Friday, April 23, 2021

Socialist Equality Party National Secretary Joseph Kishore spreads lies about an Amazon worker and former party member: The worker responds

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Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama

[Note: This is part one of a response to recent actions of the leadership of the Socialist Equality Party. For part two see Comments on David North and Joseph Kishore's letter.]

This open letter is a reply to the slanderous attacks leveled at Shuvu Batta by the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) after he was expelled from that organization in February 2021. The SEP is the US section of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), which is most well known for producing the World Socialist Web Site ( Shuvu had been a member of the SEP and its youth section, the IYSSE, for two and a half years at the time of his expulsion.

In January 2021, Shuvu learned of a critique of the SEP’s sectarian approach to the trade unions, written by a provisional member, C, who had recently resigned. Shuvu reached out to C directly for a copy of the critique and, agreeing with its main political points, began distributing it to other party members. Within a week, Shuvu was charged with breaching party discipline and removed from all meetings and group chats. He was expelled several weeks later, on February 27. The documents pertaining to the expulsion can be found here.

On March 19, during a national meeting, Peter Ross, a provisional member, made a statement defending Shuvu’s right to criticize the party line and raising concerns about the party’s internal regime and its anti-union positions. On March 22, during a meeting of the IYSSE, Peter again spoke out against how other members had characterized trade unionism, and was cut off mid-sentence on the grounds that “this wasn’t the place” to express his disagreements. When Peter objected to this, he was promptly removed from all party group chats. His provisional membership was revoked two days later in a letter written by the two top leaders of the SEP, David North and Joseph Kishore, and distributed to the entire membership. These documents can be found here. According to sympathetic SEP members, the next national meeting was devoted to hysterical denunciations of both former members, personal slanders aimed at proving their petty bourgeois backgrounds, and craven praise for David North’s letter.

On April 1, because Shuvu is currently employed as an Amazon Fresh worker, he had the rare opportunity to appear on an NPR podcast to voice his support for the Amazon BHM1 workers in Alabama fighting to unionize. This prompted Joseph Kishore, the National Secretary of the SEP (US), to issue another letter to the entire membership, tearing Shuvu’s comments out of context and peddling a conspiracy theory accusing him of being an agent of the RWDSU bureaucracy. The letter, shared with us by a supporter in the SEP, can be viewed here. To protect Shuvu from potential company retaliation, we have removed his facility’s location from the document.

Kishore’s letter, an attempt to fend off any discussion of the SEP’s sectarian politics and undemocratic internal regime by slandering Shuvu, reveals the utter bankruptcy of the SEP leadership. These are not the methods of revolutionaries, but of tinpot dictators and cult leaders. We urge those workers and youth attracted to the WSWS by its anti-imperialist and socialist posturing to read through the linked documents—which provide a clear picture of the internal life of the SEP and the kind of response members can expect should they develop political differences with the party—and to take up the fight to build a real socialist movement in the working class.


-- Shuvu Batta and Peter Ross

April 23, 2021

Response to Joseph Kishore

First of all, I would like to sincerely thank Kishore for his letter, as it exposes the real nature of the SEP leadership. At the same time, it’s sad to see an individual that I once respected and who presents himself as a man of principle peddling conspiracy theories to the rank and file of his party, many of whom are young people just dipping their toes into the world of politics.

Let us first cut through Kishore’s lies.

Kishore writes: “Of the 800,000 Amazon workers in the United States, one cannot help but wonder how Shuvu Batta emerged triumphant from NPR’s search and vetting process. He has been an Amazon employee for only a few months; and he is not even working at the Bessemer plant. He works at an Amazon “Fresh” facility in XXX and has been trying to land a job in the company’s human resources department, i.e., in management. Moreover, given the fact that the predominantly African American composition of the targeted facility has been central to the RWDSU’s strategy and the focus of media reporting, NPR’s selection of Batta appears even more peculiar.”

Kishore knows very well how I got onto the NPR program—it was through a post on Reddit in an Amazon workers group. The majority of the 63 comments on the post voiced support for the central message, expressed in its title: Go BHM1 workers, let’s unionize in every facility and every workplace!

Kishore also attempts to slander me for trying to better my economic situation by applying for an HR position. By his logic, the hundreds of thousands of HR workers around the country are all aligned with the capitalists and are actively working against the interests of the working class. In reality, they are a part of the working class who utilize their labor-time ensuring that workplaces are productive and that morale is high. As Amazon warehouse workers fight to unionize, they must and will rally the support of “skilled” workers like HR and tech workers, who also need to collectively organize and unite against their common exploiters: the owners of Amazon, and the rest of the capitalist class.

After sowing doubt about the legitimacy of a worker voicing his opinion on a public podcast, Kishore takes his next leap into the realm of tin-foil conspiracy theories: “The most likely explanation for Batta’s appearance on the program is that he was recommended to NPR by the leadership of the RWDSU bureaucracy. The union, which lacks any significant base among rank-and-file workers, is immensely sensitive to left-wing criticism—above all, that of the SEP and the World Socialist Web Site. In one way or another, Batta’s activities came to the attention of the bureaucracy, which has decided to make use of his services.”

Is this really the most likely explanation, or could it be that the unionization drive by BHM1 workers has had mass support among the broader US public? A recent national poll showed the majority of Democrats, Independents, and even Republicans supporting the BHM1 workers fighting to unionize. My post, which received popular support from Amazon workers on Reddit, was viewed by an NPR journalist sympathetic to unionization, who then gave me the opportunity to come on the podcast and make my points. The RWDSU bureaucracy was not involved.

Kishore then cites my failure to say the word “socialism” or attack Jeff Bezos on the podcast as proof of my political degeneracy.

Despite the fact that my opportunities to make broader political points on the broadcast were quite limited, I think my responses could absolutely have been sharper. I will take my experience on this podcast as a lesson, but I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the NPR journalist, and I am grateful for the opportunity to voice my support for any worker who is risking their job to unionize. To suggest that this appearance was masterminded by the RWDSU bureaucracy is a slander not just against me but also the journalist who reached out to me.

The World Socialist Web Site Slanders Amazon’s BHM1 Workers

Now that we have cleared the lies, let us get to the heart of the matter: the anti-worker politics of the Socialist Equality Party. In his letter, Kishore cites a comment I made on NPR as proof of my abandonment of socialism:

Asked what he thought was “the most important thing for senior Amazon leadership to know,” Batta replied: “Just as you have a right under the capitalist system to make profits, we have the right to unionize, and we have the right to actually have a say in the workplace, to make sure that our conditions are a little more livable.”

My comment was such an unpardonable sin to Kishore that he felt the need to hurl a series of slurs at me, calling me a “petit-bourgeois opponent of Marxism,” “a craven apologist for the RWDSU bureaucracy,” and “a pathetic political fraudster.”

While it is astonishing to witness the National Secretary of the SEP reduce himself to a schoolyard bully, there is also a sinister aspect to his slander. Part of its purpose, by spreading a conspiracy theory and personal information about my job application throughout the party, is to send a message to all of the members of the Socialist Equality Party: “If you dare to speak out against our politics, if you dare to voice support for workers unionizing, we will isolate you, spread lies about you, and label you a class enemy.”

The fact is that my call for Amazon workers to unionize was in line with Marx’s words in the Communist Manifesto that communists “fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class, but in the movement of the present they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”

The crux of the matter is that the SEP does not believe that unionizing constitutes an “immediate aim” for the mass of unorganized workers. The developing movement of the working class is going directly against a fundamental principle of their politics: rejection of trade union work. Thus, they have been forced to slander Amazon BHM1 workers as the puppets of a “top-down” unionization drive despite the fact that it has inspired thousands of unorganized workers in Amazon and elsewhere to start unionization campaigns in their workplaces.

