The International Bolshevik Tendency “Explains” Its Demise

Head in the Sand Rationalizations & Attempted Blackmail
The International Bolshevik Tendency “Explains” Its Demise

March 2012

Three decades since its first public statement [FROM NEW YORK TO SRI LANKA: IT IS DESPERATELY NECESSARY TO FIGHT! October 1982] the group that is today the International Bolshevik tendency is visibly smaller than ever, more isolated than ever, and older than ever. It has also, like previous groups which had struggled to rebuild the revolutionary movement under difficult conditions of many decades without success, lost its revolutionary purpose and degenerated. More specifically, it has transformed itself into a qualitatively similar organization as the group it split from all those decades ago, the corrupt bureaucratized sect known as the Spartacist League.

Those who struggled against the Socialist Workers Party’s degeneration without success in the 1960’s analyzed some of the similar circumstances which today affect the IBT.

“The SWP in its leadership has become a very old party. From 1928 to the present–34 years–it has been led by the same continuous and little changing body of personnel. Thus it is the most long-lived, ostensibly revolutionary, organization in history. Its current National Committee must have one of the highest average ages of any communist movement ever.

“While the leadership is old, many of the leading rank and file party stalwart at the local branch level are middle-aged and comfortably well off–skilled workers with many years’ seniority and homeowners to boot.
The Centrism of the SWP and the Tasks of the Minority
By Jim Robertson & Larry Ireland. September 6, 1962

“Against this background of defeat and of isolation from the direct class struggle, the political decay of the aging leadership of the Party, from which a whole generation was missing, was inevitable.

“Having no taste over a sustained period of even small victories, seeing the class reject them and turn to relative passivity or even reaction, the old leadership of the Party, aided by younger elements trained in a petty-bourgeois political milieu, lost confidence in the class and its own ability to achieve victory.”
The Tendency and the Party
by Geoffrey White, 10 October 1962

The IBT’s degeneration is not simply due to objective conditions. The many wrong policies of the leadership also inevitably had a negative effect. In particular many organizational practices which it inherited from the SL but failed to transcend inevitably took on an independent life of their own as the group’s existence increasingly became divorced from its initial revolutionary purpose until becoming transformed into an ednd in itself. The pressures for bureaucratization under such circumstances are obviously quite strong as much of the rank and file grows passive and depoliticized while the leadership’s unchecked power and control in the group increases by leaps and bounds. Leon Trotsky referred to this process as a “Thermidorean reaction.”  James P. Cannon summed up the phenomenon in all its various historical manifestations in this way;

“There is nothing revolutionary about the bureaucrats. They fear the masses and distrust them and are always swept aside during periods of upsurge. Only when the masses quiet down do the bureaucrats have their day—the gray people of the ebb tide. You see this manifested in all workers’ organizations in all mutations of the class struggle, from strikes to revolutions, and from trade unions to the organs of state power.
The Road to Peace
James P. Cannon (1951)

In the aftermath of a series of very public (and many not public) resignations and splits (not to mention the loss of their Ruhr local in Germany), and the resulting breaking of relations of various groups and sympathizers, the IBT, after a lengthy period of radio silence on the matter, has decided to use its recently published International Conference report as an opportunity to partially acknowledge and rationalize its deep crisis to a by now largely already aware left public (combined with an explicit attempt to blackmail our organization into silence). For those few deluded enough in its periphery who possibly expected any honest attempt to seriously look at the problems (we estimate that since our exit the IBT is now down to around 20 people losing around a third of its people) and the conditions behind them, the IBT’s peerless “leader” (Tom Riley) and the spineless hacks who protect his every move choose to offer this instead;

“In assessing our work since our 2008 conference, we noted that despite some limited successes (e.g., gaining supporters in France and Poland), we have yet to make any major breakthroughs internationally and have in fact suffered some reverses. In 2010, one recently-recruited comrade left the IBT to become an anarchist in the aftermath of the explosive protests against the G-20 in Toronto. More significantly, we failed 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. Our failure to win the Brazilian comrades came as the disappointing culmination of several years of effort and represented the loss of what had appeared to be a promising opportunity to undertake work in an extremely important part of the world.
Capitalist Crisis & Revolutionary Opportunity: Sixth International Conference of the IBT
1917 #34, 2012

That’s it, with much of the rest of the report consisting of some rather undeserved self-praise.

