As “Chauvinist Hydra” Devours SL/ICL
Some History Ex-Trotskyists
Would Like to Keep Hidden
Readers of the Spartacist League (SL) press, expecting the mid-April issue of the SL’s biweekly Workers Vanguard, instead encountered a terse announcement on its website (icl-fi.org): “Notice to Our Readers: Workers Vanguard Skipped an Issue in April.” Two weeks before, the prior issue of WV (3 April) was a lightweight four-pager, in which the lead article (taking up half the issue) was a Spanish translation of the front page of ... the issue before that. The 3 April issue announced that:
“Due to the COVID-19 crisis and the restrictions on movement imposed in New York City, where we are headquartered, the Political Bureau of the Spartacist League/U.S. has temporarily assumed direct administration of Workers Vanguard in place of the Editorial Board and reduced the newspaper to four pages instead of the usual eight. We will maintain WV’s biweekly frequency.”
Except then they didn’t.
To those following the involution of this erstwhile revolutionary organization – which for three decades had upheld authentic Trotskyism before succumbing to post-Soviet disorientation and despair – the notice was hardly a surprise. For years now, “correction” has followed “correction,” and now cascading notices announce new phases of collapse for the SL and the International Communist League (ICL) it leads.
So what gives? The “hydra,” of course.
That is, the “Struggle Against the Chauvinist Hydra,” as the ICL’s bizarre – and transparently dishonest – report on and document from its seventh international conference (Spartacist, Summer 2017) were titled. Since rearing its head(s) three years ago, this fearsome creature of myth and legend has consumed the SL/ICL’s internal life and dominated its increasingly unhinged and revisionist public ranting. In reality, it embodied the latest – and in some ways most spectacular – of an endless series of crises and convulsions ripping apart the organization.1
This accelerated the increasingly explicit trashing of the programmatic record that the once-revolutionary Spartacist tendency built up from its inception in the early 1960s, through vital struggles on key programmatic issues. Those included the Russian Question, from the Cuban Revolution through the fight against capitalist reunification of Germany and counterrevolution in the USSR; proletarian opposition to popular fronts, from the U.S. antiwar movement and Indonesia 1965 to Chile 1973 to France in the ’80s; the Leninist position on special oppression, notably on women’s liberation; black liberation through socialist revolution as strategically key to class struggle in the U.S.; the understanding of “interpenetrated peoples” within the context of the Marxist position on the national question, and many others.
This crucial programmatic legacy has been upheld and defended by the Internationalist Group, which was founded by long-time cadres that the SL/ICL purged in 1996 and is the U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International. Over the years we have documented in our press the downward spiral of the SL/ICL as we uphold the revolutionary politics these ex-Trotskyists have abandoned. But while latter-day Spartacist leaders have come and gone, and the SL/ICL’s political line has gyrated wildly, they have had one constant: casting us as enemy #1, as they have spewed endless falsifications, distortions and slanders topped with ad hominem smears.
But with the advent of the “Chauvinist Hydra,” there was a new element: the public denunciation of one of the SL’s own best-known remaining public figures. Joseph Seymour – whose writings on Marxist history and a wide range of political topics were historically key to educating SL cadres and many others (and who also served as a “theoretician” for many of its zigzags in recent decades) – was targeted for a lying smear campaign, labeling him the architect of the organization’s supposed four-decade immersion in Anglo-chauvinism. Together with this, “Hydra” ostentatiously dangled a sword of Damocles over the heads of a whole “layer” of other “senior” (i.e., older) cadres. “Time will tell” what their fate would be, Spartacist warned.
As we wrote in a section on “The Demise of the Post-Soviet Spartacist Tendency” in the document for the first international conference of the LFI:
“This [the ICL’s “Chauvinist Hydra” document] was not just another in the endless series of ICL line changes, this time on the national question, but a wholesale renunciation of Marxism and denunciation of the Spartacist tendency’s own historic program and tradition on a central issue. In pretending to fight against chauvinism, it actually promotes more chauvinism and blatantly embraces bourgeois nationalism, while announcing a generational purge of a whole layer of long-time leaders. Akin to [SWP leader] Jack Barnes’ 1983 speech, ‘Their Trotsky and Ours,’ which denounced permanent revolution and renounced Trotskyism while bestowing the mantle of ‘continuity’ on an individual rather than the program and ousting the SWP old guard, in some respects this is even more grotesque, publicly smearing and even slandering a number of the ICL’s leading spokesmen, sometimes by name.
