful, coherent movement.

 

Again, I might be coming across as overly harsh on the SPUSA- after all, I have friends there, and I don’t believe that the party is without merit or achievement. At the same time, the general criticism that the party lacks “direction” or “discipline” as a result of it not being based in Leninism does have a lot going for it, and while I think the SPUSA is trying to address the issues surrounding us, it simply isn’t being aggressive enough, certainly in part due to its multi-tendency background. As much as I’d like to assert that we are all on the same side, the simple fact of the matter is that if we try to adopt an approach that is acceptable to everyone, from the most gung-ho direct-action Anarchist to the most diplomatic Democratic Socialist, we’re not going to get anywhere. At some point, someone’s got to put their fist down and say “Look, this is what needs to be done, contribute as much as you feel your conscience allows and then step back- this is gonna be messy!”.

Emphatic Marxist Giant is Empahtic

Look, I’m not going to say that my time in the SPUSA was a waste- I do feel that I’ve learned, even if my learning has stemmed out of a generally negative cause. You can’t sacrifice principals for resources- push come to shove, a small, poor group with direction is going to be advancing the cause further than large, well-funded group without one (or at least, with only the most general of goals). There’s something to be said for the Leninist model of the vanguard party- for all the criticism it receives on both sides of the left-wing spectrum, it’s effective.

Movement from the top down is still movement...

At the end of the day, I’d like to think of myself as a pragmatist. I have my own theories, my values, and my general concept of how things ought to be done, but my perspectives and beliefs are, as they should be with all of us, a means, not an end. I’m a Trotskyist (Anarcho-Trotskyist, if you want to get needlessly specific), but I’ll throw my weight behind whatever and whoever is actively and effectively working to advance the cause of freedom, equality, and justice. My support goes not to who I have ideological similarities with, but to those who are actually implementing Marxism, be it the Maoist-inspired Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (the old BPP- not the new one) or the unionization efforts made by various elements of the New Left.

So where am I now? Back to square one.

I haven’t changed my views on joining a party- I do feel that I ought to be networking and collaborating with other revolutionaries, but I am at a bit of a loss as to where to proceed from here. My other top choices for membership (ISO, Socialist Action) still have the same cons attached to them, and recent comments (and I am grateful for the comments) seem to indicate that both organizations have a lot less going for them than I initially thought.

So again my question is- where do I go from here? Any thoughts?

18
Aug
11

Joining The Party: SPUSA VS. ISO VS. Socialist Action (Part VIII)

It’s been a long time coming, but round two of eliminations has begun. No, the ISO still hasn’t gotten back to me, but since I’ll be looking primarily at the structural aspects. I might find something here that pushes me to make a final decision.

Now since the ideological side of things has been more or less taken care of, I’ll be focusing on five key elements: party size, electoral involvement, activism, membership expectations, and resources.

So let’s get right to it.

 

Party Size:

Let’s face it, size matters. While a small party certainly offers one the chance to be (more easily) heard and to make a name for oneself, ultimately, a party’s clout comes from the number of members. The larger the party, the more voters, the more activists, the more opinions and ideas. Bottom line- big is (almost always) better.

Socialist Party USA:

  • Roughly 1000 due-paying members

International Socialist Organization:

  • Roughly 1000 due-paying members

Socialist Action:

  • Between 200-300 due-paying members

The Winner:

SPUSA and ISO tie.

 

Electoral Involvement:I don’t believe that elections are the answer to the problems we’re facing. Ultimately, winning every seat in government isn’t (as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out) the answer- change has to happen from the bottom up, not from the top down. Revolution, not regulation. Power to the people, not the polticians.

 

You know the slogans.

 

But that said, I don’t believe, as some leftists do, that getting involved in elections is pointless. Far from it. Sure elected officials might not be able to solve the issues we’re confronted with, but they can certainly fight on behalf of the workers, the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed. So naturally, I’ll have to examine the three parties’ track records when it comes to (1) involvement in the political system and (2) general success.

