NYC ISO Withdraws Endorsement of Hawkins/Lee Ticket

NYC ISO Withdraws Endorsement of Hawkins/Lee Ticket

The Independent Left Must Oppose Islamophobia

Statement of the New York City ISO

Socialist Worker: October 17, 2018


Looking Back on an Endorsement Debate

By Danny Katch

Socialist Worker: October 18, 2018


We Can Critically Support Independent Candidates

By Lance Selfa

Socialist Worker: October 22, 2018


Questions About Endorsing We Needed To Ask

By Sofia Arias

Socialist Worker: November 8, 2018


Citing war in Syria, ISO withdraws endorsement of Green Party gubernatorial candidate in New York

By Sandy English

World Socialist Web Site: November 8, 2018


A missed chance to support a real alternative

By Howie Hawkins

Socialist Worker: November 20, 2018


What matters in our endorsement debate

By Jen Roesch

Socialist Worker: November 21, 2018

On the ISO’s refusal to endorse Howie Hawkin’s campaign

By Louis Proyect

The Unrepentant Marxist: November 23, 2018


The Independent Left Must Oppose Islamophobia

Statement of the New York City ISO

An important debate has emerged among supporters of the Green Party campaign of Howie Hawkins and Jia Lee for governor and lieutenant governor of New York regarding the campaign’s association with figures on the left who back the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. After engaging with the campaign on this question and an extended discussion, the New York City district of the International Socialist Organization voted earlier this month to rescind its prior endorsement of the Hawkins-Lee campaign if the campaign didn’t publicly clarify its opposition to the Islamophobic and Assadist views put forward by these figures.

Here, SW is printing the statement of the New York City ISO, noting that this is not a statement of the ISO nationally. The discussions of the Hawkins-Lee campaign and the issues surrounding independent politics raised in this statement are ongoing, and SW encourages contributions to our website on these questions.

LAYING THE basis for an independent left is an urgent task for all those seeking to challenge the status quo of racism, sexism, inequality, environmental devastation, and imperialist war over which both establishment parties — the Democrats and Republicans — have presided for more than a century.

That’s why the ISO has participated in a number of third party efforts, many of them organized by the Green Party. In New York we have worked closely with Howie Hawkins and other Greens in many election campaigns — most recently, endorsing the gubernatorial campaign of Howie and Jia Lee as a principled left-wing alternative to Democratic Governor and machine boss Andrew Cuomo.

However, we strongly disagree with the campaign’s decision to welcome the endorsement of political commentator and comedian Jimmy Dore and to feature Dore alongside Howie at a livestream event this September in Brooklyn. A subsequent campaign email described Dore as “one of the most courageous and funniest political voices we have today.” In fact, he is a vocal supporter of the worst variety of Assadist and Islamophobic conspiracy theories on the Syrian conflict.

Dore’s YouTube show, with its 400 thousand subscribers, is a platform for conspiratorial arguments about Syria, including the claim that the outcry against the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is a “false flag” operation. Dore enthusiastically identifies with the arguments of a wide range of journalists and politicians who vilify the Syrian people, like Rania Khalek, Eva Bartlettand U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Dore has smeared Assad opponents in Islamophobic terms, as when he accused an Arab-American BDS activist of being an al-Qaeda apologist, a dangerous charge in a country where Arabs and Muslims face far more persecution than white comedians.

Howie and other leading members of his campaign do not hold these repugnant views. But the public association of the Hawkins-Lee campaign with this reactionary political current does immense damage to our common efforts to build a genuinely left alternative to the Democrats in New York state. These unfortunate developments have caused us to reconsider our endorsement.

THE APPEARANCE of Dore in the New York Green Party’s gubernatorial campaign is connected to a larger problem within the national party and the broader left. A significant number of Green Party members and leaders are open supporters of the positions put forward by the Assad dictatorship in Syria, while many others disagree but don’t view the Syrian conflict as a central enough issue to publicly criticize these positions.

The most prominent Green Party figure to embrace Assadist arguments is 2016 vice presidential candidate and anti-racist activist Ajamu Baraka, who attacked the popular revolution that swept across Syria beginning in 2011, and insisted that the revolution’s supporters on the U.S. left are manipulated by “bourgeois hysteria” and the “white man’s burden.” Far from voicing radical anti-imperialist views, Baraka has echoed the talking points of many commentators across the political spectrum in claiming that the Syrian people who continue to resist the bloody Assad dictatorship and the devastating war it has unleashed are adherents of “Wahhabism,” “jihadism” or “terrorism.”

These views from Baraka and too many others on the left embrace some of the most toxic post-9/11 political tropes of anti-Muslim racism and the so-called “war on terror,” an attempt by ruling classes in North America and Europe, but also in Russia, China and India, to frame all Muslims resisting oppression as “terrorists” or “extremists.” In fact, only a small minority of those who oppose Assad’s state have any relation to Islamic fundamentalism, though these reactionary forces are often the most heavily armed and funded, and the most tolerated by the regime itself.

When leftists put forward such positions on Syria, they disarm our side from confronting the menace of intensifying anti-Muslim racism which is an essential component of far-right politics in the U.S. and globally.

During a political period in which the socialist movement is rapidly gaining momentum in the U.S. for the first time in decades, it’s urgent that we build an independent left that challenges the Democratic Party’s support for war and empire, not with a reactionary Islamophobia masquerading as “anti-imperialism,” but with solidarity with the popular struggles of the oppressed in every country of the world — in particular, the millions of predominantly Muslim refugees fleeing the cycles of violence and war driven by U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa.

Given that much of the new left today remains tied to the Democratic Party structure, the project that we share with the Green Party of building a new party of the left is more urgent and vital than ever. But encouraging or tolerating Assadism and Islamophobia is no basis on which to pursue the project of building a party for our side. We urge our Green comrades to ask themselves what future the party has if it’s dependent on the support of those whose views of Syria and the Middle East appear to be heading on an ever more reactionary trajectory.

We believe that it’s important for Hawkins and the wider Green Party to challenge the views of figures like Jimmy Dore and Ajamu Baraka on the Syrian conflict, and to appeal to Muslims, Arabs and Middle East solidarity activists and welcome them into the party.

Regretfully, as Hawkins’ candidacy continues to be associated with these views in the public eye, we feel that we cannot continue to endorse the New York Green Party gubernatorial campaign. At this early stage in the enormously challenging process of building an independent left party, we cannot afford to pass over the problem of Islamophobia within our own organizations and campaigns.

We hope that our comrades in the Green Party and across the growing left will join us in confronting this threat to our movement, and we look forward to continuing the collaborative work of advancing a real alternative to this country’s intolerable status quo.


Looking Back on an Endorsement Debate

By Danny Katch

AS SOMEONE who helped write the statement of the ISO’s New York City district (“The independent left must oppose Islamophobia”) criticizing Green Party candidate for New York governor Howie Hawkins, and who also voted against the district’s decision to withdraw its endorsement of Hawkins’ campaign, I want to draw some lessons from what I think has been an important and useful process, and explain the reasons I disagree with our final decision.

To begin with, it’s important not to confuse this discussion with the debates we’ve been having in the ISO — particularly in New York City — around left-wing Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There are connections, certainly, but opposition to endorsing Hawkins is not an inevitable by-product of wanting to endorse Democrats instead.

In fact, this conflation was one of the problems with our initial endorsement meeting, which didn’t allow enough time to discuss and debate the various arguments opposing endorsement.

Those arguments included: the campaign wouldn’t build the left; campaigns that can’t actually win are nonstarters in an era of victorious left Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez; and the Green Party has a serious problem of Assadism and Islamophobia. Our rushed discussion and vote resulted in the conflation of these and other arguments, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t.

As a result, our district came out of the vote to endorse with less clarity and confidence than before — which in turn made it harder for us to fully implement our plans and test in practice whether we had made the correct decision.