We may choose to comment more broadly on the IBT’s conference “report” in a future article, but for now will limit ourselves to addressing the self-amnestying head-in the sand explanations offered above.

“Defaming the Accuser”

On Sept. 25 2008 Samuel Trachtenberg resigned from the International Bolshevik Tendency with his resignation letter (“The Road out of Rileyville”) describing some of the key points in the history of the IBT’s bureaucratic degeneration and announcing his intention to continue struggling to rebuild a revolutionary group that can play a role in helping rebuild the Fourth international. As the IBT’s report conveys, confounding their expectations of quick failure, that intention was eventually met with some limited but real success at the IBT’s expense. That initial expectation is why the IBT initially chose to inform its readers the public resignation in its Fifth International Conference Report written shortly after his split.

Rather than re-iterating all the points made, we invite the reader to look over that resignation letter to see if there is any attempt to deal with the issues raised in the IBT’s description of events. There is none. The reason for this is rather simple. An attempt to deny the truth of any part of the resignation statement (and subsequent material) would force us to take the necessary time to give even more proof of our contentions by going into more, for IBT peerless leader Tom Riley, scandalous and embarrassing details on his years of bureaucratic abuse of his leadership position and dishonest manipulations of other left organizations. As Riley is fond of saying, silence is the better part of valor.

Instead the report attempts to externally continue its previous internal campaign to label Trachtenberg’s descriptions of bureaucratic corruption as a product of being “troubled.” Trachtenberg’s resignation letter noted

“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..

“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 resignation letter also noted the use of similar techniques against internal critics by other bureaucratic leader cults such as the Revolutionary Workers League. Jason Wright, the IBTer currently being groomed as eventual successor to Tom Riley’s crown of shit, as a former RWL member himself described being given such treatment as a response to his criticisms (see “Letter (circa 1998) by the IBT’s Jason Wright documenting his leaving the Revolutionary Workers League”). At the time Wright noted “this sort of thing is not the healthy functioning of a revolutionary organization… and is enough alone (without even addressing the plethora of RWL programmatic deviations) to insure they have no right to claim the mantle of Trotskyism”. We are in full agreement at least on that much.

Of course the IBT leadership is already (inadvertently) on public record on how they would seek to properly deal with external critics (see “Published and be Damned”) which we would also urge readers to look at. The piece, amongst other things, documents an attempt to provoke “a cornered rat reaction of physical violence which would have been useful to the PRG [former name of the New Zealand IBT section] in discrediting Peter in his probable future career of anti-PRG ‘expert’.” Bill Logan (IBT’s second in command) reprimanded some squeamish comrades about his attempts to frame up and slander a critic of his bureaucratism that “My own sense is that the comrades are being a little over-critical of me, a little too scrupulous about the proper mode in which political struggle is conducted.” Whatever else anyone would ever accuse the IBT leadership of, scrupulous would never be it.

None of these practices are new. The IBT in better years described similar methods by the Spartacist League.

“We predict that you will not print this letter in its entirety. To do so would mean confirming or denying the above charges in print; to do either would be equally damaging to the reputation of the SL leadership. To deny them would contradict the direct experience of every SL member and sympathizer who saw the picture of Jaruzelski (clearly on display for months in the maintenance department of your New York headquarters), who contributed to Robertson’s house, who spent many hours constructing the playroom and installing the hot tub. A direct denial would expose your leadership as cynical, unmitigated liars in the eyes of all these members and sympathizers.

“If, on the other hand, you were to confirm these allegations, and say that, as head of a supposedly Marxist organization, Robertson is fully entitled to enjoy a materially privileged lifestyle at your members’ expense, and that Jaruzelski deserves a place of honor on your walls, you would forever forfeit any claim to be taken seriously as a Trotskyist organization, and reveal yourselves to the world as the degenerate personality cult you have become. It would then be highly improbable that any rational human being would ever want to support or join the Spartacist League.

