Portland Trotskyist Study Group
Fuses with Internationalist Group
After intensive discussions, visits and several months of joint work, the members of the Portland, Oregon Trotskyist Study Group and the Internationalist Group have decided to unite their forces in a single organization, the Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International. The comrades of the PTSG see this as a big step forward in embracing authentic Trotskyism against the parodies they had known of various currents which falsely claim the legacy of Leon Trotsky, co-leader together with V.I. Lenin of the 1917 October Revolution. Together we see this as an opportunity and challenge to build a class-struggle opposition in the workers movement on the program of revolutionary Marxism.
The members of Portland Trotskyist Study Group have a number of years of experience on the left, both as unionists and members of socialist organizations. One member of the PTSG was a longtime cadre of the International Socialist Organization, playing a leading role in founding a branch of the ISO in Southeast Portland. After nearly a decade of membership, disagreements over positions on a variety of issues, from the ISO’s shifting position on labor to the question of Leninism and the ISO’s campaign against supposed “ultra-leftism,” led to a split earlier this year. Two members of the PTSG (one of whom was also a member of the ISO for several years) are experienced labor activists, who have struggled to put forward a class-conscious perspective inside their unions and in the labor movement at large. They helped to form and build a group for construction workers from all trades to work together to defend picket lines and act in solidarity.
They also fought against bureaucratic sabotage to build support for the courageous longshore workers of Longview, Washington battling a union-busting attack by a giant grain/shipping consortium. It was their experience of running up against the dead-end of reformist politics and a labor bureaucracy that continually sells out the rank and file that led the Portland comrades to seek out an organization whose revolutionary words were matched by deeds. Having grown frustrated with the malleable positions which many on the left take on crucial questions in labor and class struggle, and having read The Internationalist over some time, they recognized the IG as a politically resolute and steadfast group. The first contact was a phone call that began, “There’s a group of us here in Portland who are fed up with the ISO and we want the real Trotskyism.” Obviously, we had to talk.
Although the initial contact predated the outbreak of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in which the Portland comrades played an active role, the contradictions of that amorphous populist movement – and of the politics put forward by various left groups in it – brought the need for a revolutionary leadership to the fore. This was highlighted following a January 6 labor solidarity forum in Seattle called by Occupy to support ILWU Local 21 in Longview. When ILWU bureaucrats physically disrupted the forum, after attempting to do the same in Portland, the ISO was caught between two groups it was tailing after, Occupy and the labor bureaucracy. The ISO chose the latter, justifying it with some convoluted and distorted accounts of events, and launched an internal campaign on the need to fight “ultra-leftism.” This led to a fair amount of discontent in the ISO, whose members had up until then mainly been chasing Occupy.
The misinterpretation of Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder within the ISO was combined with a deliberate confusion between tactics and program. While an activist from Occupy may smash a window to express frustration with big banks, the Occupy movement’s demands for banks to restructure and form a “more democratic” or “more local” institution are still liberal at root. While most of those who call themselves anarchists today are basically “liberals in bandanas,” we must seek to win the best elements to revolutionary Marxism by presenting a genuine class line. The current crisis facing the revolutionary movement is not one of rampant ultra-leftism, as the ISO leadership pretended, but of rampant liberal reformism that Lenin also identified in Left-Wing Communism. The lesson of that polemic was on the need for revolutionaries to organize within the existing mass organizations of the working class in order to go beyond their limitations, point out their contradictions, and build a revolutionary party.
A series of key questions were taken up in discussions between the Internationalist Group and the Portland comrades who are now fusing with the IG. First and foremost is what is known in the Marxist movement as the “Russian Question.” A text outlining initial areas of political accord began with agreement with James P. Cannon’s 1940 “Speech on the Russian Question” and more generally agreement with Cannon and Trotsky’s program of unconditional military defense of the bureaucratically degenerated/deformed workers states combined with the fight for proletarian political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy. This was a given from the outset, as Portland comrades had already rejected the supposed “third camp” theory of “state capitalism.” Reading what Trotsky actually wrote, as opposed to what others (such as the ISO) said he wrote, was key.
In relation to this, there was discussion on the issue of Kronstadt, in which after reading articles drawing lessons from the writings of anarchist historian Paul Avrich, it was agreed that in the terrible situation in which the embattled Soviet power found itself at the end of the cruel 1918-21 Russian Civil War, it became necessary to militarily suppress the Kronstadt revolt whose leaders were coordinating with White Guard and imperialist counterrevolutionaries, even though many sailors (who for the most part came from sectors that had sat out the Civil War while the vanguard of the workers was decimated on the battlefield) professed attachment to anarchism. The life or death of the Revolution was at stake, as the counterrevolutionaries and their agents on Kronstadt were well aware, saying it was necessary to replace the Soviet regime with a military dictatorship.
A second subject for discussion was on China, on the mid-1960s “cultural revolution” and the class character of China today, with readings from the pamphlet The Stalin School of Falsification Revisited published by the Spartacist League when it stood for revolutionary Trotskyism, and reissued by the IG under the title What Is Trotskyism? It was agreed that China today remains a deformed workers state, whose very existence is deeply endangered by inroads of capitalist production and the growth of pro-capitalist tendencies inside the bureaucracy. In contrast, the majority of the left claims that China is capitalist, echoing the claim of the imperialist media and bourgeois academics, a defeatist argument that undercuts the vital struggle against counterrevolution which faces Chinese workers today and is a crucial fight for workers worldwide.
The PTSG reached agreement with the IG on the fundamentals of Trotskyism including upholding Trotsky’s program outlined in the Transitional Program. There was also common commitment to forging a revolutionary vanguard party of the working class as capitalism grows increasingly rotten, including the wholesale destruction of past gains with the complicity of the labor bureaucracy.
