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Resignation Statement From Former Rhode Island branch of Socialist Alternative. September 2017.
The Rhode Island branch of Socialist Alternative has been in existence since 2014. The branch experienced the majority of its growth in 2015 and 2016. Over this time, we have consistently tried to work within the larger national organization, but recently, that has become more and more difficult. The following members of Socialist Alternative Rhode Island have decided to resign from the organization. The reasons for our resignation center around SA’s decision to endorse Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election, SA’s approach to the Democratic Party and DSA, the approach to identity politics and special oppression, international issues, and serious problems within SA’s leadership.
Bernie Sanders, The Democrats, and DSA
One issue that the members of the Rhode Island branch have always had strong disagreements over with the leadership of Socialist Alternative is the organization's orientation towards Bernie Sanders. While it was certainly understandable to try and recruit new members from Sanders's base, there were ways to do this without directly supporting his campaign for presidency. Claiming to be "revolutionary Marxists" while wholeheartedly supporting reformist, anti-communist campaigns doesn't attract many new members, it just confuses people. While Socialist Alternative did experience growth, it came more from Trump's election than Sanders's campaign. The largest consequence from supporting Sanders was, in fact, the loss of a great number of experienced cadre. SA wouldn't need to focus so much on building more cadre if the cadre you had to begin with didn't leave due to opportunism around the Sanders campaign, amongst other things.
Continued support for Sanders is even more embarrassing: he clearly will not form a new party. It is not in his interest. Even if he did form a new party and became the leader of it, Socialist Alternative would then be supporting a western chauvinist imperialist who voted for sanctions on Russia and would have continued Obama's secretive drone program. Even with that aside, however, why are we so certain that Sanders wouldn't form a new party? One only has to investigate his history, as good Marxists should.
Bernie Sanders arguably did begin his political career as a socialist. In the 1970s, he was in favor of the CIA being abolished, and in the 1980s, as mayor, he vocally opposed US imperialist action in Nicaragua. Even during this time, however, he was beginning to succumb to opportunism. For example, he supported Walter Mondale's presidential campaign in 1984, and Michael Dukakis's general election campaign in 1988. This slide was not fully complete, however, until he was elected to Congress in 1991. In order to stay elected, Sanders agreed to caucus with the Democrats and not attempt to form any third party. He didn't only not form a third party himself, he even obstructed local independent efforts like those in the Progressive Party, which he was formerly allied with. He voted against the Gulf War once, but his record on foreign affairs has been spotty at best since then, and even the Gulf War vote wasn't without its share of political dealings. He alienated many of his former allies, including some of his staff, by voting to bomb Serbia in 1999 and then arresting protesters who performed a sit-in at his office after the fact (http://www.libertyunionparty.org/?page_id=363 ). While he voted against the Iraq War in 2002, he voted for the War in Afghanistan, voted for the new AUMF language that allowed the Iraq War to happen in the first place, and voted to continue the Iraq War on various occasions.
As senator, his record has even been wishy-washy on domestic issues. When the 15 dollar minimum wage was gaining popularity as a movement issue, Sanders was only willing to support a 10 dollar minimum wage. It was only due to pressure from Socialist Alternative and others that he relented. More recently, he has watered down his old call for "Medicare for All”, first by focusing only on ACA reform, then by writing a “single-payer” healthcare bill that keeps copays (http://www.pnhp.org/docs/SandersLetter_2017.pdf) and is endorsed by Kamala Harris, a centrist Democrat.
From his recent positions to his more distant past, it should be clear to Marxists upon honest analysis that Bernie Sanders is a careerist coward at best and a blatant opportunist at worst. Trusting him to do what's best for the working class - to the point where you are willing to spend 20,000 dollars hosting town halls and calling for petitions about the subject - is a sorely misplaced trust. 20,000 dollars is a lot of money, a sum that could be spent on resources that could truly help your organization and the communities it is situated in, instead of wasted on a wild goose chase.
