On Clara Fraser

On Clara Fraser

[Tthe following statement by Samuel Trachtenberg was distributed at the Freedom Socialist Party’s memorial meeting for Clara Fraser (3/12/23/-2/24/98). The meeting took place in New York on April 19, 1998]

To the Comrades of the Freedom Socialist Party,

On behalf of the International Bolshevik Tendency I would like to take this opportunity to express our condolences to you on the death of the longtime leader of your organization, Clara Fraser. While her political trajectory since the 1960’s has been in a radically different direction than our own, we honor her memory as a cadre of the revolutionary Socialist Workers Party of the 1940’s and 50’s. In particular, we recall her role as a key leader of its Kirk-Kaye tendency, which during the 1950’s put forward the revolutionary integrationist position on the fight for black liberation. This contribution, authored by Dick Fraser, Clara’s partner at the time, was a critically important programmatic contribution to American Trotskyism and it is one that we uphold to this day.

We also recall Clara Fraser’s role as one of the SWP cadres who courageously defended the Revolutionary Tendency (a Trotskyist tendency in the then degenerating SWP) against the moves by the Dobbs regime to purge them on bogus charges of “disloyalty.” The RT, whose political tradition we of the IBT seek to uphold today, gave rise to the Spartacist League, which, like the FSP, was founded in 1966. For a brief period the two groups had fraternal relations and both sent representatives to each other’s founding conferences. At the FSP’s launch the Spartacist delegation observed that. the two groups had close agreement on the questions of black liberation and opposition to imperialist war, but noted that the FSP’s failure to call for political revolution in Mao’s China indicated an important area of difference.

As the years passed the divergences between our two traditions have tended to grow. This has not prevented our organizations from collaborating on matters of mutual interest. In particular we appreciated how the FSP, under Clara Fraser’s leadership, was willing to defend us against the slanders of the degenerate Spartacist League of the 1980s. We were pleased to solidarize with your party’s successful defense efforts in the Freeway Hall court case, which scored a key victory for the civil rights of all leftist organisations.

Over the years Clara Fraser saw many of her contemporaries drop out of politics due to demoralisation, but she remained active right up to the end. We honor her memory and her fighting spirit.

The Test Jim Robertson Didn’t Pass

The Test Jim [Robertson] Didn’t Pass

[First printed in Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt No. 4, May 1985. Copied from http://www.bolshevik.org/ETB/ETB4/ETB4.htm ]

Sycophancy is encouraged in the SL not through flattering speeches about the “genius” or the “infallibility” of Robertson and the rest of the leadership. It is encouraged by promoting a psychology of deference, occasionally reinforced by overt intimidation. Why must one defer to New York’s judgement on even the most trifling of matters? Because the central leadership is a repository of great political experience and capacity. Because they have “passed far more tests” than anyone else in the organization. Because to defy their “authority” is tantamount either to rejecting the political tradition which they “embody” or failing to understand the organizational question.

The central leadership (and Robertson in particular) is the guardian of the Trotskyist program. No one else has earned the right to be the Guardian of The Program. No one else has passed The Test. It’s my party, says Robertson; and he’s right. I am not unsympathetic to J.R. I don’t think there’s a psychiatrist in the world that can help him, but I think his psychology is pretty transparent. He’s a big fish in a small pond, a victim of small-group megalomania.

The disproportion between the tasks of the SL and its actual resources got to him a long time ago. The Trotskyist program must be preserved, he reasoned; it is the “last, best hope” for humanity. And who, in our time, has done more to preserve it than anyone else? Unquestionably, it has been Jim. He fought the SWP leadership; he fought Wohlforth; he fought Healy; he fought impressionism, revisionism, bureaucratism, liquidationism like no one else. And against great odds he managed to construct a real, if fragile, international tendency which has managed to preserve the Trotskyist programmatic heritage. The point is: that accomplishment is the justification for the peculiar form of bureaucratization which the SL has undergone. It is a bureaucracy based not on the preservation of privileges (although there are privileges involved); it is a bureaucracy based on a megalomaniacal psychology geared to the preservation of the Trotskyist program. Paradoxical, maybe; but I think it’s the case.

But Jim did fail to pass one test. He didn’t, and probably couldn’t, construct a revolutionary internal regime. The internal regime is unhealthy. The authority invested in Jim and his closest associates is absurd and dangerous. It is not enough to have a formally correct program; one needs a revolutionary party capable of producing real cadres. Jim never rose to this challenge, because of his excessive preoccupation with formal programmatic integrity and political homogeneity. The right balance was not struck. He certainly didn’t even try to strike the balance that Lenin achieved in the Bolshevik party, that Trotsky achieved in the Fourth International, and that Cannon achieved in the SWP. And I think that the reason is plain, and has even been alluded to by J.R. himself. Lenin, Trotsky and Cannon’s organizations all ultimately degenerated. So it was up to J.R. to come up with a new formula (a new balance between democracy and centralism, between program and organization) which would ensure, above all, the integrity of the program. If the SL is evincing programmatic wobbles now, it is the consequence of our failure — the failure of those of us who ate shit out of deference and an acute awareness of our own fallibility — to say what had to be said while we were still members. I hope the ET has the courage to do it now.

— a former leading member of the iSt, January 1984

Appendix: A Bureaucrats Confession


-Public Speech by Jim Robertson, January 29, 1977


Maurice Thorez: The Making of a Stalinist

Maurice Thorez: The Making of a Stalinist

by John Sharpe

REVIEW: Maurice Thorez, vie secrete et vie publique by Philippe Robrieux

[First printed in Workers Vanguard #85, 14 November 1975]

Joseph Stalin climbed to the summit of the Comintern over a mountain of strangled revolutions and massacred proletarians. Maurice Thorez rose to the top of the French Communist Party by utter prostration before the counterrevolutionary policies of that “great organizer of defeats.” Early in his career Thorez demonstrated the gutlessness and pliability demanded by the Comintern in the period of its Stalinization. His moment of glory came in the period immediately following World War II, when he personally led the CP’s all-out offensive against the militancy of the French working class, thereby putting a tottering French capitalist system on its feet again.

Thorez rose to prominence in the CP during the early 1920’s. Despite having been closely identified with Stalin, which became a political liability after 1953, Thorez lasted through the period of “de-Stalinization” and remained at the helm of the CP until shortly prior to his death in 1964. In the course of these forty years, only once did Thorez wage a determined fight against his Kremlin mentors: his battle against de-Stalinization and the “Khrushchev revelations.”

The French CP under Thorez faithfully followed every twist and turn of Kremlin policy: from the sectarian “third period” to the popular-front romance with the bourgeoisie; from the Hitler-Stalin pact to the nauseating French chauvinism of “to each his Kraut” after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent disarming of the working class which allowed De Gaulle to re-establish bourgeois control after the war; from the post-war “battle of production” during which strikes were declared “the arm of the trusts” to the senseless street confrontations (Ridgeway demonstration) of the 1950’s.

The undoubted high point of Thorez’s public political career was his participation, as one of the CP ministers of De Gaulle’s post-war government, in the restabilization of French capitalism. In France and throughout Western Europe, only the Stalinist and social-democratic parties in which the masses of the working people placed their confidence, could beat back the militancy and revolutionary aspirations of the advanced workers. Thorez personally intervened as the spearhead of the CP’s strikebreaking campaign. In July 1945 he addressed 2,000 striking pro-Communist miners and declared:

“In the name of the Central Committee, in the name of the entire Party, in the name of all the workers. I say to you: The eyes of all France are upon you’. All of France awaits a new and great effort from you… The least defiance on your part would assist the campaigns of the enemies of the people against you yourselves, against the working class, against the nationalizations, against democracy, against France.. I am certain that the call of our Party will be heeded. I am certain that we will win the battle of production as we won the battle of the Liberation.”

Debunking Stalinist “History”

Thorez’s career illustrates the evolution of a Communist militant into a cynical Stalinist hack loyal above all to the preservation of his position as chief of a reformist workers party. Philippe Robrieux’s informative biography (Paris: Fayard, 1975) provides a revealing look at the internal mechanisms of a Stalinist party as it seeks to balance between maintaining the loyalty of its working-class base and upholding the line dictated by the bureaucracy of the Russian degenerated workers state.

Philippe Robrieux was the General Secretary of the CP’s student organization in 1959-60 when he was caught up in and eliminated in the Casanova-Servin affair, the last of the Stalinist purges directed by Thorez. Casanova and Servin were popular long-time leaders, sympathetic to the Italian CP and Khrushchev’s “reforms,” who wanted a certain “liberalization” in the CP, and in particular a more militant policy against the Algerian war. Robrieux’s “crime” was to have criticized Thorez at a Central Committee meeting on the basis of parallel positions. He subsequently “had his eyes opened” by Pierre Broue, of the ostensibly Trotskyist OCI. Due to his former position and personal contacts with one-time members of the CP’s leading committees, Robrieux is in a position to detail the functioning of the Stalinist bureaucratic machine.

The book strips away the layers of prettification which official CP sources apply to even small matters. One indicative anecdote is the story of Thorez’s 1929 arrest. For years Thorez was portrayed as a heroic victim of base treachery; the real chain of events was not even hinted at until after Thorez’s death. In June 1929 Thorez, subject to arrest since 1927 for his anti-militarist articles, attended a clandestine meeting of the Central Committee at a chateau on the outskirts of Paris. Because of the danger of a police raid, careful escape preparations had been made in advance for the three “illegals” – Thorez, Ferrat and Duclos. But when the cops arrived, Thorez lost his head. The other two followed instructions and successfully effected their escape according to plan; Thorez was found cowering in the darkness. having locked himself in a closet.

He was duly arrested. The CP — as part of a “third-period” policy of refusing to legitimize bourgeois authority – had a policy that comrades were to stay in jail rather than pay their fines. It was up to the Political Bureau to decide if a comrade’s usefulness on the outside justified an exception to this procedure. But in April 1930 Thorez unilaterally secured his release by paying the required sum. (Since he had refused to follow the CP’s accepted procedure that functionaries were not entitled to draw their salaries while in prison, it would appear that Thorez even used party money to violate party policy!)

