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The Internationalist
May 2021

Cover-Up for SL Boycott of Protests Against Racist Police Terror

Spartacist League’s Lockdown Lunacy

For the past eleven months, the moribund Spartacist League/International Communist League (SL/ICL) has maintained a sepulchral silence, save for a single pro forma statement by the SL’s Workers Vanguard on the November 2020 elections to say nothing much had happened during their absence (no mention of the coronavirus pandemic, the massive marches against police brutality or the words “George Floyd”). But now there’s been a second croak from the crypt, in the form of a Spartacist leaflet (19 April) titled “Down with the Lockdowns!” This is a truly bizarre piece of propaganda, at several levels.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it categorically declares:

“The bourgeoisie’s lockdowns are a reactionary public health measure. Workers must oppose them! Lockdowns may well temporarily slow the spread of infections, but they weaken the fighting ability of the working class.”

So the ICL admits that lockdowns “may” slow the rate of infection, but only to dismiss this. Does it recommend any public health measures to deal with the deadly coronavirus – selective quarantines, emergency hospitals and isolation facilities for those who have contracted the disease or are in danger of infection, anything at all? Nothing. Nor does it even mention that worldwide over 3 million people have died of COVID-19. Frankly, these poseurs who besmirch the name of communism and the Fourth International don’t care. Like so much of what they say they are for or against these days – until the next wild line change – it’s all just words to them. In contrast, public health measures against this modern plague are of enormous concern to the working class.

At one level, these are the ravings of an outfit that has gone off the deep end. The degeneration of the once-revolutionary Spartacist League and its affiliates has led it to take refuge in its own “alternate reality.” As one former SLer, today a supporter of the Internationalist Group, commented: “Yikes! What has happened to the SL? As I read their article, I couldn’t help but think of our WV headline, ‘The Politics of Crazy’”1 about “the decomposition of the hopelessly bizarre residue of the New Left radicalization. Who is now writing this stuff for the SL? It reads like a sophomoric parody, an anti-Marxist ‘modest proposal’ by a confederacy of dunces, a programmatic flyover of political reality.” That captures it pretty well.

Back in the real world, the SL/ICL’s statement is a disingenuous attempt to excuse its boycott of the massive protests against racist police terror last summer. “Gatherings, protests, travel, strikes, union organizing: all have been restricted or banned,” they write. A little later we learn: “For the last year, the position of the ICL was to accept the lockdowns as necessary. We repudiate this position. It was a capitulation to the ‘national unity’ rallying cry that all classes should support the lockdowns because they save lives.” So the SL “accepted” and evidently obeyed the lockdowns – yet we and millions of people in the United States did not. We certainly didn’t see the SL at mass marches that were attacked by police for violating curfews and bans.

Tens of thousands protested racist police murder, hundreds were arrested in NYC for defying curfew, 2 June 2020. SL was nowhere to be seen. (Internationalist photo)

When the first protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop broke out a year ago, they were almost everywhere illegal. The Internationalist Group, Revolutionary Internationalist Youth, Class Struggle Education Workers and Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas joined hundreds of thousands of others in defying the bans on gatherings and protests. As we remarked to SL supporters at the May Day march in New York City this month, “Look around you. Of all the people here, you are probably the only ones who obeyed the protest bans. And you still have not mentioned George Floyd anywhere.” An SLer responded, “I’m hearing that a lot. Why is that so important?” It wasn’t important to protest? Not for the SL. The Internationalists, in contrast, intervened heavily combatting illusions in the Democratic Party.2

Strikes and union organizing stopped? When an SL supporter on May Day claimed that lockdowns prevented class struggle, an IG activist responded, “What about packinghouse workers who walked out, what about Amazon workers, what about Yakima?” The women workers in the fruit packinghouses in Yakima, Washington struck for health and safety protections and hazard pay during a lockdown in the West Coast epicenter of coronavirus infection. Supporters of the IG and Class Struggle Workers – Portland violated state travel bans to go to the strike lines to support them. Bans and lockdowns didn’t stop the class struggle. But the SL/ICL “accepted” them. And how convenient it is for them to denounce quarantines now that they have been vaccinated.