“You therefore resort to the only dodge available to a culprit on the spot: to divert attention from the accusations by sowing confusion and defaming the accuser. An ordinary gangster might attempt to impugn the reputation of a witness against him by calling the latter a rapist or a drug addict; you respond to the testimony of the Bolshevik Tendency with a battery of epithets specifically designed to discredit us in the eyes of leftists and Trotskyists: anti-Soviet renegades, trade-union bureaucrats, racists, agent-provocateurs, etc. And just in case these specifically leftist terms of opprobrium do not have the desired effect, a few more ordinary accusations—e.g., ‘‘petty criminal’’—are thrown in for good measure. These tactics—all in the worst traditions of Gerry Healy and David North—should prompt the more thoughtful readers of Workers Vanguard to ask themselves: ‘‘Why should anyone believe James Robertson?’’
“Truth or Consequences”
1917 #8, Summer 1990

An earlier piece described a similar attempt to frame up and discredit a founding member of the IBT by the SL.

“[Bob] Mandel’s long record as a prominent Bay Area leftist was a prime asset for the Bay Area SL for all the years he was an SL supporter. Today, however, it is a liability for Robertson & Co. so he has become the target of some particularly unpleasant attacks by the SL leadership….

“At the time, Mandel was in the midst of a financial/personal crisis precipitated by his years-long blacklisting in the ILWU. He was also distraught and badly shaken by the prospect of separation from the political tendency to which he had devoted his life. Mandel did everything he could to prove his loyalty to the organization. He was presented with a statement penned by Al Nelson. The statement reads like an FBI-style confession. It begins: “I freely admit the following statements to be true and understand they are to be filed as a confidential statement with the Central Committee of the Spartacist League…”This bogus “confession,” composed of some pretty bizarre allegations, as well as various other statements, a few of which are true, was intended to be used to discredit Mandel publicly in the future. Having signed it, he found himself in a Catch-22 situation which the SL leadership has since sought to exploit. Mandel certainly made a big mistake in blindly signing such a “confession,” but the whole incident casts an unpleasant light on the routine practices of the SL leadership.
“Warren Street: ‘Home of the Whoppers'”
Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt #3,3, May 1984

Sam who?

The report also interestingly chooses not to mention either “Revolutionary Regroupment” nor “Samuel Trachtenberg” by name, which would easily show up on most search engines. Instead it refers to only “Sam T.”

The IBT is forced by circumstances to acknowledge our existence for those who already know, while trying to do so in a manner that shields our groups identity for their readers who don’t in case they are curious enough to want to read what we may have to say on all this. This is the Tom Riley’s understanding of what he calls “tactical acuity.” A former IBT associate noted that no doubt Bernie Maddoff called what he did using similar terms. Such crude bluffs, combined with a grossly transparent gladhand personality, are indications why for many of those who have met him, the IBT’s peerless leader is referred to as the “used car salesman of ostensible Trotskyism”.

Blackmail

The other purpose of the “troubled” accusation is an attempt to engage in implicit blackmail to force Revolutionary Regroupment to keep quiet about the IBT leaderships anti-socialist corruption on penalty of discussing sensitive areas of Trachtenberg’s personal life in public. This was previously attempted in a February 9, 2011 letter sent to the Coletivo Lenin and Trachtenberg in the aftermath of the CL breaking relations with the International Bolshevik Tendency and establishing fraternal relations with Revolutionary Regroupment (see December 2010 statement).

“We had not previously advised you of Sam’s September 2008 resignation from the IBT, or his attempt to project himself as a “competing organization” (via his website), because we considered it pretty much a non-event and we sought to avoid public discussion of the severe personal problems that we believe underlay his political trajectory…

“We have no idea what could lead you to imagine that Sam was “driven out,” or that his membership was “transform[ed] into a fiction.” There was never any attempt to exploit the personal/psychological problems that make it impossible for him to hold a job, leave home or do many other things that are usual for people in their late 30s. We tried to help him to the extent we could, but there is no question that mental-health problems did impact his functioning in the group, as he himself admitted on several occasions.”

“Sam presented us with the difficult problem of trying to deal with a valuable cadre who develops political/organizational differences that are, at least in part, a result of his own fragile mental/emotional condition.”

