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Killing Lenin again: Toxic trolling against left security culture

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Killing Lenin again: Toxic trolling against left security culture

"A central argument is starting to emerge: That the very idea of an internal political life is offensively anti-democratic, and everyone should celebrate deliberate disruption of private, collective decision-making. This is done in the name of mopping the influence of 'Leninism' and 'people still living in the 1960s.'"

by Mike Ely

A blogger published (wholesale) 19 internal discussion documents of International Socialist Organization. And an important debate has ensued.

A central argument is starting to openly emerge, and I think it needs to be highlighted:

It is that the very idea of an internal political life is offensively anti-democratic, and that everyone should celebrate disruption of private, collective decision-making. This is done in the name of mopping the influence of Leninism.

Look at how Joaquin Bustelo and Louis Proyect have defended their participation in this "outing" of ISO documents.  Joaquin Bustelo justified his participation this way:

"I am not a member of the ISO and therefore I am not bound by its discipline. I did not override anything. I simply publicized that these documents were available.

"Why did I do that? a) Because it is of interest to a layer of people. I am a journalist. It's what I've done my whole life. b) Because I am against the "secret handshake" culture of the toy Leninist parties."

Louis writes on Facebook:

"This is my take on things. The ISO creates these line resolutions as a way of "intervening" in the mass movement geared to its own strategic and organizational imperatives. This is a fundamentally undemocratic mode of functioning.

"It is part and parcel of the "democratic centralist" functioning of a left that has outlived its usefulness if it ever had any. Political parties operating under conditions of legality have no business maintaining the secrecy of line resolutions that impact the left as a whole. "

I think Louis goes to the core of the issue. 

The argument is that it is "fundamentally undemocratic" for revolutionaries to meet in private, discuss common policies and plans, and to keep their deliberations secret from everyone else (including from the state).

In other words, it is not enough that Louis and Joaquin personally choose not to join a cadre organization. (That is their business.) 

In their view, internal collective discussions of politics and practice is so odious that they advocate active disruption of organizational privacy attempted by others. 

Look again at LP's core argument:

"Political parties operating under conditions of legality have no business maintaining the secrecy of line resolutions that impact the left as a whole. "

Now this leak of ISO documents (to be precise) was not mainly about dark secrets, it was not even about secret resolutions -- it outed the private collective discussion of plans and controversies in a national left organization.

And Louis doesn't think that anyone has a right to have such collective discussions privately -- he both celebrates and participates in the outing of the internal discussions of other people.

He  is not arguing that a particular organization has done something so nasty that a particular circumscribed outing is needed.

Louis and Joaquin are arguing that ALL "secrecy of line" is intolerable, and should be actively frustrated by those able to do so.

And I don't think they are alone in believing this. It is hard to see the welcoming of the ISO leak, and not believe that many of those people think all radical secrecy should be violated.

Let me say this bluntly: This is an attempt to argue that communist organizations (despite their best efforts) should have their internal lives laid bare to the state by other leftists.

It is done in the name of the "right" of the "broader movement" to know what communist forces are up to, but its effect is not confined to this "broader movement." These activities would deliberately deny revolutionaries the ability to have any necessary secrecy or security culture.

And this is done in the name of "conditions of legality" -- i.e. the assumption that there is no real or current threat to radical people. The argument is that the state is not a threat, so forming organizations with an internal life is simply and solely an "undemocratic" practice. 

This argument (it needs to be said) is wrong on every level. It would confine radical discussion and practice to whatever the state considers legal -- at this point and future points.

Look: if Louis and Joaquin (or the opposition within ISO, or a thousand sincere soft-left activists) don't want to participate in any private collective process of discussion -- that is their business and their politics. No one is trying to force them.

 But when some want to deny to all others the ability to develop some privacy (and distance from the state) they go too far.

Andrew Pollack wrote:

"Even if you think an organization should not keep documents and discussions members only -- which is a pretty big if in these days of hyper-homeland-security -- it is NOT the business of any nonmember to override the democratic decision of the members of that group."

 Are internal collective decisions inherently anti-democratic? 

keep-calm-and-kill-lenin cf321Louis wrote:

"The ISO creates these line resolutions as a way of "intervening" in the mass movement geared to its own strategic and organizational imperatives. This is a fundamentally undemocratic mode of functioning."

Not only should political oppositional movements be transparent to the state (when they are under "conditions of legality") -- but even forming an organization that makes takes action together is somehow "fundamentally undemocratic" -- and deserves hostile disruption from outside.

In other words: This is not about the ISO narrowly, this is an argument to be targeted widely -- at a whole range of left and revolutionary organization, at the very idea of disciplined collectivity and cadre organization.

It is a justification for organized self-righteous trolling and disruption of hard-core left groups. That is why (despite differences we may have with ISO) there is good reason to speak out now.

And more: There is a pretty crude, familiar and virulent anti-communism at work here.

Leninism is treated as a curse word (or mocked as "toy Leninism.") Democratic centralism is portrayed in ways not far removed from classic rightwing mythology -- i.e. communists are blanketly accused of anti-democratic conspiracies and suspicious secrecy.

There have always been places where "anti-Stalinism" rubbed shoulders with Joe McCarthy, Here comes a new one for a new generation.

Conditions of legality?

We should unravel the wrong assertion that formal "condition of legality" means that revolutionaries a) don't face immediate danger of repression, b) that there aren't real needs for preparatory precautions.

First, since 9/11, it is simply unknown what the "conditions of legality" are (go ask any constitutional lawyer what laws now govern federal surveillance). The FBI was told not to limit their surveillance and infiltration to "probable cause" (meaning cases where an actual crime has been committed or planned), and not to limit secret police activity to cases where a chance of prosecution (under current law) exists.

Billions have been spent on surveillance and infiltration -- the vast (vast!) majority of which has not yet born fruit and is still submerged in secrecy. (Less secrecy thanks to Snowdon, but still secrecy). In particular there are major campaigns of agent provocateur activity that have produced prosecutions around the country (often of naive Muslim youth drawn into some police madness, but also of anarchist and leftist circles). And the target has expanded to groups like FRSO (Fightback) whose supporters were subjected to outrageous search, detainment, threats and more.

Beyond that: We should assert the basic Leninist point that communist organizations can't base their forms of organization merely on current conditions. Communists have a responsibility to "represent the future within the present." Building organizations now means (if we are serious and responsible) creating conditions for surviving later (under harsher conditions.)

Some have said that future repression would naturally come with a lot of warning -- like heavy footfalls -- so that radicals can build open transparent organization now, and "tighten up" when repression approaches. This is wishful thinking, and will lead to disastrous results.

The best protection against repression are rich and complex ties to the people -- developing a social base of support willing to sacrifice to keep revolutionary politics functioning. But it also requires creative application of security culture -- and discussions of what kinds of collective privacy are appropriate now. (Should the identities of members and leading people be public? Should meetings be privately held? Should some discussions be held under conditions that are not easy to record or surveil?)

Louis and Joaquin not only think the answer is no, they think they (rather arrogantly, self-righteously) are justifying in simply denying  others the chance to take a differing path. Because Louis, or Ross, or whoever has (personally) decided that an internal functioning has "outlived its usefulness" -- they feel they have the right to literally deny anyone that internal functioning.

In this post-911 world they think they have the right to enforce transparency on radicals seeking to exercise basic securities. At its very core it is hostile to the point of bitterness. It is disrespectful of the political beliefs and cautions taken by others. It is wrong on every level.

* * * * * * * * * *

We should take this as a learning moment -- to assert that we (collectively in our millions) live and operate at the heart of a ruthless empire, which daily proves and reproves its intention to kill opponents and decapitate movements.

And there needs to be a common culture -- both on the rather sad left landscape of today, and in the hopefully vibrant revolutionary ecosystem of tomorrow -- of mutual respect and mutual protection (even while we have deep and real differences).

Revolutionary organizations (precisely in current conditions) need to have both internal political accountability and degrees of security. We need to be as open as possible to each other and the people -- while being as closed as possible to hostile, watching enemies.  These things form a tension, a contradiction, a unity of opposites.

It is not easy to navigate those tensions. Contradictions need to be creatively "handled" -- in ways that recognize both aspects of the dynamic. This requires tradeoffs, summing up experience, and (under these new digital conditions) real innovation.

And there is no alternative for those wanting to regroup a communist movement as a current within a larger revolutionary effort.




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  • Guest - Anonymous

    More strawmen. Look, the bottom line is that there is no real security culture in a legal struggle organization. The only "security culture" possible under present conditions is tight, conspiratorial organizations in which all members know with absolute surety (or surety as absolute as is humanly possible) that they are not police spies, and communicate with incredible security protocols such as heavy encryption, ideally using one-time-pad ciphers, on computers which they routinely wipe to prevent malware infestations (probably using UNIX-like operating systems, since Windows and MacOS are riddled with security holes), using anonymous remailers, etc.; that is, a security culture rivalling that of an intelligence agency. The ISO is not such an organization, and the leaked documents were intended to prepare members of a relatively large, more-or-less open organization for a conference which is known to be held on a more-or-less regular basis, for the purposes of open debate and discussion about a number of matters which posed potential issues to the organization as a whole. There simply is no keeping such documents out of the hands of police spies, and we have to assume that ISO is heavily infiltrated thereby simply by virtue of being a public organization that openly recruits, and our lack of penetration of the security apparatus means that we simply have no effective way of screening any potential recruits to discover whether they are in fact police spies. So any pretense to having an effective security culture, other than following absolutely rigid tradecraft protocols adapted from intelligence agencies, is just that: pretense.

