Main Document Index  |  ETOL Home Page


Balance Sheet on the End of the FIT and Building Solidarity

by Steve Bloom, June 1996

Introductory note: I wrote a first draft of this balance sheet last October and circulated it to a number of comrades – both former members of the FIT and other leaders of Solidarity – to get critical comments and feedback. I want to thank all those who responded. It has enabled me to clarify a number of points and, perhaps most importantly, correct one serious factual error (the result of my misunderstanding something that was said to me about the relationship between the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism and Against the Current).

A little less than four years ago, in September 1992, the Fourth Internationalist Tendency (FIT) held its final conference. A majority voted to join Solidarity. These notes represent a personal balance sheet on that decision and the resulting experience.

I stress that this is a personal balance sheet. It is shaped by the perspectives I had when I voted with the majority current to dissolve the FIT, by my expectations upon joining Solidarity, and by subsequent events. No one else shares exactly this same background and experience with me. And there has been no functioning of former FITers inside of Solidarity which might provide the basis for a collective assessment. But I am confident that at least some others will find that what I say here also speaks to their experience.

1) The end of the FIT

The FIT was founded and maintained on the basis of two major tasks: 1) continuing the programmatic fight which the Barnes faction in the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party tried to cut off when it expelled the Trotskyist opposition in the early 1980s and 2) trying to reunify Fourth Internationalists in the United States in a single organization.

By the time the SWP left the Fourth International, later in the decade, it was clear that the first of these tasks had run its course. But the second perspective still defined a collective identity for the FIT. By the early ’90s, however, it was increasingly difficult for us to develop a common understanding of how to pursue FI Unity. Some had even begun to question whether it was correct to maintain it as a goal.

This was why the FIT broke up. The political points which had given it a reason for existence could no longer hold it together. And the tensions inside the FIT were clear enough long before we began to discuss joining Solidarity in a serious way. I believe that the FIT’s demise was inevitable even if the majority at our September ’92 conference had reached some other decision. In no sense, then, can the act of joining Solidarity be cited as the reason this organization came to an end. It was merely the culmination of a process that would have had to happen in some other way – sooner rather than later in my view.

2) Some ambivalence on both sides

Many FIT comrades voted with the majority at the final conference primarily because they couldn’t endorse any other perspective for what the group should do. But they weren’t enthusiastic, and they weren’t sure on a personal level whether they could commit themselves to building a group like Solidarity – which was clearly so different from everything we had always envisioned for ourselves. These comrades approached the new orientation with some ambivalence and considerable skepticism. Solidarity still had to prove itself in their eyes.

Unfortunately, overcoming such hesitations was made more difficult by the fact that within Solidarity there was also considerable ambivalence about the invitation to the FIT – despite the nearly unanimous vote at the group’s ’92 convention. I think many leading Solidarity comrades were not quite sure whether this was the right thing to do. And they didn’t know what to expect. For Solidarity, the FITers also had to prove themselves.

At least some in Solidarity probably felt uneasy with the participation of a current which drew a positive balance sheet on its own experience during the previous decade. (The original groups that formed Solidarity had done so with an essentially negative assessment of the kinds of organizations they had been involved in up to that time.) Most Solidarity members were sharply critical – even contemptuous – of the FIT’s political perspectives, and they had little willingness to engage former members of the group in a serious discussion about it.

This reflects a general problem which affects Solidarity to some degree, what has been aptly called “nonsectarian sectarianism.” This arises when comrades refuse to relate to anyone who hasn’t already drawn essentially the same conclusion as themselves about the nature and causes of sectarianism. Thus FITers, who may have acted in a non-sectarian way but who did not agree with the prevailing notion in Solidarity – that any effort to build a revolutionary grouping around clear programmatic and theoretical perspectives necessarily leads in a sectarian direction – were viewed with suspicion.

Of course there was a reciprocal difficulty at work. I would now say that the FIT never really understood the basis on which Solidarity was trying to build a multi-tendency organization. We were satisfied with simply denouncing the group’s rejection of “Leninist organization” – as we envisioned it. So we were just as dismissive of their regroupment project as most Solidarity members were of our efforts at programmatic clarification. This mutual lack of respect at the outset made it much harder to bridge the gap in expectations and understanding after formal unification.

To really understand this it might be instructive to look at what happened around the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism (BIDOM). The Solidarity leadership first stated, in a message to a national FIT conference earlier in 1992, that we could join and keep publishing our magazine as an independent journal. This invitation was instrumental in convincing many of us (including the author of this article) that the unity proposal was sincere. We took it as an indication that such a step would be welcomed by Solidarity members.

And yet, it is clear to me now, this was not the case. The message as far as most Solidarity comrades were concerned was something different. They wanted to let us know that we could, in a formal sense, continue publishing our magazine. But most of them also thought that this would create obstacles to building a common organization.

The negative half this message was never really delivered, however. So when the final FIT conference did indeed decide to maintain BIDOM as an independent publication there were two quite different understandings of what our action meant. I think the vote was perceived by most Solidarity members as some kind of a factional act, while we did not see it that way at all.

The Solidarity leadership issued its original invitation in response to pressure – both from within and outside of Solidarity’s ranks. On the one hand they had to demonstrate to those who wanted serious discussions about unity with the FIT that they were really pursuing this. There was also pressure in the opposite direction, from those who wanted to put an end to such talk. The BIDOM proposal had the potential to satisfy both of these camps.

I think the assumption of most in Solidarity’s leadership was that the offer to join and keep publishing would be rejected by the FIT. (I make an educated guess here, but it is a reasonable one.) And if the FIT rejected the proposal it would clearly demonstrate that our organization, not Solidarity, stood in the way of unity. That would put an end to the talk about this inside Solidarity while, at the same time, laying the basis for pursuing the FIT’s layer of young activists, who wanted unity and would now be alienated from their leaders.

But, as often happens, real life held some surprises. The offer for BIDOM to continue, given our appreciation of it, actually led the FIT to seriously consider unification. Faced with the fact that the Solidarity leadership could not withdraw the proposal without discrediting themselves they did the honorable thing and forged ahead. But they did so grudgingly, helping to promote a campaign of internal grumbling by their rank and file against the FIT’s political outlook and against BIDOM – a campaign which had the effect, intentional or not, of making the integration of former FITers much more difficult after the formalities were achieved.

So, on balance, I would have to say that the leadership of Solidarity badly bungled its end of things. Instead of helping to create a situation in which the FITers would feel welcomed after they joined, the leadership’s course tended to encourage those Solidarity members who wanted to vent their hostilities, to attack a group of comrades with a somewhat different “ethos,” a somewhat different “take” on revolutionary politics. This contributed to the general sense that these new members had the task of proving how committed they would be before they could be accepted as “real” comrades. And, of course, those FITers who were hesitant to begin with, and whose commitment had to be won rather than assumed, were considerably put off by the resulting experience.

