Thursday, August 28, 2014

The ISO Versus Socialist Alternative

The ISO Versus Socialist Alternative

Sectarian Delusions on the American Left

Another International Socialist Organization Internal Bulletin has been leaked to the public over on the External Bulletin website, home to a group of former members. It contains an article written by long-time leader Todd Chretien that targets Socialist Alternative (SAlt)—the group that is rightfully proud of their comrade Kshama Sawant being elected to the Seattle City Council and for her role in the passing of a $15 minimum wage.
I have been partial to Chretien in the past because of his close ties to the late Peter Camejo, whose gubernatorial campaign in California he helped organize in 2003. I worked closely with Camejo in the early 80s and confess to having stolen all my best ideas from him.
The ISO’s chief criticism of Socialist Alternative’s electoral strategy is that it is “triumphalist”, a musty term from the Marxist lexicon. Specifically, Chretien regards SAlt’s call for a hundred independent candidates to run in the 2014-midterm elections as an “overblown perspective”. In his view, her victory did not necessarily mean that political conditions had ripened to the point where such a large number of candidates would be forthcoming. Such “triumphalism” might even be catching–to the point where ISO’ers would be seduced into believing that it was feasible to form a new “broad” party in the near term, or that regroupment of the far left was the order of the day. Heaven forefend.
The ISO is not the only group on the left that is wary about efforts on behalf of “broad” parties., the newspaper of a tiny sect that is hostile not only to SAlt but also to the ISO (and just about everyone else on the left as well), told its readers:
Socialist Alternative has called for a new coalition of like-minded groups, in alliance with the trade unions, to run 100 “independent” candidates in local elections next year. Their aim is to establish a political framework analogous to Syriza in Greece, the Left Party in Germany, and the New Anti-capitalist Party in France.
In tracking down SAlt’s call, it turns out to be more what we might call food for thought rather than a promissory note. From the Kshama Sawant website:
As a concrete step to get there, we should form coalitions throughout the country with the potential to come together on a national level to run 100 independent working-class candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections. The unions who supported the Moore and Sawant campaigns and many others should run full slates of independent working-class candidates in the mid-term, state, and local elections.
Chretien points out that the 100 independent candidates have not materialized, a sure sign of SAlt’s pie-in-the-sky tendencies. But was such a call anything more than what we used to call “propaganda” in the American SWP? (For some odd reason the ISO has studied the SWP for useful hints about party-building. In my view, this is like studying the Hindenburg or the Titanic for transportation ideas.)
Before it became a dirty word, propaganda meant raising an idea that could inspire people to take political action. For example, Lenin used to propagandize for a constituent assembly in Czarist Russia whether or not it was immediately on the agenda. I for one think that the call for a hundred independent candidates was not only right but also one that could be raised again in the next election cycle, to use the hackneyed term from CNN and MSNBC.
With respect to the Syriza question, it is not exactly clear that SAlt is so gung-ho on a broad party. In the most recent Greek elections their comrades ran their own campaign as a way of differentiating themselves from a party that they have characterized as “inadequate” and adhering to “watered down” demands. So, can breathe a sigh of relief.
Unlike the people behind WSWS, the ISO is at least verbally committed to the idea of a Syriza type formation in the USA. Just over a year ago their leader Ahmed Shawki gave a talk to an ISO conference that pointed in such a direction even if it ultimately led nowhere. One must conclude that both the ISO and SAlt are both capable of making unfulfilled projections. I urge that they be forgiven for such peccadillos.
Probably worried a bit about the smaller organization breathing down the ISO’s neck, Chretien calls attention to a SAlt article filled with the characteristic bravado of small propaganda groups convinced of their special role in the final showdown with capitalism. The article speaks of having picked up new members in 45 cities and projects the group doubling in size this year, mostly on account of Kshama Sawant’s high profile.
Like Hertz deriding Avis, Chretien dismisses all this as “irrational exuberance”, Yale economist Robert Schiller’s term for stock market and real estate bubbles. One can understand why he would be so skeptical. It was not so long ago that the ISO itself had the illusion of nonstop growth until it ran into the glass ceiling all such groups impose upon themselves with their ideological purity and their bogus notions of “democratic centralism”. If SAlt’s goal was to become a party of 1,000 members, history will record that it is certainly within reach. But in a country of nearly 300 million people, that is like spitting into the ocean. The sad reality is that it is only a broad left party that can begin to reach those millions, something that neither the ISO nor SAlt is ready to acknowledge except as an abstraction. In reality it would require dissolving themselves into a much larger movement and thus losing their precious individuality.
Let me turn now to the rather arcane matter of how the ISO distinguishes itself from SAlt in terms of their revolutionary bona fides, a topic that I am sure would make most CounterPunch readers’ eyes glaze over. I will do my best to make my account as lively as possible.