Fruit packinghouse workers, mainly women, courageously struck for safety and hazard pay in Yakima, Washington, the West Coast epicenter of coronavirus infection, defying lockdown orders. (Evan Abell / Yakima Herald-Republic)

The ICL “repudiates” its acceptance of the lockdowns, and now pleads guilty to capitulating to “national unity” appeals. It wouldn’t be the first time, on both counts, capitulating and repudiating. In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when U.S. rulers were making fevered pitches for national unity as they invaded Afghanistan, the ICL dropped its call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism, while slandering the IG as “anti-American” for our refusal to abandon this fundamental Leninist position against imperialist war.3 And then in 2010, the SL/ICL vociferously supported the U.S. invasion of Haiti, buying into the claim that this was “humanitarian aid,” only to, months later, “repudiate” this “capitulation to U.S. imperialism” and admit that our denunciation of their “social-imperialist” betrayal was correct.4

Later on in its unhinged tract on lockdowns, the ICL accuses the Internationalist Group along with several other tendencies of having “embraced the lockdowns, betraying the proletariat.” But since a few lines earlier it admitted that it “accepted” the lockdowns as “necessary,” it is saying that the ICL also “betrayed.” So let’s see if we got this straight: from March 2020 through 18 April 2021, for over a year, the ICL betrayed the proletariat (again), yet it still fancies itself the revolutionary vanguard! In part what’s going on here is that these ex-Trotskyists are trying to cheapen what it means to betray, pretending that everyone does it, so what’s the big deal. But boycotting the massive protests against racist police murder, as the SL did, was a betrayal, whatever its excuse.

While petty bourgeoisie stayed home in lockdowns, “essential workers,” many immigrants, were prey to deadly virus, receiving no emergency aid. IG at 14 August 2020 NYC protest demanded equal treatment for excluded workers.  (Internationalist photo)

And then there are the facts, which like the horrendous COVID death toll have little meaning for these latter-day Know Nothings. For the record, the lockdowns were hardly an expression of “national unity,” as they were ordered in emergency decrees and were met with considerable opposition from reactionary forces (that the SL/ICL is now sidling up to). More importantly, the ICL’s claim that workers were “weakened” by the lockdowns is made doubly absurd by the fact that for the vast majority of the proletariat, there never was a lockdown. In the United States, transit workers and truckers, rail and dock workers, auto and metal workers, hospital and sanitation workers, meatpacking and poultry plant workers, grocery and deli workers, delivery and agricultural workers – all were kept on the job, in highly unsafe conditions. The same was true in Europe and elsewhere. Those who worked remotely during lockdowns were overwhelmingly white-collar petty-bourgeois sectors.

The ICL’s portrayal of “labor misleaders play[ing] a key role in enforcing the lockdowns” is another fiction. In fact, as we documented, in Michigan plants, the United Auto Workers tops only called on the companies to shut plants after local unions walked out at plants where COVID cases had been reported. Packinghouse workers were directed to stay on the job by a presidential order under the Defense Production Act, yet despite wildcat walkouts by workers the UFCW and RWDSU union leaders did not call to shut down manifestly unsafe meatpacking and poultry plants.5 And what about workers at the Smithfield packing plant in South Dakota where over 1,000 workers got COVID? Were they stronger because there was no lockdown there, because they had to come to work with little or no personal protective equipment? Let the ICL try selling its latest deranged revelations in Sioux Falls, SD.

The ICL statement parrots the complaint of the bourgeois media and politicians – first from Trump and Republicans, then embraced by the Democrats after Biden took office – that “the teachers unions have fought for governments to keep schools shut,” saying this was a “refusal to fight for safe schools.” Actually, in New York the teachers union agreed to school opening plans after threatening to strike if safety measures were not taken. And the Internationalist Group – which the ICL statement falsely claims “embraced the lockdowns” – along with Class Struggle Education Workers called to “Use Union Power to Reopen Schools Safely,” and for “the formation of union-led teacher-parent-student-worker committees at every school to inspect and sign off on reopening plans, and to see that they are rigorously followed afterwards.”6

While some sought to keep schools closed, the IG and CSEW called (here at 3 August 2020 NYC demo) to use union power to make schools safe to reopen with small class sizes, hiring tens of thousands of teachers.  (Internationalist photo)

