Silent Amidst Mass Upsurge Against Racist Oppression
In the almost four weeks since Minneapolis cops murdered George Floyd, the ongoing upheaval against racist police terror is by far the largest sustained wave of protest this country has seen in many decades. Day and night, demonstrations have been held in at least 1,280 cities and towns across the United States, bringing out huge numbers of youth and workers, largely new to political activism, who are seeking answers to fundamental questions about this racist capitalist country.
“Progressive” bourgeois politicians and their auxiliaries and surrogates on the reformist left are now working overtime to channel protests into updated versions of the same old fakery about “reforming” the police. Their goal: “November” – that is, rounding up votes for presumptive nominee Joe Biden. As promised, Bernie Sanders has endorsed Biden, who has given Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a coveted post as co-chair of his climate task force. Yet a significant number of young protestors question the idea that fighting racism means lining up behind Biden, infamous co-author of the 1994 Clinton crime bill that escalated mass incarceration, who railed against busing for school integration in the 1970s (and delivered a eulogy for arch-segregationist fellow senator Strom Thurmond in 2003). While many reformist groups are pushing nostrums about “defunding” the police, both Biden and Sanders have doubled down on their calls to give the cops more money.
For Marxist revolutionaries, this is a crucial time to intervene in the ongoing struggle with the communist program. This means showing how racial oppression is woven into the fabric of this capitalist society born of slavery; exposing all variants of the fraudulent claim that the functions of the armed fist of the capitalist state can be reformed away; combating the deception and illusion-mongering that are the stock-in-trade not only of the bourgeois politicians but of their reformist adjutants. It means working to mobilize the power of the multiracial working class in the fight against police terror, as a key aspect of the struggle to forge a Leninist vanguard party. This Trotskyist intervention is precisely what the Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International, has been carrying out in this turbulent mass upsurge, through our press, our leaflets and speeches, on the banners and signs of our contingents, and in many other ways.
For those familiar with the organized left, the sepulchral silence of the formerly Trotskyist Spartacist League (SL) in this mass upsurge can be seen as a minor sidelight. But for anyone seeking the voice of Trotskyism in the current protests, it is more than that. Amid the most massive protest movement in decades, as it has continued week after week, the Spartacist League has not published a paper, put out a leaflet or posted a single statement on its website on the killing of George Floyd or the mass protests against racist police terror. And this despite the fact that the core issue posed is black oppression, which the SL, from its inception, crucially emphasized as key to proletarian revolution in the citadel of imperialism. Their silence speaks volumes: the SL’s abject abdication is a declaration of political bankruptcy.
As we underlined in “Some History Ex-Trotskyists Would Like to Keep Hidden” (The Internationalist No. 59, March-April 2020), the last conference of the SL’s International Communist League already issued an “auto-obituary” with its bizarre central document, “The Struggle Against the Chauvinist Hydra,” proclaiming endless war against an enemy within their own ranks while denouncing wholesale the organization’s past Leninist positions on the national question and openly embracing bourgeois nationalism, especially on behalf of “oppressed white people in economically advanced countries of North America and Europe.” Under the subhead “Whose Chauvinism?” our article reprinted important material published over two decades ago and never answered by the ICL, together with supplementary material that any would-be Trotskyist actually committed to fighting oppression should be aware of.
At the same time, we noted that the SL/ICL’s flagship publication, Workers Vanguard, has now shrunk to four pages, with an issue skipped in April. Clearly, the internal crisis has gotten even worse. The SL/ICL website (icl-fi.org) currently states that the closing date for news in the most recent issue was May 26, which was the day after the cops murdered George Floyd, immediately setting off furious mass protests. On the rare occasions when they have been seen at protests in the ensuing weeks, hapless SLers had absolutely no written material to distribute regarding George Floyd or the current protests.
The current Workers Vanguard (29 May) that they are selling consists entirely of a “translation of a revised article from a March 2020 supplement” – that is, an item originally published two months previously – to the paper of their Greek group.* (Discussing some of the ongoing internal turmoil, the most recent issue of the ICL’s theoretical journal had publicized the expulsion, on accusations of racist conduct, of two members who were involved in the Greek group’s work.) Those who actually read the issue of WV will see that its single article, polemicizing against calls for “freedom of movement for refugees and immigrants in all European countries,” centers largely on denouncing demands to abolish the racist “Dublin III” agreement of the European Union. Yet as their article admits, this measure “stipulates that member states can deport refugees to the first EU country they entered,” meaning that “thousands of refugees languish in concentration camps in Greece and elsewhere, set up at the behest of German imperialism.”
Hiding behind their usual pseudo-orthodox logic-chopping and straw-man arguments, they oppose calls to abolish the racist measure, while wielding the slogan of full citizenship rights for those “who have made it to Greece” to oppose calls to let in the refugees drowning in the Mediterranean off the shores of Greece and other European countries. For members or supporters of the SL and ICL looking for genuine chauvinism to combat, there it is, right in front of you, as we have noted in “Spartacist League vs. Refugees” (The Internationalist No. 47, March-April 2017), “The ICL Against Asylum for Refugees in Quebec” (The Internationalist No. 56, May-June 2019) and other articles.
Today, those seeking a revolutionary path forward in the struggle against racist cop terror and for world socialist revolution have much to learn and apply from the arsenal of genuine Trotskyism that the Spartacist tendency helped build up for three decades after its inception in the early 1960s. Yet amid U.S. imperialism’s post-Soviet “death of communism” offensive, the SL/ICL succumbed to demoralization and disorientation, even backing the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 2010, then admitting it had grossly capitulated to it “own” imperialist rulers. (See “Repentant Social Imperialists: Open Letter to the SL/ICL,” The Internationalist No. 31, Summer 2010.)
There has been no more urgent time than now to bring the Trotskyist program into the class struggle. The once-revolutionary SL/ICL can today scarcely summon even the pretense of contributing to that fight, let alone leading it. Instead, it displays its shameful bankruptcy for all to see, as the widespread protests, and the racist terror that set them off, continue. The banner of Trotskyism is carried forward by the Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International, which is winning a new generation of fighters to communism. ■
- * Correction: In the 4-page physical copy, in addition to the article on Greece about a page and a third consist of extracts from the 1938 Socialist Workers Party Declaration of Principles.