Hal Draper

I thought I would comment briefly on the question of Hal Draper, the International Socialist, and the ISO...

Draper came out of the movement that Max Shachtman had built, retaining the theory of bureacratic collectivism with regard to a position on the character of the Soviet Union. Draper held the better Schachtmanites together in the 1960's, creating a left pole within the Socialist Party after Shachtman had liquidated his group into the SP.

(Schachtman himself, as many will know, drifted far to the right in this period -- becoming an apologist for the american state department)

Following the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, in which Draper played a key role (see the Free Speech Movement archives on the web at http://www.fsm-a.org -- the first 17 chapters of Draper's excellent, and out of print, chronology of the movement in book format -- "Berkeley: The New Student Revolt" are published there), Draper and others set up the Independent Socialist Club at Berkeley in 1964. A second club was quickly formed in New York, which became the start of a national organization (the Independent Socialist Committee) that was established by the mid 1960's and which was renamed the International Socialists in 1969.

At about this time, the International Socialists developed links with the British group of the same name, led by Tony Cliff, which was much larger and was experiencing a good deal of growth following the upturn of activity of 1968. Although the american International Socialists largely retained the theory of bureacratic collectivism (as compared to Cliff's fairly similar theory of state capitalism), they were attracted by Cliff's position on rank-and-file movements and what was, at that time, a very crititical leninism (leaning towards Luxemburgism) that the British IS held as theory.

Draper began to loose influence in the american International Socialists -- many of whose members were never part of the original Shachtmanite movement but were largely students who had radicalized in the late 1960's -- many of the members of the IS adopted what might be seen as ultra-left positions on a variety of issues, including rank and file trade unionism. Draper began to develop a theory about socialist sects, arguing that Lenin's Bolsheviks were not a sect -- people around draper in the IS formed the Reorient group in 1970-71 and published a number of documents (the Reorientation papers), arguing that "the barely nascent Independent Socialist movement slipped back into the "sect" rut as a result of easily identifiable pressures."

After a very brief faction fight in which the people around Draper attempted to "reorient" the International Socialists along the non-micro-sectist lines that Draper was beginning to identify, the Reorient group left the IS, with the intention of forming a "political center" along the lines which Draper was beginning to advocate. Unfortunately, this attempt at forming a "political center" essentially went nowhere... (I think that an interesting and useful debate could be had of whether Draper's model of building a "political center" around publications is at all useful in comparison to a membership organization -- I would argue that there are certainly problems with the concept of a "political center" with a completely unelected - by virtue of the fact that there is no membership to elect it - and unaccountable editorial committee, but I definitely see value in Draper's criticism of the "micro-sect").

The american International Socialists, following Draper's departure, carried out an "industrialization" strategy, in which the largely student membership were sent to work in industrial factories and began to build a small base and network within organized labour. The IS split in 1977 -- with a group which was more "loyal" to the British International Socialist / Socialist Workers' Party tradition forming the International Socialist Organisation (I know that Workers' Power split at about the same time, but I really don't know anything about the issues that arose in the WP split).

Canadiana trivia: soon after the Draper group left the International Socialists, one of the leading IS members, Joel Greier, came up to Canada to meet with some young students who were members of the leftwing grouping within the canadian New Democratic Party (NDP), the "Campaign for an Independent and Socialist Canada", better known as the Waffle Manifesto group (or simply, "the Waffle"). Greier (who remains in the ISO to this date and is more than likely the only person in that organization who still holds a bureacratic collectivist theory) began holding study groups with these Toronto based Waffle youth, convincing them, when the Waffle was subsequently expelled from the NDP, that they should split the resulting organization (the Movement for an Independent and Socialist Canada), forming the canadian Independent Socialists, which published a paper called "Workers' Action". This small canadian group, led by David McNally (now a leading member of the canadian New Socialist Group) and Abbie Bakan (arguably the leading member of the canadian IS) had some luck in getting small Waffle branches to affiliate, and subsequently renamed themselves the International Socialists and affiliated with the British IS tendency. (subsequent faction fights in the Canadian IS might be remotely interesting to people -- I've got a long stack of factional documents from 1986 onwards...).

Back in the US: after the split in 1977, the IS continued with its' industrialization strategy for some time, while the ISO focussed largely on students... as has been pointed out by others, the IS regrouped with Workers' Power and the 4th International (USec) group Socialist Unity to form Solidarity in 1986.

The International Socialist Organisation, following the 1977 split, was led by Cal and Barbara Winslow, who were subsequently purged from leadership in the mid 1980's at the initiation of the British SWP (the defacto leadership of the IS tendency). Ahmed Shawki, a member of the British SWP, was sent from Britain to Chicago to "shape up" the american ISO Steering Committee... with a renewed focus on campus organizing, the ISO began to grow from a group of about 100 members in the mid-eighties to what appears to be about 800 members presently.

Oddly, in the past couple of months, I've heard that Ahmed Shawki was removed as the editor of the ISO's paper, Socialist Worker, and has, apparently, subsequently been removed entirely from the leadership body ("steering committee") of the ISO. This is a shame, really -- Shawki was certainly one of the brightest political minds that the ISO still has... very sharp and astute.