The reality is that the BHM1 unionization campaign was started after former union workers at the fulfillment center, such as Darryl Richardson, went to their local Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union office to figure out how they could unionize their facility. With the help of rank-and-file union activists, the BHM1 workers initiated a disciplined campaign starting in March 2020, rallying their co-workers within the facility and gathering hundreds of names in support, day in and day out for months, until more than three thousand workers signed up in support of the National Labor Relations Board to approve a unionization vote in January 2021.

Thus, the first vote for unionizing U.S Amazon warehouse workers was started, a historic achievement spearheaded by the militant Amazon workers of BHM1.

For years, I had followed the anti-union line of the World Socialist Web Site and even authored the first anti-union Amazon article on the BHM1 campaign. The article was initially titled “Vote ‘No’ to the UFCW-backed union at Alabama Amazon facility!” but after viral negative reactions on Twitter the title was changed to the much tamer “The unionization vote at Alabama Amazon facility.”

The WSWS article as it appeared before the headline was changed

During the writing of this article, I had started working at an Amazon warehouse. I had mixed feelings about sending the article for publication because its message of telling workers to vote “No” did not at all correspond to my lived experience as an Amazon employee.

Working at an Amazon warehouse is an incredibly isolating experience. Despite working alongside hundreds of other workers, it is difficult to make contact with them, let alone engage them in conversation. We are constantly on the move due to strict rate quotas and time-off-task penalties. Due to COVID-19, our break rooms have physical barriers to prevent contact with other workers.

The greatest benefit of an Amazon union is that it would organize the hundreds of isolated workers in a facility under a common platform. A “No” vote on unionizing is counterproductive if for no other reason than this. In union meetings, the once isolated workers would gain the ability to not only connect with one another but also to advance their own demands through the formation of worker committees within the union. The existence of a union provides the Amazon worker a basis on which to wage a struggle for workplace democracy.

Furthermore, it cannot be denied that unionized workers make, on average, a much higher wage and gain better benefits than non-unionized workers. This is because a union provides workers with the means to organize mass strikes and thus provides them with a weapon against capital. To call on Amazon workers to vote “No” is to imply that Amazon workers will not gain any sort of concessions from management through unionizing. The very fact that Amazon has run a relentless anti-union campaign—holding captive audience meetings, creating fake social media accounts, violating the election rules (including through placement of an illegal ballot box), and retaliating against workers who threaten to unionize—indicates that this is not at all true. It should be added that the World Socialist Web Site has not produced a single article that seriously takes up Amazon’s anti-union tactics.

While the WSWS categorizes unions as irredeemable organizations which socialists must avoid, the reality is that the working class is well into a period of renewed labor militancy, which is primarily taking place within the form of the trade-union struggle.

Public sentiment is decisively for unionization in the US, and increasingly so since the Great Recession of 2007-08, with a Gallup poll released this January estimating that 65 percent of all Americans approve of labor unions. Unionization rates have also started to increase, partly because union workers faced fewer job losses during the pandemic and also because more and more sections of the working class are starting drives to unionize their workplaces. Furthermore, virtually all of the major strike actions that have taken place in 2020 were among unionized workers.

Yet the most central aim of the SEP’s political work is to attack “the unions,” which are labeled, across the board, as “anti-worker” organizations that have become totally integrated into the state. The implication is undeniably that the destruction of the unions would be a good thing, since it would free the workers from this instrument of bourgeois control (and also make them more desperate to form some new kind of organization).

After the defeat of the BHM1 unionization drive, the WSWS published an article citing the defeat as evidence that Amazon workers had seen through the RWDSU. While no confidence should be placed in the RWDSU bureaucracy, which deserves much of the blame for this defeat, the rank-and-file workers cannot be equated with the bureaucracy by denouncing the whole of the union. In their efforts to pin the blame for the defeat entirely on the RWDSU, the WSWS actively downplayed the voter intimidation tactics employed by Amazon. By taking this stance, and by unequivocally opposing unionization, the SEP has crossed a class line, siding with Amazon against the workers.

In stark contrast to the anti-worker position of the WSWS, militant Amazon workers have learned from the union defeat in order to strengthen their own unionization campaigns. News has come out that the Amazon facility at JFK-8 in Staten Island is undergoing a unionization drive, with the organizers including Chris Smalls of The Congress of Essential Workers, fighting to build a new union called the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). The organizers were supportive of the BHM1 pro-union workers and have explicitly said that they have taken lessons from the successes and failures of the Bessemer unionization drive so that their effort succeeds.

Demonstration in solidarity with Amazon workers, Union Square, New York

The WSWS’s fantasy rank-and-file committees vs the Marxist path to workers’ independence

The World Socialist Web Site is an impressive feat of organization. With only a few hundred members around the world, the ICFI has managed since 1998 to produce a 6 day-per-week publication, with a total of more than 60,000 articles. The dedication and self-sacrifice of the rank-and-file members, who truly believe they are fighting for socialism, is commendable. The tragedy is that the political line advanced by the WSWS in the most significant of its articles has for decades gone against the most basic interests of the working class.

The clearest recent example of this is the fact that the website, in calling for a “No” vote on the unionization of Amazon workers, has crudely counter-posed to the unions the fiction of “independent rank-and-file committees.”

The WSWS claims it has already built a “network” of these committees, but any critical reader will note that it has never indicated how many workers are in the committees. As a former party member, I can testify that the rank-and-file committees do not have any elected representatives and instead function more as lecturing groups. The meetings are organized and overseen in every detail by party representatives, and the few workers in the “committees” play no role other than tuning in to online calls for reports presented by Socialist Equality Party members.

Rank-and-file committee meetings always go about the same way: Comrade D introduces Comrade B, who gives a report on the pandemic; then comrades H, I, J, and K give more reports. Finally, often after an hour or more has passed, we get a comment from a non-party member. He or she says a few brief words, and then comrades H-K rush to make insightful points about the comment.

No concrete plan of action ever results from these meetings, partly because the “committees” do not represent any significant section of the working class. Their real purpose, whether SEP members realize it or not, is not to provide workers with their own forum or assist them in building their own democratic organizations, but to produce a kind of show aimed at recruiting attendees into the party and beginning the process of indoctrinating them with the “correct” program.

The publication by the WSWS of public statements by the committees, supposedly written by the rank-and-file workers themselves, has reached a fever-pitch during the pandemic. To a new member, these statements, declaring the formation of committees in the auto industry and public education, give the impression of a real step forward in the construction of new, democratically-controlled organizations of workers. It quickly becomes clear, however, that this “network” of committees is all smoke and mirrors.

For example, at its founding in Sept. 2020, the Los Angeles Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee officially had two non-party members, neither of whom participated in drafting the founding statement, yet it purported to speak in the name of an entire committee of Los Angeles teachers! In the six months after its “founding,” the committee had not grown by a single member.

The SEP has pursued this line for decades, yet these small lecture groups fraudulently labeled as “democratic organizations of workers” have been its greatest result. Rather than doing the hard work of organizing, the SEP builds shells of committees, and hopes that by publicizing them, it can fill them up with actual workers. In practice, the committees function as front groups, which allow the WSWS to posture as having influence in the working class. Countless statements (see, for instance, here) use the fictional committees to ventriloquize workers rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. (This is in line with the fact that WSWS articles include only those quotes from workers which can be interpreted as bolstering the political positions that the SEP has already worked out (see, for instance, “Amazon workers react to the defeat of the RWDSU at Alabama warehouse”).

The class instinct of workers who join the “independent rank-and-file committee” meetings is to bring back the information provided by the SEP to their fellow workers in the unions. While rank-and-file workers are up against the treacherous labor bureaucracies within their unions, the SEP provides them no support because the party leadership actively prevents its cadre from participating in trade union work.

