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The Internationalist
  February 2017

SL’s “Alternative Facts” in the Service of Social-Chauvinism

Spartacist League vs. Refugees


JFK Airport, midnight, January 28. Internationalist Group and CUNY Internationalist Clubs joined thousands of protesters who rushed to airports to protest ban on travelers from Muslim countries and demand that authorities let refugees in. Spartacist League refuses to call for asylum for refugees from imperialist wars and occupation.  (Internationalist photo)

The 10 February issue of Workers Vanguard, the newspaper of the Spartacist League (SL), has a front-page article titled “Trump Escalates Obama’s War on Immigrants.” While raising slogans including “Down with the Anti-Muslim Ban!” and “For Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!” there is a notable absence: the SL raises no demand to let refugees in. Yet banning refugees was a main focus of Trump’s decree. This is no inadvertent oversight. Since 2015, the SL and its misnamed International Communist League (ICL) have been pushing a chauvinist line of opposing calls for asylum for those fleeing the depredation wrought by U.S. and European imperialism.

The article notes that “Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen are among the countries devastated by U.S. imperialism’s wars, occupations, drone strikes and other military assaults. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions more displaced as desperate refugees.” Very true. So what should become of those seeking refuge from the imperialist slaughter? Donald Trump’s executive order excluded Syrian refugees indefinitely and barred all refugees for four months. As the measure went into effect on January 26, leaving countless travelers stranded, thousands rushed to airports to demand: “Let them in!” What does the Spartacist League say? Nothing. It raises no call to admit refugees, and all its article has to say about Trump’s would-be wall along the Mexican border is that there already is one.

Today when WV mouths the call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, it pointedly restricts it to those who have “made it to this country.” Back when the Spartacist League stood for revolutionary Trotskyism, its statements that all those here should have the rights of citizens, no matter how they got here, underlined that this meant all immigrants … and went together with calls for asylum for refugees, from Haiti, Central America, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. The now-centrist SL/ICL has turned this into an exclusionary formula so if you’re Central American moms and kids who haven’t yet set foot on U.S. soil, if you’re a Syrian family stuck in refugee camps in Turkey or Jordan, tough luck.

The Internationalist has documented the shameful line of “‘Communists’ Who Oppose Calls for Asylum for Syrian Refugees” that came out of a “correction” inside the ICL (see “Strange Encounters with the ICL,” The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016). In its internal discussion, a leading Spartacist spokesman declared that “those fleeing ‘the dislocations of war’ are not refugees in any politically meaningful sense, but rather ‘displaced persons’,” and therefore had no “right to asylum in … the country of one’s choice.” Another argued cynically that adopting a line of “let them in” would “replace the necessity of proletarian revolution and working-class power with social-work do-goodism.” We noted that the ICL’s vile “no right to asylum” line is a “capitulation to anti-immigrant chauvinism.” Today it is a capitulation to the racist Trump.

While the latter-day SL/ICL emphatically restricts calls for immigrants’ rights to “those who have made it here,” the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International uphold the historic Spartacist position of full citizenship rights for all immigrants and the right to asylum for refugees. And we have undertaken action seeking to make such demands a reality. Last October 20, in response to the Obama administration’s exclusion of thousands of Haitians marooned at the Mexican border, the LFI (of which the IG is the U.S. section) initiated coordinated protests in New York, San Diego, Tijuana and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil demanding “Stop Exclusion of Haitians! Stop All Deportations! Occupation Troops Out of Haiti!” (see The Internationalist No. 45, September-October 2016).

20 October 2016 united-front protest against exclusion and deportation of Haitians outside U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Spartacist League was a no-show. (Internationalist photo)

Although specifically invited, the Spartacist League did not show up at any of the protests. SLers no doubt found themselves in a political pickle: their spokesmen opposed calls to admit refugees at Europe’s doorstep, justifying the refusal by saying they were “simply seeking a better, safer life.” But here were several thousand Haitians who fled the Caribbean island nation after the devastation of the 2010 earthquake clamoring at the U.S. border, many saying they were only “seeking a better life.” Moreover, following the quake, the SL/ICL grotesquely supported the U.S. invasion, which included ships patrolling the Windward Passage to prevent Haitian refugees from reaching the U.S. The SL propagated the lie that Washington was engaged in disaster relief, railing against the Internationalist Group only to later admit its line was a betrayal.

