On The De-POCification of the International Socialist Organization

I think most of my readers would likely agree with the statement that the International Socialist Organization is one of the worst so-called “socialist” organizations in the occupied United States. It has a revolving door membership situation, that for a long, long time has meant it relied on the student population for much of its membership (leading lots of people over the years to joke that the S in ISO should stand for student, not socialist). It doesn’t recognize, and in fact attempts to disprove, the existence of an aristocracy of labour (which goes back to British-Israeli Trotskyite Tony Cliff, who is the ISO’s primary ideological forbear). It also has a history of bad settlerist politics with regards to the national question in the United States.

It’s this last one that is the subject of this post, written near the end of August 2010 by Donna Chidi, a “Person of Colour” (aka, a colonized person – POC for short) and former member of the ISO and its Washington DC branch. She writes about how POC comrades within the ISO, first in the NYC branch, and then in the DC branch, attempted to spark discussions on dealing with the ISO’s “whiteness”. She then describes how this discussion was subsequently shut down and long time members kicked out, with even the the National Steering Committee directly intervening in the case of the DC branch, sending a personal representative to to do the kicking out.

I have decided to repost it here, despite it being some 10 months old, because I feel that it is paradigmatic of some of the discussions that have occurred on this site and elsewhere with regards to my white “left” series of articles. As I have discussed recently with comrades, the common reaction by white “leftists” to my dissection of the white “left” has been a gut one to deny the existence of a white “left” outright, rather than seriously discuss the points that I (and others) have raised. Many, many white “leftists” do not want to even discuss the topic of white power and its relationship to the white “left”, I am assuming for fear that their pro-settler agenda would be brought to light. 

In this sense the ISO is an extreme, but also good, case. When POC comrades brought up the subject of the need to recruit and retain members of colour in the organization they were shut down and shut up by the white power structure within the ISO. With the DC branch the white power structure of the ISO went even further, expelling long time members without even so much as a discussion with the rest of the branch. 

This should act as both a warning and a lesson to us about how the white “left” moves and operates, especially when its real nature has the possibility of being exposed. I truly feel sorry for Donna Chidi that she had to experience the true colours of the white “left” like this, after having given many valuable years of her young life to an organization. I myself had to finally recognize that the organization I was giving time to (also a “socialism from below” organization) was hopelessly settlerist, though I never had to go through anything like what she did. I don’t know where she is now, but I hope she has moved on and has found better comrades that those she gave years to.

It’s in that spirit that I post the article below. 

This is just to say that I am no longer a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and did not leave on good terms by any standard. This is also to say that I am still a committed socialist activist and will not allow my negative experiences in the ISO taint my view of revolutionary politics or the amazing activists I met.

If you’ve got ideas or social justice struggles you’re involved in and want to collaborate, then get in touch.

My story is divided into three chronological parts:

  1. Stifling debate about diversity in NYC ISO
  2. Mass expulsion and membership exodus on not-so-good terms in DC ISO – resulting in a 90% white branch in a 54% black city (Oh no, she didn’t!)
  3. Getting back to fighting capitalism – LET’S GET ON WITH IT

Appendix: The Full Response

I. Stifling debate about diversity in the NYC ISO 

During the convention period in March 2010, three immigrant ISO members of color submitted a document calling for opening up a dialogue about recruiting and retaining members of color. Although I favored many of the ideas and issues raised in the document, the response to it was so hostile that I could not muster up the courage to speak up in defense of the ideas contained within it. It was clear that the leadership had taken a strong position, as quoted below, and any attempts to raise a different perspective would be shut-down without consideration.

Here is a quote from it, but the full four-page response is attached at the bottom in the Appendix:

“…In fact, the term “diversity” is itself a liberal term that sees combining as many different kinds of experiences and backgrounds as possible as an end in of itself, rather than a means to lead the working class to victory over exploitation and oppression.

The identity politics framework of the document is exposed when the document’s authors argue: “We do believe that comrades of color provide an important link between their communities and revolutionary Marxism.” This both assumes that Marxism is foreign to the fight against racism (and therefore requires special conduits) and that there are such things as “communities” based on racial identity. In fact, any racial or ethnic group is broken down into its various class components. Working class Blacks are no more a part of Barack Obama’s “community” as working class women are part of Hilary Clinton’s or gays a part of Barney Frank’s….”

