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The Internationalist
  December 2018

For International Workers Solidarity! Let Them In!

Central American Caravan:
The Left Caught Between Chauvinism
and Liberal Utopianism

U.S. military deployed in San Ysidro preparing to shut down the border, November 25. (Photo: Gregory Bull / AP)

From the moment he launched his presidential campaign, riding down the escalator at the opulent Trump Tower in New York City to denounce Mexican immigrants as drug traffickers, criminals and “rapists,” the racist chief of U.S. imperialism has demonized poor people from south of the border. Figuring that this vile appeal got him elected in 2016, Donald Trump spewed it out again in the 2018 midterm elections, scaremongering about a pending “invasion” by a caravan of Central American migrants. And now he is threatening to shut down the U.S. government unless the Congressional Democrats agree to “border security” – namely, The Wall. So, true to form, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi offered to do a deal – as they did on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Frustrated by his inability so far to get billions for his “big, beautiful” border wall, Trump has claimed that caravan members include “criminals,” “unknown Middle Easterners,” “tough, tough people,” “bad people,” that “you’re going to find MS-13” gang members among them, and that “people are pouring into our country, including terrorists.” Meanwhile, the vice president, Mike Pence, declared that the caravan “was organized by leftist organizations and financed by Venezuela.” Promptly on November 7, the day after the vote, the tweets about the terrifying caravan suddenly ceased. But, in the meantime Trump dispatched some 5,900 active-duty soldiers to the border to prepare for the “invasion,” joining 2,100 National Guard troops already there.

To read Trump presidential “decision memo” and “cabinet order” for lethal force, click on image. 

Moreover, on the same day that Pentagon chief James Mattis was telling reporters that the troops on the border would be unarmed, the Military Times (20 November) reported that Trump issued a shoot-to-kill order. This was embodied in a presidential “decision memo” with an accompanying “cabinet order” from White House chief of staff John Kelly, specifically authorizing a military “show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention” and other police actions which the armed forces are forbidden to undertake on U.S. soil. Five days later, Border Patrol agents were indiscriminately firing dozens of tear gas grenades over the fence into Mexico, threatening caravan members, including mothers and small children seeking to enter the U.S. to apply for asylum.

Today, thousands of Central American caravan members are stranded at the border in Tijuana, Mexico, blocked from entering the U.S., vilified by Trump with his shoot-to-kill directive to U.S. troops stationed there (along with thousands more Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection police), and subjected to what are in fact chemical weapons shot into Mexico. The large majority of the caravan members are from Honduras, many fleeing from violence by the U.S.-backed Honduran puppet government, U.S.-armed Honduran police and police-protected gangs which were deported and imported from Los Angeles. And now a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal, has died in Border Patrol custody. In view of the persecution and desperate condition of these migrants, victims of the depredations of U.S. imperialism, we demand:

“The Grupo Internacionalista in Mexico and the Internationalist Group in the United States, sections of the League for the Fourth International, call, as an elementary act of international workers solidarity, to let them in and for full citizenship rights for all immigrants (both in Mexico and the U.S.).”
–“Mexico: For Workers Action to Defend Immigrants!The Internationalist¸ 24 November

The LFI likewise calls for asylum for the refugees and for workers defense of the caravan as well as for workers mobilization to stop deportations and to defend immigrants against racist attacks and official repression. We have fought and continue to fight for this to be put into practice, with comrades accompanying and reporting on the caravan as it entered Mexico and then at the Mexico/U.S. border; working to mobilize workers solidarity among transport, education and other workers on both sides of the border, etc.

Internationalist demonstrators at NYC protest in solidarity with Central American migrant caravan, November 25.  (Internationalist photo)

We also call to drive out and shut down I.C.E. jails (concentration camps for immigrants). We fight to unionize undocumented workers. We oppose all racially, ethnically or nationally discriminatory/exclusionary immigration policies, and insist that “there can be no equitable immigration policy under capitalism.” In calling for full rights for immigrants, we underscore that “this simple democratic right has only been realized through revolution – in the French Revolution of 1789-99, by the Paris Commune of 1871 and in the Russian October Revolution of 1917” (see “Italy: The Refugee Crisis and Capitalist Barbarism,” The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016).

