Soon (In 48 Years’ Time)

In the December 31st of every year, we from Revolutionary Regroupment, like to end the year with a publication to stimulate the revolutionary will of our readers. For 2017 we chose the following story by Alexandra Kollontai, written in 1922. In this short story, the Russian revolutionary tell the tale of Christmas in the world after the victory of Communism. We hope that this story may bring some hope to the times of uncertainty in which now live on, as well as to remember all fighters that the victory for all workers will still come someday.

We wish to the working class, and to all that fight for a world of social justice, a 2018 of many struggles and victories! Continue lendo

Letter to the IG on the Ukraine Scandal

Letter to the Internationalist Group on the Ukraine Scandal

[The following letter  to the Internationalist Group from the International Bolshevik Tendency was sent on August 28, 2003]

To the Internationalist Group

Dear comrades

We hope that the IG will collectively reconsider its mistaken decision not to participate in a proposed joint statement on the Ukrainian fraud.

We are sure that all participants are willing to consider any reasonable suggestions to meet any specific concerns you mighthave, and it would also be possible to attach any clarifications to your signature.

Such a joint statement will not constitute a propaganda bloc, but a bloc to defend the working-class movement against criminal scum. It will focus on a single simple defense issue—without analysis, without social program, without propaganda. It will be made explicit that there are crucial differences between the signatories, and indeed, each organization is likely to present its different specific views on these matters elsewhere in its own name.

A joint statement on this issue, all proportions guarded, is in line with the bloc between Trotskyist and even liberals around the Dewey Commission in the 1930s to defend Trotsky from Stalinist calumny, or joint defense materials on the Minneapolis Trial in the 1940s. It would be of a piece with blocs supported by the Spartacists in their healthy period in the 1960s and 1970s against Healyite thuggery (see Marxism vs Ultraleftism, SWP Education for Socialists Series, January 1974), or against false accusations against Joseph Hansen and George Novack as accomplices in the murder of Trotsky (see, or to establish the truth regarding the Lambertistes’ accusation that their Hungarian leader, Varga, was a police agent. Our proposition is entirely within that tradition.

What is necessary in this situation is a joint statement on the core facts of the scam, issued by a list of the competing groups involved, and translated into a variety of languages. This would carry more weight and authority than individual statements, would attract more attention, and would permeate the workers’ movement more extensively and more quickly. All this is most particularly true in the countries of the former Soviet Union. A joint statement can make a palpable difference.

Your absence from such a joint statement would be a bad sign. It would represent a continuity not with the Trotskyism of Trotsky, Cannon and the healthy period of the Spartacist tendency, but with the degenerating later Spartacists who, in the interests of drawing the sharpest lines between themselves and the rest of the workers’ movement and of sealing their membership off from the influences of rivals, too often fail to draw a line between the workers’ movement and the bourgeoisie. Their practice shows that the tactics of defense blocs and united fronts are not at present open to them. We hope you do not share this approach.

Failure to join in such a statement suggests a fear of the SL’s continuing accusations that there is a fraternity of different groups in an “anti-Spartacist” bloc. It would be unfortunate if taunts like that were to prevent your doing what is best to defend the interests of the workers’ movement.

Of course various enemies will always misrepresent revolutionaries, and any blocs we advocate or enter into are particularly likely to attract such misrepresentations. Our stance on the united front and the French Turn in the 1930s was the occasion for Stalinist misrepresentation of the relationship between Trotskyism and social democracy. Our stance on the beating of Ernie Tate in the 1960s and on the smears against Joseph Hansen et al in the 1970s were occasions for Healyite misrepresentation of the relationship between the Spartacists and the Pabloites. But we did not then and we should not now allow ourselves to be prevented from drawing the class line by the likelihood that we will be misrepresented.

Certainly Stalinist and Healyite misleadership in the past attempted to use such misrepresentation of various temporary blocs and united fronts to mobilize their more backward supporters against Trotskyism, and certainly the Spartacist misleadership today may try the same thing. But the best SL supporters will not be impressed by such demagoguery. Subjective revolutionaries will be impressed instead by even modest measures that genuinely tend to protect the workers’ movement from these gangster con artists.

We hope you reconsider your decision on this matter. In any case we will continue to co-operate with you on this issue to the extent we are able.

Yours for a principled defense bloc

Samuel T. (Trachtenberg)
for the International Bolshevik Tendency

Selected Related Links

CWI Leadership’s Role in Ukrainian Fraud: “No Innocent Explanation”
International Bolshevik Tendency, March 8, 2004

A Band of Political Impostors and Swindlers in Ukraine
League for the Fourth International, August 27, 2003

Open Letter to the Committee for the Workers’ International
League for the Revolutionary Party, October 2, 2003

Ukraine: rogue CWI group deceives international left
League for the Fifth International, August 22, 2003

Cast List
from the IBT web site

Reformism vs. Reformism in the CPUSA

Reformism vs. Reformism in the CPUSA: Divorce in the Family

[First printed in 1917 West #1, Spring 1992]

The Communist Party USA appeared on the verge of splitting at its 25th national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, held in December 5-8 against the dismal background of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. Actually, there were two conventions: the official one, held on the 6th floor of the Sheraton hotel under the bureaucratic control of Gus Hall (backed up by armed Cleveland police), and a counter-convention of the oppositional grouping calling itself the Initiative, many of whose members had been excluded from the official convention. The Initiative met across the street in Room 211 of the Cleveland Convention Center, under the leadership of prominent party members Charlene Mitchell, James Jackson, Carl Bloice, and Barry Cohen. Comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency spent several days at the two conventions distributing our 1917 Supplement “Counterrevolution Triumphs in USSR” and arguing for a revolutionary Trotskyist alternative to the politics of both the majority and the minority

Not surprisingly, both factions have utterly failed to address the causes of the downfall of Soviet Stalinism. At a public forum in Cleveland on August 3, 1991, before the failed coup, chairman Gus Hall simply blamed the Soviet crisis on “Gorbachev’s errors.” When confronted by questions from the floor as to why the CPUSA lied and covered up for the bureaucracy and Stalin’s crimes, such as the execution or murder of virtually the entire Bolshevik leadership of 1917, Hall responded, “We’ve made mistakes, too.”

Speaking before a special meeting of the party’s National Committee on September 8, 1991, Hall elaborated:

“The system is not to blame. If one believes that the crisis of socialism is not systemic, in other words, not inherent in the socialist system itself, then you have to look for the cause of the crisis in human error.”

At the convention itself, he would repeat yet again that:

“The crisis of socialism is mainly caused by wrong, anti-socialist policies. The system itself is based on inherently humanitarian precepts.”

Hall had faced a rebellion in the National Committee, which at the September 8 meeting ended up condemning the failed Soviet coup:

“The National Committee states its strong condemnation of the attempted coup as adventuristic, unconstitutional and illegal…. We reject the formulation to ‘neither condemn nor condone’ the attempted coup, and deplore all public statements which give the impression of sympathy for the coup or its aims.”

That “impression of sympathy” had emanated from the lips of none other than Hall himself. The National Committee vote was thus a slap in the face for the Hall apparatus. But Hall’s cohorts backed away from support of the failed coup for other reasons as well. They were unable to maintain this stance because it would have totally alienated the liberal Democratic Party milieu.

For its part the Initiative grouping, despite its rebellion against Hall’s bureaucratic leadership, has responded to the crisis of Stalinism with nothing but vague social-democratic sentiments, and shows no signs of breaking with the CPUSA’s reformism. According to the October 21, 1991, “Initiative to Unite and Renew the Party” after which the grouping was named:

“The ability to make corrections, innovations and adjustments is the sign of a living movement. It is the hallmark of a party that is relevant and able to contribute to the further development of the movements for peace and international solidarity, labor rights, equality, political empowerment and democracy….

“While the 1992 election campaign is in full swing, we have not laid an adequate basis for our convention to adopt an electoral policy.”

This oppositional document, widely circulated within the party prior to the convention, was reportedly endorsed by over 900 party members, or roughly one third of the entire membership of the CPUSA. Of the roughly 600 delegates at the split convention, about a third supported the Initiative. Unfortunately, it would seem that outside of their organizational concerns, the main political problem for this grouping is deciding which 1992 Democratic Party presidential candidate to back.

The general mood of the delegates at the convention was one of disillusionment and disgust as they watched their party drift into irrelevance, and possibly out of existence in the near future. While the former Soviet Union was being declared dead by the counterrevolutionary nationalist regimes of the various republics, the delegates sat and listened to a three-and-a-half-hour speech by Gus Hall, in which he claimed that in the Leninist tradition:

“Factionalism and the development of organized trends in the Communist Party are incompatible with its democratic functioning. The institutionalization of factional trends by the application of such concepts as proportional representation and minority/majority positions in leadership runs contrary to the nature of the Party—it violates the basic organizational principle of collective process.”

This is Stalinism, not Leninism. All the way from its formation until 1921, factional rights were recognized and vigorously exercised in the Bolshevik party. The only condition was that factional groupings carry out the decisions of the majority if they lost a vote. The 1921 ban was implemented in a situation of crisis. Even in that situation it was intended only as a temporary, emergency measure. It is not in its proposals for democratic functioning and factional rights that the Initiative breaks with Lenin, but rather in the reformist politics it shares with Hall.

In counterpoint to Hall, Dr. Herbert Aptheker, a leader of the Initiative, revealed to the convention that:

”The main source of the collapse that Comrade Hall describes—not only in the USSR but in every party of Eastern Europe—lies not in socialism, but rather in the distortions and vitiation of the essential nature of the Party as conceived by Marx and Engels and Lenin into an organization eaten up by bureaucracy, tyranny authoritarianism, repression and finally human annihilation.”

“….the collapse, the present crisis of the world of socialism, rests fundamentally upon the Stalinization of Lenin’s party.”

The so-called crisis of socialism is indeed the crisis of Stalinism, not socialism. But for decades Dr. Aptheker, author of The Truth About Hungary, a pack of lies which whitewashed the brutal suppression of the Hungarian workers attempted political revolution of 1956, was a fervent supporter of Stalin’s every move. It is hardly credible when people like this suddenly “discover” that Stalinism is undemocratic. Moreover, Aptheker and the other Stalinist “critics” of Stalinism uniformly fail to go beyond this obvious truth. Stalinism destroyed every semblance of workers’ and party democracy for a reason: it was the only way to enforce betrayals of the working class on a generation of communists who knew a better way, that of Lenin and Trotsky, and were accustomed to fighting for it.

Using a variety of tried and true Stalinist tactics, Hall prevailed at the convention. According to people in the Initiative, those who signed the Initiative document (including 40 percent of the outgoing National Committee) were excluded from the elections. The new National Committee reportedly has no members of the leadership from New York and Northern California, the two largest locals in the country, which were heavily represented in the Initiative grouping. One delegate came out saying, “He’s acting like Ceausescu.”

The CPUSA has never had any qualms about calling the police on its leftist opponents, but this time Hall descended to a new low by using the cops against his own membership. Armed Cleveland police were used to keep out the numerous delegates sympathetic to the Initiative whose credentials had been rejected on various pretenses. There were police milling around the convention throughout the four days. One senior party member became so ill at the sight of the police in her convention that she refused to enter. Such sentiments are entirely legitimate, but Hall’s action was only a logical extension of longstanding CPUSA practices


It is hard to feel too much sympathy for those in the Initiative grouping who profess outrage at Hall’s heavy-handed tactics and violations of workers’ democracy—now that they are on the receiving end. These people are up to their ears in complicity with use of the very same sort of tactics against others in the workers’ movement. As James Cannon, one-time CP leader and founder of American Trotskyism, once said, nobody cries when the biter gets bitten. To mention only a few recent and local examples: Bay Area CP honcho and Initiative supporter Kendra Alexander threatened to sic her goons on the Labor Militant group, who had setup a lit table in front of Finn Hall during the fall, 1991 Northern California CP convention. A CP goon “Franc” attacked one of our comrades at Chris Hani’s summer 1991 press conference at UC Berkeley. Another of our comrades was physically threatened outside an October 1991 forum featuring Initiative leader Carl Bloice.

What held the CPUSA together for so long? First of all, it was residual loyalty to the Soviet oligarchy and the illusion that this gave them some connection to “actually existing socialism.” Secondly, no matter how adverse the relationship of class forces in the US, they could always rely on the political and financial support of the Stalinist bureaucracies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Five thousand subscriptions to their paper in the Soviet Union, along with other perks that came with being the designated franchisee of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy, didn’t hurt. These benefits have been cut off. No more summer camps on the Black Sea, no more scholarships to the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, no anything! Part of what makes the current factional struggle so messy is the question of who will control the party’s accumulated assets: buildings, bookstores, etc. This is particularly true in Northern California, where the opposition is in the majority and some party property is held in the name of the regional organization rather than the national organization. Fundamentally, though, and regardless of the outcome of these disputes, with the demise of the Stalinist bureaucracies both factions will be forced to rely on the correctness or their programs and the quality of their leadership in the working class. In other words, they’re in serious trouble.

Since the mid-1920s, the CPUSA has supported and covered up for every crime of the Stalinist bureaucracy— not only crimes of repression, but gross betrayals of the working class. For the proletarian internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky, the Stalinists substituted “socialism in one country,” which rationalized the class-collaborationist selling out of revolutions around the globe in a futile effort to gain peaceful coexistence with imperialism. If these betrayals left any doubt, the internal collapse of the system they were supposed to protect, coupled with the tremendous damage to the class-consciousness of Soviet workers who have been taught to identify socialism with Stalinism, has completed the practical refutation of this reactionary theory. Trotsky explained over 50 years ago that the Stalinist bureaucracy, despite the fact that it was at times forced to defend collectivized property with its own authoritarian methods would, unless overthrown by the working class, become ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state and eventually plunge the country back toward capitalism. The bureaucracy, in following first Gorbachev and now succumbing to Yeltsin is proving him right.

Both the CPUSA majority and the Committees of Correspondence, as the opposition is now called, are tied to their Stalinist past, and they both support the capitalist Democratic Party. At both conventions, many delegates wore Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign T-shirts. Both factions continue to wallow in the Democratic Party swamp. Both have publicly announced, for instance, their intention to participate in the Mayor’s March on Washington.

There is an alternative to all of this. Stalinism has reached a dead end, but Leninism lives on. The revolutionary tradition of Bolshevism was maintained by Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition. Trotskyists gave their lives resisting the Stalinist perversion of Leninism, yet remained implacable defenders of the gains of 1917. Though many pretenders to the name of Trotskyism today have abandoned or blunted key aspects of the Leninist/Trotskyist program, the International Bolshevik Tendency carries on the politics that made the October Revolution.

Northites Inc.

Northites Inc.: Toeing the Bottom Line

Being Determines Consciousness

[First published in 1917 No.30 2008. Originally posted online at ]

In the spring of 2007, the Socialist Equality Party/Inter-national Committee (SEP/IC) was rocked by a public scandal when Scott Solomon, an embittered former adherent, revealed that David North is not only the leading figure of the SEP and IC, but is also CEO of Grand River Printing & Imaging (GRPI), a multi-million dollar business in Michigan. The SEP leadership would apparently prefer to keep its successful commercial venture secret, but it cannot deny the facts.

The GRPI evolved from the in-house printshop that used to produce the Bulletin, the newspaper of the Workers League (WL—the SEP’s predecessor). When the WL/SEP suspended publication of the Bulletin in favor of producing an online daily on its World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), the party print shop was apparently quietly transformed into a full-blown business.

At about the same time, the SEP/IC leadership discarded the traditional Marxist view of trade unions as defensive organizations of the working class and declared that they had become simple agencies of the capitalists. North wrote a lengthy essay on this theme entitled “Globalization and the Unions,” in which he announced the “objective transformation of the AFL-CIO into an instrument of the corporations and the capitalist state.” We polemicized against this in 1917 No. 29 (see “SEP: Defeatist and Confusionist: The Class Nature of the Unions”).

The Northites recently seized upon the squalid deal signed by the United Auto Workers (UAW) in October 2007 with General Motors, which permits the company to offload responsibility for its retirees’ health-care coverage with a contribution of cash and a $4.4 billion convertible note (based on the value of GM common stock) to a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA). The deal benefited the bosses by massively reducing their liabilities, while giving the UAW bureaucracy, which gets to manage the fund, a major new source of revenue and influence. The only ones to lose out will be retired autoworkers, whose benefits will be reduced when VEBA’s investment portfolio underperforms.

In a 12 October 2007 statement, the SEP wrote:

“The so-called ‘voluntary employees beneficiary association,’ or VEBA, will turn the union into a profit-making enterprise and make the union bureaucracy full-fledged shareholders in the exploitation of the workers. The UAW bureaucracy will get its hands on a massive cash hoard, including shares in GM, which will ensure its income even as it administers ever deeper cuts in the benefits of retired union members.”

    —“The middle-class ‘left’ and the UAW-GM contract”

Seemingly oblivious to the parallel between the UAW bureaucracy’s relationship to VEBA and the SEP’s to the GRPI, the Northites declared: “The open transformation of the UAW into a business is not a sudden or unexpected development.” But the auto union has not been transformed into a capitalist enterprise; the UAW remains part of the workers’ movement, despite the grotesque, and growing, corruption of its leadership. Leon Trotsky described the tendency of the labor bureaucracy in the imperialist countries to be transformed from mere agents of the bourgeoisie into “stakeholders” in the ventures of the ruling class:

“The intensification of class contradictions within each country, the intensification of antagonisms between one country and another, produce a situation in which imperialist capitalism can tolerate (i.e., up to a certain time) a reformist bureaucracy only if the latter serves directly as a petty but active stockholder of its imperialist enterprises, of its plans and programs within the country as well as on the world arena.”

    —“Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay,” 1940

Yet Trotsky concluded:

“in spite of the progressive degeneration of trade unions and their growing together with the imperialist state, the work within the trade unions not only does not lose any of its importance but remains as before and becomes in a certain sense even more important work than ever for every revolutionary party. The matter at issue is essentially the struggle for influence over the working class.”

When the IC first announced that it was writing off the unions, our German comrades projected that North & Co. might one day “find themselves in a political bloc with the capitalists in their attack on the institutions of the workers’ movement” (1917 No. 20). The SEP’s October 2007 statement does exactly that, declaring: “The Socialist Equality Party would advise workers, should the UAW come to their plant, to vote to keep it out.”

No doubt GRPI management would give similar advice to any employees thinking about unionizing. Socialists, by contrast, believe that workers should be organized. In a case of vice paying homage to virtue, the SEP’s 12 January 2006 statement for the U.S. mid-term elections advocated “a guaranteed right of workers to join a union and control the union democratically; the outlawing of union-busting tactics and wage-cutting.” This was coupled with a peculiar demand for “government support for small and medium-sized businesses.” Even the reformist left has not historically been in the habit of demanding public funding for private capitalists, but then few of them ever owned “medium-sized businesses.”

Sri Lankan Exceptionalism in the IC

The SEP/IC’s October 2007 statement on the UAW makes it very clear that its anti-union stance is not only applicable in North America:

“Two facts demonstrate that the transformation of the UAW is not simply the product of the subjective characteristics of corrupt leaders or misguided policies, but rather the expression of fundamental objective processes rooted in the nature of trade union organizations and the impact of major changes in the structure of world capitalism. The first is the protracted period, now extending over decades, in which the unions have worked openly to suppress the class struggle and impose cuts in workers’ wages and benefits, along with massive layoffs.”


“The second fact is the international scale of the degeneration and transformation of the unions. This is not an American, but rather a world phenomenon, embracing the unions in the advanced capitalist centers of North America, Europe and Asia, as well as those in so-called ‘less developed’ countries. From the American UAW and AFL-CIO, to the British Trades Union Congress, to the German Federation of Unions, to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the unions have adopted a corporatist policy of labor-management ‘partnership’ and worked to drive down labor costs at the expense of the jobs, wages and working conditions of their members.

“The driving force behind this universal process is the globalization of capitalist production, which has eclipsed the former primacy of national markets, including the labor market, and enabled transnational corporations to scour the earth for ever-cheaper sources of labor power. This has rendered the unions, wedded by dint of their historical origins and class-collaborationist tendencies to the national market and the national state, obsolete and impotent.”

It seems, however, that Sri Lanka is an exception to this “world phenomenon.” It is perhaps not a coincidence that this is the one country in which a leading member of an IC section is also a union president. Unlike North’s role as the boss of a capitalist enterprise, the IC seems proud of their Sri Lankan comrade’s activities. The WSWS report on a 13 November 2007 SEP public meeting in Colombo to denounce the ongoing war against Tamil separatists mentioned that one of the main speakers was “K.B. Mavikumbura, an SEP central committee member and president of the Central Bank Employees Union (CBEU).” The article extensively quoted Mavikumbura’s account of his recent union activities:

“We presented a resolution in the CBEU calling on workers to unite on socialist policies to end the war. We pointed out that the campaign for the withdrawal of the military from the north-east, which is under de facto military rule, is a necessary condition to unite workers….

“Recently I attended a trade union meeting to organise a picket in support of teachers. The government had said it could not increase the salaries of teachers as it had to pay for the war. It took out an order in the Supreme Court to intimidate teachers. I explained that workers should take up a political fight against the government. The central question is to oppose the war, but the trade unions leaders rejected that. Instead they said workers should form an alliance with the opposition United National Party (UNP), which is notorious for attacking workers’ rights. Workers need to build an independent political movement based on a socialist perspective.”

    —“SEP holds public meeting in Colombo to oppose the war in Sri Lanka”

Anyone in the political orbit of the Northites might wonder how Mavikumbura’s activities can be squared with the view that unions are simply agencies of the bosses.

‘Transformation Into a Business’

Does the IC position on the unions simply reflect a loss of confidence in the capacity of the working class to oust the bureaucrats and gain control of its own mass organizations? Or is it a reflection of the social pressures of running a successful business? As Marx observed, being tends to determine consciousness, and for North & Co., the increasing revenues of the GRPI could certainly provide a material basis for the growth of personal/political corruption within the SEP/IC leadership.

Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner, former close associates of North who continue to identify politically with the SEP/IC, hint at this in the conclusion of a lengthy document dated 16 December 2007 which recalls how Gerry Healy (the former head of the IC) accepted large sums of money from various Middle Eastern regimes to act as their left publicist:

“This too was one of the key lessons of the WRP [Workers Revolutionary Party] split—that the ‘unanimity’ of Healy’s leadership group masked all kinds of opportunist relationships based on personal and financial arrangements. We have no doubt that the silence of the rest of the IC leadership is also based, at least in part, on opportunist considerations of a financial and personal nature.”

    —“Marxism Without Its Head or Its Heart”

The IC’s revisionism did not commence with the transformation of the WL printing plant into a business, nor as Steiner and Brenner argue, when North et al abandoned the struggle against “pragmatism.” Gerry Healy’s political-bandit operation (including its American satellite run initially by Tim Wolhforth and later by North) was very distant programmatically from Trotskyism long before they began promoting Colonel Qaddaffi and other Middle Eastern despots.

Leftist organizations that obtain substantial funding from sources outside their field of political activity will inevitably tend to become depoliticized and subject to alien class forces. Trotsky made this point in an 8 October 1923 letter addressing some of the early symptoms of the growing bureaucratization of the Soviet Communist Party:

“There is without question an inner connection between the separate and self-contained character of the secretarial organization—more and more independent of the party—and the tendency toward setting up a budget as independent as possible of the success or failure of the party’s collective work of construction.”

    —The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25)

North et al said essentially the same thing in their major 1986 statement renouncing Healy:

“Moreover, elements among the journalists, actors and actresses who passed from Fleet Street and the West End into the Political Committee of the WRP, without any apprenticeship in the class struggle, provided a physical link to material resources such as the Party had never known. Apart from the day-to-day struggle of the Party membership inside the working class, huge amounts of money were raised. The central leadership thus acquired an independence from the rank and file that destroyed the foundations of democratic centralism.”


“Healy’s high-flying diplomacy and his sudden access to vast material resources, based largely on his opportunist utilization of Vanessa Redgrave as the WRP’s calling card in the Middle East, had a corrosive effect on the Party’s political line and its relation to the working class. Whatever its original intention, it became part of a process through which the WRP became the political captive of alien class force. At the very moment when it was most in need of a course correction, the ‘success’ of its work in the Middle East, which from the beginning lacked a basic proletarian reference point, made it less and less dependent upon the penetration of the working class in Britain and internationally.”

    —“How the Workers Revolutionary Party Betrayed Trotskyism”

The commercial success of the GRPI today gives the SEP leadership far more independence from their ranks than is usually the case in bureaucratized leftist groups where disposable income tends to be closely tied to the size of the dues base. The SEP’s web-centered political activity requires a cadre of talented writers and editors, but the fact that the group conducts very little real public activity means that there are few opportunities for new recruits to develop outside of attending the occasional in-house event. Over time, we would expect the cash flow generated by the GRPI to have much the same effect on the SEP/IC’s upper strata as VEBA will on the occupants of Solidarity House.

The following commentary on the SEP/IC and GRPI originally appeared on the IBT website in May 2007.

In recent weeks reports have surfaced that David North, leader of the ostensibly Trotskyist Socialist Equality Party and its International Committee, also (as David Green) acts as CEO of Grand River Printing & Imaging (GRPI—, one of Michigan’s larger printing companies, which reported $25 million in business transactions last year. Like other readers of the SEP’s online daily, we have been waiting to see what the World Socialist Web Site has to say about the flap over the GRPI. It seems that, for the time being at least, North et al have decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and are maintaining radio silence.

Most of the comments printed below were written by our comrade Samuel T., who was recruited to the Workers League (predecessor of the SEP) during Fred Mazelis’ 1989 campaign for mayor of New York City. Sam left the WL in 1991 when it refused to call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism in the first Gulf War (see Trotskyist Bulletin No. 8).

On the weekend of 31 March/1 April [2007] Sam and a couple of other IBT supporters went to Ann Arbor, Michigan to attend an SEP anti-war conference that was advertised as open to “all WSWS readers.” When our comrades arrived, however, they found that supporters of organizations other than the SEP were not really welcome, and the SEP leadership seemed a bit put out by our criticisms of their claim that trade unions are no longer working-class organizations (see 1917 No. 29).

Gerry Healy, the founder-leader of the British Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) who headed the IC until the mid-1980s, had a well-deserved reputation as a cynical political thug with a penchant for pseudo-dialectical gibberish and crisis mongering. In the late 1960s, along with Ernest Mandel and the Pabloist “United Secretariat” (USec), the IC hailed various Middle East bonapartists as manifestations of a trans-class “Arab Revolution.” The IC also shared the Pabloists’ enthusiasm for Mao Zedong’s “Red Guard” faction during the massive intra-bureaucratic wrangle known as the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” Today, in a symmetrical deviation, North’s SEP denies that China was ever any sort of workers’ state.

By the 1980s, the political prostitutes of the IC were acting as paid publicists for Libya’s Muammar el Qaddafi and other Arab despots. The most despicable act of these political gangsters was providing intelligence to Saddam Hussein’s reactionary Baathist regime on émigré members of the Iraqi Communist Party. When the WRP/IC imploded in 1985-86, former members came forward and told of being sent to take photographs of leftist exiles at demonstrations, which the WRP leadership then passed on to the Iraqi embassy.

After Healy’s fall, the current IC leadership, headed by David North, sought to adjust the group’s image to something more closely approximating the “anti-Pabloite Trotskyist” tradition it falsely claims to represent. In their disingenuous account of their belated break with Healy, entitled “How the WRP Betrayed Trotskyism,” the WL leadership downplayed their record of years of slavish obedience to Healy’s every pronouncement. The insistence by North et al that they bear no political responsibility for the IC’s crimes, and that everything was Healy’s fault, recalls Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 attempt to whitewash the crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy by blaming everything on Stalin. People who go back and examine issues of the Bulletin will see for themselves that the Workers League’s uncritical adulation of Qaddafi and the rest of the IC’s bonapartist bankrollers was every bit as enthusiastic as the WRP’s. They will also see that the SEP/IC, like the USec and almost every other pseudo-Trotskyist tendency, consistently supported counterrevolution in the former Soviet bloc, from Lech Walesa’s Polish Solidarnosc in 1981 to Boris Yeltsin’s pro-imperialist rabble in Moscow a decade later. With the passage of time, and an influx of politically raw new members, the SEP/IC leadership has tried to distance itself from its inglorious history. The tone of the WSWS today is far less hysterical than the Bulletin used to be, but the program it puts forward is no more revolutionary.

Some have suggested that the SEP leaders’ role in the GRPI may be connected to their repudiation of the Trotskyist analysis of the trade unions. We don’t claim to know for certain. But it was clear in Ann Arbor that there is a great deal of confusion in the ranks of the SEP on their position regarding the unions. Many newer members seem uneasy with the line, while the older cadres adamantly defend it, even if there is little consistency in the arguments they use, and none of them are able to explain how the AFL-CIO today is qualitatively different than it was in the 1960s and 70s. One senior SEP member ventured that perhaps the destruction of the USSR had somehow transformed U.S. unions into simple tools of the bourgeoisie, commenting: “Well, the collapse of the USSR has changed everything, so why wouldn’t it also change the unions?”

* * *

These comments are from internal discussion in the IBT.

Lenin drew a connection between the 4 August 1914 betrayal of the Social Democrats and the privileged social position of the labor aristocrats who constituted their social base. Trotsky made similar observations regarding the Stalinist bureaucracy, and also traced the Shachtmanites’ [a right-wing split from the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP)] abandonment of defense of the USSR in 1940 to their petty-bourgeois social composition. In 1953, James P. Cannon argued that the Cochranites’ [a subsequent right-wing faction in the SWP] liquidationist politics reflected the conservatizing effects of relative economic stability on older workers. In 1983, we pointed out that the SL’s [Spartacist League] dive on saving the Marines in Lebanon, and its offer the next year to provide defense guards for the Democratic Party, were related to the desire of [SL leader James] Robertson to cultivate a “respectable” image with elements of the ruling class.

It can be a dangerous thing for a small group with Potemkin village inclinations, which the Northites have always had throughout their history, to accumulate assets out of proportion to their actual social weight. It would be surprising if running a major commercial enterprise did not affect the political consciousness of the SEP leadership—as Marx remarked, “being determines consciousness.”

I was struck by the following passage from the SEP’s 2006 election program:

“To establish the economic foundation for the reorganization of economic life in the interests of the broad mass of the working people, we advocate the transformation of all privately owned industrial, manufacturing and information technology corporations valued at $10 billion or more—companies that, taken together, control the decisive share of the US economy—into publicly owned enterprises, with full compensation for small shareholders and the terms of compensation for large shareholders to be publicly negotiated.”


“Property rights must be subordinated to social rights. This does not mean the nationalization of everything, or the abolition of small or medium-sized businesses, which are themselves victimized by giant corporations and banks. Establishing a planned economy will give such businesses ready access to credit and more stable market conditions, so long as they provide decent wages and working conditions.”

    —“For a socialist alternative in the 2006 U.S. elections,” 12 January 2006 (emphasis added)

How many printing companies in the U.S. are worth more than $10 billion? I notice that Rupert Murdoch is offering $5 billion for Dow Jones (which includes the Wall Street Journal). Would the SEP consider that a “medium-sized business”?

When I was a member, WLers were exhausted by mindless public activity (8-hour shopping mall sales, etc.). I think perhaps the turn away from mass agitation toward a more realistic propaganda perspective where members are not run into the ground accounts for why SEPers now project a more controlled, rational image in public (a high-pressure environment is not good for anyone’s sanity)….

In the old WL there was no escaping getting chewed out at an internal meeting (unless you were in the leadership) for not selling enough papers, doing enough work, contacting enough workers or giving the party enough money—there was no pledge schedule, rather comrades announced how much they were giving that month at a local meeting and then were pressured to give more.

The sense I got from what I was told when I was in, was that the org financed itself almost completely through contributions from members (who were bled dry and encouraged to collect money on the streets, go door to door, borrow from relatives, etc.). The other source was lit sales (which is one reason we’d get screamed at regularly for not selling enough).

I remember as a member asking about Cuba and its class character. When not attacked for raising the question to begin with (on the grounds that it reflected a potential desire to accommodate to Castroism), I was offered a wide range of explanations by different senior comrades. Some gave me a version of the ‘phantom capitalist’ theory (a Lambertiste position, that, as I found out later, was never adopted by the Healyites) [Pierre Lambert, leader of the French Organisation Communiste Internationaliste participated with Healy in the IC until they parted ways in 1971]. Other WLers told me that despite what I had read in books and newspapers, there was indeed significant private ownership in Cuba. They were all improvising, because the IC/WL/SEP to my knowledge always avoided any attempt to seriously explain their position in writing. Members who ask too many questions about touchy subjects like Cuba soon learn not to, as it is taken as displaying an appetite to abandon the working class. I suspect that a similar approach is being used today with those deemed too inquisitive about the GPRI.

On the myspace [website] discussion of the issue, one neophyte supporter of the SEP summed up the explanation he had been given as follows:

   1. the GRPI does not fund the SEP;

   2. the GRPI provides employment for a number of comrades;

   3. no one is getting rich through their involvement with the GRPI;

   4. the GRPI is a successful company and has won awards for being a quality employer.

If I were a member, I would be wondering what the purpose of the GRPI is, if it neither serves the needs of the SEP, nor makes anyone rich. I’d also be curious about which SEP comrades get jobs there and how they get selected. I suppose it’s nice to win awards, but most people would rather work in places where they have union protection instead of having to rely on management goodwill. (I think it is safe to assume that, since “unions have essentially completed their degeneration” they do not represent GRPI’s workforce.)

When the SEP liquidated its printed publications in favor of online publishing, they claimed that doing so was merely recognizing the reality that, in the new age of internet communication, printed matter was becoming obsolete as a way to reach people. It is clear that the SEP has continued to invest tremendous resources to produce its online daily. The WSWS, which is generally pretty well written and covers a wide range of topics from a leftist perspective, possibly has the largest readership of any English-language ostensibly Marxist publication. It gives the SEP a cyberspace presence that far exceeds its weight in the real world.

The existence of the GRPI, and the time and energy that North et al obviously pour into it, makes me wonder if the real motivation for curtailing the production of printed propaganda was to permit the company to reach its full potential. When I was a member we had to buy large numbers of the weekly Bulletin on consignment—each member probably sold around 100 papers a week. The group also printed a monthly Young Socialist, a monthly Spanish publication for immigrants, a monthly or bi-monthly French-language publication sold in Quebec and to Haitian immigrants in New York (amongst whom we had a significant readership), a monthly Canadian newspaper, tons of leaflets, a quarterly theoretical journal, and, most months, a pamphlet or a book. The discovery that paper printing was obsolete (although not for commercial purposes apparently) might also have been a result of a decision that meeting sales quotas by going door-to-door, hanging out at supermarkets, strike chasing and all the other things we used to do, was not an efficient use of members’ political time. It is notable that the change to online from paper publishing, and the transformation of the old party printing plant into a full-blown business enterprise seems to roughly coincide with the change of position on the unions. This may well be a classic case of “program generating theory.”

Marxists have generally seen revisionism as an expression of alien class pressures within the workers’ movement. Small propaganda organizations, with little organic connection to the labor movement, experience that pressure in more indirect ways than mass workers’ parties. In a small leftist group the personal qualities and political appetites of leading members are at least as important in determining the line and the character of its internal regime as the blind social forces that shape mass consciousness.

Marx and Engels wrote a fair number of polemics against the development of personality cults within small socialist organizations, whereas Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg, who operated in an atmosphere where socialist ideas were part of the mainstream of the labor movement, tended to dismiss the significance of such behavior.

Ignoring historical context and employing a caricature of the Leninist/Trotskyist analysis of trade-union, social-democratic and Stalinist bureaucracies, the IC has long denounced all other left groups as “petty bourgeois” (while their own social composition is no different) and simultaneously demanded that critics of their highly bureaucratic organization demonstrate upon what materially privileged stratum the IC leadership is based. The recent publicity surrounding the GRPI may lead the IC leadership to be a bit more careful about baiting other groups as “petty bourgeois” for a while.

A small and rigidly hierarchical ostensibly socialist organization, without significant connections to the labor movement or any other mass social movement, that has a largely literary political existence, with little public activity beyond occasionally running candidates in bourgeois elections, is likely to develop some peculiar political deviations. If the leaders of such an organization are also subjected to the social pressures of running a multi-million dollar business, it is hardly surprising that they may come to exhibit indifference to the actual struggles and needs of the working class, or at least find it difficult to connect the limited immediate struggles of the class to the necessity for socialist revolution (i.e., to find the sort of “bridge” that Trotsky outlined in the Transitional Program).

Trotsky saw it as essential for revolutionaries to struggle for the Marxist program within the existing mass organizations of the proletariat, i.e., the unions. The SEP leadership, by contrast, tends to advance a sort of abstract “Sunday Socialism” in which the key operational proposal is often the call to “build the SEP.”

For decades the IC has tended to cater to the backward consciousness of the more privileged sections of the working class and to show little interest in questions of special oppression. Those who insist on the importance of Marxists addressing such questions are attacked for “hating the working class” or being motivated by black-nationalist, bourgeois-feminist or other alien class ideologies. Tim Wohlforth, while still leader of the Workers League, spelled this out with his infamous comment that “The working class hates hippies, faggots and women’s libbers, and so do we!” While far less crude today, the WSWS coverage of the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, for example, was profoundly flawed by the tendency to ignore the blatant racism that characterized capitalist officialdom’s response to the crisis.

The cadres who produce the WSWS can certainly not be faulted for their work ethic—it is an impressive achievement for such a small group to have sustained such a venture for so long. But the value of such a project, from a revolutionary point of view, depends on the political program it advances. The profound revisionism of the SEP on the social revolutions that produced the Cuban and Chinese deformed workers’ states, its support to capitalist restorationists in the Soviet bloc, its defeatist and reactionary position on the trade unions, its historic tendency toward indifference to issues of special oppression and its abandonment of the Bolshevik position of “revolutionary defeatism” in imperialist wars, negates any value the WSWS might have as an instrument for socialist propaganda.

A Marxist Programme for the SLP

A Marxist Programme for the Socialist Labour Party

[Main statement of International Bolshevik Tendency supporters inside Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. Reprinted in every issue of Marxist Bulletin from #1 (April 1997) to # 6 (February 1998). Copied from ]

1. Labour Party/Election

The basis of the Socialist Labour Party is the need to break with the Labour Party and form an independent organisation to fight for the interests of the working class. Among others, we need to win the left of the Labour Party to this perspective. We need to call on those Labour MPs who criticise the leadership from the left to make a definitive break from the pro-capitalist programme of the Labour Party, and stand in defence of the working class. Only then would we vote for them. We should not support New Labour in any constituency, but should concentrate on standing candidates wherever we can. We should also support other non-SLP candidates who stand on a clear class line, on the side of the workers.

2. Ireland

The occupation of Northern Ireland by British troops is one of the most brutal expressions of British imperialism. We call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the troops. British and Irish capitalists can play no part in assuring peace and social justice for the working class of these islands. We have no illusions that these politicians can solve the problems that they have created. Only united working-class struggle can make fundamental progressive social change possible.

We give our support to the resistance of the oppressed Irish Catholics against the British state. We call for the release of Republican prisoners and the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and all repressive legislation. The British state is the biggest terrorist in Ireland. However, we are opposed to a forcible unification. In fighting the oppression of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland we also seek to promote measures that promote the unity of Catholic and Protestant workers in the struggle against a system that is based on oppression and exploitation.

We oppose the undemocratic institutions of the British state, and fight for an end to the monarchy and the House of Lords. We defend the right of Scotland and Wales to self-determination, ie, to establish their own separate state if they so choose. We seek to unite the British and Irish working class in common struggle and in a voluntary union of workers republics.

3. Europe

We reject the Maastricht plan for a European imperialist super-state as well as the Eurosceptics’ alternative, which points to an autarkic, protectionist Britain. We must prepare for aggressive resistance to all capitalist attacks on wages, living standards and social services, whether these are advanced on the grounds of promoting European integration, safeguarding British sovereignty or simply making British industry ‘competitive’. Workers’ struggle across national lines – not nationalist poison – must be our reply to capitalist attacks.

4. International

No country can achieve socialism on its own. Capitalism is an international system – to destroy capitalism and ensure the future survival of humanity, we must be even more international.

We absolutely oppose the military interventions of Britain and its imperialist partners in Bosnia, Iraq and any other non-imperialist countries, including when carried out in the name of the United Nations. We defend the right of self-determination for all nations.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc and the triumph of counter-revolution in the USSR represented a massive defeat for workers around the world. We defend Cuba, China, Vietnam and North Korea against imperialist aggression and capitalist restoration. Only successful workers’ political revolutions in those states can open the road to socialism.

5. Anti-racism

The SLP calls for the scrapping of the Asylum Act; we should extend this to all other immigration laws. We need to actively fight all deportations. Everyone who lives in Britain should have full citizenship rights, including the right to education and all state services in the language of their choice.

Defence against racist and fascist attacks requires the formation of organised defence guards, based on the working class and including members of ethnic minorities and youth. Fascists must not be allowed to march, speak in public or distribute propaganda.

6. Women

Women’s oppression is perpetuated and reinforced by capitalism. While we fight every instance of women’s oppression, we also recognise that it is not possible to get rid of sexism (or racism) under capitalism. Full social equality for women can only be won through destroying this unjust social system and replacing it with socialism. This requires uniting the whole working class (not just its female component) in struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation.

Women’s oppression in capitalist society is chiefly rooted in their role in the family, the institution through which children are cared for and people’s emotional and social needs are met. Responsibilities as mothers and home-makers contribute greatly to women’s relative poverty and reduced access to educational and work opportunity. Increasing pressures on the family through the reduction of community and social services contribute to domestic violence and sexual abuse. Women need financial independence in order to choose their own living circumstances. We fight for full employment at decent wages, equal pay, decent maternity and paternity leave, free quality childcare day and night, free healthcare (including contraception and abortion), and decent housing for all.

We are opposed to restrictions on sexual expression and sexual choices among all those capable of informed consent. Therefore we fight for: an end to all discrimination against lesbians, gays and other sexual minorities; no age of consent laws; and no state censorship, including of sexual material.

7. Trade Unions

The crucial question in the unions is our response to the anti-union laws. We must fight these through active defiance and solidarity within and between unions wherever struggles occur. This means a fight against those in the union leadership who want to acquiesce to these laws in the futile hope of a better deal from New Labour. We need democracy in the unions, and the right of election and immediate recall of all officers. The key to transforming the unions does not lie through recruiting trade union leaders to the SLP but through building fractions in the unions which understand that every shop-floor fight is part of the larger class struggle which will go on until workers are strong enough to establish our own socialist society.

8. Economics

The purpose of the SLP is to destroy the destructive capitalist system and replace it with socialism, a system based not on profit but on human need. We also fight for immediate demands, such as a shorter working week with no loss of pay; equal pay for equal work; a decent minimum wage; higher benefits and pensions; benefits for youth; free, quality education, healthcare, housing and childcare for everyone. Our task is to build a bridge between these immediate objectives and the socialist society we want to achieve. Therefore, we seek to link such ‘minimum’ demands to a system of demands (sliding scale of wages and hours, massive programme of public works, abolition of commercial and government secrecy, etc) which points the way to the need for working-class state power.

This is only possible by recognising that every gain we make will have to be defended. As soon as our demands begin to pose a serious threat to the wealth and power of the capitalists, they will use every means at their disposal to stop us – the courts, the police, the army, all the forces of the capitalist state. If we achieve any control over the capitalist parliament, they will again use these forces, against us and against democracy. To defend ourselves we need to form mass-based organs of physical defence. We will need to take over our workplaces and join together to take the economy into common ownership. This will necessarily carry over into a fight for a new state power – working class rule, based on democratic organisations at all levels from workplace councils to a workers’ government.

9. The Socialist Labour Party

The victory of the socialist revolution is inconceivable without the existence of a party that unites the most militant and determined fighters into a single disciplined movement capable of providing effective leadership for all those who suffer under the existing capitalist state. We want to build that party. We should get rid of the membership restrictions in the constitution, both the one-year residency clause and the restrictions on membership of other organisations. A healthy mass working class socialist party can only be created on the basis of a high degree of internal democracy, a lively culture of political discussion and the capacity to change its policy as a result of that discussion. This requires that all members are free to argue for their views, individually or collectively, subject only to their willingness to abide by the democratic decisions of the majority.

Israel Out of the Occupied Territories!

For a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!

Israel Out of the Occupied Territories!

[Printed in 1917 #5, Winter 1988-89, originally posted online at

For the past year the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza has been locked in a heroic and unequal struggle against Israeli occupation. Forty years after 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homeland by Zionist terrorism, the Palestinian intifada (uprising) has focused world attention on the denial of their rights as a people. A new generation of youth, frustrated by the failure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and big-power diplomacy to end the brutal occupation of their land, is rising to reassert its people’s long-denied national rights. In the wake of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres, and countless terror bombings of Palestinian and other Arab populations, the intifada has stripped away the myth of Israel as a land of idealistic kibbutzniks making deserts bloom, revealing the brutal reality of the Zionist “Iron Fist.”

Early on in the revolt, when the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) had trouble dispersing crowds of angry, stone-throwing youths with tear gas, soldiers began breaking demonstrators’ hands. When nightly television newsclips of this cold-blooded brutality horrified public opinion around the world, the Zionists emulated their South African allies and “solved” their public relations problem by banning the cameras.

The Israeli regime has tried everything short of a massive genocidal bloodletting to quell the revolt, and yet it shows no signs of abating. The beatings, jailings, mutilations, deportations, and demolitions have failed to break the resistance. Nor have the measures of “collective punishment;” the curfews and restrictions on food, fuel and electricity which are periodically imposed on Palestinian communities. Israeli military tribunals arbitrarily jail anyone suspected of participating in or abetting the intifada. The homes of suspects are routinely demolished, while the army “keeps the peace” by spraying crowds of rock-throwing schoolchildren with automatic weapons fire. To date hundreds of Palestinians have been murdered and thousands more have been wounded. Israeli soldiers have recently been issued with plastic bullets to fire at the demonstrators. Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin explained: “Our purpose is to increase the number (of people wounded) among those who take part in violent incidents….Whoever takes part must know that I am not worried by the increased number of casualties” (Toronto Globe and Mail, 28 September). The Israeli authorities have also detained some 10,000 Palestinians, of whom 2,000 languish in internment camps under “administrative detention” without charges or even the pretense of a trial. Dozens more have been arbitrarily and cruelly ripped away from their homes and families and deported to Lebanon.

The pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. likes to portray the racialist Zionist state as an island of democracy in a sea of Arab despotism. But one of the first casualties of the Israeli attempts to crush the intifada has been the pretense of “democracy” in the Zionist fortress. Dozens of Arab journalists and even a handful of leftist Jewish writers have been imprisoned, and several newspapers have been closed down because they dared to print the ugly truth about the measures used against the protestors.

Hussein Suspends the “Jordanian Option”

The United States—patron and protector of the Zionist state since its creation—has been unable to do much more than wring its hands. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s hard-line policy has created anxiety in the U.S. State Department over the long-term effect of Israel’s deteriorating public image in America. Therefore, Washington has objected in an unusually blunt fashion to the arrogant Zionist policy of deporting suspected Palestinian leaders to Lebanon, and has even voted for the occasional motion of condemnation in the United Nations Security Council. But the U.S. rulers know that Israel remains its most powerful anti-Soviet ally in the Middle East and an indispensable counterrevolutionary watchdog for the entire region.

Shamir, also cognizant of this fact, has felt free to ignore all U.S. complaints and give Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, the cold shoulder during the latter’s various “peace missions,” to the Middle East. Shultz only undertook his diplomatic shuttles because he feared that Israel’s naked repression of the Palestinians posed serious strategic problems for the maintenance of the Zionist garrison state. Bowing to the Israeli refusal to negotiate with the PLO, Shultz dutifully scoured the Middle East for Palestinian quislings willing to submit to Israel’s diktat. He proposed to “settle” the Palestinian question by promising eventual Jordanian rule over some of the West Bank and Gaza—a position akin to that advocated by the Israeli “Labor” Party since the 1967 war. But Shultz found no takers among the Palestinians. The proposal was also rejected out of hand by Shamir, whose intransigence was rewarded with a new shipment of American warplanes.

The “Jordanian option” was foreclosed, at least for the time being, when King Hussein, Washington’s “Royal Highness” of Jordan, announced on 31 July that he was giving up all “legal and administrative ties” to the West Bank. Hussein called for the formation of a PLO government-in-exile for the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. The Hashemite monarch reiterated that “Jordan is not Palestine” and returned full-circle to the proposition that the PLO is “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” thus repudiating his U.S.-anointed role as diplomatic proxy for the Palestinians in an imperialist-brokered “peace process.” Ominously, Hussein’s move coincided with heightened Israeli repression in the Occupied Territories, including a campaign by Israel’s intelligence service, Shin Bet, to round up, torture and deport suspected members of the popular committees directing the intifada.

A New York Times editorial of 2 August sermonized that, “Either the P.L.O. will be able to bear the new burden he [Hussein] imposes by changing character, defining attainable goals and taking responsibility for governance of ordinary life. Or it will fail, prompting West Bank residents to clamor for the King to return.” Of course, Israel is not asked to change its character. Yasir Arafat Zionist terrorist Shamir, a former leader of the Stern Gang, which carried out the massacre of 250 unarmed civilians at Deir Yassin in 1948, responded to Hussein’s move with the announcement that: “Israel will prevent in the most determined way any attempt to carry out any idea—to the extent that there are madmen who raise it—of establishing a Palestinian government. Such people will be met with an iron fist that will leave no trace of their attempts.” In line with this policy, Israeli officials decreed that the PLO will not be allowed to fund schools and health services that have lost Jordanian support.

Hussein’s maneuver underscores the danger of Palestinian reliance on Arab diplomacy. Quite possibly Hussein expects that the PLO will be discredited by its inability to improve the lot of the Palestinians on the West Bank. In that case after exiting through the front door, Hussein could get a chance to reenter through the back—over the political corpse of the PLO leadership—and assume the role of Protector of Palestine.

But whatever plots are being hatched behind the scenes, Hussein’s renunciation of any claim over Palestine reflects the will and determination of the popular insurrection in the Occupied Territories. The Palestinians had repudiated his sponsorship for years and Hussein’s move must be seen, at least in part, as a recognition of this. Thus, while the PLO is busy drawing up plans for its bantustan on the West Bank and Gaza, the intifada has introduced a new element into the complex tangle of Middle East politics—one which could create an opening for independent working-class struggle against Zionism, imperialism and the Arab ruling classes.

Contradictions of the Israeli Occupation

While the “revolution of stones” cannot possibly triumph over the armed might of Israel, it has brought the contradictions at the heart of the Zionist behemoth into stark relief. Israel can neither live with the Occupied Territories nor without them. Enforcing the occupation further militarizes the entire society, while simultaneously eroding the morale of the army. Twenty-four Israeli soldiers are currently imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. A document published last March by the Israeli Socialist Left (Shasi) noted:

 “The prestige of the IDF has suffered a serious blow. It is difficult to square the myths about bravery, efficiency, and resourcefulness with the reality of the brutal, ugly, and vicious actions against a civilian population. The pride about `purity of arms’ and `the moral level’ of the army lies buried under a hill of stones.”

Professional armies are in general adversely affected by being assigned police functions against civilian populations. An article in the Summer 1988 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies comments on this phenomenon with regard to the intifada:

 “This need to use violence against unarmed civilians may create two kinds of reaction, say the psychologists. On the one end of the continuum a `moral apathy’ may develop, which may lead the subject to resort to violence without discrimination and often without functional justification. On the other end, it may lead to inner agonies such as depression, nightmares, and the propensity to disobey….Both extremes lead to an erosion of military discipline: moral apathy may lead to excessive use of violence even against military orders; the depressive reaction may lead to attempts at `service dodging’ and desertion.”

The occupation also imposes an economic burden which can only be ameliorated by ever greater infusions of U.S. aid, which in 1985 was already running at a staggering $1,250 per capita. The brutal suppression of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories has widened the already existing rift in American Jewish opinion, and although an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews have rallied behind the government for the time being, the Zionist consensus within Israel could ultimately be endangered.

Yet the Occupied Territories cannot easily be given up. Zionist ideology holds that the annexation of “Eretz Israel” (Greater Israel, including “Judea” and “Samaria,” the Old Testament names for the West Bank) represents the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. It was in the name of a god-given Jewish mandate that Palestine was colonized and the Palestinians driven from their homeland in 1948. Carrying this mandate to its logical conclusion is thus the overriding imperative of a Zionist state now more than ever in the grip of religious fanatics.

In the course of fulfilling its “destiny,” Israel has also acquired important extra-theological reasons for maintaining the occupation: the income generated by a complex web of taxes, licenses, customs and excise revenues, as well as the lucrative captive market which the impoverished inhabitants provide for Israeli manufacturers and retailers. Equally important is the reservoir of cheap Arab labor supplied by the Occupied Territories. Discriminatory regulations designed by the occupation authorities to destroy Palestinian agriculture and manufacturing have further increased the supply of low-cost labor for Israeli entrepreneurs. Control of the West Bank has also given Israel access to two aquifers, which supply 35 percent of its water. Palestinians have been forbidden to drill new wells, while the government has seized or closed many of those previously operated by Arab farmers. The Zionist settlers have virtually unrestricted access to draw water. The result is that in the West Bank, 60,000 settlers consume more of this precious resource than the 850,000 Palestinian residents! (see Israel Shahak in the July-September issue of Race & Class).

To date over a third of Gaza and 60 percent of the land of the West Bank have been seized and is being parcelled out to Israeli settlers and “developers.” There have been numerous cases of Jewish settlers uprooting olive and almond trees, and even bulldozing topsoil on those lands which are still in the possession of the Palestinian inhabitants. Disputes over land titles are now handled by a military review board which has generally turned a blind eye to the “unorthodox” methods used by their countrymen. The government has pursued a policy of encouraging Jewish colonization (known as the “Judaization” of the territories) with lucrative subsidies. (For an illuminating discussion of the economic aspects of the Zionist occupation see “The Price of Peace” in the March-April issue ofThis Magazine.)

The complaints of Israeli employers that the intifada is interrupting the supply of cheap Arab labor from the Occupied Territories and seriously damaging their businesses, is evidence of the dependency of the Israeli economy on the super-exploitation of these workers. This is a fundamental contradiction for the Zionist ruling class—its attempts to create a “Greater Israel” have meant increased reliance upon Arab labor. The parallel with South Africa is unmistakable. A nationwide strike by Arab workers in Israel last December in solidarity with the uprising in the Occupied Territories demonstrated the growing importance of Arab labor within the Israeli economy, and revealed a weapon far more potent than firebombs or stones. This strike signaled to the Zionists that, should they continue with their “Iron Fist” policies, they risk an uprising by “their own” Arab population.

It is often argued by Zionists and their apologists that peace would be possible in the Middle East if only the Arabs would accept the “right of Israel to exist.” But acceptance of the Zionist state would mean condoning a political entity founded upon what a famous UN resolution correctly described as a form of racism.

All major political factions in Israel, from the fascistic Kach party to the “Peace Now” movement, share the racial-theocratic definition of the state central to Zionist ideology. Israel is legally held to be the exclusive “state of the Jewish people.” Although some 750,000 Arabs are second-class Israeli citizens, first-class citizenship is reserved for those who qualify under traditional Jewish law, i.e., anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism by a rabbi. Anyone in the world who meets either criterion automatically qualifies for citizenship under the Law of Return. Thus a Jewish American, who has never been to Israel in his life, has citizenship rights in Haifa, while a Haifa-born Palestinian refugee has no right to live in the land of his birth!

This definition of citizenship also underpins the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian population. As the late Moshe Dayan—the Zionist hero of the 1967 war—brutally admitted:

 “We came here to a country that was populated by Arabs, and we are building here a Hebrew, Jewish state….Instead of the Arab villages Jewish villages were established. You even do not know the names of these villages….There is not a single settlement that was not established in the place of a former Arab village.”

—Haaretz, 4 April 1969

The Jewish National Fund admits that confiscated Palestinian property amounts to 88 percent of the land of Israel(Jewish Villages in Israel, p.xxi, quoted in Lehn and Davis, The Jewish National Fund). All of these properties were vested under the Absentee Property Law of 1950 with the Custodian of Absentee Property to be administered solely for the Jewish people. The fanatical gun-toting Gush Emunim “pioneers,” who today rob the Arabs of their land in the Occupied Territories, are merely continuing the historic act of usurpation in which the state of Israel was conceived. It is precisely because these “settlers” are carrying out the original Zionist mandate that no major faction on the Israeli political spectrum is willing to defy them.

Zionism, which has always insisted that Jews cannot be assimilated into “gentile society,” was a minority current among European Jews, before the Nazi holocaust. It is one of history’s most bitter ironies that Hitler, by inflicting genocide upon the Jews, has posthumously succeeded in converting many of his victims to the twisted logic of racism. The fascist extermination of six million European Jews was an unparalleled and ghastly crime. But it can only be invoked in justification of current Zionist terror by those who have abandoned all hope of overcoming racism through social struggle, and instead look for their salvation to the victory of their own exclusive racial, ethnic or religious grouping. If mutual hatred and slaughter among peoples and nations is an unalterable fact of human existence, the best that one can hope for is to be a victimizer rather than a victim. This is the suicidal reasoning with which the Zionists have led the Jews of Israel into their present cul-de-sac.

Zionist “Solutions” For Palestinians

The intifada has spurred discussion in Israel about possible “solutions” to the “Palestinian problem.” An option favored by many within Shamir’s right-wing Likud coalition is annexation of the West Bank and Gaza with Palestinians formally excluded from citizenship rights. But within the framework of Zionism, population statistics provide the opposition Labor Party with the most cogent argument against this course. Nearly 1.5 million Palestinians now reside in the Occupied Territories, in addition to those within Israel itself. Annexation would therefore bring 2.25 million Palestinians under Israeli jurisdiction. With a birthrate much higher than that of Israel’s 4 million Jews, Palestinians would one day “dilute” the Jewish majority, and hence pose a threat to Israel’s exclusively Jewish character. Annexation would also impose the necessity of permanently repressing a huge and rebellious subject population.

Another proposal being discussed is that of the “resettlement” of the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. It should not be forgotten that talk of “resettlement” was the prologue to Hitler’s “final solution” of the “Jewish problem” in Europe. Proposals of this nature, though commonly associated with Meir Kahane’s fascistic Kach party, are not the exclusive property of the Zionist ultra-right. Israeli “dove” Abba Eban, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, was among those who “proposed that all the [Palestinian] refugees be settled in Arab states, especially in Syria and Iraq” in the wake of the 1967 war (Davar, 19 February, quoted by Israel Shahak in Covert Action Information Bulletin, Summer 1988). Mass expulsion of the Palestinians from the Occupied Territories is now being openly discussed within the Zionist political establishment. No one imagines that such a massive population transfer could be accomplished by friendly persuasion; it would mean a bloodletting beside which the 1982 massacres of Sabra and Shatila would pale in comparison. The very fact that such an option can be seriously considered is an indication of the racist logic of Zionism.

The option considered most “realistic” by every one from Labor Party leader Shimon Perez to the Israeli “doves” of Peace Now, and endorsed by both Washington and Moscow, is “trading territory for peace.” According to this scenario, Israel would relinquish the most densely populated portions of the West Bank and Gaza, which would then be constituted as an independent Palestinian mini-state.

Jerome Segal, the left-Zionist founder of the “Jewish Committee for Israeli-Palestinian Peace” revealed the logic behind the mini-state proposal when he wrote that, “It would win the support of the PLO and is the only likely basis on which the PLO would formally abandon the right to return to the land and villages lost in 1948.” He pointed out that no military supplies could reach the state without passing through either Jordan or Israel. “The foreign policy of such a mini-state would be dominated by its links to the Israeli economy and by its national-security realities” (Los Angeles Times, 16 February).

Such a tiny “Palestinian state” carved out of the West Bank and Gaza (which taken together constitute less than a fifth of the area of pre-war Palestine) would be divided by Israeli territory, sandwiched between Jordan and Egypt, and possess scant economic resources. The notion that it could even physically accommodate 2.5 million diaspora Palestinians—let alone satisfy their national aspirations—is simply absurd. This would be comparable to the black South African masses accepting the phony independence of the bantustans as their share of South Africa. Indeed, even now the Gaza Strip with its 650,000 Palestinians packed into 100 square miles of desert is often compared to Soweto, since many of its workers use it only as a dormitory for work inside Israel. This reality would hardly be eliminated by running up the PLO flag and issuing a new set of postage stamps.

The PLO and the Mini-State

The PLO is currently supporting the proposal for an international peace conference to resolve the Palestinian question. In a 13 September address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Arafat suggested that either the UN or a consortium of European imperialists could administer the West Bank and Gaza as a transitional step toward establishing a mini-state on those territories.

In 1971 the Palestinian National Congress was proclaiming its:

“Firm opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state on any part of the Palestinian Homeland on the basis that any attempt to establish such a state falls within the plans to liquidate the Palestinian question.”

—Free Palestine, April 1971

By 1974 the PLO had changed its tune and proposed to establish a national authority on any territory it could obtain. This retreat was justified by PLO spokesman Abu Iyad by the need to:

“read history so as to extract lessons for ourselves. What were the mistakes of our previous leaders?…Their mistake was adhering to our people’s historical rights without adopting stage-by-stage programs of struggle under the obtaining conditions.”

 —Alain Gresh, The PLO: The Struggle Within 

The “obtaining conditions” Iyad referred to were the result of a series of defeats inflicted on the Palestinians by Zionism, U.S. imperialism and the Arab regimes. Arafat began his political career as a disciple of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian military strongman and self-appointed leader of the “Arab revolution.” But in 1970, the very same Nasser abandoned his alliance with the Soviet Union in favor of a rapprochement with American imperialism and accepted the “peace plan” then being touted by William Rogers, U.S. Secretary of State.

The Rogers Plan called on Israel to give back the Occupied Territories to Egypt and Jordan in exchange for recognition of Israel. Nasser and Jordanian King Hussein thought that this deal would lead to the satisfaction of their territorial demands and considered the Palestinians expendable. The massive Palestinian presence in Jordan was a constant threat to Hussein’s regime. Assured that Nasser would not intervene on their behalf, Hussein proceeded to massacre thousands of Palestinians in Jordan during the infamous 1970 “Black September” bloodbath. The Rogers Plan was never accepted by Israel or pursued by the United States.

In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon (where the PLO had been driven by Hussein) with the object of wiping out the Palestinian camps. In the wake of the Battle of Beirut, a U.S.-sponsored United Nations “peacekeeping force” intervened and persuaded the PLO to withdraw its armed units from Lebanon in exchange for assurances that the “peacekeepers” would protect the remaining Palestinian refugees. The value of these assurances was demonstrated when Israel took advantage of the PLO withdrawal to unleash the reactionary Lebanese Christian Phalange on the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

The lesson to be drawn from these historic defeats is the folly of relying on imperialists or Arab potentates to protect the interests of the Palestinian people. But this is a lesson the petty-bourgeois PLO leadership is incapable of learning. Like even the most liberal and enlightened of his Zionist foes, Arafat simply cannot envision a political reality fundamentally different from the one that exists. He opposes the Middle Eastern status quo of imperialist spheres of influence, rapacious oil sheiks and murderous national hatreds only to the extent that there is no place in it for the Palestinians.

The experience of oppression does not automatically make revolutionaries of its victims. The Zionists argued that there could be no answer to the persecution of the Jews without the support of one or another imperialist power for the establishment of a “homeland.” It is the same “pragmatism” that sends Arafat scurrying from one Arab capital to another, weaving intrigue upon Byzantine intrigue, in the vain hope that some new combination of circumstances and political alignments will remedy the historic crime against the Palestinian people.

The PLO’s authority among the Palestinian masses derives not from its leadership of the uprising (which it did not initiate) but from its symbolic importance as the historic representative of Palestinian national aspirations. The Zionist ideologues, who deny the existence of a Palestinian nation, refuse to negotiate directly with an organization that claims to be its “sole legitimate representative.” Thus, the more the PLO is anathematized by the Zionists, the more its banner is embraced by the Palestinians as a symbol of national identity. Yet the reality does not measure up to the image. While certainly worthy of defense against Zionist persecution, the PLO is in fact led by petty-bourgeois nationalists bereft of any coherent political or social outlook. Arafat himself is famous for his proclivity for changing political alliances and demands in accordance with the shifting sands of war and diplomacy in the Middle East.

Arafat cannot make himself more acceptable to the imperialists without continually giving ground to the Zionist state, which is imperialism’s most powerful regional ally. He has thus responded to each Palestinian defeat by further moderating the PLO’s demands. Contrary to Zionist propaganda, Arafat has on numerous occasions indicated his willingness to accept UN Resolutions 242 and 338. This formula characterizes the Palestinians as “refugees” rather than a nationality, and calls for Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist on the condition that the Israelis withdraw from the Occupied Territories.

The PLO’s current call for UN control of the territories is more maneuvering of the kind that paved the road to “Black September” and the Lebanese massacres. In time, weariness with Arafat’s fruitless diplomatic shell game is bound to create a crisis of confidence in PLO leadership among the Palestinian masses. Far more sinister forces—Islamic fundamentalists inspired by the example of Khomeini’s Iran—are already raising their heads in Gaza and the West Bank.

For a Trotskyist Party in Israel/Palestine!

The answer to Zionist terror does not consist in the harder Palestinian nationalist line advocated by Arafat’s “rejectionist” opponents within the PLO. The road to Palestinian liberation lies through a common struggle of Arab and Hebrew workers against all capitalist oppressors in the region. Amid the burning national antagonisms of today’s Middle East, such a prospect may appear “unrealistic.” The alternative, however, is a continued cycle of desperate revolt and brutal repression.

The fact that the Israeli economy is already dependent upon a working class comprised of both Arab and Hebrew workers provides the objective basis for their joint struggle. However, such a struggle will not emerge spontaneously. It will require the presence of a consciously revolutionary force—a Trotskyist party—determined to take advantage of every opportunity to forge links between the workers of both nationalities. While siding unambiguously with the Palestinians in their struggle against national oppression, a party aspiring to proletarian leadership in the Middle East must not adapt to the prevailing nationalist consciousness of the Arab workers, but base itself on a firm programmatic foundation of internationalist communism.

In the first place, there must be a clear understanding that no genuine solution to the Palestinian question is possible within the framework of U.S. imperialist hegemony, which is the main prop of reactionary forces around the globe. Israel is not the only regime closely allied with U.S. imperialism in the Middle East today. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are all heavily dependent on economic and/or military underwriting from their patron.

At the same time, while they are clients, none of these regimes can be regarded simply as U.S. puppets. Zionism contains an expansive dynamic of its own, the “excesses” of which are a source of embarrassment to Washington. In addition, the continued hostility between Israel and reactionary Arab regimes is a real obstacle to the American aim of cementing an anti-Soviet alliance in the Middle East. But U.S. imperialism, precisely because it is not all-powerful, must form alliances with regimes whose imperatives it does not necessarily share. Zionism will continue to act as an imperialist gendarme in the Middle East only so long as it is assured of U.S. backing for its own racist rule and territorial ambitions. This is the basis of the historic deal between Zionism and imperialism, and Washington realizes that to renege on it would endanger the entire structure of capitalist exploitation in the region.

The Trotskyist approach to the national question in the Middle East is profoundly different from that of petty-bourgeois nationalists and their leftist camp followers. Our program derives from the first four congresses of the Communist International, led by Lenin and Trotsky, and the further elaboration of this question by the international Spartacist tendency of the 1960’s and 70’s, when it was still a revolutionary organization.

Leninists solidarize with all oppressed peoples in the face of national persecution; hence we are on the side of Palestinian resistance to Zionist police-state terror. This includes support for the demand for immediate and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. While we reject the various “mini-state” schemes as incapable of satisfying the legitimate national demands of the Palestinians, we nonetheless defend the right of the Palestinians to establish their own government in the Occupied Territories as a deformed and necessarily inadequate expression of their right to self-determination.

There is no such thing as an inherently “progressive” or “reactionary” people. Today’s victims can easily become tomorrow’s despots, as the history of Zionism attests. And it must be recognized that, within the present boundaries of Israel and the Occupied Territories, there are two distinctive nationalities, one of which speaks Hebrew.

The PLO standpoint is that Israel is merely a settler-colonial state, and the Jews within it are a religious grouping. From this it follows that Moslems, Jews and Christians should simply be merged into a single Palestinian nation. But by any objective historical or empirical standard, the Hebrew-speaking community in Israel is a nation, sharing a common language and a common territory—stolen though it was from the Arabs. One cannot simply wish a nation out of existence.

For Leninists, all nations, including the Jews in Israel, have a right to self-determination. That right, however, belongs to the Jews who currently reside in Israel, and not, as the Zionists maintain, to every descendant of the original Twelve Tribes of Israel throughout the world. It is, in other words, a right of the Hebrew-speaking people of the Middle East, and not a “Jewish” right. Moreover, the state of Israel does not represent the legitimate self-determination of the Hebrew-speaking peoples because it is a living denial of the national rights of the oppressed Palestinians.

The Zionist fortress can and must be destroyed by unleashing the class struggle within it. But the Hebrew-speaking working class can never be broken from Zionism without the assurance that it will neither be “driven into the sea” or itself become part of a subject nationality. Like the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland, the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews are two geographically interpenetrated peoples. Where different peoples occupy distinct regions, self-determination can be exercised by a simple political divorce, creating two different national entities, as Norway once seceded from Sweden. But where two peoples cohabit the same territory, the bourgeois nationalist aim of creating a separate nation-state can only be realized by mass expulsions of one or another of the populations. Israel was consolidated in exactly this way.

The only alternative to this kind of mutual slaughter of peoples is the subordination of national divisions to a common struggle aimed at ridding the region of all oppressors—imperialist, Zionist or Arab. In this context, the victory of the working class of one nationality must be a prelude to the triumph of the class as a whole—not as a victory for one people at the expense of another. The result of such a struggle would be a voluntary association of peoples encompassing the entire region—a socialist federation of the Middle East.