The consequence was a lost opportunity. I cannot say that this was some historic default since, given the size of the FIT, the swing couldn’t possibly be more than a score of comrades one way or another. This will hardly prove decisive on the historical scale. But I would suggest that ten to twenty more former FITers, actively working today to help build Solidarity, would make a modest difference in the group’s collective prospects.

3) Some quickly abandon Solidarity

Within months of the final FIT conference it became clear that two groups of former FITers were becoming disillusioned with their experience inside Solidarity. There were a number of reasons for this in addition to the perceived suspicion/hostility that I have just described. The objective weaknesses of Solidarity as an organization (which FITers knew about on some level but weren’t really prepared for) also played a role, along with the wide disparity of expectations among FITers at the outset.

One of these two currents of disaffected comrades consisted, ironically, of most of those who had argued the loudest within the FIT for joining Solidarity. When Solidarity failed to live up to the idealized portrait they had painted of it (something they had been convinced of by the rosy picture which the Solidarity leadership presented to them) they retreated headlong into the most ultraleft and sectarian positions, openly joining the International Trotskyist Opposition (ITO) in the Fourth International.

To be sure, these comrades already had pro-ITO leanings before the FIT dissolved. But now, because they were completely disillusioned with Solidarity and no longer felt the need to try to influence anyone, all restraints on their evolution were removed. They formed a hard, self-proclaimed “Leninist” faction and issued sweeping denunciations of all who refused to join them.

When Solidarity didn’t immediately recognize how correct they were it simply confirmed, for these comrades, the “reformist” nature of the group. They drew similar conclusions about all of the former FIT leaders who didn’t rally to their cause. In the end they acted in ways that seemed consciously designed to provoke their expulsion. Solidarity, being somewhat immature in dealing with such a faction, readily obliged them.

Other individuals from the FIT who became disillusioned simply drifted away over a period of months. This was also the result of a disenchantment with Solidarity, similar to that which had spawned the ITO phenomenon. But the second group of comrades did not share the same sectarian instincts. The organizational weakness of Solidarity was particularly difficult for those who were isolated in local areas where no branches existed, or who found themselves in small branches made up only of former FITers. In the FIT, even if only because it was smaller, the national organization had always been able to take an active interest in the work of such comrades. Solidarity provided little support of this kind – unless there was first an effort on the part of the comrades themselves to solicit it, and sometimes not even then. This reality reinforced all the questions and hesitations which many ex-FITers had about the viability of the group.

Another factor contributed to this phenomenon among an older layer of comrades. It was one thing to maintain a strong commitment to the specific struggle of the FIT, directed at the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party which they blamed for betraying a profound revolutionary trust representing, in most cases, a lifetime of work and devotion to the U.S. Trotskyist movement. It is understandably more difficult to generate the same intense commitment for the task of starting again – virtually from scratch and with a new organization where most members have quite a different view on some things that had always seemed centrally important.

4) Those who continue to carry out the perspective

As with those former FITers who left Solidarity, those who continue as members can also be roughly divided into two groupings or currents. The first of these entered with the same strong ambivalence as the comrades who drifted away. But they made different personal choices. Perhaps as individuals they had at least some more positive experiences – enough to partially balance out the negatives mentioned above. Or perhaps they realized that whatever the difficulties were in Solidarity, the difficulties in trying to find an alternative, or in living the life of an “independent” radical, were even greater.

For whatever reason, these comrades remain members of Solidarity. Many have contributed to the group in important ways. However, I think it is safe to say that in general they still do not feel completely comfortable, fully integrated, or fully dedicated to it.

The final group of former FITers, including this author, simply saw no alternative but to completely commit to Solidarity and integrate ourselves despite the obstacles, with the goal of helping our new organization become the best revolutionary group possible under the circumstances. I choose my words carefully here. We chose to “integrate ourselves.” We had to do this because, as already stressed, Solidarity itself did little to facilitate the process. This clearly limited the number of former FITers who were willing, or able, to undertake an effort that proved to be quite stressful at times.

Despite the many difficulties and problems (even hostility) I encountered along the way my overall balance sheet continues to be positive. The energy I have had to expend has, on the whole, been worth it. I will try to justify that conclusion further in the rest of this article. But here I want to stress one point in particular and urge the reader to keep it in mind.

I believe the positive results which I perceive from my participation in Solidarity over the last 3 plus years were only possible because I made this kind of full commitment and because at least some others in Solidarity, after a period of time, perceived that commitment. Among other things this has required a genuine effort to put the collective interests of the entire organization first, ahead of any personal goals or the perceived needs of a political current (either inside or outside of Solidarity) which may agree with me on one or more central questions.

I believe that my willingness to approach things in this way has at least begun to break down some of the obstacles (flowing from different histories, different conceptions of what is important, and different styles of revolutionary politics) within the group to considering certain ideas which the FIT always considered crucial to building a revolutionary organization. These include such questions as the importance of program and theory, the need for a coherent collective practice and institutions which will facilitate this, etc. Of course I cannot pretend that large numbers of Solidarity members necessarily agree with me on such questions. But I do believe there is a greater willingness to at least consider them, and to discuss them in a serious way.

I will add that from this point of view the FIT’s decision not to enter Solidarity as an organized tendency or faction – which would have been allowed under the terms of the unification agreement – was completely correct. Had we done that it would have exacerbated the “circle the wagons” mentality of many Solidarity members, directed against the former FIT, just as the maintenance of BIDOM did. It would have closed minds rather than opening them.

And having our own organized current would have gotten in the way of something else that is equally important. The experience of discussing things inside of Solidarity has forced me to examine the ideas I brought into the group in a new way, as a result of new challenges from serious revolutionaries who do not accept all of my personal preconceptions.

While I think I can say that I haven’t changed any of my fundamental beliefs I do feel that I understand them more fully now, can nuance them better – taking into account valid points in the critiques raised by others. This forces me to be more precise in how I develop my own thinking. Achieving this understanding would have been far more difficult, perhaps even impossible, had we started out with hard factional divisions already drawn.

5) A collective error

Whether comrades left Solidarity in an ultraleft cloud of glory, merely drifted away, or remain inside with continued ambivalent feelings, it seems to me that the same basic error is involved. All of these former FITers have tended to measure their experience inside Solidarity by the yardstick of their preconceptions about what the unification should have been like.

To some extent, perhaps, I can blame myself and the rest of the leadership of the former FIT for this problem. Perhaps we could have done more to make clear to comrades the extent to which difficulties would arise after we joined, how unreasonable it was to expect a quick or simple resolution of them. I haven’t looked back at the discussion leading up to unification. It seems to me we did make that point, probably not strongly enough.