-H.T. on behalf of the NYC District Committee in Response to “Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Members of Color in the ISO”

The harsh and hostile response effectively shut down discussion – though the main point of “Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Members of Color in the ISO” was to start such a conversation. As a comrade of color, I identified with the ideas presented in the document about paying special attention to developing members of color as leaders. It’s difficult to develop a person’s skills if you don’t know what their skills are or anything about them for that matter. So although the long-term leaders of the NYC ISO might have intended to train and develop me as a comrade, those intentions remained intentions as I was ignored for the most part and none of them ever initiated conversation with me. Since the call for open discussion about these issues was so harshly shut down, I got the message that I’d better keep my ideas to myself as these issues were not of concern to our leaders.

II. Expulsions and membership exodus on not-so-good terms in DC ISO – resulting in a 90% white branch in a 54% black city 

After the Socialism conference in June 2010, a group of people from the DC branch got together to discuss ideas they had to improve upon the work of the branch and decided to put all their thoughts together in a Perspectives document to be presented to the entire branch during the political perspectives discussion/kick off to organizing for the remainder of the summer. Recognizing similar problems, such as stifling debate and democracy (see above), I signed on in support of the document.

However, before the Perspectives meeting was to take place, the leaders of the branch called an “Emergency Meeting” for the Monday evening before, in which we would discuss some important issues in our branch and which Ahmed Shawki of the national steering committee would attend and convene.

At this Emergency meeting, Shawki described reasons why the national steering committee had voted to expel Zach Mason and indefinitely suspend David Thurston of the DC branch, whom he met with and delivered the news that afternoon. Now, 5 hours later, they were not welcome to this “members only” meeting where the issue of their expulsions would be discussed by everyone else. In that meeting in June, now my last ISO meeting, I commented on how sad it was to see socialists stand up and slander and crucify people they had worked with for 14 years and 7 years respectively without even allowing them to attend and defend themselves.

Among several other hostile comments made in my direction because of this, Shawki closed the discussion by inviting me to leave the ISO, although he has never spoken to me before, “If you think these guys are being crucified, then maybe this organization is not the right organization for you.”

Here is the e-mail exchange that then occurred between myself, Michele Bollinger – the acting convener of the branch, and Ahmed Shawki of the national steering committee.

——-

show details Jul 2

Michele Bollinger to me

Donna,

We would like to meet with you as soon as possible about the status of your membership in the DC branch. Please email back with some dates and time that you are available.

Thanks,

Michele

show details Jul 4

Donna to Michele

Hi Michele,

I believe it was made undeniably clear in the last meeting that I attended that I am not welcome in the DC ISO branch – especially in the comments made by comrades Dave Zirin, Mike Stark, and Ahmed Shawki. Therefore, I am not sure what we would be discussing in particular. If you still need to meet with me, I’m available on Tuesday evening after 6pm.

-Donna

show details Jul 5

Michele Bollinger to Ahmed, me

Hi Donna,

Fair enough, then. I’ll take you off the listserve. Any other questions, best to contact Ahmed.

Thanks,

Michele

show details Jul 6

Donna to Michele

Can I have Ahmed’s contact info, just in case questions do come up in the coming weeks?

Thanks

show details Jul 6

Michele Bollinger to me

Sure – xxxxxx{Email address}

show details Jul 12

Donna to ashawki

Hi Ahmed,

I’ve been struggling with finding the words to describe to my NY comrades, what the status of my membership in the ISO is. Evidently, I am no longer a member but I did not resign. Michele Bollinger deferred to you on this question (see messages below) so specifics would be greatly appreciated.

The concerns I need for you to address are: 1) Is there an appeals process for me and 2) How do I explain my membership status to my NY comrades?

Thanks.

Donna

show details Jul 19

Donna to ashawki

Hi Ahmed,

I sent the message below to you last week and am still awaiting your response. It’d be much appreciated.

-Donna

show details Jul 21

Ahmed Shawki to me

Hello Donna:

It is my understanding from the email exchange below that you are no longer a member of the ISO. I base this on what you said in your email of July 4, explaining your decision not to meet with the DC branch committee to discuss your membership status.

So to answer your two questions: 1) I don’t know what you would be appealing and to whom 2) You can circulate this email exchange to comrades in New York to help explain what has taken place. Feel free to have any NYC comrades to email or call me to discuss these issues.