While militant workers struggle alone to win basic concessions from their employer through their union, the SEP tells them: “break from your unions and form independent rank-and-file committees!” Most workers in turn respond: Who are you to tell me what to do? I benefit by being in my union. I have connections to my fellow co-workers because of the union. I see how terrible the conditions that non-union workers are going through are and you—a pamphleteer, who has nothing to do with my workplace, who has never helped me form strike committees or collected strike funds, who has never created any sort of defense against the corrupt bureaucrats within my union—who are you to tell me what to do? Who are you to tell me to throw away my weapon, the union, for this fantasy rank-and-file committee which has accomplished nothing concrete whatsoever?

The practical result of the SEP’s rejection of trade unions is that in moments of strikes or other actions by union workers, the SEP is unable to influence the workers’ struggle in any tangible way. This is due to the fact that SEP members have no participation in union meetings, in organizing strike actions, or in leading left factions within the union, and are completely isolated from the day-to-day work within the unions necessary to gain influence among the workers there. The SEP, in practice, reduces itself to a mere spectator which is only able to report on the struggles that workers, as a mass, initiate.

Socialists must work within the unions not because we fetishize the union-form, but because that is where workers, particularly in the most strategic industries (dock workers, transit workers, etc.), are concentrated as a mass. If workers come up with new forms of organization, socialists must also be active within them, but the guiding principle must be this: we must go where the workers are!

Trotskyism vs Sectarianism

The SEP dishonestly states that it carries forward the heritage of Trotskyism. This is a complete fabrication. Marxists have always understood the need to participate in the day-to-day struggles of workers. There is a long tradition, starting with Marx and Engels, of opposition to the positions of anarchists and ultra-left sectarians who rejected working inside unions, and all attempts to counterpose pure “red trade unions” to the existing mass organizations. As Trotsky wrote in The Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International:

The Bolshevik-Leninist stands in the front-line trenches of all kinds of struggles, even when they involve only the most modest material interests or democratic rights of the working class. He takes active part in mass trade unions for the purpose of strengthening them and raising their spirit of militancy… Only on the basis of such work within the trade unions is successful struggle possible against the reformists, including those of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Sectarian attempts to build or preserve small “revolutionary” unions, as a second edition of the party, signify in actuality the renouncing of the struggle for leadership of the working class.

Trotsky stressed the importance of transitional demands to help workers progress from trade union consciousness to socialist consciousness.

It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demand and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.

In the case of the BHM1 unionization attempt, the victory of the “Yes” vote would have led to a qualitative transformation of the class struggle for Amazon workers, with a formerly unorganized section of the working class, struggling through isolated walkouts and protests, finally gaining access to a higher form of struggle in the form of an organized mass strike. The task of Marxists, armed with the transitional method, is to push this struggle to its limit and thus build a bridge between the emerging trade union consciousness of militant Amazon workers and the socialist consciousness necessary for revolution.

This would mean advocating not just for a “Yes” vote but calling on the workers everywhere, organized and unorganized, to stage demonstrations across the country and the world in support of BHM1 workers. It would mean rallying the pro-union workers to form a real rank-and-file committee and draft demands on what they would fight for after the union was approved. It would mean calling out the blunders of the union bureaucracy during the struggle, pushing for door-to-door canvassing for “Yes” votes, holding Q&A sessions with workers, etc, to make sure that unionization succeeds.

The union drive ultimately failed at BHM1 not because the union form as a whole was irredeemable but because it lacked socialist elements actively fighting for the development of workers’ democracy. The WSWS, by contrast, sees the defeat of the unionization drive at Bessemer as an expression of the advanced class consciousness of the workers, who have figured out how rotten unions are and have come over to the WSWS position. This piece of delusional thinking avoids the obvious—that the failure of a large percentage of workers to understand the importance of organizing collectively into a union is a measure of their lack of class consciousness.

By calling for workers to immediately break from the union and form “independent rank-and-file committees,” the ICFI is engaging in a practice that Trotsky called “bureaucratic ultimatism,” which the Stalinist Communist Party practiced in Germany, effectively splitting the socialist and the reformist workers, and creating the conditions for the victory of Nazism.

The Stalinists’ mechanical policy of equating Social Democracy with Fascism, building only communist-led unions, and precluding any sort of temporary alliance with reformists is paralleled today by the SEP’s attempt to equate the whole of the trade unions with the capitalist state and lump together all left-wing movements outside of their own sect as the “pseudo-left.” Just as the Stalinist Communist Party isolated its cadre from the broader worker class with their bureaucratic call for revolutionary unions and abstention from the struggle for reforms, so too the SEP abstains from the actual struggles of the working class.

Trotsky long ago pointed the way forward:

But the revolutionary dialectic has long since pointed the way out and has demonstrated it by countless examples in the most diverse spheres; by correlating the struggle for power with the struggle for reforms; by maintaining complete independence of the party while preserving the unity of the trade unions; by fighting against the bourgeois regime and at the same time utilizing its institutions; by criticizing relentlessly parliamentarism – from the parliamentary tribunal; by waging war mercilessly against reformism, and at the same time making practical agreements with the reformists in partial struggles.

Without internal democracy and debate there is no revolutionary party

Kishore is completely unable to answer the criticisms I have raised above and in previous letter exchanges with the party leadership. Thus, he has been forced to resort to character assassination. However, no amount of lies and conspiracies will erase the fact that the reason for my expulsion was that I shared a critique of the Socialist Equality Party to other members and refused to stay quiet.

The party leadership actively attempts to suppress all political differences and maintain a cultish homogeneity of thought. The “center” (the party leadership based in Detroit) keeps close tabs on the branches through weekly minutes and swiftly intervenes as soon as any significant disagreement arises. Members who express disagreement are subjected to interrogations by branch leaders, aimed not at fostering a true discussion but at “correcting” the faulty opinion of the dissenting member.

Members are told that a “principled” political intervention means patiently waiting for any disagreement to pass through the local branch, until gradually and through some unspecified procedure, it works its way up to a higher body. Any attempt to raise a disagreement during a meeting outside of the branch or engage other members one-on-one is regarded as “disruptive” and even “sabotage.” The SEP claims that it allows factions, but how can anyone possibly build a faction if they have to take their marching orders from the branch, which in turn reports directly to the “center?” Is the “principled” approach for a member with a disagreement to convince their entire branch of their position and form a dissenting branch?

Any organization that engages in suppression of internal debate and expels members who dare to question the party leadership has no right to call itself a revolutionary party. To justify the SEP’s anti-democratic procedures, Kishore cites a quote from Lenin’s What is to be done? taken completely out of its historical context. He writes, quoting Lenin:

        ‘freedom of criticism’ means freedom for an opportunist trend in Social-Democracy…

The conclusion the reader is meant to draw is that any attempt to open a discussion in the party questioning a position is really an attempt to smuggle into the party a reconciliation with opportunism.  But is this what Lenin was getting at? Not at all!

Lenin was writing about a specific situation in which a reformist group of Russian Social Democrats abroad insisted that the party accommodate the view of the open opportunists such as Bernstein and work with them under the same umbrella. They supported this position by adopting the slogan “freedom of criticism.” Does this mean that Lenin opposed internal debate among those within the party committed to a revolutionary position? That is not what the historical record shows. The Bolshevik Party before its degeneration under Stalinism was marked by lively debates, sometimes even bitter ones, on many fundamental questions. Read Trotsky’s characterization, from The History of the Russian Revolution:

How could a genuinely revolutionary organization, setting itself the task of overthrowing the world and uniting under its banner the most audacious iconoclasts, fighters and insurgents, live and develop without intellectual conflicts, without groups and temporary faction formations?

There is also the conclusion of the preeminent historian of the Russian Revolution, Alexander Rabinowich, who wrote in his book, The Bolsheviks Come to Power:

… within the Bolshevik Petrograd organization at all levels in 1917, there was continuing free and lively discussion and debate over the most basic theoretical and tactical issues,

and that the party had shifting left, center, and moderate tendencies within it, right through the revolutionary period.

Leaders who differed with the majority were at liberty to fight for their views, and not infrequently, Lenin was the loser in those struggles.

