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The Obsolete International Socialists

Around a week ago, when I was looking at the sources of this blog's traffic, I encountered a Toronto blog run by a member of the IS (International Socialists, the name used outside of Britain for the Socialist Workers Party) who was apparently annoyed by my recent posts regarding Jack Layton.  Aside from the typical and unremarkable kow-towing to the opportunistic NDP-is-the-legitimate-representative-of-the-working-class line, what I found truly amusing was the author's comment in response to my aforementioned posts: "Wow, I didn't know there were any Maoists in North America any more.  Glad to see that - besides being churls - they still manage to utterly miss the point."

(No, I am not going to provide a link to this blog because I do not want to provide it with any traffic.  Nor do I want its author or its hermetically sealed readers to parachute into this blog space with their asinine and ignorant comments.)

Although I find it rather hilarious that I have been accused of "missing the point" by someone who calls themselves a "socialist" and yet has obviously missed the point of socialism––or the fact that it fallacious to dismiss an argument without actually providing any reasons as to why it "missed the point"––I find it even more amusing, and in fact rather telling, that someone who claims to be a member of the Toronto left can make a blaise claim about being unaware of the existence of Maoists or Maoism in North America.  My knee-jerk mental response was to argue: "wow, I didn't know there were still any 'International Socialists' in Toronto"… which leads me to the main point of this post.

I remember how, back when I first arrived in Toronto and became involved in left activism, the IS was one of the largest institutionalized "socialist" groups.  Even at this point, however, the rest of the organized left saw them as somewhat collaborationist, were annoyed at how they involved themselves in coalitions only to depoliticize these coalitions and reduce them to the same damn march around the same damn downtown blocks with the same damn trade union and liberal speakers.  Because of this, the IS, despite seemingly possessing a large presence, also had the largest membership revolving door––which is why a comrade in Ottawa recently joked that the only left group bigger than the IS is the group comprised of former IS members.

But this joke might not even be applicable in the current Canadian left context because there are now myriad groups that are bigger and more recognizable than the IS.  The International Socialists used to have a strong presence on university campuses, for example, but now they are just as anachronistic in that context as the whackier and dogmatic Spartacists and International Bolshevik Tendency.

Now it seems that the IS lacks any significant concrete connections with leftwing organizing in Toronto. Large-scale demonstrations in Toronto are no longer dominated by this group and whenever I encounter members of the IS at these demonstrations they are usually a tiny little contingent composed of always new and unknown faces––each demonstration demonstrates the revolving door of this organization.

Due to this loss of significance, I can understand why current IS members would not know about the existence of Maoists in North America.  Chances are, these members know little about the Canadian left, let alone the Canadian communist left, since their organization lacks any vital involvement in activism and left organizing: this sort of intentional covenizing, I suppose, produces a general ignorance about the history of the left and the present conjuncture.

As I've recently argued in a series of posts, the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada (PCR-RCP, which is a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organization, has emerged as probably one of the most vital communist organizations in Canada.  In Quebec the PCR-RCP is not treated as some insignificant grouping that people do not know exists––in fact, even the state doesn't treat them as insignificant as was proved by the recent arrests and RCMP targeting.  (It also needs to be said that IS members have never been targeted like other political groups, and have never been treated as a significant threat, but this is really unsurprising considering that, back when they could colonize every leftwing movement in Toronto, the IS would always call the police to help organize their marches.  You do not get targeted by the pigs if you have a working relationship with the pigs.)

And yet the PCR-RCP is not the only Maoist game in town.  There is also the Revolutionary Initiative which is active in the Canadian scene.  Then there is the fact that the progressive community organization Basics, though not being a Maoist organization, clearly supports some Maoist organizations and politics as is evident in some of the articles their newspaper promotes––and Basics is probably one of the most significant leftist organizations in Toronto at the moment.  To this we can add the fact that, since the majority of leftwing movements in Asia and Africa are either Maoist or Maoist-influenced, immigrants who come from this background are more inclined to adopt Maoist politics than the post-Trotskyism espoused by the IS… Trotskyism, after all, is an ideology that is far more popular in the centres of capitalism than the peripheries, and leftists in third world countries are also more inclined to be Stalinist than Trotskyist.