Related to your mistaken views and approach on Bernie Sanders is your approach to the Democratic Party. For the longest time, Socialist Alternative officially rejected working within the two-party system, and rightfully recognized the Democratic Party as an organ dedicated to perpetuating bourgeois interests while paying mere lip service to social and labor justice. Ever since the Sanders campaign, however, Socialist Alternative's stance on the Democratic Party has gotten more ambiguous. While Member's Bulletins and newspapers still recognize that there are at least some reactionary elements in the Democratic Party, your publications also commonly mention a "Sanders wing" or a "Sanders/Warren wing" within the party (https://www.socialistalternative.org/2017/07/13/democrats-divisions-deepen/). With this rhetoric, you assume that Sanders and Warren and the “wing” of the Democrats that they supposedly lead is in any way to the “left” in any way that matters. This is decidedly false. Sanders, Warren, and even Democrats to their “left” (for example, Raul Grijalva), are still a part of a party that upholds the interests of the bourgeoisie when push comes to shove, and are easily reigned in by a center-right leadership. Hoping these Democrats would create a coherent faction within the party that could accomplish anything beyond showboating is wishful thinking at best.
Furthermore, the suggestion that was made in Member's Bulletin 86 that "forcing" "left" Democratic politicians to endorse and speak at Socialist Alternative events will draw in new "layers" (an obnoxious, overused bit of jargon) of workers and youth is also misleading. Revolutionary socialist parties should not try to make liberal politicians look redeeming. Instead, it should be our job to point out the strong contradictions that naturally arise from liberal politics and lead newly radicalizing people away from Democrats as much as we can.
Lastly, it is our belief that Socialist Alternative's view of the Democratic Socialists of America is a bit too optimistic. DSA was founded by Michael Harrington to be an anti-communist alternative to other socialist parties, and from its inception it has focused on trying to influence the Democratic Party with little success. It is certainly true that the character of DSA has shifted a bit due to the massive influx of young new members, but we have to keep our heads about us. For one thing, the way DSA counts its membership is different from Socialist Alternative's. As you know, SA only counts people as members if they pay regular dues AND attend branch meetings. DSA's practice, on the other hand, counts people as members from dues-paying status alone. Therefore, it is far more difficult to say how many actual ACTIVE members DSA has at any given time. Related to this is the fact that DSA is a decentralized organization. While this makes it easier for specific chapters to become more radical, it also makes it a lot harder for those chapters to hold influence over the organization at large, or for problems within the organization to get resolved. For example, recently, a man named Danny Fetonte was elected to DSA's National Political Committee by withholding information about his work in CLEAT, a police union. When rank-and-file discovered this lie of omission, many of them were upset and called upon Fetonte to resign ( https://twitter.com/DSA_SF/status/898629195634425856 ).
These calls, however, are from individual chapters and not a unified movement. The decentralized structure of the organization makes it difficult for such unified actions to come together and succeed. It also makes it easier for people like Fetonte to slip through the cracks: if DSA were a centralized organization with better vetting and security procedures, it's likely Fetonte's lie of omission would have been caught far earlier than it was. While similar issues of abused power dynamics have occurred in Socialist Alternative, this has been due more from lack of internal democracy instead of a lack of centralist structure.
What should the proper approach to DSA be, then, with all this in mind? It is our view that working with DSA chapters in united front actions, especially if the chapters in mind are of the more radical vein, is a smart and perfectly acceptable tactic. Trying to become more appealing to DSA members by focusing more on Bernie Sanders and sliding to the right, however, is a total mistake. DSA and SA are separate organizations with separate aims. A democratic socialist and a revolutionary socialist will ultimately have different goals, and thus, different preferred strategies and tactics. These differences should be recognized. While it is understandable to worry about the disparity between SA's membership numbers versus DSA's, it is our opinion that having
valuable, dedicated members and cadre is far more important than having a huge amount of paper members that signed a form once. Further, trying to be more like DSA will not bring SA those numbers anyway. SA should remember its revolutionary socialist past, bring it into its present, and focus on pointing out the differences between revolutionary and democratic socialist tactics and aims. Confusing potential new members or letting them grow complacent in left-liberalism is not the way forward. We can't just meet people where they're at: we have to guide them to the right conclusions. Socialist Alternative, however, has only focused on the former, while paying far too little attention to the latter. This, along with your approach to the Sanders campaign and the Democratic Party, amounts to an irreconcilable difference in how we view and interact with bourgeois politics.
Race and Racism
Another significant source of dissent from the Rhode Island branch stems from Socialist Alternative's position on racism. Regarding white supremacy and anti-blackness, it is the opinion of the undersigned that the national organization's perspective is incompatible with goals of racial justice. Until Socialist Alternative re-calibrates its register of discourse on racism, its liberatory praxis will be severely compromised and ethically suspect.