The fate of the members of the Central American migrant caravan is posed point-blank at the focal point of U.S. politics today. Trump, of course, is adamant that “they’re not coming into this country,” and he’s delighted that they’re at the border to be scapegoats for his xenophobic (immigrant-bashing) tirades. He accuses the Democrats, as he did in a December 11 tweet, of opposing “border security” and “want[ing] Open Borders for anyone to come in.” This is, of course, absurd. Not only does their election platform call for “immigration reform” that “improves border security,” the bill backed by House Democrats to grant residency to DACA recipients calls for expanding technology for border surveillance and “physical barriers.” It also calls for $110 million a year in grants for collaboration between I.C.E. and local police, which Democratic politicians in “sanctuary cities” claim to oppose.

As for the border wall, in 2013 every Democrat in the Senate voted for an “immigration reform” bill that would have provided $40 billion for “border enforcement,” including deploying thousands more border cops and building 700 miles of border fence. In 2006, a majority of Senate Democrats (including Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) voted for George W. Bush’s Secure Fence Act that built 650 miles of barriers along the 2,000-mile border. And the existing wall in the Tijuana-San Diego sector that the Central American migrants sought to climb over, squeeze around, go under or sit atop was built under Operation Gatekeeper ordered by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1994, as were fences built by Clinton under Operation Hold-the-Line in El Paso and Operation Safeguard in Arizona. It was the Democrats who decisively escalated the militarization of the border.

And, of course, there is the fact that Democrat Barack (“deporter-in-chief”) Obama expelled more immigrants from the United States than any U.S. president in history. But it’s not just the “corporate Democrats” beholden to Wall Street. Social-democratic-flavored liberals like Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), whose election was hailed by virtually the entire left, uphold the “need to make sure that our borders are secure,” as AOC declared on CNN – even as she called to “abolish I.C.E.” and replace it with the previous incarnation of la migra, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. As we have emphasized, it will take nothing less than a socialist revolution to sweep away capitalism’s immigration police forces and the racist policies they enforce (see “Smash the I.C.E. Gestapo with Workers Revolution!The Internationalist No. 53, September-October 2018).

In short, all the bourgeois (capitalist) parties are enemies of immigrants, including such minor parties as the Greens (who ran the virulent immigrant-basher Ralph Nader for president).

The “Open Borders” Charade: Utopian, Reformist and Potentially Reactionary

Central American migrants at border, November 25. We say: Let them in! (Photo: Simone Dalmasso / Plaza Pública)

So who does call for “open borders”? Liberal religious groups like the New Sanctuary Coalition certainly, and Pueblos Sin Fronteras, which has organized caravans of Central American migrants. Such “faith-based” groups seek to be good Samaritans aiding migrants, as do humanitarian groups like Cosecha or the Border Angels. But while theirs is not a political program, they often seek the support of liberal Democrats. On the left, the Progressive Labor Party calls for “abolishing nations” and to “SMASH ALL BORDERS” (Challenge, 19 December). PL’s stock-in-trade is to jazz up its everyday reformism with the anti-Marxist delusion that the working class can go straight to “Communism Now!”

More prosaic in its approach, the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) argues “The Case for Open Borders” (Freedom Socialist, October 2018). While blaming the ills that lead to mass migration on capitalism – which it identifies with “the profit system,” and calling for “public ownership” which it identifies with “democratic socialism” – these reformists’ “case” says nothing about socialist revolution. The FSP says it is for “an open border policy for the United States” today, that is, spreading the illusion that this could take place under capitalist rule.

