Repentant Social Imperialists
from the Internationalist Group
to the Spartacist League and ICL
The Spartacist League/U.S. and the International Communist League it leads are in a heap of political trouble. The International Executive Committee of the ICL has now issued a statement “Repudiating Our Position on Haiti Earthquake,” headlined “A Capitulation to U.S. Imperialism” (27 April 2010). More specifically, it repudiates the SL/ICL’s support to the U.S./U.N. invasion of Haiti in the name of humanitarian aid. The statement doesn’t mince words, characterizing the position taken by the SL’s newspaper Workers Vanguard as “a betrayal of the fundamental principle of opposition to one’s ‘own’ imperialist rulers,” that included “justifying the U.S. imperialist troops as essential to the aid effort” and “polemiciz[ing] against the principled and correct position of demanding the immediate withdrawal of the troops.” You write:
“We accepted Washington’s line that the provision of aid was inextricably linked to the U.S. military takeover and thus helped to sell the myth peddled by the Democratic Party Obama administration that this was a ‘humanitarian’ mission....
“Thus we gutted the revolutionary internationalist essence of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution linking the fight for social and national liberation to the struggle for proletarian state power both in neocolonial and in more advanced countries.”
That’s some pretty strong coffee, as the Germans say, and all true.
Your statement says that this became the “de facto line” of the ICL, which was carried by the presses of a number of other sections. It admits that the Internationalist Group “correctly characterized” the SL/ICL’s line as “social imperialist.” In fact, whole passages of the ICL’s repudiation statement seem to have been taken almost word-for-word from two Internationalist articles, “Spartacist League Backs U.S. Imperialist Invasion of Haiti” (30 January) and “SL Twists and Turns on Haiti” (9 April). Clearly, someone read at least our latest article, agreed with much of it, and said so. But what the IG wrote simply upheld the Leninist position of unconditional opposition to imperialist rule of semi-colonial countries that the SL/ICL stood for when it represented revolutionary Trotskyism.
Your emphatic repudiation of the ignominious position you vehemently pushed for three months shows a degree of candor uncommon on the left, and is a considerable improvement over the Pentagon propaganda you were retailing and your blatant support for U.S. imperialist occupation of Haiti. Yet in your April 27 statement and afterwards, even as you acknowledge the “dishonesty” of your earlier articles, the lies against those who did tell the truth continue unabated. Moreover, 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.
So let’s begin with the key issues raised by your abrupt reversal about the U.S. troops in Haiti. The most fundamental is: why wasn’t there a gut response of opposition to the imperialist invasion? How could you become active propagandists for U.S. imperialist invasion without any internal turmoil? In any genuinely revolutionary party, a betrayal of class principle would lead to a rip-roaring faction fight and eventual split. Relying on recovered memory of the revolutionary Trotskyism the SL/ICL once championed, it is possible to write a statement. But to actually become a revolutionary leadership requires a hard fight that goes to the root of the betrayals.
It all goes back to the devastating impact on the Spartacist League and International Communist League of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states in 1989-92. It began by a turn toward passive propagandism and desertion from the class struggle, and subsequently led to a series of revisions of key programmatic questions. The most fundamental was your declaration (in your 1998 revised program) that the key thesis of Trotsky’s Transitional Program, that the crisis of humanity is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership, was outdated due to a supposed “deep regression of proletarian consciousness.”
We have pointed out how virtually every revisionist, from Ernest Mandel to Nahuel Moreno to Peter Taaffe, embraced the same doctrine of historical pessimism in order to justify abandoning the revolutionary program (see The Internationalist No. 5, April-May 1998). Like all revisionism, this comes down to a loss of confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat. It is just a “left” version of the bourgeois lie of the “death of communism” – you need only read the notes by the SL’s theoretical spokesman to see this (see WV No. 949, 1 January 2010). As we have remarked, it is the SL/ICL’s consciousness that has suffered a qualitative regression. This is proven by your line of support to the U.S. invasion of Haiti.
Since the April 27 statement vows to carry out a “savage indictment of our line” in the interests of “political rectification,” we would like to pose a few key issues that need to be addressed by any comrade in or around the SL/ICL who wants to get to the bottom of this betrayal.
1) How did this betrayal come about?