SAlt’s “irrational exuberance” was something they supposedly caught like a bad cold from their leadership in Britain, where the Committee for a Workers International is based. This latest attempt to build a Fourth International has the same tendency as every one in the past, going back to the days when Leon Trotsky was running the show. It revolves around the idea that a prerevolutionary situation exists and that it will be squandered unless Leninist parties are built in the nick of time. Chretien scoffs at the CWI’s claim that their South African section was in the vanguard of the working class given their tiny vote (0.05). We are led to believe that Socialist Alternative has the same delusions of grandeur.
Of course, such projections are essential for groups in the “Leninist” mold. How else would you persuade young people to give up so much of their time, energy and money unless they felt that socialism was on the near-term agenda? What tends to happen with such groups is burn-out as people reach their 30s or 40s and the cold, hard reality sinks in that capitalism stands before them like an immovable object when their small numbers are quite resistible. The only force capable of making a dent in that immovable object will have to accept people on their own terms. The largely Black and Latino NYC subway work force that is quite capable of bringing Wall Street to its knees by not reporting to work and that supported the Occupy movement is not likely to attend 3 meetings a week or fit in with a milieu largely made up of white kids who attended Columbia University and other top-drawer institutions.
Chretien also takes issue with CWI leader Peter Taaffe’s claim that a “rapid and peaceful socialist transformation” of society is possible, an obviously revisionist notion. No such illusions exist in the ideologically granite-hard ISO that would never make such errors. Instead of succumbing to parliamentary cretinism as they used to put it a century ago, the ISO has an “extra-parliamentary” orientation. What Chretien fails to mention is that Taaffe was not speaking about Fabian socialist gradualism but rather about one of the most “extra-parliamentary” struggles of the past 50 years, namely the May-June 1968 events in France when workers and students built barricades and seemed poised to take power. Taaffe wrote:
There is not only the sombre tragedy of Chile, but the brilliant example of France, when in May 1968 over 10 million workers participated in a magnificent general strike. The economy was paralysed and the state suspended in mid-air. When General de Gaulle fled in panic to the headquarters of the French forces in Germany, his commander-in-chief, General Massu, told him bluntly that it would be impossible for the army to intervene against the working class under those conditions. A rapid and peaceful socialist transformation of French society would have been entirely possible.
In other words, Taaffe was not talking up Norman Thomas but V.I. Lenin. A “rapid and peaceful socialist transformation” was possible in the same way that it was possible in October 1917. Bloodshed only came when Soviet Russia was invaded, after the relatively peaceful initial conquest of power. One hopes that Chretien can avoid quoting his adversaries out of context in the future. Such behavior does not reflect well on him.
Chretien complains about SAlt reneging on promises to work with the ISO on election campaigns: “It remains to be seen if SAlt can overcome its sectarian tendencies and learn how to genuinely collaborate with other forces on the left.” Who can say why (or even if) this haughty attitude was manifested? Similar complaints were raised about the ISO when their rivals approached them about endorsing Sawant’s first campaign for city council. My experience with these sorts of “he said, she said” disagreements is that both parties share blame. Since they are fighting for market share, there is an almost inevitable tendency to blame each other when an agreement can’t be reached like in a failed corporate merger.
Finally, Cretien draws a contrast between the ISO and the group that it can see gaining rapidly in its rear view mirror:
Our stated goal is no different from Socialist Alternative’s. We are “dedicated to the project of creating a revolutionary workers’ party as a part of a worldwide movement for socialism.” However we are going about this task in way that is different from SAlt’s approach. Our vision is not that the ISO will just become the revolutionary workers party when it reaches a certain size and we drop the “O” and add a “P.” The creation of real mass party of revolutionary workers will undoubtedly involve forces larger than us. Our work is in the creation and development of Marxist militants who are able be involved with those larger forces, movements and unions in order to weave the threads that will in the future pull sections of these forces into that thing that will be a party.
One of the things I have learned about the Leninist left over the years is that except for the nethermost reaches like or the Spartacist League, it is de rigueur to make disclaimers like it “will undoubtedly involve forces larger than us.” The problem is that we are not interested in what happens down the road. We are focused on 2014 when small left groups have a heavy responsibility for taking the next step to draw in larger forces. The ISO, like the Socialist Alternative, is an energetic, uncompromising, principled group that we can appreciate for its efforts. However, we are in a period of deepening class confrontation where everybody on the left will be sorely tested as to their ability to transcend artificial divisions that weaken us in the face of the enemy. The time to overcome such divisions is now, not in the distant future. In fact actions that we take today, or fail to take, will have an impact on the relationship of forces down the road. Unless we begin to move away from sectarianism today, our chances of success in the future will be compromised if not entirely thwarted. One hopes that both the ISO and Socialist Alternative can rise to the occasion.
Louis Proyect blogs at and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Indypendent: What's A Cop To Do?