What a stark difference this paints between the Bolsheviks and North and Kishore’s dismal regime, which forbids internal debate and expels members who dare demand it!

The Socialist Equality Party is able to maintain such a dictatorial inner-party regime because the power within the party is centralized in a tiny clique. During the 2020 National Congress of the US Socialist Equality Party, the rank and file had virtually no power to elect their leaders. Members submitted a slate of nominees for the National Committee to a three-man election committee. Using COVID-19 as an excuse, the SEP leadership stacked the election committee with its “outgoing” leadership: David North (the National Chairperson), Joseph Kishore (the National Secretary), and Jerry White (the Labor Secretary). Per the SEP constitution, the election committee collates the nominees and produces their own slate, which the membership then votes up or down all at once. In preparing its slate, the election committee is not bound, even on paper, by the nominations of the membership, and no vote tally is ever released.

The undemocratic regime in the SEP is sustained, above all, by a culture of groupthink in which members are encouraged to make “contributions” to discussions which consist of endless recapitulations of party doctrine. Any attempt to insert a critical thought is met with widespread derision. Members are made to feel that any disagreement with the party line reflects a serious shortcoming on their own part, which will cause them to lose the respect of their comrades.

Members are thus gradually taught to build up an atmosphere in which any serious disagreement is viewed with suspicion and hostility. An example from the youth group will serve to illustrate this point. In February, Peter was slated to give a report to the IYSSE, and was instructed to focus on a recent article, but chose to devote the bulk of his report to a discussion of a teachers’ struggle taking place in Chicago. This unleashed an outright firestorm.

The national secretary of the IYSSE worked behind the scenes to ensure full attendance at the next meetinga surprise public takedown launched by Eric London and Lawrence Porter, two leading members. London began the meeting with a half-hour-long speech misrepresenting and denouncing Peter’s statements and making incessant references to his “attitude.” Over the next two hours, almost every member of the committee saw fit to parade themselves out to declare that they “agreed with all of the points” and thought the meeting to be “very significant,” and the meeting concluded with London stating that it was a “turning point!” This truly bizarre spectacle, amounting to a kind of watered-down show trial, can only be interpreted as an attempt to ostracize and intimidate anyone with an oppositional view.

The party’s autocratic inner party regime raises serious questions about financial parasitism within the SEP.

A deeper search into the WSWS reveals that it is classified as a domestic profit corporation, with unknown primary shareholders, despite the fact that the WSWS is itself a collective product built by the labor of the entire party. The ICFI also directs its readers and party members to purchase from Mehring Books Inc., a corporation which according to D&B business directory has generated over $490K so far in 2021. Each branch in the party is also compelled to extract a minimum amount of money from supporters and members each month alongside a yearly fund drive which must easily generate over $100,000. The fact is that the rank and file have no idea how the finances of the party, collected through the participation of all members, are being used, nor do they have any say in the utilization of funds.

Yes, the union bureaucracy is degenerate, but at the very least they let the public know how much they are getting paid by the union membership. For an organization that consistently rails against the union bureaucracy, a question must be asked: David North, Joseph Kishore, and other leading members of the SEP, why do you not have the integrity to reveal the same?

Questions that the SEP leadership must answer to its members if it retains any shred of revolutionary integrity

Any information about the SEP’s composition and finances is tightly guarded by the leadership, on the grounds that releasing any such information to the cadre would jeopardize security. When Peter raised the demand for the party to reveal its total membership to the rank and file, a leading member responded indignantly that this would be almost tantamount to releasing personal addresses. This is a truly ludicrous rationalization for keeping the membership in the dark. Yes, the party needs to take measures to protect its members as best as it can from victimization by the state or right-wing forces, but what does that have to do with revealing the membership figures or having some level of accountability regarding finances?

Like the trade unions, we understand that the SEP is itself a contradictory organization. Despite the sectarian, even cultish, atmosphere cultivated by the leadership, its ranks contain many genuine revolutionaries who have been drawn to the party because it presents itself as an organization that is leading the fight for a socialist future. These are professionals, teachers, low-wage workers, and students who have devoted themselves heroically to the development of the party, sacrificing countless hours for the cause. We do not want to see these genuine revolutionaries waste their lives following a political line that actively goes against the interests of the working class. 

With this in mind, we propose that the rank and file within the SEP raise the following demands:

1     The release of basic information on the party to all members, including the total number of members and the growth of the party over time.

2     A full financial audit, to include answers to the following questions:

2.a                How are the party finances controlled?

2.b                What is the yearly revenue of the party and where is this   money coming from?

2.c                How much are the party staff and leadership paid?

2.d                Who are the shareholders of the WSWS?

3     The development of a party-wide forum in which ALL members can raise their ideas and engage in debate.

4     That the methods of slander and victimization of dissident members be repudiated.

5     That new elections for the leadership of the SEP be arranged forthwith allowing for a direct vote by the membership in selecting all levels of party leaders.

6     That the party reconsider its position on the unions and on the heritage of Trotskyism and The Transitional Program.

Finally, I would like to thank the leadership of the SEP for showing me exactly what a revolutionary party is not!

A revolutionary party is not an organization that actively avoids practical work in the working class. A revolutionary party is not an organization that rejects the use of reforms for building the path to revolution. A revolutionary party is not an organization that responds to criticisms of its political line with personal slander. A revolutionary party is not an organization that fears internal debate and democracy.

The SEP slanders many of its political enemies on the left with the meaningless term “pseudo-left.” If we take this term to mean an anti-worker group that cloaks itself in left-wing rhetoric, then there are few more worthy of the title than the SEP itself.

-- Shuvu Batta


See also:

The critique which solidified my differences with the party and led to my expulsion:

“Once again on the Question of the Trade Unions and the Tasks of the Party” by C:


For a deeper insight into the history and nature of the Socialist Equality Party, read:

Marxism without its Head or its Heart by Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner


For a thorough critique of David North’s “Why are Trade Unions Hostile to Socialism?”


The trade union form and the butchery of dialectics by Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner


The founding document of the Fourth International, which the SEP has abandoned in practice:

The Transitional Program by Leon Trotsky


Links to Related Documents:

Comrade C's critique of the ICFI's position on the unions                                                              


Anonymous said...

Lmao i disagree with some stuff wsws posts but next time you try a takedown of them try not to title it "In Defense of HR." Doean't really help your cause. I also saw on reddit that this shuvu guy literally said on npr that "amazon has a right under capitalism to make a profit." I listened to the clip that's literally what he said smh. Def siding w wsws on this one.

Anonymous said...

Not surprised to hear WSWS operates literally like a cult considering how feverishly dogmatic they are at times. Useful Idiots interviewed Andre Damon a few months ago and I could just imagine David North sitting in the room just off camera with a club in his hands, waiting to hit him if he dare says anything that might disagree with the Party Line™. It's pretty crazy to hear an ostensibly democratic party using a slate system to elect its leadership, this is one of the central criticisms I often come across of the trade union bureaucracy. That slates inherently prey upon the ignorance of newcomers and pressure people away from individual choice.

Anonymous said...

Obviously lots of issues are raised in this comment, but I have a couple of questions:

1. In what is presented as a passionate defence of rank-and-file workers, Shuvu writes that Amazon HR's role is "ensuring that workplaces are productive and that morale is high." We are talking about the Amazon department that oversees sweatshop working conditions and the surveillance of workers. How do they "ensure that workplaces are productive"? How many workers have such a positive attitude to HR? And would Bezos say anything different about this department?

2. Shuvu writes that the Bessemer union vote was defeated because of "the failure of a large percentage of workers to understand the importance of organizing collectively into a union." This "is a measure of their lack of class consciousness." But if this was a rank-and-file initiative, how come it failed so spectacularly to win the support of rank-and-fie workers? The RWDSO received support from Biden, Marco Rubio (!), the New York Times and the AFL-CIO, but fewer than 13 percent of workers. Has there ever been a "rank-and-file" struggle that has won so much backing from on high and so little from "below"?