In answer to those practitioners of the “art of the possible” who dismiss such a solution as impractical, we refer them to a concrete example of the implementation of such a program, albeit in a partial and deformed way, in an area of the world that had long been a synonym for national hatred: the Balkans. During the Nazi occupation of this corner of Eastern Europe, Tito forged an army to fight the fascist invaders. In Tito’s army, nationalities that had until a few years before been at each other’s throats—Serbs, Croats, Macedonians, Slovenes and Montenegrins—were welded together into a common fighting force.

It would be useless to speculate on what specific geographical or political form a socialist federation of the Middle East will take. The antagonisms that today divide the proletariat along national lines can never be overcome unless the right of all currently existing national groups to associate or disassociate from other nationalities is fully respected. The socialist federation slogan expresses our confidence that a proletariat aware of its class interests is fully capable of finding a formula that protects the rights of all.

The seemingly implacable national hostilities in Israel/Palestine can only be equitably resolved through the struggle for a bi-national Arab/Hebrew workers state as part of a socialist federation of the Middle East. Such a struggle requires the construction of a Trotskyist party, which upholds the right to national self-determination of the oppressed Palestinians, and is based on a program which links the democratic and economic demands of the proletariat of bothnations to the historic necessity for the overthrow of the racist Zionist state and the reactionary Arab regimes of the region.




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.

Bob Edwards
Ursula Jensen
Howard Harlan
Lisa Sommers

October 1982

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.

Material on the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Material on the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal


Letter to Governor Tom Ridge demanding release of Mumia Abu-Jamal (1995)

Sectarian Stupidity Will Not Free Mumia (1995)

Disagreebale Sectarians (1999)

No Faith in Capitalist Courts! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal (2000)


Letter to Governor Tom Ridge demanding release of Mumia Abu-Jamal

[copied from ]

1 July 1995
Bolshevik Tendency
PO Box 385
Cooper Station
New York, NY 10276

Governor Tom Ridge
225 Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Fax: 717-772-3155

Governor Ridge:

We demand the immediate release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political prisoner on death row for 13 years, falsely convicted of killing a Philadelphia policeman. The case of Mumia exposes the fraud of the U.S. “human rights” campaign against the People’s Republic of China and other targets of U.S. imperialism, In fact, the U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world. The “land of opportunity” and the “American Dream” is in reality a land of mass poverty and degrading racial oppression where thousands of poor, black and white, are driven into petty crime out of desperation, while the capitalist class loots with impunity.

The most exploited, especially blacks and other minorities, have few illusions in the “American Dream.” Lives of daily racist insults and discrimination, desperation, grinding poverty, junk-food diets and junk-food jobs make it hard for blacks to accept the lies at face value. The lack of social justice is all too obvious! Where ideology doesn’t work, the capitalists must resort to repression through the judicial system, the police, FBI, and National Guard to maintain the day-to-day “law and order” necessary to guarantee profits with a minimum of disruption.

The planned execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, if carried out, can never silence the “Voice of the Voiceless!” Instead, it would create a martyr whose stature would tower more and more with the passage of time like Joe Hill, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs, and Malcolm X. Were Mumia to be legally murdered, his memory would become a wellspring of inspiration for all those who work to end this system of misery and exploitation.

For each activist you strike down, ten will arise to take his or her place. The decline of U.S. capitalism guarantees that all attempts by the state to stifle the class struggle are ultimately futile. We cannot foresee the timing and circumstances of a working-class counteroffensive. But we know that the chaos and irrationality of the capitalist New World Order generates its own nemesis from within: out of the ranks of the working class, whose labor is the source of all capitalist profits, shall arise new leaders to pick up the torches carried by those struck down.

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!!!

For the Bolshevik Tendency,

James Cullen

Ron Miller


Letter to Workers Vanguard

Sectarian Stupidity Will Not Free Mumia

[Copied from ]

New York,

10 August, 1995

To the Editor of Workers Vanguard:

Monday’s stay of execution was vital to the battle for the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Its achievement is a crucial tactical victory, which can open the way to the more profound victory we need—getting him off death row and freeing him.

This tactical victory was a result of mobilization by thousands of leftists, trade unionists and blacks throughout the world. The more profound victory will be possible only through the mobilization of even broader layers, and in larger activities. With the consistent application of united-front methods, Mumia Abu-Jamal will be freed.

The Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee have done an admirable job in publicizing Mumia’s case and mobilizing in his defense. But your recent article, “Anti-Communist Smear Targets Jamal Campaign”(Workers Vanguard, 28 July) can only undermine the effort required to save Mumia from the executioner’s needle. Supposedly a response to attempts to sabotage the fight for Mumia’s freedom, it in fact resorts to Stalinist-style cop baiting to further the narrow organizational interests of the Spartacist League.

In the article you claim that the polemics of the Bolshevik Tendency exposing your cult-like internal regime are really aimed at sabotaging the fight for Mumia and bringing down state repression on your heads. You write that “defamatory ravings about the SL as a ‘cult’ feed into the Wall Street Journal’s vintage redbaiting, which is aimed atspiking the necessary mass protest that is essential in fighting for Jamal’s freedom” (emphasis in original). You write further that the BT “has always sought to be the instrument of bigger forces with its provocative slurs and slanders against the Spartacist League,” insinuating that we (along with the other left groups mentioned in your article) are in league with sinister forces (like the FBI, maybe?) to “get” the SL.

You find particularly sinister the WSJ article’s mention of the fact that we “deride [our] old party as ‘Jimstown,’ a takeoff on Jonestown.” What the WSJ reporter didn’t know, however, is that the term “Jimstown” (from our article, “The Road to Jimstown,” published ten years ago) was only indirectly derived from Jonestown. Its immediate antecedent was your characterization of Jack Barnes’ Socialist Workers Party as “Barnestown”. You also fail to mention that for years you have publicly labeled the Healyites, the Revolutionary Workers League, the Freedom Socialist Party and other left groups “cults.” When, during the Gulf War, you pointed to the years-long role of David North’s Workers League as paid publicists for Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and as apologists for the murder of members of the Iraqi Communist Party, the Workers League responded to these charges in exactly the same way that you respond to ours: they claimed you were attempting to set them up for government repression. Was the SL seeking to become “the instrument of bigger forces” against these other groups? Your accusations against them are no less a matter of public record than our claims about the SL, and are no less accessible to the Wall Street Journalor any other bourgeois newspaper. Or what about your remark in German-language Spartacist (Winter 1989-90) that we have “similar appetites” to those of the Mossad (Israeli secret police)? Did you think that such an insinuation posed no danger to our German comrades, in light of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in that country? 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.

Even more appalling is the fact that you explicitly equate any criticism of yourselves with an attack on Mumia Abu-Jamal. You are hardly the only group active in the fight for his freedom. We, along with yourselves and others, have participated in demonstrations for Mumia in every part of the world where we have comrades, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Berlin, Hamburg and London. An English supporter got a resolution for freeing Mumia passed in the Birmingham Trades Council. Our New Zealand section has initiated two demonstrations calling to free Mumia, the first in 1990. A New York comrade got his union (Local 2110, UAW) to send a protest letter to the Governor of Pennsylvania on Mumia’s behalf. Our Toronto group has helped to build two demonstrations for Mumia so far, and is now participating alongside your members in efforts for another mobilization on 14 August. Our name appears on the PDC poster for this rally as one of the endorsers.

According to your logic, Trotskyists in the 1930s, by pointing to the bureaucratic internal regime of the U.S. Communist Party and its cult of Stalin, were sabotaging the campaign to defend the Scottsboro Boys. The Stalinists themselves seized every opportunity to make this point. But Trotskyist exposures of Stalinist betrayals from Germany to Spain, or their condemnations of the Moscow Trials, never prevented them from defending the Soviet Union against imperialism, or from defending American Stalinists from McCarthyite witchhunts. Similarly, our knowledge of the cult-like practices of the SL leadership does not prevent us from seeking united fronts to defend Mumia, nor from defending the SL against repression by the state.

For many years the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee, to their credit, campaigned for Mumia’s freedom before many were familiar with the case. More became involved when Mumia’s death warrant was signed, including many of the SL’s competitors on the left. Rather than welcoming these organizations to the fight, your reflex has been to defend your turf in truly sectarian fashion, writing that other leftists’ “venomous hatred of the Trotskyist Spartacist League far outweighs their professed defense of Jamal” (emphasis added). In other words, you are Mumia’s only real defenders on the socialist left. Some of your members even went so far as to claim that our protest letter to Pennsylvania’s Governor Ridge, which states that “For each activist you strike down, ten will arise to take his or her place,” means that we somehow conceive of Mumia’s murder as a positive development!

In the wake of your recent altercation with the International Socialist Organization, you write “that their ‘support’ to the campaign for Jamal isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on,” and that “united-front action[s] are completely alien to the ISO, which has been noticeably absent (or represented by token teams) at recent demonstrations for Jamal.” Yet at one major recent demonstration for Jamal in New York City (Saturday, July 22), where approximately 400 showed up, the ISO had many times more members than the SL, who turned up with fewer than ten people. In a city where you could have mobilized 50 of your own members at the very least (not to mention your periphery), this is truly shameful. Could this lack of enthusiasm be explained by the fact that the demonstration was called by the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, and not the SL or PDC? It would seem that united-front actions are somewhat “alien” to the SL as well. The SL, in fact, rarely engages in united fronts it does not initiate and unilaterally control. While there has been an unevenness in your methods internationally, on the whole your approach has been more reminiscent of the Third Period Stalinist “united front from below” which allowed Hitler to take power in Germany, than to the Trotskyist approach of negotiations among as many organizations as possible to mobilize the maximum forces in united action.

The campaign to save Mumia places the Spartacist leadership in a particular bind. On the one hand, it wants to maintain the SL’s reputation as Mumia’s best defenders, and build a broad campaign on his behalf. On the other hand, the leadership is uncomfortable about the fact that such a campaign will inevitably bring SL members into wider contact with other leftists—a development the SL leadership tries to avoid for fear that the rank and file may begin to question the leadership’s claims to infallibility. Hence the reluctance to participate in non-SL events and the need for cop-baiting attacks in the pages of Workers Vanguard.

It is this kind of sectarian behavior, and not the fact that we and others dare to criticize the Spartacist League, that truly sabotages the fight for Mumia’s freedom. Yet we insist that one need not be a fan of the SL leadership to keep working with the SL and anyone else who is willing to fight for the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

On behalf of the International Bolshevik Tendency,

David Eastman


Open Letter to Workers Vanguard

Disagreeable Sectarians

[Reprinted in 1917 #21, 1999. Copied from ] 

The following is an open letter to Workers Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.:

25 April 1999


 As we have occasionally pointed out in the past, the Spartacist League / Partisan Defense Committee (SL/PDC) deserves credit for its pioneering work in publicizing the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and organizing for his freedom. Since 1995 Mumia Abu-Jamal has won ever broader support within the left and labor movement internationally. Regrettably you have not seen this as an opportunity to engage in common work and political struggle with activists from other organizations. Instead you have tended to allow petty sectarian organizational considerations to take precedence over principled unite-front activity to free Mumia.

The 16 April Workers Vanguard (WV) commentary on recent events in Mumia’s defense campaign is a case in point. The article headlined “Mobilize the Power of Labor! Free Mumia Now!” treats in an extremely cursory manner the exceptionally important work-stoppage by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) on 24 April.Every port from San Diego to Bellingham Washington was shut down for the day in solidarity with Mumia! It is hard to overstate the importance of such an event – particularly in this period in which organized labor has been on the defensive. Yet this actual, living, mobilization of the “Power of Labor” to free Mumia is dismissed with a single paragraph buried in the text. You claim that it was organized so as “to minimize the cost to the company,” but Saturday can be one of the busiest days on the docks. You also mistakenly report that the work stoppage was only for two hours, rather than for the entire day shift.

 You grudgingly admit that it was, “a powerful statement of the social power” of labor to win Mumia’s freedom. The ILWU’s coastwide shutdown for Mumia was an action that, to our knowledge, is unprecedented in the history of U.S. labor for at least 50 years. Of course we look forward to the hypothetical “broader actions” that you project for the future, but this event was of historic  importance, something you are clearly loathe to admit.

You reported that “the ILWU” had called for the action, but did not inform your readers that it had been initiated by Jack Heyman, a former SL supporter, who is currently on the executive board of the ILWU’s San Francisco local, and is also active in the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia (LAC), along with IBT comrades, former SL trade-union supporters and many others. Many LAC participants played an active role in building the historic 1984 labor boycott of apartheid cargo in San Francisco. This boycott established an important precedent for the ILWU’s recent action in defense of Mumia. The SL’s shameful sectarianism in 1984 was thoroughly documented by three former Spartacist trade-union activists in “Third Period Robertsonism at Pier 80,” published in the Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt, No. 4, May 1985.

 Brother Heyman is introduced in the WV article as someone “who postures as the left wing of the ILWU Local 10 executive board” and roundly denounced for having the temerity to ask the “non-sectarian” PDC for a list of union endorsements gathered in the past for Mumia. WV admits that these endorsements were all a matter of public record, but still smears Heyman as someone whose real aim:

 “is to go after the reads, in the service of the labor bureaucracy (whose seats Heyman et al. desire to fill) and of concealing the true nature of the capitalist state.”

WV denounces the Labor Action Committee as a “veritable rogues’ gallery” whose “visceral hatred” of Spartacist League has led them to try to give a “labor facade to the class-collaborationist politics that define the ‘Millions for Mumia’ protests.” The fact that Heyman (and the other comrades working in the LAC), through a combination of hard work and political skill made a vital contribution to sparking the most powerful act of labor solidarity in Mumia’s defense to date, is completely ignored by WV which claims of the LAC:

 “obscures the class nature of the capitalist state, deep-sixes any mention of the Democratic Party and completely obviates the centrality of the fight for black liberation to the cause of emancipation of all of labor.”

The willingness to employ such brainless slanders has a great deal to do with why the contemporary Spartacist League is so widely reviled on the left and has so little influence in the labor movement.

WV wraps up its denunciation of the Labor Action Committee with a condemnation of its appeal for labor organizations to:

“join the ILWU at the head of the demonstration whose whole premise is not the cause of mobilizing the social power of multiracial working class for Jamal’s freedom but rather one which appeals to the agencies of the class enemy for ‘justice’.”

The SL did not organize a contingent in either the San Francisco or Philadelphia “Millions for Mumia” demonstrations on 24 April and it is clear that you opposed  mobilizing the labor movement (or anyone else) for these events. The ostensible reason for this sectarianism is that you disagree with one of the main slogans of the rallies (i.e., for a “New Trial” for Mumia). You prefer to call for “Free Mumia!” So do we. Nonetheless we do not see this as a reason to abstain from participating in the national events that are many times larger than any rallies the SL/PDC have been able to organize. Of course we participate in these demonstrations with our slogans, including the call to “Free Mumia1”.

We recall that during the Vietnam War the SL marched in many demonstrations organized around clearly social pacifist slogans, but carried its own placards calling for victory to the Indochinese Revolution. The ILWU contingent, which headed the 24 April demonstration in San Francisco, raised the call to “Free Mumia!” It did not, to my knowledge, call for a “New Trial.”

WV approvingly quoted the remarks of a participant in an SL meeting last February who asked:

“How about somebody telling the truth, that there’s no way that Mumia’s going to get justice in the courts. It’s going to be exactly the same frame-up bullshit that happened the first.”

 It is not impossible that a new trial could result in an acquittal. To assert otherwise is fake ultra-leftism. Fake, because the SL doesn’t truly believe it. If a new trial can  only  result in “exactly the same frame-up bullshit,” why is the PDC’s Rachel Wolkenstein still participating in Mumia’s defense team which has been pursuing every possible legal avenue, including trying to win a retrial? Furthermore, in the 1970’s, the SL itself launched successful court challenges against infringements of the democratic rights by both the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

 The SL’s abstentionism was not fundamentally dictated by the choice of slogans by the “Millions for Mumia” organizers. This is proved by the fact that both the London and Toronto unite-front events held in conjunction with the Philadelphia and San Francisco rallies were organized on the basis of the call to “Free Mumia!”. Yet in both cases, the Spartacist League’s co-thinkers refused to endorse or help build the events. In London, where a solidarity night organized by the “Mumia Must Live!” coalition drew over 100 people, the SL did not send even a single supporter.

 In Toronto, a united-front demonstration was held involving many of the same groups that had organized a successful 14 November 1998 protest to demand Mumia’s freedom. On that occasion the Trotskyist League (the SL’s Canadian sister section) had been an active in the united front. But although it was invited, it refused to attend the planning meetings for the 24 April demonstration. At one of those meetings, a proposal was floated to change the basis of unity from “Free Mumia!” to a call for a new trial. Our comrades, and others, argued against making such a change and the proposal was shelved.

 In Toronto, 150 people turned out to demonstrate for Mumia’s freedom across the street from the U.S. consulate. Among the participants were ten TL supporters. Speakers from the endorsing organizations addressed the crowd, including representatives of the United Secretariat, the International Socialists, Socialist Resistance (formerly Labor Militant), the Black Action Defense Committee, New Socialists, Friends of MOVE, Nation of Islam and ourselves. TL members marched in the picket line, carried their own placards and raised their own chants. Two TL supporters stood in front of the rally with a large banner featuring a picture of Mumia and virtually identical slogans to those the demonstration had been organized around. The absurdity of the TL’s posture was widely commented on at the demonstration – they agreed with the slogans, turned out and participated in the event, but for some inexplicable reason refused to endorse or build it.

 Such “tactics” are not likely to win many converts among the left. Most political activists regard the SL as a slightly ridiculous, frequently hysterical and generally disagreeable sect. The only purpose of the SL’s leadership’s semi-abstention from the campaign to free Mumia can be to seal off their membership from excessive exposure to other leftists and social reality in general. In the process, the SL/PDC has managed to squander the political credibility it gained from its important early work in the fight for Mumia’s freedom.

Samuel T. [Trachtenberg]

for the International Bolshevik Tendency


No Faith in Capitalist Courts!

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

[First prinetd in 1917 #21, 2000. Copied from ]

The struggle to save Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner, is moving toward a climax. Mumia, a former Black Panther, has been behind bars since 1982 when he was framed for the killing of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia cop.

On 22 April 1999, Mumia’s legal team filed a writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court, which was tossed out on 4 October when the court announced that it would not hear the appeal. Nine days later, on 13 October 1999, Governor Tom Ridge signed a second death warrant for Mumia. The first one in 1995 was nullified when Mumia was granted a stay following a wave of international protests. The second warrant was also stayed when Federal Judge William H. Yohn Jr. agreed to consider Mumia’s request for an evidentiary hearing on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. If granted, this will permit Mumia’s defense team to introduce a wealth of new evidence that has been painstakingly excavated since 1982. It will also provide an opportunity to demonstrate how Mumia’s constitutional rights were violated in his original trial. Every attempt by his attorneys to present evidence in 1995 during the Post-Conviction Relief hearings was blocked by extremely prejudicial rulings from presiding judge Albert Sabo, the “King of Death Row,” who had conducted the original frame-up.

During the prosecution’s closing summation at the original trial, the district attorney assured the jurors: “If you find the Defendant guilty of course there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final” (cited in L. Weinglass, Race for Justice). U.S. courts have previously established that urging a jury to find a defendant guilty, while suggesting that their decision may later be reversed, is, in itself, sufficient grounds for throwing out the conviction. Like many arguments presented by the defense, however, this has been repeatedly dismissed out of hand by the Pennsylvania judiciary.

The district attorney’s argument is all the more macabre since the appeals process has been short-circuited by Bill Clinton’s “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act,” which was pushed through in the wake of the deranged rightist bombing of the Oklahoma federal building in 1995. This act guts federal habeas corpus by discouraging federal courts from examining state convictions, thereby speeding up the machinery of death. An evidentiary hearing before Judge Yohn would not only be Mumia’s first real opportunity to officially present new evidence, it is likely to be his only chance. In terms of legal options, a great deal depends on whether or not Mumia is granted the hearing he has requested.

Ultimately, the legal proceedings in the courthouse will be shaped by political considerations—especially the numbers and level of activity of Mumia’s supporters, particularly within the labor movement. The only reason that Mumia was not executed in 1995 was because of the scope of the protests in the U.S. and internationally.

Comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) have regularly participated in the campaign to save Mumia in the localities where we exist. In the San Francisco Bay Area, our comrades have worked with the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia (LAC), which has done valuable work in bringing the campaign into the labor movement, and which helped initiate the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s (ILWU) historic one-day West Coast port shutdown in April 1999 in solidarity with Mumia. The LAC has held public forums on the case, provided speakers for union meetings and organized labor contingents in demonstrations for Mumia.

A fund-raising “Party for Mumia” held by the LAC on 14 February was forced to change venues twice as a result of police intimidation. Originally scheduled for “Sweet Jimmy’s,” a black nightclub in Oakland frequented by longshore and postal workers, the event had to be moved when the owner canceled the booking after receiving threatening phone calls from the police. In a gesture of solidarity, the “Open World Conference in Defense of Trade Union Independence” offered the LAC space they had previously booked for a social at the Bay View Boat Club. But, at the last minute, the boat club also backed out. The ILWU saved the day by providing Local 10’s View Room for the party, which succeeded in raising $2,000 for Mumia’s defense.

Our German comrades in the Gruppe Spartakus (GS) participated in a major demonstration for Mumia in Berlin on 5 February, which drew 8,000 people from across Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. On 10 March the GS sponsored a successful united-front demonstration in Mönchengladbach with Blockbuster/Youth Against Racism , the Party of Democratic Socialism (the successor to the former East German ruling party) and other anti-fascist groups.

In Britain, our comrades have played a central role, along with anarchist militants, in organizing “Mumia Must Live!” (MML) — a united front launched in February 1999 on the basis of two slogans: “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal” and “Abolish the Racist Death Penalty.” Mumia Must Live! has sponsored a number of significant events in London, including an emergency response rally last October following Ridge’s signing of the second death warrant, and a 150-person rally the next month to protest the circulation of anti-Mumia disinformation in the capitalist media. On 4 March, MML sponsored a demonstration that drew 1,000 people to Trafalgar Square, in the largest Mumia defense rally in Britain so far.

In the course of building the March demonstration there were several intense discussions within Mumia Must Live!, particularly after the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) joined. The SWP contributed significant resources, and has given MML a much higher profile. At the same time, SWPers have made several attempts to include, as part of MML’s basis of unity, a demand for the U.S. courts to retry Mumia. Our comrades and some of the anarchists were opposed to including this demand, and after some to-ing and fro-ing, the SWP relented, and agreed to only raise it in their own name.

The SWP is not alone among Mumia’s supporters in attempting to make a new trial the focus of the defense campaign. In the 1960s and early 70s, there was a wave of demonstrations in the U.S. in defense of the chairman of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton. Anyone who had raised a call for giving Newton a “New Trial” at one of these “Free Huey” rallies would have been regarded as either extremely dubious or insane. Today, some of the same “revolutionary” groups who called for freeing Huey are advocating a “new trial” for Mumia. They rationalize this adaptation to liberalism as a tactic to enhance the campaign’s mainstream appeal and thus make it easier to obtain celebrity endorsements from ephemeral glitterati.

We take a different approach, and recall Leon Trotsky’s injunction to “speak the truth to the masses.” And the truth is that the U.S. judicial system is shot through with racism and class bias. While every possible legal avenue must be pursued in the campaign to save Mumia’s life, the best way to protect him is not to pander to liberal illusions in the impartiality of the courts, but to use his frame-up to expose the whole corrupt system of racist capitalist injustice, and thus help win a new generation of youth to the program of socialist revolution.

The IBT published the following statement on 28 February:

The campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther framed for the 1981 killing of a policeman, is reaching a critical stage. Over the past 18 years, as Mumia has sat on death row in Pennsylvania, his case has won worldwide attention and the campaign to save his life has steadily gained momentum. Trade unionists around the world, from Brazil, to South Africa and New Zealand have taken up his case. In the U.S., the longshore union shut down all the ports on the Pacific Coast for a day last April as a gesture of solidarity with this class-war prisoner.

Mumia was a founding member of the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. He subsequently won a reputation as the “Voice of the Voiceless” for his work as a reporter and his fearless criticisms of police brutality and racist persecution. The Philly cops knew him and hated him—his FBI file alone is over 700 pages.

He was convicted in a farcical trial presided over by Judge Albert Sabo, a life-long supporter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and a well-known “hanging judge.” Sabo also handled Mumia’s 1995 appeal for “post-conviction relief” where he ruled in favor of his original decision.

In January of this year, federal judge William Yohn in Philadelphia agreed to hear challenges to Sabo’s “findings of fact” in the case. Mumia’s attorneys have documented 29 separate claims of constitutional violations in a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus to overturn his conviction. (A copy of the defense memorandum can be found on the internet at

Judge Yohn is scheduled to begin considering defense arguments in April. This hearing, at the federal district court level, is Mumia’s only opportunity to introduce new evidence into the official record. Subsequent appeals in higher federal courts are bound to only review evidence heard in the district court. The defense is seeking to present new evidence, including statements from key prosecution witnesses at Mumia’s original trial, that their testimony had been coerced by the Philly police. Sabo refused to admit these admissions on the bizarre grounds that these witnesses, who had provided the “evidence” for Mumia’s original conviction, were no longer “credible.”

The outcome of these hearings is impossible to predict. In a memo issued in late January, C. Clark Kissinger, who is close to Mumia’s legal team, outlined a series of possibilities. The judge could permit new evidence to be heard and then overturn the conviction. But he could also deny an evidentiary hearing and uphold Sabo’s decision. He could also let the guilty verdict stand, but ask the Pennsylvania courts to reconsider whether the sentence should be execution or life imprisonment. He could also rule that Mumia’s conviction was unconstitutional without hearing any new evidence. In that case, the state would likely appeal, thus setting the stage for a subsequent decision on the basis of the “facts” established by Sabo’s kangaroo court.

“Free Mumia” or “Re-Try Mumia”?

Mumia’s case is at bottom about politics—not legalities. The reason that he was not executed after his death warrant was signed in 1995 is because there was a groundswell of popular political protest that exposed the racist vendetta by the Philly cops and courts. In November 1999 the national conference of the FOP, the largest police organization in the U.S., called for “boycotting” anyone who spoke out for Mumia, and singled out popular entertainers like Sting and Rage Against the Machine. The capitalist media has ignored the sinister implications of this unprecedented campaign of police intimidation. But it is a powerful confirmation of the fundamentally political character of this case.

Within the movement to defend Mumia an important disagreement has arisen over the political direction of the campaign. Some who once called for “freeing” Mumia are now calling for him to be re-tried. While it is necessary to pursue every possible legal avenue, the demand for winning freedom for Mumia must remain the political focus of the defense campaign.

Every fair-minded person who investigates this case can see that it is a classic frame-up. Every activist in his defense campaign knows that Mumia is innocent— which is why the prosecutors had to coerce witnesses and suppress evidence at his original trial. Why then should we focus on a call for the same racist state to re-try him?

In January 1927 when the International Labor Defense (ILD) campaigned in defense of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchist immigrants framed for a murder they did not commit, James P. Cannon, National Secretary of the ILD at the time, wrote:

 “One policy is the policy of class struggle. It puts the center of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favoring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations….This is what has prevented the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti so far. Its goal is nothing less than their triumphant vindication and liberation.

 “The other policy is the policy of ‘respectability,’ of the ‘soft pedal’ and of ridiculous illusions about ‘justice’ from the courts of the enemy….It tries to represent the martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti as an ‘unfortunate’ error which can be rectified by the ‘right’ people proceeding in the ‘right’ way.”

 — “Who Can Save Sacco and Vanzetti?,” reprinted in Notebook of an Agitator 

If Mumia’s conviction is overturned, the prosecutors are likely to demand a new round of legal hearings. What will the “revolutionaries” who are now calling for a new trial say then?

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, subject of a recently released film, was targeted by the FBI and local police after he advocated black self-defense against racist cop terror. He was convicted of murder in 1967 on the testimony of two petty crooks whom the prosecutors paid $10,500. In 1976, after the state’s “witnesses” recanted their testimony, Carter was granted a new trial only to have it turn into a re-run of the original frame-up. In 1985, after 18 years in jail, a federal court judge granted his habeas corpus petition and released him. The prosecution initially threatened to try him yet again, but ultimately decided not to.

In 1997, when Geronimo Pratt, former Black Panther Party Deputy Minister of Defense, was finally released from jail after serving 27 years on a bogus murder charge, the prosecutors talked of forcing him to face a re-trial. In Pratt’s case, the FBI’s own wiretaps and surveillance logs proved that he had been 500 miles away when the murder was committed. His real “crime,” like that of Mumia and Hurricane Carter, was that the cops and state authorities considered him their enemy.

Liberals, civil libertarians and others who have confidence in the integrity of capitalist legality may view Mumia’s case as a product of collusion between a few corrupt cops, an over-zealous district attorney and a racist judge. Such people may indeed be more comfortable with a campaign which sets as its goal a new trial for Mumia, but they are also likely to accept the result, including a second guilty verdict.

Where is Pablo going?

Where is Pablo going?

by Bleibtreu-Favre, June 1951

[First posted online at ]

[Revolutionary Regroupment note: While expressing confusion on Yugoslvia and China, the document’s more general critique of Pablo, who looked to the Stalinists to act as substitutes for the working class and it’s Trotskyist vanguard, was key in laying the groundwork for the 1953 split.]


Introduction by La Verite

The document we are serializing appeared at the beginning of June 1951 under the title ‘Where is Comrade Pablo Going?’ Its publication has been postponed for several months at the request of a member of the International Secretariat—Comrade Germain, the author of ‘Ten Theses’ (see issues 300-304 of La Verite)— who warned the leadership of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI) against ‘the trap Pablo has laid for destroying the French section.

When the author of the ‘Ten Theses’ opposed their adoption by the PCI Central Committee, he left no room for doubt that he had renounced defending his ideas. He had capitulated, like Zinoviev and others had done before him, like Calas did recently before the French CP’s Central Committee. Trotsky had learned from experience that the rarest and most necessary quality for a revolutionary leader is ‘that little thing called character’!

The Trotskyist critique of the revisionist notions expressed by Pablo in ‘Where Are We Going?’ began with ‘Where Is Comrade Pablo Going?’ The reader can refer to the former document, which appeared in the February 1951 issue of the magazine Quatrieme Internationale. It is interesting to note that neither ‘Where is Pablo Going?’ nor any other political documents of the PCI were published in the international bulletins preparing for the World Congress.

‘Where Are We Going?’ was the ideological proclamation of Pabloism. To date, the split in France has been the main practical result. May it be the last!

Where is Comrade Pablo Going?

Clarity in a discussion arises from the presentation of opposing theses on the one hand and from polemics on the other; the two methods do not contradict each other but are instead complementary, in the strictest sense of the word.

To refrain from stating your theses, to stage a sort of guerrilla warfare of partial amendments when principles are at stake or, even worse, to restrict yourself to polemicizing against the weak points of the contested thesis is the distinguishing characteristic of tendencies that have neither principles nor any consciousness of their duty to our World Party of the Revolution.

As for us, we think that the method that guided the international discussion on the problems posed by the people’s democracies is the correct method; each thesis was fully presented by various comrades (we are speaking of the comrades of the majority who at the Second World Congress came out against the revisionist tendencies, which dissolved after having fought us with a series of indirect attacks [Hasten is the prototype in this regard—F.B.]).

In particular, we believe that Germain’s ‘Ten Theses: What Should Be Modified and What Should Be Maintained in the Theses of the Second World Congress of the Fourth International on the Question of Stalinism!’—we emphasize that we mean the ‘Ten Theses’ and not their bizarre foreword—is a positive and extremely timely document in the discussion preparing for the World Congress. Its clarity fully exempts it from the obligation to engage in a polemic against the points of view expressed on several occasions by Pablo. This is the way a healthy discussion should start. But to remain healthy, it can’t stop there. The points on which there is disagreement must be brought before the full light of day, which is something that only a polemic can accomplish.

The goal of this document, which is addressed to our entire International, especially to all our leading comrades in the International, is to tell them fraternally and frankly of the danger that a whole series of new positions represents for the program, the activities, and the very existence of our International. We say: be careful; the scratch may become infected, and then gangrene can set in.

We don’t pretend to be infallible, we don’t think our theses are exempt from a number of insufficiencies, we don’t feel we have the right to give lessons to any of our comrades; but we say to them ‘Look out, our ship has lost its course; it’s urgent that we take our bearings and change our course.’

In his document ‘Where Are We Going!’ Comrade Pablo brings into full daylight the revisionist tendencies that were included in the International Secretariat’s draft thesis but were disguised in the Ninth Plenum’s [November 1950!] compromise resolution.

Beginning with its opening lines, the violent tone of this document is surprising, all the more so since we don’t know which members of the International Executive Committee and the International Secretariat were being taken to task in … January 1951. We will undoubtedly never know the names of the people in question, those ‘people who despair of the fate of humanity,’ nor those who have written that ‘the thinking of the international seems out of joint,’ nor those who ‘cry bitter tears’ (which Pablo wants to believe are genuine), nor those who ‘tailor history to their own measure,’ nor of those Trotskyist careerists who ‘desire that the entire process of the transformation of capitalist society into socialism would be accomplished within the span of their brief lives so that they can be rewarded for their efforts on behalf of the Revolution.’ [Emphasis added.]

I. The Theory of ‘Blocs’ and ‘Camps’ Makes in Appearance in the International.

‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles, one reads in that dustbin known as the Communist Manifesto.

But it’s necessary to keep abreast of the times and to admit without hesitation along with Pablo that:

‘For our movement objective social reality consists essentially of the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world. [International Information Bulletin, March 1951, ‘Where Are We Going?’ p.2. Emphasis added.]

Dry your tears and listen: the very essence of social reality is composed of the capitalist regime (!) and the Stalinist (!) world (?).

We thought that social reality consisted in the contradiction between the fundamental classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Clearly an error, for from now on the capitalist regime, which encompasses precisely these two classes, becomes a totality that is counterposed …to the Stalinist world.

The term ‘world’ is quite obscure, you will say; but it offers some significant conveniences and permits classifying states and social groups according to the supreme criterion: their Stalinist or non-Stalinist ‘nature.’

Thus the state that arose from the Third Chinese Revolution (whose economy, let us recall, has retained a capitalist structure up to the present) is classified by Pablo as being in the Stalinist world. We will return to this question.

On the other hand,the Yugoslav workers state (where the economy is almost fully nationalized and planned) is expelled from the Stalinist world. And since it cannot remain outside the realm of objective social reality, it drifts objectively, though imperceptibly, into the enemy camp (along with its arms, bags and baggage, and dictatorship of the proletariat!).

In order to dispel any uncertainty as to his conception of contemporary history, Pablo continues:

‘Furthermore, whether we like it or not, these two elements (the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world) essentially constitute objective social reality, for the overwhelming majority of the forces opposing capitalism are tight now to be found under the leadership or influence of the Soviet bureaucracy.’ [‘Where Are We Going?,’ p.2. Emphasis added.]

Thus the sum total of Pablo’s ‘social’ criterion seems to be the political nature (Stalinist or non-Stalinist) of states and human groupings.

He gives us no details about the tiny remaining minority that is neither under the leadership nor influence of the bureaucracy. Let’s admit that it’s the exception that proves the rule. What then is this tiny minority of forces that are anticapitalist but non-Stalinist?

We don’t think it’s intended to include the millions of workers in the USA, England, Canada, Germany, etc., who are neither influenced nor led by Stalinism. We must then conclude that the proletariat in the most advanced countries of the world do not constitute ‘forces opposed to capitalism.’ They have been labelled and pigeonholed under the category ‘capitalist regime.’

It’s more difficult to pin this label on the massive liberation movements in North Africa, Black Africa, Madagascar, India, Ceylon, and Indonesia, a movement that cannot possibly be considered as either a tiny minority or belonging to the Stalinist world.

Thus, like it or not, classes, states, and nations must rush pell-mell into one camp or the other (capitalist regime or Stalinist world). Moreover, Pablo adds, the international relationship of social forces is, ‘to express it in a schematic way, the relationship of forces between the two blocs.’ [1] (p.5.)

What Pablo calls ‘expressing it in a schematic way’ in reality constitutes mixing and jumbling everything together, ending up with an incredible confusion. When analyzing situations it is impossible to abandon class lines even for an instant without ending up with such ‘schematic concepts’ and fruitless endeavors.

What? The international relationship of forces is the relationship of forces between the two blocs! Some progress.

Since contemporary social reality consists of the two blocs, the relationship of social forces is naturally .. .the relationship of forces between the two blocs! This logic is irreproachable, because it is a tautology.

We will be told that we have misinterpreted what Pablo is saying; he meant the international relationship of forces between the classes which, schematically, is the relationship between the blocs. But where is there any room here for the old-fashioned notion of classes? Where in Pablo’s document is there any serious analysis of the situation of the International proletariat? If he had tried to give any, he certainly wouldn’t have ended up with this astonishing notion of ‘blocs,’ nor would he have designated the international proletarian forces as the forces of this extraordinary ‘Stalinist world.

Furthermore, he explains what he means quite clearly when he talks about the respective roles of Stalin and the revolutionary proletariat within the very ‘Stalinist world.

According to him, ‘the revolutionary spirit of the masses directed against imperialism acts as an ADDITIONAL FORCE supplementing the material and technical forces raised against imperialism.’ (p.5 Emphasis added.)

In effect, he is making it quite clear that the revolutionary forces are the forces of the Stalinist world. But within this Stalinist world there are major forces: these are the material and technical forces—Soviet industry, the divisions of the Red Army; and there are supplementary forces, a sort of National Guard that is tacked on to these technical forces. The revolutionary spirit of 400 million Chinese workers, the Vietnamese, the Koreans, and all the working people in the ‘Stalinist world’ are the auxiliary forces of the socialist bastion led by Stalin.

Here you have the conclusion that necessarily emerges when the petty-bourgeois concept of a ‘bloc’ between states is substituted for a class analysis of world reality (an analysis of the contradiction between the international proletariat and the international imperialist bourgeoisie), that is, for the basic reality of the world we live in. Like it or not, on the basis of this concept the most one can do is provide more ammunition for Zhdanov, whose thesis rests on the following supreme postulate: the acid test for revolutionaries is their loyalty to the Soviet Union and to its leader Stalin. The petty-bourgeois concept of blocs necessarily leads to a choice between Stalin (with or without reservations) and Truman (with or without reservations).

The direction in which the choice is made depends solely on where the dominant pressure is coming from. In Central and Western Europe, the petty bourgeoisie tends to lean in a ‘neutralist’ direction, that is,to adapt to the Stalinist bureaucracy, which they see as having the prestige of power and of numerous ‘victories’ in Asia, in the buffer zone, etc.—and whose ‘material and technical forces’ are impressive by virtue of the fact that they are quite close at hand.

Marxists have been accustomed to starting out with the criterion of class. It was this class criterion that enabled Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International to take on the revisionists on the question of the USSR and to classify the degenerated workers state in the camp of the international proletariat. Today we are supposed to turn Marxism upside down, stand it on its Hegelian head, its legs waving toward the sky ‘of life’, of ‘objective social reality, in its essence’ (the worst of abstractions under the circumstances). And from this inconvenient position we are supposed to classify such-and-such section of a class, and such-and-such state, and such-and-such technical force in one or the other ‘bloc’, capitalist regime or Stalinist world.

II. The Beginning of a Revision on the Nature of the Bureaucracy

In Pablo’s article we discover the notion of a Soviet bureaucracy that will survive after the world revolution and then wither away by virtue of the development of productive forces. We read, in fact, that the Soviet bureaucracy will disappear in ‘two (contradictory) ways’:—’by the counterblows of the anti-capitalist victories in the world and even in the USSR, stimulating resistance of the masses to the bureaucracy’;

—’by elimination in the long run of the objective causes for the bureaucracy, for all bureaucracy, in direct proportion as the capitalist regime suffers setbacks and an ever increasing and economically more important sector escapes from capitalism and organizes itself on the basis of a state-ized and planned economy, thereby stimulating the growth of the productive forces.’ (p.5 Emphasis added.)

The second thesis, the idea that the bureaucracy will disappear through the development of the productive forces, contains as many errors as words:

(1) It establishes an amalgam between the Soviet bureaucracy and bureaucratism as it appeared in the USSR during Lenin’s lifetime.

(2) It begins with the notion of a slow and gradual decline (‘in direct proportion’) and of a slow accumulation of sectors in which a planned economy is installed. This is in flagrant contradiction with the perspective of a war that will be the final struggle between the classes, of a war that will determine the fate of world capitalism and that excludes capitalism’s being nibbled away over a lengthy period.

(3) Does Pablo—who believes, by the way, that a third world war is imminent—mean that in the very course of the war the development of the productive forces (which would be turned entirely toward the war effort at the expense of consumer goods for the masses) is capable of forcing a retreat in bourgeois norms of distribution? Or doesn’t he take seriously the notion that the third world war will be a final struggle, that is, does his perspective admit the possibility that the outcome of this war might be a new situation of equilibrium between the fundamental classes, with fewer bourgeois states coexisting with more numerous workers states?

Actually, the principal fault with the second thesis is the fact that it even exists, because it is equivalent to conceding that the Soviet bureaucracy can survive after the victory of the world revolution over imperialism. It is in direct contradiction with the first thesis (the traditional Trotskyist thesis), which is juxtaposed in an eclectic manner to the second thesis (Pablo’s thesis).

In the draft theses that Pablo presented to the Ninth Plenum of the IEC, whose relationship to his personal positions we have noted, the sole explanation given for the Soviet bureaucracy’s hostility to world revolution was the following vulgar economist explanation:

‘If (the bureaucracy) cannot capitulate to imperialism without undermining its existence as such in the USSR; on the other hand, it cannot base itself on the proletariat and the extension of the world revolution, which would remove, by organizing and developing the productive forces in the world, the objective reasons for its existence and above all(?) : for die omnipotence of any bureaucracy!’

The notion here is perfectly clear and is substituted for the Trotskyist notion of the bureaucracy’s incompatibility, not with planning and the development of productive forces, but with the revolutionary action of the masses, whose ‘first revolutionary victory in Europe,’ [2] Trotsky said, ‘will have the effect of an electric shock on the Soviet masses, awakening them, reviving the traditions of 1905 and 1917, weakening the position of the bureaucracy; it will have no less importance for the Fourth International than the victory of the October Revolution had for the Third International.’

The bureaucracy is not afraid of the development of productive forces. It is not holding back development in the USSR of its own will but rather through its incapacity. To the extent that its very character permits, it will try to increase development. Its slender results in relation to the great possibilities of planning both inside and outside the USSR don’t stem from a fear of disappearing following a growth in income sufficient to eradicate social inequality. [3] What the bureaucracy fears is not the growth of productive forces. What they fear is the awakening of the consciousness of the Soviet masses in contact with a revolution in another country.

The main danger in the explanation given by Pablo (even when juxtaposed with the discussion of another, correct explanation, the above one) is that it has the effect of masking the organically counterrevolutionary nature of the workers bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. This bureaucracy cannot be equated with the bureaucratism inherent in any society in which a scarcity in consumer goods exist. This bureaucracy is the result of nearly thirty years of the degeneration of a workers state. Politically, it has totally expropriated the Soviet proletariat. Contrary to what Pablo states, wherever it has been able to act bureaucratically or to maintain its bureaucratic control over the masses, the Soviet bureaucracy had tried to develop the productive forces (in the USSR and in the annexed or satellite territories) in order to strengthen the base of its own privileges and increase their extent. On the other hand, its liquidationist attitude toward the revolution that began in France in 1936; the way it brutally crushed the conscious cadres of the Spanish revolution; its complicity with Hitler in order to allow him to crush the Warsaw uprising; its Yalta policy against the interests of the revolution in Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, and France; its blockade and military pressure against the Yugoslav workers state in the hope of delivering it bound hand and foot to imperialism (contrary to the interests of defending the USSR itself) unequivocally express the incompatibility between the Soviet bureaucracy and the development of the proletarian revolution. Such a revolution would represent a immediate and direct threat to the bureaucracy’s existence and it would do so even more sharply if it were to take place in an economically less backward country.

* * *

Leaving the door open, however timidly, to the hypothesis that the Thermidorian bureaucracy of the USSR could survive a third world war is to revise the Trotskyist analysis of the bureaucracy. First, as we have seen it calls into question the bureaucracy’s nature as a parasitic growth of the workers movement that lives off the advantage of the equilibrium between the fundamental classes. At the same time, this concept leaves the door open to the negation of its working-class nature. [4]

—Second, it overestimates the capacity of the USSR’s technical means when confronted with those of imperialism. —Third, it underestimates the breadth of the revolutionary movement in Asia and around the world. — Fourth, it accepts the notion that the Soviet bureaucracy can exist peacefully alongside a victorious revolution in the advanced countries.

— Above all, and here is where what Pablo really thinks comes in, it accepts the notion that the Soviet bureaucracy will not oppose the extension of the revolution but will even stimulate it.

In giving priority to ‘technical and material forces’ as opposed to the revolutionary struggle of the masses, however, Pablo does not go as far as the thesis of our comrades in Lyon. [5] This apparent superiority expresses a total incomprehension of the predominant role of the mass revolutionary struggle in the development and the outcome of a third world war.

The marked inferiority of the technical means at the disposal of the proletariat in the present world situation, a situation of ‘blocs,’ as Pablo puts it, becomes transformed into the proletariat’s superiority in direct proportion with its revolutionary mobilization, with an increase in its level of class consciousness and socialist consciousness, and with its revolutionary victories over imperialism. The military relationship of forces is politically determined. The Thermidorian bureaucracy in the USSR will play an even more emphatic counter-revolutionary role when it sees an upsurge in the revolution take shape, and when it sees mass socialist consciousness threatening its own domination in the USSR.

In its enormous struggle to smash the coalition of the imperialist bourgeoisie and its vast material means, the revolution will liquidate the Thermidorian bureaucracy in the USSR along the way. Otherwise the Thermidorian bureaucracy will impede, sabotage, and use military force against the revolutionary movement of the masses, paving the way for the victory of imperialist barbarism and for its own disappearance as a parasitic caste in the degenerated workers state.

All the experiences since 1933 have shown the role of the Soviet bureaucracy with increasing clarity and simply express its dual character—working-class and counter-revolutionary—its fundamentally contradictory nature, and its impasse. This bureaucracy will not survive a third world war, a war between the classes, a war whose outcome can only be world revolution or, failing that, a victory for imperialism that would liquidate all the conquests of the working class in both the USSR and the rest of the world.

III. From ‘Stalinist Ideology’ to the New ‘Bureaucratic Class’

Several times in the past the tendency to revise the Trotskyist concept of the Soviet bureaucracy has been expressed through the notion that Stalinism has its own ideology. Pablo seems to share this belief today when he speaks of the ‘co-leadership of the international Stalinist movement’ (our emphasis) by China and the Kremlin.

‘…China,’ he writes,’could not play the role of a mere satellite of the Kremlin but rather of a partner which henceforth imposes upon the Soviet bureaucracy a certain co-leadership of the international Stalinist movement. This co-leadership is, however, a disruptive element within Stalinism. …’ (‘Where Are We Going!’ p. 9. Emphasis added.)

What does this Russian-Chinese ‘co-leadership’ of the international Stalinist movement mean? Is there then a Chinese Stalinism alongside Russian Stalinism! What is the social base of this Chinese Stalinism? What then is its ideology? Is there really a Stalinist ideology?

We reply in the negative to all these questions.

The bureaucracy in the USSR has never even been capable of trying to define a new ideology, contrary to the way in which any historically necessary social formation, any class, operates. When you speak of the Stalinism of a Communist Party, you are nor speaking of a theory, of an overall programme, of definite and lasting concepts, but only of its leadership’s subordination to orders from the Kremlin bureaucracy. This is the Trotskyist conception. The ‘Stalinism’ of the international Stalinist movement is defined by this movement’s subordination to the bureaucracy of the USSR.

‘The Stalinist bureaucracy, however, not only has nothing in common with Marxism but is in general foreign to any doctrine or system whatsoever. Its ‘ideology’ is thoroughly permeated with police subjectivism, its practice is the empiricism of crude violence. In keeping with its essential interests the caste of usurpers is hostile to any theory: it can give an account of its social role neither to itself nor to anyone else. Stalin revises Marx and Lenin not with the theoretician’s pen but with the heel of the GPU.’ (Leon Trotsky: Stalinism and Bolshevism, New Park Publications, 1974, p.15.)

Would it be possible to have a Stalinist co-leadership, a dual subordination, one part of which would be .. .the Chinese revolution in full ascendancy? Is a modified version of Stalinist ideology supposed to have survived the victory of the revolutionary masses in China or is it supposed to have arisen in the course of the revolution?

But, Pablo adds, this co-leadership is a disruptive element for Stalinism. This clarification introduces a new confusion.

We are compelled on the contrary to state that the disruptive element in the ‘international Stalinist movement’ as such is the Chinese revolution and that this celebrated co-leadership, far from being a disruptive element, expresses an inherently temporary compromise between the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy of the USSR and its NEGATION, the Chinese revolution. This compromise reflects the lag between consciousness and reality, and more particularly the slowness with which China has begun to accomplish the tasks of the permanent revolution. We will return to this question.

The notion of co-leadership betrays a vast incomprehension of the irreducible character of the contradiction between the Soviet bureaucracy and a revolution in motion. Pablo has spoken several times of the victories ‘victories’ or ‘pseudo-victories’ of Stalinism when designating the development of the revolution in China, Asia, or elsewhere.

For Comrade Pablo, the most important lesson of the Yugoslav and Chinese revolutions is that it is important not to confuse them with ‘pure and simple victories (?) of the Soviet bureaucracy’!

For us, the lesson is that the development of the revolution is a defeat and a death threat for the bureaucracy, which does not evaluate the ‘revolution in all its forms’ from the same perspective as Comrade Pablo.

When this comrade adds that ‘the evolution of China can prove different from that of the Soviet bureaucracy,’ we have reached the height of confusion.(p.l2. Emphasis added.)

If someone can explain to us at what conjuncture, in what century, and on what planet the evolution of China could have even proved comparable to that of the Soviet bureaucracy—we’d like to hear about it.

This notion is only admissible if we accept beforehand Burnham’s thesis of the rapid formation (if not the pre-existence) of a bureaucracy of the Soviet type within the very course of a revolution.

In that case, this bureaucracy would not only have an ideology of international value, but we would have to accord it a historically progressive role. On the contrary, however, everything leads us to believe that the outcome of a revolution—even one that is isolated—will necessarily prove different and distinct from that of the USSR even if this revolution must degenerate because of its isolation and weakness. Trotsky has clearly demonstrated, in opposition to the revisionists, that the degeneration of the USSR has a specific historical character.

The Centuries of Transition

Are we compelled to revise Trotsky’s opinion on this point as well? Are the norms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the withering away of the state, outmoded and consigned to the rubbish bin by ‘life’ and by experience? Is the Soviet workers state really a degenerated workers state (a counter-revolutionary workers state, Trotsky said) [6] or, on the contrary, is it the prototype of what the transition between capitalism and socialism will be like after the victory of the world revolution? Although he doesn’t pronounce himself clearly in favour of one position over the other, and although his statements on this point are quite contradictory, Comrade Pablo does seem to lean toward the second response.

To those people-who-despair-of-die-fate-of-humanity, he replies that the transitional society between capitalism and socialism will last for several centuries (in oral discussion he has been more precise and has spoken of two or three centuries). [7] ‘… this transformation will probably take an entire historical period of several centuries and will in the meantime be filled with forms and regimes transitional between capitalism and socialism and necessarily deviating from ‘pure’ forms and norms.’ (‘Where Are We Going?’ p.13. Emphasis added.)

We are quite ready to engage in any struggle against purist utopians who subordinate reality to norms in order to reject reality. But we don’t see any sense in such a struggle at present, since we are unaware of any expression of this ‘purism’ within the international majority that emerged from the Second World Congress.

What we do see, on the other hand, is that the degenerated bureaucracy of the USSR has become the new norm, that Pablo is constructing a new utopia based on it, that the transitional society (‘several centuries …’) takes on a character of the sort that the Soviet-type bureaucracy (which is confused with all manifestations of bureaucratism that are inherent wherever you have a low level of the development of productive forces and a low level of culture) becomes a historically necessary evil, that is, a class.

What we see is that the bureaucratic caste of the USSR, which we consider to be the specific product of twenty-five years of degeneration of the first workers state, is supposed to be only the prefiguration of the ‘caste’ called on to lead the world for two or three centuries. So the notion of a ‘caste’ has been sent packing, and what’s really involved here is a class that was not foreseen by Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Trotsky.

As realists, we will have to revise Trotsky and his writings since the New Course because they are full of errors and misunderstandings on the historically progressive role of the bureaucracy. His explanation for the formation of the bureaucracy in the USSR is tainted from the start by its old-fashioned, utopian, and outmoded norms that have been contradicted by reality.

His attachment to these norms led him to consider the evolution of the USSR as a particular, exceptional, and specific violation of the norm.

‘In the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state it is not the general laws of modern society from capitalism to socialism which finds expression but a special, exceptional, and temporary refraction of these laws under the conditions of a backward revolutionary country in a capitalist environment. (Leon Trotsky: ‘The USSR in ‘War’ in In Defence of Marxism, New Park Publications, 1971, p.8.)

What Trotsky calls degeneration is thus in reality the process that must begin after the victory of the world revolution and will last two or three centuries. And Trotsky put himself on the wrong side of the barricades when he wrote:

“The most honest or open-eyed of the ‘friends’ of the USSR console themselves with the thought that ‘a certain’ bureaucratic degeneration in the given conditions was historically inevitable. Even so! The resistance to this degeneration also has not fallen from the sky. A necessity has two ends: the reactionary and the progressive. History teaches us that persons and parties which drag at the opposite ends of a necessity turn out in the long run on opposite sides of the barricade.” (Leon Trotsky: ‘Socialism in One Country,’ in The Revolution Betrayed, New Park Publications, 1973, pp.307-8.)

He didn’t foresee that in the third world war the Soviet bureaucracy would be called on to carry out the function of gravedigger for world imperialism, to make an ‘international’ anti-capitalist revolution, or at least to co-operate with it. Neither Trotsky nor the Fourth International—a tragic misunderstanding—were aware of that up to this day.

Some Clarifications on an Incorrect Formulation

When we read in the Ninth Plenum resolution the following declaration on the defense of the Soviet Union: ‘The defence of the USSR constitutes the strategic line of the Fourth International, and its tactical application remains, as in the past, subordinated to unimpeded development of the mass movement in opposition to any attempt on the part of the Soviet bureaucracy, the Russian army, and the Stalinist leaderships to throttle and crush it. When we read this we are tempted to see no more than an incorrect formulation.

But we would be blind if we were to maintain this position after having studied the document in which the secretary of the International sets forth his perspective more fully, deriving it from the division of the world into the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world, a division considered as the essence of social reality in our epoch.

If we adopted this revisionist perspective it would seem to be necessary to go much further, to follow its logic to the end and to subordinate tactical application to the strategic line. It is precisely this principled attitude, this constant subordination of tactics to strategy, that distinguishes Marxism from opportunism of every stripe.

Pablo cannot remain there, straddling a fence. He must bring tactics into accord with not only strategy but also with a social analysis (his analysis) of the ‘present’ world.

If on the contrary we retain Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky’s analysis of society and their methodology, if we refuse to abandon the solid ground on which the foundations of our International rest, if we refuse to abandon this in favour of the quicksand of revisionism, our Third World Congress will of necessity return to the Trotskyist definition of the defence of the Soviet Union.

For Trotsky, the defence of the USSR did not constitute a ‘strategic line.’ The strategic line of the Fourth International is the world revolution.

Defence of the USSR against imperialism, like the defence of any workers state, is one of the tasks of this strategy, tasks that are entirely subordinated to the perspective of world revolution, to the strategy of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses.

Defence of the USSR cannot take the place of the strategic line of the World Party of Revolution—any more than the defence of the Yugoslav workers state or any other workers state could.

Therein lies the difference between Trotskyism and the Titoist and Stalinist varieties of centrism.

No unclarity can be allowed to remain in this discussion. Incorrect formulations on such questions are genuine errors of doctrine. No document of the International can today allow itself the slightest imprecision in defining the defence of the USSR and the place of this defence in our strategy. The defence of the USSR and of all the workers states constitutes a task of the Fourth International, a task that as such and in all its tactical applications must be entirely subordinated to the strategy of the struggle for the world revolution, to the unimpeded development of the masses, etc. [8]

Pablo Yields Ground to Martinet

This notion that the defense of the USSR (or of the ‘Stalinist world’) must be a strategic line has perhaps been most thoroughly developed by Gilles Martinet. Martinet is, in fact, the spokesman for the entire Stalinist intelligentsia in France. The Second World Congress correctly characterized his position as the Stalinist counterpart to Burnham’s revisionism.

The pro-Stalinist manifestation (a product of the Stalinist pressure in France) of this revisionism has been given its fullest form by Bettelheim, Martinet, & Co. in Revue Internationale. When they themselves apply the concepts mentioned above to the present world situation, they arrive at the following conclusions:

‘a) Owing to its lack of homogeneity and technical education, the working class will be obliged to pass through a stage of social differentiation and inequality after its conquest of power. Historic progress is assured by the privileged strata of the proletariat (the bureaucracy). It is the task of the state to defend these privileges.

‘b) During the epoch of decaying imperialism, the proletariat ceases to grow numerically and ideologically and instead retreats, witnessing the decline of its strength and the decay of its social structure. The failure of the ‘classic’ proletarian revolutions of 1918-23 is final. The Leninist strategy of the proletarian revolution is a thing of the past. In views of this incapacity of the proletariat to fulfill its historic mission, humanity has no other road to progress except to try to ‘participate’ in the stratification of the means of production by the Soviet bureaucracy on an ever larger scale,and to draw up a new minimum programme in order to attenuate the violent character of this process. …

‘There is no room for [these revisionist tendencies] in the revolutionary movement. But some of their features appear at the bottom of mistaken conceptions on the Russian question which have found expression in our own ranks. What is important is first of all to lay bare the inner logic of this incipient revisionism and make its proponents aware of its dangerous consequences to the whole of Marxism. [‘The USSR and Stalinism: Theses Adopted by the Second World Congress of the Fourth International, April 1948,’ in Fourth International, June 1948, p. 125.]

In ‘Where Are We Going?’ Pablo throws this analysis overboard, declaring:

‘Our fundamental (!) difference with certain neo-apologists for Stalinism, of the Gilles Martinet stripe in France, does not involve the fact that there are objective causes at work imposing transitional forms of the society and of the power succeeding capitalism, which are quite far from the ‘norms’ outlined by the classics of Marxism prior to the Russian Revolution. Our difference is over the fact that these neo-Stalinists present Stalinist policy as the expression of a consistent, realistic Marxism which, consciously and in full awareness of the goal, is marching toward socialism while taking into account the requirements of the situation.’ (p.8.)

Note first of all that contrary to the notion Pablo elaborated above, Martinet does not repudiate the Soviet bureaucracy; instead he considers it a necessary evil on which falls defacto the task of destroying imperialism, and which will be overturned historically by the development of productive forces. It is his servility when faced with an accomplished fact, his tendency to generalize on the basis of the degeneration of the first workers state in order to transform a specific historical fact into a general historical necessity, more than his evaluations of Stalin’s ‘Marxism’ that make Martinet the most agile theoretician of the Thermidorian counter-revolution. The definition Trotsky gave in ‘After Munich’ applies to him without qualification:

‘Only the overthrow of the Bonapartist Kremlin clique can make possible the regeneration of the military strength of the USSR. Only the liquidation of the ex-Comintern will clear the way for revolutionary internationalism. The struggle against war, imperialism, and fascism demands a ruthless struggle against Stalinism splotched with crimes. Whoever defends Stalinism directly or indirectly, whoever keeps silent about its betrayals or exaggerates its military strength is the worst enemy of the revolution, of socialism, and of the oppressed peoples. The sooner the Kremlin gang is overthrown by the armed offensive of the workers, the greater will be the chances for a socialist regeneration of the USSR, the closer and broader will be the perspectives of the international revolution.’ (Writings of Leon Trotsky: 1938-9, p.16.)

Such is the language we expected from the secretary of the International in regard to the wing of the petty bourgeoisie that has capitulated before Stalinism and its supposed ‘victories.’ In place of that we are supposed to accept an ambiguous definition (actually the absence of a definition) based on a stupid quarrel over Stalin’s merits as a theoretician.

The Chinese Comrades’ Error Corrected With Another Error

It would be useless to deny that the Chinese comrades’ error weighs very heavily on the present discussion. Not only does it explain in part the orientation presented by Pablo, but Comrade Pablo also uses it openly as an argument in defence of his thesis and in the hope of overwhelming his adversaries.

We are not overwhelmed and for a whole series of reasons, among them the following:

(1) In April 1950 one of us, Comrade Bleibtreu, spoke before a public meeting of the ‘Lenin Circle’ on the problems of the Chinese revolution. Vietnamese, Chinese, French, and Sinhalese comrades attended the meeting. It concluded with an analysis of the Chinese revolution and the Chinese Communist Party, and with the necessity for Trotskyists to enter the Chinese Communist Party and form its consistent Marxist wing, a wing capable of resolving in both theory and practice the tasks of the permanent revolution.

This led, among other things, to his being vigorously contradicted by a member of the International Secretariat.

(2) The Central Committee of the PCI [Parti Communiste Internationaliste—Internationalist Communist Party met December 2, 1950, and passed a resolution asking the International Secretariat to take a position on the Chinese events and on the errors of the Chinese comrades. To date we have had no response from the International Secretariat or the International Executive Committee. We hope that this document will see the light of day before the World Congress, because it would represent an essential element of clarification.

In the face of this persistent silence, we are compelled to take the initiative in a discussion that the international leadership should have begun.

What Was the Error in China?

According to Comrade Pablo, this error began ‘following the victory of Mao Tse-tung.’ (‘Where Are We Going?’ p. 17.) In our opinion, it predates this victory by quite a bit.

A revolution had been developing in China since 1946, a revolution in which the Trotskyists should have been an integral part. Abandoned by Stalin, whose advice aimed at forming a National Front government with Chiang Kai-shek they had rejected,and encircled by virtue of the fact that the Red Army had given up Manchuria to Chiang, the Chinese leaders had to confront the most powerful offensive the white troops ever launched against the Seventh Army. The only possibility that remained open to them (like the situation confronting the leaders of the Yugoslav Communist Party 1942-43) was the revolutionary mobilization of the masses. Rejecting their Stalinist course of the previous years, they adopted a limited programme of agrarian reform, which the masses greeted with immense enthusiasm. Mass peasant committees and resistance groups sprang up everywhere and organized themselves to defend and extend the agrarian reform and to crush Chiang, the representative of the landlords. The advances Mao’s army made were above all the product of the massive levy of the revolutionary peasantry, and of the parallel collapse of Chiang’s peasant army, which was contaminated by the revolution and the thirst for land. The Chinese CP itself underwent a change in its social composition. The literate sons of well-to-do peasants, who constituted the backbone of its cadres up to that time (and certain among whom tended to oppose the explosion of elementary violence set off by the turn their party had made), were submerged by an influx of new militants hardened on the forge of the revolution itself.


(1) The birth of the Chinese revolution was the beginning of the end of the Chinese CP’s ‘Stalinism.’ [9]

(2) The Chinese CP stopped subordinating itself to directives from the Kremlin and became dependent on the masses and on their actions.

(3) Its social composition was actually modified.

(4) The Chinese CP stopped being a Stalinist party and became a centrist party advancing along with the revolution. This doesn’t mean that the Chinese CP became a revolutionary party ipso facto. It retained from its past a series of incorrect and bureaucratic concepts that came to be reflected in its actions:

—by the timid character of its agrarian reform;

—by its limiting itself to North China;

—by the Chinese CP’s conscious effort to keep the urban proletariat isolated from the revolution. [10] The dialectic of social reality has already partially withdrawn certain barriers, and there are reasons to hope that this course will continue.

In any event, it is absurd to speak of a Stalinist party in China, and still more absurd to foster belief in even the resemblance of a ‘victory of Stalinism in China.’

The Korean war temporarily presented Stalin with both the means to slow down the Chinese revolution’s progress toward the solution of the tasks of the permanent revolution and to re-establish partial control over the Chinese CP. This explains Stalin’s policy of ‘nonintervention’ at the time when the victorious march of the Korean armies could, with a minimum of support, have driven the imperialists into the sea. This also explains the scantiness of his present aid and his fear of a solution, especially of a solution in favour of the Korean revolution.

But when all is said and done, the reality of class struggle will prove more powerful than the Kremlin apparatus and its maneuvers.

The error of the two Chinese groups is precisely to have failed to grasp the social reality. They have identified the revolution with Stalinism, which means identifying Stalinism with its negation.

The Chinese comrades turned their backs on the revolutionary movement of the masses, fell back when confronted with its march forward, and finally ended up in Hong Kong. [11]

Their greatest error was not their failure to understand Stalinism; it was a different and much more serious lack of comprehension.

They didn’t recognize the very face of the revolution. They saw the advance of Mao’s revolutionary armies as a step forward for Stalinism. They failed to understand that it is the action of classes that is fundamental,that it is social classes and not the apparatuses that make history, and that once it gets going, the action of masses is more powerful than the strongest apparatus.

In many respects Comrade Pablo revives the analytical errors of the Chinese comrades, even if he draws conclusions that are contrary, though just as disastrous.

He makes the same error on the nature of the Chinese revolution, which he considers as a victory—not a ‘pure and simple victory’ but nevertheless a victory of Stalinism.

This error flows from the erroneous notion of the Stalinist world and is expressed in the notion of Russian-Chinese co-leadership of the international Stalinist movement.

He shares the same erroneous criteria concerning the ‘Stalinist’ nature of a Communist Party. The Stalinist nature of a CP is constituted by its direct and total dependence in respect to the interests and policy of the Kremlin. A refusal on the part of the Chinese CP to accept the legal existence of a Trotskyist tendency—either inside or outside its ranks—and even the repression against this tendency would in no way constitute a criterion that ‘demonstrates its bureaucratic and Stalinist character’ (Pablo), but solely its lack of understanding of the permanent revolution, a lack of understanding that is not specifically Stalinist. We have often been served up such absurdities to ‘prove’ the ‘Stalinist’ character of the Yugoslav CP, which petty-bourgeois idealists don’t hesitate to define as Stalinism without Stalin!

He shares the same lack of understanding of the relationships between the masses, the CP, and the Kremlin bureaucracy: Pablo places an equals-sign between the dual nature of the CPs and the dual nature of the Soviet bureaucracy.

Generally, we would not deny that 2=2. But combining two errors (for example, Comrade Pablo’s error and the Chinese comrades error) is not the equivalent of combining two correct statements(for example, the thesis of our Central Committee and Comrade Germain’s ‘Ten Theses’). Thus it’s not always true that 2=2.

The dual nature of the Soviet bureaucracy is both the reflection and the product of contradictions in Soviet society. It is expressed through the Bonapartism of Stalinism when it is confronted with social forces inside the Soviet Union and on a world scale. The policy of the bureaucracy is not dual but rather forms an integral whole throughout all its variations: it’s a policy of balancing between the basic classes.

The dual nature of the CP means something quite different and expresses a different contradiction because of the fact that a parasitic bureaucracy of the Soviet type doesn’t exist internationally. The duality, the contradiction of a CP stems from the fact that it is a workers party by virtue of its social base (a necessary base for the Kremlin’s balancing act) and a Stalinist party by virtue of its politics and its leadership (a leadership chosen from above on the basis of its total submission to the Kremlin’s orders).

The thing that defines a workers party as Stalinist.—as opposed to a revolutionary party or a social-democratic party (linked to the bourgeoisie) or any sort of a centrist party—is neither a Stalinist ideology (which doesn’t exist), nor bureaucratic methods (which exist in all kinds of parties), but rather its total and mechanical subordination to the Kremlin.

When for one reason or another this subordination ceases to exist, that party ceases to be Stalinist and expresses interests that are different from those of the bureaucratic caste in the USSR. This is what happened (because of the revolutionary action on the part of the masses) in Yugoslavia well before the break in relations; the break only made it official. This is what has already happened in China, and will inevitably be reflected by a break in relations no matter what course the Chinese revolution takes.

A break in relations or a gradual differentiation within the Chinese CP, an eventuality that flows first from the correct evaluation of the nature of the CPs (an evaluation we gave in some detail at the Fourth Congress of our party in 1947) that was developed by the Second World Congress, and then from the lessons of the Yugoslav experience, would have the effect of greatly stimulating the revolutionary struggle in Asia, Europe, and Africa. It would also facilitate revolutionary victories in a series of countries, diminish considerably imperialism’s capacity for resistance and counterattack, and increase the level of consciousness and the combativity of workers in the advanced industrial countries. At the same time, it would modify in a favourable way the relationship of forces within the workers movement, making it more receptive to the revolutionary programme and thus infinitely more effective in the class struggle. The Chinese CP’s declaration of its independence in regard to the Kremlin and its steps toward accomplishing the tasks of the permanent revolution both in China and internationally are events that will probably take place before imperialism can start a world war.

It is under this perspective—with the Chinese masses, with the Chinese CP, against Stalin—that the actions of our Chinese comrades must be corrected. In every country where a Stalinist party has an extensive working-class base, the International must work under this broader perspective of the independence of the workers movement and its communist vanguard with respect to the Kremlin’s policy.

Concerning our Tasks

Never before has the Fourth International had such possibilities for implanting itself as the leadership in a mass revolutionary struggle. Nor has it ever (and this is a corollary of the revolutionary upsurge around the world) had such possibilities for gaining the ear of Communist workers organized in the Stalinist parties. Never in the past (and this is a function of the very development of the worldwide revolutionary upsurge) have we witnessed so profound a worldwide crisis of Stalinism.