Good cops, dedicated and skilled ones, learn how to look for signs of criminal behavior instead of profiling by race ...good policing requires judgment, being able to tell the difference between a black teenager in sneakers who’s running because he just snatched a purse and one who’s running because his mother said he had to be home for dinner by 6pm....a former Baltimore city cop and Maryland state trooper, told me in 2012. Police who are “serious about their craft” watch out for the body-language cues that indicate when someone’s carrying a gun or looking to break into parked cars. To search large numbers of people instead of patiently observing to see who the real bad guys are, he said, is both unconstitutional and lazy policing.
The left and left-liberals haven’t handled the issue well either. They’ve focused on the racism of police practices, mass incarceration and law-and-order politics while largely ignoring people’s legitimate fears. Leftists regularly call for abolishing the prison-industrial complex (or abolishing prisons entirely) without articulating a clear idea of how they’d deal with violent crime. That leaves the issue as rightwing property.... The Indypendent, What's A Cop To Do? Life After Eric Garner's Death, STEVEN WISHNIA, August 14, 2014 Issue # 199

See more at:
For a left-wing newspaper, I thought Steven Wishnia went outside the "usual left suspect" piece. Rarely do you see terms like "the craft of policing." And just like we know that the attacks by ed deformers on teachers are unfair by lumping them all in one bag, we might also be concerned about lumping all police in one bag.

They included a photo of Josmar Trujillo, who I know from my gym and from some of his struggles over his kids' charter school and leadership of stop and frisk activities in Rockaway. Josmar is one of the most articulate people I know and he has appeared on the WNYC Brian Lehrer show.

The article summarizes with some basic background:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Charter Cap Battle Looming in NY State

New York charter sector prepares for fight over limits

A rally in support of charter schools in Albany, March 2014. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print
Barely six months after New York City's charter school movement seemingly secured its future with sweeping legislation in Albany, advocates are gearing up for a new battle in the upcoming legislative session to eliminate or increase the cap on the number of new charters that can be created.
Emboldened by their legislative successes last session, thank to help from Governor Andrew Cuomo, charter leaders and groups are in the early planning stages of launching a unified push to get the cap extended or eliminated as a line-item in this year's final budget. Sources said that meetings with legislators will likely begin later this fall  after the governor's race, and intensify throughout the winter.
New York City will likely have just 17 slots for new charter schools by this fall, assuming that the charter proposals currently under review are approved, as is widely expected.
Advocates say they're optimistic about their chances, which would all but guarantee rapid growth for the charter sector.



