An unfortunate and unnecessary departure from ISA

Statement by the International Executive of International Socialist Alternative

On the evening of 24 June 2021 the Greek and Cypriot sections, together with a number of members from Turkey and the Spanish state, publicly announced their departure from International Socialist Alternative (ISA). This unfortunate decision was made despite an appeal by ISA’s International Committee “to maintain unity, commit to democratic and clarifying political discussion, and avoid premature and unnecessary damage to our revolutionary international and the decades-long efforts of its militants”.

The decision to split was also taken before important debates within ISA over different aspects of perspectives and party building had been completed or even fully started. For example, at the time of the comrades’ departure, not a single debate on the issues under discussion took place in Cyprus or Turkey, in which members would have an opportunity to hear alternative views to those defended by their leaderships.

We are opposed to the decision of these comrades to leave, not just because of the loss of members, who have in the past played a crucial role in often difficult circumstances, but also because we lose an opportunity to consider their contributions to the important discussions which remain necessary: about how we view the current world situation, about how we assist in rebuilding a fighting workers’ movement and establish strong revolutionary organizations across the world.

Over the past year, lively and vital discussions over different issues in ISA have sharpened our understanding. These debates have been necessary to sharpen our intervention in the more than 30 countries where we are carrying out ongoing work, such as the US, Nigeria, Brazil and Russia to name just a few, and to strive to participate as events have unfolded in other countries such as India, Belarus, Colombia and Myanmar. Continued lively, dynamic and democratic discussion is an important characteristic of a healthy Marxist organization.

These debates and discussions on perspectives and tactics involved an unprecedented number of our members from many different sections and were organized and structured in countless international and national meetings, and in internal bulletins accessible to all members. Within this, full democratic rights were given to the minority which developed and has now decided to leave. The false narrative of those departing ISA, to the effect that anyone has been “driven out” of ISA or of the existence of an “undemocratic approach” bears no resemblance to this reality. The fact that those who have split in this hasty and mistaken move focus on such allegations reveals a lack of confidence in their political arguments on the questions being debated.

A contradictory and challenging world situation

Marxists operate today in a scenario characterised by great opportunity. In the close to two years since ISA was renamed and began rebuilding itself as a distinct international, we have made encouraging progress. Several of our sections, for example in the United States, England, Wales & Scotland, Brazil and Russia have seen impressive growth in membership, in the context of a deepening anticapitalist radicalisation among great swathes of especially young people. Despite the enormous challenge of the pandemic and lockdowns, we succeeded in carrying out important international initiatives and campaigns, and held the two largest international gatherings in our decades-long history, with the ‘Virtual Marxist Universities’ in July 2020 and January 2021, both of which brought together well over 1,500 comrades from over 35 countries. We came together to produce insightful and quality political material, both on and in our weekly YouTube show, World to Win.

But the scenario has also been a challenging one. The world situation is — to say the least — chaotic. In a perfect storm of crises for capitalism, the international working class has begun to show its strength and potential. The wave of revolt which spread throughout the world in 2019 resumed with full force in 2020, after a brief pause due to the pandemic. To name but a few of the many mass movements: Argentina, Belarus, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nigeria, Israel/Palestine, Peru, Russia, Thailand, the global BLM and climate movements and of course the radicalisation among women…. These all show the enormous potential and strength of the working class. However, as all socialists will be aware, this has not yet been reflected in the development of mass revolutionary organizations, and the international labour movement is largely misled, and remains too weak. It is acutely necessary to lead these movements to anti-capitalist and socialist conclusions.

This context is challenging for socialists, given our understanding of the need for a mass revolutionary party. The fact that Greece itself, where the working class suffered immense blows and retreats over the course of the last decade, has been particularly difficult terrain for Marxists to operate is also, without doubt, a material factor in the events which have unfolded in ISA.

The world is at a turning point. Such a situation always leads to questions, to reach an understanding of the new reality, and to debates about the best way to act as revolutionaries. This is the context for debates which have taken place in ISA.

Debates on world perspectives

The first of these debates which emerged related to world perspectives, and the features of the new era. Initially, the discussion focused particularly on the world economy and the response of the capitalist class internationally to the current crisis. At ISA’s January 2020 World Congress, even before the onset of the Covid crisis, we identified a developing global economic crisis which would be potentially even deeper than that of 2008–9, which would force the global capitalists to go even further outside their neoliberal “comfort zone” to rescue their system. Our perspective was that there would be a retreat from the neoliberal orthodoxy of the past decades. We also highlighted the huge geopolitical and economic impact of growing tensions between the two largest imperialist blocs — the US and China — moving towards a new cold war.

