ICL Renounces Fight for
Puerto Rican Independence
Break the Chains of Imperialism Through International Socialist Revolution!
From the moment that a detachment of revolutionary soldiers and sailors dissolved the tottering bourgeois government of Russia and V.I. Lenin announced that power had passed into the hands of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies, the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution was a beacon to the colonial peoples of the world, summoning them to throw off the imperialist chains by allying themselves with the world proletariat. News of the workers’ victory in Russia spread to the farthest corners of India and China, encouraging the impoverished toilers to rise up against the colonial masters and the imperialist overlords. The 1919 Manifesto of the Communist International, written by Leon Trotsky, declared:
“Never before has the problem of colonial slavery been posed so sharply as it is today.
“A number of open insurrections and the revolutionary ferment in all the colonies have hence arisen....
“If capitalist Europe has violently dragged the most backward sections of the world into the whirlpool of capitalist relations, then socialist Europe will come to the aid of liberated colonies with her technology, her organization and her ideological influence in order to facilitate their transition to a planned and organized socialist economy.
“Colonial slaves of Africa and Asia! The hour of proletarian dictatorship in Europe will strike for you as the hour of your own emancipation!”
Linking the revolutionary struggle of the working class in the imperialist countries with the struggle for the liberation of the colonial and semi-colonial subjects of imperialism was a hallmark of Bolshevism. It was also a key dividing line between the revolutionary opposition to the imperialist World War and the social-democratic pacifists who sought a class-collaborationist “peace” among the competing capitalist predators, who had gone to war over control of the colonies. The famous “21 Conditions” for admission to the Communist International insisted:
“Parties in countries whose bourgeoisie possess colonies and oppress other nations must pursue a most well-defined and clear-cut policy in respect of colonies and oppressed nations. Any party wishing to join the Third International must ruthlessly expose the colonial machinations of the imperialists in its ‘own’ country, must support–in deed, not merely in word–every colonial liberation movement, demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies, inculcate in the hearts of the workers of its own country an attitude of true brotherhood with the working population of the colonies and oppressed nations, and conduct systematic agitation among the armed forces against all oppression of the colonial peoples.”
Today, Puerto Rico is the largest U.S. colonial possession, and indeed the largest and most famous remaining colony on the face of the earth. In fact, it is the very symbol of Yankee imperialism. It is regularly the subject of pious deliberations in the United Nations Committee on Decolonization where the assembled bourgeois hypocrites mouth pious words about the right of self-determination, while refusing to call for implementing this right in the case of Puerto Rico. It is the duty of proletarian revolutionaries in the United States, in particular, to fight for the independence and national emancipation of this colonial possession of U.S. imperialism, as part of the fight for world socialist revolution. For more than a quarter century, the Spartacist League and International Communist League stood for independence for Puerto Rico. But no longer. In a recent issue of Workers Vanguard (No. 696, 11 September 1998) a small “correction” appeared that speaks volumes about the ICL’s recent evolution toward a left version of social-democratic accommodation with imperialism.
For the benefit of our readers who may not have seen this little item, and because of its far-reaching significance, it is worth reproducing the SL/ICL’s “rectification” of the Marxist position on colonies. Here is in its entirety this shameful declaration:
“CORRECTION “The article ‘General Strike Rocks Puerto Rico’ (WV No. 694, 31 July) includes a quotation taken from WV No. 588 (19 November 1993) stating that we ‘advocate independence’ for Puerto Rico but do not favor forcing that, or any other status, on the Puerto Rican people. In fact, these statements are self-contradictory. Our position was correctly expressed in the article ‘A Century of U.S. Imperialist Plunder’ (WV No. 686, 13 March):
‘Marxists defend Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and support struggles for independence in order to strike a blow against U.S. imperialism and to remove the national question from the agenda in Puerto Rico. But we are not in favor of forcing annexation, federation, or even independence on anyone, least of all by racist U.S. imperialism.’
“We do not currently advocate independence for Puerto Rico, not least because the vast majority of the population there is not in favor of it at this time. As the article in WV No. 694 noted, ‘While there is deep resentment among Puerto Ricans over their colonial oppression, most are contradicted and loath to relinquish the benefits of U.S. citizenship–such as the right to work on the mainland–and fear that independence would mean falling into the crushing immiseration typical of capitalist Caribbean states such as the Dominican Republic’.”
