FROM NEW YORK TO SRI LANKA:
IT IS DESPERATELY NECESSARY TO FIGHT!
A Call to Struggle Against the Degeneration of the iSt
We declare ourselves as part of an external tendency of the iSt. We stand in programmatic agreement with it. However, we, like many others, have been forced from the organization by the present leadership which increasingly exhibits hyper-centralist, paranoid and personalist characteristics. These tendencies on the part of the leadership have reached the point where they call into question both the possibility of significantly enlarging the organization and of reproducing Trotskyist cadres within it.
Those of us in the San Francisco Bay Area will be supporting the Diana Coleman/Ritchie Bradley Supervisors campaign actively though critically. This campaign will raise a revolutionary socialist alternative when it is urgently needed against the twin capitalist parties of racism, poverty and nuclear holocaust.
We choose this moment to make ourselves known as an external tendency because the positive political effects of this election campaign will be dissipated by the SL’s self-cannibalization just as has occurred with the SL’s trade union and anti-Nazi work.
Most recently, comrades Vetter, Clarkson and Marin among others have been targeted for “rehabilitation” or elimination because of an alleged “…egregious capitulation to Stalinism at the Chicago public meeting, July 10th, of a piece with the political line counterposed to Trotskyism expressed pervasively in our June 27th demonstration, constituting acquiescence to the popular front behind which stands the Democratic Party,…” (Working Proposal of Delegation While in Chicago, attached to PB minutes #11, 27 July 1982). Simultaneously a wholesale blood letting of the WV editorial board occurred. On July 17, 1982 the SL/US PB passed unanimously the motion “To drop Burroughs from the WV ed board, retaining him as a staff member of WV…” and “That as soon as feasible, we put comrade Norden (and preferably Salzburg as well) on a fairly lengthy sabbatical at the CC apartment in the Bay Area with key reading lists supplied.” On July 21, 1982, Mark K. offered his resignation from the ed board “In view of the fact that I have not been functioning as a member of the WV editorial board…”. These actions have serious implications for the future propaganda capacity of the iSt. The paper, along with the trade union fractions, has been the backbone and mainstay of the entire iSt for the past decade.
In the past two years, the SL-US/iSt has forced out or lost most of its prominent trade unionists, many local functionaries, virtually all of its Australian CC, the indigenous key component of its Canadian CC, and almost 50% of the German section (including founding members/CCers). Only remnants remain of the “fusions” with the Communist Working Collective (CWC) and the Red Flag Union (RFU) which initially enriched the SL/US. The organization is qualitatively less stable today than it was in the spring of 1980.
In Factional Struggle and Party Leadership, Cannon said of the Pabloites:
“The leading cadre plays the same decisive role in relation to the party that the party plays in relation to the class. Those who try to break up the historically created cadres of the Trotskyist parties, as the Pabloites are doing in one country after another, are in reality aiming to break up the parties and to liquidate the Trotskyist movement…”
“Given the program, the construction of leading cadres is the key to the construction of revolutionary parties; and the former requires an even higher degree of consciousness and a more deliberate design than the latter.”
Side by side with the frenzy of self-cannibalization have appeared a series of political positions which at minimum represent disorientation and at maximum the abandonment of historic LeninistTrotskyist-Spartacist stands.
PATCO: a violation of the principle that picket lines mean don’t cross, jeopardizing the SL/US single most valuable piece of political capital, the heretofore unbesmirched record on the Picket line question.
POLAND AND THE GERMAN SECTION: In order to purge the German section, the IEC delegation prepared a surprise for internal publication-only motion pledging the TLD to “take responsibility in advance for whatever idiocies and atrocities they [i.e. the Stalinist Red Army] may commit” in case military intervention became necessary to crush the capitalist restorationists of Solidarnosc. Even if this secret position was simply a gross provocation whose purpose was to split and purge the TLD, it represents a Marcyite/proto-Stalinist bulge. Trotskyists support Stalinists against counterrevolution while never for a moment endorsing their anti-working class acts and policies which constantly engender counterrevolutionary currents.
EL SALVADOR: The iSt blurred the edges of the organization’s hard opposition to all forms of popular frontism by carrying the flag of the FMLN which is at best a radical, petty bourgeois formation not even part of the workers movement.
FALKLAND/MALVINES: In the midst of the war, when internationalists had to mobilize — with due respect for bourgeois repression — for revolutionary defeatism on both sides, the SL/Britain liquidated its press for an entire critical month and, judging from Spartacist Britain, they devoted most of their energy to a forum on the black/trade union work in the U.S., not to urgently needed forums on the Falkland/Malvines.
LEBANON INVASION: While taking a literary hard line in WV, in action the organization did virtually nothing. This was most obvious in the Bay Area but judging from WV the SL nationally neither demonstrated nor even held forums after mid-June until the mid-September West Beirut massacre.
