For a website named after a navigational symbol, the North Star seems to have lost its way.
To rewind, the North Star was born out of an individual quitting the International Socialist Organization. There was something special about this. It acknowledged the strengths of one of the best groups in the USA. The ISO balances being one of the least insane with being one of the best-built and highest-quality. While having an over-developed party line is itself problematic, at least the ISO’s emphasis on “socialism from below” in general at least seems to be a much better approach than the cold-hearted tankies who would crush Hungary again, or the traumatized Trotskyists who are torn between the Eastern Bloc and socialism from below. Of course these days I am open to working with anyone who disagrees with me about Russia, whether in RDN or really anywhere, but in my personal opinion (which I don’t impose on organizations), the ISO has a good analysis. Also, compared to many other groups, the ISO is also at least somewhat democratic and open to discussion (though that has limits too). And most importantly, they just have their stuff together incredibly well in terms of a tightly-run ship, and are near-universally acknowledged as effective in the Chicago Teacher’s Union.
So to start the conversation with someone quitting the ISO seemed promising, because the hope was that he would take the best strengths of that organization and carry them into something even newer, more experimental, and just better in every way.
Well, that’s not exactly what happened.
First it started with the relentless sectarian attacks against the ISO. Many of these were accurate and valid criticisms, but the tone and frequency crossed the line from constructive criticisms to condemnation. This is a really hard thing to balance, but the point is that this balance was not achieved.
Then we had, on a site that had criticized other groups for the Trotskyist tendency to have a split over every difference in party line, the site’s founder had to of course (by Murphy’s Law) start taking stances on the Left’s most divisive political issue: Syria.
Then, even worse, not only was he taking stances on Syria, but he had to take the most Left-unpopular stance possible which flies in the face of the entire Left’s anti-imperialist common sense: the (capitalist, imperialist) USA should militarily intervene in Syria.
So from the start, the promising beginning was curdled. But still we faithful readers prayed on that something beautiful would emerge!
Now the recently-resigned initiator is recently resigned, and North Star is going…where?
That certainly has nothing to do with what attracted the site’s initial audience. Unless we’re counting people who actually liked Pham Binh’s position on Syria. I don’t know who those people are and I’m not sure they actually exist beyond a useless handful of contrarians.
Perhaps what has most weakened North Star, from the start, is a hurdle that all websites face: they’re only about dialogue. There is something strange about human speech: it tends to be disagreeable. More words come pouring out when people disagree than when they agree. When people agree, others tends to say “yeah, what s/he said.” When they disagree, they type or verbalize a lengthy response. (Sometimes you have the rare bird who agrees-for-other-reasons and adds them on.)
This, in my opinion, is why organization and action tend to be unifying forces instead of only theory, which tends to be more divisive.
And that is North Star’s problem: it is not action. It is not organization. It is theory.
Since you need organization to launch or participate in action in any meaningful way, out of those three options the only real choice left is for North Star to become an organization.
Sadly North Star is poorly-equipped for this path. For one thing, I don’t think North Star is willing to do this, and I suppose a project’s greatest possible weakness is no one wanting to do it. Second, North Star doesn’t seem to believe it could pull this off even if it wanted to (I’m not precisely sure why). Thirdly, North Star truly is poorly-equipped for this undertaking. This is because the closest thing it has to a “leadership” is its editorial board, and that editorial board (to pull no punches) is now becoming very inclined toward highly theoretical, abstract topics written in a language that is overly-meandering and with an atrociously pretentious vocabulary, to the point of being unreadable. In other words, the exact opposite type of writing from what ordinary people would actually want to read.
This implies that the current editorial board is so out-of-touch with what would actually be a wise way to run an organization that, without a coup d’etat, North Star relaunching itself as an organization would be a disaster from the start, worse than useless, disorienting the Left even worse than it already is.
So the solution to the presented problems is that North Star relaunch itself as an organization, with a different initial leadership than its current editorial board, picking for its provisional central committee those who actually have experience with socialist organizations and working in mass movements. You can do what you like but I recommend this be an American organization to respect the site’s initial following.
What kind of organization would this new North Star be? Many various articles on North Star have pointed out some critical problems with American socialist groups, plus some problems that seem to fit the general theme:
- They are undemocratic but deceptive about it, with varying levels of sophistication
- People are attracted to socialism-in-general but most groups have hyper-specific party lines, explicitly or implicitly, which repel newcomers
- They emphasize an only-theoretical connection to the organization, while dismissing the power of human connection
- The splintering of the groups is a redundant waste of resources
- The splintering of the groups makes the public take no single one of them seriously
- Because of the above, no single one of them can ever hope to become The Future Mass Party
So we need an organization which addresses the above.
Unfortunately I do not predict that North Star will rise to this challenge because I think that the current editorial board is disinclined toward it, valuing theory over organization.
This is very sad. This leaves the new consciousness on the Left, of the existing Left’s limitations, without an organizational embodiment. But it needs an organizational embodiment.
This is why myself and others are starting the Rosa-Debs Network. We seek to become precisely that type of organization: inspired by the ISN breakaways from the British SWP, inspired by some of the organizational discussions which have occurred on North Star, and also inspired by (but by no means stealing the thunder of) Philly Socialists’ admirable innovations in organizing. We also owe a debt to Peter Camejo, one of the first pioneers out of the sectarian swamp into the realm of mainstream socialism, as well as the organization’s namesakes.
We are revolutionary-socialists-in-general, lacking any party line beyond workers’ revolution. That makes us very multi-tendency (or because we allow dual membership, perhaps a better term would be inter-tendency.) If RDN stands for anything in distinction from the current socialist tendencies, it would be the following:
- Ripping open and re-evaluating the old socialist organizations’ style of operating, in the name of greater democracy, freedom, and membership control, and experimenting with more direct-democratic organizational innovations
- Refocusing revolutionary socialists away from their turf war of mutual “criticism” (condemnation), and away from their rather narrow, redundant party-building efforts, in favor of constructing an actual socialist mass party in the contemporary USA
Are we looking for card-carrying members? Yes! (Of course we haven’t printed membership cards yet…) Also we allow dual membership with everything. If you like, stay in your old groups and be the spark of change within them. They need it!
As for North Star, we seriously hope it re-navigates and corrects course before the star implodes and becomes a black hole of pointless arguing, clogging up the Internet and adding one more news feed distraction contributing to the national attention deficit.