4. Shuvu suggests that the organizing drive was aimed at advancing the interests of workers. Why did the union, then, refuse to put forward a single demand relating to wages, conditions or anything else other than a dues check-off? Has he seen the interviews with workers who did not vote because they said they had experience with unions coming in to their workplaces before, taking dues and not fighting for anything?

5. Shuvu writes that the establishment of a union would have given the Amazon workers "access to a higher form of struggle in the form of an organized mass strike." Have the American unions called a single mass strike at the instigation of the rank-and-file over the past 40 years? What mechanisms are available to workers to call for such a strike within the unions?

6. Shuvu makes various points about the SEP's finances, one of which is a claim that it raises what he estimates to be $100,000 per year. This is around a third of what RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum personally receives each year. Why the apparent indifference to the substantial funds being accrued by union bureaucrats, but the intense scrutiny of a small socialist organization?

7. The administrators of this blog say they are withholding Shuvu's workplace to ensure against victimisation, but in the NPR interview that is linked, he and the interviewer state where he works and the nature of the facility. The pretense of great care seems a little thin given that the information has already been broadcast on national/international radio and is again linked here....

gerdowning said...

I fully agree with this and have written very similar stuff about Bessemer Alabama recently. I have also critiqued them on Roman Polanski and Dominique Strauss Kahn and Harvey Weinstein as misognist and denial that Tryvon Martin's murder was racist and many other positions like saying that BLM movement was fascist makes them racist.
I will publish this.

Mark said...

If anyone wants an example of the advanced worker consciousness that is being promoted by the WSWS, take a look at the statement of Shannon Allen tweeted by the WSWS:

Probably it's not any fault of her own that she is regurgitating right wing anti-union talking points (about paycheck deductions), yet the WSWS makes not attempt to push back against such thinking and probably encourages it. Shuvu is correct in his quotation of Trotsky, that in renoucing the Transitional Program and the fight for transitional demands within the unions the SEP are in effect "renouncing of the struggle for leadership of the working class."

A lot more could be said about Shuvu's statement. I applaud his efforts to hold the leadership of the SEP accountable and expose what is at this point an undemocratic anti-Marxist anti-worker organization.

Tristan Jones said...

Response to "Anonymous" with the 7 points:

1) Not sure what the issue is with applying for an HR job in the context of horrible warehouse conditions. Large corporations typically employ legions of "office workers" to manage a number of things. These workers are, in the vast majority of cases, not well remunerated and do not typically have any control over the conditions of "productive labor" or rank and file workers. Such decisions are not typically handled by office staff and it is certainly not case that someone just out of the warehouse would have such authority. Their work conditions tend to require less physical exertion than other forms of labor, which often contributes to them being attractive from the vantage point of other other salaried employees, but they are still subject to capitalist control and the constant threat of being sacked.

2) The "rank-and-file" character of the Amazon Bessemer workers really has to do with the broader efforts of workers (Amazon in particular, workers in general) to once again fight for collective organization in the midst of some pretty formidable obstacles (e.g. State laws, company efforts). Non-organized workers across the US very much supported the unionization drive at Bessemer in particular as well as the right to organize in general as manifested by repeated surveys. Efforts to organize have not ceased. That Bessemer workers were thwarted only speaks to how hard it has become to organize as well as the backwardness of the RWDSU bureaucrats. Yet, workers across many different industries and regions of the US continue to call for and work towards forms of collective organization.

As for Biden and Rubio, it costs a politician absolutely nothing to utter a few hollow words in support for this kind of thing. When one thinks about it dispassionately, it actually makes good political sense. Biden won with the support of many workers, particularly African American. All he said was that he supported their right to form or join a union. Such statements keep his electoral "base" happy and provide some easy easy political wins for him with the "black" vote as well as northern/rust belt, blue collar families. Biden's statements were a far cry from a Marxist fighting for a revolutionary union. Rather, they resembled words politicians utter in favor of human rights, ending world hunger and such the like just before they bomb Syrian children or carry out some other atrocity.

As for Rubio, there is also a political motivation here. He has aspirations beyond the senate for which he has expressed some tactical differences with the Trump wing of the Republican party. Any "Latino" politician in the Republican party would have to in order to avoid falling into the abyss of someone like Ted Cruz, who almost lost his Texas seat last time around and whose days appear numbered.

Tristan Jones said...

3) The position of Marxists in favor of mass workers' organizations is not an endorsement of the RWDSU bureaucracy no matter the attempt to conflate the union bureaucrats with rank-and-file efforts to collectively organize. Marxists were not in a position of sufficient strength to widely propagate a more militant conception of mass collective organization. However, Marxist agreement with the need for workers to form mass organizations of their own is not the same as an endorsement of the RWDSU or any other union bureaucracy.

4) Marxists are under no obligation to respond for or on behalf of the RWDSU bureaucrats. Everywhere we encourage workers to collectively organize in such a way that 1) the mass of the rank-and-file controls those members delegated to represent it, and 2) there is full democracy for us to carry carry out socialist agitation within the mass organizations of the working class.

5) Mass strikes are possible at a certain stage in the process of intensified class struggle. They are not the product of "calls from labor bureaucrats." The past forty years represent a period of retrogression in the class struggle in the US (and elsewhere). Does Anonymous with the 7 Points not understand that? The idea that such a tactic would be feasible under the conditions that characterized the past forty years would only occur to someone that knows nothing of Marxist tactics. We Marxists do not fetishize any tactic and we certainly do not impose tactical conceptions upon workers out of the blue. We organize emergent forms of struggle by workers and take the lead in strengthening the revolutionary potential of those forms of struggle developing at every stage/moment of the class struggle.

6) We Marxists do not speak for, represent or endorse the union bureaucrats. We urge workers to fight so that both the delegates within their organizations and public officials in general be subject to immediate recall and receive the compensation of the average worker.

-Tristan Jones

Anonymous said...

I’m an SEP member and I’ve tried to keep a pretty open mind through all this. But the completely unprincipled manner in which the two of you’ve raised your differences (including this tabloid expose) coupled with your “demands” pretty much settled things for me.

First of all for being a supposed Trotskyist I’m struck by the blatant nationalism that runs through your analysis. Reading your screed one would never know there were international sections of the ICFI.

Your #1 demand that you think I should be making is to find out how many members we have. That has nothing to do with my day to day political work? I joined the party because I believe in its political program. If I wanted a big tent that takes in opportunists of all stripes I’d join the DSA.

Your second demand is that I investigate the party’s finances.

I hope Mehring is making money. I think that number on that website is inaccurate. If it is accurate then the party is clearly doing something right. I hope worldwide we are getting donations and able to keep building the party. However the party is legally or financially set up Is of little concern to me.

This, coupled with your first demand, is when I realized that this isn’t about fixing the ICFI and correcting a position on unions; it’s actually about destroying the ICFI. Anytime organizational questions are raised before political questions it’s a huge red flag.

Richard King said...

I find it as no surprise that the SEP is internally an undemocratic authoritarian organization with a single strong leader. I have studied them thoroughly over the last few years.
I read the WSWS website daily and find it to be a good source for news with a Marxist viewpoint. I have no illusions that the SEP is or will become the party of the revolutionary proletariat. Like many people that read the WSWS I don't subscribe to some of their views but find the website useful. Viewed from a perspective of providing solid news reporting, the WSWS is providing an important function. Just don't get carried away with their grand claims of being the sole voice of the working class.

The union question is complicated one. In general I do support the WSWS positions on the degeneration of the trade unions. But really considering that in the United States a mere 7% of private workers are organized in unions an important question is, what will be the best road forward to build fighting organizations of the working class?

Anonymous said...