We think this makes it pretty clear that such attempts at exploitation did indeed occur, during and after. This would be especially scandalous for the IBT in light of Bill Logan’s well known record as a former Spartacist leader which was rife with just such exploitation of the details of comrades’ personal lives, which included driving one rank and file Spartacist member attempt suicide. As a previously quoted document (“Published and Be Damned”) demonstrates, none of that has changed qualitatively despite Logan’s claims to be a changed person upon joining the IBT. Logan, and his puppetmaster Riley, of course also share this, and many other traits, with corrupt bureaucrats of past periods (see for example James P. Cannon’s evaluation of Jay Lovestone in the Appendix).

We will clear the air on these matters.

As previously noted Sam Trachtenberg has suffered from depression for many years. That does not make him crazy, “troubled” or incapable of recognizing reality and making rational political judgements. The IBT would not have had him as a high profile member who also wrote many of their documents for so many years if that was true. The IBT leadership would not also allow many present IBTers who also have a history of depression (and who will know what to expect if they were to ever raise any differences in the future) to be members if they truly believed that. The reality is they don’t believe these accusations but are simply using them as a tool for blackmail and psychological warfare.

Sam Trachtenberg several years ago was also forced to leave work and drop out of graduate school after becoming ill with an ultimately fatal if untreated, rare medical condition which went undiagnosed for many years. We do not believe being disabled and unemployed makes one unfit to be a revolutionary or incapable of making rational and intelligent political choices. We don’t think most on the left do either.

Sam Trachtenberg, as some who know him on the left already know, also has a parent who has been severely ill since he was a child.

While being forced to discuss sensitive details of one’s personal life in front of the public is uncomfortable, none of these things are in any way scandalous or unethical, unlike many aspects of the IBT leaderships personal (not to mention political/organizational as already discussed) lives.

While we are on the subject, we would like to ask just what kind job does the IBT leadership believe that Trachtenberg should have or had (and before getting ill he had various). Like the job Jason Wright (party name) had for several years working at a clerical position under the Dept. of Homeland Security on the docks in upstate New York? The one he was encouraged to take by Riley and the IBT leadership as a useful temporary position for climbing up the civil service ladder and which was to be kept strictly secret from the left public? No, neither Sam Trachtenberg nor any other present or future Revolutionary Regroupment member ever had or will have such a job.

The IBT’s attempts to silence us will not succeed!

[Note: See our exchange with the IBT on this section of the polemic]

Turmoil in Toronto

The IBT report makes mention of a prominent Toronto comrade who left to become an anarchist activist in a local Platformist group. It gives no mention of the reasons behind his decision to leave (see “Brandon Gray’s Resignation Letter” 7/1710). While the issues he initially left over were related to tactical questions over the 2010 G-20 protests, questions we are not in a position to take definite positions on from afar, it is clear from the letter these issues were the final straw related to a broader developing critique of the IBT’s degeneration, which included an aristocratic snob disdain for militant young activists in favour of pursuing more respectable (and organizationally passive in the face of bureaucratic intimidation) elements within academia. (The Platypus Affiliated Society, for whom the IBT has recently traveled all over the US to speak at their panels, being a good example). Like many who have witnessed bureaucratic corruption in pseudo-Leninist sects, he ultimately concluded the roots of the IBT’s bureaucratism lay with its claim to Bolshevism.

It is also clear that his decision to leave the IBT were prompted by witnessing the sort of corruption described in Sam Trachtenberg’s resignation letter. Here are large excerpts which describe the internal situation.

“I formally joined the IBT in the spring of 2009 after being a sympathizer working with the group for two years in Toronto. The high level of programmatic education earned my confidence and respect despite the small size of the group relative to others. However, when the resignation of Sam Trachtenberg in New York came to light I took some time to investigate his case and delayed applying for full-time membership. The political criticisms raised by Sam. were never explained to me. Instead, damning personal attacks were made against his credibility. Personal health issues were ruthlessly exploited and distorted in order to discredit him and avoid articulating any of his criticisms. Unable to recognize these attacks for what they were, I submitted my application and after being accepted, I brought up the fact that I had taken a good look at Sam’s case before finalizing my decision to join. I was told he was paranoid and delusional, and that it was a good thing he left so the leadership didn’t have to work even harder to push him out. I regret that I did not contact Sam, at the time to get his side of the split but in my defense, my personal ties to the younger comrades in the TBT local influenced me to leave the issue in the past though I kept my suspicions in the back of my mind for a day when more information would come to light.