Despite the fact that they consider these things as Stalin’s ‘victories,’ as proof of ‘his revolutionary effectiveness,’ the most conscious Communist workers will not accept the notion advanced by their leaders that socialism will be installed by the Red Army. They are seeking the road of class action, of the emancipation of workers by the workers themselves. This concern of theirs actually touches upon a fundamental aspect of the proletarian revolution, an aspect that dominates the works of Marx and Lenin: that is, that the essence of a proletarian revolution is not this or that economic measure but rather the proletariat’s gaining of consciousness, its molecular mobilization, the formation of its consciousness as an active and dominant class. This notion of Marx and Lenin has been strikingly confirmed by the example of the buffer zone on the one hand and, inversely, by the Russian revolution [12] and partially by the revolution in Yugoslavia on the other. We are not talking about a priori norms but rather about the very essence of the proletarian revolution: the working class gaining a consciousness of itself and setting itself up as the ruling class,not only by taking power but also and above all by exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat and building socialism. And this latter task is not a mechanical phenomenon (the opposite of capitalist development) but requires the intervention of the proletariat as a conscious class. [13] This is the ABC. The experience of the USSR confirms it 100 per cent (relative stagnation domestically and a counter-revolutionary policy abroad), as does the Yugoslav experience, the Chinese experience and, in a negative way, the experience in the buffer zone.

No serious Communist worker criticizes Stalin for being afraid of world war, for refusing to declare the war-revolution or the revolution-war. On the contrary, what the best of them criticize him for is for subordinating the class struggle in other countries to the diplomatic and military needs of the USSR, subordinating the strategic line of the proletarian revolution to one of its tasks, the defence of one of the workers states.

In France the crisis of Stalinism, which has just manifested itself in the split among the mine workers, is fuelled continually by the ample proof that the French CP is an inadequate instrument for making a revolution:

— the ineffectiveness of its policy of supporting national fronts, of building ‘New Democracy’ (the politics of Yalta);

—the ineffectiveness of its policy of [parliamentary] opposition, of its leadership in the important class struggles since 1947 (the Zhdanov line);

—the incapacity of Stalinism to contribute toward uniting the proletarian forces.

All the strikes up to the present have reinforced the impression held by Communist workers that the French CP is not leading the proletariat toward revolution, but toward neutralization of the French bourgeoisie and a period of waiting for the war and the Red Army’s entry into it.

The Communist workers witnessed their struggle against the war in Vietnam—an undertaking the French CP had entered with a violence tainted with adventurism—subordinated to the campaign around the Stockholm appeal.

They witnessed their struggle against the eighteen months halted in mid-course and used as a springboard for the Sheffield-Warsaw appeal.

A great uneasiness spread among members of the French CP (and certainly among members of other CPs) in the fall of 1950, when the imperialist armies in Korea were within an inch of pulling out and a minimum of material support would have been sufficient to assure a success of immense scope for the entire Asian revolution. They saw that Stalin—applying the same policy of non-intervention he had used against the ascendant phase of the Spanish revolution—then allowed the imperialist armies to regain the offensive. This uneasiness was expressed so widely that the leadership of the French CP had to respond publicly—using Jeanette Vemersch as a mouthpiece—in the following way: Those who demand that the USSR intervene in Korea don’t understand what a world war would be like. This response disarmed the burgeoning opposition, because no Communist worker wanted a world war. What they were demanding wasn’t intervention but an end to the de facto embargo on arms that was strangling the Korean revolution.

It comes as no surprise that the Stalinist leaders are still inventive enough to pull the wool over the eyes of Communist workers. But what is surprising and inadmissible is that La Verite, through Comrade Pablo’s [14] articles, did nothing to take advantage of this crisis, although:

—it explained that it was difficult to make pronouncements about Stalin’s intentions;

— it remained silent about the meaning of his non-intervention;

—it did not wage a systematic and sustained campaign to publicize the demand the Communist workers were making on their leadership: Airplanes and artillery for Korea,

—worse yet, it adopted J. Vermersch’s evaluation of the situation as its own (aiding Korea means a world war), simply adding that if Stalin were a real revolutionary he wouldn’t be afraid of entering a world war (war-revolution, revolution-war).

Here we have a convincing application of the orientation Comrade Pablo refers to as ‘Closer to the Communist workers.’ It reminds us of the politics of the right-wing tendency that left our party. This tendenency also fought for the slogan ‘Closer to the Communist workers,’ which meant closer to Stalinist politics.

In the present case, La Verite was closer to Stalinist politics (it played the role of the MacArthur of the ‘Stalinist world’) but quite far removed from the concerns of the Communist workers; it didn’t help them find the correct response to their uneasiness.

By virtue of its methodology, perspectives, and application, this brand of politics is related to the most negative aspects of the history of our International. Through its impressionism and empiricism, its passive submission before accomplished facts and apparent ‘power,’ and through its abandonment of a class strategy, it revives all the errors of the right wing in the French party, of Hasten [15],” and of many other tendencies that followed a liquidationist course.

The Alarm Signal

We think that Comrade Pablo’s orientation is neither clear nor definitively set. We are convinced that he will correct his errors without too great a difficulty. But this isn’t the question. Comrade Pablo is also a leader of the International. This means that the positions he takes do not involve just him. His line has already been partially expressed in the Plenum resolution, which is a confused and contradictory document, the result of an unprincipled bloc between two lines, and the very model of an eclectic document.

But above all, a whole series of alarming signs have emerged as direct consequences of this theoretical hodgepodge.

On the one hand, a Stalinist tendency is rapidly developing in the International. Certainly Comrade Pablo can say, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, that this isn’t what he wanted. He can even apply a vigorous ‘self-criticism’ across the shoulders of politically weak comrades who tried to be more consistent than those who inspired them. But the remedy only disguises the disease and doesn’t heal it.

Similar destructive tendencies in the International have appeared on the editorial staff of our English comrades.

In France they cropped up among our comrades in Lyon, whose resolution we have cited.

They have appeared in our Central Committee, where Comrade Mestre stated her support for the Stalinist slogan of a struggle against German rearmament, manifestly subordinating the problem of the German and French proletariat’s gaining consciousness and taking up revolutionary struggle to the military defence of the USSR, seen in Stalinist terms as the number-one priority, the strategic line.

On the other hand, tendencies toward rejecting the defence of the USSR have already appeared and will inevitably develop. Some comrades who are troubled by the present tendency toward revisionism on the nature of the bureaucracy and on the Trotskyist concept of the defence of the USSR will inevitably break away from both Trotskyism and the defence of the USSR. We must seriously consider the defection of Natalia Trotsky, whose radically false concepts on the question of the USSR didn’t prevent the Second World Congress from placing her on its honorary presidium.

The orientation that has been outlined threatens to lead to the splintering of our International into a Stalinist tendency and a tendency that is defeatist toward the USSR.

We must react without delay and return to the Marxist method of analyzing society, return to the Leninist concept of the function of the working class, return to the Trotskyist analysis of the degeneration of the USSR and of the character of the bureaucracy, return to Trotsky’s fundamental statement that the crisis of humanity is and remains the crisis of revolutionary leadership, return to the revolutionary working-class line, that of the construction and the victory of the Fourth International, the World Party of the Socialist Revolution.


[1] Thus two camps have been formed in the world: on the one hand there is the imperialist and anti-democratic camp, whose basic goal is to establish American imperialism’s domination over the world and to crush democracy; on the other hand there is the anti-imperialist and democratic camp, whose basic goal consists in undermining imperialism, strengthening democracy, and liquidating the remnants of fascism.

‘The struggle between these two camps, between the imperialist and anti-imperialist camp, unfolds under conditions of a continued deepening of the overall crisis of capitalism, of a weakening of the forces of capitalism, and of the strengthening of the forces of socialism and democracy. (Zhdanov Theses, 1947, given to the first meeting of the Cominform in 1947.)

[2] So far as Europe is concerned, consider the bureaucracy’s policy in France (1936), Spain (1936-39), Poland (Warsaw uprising), Greece (1944-45), its efforts to prevent and overturn the Yugoslav revolution, its policy in France and Italy in the face of the revolutionary upsurge following the second world war.

[3] ‘…economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata,’ Trotsky said in the fundamental document defining the USSR (Revolution Betrayed, point D in the definition of the USSR, New Park Publications, 1973, p.255.)

[4] The draft theses presented by Pablo to the Ninth Plenum of the International Secretariat (point 2l, paragraph 3) spoke of the ‘conditions of economic exploitation’ of the Soviet proletariat by the bureaucracy. The idea of class exploitation no longer appears in the text adopted by the International Executive Committee, by the notion of historically necessary social layer (a class!) turns up again in Pablo’s document.

[5] “Once the war breaks out …the bureaucracy will no longer have any reason to oppose the development of mass revolutionary struggles in the imperialist camp. Quite the contrary the bureaucracy will have every interest in developing anything that will help undermine the military strength of the imperialist camp, including revolutionary movements of great scope. …’ (Thesis of the Lyons cell.)

The thesis as a whole comes down to this: up to the present the bureaucracy has been opposed to the revolution out of fear of military intervention by the imperialists. In the third world war the bureaucracy will no longer have this preoccupation and will become the leadership of the world revolution. This is much more consistent than Pablo’s thesis. The author of this resolution nevertheless was weak enough to renounce it in favour of Pablo’s position.

[6] Some voices cry out: “If we continue to recognize the USSR as a workers’ state, we will have to establish a new category: the counter-revolutionary workers’ state.” This argument attempts to shock our imagination by opposing a good programmatic norm to a miserable, mean, even repugnant reality. But haven’t we observed from day to day since 1923 how the Soviet state has played a more and more counter-revolutionary role on the international arena? Have we forgotten the experience of the Chinese Revolution, of the 1926 general strike in England and finally the very fresh experience of the Spanish Revolution? There are two completely counter-revolutionary workers’ internationals. These critics have apparently forgotten this “category.” The trade unions of France, Great Britain, the United States and other countries support completely the counter-revolutionary politics of the bourgeoisie. This does not prevent us from labelling them trade unions, from supporting their progressive steps and from defending them against the bourgeoisie. Why is it impossible to employ the same method with the counter-revolutionary workers’ state? In the last analysis a workers’ state is a trade union which has conquered power. The difference in attitude in these two cases is explainable by the simple fact that trade unions have a long history and we have been accustomed to consider them as realities and not simply as ‘categories’ in our programme. But, as regards the workers’ state there is being evinced an inability to learn to approach it as a real historical fact which has not subordinated itself to our programme. (Leon Trotsky:’Again and Once More Again on the Nature of the USSR,’ in In Defence of Marxism, New Park Publications 1971, pp.30-31)

[7] In 1651, three centuries ago, the bourgeoisie began to emerge in England.

In 1751, two centuries ago, it began to appear in France.

The two or three century transition period in which Pablo accords a necessary role to the bureaucracy would be longer than the period of bourgeois domination in the countries that developed the earliest, and three to six times longer than the worldwide domination of the capitalist bourgeoisie. It would therefore be difficult to find fault with applying the term class to the Soviet bureaucracy.

[8] In the Second World Congress theses there was already an unfortunate formulation, though it was appreciably different: ” ‘Defend what remains of the conquests of October’ is a (“a,” and not “the”) strategic line for the revolutionary party, and not alone a ‘slogan.’ ” [‘The USSR and Stalinism,’ Fourth International, June 1948, p. 114] It would have been more correct to say: ‘a strategic task’ or ‘a strategic orientation,’ formulations that are clearly opposed to the notion that the defense of the USSR is just a ‘slogan.’

‘The defence of the USSR coincides for us with the preparation of world revolution. Only those methods are permissible which do not conflict with the interests of the revolution. The defence of the USSR is related to the world socialist revolution as a tactical task is related to a strategic one. A tactic is subordinated to a strategic goal and in no case can be in contradiction to the latter.'(Leon Trotsky: ‘The USSR in War,’ in In Defence of Marxism, New Park Publications, 1971, p.ll.)

[9] A ‘Stalinism’ that was never very deeply entrenched at any given moment in the history of this party. Apart from the documents published by the Fourth International, a reading of the works of Mao Tse-tung (each page of which contains a more or less veiled attack on Stalin) is quite helpful in this regard.

[10] It is quite clear that the reasons for this stem from the difference between the proletariat’s aspirations and forms of action, and those of the peasantry. The peasantry desires bourgeois-democratic reforms and mobilizes spontaneously in the form of partisan armies. The proletariat has socialist aspirations and its revolutionary mobilization creates proletarian organs of power, both of which lead to a direct contradiction with the Stalinist bureaucracy right from the start.

[11] We request that the International Secretariat present its file of correspondence with the Chinese comrades to the World Congress,and in this way inform the congress of the directives that it had the right and the duty to give to the Chinese section.

[12] The Russian revolution unfolded in a way that was far removed from the ‘pure norms’; Lenin thought it was even further removed than any future revolution in an advanced country would be.

[13] ‘The primary political criterion for us is not the transformation of property relations in this or another area, however important these may be in themselves, but rather the change in the consciousness and organization of the world proletariat, the raising of their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones. From this one, and the only decisive standpoint, the politics of Moscow taken as a whole, completely retains its reactionary character and remains the chief obstacle on the road to world revolution.'(Leon Trotsky: ‘The USSR in War,’ in In Defence of Marxism, p.23.)

[14] The Militant, the newspaper of the American Trotskyists, waged an excellent campaign around the revelations on this question. In France, where the basic cadres of the working class are organized in the CP, an extensive campaign should have been mounted around the theme: ‘Airplanes for Korea.’

[15] A reading of Hasten’s amendment to the World Congress is instructive: it is a timid outline of ‘Where Are We Going?”

State Repression & the Left

Lessons from Working-Class History:

State Repression & the Left

[First printed in 1917 #25, 2003. Copied from ]

The aggressive neo-colonial wars being waged by the Bush administration are accompanied by a massive reorganization and expansion of the domestic security bureaucracy and heightened activity by America’s political police. The “war on terror” has made major incursions on democratic rights and constitutional protections of all U.S. residents, particularly for immigrants, Arab-Americans and critics of government policy. It is no accident that the U.S. Border Patrol has recently set up rotating checkpoints in the Detroit area, home to 350,000 Arab-Americans, the largest concentration in the country.

In a 15 November 2002 article, Dave Lindorff reported that the assistant legal director of the left-liberal Center for Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky, discovered her name is on a list maintained by the new post-9/11 “Transportation Security Administration” (TSA) of people subject to intensive investigation any time they attempt to board an airplane. It is unclear how many others are on the list with Olshansky, but authorities admit maintaining another list of 1,000 people who are deemed “threats to aviation” and not allowed to fly at all.

David Steigman, of the TSA, who told Salon that U.S. federal intelligence agencies (the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency) supply names for the list, admitted that there are no legal avenues through which to launch an appeal. According to Lindorff, so far the feds are “netting mostly priests, elderly nuns, Green Party campaign operatives, left-wing journalists, right-wing activists and people affiliated with Arab or Arab-American groups.”

The ostensibly revolutionary left, weak as it is, will automatically be a prime target of all new police-state measures, as the manufactured terror scare is used as justification for going after any and all opponents of the American ruling class. The fact that most of America’s supposed Marxists are pursuing a strategy that combines pacifist bleating with appeals to the imperialists to behave more humanely will not spare them the attention of the architects of a rightist security state.

The Marxist movement has confronted the issue of political repression under bourgeois-democratic regimes many times in the past. The right of socialist organizations to advocate revolutionary views, won through the struggles of earlier generations of militants, must be energetically defended today. The successful defense of the legal status and democratic rights of the left requires both political courage and tactical intelligence. In some cases, Marxist organizations have been forced to make important adjustments in the presentation of their ideas as a result of bourgeois repression.

Russian Revolutionaries vs. Czarist Repression

The Russian revolutionary movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developed under a regime of constant police repression, and was forced to produce much of its literature underground. This increased organizational overheads, limited circulation and resulted in the imprisonment of hundreds of militants involved in the printing, transportation and distribution of illegal publications. Where possible, the revolutionaries therefore attempted to publish their materials legally. This required certain terminological accommodations to the sensibilities of the censors. Georgi Plekhanov’s classic, The Development of the Monist View of History, written in 1895 as a polemic against the Russian Narodniks (populists), was published under a pseudonym (N. Beltov) and given an “intentionally clumsy” title by the author to get by the czarist censors who prohibited “materialist” (i.e., Marxist) works. The defensive formulations employed by Plekhanov throughout the book permitted its legal publication and ensured broader distribution, but did not change the content of his arguments.

In the preface to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin noted:

“This pamphlet was written with an eye to the tsarist censorship. Hence, I was not only forced to confine myself strictly to an exclusively theoretical, specifically economic analysis of facts, but to formulate the few necessary observations on politics with extreme caution, by hints, in an allegorical language—in that accursed Aesopian language—to which tsarism compelled all revolutionaries to have recourse whenever they took up the pen to write a ‘legal’ work.

“…In order to show the reader, in a guise acceptable to the censors, how shamelessly untruthful the capitalists and the social-chauvinists who have deserted to their side (and whom Kautsky opposes so inconsistently) are on the question of annexations; in order to show how shamelessly they screen the annexations of their capitalists, I was forced to quote as an example—Japan!”

The opportunist wing of the Russian socialist movement, the Mensheviks, who had also been forced underground by police repression, were inclined to adapt politically to the requirements of the censors, and gradually abandoned all illegal activity. This tendency was characterized as “liquidationism” by the Bolsheviks, who maintained an underground apparatus while attempting to maximize the opportunities for legal activity. In a speech in New York in November 1942, when the American Trotskyist movement was facing considerable government persecution, James P. Cannon described how prior to World War I the Bolsheviks managed to elect six deputies to the Duma (the czar’s pseudo-parliament) and published several daily newspapers:

“The daily paper of the Bolsheviks was published in what you call the Aesopian language….They called themselves ‘consistent democrats.’ And the paper did not espouse the cause of the Bolshevik party and did not propound its whole program. It did this only by implication. It wrote in parables. It modified its language to get through the tsarist censorship. But they managed to do it skillfully enough so that around that paper the Bolshevik party was organized. So that when the time came, more favorable conditions, and the chance to break out in the open, the Bolsheviks had previously created a wide sentiment for their basic ideas among the advanced workers of Moscow.

“All this time, however, they maintained the underground party. They did not confine themselves to this limited Aesopian legalistic propaganda; that was a supplement of the illegal program of the party. In the underground circles of the party they talked frankly about everything, clarified their program, and through it were able to maintain control over this vast network of legal activities.”

—”On Legal and Semilegal Work,” 19 November 1942

Sometimes the Bolsheviks were able to get around the censors by publishing important statements as signed discussion articles instead of official party decisions. In other cases, newspapers declared formal independence from the party. In their legal activity, the Bolsheviks could only convey parts of the Marxist program, and generally chose to avoid subjects that would not pass the censors. When possible, they attempted to find other ways to comment on such issues; when not, they remained silent rather than revise or repudiate the Marxist position.

Marx, Engels & the German Social Democracy  

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the leading section of the Socialist (or Second) International, with a membership in excess of one million at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, was consistently to the right of the Russian Bolsheviks. One index of the SPD’s non-revolutionary character was its tendency to put the “defense of the party” (and its assets) ahead of Marxist principle. Rosa Luxemburg, the leader of the SPD’s Marxist left wing, was critical of the party’s refusal to raise the demand for a German republic, i.e., abolition of the monarchy. Karl Kautsky, who was a collaborator of Frederick Engels and widely regarded as the leading exponent of Marxism in the Second International, rejected Luxemburg’s proposal to introduce this plank into the party’s program on the grounds that it was too dangerous. Kautsky claimed to be upholding the position of Marx and Engels on the question:

“‘…the [1875] Gotha Program said nothing of a republic, and Marx, as much as he condemned this program, acknowledged in his letter that it wouldn’t do to openly demand a republic (Neue Zeit, IX, 1, p. 573). Engels spoke on the same matter regarding the [1891] Erfurt Program (Neue Zeit, XX, 1, p. 11).

“‘I don’t have time to set forth to you the grounds which Marx and Engels, Bebel and Liebknecht acknowledged to be sound. Enough, that what you want is an entirely new agitation which until now has always been rejected. This new agitation, however, is the sort we have no business discussing so openly….We cannot and will not proceed in this manner. A single personality, however high she may stand, cannot pull off a fait accompli on her own hook which can have unforeseeable consequences for the party.’”

—quoted by Rosa Luxemburg in Theory and Practice (1980)

Luxemburg responded that the “entirely new agitation” amounted to a call for universal adult suffrage and a democratic republic, and was aimed at the monarchy as the “visible head of the reigning reaction.” She pointed out that in his critique of the Erfurt Program, Engels made an “allusion to the ‘opportunism prevalent in a great part of the Social Democratic press,’” and asserted:

“‘But the fact that one cannot even draw up an openly republican party program in Germany proves how colossal the illusion is, that we can genially, peacefully install a republic there–and not only a republic, but communist society.

“‘…On all these subjects, not much can be said in the program. I call this to your attention chiefly to characterize both the situation in Germany, where it will not do to say such things, and the self-delusion that would transform this situation into a communist society by legal means.’”


Luxemburg also cited Marx’s comment in the “Critique of the Gotha Program” that if it were impossible to openly advocate a democratic republic in Germany, it would be absurd to put forward other, derivative, democratic demands:

“‘Since you do not feel yourselves in the position…to demand a democratic republic as the French workers’ programs did under Louis Philippe and Louis Napoleon, you should not have tried to hide behind the…dodge [the dots are substituted for a boisterous adjective of Marx’s–R.L.] of demanding things which only make sense in a democratic republic, from a state which is nothing but a military despotism embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with a feudal admixture, obviously influenced by the bourgeoisie, shored up with a bureaucracy and watched over by the police.’”


The difference between the revolutionary intransigence of Luxemburg and the Bolsheviks and the cringing legalism of Kautsky and the “orthodox” Marxists of the SPD foreshadowed their subsequent divergence over “defense of the fatherland” in World War I, and their respective responses to the collapse of the Romanov and Hohenzollern dynasties. After the overthrow of the czar, the Bolsheviks, who had refused to support the imperial war effort, went on to win a majority in the workers’ councils (soviets) based on a program of ending the war, distributing the landed estates to the peasantry and expropriating the capitalists. On 9 November 1918, the Kaiser was forced to abdicate as a result of a revolt by German workers and soldiers who formed revolutionary councils in every major center across the country. Luxemburg and a small group of revolutionaries, who would soon found the German Communist Party, proposed to establish a new state power based on the rule of these councils. But the SPD’s rightist leadership, supported by Kautsky’s centrist bloc, formed a provisional government, thereby saving the capitalist state and derailing the German Revolution.

Trotskyists in World War II: ‘Socialism on Trial’

The question of revolutionary legality was posed quite sharply for the Trotskyist movement during World War II. In the U.S., the Socialist Workers Party (SWP—the leading section of the international Trotskyist movement at the time) anticipated that America’s entry into the war would be accompanied by severe repression. James P. Cannon, the party’s leader, predicted that: “During the war, especially the first stages, there is nobody going to be talking against the war without being in the jug the next hour. You can’t do it in the paper or in private conversation.” North of the border, in Canada, the Trotskyist organization had been outlawed as soon as war was declared in September 1939. Shortly afterwards, one young Trotskyist, Frank Watson, was arrested when he dared to speak against the inter-imperialist slaughter on a soapbox in downtown Toronto. Watson’s comrades did what they could to publicize his case, but he was quickly tried and convicted, and after losing a subsequent appeal, was sent to jail for six months.

On 15 July 1941, 28 prominent members of the SWP and the militant Minneapolis Teamsters union they led, were indicted by a grand jury for violating the reactionary Smith Act, passed a year earlier, which outlawed “seditious” ideas. They were also charged under an 1861 law with conspiracy to overthrow the government. At a special conference in October 1941, the SWP passed the following resolution as a directive to the comrades facing trial:

“The policy of the party in defending itself in court, obligatory for all party members under indictment, can only be one that is worthy of our movement and our tradition; no attempt to water down or evade our revolutionary doctrine, but, on the contrary, to defend it militantly. At the same time we maintain that we have legal right under the Bill of Rights to propagate our principles.”

—Defense Policy in the Minneapolis Trial

During their trial, the SWP defendants argued that they were being persecuted for exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly. The defense presented testimony on a wide variety of issues, including the question of expropriation of the capitalist minority, and the likelihood that during the revolutionary transition from capitalism to a socialist regime, the old ruling class would attempt to initiate violence. The national media paid close attention to the trial proceedings, which in Cannon’s view presented:

“the opportunity, for the first time, to speak to the masses—to the people of the United States. We seized upon the opportunity and made the most of it, and applied in practice without a serious fault the basic principles which had been assimilated in a long preparatory period.”


Cannon characterized the trial as “by far our greatest propaganda success” and noted with pride that “even those workers who disagree with our program, have approved and applauded our conduct in court as worthy of people who take their principles seriously.” The party published Cannon’s testimony at the trial and the closing statement of SWP attorney Albert Goldman (who was also one of the defendants) as pamphlets for use in educating new recruits.

The SWP cadres refused to renounce their principles and offered a political defense of their party, while at the same time employing “defensive formulations.” At points during their testimony, the defendants missed opportunities to take the offensive against their persecutors, but on the whole the SWP’s defense strategy in this trial provides a model for revolutionaries.

Grandizo Munis’ Critique

Grandizo Munis, a Spanish Trotskyist exiled in Mexico, criticized the way the SWP defendants conducted themselves during the trial; he felt they missed an opportunity in:

“replying to the political accusations—struggle against the war, advocacy of violence, overthrow of the government by force—where it was necessary to have raised the tone and turn the tables, accuse the government and the bourgeoisie of a reactionary conspiracy; of permanent violence against the majority of the population, physical, economic, moral, educative violence; of launching the population into a slaughter also by means of violence in order to defend the Sixty Families.”

Cannon responded that a distinction had to be made “between ‘maneuvers’ which serve principle and those which contradict it” and explained:

“we planned to conduct our defense in court not as a ‘criminal’ defense but as a propaganda offensive. Without foolishly disregarding or provoking the jury or needlessly helping the prosecutor, it was our aim to use the courtroom as a forum to popularize the principles of our movement. We saw in this second proposition our main duty and opportunity and never for a moment intended to let purely legalistic considerations take precedence over it.”

Cannon’s testimony at the trial was an excellent exposition of the Marxist attitude toward violence. In his reply to Munis, he summarized his remarks as follows:

“1) The Marxists prefer a peaceful transition. ‘The position of the Marxists is that the most economical and preferable, the most desirable method of social transformation, by all means, is to have it done peacefully.’

“2) ‘It is the opinion of all Marxists that it will be accompanied by violence.’

“3) That opinion ‘is based, like all Marxist doctrine, on a study of history, the historical experiences of mankind in the numerous changes of society from one form to another, the revolutions which accompanied it, and the resistance which the outlived classes invariably put up against the new order. Their attempt to defend themselves against the new order, or to suppress by violence the movement for the new order, has resulted in every important social transformation up to now being accompanied by violence.’

“4) The ruling class always initiates the violence, ‘always the ruling class; always the outlived class that doesn’t want to leave the stage when the time has come. They want to hang onto their privileges, to reinforce them by violent measures, against the rising majority and they run up against the mass violence of the new class, which history has ordained shall come to power.’

“5) That is our prediction. But of course, we don’t limit ourselves simply to that prediction. We go further, and advise the workers to bear this in mind and prepare themselves not to permit the reactionary outlived minority to frustrate the will of the majority.’”


As Cannon observed: “That is all any Marxist really needs to say on the question of violence in a capitalist court….It tells the truth, conforms to principle, and protects the legal position of the party.” He rejected Munis’ suggestion that the defendants should have raised their voices to: “call upon the workers to organize their own violence against the reactionary violence” as neither necessary nor advisable. Cannon cited Lenin and Trotsky on the advantages of using defensive formulations, and explained that his testimony had been intended “for the benefit of the uninitiated worker” who:

“is by no means waiting impatiently for our call to violent action. Quite the contrary, he ardently believes in the so-called democracy, and the first question he will ask, if he becomes interested in socialism, is: ‘Why can’t we get it peacefully, by the ballot?’ It is necessary to patiently explain to him that, while we would prefer it that way, the bosses will not permit it, will resort to violence against the majority, and that the workers must defend themselves and their right to change things. Our defensive formula is not only legally unassailable….It is also the best formula for effective propaganda.”


During cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Cannon if the May 1934 “Battle of Bulls Run” in Minneapolis, when strikers routed thousands of police and special deputies, was “Trotskyism demonstrating itself.” Cannon replied: “I am mighty proud of the fact that Trotskyism had some part in influencing the workers to protect themselves against that sort of violence.” The cops and deputies had been organized to drive the workers off the street, and: “They got a dose of their own medicine. I think the workers have a right to defend themselves. If that is treason, you can make the most of it.”

While the Trotskyists’ role in leading the Minneapolis Teamsters to victory gave them a working-class base in that city and resulted in an important regroupment with A.J. Muste’s left-centrist American Workers Party, small revolutionary propaganda groups rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of their ideas through leading mass struggles. Munis all but ignored this and derided the emphasis the SWP defendants placed on winning a majority for socialism through education and propaganda:

“But we are a party of revolutionary action—economic, political and educative—in essence and potentially, because our propaganda itself can tend only to action and only through action will we conquer the majority of the exploited and educate them for the taking of power.”

Cannon responded:

“The bourgeoisie has always tried to picture communism as a ‘criminal conspiracy’ in order to alienate the workers who are profoundly democratic in their sentiments. That was the aim once again in the Minneapolis trial. It was our task at the trial to go out of our way to refute this misrepresentation and emphasize the democratic basis of our program; not in order to placate our enemies and persecutors, as is assumed, but in order to reveal the truth to our friends, the American workers.”


One weak formulation in Cannon’s testimony came when he suggested: “The reason we do not support a declaration of war by American arms, is because we do not believe the American capitalists can defeat Hitler and fascism.” Munis observed that this implied: “we would support it if we believed in that defeat.” Cannon might better have responded by pointing to the enthusiasm with which major sections of the U.S. capitalist class greeted both Mussolini and Hitler as bulwarks against the spread of Bolshevism.

Cannon made no claim to perfection, and commented, “we did only the best we could within the narrow limits prescribed by the court.” He forthrightly defended the SWP’s position of refusing to support either the Axis or Allied imperialists, and in response to a question from Goldman about whether the war was essentially a struggle between democracy and fascism, he responded: “It is absolutely true that Hitler wants to dominate the world, but we think it is equally true that the ruling group of American capitalists has the same idea, and we are not in favor of either of them.” Later, during cross-examination by the prosecutor, Cannon solidarized with the revolutionary position of the Fourth International:

“Q: Now, on June 29, 1940, the Socialist Appeal published this from the report of the Manifesto of the Fourth International: ‘Independently of the course of the war, we fulfill our basic task: We explain to the workers the irreconcilability between their interests and the interest of blood-thirsty capitalism; we mobilize the toilers against imperialism; we propagate the unity of the workers in all warring and neutral countries; we call for the fraternization of workers and soldiers within each country, and of soldiers with soldiers on the opposite side of the battlefront; we mobilize the women and youth against the war; we carry on constant, persistent, tireless preparation of the revolution—in the factories, in the mills, in the villages, in the barracks, at the front and in the fleet.’ You want the soldiers to do that, don’t you?

“A: Yes, I think that is a summation of the idea, for the soldiers and everybody to do that. That is the way to put an end to this slaughter.”
—Socialism On Trial

The prosecution introduced as evidence large quantities of SWP literature, as well as writings by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. In his summation to the court, Albert Goldman said that, as he sat listening to the prosecution the day before:

“my thoughts drifted far afield. What are we on trial for, I asked myself? Certain men wrote books many years ago, and we are on trial because these men had ideas and wrote about them. We are on trial because a man by the name of Marx spent most of his lifetime in the library of the British Museum, digging into statistics, statistics concerned with economics and with politics. We are on trial because this man, after reading the mass of statistics…formulated general laws—laws that he thought, and laws that we think, operate in the social system.”
—In Defense of Socialism

Goldman also addressed the question of “violence” upon which the prosecution had laid heavy emphasis:

“Everywhere in society there is violence of one sort or another, culminating in the dreadful violence which sacrifices millions of human beings upon the altar of war. It is this violence which we hate that drives us into a movement which has as its ideal the creation of a world free from violence, where human beings will cooperate in the production of goods to satisfy their needs, where peace and security will prevail.

“We are, of course, not pacifists. We do not believe with Gandhi that it is wrong for three hundred million people in India to use violence to drive out the British oppressors who claim to be fighting a war for democracy. As much as we hate the violence that exists in society, we see no alternative to the necessity of destroying the violence of the minority with the violence of the majority. But to accuse us of wanting and advocating violence is to accuse us of something that is revolting to our very nature.”

The charge of conspiring to overthrow the American government was thrown out, but on 8 December 1941, the day the U.S. declared war on Japan, 18 of the defendants were convicted under the Smith Act of conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the government, and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 12 to 16 months.

An Injury to One…

The SWP immediately organized a Civil Rights Defense Committee, which was chaired by James T. Farrell, a popular novelist and SWP supporter, with John Dos Passos (another famous author) and Carlo Tresca (a prominent anarchist) as co-chairs. Other well-known figures who signed on as official sponsors were John Dewey, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McCarthy, A.J. Muste, Adam Clayton Powell, Max Shachtman and Edmund Wilson. The defense committee ran a vigorous and effective campaign that won support from the American Civil Liberties Union, much of the organized left, and over 100 local and national union bodies representing millions of workers. The rabidly anti-Trotskyist Communist Party (CP), at that time the largest and most influential organization on the left, stood virtually alone in applauding the prosecution of the SWP. Ironically, the government’s successful use of the Smith Act against the Trotskyists provided a precedent for its use in the subsequent persecution of scores of CP cadres beginning in 1949. The SWP, to its credit, was one of only a few groups in the workers’ movement to defend the Stalinists against the witchhunters.

The Smith Act was eventually declared unconstitutional and struck down, as were various other mechanisms used by the McCarthyites. One victory in this struggle was won through the efforts of Max Shachtman’s rightward-moving Workers Party which, in 1948, launched a legal campaign challenging its inclusion on the U.S. Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations. It was ten years before the Shachtmanites were finally successful, and in the meantime, they had devolved from ostensible Leninists to State Department socialists. But regardless of their political trajectory, the Shachtmanite campaign played a central role in the eventual decision by the U.S. Justice Department to scrap its infamous list.

A more recent case involved the degenerating Spartacist League (SL) which, in 1981, filed suit against California’s right-wing Republican Attorney General George Deukmejian for including it on a 1979 list of “terrorist” groups. Labeling leftist groups as “terrorist” creates an atmosphere conducive to wholesale repression of anyone who dares mobilize the workers and oppressed in defense of their own interests. The Spartacist League’s vigorous response to Deukmejian’s smear was supported by many civil liberties advocates and even black Democratic politicians. They created enough of a stir that in December 1981, the state Attorney General’s office issued a formal retraction of its allegation. This was a small but significant victory for the Spartacist League and the entire workers’ movement.

The persecution of leftist political dissidents typically begins with the malicious and deliberate misrepresentation of their aims and objectives. The intent is to isolate those who are courageous enough to resist the manifest injustices of the imperialist world order by depicting them as violent crazies and/or terrorists. In response to attempts to frame-up any members of the left and workers’ movement, it is incumbent on all to offer their active solidarity. For, in the words of the pioneers of the American labor movement, “An injury to one is an injury to all!” 

Socialism in One City

Milwaukee’s Brand of Socialism

Socialism in One City

by James Boulton

First printed in Fourth International, Vol.I No.7, December 1940. Copied from

We particularly recommend this 1940 Trotskyist polemic with US social democracy to supporters of groups historically associated with the late Ted Grant. To those familiar, the parallels in the politics critiqued are quite striking.

1. A Tenor Sings Socialism Away

The morning of April 3, 1940, broke dismally in the city of Milwaukee, heralding the defeat of Mayor Daniel W. Hoan and the return to capitalism. Dan, the Socialist mayor toward whom Norman Thomas could point with pride in every speech, the mayor whose treatise on City Government has now become a classic, who as City Attorney after the election of 1912 indicted and convicted hundreds of corrupt politicians and thereby ushered into office for over two decades the Milwaukee Socialist Party, its elected and appointed officials, and made the name of Milwaukee a star in international encyclopedias, the mayor, however, whose twenty-four years in office failed to produce any change in the life of Milwaukee’s proletariat.

When the final count came in, the beer parties in the wards were already ebbing and the golden haired thrush, Mayor-elect Carl Zeidler, had decreed the abolition of socialism. The major setback was not felt among the more “stupid” proletariat, but it did forebode ill among the many party Gifte Shoppe, butcher, book, and barber shop, tavern keeper, insurance salesman, and law suite members. Panic reigned in the City Hall and other municipal buildings; and in the offices of the stunned comrades of Norman Thomas there swelled a wave of defeatism that rolled right through the heart of the party convention which took place right afterward.

“What happened in Milwaukee?” was the paramount question put to delegates from the Cream City. Why had the workers cast their ballots for a tenor instead of for Dan?

When the initial delirium subsided, there still lingered a feeling of strength: Police Chief Kluchesky and “the Force” remained firmly entrenched in municipal power. All is not lost so long as comrade Police Chief Kluchesky remains at the head of the Force.

“Klooch,” as his comrades of the Socialist Party fondly call him, is expected to persist in waging the fight to liquidate the six mounted policemen, introduced by reactionaries to break the monotony of socialist civic life. Whole elections have been fought on this issue. The mounty funds, contend the Hoan men, could best be used in solving the problem of unemployment. Milwaukee Joe, when he is not busy “settling” strikes, will undoubtedly have something to say on this issue.

2. History and Achievements of Milwaukee Socialism

Pulling through the World War with very little to mar their record except the ride of Dan Hoan at the head of a Preparedness Day parade, the Milwaukee socialists continued on their march toward clean and efficient city government and a bigger and better convention city.

The first political boss of the Milwaukee local of the Socialist Party was Congressman Berger, who shared the job with Hoan until his death. Hoan now shares it with Andy Biemiller, Progressive caucus chairman in the assembly and author of the famous plea: “We must give aid to the Allies, our comrades!” Otto Hauser, ex-preacher and Hoan’s secretary to the Mayor, helps manage the dwindling machine, although he is mainly preoccupied with selling real estate.

“Old Vic” Berger merely bossed the party. Joe Kluchesky extended the practice of democracy against the general populace.

Frank Zeidler, State Secretary of the Socialist Party and a Sunday school teacher, readily concedes that nothing much was done in socializing the means of production. Nevertheless by the time Hoan retired to law practice in 1940, Milwaukee was the proud possessor of a socialized sewage disposal plant and many publicly owned streets.

Under the influence of comrade C.B. Whitnall, first elected in 1910 as City Treasurer, great strides were made in expanding the county parks; and today the Socialist county towers above the nation in quantity and quality of sweetheart’s rests.

In the course of this development Ernest Unterman, who reminds everyone that he is the Editor of the Fourth German Edition of Capital, was appointed Director of the Washington Park Zoo. Besides painting murals and collecting ostrich eggs, Unterman has also produced a work called Lenin’s Maggot.

In 1935, in a convention with eight other organizations, Milwaukee’s socialists gave birth to the Farmer-Labor Progressive Federation. The name was changed to Progressive Party Federation at the last convention when Comrade Hoan suggested that they should not give the impression of existing for farmers and workers alone. As a mass party the FLPF disappointed many. Some found it difficult to draw the line between the SP and the FLPF, the former usually meeting after the latter, often in the same hall or tavern as the case may be. A late comer was often heard questioning: “Is this the meeting of the SP or the FLPF?”

In all fairness to the party it must be added that much has been accomplished in placing 500 salaried election booth clerks, winning aldermanic, supervisory, and assemblymanic seats, appointing many tried and true men to various civic committees, administrative boards, and executive offices.

The achievements of the party culminated in the appointment of Joe Kluchesky and the completion of a really efficient police force, as the workers well may testify.

3. A Socialist Police Chief

Comrade Kluchesky is notable for his unique construing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and for his view that transients do not vote and consequently are of no value to a crime-free socialist city.

The Socialist Party spent $10,000 for Norman Thomas’ New Jersey fight in which he contended handbill ordinances were undemocratic. But in the stronghold of Norman Thomas socialism, not a cent was spent to fight against such a handbill ordinance. As a matter of fact the Milwaukee comrades appreciated the ordinance’s value in keeping socialist streets litter-free and were inclined to favor it; so that, when the US Supreme Court invalidated that type of ordinance, comrade Kluchesky dissented and proposed an alternative ordinance to prevent the littering of public streets. The Milwaukee Young People’s Socialist League, at the instigation of a group who subsequently became Trotskyists, issued a statement to the press, repudiating the Police Chief’s action. The culprits were admonished before the SP’s Executive Board by Ed Knappe, who stated plainly: “The point is you cannot attack public officials.”

Klooch demonstrated his socialist efficiency during the Allen-Bradley strike. A trade union leader and member of the Socialist Party testified before the Party’s County Central that, in a conference with himself, Klooch, and President Bradley of the struck corporation, Klooch said:

“If law and order are not preserved I will have to put the police at the disposal of Mr. Bradley.”

Another act for which Hoan’s appointee has been criticized by some people was, in reality, not as arbitrary as it may seem, but logically arose from the Kluchesky theory that people ought to at least vote if they would breath Cream City rarefied air. This act took place at the Catholic Worker Family House, a haven for underprivileged transients. On March 23, 1940, a police detail under orders from the Chief raided the house without warrant and arrested seventeen inmates, on charges, substantially, that they were non-voters, unemployed, transient, loiterers, and defiled by their presence the grand beauty of a fair city. During the raid some people were mishandled, insulted, questioned and searched in violation of constitutional rights which apply to transients as well as voters.

When this act was brought (by those who later became Trotskyites) to the attention of the Party County Central with the pointer that under capitalism there is a fundamental antagonism between police and workers, and when the naively. indignant complainant vainly pressed for action, an Executive Board member objected to the use of Marxist formulas and windbagging, suggesting ejection of the disrupter.

At present Comrade Kluchesky’s force is cooperating with the FBI in cataloguing Socialist Workers Party street corner speakers and Socialist Appeal salesmen, no doubt crushing Trotskyism before it breeds Stalinism.

Recently there was a solemn ceremony, when 260 party members received “diplomas” for membership in the party of twenty-five years or more. One of those, grown gray in the service, was Comrade Police Chief Joe Kluchesky.

Believe it or not, some of those old boys who hold those diplomas aren’t able to figure out why the party didn’t once more this year win the election!

Critical Electoral Support to the SpAD


No Vote to the SPD/No Vote to the PDS
Critical Electoral Support to the SpAD

[The following 11/17/90 statement by the German supporters of the International Bolshevik Tendency was originally translated and reprinted in the Spartacist League’s “Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League” series (#6)]

The SPD has carried out an openly pro-imperialist unification policy in the West and the East. In the election campaign, Lafontaine is fanning the anti-foreigner backlash and seeking to give himself a distinctive image with the necessity of tax increases: The working class is expected to pay for capitalist reunification! The PDS, in contrast, is trying to play the classic social-democratic card as the party of the “socially weak.” However, the capitulation of the PDS leadership to the latest attacks by the state apparatus gives yet another confirmation: the last remnants of the formerly ruling Stalinist bureaucracy are seeking a cozy spot within bourgeois democracy, even at the cost of the sacrifice of Pohl/Langnitschke. This stance is only the continuation of the SED-PDS policy of handing over the DDR to German imperialism without a fight. That historic betrayal and the rightward evolution of the PDS rule out critical electoral support.

Why vote for the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (SpAD)?

Many militant workers and leftists rightly despise the SpAD for its sectarianism and its arrogant attitude as “savior of the working class.” But in contrast to the pro-capitalist practice of the SPD and PDS, the program of the SpAD in large part can be characterized formally as Leninist-Trotskyist. The SpAD calls, among other things, for independent working-class actions, for workers councils to achieve control over the plants. It is for workers strikes against the intervention of German imperialism in the Near East and for the mobilization of the workers against the fascists.

On the basis of this schematic but formally Trotskyist program the Gruppe Spartakus is giving critical support to the SpAD in these elections. Thereby we wish to express the principle “class against class.” At the same time we warn against the illusion that this sectarian, pseudo-Trotskyist group, bureaucratically degenerated and deformed to the highest degree, can play any real role whatsoever in working-class struggles. The SpAD is an obstacle to the building of the revolutionary Trotskyist workers party. Many of its newly acquired members, who were attracted by the SpAD’s revolutionary affectations, have been spat out because of the development of political differences, or repelled by the undemocratic and repressive internal life, the parody of a Leninist-Trotskyist party. While we have lots of political differences with the SpAD and the ICL led by the guru Robertson, we particularly consider two. aspects of its present propaganda to be confused and dangerously disorienting.

The SpAD and the “Fourth Reich”

Especially since the Anschluss, the BRD has been termed the “Fourth Reich” and Kohl the chancellor of the “Fourth Reich” in SpAD propaganda. It appears the SpAD has taken over the petty-bourgeois theory of the growing “fascisization” of Germany, that the state functionaries are (secret?) fascists and that the repressive apparatus of the police and the Verfassungsschutz [Office for the Protection of the Constitution] constitute independent fascist formations. The SpAD’s propaganda thereby feeds into the impressionist view that the reactionary reunification of Germany has called forth an abrupt change from a bourgeois parliamentary democracy to a fascist dictatorship that is destroying all workers organizations and already setting up its concentration camps.

Of course, the leaders of the SpAD know only too well that at this point in time the German capitalists see no necessity for handing over the state apparatus to the fascists as they did in 1933. The SpAD is thus using the fascisization theory for its brand of catastrophe-mongering: This is the last chance! Only a mass vote for the SpAD can stop fascism! Join the SpAD to fight the Fourth Reich!

A small revolutionary party can play an important role in organizing working-class actions to smash fascism. But the SpAD is disarming the working class by creating the impression that we are already living under fascism. It thereby downplays the frightful reality of fascism in power, distracting attention from the necessity of smashing the fascist gangs while they are still small.

The SpAD in search of an anti-imperialist wing of the Soviet bureaucracy

The SpAD is one of the few ostensibly revolutionary groups advocating military defense of Iraq against the imperialist-led military and economic aggression. However, it fosters the illusion that a wing of the Soviet bureaucracy defends Iraq. In its election program as well as in an Open Letter to various embassies (with a copy to its favorite general Snetkov) the SpAD calls on the USSR to lift its arms embargo and ship arms to Iraq. Here the fact that all wings of the Soviet bureaucracy, including Ligachev and the military, are capitulating to Gorbachev’s open cooperation with imperialism against Iraq is consciously denied. In contrast, the Trotskyist analysis of the role of the ruling Stalinist caste leads to the position that the workers must not place confidence in any wing of the USSR bureaucracy to defend the collectivized property forms of the bureaucratically degenerated workers state.

The SpAD creates yet further confusion when it invokes the memory of Lenin and Trotsky’s Red Army that drove the imperialists out of the oil fields of Baku in 1921. It suggests that the Soviet troops commanded by the bureaucracy can be equated with the revolutionary Red Army.

Trotskyists, on the other hand, know that only the working class in revolt, as it attempts to establish its direct political rule, can also cause parts of the bureaucracy to split off and go over to the side of the workers.

The demand that the Soviet bureaucracy lift the arms embargo is dangerously disorienting! Of course, it is not in principle wrong to place demands on the Stalinists. However, it makes sense only if they are at least pretending to support the oppressed against the imperialist oppressor. But when the Stalinists make clear that they stand on the side of the imperialists, as they have done since the beginning of the Gulf crisis, then such demands are absurd. This revision of Trotskyism by the SpAD is by no means surprising. In past years the ICL has grovelingly tailed after the most diverse Stalinist leaders, in search of a non-existent Leninist wing concealed somewhere in the top levels of the Stalinist state and party apparatus. The SpAD is incapable of building the Trotskyist workers party.

Those leftists and revolutionaries who wish to draw the lessons of the SpAD election campaign and want to learn how the SpAD has discredited Trotskyism in the past should get in contact with us. Let’s discuss how Trotsky’s program must be applied by revolutionaries today!

17 November 1990
Gruppe Spartakus
German Section of the International Bolshevik Tendency

Militant Longshoreman No. 3

Militant Longshoreman

No. #3, April 10, 1982

Gibson Case — Golden Case — S.E.O. Injunction


Coastwise unity of the Longshore Division is threatened by Local 10’s failure to pay our share of the Gibson Case costs. Increasingly in recent years longshore and clerk locals have been sued in the courts. In cases where these lawsuits threaten the union’s contractual rights over registra­tion, promotion, dispatch, and transfers the Longshore Caucus has authorized the Coast Conmittee to pro-rate the costs of defending these cases among all the locals on a man to man basis. Brothers may not know, for instance, that the successful defense of Local 10 and Local 34 in the Sguire Scott case were distributed coastwide. In that case Local 10 longshoremen who had -been working out of Local 34 as clerks for some time sued to be transferred as Class A clerks on the basis of “squatters rights” and without regard to seniority.

Local 10 is the only local in the longshore division that, at the present time, is refusing to pay its share of the Gibson Case settlement. This refusal is based upon actions at two membership meetings where it was argued that Local 10 should not help defend any local charged with racial discrimination. Since then the Executive Board has had two lengthy dis­cussions on the Gibson Case, but the facts that came out there haven’t been fully reported to the membership.


Because of the extreme and increasing danger of the capitalist courts intervention into internal longshore union affairs, this article will give a few of the background facts on the Gibson Case.

1967: Gibson filed E.E.O.C. complaint against Local 40, Portland Ship Clerk’s Local — four black casuals originally involved — court later added ten more blacks to complaint — Gibson charged Local 40 with racial discrimination against him and against other blacks in dispatch as casual clerks — none had worked as casual clerks prior to 1966, none had applied for Class B Clerk registration.

The case went to District Federal Court under Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act — District Court rejected the complaint — Case appealed by Gibson and other plaintiffs to 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — The Inter­national was also sued, along with PMA — the International tried to with­draw as a defendant, but the Court ruled that the International ILWU could be sued as a defendant because of Coast Committee contractual control of dispatch and registration.


Early on there was an attempt to settle the case out of court with registration of the plaintiffs, but Brother Bridges refused and joined Local 40 in defending the case in court.

The Federal Appeals Court finally reversed the lower court and found Local 40, (and the International), guilty of racial discrimination in 1967. In 1981, the International, PMA, and Local 40 settled the case out of court to the tune of several hundred-thousand dollars. They figured that appeal and further litigation might run up the final cost of settlement to two or three million dollars

In 1967 there was one black class A clerk in Local 40. During the fourteen years of the court suit Local 40 registered a number of black clerks, mostly through transfers from longshore.


In June, 1981, all locals were billed for costs of settling the Gibson Case. The July Longshore Caucus did not reverse or reject this pro-rata billing. Local 13, Wilmington, delayed paying their share until they got reassurance-that their cost of defending the union in several local cases would also be pro-rated coast-wide. They have now agreed to pay their share of the Gibson Case.


The anti-union lawsuit which most clearly shows the extreme danger to the union is the Golden Case, which was just settled in Los Angeles. In that lawsuit a number of women, most of whom had never worked on the water­front, went into court to block the transfer of 108 longshoremen to the clerks local. They were joined by a group of casual clerks who wanted also to block the transfers and get themselves registered on a new Clerk B list.

The settlement put the Federal District Court in permanent control of all registration, transfer, promotion, and dispatch of clerks in Los Angeles. In addition; the court required the registration of,a number of women and casual clerks to longshore B list. The court further ordered that all future longshore and clerk registration contain 25 to 30% women.


A clerk B list will be set up in Los Angeles containing a certain number of women and casual clerks. Finally all future transfers from longshore to clerk after the present 108 men will have to be mostly women.

It is ironic that the court gained control over longshore registration in Los Angeles over sex discrimination charges, since Local 13 had probably the best record on the coast for bringing women into the work force. About 50 women are now registered and working as longshoremen in Los Angeles.


If any Local 10 brother had any illusions left that the courts were truly neutral where unions are concerned, these illusions should have finally ended when the Federal Court came down with an injunction pro­hibiting any action by Local 10 to protect hiring hall tractor and lift jobs against PMA’s S.E.O. men. Since anything in print could be used by the court against Local 10, the MILITANT LONGSHOREMAN is limited in what kind of union defense we can suggest.

When any union local’s contractual rights over registration, promotion, transfer, or dispatch are threatened by court action every local must see this as an attack on our union and share in the costs of legal defense. But let’s not have any illusions; the velvet glove has come off the iron hand and the courts will increasingly be used by the capitalist state to weaken and restrict union action in defense of our jobs.

Trade unions were built and defended not by relying solely on smart lawyers, (they have their use), but by working class unity in action.

Guest Editorial

My first reaction to the sharing by Local 10 of costs incurred in the Gibson Case was: hell no, I won’t pay! Having suffered the chilling, oppressive, and humiliating effects of racism personally, my reaction was predictable. I have lost job opportunities myself, exactly for what Local 40 was accused of doing — racial discrimination. We in Local 10 know that too few blacks have been selected As walking bosses, we are presently seeking to get more black representation. I reasoned: why should I pay for the privilege of Local 40 having discriminated against blacks?

I soon, however, began to expand my thinking into holistic rather than personalistic areas. The Williams case where Local 10 B men were fired was I suppose, of no interest to Local 40, but they had to share in our lawsuit. The hard, practical, reality is that Local 10 cannot afford to become isolated from the coast-wide concept of unity with other locals. We will need their help and they will need ours.

All ILWU Locals are reeling from the effects of automation, all suffer increasingly less work opportunities. The Steady Man system is a cancer that has the potential to destroy us all. We cannot afford the luxury of hating formerly all white Local 40 for their past practices pre-1967. We don’t have to love them, but we must work together, because our jobs, our very livelihoods are much more important to us in the long run, than getting even for past discriminatory practices. The black men who sued Local 40 are now A men and have been for many years. Local 8, their longshore component in Portland, dealt with their racial prob­lems by registering blacks in 1964, thus avoiding lawsuits.

The above comments on both the Golden and Gibson cases by Brother Keylor clearly show the problems, (especially the Golden Case), which can beset a Local, when it is invaded by the Courts. The Courts are into almost all aspects of Local 13’s dispatch and hiring practices – ­it could happen to us. I strongly recommend that the members of Local 10 pursue a course that will strengthen the bonds between Local 40 and Local 10 and all other ILWU locals. Help them, so that they can help us — to fight the bosses and courts. A final comment: failure to abide by the constitution, which provides for pro-rata sharing of law­suits Coast-wide, could result in Local 10 being placed into monitorship or in being excluded from future  caucuses. The result would be more loss of control and isolation from other locals.

Fredric Addison

Militant Longshoreman No. 18

Militant Longshoreman

No. 18    February 6, 1987

Industrial Docks — A Knife Our Throats

When the Coast Longshore Caucus meets in April the delegates will be faced with defending the union against take-aways and concessions. Even if we are successful in stopping PMA’s appetite for more profits and more control over longshoremen, the greatest threat to our jobs, welfare benefits and pensions is from the non-PMA industrial docks. Nonunion shipping lines, tug and barge operations have already cut into West Coast maritime unions control of the waterfront. Thee outfits have an appetite to move into longshore operations replacing union conditions with labor costs, 1/2 to 1/3 of standard ILWU contracts.

On the Gulf Coast new industrial docks, floating docks and barges have taken a large chunk of ILA longshore work. Half the ILA longshoremen in the Houston local work for non-union companies at grossly sub-standard conditions.

Levin Again Threatens Longshore

Here at Richmond Paar 5 (Yard 1) Levin Terminals now has a completely non-ILWU operation on scrap iron: no linemen, not even the few turn around jobs we get on the bulk cargoes. None of Levin’s workers are even covered by the sub-standard Laborers Union and Operating Engineers contracts they had three years ago when we put up mass pickets at the gate. Our tenuous toe-hold at Richmond Yard 1 can only tempt Levin into another confrontation uith the ILWU to totally get rid of us and move into autos, barges, break bulk cargo, and containers with no longshoremen working. Levin’s non-union bulk operations have already destroyed most of the Longshore covered bulk jobs in Stockton, Sacramento and Redwood City.

The International officers have no answer to this threat. When a huge non-union barge operation opened up in Puget Sound several years ago the ILWU members were limited to months of informational picketing.

Organize the Unorganized

There is only one answer – organize! Only a massive joint ILWU, AFL-CIO, Teamster organizing campaign to organize all waterfront cargo-handling operations and barge traffic can stop the certain weakening and destruction of maritime union conditions on the West Coast. But a massive organizing campaign can only take place if workers get rid of the fearful, ossified leadership of the unions and replace them with a leadership that isn’t afraid of old-fashioned class struggle.

Crowley Moves to Break IBU-ILWU

When the Inland Boatmens’ Union (IBU) affiliated to the ILWU that gave us an important tool to defend longshore and to organize industrial docks, As we described in the last Militant Longshoreman the heart of the IBU is threatened by Crowley Maritime whose demands for 50% take-aways and elimination of the hiring hall puts, the existence of the union at stake. 13 contracts are up for renegotiation including the important Alaska barge trade. If the IBU is smashed the Longshore contracts with Crowley and even the  existence of the Alaskan Longshore locals are threatened. Crowley has already been successful over the past few years in forcing the Longshore Division to accept sub-standard contracts.

The strike deadline is approaching. There are indications that Crowley is trying to split up the IBU front and force one or more regions into separate negotiations and separate strikes. Even more alarming is that the ILWU International and IBU top-leadership have tried to discredit and defeat demands from the IBU locals for a united coastwise strike to defeat Crowley’s union busting. Herman and IBU President Liddle’s fear of an all-out confrontation with Crowley could lead them to seperate negotiations by region or even contract by contract. That “strategy” can only result in a disastrous defeat for the IBU.

For A Coastwide Strike Against Crowley!
For Mass Pickets to Stop Scabbing!

A militant coastwise strike backed up by mass ILWU pickets to defeat scabbing would be a signal to PMA not to try take-aways, and could discourage terminals and shippers from trying to set up non-union longshore operations undermining our jurisdiction on the waterfront. While Local 10 has very good relations with the IBU there are alarming signs of a crack in ILWU solidarity. A few days ago a tug manned by scabs pulled into C & H Sugar at Crocker. The IBU had a picket boat out on the water and was prepared to put up pickets at the plant gate to stop the barge from docking. Longshore maintenance won at C & H were prepared to observe the pickets but Local 6 President Al Lannon refused to commit the warehousemen not to cross IBU picket lines! This is the same Al Lannon who as a Local 6 B.A. tried to raid longshore work in Redwood City some years ago. Only if the full strength of the ILWU is brought out to man mass picket lines and stop scabbing can Crowley be stopped from breaking the back of the IBU.

Militant Longshoreman No 12

Militant Longshoreman

No #12  November 30, 1984

Brothers and Sisters:

Our boycott of the South African cargo aboard the Nedlloyd Kimberley is growing in support and media coverage every day. The rank and file of Local 10 who are refusing to unload this cargo are setting an example for trade unionists across America. We are offering concrete support to the heroic struggles of the black trade unionists battling the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.

I am a nember of the longshore comittee in support of the South African boycott, which is coordinating the action. The members of this committee all have our own ideas on many different subjects. But we all support the action, and agree that the South African cargo at the Nedlloyd Kimberley should not be unloaded. I know that many brothers have great respect for Martin Luther King who was quoted in a leaflet issued in the name of the comiittee. Personally I do not endorse his political ideas or his Christian pacifism.. I believe in the power of the working class organized to fight for its own interests, for the abolition of racism and all forms of oppression and exploitation, and for the establishment of a workers government. Nonetheless, despite my differences with other members of the committee on Dr. King and other questions, I intend to continue to work with the committee to build this fight and spread it coastwise.

I urge all Local 10 members to stand solid behind this action, come hell or high water. We can beat court injunctions as we showed with the mass pickets at Levin in Richmond last year. At that time the local and international bureaucrats unsuccessfully tried to block our action. Despite them, we won a defensive victory for Local 10. As soon as an injunction comes down many of those who today halfheartedly support this boycott will want to deep six the action. We must be ready for that, as we were in Richmond in 1983. Our anti-apartheid boycott is an issue which has tremendous appeal in the black conmunity,among working people and indeed all decent people. It can grow — we can win!

COME TO PIER 80, EVERY DAY, AT 7:30 AM and 6:30 PM!

The I.W.W.

The I.W.W.

by James P. Cannon

[First printed in Fourth International, Summer 1955. Coped from ]

The Bold Design

When the Founding Convention of the IWW — the Industrial Workers of the World — assembled in Chicago in June, 1905, the general strike movement initiating the first Russian revolution was already under way, and its reverberations were heard in the convention hall. The two events coincided to give the world a preview of its future. The leaders at Chicago hailed the Russian revolution as their own. The two simultaneous actions, arising independently with half a world between them, signalized the opening of a revolutionary century. They were the anticipations of things to come.

The defeated Russian revolution of 1905 prepared the way for the victorious revolution of 1917. It was the “dress rehearsal,” as Lenin said, and that evaluation is now universally recognized. The Founding Convention of the IWW was also a rehearsal; and it may well stand out in the final account as no less important than the Russian action at the same time.

The founders of the IWW were indubitably the original inspirers and prime movers of the modern industrial unions in the mass production industries. That is commonly admitted already, and that’s a lot. But even such a recognition of the IWW, as the precursor of the present CIO, falls far short of a full estimate of its historic significance. The CIO movement, at its present stage of development, is only a small down payment on the demands presented to the future by the pioneers who assembled at the 1905 Convention to start the IWW on its way.

The Founding Convention of the IWW brought together on a common platform the three giants among our ancestors — Debs, Haywood and De Leon. They came from different backgrounds and fields of activity, and they soon parted company again. But the things they said and did, that one time they teamed up to set a new movement on foot, could not be undone. They wrote a Charter for the American working class which has already inspired and influenced more than one generation of labor militants. And in its main essentials it will influence other generations yet to come.

They were big men, and they all grew taller when they stood together. They were distinguished from their contemporaries, as from the trade — union leaders of today, by the immensity of their ambition which transcended personal concerns, by their. far — reaching vision of a world to be remade by the power of the organized workers, and by their total commitment to that endeavor.

The great majority of the other delegates who answered the call to the Founding Convention of the IWW were people of the same quality. They were the non — conformists, the stiff-necked irreconcilables, at war with capitalist society. Radicals, rebels and revolutionists started the IWW, as they have started every other progressive movement in the history of this country.

In these days when labor leaders try their best to talk like probationary members of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, it is refreshing to turn back to the reports of men who spoke a different language. Debs, Haywood and De Leon, and those who stood with them, did not believe in the partnership of capital and labor, as preached by Gompers and Co. at the time. Such talk, they said in the famous “Preamble” to the Constitution of the IWW, “misleads the workers.” They spoke out in advance against the idea of the permanent “co — existence” of labor unions and the private ownership of industry, as championed by the CIO leaders of the present time.

The men who founded the IWW were pioneer industrial unionists, and the great industrial unions of today stem directly from them. But they aimed far beyond industrial unionism as a bargaining agency recognizing the private ownership of industry as right and unchangeable. They saw the relations of capital and labor as a state of war.

Brissenden puts their main idea in a nutshell in his factually correct history of the movement: “The idea of the class conflict was really the bottom notion or ‘first cause’ of the IWW. The industrial union type was adopted because it would make it possible to wage this class war under more favorable conditions.” (The I.W.W: A Study of American Syndicalism, by Paul Frederick Brissenden, p. 108.)

The founders of the IWW regarded the organization of industrial unions as a means to an end; and the end they had in view was the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by a new social order. This, the heart and soul of their program, still awaits its vindication in the revolution of the American workers. And the revolution, when it arrives, will not neglect to acknowledge its anticipation at the Founding Convention of the IWW. For nothing less than the revolutionary goal of the workers’ struggle was openly proclaimed there 50 years ago.

The bold design was drawn by Bill Haywood, General Secretary of the Western Federation of Miners, who presided at the Founding Convention of the IWW. In his opening remarks, calling the convention to order, he said:

“This is the Continental Congress of the working class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism.” (Proceedings of the First Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, p. 1)

The trade unions today are beginning to catch up with the idea that Negroes are human beings, that they have a right to make a living and belong to a union. The IWW was 50 years ahead of them on this question, as on many others. Many of the old Gompers unions were lily-white job trusts, barring Negroes from membership and the right to employment in their jurisdictions. Haywood, in his opening speech, indignantly denounced the policy of those unions “affiliated with the A. F. of L., which in their constitution and by-laws prohibit the initiation of or conferring the obligation on a colored man.” He followed, in his speech at the public ratification meeting, with the declaration that the newly-launched organization “recognizes neither race, creed, color, sex or previous condition of servitude.” (Proceedings, p. 575.)

And he wound up with the prophetic suggestion that the American workers take the Russian path. He said he hoped to see the new movement “grow throughout this country until it takes in a great majority of the working people, and that those working people will rise in revolt against the capitalist system as the working class in Russia are doing today.” (Proceedings, p. 580.)

Debs said: “The supreme need of the hour is a sound, revolutionary working class organization … It must express the class struggle. It must recognize the class lines. It must, of course, be class conscious. It must be totally uncompromising. It must be an organization of the rank and file.” (Proceedings, pp. 144, 146.)

De Leon, for his part, said: “I have had but one foe — and that foe is the capitalist class … The ideal is the overthrow of the capitalist class.” (Proceedings, pp. 147, 149.)

De Leon, the thinker, was already projecting his thought beyond the overthrow of capitalism to “the form of the governmental administration of the Republic of Labor.” In a post-convention speech at Minneapolis on “The Preamble of the I.W.W.’’, he said that the industries, “regardless of former political boundaries, will be the constituencies of that new central authority the rough scaffolding of which was raised last week in Chicago. Where the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World will sit there will be the nation’s capital.” (Socialist Reconstruction of Society, by Daniel De Leon.)

The speeches of the others, and the official statement adopted by the Convention in the Preamble to the Constitution, followed the same line. The Preamble began with the flat affirmation of the class struggle: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” Following that it said: “Between these two classes a struggle must go on until all the workers come together on the political, as well as on the industrial field, and take and hold” the industries of the country.

These were the most uncompromising, the most unambiguous declarations of revolutionary intention ever issued in this country up to that time. The goal of socialism had been previously envisioned by others. But at the Founding Convention of the IWW the idea that it was to be realized through a struggle for power, and that the Power of the workers must be organized, was clearly formulated and nailed down.

The men of 1905 spoke truer than they knew, if only as anticipators of a historical work which still awaits its completion by others. Between that date of origin and the beginning of its decline after the First World War, the IWW wrote an inerasable record in action. But its place as a great progressive factor in American history is securely fixed by the brave and far-seeing pronouncements of its founding convention alone. The ideas were the seed of the action.

The IWW had its own forebears, for the revolutionary labor movement is an unbroken continuum. Behind the convention assembled in Chicago fifty years ago stood the Knights of Labor; the eight-hour movement led by the Haymarket martyrs; the great industrial union strike of the American Railway Union; the stormy battles of the Western Federation of Miners; and the two socialist political organizations — the old Socialist Labor Party and the newly-formed Socialist Party.

All these preceding endeavors were tributary to the first convention of the IWW, and were represented there by participants. Lucy Parsons, the widow and comrade-in-arms of the noble martyr, was a delegate, as was Mother Jones, the revered leader of the miners, the symbol of their hope and courage in trial and tribulation.

These earlier movements and struggles, rich and tragic experiences, had prepared the way for the Founding Convention of the IWW. But Debs was not far wrong when he said, in a speech a few months later: “The revolutionary movement of the working class will date from the year 1905, from the organization of the Industrial Workers of the World.” (Writings and Speeches of Eugene V. Debs, p. 226.)

An Organization of Revolutionists

The IWW set out to be an industrial union movement uniting all workers, regardless of any differences between them, on the simple proposition that all unions start with the defense of their immediate interests against the employers. As an industrial union, the IWW in its heyday led some memorable battles on the economic field, and set a pattern of organization and militant strike strategy for the later great struggles to build the CIO.

The CIO became possible only after and because the IWW had championed and popularized the program of industrial unionism in word and deed. That alone — the teaching and the example in the field of unionism — would be sufficient to establish the historical significance of the IWW as the initiator, the forerunner of the modern industrial unions, and thereby to justify a thousand times over all the effort and sacrifice put into it by so many people.

But the IWW was more than a union. It was also — at the same time — a revolutionary organization whose simple and powerful ideas inspired and activated the best young militants of its time, the flower of a radical generation. That, above all, is what clothes the name of the IWW in glory.

The true character of the IWW as a revolutionary organization was convincingly demonstrated in its first formative year, in the internal conflict which resulted in a split at its second convention. This split occurred over questions which are normally the concern of political parties rather than of unions. Charles 0. Sherman, the first general president of the IWW, was an exponent of the industrial-union form of organization. But that apparently was as far as he wanted to go, and it wasn’t far enough for those who took the revolutionary pronouncements of the First Convention seriously. They were not satisfied with lip service to larger principles.

When the Second Convention of the IWW assembled in Chicago in September, 1906, Haywood was in jail in Idaho awaiting trial for his life; and Debs, never a man for factionalism, was standing aside. Vincent St. John, himself a prominent figure in the Western Federation of Miners, and a member of its delegation to the Second Convention of the IWW, came forward as the leader of the anti-Sherman forces, in alliance with De Leon.