It is interesting, in a discussion of the unions today, that you barely mention the pandemic - except to claim, without providing a source, that unionized workers are more likely to have kept their jobs. Let's say this is true. But one has to ask: would any organization that represented the interests of workers behave as the unions have done in the past year, namely, forcing people back to work knowing very well that some of them will be killed by the virus? Any organization that does this, surely, has no right to claim to represent workers.

Anonymous said...

Responding to the SEP member who wrote in:
You claim that you’ve been trying to keep an open mind about this, but what you write indicates the opposite.

There were 2 issues Shuvu raised: the SEP abstentionism on the unions and the absence of internal party democracy. He was driven out of the party (lack of democracy) for trying to start a discussion about that abstentionism. You accuse him of raising organizational issues before political ones, but this isn’t true at all. It’s actually you who say nothing about the political issue Shuvu is raising, about the SEP’s union abstentionism. Where do you stand on that? Before you denounce others for being “completely unprincipled”, it would be nice to know what your principles are. Shuvu has a whole section on Trotskyism vs Sectarianism, including quotes from the Transitional Program – but again you say nothing about that. I’d be curious to know whether you agree with Trotsky on this issue, or with David North.

As for party democracy, that isn’t just an organizational issue, it also has important political implications. You say you joined the SEP because you agree with their program. Fine, but what does ‘joining’ mean to you? You don’t want to know about its membership or its finances, presumably you also don’t care about the ludicrously anti-democratic way the party leadership is voted in. So apparently for you being a member doesn’t mean playing any meaningful role in running that party or determining its political positions. You seem happy to let others do the thinking for you. That isn’t the tradition of Bolshevism and Trotskyism, that isn’t the way one trains oneself as a future revolutionary leader of the working class.

A membership that has no access to basic information about the internal life of the party has no way to hold the leadership of that party accountable. And that isn’t just an organizational matter. Such a party is incapable of learning from its mistakes and is therefore condemned to atrophy politically. It’s not an organization that militant workers would ever look to join.

Frank Brenner

Anonymous said...

An anonymous commenter (other than myself) writes
"Shuvu makes various points about the SEP's finances, one of which is a claim that it raises what he estimates to be $100,000 per year. This is around a third of what RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum personally receives each year. Why the apparent indifference to the substantial funds being accrued by union bureaucrats, but the intense scrutiny of a small socialist organization?"
Why the intense scrutiny indeed? Mr. Batta wants to know who the SEP's "shareholders" are. This demand, along with disclosures about the SEPs membership numbers mark this individual as dubious, to say the least. His feigned "orhtodoxy" and a formal adherence to quotes lifted from the "Transitional Program" are the hallmark of an opportunist trying to cover his tracks. It is something one used to see in Spartacist. Batta's discourse is entirely ahistorical. He says nothing about the struggle against the national opportunism of the WRP from 1982-86, the collapse of the USSR and the deformed workers states, or the betrayals of the working class by the AFL-CIO, from the PATCO strike in 1981, and all the sellouts, concession contracts and plant shutdowns that ensued during that period.
The fact that this website enthusiastically posts Batta's essentially right-wing trash is an indication of a profound political degeneration in the direction of bourgeois politics. Mr. Brenner warns that the SEP will "atrophy politically" if it does not learn from its mistakes. What mistakes? ... not acknowledging the unions as legitimate workers organizations? Not minimizing the dangers of the rise in fascistic movements in the US and globally? Not calling for a lockdown with full compensation to workers and small business in the face of the pandemic? (something your website has said nothing about). Or perhaps we are placing a "too heavy emphasis on the political independence of the working class", as the renegade Cliff Slaughter once accused us of doing.
I once knew Mr. Brenner and Mr. Steiner when they considered themselves to be proletarian revolutionists. That was long ago. I suggest that the next time Mr. Brenner wants to hurl accusations of "abstentionism" and "political atrophy" he should take a good look in the mirror. I will remain anonymous, since you once used my real name in one of your articles, without my knowledge or permission

Alex Steiner said...

Response to Richard King:

Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
Yes I agree that the union question is complicated. But it is not so complicated that it is impossible to distinguish between a political position that has crossed the class line and found itself in the camp of Right To Work cheerleaders on the one hand, and revolutionary socialists on the other hand who seek to engage with the working class and bring them along to the next stage of their struggle by fighting with them for a series of transitional demands. Shouting at workers and demanding that they immediately renounce their desire to join a union and instead join a so called "Rank and File" committee which turns out to be an empty shell is simply not a way to engage with workers.

The other thing to remember is that any organization whose leadership expels and slanders a young worker and member for daring to raise issues which the leadership finds uncomfortable is not an organization one would recommend to anyone aspiring to join in the struggle for socialism.

Alex Steiner said...

Reply to Anonymous who says he "once knew Mr. Brenner and Mr. Steiner"

At the conclusion of your note you indulge in a childish attempt to capture the moral high ground by denigrating me, claiming that I once published your real name without your knowledge or permission. (I know nothing about this.)

You then indicate that you will remain anonymous. But why do you need to remain anonymous if as you say your name is already out there? Your statements make little sense.

The substance of your comment is a dishonest attempt to divert the discussion away from the real issues raised by Shuvu and Peter - the question of the SEP's rotten position on the unions particularly in relation to the campaign of Amazon workers in Bessemer, and the anti-democratic practice of the SEP's leadership. You recite a litany of issues that you say Shuvu ignores, viz, "the struggle against the national opportunism of the WRP from 1982-86, the collapse of the USSR and the deformed workers states, or the betrayals of the working class by the AFL-CIO, from the PATCO strike in 1981, and all the sellouts, concession contracts and plant shutdowns that ensued during that period."

That's quite a mouthful. Yet you have nothing concrete to say about any of those developments either. They just roll off your tongue as if you were a retired general listing famous battles your troops have won.

But the bottom line is that you have nothing to say about Joseph Kishore's slanders of Shuvu, or about the critique of the SEP's position on the unions or about the anti-democratic organizational practices of the SEP.

This is something akin to being an attorney for someone charged with a crime, when asked to present his defense, says nothing about the crime your client allegedly committed but instead recites a list of his accomplishments - whether real or imagined - on his high school debating team 20 years earlier!

I note that the SEP apologists for Harvey Weinstein make much of their adherence to due process. What due process did the SEP give to Shuvu before accusing him of being "a stooge of the AFL-CIO and RSDWU."?

Not only are you silent on Joseph Kishore's despicable slanders, but you in fact contribute to the atmosphere of a witch hunt against Shuvu by insinuating that he might be an agent, calling him "dubious" because he thinks that basic financial information about the SEP should be shared with the membership.

You note that the salary of the head of the RSDWU is 3 times the yearly income of Mehring Books. But the interesting thing here is that while it's true that the salary of the RWDSU President is obscene compared to the average salary of a worker in his union, at least we can go to a public web site and look up his salary! While no one is suggesting the SEP should publicly post its financial details what is so outrageous is that this information is not available to party members.

I don't know the author of this pathetic comment but I assume it is one of the old timers who has been hanging onto the coattails of the SEP for decades because it provides him/her with the illusion that they are actually fighting the good fight without having to get off their rocking chair.

It's a sign of the putrefaction of an entire generation who started out as fighters for the working class but made their peace with capitalism decades ago.

Look in the mirror yourself.

Anonymous said...

Those events "roll off my tongue' as you say because, unlike you, we actually experienced them, intervened in those struggles, exposed the rottenness of the unions, while attempting to provide revolutionary leadership under quite unfavorable circumstances. The Party did provide leadership to the Phelps Dodge workers, the Greyhound strikers, Hormel Meatpackers, in which the late Bill Brust was arrested with other strikers, Chicago Tribune, where the pressmen got our supporters back to the union hall after the bureaucrats barred us. All these struggles took place after the monstrous betrayal by the AFL-CIO of the PATCO strikers. All this was followed by a decade of suppression of the class struggle and the decline in workers' living conditions. Shuvu Batta has nothing to say about this history, because for him it is not important. He is nothing more than a fearful little climber who is seeking a career in the union hierarchy. How else would he have attracted the attention of NPR. If this is who you solidarize yourself with ... well met.