Socialist Party USA:

  • Submits party candidates
  • Has had success in local elections

International Socialist Organization:

  • Does not submit party candidates
  • Has backed Democrat Ralph Nader’s 2004 campaign

Socialist Action:

  • Submits party candidates

The Winner:

SPUSA.

 

Activism:

I said “big is (almost always) better”, however, I was careful to add the “almost” bit. While size is important to a party, it is so only in relation to activism. At the end of the day, it’s better to be part of a tiny party that’s actually involved in the struggle, than tied to massive party that doesn’t actually do anything. For the activism aspect, we have to take both the range of issues confronted by the parties and the level on which they engage those issues. A good sense of balance is needed here- we can’t be immersed in only a single cause, or only nominally confronting a vast array of problems.

 

Socialist Party USA:

  • Engaged in a wide array of campaigns in the US.

International Socialist Organization:

  • Engaged in a wide array of campaigns in the US and internationally.

Socialist Action:

  • Engaged in a wide array of campaigns in the US.
  • Supportive of, though not directly involved in, international campaigns.

The Winner:

ISO.

 

Membership Expectations:

Essentially, we need to take into account what the party expects of it’s members. This can mean membership dues, recruitment initiatives, fundraising, involvement within the party, and so on. And to be perfectly honest, it’s tough to gauge any of this without actually being a member of the party, but let’s work with what we have.

 

Socialist Party USA:

  • Membership dues vary, but tend to be relatively cheap. As a student, I would only have to pay 15 dollars annually.
  • Members are encouraged, but not required, to volunteer to support the party, both financially and through individual talents (there’s currently a call out for technological and editorial service).

International Socialist Organization:

  • Membership dues are fairly steep, with a minimum payment of 240 dollars annually.

Socialist Action:

  • Membership dues are set a universal rate of 60 dollars annually.
  • Members are encouraged, but not required to, be involved in the internal workings of the party (decisions are made via direct democracy).

The Winner:

SPUSA.

 

Resources:

Any political party or organization is meant to be a give and take. As much as individual members need to contribute to the party, the party, in turn, needs to be helping individuals. Of course, joining any party offers the immediate benefits of being able to communicate and network with other revolutionaries, and the ability to vote and voice opinions within the party, so we’ll just leave those as given. What I’m looking for here is something that makes a party stand out- a service or an opportunity that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to find.

Socialist Party USA:

  • Membership includes a subscription to the SPUSA publications The Socialist, Socialist Women, and the local SPUSA newsletter.
  • Access the SPUSA internal discussion e-mail list, Hammer & Tongs

International Socialist Organization:

  • I was unable to find any. Think ISO members might get discounts on Haymarket Publication books, but I’m not sure.

Socialist Action:

  • Extensive say in the internal affairs of the party (against, SA functions as a direct democracy).
  • Due the party’s small size, there is (potentially) the chance to be directly involved in the party structure.

The Winner:

SPUSA.

 

Total Score:

SPUSA- 4, ISO-2, Socialist Action- 0.

SPUSA it is then.

18
Jul
11

Round 2

Tomorrow, I’ll start up the second round of research into which party I’ll join.

Parties that have made it to this round are:

The Socialist Party USA (SPUSA)

The International Socialist Organization (ISO)

Socialist Action (SA)

 

Now formatting is going to be a bit different for this round. I’ll be going through these organization’s recent actions, and scrutinizing their platforms in greater detail. I’ll also be contacting these groups and will hear out their recruitment pitches. Lastly, I’ll be looking at the basic logistics of joining up- as a student, I don’t have guaranteed access to a steady income, so I’ll be looking for an organization will fairly flexible membership-fees.

13
Jul
11

Joining The Party: Kasama Project and the International Socialist Organization (Part VI)

To be perfectly honest, after an hour of research, I’m less sure I know what the Kasama Project is than when I began. The members of the Kasama Project have (if I understand them correctly) attempted to reject conventional labels in order to redefine what it means to be a “Marxist” organization, and while I’m confident there’s some merit to that, describing exactly what the project is all about is something of a nightmare.