    So stop already, because you're just digging yourself into a deeper hole with your ridiculous attempts to turn this into a bigger scandal than it actually is. It is your opinion that Ross unnecessarily compromised internal documents of ISO; you are entitled to that opinion, and the opinion that the debate should not have become as public as it is, but attempting to justify that opinion on the basis of some kind of non-existent "left security culture" is simply ludicrous and makes you look like a buffoon.

  • Guest - Observation

    In reply to: Guest - Anonymous

    Put another way, let the "strawman" argument sign their name.

  • "Anonymous", which is terribly ironic considering the content of your points.

    You're argument is basically:
    1) unless we are using the most hyperbolic forms of security, we will never have complete security
    2) therefore, we should never have security

    This is fantasy. Yes, encryption and secure communications are one aspect of security. But as Mike points out, having a political basis amongst a revolutionary people, this is the primary means that a revolutionary ideology can defend itself from eradication.
    Your logic amounts to either going off the boat-survivalist or giving up. You are telling us to dig our own graves.

  • Guest - urwrong

    In reply to: Guest - Anonymous

    "(probably using UNIX-like operating systems, since Windows and MacOS are riddled with security holes)"

    lol MacOS is a unix-like operating system

  • Guest - Observation

    Considering that belief, the individual who finds no problem with infiltrating other organizations or conducting what is essentially intelligence operations on left groups should sign their name and stand by it.

    Thank you, Mike, for writing what is a basic defense of democratic rights. The ISO is what it is. Political organizations have a right to exist, and creating a chilling climate aimed at closing off any space for collective thinking outside the state and its ersatz transparency is sick behavior. People who engage in it should identify themselves and other people should then know that person not only can't be trusted on general principle, but that they have the intention to act as spies against dissident groups. The ISO is not the NSA. Radical groups are not corporations. Yet these people who fixate on attacking the left seem to know that if they applied their "work" towards the state or ruling class, they would face legal sanction. So they go after the very people challenging that state and ruling class. How's that for transparency.

  • I wonder how those who support leaking internal documents of a Left organization would feel if someone hacked into their computer and published all their private email?

  • I don't want to start another debate with this because I think that the left does way too much of that, but I do think that this might be something to stop and think about for a while. The US Left has a pretty serious democracy fetish. I wouldn't want to portray myslef as anti-democratic because that's the last thing I'd want, but I think that it might be helpful if we stopped and thought about what kind of democracy we're talking about. From what I can see and in my own opinion, the democracy that the US Left fetishizes is bourgeois, liberal democracy, which is problematic. The notions of democracy used to critique democratic centralism and also used to justify leaking the ISO documents (which I'm not in favor of) are not left/socialist/communist notions of democracy; rather they are the same "democratic" notions pushed by American constitutionalism, which is something that I think we should be wary of. Again, I don't want to start a debate and I'm not looking to be "right," I just think that this is an issue that we should think about. The left, in my opinion, cannot just parrot liberal democracy. We have our own theories on it and we should use them.

  • Anonymous writes:

    "There simply is no keeping such documents out of the hands of police spies, and we have to assume that ISO is heavily infiltrated thereby simply by virtue of being a public organization that openly recruits, and our lack of penetration of the security apparatus means that we simply have no effective way of screening any potential recruits to discover whether they are in fact police spies. So any pretense to having an effective security culture, other than following absolutely rigid tradecraft protocols adapted from intelligence agencies, is just that: pretense."

    I think that the ISO has a soft security culture -- that is in keeping with their general "soft left" politics. It is a little of this and a little of that. A little talk of revolution and a little talk of electoralism. And so on.

    But ISO is not really the issue here.

    As my post points out, what is being challenged is ANY security culture of ANY left group. And beyond that, it is even tied to a open rejection of any right to a collective internal process at all (which is denounced as an anti-democratic offense against the rest of the "left.")

    The argument that securities are impossible in the digital age is completely defeatist. In fact two arguments are entwined: Some say that security is not necessary. Others say that it is not possible. Still others say we can institute it later (when repression seems to ramp us).

    All of these views misunderstand how repression works, and would leave any serious radical movement defenseless before the repressive tools of disinformation, infiltration, organized informants, police provocateurs, police disruption, artifically hyped disputes between leftists, encapsulated groups, technical surveillance...

    If you don't want to take basic precautions for yourself or your political efforts -- that is your decision and your risk. If you want to deny OTHERS their right to take precautions, well that is just wrong.

    Is it possible to keep internal documents out of police hands? Certainly. Of course it is. It is possible to keep membership and leadership unknown to police agencies. It is possible to have communications and discussions that are not recorded.

    If you think it is impossible -- then you have a failure, both of imagination and training.

    There are methods and means for doing that. ISO may not have the most serious or consistent practice, but more serious and consistent practices are possible.

    Further: It is worth pointing out that the security of an organization and its members is not JUST against the state. Sure, given the way that ISO circulates its documents, it is likely that police infiltrators will be able to secure those documents (though there may be some documents they didn't or couldn't procure).

    But before Ross posted them, were these documents (and their contents) available to less official fascist networks?

    And think of the facts here: Ross posed a whole cache of documents (wholesale) without reading them -- with zero concern for what they might reveal. He bragged that he hadn't read them all, because they were so boring. And then claimed he had a right to do it, because one or two of the articles dealt with a rape accusation in San Diego (which ISO had already made part of their conference deliberations). Isn't this a bit outrageous?

    Was it right to publicly out which hotels the ISO convention delegates will stay at? Doesn't outing such information recklessly expose delegates to unknown dangers?

    What about rise of hysterical, rightwing groups or the recurring occurrences of "angry white man" mass shootings? Perhaps you think a national gathering of leftists shouldn't be concerned about them. But is it really your decision?

    Are you aware if there have been death threats on the ISO? Or troubling incidents at their previous conventions? Perhaps they have a reason to keep their meeting place and hotels off the internet.

    Do Ross, you or anyone wandering around with a keyboard get to decide if the ISO meeting places are publicly announced -- without any involvement or actual knowledge about the circumstances? Isn't the arrogance and individualism of this rather raw? Don't left organizations have a right to decide whether to publicly announce their meeting places and hotel arrangements?

    Another example, Louis fumed (in a recent comment) that he was not allowed to film at a Kasama event a few years ago. He was told (then) that some participants did not want their faces on film. He believed this constraint (on him) was "nuts" and has been angry about this for years.

    But here too: Louis was not aware of death threats some people in the meeting had received. He was not privy to the fact that some attendees were worried about their jobs (if their faces appeared on youtube).

    Are such things unreasonable? More to the point does Louis Proyect get to (personally and individually) decide whether there is security at a meeting or not?

    Does Louis Proyect (and each person in the world) have some explicit right to have all the details behind a security decision? No.

    Revolutionaries use the language of "class struggle" -- yet people want to pretend that the only struggle is "inside the left" -- and they want to accuse everyone of being crazy if very reasonable security and simple secrecy are attempted.

    It is even fine to disagree with security culture.

    But it is not ok to then arrogantly and unilaterally "out" people and documents without the slightest consideration.

    These aren't YOUR documents, it isn't YOUR decision.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • Guest - Eddy Laing

    a historical comparison and the use of Lenin as the communist bogeyman is apt. but essentially, those who are divulging confidential information are arguing for an acknowledged 'right' to inform to the state. I note some comparison with US congressional HUAC / loyalty hearing episodes that took place in the later 1940s and into the 1950s...

    they would like public consent to rat out activists, in which case, your next move is to turn them in yourself.

  • Guest - Madman Defarge

    In reply to: Guest - Eddy Laing

    Did I miss something in those documents? Because from what I have seen, leaking them was actually the best possible way to get the state to leave the ISO alone. Imagine yourself for a moment as a junior FBI agent appointed (probably as a part of some sort of elaborate hazing ritual) to spy on the ISO. Now imagine yourself reading through the papers in question. What would you do the moment that you were done reading them? You'd immediately fax them over to your immediate superior as evidence that your current assignment is a wild goose chase, along with a request for a transfer to a real assignment.

  • ROFL. Right to the point. All of you First-Worldists are a joke to the U$ State.

    moderator note: Be substantive on Kasama. Insulting snark is removed.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • We can’t act like we will always have the comfort of legality. In fact we are already losing that legality in many ways. It is not really clear at this point what is and is not legal but it is clear that things can change very suddenly, even overnight. People are now getting heavy charges and sentences for things that in he past would have been minor. The USA has dropped 13 places in the last year in terms of Freedom of the Press. That is significant. To act like legality is a given now is just downright delusional.
    Security measures both on a personal level and organizationally are essential not only to survive in current conditions but to be prepared for any sudden lock-down that may come. If everything is completely in the open it will be very easy for the enemy to just do a mass sweep or at the least eliminate key leaders in the movement – and that is one of their tactics. They have already done massive sweeps against Anonymous on an international level for doing denial of service attacks against servers. You know what that is? It is the equivalent of an internet sit-in. It does no real damage to the servers. It just makes them temporarily unaccessabile but the penalties dished out were very high. You know what this looks like when they come? In the hacker community it’s called being ‘vanned’. The FBI shows up unannounced and you and all your electronics are taken. It is very much the old ‘kick in the door in the middle of the night’ approach.