At the same time, as indicated in section 3 above, Solidarity itself has to take a major share of the responsibility for what has happened. The offer about the BIDOM, if it wasn’t disingenuous was at least based on a miscalculation about how it would be understood and about what the result would be. In that sense it represents a maneuver which ran away with the Solidarity leadership.

For our part the FIT did its best to avoid any misunderstanding. We even took the trouble to consciously spell out our general views about what unification meant from our point of view, and how we planned to maintain our political outlook after becoming part of Solidarity. We submitted a detailed document along these lines to the 1992 Solidarity convention. We asked comrades to read and consider what we had to say, and confirm for us that they were comfortable with a current like the one described joining their organization. We took the affirmative convention vote as a positive response to our query, that comrades were, indeed, comfortable with this.

In retrospect my guess today would be that most Solidarity members who voted for unification had probably not bothered to read our submission and were basically ignorant of its contents. They assumed, based on their own expectations and past experiences, that our agreement to join represented some kind of renunciation of our previous views, or at least a moderation of our commitment to the kind of politics the FIT had been doing – even if only in the vaguest sort of way.

Of course, even had Solidarity been completely honest (with itself as well as with us) during the period preceding unification, none of us could know what would really happen until we actually joined. The only thing we might truly have prepared ourselves better for was the need to be more flexible in our expectations and our actions.

6) Solidarity – a revolutionary group with strengths and weaknesses

If I were to try to define the problem now, after spending almost four years inside Solidarity (and having had the advantage for most of that time of being part of both the national and New York leadership) I would summarize it as follows:

Solidarity is something we have not experienced before in our efforts to build a serious revolutionary organization in the U.S.A. I will try to illustrate what I mean by measuring it against the kind of Leninist organizational perspective – properly defined and not caricatured – which I continue to affirm. In short this must combine two things: 1) an ability to centralize activity and carry out collective work, and 2) a genuine openness to different viewpoints, to dissent, and to critical thought in general.

In all humility I must say that the FIT is the only group I was ever in where these things seemed properly balanced (more or less) and mutually reinforcing – at least for a time. I think our ability to create such a group, even if only on a modest scale, is one reason former FITers continue to remain convinced that it is possible to do so. We feel some considerable frustration with the unwillingness of many in Solidarity to treat “democratic centralism” as anything but a caricature, as well as with the actual caricature created by Socialist Action and similar “Leninist vanguard”-type formations.

This general, anti-centralist attitude in Solidarity is not a pure abstraction. It translates directly into a difficulty carrying out collective projects, even when comrades really would like to do so. The frustrations trying to put together an LPA fraction to discuss our orientation toward that political phenomenon in the months leading up to the founding convention of the Labor Party is perhaps the best example of this process at work, but there are others.

This, obviously, is a reverse of the problem most so-called “Leninist” groups suffer from. They have little difficulty establishing at least a measure of centralized activity and common discipline. They are, however, most often lacking severely in openness to dissent and critical thought. Solidarity tends to understand the need for dissent and critical thinking (though in many ways even this understanding is far from perfect.) But it suffers severely if measured on the scale of collective activity.

Although the FIT always expressed its profound disagreement with the bureaucratic style of organization, typical of the sectarian “Leninists,” I think it was not hard for us to see such hyper-centralist groups (provided they didn’t go over the line and become Healy-type sects) as legitimate parts of the revolutionary movement – precisely because the phenomenon was familiar to us. Solidarity, on the other hand, was (and remains) difficult to get a handle on.

But I would suggest that there is no reason to consider democracy without centralism as being any further from the kind of revolutionary movement we need than centralism without democracy. In fact, I will argue, given certain conditions (which do in fact exist inside Solidarity) it should prove easier to add the necessary collective activity to such an organization than it has generally been to add a measure of democracy to groups which are run bureaucratically.

The basic prerequisite is that the necessary human raw material must be present – individuals who are genuinely interested in building a revolutionary movement. They must have a collective sense that the group they are in is not a finished entity – that it is presently incapable of carrying out the tasks that lie before it. And at least a reasonable number should be open to the kinds of suggestions for activity and changes that will move in an appropriate direction.

My experience in Solidarity tells me that these ingredients are present. This doesn’t mean that we will resolve things overnight. The process will take time; it will be difficult; and it will no doubt be full of surprising twists and turns. I learned long ago (not only in Solidarity) that just because I personally see that a particular problem exists, and that there is a reasonable solution to it, it does not follow that others will automatically agree with me if only I explain myself properly. It generally takes a considerable period of collective experience and discussion before a common understanding becomes possible, and when that happens I find that I have usually changed my own perceptions at least as much as others have.

This points again to an understanding which is central to the conclusions in this balance sheet: It is wrong to measure the results of any process by the yardstick of our initial expectations about it. That is why the materialist method dictates that we constantly adjust our ideas about what is happening based on what really does happen, not what we expected to happen.

If former FITers inside Solidarity think of ourselves as part of a consciously democratic-Leninist current in the group (a current which does include more than former FITers), if we are trying to be part of a process by which Solidarity as a whole clarifies and refines its self-identity, we will find that our ideas about what this means inevitably change as a direct result of the very process of discussion and experience through which we hope to achieve it. There are simply no quick and easy solutions – to the problem of Solidarity, to the problem of building a revolutionary party in the U.S., to the problem of the Fourth International, to the problem of the socialist revolution. Each one will involve a long period of struggle – and the struggle is just as much within ourselves as it is with others.

Once again, I stress my own conclusion: As with all of the other items on this list (a revolutionary party in the U.S., the FI, the revolution itself) the only way to conceivably find a solution to the problem of Solidarity is by getting involved completely and without reservation. We need an unambiguous commitment to building the group and making it the best revolutionary organization we can. I believe that no former FITer who is critical of such a perspective – whether they have dropped out of Solidarity, never joined in the first place, or still hang around on the fringes of the group – has articulated a practical alternative.

7) Two concrete experiences

I will cite here two specific experiences which illustrate why I am convinced that Solidarity can find answers to some questions if we are content to make a modest contribution and have a little patience. To explain these adequately I have to go into some detail. I do so not because the details are important in and of themselves – things might certainly have unfolded differently in each of these specific cases. Rather, these details help to illustrate the kinds of processes, both conscious and semi-conscious, which actually go on inside Solidarity and which make the group capable of overcoming its weaknesses.

