Letter of resignation from the International Socialist Organisation (Australia) (sister group of SWP Britain)
(Some of those signing this letter have gone on to form a new group, Solidarity.
May 25, 2003
To the International Socialist Organisation
It is with reluctance that we have decided to resign from the International Socialist Organisation.
The downward spiral of the group over the last two years shows no sign of abating. The respite from the general atmosphere of hostility and defensiveness following our last conference in December 2002 was only temporary. The resignations of long-standing comrades since conference have been met with indifference from the ISO national leadership.
Despite a stated commitment at conference to resolve our differences in the context of building the movement and the ISO, we have seen heavy-handed organisational measures and a refusal to discuss differences in a comradely fashion by the ISO leadership.
"Looking reality in the face" is the starting point for correcting mistakes, but there is a complete failure to acknowledge the scale of crisis that confronts the group. Critical comments are dismissed out of hand or met with allegations of factionalism. We have no confidence that this is about to change.
Following conference, we saw the emergence of a massive international anti-war movement and the largest anti-war demonstrations in Australia's history. That the ISO failed to grow out of this movement, has no greater political coherence, no larger established periphery and if anything smaller meetings is a serious indictment of the current practice of the group. This compares poorly with the dramatic political response and growth the organisation experienced in the first Gulf War. In itself, this recent failure should cause serious self-reflection on the part of the group. That this follows two years of intense internal crisis is why we have decided to act today.
Similarly, despite the resilience and significance of the refugee movement, the group seems unable to systematically integrate the campaign into its political work. On campuses, we have failed to build out of any of the very significant movements that have punctuated political life on campus. Discussion of the ISO's failure to build has been limited and discouraged.
This failure to analyse the current period or to reflect and appraise our own successes and failures in relating to the period, must cause confusion for all members at all levels of the ISO and may go some way to explain the malaise we believe is endemic in the organisation.
"A good militant today is an informed militant," wrote Susan George soon after Seattle. Yet the underplaying of politics has been a persistent feature of the group's perspective in recent years. Conference itself recognised that there had been a one-sided emphasis on activism that had depoliticised the group. However, there has been no attempt to systematically redress this problem.
At the last conference, many comrades attempted to identify the issues underlying the crisis in the ISO. This was an attempt to assess the state of the group and try to understand the causes of our lack of growth in a period that is a very positive one for socialists.
Many of the issues raised in the pre-conference document An Urgent Need to Take Stock remain relevant. Two of them are of particular importance.
(i) Ideological intervention and the role of a small group. The emphasis on building the "next big event" means that the question of political intervention is constantly down-played. Consequently, despite overstatements about the possibility of "leading the movement" the organisational response means that we don't offer a political lead on campuses, local groups or in campaigns where we can find an audience for our ideas and have some influence. The group shifts from issue to issue often without any political discussion and without a sustained commitment to the campaigns. This makes it impossible to build long term relationships with other activists.
(ii) An organisational structure that fits with the period and the needs of a small group. The period demands a high level of political discussion and debate, yet current Marxist Forums are often devoid of theory, polemic, traditions and historical experience. These are crucial to respond to and to explain the political questions thrown up in campaigns as well as general questions presented by the crisis in capitalism which comrades face when interacting with classmates, co-workers and friends.
There is also a lack of political space for the very thing that is crucial to developing members' confidence to understand and to lead - discussing and learning from intervention in the campaigns themselves.
It has become impossible for us to discuss our differences with the current perspective and practices of the ISO within the framework of the ISO. Attempts to do so are met with animosity. In turn this animosity clouds the issues, avoids responding to the substance of any criticism and most importantly impedes the process of understanding the world and our role in it. We hope a resolution of these differences will become possible as we work together in future struggles.
We remain committed to the need for revolutionary organisation, the essential elements of socialism from below and the fundamental politics that distinguishes the International Socialist Tendency.
We take seriously the task of bringing Marxism to the layers of people influenced by anti-capitalism and who are politicised by the anti-war and refugee movements. We will shortly convene meetings to discuss how we can begin that task.
By establishing a practice of working alongside others on campus, in trade unions, in campaigns and other work, we hope to make socialist ideas relevant to the struggles in which they are involved and to show the links between those immediate struggles and the capitalist system.
We believe that a lively, comradely and political practice of discussion and debate is central to building a socialist movement.
We don't underestimate the difficulties, but there is no doubt that the questioning of the prevailing world order holds many opportunities for socialist ideas to gain a significant hearing. The sheer numbers of people who came out again and again to oppose the war on Iraq against the lies of our rulers and their media as well as the determination of the refugee movement are evidence of that possibility.
We therefore tender our resignations from the International Socialist Organisation.
Emilie Awbery, Greg Brown, Brett Cardinal, John Cleary, Scott Gault, Paul Gibens, Mark Gillespie, Mark Goudkamp, Kym Hickey, Paul Jacobs, Silja Leskinen, Shelly Menzies, Eliot Morland, Jean Parker, Ian Rintoul, Andrew Rivett, Nikki Thiedeke, Liz Thompson, Michael Thomson, Jess Reed, Josh Wood