Secrecy, the ISO, and the Left


Ross Wolfe, who edits the website The Charnel House has posted a number of internal documents of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) online. He claims that a disgruntled ISO member gave him these documents. At first, I was not sure what to think about this. (Personal disclosure: I am a former member of the ISO.) Mike Ely, who edits the Kasama Project website, has written an open letter to Wolfe, asking him to take the documents down. The letter is well-argued and well worth reading. Among other things, he points out:

    If we are to have necessary security cultures (and private debates) within specific left circles — we must of necessity respect the security and privacy of other organizations (even ones we consider wrong, corrupt or compromised.)

I agree with this. If the Left is going to be anything more than a sectarian hellhole, some standards of behavior need to be maintained.

I remember when I was in the ISO, their whole practice of having secret internal documents struck me as unnecessary and impractical. However, I never objected to it, mainly because I didn’t see it as important. (I remember once asking a “cadre” why we had secret documents. He replied that “sectarians” would take people’s arguments out of context and ascribe to the ISO positions that it doesn’t hold. In hindsight, I realize I should have pointed out to him that the “sectarians” were already doing this with the articles in Socialist Worker.)

I have recently discovered that some people see the ISO’s secrecy as extremely important. These people are mostly NOT in the ISO. When you do things secretly, people assume you have something to hide. Of course, I realize that in some cases secrecy is necessary, as when when a group is being targeted by the police. Aside from such situations, I believe that openness is the best policy.

In response to Ely’s letter, Wolfe has said he will take down the documents. (Except for one bulletin that deals with a controversy I will discuss in a future post.)

One Response to “Secrecy, the ISO, and the Left”

  1. Ross Wolfe Says:

    Accurate reporting. I have since yesterday unredacted the documents in question.

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