For the Spartacist League in the United States, this renunciation of the call for independence for this key U.S. colony, the linchpin for U.S. military and economic domination of the Caribbean, amounts to outright capitulation before “their own” bourgeoisie.
For any revolutionary-minded militant in Puerto Rico, this line would be a statement of political bankruptcy – more than being a non-position, this is a declaration that the SL/ICL is prepared to accept the continuation of Puerto Rico’s present inherently oppressive colonial status, or Puerto Rico becoming a state of the United States, which would be subject to massive linguistic, cultural and economic discrimination–amounting to an internal colony. As the pro-statehood governor Pedro Rosselló and the U.S. Congress prepare to stage one colonial referendum after another to beat down opposition to annexation of Puerto Rico, the SL/ICL is saying . . . that it has nothing to say. In the past, the SL called for boycotting such colonialist farces, pointing out that in the face of the economic blackmail by the capitalists and their parties, the military occupation of the island and aggressive anti-independentista repression by the colonial state, such votes could not be taken as a true measure of popular support for independence. But today? What is the SL today? “Commonwealth” (i.e., colonialist) “socialists”? Statehood (i.e., annexationist) “socialists”? “Socialists” who are indifferent to colonial oppression?
Whatever they may call themselves, they are not
communists who stand unconditionally for independence of
the colonies, of all colonies, on principle.
Today the ICL has abandoned this fundamental Leninist
principle of revolutionary struggle against imperialism. This
latest revision of Marxism is a dramatic indication of the
extent of political degeneration accompanying the repeated
ideological and organizational crises the ICL has experienced
in recent years.
Capitulation to Yankee Imperialism
Let’s consider the arguments presented by the SL’s “correction.” First, WV says that it does “not currently advocate independence for Puerto Rico.” Why not? “Not least because the vast majority of the population there is not in favor of it at this time.” So in retrospect, following this logic, when would the SL have advocated independence for this subject colonial nation? Certainly not at the time of the 1993 referendum, when the article they are “correcting” appeared and when less than 5 percent of those voting selected the “independence” option (which among other things accepted the continuation of the massive U.S. military presence on the island) while almost half favored “statehood.” Certainly not at the time of the 1967 referendum, when two-thirds of the voters supported the present “commonwealth” status (which in Spanish is falsely called a “free associated state”). Certainly not in 1952, when three-quarters of those voting approved the “commonwealth” constitution. While all pro-independence forces called for a boycott of this referendum, the Socialist Party associated with the American Federation of Labor bureaucracy participated and sat in the colonial legislature. These colonialist social democrats are the intellectual precursors of the SL’s new line.
The fact is that at no time has the “vast majority” of the Puerto Rican population “favored” independence. Does this mean that communists therefore do not call for breaking the chains of imperialist rule? Of course not. Our program is not governed by what is currently popular but by what is necessary for proletarian revolution and the liberation of the oppressed. Besides, how exactly is the will of the people supposed to be gauged? Through opinion polls, through another colonial referendum? The failed 1950 Jayuya uprising by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party was staged as a boycott of a referendum on the law (PL 600) establishing “commonwealth” status.
This situation is not just some peculiarity of Puerto Rico, but quite frequent in the history of post-World War II colonialism. After the end of that supposed “war for democracy”–in reality a fight among the competing imperialists for world domination–the “democratic” imperialists tried to dress up their continued rule of subject peoples by repackaging their colonial empires as the British “commonwealth,” the “French union,” the Dutch “community,” and similar disguises. The Puerto Rican “commonwealth” was consciously derived from these models. The colonial authorities would then stage referendums to “approve” the colonial status. In fact, in Algeria electoral majorities voted for maintaining French rule until shortly before the war for independence was won in 1962: in 1958 more than 75 percent of the electorate voted for De Gaulle’s constitution of the French Fifth Republic, and in 1961 De Gaulle’s second referendum (calling for the continuation of colonial rule under the guise of “self-determination of the Algerian population”) again got a majority.