This brings us to the fictitious program that the ICL supposedly puts forward “to defend the health and livelihoods of the working class,” including the call “For Union Control of Safety!” Where did they ever call for this in the U.S., or anywhere – save a mention in a leaflet by their Italian group (never translated) in response to an article by our comrades of the Nucleo Internazionalista d’Italia which demanded, “Trade-union and worker safety committees must shut down production in the case of unsafe working conditions.”7 In contrast to the SL/ICL, the Internationalist Group and supporters in the unions from early in the pandemic widely promoted the crucial demands raised in the call by Class Struggle Workers – Portland (18 March 2020) “For Workers Action in Coronavirus Crisis.”8 This included the call to form “health and safety committees, to be elected at every workplace, both union and unrepresented, to ensure that all safety measures are being enforced for all workers, and that all necessary equipment is available.” Not only did we make specific demands, we fought for them with New England Teamster UPS workers,9 in Los Angeles transit,10 with Yakima fruit packers.11

The IG also issued a leaflet and 12-page special supplement in May 2020 on New York City transit, where 120 active-duty members (and 40 retirees) of Transport Workers Union Local 100 died of COVID, calling for workers control of NYC transit, with detailed demands that class-struggle trade unionists should put forward to protect bus drivers, track and shop workers who were particularly hard hit.12 We also called for round-the-clock subway service to be restored, and adequate shelter provided for the homeless.13 What did SL supporters do about any demands for safety during that time, we would like to know. The fundamental fact is that the phony “program” put forward in the ICL’s statement against lockdowns is a total fraud. They never fought for any of these demands. Again, it’s all just words – after the fact, motivated by the latest round of their own endless internal crises and convulsions.

The SL/ICL’s ex post facto “program” seeks to put a “working-class” gloss on its sharp turn to the right in recent years as it has increasingly oriented to chauvinist forces. This was particularly evident in its support for British exit from the European Union (“Brexit”) fueled by virulent immigrant-bashing,4 and later when the ICL’s “Brexit Now!” line echoed right-wing Tory prime minister Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done!” campaign slogan.15 It is also seen in the ICL’s opposition to calls for asylum for refugees from imperialist devastation, in the Near East or Latin America.16 Now the Spartacist “Lockdowns” leaflet argues that labor/left support for lockdowns “has ceded the ground to the far right, allowing sinister reactionaries and outright fascists to posture as defenders of democratic rights and champions of the ruined petty bourgeoisie.”

Fascistic armed militias at Michigan state capitol, 15 April 2020, demanding an end to the lockdowns.  (Photo: NBC)

So here is the pseudo-Trotskyist ICL vying with the likes of the fascistic militias that staged an armed assault on the Michigan state capitol to protest lockdowns. Moreover, those protests were explicitly to keep capitalism going and profits flowing. It is not alone. The decrepit remains of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) have lately championed “‘deplorable’ workers” (ironically taking up Democrat Hillary Clinton’s sneer about Trump supporters). For example, the SWP’s Militant (2 June 2017) denounced the “breaking up of meetings” of fascists and racists, alibiing this with criticisms of “middle-class left and liberal groups” that “increasingly blame workers – most of whom they consider ignorant, racist, xenophobic and dangerous.” In Portland, Oregon, where in June 2017 the IG and CSWP brought out some 300 union supporters to stop a provocation by the Patriot Prayer fascists,17 the SWP was selling to and discussing with the fascist/racist provocateurs (The Militant, 19 June 2017).

The Internationalist has exposed the liberal/reformist myth that dismisses all white workers who voted for Donald Trump as racists,18 noting (among other things) that many of them had voted for Obama, in many cases twice. But that is very different from contending on the same “anti-lockdown” capitalist political terrain as pro-Trump racists, as the Trumpified SWP does, with the ex-Trotskyist ICL tagging along behind. Moreover, by the time that the ICL called to “Reopen the Economy” and for “increased production,” this was the common program of the entire bourgeoisie. It all gets “curiouser and curiouser,” as Lewis Carroll quipped in Alice in Wonderland (see the trenchant comment by R. Titta on the ICL’s strange evolution below).