    It’s been out there recently with the Snowden leaks just how extensive the NSA’s spying program is. Honestly, makes me feel like I am caught in some nightmare cyberpunk science fiction. But these revelations see to be making some people give up hope. They feel like the system is too big, too powerful so what is the point? The idea that they already know everything is very defeatist.

    Fact is that they do not know everything and objectively can’t know everything, To say so misunderstands the limits of their technology. It misunderstands the amount of effort it takes them to identify and then follow a target. It takes them actual real world resources to do this stuff. They have objective limits. Careful planning and attention can get around the potential problems of NSA spying. Not every discussion has to be online or over a non-secured connection, not every document has to be emailed – when it is there are thing like encryption and special email servers who’s owners are dedicated to internet security and freedom. One man shut his server down rather than hand over his encryption keys to the FBI. There is also an ongoing effort in the tech community to develop new technologies to get around the NSA’s shit. This ain’t over. It’s just begun.

    But precautions on an individual level only do so much. That is where the real benefit of having a strong revolutionary organization comes it. It allows you to be able to work to overcome these problems in ways that are not possible without it. That does mean secrecy, but are we going to actually make revolution or just talk about it? If you really want to make revolution then keeping plans, organizational structure and so on secret are very important.

    And isn’t part of the point of repression, to make you throw your hands up and say 'this is too big, this is too powerful, we can’t possibly win'? I mean seriously, isn’t that the desired psychological impact? Isn’t it to make people feel powerless and hopeless – that resistance is futile? If you say ‘what’s the point, they already know everything’ then you have by default let them already win. You have given up on revolution.

  • Another example, Louis fumed (in a recent comment) that he was not allowed to film at a Kasama event a few years ago. He was told (then) that some participants did not want their faces on film. He believed this constraint (on him) was "nuts" and has been angry about this for years.


    Not really. The only thing that got me angry in recent years was Vivek Chibber heckling me. Let me be blunt, Mike. You people are running around like the CP'ers of the early 20s who thought that maintaining an underground organization was some kind of principle. This is part and parcel with your insistence on the term "communist", something that reminds me of the verbal radicalism of the SWP when the Militant kept referring to members as "worker-Bolsheviks". The fetishising of hammers-and-sickles, the whole mystique around the Nepalese Communist Party that reminds me of the infatuation with the Shining Path in Peru 15 years ago. All of this stuff is boilerplate Maoism of the mid-70s. I was told by a couple of people that made inquiries that Kasama has "candidate" members. Are you for real? What kind of ordinary working person is going to put up with such nonsense. You all are living in a fantasy world. The Kasama Project is what--at least 5 years old, right? Five years and what do you have to show for it, a website. You have one public meeting to my knowledge in this period. A Brecht Forum meeting that I came down to so as to get the word out. And what do I hear? Some baloney about driving a car through a bank window as if that was going to resolve the problems of a divided left in Greece. And all the adapting to the Black Block, the worst aspects of the Black Panther Party, and so on. This is what Lenin called an infantile disorder. While you are quite a bit younger than me, you are still old enough to take some advice: grow up.

  • So, you are going to just compare the Nepali Communist Party to the Shinning Path without evidence? Really? And what communist party of Nepal are even talking about? It seems to me that this kind of behavior is part and parcel to the toxic troll culture of the left. There are actual things to be done now and petty trolling doesn't do anything but do the capitalists' work for them. Maybe you're right (I doubt it) and the cops and FBI aren't watching leftists (pretty sure they are). If you are right it's just because petty sectarian disputes like this do their job for them. The left here is divided and destroyed by this nonsense. I want to give comrades the benefit of the doubt and not hurl accusations because that's unhelpful. But, what I'm seeing here by the camp arguing for the leaks is a lot of self-aggrandizement and and petty trolling. Wake up. We have work to do and I think we can safely put petty differences behind us to get something worthwhile done. After all, we have more in common with each other than we do with right wing lunatics and bourgeois liberals.

  • Louis Proyect said :
    “You people are running around like the CP'ers of the early 20s who thought that maintaining an underground organization was some kind of principle.”
    Really, organization has to reflect the actual conditions and not be out of touch with those conditions. It’s not some kneejerk reaction of ‘its always been done that way’.
    So, let me ask, how do you think the difficulties that I spoke to above should be dealt with in a way that will not lead to the decimation of the revolutionary forces by the enemy? Or are you even interested in ACTUALLY making revolution at all? If we are not actually interested in making revolution, then what is the point?

  • Guest - Jeff Booth

    Try operating a union organizing drive, or a union, with internal discussions and documents being outed publicly for our class enemies to see. Much less a Left political party? How can any decent organization function without privacy? Outing private Left documents makes you a tool of the capitalists. And Proyect? What a sectarian. Not one word on his boring website about the Kshama Sawant/Socialist Alternative victory in Seattle or the initiation of a $15 an hour minimum wage campaign...

  • Guest - Madman Defarge

    In reply to: Guest - Jeff Booth

    You're 100% correct about union documents of course. But I highly doubt that any running dogs of the bourgeoisie are poring over leaked ISO documents, laughing maniacally as they finally discover who fell short of their newspaper sales quota last march.

  • I am not that interested in continuing this debate. I am working on an article for Counterpunch on the ISO that will make my ideas much clearer. In the meantime, I just want to say that this website is totally fucked up. This morning I posted a longish comment as a "guest" and it disappeared. God knows why. I logged in later on as myself and checked "remember" to no avail apparently since I just had to re-log in. Isn't there anybody involved with this website who knows how to trouble-shoot such glitches?

  • Louis, we are launching a new revision of this site shortly that will resolve those problems. They are, unfortunately, built into some of the software that we built this site on.

  • Guest - Nick R.

    I know that in the fall of 2010 someone was leaving vaguely threatening notes outside of publicized meetings that we had in the Pittsburgh ISO branch. They stopped happening eventually and nothing seemed to come of it thankfully. I don't know if there have been other incidents in other parts of the country.

    And there were many more than just the first 19 leaked. Also leaked in the past week were all of the documents from back to 2011 for pre-convention discussion and several other internal notes too. So almost everything from the past 4 years has been leaked. I feel like I am put in a really weird position by this since I co-wrote something back then about movement work in the local anti-fracking movement, which is very embarrassing to have revealed, but most of the other members or recently pushed out members who are criticizing the leadership don't see any problem with any of this. I think this is distracting from actually criticizing them where they deserve to be criticized, such as the rape case, which almost certainly triggered the release. I feel like on the other hand making these arguments for secrecy can play into the hands of people who are trying to destroy an internal opposition. I sort of half think the Steering Committee or someone close to them could have leaked them to make the Renewal Faction look bad.

    I think you're underestimating how bad the ISO's internal 'security culture' is though. There is essentially none. Despite warnings not to distribute them to other people at the top of every document, I am sure they were already sent out to dozens (at least) of non-members had been emailed them directly. This is because numerous ISO branches do things like never clean up email lists, or keep separate ones for close contacts and for members in good standing. This kind of event should really be as much an indictment of just how little seriously the ISO takes these issues as an organization. Honestly this was bound to happen sooner or later in some form or another.

  • Guest - Eddy Laing

    in addition to creating a 'snitch climate' in which ratting out your neighbor (with progressive politics) is seen to be 'ok' - this behavior also prompts an atmosphere of suspicion and recrimination in which the political police can come fishing for informants and more spies (as per COINTELPRO).

    as the Orwellian posters now command - 'if you see something, say something!' all the is left off is the tag line 'citizen!'

  • Eddy Laing:

    I totally agree. One of the problems with this type of leaking of information is it can and has happened that false documents were leaked to make a group or person look bad as well as false information about people being spread. there is a whole attitude of taking this type of gossip at face value. It is like forgetting that we have very real class enemies that very much want to see us destroyed.

  • @Louis (I don't know if he will respond or not.)

    I really agree with Rosa's points. The point isn't adopting a bunch of stuff because 'thats what Lenin did.' This is about taking the bloated politice state attached to the most powerful empire in history seriously. This state is serious: it already has people locked away from raids, entrapment, and grand juries. And we are kidding ourselves if we think that won't escalate. Louis Proyect, I am much younger than you but you should know better: grow up.

    Unless our conception is a politics and economy which is amenable to capitalism then we have every reason to want to keep some things secret. Again: Not just in the strategic or abstract sense. But in an immediate and visceral one. (And this isn't even taking into account just the vigilanty nutjobs, or contradictions/antagonisms between various sections of the ruling class!)

    This is not something based on an abstract appropriation based on old school ML or something. A person would have to be radically out of touch with the real state of the world to think you could anything approaching revolutionary organization without degrees of secrecy, even to some degree of its leaders from its rank and file.

    Obviously this has to take a contemporary form, including taking into account the massive amount of electronic surveilance going on today. But to not have secrets is to concede defeat. And to actively disrupt said security really is doing the work of our enemies whether that is your intention or not. I'm not saying every person doing such things are cops or deliberate informants. I am willing to believe the vast majority of those parading these documents are simply niive or something. But at a certain point you have to say, "If this fool isn't a pig, they might as well be."


    One last point. To those who are saying, "but the ISO is fucked up so we can be fucked up to them." The point of having principle is to have principle always, not when people are first principled to you. It is a way of modeling the kind of politics, organization, and culture we need or will need in the future. By creating a milleu where leaking documents, gossip, and trolling is acceptable, and even celebrated, you are going exactly against the grain of where we need to end up in the long term to have a chance at winning.