Then came news of the campaign’s decision to feature Jimmy Dore, a political commentator who is known for promoting Islamophobic and Assadist views. Lingering doubts and frustrations in our district over the endorsement burst out into the open.

The elected district leadership tasked our elections committee to meet with the campaign to urge it to disavow Dore — which we did repeatedly — and draft a public statement. We then called another membership meeting to hash things out.

At that meeting, we had a productive discussion about why we had made the mistake of rushing the initial endorsement — as well as about the growing influence on the left of supposedly “anti-imperialist” support for dictatorships, and the harm these politics have done to a party like the Greens that has struggled to find a base as many others followed candidates like Sanders into the Democratic Party.

It was apparent that many members would not have decided to endorse the campaign if they had the chance again, whether it was because of the original arguments or experiencing the campaign’s interactions with Dore. I still think there were good reasons to support the campaign despite its weaknesses, but clearly this was the full discussion we should have had initially.

UNFORTUNATELY, I think that our decision to rescind that endorsement compounds that first mistake by making another.

It’s important to be clear on the facts that are laid out in the district statement. The issue isn’t Howie himself supporting Assad or Islamophobia. To the contrary, he has a history of supporting the Syrian people’s democratic struggle, and has taken heat from some Greens for that stand.

The problem is that his campaign became associated with someone whose statements about anti-Assad Syrians are repugnant to us.

This raises many important and far-reaching questions that we’ll continue to confront moving forward: How do we build united fronts and electoral campaigns alongside people with whom we have major disagreements? How do these projects square with the ISO’s commitment to waging a fight on the left about Syria, while also recognizing that this fight is unfortunately far from won across the left?

Withdrawing our endorsement of the Hawkins campaign over our disagreement of his handling of Jimmy Dore signals that our method in electoral campaigns is to offer conditional support that is subject to being pulled when substantial political disagreements arise — not with the candidates, but with some of their supporters.

None of this is to say that our disagreement with Howie over his handling of Dore isn’t serious. In our conversations about the issue with leading members of the Hawkins campaign, some of whom we’ve worked with for years, the differences between our strategic conceptions of how electoral campaigns can build the left were very clear.

That’s why I think the appropriate response would have been to publicly criticize the campaign while continuing to be a part of it — and continuing the debate after the election.

There’s also the fact that Howie Hawkins is a lifelong fighter for independent politics and a longtime ally and collaborator with the ISO, who is waging a difficult fight to build the Green Party in difficult circumstances — which in my opinion led him to make a bad decision regarding Jimmy Dore.

One could argue that these and other factors shouldn’t have been enough of a reason to endorse the campaign, but once we did, I think we should have seen that decision through and assessed it afterward.

THE DISCUSSION and debate about this campaign has raised important questions about how to build independent electoral alternatives, the future of the Green Party and the growing influence of Assadism and even more openly reactionary elements in corners of the left. These questions should help us as we think about the kinds of campaigns and initiatives we want to develop moving forward.

But the fact remains that on Election Day in New York, Howie will be the only left-wing alternative to machine boss Andrew Cuomo running for governor. By rescinding our endorsement, we are saying it’s a better thing for the left if people abstain, rather than giving Howie the strongest vote possible. I don’t think that’s right.

There’s a better method for handling these situations, and it’s the one we originally came up with: publicly criticizing campaigns while continuing to support them. In 2004, for example, the ISO endorsed Ralph Nader’s independent presidential run while being upfront about our criticisms of his inadequate position on immigrant rights and his disastrous association with the right-wing racist Pat Buchanan.

Some on the left argued that our endorsement of Nader gave cover for these weaknesses, but we argued that it was possible to be open about our disagreements while also keeping in mind the campaign’s larger dynamic. In the Socialist Worker announcement of the ISO’s endorsement, we went through those disagreements before concluding:

We have been upfront about these criticisms because we want the Nader campaign to be the strongest possible left-wing challenge to the Washington status quo. Despite his flaws, that’s what Nader represents in Election 2004 — a left alternative to the candidates of the two-party system.

The debates we’ve had in New York City about the Hawkins campaign are a sign that there’s a new moment, raising new strategic questions. The fact that our vote to withdraw endorsement passed by a narrow margin shows these are complicated questions that need further discussion.

Even though I disagree with the decision, I’m glad we held a meeting to reassess our endorsement, because I feel clearer and more united with my comrades about the important tasks ahead than I did after the first vote.


We Can Critically Support Independent Candidates

By Lance Selfa

I’M WRITING in response to the New York City ISO statement rescinding its endorsement of the Howie Hawkins/Jia Lee Green Party ticket in the upcoming gubernatorial election in New York (“The independent left must oppose Islamophobia”). While I find much with which I agree in the statement the New York comrades issued, I think their conclusion of rescinding their endorsement of Hawkins/Lee was mistaken.

As is clear from the statement, neither Hawkins nor Lee hold the toxic views that Jimmy Dore espouses. In fact, earlier this year, Hawkins participated in an event in Utica, New York, in support of the anti-Assadist forces in the Syrian revolution. Lee is a rank-and-file teachers’ union leader who has worked in solidarity with the struggle for education justice in Puerto Rico.

I don’t think either of the candidates’ commitments to international solidarity is in doubt, and in September, they announced plans to co-sponsor a number of panel discussions, including ones on Puerto Rico and Palestine.

That they have accepted support from a radio host who holds pro-Assad views is regrettable. But it seems to me that this is a situation that calls for comradely criticism and debate, not for ultimatums.

In 2016, the ISO supported Jill Stein’s campaign for president, while openly criticizing the pro-Assad views of her running mate Ajamu Baraka. In 2004, we supported the Ralph Nader/Peter Camejo independent presidential ticket, while also publishing our criticisms of decisions that we thought undercut the campaign’s left-wing character.

In these cases, we thought that these campaigns’ attempts to offer an independent, left-wing alternative to the pull of a “lesser-evil” vote for capital’s political B team, the Democrats, was the fundamental reason to support them. We did not support them uncritically, and we didn’t hold back criticisms of them. To me, the same logic should apply to the Hawkins/Lee campaign.

It is even more crucial to stand up for a left-wing political alternative today, a period, as the statement notes, “in which the socialist movement is rapidly gaining momentum in the U.S.” but where much of that “movement” is tied to the Democratic Party.

Recently, democratic socialist and soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed the Democratic ticket in New York, including the corrupt corporate Democrat Gov. Cuomo, and the nominally independent Working Families Party handed over its ballot line to Cuomo.

In my opinion, those actions do a greater disservice to the cause of “building a new party of the left” than the shortcomings of the Hawkins/Lee campaign. And when some socialists in the Democratic Socialists of America (of which Lee is a member) are arguing for support of Hawkins/Lee against the Democrats, it’s even more unfortunate that the ISO in New York has rescinded its support.


Questions About Endorsing We Needed To Ask

Sofia Arias adds her view to a discussion about endorsing two Green Party candidates.

IN HIS Readers’ View “We can critically support independent candidates,” Lance Selfa gives the impression that the question of the Howie Hawkins/Jia Lee endorsement by the New York City district was a straightforward debate between critical support and ultimatums, and that the correct and appropriate method should have been a return to the example of the 2004 position on endorsing independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

I can only speak for myself, but I do not believe that this begins to address the difficulties that the New York City district of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) faced these past few months — which, I believe, were about a breakdown of democratic debate and decision-making that compounded the difficulties of clarifying the stakes of this particular endorsement.

The reality is that the debate on endorsement took all of 15 minutes. There was no space to have an assessment of the previous endorsement and campaign for Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones in 2014, and what to expect this year; no space to discuss the problems of the Green Party and the question of Assadism; no space to discuss how this would help the ISO grow and make the case for independent politics; and no space to consider postponing the endorsement vote until there was more time to have this kind of discussion.