We, too, have had some discussion of what the SL/ICL’s support for the U.S. imperialist invasion of Haiti and repudiation mean. No one can be convinced by the ICL’s claim that this betrayal occurred because of the absence of “an organized discussion and vote, instead setting our line through informal consultation.” For a momentary lapse, an article that missed the mark, perhaps, as an explanation for a fundamental betrayal of class principle, crossing the class line, impossible. This was no accidental slip, no oversight by the editor. It was full-throated support for imperialist invasion. Workers Vanguard published five articles in six consecutive issues repeatedly denouncing the IG for calling for U.S./U.N. forces out of Haiti. WV heaped lie upon lie, distortion upon distortion. And now, all of a sudden, the SL flip-flops. All because of a lack of formal discussion? Please.
The ICL statement remarks, “As one leading party comrade argued, the only difference between the position we took and August 4, 1914, when the German Social Democrats voted war credits to the German imperialist rulers at the outset of the First World War, is that this was not a war.” So follow the analogy: “Well, you see we didn’t have a formal discussion with Karl and Rosa there, so we unfortunately ended up voting for the war budget”? The SPD reformists didn’t “correct” their vote, of course, but the centrists who later formed the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) did, voting against war credits in December 1915. Yet the USPD played a key role in preventing proletarian revolution in Germany in 1918-19. Or take the Spanish POUM, which supported the People’s Front in the 1936 elections, then later pulled back as the popular-front government was sabotaging the Civil War against Franco. As Trotsky explained, the centrist POUM played a key role in blocking workers revolution in Spain.
Think about it a minute: how could SLers insist (as they did at a panel discussion with Haitian and Dominican leftists sponsored by the Internationalist Club at Hunter College in New York) that calling for U.S./U.N. troops out of Haiti equaled support for bourgeois nationalism? Because of a lack of “formal discussion”? The ICL gives a definitive answer as to why this is not true. It states, “However, once the line was published in Workers Vanguard it was picked up by many of the ICL’s other sectional presses, indicating that there was little initial disagreement.” You support a U.S. invasion under the guise of humanitarian aid and there is “little initial disagreement.” That says it all: the entire ICL swallowed this betrayal. Had any section strongly objected, we can be sure this would have been noted in the repudiation as saving the ICL’s honor. So even if you had had a discussion, you would likely have come up with the same line.
In fact, you did have a meeting, on March 18, and what did it do? According to the ICL statement, “the motions adopted at that meeting, which became the basis for the article in WV No. 955, reaffirmed that ‘we were correct in not calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake’.” And then, by your own admission, you proceeded to lie about your original line, claiming that you had “made clear in our article” of 29 January that “we were not for the U.S. military going into Haiti,” when in fact you said no such thing. Moreover, the March 18 meeting reportedly passed motions “criticizing the formulation that the U.S. military was the only force on the ground with the wherewithal to deliver aid,” but “did not mandate a public correction of this statement.” And again, by your own account, you “misused the authority” of Trotsky, distorting the meaning of his 1938 article “Learn to Think,” “in order to alibi support to an imperialist occupation.”
The whole business reeks of cynicism. You didn’t just accidentally fall into error by an oversight or lack of clarity. You not only repeatedly screeched that the IG was embracing bourgeois nationalism by opposing the U.S. invasion, you distorted Trotsky and then lied to cover your tracks. You held onto your “zealous apologies for the U.S. imperialist military intervention” (your description) for dear life. But under polemical pounding from the LFI, someone, perhaps the “leading party comrade” referred to in the ICL statement, took note and said this was going too far. This time. Without that call to order, you would still be hailing the 82nd Airborne Division and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit as humanitarian aid deliverers.
You might pause to consider the ramifications of your admitted betrayal. What if no leading party comrade had said, “stop” – where would you be then? “Pentagon socialists” anyone? Ask yourselves, how could an entire organization which declares itself revolutionary, Marxist and communist swallow this apology for U.S. imperialism, hook, line and sinker? Why didn’t a whole layer of comrades vociferously object, saying “this makes me sick to my stomach – I’m revolted and outraged over the apology for the takeover of a semi-colonial country by U.S. imperialism.” Why did this go down without a ripple and remain your line for almost three months?
2) Why did this betrayal come about? It was an extension of previous capitulation to the pressures of U.S. imperialism.
We submit that the origin of this betrayal lies in the fact that repeatedly over the last decade, the Spartacist League and International Communist League have shamefully capitulated to the pressures of U.S. imperialism. As a result, alibiing the U.S. invasion of Haiti must have seemed to many just a logical extension of your previous positions, which it was.
Take a look at what happened after the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which clearly shook up the SL and ICL. But having lost your political compass with the demise of the Soviet Union, the SL/ICL reacted by abandoning key elements of the Leninist-Trotskyist program toward imperialist war. You issued a statement (see WV No. 764, 14 September 2001) with paragraphs of denunciations of terrorism but not a word in defense of Afghanistan (which the U.S. immediately targeted for retaliation). After Washington invaded, you belatedly came out in defense of Afghanistan, but still pointedly refused to call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism.
