Discussion Bulletin: 1983-2003, A Balance Sheet

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Frank Girard, publisher and editor of the Discussion Bulletin, the independent but decidedly De Leonist-leaning journal devoted to political debate and discussion among "non-market socialists," libertarians, and anarchists, has announced his intention to cease publication with the July-August issue. It is appropriate at this moment to reflect back on the contributions of Discussion Bulletin over the past two decades, assessing its strengths and weaknesses.

Girard for many years had been an activist in the Socialist Labor Party and Internationalism frequently polemicized with Discussion Bulletin on the De Leonist legacy, especially its tendency to embrace bourgeois democratic ideas (revolution at the ballot box; rejection of the necessity of a violent revolution; rejection of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Russian Revolution, the Third International), and also its ossified position on the union question. While the debate sometimes got heated, it was clear that Girard was committed to open debate, often publishing our polemics with his rejoinders in DB's pages. In the early days we had the impression that DB was a group project, despite Girard's insistence that it was essentially a one-man operation. In large measure our disbelief resulted from DB's record of regular publication, appearing every two months like clockwork. In a milieu too often characterized by dilletantishness, a failure to understand the need for regular publication, and a tendency towards sporadic publication schedules by often short-lived groups, this was a remarkable achievement, a reflection of Girard's seriousness and dedication to proletarian discussion. It is difficult to avoid talking about DB and Girard as being somthing other than synonymous.

DB was unique in that it specialized in publishing disparate points of view. It became a place where different groups and individual militants searching for political clarification could discover each other's existence. On many occasions, for example, when DB published one of the ICC's polemics, we would receive queries from militants interested in learning more about our politics. Similarly, we learned about the existence of certain organizations that might never have known about through reading their contributions in DB. In a country which is as geographically far-flung as the US, with a dispersed and disorganized political landscape, this function was a tremendous political contribution.

There were of course a number of serious shortcomings. For one, despite his openness to political discussion, Girard personally never was able to surpass the democratist confusions of De Leonism, and basically stayed mired in the perspectives of the Second International, cutting his political evolution from a Marxist understanding of the most important proletarian event of the 20th century: the Russian Revolution. Too often Girard's polemics against the ICC fell into the De Leonist practice of equating anyone who saw the proletarian nature of the Russian Revolution as a Stalinist. On a number of occasions Girard repeated slanderous accusations that the ICC defended substitutionism and sought to establish regimes like those in Cuba and China. It is to Girard's shame that he could never acknowledge the utter falsity of these outrageous charges, which were more akin to the red-baiting of the bourgeois than fraternal debate.

Another shortcoming was the failure to have any formal criteria for publication in DB. While we appreciate the effort to create an open forum, the magazine sometimes published contributions by openly bourgeois elements, such as an environmental activist who once called upon readers to write their Congressmen! More importantly DB too often was mired in fulminations about De Leon's outmoded sentiments, and failed to address burning conjunctural questions facing the workers movement. In particular, there was a failure to publish contributions about American imperialist policies, and military adventurism. Also it would have been interesting to read Girard's own critique of the SLP; after all there must have been a reason for his departure from an organization in which he had spent three decades of his political life.

Perhaps the greatest weakness was Girard's failure to build a group. Regular publications that address significant theoretical questions are important acquisitions for the working class, and their disappearance is a real loss. We appreciate that Girard would like spend his retirement years "on other projects", but we disagree that a publication like DB is anachronistic in the age of internet discussion boards. There is a qualitative difference between the "off the top of one's head" jottings that appear on a discussion board and a well-thought out essay or article that was either written for, or reprinted in, DB. In any case, Internationalism salutes the seriousness and efforts of Frank Girard to maintain publication of DB for these 20 years, and wishes him good health in the years to come. We of course invite him to continue to debate with us. - J. Grevin