Really, the IS is a rather vapid organization filled with members who are trained to be ignorant of the larger reality of Canadian leftism.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that they take their marching orders from the SWP in Britain and thus, always aping the British line, are wholly incapable of developing a communism for their particular concrete circumstances.  If the IS/SWP possesses any relevance, then it is only relevant in Britain and even this is doubtful.  (Although, it should be mentioned, the SWP in Britain does count China Mieville as a member––which is just, in my opinion, rather sad: China, what are you doing?)  When it comes to Toronto and the rest of Canada, however, the IS has degenerated into little more than a leftist joke––yes, leftist organizers of multiple backgrounds do make jokes about the IS now, just as they make jokes about the Sparts and the IBT.  And it's hard not to treat the IS as the subject of a leftist in-joke these days, especially since their organizing work has become both insignificant and unclear.

As much as I have problems with the entryist tactics of a group like Fightback, at least Fightback has a clear and well-defined strategy (even if I disagree with it) vis-a-vis the NDP.  Not so with the IS: are they entryists, social democrats, soft socialists…?  On one hand they talk about building a socialist movement but on the other hand they promote the NDP as some valid working class party.  Their only real strategy is to sell the Socialist Worker newspaper but, due to their growing insignificance at progressive rallies, I haven't even observed this sort of paper pushing for a long time.  Good Lord: I just realized I haven't seen a Socialist Worker for probably five years!  And this is rather significant when it comes to gauging the impact of this specific leftist group: if the group was visible only because of its paper, and its largest activity as a group was selling papers at rallies, then the current absence of its newspaper might indicate that it has become absent and invisible.

So what point are we Maoists missing, and how are we precisely "churls"?  The fact that an IS member is unaware that Maoism and Maoist-influenced communism is far less anachronistic in Canada than whatever passes for ideology in the SWP is really not that surprising––it simply indicates that the IS and its members, because they're really no longer involved as a whole in any concrete on-the-ground organizing, are extremely ignorant when it comes to the Canadian left.


  1. I've been in Canada for 7 years, and involved in the leftist scene for 6 of them, and I have never met someone from the IS, whether though an electronic forum or in person. Infact, I often forget that they even exist.

    I know all about their brand of politics though, because I did a stint in the New Socialist Group, many of the leading members of which were members of the Political Reorientation Faction that split from the IS in 1996.

    They're an utterly worthless organization if you ask me. And don't even get me started on the hopelessly first worldist, white leftist politics of the IST in general (especially the ISO in the states).

  2. Honestly, I've had far more run-ins with Maoist groups (of varying authenticity) than those of a Trot persuasion. Shame about Mieville, though. I was so excited to find out he was a leftist, and then he has to go and be a leftist of *that* variety.

  3. Rowland: I agree that they're hopelessly first worldist. Even when it comes to third world movements that have become normative amongst the left they're lagging behind (i.e. they've always been behind in Palestinian solidarity, for example), and when it comes to anticolonial politics in Canada, the IS Canada has no political line worth embracing.

    Irateadri: it is a shame about Mieville and I had the same reaction - excitement that he was a commie and then a sad sigh when I realized he was gravitating to the SWP. And yet his novels are still awesome - if only he dropped the SWP and adopted a better politics. It would make even his nonfiction analyses of international law, for example, better.

  4. True about the IS lagging behind as first worldists - prominent members were "demoted" from leadership for being too upfront about Palestinian solidarity and questioning the party line on Cuba.

    It seems to me the IS are mostly labour staffers and a few CFS the right of even the CP...

  5. I have never been a huge fan of the IS. But to be fair I have recently worked closely with several of their members organizing support for striking workers (most recently Postal Workers) and they were good eggs. Didnt see any maoists around, but I do know they exist, and I am sure you folks are good eggs too.


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