Resignation from the International Bolshevik Tendency
The Road Out of Rileyville
The following resignation letter by Samuel Trachtenberg was sent on 9/25/08. It has been slightly edited for spelling and grammar.
This resignation letter should not come as a surprise for you. While I have had problems with and criticisms of the IBT leadership in past years, for well over a year now I have been constantly butting heads with it over the past and future development of the IBT, and it’s unending streak of cliquism, intriguing, maneuvering and overall disloyal methods through which the Troika (Tom Riley, Bill Logan, and Adaire Hannah) have kept their control of the group for all these years.
I still remain convinced of the necessity and possibility of overthrowing capitalist society, but that possibility can only be achieved through regrouping the subjective revolutionaries around the world on a sound programmatic basis to rebuild the Fourth International. However formally correct it’s paper program may be for the moment, history has shown that the sort of organization which the IBT has developed into, a static, stagnating group dominated by a Machiavellian deeply entrenched permanent leadership, can never have younger comrades grow, develop, and therefore play little role in that process. We lost the Argentine comrades primarily for those reasons, and it is only a matter of time before the group‘s current Latin American sympathizers will discover this for themselves. Daniel De Leon was also quite “orthodox” in his day, but he led a rigid hyper-centralized authoritarian sect whose contribution was mainly a literary one. It was not an accident that very few with an SLP history participated in founding the CPUSA.
In that light, perhaps the situation of the New Zealand section is most instructive. From being the largest ostensibly Trotskyist group in the country, it has dwindled down to 4 semi-active geriatrics. I suspect the reason for this being that its reputation is such that most NZ activists would not want to touch it with a ten foot pole. Logan’s and Hannah’s past reputation as Spartacist League leaders, combined with their apparent failure to fully break from their past practices (as expressed by the atrocious Comcrit sessions and Peter De Waal purge (see appendixes 1 and 2), are widely known in NZ left circles and discussed in various internet discussion groups. But while there was initially some protest amongst the ranks when these incidents occurred, they were able to get away with them and the leadership‘s ability to get away their subsequent atrocious treatment of other critics, whether one agrees with their criticisms or not, set a bad pattern which the group still lives with today. I strongly urge comrades to read the documents on the purge of the Bay Area local (see appendix 3). One did not need to be a fan of Gerald Smith or Fred Ferguson to be disturbed by the Zinovievite manner in which the leadership dealt with them. Trotsky dealt with such differences radically differently as anyone who reads Crisis of the French Section, where similar issues of a “popular” press combined within discipline were in controversy, can see.
But while some of these developments happened even before I was a member, I can still say that the IBT today is a radically different group than the one I joined in 1994. Until 1998, when it‘s last factional struggle occurred, the IBT was still a group brimming with debates and line-ups. At the North American conference I attended after joining Riley and Logan were even in a minority on many questions. But it has now been 10 years since the IBT‘s last factional struggle with Jim Creegan’s followers and Ian Donovan.
This is how the group in the past viewed the issue when it happened to the SL:
“In the shadow world which increasingly constitutes the real internal life of the SL/US the leadership occasionally feels it necessary to reply to doubts, questions and criticisms which have never been explicitly articulated by anyone but which are thought to lurk in the minds of many. In the aftermath of the Gordon affair, Seymour churned out an internal article entitled “Comrade Robertson and the Spartacist tendency” in which he took up the thorny question of why the last faction fight in the SL occurred in 1968. Seymour asserts that ‘In a homogeneous organization factional struggle almost always occurs only when changed objective circumstances require a fundamental change in political line or organizational perspectives.’ (SL IDB No. 30, page 44). He uses the example of the Bolshevik party which was “demonstratably not a cult nor personalist organization. At every major turn Lenin encountered resistance or outright opposition from among the leading cadre.” The fact that this has not been the case in the SL/US for ten (now fourteen) years asserts Seymour:”
“‘is conditioned by the absence of objective circumstances which required major changes or breakthroughs in political line or unanticipated organizational turns….‘”
“‘Our tendency has existed in an organizational framework which has limited it to propagating the Trotskyist program and worldview… . [the SL/US] has never seriously challenged, even episodically, the bureaucratic leadership of the working class….‘”
“Very neat….all factional struggles in the iSt await the day when the organization wins a mass base in the working class.”