The IG/LFI wrote in 2010 that we demand that the U.S. get out of Haiti and “stop blocking the entry of Haitian refugees.” The SL/ICL did not call to admit Haitian refugees even as U.S. Navy ships and Coast Guard cutters were picking up Haitians at sea and taking them to the infamous Guantánamo detention center. Six years later, after abstaining from the protest actions to defend Haitians against exclusion and deportation, Workers Vanguard (4 November 2016) ran a front-page story titled “Obama Slams Door on Haitian Migrants,” calling to “Let Them In! No Deportations!” Clearly, the SL felt pressured by the LFI-initiated protests, which it pointedly did not mention. But an observant reader of WV would notice the SL’s flip-flops, from no call to admit Haitians in 2010 to “let them in” in 2016, and now no call to let in refugees in 2017.

In order to mask its refusal to call to let refugees into the U.S., and in its frenzy to attack the Internationalist Group, the 10 February Workers Vanguard published a polemic, “IG Peddles Dems’ Sanctuary Scam.” The article reprinted the remarks of a Spartacist supporter at a speak-out initiated by the Internationalist Clubs at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York. WV writes that the call for the protest “included the demands ‘Defend sanctuary cities – Make CUNY a “sanctuary university”,’ while not containing even a word of criticism of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, the cops or the campus administration.” So the SL opposes resistance to Trump’s reprisals against cities that don’t fully cooperate with the I.C.E. police, and thus doesn’t give a damn whether it is easier or harder for the I.C.E. to deport immigrants.

What’s more, in order to hide its betrayals, the SL shamelessly resorts to “alternative facts.”

Thus the call for the February 2 Hunter speak-out denounced “Democrat Obama’s record deportation numbers (over 5 million)” and “Wall Street militarist Hillary Clinton.” It emphasized the need for “a sharp break from the Democrats, as well as Greens, and all parties of this rotting capitalist system, and building a revolutionary workers party.” The leaflet for another protest called by the CUNY Internationalists earlier that week, on January 30, under the title “Smash Racist Ban on Muslims, Refugees: LET THEM IN!” stated: “Rather than reliance on the Democrats (who paved the way for Trump), what’s needed is to bring out the enormous power of the multiracial working class together with the immigrant, black, Latino, Asian and student population of NYC and across the U.S. to stop deportations, bans and racist attacks.”


Demonstrators at February 2 speak-out at Hunter College. As for WV’s claim that CUNY Internationalists and IG say nothing against the Democrats, who do you believe, the SL or your lying eyes? (Internationalist photo)

At the February 2 protest, there were CUNY Internationalist and IG signs saying “Clinton + Trump, Police Terror, Imperialist War, Mass Deportations, Racial Oppression, Wall Street”; “No to Clinton, Trump, Cruz, Sanders – For a Workers Party,” “You Can’t Fight Trump with Democrats – Build a Workers Party!” and “Cuomo, De Blasio, Clinton, Sanders, Obama, Democratic Party = Fake Promises, Real Exploitation and War.” Speaking there, a member of the Internationalist Clubs said:

“Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayor of New York City, says he’s on the side of immigrants, Governor Cuomo says he’s on the side of immigrants, but right here in New York City they are locking up our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

A spokesman for the Internationalist Group, in turn, noted that:

“Bill de Blasio wants to expand the list of offenses to work closely with the immigration cops. The ‘broken windows’ policy of his infamous police commissioner Bratton is used to criminalize untold numbers of black and Latino youth, and immigrants. We call for smashing the ‘broken windows’ policy. I want to also say that our struggle, too, is a struggle in solidarity with the Native American people at Standing Rock. We are with Standing Rock, unlike a few people here.”

The latter was in response to the Spartacist League’s shameful refusal to support the demand of the Standing Rock Sioux that the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) not cross the Missouri River right next to their reservation. The SL, echoing the DAPL’s capitalist owners, argues that the land has not belonged to the Sioux for the last century and a half – after it was stolen by the U.S. government! (See “Spartacist League: Land Surveyor Socialists,” The Internationalist No. 46, January-February 2017.) In response to Trump’s threat to send U.S. troops to Mexico, the IG speaker said “we will side with Mexico against U.S. imperialism,” and as “the psychopathic white nationalist Bannon and Trump say there is going to be a war against China, we will defend China against U.S. imperialism, because we are for the defeat of U.S. imperialism.”