Applied to the present system of capitalist nation-states, the program of “open borders” is a species of liberal/reformist utopianism, amounting to a call on the capitalist state to abolish itself. A “democratic socialist” government based on “public ownership of banks and nationalizing the energy industry” would institute “open borders” … with the whole repressive apparatus of the capitalist state (police, military, courts, prisons) still in place? Nonsense. This is a reformist dream world which goes along with the illusion of “democratizing” capitalism – thus prettifying it. Revolutionary Marxists such as Lenin and Trotsky insisted that the destruction of the capitalist state and establishment of a workers state is the necessary prerequisite for establishing a socialist economy that can lead to a “world without borders” and “world without want,” under communism.

Other reformists who have embraced the “open borders” slogan include the New York City DSA, which last June 29, in a burst of enthusiasm following Ocasio-Cortez’ Democratic Party primary victory a few days prior, tweeted: “Abolish profit – Abolish prisons – Abolish cash bail – Abolish borders – #AbolishICE.” In the same vein, Left Voice (LV), an internet site affiliated internationally with the Trotskyist Faction, the next day posted an article “Abolish ICE, and Abolish the Border Too: A Socialist Perspective.” Trying to stake out a position slightly to the left of DSA star AOC (who had tweeted that “We have to replace ICE with an updated INS-like structure”), LV called for “No ICE, and No Nice ICE Either!” Seeking to give some intellectual heft and socialist pedigree to its position, last year Left Voice (27 June 2017) posted an article titled “Why Socialists Have Always Fought for Open Borders.”

This article is strikingly dishonest and grossly misleading to anyone interested in the Marxist program on immigration, as it relies on equating opposition to discriminatory and racist restrictions and policies with the utopian liberal/reformist call for “open borders” or “abolition of borders.” The author (Wladek Flakin) cites the resolution on immigration and emigration at the 1907 Congress of the Second International held in Stuttgart, Germany. He claims that it “categorically” came out for open borders. All one has to do is read the passages from that resolution that he cites to see that it said no such thing. The Congress called for:

“Abolition of all restrictions which prevent certain nationalities or races from staying in a country or which exclude them from the social, political and economic rights of the natives or impede them in exercising those rights. Extensive measures to facilitate naturalisation.”

The resolution also declared:

“The congress does not seek a remedy to the potentially impending consequences for the workers from immigration and emigration in any economic or political exclusionary rules, because these are fruitless and reactionary by nature. This is particularly true of a restriction on the movement and the exclusion of foreign nationalities or races.”1

As any reader can see, these are calls to do away with discriminatory immigration restrictions directed at “certain nationalities or races” that would exclude them or prevent them exercising the same rights as the rest of the population. This is distinct from the illusory demand to immediately do away with all borders or border controls. In fact, the 1907 Stuttgart Congress resolution calls for exactly what the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International advocate. Needless to say, Flakin does not quote the very explicit statement by Lenin in which he insisted, against leftists who “muddled up” these questions, that a workers state would require borders that could be defended against imperialist attack:

“What does the ‘method’ of socialist revolution under the slogan ‘Down with frontiers’ mean? We maintain that the state is necessary, and a state presupposes frontiers. The state, of course, may hold a bourgeois government, but we need the Soviets. But even Soviets are confronted with the question of frontiers. What does ‘Down with frontiers’ mean? It is the beginning of anarchy…. Only when the socialist revolution has become a reality, not a method, will the slogan ‘Down with frontiers’ be a correct slogan.”
–V.I. Lenin, “Speech on the National Question” (April 1917)

Indeed, following the Bolshevik triumph, some 14 imperialist armies invaded the nascent Soviet republic in league with counterrevolutionary Whites, all of which were defeated by Trotsky’s Red Army.

As emphasized above, when we call for bringing out workers power to defend immigrants and stop deportations, when we answer Trump’s threats against the migrant caravan and exclusion of refugees with the demand “Let Them In,” we are serious about fighting to put these calls into action. The opposite is the case with left groups that call for “open borders,” which are just words for show. Moreover, if meant seriously, the “open borders” demand could even potentially have reactionary consequences under capitalism. As we noted when the Spartacist League and its press were still the voice of authentic Trotskyism, “A truly ‘open’ border under capitalism would enable American moneybags to buy up northern Mexico, not unlike what they did to Texas over a century ago” (“Labor: Smash Racist Immigration Law,” Workers Vanguard No. 427, 1 May 1987).

