Leaving the Socialist International Would Be a Big Mistake

DSA member Ella Mahony recently published an article in Democratic Left that she had previously self-published on Medium. She describes how, while living in San Paulo, Brazil (where I graduated from high school), she travelled to Rio de Janeiro for an international gathering organized on the sidelines of the national congress of Juntos!, the youth section of one of several Trotskyist subgroups (MES) within a minor Brazilian party (PSOL). In her article, Ella presents this gathering as a proper replacement for DSA's current full membership in the Socialist International, a membership which she criticizes.

I will start with the gathering, where Ella represented the DSA and Jacobin magazine. Ella was joined by Neal Meyer of DSA, Winnie Wong of People for Bernie, Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter, activists of three Black Lives Matter chapters in the United States, supporters of a new splinter group from the leftist Frente Amplio electoral coalition in Peru and representatives of six minor movements that are so obscure that it took me hours to find information with which to describe them:

  • a group of Chavista dissidents in Venezuela
  • a new Trotskyist party in Paraguay
  • a Trotskyist party in Argentina
  • the student section of a Trotskyist "tendency" in Great Britain
  • a Trotskyist feminist grouping in Chile
  • a Trotskyist party in Portugal.

In total, there were about 19 international guests present at the national congress of Juntos!; a third of those guests represented Trotskyist organizations. I put this list of guests together from the signatories of an "international resolution" and the panelists in an "international debate," both from the youth congress. At this international debate, fully half the panelists represented Trotskyist organizations.

Most of these organizations are naturally closer to the International Socialist Organization (ISO), a Trotskyist group here in the United States with a long history of creating problems for DSA chapters around the country, than to the DSA. (The ISO has, for example, been accused by many DSA members of infiltrating locals and of misrepresenting requests for solidarity.) In fact, the ISO and Juntos! are partner organizations.

Ella mentions in her article that the international guests not from the United States "took an enormous amount of interest" in and are "extremely open to" the DSA and the U. S. socialist movement. I don't doubt their sincerity, but it's hardly surprising that they took keen interest in the DSA when we are far more influential than all of the movements behind those guests (except for, perhaps, the Peruvian splinter from Frente Amplio). Ella makes it clear in her article that the international guests from Latin America present at the national congress of Juntos! suffer severe weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but she doesn't seem to make the connection that most of the movements she interacted with are never going to become mass political organizations.

"Many newer, smaller left groups are irretrievably sectarian or strategically hopeless (usually the two go hand-in-hand)," admits Ella in her article. MES, the parent movement behind Juntos!, has been trying for years to build yet another Trotskyist international (there are already too many Trotskyist internationals to count). International guests were invited to the national congress of their youth section in an attempt to expand this proto-international, currently known as Portal de la Izquierda and previously known as Movimiento. Hopefully the irony is not lost to readers regarding how each of the Trotskyist subgroups within the PSOL maintains their own international affiliations, with MES and the other subgroups not even able to work together in building international solidarity.

I say all this not to take away from Ella's and Neal's powerful experience at the national congress of Juntos!. I would have loved to be there with them and we should continue to represent DSA at similar events. But the day the DSA considers a gathering of less than 20 guests on the sidelines of a youth congress of a Trotskyist organization as more meaningful than participation in forums of the Socialist International will be the day I would take it as a signal to move on.

Ella's criticism of the Socialist International is mostly based on concerns that exist regarding the ruling parties of France, Egypt, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Syria, Yemen and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). It is strongly implied that these 12 countries have governing parties affiliated with the International. In reality, only 3 of those countries (Nicaragua, Mexico and South Africa) are governed by member parties of the Socialist International. In fact, some of those countries have never been ruled by an International-affiliated party. The DSA is not, as Ella claims, put in the position of having to defend the "sub-imperial forces" in the BRICS because, of the governing parties in these 5 countries, only the party of Nelson Mandela is affiliated with the International.

Ella claims that the activists she met in Rio de Janeiro "are genuinely scandalized by the abuses carried out in the name of the Socialist International . . . And they view the DSA's continued affiliation as unfortunate, perhaps naive, in the short term but a true insult if continued." They have every right to be angry with the DSA because, despite being full members of the International for decades, we choose to share the same organization with the FSLN of Nicaragua, the PRI of Mexico and the ANC of South Africa. If there are bad actors in the International, we – the DSA – are to blame because we have the power to expel violators and we have done nothing to keep fellow member parties honest. Our response should be to try and expel the FSLN, PRI and ANC (assuming we have good evidence to back up our accusations), not to disaffiliate from the International to appease minor, fringe groups that aren't even based in Nicaragua, Mexico or South Africa.

The International has had a code of conduct at least since the "Ethical Charter" (one of the three "basic documents" of the organization) was adopted at the 22nd Congress in 2003. The International has a statutory Ethics Committee that monitors compliance with the Ethical Charter, which covers corruption, authoritarianism, "all social and economic politics to the advantage of privileged groups," anti-environmentalism, various human rights violations, warmongering, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, weakening the United Nations and other practices incompatible with the socialist project. The Ethics Committee is elected by the Council, refers violations to the Council and meets several times a year, including during meetings of the Council. We are full members of the International and have been for decades, so like all other full members of the International we have full representation on the Council.

I doubt that any DSA member has presented evidence of corruption, authoritarianism or neoliberalism in International-affiliated parties to the Ethics Committee or even brought up concerns in meetings of the Council. It would be extraordinarily hypocritical to leave the International under the pretense of distancing ourselves from some other member parties after our complete inaction to stop the conditions we condemn.

Also, as I explained in my response to the April report of the Internationalism Committee, which raised similar concerns, if we insist on talking about fellow member parties of the International, we need to pay attention to the full picture. All 150 member parties of the International come together every few years to form the Congress (the equivalent of the DSA National Convention), where they approve of priorities and resolutions together. All the parties meet more regularly to form the Council, where they approve resolutions and declarations together. Instead of cherry-picking bad apples in member parties of the International, you can comb through years worth of moral documents that give the full picture of where member parties of the International stand politically.

For example, rather than dismissing the International as a group of neoliberal, pro-austerity parties based on a handful of bad experiences in certain countries, you can read a lengthy, detailed priorities resolution of self-criticism, approved just this March at the 25th Congress, condemning how neoliberal globalization benefited few in the name of many and calling on socialist parties to reclaim economic equality as their goal. In other words, the majority of member parties of the International openly criticize the neoliberalism of some of their peers, just like we at DSA do.

I went on to explain how the argument that some member parties of the International are insufficiently socialist, even if it were valid in certain instances, only serves to underscore a major benefit of staying in the International. If we have problems with the politics of our peers around the world, the DSA can actually leverage its membership in the International to engage with fellow socialists and push for our vision of democratic socialism. We cannot meaningfully push for our vision of democratic socialism on the sidelines of the youth congress of a Trotskyist subgroup within a minor Brazilian party.

For background information on what the Socialist International is, on how the International functions, on the structure of the International, on the nature of the Progressive Alliance, on the historical relationship of the International with socialism in the United States, on the different membership levels of the International and on the debate over whether to continue DSA membership in the International, read more here.

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