“At a 15 April 2010 local meeting it was suggested that a comrade who roughly fit my own description in terms of my limited relationship with Sam “befriend” him on a social media site in order to monitor him and relay information back to the leadership. I was the only person to comment on that point, stating that I would be the best candidate for such a job but that I don’t feel comfortable with it; that it felt dishonest and wrong. Riley merely shrugged and dismissed my objections by saying it wasn’t so bad and I shouldn’t have a problem with it. This was another weird side of the organization to which I responded with dismay. Could Samuel Trachtenberg be accurately describing the internal workings of my group? The validity of his case had grown with time and now a concrete example of unhealthy leadership practices had been demonstrated to me. I must now conclude that a disgusting campaign of lies and slander was used against Sam in order to push him out after he made various correct criticisms of the leadership. I now agree with Sam’s criticisms and urge comrades to look at them with open eyes.

“As everyone in the IBT knows, membership has continued to decline since Sam in New York left the group. The dropping off of long-time supporters such as L. in NYC and the dismissal of W.’s attempt to transfer to our local was merely brushed aside because they were “old” and “useless.” An appropriate political explanation was not given. Our London local is constantly trashed for various reasons that seem unfair to me. More recently it has been announced that we should expect the “likely” loss of A. in Ireland who is a long-time comrade of the group and probably one of our most energetic members in terms of adapting to tactical realities and functioning with keen initiative. I recognized at the time that it was no accident that yet another of our most energetic, engaging and least abstentionist comrades who was working outside of the direct supervision of either Riley or Logan had become a target for being pushed out. The only value this comrade had according to our local and international leader was that he is one of our few comrades who can maintain the website, hence, he will be kept around as long as is convenient. It is also no coincidence that he was my only supporter when I raised my criticisms.

“After recruiting a couple members in recent years, in large part due to the interventions of their youngest comrades, the TBT local is now shrinking back down in size and everywhere else our membership continues to contract under the burden of a bureaucratic leadership. Contact sessions have consistently broken down after initially showing promise and there seems to be little expectation of winning over Toronto leftists to the group in the foreseeable future. Our performance during the G20 protests has only made our prospects worse.

“Some time ago, when it was indicated that the fusion talks with a group of contacts in Latin America were probably not going to work out because the contacts had demanded we do what our leadership described as “OCAP-type entry work” I was unsure if this was inevitable. As a rank and file member of the IBT I was never privy to any discussions with these comrades and news of our progress with them only came from our senior leaders who constantly portrayed them less as dedicated revolutionaries, and more as naïve children with silly ideas floating around in their heads, despite the fact that they were working under much harsher conditions than us. This is an even more bureaucratic repeat of the way our leadership botched similar fusion talks in the past.

“It is amazing how much the 9/5/81 resignation letter to the Spartacist League by HK [3], our most senior comrade, applies to our situation

“For about a year I have been moving toward the conclusion that distortions in the leadership of sections, locals, and fractions have developed and matured–at least in part from an internal life characterized by a defensive, hierarchical regime combined with a personalistic, Jesuitical method of internal argument and discussion. This process is advanced to the point where the S.L./S.Y.L. membership is increasingly composed of “true believers” or cynics. I suspect that the incidents of political and tactical incompetence in the S.L. are connected with this deterioration of internal life. I think the central leadership has consciously and cynically concluded that the membership of the S.L. is too weak politically and personally to allow even the slightest disagreement with the leadership. There is an implied arithmetical equation: disagreement with the leadership equals hostility to the leadership equals disloyalty equals betrayal. Carried further, these trends will see the S.L. come to resemble less a principled, proletarian combat organization than a theocratic, hierarchical, political cult.”

“When internal critics struggling to give criticism in order to better build the organization are branded as traitors and apolitical slanders are used to discredit them, honest revolutionaries cannot continue to remain silent…..

