The International Socialist Organization (ISO) summer school from June 8 to 11 in Chicago saw the ISO leadership resort to thuggery against supporters of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) in order to end a debate over their opportunist political views.
At the conference we opposed the ISO’s arguments for considering supporting bourgeois politician Ralph Nader in the presidential elections, as well as their capitulatory positions on other essential questions. What should have been a politically sharp but civil discussion instead culminated in an outright assault on Saturday evening, June 10.
The LRPers had already been forced to leave the hotel because of the ISO’s threat to call security on us. The ostensible issue was their objection to our attempt to distribute Marxist literature in the hotel -- even though the ISO’s paper was being sold freely all over the place. They claimed they had made an agreement with the hotel that only they could sell material! The real reason, of course, was the political cowardice of the ISO based on their inability to defend their politics against opponents in any other manner. As opposed to championing democratic debate in the movement, the ISO has a long history of resorting to security guards, cops and their own sectarian thuggery to avoid political debate. (See "ISO Polices the Left," Proletarian Revolution No. 49).
Outside, a well-known LRP comrade (in fact a former ISOer; see "Surviving the ISO," PR No. 59) continued a conversation with a conference attendee, while other comrades were distributing leaflets to attendees coming out of the hotel. At about 10:15 p.m. an ISOer from the D.C. branch assaulted our comrade, by wrapping his arm around our comrade’s neck and dragging him down the sidewalk. A number of onlookers protested, including three other LRPers. About 10 ISOers were also near enough to witness this attack, and to their credit a few did protest. At this point, ISO leader Lee Sustar came over with a group of ISOers. As we demanded to know what gives them the right to act as if they own the public sidewalk, physically attack other leftists, employ Stalinist methods and threaten to use hotel security to cover their own political cowardice, the same D.C. ISOer tried to intimidate a female comrade of the LRP.
In protest, one conference participant shouted at Sustar, "As a member of the ISO, I demand to know why this is happening!" Sustar responded with the official excuse: supposedly literature distributions are against hotel policy, with the exception of the ISO. (As if hotel security had shown any interest in scanning the material being distributed!)
Another attendee at the conference stood up and asked Sustar what gave the ISO the right to violently disrupt his conversation with us, and demanded that they answer the political questions about the differences between the LRP and the ISO. The only responses amounted to continual repetition of the crap about hotel policy and slanders that the LRP "doesn’t do anything."
Throughout all of this, the ISO thugs couldn’t help see the myriad of cops directing traffic and patrolling across the street. (The high profile of cops was due to the tremendous congestion of traffic around the Chicago Blues Festival nearby.) In this situation it was fortunate that no police ever showed up. In large part it was due to the good sense of the LRPers who decided to leave rather than risk the appearance of escalating a fight whereby cops would be handed a pretext to butt in.
There was a positive aspect to our experience of the conference. Above all was the fact that we did meet people who were seriously searching for revolutionary politics. As well, some of the ISOers witnessed the assault and did question what the hell was going on, regardless of their political differences with us. We appeal to such witnesses to get in touch with the LRP Central Office and to take independent means to register their protest (we can be reached at 212-330-9017 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org).
As well, we appeal to all other participants in the left and workers’ movement to join us in protesting the dangerous policy of the ISO. For this is a policy which not only threatens the LRP but could, if allowed to continue unabated, invite security and police intervention against any of us, including the ISO itself. In fact, anyone in the International Socialist Tendency who would ever plan to raise important differences within the group, would be in danger of such an assault -- or worse.
The ISO summer school took place following a public dispute between the British SWP and the American group, following the death of the leader and theoretical guru of the International Socialist Tendency, Tony Cliff. It was clear that one of the intentions of the ISO leadership was to suppress any discussion of the [important] questions raised by the dispute between the British and American groups, as well as other international oppositions that are surfacing.
The school also took place following weeks of internet postings by what claim to be in part a minority faction within the ISO, the so-called Sverdlov group. But to their profound discredit, the Sverdlov "opposition" never had the courage to rear their head at the conference at all.
The only revolutionary politics at the conference -- and the only fundamental problem for the ISO -- was what was put forward by the LRP comrades in attendance. A key principle of Marxism fought for by Lenin and Trotsky is the absolute political and organizational independence of the working class from bourgeois parties. For revolutionary minded workers and youth, we would hope that the ISO’s right turn toward encouraging a vote for Nader would suggest that they take a deeper look at the politics of the ISO. We would also hope that the ISO’s refusal to deal openly and honestly with the questions raised by the dispute within the International Socialist Tendency internationally would raise the question of what exactly the ISO’s claim to internationalism means. We encourage all to read our upcoming article on the ISO, covering both recent matters of the international dispute as well as underlying theoretical questions. This piece will be available on our website shortly.