This is no fantastical prospect: some years back, a U.S. real estate developer named Donald Trump erected billboards along the Tijuana-Ensenada highway saying he would set up hotels there if only Mexico would do away with its ban on foreigners owning property near the border and its prohibition of private ownership of beaches. Open Mexico’s border and Baja California would de facto be annexed to California. Or, eliminate border controls in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and rich Americans would snap up all the eastern Antilles islands in the Caribbean for vacation homes.

In opposing all discriminatory immigration policies, we connect this to the struggle against capitalist rule. As we wrote in our article on the demand to “abolish I.C.E”: “Nor can a capitalist country, except in rare circumstances, have a non-discriminatory immigration policy.” So what about those rare circumstances? For a time in the late 1800s, the U.S. had relatively few controls on immigration. Why? Because due to the rapid expansion of industry following the Civil War, the capitalist ruling class needed an army of industrial workers, and because it needed to populate the vast areas of the western U.S. which had been stolen from the indigenous peoples and from Mexico. And then there are the borders of Israel, open to all Jews from all around the world (unless they oppose Israeli policies toward Arabs) in order to drive the Palestinian population off their lands. So where under capitalism there have been relatively open borders, it is often the result of, or in order to facilitate, crimes against the oppressed.

Ask leftist proponents of “open borders” how borders could be abolished while nation-states remain and they will point to the European Union, with its Schengen Accords on freedom of movement. So what has the EU meant in practice? German financiers and industrialists have destroyed whole industries in Greece, producing massive unemployment and poverty. Meanwhile, rightist demagogues whip up xenophobic hysteria, blaming immigrants from outside the EU for the devastation caused by the global capitalist economic crisis. The solution, for any revolutionary Marxist, is not to reestablish border controls, which would further target immigrants and wreak economic havoc as capital long ago burst through national confines, or to support the EU imperialist bankers’ cartel, but rather to fight for international socialist revolution, from Europe to the Americas and throughout the world.

But the reality is that leftist talk of abolishing borders – like the call to “abolish I.C.E.” – is an empty slogan intended to give a “radical” cover to the opportunists’ real program of pressuring the existing bourgeois governments and vainly attempting to reform the unreformable capitalist system. Thus pseudo-socialists who talk of abolishing borders under capitalism are generally the same ones that hail the DSA and DSAer Ocasio-Cortez, who calls for secure borders. Instead of demanding full citizenship rights, reformist groups call for “amnesty,” as if the immigrants had committed some kind of crime. Instead of fighting for revolution to smash imperialism, these “progressives” call on the U.S. to respect “human rights.” And when the imperialists launch wars in the name of human rights (Clinton against Serbia in the 1990s, Obama against Syria from 2014 on), many of these “democratic socialists” call for the U.S. to send more dollars and guns to the “freedom fighters.”

Spartacist League vs. Refugees, Part 2

On the other hand, there is the Spartacist League (SL) and its response to the migrant caravan. The question posed is “Which side are you on?” As we wrote in our last issue: “In this, as in every class battle, there are no neutrals. Either the migrants are allowed to enter, or not. We say: Let them in!” (“The Caravan of the Oppressed,” The Internationalist No. 53, September-October 2018). So with the caravan of thousands of desperate migrants from Central America trapped at the border, the object of dire threats and vicious repression by the government of the imperialist United States, backed up by the servile government of semi-colonial Mexico, what shall become of them?