A more important falsification concerns Thorez’s wartime history. Thorez was in the army when in late September 1939, as a consequence of the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Comintern proclaimed the new policy of ” revolutionary defeatism.” With breathtaking suddenness, opposition to thc imperialist war replaced the old line of “anti-fascism.” The CP began to make hasty preparations to preserve its apparatus, which had been swallowed up by the mobilization of the armed forces. It instructed its leaders to desert. Thorez wanted to remain “with the masses” to defend France against Hitler’s Germany, but on Dimitrov’s insistence he dutifully deserted on October 4, only a month after he had enthusiastically answered the mobilization to defend the French fatherland.

On 25 November Thorez was sentenced in his absence to six years imprisonment; on 17 February 1940 he was deprived of his French citizenship. He made his way to Moscow, where he seems to have been kept on a rather tight leash; he completely disappeared from the public eye until his signature appeared on the May 1943 proclamation by which Stalin dissolved the Comintern in order to reassure the Soviet Union’s nervous imperialist allies.

“Revolutionary defeatism” had been only an episode in the line of the French CP. As soon as Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the CPs of every country rushed to align themselves with the imperialist “democracies,” glorifying this turn in an orgy of sickening patriotic fervor. This made Thorez’s Comintern-ordered desertion an embarrassing encumbrance, and so the CP concocted the tale that as late as 1943 Thorez was still hiding in France, hoping to pass him off as some kind of underground resistance hero. After the “liberation” of Paris an amnesty was declared for deserters, but it required considerable haggling between De Gaulle and Moscow before the French government would agree to restore Thorez’s citizenship.

Thorez vs. De-Stalinization

A cowardly bureaucrat, the only time in his long career that Thorez fought a sustained political battle was during his ten-year struggle against de-Stalinization, from 1953 to his death. After Khrushchev’s revelations at the 1956 Twentieth Congress, Thorez linked up with the pro-Stalin bloc led by Molotov and Kaganovich in Russia and internationally by the Chinese. Robrieux is certainly correct when he observes that. whereas the Russians could point to historical scapegoats (e.g.. Stalin, Beria). Thorez as the “First Stalinist of France” would have had to take responsibility for the role he himself had played in inner-party purges (the Barbe-Celor affair in 1931, the Marty-Tillon affair in 1952) and in enforcing the class-collaborationist policies of the Kremlin which time after time sold out potentially revolutionary opportunities for the French proletariat.

Robrieux captures what must have been Thorez’s reasoning – and, with appropriate modifications, that of countless other Stalinist bureaucrats when he writes:

“To admit the truth of Khrushchev’s diatribe was to admit at the verv least that the USSR was far from socialism and that, in a certain sense, everything had to be done over. Then too, didn’t Khrushchev go so far as to insinuate that Trotsky, Bukharin and Zinoviev were not guilty of the crimes of which they were accused? Would he go so far as to rehabilitate them? Then we would have to go back to the years of our youth and turn back to the old masters: Souvarine, Monatte and all the other comrades, slandered, dragged through the mire, crushed, expelled, on whom he had spit, and say to them: you were right!”

In February 1956, therefore, Thorez suppressed Khrushchev’s secret report. When that had become impossible, he systematically attempted to cushion its impact, for example by criticizing Stalin’s “errors” but refusing to let the CP press use the terms of Khrushchev’s report, which referred to Stalin’s “crimes.” As late as November 1956, Thorez publicly stated that “Stalinism did not exist.” Robrieux quotes Thorez’s remark to a trusted Italian collaborator that Khrushchev had “dirtied a splendid, shining, heroic past.”

Forced to pay lip-service to deStalinization, the Thorez regime continued in force, although without some of the more grotesque excesses of the Stalin era. In 1960-61, when the impulse for an Italian-style “liberalization” reared its ugly head in Thorez’s personal fiefdom, the Central Committee, he was more than ready to purge Casanova and Servin, whom he held responsible.

Robrieux himself seems to feed illusions in the de-Stalinizers, both Khrushchev and the French “reformers,” as honest men unfortunately hemmed in and limited by the pro-Stalin forces. This is also the central flaw in the book’s presentation of Thorez’s long Stalinist career. Thorez is presented as an “honest militant” with healthy political instincts, drawn into the Stalinist apparatus due to lack of character. Robrieux refuses to characterize Thorez as a full-blown Stalinist until after World War II and refers to him as “cynical” only after 1956.

Lessons in Betrayal

The detailed description of the manner in which Stalin and his agents accustomed Thorez to betrayal in carefully increasing doses is no doubt accurate: it gives weight to the Russian poet Bebel’s 1937 observation, quoted by Robrieux, that “Stalin doesn’t like spotless biographies.” Many Communists paralleled Thorez’s evolution from a weak, inexperienced and confused militant into a hardened Stalinist. In that sense, Thorez’s biography is the history writ large of countless others. But the key to Thorez’s later evolution into the embodiment of French Stalinism is his first capitulation, which was qualitative. In late 1923, as Secretary of the CP in Pas de Calais, an important mining region in the north of France, Thorez supported Trotsky’s views on the struggle in the Russian party, as presented in the theoretical journal of the French CP, then edited by Boris Souvarine. In the spring of 1924 Thorez, then an alternate member of the Central Committee, indicated his willingness to sign the opposition statement. He personally contributed money for the publication in France of Trotsky’s “New Course.” At first Thorez thought he could swing a majority of the Executive Committee of Pas de Calais, but on 25 May 1924 the pro-troika (Stalin) majority motion was passed without opposition. Unable to endure the prospect of isolation in a tiny minority, Thorez took refuge in an abstention.

After this decisive capitulation Thorez hardened rapidly as a rightist element; in fact, he was aligned more with Zinoviev and then Bukharin than with Stalin in the 1925-29 period. His rapid rise in the French party from 1924 on (he was elevated to the Political Bureau in mid-1926) was due largely to his willingness to turn on his former allies–a trait which, combined with his undoubted organilational talents, made him particularly useful to the emerging Kremlin bureaucracy. Whatever hesitations he may subsequently have had, he had already demonstrated to Stalin’s Comintern representatives that he could be counted on to capitulate and could be used as a token “oppositionist” to lend credence to the bureaucracy’s “good faith.” In short, Thorez owed his ascension to his malleability – that is, to his lack of principle.

In the framework of a meticulous empirical account of the career of Maurice Thorez, Robrieux has presented an objectively devastating indictment of Stalinist class treason. As the personification of the French CP, Thorez personally played a heavy role in breaking the 1936 general strike, which swept the country in a wave of militancy punctuated by countless factory occupations, it was in this context that Thorez on 11 June 1936 made his most famous remark. “It ·is necessary to know how to end a strike.” It is perhaps this sentence which best sums up Thorez’s “contribution” to the working-class movement.

The Capitalist Witch-Hunt – And How to Fight It

National Committee of the SWP

The Capitalist Witch-Hunt – And How to Fight It

[Reprinted in Fourth International, Vol.11 No.2, March-April 1950,. Copied fromhttp://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/fi/vol11/no02/swpnc.html

(Note: The following resolution was unanimously adopted by the February 1950 Plenum of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party.)

Since the close of the war for “the four freedoms” the American people have been subjected to unparalleled attacks upon their democratic rights. These attacks testify to the ever-sharpening conflict between the monopolist masters of the United States and the interests of the great majority. Determined at all costs to maintain their privileges, powers and profits against the unsatisfied demands of the masses for peace, security, equality and liberty, the representatives of Big Business are compelled to deprive the people of their hard-won rights, destroy democratic institutions and head toward transforming the nation into a police state.

These capitalist-inspired assaults upon civil rights directly threaten the very existence of democracy and the labor movement in the United States. They provide daily proof that the American people cannot preserve, enjoy or enhance their freedoms unless they replace the dictatorship of the plutocracy with their own Workers and Farmers government.

The witch-hunt was planned and initiated by the highest agencies of the capitalist regime. It was unleashed in connection with the cold war under the pretext of eliminating the Stalinists as agents of a foreign power. This maneuver was facilitated by the fact that the Communist Party is so widely discredited, distrusted and detested as an apologist and tool of the counter-revolutionary Kremlin oligarchy.

But subsequent developments have unmistakably shown that the hue-and-cry against the CP was a prelude and cover for an all-out offensive against the basic rights of the entire American people. By now the thought-control system issuing from Washington has invaded almost every important department of American activity and affected the lives and liberties of the most diverse categories of citizens.

Public and private workers alike, teachers and students, scientists and writers, clergymen and lawyers, unemployed and foreign-born have already been caught in the widening net of the witch-hunt.

Totalitarian Methods Used

The witch-hunters resort to a wide variety of reactionary methods and totalitarian techniques. They have instituted purges for opinion, political blacklists and frameup trials. They have done away with traditional safeguards of legal procedure by introducing the practices of conviction without hearings or trial; acceptance of the doctrine of “guilt by association”; presumption of guilt in the absence of proved innocence; and punishment of attorneys for the defense. They have developed the FBI into a far-flung secret political police, relying on stool-pigeons and paid informers.

They have pressed every branch of the government into their service. The administration conducts its purge by usurping unconstitutional powers by decree. Congress enacts anti-labor legislation like the Taft-Hartley Law and subsidizes odious investigating bodies like the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The courts levy fines and issue injunctions against labor organizations like the miners. Posing as champions of “law and order,” the Attorney-General and FBI do not hesitate to flout the law by wiretapping, perjury, etc.

The two principal weapons of the witch-hunters have been Truman’s loyalty program and the Smith “Gag” Act. The first proscribes organizations solely because of their views and penalizes their members and supporters by arbitrary administrative action. Organizations are placed on the Attorney-General’s blacklist without notification, hearings, or specification of charges. There is no precedent in American history for such an official political blacklist which is borrowed from the “thought-control” arsenal of totalitarian states.