I have often said that it’s not only what you know but what you can learn that is decisive in the revolutionary movement – both for individuals and for organizations. So I find myself encouraged by developments such as these, where Solidarity has been able to learn to do things in a different way (and I could cite others as well). This remains true even if it is also true that there are cases where not enough comrades figured things out in time and bad decisions were made – as in the ITO affair. It remains true even if it is also true that when Solidarity learns it does so unevenly, imperfectly, and a little too slowly for my taste. This still stands in contrast to those groups which are simply incapable of learning at all.

The first development I will take up here is the process through which we came to publish a national magazine which tried to speak in the name of Solidarity as a whole – Independent Politics. This publication only had a brief existence. As comrades who closely follow the NC and PC minutes know I feel that we did not do enough to try to avoid its demise. And I have taken an initiative which, some of us hope, will result in the relaunching of a similar, even if more modest effort. But the fact that IP proved to be a false start and will require some rethinking doesn’t change the basic point of the learning process outlined below.

From the outset I considered the lack of a journal that tried to speak in the name of Solidarity to be one of the group’s biggest weaknesses. Had such a publication existed at the time the FIT joined I would have proposed (though perhaps without convincing a majority in the FIT) that we merge the BIDOM with it rather than continuing to publish our own magazine as an independent effort.

Of course, a Solidarity publication would not be printing the same kinds of articles as BIDOM. BIDOM reflected what the FIT was and what it’s political priorities were – discussing questions of historical analysis, program, and theory. A Solidarity journal would have had to reflect what Solidarity was, and clearly questions of historical analysis, program, and theory constitute a far less central aspect of this. But from the point of view of building the two organizations the journals would have played a similar role – as organizing tools to help us focus our collective ideas and explain them to others. That is why they could have been profitably merged together.

It seemed to me, however, in discussions with comrades leading up to the unification, that the rejection of any publication like this was seen almost as an identifying point of Solidarity, something which underlined the group’s non-sectarian nature. So I decided not to fight about it. I did, however, raise the question informally at every opportunity. I tried to explain why a publication which acts as the conscious voice of a revolutionary organization is so essential to the process of pulling that organization together on a national scale.

While doing this I found that my initial impression – about an ingrained hostility to the idea among the overwhelming majority of long-time Solidarity members – was incorrect, or at least one-sided. This was true of some comrades, the ones I had mostly spoken with before joining. But there was another significant layer which had been thinking about just this sort of thing for a long time.

One evening, while several of us were sitting at the Detroit airport after an NC meeting waiting for our flights home, I got into another of these informal chats with comrades from Boston and San Diego. We decided that there was nothing to be lost in formulating a modest proposal for the next NC meeting. Probably it wouldn’t go anywhere, but it might start other comrades thinking.

To our surprise, after we submitted our ideas in a memo to the NC, the Political Committee took up the initiative and introduced its own proposal along similar lines. The next NC meeting voted to proceed, amalgamating the two initiatives into one. In time, with the increasing interest that the AISP comrades were showing in Solidarity, the discussion turned toward the idea of simply adopting Independent Politics as Solidarity’s journal – a step which was formally approved by the convention in 1994.

It would be a bit immodest to claim that without the kinds of initiatives I took none of this would have happened. Probably I helped matters along a bit. But the main thing is that Solidarity was able to seriously consider the question and decide that it was necessary to change something about itself. I would point to certain features of its internal life which made this possible:

First, comrades from whatever perspective feel free to raise new, even radically different ideas. When such initiatives are posed in a positive way others tend to pay attention. That allows the group to discover whether a new proposal speaks to a need that is felt by a significant layer of the membership. In other words, democracy really functions inside of Solidarity.

One thing I did not do in all of this was get into a long and fruitless discussion about whether Solidarity would refer to its new publication as a “line journal.” I found that for most Solidarity members this term refers to a publication which “gives comrades the line” – that is, it is typical of a top-down structure where the leadership reigns supreme over the rank and file. I had always had a different notion. For me a “line journal” simply refers to one which expresses in public the general viewpoint of the organization, reached after whatever internal democratic process is appropriate.

Rather than make some principle out of terminology, however, I decided to stress the content. Other comrades explained: “This will not be a line journal. Its goal is to consciously profile Solidarity’s politics.” That was good enough for me.

The second development I want to discuss was not quite so straightforward and took longer to resolve. I am not even sure that the necessary lessons have been adequately drawn by those who went through the experience. Nevertheless, it clearly shows something positive about the ability of Solidarity to adjust and change.

After we joined it soon became clear that something was lacking in Solidarity’s collective understanding about the role and selection of leadership. In particular, the correct dedication to rank-and-file democracy led, at times, to an underestimation of the need to make sure that leading committees are actually composed of those providing leadership.

The specific example of this that I want to take up here deals with the NY branch. This branch has a number of strengths – most notably the implantation of comrades into some important areas of labor struggle and other activist efforts. But when it came to electing an executive committee we suffered through one crisis after another. Few comrades were willing to accept nomination. Those who served for a term found it to be a very negative, even demoralizing experience. What was the problem? It flowed from a wrong conception about the role of the exec, and therefore about who should serve on it.

The NY branch has no other regular standing committees. Occasionally there is an effort to set up a forum committee or an educational committee. But these never function for more than a few months, and sometimes not at all. (To simplify the story I leave out of consideration here the “Building Solidarity” Committee that was created after the 1994 convention and did some very good work for a period. I don’t think this omission distorts the essence of what needs to be said, however.) So virtually every political initiative has to go through the exec, which is expected to think through and implement most branch activity.

And yet, the selection of comrades for the exec was not based on asking the question: Who is capable of undertaking such a task? Most of those who actually tried to provide political leadership in the branch claimed that they were “too busy” to serve. This meant that others had to be drafted, often comrades with little authority in the group and minimal experience on leading bodies.

In addition, the exec was generally far too small to represent a reasonable cross section of branch opinion – sometimes with as few as 3-4 active members. So even when there were more experienced comrades involved who tried to think things through, they couldn’t really do so effectively. It was never possible for the exec to take account of all the relevant opinions on a particular issue.

In discussions about this comrades argued that there was no need for the real branch leaders to serve on the exec, nor did it have to represent a political cross-section of the group, because its tasks were basically administrative – to make sure that decisions of the branch were carried out. And yet, every political decision – from organizing meeting agendas, to drafting leaflets, to planning forums and educationals – was inevitably “referred to the exec.”

(I should add, so that the reader will have a complete picture, that there was a coherent concept of branch life behind this general approach to exec functioning. Many leading NY comrades have had a particular conception of the branch as basically a collective of activists who come together periodically to discuss the work they are doing elsewhere. Others of us wanted Solidarity to also play a more active role as a general socialist propaganda group – giving greater attention to public forums, literature sales, educational events, etc. While these perspectives need not have been counterposed to each other, they did tend to be in the life of the group. The stress given by many to the first approach led to subordinating the second, even failing to carry it out at all for extended periods.)

