Statement of the Internationalist Group 30 January 1998
After Courts Order "Search and Seizure" of Militants' Leaflet
ICL Seeks to Sabotage Defense of Brazilian Trotskyist Workers
Last September a court in Volta Redonda, Brazil ordered the seizure of a bulletin produced by the Comitê de Luta Classista (CLC--Class Struggle Caucus, initiated by our comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil). The CLC leaflet exposed the role of the pro-police group of Artur Fernandes in attempting to loot workers’ pension funds, an explosive issue locally and nationally in Brazil. Fernandes was the instrument of a judicial coup in 1996 against the elected president of the Volta Redonda Municipal Workers Union (SFPMVR), Geraldo Ribeiro, aimed at stopping the campaign to oust municipal guardas (cops) from the union. The latest court order against the CLC (case no. 183/97 in the fifth civil division)--the eighth legal action against LQB supporters in the last two years--was issued at the request of the lawyer of Fernandes’ clique, Vanise Alves de Carvalho. The demand for an injunction was originally filed on Alves de Carvalho’s behalf by a high official of the city’s Popular Front government (see “New Repression Against Brazilian Trotskyists” and “International Outcry Against Brazil Witchhunt,” The Internationalist No. 4, January-February 1998).
The CLC issued an “Alert!” warning that “The Bourgeois Courts of Volta Redonda Attack the Workers’ Democratic Rights” (CLC Bulletin No. 3, September 1997). It noted that the draconian censorship law dated from the “New State” dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, a law that was heavily used under the 21-year military dictatorship (1964-85) to silence leftist and labor militants; that the court ordered the seizure of all copies of the previous CLC bulletin, as well as threatening to seize the belongings of the CLC and Geraldo Ribeiro; and that the request for the injunction demanded a list of members of the CLC. The alert concluded: “this attack is directed against all those who fight to defend the workers’ interests…. Remember: an attack against one is an attack against all.” Understanding this clear and elementary fact, labor organizations from around the world--from Brazil, El Salvador and the U.S. to South Africa and the Philippines--sent protest statements in solidarity with the victims of this latest repression.
But the leadership of the International Communist League (ICL) had a very different response.
For three months the ICL showed absolutely no interest in this case. No statement, no inquiries, dead silence. Then, on December 20, Workers Vanguard (newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.) made simultaneous phone calls, evidently synchronized to the minute, to Internationalist Group members Jan Norden and Abram Negrete. The WV “reporters” had a list of increasingly sinister insinuations about the CLC defense case, peppered with speculation about plans for fusion of the IG and LQB, and ending up with WV’s litany of lies against the Brazilian comrades. A few days later WV No. 681 (2 January 1998) printed a new smear job against the IG/LQB, rehashing its rantings and complaining of “The Silence of the IGs.” Since we had circulated an international solidarity appeal (receiving considerable support), this was a rather bizarre charge. Many WV readers wondered what it was all about.
What was going on here was a blatant attempt to denigrate the defense of proletarian fighters under attack by the bourgeois state, for the most cynical factional reasons. It was certainly no accident that the strange calls from WV came exactly one day after the Permanent Revolution Faction of the ICL handed in a document in Paris announcing its political solidarity with the IG and its defense of the LQB against the vicious vendetta by the ICL leadership. Clearly, a main purpose of the new attack was internally directed--to harden up any wavering members by dumping a bucket of mud on those who dared to expose the leadership’s lies. The WV 681 article marks a new low in the ICL leaders’ obsessive frenzy against the IG/LQB and the PRF. Going beyond character assassination, the ICL has undertaken a sinister campaign to undermine international solidarity with the class-struggle Brazilian militants.