Here we have an ostensibly communist group, the once-Trotskyist Spartacist League, which declares that “Only Proletarian Revolution Can Sweep Away Imperialism” and proclaims “Down with Repression Against Caravan Migrants,” but refuses to call to let them into the United States (see “Down with Trump’s Racist War on Migrants,” Workers Vanguard, 30 October). Donald Trump, whipping up xenophobic bigotry, tweets that “they’re not coming into this country,” and the SL’s response is, let them have citizenship rights … in Mexico! Nor is this the first time that the latter-day SL has taken a chauvinist line toward refugees. In early 2017, as thousands of protesters rushed to the airports to oppose Trump’s executive order banning Syrian refugees, chanting “Let them in!” the SL ostentatiously did not call for admitting these refugees from the depredation caused by U.S. and NATO imperialism.

The thundering silence coming from the ICL as to the fate of the caravan migrants is not accidental nor an innocent oversight. It comes from an internal dispute in the SL’s International Communist League (ICL) in 2015, when SL chairman Jim Robertson objected to an article advocating full rights for “refugees seeking asylum,” calling this “a reactionary utopian ‘open the borders’ line, reflecting a species of humanitarian liberalism.” We came across this at a leftist confab in France the following year when ICL spokesmen denounced us as “bleeding-heart liberals” for calling for asylum in the EU for Syrian and other refugees from war and persecution (see “Strange Encounters with the ICL,” The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016). We pointed out that the SL/ICL’s “no right to asylum” line was “a capitulation to anti-immigrant chauvinism,” and that it contradicted the historic Trotskyist position and the SL’s own past history calling for asylum for refugees from Central America, Haiti, etc.

So for the last several years, the SL/ICL has refused to call for asylum for any refugees, saying in internal documents that “those fleeing ‘the dislocations of war’ are not refugees in any politically meaningful sense, but rather ‘displaced persons’,” that they are “simply seeking a better, safer life.” Now, however, on the Central American caravan, Workers Vanguard admits that “Hondurans Flee Devastation Made in USA” and that “Those in the migrant caravan are attempting to escape the destitution and pervasive violence plaguing Central America as a result of U.S. imperialist subjugation and the corrupt and repressive rule of the local bourgeoisies.” It recognized that “economic ruin” resulted from the Central American Free Trade Agreement, that “criminal gangs have mushroomed”  under successive governments “propped up” by the U.S. But having said all that, the SL still doesn’t call to let them in, which means to keep them out.

When we polemicized against the SL over this last year in our article, “Spartacist League vs. Refugees” (The Internationalist No. 47, March-April 2017), the SL responded with an incendiary diatribe, “IG Big Liars Smear ICL on Immigration” (Workers Vanguard, 7 April 2017) accusing us of “slinging slanders” whose “purpose is to incite and justify violence against us.” The Internationalist Group opposes violence on the left and has never incited or justified violence against the SL/ICL – on the contrary, we have defended its members against violence, censorship and threats. As for us “lyingly” claiming that the SL/ICL “oppose calls for asylum for Syrian refugees,” their own article confirms that they don’t call to “Let Syrian Refugees In,” as we do, because “there are millions more fleeing U.S. wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and the imperialist devastation of Libya, to name but a few….”  So since U.S. imperialism has forced millions to flee, these fake-Trotskyists refuse to call for those desperate refugees on its doorstep or in the ocean to be let in?!

And now, even after stating that the Hondurans and other Central American migrants in the caravan were “desperately fleeing” the “devastation made in USA”; after saying they were “attempting to escape the destitution and pervasive violence plaguing Central America” due to “U.S. imperialist subjugation” and the “repressive rule of the local bourgeoisie” (which does nothing without permission from Washington); after admitting that “U.S. imperialist pillage” produced “economic ruin” that “reduced the peasantry to abject misery, forcing millions to migrate” – after all that, the SL still refuses to call for asylum or just to let them in. For the cynical SL/ICL of today, proletarian solidarity means nothing – and their attempts to evade, deny and obscure the most urgent duties of that solidarity against their “own” imperialist rulers are an insult to the internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky, and a repudiation of the revolutionary program the Spartacist tendency upheld for three decades.