One member who asked if we could compare our process to the Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) — which included having candidates make their case to the whole membership before an endorsement decision — was not even considered. All these suggestions and concerns were largely jettisoned because the overarching concern was that this vote could resolve the problem of the Democratic Party ballot line debate within our organization.

Several issues were collapsed into this endorsement debate, which was supposed to temporarily have an answer to the question of independent electoral campaigns. Despite the fact that there were many new members who didn’t know who Howie Hawkins or Jia Lee were, the vote went through, with a high abstention rate.

Rather than resolving anything, this produced distrust and a fall in morale. We lost members as a result of this process. Therefore, we had neither full democratic debate, nor the ability to move collectively into action.

Under any other circumstances, we would have opposed such a process. In our unions, comrades would have voted down any effort to put forward a contract that members hadn’t read or discussed fully, and would have argued for others to do so as well. This is what makes it so difficult to even consider what a critical support endorsement would even have looked like.

DESPITE THIS, some of us tried to ameliorate the problems of this first vote. Some of us in the Brooklyn branch compiled and suggested readings from Socialist Worker, the International Socialist Review and elsewhere that could be sent to the whole membership and could include an assessment of our previous work in the Hawkins/Jones campaign, so the whole membership, new and experienced, could have a shared understanding and move forward on the right approach to the Hawkins/Lee campaign.

And some of us — believing that Howie Hawkins would fully support it — still held out hope that this campaign could be a space to issue a statement in support of Syrians against the Assad regime.

Initially, this was considered after Assad moved toward a military offensive against Idlib, the last stronghold of the revolution, and a territory of 3 million Syrians. After Idlib broke out in inspiring protests, we thought this was an even more opportune moment to issue a statement, because Idlib showed that the revolution was still alive.

I still believe that had we had a second district meeting right after the failure of the first, we could have arrived at a better perspective.

This might have meant critical support with a principled statement, and a clear lead that could equip those comrades most involved in Middle East solidarity work with a way to argue on confident and principled grounds for voting Hawkins/Lee. This might have meant inviting Hawkins and Lee to a district meeting to put forward our concerns and ideas, and possibly change Howie’s opinion in the process.

We know people’s ideas shift in the course of debating and discussing with one another. Had Howie met with the whole membership in the process of seeking our endorsement, including Muslim members who could convey the stakes of this position, this might have helped him take a different approach. After all, the process of organizing an electoral campaign for governor should theoretically mean an exposure to a base or constituency that one attempts to answer to.

None of this came to pass. Instead, the decision was made to hold meetings at the branch level, discussing among ourselves the 2014 campaign, and an informal bar night with the candidates, which unintentionally served to downgrade the importance and formality of an endorsement process. And there are only so many hours in a day to prioritize a debate that was already deeply demoralizing and draining, while trying to relate to other events and questions in the world.

THE REVELATION of Jimmy Dore’s endorsement came after all these failed attempts to shape the campaign and open up debate. It is still hard to believe that Howie Hawkins would refuse to even produce a mild statement disassociating himself from Dore’s Islamophobia.

This is where the one-to-one comparison with Nader in 2004 really fails. Howie is a comrade and a committed socialist. We’d worked with him before, we’d helped contribute to the 2014 campaign’s position condemning Israel’s war on Gaza, and we knew he was no Assadist. The space to shape this campaign should have theoretically been greater, precisely because Howie is not Nader.

I hope the internal debate around the Nader 2004 endorsement was thorough. But at least the public statement around this in Socialist Worker provided a lead for members on how to navigate these waters, including criticisms of Nader’s acceptance of Pat Buchanan’s endorsement, which flows into a recommendation about what ballot lines to vote on and not vote on.

Lance doesn’t consider the possibility of what a larger ISO rooted in more struggles might mean for also evaluating the ramifications of a critical support endorsement. That is, the ISO has grown since 2004, and the world has also changed since then.

If a Green Party candidate today accepted the endorsement of Pat Buchanan, who has called on Trump to stop the caravan of Honduran migrants at the border and called it a “Third World invasion of the West,” would our position be basically the same as it was in 2004?

In 2018, when “Abolish ICE” has become a mainstream demand, and we have members rooted in immigrant rights struggles and the migrant caravan faces the violence of the U.S. military and fascist vigilantes, would we still be able to also call for critical support at the ballot box?

This example seems completely implausible, because the U.S. left has advanced so much on the question of immigrant rights and anti-racism that there is no way to even imagine this scenario.

I believe it would be impossible for any Green Party candidate today to do what Nader did in 2004, not because the far right has become less right wing (the exact opposite is true), and not because the Green Party has become more left wing (the exact opposite is true), but because the immigrant working class has, since the historic “Day without an Immigrant” strike in 2006, changed this generation of the U.S. left forever.

We have been transformed because of the struggle of immigrants in this country, and this is why we can take up the fight against Gestapo raids, detention centers, borders and the good immigrant/bad immigrant ideological offensive. Lance’s argument about turning back to the lessons of 2004 forces us into an abstraction that isn’t useful.

WHEN WEIGHING whether critical support is an option, the organization is tasked with several considerations, because the endorsement should mean something real for the work we carry out in our movements.

The burden of carrying out a controversial critical support position isn’t distributed evenly among all members. It is hardest on those comrades who are most closely connected to the issue being debated. It is therefore incumbent upon the entire membership to set a lead that prepares those comrades for making the most difficult arguments with allies in order to win them to voting on the basis of a broader class independence vision.

So assuming this hypothetical works, if Howie had received the endorsement of Pat Buchanan today, would we expect our comrades organizing most closely in immigrant rights work to vote and accept it without any debate?

Just imagine you were asked to accept this, without any debate over a figure like Buchanan, who has called for Trump to stop the caravan with U.S. troops, without any opportunity to have a meeting with these close collaborators and allies on the New York socialist left to make the case for a change in their campaign?

You wouldn’t simply accept that, right? You would argue hard for something different. You would push for something else because you couldn’t carry out a lead on these terms, and you would vote with your feet for something different.

You would refuse to organize an event with the campaign, you would increasingly feel discouraged and sometimes bitter, you might even consider leaving the organization itself because it felt like an impossible choice. No comrade should have to get to the point where something like that has to happen.

It is not a coincidence that the burden was felt most by those comrades who were involved in our Palestine work, and especially those who were Arab and Muslim. Critical support is more than a rhetorical statement we hammer out to fly the flag of class independence.

The more the ISO grows, the more rooted it becomes in struggles, the more deliberate our arguments have to become and the more careful our considerations, because the stakes become higher. We are trying to win other people to voting the same way, and all our painstaking work, history of struggle and politics are put on the line in that moment. You might lose seven years of political credibility on Syria solidarity work. You might lose some members. All for a campaign that would end in two months.

I was not present for the second vote to rescind. I had taken a leave of absence shortly after the Jimmy Dore endorsement revelation. I do not share Lance’s pessimism that this vote did a disservice to the cause of building a new party of the left.

I would like to thank the comrades of the New York City ISO for making a much more difficult, sober and clear-eyed decision: that of opting to revisit a vote taken without the fullest input and informed participation of what should be the highest decision-making body in the district. And for working toward someday being able to “march in a compact group, along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand.”

The vote may have helped advance that much more important project that continues after November, and I think the organization owes its thanks to those comrades.


Citing war in Syria, ISO withdraws endorsement of Green Party gubernatorial candidate in New York

By Sandy English

On October 17, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) announced that it was withdrawing its endorsement of the Green Party candidates for New York State governor, Howie Hawkins, and lieutenant governor, Jia Lee, who ran against the Democratic incumbents Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul in Tuesday’s election.

The ISO justified its rupture with the Green candidates over the issue of Syria. The immediate reason given for rescinding their endorsement was the appearance in September at a Hawkins fundraiser of comedian and YouTube talk show host Jimmy Dore.

