*Dramatic Intro* The crisis of the Left: What’s really going in the ISO BOC debate?!?!


Referenced Articles:

1) “The Solidarity We Need” by ISO members Sam Bernstein, Darrin Hoop and Dan Trocolli (1/19/12)

2) “ILWU Leaders Shouldn’t Get a Pass” by ISO member Dana Blanchard (1/23/12)

3) “Longview, Occupy, and Beyond: Rank and File and 89% Unite” by BOC, Advance the Struggle, members of Hella 503 in Portland, as well as friends in various cities (1/30/12)

In the past few months the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has gone out its way to associate Black Orchid Collective with being divisive, ultra leftist, anti-union, and even defenders of CEOs according to one member on the Occupy Purdue Facebook . All of these accusations can be dispelled by reading our pieces on our blog.  Of course if there is confusion or criticism we have an email address and a comment section, unlike the Socialist Worker, the ISO’s publication. I want to respond to some of these accusations. These articles and comments, as a whole, develop a broader picture of the differences between the ISO and BOC i.e., the fact that the ISO believes that all proletariat should be organized into union in order to advance to the next stage struggle. To verify my claims I will be utilizing the same writings used to slander BOC in which the ISO clearly states their position repeatedly.

In an article in the ISO’s Socialist Worker called, “Confronting the Debates in Occupy” , our collective along with Advance the Struggle (AS) , and Bay of Rage are dubbed “ultra-leftist” within the Occupy Movement.

Ultra-leftism is described as, “a political practice that substitutes the desire of a small group of radicals for revolutionary change for the reality of the self-activity of the working class” and “a hardened political theory that rejects strategies aimed at involving the greatest number of workers, students and community members in the fight to win their rights and improve their conditions in favor of the actions taken by a self-selected minority of activists.”  The authors make these accusations in response to articles by all three groups and argue that each is hostile to unions thus divisive to the workers’ struggle.

The ISO has put forward two (related) critiques of BOC, inaccurate as they may be. The first, criticizing the 89% framework and our alleged anti-unionism. The second labels BOC as substitutionist and opposed to mass mobilization.   I will attempt to address the misrepresentations of BOC’s politics around the 89% framework, unions, and other forms of mass struggle. Further I will explain the difference in BOC’s approach to struggle and the ISO’s. The accusations of the call for a Global General strike as substitutionist I will mostly leave for another time but the implicit dogmatic and shortsighted nature of the ISO’s general position must be confronted and exposed.

The 89% framework put forward by BOC and AS refers to our position of supporting the struggles of the 89% of the working class that is not currently unionized.  In “Confronting the Debates in Occupy” the reader is told that BOC and AS are, “directing this slogan against unionized workers and positing that the real radical movement must be composed of non-unionized workers”. In addition, the 89% framework would, “take no account of the fact that their 89 percent, by excluding unionized workers, would necessarily include a higher percentage of the richest 10 percent of the population than the 99 percent slogan, but that is another matter.”

  The authors argue that our alleged hostility to unions and supposed lack of outreach to broad layers has lead to what they call substitutionist tactics and strategies e.g., the Oakland Commune Move in Day on Jan. 28th and the call for a May 1st Global General Strike. Substitutionism can be defined as the act of substituting the actions of a radical minority with that of the class. To ascribe this definition to BOC is wholly inaccurate, where’s the evidence? We have always advocated for mass mobilization.

The difference is that when we organize for this aim we attempt to bring a revolutionary Marxist analysis behind our calls for mass movement. Is engaging our fellow workers with an analysis of capitalism and the reasons for our conditions substitutionist? We strive to engage in dialogue and to challenge ourselves and others in the class to create actions that are based quality rather than quantity. Our interventions (via our blog, consistent debates, and organizing) attempt to give clear analysis against any forces, such as unions, democrats, and right wing or populist groups that try to channel or deform the energy of mass action into legislature and other means to soften potential radical class activity.

In practice, the ISO tends to mobilize people to events where bureaucrats and politicians take the stage and talk people’s heads off. Often problematic positions or perspectives are not challenged due in large part to the ISO’s belief that workers need to be convinced to join unions and other established left institutions, a point that will be returned to in more detail.. Some of the leaders in labor, educational, non-profit, or political institutions, who include women and poc, are not challenged for the positions they take which often are pro-capitalist. Does the ISO ever back the voices of radical people of color, queer folks, and women who challenge the perspectives of these established (left) leaders? From our experience, no. No doubt this is a sign of how bad the ISO’s race and gender politics are due in large part to their stagist approach to struggle. The ISO’s positioning of itself as looking out for the interest of mass mobilization and reaching to broad layers is just an attempt to lure people into a scripted form of struggle where they would rather remain silent to achieve their goal then challenge head on the road blocks facing the struggle. This is the importance of our assessment of the divisions within the class.  We can’t trail so called POC “ leaders” or union leaders who do not push class struggle forward. We want to be part of situations where masses of people learn and grow together in struggle, and aren’t just “mobilized,” managed, and shuffled around.

89%: Sobering Reality or Decentering Organized Labor?

We use the 89% framework to describe a real phenomena in our society: the vast majority of workers in the U.S. and the world are not unionized. We also openly acknowledge it’s potential problematic implications. (89% includes the petit bourgiouse .  BOC and AS’s articles call for two-way solidarity between the 89% and rank and file trade union members, but the ISO intentionally misquotes us, leaving this out so they can slander us as anti-union)

ISO member, Bill Mullen, goes as far as saying to an Occupy Purdue member on facebook that, “in defending the BOC you are encouraging people to get behind an organization that is fighting for Bill Gates’s right to make millions? And you want workers and the unemployed to sign on?”, an accusation along the same lines as his comrades in the article in question. Mullen and his comrades intentionally leave out this quote from our piece: “we recognize that there are limitations with the concept of ‘the 89%,’ most notably in its implicit populism.  The number reflects the percentage of employed people in the US who are not in unions.  This means it includes people ranging from CEOs to Harvard professors to the majority of food service workers.  When we talk about the 89%, we are referring to the percentage of the proletariat that is not unionized — including unemployed people and prisoners.  We use the term “89%” throughout this piece because it has resonated with many militant proletarians around us for the reasons we discuss, but we are open to changing our language in the future.”  For us, the 89% is just one small part of our analysis, and we’re open to changing it – it is the ISO that turned it into a hardened slogan, in order to attack it.

The main point is we’re committed to supporting struggles of nonunionzied WORKERS, not CEOs, managers, cops, etc. Anyone in Seattle knows that we are not for blurring the difference between workers and “petty bourgeois” managers, business owners, etc. We have collaborated with other radicals to prevent middle class populists from dominating Occupy Seattle.  We made this clear in previous articles “Occupy to End Capital”   and the “Radicalization of Occupy Seattle”.

Furthermore, we never imply that there should be a separate movement involving only the non-unionized working class, or the unemployed.  We recognize there are still production workers in the U.S. and even more abroad and we want to unite their struggles with the struggles of workers in reproductive industries  and the unemployed and imprisoned.  We recognize that there are groups who advocate organizing the unemployed over the employed workforce, some of whom we have affinity with on some political positions but this division between the employed and unemployed is not something we agree with. We did advocate for non-unionized workers, the unemployed, the imprisoned, and homeless to organize so that we can not only assist and work with the rank and file of unions more effectively but also to fight for our own liberation, and to ask rank and file union members to fight in solidarity with us.

We wish to bring light to the reality that the proletariat, though unified in its relation to capitalism in a broad sense, has divisions within it and therefore different interests exist within the class. These divisions are based on sex, race, and gender, To expose what these categories really are under capitalism we will call them castes since sex, race,and class affects who gets what by each castes’ relationship to capital. In a nutshell we have seen how historically white workers were given more access to capital, in order to thwart multi-racial revolution. (Of course this change in relations was not felt equally by all white workers. There was more access to certain aspects of capital or liberties given, much of this was ideological as current trends may indicate. This then, has been an attempt to hide the class division amongst whites and thus the access to capital among them. A key point to remember.)

These differences in each caste’s relationship to capital vary and for this reason we can expect differing interests to emerge in terms of what is fought for in struggle. Hence, the Black Movement which shook world during the fifties and sixties seemed to be only about race but it really exposed the caste position of blacks based on race within the international division of labor as argued by Selma James in her piece Sex, Race, and Class. This advanced the class struggle.

We follow the trajectory of James’ argument in saying Black Power and therefore power to the proletariat, power to sisters and therefore to the class.

Our statements around some unions and union members being “privileged” is true in terms of wage and benefits in comparison to other layers of the class. We recognize that this is not true of all workers in all unions.

Not all women, immigrants, and people of color are non-unionized, and not all union workers are white men.  But sometimes these racial and gender caste divisions in the class do correspond to divisions of labor that are codified and maintained by the union/nonunion divide. This is certainly true on the Seattle waterfront, where ILWU local 19 is majority white men, and the majority of them voted against us picketing in solidarity with non-union port truck drivers who are majority Black immigrant workers.  They also criticized a multiracial, majority non-union crowd for asserting our anti-austerity and anti-police brutality demands on Dec 12th.  So when we talked about the racialized divisions here we weren’t trying to make a generalization to all unions nationwide, we were dealing with specific obstacles to class struggle solidarity here in Seattle, and were attempting to overcome these. We also know that there are rank and file ILWU local 19 members who challenge these divisions in the name of racial and gender equality and broad working class unity, and we support their struggles.