    All this is not to say folks who are confused on this stuff are in the camp of the enemy or something. But we want to win you over to revolutionary standards and a culture of comradery as well as respect for others. Lets be on the same team.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Liam Wright
  • Guest - Pociani

    It is done in the name of the "right" of the "broader movement" to know what communist forces are up to, but its effect is not confined to this "broader movement." These activities would deliberately deny revolutionaries the ability to have any necessary secrecy or security culture.

    Jez, Macarthy would be proud of you.

    Editors note: Please respond with substance. Its not clear what is meant in this comment.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Liam Wright
  • Guest - Gianluca

    I think that the issue of secrecy is not the real issue. The problem, in my view, is how you avoid being confined to a small autoreferential group with no ties to society and viewed as an equivalent to a religious sect. This invests the idea of the avant garde faction that leads the masses. I, personally, don't think it is applicable any longer and that not realizing this will mean that fascists, religious fundamentalists, right wing in general will crush us when capitalism goes into it's dying phase. So yes, I agree that internal discussion is internal and that secrecy is necessary, but the issue is a lot larger than this.

  • Guest - Eddy Laing

    let's exhume McCarthy then. As the aphorism goes, if you are ignorant of history, you'll be condemned to repeat it...

    I'd suggest a careful read of even a few chapters of Threatening Anthropology by David Price, who reportedly obtained more than 10,000 pages of FBI files through FOIA requests and reconstructed the political persecution of academics during the 1940s and 1950s, which persecution was certainly not confined to 'small auto-referential groups' or the CPUSA, but any engaged activist scholar who appeared to be opposed to the policies of the state. There were, of course, real consequences, and not only prison for individuals. Most importantly, social and political discourse in the USA (and the west, to an extent) entered a Dark Age, from which it did not emerge for many years.

    In my view, there was a dialectical process involved -- the 'left' participated in its own demise. That is no reason to reiterate that process now.

  • As someone who was a member of two different left groups in the 1970s/1980s, let me say that the problem with them was not that they had internal discipline, party secrets or internal documents. That's an oddly reductionist implication, that because the left of that time failed, all its practices, inherited from more or less Leninist tradition, are equivalently responsible for that failure. I certainly witnessed some undemocratic/corrupt processes and practices, but such things are hardly inherent to democratic-centralist left parties with overinflated egos, witness the melt-downs currently happening in some post-Occupy remnants. I found closed internal discussions among discplined, committed comrades extraordinarily productive and fruitful....and necessary. How many times have I witnessed coalition-type events initiated by large, open groups, where people in the moment make suggestions or demands they have no intention of personally following through on? There's a place for that, but ultimately making revolution isn't that kind of game alone.

    I think we underestimate how deeply liberal and social democratic false ideas and hopes have penetrated the thinking of people who consider themselves on the left. As if wishing we can make a revolution without committed, disciplined leadership.

  • Guest - Gianluca

    You are perfectly right in that sense, and I did agree that secrecy is important. What I am underlining, as a topic that should be debated in materialistic terms, is whether the bolshevik avant garde organized faction can still be the proletarian organizional form that will be able to turn the capitalist demise to where WE want to go and not where fascists, religious fundamentalists and right wing nationalists will try to go. Rightly said, we study history in order to not repeat errors; 1917 did not happen again and we need to understand why. Lenin himself in 1905 wrote against considering marxism as immutable in the face of changing capitalism and its structures and superstructures. I know it's difficult and sometimes seems pointless, but my enemy is not my comrade of the left, but the other side. And I have to think globally, revolution is either global or there won't be any. We learned that very well, I hope. P.s. I am writing from Europe, with a different history and different problems, please take that into account.

  • I read Proyect on the marxism mailing list and his blog posts. He's been around, so I figure he possesses the wisdom of experience. I can't believe he's participating in the outing of a socialist organization. One doesn't need to be involved in espionage to wonder if an individual exhibiting that kind of behavior is on someone else's payroll. Proyect has impressive credentials; it's appalling he would openly champion this act.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • One doesn't need to be involved in espionage to wonder if an individual exhibiting that kind of behavior is on someone else's payroll.


    Actually, I am on someone else's payroll--my wife who teaches economics at a CUNY school. I retired from Columbia U. after 21 years in August 2012. I should mention that I am going through the purloined ISO documents right now and am pleased to see that a couple of ISO'ers favor making their resolutions available to the public. Who knows. I am only 1/4 of the way through and might find more in line with this before I am finished. It could have been written by Joaquin Bustelo:

    Change the “members only” restriction on pre-convention documents and discussions

    I have two main points:

    1) We need to discuss, as an organization, the new reality of non-privacy online.

    2) We need to bring our practices and expectations of privacy in line with this new reality.

    We need to discuss, as an organization, the new reality of non-privacy online.

    Privacy is dead. If you believed your communications online were private, Edward Snowden's leaks about the scope of the NSA spying program should have put that notion finally to rest. Everything we do online is recorded and stored in a database of some kind outside of our personal control. Corporations wrangle with each other over who controls that information. Governments spend billions to intercept, collect, and analyze what its population is saying, doing and thinking. Your online activity is the hydro-fraked, tar-sanded, fossil fuel that runs the global consumer markets. Your rants, posts, articles, and reading habits tell the NSA how much of a "threat" you might or might not be to the functioning of the system.

  • The point about espionage is to highlight how incommensurate your well known political commitments are with putting your name beside the act in question.

    All the issues the ISO themselves raised are relevant, and the ones you are making about the inherent lack of privacy built into the forms of communication mediating social life is appreciated. That doesn't answer the charges about promoting the unilateral subversion of a socialist organization. It matters Proyect. Stop trying to win arguments out of some self righteous need to win arguments.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    “Revolutionaries use the language of "class struggle" -- yet people want to pretend that the only struggle is "inside the left" -- and they want to accuse everyone of being crazy if very reasonable security and simple secrecy are attempted.”

    Want to pick up on this point, made by Mike Ely, because obviously think it is important.

    Unfortunately I’m not convinced that some people (simply) “want to pretend” that the only struggle is “inside the left,” but in fact historically many potentially (or well intended) revolutionary organizations (most especially their leadership) or individuals have taken that pretension to such an extreme, becoming a fixation, that it has become their modus operandi and raison d'être.

    Additionally unfortunate, I think that m.o. comes from some inverse arrogance and political snobbery—yeah, we’re all for the people and “class struggle” but we (meaning particular orgs., and their line, etc.) have all the answers, are overly self-important—their line a faît accompli—so why bother to take certain measures to both protect the people as well as their revolutionary representatives.

    And I think it would embolden not just the existing Left, but all those who are considering stepping onto a revolutionary political stage, to actually discuss what people mean when they say “class struggle” and to define it further. Plus, what is the role of communist revolutionaries within that. (There are numerous tendencies/interpretations out there—e.g., a focus on the means and point of production; various identity politics; a global class struggle and internationalism vs. localism, etc.)

    In terms of the outing of ISO internal documents (which could be the tip of the current iceberg), —within the framework of part of how the class struggle is unfolding, waged and viewed, I’d like to make some additional remarks.

    First of all, it is important for revolutionaries to take advantage of, maneuver and expose, the cracks/fissures within the imperialist system. The ruling class, while indisputably very powerful, is and continues to operate with their own contradictions. But as powerful as they are, they are not infallible. And instead of serving the people, and uniting all who can be united, in class warfare, if your mindset is one that the struggle starts and stops on the Left, this outlook is (euphemistically) “problematic.”

    Least we not forget, that there are those waging and engaged in class struggle, to one degree or another, because for those people there’s no alternative.

    So in recklessly leaking some superfluous and dangerous information (and potential fodder for the ruling class)—e.g., hotels, personal info., etc., was the leaker simply thinking about “inside the Left,” or were they considering and aware of those people whose interest had been piqued by the conference, or are coming forward, and whom should have been provided an atmosphere of feeling at ease and respected, and as much as possible protected, to be able to make their own contributions?

    Different times call for different measures, but certain principles remain the same and should be maintained.

    When the trial of the Chicago 7 (stemming from the Democrats' 1968 convention) was hot and heavy—Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin made a mockery of the trial and bourgeois “justice” which was not lost on thousands of people and activists. And neither was the fact that Bobby Seale, the sole African American defendant, was dragged into the courtroom in shackles and chains.

    During the brutal repression of the McCarthy, Cold War, blatant anti-communism era (which wrecked havoc with thousands of people’s lives—not just some selective Leftists), there were some more unsung heroes—besides the more famous Pete Seeger’s—who are exemplary of the kinds of stands we should be taking, even if there are those who vacillate (or abandon certain principles.).

    One who immediately comes to mind is Vern B. (who passed away in 2012—I miss him.) Vern was a machinist by trade and moreover a communist for the majority of his life. He fought alongside others with an huge variance of political views in the Abraham Lincoln Brigades during the Civil War in Spain. Vern had grave differences (and ended up breaking) with the CPUSA, but remained undaunted and continued on a revolutionary road.

    During the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee—he not only flatly refused to name names, etc., but militantly and vocally went up against the committee (really the government) tooth and nail. (The whole first half of a documentary about HUAC, shows Vern in action.)

    But Vern was not thinking about himself or worrying about jeopardizing his own skin—his emphatic political outlook was—this is part of the class struggle, what in Vern’s and others mind a communist stands for and their overall practice, and should serve as a teachable moment, to turn the guns around--for any involved, peripherally or not, and for their/our allies, potentially or not.

