On the International Bolshevik Tendency’s Dodges and Evasions
By Samuel Trachtenberg
On March 23 we received the following communication from the International Bolshevik Tendency’s leader Tom Riley in response to our document “International Bolshevik Tendency ‘Explains’ Its Demise” posted 2 days earlier.
To Sam T.:
We have read your 21 March screed directed at us and note that it is largely a pastiche of distortions, falsifications and inventions as well as your previous criticisms. Given your troubled mental condition—which would appear to involve more than simply depression, and which we observed gradually worsen during your time in the IBT—it is difficult to know which of your misrepresentations are genuinely delusional and which are malicious. While we do not intend to comment on most of your allegations, we were struck by the claim that you “wrote many of their [IBT] documents for so many years.” Whether or not you actually believe this, it is simply not true. We tend to view this assertion as an example of how, at least in some instances, you are genuinely “incapable of recognizing reality.”
A far more serious (and in fact slanderous) allegation is that Comrade Jason had a job “for several years working at a clerical position for the Dept. of Homeland Security.” This is absolutely untrue. It is not clear to us whether you are deliberately inventing this or have derived it from a confused recollection of the fact that Jason, who has long been a unionized state civil servant, was one of the clerks assigned to x-ray mail sent to members of the legislature for a period of time after “9-11.” This had nothing to do with the Department of Homeland Security. The IBT would never have any supporter employed by any police agency, including the Department of Homeland Security, and none of our supporters would ever entertain such a notion. If you are indeed still capable of “making rational political judgements,” we presume you will be anxious to immediately retract this false allegation. If we do not see a correction on your website within 24 hours (and a notification of the change on the Leftist Trainspotters list to which you posted a link to your article), we will have to conclude that you are deliberately promoting a vicious slander.
for the International Bolshevik Tendency
Since Tom Riley’s “demands” and diktats hold no water for those who are not IBT members, we were obviously not going to rush to respond to his “deadline” just to please him.
While we are certainly willing to publically discuss the details of the IBT’s bureaucratic internal life when necessary, we will obviously not discuss those details which we feel may potentially pose security risks. Therefore, we were forced to be somewhat deliberately vague in our own description of Jason Wright’s (party name) job as “clerical position for the Dept. of Homeland Security on the docks in upstate New York”. We were initially unsure whether Riley’s letter, which discusses Jason’s job with a bit of more detail (“unionized state civil servant” and “one of the clerks assigned to x-ray mail sent to members of the legislature for a period of time after ‘9-11.’”), was intended to be reposted by us, or used as a trap to claim we published potentially sensitive correspondence. But the IBT’s public circulation of Riley’s letter themselves, with the following introductory comment, has made the job of responding significantly easier, allowing us to be less cryptic on many points than previously.
24 March 2012
We are writing to alert you to a vicious slander of one of our supporters, Jason Wright, circulated by Sam Trachtenberg’s Revolutionary Regroupment website. The latest issue of our journal, 1917, contains a report on the IBT’s Sixth International Conference in which we noted our recent failure “to win over members of the Coletivo Lenin (CL) in Rio de Janeiro, some of whom eventually aligned themselves with Sam T., a talented but troubled former IBT member who departed in September 2008 after deciding he was no longer prepared to carry out the directives of the organization.”
On 21 March, Sam posted an emotionally-charged and at times delusional critique of this report on www.regroupment.org in which he falsely asserted that comrade Jason “had for several years [been] working at a clerical position for the Dept. of Homeland Security.”
Two days later, we wrote Sam a short letter (reprinted below) correcting this misinformation and requesting a retraction within 24 hours. Regrettably there has been no retraction, and we are therefore circulating our letter to expose this odious lie.
Yours for workers’ democracy,
for the International Bolshevik Tendency
In this first installment, we will first deal with the nature of Jason Wright’s past employment, before more broadly responding to the other issues raised by Tom Riley’s letter.
Due to its politically sensitive nature for the IBT, (as opposed to many other groups on the left who would simply view all those employed by the repressive arm of the capitalist state as part of the working class), Wright’s job was not widely discussed through distributed written correspondence within the IBT (thereby potentially leaving a paper trail). We will therefore give Gary H. the benefit of the doubt that he himself truly believes that what is involved is an “odious lie.” There was informal verbal discussion. Those inside the IBT who knew at the time included Riley, and others in the leadership, who approved of Wright applying for and accepting (not “assigned” as in Riley’s description, which deliberately implies something that was inadvertently forced on him) the transfer as a way of climbing up the ranks of the NY State civil service ladder. Others who knew at the time were at least those who worked more closely with Wright in North America, including myself. The job was recognized as being potentially embarrassing politically and the details therefore to be hidden from the left public.