It is important to point this out because we can and should expect that capitalism will attempt to co-opt layers of the class whose interest and the concessions they gain around these interests may not reflect the majority of the class, let alone benefit it. At the same time, class struggle and class analysis is crucial.  Can anyone seriously argue that the Black Movement with all its advancements in class struggle was hindered by not only sheer repression but also the co-optation of middle class layers within it with access to a different relationship with capital (the American Dream)? This was all the more successful because a class analysis of the black caste itself was not advanced on a broad scale.

The ISO says we should use the 99% slogan instead of attempting to highlight and overcome the divisions between the 89% and union members. To say we need to continue pushing a slogan such as the 99%, with its powerful implications notwithstanding, furthers this illusion of harmonious class unity without addressing the material bases that actually hinders this unity and the potential for co-optation/repression because this disunity is problematic. Hence, the ISO’s calls for mass mobilization should be accessed on their lack of recognition and action upon these divisions and how they play out in unions and other institutions.

The 89% concept was an attempt to address this reality, one which we have to develop along the lines of dealing with what I have laid out above. Also, our advocating for unions, primarily rank and file workers within them, to assist other layers of the class and stating that unions may not represent a force for change for many layers of the class now because of lack of interaction and intervention by the former shouldn’t be brushed off nor ignored. The authors of the piece point to May Day 2006 were unions came out to support immigrant workers but really supporting in actions on a day isn’t a response that answers our concern. Being present at rallies and marches alone isn’t stopping poor youth, especially those of color from being incarcerated, ice raids, sexual assault, and trans folks being unemployed. The fact that unions can’t play this particular role may be in their orientation toward labor and negotiating how labor will relate to capital. This is what unions do; therefore it is not crazy to advocate other layers who don’t precisely fit into these negotiations for a certain part of the class to organize outside a union framework. Furthermore, it is the workers within the union that make it powerful and we should not lose sight of this.

The Proof: The ISO’s position on class consciousness and organization.

Comments by ISO members on the Occupy Purdue facebook page and a subsequent article in the Socialist Worker called, “A Strike Call That Won’t Call a Strike” by ISO member Dan Trocolli  further elaborate the key issue between the ISO and BOC. The comments on the Occupy Purdue page are as follows; 1) “Is the BOC organizing the unorganized in to unions? The reason we need more unions is precisely because the majority of people are un-unionized. It is the confidence people gain at fighting their boss that builds bigger struggles. This is the historic experience under capitalism. It is the weakness and/or absence of unions that have given confidence for (a) the right wing to attack, as well as (b) reformism of the union bureaucracy.” ; 2) “Just as a side note, all workers are precarious under capitalism. Their comfort within the system depends on how hard they fought in the past to reach that position, but more importantly, how willing they are to fight to defend those gains.
It is also worth remembering that today women make up almost exactly half of union members, while Black, Latino and Asian workers are almost a quarter of organized labor’s ranks.”; 3) “The unions, organized labor, DESPITE THEIR SEVERE LIMITATIONS, are still the first defense for workers against capitalism. Weakened unions in ANY context, make it harder to organize anyone, even the unorganized. If this were not the case then union-busting legislations such as RTW would not be problem. We would simply move on and organize the unorganized. We need unions because they are the first step to the collective expression of worker’s power. We can move to subsequent steps of taking on the state, but only if we have that essential first one.

Our job as activists is to argue for strengthening unions, to recruit MORE people to unions, to make unions more militant, rather than to organize around them.”

 In the article by Troccoli, he argues against an Occupy Seattle General assembly proposal to act in solidarity with the Occupy Movement’s call for a general stirke.   Troccoli consistently points to what we don’t have: a mass of people in unions. A basic break down of a vast part of his argument is that we need to organize people in unions and get existing unions on board before we can call a general strike. Troccoli reasons that a call for a general strike,  “might be a bit too far out of the comfort zone for most people in the U.S., where last year, there were fewer than 20 strikes involving 1,000 workers or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Troccoli then goes into an analysis on the consciousness of the proletariat by making an analogy between the later and his students.

“As a teacher, I learned that in order to challenge students effectively, we need to consider whether what we are teaching is beyond the students’ Zone of Proximal Development. That means if we ask them to try something that is too far out of their comfort zone, we risk losing their attention or interest, as they may feel it’s beyond their comprehension or ability.”

What do Troccoli’s piece and the Purdue quotes by Tithi Bhattacharya and Bill Mullen of the ISO respectively, have in common and why is it relevant to this discussion? What we see from this is that the ISO and its members believe that workers, non-unionized or otherwise, need to be taught how to engage in the class struggle primarily by organizing the whole of the class into unions.  This is a patronizing argument that underestimates the capacity and self-activity of the working class.

Unlike BOC, the ISO claims to be Leninists, following the ideas of Lenin, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution. Lenin is famously, and we think correctly, criticized for saying that workers can only develop trade-union consciousness outside of the party, that they can’t develop revolutionary consciousness on their own ( a position he apparently repudiated later on in his life).  But at least Lenin DID think workers could achieve trade union consciousness.  The ISO takes a position toward workers that is even more patronizing than Lenin- they suggest that workers won’t even learn how to strike and struggle on the job without the ISO and the Occupy movement showing them how. They suggest the way to do this would include prioritizing class struggle mainly from the workplace and through the union structure suggesting that if Occupy fails to teach this lesson correctly with a reasonable action on May 1st then workers might not strike after that.  This gives Occupy way too much credit, and the rest of the working class way too little. Mullen and Trocolli don’t recognize that there has been an unprecedentedly large wave of mass strikes around the globe since 2007; the working class as a whole is already in motion and it doesn’t need Dan Trocolli or the revolutionaries in Occupy to teach it how to fight.

We agree that struggle in the US is not as developed and there is a good chance the May 1st action won’t become a full general strike, but it’s arrogant to assume that workers in the U.S. will therefore give up the idea of striking just because Occupy’s call for a strike didn’t materialize.  They are just as likely to say, “well that wasn’t a strike, but it’s a good step towards a strike, now let’s organize to make a real strike happen.”  Or they might say 100 other things, because all workers don’t think alike and being in the ISO doesn’t give someone the power to read their minds.

Lenin’s point was that revolutionaries should help build strikes but should not have any illusions that this should be their only task because A) our fellow workers CAN in fact organize strikes without us leading them and B) if we spend all our time organizing strikes for other workers then we fail to do other crucial things revolutionaries should be doing like intervening in these strikes with strategies for how they can extend beyond narrow sectoral interests (“my job”, “my wages” only) to become struggles against all forms of oppression, struggles for a new society (“everything for everyone, the revolution has begun”).  On that point, Lenin was correct, and so are many anarchists.  The solidarity built in struggling to build a union or to fight the boss on the job is the basis that revolutionaries should build upon, telling fellow workers “look if we can get each others’ backs against our boss, why not get other folks’ from our community’s backs against police brutality, against sexual violence, or against this war that is leading to anti-Muslim racism.”

To be fair, the ISO does agitate around these issues, but they do it in a very mechanical, stage-managed kind of way.  They assume there needs to be a mass movement lead by unions and then they will pass out their newspapers within it to promote broader issues.  So when this mass movement fails to develop along the trade union lines they expect, they start lecturing everyone about the need to refocus on building and supporting the unions, teaching workers to strike. This has been what we have seen in the ISO’s practice which speaks louder than what one claims in words and papers.

The ISO is right that strikes and militant union struggles can build much needed working class confidence, which is a key basis for fighting all forms of oppression.  However, they are flawed in making it a prerequisite for fighting all forms of oppression.  They fail to see that the struggles working class people build today might not take a trade union form, and workers might build up our confidence in other ways.  Instead of telling workers to redirect their  struggles into a proper union form, revolutionaries should be looking at the strengths and limitations of the actual struggles workers’ are engaged in today, and should figure out how to build off of these strengths and overcome these weaknesses through broader and deeper solidarity and revolutionary consciousness.  Building more militant unions might be part of this, but not the only part.

But according to the ISO, apparently, we can’t move to the next stage of struggle without first taking this “step”, as Mr. Mullen calls it, of organizing everyone into unions. There are major flaws with this argument. (To be fair in our piece we called Occupy a union for the 89%.  Our call or vision if you will, to make occupy a union for the 89% was in a different vein than the ISO position in the sense that we still aimed to address the division within the class and were open to other forms of organization that could emerge outside of the union structure based on identity, etc with the potential to broaden  class struggle. Upon further assessment and debate this may have been a bad position. Because occupy wasn’t a union and took on a less constrained form of organization than some unions it was able to organize and mobilize in a very dynamic way. The attempt to make it into a union could have bogged this structure down. The points below detail the possible problems with our past position as well.)

The efforts toward change by the proletariat are not seen in their complexity. For example they ignore the Occupy movement’s potential to be a precursor to new forms of struggle and organization taken up by the class and how these new forms can give insight into the phase of capitalism we’re in. What does the democratic nature of Occupy and it’s no-leadership ethos mean in terms of organizational forms? How is this mass movement fighting alienation? What division are within it and how do we deal with them?  Does this nature of organization and ethos express a possible “program” in the making?  We have no illusions about Occupy. We know it is not automatically revolutionary, and it is still necessary for revolutionaries to intervene within it to challenge reactionary ideas, middle class dominance, sexism, racism, or cooptation efforts that might come up.