Anonymous said...

[Note: This comment was left after one of the documents linked from this post. I am copying it to the post comment page. A.S.]

Unknown said...
Excellent analysis, well thought out and written, as a former member of the Workers League, (the SEP predecessor), I was attacked for questioning practice as well, similar to my experience as a child, questioning the church and being told the pope was infallible, so shut up. as an adult, I still have questions, but the SEP ain't the Catholic Church and D. North, ain't the fucking Pope. Thanks for your integrity, my friend, truth will out.

Richard King said...

On the subject of the SEP and the trade unions I would point out that WSWS has the most extensive reporting on workers struggles both in the US and globally that I am aware of. Their coverage is always highly critical of the labor bureaucrats and usually offers striking workers a road forward to win their struggles. It is very likely many leftists and others read the site to catch up on what is happening with important labor issues. In that sense the WSWS is providing a valuable service. I would not be surprised though if their workers committees are being organized more as front groups and less as what their purported purposes are said to be, as has been reported by the ex-SEPers in this thread.

The old concept of working within the unions to win them over via socialists getting elected to important union positions has proven itself to be a bankrupt strategy. This strategy has been implemented by Trotskyist groups for a long time. The Sparts had their Militant Action Caucuses. The strategy operates on the premise that the unions are democratic organizations and their elections are "free and fair". All socialists need to do is win the presidency and other leading positions of let's say the Teamsters, and then they reform the union into becoming a healthy fighting labor organization. Only problem with this strategy is that the labor bureaucracy will not play along. They have no problem stuffing ballet boxes and sending opposition leaders to the hospital or perhaps worse.

Then we have groups like Jan Norden's that add nothing to a healthy discussion on the subject by calling the WSWS the "World Scab Web Site". It would be one thing if they would present an in depth convincing argument defending their positions, but instead we are given the empty orthodox formula that "the unions are the defensive organizations of the working class". Why? Because that's what Lenin said 100 years ago. How about taking into account the organizational evolution/degeneration of unions over that past 100 plus years. Luxembourg had a lot to say on the subject back at the beginning of the 20th century.

Shuvu Batta said...

I wanted to emphasize the importance of the demands we have advanced to the rank and file cadre of the Socialist Equality Party.

The demands have been framed by some commentators and the SEP leadership as an attack on the SEP, meant to "destroy" the organization. If revealing basic information to the rank and file of the party such as the amount of members, growth over time, party revenue and distribution, and the creation of an open forum for party members, will "destroy" the SEP, it will only do so in the sense of clearly exposing the consequences of the anti-worker politics of the organization, thereby exposing the need to all members of destroying the old form and politics of the SEP and re-forging itself under new foundations.

The leadership of the Socialist Equality Party is not in any way held accountable to the rank and file. If the party has barely grown in human forces in the decades since its full adoption of anti-union politics, then this indicates a deep failure of the political line and tactics of the party which must be corrected. If it is revealed that the finances of the party has been misused to enrich the leading brass at the expense of developing the party as a whole, then this indicates a need for the rank and file to exercise democratic control of the funds and create mechanisms to prevent funds from being misused. The creation of an open forum will allow the rank and file to launch discussions on theory, to express their disagreements, and to advance their ideas to develop the party, while preserving organizational discipline, thus creating the basis for a flourishing of inner party discussion and major advances in the party practice. Marxism develops not through stale repetition of dogma but of ruthless criticism of all that exists, cadre must be allowed the ability to criticize!

These demands are aimed above all at asserting the democracy inherent in democratic centralism that is currently absent in the Socialist Equality Party. If a party does not treat input from the rank and file as an urgent necessity but rather a privilege, then that party is doomed to sterility and impotence.

Anonymous said...

Another question this post raises:
If not the SEP, then which organisation do the authors and the blog-runners recommend? Socialist Alternative? The DSA? It would be interesting to know if you prefer these organisations, or something else...

Mark said...

In response to Richard King, I won't argue with someone if they find value in the WSWS. However, whatever positivies there are in the WSWS they seem to be countered by an endless stream of negatives, from the endless conspiracy theories, crisis mongering, and sectarian left posturing, to what some have called rape apologia for the of likes Weinstein, Polanski, Spacey, etc.

On the trade union question, the North position is certainly an example of revisionism even though he attempts to reconcile his views with Trotsky. You might argue it is a justified revisionism, but that doesn't change the fact that it breaks from a long tradition within the Marxist movement. I think it's absolutely fine to have that debate, clearly North doesn't as the three members identified here were expelled for their differences with North on the union question. Just on that subject, I think Alex wrote a convincing refutation of North's position in one the documents referenced by Shuvu.

A lot could be said about the current orientation of the SEP toward "rank and file committees". If you read the Transitional Program, it is clear that Trotsky's recommendations were conjunctural. He says:

"Slogans as well as organizational forms should be subordinated to the indices of the movement. On guard against routine handling of a situation as against a plague, the leadership should respond sensitively to the initiative of the masses."

He justifies the slogan of "factory committees" with the wave of sit down strikes. What "indices of the movement" have justified the SEP's ritual call for "rank and file committees"? The answer is none, this panacea proposed by the SEP has no connection to any actual movement or instance of struggle, and in practice does not amount to any kind of fighting organization, but instead to a kind of sectarian study group as documented by Shuvu.

Reese Mittane said...

Bhatta and Ross never argue for socialism. Instead, the average union worker is slightly less impoverished and miserable than his non-union counterpart and that’s good enough.

Needless to say, they never mention that abysmally low wages predominate overall. What is the solution? Just join a union and maybe you can increase your monthly household budget by a couple hundred dollars at best? Even this is dubious given that the unions have collaborated in introducing tier wage schedules especially at the US auto plants with the UAW/Obama agreements. Meanwhile the fact that the wealth of the world's billionaires increased by 60% over the past year alone doesn't even merit a mention.

Steiner and Brenner, in particular, for all their invocations of dialectics and its supposed lack thereof on the pages of the WSWS, argue as if the state of the US and world economy is a static phenomenon. Union workers make inadequate but not extremely impoverished wages, and workers should join a union, becausethings could be a lot worse. This state of affairs of drastic but somewhat manageable wealth inequality is implicitly assumed to continue indefinitely.

(And yes, Steiner and Brenner, I know you're going to accuse me of making a straw man here. Protest all you want, but searching for "wealth inequality" or "wealth gap" on your site yields no results. The word "billionaire" appears once. The word "inequality" appears once in a 2018 article criticizing the WSWS's stance on the MeToo movement and that was regarding what you falsely believed to be the WSWS's opposition to gender inequality. Wealth inequality in and of itself doesn't seem to interest you that much. And yes, the fact that you don't mention it at all in a decade-long critique of a socialist organization does mean that you implicitly support it.)

Conditions for the working class are not in stasis but have in fact steadily worsened. Workers share of national income fallen sharply since the 1970s. You might argue as the New York Times does that this is due to the decline in union membership during the same period. The drop, however, and this is the decisive point, has been accompanied by a sharp decrease in work stoppages for which the trade unions are totally responsible. Why should I fight to join a union, a worker would ask, if they'll never fight for me?

And if the past history of the unions wasn't criminal enough, what can we expect of them as the crisis intensifies?

What happens when the market collapses or if the US is at war, or even if events continue along their present trajectory?

How will workers fight back? When US auto plants idle because of chip shortages in China, would you recommend the official nationalist position of the AFL-CIO and reject solidarity with Chinese and Asian American workers? How would mass strikes be possible in the US in the event of future wars when all union-approved contracts contain no-strike clauses?