“The ‘Chauvinist Hydra’ document is a kind of suicide note and auto-obituary officially pronouncing the demise of the ICL as a once-revolutionary tendency.”
– “The Struggle to Reforge a Genuinely Trotskyist Fourth International,”The Internationalist No. 50, Winter 2017
What the “hydra” had in store for the SL/ICL has come into focus with the declaration that revolutionary “continuity” is personified in the SL/ICL’s new self-proclaimed “central leader,” who has “guided” recent internal struggles to “regenerate the party.” The most recent issue of Spartacist (Spring 2020) states that a plenum of the ICL’s International Executive Committee “furthered this struggle.” Among other things, it announces the expulsion of “two now ex-members who had been involved in the work” of the ICL’s Greek section, characterizing “the conduct of the two as racist” and “qualitatively worse than other examples of abusive behavior in the ICL.” This follows last year’s expulsion of members of their Polish section amidst charges of racism and echoing Polish nationalism and anti-Jewish bigotry.
We do not have any independent means of evaluating these statements and charges. What they do bear witness to, in any case, is the continued deepening of the ICL’s crisis. At the programmatic level, it has waded still deeper into a political morass. The SL/ICL’s open embrace of bourgeois nationalism, proclaimed in the “Hydra” document, was ostensibly on behalf of oppressed minority nations – particularly the Québecois and Catalans – within junior imperialist states like Canada and Spain. But in fact, the ICL, centered on its U.S. section, has become – there is no other honest way to say it – outright apologists for imperialist chauvinism.
Thus, faced with the exclusion and persecution of Central American and other refugee migrants, they have opposed and denounced the elementary internationalist call to “Let Them In” put forward by the IG and LFI. In Britain they have pitched themselves as best builders of “Brexit,” obsessively depicting the European Union’s Brussels bureaucrats (and not the chiefs of British imperialism) as the main enemy. In the last election, their British group’s slogan “Brexit Now” echoed the chauvinist Tory prime minister Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done.” The SL/ICL has similarly denounced the most elementary demands to let in the refugees dying by the boatload off the coasts of Europe. To any would-be revolutionaries, this is a shameful spectacle.
Meanwhile, the SL/ICL’s embrace of bourgeois nationalism continues to produce internal turmoil. According to its increasingly bizarre public pronouncements, a heroic, endless battle “Continuing the Fight Against the Hydra” within their organization is “guided by” its new leader who “became the central leader of the SL/U.S., and later, of the International” (Workers Vanguard, 13 December 2019). Yet the record of very real patterns of chauvinist behavior long predates the current scenario. Over two decades ago, we published an in-depth article titled “Crisis in the ICL” (The Internationalist No. 5, April-May 1998). For readers (including those in or around the latter-day Spartacist tendency) not content with the SL/ICL’s ever-changing official legends about their ongoing crises, we reprint a section of that article beginning under the subtitle “Whose Chauvinism?”
The context was the political struggle launched in late 1997 within the French section of the ICL, the Ligue Trotskyste de France (LTF), by two then-leading members, originally from North Africa, Djura and Zakaria, who formed the Permanent Revolution Faction (PRF) to oppose the organization’s abstentionist course and revisions on key programmatic and theoretical issues. For those unfamiliar with the cast of characters, Parks was then the head of the ICL’s International Secretariat (I.S.). (She would later be ousted in disgrace.) During the “discussions” in the LTF, the comrades of the PRF noted in a letter to the I.S. that its representative in France “did not even try to reply to the arguments in our document nor to address the key questions of program,” but instead “with open cynicism” said of Djura and Zakaria that “we’re going to demoralize them” and “we’re going to humiliate them.”
Far from denying this, I.S. secretary Parks reveled in it, while complaining of the LTF membership, “What comrades do not grasp is the need to mock, scorn, and ridicule” the opposition formed by comrades from a former French colony. In addition to the traveling display of wall posters and dunce caps in the LTF office referred to in the text below, the I.S. leader at one point suggested putting up “posters in their neighborhood.” However, this was abandoned because “They would use it as an issue to claim they are being harassed in a way that endangered them.” At another point the I.S. leader proposed tailing the opposition comrades if they traveled to a conference of the organization:
“Rather than sending comrades to look for them disembarking the train in the crowded station, I still think it makes much more sense for a comrade or two to travel on the same train they were ticketed for and to walk through each car of the train to ascertain if D+Z are on board. If they are on board, then we can watch where they go when they get out….”