As is customary in factional fights, all kinds of secondary charges were thrown about. But St. John stated the real issue motivating him and his supporters in his own invariably forthright manner. This resolute man was on the warpath at the Second Convention because, as he said:

“The administration of the I. W. W. was in the hands of men who were not in accord with the revolutionary program of the organization … The struggle for control of the organization formed the second convention into two camps. The majority vote of the convention was in the revolutionary camp. The reactionary camp, having the Chairman, used obstructive tactics in their effort to gain control of the convention . . . The revolutionists cut this knot by abolishing the office of President and electing a chairman from among the revolutionists.” (The I.W.W: History, Structure and Method, by Vincent St. John.)

That action precipitated the split and consigned Sherman to a niche in history as a unique figure. He was the first, and is so far the only, union president on record to get dumped because he was not a revolutionist. There will be others, but Sherman’s name will live in history as the prototype.

This split at the Second Convention also resulted in the disaffiliation of the Western Federation of Miners, the only strongly organized union the IWW had had to start with. The other members of the WFM delegation, already turning to conservatism, supported Sherman in the split. But St. John, as was his nature and consistent practice, took his stand on principle.

Faced with a choice of affiliation between the widely advertised and well-heeled WFM, of which he was a paid officer, and the poverty-stricken, still obscure IWW, with its program and its principles, he unhesitatingly chose the latter. For him, as for all the others who counted in making IWW history, personal interests and questions of bread and butter unionism were secondary. The first allegiance was to revolutionary principle.

Sherman and his supporters, with the help of the police, seized the headquarters and held on to the funds of the organization, such as they were. St. John remarked that the newly elected officials “were obliged to begin work after the Second Convention without the equipment of so much as a postage stamp.” (Brissenden, p. 144.) The new administration under the leadership of St. John, who was thereafter to be the dominating influence in the organization for the next decade, had to start from scratch with very little in the way of tangible assets except the program and the ideal.

That, plus the indomitable spirit of Vincent St. John, proved to be enough to hold the shattered organization together. The Sherman faction, supported by the Western Federation of Miners, set up a rival organization. But it didn’t last long. The St. John wing prevailed in the post-convention conflict and proved itself to be the true IWW. But in the ensuing years it existed primarily, not as a mass industrial union of workers fighting for limited economic demands, but as a revolutionary organization proclaiming an all-out fight against the capitalist system.

As such, the IWW attracted a remarkable selection of young revolutionary militants to its banner. As a union, the organization led many strikes which swelled the membership momentarily. But after the strikes were over, whether won or lost, stable union organization was not maintained. After every strike, the membership settled down again to the die-hard cadre united on principle.

The Duality of the IWW

The IWW borrowed something from Marxism; quite a bit, in fact. Its two principal weapons — the doctrine of the class struggle and the idea that the workers must accomplish their own emancipation through their own organized power — came from this mighty arsenal. But for all that, the IWW was a genuinely indigenous product of its American environment, and its theory and practice ought to be considered against the background of the class struggle as it had developed up to that time in this country.

The experience of the American working class, which did not yet recognize itself as a distinct class, had been limited; and the generalizing thought, even of its best representatives, was correspondingly incomplete. The class struggle was active enough, but it had not yet developed beyond its primary stages. Conflicts had generally taken the form of localized guerrilla skirmishes, savagely conducted on both sides, between separate groups of workers and employers. The political power brought to bear on the side of the employers was mainly that of local authorities.

Federal troops had broken the ARU strike of the railroaders in ‘94 — “the Debs Rebellion,” as the hysterical press described it — and had also been called out against the metal miners in the West. But these were exceptional cases. The intervention of the federal government, as the executive committee of all the capitalists — the constant and predominant factor in capital-labor relations in modern times — was rarely seen in the local and sectional conflicts half a century ago. The workers generally made a distinction between local and federal authorities, in favor of the latter — as do the great majority, in a delayed hangover from earlier times, even to this day.

The all-embracing struggle of all the workers as a class, against the capitalist class as a whole, with political power in the nation as the necessary goal of the struggle, was not yet discernible to many when the IWW made its entrance in 1905. The pronouncements of the founders of the IWW, and all the subsequent actions proceeding from them, should be read in that light. The restricted and limited scope of the class struggle in America up to that time, from which their program was derived, makes their prevision of 50 years ago stand out as all the more remarkable.

In the situation of that time, with the class struggle of the workers still in its most elementary stages, and many of its complications and complexities not yet disclosed in action, the leaders of the IWW foresaw the revolutionary goal of the working class and aimed at one single, over-all formula for the organization of the struggle. Putting everything under one head, they undertook to build an organization which, as Vincent St. John, its chief leader and inspirer after the Second Convention, expressed it, would be “all-sufficient for the workers’ needs.” One Big Union would do it all. There was an appealing power in the simplicity of this formula, but also a weakness — a contradiction — which experience was to reveal.

One of the most important contradictions of the IWW, implanted at its first convention and never resolved, was the dual role it assigned to itself. Not the least of the reasons for the eventual failure of the IWW — as an organization — was its attempt to be both a union of all workers and a propaganda society of selected revolutionists — in essence a revolutionary party. Two different tasks and functions, which, at a certain stage of development, require separate and distinct organizations, were assumed by the IWW alone; and this duality hampered its effectiveness in both fields. All that, and many other things, are clearer now than they were then to the leading militants of the IWW — or anyone else in this country.

The IWW announced itself as an all-inclusive union; and any worker ready for organization on an everyday union basis was invited to join, regardless of his views and opinions on any other question. In a number of instances, in times of organization campaigns and strikes in separate localities, such all-inclusive membership was attained, if only for brief periods. But that did not prevent the IWW agitators from preaching the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism in every strike meeting.

The strike meetings of the IWW were in truth “schools for socialism.” The immediate issues of the strike were the take-off point for an exposition of the principle of the class struggle, for a full-scale indictment of the capitalist system all up and down the line, and the projection of a new social order of the free and equal.

The professed “non-political” policy of the IWW doesn’t stand up very well against its actual record in action. The main burden of its energies was devoted to agitation and propaganda — in soap-box speeches, press, pamphlets and songbooks — against the existing Social order; to defense campaigns in behalf of imprisoned workers; and to free-speech fights in numerous localities. All these activities were in the main, and in the proper meaning of the term, Political.

The IWW at all times, even during strikes embracing masses of church-going, ordinarily conservative workers, acted as an organization of revolutionists. The “real IWW’s,” the year-round activists, were nicknamed Wobblies — just when and why nobody knows — and the criterion of the Wobbly was his stand on the principle of the class struggle and its revolutionary goal; and his readiness to commit his whole life to it.

In truth, the IWW in its time of glory was neither a union nor a party in the full meaning of these terms, but something of both, with some parts missing. It was an uncompleted anticipation of a Bolshevik party, lacking its rounded-out theory, and a projection of the revolutionary industrial unions of the future, minus the necessary mass membership. It was the IWW.

Vincent St. John

The second split of the IWW, which broke off De Leon and SLP elements at the Fourth (1908) Convention, likewise occurred over a doctrinal question. The issue this time was “political action” or, more correctly, conflicting conceptions of working class action in the class struggle which — properly understood — is essentially political.

The real purpose of the split was to free the IWW from the Socialist Labor Party’s ultra-legalistic, narrowly restricted and doctrinaire conception of “political action” at the ballot box; and to clear the way for the St. John conception of overthrowing capitalism by the “direct action” of the organized workers. This, by a definition which was certainly arbitrary and inexact, was declared to be completely “non-political.”

In a negative gesture, the 1908 Convention merely threw the “political clause” out of the Preamble. Later, going overboard, the IWW explicitly disavowed “politics” altogether, and political parties along with it. The origin of this trend is commonly attributed to the influence of French syndicalism. That is erroneous; although the IWW later imported some phrasemongering anti-political radicalism from Europe, to its detriment. Brissenden is correct when he says:

“The main ideas of I.W.W.-ism — certainly of the I.W.W.-ism of the first few years after 1905 — were of American origin, not French, as is commonly supposed. These sentiments were brewing in France, it is true, in the early nineties, but they were brewing also in this country and the American brew was essentially different from the French. It was only after 1908 that the syndicalisme révolutionnaire of France had any direct influence on the revolutionary industrial unionist movement here.” (Brissenden, p. 53.)

The IWW brand of syndicalism, which its proponents insisted on calling “industrialism,” never acknowledged French origination, and had no reason to. The IWW doctrine was sui generis, a native product of the American soil. And so was its chief author, Vincent St. John. St. John, as all the old-timers knew, was the man most responsible for shaping the character of the IWW in its heroic days. His public reputation was dimmed beside the glittering name of Bill Haywood, and this has misled the casual student of IWW history. But Vincent St. John was the organizer and leader of the cadres.

Haywood himself was a great man, worthy of his fame. He presided at the Founding Convention, and his magnificent utterances there have already been quoted in the introductory paragraphs of this article. The “Big Fellow” conducted himself as a hero of labor in his celebrated trial in Idaho, and again called himself thunderously to public attention in the great IWW strikes at Lawrence, Paterson and Akron. In 1914 he took over from St. John the office of General Secretary of the IWW, and thereafter stood at its head through all the storms of the war and the persecution. There is historical justice in the public identification of Bill Haywood’s name with that of the IWW, as its personification.

But in the years 1906-1914, the years when the character of the IWW was fixed, and its basic cadres assembled, it was Vincent St. John who led the movement and directed all its operations. The story of the IWW would not be complete and would not be true if this chapter were omitted.

St. John, like Haywood, was a miner, a self-educated man who had come up to national prominence the hard way, out of the violent class battles of the western mining war. If “The Saint,” as all his friends called him, borrowed something from the writings of others, and foreigners at that, he was scarcely aware of it. He was not a man of books; his school was his own experience and observation, and his creed was action.

He had learned what he knew, which was quite a lot, mainly from life and his dealings with people, and he drew his conclusions from that.

This empiricism was his strength and his weakness. As an executive leader in practical situations he was superb, full of ideas — “enough to patch hell a mile” — and ready for action to apply them. In action he favored the quick, drastic decision, the short cut. This propensity had yielded rich results in his work as a field leader of the Western Federation of Miners. He was widely renowned, in the western mining camps and his power was recognized by friend and foe. Brissenden quotes a typical report about him by a mine-owners’ detective agency in 1906:

“St. John has given the mine owners of the [Colorado mining] district more trouble in the past year than any twenty men up there. If left undisturbed he would have the entire district organized in another year.”

In dealing with people — “handling men,” as they used to say — Vincent St. John had no equal that I ever knew. He “sized up” men with a quick insight, compounded of simplicity and guile, spotting and sifting out the phonies and the dabblers — you had to be serious to get along with The Saint — and putting the others to work in his school of learning by doing, and getting the best out of them.

“Experience,” “decision” and “action” were the key words in St. John’s criteria. He thought a man was what he did. It was commonplace for him to pass approving judgment on an organizer with the remark, “He has had plenty of experience,” or “He’ll be all right when he gets more experience.” And once I heard him say, with a certain reservation, of another who was regarded as a corner in the organization: “He’s a good speaker, but I don’t know how much decision he has.” In his vocabulary “experience” meant tests under fire. “Decision’ meant the capacity to think and act at the same time; to do what had to be done right off the bat, with no “philosophizing” or fooling around.

St. John’s positive qualities as a man of decision and action were contagious; like attracted like and he created an organization in his own image. He was not a back-slapper but a leader, with the reserve that befits a leader, and he didn’t win men by argument alone. In fact, he was a man of few words. The Saint lived his ideas and methods. He radiated sincerity and integrity, and unselfishness free from taint or ostentation. The air was clean in his presence.

The young men who fought under his command — a notable cadre in their time — swore by The Saint. They trusted him. They felt that he was their friend, that he cared for them and that they could always get a square deal from him, or a little better, as long as they were on the square with the organization. John S. Gambs, in his book, The Decline of the I.W.W, a postscript to Brissenden’s history, remarks: “I have heard it said that St. John, among outstanding leaders, was the best loved and most completely trusted official the I. W. W. have ever had.” He heard it right.

The IWW, as it evolved under the influence of St. John, scornfully rejected the narrow concept of “political action” as limited to parliamentary procedures. St. John understood the class struggle as a ruthless struggle for power. Nothing less and no other way would do; he was as sure of that as Lenin was. He judged socialist “politics” and political parties by the two examples before his eyes — the Socialist Party bossed by Berger and Hillquit and the Socialist Labor Party of De Leon — and he didn’t like either of them.

That attitude was certainly right as far as it went. Berger was a small-bore socialist opportunist; and Hillquit, although slicker and more sophisticated, wasn’t much better. He merely supplied a little radical phraseology to shield the cruder Bergerism from the attacks of the left.

De Leon, of course, was far superior to these pretentious pygmies; he towered above them. But De Leon, with all his great merits and capacities; with his exemplary selflessness and his complete and unconditional dedication to the workers’ cause; with the enemies he made, for which he is entitled to our love and admiration — with all that, De Leon was sectarian in his tactics, and his conception of political action was rigidly formalistic, and rendered sterile by legalistic fetishism.

In my opinion, St. John was completely right in his hostility to Berger-Hillquit, and more than half right in his break with De Leon. His objections to the parliamentary reformism of Berger-Hillquit and the ultra-legalism of the SLP contained much that must now be recognized as sound and correct. The error was in the universal opposition, based on these poor and limited examples, to all “politics” and all political parties. The flaw in his conceptions was in their incompleteness, which left them open, first to exaggeration and then to a false turn.

St. John’s cultivated bent to learn from his own limited and localized experience and observations in life rather than from books, and to aim at simple solutions in direct action, deprived him of the benefits of a more comprehensive theory generalized by others from the world-wide experiences of the class struggle. And this was true in general of the IWW as a movement. Over-simplification placed some crippling limitations on its general conceptions which, in their eventual development, in situations that were far from simple, were to prove fatal for the IWW. But this took time. It took the First World War and the Russian Revolution to reveal in full scope the incompleteness of the governing thought of the IWW.

The Long Detour

The IWW’s disdain for parliamentarism, which came to be interpreted as a rejection of all “politics” and political organizations, was not impressed on a body of members with blank minds. The main activities of the IWW, in fields imposed upon it by the conditions of the time, almost automatically yielded recruits whose own tendencies and predilections had been shaped along the same lines by their own experiences.

The IWW plan of organization was made to order for modern mass production industry in the eastern half of the country, where the main power of the workers was concentrated. But the power of the exploiting class was concentrated there too, and organizing the workers against the entrenched corporations was easier said than done.

The IWW program of revolution was designed above all to express the implicit tendency of the main mass of the basic proletariat in the trustified industries of the East. The chance for a wage worker to change his class status and become an independent proprietor or a small farmer was far less alluring there than on the western frontier, where such class transmigrations still could, and in many cases actually did, take place. If the logic of the class struggle had worked out formally — as it always does in due time — those workers in the industrial centers east of the Mississippi should have been the most class conscious and the most receptive to the IWW appeal.

But that’s not the way things worked out in practice in the time when the IWW was making its strongest efforts. The organization never succeeded in establishing stable unions among the workers in modern machine industry in the industrially developed East. On the contrary, its predominant activity expanded along the lines of least resistance on the peripheral western fringes of the country, which at that time were still under construction. The IWW found a readier response to its appeal and recruited its main cadres among the marginal and migratory workers in that region.

This apparent anomaly — which is really nothing more than the time lag between reality and consciousness — has been seen many times in international experience. Those workers most prepared for socialism by industrial development are not always the first to recognize it.

The revolutionary movement recruits first, not where it chooses but where it can, and uses the first recruits as the cadres of the organization and the carriers of the doctrine. Marxist socialism, the logical and necessary answer to developed capitalism, got its poorest start and was longest delayed in England, the pre-eminent center of world capitalism in the time of Marx and Engels, while it flourished in Germany before its great industrialization. The same Marxism, as developed by Lenin in the actual struggle for power — under the nickname of Bolshevism — is the program par excellence for America, the most advanced capitalist country; but it scored its first victory in industrially backward Russia.

The economic factor eventually predominates, and the class struggle runs its logical course everywhere — but only in the long run, not in a straight line. The class struggle of the workers in all its manifestations, from the most elementary action of a union organization up to the revolution, breaks the chain of capitalist resistance at the weakest link.

So it was in the case of the IWW. Simply having the right form of organization did not provide the IWW with the key to quick victory in the trustified industries. The founders, at the 1905 Convention, had noted and emphasized the helplessness of obsolete craft unionism in this field; that was their stated motivation for proposing the industrial union form of organization. But, for a long time, the same concentrated power that had broken up the old craft unions in modern industry was also strong enough to prevent their replacement by new unions in the industrial form.

The meager success of the IWW in establishing revolutionary industrial unions in their natural habitat was not due to lack of effort. Time and again the IWW tried to crack the trustified industries, including steel, but was beaten back every time. All the heroic attempts of the IWW to organize in this field were isolated and broken up at the start.

The employers fought the new unionism in dead earnest. Against the program of the IWW and its little band of agitators, they brought up the heavy guns of their financial resources; public opinion moulded in their favor by press and pulpit; their private armies of labor spies and thugs; and, always and everywhere, the police power of that “political state” which the IWW didn’t want to recognize.

In all the most militant years of the IWW the best it could accomplish in modern mass production industry were localized strikes, nearly all of which were defeated. The victorious Lawrence textile strike of 1912, which established the national fame of the IWW, was the glorious exception. But no stable and permanent union organization was ever maintained anywhere in the East for any length of time — not even in Lawrence.

From the formulation of the industrial union program of the IWW at the 1905 Convention to its eventual realization in life in the mass production industries, there was a long rough road with a wide detour. It took 30 years of propaganda and trial-and-error effort, and then a mass upheaval of volcanic power generated by an unprecedented economic crisis, before the fortresses of mass production industry could be stormed and conquered by industrial unionism. But the time for such an invincible mass revolt had not yet come when the IWW first sounded the call and launched its pioneering campaigns.

Meantime, defeated and repulsed in the industrialized East, where the workers were not yet ready for organization and the corporations were more than ready to prevent it, the IWW found its best response and concentrated its main activity in the West. It scored some successes and built up an organization primarily among the seasonal and migratory workers there.

The Wobblies as They Were

There was no such thing as “full employment” in the time of the IWW. The economic cycle ran its normal ten-year course, with its periodic crises and depressions, producing a surplus labor army squeezed out of industry in the East. Unemployment rose and fell with the turns of the cycle, but was always a permanent feature of the times. An economic crisis in 1907 and a serious depression in 1913-1914 swelled the army of the jobless.

Many of the unemployed workers, especially the young, took to the road, as those of another generation were to do again in the Thirties. The developing West had need of a floating labor force, and the supply drifted toward the demand. A large part of the mobile labor population in the West at that time, perhaps a majority, originated in the eastern half of the continent. Their conditions of life were pretty rough.

They were not the most decisive section of the working class; that resided, then as now, in the industrial centers of the eastern half of the continent. But these migrants, wherever they came from, responded most readily to the IWW program for a drastic change in the social order.

The IWW was right at home among footloose workers who found casual employment in the harvest fields — traveling by freight train to follow the ripening of the grain, then back by freight train again to the transportation centers for any kind of work they could find there; railroad construction workers, shipping out for temporary jobs and then shipping back to the cities into unemployment again; lumberjacks, metal miners, seamen, etc., who lived in insecurity and worked, when they worked, under the harshest, most primitive conditions.

This narrow stratum of the unsettled and least privileged workers came to make up the bulk of the membership of the IWW. It was often said among the Wobblies, only half facetiously, that the name of their organization, “Industrial Workers of the World,” should be changed to ‘Migratory Workers of the World.”

The American political system offered no place for the participation of this floating labor force of the expanding West. Very little provision of any kind was made for them. They were overlooked in the whole scheme of things. They lacked the residential qualifications to vote in elections and enjoyed few of the rights of political democracy accorded to settled citizens with a stake in their community. They were the dispossessed, the homeless outcasts, without roots or a stake any place in society, and with nothing to lose.

Since they had no right to vote anyway, it took little argument to persuade them that “political action” — at the ballot box was a delusion and a snare. They had already been convinced, by their own harsh experiences, that it would take more than paper ballots to induce the exploiters to surrender their swollen privileges. The IWW, with its bold and sweeping program of revolution by direct action, spoke their language and they heard it gladly.

The IWW became for them their one all-sufficient organization — their union and their party; their social center; their home; their family; their school; and in a manner of speaking, their religion, without the supernatural trimmings — the faith they lived by. Some of Joe Hill’s finest songs, it should be remembered, were derisive parodies of the religious hymns of the IWW’s rivals in the fight for the souls of the migratory workers milling around in the congested Skid Row sections of the western and mid-western cities.

These were not the derelicts who populate the present day version of the old Skid Row. For the greater part, they were the young and venturesome, who had been forced out of the main industries in more settled communities, or had wandered away from them in search of opportunity and adventure. They had been badly bruised and beaten, but not conquered. They had the courage and the will to fight for an alleviation of their own harsh conditions.

But when they enlisted in the IWW it meant far more to them than joining a union to promote a picayune program of immediate personal needs. The IWW proclaimed that by solidarity they could win everything. It gave them a vision of a new world and inspired them to fight for the general good of the whole working class.

These footloose workers, recruited by the propaganda and action of the IWW, became the carriers of its great, profoundly simple message wherever they traveled — the message expressed in the magic words: Solidarity, Workers’ Power, One Big Union and Workers’ Emancipation. Wherever they went, they affirmed their conviction that “there is power in a band of working men,” as stated in the singing words of Joe Hill — “a power that must rule in every land.”

They felt themselves to be — as indeed they were — the advance guard of an emancipating army. But it was an advance guard separated from the main body of troops in concentrated industry, separated and encircled, and compelled to wage guerrilla actions while awaiting reinforcements from the main army of the proletariat in the East. It was a singing movement, with confidence in its mission. When the Wobblies sang out the swelling chorus of “Hold the Fort,” they “heard the bugles blow” and really believed that “by our union we shall triumph over every foe.”

Recruits enlisted in the main from this milieu soon came to make up the main cadres of the IWW; to provide its shock troops in all Its battles, East and West; and to impress their own specific ideology upon it — the ideology which was in part ‘he developed result of their own experiences, and in part derived from teachings of the IWW. These teachings seemed to formulate and systematize their own tendencies. That’s why they accepted them so readily.

Many a worker recruited to the IWW under those conditions was soon on the move again, carrying his red card and his newly found convictions with him and transmitting them to others. All the progressive and radical sections of the labor movement were heavily influenced by the IWW in the years preceding the First World War.

The left-wing socialists were ardent sympathizers of the IWW, and quite a few of them were members. The same was true in large measure of the more militant trade unionists in the AFL. “Two-card men” were fairly numerous — those who belonged to the AFL unions for bread and butter reasons and carried the “red card” of the IWW for the sake of principle.

The IWW struck a spark in the heart of youth as no other movement in this country, before or since, has done. Young idealists from “the winds’ four quarters” came to the IWW and gave it all they had. The movement had its gifted strike leaders, organizers and orators, its poets and its martyrs.

By the accumulated weight of its unceasing propagandistic efforts, and by the influence of its heroic actions on many occasions which were sensationally publicized, the IWW eventually permeated a whole generation of American radicals, of all shades and affiliations, with its concept of industrial unionism as the best form for the organization of workers’ power and its program for a revolutionary settlement of the class struggle.

It was a long way from the pioneer crusade of the IWW among the dispossessed migratory workers on the western frontier, in the second decade of our century, to the invincible picket lines and sit-down strikes of the mass production workers in the eastern centers of concentrated industry, in the Thirties. A long way and not a straight one. But that’s the route over which the message of industrial unionism eventually reached those places where it was most applicable and could eventually explode with the greatest power.

The Turning Point

The whole record of the IWW — or at any rate, the best part of it, the positive revolutionary part — was all written in propaganda and action in its first 15 years. That is the enduring story. The rest is anti-climax.

The turning point came with the entrance of the United States into the First World War in the spring of 1917, and the Russian Revolution in the same year. Then “politics,” which the IWW had disavowed and cast out, came back and broke down the door.

These two events — again coinciding in Russia and America, as in 1905 — demonstrated that “political action” was not merely a matter of the ballot box, subordinate to the direct conflict of the unions and employers on the economic field, but the very essence of the class struggle. In opposing actions of two different classes the “political state,” which the IWW had thought to ignore, was revealed as the centralized power of the ruling class; and the holding of the state power showed in each case which class was really ruling.

From one side, this was shown when the Federal Government of the United States intervened directly to break up the concentration points of the IWW by wholesale arrests of its activists. The “political action” of the capitalist state broke the back of the IWW as a union. The IWW was compelled to transform its principal activities into those of a defense organization, striving by legal methods and propaganda, to protect the political and civil rights of its members against the depredations of the capitalist state power.

From the other side, the same determining role of political action was demonstrated positively by the Russian Revolution. The Russian workers took the state power into their own hands and used that power to expropriate the capitalists and suppress all attempts at counter-revolution. That, in fact, was the first stage of the Revolution, the pre-condition for all that was to follow. Moreover, the organizing and directing center of the victorious Revolution had turned out to be, not an all-inclusive union, but a party of selected revolutionists united by a program and bound by discipline.

The time had come for the IWW to remember Haywood’s prophetic injunction at the Founding Convention in 1905: that the American workers should look to Russia and follow the Russian example. By war and revolution, the most imperative of all authorities, the IWW was put on notice to bring its theoretical conceptions up to date; to think and learn, and change a little.

First indications were that this would be done; the Bolshevik victory was hailed with enthusiasm by the members of the IWW. In their first reaction, it is safe to say, they saw in it the completion and vindication of their own endeavors. But this first impulse was not followed through.

Some of the leading Wobblies, including Haywood himself, tried to learn the lessons of the war and the Russian Revolution and to adjust their thinking to them. But the big majority, after several years of wavering, went the other way. That sealed the doom of the IWW. Its tragic failure to look, listen and learn from the two great events condemned it to defeat and decay.

The governing role of theory here asserted itself supremely, and in short order. While the IWW was settling down in ossification, converting its uncompleted conceptions about the real meaning of political action and political parties into a sterile anti-political dogma, the thinking of others was catching up with reality, with the great new things happening in the world. The others, the young left-wing socialists, soon to call themselves Communists, lacked the battle-tested cadres of the IWW. But they had the correct program. That proved to be decisive.

The newly formed Communist Party soon outstripped the IWW and left it on the sidelines. It was all decided within the space of two or three years. By the time of its fifteenth anniversary in 1920 the IWW had already entered the irreversible road of decline. Its strength was spent. Most of its cadres, the precious human material selected and sifted out in heroic struggle, went down with the organization. They had borne persecution admirably, but the problems raised by it, and by all the great new events, overwhelmed them. The best militants fell into inactivity and then dropped out. The second-raters took over and completed the wreck and the ruin.

The failure of the main cadres of the IWW to become integrated in the new movement for the Communist Party in this country, inspired by the Russian Revolution, was a historical miscarriage which might have been prevented.

In action the IWW had been the most militant, the most revolutionary section of the workers’ vanguard in this country. The IWW, while calling itself a union, was much nearer to Lenin’s conception of a party of professional revolutionists than any other organization calling itself a party at that time. In their practice, and partly also in their theory, the Wobblies were closer to Lenin’s Bolsheviks than any other group in this country.

There should have been a fusion. But, in a fast-moving situation, a number of untoward circumstances, combined with the inadequacy of the American communist leadership, barred the way.

The failure of the IWW to find a place in the new movement assembling under the banner of the Russian Revolution, was not the fault of the Russians. They recognized the IWW as a rightful part of the movement they represented and made repeated attempts to include it in the new unification of forces. The first manifesto of the Communist International specified the American IWW as one of the organizations invited to join. Later, in 1920, the Executive Committee of the Communist International addressed a special Open Letter to the IWW, inviting its cooperation.

The letter explained, in the tone of brothers speaking to brothers, that the revolutionary parliamentarism of the Communist International had nothing in common with the ballotbox fetishism and piddling reformism of the right-wing socialists. Haywood says of that letter: “After I had finished reading it I called Ralph Chaplin over to my desk and said to him: ‘Here is what we have been dreaming about; here is the I.W.W. all feathered out!’” (Bill Haywood’s Book, p. 360.)

In war-time France Trotsky had found his best friends and closest collaborators in the fight against the war among the syndicalists. After the Russian Revolution, in a notable series of letters, published later as a pamphlet, he urged them to join forces with the communists. The theses adopted by the Communist International at its Second Congress recognized the progressive and revolutionary side of pre-war syndicalism, and said it represented a step forward from the ideology of the Second International. The theses attempted to explain at the same time, in the most patient and friendly manner, the errors and limitations of syndicalism on the question of the revolutionary party and its role.

Perhaps the chief circumstance operating against a patient and fruitful discussion, and an orderly transition of the IWW to the higher ground of Bolshevism, was the furious persecution of the IWW at the time. When the Russian Revolution erupted in the victory in November, 1917, hundreds of the IWW activists were held in jail under excessive bail, awaiting trial. Following their conviction a year later, they were sentenced to long terms in the Federal Penitentiary.

This inprisonment cut them off from contact with the great new events, and operated against the free exchange of ideas which might have resulted in an agreement and fusion with the dynamically developing left-wing socialist movement headed toward the new Communist Party. The IWW as an organization was compelled to divert its entire activities into its campaign to provide legal defense for its victimized members. The members of the organization had little time or thought for other things, including the one all-important thing — the assimilation of the lessons of the war and the Russian Revolution.

Despite that, a number of IWW men heard the new word from Russia and followed it. They recognized in Bolshevism the rounding out and completion of their own revolutionary conceptions, and joined the Communist Party. Haywood expressed their trend of thought succinctly, in an interview with Max Eastman, published in The Liberator, April, 1921.

“’I feel as if I’d always been there,’ he said to me. ‘You remember I used to say that all we needed was fifty thousand real I.W.W.’s, and then about a million members to back them up? Well, isn’t that a similar idea? At least I always realized that the essential thing was to have an organization of those who know.’”

As class-conscious men of action, the Wobblies, “the real IWW’s,” had always worked together as a body to influence the larger mass. Their practice contained the essential idea of the Leninist conception of the relation between the party and the class. The Bolsheviks, being men of theory in all their action, formulated it more precisely and developed it to its logical conclusion in the organization of those class-conscious elements into a party of their own.

All that seemed clear to me at the time, and I had great hopes that at least a large section of the Wobblies would recognize it. I did all I could to convince them. I made especially persistent efforts to convince Vincent St. John himself, and almost succeeded; I didn’t know how close I had come until later, when it was too late.

When he was released from the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth on bond — I think it was in the early part of 1919 — The Saint stopped over in Kansas City and visited me. We talked about the Russian Revolution night and day. I believe he was as sympathetic at that time as I was. The revolution was an action — and that’s what he believed in. But he had not yet begun to grapple with the idea that the Russian way would be applicable to this country, and that the IWW would have to recognize it.

His hostility to a “party” and “politicians,” based on what he had seen of such things in this country, was the fixed obstacle. I noted, however, that he did not argue back, but mainly listened to what I had to say. A year or so later we had several other discussions in New York, when he was still out on bail before he was returned to prison in the fall of 1921. We talked a great deal on those occasions; or rather, I did, and The Saint listened.

In addition to my proselytizing zeal for communism in those days, I had a strong personal motivation for trying to win over Vincent St. John to the new movement. Coming from the syndicalistic background of the IWW, with its strong anti-intellectual emphasis, I had been plunged up to my neck in the internal struggles of the young Communist Party and association with its leading people. They were nearly all young intellectuals, without any experience or feel for the mass movement and the “direct action” of the class struggle. I was not very much at home in that milieu; I was lonesome for people of my own kind.

I had overcome my own “anti-intellectualism” to a considerable extent; but I knew for sure that the Communist Party would never find its way to the mass movement of the workers with a purely intellectualistic leadership. I was looking for reinforcements for a proletarian counter-balance on the other side, and I thought that if I could win over St. John it would make a big difference. In fact, I knew it.

I remember the occasion when I made the final effort with The Saint. The two of us went together to have dinner and spend the night as guests of Carlo Tresca and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn at their cottage on Staten Island beach. We spent very little time looking at the ocean, although that was the first time I had ever seen it. All through the dinner hour, and nearly all through the night, we discussed my thesis that the future belonged to the Communist Party; and that the IWW militants should not abandon the new party to the intellectuals, but come into it and help to shape its proletarian character.

As in the previous discussions, I did practically all the talking. The Saint listened, as did the others. There was no definite conclusion to the long discussion; neither expressed rejection nor acceptance of my proposals. But I began to feel worn-out with the effort and let it go at that.

A short time later St. John returned to Chicago. The officials in charge of the IWW center there were hostile to communism and were embroiled in some bitter quarrels with a pro-communist IWW group in Chicago. I don’t know what the immediate occasion was, but St. John was drawn into the conflict and took a stand with the anti-communist group. Then, as was natural for him in any kind of a crisis, once he had made up his mind he took charge of the situation and began to steer the organization definitely away from cooperation with the communists.

Years later — in 1926 — when Elizabeth Gurley Flynn herself finally came over to the Communist Party and was working with us in the International Labor Defense, she recalled that night’s discussion on Staten Island and said: “Did you know you almost convinced The Saint that night? If you had tried a little harder you might have won him over.” I hadn’t known it; and when she told me that, I was deeply sorry that I had not tried just “a little harder.”

The Saint was crowding 50 at that time, and jail and prison had taken their toll. He was a bit tired, and he may have felt that it was too late to start over again in a new field where he, like all of us, had much to learn. Whatever the reason for the failure, I still look back on it regretfully. Vincent St. John, and the IWW militants he would have brought along, could have made a big difference in everything that went on in the CP in the Twenties.

The Heritage

The eventual failure of the IWW to remain true to its original self, and to claim its own heritage, does not invalidate its great contributions in propaganda and action to the revolutionary movement which succeeds it. The IWW in its best days was more right than wrong, and all that was right remains the permanent acquisition of the American workers. Even some of the IWW propositions which seemed to be wrong — only because the times were not ripe for their full realization — will rind their vindication in the coming period.

The IWW’s conception of a Republic of Labor, based on occupational representation, replacing the present political state with its territorial form of representation, was a remarkable prevision of the course of development which must necessarily follow from the victory of the workers in this country. This new and different form of social organization was projected at the Founding Convention of the IWW even before the Russian Bolsheviks had recognized the Workers’ Councils, which had arisen spontaneously in the 1905 Revolution, as the future governmental form.

The IWW program of industrial unionism was certainly right, although it came too early for fulfillment under the IWW banner. This has already been proved to the hilt in the emergence and consolidation of the CIO.

The IWW theory of revolutionary unionism likewise came too early for general acceptance in the epoch of ascending capitalism in this country. It could not be realized on a wide scale in the time of the IWW. But re rmist unions, in the present epoch of imperialist decay, have already become anachronistic and are confronted with an ultimatum from history to change their character or cease to be.

The mass industrial unions of workers, by the fact of their existence, instinctively strive toward socialism. With a capitalist minded leadership, they are a house divided against itself, half slave and half free. That cannot stand. The stage is being set for the transformation of the reformist unions into revolutionary unions, as they were projected by the IWW half a century ago.

The great contradiction of the labor movement today is the disparity between the mass unions with their organized millions and the revolutionary party which still remains only a nucleus, and their separation from each other. The unity of the vanguard and the class, which the IWW tried to achieve in one organization, was shattered because the time was not ripe and the formula was inadequate. The time is now approaching when this antithetic separation must give way to a new synthesis.

This synthesis — the unity of the class and the socialist vanguard — will be arrived at in the coming period in a different way from that attempted by the IWW. It will not be accomplished by a single organization. The building of a separate party organization of the socialist vanguard is the key to the resolution of the present contradiction of the labor movement. This will not be a barrier to working class unity but the necessary condition for it.

The working class can be really united only when it becomes a class for itself, consciously righting the exploiters as a class. The ruling bureaucrats, who preach and practice class collaboration, constitute in effect a pro-capitalist party in the trade unions. The party of the socialist vanguard represents the consciousness of the class. Its organization signifies not a split of the class movement of the workers, but a division of labor within it, to facilitate and effectuate its unification on a revolutionary basis; that is, as a class for itself.

As an organization of revolutionists, united not simply by the immediate economic interests which bind all workers together in a union, but by doctrine and program, the IWW was in practice, if not in theory, far ahead of other experiments along this line in its time, even though the IWW called itself a union and others called themselves parties.

That was the IWW’s greatest contribution to the American labor movement — in the present stage of its development and in those to come. Its unfading claim to grateful remembrance will rest in the last analysis on the pioneering role it played as the first great anticipation of the revolutionary party which the vanguard of the American workers will fashion to organize and lead their emancipating revolution.

This conception of an organization of revolutionists has to be completed and rounded out, and recognized as the most essential, the most powerful of all designs in the epoch of imperialist decline and decay, which can be brought to an end only by a victorious workers’ revolution. The American revolution, more than any other, will require a separate, special organization of the revolutionary vanguard. And it must call itself by its right name, a party.

The experimental efforts of the IWW along this line remain part of the permanent capital of those who are undertaking to build such a party. They will not discard or discount the value of their inheritance from the old IWW; but they will also supplement it by the experience and thought of others beyond our borders.

The coming generation, which will have the task of bringing the class struggle to its conclusion — fulfilling the “historic mission of the working class,” as the “Preamble” described it — will take much from the old leaders of the IWW — Debs, Haywood, De Leon and St. John, and will glorify their names. But in assimilating all the huge experiences since their time, they will borrow even more heavily from the men who generalized these experiences into a guiding theory. The Americans will go to school to the Russians, as the Russians went to school to the Germans, Marx and Engels.

Haywood’s advice at the Founding Convention of the IWW still holds good. The Russian way is the way to our American future, to the future of the whole world. The greatest thinkers of the international movement since Marx and Engels, and also the greatest men of action, were the Russian Bolsheviks. The Russian Revolution is there to prove it, ruling out all argument. That revolution still stands as the example; all the perversions and betrayals of Stalinism cannot change that.

The Russian Bolsheviks — Lenin and Trotsky in the first place — have inspired every forward step taken by the revolutionary vanguard in this country since 1917. And it is to them that the American workers will turn for guidance in the next stages of their evolving struggle for emancipation. The fusion of their “Russian” ideas with the inheritance of the IWW is the American workers’ prescription for victory.

Los Angeles, June, 1955.

For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!

Zionist Cops Murder Arab Strikers

For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!

[reprinted from Workers Vanguard #105, 16 April 1976]

APRIL 12–The March 30 general strike in the Galilee, initiated by the Communist Party of Israel (Rakah) to protest Zionist plans for the confiscation of 5,000 acres of Arab land for new Jewish settlements, was viciously repressed. Newspaper headlines around the world announced that six Arabs had been killed, while 50 others were seriously injured and 300 arrested.

One of those murdered was a 15-year-old boy shot dead near Kfar Kana. For no other reason than malicious terrorizing, the home of Zayad Tewflik, the Rakah mayor of Nazareth was ransacked by Israeli troops. (Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel.)

To the north, in the town of Sakhnin, three men were murdered. Some 10,000 mourners from 36 villages and towns attended their funeral the following day. With raised fists they chanted, “With spirit and blood, we shall free Galilee!” After ten years of supposed civilian administration, military occupation has now returned to Galilee. The whole world is reminded that Arab Galilee (part of Israel since its birth), just as the Arab West Bank (which was conquered in the 1967 “Six Day War”), is “occupied territory.”

Israeli Settlements on the West Bank

A major caused the protest in Galileo was Zionist confiscation of Arab land (see “Blow-up in the Near East,” WV No. 102, 26 March 1976). In the West Bank this often takes the form of “spontaneous” settlements established by ultra-Orthodox Jews. With consum¬mate hypocrisy–believed by no one–Israel formally disclaims annexationist appetites toward the West Bank and makes token protests about the settlements. However, once a settlement is established, the Israeli government is quite obliging with material and military aid.

The only real difference within the government is whether to absorb the entire West Bank–the position of the National Religious Party (NRP) and defense minister Peres–or simply to annex a strategic strip along the bank of the Jordan River (the 1967 Allon Plan, named after the current foreign minister). The self-proclaimed “left-wing” Zionists of Mapam, who on paper oppose all annexation, threaten to leave the government if the settlements are not removed. The ultra-Orthodox NRP, in turn, threatens to leave the government if the settlements are not fully supported. As usual, the main government party. Mapai, to which both Peres and Alton belong, gives in to the NRP, while the Mapam, also as usual, capitulates to the Mapai. Thus the fragile coalition government survives and the settlements multiply. Already there are a total of 55, with 8,000 inhabitants.

One of the earliest was Kiryat Arba near Hebron. In 1968 a rabbi rented rooms in the area, ostensibly for Passover services. But the rabbi and his followers remained after Passover, defying expulsion orders. After a phony “confrontation” with the Zionist government, they were “temporarily” housed in an army camp and then provided with building materials. Now Kiryat Arba is an established community which numbers 1,500 on the outskirts of Hebron.

Kiryat Arba settlers periodically go into the neighboring Arab town and terrorize its inhabitants, often with weapons supplied by the Israeli army and attack dogs. (To be attacked by dogs is a special humiliation for Muslims.) Consequently, Arab protests have been particularly bitter in Hebron. A recent account by the Jerusalem Post (23 March) highlights the collaboration between settlers and the Israeli army:

“Kiryat Arba settlers went into Hebron, chased Arab stone throwers through alleys, beat them up and handed 50 over to the military government. Army and police commanders had put the settlers in charge of quarters and commanders gave them 3,000 bullets which they still had.”

The same issue of the Jerusalem Post also reported that Kiryat Arba leader rabbi Moshe Levinger went on television to tell the settlers to “shoot to hit” if they were attacked by Arabs while patrolling Hebron.

Ironically, Hebron’s mayor. Sheikh Mohammed Alt Jaabari, is often praised by the Zionists for his subservience to the Israeli military administration. The escalation of Israeli repression took place on the eve of elections for West Bank mayors and town councils on April 12. Even though Arabs are prohibited from forming political organizations or disseminating propaganda which can be given a pro-Communist or pro-nationalist interpretation, many candidates are identified with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) or Rakah. Israeli authorities awarded Sheikh Jaabari for his collaboration by deporting his only opponent, Dr. Ahmad Hamzi, who is associated with pro-PLO and pro-Rakah intellectuals. Yet despite the Zionist terror, partially intended to manipulate the elections, many favorites of the military governors are expected to lose to left-wing candidates.

1929 Riots and 1936 General Strike

The recent rebellion in the West Bank is far from the first time that Arabs and Jews have clashed in this area. The ultra-Orthodox community at Kiryat Arba is motivated in large part by a desire for revenge for the brutal massacre of Jews during 1929 communal riots in Hebron. The fact that the current wave of struggles was set off by a dispute over the Aqsa mosque (which is also Temple Mount, and simultaneously considered a holy place by both Muslims and Jews), reinforces the importance of the 1929 riots in Palestine as an emotional factor in the present clashes.

The 1929 riots began with a conflict between Orthodox Jews and the British colonial administration over the “Wailing Wall,” a Jewish religious monument allegedly built with stones from the Temple of Solomon and located at the base of the Temple Mount in the predominantly Arab “Old City” of Jerusalem. (The worshippers put up a screen to separate males and females, and the British commissioner, unfamiliar with Jewish custom, ordered troops to remove it.) The Muslim religious leader of Jerusalem, the notorious grand mufti al-Haj Amin al-Husseini, got wind of this tiff and proposed to the receptive British district commissioner that the area in front of the Wailing Wall be made into an open thoroughfare. The extreme right-wing Zionist group Betar then held a provocative march to the wall, where it raised the Zionist flag. The grand mufti, in turn, inflamed the Muslim community by accusing the Zionists of wanting to seize the entire Temple Mount and circulating pictures with the Zionist flag raised over the Aqsa mosque.

Tension increased between the Muslim and Jewish communities in Jerusalem, and on 23 August 1929 Muslims poured down from Aqsa mosque, attacking Jewish quarters. The communal violence spread throughout Palestine, leaving 133 Jews and 119 Arabs murdered. The most brutal massacre occurred in Hebron:

“There was a Jewish population of over 700 people, an ancient community centered on a Talmudical college. Armed bands intent on slaughter reached Hebron on the 24th [of August]. The police were Arab and they stood passively by while their fellow Moslems moved into town…. There was an inn in town where some Jews had fled for their safety. The Arabs killed and dismembered 23 of them with daggers and axes in an upper room so that according to a witness, blood ran down the stairs and soaked through the ceiling and splashed onto the floor beneath…. In all the Moslems killed 60 Jews including children and wounded as many.”

–Christopher Sykes, Crossroads to Israel, 1973

Behind the 1929 riots was not simply inflamed religious fanaticism, but genuine grievances of the Arab peasantry, orfellahin. Land purchases by the Jewish National Fund dispossessed them and drove the landless Arabs into the cities, where they joined the ranks of the unemployed. The Shaw Commission, conducting an investigation of the causes of the 1929 riots, concluded that, “there is no alternative land to which persons evicted can remove. In consequence a landless and discontented class is being created…. Palestine cannot support a larger agricultural population than it at present carries unless methods of farming undergo radical change” (cited in Abu Lughod, TheTransformation of Palestine. 1971)

Of course, in order for the “methods of farming to undergo radical change,” feudalistic Palestinian Arab landlords like the Husseinis would have to be swept away through an agrarian revolution which would directly challenge British colonialism and capitalist property relations.

In 1929 the social discontent of the fellahin was manipulated by their direct oppressors, the Palestinian landlords who, like the grand mufti, were often religious leaders as well and distorted into pogroms and communal violence.

But the six-month-long 1936 general strike and subsequent rebellions and guerrilla warfare which lasted until the fall of 1938, while led by feudal families like the Husseinis, were genuinely anti-imperialist in character and akin to the recent demonstrations and strikes in the West Bank and Galilee. The 1936 strike was launched around three demands: 1) self-government, 2) prohibition of Arab land sales to Jews and 3) immediate cessation of Jewish immigration until the absorptive capacity of the country could be determined and immigration policies established. Since Jews were a minority in mandate Palestine, the Zionists always opposed any step away from British colonial administration toward self-government and independence.

U.S. “Tilts,” Israel Isolated

The stage for the current wave of Arab protests in Israel and the occupied territories was set by the 1947-48 partition of Palestine. In a 27 November 1947 United Nations resolution, the British mandate territory of Palestine (the result of an earlier imperialist partition of the remains of the Ottoman empire, carried out by the U N’s forerun¬ner, the League of Nations) was carved into Jewish and Arab sections. Even though the 600,000 Jewish inhabitants constituted only one third of the population and owned only 6 percent of the land, they received 55 percent of the territory, including the best agricultural districts.

They were also left with a large Arab minority of 400,000. Arab Palestine had been located mainly in the Galilee and the West Bank, the same areas in which mass anti-Zionist demonstrations and strikes have recently taken place. A myth assiduously propagated by Israeli apologists holds that these Arabs have equal rights with Jews. Yet the Arab territory annexed by Israel in 1948 was ruled under a military administration until 1966.

Now once again the “Palestinian Question” has been raised in the United Nations for another impotent debate–this time in the “central committee” of that august den of thieves, the Security Council. This time the “debate” centers around Zionist repression in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In the past, the Israeli delegate has traditionally relied on the United States to run interference for Israel against the “Third World” majority. In recent years, however, U.S. support for Israel has been far from automatic and unconditional.

The last Security Council debate on the Near East was boycotted by Israel because the PLO had been invited. Israel claimed it could not sit at the same table with the PLO because the latter calls for a “democratic, secular Palestine.” This would entail the destruction of Israel, although denying the national rights of the Hebrew people: the Israeli state is neither democratic nor secular, and was created through the dispersal of the Palestinian people. This time, though, the Israeli delegates are present with the PLO.

In the Security Council debate on the West Bank the U.S. envoy condemned Israeli settlements in the occupied territories: “Indeed, the presence of these settlements is seen by my Govern¬ment as an obstacle to the success of the negotiations for a just and final peace between Israel and its neighbors.” Meanwhile, U.S. television networks have for once given generally accurate coverage of the behavior of the Israeli army during the Galilee general strike, coverage which was therefore highly unfavorable to Israel. Both the diplomats and the capitalist media are preparing U.S. public opinion for demanding concessions from Israel on the West Bank.

It is an important historical fact that the U.S. bourgeoisie did not unconditionally support the outcome of the 1967 war, nor is it now satisfied with the spoils of the Israeli victory: Zionist occupation of the Sinai, Golan Heights and the West Bank. While the United States is the principal patron of Israel, American imperialism is primarily interested in securing safe, cheap and preferably exclusive access to raw materials in general, and Near East oil in particular. The U.S. wants politically stable, pro-imperialist capitalist regimes in the Near East. It cares less whether that political stability is based on Koran-thumping sheiks or radical-sounding Arab nationalist colonels.

The political stability of all the reactionary Arab regimes is interdependent with the survival of a state of cold war with Israel and therefore with the survival of the Zionist state in order to deflect the discontent of the impoverished Arab masses into a jihad (holy war) against Zionism. Likewise, in order to maintain a state of siege mentality, treating any fundamental political opposition as treason, Israeli rulers are dependent upon the reactionary Arab regimes and their occasional threats to “drive the Jews into the sea.”

By discrediting several Arab regimes and bringing more than one million embittered Palestinian Arabs under Israeli military administration, the Six Day War directly threatened this fragile political stability. For example, the large influx of Palestinian refugees following the 1967 war led to major civil wars in Jordan (1970-71) and currently in Lebanon. American policy toward the occupied territories continues to be based on the 1967 Security Council Resolution 242, reaffirmed by the (U.S. secretary of state) Rogers Plan of 1970, which calls for Israel to give up most, if not all, of the occupied territories in exchange for Arab political recognition and a peace treaty.

Since the U.S. cannot simply force an immediate and unilateral Zionist withdrawal from the occupied territories without creating a major political crisis in Israel, Rogers’ successor Henry Kissinger engages in what has become known as the “step by step approach,” in which a “piece of land” is exchanged for a “piece of peace.” Now, especially in the aftermath of major Palestinian Arab strikes and demonstrations, U.S. diplomatic interest has shifted to the West Bank.

Smash Zionist Terror!

Israel is increasingly isolated, but this has had a contradictory impact on Israeli workers. On the one hand, there is a genuine sense of demoralization; for the first time since the 1948 war, many Israelis now question whether the Zionist state can survive. Further, the working population is being subjected to economic pounding from every side: military appropriations continue to rise; in early March the government announced a 25 percent rise in bus fares and the price of many basic foods; taxes have been increased, and the Israeli pound was devalued again.

Economic struggles on the part of the Israeli working class have become frequent. Last month there was a major walkout of civil servants, for instance. Nonetheless, a growing sense of isolation combined with economic discontent will not automatically lead Israeli workers to challenge their Zionist rulers. In the absence of a revolutionary leadership the growing political isolation simply reinforces a besieged fortress mentality, of which the Kiryat Arba settlers are only the most pathological and extreme expression.

Israel has no future in the Near East. As a weak ally of U.S. imperialism it will be sacrificed if Israel’s survival gets in the way of larger American capitalist interests. The U.S. is already busy arming both sides for the next Arab-Israeli war, which may rapidly escalate into a nuclear or even global confrontation.

The Israeli working class has a future only if it places at its head a revolutionary party which champions not only its economic and social grievances, which are many, but also links the economic struggles to the heroic Arab demonstrations and strikes in Galilee and on the West Bank. Such a Marxist party would champion the right to self-determination for the Palestinians, while not denying the national rights of the Hebrew people.

However, if the Israeli working class is to have a future it cannot exercise its national rights at the expense of the Palestinians; it cannot express them through the Zionist state of Israel, even such a Zionist state as would conform to the Rakah/Mapam/PLO dream and accept a Palestinian mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The right to self-determination for Palestinians and Hebrews can only be democratically resolved within the framework of a bi-national proletarian dictatorship on both sides of the Jordan River, as part of a socialist federation of the Near East.

Militant Longshoreman No. 20

Militant Longshoreman

No. 20,  March 24, 1987

Crowley Scabs Flee Port Of Redwood City

Last Friday the ILWU temporarily stopped a major attack on ILWU jurisdiction by Crowley. It all came together when Crowley, the largest tug and barge company in the world, brought three struck Hawaii Marine Lines barges into the port of Redwood City. At about 7:00 AM scabs began discharging containers from–one of the barges using Sheedy Drayage Company cranes, hysters and tractors. IBU-ILWU pickets stopped a line of trucks and two additional hysters from entering the port in spite of Redwood City Police harassment. After the word reached San Francisco Walking Bosses, Clerks, Longshoremen and Ship Scalers left every job in the Bay Area and headed for Redwood City. When several hundred ILWU members headed down the road toward the pier the scabs took off running and abandoned the barge. Not one container has left the port! For weeks these struck barges have been towed up and down the coast like the Flying Dutchman, while Crowley’s customers have been crying for their cargo.

Crowley Targets Longshore For Union Busting!

Since Crowley forced the IBU-ILWU into a strike to defend their jobs, we’ve been warning longshoremen that Crowley is laying the basis to break ILWU longshore jurisdiction on the West Coast. We didn’t expect the direct attack to come so soon, although we had a hint about two months ago. At that time a port of Redwood City official told our officers that if Levin’s non-union scrap iron operation at Richmond continued to underbid them, that the port of Redwood City would consider going non-union. Saturday the port got a Superior Court injunction limiting pickets to two at each gate. Crowley is now in Federal Court to get an injunction declaring our refusal to work the struck barges sitting at piers up and down the coast a *secondary boycott”. He figures that the Feds will overturn our picket line language that prevents PMA from making us scab on our own ILWU brothers.

Longshore Jurisdiction and Jobs At Stake!

If Crowley, the port of Redwood City, and Sheedy Drayage Company (now the first scab Stevedoring Company in California), succeed in unloading the barges and trucking off the cargo, the port of Redwood City will soon be booming with barges and ships loaded with autos, steel, containers, lumber etc., none of it worked by ILWU longshoremen. This non-union cancer will spread rapidly to Richmond, Selby, Pittsburg, Antioch and points north and south. Unless we stand fast here, it’s all over but the tears and 53 years of proud unionism will be history. We can end up like ILA longshoremen in New Orleans half of whom hang around the non-union piers hoping to pick up a days work at half the wages they were earning under ILA contracts.

There will be shrill voices raised (especially from Franklin Street), that we can’t win, that the police will bust heads, that the courts will seize our funds, that each longshoreman will have his savings seized, and that our noble leaders will be jailed if we refuse to surrender our jobs meekly. We can win only if we are prepared to fight to establish and defend our gains of the past 53 years as our brothers fought to establish our union in 1934. It’s not just the organized labor movement that is watching this battle and can be brought in to man our picket lines and stop Crowley cold. Millions of workers who yearn for job security and livable wages can be inspired by our successful battle that they too can hope to win union conditions and wages.

Fight or Roll Over Dead
No Middle Ground!

At the risk of sounding repetitious: We have to watch out that we’re not misled by our International officers and their week-kneed hangers-on in our local. Just last St. Patrick’s Day International officers Jimmy Herman, Rudy Rubio, Curtis McClain, Regional Director Leroy King and IBU President Don Liddle decended on the San Francisco IBU to tell them that they had no right to make any decisions on how to run their own strike. Herman shouted from the podium that the International officers and the top officers of the IBU would make all the decisions, and that he would order the IBU picket lines pulled down and would order longshoremen and clerks to discharge pineapples and personal effects of military personnel from those struck Crowley barges. When angry rank-and-filers loudly objected to Herman’s strikebreaking he charged threateningly forward into the crowd of angry boatmen and tankermen – loudly defended by our own Local 10 Secretary Treasurer Tommy Clark. The next day it turned out that all the tears over ‘perishable’ food was just an excuse to emasculate the IBU rank and file. There was no perishable cargo aboard the barges – just canned pineapple.

There is no place to hide – either we do what we have to do to defend our jobs, or roll over dead! Either we stop Crowley at Redwood City, or our union will be gutted by the union busters. That means we have to be.prepared to defy court orders!

Stand Our Ground!
Mass Pickets At Redwood City to Stop Scab Longshore Operations and Defeat Injunctions!

CORRECTION: In the rush of production the date on the last MILITANT LONGSHOREMAN No. 19 was incorrectly typed “February”; it should have read “March 13, 1987”.

I never claimed to be perfect, The Editor.

IG: Trotskyism with a Pre-Frontal Lobotomy

Internationalist Group:

“Trotskyism With a Pre-Frontal Lobotomy” Revisited

[First posted online on 9/23/02 at ]

The following is a reconstruction, from notes, of an intervention by Samuel T. [Trachtenberg] at a meeting sponsored by the Internationalist Group (IG) at Hunter College in New York on 17 September. The meeting, called to discuss the issue of the pending U.S. attack on Iraq, is the first public forum held by the Internationalist Group in New York since its break from the Spartacist League in the mid-1990s. In addition to IG comrades and unaffiliated students, five members of the SL were in attendance. There was considerable discussion of the SL’s opposition to calling for the defeat of the U.S. led coalition in Afghanistan last year (for our view on this issue see: “Where Is the ICL Going?” in 1917 No. 24). In the past the SL has frequently accused the IG of echoing criticisms originally put forward by the International Bolshevik Tendency.

“I’m speaking for the International Bolshevik Tendency. I agree with a lot of Comrade Norden’s presentation. The IG and IBT are two of very few groups in the left that militantly called for defeating U.S. imperialism in Afghanistan and we are likely to be among only a few that do so again when the U.S. attacks Iraq. We also happen to agree with the IG’s criticisms of the Spartacist League on these and other points. Much of this is explained by our common origins in the Spartacist League, our founding members being driven out in the early 80’s, the IG’s in the mid-90’s.

“Whether the younger IG comrades realize this or not though, the SL is substantially right when it asserts that the IG is doing little more than repeating criticisms we made of the SL for 15 years prior to its existence, whether the issue involved was adapting to the Democrats, its bureaucratic internal regime or betraying principles in response to fear of the bourgeoisie. (We saw this in Afghanistan recently; also with the SL’s demand that the Brazilian LFI comrades abandon the fight to keep the cops out of their union, i.e., ‘pull their hands out of the boiling water’; and also when the SL refused to support driving the U.S. Marines out of Lebanon in 1983 by any means necessary, one of our first political fights with them.)

“The 1960’s anti-war movement has been discussed. At the time the SL had a heavy orientation towards recruiting from a Stalinist group called Progressive Labor Party. PL was at the time in the process of renouncing various positions it inherited from its Stalinist heritage, (such as the popular front [multi-class alliance], adaptation to bourgeois nationalist forces in the Third World, a ‘stageist’ theory of revolution, etc.) without ever going to the root of the problem. PL refused to consider that Trotsky was making the same criticisms more coherently decades earlier. The then-revolutionary SL aptly characterized their politics ‘Trotskyism with a pre-frontal lobotomy.’

“It seems to me the IG is attempting to do something similar today in their stance of trying to find some middle ground between echoing the IBT’s correct historical criticisms and still defending many of the positions of the degenerating SL—‘Trotskyism with a pre-frontal lobotomy Part II” if you will.

“We urge IG comrades to study this history and discuss it with us, for without understanding the history of the SL’s degeneration, the IG, like PL, will be doomed to perpetual confusion and repetition of past errors.”

[PL ultimately “resolved” the contradiction between renouncing reformism while clinging to Stalin with the discovery that Stalin’s mistake was that he sought to build “Socialism in One Country.” According to PL, everything would have turned out well had he instead set as his goal…. “Communism” in one country, where “Communism means the Party leads society” (What We Fight For–PL). The IG leaders are too sophisticated for such stupidities, but if they refuse to critically re-examine their own history they must inevitably end up making further departures from Trotskyism.]

Militant Longshoreman No 11

Militant Longshoreman

No #11  November 27, 1984


Since Saturday morning Bay Area longshoremen have refused to unload South African cargo at Pier 80. This boycott of cargo to and from South Africa stands in militant solidarity with the struggle of South African blacks against the murderous, apartheid regime and in support of the powerful stay-away strikes waged by the black trade unions. In support of the courageous actions of Local 10 members, hundreds of people from labor, socialist and community organizations demonstrated at Pier 80 in our support and got largely favorable TV coverage for our action.

Saturday morning the gangs for the Nedlloyd Kimberley were not filled, so the ship was not worked at all. Saturday night the gangs discharged Australian cargo but when they got to the South African cargo the brothers and sisters refused to work It. They were fired for “failure to work as directed”.

Monday the PMA demanded that the union be found guilty of an “illegal work stoppage”. Instead, the arbitrator ruled against the men who refused to handle the cargo for reasons of consciousness. Nothing is left on the ship except South African cargo and every longshoreman dispatched has refused to handle it.

The employer has now two choices: either to pursue the arbitration procedure and then seek a court injunction to try to force us to work the cargo or to move the ship on to another port.

If the courts issue an injunction we should singly ignore it. An injunction is just a piece of paper. Our brothers and sisters in South Africa almost daily stand up to anrty and police bullets, beatings, arrests, mass firings, and deportations. The capitalist courts are our enemies as they’ve proven again and again when we are dragged into court as in the Gibson and Golden cases. In the case of South African cargo, with the Reagan regime closely and openly allied to the apartheid butchers, a judge can easily be found to order us to work the cargo.

But we proved during the Levin strike in Richumd that injunctions can be beaten. When the employer hired non-ILWU labor to steal our jobs, we responded to the injunction and to the presence of Richmond’s racist killer cops with mass pickets and by shutting down every ship in the Bay Area. The employer backed down and the injunction was quickly forgotten.

If Nedlloyd moves the Kimberley on to another port, Local 10 should immediately request that the other ILM locals honor and join our action by refusing to work the South African cargo. They joined us during the week long cargo boycott in 1977 in support of the Soweto uprising. And our action could also inspire solidarity from the heavily black East Coast ILA.

We should also request the groups, which demonstrated in our support at Pier 80, build similar demonstrations up and down the coast wherever the Nedlloyd Kimberley puts in.

So far, International President Herman has given us no real support. There is no middle ground. Either Brother Herman supports our courageous and principled stand or he is giving ground to Reagan, and the system of apartheid which Reagan supports. Our membership should demand Jimmy Herman’s public support.

Our act, like that of Australian maritime workers who have refused to work ships bound for South Africa, is a powerful demonstration of internationalism. It is concrete acts of solidarity like this, not ineffectual divestmeant, schemes,which can aid the South African working class in smashing apartheid and establishing a black-centered workers government.

Labor’s ability to wage solidarity strikes is a powerful political weapon. If U.S. unions had struck against the Vietnam war, the U.S. government would have been forced to withdraw much earlier. From continuing actions in support of the South African masses, to a general strike in defense of San Francisco restaurant workers as requested by Local 2, to a coastwise port shut down if Reagan invades Nicaragua; these are actions which by defending all workers will give us strength and make a reality the ILWU motto “An Injury to One Is An Injury to All

Militant Longshoreman No. 16

Militant Longshoreman

No. 16,  February 7, 1986



When the Coast Longshore Caucus meets February 10 the hottest issue on the agenda will be the substandard contract for longshore work signed by the International with a northwest barge operator. This contract grants not only substandard wages and manning but provides that ILWU Inland Boatmen – not registered longshoremen – will perform the work. Local 10 delegates are under instructions from the membership to oppose this and any substandard contracts for longshore work. The militant posturing on the part of Stan Gow, who put up the motion, and the brothers who spoke passionately on substandard contracts covers up the fact that they have no program to combat the growing threat to our job jurisdiction.


At the recent Longshore Division meeting in San Francisco a Local officer from the Northwest reported that there are 20 non-ILWU barge loading operations in the Puget Sound area; several ships had been loaded without ILWU longshoremen, and a non-union tug company from the Gulf is now operating in a big way in the off-shore barge trade on the Pacific coast.

In recent years dozens of non-ILA stevedoring operations have sprung up on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Some 20 non-union stevedoring companies have become so bold that recently they demanded permission by port authorities to carry their scab operations into publicly owned port facilities threatening to put them out of business if they weren’t allowed to compete directly for ILA jobs. In Baltimore and Houston longshoremen fought pitched battles with cops to protect their jobs.


The strategy of the International to protect our jobs is best revealed by peaceful “area standards” picketing of Seaways in Seattle combined with their equally ineffectual legal actions. Now President Jimmy Herman has come up with a new gimmick – try to establish jurisdiction by using the IBU (Inland Boatmen) to negotiate substandard contracts for longshore work. This strategy will prove to be at least as much of a failure as the strategy of signing substandard CFS contracts. So, who has an alternative? When Brother Herman challenged the officers of the longshore, clerks, and walking bosses locals to propose another strategy no one responded. Judging by their performance at previous Caucuses it doesn’t look like any of the delegates will propose anything better than a “head in the sand” attitude. The best we can expect is a lot of rhetoric about how undemocratic President Herman was to sign this contract without Caucus agreement.


There’s only one way to defend our jobs against non-union attacks; a strategy of mobilizing the full strength of the union in mass picket lines and of building solidarity actions of all maritime unions to smash non-union employers and organize the unorganized seamen and longshoremen. The 1983 shut down of Levin’s in Richmond by Bay Area ILWU and the Columbia River longshore mass mobilization against a non-union barge operation in Vancouver, Washington, show that waterfront workers aren’t afraid to do what is necessary to defend the union, even when it means defying court injunctions. We must organize our forces, select the weakest non-union barge company and put him out of business; then move on to the next weakest. By the time we get to Seaways we could be on a real labor crusade that would draw in thousands of maritime unionists and convince the unorganized that the trade union movement can protect them.

In his December 15 Dispatcher editorial on organizing Jimmy Herman accepts as an unchangeable fact that under the present laws unions can’t protect workers from employer firing and victimizing when they try to organize. He believes that unionized workers won’t fight even to protect their own job jurisdiction and conditions, let alone join in mass picket lines and secondary boycotts to defend other workers. This cynical, defeatist and wrong-headed view about workers ignores the historic lessons of the labor movement which showed that the broader and more militant labor struggles become, the more workers were encouraged to join in defending their own and other workers struggles. The last few years have seen a series of heroic desperate battles by workers – struggles isolated and betrayed by the union bureaucrats.


Militant Longshoreman is making no endorsements in this election. While there are a number of honest rank and filers running for various offices who are loyal to the union and want to defend their conditions, none of these brothers are running on a program which commits them to a militant class-struggle strategy – a program that shows they won’t be confused or misled by the narrowly selfish, short-sighted and fearful arguments that have dominated union politics for too long.

Brother Stan Gow’s continued refusal to run on a program reflects his disorientation and opportunism. Two incidents reveal Stan’s irresponsibility. In the November meeting Stan made a motion to defend the striking Chilean Longshoremen by refusing to handle Chilean cargo. During and since our 11-day boycott of South African cargo in 1984 Brother Stan Gow has viciously attacked Howard Keylor for playing a leading role in that cargo boycott, arguing that only a ship boycott  is supportable, even at a public meeting in Europe last year. But inconsistency is not the worst aspect of Brother Gow’s actions. He got up and made the motion without even trying to build up support in the local by getting brothers and sisters to second and speak on the motion. We can only conclude that he and the Militant Caucus are just interested in making the record, that they don’t really believe that longshoremen will act militantly in solidarity with their working class brothers.

When Gow and Keylor were collaborators Stan struggled hard to defuse conflict between our local and other ILWU locals. He understood that we must have unity  between waterfront locals. Only the PMA profits when clerks and longshoremen fight each other. At the January membership meeting Brother Gow joined in on the cheap demagogic attacks on the settlement between Locals 10 and 34 pertaining to extra clerks work, even though he knows how important it is to continue to build ILWU unity.

This leaflet is already too long. The Militant Longshoreman will be issued more frequently in 1986.


To the Brink and Back: French Revolution

To the Brink and Back: French Revolution

[First printed in Spartacist No. 12, September-October 1968. Copied from ]

The immediate origins of the French struggles can be traced to student activity at Nanterre and the Sorbonne, but these student rebellions had revolutionary significance only insofar as they were the spark which set off a conflagration within the working class. It was the social crisis, not the student movement, which led to the workers’ occupation of factories, the paralyzing of French commerce and industry and the largest and most powerful general strike in history.

The struggle is reminiscent of the Hungarian workers’ revolt of 1956, although in France it did not result in the spontaneous generation of workers’ councils. Thus, the elements of dual power were not clearly present. But both exemplified, in laboratory situations, the counterrevolutionary nature of Stalinism, just as in both cases struggles on the part of students and intellectuals struck a chord within the working class. This has become almost a classic model of social upheaval in our era.

Revolutionary Leadership Lacking

There was a period of about a week, the high-tide of which was 29 May, when France was in the grip of a pre-revolutionary situation. The initiative was with the workers; it was within their grasp to take state power and establish the proletarian dictatorship. The old order and the Gaullist government were incapable of ruling, incapable of imposing their order on the subordinate classes or of solving the social crises tearing apart the nation. General discontent among parts of these subordinate strata–students, some farmers, the urban petty-bourgeoisie–was acute. The French state, racked by its own internal contradictions, the crisis of bourgeois order and far-reaching discontent, was for the period of a week more fragile than at any other time in a generation.

Yet the situation did not reach the point of dual power, which is characteristic of all revolutionary crises. In a few cases, factory committees, replacing the existing representation in the several trade-union federations, were elected by the striking workers, but this embryonic form of workers’ councils was limited to perhaps ten factories. The comités d’action which sprang up all over France were essentially district or neighborhood groups, not based specifically on the working class in the enterprises.

What was missing in France was a revolutionary party which could have raised the necessary demands to take the situation from a general strike to dual power, to shatter the control of the Confederation Générale de Travail (CGT) over the strike through the building of workers’ councils. That the revolutionary French workers were unable to take power was principally, although not solely, due to the treachery of the French Communist Party (PCF).