“If history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, then what do we say about the third and fourth time? At minimum there is an unhealthy pattern occurring that stretches back through the IBT and into the SL. Lifelong permanent leaders grow to dominate the organizations they create which they take down with them. This is a problem that cannot simply be remedied by creating a new copy of the old group.

“Sadly, our own outgrowth from Robertson’s school of party building has followed the same path as each subsequent challenger to Riley and Logan’s leadership fell away over the past decades. While Robertson had his style, his protégées carry on the tradition of manipulation and maneuvering in their own personal style of “informal sanctions” and behind the scenes maneuvers against opponents to retain control of the group. While Robertson’s group managed to partially break out of their marginalization in the early 1970s, our own group has not and almost 3 decades later our publications have been plagued with the same sort of publication infrequency and delay found in the early years of the Spartacist League as the leadership control and monopoly of even the most minor detail of organizational life has suffocated and stifled the ability of new comrades to learn and develop.

“It is far past due for every honest comrade to speak out against the organizational degeneration inside the International Bolshevik Tendency. I hope I will not be the last to do so.”

“Spy vs. Spy”

One element of the IBT’s degeneration which is touched on in Brandon’s letter has is rooted in the Spartacist League’s distorted understanding of revolutionary regroupment and fighting revisionism, based partially on a distorted and overgeneralized understanding of the “French Turn” experience. The orientation comes down to a scorched earth policy towards all other groups on the left.

“At a 15 April 2010 local meeting it was suggested that a comrade who roughly fit my own description in terms of my limited relationship with Sam “befriend” him on a social media site in order to monitor him and relay information back to the leadership.”

Our understanding of revolutionary regroupment is that along with fusions large elements of it will also include splits based on struggles for programmatic clarity. For the SL and IBT though, their practices have been well described by others, such as the Workers Power group,

“There are two distortions of the concept of a fighting propaganda group here. First, the fighting propaganda group is portrayed as a stage during which the main task is to “destroy” other groups. Note the choice of words. The Spartacists seek not to win leftward moving centrists to communism, but to destroy them. This perspective leads characteristically to politically disloyal manoeuvres and provocations.
“After the splits the splinters, 1961-1983”(1983)

The disloyal provocations involve, amongst other things, sending agents to infiltrate other organizations (as opposed to openly joining a muti-tendency group as in an entry) and using a variety of unprincipled deceptions to either gather information or disrupt and split ones opponent. Since unfortunately in periods of isolation, as described by Marx and Engels (1), such practices tend to flourish on the left, the IBT and the SL are not the only groups to do this. This leads to drawing organizational rather than programmatic lines as people on the left feel incapable of trusting each other and prevents discussions and debates from happening. It destroys rather than helps build possibilities for regroupment around the important programmatic questions. This develops into the spectacle s of different left groups relating to each other in a manner similar to the “Spy vs. Spy” comic strip in Mad Magazine. It also tends to get generalized as the leaderships of such groups inevitably use the same methods internally that they use externally to maintain control. This is also largely what happened inside the SL and IBT.

Brandon was principled enough to turn down such a dirty assignment. Others in the IBT have not been. A more publicized example of this in IBT history relates to the 1998 recruitment of Marxist Educational Group from Albany which was described with great fanfare. The report on its Second International Conference (with the section titled “Two, Three, Many MEGS!”) described it as

“In early 1998 the MEG contacted both the IBT and Internationalist group (led by the SL’s former editor Jan Norden). This led to a series of discussions both written and verbal, with groups focusing on the Russian question, the genral strike, and the history of the SL’s political degenration. Ultimately the comrades concluded that the IBT was the most consistent representative of the revolutionary programmatic heritage of the RT and early SL.
“Weathering the Storm”
1917 #21, 1999

Also in a special bulletin devoted to the Internationalist Group.

“Initially the MEG comrades thought that the IBT and IG merely disagreed over the precise chronology of the SL’s degeneration, but they gradually came to see that more substantive issues were involved.
Trotskyist Bulletin #6 September 1999

The problem with this innocent enough sounding description is that it was untrue. What really happened was that the MEG was first recruited to the IBT and then approached the IG pretending to be “independents” trying to investigate the differences between the IBT and IG. During the entire time Riley was bragging with glee about “playing Norden like a fiddle.” It is doubtful the IG was naïve enough not to know that is what the IBT was doing. It is also clear that whatever minute possibilities for fusions existed were destroyed by such “acute tactics.”