Best. Ahmed

show details Jul 27

Donna to Michele, Ahmed

Hi Ahmed,

I’ll use the email exchange then, to describe my membership status. However, I must make the correction that I did not decide NOT to meet with the DC branch committee and offered a date and time that I was available to meet. I only intended in that message to Michele to find out what, said meeting would be about. No one has yet refuted the statement that I am not welcome in the ISO, even though I did nothing wrong by speaking up in that fateful meeting, but somehow I was taken off the listserve before I had a chance to read the email or even think about my membership. As for the Appeals process, obviously, I got the not-so-subtle message that you sent about me leaving the organization and would be a fool to try to claw my way into a group where I am not wanted.

I dedicated the first four years of my adulthood to organizing with the ISO in college in Ithaca, NY and also in New York City and made many personal sacrifices for the sake of my branch in Ithaca. After all that hardwork, including working in a fraction of two people to bring two busloads & carpools of people to the National Equality March last year, you can imagine how I’m feeling very short-changed here.

This terse response you’ve given to this matter is hardly fitting for the situation and is somewhat dismissive. In my time in the ISO, I saw many new people come and go, but never on such bad terms as the atmosphere in that aforementioned meeting. You said in that meeting “better be friends in the movement, than to be enemies internally,” but in order for that to happen, people have to separate on good terms. Nothing about this email exchange implies that you or Michele care about any good terms or amicable relations between myself and the ISO.

However, I will not allow this negative experience color my perceptions of the amazing activists and fighters that I have met in the ISO over the years. This has been a very difficult experience for me and I have taken away important life lessons from it. Hopefully, you all have also learned something from all this as well.

Again, a response would be greatly appreciated.

-Donna

****To date, 8/26/10 no response****

Clearly, I was pushed out/expelled/whatever without a fair process and although it was my intention to resign, I thought I reserved the right to do that myself. In response to that hostile “Emergency meeting,” 6 others resigned from the DC ISO, not including myself. So in total 9 people left the ISO voluntarily and involuntarily as a result of the happenings that day and a realization of the depth of lack of democracy in the ISO.

Most disturbing about the mass-resignations is the complacency of the DC and National ISO leadership to losing a majority of their members of color without regard – almost willingly. They knowingly made the choice to push us out in order to keep the group free of dissenters and people who ask questions – even though it resulted in a much smaller group with a ghastly 90% white majority in a 54% black city, also known as Chocolate City. This may not have been the intention, but actions speak louder than words and over and over again the actions of the leadership ISO say that internal democracy is conditional.

Those of us who left, together with some others, are participating in social justice struggles around DC and are looking to link up with other socialists and activists who want to fight for a better world without tearing each other down along the way.

III. Getting back to fighting capitalism – LET’S GET ON WITH IT

If you’ve got ideas or social justice struggles you’re involved in and want to collaborate, then get in touch – especially if you’re in the Washington DC area.

———————————————— ~FIN~ ——————————

Appendix – The Full Response

Response to “Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Members of Color in the ISO”

Comrades who submitted “Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Members of Color in the ISO” stated as their goal: to “begin an organization‐wide conversation about racial and ethnic diversity in the ISO and our efforts and strategies to recruit, develop, and retain more members of color into it.” Putting aside for the moment the implication that this discussion has not “begun” in the more than 30 years of the life of the organization, the politics of the document are problematic and non‐Marxist.

Despite the authors’ hopes that the document is not “dismissed as one coming from a framework of identity politics,” the politics of the document are in fact based in ‐‐ or at best, influenced by ‐‐ liberal ideas of “diversity” as well as identity politics, “the idea that only those experiencing a particular form of oppression can either define it or fight against it.” (Smith 2008)

A Marxist approach to racism is based on an understanding that it is necessary to build a multi‐racial organization and multi‐racial working‐class struggle because that is the only way that either capitalism or oppression can be fought. And a multi‐racial struggle needs Marxism and the politics of class solidarity to succeed. As the Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin, put it: “Working class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected.”

The need for a multi‐racial organization and fight‐back is not a secondary issue to be discussed (or one which comrades of color within the organization are responsible for raising), but is actually the whole purpose of our project. The question of oppression cannot be separated from an analysis of class exploitation and vice‐versa. This is especially the case in the United States, where the historic role of slavery, white supremacy, and Jim Crow segregation have ensured that racism (and particularly racism against African‐Americans) has become the key division used and manipulated by the American ruling class.