    Conversely, I don’t see anything particularly heroic about revealing the internal documents of ISO (ISO for now, but who knows who is next?) and all the unnecessary information therein. The pov that “the only struggle is inside the Left” is really a bellweather of insularism, sectarianism, anti-people and revolution, self-proclamation and imo, the height of arrogance. Good luck with that…

  • The point about espionage is to highlight how incommensurate your well known political commitments are with putting your name beside the act in question.


    No need to explain yourself. I don't tend to take the word of people who don't use their real first and last name very seriously. About two or three times a month I get called a Zionazi or a CIA agent on my blog by people with bogus names and email addresses. It tends to inure one.

  • You may not be aware, Louis, that employers use google. It would be very unwise for people (who expect to work for a living) to leave scattered all over the internet the rich tapestry of their radical beliefs.

    You may not "take the word" serious of people who take elementary and necessary precautions. But that just shows your lack of good judgement, and your propensity to think the worst of everyone.

    You are retired. You worked for an academic instutions that tolerated Marxist views among employees. Can you (for a second) imagine that other people may have different circumstances?

  • Who knows what Andy P.'s motivation is. SKS got all hot and bothered when I referred to him by his real name here when he used to use it on Marxmail. Given that the NSA knows everything about us, no matter the silly fake names, I have to take this security fetish the way I take everything else in this discussion--not very seriously.

  • The NSA has all the data, therefore every branch of the government, every department, every whacked out anti-commie nutjob, every boss, has access to the same information?

  • I just explained to you, Louis: The use of political nicknames is not mainly (or solely) about the NSA.

    Employers (are you familiar with that term?) use google to screen applicants. If you thoughtlessly use real names for people (or you post documents that allow people to be identified) you are being amazingly irresponsble.

    It is the fingering of people.The naming of names.

    Perhaps you (in your work life) were able to be both an open leftists and an employed person. But you should be able to grasp that others are in a much more difficult position.

    Just to be clear: naming names on this site will cause instant sanction -- people are put on moderation, so their statements can be monitored. And that is a laid-back, necessary and gentle response to irresponsible behavior.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • You know something, Mike. I was in the SWP for 11 years, a group riddled with FBI agents. Everybody's employer was known to the FBI, including mine. In those 11 years not a single person ever lost their job because of an FBI tip-off. There are reasons for this having a lot to do with the overall political climate that I tried to explain to you earlier about the KKK being put back on its heels in Houston. But don't worry. If you want to pretend like you are living in a Matt Damon or Bruce Willis movie, don't let me stand in the way.

  • Guest - Laurie

    Wow! The arrogance and ignorance of asserting that employers don't terminate workers for their political beliefs is appalling!

    Really, Louis?

    It's not about you and your narrow experience. Have some respect for those who have learned--and wish-- to take precautions. Now more than ever. Otherwise, you may as well be a poster "oldster" for the State's ubiquitous Orwellian messages: "If you see something, say something." Your version would be, "if you see radicals getting together, or if you suspect some radicals want to have a private meeting, let's tail them and tell the State what they're up to."

  • Guest - SomeGuy

    It's totally true, folks. Since Louis has no personal experience of a phenomena, that phenomena never actually occurs. Pack it up. He's the only observer we currently or will ever need.

  • Well, let me take that back. In 1968 I got a postcard at work. I had just started a job at Met Life and the postcard was an attempt to get me in trouble there since it was supposedly from the SWP when it was actually sent by the FBI under the Cointelpro program. It was a reminder to come to my next meeting. The top manager on the second floor who had about 500 people reporting to him, including the programmers, called me into his office. He said that if I ever received a postcard like that at work again (it obviously was reported to him once it came into the mailroom), I should notify him and they would track down who sent it and make sure they never worked at Met Life again. You people like to fantasize about police states because it fits in with your ninth month of pregnancy fantasies. Pathetic.

    Here's the Cointelpro memo on the postcardt:

  • Guest - SomeGuy

    In reply to: Louis Proyect

    Dude, as recently as the 1920's, possibly 30's in the US, people were literally being killed for being union or communist agitators. This isn't up for debate. If you seriously think that 30-40 years in the case of the sixties or 80-90 in the case of now is enough time for society to have changed enough so that the same entities that murdered workers and children would never do the same if presented with a similar situation, then I don't know what to tell you. Only, what, two years ago? 30+ workers in South Africa were literally gunned down by police in a strike action. Obviously, the us isn't South Africa. Although, business owners and capitalist states are still business owners and capitalist states.

  • Guest - Sandy Boyer

    I believe any private left organization, including the ISO, has an absolute right to keep its political positions and debates confidential if it decides to.

    The more interesting question is what choices it ought to make.

    I would distinguish between debates and positions the organization has adopted.

    I think there are very good reasons to keep many internal discussions among the membership. Not least, that we want to entourage debates where people are free to propose an idea, listen to other points of view and change their original idea in whole or in part. The more individuals' points of view are publicized the more difficult this process becomes.

    Once a position is arrived at, my preference would be to publicize it as widely as possible unless there is a very compelling reason why not. If, for example, an organization decided to concentrate on work in specific unions that should be publicly known because it is a political decision. Obviously the identities of individuals or work locations should rarely be made public.

    I think full, frank and even brutal assessments of political organizations and movements, especially those in which revolutionaries are active. is vital. For example it would be perfectly appropriate to say publicly that Occupy Wall Street is dead or, hypothetically that TDU had made a mistake.

    But I would stress that none of this contradicts the right of a left organization to keep its debates and positions to itself even when I think that's a mistake.

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Think Sandy Boyer and “Some Guy” are raising some good points.

    (BTW, to “Some Guy”, I see nothing wrong in raising South Africa as example. We are internationalists (as opposed to the bourgeois nationalism of the ruling classes.) And what happened in So. Africa is a stark reminder to anyone taking this seriously. Regarding the comments by Sandy B.—I agree that what is internal to an organization should remain so. On the other hand, if an organization has a more defined political line (in theory and practice)—they are of course at liberty to promulgate it and will normally want to do so anyway.)

    So far, this thread and the other one about the leaks in the first place – comments coming from those who are opposed to a free for all with said leaks, are not advocating some siege mentality on the part of Leftists and revolutionary organizations, nor for the movement as a whole. Under certain circumstances, that kind of hyped paranoia, and siege mentality, can paralyze the movement and its comrades/activists. However, …

    Instead what is being called for is a modicum of security measures, in relation to better understanding both the real enemy as well as the nature of serious class struggle. What’s wrong with that? (a rhetorical question.)

    And as revolutionary-minded people, we should strive for some (basic) unity, around even the question of security, that is, if our strategic goal is for the masses and the more professional revolutionary forces to actually win.

    (And btw, as we can gauge historically, an initial revolutionary victory does not mean that there won’t be further or other contradictions that arise, steps forward and backward, in the process of a more sweeping/profound liberation. This debate should serve as some further training and transformation of revolutionaries in the present for the future.)

    But it surprises me somewhat that the word “culture” is so bandied about, and imo, misused; coming up with new buzz words to explain complexities. Now we’re talking about “security culture” or “call out culture” as if they are a foregone conclusion and have been embraced by those outside our own little boxes. In particular, “call out culture” is a real no-no amongst the majority of the people. They might have disagreements or debate amongst themselves, but to play into the hands of their shared enemy is taboo. And particularly among oppressed nationalities, snitches are not looked upon or dealt with kindly.

    Just recently, mainly promoted by the bourgeoisie, there’s been the example of “rape culture,” left open to interpretation, with the heinous crime of rape, and the oppression of mainly women, getting lost in the mix. Don’t we want to be part of building new, revolutionized or communist cultures and ideology that reflect and represent better the higher aspirations of the people toward more liberated social relations?

    Repression (and oppression) come in many forms, and is often aimed at different forces. In a much broader way, affecting millions in the U.S. and around the globe, is the ubiquitous violence and repression of poverty. In attempts to combat that poverty by not only the most impoverished, but often in tandem with their allies, within that there are those—whether well intended with a semblance of some moral compass, (besides the outright henchmen of the State)—who dwell on reversing “inequality” (while the henchmen try and co-opt a movement)…e.g., ”everyone should have a good job,” and have the ability/opportunity to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” to realize the Amerikkkan dream,” ad nauseum. Except, under capitalism and imperialism, what they’re not saying is—that those axioms are an outright impossibility! If “pure” democracy, or Amerikkan exceptionalism, opportunity for all, really existed, would we be living in a class society?

    Historically, in more than graphic ways and when it serves their purposes, the rulers have always tried to pit the oppressed and exploited against each other—e.g. “real Americans against immigrants,” “Black against white,” straight against gay, the status quo against liberating forces, et al. “Divide and conquer” is real.

    And as part of that, the broadcasting of internal documents and what should be internal debate and information, because a few individuals have decided that they’re (personally) disenchanted with some organization, or have the revenge line—and more importantly, not getting into debate about overall line (for a larger debate and audience)—has the earmarks of the old culture (with its pitiful sectarianism and simplistic labeling) that some of us want to drastically change.

  • Guest - SomeGuy

    In reply to: Guest - Miles Ahead

    Yeah, I raised South Africa because I thought it was an excellent modern example. The hesitancy on my part was supposed to be an attempt at deflection of the all too common response I suspected may have been fired back about the US being somehow special. I always hope no one actually believes in US uniqueness, but it's a view that's pervasive enough that I sometimes feel necessary to preempt it.

