CISPES: Radical, Pragmatic, and Successful
Publisher: Crossroads, USA
Year Published: 1994
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX16232
Van Gosse analyzes the reasons for CISPES' success in developing a fresh and tenacious approach to solidarity work. Originally published in Crossroads Special Issue on El Salvador Solidarity, Spring 1994.
What made all this organizational and programmatic expansion possible, besides sheer stubbornness, was that CISPES defined a new model for what a single-issue left organization can be -- both very radical and very pragmatic. CISPES emphatically was not just another liberal lobby, yet it could not be marginalized by either aboveground political actors or the moderate forces in the "anti-intervention" wing of the solidarity movement. Why? Because its immediate goals were always eminently reasonable in the terms of
radicalized post-Vietnam liberalism: cutting off all U.S. funding of a government responsible for massive state
terror; pursuing a negotiated end to the civil war; sending humanitarian aid to desperate peasant communities for their clinics and schools; instituting a human rights "rapid response network" to save the lives of trade unionists, student leaders and shantytown organizers. Instead of spurning mainstream politics (you know: the two parties are exactly the same, you'll get dragged to the center, you'll be forced to sell-out and compromise, you'll get used, and so on), CISPES embraced the rough-and-tumble of this
country's political system. On occasion, it was the proverbial skunk at the garden party. But more often it
worked to reward its friends and punish its enemies like any other competent single-issue organization.
It's important to be clear about what CISPES was, and what it was not. Its claim to be on the leading edge of what's left of the U.S. left is based on purely operational criteria rather than any ideological cohesion, other than explicit "solidarity": anyone looking for the words "capitalist," "socialist" or "imperialist" in its direct-mail appeals, its newspaper Alert! Focus on Central America, or its voluminous internal program mailings, would be severely disappointed. CISPES was not some miraculously red-flag-waving, Leninist embryo that prevailed despite its time and place.
In fact, it struggled very hard to avoid becoming a place of regroupment for the stray fractions of the U.S.
socialist tradition. As anyone familiar with the past 30 or more years well knows, to become that common ground is to invite sectarian "interventions," infighting and paralysis. It would be more accurate to say that CISPES was an escape or even an end-run around the dead end that U.S. socialism had sadly become.