Revolutionary Party, Not the “Tagtail of Any Bourgeois
An Open Letter to Socialist
Oppositionists, Past and Present
We reprint below the Open Letter by Class Struggle Education League founders Danny K. and Mike G., issued on 31 May 2018, which was distributed at the Left Forum in New York City.
“Yet revolution is a supreme political act and those who want revolution must also want the means of achieving it, that is, political action, which prepares the ground for revolution and provides the workers with the revolutionary training without which they are sure to become the dupes of the Favres and Pyats [French bourgeois politicians] the morning after the battle. However, our politics must be working-class politics. The workers’ party must never be the tagtail of any bourgeois party; it must be independent and have its goals and its own policy.”
–Karl Marx, “Apropos of Working-Class Political Action,” 21 September 1871
The Class Struggle Education League was founded in Fall 2017 by members of the Lowell/New Hampshire branch of Socialist Alternative (SAlt), the U.S. group in solidarity with the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). This Open Letter is by Danny K. and Mike G., former leading members of the branch who went on to found CSEL. After eight and five years in SAlt, respectively, our growing disagreements with the organization came to a head over its blatant tailing of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Participating in the opposition within SAlt to this class-collaborationist policy, while becoming aware of the opposition’s own limits, led us to reexamine what Marxism, Leninism and Trotskyism really stand for.
This forced us “to face reality squarely,” as Trotsky writes in the Transitional Program. Within SAlt, members are given the idea that it is a revolutionary socialist party that only pretends to be a reformist organization as a matter of tactics, to “reach people where their consciousness is at.” But hard experience revealed to us that SAlt isn’t any kind of revolutionary party at all. Instead, it is an opportunist, social-democratic organization that continually tramples all over Marxism’s bedrock principle of proletarian political independence. Marx warned against being a “tagtail” to bourgeois parties – but that is exactly what SAlt does, and what it is.
To put it another way, our experience as members led us to conclusion that Socialist Alternative is a thoroughly reformist group that, for tactical reasons, internally pretends to be a revolutionary party that is just pretending to be reformist. We decided to make a decisive break from its program and perspectives, and resigned in September 2017. Intensive study and joint work have led to the decision by the Class Struggle Education League to fuse with the Internationalist Group (IG), U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International. We have published our statement, “Where We Come From and Where We Are Going” in The Internationalist (No. 51, March-April 2018) and on the IG’s website (internationalist.org). We will also be discussing this at the joint CSEL-IG panel titled “Revolutionary Regroupment vs. ‘Sanders Socialism’” at the Left Forum.
We want to take this opportunity to go over some of the key issues that led us to part ways with the CWI. We address this open letter to our former comrades in the SAlt opposition – some of whom are still within that organization, others of whom have dispersed to the four winds – as well as to any others seeking to draw lessons from the fight inside SAlt.
The “Bern Turn” – Bringing It All Home
From the very beginning of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid it was clear that he was running to refurbish the credentials of the racist, capitalist Democratic Party. In September 2014 – the weekend after Seattle City Councilor and SAlt spokesperson Kshama Sawant urged him to run as an independent at the People’s Climate Summit in New York – Sanders spoke at the University of New Hampshire. We attended his appearance, sat through a dreadful social-patriotic video and an only slightly less dreadful speech by Sanders, and spoke during the discussion period. Dutifully carrying out SAlt’s party line, we also urged him to run as an independent. In response, Sanders hemmed and hawed for a full thirty seconds before making it clear that he had always intended to run as a Democrat. And as the campaign continued, Sanders made it clear that he would endorse the Democrats’ candidate (Hillary Clinton) if and when he lost the nomination.
This was well understood and admitted even by SAlt’s leadership. Over and over, they argued that is wasn’t “about” Sanders. They insisted that all their pleas to Sanders to run as an independent, to run all the way to November 2016,1 etc., aimed to intervene in his campaign with “bold demands,” to “force the contradictions” to the benefit of Occupy-influenced youth and dissatisfied workers who backed Sanders. What was the real contradiction here? The one between claiming, in words, to be a socialist alternative to capitalist politics, while, in deeds, SAlt prettified and spread illusions in the capitalist politician Sanders as he did his job of ushering those youth and workers into the Democratic fold.
