The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has once again resorted to cop-baiting and physical assault, along with their customary bureaucratic maneuvers, to silence revolutionary criticism of their opportunist politics. Once again, the targets of the ISO’s slander and violence are supporters of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP).
On the evening of Saturday, November 9th, the ISO held a public meeting at Columbia University in New York, entitled “The Power of Protest: How the Vietnam War Was Stopped.” The speaker was Joel Geier, associate editor of the ISO’s journal, International Socialist Review. After the talk, the chairperson announced that speakers from the floor would be allowed only two minutes apiece. All was set to substitute cheerleading for serious political discussion and debate.
In order to expose the hypocrisy of the ISO’s pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric, two LRP supporters had their hands raised from the start. In over an hour of floor discussion, one LRPer was called upon, and he criticized among other things the ISO’s electoral support for the Green Party candidate for governor of New York, Stanley Aronowitz, and his pro-imperialist “anti-war” position. (Aronowitz is for “the retention of all military sanctions,” which means disarming Iraq in the face of imperialist threats and granting the U.S. the right to dictate Iraq’s economic as well as military policy.) The chair indicated to another LRPer, whose hand was raised throughout the session, that he would be called on, but then closed the discussion without allowing him to speak. As is appropriate when faced with such blatant political censorship, we spoke up in protest. Even if the ISO thought our protest was too strong or went on too long, that in no way excuses what followed.
While several ISO hacks on the floor threatened repeatedly to expel our comrades from the meeting, Geier at the podium launched into a frenzy of cop-baiting, accusing us of wanting to “break up the meeting” (when in fact it was the ISO trying to end it as soon as possible to avoid letting us speak), shouting “go back to your police station!“ With such accusations flying, it is not surprising that later, as our supporters were leaving the room, one ISOer attacked an LRPer, grabbing him by the neck and trying to choke him. Several people, including other LRPers and one ISOer, defused the situation by moving the attacker away.
Since this incident, ISO leaders in New York have offered to apologize on the ISO’s behalf for the particular act of thuggery, in exchange for an admission of guilt on our part. We do not accept this bogus apology. The ISO leadership is scapegoating one “inexperienced” member for his unprincipled actions, while ignoring that the stage was set by the experienced ISO chair’s anti-democratic handling of the meeting and especially by the very experienced Joel Geier’s cavalier and slanderous accusations of police provocation.
Let us be clear: any left organization has a democratic right and indeed the responsibility to defend its meetings from being broken up by the police, bourgeois agents or other disrupters. If the ISO’s meetings were in danger of such disruption, we would fight alongside the ISO to prevent it. So if a young ISOer believed Geier’s cop-baiting libels against a working-class organization, it would be tragic but understandable for him to act on those lies in a violent way. For the ISO to apologize for the one member who grabbed an LRPer by the throat and not for a top leader of the organization whose slanders led him to do it, is gross hypocrisy.
The ISO likes to make use of Geier’s years of experience to present him as uniquely qualified to teach today’s anti-war activists the lessons of the struggle against the Vietnam War. Yet Geier’s rapid resort to the accusation of “police agent” shows that he and the rest of the ISO leadership have learned nothing from that period. During the FBI’s COINTELPRO campaign against anti-war activists, Black militants and other leftists, one of the most destructive tactics used by police agencies was planting rumors, accusations and even forged “evidence” that particular activists were cop agents, thus sowing suspicion and rancor widely through the movement. By resorting to the “cop” accusation, Geier sends a clear signal to the spooks that what worked before may work once more, because there are some who are prepared to serve as vehicles for such accusations. Such behavior is far more “divisive” and “disruptive” than to fight for open political debate.
Undemocratic proceedings, lies, slanders and thuggery are not new to the ISO. In June 2000, we had the unfortunate necessity of writing a similar statement of protest after one of our members was assaulted by an ISOer in Chicago. (See Protest ISO Thuggery!.) Yet, in part as a result of our protest, there has been less of this anti-democratic functioning against us.
Why is the ISO again tightening the screws on political debate? Because the stakes are higher. Popular doubts about the planned war against Iraq are rising, and the prospects of a sizable and sustained anti-war movement are better than they have been in a long time. The opportunist left organizations are anticipating a reprise of the 1960s and are jockeying for a controlling position.
Yet the main lesson of the 1960s, which Joel Geier and the rest of the ISO leadership cannot teach because they never learned it themselves, is the danger that movements of potentially revolutionary proportions can be sidetracked into populism, which inevitably means support of U.S. imperialism and in particular the Democratic Party. In working to stifle and marginalize political debate and revolutionary voices, the dominant organizations on the left in that day (the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party) claimed they were building unity by keeping things safe for Democratic politicians to dominate the politics of the movement.
When enthusing nostalgically about the 1960s, ISO leaders like to point out that opposition to capitalism and imperialism was widespread in popular consciousness. Yet they never have a coherent answer to the basic question: why is it that thirty years later the U.S. ruling class feels free to launch more bloody imperialist wars? To young activists who want this question answered, we say: watch them as they try to shut down debate, suck up to liberal populistic politicians and play divisive games. They are seeking to politically police the movement as their predecessors did in the ‘60s. That’s why we’re back at square one.
A small number of working-class fighters took part in those struggles against war and racism, and learned these lessons the hard way. They learned that a powerful anti-war movement must be based on unity in action by all those opposed to the war, but with intense consciousness-raising discussion and debate. They learned that the only way to bring about revolutionary consciousness is to tell the truth to the working class, even at the cost of risking some unpopularity. They went on to form the League for the Revolutionary Party. To the workers and youth who look to the ISO for an alternative to capitalist exploitation and imperialist war, we say: don’t let the opportunist leaders take you down the road of populism and liberalism. Join with us in building the revolutionary party of the working class.