In form, the SL’s declaration would appear to be a policy of tailism: whatever the population wants is fine by them. In the same vein, it refused to call for workers action against U.S. moves toward war on Iraq earlier this year, on the grounds that such calls would find no “resonance” in the working class (see “SL Rejects Calls for Labor Strikes Against Imperialist War Moves,” The Internationalist No. 5, April-May 1998). In both cases, this amounts to bowing before the pressures of imperialism. “No policy” is a policy, of refusing to fight against and indeed accepting colonial rule of Puerto Rico. In fact, the WV correction tries to prettify the national oppression that this represents, saying the Puerto Rican population is “loath to relinquish the benefits of U.S. citizenship.” In the past, in the article it now renounces, the Spartacist League/ICL wrote:
“Puerto Rico is a separate geographical, cultural, linguistic and economic entity from the United States. Annexation to the U.S. would pose considerable objective problems. Statehood would create powerful pressures toward a single language, with English tending to displace Spanish, ultimately bringing into question the identity of the Puerto Rican people. As well, a state of Puerto Rico would be the object of nativist racist hostility. The present ‘commonwealth’ is inherently oppressive, keeping Puerto Ricans living on the island in the position of second-class citizens subjected to sharp repression.”
–“Colonial Referendum Farce: For the Right of Independence for Puerto Rico!” WV No. 598, 19 November 1993
From these basic realities, Workers Vanguard, at that time, drew the necessary conclusion:
“As revolutionary internationalists, we defend Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and support struggles for independence. We advocate independence in order to strike a blow against U.S. imperialism, and because only through breaking out of colonial subjugation will it be possible to move beyond the perennial question of Puerto Rico’s ‘status’ to focus on the international class struggle.”
Since the SL now rejects the conclusion, that Marxists advocate independence for the Caribbean island colony of Yankee imperialism, one must ask: does the SL now believe that “commonwealth” or “statehood” are not inherently oppressive? Evidently so. What a sorry spectacle this is, of supposed revolutionaries basing their policy on the perceived “benefits of U.S. citizenship”!
So what about the argument raised by the WV “correction” that to “advocate independence” but to “not favor forcing that, or any other status, on the Puerto Rican people” is “self-contradictory”? What’s self-contradictory? Revolutionary Marxists raise any number of positions in their program that the mass of the population does not presently support. A vanguard party fights to change existing consciousness, not adapt to it. Specifically on the national question, take the example of Quebec in Canada. For many years the policy of the ICL was to support Quebec’s right to independence. In 1994, given the mounting anti-French chauvinism in English-speaking Canada, it changed its position to one calling for “Independence for Quebec!” (WV No. 629, 22 September 1995 and Spartacist Canada No. 105, September/October 1995). In correctly coming out for independence for Quebec, does the ICL mean that it intends to force independence of the population of Quebec? After all, slightly over 50 percent of Quebec voters rejected the mealy-mouthed “independence” option in the 1995 referendum. SLers argue that the situations are not directly analogous. Yes, there is a difference: in the case of Quebec, as part of a multinational state, proletarian revolutionaries might or might not advocate independence; in the case of Puerto Rico, a colony, communists must fight for independence if they are to oppose imperialist domination.
And what about the WV note’s claim that it continues to “support struggles for independence” of Puerto Rico? This is pure window dressing. When, where, how does it support struggles for Puerto Rican independence, “in deed, not merely in words,” as the Communist International demanded? And why would it support such struggles, since the SL/ICL does not itself call for Puerto Rican independence? Just because they’re popular? What if they’re not popular? For that matter, does the SL/ICL still call for the U.S. military out of Puerto Rico? Of course, if the SL accepts Puerto Rican statehood (or doesn’t oppose it, which is the same thing), this demand would be like a utopian call for U.S. troops out of New Mexico. And what about calling for freeing Puerto Rican independentista prisoners, victims of colonial repression? WV’s statement of empty “support” to independence struggles is nothing but eyewash, a statement whose only purpose is to try to hide the fact that the ICL no longer calls for independence of the largest colony in the world today.
In defending their new line, SLers pretend that nothing has really changed in their policy, since they still support Puerto Rico’s right to independence. Yet the right wing of the Republican Party in the U.S. declares it supports Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination. Moreover, the pro-statehood bourgeois “New Progressive Party” of Governor Rosselló in Puerto Rico even denounces the present “commonwealth” as representing a colonial status of second-class citizenship. The SL’s present position does not go one inch beyond the policies of imperialist liberalism or even conservative bourgeois forces. There is nothing contradictory at all about highlighting our support for Puerto Rico’s right to independence, underlining that we do not seek to impose this on an unwilling population, while at the same time calling as revolutionary internationalists for Puerto Rican independence.