So what was the result of expecting the exec to think through every political issue without the branch’s real political leadership being involved? The poor comrades on the exec, sometimes at the urging of the branch and sometimes at their own initiative, would bring in a proposal for a forum, for example. At that point someone inevitably raised an objection to one or more aspects, explaining that it hadn’t been properly conceived or thought through. Of course, there was often considerable truth in such a statement. As we can see, this was almost inevitable given the size of the exec, the sheer volume of work with which it was confronted, and its overall level of experience.

Then, after other comrades had chimed in to explain the defects in the exec’s proposal and the comrades on the committee were thoroughly admonished, the proposal was handed back to them for further work. It was not uncommon for this process to take place two or three times, over the course of several months, before a proposal for a forum satisfactory to the branch as a whole could be worked out.

No wonder no one wanted to serve on the exec and those who did often felt like the branch doormats. I actively agitated for more than two years for a different approach, and still had to take a dramatic personal initiative before things changed. But they did change, and that’s the point of the story.

After the first exec I served on (the first elected after we joined Solidarity) I recognized and tried to explain this problem. But comrades tended not to see what was happening. Even after I could demonstrate a clear pattern they clung to the myth that the exec was an administrative body which did not really require strong political leadership. Perhaps this fit more comfortably with their overall, somewhat idealized, image of what they wanted Solidarity to be.

In the Autumn of 1994 I chose not to run for the exec again. I sincerely thought that an adequate committee could be put together without me and I was happy to have some time to devote to other projects. However, this period turned out to be the most crisis-ridden of all – not from any fault of the comrades who served but because the kind of dynamic I described above became particularly intense. One of the members of that exec dropped out of Solidarity as a result of the experience. Another has become virtually inactive. And of course there was a much-intensified crisis of candidates when renewal time rolled around.

Yet even with this fresh experience many comrades couldn’t quite see why we were having such a consistent problem. I nevertheless presented the following challenge: I would be willing to serve again on a new exec. But I was not willing to undertake, as I had for a prolonged period, the task of almost single-handedly organizing the NY branch. I was as busy as, or busier than, virtually everyone else in the organization. Busy people make time for what’s important. If the NY branch is important some of the other busy people who represent the real political leadership of the group must also be willing to serve.

In fact, several leading comrades did subsequently accept nomination. The branch elected an exec of 5, which is still too small in my view. But at least it represented a group that was broad enough and experienced enough to both adequately think through certain kinds of issues and also have the confidence of a reasonable cross-section of branch members when we brought in proposals. Our functioning in NY was considerably better as a result. For its entire term the morale of the exec remained high and it was able to collaborate reasonably well.

I still don’t know if others will accept my characterization of what has been wrong in the past. But clearly, on a strictly empirical basis, the experience with the exec I describe here was positive. Some effort was made to duplicate that with the subsequent exec, elected last winter – though the jury is still out on how effective the repeat effort has been. In any event I am hopeful that comrades will draw sufficient conclusions and that in the future we will be that much more conscious of how we are constructing our branch leadership.

Again, as with the publication question, what makes this possible is a combination of reasonable proposals to address problems (explained in a way that is meaningful for people and creatively applied to the actual context) plus some collective experience by the group as a whole. In the case of the NY exec that collective experience included the development of a nascent fight-back against city-wide and state-wide budget cuts, which tended to reinforce the need for a better-organized and more interventionist branch. It is always such a combination of elements, not any one thing by itself, which allows a revolutionary organization to learn from its experiences and grow stronger.

8) Issues that need to be clarified

From the point of view of someone who joined Solidarity after being in the FIT there remain a number of ideological and theoretical problems that need to be clarified. One always runs the risk of missing something, but a list of such questions would have to include:

  1. The meaning and applicability of Leninist organizational principles today;
  2. Permanent revolution, both as an abstract theory but more importantly as concretely applied to specific cases in the world (and here I should probably clarify that by “permanent revolution” I simply mean:
    1. – that the working class and oppressed cannot rely on any force other than themselves in the fight for national independence, democracy, and social liberation;
    2. – that fully achieving these things in any and every country today will require a revolution, led by the working class;
    3. – that there is no possibility for this revolution to be self-limiting, to stop short of socialist objectives in order to avoid a confrontation with the main imperialist powers; and
    4. – that there is no hope for such a non-self-limiting revolution in any one country unless it spreads its influence beyond its own national borders);
  1. Cuba;
  2. Internationalist tasks in general and the Fourth International in particular;
  3. Solidarity’s relationship to the tradition(s) of the American Trotskist movement (defined in its loosest sense), but more importantly and more broadly to the international Trotskyist heritage.

I want to stress that I am speaking here of specific theoretical/ideological questions that flow from the previous existence of the FIT. There are many other kinds of discussions, in particular those relating to strategic issues (how Solidarity should approach particular struggles, aid rank and file initiatives, etc.) which the group also fails to take up adequately as a collective. But we have already spoken about this to some extent and it is not the problem that concerns me here.

The difficulty in engaging other leading members of Solidarity in any kind of substantive debate about general programmatic/theoretical/ideological issues is one of my biggest personal frustrations since joining the group. I have never before experienced a political current in the revolutionary movement where people didn’t want to take up and defend some of their key ideas – and yet that appears to be what we confront, at least among many leading comrades.

At this point I can only speculate on the reasons for such a phenomenon. More important is the question of how it might be overcome.

One way is through initiatives like the one taken by a group of us who published Ideology Matters in the August-September 1995 Internal Discussion Bulletin. Perhaps this will help a little. More important, I expect, will be real events in the real world that force Solidarity to begin taking up these kinds of discussions. The debate that has emerged around how U.S. revolutionaries should relate to the Lavalas regime in Haiti is an example of that process at work, since it at least touches on questions related to permanent revolution. Comrades have not been compelled to deal with things like this up to now only because the class struggle – in the U.S. and internationally – has been in the doldrums for some time.

In the process of any discussion about these kinds of problems inside Solidarity it is essential that we not make assumptions about why people may oppose a particular viewpoint which we want to defend. I am convinced, for example, that it would be wrong to write of those who disagree with permanent revolution today. Everyone in the world has to deal with the increased difficulty of achieving and holding onto working class power in Third World countries. Some would argue (wrongly in my view) that permanent revolution doesn’t apply today because the most advanced “third world” countries have become much more like the first world. Some comrades accept the ultraleft caricature of permanent revolution for good coin and rebel against that.

All of these ideas can be legitimately debated between revolutionaries. They do not, in and of themselves, constitute a dividing line between revolutionaries and reformists. It is necessary above all to listen closely and try to really understand the objections. That will allow those of us who still think this theory is relevant to explain our views in a way that is meaningful for those who do not share all of our assumptions, terminology, etc.