Needless to say, it doesn’t stop there, and of course the SL/ICL has never repudiated any of this. Nor – to say the least – did it stop with Parks. On site in France during the vile chauvinist campaign described in the text below were two of Parks’ protégés. One of them, Adam, was the I.S. rep who led the humiliation campaign and has continued to be the main leader of the ICL’s much-diminished French group. The other is the current “central leader” of the ICL. To anyone who would take the SL/ICL’s present claims to be fighting chauvinism as good coin, we underline that chauvinism is learned behavior, and such “leaders,” and those who follow their example, are past masters not of combating it, but of teaching it..
* * * *
The crisis in the ICL came to a head in the Ligue Trotskyste de France, which is hardly accidental. France has been at the forefront of workers struggles in recent years, and here is where the ICL leaders’ claim of a “historical retrogression in the political consciousness of the workers movement” clashes most sharply with reality. Even before the factional struggle broke out, the I.S. recognized that the French section was in crisis. A letter by ICL international secretary Parks (17 October 1997) reported, “The LTF has not recruited anyone since the big strike wave in December ’95 when one high school student joined the youth.” Given the turbulence in France in recent years, this takes some doing. Parks continued: “We noted in the [January 1996] IEC memorandum that we would recruit at the expense of our centrist opponents or vice versa. In France, it’s vice versa.” An I.S. resolution declared, “The LTF as presently constituted and led is not viable as a section of the ICL.”
At that time, Parks wrote in another letter to the I.S. (21 October 1997) that “it is very clear from the recent fight in the LTF that comrades Djura and Zakaria are potentially a very large part of the solution to our problems in the LTF….” However, when these comrades a few days later called for a leaflet in the French truckers strike, suddenly they were no longer “a very large part of the solution” but instead the focus of the “problem” in the LTF. Since the I.S. had previously declared the LTF leadership to be centrist, the latter was now declared “right centrist” while the dissident comrades were labeled “left centrists.” Yet when they declared the Permanent Revolution Faction in mid-December, the I.S. quickly cobbled together a “majority faction” together with the open rightists. This “plural majority” never answered the minority’s political arguments and analysis. Instead, the ICL leadership unleashed a barrage of personal invective tinged with national chauvinism against the PRF comrades.
At the LTF conference, the spokesman for the I.S. was Susan A., a former principal leader of the LTF. In her presentation she demanded “full and detailed confessions” from the PRF comrades about contact with the IG. She cited a 22 August 1997 letter by Djura and Zakaria sharply criticizing the I.S. for abandoning the Iskra perspective toward North Africa.2
Refuting charges of “national narrowness,” they wrote that they opposed a policy like that of the Jewish Bund in Russia, in which only North African comrades would be involved in this work. “What do they know of the history of the Bund,” the I.S. rep haughtily said of the minority, adding that they must have gotten an e-mail from Norden! Aside from being false, it is deeply insulting to imply that comrades of North African origin are too ignorant to know about the Bund. In discussions last August they cited Isaac Deutscher on the fight over the Bund at the 1903 congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party, a 1986 presentation by an ex-member to the LTF’s Commission on North African Work, and a recent book on the General History of the Bund.
This arrogant disdain is no aberration coming from the ICL leadership these days. During the fight over Mexico in April 1996, Parks reviled comrade Socorro, a Chicana former farm worker, as “dim” and having her head in a “sewer”! At that time, Parks also referred to the LQB [Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil] as being “dim” about the “dangers of international affiliation.” In January Workers Vanguard vilely referred to the largely black Brazilian comrades, who are under vicious attack by the capitalist state, as “dangerous hustlers.” And now, the LTF’s Le Bolchévik (Spring 1998), in a thoroughly dishonest article about the French faction fight, publishes extracts of a majority document with the disgusting chauvinist headline: “The PRF Has Found Its Land of Asylum: France.” At a time when the popular front government is stepping up deportations, what is this piece of filth supposed to mean?
Then came the vile and absurd accusation by the majority that the comrades of the PRF had “capitulated to French chauvinism.” Why? Because the minority hailed the heroic internationalist work of the French and other Trotskyists in World War II who sought to recruit German soldiers and sailors (and were sent to the concentration camps and executed by the Nazis for doing so), just as they hailed the U.S. Trotskyists who were jailed for their courageous opposition to the inter-imperialist slaughter. The PRF comrades had written that the claim by Nelson,3 that there was “little inspiration in the sordid history of French Trotskyism,” had an element of truth but was one-sided and an example of national narrowness. The LTF majority rushed to demonstrate its allegiance to the I.S., incredibly claiming that only a couple of Frenchmen were actually involved in the internationalist work under Nazi occupation.