In hindsight I regret not giving the matter sufficient thought or probing at the time and therefore not protesting. I just assumed that the leadership was capable of making an intelligent decision on the matter based on looking at all the considerations. By the time I gradually started becoming uneasy after becoming more aware of the details, the decision was already a done deal and seemed to be too far in progress (I accepted that as a temporary expediency it would be finished with shortly anyway).
At the time Wright’s options for climbing up the ranks of the state civil service through applying for promotions was limited due to his lack of the necessary educational credentials. Applying for this particular transfer, which did not require those educational credentials, was therefore one of the few positions immediately open which, if accepted, would allow him to be eligible for other positions he could otherwise not pursue. So while it was indeed intended as a “temporary” measure (as we had already noted), and that he was to transfer asap to another less politically odious and embarrassing position after he worked enough years to become eligible, Riley’s use of “assigned” and “for a period of time” deliberately clouds both the significantly more lengthy time period involved and once again the fact that Wright, with Riley’s and the IBT leadership’s full knowledge and approval , applied for and accepted the promotion rather than being bureaucratically assigned by the state bureaucracy against his will.
Riley’s somewhat more detailed description of Wright’s job as “one of the clerks assigned to x-ray mail sent to members of the legislature for a period of time after “9-11” we think in and of itself indicates the claim that it “hadnothing to do with the Department of Homeland Security” as being false. It was not seen that way at the time either, which was why Riley was scared of others on the left finding out about it and Wright was instructed to start applying for transfers the moment he was eligible. It was seen as at best a highly uncomfortable grey area which should be done and forgotten about as quickly as possible.
While we do not believe Wright’s paycheck was formally signed by the Dept. of Homeland Security, (he was as Riley described employed by NY State) his job obviously was connected with working for, or perhaps “under” if the IBT prefers (and which we will happily insert into our article with a link to this exchange) the Department of Homeland Security. We will make that partial correction, though we believe the significance here is more formal/technical, rather than real or political.
That fact that Wright would not be an actual agent himself was obviously an additional factor which was seen as putting the job in a “grey area.” Our statement described his position as “clerical”, Riley’s letter gives a few more details describing it as “assigned to x-ray mail sent to members of the legislature for a period of time after ‘9-11.’” Not, for a communist, a comfortable job description any way you look at it.
Wright himself felt, quite understandably, very miserable and anxious to transfer as soon as possible at the time since he was constantly surrounded by all manner of security personnel at work with whom he was forced to relate to on a friendly on-the-job basis. One anecdote he related was of being stopped by a cop for a traffic ticket. The cop recognized him from work (“Oh, hi Jason, I didn’t know it was you”) engaged in several minutes of friendly banter and allowed Wright to drive on. Since Wright had frequently and recently driven some political contact/s in that car, he was struck with visions of the disaster that would have occurred had they been with him at that moment, trying to explain to them what they just witnessed.
While we would partially agree with the IBT’s view at the time that it was a “grey” area, the hue was of a sufficiently dark nature that it made the IBT feel very uncomfortable at the time, despite the attempt to now desperately try to paint it as a completely innocent affair. Dark enough in our view that it was not a position a communist should be working in, and that the leadership of a communist organization would not allow him to accept.
Since the decision to accept would ultimately be determined by the leadership, of which Wright (whom we are not partial to) was not a member of at the time, the IBT’s leadership, and primarily in this case Tom Riley would bear the burden of political responsibility in the matter.
While not quite putting them on the other side of the class line, for anyone familiar with the IBT’s public attitude towards these issues, it does indeed do much to politically discredit and compromise the IBT leadership’s political authority, which is why it was to be kept secret. The IBT itself would be a lot less generous in their assessment than we are being here if the shoe was on the foot of an organization other than theirs.
We initially raised the issue of Wrights past employment in the context of the IBT attempts at silencing and discrediting us through exploiting and grossly distorting politically inconsequential details of my personal life, via slander and attempts at blackmail. Along with my depression being distorted to portray me as “troubled” in an all too transparent attempt to avoid publically responding to the specifics of the accusations involved, the issue of my unemployment due to disability was also seen as a legitimate tool for political attacks to try to discredit Revolutionary Regroupment’s criticisms of the IBT. In that context a discussion of at least the politically uncomfortable elements of the employment history of those leading the charge are certainly in order also. Those who live in glass houses should generally be the last people going around making attacks of such a nature. To quote an older IBT polemic against the SL
“The Spartacist League evidently believes it has a right to say anything about other left groups, but goes into a frenzy the minute it gets a taste of its own medicine.”
The difference is our description of Wrights and Riley’s history on this question, as inadvertently evidenced in Riley’s letter, is indeed true.
(To Be Continued)