Communist Party Sabotages

The PCF leaders, along with the CGT, their trade union arm, did everything in their power to derail the movement. They attempted to split the initial student-worker alliance at the factory gates, slandering the students as “provocateurs.” In their patriotic fervor they German-baited Cohn-Bendit. They attempted to steer the whole thrust of the demonstrations, strikes and factory occupations into narrow, exclusively economic demands. They established back-to-work movements. They misdirected the struggle back into the parliamentary swamp. They allowed De Gaulle a breathing space, allowed him to retrieve the initiative and to rally back to himself wavering middle-class elements, to ally himself with the military command and a whole bloc of proto-fascist elements. The PCF’s betrayals in May led directly to De Gaulle’s victory at the polls on 23 June.

The PCF, long the most “Stalinized” party in Western Europe, has in its Brezhnevite transfiguration maintained the same rotten policies it upheld in 1936, 1945 and 1947. Through the lack of a revolutionary communist alternative, the PCF and CGT have until now managed to maintain the loyalty of the French workers. The French events demonstrate once more the necessity of building an alternative for the communist workers to the PCF–that is, a communist party which will honor its program and fight for state power in its own right. It is not enough that this party break formally with the PCF or with “Khrushchevite revisionism”; it must also break with the methods and policies of Stalinism. What is needed is not another left-talking agency, but a Leninist-Trotskyist party. Only the kind of party which won the 1917 October Revolution in Russia will be able to get to the roots of the PCF’s betrayals.

De Gaulle Cracks Down

The government’s crackdown on all the major organizations to the left of the PCF becomes an even more serious threat in this context. To date, there have been eleven working-class and student groups ordered dissolved–most of them, according to the bourgeois press, “Trotskyite.” These proscribed organizations are forbidden to publish their propaganda; militants who continue their work are subject to prison terms.

The ban on these organizations is a fierce attack on the civil liberties of French workers and students. It is a class-determined ban: while the government illegalized the French left, it was at the same time releasing from jail extreme rightists, proto-fascists and the conspirators of the attempted paramilitary coup d’état of 1958. And what makes the ban especially damaging now is that it is the militants of many of the banned organizations who best appreciate the pernicious role of the PCF and can draw the necessary conclusions.

Both the Gaullists and the PCF benefit from these decrees; to assume that the PCF was not an accomplice to the crackdown is to stretch credibility beyond the breaking point. It has been acknowledged that from the beginning of the crisis the CGT leadership was in secret, daily contact with the government. At any rate, neither L’Humanité nor The Worker has to date said one word in regard to these bans.

Proletarian Revolution vs. New Leftism

Many “new” ideas about revolution have surfaced within the American left in the 1960’s, and France offers us a laboratory in which to test them. Since so much of late has been made of Herbert Marcuse, considered the mentor of European radical youth, his ideas are of central importance. In one or another variant, his theories permeate the writings and speeches of practically the whole constellation of the New Left “heroes”–Mao, Guevara, Castro, Fanon, Debray, Paul Sweezy, Lin Piao, C. Wright Mills.

Marcuse’s thesis is that the working class has become socially moribund and obsolete. This thesis, an attempt to explain the twenty-year hiatus in revolutionary workers’ struggles in the post-war period, dovetailed quite nicely with the liberal capitalist line that “post-industrial” society was sufficiently flexible to comfortably integrate the working class and dispense with class struggle. This theory deepened petty-bourgeois contempt for the workers and gave impetus to all kinds of elitist conceptions of historical change. By shifting the blame onto the victims of these policies of non-struggle rather than onto the perpetrators, onto the workers rather than the assorted bureaucrats who mislead them, this theory dismisses the workers as a revolutionary class and searches instead for a new “vanguard agency.” In favor of Mao’s peasants or Guevara’s guerillas, the militant of the industrial West is encouraged to become not a revolutionary but a vicarious enthusiast of “other” forces.

The French workers did more than shake up French bourgeois society: their struggle rendered obsolete the whole carefully constructed myth–Marcuse, liberalism, the New Left and its heroes. The “bought-off” workers in action, the strikes, factory occupations, the red flag everywhere, the workers’ drive for power and their rejection of the concessions exacted from the terrified French bourgeoisie–these events show concretely where the social agency for change is to be found in our era.

Role of the French Left

The pro-Chinese groupings seemed out of their depth in the complex situation. The question facing the working class was the fracturing of the CGT’s power, a situation in which the “thoughts of Chairman Mao” must have appeared even more gloriously irrelevant than usual. The Maoist students understood the necessity of involving themselves in the workers’ struggles and managed to build themselves an industrial base, but seemed to have no idea what to do with it. But whatever they did must have had little support from their chosen leaders in Peking; the Chinese themselves consider De Gaulle a “progressive” anti-imperialist. The political work of the Paris anarchist students appears largely to have consisted in “confronting” the police. In three weeks they moved from their traditional concept of super-individuality to participating in the demonstrations in the manner of a super-organized lockstep action squad.

There are three distinct “Trotskyist” tendencies operating in France, all presently banned. Two groups are affiliated with assorted “Fourth Internationals,” the Organization Communiste Internationale (OCI) with the Healyite International Committee, and the Parti Communiste Internationale (PCI) with the Pabloite United Secretariat. Also associated with the Pabloites is the Jeunesse Communiste Revolutionaire (JCR), a left split from the PCF student federation. The third tendency, the Union Communiste, which publishes Voix Ouvrière (Workers Voice), is organizationally independent of these “Internationals” but has fraternal relations with groups in other countries, among them the Spartacist League in the U.S.

Healyites Screw Up

Despite attempts by the British Newsletter and the U.S. Bulletin (Healy’s English-language propaganda apparatus) to make it appear that the OCI was leading the entire rebellion, its presence in the working class was limited to a few important factory concentrations; its influence in the radical student movement was non-existent. Over-reacting against “student vanguardism,” a real problem, the French Healyites went so far as to oppose student struggle at the very moment the students were building the barricades which triggered the whole revolt.

This reaction was objectively defeatist. After the barricades-building episode many of their rank and filers functioned in the various comités d’action as individuals disgusted with their group’s policies. The OCI did not even have a propaganda stall at the Sorbonne (although every other left organization did).

Pabloite Revisionism

The Pabloites were limited in a more subtle manner, deriving from their estrangement from the working class and a concept of “student vanguardism.” Thus, within the student milieu they played an active role, with some increase in influence and leadership. But central to their weakness was their inability to break out of the student arena. Their isolation was of course not accidental but stemmed from tactical and theoretical shortcomings of many years’ duration, characterized chiefly by a renunciation of the necessity for revolutionary leadership and a consequent adaptation to existing petty-bourgeois and Stalinist leaderships. This revisionist trend has been codified in a number of notorious resolutions on the part of the United Secretariat which declared that the “epicenter” of revolutionary struggle had shifted to the colonial world, and away from the industrial working class.

Their line is only a capitulation, decked out in “revolutionary” verbiage, to a variant of the Marcuse-Mao-Guevara thesis preaching contempt for the workers while looking about for other “agencies.” That this theory has borne little fruit has not dissuaded them from their search. In practice the Pabloites have done little more than participate in popular front “peace” demonstrations and lend themselves as a left cover for Stalinists, pacifists and liberals.

And so it happened that, precisely when the French workers went into motion and even a small combat-oriented Marxist nucleus could have by example alone wielded enormous influence, the Pabloites were outside the trade union movement. And then when the issue was posed of linking the students with the workers, it came to little more than an expression of solidarity rather than pointing the way to the assembling of the communist party.

Voix Ouvrière

The Voix Ouvrière comrades are the only organization claiming to be Trotskyist which has carried out a working-class line. Initially, their cadres were concentrated in the factories to the extent that they lacked an adequate base within student and petty-bourgeois arenas. They were, however, able to establish permanent liaison committees with the Pabloite organizations, enabling them to coordinate their intervention with the radical students of the JCR. Such increase in contact between these organizations may in the future allow the V.O. comrades to aid Pabloite youth in breaking away from the revisionism in their movement and orienting decisively toward a revolutionary proletarian perspective.

However, the axis upon which the V.O.-Pabloite unity of action is based is a false one. The joint statement called upon “all organizations claiming to be Trotskyist to join in this move.” The V.O. comrades feel the recent events constitute “the French 1905.” Let us remember that the sequel to the 1905 Russian Revolution was a unification of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks! It took Lenin several years to break this over-fraternal unity. What has been pointed up in France by the latest CP-CGT betrayal is not the need for a “Trotskyist regroupment” but the need for a new revolutionary party based on the vindicated Bolshevik program, uniting all those, even from such tendencies as the Maoists and syndicalists, who stand in favor of workers’ committees of power. We hope that V.O., the French Bolsheviks, have not been disoriented as were the Russians in 1905.

British and U.S. Left

The Healyite organizations appear incapable of learning any of the lessons of France. As of this writing they seem inclined simply to brazen it out with wild claims. A Socialist Labour League congress passed a resolution containing these grotesqueries:

“Congress contemptuously rejects the allegations of cowardice leveled against our comrades as baseless… The International Committee of the Fourth International and its French section is the only one that has prepared theoretically and organizationally for this crisis… . The general strike called by the CGT on May 13, as a result of the intervention of our comrades … is adequate proof of the correctness of their policies and their courage.” (our emphasis)

Further evidence that according to the Healyites all you need to make the revolution is a printing press and a lot of brass!

The Pabloite press has smothered itself in a general line of: “If the French (or any other) revolution hasn’t yet taken place it’s all the fault of the Stalinists.” This serves only as a convenient–if by now rather boring–scapegoat. The Stalinists have been functioning as agents of the bourgeoisie at least since 1933; this has been codified in the Trotskyist movement at least since the 1938 Transitional Program. Yet the central premise of Pabloism is that the Stalinist parties are subject to “left” pressure to such a degree that they can at times play a revolutionary role. Thus the Pabloite co-thinkers of the USec in the U.S. (Socialist Workers Party-Young Socialist Alliance) find themselves caught in a classic centrist trap.

On the one hand, the Militant has done an accurate and enthusiastic job reporting the French revolt although seriously flawed by “student vanguard” substitutionism and a vacuous position on the need for the Trotskyist party. And in New York and the Bay Area the SWP-YSA did praiseworthy jobs in building united fronts defending the outlawed French organizations. On the other hand, their pervasive opportunism and capitulation to bureaucratic forces, nationalism, student vanguardism, etc., had already led them to give up on the workers and the vanguard party. The Pabloite press now applauds itself for its formal, generally ignored “Trotskyism,” but its “Third Worldism” has certainly done nothing to lay the groundwork for the French events or to push them towards victory.

Trotskyism Vindicated

For those who held to a position of consistent Trotskyism, the French revolt was a tremendous vindication. For the revisionists it was only a setback, an exposé and a tragedy. How can anyone seriously committed to the position that the “epicenter” of world revolution has shifted away from the industrial working class to the colonial world see the French workers’ uprising as anything but an embarrassment? They can only try to straddle, like one Bay Area YSAer’s picket-line slogan, “Che Viva in France,” or SWP leader Fred Halstead’s statement that “The colonial revolutionaries no longer fight alone.” These incidents alone should raise some interesting questions in the minds of serious revolutionaries still in the SWP.

One best aids the French communist workers not by tail-ending their rebellion but by furthering revolutionary struggle here. One helps them by building, both in France and here, sections of an international communist party which will take power. One only harms the French revolutionary movement by refusing to learn its lessons.

Stop The Liquidation Of The Trade Union Work!

“…to demand from the trade union bureaucracy, which is hunting for Communists, that the latter be benevolently installed to work with the necessary comfort, threatening the bureaucrats, if they refuse, the Communists will ‘strike’, that is refuse to do revolutionary work—to demand that is manifest nonsense.”

    —Trade Union Problems in America, Leon Trotsky, September 23, 1933

Stop The Liquidation Of The Trade Union Work!

Break With The Robertson-Foster-Nelson Misleadership!

[Printed on June 25 1983. Copied form ]

The resignation of the SL supported Militant Action Caucus stewards in Los Angeles and the Bay Area represents a qualitative shift away from the SLUS’ orientation towards the organized working class. There is a straight line from giving up on the fighting capacity of the organized workers, to flying during the PATCO strike despite the picket lines, to liquidating the trade union caucuses. The SL leadership is surrendering the Leninist/Trotskyist position of fighting within the reactionary-led trade unions for revolutionary leadership. The lessons of Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder are being thrown out the window. The union-centered caucuses, based on recruiting workers to build an alternative leadership in the unions, are being transformed. The primary orientation of the remaining shells will be directed away from the unions. Trade union work will be continued, but only to provide an economic base for the SL and an occasional orthodox veneer for its leadership.

The authority that the SL cadre in LI, T1, T2, II and BI accumulated through years of sweat, blood and persecution is being pissed away overnight; the SL leadership knows that the effects of this liquidation are nearly irreversible. The SL supported MAC stewards cannot walk back to their supporters some months from now and say ‘we made a mistake’ or ‘times have changed’, simply picking up at the point where they abandoned the workers. Union members have long memories. Just as bitter jokes and pointed questions followed Waters and Edwards out of the unions, the wholesale resignations of MAC stewards are already bringing them the reputation of being quitters. For example, talk about “…ritual suicide in front of 140 New Montgomery…”!! (If you don’t get the joke, read the Bay Area MAC’s April, 1983, convention election leaflet titled—ironically?—”Elect Fighters, Not Fakers.”).

Workers Don’t Trust Quitters

You don’t lead people into battle and then desert them. Yet that is just what MAC is doing. Having fought and won in Local 11502 to retain its stewardships, MAC thanked the many stewards and members who defended it…and quit. Also, in Local 9410, where just six months ago 1000 members rallied to Kathy’s defense, demanding an end to her trial and the recall of the bureaucrats, MAC is quitting. Stan, member of the SL-supported Militant Caucus, correctly put forward a motion, at a membership meeting, for a union stop work action to protest Nazi activities in Oroville. The motion passed. Then he was ordered to flip-flop, abjectly criticize himself, not go to Oroville, and attack those longshoremen who went and carried signs calling for Labor/Black defense guards to smash fascists. This abstentionism has fed into a pool of bureaucratically fanned resentment that made it easier for the leadership to discredit him.

Don’t kid yourselves, comrades. A MAC or MC member who stands on the sidelines criticizing, or who takes wildcat action to demonstrate militancy, will not possibly have the effectiveness or respect of a MAC or MC steward, who does daily battle with the company and the trade union bureaucrats.

Apparently, some MAC members realized this. In Los Angeles, one steward refused to resign from his position. MAC then demanded and received his resignation from the caucus. There continues to be opposition inside MAC to the liquidation.

Declare A Faction! Fight To Oust The Regime!

Comrades, the moment has come to act against the SL/iSt’s historic leadership before it totally destroys what it once built. It has gutted the Canadian, Australian, British and German sections. They have been reduced to mere satellites of the US, comparable to the relation between Healy’s SLL and the “sections” of its IC. Now Robertson & Co. are destroying the trade union work, completing the process of purging long term trade unionists, such as Waters, Edwards and Harlan. We urge the SL/iSt cadre to oust the present regime in order to return to the SL’s formerly correct orientation.

We urge those who still hold executive board and other official union positions, together with other SL cadre, to declare a faction. Refuse to resign your positions and demand that no more resignations be carried out until the upcoming National conference. This conference has the authority to halt the destruction of the trade union centered caucuses and international work. SL cadre must insist on their right to form a faction and their right to retain membership. If you are loyal to the traditional Spartacist program, it is time to stand up and fight, knowing full well that the SL leadership will immediately move to purge you.

Some of the leading cadre may have gone along with the leadership to this point hoping that the arbitrary organizational abuses would blow over. It is still possible for comrades to organize and fight for a return to the proletarian perspective to which so many were initially recruited.

Some long term unionists may believe that they can prove their loyalty and safeguard their SL membership by meekly following the leadership’s orders to discredit themselves in the unions. Comrades, don’t illude yourselves! Robertson & Co. have a great fear, as Foster has stated, that anyone who leaves the SL and remains in their union will be in opposition within a year. In the past this meant that they were first purged from the organization and then driven out of their union. However, this hasn’t always worked. In an effort to correct the shortcomings of this approach they are now ordering the trade unionists to discredit themselves in their unions before they are purged from the SL. Resist your political destruction while you still have a chance.

The critical task at hand, of putting the SL back on the correct political track and saving the trade unionists from extinction, cannot be done by passively acquiescing to the leadership—it must start with a conscious decision to fight. Comrades who may have wondered what it was like to have been in the SWP in the 1950s and early sixties as it incrementally slid away from Trotskyism are living through the beginning of the same process today in the SL. Sometimes it proceeds in ways that are hard to see when you are right up close, but the unmistakeable preparations for the complete liquidation of 15 years of LI work and 10 years of T2 work should set off bells in the heads of every cadre in the tendency, and should bring them out fighting against the liquidation of the trade union perspective.

There Is An Alternative To Suicide

Howard stood up to the leadership when it demanded that he commit political suicide in the union. He resigned from the Militant Caucus rather than quit the union Executive Board and throw away the authority and respect for the Trotskyist program that was gained over the years of work in the union. The MC’s purge of Howard marked its transformation from a transitional organization into a front group that is now largely abstentionist on union issues.

Howard began publishing the Militant Longshoreman and has twice been re-elected to the local Executive Board on a class struggle program, despite the fierce opposition from both the union bureaucracy and the SL. Today, he stands as a solitary but authoritative class struggle pole at a time when the union faces a critical test over the union-busting use of scab labor at Levin’s Richmond Paar 5.

In contrast, forced to perform flip-flops and to self-criticize his fighting instincts in print, Stan’s authority in the union has been eroded. Only those of us who value his nearly 25 years of committed work, time spent largely in defense of the revolutionary program, willingly and actively took up his defense in the union.

Stan’s Trial

Questions must be posed regarding the ineffectual wildcat picket line at berths H, I & J against the Lafayette which led to Stan’s trial. There are at least two interrelated factors that we can see having led to the wildcat. First, the SL’s developing political disorientation on the unions. Second, the SL’s view that union leadership positions are not worth the time and trouble they cost the organization. So they undertook an action which they knew from past experience might very well lead to just the type of charges that followed.

The SL leadership approached the El Salvador boycott from the premise that elected union bodies are just “dens of thieves”. In Stan’s last election leaflet, Longshore-Warehouse Militant No. 17, January 14, 1985, he says of the union conventions and caucuses:

“I’m running for those positions because the membership needs a voice in those dens of thieves and an honest set of eyes to report all their sellouts back to you.”

Thus Foster, Nelson & Co. gave up in advance the possibility of winning an officially sanctioned stop-work action. Additionally, they did not want an officially-led action because they believed it would simply have refurbished ILWU President Jimmy Herman’s credentials (an argument that Faber made to Edwards in an attempt to justify not fighting for the abortive Oroville-related work stoppage in December 1982). So they pushed Stan and the others to mount a wildcat which, even though destined to be ineffective, would still plant their banner firmly on the side of internationalism. Substituting a handful of MC-members for the union was a conscious act.

The SL leadership knows how to do these things right: several times the SL—after weeks of lining up support inside the union—has mounted large picket lines at piers, keeping its caucus supporters in the background, precisely to avoid victimization.

More important, the fraction has had significant success in organizing actual stop-work actions by the union on international issues. First, the 1974 Chile boycott and second, less directly, the 1977 boycott of South African cargo. The Chile stop-work action took months to pull off. This work included a carefully constructed united front committee, combined with a fortunate political conjuncture. At the time, the SL hailed it as an exemplar of militant working-class action and used it as a basis for recruitment throughout the world. As a result of this united front action Stan returned to Trotskyism after a six-year hiatus during which he consciously tried reformism; Howard was recruited and the Militant Caucus was born.

The SL leadership’s determination to root out its old trade union strategy and to prove that any further union-centered caucus building would be a waste of time, is evident in Workers Vanguard 331, 3 June, 1983, where they write the Chile boycott out of history. Only a political leadership which has either no confidence in its membership or utter contempt for them, changes course by falsifying the past, rather than openly debating the new turn.

There are several indications that, if properly prepared and organized, the El Salvador (or South African) boycott could have been—and still could be—pulled off: First, the 23 signatures that Stan originally collected on the call for a port shutdown; second, the final outcome of Stan’s trial, which shows at least passive support for his position. However, only the most token effort was made to build a picket line, as proven by the fact that not a single other member of Stan’s local was on the picket line when it was thrown up.

Stan’s defense was waged in the same sectarian, ineffective and politically treacherous way right up until the membership meeting, when a last minute change in tactics ensued. Stan refused to accept the offer of long-time Militant Caucus supporter Fred A., who is widely respected on the waterfront, to act as defense counsel. Is this because Fred collaborates closely with Howard? Then, at the constituting meeting of the trial committee, Stan stated that he did not picket the berth but only the ship. So what were he and the MC and the SL doing at the entrance of berths H, I & J? Telling workers at berths I & J to cross their picket line? Is that why one of Stan’s own hand-picked witnesses testified at the trial that it was only an “informational” picket line? Is the SL leadership’s PATCO position finally being brought into the open through the back door? Dismissing the unions as essentially agents of the bourgeois state logically leads to a position that “picket lines mean cross!”

At the trial itself, Stan took the line that the local and international union leadership equals the CIA and Ronald Reagan. He attacked the trial committee as agents of the enemy, and, with his supporters, acted in the most provocative and foolish manner. Had they waged a sensible and politically correct defense, perhaps the trial committee would have voted for an outright acquittal. After all, they did vote down the bureaucrats’ demand that Stan be barred from office.

Only at the membership meeting, where Stan was ultimately acquitted, did he shift his ground from the argument that the union equals Reagan/CIA to focus on the real issues. There is a definite possibility that, had he not changed course, he would have been convicted. His victory provides a breathing spell, but it should not be exaggerated or misinterpreted. In the months before the trial, Fred A. and Howard encountered widespread hostility and/or scepticism from those who had voted for and even worked with Stan just a few short months ago. The 72 signatures gathered for the united front leaflet “NO TRIAL AGAINST STAN GOW!”, that Fred and Howard initiated and distributed widely throughout the local, were hard to come by. Throughout the weeks leading up to the trial and membership vote, Fred and Howard persisted in Stan’s defense. They spoke at membership and Executive Board meetings. They talked to a large number of members about the real issues of the frame-up charges. They informed members that the international, embarrassed by the publicity about Stan’s trial in the bourgeois press, had disassociated itself from continuing the trial. At the membership meeting they played a significant role in turning the attack against Stan into an attack against the local leadership, charging them with “conduct unbecoming a member”.

But only Stan’s last minute change of tone and approach, intersecting the membership’s rage at the calling of the cops on Jackie, their mistrust of a leadership which is not defending their jobs, and their untapped opposition to the US’ support to the blood drenched El Salvadoran junta, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

The outcome of Stan’s trial should be used as a springboard to build properly organized and effective action against El Salvadoran cargo and/or South African cargo. We continue to stand ready to participate in either of these actions.

The “den of thieves” longshore caucus split. Workers Vanguard 331, 3 June, 1983—without acknowledging the Militant Caucus’ earlier position—says the longshore caucus only:

“…narrowly backed a move by the bureaucracy to table the shutdown resolution, 34 to 25. This strong show of support from a body that has the power to implement Gow’s class-struggle call threw a scare into the bureaucracy and the purge trial is an immediate and direct result.”

The “CIA/Reaganite” trial committee also split. These splits should cause the SL to correct its course, return to its Trotskyist analysis of the contradictory nature of the union bureaucracy, and get on with rebuilding the union-centered caucus. The first step should be waging a serious local-wide effort in defense of Jackie’s job and the principle “picket lines mean don’t cross!” However, judging from Los Angeles Militant Action Caucus, where, having defeated the bureaucracy, the stewards quit, no such correction will occur.

Has The Nature Of The Unions Changed?

This brings us to the “theoretical” justification for why the MAC stewards were ordered to resign. In Militant Longshoreman No. 5 (February 4, 1983), Howard said of the Militant Caucus and its co-thinkers in Workers Vanguard:

“Rather than openly stating their reorientation and defending it politically, they are trying to camouflage it by extending their correct historic opposition to the union bureaucracy into a blanket condemnation of the union.”

In a recent article accurately entitled “Doug Fraser: Company Cop” (Workers Vanguard 330, 20 May, 1983), the SL suggests that:

“One can compare Fraser’s joining the Chrysler board with the German Social Democrats’ voting for war credits on August 4, 1914. At that point the Social Democrats became not just sellouts but direct agents of the Kaiser…”

This is not the first time the August 4 analogy has been floated with reference to the UAW. Such a reference unmistakeably implies an assessment that there has been a fundamental shift in the character of the UAW.

As we have already mentioned, the Longshore-Warehouse Militant No. 17 (January 14, 1983) characterized the delegated ILWU bodies as simply “dens of thieves”.

In the Militant Action leaflet (May 16, 1983) to CWA Local 11502 explaining their resignations, Britton and Delgadillo say:

“Appointed stewards are expected to play the role of policemen on the shop floor, enforcing company policy and preventing union members from opposing these policies or even defending themselves when victimized.”

If Fraser joining the Chrysler board qualitatively changed the union, why did the SL leadership always aspire to build a Teamster fraction and caucus after Fitzsimmons (with the tacit support of the entire AFL-CIO bureaucracy) joined Nixon’s Wage Board? Why did SL supporters hold executive board slots and stewardships in the ILWU when Bridges was sitting on the Port Commission, planning and carrying out Mechanization and Modernization (M and M), developing the skilled steadymen system, and openly collaborating with the employers to destroy the union’s job base? It is ironic that the same longshore caucus that the Militant Caucus described as “dens of thieves” according to Workers Vanguard 331 (3 June, 1983) only “…narrowly backed a move by the bureaucracy…”. You cannot have it both ways. If you are just disoriented, then admit it and reopen your ranks to a faction of former members who will be glad to help straighten you out.

Did the CWA just yesterday donate its headquarters to the AIFLD-CIA? Were Jane, Gary, Kathy etc. really just cops for the company all along? What has changed? CWA stewards have always been appointed. For a decade, MAC members achieved de facto election through petitions circulated in their workplaces, signed by a significant number of their fellow workers, demanding their appointment as stewards. Or do you think that the union bureaucrats would have appointed militants voluntarily? Who are you trying to kid? Or have you forgotten the dual nature of the union bureaucracy? The brothers and sisters who insisted on MAC members as stewards constituted a base of support far stronger than many electoral bases, and the bureaucrats knew it.

If all an appointed steward can do is be a cop, why did CWA 11502 stewards and members force the reappointment of MACers who were”

“…attempting to defend members suspended by the company for failure to comply with the brutal speed up of the new productivity quotas”

Militant Action, May 16, 1983

Realizing that a blanket dismissal of appointed stewards as just cops would not wash, the SL leadership forced a shift in focus in the Bay Area MAC resignation leaflet. Suddenly it discovered that “factfinding” forced stewards to cross the class line. But factfinding has been in the contract for the last two and a half years while SL supporters served as stewards!

In Militant Action, San Francisco, 20 February, 1981, MAC stated:

“The new factfinding procedure guts what little protection our members had under the old contract. It strips union stewards of virtually any power to fight for the members”.

and further:

“No MAC steward will participate as a factfinder. We will not be parties to this class collaborationist scheme to screw the membership.”

MAC stewards have since February 1981 successfully refused to take part in factfinding. So we ask, what has changed?

What about the successful fight by a long time SL supporter, who now supports the External Tendency, to retain his stewardship in CWA Local 4304 last June? When the CWA district rep put out a bulletin announcing layoffs, this militant wrote on the bulletins “The Time to Act Is While We Still Have Jobs —For A Nationwide Strike to Stop Layoffs!—Dump the Democrats and Republicans—Build A Workers Party”. He was immediately suspended from his stewardship, but a mobilization of his local members and other stewards forced his reinstatement.

These incidents may not be formal elections but they are the next best thing. They are a hell of a lot more real than Britton and Delgadillo’s disingenuous claim that they”

“…look forward to standing for election by union members as a steward…”

Militant Action, May 16, 1983 

If the SL leadership can no longer tell the difference between a militant steward and a cop, the CWA membership certainly can and is willing to fight to keep the militants in their positions as stewards.

We wonder whether the basic surrender in the CWA explains the half-hearted defense of Kathy I. While the local campaign has been somewhat effective, there has been no serious effort to duplicate the successful, nationally organized defense campaign of Jane M. Where are the telegrams, petitions and resolutions in defense of Kathy from CWA stewards and members in Cleveland, New York, Chicago, Louisville, Portland, Los Angeles, Houston, and other locals where MAC still has union supporters, or who participated in Jane M.’s defense (UCASSH)? Certainly, if the SL leadership still believed that Kathy’s position on the executive board and the defense of MAC was really worth the effort, the support of more than one-fourth of the local membership for recalling the entire local CWA leadership could have been the springboard for a national campaign to drop the charges.

The SL leadership offers one other “proof” of the new role of the unions: concessions. But concessions are a linear outgrowth of simple trade unionism. If all you ask for is a bigger piece of the pie, when the pie gets smaller you ask for less. And when there is allegedly no pie at all, you pay to bake one.

In the caucuses on the West Coast, beginning with the wave of strikebreaking and scabherding in 1976, we always told the union membership that the logic of the bureaucrats’ position, “what’s good for the companies is good for the union” was to propose lower wages, no hiring hall, reduced benefits for pre-seniority workers, etc. Our predictions came true with a vengeance throughout the labor movement. But that is why we fought for leadership in the unions on the transitional program then and why we are—and you should be—fighting for it now.

It is hardly an accident that having given up on the capacity of the organized workers to transform their unions into fighting weapons, the SL leadership more openly bruits about the possibility of taking the unions to court, and not only to SL members.

“…in spite of the progressive degeneration of trade unions and their growing together with the imperialist state, the work within the trade unions not only does not lose any of its importance but remains as before and becomes in a certain sense even more important work than ever for every revolutionary party. The matter at issue is essentially the struggle for influence over the working class”.

—”Trade Unions In the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” by Leon Trotsky

Is the SL leadership arguing that quantity has turned into quality? Al Nelson’s statement to Jensen, that an entire ILWU local is racist, seems to indicate that the unions have changed so much that Trotsky’s description no longer applies. Does the SL believe that the ILWU, CWA, UAW (indeed, all US unions) have simply become company unions? If so, they have not proved their case.

In the McCarthy period, when the unions were infinitely more closed to reds than they are now, when Trotskyists and Stalinists were being beaten and physically thrown out of the plants if they showed up for work, the SWP leadership did everything possible to maintain its foothold in the unions. Yet today, when Trotskyist trade unionists fight local bureaucrats in Local 9410 to a virtual standoff, the SL abandons its positions. Robertson & Co. are committing a conscious betrayal.

We believe that the SL “reassessment” of the perspectives for building an alternative class struggle pole in the unions is at best impressionistic and ahistorical; at worst, it is a major departure from Leninism/Trotskyism in the direction of looking for a revolutionary vanguard other than in the working class. We believe that the observation in Marxist Bulletin No. 9, Part III, that:

“Any definition of ‘propaganda’ which excludes this element of seeking to offer real revolutionary leadership in a few key situations is mere pretense in favor of an alien appetite…”.

—”Memorandum on the Transformation of the Spartacist League”

is as true today as it was in 1969. Likewise the assertion in the same document that:

“For an organization of our size and tasks, we should seek to have 30 – 40% of our membership active in trade union work”.

—”Trade Union Memorandum”

The LBSL—No Replacement For Union Centered Caucuses!

Clearly the SL is putting its eggs in the basket of the Labor Black Struggle League (LBSL). It is no accident that the LBSLs are being announced at the very moment that the caucuses, as we know them, are being liquidated. The LBSLs are designated to replace the union-centered caucuses as the SLUS’ main transitional organizations. The tactic of the LBSL is fine; it is only wrong if it is counterposed to and built on the corpses of the union-centered caucuses.

Ever since the June 27 Chicago anti-Nazi mobilization, the SL has made a sharp turn toward black work. The results have been mixed. On the one hand, there was the overwhelming success November 27 in DC, where for the first time in decades, large numbers of blacks mobilized behind the banners of a red and predominantly Caucasian organization. On the other hand, recruitment to the SL has been negligible despite the original post-DC projections. Indeed, we wonder why the SL did not organize a contingent in Norfolk, the home of the labor-centered Nat Turner Brigade, around the slogan “For A One-Day General Strike to Defend Busing”.

There are at least two reasons for the failure to recruit and hold the new recruits in significant numbers. First, the continuing purges and the waves of fear accompanying them makes the organization unattractive to new recruits and even to old ones who rejoin and uproot themselves to move across the country in the cause of revolution. Imagine you thought you had joined the Nat Turner Brigade and you discovered you had joined the Yuri Andropov Battalion instead!

Second, the SL’s approach to the LBSLs smacks of a Trotskyist variant of the “community organizing” strategy of the Black Panther Party, PL, RU/RCP, etc. against which the SL so powerfully polemicized. Without the anchor of the trade unions and the nucleus of their leadership in the caucuses, the effect of anti-Nazi/KKK mobilizations, however powerful, will tend to be dissipated back into the amorphous community. This is an ABC lesson about work among the unemployed and the unorganized drawn by Cannon from the CLA’s experiences in the 1930s.

Diana derisively said to us, when we came to try to convince Kathy not to resign as steward, “Stewards aren’t where it’s at. You guys have the mentality of petty trade union bureaucrats.” There are times when a small propaganda group would legitimately decide to focus on an area other than trade union work to build its forces. But the SLUS is liquidating its caucuses at a time when there are no major regroupment possibilities that could conceivably be offered as justification. Leftward moving SDS, PL in its period of rejecting nationalism, the Black Panthers before they split—each reflected sectors of the student, left or black population in significant motion which a small Trotskyist organization could realistically attempt to regroup. Today, unfortunately, there are no parallels.

There are significant, comparable and interrelated stirrings in the black communities and the integrated industrial unions. In both cases, they have been primarily electoral and only occasionally have burst these bounds. Hungry, angry, desperate blacks register by the tens of 1000s in the Democratic Party under the aegis of hustler Jesse Jackson, rebel occasionally as in Miami or turn out for left-led anti-fascist mobilizations. Hundreds of 1000s of integrated workers in city after city turn out at the call of their unions in marches to demonstrate their anger at Reaganomics. Bureaucratic misleaders desperately seek to channel this anger back into the Democratic Party, and try to isolate the occasional militant strikes—that challenge their class collaboration—like Canadian Chrysler or the recently defeated seven month long UAW strike against Caterpillar.

Voluminous Workers Vanguard sales at the labor parades, and the union members many years of electoral support for and repeated defense of class-struggle militants (not to mention the steady if only linear recruitment of stable supporters to the caucuses) lack the dramatic quality and immediate political importance of the anti-fascist Labor/Black mobilizations. However, we as Marxists know that concentrated and socialized in the plants at the point of production, workers have power and the maximum ability to be brought to class consciousness.

At a time when the fascists are on the offensive, trying to polarize the US working class along race lines, it is critically important that revolutionaries remain in the integrated industrial unions and seek, by building alternative leaderships around the transitional program, to turn the unions into “instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat” as Trotsky advocated in “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay”.

As we said in the Declaration of an external tendency of the iSt:

“The long-awaited and inevitable upsurge of American workers will come and when it does it will be expressed through the only working-class organizations in the US, the trade unions. Without an early political and organizational corrective, the SL/US will be in no position to take advantage of it, thereby losing the opportunity to build the core of a Bolshevik workers party.”

Comrades, the SLUS is crossing the Rubicon. The time to act is now. In the ILWU, as Harry Bridges drove the union toward destruction, workers increasingly said he couldn’t stand to see the union outlive him. In a move to keep the lid on and preserve bureaucratic rule, Bridges lieutenants forcibly pensioned him off. If JR has the Harry Bridges syndrome and can’t stand to see the SL/iSt outlive its founder’s political life, then we propose to pension him off. But we don’t propose to let his lieutenants run and ruin the show. Throw them off the Central Committee, take the WV, the keys, the money and the building from their hands, and let them rejoin the ranks to rehabilitate themselves by putting in a few good years of yeoman’s service for the revolution.


P.O. Box 904 P.O. Box 332
Oakland, CA 94668

Adelaide Street Station
U.S.A. Toronto, Ontario

P.O. Box 14158
Cleveland., Ohio 44114



P.O. BOX 27365 LOS ANGELES, CA 90027

The Militant Action Caucus would like to thank all the sisters and brothers of this local who came out to support us in our fight to be reinstated as stewards in this local. Upon reflection experience shows us that to be an appointed steward comes into conflict with a class-struggle perspective. With the coming contract fight and the local bureaucrats’ plans to shove the new sellout down our throats, the local misleaders find it necessary to tighten their grip on the stewards. Coming to the defense of the membership is to put your job as an appointed steward on the line. It is impossible to be an appointed steward and at the sane time uphold the program of the caucus. Therefore, with all this in mind, all caucus stewards will be submittingx the following letter of resignation to the union.

To: Chief Stewards Office

I hereby resign as a steward of CWA Local 11502.

Appointed stewards have proven to be a tool of the anti-worker pro-company union bureaucracy. Appointed stewards are expected to play the role of policeman on the shop floor, enforcing company policy and preventing union members from opposing these policies or even defending themselves when victimized.

That this is the case was clearly demonstrated when three appointed stewards—Manuel Delgadillo, Barbara Britton, and Manuel Morales—were de-certified by the Local 11502 officers for attempting to defend members suspended by the company for failure to comply with the brutal speed up of the new productivity quotas. For acting in the interests of the members against the company they were accused of operating outside of “normal union channels.”

I refuse to be reduced to the role of an appointed toady acting as an agent for the company. My loyalties lie with the workers and their struggles against the company.

I look forward to standing for elections by union members as a steward on a program of fighting speed up and all other company profit-mailing schemes and fighting against the social-democratic, pro-CIA, pro-company union bureaucracy that acts as labor lieutenants of the bosses to enforce this company’s anti-worker policies.

Barbara Britton
Manuel Delgadillo
For the Militant Action Caucus
labor donated 5-16-83
For information call: 664-9256, 698-4871



P.O. BOX 24851 OAKLAND, CA 94823

We Won’t Be Flunkies For Imerzel & Co.

The local union bureaucracy has drawn the line by demanding that all stewards must be factfinders or be fired as stewards. MAC stewards have refused to be factfinders since the inception of this class collaborationist procedure in 1981. Factfinding is a joint union/company scheme where the union acts in open collusion with the company on members’ grievances. Class collaboration is concrete—factfinding is like having your defense lawyer prepare your case jointly with the District Attorney who’s trying to hang you! We said we’d have no part of it when it started, we won’t have any part of it now. We militantly defy Imerzel’s pro-company edict and have resigned as stewards (see letter on back).

Both the company and the union bureaucracy love factfinding. For the union it’s the logical result of years of capitulation to the company. Union and company officials expect stewards to channel the justifiable outrage of members against increasing speedup, harassment, suspension and firings onto pieces of paper called “grievances”. So workers are told by both the company and the union to do what the company demands now and grieve it later. And months, sometimes years, later—where’s your grievance? It’s either sold out or dumped in the garbage. The red-tape grievance procedure is meant to keep the membership from taking immediate and effective action to stop company attacks. That’s why MAC has campaigned repeatedly for the local right to strike over grievances. The company only understands power, you won’t stop them with thousands of paper grievances.

Further, our members don’t even have the right to choose who will and who will not be their stewards. Stewards are appointed (and fired) by the bureaucracy. It’s no wonder that the majority of stewards aren’t trusted by the members. How many stewards use their appointed post as a stepping stone into management? How many act as cops on the shop floor, enforcing company policy and preventing members from fighting against victimization? How many act as company finks? How many are totally frustrated by the stacked deck grievance procedure or just quit in disgust after the majority of their grievances get no where? Look at what Imerzel, McKenna and Zupan did to MAC member Kat Burnham last August. In the service of the company, they set her up and finked on her to management—who then put her on indefinite suspension warning. Her grievance is still “pending”. In the Oakland local, an executive board member recently went into management and his successor got this turncoat’s endorsement for the executive board slot! Meanwhile, a petition signed by 19 out of 22 workers at 45th St. C.O. naming a MAC member as steward was dumped in the trash by the union officers.

The bureaucracy expects appointed stewards to be tools of their anti-worker, pro-company policies. Out of reach of any membership control, finks and traitors often further their little careers by stepping over the members they’re supposed to represent. MAC says—No officer or steward on the company “Ready Now” list! Dump factfinding! For the election of stewards by the members they represent!

MAC will continue the fight to win workers to our class struggle program. We are forging a new leadership to sweep out the rotten, pro-company bureaucrats. We are fighting for mass mobilizations of the working class and oppressed to smash racist cop violence and the rise of KKK/Nazi terror. We are for militant labor action to stop Reagan’s dirty war in Central America, the front line of the bipartisan anti-Soviet war drive that is leading straight to thermonuclear war. We are for breaking the workers movement from the Democrats and Republicans, the twin parties of the bosses. We need to build a workers party based on the unions which will throw out the capitalists and set up a workers government. Then we can establish a rational planned economy that can end unemployment, poverty, racism and imperialist war once and for all. JOIN MAC!

(We reprint below the letter submitted to the union 6-2-83)

June 1, 1983



We hereby resign as stewards in the CWA. You have drawn the line by demanding that all stewards be factfinders or be fired. We defy your pro-company edict! We will have no part of the rotten, class collaborationist factfinding scheme which forces stewards to be cops for the company and screws the members.

Further, since stewards are appointed by you and not elected by the members, you expect slavish loyalty in return. We refuse to be reduced to the role of appointed toadies for flunkies of the company. This is further underlined by the experience of MACers who served as appointed stewards in the L.A. local. For fighting in the interests of the members and aggressively defending several suspended workers, they were fired as stewards by your cohorts in the L.A. bureaucracy.

From your order to factfind to your dumping of the recall petition to your ongoing purge trial against Kathy Ikegami—your policies are pro-company and anti-worker!

We look forward to running for elected steward on the MAC program. We will continue to wage an implacable fight against the pro-CIA, pro-company CWA bureaucracy that serves as labor lieutenants for the bosses and their government.


Kathy Ikegami
Paul Costan
Steve Gonzalez
George Sonntag
Rosa Penate

For information: 821-9830/550-7518 Labor donated

Militant Longshoreman No. 6

Militant Longshoreman

No. #6 Dec. 3, 1983

[This issue was reprinted with a clarifying introduction ET Bulletin #2, January 1984. We are including that introduction. First posted online at ]

Militant Longshoreman on Greyhound Strike

A Strategy to Win

15 December—We reprint below Militant Longshoreman No. 6 which was distributed both at the Greyhound strikers’ mass picket in San Francisco on 3 December and inside the ILWU. Due to a transcription error, “Prepare for a General Strike,” which was intended to be a superheadline, was made the main headline. This gives an incorrect emphasis in a leaflet whose text posed the issues and tactics correctly. The key now is to organize the continuing, random and largely leaderless participation of ATU and non-ATU union members on the picket lines to sustain mass picketing to shut down Greyhound. “If,” as the Militant Longshoreman notes correctly, “Feinstein’s cops attack the pickets, the whole city should be shut down. Nationally, a San Francisco general strike could spark a needed solidarity strike of all the transport unions to support the ATU.”

At the December 3rd events, the SL carried signs and led chants focussing primarily on “picket lines mean don’t cross.” While formally correct, in a situation where all the major unions involved are honoring the picket lines—with the disgusting exception of the UAW in Detroit—this represents a tactical skew. The real issue now is mass pickets to stop the scab buses. While ET supporters carried a sign at the mass pickets on 3 and 10 December saying “Anti-Soviet War Drive Abroad Means Union Busting at Home!,” the SL carried no such signs to our knowledge. This is noteworthy from an organization which accuses its critics of wanting to accommodate to the bureaucracy, in part by taking a dive on the Russian question. Another ET sign said “Prepare for a General Strike Against Feinstein’s Cops’ Strikebreaking” and “Break With Feinstein’s Democrats—Build a Workers Party” and the Militant Longshoremanemphasized her strikebreaking role in the ILWU as part of our active fight in longshore to mobilize support for the strike. But not one SL sign that we saw mentioned Feinstein’s strikebreaking! From an organization which once rightfully prided itself on its no-holds-barred opposition to her strikebreaking, this omission is noteworthy.



The Greyhound strike is now at a turning point. The ATU membership’s second massive rejection of the 25% takeaway contract means that Greyhound’s initial strategy failed. Greyhound expected that by hiring some scabs and getting 10% of the runs going, the union members would be scared into going back to work. Less than 2% have succumbed to the pressure. The strike remains strong.

Greyhound’s new announcement that it will attempt to resume full service can mean only one thing: it intends to break the strike physically, not only with scabs but with cops.

The only reason any buses are rolling in San Francisco now is because Feinstein’s cops attacked the picket line the first day of the strike. They made it clear that any further attempts to stop the buses would be met with more arrests and beatings. ILWU International President, Herman, together with the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and the Teamsters’ leaders arranged a “truce” with Feinstein which was completely against the strikers: no cops will be around so long as the union doesn’t try to stop the buses! As Greyhound hires more scabs, this “truce” will mean that the trickle of scab buses will become a stream and then a river.

The holes in the picket lines must be plugged. The cops must be faced down and backed off. Labor has the power: there are tens of thousands of union members in San Francisco alone. Every day mass pickets, a thousand strong, should surround and shut down the Greyhound terminal. Members of all unions, particularly transport workers from AC Transit, Muni, BART, the Teamsters, longshoremen and the railroads, should organize to beef-up the ATU picket lines.

Every worker has a stake in the strike. It is the most important attack on labor nationally since Reagan busted PATCO. The destruction of PATCO was a big step in Reagan’s drive to force down the standard of living of U.S. workers in order to make them pay for his anti-Soviet war drive. Since PATCO’s defeat, the airlines have attacked the airline unions one by one, rolling back wages and benefits, and, at Continental, firing everyone. If the machinists, flight attendants, baggage handlers, teamsters, etc. had stuck together—if they had ignored and thrown out the union officers who ordered them to cross each others’ picket lines—PATCO would still exist today and the airline unions wouldn’t be in a mess.

Labor must not be divided—together, the unions have the power to defeat Feinstein and the other Democratic mayors and Republican governors who have ordered cop attacks on the strikers—from Boston to Philadelphia to Tucson. Feinstein is an enemy of labor. From PROP. L in 1974, to the defeated City Workers strike in 1976 and ever since, she has been in the forefront of anti-union attacks. But Feinstein has twice been beaten by forces with far less strength than the unions. When Dan White was let off with manslaughter in 1978, her cops stood by, vastly outnumbered by gays vividly demonstrating their anger. In 1980, when the Nazis tried to celebrate Hitler’s birthday at San Francisco city hall, a coalition of unionists, blacks, Latins, Jews, gays and socialists, initiated by the Spartacist League, announced that they would mobilize thousands strong to run the Nazis out—and Feinstein suddenly changed her mind about providing five hundred blue-uniformed stormtroopers to protect the Hitlerites. Feinstein, like most northern Democratic politicians, is dependent on working class and minority votes to keep in office and is therefore susceptible to mass pressure.

The ILWU, AFL-CIO and Teamster leaders won’t take the necessary action. Right now they are honoring each others’ picket lines. They realize that if too many more unions are smashed they won’t have the dues base to pay their businessmen’s salaries nor the political leverage to get themselves appointed to city and county jobs. But they’ll make a deal at the strikers’ expense at a moment’s notice. They caved into Moscone, Feinstein & Co. in ‘76. First, they threatened a general strike. Then they ran like scared rats. Now they are at it again. Two weeks ago—November 17—Jimmy Herman called longshore Local 10 officers to get their agreement to participate in a one-day general strike to support the Greyhound strikers. Armed with Local 10’s (and probably other unions’) agreement, Herman, the AFL-CIO and Teamster leaders marched into Feinstein’s office. They “won” a “truce” which keeps the scab buses going and they got the much-publicized Feinstein letter to Reaganite Deukmejian. The tokenism of this threat was proved when Addison and Keylor put a motion on the floor to mobilize longshoremen to the Greyhound picket lines and the Local 10 officers ruled it out of order. Had Herman & Co. forgotten where plumbers’ union leader Mazzola’s weakness ended him in 1976? Right smack in Feinstein’s jail!

The ILWU’S recent strike in Richmond shows there’s another way—the way to win. When Levin Terminals tried to bring in outside labor to steal our jobs; when the international officers ruled our strike illegal and our business—unionist local officers vacillated—we massed more than 1,200 strong in Richmond. Our union backed off the notorious Richmond killer cops. In solidarity, we shut down all Bay Area ports despite our contract which said we couldn’t. Our action beat the injunction, stopped the union-busting, won a union contract, and stopped Levin’s bid to take the auto work, container and break bulk cargo from longshoremen.

That’s what’s needed with Greyhound. If Feinstein’s cops attack the pickets, the whole city should be shut down. Nationally, a San Francisco general strike could spark a needed solidarity strike of all the transport unions to support the ATU.

The San Francisco general strike could bring the unemployed to our side by fighting for a shorter work week at no loss in pay to create jobs and by demanding full restoration of all cuts in city, county and state medical and welfare payments.

The way to maximize the chance of winning a general strike is to elect a strike committee representing all unions. This centralized strike committee would run the strike, oust the timid pro-capitalist labor bureaucrats and smash the alliance with the capitalist Democratic party.

Fred Addison
Howard Keylor

Militant Longshoreman No. 22

Militant Longshoreman

No. 22,  July 25, 1987


After much rhetoric about “no concessionary bargaining” Herman and Rubio engineered two provisions in the proposed longshore contract that will disastrously weaken and divide the union. One of these “sleepers” is hidden in the supplemental memorandum of under­standing-safety and the other is contained in the wages section.

PMA is accomplishing two goals dear to their heart in section B of the proposed Safety Rules. Section B(1) gives PMA the right to suspend and then move rapidly toward de-registering any longshoremen found guilty of not following “reasonable verbal instructions.` This provision has nothing to do with safety; it’s simply a way that superintendants  can demand immediate absolute obedience, strike fear in every longshoreman, and easily get rid of anyone who doesn’t show the right ass-kissing attitude. During the unions bitter struggles of the 30s’ longshoremen achieved a high degree of union to protect workers from employment victimization. The hiring hall, which equalized job opportunity protected a man’s income and job action protected him from abuse, discrimination, and speed-up.  In  1960 Bridges’ one year “Performance and Conformance” contract under­mined the job action weapon. Then the 1966 9.43 steady equipment operators provision of the contract placed a large chunk of longshoremen in a much more vulnerable position.

Even so, the union has been able to pretty well protect longshoremen up to now. B(1) is an historic surrender to the employer. Any longshoreman who is not fast enough in jumping to obey a superintendant who orders men to work in violation of the contract will rapidly be programmed toward deregistration. B(2) will enable any superintendant whose speedup, incompetence, or faulty equipment results in an injury or damage to cargo to place the blame on a longshoreman for “intentionally” or “knowingly” causing the accident. The PMA companies have been trying to shift the blame for their high accident rate and insurance costs upon the individual longshoremen. For some time now in San Francisco any longshoreman involved in an accident has been fired and cited. Now PMA will have the power to get rid of the man.

PMA’s hypocrisy about accidents is shown by their consistent resistance to longshoremen trying to use the Health & Safety provisions of the contract; hard-timing and firing men who stop work on safety beefs. In the past when longshoremen had job control they were able to collectively maintain safer working conditions. In recent years this under­mining of union power has been a large contributing factor in the high accident rate.

There are no contract penalties for incompetent, drunk, or speed-up happy superintendants whose orders cause accidents and injuries. The whole burden is hypocritically shifted upon our shoulders. For over 50 years the employers have nutured a sick hatred and jealously of the pride and independence of longshoremen; now they will be able to “get even.”


Unions have resisted 2 tier wage rates because they are highly divisive and unfair. If this contract passes, within a few years union members (A men) will be working side by side doing the same work for different wage scales. The Class B system with less work opportunity led to resentment and divisiveness. Long after men got Class A registration the divisions often persisted. Now we’ll have 6 separate and distinct wage rates for the same work.How’s that for undermining brotherhood and unity in the face of employers?


The editor of this newsletter was surprised at the extent of the give-aways in this contract. The increase in export shipping (resulting from the decline in the U.S. dollar) less PGP costs, and a decline in the work force made it unlikely that PMA would seek confrontation leading to a strike even-in the face of the minimal gains proposed by the International officers. So what happened? Herman and Rubio were running so scared that they sent all kinds of signals to the PMA that the door was open to a union weakening contract. The International sent orders down to the locals during negotiations to stop all job actions and minimize beefs. Instead of setting July 1st as a no-contract no‑work target date they announced ahead of time that they would order work past the July 1st contract termination ~ date.

Probably the most glaring indication of weakness was the criminal way in which the IBU strike against Crowley was sabotaged. Any picketing or actions against Crowley which even slightly inconvenienced the PMA companies were stopped. Just one example: an arbitration on picket line language in Los Angeles which appeared to have a good chance of upholding the right of longshoremen and clerks to stop work behind IBU picket lines and to force ships agents to hire non-Crowley bunkering barges has been repeatedly postponed and delayed. Herman and Rubio have strangled the IBU from con­tinuing their initially successful picketing in Los Angeles last month — By the way there isno injunction in L.A. against IBU picketing Crowley’s very profitable bunker­ing operations.

When the Crowley cargo-carrying barge Molokai which we stopped in Oakland and Redwood City was loaded by scab longshoremen at Seaways in Seattle it then went to Hawaii and was picketed by the IBU. Teamsters observed the IBU-ILWU pickets but longshoremen went thru the picket lines and unloaded the barge!

Part of the reason this contract may pass is that longshoremen and clerks are justifi­ably fearful of going into a strike with the weak and treacherous Herman/Rubio leader­ship. The only chance we have of winning even a defensive contract battle is to take control of the strike out of the hands of the International. We need to elect broad rank-and-file strike committees in every port to take complete control of the strike, shut it down solid and hurt PMA economically. That’s why the 1934 and 1948 strikes were successful–the rank-and-file were in control.


Militant Longshoreman No 9

Militant Longshoreman

No #9   July 21, 1984



This contract is worse than the editor expected. I did expect that a Negotiating Committee dominated by the International officers and without any strike demands would get no real improvements in job security, safety, or grievance procedure. But I was unpleasantly surprised that Herman’s tactic of divide and conquer (exemplified by separate steady men contracts in the three major locals) while piecing off different sections of the Division with minor concessions, would be even more successful this time around. The Northwest and Southern California got their stop gap concessions and San Francisco is brutally victimized,


The April Caucus defeated by one vote Local 10’s demand for a shorter work shift at no loss in pay to create jobs. The resolutions passed for manning on container operations and no extended shifts got strictly nowhere during negotiations. The Northwest and Southern California zones got expanded voluntary paid travel rights, but Local 10 is still locked into a zone with only two small river ports to which we can travel. We can expect those ports which are outside our zone and have extra work to tighten up and further limit the number of San Francisco longshoremen who can travel there as jointly recognized visitors.


So where does that leave us? Depending almost entirely on PGP, the crumbling “cornerstone” of job security. Local 10’s demand for a “make whole” on the PGP shortfall from the last contract and our demand to eliminate Section 20.7, “PGP Abuse”, were rejected by the April Caucus. The demands passed by the Caucus for a weekly 40 hour PGP were dropped. Also to bite the dust in negotiations was the demand that men not involved directly in a contract beef were not to be dinged for a weeks PGP.

Instead, what we got was a 38 hour PGP with restrictive rules tailored to punish Local 10. All men will have to maintain 50-7, of the average port hours in order to keep from being coded out of PGP. Men on slow-moving boards will be forced to haunt the hall seven days a week, day and night, in a desperate attempt to keep their hours up. Older and partially disabled men will have to take a dispatch to steel in the hold and lashing to keep up their availability (or to make a living income if “coded out” of PGP). If a Class B longshoreman or a casual takes a lashing or steel job every A man on the Dock or Hold Board who isn’t squared off and doesn’t take those jobs will lose his PGP for the week. Several hundred men will be forced out of the industry by these rules. Especially hard hit will be men on the Dock Preference Board who have to make 50% of Port hours to stay on PGP.

Every longshoreman will be desperately competing with every other man for jobs, We can end up fighting each other instead of PMA.


The new sections 10.2131 through 20.21313 will lead to men snitching on each others “outside income” and place the union in the position of acting as cops for PMA witchhunting. Our officers will be so preoccupied with hearings and appeals from this section that they won’t be able to get out onto the job.


None of the Coast Caucus’ Health and Safety demands were negotiated. Instead, a committee with no power will meet with FMA after the contract is signed to update the safety code. PMA’s push to get the ships out can only result in even more crippling accidents especially on steel and container operations .


The April Coast Caucus ducked the problems represented by a “grievance procedure” that doesn’t allow longshoremen to protect their conditions. Unlike previous Caucuses, this one didn’t even formulate a demand to allow Longshoremen to stop work when PMA superintendents order men to work in clear violation of the contract.

That same Caucus overwhelmingly defeated delegate Keylor’s amendment to eliminate arbitrators and arbitration completely from the contract. Instead the Caucus passed two resolutions calling for termination of an arbitrator’s term of office at the end of each contract. Even this timid and useless demand was dropped during negotiations.

The only addition to the grievance machinery, new section 17.57, can be used against the union forcing us to strictly abide by Sutliff’s rulings while we wait out the interminable process of appealing to the Coast Committee.


Caucus demands to eliminate extended shifts except for emergencies were likewise dropped. Also disappeared from this contract package was the demand to tighten up on PMA’s shift starting time.

What this Negotiationg, Committee did was to make further concessions to PMA to allow a Container Freight Station to operate from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM.


PMA was given a further concession on hours allowing them to stagger the CFS work week over any consecutive five day period and to stagger the lunch hour.

In what is a vain attempt to compete with non-union off-dock CFS operations the remaining job classifications will be wiped out, so that a super CFS utility man will throw cargo, do his own clerking, and drive equipment. This may even lead to a net loss of jobs for Locals 10 and 34

Section 10 of the proposed CFS agreement eliminating the IBT swamper/lumper could push us into a bitter jurisdictional war with the Teamsters. A fight with the Teamsters is the last thing we need right now; the April Caucus endorsed a Coast Committee resolution to set up machinery for more and closer cooperation with the Teamsters.


The Section entitled Steady Skilled Men is probably the most deceptive and confusing section of the agreement. Local 13 (Los Angeles) got increased crane and tractor training. L.A. also got some concessions on their equalization formula between Crane Supplement and Crane Board men.

What did Local 10 get? No training. All equalization language deleted from the contract. SEO Board in the hall eliminated; all 9.43 men back to their individual employer. PMA companies will be able to tighten up control over “their” steady skilled men.

The new contract language which is supposed to return tractors and lifts over five tons to the hall is both confusing and deceptive. Attempts to get clear explanations from the Negotiating Committee were met with evasions :nnd bombastic oratory,

Here is how the editor interprets this contract section, (Remember: Sutliff will be making the contract interpretations!)

A) Steady Skilled Men can operate tractors, lifts, payloaders, and bulldozers to fill out their eight hour guarantees.

B) 9.43 men can drive lifts on the ship on all types of cargo including steel.

C) 9.43 men can operate lifts on the dock on Ro-Ro and “container operations”. This probably means 9.43 on lifts moving containers where the ship has mixed break bulk/container cargo.

Since each PMA member company won’t be able to use another company’s steady skilled men (no SEO Board in the hall), each company will have an incentive to hire back more 9.43 men and to chisel wherever they can in using steady men in place of hall men.

The April Caucus voted down Keylor’s motion to make the demand for elimination of all steady skilled men provisions from the contract a strike issue.

The Negotiating Committee was given a demand requiring that all crane-rated equipment mounted on a floating vessel be dispatched from the hall. Since this demand was dropped the door remains wide open for more 9.43 men operating back-hoes, whirleys, swinging booms, and any ships hoisting gear rated at 40 tons.


Contrary to the Coast Committee recommendation (and Caucus action) nothing was done to even begin to consolidate the different levels of pension benefits for men already retired. In fact, beefing up the maximum years of service credit to 33 years for future retirees only increases the spread in pensions between men who retired earlier and men who will retire in the future.

For the first time part of pension increases (for retirees prior to July 1, 1984) will not have to be fully funded by PMA –  as ERISA requires – but will be funded like welfare, from contract to contract, a move which if extended into the future will make our pensions less secure.


The unions “negotiating posture” sent a signal of weakness to PMA. Not one key demand was designated a strike issue. The leadership did not prepare the rank-and-file for a strike. The Negotiating Committee was not armed with a strike vote. Instead, president Herman spread scare tactics as to how weak we are and how bad the anti-labor climate is under Reagan.

PMA was never told “July 1 – no contract – no work”. The Negotiating Committee was top heavy with five International officers. The four large locals had only one member each on the Negotiating Committee.

The shipping lines have been making money and were not prepared for a real solid strike. PMA got off easy by offering money to a steadily diminishing work force.


Jimmy Herman has been throwing out hints that we might have to make increased concessions to some of our employers to help them compete with non-union operations like Seaways. That’s probably why in the face of an agressive attack by Crowley on the ILA, Masters Mates and Pilots, and the Inland Boatmen – ILWU the International pushed concession bargaining between IBU and Crowley, and was largely responsible for the obscene spectacle of longshoremen going through the IBU tankerman’s picket lines at the army base on June 21st.



It’s remotely possible that if the contract is turned down that a few concessions could be wrung from PMA simply by reopening negotiations. But it would be dishonest not to tell the membership that only a determination to fight accompanied by preparations for a brawl can get us even a part of what we need.

It looks as if Herman has manipulated the leadership of other sections of the Longshore Division to make Local 10 the scapegoat. Local 10’s Caucus delegation voted 7-4 against the contract. This is the largest Caucus delegate no vote since the ’71 strike. A serious and determined Local leadership would send rank-and-file delegates all over the coast immediately in an attempt to win at least 41% against the contract in the voting which takes place July 21-27. The delegates would talk directly to longshoremen and clerks appealing to them for a common fight for jobs through manning and a shorter work shift. Defeating the contract on the first round would give us breathing space to reorganize for a real fight.

The hour is late. In fact when the Executive Board discussed the contract on June 28 and the discussion finally got around to what to do, the meeting dissolved before a vote was taken on the proposal to send people coastwise. This should have been done much earlier, even before the April Caucus, and at the latest after we learned what was in the contract.

It’s better to fight for what you want and need — and maybe not get it, than to ask for what you don’t want — and get that (Loosely paraphrasing Eugene Debs).


Cuba, the LRCI and Marxist Theory

In Defense of the Revolutionary Tendency

Cuba, the LRCI and Marxist Theory

[First printed in 1917 #13, 1994]

In a recent polemic on the collapse of the Soviet Union (see accompanying article) Keith Harvey, a leading theoretician of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) alleges that the roots of the International Bolshevik Tendency’s ‘‘anti-Trotskyist method’’ can be traced to an erroneous position on the Cuban Revolution originally developed by the Spartacist League of the 1960s.

We welcome the opportunity to take up the LRCI’s views on this question, since the Cuban Revolution is of particular importance for post-war Trotskyism. The Cuban events helped clarify important aspects of the social overturns in China, Yugoslavia and Vietnam after World War II. The key question, in the words of the LRCI’s leading section, the British Workers Power (WP) group, is:

‘‘…how has capitalism been overthrown in a whole series of countries without the independent action of the working class playing the decisive role, and what are the implications of this for revolutionary strategy?’’

After the overtly counterrevolutionary role played by Moscow in strangling the Spanish Revolution in the 1930s, the Trotskyist movement tended to view Stalinism simply as an anti-revolutionary agency in the working class, not qualitatively different from social democracy. After World War II, the phenomenon of indigenous Stalinist-led insurrectionary peasant movements taking power and liquidating the bourgeoisie without the intervention of either the Soviet bureaucracy or the working class, a phenomenon unforseen by Trotsky, created a ‘‘crisis of theory’’ for his followers.

Pabloism and Post-War Stalinism

The leadership of the Fourth International, headed by Michel Pablo, concluded that the Stalinists could be forced to ‘‘roughly outline a revolutionary orientation,’’ and foresaw ‘‘centuries’’ of deformed workers’ states on the horizon. The Pablo leadership, anticipating the imminent outbreak of World War III between the USSR and world imperialism, considered that there was no time to forge independent mass revolutionary parties. Instead they proposed a tactic of ‘‘entrism sui generis’’ in which the existing Trotskyist cadres should dissolve themselves into Stalinist, social-democratic, and even pettybourgeois nationalist parties in order to pressure them to the left.

The leadership of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP), historically the strongest section of the international, carried out a belated and partial struggle against Pablo’s liquidationism, in which they reasserted the necessity for independent revolutionary (i.e., Trotskyist) parties. While this fight represented a defense of Bolshevism against liquidationism, the SWP’s ‘‘orthodoxy’’ was flawed and one-sided, and too often amounted to little more than a denial that the post-war social overturns posed any new questions. Joseph Hansen spoke for the SWP leadership when he asserted that Stalinism is counterrevolutionary through and through, an erroneous characterization which denied that Stalinist formations could spearhead anti-capitalist social overturns. This empirically false assertion, made in the heat of the struggle against Pablo’s supporters, both reflected the political disorientation of the SWP leadership and contributed to disarming the party cadres politically.

Castroism vs. Trotskyism in the SWP

When Fidel Castro’s petty-bourgeois guerrillas smashed Fulgencio Batista’s neo-colonial regime and the bourgeois state apparatus, and then two years later nationalized the economy, the SWP leadership became Fidelistas and began hailing Castro as an ‘‘unconscious Marxist.’’ This political capitulation laid the basis for a 1963 reunification with the Pabloists, which launched the pseudo-Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International, today headed by Ernest Mandel.

Opponents of the adaptation to Castroism within the SWP founded the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) to fight the revisionism of the leadership. In a key document, the RT drew a parallel between the course of the Cuban Revolution and the Chinese Revolution led by Mao Tse Tung:

‘‘The transformation of China into a deformed workers state was instituted, not by the working class of China nor primarily because of great pressure from the working class—-it was carried through on top on the initiative of the Maoist bureaucracy itself as a defensive act against imperialism.

‘‘It is now quite clear that Cuba has followed the model of China quite closely. It was primarily the support of the peasantry which pushed Castro into power. The extensive nationalizations were primarily initiated by the regime itself in response to imperialist provocation and not by the working class which generally tailed these events.

‘Cuba makes this process all the more clear precisely because of the central unique feature of the Cuban revolution—- that the transformation into a deformed workers state occurred under the leadership of a party which was not even ostensibly ‘working class,’ by a non-Stalinist petty-bourgeois formation.’’

—-‘‘Cuba and the Deformed Workers States’’

The RT argued that the Castroist guerrillas were no substitute for the class-conscious proletariat, and concluded that the road to socialism could only be opened through a political revolution:

‘‘It is a matter of replacing the rule of a petty-bourgeois apparatus with the rule of the working class itself. Changes in the economic structure would not be so profound, and that is why we characterize such a change as a political, as contrasted to a social revolution.’’

The RT’s essentially correct analysis of the Cuban Revolution cut through many of the theoretical difficulties that had surrounded the post-war social transformations.Moreover, the RT correctly generalized its criticisms of the SWP leadership’s capitulation to Castro, and linked them to the whole adaptationist methodology which destroyed the Fourth International. In its 1962 founding document, the RT wrote:

‘‘Pabloism is essentially a revisionist current within the Trotskyist movement internationally which has lost a revolutionary world perspective during the post-war period of capitalist boom and the subsequent relative inactivity of the working class in the advanced countries. The Pabloites tend to replace the role of the working class and its organized vanguard—-that is, the world Trotskyist movement—-with other forces which seem to offer greater chances of success.’’

—-‘‘In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective’’

The RT defended the centrality of the subjective factor—- and the importance of the struggle for the Trotskyist program against those who saw the struggle for world revolution as a semi-automatic unfolding objective ‘‘process.’’ In this the RT carried forward the positive aspects of the SWP leadership’s earlier struggle against Pabloist liquidationism, and ensured the political continuity of the struggle of the Left Opposition and the Fourth International under Trotsky. When the RT cadres were bureaucratically expelled from the SWP in 1963, they launched the Spartacist League (SL) which uniquely upheld the heritage of authentic Trotskyism for the next decade and a half, before its qualitative degeneration into the pseudo-Trotskyist obedience cult it is today.

Workers Power’s ‘Degenerated Revolution’

The core of the British Workers Power group emerged from the British International Socialists led by Tony Cliff in the mid-1970s. Cliff’s group had been expelled from the Fourth International in the early 1950s for its cowardly refusal to defend North Korea against U.S. imperialism.Workers Power retained a version of the IS’s nonsensical ‘‘state capitalist’’ analysis of the USSR and the deformed workers’ states for some years after leaving the Cliffites. In the early 1980s it began to distance itself from this position, and began projecting itself as a representative of authentic Trotskyism.

Most of the major international claimants to the tradition of Trotskyism at the time (e.g., groups associated with Ernest Mandel, Gerry Healy or Pierre Lambert) could be easily dismissed politically, but the Revolutionary Tendency (and its successor, the Spartacist League) had to be taken more seriously. The British Spartacist operation, whose cadres were already shell-shocked by several years of brutal and apolitical purges, exerted little appeal. Yet, if the RT alone had been essentially correct on the difficult political questions that had bedeviled post-war Trotskyism, then the legitimacy of Workers Power’s claim to have uniquely reestablished an authentically Trotskyist tendency, and therefore its historical justification for existence, would be called into question.

In the early 1980s Workers Power devoted considerable resources to an internal re-examination of the history of the Russian question and the Trotskyist movement.The fruit of this work was the publication in 1982 of a lengthy pamphlet entitled The Degenerated Revolution.This was an attempt to analyze the whole phenomenon of Stalinism, particularly the post-war social overturns, and to settle accounts with WP’s previous ‘‘state capitalist’’ analysis.

For a small group it was an ambitious undertaking, and much of the history of the post-war period was competently sketched. But the tract’s opaque and confusionist theoretical generalizations suggest that the group’s leadership was as concerned that Workers Power’s insights be original and unique as anything else.