There is, however, something deeply contradictory between the SL/ICL’s posture as communists and its capitulation to the domination of U.S. imperialism over Puerto Rico. The “21 Conditions” for admission to the Comintern insisted that any genuinely communist party must “demand the expulsion of its compatriot imperialists from the colonies.” The Spartacist League and ICL today do not demand the expulsion of Yankee imperialism from its Puerto Rican colony.
SL/ICL vs. Marx, Lenin and Trotsky on the Colonial Question
For socialists in an imperialist country to refuse to call for independence for a colony is a betrayal and a colonialist, chauvinist position. Lenin insisted, over and over, that the right of self-determination for colonies can only mean independence. Colonies are not nationalities in a multinational state. In this case, the right of self-determination is not akin to the right of divorce, which one can exercise or not, depending on the particular situation. Colonial subjugation is akin to slavery, for the relationship between the imperialist power and the colony is inherently oppressive, no matter how it is disguised. And on this question, the only response for proletarian revolutionaries is to fight for an end to colonial slavery. Workers Vanguard, when it was still an organ of revolutionary Marxism, insisted on this in article after article. The SL/ICL’s support for independence for Puerto Rico was not dependent on the outcome of a colonial referendum, which by its very nature cannot be democratic.
In our leaflet for the recent (July 1998) Puerto Rican general strike. we declared:
“The Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International advocate independence for Puerto Rico, in order to strike a blow against U.S. imperialism and because only by breaking out of the national subjugation of colonial rule can the international class struggle come to the fore. We support struggles for independence from colonial rule, even when they are led by petty-bourgeois and bourgeois forces, at the same time as we fight for proletarian leadership of the struggle against imperialism through international socialist revolution. Genuine national liberation can only be achieved by workers revolution, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. We demand: Yankee imperialism get out! U.S. military out of Puerto Rico and all of the Caribbean! Return Guantánamo to Cuba!
“At the same time, however distorted by the mechanisms of colonial referendums, the fact remains that an overwhelming majority of the Puerto Rican population does not presently favor independence. As the right to self-determination is a democratic question, and the working class has no interest in forcing independence against the will of the Puerto Rican population–especially when the impetus for separation comes from right-wing reactionaries–we underline our defense of Puerto Rico’s right to independence.”
This is, as the reader can see, precisely the line that the SL/ICL used to uphold and which it now renounces.
It is also the direct continuation of the line upheld by Trotskyists since the founding of the Fourth International. The 1938 founding conference of the FI approved a special “Thesis on the World Role of American Imperialism,” which stated unambiguously:
“The parties of the Fourth International, throughout the Western Hemisphere, stand for the immediate and unconditional independence of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Philippine Islands, Hawaii, Samoa, and all other direct colonies, dependencies, and protectorates of American imperialism.”
At the same time, the 1938 founding convention of the Socialist Workers Party, then the Trotskyist organization in the U.S., stated about the colonial and semi-colonial countries oppressed by American imperialism:
“The SWP supports every progressive struggle of these peoples. It stands for the immediate and unhampered right of self-determination for them, free from military, political, or economic intervention or pressure by the U.S. government. It stands for the immediate and unconditional independence of all the territories, colonies, and dependencies of the U.S. and for the withdrawal of troops from them.”
Thus 60 years ago as well, American Trotskyists supported the right of self-determination for Puerto Rico and simultaneously called for “immediate and unconditional independence” for Puerto Rico and all U.S. colonies.
Calling for independence of the colonies was not simply a matter concerning Fourth Internationalists in the U.S. and Latin America. Can one even conceive of the French Trotskyists in the 1930s not calling for independence for Vietnam? What would the Vietnamese Trotskyists have said about such an ignominious betrayal? In his August 1938 article on “Fascism and the Colonial World,” Trotsky stated categorically:
“The task of genuine revolutionaries is to get rid of the oppressive colonial regimes. Our slogan: the right of all nations to self-determination, not in word, but in deed; the full and genuine liberation of all colonies!”
Except Puerto Rico, says the ICL today.