Most importantly for Marxists, this new period of instability has also produced an increase in protests and class struggle globally. Notwithstanding all the complications which exist — first and foremost the weakness of working class leadership, organization and consciousness, together with the growth of reactionary right populism — there is a pronounced shift to the left underway in the consciousness of millions. This was clearly seen in the wave of mass struggles in 2019. These processes were accelerated and deepened by the onset and continuation of the Covid-19 crisis.

While there are differences, limits and exceptions on a national level, internationally the dominant trend is away from neoliberal hegemony in capitalist policy as has been most clearly illustrated by Biden’s massive stimulus programs.

This has been a very enriching discussion. Despite the fact that we do not agree with their criticisms, the comrades who have broken away from ISA also played a valuable role in this, in challenging our analysis, forcing us to dig deeper to refine and develop our conclusions.

During these discussions, these comrades argued that we had exaggerated the bourgeoisie’s retreat from neoliberalism. In our opinion, they also made the mistake of downplaying the New Cold War. And while they agreed that there would be continued protests, they exaggerated the difficulties and downplayed the revolutionary potential inherent in the situation, when the working class and youth have no option but to struggle. Whereas we stressed the radicalising impact of the pandemic on mass consciousness, they stressed the opposite — the pandemic would be a “complicating” factor, which would allow the capitalists to dodge the blame for a new wave of crisis.

They criticized the majority for suggesting that health workers had been “growing in combativity even before the pandemic, but now these workers will not be prepared to go back to ‘normal’. They will demand better conditions, pay rises, extra staff and more resources for healthcare… They could be catapulted into the vanguard of the global labour movement soon after the lockdowns are lifted”. This perspective written over a year ago has been confirmed by protests and strikes by medical workers in over 80 countries, perhaps most spectacularly by the heroic Myanmar doctors and nurses who initiated the mass movement against the military coup. Instead of correcting a mistaken position, the minority kept saying that our expectations of mass struggles were “over optimistic”, despite growing evidence to the contrary.

While agreeing in the abstract that fundamental changes are taking place, the arguments of the comrades who have now left were focused on proving that things will stay more or less the same. The most important disagreement however was that those comrades focused excessively on the determination of the ruling class to make the working class pay for every crisis, using neoliberal policies, while understating the ability of the working class to struggle and push those attempts back. It is precisely the fear that potential struggles instill in the ruling class that is a key factor in capitalist policy considerations.

It is inevitable that there will be differences and shades of opinion when we analyse the objective situation and attempt to map out our perspectives particularly in such a new and dramatic situation as that in which capitalism finds itself today. It is a vital necessity that these issues are discussed in a democratic, constructive and comradely way.

Socialist feminism and a zero tolerance approach to harassment

The statement announcing the split raises another issue which has been the subject of contentious debate in ISA over the past year: how members’ rights and safety are safeguarded in workers’ organizations and a revolutionary party. The description given of this debate in said statement is completely dishonest and reflects a much more deep seated pessimism and a willingness to accept much lower standards in this regard than those proposed by ISA today.

One of the main political issues in debates which led to the emergence of ISA was our emphasis on socialist feminism and the importance of women’s struggles. We also stand for a clear socialist feminist position regarding our own organisation and the rights and position of women and LGBTQ+ people within it. This means ongoing discussion at every level to establish a culture that prevents as far as possible any cases of abuse, violence, sexual harassment or assault (or any other important grievance), but if they do unfortunately occur, a clear and robust process including a thorough and serious investigation will be implemented to take appropriate action. ISA has developed a Code of Conduct to serve as a clear and effective political as well as concrete framework for dealing with such situations.

The former comrades’ opposition to this, which included arguments about “cultural differences” in different countries, stems, in our opinion, from a lack of understanding of just how central an issue this is for Marxists as well as a certain fear to take those issues up, and the mortal danger to healthy revolutionary parties represented by some of the most rotten aspects of bourgeois society, including sexism and misogyny.

Full minority rights were guaranteed

During these discussions within ISA the elected leadership, the International Committee (IC, of 51 members from 18 countries) has ensured a democratic debate can take place on disputed issues. For over a year, dozens of meetings at international level took place to debate these issues, with equal time given to comrades from both sides to put their views forward. Materials produced by the minority have been published in our Internal bulletins without any restrictions whatsoever. Minority comrades were asked to take on important political tasks and participate in debates with equal time afforded at ISA’s upcoming Virtual Marxist University in July.