In refusing to call for asylum for refugees from Syria, and now from Central America, the SL/ICL actually performs the same sleight-of-hand as the Trotskyist Fraction, dishonestly equating opposition to discriminatory immigration laws and calls for asylum for refugees with liberal/reformist talk of “open borders.” (“Although the IG denies it, their position is but a species of the ‘open the borders’ call raised by many on the reformist left from Europe to the U.S.,” says WV.) But while the centrist TF wants a no-borders fig leaf as a cover for its tailing “democratic socialists” whose candidates call for secure borders, the centrist ICL uses the same straw man argument in order to sidle up to xenophobic reactionaries.  

The ICL’s “no asylum for refugees” line is part of a broader capitulation to imperialism that has come to dominate their increasingly erratic, rightward-moving politics. This was reflected in the ICL’s wild enthusing over “Brexit” – the English-chauvinist campaign for Britain to leave the European Union – in a referendum that was an orgy of anti-immigrant racism, fought out over how best to exclude foreign-born workers (see “ICL: The Main Enemy Is in Brussels,” The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016). The same line was behind the ICL’s equating of opposition to the EU’s “Dublin III” procedure (to fast-track deportations by sending refugees back to the country of entry) with “open borders.” In fact, the only time the ICL called for admitting any migrants recently was a Workers Vanguard (4 November 2016) article on Haitian migrants in Tijuana, saying “Let them in!” But not Central Americans caught in the same limbo today.

Why not? Clearly, one reason has to do with the fact that in late October 2016, the Internationalist Group/U.S., the Grupo Internacionalista/Mexico and the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, sections of the League for the Fourth International, called a tri-national protest against the Obama administration’s refusal to let thousands of Haitian migrants into the U.S., even in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Although it was expressly invited to participate, the SL/U.S. was a no-show. WV’s article served to cover up this abstention. But what reasons did they give for uncharacteristically calling to let Haitians in? There was the “the racist targeting of Haitian migrants by the Obama administration … pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment in the run-up to the U.S. elections.” Is this somehow different from the situation with the migrant caravan today? The same kind of racist targeting was directed against Hondurans leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

There was the fact that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians was canceled at the same that Haitians were being excluded, even though conditions in Haiti were just as desperate as before. Here, too, there is a direct parallel: TPS for 89,000 Hondurans was canceled in May 2018, just after the last caravan reached Tijuana. There was the history of U.S. “imperialist plunder” of Haiti. Ditto for Honduras. The main difference is that Haitians were “uprooted by the succession of natural disasters … that have ravaged their impoverished homeland” following the January 2010 earthquake. So for the ICL, escaping the results of natural disasters justifies letting migrants in, but not fleeing the disastrous conditions created by imperialism – is that it?

But there’s more to it than that. The 4 November 2016 WV article notes:

“It was to shore up this bloody occupation force that President Obama dispatched 20,000 combat troops in the guise of a ‘relief effort’ soon after the 2010 earthquake. U.S. officials also ordered a naval blockade of Haiti to prevent the desperate population from fleeing to the U.S.”

Quite true. What WV’s account left out, however, was that the SL/ICL shamefully supported the U.S.’ 2010 invasion and occupation, while vociferously lambasting those who opposed it, particularly the IG. And the SL/ICL was silent about the naval blockade preventing Haitians from fleeing to the U.S.

We denounced the SL/ICL’s grotesque support for imperialist occupation in the guise of disaster aid as a quintessential case of what Lenin called social-imperialism, a betrayal of Marxism, of the Haitian masses and of working people the world over. After three months of ranting slanders and smears against us, regurgitating the lies of the imperialist media and the Pentagon about the U.S.’ supposed humanitarian mission in Haiti, suddenly they flipflopped and admitted that the IG was right after all, the ICL had indeed committed a social imperialist betrayal. But then, after what turned out to be a hollow confession and act of contrition, they went right back to denouncing those who stood fast in upholding the internationalist program of Trotskyism. Yet the class struggle is not the Catholic church: no matter how many “Hail Lenins” you recite, supporting “your own” bourgeoisie as it enforces imperialist domination at gunpoint is a mortal blow against any pretensions to represent “revolutionary continuity.”