Of course we are not yet where we want to be in achieving our goal (whether that be regarding the racial composition of the group, our size, or our implementation in the working class), but unless we are dreaming up wish‐lists for where we want to be, a serious approach to the question would require a concrete assessment of our work, objective challenges, and specific next steps.

Instead, “Recruiting, Developing..” offers a confusing set of broad generalizations regarding objective difficulties, a two sentence throw‐away regarding the tremendous anti‐racist work of the organization over the years, and vague recommendations which mostly outline the work that the organization already does. Yet implicit in the idea that we need to be “systematic” in our approach to recruiting, developing, and retaining members of color in the ISO, is the assertion that we currently do not. Despite this very serious implication, there is no honest or concrete assessment of our current work anywhere in the document.

A quick look at even the last month in NYC alone would demonstrate the opposite—a city wide tour of Brian Jones speaking on civil rights sit‐in movement brought out a multi‐racial periphery (and a high proportion of African American contacts in particular) at every stop; a city‐wide meeting on Haiti that drew 150 people, chaired by a new member; a Campaign to End the Death Penalty anti‐lynching tour; an event at NYU about Marxism, Nationalism, and the Third World; teacher members organizing against school closings in predominantly African‐American and Latino neighborhoods; and as always a commitment to develop comrades, and particularly comrades of color, as meeting chairs, speakers, and most of all as Marxists.

Liberalism and Identity Politics

But more problematic than the generally non‐concrete, non‐serious assessment of our work, the document reads as a liberal appeal to consciousness and the “will” to build a multi‐racial organization, as though this can be achieved by exhorting ourselves to do so, or by developing a more savvy/sophisticated approach. This was also argued by one of the document’s authors at convention, who said we need a “more complex” approach to Chicano politics, the implication being that Marxism doesn’t adequately address oppression.

In fact, the term “diversity” is itself a liberal term that sees combining as many different kinds of experiences and backgrounds as possible as an end in of itself, rather than a means to lead the working class to victory over exploitation and oppression.

The identity politics framework of the document is exposed when the document’s authors argue: “We do believe that comrades of color provide an important link between their communities and revolutionary Marxism.” This both assumes that Marxism is foreign to the fight against racism (and therefore requires special conduits) and that there are such things as “communities” based on racial identity. In fact, any racial or ethnic group is broken down into its various class components. Working class Blacks are no more a part of Barack Obama’s “community” as working class women are part of Hilary Clinton’s or gays a part of Barney Frank’s.

As Sharon Smith wrote in a 2008 ISR article on identity politics: “There is no such thing as a common, fundamental interest shared by all people who face the same form of oppression. Oppression isn’t caused by the race, gender, or sexuality of particular individuals who run the system, but is generated by the very system itself—no matter who’s running it.”

She argues further, “Oppression is something that even most white male workers suffer to some degree. If one were to compare the self‐confidence of the vast majority of white male workers to that of the arrogant Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice, it would be clear that something more than personal politics is a determining factor in oppression. The problem is systemic.”

Of course possessing a personal “identity,” or awareness of oneself as a member of an oppressed group, is an important and legitimate response to experiencing oppression. Smith explains:

No white person can ever understand what it is like to experience racism. No straight person can

understand what it is like to experience homophobia. And even among people who are oppressed by racism, every type of experience is different. A Black person and a Native American person, for example, experience racism differently—as does a person from Mexico versus a person from Puerto Rico. A gay man and a lesbian have quite different experiences.” But Personal experience is not the same as political strategy, which for Marxists is rooted in an understanding of the systemic nature of oppression under capitalism, and the shared interest of the working class across race, sex, and national borders.

Holding the ISO accountable?

Further, the document argues for affirmative action within the ISO, “because our organization does not exist in an egalitarian socialist vacuum and because there is no such thing as colorblindness. Just like we expect other institutions/organizations (many of which we protest) to include diversity development statements in their guiding principles and make structural changes to reflect those principles, we shouldn’t expect any less of our organization.”

Here the document’s authors compare the ISO to institutions under capitalism that need to be held accountable (and that we in fact protest)! In arguing that “there is no such thing as colorblindness” the comrades that wrote the document seem to be saying that the ISO suffers from racism within our organization. If this is in fact true, it is a grave accusation that needs to be explained.