In the end it gave the IBT some good factional publicity about having an independent group choose the IBT after seriously investigating them and the IG. It was also partially true, except that they made that investigation and chose the IBT before approaching the IG as IBT agents pretending to be “independents.”

Such practices have previously been described by the SL when discussing Gerry Healy’s group as

“using their [members] loyalty to the professed ideals of socialism to make them complicit in crimes against their comrades and the comrades of other groups.’’
quoted in “The Robertson School of Party Building”

Those who make themselves complicit tie themselves that much more strongly to the one they are committing the crime for, in practice burning ones bridges to others on the left through such methods. It is not accidental Trotskyists have always had nothing but scorn for the GPU infiltrators the Stalinists used against them.

Mr. “Tactical Acuity” Strikes Again

The IBT report gives no explanation of why it lost perhaps its biggest regroupment opportunity in years in such an important country like Brazil, except for it somehow being connected to Samuel Trachtenberg being “troubled.” We would refer our readers to the Coletivo Lenin’s statement at the time for a thorough explanation of how after three years of being maneuverer and manipulated the CL finally saw through the IBT’s “acute tactics.”

Tragically in the aftermath of three years of working for a fusion with a group they had taken to be sincerely revolutionary but discovering otherwise, some CL members left the group while others who remained became demoralized and open to going along with a senior members conclusions that the IBT’s bureaucratism and dishonesty was rooted in its Trotskyism. A document of the majority faction which arose after the split with the IBT declared

“In the following chapters we will demonstrate that it is impossible to formulate a correct strategy for world revolution without a correct analysis of the decay of capitalism, and that this strategy is quite different from the strategies of small Trotskyist-Leninist groups which seek to struggle against the reformist misleaders by mobilizing the masses around transitional demands leading to the conequest of state power. We will also show why the Fourth International was not destroyed by Pabloite revisionism, but by its inability to overcome the Leninist legacy of basing ones strategy on imminent world revolution.”
“The Theory of Decay and the Crisis of the Third and Fourth International” (2011)

Once again the IBT succeeded in helping discredit Trotskyism with its practices.

Those members who were primarily responsible for writing the statement establishing fraternal relations with Revolutionary Regroupment, struggled against this degeneration and are now the Revolutionary Regroupment group in Brazil.

What the reports non-explanation does bring to mind is the previous time the IBT destroyed its regroupment opportunities in Latin America, once again due to IBT’s peerless leader Tom Riley’s uncontrollable penchant for exercising his “tactical acuity”. A similar dishonest head in the sand non-explanation was given in the IBT’s Fourth International Conference Report for its failure to recruit a group of promising Argentine comrades.

“A less public, but more significant, setback was our failure to successfully regroup with a small circle of Argentine comrades who appeared to be rather close to us programmatically. This is partly attributable to language difficulties, but a more important factor was a gap in political culture manifested in differences over the tasks and priorities of a micro-propaganda group. In retrospect, we concluded: “Given our capacities and very limited resources there is not obviously a lot more we could have done to advance this collaboration, but it represents a lost opportunity.”
“Swimming Against the Stream”
1917 #28, 2006

Actually there were no “differences over the tasks and priorities of a micro-propaganda group.” Since the Argentine group had by then gone out of existence the IBT felt safe in its blatant lying, expecting no one to contradict it. The real issues were less “political.”