The charge of capitulation to French chauvinism directed against comrades from a former colony is particularly despicable coming from the French section of the ICL, whose leaders as late as 1992 refused to acknowledge that Algeria had militarily won the war of independence against France. The LTF leaders were rightly condemned by the second international conference of the ICL in that year for their position capitulating to diehard French colonialists who refused to admit defeat….
In fact, there is a striking continuity between the LTF’s contemptible policies and functioning then and now, with the difference that today its policies are initiated, backed and enforced by the international leadership of the ICL.
At the beginning of the faction fight, another I.S. delegate, Adam, sent back to the LTF to bring it to heel, declared in a presentation that the goal of the majority would be to “humiliate” and “demoralize” the members of the minority. In their 26 December note to the I.S., the PRF comrades wrote that such tactics would only lead to “pronounced demoralization of the members by inculcating them with cynicism.” In response, international secretary Parks explicitly endorsed the policy of “humiliation,” claiming that this would have been Lenin’s policy. When a few days later Adam again declared the goal of humiliating the PRF (which Le Bolchévik now shamelessly repeats in print), a minority faction member told him heatedly that it was shameful to direct such remarks at comrades from a semi-colonial country. He should think, she added, about what it would mean for members of the SL/U.S. to say they intended to “humiliate” black comrades.
Lenin presiding over a meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom), the Soviet government, in October 1922. One of Lenin’s last struggles was against the Great Russian chauvinism of Stalin.
As for Parks’ defense of this disgusting tactic, Lenin never engaged in such demeaning demagogy toward communists from subject peoples. It was the Russifier Stalin who sought to belittle and humiliate opposition comrades of non-Russian origins. For this Stalin was roundly condemned by Lenin, in his last battle before he was fatally stricken. The Bolshevik leader insisted that proletarian class solidarity required profound thoughtfulness and sensitivity on such matters, and denounced Stalin for “carelessly fling[ing] about accusations of ‘nationalist-socialism’.” Lenin warned against the “violation of this equality, if only through negligence or jest” (from “The Question of Nationalities or ‘Autonomization’” [December 1922]). Lenin’s warning holds with full force today: those who carelessly fling about accusations of nationalism against internationalist communists from oppressed countries, those who talk cynically of “humiliating” and “demoralizing” such comrades, are incapable of leading international socialist revolution. On the contrary, they are reflecting the prejudices of, and making their peace with, “their own” bourgeoisies.
We have been measured in responding to the insults bandied about by the ICL leaders, but this endless repetition of chauvinist epithets is clearly no slip. It is part of their new politics.
Confessions and Revisions
In the recent [i.e., 1997-98] faction fight in the French section, the majority, on instructions from the I.S., put up a bizarre photo montage in the LTF office consisting of pictures of Stalin, Castro, [and IG members] Norden and Negrete. This device is a classic example of the amalgam, equating the fight for authentic Trotskyism being waged by the comrades of the Permanent Revolution Faction with Stalinism. The majority found this so “amusing” that when comrades of the PRF were assigned to work in a particular room doing huge translations – deliberately to keep them so busy that they could not write more internal documents, or even read the documents attacking them, many of which they were never given copies of – the displays multiplied and appeared over their workplace. (Later the majority added photos of Algerian FLN leaders Boumedienne and Ben Bella.) When the PRF comrades pointed out that the majority was only demeaning itself, that it was adopting methods reminiscent of Maoism, and asked when they would start using dunce caps, the next day dunce caps appeared on the displays. Meanwhile, at meetings the majority would chant in chorus demanding “des aveux, des aveux” (confessions, confessions). This is quite a statement in a country where everyone on the left is familiar with the book by Arthur London on the 1948 Stalinist show trial of Rudolf Slansky in Czechoslovakia titled L’Aveu (The Confession). ■
- 1. On some of the most recent of these, see: "SL/ICL: Flip-Flopping Toward Oblivion," The Internationalist No. 58, Winter 2020.
- 2. [The “Iskra perspective” projected publishing a Trotskyist organ by militants in exile from North Africa, as the Russian Marxistas published the original Iskra (The Spark) in the early years of the 20th century.]
- 3.[Al Nelson, at that time a top SL/ICL leader.]