The authors, who had for years mistaken the bureaucratized workers’ states for capitalist ones, boldly claimed to be the first people to understand the whole problem of the post-war property transformations. ‘‘The plain truth is that the elements of the shattered Trotskyist tradition have never fully understood the real nature of the Stalinist regimes’’ intoned the WP theoreticians. While they themselves only recently discovered that Cliff’s state capitalist theory was ‘‘wrong, and that Trotsky’s analysis provided a correct alternative’’ they went on to add: ‘‘Correct, but not fully developed….’’

In ‘‘developing’’ Trotsky’s analysis, WP was particularly concerned to demonstrate that all previous attempts to deal with the question, particularly those of the RT, were inadequate. To launch The Degenerated Revolution in 1982, Workers Power invited the Spartacist League/Britain (SL/B) to participate in a public debate. But the SL/B, itself already badly degenerated, chose to avoid a political confrontation and instead staged a stupid macho provocation (see Spartacist Britain, December 1982). This let Workers Power’s leaders off the hook politically and reinforced the impression among their followers that their critique of the RT’s position was unassailable.

LRCI’s Critique of the RT on Cuba

In his recent polemic against us (see Trotskyist International No. 11) Keith Harvey purports to trace the root of IBT errors on the Russian question to the RT/SL’s position on Cuba:

‘‘In attempting to analyse the Cuban Revolution the leaders of the Spartacists developed the idea that the Castro bonapartist regime in 1959 and 1960 did not defend either capitalism or any other set of property relations. Rather it was a petit- bourgeois government that was uncommitted to the defence of either….until Castro finally jumped into the camp of Stalinism under the hostile pressure of the USA and turned Cuba into a deformed workers’ state.’’

—-Trotskyist International, No. 11, May 1993

The LRCI rejects such notions, and argues that a bonapartist petty-bourgeois regime like that of Castroists in 1959-60 ‘‘can oscillate under the pressure of more fundamental forces between defending first one and later a different set of property relations…’’ (Ibid.)

We shall come back to the Kautskyist implications of imagining that states can ‘‘oscillate’’ between defending the interests of one social class and another. For the moment we wish to consider the LRCI’s charge that our supposed methodological error of ‘‘attribut[ing] the class character of the state to the subjective intentions of the office holders.’’ This same criticism is made in The Degenerated Revolution, where Workers Power asserts that those who argue that ‘‘a state is defined as ‘armed bodies of men dedicated to defending a particular property form’’’ have an ‘‘idealist notion of the relationship between property relations and the state machine.’’

Against such ‘‘idealism’’ WP sagely pronounces that, ‘‘We judge the class nature of a state by its actions, not by the ‘dedication’ of the individuals who make up its apparatus.’’ The question is not one of the personal dedication of individual functionaries to the performance of their duties, but the connection of the apparatus of repression to the interests of a particular social class, i.e., to the defense of a particular set of property relations. This can only be assessed on the basis of its actions. It is simply an empirical fact that in Cuba for almost two years the Castroite July 26 Movement possessed a monopoly of political and military power, but its actions demonstrated that it was neither committed to defending private property nor to expropriating it.

The petty-bourgeois Castroist apparatus, after first establishing a monopoly of armed force, proceeded to organize the administration of governmental functions on the national, regional and municipal level. The bourgeoisie was politically and militarily, but not economically, expropriated. Prior to the massive expropriation of foreign and domestic capital in the autumn of 1960, the July 26 Movement was not definitively committed either to a system of private or collectivized property. The Castroite apparatus at this point was only ‘‘committed’ to the defense of its political monopoly and could not therefore be considered to constitute a state in the Marxist sense, i.e., an armed body defending a particular form of property.

Trotsky described the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR as a petty-bourgeois caste which grew up within the administrative apparatus of the besieged workers’ state and appropriated the role of ‘‘gendarme.’’ In Cuba, the Castroist bureaucracy played the role of ‘‘gendarme,’’ but it existed before the creation of the collectivized economy and indeed, was instrumental in creating it. The July 26 Movement originated as a radical nationalist movement which aspired to rid Cuba of the corrupt, neo-colonial Batista regime and open the road for the free development of the patriotic bourgeoisie. In 1959-60, as the Castroists came into increasingly sharp conflict with the Cuban bourgeoisie and their U.S. godfathers, the July 26 Movement split, and a right wing, led by Hubert Matos, went over to the imperialists. In the end, the Castro leadership refused to knuckle under to Washington and opted instead for collectivizing the economy.

The ability of the July 26 Movement to make such a choice was conditioned by a number of factors: the destruction of Batista’s state apparatus, the absence of the working class as an independent political factor, and the existence of the bureaucratized Soviet workers’ state which was willing and able to provide military and economic support.

LRCI on Cuban Revolution: ‘Predominantly Counter-revolutionary’

According to Workers Power, when the Castroists took power they formed a ‘‘popular front’’ which defended capitalism while presiding over a ‘‘nine-month period of dual power.’’ The ‘‘fragmentation of state power’’ in this period ‘‘ran through the army and the J26M itself.’’ But it is a mistake to talk of ‘‘dual power’’ in Cuba in 1959. The period in which there was a sort of ‘‘dual power’’ ended when the guerrilla army marched triumphantly into Havana on New Year’s Eve. The July 26 Movement was riven with internal contradictions, but its military and political hegemony was undisputed. There was no dual power in society.

According to Workers Power’s chronology, by ‘‘November 1959, the popular front had been ended, along with the duality of power.’’ At this point the LRCI claim that the Castroists established a ‘‘bourgeois workers’ and peasants’ government’’ which, in turn, was somehow transmogrified in the summer of 1960 into a ‘‘bureaucratic anti-capitalist workers’ government’’ which proceeded to carry out large-scale expropriations of the capitalists. Finally, ‘‘From the implementation of the first Five Year Plan in 1962, we can speak of the creation of a degenerate workers’ state in Cuba.’’ Their conclusion is that ‘‘Castro, who in 1959 was a bonaparte for the enfeebled Cuban bourgeoisie was, by 1962, a bonaparte ‘for’ the politically expropriated Cuban working class.’’

Workers Power presented this confused and arbitrary schema as an important contribution to Marxist theory. In fact it contains a profound revision of the Marxist understanding of the state as an instrument of coercion used by one class against another. According to the LRCI, in January 1959 Castro headed a Cuban ‘‘state’ which ‘‘defended capitalism,’’ yet which, over the next several years, gradually evolved into a (deformed) workers’ state. This is the background to Keith Harvey’s doubletalk about how:

‘‘It is well within the Marxist understanding of Bonapartism to recognise that a petit-bourgeois regime can oscillate under the pressure of more fundamental forces between defending first one and later a different set of property relations. It does not mean that the governmental regime becomes detached from the state which it administers. The class character of the state is defined as always by whatever social form of property exists and is actually being defended by bodies of armed men and women.’’

Clear as mud. You see, we can have ‘‘a petit-bourgeois regime’’ which oscillates between classes without ever becoming ‘‘detached from the state which it administers.’’ Harvey thinks the ‘‘class character of the state’’ in the case of such oscillations can be determined by the activity of such a regime at any given instant—-when it acts for the capitalists, it is a capitalist state, but, if it takes some action that favors working people, it becomes a workers’ state. The kind of ‘‘Marxism’’ that ‘‘understands’ such notions is called Kautskyism.

Lenin attacked the idea that a bourgeois state can be transformed into an instrument to serve the interests of the oppressed:

‘‘That the state is an organ of the rule of a definite class which cannot be reconciled with its antipode (the class opposite to it), is something the petty-bourgeois democrats will never be able to understand.’’

—-State and Revolution

Lenin categorically rejected the idea that an oscillating petty-bourgeois regime (or anything else) can turn a capitalist state into an instrument for social revolution:

‘‘Revolution consists not in the new class commanding, governing with the aid of the old state machine, but in this class smashing this machine and commanding, governing with the aid of a new machine. Kautsky slurs over this basic idea of Marxism, or he had utterly failed to understand it.’’

The LRCI position on Cuba slurs over this same basic idea. The historic position developed by the RT/SL, which we defend, is the only way in which the genesis of the Cuban deformed workers’ state can be explained without doing violence to either the actual historical events or the Marxist understanding of the state as an organ of class rule.

Where the Pabloists identified the Cuban Revolution with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the RT recognized that although the Castroists expropriated the bourgeoisie, the bureaucratic regime they established was an obstacle to the further development of the revolution, and had to be removed through workers’ political revolution. At the same time, the RT recognized that the destruction of capitalism in Cuba, China and Vietnam represented historic gains for the international working class despite the bureaucratic deformations of the Stalinist regimes that came to power.

The LRCI draws precisely the opposite conclusion The Workers Power pamphlet baldly asserts: ‘‘Whilst gains were made for and by the working class….the Cuban overturn had a predominantly counter-revolutionary character’’ (emphasis added). This echoes the arguments of Tony Cliff and other pseudo-Marxists who renounced the social content of the anti-capitalist overturns because they objected to the character of the bureaucratic Stalinist political regimes that issued from them.

While in theory defending collectivized property, the LRCI has repeatedly in practice ascribed a progressive dynamic to the champions of capitalist restoration, from Polish Solidarnosc in 1981, to the movement for capitalist reunification in East Germany, to Boris Yeltsin’s rabble in Moscow in 1991. If some gang of pro-imperialist gusanos in Havana were to attempt to oust the Castroists and reverse the results of what Workers Power considers a ‘‘predominantly counter-revolutionary’’ social revolution, we suppose that the LRCI will once again throw its support to the forces of capitalist restoration. In that case we will find ourselves, once again, on the opposite side of the barricades from the LRCI and the rest of the centrists and social democrats who inhabit the Third Camp.

The core of the RT’s position on the Cuban Revolution is as clear and logically compelling today as it was three decades ago. Fidel Castro led a victorious peasant-based guerrilla insurrection which, in the absence of the working class as an independent political factor, smashed capitalist property relations and established a society modeled on the degenerated Soviet workers’ state. The lesson of Cuba is, as the revolutionary Spartacist League stated in 1966, that:

‘‘the petty-bourgeois peasantry, under the most favorable historic circumstances conceivable could achieve no third road, neither capitalist, nor working class. Instead all that has come out of China and Cuba was a state of the same order as that issuing out of the political counter-revolution of Stalin in the Soviet Union, the degeneration of October. That is why we are led to define states such as these as deformed workers states. And the experience since the Second World War, properly understood, offers not a basis for revisionist turning away from the perspective and necessity of revolutionary working-class power, but rather it is a great vindication of Marxian theory and conclusions under new and not previously expected circumstances.’’

Militant Longshoreman No.4

Militant Longshoreman

No.4 January 7, 1983


Election time in Local 10 – a time to stand back and look at the state of the Local, the Longshore Division, and the International union. In the past we’ve described a series of losses, continued weakening of the union, and the failure of leadership to show a way out. Is anything different this year? Yes: the basic structure and strength of the union is clearly in jeopardy and the International leadership appears to be ready for major give-aways.

The basic unity of the Longshore Division is being shattered by con­flicts between locals over such issues as voluntary travel, transfers, registration, and lawsuits. Transfer of longshoremen to clerk status is still stuck on dead center in the Bay Area. The voluntary travel program is virtually dead; arbitrators have ruled that casuals in a port have dis­patch priority over men traveling voluntarily. Same locals are insisting on Class C registered casuals. Many locals are being sued by outsiders. Locals are competing with each other for work. It was inevitable that without a union-wide program of united struggle against the empliyers that local officers in some cases would fall back on deals with their “own’ enployers for short term gains. Herman’s ’78 contract paved the way for these divisions by taking a historic step backward in establishing separ­ate port steady man agreements.

Encouraged by this disunity, PMA companies have extended to the rest of the coast the practice of ordering men to work in violation of the con­tract.  When men resist, the arbitrators move promptly to declare an “illegal work stoppage” and place penalties on men and locals under Section 17.61 of the contract. Union complaints of PMA contract violations die on the vine. Often it takes eight to nine months to get Coast Committee rulings on PMA violations and there are no real penalties for employer violations.

At the April 1981 Caucus, Keylor was successful in getting a resolution on deck calling for eliminating arbitration and the no-­strike/work-as-directed clauses from the contract. While the motion was defeated, for the first time within my memory the caucus was forced to debate the fallacies of the grievance procedure. We need the unrestricted right to take job action over grievances.

The International officers haven’t even called a Longshore Caucus to discuss this crisis. A caucus has the authority to impose policies on the locals and International officers, policies which could solve some of the most glaring problems ripping the Division apart.


The scary thing is that Herman and company are floating proposals for give-aways. For example, the International is pushing for the union to give up JOINT REGISTRATION and allow PMA full power over all registra­tion matters (hiring, promotion, transfers) under the pretext of avoiding lawsuits. While such a step would jeopardize the basis of the union’s strength, the hiring hall, and would reopen the door to massive employer discrimination, it wouldn’t even protect the union legally. Many unions which don’t have joint registration are being sued.

The International’s program of total reliance on PGP as the “corner­stone” of waterfront job security has laid the basis for further “give­aways”. As many of us predicted the PGP fund is running short; weekly Payments will probably be .cut about 30% this month. At the Tacoma Divis­ional meeting the International floated the proposal to take 20 cents from the contractual wage-increase of $1.25 per hour July 11, 1993 and use that money to beef up the PGP fund.

This weakness and disunity encourages employers to run the ILWU off the docks. Levin Terminals used non-longshoremen in December to unload and then load a barge at Richmond yard #1. That week saw the most dan­gerous crisis to the Local since 1948. Legalistic solutions will fail before such attacks; the courts will not protect our jobs. Only mass picketing to stop raiding and scabbing can preserve our job jurisdiction.

The combined impact of mechanization and the depression is even more rapidly destroying our jobs. Most ports are drawing on the PGP. Even if everyone (including SEO men) shared the work equally in this port, we would all get about one or two shifts per week. We  can’t afford to postpone any longer the fight for jobs. During the 1981 contract negotiations PMA asked for continuous operations – three 8 hour shifts around the clock (seven hours work – one hour lunch) . There is talk at the local and International level of reopening the contract and giving PMA three shifts, con­tinuous operation, in return for more PGP money in the fund – or at most a no-cap weekly PGP. This move would only continue the tragic policy of selling conditions for welfare, instead of the policy of a fight for jobs.

We cannot tolerate a further cut in our standard of living. If PMA moves to cut PGP, the union must move to reopen the contract. We must defend full PGP benefits but we can’t depend on_PGP. We need jobs_-. not supplemental unemployment benefits (PGP). If the employers propose to cap their productivity drive with three continuous shifts, then we must propose a six hour shift for eight hours pay, manning scales on all operations, and one man – one job. If that’s not enough to keep all long­shoremen working, we may have to cut the shift down to five or even four hours.


The SEO–9.43 system continues to weaken the hiring hall and divide the union. The rank and file tried to protect the lift board by job action but were frustrated by Federal Court injunctions. When Keylor made his Caucus report on the 1981 contract, he warned that the new con­tract language further threatened hall jobs. He later warned that half­way measures wouldn’t work, that only a program to call all the steady men back to the hall and to mobilize the ranks to defy the courts could smash this cancer. Any candidate for Caucus Delegate who won’t commit himself now to a coastwise fight to eliminate 9.43 and SEO from the contract is only playing with the needs of the membership.


In the face of anti-labor courts, government strike-breaking, and austerity imposed on the backs of the poor and elderly to help fund Reagan’s anti-Soviet war drive, the International officers only response has been to support the Democratic party, a party which consistently sup­ports Reagan’s program in all its fundamentals. Local 10 was severely criticized at Tacoma for contributing only a small amount of money to the Political Action Fund (support Democrats Fund). I’m proud of Local 10 members for refusing to throw good money after bad. Even though they couldn’t raise money, our local officers and delegates did everything they could to lock the union once again behind the Democratic Party. Elected NCDC delegates and self-appointed ILWU Legislative Committeemen again endorsed the same old candidates and propositions without once  bringing these endorsements back to the Local for membership approval.

At the October Labor Parade our officers went along with the AFL-CIO, UAW, IBT, ILWU leaders policy of excluding any signs critical of the Demo­crats. I was excluded from the Local 10 contingent but carried my sign BREAK WITH THE DEMOCRATS/BUILD A WORKERS PARTY – VOTE COLEMAN/BRADLEY SPARTACIST CANDIDATES FOR SAN FRANCISCO BOARD CF SUPERVISORS.

When Jimmy Herman blocked any discussion of a Labor Party at the 1981 International Convention, not one Local 10 delegate joined me in trying to get the three resolutions submitted out on the floor for debate. The phony socialist delegates like Joe Figureido of Local-6 and Dave Arian of Local 13 whose Labor Party resolutions had been passed by their own locals were no better. They sat on their hands refusing to contest Herman’s bureaucratic squashing of debate. Ask all the Local 10 candidates for Convention delegate whether they will stand up and be counted on to fight at this years convention to win the union for a break with the Demo­crats and to build a workers party.


For the first time in many years there was some improvement in the Local’s functioning in 1982. Committees met, membership meetings took place, some officers were more accessible and responsive, more informa­tion got to the membership and some limited campaigns and battles were waged to defend jobs and conditions. Even these improvements will be swept away unless the membership is mobilized behind a program that can point the way out. Unfortunately none of the candidates for leading office has such a program. That’s why I’m not supporting any candidate for top office.


Last year the Militant Longshoreman supported Stan Gow for election to the Executive Board and Caucus delegate; that support was in spite of Gow’s lying and viscious attack on Keylor. I supported him because he still had the Militant Caucus program, a program for which we had both fought over a period of many years. Stan still has the program formally on paper but his actions have begun to deviate from the program in practice.

Stan has ducked taking a stand on unpopular issues, probably to avoid losing votes. Stan flip-flopped on the Gibson case where he re­fused to support Local 10 contributing our share of the money when that case was finally settled. This anti-union position was a reversal of the Militant Caucus position of defending all locals against Court suits while fighting to end discrimination through union action. Stan’s “neu­trality” in this case clearly implies that the racist, capitalist govern­ment can be relied on to protect minority rights. We must clean up our own house, not let PMA and the government divide and conquer.

Then Stan took a dive when the Polish Stalinist bureaucracy declared martial law and smashed Solidarnosc. While critical of Solidarnosc, Gow refused to say in writing or at union meetings that he supported the crush­ing of the capitalist restorationist Walesa and Company as being in the interests of the Polish workers. Keylor took this unpopular position in writing, a position which would have been consistent with Stan’s own pol­itical views.

Stan’s opportunism got him a few more votes than Keylor but anyone who ducks issues for votes cannot be trusted to stand up and be counted in times of crisis.

The basis of opportunism is the belief that you can’t win workers to face unpleasant truths, that you can’t win the organized workers to fight in their own interests. On two issues before Local 10 Stan has been content to make the record with a paper position while backing off from a fight to persuade the Local to take any real meaningful action.

When South African Longshoremen found their strike attacked as employer and government tried to break their union by firing and deporting the workers, Stan put up a long, politically correct motion at the Executive Board. The heart of his motion called for Local 10 to boycott South African cargo in solidarity with the fired black longeshoremen and in defense of their union. While there was wide opposition to most of Stan’s motion, the Executive Board vote on boycott action was very close: Eight in favor, nine against. Given the wide support for solidarity action, I approached Stan with a proposal to work together to build support for passage of a boycott  motion at the next membership meeting. Stan was uninterested had refused to cooperate saying essentially that it was his whole political motion or no boycott.

Then later in November Stan’s motion passed the membership meeting to declare December 11 our stop work meeting day and to mobilize union membership to demonstrate in defense of the black community in Oroville against Nazi/Klan terror. Dead-set against this stop work mobilization, PMA threatened to retaliate and the officers convened a special Executive Board meeting to capitulate. Stan changed his position and said he could only give the most minimal support to the demonstration unless the local adopted his new motion calling for Labor/Black defense guards. Stan did not show up at Oroville. Although I and other longshoremen marched with signs calling for Labor/Black defense guards to smash the Klan, the Militant Caucus (which also did not show up) attacked my action in marching as “reformist”! In fact, our slogans were counterposed to the sub-reformist slogans under which the march was held.

These actions are consistent with the actions of the Militant Caucus in Warehouse. There the Militant Caucus seems to have given up on building an alternative class struggle leadership, confining their activity largely to abstract propaganda on extra-union issues.

A further indication that Stan no longer believes that the unionized section of the working class will fight to defend their interests is his strange silence on the Canadian strike/lockout. When I put up motions at the Executive Board not to work diverted cargo from the struck Canadian government ports and to take solidarity strike action against the Canadian government strike breaking, Stan chose to remain silent. This silence is strange in view of the fact that a main issue for which our Canadian brothers were on the bricks was their resistance to extension of the steady skilled man system in Canada.

I have had great respect for Stan’s stubborn courage in pursuit of his convictions but his present disorientation means that I can’t give him unconditional electoral support. Vote for Stan Gow but watch what he does!


This edition of the Militant Longshoremen gives only a description of the state of the union. The economy is collapsing, world trade is declining, employers are on the offensive, unions are giving up wages and conditions, gains won in 1934 and since are in jeopardy. Only a determined fight can hope to protect us at least partially from the ravages of a capitalist system in crisis. This fight must be linked to opposition to the bipartisan anti-Soviet war drive through which Reagan intends to launch World War III. The U.S. government attempts to overthrow the Sandinistas  in Nicaragua and to defeat the rebels in El Salvador, combined with the virtual blank check given the Israeli government in its naked aggression against the Palestinians in Lebanon, are examples of what this capitalist regime has in store for workers everywhere – mass murder and nuclear holocaust. We cannot seperate “union” issues from “political” issues because not only is our livelihood at stake, but our lives are in jeopardy. To put an end to the threat, we need a workers government.

The Militant Longshormanwill never surrender the responsibility of calling things as they are and trying to build an alternative  .class struggle leadership in the unions. A first step is to rebuild the Militant Caucus in Longshore. A vote for Keylor is a vote for the program.



1. DEFEND OUR JOBS AND LIVELIHOOD – Reopen the contract if PMA cuts the PGP. For six hours work at eight hours pay; manning scales on all ship operations; one man, one job. Call all SEO men back to the hall. Prepare the union for a coastwise fight to delete 9.43 , SBD, and crane supplement sections from the -contract –

2. DEFEND THE HIRING HALL – No surrender of union control over registra­tion.

3. DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS AND SAFETY THROUGH JOB ACTION – No dependance on arbitrators. Mobilize to smash anti-labor injunctions.

4. DEFEND OUR UNION – No second class B or C registration lists. Full Class A status for all B men coastwise. Keep racist anti-labor government and courts out of the union. Support all ILWU locals against court suits and government “investigations”. Union action to break dawn racial and sexual discrimination on the waterfront.

5. BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY – against government./employer strikebreaking. No more PATCO’s. Honor all picket lines. Don’t handle struck or di­verted cargo. No raiding of other unions. Organize the unorganized. Labor strikes to stop cuts in Social Security, MediCal, Medicare.

6. STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union organized labor/black/Latin de­fense actions. No dependence on capitalist police or courts to smash fascists.

7. WORKING CLASS ACTION TO STOP REAGAN’s WAR DRIVE AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION – Oppose reactionary boycotts against Soviet and Polish ship­ping. Labor strikes against military blockades of Cuba or Nicaragua. Boycott military cargo to Chile, South Africa, El Salvador and Israel.

8. INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY – Oppose protectionist trade restrictions – ILWU support to military victory of leftist insurgents in El Salvador. Defend the Palestinians – U.S. Marines, Israelis, French, and Italian troops out of Lebanon.

9. BREAK WITH DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES – Start now to build a workers party based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will seize all major industry without payment to the capital­ists and establish a planned economy to end exploitation, racism, poverty, and war.

Smash Yankee Imperialism! Defend the Cuban Revolution!

Smash Yankee Imperialism! Defend the Cuban Revolution!

[First published in 1917 No.11, 3rd Quarter 1992. Copied from ]

The overthrow of the corrupt and brutal neo-colonial regime of Fulgencio Batista in January 1959, and the subsequent expropriation of the Cuban bourgeoisie, was a victory for working people everywhere. With Soviet aid, Cuba consolidated a functional and relatively egalitarian economic system, and for three decades Fidel Castro could thumb his nose at the U.S. colossus. After the ignominious collapse of the USSR, the rulers of a declining American empire are no longer compelled to tolerate the continued existence of a collectivized economy 90 miles from Florida. The U.S. imperialists are cranking up a ‘‘democratic’’ propaganda offensive, while simultaneously tightening their economic embargo and leaning on their Latin American neo-colonies to isolate Cuba. The defense of the Cuban revolution has never been more acutely posed than it is today.

Cuba under Batista was a gigantic sugar plantation and fun house for wealthy Americans. By breaking the social power of the Cuban bourgeoisie, the Castro regime cut the connection with world imperialism, thus dramatically transforming life for ordinary working people. In the first five years of the revolution consumption of meat and textiles doubled, the new regime slashed rents, deserted Havana mansions were converted into residences for 80,000 students from peasant families, and abandoned luxury automobiles were handed over to former servants so they could start working as taxi drivers.

Today Cuban standards of health, education and housing are far above those of other Latin American countries. Rents are subsidized, medical care is free and education is available to everyone. The level of literacy is 98 percent. Everyone has a job. Cuba remains poor by the standards of the imperialist colossus to the north, but there is none of the endemic disease and desperate poverty so common throughout the rest of the region.

Soviet Connection Severed

Aid and trade from the Soviet bloc enabled Cuba to survive American attempts to strangle the revolution through an economic embargo. The Kremlin bureaucrats maintained Cuba as a bargaining chip in their search for global ‘‘peaceful coexistence’’ with imperialism. The USSR bought Cuban sugar and other exports above the world market price, while selling oil to Cuba below the going rate. This amounted to a subsidy of billions of dollars a year. By the late 1980s, 85 percent of Cuban trade was with the Comecon countries.

In 1990, as perestroika disorganized the Soviet economy, shortfalls and delays in deliveries to Cuba made it necessary to ration basic foods and fuel tightly. Industrial oil consumption fell by 50 percent. In December 1990, the Soviets halved the subsidy on sugar, and imposed world market prices for everything else.

The counterrevolutionary victory over the August 1991 coup in the USSR severed Cuba’s economic lifeline. The Yeltsinites lost no time announcing the cancellation of the sugar subsidy and the withdrawal of Soviet military personnel from Cuba. By October 1991 Castro reported that less than 40 percent of scheduled imports from the former Soviet bloc were arriving in Cuban ports. The Cuban daily Granma noted bitterly that Moscow’s abandonment of the Cuban revolution gave the ‘‘green light’’ for U.S. aggression.

The Batistianos hailed the announcement of the Soviet pullout. The ‘‘Cuban American National Foundation’’ (CANF), an organization of Florida millionaires and veterans of the CIA’s Bay of Pigs fiasco, set up a commission to plan the counterrevolution. Included in the CANF commission are Jeane Kirkpatrick and Ronald Reagan (Guardian Weekly, 15 September 1991). Another CANF connection is George Bush’s son, Jeb, a millionaire Miami property speculator. So far the CANF claims to have found buyers for 60 percent of Cuba’s land and industry (New York Times, 6 September 1991).

Cuba’s ‘Option Zero’

With poor sugar harvests and little hard currency to buy oil and other vital imports, Havana has launched a drive for self-sufficiency in foodstuffs. It is attempting to lure workers made redundant by drastic cutbacks in industrial production onto state farms. But the self-sufficiency campaign is hampered by a shortage of animal feed and fertilizers. Cuba still needs to buy wheat on the international market. The Cuban leadership is trying to prepare for a complete cessation of oil imports. In this ‘‘option-zero’’ scenario, oxen, horses and hundreds of thousands of Chinese bicycles are to be substituted for trucks and cars.

Castro adamantly opposed Gorbachev’s pro-capitalist market ‘‘reforms’’ from the beginning. In the late 1980s the Cuban government banned Soviet newspapers considered too enthusiastic about perestroika. Instead of ‘‘market socialism’’ the Cuban bureaucracy’s slogan is ‘‘Socialismo o muerte’’ (socialism or death). Yet despite the socialism-or-bust rhetoric, the regime is now desperately seeking foreign investment to offset the economic pressure of capitalist encirclement and reduce the country’s dependency on sugar. The Cuban government wants to boost tourism and, to this end, is promoting joint ventures with Spanish and Brazilian capitalists.

The burgeoning of the tourism industry has planted a dollar economy side by side with that of the peso. Cubans are now waiting on tables and driving taxis for foreigners with hard currency. The British Independent (2 November 1991) described how this is eroding the anti-imperialist sentiment that has helped maintain the regime: ‘‘Cuba’s best beaches, her choicest foods, her scarce consumer goods, are available only for dollars—which Cubans cannot legally possess….Many Cubans comment on the contrast between rhetoric of national sovereignty and the daily humiliation of the peso shopper.’’ As tourism has increased, prostitution, bureaucratic corruption and the black market have all kept pace. The austerity measures adopted by the regime compel ordinary Cubans to look to their socios, (black market connections) for many consumer items. The Guardian Weekly (17 March 1991) reported that an acerbic parody of the official slogan, ‘‘Sociolismo o muerte,’’ has gained widespread popularity.

The Mechanics of Stalinist Rule

For 30 years Castro has tolerated no organized political opposition. In 1976 the regime unveiled a new constitution that formalized the Cuban Communist Party’s (PCC) monopoly on politics and proclaimed it ‘‘the highest leading force of the society and of the state.’’ The new constitution established local, regional and national ‘‘Assemblies of People’s Power.’’ These bodies only exist to provide a facade of popular legitimacy for decisions made by the PCC.

Nominations to the municipal assemblies at public meetings are subject to approval by PCC commissions, while the party itself makes the nominations to the higher assemblies. The National Assembly normally only meets twice a year, in July and December, usually for two days each time. Half the National Assembly members are nominated by the party from among delegates to the lower bodies. The other half are nominated directly from the PCC or government bureaucracies. Over 90 percent of delegates to the 1981-86 National Assembly were party members or candidate members.

Like every other Stalinist party, there is no internal democracy within the Cuban Communist Party itself. The PCC held its first congress in late 1975—seventeen years after the ‘‘July 26 Movement’’ came to power! Castro saw no problem with this, and blithely commented: ‘‘We are fortunate to be holding it now. Fortunate indeed! This way the quality of the Congress is endorsed by 17 years of experience’’ (Granma, 25 January 1976; quoted in Workers Vanguard, 12 March 1976). The congress itself was a carefully managed affair that concluded, as Stalinist congresses usually do, with the unanimous approval of the leadership.

Cuban Stalinism: ‘Pro-Family’ and Anti-Gay

Cuban children learn at an early age that women are responsible for childcare, cooking and cleaning. Unlike the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky, who openly declared their intention of liberating women through socializing domestic labor, the Cuban bureaucracy, like every other Stalinist regime, celebrates the ‘‘socialist family.’’ The Castroist ruling stratum promotes the nuclear family and all the associated social backwardness as a point of support for its own authoritarian rule over the proletariat. Women remain concentrated in traditionally female jobs. The higher the administrative layers of the party and state bureaucracy, the lower the proportion of women.

The encouragement of the family goes hand in hand with the persecution of homosexuals. In 1965 the regime set up special ‘‘Military Units to Aid Production’’ which were really prison camps, mostly for homosexuals. The First National Culture and Education Conference in 1971 virulently denounced the ‘‘pathological character’’ of homosexuality, and resolved that ‘‘all manifestations of homosexual deviations are to be firmly rejected and prevented from spreading.’’ Of the 100,000 people who left Cuba via the harbor at Mariel in 1980, roughly 10,000 were lesbians and gays. These people were forced into exile through a state-sponsored campaign of homophobia directed through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. In the age of the AIDS pandemic, and the growth of homophobia, Cuba has the unpleasant distinction of being the only country in the world that forcibly confines people who test positive for the HIV antibody.

Castroism and Workers Democracy

The July 26th Movement that took power on New Years Day 1959 was an insurrectionary rural-based guerrilla movement. It was based in the Sierra Maestra mountains and was committed to a program of radical liberalism. After two years of guerrilla war, the rotten and corrupt Batista state apparatus collapsed, with the bulk of the officer caste fleeing to Miami. The July 26th Movement filled the power vacuum by forming a short-lived coalition with a few liberal politicians.

When a section of the bourgeoisie, backed by the American government, opposed some of the Castroites’ radical nationalist measures, the July 26th Movement split. A majority, headed by Fidel and his brother Raul, opted for the expropriation of the Cuban capitalists. In July 1961 the Castroites fused with the Partido Socialista Popular, a traditional Moscow-line Stalinist formation that had earlier had a minister in Batista’s government. The fused organization went on to form the Cuban Communist Party.

In the minds of New Leftists of the 1960s, the Castroites were light-years away from the colorless apparatchiks of Eastern Europe. Yet one-party Stalinist rule deformed the Cuban revolution from its inception. As in every other deformed workers state, the working class played no independent political role. This was the inevitable outcome of the victory of a rural-based guerrilla insurrection in which the urban working class remained on the sidelines. In 1961, in the heady early days, Fidel proclaimed that the revolution must be a ‘‘school of unfettered thought.’’ But soon the ‘‘barbudos,’’ as the bearded guerrilla fighters were known, were responding to all criticism with police repression.

The harassment of the ostensibly Trotskyist Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) in the early years of the revolution is a case in point. POR members unconditionally defended the revolution against imperialism, but they also criticized the bureaucratism of the new regime. Castro’s political police answered by smashing their printing press, breaking up the plates of a Spanish-language edition of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution and throwing five POR members into jail.

The Subjective Factor in History

For the ‘‘men of action’’ of the July 26th Movement, Marxist criticism and democracy within the left were simply impediments to ‘‘unity.’’ In October 1960, as the large-scale nationalizations were under way, Che Guevara, a left-winger within the July 26th Movement, expressed the contempt for Marxist theory that animated the young pragmatists:

‘‘Cuba’s is a unique Revolution, which some people maintain contradicts one of the most orthodox premises of the revolutionary movement, expressed by Lenin: ‘Without a revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement’….

‘‘The principal actors of this revolution had no coherent theoretical criteria….

‘‘Beginning with the revolutionary Marx, a political group with concrete ideas establishes itself. Basing itself on the giants, Marx and Engels, and developing through successive steps with personalities like Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, and the new Soviet and Chinese rulers, it establishes a body of doctrine and, let us say, examples to follow. ‘‘The Cuban Revolution takes up Marx at the point where he himself left science to shoulder his revolutionary rifle…. We, practical revolutionaries, initiating our own struggle, simply fulfill laws foreseen by Marx, the scientist….the laws of Marxism are present in the events of the Cuban Revolution, independently of what its leaders profess or fully know of those laws from a theoretical point of view.’’

—‘‘We Are Practical Revolutionaries,’’ 8 October 1960, reprinted in Venceremos!, J. Gerassi, ed.

Despite their personal courage and dedication to the cause of the oppressed, the Castroists’ tendency to denigrate the role of the subjective factor in history constituted a political obstacle to the ultimate victory of the revolution. The ‘‘laws of Marxism’’ can only triumph through living, politically conscious human beings who apply them in the struggle to change the world. They do not operate autonomously or automatically.

The struggle for socialist revolution is a struggle to win the masses of working people and oppressed to the political program of revolutionary Marxism. The history of the Cuban revolutionaries themselves, bold and radical as they were, confirms that the road to human liberation lies only through consciousness. This is what Marx meant when he said that the working class must emancipate itself—it cannot be freed by some group of leaders, however well-intentioned and sincere. The role of the Leninist vanguard is to develop and struggle for the revolutionary program against the myriad forms of pseudo-socialist false consciousness (including Castroite Stalinism). The victory of socialism requires that the Marxist program, embodied in a Leninist party, is embraced by the masses of the oppressed and exploited.

The Cuban leadership remains far more popular at home than the grey bureaucrats of the former Soviet bloc ever were. Over the years there has been significant participation in the various mobilizations conducted by the regime. But popular support for the initiatives of the ruling stratum is no substitute for the exercise of political power. The ability to make suggestions or to have input into how campaigns are carried out is fundamentally different from the power to decide and set the priorities in the first place. In a healthy workers state working people must in fact, as well as in name, be the political decision makers.

Cuba’s ‘‘Revolutionary’’ Foreign Policy

The Castro regime has retained a certain luster for much of the petty-bourgeois left that has long since abandoned the once-popular Stalinist rulers of Vietnam. The ex-Trotskyists of Ernest Mandel’s ‘‘United Secretariat,’’ who once adulated the Castroites for their ‘‘evolution toward revolutionary Marxism,’’ are somewhat more reserved today. Yet they still ‘‘reject any sectarian attitude towards the Cuban leadership’’ and consider that, despite a few blemishes, the Castroites remain ‘‘revolutionary.’’ Mandel’s former partners in the ‘‘United Secretariat,’’ the Castro sycophants of Jack Barnes’ idiosyncratic U.S.-based Socialist Workers Party (SWP), feel no need for any critical fig-leaf. The Barnesites cite Cuba’s foreign policy as proof that Castro is carrying on the revolutionary internationalist traditions of Marx and Lenin. Yet Castro’s foreign policy over the years has generally been tailored to the requirements of the anti-revolutionary Kremlin bureaucracy.

In May-June 1968, when ten million workers and students brought France to the brink of revolution, Castro covered for the sellout of the strike by the French Communist Party. A few months later Havana supported the Soviet tanks that rolled into Prague to oust Alexander Dubcek’s reform Stalinists and install a faction more to Leonid Brezhnev’s liking. In June 1989 the Cuban bureaucracy apologized for the massacre of worker and student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square by the Chinese Stalinists.

Cuba’s record in Latin America is equally wretched. In the early 1970s Castro endorsed Salvador Allende’s popular-frontist ‘‘Unidad Popular,’’ a coalition government with sections of the Chilean bourgeoisie. This class-collaborationist policy disarmed the Chilean working class politically, and set the stage for the massacre of tens of thousands of leftists and militant workers in the aftermath of Pinochet’s September 1973 coup. Throughout the 1980s the Cubans advised the Nicaraguan Sandinistas against expropriating the bourgeoisie, and instead advocated a national-patriotic front with the capitalists. The Sandinistas searched in vain for the mythical ‘‘Third Road’’ between capitalism and socialism for nearly a decade, until a half-starved population voted them out in favor of the parliamentary wing of Reagan and Bush’s contra movement.

Castro apologists frequently point to Cuba’s support to the bourgeois-nationalist MPLA government in Angola against South Africa as evidence of Marxist internationalism. While revolutionaries militarily supported the Soviet-supplied MPLA/Cuban forces against the apartheid state and its Angolan allies, this was no struggle for workers power. The Cubans in Angola were Soviet proxies. When Gorbachev cut a deal with the White House in 1988, Cuban troops began pulling out.

On the other side of Africa, Cuban soldiers helped prop up Mengistu’s bloody Ethiopian regime (another Soviet client) during its long, brutal, losing war against the legitimate struggle of the Eritrean people for self-determination.

When the imperialists began their diplomatic preparations for war against the neo-colonial Iraqi regime in 1990, the Cuban Stalinists joined the hypocritical chorus condemning the invasion of Kuwait. Cuba did not even oppose trade sanctions against Iraq in the United Nations. Speaking to the UN General Assembly on 25 August 1990, Cuba’s delegate Ricardo Alarcon announced that ‘‘my government has taken the relevant steps to ensure that our country too complies’’ with the sanctions. Participation in the imperialist embargo of Iraq could only qualify as an example of Leninist ‘‘internationalism’’ to those, like Jack Barnes & Co., who are wilfully blind.

The Future of Castroism

The Castro regime still has a reservoir of support amongst Cuban working people. Having eliminated any competitors on the left, Castro can present his rule as the only alternative to life under the U.S. jackboot. Still, as the Cuban economy moves progressively closer to the ‘‘zero option,’’ powerful contradictions threaten to shatter the stability of the regime. As ordinary Cubans queue overnight for many consumer necessities, the contrast between the egalitarian rhetoric of the ruling caste and its bureaucratic privileges become more conspicuous and more maddening. The British Independent reported:

‘‘The slogan of the Union of Young Communists, for instance, is ‘Follow me!’ Young people shout it, with a mixture of mockery and rage, at Roberto Robaina, the leader of the Young Communists, as he rides in his chauffeur-driven car past the long and irritable queues of people who wait, interminably, for Havana’s overcrowded buses.’’

The Castroites have responded to the deepening discontent with denunciations of ‘‘subversives’’ and ‘‘fifth columnists.’’ They have also established neighborhood ‘‘rapid reaction squads,’’ which even make the loyal Fidelistas of the SWP squeamish (Militant, 18 October 1991).

No single personality inside or outside the bureaucracy personifies the forces of counterrevolution in Cuba as Yeltsin did in the USSR. Yet, the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and the USSR has had powerful repercussions. In an attempt to tighten central control and weed out potential dissidents, the PCC in October 1990 announced the abolition of half the national and regional party posts.

This move followed on the heels of the 1989 execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, a popular hero of the Angolan war, for drug trafficking. Ochoa pleaded guilty to a raft of implausible charges after a classically Stalinist show trial. Following the elimination of this potential rival to Fidel, other top bureaucrats were also jailed. The most prominent was Jose Abrantes Fernandez, the Interior Minister, who was considered third in line after Fidel and his brother Raul.

The Castro regime has little to offer the workers and peasants of Cuba besides moral exhortations to work harder and consume less. But ‘‘peaceful coexistence’’ with the pirates of Wall Street is not an option. There is no place for ‘‘socialist Cuba’’ in George Bush’s New World Order.

For 30 years the chieftans of U.S. imperialism have been obsessed with overturning the Cuban revolution. Bush and the Pentagon know that a military intervention against Cuba would not be a walkover like the 1983 rape of Grenada or the 1989 assault on Panama.

Defend and Extend the Cuban Revolution! For Workers Political Revolution!

Today, in the wake of the collapse of Stalinism, the proletarian internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky has burning immediacy for the Cuban workers. In a historic sense the survival of the Cuban revolution has always depended on its extension. Even with the Soviet lifeline, the long-term viability of the revolution depended on the integration of the Cuban economy into a regional federation of socialist states. This perspective, that of permanent revolution, is counterposed to the dead-end ‘‘Patria o muerte’’ of the Havana regime.

The current global capitalist depression is a nightmare for the masses of working people in Latin America, as it is for millions north of the Rio Grande. Tens of millions of people in the Americas, consigned to a life of uncertainty, poverty and hunger are acutely aware of the profound irrationality of the capitalist world order.

It is the duty of every class-conscious worker to defend Cuba against the ‘‘democratic’’ counterrevolution promoted by the American ruling class. In the first place it is necessary to fight to break the embargo against Cuba. The workers movement of Latin America, Canada and the U.S. has the power to stop any imperialist attack in its tracks. One way to popularize the notion of political strikes against U.S. military aggression is by educating working people about the practical benefits the revolution brought the Cuban masses in terms of shelter, healthcare and education. These are questions of immediate importance to millions of workers in the U.S. and Latin America.

The way forward for the Cuban working class is not through endless belt-tightening and conciliation with imperialism and its regional vassals. To survive, the Cuban revolution must find allies through successful overturns of capitalism elsewhere in the region. This runs counter to the nationalist ‘‘pragmatism’’ of the bonapartist Castro regime and its autarchic schemes for animal-powered ‘‘socialism’’ on one island.

The defense of the Cuban Revolution is linked directly to the necessity for the workers to wrest political power from the hands of the PCC through proletarian political revolution. Such a revolution, which requires the creation of a Leninist-Trotskyist party to succeed, would instantly alter the present unfavorable balance of forces. The creation of genuine organs of direct revolutionary democracy would reinvigorate the Cuban Revolution and act as a powerful impetus to workers struggles throughout Latin America. It would not fail to find an echo in the growing Hispanic component of the American working class.



[Adopted by Third National Conference od the Spartacist League/US, 25 November 1972. Reprinted in Marxist Bulletin #9, “Basic Documents of the Spartacist League”]

I: The Struggle Against Labor Reformism and Workerism

The end of petty-bourgeois radical dominance within the left was presaged by the 1968 French general strike which clearly estab­lished the revolutionary potential of the working class for the pre­sent generation of young radicals. Around 1969, the absolute domi­nance of the black and war questions in the political life of the U.S. began to dissipate as the war-financed inflation generated a strike wave of major proportions. The traditional conflicts between the organized working class and capital were further revived by the economic downturn of 1970 which again made unemployment a major po­litical issue and highlighted the irrationality of capitalism as a productive system. Caught between a strike wave generating large money wage increases and a weakened international competitive posi­tion, the Nixon administration imposed wage controls in mid-1971, thereby demonstrating that the labor movement, even under right-wing leadership, is the major enemy of the smooth functioning of the ca­pitalist (i.e. profit motivated) system.

The inadequacy of New Left politics in the face of the general social crisis in the 1969-71 period, particularly the revival of working-class struggle, caused splits in the two key radical organi­zations–SDS and the Black Panthers. These splits destroyed the authority of these organizations and the general hegemony of New Left politics within the left. Arising out of the destruction of the New Left was the strengthening of those organizations adhering to proletarian socialism, in both its revolutionary and reformist forms, as well as the reconciliation of petty-bourgeois radicalism with bourgeois liberalism. The latter is most obvious in McGovern’s victory in the Democratic Party. The 1972 Democratic convention with its “tax the rich–give to the poor” rhetoric, its long-haired youth politicos, its black and women’s caucuses, conformed to the New Left populist image. A parallel development occurred in the black movement with the Spring 1972 Cleveland Black Power confer­ence. Appropriately the dominant personality at that conference was Imamu Baraka (ex-Leroi Jones), grey eminence of Newark, who personi­fies the unity of 1960’s mainstream black nationalism with Democra­tic Party machine politics.

A significant section of the ostensible revolutionary movement is turning to the unions as their principal area of mass work. The CP has greatly revived its union activity through its youth group, YWLL, and Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy. The proletar­ianization policy of IS is particularly significant, since IS has become something of a barometer indicating the climate of radical public opinion. In three years, IS has gone from being the leading force behind that epitome of middle-class left-liberalism, the Cal­ifornia Peace and Freedom Party, to moving their headquarters to Detroit and throwing their forces into various oppositional union caucuses. A parallel development is the replacement of the Panthers with their street-lumpen orientation by the Black Workers’ Congress with its point-of-production approach as the “most revolutionary” manifestation of black nationalism. It is clear that the unions are becoming a major arena of struggle between ourselves as a vanguard nucleus and the reformists, revisionists and petty-bourgeois nationalists in the ostensibly revolutionary movement.

The increasing union activism by ostensibly revolutionary or­ganizations occurs against a background of rising class struggle and generalized rank-and-file discontent against an ancient, patently undemocratic and right-wing bureaucracy. This bureaucracy has now been rendered unstable and can be shattered. In this there is a certain analogy between the present situation and the early 1930’s. Having exhausted its historic usefulness, the central core of the bureaucracy has responded to new labor rebelliousness by moving to the right of the liberal bourgeoisie. The bureaucracy as a whole is increasingly isolated from its base and fragmented–the result of tailing after different political currents in bourgeois politics. This provides a renewed opportunity for revolutionary leadership to come to the head of mass labor struggles, displacing sections of the bureaucracy and threatening its continued existence.

While the possibility exists, however, for a qualitative alter­ing of the relationship of forces in the labor movement in favor of revolutionary leadership, the fundamental question is whether the bureaucracy will be defeated by communism or renewed labor reformism, i.e. by revolutionists or slicker fakers. The danger of a dynamized labor reformism through the infusion of young erstwhile revolution­aires is indicated by the activities of the IS in pushing blocs with “leftist” bureaucratic aspirants, such as Art Fox, whose United Na­tional Caucus in the UAW is a classic opportunist formation replete with national chauvinism. The formation of a mass reformist labor party to head off and contain an inchoate revolutionary upsurge by­passing the existing bureaucracy is one way in which such a bureaucratic left could replace the old leadership, making the programma­tic content of the demand for a workers party based on the trade unions a decisive question.

It is very likely that the new labor reformism will be associ­ated with a workerist ideology having its roots in New Leftism. Both the IS and Black Workers’ Congress project varieties of New Left workerism. Even the CP, despite its formal adherence to Soviet Stalinist tradition and support of bourgeois liberalism, presents its politics as a cry from the soul of the American worker. The new labor reformism will be based on a program governed by the ex­isting political consciousness of rank-and-file activists (i.e. participatory democracy); exclusionist and federalist organizational principles based on shop-floor or union demarcations; and a denial of the vanguard party principle, that of leadership embodied in pro­fessional revolutionaries whose world-view derives outside of and in some ways counterposed to all sections of existing, nationally-lim­ited bourgeois society.

Workerism, the identification of revolutionary socialism with the existing workers movement, is one of the major false radical ideologies against which Marxism developed. As Marx polemicized against German workerist opponents in 1850:

“While we say to the workers: you have fifteen or twenty or fifty years of war and civil war to go through, not just to alter the existing circumstances, but to change yourselves and make yourselves fit for power, you on the contrary say: we must obtain power at once…. While we draw the workers’ attention to the undeveloped state of the German proletariat, you outra­geously flatter the national sentiments and social prejudices of the German artisan…. Just as the democrats make a sacred entity of the word ‘people’ I so do you with the word ‘proletariat.”‘ (Mehring, Karl Marx)

The Spartacist tendency has also developed through major strug­gles against workerism at critical points in its history. The RT had to fight the Art Philips-Tim Wohlforth faction which was presen­ting the policy “everyone into the unions” as a cure-all for the SWP’s revisionism. This policy also meant abstention from a strug­gle against reformism in the black movement, which had attained a mass character and occupied a strategic place in American political life. The most important factional struggle in the SL’s history was against Turner-Ellens’ black workerism, which simultaneously repre­sented a syndicalist liquidation of Trotskyism and a capitulation to petty-bourgeois nationalism.

Workerism is based on two inter-related concepts: (1) the iden­tification of the struggle for socialist revolution with the strug­gle for the sectional interests of the working class within capital­ism, and (2) the belief that the communist consciousness of the van­guard derives from its participation in working-class life and struggles. The first proposition leads directly to economism or la­bor reformism. As Lenin noted, organically the proletariat can only develop trade union consciousness. Socialist consciousness is based on knowledge of the history of the class struggle and, therefore, requires the infusion into the class-struggle process of socialist conceptions carried by declassed intellectuals organized as part of a vanguard party. Socialist revolution does not occur through the intensification of traditional class struggle, but requires a leap from a vantage point outside bourgeois society altogether.

In its second proposition, workerism sees communist conscious­ness as a function of the social composition of the party. Workers are viewed as the proletarian conscience of the party. In reality the communist vanguard creates itself by breaking its recruits from the dominant social and political attitudes of whatever section of society they are part of, including the proletariat. In this sense, the communist vanguard is in, but not of, bourgeois society. The communist vanguard maintains itself through constant struggle against the enormous social and ideological pressures that bourgeois society bears down on it in all areas of party work, particularly against the backward prejudices in the working class and particular­ly in periods of rising class militancy when the party is seeking to expand its influence in the unions.

In a country as rampant with national chauvinism as the U.S., workerist politics will take on an anti-communist character despite the subjective desires of its adherents. A prominent and essential policy for Trotskyists is the defense of the Sino-Soviet states against American imperialism, a policy which goes directly against one of the strongest prejudices of American workers. For that rea­son, all tendencies breaking from Trotskyism in a workerist direction (e.g. Johnson-Forrest, Ellens) rapidly adopted an anti-defensist position, as does anarcho-syndicalism in its pure form. Moreover, our priorities, relations with other tendencies and the like are as much determined by international as domestic developments. Workerist groups tend to echo the chauvinist union bureaucracy in claiming that an organization as concerned with the class nature of the Chinese revolution or the Chilean popular front as with what is happening in the shops is an alien element in the American working class.

II: To Build a Communist Opposition in the Labor Movement

Our transformation memo projected the penetration of a section of the cadre and a good part of our membership into the unions as a priority second only to the maintenance of a monthly press. The proletarianization policy is a necessary means to create communist opposition in the labor movement and should not be viewed as a virtue in itself. For an organization of our size and tasks, we should seek to have 30-40% of our membership active in trade union work. Historically, the percentage of SL trade union activists has been well below that figure. It decreased in the past year and a half due to rapid growth and difficulty in implanting comrades in selec­ted unions, and then rapidly increased after a series of hiring successes to the current level of 32% (in current fractions of SL members). This has caused some considerable dislocation of SL pub­lic work in the harder-hit areas, such as New York, and required the RCY to carry an exhorbitant share of the public work of the common movement, with limited forces. The problem is exacerbated by a con­tinuing pattern of too many members in marginal or dead-end jobs instead of on campuses, in fractions or in full-time party work.

The key organizational form for intervention in the unions is the caucus, the nucleus of an alternative, revolutionary union lead­ership, uniting members of the vanguard with those union activists who agree with that section of the party program for the labor move­ment. We strive to build the caucus in as political a way as possi­ble. The growth of our caucus will not be primarily through the re­cruitment of politically backward militants drawn to us because of our leadership in local struggles. Rather, the caucus will grow through political struggle with other left and militant union forma­tions leading to a process of splits and fusions. Thus, we project our caucuses growing in a manner similar to, although not identical with, the party. However, the establishment of our cadre as recog­nized militants with real constituencies is the essential building block and core of our caucus. Without such a base of reputable mi­litants, our caucus actions would either be empty rhetoric or tail-ending forces much stronger than ourselves. The caucus program is a program for leading mass struggles. In general, caucus recruits should be of a significantly higher political level than that de­fined simply by the caucus program.

Recruitment to the caucus is not solely the task of the caucus, but that of the party as a whole. Relevant Workers Vanguard arti­cles and their distribution at strategic plants and union meetings is an important part of caucus-building. Equally important is the direct party contacting and recruitment of known union opposition­ists, particularly those associated with external radical organiza­tions.

The character of any labor struggles we lead is exemplary. That means its principal value is not in the direct expansion of our social base, but as a verification of our political line in the eyes of advanced workers and the radical movement. Therefore, we seek to concentrate on building national caucuses in key national unions. Local organizers may have to resist the impulse to implant comrades in easily accessible or “hot” local situations, which, however, are ultimately isolated or transitory. In general, we seek to avoid scattering, and concentrate our forces in a few of the indicated lo­cal situations, so as to maximize our ability to intervene with a stable organizational structure.

Our perspective for work in the unions is necessarily long-range; therefore the acquisition of industrial skills is vital in order to maintain an industrialized core which has mobility, minimum Job security and protection, if not from all grueling, dead-end jobs, at least from their unlimited duration. The responsibility lies with the local committees not just to continue to organize in­dustrialization of our members, but to systematically plan their skills acquisition and up-grading to be roughly in keeping with the general pattern of advancement in the various industries.

In this period, our intention is to concentrate in four nation­al unions: Intermediate Industry (II), transport., communications and public employee.

Intermediate Industry (II)–It is probably the most important single union in the country industrially and politically. It is here that the debates between the tendencies of the working-class left, long held in sterile isolation from the class, promise to most rapidly develop into a serious competition for leadership of an im­portant section of the class, thereby restoring a direct basis for judgment of mutually exclusive programs in and by the course of the class struggle, and posing the possibility of the re-establishment of a mass base for revolutionary leadership in the working class. This union is thus a key part of the perspective of transforming the SL from a propaganda group into the nucleus of a vanguard party. Having ridden in on a seasonal wave of hiring augmented by artifi­cial election-year stimulation of the economy, however, our fraction still has but a fragile toe-hold, and could be wiped out easily. After having survived one year of the seasonal lay-off pattern, our fraction will have become qualitatively more secure.

A union with an important radical past, virtually all its early leaders were affiliated with various left-wing organizations. Most of the ostensibly revolutionary organizations concentrated forces in this union so that it became the principal industrial battle­ground for the left. Out of this battleground emerged a slick so­cial-democratic regime that transformed the union into one of the pillars of the country’s liberal establishment. A strong radical current remained in the union into the McCarthy period. And, unlikemost other unions, small groups associated with the left maintained a certain continuous existence through the present.

Currently, the industry is facing serious import competition, which it is attempting to counter through qualitatively speeding-up the normally harsh pace of production and enlisting the union bu­reaucracy in its efforts to improve production. This has produced intolerable working conditions leading to wildcats in key plants, and to the virtually total isolation of the bureaucracy in the im­patient ranks, as exemplified by virtual non-attendance of union meetings. Nevertheless, the union bureaucracy has managed to iso­late and de-fuse these strikes, but the situation remains explosive in a number of key plants. Due to the grueling physical nature of the work (which produces an enormous turnover), the labor force is overwhelmingly young, volatile, and experiencing the intensified generational conflict of this period. In the main Midwestern cen­ters, the industry employs large numbers of young Southerners who provide a certain base for Wallaceite racist-populist demagogy. A very significant portion of the labor force is black. In the late 1960’s, the union was the most important base for industrial black nationalist formations, which reflected the genuine grievances of this most oppressed section of the work force, but also intensified racial polarization in the shops.

Virtually every ORO is present in the union, with many groups having recently colonized in, so that there exist a number of small left caucuses, and a more fertile ground for eventual opponents work than on many campuses. In addition, there are significant remnants of the black nationalist formations. However, the only major na­tional oppositional caucus is a classic opportunist swamp, led by an ex-radical, with a catch-all program and social-patriotic posture. However, the caucus does formally stand for such standard left posi­tions as “30 for 40,” immediate withdrawal of the U.S. from Indo­china, and a labor party. Recently, this caucus has received sup­port from one of the more significant ostensibly revolutionary organizations, which has been colonizing its young members into the industry.

Women are being systematically hired into the industry for the first time since the general exclusion of women from the work force after World War II, and this has aided our ability to get hired. Part of a general “public relations” tactic being undertaken by ma­jor corporations in several fields and the federal government, the women in II–still relatively few in number–are being used as a way of conservatizing and introducing divisions into the work force (through such methods as giving women easier jobs ahead of higher-seniority males). Not eliminating the need for communists to raise inclusion of women in the work force as an immediate programmatic demand, this tendency instead provides an opportunity for us to con­centrate on such issues as child care, sex discrimination and equal pay for equal work in a union which has traditionally stood for these demands and which, because of the unusually high solidarity naturally engendered in the work situation, provides an opportunity to turn the companies’ attempts at divisiveness into their opposite.

In initiating activity in this union, there were some reserva­tions that the extremely arduous nature of the work would burn out our comrades. However, we have decided to push ahead as a major priority, while being sensitive to the problems and dangers involved. After intensive discussion, we arrived at a caucus-building perspec­tive which is highly indicative of our general conceptions of union work. We projected a year’s time to consolidate our forces, develop a core of recognized militants and establish a public fraction pre­sence. During this period, we would not engage in entry tactics, united fronts or other maneuvers with oppositional formations, since, given our very weak state, this would be de facto liquidationist and would tend to strengthen the more established formations. However, we will seek opportunities to criticize other oppositional caucuses and differentiate our fraction from them.

The danger we face at the hands of unscrupulous opponents, and the general need for security, was underlined when one of our members was fired for being a communist, disguised as a lay-off, just before completing the company probation period, probably because he was recognized by a member of a Stalinist ORO, which then passed the information on to its-contacts in the union bureaucracy. Despite the complete violation of seniority of the “lay-off,” and the long­time presence of radicals and left-wing activity in the plant, hard evidence of outside communist association was sufficient to accom­plish this victimization.

The central character of the industry’s Midwest base area makes colonization of this area essential for the establishment of a via­ble fraction. This in turn requires the building of a complete branch, including provision for student work on nearby campuses, ge­neral public propaganda work, etc. Despite the heavy investment of resources and manpower required for this, and the as-yet fragile character of our fraction, the importance of this union to our exem­plary trade union work and transformation into the nucleus of a vanguard party eliminates any doubt that we should undertake this move as soon as possible, consistent with our other central priori­ties (press expansion and augmenting the staff of qualified cadre in the center), hopefully by the Summer of ,1973.

Transport- A union with a Stalinist-radical history, the central leadership made the usual decisive right turn with the onset of the Cold War period. Spurred on by a worsening economic position, the leadership became increasingly corrupt, violent and dictatorial so that today it is one of the most bureaucratic unions in the country. Thus, the struggle for internal union democracy has played a large part in all oppositional formations, including ours.

The overriding problem facing the union has been the shrinkage of U.S. merchant transport due to foreign competition and “runaway” U.S. carriers.The deterioration of its economic base has eroded the union’s position, a trend qualitatively accelerated in the past 3-5 years. As a result the membership is relatively old and there are severe restrictions against new members. The membership is si­multaneously open to radical solutions to the problem of maritime unemployment and desperately conservative. Thus, it is one of the unions in the country in which pension rights and benefits are major issues.

The main blows of our fraction have been directed at bureaucra­tic chauvinism. In addition to demands for a shorter work week, the call for the immediate nationalization of the industry and the crea­tion of an international transport union have been extremely relevant to internal union politics. Equally important has been the struggle to eliminate the rigidly institutionalized “second-class citizenship” imposed on newer, younger members. Given the character of the membership, recruiting to our caucus has not been easy. Moreover, the union may very well be destroyed by the capitalist strangulation of the industry.

As this threat became clear with events of the past year, it was necessary to both step up the intensity of our caucus’ warning of the imminent demise of the industry under the treacherous, social-patriotic policies of the bureaucracy, and to re-affirm that, apart from the fate of the union caucus, we will seek to maintain a core of communist workers. The transport industry is a strategic interna­tional industry containing among the most militant and class-conscious groups of workers in every country. Historically, such communist workers have played a uniquely valuable role as internationalizing agencies in their national working classes.

As our oldest and best-established fraction, our leading com­rades in this union have played an indispensible role in the estab­lishment and growth of our trade union work generally, both before and during our effort at transformation, and have in addition been called upon to perform other party functions. This alone has held our caucus back from playing fully the role which it has acquired as the only viable alternative leadership group. Thus for no other reason were we prevented from having a well-known delegate at the recent (rarely-held) convention, which instituted an important new tactical turn of the bureaucracy to save its own neck by incorpora­ting unrelated workers (heretofore used as separately-organized voting cattle to keep the central bureaucrats in power) into the union. Recent modest growth of our fraction through hiring efforts, recruitment and incorporation of more members into full membership in the union provides the basis for reversing this tendency in the next period and allowing the caucus to play a full political role.

Communications–The union was consolidated in the post-war per­iod, the bureaucracy being formerly based on a company union and in the far right wing of the labor movement. It worked closely with the company and the government anti-communist apparatus, being a major funnel of CIA funds into the labor movement. Since the mid-1960’s, the industry has experienced considerable expansion requir­ing an increased labor force and a resultant inflow of young work­ers. The combination of youthful radicalism with the general rise of rank-and-file militancy in the late 1960’s produced numerous and large wildcat strikes, notably an exceptionally long and bitter one in New York City. The bureaucracy’s policy of starving wildcat strikes out has left a certain residue of demoralization. However, this large and growing union with its youthful and dynamic membership will undoubtedly be in the vanguard of a new upsurge of labor radicalism.

The main base of our caucus is the West Coast. It has estab­lished itself as a real oppositional pole and recruited potential communist cadre. In particular, it has won over a group of women militants originally organized around radical feminist politics. This is significant because a main element in our caucus program is the elimination of the rigid sexual division within the industry, with large numbers of women workers being in company unions. At­tempts to extend the West Coast base through implantation in other areas has, as yet, not been successful. However, the creation of a nationwide caucus in this union remains a basic priority in our industrialization policy.

The importance of our caucus to the life of the union, and the extent of its threat to the uniquely debased and cynical local of­ficialdom, has prompted both a high degree of ORO-backed left social-democratic demagogery and the most vicious, depraved and physically violent attacks ever suffered by our members in the trade unions. Burdened both by inexperience and the ravages of the recent spate of clique departures, our local leadership is nevertheless performing valiently and courageously under intense pressure.

In addition to the SL, a closely competing left-wing organiza­tion has made the union one of its major caucus-building targets. We have already engaged in sharp struggles with this tendency on the West Coast. It is likely that the communications union will be a major battleground between the SL and this “revolutionary” left social-democratic tendency.

Public employee- This large section of the labor force has been generally unorganized and is facing uncommon economic pres­sures due to the fiscal crisis of state and local government. Therefore, the public employee union is the most rapidly growing in the country and is quite likely to become the largest. Due to the presence of many young college graduates the union is relatively politically open and has mirrored the campus radicalism of the 1960’s. It was the first major union to take an anti-war position and its bureaucracy has played a key role in the liberal anti-war movement. With its growth and organic ties to the state apparatus, it has become one of the most important unions in Democratic Party politics.

As part of its general expansion, the union has absorbed a number of police and prison armed forces, thereby breaking the long-standing Gompersite (!) tradition against allowing the main strike-breakers into the organized labor movement. With the union’s liberal image and significant black and minority membership, this will be an explosive issue and one which our caucus has and will continue to focus on.

Located in the most radical section of the union, in which or­ganizing drives against a reactionary state bureaucracy are the key question, our caucus has stood forth both as exemplary organizersand oppositionists, combatting the central bureaucracy’s efforts to quell the organizing and acquire large dues-paying membership blocks through mergers with company-union “associations,” and has made a noticeable impact at state and national conventions. In an arena heavily penetrated by OROs., our comrades have had an opportunity to conduct work and recruitment on a high level. While we will have to gut the leadership of this caucus in order to implement our more central perspective for work in II, we will retain the caucus for its excellent short-term recruitment perspective.

Due to its social composition and relatively open character, direct recruitment to the party will be easier than in other unions. For the same reasons, it will be a union in which there will be the most open competition between organizations claiming to be revolu­tionary. Since the union is easily accessible to our membership, it will be used as a back-up for members who can’t get into more selec­ted fractions rather than as a primary target for implantation.

24 November 1972

[Adopted by Third National Conference, 25 November.,1972]

Rewriting Cuba

Rewriting Cuba

BOOK REVIEW: Cuba: The Revolution in Peril – by Janette Habel

By J. Leisler

In the year 1959, a tiny island with 10 million inhabitants burned its way into the consciousness of the world. The planet has not been quite the same since. Not only did the Cuban revolution upset the apple cart by eventually establishing the first, and so far the on1y, workers’ state in the Western hemisphere, but it forever transformed tens of millions of people’s concept of what is truly possible.

The reactions to this event were as varied as the vested interests and backgrounds of those who were politically active at the time. For the American bourgeoisie, this was their worst nightmare. “Ninety miles from our shore!” went the refrain. For the Soviet bureaucracy, this was an unexpected event with which they were initially unconnected, one that bore watching for dangers and opportunities. For the Cuban people, it was a time of celebration and hope that their long nightmare of humiliation and oppression was over.

For a group of ostensible Trotskyists, it was a much needed resting place for their hopes and dreams. This group was the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec), the international umbrella organization that sheltered the U.S.-based Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the European followers of Ernest Mandel and Michel Pablo.

Since the inception of the Trotskyist movement it had been necessary to fight a war on two fronts. On the one hand, there was the struggle against the old and resilient enemy, capitalism; on the other, a difficult rearguard action against the Soviet bureaucracy led by Joseph Stalin and his successors. The Trotskyists regarded the latter as a necessary battle to bring the 1917 Russian Revolution back on track, believing that the bureaucracy would completely smother the revolution and thus create the conditions for capitalist restoration. How right they were (in this respect at least)! The founders of the SWP had, in their youth, built their hopes and dreams upon the USSR.

After a brief flirtation with Yugoslavia’s Tito regime in the late 1940s, under the social pressure of the bleak McCarthy years of the 1950s the SWP began to long for something fresh and new. The Cuban revolution seemed made to order. Here was a real revolution! Seemingly untainted by Stalinism, without a Soviet franchise operation to lead it, the July 26 Movement, after initial hesitancy, overturned the entire neocolonial society of the island nation. And so, in the eyes of USec, this was a healthy (as opposed to degenerated) workers’ state, unlike the Soviet Union. Fidel Castro soon became for them, against his will, an “unconscious Trotskyist.” In the

1980s, the SWP was to ditch Trotskyism and quit USec, but keep and intensify its Fidelism to the point of absurdity.

As for USec itself, they continued in their uncritical view of Cuba without going to the embarrassing extremes of the SWP. There has hardly been a word of criticism for Fidel and the Cuban revolution from this quarter—until now.


It is this book, Cuba: The Revolution in Peril that breaks this silence. On the cover is a photo of a beleaguered Ernesto “Che” Guevara, rubbing his eyes. The preface was written by François Maspero, a leading member of USec. He begins with a discussion of caudillismo, a personalist form of dictatorship common in Latin American-history. Power is seized by armed force and comes to be embodied in one man who claims to represent the interests of the nation as a whole. It is a theme that will be repeated.

He goes on to describe this work as a book of “fidelity to a past, to a memory, and to a political project.” It is this fidelity that is simultaneously the book’s greatest strength and that is simultaneously the book’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. While many of the author’s criticisms of Cuba are sharp and insightful, there is a hesitancy about reaching the logical conclusions. There is a clear sense of loyalty to what the Cuban revolution represents, but only a vague sense of what it might take to salvage it.

It is clear that the author, Janette Habel, has a strong command of the facts. The book is well researched and, for anyone interested in the current situation in Cuba, it is well worth perusing. It is a highly detailed account, lucidly written, and it provides an excellent overview of the current crisis. Although the postscript is dated November 20, 1990, it is not difficult to get an idea of the present situation of Cuba by extending the conditions described into the post-Soviet era.

During the late 1960s, Cuba opted for a development strategy based on agricultural exports, chiefly sugar. Certainly, the fact that sugar was the chief export of Cuba since the time of Spanish colonial rule made this decision that much easier. Blazing a new economic trail is more difficult than quickening the pace on the road already taken. Nonetheless, economic dependence on sugar has played no small role in the domination of Cuba (since its independence from Spain in 1898) by the United States. Che Guevara had hoped to reduce the share of Cuba’s exports taken up by sugar from 80 percent to 60 percent. Why, then, did the Cuban leadership take this tack?