Struggle and revolutions are a messy project. People can’t be expected or be convinced to fall into this one-size-fits-all plan for change. What would you think if someone came up to you and said, “make a union so your consciousness can be on the right level for the next stage of struggle! It’s the most effective way based on my analysis!!” It’s unrealistic, downright insulting, and it is a position which allows for an excuse to hold back any and all forms of creative struggle.

When have statistics been an end-all prerequisite for revolutionary potential?  And are we really going to play majority versus minority? Instead, it should be framed as try, fail or succeed, reflect and move on more effectively based on the new knowledge we’ve gained. We don’t know what will reach people so we have to engage and be flexible/ adaptable as organizations and organizers assessing the objective and subjective conditions and  looking for potentialities within the madness of the movement.The fact that we don’t have a majority of workers in unions or unions on board with every plan does not mean that developing organizations outside of them and calling for actions will fail. Instead of Trocolli’s gradual “zone of proximal development” approach, we need a Freirian method of learning and teaching what we know so that the student becomes a teacher and the teacher becomes a student. Never assume people don’t have the right consciousness. The mental and manual divide between professed revolutionaries and the rest of the class must cease.

The ISO’s position focuses too much on defending certain historical forms of class struggle rather than promoting revolutionary content that’s relevant to our current moment. It has been argued that the Left’s inability to recognize the nature of capitalism at key historical moments has led it to assist in capitals recomposition from formal domination to the real domination of capital. Formal domination means the phase in which capital forced workers to work longer hours out of a need to gain surplus value.  Real domination means the phase in which capital’s technological innovations could allow for shorter hours but the gaining of more surplus value through higher productivity. When it incorporated more and more real domination, the system could give into workers’ push for such things as the eight hour work day and could recognize unions as representative of the class for negotiation. Capital was still able to control production and human beings by compensating for their losses by speeding up the production process through technology.

The ISO fails to see how this change affects workers’ sense of identity. They attribute the lack of broad, mass union struggle to the actions of other revolutionaries in the Occupy movement they deem anti-worker instead of asking deeper questions about why fewer workers in the US identify with trade unionism.

We don’t agree with everything that Bay of Rage  wrote in an article called “Blockading the Port is Only the First of many Last Resorts”, but they did attempt to address this question.  They point out that many workers are unemployed because our jobs have been replaced with technology. Other workers who are employed are employed in service industry jobs, not production jobs like factory work or mining, so we don’t have the confidence that we can strike or occupy our factories to shut the system down.  This layer of workers is sometimes called the “preacariat” because our employment is precarious and unstable. This, plus the fact that many of us work in divided up, small industries makes it hard for many of us to identify as “working class” in the classical sense.  Instead of striking to take over our jobs, we may need to think about striking to destroy them  especially when some jobs are a total waste of time and serve no social purpose.  Do we really want a workers’ council at WalMart or McDonalds where we self-manage this kind of socially meaningless and destructive work? These kinds of questions raise profound problems for both Marxist and anarchist theories.

We’re not arguing that there is no working class anymore.  We’re part of the working class. But our struggles are simply not the old school struggles to make sure our class gets a seat at the negotiating table under capitalism.  Increasingly, our struggles are to abolish work as we know it and to build a society where this socially destructive work is no longer necessary.  Many of us keep our heads down trying to get through the workday, dreaming of one day spending our lives doing something more meaningful.  Actions like the port shutdown give us a chance to express this by saying if the ruling class is going to destroy our lives like this, we’ll destroy their profits by barricading the means of production and distribution of goods. This, more than anything else we’ve experienced so far, is building our confidence.

This is not to say that the 89% is somehow more revolutionary than union workers – both have their share of contradictions, reactionary ideas, lack of solidarity amongst each other and with other layers of the class, etc.  In both cases revolutionaries need to challenge and learn from all of this while we build together in struggle.  The point is simply that today the system is so decadent that the idea of abolishing alienated labor, not just reforming it, seems like a greater possibility, with wider mass appeal. I’m sure that even workers in production industries think about this sometimes – what is the historical mission of workers at factories in the U.S. that produce nuclear weapons, or factories in China that produce useless plastic souvenirs?  We need to take over the means of production, but many of these means will need to be dismantled, recyled, and newer, healthier means built out of their parts.

As we argued in our piece, there does need to be more organzing by rank and file longshoremen and other workers who are still employed in actual productive industries because they have the strategic ability to do things the rest of us simply can’t do.   Also we need to organize the unorganized in the precarious service industries like the IWW is trying to do.  Bay of Rage and others who argue that we need to abolish alienated labor are correct, but the only group of people in the world who can actually do this is the working class, and to do it we need to organize on our jobs.  Yes, we need to stop being workers and become human  – but the only ones who can abolish our status as workers are ourselves.  But struggles to do this will not necessarily take a union form.  What form they will take is yet to be seen, though struggles in other countries give us hints.

Of course, we’re not ruling out the possibility of a new wave of militant, direct, class struggle unionism struggles that bypass legalistic procedures as part of this process.  If they happen we’ll support them.  We’re simply against telling everyone to wait to up the ante until this happens because if we do that we might end up waiting until all the polar icecaps melt.

Given these changes in our work experiences, to argue to make more unions is vague. We can have class consciousness but what are we fighting against? Is this just another period of Dan Trocolli’s history class? An ongoing historical drama where in we get more power to negotiate our oppression never dealing with why we are oppressed in the first place? I ask to clarify.

From this perspective Tithi states that the weakness/or absence of unions is the reason for the classes lack of confidence. This gives to much credence to what has become a institution in the maintaining of capitalism through Taft-hartley and the NLRB.  What has always given workers the upper hand has been their potential to organize and destroy the system by not complying to the rules of capital i.e.not producing surplus value.  Confidence comes from the proletariat and whatever form of resistance we take on that resonates with other proletariat. Forms of organization and content can spread and be taken on by broad layers of the class given certain factors as we have seen with occupy.

We recognize that revolution isn’t necessarily around the corner and that people need to eat and have economic concerns met but the way we fight for this should be very conscious of how demands for concessions, which may  inevitably be fought for, are framed.  Demands just for proletariat folks who are working or simply from the angle of labor vs. capital is a position in itself which fails to get at the complexities of the international division of labor and the changing of a system of production and distribution based around exchange value and the accumulation of surplus value.  We should see unions as one of many potential forms of organized struggle where “consciousness” can be gained from. But, we should also recognize that within this system people struggle daily, collectively and alone, to resist the effects this system reaps upon them often based on sex, race, sexual orientation, etc, which, as stated above, is crucial in determining ones relation to capital. This is a crucial component of the Marxist method; theory is a reflection of the struggle and experience put into a broad context with deep analysis. Certainly there is a difference in the knowledge someone like myself may have because of my ability to read, access to books, and people around me to help digest information, and we need to build organizations that can share these tools as widely as possible.  But experience can also breed a sharp class analysis. Together theory and action, which reflect each other is powerful. Thus Troccoli’s position on the consciousness of the class is an assumption not based on the current movements we see taking place.

As flawed as it may be, we have seen the strengths in organizing outside of unions to fight capital. In an article in the Salon by Josh Eildelson the reader is reminded that ILWU members in Longview were forced to comply with labor law even after they put life and limb on the line. The action the ILWU members took against EGT according to the author caused the union to be fined and have injunctions placed upon it because the actions worked. Because Occupy was not a union constrained to the same laws, we could increase militancy along the same lines as the rank and file ILWU members in Longview.

The fact that this struggle did force EGT to negotiate builds working class confidence not only inside Occupy but among other layers of the working class.  Building off of this and the publicity around the Dec. 12th port shutdown, the Seattle truck drivers went on strike.  As each layer of the class moves, it opens up room for others to move – this process is complex and messy and can not be stage-managed step by step like Mullen requires. In fact, it’s fair to say that in Seattle, the actions of a minority of rank and file union members and a majority of non-unionized proletarians during the Dec. 12th port shutdown actually gave confidence to union workers organizing on the job in Longview and among Seattle truckers striking so they can organize themselves on the job here. Mullen argued that unions can give precariously employed service industry workers and unemployed folks confidence. In fact, in Seattle, it was just the opposite – precarious service industry workers and unemployed folks made up the majority of the people on the barricade at the port, and this gave port workers confidence to defend or build unions on the job.  The key thing now is to make sure these workplace struggles don’t get co-opted into bureaucratic union forms instead of militant union struggle that can continue to expand and advance the struggles of all sectors of the class.  In addition, this is a clear example of how the class can work together to inspire further action in various layers. In the future we never know how rank and file workers may come through in a major show of solidarity with the non-unionized, homeless,and unemployed nor what the actions of one layer of the class may inspire others to do.

To navigate all this complexity in a sustainable way, we need to build and promote a proletarian organization with clear principles around sex, race, and class, humility and the engagement with the movements of the class while bringing in a sharp analysis on capital. In some ways, Occupy has given a context for building this as seen in actions such as the port shutdown, farm worker solidarity struggles, and port trucker strike support, and the ongoing painstaking organizing that goes into building for these actions and maintaining relations afterward with workers from various layers of the class (a feat the ISO seems to not recognize). While we must have slow patient base building it doesn’t have to be to build unions, but organization in general and networks.

As a revolutionary organization BOC is committed to engaging the class with our politics and promoting the use of the Marxist method. We are not a separate entity with knowledge for the masses proscribing forms of organizing like the ISO. We learn from theoretical study and constant engagement with the rest of the class, asking questions and learning from the experience of others and our own. Having read Marx or being in a union is neither a prerequisite for consciousness nor the recognition for the need to struggle.

