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 http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/swp-us/verdict.htm), 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

NO SYMPATHY WHEN THE BITER GETS BIT

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 http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no30/no30-GRPI-WSWS.html ]

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—www.grpinc.com/grandriver-history.html), 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 http://www.bolshevik.org/mb/prog.htm ]

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 http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no5/no05pala.html

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.

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