The government purge with its subversive blacklist has provided the inspiration, model and sanction for the entire campaign against civil rights.

The Smith “Gag” Act, first invoked in 1941 to imprison the 18 Trotskyists, has now been employed to stage a political trial and convict 11 leaders of the Communist Party. The upholding of the Stalinist convictions by the higher courts would considerably promote the government’s aim to outlaw and suppress all minority political parties to its left.

The Aim – War and Fascism

All these measures serve to pave the way for still harsher legal and extra-legal moves against the rights and liberties of the American people. The monopolists and militarists are deliberately working with a twofold end in view.

First, they are perfecting plans to impose a totalitarian military dictatorship in the event of war. The drive of American imperialism toward world domination and its preparations for war against the Soviet Union require regimentation of American labor, militarization of the country, and the suppression of tendencies and voices critical of imperialist policies and practices.

Second, the witch-hunters are provoking mass hysteria against “reds” and against labor to create a political and psychological climate in which the most vicious ultra-reactionary ideals, forces and activities can operate with impunity. A series of incidents over the past year indicates how the atmosphere generated by the witch-hunt encourages and incites mob violence against blacklisted groups, Negroes, Jews and union leaders. Most spectacular were the attacks on two Robeson concerts near Peekskill where the local press, police and officials collaborated with hoodlums and legionnaires to beat up hundreds of people peacefully exercising their right to assembly.

The North witnessed an attack upon a white union organizer in Chicago who had invited Negro fellow unionists to his home; the South saw a reign of terror in Groveland, Florida, where the entire Negro community was driven out in fear of their lives.

This atmosphere has contributed to the renewal of murderous attempts on labor leaders, including the shooting of Victor Reuther, the placing of dynamite in the UAW headquarters in Detroit, the assassination of ILGWU organizer William Lurye in New York, etc.

The ultimate aim of the capitalist forces behind the witch-hunt is to stamp out all organized opposition to their autocratic rule. This means, above all, to cripple and crush the mighty labor organizations. The anti-union provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act are interwoven with its anti-communist clauses. The destruction of the unions cannot be decisively effected without eventual resort to fascism. Taft-Hartleyism, red-baiting, political blacklisting, thought-control, the instigation and protection of mob violence, race-hate are typical pre-fascist phenomena. They serve warning that the present witch-hunt is ploughing the ground and sowing the seeds for the future sprouting of outright fascist movements in the United States.

Role of the Union Bureaucracy

Only in the light of these circumstances is it possible to gauge the real role of the top union leaders and the full measure of their betrayal of the cause of democratic rights. Organized labor leagued with the Negro people and other minority groups can summon more than enough power and pressure to halt the onslaught of reaction. But the union officialdom has been unwilling and unable to mobilize these forces in a mighty protest movement.

The union bureaucrats cannot combat the enemies of civil rights because they support the main foreign and domestic policies which have produced the witch-hunt as well as the Truman administration which is its prime author and promoter. Moreover, they have themselves become indispensable cogs in the witch-hunting apparatus.

With rare exceptions, the union leaders either enthusiastically endorse the prosecution of the CP under the Smith Act or take a non-committal attitude toward it. Although formally on record against the Truman purge of government employees, they do not offer any vigorous opposition to its operations. They do not even put up a principled fight against the penetration of the purge system into private industry through political blacklisting, restricting and firings of union members in the plants.

Because of their commitment to State Department policy and tolerance of Truman’s purge they are compelled to make one concession after another to the witch-hunters. Their resistance is actually reduced to occasional ineffective, halfhearted complaints against the most flagrant abuses and worst excesses of the drive against civil rights.

Far from heading a mass movement against the witch-hunters, the AFL and CIO officialdom is busy carrying out parallel purges of their opponents within the unions. Here the concern of the union bureaucracy for self-preservation meshes into the “cold-war” plans of US imperialism and its political executives. The union leaders seek to cover up for their lack of fighting spirit against labor’s foes and the failure of their policies to improve the workers’ condition by an orgy of red-baiting, not simply against the Stalinists, but against Trotskyists and other militants. They hope to forestall and stamp out all criticism in the ranks by a wild hue-and-cry against the “Commies,” by penalties, intimidation and expulsions of union members and their spokesmen.

The AFL leadership has long been notorious for red-baiting. The new factor is the involvement of the CIO and the unrestrained participation of its top officials in the anti-red crusade. This came to a climax in the 1949 National CIO Convention where the Murray machine voted itself unprecedented centralized authority over all CIO affiliates; established discriminatory political conditions for full membership rights by barring “communists” from CIO national offices; ousted the the United Electrical Workers and moved to expel other Stalinist-controlled unions.

The purge begun against the Stalinists is being extended to other individuals and groups disagreeing with the Murray machine or the anti-democratic actions bound up with its “CIO National Policy.” The crudest application of this purge is taking place in the National Maritime Union where Curran’s machine has instituted loyalty pledges, resorted to large-scale expulsions, trampled on the elementary rights of the members and even called in the cops to suppress the majority opposition in New York. Similar, purges and unconstitutional expulsions have occurred in the AFL maritime unions, the SUP on the West Coast and the SIU on the East Coast.

The bureaucrats are abusing their complete control of the union apparatus, the hiring hall and the closed-shop, not only to deprive critical union members of their democratic rights, but also of their jobs.

Thus the struggle to maintain democracy inside the trade unions against the bureaucracy is directly linked with the struggle against the witch-hunters on a national scale.

Treachery of the Stalinist Leaders

Although the main target of the anti-red drive, the Stalinist leaders have followed a no less perfidious policy in the field of civil rights’ than have the AFL and CIO officialdom. In 1941 the CP applauded the prosecution of the 18 Trotskyists in Minneapolis under the Smith Act which provided the precedent for their own trial and conviction in 1949. This conduct in turn has given union officials a precedent and plausible pretext for turning their backs upon Stalinist victims of the witch-hunt. Where the Stalinists have sought support beyond their own circles they have found themselves confronted with their rotten record of civil rights, and especially their denial of support to the Trotskyists.

The apologists for the totalitarian rule and countless crimes of the Kremlin find it difficult to come forward as exponents of democracy either in foreign affairs or in the trade unions. The Stalinist controlled unions are notorious for their lack of democracy, bureaucratic practices, and suppression of free speech.

Even now while under severe repression, the Stalinist leaders continue their criminal behavior, although it harms their own defense and enormously discredits them before public opinion. They try to sabotage aid for James Kutcher and oppose a presidential pardon and restoration of civil rights to the 18 Trotskyists. They demonstrated at the national Bill of Rights Conference in New York in July 1949 that they preferred to blow up a promising united-front defense movement rather than support any demand for civil rights to their political opponents.

The American agents of the Kremlin have amply shown that they cherish as little regard for the elementary duty of class solidarity and united action against the witch-hunt as the union leaders who follow the line of the State Department. Their symmetrical policies of denying support to political opponents reinforce each other, helps the forces of repression, and weakens the fight against them.

Growing Resistance to the Witch-Hunt

The American people have a firm attachment to democratic principles and glorious traditions of fighting for them. Over the past year there have been multiplying signs of resentment against the witch-hunters and a growing resistance to their attacks on civil; rights.

The disclosures in connection with the Coplon trial that J. Edgar Hoover’s secret political police was operating a huge network of paid informers and stoolpigeons, invading the private lives of many citizens and breaking the law by widespread wiretapping have called forth protests from prominent public figures, metropolitan newspapers, and even US Senators.

Numerous leading educators, learned societies and professional groups have criticized the encroachments on academic freedom arising from loyalty tests, red-hunts, and the drive for ideological conformity. Presidents and faculties of universities in California, Illinois, New York and elsewhere have vigorously spoken out for free thought and free expression in the face of attempts to saddle their institutions with loyalty tests. This opposition stopped the textbook-burning plans of the House Un-American Committee.

The National Conference of the NAACP took a strong stand against the entire witch-hunt as an instrument of racial as well as political discrimination. The National Civil Rights Mobilization conference at Washington this January grew out of the distrust and impatience of the Negro people at the failure to enact civil rights legislation.

Among the most encouraging manifestations of the determination to combat the loyalty purge has been the broad range of backing behind James Kutcher’s case. Outstanding representatives of almost every section of the American people menaced by the thought-controllers have come forward to support his campaign, including hundreds of national, state and local unions.

The volume of protest has become so loud and the alarm among many of his liberal supporters so acute that Truman has had to issue soothing hypocritical assurances that the “hysteria” his administration fosters will soon die out.

“Critical” Supporters and Opponents

Two different attitudes toward the witch-hunt can be observed among the liberals. On the right, the Social Democrats inspired by the New Leader philosophy and other Trumanites have eagerly participated in the anti-communist campaign, although now and then deprecating certain “excesses” of its overzealous executors. These elements prefer a purge limited for the present to the Stalinists.

But the direct agents of the monopolists and militarists pay no heed to such reservations but take advantage of the red-scare and cold war propaganda to proceed against all opponents of their policies. They are even using the Hiss verdict to smear highly placed figures in the witch-hunting administration itself as dupes or tools of the “reds.”

Against these collaborators with the witch-hunters stands another group of more militant and consistent liberals, a number of them associated with the Wallace movement, who are genuinely concerned over the drive toward a police-state and have proved willing to defend the rights of all victims of the repression, regardless of their political ideas or affiliations. It was these non-Stalinist liberals and Wallaceites who opposed the Stalinists and joined with SWP representatves at the national Bill of Rights Conference and elsewhere to uphold the principled position of defending civil rights for all.

Moreover, numerous members, unionists and sympathizers of the CP have balked against accepting the shameful and suicidal Stalinist line.

All these forces rising to resist the imposition of thought control upon America provide the basis for building a powerful united front mass movement dedicated to the preservation and extension of civil liberties.