    The fact that people seem so willing to go super hard on either saying all things should be secret and secure and no things should be is incredibly troubling. A simple observation of both history and reality indicates that people have and continue to have very good reasons for "wearing masks". Until we live in a world in which such masks are utterly and universally unnecessary, we need to acknowledge their usefulness [i]in specific circumstances.[i] This isn't to say that masks need or should always be worn or worn at all times. It also isn't to say that all masks are the same and equally deceptive or absolute.

    Keeping secrets and personal thoughts and ideas are a fundamental part of the human condition and I feel it would be unhealthy to not at least allow for this to be somewhat respected in our organizations and movements as well. After all, what is a human organization or movement if not a collection of humans. They may, sometimes, be greater then the sum of their parts, but, by their very nature, they contain a sum of their parts as well.

  • Ya all suffer from delusions of grandiosity and persecution, not just a big Ego. Governments don't give a flying fuck about frustrated little pricks like yourselves.
    You wasted most of your youth reading 19th century utopian metaphysics and stubbornly carry on with the delusion, for if you give it up, you think you will fall apart. You won't. Give it a try and live a more satisfying life. ACT therapy can help.

  • Guest - SomeGuy

    In reply to: Guest - The psychopatology of Leftism

    Care to share any examples? Or were you just talking without any actual intent of adding to the conversation?

  • I see nothing wrong in raising South Africa as example.


    I hope it isn't the Vicodin a took an hour ago to relieve my dental implant surgery but I may be coming around to your way of thinking. Why stop at South Africa? I can easily be persuaded that it is much more like Moscow in early October 1917 and that the ISO is poised to seize power through an insurrection. God knows that Ahmed Shawki would be preferable to Obama. I am anxious about someone leaking the plans for an insurrection to Ross Wolfe, however. He is such a blabbermouth.

  • Guest - SomeGuy

    In reply to: Louis Proyect

    Duder, I wasn't saying a single thing about an imminent insurrection. I was talking about a history of workers, in particular miners, being massacred for the temerity of trying to get better treatment. I actually don't care about the ISO much at all. The ISo isn't the point. The point is that these particular leaks are being defended on grounds that I find highly suspect. If you, or any others, can provide solid and well reasoned arguments as for why these particular leaks are a good idea and a great thing that everyone should support then we will actually make some progress.

    Once again, the question isn't the value of the ISO and it's internal procedures. The question is making sure that the people who compromise these things actually do so in a way and for reasons that aren't detrimental to the whole "leftist project". If you don't care for protecting the integrity of this project, that's fine. But, in that case, don't pretend to be something you're not.

  • Proyect, swallow your pride and retract your support from the ISO leak. You are indeed an unrepentant marxist. Being unrepentant is good when you are in the right, but I can see it is especially good when you are hopelessly wrong.

    You behave dishonorably to people who share a common mission with you. It is an ugly thing to do, Proyect. A very ugly thing.

  • Guest - otto

    It is in Herbert Marcuse’s book One Dimensional Man that he warns that no system is just going to let itself be subverted. COINTELPRO is proof of that. So we do need security—but not to the point where we can’t get recruits.
    As for silly names—employers and potential employers normally do a simple Google search. The point of silly names is that employers can’t pull up the real name. Most employers don’t try to decipher silly fake names and that is the whole point.
    @ Louis Proyect—you obviously never worked in Kansas—or should I say “not worked in Kansas.”

  • I can't bring myself to feel sorry for groups like the ISO and the Brit SWP in general. These are organisations where confidentiality is not used to foster principled internal discussions, but to allow the leadership to criminally conspire to run away from their responsibility to be accountable to their membership, up to and including accusations of sexual misconduct, and the systematic persecution and harassment of the women who complained. I thought it was fully justified and in the public interest to expose the mechanisms that the SWP used for that, who was complicit and who was resisting this. It is 100% in the public interest to inform the public which figures in politics ("revolutionary" politics, no less!) are not just passively, but actively (through the abuse of their power as leading figures in a hierarchical organisation) perpetuating a society where rape often goes unpunished.

    What is completely wrong, however, is to simply dump a whole slew of documents that you haven't even bothered to read, as is the case with these leaks, when you have no way of knowing what kind of figures appear in these documents, what role they play, what kind of social pressures they are under, etc. All this is justified with the lowest form of bourgeois individualism: I, personally, feel that all security is bullshit, therefore I am entitled to publicly "finger" you as a socialist, and the consequences are for you to deal with; it is not my responsibility or my problem what happens to you as a direct result of me outing you as a socialist.

    Of course, the extreme consequences of a completely nihilistic attitude towards confidentiality (I agree with the criticisms of the notion of "security culture" being bandied about without any qualification or critique) are easy to guess. Since we live in a society with no expectations of secrecy and confidentiality, I could presumably do just about anything to you under this justification. I could go through your scrap paper to look for your notes and minutes of meetings, and digitalise them and publicise them. I could ask a friend to park a van in front of your door and observe your comings and goings and intercept your communications. It's in the interests of the class to know what leftists are up to, right?

    Obviously, nobody would consent to this, and if they had a suspicion that something like this was happening to them, they would at least change their behaviour. In the worst of cases, they might decide to drop out of their political activity. It seems to me that it is the worst, lowest form of individualistic entitlement that causes people to basically commit the 21st-century, digital equivalent of the above just because this behaviour has now become safer and depersonalised, done at the click of a button instead of having to put your arse on the line. It used to be that the labour movement in many countries was in the position to enforce its internal rules, and "fingering" people carried certain risks (as did scabbing, turning informant, etc.). What if there was a chance of, say, 10% that the original leaker of these documents would get identified, and that this would automatically lead to certain bad things happening to them (I do not advocate vigilante justice, but history shows that deeds like this often did not go unpunished)? Obviously they would be much less eager to press the button.

    However, it is not enough to simply cry "security culture!" and create a moral imperative that says "Thou shalt not leak". I already mentioned that in the case of these organisations, confidentiality is abused as part of the wider antagonism and distrust of the leaders towards the general membership. These are organisations that, by their nature, depend on the rapid-fire recruitment of anyone willing to agree with the lowest common denominator of sub-radical liberalism that these organisations use to gain members, who are then slowly inducted into the real politics of the organisation. This depends on their acceptance to follow the twists and turns of the leadership. Those who fail to do so are shunned. See, for instance, John Rees's contention along these lines.

    There is therefore a fundamental conflict of interest between the leaders and general members of these organisations. At any given time, a certain section of the membership will be disgruntled with their leaders, and this might lead to a break, either of their own volition or due to the aforementioned process of shunning. This might cause them to drop out of revolutionary politics altogether, or to try and cope with their situation by devoting themselves to the inward-looking navel-gazing leftist debates, trying to expose the nature of their former organisation. In either case, there is an obvious incentive to throw a spanner in the works by the leaking of "internal" documents that are sent to such a large number of members that the organisation simply has no way of knowing whether all of them can be trusted with it, as an obvious result of their business model of recruitment.

    This business model and the demand of confidentiality are fundamentally incompatible, and will continue to produce a ready supply of renegades (in the literal sense of the word) breaching those confidences that they no longer feel bound by, no matter how much we may rail against it. To leave absolutely no window of opportunity to report on these mechanisms would be just as wrong as what I discussed above. This would substitute class solidarity with a fake moralistic "solidarity" based on the idea that "we're all leftists in this together, so we should protect each other's arses no matter what".

    In a genuine communist party, the circumstances are quite different. Of course there is no form of organisation that can exclude damaging leaks, simply because there will always be mistakes, there will always be plain nutters attracted to "revolutionary" organisations, there will be conflicts, and so forth. At the same time, any organisation will need some kind of internal party life, as has already been established. This will always create tensions. But these do not need to play out in the same way every time. A real communist party will have an internal life that not just anybody gets instant access to, but at the same time, those who are known and have a proven record quickly get to participate in the most fundamental political discussions of the party, and the trust implicit in this is made explicit to them. The leadership does not distrust the membership as a group that needs to be deceived in order to get them to comply with the twists and turns of the leadership, but it trusts them as educated shapers and movers of the core political discussions. There may be a need for confidence or even hierarchy to get anything done, but the leadership does not wage permanent war on its members. The number of things that can prove to be embarrassing or destructive is therefore much smaller than, say, the entire content of conference documents, which is just insane.

    One receiving such documents should read them, verify their authenticity, consider the public interest, consider the political interests that gave rise to the leak and who might benefit or suffer from publication, consider the consequences towards the people appearing in them if the documents were to become public, consider whether perhaps a selection should be made of what should be publicised and what should not, consider anonymisation of names appearing in them, contact the organisation in question to check the claims in the documents and give them a right of reply, and so on and so forth. These are all elementary considerations in the ethics of journalism. One who disregards all of them and simply dumps hundreds of pages of content without even reading them is obviously doing great damage merely from the journalistic point of view, in that the paranoia of these organisations will increase and the opportunity to report on them will be diminished in the future.