Thus the claim that we build illusions in liberal Democrats in general and Bill de Blasio in particular is utterly and demonstrably false. The Internationalist Group more than any other organization on the left has protested against the Democratic Party for its record-breaking deportation of immigrants. We note in passing that the SLer who raised this dirty smear is the same one who at a 2013 protest against CUNY’s hiring of the war criminal David Petraeus claimed that the CUNY Internationalist Clubs had “said not one word opposing the Democrats for most of the semester.” We exposed this pathetic lie by publishing photo after photo showing Internationalist signs denouncing the Democratic Party from six different anti-Petraeus demonstrations (see “See With Your Own Eyes How They Lie,” The Internationalist No. 36, January-February 2014).

As for WV’s attack on the Internationalist Group for calling to “defend sanctuary cities,” the fake-Trotskyist SL is saying that workers should do nothing against the threat to slash billions of federal dollars from education and social service funds going to localities that limit cooperation with the I.C.E. cops. In his January 25 Executive Order on “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” Trump declared that “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.” The order goes on to say, “jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 13731 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants.” The SL’s claim that “sanctuary cities” are just a “scam” means there’s nothing to defend – so do nothing about it.

As we have written, “Defenders of immigrant rights, and the rights of all the oppressed, must fight tooth and nail against all attacks whether from the state or racist individuals or gangs, and the sentiment to create ‘sanctuaries’ for the persecuted, as many churches did in the 1980s, is positive.” Typically, the 400+ sanctuary cities and counties have been targeted by the Trump administration for instructing local police not to honor federal requests to keep undocumented immigrants arrested on low-level charges in jail as a “courtesy” to I.C.E. (which courts have ruled unconstitutional), and for telling government employees not to inquire about or pass on information about individuals’ immigration status. That minimal prohibition (often ignored by the cops) can be very significant for undocumented immigrants.

While admitting that “[t]he sanctuary designation may slightly impede the cops,” WV dismisses this, saying, “it will not stop them from harassing immigrants or colluding with I.C.E.” The “slight impediment” is of little interest to the haughty SL. But for vulnerable immigrants who have been given summonses for smoking in an NYC park, or for having their feet up on a subway seat going home from work exhausted after 12-hour days, or for women packinghouse workers charged in a traffic stop with not wearing a seatbelt (all actual examples) or any of the other ploys the police use to harass immigrants – and to pad their arrest totals – it makes a huge difference as to whether they may be facing imminent deportation that could rip up their lives. Snotty SLers could care less.

And the SL’s opposition to defense of sanctuary cities is its sneering response to Trump’s “unleashing” the I.C.E. police, which has sowed panic among immigrant workers and families. The hated migra cops are salivating at the thought of swooping down on city jails and carting off vanloads of immigrants picked up for traffic violations, misdemeanors or anything that could be a “chargeable criminal offense,” including having a “no-match” Social Security number. An I.C.E. official said its “biggest challenge” is localities “that have vowed to protect immigrants from deportation, known as sanctuary cities.”

“In one city alone, the supervisor said, the police once transferred 35 undocumented immigrants a day into federal custody, compared with roughly five per week during the final years of the Obama presidency.”
–“Immigration Agents Discover New Freedom to Deport Under Trump,” New York Times, 26 February

This didn’t stop the Obama government from deporting over 5 million immigrants. But that is no reason to refuse to fight attacks on measures limiting cooperation with I.C.E., as the SL does. Rather, it underlines the need to raise a program of workers action to stop deportations, which the SL doesn’t. 

The call to defend sanctuary cities under attack is one of a series of measures put forward by the IG, CUNY Internationalist Clubs and Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas (Class Struggle International Workers) to fight the anti-immigrant onslaught. In addition to calling for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and to let refugees in, we have demanded that I.C.E. cops be barred from schools and campuses, and that school, hospital and university authorities not turn over to any federal authorities information about students, workers and patients that could single out the undocumented. We have called for worker/immigrant action to stop deportations, for massive labor mobilization against police terror and racist attacks, for forming rapid-response networks to flood the streets in the face of migra raids, and for the formation of immigrant defense committees in schools and workplaces.

Not only do we call for this, IG supporters have undertaken initiatives within the unions, in schools and on campuses to seek to prepare for such measures.