While the national organization has made an effort to become involved in the struggle for racial justice, there is a widespread failure to grapple with the structures of white supremacy and anti-blackness. To verify this claim, we need to look no further than the Marxism and the Fight for Black Freedom pamphlet circulated several months ago. This text was critiqued by a large number of comrades in an internal document, so it is not our goal to belabor the point. Our comrades raised brilliant points in their dissenting letter - only to be ceremoniously dismissed. We must announce that a handful of devoted Rhode Island members signed that criticism - only to have our names omitted from the final record. In an effort to combat this disenfranchisement, we submit our criticisms of the pamphlet, it's dumpster-fire of a sequel in Members Bulletin #87 , and Socialist Alternative's politics more generally.
Socialist Alternative's perspective on racism can best be described as class reductivism. At every turn, white supremacy and anti-blackness are subordinated to an analysis of class as mere derivatives. The standard refrain is as follows: racism is a tool utilized by the ruling class to divide and conquer working people. From this vantage point, white supremacy and anti-blackness are theorized as the most odious defense mechanisms of the bourgeoisie in the name of profit. The conclusion, then, is that fighting classism is the best - and indeed the only way - to eradicate racism.
We do not wish to debate the "origins" of racism. We grant leverage to Eric Williams, C.L.R. James and the countless other prominent scholars who contend that class exploitation gave birth to racism. We take issue, however, with the genetic fallacy inherent in this line of reasoning. It is illogical to draw a conclusion based solely on the origin of the phenomena in question, as opposed to its current meaning. Stating that racism has class origins does not foreclose upon the possibility that it became unhinged from its "base." Irrespective of racism's roots, white supremacy and anti-blackness are now organizing principles in and of themselves. Racism cannot be reduced to a reflex of capital - it is a structure with material consequences. The tendency of describing anti-blackness as "ideological" or "individual" in nature demonstrates a failure to grapple with structural racism, that, in the final analysis, exposes a racist worldview.
There comes a time where one needs to realize that the profit motive lacks explanatory power in the face of anti-blackness. Socialist Alternative routinely makes the intellectually facile argument that seizing the means of production is the panacea for a civilization steeped in racism. But this is absurd - as it presupposes that violence against people of color is always, or mostly, motivated by a running ledger. Violence against people of color is often counterproductive from the perspective of capital. Other variables are operating beneath the surface - those which can only be described as the sadistic desires to inflict torture and re-organize one's being. The problem is also existential and ontological in orientation. Making alterations to the political economy without re-organizing the symbolic economy of humanity is not a revolution at all. It is, rather, a guarantee that anti-blackness will remain under communism.
Socialist Alternative still theorizes in the tradition of unraced and unsexed positionality. The terms "working class" and "labor" are offered as inherently objective, as if they are automatically free from racial and/or sexual bias. Upon further analysis, this perspective is a problematic continuation of oppression. It is important to understand the mechanisms of the power structures we seek to destroy. The idea of race, and by extension, the process of racialization, was created by Europeans to label those who were deemed 'other.' This means that whiteness was established as the baseline and norm for humanity, while simultaneously rendering it invisible. In keeping with the Enlightenment's principle of objectivity, whiteness is the identity that denies itself as an identity . Racial identities belong only to others . Whiteness is a deeply biased position that masquerades as a universal fact in the best interest of everyone.
Socialist Alternative is yet to take inventory of the racial or sexual demographics of its favorite scholars. The Mount Rushmore of Marxists - Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky - were all white men from Europe. None of these individuals suffered racial or sexual oppression, and many of their writings on the topics reflect as much. Exploitation was their sole axis of suffering, so of course, it was easy to conclude that the political economy was the engine of society. We are not saying that a Marxist analysis applies only to Europe and European societies, rather we are saying that Marxism done correctly must marry itself to intersectionality if we are to unite the working class against capitalist exploitation. Socialist Alternative is populated predominantly by white men who are cheer-leading for the colorblind position that race must take a backseat in the socialist revolution. One fact is overlooked: the working class is an identity. Socialist Alternative’s position on “identity politics” is vacuous. The working class does not simply float adrift from language, meaning, or social reality - it is produced and reproduced by racialized and sexualized beings. The notion that the working class can be unraced and/or unsexed is racist and sexist. Arguing that the working class can transcend race and/or sex (i.e. "multiculturalism", "gender diversity") are not-so-subtle ways of advancing anti-blackness and transphobia by way of crowding out those at the bottom. The world is, and has been, dominated by white males. Subordinating racism and heteropatriarchy as merely superstructural side effects of class exploitation ensures that the revolution will be led by white males and create a new world for white males.
