January 2010  

Spartacist League Backs U.S.
Imperialist Invasion of Haiti

U.S. troops from 82nd Airborne Division patrol Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. Aiding the Haitian
people? No, this is imperialist occupation.
(Photo: Ramón Espinosa/AP)

The latest issue of Workers Vanguard (No. 951, 29 January 2010), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S., has a front-page story, “Haiti Earthquake Horror: Imperialism, Racism and Starvation,” that supports the presence of United States and United Nations occupation troops in Haiti. WV buys the U.S. rulers’ cover story for their latest invasion as supposedly aiding the desperate Haitian masses left homeless, hungry and in dire need of medical attention in the wake of the devastating January 12 earthquake that demolished the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. The article ends with an apoplectic attack on the Internationalist Group for exposing the imperialist lies and demanding “U.S./U.N.  Forces Get Out!” We have here a classic example of the term Lenin coined during World War I: “social-imperialism,” which he applied to those who espouse socialism in the abstract while supporting imperialism in practice. Then as now, its practitioners launch virulent attacks on revolutionaries for actually standing against their “own” imperialist rulers.

This is a deeply significant step for the SL/U.S. and its International Communist League, marking the point at which they have gone over from bending under pressure from the ruling class to outright apology for imperialism. Many of those who continued to see the SL/ICL as orthodox Trotskyists – despite its repeated lurches to the right in recent years – may be shocked and find it hard to believe. Earlier, the SL flinched, no longer calling for the defeat of their own imperialist rulers when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Now it has gone a big step further in actually justifying the massive deployment of 12,000 U.S. troops in Haiti and deliberately prettifying their role there. It is one thing to read in history books about former revolutionaries capitulating to the pressures of imperialism, but here we see the process unfolding in real time, before our eyes.

This latest step in the Spartacist League’s abandonment of revolutionary principles and program is a textbook case of revisionism. It’s worth examining carefully to see how it’s done. First, you start off with a hearty dose of abstract socialist principles spiced up with some history. The WV article goes into the U.S. record of occupying Haiti to punish the black republic for successfully liberating the slaves of the French colony of St.-Domingue in the first successful slave revolution in history. They do this in part by quoting articles published by WV in the period when it was still the voice of revolutionary Trotskyism. Still, any good liberal or rad-lib like Noam Chomsky could agree with most of what the SL has written here about the past crimes of U.S. imperialism without compromising their present support for U.S. imperialism in the name of responding to the “humanitarian crisis.”

After columns of this packaging material we get to the ritual denunciation of the reformist left. But here WV attacks them from the right. While groups like the International Socialist Organization and Workers World Party “call for the U.S. to provide aid without the exercise of American military might, we have no such illusions,” it writes. Indeed, the hard-eyed “realists” of the SL hold that “the exercise of American military might” (i.e., occupation) is necessary to provide aid, and they support it. (In this, they’re actually closer to Hillary Clinton than to the ISO or WWP.)

WV makes that clear when it attacks the Internationalist Group, for calling for “all U.S./U.N. forces to get out” of Haiti. This, WV says, “would result in mass death through starvation.” How so? According to the SL pretend revolutionaries, “The U.S. military is the only force on the ground with the capacity – e.g., trucks, planes, ships – to organize the transport of what food, water, medical and other supplies are getting to Haiti’s population.” This is false in every respect. First, the U.S. military has no (or very few) trucks in Haiti – when troops of the 82nd Airborne Division went from the Port-au-Prince airport to the General Hospital they had go by helicopter and then on foot. And while Haiti lacks a lot of things, it has huge numbers of trucks. Second, U.S. ships have not been providing aid, (a) because the pier at the main port collapsed, and (b) because the U.S. ships consist of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile frigate, several Coast Guard vessels and a hospital ship (which arrived over a week after the quake); none of these ships carried cargo for Haiti. And third, the U.S. military planes did not deliver anything for distribution to the population – they brought soldiers, and what food and water they carried was for the U.S. troops or the U.S. embassy. Their mission was not rescue and relief or rebuilding but “security.”