Or perhaps you believe that the trade unions themselves can head off these disasters through "rank and file" caucuses?

In that event, caucus members would become recipients of handsome six figure salaries with access to stock portfolios funded by pension and strike funds.

They would be surrounded by an apparatus tied to the Democratic Party by numerous threads, contracts to fund Democratic Party campaigns in exchange for favorable legislation etc...

There is no way the unions can become organs of workers struggle in any sense. They are vehicles under which working class struggle remains isolated and contained.

These are issues which should be considered quite carefully. The orientation towards rank and file committees gives workers a fighting chance against escalating capitalist barbarism. The orientation towards the trade unions instead accommodates it.

Alex Steiner said...

Response to Reese Mittane,

This is truly one of the most sophomoric comments to ever appear on our site.

The entire comment is an exercise of lies and smears.

And you have nothing to say about the slanders levelled against Bhatta and Ross by Kishore and North.

You write,

"The word "inequality" appears once in a 2018 article ..."

Not that it is such big deal, but in fact the word "inequality" appears many, many times.
All you have to do is use the search button on the upper right of the web site to see this.
This lie is not in itself important but it illustrates the bad faith of this commenter.

In essence all your arguments are of the form,
"Because you failed to say X, it means you are opposed to X or support Y.
Just fill in the values for X and Y.

Because someone on some occasion did not say anything about "the struggle for socialism" it means that this person is opposed to the struggle for socialism. If you do not see the elementary error in logic in this statement then you need to go back to elementary school.

Or, because we maintain, along with Lenin and Trotsky, that Marxists should be fighting in the unions as well as outside the unions, it means we support the trade union bureaucracy. Huh??

Or because we have exposed the hollow nature of the SEP's "rank and file committees" it means that we oppose rank and file initiatives by workers or that we insist that they be subordinated to the trade union bureaucracy.

Or that if you try to form a caucus in a union you are guaranteed to "become recipients of handsome six figure salaries with access to stock portfolios funded by pension and strike funds." Huh?

Sounds like you don't have much faith in the ability of your cadres to resist the temptations offered by the trade union bureaucracy.

Reese Mittane said...

To Alex Steiner,

Since there's an inverse relationship between the hostility of your criticism and the validity of the points you criticize, I'll first thank you for your unintended compliment.

As for your actual arguments, as usual they have no merit. They consist of false and ahistorical syllogisms.

Moreover, you begin once again with the premise that consciousness primarily determines being and not the other way around.

From this point of view, the fact that union leaders become corrupted and betray their workers is simply an individual failing and not a product of objective factors. As you say, it requires "faith in the ability of your cadre to resist temptation."

One could argue along these lines that well-intentioned police captains failing to stop their officers from shooting innocent civilians is a product of insufficient knowledge, determination and an inability to "resist temptation."

Under this argument, a rank and file caucus penetrating a trade union just needs the right people who will simply seize the union apparatus and somehow magically overcome the NLRB, cancel contribution obligations with Democratic Party figures and other rotten contracts without incurring significant legal fees, at every point refuse the six figure salaries and perks of their position, join their struggles with other trade unions which will also somehow adopt the same posture, broaden, instead of isolate work stoppages, so that they can all transform international alliance of rank and file committees??

If only some other political organization was already building such a thing within the working class?

The fact is that the time has passed where the unions are even capable of defending the minimum program of moderate pay increases and slight improvements in job conditions for workers. They are no longer able to fulfill this role with world capitalism now actually depending on them to suppress the class struggle.

Socialists "working within the unions," as you say, now have the sole obligation of breaking the workers free from these rotten, imperialist organizations.

As for the supposed slanders against Bhatta and Ross, there is nothing that the ICFI wrote about their departure that wasn't completely factual. (And I'm sure the US intelligence agencies thank you for publicly posting internal party documents that you were never meant to see). Unpleasant to hear? Sure. But incorrect or slanderous? No.

For all their invocations of democratic rights, these two decided that their rights and their rights alone mattered in the party. I ask you and your readers, what happens in any organization when an individual member decides that they alone determine the time and place of discussion regardless of how the rest of the membership feels? And when such a member is given multiple opportunities to discuss their issues in a different forum but adamantly refuses? How would such an organization be able to operate if it were to accommodate such demands? Answer, it cannot. The organization collapses and that was really the point all along.

Anonymous said...

Without defending the factional tyranny imposed on the SEP by the nano-bureaucracy, Batta deserves a severe criticism over his shameful ignorance about the importance of workers' committees, disguising itself as a support for "gaining influence" over the workers through work in the unions.

In Chapter 2 of Lenin's Left Wing Communism, he writes:

“If the heroes of the Second International have all gone bankrupt and have disgraced themselves over the question of the significance and role of the Soviets and Soviet rule; if the leaders of the three very important parties which have now left the Second International… have disgraced themselves and become entangled in this question in a most “telling” fashion; if they have all shown themselves slaves to the prejudices of petty-bourgeois democracy (fully in the spirit of the petty-bourgeois of 1848 who called themselves “Social-Democrats”)—then we can only say that we have already witnessed all this in the instance of the Mensheviks. As history would have it, the Soviets came into being in Russia in 1905; from February to October 1917 they were turned to a false use by the Mensheviks, who went bankrupt because of their inability to understand the role and significance of the Soviets; today the idea of Soviet power has emerged throughout the world and is spreading among the proletariat of all countries with extraordinary speed. Like our Mensheviks, the old heroes of the Second International are everywhere going bankrupt, because they are incapable of understanding the role and significance of the Soviets. Experience has proved that, on certain very important questions of the proletarian revolution, all countries will inevitably have to do what Russia has done.”

You can read a full analysis of this membership rebellion at this web page:

Alex Steiner said...

Response to Reese Mittane's second sailing:

You write,
"As for your actual arguments, as usual they have no merit. They consist of false and ahistorical syllogisms.'

It's true that the syllogisms I cite are false. Their conclusions do not follow from their premises. But they are your syllogisms, not mine.

All I did was take your arguments and distill them into their logical structure. If you don't like how they make you look you have no one to blame but yourself.

I also notice you have nothing further to say about your false statement that the permanent revolution web site references "social inequality" only once.

As for your argument that "being determines consciousness", yes that is true generally but you leave out the dialectical interplay between being and consciousness. Once you do that you are nothing more than a crude mechanical materialist of the type that Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky fought. If you were capable of thinking I would recommend that you read Trotsky's Preface from the History of the Russian Revolution, where he says,

"In a society that is seized by revolution classes are in conflict. It is perfectly clear, however, that the changes introduced between the beginning and the end of a revolution in the economic bases of the society and its social substratum of classes, are not sufficient to explain the course of the revolution itself, which can overthrow in a short interval age-old institutions, create new ones, and again overthrow them. The dynamic of revolutionary events is directly determined by swift, intense and passionate changes in the psychology of classes which have already formed themselves before the revolution."

Without intending to you provide a good illustration of the thinking of sectarians. Your position is that the unions represent a "Being" that is hopelessly reactionary, that it is not possible for revolutionaries to be in any way involved with them without succumbing to a serious infection, as if unions are a plague to be avoided at all costs. So you avoid this diseased "Being" by creating an alternate "Being", your so-called Rank and File Committees.

The only problem is that your alternate Being is a chimera. The SEP's Rank and File committees are just part of a Potemkin village built by SEP members having practically no representation from the working class while the "Being" that you reject, the unions, have more support now than at any time in recent years. See for instance this recent article:
Americans are more pro-union – and anti-big business – than at any time in decades

You espouse the typical mindset of a sectarian. You don't like the working class as it is and as it is struggling in its current form. So instead of engaging with the working class where it is to provide the spark to break out of the limitations of their current struggles, you reject the real working class and instead adopt an imaginary working class who are eager to join your imaginary Rank and File Committees.

Anonymous said...

Former SEP cult member here checking in, really enjoyed this article.