Dore has denounced the US intervention in Syria and debunked unsubstantiated claims by the Obama and Trump administrations that alleged chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians were the work of government forces. Washington has used these allegations to justify airstrikes directed against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which the US has targeted for regime-change.

The ISO’s right-wing attack on the Green Party is consistent with its long-standing role as an agent of US imperialism and political accomplice in a neo-colonial war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, turned millions more into refugees and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.

The ISO’s position is in sync with that of the Democratic Party and those factions within the US military and intelligence establishment that consider the Trump administration’s conduct of the US war in Syria insufficiently aggressive, and are demanding a more belligerent posture toward Assad’s main ally, Russia.

In the October 17 statement, “The Independent Left Must Oppose Islamophobia,” published on the ISO’s website,, the New York City district of the organization demanded that the Hawkins-Lee campaign “publicly clarify its opposition to the Islamophobic and Assadist views put forward by these figures.”

The ISO brands as “Islamophobic” and “Assadist” anyone who questions the role of US imperialism and its allies in funding and arming Islamist “rebels,” including forces linked to Al Qaeda, and orchestrating the seven-year-long war for regime-change.

This is a reactionary slander. Opposition to US imperialism in Syria does not imply political support for the bourgeois Assad regime. The defense of oppressed former colonial countries against imperialism is a fundamental principle of the Marxist movement, regardless of the nature of their regimes.

Genuine socialists do not lend any credibility to the cynical attempts of the US ruling class to cloak its war crimes in the mantle of “human rights.” Nor do they cede to the imperialists the task of settling accounts with Syria’s bourgeois regime—a task that must be carried out by the Syrian working class as part of a united, international struggle of the working class against world imperialism.

Similarly, applying the term “Islamophobic” to those who oppose the long-standing use by US imperialism in the Middle East of right-wing Islamist militias and political movements as instruments for regime change and suppression of the working class is a political libel. It is of a piece with the ISO’s attempt to portray right-wing terror outfits in the pay of Washington and its regional allies, led by Saudi Arabia, as the spearhead of a “democratic revolution.”

In the October 17 statement, the ISO writes: “Dore’s YouTube show, with its 400 thousand subscribers, is a platform for conspiratorial arguments about Syria, including the claim that the outcry against the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is a ‘false flag’ operation.”

By “conspiratorial arguments” the ISO means Dore’s exposure of falsehoods and contradictions in the claims of the media, the Trump administration and the Democratic Party that Assad forces carried out chemical weapons attacks on civilians in 2017 and 2018. These allegations were used to justify US missile attacks on Syrian forces in April of 2017 and again last April. The ISO article links to a video of Dore debunking the claims of a Syrian government gas attack on Idlib Province, which were used as the pretext for the April 2017 missile attack on Syria’s Shayrat airbase.

The ISO has been aligned with the Green Party, a bourgeois party steeped in nationalism and hostile to any independent movement of the working class, since 2004. ISO members have repeatedly run for office on the Green Party ticket. The organization has to be well aware that among both the Greens’s leaders and members there has existed a range of opinions critical of American policy in Syria for some time.

Green presidential candidate Jill Stein’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election, Ajamu Baraka, for example, had spoken critically of US “human rights imperialism” and called American intervention in Syria “a classic destabilization campaign.”

While supporting the Stein campaign in 2016, the ISO criticized it for failing to unambiguously back the US wars in Syria and Iraq. In August of 2016, writer Ashley Smith complained that Jill Stein “has made little to no criticism of Assad.”

There is no doubt that since then, the ISO has hardened its pro-war line and aggressively attacked—in the name of the Syrian “democratic revolution – anyone who opposes the US aggression in the region. Last May, issued a rebuke to an article in Jacobin, the magazine associated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), for “casting doubt on the idea that Syrian Dictator Bashir Al-Assad used chemical weapons.”

The invocation of the appearance of the comedian Jimmy Dore at the Hawkins rally, however, is a transparent pretext for breaking with the Greens. Underlying this move are real political pressures.

First and foremost among them are the recent “successes” of the ISO’s political allies in the Democratic Socialists of America in fielding winning candidates for the Democratic Party, particularly in New York, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Congress and Julia Salazar for State Assembly. The privileged upper middle class constituency to which the ISO is oriented was also drawn to the unsuccessful challenge by former TV star Cynthia Nixon to incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. With their endorsement of the Greens, the ISO’s leadership became fearful that it was missing the boat.

Nonetheless, this shift has provoked a crisis inside the ISO. The predominant layer within the organization that wanted to ditch the Greens to work with or within the DSA, that is, more openly and more directly in the Democratic Party, has encountered opposition from other elements that are concerned about the ramifications of such a blatant orientation to the oldest capitalist party in the world.

Danny Katch, a leader of the ISO opposed to the decision, in an October 18 discussion article warns ’s readers and the ISO membership “not to confuse this discussion with the debates we’ve been having in the ISO—particularly in New York City—around left-wing Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There are connections, certainly, but opposition to endorsing Hawkins is not an inevitable by-product of wanting to endorse Democrats instead.”

Of course, the issue of an open—or slightly less open, via the DSA—turn by the ISO to the Democrats is precisely what is involved here. What concerns Katch is that the ISO’s decision to break with the Greens will expose this political orientation and make it more difficult for the organization to provide a “left” gloss for its pro-imperialist politics.

He refers to a discussion in the New York ISO branch about “the growing influence on the left of supposedly ‘anti-imperialist’ support for dictatorships,” by which he means hostility to the US military intervention in the Middle East, which the ISO supports, among broad layers of workers and youth.

Lance Selfa, another ISO leader who opposed withdrawing the endorsement of the Green Party nomination, echoes this sentiment in his own comment in, arguing that the decision does “a greater disservice to the cause of ‘building a new party of the left’ than the shortcomings of the Hawkins/Lee campaign.”

In other words, a section of the ISO fears that such a demonstrative break with the Greens will not only damage relations with a “left” bourgeois party with which it has longstanding ties, but also expose the organization for what it is: a shill for the Democratic Party

While the pressures from within the upper middle class milieu within which it operates to join in the “most important election of our lives” to battle the “Trump regime” have shifted the ISO toward closer integration into the Democratic Party, there are evident concerns within the organization that such an approach can diminish its effectiveness in providing a pseudo-left cover for the policies of the factions within the ruling class and the state with which they are allied.


A Missed Chance to Support a Real Alternative

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for governor of New York, responds to a discussion about the decision of the New York City International Socialist Organization to withdraw its previous endorsement of the Hawkins-Lee campaign.

OVER A conference call with NYC International Socialist Organization (ISO) leaders in early October, I was asked to publicly disavow Jimmy Dore’s endorsement of my candidacy for governor of New York.

It was in the last few weeks of a New York gubernatorial election where my campaign often had me rising at 5 a.m. to get across the state to campaign events and finishing the day at 11 p.m. or later. Andrew Cuomo had the backing of everyone from the Working Families Party to the tycoons of big real estate, banking, insurance, oil and gas, and the charter school lobby. Capitalists didn’t even bother to fund the Republican candidate. Cuomo was their clear favorite.

NYC ISO’s request felt like being back on the playground and a kid I know says I should go fight this other kid I don’t know because they have a beef.

I had never even heard of Jimmy Dore before. I heard from no one during the campaign about Jimmy Dore and Syria except the NYC ISO, until the Friday before the election when a pro-Assad “anti-imperialist,” alerted by NYC ISO’s statement, posted an attack on my pro-Syrian revolution position on Facebook that began circulating among campaign supporters. I had to respond then, and it is appended at the end of this response.

I told NYC ISO that I did want to address the problem of the pro-Assad “anti-imperialists,” including some in the Green Party, next year after the election and after I work 70-80-hour weeks during holiday peak season at UPS.