WV recycles the lies--which we have already proven to be false--that come from the same pro-police elements and Popular Front city government of Volta Redonda that launched the repression. Meanwhile, the WV article says not one word in defense of the victims. It shows not the slightest indignation or concern over the blatant use of capitalist state repression to ban leaflets put out by leftist trade unionists in Brazil. Instead, sneering about our “‘urgent’ call” for defense against the repression, and that the IG has “appealed for ‘international solidarity’ on the basis that their Brazilian allies are ‘class war’ heroes,” WV dismisses the victims as a “phony” union formation, implies that the repression is only “according to the IG,” and denounces our defense campaign as a “cynical sham.”
What WV quite deliberately chose not to report, from their “interview” with comrade Norden, is that he informed them that the repression is continuing, that on November 14, the court suit against the CLC was re-registered and the individual specifically targeted is now Jorge Oliveira, a retired black steel worker. Moreover, the suit’s authors are now threatening a criminal prosecution. But this is of no concern to the editors of WV.
Indeed, the WV article vilely attacks the targets of this repression as “dangerous hustlers.” This filth is hurled at a largely black group of working-class militants with decades of struggle, many of whom were fired and blacklisted and who have been hit by endless state repression for fighting against class collaboration and racist oppression.
WV’s vituperation is intended to cover up the fact that the ICL leadership deserted from the struggle to remove the cops from the SFPMVR at the moment of greatest danger. Alleging “unacceptable risks to the vanguard,” ICL representatives called on the LQB to help “pull our hands out of the boiling water.” When the Brazilian comrades refused this ignominious ultimatum, the ICL broke relations with them on 18 June 1996, the day before cops and courts shut down a union meeting called to oust the police. At first pretending to defend Ribeiro against the court suits aimed at removing him as president of the union, while simultaneously denouncing the LQB as “trade-union opportunists,” ICL leaders are now broadcasting loud and clear that they are in fact on the other side of the continuing class battle in Volta Redonda.
Fleeing from the vanguard to the rearguard, refusing to defend from state repression the class-struggle militants who continued the fight for cops out of the unions, repeating the lies spewed out by the popular-front government and pro-police elements who launched the repression, and now denouncing the international solidarity campaign with the Brazilian comrades under fire from the state as a “sham,” the ICL leadership is acting as an external adjunct of the popular front.
ICL’s Factional Frenzy Out of Control
Workers Vanguard continues to put an equal sign between the pro-police provocateurs installed by a judicial coup against the union ranks, and the militants victimized by state repression for their fight to throw cops out of the labor movement. Previous WV articles said the two sides are “equally sordid.” Now WV 681 calls them “equally unprincipled” while dismissing as a “sordid squabble” the struggle between the anti-racist unionists and the self-proclaimed defender of the guardas, Artur Fernandes, whom WV itself correctly characterizes as a “pro-cop thug.” Where in a series of publications the ICL previously found itself obliged to recognize that the LQB’s fight to expel cops from the union was a “principled” and difficult struggle, WV now rants that the Brazilian comrades tried to use the campaign to expel cops from the union as “a factional club against their rivals for union leadership.” As we have previously noted, when WV says both sides in this struggle are the same, this is a betrayal and a cover-up for the class enemy. And the posture of neutrality is fake: the ICL leaders have retailed one smear after another against the LQB from the mouth of Artur Fernandes and the bourgeois press.
Once again WV covers for Fernandes with the lie that it was the LQB which has been “dragging the SFPMVR union through the bosses’ courts”! In fact, it is Fernandes who, in tandem with the Popular Front government and the courts that imposed this stooge against the expressed will of the union ranks, has launched one court action after another against Ribeiro and other comrades of the LQB/CLC. WV 681 again rehashes Fernandes’ smear that comrade Geraldo Ribeiro is supposed to have sued the very union of which he is the elected president. Yet the WV article studiously avoids the documented proof we presented in our replies refuting this and their previous round of frenzied lies and distortions (see The Internationalist, Nos. 3 and 4, as well as the earlier IG dossier on Class Struggle and Repression in Volta Redonda, Brazil: Cops, Courts Out of the Unions).