Of course as individuals who live in an oppressive society, we all carry the internal baggage of that society, or as Marx put it, “the muck of ages.” A conscious attempt has to be made to develop women, people of color, working‐class people who have been told our whole lives that we are not good enough or smart enough to speak our ideas, let alone lead others.

Yet despite the fact that we don’t operate in an “egalitarian vacuum” the fact is that a socialist

organization, because of its very nature and goals, has a different material interest than capitalist institutions. It is made up of a self‐selecting group of individuals who voluntarily commit our lives to the emancipation of the working‐class and liberation of all oppressed groups. As Lenin put it, our vision of revolution is a “festival of the oppressed and exploited.” We are bound together by that common purpose and a self‐interest in making an organization fitted for that task.

An old debate within the Russian socialist movement helps shed light on this question. The 1903 congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) took up as its first agenda item the Jewish Labor Bund’s demand that it be recognized as the representative of Jewish workers living in Russia (to be a conduit, one could say). Jews at that time were of the most oppressed in Russia, living under harsh legal restrictions and terrorized by violent pogroms. The Jewish Bund was a genuine revolutionary organization who adamantly rejected Zionism.

Yet their demand to represent the Jewish working class showed a fundamental distrust of the RSDLP and its handling of oppression against Jews. “The Jewish proletariat,” a leader of the Bund argued, “is very much more strongly interested in the struggle against the exceptional restrictions that are imposed on it than the rest of the proletariat is, and for this reason it is also a more active fighter against this oppression.”

Leon Trotsky, a leading Russian revolutionary, and himself a Jew, responded:

If the Bund, lacking in confidence in the Party, is…demanding safeguards, that we can understand. But how can we put our signatures to this demand? … To accept such conditions would mean that we acknowledged our own moral and political bankruptcy…

Lenin argued:

Is it not, in fact, the duty of our entire Party to fight for full equality of rights and even for the recognition of the right of nations to self‐determination? Consequently, if any section of our Party were to fail in this duty, it would undoubtedly be liable to censure, by virtue of our principles: it would undoubtedly be liable to correction by the central institutions of the Party. And if that duty was being neglected consciously and deliberately, despite full opportunity to perform it, then this neglect of duty would be treachery.

That is to say, if we cannot trust our own revolutionary organization, committed to the full liberation of the human race, through its own self‐interest to take seriously and systematically the building of a multiracial organization and cadre, then our organization is not worth very much at all.

Conclusion

Lastly, the document argues that comrades of color should be specially trained and developed in the politics of their own identities, “Chicano comrades on questions of ethnic nationalism,” etc. But the best way to train our entire organization to effectively build the movement against oppression and the system which produces oppression is to develop a strong Marxist core. The most effective means to develop comrades of color as cadre is to develop strong Marxists. And while having comrades of color that are confident and well‐versed in our politics certainly helps win others within our multi‐racial periphery, ultimately it is ourpolitics not our identities that win people. That is why, for example, leading white members of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in NYC carry so much weight and credibility within the work that they do.

Could there have been a document that effectively assessed our work in building a multi‐racial, revolutionary organization rooted in the working class? Yes, and in fact convention documents that took up our work in particular struggles around the criminal justice system, housing, etc., provided a useful and concrete assessment of some of our work. Another useful contribution would be to assess the objective terrain, challenges and opportunities (for instance, the state of Black politics) that we face in building a multi‐racial organization.

Unfortunately, “Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Members of Color in the ISO” made no serious attempt to do so. It implies that we do not take seriously, or make systematic, our work in building a multi‐racial organization, essentially race‐baiting the ISO. And it provides neither a Marxist framework nor next steps in achieving that goal.

We’ve made a lot of headway in past years in writing and publishing socialist literature on oppression; in participating and leading in struggles against racism, immigrant‐bashing, homophobia, Islamophobia, and sexism; and in developing a Marxist cadre steeled in the politics of liberation and self‐emancipation. We have a lot to be proud of, and still a long way to go. Political clarity and honest, concrete assessments will be key in moving forward.