That was not all. You then proceeded to viciously attack the Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International for our call from the very outset (in our 14 September 2001 statement) for defense of Afghanistan and for the defeat of U.S. imperialism. You wrote that our line amounted to “Playing the Counterfeit Card of Anti-Americanism,” as you stated in a subhead, and of appealing to an audience of “‘Third World’ nationalists for whom the ‘only good American is a dead American’” (Workers Vanguard No. 767, 26 October 2001). Yet the position we put forward was the same program the SL/ICL had proclaimed on the front pages of WV for years, in the Persian Gulf War, Yugoslavia and elsewhere.
Think what that vile accusation meant in the midst of the war hysteria sweeping the United States. Not only was this a monstrous lie, but as anybody could see, it could have encouraged repression against us. And consider the implications for today: if it was okay to go around “anti-American”-baiting opponents on your left, for upholding the political line you abandoned under fire, then it’s small potatoes to say – demagogically, as you now admit – that our call for U.S./U.N. troops out “would result in mass death through starvation.”
Your dropping the call for defeat of U.S. imperialism’s war on Afghanistan and Iraq had many expressions. Our call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism was not an abstract slogan. As we had done in the Spartacist League and ICL, we coupled it with propaganda and agitation calling on transportation workers to refuse to handle (“hot-cargo”) war materiel, and for workers strikes against the war. Yet you abandoned the call for “hot cargoing” military goods precisely when it was most possible to realize it, at the beginning of October 2002 in the midst of the build-up for the Iraq invasion, when the employers shut down the ports with a lockout. (Your excuse: that a Taft-Hartley injunction on the West Coast docks supposedly made this too dangerous.)
As for workers strikes against the war, you ridiculed this in 1998 when our comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB) raised this call (over a U.S. attack on Iraq by the Democratic government of Bill Clinton), saying this had no “resonance” among the workers. And on May Day 2008, when it turned out the demand had plenty of “resonance” among the workers and the ILWU longshore union shut down every port on the Pacific Coast to stop the war, you claimed that this was just flag-waving support for the Democratic Party, it was only about Iraq, not Afghanistan, it didn’t have any impact, etc. The fact that the union delegates, in voting to shut the ports, denounced the Democrats for helping continue the war – and that in fact there was a striking dearth of American flags in the San Francisco march – made no difference. Here, as well, your goal of covering your own tracks made you twist the facts. And you repeat the lies put out by the bureaucracy that bitterly fought against calls for strikes against the war.
Your refusal to call loud and clear for the defeat of U.S. imperialism, your dropping calls for “hot-cargoing” war goods, your sneering at the first workers strike in the United States against a U.S. war are all capitulations to “your own” imperialist bourgeois rulers. And then, when Obama dispatched an invasion force to Haiti in the name of providing earthquake relief, you alibied it. That step placed you squarely in the camp of social imperialism; it crossed the class line to open support for the bourgeoisie. But it was another step on a road you had been going down for years.
3) How can you claim to uphold permanent revolution while denying the possibility of workers revolution in Haiti?
Having admitted that the Internationalist Group was right in opposing the U.S. imperialist invasion of Haiti, you still accuse the IG of “Third Worldist fantasies,” of seeing the earthquake as being an “opening for revolution” because we wrote that the “small but militant proletariat can place itself at the head of the impoverished urban and rural masses seeking to organize their own power” while the Haitian capitalist state machinery lay in tatters. Evidently you continue to hold that Haiti has “virtually no working class.” We have suggested various ways to test this claim, including photos of more than 10,000 Haitian workers marching on parliament demanding an increase in the miserable minimum wage. However, again, the fact of the existence of a Haitian proletariat has no impact on your position.
But if it is a “Third Worldist fantasy” to say that a proletarian revolution could begin in Haiti – as we do, while emphasizing that it must spread to the Dominican Republic, other parts of Latin America and above all the U.S. imperialist heartland if it is to succeed – then how can you claim to uphold Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution in Haiti? That program emphasizes that in the imperialist epoch in order to achieve even the democratic tasks of the classic bourgeois revolutions, the workers (led by their communist party) must take power and go on to undertake socialist tasks and spread the revolution internationally. If there is no working class, it can’t take power, and revolution can only come from without. That was your position from January 29 to April 27. Do you maintain this?