SAlt’s leadership would have us believe that their capitulation to the Sanders campaign was nothing more than a clever tactical maneuver to break left-leaning voters from the Democrats, an attempt to actualize Lenin’s well-known analogy in “Left-Wing Communism”: An Infantile Disorder that offering critical support to a reformist candidate is like the support a rope offers to a hanged man. No – this was a cynical and deliberate blurring of the class line. Lenin used this analogy when discussing the British Labour Party in 1920, as an example of communists giving critical electoral support to a party of the working class in order to win its base away from its reformist, pro-bourgeois leadership. This is diametrically opposed to tailing a bourgeois politician like Sanders who was running to be the candidate of the Democrat Party, the oldest and most experienced capitalist party on the planet.
To this end, SAlt helped create branches of People for Bernie and launched its own Movement4Bernie. Also Students for Bernie, Labor for Bernie, you name it. They participated in and/or organized rallies for him (March for Bernie) in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle. Working overtime to spread illusions in Sanders launching an “independent” bourgeois candidacy, they called sometimes for a “Party of the 99%,” at others for a “People’s Party.” In some branches they phone-banked for him, in others they door-knocked. This culminated at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, after Hillary Clinton was duly nominated, with SAlt members, one them elected as a delegate (!), leading over a hundred Sanders delegates to rally for the Green Party’s candidate, Jill Stein (see “Inside the DNC Walkouts,” counterpunch.org, 5 August 2016).
It was no accident that in line with all this, SAlt embraced the populist vocabulary of the “99%” used by Occupy and Sanders. This populist rhetoric is anti-Marxist, specifically bourgeois. Ever since the French Revolution of 1789, the bourgeoisie and its followers have cloaked themselves in the language of the “people” and “the people’s party.” SAlt further developed its perspective of a “new party” in its 2016 U.S. Perspectives document (socialistalternative.org, 11 July 2016). The document states outright that this party would be “likely to initially have a more populist multi-class character rather than having a clearly pronounced working class character.” The scrap of hedging about “initially” does not obscure the politics: SAlt proposes to build a “multi-class” party. Trotsky had a whole polemic in The Third International After Lenin about the impossibility of a “two-class party.” The Marxist name for what SAlt is calling for is a bourgeois party. (Naturally, SAlt is part of the workshop sponsored by the “Movement for a People’s Party”, formerly “Draft Bernie,” at this year’s Left Forum – where social democrats will hold love-fests for pro-Democratic “Sanders socialism” beginning with the Friday plenary addressed by Jane Sanders, as well as a Democratic NYC council member, etc.)
Opposition within Socialist Alternative grew as the entire logic of the “Bern turn” led to the organization to be ever more brazen and blatant in its ever-escalating capitulation to this bourgeois politician. At one point (in January 2016), there was a “Unity Opposition Statement” which we signed along with 101 SAlt members against the National Committee’s policy which, the opposition statement said, “is qualitatively an endorsement of a Democratic Party politician, such endorsement being incompatible with building an independent workers’ party.” True enough, but this opposition, as we wrote in our statement “Where We Come From and Where We Are Going,” was far from a solid revolutionary class opposition. Since then some have left SAlt in the direction of Maoism (the Austin, Texas branch), others joining the Green Party (Mobile, Alabama branch). One of the main groups of oppositionists (Worcester, Massachusetts branch) stayed in SAlt despite the organization’s ever-increasing adaptation to the Democratic Party. We want to speak here to the various arguments that were presented by those who opposed the SAlt “Bern turn” but – in different ways – failed to address the central question: the class line.
Without a real fight for the class independence of the workers, talk of “tactics” is just a bunch of cynical excuses. As any Marxist could predict, the “Bern turn” reinforced illusions in reforming capitalism through bourgeois electoral politics, and sowed confusion with SAlt ranks. Many members and even at least one whole branch (Tennessee) took SAlt’s position to its logical conclusion and decamped to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). If you’re going to carry water for “progressive” Democrats, who needs the baggage of a self-styled Trotskyist organization? Surely, these former comrades must have thought to themselves, if we’re going to be the best Bernie-builders, why not go all the way with the DSA?
SAlt’s ploys and get-rich-quick schemes flew in the face of Marx’s warning. They ignored Trotsky’s admonitions to “face reality squarely,” “call things by their right name” and “swim against the stream” in order to build a revolutionary leadership of the working class and all the oppressed. Instead, the SAlt leadership pandered to existing consciousness, lying to workers and youth, and being a tagtail on a bourgeois party. It was class-collaborationism, pure and simple. We got fully and finally fed up with it – aren’t you? Breaking from the whole “method” and tradition of opportunism, we want to devote ourselves to building a genuine revolutionary a real Trotskyist party, one whose deeds go together with its words. That is the revolutionary workers party that we need and are going to fight for as part of the IG/LFI.