The U.S. economic embargo on Cuban products obviously made trade far more difficult, the U.S. having been formerly the main destination for Cuban goods. The Soviet Union was willing to purchase the bulk of Cuban sugar at a guaranteed price. World demand for sugar was on the rise, so more sugar available for sale meant more hard currency, which in turn meant more money to buy western technology. In addition, barter arrangements with Eastern Europe assured Cuba of a stable source of vital supplies. It was hoped that the modernization of the sugar industry would increase production and further accelerate the process of industrialization. These, plus technical considerations, were the main reasons for this policy.

A popular conception of Soviet subsidization of Cuban sugar is to regard Cuba as simply a welfare client of the USSR. There is some truth to this, but it is also true that those who dole out welfare rarely have their clients’ best interests at heart. Soviet and Eastern Bloc purchases of Cuban sugar (accounting for between 65 and 80 percent of Cuban sugar exported) have protected Cuba from the vagaries of the world market. Cuba has benefitted from the re-export of Soviet oil on the world market. Industrial production has increased, mostly for the home market. Cuba is one of the world’s leading producers of sugar cane harvesting and cutting machinery.

But this economic road has also proven to be strewn with potholes. Until 1976, the Soviet import price for sugar had been less than the price Cuba would have received had the U.S. market been available to it. Cuba has also been shortchanged in this manner where its chief mineral export, nickel, is concerned. In addition, Soviet sugar purchases have been tied to Cuban oil purchases.

When the world oil price fell in 1986, Cuba continued to purchase Soviet oil at the old rate. Neither is the Soviet technology that was imported an unmixed blessing, as much of it is of lower value than comparable western equipment and may be unsalable on the world market. Upon joining COMECON in 1972, Cuba agreed to repay debts to the USSR and Eastern Europe. As of 1986, the debt was to be repaid interest free over 25 years, and could be paid in kind. Fidel Castro, in 1987, estimated this debt to be $10 billion.

If relations with the Soviet Union and its allies were contradictory, relations with the industrial capitalist states were almost wholly negative. The United States, Western Europe, and Japan protect native sugar beet producers with low import quotas and price subsidies to farmers. The European Economic Community is a major exporter of sugar. The development of artificial sweeteners has reduced world demand for sugar. While world market sales of sugar account for between 20 and 35 percent of Cuban sugar exports by volume, they account for only 4.5 to 27.5 percent in total value. In 1985, Cuba’s debt to the West was $3 billion and climbing. As of 1984, the bulk of export earnings went to service interest payments on this debt.


When the price of sugar rises, Third World sugar producers have tended to respond by flooding the market, causing a precipitous drop in prices. In addition, since 1975, the value of sugar as compared to oil has been falling. All of this leaves Cuba in a Catch-22 economic situation—industrialization requires western technology imports, which in turn require foreign exchange and consequently an increase in exports, while the price of manufactured products surges ahead of the price of agricultural commodities.

During the 1960s, the leadership of the Cuban deformed workers’ state debated two major options for overcoming this classic Third World economic predicament. The first, favored by Che Guevara, who was Minister of Industry before 1966, called for centralized planning of all major industries (he opposed nationalizing small shops) with strict accounting of production costs. Nationalized industry would be funded through the state budget. Wages would be based partly on an assessment of qualifications and partly on productivity. Moral incentives would be stressed over material ones, but bonuses would not be neglected. The second stressed the law of value, material over moral incentives, and touted managerial autonomy of enterprises over state planning.

Guevara lost the economic debate. In 1967, while Che was in Bolivia organizing his ill-fated attempt at continent-wide revolution (a kind of guerillaist socialist internationalism), the Castro leadership took neither of the above paths, but opted for a curious blend of both and neither. Central planning was dismantled, replaced with “special plans” promulgated from on high. Virtually all private business, even small shops and street vendors, were nationalized. Overtime pay and bonuses were done away with, work standards ignored. Residential rent was abolished, as were fees for telephone calls and other services. This was the period of the “revolutionary offensive.” It ended in 1970, with the failure of the special plan to produce 10 million tons of sugar.

This last special plan wreaked havoc with Cuba’s agriculture. Prices of produce were cut, and farmers had to grow cane with state subsidies. Later, rents on private land used to grow cane were cut in an attempt to force independent farmers to give up their land and work directly for the state. This caused shortages of produce and generated a black market. Protests occurred, and the leadership backtracked. In the mid-1970s, state produce prices rosé and the squeeze on farmers was halted. Efforts were made to promote producer co-ops.

The year 1972, when Cuba joined COMECON, was a major turning point in Cuba history. Soviet assistance and planning were copied. The Central Planning Board (JUCEPLAN) was introduced, ending the special plans. In 1975, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) held its first congress. Along with the first five-year plan, the Economic Management and Planning System (SDPE) was instituted. This closely resembled the economic ideas of Che Guevara’s opponents during the 1960s. Profitability of enterprises was emphasized and plant managers were given broad autonomy over wages, work standards, and use of resources. Over a ten-year period, house and apartment ownership were encouraged, and free farmers’ markets were opened in 1980.


The results of this program were mixed and generally disappointing. Bonuses often had little to do with the amount of extra effort exerted. Staff shortages appeared in many enterprises. Staff surpluses occurred frequently as well. Productivity increases were far short of expectations. Home ownership, allowed in order to encourage people to build on their own initiative, led to widespread theft of construction materials, illegal use of equipment, corruption, and workplace absenteeism. Subsequent wage reforms in 1980 more than doubled the salaries of top managers, while leaving the salaries of workers, except skilled technicians, substantially unchanged. Some private farmers were able to earn as much as 50,000 pesos a year, while the salaries of state farm workers were little over 1200 pesos a year. The free farmers’ markets were closed down in 1986.

The most destructive result of all was the rising social inequality. Managerial salaries were twice that of laborers, and middle-level state bureaucrats earned one and two-thirds to almost 3 times an average wage, substantial perks such as access to rationed goods, preferential housing, use of state autos, etc. not included. This may seem as nothing compared with American corporate CEOs earning million dollar salaries (perks also not included) that are a hundred times what they pay the workers, whom they are laying off by the thousands, regardless of company profits. But we are not discussing capitalism. This was a collectivized economy allegedly heading towards communism. People therefore expected some progress towards social equality, even slow progress. These circumstances acted as a drag on morale, making mass mobilizations that much more difficult.

Salaries are only the top of the iceberg. Cuban managers have substantial power over the means of production they are paid to administer, while workers have lost most of the limited control they gained as a result of the revolution. In addition, the attention paid to profitability has led to a disintegration of the social services the people have come to expect. Investment in social services has dropped from 29.3 percent of all investment in 1962 to just 15.6 percent in 1981. In ten years, the number of managers and administrative employees doubled, although even this increase couldn’t absorb the number of highly trained cadre turned out by Cuba’s educational system. The shortage of rural labor, partially the result of abysmally low salaries in this sector, only increases Cuba’s economic and social malaise. School truancy and desertion are rising, as are juvenile delinquency, prostitution, and trafficking in foreign currency, especially near tourist areas (which are being expanded in order to bring in foreign exchange).

At the close of the second session of the Third Congress of the PCC in December 1986, Castro announced the “process of  rectification of errors and negative tendencies in all spheres of society.” The market reforms carried out under the SDPE were severely criticized, bureaucratic privileges were decried. Attempts were made to promote voluntary labor and revive the “microbrigades,’ and inculcate a sense of patriotic duty. Che Guevara, virtually unmentioned since 1970, was revived as a national icon, with Castro praising his “economic thought.” Ms. Habel is at least as skeptical of the efficacy of “rectification” as the youth of Cuba appear to be.

These matters are all skillfully covered, in more than adequate detail, in the first three chapters in the book. These are the best chapters of the book. In subsequent chapters, the effect of the USec view of Cuba becomes apparent. While Ms. Habel’s command of the material and her presentation do not disintegrate, it is here that interpretations of political reality run astray. Her recommendations for the future reflect this.


Ms. Habel quite accurately describes political democracy as “a major absentee.” The work councils (consejos de trabajo) bear little resemblance to functioning workers’ councils. They have no authority outside of the workplace. Their members, elected by secret ballot, are charged primarily with resolving matters of work discipline, although they have some responsibility over wages, conditions, and transfers. By 1980 these councils had lost most of their limited power to the enterprise managers. The Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) has some moderating influence over the arbitraryactions of management, and participation in the unions had increased in the 1970s. Workplace assemblies do discuss the central plan, and their input is considered. But there is no formal discussion of alternate proposals and no method by which actual decisions can be made by these assemblies, merely a passing upward of suggestions.

Entirely separate from the workplace structures are the organs of people’s power (OPPs). They are responsible for local investment programs and achieving centrally assigned objectives. These are directly elected at the local and provincial level. The local assemblies then elect delegates to the National Assembly of People’s Power. The deputies’ task is to explain policy and report to the electors.

Workers’ democracy is thus cut off at the knees. Under the rubric of “people’s power,” a truncated form of bourgeois democracy is offered. Actual policy is carried out by a “central group” of vice-presidents, ministers, Central Committee secretaries, department heads, and provincial OPP presidents. There is no formal means of control of these personnel or their decisions.

It is on this question of workers’ democracy that Ms. Habel’s narrative begins to reflect the traditional USec view of Cuba as a healthy workers’ state. Ms. Habel pins her hopes on a combination of “rectification,” a Cuban glasnost without perestroika, and a vague program of democratization. She seems to believe that it is possible for the leadership to mobilize the masses against the bureaucracy and newly arisen capitalist elements through “rectification” and use this as a basis for a strategic alliance between the leadership and the masses. She is correct in stating that the social weight of the bureaucracy will cause “rectification” from the top to fail. But she only dimly realizes just how cynical this “rectification” truly is. While harsh austerity measures are being implemented, bureaucratic privileges and excesses are being criticized, and some officials have been fired, no democratic advances have been made. While Castro and the clique around him may feel the need to ride roughshod over the bureaucracy from time to time, the bureaucracy is the horse upon which they must ride.

Because Castro and his immediate circle arose not from a Stalinist party but from the nationalist July 26 Movement, USec has lean unable to see Castroism as a variant of Stalinism. Ms. Habel is only able to concede bureaucratization and Stalinization from about 1972 onwards, blaming this chiefly on the USSR. But that only is when it became cast in stone.

The July 26 Movement was a peasant-based guerilla movement whose aims were overthrow of the Batista regime, agrarian reform, and national independence. Because agrarian reform ran into fierce resistance from U.S. economic interests and because U.S. control of the economy ran counter to true national independence, the victorious revolutionaries were forced to overturn the old property forms entirely. U.S.-owned industry and much of the property of the Cuban bourgeoisie were confiscated. The bulwarks of the former capitalist regime, the army and the police, were dismantled and replaced with a new revolutionary army and popular militia.

The expropriations required mass mobilizations. The peasants were organized into democratically run cooperatives. Workers took direct action in seizing factories and took the first steps toward democratic control of industry. Popular armed militias were formed. These were major gains, and it serves to explain why, even with increasing commandism and repression, mass organizations were able to exert their influence well into the 1970s.


But the guerillaist, elitist nature of the leadership would soon serve as a brake on progress. In 1960, the elected Fidelista leadership of the unions were arbitrarily replaced by cadre of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP), a Moscow franchise, that toed the government’s line. The autonomy of individual unions was curtailed by placing them under central leadership. Workers’ control of industry was actively opposed by the government, which gave trade unions the task of increasing production. Peasant cooperatives were transformed into state farms operated by the central government. A single party structure was created back in the early 1960s with the formation of the Integrated Revolutionary Organization (ORI) later renamed the PCC. This merged the July 26 Movement, the PSP and the Revolutionary Directorate into one organization, with the former PSP apparatus playing a major role. The publications of Trotskyist and other nonconforming groups were suppressed, as was the Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers Party (POR). Did all this go on without Stalinism or bureaucracy?

It is also difficult to understand how the level of repression in Cuba can be associated with anything but Stalinism. And yet Ms. Habel tells us that “while political repression in Cuba has nothing at all to do with Stalinist repression, it undoubtedly exists.” Not only do we have the above-mentioned acts, but also the stultification of cultural life through ideological interference by the state. Not mentioned at all is the serious repression of gays, which began in the 1960s and featured internment in labor camps. Another example of this repression is the Ochoa trial.

During the summer of 1989, an extraordinary trial was held. General Arnaldo Ochoa, a hero of the Angolan war, and more than a dozen codefendants, mostly officials of the military and police apparatus, were tried and convicted of trafficking in narcotics. Although Ms Habel admits that the defense did nothing more than bring forth admissions of guilt from its clients, she seems convinced of their guilt. No convincing evidence is provided. The only definitive statement in the chapter on the trial was that the defendants, due to past service, deserved better than a summary proceeding, and that the executions of Ochoa and three others were “not justified.”

By contrast, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) of the SWP saw Cuba, between 1959 and 1960, as a society which was run by people who commanded a monopoly of force, but were not committed to either collective or private property. The bourgeoisie had been thoroughly routed, but the new state had not yet been consolidated. By 1961, Castro et al had expropriated the U.S. and Cuban bourgeoisie and had built a new state, with a new army and popular militia. However, because any organs of workers’ democracy that did exist were far too weak to contend for control of the state, the bureaucracy was able to dominate the working class and peasantry politically. This bureaucracy crystallized around Castro, Guevara, and the other leaders of the Sierra Maestra guerrillas. Cuba had therefore become a deformed workers’ state which required a struggle by the proletariat, led by a Trotskyist party, for direct political power, i.e., a political revolution. The Bolshevik Tendency is the heir of the RT, via the Spartacist League, and adheres to this position.

The political positions of USec with regard to Cuba are not entirely wrong. They at least still claim to see the need, as we do, to defend the Cuban revolution and its social gains unconditionally whenever and wherever the American behemoth threatens. But just as earlier blind loyalty convinced no one and was therefore a poor defense, the inability to make a clean break with Cuban Stalinism, which if taken seriously would have to involve a profound break with the whole tailist methodology and their whole history, makes it impossible to defend the revolution without giving undeserved political support to the bureaucracy.

The Cuban ship of state is sinking. The bureaucracy is incapable of defending the revolution. It is imperative that, along with the defense against imperialism, we propose the only possible way out of the impasse, regardless of how “practical” or popular it appears in the short term.

What is most disturbing about this book is the tentativeness with which Ms. Habel proposes solutions to the frightening dilemma of the Cuban revolution. The closest she comes to a concrete proposal is to call for “workers’ decision-making power and self-government.” Good, as far as it goes, but what does this consist of, and how is this to be put in place?

For our tendency, workers’ democracy means that all administrative officials are chosen by and responsible to representative institutions whose delegates are democratically elected by and recallable by the workers themselves. There are many possible variations on this theme, such as the Soviets of the 1917 Russian Revolution or the Workers’ Councils of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. These institutions are based upon, but by no means restricted to, workplace assemblies.

It should also be understood that workers’ democracy is never a gift. Whether or not there is a Cuban glasnost, the Castroite clique that heads the bureaucracy will neither simply hand over the reigns of power to the workers, nor build their democratic institutions for them. This can only be carried out through a workers’ political revolution that overturns the bureaucracy while maintaining collectivized property and the planned economy. As the PCC is a creature of the bureaucracy, it cannot be the mechanism through which this is to be done. Only a new communist party, a Trotskyist party, can lead this phase of the revolution. Why? Because a Trotskyist party is the only kind of organization that has precisely this perspective.

Ms. Habel has nonetheless made a valuable contribution to the existing literature on Cuba. Despite the muddling on the questions of workers’ democracy and Stalinism, her analyses are often sharp and illuminating. Too bad she isn’t in our camp.

Guerrillas in Power

A Bureaucratic, Anti-Working-Class Regime

Guerrillas in Power

[First printed in Workers Vanguard # 102, March 25, 1976]

As part of a broader effort to “institutionalize” its rule, the recent congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) approved a new “socialist” constitution for the country to replace the bourgeois “Fundamental Law” of 1940 (see “Castro Holds First her CP Congress,” WV No. 100, 12 March 1976). Prime Minister Fidel Castro also made use of the occasion to present the “revised standard version” of the history of the Cuban revolution.

The extensive overview was doubly significant in the context of the new constitution, since one of Castro’s key original demands- from the attack on the Moncada on 26 July 1953 until taking power from the dictator Batista on 1 January 1959 –was precisely for a return to the 1940 constitution. This raises the crucial questions of the class character of the guerrilla movement, the nature of the revolution it carried out, and the causes and significance of the shift from a “democratic” bourgeois program to the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.

These issues are of tremendous significance for communists as they concern the most fundamental questions of revolutionary strategy in the backward capitalist countries. Can the petty bourgeoisie-traditionally considered by Marxists as a vacillating group, incapable of giving independent class leadership–carry out a socialist revolution, as the revisionist “United Secretariat” claims? Or has Cuba remained throughout a capitalist state, as the Maoists and Gerry Healy’s fakeTrotskyist “International Committee” contend? On the other hand, if. as uniquely put forward by the international Spartacist tendency, the Castro regime has since late 1960 been a deformed workers state, how was it formed, and what implications does this have for the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution?

A Closet Communist?

In his opening speech to the PCC congress, “Comandante” Castro repeatedly praised the policies of the Stalinist leaders of the Soviet Union. Having long ago become locked into the Soviet orbit, Castro now seeks to project his current policies back onto the militant youth who stormed the army barracks in Santiago in 1953 and the nucleus of the Rebel Army that initiated guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra mountains three years later.

Castro includes among the “solid pillars” on which the leaders of the 26th of July Movement based themselves “the principles of Marxism-Leninism.” He goes on, “Even though this was not the way of thinking of all those who had embarked upon the road of revolutionary armed struggle in our country, it was that of its main leaders” (Granma, 28 December 1975). Castro also claimed that among the young combatants there was “a deep respect and admiration for the old Communists” of the pro-Moscow People’s Socialist Party(PSP), who “had held aloft with unyielding firmness the noble banners of MarxismLeninism.”

The reality was considerably different. Castro’s speech was silent on the program of the anti-Batista movement, but in an oblique aside for the benefit of those who know something of the struggle during the 1950’s, he added: ” … not only the most resolute action was necessary, but also astuteness and flexibility on the part of revolutionaries …. The proclamation of socialism during the period of insurrectional struggle would not have been understood by the people, and imperialism would have directly intervened in our country with its troops.”

A similar theme can be found in many right-wing attacks on Castro, which charge that he “betrayed the revolution” against Batista and hoodwinked the people. Certain left-wing apologists for the Havana regime also put forward the myth of Castro the “closet Marxist-Leninist” who “pulled a fast one” on the imperialists. “The leaders of the Revolution had to know the people and talk to them in terms they were ready to understand,” wrote Edward Boorstein in The Economic Transformation of Cuba (1968). Others, such as the ex-Maoist Progressive Labor Party (PL), who attempt to criticize Castro from the left claim they were initially captivated by ”Che [Guevara’s slick way of moving Cuba to socialism behind everybody’s backs” (Jake Rosen, “Is Cuba Socialist?” PL, November 1969). Professing that they “no longer believe[d] in nifty gimmicks,” PL concluded that Cuba was still capitalist. The truth is more complex-more dialectical-than such simple-minded talk of Castro and Guevara as con artists.

A Radical Jacobin Democrat

All these “explanations” come down to a conspiracy theory of history and ignore the real social character of Castro’s movement. To begin with, Castro himself did not even pretend to be part of the workers movement during the struggle against the U.S. backed dictatorship. Instead, he was a radical Jacobin petty-bourgeois democrat, following in the footsteps of “the Apostle” of Cuban independence, Jose Marti. H is political background was as a liberal student leader and constitutionalist lawyer. He was for a time head of the student government at the University of Havana, and in 1948 voted for Eduardo Chibas, candidate of the Ortodoxo Party, who was running for president of the country on an anti-corruption program. In 1952, Castro was a candidate for the Cuban Congress on the Ortodoxo slate, but a coup d’etat by former military strongman Fulgencio Batista forestalled the elections.

After the March 10 coup, the young lawyer’s first action against the dictator was not to undertake agitation among the workers and peasants, but instead to appeal to an emergency court in the capital to arrest Batista for violating the Code of Social Defense! Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy’s simplistic apology for Castro (Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution,1960) commented: “When his petition for the imprisonment of Batsita was rejected by the court. Fidel decided there was only one way in which the usurper could be overthrown — revolution.” His goals were listed as “honest government” and a “truly sovereign Cuba.”

The methods which the young lawyer then resorted to were well within the framework of traditional Latin American bourgeois politics. Various pseudo Marxists – from Castro himself to the followers of fake-Trotskyist Ernest Mandel -pretend today that the Cuban guerrilla “strategy” was somehow to the left of traditional Stalinist reformism because it engaged in “armed struggle.” They “forget” that in the unstable conditions of Latin America, just about every political tendency has at one time or another “picked up the gun.” Castro’s first attempt at revolutionary action, for instance, was nothing but an old-style pronunciamiento.

The plan for the assault on the Moncada was to. surprise the 1,000 soldiers quartered there, seize their arms, then take over the radio station and broadcast the last speech of Eduardo Chibas (who had committed suicide in 1951), followed by a call to arms inviting the Cuban people to rise up against the dictator. Similar actions have been carried out scores of times in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru or Argentina. However, in this case it failed, partly due to bad planning, and most of the 200 attackers were killed during the attack or brutally murdered by Batista’s torturers in the mopping-up operation which followed.

Program of the 26th of July Movement

At his trial the following September, Castro (who had been caught hiding in the hills around the eastern provincial capital) was able to turn the tables on the government with a dramatic speech indicting the regime for its oppression of “the people.” In this speech, later edited into a pamphlet entitled “History Will Absolve Me,” Castro laid out five “revolutionary laws” that would have been immediately proclaimed after the capture of the Moncada barracks.

These projected decrees show quite clearly the social content of the revolution which the July 26 rebels were planning. The first was to return to the constitution of 1940; second was to grant land titles to tenants and squatters (with the state indemnifying former owners on the basis of rental values they would have received over the next ten years); the third provided for profit sharing, the fourth that cane growers would get 55 percent of sugar production (instead of the lion’s share going to the mills), and the last was to confiscate “ill-gotten gains of all who had committed frauds during previous regimes.”

As the cold-warrior journalist academic Theodore Draper wrote: “There is virtually nothing in the social and economic program of History Will Absolve Me that cannot be traced at least as far back as … the 1935 program of Dr. Grau San Martins’s Autentico party, let alone the later propaganda of Chibas” (Castroism: Theory and Practice, 1965).

Castro’s anti-Batista struggle following the catastrophic landing of the yacht Granma in Oriente province in December 1956 is usually thought of exclusively in terms of a tiny guerrilla band gradually winning support from the jibaros (peasants). But the leader of the tiny 26th of July Movement was simultaneously negotiating with a number of prominent bourgeois politicians. Thus the “Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra,” dated July 1957 and the most widely circulated of the rebel documents, was signed by Castro, Raul Chibas (brother of Eduardo) and Felipe Pazos, ex-president of the National Bank of Cuba.

The Castro-Chibas-Pazos manifesto called for “democratic, impartial elections” organized by a “provisional neutral government”: “dissociat[ion] [of] the army from politics: freedom of the press: “sound financial policy” and “industrialization”: and an agrarian reform based on granting ownnership to squatters and tenants (with prior indemnification of owners). The ten point program was to be carried out by a Civilian Revolutionary Front, made up of representatives of all opposition groups.

The final programmatic statement from the Sierra Maestra, issued in October 1958, as the Batista regime was crumbling, was “Law No. 3” on agrarian reform. Based on the principle of land to the tiller, it did not mention cooperatives or state farms.

When Fidel and Raul Castro swept out of the Sierra Maestra to link up with Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos in the plains of Camaguey province and then march on to Havana, the Rebel Army was far from being a mass organization, counting only 1,100 soldiers. most of them peasants.

The provisional government, installed with Castro’s approval was hardly dominated by 26th of July ministers. The president was Manuel Urrutia, a former judge: the prime minister was Jose Miro Cardona, former head of the Havana Bar Association; the foreign minister was Roberto Agramonte, the Ortodoxo presidential candidate in 1952: and Felipe Pazos was again head of the National Bank. In the new armed forces, the head of the Revolutionary Air Force was Pedro Diaz Lanz. By the end of the year, all of these men had defected to the U.S., joining the ex-batistianos in Miami. Miro was later to be the puppet head of a “Revolutionary Council” set up by the CIA to serve as the front for its Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961.

The policies adopted by the new regime during its early months were certainly a radical departure from the laissez-faire debauchery and wholesale corruption of the Batista “government,” which was something akin to having Al Capone in the White House. However, the actions of the revolutionary government did not exceed the limits of the capitalist regime.

Among the first steps were the slashing of electric rates by half in rural areas, up to 50 percent cuts in rents for the poor. and the implementation of the agrarian reform law of the Sierra Maestra together with seizure of the estates of Batista henchmen. In the United States, the bourgeois press, led off by Time magazine, whipped up a reactionary publicity campaign against the war crimes trials of the bloodstained butchers of the Batista regime (of whose bestialities the imperialist media had reported nothing). In all only 550 of the most notorious criminals were executed. with the broad approval of virtually all classes of the Cuban population.

But while this first post-Batista government was headed by authentic liberal bourgeois politicians, real power was in the hands of the Rebel Army, which is why the openly counterrevolutionary leaders left without waging any kind of fight. The guerrilla struggles in the hills had been militarily marginal, but they succeeded in crystallizing the massive popular hatred for the Batista regime. By the time the leaders of the 26th of July Movement entered the capital, the official army and police apparatus -the core of the state power- had collapsed. The Castroites proceeded to sweep it away, and organize a new repressive apparatus recruited and organized along quite different lines.

The guerrilla army was a petty-bourgeois formation, politically heterogeneous, with its leadership recruited from among ex-students and proffessionals and the ranks from the peasants of the sierra. While Castro and the rest of the leadership had signed various programs, manifestos, etc., with oppositional liberals. their previous direct connections with the bourgeoisie had been broken. Most importantly, the Rebel Army was not faced with a combative and class conscious proletariat, which would have polarized the petty-bourgeois militants, drawing some to the workers’ side and sending others straight into the arms of Urrutia, Miro & Co. Consequently, what existed in Havana following the overthrow of Batista was an inherently transitory and fundamentally unstable phenomenon a petty-bourgeois government  which was not committed to the defense of either bourgeois private property or the collectivist property forms of proletarian class rule (see “Cuba and Marxist Theory,” Marxist Bulletin No. 8).

The Consolidation of a Deformed Workers State

While such a regime was temporarily autonomous from the bourgeois order -that is, a capitalist state, namely armed bodies of men dedicated to defending a particular property form, did not exist in the Marxist sense- Castro could not escape from the class struggle. After I January 1959 a new bourgeois state power could have been erected in Cuba. as occurred following the departure of the French colonial rulers in Algeria in 1962. In the Algerian case, this process was aided by the conclusion of the neo-colonial Evian Accords, explicitly protecting the property of French colons, and the fact that power was handed over to a regular army which played little role in the guerrila fighting.

However, in Cuba U.S. imperialism was far from accommodating and soon began a sharp economic struggle against the new rulers in Havana which rapidly grew into military actions. This imperialist pressure, in turn, pushed the core of the Cuban leadership to the left, while leading other segments of the 26th of July Movement to join the bourgeois liberals and batistianosin exile.

The first sharp clash with the domestic bourgeoisie came over the proclamation of a moderate agrarian reform law in May. The new law expropriated all land over 999 acres, to be paid in bonds of the revolutionary government which could be redeemed in 20 years. The reaction was predictable: landowners declared this was “worse than Communism” and the U.S. State Department sent a pious note deploring that American investors had not been consulted beforehand.

The next move by Castro which stirred the ire of the capitalists was the removal of Felipe Pazos from the National Bank where he was replaced by Guevara. In February 1960, Russian deputy prime minister Mikoyan visited Cuba and signed an agreement to purchase 1 million tons of Cuban sugar yearly. This relieved Cuba of its hitherto almost exclusive reliance on the U.S. for foreign trade, and when on 29 June 1960 US owned oil refineries refused to accept crude petrolium imported from the USSR, they were nationalized. On July 3, the American Congress approved a cutting off Cuba’s sugar quota, and two days later Castro seized U.S.-held property (primarily sugar mills) on the island.

Meanwhile the the polarization within the diverse Castroite movement had proceeded apace. Already in July 1959, President Urrutia had provoked a government crisis by denouncing the PSP and Communism; almost simultaneously, air force head Diaz Lanz called on defense minister Raul Castro to purge Communists from the armed forces. Diaz soon fled to the U.S., and Urrutia resigned and was replaced by Osvaldo Dorticos. In October, the military commander of Camaguey province, Hubert Matos, tried to launch a regional rebellion together with two dozen of his officers, but was quickly overpowered and arrested.

Not only in the new armed forces was the differentiation taking place. The Havana organization of the 26th of July Movement and its newspaper Revolucion throughout early 1959 were a source of aggressive anti-Communism.

The crisis between the right and left wing came to a head in the battle over the trade unions, where David Salvador had been installed as head of the Cuban Labor Federation (CTC) to replace Batista’s gangster crony Eusebio Mujal. Salvador immediately dissolved the working unity between the PSP and the 26th of July in the labor movement which had been established in late 1958, and assigned all seats on the CTC executive committee to non-Communists. In the November 1959 CTC congress there was a showdown, and after a personal intervention by Fidel Castro the back of the anti-PSP wing (which reportedly included a number of ex-mujalistas) was broken. Salvador resigned a few months later, and control of the unions passed to longtime Stalinist Lazaro Pena (see J. P. Morray, The Second Revolution in Cuba, 1962).

The culminating step in the nationalizations came in the fall of 1960, with a series of rapid-fire seizures (tobacco factories. American banks, and then, on October 13. all banks and 382 business enterprises). By mid-October all agricultural processing plants: all chemical metallurgical. paper. textile and drug factories: all railroads. ports. printing presses, construction companies and department stores were nationalized. Together this made the state the owner of 90 percent of the industrial capacity of Cuba.

The Permanent Revolution

With the takeover of capitalist property in Cuba, for the first time in the Western Hemisphere -and only “90 miles from Florida”- the world witnessed the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class. This naturally made the Cuban revolution an object of hatred for the imperialists. It also made Castro and Cuba into objects of adoration by would-be revolutionaries of all sorts and a large spectrum of petty-bourgeois radical opinion. The New Left. with its hard anti-Leninism, grabbed instinctively for a revolution “by the people” but without a Leninist party or the participation of the working class.

For ostensible Trotskyists, however, the Cuban revolution posed important programmatic questions. The theory of permanent revolution held that in the backward capitalist regions the bourgeoisie was too weak and bound by its ties to the imperialists and feudalists to achieve an agrarian revolution, democracy and national emancipation, objects of the classical bourgeois revolutions. Trotsky’s analysis of the Russian revolution of 1905 led him to his insistence that the proletariat must estahlish its own class rule, with the support of the peasantry, in order to accomplish even the democratic tasks of the bourgeois revolution: and it would from the beginning be forced to undertake socialist measures as well, making the revolution permanent in character.

The Cuban revolution demonstrated that even with a leadership that began its insurgency with no perspective of transcending petty-bourgeois radicalism, real agrarian reform and national emancipation from the yoke of Yankee imperialism proved to be impossible without destroying the bourgeoisie as a class. It vindicated the Marxist understanding that the petty bourgeoisie composed of highly volatile and contradictory elements lacking the social force to independently vie for power- is unable to establish any new, characteristic mode of property relations, but is forced to fall back upon the property forms of one of the two fundamentally counterposed classes in capitalist society, the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.

Thus the Castro leadership, under exceptional circumstances due to the collapse of the Batista regime in the absence of a powerful working class able to struggle for state power in its own right, was pushed hy the pressure of U.S. imperialism’s frenzied hostility into creating a deformed workers state which in power increasingly duplicated the mode of rule of the degenerated USSR as the Castroists consolidated a bureaucratic state apparatus. The evolution of the Cuban leadership from petty-bourgeois radicals to the administrators of a deformed workers state (and the incorporation of the Cuban Communists) confirmed Trotsky’s characterization of the Russian Stalinists as a petty bourgeois caste resting upon the property forms established by the October Revolution. Moreover, the Cuban revolution provides a negative confirmation that only the class-conscious proletariat, led by a Marxist vanguard party, can establish a democratically governed, revlutionary workers state, and thus lay the basis for the international extension of the revolution and open the road to socialism.

Unlike the Russian Revolution which required a political counterrevolution under Stalin to become a bureaucratically deformed workers state, the Cuban revolution was deformed from its inception. The Cuban working class, having played essentially no part in the revolutionary process, never held political power, and the Cuban state was governed by the whims of the Castroist clique rather than being administered by democratically elected workers councils (soviets).

The revisionist current which had emerged from within the Trotskyist movement in the late 1950’s saw in Cuba the perfect justification for its abandonment of the construction of Trotskyist vanguard parties. By ignoring the crucial index of workers democracy and thus sliding over the qualititative difference between a deformed workers state such as Stalinist Russia or Castroist Cuba and the healthy Russian workers state of Lenin and Trotsky, the European supporters of the “International Secretariat” (I.S.) embraced the Cuban revolution as proof that revolutionary transformations could take place without the leadership of a proletarian vanguard. Cuba became the model of the “revolutionary process” under “new conditions” -and the schema to which the revisionists have clung despite the failure of countless guerrifla struggles in Latin American to duplicate the “Cuban road.”

For the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP), however, Cuba was a watershed in the degeneration of that party as a repository of revolutionary Trotskyism. During the 1950’s it had fought Pablo’s notion of “deep entrism” in the mass reformist parties. But with its revolutionary fibre weakened under the impact of McCarthyism, the SWP leaders were desperately searching for a popular cause which could enable them to break out of isolation.

SWP leader Joseph Hansen crowed enthusiastically:

“What provision are there in Marxism for a relolution. obviously socialist in tendency but powered by the peasantry and led by revolutionist;. who have never professed socialist aims …. It’s not in the books! …. If Marxism has no provisions for such phenomena, perhaps it is time provisions were made. It would seem a fair enough exchange for a revolution as good as this one.”

“The Theory of the Cuhan Revolution:” 1962 [our emphasis]

Having declared the revolution “socialist in tendency” and equated it with Russia under Lenin, Hansen could not simply ignore the crucial question of workers democracy. “It is true that this workers state lacks. as yet, the forms of proletarian democracy,” he wrote. But he immediately added. “This does not mean that democracy is lacking in Cuba.”

The SWP tops took the convergence on the Cuba question as the opportunity to propose a reunification with the I.S. In a 1963 document. “For Early Reunification of the World Trotskyist Movement.” the SWP wrote of “the appearance of a workers state in Cuba—the exact form of which is yet to be settled”; the “evolution toward revolutionary Marxism [of] the July 26 Movement” and concluded:

“Along the road of a revolution beginning with simple democratic demands and ending in the rupture of capitalist property relations. guerrilla warfare conducted by landless peasant and semi-proletarian forces, under a leadership that becomes committed to carrying the revolution through to a conclusion, can play a decisive role in undermining and precipitating the downfall of a colonial and semi-colonial power …. It must he consciously incorporated into the strategy of building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.”

In response to this open revisionism, Healy and his International Committee followers simply thrust their head in the sand like an ostrich and declared that Cuba, even after the 1960 nationalizations, is “a bonapartist regime resting on capitalist state foundations,” one not qualitatively different from Batista’s regime. But within the SWP the Revolutionary Tendency (RT,. forerunner of the Spartacist League U.S.) was able to analyze the post-1960 Cuban regime as a deformed workers state and point out the significance of that characterization for Marxist theory.

In a resolution that was submitted as a counter document to the “For Early Reunification … ” document of the SWP leadership, the RT made clear that  “Trotskyists are at once the most militant and unconditional defenders against imperialism of both the Cuban Revolution and the deformed workers’ state which has issued therefrom.” But it added: “Trotskysists cannot give confidence and political support, however critical. to a governing regime hostile to the most elementary principles and practices of workers’ democracy … ” (“Toward the Rebirth of the Fourth International.” June 1963).

Directly rejecting the SWP’s embracing of guerrillaism and Castroism in place of the Trotskyist perspective of proletarian revolution, the RT resolution summarized:

“Experience since the Second World War has demonstrated that peasant based guerrilla warfare under petit-bourgeois leadership can in itself lead to nothing more than an anti-working class bureaucratic regime. The creation of such regimes has come about under the conditions of decay of imperialism, the demorallization and disorientation caused by Stalinist betrayals, and the absence of revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class. Colonial revolution can have an unequivocally progressive significance only under such leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. For Trotskyists to incorporate into their strategy revisionism on the prolelarian leadership in the revolution is profound negation of Marxism-Leninism….”

Castroism, Trotskyism, and the SWP

Castroism, Trotskyism, and the SWP

by Goeffry White

[First printed in Spartacist West Vol 1. No. 3 [no date],  circa early 1966]

A new step in the evolution of the Castro regime was signalized at the Havana Tricontinental  Congress last month by Castro’s closing  denunciation of “counter-revolutionary Trotskyism.” The tendency of the conference itself was to paper over the profound differences which  exist among the groups represented there with militant and left-sounding phraseology.

Castro’s closing speech contained a long section denouncing the role of Trotskyism and the Fourth International. He characterized Trotskyist participation in the Guatamalan guerrilla movement as “infiltration” and the pushing of the program of the Fourth International there as ” … a true crime against the revolutionary movement, to isolate it from the masses by corrupting it with stupidities, the dishonor, and the repugnant and nauseating thing that is Trotskyism today within the field of politics.” He also attacked as Trotskyist and “villanous” articles by Adolfo Gilly in the Monthly Review giving political reasons for Guevara’s departure from the Cuban scene. Raising these specific attacks to the level of political generalization, Castro said: “If Trotskyism at a certain stage represented an erroneous position within the field of political ideas, in later years it became a vulgar instrument of imperialism and reaction.” Thus Castro, in 1966, embraces in its most crude form the rationalization of the purge trials of the thirties, and paraphrases Vyshinsky’s orations to the Moscow court.

Castro’s espousal of a line which would cause embarrassment to even the more sophisticated Stalinists of Moscow today raises serious questions on both the immediate and long-range levels. Why did Castro find it desirable to push this line at this particular moment? The conference took place at a time when the revolutionary movement, especially in Latin America, is in a serious state of disarray, and at the same time revolutionary pressures from the masses are on the rise. The Latin American revolution can no longer be contained by a purely reformist and constitutional program. Hence the constant emphasis on “armed struggle” at the conference. But the bourgeois reformists like Allende of Chile and Jagan of British Giana and the Stalinists and Stalinoids who dominated at least the Latin American section of the conference are faced with the problem of maintaining their control of the movement and keeping it within acceptable bounds. These bounds are defined as those which will not upset the international diplomatic applecart of coexistence, or by providing an example of victorious genuine proletarian revolution, undermine the political position of the entrenched bureaucracies. An attack on Trotskyism by the conference’s most prestigeful and untainted figure, an attack in which even the Monthly Review is included in the amalgam, serves a double purpose. In the first place, it makes it more difficult for Trotskyists, semi-Trotskyists, and other left elements in Latin America to take advantage of the left rhetoric of the reformers to develope a genuinely revolutionary movement. In the second place, it serves as an indication to the bourgeois and Stalinist reformists of the region and to the co-existers of the Kremlin that the conference forces will keep the revolution within the limits that they define as acceptable. Anti-Trotskyism thus serves simultaneously as a prophylaxis against the effects of the left turn required by the objective situation and as the cement to bind together widely divergent social and political elements.

That Castro should follow such a course should be no surprise to serious Marxists, although the crudity with which the job was done is indeed surprising. In the category of “serious Marxists,” however, we cannot include the leadership of the SWP-YSA and its chief spokesman (we would blush to say theoretician), Joe Hansen.

The SWP has for years sought to ride the coat-tails of “The Lenin of the Caribbean,” has proclaimed Cuba to be a genuine uncorrupted workers’ state, and has reduced its own role largely to that of a spokesman and apologist for Fidelismo. Minorities which attempted to make a serious analysis of the new Cuba and who committed the unpardonable crime of warning that this peasant-petty bourgeois anti-working class regime would evolve in precisely the Stalinist direction it has taken were expelled. These groups became the nucleii of the Spartacist and ACFI organizations, all that is left of Trotskyism in the USA after the SWP revisionists completely degutted the movenent.

For this party which has staked its future on the revolutionary role of Castroism, Castro’s counter-revolutionary attack creates a major crisis. The attack could not be ignored, and in the January 31 Militant, Joe Hansen, the SWP’s international expert, undertook the thankless task of disguising the extent of the disaster. Hansen’s and the SWP’s history and deeply revisionist world outlook make it impossible for him to present a Marxist analysis, however. The key to his approach is in the headline: IN ANSWER TO CASTRO’S ATTACK ON “TROTSKYISM.” The quotation marks around “Trotskyism” reflect the basic ”Who? Us?” approach of Hansen’s article. A major section of this piece is devoted to attacks on the Posadas group (which merits attack well enough, but not in this context). However, this attempt to get out of the line of fire is obviously not enough, and Hansen does go further. He speculates on Castro’s reasons for the attack, suggesting two possibilities; one, that “It was a political concession made in the Kremlin’s direction” and two, that it was designed for “camouflage” for the left line of the conference.

Neither of these explanations is remotely adequate and what is missing from both is any political analysis of the role of Castroism itself, its ideology and its social character. Hansen can only regard Castro’s attack as a regrettable error and end by saying: “It is to be hoped that he will soon see the necessity to rectify his stand on this important question.” The trouble is that in a state in which the working class does not have and never did have political power, in which power is vested in a petty bourgeois formation based on mass peasant support and collectivised property, the political and ideological needs of the new bureaucracy are essentially similar to those of the other established bureaucratic leaderships. In a deformed worker’s state not qualitatively different from Yugoslavia or China the dramatic attack on Trotskyism is not only totally in character but even a political necessity. No arm twisting from the Kremlin is required. Hansen and the SWP, however, can never admit this. They have called on the Cuban working class to rely completely on the Castro regime, and condemned those who would call on Cuban workers to organize their own independent party. They have subordinated their own political work to the Fidelista cult and to the peasant guerilla, and have sought to influence others abroad to do the same. Thus the SWP-YSA is hopelessly tied in with and compromised with Castroism, and it is too late for them to disentangle themselves. Committed to Castro as they are, were the SWP leaders principled politicals, only two courses, would be open to them. One would be to accept Castro’s evaluation and liquidate. The other would be to admit their errors in accomodating to Castroism, and more important, to analyze the reasons, ideological and social, why they followed this disasterous course. Were they to choose the latter, a necessary corollary would be to restore the party membership of those minorities whom they excluded for the crime of having a correct analysis of the character of the Cuban state.

However, being vulgar empiricists and opportunists, they will do neither, and will sweep the mess under the rug while waiting for a new and better Messiah. In an editorial accompanying the Hansen article, they demonstrate their unwillingness to change even in the face of such a blow. The Havana conference is hailed as ” … a step forward for the revolutionary struggle in Latin America.” The strongest word they can find to criticise the false unity of the conference is “dubious.” One paragraph mentions Castro’s speech–in the context of a breech in the United Front. The SWP and its co-thinkers abroad, however, will pay a heavy price in loss of prestige, influence, and membership, to say nothing of revolutionary honor. Honest revolutionaries in the SWP-YSA will see to it that this price is not mitigated.

For those who are involved in principled politics, or who take principled politics seriously, Castro’s symbolic embrace of the most sordid aspects of Stalinism is of profound significance. To be dazzled by numbers, power and prestige, to seek to short circuit the arduous and most often undramatic task of organizing and clarifying the working class independently and against all reformist and opportunist middle class tendencies is to render oneself helpless in the face of such developments as Castro’s speech, which are unexpected to opportunistic hero-worshippers. The building of revolutionary and Trotskyist movements takes on in this context a renewed and pressing importance.

Castro in Moscow

Castro in Moscow

by P. Jen

[First printed in Spartacist#1, February-March 1964]

Premier Fidel Castro, caught in the complex web of Washington-Peking-Moscow relationships, has begun to become, more clearly enmeshed in the machinations of the Russian leadership. Statements made in both Castro’s Soviet TV interview of January 21, and the Joint Soviet-Cuban Communique of January 22 reveal unmistakably that Khrushchev hail begun to consolidate his grip on the PURS (the Cuban party) and its leader. Although there will undoubtedly be further vacillations, Castro has, without question, begun to trail behind the Soviet Union in foreign policy.

Castro, appearing on Moscow TV January 21, said, “At the same time [after the October missile crisis] there was a relaxation of international tension, a relaxation in the cold war. All this was a result of the policy and the efforts of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp on’ beha,lf of peace.” (Emphasis added.)

One of the “concrete” results of those efforts was, in the Joint Soviet-Cuban Communique of” January 22, greeted favorably by the Cuban government: “The government of the Republic of Cuba regards the successes achieved by the Soviet Union in the struggle for the discontinuation of nuclear tests and the agreement on nonorbiting of vehicles with nuclear weapons as a step forward promoting peace and disarmament.”

Giving further support to the policies of the Soviet bureaucracy: “Comrade Fidel Castro expressed his approval of the measures taken by the Central Committee of the CPSU to eliminate the existing differences and to consolidate cohesion and unity in the ranks of the international communist movement.” (Joint Soviet-Cuban Communique.)

It is clear from this that in the context of the Sino-Soviet dispute Castro has unequivocally joined’ “the ieaders of the CPSU,” who, in the words of the Chinese “are the greatest of all revisionists as well as the greatest of all sectarians and splitters known to history.” (Printed Feb. 4 in Jenmin Jih Pao, the Chinese CP daily paper.)

Not only Soviet policy, but Soviet political life in general, and the leader of the CPSU in particular, have received the approval of Fidel Castro. “I am very much interested in Soviet experience” Castro said on Soviet TV Jan. 21. “I am very interested in the role played by your Party, the role of the advanced detachment, the role of organizer and inspirer of all the activity in the Soviet Union. I am interested in the participation of the Party on all labour fronts-in agriculture, in industry, in cultural activities, in all spheres of production, in all spheres of politics, and in the army. My attention is attracted hy the wonderful role which the Party has been playing in the Soviet Union for nearly half a century now!’

For the last three-almost four decades, however, “the wonderful role which the Party has been playing, in the Soviet Union” has included Stalin’s frame-up trials; the decapitation of the Red Army on the eve of World War II; the betrayals of the proletarian revolution in China (1925-27), Germany (1929-33), France (1934-36; 1945-present), Italy (1944-present), Iraq (1958), etc.; and the present strategic outlook of capitulation to imperialism.

“We have been able to appreciate,” said Castro on Moscow TV, “the way in which the Party [CPSU] has trained specialists, has fostered the revolutionary way of thought, in the people, trained astronauts, scientists, has produced the cadres who are today developing the economy and the entire life in the Soviet Union, has produced the cadres who are now building communism. The Party is a symbol of revolutionary continuity and the people’s confidence in themselves.” (emphasis added.)

Castro’s evaluation of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the leader of this so-called “Communist” Party which is building “communism” in a single country, is full of warmth and admiration. “I have full right to evaluate and admire this man, who combines in one person so many splendid qualities: intellect, excellent character, kindness and strength – the qualities which make him a great leader. And the more I know Comrade Nikita Sergeycvich, the more time I spend with him, the more warmer grow my feelings for him, the more I admire him, the higher is my opinion of him as a man.” (Castro on Moscow TV, Jan. 21.) ,,’

Fidel Castro’s words supply their own commentary. Those who want the full text of his interview on Moscow TV, as well as the Joint Communique, can find these in the supplement in the Moscow News, January 25, 1964.

For socialists who saw in Castro’s militant stand a revolutionary communist leadership or some reasonable facsimile thereof, the recent swing to the right must come as a surprise and even a shock. Castro’s perceptible yielding to Soviet economic pressure, while perhaps mistakenly understandable from one point of view (that of building the national economy), is inexcusable from another (that of the international proletarian revolution), and in fact strategically defeats the former. It is only on the basis of the proletarian revolution in the advanced countries that the Cuban economy can develop to it’s full potential. Tactical considerations must be seen as a part of and subordinate to strategic ones. Flowing from the empiricism of the Cuban leadership the strategic aim (if it ever existed) of world proletarian revolution has been sacrificed to the narrow, short-sighted, “pragmatic” goal of stable prices for Cuban sugar. If it is still objected that Castro had no choice, then we, at least, do not have to apologize for his actions In Moscow. Castro indeed had no choice: he was the prisoner not only of his own policies, but also of his historical origin which was the basis for those policies. Suffice it to .say that if our movement had come to power in Cuba it would have been out of a quite different historical situation. We criticize the Castro leadership as  part ot the process of building the Bolshevik leadership that will be an integral part of such a situation. The historical game of changing places with various leaders is not one that Marxistst engage in. Soviet economic blackmail techniques are, of course, well known to the people of Albania and China, and it is to Castro’s credit that he held out as long as he did.

The vacillation of the Castro leadership between the positions put forward by the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies, and its adherence, more or less, to the line of the latter, has permitted many socialists to indulge in certain illusions as to the nature of the Cuban leadership-illusions which that leadership has itself begun to dispel.

Moreover, these same socialists are harboring an even more fundamental illusion in their belief that a proletarian revolutionary outlook motivates the superficially revolutionary Chinese position. As long as the Maoist leadership speaks with a revolutionary vocabulary, many socialists are inclined to take it at its word. Nevertheless, it is clear from the whole history of the Chinese revolution that the attempt to build a following around the CCP line is only !or the purpose’ of putting pressure on imperialism in order to force the latter to accommodate itself to the present Chinese state government.

The rightward shift of the Castro leadership has now posed the question of Marxist theory and its relation to practice before all those who consider themselves to be revolutionary communists. If the revolutionary workers’ movement is to go forward it will have to come to grips with this and other questions, and arrive at a solution based on the independent action of the working class.

The Cuban leadership, while responding to the pressure of the masses, yet stands above and is organizationally independent of them. This organizational independence is a consequence of its historical origin, in which it came to power as the leadership not of workers’ and peasants’ soviets, but of a guerilla army. From this social basis flows the empirical and not Marxist nature of the Cuban leadership, as was stated clearly by “Che” Guevara: “In order to know where Cuba is going, the thing is to ask the government of the U.S. just how far it intends to go.”

If many socialists who supported the Castro government as opposed to the counter-revolutionary Khrushchev regime did not see the need for a dialectical view of society, trusting instead to the “natural” course of events, their idealistic impressionism has at least been dealt a rude biow by the empirical wanderings of the Castro leadership.

The strategy of Marxists in the epoch of imperialist decay flows from our comprehension of the total and all sided development of the international class struggle, and thus from the needs of the international proletariat. This view, which grasps the interdependence and interrelatedness of all phenomena, has nothing ill common with the empiricism of not only the Cuban leadership, but also, unfortunately, many communists as well.

The Cuban leaders has reacted empirically to all the pressures, not only of the, U.S. imperialists, but of the Soviet bureaucrats as well, and have not only failed to carry out the essential tasks facing the revolutionary workers’ movement, but have not even comprehended what these tasks are. And they have failed to comprehend these tasks precisely because of their incapacity, flowing from their social origins as a bourgeois democratic peasant movement, to think any other way except empirically. Empiricism, the ideology of the bourgeoisie after it has established its power, is necessarily the method of all tendencies which do not base themselves on the strategy of world proletarian revolution.

Even the most elementary bourgeois democratic reforms cannot be maintained in the backward countries except under the dictatorship of the proletariat. To depend other similar movements leading revolutions as far-reaching in their social transformations as the Cuban revolution has been is to let the initiative pass over ‘into the hands of imperialism. It was only the Incapacity of Amencan Imperialism to accommodate itself to a radical petty bourgeois revolution that forced the Castro regime to go as far as it did – farther, indeed, than anyone in the July 26 movement had planned. The European imperialists have so far been more astute than their American confreres. The former have more correctly gauged the tIde of the nationalist movement and have yielded. much of their political and some of their economic power in Africa and Asia precisely to avoid what happened in Cuba. They permit the “socialist” Ben Bellas and Nkrumahs to rant against the imperialists; the latter would rather lose face than face the loss of areas for investment, even if such investment faces certain restrictions.

The justifiably tremendous tide of enthusiasm for, the Cuban revolution has. overflowed into the kind of uncritical adulation of the Castro leadership that is entirely unacceptable to Marxists. The causes of this are, however, clear: the smallness of the American communist movement; the relative quiescence of the American .working class; and the success of a radical petty bourgeois revolution that has defied American imperialism and stirred the imaginations not only of the oppressed colonial workers and peasants but of Americans radicals as well. In the face of the tremendous tasks that face so few revolutionary communists in this country, some of us have looked eIswhere and have become worshipers of the acomplished fact – Fidel Castro and Mao Tse Tung, not to mention Jimmy Hoffa and Malcolm X. Those of us who do not harbor any illusions about these leaders are attacked as sectarians. However, our analysis, in the case of Castro, has been dramatically confirmed. It is necessary to face the truth, unflinchingly, purge ourselves of all easy romantic notions, and get down to, the critical task of building a Marxist party in this country. A party based on illusions will never lead the working class to power.

Defend the Cuban Revolution!

Statements on the Cuban Missile Crisis

Declaration on the Cuban Crisis

The Cuban revolution is now at its hour of greatest peril. The result of the round trip of the Soviet missiles has been to make a deal between Khrushchev and Kennedy at the expense of the Cuban people no longer merely a perspective but an immediate threat. U.S. armed aggression in the form of an all-out invasion of Cuba, though still not the optimum variant of U.S. imperialism, is now for the first time guaranteed the tacit support of the Kremlin if a formal “negotiated” settlement restoring U.S. hegemony in the Caribbean cannot be imposed on the Cuban people.

In this situation the duty of the Trotskyists toward the Cuban revolution only begins with demonstrations of sympathy and support for Cuba. The obligation of the Trotskyists, which no other tendency can even claim to fulfill, is to provide a political analysis, a political line upon which the defense of the revolution must be based.

The decisive point in the political line in defense of the Cuban revolution against all its enemies is explicit denunciation of the counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the concrete instance of Cuba. The Cuban revolution cannot be defended by arms under the control of Kremlin bureaucrats whose only interest is to turn the revolution to the service of Russian foreign policy, including selling it out entirely if the price is right. The only defense of the Cuban revolution is the determination of the Cuban people to resist by any and all means, and the conscious solidarity of the international working class against all the enemies of the revolution. The false policy of the Castro leadership, its political bloc with the Stalinists, has gravely undermined this defense.

The International Committee of the Fourth International, in its statement entitled “Defend the Cuban Revolution” published in the November 3rd Newsletter, defined the basic lines of a Trotskyist defense of the Cuban revolution, particularly in its statements: “Installation of Soviet missile bases in Cuba is not for the defense of the Cuban revolution, but part of the diplomatic game of Khrushchev…the setting up of Soviet missile bases as a substitute for international working-class struggle cannot defend the revolution…the counter-revolutionary policy of Stalinism prepares the crushing of the Cuban revolution, not its defense.” We ask the editorial board of the Militant to print this I.C. statement.

We furthermore ask the PC to adopt the political line of the International Committee declaration as the basic line of the party in its defense of the Cuban revolution. This should be the starting point of a campaign for international working-class solidarity with the Cuban revolution based on the establishment of workers’ democracy in Cuba and full, open collaboration of the Cuban revolution with the international working-class movement in all phases, military as well as political, of revolutionary defense.


November 30, 1962

Roger Ahrams (New York)

Dorothy Bell (Oakland-Berkeley)

Emily Cavalli (Oakland-Berkeley)

Joyce Cowley (San Francisco)

Paul Curtis (Oakland-Berkeley) (1)

Maria di Savio (San Francisco)

Roy Gale (San Francisco)

Lynne Harper (New York)

Larry Ireland (New York)

Rose Jersawitz (Oakland-Berkeley)

Stanley Larson (Oakland Berkeley)

Ed Lee (Oakland-Berkley)

Albert Nelson (New York)

Shane Mage (New York)

Charlotte Michaels (New York)

Roger Plumb (Oakland-Berkeley)

Tony Ravich (New York) (2)

Leigh Ray (San Francisco)

James Robertson (New York)

Shirley Stoute (New York)

Marion Syrek, Jr. (Oakland-Berkeley)

Polly Volker (San Francisco)

Geoffrey White (Oakland-Berkeley)

Jack Wolf (Connecticut) (2)

(1) “I take exception to the last sentence of paragraph three. There may have been no alternative for the Castro leadership. The policy however, is a false one.”

(2) “I favor publication of the I.C. statement on the Cuban crisis. I am in general sympathy with this statement.”

Defend the Cuban Revolution

From The Newsletter (published by the Socialist Labour League, London) November 3, 1962

Statement by the International Committee of the Fourth International

The U.S. imperialists are bent upon the destruction of the Cuban revolution and have shown that they are even prepared to risk the danger of world war. The Cuban Revolution, expropriating U.S. capital in Cuba, makes it necessary for U.S. imperialism to take these measures in order that their strangle-hold over all Latin America shall not be threatened. Wall Street seized the pretext of Soviet missile bases to bring a showdown.

The working class of the world must act to prevent the Cuban Revolution from being crushed. Such action must be independent of the policies of Khrushchev and the Soviet bureaucracy. Their line of peaceful co-existence designed only to preserve their own privileged rule by diplomatic deals, is opposed to the spread of the Cuban Revolution and to independent workers’ action, which are the only guarantees of Cuba’s defence. Installation of Soviet missile bases in Cuba is not for the defence of the Cuban Revolution, but part of the diplomatic game of Khrushchev.

A heavy responsibility rests on the shoulders of the official leadership of the Labour movement for their failure to support the Cuban Revolution by fighting the capitalists in their own countries.

The International Committee of the Fourth International calls on all its sections to take their place in all actions for the defence of the Cuban revolution from the U.S. imperialists.

Cuba, as a sovereign state, has the right to accept whatever military aid it decides. But the setting up of Soviet missile bases as a substitute for international working-class struggle cannot defend the revolution. On the contrary, it shows the dangers of the policy of peaceful co-existence in exposing the Cuban Revolution to enormous dangers, providing a pretext for U.S. intervention. In this situation, the counter-revolutionary policy of Stalinism prepares the crushing of the Cuban Revolution—not its defence.

Any policy of United Nations intervention or of summit agreements over Cuba must be opposed. Such methods will destroy the revolution, which only the international independent class action of the workers can defend.

We stand for the defence of the USSR and of the Cuban Revolution, but such defence means determined opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy and its methods.

In the advanced countries, especially the USA, the working class must organise actions in full support of the workers and peasants of Cuba. End the blockade! End the invasion preparations!

In Latin America, a decisive struggle against U.S. imperialism and its agents, for the extension of the revolution, must be waged to defend Cuba. Without this action, and without defeat of the Stalinist policies of defence of Cuba, the fate of that revolution will repeat the story of Greece, Guatemala and Spain.

We call particularly on the members of the Communist Parties to oppose the policies of their leaders to break from the policy of agreement with the imperialists, to demand independent class action in defence of Cuba.

The sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International must take part in all actions in defence of Cuba, struggling within these movements to build an independent, anti-imperialist movement led by the working class.


[Reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 3 Part 1. Originally posted online at  and }

Open Letter to the International Socialists

Open Letter to the International Socialists

[Reprinted in 1917  #21, 1999 as “From Cliff to Trotsky”. Copied from ]  

1 May 1998

Dear comrades,

I was an active member of the IS for three years (September 1994 to December 1997), but I am no longer a member of your organization. I think I owe it to IS comrades to explain my differences. I hope you will seriously consider what I have to say.

I was expelled by Abbie Bakan on December 10, 1997 for allegedly `infiltrating’ the International Socialists (IS) on behalf of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) and the Trotskyist League of Canada (TL). The allegation is an obvious lie – anyone who knows anything about the IBT and the TL knows that they are competing organizations. Even if I wanted to `infiltrate’ the IS, which of course I didn’t, it would be impossible to do so on behalf of both of these groups.

This does not mean that I did not develop differences with the IS on several critical issues. However, I did not have sinister motives. In the period from when I began to develop some serious differences until I was expelled, I carried out all my responsibilities as a full member of the organization attending paper sales and meetings, as well as paying dues. I did resign my post as Fredericton branch convenor, which I think was the honourable thing to do, given my growing doubts about much of the group’s basic political orientation. I also corresponded with the IBT and TL, a fact I did not try to conceal. In a phone conversation with Carolyn Egan in mid-November, I asked if this was acceptable to the IS. She said it was acceptable and that the IS didn’t want to lose me. When I was expelled, Abbie’s ultimatum was that if I continued talking to the IBT or TL, I would no longer be a member of the organization. This is consistent with the IS policy of sealing its members off from political competition. It was likely that I would have left the IS at some point, but it should have been on my own terms.

The Political Period

The IS characterizes the era that we are living through as one of `economic instability and political volatility’. This is generally correct, but it leaves out a lot. Globally the capitalists have been on the offensive for the past decade. This primarily results from their victory in the `Cold War’ over the USSR which strengthened US imperialism and its allies. The existence of the Soviet Union as a counterweight to the NATO imperialists strengthened the hand of various nationalists in their conflicts with imperialism and played a key role in the defeats of imperialism in China, Cuba and Vietnam. One of the first fruits of the disintegration of the USSR under Gorbachev was the crushing of the Iraq in the murderous 1991 Desert Storm attack. The ultimate collapse of the Soviet bloc led directly to a series of major concessions and retreats by leftist forces globally, e.g., South Africa, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Of course history did not come to an end when the Stalinist regimes did – the working class has continued to struggle. But we must recognize that the recent significant struggles (Ontario, France, South Korea) have had a defensive character and that generally the level of political consciousness is far behind the level of struggle. The consciousness of the proletariat has been lowered, not raised, by the destruction of the Soviet Union (which, while it was not genuinely socialist, was correctly seen by many workers as having an economy that, since 1917, had operated outside the dictates of global capitalism). One consequence of the imperialist victory in the Cold War is that the word `socialism’ has been temporarily erased from the vocabulary of many in the workers’ movement. The capitalists have also concluded that socialism is dead – which is one reason they are being so aggressive about take backs. Particularly in Western Europe after World War Two, the capitalists made important concessions in terms of the social wage because they wanted to undercut the appeal of `socialist’ East Europe.

The IS leadership says that there are `deep pools of bitterness’. Yes there are, but so what!? Bitterness does not equal class consciousness. Unemployed German workers joined the Nazis in the 1930’s because they were bitter. Socialist Worker noted that many workers embittered by Bob Rae’s NDP government in Ontario turned around and voted for the capitalist parties.

Lenin said that class struggle does not automatically produce revolutionary consciousness. Those who don’t understand this always tend to overestimate (and tail) existing movements in the class, and downplay the party question and the need for revolutionaries to fight for leadership. Lenin called this tendency `economism’. If the working class is revolutionary in itself, it doesn’t need a party to lead it.

The working class, through its own struggles for existence, can only achieve trade-union consciousness – a form of bourgeois ideology. This is because working class struggle tends to be sectional and national. The role of the vanguard party is to bring political class consciousness (an understanding of history, of the various social classes and oppressed groupings in society and of the common interest shared by workers internationally) to the most advanced workers from outside the framework of their own immediate experience:

`We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. `

“…the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat will not become its genuine class struggle until this struggle is led by a strong organization of revolutionaries’.

– V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1902)

The initial members of a communist movement will naturally come to revolutionary politics as intellectuals (Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky all came from such backgrounds). Life on the shop floor may give workers a gut-level hatred of their boss, but it does not automatically give them an understanding of the operation of the capitalist system as a whole. This does not mean that workers cannot become Marxist revolutionaries, but to do so requires investigation independently of their work experience.

The Party Question

An unbalanced view of the state of the class struggle leads the IS to overestimate the possibilities for the left in general and itself in particular. This has produced a recruitment policy that was best summed up by Alex Callinicos of the British Socialist Workers Party as: `If it walks, sell it the paper; if it buys the paper, recruit it’. There is an amazing contradiction between this definition of membership and the IS claim to be building a Leninist vanguard. The `open recruitment’ policy, apart from anything else, makes the IS extremely vulnerable to infiltration by fascists and the state.

In the 1903 Bolshevik/Menshevik split over the criteria for membership, what side would the IS really be on? In his 1959 book, Rosa Luxemburg, Tony Cliff, founder of the IS tendency, wrote: `for Marxists in the advanced industrial countries, Lenin’s original position can much less serve as a guide than Rosa Luxemburg’s’. This statement was edited out of further editions of the book, but it shows that the party question is not a question of principle for the IS, but one that changes according to the historical juncture. Luxemburg herself came to recognize that Lenin had been right against her on the necessity for a revolutionary vanguard party, as opposed to an all-inclusive `party of the whole class’. ISers? Lenin argued for a high commitment to politics and activity as a criterion for membership? agreed? Now take a look at your branch membership list. `Nuff said.

Leon Trotsky, leader of the Russian Revolution and founder of the Red Army, opened The Transitional Program with the lines: `the world socialist revolution as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat’ (The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, 1938). The party question is the central one for revolutionaries.

A real revolutionary group must be made up of serious people, committed to the revolutionary program. This defines the membership of a Leninist group. But in the IS you can be a lot of things – a feminist, a social democrat or an anarchist. These are all forms of bourgeois consciousness. It is the task of Marxists to argue with people like this, to win them away from such illusions – not to recruit them as they are and thereby dilute the organization. To feminists, we say `draw a class line, not a sex line’; to social-democrats, we say `you have to break the power of the bourgeois state’; to anarchists, we say, `the proletariat needs a state to defend its revolution’. Only those who reject feminism, socialdemocracy or anarchism, and embrace Marxism, can be recruited. If you started a rock-climbing club, would you let people join who thought you should go scuba-diving instead? The IS has too many people going in too many different directions. As a whole, they have no direction. This is what Lenin had to say about those who put artificial unity over political principle:

`We are marching in a compact group, along a precipitous path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are `free’ to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also those are turning towards the marsh!’

– Ibid.

Chris Harman of the British SWP referred to Lenin’s analogy to explain the kinds of problems that arise with low-level recruitment:

 ‘ The revolutionary party exists so as to make it possible for the most conscious and militant workers and intellectuals to engage in a scientific discussion as a prelude to concerted and cohesive action. This is not possible without general participation in party activities. This requires clarity with organizational decisiveness. The alternative is the `marsh’ – where elements motivated by scientific precision are so mixed up with those who are irremediably confused as to prevent any decisive action, effectively allowing the most backward to lead. The discipline necessary for such a debate is the discipline of those who have `combined by a freely adopted decision’. Unless the party has clear boundaries and unless it is coherent enough to implement decisions, discussion over it decisions, far from being `free,’ is pointless’.

– Party and Class (1969)

The IS leaders will say that refusing to recruit people who don’t understand or agree with your program is a characteristic of `small group mentality’ and is `sectarianism’. They will deny that the IS is accommodationist and claim that if you don’t recruit new youth as soon as you meet them you will never see them again. But if there really is a radicalization, won’t people show up more than once? Why sign up people who aren’t really interested or committed when you know that in a few weeks or a month they will drift off? The constant turnover produced by the `Open Recruitment’ policy has produced a less political organization and an overall lowering of the level of the membership.

An organization built in this way is doomed either to be bypassed by great events or to betray. One of the main reasons the Second International supported their own rulers in the First World War was because they built a `broad’ inclusive organization on low common denominator (that is, reformist) politics. This ensured that at critical moments they could not offer decisive revolutionary leadership to the working class. The IS leadership knows this history, but is incapable of drawing the operational conclusions. When people criticize this policy, the response they get is that they are `self-important’ and that they should get busy recruiting.

The priority of revolutionaries must be to forge a politically principled vanguard of the working class. In periods in which the working class is not on the offensive small revolutionary groups that make `growth’ their top priority must politically adapt to the existing (bourgeois) consciousness of the class. Such groups can never lead a working-class revolution.

`Don’t Bomb Iraq’ or `Defend Iraq’?

Being a revolutionary is not easy. It means saying unpopular things a lot of the time, but the task of revolutionaries is to `say what is’. You have to raise a revolutionary program to be able to win people to revolutionary politics. In 1915, the Bolsheviks said `Turn the Guns Around!’ It was unpopular, and people hated them for it, but they kept on saying it because it was correct. By 1917, when the brutalized, impoverished, war-weary Russian proletariat understood that the Bolsheviks had told them the truth there was a mass radicalization that turned the Bolsheviks into a mass party and led directly to the October Revolution.

In the 1991 Gulf War, the IS abandoned the Leninist position of military defence of Iraq so that they could enter anti-war coalitions with their liberal-left milieu. Because of their lack of political principles, they would not distinguish between an imperialist power (US) and an imperialist victim (Iraq). In the recent Gulf crisis, the slogan of the British SWP was `Don’t Bomb Iraq’. Does this mean that it is OK to starve Iraq as an alternative; is it OK for the US imperialists to use diplomatic pressure? It is bad enough to tail behind progressive movements, but don’t tail France, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The IS, in this case, bowed to the pressure of bourgeois ideology.

Opportunism & NDP Loyalism

IS opportunism is clearly displayed in Canada by the perpetual call for a vote to the New Democratic Party (in Britain it is the Labour Party). This is explained by referring to Lenin’s tactic of critical support. But in the early 1920s, when Lenin advanced this tactic, there was a wide layer of militant workers following the recently created Labour Party. Since it hadn’t been in government, and claimed to be a workers’ party committed to socialism, many advanced elements of the working class had deep illusions in it. Lenin’s proposal was designed to help put Labour into office to expose its real procapitalist character and shatter the illusions of the workers who supported it.

Lenin also proposed that the Communist Party should seek to organizationally affiliate the CP with the Labour Party. How different the situation is today! The NDP and New Labour retain a connection to the union bureaucracy, but they do not even pretend to run on a working-class programme. They are very clear that capitalism has nothing to fear with them in power – as they have proven time and again.