So here the SL is prettifying the actual role of the U.S. forces in Haiti. And they are doing it consciously, because doctors and aid groups have vociferously complained about how the U.S. has been blocking their supplies. Even spokesmen of the French government (for their own imperialist reasons, but no less accurately for that) openly denounced the U.S. forces for blocking aid – while Cuba’s Fidel Castro pointedly wrote: “We send doctors, not soldiers.” In an exchange with the WV writer on Haiti at a demonstration on January 29, he insisted that the U.S. military forces are providing aid, which is simply not true with a couple of isolated exceptions like the one-day photo op mission to the outlying area of Leogane. As for the U.N. military and police forces, the MINUSTAH, they have only distributed a limited amount of food aid, while repeatedly blocking private agencies from distributing. According to the U.N.’s World Food Program, two weeks after the quake they had only distributed food to 310,000 people, when relief agencies estimate that 3 million Haitians need emergency food aid on a daily basis – i.e., barely one in ten have received anything at all from the U.N.

A video on the Internet shows a team from the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) putting boxes of food back onto its truck after a crowd became frustrated when people were asked to fill out forms before they received food aid! No wonder people became restive in a country where more than half the population is illiterate! What a travesty of “humanitarian” aid. See: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/35089945#35089945 This is the reality of U.N. “aid” in Haiti.

So what the SL is saying is “there is no alternative” to the U.S./U.N. military distributing aid at present. This is nonsense, since the vast majority of what little aid is actually getting through is being distributed by private or quasi-governmental agencies like the Red Cross, not by soldiers. But the fundamental point is that the pretext of providing aid is the excuse that the U.S. is using to reoccupy the country militarily. And the U.S. commanders make it clear they intend to stay “until the job is done,” the same phrase Obama uses in Afghanistan. Since the Haitian “government” is virtually non-existent, that “job,” however defined, is going to take awhile. There is nothing unique about this. While Republicans like Bush launch wars by saying they are on a crusade, and Cheney says he is after the oil, the Democrats always cite lofty aims. Woodrow Wilson waged World War I to “make the world safe for democracy,” Franklin D. Roosevelt packaged World War II as a fight for the “four freedoms,” Bill Clinton claimed he was defending “human rights” in Haiti by sending the Marines to put back President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1994. Then in 1995, and again in 1999, he bombed Serbia with the same excuse. Much of the left bought Clinton’s lie of “human rights” imperialism over the Yugoslav wars. Now the SL is doing it with Obama over Haiti.

We predicted that the U.S. wants to go beyond the patrolling of Haiti by the MINUSTAH mercenary occupation force of 9,000+ soldiers and cops to take over the government and impose something like a U.N. protectorate on Haiti. Now this is being said openly. Robert Pastor, then-president Clinton’s point man on Haiti in the 1990s, told the Christian Science Monitor (27 January) that the U.S. and other donors “should take advantage of this goodwill and ask Haitians – through a referendum – to allow their country to become a 10-year UN trusteeship or to approve some other form of strong international control.”

So while falsely claiming the U.S. military is necessary to provide relief, WV admits they do the job “in the typical piggish U.S. imperialist manner.” It goes on to say:

“We have always opposed U.S. and UN occupations in Haiti and everywhere – and it may become necessary to call for U.S./UN out of Haiti in the near future – but we are not going to call for an end to such aid as the desperate Haitian masses can get their hands on.”

So here we have the SL saying, first, that it opposed U.S./U.N. occupation in the past, and may do so again in the future. But it doesn’t oppose it now! And now is when the troops are arriving. WV denounces us for calling for U.S./U.N. troops to get out, and when it says the military machine is indispensable to provide aid, it means it wants the troops to stay, “piggish imperialist manner” and all. The bottom line is, the Spartacist League supports the imperialist occupation. In any case, its prior “opposition” to the occupation is nothing more than words on paper. When the U.S. invaded Haiti in 2004, we didn’t see the SL in the streets protesting. In contrast, our comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil and LQB trade-union supporters in the Comitê de Luta Classista were able to get the teachers union of Rio de Janeiro and the National Federation of Education Workers (CNTE) to pass motions calling on Brazilian workers to “aid the Haitian working people in expelling the invading Brazilian troops.”