H.T. on behalf of the NYC District Committee

- Power to the People

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Posted on June 29, 2011, in Organizing, Socialism, White Leftism & Neocolonialism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. The ISO’s response is very reminiscent of the politics of settler leftist Eugene Debs, whose legacy the ISO holds up as worthy of emulation. Like the ISO, Debs was also a white nationalist who denied the reality that African workers occupy a particular position in the relations of production that are not entirely similar to the class position of the white working class. Nor was he interested in supporting the right of African workers to lead their own struggle for self-determination. Instead he adopted a stance of “no special favors” (quite an obnoxious way of dodging the question of reparations) and put forward the idea that black workers were simply WORKERS, facing the same conditions as white workers under capitalism.. in other words, African workers were nothing but “chocolate-covered white workers” as the Chairman Omali Yeshitela would say. You see this phony “color-blind” liberal nonsense at work today in the ISO and many other white left circles, usually presented as the argument that “race” is just a “trick” used by the capitalists to divide the workers.

  2. Also, if I remember correctly, Ahmed Shawki wrote a book about black liberation and socialism in which he completely slanders the massive movement-building efforts of Marcus Garvey & the UNIA, situating himself in a long tradition of white leftists who sought to undermine the Garvey movement and its historical legacy even almost 100 years after the fact. Shawki lists off a bunch of out-of-context quotes to try to misrepresent Garvey as some kind of petty bourgeois black capitalist anti-white ‘racist’, when in reality Garvey built one of the largest African anti-colonial organizations in the past 100 years and the vast majority of his members and supporters were black workers. The UNIA had a distinctly proletarian class character as opposed to the petty bourgeois class character of the NAACP and other organizations that collaborated with the US government and the white left to undermine the Garvey movement. It is truly incredible how almost 100 years later, the white left is still working to slander Garvey’s name and to oppose the basic principle of African self-determination or self-determination for any oppressed nations. To paraphrase the title of one of Rowland’s articles on the white left, things change but they also stay the same.

  3. The sour accusations of liberal identity politics is also what I have heard from the ISO on this issue. That accusation that people concerned about this argue that diversity is an end in itself is pretty repellent and utterly false considering that they wanted to have this conversation in an organization that bills itself as “revolutionary.” The idea that people of color bringing these concerns to the table have no Marxism simply because liberals sometimes talk about racism is just illogical and slanderous (not to mention that liberals really don’t really talk about racism very often. And have you met many self-described liberals who support Chicano nationalism? Yeah, me either.) The “self-selected” line really, really sucks. Its the ISO asserting a politics of whiteness when they pretend like their “Marxism” makes white power and colonialism go away.

  4. Also the ISO owns stocks in Altria and Kraft, and had stock in Catepillar.

  5. Garvey wasn’t in favor of Black self-determination….his explicit program was African colonization by ‘advanced’ American Blacks, and the installation of himself as emperor of the continent – hardly a vision of self-determination. While the UNIA was obviously a tremendously important organization in African American history, Jesseuhuru’s characterizations of it are pure fantasy. Also, the vast majority of NAACP members were working class Blacks, from the time of James Weldon Johnson’s assumption of organizational duties to probably the mid 1960s. Their leadership had impeccably petit bourgeois ideals, of course, but in this respect it was no different from the UNIA, which sported a similar combination.

    • I know people have their disagreements about the Garvey movement, but to claim that Garvey “wasn’t in favor of Black self-determination” is straight-up ridiculous.

      Unlike the NAACP which enjoyed lots of support from white liberals, the UNIA was never funded by any sector of the white ruling class. In fact Garvey’s movement was destroyed by the white ruling class in collaboration with the African petty bourgeoisie (NAACP, etc). Garvey always emphasized economic development for the African working class. The UNIA had cooperative economic projects that were funded entirely by the proletarian base of the UNIA. Although Garvey was skeptical of socialism due to his experiences with the white left in the US (very understandable, I’d say), he built a mass movement of African workers throughout the world that advanced the deeply anti-colonial line of “Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad” – and during a time when Africa was still under direct white colonial rule! And Garvey was also conscious of the danger of neocolonial rule as a replacement of direct colonialism, as evidenced in his criticisms of the “black capitalist businessman”.

      There is no comparison between the NAACP and the UNIA as far as its class composition is concerned. Regardless of Garvey’s own vision for the system of government in a liberated Africa, (and his political and economic philosophy was constantly evolving, not unlike his ideological heir Malcolm X), Garvey did not dictate the policy or exclusively control the programs of the UNIA – the work, programs, platform etc of the UNIA reflected the concerns and interests of the black working class membership.