I hope this has clarified BOC’s position and made visible the problems inherent in the ISO attacks against us as well as the flaws within the analysis they utilized to make these attacks. These questions are crucial whether or not one subscribes to our methods or approach. In that sense this isn’t a dogmatic battle between political sects but the start of a debate on how to address the crisis of the left and the proletariat while battling capital as it sinks further into its crisis grabbing at every loose end to recompose itself which will affect us all in ways we can’t foresee. Please respond and spread widely. I’d love to get feedback and critiques!

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18 Responses to *Dramatic Intro* The crisis of the Left: What’s really going in the ISO BOC debate?!?!

  1. Uncle Aunty says:

    Thanks for this.

    I wonder what local ISO people think of the Longview question now, seeing as it appears very likely that the agreement reached with EGT isn’t so hot. Would things have turned out differently if people simply would have followed the International’s wishes better?

    I do not think how mobilizing – and the time constraints – for Dec. 12 went down was ideal. But I do admire and respect the people and work that went into it. More so, I think it is clear that any faults with the EGT contract cannot be put at Occupy’s feet. People are doing and learning the best they can.

    More generally I really do not see how the ISO, or anybody really, can truly think that the way forward is to simply support (or to capture) the leadership of most AFL-CIO unions… What exactly in the last 30 years of US labor history shows this to be a good idea?

    And no, being open to questioning the ideas, motives and tactics of union presidents and the like does not make one “anti-labor,” if you can’t see that, I can’t help you.

    I’ll try to come back later and respond to some other points. Thanks again.

  2. Ben Seattle says:

    ========================================
    We need the bitter truth
    ========================================

    Hi Blue Bossa Nova,

    I know that you and the other BOC comrades have worked your hearts
    out to create a stronger analysis of why the ISO has attacked both
    your group and the entire militant section of the Occupy movement.

    Having said that, I need to tell you, frankly, that I consider
    your analysis to be extremely weak.

    There is no way to sugarcoat this. It does not appear that you
    understand _why_ the ISO has attacked the movement.

    I do not believe, for a minute, that the ISO attacked the movement
    because they (supposedly) have some kind of “stagist approach to
    struggle”.

    This is nothing but a fairlytale.

    There is not a shred of credible evidence that this is the real
    motivation of the ISO.

    You cite various public statements by the ISO or its supporters
    to support the idea that this is their motivation. But these
    public statements prove nothing. These public statements are
    piles of lies used by these vicious guard dogs of the trade union
    bureaucrats (TUB’s) as _justification_ for attacking the movement.

    Why does the ISO generate these piles of lies?

    Because it would not work very well for the ISO to publicly admit
    that they need to attack our movement in order to to prove their
    loyalty to the corrupt TUB’s and to other social democratic
    guardians of our existing political system. If the ISO told this
    simple truth they would probably lose fully half of their supporters
    (and by far the better half at that) as well as most of their
    credibility within the broader left.

    The closest the ISO has come to revealing their real motivation
    is a short passage from an internal email that was leaked to me:

    > breaking publicly with the ultra-lefts in the SW article
    > was crucial for our work in Seattle. The actions and political
    > ideas of the ultra-lefts has sowed unnecessary divisions within
    > the Occupy movement and between Occupy and labor. No one in
    > Seattle had publicly challenged the ultra-lefts (which now has
    > to include SeaSol along with the BOC). Our arguments put us on
    > the side of the best elements in the labor movement, the broader
    > progressive movement AND within the Occupy movement.

    – from the ISO’s internal email list, January 21

    I should note that I do not, in general, make emails public that
    are not intended to be public. But, in this case, I will make
    an exception due to the compelling interest of our movement in
    understanding the motivations for the ISO’s attacks.

    The ISO has attacked our movement for (essentially) the same reason
    that Chris Hedges has attacked our movement. And this turns out to
    be (essentially) the same reason that the Stranger’s Dominic Holden
    has attacked our movement.

    There is a clear pattern here. We can’t be blind to this.
    This is what social democracy looks like.

    As long as we are ignorant of the nature of our enemy–we will be
    at an enormous disadvantage–and it will be easy for the bourgeoisie
    (ie: popularly called the 1%) to outflank, outmanuever, confuse and
    demoralize us with its social democratic flunkies.

    If we are serious about helping to mobilize millions for the overthrow
    of the system of bourgeoisie rule–then we will need to recognize and
    speak the bitter truth about how this system works.

    For our common victory in the struggle
    to overthrow the system of bourgeois rule

    Ben Seattle

  3. Ben Seattle says:

    ========================================
    We need the bitter truth
    ========================================

    Hi Blue Bossa Nova,

    I know that you and the other BOC comrades have worked your hearts
    out to create a stronger analysis of why the ISO has attacked both
    your group and the entire militant section of the Occupy movement.

    Having said that, I need to tell you, frankly, that I consider
    your analysis to be extremely weak.

    There is no way to sugarcoat this. It does not appear that you
    understand _why_ the ISO has attacked the movement.

    I do not believe, for a minute, that the ISO attacked the movement
    because they (supposedly) have some kind of “stagist approach to
    struggle”.

    This is nothing but a fairlytale.

    There is not a shred of credible evidence that this is the real
    motivation of the ISO.

    You cite various public statements by the ISO or its supporters
    to support the idea that this is their motivation. But these
    public statements prove nothing. These public statements are
    piles of lies used by these vicious guard dogs of the trade union
    bureaucrats (TUB’s) as _justification_ for attacking the movement.

    Why does the ISO generate these piles of lies?

    Because it would not work very well for the ISO to publicly admit
    that they need to attack our movement in order to to prove their
    loyalty to the corrupt TUB’s and to other social democratic
    guardians of our existing political system. If the ISO told this
    simple truth they would probably lose fully half of their supporters
    (and by far the better half at that) as well as most of their
    credibility within the broader left.

    The closest the ISO has come to revealing their real motivation
    is a short passage from an internal email that was leaked to me:

    > breaking publicly with the ultra-lefts in the SW article
    > was crucial for our work in Seattle. The actions and political
    > ideas of the ultra-lefts has sowed unnecessary divisions within
    > the Occupy movement and between Occupy and labor. No one in
    > Seattle had publicly challenged the ultra-lefts (which now has
    > to include SeaSol along with the BOC). Our arguments put us on
    > the side of the best elements in the labor movement, the broader
    > progressive movement AND within the Occupy movement.

    – from the ISO’s internal email list, January 21

    I should note that I do not, in general, make emails public that
    are not intended to be public. But, in this case, I will make
    an exception due to the compelling interest of our movement in
    understanding the motivations for the ISO’s attacks.

    The ISO has attacked our movement for (essentially) the same reason
    that Chris Hedges has attacked our movement. And this turns out to
    be (essentially) the same reason that the Stranger’s Dominic Holden
    has attacked our movement.

    There is a clear pattern here. We can’t be blind to this.
    This is what social democracy looks like.

    As long as we are ignorant of the nature of our enemy–we will be
    at an enormous disadvantage–and it will be easy for the bourgeoisie
    (ie: popularly called the 1%) to outflank, outmanuever, confuse and
    demoralize us with its social democratic flunkies.

    If we are serious about helping to mobilize millions for the overthrow
    of the system of bourgeoisie rule–then we will need to recognize and
    speak the bitter truth about how this system works.

    For our common victory in the struggle
    to overthrow the system of bourgeois rule

    Ben Seattle

  4. According to the ISO’s ‘logic’, the first students who sat in in lunch counters in the segregated south, or the Deacons For Defense who armed themselves vs. the KKK, would be ‘ultra-left’.

    I see that the ISO has continued to attack B.O.C. Apparently, they see B.O.C. infringing on ‘their turf’. Or they have decided to the take CIA money, as Gene Sharp did years ago post WW2.

    The 99% of amerikkka, are 13% of the world’s wealthiest, which shapes larger attitudes and worldviews amongst amerikkkans. Thus, we can see some of the reasoning behind the ISO’s appeal to “low information voter/Homer Simpson ‘proto-socialists’ “. Lol. Also why the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that over 300,000 belong to the ‘sovereign citizens movement’, and NOT to any remotely anti-kkkapitalist formation.

    Lenin, one of their organization’s major prophets, tells us why this is:

    “Is the actual condition of the workers in the oppressor and in the oppressed nations the same, from the standpoint of the national question?

    No, it is not the same.

    (1) Economically, the difference is that sections of the working class in the oppressor nations receive crumbs from the super-profits the bourgeoisie of these nations obtains by extra exploitation of the workers of the oppressed nations. Besides, economic statistics show that here a larger percentage of the workers become “straw bosses” than is the case in the oppressed nations, a larger percentage rise to the labor aristocracy. That is a fact. To a certain degree the workers of the oppressor nations are partners of their own bourgeoisie in plundering the workers (and the mass of the population) of the oppressed nations.

    (2) Politically, the difference is that, compared with the workers of the oppressed nations, they occupy a privileged position in many spheres of political life.

    (3) Ideologically, or spiritually, the difference is that they are taught, at school and in life, disdain and contempt for the workers of the oppressed nations.”

    -V.I. Lenin; A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism: (#5.) Monism And Dualism”.

    It was Trotsky who pointed out how much more the workers learn via real-world struggle than by study alone. Here we have an almost perfect classroom, and now some of the teachers of the ISO want to teach bourgeois revisionism, essentially strengthening what Lenin saw as the worst qualities of amerikkkan workers, and want to do so from the back of the classroom; instead of teaching genuine scientific socialism, in a real-world situation, from a real-world perspective, from the front of the class.