Nowhere does WV even mention the letter from Geraldo Ribeiro’s ex-lawyer stating that Ribeiro refused the court’s offer to rule in his favor in December 1996, that Ribeiro insisted “that he was against any intervention by the justice system to resolve differences among workers,” and that because of this principled opposition to court intervention, the lawyer resigned as his representative. WV seeks to suppress this because it is a devastating refutation of its slanders.
Meanwhile, in yet another back-handed alibi for Artur Fernandes & Co., WV claims the pro-cop clique has taken “a page from the LQB’s book” and “repudiated their own lawyer’s action.” What are the facts? Geraldo Ribeiro’s former lawyers--provided by a local civil rights group to defend him against the court and cop onslaught--erroneously filed legal papers which, while seeking to block summary court action in the barrage of cases against him, listed the union as defendant, something which Ribeiro, as elected SFPMVR president, never would have allowed. Contrary to WV 681, Ribeiro did not passively “only let them ‘expire’”--he insisted these actions be withdrawn. Moreover, this was at a time when the pro-cop clique had launched yet another suit against Ribeiro after assaulting him at the union hall in January 1997--another fact that WV seeks to obscure. In a statement to the court Ribeiro explained his categorical opposition to court intervention. In fact, a previous WV article (No. 671, 11 July 1997) admitted “the court records show that Ribeiro did indeed file a withdrawal of all three” requests for injunctions his lawyers had submitted. But WV appears unconcerned about its inability to keep its own story straight. The ICL leaders’ modus operandi is to just keep slinging more mud, hoping some will stick.
Throughout, Ribeiro has stressed his opposition to intervention in the workers movement by the capitalist courts and cops, and has acted consistently. Insisting on this fundamental class principle, Ribeiro ordered the withdrawal of the court actions, producing a split with the lawyers who filed them. What of Fernandes? WV 681 refers to a “note of clarification” by the pro-police stooge on the latest suit against the Brazilian comrades. This statement was in response to the considerable outcry against this suit in the labor movement, in Brazil and internationally, as a result of the defense campaign that the ICL calls a “sham.” Yet far from rejecting appeals to the bourgeois courts on principle or breaking from their lawyer, Fernandes & Co. declare “we recognize the professional value” of the lawyer, Vanise Alves de Carvalho, only seeking a bit of distance from what they call her “unfortunate technical conduct.” Meanwhile, it smears the CLC as dangerous gangsters, seeking to provoke more cop repression against them. And a couple of weeks later, the lawyer, who continues to be employed by Fernandes, refiled the suit and threatened to escalate it into a criminal prosecution!
The rampant dishonesty of the new WV is stunning. It histrionically presents the pseudo-revelation that comrade Norden said we “found out about” the court actions filed by Geraldo’s lawyers long before the ICL’s phony exposés; it doesn’t report that Norden told the WV “reporters” that as soon as Geraldo found out about the requests for injunctions in January 1997 (not July 1996, as WV dishonestly pretends), he immediately ordered their withdrawal, months before WV published its first article on this question in May 1997. Similarly dishonest is WV’s attempt to pretend that the LQB failed to publicize Ribeiro’s July 1996 letter to the local Diário do Vale newspaper stating his principled opposition to court intervention, or is somehow hiding this letter. Not only did the other local paper publish an interview with Ribeiro shortly thereafter, in which he denounced the bourgeois court system, his July 1996 letter was extensively quoted in his January 1997 leaflet, several thousand copies of which were distributed to Volta Redonda workers.
A key part of their new smear job consists of insinuations about the CLC bulletin that Volta Redonda courts ordered seized. After mockingly citing the Brazilian comrades’ appeal that “proclaimed: ‘The bosses’ courts want to silence the voice that tells the truth’,” WV 681 states:
“What gives? In a telephone interview with IG supremo Jan Norden on December 20, a Workers Vanguard reporter asked why, ‘if the point was to silence the voice that tells the truth,’ the IG hadn’t circulated the issue of the CLC newsletter suppressed by the courts. Replied Norden, ‘We’re not basically pushing for that.’ Norden and his IG certainly haven’t pushed for the truth.”