    And besides the ultimately bourgeois, civic notions of journalistic ethics, it is also inevitable to consider the political priority. What exactly is there in these documents that we need to report? Is it an attempt to cover up a rape accusation? Then by all means, fire the info pump. But if there is nothing specific to report, what exactly is it about the ISO that the world needs to know that is in these documents? If there is nothing, then publication is just an act of spite, no matter how much one may dress it up in criticisms of the ISO. Again, at the core of this is the most toxic kind of individualism, where the very idea that we are part of a wider society and where each action has consequences is denied, and the sole guide to action is one's personal inclinations, impulses, and emotions. There is no world out there, no society, just me, me, me. Perhaps the only acknowledgement of an outer world lies in the narcissism inherent in the pretence of being an intrepid journalist, bravely reporting on the horrors of leftist sects (when most of the world really doesn't give a toss). The fundamental incompatibility with socialism inherent in this should be obvious to even the most casual observer.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by No 14
  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    This is a very useful discussion. Not least because it exposes so much that is wrong in the thinking of so many people on the left today. It would be helpful down the line to draw out of it a list of principles that we think should guide the work of revolutionaries.

    What I find most distressing in the arguments of Proyect and the other apologists for snitching are the following types of excuses:

    "The ISO has delusions of grandeur..."
    "The state isn't interested in..."
    "The NSA knows everything..."

    Each of these excuses (and that is what they really are) drags us into the weeds by focusing the discussion on the particular claim about the character of the targeted group or the character of the present political situation, which are inevitably subject to endless dispute, and away from the important matters of principle here.

    The principle here is an elementary one of solidarity on the left: "don't be a snitch." It is not dependent on whether the people you are snitching on are serious or effective. Or whether you agree with their line. Its not dependent on whether the people you are snitching to care or act on the information you provide. Its not dependent on whether the group's judgement on what discussions to conduct in private is correct or not. The principle applies irrespective of these considerations because the right to communicate in private is a condition for effective freedom of association, a basic democratic right; because the disregard for that right is corrosive of the sort of constructive discussions across organizational and trend lines that are necessary to overcome the various weaknesses that many people have rightly identified as characterizing different groups or even the whole left.

    I might think it strange that one group feels the need to conceal a particular discussion or that another is so bad at concealing what they claim to want to conceal. I may even be appalled at how an organization deals with internal disputes or charges of abuse. But unless we are talking about serious evidence that an organization is in fact working on behalf of the state, the exposure of these things through the leaking of internal communications to the general public, and therefore to the full range of state authorities, right-wing forces, employers, etc... should be regarded as snitching and the people who do it should be made pariahs on the left, at least until they recognize the seriousness of what they have done.

    The issue here isn't what sort of treatment the ISO "deserves." If we use such standards there will always be someone convinced that any group deserves to have their internal discussions leaked. The issue here is what the people of the world struggling against this system need. And what they need more than anything is a radical left that is not dragged down in gossip and mutual invective. And that can not be achieved if any clown with a keyboard can engage in snitching on this order and retain an audience on the left.

    Many have commented here on the ineffectiveness of the left in general as well as of particular organizations, as if that justifies these or other leaks. But none of these apologists for leaks considers the well known role of COINTELPRO in crippling serious revolutionary organizations and reducing the US left to its present compromised state. It is an unpleasant truth to acknowledge, but COINTELPRO worked. The FBI set out to wreck various organizations by using the very methods that today are the common tools of internet trolls supposedly interested only in lulz. The deliberate stirring up of personal disputes, the targeting of individuals for gaslighting, the spreading of rumors or malicious misinformation, the false issuance of statements under other peoples names in order to discredit them, were all methods used by the FBI bring the left to its present state. To be sure there many other factors at play and of course many groups and individuals played right into their hands. But that is really the point. It is the indulgence of the left for these sorts of highly unprincipled sorts of activity so long as they target groups or individuals we personally disagree with that made COINTELPRO so effective. Not everybody who leaks an internal discussion or posts a malicious meme is a cop. Presumably most of those who do such things are not. But our tolerance for those sorts of things effectively gives the police, the FBI and other repressive agencies of the state a free hand to do as they please. Infiltrators, agent provocateurs, and informants can not only count on not being seriously challenged, but on having their efforts echoed and amplified in Facebook posts and on Tumblr by a small army of keyboardists who feed on gossip and the controversy of the week.

    The recent revelations about the NSA may make it appear that the state is all-knowing. But its not. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover famously commented that his desire was to convince people that their was an FBI agent hiding in every mailbox. The NSA's sweeping collection of data seems on first glance like it makes the fears that Hoover hoped to provoke actually true. But it doesn't. The NSA presumably has access to copies of all or most of our electronic communications. But that doesn't mean that they have the ability to identify, much less read, all of the ones that are of potential interest. It doesn't mean that they can decrypt those communications that are encrypted easily or even at all depending on what methods are used. And even if they could, it is one thing for a piece of data to be sitting in an NSA hardrive somewhere and quite another for it to be readily available to a local police force, company or campus security, or even the FBI. For all sorts of reasons, different state agencies are jealous of their intelligence and determined to thwart efforts to encourage them to share it.

    This brings me to a final point. Changes in technology do require that we rethink our approach to privacy and secrets. But the idea that such rethinking can be handily reduced to "there is no such thing as privacy" is simplistic in the extreme. When banks and corporations, police departments and intelligence agencies, have their internal communications compromised they don't respond by saying "oh well, I guess secure internal communications are a pipedream, lets just throw open the doors." On the contrary they strive to keep abreast of the technology, and to protect themselves better both through the use of technological protections but also by consciously training and cultivating their staffs in the best practices they know. Obviously, our responses can not be identical to theirs. We have different resources, capacities and needs. But none of that means we can't take effective measures to secure communications, and one of the first we can take is promoting a culture of zero tolerance for snitching and leaking. This discussion has been an important contribution to that process.

  • Guest - Eddy Laing

    [I find full agreement with the above post by Tell No Lies, but wish to add this:]

    It is reasonable to assume that someone who proposes that it is ok to snitch to agents of the state (e.g. police, NSA, FBI, et al), does in fact practice snitching to agents of the state in some manner. They proclaim – and act – to show that not only do they not consider the government of reaction (armed police, prisons, military, vigilantes, etc) dangerous, they do not even consider it to be opposite to the people. This despite that In the USA today, for example, there are more people incarcerated, and at a higher rate per capita, than in any other country on the planet. The history of the past 220 years (of US history) illustrates that reality is not anomalous.

    In sum, there is no 'reasonable' debate about the qualitative nature of the state viz social activists. The state has always been arrayed against them and used whatever methods available to suppress them, including targeted assassination; the current government admits to that. Revealing activist information to the state is precisely aiding in repression, regardless of what the snitch says or thinks.

  • So many clear arguments, TNL! Why not make this its own, self-standing post?

    "When banks and corporations, police departments and intelligence agencies, have their internal communications compromised they don't respond by saying "oh well, I guess secure internal communications are a pipedream, lets just throw open the doors." On the contrary they strive to keep abreast of the technology, and to protect themselves better both through the use of technological protections but also by consciously training and cultivating their staffs in the best practices they know."

    That is an excellent point.

    And really, i think it is worth thinking through that there are sometimes incompatible (sometimes overlapping) arguments made to argue the same policy:

    1) They already know everything, so give up trying to keep privacy.
    2) There is nothing we say that is dangerous or illegal, so why try to keep privacy.
    3) We work under legal conditions, so the state has little it can do to repress the left.
    4) Why would they care about us?
    5) Everyone has a right to know everything, so the state is not the issue.
    6) Shitty people and organizations deserve to be outed. Its full of lulz and giggles when that happens. And each of us (as individuals) gets to decide who is shitty and who is not.
    7) Leaking is justified by grievances inside left organizations. There are always grievances (because left organizations are oppressive), so leaking is always justified.

    Part of this (i believe) is training in a world where the leaking of NSA documents is so widely welcomed (and so very justified). Snowdon and Manning deserve to share the Nobel Peace Prize and the heartfelt thanks of humanity.

    But the left is not merely one more institution of an unjust society deserving the same treatment as any other corrupt and oppressive institution. Or, to be precise: We should ASPIRE to a revolutionary left that operates "at distance from the state" and that is the antipode for this society's institutions.

    Permit me to quote Mao Zedong (who over decades developed profound insights into revolutionary methods of work):

    "Draw two lines of distinction. First, between revolution and counter-revolution, between Yenan and Sian. [1] Some do not understand that they must draw this line of distinction. For example, when they combat bureaucraq, they speak of Yenan as though "nothing is right" there and fail to make a comparison and distinguish between the bureaucracy in Yenan and the bureaucracy in Sian. This is fundamentally wrong. Secondly, within the revolutionary ranks, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between right and wrong, between achievements and shortcomings and to make clear which of the two is primary and which secondary. "

    Yenan was the headquarters of the communist revolution, Sian was the headquarters of the GMD counterrevolution. Obviously Yenan was not immune to problems of many kinds -- but in addressing those problems it was important to make distinctions (including by acknowledging the truth that problems WITHIN THE REVOLUTION are different, and can be resolved by different means, from the problems and oppression inherent to counterrevolution.

    Part of the problem of the "call-out culture" is that "it shoots its machine gun in all directions." Everyone is treated like an enemy. No distinction is made "between Yenan and Sian" -- organizations of sincere revolutionaries are treated with the same hostility (and the same methods) that are directed at the NSA or rapist fraternities.

    And, let me say from observation, that there is a deliberate attempt to unleash a kind destructive competition -- if YOU want to prove you are (yourself) not an "apologist" for bad policies within the left, you are required to take the most extreme (and even vicious) stance regarding anyone accused of mistakes. Caution, careful investigation, judgement, private handling of lurid details, weighing of verdicts -- all are treated as signs of "apology" for sexist or racist behavior. And people are hyped (by fear of facing attack themselves) join a pile-on against the target of the moment.