  5. bluebossanova says:

    I wanted to respond briefly Ben and make a few points in general. Thanks for you’re comment. I disagree with your statement about the analysis being weak. I can’t say that I disagree with your comments from what I have seen in the ISO’s practice which is key. I used the quotes to point out the fact that they claim all workers and oppressed people should be organized in unions. Point, blank, period.

    From that stance there actions toward any other forces challenging this has been hostile. I have no illusions nor am I naive about what I have seen in practice and how historically dogmatic positions such as this clearly stagiest one the ISO has proudly put forward has led so called socialist, communist, revolutionaries to hinder and or trail behind the actual movement of the class because that movement can’t be controlled and because it’s not in there grand scheme of how struggle must go to be successful. I want to be clear to other readers and fair so please read what the ISO has written in the piece again or on there website. It becomes clear that this is not a straw man argument as the one posed against BOC and other militants in Occupy by the ISO.

    As revolutionaries we should be attempting to harness/develop in struggle the art of insurrection as well as developing other capacities. (the irony is that the ISO quotes many in the Marxist tradition to hasten patience and slow building and to hinder militancy that leaves the confines of union structures.. Do they not know that experience and action in struggle is just as powerful and in some cases as powerful as reading Marx? What of Lenin’s position on struggle in 1917 when he advocated a more insurrectionary stance. They seem so quick to quote revolutionaries to stop ruptures and breaks not putting their positions into historical context i.e. the situation at the time that caused them to take certain stances.) What I mean by the art of insurrection is that e should attempt to prepare ourselves for the ruptures that occur in the legitimacy of capital by engaging the class with sharp analysis.

    I don’t want to come across as bending the stick to far. I do think we need to emphasize theoretical growth and all around community building for the long haul and not just hop from event to event. That said I don’t believe the ISO recognizes this need to be flexible to ruptures and leaps in struggle and no matter how much they claim the Marxist tradition in theory and writing their practice in many respects assists the state in taming upsurges by spewing doubt. It’s one thing to be critical of a situation, the tactics used, etc but another to all out attack a whole segments of folks in the struggle who are attempting to deal with new questions. It’s alright to try and fail and learn form such things. This has been the history of struggle. I feel the ISO and other forces who do similar things forget one of the dopest things about Marxism: the recognition of potentialities even in the murky waters of struggle.

    I don’t think the US has seen extreme breaks and ruptures but things like occupy allow us to sharpen our skills and develop with the class as we engage in struggle.

    Once again I think this is crucial to discuss and be clear on. What is the role of a revolutionary organization? Are we to enter the fray and tell people they aren’t ready for revolution until they fulfill the tasks on a a checklist we give them? How has this top down intervention in struggle played out historically?

    These are things we should be open to talk about. Once we start thinking we know it all and lose our humility and willingness to reflect and change in response to what is unfolding in front of us we will be ineffective against what has proven to be a dynamic and resilient capitalist system.

  6. Fray says:

    The email that Ben quotes from is quite interesting. Certainly the ISO attacked us about the 89% business because they wanted to suck up to ILWU bureaucrats (the “best” of the bureaucrats). I have to note that no one in the ISO had any problem with the fact that the 89% formulation potentially implicitly supports bourgeois/petty bourgeois until we ourselves brought it up. In fact the only ISO member to respond to our “Rank and File and the 89% Unite” post explicitly said they had no problem with that aspect of the formulation. This isn’t surprising since the ISO supports populism all the time.

    Their practice is to hold back movements, treat working class people (and their own members) with condescension, an all in all to prop up social democratic politics and their associated players. I think Blue Bossa Nova did expose this practice in this piece. I think there are members of the ISO who sincerely want to see revolution happen and really don’t realize that they’re part of a group that would try to hold back a revolution if it started to happen.

    • mamos206 says:

      Thanks for the link, this looks really good. A bunch of us are reading it now, we’ll comment as soon as we get a chance.

  7. Cinzia says:

    Thanks. I post you here another article I hope you might find interesting (on feminism and OWS): http://rebelrabble.org/The-Gender-of-OWS. If you have comments or responses to this or the article on class composition, I will be happy to post it on rebelrabble.

  8. Pingback: Occupy the Russian Revolution « Viewpoint Magazine

  9. Ben Seattle says:

    [--importance excerpt from mainstream press--]

    Scientists Announce Discovery of Intelligent Life on Mars

    PASADENA — World-shaking news has been announced this morning
    by scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratories here in Pasadena.
    It has now been confirmed that incontrovertible evidence has
    been discovered proving that intelligent life once existed on
    Earth’s sister planet Mars.

    As this astonishing news swept the world, researchers scrambled
    to assemble photos and answer questions this morning at a packed
    press conference. Not only did intelligent life once exist on
    the red planet, but it had reached a point of development,
    before dying out as Mars dried up, where it had developed a
    written language, and a document, written in the Martian
    language, and already translated into English by Google
    translation services, was discovered in the Martian desert, and
    photographed by JPL’s Mars rover.

    The species of Martian life that once existed, has already been
    given a name: Trotskiest desperatas. The astounding document,
    that has shaken the entire scientific community worldwide,
    appears to be some kind of attack on an obscure and mysterious
    group of activists in the Pacific Northwest of the United States,
    known as the Black Orchid Collective.

    [--end important excerpt from mainstream press--]

    Seriously, this trot meme of attacking the BOC has become a
    phenomenon. The list of trot groups that has attacked the BOC
    (a group of four modest and hardworking activists who are
    highly respected by essentially everyone locally who protests in
    the street) continues to grow. What is the deal here? Why
    are all these trot groups, most of whom know very little about
    the BOC, calling it a bunch of names?

    I had been working on a reply to Blue Bossanova for this thread
    for the last few days, reading a number of things and putting
    together some short notes, when I noticed the post (above) by
    indabronx advertizing a “Trotskyist perspective” on the reasons
    that the ISO and SA took the side of the trade union bureaucrats
    against the militant wing of the Occupy movement.

    So I read their article, and I recommend that others read it
    also. It is probably about as good an article on these topics
    as is likely to emerge from Trotskyist circles.

    The group that wrote the article (the “Internationalist Group”)
    attacks the BOC, in some places crudely (it says, for example,
    that their heads are filled with “garbage”). We have all read
    word-twisting, time-wasting, nitpicking trot rants before. And
    parts of this article fall into that category.

    But other parts of this article are amazingly clear, particularly
    when the article describes the history and motivation of the
    various other trot groups with which it is in competition for
    the warm living bodies of potential supporters.

    The IG explains, with great clarity, that groups like the ISO
    and SA attacked the BOC because the ISO and SA are, essentially,
    poodles and lap dogs of the trade union bureaucrats.

    So, the IG explains that the ISO and SA attacked the BOC for the
    wrong reasons. The IG, in (supposedly) stark contrast, attacks
    the BOC for the (supposedly) “right” reasons. What are these
    reasons?

    The main reason appears to be a mixture of jealousy and spite
    that spring from frustration. The best activists in the movement
    have made clear that they have little use for trotskism. Activists,
    in general, are not buying what groups like the IG are selling.
    This has generated the frustration that appears to have reached all
    the way to the red planet.

    To be clear, some of the criticisms that the IG makes of the BOC
    are accurate. Other criticisms are nitpicking idiocy. And some
    criticisms are a mixture of both. I hope that the BOC and other
    readers look at the IG article and give it consideration where
    it is well-reasoned and excuse the nitpicking idiocy of this group
    where it is not.

    The key point that the IG raises is that we need to build what
    it calls a “party”. This is a good point. Whatever we call it,
    our movement needs a revolutionary mass organization, guided by
    political transparency and mass democracy–guided by the working
    class and masses rather than the bourgeoisie and its
    social-democratic flunkies.

    As the class struggle unfolds, the need for such an organization
    will increasingly make itself felt, until an entire generation
    of activists understand that the creation of such an organization
    is the reason they are here on earth.

    What groups like the IG fail to see is the BOC is doing far more
    to create such an organization than impotent cargo cults like
    the IG. What is the simplist possible proof of this?

    The BOC knows that its analysis of various issues may be weak–
    and it understands that it must take basic measures to seek help
    from the wider community of activists who are serious about the
    struggle to overthrow bourgeois rule. That is why the BOC posts
    its views on a public blog, where reader have the right to post
    questions, challenges and criticism. There is a name for this
    basic principle of accountability to the wider movement. The
    name of this principle is “political transparency”. The BOC
    understands the need for political transparency far more than
    the IG, which understands that their fragile little group would
    be destroyed by political transparency. That is why they are
    afraid of political transparency. And that is why activists
    respect groups like the BOC and will never trust groups like
    the IG.

    — Ben Seattle

    • mamos206 says:

      Some of these Trotskyist groups need to work on their reading comprehension skills. We are not advocating that anyone dismiss all unionized workers as privleged. We were simply analyzing the very real racialized tensions that exist between a majority white ILWU local 19 Seattle, a majority East African Port Truckers association, and a multi-racial working class millieu that has emerged around Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle. And to be clear, we’re not giving up on white longshore workers either – when they are under attack, we’re in solidarity with them, and we encourage them to reach out to truck drivers, nurses, unemployed youth, cusotidans, etc. in solidarity. We are for multiracial organizing, but it needs to be done in a way that confronts white supremacy instead of reproducing it. This requires challening things like Father-Brother-Inlaw hiring in a majority white local. Black workers in Local 19 have challenged this, and have reached out to workers in Local 10 for support. We have been doing some investigative journalism on this point and will write more as soon as we get a chance.

