Disintegration in the “Post-Soviet Period”
Spartacist League Supports US Troops in Haiti!
February 15, 2010
The devastation wrought by the recent earthquake in Haiti has riveted the attention of the world, with the plight of the Haitian masses gaining mass sympathy amongst broad strata of the population. The immediate urgency of the situation and the illusions of many American’s in Obama’s goodwill has given the US government an opportunity to justify its military occupation of that country in the name of ostensibly helping its people.
While in the past similar immediately urgent situations have lead many on the left to also lose their bearings and support imperialist military interventions, from the Cliffites support for the presence of British troops in Northern Ireland in the late 60’s, the US Socialist Workers Party’s calling for sending US troops into Boston in the mid-70’s, or the widespread support for imperialist intervention in the Bosnian civil war in the mid-90’s, this time around it appears almost everyone on the far left has recognized the US government’s imperialist rationale for Haiti’s occupation for what it is and come out in opposition. Almost everyone on the far left except for one surprising, if not completely shocking, exception.
In the current issue of their newspaper, the Spartacist League has proclaimed
“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. And they’re doing it in the typical piggish U.S. imperialist manner. 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.”
“Haiti Earthquake Horror: Imperialism, Racism and Starvation”
Worker Vanguard #951 29, January 2009
No one proclaiming a Marxist understanding of imperialism, or for that matter just some knowledge of recent history, would have any doubt as to the ultimately predatory ambitions behind any imperialist intervention abroad. The situation in Haiti poses no new questions that differ from previous “humanitarian” interventions (where the SL has at least opposed the presence of imperialist troops, if not always calling for their military defeat) that could possibly justifiably be the cause of legitimate disorientation. The SL’s article even acknowledges
“While reformist “socialists” like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and Workers World Party (WWP) call for the U.S. to provide aid without the exercise of American military might, we have no such illusions. Indeed, American forces in Haiti have made “security” a higher priority than providing aid. While many planes carrying aid have landed at the Port-au-Prince airport, which is now controlled by U.S. forces, others were criminally diverted as the U.S. gave landing priority to planes carrying military personnel.”
The US military’s widely noted obstruction of desperately needed aid and repression against Haiti’s people should only make the situation all the more obvious even to those guided by a purely immediate empirical understanding.
Program Generates Theory, Generates Program
Still, the SL’s claim to Marxism has forced them to attempt a theoretical explanation/ rationale for what is, at bottom, an opportunist “impulse.” Arguing against their opportunist impulse through quotations of Lenin’s State & Revolution or Rosa Luxemburg’s Opportunism and the art of the possible etc. in the circumstances are therefore beside the point. Nonetheless, even on their own terms, the arguments raised have a political logic, going far beyond even the immediate situation in Haiti, which should be sending shock waves to anyone with even remotely socialist aspirations within the SL’s demoralized milieu.
In the course of denouncing Jan Norden’s Internationalist Group who came out with a statement on Haiti before they did, the SL argues
“The stark reality that the IG would deny is that a) even before the earthquake, there was virtually no working class in Haiti; b) in the aftermath of the earthquake, not only is the state “largely reduced to rubble,” but so is the society as a whole, including the desperate and dispossessed population; and c) there is a military power in Haiti that is far from “reduced to rubble,” and it’s U.S. Imperialism.”
“The IG demands that “all U.S./U.N. forces get out,” painting the U.S. military presence in Haiti today as aimed at suppressing a popular uprising…. The IG is cynically toying with rhetoric, blithely unconcerned with the fact that, in the real world, if the policies they advocate were implemented, they would result in mass death through starvation.” (Emphasis in original)
The claim that, even before the earthquake, there was virtually no working class in Haiti has many parallels with Stalinist arguments on China in 1927, where proportionally speaking, it is doubtful the working class was more developed than in Haiti, Bolivia or the many other countries the SL has written off for revolutionary purposes. But even if hypothetically true and Trotsky’s views on Permanent Revolution needs to be re-adjusted or narrowed as the SL is implicitly arguing, Marx (in his correspondence with Russian revolutionaries) and Lenin’s Third International still at least attempted to map out possible revolutionary strategy for such scenarios, understanding their ultimate fate did rest on the victory of revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries. In the manner of Second International “Marxists” the SL in contrast argues
“The bitter truth is that the desperate conditions of Haiti today cannot be resolved within Haiti. The key to the liberation of Haiti lies in proletarian revolution throughout the hemisphere, in which the mobilization of the sizable Haitian proletariat in the diaspora can play a key role.”
That leaves Haitian revolutionaries with little option but to either passively wait to be rescued by revolutionary struggles in other countries, or to emigrate. Either way this would leave the Haitian masses as a whole and their struggles in somewhat of a lurch, if the SL has any interest in the matter. How should revolutionaries have, for instance, oriented to past (and future) struggles such as the “massive discontent that drove “Baby Doc” Duvalier out of power”? Does it, according to the SL, even matter in the bigger scheme of things?