Still, that’s not the end of the sordid story behind the SL/ICL’s refusal to call for asylum for refugees from the wars, terror and deprivation unleashed by imperialism. The 2 November 2018 Workers Vanguard article about the Central American caravan notes that “conditions for Honduran workers and the urban and rural poor have grown even more dire since 2009 when then president Manuel Zelaya was toppled in a coup engineered by a section of the national bourgeoisie and headed by a general trained at U.S. imperialism’s notorious School of the Americas.” But just as in 2016 WV failed to mention that it had supported the U.S. invasion of Haiti, in 2018 it left out that for more than a year after the 2009 coup in Honduras, the SL/ICL refused to denounce it, arguing internally that the Obama regime was not behind it – which it most emphatically was, as was clear at the time.

As we pointed out in “Honduras: The First Coup of the Obama Administration” and other articles in The Internationalist No. 29 (Summer 2009), and in “For Revolutionary Workers Struggle Against Coups in Central America,” (The Internationalist No. 30, November-December 2009), the Obama administration was up to its neck in preparing the coup that ousted Zelaya. The plotters traveled to Washington to get a green light from Hillary Clinton’s State Department, which recommended that they get the Honduran Supreme Court on board to give it a veneer of “legality,” which they did. We noted in a polemic about the SL/ICL’s social-imperialist line on Haiti, that “it is curious indeed that WV has not seen fit to print one word, much less an article, against the recent U.S.-backed Honduras coup” (“SL Twists and Turns on Haiti” [9 April 2010] in The Internationalist No. 31, Summer 2010).

That complicit silence was no accident, as ICL internal documents prove. A year after the coup, and in response to the IG, the ICL’s leading body, the International Secretariat, on 10 July 2010 unanimously held that: “The I.S. and SL/U.S. leadership wrongly either ignored or were indifferent to the 29 June 2009 coup in Honduras – with comrades arguing as though we had ‘no side’ because the coup represented in-fighting between two bourgeois camps.” A second, unanimous, motion added:

“Their [U.S.] boot prints were all over the plotting against Zelaya. It seems quite clear, especially in light of this discussion, that the party's response to the Honduras case reflected an accommodation to American imperialism and was a precursor to the betrayal of supporting U.S. troops in Haiti.”

Yet this straightforward statement raised the hackles of the top leadership of the ICL, including its now official leader, Coelho, who had earlier written that “I disagree with the thrust of the arguments that the Obama administration was directly behind the Honduran coup.” So after two months of furious finger-pointing, the motion recognizing the ICL’s “accommodation to American imperialism” over Honduras and that it was a “precursor to the betrayal” in Haiti was rescinded.

Then, after two more months and more than 120 pages of internal documents back and forth, an ICL international conference decreed it to be “false” to say that its leadership ignored or was indifferent to the 2009 coup, even though it “did not write an article about the coup against Zelaya for more than a year.” Moreover, it argued that the U.S. only “helped set the stage for Zelaya's ouster, with the Obama White House subsequently propping up the coup government.” So the ICL amnestied the Obama administration of having given the green light for the coup, accepting cover-up lies by the U.S. ambassador as good coin, and amnestied itself for not having denounced it. Not coincidentally, the ICL line that the U.S. was not responsible for the coup itself (which, if you read the WV article on the caravan carefully, it still maintains) is precisely the position of the liberal Democrats who want to amnesty Obama.

The Internationalist wrote in response to the ICL’s shamefaced “repudiation” of its admittedly social-imperialist betrayal over the 2010 U.S. invasion of Haiti that “your explanations of why and how your fundamental betrayal came about don’t hold water. You admit to the crime, but fail to give a serious explanation of the reasons for it. And that virtually guarantees it will happen again. This isn’t the first time that the SL/ICL bowed to the pressure of its ‘own’ ruling class, nor the first time you have smeared the IG/LFI for our revolutionary opposition to U.S. imperialism.”2 And it has kept on happening. The SL/ICL’s 2010 amnesty of the Obama administration of responsibility for the 2009 Honduran coup (and its self-amnesty for not having denounced that) is a continuation of its capitulation to U.S. “human rights” imperialism over Haiti.