In contrast, the SL’s call on paper for “no deportations” is entirely empty, nothing but pious verbiage, as it puts forward no program for struggle to actually realize this. It claims that defense of sanctuary cities can only be political support to Democrats because it has no program for “active working-class resistance independent of the bosses’ state, parties and politicians,” such as the IG has called for. For example of what this could mean, one only has to look to the mass defiance of the “Fugitive Slave Act” in the 1850s, when black and white abolitionists freed captives of the slave-catchers and thousands took to the streets to protect escaped slaves.2 While that resistance was defeated by military occupation of Boston, it was a key factor leading to the Civil War, the Second American Revolution, that abolished slavery.

In opposing the call for CUNY to be a “sanctuary university,” the SL sagely informs us that “CUNY is a capitalist institution, like all universities under capitalism,” and the administration “cannot be looked to to defend immigrants any more than can the campus cops who do their dirty work.” We warned of this months before. In a November 2016 leaflet titled, “Defend Immigrant Students: Immigration Police and All Cops Out of CUNY,” the IG and CUNY Internationalist Clubs wrote:

“[T]he Trump victory has given rise to the ‘sanctuary campus’ movement – a push to make college campuses ‘sanctuaries’ for undocumented students. While supporting this demand critically, we warn against liberal illusions….
“As revolutionary Marxists, we support banning I.C.E. from campuses, forbidding campus authorities from cooperating with them, and keeping information about undocumented students secret. But we do not look to the campus administration – which runs CUNY on behalf of the ruling class – as the defenders of immigrants…. All cops off campuses! ICE, hands off our fellow students!

Far from promoting illusions in campus administrations or the bourgeois state, fighting to mobilize students and workers to keep police out can build class opposition to capitalist rule.

In the wake of the 1917 Russian October Revolution, students in Córdoba, Argentina revolted against tyrannical campus authorities and sparked a movement for university autonomy throughout Latin America. Some of the first Latin American communists, including Cuban student leader Julio Antonio Mella, who later came to sympathize with Trotsky, were forged in these struggles. One of their demands was to ban police from campuses, as well as calling for open admissions and no tuition, as the CUNY Internationalist Clubs do today. While police and military forces often violate university autonomy to put down student protests, these basic democratic demands are linked by revolutionaries to the socialist revolution it will take to win free, public education for all.

As to rights of refugees (the latter-day SL maintains they have none, saying most are really just “displaced persons”), the Workers Vanguard article claims that “the IG pushes illusions that the EU and ‘fortress Europe’ have been a haven for refugees.” We actually say the opposite, calling to “defend immigrants and bring down racist, capitalist Fortress Europe” through international socialist revolution. WV’s outlandish claim is a cover for its refusal to demand asylum for refugees fleeing imperialist-instigated wars from Syria to Afghanistan. In fact, this single lying sentence is the SL/ICL’s only response to our detailed article, quoting from their own internal documents, which exposed their line on refugees, which amounts to: let them drown at sea.3

In 2010, the SL/ICL called to support the U.S. imperialist invasion of Haiti, claiming that it was humanitarian earthquake relief. After three months of hyperventilating against the IG, it finally had to agree that its position was nothing less than a social-imperialist betrayal. Today the SL refuses to call to let refugees in, and denounces defense of “sanctuary cities” even as the immigrant-bashing Trump regime threatens them with dire consequences. This is blatant social-chauvinism: “socialist” in words, repulsive national chauvinism in deeds. Without pretending to be privy to the internal goings-on in the SL, we can only say that coming after its “no Indian land rights” line on Standing Rock, its “no asylum rights for refugees” line ought to turn the stomachs of any would-be revolutionaries who remain in this increasingly rancid outfit. ■


  1. 1. 8 U.S. Code § 1373 declares: “Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”
  2. 2. See Sean Trainor, “What the Fugitive Slave Act Can Teach Us About Sanctuary Cities,” Time magazine, 7 February 2017.
  3. 3. In the ICL internal fight, Eibhlin McDonald, leader of its British section, wrote (27 May 2015) of “people in the boats, who were drowning by the thousands” and “those who are waiting to get on boats to try and get to Europe. One of the pressures towards liberalism comes from not wanting to be seen as ‘indifferent’ to the plight of desperate refugees. But we could do a bit better at withstanding this pressure.” When it comes to “indifference,” the SL gets top marks.