Democratic (Party) Socialists of America
Like many other self-styled socialist groups on the U.S. left, Socialist Alternative has faced something of a quandary with the dramatic growth of the DSA since Sanders’ campaign and the election of Donald Trump. On the one hand, the DSA is a pressure group on and in the Democratic Party, and has a whole history of embodying social-imperialism (see the IG pamphlet, DSA: Fronting for the Democrats). But, on the other hand, marvel the smaller social-democratic groups who lost out in the bid to be the best Bernie-builders, the DSA is so big!
SAlt has, thus far, maintained organizational independence from the DSA, but this hasn’t stopped SAlt from tailing after the DSA. SAlt joins the chorus of reformist well-wishers cheering on the DSA and applauding its electoral victories. This includes when DSAers are explicitly elected as Democrats, as just happened in Pittsburgh (see “Socialist Candidates Defeat PA Democratic Establishment in Primaries,” socialistalternative.org, 26 May).
Meanwhile, in “Democratic Socialists of America: The Case for Strong Independent Campaigns to Build the Left in 2018” (socialistalternative.org, 30 March), Kshama Sawant enthuses over the DSA Refoundation Caucus and its proposals. Far from calling for a clear break with the Democratic Party of war and racism, the Refoundation Caucus calls for “taking steps to move away” from “being a pressure group on the Democratic Party” and eventually some time “seek to decrease and eventually cease” endorsing Democrats. (Even the hedging is double- and triple-hedged.) Meanwhile, this caucus for mildly pressuring the DSA to kind of think about eventually becoming a bit less of a pressure group on the Democrats advises: “Any socialist running on a Democratic ballot line should do so in a strategic way that leads a base constituency away from the Democratic Party and toward independent political power” (dsarefoundation.org, “Endorsement: Towards an Independent Electoral Strategy for DSA”). Break with the Democrats … by running as a Democrat?!
To this claptrap, Sawant responds: “Socialists should be sympathetic to those genuinely looking to transform the Democratic Party,” while taking care to remind readers that the Democrats are a party of capitalism. It would be best, she writes, if the DSA ran “five to ten serious electoral campaigns drawing from the lessons of the most effective independent left efforts,” in order to “help activists gain experience, build the profile of socialist ideas, and counterpose our approach to the corporate hacks in the Democratic Party leadership.” But if DSA doesn’t follow that counsel, never fear, as in Pittsburgh, SAlt will congratulate them anyway. Once again, SAlt’s pandering to current (bourgeois) consciousness “where it’s at” means keeping workers and youth wandering in the labyrinth of electoral reformism. It stands in the way of developing revolutionary, working-class consciousness. Tailing the DSA, SAlt acts as a tagtail on a tagtail.
Green Party: Third Wheel of U.S. Capitalist Parties
So following Clinton’s nomination and the DNC walkout, SAlt enthusiastically backed Jill Stein and the Green Party. This is in keeping with pre-“Bern turn” SAlt arguments about breaking the two-party duopoly and supporting “the strongest possible pro-worker, anti-corporate challenge to the two corporate parties” (sic). (See Socialist Alternative pamphlet, Challenging Capitalism #amp; the Two Parties, 2012.) Some of our former comrades in the SAlt opposition argued that the organization should have been backing the Greens from the beginning. As we mentioned, one whole branch (Mobile Bay) resigned to join the Greens en masse. But the Green Party is also a capitalist party, albeit a minor one. Supporting a capitalist “third party” is no less a violation of the principle of working-class political independence.
Some members of the SAlt opposition, for example in the Worcester, Mass. branch, rightly saw James P. Cannon as a key figure for those who want to be Trotskyists. It’s worth recalling what the founder of U.S. Trotskyism had to say on this topic. In 1948, Henry Wallace was running in one of the long line of “people’s”/third-party gambits in American capitalist politics. Inside the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, Sam Marcy, who later formed the Workers World Party, advocated supporting Wallace. Against claims that this would be like tactical maneuvers that Lenin’s Bolsheviks had carried out, Cannon emphasized, in his February 1948 speech on election policy: “The maneuvers of the Bolsheviks were always within class lines,” not “to maneuver within the parties of the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, their whole tactical line...was to make a sharp cleavage between the working class organizations and those of the bourgeoisie.”