The Argentine comrades who established relations with the IBT (and translated most of the IBT’s current Spanish language material) were ostensibly invited to participate in the IBT’s internal life though participation in its discussion list. This was to speed up the fusion process. What the IBT tactical geniuses never chose to inform them of was that the entire IBT membership was put under discipline not to respond to anything they wrote, rather the leadership would do it after conferring amongst themselves collectively. Supposedly these comrades were to be too stupid and clueless to notice that while other posts had IBTers quickly responding with comments, no one responded to their posts except Bill Logan several day later, after conferring with the rest of leadership and giving what read more as a formal collective statement than an informal response as everyone else on the list receieved. Those, such as Sam Trachtenberg, who noted the Argentine comrades growing dissatisfaction were reprimanded for responding and assured that the Argentine comrades had no clue as to what was going on, despite his pleads that they either be truly given full access to our internal life as promised or at least told the truth about the situation. As predicted, the Argentine comrades chose to suddenly announce their decision to break all relations with the IBT without giving any reason. What were they to say after all? If they gave the true reason they would be told nothing of the sort was happening and that they were being paranoid. That would have simply made the break really ugly and angry after such an insult to their intelligence. They instead chose to leave the situation with some dignity.

May we suggest to the few subjectively revolutionary elements around the IBT that this recent record indicates that rather than being “tactically acute” geniuses, the IBT leaders are actually tactical morons. That their bureaucratic “Spy vs. Spy” methods have effectively transformed what was at one time a promising group into bureaucratized sect organized this time around Tom Riley, rather than Jim Robertson, Gerry Healy, Jack Barnes or Bob Avakian etc. A leadership with such an organizationally criminal record deserves to be expelled and repudiated rather than uncritically championed (or even grudgingly tolerated for that matter). If in reality no mechanism (whatever the pure formalities) exist amongst what are now the mostly older, passive and depoliticized ranks for expelling them, it is time to rebuild. Revolutionary Regroupment is determined to do precisely that.

Notes:

1) “I would also ask you to be rather discreet with all people connected with Bakunin. It is in all sects to stick together and intrigue. You may rest assured that any information you give them will immediately be passed on to Bakunin. It is one of his fundamental principles that keeping promises and the like are merely bourgeois prejudices, which a true revolutionary must treat with disdain to help along the cause. In Russia they say this openly. In Western Europe it is secret lore…

Engels to Cuno 1/24/72

Appendix: Cannon on Jay Lovestone

It was everybody’s opinion that Lovestone was unscrupulous in his ceaseless machinations and intrigues; and in my opinion everybody was right on that point, although the word “unscrupulous” somehow or other seems to be too mild a word to describe his operations. Lovestone was downright crooked, like Foster-but in a different way. Foster was in and of the workers’ movement and had a sense of responsibility to it; and he could be moderately honest when there was no need to cheat or lie. Foster’s crookedness was purposeful and utilitarian, nonchalantly resorted to in a pinch to serve an end. Lovestone, the sinister stranger in our midst, seemed to practice skulduggery maliciously, for its own sake.

It was a queer twist of fate that brought such a perverse character into a movement dedicated to the service of the noblest ideal of human relationships. Never was a man more destructively alien to the cause in which he sought a career; he was like an anarchistic cancer cell running wild in the party organism. The party has meaning and justification only as the conscious expression of the austere process of history in which the working class strives for emancipation, with all the strict moral obligations such a mission imposes on its members. But Lovestone seemed to see the party as an object of manipulation in a personal game he was playing, with an unnatural instinct to foul things up.

In this game, which he played with an almost pathological frenzy, he was not restrained by any recognized norms of conduct in human relations, to say nothing of the effects his methods might have on the morale and solidarity of the workers’ movement. For him the class struggle of the workers, with its awesome significance for the future of the human race, was at best an intellectual concept; the factional struggle for “control” of the party was the real thing, the real stuff of life. His chief enemy was always the factional opponent in the party rather than the capitalist class and the system of exploitation they represent.

Lovestone’s factional method and practice were systematic miseducation of the party; whispered gossip to set comrades against each other; misrepresentation and distortion of opponents’ positions; unrestrained demagogy and incitement of factional supporters until they didn’t know whether they were coming or going. He had other tricks, but they were all on the same order.

The party leaders’ opinions of each other in those days varied widely and were not always complimentary; but at bottom, despite the bitterness of the conflicts, I think they respected each other as comrades in a common cause, in spite of all. Lovestone, however, was distrusted and his devotion to the cause was widely doubted. In intimate circles Foster remarked more than once that if Lovestone were not a Jew, he would be the most likely candidate for leadership of a fascist movement. That was a fairly common opinion.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/cannon/works/letters/spr56b.htm

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