One final thing: when asked by an IG supporter (and former SLer) in Los Angeles where the SL/ICL stood on China’s use of massive lockdowns that contained the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, an SL supporter said they did not have a position. So much for the ICL’s empty “defense” of China. In contrast, the IG and LFI have underlined how the Chinese workers state, despite being bureaucratically deformed, was able to marshal resources of a collectivized economy to treat the infected and stop the spread of the deadly virus.19 We have also warned of the mounting imperialist threat of war and counterrevolution from both Republican Trump and Democrat Biden, whom the reformist left worked so hard to put in the White House.

We will leave the last word to the IG supporter, ex-SLer and CSEW member whose comments on the ICL’s lockdown lunacy we quoted at the beginning:

“This abstract mess of an article doesn’t even make sense as an apology for the SL’s abstention from the Black-led protests against racist police repression. Instead, they have adopted the slogan of the fascistic militias – ‘liberate Michigan,’ liberate the working class from rational public health measures.
“I really don’t understand how the SL became so alienated from reality so fast…. I can’t believe that the SL I was a part of would have simply absented itself from the massive street protests against racist police terror and shut down its press in the face of a public health crisis that disproportionately ravaged the working class. Crazy may be a generous characterization of the current SL. More grim, maybe the SL has just given up. What a waste of Trotskyist cadre who once dedicated their lives to revolutionary socialism.” ■

On the “Spartacist Penny Saver” Sheet

By R. Titta

I picked up the leaflet [the ICL “Down with the Lockdowns” statement] announcing the repudiation of their line on the COVID-19 response, and studied it. That is one weird little subculture.

If I were the editor of the “Spartacist” penny saver sheet20, I would forbid the use of exclamation marks. Because if you say one thing, and then a bit later say the opposite, and denounce yourself for saying the first thing, and then denounce everyone else for taking the position that you took before – well, the silliness of it all is only emphasized by the exclamation marks.

Mad Hatter in SL/ICL wonderland. (John Tenniel illustration)

But that is a small matter. The larger truth, noticed by all, is that while the Spartacist Penny Saver Sheet (SPS) is denouncing the lockdown as a bourgeois measure to freeze the class struggle, outside there has been a mini-strike wave in the U.S. and – much more significant – a massive coast-to-coast rebellion against the relentless murder by the police of black and brown people. As other comrades saw at a glance, the SPS does not mention the name of George Floyd. The social tension that existed in this country around the recent verdict was unprecedented in recent years. Everyone knew that if that jury did not return a guilty verdict the country would explode in mass rioting. Everyone except the SPS. So that is the plainest evidence that the old group has thoroughly unhinged itself from reality.

Aside from completely ignoring the black question today (hard to get my head around that), the SPS has nothing useful to say about the pandemic or China. There is an odd sentence stuck in on China, and that is it. On the pandemic and China, the Internationalist has made all the points. “Developing” China (4,600 deaths) showed the “developed” world (almost 600,000 deaths in the U.S.) how it is done. Only a planned economy, in the absence of capitalist control, could have achieved such a feat. In China, since April 19, 2020 four people have died of COVID-19. That is the number 4, in one year, in a country of 1.4 billion people.

(John Tenniel illustration)

About the lockdowns, China had them, first in Wuhan (population: 10 million), then, eventually, in Hubei province (50 million people). And they were pretty strict – but they also had massive food deliveries, emergency hospitals, mask wearing, oxygen, anti-viral medications (what? there are anti-viral medications?), and, eventually vaccines – though the Chinese vaccination program is proceeding at a relaxed pace because in the whole country (where there is frequent testing), it has been more than one year since 2,000 active cases were recorded.

SPS is virtually silent on China. And on something else too. What lockdowns are they talking about? In Britain, perhaps? In the U.S. the lockdowns were not lockdowns at all – relatively lax strictures were in place. In Brazil, lockdowns in Rio and São Paolo were also lax, but were widely defied anyway. Why? Because poor people had to go to work to find enough to eat. Many did not succeed, true, and starvation is on the rise in Brazil. But deciding between catching the virus and having enough to eat becomes the awful calculus. Most defy bans and look for work.  Thousands are dying of COVID-19 every day. The death count in Brazil is now 465,000 (deemed low by most experts).