Pointing to the truism that the ultimate fate of Haiti (or any other country for that matter, however economically developed) ultimately rests on the victory of world revolution thus acts as a mechanism for abandoning Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution (or any other proposed alternative revolutionary) strategy for possibly most of the Third World. Of course, the SL is not attempting a serious theoretical re-evaluation, with all the political consequences consistently thought through, but giving a rationalization for their current mood of despair and resignation.
If, once again hypothetically speaking, there really is not much of a working class in Haiti, industrial, rural or otherwise, then that means there was also no sufficiently developed capitalist class, indigenous or foreign. This raises some questions about the nature of Haiti’s economy. Also, exactly whose class interests was the Haitian state defending? Denouncing other leftists for opportunistically tailing Aristide , the SL lets the cat out of the bag by quoting a previous statement that he would “play the role of groveling instrument of the Haitian bourgeoisie.” (“Haiti: Election Avalanche for Radical Priest,” WV No. 517, 4 January 1991) Leaving aside the question of Haiti’s class structure for the moment, who does the SL propose the Haitian masses support if not bourgeois populist figures like Aristide with their current stance? They’re obviously not calling for forming a Trotskyist party, with whatever proposed strategy, in Haiti as an alternative. The Stalinists would offer the Haitian masses their two stage strategy, of course. What would be the SL’s response?
The SL points out that in 2004 “We pointed out that the U.S. occupation of Haiti also represented a danger to the Cuban deformed workers state, as well as to the militant proletariat of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti (see “Haiti: U.S./UN Troops Out!” WV No. 821, 5 March 2004).” Have those dangers suddenly disappeared? Doesn’t defence of the Cuban revolution begin at Port-au-Prince (to paraphrase an earlier SL slogan)?
The SL further writes
“For liberals disappointed with the Obama administration’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the earthquake in Haiti was seen as an opportunity for the U.S. to show a benign face. This was echoed by Obama’s somewhat disillusioned reformist boosters, such as the ISO and WWP. The ISO demands that “Obama immediately stop the military occupation of Haiti,” while calling for the U.S. to “flood the country with doctors, nurses, food, water and construction machinery” (Socialist Worker online, 19 January). Likewise, a January 14 statement on Workers World’s Web site demands “the removal of all U.N. combat troops,” while calling for “all bonuses from executives of financial institutions that received bailout money to be donated to Haiti.”
“The notion that U.S. imperialism can be pressured into serving the needs of the oppressed, rather than its own class interests, shows boundless illusions in the good offices of the rapacious American ruling class. Reformists like the ISO and WWP perennially raised calls at demonstrations against the U.S. war in Iraq demanding a shift of U.S. government spending priorities from war to social services like education. But neocolonial domination and aggrandizement are inherent to imperialism, and no amount of pressure and pleading can change that. “
But if “the notion that imperialism can be pressured to serve the needs of the oppressed” shows “boundless illusions” then why is the SL not opposing the US military occupation of Haiti? Obviously the SL does not believe it is an illusion since they favor the troops remaining precisely because they claim they are serving the immediate needs of the oppressed. What other parts of the world can US imperialism help out in? More narrowly those the SL claims is without a sizable indigenous working class, such as say Afghanistan? Or perhaps more broadly throughout history. The Cliffites argument on Northern Ireland in 1969 seems highly similar to the SL’s today.
“The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital. Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists”
Socialist Worker, 11 September 1969)
Finally what attitude would the SL take in the circumstance of a military struggle Haitians to drive US troops out of their country? Would the SL simply refrain from calling for the defeat of US imperialism as they did in Afghanistan in 2001 or call for saving the lives of those troops as they did in Lebanon in 1983, or potentialy even worse, especially in light of the beneficial role the SL claims they are playing at the moment?
In a report on the SL’s thirteenth national conference, designed to prepare it’s readers for a potential future purge of Rachel Wolkenstein and her base of supporters in the Partisan Defence Committee, the SL claims
“The pressures of the period have helped to generate attempts to find a way to “get rich quick,” i.e., liquidating our revolutionary, internationalist and proletarian program in order to latch on to larger forces, hostile to the working class and to our revolutionary purpose “
“Dog Days of the Post-Soviet Period”
WV #948, 4 December 2009
It seems somewhat perverse to denounce ones internal critics for “latching” on to “larger forces hostile to the working class” (the rather small and sincere, if on many occasions politically wrong, group of Mumia activists, most of whom still no doubt have a better position on Haiti than the SL) when the “larger forces” one is latching on to is ones own bourgeoisie.