      We think that these Wisconsin-Longview type struggles against union-busting austerity will not be effective if they’re waged simply within a trade unionist framework, however militant that framework may be. That’s why we’re critical of the idea of mobilzing on the outside of the workplace in solidarity with progressive trade union leaders on the inside. Instead, we want to mobilize on the outside in solidarity with rank and file workers on the inside. Some of us are actually in union jobs or are trying to get into them. Over the long haul, we aim to build comittees of rank and file workplace miltiants who can lead strikes in unionized workplaces, strikes that fight for the whole working class not just for their own interests. These hopefully can become class-wide comittees that link together the struggles of unionized, unionunionized, and unemployed workers, in ways that move beyond the narrow framework of trade unionism. Strike on the inside, blockade from the outside – shut it down against austerity and repression, shut it down to build a new society. Like the Toeldo Auto Lite strike in the 30s, or the best of the oldschool IWW, but reimagined for our time, where the composition of the working class is very different. We are currently collaborating with comrades from Advance the Struggle to publish a new essay that will elaborate more clearly on this strategy.

      Thanks for the post, Ben. I agree with your points about political transparency; that is indeed why we maintain this blog, and it’s also why we put out peices like the Longview/89% peice even when they’re not perfect – instead of trying to develop perfect party lines on issues, we want to subject our developing ideas to open debate so that we can sharpen our ideas. Most Trotskyists don’t understand that – papers like Socialist Worker don’t have comments sections on their online editions because they are afriad to be wrong and to be called out for it, so what happens instead is they become dogamatic and don’t grow.

      I also read your pamphlet calling for an open revolutionary network animated by self-disciplined work teams of different political tendencies (I’d link to it here but I couldn’t find it on your blog). I agree with that perspective too and see BOC aiming to become one of those teams. I see something like this starting to emerge in Seattle – people of different tendencies are regularly collaborating, ever since Occupy and the port shutdown, and these networks are growing with a healthy, nonsectarian vibe. In these networks, every small circle, organization, and formal or informal tendnecy can test out its ideas in practice, get feedback, etc., so we all grow faster. Our primary goal as BOC should be building those broader open networks in collaboration with others, NOT trying to turn our small organization into a vangaurd party. But to build that network, we need to organize ourselves better so we can develop clearer strategies for our own interventions. That’s why it’s worthwile for us to function as a “self-disciplined work team:”

  10. On the 89% stuff, I think it’s not a good formulation but I agree with much (or perhaps all) of what’s said when the thinking behind it is explained. Mamos206′s last comment for example (https://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/dramatic-intro-the-crisis-of-the-left-whats-really-going-in-the-iso-boc-debate/#comment-710) is just great I think: “We think that these Wisconsin-Longview type struggles against union-busting austerity will not be effective if they’re waged simply within a trade unionist framework, however militant that framework may be. [etc.]”

    I think that some specific examples of the local context may favor the 89% formulation. For instance, it sounds like the unions there are more white than here in NYC based on mamos’s post and comments. Versus where I work (TWU Local 100 in NYC) the local is mostly Black and immigrant and is deeply connected to and broadly representative of the non-union population. So while we’re “privileged” to have a job and health insurance in a relative sense, we’re not treated as “privileged” by the system for sure: note Bloomberg calling us “thugs” during the 2005 strike. So I don’t like the “89%” formulation because it implies too sharp a line between the interests of union and non-union workers (but note: I and my group were against the 99% formulation because it’s populist and implicitly includes cops, union bureaucrats, managers, and the hardened aristocratic layers of the working class, so I agree with this point on the 99%: “To say we need to continue pushing a slogan such as the 99%, with its powerful implications notwithstanding, furthers this illusion of harmonious class unity without addressing the material bases that actually hinders this unity and the potential for co-optation/repression because this disunity is problematic.” but I just think that’s also reason not to use the 89% slogan either as it is still populist as you own post notes).

    Perhaps it’s not that helpful to dwell on that slogan so much because the important idea is that militant trade unionism is not enough and “solidarity” which just means helping union workers keep what’s theirs is definitely not a good way forward (a concrete example of this relating to the ISO is that they supported 32BJ’s most recent contract as a “victory” when it was actually a set-back–economically but “The greatest setback from Fishman & Co.’s sellout contract, however, is the way it undermines what could have been an important step forward for working-class people to begin to unite and fight back against capitalist profiteering exploitation and injustice.”–the idea that failing to use the contract fight as an opportunity to fight for all workers–and that therefor the failure to do so is a setback–wasn’t even on the ISO’s radar whereas keeping nice with the bureaucrats definitely was http://lrp-cofi.org/statements/32bj_bulletin4_011312.html.)

    OK, enough digressions, what I want to get to is that in the League’s work in TWU Local 100 this idea of not falling into the trap of “support union struggles” is something we’ve been thinking about a lot as the economic crisis intensifies and makes that even more important. We attempted to address it in our last bulletin (http://lrp-cofi.org/TWU100/RTW/rtw54.html):

    “But if Local 100 asks others to support our contract struggle, we must make a serious effort on behalf of all those hit by the crisis. To do otherwise would trivialize their suffering, risk isolating us and lose an opportunity to build the strong working class movement we all need. We have a chance to make a strong stand against the cuts in transit service and the fare hikes. We can demand that they reopen and rebuild station booths. We do not want any deals with the MTA that blunt the worst of its attacks on us, only to have them diverted to other working class sisters and brothers. We can and should use the contract fight as a means to build a fight-back against the broader capitalist attacks.” [etc.]

    I’d be very interested in hearing further ideas on how to use union struggles as means of furthering the whole class’s interests, particular critiques of how we’ve tried to do it, etc.

    • mamos206 says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. This is exactly the conversation we need to have:

      “But if Local 100 asks others to support our contract struggle, we must make a serious effort on behalf of all those hit by the crisis. To do otherwise would trivialize their suffering, risk isolating us and lose an opportunity to build the strong working class movement we all need. We have a chance to make a strong stand against the cuts in transit service and the fare hikes. We can demand that they reopen and rebuild station booths. We do not want any deals with the MTA that blunt the worst of its attacks on us, only to have them diverted to other working class sisters and brothers. We can and should use the contract fight as a means to build a fight-back against the broader capitalist attacks.” [etc.]

      I’d be very interested in hearing further ideas on how to use union struggles as means of furthering the whole class’s interests, particular critiques of how we’ve tried to do it, etc.”

      I’ll take a look at your work and see if I can learn from what you’re doing, offer responses/ critiques, etc. I’m looking for positive examples of how to do this in my own industry as well (public schools). My immediate thought is the need to build independent workplace groups that can fight in ways that are not constrained by the contract or by labor law, like the Sojourner Truth Organization argued, but updated for the new conditions today: http://www.sojournertruth.net/workplacepapers.html. I think the conditions today emphasize even more so the need to build these committees as general flying squads that can fight in multiple workplaces, not just our own.

      What do you think of the joint rank-and-file/ Occupy Wall Street fare strike a month or two ago?

  11. “I’m looking for positive examples of how to do this in my own industry as well (public schools).”

    I think for public schools it’s even more immediately important and maybe more difficult but I don’t have much experience with that (or work with anyone currently involved in school union work). I say more important and more difficult because of the antagonistic relation the whole set-up places teachers versus students. Of course that varies a lot and some teachers have more autonomy but it’s gotta be rough. While I think all union workers have an obligation to use their gains as a kind of leverage for the whole class or whatever is the best way to put it, with say transit it can be more straightforward such as fighting against service cuts and fare increases (and more optimistically for free and expanded service). But say with the school systems I’m somewhat familiar with (Mississippi and NYC) there’s often a particular anti-Black antagonism between the students and teachers so just defending the gains of the teachers can become even less straightforward. While school ‘reform’ people have tried to use that to their advantage and that must be fought (because having teachers with fewer job protections will only benefit the system and end up hurting more oppressed students the most in the end I think), it is the case that while one would want to fight against teacher layoffs, maybe there’s a way to connect that to a demand for job retraining (for a different job) for teachers that are burned out/cynical and not people we (from a class perspective) want teaching. I don’t know just a riff. Some things there’s probably a direct benefit to both teachers and students (class size, etc.) but I’m not sure that’s enough in putting forward a perspective for school work that’s based on the interests of the whole class and taking the most oppressed layers’ interests as representing the historic and most basic interests of the whole class….

    “My immediate thought is the need to build independent workplace groups that can fight in ways that are not constrained by the contract or by labor law…. I think the conditions today emphasize even more so the need to build these committees as general flying squads that can fight in multiple workplaces, not just our own.”