The joint work between the PTSG and the IG included intervention in the organizing of Portland’s May Day march and rally. The Portland comrades were able to win union support for key demands for a six-hour day with no loss in pay, and backing for full citizenship rights for all and for free contraception and childcare for all, as official demands. This involved overcoming resistance from social democrats of the local Workers Action group. The joint work included writing articles for The Internationalist. An initial report recounted the actions of the Portland comrades in the December 12 port shutdown called by the Occupy movement in solidarity with Longview longshore workers, explaining how a potentially explosive confrontation between some anarchist activists and port truckers was averted.
The discussion over the six-hour day demand underlined Lenin and Trotsky’s policy of united-front actions on clear demands, as opposed to the general practice of the opportunist left of forming popular-front type “coalitions” in which liberal and social-democratic groups dominate in formulating a lowest-common-denominator reformist program. Putting forward transitional demands, which link the fight for reforms to the struggle to raise workers’ revolutionary consciousness, is recognized by the IG and the PTSG as a fundamental aspect of party building. Transitional demands provide a bridge between the immediate demands of the working class for jobs, wages, housing rights, against acts of racist violence, in defense of basic democratic rights, etc. and the revolutionary struggle for workers rule. Raising demands for independent action by the working class that go beyond the limits of capitalism is as crucial today as it was when the Transitional Program was written in 1938.
The collaboration between the IG and PTSG also included trade-union work, in which it was agreed from the outset to oppose any government intervention in the unions, demanding cops, courts and Department of Labor out of the unions. This was outlined in the article by the Portland comrades, “Labor Must Clean Its Own House: For a Class-Struggle Opposition in the Union Movement.” Many left groups talk of trade-union independence from the bosses, but when it comes to drawing a hard line against any and all government interference in the labor movement it is another matter. In fighting entrenched bureaucracies, a number of left groups have gone to the capitalist courts or DOL, with disastrous results for the union membership. We defend the unions despite, and against, the sellout bureaucrats.
Another point of agreement from the beginning was on opposition to any support for capitalist politicians, such as Ralph Nader, who was twice supported by the ISO for president, and on the need to build a Leninist workers party. Such a party must be the tribune of all the oppressed; in the U.S., this requires an understanding of the crucial strategic question of the fight against black oppression. In this period in which the bourgeoisie proclaimed the “death of communism,” many leftist groups have turned sharply to the right, retreating to pre-Leninist conceptions, re-engaging arguments long since settled and seeking to unite politically with liberal and social-democratic groups. Instead it is necessary to undertake the struggle to cohere the nucleus of a revolutionary party politically independent from such formations, and point the way forward toward workers revolution. Rather than go backwards and restart history, it is important to go forward by reforging the Fourth International.
Having had more than their fill of working in and alongside groups like the International Socialist Organization that are constantly building reform movements and coalitions rather than raising the level of class struggle with principled united-front actions, comrades were reminded of the phrase of Eduard Bernstein, the granddaddy of all reformists, that “the movement is everything, the final goal nothing.” For the likes of the ISO, even the immediate goals of reform struggles they undertake are nothing: “The goal seems to be to recruit, regardless of whether there’s any agreement on any political basis,” as one comrade characterized it.
In international politics, a whole host of opportunist groups are endlessly hailing the “Egyptian Revolution,” the “Libyan Revolution” and now the “Syrian Revolution.” Yet in Egypt a military-based regime was replaced by an even more nakedly military government now combined with Islamists who want to introduce sharia law. Regarding Libya and Syria, various social-democratic groups claim to oppose U.S./NATO imperialist intervention, even as they hail “revolutionaries” who call for just that, and close their eyes to the dominance of Islamist forces waging communalist struggles. These reactionaries dubbed “revolutionaries” would massacre leftists, as they did in Iran under Khomeini (who most of the left supported) and in Afghanistan (when the bulk of the left lined up with imperialism against Soviet intervention, whereas genuine Trotskyists hailed this rare progressive act by the Kremlin). In the face of this fatuous cheerleading, the IG’s programmatic consistency was appreciated by the PSTG.
The fusion of the Portland Trotskyist Study Group with the Internationalist Group signifies a sharp break with reformist politics for the purpose of fighting for the kind of communism that the historic founders of our movement actually stood for. The misleadership of groups that put forward a program of liberal reforms has served to stifle class consciousness and led many activists down a blind alley. The members of the PTSG have come to the conclusion from their experience in the class struggle that what is needed to foment an international socialist revolution in keeping with October 1917 is a revolutionary party that holds itself firmly in the tradition of Trotsky, Lenin and Marx. Rather than following the tide of movements as they ebb and flow, and throw up reactionary as well as progressive ideas, it is important to put forward a program that can act as a bridge between the consciousness of the working class now and the tasks we must undertake to make socialist revolution possible.
The current crisis facing humanity remains a crisis of revolutionary leadership. Across the world, from Egypt to Greece to Wisconsin and Washington, there has been no lack of revolts and mobilizations of the working class. What has been absent is the leadership to take this forward to a struggle for international workers revolution. Maintaining political independence from liberal and reformist organizations is crucial to winning the working class to the revolutionary program. The members of the Portland Trotskyist Study Group see in this fusion the chance to join with comrades internationally to make Trotsky’s Transitional Program a living reality and not just words on paper.
A comrade of the Internationalist Group expressed in meeting one of the Portland comrades, “for us as immigrant workers it gives us great pleasure and tremendous hope to join with North American workers, for revolution here in the United States is key internationally.” The fusion of the PTSG with the IG is an expression of revolutionary regroupment which will be vital in seeking to reconstitute an authentically Trotskyist world party of socialist revolution.29 July 2012
A split from the Workers
International League, affiliated
with the International Marxist
Tendency led by Alan Woods.
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org