Then, in the second half of the same sentence, in order to justify this shameful support, the SL implies that calling for U.S./U.N. forces to get out now amounts to cutting off aid and condemning the Haitian masses to death. This is a typical “straw man” ploy common to all demagogues: set up a phony argument in order to knock it down. Where did the Internationalist Group ever say or suggest that we are “call[ing] for an end to such aid as the desperate Haitian masses can get their hands on”? What the IG called for in our headline, and spelled out in our January 20 statement, and what was a main demand of a January 22 demonstration that we helped organize and participated in, was the demand that the U.S./U.N. “Stop Blocking Aid to Haitian People.” Of course, the Workers Vanguard article never mentions this, and for good reason, since it is counting on its readers not reading IG publications. In fact, it is precisely “the desperate Haitian masses” who are and will be in the crosshairs of the U.S. imperialist occupiers whose presence the Spartacist League is openly supporting and prettifying.

WV really hits its stride in denouncing “the IG’s deranged and grotesque fantasies.” And what might those be? Why our statement that Haiti’s “small but militant proletariat can place itself at the head of the impoverished urban and rural masses seeking to organize their own power,” of course. This, says the SL, ignores the “stark reality” that “even before the earthquake, there was virtually no working class in Haiti.” Do tell. In the most recent issue of The Internationalist (No. 30, November-December 2009), we published an article, “Haiti: Battle Over Starvation Wages and Neocolonial Occupation,” with a big photo showing a demonstration of thousands of workers from one of the free trade zones in the capital marching on parliament. According to WV those workers don’t exist, and therefore to call on them to lead a struggle for power is a “grotesque fantasy.” So who are you going to believe, the pseudo-socialist savants of the SL or “your lying eyes,” as the comedian Richard Pryor used to quip.

Now there are several things to be said about this. First, WV is simply regurgitating here the bourgeois press, which always presents Haiti as nothing but one big slum filled with jobless poor people, beggars, thieves, “looters,” you name it. Second, Haiti has now joined a growing list of places where, according to the SL, there is no working class. It started off with Bolivia in 2005, then came Oaxaca in 2006, now Haiti in 2010. Who’s next? Third, in each case the SL proclaims there is no proletariat in country x just when there are explosive workers struggles there. Those Bolivian miners leading mass marches while setting off sticks of dynamite, those Oaxacan teachers and government workers who set up hundreds of barricades to stop the death squads, those Haitian workers who shut down the factories to march on parliament – you may have seen pictures of them in The Internationalist, but they’re all figments of the IG’s fertile imagination, so says WV.

Finally, and most importantly, the purpose of this discovery of the supposed absence of a working class is to proclaim that workers revolution is impossible. In detective novels or criminal trials, a key question is always: cui bono, who benefits from the crime? In politics, you should always look for the programmatic conclusion of an analysis. Example: When in 1948 one Tony Cliff abandoned the Trotskyist analysis of the Soviet Union under Stalin as a degenerated workers state and instead labeled the USSR “state capitalist,” it explained nothing about the functioning of the Soviet economy. But it did serve as an argument for refusing to defend the Soviet Union in the imperialist-launched Cold War. The latter-day Spartacist League has been multiplying its analyses, always couched in Marxistical-sounding verbiage, purporting to prove that one can’t struggle for revolution in the here and now. To do so, they claim, is both “deranged and grotesque.” The heat behind these lurid adjectives is telling. At war with its own Trotskyist past, the SL spews rage and venom at the IG for refusing to abandon fundamental Marxist principles that the SL itself used to uphold. Self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” who preach that revolution is off the agenda during this historical period, they are in a real bind.

In the advanced capitalist countries, the SL proclaimed in its 1998 revised program, there has supposedly been a qualitative regression in working-class consciousness as a result of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. To say, as Trotsky did in the Transitional Program, that the crisis of proletarian leadership is the key is outdated, according to the SL, which imitating a long line of revisionists says the problem is the working class itself. In desperately poor semi-colonial countries the reason one can’t fight for revolution is that there is supposedly no working class. And in the more developed “Third World” countries like Mexico, which undeniably has a proletariat since it is now producing many of the goods formerly churned out by industries in what is now the U.S. “Rust Belt,” the proletariat is allegedly so befuddled by bourgeois nationalism that it can’t even get it together to have a plain old popular front, much less wage a struggle for power. Three different analyses, one conclusion: no fight for revolution – and it’s all the workers’ fault. So saith the SL.

We will have more to say on this in commenting on the SL’s latest conference.

WV throws in a quote from Leon Trotsky about not interfering with soldiers extinguishing a fire or rescuing drowning people during a flood. But Trotsky was explicitly talking of a “national” army, not an imperialist invasion force. When U.S. troops go to Fargo to put sandbags along the raging Red River, are they invading or occupying North Dakota? Hardly.