At a time when SAlt and the International Socialist Organization were debating the best way to tail Sanders, the Internationalist Group quoted Cannon’s 1948 speech in an article present and former SAlt oppositionists ought to go back and read today (“Bernie Sanders and the Pressure Politics of the Opportunist Left,” June 2015, internationalist.org, reprinted in the IG’s above-mentioned pamphlet on the DSA). Cannon dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s:
“The Wallace party must be opposed and denounced by every class criterion.... Its differences with the Republican and Democratic parties are purely tactical. There is not a trace of a principled difference anywhere. And by principled difference I mean a class difference.... Bourgeois parties are not the arena for our operation. Our specific task is the class mobilization of the workers against not only the two old parties, but any other capitalist parties which might appear.”
In 2016, Jill Stein campaigned on a platform of liberal nostrums and called for a “Green New Deal,” shot through with red-white-and-blue nostalgia for the Democratic Party liberalism of yesteryear. Calling to “Fix Our [sic] Broken [sic] System,” her website proposed slashing the military budget in half – leaving it with over $300 billion for imperialist militarism! Support to this mishmash of warmed-over liberalism is just as much being a tagtail to a bourgeois party as support to the Democrats.
And before Stein, there was Ralph Nader. SAlt supported his campaigns for president in 1996 and 2000 when he ran as a Green, as well as his “independent” campaigns in 2004 and 2008. Like Sanders and Stein, Nader repeatedly made it clear that his goal was to push Democratic nominees to mouth more populist rhetoric in order to get them elected. He even met with John Kerry during the ’04 election to advise him on his vice-presidential pick. Nader ranted against “illegal” immigration and welcomed the endorsement of the right-wing populist Reform Party, whose candidate in 2000 had been fascistic “America Firster” Patrick Buchanan. (See “Capitalist Nader’s ‘Socialist’ Foot Soldiers,” internationalist.org, October 2004). In 2008, SAlt lamented having to decide between Nader and the Green Party’s candidate, former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Nader also pushed rabid anti-Chinese protectionism – not that this would much bother the CWI, which repeatedly (as on its stophkrepression.net site) promotes materials from Radio Free Asia, notoriously a creature of the CIA.
Everywhere the Green Party has held government office, it has upheld capitalism. In Germany in 1999, the Green Party held the foreign ministry and loudly clamored for sending imperialist troops into the Balkans (which Germany did, the first time since World War II) during the U.S./NATO bombing and invasion of Serbia. The record of left-populist, “multi-class” parties underlines much the same point – as shown by SYRIZA in Greece, which was all the rage among the gamut of left opportunists not long ago. (The CWI ran candidates on SYRIZA slates, as SAlt boasted on its site; see “Greece’s Syriza Tops Euro Elections – CWI Supporters Elected to Volos Council,” 17 June 2014.)
Here in the U.S., the Greens do not win much of anything, but to cite one example, Jason West, Green Party mayor of New Paltz, NY, ordered a crackdown on Occupy protestors in 2012. The Greens in the U.S. are basically a home for homeless liberal Democrats. As Cynthia McKinney said in 2008, she didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Greens were “a place to go when the Democratic Party left me.”
In the 30 March article hailing DSA election campaigns that we cited above, Kshama Sawant also mentions SAlt’s endorsement of the Richmond (California) Progressive Alliance slate, centered around longtime Green mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s bid for the position of lieutenant governor. Clicking over to the RPA’s website, we discover that the RPA is composed of “Greens, Democrats, and Independents.” Some SAlt oppositionists wanted to “return” to the organization’s pre-Sanders “tradition.” But as decades of examples show, this is a tradition of supporting capitalist politicians for offices small and large, including commander-in-chief of U.S. imperialism. This has nothing to do with Marxism, but it is certainly an “alternative” … to socialism, that is.
Kshama Sawant and the CWI Tradition:
Municipal Socialism and Chasing Liberals
One of the most famous and important quotations from Lenin is his statement that the Marxist’s “ideal should not be the trade-union secretary, but the tribune of the people,” that is, of all the oppressed and exploited. In contrast, Socialist Alternative’s ideal seems to be the social-democratic city councilor. In fact, many of our former comrades in the SAlt opposition upheld the campaigns for Kshama Sawant’s election and reelection as a supposed alternative to the “Bern turn,” and one they saw as fitting more with the “CWI tradition.”
