A Response to the Renewal Faction on Events in Austin

Since so much has been made of Austin by the Renewal Faction, I would like to respond (especially since I’m singled out, again).

Here is the “crisis” to which the Renewal Faction refers in Austin.  I’ve redacted the names because they are unimportant, but if anyone would like to do the accounting, we will happily talk about them.

  • Comrade 1 and 2: political/personal differences
  • Comrade 3: Paternity
  • Comrade 4: long term health issue
  • Comrade 5: returned after custody battle
  • Comrade 6: on leave to finish a book
  • Comrade 7: undeclared personal reasons with a note to rejoin in a few months
  • Comrade 8: returned (irregularly to branch meetings)
  • Comrade 9: returned (reappeared at the Day School)
  • Comrade 10: long-term financial issues (reappeared at the Day School)
  • Comrade 11: difficult work schedule (reappeared at the Day School)
  • Comrade 12: time conflict (still doing fraction work)

There are two ways to interpret this data, but the Austin branch committee (while I was on it) was of the belief that we ought to take comrades at their word for their rationales for leaving rather than impute political debates on them.  We at least hold to the belief that our comrades are not lying to us.

So when the Renewal Faction writes the following

Now comrades may take leave for entirely legitimate reasons involving health, family, employment, and so on. But if ten people go “on leave” more or less simultaneously–at the same time as two others formally resign–then it is foolish to pretend as if the reason is not fundamentally political and indicative of a political crisis.

I can only respond: Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

In a branch that was 35-8 comrades, this is high but not unusual, especially given three things which the Renewal Faction overlooks: 1) The way that neoliberalism actually affects our members in ways that are not only political (i.e. job loss, family crises, etc.) 2)      The sheer exhaustion the branch faced after the most exciting summer that we have ever participated in politically (The War on Texas Women), arguably as large a protest as anything in DC or Chicago, but without the number of nearby branches to help with the organizational challenges. 3)The complicated back and forth we have been trying to navigate around the question of the size of the branch, student/community, and the development of cadre which have created some organizational bumpiness that are not the same thing as political disagreements.

I think that it is a fair question to call this a crisis in the branch, or rather, one reading of the evidence could reasonably lead a comrade to that conclusion.  But such an interpretation is so out of synch with the local evidence, so quick to use data to support its own alarmist conclusions, that it fails to explain the specifics.  Did we in Austin also overestimate the period?  Here is our assessment from the summer work:

At the same time, this movement has a time limit on it.  As soon as the bills pass, the Democratic Party and its ancillary organizations will begin to channel all of that frustration into electoral politics.  It is also clear that the Democrats are not willing to defeat the Republicans.  In order to defeat the bills, we would need to do something on the order of what was done in Madison, WI, namely occupy the Capitol with so many people and for long enough that they cannot pass the bills.  The left does not have the forces or the credibility to do something like this on its own – it would need the mainstream organizations (unions, feminist groups) to be on board as well.  It would require, in other words, a much larger “people’s filibuster.”  Anything short of running out the special session means that the Republicans will be able to use their stacked deck to push through whatever they want.  (Austin District Notes, July 2013)

Later we were even sharper about the limits posed by this movement:

We should also understand that the fight around abortion rights was more or less derailed by the abstention of the Democratic Party (if not by outright orders by Party leaders to pull the plug on an issue that would hurt their chances in the polls).  We continue to build as much as we can around this fight, but it is substantially harder to do so without a clear target and without the kind of mobilizing capacity that the liberal organizations possess.  We take no pleasure in having been right about this: it can only be disorienting for a number of activists who were told that this was the fight of their lives and that “we won’t back down” only to see the Democrats licking their wounds and waiting until 2014.  Some of those people can be brought to socialist politics; most of them will be disoriented or confused or will begin to repeat the shibboleths of Democratic Party sound bites about realism and pragmatism. (Austin District Notes, August 2013)

We did take a slightly over-optimistic turn in September, where I clearly erred in thinking that there was a larger periphery than there was.  Here is what I wrote:

This month the notes will be making the argument for an outward push for ISO events and tablings.  We have already argued that the mood in Austin, while angry at the general nature of the economy and oppression in general, does not still constitute fertile ground for agitational work (i.e. it is possible to call for relatively small rallies, but these do not bring out substantial, organized forces), our most important work will be propagandistic (i.e. informational tablings, meetings, teach-ins, etc.) in order to seed the ground for a revival in struggle.  The raw numbers just in terms of our activity over the past three week bear this out:

·        8/22: 200 people at town hall against APD violence

·        8/24: 80 people out at rally for jobs and justice

·        8/27: 96 contacts at Freshman activities fair

·        8/28: 200 people at rally against bleach balloons

·        8/29: 2-300 people at fight for 15 rally

·        8/29: 400 people at Huston-Tillotson Trayvon event

·        8/31: 100 people at No War on Syria rally

·        8/31:  80-100 people at Planned Parenthood fundraiser

·        9/1: 50-60 people at the “march for civil rights”

·        9/4: 65 people at Why You Should Join the Socialists

·        9/5: 13 people at Graduate Student organizing meeting

·        9/6: 8 people at People’s Task Force meeting

·        9/10: 40-50 people at bleach balloon protest

·        9/12: 15 people at Graduate Student Employees Association meeting

·        9/12: 275 people at Islamophobia event

(If you subtract out our members, we have a periphery of something like 1000-1500 people in the last three weeks alone)

Clearly, not all of these people are socialists or even left of the democrats, but they together represent a sizable chunk of people with whom we can engage in politics and political discussion.  The thing that has been missing has not been political issues that are drawing people out and engaging them in some kind of activity. (Austin District Notes, September 2013)

This was overclaimed, but it seemed right at the time to focus on meeting new political activists and talking to them about politics.  Still, this excited perspective was corrected by October once it was clear that these numbers were aberrational.  What is left out of the Renewal Faction’s assessment are two things.  1) the local character of our perspectives (which were much more conservative than even the national perspectives in some places) which underwent a lot of revision and debate and 2) the fact that even by the logic of the Renewal Faction, the “crisis” happened before September (when it was clear that we didn’t have the membership numbers to respond to all of the interest in the ISO).

In the interest of proving there is a crisis in the organization, the Renewal Faction mischievously misreads what is happening in Austin.   There may very well be an organizational crisis in the ISO.  We do not know because we do not have a full accounting of what happened all over the country.  But I can say with full confidence that what is happening in Austin, while not ideal, does not match the crisis that Shaun J is describing.

Snehal S