“Off with my head!” – SPS (John Tenniel illustration)

And now there is the catastrophe of India. There, the SPS program was put into effect by the Modi government. They wanted people out in the streets, going to political rallies (and religious festivals). Of course, the political content of those rallies is Hindu-nationalist, but the result is the same: a COVID-19 storm, with most experts saying that the actual infection rate and death count – which is underreported in most capitalist countries – is false by design in India. The death count in India is 330,000, but that is the number of patients pronounced dead of COVID-19 in hospitals. Those dying in hospitals of “comorbidities” (heart or lung conditions) are not counted, though these patients would have lived if they didn’t have COVID. More important, poor people (80% of India’s 1.35 billion people) don’t make it to hospitals. They die in their beds, on the street, in a ditch, wherever. The death count, consequently, is almost inestimable, but many experts believe it to be above 1 million.

Closer to home, in U.S. factories and packing plants, as we know, hundreds of thousands of workers have been forced to work without vaccines or protective equipment and the COVID-19 rates there, along with mortality rates, are very high. So really, what lockdown is SPS talking about that workers should break, to “get back to work”? What world do they live in?

In the end, though, I think these people are off their nut. They seem to be saying that they, themselves, recently capitulated to class collaboration and calls for national unity. (I can believe it.) And like a crazy person they are standing up and objecting, vehemently, to everything that was just said – though they were the ones, they tell us, who said it. ■

  1. 1. The front-page article in Workers Vanguard No. 78 (26 September 1975). At the time WV was the voice of revolutionary Trotskyism, which The Internationalist continues today.
  2. 2. See “SL Silence = Capitulation to the Democrats,” The Internationalist No. 61, September-October 2020.
  3. 3. See “ICL Refuses to Call for Defeat of U.S. Imperialism, ‘Anti-American’ Baits the Internationalist Group,” The Internationalist No. 12, Fall 2001.
  4. 4. See “Open Letter from the Internationalist Group to the Spartacist League and ICL,” The Internationalist No. 31, Summer 2010.
  5. 5. See “As the COVID-19 Pandemic Rages, Workers Fight for Health and Safety,” The Internationalist No. 59, March-April 2020.
  6. 6. See Class Struggle Education Workers/UFT, “Chaotic Reopening of NYC Schools: This Is What Mayoral Control Looks Like,” in The Internationalist No. 62, January-March 2021; and CSEW, “A Class-Struggle Program to Reopen New York City Schools Safely,” reprinted in The Internationalist No. 61.
  7. 7. See “Coronavirus Pandemic Ravages Italy, Overwhelms Capitalist Medical System,” The Internationalist No. 59.
  8. 8. See “CSWP Calls for Workers Action in Coronavirus Crisis,” The Internationalist No. 59.
  9. 9. See “No Safety, No Work!The Internationalist No. 59.
  10. 10. See “L.A. Transit Workers Facing Deadly Conditions – It’s Up to Us to Fight for Health & Safety Now!” in The Internationalist No. 59.
  11. 11.See “Victory to Yakima Packinghouse Strikers!The Internationalist, May 2020.
  12. 12. See “MTA Bosses’ Coronavirus Disaster: For Workers Control of NYC Transit!The Internationalist, May 2020.
  13. 13. See “Shutting Down 24/7 Service Is No Answer to NYC Subway Crisis,” The Internationalist No. 60, May-July 2020.
  14. 14. See “ICL: The Main Enemy Is in Brussels,” The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016.
  15. 15. See “Some History Ex-Trotskyists Would Like to Keep Hidden,” The Internationalist No. 59.
  16. 16. See “Strange Encounters with the ICL,” The Internationalist No. 44; and “Spartacist League vs. Refugees,” The Internationalist No. 47, March-April 2017.
  17. 17. See “Portland Labor Mobilizes to Stop Fascist Provocation,” The Internationalist No. 48, May-June 2017. In addition, about 1,000 antifa protesters came out, while a roughly equal number of liberals and reformist leftists lined up behind police lines at City Hall while the SWP was hobnobbing with the fascists and pro-Trump racists.
  18. 18. See “The Myth of a ‘White Working Class’,” The Internationalist No. 46, January-February 2017.
  19. 19. See “A Tale Of Two Cities: Wuhan – New York,” The Internationalist No. 59.
  20. 20. Fliers or small publications with ads for items for sale by local businesses.