How to do that in a way that educates, persuades and moves people on the question will require more than issuing denunciations. It will require a lot of time and energy to patiently explain of the real facts on the ground in Syria, debunk bad sources, and build practical solidarity with Syrian democrats. I was doing what I could on that before the campaign. I am committed to doing that within the left and peace movements going forward.

But I had no time for picking a fight with Dore over Syria in the last weeks of the campaign. I think most New Yorkers following my campaign would have asked, “Who the hell is Jimmy Dore?” and “What does Syria have to do with the problems we face in New York?”

I know from experience on the Syria question that making a statement about the reality of the Syrian revolution brings a torrent of responses from the pro-Assad “anti-imperialists,” who will lie and put words into my mouth, such as saying I support U.S. military intervention for regime change in Syria. The responses come from around the world, from “peace” activists in the U.S. to East European acolytes of the Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin. One has to respond to set the record straight. welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

Then there would be Jimmy Dore fans asking me why I was picking on him. I didn’t have time for all that. My campaign decided we would pick our own fights and focus on the pressing problems the people of New York face under Cuomo’s rule.

NEW YORK has the most income inequality of any state in the nation. Its housing and schools are the most segregated by raceand class. The top 1 percent now takes home 33 percent of all income, up from 10 percent in 1978. Wages are stagnant while the costs of housing, health care, day care and public college are exploding.

The working class is being driven out of Manhattan, much of Brooklyn, and many other working-class urban neighborhoods across the state by exploding rents and landlord harassment under “progressive” Democrats Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both are veterans of the Clinton Department of Housing and Urban Development that destroyed more public housing that it built. Both of their political careers have been financed primarily by real estate interests.

The housing stock is full of lead paint, with child lead poisoning rates of 40 percent in Buffalo and Syracuse, which has the highest rate in the nation. Cuomo’s fracked-gas power plants are increasing the state’s carbon footprint as the climate collapses.

Cuomo and the new Senate Democratic leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, promised not to tax the 1 Percent to pay for the tens of billions needed to fix the state’s infrastructure, which is falling apart, from New York City subways and public housing to upstate water and sewer systems.

The first post-election act by Cuomo and de Blasio was to announce a $3 billion corporate-welfare package for the world’s richest person, Jeff Bezos, the $160 billion man who is CEO of Amazon, which is now locating new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.

IT WAS in the context of campaigning to raise real solutions for these serious problems facing New Yorkers that Jimmy Dore and Syria came up. Contrary to the assertions in these pages, Dore did not appear at a fundraiser for my campaign. Nor did my campaign feature him in a livestream event. I did not ask for his endorsement.

What happened is that I was a guest at Randy Credico’s “Livestream on the Fly” program in Brooklyn in mid-September to talk about my campaign. The mercurial Credico, who I respect for his long and persistent advocacy for ending the mass incarceration in New York created by the Rockefeller drug laws, decided spontaneously on the spot to have Dore, who had Skyped in to the show, do the interview with me.

Later that week on his own show, Dore endorsed me in a segment focused on criticizing the endorsement of Cuomo by Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez, the newly-elected Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)-backed member of Congress from a Queens/Bronx district.

I would have made the time to meet with NYC ISO membership about an endorsement. The initial ISO endorsement had been welcome when most of the New York left was starstruck with actress Cynthia Nixon and her primary challenge to Cuomo. The state’s chapters of DSA and the NY Progressive Action Network (NYPAN), the post-campaign group of Bernie Sanders supporters, as well as the many PACs of liberal advocacy groups, would not interview me and my running mate Jia Lee.

The only notable exception was the Buffalo Teachers Federation, whose political action committee interviewed me and whose membership overrode its executive committee’s recommendation of neutrality to endorse us by a vote of the rank and file in a membership meeting.

Some members of NYC DSA, such as Dan La Botz, argued for an endorsement of our campaign. The vote was closely divided — well, a vote on whether to consider an endorsement — but abstentions were counted as no votes. Counting abstentions is how Jimmy Hoffa Jr. just shoved the latest UPS contract down our throats after a majority of those voting rejected it. Unfortunately, NYC ISO’s statement withdrawing their endorsement came as DSA was debating their endorsement.

No one in DSA, the Working Families Party (WFP), NYPAN or the liberal PACs that supported Nixon seemed to have been aware that she, like Cuomo and de Blasio, was a Clinton Democrat.

Nixon had supported Clinton over Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries, with maximum allowable donations to Clinton’s campaign fund and $5,000 more to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint campaign fund of the Clinton campaign, the DNC and 33 state Democratic parties that the Sanders campaign complained gave the Clinton campaign control of the DNC’s finances, strategy and staffing during the primaries. Nixon’s top campaign team came out of de Blasio’s campaign and administration staff.

No one joined us in late October protests of debates sponsored by the corporate media, which excluded statewide Green candidates this year after including us in 2010 and 2014. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and Charter/Spectrum have given $850,000 to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaigns and received in return subsidies, tax breaks and regulatory favors. The corporate media acted like state media for the two-party state. The left was silent.

NIXON TOOK the energy she gathered on the progressive left and then delivered it to Cuomo by endorsing him after the primary. During the primary, she was not very effective in representing progressive positions. The Greens couldn’t get a word in edgewise as the corporate media was as star struck as so many progressive activists.

We were told that we would be covered after the primary. But with an immediate post-primary poll showing Cuomo with an insurmountable lead, the media decided there was no story to cover. We never got into the media narrative about the race.

On single payer, Nixon told the New York Daily News editorial board, “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it.” Though the progressive taxation plan in the bill would save 98 percent of New Yorkers money on their health care costs, opponents right and center used her statement to attack the bill.

On taxes and fiscal policy, Nixon proposed tweaking Cuomo’s signature austerity measure instead of repealing it. Nixon proposed letting local governments override the 2 percent cap on property tax increases by a majority instead of a two-thirds vote. Through unfunded state mandates on local governments and a freeze on revenue sharing, the state now balances its budget on the backs of working-class renters and homeowners through regressive local property taxes.

When Syracuse asked for state aid to upgrade its failing 19th-century water mains that have breaks almost daily, Cuomo said, “Fix your own pipes.” The tax cap forces local governments cut services, or face penalties for raising above the cap what are already the highest property taxes in the nation as a percentage of income and home value outside New York City.

On New York’s crisis of affordable housing and homelessness, Nixon was right to call for strengthening rent regulations and tenants’ rights. But she failed to raise the tenant movement’s longstanding demand to repeal state control of local rent regulations. Nor did she call for building more public housing to meet the enormous need for affordable housing.

THE GREENS have been calling for 100 percent clean energy by 2030 since the 2010 campaign. They helped draft the New York Off Fossil Fuels (NY OFF) Act, pending in both houses of the legislature, that would establish timelines and benchmarks to achieve that goal.

Nixon instead touted a Democratic bill, the Climate and Community Protection Act, that largely codifies Cuomo’s energy policy. It does nothing to stop flooding the state with fracked-gas power plants or subsidizing Exelon’s upstate nuclear power plants with $8 billions. It delays 100 percent clean energy until 2050 when it is too late.

The bill states that its purpose is to help achieve the outdated global goal of 450 parts per million for atmospheric carbon dioxide equivalents. For a decade now, leading climate scientists like James Hansen have been publishing research showing the goal needs to be 350 ppm goal to avert runaway global warming. The planet reached 412 ppm this year, which means not just halting emissions, but pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and into the biosphere with afforestation and regenerative agriculture that rebuilds soil ecosystems.

Nixon’s campaign reflected the state of the broad liberal left in New York, which counts on the Democrats to deliver progressive reforms. Even Action endorsed Nixon, despite her support for a bill with a goal of 450 ppm. They did not even acknowledge that we had submitted their questionnaire.