    That’s a BIG question (pardon the caps). A few thoughts:
    1. My take is that the fundamental and primary obligation of *revolutions* is that “The goals of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Communism must be explicitly talked about in struggles…, and it must be made clear to the masses that a program of their own is needed.” [quoting from a recent AtS post, see my comment here http://advancethestruggle.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/and-the-immigrant-proletariat-is-organically-activating-itself-what-should-we-do/#comment-1653%5D
    2. Independent groups can be good and necessary but too often they’re used as a way to avoid a *political* fight against the union bureaucracy (which enables those groups to be more easily assimilated into the union bureaucracy if they gain traction, see New Directions in my union and the TDU everywhere). I don’t see any indication that BOC wants to do that but the construction of independent groups can have that pull and definitely has that history.
    3. “general flying squads that can fight in multiple workplaces” I’ve been dreaming of this–figuratively and literally. If you figure it out, please let me know! In all seriousness, I doubt it’s the kind of thing that a small number of determined individuals can create in this situation but that it’s the kind of thing we need to be prepared to attempt to create when there’s the slightest upturn in mass activity. I’ve been wanting to research and write a piece that draws from the experience of the ILD, flying squads, etc. and draws that together in preparation for such work but like so much else haven’t gotten to it–so I’ll be happy if you beat me to it but a little jealous too :) (With my union’s history of militancy and the powerful position it occupies I want to be as prepared as possible with ideas and avenues to use that power and militancy with and for the benefit of the whole class and being an organizing center and resource base for flying squads and ILD-type activity seems a key way to in the future.)

    “What do you think of the joint rank-and-file/ Occupy Wall Street fare strike a month or two ago?”
    We released a statement (http://lrp-cofi.org/statements/nycsubway_041012.html). Quick summary: while defending anyone from the MTA and cops, we note that while “In the absence of massive resistance to the capitalist attacks by the trade unions and other large working-class organizations, it is no wonder that groups of radicals would undertake small-scale actions to bring some relief to the public” it’s still the case that that kind of small-group tactics can undermine the ability to create the more massive actions we need.

    PS The League’s analysis of OWS as a whole is here: http://lrp-cofi.org/statements/OWS_030112.html. I hate to way down the thread with too many links but it is relevant I hope.

  12. Ben Seattle says:

    Hi there Blue Bossanova,

    First, I apologize for the great delay in replying to you
    (other than my short note in March). In the meantime, I have
    been encouraging discussion of this topic, both in public
    leaflets and in the “Open Network” public discussion group
    that meets every two weeks.

    It is good that you have put real thought into this topic and
    wrote a 6500 word essay on it. Your conclusions are mistaken,
    but I am impressed that you put this amount of work into
    understanding why the ISO attacked you. Your conclusions
    will be corrected as you (and the BOC) gain experience.

    ——————————————————–
    What is social democracy?
    ——————————————————–

    As we develop a revolutionary mass organization and a program
    of work which combines:

    (a) struggles for partial demands with

    (b) our revolutionary goal,

    we will have many thousands of encounters and confrontations
    with social democracy.

    Social democracy is a vast political trend. Social democracy
    includes (in its left wing) groups like the ISO and SA and (in
    its right wing) politicians like Democratic Party congressman
    Dennis Kucinich. The political trend of social democracy is
    made up of:

    (1) An _ideology_ (ie: the idea that we live in a “democracy”
    and can use this “democracy” to achieve fundamental change by
    “working within the system”) that serves the class rule of
    the bourgeoisie and

    (2) Diverse _social strata_ (ie: the trade union bureaucrats,
    non-profits, “progressive” journalists, “professional opinion
    leaders”, etc) of flunkies who are paid (or supported in their
    careers) for “doing the right thing” in working to tame,
    control and (eventually) liquidate social movements with a
    militant and independent character.

    The social democratic ideology and social strata have developed
    a set of political customs, traditions and tactics which are
    aimed at keeping our movement small, easily-isolated and
    (above all) ineffective.

    Understanding what social democracy is, how it works, and how
    we can both _oppose it_ (ie: win the masses away from social
    democratic influence) and also (when possible) _work with
    sections of it_ (in a principled way, that _builds_ rather than
    _undermines_ the movement) is the _central organizing idea_
    that is the _foundation_ of all our tactics–inseparable from
    creating a movement of millions with the aim of overthrowing
    the class rule of the bourgeoisie.

    ——————————————————–
    What is a “central organizing idea”?
    ——————————————————–

    A “central organizing idea” is the idea that allows you to
    understand everything else.

    For example: In _biology_, the central organizing idea is
    the idea of evolution. Biology will never make any sense
    (ie: it will remain nothing more than a collection of isolated
    facts) if you do not understand how evolution works. The
    central organizing idea in _chemistry_ is atoms and their
    tendencies to bond and combine with one another, as revealed
    by the periodic table. The central organizing idea in
    _astrophysics_ is the “big bang”, which appears to have kicked
    off the creation of the universe as we know it. The central
    organizing idea in _geology_ is continental drift, which tells
    us, for example, that Africa and South America were once a
    single continent that split apart and that Mount Rainier was
    created by magma originating in the subducted Pacific plate.

    The central organizing idea of the _strategy_ of the
    revolutionary movement–is the idea of organizing (or
    assisting the self-organization of) the working class and
    oppressed, in their millions, for the overthrow of the class
    rule of the bourgeoisie. And the central organizing idea of
    our _tactics_ is understanding how, in thousands of struggles
    for partial demands, we will win the masses away from the
    influence of the social democratic political trends, ideology
    and social strata.

    ——————————————————–
    The ISO speaks the truth (after we decode it)
    ——————————————————–

    > The actions and political ideas of the ultra-lefts
    > has sowed unnecessary divisions within the Occupy
    > movement and between Occupy and labor.

    – from the leaked ISO email cache, January 21

    In the view of social democracy (as reflected by the ISO)
    the BOC (and others) are guilty of creating “unnecessary
    divisions”. Rather than _dismiss_ this idea, we should make
    an effort to _understand_ it–and translate these code words
    into the simple language of the class struggle. If we do
    this–we will find that this concise statement reveals a lot.

    The BOC, of course, did not create the division in the Occupy
    movement. This division (ie: the polarization of the Occupy
    movement into social democratic and militant poles) is a
    product of the class division of society. _Any_ social or
    political movement of significant size will reflect or
    reproduce this division. But the BOC (and the entire militant
    core of the Occupy movement) made this existing division
    _more visible_ because they defended the militant and
    independent character of our movement and opposed its
    liquidation.

    It is a foundational principle of social democracy to play down
    (or conceal) the class division of society, and the reflection
    of this division within social movements. As long as activists
    are in the dark about this division, they are, effectively,
    blindfolded in the presence of their enemies.

    Our class enemy is _conscious_. Our class enemy knows (better
    than we know) that our movement is divided. As long as our
    class enemy knows this and we do not–then our class enemy has
    the advantage–and can continue to manipulate our movement
    with relative ease. However once _we_ know this also–then
    it becomes vastly easier for us to defend the militant and
    independent character of our movement.

    The essential step in liquidating a social movement is to
    _erase_ from the minds of activists the idea that an
    irreconcilable antagonism exists between our ruling class and
    the workers and oppressed. The militant core of our movement
    is therefore _guilty_ of obstructing the “necessary” (from
    the perspective of the class enemy) liquidation of our
    movement. If we see things in this way, we can understand
    why the ISO felt it “was crucial” to risk pissing off militant
    activists locally in order to prove their value to the
    bureaucrats who hold their leash.

    ——————————————————–
    Possible sources of your hesitancy
    ——————————————————–

    Your article was lengthy, and without a clear and accurate
    conclusion. It is possible, Blue Bossanova, that there may
    be two reasons you may have felt hesitant, or reluctant,
    to brand the ISO as attack dogs at the service of social
    democracy:

    (1) You (possibly) are (or were) uncertain about their nature,

    or

    (2) You (possibly) are (or were) concerned about appearing
    “sectarian” by saying “bad things” about a group that is
    widely perceived as being part of the “left”.

    ——————————————————–
    Letter from Red Fox: it takes time to know the score
    ——————————————————–

    About the nature of the ISO, this will become more clear
    with time. Here is what Redfox wrote about this (email
    posted with his permission):

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Red Fox
    Sent: Thursday, March 22, 2012 5:01 PM
    To: Ben Seattle
    Subject: Re: We need the bitter truth (reply
    to new BOC thread about the attacks of the ISO)

    Ben

    I wanted to tell you that previously, when I was in SAIC,
    I remember you calling the ISO social-democratic and basically
    de facto supporters of the Democratic Party. Back then, even
    though I was opposed to the ISO, I believed it was simply harsh
    language you were using against them and I didn’t see the basis
    for these accusations. However, in the previous years since then,
    much engagement with the ISO in the movement has illuminated to
    me why you said this and I now agree with you.

    In a previous debate with the ISO over May Day, for instance,
    the ISO criticized a proposal calling for a General Strike on
    the basis that it wouldn’t be possible, and in turn would
    demoralize or confuse people about the nature of a General
    Strike. The proposal was then edited (in response to their
    criticism!) to say that we were only calling for people to
    come out on May Day to support National and International calls
    for General Strikes (in LA and India), but were not calling for
    one here – just a day of action. Despite this, the ISO opposed
    it and then put forward their own proposal that included language
    about supporting El Comite. El Comite is an organization that
    directly receives money from the Democratic Party. In this sense,
    they are de facto supporting the Democratic Party, and by
    opposing attempts by revolutionaries (communists and anarchists
    alike) to create the basis for ruptures within the existing
    state of affairs — to pull the movement back into what is safe
    and acceptable — are playing the role of social-democrats.

    I also want to point out a video from a few years ago in which
    the ISO hosted a rally to celebrate the inauguration of Obama,
    yet more evidence that they play directly into the hands of
    the Democratic Party’s stranglehold over the broader left:

    When I recently showed this to an ISO member on Facebook, he
    told me that it was good to support peoples’ excitement over
    Obama in order to build a revolutionary movement. What garbage.