Capitalism, Stalinism and Democracy

Pointing to Stalinism as the horrible example, the propagandists of Big Business assert that socialism means slavery and that maintenance of the so-called “free-enterprise” capitalist system is the sole guarantee for preserving liberty in America. They are guilty of a double lie. First of all, the capitalist rulers and their henchmen who are carrying on the witch-hunt are the chief enemies of civil liberties and labor’s rights today in the United States.

In the second place, Stalinism is not only anti-democratic but anti-socialist to the core. Stalinist totalitarianism flows from the irreconcilable hostility of the Soviet bureaucracy and its agents to the program and advocates of socialism.

The real situation is quite different. From the standpoints of both democracy and socialism, there are many bonds of identity between imperialism and Stalinism. Despite their different social bases, the destruction of democracy, either through the witch-hunts of the capitalists or the police-state methods of the Stalinists, have a common source in the concern for the perpetuation of the powers and interests of privileged groupings and their fear of the masses. That is why the imperialists and Stalinists can so often and easily join hands and align themselves against the interests of the people.

On the other hand, a movement which defends the welfare of the people and has no interests separate or apart from them, has no reason either to fear the masses or hesitate to submit everything to their judgment and decision. The struggle for emancipation from capitalist domination and all forms of servitude can be most easily and effectively conducted under conditions of the greatest freedom for the masses. That is why, while recognizing the inherent limitations of freedom under capitalist rule and in class society, revolutionary socialists have always demanded the widest possible democracy and have everywhere been in the forefront of all struggles for the defense and extension of the liberties of the people.

Today the intensified reactionary offensive against civil rights and the free functioning of the trade unions makes the struggle against the capitalist witch-hunters the urgent task of every worker and every individual concerned with the advancement of American society.

Unconditional Defense of All Victims

The cardinal rule of this struggle must be the unconditional defense of all victims of reactionary repression and united opposition to every restriction upon democratic rights. “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Toleration or support to the infringement of the rights of any group or individual emboldens the witch-hunters and opens the way for further assaults upon others.

The Stalinists have provided a memorable lesson of the dangers arising from violating working class democracy and the principle of class solidarity. They began by breaking up meetings of political opponents; then refused to defend their opponents against persecution; and finally called upon capitalist authorities, including the FBI, to act against their opponents. These disreputable deeds have not only boomeranged against them but inflicted great damage in the entire field of labor defense by nullifying unity of action and handing the union bureaucracy an excuse for a parallel line of conduct.

Despite our irreconcilable differences, despite the crimes committed against our movement and the interests of labor by the Stalinists, we Trotskyists have invariably supported Stalinist victims of repression and called upon the rest of the working class to do the same. We follow this policy, not out of agreement with the Stalinists or in remission of their crimes, but solely because of our unwavering adherence to the principle of class solidarity.

SWP Champions Solidarity Policy

Our party has become the banner-bearer and outstanding practitioner of this policy in the United States. We have consistently come to the aid of all victims of reaction, not only here but abroad. We have defended conscientious objectors, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Puerto Rican Nationalists, foreign-born workers, Anarchists, liberal clergymen, teachers, scientists, writers and magazines threatened by censorship, civil service employees and many others. We have initiated and participated in many significant struggles to protect persecuted minorities like the Negroes, Mexicans and Jews, as in the Fontana, California case, the Hickman defense in Chicago, the Freeport case in New York, In Minneapolis, Los Angeles and elsewhere we have taken the lead in mobilizing labor and its allies to defend themselves against the threatened fascist violence of Gerald L.K. Smith.

In Detroit and other industrial centers our members and sympathizers helped set in motion imposing union protest demonstrations against the Taft-Hartley Law. Within the unions the Trotskyists have been steadfast fighters against any restrictions upon internal democracy and the rights of the membership, whether they emanated from the official bureaucracy or the Stalinists.

Notably around the Minneapolis Trial and the Kutcher case we have participated in and supported powerful national movements against the Smith Gag Act and Truman’s loyalty purge.

This proud record has attracted many militants toward our party and won it a growing reputation as a sincere and principled defender of democratic rights.

Liberals, labor officials and the Stalinists often call upon the government and its agencies for action against ultra-reactionary elements. Jewish groups, for example, request the Post Office Department to ban anti-Semitic literature from the mails. Defaming the Trotskyists as agents of fascism, the Stalinists during the war demanded the suppression of The Militant, etc.

No Dependence on Capitalist State

The working class and the minorities must vigorously oppose every transgression upon their civil and constitutional rights, from whatever quarter they come, and utilize every safeguard provided by law. But they cannot entrust the protection of their liberties to the capitalist regime or expect the powers-that-be to stop or eradicate the menace of fascism.

First, the government itself today spearheads the assault upon the people’s rights. The President orders the loyalty purge; Congress passes anti-labor legislation; the courts levy fines and issue injunctions against the unions. Second, the capitalist parties work hand in glove with white supremacists in the South and the Big Business enemies of labor in the North who are behind the witch-hunt.

Third, the authorities have time and again demonstrated by their action and inaction their lack of interest in punishing or removing the perpetrators of violence against the Negroes, the unions and the liberties of the people. Neither the Federal or State governments convict any lynchers in the South. Nor have the officials displayed much zeal in uncovering the murderous assailants of Carlo Tresca, William Lurye, the Reuthers, and other labor figures.

Government Shields Fascist Elements

On the contrary, the capitalist state apparatus screens and shields fascist forces and collaborates closely with them. In Peekskill the local authorities and police connived in the attacks by the mobsters and hoodlums; Governor Dewey’s investigators whitewashed their role; and the entire paid press tried to unload responsibility for the violence upon the “reds.”

Even when, under pressure, government officials pretend to move against mobsters and Ku Kluxers, they only make theatrical gestures to appease outraged public opinion without actually punishing the real criminals. For every slight tap the capitalist agencies offer the right, they deliver a hundred harsh blows, against the left. This has been illustrated by the Smith Act. While the 30 Fascists indicted under this Act in wartime were left off scot-free, the Trotskyists and Stalinists were convicted and given heavy jail sentences.

The same procedure has been followed in the loyalty purge. While the Attorney-General’s blacklist includes a few fascist groups, in practice it is almost entirely applied against members of leftist organizations. The US Department of Defense has given away the whole game by omitting the Ku Klux Klan, Silver Shirts and similar fascist outfits from its own subversive list applied to draftees.

“Under conditions of a capitalist regime,” Trotsky once wrote, “all curtailment of political rights and freedoms, no matter against whom they may be originally directed, in the end inevitably fall with all their weight on the working class – especially on its most advanced elements.”

How to Fight Fascism

Class-conscious workers should not fall into the trap of demanding infringements of anyone’s civil rights, including those of the fascists. At the same time they should recognize the real situation and make it plain to others. The civil rights of fascist elements are not being threatened; the authorities are in league with them. They are in no danger of persecution or need of defense. They are not the victims but the sponsors and beneficiaries of the current repressions.

The menace of fascism does not arise from their propaganda but from their gangsterism, their mob attacks upon advanced workers, Negroes, and labor organizations. With tacit acquiescence of the authorities, the fascists operate as extra-legal agencies of repression against the institutions and freedoms of the working class and minorities. Consequently, the real situation is that the labor organizations and minorities are obliged to act in self-defense to protect themselves against reactionary violence.

The history of Italy and Germany conclusively proves the folly and futility of relying upon the capitalist government, its police, or its parties in the fight against the fascists. The masses can safeguard their rights, their lives and their organizations only by mobilizing the full strength of their own forces in the most vigorous united and independent defensive actions against the race-bigots, anti-Semites, union-busters and mobsters who threaten them.

Organized labor has the ability as well as the duty to assume the leadership in this struggle. The trade unions are not only the chief bulwarks of democracy and, the centers of proletarian power; they are likewise the main target of the capitalist authors of the witch-hunt whose ultimate objective is the destruction of the labor movement. The anti-labor campaign and anti-red hysteria are inseparable aspects of the monopolist drive toward the establishment of a police state in this country. Thus the defense of civil liberties is a life-and-death matter for American labor.

Without full democracy and freedom of expression inside the unions, they cannot effectively fulfill their tasks of defending the welfare of the workers and leading the struggle against reaction. Thus the fight for union democracy is directly interlinked with the general struggle for civil liberties.

Program and Perspective

The objective of our party is the creation of a broad nationwide defense movement, composed of all forces menaced by repression and devoted to the defense of all victims of reaction. Such a movement would revive on a higher level the spirit of class solidarity characterizing the pre-World War I Socialist and labor movements.

It is both possible and necessary to join together extensive forces on a national and local scale in common defense actions around specific issues and cases, as the experience in the Kutcher case and the demonstrations against Gerald Smith indicate. The militants should be on the alert to propose and initiate such united front actions, participate in them with all available resources, guide them along correct lines and imbue them with the maximum strength.

The Truman administration and its liberal spokesmen spread the illusion that the present wave of repression is the result of a temporary hysteria which will soon run its course and automatically exhaust itself. The workers should not permit themselves to be duped by this deliberate lie.

The trends toward thought-control and the police state spring from the most profound and urgent needs of the monopolist and militarist rulers of US capitalism. Washington has organized and carried forward the loyalty purge and its associated prosecutions in the most planned and methodical manner. The witch-hunters do not intend to relax their persecutions but to intensify and extend them, if they can get away with it.

The repressive measures are not an episodic phase or transitory phenomenon but a permanent feature of decaying capitalism. The only way to stop the witch-hunters and their assaults is to create and set into motion a mighty mass opposition to them and to carry through the struggle againsl capitalist reaction to its logical conclusion in the establishment of a Workers’ and Farmers’ government, genuinely representing the people’s interests.