From what I can gather, the Kasama Project can be described as an internet-based collective of Maoists (though accepting of most schools of Marxism) who are attempting to completely rethink the goals of Marxism and the structures of revolutionary groups in order to apply them to contemporary times.

It’s a mouthful, I know, but hopefully my pro/con breakdown will help clarify things a bit.

Pros:

  • The Kasama Project seems to be a fairly young and vibrant community, really committed to the study of Marxism, activism, revolutionary tactics, etc. It seems that many Communist organizations have certain tenets which, if questioned, will have you called a reactionary or a subvert or an elitist and so on. Since the Kasama Project seems to be trying to re-imagine every aspect of Communism, it would appear that there’s none of the “do-not-question-this” traditionalism that sometimes pops up in other organizations. In short, these guys seem to have some of the best attitudes towards Marxism I’ve ever seen.
  • The Kasama Project, while largely Maoist and Maoist sympathizing, is open to all schools of Marxism (Trotskyists, Leninists, Anarchists, etc.). The Kasama Project has also been very critical of issues in the RCPUSA (the RCPUSA’s anti-Gay stance has been a recent topic).
  • “Kasama” is a Tagalog for “traveling companions”- and the general atmosphere at their website seems to communicate the idea that all comrades are together in the learning process.

Kasama: Tagalog, (noun). "Traveling companions"

And now for the cons:

  • My principal (indeed, only) problem with the Kasama Project is that it’s not so much a party or an organization as it is a discussion group and network. There’s nothing wrong with is- only I’m looking to join up with an organization that I can really cooperate with and participate in. I certainly intend to look into joining the various Kasama Project discussions, but without any actual structure or goals, I’m afraid that there’s nothing to join- at least, not in the way I’d join a political party.

So all in all, that’s a ‘no’ from me- but I would like to emphasize that my initial reaction towards the Kasama Project is positive.

Now on to the ISO.

Out of all the organizations I’ve discussed so far, I believe I am most familiar with the International Socialist Organization. The ISO has been one of the major sponsors of a number of annual “Socialism Conferences”, and while I have never had the opportunity to attend, I have managed to get my hands on the podcasts of the conference lectures, and I feel that as as result, I have a pretty decent grasp of what the ISO is all about.

I’ll get right into the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The ISO, while not the oldest leftist organization around, is fairly old, created in the mid-70s as a result of the amalgamation of Trotskyists and leftist factions. While I’m no fan of tradition, the fact that the ISO has been around for at least two generations (with strong ties to its predecessors) means that (1) the organization is fairly flexible and able to handle changing times and (2) has an established reputation and ties to the struggle.
  • The ISO is, while accepting a wide array of Communist and leftist schools of thought, a predominantly Trotskyist organization. As a Trotskyist myself (at least, I try to be), there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that the ISO rejects Stalinism and pseudo-Marxism, demands the establishment of pure democracy, and accepts the use of violence as a means of self-defense.
  • While the ISO does not appear to be actively attempting to influence the political sphere through elections, it is active in supporting boycotts, unionization, protests, and other means of social change.
  • The ISO is a revolutionary party- that is, it maintains that a revolution is the only means of establishing a Marxist society (as opposed to gradual evolution, as some Social-Democrats have argued).
  • The ISO, unlike some other parties, is fairly widespread, with branches in nearly every major city in the US.

And now for the cons:

  • While I understand the ISO’s (seeming) skepticism of using elections to influence the politics in favor of the working class, I feel that elections can, if nothing else, demonstrate the true nature of Marxism as a viciously pro-democratic movement, rather than an authoritarian one. I believe that even minor changes are worth the effort. Again, I should point out that it seems the ISO isn’t active with regards to political elections. I haven’t found anything on their site or in their lectures that indicates otherwise.

So my final verdict on the ISO?

Yep, that’s a ‘yes’ from me on the ISO, joining the SPUSA at the top of my list.