At our very successful “Virtual Marxist Universities” the minority were given many important spaces for discussion, including leading off several important discussions. Many sections have already held debates at different levels to hear the point of view of the minority, although they departed before allowing sections working in many parts of the world from participating in debates. Nor were the same democratic rights given to the ISA majority in Cyprus and Turkey, nor in the Spanish State where no debates took place.

Internal democracy

We know that the former comrades paint a picture of insufficient democracy in ISA — but all facts prove the opposite. In our opinion, behind this false narrative lies a deeper disagreement over what sort of international organization we need to build.

After a minority split away from the Committee for a Workers International in 2019 the majority, which renamed itself the ISA in 2020, sought to reestablish the best political and organizational traditions of the CWI. However, at the same time we were determined to change the way in which the organization had been led in recent years by a top-down and increasingly old and out of touch leadership based in one country, and where national sections were increasingly left to “do their own thing”, while joint discussions and work relating to party building were absent or lost importance.

Since then, a discussion has continued on how this change can be achieved.

The comrades who have now departed from ISA argued strongly for an international leadership which consisted primarily of leaders of national sections — ‘a league of General Secretaries’ — which would make it de facto impossible to involve younger members and which would not be sufficiently focused on its international role, retaining an excessive focus on national work.

The majority has consistently argued for an elected and accountable international leadership that is multinational in composition and has a balance between experienced and newer members. We have successfully included more young and more female members in the leadership. We have also sought to develop a more genuinely international leadership, with a composition which is both rooted in the real work of building our sections, but also “freed up” from national tasks and roles in order to concentrate on building the international organization.

The leading bodies in ISA have regular meetings to work out political analysis, strategy and tactics alongside their work in building the International as a cohesive force. Such an approach only works based on the maximum possible involvement of all members. And this is only possible in an informed and democratically structured debate and decision making process. Only in this way can political clarity and a dynamic organization be built.

In our view, while arguing against this approach to building, those who now departed made important political mistakes. Democratic discussion is necessary and enriches our understanding. However, without formal decisions and conclusions and unity in action, democracy would be rather senseless. There should at least be preparedness from all, after a decision is made, to test out the course agreed by the majority, while the minority retains full rights to continue raising its opposition internally.

So called ‘horizontal democracy’, based on informal discussion as opposed to clear and accountable decision-making processes for common debate and accountable decisions, in practice tends to lead to a few individuals imposing their view, despite claims to the contrary. The importance of the participation of all members is demeaned as preference is given to those who have more spare time, language skills and internet access to participate in social media chats. The comrades’ arguments also misused the idea of ‘transparency’ to distribute confidential and security sensitive information. Experience has shown, we believe, that when such a wrong approach has been used in other organisations, the membership does not have democratic control of decision making nor accountable leaders, rather leaders act in a top down manner and an organization’s effectiveness and political clarity is sacrificed.

The central task

Those departing ISA now suggest that a mass revolutionary international “must be able to incorporate all such different revolutionary trends” and it will be built through “open and democratic dialogue with other groups, tendencies and individual comrades”. This points away from the central task of revolutionary socialists today — to build a clear and cohesive revolutionary organization from among the mass movements of workers, women and youth, in preparation for the revolutionary opportunities to come. For genuine Marxism there is a need for a party, and also a need for networks and broader alliances — they play different roles and one cannot replace the other.

ISA was and is open to discuss with any genuine revolutionary, working class and left groups or individuals who are prepared to work with us in campaigns and struggles. In general, however, building the international at this stage is primarily about attracting into our ranks the new, youthful, working class layers that are being forced to enter into struggle. In a pre-revolutionary situation, any “merging” of revolutionary and other currents into a larger revolutionary international will be possible only if we succeed in building an organisation that has a politically precise programme and methods today.

The ISA is going through a process of rebuilding an international based on the best traditions of the revolutionary movement, including the rebuilding of an international leadership. ISA has shown political strength in a period of unprecedented global events. Our analysis of the pandemic, the economic, climate and social crises, the new cold war and the wave of mass revolts stands out. We are involved in struggles and in dialogue with broader layers of fighting youth and workers. We are already beginning to build in several new countries, we have a new layer of young comrades developing and playing a leading role both in the national sections and in the International leadership. We have made big steps forward, and although this split is a setback, we will not let it set us back. We are confident that we will move on, winning over fresh new militants who are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices required to build a mass revolutionary international. ISA remains active and present in over 30 countries, committed to the fight for a world revolutionary socialist party.