In Members Bulletin #87 , the authors argue that calling people out is counterproductive because it uses "guilt and shame" as a form of politics. Considering the fact that Socialist Alternative views race as additive as opposed to constitutive of their analysis, this passage is to be viewed in a different light. The real concern for the writers is that white males will be decentered by those who are suppressed the most by white orthodox Marxism: black women . The policing of black women, especially those who are trans, is the animating force behind the document and Socialist Alternative's approach to organizing. For these brief reasons outlined above, we no longer view our political relationship with Socialist Alternative as reconcilable.
Unless you are a hardened Zionist or otherwise misinformed on the issue, the only way to view the Nakba of 1948 is as an act of aggression, carried out with the blessing of the United States and Britain, that left 750,000 Palestinians displaced and established a settler-colonial state with a separate set of rights for its indigenous Palestinian population and its (largely white) Jewish population. Further land grabs starting in 1967 and continuing to today, as well as the continued repression of of the Gaza, has shown just what the Zionist project is all about: apartheid .
In 2005, due to the oppressive measures of the Israeli government, representatives of Palestinian Civil Society put out a call for “international civil societies and people of conscience all over the world” to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era” until Israel ends “its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”, dismantles the Wall in the West Bank, recognizes “the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”, and respects, protects, and promotes “the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties” as stipulated by the UN ( https://bdsmovement.net/call ). This call has been taken up internationally by many different kinds of organizations, including, most recently, the DSA, yet Socialist Alternative and the CWI have not done so. Surely this is an oversight?
Judy Beishon, a member of CWI in Britain, writes “...it needs to be taken into account that boycott campaigns can assist the propaganda of the Israeli government domestically, and can create a barrier between workers in Israel and internationally, negative consequences that need to be weighed up against the advantages”. She also cites that BDS will alienate and impact the Israeli working class: but what are they being alienated from? Jewish Israelis, from rich to poor, have political rights and privileges that Palestinians do not, and if there were a large-scale resistance to that in the Israeli working class, it stands to reason that they would take the lead from the call from Palestinian Civil Society to support BDS.
We found out from a former member of Socialist Alternative that SA’s views on Israel/Palestine differ from the positions of the Israel/Palestine section of the CWI. The demands put forth by our international comrades call for the eviction of all settlements formed after 1967, and make explicit calls to end all occupation and settlements. The demands of comrades from different sections of a coherent international should not be watered down to appease soft Zionists.
The Jewish people have had unimaginable horrors perpetrated against them throughout history; none of us denies that. However, the CWI position invoking the right of self-determination for oppressed nations and applying it to Israel forgets that the history of Zionism from Hertzl to Balfour has been a history of seeking collaboration with imperialism to displace and oppress the people who previously lived in historic Palestine. Furthermore, Israel is not just a junior partner of U.S. imperialism, but an oppressor nation itself. The only principled, socialist position is to both oppose anti-semitism and to support a secular, free Palestine.
Leadership and Structure
Among the most serious issues we have with Socialist Alternative revolve around the actions of its leadership. During the time that Margaret Collins was in the process of being suspended from the organization, the Rhode Island branch wrote a document in her defense. We submitted it to be published in the next Member’s Bulletin, but it was left out. Member’s Bulletins are supposed to be open to submissions from rank-and-file members of the organization, and we felt it was highly irregular and undemocratic for our document to be rejected in such a manner. Later on, many members of the Rhode Island branch chose to sign a letter which criticized the political level and content of the Marxism and the Fight for Black Freedom pamphlet. While that letter was eventually published in a Member’s Bulletin, every single Rhode Island comrade’s name was omitted from the list of signatures. This erasure of our names marked the second time the Rhode Island branch had been involved in submitting material for a Members Bulletin, and the second time we were censored.
Socialist Alternative also lacks an objective standard for moving branches from “associate branches” to “full status branches”. The Rhode Island branch has been around for several years, has more members than some other branches, does plenty of political education and activity, and yet was still not made a full status branch in the organization. A well-developed branch should be made a full status branch in order to have voting and decision making rights within Socialist Alternative.
