To all my comrades both inside and outside the ISO:
This letter is intended to announce my resignation from the International Socialist Organization. This decision has been prompted by my experience in the months since I first publicly expressed my support for the ISO Renewal Faction late last year. To summarize in brief, as a result of my endorsement of the Faction, I’ve been effectively isolated and iced out of both the Atlanta branch and the national organization as a whole. This has made it all but impossible to continue my involvement within the group.
In addition to this, my experience within the Atlanta branch – which, I should note, closely parallels and interlocks with that of my comrades in the ISO Renewal Faction – has led me to question the viability of the ISO as a vehicle for revolutionary Marxist politics. In sum, I’ve come to doubt the ability of the ISO to fulfill its stated purpose of “playing a role in laying the foundation for a [revolutionary socialist party].” Despite this conclusion, I remain as dedicated as ever to the politics of revolutionary Marxism and socialism from below.
In general, the most disappointing thing about my experience over the past few months has been the way that the ISO Renewal Faction and its members have been treated by the organization. We’ve been essentially depicted as a hostile and alien political force. In many cases, it’s been insinuated that the Renewal Faction is motivated by ill intent or some sort of inherent deficiency of “comradeliness.” The ISO leadership has played a central role in encouraging and contributing to the construction of this narrative.
This depiction bears absolutely no resemblance to reality. To speak for myself, I made the decision to join the Renewal Faction out of a desire to address the very real problems that I had come to perceive within both the Atlanta ISO branch and the national organization as a whole. I thought that by taking this stance, I might be able to help renew the ISO. On this basis, the perspectives document that I sent to Atlanta branch members in early December explained my support for the Renewal Faction as being rooted in a desire to help overcome the ongoing crises we’d experienced in the branch. To this end, I defined the purpose of my perspectives document as follows:
Through recounting and explaining this crisis, I hope to find a solution capable of moving the branch forward. It goes without saying that I see this local goal as being inextricably linked with the goal of renewing the national organization. Before jumping into this analysis, let me say that I am well aware of the extremely contentious and sensitive nature of this subject within the Atlanta branch. This said, I think Atlanta comrades will find my assessment of recent events to be fair and, above all else, unflinchingly political. This should stand in sharp contrast to the quagmire of personalism and finger-pointing that, until quite recently, has marred any and all attempts on the part of the branch to seriously grapple with our recent history.
The response that I received from loyalist members of the Atlanta branch – both to my perspectives document and to my general position of support for the Renewal Faction – was, in sum, utterly demoralizing. Rather than attempting to engage with me in an open and comradely manner, loyalist members of the branch went out their way to discredit my views without regard to standards of scientific argumentation or even rudimentary Marxist politics. During the branch’s two perspectives meetings held in December, these comrades relied upon the use of outright philistinism and sophistry in an attempt to stomp out what had, by that time, been decreed from above to be a heretical and unacceptable position. An email sent out to the Atlanta branch by my partner and comrade, Jess S, provides an accurate summary of the undemocratic atmosphere that characterized these two meetings:
The environment created at last week’s meeting made me reticent to express any of my opinions as it related to the discussion. I agree with some of the points brought up by the [Renewal Faction]. Not enough to vote in favor, but I do share some agreements. However, I did not feel that my opinion would be respected in any way, shape, or form by several comrades in the room.
Most recently, the ISO leadership has questioned my status as a member in good standing of the ISO. On Friday, February 7 (today), I received the following email from Ahmed Shawki, ISO treasurer and de facto National Organizer:
I am writing because as part of our convention rules we apportion delegates to branches on the basis of members in good standing: that is who are active members of the ISO, who PAY dues, and who are committed to building the organization.
In trying to figure out membership in Atlanta I got a list of dues paying members in Atlanta. Your name was on the list as a member. But you are not on dues check off and don’t pay dues. As such, you are not a member in good standing. If I’m mistaken, let me know.
Regrettably, it is true that I’m not on dues checkoff; I let my dues payments lapse during a bout of financial hardship some time ago, and I haven’t rectified the situation since then. This said, Ahmed’s decision to question my dues situation at this point in time is a fairly clear example of the way that the ISO leadership has bureaucratically invoked membership rules as a means of pushing dissidents out of the organization. Tellingly, members of the ISO that remain loyal to the Leadership Faction have not been afforded the same treatment.
This painful and demoralizing ordeal contrasts sharply with my experience as a member of the ISO Renewal Faction. The solidarity, internal democracy, and political seriousness that has defined the Renewal Faction’s existence has been a source of inspiration for me.
In closing, let me say that I don’t plan to let my sour experience of late detract from the respect that I have for the innumerable talented socialists that I’ve meant and worked with since first becoming involved with the ISO in 2011. I’m still more than willing to work alongside these same activists as part of future movement struggles and coalition work. But in general, I believe that the future of revolutionary socialism lies outside the ISO. To this ends, I’m interested in opening up a political dialogue with anyone that’s looking to help build working-class political power on a non-sectarian, independent basis. As it stands today, I’m convinced that there exists an almost unprecedented opportunity to rebuild the Left, and I’m eager to help further this project.
Ben S, Atlanta