What comrade Norden told them was that we were waging a defense campaign against state repression. Recall that the courts in Volta Redonda ordered the search and seizure of every copy of this newsletter. A court officer was dispatched to the LQB’s office, where he was advised that no copies of the leaflet were left, nor did he find any. This left the court in a quandary because they couldn’t produce the corpus delicti (the body of evidence of a crime). Now WV demands that we should have circulated the evidence that the state couldn’t come up with!
While the ICL pretends that this is all just a “sham,” let us remind readers that the Brazilian comrades are facing serious repression. The suit against them threatened to seize their belongings and to hit them with thousands of dollars in fines, as well as demanding a list of the members of the CLC. In fact, the copy of the leaflet submitted to the court included a number of names of putative CLCers scrawled on it by the authors of the suit. Ominously describing the CLC as “one of those clandestine factions which hiding under the cover of anonymity seek to flee from confronting the law for the consequences of their acts,” the suit that was resubmitted in mid-November threatens criminal prosecution of the class-struggle unionists. Any serious militant can understand why responsible defenders of labor and the left were not pushing to circulate the CLC’s bulletin at that time. But blinded by factional fury, WV doesn’t see or care about this.
Instead, they hurl vile insinuations aimed at damaging solidarity efforts. To counter this unprincipled attack on the defense campaign, and as the case is still continuing more than four months later, we have decided to print here a translation of CLC bulletin No. 2. We also append a translation of the CLC’s most recent bulletin (No. 4), on the defense campaign.
The Guilty Silence of the ICL
In what has now become its standard operating procedure, WV quietly abandons other accusations that it once insisted on, without referring to our detailed refutation of these claims. Previous WV articles attempted to deny that the 19 June 1996 union meeting--one day after the ICL cut relations with the LQB after failing to convince them to “leave town” and abandon the struggle--was scheduled to vote the disaffiliation of the municipal guardas. While seeking to disappear the fact that this meeting was shut down by armed police, WV nauseatingly claimed that the vote to disaffiliate the cops “never happened,” despite the fact that this vote was held at the 25 July 1996 union meeting organized in the face of the repression. In response, we reproduced declarations and minutes from both organizers and opponents of the campaign to expel police from the union, as well as material from WV’s favorite source, the steel bosses’ newspaper Diário do Vale, that systematically demolished each of WV’s successive attempts to maintain these lies. So now WV is silent about all this.
Instead, it follows the classic pattern: it launches a new lie, this time that “the LQB dropped its party press after only two issues.” This is a total fabrication. First WV claimed the LQB had refused to put out a party press, a falsification that is amply disproved by the correspondence the ICL itself has published. When the first issue of the Brazilian comrades’ Vanguarda Operária came out shortly after the ICL broke relations, the ICL tried to pretend it would be the last issue. After the second issue came out, they now make up the claim that the party press has been dropped. In fact the frequency of Vanguarda Operária compares not unfavorably to that of the press of several sections and groups of the ICL, as well as the journal Spartacist in its first years. Meanwhile, the LQB has published the first issue of a theoretical journal and is publishing a pamphlet reprinting its 1995 Portuguese translation of James P. Cannon’s classic essay “The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement.”
Similarly with the ICL’s various claims about the Internationalist Group. WV’s pretense that we have avoided polemics against the Liga Bolchevique Internacionalista (LBI), Artur Fernandes’ mentors, is absurd. Not only have we polemicized against the LBI in every issue of The Internationalist, but the first issue of the LQB’s Vanguarda Operária had a lengthy article devoted entirely to unmasking this cynical outfit, while the second featured an extensive article denouncing the line of the LBI as well as the rest of the opportunist left on the bonapartist police “strikes” that swept Brazil last July (in addition to an article on the Congo polemicizing against the LBI’s initial support to Kabila). As for WV’s ravings about the IG and LQB as “Brides of Christ” who are “Never to Wed” (WV No. 678, 14 November 1997), this piece would be pathetic if it weren’t so deranged. The ICL will find out about our upcoming fusion with the LQB in the same way as the rest of the world, when it is announced in our press.