James P. Cannon Memorial Meeting

James P. Cannon Memorial Meeting

by Jim Robertson

27 August 1974

[First printed in Spartacist #38-39, Summer 1986]

We have had a bittersweet response to Jim Cannon for a long time, and so when he died we had a false-but real feeling of loss. The loss took place a long time ago, but it was still incorporated in the living body of the man that is no more. I don’t have any thesis to propound tonight but I will argue that he does belong to us, not to the SWP.  And he obviously knew pretty well long before he died, not that he belonged to us, but that he did not belong to the SWP.

What I want to present to you tonight is what the historians call oral history. I was told these things by senior comrades of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Workers Party (WP) who were in a position to know directly the various observations, anecdotes and characterizations. There is an inevitable slippage in the absence of documentation. But I believe it to be true. I believe it to be true not only in general, but precisely.

There is always a problem of generations in their understanding. I was raised in the WP (at the age of most of you) with the proposition that Jim Cannon was a supreme c1iquist, the meanest tiger in the bureaucratic jungle (and the phrase “bureaucratic jungle” is a standard phrase from the Shachtmanite movement). Then I joined the SWP and found that it was inconceivable from every aspect that Cannon could have been a c1iquist. He was a hard and lonely man. And I wondered why.

Here’s an anecdote. Bill Farrell, who was the organizer in San Francisco during the Shachtman fight, had occasion as a seaman to do an important courier mission. He came thousands of miles under a very difficult period, walked into comrade Cannon’s office and said: Here’s the stuff. Cannon said: All right, thank you, go. No backslapping, no glass of whiskey. no nothing. Cannon was an aloof man.

Art Sharon, who was the first SWP member of the United Secretariat, a very senior guy, always used to say, “James Perfidious Cannon.” And Sharon was a hard Cannonite! He was an old bosun turned construction site chief.

And I wondered why. You’ll find a clue in some of Cannon’s writings. The Cannon faction in the Communist Party (CP) was not the Cannon faction, it was not the Cannon/Shachtman faction; it was the Cannon/ Dunne faction. Dunne (William Dunne, Bill Dunne) stood a little less in stature than Cannon but was a strong independent leader, a figure of the American CP in the 1920s. They were very close collaborators: Cannon being the political leader, Dunne being the trade unionist. They were very close personally. Bill and Margaret Dunne and Jim and Rose Cannon shared an apartment in New York (they call them “communes” today I think but the reason was the same: cheap rent). They were very close. There were also a lot of other Dunne boys, about five of them. But Bill Dunne had the misfortune to be on Comintern assignment in Outer Mongolia when the Trotskyist split came in the United States. So he stayed with the CP. That was Cannon’s last best friend so far as I know. He didn’t have any other friends after that; he became personally entirely family-oriented.

Cannon had been through a lot of political battles already. As I trust all of you know, he’d been an ardent young Wobbly-looked to Vincent St. John-in the best revolutionary syndicalist section of the IWW. Then he went through all the factional brawls in the CP and wasn’t destroyed. I just don’t think he made any more friends after that. I think he probably felt that political friendships were too impermanent, and he stuck with his family.

The idea of this guy as a cliquist is absurd! In fact, the human dimension of the founding cadre of American Trotskyism was added by Martin Abern. Martin Abern was not a cliquist in the way that we know the word “cliquist.” He happened to be a very warm, sympathetic human being, an effective organizer, and deeply repelled by the cold, aloof Cannon. You want some of the testimony? The SWP’s Education/or Socialists series published “The Abern Clique” in which Joseph Hansen, a young Abernite, recounts how he was won over by this cold, aloof, impersonal James P. Cannon on the basis of the issues. I think that Cannon, out of personal hurt, bent the stick the other way and genuinely was not accessible in understanding the personal side of politics, the personal needs of comrades. So those needs, which we all carry, tended to become the monopoly of the Abern/ Shachtman group. The warmth and geniality of the Abern/Shachtman group were not artificial; they actually did service a part of the needs of the membership. This in turn assisted in laying the basis for a certain dual power situation in the American Trotskyist movement for ten years.

So why do we talk about Cannon’? Comrade Cannon for a number of decades in his prime evidently had “merely” one capacity, which has been sneered at, in a fundamental article by Shachtman which I’ll get to later, and extravagantly by all kinds of mice like Tim Wohlforth and every sort of wiseacre (Wohlforth by his own modest admission is the first American Marxist). All that comrade Cannon could do-and it was not a personal capacity but was evolved out of his times and out of his battles-was to be the successful strategist and leader of a proletarian revolution in North America! That was what he was. That was his strength and that’s why we memoriaiize him now.

I don’t know much about his early history. Let me talk a bit about his wife. Rose Karsner was a very strong individual and seems to fit the stereotype of the hidden history of women. You will hardly find a documentary track of her record. She was a pretty tough cookie and played a major role: there was obviously always a significant political collaborative relationship between Rose Karsner and Jim Cannon. It was manifestly there.

Near the end I saw it myself. It was the last time I ever saw Cannon, and Rose had come in from listening to that horrible woman who wrote something about how Shakespeare was a Marxist: Annette Rubenstein. Rubenstein was on tour and Rose drew the assignment to go. She came back while I was sitting there talking with old Jim. She walked in, a sprightly little creature, kind of like a sparrow, and said “Garbage! Disgusting! Stalinist!” Just laid it all over the old man.

They did not come together when they were young. Rose Karsner had been David Karsner’s wife. He was an early biographer of Debs. They had had at least one child. She came to work in the International Labor Defense (ILD) that Cannon was running, and rapidly became assistant director. I do know that when Cannon was out of town she reported to the PolCom on behalf of the ILD.

About Cannon’s kids. One of them died quite miserably and tragically. This is a piece of party history that will sound very strange in terms of the SWP of today-like an act of idiot adventurism. Those who say that the SWP during the period of the Second World War was not trying to be internationalist ought to think on this. The SWP knew that the Russian political revolution was very important.

We had many party seamen in those days; some went on the Murmansk run. Comrade Bill is old enough to know what that meant-whole convoys were dispersed and you lasted 30 seconds in the water. Take a look at that book Maritime by Frederick J. Lang (Frank Lovell) and you’ll see how many seaman comrades were lost in the war. One of them was Cannon’s kid [son-in-law Edward Parker].

I knew a party comrade [Barney Cohen] (he was in the U.S. Navy) out ofthe Boston branch. Murmansk convoys were made up on the East Coast, final assembly was in Boston. Then they would make the bigjump, around North Cape (where they’d die) and then to Murmansk in north Russia. Finally the branch insurrected as the convoy was assembling-they went in and pulled all of the party comrades off that convoy (which of course was shot to pieces). That insurrection taught the party leadership something: that this was a mechanical thing that was using up the party members.

I want to talk about a couple of myths or rumors about Cannon. They say he drank … (I got an awful lot of this in the Shachtmanite organization, believe me.) Well he drank all right. But he wasn’t an alcoholic, he was a drunkard. He’d go off the wagon once in a while on a big bender. Rose used to track him all across the country. She was really worried when he left town. He’d make promises; she’d try to monitor him. She exercised a lot of control and tried to suppress it. I don’t know about the earlier drinking, but one of the last bouts he ever had (and he quit long before he died) was I think in about 1955. He hit San Francisco on one of the last tours he ever made. They had stashed him in a hotel but the old boy got loose, and he laid one on. They found him, and the organizer (a nice woman, Francis James, a Weissite) was really angry. They started pouring coffee into him, denouncing him, saying they were going to phone New York and have his ass before the National Committee. How could he do such a thing? Well, they got him pretty sobered up (they thought) and brought him into the meeting. The SWP had little affectations in those days, so they had Nora Roberts and a couple of other little girls running around collecting money from the audience. Cannon gave what was apparently a magnificent speech, and the baskets of money came forward. And he started taking the money and throwing the bills all over the stage!

Rose found out about it, of course, and I think that was the last time he ever broke loose on tour. Seriously. And you see what I mean about anecdotes. This story is testified to by four or five comrades that were present at that incident, but it’s still oral history. It really happened (that’s why I’m taking the trouble to tell it to you) but I don’t think one can put this in an obituary. I guess Cannon was under a lot of pressure and that this was a safety valve.

By the way, Rose was a militant socialist feminist of the 1910s and 1920s. “Feminist” meant something else then among other things was that marriage was an abomination: it was bowing down and putting on chains before a man and before the state. So Rose would never marry, and she and Cannon were never married until they got very old and were told that if they were to get Social Security in retirement they’d have to get married. They were in their sixties when they went through the legal ceremony-and then, to her utter disgust-they found out that an affidavit instead of this odious act would have done it! But I have to regretfully report to you that they died as man and wife.

The main source-virtually the only source that I know of-for all anti-Cannon material comes out of an article that Max Shachtman wrote in the January-February 1954 issue of New International (“25 Years of American Trotskyism”- Part I of a two-part appraisal). In order to set Cannon up for the attack, Shachtman had to acknowledge as a precondition that Cannon was the finest communist politician ever produced in this country. Having explained the importance of the target, Max then went to work on demolishing the target. And everything that Wohlforth and others have written against Cannon is drawn straight out of that article! Nobody wants to acknowledge that, because the author and the circumstances aren’t too creditable.

Shachtman only wrote part one, carrying the story through 1940, and we waited for a long time but he never could write part two. The reason was that it was already pretty late and he was getting ready to liquidate the International Socialist League (ISL) and to acknowledge that there was no systematic and principled basis for a centrism that stood between the revolutionary Marxism of Trotsky and the social democracy. He’d arrived at that conclusion, so he just could not write a history going beyond 1940. But he tried to do the job on Cannon-did a pretty good job, too, everybody has borrowed from it.

But there is a problem here and I want to talk about it a little bit. Most of life is contradictory and equivocal. It’s not written in black and white but in shades of grey-which at the same time possess qualitative decisiveness. And it’s that combination-that everything is in shades of grey and at the same time behind the shades of grey lie fundamental truth and falsity-which is one of the hardest things in historical interpretation. It is necessary to grasp this in order to arrive at the answer of what to do today.