Trotsky drove home the cardinal importance of this issue in his polemics against the German social democrats in the 1930s:
“What characterizes Bolshevism on the national question is that in its attitude toward oppressed nations, even the most backward, it considers them not only the object but also the subject of politics. Bolshevism does not confine itself to recognizing their ‘right’ to self-determination and to parliamentary protests against the trampling upon of this right. Bolshevism penetrates into the midst of the oppressed nations; it raises them up against their oppressors; it ties up their struggle with the struggle of the proletariat in capitalist countries; it instructs the oppressed Chinese, Hindus, or Arabs in the art of insurrection and it assumes full responsibility for this work in the face of civilized executioners. Here only does Bolshevism begin, that is, revolutionary Marxism in action. Everything that does not step over this boundary remains centrism.”
This is a devastating critique of the ICL’s centrist, social-democratic new line.
Not only does the ICL’s abandonment of the call for independence for Puerto Rico contradict six decades of Trotskyism, it flagrantly contradicts everything Lenin wrote on the question. In fact, the SL/ICL’s new line is pure Kautskyism. Today, the SL/ICL upholds the right of self-determination in the abstract, but in practice they betray it, just as the (then centrist) social democrat Karl Kautsky did in the first imperialist world war. In his article on “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (November 1915), Lenin writes:
“What is the social-chauvinists’ programme on the national question?
“They either deny the right to self-determination...or they recognize that right in a patently hypocritical fashion, namely without applying it to those very nations that are oppressed by their own nation.... The most plausible formulation of the social-chauvinist lie, one that is therefore most dangerous to the proletariat, is provided by Kautsky. In word, he is in favour of the self-determination of nations; in word he is for the Social-Democratic Party ‘comprehensively [!] and unreservedly [?] respecting and demanding the independence of nations’... In deed, however, he has adapted the national programme to the prevailing social-chauvinism, distorted and docked it; he gives no precise definition of the duties of the socialists in the oppressor nations, and patently falsifies the democratic principle itself when he says that to demand ‘state independence’ for every nation would mean demanding ‘too much’....”
This describes the ICL’s new program precisely.
Returning to this question in his theses on “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (January-February 1916), the Bolshevik leader spoke of the “right of oppressed nations to self-determination,” but concerning colonies he went further, saying:
“The demand for the immediate liberation of the colonies that is put forward by all revolutionary Social-Democrats is also ‘impracticable under capitalism without a series of revolutions’.”
Later on in these theses, Lenin again insisted:
“Socialists must not only demand the unconditional and immediate liberation of the colonies without compensation–and this demand in its political expression signifies nothing else than the recognition of the right to self-determination; they must also render determined support to the more revolutionary elements in the bourgeois-democratic movements for national liberation in these countries and assist their uprising–or revolutionary war, in the event of one–against the imperialist powers that oppress them.”
In a footnote in the same article, Lenin criticizes the Dutch socialist Gorter for rejecting the principle of self-determination of nations, but adds that Gorter “correctly applies it, when he demands the immediate granting of ‘political and national independence’ to the Dutch Indies and exposes the Dutch opportunists who refuse to put forward this demand and to fight for it.”
Over and over, Lenin pounded away against those who refuse to call for independence. In his article, “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up” (July 1916), he denounced those “socialists” who refuse to oppose annexations, “because annexation violates the self-determination of nations, or, in other words, is a form of national oppression.” But what is statehood, other than annexation of Puerto Rico? Does the ICL oppose such annexation? In no longer calling for independence, the ICL thereby no longer opposes statehood. In the article just cited, Lenin writes:
“Our theses say that the demand for the immediate liberation of the colonies is as ‘impracticable’ (that is, it cannot be effected without a number of revolutions and is not stable without socialism) under capitalism as the self-determination of nations, the election of civil servants by the people, the democratic republic, and so on–and, furthermore, that the demand for the liberation of the colonies is nothing more than ‘the recognition of the right of nations to self-determination’.”
To repeat: for Leninists, the demand for the liberation of the colonies is nothing more than the recognition of the right of self-determination. But for the ICL today, this statement of principle is null and void if the majority of the population of the colony does not presently back independence.