Skipping over some of the insults (the IG’s “demented logic”) and pure inventions (our supposed “glorification of Third World nationalism”), this brings us the SL’s feigned interest in the Haitian diaspora, the workers who over a period of decades have dispersed to other countries to escape desperate conditions in Haiti. “The IG’s article does not even mention the hundreds of thousands of Haitian workers in the urban centers of North America, WV writes. This is an example of the SL’s patented form of gotcha politics: to go over articles with a fine-toothed comb looking for anything thats not there, and then portray that as a deviation. In the present case, they fail to mention that a second article on Haiti in the same special issue of The Internationalist, also available at our Internet site www.internationalist.org, concludes with a paragraph precisely on the importance of Haitian and Dominican workers in the U.S. and New York City in particular.

The fact is that the Internationalist Group has been unique on the left, especially for a small group, in actively working with Haitians in the diaspora in a systematic way to protest the repression of Haitians by the government of the Dominican Republic (see “Stop Persecution of Haitian Workers in the Dominican Republic!” and several other articles in The Internationalist No. 23, April-May 2006). We have regularly participated in protests every month for the last four years, and played a leading role in organizing a joint demonstration of Haitian and Dominican groups over that issue in front of the Dominican consulate in NYC in August 2008 (see “New York Protest Against Persecution of Haitian Workers in the Dominican Republic” in The Internationalist No. 28, March-April 2009). The Spartacist League has never once done anything about this, zero. And when there were protests about the NYPD torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997, we recall how the SL showed up briefly to sell at the starting point and then quickly exited because they considered it too dangerous to march through the Haitian community to the police precinct, even though hundreds of Haitian immigrants (many of them presumably undocumented) dared to do so.

The SL/ICL’s position of supporting U.S. intervention in Haiti confirms what we have said for some time, that they are headed in the direction of becoming a variant of social democracy. Add up its refusal to call for independence for Puerto Rico (and the French colonies in the Caribbean), its persistent silence on the Honduras coup, and now its support for the U.S. imperialist reoccupation of Haiti in the guise of humanitarianism, throw in its ever-expanding list of countries that supposedly have no proletariat, and you get the profile of centrist social democrats similar to the Italian G.M. Serrati. At the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 Serrati rejected Lenin’s theses on the national and colonial question. The “maximalist” socialist claimed to be for proletarian revolution in the advanced capitalist countries but dismissed any support to struggles for national liberation in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. It’s centrism, but hardly of a left variety.

 This step also fits the pattern of many of the SL/ICLs recent programmatic revisions, coming in the middle of a crisis when they cede to the pressure of the bourgeoisie: in 1997, proclaiming that there was no, and could not be any, popular front in Mexico just at the point that the popular front was about to take over the Mexico City government; in 1998, in the middle of the Puerto Rican general strike declaring that the SL no longer called for the island’s independence from the U.S.; in 2001, during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, dropping the call for the defeat of one’s own imperialist bourgeoisie; in 2002, dropping the call for “hot cargoing” war materiel during the build-up to the Iraq invasion and when the U.S. government threatened to militarize the West Coast docks, etc. Who knows where they will end up? Some of the SL/ICL’s revisions, such as its on-again, off-again claim that the Stalinists “led the counterrevolution” in East Germany, bear an unmistakable stamp of Shachtmanism. Max Shachtman broke with Trotskyism over his refusal to defend the Soviet Union in World War II and ended up embracing U.S. imperialism in the Korean War and over the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1960.

Supporting the new U.S. occupation of Haiti on allegedly humanitarian grounds is shameful and significant, but it cannot be a surprise coming from the SL/ICL which at the height of the post-9/11 war hysteria accused the IG of anti-Americanism (literally, “Playing the Counterfeit Card of Anti-Americanism” and allegedly pandering to “‘Third World’ nationalists for whom the ‘only good American is a dead American’”) because of our insistence on upholding Lenin and Trotsky’s program of revolutionary defeatism in imperialist war. The harsh and undeniable reality is that today the SL is playing the liberal card of supposed humanitarianism to justify open support to military occupation of the land of Toussaint Louverture by the most dangerous, violent and bestial gang of imperialist looters, torturers and mass murderers on the face of the planet. Those who believe revolution is not just an empty word can draw their own conclusions.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com