The SL/ICL also accuses us of being “apologists for Third World nationalism,” though no specifics are given. (In 2001, the “proof” for this claim was that the IG and LFI called for defeat of U.S. imperialism.) In particular, there is no mention of your bogus claim that we support Aristide, perhaps because your main “proof” of this lie was that “the IG’s shrieking about the supposed imperialist ‘invasion’” of Haiti somehow portrayed Aristide as “the embodiment of national independence.” Since you now agree there was a “U.S. military invasion,” this charge falls flat.
And if you are curious about the existence of a Bolivian working class, which the SL/ICL also denies, you might watch a video of a recent demonstration by factory workers in La Paz, Bolivia, available on the Internet at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g67JkH0srEE. What comes through here from the SL is rank American imperialist chauvinism and disdain for the struggles of the workers in semi-colonial countries. In loudly proclaiming that they no longer “advocate” independence for Puerto Rico and then extending that internationally to other colonies, they abandon one of thecardinal points of the Leninist struggle against imperialism. Up until now SL members have shrieked that to say such a thing is sheer “provocation.” Perhaps they will be less quick to do so now. But that remains to be seen.
4) What does your support for the U.S. invasion/occupation of Haiti mean for the ICL’s claim to be the embodiment of revolutionary continuity? A “revolutionary leadership” doesn’t betray the class interests of the proletariat.
We hear from the Grupo Internacionalista, Mexican section of the LFI, that members of the Grupo Espartaquista came to the May Day marches with a rote response to justify the ICL’s claim to represent the revolutionary vanguard. Other communist formations have committed “errors” in the past, they argued, but didn’t cease to be communists. For example, when the Polish Communist Party supported the putsch by the ex-Socialist Josef Pilsudski in 1926. This is just grasping at straws. The Polish CP’s “May error” was a reflection of the general “right-centrist” degeneration of the Comintern, as Trotsky explained in The Third International After Lenin.
What the GEM members considered their trump card was Trotsky’s call on the eve of World War II for a “Proletarian Military Policy,” for trade-union control of military training (for the imperialist armies). After all, Max Shachtman, the renegade from Trotskyism, polemically exposed what was wrong with the PMP, but he remained a centrist while the SWP, which upheld Trotsky’s policy, was revolutionary.
To equate this mistaken call by Trotsky with the SL/ICL’s “zealous apologies for the U.S. military intervention” in Haiti is grotesque. Are you saying that Trotsky betrayed the world’s workers with the PMP? Also, why do we say that the SWP remained the revolutionary party? In the first place, the error represented by the PMP was not equivalent to active support to U.S. imperialist takeover of a semi-colonial country. Moreover, on the key issue in dispute with Shachtman, the SWP defended the Soviet Union against imperialism, despite Stalin’s betrayals, while Shachtman with his “Third Camp” position refused to defend the bureaucratically degenerated workers state. The SL/ICL, however, had abandoned the call for defeat of its “own” imperialist rulers in war against semi-colonial Afghanistan (and then Iraq) years before its Haiti betrayal. This call, which it used to raise with regularity on the front page of WV, is now only mentioned as a whispered aside, if at all.
This desperate search for historical precedents is a textbook case of scholasticism, of a piece with WV’s convoluted comparison of the question of aid to Haiti today with the SWP’s line on aid to the Soviet Union in World War II. A clever (?) comeback can’t explain away a betrayal.
Your basic argument is that you repudiated your support for the U.S. imperialist invasion, and indeed “savagely” attacked it, so that supposedly proves you are still the revolutionaries. As in the Catholic church, it seems you can confess to all sorts of venial and even some mortal sins, but as long as you admit all (and don’t question the role of the Catholic church as the one true representative of Christianity), you can be absolved. But unlike religions, revolutionary politics is not a revealed doctrine and self-enclosed movement of the elect. The vanguard party has a dialectical relationship to the proletariat, representing both the fundamental interests of the class and the revolutionary program that is the product of historical experience. It has to earn its spurs by providing revolutionary leadership in the class struggle.
This was at the core of the fight over the ICL intervention in Germany, where you proclaimed the ICL was the (self-anointed) revolutionary leadership and declared comrades apostates for saying that we were struggling to become it. With your position of vociferous support to the U.S. invasion of Haiti, you grievously misled whoever still believed that you were the revolutionary leadership, which mercifully is not very many. Despite your pious proclamations today, how is one to know that what you say tomorrow isn’t a continuation of what you said yesterday? The only way to tell is if there is a revolutionary consistency to the program, but the ICL has been anything but consistent over the last decade and a half (just reread what you wrote about your last two conferences). And the program must be carried out. As we pointed out, even when the SL claimed to oppose imperialist occupation of Haiti, it was essentially meaningless: one short article at the time of the 2004 U.S./French/Canadian invasion. And then silence.