What the Marxist movement has traditionally known as “municipal socialism” is focused on local legislative reforms and improvements rather than socialist revolution, and thus also known disparagingly as “sewer socialism.” Together with spreading illusions in a “peaceful socialist transition” through a parliamentary “enabling act,” a dismal record on Northern Ireland, and so much more, this is indeed, a tradition of the CWI going back to the Militant tendency in the British Labour Party. The CWI’s international leader Peter Taaffe is, after all, co-author of that bible of municipal socialism, Liverpool: A City That Dared to Fight (1988), harking back to the Militant’s administration of the city in the 1980s. This is definitely not an alternative to SAlt’s enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders.
Kshama Sawant’s rise to prominence has illustrated SAlt’s reformist acceptance of what is “possible” under capitalism, and the alliances with liberal capitalist politicians that this entails. SAlt hails the role of Sawant’s campaign for raising the minimum wage. However, the way the issue was chosen and formulated was closely calibrated to how it was being picked up by liberal Democrats. Originating in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, the “Fight for $15 and a Union” demand was taken up by the Service Employees International Union as part of a national campaign centered on rallies to pressure Democratic politicians to support raising the minimum wage. SAlt did get into the action early, it’s true, but its $15 Now front group time and again caved to the needs of small business owners and the sensibilities of petty-bourgeois liberals (for example, dropping the “and a Union” part because it would scare away some Seattle voters). It meant offering loopholes like the collective bargaining opt-out which would have exempted certain unionized workers from the wage hike! In the end, with a years-long phase-in, $15 Now became $15 Later for most Seattle workers.
While we welcome any reforms or improvements that benefit working people and the oppressed, it is important once again to call things by their right name. What really happened with the $15 Now campaign was not a “class-struggle” explosion but a liberal campaign to pressure the Democrats. Far from being linked to transitional demands to strengthen the class power of the proletariat, pointing the way toward socialist revolution, it was posed in the fashion of the social-democratic “minimum program” of what’s deemed achievable under capitalism.
During our time in SAlt, we were constantly barraged with make-work electoral activities that were peddled as “class struggle,” from “class-struggle” petition drives to “class-struggle” non-binding ballot referendums. This was quite maddening and was a clue that what SAlt is selling is warmed-over activist liberalism masquerading as “Trotskyism.” This can be seen once again in the recent campaign for the Seattle “Head Tax” targeting, in particular, Amazon’s contemptible Jeff Bezos. Let’s preempt SAlt loyalists demagogically saying, “Oh, you oppose a tax on the wealthy to fund housing and services for the homeless?” The point is that “Tax the Rich” is lifted from the program of liberal Democrats, there is nothing “transitional” about it. What was eventually passed (despite a reactionary cartoonist depicting Sawant operating a guillotine) was a watered-down bill, acceptable to SAlt’s liberal Democratic allies on the Seattle City Council.
The end result of this playbook of passing off activist New Dealism as revolutionary politics is twofold. First, it disorients those who look to SAlt for leadership as to what “class struggle” really means. Second, it reinforces SAlt’s accommodation to liberal Democrats in order to get enough support for the electoral initiatives that have become their, and Sawant’s, calling card. Even before the “Bern turn” SAlt was suggesting that votes for certain liberal Democrats in the Seattle City Council election of 2015 would make things easier for Sawant to get her reformist agenda passed by that body (“Seattle Politics at a Crossroads – the 2015 City Council Elections,” 2 August 2015). Her courting of liberal Democratic King County Council member Larry Gossett (who then turned around and voted for the youth jail targeted by the “Block the Bunker” campaign to which Sawant lent her support) was cut from the same cloth.
How SAlt adjusts its program the better to swim with, not against, the liberal stream of confidence in the capitalist state has been shown again in its shameless tailing after the Democrats’ racist gun control schemes (see “‘Socialists’ Chase After Anti-Gun Movement,” April 2018, on internationalist.org) and trying to get in on the Women’s March/#MeToo action by organizing a “Take Back the Night” march in Boston as an International Woman’s Day event. (Take Back the Night has a long history of appealing to the racist, sexist capitalist state, usually calling for more cops on campus and featuring police commissioners.)