If our theory is really as good as we think it is, and if we really understand it as well as we think we do, then we ought to be able to approach such debates in that spirit and have a serious dialogue with comrades who disagree. Once again, this will have the added benefit of educating us, of improving our own understanding of what we think and why we think it. It will probably even force us to consider whether perhaps some of our ideas, or aspects of them, may not be outmoded (since even the best revolutionaries can cling to theoretical notions well past the time they are really useful).

9) Solidarity, Socialist Action, and Reuniting an FI Section in the U.S.A.

The task of rebuilding a unified section of the Fourth International in the United States still remains unfinished business from the FIT’s agenda. Clearly, it proved impossible to solve this in the medium- term, as the FIT proposed to do, through (first) a reversal of the expulsions from the SWP or (second) some sort of collective process involving comrades in the FIT, Solidarity, and Socialist Action. (I would say that we never had any illusions in the first possibility, but we truly thought the second might happen – with a little help from objective developments and as a result of discussions in the FI itself.) Today we should not lose sight of the general goal. But clearly it can now be correctly posed only in a longer-term sense.

What we have, in fact, is two counterposed ideas about what it means to try and build a section of the FI (perhaps “create the conditions in which we can build a section” would be more precise) given the situation that we face in the U.S.A. today. These take the form of two quite different organizations: Socialist Action and Solidarity. Other comrades remain on the fringes, with vague ideas about something better. But only these two organizations actually exist.

SA continues to attempt what I will call the “self-replication” mode of Trotskyist organizing. When the SWP was a group of more than a thousand members, when it had a fairly wide influence on the left and a serious involvement in areas of mass work, the idea that it could simply recruit to itself, train new members in its own view of history and in its specific programmatic traditions, and become a hegemonic force was not an unreasonable outlook. For a group of 100 or so like SA (more at its founding, less today) such a perspective is completely impractical – even if we thought, which we don’t, that SA does truly represent “the program” and “the tradition of American Trotskyism.”

Comrades in Solidarity (Fourth Internationalists and others) reject self-replication. They advocate what I will call the “mutual influence” school (though in practice this sometimes turns out to be more “mutual tolerance” than “mutual influence.”) The idea is to define a few basic programmatic elements which continue to be essential for a revolutionary alternative, and no more than this. The objective is to group together those who can agree to work together in a non- sectarian way around such principles – be they Fourth Internationalists, non-FI Trotskyists, or those who identify with other traditions and come from various backgrounds.

From the time it was founded the FIT rejected the self-replication mode. We never saw ourselves as growing organically into the kind of revolutionary party this country needs. Instead, as in the mutual influence model, we saw the task as engineering a broader unity. In that sense we were always closer to Solidarity’s stated goals than to Socialist Action.

However, unlike Solidarity, we prioritized work with those who came from an FI background. That was true even though in our best explanations we always presented FI unity not as an end in itself, but as a first step in creating the proper conditions for a further process of mutual influence involving still broader forces. We also had a more detailed list of programmatic elements that we considered essential. We saw this more precise kind of programmatic definition (at least for the individual currents involved in any such effort) and serious ideological struggle as central to the process as we conceived it – whether within an FI milieu or more broadly. After all, there can hardly be mutual influence unless there are genuine attempts by each current to influence others.

So we tended to see the goal of FI unity as a prerequisite to any broader process. This was reasonable up to a point. After that point, however, it began to become something of a schema – precisely because there was no way of making the transition from nice idea to reality. Joining Solidarity allowed the FIT to break out of that schema. Unfortunately, some comrades, still seem to be trapped by it.

The actual path toward FI unity that is unfolding before us is, quite simply, different from the one we envisioned when we were in the FIT. That is not an uncommon experience for revolutionaries. We will have to hope to achieve FI unity later, by first engaging in the broader kind of unification process that we once hoped would follow it. We need to demonstrate in practice the superiority of the effort by Fourth Internationalists to participate seriously in a broader regroupment that is not (I will speculatively and hopefully say “not yet”) part of the FI. Showing that this can yield positive results ought to lay the basis for a subsequent unification of FI forces, especially as increasing numbers draw a negative balance sheet from their experiences with Socialist Action.

We must be extremely flexible on an organizational level in trying to achieve this, while maintaining a firm commitment to those political issues which, to us, still seem crucial for the future development of the revolutionary movement. As I have tried to explain there is no contradiction between maintaining a militant defense of our basic theoretical viewpoint and working, at the same time, to build a broader organization of revolutionaries open to the process of mutual influence. In fact, I would say today that pursuing a broader unity is the best way to try and clarify the necessary programmatic elements, and clarifying the necessary programmatic elements is the best way to pursue a broader unity. The two should be seen, by those who believe in both of them, as mutually reinforcing sides of a dialectical whole.

There are former FITers who have called this approach “liquidationism.” They insist that Fourth Internationalists cannot pursue such a perspective without in fact giving up the effort to defend their program and theory. Instead they insist we must have a tighter, more disciplined and ideologically coherent kind of organization. They sometimes even go so far as to contend that this is part of the FI tradition which needs to be defended. In thinking about the problem, however, I would ask these comrades to take a closer look at the real Fourth International itself as it actually exists today.

If they do so they will find that our world movement resembles the reality of Solidarity much more than it does the idealized “world party of socialist revolution” that they think it should be, or that they think they remember. Every basic political question that is raised within Solidarity can also be heard during discussions in the FI – even in its leading bodies.

In some ways, of course, this reflects a real weakness in our world movement – though in another sense it also reflects the fact that the constituent parties of that movement are not rigid little sects but are rather involved in real politics in the real world, and are therefore affected by real questions. But the main point is that this is the natural condition we find ourselves in as part of the FI today. And if it is principled and correct to work within the FI, to try to focus it’s thinking and actions in a way that we consider appropriate, how can it be unprincipled to do the same thing inside Solidarity?

In the long run, if the tradition of American and international Trotskyism which we still want to defend is going to have any meaning it cannot be maintained in isolation, as a series of brilliantly argued texts read by a dwindling contingent of devoted but aging followers. It has to show that it can also help provide real answers to the practical problems of building a revolutionary movement under present conditions – which includes the problem of building an organization that is not already committed to “our program.”

10) The FI Caucus

Clearly all members of Solidarity’s FI Caucus do not agree with the approach I outline in the last section. The question of FI unity doesn’t exist for many of them because they believe the present situation reflects a correct and natural division of the FI milieu into non- sectarians (those in Solidarity) and sectarians (all others, but especially Socialist Action). Those Fourth Internationalists who do not already belong to Solidarity simply aren’t worth a moment of their time or attention.