It is unfortunate that there are not many more of the historical materials of Russian Menshevism available, so that the comrades could be treated to just how plausible, how often correct, how sensible, the Mensheviks were (on many occasions) as against the Bolsheviks. What we have handed down to us instead is a version of “revealed truth” as from the Bible: Lenin said such and such, Martov said such and such; obviously Lenin was right and Martov was wrong. That is the fundamental truth. But if you had been there then, comrades, it would not have been so obvious, and over particulars Martov would have been right! And Trotsky, then a Menshevik, would have been right on certain key political questions too. That is the problem of historical interpretation: it is not a religious act, to find an essential purity which because it is essential must therefore be total. If the comrades learn nothing else from their reading and their study, they should learn that. Because when faction fights break out around us, there’s going to be so much truth on both sides that if you resort to either accepting secondary grounds as your basic determinant of action, or, if you resort to the ultimate philistinism: “Well, there’s truth on both sides, and where there’s smoke there’s fire”-then you had better give up and start trying to sell used cars.

So there’s a problem with contradictory, equivocal phenomena, and Cannon was contradictory. Cannon had an abiding failure. He became the principal individual authority responsible for the world Trotskyist movement in August 1940 and basically didn’t do anything about it (though the SWP was internationalist and willing to commit energy, lives). I think the reason was pretty simple: Cannon felt he was not good enough to be a world leader of the Marxist movement, and he was right.

He had just come back from France. We secured a particularly rare internal SWP bulletin containing Cannon’s report on his trip to France in 1939. The trip, it is clear, was a catastrophe. Cannon didn’t know French; the French leaders ignored him. He saw that the situation was going utterly to hell. He had at his fingertips a mass of experience in how to function-nobody would listen. Cannon spent six months in France while Shachtman, Burnham and Abern were doing the job back home. The trip was a failure: Cannon found that he could not work internationally. That was in 1939-then came the big fight in ’40.

And then suddenly he was supposed to be the principal political leader. moreover under conditions in which the world, as a result of the Second World War, was desperately segmented. So he backed away from the role, temporized during the war. As soon as Michel Pablo, Pierre Frank and Ernest Mandel came along and claimed they knew how to do it-claimed they had the language capacity, the knowledge, the science, the savoir-faire (poor old Jim; he’s just an ex-train worker from the Midwest) Cannon said all right, these guys will do it. They don’t have any experience; they don’t know anything; they’re arrogant. (There’s a phrase that the fancy sociologists in colleges like to use-and when I had to fight Shachtmanite right-wingers I learned plenty of these sociological jargon/ mystification words-called “hubris.” And among other qualities good and bad, Pablo sure had hubris!)

So Cannon backed off, and we’re stuck with the job. He stuck us with it doubly. Because he was a lot better than we are-and when I say “he” I mean not only Cannon personally but the immediate working crew that made up the “Cannon regime” (horrible word: for 20 years every Shachtmanite thrilled with horror at the image of the jackbooted, anti-intellectual, vicious Cannon regime).

Well there was a Cannon regime, and they were doing the best they could. But they didn’t accept the international challenge, and yet it is an obligation. Yes, if you know that you don’t know anything, go patiently, quietly, perseveringly; struggle with the greatest patience and attention for international collaborators. We have to go that way, not back off and wait in national isolation for somebody else to come forward and say, “I can do it,” and then we say, “all right; we’ll give you our authority.” We have to persist; we have to intervene.

That was Cannon’s abiding failure. And then he did it to us a second time, in the 1952-53 period. The party got all geared up in 1945-46: it was growing like crazy; it survived the Smith Act convictions; recruited a thousand workers, black and white-the first black Trotskyist cadre hundreds of white steel workers, auto workers both black and white. And so they said, “Whoopee,” and Cannon wrote The Coming American Revolution. It was an affirmation of the power of the proletariat, but already it had faults-I’ll give you three right off the bat: it ignored racial divisiveness; it ignored the existence of the Communist Party; and it ignored the rest of the world outside the United States! Allowing only for these three criticisms, it was really great. Really. That’s called an equivocal position. Ardent SWPers sworn to protect their heritage no matter what will say it was a perfect set of theses; if you run into somebody who says Cannon never did nothing right they’ll say it was an abomination.

It had a strength: it was an affirmation of the power of the proletariat in America. That stands out, like a beacon. At the same time it was badly politically flawed, and the reaction which would have come anyhow was perhaps intensified by the weaknesses in the document. “Cannon promised us this and that, and now we’re losing all our members and we’re getting cynical; we’ve got to find a shortcut, and besides the Stalinists do exist”-you got the phenomenon of American Pabloism, which is not exactly the same thing as European Pabloism.

Cannon was a good faction fighter. I recommend to you comrades to go and read either Theodore Draper’s American Communism and Soviet Russia or Cannon’s The First Ten Years of American Communism on the faction Cannon put together in 1923-1924. He got six thousand Finnish farmers, two internecine warring factions of the Jewish Federation, more mutually hostile trade unionists, disgruntled elements in the other factions-and he put it all together and made it go. Well, he did the same thing in 1952-53, and it was a catastrophic mistake. The Cochranites attacked on two fronts: they attacked Trotskyism as a political program and they attacked the existence of an independent SWP organization. We had about a hundred young comrades under Murry and Myra Weiss, mainly in Los Angeles, in the party at the time. And they still had some spunk and steam. So the Cannon/Weiss faction was formed of those who wanted to defend the party program. Go and read what Murry Weiss wrote in the I’-‘filitant in the summer of 1953 on the East German uprising: Hurray, the proletariat raises its fist. The need now is for a Leninist party to consummate the political revolution and lay the foundation for the revolution against capitalist imperialism! Very good, very correct. You can also read what the Cochranites had to say: Hurray, the Russian bureaucracy is liberalizing itself. In the same paper, sometimes on facing pages.

But the Cochranites also proposed to liquidate the independent party organization, which meant to attack the wages and pensions of Farrell Dobbs, Tom Kerry, Hansen, and a bunch of other fellows who were perfectly content to let the European Pabloites do anything they wanted, or to pursue any pOlitical line in this country, as long as it was going to be pursued from the organizational framework of the SWP. (And this isn’t just a venal question of needing operations which the party would pay for, pensions and the like. The organization was their whole life.) They had become politically blunted but were not prepared to organizationally liquidate.

So the political revisionism and organizational liquidationism of the American Pabloites brought together in response a common faction, which was a bloc inside the SWP, of Cannon and Dobbs. The deal was made to get rid of the Cochranites and restore the prior peace in the party. That was wrong. Cannon said at the end of the fight that he had feared he might have to start all over again with a hundred kids. Oh how I wish he had started again with just the Cannon/Weiss faction; he would have done our job for us. (The Weissites of course were destroyed in the course of the ensuing clique wars.) So that’s the second thing Cannon did to us.

It took Dobbs 25 years to get rid of Cannon! It wasn’t until 1965 that finally they got the old man off the National Committee-kicked him upstairs to emeritus (consultative) status. Then with the greatest of satisfaction Dobbs called Carl Feingold into his office-Carl Feingold (currently of the International Socialists) being the personal representative and spy of old Jim and in the center-and said: Carl, you’re a member of the National Committee and the Political Committee; get out of here, I never want to see you again-because Cannon was off the Committee.

But by then Dobbs was a very shaky old man; he aged faster than Jim did. I traveled a bit with Dobbs in 1960 and he’d gone grey in the face; he was tired, exhausted, couldn’t cut it. But that goes into the later history of the SWP and how they finally ended up with Barnes (having tried some of the more feeble-minded party leaders of my acquaintance in the middle of the 1960s).

So Dobbs never got satisfaction-he never really got to be the party leader. For 25 years they kept him in the wings; Cannon would keep going out to L.A. saying: This is it; I give up; I understand, younger men must take over-and then something would happen and Cannon would get on the phone again. So I don’t think Dobbs had a very happy life.

Dobbs was never a political leader. That raises an interesting point, by the way, about the kind of leader that Cannon was. He was a political leader not a trade unionist. If you read the Shachtman stuff you’ll think he was a trade unionist; he wasn’t. He was the communist political leader that the party trade unionists had confidence in and looked to-so long as they wanted, themselves, to be communists. That was the core of his link with the Dunne boys and the rest of that gang in Minneapolis, and Tom Kerry, and the ones that were deep into the Sailors Union of the Pacific out on the West Coast, and Bert Cochran and the gang that was working in the UA W. Trade unionists-those were the ones. And they trusted him; they looked to Cannon because they thought he was trying to build a workers party. (And they weren’t too sure about Max-he made too many jokes.)

In that connection, one of the particularly malicious things that Shachtman did to Cannon in that article was to suggest that part of being a trade unionist, as everybody knows, is to be an idiot, a goon and inarticulate. Suggesting that Cannon was “just” a trade unionist was a way of saying that Cannon couldn’t think or write; you’ll find a big section about how Cannon never wrote anything. But Cannon was a very good journalist. They made a kind of prize collection which you should read; it’s called Notebook of an Agitator, and if you want to see the kind of stuff that Workers Vanguard ought to be trying to get, that stuff is it. It’s very clear. It’s the hardest thing in the world, comrades, to write correctly and simply, because to write correctly tends to involve complex sentences with complex words. Cannon was also, in his polemical material, an extremely precise and effective political writer-very powerful. He tried to retain a popular quality about his writing.

But if I had to describe Cannon as anything, he was in his life, until he became a very old man, a Leninist. Leninism meant something precious for him. To us it is “received doctrine” and that’s what I was attacking a little bit: there’s a weakness in received doctrine, namely it’s just received doctrine. But comrade Cannon had struggled with all the problems that Leninism answered. As a young man he was a syndicalist and he had to fight the questions of maximalism/ minimalism, possibilism/ impossibilism, parliamentarianism/ anti-parliamentarianism-all these questions. For him, “Left- Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder was a revelation, because it showed him how you could be both right and smart at the same time. Leninism bridged that gap.