More on the CWI Tradition:
Cops, Capitulation to Chauvinism, and Counterrevolution
Of course, SAlt and the CWI have a long history of embracing cops, corrections officers, and security guards as part of the labor movement, claiming they are and “workers in uniform.” Trampling all over the Marxist understanding of the state as “special bodies of armed men” whose job is defending the power and property of the ruling class, this flows from their aspiration to be social-democratic administrators of the capitalist state. Examples range from the inclusion of the Prison Officers Association in their British electoral vehicle (the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) to joining with SEIU-organized security guards in $15 Now campaigns such as the one at Boston’s Northeastern University in 2015. (For more on this, see “Her Majesty’s Social Democrats in Bed with the Police,” Summer 2009, on internationalist.org.)
We defend SAlt and Kshama Sawant – as all leftists should – against the vicious lawsuit by Seattle police officers who killed Che Taylor in 2016 and are suing her for “character defamation.” Yet the topic of the Seattle police is another one where SAlt has contributed to the CWI’s tradition of obscuring the role of the cops. While in the end voting against the appointment of Kathleen O’Toole as Seattle chief of police, Sawant praised the decision to hire a woman police chief, giving a speech praising O’Toole’s commitment “to really build a relationship with the community” and her proposal for a “tiered approach for policing protests,” going on to complain about “gang violence,” “ineffective policing” and not enough cops on the beat. In 2017, Sawant followed this up with the suggestion that Seattle cops could be used to resist I.C.E.’s immigrant-snatching squads. This is, once again, SAlt’s trampling over the Marxist understanding that the bourgeois state cannot be pressured to defend the interests of the working class and oppressed, and must be smashed through workers revolution.
This anti-Marxist view of the state even includes district attorneys. In Philadelphia in 2017, the SAlt branch’s blog hailed the election of “progressive” district attorney Larry Krasner (“Krasner Wins! Keep Building the Resistance!”, phillysocialistalt.com, May 17). Since his election, Krasner has stalled on handing over the DA office’s files regarding the prosecution of former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia’s attorneys have demanded these files to help show the effects of former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille’s failure to recuse himself at Jamal’s appeal, despite the fact that Castille was an assistant district attorney in Jamal’s original case. And who was Krasner’s first choice to lead his transition team? None other than Ronald Castille! We can’t help but note that SAlt’s website has published no articles on Mumia for the past ten years, and that SAlt was absent on both January 17 and April 30 when we traveled to Philly to participate in demonstrations outside the courtroom calling for Krasner to turn over the files and for Mumia to be released.
We have been told that the Philadelphia branch has long avoided Mumia’s case because it might taint branch leaders’ reputations in unions they’re active in. We do not know if this is accurate, but we do have our own experiences with SAlt’s willful blindness toward special oppression – another hallmark of Labourite social democracy. In 2013, Boston SAlt ran a supporter for an at-large seat in the city council. The mayoral race that year was largely about the legacy of the Boston busing plan for school desegregation in the mid-1970s – in which racist thugs threw stones at schoolchildren, attacked black bathers on public beaches and assaulted black men with American flagpoles at City Hall. John Connolly, who ended up losing to Marty Walsh, made the centerpiece of his campaign a return to “neighborhood schools,” which, as any Bostonian to the left of Jeff Sessions will tell you, is a call to roll back the scraps of the busing plan.
It was in this atmosphere that Boston SAlt chose to debut their campaign on St. Patrick’s Day in the historically Irish American enclave of South Boston, which was ground zero for the racist attacks on school integration, with a leaflet demanding, together with standard reformist wish-list items, “fully funded voluntarily integrated schools” (our emphasis)! At a meeting later that day, when first presented with a copy of the leaflet, one of us (Mike) objected to this pandering to Southie racists. Much of the local SAlt leadership doubled down on their defense of the capitulation, saying that they had thought “long and hard” about how to distinguish their campaign from other leftists’ defense of “forced busing” (!!! – another racist codeword). According to them, certain “ultralefts” were running around Southie telling the poor residents of that neighborhood that “if you’re against busing, you’re racist.” The truth, of course, is that if you’re against busing, you are racist. To his credit, one National Committee member in the room, who hadn’t seen the leaflet before the meeting, was also shocked, spoke against the horrific formulation and put a stop to attempts by the chair to quash the conversation.