This is a narrow and, in its own way a rather sectarian approach (an example of the “non-sectarian sectarianism” described earlier). To some extent it reflects the blind factional hostility to BIDOM – since the magazine still holds the interest of a fairly substantial unaffiliated milieu of FI supporters in the U.S. To recognize the importance of influencing that milieu would force comrades to pay attention to the discussions that go on in the magazine.

And the sectarian outlook of many in the caucus also ignores the fact that there has been a significant flexibility in the thinking and organizational affiliations of individuals in this non-solidarity FI milieu. Not a small number of former SA members, for example, have become disenchanted with that group’s sectarianism and left it. They have sometimes gravitated toward the BIDOM. Without active attention being paid to winning these individuals to the outlook of Solidarity and the FI Caucus it is very unlikely that significant numbers will move in that direction. One group of former SAers which did do so came out of the AISP. And I would suggest that this development may have occurred a least in part because Solidarity did show an active interest.

There are also former FITers in this broader FI milieu who remain politically active and basically non-sectarian in their overall approach. Perhaps it is mere nostalgia for previous political allies, but I still believe that at least some of these people might also be won (or won back) to Solidarity if a good faith effort is made to overcome the unnecessary obstacles from the past, to seriously consider their objections and discuss with them, and to find collective projects on which we can work.

There are other problems with the functioning of the FI Caucus which limit its attractiveness to comrades in this milieu, but which are also worth addressing in their own right. The addition of the former FITers to the political mix in the Caucus has done a little, but only very little, to give it a real internal life. Everyone has to acknowledge that the Caucus is no longer as homogeneous as it once was. This has created the need to publish its own internal discussion bulletin, and that bulletin appears occasionally – as comrades submit material.

But I think that former FITers, who had been used to a more intimate relationship to the FI and its discussions, felt that this one step was not nearly enough. And I’m sure that the lack of real discussion in the caucus about what is happening in our world movement was at least a contributing factor in the decision of some to leave Solidarity.

Questions related to developments in the FI can and should be discussed in the caucus, and needn’t threaten its relationship with the rest of Solidarity. In our world movement today there is an ongoing debate about the nature of the FI and its tasks in the world. FI members in the caucus should be actively participating in that discussion, and considering how it relates to what we do in this country. What’s more, the fact that we have some differences among us on these issues results, from time to time, in specific disagreements about initiatives that the caucus might want to take – including differences about how to relate to supporters of the FI who are not in Solidarity. These things also need to be discussed by the entire Caucus.

The traditional structure of the Caucus, with a leadership that parallels the members on the Solidarity NC, has not been conducive to such a process. There has never been sufficient time for this caucus leadership to sit down and adequately talk about any disagreements or questions that have actually arisen, let alone think through how a broader discussion of such issues might be organized. It is only natural, and quite correct, that our main priority is to our responsibilities as part of the Solidarity leadership. But this has significantly handicapped the caucus by making it difficult to organize discussions among its members when that would, in fact, be appropriate.

At the same time, my experience since joining Solidarity confirms the overall judgment of those who created the FI Caucus on one issue that is most central in this regard. Most of the substantive political discussions need to take place in Solidarity as a whole, not specifically in the caucus. The only debates that properly belong in the caucus are those that relate directly to the FI – such as the question already mentioned about the nature of the FI and its tasks in the world today, or a discussion of the FI’s historical views on the national question and how this relates to contemporary issues like Bosnia.

It would be quite wrong to try and turn the FIC into some sort of political caucus, with its own programmatic agenda inside of Solidarity. Precisely because the questions that divide Solidarity divide the FI as well, the real interests of mutual influence will be best served by the freest and most open discussions among the broadest layers of comrades.

For some time after the unification with the FIT I sensed that there was also another problem in the caucus leadership. The same factional hostility to the viewpoint of the former FIT which caused certain relatively petty obstacles and an undercurrent of mistrust inside of Solidarity as a whole was a much more significant barrier to fraternal collaboration inside the Caucus. It often seemed to me that proposals I made, or initiatives I suggested, or those raised by other former FITers, were met with a knee-jerk opposition. It was difficult or impossible to have a comradely exchange of views. And sometimes it took considerable self-control and internal fortitude to continue trying to work with others in the Caucus leadership.

My assessment at the time was, and remains, that this dynamic reflected the fact that comrades on both sides had been busy for a decade or more building our own relatively homogeneous groupings of Fourth Internationalists, dedicated to quite different projects. It was somewhat difficult to shift gears and remember how to work collectively for the greater good of a broader grouping which was no longer unified around a single ideological perspective.

I will not say that this dynamic has completely disappeared. But I do believe it has subsided qualitatively. I find it much easier to engage in discussion, even to have certain disagreements, with other members of the Caucus leadership. It is not unusual anymore for there to be a genuine effort to find mutually acceptable solutions to problems – rather than to line up a majority for a one-sided decision. I have every reason to expect that this trend will continue.

11) Money

I truly wish it wasn’t necessary to include a section like this in the present balance sheet. I do so almost as an afterthought – adding these paragraphs at the very end of the editing process. But the issue of “the FIT’s money” is still raised by comrades who try to explain to me why we got such a hostile reaction from some inside Solidarity. In my view this reflects a real lack of maturity, a failure to prioritize political issues over organizational ones, on the part of at least a certain layer of Solidarity members. So I came to the conclusion that unless I address this question here some may well disregard everything else I have tried to say.

The background is simple. Two members of the FIT left substantial legacies to the organization when they died. Unlike most left groups, therefore, and especially in contrast to Solidarity, the FIT did not have to worry about how we were going to meet our budget.

A substantial chunk of this money was still left when the FIT dissolved. the question of how to allocate it had the potential to become a thorny issue. The goal of the FIT’s leadership was to keep that question out of consideration so we could discuss the proposal to join Solidarity on its political merits. We came up with a formula that allowed us to do this: If the motion to join Solidarity was approved, one half of the money would go to sustain the new, independent BIDOM and one half would go into a special fund to support the FI and FI-related projects.

Solidarity members who were upset by this compared it to the original unification where the treasuries of the three groups were all donated to the new one – thus demonstrating a clear commitment to the common organization. But there was an essential political difference. When Solidarity was founded the memberships of all three groups were homogeneous in their support for the project. So they did indeed have a clear collective commitment to the common organization and this could be expressed financially.

The FIT, on the other hand, was deeply divided. It had no such collective commitment, and even the commitment of a majority had to be won through a process of political debate. In the end only around three fifths of the organization voted to join Solidarity. So there was by no means the kind of consensus support for unity that existed in the three groups that initially founded Solidarity. Since there was no analogous political commitment there could not possibly have been an analogous financial commitment.