Not only does the SL/ICL’s new line directly contradict that of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, it is contrary to the program of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on Ireland. As is well known, by the 1860s, Marx came out for the independence of Ireland, not just for its right to independence, but positively for the political separation of Ireland from Britain, because any other status necessarily meant national oppression for the Irish while poisoning the English workers with chauvinism. “I once believed the separation of Ireland from England to be impossible. I now regard it as inevitable, although federation may follow upon separation,” Marx wrote in a November 1867 letter to Engels. A few weeks later, he wrote again:
“What the Irish need is:
“1) Self-government and independence from England.
“2) An agrarian revolution.”
In an April 1870 letter, Marx underlined that the call for independence for Ireland was of strategic importance not just for Ireland, but for proletarian revolution in England:
“To hasten the social revolution in England is the most important object of the International Working Men’s Association. The sole means of hastening it is to make Ireland independent.... And it is the special task of the Central Council in London to awaken a consciousness in the English workers that for them the national emancipation of Ireland is no question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment, but the first condition of their own social emancipation.”
In all of this, Marx and Engels emphasized not just Ireland’s right to independence, but that Ireland must be free of English colonial domination, for the sake of revolution in both Ireland and England. Likewise today, revolutionaries in the U.S. must fight for independence for Puerto Rico in order to bring about socialist revolution in the belly of the imperialist beast.
In fact, many elements of the Puerto Rican question today can be found in the Irish question a century ago. The SL today cites as an argument in favor of its new line that many Puerto Ricans oppose independence allegedly because they want “the right to work on the mainland.” Writing in March 1870, Marx noted that the English bourgeoisie “exploited the Irish poverty to keep down the working class in England by forced immigration of poor Irishmen.” Moreover, in the period leading up to World War I and even during the imperialist slaughter, by far the largest body of opinion in Ireland was not that of those fighting for independence, but rather of supporters of “home rule” (a status roughly equivalent to Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” today). Trotsky wrote of the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin:
“A nationwide movement, such as the nationalist dreamers had conceived of, completely failed to occur. The Irish countryside did not rise. The Irish bourgeoisie, together with the upper, more influential stratum of the Irish intelligentsia, held aloof. Those who fought and died were urban workers, along with some revolutionary enthusiasts from the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia.”
This did not mean, however, that revolutionaries should not call for Irish independence. As Trotsky declared in the 1919 Manifesto of the Communist International:
“A number of open insurrections and the revolutionary ferment in all the colonies have hence arisen. In Europe itself, Ireland keeps signaling through sanguinary street battles that she remains and still feels herself to be an enslaved country.”
More generally, the present lack of support for independence among the majority of the Puerto Rican population reflects the extensive integration of the island’s economy with that of the mainland U.S. But, again, this fact and this argument are nothing really new. Lenin wrote (in “The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up”):
“The chief ‘ground’ of those opposed to self-determination is its ‘impracticability’. The same idea, with a nuance, is expressed in the reference to ‘economic and political concentration.’
“Obviously, concentration also comes about with the annexation of colonies. There was formerly an economic distinction between the colonies and the European peoples–at least, the majority of the latter–the colonies having been drawn into commodity exchange but not into capitalist production. Imperialism changed this. Imperialism is, among other things, the export of capital. Capitalist production is being transplanted to the colonies at an ever increasing rate. They cannot be extricated from dependence on European finance capital. From the military standpoint, as well as from the standpoint of expansion, the separation of the colonies is practicable, as a general rule, only under socialism; under capitalism it is practicable only by way of exception or at the cost of a series of revolts and revolutions both in the colonies and the metropolitan countries.”
As Lenin pointed out more than 80 years ago, the conclusion to be drawn from this is not to drop the fight for independence of the colonies, but rather to join together the struggle for emancipation of the subject peoples from imperialism with the fight for proletarian revolution, both in the colony and in the imperialist metropolis.
This is, in turn, a key element of the Trotskyist perspective
of permanent revolution, the program which was
vindicated by the victorious October Revolution in Russia.
Trotsky argued that in the imperialist epoch, even
bourgeois-democratic demands could not be achieved by the
bourgeoisie, utterly beholden to the imperialist overlords and
fearful of the vast masses of the exploited, but could only be
accomplished by the seizure of power by the proletariat, led
by an authentic communist party and bringing the impoverished
peasant masses behind it, which would then have to undertake
socialist tasks and extend the revolution to the imperialist
heartland. One of the key demands of permanent revolution is
precisely for “national independence, i.e., the
overthrow of the imperialist yoke” (from the Transitional
Program, the founding document of the Fourth International).