When Cannon embraced Leninism it was as a brand new thing: out of the peculiar alchemy of the combined developments in tsarist Russia there came this doctrine that answered the impasses of the workers movement in the west. That was the contemporary meaning of Leninism for that generation. Cannon had been a syndicalist and not a parliamentarian. I think it was Trotsky who said that when we founded the communist movement the best we got came from the syndicalists. Because you see, there was a choice: the social democrats would rather be smart than right, and the syndicalists would rather have been right than smart. There’s a gut question there, and the Communist International got more mileage out of those who came over from the syndicalist movement than from the social democracy.

If Cannon was a cold aloof guy he was also obviously fundamentally very sentimental. Have you read what Cannon has written on Martin Abern? Cannon said: Martin Abern has spent ten years struggling against the Cannon regime. But they’d also had a long time together in the 1920s. In 1949 Martin Abern died and Cannon turned up drunk and crying at his funeral. Cannon came because he’d known him for too many decades. Marty Abern was not a bad man, and he was not a calculating cliquist. I really don’t see that, and you won’t either if you read the material. I think he tended to put personal relations above political ones and to be deeply committed to personal relations. Of course, that makes the most terrible, desperate, effective kind of cliquist-you know, the one who really btdieves in it, who’s not just a cynical maneuverer, but who really subordinates political to personal considerations.

Now if there’s anything that has been a significant historical acquisition for the Spartacist League it is getting the Communist League of America (CLA) bulletins for the first five years. It had been for a long time clear to me that I could never try to finish the history of American Trotskyism without looking into the Cannon vs. Shachtman fight of the early 1930s-the first big wracking fight. Even the documents that are now available to you all, namely Trotsky’s letters that appear in the Collected Works series, that they’re now bringing out, were completely unknown when I was a young comrade. Now we’ve got the bulletins If you read that stuff, in an inchoate way, without a clear programmatic basis, it was a prefiguring, an anticipation, of the 1940 fight. They fought like hell, and Trotsky said: Stop it! You’re killing yourselves; it’s not clear what is going on. Then what happened was Shachtman went over. Just Shachtman. The Shachtmanite faction remained in opposition: Glotzer (Gates), Abern, the youth. And there was a dual power situation, but so long as the ShachtmanjCannon regime held, Shachtman was able to neutralize his ex-supporters. There was another deal that was made too: The hardest of the Cannonites was Hugo Oehler. He didn’t buy the deal and went out. So the party ran under conditions which I cannot imagine how Cannon put up with, the tension of always buying time, of always dickering, of always negotiating. Fina\1y in 1939 the fundamental programmatic issues, under the pressure of the war and antiCommunism, seized each faction. And it blew up. It was stunning to find out that the American Trotskyist movement in the 1930s-in a sense, at the top-never real1y existed. It was always an uneasy truce.

That’s why one should go and read documents. Not just mindlessly. but in order to answer the questions which more broad historical considerations should raise.

One likes to make one’s personal reminiscences too. This was the finest communist that America has produced, and he died. I had four contacts with him. He sent me a letter one time. It was the only letter he ever sent a member of the YSA.

By the way, there’s a point: our faction in the SWP were never soreheads. We liked the party leadership fine. Tom Kerry, Farrell Dobbs, Joe Hansen, Jim Cannon, George Weissman, the rest of the gang-there were a lot of things wrong; we were pretty clear-eyed about them. But there were a lot of things right about them too. Our faction worked in the SWP. We made a political choice and we knew what it meant. Wohlforth didn’t make it in the SWP, you better know that. They didn’t like him, didn’t trust him.

So I got this letter from Cannon. It was a nice letter. It asked me to bring his personal greetings to a professor at Brown University, a historian of the American Federation of Labor, who he said did something much more important in his youth: he was a fine Wobbly and we worked together and I wonder if you would tell him. give him my personal greetings. I thought that was a very nice commission.

Got to know Cannon pretty well in 1958 I guess. The SWP was giving me the red carpet treatment. It was nice to get the red carpet treatment. So there was a West Coast summer camp and by “accident” we shared common quarters with Jim and Rose Cannon. So I had a long chance to talk with the old man. And it was good. He thought he was going blind then. He had cataracts and was about to have an operation which they might botch. So he was furiously, desperately sitting there with his pipe and strong tea (because he was on the wagon by then) reading. for what he thought might be the last time in his life. What book? The Revolution ‘Betrayed. He was trying to commit it to memory, the whole book. I liked him. I don’t think he liked me. He thought I was a wise-ass smart student. But I liked him.

And then just after we had a YSA Convention up in Detroit over New Year’s, we came back driving and we went out to the desert to see Cannon to make a personal report. He already had the “real” report from that little rat, Feingold, who was at the Convention too. We got to see Cannon in the desert and that was very useful, because in the WP/ISL we had always heard the myth: Cannon’s stepchildren are very rich and Cannon lives out in the Southern California desert in a marble palace. Alas, he lived in a little bitty motel room. And the reason he lived out in the desert was, his wife had a case of arrested TB and had to have a very dry, warm ,climate. There they were cooped up in the winter period under these extremely meager, crowded conditions. So if you ever run into the myth of Cannon’s marble palace-I was there. We’re living better right now.

And the last time I ever saw him, we were in opposition and it was a kind of formal meeting. I was coming through on tour in L.A. for the youth org. At the same time I knew my throat had been cut, Cannon knew my throat had been cut; only Wohlforth didn’t know that his throat had been cut. So I went and made the formal meeting with comrade Cannon. We agreed mutually without saying anything not to talk about the active political questions. And I sat around and had three or four hours with him, chatting. (That’s when Rose came in halfway through, having gone to see this awful Annette Rubenstein.) Just for what it’s worth, those are my personal reminiscences of comrade Cannon, and they have no bearing on the politics and the main course of his career because I only knew him at the very end.

I said that I thought he didn’t like the SWP very much and here’s the reason why. In 1965 I had a talk with the Seattle leadership of the SWP-the Fraserites-who had just been thrown out or quit, and they mentioned that Cannon had broken loose in the West Coast summer camp and before two hundred people he denounced black nationalism in favor of class unity. Now, he did it from the right. It wasn’t very good. At that point some members of the SWP were playing with-it sounds so funny today something called the “Triple Revolution”: poverty’s been abolished, war’s been abolished, racism’s been abolished by new technology. Now there’s been this triple revolution, what are we going to do next? Doesn’t that sound absurd today? But it’s a fancy idea and Cannon was kind of drawn into it.

But he was also violently an anti-nationalist of all sorts. Go and look in his The First Ten Years of American Communism, his article called “The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement” and you’ll see that he thought there was only one thing: a proletarian revolution. And so the combination of his quietism as a very old man and his fundamental instinct for a class solution … he blew up and denounced the party line in front of two hundred people. Jack Barnes, coming through Seattle, said: Well, we may have to take disciplinary action against Jim Cannon. He can’t get away with this sort of thing. But by then he was truly quite old; there was no question of any other kind of struggle. The SWP was what he had to cling to, and he chose to ride it down to the end. At the same time he was old, he was feeble, and his wife had died-and she meant a lot to him. So I think probably Cannon was glad to die. There wasn’t much left for him. He was used up.

So there you have it. And the problem is that the story is a pretty common human story-namely, that he went from being a revolutionist to being an acquiescent supporter, lending his authority to a party that had become counterrevolutionary (and that’s the meaning of the SWP). And that’s kind of sad. Yet in balance it is our task, not to ignore the last ten years, but to pay a great deal of attention to the first fifty years too.

I’ll give you an example. George Plekhanov was the founder of Russian Marxism, a brilliant propagandist not theoretician, he wasn’t that good-but a brilliant propagandist. He wrote the books that trained the generation of Lenin. He tried several times to go over from Menshevism to Bolshevism, and kept falling back. He played a despicable role in the First World War in defense of tsarism. At the end he died in 1919 and he never lifted a finger against the Russian Revolution. He said: The Russian workers have made a terrible mistake but it is their choice and I will not oppose them on behalf of the bourgeoisie. A contradictory figure. But anybody who thinks that we should erase a George Plekhanov, or a Jim Cannon, from the heritage of Marxism only has a Wohlforthite theological conception (not even a real one: see, there is theology, which represents simply fundamental oversimplification). It’s a falsification as well as a theological viewpoint. And that’s all really that I have to say. I suppose it comes down to this: that when finally life was extinguished in the old man’s body, I felt a little bit more an orphan.

The decision to join the Trotskyist camp in 1928

James Cannon

The decision to join the Trotskyist camp in 1928

May 27, 1959

This is a letter sent to Theodore Draper, a historian of the American communist movement.

The entire series of letters sent from Cannon to Draper has been published under the title “The first ten years of American communism” by Lyle Stuart Inc, in 1962. It was later reprinted by Pathfinder Press. It was originally posted on http://www.marxists.org/archive/cannon/works/1959djtc.htm

It seems to me that I have already written myself out on “The Birth of American Trotskyism”-in which I played the central role because I just happened to be standing there at the time and there was no one else to do it. I couldn’t add much to what I have already written in the History of American Trotskyism, in my letters to you, and in the big article – “The Degeneration of the Communist Party-and the New Beginning” in the Fall, 1954 issue of Fourth International. That’s my case. If I were to write about it again I could only repeat what I have already said.

You’ll find a better and fuller exposition there than I could write again today. I have the faculty, which for me is a happy one, of pushing things to the back of my mind once I have written them out. In order to write a fresh report on the origin of American Trotskyism, I would have to force myself back into a semi-coma, recalling and reliving the struggle of 31 years ago. That is too much for me to undertake again.

* * *

The only thing I left out of my extensive writing about that period, which I try to leave out of all my writing, was the special element of personal motivation for my action-which cynics would never believe and research workers never find in the files and cross-indexes. That is the compulsion of conscience when one is confronted by an obligation which, in given circumstances, is his alone to accept or to evade.