The stage was set for its Haiti betrayal long before, when in response to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after the 11 September 2001 attacks it dropped its longstanding call for the defeat of “one’s own” imperialism, and accused the IG of “Playing the Counterfeit Card of Anti-Americanism” for upholding that fundamental Leninist policy.3 As for chauvinism, the SL’s refusal to defend the right of the Sioux Indians of Standing Rock, North Dakota to ban an oil pipeline crossing their tribal lands, potentially polluting their water supply – on the spurious grounds that those lands had already been removed from Indian control by the second Fort Laramie robber treaty of 1868 – is a prime example.4

And then there is the latest iteration of the ICL’s phony self-criticisms, its conference document “The Struggle Against the Chauvinist Hydra” (Spartacist No. 65, Summer 2017), declaring that it had a “chauvinist” position on the national question for 40 years, even as it cynically continues to proclaim itself the revolutionary vanguard. (Not a word about Haiti, of course.) In this bombastic and blatantly revisionist document, the ICL embraces bourgeois nationalism and rejects Lenin’s proletarian internationalism, while falsely claiming to fight for Leninism, in terms vertically identical to those used by sundry other opportunists. The prime example of “flagrant manifestations of chauvinism in the ICL” that the document gives in order to justify its new embrace of bourgeois nationalism was said to be over “applying self-determination to oppressed white people in economically advanced countries of North America and Europe.” But note, they’re not talking about the democratic right of self-determination.

On the contrary, in that document, the ICL leadership, “guided by comrade Coelho,” calls for support for “establish[ing] French as the only official language of government, services and large companies” in Quebec, thereby imposing it on immigrants, and for similar laws to impose Catalan on immigrants and the largely Spanish-speaking working class in Catalonia. It cynically claims that this is “an extension of Lenin’s struggle for the equality of languages” – even though the Bolshevik leader explicitly and emphatically opposed the imposition of any official language.5 As for non-white peoples of non-imperialist nations, the ICL took its pro-imperialist abandonment of the call for independence for Puerto Rico a step further by arguing that it would support outright annexation (statehood) of this U.S. colony! It is in line with this pattern of capitulation to U.S. imperialism that the SL/ICL refuses to call to let desperate Central Americans fleeing “devastation made in USA” and demonized by the racist xenophobe Trump into the U.S.

The ICL’s gyrations over Haiti and Honduras show an organization that has long lost its Marxist bearings, spinning about like a whirling top, but repeatedly coming to rest on a position of support (open or de facto) to imperialism and national chauvinism. Against the liberal delusions of “open borders” under capitalism spread by social-democratic reformists and the chauvinist “no asylum for refugees” policy of the ex-Trotskyists, a genuine struggle for immigrants’ rights can only be based on a program of international socialist revolution. That is what the Bolsheviks Lenin and Trotsky fought for a century ago as the newly formed Soviet workers state proclaimed full citizenship rights for foreign-born workers, and as the League for the Fourth International continues to fight for today.  ■

  1. 1. An English translation of the resolution was published by the Communist Party of Great Britain’s Weekly Worker, 4 April 2014 and is available on the internet here.
  2. 2. See “Open Letter from the Internationalist Group to the Spartacist League and ICL” (8 May 2010) in The Internationalist No. 31, Summer 2010).
  3. 3. See “ICL Refuses to Call for Defeat of U.S. Imperialism, ‘Anti-American’ Baits the IG,” The Internationalist No. 12, Fall 2001.
  4. 4. See “Spartacist League: Land Surveyor Socialists,” The Internationalist No. 46, January-February 2017.
  5. 5. E.g., in V.I. Lenin, “Liberals and Democrats on the Language Question” (September 1913).