RR to BEA (28 September 2020)
Revolutionary Regroupment reply to Bolshevik East Asia’s Letter
1. Clarification on imperialist interests in the Brazilian coup d’état of 2016
Comrades of Bolshevik East Asia, on our July 2020 letter to you, we had written:
“We have not researched Turkey in depth, but if we should take a side on this confrontation it wouldn’t be because Erdogan had less pro-imperialist connections than his generals who attempted the coup. Speaking of Brazil, we know for a fact the PT government was in excellent terms with the imperialist powers during its entire existence. The coup, which never got to a physical confrontation, was much more a result of internal questions than of imperialist meddling/intervention. This is because imperialist interests were never at stake (your emphasis). Still, we take a side in it because it was a conflict in which the removal of the government by a reactionary band of right-wing forces accelerated attacks against the workers and the poor.
“Our take on events like this has nothing to do with the IBT neutralism, which uses a technical issue (the type of imperialist involvement) to declare themselves ‘not taking sides’ as quickly as possible. We are, instead, telling you that imperialist involvement on one side is a defining factor for Marxists, but not the only one. And also that on several occasions in which we should take sides in intra-bourgeois confrontations, this criteria alone may not be sufficient.”
A correction and clarification is necessary, since in your decision to end discussions with us, you took the underlined sentence as apparent “proof” of “how frivolously” we take political questions in Brazil:
“We are not fully aware of the specific situation of Brazilian history and social organizations. But at the very least, we know that the words ‘imperialist interests were never at stake.’ is dangerous word that is very likely to be wrong.
“Looking at the answers to this question like that, we got a glimpse of how naive and frivolously RR deals with the important question even in Brazil.”
In an article dated February 2017 concerning the results of the reactionary 2016 coup/impeachment of the Workers Party, we wrote:
“Another important rupture occurred in relation to the financing programs for the operations of a limited range of highly monopolized and internationalized mega-companies, considered Brazil’s ‘national champions’ (Odebrecht, OAS, Queiroz Galvão, Camargo Correia, JBS-Friboi, Grupo Eike Batista etc.). While the PT used the public funds (via the state-owned banks and pension funds) to finance part of the highly profitable operations of these companies, Operation Car Wash dealt a heavy blow to part of them, whose operations (especially in the highly profitable shipbuilding plan) is being absorbed by imperialist oligopolies.
“The coup government represents a break with the PT era also from the point of view of international politics. More specifically in relation to Brazil’s alignment in this period of troubled international relations that involve the gradual decline of exclusive American domination of the planet and the growth of Russian appetites in Asia and Europe, in addition to China’s commercial and productive weight. The choice of José Serra to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clearly indicated a willingness to collaborate more closely with the imperialist colossus in the northern hemisphere. The cooling of the relations with Russia and China shows to those countries that for different reasons partially escape the interests dictated by the great imperialists in the world, that they should have no expectation that the Temer government reflects their agenda.
“Dilma’s government in no way represented a brake or opposition to US imperialist interests. However, its diplomacy valued the construction of a multilateral approach to strengthen commercial interests with the BRICS, especially with China, which in the years of the PT became the country’s main trading partner, and with Mercosur. As for Mercosur, the coup makers’ agenda is also not promising. Serra endeavored to articulate Venezuela’s exclusion from Mercosur, not only as a way of strengthening the right-wing opposition that seeks to remove Nicolas Maduro from power, but to underplay this particular form of ‘regionalist’ capitalist configuration and return to the direct orbit of the United States.
“Here, once again, submission to imperialist interests is not exclusive to the coup makers. It was an agreement of the then Dilma government with the opposition led by Serra in the Senate that approved the law that allows the exploration of the Brazilian oil by foreign companies. In October, the coup makers in the House confirmed this law, which should open new profits for American, Canadian and European companies at the expense of Brazilian natural resources and the exploitation of our workers. Despite their different location in the international balance of forces, neither the coup makers nor the PT represent what workers really need and what the Brazilian people need, which is control over the wealth we produce.”
Clearly, what we should have written for better clarity was that the imperialist involvement in the coup was not decisive or crucial, nor was the Workers Party (PT) government being anyhow “anti-imperialist” or in any particular confrontation with imperialism. The timing of the coup had to do with an internal dispute within the Brazilian bourgeoisie and how to best realize the attacks against workers in a moment of economic crisis. As we previously wrote to you: “The fact that imperialists ‘have a part’ in what is going on does not change ‘the fact that a faction of the bourgeoisie was attempting to remove another from power to better repress and exploit the proletariat.’