After multiple discussion rounds, we were told that a new leaflet, sans the formulation, would be produced. When we showed up for the next campaign event there was, in fact, a new leaflet … but there were also hundreds of copies of the old leaflet as well. We probably should have quit then and there, but instead, when no one was looking, we threw the old leaflets in the trash like the garbage they were.
These local examples of SAlt/CWI’s social-democratic opportunism are part of the big picture in which one of the biggest historic elements is their swimming with the stream of capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and Eastern European deformed workers states. As Cannon said at the height of the factional battle with the followers of Max Shachtman on the eve of World War II: “’Who touches the Russian question touches a revolution.’ Therefore, be serious about it. Don’t play with it.” Well, the CWI, despite its Trotskyist pretensions, has certainly played along with counterrevolution. In 1991, their Russian members proudly manned the barricades of George H.W. Bush’s man in Moscow, Boris Yeltsin. They deny this now, but in the October 1991 issue of Rabochaya Demokratiya they boasted of it openly, bragging of how they built barricades around the monument to the martyrs of the 1905 revolution and crowing that unlike 1905, the 1991 “revolution” (read: counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union) was victorious.
In 2013, SAlt played into imperialism’s anti-North Korea hysteria in an article titled “Dictator Threatens Nuclear Attack” in which the U.S. imperialists, fresh from their invasion of Libya, appear as the face of peace-loving rationality. Genuine Trotskyists, on the other hand, defend the right of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a bureaucratically deformed workers state whose cities were flattened by the U.S. imperialists in the Korean War, to defend itself, including with nuclear weapons as an elementary deterrent against imperialist assault. In Hong Kong in 2014, the CWI abandoned any pretense to the Trotskyist program for deformed workers states (unflinching defense against capitalist counterrevolution from within or without; proletarian political revolution to oust the anti-revolutionary bureaucratic Stalinist excrescence) to cheer on the CIA-funded so-called Umbrella Revolution and its program of capitalist counterrevolution under the guise of (classless) “democracy.” Despite their paper-thin pretensions of Trotskyism, SAlt, in keeping with the CWI tradition, are social-democratic opportunists through and through.
Reforge the Fourth International, World Party of Socialist Revolution!
We have watched with dismay as some of our former comrades in the anti-“Bern turn” opposition within SAlt have erroneously come to the conclusion that, if SAlt represents Trotskyism, then they want nothing to do with Trotskyism. Some have retreated into the Greens, or the DSA, or the Socialist Party; others have embraced Maoism, black nationalism, anarchism... But in their different ways, they (like SAlt) turn their backs on the principle of working-class political independence that we cited at the beginning of this Open Letter. In the class struggle, when the crunch comes, there are two sides of the barricades, like the picket line. If you support the Democratic Party, directly or indirectly through the DSA, if you support the Green Party, if you embrace the historic tradition of the CWI on the police, you end up on the other side, on the wrong side of the class line. In the end it’s really quite simple. It’s which side are you on? That’s the question we are directing to our former comrades.
We are determined to go forward in the fight for the revolutionary Marxism of our time. We come out of the fight over the “Bern turn” and our years in SAlt more convinced than ever that as Trotsky put in 1938, “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership.” We remain convinced that the international proletariat remains the only force capable of overthrowing capitalist exploitation and oppression and building a new, socialist world. As we move toward fusion with the Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International, we uphold the conviction that the central task of revolutionaries today is the forging of a Bolshevik-Leninist party that, armed with a genuinely Trotskyist program, can lead the workers and all of the oppressed to the seizure of power though world socialist revolution. We urge our former comrades in the SAlt opposition, and all those who want to fight for that revolution to study the program and practice of the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International. We look forward to talking with you about the issues raised in this Open Letter, and many others, as we prepare for new struggles.
For the Class Struggle Education League,
Danny K. & Mike G.
31 May 2018
To contact the CSEL, e-mail:
- 1. As we finished writing this Open Letter, we saw that SAlt is up to it again, advising New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon that if she is defeated in the Democratic primary, she should run all the way to November on the Working Families Party ballot line (“Cynthia Nixon Challenges Establishment Democrats in New York State,” socialistalternative.org, 30 May). To top it all off, they are giving this advice to a bourgeois candidate who is notoriously anti-union, and was the spokesperson for keeping NYC’s exclusive Center School in a predominantly white school that has been the epicenter of a revolt against school integration on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (see “Free Market Racism: Segregated Schools, Gentrified Neighborhoods,” in Marxism & Education No. 5, Summer 2018).