"Usually the conditions that lead to lifting a cap include long waitlists for charters, strong academic performance and many successful models that you want to replicate, support from political leaders and a strong, vocal advocacy infrastructure," said Nina Rees, the president and C.E.O. of the National Alliance for Charter Schools. "It is the right place to completely lift the cap," Rees said, adding her group, which has national influence, will help in the effort to extend the cap if local advocates ask.
Advocates are expecting more support from Cuomo, who took up the charter cause in a very public way this year by siding with Success Academy leader Eva Moskowitz and other charter leaders in a fight with the city, and muted opposition from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was on the losing side of that fight.
A spokeswoman for Cuomo referred Capital to a budget official, who noted that the statewide cap still allowed room for charter growth outside of New York City.
"The breaks start to go on now in terms of ability to plan new charters," said James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center. He also said that, as the cap quickly approaches, "the cap starts to look like the Berlin Wall. It's simply an artificial barrier."
Merriman believes New York City will have a strong case to make in removing its charter cap, which would ensure that the city's charters have both a dedicated funding stream for charter facilities and unlimited room to grow.
"It's fundamentally a crazy policy to put any limit on creating more successful public schools," he said.
New York City's charter cap was created under New York's original 1998 charter law allowing 200 schools statewide, and was extended by 114 schools during a 2010 fight in Albany over the cap. New York state and New York City have different caps; there are still 139 slots available for upstate charters.
Fresh off her victory in Albany against Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this year, Success Academy C.E.O. Eva Moskowitz is likely to emerge as one of the leaders of the charter cap push. Noting the shrinking cap, Moskowitz applied to open 14 new charter schools by 2016 with the remaining charter slots, which will nearly double the size of her charter network.
"[Moskowitz] is sitting on a goldmine, and would make a great advocate to make the case for lifting the cap," said Rees, whose group recently appointed Moskowitz to its "charter hall of fame." A spokeswoman for Moskowitz declined to comment.
Devora Kaye, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said "as we work to support all children and educators, we look forward to collaborating with all community stakeholders."
Opposition from the United Federation of Teachers and its affiliates is all but guaranteed, meaning a familiar series of rallies and counter-rallies will likely flood the Capitol in 2015.
"Given the charters' track record, the cap should be lowered," Michael Mulgrew, president of the U.F.T. said in a statement. "Raising the cap will drain more money from New York's traditional public schools, and the only ones to benefit will be a few people in the charter industry."
During the 2010 cap battle, union leaders and charter critics worked in more regulations on how many special needs students and English language learners charters would have to admit, by way of compromise. Charter advocates say more regulations in that vein will be likely to pass legislation this time around.
And while the 2010 charter cap fight was lengthy and contentious, the national picture is encouraging for the local charter sector, as many states have successfully eliminated their caps.  According to research from the National Alliance, the majority of states with unlimited charters originally had caps. Some states, like Colorado and Maine, have charter laws with sunset provisions that will eventually eradicate the caps the laws were passed along with. Others, like Iowa, Louisiana and Tennessee lifted their caps in order to be eligible to receive federal Race to the Top funding.

New Leaders, New Schools Scams - Another Ed Deform Crook

Susan Ohanian comments on a Jon Lender piece exposing Terrence Carter.

School Chief Candidate, Now In Trouble, Once Rode High On National School-Reform Tide

Ohanian Note: In a 2004 NPR interview New Leaders CEO Jonathan Schnur explained that if you can lead an Army unit in Iraq, you can turn around a failing school in New York City.

From September 2008 to June 2009, Jon Schnur,
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of New Leaders for New Schools, was on leave from New Leaders for New Schools, serving as an advisor to Barack Obama's Presidential campaign, a member of the Presidential Transition Team, and a Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Terrence P. Carter's bio for the federally funded National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality not only indicated that he had a Ph.D. from Stanford, it mentioned post-doctoral work at the Wharton School of business and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

My favorite line was from the Nebraska-based "search" firm McPherson & Jacobson who recommended Carter. Among his accomplishments, they say:

Created a high school where students: Focus on hardocre STEAM skills.
So New London hired headhunters who don't know the difference between STEM and STEAM.

Jon Lender noted some of their other flaws.