When Cuomo beat Nixon by a two-to-one margin in the primary, Cuomo dismissed the progressive challenge to him as “not even a ripple.” His primary challengers, Cynthia Nixon, her Lieutenant Governor running mate Jumaane Williams and the Working Families Party then affirmed that judgment by endorsing him. Cuomo’s vote was up by 1.3 million in the general election from 2014. In his victory speech, Cuomo boasted that he was the “pragmatic progressive” who “gets things done.”

The Green vote was down from 2014, from 184,000 to about 100,000, even though the statewide voter turnout increased from 3.9 million to 5.8 million. If Greens had maintained the 5 percent share they received in 2014, they would have ended up with about 300,000 votes and leaped over the Conservative Party to third place on the ballot.

As it was, the Greens are now fifth on the ballot, about 10,000 votes behind Cuomo’s votes on the Working Families line, which saw their vote drop from 2014 by about 20,000.

WITH THOSE election results, Cuomo is going to be even more insufferably arrogant in dismissing those to his left while doing his donors’ bidding.

Cuomo will use the newly elected conservative suburban Democrats against the more liberal city Democrats in the same way he used the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of state Senate Democrats who had caucused with the Republicans over the previous eight years, allowing the Republicans to block many long-overdue social reforms such as abortion rights, ending discrimination against transgender people and a DREAM Act to help undocumented students attend college.

The WFP is describing the defeat of six of the eight IDC Democrats as “revolutionary.” But it is hard to see what is revolutionary about Democrats caucusing with Democrats, especially because the suburban Democrats signed on to Cuomo’s program of not raising taxes on the rich to fund pressing needs like fixing the subways.

Cuomo will use the suburban Democrats to stop single-payer health care, continue underfunding high-poverty public schools, support charter schools, limit reform of the expiring rent laws, cut or kill the expiring millionaire’s tax and flood the state with fracked-gas power plants.

Contrary to one assertion in this debate that the Greens are moving to the right, we ran as eco-socialists from the start and got no negative feedback on that from our members or supporters.

Our campaign offered socialist solutions to pressing problems: public health care, public power for planning the transition to 100 percent clean energy, public broadband, public banking, more public housing, fully-funded public schools, tuition-free public college, worker co-ops, and progressive tax reform to pay for this Green New Deal. With co-sponsorship by the ISO and the Socialist Party USA, we held forums across three New York City boroughs on socialist solutions to six problems: low wages, education, segregation, housing, health care and Puerto Rico.

But socialist alternatives never got a hearing from the broad public. The election was about Trump. Cuomo campaigned against Trump, not with a program for New York. Cuomo had Democratic line and $50 million to promote his already high name recognition. Voters in the broad center-right to left choose Cuomo on the Democratic line to repudiate Trump.

The Trump era has been and will continue to be hard for independent left politics. But the Democrats do not have real solutions to the problems we face. The climate crisis is accelerating, and the working-class majority is in daily crisis just trying to pay their bills and keep their home.

I hope that we in the independent socialist left quickly figure out how to work together better than we did in this election because real solutions can’t wait.

HERE IS my response to a Facebook thread by David Rolde that started circulating among some of my supporters the Friday before the election, urging them not to vote for me “because Howie is an imperialist who supports the Zionist/U.S./NATO/Gulf-monarchist regime change campaign against Syria:

I don’t support U.S. military intervention for regime change in Syria.

I support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and cutting off U.S. aid to Israel as long as it violates Palestinians’ human rights.

The Syrian struggle is three-way: (1) Assad and his foreign backers, (2) Islamic fundamentalists and their foreign backers, and (3) a democratic movement of Syrian people against Assad and the fundamentalists. Socialists should support the democratic movement.

Assad is a murderous capitalist pig, but it is up to the Syrians to take care of him. Same goes for his authoritarian capitalist ally, Putin. That’s for the Russian people to deal with. And the same goes for the repressive fundamentalist Iranian regime backing Assad. Iranians will have to deal with that regime.

David Rolde calls Syria and North Korea socialist. These are authoritarian, repressive regimes. Syria is a neoliberal capitalist regime with favors and protection for monopolistic businesses in Assad’s family and cronies. North Korea is state capitalist. To equate these states with socialism is to discredit socialism. There is no socialism without democracy and no real democracy without socialism.

And to support Russian and Iranian imperialism against Western imperialism is to become a pawn in the inter-imperialist geopolitics of rival states and imperialist blocs in the new Cold War. Socialists should solidarize with the popular movements who fight for freedom and democracy in their own countries.

Sectarians who make up fantasies about my positions on Syria to oppose the only socialist option on the New York ballot give Cuomo a free ride to a third term as the capitalists’ choice.


What matters in our endorsement debate

Jen Roesch adds her views to the discussion of a withdrawn endorsement in New York.

I WANT to thank Howie Hawkins (“A missed chance to support a real alternative”) for responding to the discussion in Socialist Worker about the New York City International Socialist Organization’s decision to withdraw our endorsement of his campaign (“The independent left must oppose Islamophobia”).

Howie has been a principled and tireless fighter for independent socialist politics, often in conditions less favorable than now, and we have much to learn from him and gain from our work together. There is much he writes with which I agree, but I also have some significant disagreements — ones that I think shed light on how this debate unfolded in New York City.

I am the organizer for the ISO in NYC, and in that capacity, I was responsible for bringing the initial proposal for endorsement, and I also engaged in some of the discussions with Howie and his campaign.

Howie speaks compellingly to the reasons why it was important to have a genuinely independent alternative on the ballot against Cuomo. I agree with this, and it is why I argued strongly against rescinding our endorsement, and voted against doing so.

However, I also agree with points made by Danny Katch (“Looking back on an endorsement debate”) and Sofia Arias (“Questions about endorsing we needed to ask”) in their contributions, in which they identify problems with our endorsement process and also explain why the debate over Assadism and Islamophobia was an important one to take up.

It is in relationship to this last point that I find Howie’s letter most disappointing. Howie describes our request that he distance himself from the Jimmy Dore endorsement as a playground grudge, in which we asked him to fight another unknown kid we have a beef with.

The ISO does not “have a beef” with Dore. We have an analysis that he is a conspiracy theorist who deflects legitimate anger against the system and the U.S. government into support for a dictator abroad and Islamophobia at home.

In a context of a developing left and a stronger right that is growing out of anti-establishment politics, it is crucial that our side present a clear alternative. Moreover, since 9/11, Islamophobia has been the “acceptable racism” that has helped create the conditions for a resurgent white supremacist right. Dore’s mix of left-wing, anti-establishment politics with right-wing and racist positions is toxic.

I know Howie understands this very well, and he writes that he is committed to challenging the growing influence of Assadism in the Green Party. But that makes it all the more puzzling that he would dismiss our concerns as some kind of playground fight. welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

We can legitimately disagree about the tactics of how, on what terrain and on what timeline to conduct this fight. But the arguments raised by our members — particularly our Arab and Muslim members who are closest to this issue — deserve to be taken more seriously.

The majority of our members do not share the long experience of collaboration that we have had with Howie and our understanding of his commitment to socialism from below and the fight against racism in all its forms. Those of us who do have this experience were put in the position of asking our comrades to trust us on this.

This is made more challenging by the attitude that Howie takes here, and it is unlikely to be convincing to anyone who voted to rescind.

THAT SAID, I also think that Howie’s argument is wrong on a strategic level. He writes that it would have been a mistake to pick a fight with Dore because it would only invite attacks from Assadists, and that it would be better to focus on “the pressing problems” facing the people of New York.

First of all, Howie is quite capable of defending himself and turning such attacks into an opportunity to communicate his vision of socialism, anti-imperialism and anti-racism. His response to the attack that did come at the end of the campaign is a perfect demonstration of this: “There is no socialism without democracy and no real democracy without socialism.”

The left needs more people with a platform making these arguments simply and powerfully. Rather than a distraction, this was an opportunity for Howie to champion the ideas he’s fought for over decades.