Yet when I raised this issue (along with many other similar ones), comrades gave the same response Seymour did combined with a gross campaign to convince me that my criticisms stemmed from ―mental illness. While I do have a history of depression, I am not insane and am perfectly capable of recognizing reality and the leadership‘s attempts to use the same devices with me it‘s used with other critics. Ian Donovan, who raised unsupportable criticisms on the issue of the popular front, was treated to a similar ploy. After leaving our group when the leadership undemocratically announced his views would not be discussed for 2-4 years until our next conference, the IBT responded with snide insinuations externally (and explicit ones internally) that his report of what happened was a product of ―mental illness. Yet, his report was accurate. While Ian had a history of anger management problems, he also was not insane.
One of the leadership‘s corrupt hatchet men, Jason Wright, has himself had a history of his previous organization, the Revolutionary Workers League, campaigning to convince him his correct criticisms of them were also a product of “mental illness” (see appendix 4). How he can look at himself in the mirror today being complicit in a similar campaign I do not know. The term for such practices is “gaslighting” and I’d urge comrades to do a Google search on it. The fact that Bill Logan, a mental health “professional‖, has used his credentials for such disgusting factional purposes magnifies the corruption involved.
The incident that finally forced me to confront the issue head on happened two weeks ago. I received an e-mail from Tom Riley telling me he wanted to talk to me. Since I was quite angry over the iec’s [International Executive Committee‘s] last provocation in their attempt to bring me to heel, I told him to send me an e-mail and that I would respond, that I was overwhelmingly stressed at the moment and didn’t want to deal with more of it needlessly. Tom’s response was to inform me that I did not make the rules, he did, and that I was under discipline to call him. I responded that I assumed this involved some security issue or something similar that could not be discussed via e-mail, since otherwise the demand did not amount to any sort of legitimate operational discipline but an exercise in establishingpsychological obedience of the sort the SL engaged in, and that otherwise it would be smart for him to e-mail me, since it’s never a good idea for those who have lost all moral authority to engage in threats. He responded by continuing to demand I call. When I did he informed me that if he, Mr. Big Shot “Leader”, told me to call, I better call, and proceeded to arrogantly inform me that I “shouldn’t be too surprised if in the not too distant future” I should see myself “forced to leave the group” followed by one of his snide “heh heh”s. Whether the intent was to provoke me to quit, engage in bureaucratic intimidation, or most likely a statement of future intent made in a moment of uncontrolled bureaucratic arrogance, it forced me to personally confront the fact that if such an abusive piece of garbage could be the main undisputed and unquestioned leader of a group, it meant it had no revolutionary future. In the end the issue he had to discuss could have been e-mailed. His response was that he ―didn’t feel like it.”
I deeply value the past historical contributions of the IBT and would seek to continue its work. But a continuation is not a repetition and the group that I (and others) will be forming will be careful to not repeat its mistakes. Comrades can read more on the web site www.regroupment.org which will be online shortly.
I call on others in the IBT to join me since I do not believe that the IBT leadership is reformable at this stage, nor do I believe that the deeply necessary rank and file insurrection the group needs is likely in historical junctures like ours. These occur usually as a reflection of rising class struggle in the broader society, just like the pacification of the IBT ranks reflect that difficult period through which the IBT has suffered in its 27 years of inability to break out of its hyper-marginalized existence. But for those who disagree I invite you to attempt one. If you succeed before the rot reaches its formal program, I and others who join with me will be quite happy to fuse our forces. More likely the leadership will marginalize you through its incessant behind the scenes maneuvers and whispering campaigns, combined with organizational repression, until you leave demoralized and broken, which Jim Robertson [who mentored them in their techniques] used to explicitly say was the way to deal with oppositionists.
Those who try and, like me, remain determined to be revolutionaries are invited to contact the new group I will participate in forming. I am confident of its future.
P.S. While the new group will have a polemical focus, it will not be a narrowly IBT centered one. I will not be forming an “external tendency.” While such an orientation made sense towards a mass party involved in day to day combat like the Communist International, it doesn’t for a purely literary group with fewer than 40 people worldwide. That orientation did not make sense towards a group like SL either and the IBT has never been able to break from that narrow focus. That is a lesson I have learned. But I will write polemics with the IBT when the need arises and certainly respond to any accusations. A larger historical analysis than the one presented in this letter will be forthcoming.