During a contact meeting, our Branch Organizer was describing to this contact, at her request, the differences between SA and other left groups, such as the DSA. The conversation was overheard by a member of the Providence chapter of the DSA, and he later posted an extremely exaggerated account of what was said online, which subsequently went viral among the DSA’s social media and their followers. The Branch Organizer was then contacted by a member of SA leadership, who urged him not to openly criticize DSA or their leadership. Things have already been said about SA’s new orientation to the DSA above, but it is highly inappropriate for the leadership of what is supposed to be a revolutionary socialist organization to attempt to curb criticism of a social democratic group like DSA, who consistently eschew revolutionary politics in favor of class collaboration with the Democratic Party: especially in light of the fact that this was not a comment posted on an official social media page, but part of a real-time conversation between two people.
We have also had issues with an NC member who also used to be an observer on our Branch Committee. He would frequently police comrades’ Facebook feeds if they posted anything online that even slightly skewed from the SA party line. One of these occasions lead to this NC member accusing our comrade of “race baiting” him, and almost cost our branch the membership of an intelligent, articulate, and well-developed comrade. This person would also frequently make farfetched accusations of the branch based on branch meeting notes taken wildly out of context. His habit of filibustering his way through political discussions created a negative environment for political decision making, and did not leave sufficient time for other comrades to contribute to the conversation and have their voices heard.
The actions of leadership over the last few years have cost SA much of its most experienced cadre through suspensions, expulsions, and the “freezing out” of members. Most recently this was seen with what happened with Margaret Collins in the Queens, NYC branch, when she disagreed with and strongly debated against some of the rightward drift of SA positions, especially having to do with the endorsement of the Sanders campaign. An overblown claim that Comrade Collins was being “uncomradely” and creating tensions at branch meetings was used as a reason to first suspend her, then expel her, and most recently, to uphold that expulsion. Comrades from New York have shown us evidence that her expulsion was mostly based on political reasons, including a letter from a former comrade, who left over the Sanders fiasco, indicating that leadership in New York had wanted Margaret out of the way several years ago.
Recently, another comrade in that same branch was pushed out of the organization. She was taken off website work, had her articles and Member’s Bulletin submissions rejected, and was treated in a foul manner by members of her branch. She took some time off from SA work due to this harassment, and was immediately accused of “not being a real member anymore.” The only reason she stepped back from SA work was because of the harassment and lack of support she was dealing with in the branch. She has since resigned.
The low political level of the paper has been an issue for a while as well. While we understand that the paper is partly a recruiting tool and thus is not meant to have the same political level as internal material such as Member’s Bulletins, we believe that the political level could be raised significantly. During the election, and continuing to to this day, many articles are about Sanders and the supposed “left” democrats in the party. There have also been articles of support of the Draft Bernie movement. These point to serious political mistakes that an experienced socialist leadership should not be making. Furthermore, each article comes out of SA’s collective editing process sounding like it was written by the same exact person. While we agree that articles in the paper should point towards the same politics, editing them to the point where they lack any original voice is going too far. The paper’s low political level has been noticed even by some of our newer comrades, who don’t see much difference between articles in SA’s paper and articles from left-liberal outlets already existing online. If SA is offering the working class something different than what the liberal sectors are offering, then the paper should deliver that message much more clearly.
These actions indicate a leadership that wishes to grow cozy with the Democratic Party and members of the social democratic left instead of engaging in real revolutionary politics. This, combined with the focus on gathering donations from contacts before they join SA (as outlined in the new Fall Building Priorities), also points to a leadership that is more concerned with maintaining their own positions and power within SA than in growing a Marxist, revolutionary socialist organization.
Due to the above political disagreements with the national policies and international positions of Socialist Alternative, and due to the serious issues that we have with the leadership, the following comrades feel that it is time to resign from Socialist Alternative. We feel that we cannot continue to work productively within an organization whose leadership uses these tactics. We will continue our work in revolutionary politics, and we will continue to work with our like-minded comrades who choose to remain in Socialist Alternative. We hope to re-engage with Socialist Alternative in the future, should the organization return to revolutionary socialist politics.
Contact us at: RhodeIslandSocialists@gmail.com
Contact us at: RhodeIslandSocialists@gmail.com