I also think Howie is wrong to counterpose the issues raised by our comrades to the pressing problems of New Yorkers or to judge their importance by how many people might know of the controversy.

They mattered especially to our members involved in BDS and Palestine solidarity work and struggles against Islamophobia. It seems reasonable to conclude that had the campaign reached deeper into these networks, we would not have been the only one raising these issues.

And regardless of the numbers, there is no doubt that Islamophobia, the “war on terror” and solidarity with refugees have been central concerns for the left in New York City. After all, John F. Kennedy International Airport, here in NYC, was one of the first to be flooded by protesters against the proposed Muslim travel ban.

Had Howie responded to our request that he issue a simple statement opposing racism and Islamophobia, he would have won the confidence of comrades who are rightly indignant at imperialism, racism and dictatorship, and committed to building independent politics.

If ISO members had felt a stake in shaping this campaign and believed it was responsive to their concerns and willing to take a hard stand like this, they would have been more prepared to argue with those around them to support it, too. This would have made the campaign stronger, not weaker.

WHEN WE approached the campaign about this issue for a final time, we were asked to submit an example of the kind of statement we would want Howie to issue. This is what we submitted:

Last month I did a radio show with Randy Credico in which I was asked to interview Jimmy Dore. At that time, I was not familiar with Dore or his politics. Following this appearance, Dore endorsed me, and my campaign e-mailed out our appreciation for this endorsement.

Since that time, some of my supporters have approached me with concerns about this association with Dore. It has come to my attention that Dore’s YouTube show, with its 400,000 subscribers, is one of the most important platforms in the U.S. for conspiratorial arguments about Syria, including the claim that the outcry against the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is a “false flag” operation. In this context, Dore has repeatedly made Islamophobic comments, including accusing a BDS activist of being an al-Qaeda apologist. This Islamophobia is a form of racism that I wholly reject.

I take the concerns of these supporters very seriously. As a result of this type of racism, Arabs and Muslims in NY have suffered from state repression, hate crimes and other political attacks. I stand with Arabs and Muslims in this state against this racism and repression. I do not want my campaign to be associated, however loosely, with figures who help to create political cover for such attacks.

Because of this, I would like to take this opportunity to distance myself from Dore and to clarify that I do not welcome his endorsement of my campaign.

I still struggle to understand why Howie would refuse to issue such a statement — especially as he knew that the ISO had voted to rescind our endorsement if he didn’t. That he was willing to lose the support of an organization of 150 revolutionaries in New York City over this is deeply unfortunate.

I am very sympathetic to the dilemma Howie faced. At this stage in the campaign, he was — in the words of his campaign manager — carrying the state Green Party on his back. He was fighting to retain the ballot line in the context of a liberal left that had backed Cynthia Nixon as a challenger to Andrew Cuomo, only to fold and (yet again!) endorse Cuomo.

I appreciate that it was a difficult decision in a tough situation, but I do think it was a mistake.

To be absolutely clear, this is not a debate over principles. Howie has proven his commitment to anti-racism and anti-imperialism many times over the course of 40 years of struggle. And the ISO is committed to independent politics and building an alternative to the two-party system.

But I do believe this debate has touched on questions of strategy about how we approach electoral work to build an independent alternative in this period that deserve further exploration.

I agree with Howie that the left needs to figure out how to work together better. I also believe this will mean asking questions about the state of our movements and figuring out what it means to build independent left politics in the context of a new socialist movement that is changing the terrain. It will mean working patiently to win over a new generation.

In that process, people like Howie and many other allies we’ve worked with in these campaigns will be both an indispensable link to struggles of the past and leaders who can help, by their example, to bring the left together around independent socialist politics.


On the ISO’s refusal to endorse Howie Hawkin’s campaign

By Louis Proyect

Recently a series of exchanges between Howie Hawkins and the ISO that were published in the Socialist Worker newspaper reflect a big problem on the left for the past 7 years, namely how to maintain unity in the face of deep divisions over the war in Syria.

The first article in this series appeared on November 17th, titled The Independent Left Must Oppose Islamophobia, delivered an ultimatum to Howie. Unless he would disavow the endorsement of comedian Jimmy Dore publicly, they would withdraw their endorsement of his campaign. They wrote:

A subsequent campaign email described Dore as “one of the most courageous and funniest political voices we have today.” In fact, he is a vocal supporter of the worst variety of Assadist and Islamophobic conspiracy theories on the Syrian conflict.

In fact, that would describe about 90 percent of the left today, including Noam Chomsky, Bhaskar Sunkara, and other well-known figures to one degree or another. Dore, who might be described as a funny version of Max Blumenthal, happens to be a trenchant critic of the Democratic Party. So are the people who write for Black Agenda Report. For that matter, probably 90 percent of the people who have written for CounterPunch since 2011 line up with Jimmy Dore. Many believe that this reflects the editorial outlook of editors Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank but in reality it simply indicates the dominance of pro-Assad support of those those who submit articles. What is the possibility that a united revolutionary left can be built in the years to come in a deepening capitalist crisis that is based on a litmus test of something like the Syrian revolution?

What about a litmus test on Cuba? I say this as someone who has grown very sympathetic to the ISO’s drawing a class line on the question of lesser evil politics. Although far more diplomatic than me, they have provided a running commentary on the DSA and Jacobin that has been so inspiring to me that if I were 20 years younger, I might even consider joining. Given my age and my frailty, the only thing I would consider joining today is my wife in bed to watch old episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.

Yet, even then, the reliance on Sam Farber articles about Cuba would have probably been a show stopper even if I was 20 years younger. Does the ISO believe that a party capable of leading a socialist revolution in the USA will adhere to their line on Cuba? Granted, the group is on record as stating that members can hold different views on Cuba than those of Sam Farber but what good is that if the newspaper never reflects that?

Back in 1980, when I began discussions with Peter Camejo on the kind of left we need in the USA, he emphasized putting historical and international questions on the back burner. Why split over the class nature of the USSR or which leftist faction to support in Angola? If you studied Lenin’s articles you’d understand that Russian questions were key. Can you imagine the Bolsheviks splitting over the exact year when Thermidor started in France over a hundred years earlier?

I always had this in mind when I began writing articles about the kind of non-sectarian movement we need in the USA. Despite my deep commitment to the Syrian revolution, which is now pretty much a dying ember, I never would have broken with those who understood the need to challenge capitalism in the USA, particularly the two parties that prop it up, whatever they thought of Assad. This is why I continued writing for CounterPunch. It is also why I supported Jill Stein in 2016.

On November 20th, Howie responded to the ISO in an article titled A Missed Chance to Support a Real Alternative. Most of his article is a commentary on the sorry state of the DSA and the lesser-evil left that preferred Cynthia Nixon to Howie’s anti-capitalist campaign. When DSA member Dan La Botz put forward a motion to back Howie, abstentions were considered as no votes and so he lost. Howie noted that counting abstentions in this fashion is how Jimmy Hoffa Jr. forced the latest UPS contract down the throat of his union. (Strange to see “Democratic” Socialists behaving like Jimmy Hoffa Jr., or maybe not so strange.) Just when the DSA was shafting Howie, the NYC ISO was acting on their Jimmy Dore ultimatum.

Howie’s take on all this struck me as making perfect sense:

But I had no time for picking a fight with Dore over Syria in the last weeks of the campaign. I think most New Yorkers following my campaign would have asked, “Who the hell is Jimmy Dore?” and “What does Syria have to do with the problems we face in New York?”

I know from experience on the Syria question that making a statement about the reality of the Syrian revolution brings a torrent of responses from the pro-Assad “anti-imperialists,” who will lie and put words into my mouth, such as saying I support U.S. military intervention for regime change in Syria. The responses come from around the world, from “peace” activists in the U.S. to East European acolytes of the Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin. One has to respond to set the record straight.