The task of revolutionaries is to break illusions. But for supposed Marxists to call for voting for the social democrats when they run on an overtly pro-capitalist programme and point to their record of union-bashing and attacks on the poor and oppressed can only create illusions.

The treatment of the NDP in the internal bulletin released prior to last year’s election (April 23, 1997) notes that in Ontario the labour bureaucracy had pulled back from confrontations with the Mike Harris government in order to campaign for the NDP: `Union militants are expected to replace their picket signs with lawn signs’. The document goes on:

 ‘we have to be the memory of the class. In the middle of the Bob Rae years of despair, when thousands were leaving the party, we argued against the stream to still vote for the NDP. Our vote has nothing to do with its record. It is the only party that is based on the union movement and not the corporations. We know it will sell-out’.

This is an astounding statement, when you think of it. Firstly because the IS almost never goes `against the stream’. But secondly because it so brazenly admits that its electoral support to the NDP has nothing to do with the existence of illusions of the workers, but merely the fact that it is connected to the labour bureaucrats. The NDP is so far to the right that it cannot really be accused of `selling out’ – it runs on its record of blatantly attacking workers, and the IS calls for electing it! The Steering Committee document continues:

`We were criticized by people like Jack Layton [a prominent left-NDP municipal politician in Toronto] for taking this position [i.e., voting NDP]. Their support to the NDP is based on illusions that the NDP will make a difference. When they saw the NDP implement Tory cuts, they abandoned the party’.

Bob Rae’s government was so hated by working class people for acting like Tories that Layton wanted to get some distance from it. But not the IS leadership! Apparently without seeing the obvious contradiction, the leadership document goes on to quote Lenin’s famous comment on critical support:

`I want to support [the Labour Party] in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man – that the impending establishment of the government of the [Labour Party] will prove that I am right, will bring the masses over to my side, and will hasten the political death of the [Labour Party]…’

The NDP in power had hung itself – the best elements in its base were melting away were. Yet still the IS supported the social democrats. This is exactly the opposite of what Lenin advocated. Instead of seeking to rally some of the thousands of workers who were deserting the NDP in disgust at its betrayals, and direct them to the left into supporting independent labour candidates against NDPers who backed the hated Social Contract, Socialist Worker used its credentials to try to corral left-wing voters for Rae.

The confusion of the IS policy on the NDP is perhaps best summed up by the Steering Committee in the following:

 `So we call for a vote to the NDP. But we do not support the NDP. We organize a revolutionary socialist organization that is an opponent of the NDP’s, whose goal it is to replace it. We vote for the NDP, but we do not campaign for them or join the party’.

If the NDP (or Tony Blair’s Labour Party in Britain) was worth voting for, if it commanded the allegiance of a sizeable number of socialist-minded workers who had illusions in it, then it would make sense to campaign for it, or perhaps even affiliate to it, in order to make contact with and influence that layer of militants. But when there is no such layer because the social democracy is so nakedly pro-capitalist, then there is no reason for revolutionaries to call for militant workers to vote for it. In fact, by doing so, Marxists can actually help create illusions among leftist workers that there is some reason to still vote NDP.

Of course the IS likes to present its votes to the NDP and Labour Party as a `class vote’ against the bosses’ parties. But that is revealed as just so much cynical doubletalk by the fact that the IS internationally is also willing to call for votes to openly bourgeois parties – such as the South Africa’s African National Congress in 1994 and South Korean presidential candidate Kim Dae Jung in 1992. Despite all the fine talk about working class independence, the IS bottom line is always determined by popularity.

Those who don’t believe that the working class can be won to Marxism through the intervention of socialists putting forward a revolutionary program end up adapting to the existing consciousness and watering down their politics.

Some years ago the American International Socialist Organization (ISO) supported the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) as they campaigned for state intervention to `clean up’ the union. Now that the courts have thrown out the TDU-backed teamster president Ron Carey, the ISO is singing a different tune:

 ‘ Government intervention was widely viewed as a step forward, especially since the government set up the first direct elections for Teamster presidency ? which elected Ron Carey in 1991.
‘ But it only was a matter of time before the government, having established its right to intervene in the unions, would go against the interests of the rank and file’.
– Sharon Smith in Socialist Review #212, `A Crime to Organize’

Marxism is useless if you don’t argue it with people. What’s the good of opposing state intervention after the fact? The ISO didn’t have the guts to raise the Marxist slogan of class independence when it really mattered. Their new position is nothing but commentary. The ISO’s failure to raise a Marxist program when it really mattered is evidence that they don’t believe that the working class can be won to revolution through the intervention of a vanguard party. So they water things down.

Democratic Centralism or Bureaucratic Centralism?

Some ISers who agree with some of these points may think, `well, we made some mistakes, nobody’s perfect, but we are a democratic group and our mistakes are correctable’. But these `mistakes’ form a pattern – one which can only be broken by going to the roots of the whole IS tradition. And the IS leadership is very resistant to any kind of fundamental political discussion. IS national meetings don’t usually feature much political discussion. Mostly they repeat old affirmations: `the period is great, we’ve got to recruit’. Any opposition to the leadership is taken care of very quickly, and in a way designed to prevent serious political discussion. In Vancouver, the Steering Committee recently split the branch to isolate a democratically elected branch leadership. In my own case, it took only slightly more than a month to expel me after it became known that I was developing differences.

The lack of democracy is particularly clear in the way the international group runs. The IS internationally is a bureaucratic centralist organization. The individual members at the national level have no say in determining the international line of the group. The Central Committee of the British SWP simply gives orders to the other national leaderships. When the SWP leaders decided in the early 1990s that it was time for a `turn’, the membership had no say in this. Periodic delegated international conventions and an elected international leadership (as in the Fourth International under Trotsky) could provide the possibility of democratically evaluating and correcting the line of the group. But at the same time it would also pose the `risk’ that members might not agree with everything laid down by the British C.C. Trotsky stood for a democratic centralist international:

 ‘ We stand not for democracy in general, but for centralist democracy. It is precisely for this reason that we place national leadership above local leadership and international leadership above national leadership’.

 – ‘ An Open Letter to All Members of the Leninbund’, February 6, 1930

The means used to short-circuit serious political debate internally are also extended in an attempt to shelter ISers from political discussion with people outside the group as well. Organizations such as the Trotskyist League and the Bolshevik Tendency are excluded from all IS public meetings purely on the basis of their politics – to avoid any uncomfortable questions they might raise. I admit that I once agreed with, and participated in, the IS exclusion policy. I regret this and now reject this policy 100 percent. I also regret and repudiate anything I may have said in ignorance about these groups in the past.

The IS policy is not even limited to the groups standing furthest to its left. At Marxism `97 IS members were instructed not to talk to or even take leaflets from members of other groups: `hear no evil – read no evil!’ In an internal memo written after the Montreal anti-poverty conference in January 1996 where Labour Militant and other groups turned up, the IS leadership admitted that `no matter how bonkers the politics of some of these sects, they can grow just like us…’ But the conclusion was that it is a `terrible mistake’ to even talk to any of them:

 ‘ Talking to members of one of these groups is not the same as talking to a contact. They are poison, and we have to turn our back hard on them. It is a distraction for us to be spending time analyzing their politics, discussing their paper, etc. It sucks us into the otherworldly milieu of the small sects. They are irrelevant’.

For similar reasons the IS generally avoids or at least tries to minimize situations where its members end up working closely with members of other groups even when they share a common objective (like to defend Mumia Abu Jamal). If the politics of all the other groups were indeed so irrelevant to the issues facing the working class there would not be much need for discussion. But the fact is that they often discuss the same issues that the IS does, even if they sometimes draw different conclusions or propose different tactics. Whether they are right or wrong on a particular question, a policy of simply refusing to read, discuss or debate with them is not aimed at helping develop a rounded Marxist consciousness – it can only tend to prevent IS members from seriously thinking about politics.

The IS leadership’s policy of refusing to discuss or debate other elements of the left is exactly the opposite to that of Lenin and Trotsky. IS members should ask themselves why the writings of all the great revolutionaries (Marx, Lenin and Trotsky) are full of polemics and political criticisms of other leftists. They wrote lots of articles directed at shades of leftist opinion that were much smaller and more `irrelevant’ in relative terms, than the other Canadian left groups. They were not afraid of politically engaging their political rivals, and they knew that the best way to educate their members and supporters was by drawing what Lenin called `lines of demarcation’ through political polemics.

Marxism is a science. A science can only develop if all shades of opinion are able to be heard. I believe that the revolutionary left would be in much better shape if differences were debated thoroughly and openly. Real revolutionaries practice workers’ democracy – they don’t just advocate it in the abstract. Political exclusions and attempts to prevent your members from reading or discussion other points of view on the left only make sense if you have something to hide. These techniques are designed to help the IS `Go for Growth’, but in the end they can only end up depoliticizing the IS.

Revolutionary Continuity

It is very important to know the history of the Marxist movement and particularly of your own organization. An organization’s history tells you a great deal about why it is where it is today and where it is likely to go. In the IS little attention is paid to the group’s history. Most members pick up this information informally in bits and pieces. Many people know that in Canada the IS originated in the 1970s as a group within the Waffle – a left-nationalist faction of the NDP.

For those who don’t know, Tony Cliff, founder of the IS tendency internationally, was expelled from the Fourth International for refusing to support North Korea against American imperialism and its South Korean puppet in the Korean War. Cliff said that North Korea, like the USSR, was `state capitalist’. In fact they were not capitalist – which is why the US was so hostile to it. North Korea was modelled on the Soviet Union under Stalin – the old landed ruling class and their imperialist patrons’ property had been expropriated, the economy was collectivized and the dictatorial Kim Il Sung regime monopolized all political power.

One thing that Tony Cliff and the IS leadership have never been able to explain is why, if is was incorrect to call for a victory of the North Korean Stalinists against the US and its South Korean puppets in the 1950s, was it okay to support the North Vietnamese Stalinists against the US and its South Vietnamese puppets 15 years later? The forces involved in the two conflicts were virtually identical. The only thing that was different – and for the IS this is decisive – was the degree of popularity. In the early 1950s the Cold War was at its height and there was a massive wave of anticommunist hysteria. Tony Cliff’s declaration that Russia and its allies were `capitalist’ meant that he no longer had to defend it or the other deformed workers’ states (including North Korea and China) against imperialism. This was clearly a direct result of the enormous ideological pressures of McCarthyism bearing down on the left. But by the late 1960s, with the New Left, the Vietnamese were popular with the radicalizing students the IS sought to recruit. So Cliff switched the IS line to defending the (popular) Stalinists against imperialism. Trotsky said that opportunists always know which way the wind is blowing.


I would like to make it clear that I have no personal animosity toward comrades in the IS. I know there are plenty of dedicated people in the group who really want to be communists and to fight to change the world. Unfortunately, they are in the wrong organization.

The IS’s flawed analysis of the period and faulty understanding of the party question is connected to its history of political adaptation to prevailing winds. The fact that the analysis of the period and so much more originates largely by bureaucratic decree from the SWP CC adds to the difficulty of attempting any serious change in the group’s direction. The leadership is constantly saying, `we’re on the verge of something big – look at the American, British, and Greek groups – just push a little harder’. This keeps members running, but they aren’t really going in any direction. They are like chickens with their heads cut off – running around a lot, but not really getting anywhere.

When the big break doesn’t come, people get demoralized. I’ve seen some good people move away from revolutionary politics after a period of frantic activity. When this happens the IS rarely makes much effort to keep them and instead tends to say `they were no good, let’s recruit some new people’. The raw, relatively politically inexperienced people who are constantly being recruited to regenerate the group have the advantage of making it very easy for the regime to get what it wants internally. In the last few months, I have done some reading about other groups which took a similar approach in the past. Some of them grew to thousands of people, but ultimately fell apart because what holds a group together is the set of ideas, the program, shared by the members. Groups like the IS which place a higher value on short-run success than winning influence for their ideas, end up spitting out a lot of good people, many of who drift away from the left.

The only way to build a serious group is on the basis of a serious, consistently revolutionary program and consistently politically principled activity. Some may say that the IS is the biggest group in Canada, and that their `sectarian’ opponents are too small to influence things. Being small is no virtue, but it is better to have a revolutionary group of whatever size than a bigger revisionist one. Because a small revolutionary group has the possibility of one day leading to victory, whereas an opportunist one (like the IS) never can, no matter how big it gets. There are a lot of individuals in the IS who can have a large impact on the direction of the revolutionary left in this country. But the road to revolution is a precipitous path and there are not shortcuts. It is sometimes difficult, but it is always necessary, to tell the working class the truth. A revolutionary group must have the courage to openly side with Iraq against Canadian imperialism in a military conflict in the Persian Gulf or to vote for leftist opponents of the capitalist ANC in South Africa. I declare for the International Bolshevik Tendency. After considerable study I have come to the conclusion that the IBT represents real revolutionary continuity – from the formerly revolutionary Spartacist League, through the Revolutionary Tendency, the American Socialist Workers Party, Trotsky’s Fourth International and back to the Bolshevik Party that led the Russian proletariat to power. The IBT is the living embodiment of the program of Lenin and Trotsky – the program of Bolshevism.

The only possibility for the future of humanity on this planet is communism. This can only come about through a proletarian revolution led by vanguard party. I look forward to future discussions with IS members about how such a party can be created.


Yours for workers’ democracy
Stephen Johnson
former IS member, Fredericton

The Trotskyist Position in Palestine

[Published in Fourth International, May 1948. This version copied from ]

Against the Stream

The following editorial is translated from the Kol Ham’amad (Voice of the Class), Hebrew organ of the Revolutionary Communist League of Palestine, Section of the Fourth International. It exposes the reactionary role of the United Nations’ partition plan, which stifles the rising tide of class struggle in Palestine, blurs class lines and creates an atmosphere of antagonistic “national unity” in both of the national communities in Palestine. As we can see from the editorial, the CP of Palestine has not escaped the nationalist hysteria in both camps, and has split into two national parties.

Only the Palestinian Trotskyists have maintained the Socialist position by calling upon Jewish and Arab workers to break away from the class enemies within their ranks and conduct their independent struggle against imperialism. Despite the present high tide of chauvinism accompanying the new “Hebrew” state set up by Hagana arms on one side, and the invasion of the Arab “Liberation” army on the other, the internationalist working class program put forward by the Trotskyists will alone provide the means of solving the Palestine problem. – Ed. [of Fourth International] 

Politicians and diplomats are still trying to find a formula for the disastrous situation into which Palestine has been plunged by the UNO deciding upon partition. Is this a “breach of international peace” or are we dealing with merely “hostile acts”? As far as we are concerned there is no point in this distinction. We are daily witnessing the killing or maiming of men and women, old and young, Jew or Arab. As always, the working masses and the poor suffer most.

Not so very long ago the Arab and Jewish workers were united in strikes against a foreign oppressor. This common struggle has been put to an end. Today the workers are being incited to kill each other. The inciters have succeeded.

“The British want to frustrate partition by means of Arab terrorism,” explain the Zionists. As if this communal strife were not the very instrument by which partition is brought about! It was easy for the imperialists to foresee that and well may they be satisfied with the course of events.


Britain was a loser in the last world war. She has lost the bulk of her foreign assets. Her industry is lagging behind. Building up her productive apparatus requires dollars and manpower.

“Keeping order” in Palestine costs England over 35 million Pounds a year, an amount which exceeds the profit she can extort from this country. Partition will release her from her financial obligations, enable her to employ her soldiers in the productive process while her source of income will remain intact. – But this is not all. By partition a wedge is driven between the Arab and Jewish worker. The Zionist state with its provocative lines of demarcation will bring about the blossoming forth of irredentist (revenge) movements on either side, there will be fighting for an “Arab Palestine” and for a Jewish state within the historic frontiers of Eretz Israel (Israel’s Land).” As a result the chauvinistic atmosphere created thus will poison the Arab world in the Middle East and throttle the anti-imperialist fight of the masses, while Zionists and Arab feudalists will vie for imperialist favors.

The price Britain has to pay for the advantages gained by partition is to renounce her ruling monopoly in this country. On the other hand, Wall Street has to come out into the open and contribute its share toward the foul business of safeguarding imperialist positions. This, of course, blackens the “democratic” reputation of the dollar state while at the same time it addes to the prestige of Great Britain. Partition, therefore, is a compromise between the imperialist robbers arising from a changed power constellation.


If the Anglo-American imperialists had forced this “solution” on Palestine of their own, the rotten game would have been patent in the whole Arab East. However, they dodged – the problem was passed on to the UNO. The function of the UNO was to sweeten the bitter dish cooked in the imperialist cuisine, dressing it, in Bevin’s words, with the twaddle of the “conscience of the world that has passed judgement.” Exactly. And the diplomats of the lesser countries danced to the tune of the dollar flute, reiterating the “public opinion of the world.” And the peculiar casts in this performance enables Great Britain to appear as the Guardian Angel overflowing with sympathy for either side.

And the Soviet Union? Why did not her representative call the UNO game the swindle it really is? – Apparently the present foreign policy of the SU is not concerned with the fighting of the colonial masses. And as the Palestine question is a second-rate affair for the “Big,” the Soviet diplomats saw fit to dwell upon what Stalin had said about the “the Soviet Union being ready to meet America and Britain halfway, economic and social differences notwithstanding.

This is how the UNO has “solved” the Palestinian problem. Yet it is the same unsavory dish that has been set for India, Greece and Indo-China.


The Zionists were overcome with a sense of triumph when offered the bone by the UNO cooks. “Our work, our righteous cause have won… before the forum of the nations.”

The Zionists have been in the habit of asking “justice” from the enemies of the Jewish people ever since Herzl: from the Tsar, the German Kaiser, the British Imperialists, Wall Street. Now they saw their chance. Wall Street is distributing loans and “political independence”. Of course, not for nothing. The price has to be paid in blood.

The Jewish state, this gift of Truman’s and Bevin’s, give the capitalist economy of the Zionists a respite. This economy rests on very flimsy foundations. Its products cannot compete on the world market. Its only hope is the inner market from which the Arab goods are debarred. Thus the problem of Jewish immigration has come to be a problem of live or die. The continuous flow of immigrants who would come with the remnants of their possessions is apt to increase the circulation of goods, will allow the bourgeois producers to dispose of their expensive wares. Mass immigration would also be very useful as a means to force down wages which “weigh so heavily” on the Jewish industry. A state engaged in inevitable military conflicts would mean orders from the “Hebrew Army,” a source of “Hebrew” profits not to be underrated at all. A state would mean thousands of snug berths for Zionist veteran functionaries.


The workers and the poor. They will have to pay the stiff prices following the ban on Arab goods. They will break down under the yoke of numberless taxes, direct and indirect. They will have to cover the deficit of the Jewish state. They are living in the open, having no roof over their heads, while their institutions have “more important business” to attend to.

The Jewish worker having been separated from his Arab colleague and prevented from fighting a common class struggle will be at the mercy of his class enemies, imperialism and the Zionist bourgeoisie. It will be easy to arouse him against his proletarian ally, the Arab worker, “who is depriving him of jobs and depressing the level of wages” (a method that has not failed in the past!). Not in vain has Weitzmann said that “the Jewish state will stem Communist influence.” As a compensation the Jewish worker is bestowed with the privilege of dying a hero’s death on the altar of the Hebrew state.

And what promises does the Jewish state hold out? Does it really mean a step forward toward the solution of the Jewish problem?

The partition was not meant to solve Jewish misery nor is it likely to do so. This dwarf of a state which is too small to absorb the Jewish masses cannot even solve the problems of its citizens. The Hebrew state can only infest the Arab East with anti-Semitism and may well turn out – as Trotsky said – a bloody trap for hundreds of thousands of Jews.


The leaders of the Arab League reacted to the decision on partition with speeches full of threats and enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, a Zionist state is to them a godsend from Allah. Calling up the worker and fellah for the “holy war to save Palestine” is supposed to stifle their cries for bread, land and freedom. Another time-honored method of diverting an embittered people against the Jewish and communist danger.

In Palestine the feudal rule has of late begun to lose ground. During the war the Arab working class has grown in numbers and political consciousness. Jewish and Arab workers stood up against the foreign oppressor, against whom they together went on strikes. A strong leftist trade union had come into existence; and the “Workers Asssociation of the Arabs of Palestine” had been well on the way of freeing itself from the influence of the Husseinis. The murder of its leader, Sami Taha, committed by hirelings of the Arab High Committee could not restrain this development. But where the Husseinis failed, the decision of the imperialist agency, the UNO succeeded. The partition decision stifled the class struggle of the Palestine workers. The prospect of being at the hands of the Zionist “conquerors of soil and labor” is arousing fear and anxiety among the Arab workers and fellahs. nationalist war slogans fall on fertile soil. And feudal murderers see their chance. Thus the policy of partition enables the feudalists to turn back the wheels of history.


 The early crop of partition policy: Jews and Arabs are drowned in a sea of chauvinist enthusiasm. Triumph on the one hand, rage and exasperation on the other. Communists are being murdered. Pogroms among Jews instigated. A tit for tat of murder and provocation. The “strafing expeditions” of the Haganah are oil for the propaganda machine of the Arab patriots in their campaign to enlist the masses for more bloodshed. The military conflict and the smashing to pieces of the workers’ movements are a boon to the chauvinist extremists in either camp.


The patriotic wave makes sitting on the fence very uncomfortable. The Zionist “Socialist” parties soon “corrected” their anti-imperialist phrases and stubborn “resistance” against “cutting up the country to pieces” and gave way to full and enthusiastic support of the imperialist partition policy. That was a trifling matter, a question of merely changing Zionist tactics.

Yet the Communist Party of Palestine might have been expected to take up a different position. Have they no repeatedly warned against the fatal results bound to come with the establishment of a Jewish state? “Partition must needs be disastrous for Jew and Arab alike … partition is an imperialist scheme intended to give British rule a new lease on life…” (evidence given by the PCP before the Anglo-American Commission of Enquiry on Mar. 25, 1946). The secretary of the party loyally stuck to this attitude as late as July 1947 when he said before the UNO commission: “We refuse the partition scheme pointblank, as this scheme is detrimental to the interests of the two peoples.” However, after this scheme had been pulled off with the support of the Soviet representatives, Kol Ha’Am(the Stalinist central organ) hastened to declare that “democracy and justice have won the day (!).” And overnight there appeaed a newly baptized party: the name of Communist Party of Palestine was changed to Communist Party of Eretz Israel (Communist Party of the Hebrew Land). Thus even the last vestige of contact with the Arab population was broken off. The gap that still separated them from Zionism was finally bridged. Instead of being the vanguard of the anti-imperialist struggle of the Arab and Jewish masses, the Palestine Communist Party became the “Communist” tail of the “left” Zionists. Precisely in an hour when Zionism shows to everyone its counter-revolutionary face, its blatant servility to imperialism. Thus the Communist Party itself held up all its former exposure of imperialist and Zionist deceoptions to ridicule.

Why have they gone bankrupt?

The policy of the Palestine Communist Party lacks a continuous line. The policy of the P.C.P. reflects both the needs deriving from the class war of the Jewish worker in Palestine and the needs of Soviet foreign policy. The needs of class war, however, require a consistent international policy, the negation of Zionism, of its discrimination beween Arab and Jew. On the other hand, the need to adjust the party line to the diplomatic maneuvers of the S.U. calls for an “elastic” policy, one that lacks backbone. As a result we find the notorious shilly-shallying and zigzagging, which has harnessed the PCP now to the Zionist wagon. The fifth wheel!


The Arab Stalinists, the “National Liberation League,” did not fare better than their Jewish counterparts. They were in a pretty fix having to justify the Russian support of the Jewish state. The Arab workers could not be expected to accept this line. Not by a long shot. They knew the meddling of Soviet diplomacy for what it was: breaking up the Palestine workers’ unity and a treacherous blow. After the pro-partition declaration of Zarapkin, the National Liberation League people found themselves surrounded by scorn and hostility.

The policy of the Soviet Union has undermined the position of the League among the Arab toilers. Thus it opened a door to the reactionary, chauvinist campaign against the “red danger”. At present, the National Liberation League stands for peace and it is busy exposing the provocative role played by the British government. But since it had cried out for “national unity” (with the feudal Husseinis, the present war instigators during the past years), its present atitude fails to convince. But the National Liberation League did convince the Arab workers that the driving force behind its policy is not the interest of the Palestine proletariat, but that of the Kremlin.


The two camps today mobilize the masses under the mask of “self-defense.” “We have been attacked, let us defend ourselves!”- say the the Zionists. “Let us ward off the danger of a Jewish conquest!” – declares the Arab Higher Committee. Where does the truth lie?

War is the continuation of politics by other means. The war led by the Arab feudalists is but the continuation of their reactionary war on the worker and the fellah who are striving to shake off oppression and exploitation. For the feudal effendis “Salvation of Palestine” means safeguarding their revenues at the expense of the fellahin, maintaining their autocratic rule in town and country, smashing the proletarian organizations and international class solidarity.

The war waged by the Zionists is the continuation of their expansionist policy based on discrimination between the two peoples: they defend kibbush avoda (ousting of Arab labor), kibbush adama (ousting of the fellah), boycott of Arab goods, “Hebrew rule.” The military conflict is a direct result of the Zionist conquerors.

This war on neither side be said to bear a progressive character. The war does not release progressive forces or do away with social and economic obstacles in the path of the development of the two nations. Quite the opposite is true. It is apt to obscure the class antagonism and to open the gate for nationalist excesses. It weakens the proletariat and strengthens imperialism in both camps.


Each side is “anti-imperialist” to the bone, busy detecting the reactionary – in the opposite camp. And imperialism is always seen – helping the other side. But this kind of exposure is oil on the imperialist fire. For the inveigling policy of imperialism is based upon agents and agencies within both camps. Therefore, we say to the Palestinian people, in reply to the patriotic warmongers: Make this war between Jews and Arabs, which serves the end of imperialism, the common war of both nations against imperialism!

This is the only solution guaranteeing a real peace. This must be our goal which must be achieved without concessions to the chauvinist mood prevailing at present among the masses.

How can that be done?

“The main enemy is in our own country!” – this was what Karl Liebknecht had to say to the workers when imperialists and social democrats were inciting them to the slaughter of their fellow workers in other countries. In this spirit we say to the Jewish and Arab workers: the enemy is in your own camp!

Jewish workers! Get rid of the Zionist provocateurs who tell you to sacrifice yourself on the altar of the state!

Arab worker and fellah! Get rid of the chauvinist provocateurs who are getting you into a mess of blood for their own sake and pocket.

Workers of the two peoples, unite in a common front against imperialism and its agents!

The problem worrying all in these days is the problem of security. Jewish workers ask: “How to protect our lives? Should we not support the ‘Haganah’? And the Arab workers and fellahin ask: “Ought we not to join the ‘Najada’, ‘Futuwa’ to defend ourselves against the Zionists’ attacks?

A distinction must be made between the practical and political sides of this question. We cannot thwart mobilizations and do not therefore tell workers to refuse to mobilize. But it is our duty to denounce the reactionary character of the chauvinist organizations, even in their own house. The only way to peace between the two peoples of this country is turning the guns against the instigators of murder in both camps.

 Instead of the abstract “anti-imperialist” phrases of the social-patriots which cover up their servility to imperialism, we are showing a practical way to fight against the foreign oppressor: unmasking its local agents, undermining their influence; so that the Arab worker and fellah will understand that the military campaign against the Jews helps to bring about partition and helps only the feudalists and imperialists, while it is fought on his back and paid for with his blood; so that the Jewish worker recognizes at last the illusion of Zionism and understands that he will not be free and safe as long as he has not done away with national discrimination, isolationism and imperialist loyalty.

We have to keep up contact between the workers of both peoples at whatever place of work that this can still be done in order to prevent provactive acts and to safeguard the lives of the workers at work and on the roads. Let us forge revolutionary cadres. In this burning hell of chauvinism we have to hold up the banner of international brotherhood.


World capitalism being on the downgrade tries to endure by inflating imaginary national conflicts, trampling down the masses and brutalizing them. In the long run that remedy will fail. The masses will have learned their lesson through suffering. They will get to know their enemy: monopolistic capitalism that is hiding behind its local ruling agency. With the class struggle getting more intensive all over the world and in particular in the Arab countries, the end of the fratricidal war in this country is bound to come.

The patriotic wave today sweeps everyone lacking the principles of international communism off his feet. Revolutionary activity at this juncture requires patience, persistence and far-sightedness. It is a way full of danger and difficulties. But it is the only way out of this patriotic mire. Well may we remember the words of Lenin which, spoken in a similar  situation, apply also to ours:

“We are not charlatans … We must base ourselves on the consciousness of the masses. Even if it is necessary to remain in a minority, be it so. We must not be afraid to be in a minority. We will carry on the work of criticism in order to free the masses from deceit … Our line will prove right … All the oppressed will come to us. They have no other way out.”

The Faces of Economism

The Faces of Economism

[Reprinted from Spartacist #21, Fall 1972]

Revisionism is an attempt to attack the substance of Marxism-Leninism without openly coming into conflict with its great authority. Therefore revisionism often takes the form of maintaining lip-service to traditional Marxist ter­minology but re-defining (usually broadening) certain key concepts in order to smuggle in a different political line. For example the term “self-determination,” which for Lenin simply meant the ability of a nation to establish a separate state, has been transformed, most notably by the Socialist Workers Party, into the thoroughly utopian reformist con­cept of freedom from all oppression (class exploitation, national and racial oppression, sexual oppression, etc.) through separation or even “community control” within U.S. capitalism.

While the term “economism” has not undergone so grotesque a change, it also has been broadened well -beyond its Marxist meaning. For Lenin, the “economists” were a distinct tendency in the Russian socialist movement which held that socialists should concentrate on improving the conditions of working-class life and leave the fight against Czarist absolutism to the liberals. After One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Lenin rarely used the term and referred to similar attitudes as reformism or narrow trade union con­sciousness. Nevertheless the term “economism,” which has become an important part of the contemporary radical vocabulary, need not be restricted to a purely historical category. However it is essential that it not be given a meaning fundamentally subversive to Leninism, i.e. that Lenin’s authority not be put behind ideas alien to Marxism.

Anti-“Economism” as Anti-Materialist Spiritualism

Attacks on “economism” are a frequent rallying cry of petty-bourgeois radicals whose response to labor reformism and working-class backwardness is to reject the working class as the driving force of the revolution. The current popularity of the term probably stems from its widespread use in the Chinese “Cultural Revolution,” where “economism” was identified with a desire for a higher standard of living. “Economist consciousness” was the sin of workers who resisted the “Cultural Revolution”—that is, who were unwill­ing to make the material sacrifices demanded of them by the Maoist faction. The political thrust of the “anti-economism” campaign was evident during the 1967 nationwide railway strike, when Red Guards demanded that railway workers accept a 12% pay cut and disregard standard safety regula­tions. This would have concentrated greater economic surplus in the hands of the Maoist bureaucracy, but would not have significantly benefited the Chinese masses.

It is precisely the anti-materialist spiritual aspects of Maoism—its rejection of the “consumer society” and Khrush­chev’s “goulash communism”—that provides the link between the early New Left of Herbert Marcuse and the later popularity of Third World anarcho-Maoism. The likes of Robin Blackburn of the British New Left Review and Rudi Deutschke of the German SDS can be considered transitional figures.

Anarcho-Maoist attacks on working-class “economism” are similar to Victorian conservative attacks on “the intense selfishness of the lower classes” (the phrase is from Kipling, poet laureate of British imperialism). These attitudes are, generally voiced by genuine reactionaries. Marshal Petain blamed the fall of France on the “love of pleasure of the French common people.” As George Orwell once remarked, this statement is seen in its proper perspective if we compare the amount of pleasure in the life of the average French worker or peasant with Petain’s own!

The anti-Marxist perversion of the term “economism” by the Maoists and their New Left sycophants reflects fear of and contempt for the working masses on the part of petty-bourgeois strata. In the case of the Chinese bureaucra­cy, it is a real fear that the aspirations and organization of the Chinese working class threaten its privileged position. In the case of the Western radical intelligentsia, it is a belief that the social backwardness and cultural narrowness of the working masses threaten its life styles—both bourgeois and “liberated “—and values.

What Is Economism?

In the most general sense, economism is the failure of the working class to embrace its historic role, or in Marx’s,words, failure to realize that the proletariat cannot liberate itself without “destroying all the inhuman conditions of life in contemporary. society.” (The Holy Family) In other words, economism is the failure of the working class, in the absence of revolutionary leadership, to reject bourgeois ideology and place its revolutionary class interests above particular, sec­tional or apparent needs or desires. Concretely, economism manifests itself in competition between groups of workers undercutting or destroying the unity of the entire class, support by the labor movement for its national bourgeoisie, failure to fight racial and sexual oppression, indifference to democratic rights and civil liberties, and a lack of concern for the cultural heritage of mankind (bourgeois culture).

What economism is not is the workers’ strong desire for a higher standard of living. On the contrary, the basis of economism. is the material and cultural oppression of the working class. It is material deprivation, or the fear of it, which causes groups of workers to view their particular and immediate interests as more important than any other consideration. It is social and cultural oppression which causes workers to accept pernicious bourgeois ideologies like nationalism and religion. The struggle to raise the material and cultural level of the workers is essential to the real struggle against economism. The need for a revolutionary transitional program is precisely to ensure that these gains do not come at the expense of other sections of the oppressed but transcend the framework of competition for “a slice of the pie.” Preachments of moral uplift in the labor movement are not a serious fight against economism.

Social-Democratic Reformism and Trade Unionism

There is a strong tendency on the left to identify economism with simple trade unionism and thus to see any concern with the affairs of government as a step away from economism. The Workers League, American affiliate of Gerry Healy’s “International Committee,” presents any strike propaganda containing demands on the government, or raising the slogan of a labor party regardless of its program, as inherently anti-economist. Lenin is sufficiently explicit that economism does not mean merely lack of concern for “politics.” The economism/politics dichotomy demonstrates crude anti-Leninism. In What Is To Be Done? Lenin repeatedly insists:

“Lending ‘the economic struggle itself a political charac­ter’ means, therefore, striving to secure satisfaction of trade [union] demands, the improvement of working conditions in each separate trade … by legislative and administrative methods. This is precisely what a trade unions do and have always done …. the phrase ‘lending the economic struggle itself a political character’ means nothing more than the struggle for economic reforms.”

Trade unions are always and necessarily impeded by the bourgeois state. Even the most backward trade union bureaucrats are in favor of reducing legal restrictions on themselves and achieving through government reforms what cannot be attained over the bargaining table.

Social-democratic reformism and simple business union­ism are two forms of economism that usually co-exist peacefully within the labor movement. And when reformism and business unionism do conflict, it is not always “politics” (reformism) that represents the higher form of class struggle. In the U.S. proto-social-democratic, “progressive” unionists (Sidney Hillman, Walter Reuther) have often been less militant in industrial conflicts than straight business unionists (John L. Lewis, Jimmy Hoffa). This is because the “political­ly concerned,” “progressive” union bureaucrats are closely associated with a wing of the Democratic Party, which they don’t want to embarrass by industrial disruption. The “anti-economism” of these politically sensitive union bureaucrats is a facade for sellouts and a cover for seeking bourgeois respectability.


One of the few constant elements in the New Left radicalism of the past ten years has been the denial of the unique and leading role of the organized working class in the socialist revolution. Replacements have been sought in “the wretched of the earth,” the “Third World,” racial and ethnic minorities in countries like the U.S., then the lumpens, students and/or youth dropouts. Recently a spirit of ecumen­ism has made itself felt in radical circles and all oppressed social groups are expected to participate in the revolution on an equal footing.

The strategy is seen as building a coalition of various oppressed groups on a “program” achieved through the multi-lateral trading of demands. For example, if the women’s liberation movement supports the repeal of anti-strike legislation, the unions in turn are expected to support the repeal of anti-abortion laws. The two most developed advocates of coalitionism in the ostensibly Marxist U.S. left are the Socialist Workers Party and the Labor Committe. The SWP projects a coalition largely based on ethnic and sexual groups around a petty-bourgeois utopian program, while the Labor Committee presents a coalition of economically defined groups around a social-democratic program. Thus, the SWP foresees a black, Chicano, women’s, homosexuals’ and workers’ revolution, while the LC looks forward to a trade unionist, unemployed, welfare recipient, white-collar and student soviet.

Its advocates see coalitionism as a means of fighting economism. In actuality, coalitionism is simply another form of economism. It is based on the central theoretical premise of economism—that the working class cannot transcend (as distinct from disregard or deny) its immediate sectional interests and identify its interests with all the oppressed and with the future of humanity. Coalitionism does not seek to transform the consciousness of workers, but simply to gain their acquiescence for some “other” group’s “program” on the basis of necessarily unstable bargains. To the extent that they concern themselves with the labor movement at all, coalition advocates perpetuate the view that workers are selfish pigs whose political activities are correlated purely and simply to their paychecks.

Working-Class Conservatism and Petty-Bourgeois Utopianism

Revisionists and fakers feed upon the left’s general lack of familiarity with pre-Marxian socialism. Thus people are permitted to call themselves Marxists while putting forward the very ideas against which Marxism developed. A superfi­cial view of Leninism is that it developed solely in opposition to reformism and simple trade unionist consciousness. But Bolshevism also developed in intense struggle against petty-bourgeois utopian radicalism, particularly in its anarchist variant. As Lenin noted in Left-Wing Communism:

“It is not yet sufficiently known abroad that Bolshevism grew, took shape and became steeled in long years of struggle against ‘petty-bourgeois revolutionariness,’ which smacks of or borrows something from anarchism, and which in all essentials falls short of the conditions and requirements for sustained proletarian class struggle.”

The hallmark of utopian socialism is the belief that socialist consciousness is based on a generalized moral sense, unrelated to existing social relations. Utopian socialism counterposes itself to Marxism by its denial that the organized working class, driven by material exploitation under capitalism, is uniquely the leading force in the socialist revolution. On one plane, utopian socialism is a reflection of the moral and intellectual snobbery of the petty bourgeoisie. Insofar as utopian socialism concerns itself with attempting a class analysis of the revolution, it usually locates the leading force in the educated middle class, particularly the intelli­gentsia, which is presumed to be genuinely concerned about ideas, unlike the working class which presumably will sell out socialist principles for a mess of porridge.

Working-Class Progressivism

Existing working-class social attitudes certainly fall far short of socialist consciousness. However, it is equally certain that of the major classes in society, the working class is everywhere the most socially progressive. It is the working-class parties, even despite their treacherous bourgeoisified reformist leaderships, that stand for more enlightened social policies. In Catholic Europe and in Islam, it is the working­-class parties that carry the main burden of the struggle against religious obscurantism. The distinctly non-economist issue of divorce was an important factor in breaking the alliance between the Italian social democrats and the dominant bourgeois party, and has stood as a major obstacle to the projected bloc between the Italian CP and left Christian Democrats. In England the anti-capital-punishment forces were overwhelmingly concentrated in the Labour, not in the Conservative or Liberal Party.

It is true that the relatively progressive social policies of most workers’ parties do not accurately reflect the most backward elements in the class. (Aspiring. social democrats use this as a justification for accommodating to the labor bureaucracy, insisting that it is to the “left” of the “average” worker.) All this shows is that working-class organizations represent a higher form of political consciousness than workers taken as atomized individuals in the manner of public opinion polls. This is because the activists and organizers of workers’ organizations represent a certain selection, generally of the most conscious workers  who have already broken from personal “economism’ ‘ and see themselves as representatives of broader class interests. Working-class organizations are shaped by the attitudes of what Lenin called “the advanced workers.” Ideologically conservative workers are almost always politically passive, forced by social pressure against being activists in the right-wing bourgeois parties.

Marxists have always’ been profoundly aware of and concerned with working-class conservatism. Genuine Marx­ism, in contrast to utopian moralism, locates and fights this conservatism in the actual living conditions of workers. As early as the Communist Manifesto, the demands for a shortened work week to give workers the leisure necessary for political and cultural activity, for the emancipation of women, and for free universal higher education, for example, have been an important aspect of revolutionary socialist policy. The utopian moralists have no program to counter working-class backwardness, simply emitting cries of horror coupled with occasional predictions that the working class will be the vanguard of fascism.

Trade Unions and Revolution

An important anarcho-Maoist myth is that trade unions are simply bargaining agents for particular groups of workers and are inherently  apolitical. While this may have been true in the nineteenth century, when labor unions were weak, defensive organizations, it is certainly not true now. In all advanced capitalist countries, and particularly those which have mass social-democratic parties, trade unions exercise considerable influence in all aspects of political life. Even in the U.S. in the 1960’s—a period in which the unions were regarded as particularly passive and bread-and-butter oriented—the union bureaucracy was intimately involved in the issues. Liberal union bureaucrats like Walter Reuther helped finance the Southern civil rights movement of the early 1960’s and played an important role in keeping it within the limits of bourgeois reformism. Millions of dollars in union dues are spent by union lobbyists seeking to pressure Washington politicians. The deeply conservative AFL-CIO central leadership under George Meany is one of the few significant social bases remaining for a “hawk” policy in Vietnam. The problem is not that the labor movement is apolitical, but that it is tied to bourgeois politics. The role of revolutionaries in the unions is not “to divert the economic struggle to a political struggle,” but to overthrow the conservative, reformist bureaucracy and pur­sue a revolutionary policy on both the industrial and the political level.

To assert that trade unions are inherently parochial and economist organizations is undialectical. All genuine class organizations (e.g. unions, parties, factory committees) re­flect the class struggle. To say that unions as such (i.e., simply as bargaining agencies for particular groups of workers) cannot be revolutionary is a tautology. But unions can give birth to other forms of organization (e.g. parties, general strike committees, workers’ councils) and can them­selves provide ‘the structure for a workers’ insurrection, ceasing then to function simply as “unions.” As Trotsky, who certainly knew something about the organization of revolutions, said: “in spite of the enormous advantages of soviets as organs of struggle for power, there may well be cases where the insurrection unfolds on the basis of other forms of organization (factory committees, trade unions, etc.).”

The radicalization of the masses must take place through struggle within the mass organizations of the class, regardless of form. It is not possible for revolutionary consciousness to develop among the mass of workers without lengthy and intense struggles and the intervention. of communists in such fundamental mass organizations as the unions. To term this perspective “economism,” as do the New Leftists, is to transform “Leninism” into a justification for petty-bourgeois utopian moralistic anti-Marxism.

Militant Longshoreman No. 1

Militant Longshoreman

No. 1 December 31, 1981

Re-Elect KEYLOR and GOW to Executive Board

This is the first issue of the MILITANT LONGSHOREMAN edited and published by Howard Keylor. For more than six years Keylor (along with Brother Stan Gow) published the LONGSHORE MILITANT. We present­ed a working class analysis of longshoremen’s place in the world and put forward a class struggle program for waterfront workers. The MI­LITANT LONGSHOREMAN endorses the re-election of Brother Gow to the Executive Board of Local 10 and supports the program outlined in the December 18 issue of the LONGSHOIRE MILITANT.


It’s becom comunplace for some brothers to argue that the union has no business discussing and taking positions or actions on El Salvador, South Africa, or Poland since the union is growing weaker and less effective in even defending our own jobs and working conditions. But it’s the same kind of union leadership which refuses to take on PMA that also refuses to take effective solidarity actions to de­fend workers in the U.S. and refuses to take positions that would point the way to defending the interests of workers internationally.

Reagan’s moves to strangle Nicaragua, support the junta.’s butch­ery of El Salvadorian workers and peasants, and blockade Cuba lead directly toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The vast U.S. arms build-up represents the goal of American capitalism to eliminate the U.S.S.R. as the main deterrant to U.S. imperialism’s drive to wipe out the gains of workers everywhere.

The unwillingness of the ILWU leadership to confront Reagan’s war drive was made clear at the April International Convention. Herman, McClain and conpany supported an “adequate” U.S. arm budget and refused to take sides in El Salvador. They uncritically endorsed the Polish “Solidarity” movement and took sides with Reagan against the U.S.S.R.. warning the Soviets not to interfere (even if capital­ism was being restored?)

The editor submitted a minority report on Poland and argued for a “wait and see” attitude at that time. Keylor warned that the church-influenced, anti-Soviet, Polish nationalist leadership of Solidarity could mislead the Polish workers into laying the basis tor bringing back capitalism. Brother Keylor argued for a policy of support to those elements of Solidarity that were groping towards a working class political revolution against the governing bureaucracy, a revolution committed to socialist property forms, and appealing to Soviet work­ers toward the same goals.

The hour is getting very late to mobilize labor action to stop Reagan’s attacks on workers’ hard-won gains. Keylor alone among the delegates to the June Caucus voted against the Coast Committees res­olution which effectively blocked our union fram taking the lead to organize work stoppages by maritime workers in order to block cuts in the Longshoremen, and Harbor workers Act. Only labor strike action can stop the cuts in Social Security and other social legislation and to stop the thinly veiled racist attacks on the gains of black people. Reagan’s wrecking of the air traffic controllers union is a clear warning that only massive acts of workers’ solidarity can pre­vent the destruction of the labor movement.



It’s never been more urgent than now to keep the government and the capitalist courts out of our internal union affairs to prevent pro-employer judges from interfering in the hiring hall and registra­tion system. The longshore division has been besieged with lawsuits attacking our contractual dispatch and registration systems, some of which the union has lost. In the Gibson case, which started 13 years ago, the Portland Clerks Local lost. Local 10’s pro-rated share of the cost, $ 30,000, has not been paid. If this policy of refusing to defend all longshore and clerk locals against lawsuits continues coast­wise unity will be broken and every local, including our own, will be left to defend itself. This is the disastrous policy of most of the officers and Executive Board some of whom even openly support the bringing of lawsuits against locals and local officers.

Without a program of fighting the P.M.A. to maintain and expand waterfront jobs, which would allow the registration of women, blacks, and national minorities, we can expect even more Title 7 lawsuits in­cluding suits against Local 10.


It’s always depressing to try to describe at each election time the state of the local and find that it’s gone down hill during the preceding year. Where are we now? Smaller, shorter and more infrequent membership meetings; fewer jobs,  more longshoremen living on P.G.P.; P.M.A. chiseling on the contract, backed up by the arbitrary; unsafe working conditions, not enough manning; P.G.P. cut when men get fed up and take even individual job action; encroachment on our jurisdiction; and finally, men becoming desperate and going steady as S.E.O. skilled equipment operators.

 Most dangerous and alarming of all is the fact that longshore­men are losing confidence in the ability of the union to defend their interests and same men are competing with each other for favors from P.M.A. representatives.

These conditions can be laid squarly at the door of a leadership which has accepted the 9.43 and S.E.O. system, refused to fight for manning and a shorter work shift, and has conformed to the policy of “no illegal work stoppages”, “work now and grieve later”, and “every­ subject to arbitration”. The editor, Howard Keylor, submitted resolutions on all these issues to the April pre-contract Coast Caucus but got very little support from other Local 10 delegates.

Our local officers are reduced to complaining that Jerry Sutliff, area arbitrator, is “unfair” and holding up the vain hope, that if he shows himself to be very biased that he will be replaced. There’s only one answer: mobilize the membership to take on P.M.A. with job action to defend our conditions and to appeal to the coast locals for support.



The 1981 contract made the S.E.O. system even worse. The steady equipment operator system is further expanded and extended into the hall eating up more skilled jobs. Stevedoring companies can now order their “own” men from the S.E.O. Board and P.M.A. refuses to recognize a stop line on the S.E.O. Board; if one job goes outside the S.E.O. board all S.E.O. men qualified for that job flop and lose the guaran­tee.

All attempts to modify the S.E.O. system are simply doomed to failure. Brother Reg Theriault’s motion to stop S.E.O. men from driv­ing tractors and other rolling stock against the ship was clearly in violation of the contract and would have led to.a major confrontation with P.M.A. Brothers Keylor and Gow voted against this motion at the Executive Board warning that this motion gives the illusion that it’s possible to modify the S.E.O. system without a fight. We put up a motion at that time to prepare the membership fora fight to finally end this cancer by calling all S.E.O. men back to the hall. No vote took place on our motion because Executive Board members promptly took a hike eliminating the quorum of 10 members.


As only two people on the Executive Board Keylor and Gow can’t make any decisive difference in the course of the union. The most we can do is continue to expose what’s going on and to point the way out. Not until the union develops an alternative leadership committed to a class struggle program will we see a change in the downhill motion of the union. the following program includes those measures and princi­ples which could show the way out of the dilemma in which we find our­selves.


1.DEFEND THE HIRING HALL – Call all SEO men back to the hall. Dis­patch all skilled equipuent jobs from the hall.

2.DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS – Job action to protect union conditions and safety. No dependance on arbitrators.

3. DEFEND OUR JOBS – Build now toward a contract fight in 1984 for manning scales on all ship operations, 6 hours shift for 8 hours pay, one man – one job.

4. DEFEND OUR UNION – No “B” or “C” Registration lists. Keep the ra­cist anti-labor government and courts out of our union. Support all ILWU locals defense against court suits and government “inves­tigations”. No lawsuits against any union.

5. BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY against government/employer strikebreaking. Honor all picket lines. Don’t handle struck or diverted cargo.

6.STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union organized mass labor/black/ Latino defense action. No dependance on capitalist police or courts to smash fascism.

7. WORKING CLASS ACTION TO STOP REAGAN’S NAR DRIVE AGAINST THE SOVIET  UNION – Oppose reactionary boycotts against Soviet cargo an shippment. Labor strikes against military blockades of Cuba or Nicaragua. Boycott all military cargo to Chile, South Africa, El Salvador.

8. INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY – Labor support to military victory for leftist insurgents in El Salvador. Oppose protectionist trade restrictions. International support to anti-capitalist workers struggles.

9. LABOR STRIKES TO SMASH REAGAN’s ANTI-LABOR/BLACK DRIVE – National maritime strikes to defend the Longshoremen and Harborworker’s Act.

10. BREAK FINALLY AND COMPLETLEY WITH STRIKE-BREAKING DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES – Start now to build a based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will seize all major industry Without payment to the capitalists and establish a planned economy to end exploitation, racism, poverty, and war.

Letter to the OCRFI and the OCI

Letter to the OCRFI and the OCI

[First printed in Spartacist No. 22, Winter 1973-74. Copied from ]

15 January 1973

Organizing Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International; and Organisation Communiste Internationaliste

Dear Comrades,

At the Third National Conference of the Spartacist League/U.S. we held a major discussion on the Organizing Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International (OCRFI), based on our translations from the October 1972 issue of La Correspondance Internationale containing the basic documents and discussion from your international conference of July 1972. We were also guided by the reports of our comrades Sharpe and Foster of their discussions last summer with comrade DeM. of the OCI.

We give serious attention to the OCRFI because we note that some of the steps that it has undertaken go in the direction of resolving the impasse which has existed between the SL/U.S. and the International Committee (IC) since November 1962, and the acute hostility between us after the April 1966 IC Conference in London. We are in agreement with the stated goal of the OCRFI to fight on the program of the Fourth International to reconstruct a democratic-centralist world party, and to pursue this aim at present through a regulated political discussion in an international discussion bulletin culminating in an international conference. We note that toward this end your July conference did indeed represent a break with the federated bloc practice of the former IC and was indeed marked by a real and vigorous discussion such as was absent from the Third Conference of the IC in London in 1966. Thus it appears to us that on the face of it the OCRFI does possess one of the essential qualities necessary for the struggle to verify the authentic Trotskyist program and to measure by that program the political practice, in its development, of national groups participating in the discussion. Therefore the SL/U.S. have come to the conclusion that it is part of our duty as internationalists to seek to participate in this discussion.

We note that we fully meet the formal requirement for admission to participation in your discussion process as stated in the resolution, “On the Tasks of the Reconstruction of the Fourth International,” i.e., we “state [our] will to fight on the program of the Fourth International to reconstruct the leading center, which [we] agree does not yet exist.” (see our 1963 resolution, “Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International,” and later documents). We are unable to request more than simple admission to the discussion, rather than admission to the Organizing Committee of the discussion, because of our programmatic differences, unclarities about or simple unfamiliarity with views held by members of the Organizing Committee. Since the Organizing Committee also intends to work toward the construction of national sections of the Fourth International, we can hardly participate in such activities given this programmatic ambiguity.

In our view, the preliminary purpose of a discussion such as that envisaged by the OCRFI must be to crystallize a series of decisive specific programmatic demands analogous to the concrete points defining revolutionary Marxist principle set forth by Trotsky in the 1929-33 period as the basis for rallying forces from the scattered and politically diverse milieu of oppositional communists.

Therefore we should like to list some of the issues which appear to us to pose differences or central ambiguities between our views and those expressed by the OCRFI or which have been advanced by the OCI. The importance that we attach to these points is that if unresolved they threaten the crystallization of a bona fide and disciplined Trotskyist world movement and center. Therefore from our present understanding these are topics which merit particular discussion.

(1) United Front: We differ with the conception of the “strategic united front” as practiced by the OCI and as set forth in “For the Reconstruction of the Fourth International” (especially Section IX, “Fight for Power, Class United Front, Revolutionary Parties”) in La Verité No. 545, October 1969 and in the general political resolution of the OCRFI. In terms of the OCI’s work in France, our position has been elaborated in Workers Vanguard No. 11, September 1972. We believe that we share with the first four Congresses of the Communist International the view that the united front is essentially a tactic used by revolutionists “to set the base against the top” under those exceptional conditions and decisive opportunities in which the course of proletarian political life has flowed outside its normal channels. Comrade Trotsky heavily elaborated on this conception over the German crisis of 1929-33 and also in his discussions with SWP leaders in 1940 regarding an approach by the SWP to the Communist Party U.S.A.

The united front is nothing more than a means, a tactic, by which the revolutionary party, i.e. its program and authority, can in times of crisis mobilize and then win over masses (at that time supporters of other parties) by means of concrete demands for common action made to the reformist organizations. Any other interpretation must base itself on a supposed latent revolutionary vanguard capacity within the reformist or Stalinist parties themselves–a central proposition of Pabloism.

The aim of the united front must be to embed the revolutionary program in the masses. In the same way, in the highest expression of the united front, the soviets, the condition for their conquest of power is the ascendancy of the revolutionary program. Any form of fetishism toward the mere form of united fronts or soviets (or for that matter toward trade unions or factory committees) means abdicating as revolutionists, because at bottom it is the dissolution of the vanguard party into the class through the substitution of such forms (and other politics!) for the role of the revolutionary party. This is not Leninism but at best a variant of Luxemburgism. One of Lenin’s greatest achievements in counterposing the revolutionary vanguard to the reformists was to transcend the Kautskyian conception of “the party of the whole class.” To place emphasis upon some mass form at the expense of the vanguard party would be to smuggle back in the Kautskyian conception.

When erstwhile revolutionary forces are qualitatively weak in comparison to mass reformist or Stalinist parties it is, in ordinary circumstances, equally illusory either to make direct “united front” appeals to the large formations or to advocate combinations among such large forces (when Trotsky called for the united front between the SPD and KPD he believed that the latter still had a revolutionary potential).

Certainly the tactics appropriate to a full-fledged revolutionary party cannot be mechanically assigned to a grouping qualitatively lacking the capacity to struggle to take the leadership of the class. However, the differences in functioning are in the opposite direction from those projected by the OCI. To the extent that the revolutionary tendency must function as a propaganda league, the more it must stress the presentation of its full program. As Trotsky noted, in the first instance Bolshevism is built upon granite foundations, and maneuvers can only be carried out in a principled fashion upon that foundation. The united front of the working class, of course, is the maneuver on the grand scale.

(2) Bolivian POR: We do not believe that the POR’s participation in the émigré Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Front (FRA) fell from the skies. We agree with the OCI and the OCRFI resolution that the FRA–created following the coup of the rightist general Banzer, incorporating elements of the “national bourgeoisie” including General Torres–is a popular front and not the continuation of the Popular Assembly, which may have possessed the essential formal prerequisites to be a proletarian soviet pole in opposition to the earlier regime of the leftist general Torres. It appears to us that in the period of the Torres regime the best that can be said of the POR is that it subordinated the development of the vanguard party to that of the Popular Assembly, i.e. subordinated the revolutionary program to an ill-defined and vacillating collection of left nationalist and Stalinist political prejudices. Given the default of revolutionists, the Popular Assembly necessarily concretely possessed a core of Menshevist acquiescence to the “national bourgeoisie.” For further elaboration, see Workers Vanguard No. 3. In our estimation the POR’s earlier policy, which the OCRFI resolution emphatically supports, is an embodiment of the erroneous conception of’ a “strategic united front” and demonstrates the resulting subordination of the vanguard organization to the mass organization, in this case to the Popular Assembly.

Prolonged periods of repression there have severely limited our knowledge of or contact with the Bolivian POR, but it appears to us on the basis of available evidence that the organization has played a characteristically centrist role at least as far back as the revolutionary upheaval in 1952.

(3) Stalinism: We note that in the past the OCI has tended to equate the struggle against imperialism with the struggle against Stalinism, e.g. the slogans advanced at the 1971 Essen Conference. The general Political Resolution submitted by the OCI and adopted by the OCRFI takes this equation one step further when it denies the “double nature” of the Stalinist bureaucracy, writing of it simply as “the organism of the bourgeoisie within the working-class movement.” Perhaps the OCI has been led to this false formulation through a simplistic linear extension of the true and valuable insight that the class struggles of the workers cut across the “Iron Curtain.”

To us, and we believe to Trotsky, the Stalinist bureaucracy has a contradictory character. Thus in 1939 it conciliated Hitler and undermined the defense of the Soviet Union. But beginning in 1941 it fought (badly!) against the Hitlerite invasion. Thus our wartime policy was one of revolutionary defensism toward the Soviet Union, i.e., to fight against the imperialist invader and to overthrow the bureaucracy through political revolution, with by no means the least aim being to remove the terrible bureaucratic impediment in that fight. In the Indochinese war the role of the Hanoi bureaucracy, and our attitude toward it and the tasks of the Vietnamese proletariat, are essentially the same.

In the SWP’s 1953 factional struggle, the Cannon-Dobbs majority sought to defend itself against the Cochran-Clarke Pabloist minority by putting forth a position (similar to that of the OCRFI), that the Stalinist bureaucracy is “counter-revolutionary through and through and to the core.” Since this was a possibility truly applicable only to capitalist restorationist elements, in their most extreme form either fascist or CIA agents, the SWP majority was compelled to commit a host of political blunders in attempting to defend its formulation; and in fact this position, along with Cannon’s advocacy of federated internationalism, represented departures from Trotskyism which helped undermine the revolutionary fiber of the SWP.

Also in this connection we note the OCI’s analysis of Cuba In La Verité No. 557, July 1972. The OCI’s refusal to draw the conclusion from its analysis–which until that point parallels our own–that Cuba, qualitatively, is a deformed workers state indicates the potential departure from the Leninist theory of the state in favor of a linear, bourgeois conception as of a thermometer which simply and gradually passes from “bourgeois state” to “workers state” by small increments without a qualitative change. Such a methodology is a cornerstone of Pabloism. According to this conception, presumably the reverse process from “workers” to “bourgeois” state by small incremental shifts could be comparably possible. Trotsky correctly denounced this latter idea as “unwinding the film of reformism in reverse.” We note however that the OCI appears inconsistent on the characterization of the Cuban state; “The Tasks of Rebuilding the Fourth International” (in La Correspondance Internationale, June 1972, page 20) calls for the “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, of workers’ conquests in Eastern Europe, of the revolutionary war in Vietnam….”

(4) On the Youth: We note that the relation of the OCI to the Alliance des Jeunes pour le Socialisme is unprecedented in the history of Leninist practice and, in fact, represents a catering to petty-bourgeois dual vanguardist sentiment in the student milieu. We also oppose the subsidiary concept of a non-Trotskyist “Revolutionary Youth International” put forward at the Essen Conference in July 1971. The revolutionary youth movement must be programmatically subordinate and formally organizationally linked to the vanguard party, which encompasses the historic experience of the proletariat. Unless this is the case, student and youth militants can never transcend petty-bourgeois radicalism which at crucial times the proletarian vanguard will find counterposed to itself.

(5) Violence and the Class Line: We strongly oppose the OCI’s stated willingness to use the bourgeois state apparatus–the courts–to mediate disputes in the working-class movement. In addition, the SL/U.S. is unalterably opposed to the use of physical force to suppress the views of other working-class tendencies where that is the central issue, such as the OCI’s forcible prevention of the distribution of leaflets by the IKD at the July 1971 Essen Conference. We are not pacifists, and fully recognize the right of self-defense by ourselves or anyone else in the socialist and labor movements to protect meetings and demonstrations from physical assault and to protect individual militants from terroristic attack. Taken all together, our view flows from the proposition that the greatest free play of ideas within the workers movement strengthens the position of revolutionists and enhances the possibility for united class action. Conversely, it is the reformists and Stalinists–the labor lieutenants of capital–who most characteristically employ violence and victimization within the movement.

(6) International Committee: The OCRFI resolution, “On the Tasks of the Reconstruction of the Fourth International,” states that, starting in 1966, the SLL “started down the same path which the SWP had previously taken.” But further on, the resolution deplores the “explosion of the IC caused by the SLL,” on the grounds that this latest split “aggravates the dispersion” which began in 1952. We consider that organizational forms should correspond to political realities. We strongly opposed the break by the SLL (“IC”) with us in 1962 because of its apparently mainly organizational character. Only after the very sharp rupture at the 1966 London Conference, and especially in the several years following when the SLL piled up a series of major political differences with us, were we able to appreciate that the SLL’s desire in 1962 to make a rapprochement to the SWP then (to which we were willing to acquiesce but not agree with) was an expression of a fundamental political difference.

The SLL’s break with us in 1962 was, however, part of a real struggle within the American group. The 1971 SLL-OCI break seems to have been but a separation of bloc partners without visible repercussions within either group–hence without struggle however unclear.

At bottom, differing estimations of the split in the IC may reflect the linguistically slight but nonetheless real differences between the OCI’s “For the Reconstruction of the Fourth International” and the SL’s “For the Rebirth of the Fourth International.” Our slogan implies that a very fundamental process must be gone through; that it is not possible simply to fit together existing bits and pieces, perhaps with a little chipping here or there, in order to put the edifice together again.

Since the SL/U.S. has itself already had a ten-year history with the IC, we cannot simply approach the OCRFI discussions as if the previous experience between main elements in the OCRFI who had been part of the former IC and ourselves did not exist. Therefore we must review that past experience since it conditions our approach to the OCRFI.

Our views on the development of the IC since 1966 are set forth initially in Spartacist No. 6 (June-July 1966) on the London 1966 Conference and our expulsion; in the article on the Healy-Wohlforth current in Spartacist No. 17-18 (August-September 1970); in Spartacist No. 20 (April-May 1971) which is a summary of political and organizational developments since 1966; and in Workers Vanguard No. 3 (December 1971) on the SLL-OCI split. As you will note from these materials, from the time we first became aware of it at the London Conference, we protested the absence of democratic centralism in the IC.

We believe that one of the necessary tests of genuine revolutionists is the demonstrated capacity to even ruthlessly undertake self-criticism. The “International Committee” dominated by the SWP from 1954 to 1963 and by the SLL from 1963 to 1971 was always partly fictitious and partly a formalization of blocs of convenience by essentially national organizations. This demands explanation by those who would not simply repeat their previous experience. It is not enough to pass over the last eighteen years with the promise that from now on things will be done differently.

We were definitively expelled from the Healyite international conglomeration in 1966 at the very time the OCRFI pinpoints as the beginning of the SLL’s downhill slide. We believe there is a relationship. Evidently as part of the OCI’s attempt to remain in a common bloc with the SLL, and perhaps in part through ignorance of our real positions, the OCI has over the years projected upon the SL/U.S. a series of positions. Not only do we not hold, nor have we ever held, these views, but most of them are the exact opposite of our views. For example, the OCI asserted that we believe in the “family of Trotskyism” even though at the 1966 London Conference our delegation was struck by the aptness of an OCI speaker’s statement “there is no family of Trotskyism” and our speaker specifically quoted that observation approvingly, as was reported in Spartacist No. 6 and many times since. In the “Statement by the OCI” of 1967 on the IC, reference is repeatedly made to a “VO-Robertson bloc” and the general conclusion drawn that “the struggle against Robertson is fully identified with the struggle against Pabloism. His positions join those of the SWP and the United Secretariat where they are not those of Pablo.” The OCI in similar terms apologized to the SLL for the invitiation of an SL/U.S. observer to the Essen Conference.

The SL/U.S. was aware from 1962 on that the OCI tendency was not to be equated with the SLL, and after our expulsion from the London Conference we continued to note the difference (for example in Spartacist No. 17-18, in discussing Healy’s attempted rapprochement with the United Secretariat, we wrote of the Healy-Banda group “and their politically far superior but internationally quiescent French allies, the Lambert group.” We also knew through private sources that at least since 1967 the Wohlforth group internally had been conducting a vigorous campaign to discredit the OCI.

Our characterization of the OCI as politically superior to the SLL was based on a series of political positions which the OCI held in common with us in counterposition to the views of the SLL. Recent OCI polemics against the SLL (e.g. La Verité No. 556) note the OCI’s objection to several key SLL positions which we had also opposed: the SLL’s willful use of “dialectics” as a mystification to hide political questions; the SLL’s chronic tailending of Stalinism in Vietnam; the SLL’s enthusing over the Chinese “Red Guards”; the SLL’s notion of a classless “Arab Revolution”; the SLL’s unprincipled approach to the United Secretariat-SWP in 1970. We also considered of importance the OCI’s objection to the SLL position that Pabloist revisionism had not organizationally destroyed the Fourth International. The OCI’s position on this question appears to correspond to the view we have consistently held and upon which we spoke insistently at the 1966 London Conference.

Moreover, we have always taken a very serious attitude toward the OCI, not because of its numbers but because of its experienced senior cadres and its continuity in the world movement. We have centered in this letter on the presumed differences between us and the OCI, but the strengths of the OCI have reflected themselves as well, in specific political positions, some of which we have learned from, such as the OCI’s insistence on the basic class unity across the whole of Europe, the “Iron Curtain” notwithstanding. Other positions as noted above we have developed in an independent but parallel fashion. Above all, we respect the OCI for its adamant attempt to give life to its internationalism.

That is why we patiently waited when no other option was open to us vis-à-vis the OCI, and when we had the opportunity we have persistently sought discussion. It was especially with the OCI in mind that in the concluding portion of our final statement upon being expelled from the London Conference in 1966 we stated, “If the comrades go ahead to exclude us from this conference, we ask only what we have asked before–study our documents, including our present draft on U.S. work before you now, and our work over the next months and years. We will do the same, and a unification of the proper Trotskyist forces will be achieved, despite this tragic setback.”

Recently, in the document “The Tasks of Rebuilding the Fourth International” (which the introduction to the English edition states is “central to [the] international discussion”), the OCI characterized the SL from the 1966 Conference as “centrist” or “centrist-sectarian.” Thus, rather than following our documents and our ongoing work as we asked in 1966, the OCI has simply continued to echo the SLL’s avalanche of falsehood aimed at our political obliteration. In the light of the above points, this would seem an appropriate time for the OCI and with it the OCRFI to undertake a thorough examination of the SL’s politics.

We do not expect, and would have no confidence in, a simple reversal of appraisal of the SL/U.S. by the OCI. Estimations of the SL/U.S. by the groups comprising the OCRFI should be guided by two considerations. One is the questions of general political and programmatic character such as we have gone into above. We naturally believe that we are correct about these; but because our views have taken shape within the American Trotskyist framework (and during a period of enforced national isolation) we must allow that they may be partial, and in ways which we cannot presently know. As the main Political Report to our recent National Conference stated: “The SL/U.S. urgently requires disciplined subordination to an international leadership not subject to the deforming pressures of our particular national situation.” (see Workers Vanguard No. 15, January 1973) It was in this spirit that we published our article “Genesis of Pabloism” (Spartacist No. 21, Fall 1972) which contained substantially the sum total of our present understanding of Pabloism.

The other question, subordinate but within the framework of essential programmatic agreement very important and perhaps contributory to that programmatic agreement is the question of comrades internationally understanding the concrete reality of the socialist movement in the U.S. in the context of the evolved American labor movement and the specific configuration of class relations in this country. There is a striking lack of correspondence between the existing divisions within the ostensibly Marxist movements in Europe and America so that any effort to superimpose groups in Europe on “similar” groups in the U.S. is inappropriate. The six-months’ stay by Comrade Sharpe in France was extremely helpful in bringing this point home to us. It would be extremely clarifying for example if a representative of the OCI could come to this country for an extended stay to examine, for example, not only the SL/U.S. in its concrete work, but also currents such as the “Vanguard Newsletter” of Turner-Fender, which has stood apparently closest formally to the OCI; the International Socialists, who mainly look to Lutte Ouvrière as their closest friends in France, but who contain sympathizers of the OCI among them; and the other tendencies within the American radical movement. Moreover, the trade unions as they have evolved here should be examined in the union offices and on picket lines. More broadly, characteristic college campuses and the reality of the National Student Association should be investigated.

We take our commitment as internationalists seriously as a condition for our very survival as Marxian revolutionists, and by this we mean neither diplomatic non-aggression pacts with groups in other countries nor the Healyite fashion of exporting subservient mini-SLLs. As one of the results of what is for us precipitous growth domestically, we are acquiring the resources–human and material–to undertake for the first time on a sustained basis our international obligations.

It is in the context of our need for a disciplined International and our firm commitment to fight to bring about the programmatic agreement which forms the only basis for such an International, that we wish to participate in the discussion opened by the OCRFI.

We are enclosing copies of all our documents referred to in this letter. Should we be accepted into the discussion organized by the OCRFI, in order to familiarize comrades internationally with our views, we would like to submit three documents initially to the discussion: (1) this letter, (2) our delegation’s remarks to the 1966 London Conference, (3) our Statement of Principles


Political Bureau Spartacist League/U.S.
cc. Spartacist League/Australia-New Zealand

1 2 3 6