    Red Fox

    —- end email from Red Fox —-

    ——————————————————–
    Sectarianism is less of a problem than social democracy
    ——————————————————–

    Our movement is split in two. One section believes that
    sectarianism represents a bigger problem than social democracy.
    The other section believes that social democracy represents
    a bigger problem than sectarianism. The first section is
    (essentially) under the influence of social democratic (and
    bourgeois) political ideas. The second section represents
    the future of our movement.

    We need to be clear on this. It may be the case that most
    activists today believe that sectarianism is a bigger problem
    than social democracy. But that does not make it true.

    I understand that many activists are concerned about appearing
    sectarian. We have all seen stupid, senseless and time-wasting
    attacks between activists. We know these attacks hurt us all
    and weaken our movement. We want these attacks to stop or, at
    the least, develop into more productive (ie: scientific,
    objective, fair-minded) forms which can help us engage in
    principled collaboration between tendencies.

    But we will not stop the social democratic attacks on us by
    turning the other cheek. Every time the social democrats
    attack us–we should instead make _maximum use_ of the
    valuable opportunity this kind of _attention_ (ie: political
    movements operate as a kind of “attention economy”) provides
    – to _expose the nature_ of social democracy as die-hard
    defenders of the class rule of the bourgeoisie. _Every
    activist_ in our movement needs to understand this at a deeper
    level. Our movement is split and engaged in a (sometimes open,
    sometimes hidden) civil war. There are only two fundamental
    warring sides in this struggle. For revolutionary activists,
    hatred of social democracy is the beginning of all wisdom:
    it is the beginning of understanding everything else.

    ——————————————————–
    The Red Trots and the Blue Trots
    ——————————————————–

    This same analysis can be used to better understand the
    positions of the various trot groups. About a billion trot
    groups have attacked or denigrated the BOC. But if we
    actually look at their positions–they break down into two
    buckets. I call them (for simplicity) the “blue trots” and
    the “red trots”. (I use the colors blue and red, in many of
    my political graphics, to represent the two fundamental
    sides of our movement: the social democrats and the
    proletarians.) Most of the trot groups supported the trade
    union bureaucrats against the militant core of the movement.
    These are the blue trots. Other trot groups took our side.
    These are the red trots. We will tend to find that the red
    trots tend to be on our side of the movement. They may say
    and do all kinds of silly things, but they are on our side
    of this fundamental struggle. The ISO and SA are not red
    trots. They are blue trots.

    The red-blue fault line runs through every “ism” in the
    movement: trotskyism, maoism, marxism, anarchism, whateverism.

    ——————————————————–
    Social democratic blackmail: “give up revolutionary
    politics” if you want to attract more people
    ——————————————————–

    > we are clear enough about our revolutionary commitments
    > to know that we cannot subordinate our politics to liberals
    > or social democrats who want us to shut up and behave in
    > order to supposedly attract more people to the movement

    – from Mamos206′s August essay: “Between Leninists and Clowns”

    As far as your analysis of the public positions of the ISO,
    I took the time to read all the articles to which you linked
    (except the facebook posts–I did not bother with those).

    Your analysis is wrong.

    First, it is a fundamental error to assume that the actions
    of any political group are based on their public positions.

    We do not want to train activists to think like this. Groups
    routinely lie all the time. Groups routinely take action on
    the basis of an agenda that is hidden. This is part of life.
    This is the class struggle. We need to train activists to
    deal with life–and the class struggle. The BOC, of course,
    tends to be different: it actually means what it says. But
    your group tends to be the exception to the rule. We need
    to train activists to base their assessments of groups (and
    individuals) not on the basis of what they _say_ but on what
    they _do_. This is materialism.

    Second, your article is not a very good summary even of the
    public positions of the ISO. The basic political line of all
    the social democrats (including the ISO, the SA and all the
    blue trots) boils down to: “surrender to social democratic
    dictate or your movement will never be larger than 14 people”.

    The reality behind this kind of social democratic blackmail
    is that social democracy (because it is supported by the
    bourgeoisie) does have the ability to “turn on the faucet”
    and bring numbers to the movement. For example, there were
    3,000 at the October 2011 march at Westlake. Part of the
    reason for these numbers is that social democracy (including
    the “Stranger” and the King County Labor Council) spread its
    net to mobilize people to the action (as part of developing
    their influence within Occupy).

    We need to understand, however, that this kind of support
    always comes with strings attached. When the time came to
    “pay the bill” for this support, in the December showdown,
    the militant core of Occupy (correctly) refused to surrender
    to social democratic dictate. The social democrats (voiced,
    on this occasion, by the Stranger’s Dominic Holden) then
    announced to the world that the militant core of Occupy was
    “too toxic to touch” and said they would turn off the faucet
    – and that we would never eat lunch in this town again.

    Since our movement has refused to lie down and play dead,
    however, the social democrats are “giving us another chance”.
    This time they are voiced by the newly political “Capitol
    Hill Times”:

    > maybe the talk of revolution itself was what kept the
    > crowd sparse.
    >
    > “We’ll never get 3,000 people again,” lamented Joseph
    > Hellstern after listening to the second panel discussion
    > at Everything For Everyone. He believes the majority of
    > those originally attracted to Occupy Seattle have lost
    > interest due to the violent behavior on display during
    > some demonstrations in the past year.

    http://www.capitolhilltimes.com/2012/08/a-question-of-violence-in-occupy/

    ——————————————————–
    How to move this discussion forward
    ——————————————————–

    I have already used too many words for this post, Blue
    Bossanova. I would like this discussion to develop. This
    discussion _needs_ to develop. I think a useful step, at
    this point, is to develop it in person. I hope you will
    consider coming to a meeting of the public discussion group
    that I am part of. We meet every two weeks and discuss news
    of the world and the movement and our own experience. All
    revolutionary activists have a right to come to our meetings,
    help determine our agenda and be part of our discussion. A
    lot of our discussion concerns the actions of social democracy,
    because it is not possible to discuss the dynamics of a living
    movement without talking about the actions of the bourgeoisie’s
    social democratic flunkies (outside the movement and inside
    the movement) to steer the movement into the black hole of
    politics as usual.

    Also, I wrote a fair amount about social democracy in my
    leaflet 2.0 here:

    The Road to Victory in Our Struggle to Overthrow Capitalist Rule

    ** Maintain a Clear Focus on Our Goal
    ** Puncture the Suffocating Influence of Social-Democracy
    ** Resolve the “Crisis of Theory”
    ** Build the Party of the Working Class and Oppressed
    ** Current Organizations and the Future of Our Movement

    http://struggle.net/ben/2012-05-01_Ben_leaflet_2.pdf
    (6 pages, May 2012)

    I hope you will consider reading it.

    All the best,
    Ben Seattle

  13. Ben Seattle says:

    A clarification:
    ——————–

    Hi again Blue Bossanova,

    Above I said:

    > Second, your article is not a very good summary even of
    > the public positions of the ISO. The basic political line
    > of all the social democrats (including the ISO, the SA
    > and all the blue trots) boils down to: “surrender to
    > social democratic dictate or your movement will never be
    > larger than 14 people”.

    I should probably add a few words here, since this may be
    unclear to many readers. I believe your confusion concerning
    the public position of the ISO may be traced to the fact that
    their articles use phrases like “organizing labor”.

    I think you may have misunderstood what they mean by this
    phrase, and may have thought they were talking about a
    so-called “stagist” idea whereby the majority of the working
    class must be organized into unions before any other kind of
    real struggle can take place.

    BUt that is not how groups like the ISO use this phrase today.

    Groups like the ISO (and there are many such groups) use
    phrases such as “organizing labor” to refer to getting
    the support of the trade union bureaucrats.

    We almost need a code book in order to understand the
    language used by social democrats.

    Groups like the ISO use what I call “liquidator arithmetic”:
    If a trade union bureaucrat heads a union with 10,000 workers,
    then getting the support of this bureaucrat is (supposedly)
    the equivalent of the support of 10,000 workers.

    Liquidator arithmetic may appear to be stupid, but it is
    carefully constructed to serve the interests of the ruling
    class by diverting activists _from_ organizing the working
    class and masses _to_ begging for support from a strata of
    bourgeois flunkies whose _career_ is based on serving the
    need of the bourgeoisie to liquidate worker unrest or mass
    movements.

    And liquidator arithmetic is also based on something else:

    The bourgeoisie has many levers in society and can (when it
    needs to) give approval to some of its flunkies to mobilize
    people to an action.

    Hence the example I gave: 3,000 people came to the big Occupy
    march in October at Westlake. Part of the reason so many
    people came–was that the King County Labor Council (as well
    as other flunkies) helped to mobilize.

    Of course, we welcome mobilization–but we also need to
    understand what is going on.

    The message that the KCLC, the ISO, the Stranger’s Dominic
    Holden (and all the other careerist lap dogs of the bourgeoisie)
    want to send is that we will get _plenty_ of support if only we
    do one little thing–give up our militancy, independence and
    revolutionary aspirations. This message would not be effective
    however, unless (at critical moments) it was backed up by the
    kind of support the social democrats gave the Occupy movement
    got last fall.

    For the bourgeoisie, it is easy to give this support, and
    represents a relatively small risk to their interest in
    liquidating the movement–because this support can always
    be withdrawn (ie: the faucet can be turned off) when activists
    refuse to capitulate and “behave” (ie: act in a way that is
    “responsible” per the “public opinion” manufactured by their
    flunky journalists).

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