But while WV’s pitiful excuses for polemics against the IG and LQB go from the patently dishonest to the downright ludicrous, the ICL’s actions are anything but laughable. It is obvious that the ICL leaders don’t give a damn about the truth or the real stakes in the class battle in Brazil. This can easily be verified by anyone who takes the trouble to keep track of the welter of contradictions, lies and fabrications published in Workers Vanguard over the past period. But we’re not only referring to WV’s increasingly reckless disregard for the truth. In seeking to scrape together smears against the Brazilian comrades in order to cover its own betrayal of the struggle to throw the cops out of the unions, the ICL leadership has been hobnobbing with some very dubious characters in Volta Redonda.
Over the past period they have had a de facto division of labor with Fernandes’ mentors in the Liga Bolchevique Internacionalista to seek to isolate and defame the LQB/IG. When representatives of the ICL showed up at last August’s congress of the Brazilian CUT labor federation in São Paulo with a leaflet smearing the LQB, they spent hours upon hours in discussion with the LBI. The ICL spokesmen demonstratively hung around the LBI’s literature table for much of this time, including for lengthy periods when Artur Fernandes, the man WV rightly calls a “pro-cop thug,” was sitting at it--a fact confirmed twice by one of the “interviewers” for WV’s latest hack job. This literature table was quite openly the command post for the operation carried out inside the congress by the LBI and the pro-police provocateur Fernandes, who is part of the LBI’s trade-union grouping.
It’s not just a matter of strange political bedfellows. In addition to having extended chummy chats with this pro-cop clot, in the presence of the very person who called in military and municipal police against union meetings in Volta Redonda and who has launched endless court actions against the Trotskyists of the LQB, in its frenzy to dig up dirt against our comrades the ICL has engaged in grossly irresponsible behavior. Thus there were at least two calls last May-June seeking to speak with authoritative spokesmen in the civil court in Volta Redonda, and on at least one occasion someone spoke with a judge. What did they talk about? In addition, Fernandes’ lawyer says she received “several” calls from “journalists” for a U.S. paper during the same period asking for information about cases involving Geraldo Ribeiro. This is the same lawyer who has now launched the ominous court suit against the CLC, which the ICL refuses to defend and whose defense it denounces as a “sham.” What was said in those conversations? The lawyer said she told her callers to speak with Geraldo himself. But the ICL never talked to Ribeiro.
At the CUT conference, the two ICL representatives engaged in a discussion with comrades of the LQB. During this exchange, one of the ICLers said that maybe the guardas had left the union, but they were returning (to Fernandes’ outfit, that is). Challenged as to how he would know such a “fact,” which is untrue in any case, the ICLer responded that he had received this information directly from the Department of Personnel of the City of Volta Redonda. When comrade Marcello demanded to know how that could be, when even the elected president and directors of the Municipal Workers Union had been refused such information, the ICL representative said that anyone could get it. So after the CUT conference, Geraldo Ribeiro and SFPMVR director Maria do Carmo Paes went to the Department of Personnel asking for the same information. They were told that any information about union affiliation would only be given out with the permission of the Secretary for Administration of the City of Volta Redonda. So what was the ICLers’ source for this pseudo-information?
Was this all just harmless “fact-finding”? Did it ever occur to the ICL that such indiscriminate and reckless intervention with hostile intent, approaching judges and lawyers who have launched endless suits against the class-struggle militants in the midst of a situation of repression against them, as well as hobnobbing with a “pro-cop thug,” could negatively affect the defense of our comrades? The least that one can say is that the ICL leaders didn’t care what the consequences of their actions might be for those facing a heavy attack by the state and its agents in Volta Redonda. The guiding principle of the new leadership of the ICL appears to be that anything goes in the interests of attacking those who are fighting for the principles of Trotskyism, which the ICL is abandoning. This political degeneration must be fought through the struggle to reforge the Fourth International.