Yet today the ICL no longer calls for national independence
for Puerto Rico, and by treating the struggle of a colonial
people for national liberation as a purely democratic
question, it abandons the Bolshevik understanding that the
struggle against imperialist domination is a key motor force
of international proletarian revolution. The ICL’s claim to
stand for permanent revolution in Puerto Rico is a revisionist
Reforge the Fourth International on the Program of Authentic Trotskyism!
There is a prehistory to the ICL’s recent turn. The question of Puerto Rican independence was a subject of some discussion in the ICL leadership in 1993-94. At the time, a proposal was raised to change the headline of the WV article on the 1993 referendum to read “For the Right of Independence for Puerto Rico.” Jan Norden, then editor of Workers Vanguard, agreed with this proposal, so long as the article continued to advocate independence for the island colony. After some exchanges, this was agreed to. The question came up again in the preparation of the document for the Spartacist League’s national conference in 1994, where an attempt was made to sneak in the anti-Marxist contraband which the ICL has just adopted as party policy. Norden objected that “as presently written it [the draft document] states that we defend the right of self-determination of Puerto Rico, that we support struggles for independence and we are for the right of independence, but it does not say that we advocate independence, which is fundamental so long as Puerto Rico is a colony.” Once again, the call for Puerto Rican independence was included in the final version of the SL conference document, something else the SL must now renounce.
But today, following the expulsions of the long-time ICL cadres who formed the Internationalist Group, the reconfigured ICL leadership, in rapid political degeneration, introduces Kautskyan/centrist revisions on one question after another. Since what we are seeing today is a playing out of differences that had already come up several years ago, we would like to ask if the ICL today has also abandoned the slogan of a socialist federation of the Caribbean, which was also objected to in 1993, on the grounds that Puerto Rico (and the Virgin Islands) might not become independent and that a federation would likely be “Spanish-dominated.” This ignores the fact that in every period of social upheaval, from the time of the French Revolution in the 18th century to the Cuban Revolution in the 20th century, revolutionary struggles have swept through the Antilles and sparked insurgencies and solidarity by Spanish, English and French-speaking islands alike. And does the ICL now officially reject the call for a “Socialist United States of Latin America and the Caribbean,” as the SL spokesman did at an August 13 forum on Puerto Rico? Then perhaps it will comment on why Trotsky in his 1934 theses on imperialist war and in the 1940 Manifesto of the Fourth International on World War II called, in fighting against imperialism and the native compradore bourgeoisies, for “the Soviet United States of South and Central America.”
The ICL has been thrown into internal crisis since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states. Drawing defeatist conclusions from this historic defeat for the world proletariat, it has steadily deepened a centrist course, combining repeated expulsions of cadres in the U.S., Mexico and France with one revision after another of longstanding Trotskyist positions. It went from a tendency toward abstentionism to outright desertion from the class struggle in Brazil in 1996, subsequently trying to cover its tracks with a frenzied attempt to sabotage the defense of the Brazilian Trotskyists in the face of bourgeois repression. Then came a clumsy attempt to rewrite the theory of permanent revolution by claiming that feudalism and semi-feudalism persisted in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, followed by the denial of the ICL’s decade-long denunciation of the Cardenista popular front in Mexico. Subsequently the ICL leadership abandoned the struggle for an Iskra perspective of building an exile revolutionary nucleus of North African Trotskyists.
Then it generalized its defeatist perspective into a claim that there had been a qualitative regression in the consciousness of the world working class, and hence, according to the ICL today, the crisis of humanity is no longer summed up in the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Having rejected this central thesis of the Transitional Program, which sums up the reason for the existence of the Fourth International, it is only logical that the ICL should continue to deepen its revisionist course, of succumbing to the pressures of the bourgeoisie. In fact, the ICL increasingly adapts to this supposed decisive historical regression, which has become the centerpiece of its worldview. We have pointed out how the ICL has increasingly taken on positions characteristic of centrist social democrats in the pre-World War I period, from Daniel De Leon’s abstract propagandism to Serrati’s refusal to build revolutionary leaderships in the colonial countries to Kautsky’s posture of “passive radicalism.” Now, in abandoning the call for independence for Puerto Rico, the Spartacist League has demonstrably and shamefully capitulated before its own bourgeoisie. ■