Questions have been raised by many as to the potential motives behind the SL most recent position. Some have claimed that it is an attempt by the SL leadership to find a way to artificially differentiate themselves from the rest of the left. Complaints from the SL’s quarter about the difficulties differentiating themselves from other left groups since the fall of the USSR have indeed been frequent in their literature. Others believe that, in the context of their recent internal turmoil, the SL leadership is using the issue organizationally as a loyalty test. Those who succeed in passing the SL’s test show their true loyalty is to the diseased cult organizationally, rather than any pretence it makes about socialist revolution. Lastly the IG has implied the SL has taken a dive in the face of chauvinist hysteria. While the SL certainly has taken such dives, such as their frightened reaction to 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan in 2001, no such similar atmosphere exists in relation to Haiti at the moment.
As more fully elaborated in a previous polemic (“IG: Trotsky’s Transitional Program or Robertson’s Political Compass”) the SL based practically it’s entire existence in the 1980’s on the issue of defending the USSR. In the face of it’s demise they have constructed a worldview in which, just as previously all questions were seen through the narrow prism of the Soviet Unions defence, today all questions are viewed through the narrow prism of the Soviet Unions demise. It is not just the subjective crisis of leadership that holds back working class struggles but a new objective circumstances where the question of taking state power is off the historical agenda for one reason or another.
Those who give up on the working class are forced to look to other social forces for salvation. During the 1980’s, in a symmetrical disorientation to today’s, the SL wildly exaggerated notions and fears about the dangers of the “Reagan years” combined with their dismantling of their trade union fractions lead them to look to the Soviet Stalinists and their military and economic might to protect them from the ravages of imperialism. Today the USSR no longer exists and Cuba cannot act as a sufficient substitute in the region. The recent crisis in Haiti and the SL’s reaction are, at bottom, an expression of giving up on the working class and, for that matter, giving up on themselves.
Wohlforth and Robertson
At least in some ways it appears that Spartacist leader Jim Robertson has arrived at the same place though with different tempos, as his former arch-nemesis Tim Wohlforth. Besides the fact that both started out as oppositionists to the Socialist Workers Party turn to Pabloite revisionism in the early 60’s and both tragically ended up leading bureaucratized anti-Trotskyist cults, it appears that Jim Robertson is now finally coming over to Wohlforth’s views on “humanitarian” imperialism.
A 1995 SL article provocatively titled (and without humouros intent) “Wohlforth: Who Is This Road Kill?” (Spartacist#52, Autumn 1995) states “Young people surfing the internet might wonder who is that maniac out in cyberspace cheering “Good Going!” to the Nato forces bombing the Bosnian Serbs…” Wohlforth also extended his support for “humanitarian” imperialist intervention into other countries at the time such as Somalia (which also by current SL standards had no working class and was perhaps also in hindsight deserving of imperialist goodwill) and, coincidentally, Haiti. Robertson is not yet quite as openly grotesque, he’s been following his arch-nemesis’s footsteps at a slower pace. Being quite old he is likely to die before he fully catches up. But perhaps today people surfing the internet should be asking the question (with the proper Seinfeldese inflections and shoulder shrugs) “Jim Robertson, who IS this roadkill?, and WHYdoes he support sending US troops to occupy Haiti?.”
A Sinking Ship
The SL’s thirteenth national conference report at points reads almost as a self-obituary. After acknowledging that “We may not have an immediate ‘perspective.’” the SL proclaims that their “central task” is “to arm the party programmatically and theoretically, from Spartacist to the maintenance of our Central Committee archive, the Prometheus Research Library, and education of all kinds in the course of our work.” In other words preserve Jim Robertson’s legacy for future archivists. This is the logical outcome of abandoning, implicitly or explicitly, socialist revolution as the realistic perspective of our epoch. A leader then sets one sights lower on the “realistic” goal of using the organization for attaining and preserving ones personal legacy and “footnote in history”.
This evident demoralization, drastic cut in membership size, the recent internal turmoil with Rachel Wolkenstein and the most recent dive on a key international issue of the day all indicate the SL is a sinking ship and there is great awareness of the fact internally from all indications.
In it’s transformation from a revolutionary propaganda group into a sectarian leader cult, the SL has not only destroyed many potential revolutionaries but also managed to recruit people on the basis of their former heritage, a small minority of whom have not yet subjectively abandoned their revolutionary aspirations. The Internationalist Group’s leadership has never given an honest political accounting of the SL’s history and the role they played in it. Neither, in other ways, has the International Bolshevik Tendency’s leadership (particularly in relation to issues surrounding Bill Logan, but also no doubt their current top bureaucrat Tom Riley) and, after a promising start, has been with increasing speed driving down it’s own bureaucratic “Road to Rileyville” for more than a decade now (see “Resignation from the International Bolshevik Tendency”). None of these groups deserves any political confidence.
As the mothership is sinking, and it’s offshoots stagnate under their own permanent geriatric leaderships, we appeal to all those genuinely interested in advancing (as opposed to what is in reality narrowly “preserving”) all that was revolutionary in the Spartacist League’s heritage to discuss with us.