When a publisher asks for a book blurb, they also ask how the individual wants to be identified. Take a look at the Carter blurb for Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement:
The Common Core State Standards are here and, as with any new initiative, there are the inevitable questions and concerns, debate and discontent. Pathways to the Common Core does not take sides; rather, the authors acknowledge the range of opinions swarming around the CCSS and wisely focus their energy on making sense of the standards. They provide a clear examination of what is and isn t stated and then invite us to seize this opportunity to reflect on our practice and to become co-constructors of the -- Terrence P. Carter, Ph.D., Curriculum & Instruction Department, Academy for Urban School Leadership, National Teachers Academy, Chicago
Carter is scheduled to receive a Ph.D. in August 2014. If they ever release his dissertation to the public, plenty of people will be looking for plagiarism.

by Jon Lender

Terrence P. Carter's chances of becoming New London's superintendent of schools seem remote, now that newspaper disclosures have sparked an investigation into whether he misrepresented his education credentials in past years and copied others' published writings in his 2014 job application.

But it wasn't so long ago that the onetime Chicago school principal was being hailed by school-reform advocates as a model for a national new wave of education administrators.

To fully understand the Carter episode, it helps to look at him in the context of a national battle over non-traditional school-reform efforts. The high praise that he received from influential voices in recent years sounds almost ironic now -- as New London's school board has its law firm conducting an investigation that could send him packing.

"Terrence Carter represents a new breed of principals who entered the profession from business through an excellent principal training program called New Leaders for New Schools. The program, which operates in Chicago and five other cities and is about to add two more, imposes higher expectations on principals," the Chicago Tribune said in an editorial Feb. 4, 2007.

Carter then was principal of Clara Barton Elementary School, in a poor Chicago neighborhood, after receiving training at New Leaders, a national non-profit school-reform group co-founded by Jonathan Schnur, a former Clinton White House staffer and Obama campaign adviser.

Carter's standing in the school-reform movement was such that in 2009 he accompanied Schnur to a presentation at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The topic was New Leaders' partnership with Chicago in the "turnaround" of several low-performing inner-city schools.

"New leaders like Terry" have made "dramatic gains" in student performance, Schnur said in a presentation that helped win an "Innovations in American Government" award from the Kennedy School's Ash Center for the New Leaders-Chicago schools initiative.

"Terry for example -- he didn't spend 15 years as an assistant principal, but he was a chief learning officer at a Fortune 500 company working with and managing adults, and a former teacher, and brought that blend of skills to bear," Schnur said in remarks still watchable on YouTube (

"We first understood that there were individual schools and classrooms ... where kids ... in poverty, kids of color, kids who'd been underserved educationally, were achieving high levels.... But there weren't many," Schnur said. "And in every one of those cases there was a principal [who] had . . . high expectations, who was a strong instructional leader, who could lead adults [and] engage the community."

'Lean On Me'

Carter fit that mold, according to Schnur.

Carter told the Harvard audience: "Those of you that have ever seen the movie 'Lean on Me,' [about] Joe Clark -- the school that I was assigned to was very much similar to that," he said. "It was a bastion of discipline and behavior problems [and] low performing test scores." Those scores turned around dramatically in three years, he said.

The Obama administration has been receptive to school-reform efforts by groups like New Leaders. Obama appointed his fellow Illinois native, Arne Duncan, as secretary of education after Duncan ran the Chicago schools, cooperating with school reformers and engineering oft-controversial school "turnaround" projects where "new breed" principals were inserted.

Chicago was an early battleground in what's become a national controversy between traditional educators and teacher unions, on one side, and, reform activists such as New Leaders and charter school operators on the other. That fight is playing out in Connecticut, where Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has appointed a charter school co-founder, Stefan Pryor, as a state education commissioner who supports turnaround efforts in low-performing schools.

Skeptics about such efforts in Connecticut see more in the Carter controversy than just one candidate whose credentials and character have been questioned.

"This is how the pro-privatization, big-philanthropy-funded networks and organizations tend to work. They pass their own people along and up, greasing rails and plumping resumes as they go. And the main criteria for 'success' often seems not to be real leadership characteristics, so much as willingness to be a good soldier when it comes to pushing forward a particular reform agenda," said Lauren Anderson, an assistant professor of education at Connecticut College in New London.