The imperialist involvement was on a different level when we compare it to the recent coup attempts in Venezuela, the reactionary protests in Ukraine and Hong Kong, or the wars in Syria and Libya. Imperialists had interest in and supported the removal of the Workers’ Party popular front, but were not the main agents behind it. The Brazilian bourgeoisie of course is dependent of the imperialist powers, but it was the same capitalists who took part in the PT government who later removed them from office.
We could also correct that sentence in our letter by saying that under the PT government, imperialist interests were not at risk, although they were not met as easily (quantitatively speaking) as under Temer, or now under Bolsonaro, who is basically a grotesque imperialist stooge. You imply as if we thought the imperialist exploitation, interference, presence etc. in Brazil was not a relevant matter for us, which is in opposition to our beliefs. This conclusion seems to have been based on one poorly formulated sentence taken out of context. Had you asked for further clarification on this, this could have been easily solved.
Having made this correction, we want to point out that you have apparently chosen not to answer our question on Brazil, which would have clarified our different political approach and is crucial to understand where our difference lies:
“If today, amid Brazil’s reactionary government of Bolsonaro, there was a mass revolt with the PT playing a part in it and it ended up with them in power, protecting the bourgeois regime and its institutions, we might side with the PT on certain confrontations, but we would definitely not call the results a ‘partial victory’, neither say the outcome is ‘much better’ than before. The whole structure of the bourgeois state would be preserved because of the brake the PT ascending to power would mean. (All this is of course hypothetical since the PT is extremely legalist). If the PT succeeded in taking power over the government, would that count as a ‘partial victory’ to the Korean comrades? And if that is so, shouldn’t we be calling to vote for them?”
2. The Spartacist slogan on Iran
The slogan we claim from the Spartacist League on Iran in 1978/1979 is “Down with the Shah! No support to the Mullahs! Workers to power!”. This is the slogan that in our opinion best represents our position. The international Spartacist tendency itself made this correction to the original slogan of the American section. The fact that you confused it with “Break with the mullahs” was simply a sign of indifference or sloppiness towards what we were saying in our letter.
This slogan leaves no room for the sectarian interpretation that Marxists would take no part in the workers strikes, struggles and insurrection against the Shah in the course of 1978-79; that we would stand aside and “take no sides” as if we were no participants in the events. But it also makes clear we give no support to the Islamists and Khomeini. Their ascension to power was no “partial victory”. It was not the positive culmination of an anti-Shah revolution – it was its gravedigger, Kerensky and Kornilov fused in one single character. The Mandelites, Morenoites, Hansenites, all saw the events of February 1979 in Iran as a “victory” despite the pro-Khomeini forces griping power. We believe history fully confirmed the Spartacist assessment. See: https://rr4i.milharal.org/1979/09/24/iran-history-takes-its-vengeance/
3. The main difference
Your analysis of the fall of Mubarak in Egypt in 2011, who was replaced by a military junta and his former prime minister; of the fall of the Shah in Iran 1979, who was replaced by Islamist forces with many of the same repressive apparatus ahead of the bourgeois state; of the results of the Russian February revolution of 1917, which although it dismantled the monarchy, guaranteed the continuation of the interests of the landowners and the big bourgeoisie, all as “partial victories” and the situation being “much better” than before are serious political differences. We see the replacement of the previous governments/regimes by capitalist politicians and in some cases clearly reactionary forces as the pathway to the abortion and destruction of the potential revolutions if not overcome by the working class in time, not a progressive stage within them. This would clearly lead to opposed concrete views in future revolutions.
It seems you equate those situations with repelling of imperialist invasions – since you compare them with the side the Fourth International took in Japan’s war against China and in a hypothetical war of England against Brazil (positions which we are in full agreement with, but which are describing a whole different scenario). We see the equivalent of these in the case of an imperialist or Shah coup/invasion against Iran, in which we would take the other side despite the fact that Khomeini was persecuting communists, women, homosexuals, etc. As we quoted to show you, so would the Spartacists of 1978/1979.
We also conceded that a recently empowered capitalist government might be forced to make certain concessions/reforms to control the workers’ movement or a mass movement and we can regard those (such as the nationalization of certain imperialist companies or the opening of some democratic space) as partial gains which must be defended. But this cannot be said about the actual results in the realm of government/regime change.
4. Trotskyism and imperialism
Our opposition to your view on revolutions has little to do with not recognizing that “change has stages”, but with the actual meaning of one of those possible stages. There are many variants of “stageism”, not only the Stalinist one. Our early comparison of your interpretation with a left brand of Morenoism was drawn from our experience here in Brazil with this political tendency, which sees “victories” for the proletariat in events which cannot at all be interpreted that way. And by doing so, they tend to mesmerize the workers and see “progressiveness” in victories of reactionary forces. While you do not openly say it, this is clearly the direction your analysis leads to.