Then there would be Jimmy Dore fans asking me why I was picking on him. I didn’t have time for all that. My campaign decided we would pick our own fights and focus on the pressing problems the people of New York face under Cuomo’s rule.

Three days later, Jen Roesch, the ISO organizer in NYC, defended her party’s decision. Her article referred in turn to an article by ISO leader Danny Katch that urged support for Hawkins. Such public debate about Hawkin’s campaign in Socialist Worker along with the earlier one about whether to support Ocasio-Cortez gives you hope that the ISO will continue to dump “democratic centralist” norms overboard, where they belong.

Roesch pointed to factors that might have tipped the scales in the direction of not endorsing Howie even before Dore became an issue. Apparently there were ISO members that had been influenced by pro-DP arguments made by the Eric Blanc wing of the DSA. They may be described as erudite treatises steeped in Marxist scholarship justifying a vote for Ocasio-Cortez, Julia Salazar and other DSA-backed campaigns. With the massive positive publicity for these campaigns, the explosive growth of the DSA, and the failure of the Green Party to have met the expectations placed in it when Ralph Nader got 2,882,955 votes in 2000, you can understand the misgivings Roesch described:

Those arguments included: the campaign wouldn’t build the left; campaigns that can’t actually win are nonstarters in an era of victorious left Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez; and the Green Party has a serious problem of Assadism and Islamophobia. Our rushed discussion and vote resulted in the conflation of these and other arguments, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t.

It was apparent that many members would not have decided to endorse the campaign if they had the chance again, whether it was because of the original arguments or experiencing the campaign’s interactions with Dore. I still think there were good reasons to support the campaign despite its weaknesses, but clearly this was the full discussion we should have had initially.

Well, at least that refreshing admission was not the sort of thing we ever saw in the Militant back in my days in the SWP. I will say that.

Finally, Roesch draws closer to the concerns I articulated at the start of the article by asking how the ISO can build united fronts and electoral campaigns alongside people with whom they have major disagreements. Actually, it is a much bigger question than that. A united front can involve revolutionary and reformist parties, as Lenin made clear in the 1920s but does the ISO think that a mass revolutionary party will have a newspaper that has the slightest resemblance to Socialist Worker? Even though it is a breath of fresh air to see Danny Katch disagreeing with ISO majority positions in the paper, this is a far cry from the American Iskra that will be necessary to serve as the voice of the vanguard in years to come.

At the risk of sounding outlandish to ISO members so used to the comfort zone of ideological homogeneity, an American Iskrawill probably read a lot more like CounterPunch. I should add that I only ended up writing for it in 2012 after Jeff St. Clair invited me to write an answer to CounterPunch attacks on Pussy Riot based on what I had already written on my blog. In many ways, CounterPunch is the continuation of the Guardian newsweekly that stopped publishing in 1992. After it evolved away from Maoism, it regularly opened its pages to debates on the left. Come to think of it, that is what Lenin thought that Iskra should be when he wrote “What is to be Done” between 1901 and 1902.

Lenin only saw Iskra as a pole of attraction for socialists operating in different cities across Russia who worked in isolation from each other. It was not a “line” newspaper in any sense of the word. On October 19th, during the CounterPunch fund drive, Jeff St. Clair described the role it played on the left. Substitute “party line” for “company line” and it will make even more sense:

Unlike many political sites, CounterPunch doesn’t a have company line. The online edition of CounterPunch has always been a venue where different voices, on what can loosely be described as the “left,” can freely engage in fierce debates about politics, economics, war, movies, racism, music and political movements. We’ve tried to make CounterPunch free from dogma and cant, but to keep it open for writers with fresh points of view and vivid writing styles. The experience can perplex readers who are used to grazing in the usual media feedlots of processed prose and artificially-colored opinions.

Compare this to how Lenin ended the final chapter of “What is to be Done”, titled The “Plan” For an All-Russia Political Newspaper, and you will get an idea of the kind of approach that is needed today:

Every outbreak, every demonstration, would be weighed and, discussed in its every aspect in all parts of Russia and would thus stimulate a desire to keep up with, and even surpass, the others (we socialists do not by any means flatly reject all emulation or all “competition”!) and consciously prepare that which at first, as it were, sprang up spontaneously, a desire to take advantage of the favourable conditions in a given district or at a given moment for modifying the plan of attack, etc. At the same time, this revival of local work would obviate that desperate, “convulsive” exertion of all efforts and risking of all forces which every single demonstration or the publication of every single issue of a local newspaper now frequently entails.

I have always warned about mechanically following the example of Lenin’s party but there is something about this citation that convinces me that the true spirit of Lenin’s party has yet to be understood fully to this day. As grievous as the collapse of the USSR was, it at least had the value of undermining the institutional foundations of “Leninist” parties whether Stalinist or Trotskyist. Now is the time, more than ever, to build new foundations for the monumental class battles of the future.


  1. I do agree that a position on Syria should not be a litmus test for whether or not one supports a candidate or a political organization. Throughout my life, I have read and heard a mountain of garbage coming out of the western left on Iran, for example; so much so that I think they should just stop talking about societies they understand so little, and try to do something positive at home.

    But, of course, if you’re most western leftists, you assume you know everything, and that you have to have a fully formed and enforceable opinion about everything under the sun. Western left, right and center, they all assume that third-worlders are just a bunch of people to be lectured and talked down at.

    While I have given up looking to people’s positions on single-country issues as a litmus test, I don’t ignore the fact that certain positions taken by the western left *do* signify underlying assumptions. And that is not something to ignore. But, again, I view those erroneous positions as *symptoms*.

    A clear example is the 2009 uprising of the people in Iran, in the aftermath of the stolen elections (apologies for repeating this for the hundredth time here). A majority of leftists sided with the theocratic dictatorship. (Mr. Proyect being a refreshing exception, which led me to trust his political views on most other issues). Later, it came out that Obama administration was negotiating in secret with the Iranian regime. But, even before the elections and before the uprising, we read that Obama had sent letters of support to the regime (to Khamenei, specifically), declaring American support regardless of the election outcome. Most of the western left, however, was in a feverish hysteria about a ‘color revolution’ being orchestrated by the CIA. As if MILLIONS of Iranians are a bunch of CIA stooges and clueless about the causes of their suffocating misery. An insult as huge as that cannot be ignored. Paul Craig Roberts (president Reagan’s former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy) was allowed to repeat this kind of garbage on Counterpunch, proving that even highly smart leftists like Alex Cockburn could stumble.

    For me, if a left grouping cannot have an unambiguous position on a theocratic dictatorship (or a genocidal tyrant) in a very capitalist country, there is little hope for it to be able to answer much deeper and hugely more complex issues facing humanity at this point in history.

    So, as this post by Louis suggests, part of the solution is to start by working on something you do know something about.

    Comment by Reza — November 24, 2018 @ 1:40 am

  2. The ISO unendorsing the Howie Hawkins election campaign shows a sectarian view of neither creating needed left unity and demanding all must hold the same view on every question to work together. I find it disappointing that the ISO which claims interest in worker candidates promoting a working class political program, believes that Howie Hawkins is “not sufficient” because he is endorsed by someone who holds a different view than their majority of members on the Syrian War. If memory serves me correctly,the very same ISO, had no problem with their involvement in supporting Ralph Nader in that 2000 election campaign and did not withdraw when non-socialists who did not oppose capitalism, endorsed Nader. So what happened in the past 18 years is that the ISO has become either more sectarian, or was wrong in 2000, or is just a sectarian groip that follows whatever their “leaders” moods are on a particular day and election campaign? Howie Hawkins has nothing to defend, of his years of activism and principle on behalf of the working class. The ISO decision to unendorse reflects poorly on the ISO pronounced intention to build left unity and even of less understanding of how to work with other left political currents, to build a needed mass left united front

    Comment by John O'Brien — November 24, 2018 @ 6:58 am



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