      So I don’t see how this characterization is “pure fantasy”. The reality is that Garvey’s movement was under attack in the 1920s and it’s been under ideological assault ever since. Garvey is depicted as some kind of black imperialist, as hernna’s post implied. Or he is depicted as some kind of crazed demagogue who just wanted to deport all black people to Africa. Neither of those characterizations is accurate. Garvey is one of the most mis-understood, under-recognized anti-imperialist heroes of all time. He stood uncompromisingly for African self-determination and that’s why he was forced into exile and his movement was destroyed by a similar operation that the FBI would later use on the BPP in the 60s. Read the book “Black Power and the Garvey Movement” by Ted Vincent for an excellent analysis of the UNIA and the struggle for African self-determination. Great book.

    • Better yet, read this article by Luwezi Kinshasa of the African Socialist International: http://uhurunews.com/story?resource_name=african-socialist-international-versus-pan-africanist-congress

  6. I’ve been to a few ISO events and have noticed the whiteness problem. At Socialism 2010 the only activists of color where Puerto Rican students (flown in by conference organizers) and a few African Americans that were recently released from wrongful convictions (the Chicago police torture scandal was still unfolding).

    I’ve had long conversations about how the ISO doesn’t feel that people of color should have their own organizations. I’m not sure if it’s just white guilt or a failure in ideology. Most likely a combination of both. They look at the black unemployment rate (something like 16%) vs the white (something like 7%) and say that blacks are just more exploited and should organize with whites. Although I agree that class dynamics should be a main focus, racism and ethnic identity cannot be discounted. The ISO boils everything and everyone down to a class and in doing so alienate people of color.

    There’s an ISO member I know that is trying to lead an migrant worker coalition. She’s not Hispanic and doesn’t speak Spanish. She has no place leading a movement of Hispanics who many don’t speak English. The sad part is she sees nothing wrong with this.

    The ISO is a joke that waste peoples time. I’d call them counter-revolutionary but that would mean they would be purposefully organizing against good politics. I don’t think that’s the case. I think they’re just lost in a web of petty bourgeoisie, left-wing liberal, and backwards Trotskyist politics.

  7. The ISO is also receiving mass amounts of money from the liberal-imperialist NGO Wallace Global Fund. Their financials reveal they have received $565,000 since 2005, and another $66,000 from the Lannan Foundation, named after the railroad tycoon.

  8. Let me get this straight — Ahmed is part of the ISO’s “white power structure”?

  9. See my definition of white “left”, which says, among other things:

    Those segments of the left, both individuals and groups, white as well as non-white, who represent the privilege, power and interests of imperialist white power and settler-colonialism.

    So yes, non-white people can be part of the white power structure (whether in the ISO, other organizations or society more generally), and many are. It is neocolonialism and domestic neocolonialism.

  10. Thanks for clarifying that Ahmed is an imperialist white power neocolonialist. lol

  11. No problem. You might think it sounds ridiculous to call him an “imperialist white power neocolonialist” (as I assume is evidenced by your lol), but if you even briefly survey the history and major movers of the left in North America you’ll find many, many well known colonized people who also fulfill or fulfilled the same neocolonial role as Ahmed Shawki. One has to look no further than the long string of false African leaders molded and put forward by the Communist Party USA, people like Angela Davis.

  12. At an ISO NW socialist conference in Seattle, a dynamic African American ISO leader gave a presentation, which aptly described the impacts of racism. However, he also stated that there is no such thing as White privilege. This is totally wrong position. It also may explain the actions of the ISO leadership. I mean, how can they acknowledge their own racist behavior toward members of color when they don’t even recognized that they don’t even admit they have White privilege?

    I and other people in the conference challenged them on this incorrect position. I responded by asking how do you explain the high poverty or unemployment rates among workers of color, the police brutality and the killing of Black men, the roundup of immigrants, or the overall experience of RACISM. I was told that certain cultural setbacks have to be overcome (!) and that having a good paying job was not really a privilege (!).

    • As a former member, I understand the theory underpinning their position but the problem is that there is no sensitivity or awareness of their part of what people of color mean when they use the world privilege. This becomes a real problem when you have white male ISO members accusing people of color of being “reverse racists” because they use the word privilege in organizing meetings (something that happened in the Bloombergville organizing meetings).

      Unfortunately, fighting over terminology and theory takes precedence over collaborating with others in overcoming racism in practice, which is the most important thing.

  13. I raised the issue of white privilege at a conference as well, and was immediately shut down. I have since quietly drifted away from the organization. The ISO has it’s line on this issue and they are not inclined to move. It’s a shame.

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