Anyway: back to Draper -- for anyone who hasn't read much by him, you can find a bit of an archive of his work on the Marxists Internet Archive at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/ (I recommend reading "Toward a New Beginning - On Another Road: The Alternative to the Micro-Sect", available at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/works/1971/alt/alt.htm which is the basis of his split with the International Socialists in 1971).

Again, somewhat oddly and ironically, Draper's excellent pamphlet "Two Souls of Socialism" (available for free on the web at http://www.tao.ca/~gs/res/docs/draper.html) was reprinted in the past year by Bookmarks (the book company of the International Socialist Tendency), with a new introduction by Joel Greier. Greier, who was on the opposite side from Draper of the faction fight within the IS in 1971, remains a member of the ISO in Chicago to this day.

The Center for Socialist History (http://www.gn.apc.org/csh/) carries a good deal of Draper's older works and other stuff from the Bureaucratic Collectivist tradition which might be of interest to some.

Cheers,

Tony Tracy


David Welch wrote:

"But a political center doesn't have to be accountable to anyone precisely because it isn't a membership organization. Its function is to take part in an open battle of ideas within a larger party or movement, and hopefully influence a layer of activists around it, not to attempt to reflect the ideas of the majority. If no one had read Iskra then we would probably have never heard of Lenin.

"For me Hal Draper's idea is convincing because I can think of many examples of papers from different countries and movements that have, perhaps unconsciously, functioned as political centers in the way he theorized, had a "larger readership than their owners" as someone suggested of a now defunct US journal. It also seems a useful explanation of why few of the parties and groups that grew out of the 1917 and 1960s upsurges ever threatened revolution but why looser formations like the SDS did have, at least, a mass impact."

This is exactly the type of debate I was hoping to generate with that little remark :-)

My ideas on this question are certainly not fixed in stone -- I think that such things are largely tactical questions, not ones of principle, and are largely dependent on the state of the class struggle in general.

I agree with what David is saying about a political center taking part "in an open battle of ideas within a larger party or movement, and hopefully influence a layer of activists around it...", but this requires that there actually be a larger party or movement in place. Lenin's Bolshevik's (and Pravda -- or Iskra before that) existed in this way... they were a faction within the broader movement of Russian social democracy. I am not convinced that such a thing exists (at least in North America) today. There is some question about who the audience would be for such a political center.

Today, I would argue that there is no working class vanguard that is coherent in North America (ie. the idea of the vanguard in the broadest sense -- the most politically active and militant workers) -- there are certainly "vanguard parties" (small micro-sects, as Draper would quite rightly describe them, that claim a "vanguard" title regardless of the fact that they are small and irrelevant).

I sincerely hope to see a mass revolutionary socialist party in North America in my lifetime (hmmm.... that is clearly a step backwards from when I used to say that I hoped to see a socialist revolution in my lifetime when I was younger, isn't it?). I envision that such a mass socialist party would have several tendencies, and a number of "political centers" which would be able to openly argue politics (in the manner that Lenin did, for example). But in the absence of such a party today, the question remains for how socialists should organize themselves.

The thing that leads me to believe that some type of membership organization is useful (even given the dangers of micro-sectism) is that through such an organization (if it operates in a healthy manner) a cadre can be built. I feel that it is difficult to build a cadre with a consumerist approach (ie. amongst people who simply pick up the press of a "political center" but who are not active with other socialists in day to day struggle).

Of course, I am not completely won one way or the other on this at present -- I think that the question of the role of revolutionary socialists in today's context is still an open question that has not been adequately answered.

My partner, Megan, for example, has taken on an editorial role in the paper/magazine of the BC Young New Democrats (the youth wing of the canadian New Democratic Party). She hopes, through her editing and writing for this magazine ("Forward") to be able to argue ideas with a broader group of people (in this case, left social democratic youth and their mileau). As a revolutionary socialist, she has no illusions whatsoever in the NDP or social democracy's ability to bring about fundamental change (and no illusions that social democratic leaders will not sell out their constituency), but sees their paper/magazine as a mechanism to carry on a series of arguments, leading people into activity and influencing the better activists. (She can talk more about that project if she likes -- she also subscribes to this list).

Recently, she and I were approached to act in editorial roles on a "broad left" paper/magazine project that would carry on arguments within the left locally (BC in general, Vancouver specifically) -- we are still working out the details, etc. on this, but our initial meetings on this have led us to think that there is a definite place for a paper/magazine that could publish debates/arguments on strategy, tactics & theory for and by local activists. We certainly don't see it as the place to re-hash old arguments over and over (I don't want to debate Krondstat constantly with anarchists in this publication, nor do I want to constantly re-hash the Stalin-Trotsky split, but I see a place for carrying out open argument on specific campaigns and activity). We don't see this as a "line" paper, though -- we want to see real open debate and discussion. We'll see where this goes...

I see "Against The Current" as something of a "political center" that seems to work -- it is tied (at least loosely) to a membership organization (Solidarity), but is able to involve people from outside that membership (their impressive list of editorial advisors is proof enough of that) and can play a key role in publishing debates and arguments and hopefully winning small layers of people towards revolutionary socialist ideas.

Anyway, that's just a few thoughts...

Tony Tracy