We translated our article on the 2013 events in Egypt to show you this. On that occasion, you had a correct position because you identified the removal of Morsi as a reactionary movement by the Egyptian generals and their imperialist backers (which the Morenoites did not). But when the ascending bourgeois force or party is not so blatantly pro-imperialist, or when it tries to pose itself as “anti-imperialist”, you seem to see the result of its ascending to power as progressive, even when the results are so clearly and so quickly fatal to the working class (as in Iran).
While we have our own critical assessment of the Spartacist tendency, we claim its legacy as an important exception to the almost complete degeneration and lack of principles among the “Trotskyist” organizations in the post-war period. We do not believe there was a tendency of capitulation to imperialism in the Spartacist group from the get-go. We proudly claim their defense of Algeria and Angola against the imperialists in the 1960s and 1970s as important examples. We have also analyzed their opposition to the right-wing pro-imperialist coups d’état against Allende in Chile in 1973 and Torres in Bolivia in 1971. But their subsequent degeneration has led to various capitulations to imperialism. From their 1983 position on Lebanon, in which they simply condemned and disregarded an attack against the US Marines occupying the country, to their 2001 rejection of calling for the defeat of US troops in Afghanistan and finally their shameful 2010 support to the American occupation of Haiti.
On Israel and the conflicts with groupings of neighboring Arab countries, the Spartacists changed their position in the 1970s to one of double defeatism to both sides in the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973. They sided with Egypt against Israel and the British and French imperialists in the war of 1956 and the IBT also took a position siding with Lebanon against Israel in 2006. Their consistent call was to defend Palestine and smash the Zionist state by socialist revolution made by both Arab and Hebrew workers.
Their analyses of the wars did not ignore the imperialist interests, but seemed to point to the fact that both sides in the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 were struggling for imperialist favor and the predation of Palestine, not fighting to expel the imperialist forces from the Middle East or defend Palestine, despite the fact that the imperialists preferred the Zionists as their main support in the region. Their position on 1948 was shared by the then Palestinian section of the Fourth International at the time of the conflict, while it had opposed the partition of Palestine and creation of Israel sponsored by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. See: https://rr4i.milharal.org/2011/06/19/the-trotskyist-position-in-palestine/
We do not uncritically follow every position the Spartacists have taken and are open to reviewing some of their views, but we must stress that to make a correct analysis of this issue one must define what the axis of the conflict was and the level of imperialist involvement on the Israeli side and the Arab countries side.
While capitulation in the face of imperialist attack/intervention or pro-imperialist “mass movements” has been a hallmark of fake-Trotskyists which we must fight (see our analyses on Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Hong Kong, etc.) we believe capitulation to popular-frontism, nationalism and bourgeois leaders posing as “anti-imperialists” has also played a significant role in leading to the swamp most “Trotskyist” currents are in. Often, these two forms of capitulation are found in the same tendencies. The destruction of the Fourth International by the Pabloists had the latter as its main feature. The betrayal of the 1952 Bolivian revolution by the FI involved their capitulation to a bourgeois government posing as “anti-imperialist”, which led to disaster. Same role was later played by revisionists in Algeria, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, etc. etc.
Our recent position on Venezuela, entitled “Down with the imperialist threats against Venezuela! No trust in Maduro’s authoritarian regime!” is a testimony on how we are opposed to both “types” of degeneration of the Marxist perspective. See: https://rr4i.milharal.org/2019/01/30/down-with-the-imperialist-threats-against-venezuela-no-trust-in-maduros-authoritarian-regime
5. Farewell comment
As for us being stubborn about our positions, we do not deny that in the least, but we are definitely not dishonest. To the very end we honestly tried to convince you to our best ability, in a language neither of our groups is fluent at. We viewed discussions with you as a serious opportunity of regroupment. We actively pursue discussions with groups and individuals internationally, in an attempt to build an international tendency on the basis of our positions. We will continue to stubbornly do that!
One week before sending your letter on September 14, you showed desire to publicize the content of our exchanged letters, and asked if we were OK with the posting of our letters to you. This indicated to us that the discussions were over on your part, although you ignored our direct questions about it. We clearly stated to you: “We’re OK with making it public, but we’ll probably want to respond to your letter as well. Will it be added then?” To our surprise, you chose to post only your side of the discussions. We will post the entire content of the discussions on our website (including your letters to us). We ask you do the same on your website for an honest representation of both sides’ views.
For Revolutionary Regroupment
28 September 2020