"Certainly, it should worry people when these are the same groups arguing for loosening licensure and deregulating educator preparation," Anderson said. "I mean, this candidate is someone that these groups vetted and held up as an exemplar, someone who has been on the receiving end of their 'coaching' and 'mentoring.' ... What's their explanation for how this all came to pass?"

Anderson spoke against Carter's hiring at a July 24 meeting in New London when the school board put off a scheduled vote to approve a contract for Carter -- and instead instructed its legal counsel, Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford, to look into newspaper disclosures including the fact that Carter had used the titles Dr. and Ph.D. for years without holding a degree from an accredited university.

Other newspaper revelations: he filed for bankruptcy twice; his application essay included long passages identical with other educators' writings on the Internet; a national research organization released a copy of a bio that it says Carter submitted in 2011 with the claim that he had a Ph.D. from Stanford University, which Stanford says he does not; and he got a Ph.D. in 1996 from "Lexington University" -- which doesn't have a campus and had a website offering degrees for several hundred dollars with the motto "Order Now, Graduate Today!"

Carter met in closed session with the school board on July 24, and said afterward that he did nothing wrong, never misrepresented his credentials to anyone now or in the past, and still wanted the job.

He has declined comment on specifics -- such as the claim to a Stanford Ph.D. in the bio that the American Institutes for Research said it received from him in advance of a scheduled 2011 speaking engagement. But his lawyer, William McCoy of New London, said in recent days that "we're prepared to cooperate" with the school board's investigators "whenever we're asked the questions."

The Honeymoon

Carter had been selected by the school board in June, with Pryor's endorsement, to begin running the troubled New London school system starting Aug. 1. At the time, he was the toast of New London and, in comments quoted by the Day newspaper, he invoked the name of Duncan, Obama's national education secretary.

The story noted that the Chicago-based Academy for Urban School Leadership -- the education-reform group he'd been working for since leaving his principal's job in 2010 -- had been praised by Duncan and Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama chief of staff who now is mayor of Chicago. Carter said in the story that back in Chicago a decade ago, Duncan, then running the Chicago schools, had handpicked him from the New Leaders training program for school administrators.

"He saw my presentation and said, 'I need this guy in Chicago,'" Carter said in the Day article.

Duncan's deputy press secretary declined a Courant request Thursday an interview with the national school chief or a statement about Carter.

Carter's current problems with newspaper stories started with a Courant report on July 18 about his repeated use of Dr. and Ph.D. with his name, and his unaccredited degree from Lexington. The Day on July 29 reported that parts of Carter's job application essay were identical with language in Internet articles.

The group New Leaders had posted a note congratulating Carter on its Facebook page in June, when his selection by New London was announced. It's been removed. "We did post a congratulations to Facebook to Terrence Carter on his potential appointment when that was originally reported in local press. Once it was reported in local press that Terrence's appointment was delayed, the message became inaccurate, and so was removed," Benjamin Fenton, the group's other co-founder, and chief strategy officer, said in an email Friday.

On the issue of licensure and certification, Fenton said that "all candidates who successfully complete the New Leaders program" -- including Carter -- "are fully certified to be principals in their respective states, and must meet all requirements without exception for principal certification as well as demonstrate all of the required competencies expected by the New Leaders program."

Schnur, the New Leaders co-founder and former CEO who spoke at Harvard with Carter in 2009, declined comment Thursday.

Meanwhile, Carter awaits the outcome of the New London inquiry, which is expected to wrap up in a couple of weeks to permit a final board decision within 30 days of the July 24 meeting.

Carter's lawyer, McCoy, was asked if he thinks his client has any prospect of ever signing a contract. "I think the difficulty at this point in time is whether or not he could successfully work in this atmosphere," he said. But he added that Carter is willing to negotiate "to get a resolution to this" and still wants the job.

Anderson, however, said: "I cannot imagine a situation in which this candidate now becomes the superintendent. And at this juncture, like a lot of people who care deeply about New London, I'm more concerned with the process -- how it went awry, what role the state played, and how the community moves forward from here."

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender. — Jon Lender
Hartford Courant