You can’t just say, “Oh, we really messed up, but we confessed and washed away our sins, so everything is okay.” Your members go right on vituperating at the Internationalist Group that the SL is “the real thing,” as if nothing had happened. How about a little recognition of what you have just done? The ICL statement says, “Without a public accounting and correction, we would be far down the road to our destruction as a revolutionary party.” Actually, the SL/ICL ceased some while ago to be a revolutionary party, as your own account of your betrayal in Haiti makes abundantly clear. What is true is that if you hadn’t repudiated your line of support for the U.S. imperialist invasion, you would be far down the road to outright reformism. By pulling back from that, you only demonstrate that the ICL is today, and has been for the last decade, a centrist political formation. The next zigzag, the next upheaval, the next revelation – these are only a matter of time.
It is hardly convincing to proclaim that, “Only through a savage indictment of our line can we avoid the alternative of going down the road that led the founders of the IG to defect from our organization in the pursuit of forces other than the proletariat” when you yourselves have had to admit that we upheld the class line as against your “zealous apologies” for U.S. imperialism.
Which brings us to a matter that keeps coming up in your voluminous polemics against the IG and League for the Fourth International (which you never mention). In this instance you say the founders of the Internationalist Group “defect[ed]” from the ICL, on other occasions you have claimed we “fled,” “broke from” or “departed from our ranks.” You resort to these circumlocutions in order to avoid dealing with the simple fact that the founders of the IG and the LFI were expelled from the ICL sections in the U.S., Mexico and France in a political purge. You thereby try to equate us with the misnamed International Bolshevik Tendency, whose founders quit, and indeed fled from, the ICL at the height of Cold War II, objecting to our hard-edged defense of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and Poland. In the case of the founders of the IG, we were thrown out precisely because we wouldn’t quit.
Judging by its own description of its last three conferences, the SL/ICL seems to have a penchant for “correcting correct verdicts,” as Chinese Stalinist leader Deng Xiaoping put it. Stalin, too, made many zigzags during his time as a centrist. But he was based on the material reality of the bureaucracy that had at its disposal the enormous resources of the Soviet state. What does the SL have? When we read, in your account of your latest conference – which was dominated by a huge faction fight – that your “central task” is “to arm the party programmatically and theoretically, from Spartacist to the maintenance of our Central Committee archive,” the picture is that of an inwardly turned group voluntarily walled off from the class struggle. You can practically hear the embalming fluid dripping. But for all the importance of archival work, the ICL hasn’t been doing such a good job arming the party programmatically, has it?
The SL/ICL declares that, in this period, the struggles of the working class no longer have any link to the goal of socialist revolution. That supposed theoretical justification allows it to haughtily dismiss the possibility that sectors of the working class could be won to key aspects of the revolutionary program, or carry out actions that concretize them (like strikes against the war or “hot-cargoing”). This “revolutionary” rationale is really just an adaptation to what is, to the bourgeois order. As the ICL statement rightly stated, your line on Haiti was the “politics of the possible,” the phrase of Michael Harrington, the “socialist” advisor of Democratic presidents Kennedy and Johnson. This current has a long history going back to the French possibilists in the 1880s, who reflecting demoralization following the bloody 1871 defeat of the Paris Commune said one could only fight for what is possible, which was not workers revolution.
While other groups may limit themselves to bourgeois democratic demands or low-level trade-union struggle, the ICL line is “Stop the class struggle, I want to get off.” This is your particular version of the demoralization that affected large sectors of the left (even those who denied the Soviet Union was any kind of workers state) as a result of the victory of counterrevolution in the USSR. The SL/ICL pulled back from its support for the U.S. invasion when it saw its image in the mirror of reformism. But for those who do not wish to keep on gyrating in centrist confusion while insisting they “are” the revolutionary leadership, there must be a thorough-going search for the causes of the betrayal. Those genuinely looking for the roots of the SL’s pro-imperialist “politics of the possible” over Haiti would do well to examine the real record of its adaptations and capitulations to “its own” bourgeoisie over the past years.
Your leadership will undoubtedly tell you (and themselves) that this is the most serious challenge the ICL has faced. Indeed. However, the challenge is not to defend the revolutionary pretensions of the ICL at all costs, but to fight for revolutionary programmatic clarity. Of course, if you do undertake such a fight, you will doubtless soon discover the limits of the desired political rectification.
Internationalist Group/League for the
8 May 2010