I would certainly agree with those who say that this was a weakness in the overall process. But recognizing this tells us nothing about how to overcome that weakness. We could not simply wish it away. And I remain convinced that had we not come up with the kind of formula we did regarding the funds – dedicating them to projects that all FIT members would see as aiding common goals – had we proposed instead to donate even a part directly to Solidarity, the result would have been quite negative, perhaps even decisive in terms of our ability to properly discuss the politics of unification.

Comrades should consider: We succeeded in dissolving an organization with a substantial treasury. What to do with the money never became a political issue. That, it seems to me, was a substantial achievement. The fact that Solidarity members could not appreciate this achievement, and focused instead on the fact that no money went directly to their organization, says a great deal about the overall immaturity and lack of understanding with which many approached the unity process.

A final point should be noted as well. The special fund for FI-related expenses has been used, over the years, to bring FI members from different countries to the U.S. – among other things to attend Solidarity conventions, summer schools, and similar gatherings. The same funds have helped finance trips abroad by members of Solidarity to FI leadership meetings, sessions of the Amsterdam Institute, etc. Much of this represents an indirect financial subsidy to Solidarity, since previously the group would have had to tap its own treasury to pay for such things. Had we allowed the money issue to kill the possibility of a proper political discussion in the FIT about unification, not even this indirect subsidy would have been possible.

12) The Bulletin in Defense of Marxism

The continued existence of the Bulletin in Defense of Marxism has had both positive and negative aspects. The worst difficulty became clear to me very early after our unification with Solidarity: the magazine offered the appearance (perhaps even “pretense” isn’t too strong a word) of an alternative venue in which those who were ambivalent about Solidarity could try and continue to engage in revolutionary politics, without committing themselves to any real work of organization-building.

I say that this had “the appearance of an alternative venue” because the carrying out of political discussion – even a very good political discussion as often takes place in the pages of BIDOM – divorced from any organization-building project has the distinct tendency to become sterile. The result was extremely unfortunate if one agrees with the conclusions in this balance sheet. A certain number of comrades who could be contributing positively to the development of Solidarity have found it easier to withdraw from that admittedly difficult process and find refuge in the BIDOM milieu.

The situation might have been different if the atmosphere of active hostility against BIDOM within Solidarity had not closed the minds of many members and effectively limited circulation of the magazine to an isolated few. But given the inability of BIDOM to find a wide audience within Solidarity its articles have tended to speak more and more to a very narrow audience with a very narrow set of concerns.

At the same time these are issues and an audience which do still need to be addressed. BIDOM remains the only place where certain kinds of articles, and certain kinds of discussions, can find an adequate reflection.

As indicated, it would be my preference for the FI Caucus to have a broader conception of itself and its tasks – in particular a willingness to organize the broader debate among Fourth Internationalists as a whole on key issues that divide us. But this is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. So BIDOM will continue to have a place, if only a limited one, in our overall effort. I strongly urge, however, that comrades recognize its limitations – most notably the fact that BIDOM cannot become a significant vehicle for “FI regroupment” as things now stand.

13) Success is never guaranteed

The question can be reasonably posed: what if the perspective I outline here fails? What if Solidarity proves incapable of overcoming its weaknesses, despite our best efforts?

The answer is the same as for any other organization revolutionaries have ever been involved in: the SWP, the Fourth International, the Third International, the Bolshevik Party, Social Democracy before World War I, etc. Success is never guaranteed. In fact, if we look at history, revolutionaries fail in their efforts to build organizations, or have those organizations degenerate out from under them, far more often than they succeed. The result is always that a group of comrades have to pick themselves up off the ground and start again. That is what will happen if and when Solidarity fails too.

But it is wrong to therefore adopt a fatalistic attitude and assume that failure is inevitable. Such an approach can, in fact, become a self-fulfilling prophecy, guaranteeing that failure will in fact be the end result. And the possibility that any particular organizational perspective may not succeed must not become an excuse for refusing to make some choice about what option seems best among those alternatives which actually exist (or can be created) at any given moment. The active effort to build something is a necessary prerequisite even to generating that group of comrades who is prepared (and has the experience) to start anew if and when the necessity to do so arises.

For former FITers, today, the possible choices are not so numerous. I have here made the argument for recommitting ourselves to the goal of building Solidarity. One alternative, clearly, is posed by Socialist Action, which continues to try and build itself. At least a couple of former FITers have come to see this as a viable option, but I think most still continue to rule it out since there seems to be no cure for SA’s sectarianism. The other available possibilities can be easily listed: 1) continue to tread water and work on BIDOM, 2) try to somehow actively constitute a new Fourth Internationalist grouping as an alternative to both Solidarity and SA, or 3) enter some other existing radical organization, like the Committees of Correspondence – or perhaps some combination of these things.

As far as limiting oneself to pursuing the abstract ideological discussion in a loose “BIDOM milieu,” I think I have already explained the problem. At best this can only be a very short-term strategy. In the medium to long term it increasingly pushes toward a different kind of sectarian self-isolation.

Of course there has been talk about organizing some alternative group – for example from Michael Livingston in a letter he sent out after the world congress, or from those comrades (including Michael, David Weiss, and Marilyn Vogt Downey) who issued a call that was distributed at the NY memorial meeting for Ernest Mandel. Earlier Mary Scully hosted a meeting that a number of former FITers attended.

But I don’t think it is accidental that none of these proposals manages to get past the talk stage. The reason it will be difficult to put any such perspective into practice is the same one that I spoke of at the outset of this article when I described the reasons for the breakup of the FIT. There is simply not sufficient political agreement on either program or tasks to constitute a minimally viable collective of comrades that can then begin to “self-replicate.”

Regarding the CoC I would at least consider that to be an interesting experiment, but not one which seems particularly realistic as a full-time endeavor. My sense of the CoC is that even though there are some interesting people and discussions there, the actual organizational structure and general philosophy remain mired in a reformism imported wholesale from the CP. It may be possible to influence some people, but it seems unlikely that any kind of viable organization will result. I note in particular that the comrades from the AISP, who made a serious effort to help shape the CoC, still found it necessary to join Solidarity after a time.

So my conclusion is that even if it is not an ideal solution, the perspective of working to build Solidarity, of participating in the process of defining its tasks through an open discussion with some hundreds of serious individuals from a variety of backgrounds, has considerable potential – especially if we remember that the objective developments in the U.S. and international class struggle, not our abstract arguments about program and theory, are the key to convincing a significant layer (be it in Solidarity or anywhere else). Such an approach certainly seems far more promising than any of the other option which actually exists for Fourth Internationalists in the U.S.A. at the present time.


Main Document Index | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 28.12.2002