In June 1973, WV published an inspiring call to the Chilean working class to act against the first military coup. Now, in a very different situation from the Chilean popular front, with the Israeli working class mobilized by the Israeli bourgeoisie for capitalist war, it is equally urgent to appeal to the Israeli proletariat to break from their capitalist masters. Yet not once has WV agitated or even propagandized for the Jewish proletariat “to turn the guns the other way”. Instead of seizing the opportunity presented by the public opposition of significant sectors of the Israeli military and civilians within two to five weeks of the invasion, (it took U.S. soldiers and civilians two to five years of much bloodier combat during Vietnam), the SL tilted toward the position that the Israelis are paralyzed with a Master Race psychology and that only qualitatively more dead Jews could change that. Even after the outbreak of truly mass demonstrations the SL failed to raise the call for Israeli workers to strike against the war, a slogan the SL proudly raised throughout the Vietnam war. The SL’s formal posture for “Hebrew and Arab Workers Overthrow Your Rulers” and for an Arab/Hebrew Trotskyist party cannot hide the SL’s passivity toward the revolutionary potential of the Hebrew proletariat. Most indicative of the iSt’s abandoning an interventionist stance was its sharp de-emphasis at the height of the invasion of the unique transitional call of the iSt for a binational workers state in Israel/Palestine, focusing instead and almost exclusively on a socialist Federation of the Near East.
We constitute ourselves a tendency in the hope that it will cause comrades inside to organize to overturn the policies and practices of the present leadership which is disorienting and slowly destroying the iSt from within. We call on those ex-members who still think the rebirth of the Fourth International must be accomplished on the basis of the Declaration of the Principles of the SL/US and “Seize the Opportunity! REVOLUTIONARY REGROUPMENT” (Spartacist #14 — November/December 1969), not to become demoralized by their experience in the iSt and to join us in this struggle.
Those who founded the Revolutionary Tendency and fought on for two decades to build the iSt have made an invaluable contribution by bringing the program of revolutionary Trotskyism to a new generation of revolutionaries (if only a handful of us) in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Now they are destroying their own work.
“It must be said loud and clear: The slogan of party unity, in the hands of the ruling faction, is more and more becoming an instrument of ideological terror (intimidation and bullying) against the overwhelming majority of the party …
“Unanimity is produced by the party as a whole through the constant renewal and accumulation of collective experience, through a collective effort of thought, on the basis of the party’s program, rules and traditions, and past experience. This process is inconceivable without differences, criticism, and the clash of ideas… Without centralism, party democracy is the organizational path to Menshevism. Without democracy, centralism is the apparatus road to the bureaucratic degeneration of the party.”
“The organizational policy of the ruling faction has the.same kind of ‘scissors’ as are found in all the rest of its policies: in words, the recognition of party democracy; in deeds, the ever increasing suppression of every manifestation of thought or criticism outside the framework of the closed-in ruling faction at the top.” (emphasis in original)
Challenge of the Left Opposition, 1926-27, “Party Unity and the Danger-oT Splits, pg. 113)
We seek to build a healthy democratic centralist party.
“Iron party discipline is essential for us — as under Lenin. But intraparty democracy is also essential for us — as under Lenin” (“Declaration of the Eighty-Four”. May 1927).
Only an organization — where political debate is welcomed -where mistakes are learned from, not seized upon — which shows respect for its own cadre — which respects the subjective commitment to revolution of other cadre of the workers movement and fights to win them to a genuine Leninist-Trotskyist program — only such an organization can hope to survive this period of reaction, overcome its isolation and grow into the vanguard of the world workers movement.
We would rejoin the organization if guaranteed mutually agreed upon minority rights. For the present, we are making our views known only to members and close supporters of the common movement. We hope that the degeneration of the iSt will be halted before it reaches a point which will force us to carry our criticisms to the workers movement at large.
Revolutionary Regroupment Afterword
This was the first public statement of the External Tendency of the international Spartacist tendency, out which the North American component of the International Bolshevik Tendency developed. The IBT played an important role in maintaining a revolutionary line for a number of years, but we disagree with the decision of remaining part of an external tendency of such a tiny grouping as the iSt. Trotsky’s orientation towards the mass Communist International in the early years was an international one, but he recognized that at least in some countries (where CI sections were small), while a propaganda orientation was still important, narrowly acting as an external tendency to the CI section made less sense. He at one time for instance thought that was true of the US, amongst other countries. This was when these small CI sections were still many times larger than the entire iSt.
While at that time it made sense to have some orientation to the iSt (though not an exclusively narrow one), it should be recognized that by the time the ET was formed it was rather late in the game. The chances for mobilizing the iSt ranks against their leaders, if not impossible, were small. A split rather than a reform was far more likely. A broader propaganda orientation made more sense at the time (not to speak of now).
We furthermore disagree with the Cannon quote that “The leading cadre plays the same decisive role in relation to the party that the party plays in relation to the class.” This expressed Cannon’s view of the party leadership maintaining a discpline amongst itself in relation to the ranks, in a similar manner the party does with the general public. The notion of a leadership approaching the rank and file in the manner of a disciplined faction is a bureaucratic one (adherence to which played a factor in the defeat of the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union), but at least Cannon, with all his faults, was at heart subjectively revolutionary and not simply a cynical bureaucrat. That set certain parameters to the potential (and unfortunately at times real) abuses of such a practice. The current IBT leadership, which also approaches the ranks in the manner of a faction, on the other hand is not subjectively revolutionary but cynical and corrupt with fewer parameters inhibiting them.