    This kind of coupling of fear and attack is the classic dynamics of witchhunts, where people avoid suspicion and charges by making hyped demands for vengence and punishment. These methods and dynamics cannot produce justice, and they will destroy any movements where they take root.

    It should not need to be said (but because of the dynamics at play, must be said) that no one is arguing that awful things are not done, that backward ideas and policies don't emerge "on the left," that some organizations don't have deeply corrupt cultures and practices, that people aren't abused by such practices, and more. Of course there are mistakes, problems and even crimes erupting among the people (widely) and among radical forces as well.

    I am not arguing for a culture of complacency. But we should argue against a culture of witchhunt, of cheap easy knee-jerk verdicts, of casually negating and discarding people.... and we will.

  • I agree that the individual justifications that a snitch uses are irrelevant. What needs to be analysed is the actual effect of their actions. If they objectively help the state, then they are snitches and should be treated as such, However, I think you guys are dead wrong about the rest.

    A massive problem of the left is exactly this tendency to prioritise "left solidarity" over class solidarity. This produces an approach to criticism and debate within the left where anyone self-identifying as a leftist automatically gets the benefit of the doubt, thereby making any fundamental criticism impossible. It produces moralistic sloganeering and is vulnerable to practices of bad-jacketing: casting suspicion that someone may be a cop.

    The left tends not to look very closely at how its actions reflect on class struggle, let alone the struggle against other forms of oppression. If Ross Wolfe publishes ISO leaks, what should we say first?

    A) "What does the ISO's handling of sexual complaints say about the perpetuation of the oppression of women in the left?"
    B) "Hey, this Wolfe character is attacking one of us. Anyone got some dirt on this guy? Could he be a pig?"

    B should not be ignored, but to prioritise it and avoid everything else clears the way for the worst abuses within leftist organisations.

  • Eddie writes:

    "It is reasonable to assume that someone who proposes that it is ok to snitch to agents of the state (e.g. police, NSA, FBI, et al), does in fact practice snitching to agents of the state in some manner."

    I understand what you are saying. And I understand the deep experiences that bring forward such a thought. (And Eddy is one of the veteran communists in the room who are speaking from the intense experiences of Cointelpro, and its lessons).

    But let me (respectfully) urge some nuances and lay out some differences.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    In the history of the communist movement, there is (especially in the late Comintern legacy) a deliberate confusing of "subjective and objective." The communist parties that emerged from the Comintern (including, in the U.S., many descendants and splits form the CPUSA) often said "If you are objectively serving the system, then it is safe to assume you are probably a cop."

    It was on this basis that these parties proclaimed that Trotskyists were basically no different from fascist agents. And (let it be noted) this is also the rather lame argument made by the RCP against the Kasama Project (i.e. that because we raise sharp challenges to their theory of Avakian's "special caliber," we must be both objectively and subjectively [!} counterrevolutionary).

    In fact, that kind of leap of logic is not actually true.

    Many people do things that "objectively" serve the system, but don't actually intend to serve the system. Their motives are different, even if their actions are wrong.

    And this is because "unintended consequences" are very common in human activity. People often think they are doing one things, while objectively they are contributing to a very different thing. This is true for all of us, and it is harder to avoid than many like to pretend.

    And our approach to people who defend "outing" of internal private political life (and those who do the actual outing itself) need to have nuance -- based precisely on recognizing the difference between subjective and objective.

    First, if someone is outing radicals (naming names, giving meeting places, exposing internal methods and leaders to the police) -- their actions (objectively) are dangerous. We need to argue against their actions in public (as we are doing). We need to help them see the damage they can cause. And we need to create a revolutionary culture (step by step over time) where such actions are not tolerated.

    In the Chinese revolution, the Maoists would say:

    "In peasant households, when people are sitting around a fire, if a rat appears, everyone jumps up and yells 'Get it, get it,' and all join in the chase."

    They know what to do. The verdict on rats is clear and understood. So the collective response is clear and effective.

    Well there are some behaviors in politics and social life that are so odious that we (like chinese farmers seeing a rat) should all train ourselves to recognize the danger, and to stand up collectively to yell "Get it, get it."

    We are not at that place yet. We are arguing for that consciousness, for that culture, on many levels. When sexual abuse happens, radical people are working to develop far more conscious and unified methods of response. And the very mixed response to outing shows that we (collectively) have a ways to go to have a common and necessary approach.

    And the veterans among us remember that, in the wake of the McCarthy period, there was a very very HIGH degree of unity -- that "naming names" was repulsive and wrong and intolerable. The sight of people, broken and pathetic, appearing infront of government witchhunts and fingering other people was vivid in the left's experience. That political memory has faded, and whole generations don't really believe that the government cares about names, or that there is anything we can do to protect the movement.

    We live in a society where solidarity IN GENERAL has faded as a social value, and where there is little collective "institutional memory" about what basic revolutionary practices and standards are.

    But it is our job to creative build a culture of standards and practices IN THE PRESENT -- based on the experiences and debates of the present, with the human material of the present.

    Consider this: Many honest people (based on the summation of Snowdon, based on a one-sided summation of Comrade Delta horrors in Britain) sincerely believe that outing internal documents, procedures and decisions is (simply) a positive good. And they even suspect (wrongly) that private internal discussions and security culture are a general evil that should not be respected.

    We need to patiently lay bare the dynamics, the history, the need for a different approach -- and we need to propose policies and standards that model a different approach (security culture with accountability and real living internal debate).

    For people actually doing the "outing" -- who (rather arrogantly and with sectarian hostility) think they (as individuals) have a right to decide what is made public -- we also need to argue carefully and avoid name-calling.

    We should (candidly and clearly) point out that such actions (regardless of intent) do help police surveillance and disruption. And we should point out that even if some PARTICULAR outing doesn't directly lead to some police bonanza -- that a CULTURE that tolerates such outing WILL inevitably serve up a feast to quite vicious and murderous forces.

    And we should point out that there are large and active networks of police infiltrators and record-keepers -- that have exploded in energy, size and funding since 911. And that such networks actively encourage outing and unprincipled gossip -- they denounce and mock those who argue for security culture and mutual respect. They are active, toxic, poisonous, and determined.

    Not everyone promoting wholesale leaking and reckless gossip is a police agent (obviously). But police agents (generally as a marker) do often argue energetically for leaking and reckless gossip. (And veterans of communist movements have seen this, over and over and over, including in our movement today).

    That is how I think we should unravel and explain the dynamic between objective and subjective:
    1) some things objectively serve the system's attempts to destroy revolutionary organization (and outing ISO documents is such a thing, even though I don't consider them a "revolutionary organization" -- such is the irony and complexity of politics).
    2) Not everyone who advocates outing and unprincipled gossip is a police agents. Some are sincere, well-meaning and influenced by backward (and often rightist-legalist) illusions.
    3) But there are (actively and seriously) police agents and agent provocateur plots. And police agents do, as a general rule, work actively to undermine and erode security culture -- to mock it, to violate it, to demand organizations that don't have it.

    We should not promote linear thinking ("you are promoting backward ideas, you must intend to serve the system.") But we should help naive people with backward illusions to change their thinking and practice -- and warn them of the danger of actions that do (objectively) do serious damage.

    Comment last edited on about 1 year ago by Mike Ely
  • Guest - Eddy Laing

    Mike, I agree with you regarding nuance and not confusing naive behavior with reactionary intentions...

    my point is/was that if someone thinks its OK to snitch (which can take many different forms, including publishing documents on one's website, given the NSA's hoovering policy), they will sooner or later end up doing so, in some form or another. In that regard to that, I find sobering the behavior that transpired during the 1940s and 1950s (to say nothing of the '60s and 70s and 80s ...) by people not simply 'naming names' but sitting down and writing letters to the FBI, police departments, etc. that were quite 'conversational' and matter of fact in tone. That to me illustrates the Orwellian quality of the state's surveillance campaigns ('if you see something, say something') and the ideological processes of establishing 'otherness' (those who are 'other' from the imperial homeland) -- whether it's somebody in SW Asia or the holder of some form of post-Trotskyite political outlook.

    At some point, each of us have to take responsibility for our actions.

  • but in addressing those problems it was important to make distinctions (including by acknowledging the truth that problems WITHIN THE REVOLUTION are different, and can be resolved by different means, from the problems and oppression inherent to counterrevolution.

    After Mao's revolution the Trotskyists were swiftly repressed, culminating in 1952 with the arrests of almost two thousand, including supporters and relatives. None were ever charged, though some were shot and many remain unaccounted for. In 1979, thirteen were finally released, including Zheng Chaolin - a veteran of the CCP and one of history's longest-held political prisoners. He spent 34 years in jail, first under the Guomindang then under the CCP. Zheng never renounced his Trotskyism, and nor did his executed comrades whose mouths were stuffed with cotton to silence their defiance before Mao's firing squads.

  • Who turned me into a guest? Is that a glitch or did I get demoted. Anyway I agree with those who feel that attacking someone on the left ISO or any other quasi revolutionary or groups that believe they are revolutionaries is a mistake. First it's the ISO and who is next. Who really gets to decide who are authentic revolutionaries and who are the fakes? I critisized BA, yet I don't believe he is really a counter-revolutionary--maybe misguided but not an evil traitor. We have to remember who are real enemies are.

  • Eddy: I believe we agree. Well said.

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