In the summer of 1928 in Moscow, in addition to the theoretical and political revelation that came to me when I read Trotsky’s Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern, there was another consideration that hit me where I live. That was the fact that Trotsky had been expelled and deported to far-away Alma Ata; that his friends and supporters had been slandered and expelled and imprisoned; and that the whole damned thing was a frame-up!

Had I set out as a boy to fight for justice for Moyer and Haywood in order to betray the cause of justice when it was put squarely up to me in a case of transcendent importance to the whole future of the human race? A copy-book moralist could easily answer that question by saying: “Of course not. The rule is plain. You do what you have to do, even if it costs you your head.” But it wasn’t so simple for me in the summer of 1928. I was not a copybook moralist. I was a party politician and factionalist who had learned how to cut corners. I knew that at the time, and the self-knowledge made me uneasy.

I had been gradually settling down into an assured position as a party official with an office and staff, a position that I could easily maintain-as long as I kept within definite limits and rules which I knew all about, and conducted myself with the facility and skill which had become almost second nature to me in the long drawn-out factional fights.

I knew that. And I knew something else that I never told anybody about, but which I had to tell myself for the first time in Moscow in the summer of 1928. The foot-loose Wobbly rebel that I used to be had imperceptibly begun to fit comfortably into a swivel chair, protecting himself in his seat by small maneuvers and evasions, and even permitting himself a certain conceit about his adroit accommodation to this shabby game. I saw myself for the first time then as another person, as a revolutionist who was on the road to becoming a bureaucrat. The image was hideous, and I turned away from it in disgust.

I never deceived myself for a moment about the most probable consequences of my decision to support Trotsky in the summer of 1928. I knew it was going to cost me my head and also my swivel chair, but I thought: What the hell-better men than I have risked their heads and their swivel chairs for truth and justice. Trotsky and his associates were doing it at that very moment in the exile camps and prisons of the Soviet Union. It was no more than right that one man, however limited his qualifications, should remember what he started out in his youth to fight for, and speak out for their cause and try to make the world hear, or at least to let the exiled and imprisoned Russian Oppositionists know that they had found a new friend and supporter.

In the History of American Trotskyism, p.61 I wrote:

“The movement which then began in America brought repercussions throughout the entire world; overnight the whole picture, the whole perspective of the struggle changed. Trotskyism, officially pronounced dead, was resurrected on the international arena and inspired with new hope, new enthusiasm, new energy. Denunciations against us were carried in the American press of the party and reprinted throughout the whole world, including the Moscow Pravda. Russian Oppositionists in prison and exile, where sooner or later copies of Pravda reached them, were notified of our action, our revolt in America. In the darkest hour of the Opposition’s struggle, they learned that fresh reinforcements had taken the field across the ocean in the United States, which by virtue of the power and weight of the country itself, gave importance and weight to the things done by the American communists.

“Leon Trotsky, as I remarked, was isolated in the little Asiatic village of Alma Ata. The world movement outside Russia] was in decline, leaderless, suppressed, isolated, practically non-existent. With this inspiring news of a new detachment in far-away America, the little papers and bulletins of the Opposition groups flared into life again. Most inspiring of all to us was the assurance that our hard-pressed Russian comrades had heard our voice. I have always thought of this as one of the most gratifying aspects of the historic fight we undertook in 1928-that the news of our fight reached the Russian comrades in all corners of the prisons and exile camps, inspiring them with new hope and new energy to persevere in the struggle.”

In Moscow, in the summer of 1928, I foresaw such a possible consequence of my decision and action. And I thought that that alone would justify it, regardless of what else might follow. Many things have changed since then, but that conviction has never changed.

Militant Longshoreman No. 21

Militant Longshoreman

No. 21,   June 1, 1987



As the Inland Boatmen’s Strike against Crowley Maritime goes into the fourth month with the ranks solid, Crowley has begun to perform longshore work with scabs. Saturday, May 19, Crowley worked a barge with commercial cargo for Alaska at the non-union Seaways terminal in Seattle using a company called MEGA to do the stevedoring. The IBU picketed Seaways but the barge got loaded. When we shut down the port and ran off the scabs in Redwood City, Crowley was effectively put out of the lucrative Hawaiian barge trade. One of the three barges we stopped was worked under a court order in Portland in April, but the other two barges remained tied up at Redwood City. Encouraged by the failure of the IBU and longshore division to stop the Seaways scab operations Crowley took those two barges from Redwood City last Thursday. They are headed north, probably to Seaways in Seattle or some other industrial dock.

Meanwhile Crowley is moving in the courts and before the NLRB to challenge the right of IBU to picket their operations and to challenge the right of longshoremen to refuse to scab on the IBU.

International Tries to Defuse Strike

Picketing of oil barges was ordered stopped over a month ago. When the San Francisco Region IBU members picketed in Long Beach to stop Crowley’s bunkering and oil barge operations Rubio lied to the longshoremen and clerks, telling them that there was a blanket injunction against the IBU in Los Angeles, He then ordered locals 13 and 64 to go through IBU picket lines! It didn’t work. Clerks and longshoremen walked off two ships. Since then Crowley’s L.A.bunkering operations have been stopped cold.

The International has been begging top Crowley officials to offer, any kind of a take-away, union-busting contract which they can then force on the union. There are indications that Herman is even willing to abandon the 153 Masters, Mates A Pilots who have been honoring the IBU picket lines against Crowley in the Puget Sound area. The International apparently believes that the only way to get Crowley to abandon their union-busting campaign is to act like reasonable gentlemen, to pull down picket lines and allow Crowley to make money with scabs. In early April the International allowed over 150 vans with Crowley cargo to go Hawaii on US Lines ships. Crowley has a 10% in US Lines. The San Francisco IBU strike committee and ranks weren’t even informed that the vans had been “cleared”.

When the IBU members protested this sabotage of their strike the International began to to completely take over running the strike. In a trick that has “Herman” written all over it, the IBU called an election (within four days!) for a coastwise “Strike Director’, with the power to overrule any decision of the rank and file or elected strike committee. San Francisco elected strike committee members and militants were warned that if they put their criticism of the leadership on paper they would be brought up on charges. Longshore and clerk locals were told by the International to talk only to the top IBU leadership and to take a “hands off” attitude toward the strike.

The IBU Strike Is Our Strike

The “Journal of Commerce” recently had a long article describing how Crowley successfully broke the ILA longshoremen in three East Coast ports and that he is building more docks and facilities to take away even more work from the ILA. A Crowley promotional document issued in May describes how the company is in stevedoring business on the West Coast. When the Hyundai-controlled Pittsburgh steel plant finishes putting up those  container cranes, we can expect Crowley to take over the stevedoring there — not just to handle steel products – but general stevedoring, Crowley recently bought two ships, manned by $40 a day CMU seamen, which are on their way to the West. Coast

The very existence of our union is at stake. If Crowley is not stopped now other non–PMA companies will go into business taking our work away. PMA will demand major concessions from us so that they can compete with non-union sub-standard stevedoring companies.

The only way to defeat Crowley’s union busting is to escalate the strike, to shut down all Crowley operations on the West Coast. The IBU rank and file will have to insurrect, to take back control of their own strike, and to stop Crowley’s 450 oil barges at Richmond, Martinez, and Pittsburgh. Only mass pickets can stop the cops from smashing picket lines. That means we’ll have to shut down all West Coast ports where Crowley is operating and bring all men out to defend the IBU picket lines. We must get support of other workers from organized labor on the picket lines to defend our unions against court orders and police attacks. The militant action of Boatmen and waterfront ILWU members in running the scabs off the dock in Redwood City sent a wave of hope and enthusiasm through the Bay Area labor movement. Workers who have seen their strikes broken or who have been forced by their timid leaders to accept major take-aways are waiting for someone to resurrect the tactics of union solidarity/mass pickets to stop scabbing and to defeat court and police strike breaking.

The first line of defense of our own jobs starts on the IBU picket lines. Every Crowley scab operation must be stopped, beginning with Seaways. This is the most severe task our union has faced since the 1948 strike. If we don’t stop Crowley now our jobs will disappear, our pensions will be undermined, and the wages and conditions for the few remaining PMA jobs will be forced down to non-union levels.

James Cannon’s Sixtieth Birthday Speech

Sixtieth Birthday Speech

by James P. Cannon

[Transcribed from wire recording. Los Angelos, California March 4 1950. Reprinted in Notebook of an Agitator]           

As you know, my sixtieth birthday, which also rounds out my 40 years of activity in the movement, was already celebrated at a dinner in New York, That was three weeks ago, but f haven’t grown  a day older since then. Time has stood still for me during these three weeks because I was waiting for this second celebration in Los Angeles. I maintained that my sixtieth birthday was not official until it was celebrated here. As you know, I am partial to Los Angeles. Perhaps that is because the Los Angeles comrades have always been partial to me, and have always given me the benefit of their most generous judgment. I like that friendly indulgence; and as a matter of fact, I need it.

In these 40 years of struggle people have been talking about me ever since I started, and most of what was said–at least what I heard —was harsh and critical. Those who might have had other opinions Were not so articulate. I never complained about the brickbats tossed in my direction, and perhaps some people thought I was indifferent to the opinions of others. But that wasn’t the reason. I had simply learned to recognize hostile criticism as an occupational hazard of the political struggle. If you can’t take it you are licked before you start. I learned from Engels that when you go into revolutionary politics you should put on an old pair of pants. And I learned from Marx that you must not let people get you down with pinpricks. So I dressed for battle and developed a tough hide.

But still, I must tell you—although you won’t believe me—that when I used to hear people denouncing me and criticizing me, I was hurt and bewildered, for I am by nature friendly and peace-loving. I felt something like Eddie Waitkus, the star first-baseman of the Philadelphia Phillies, who was in the news the other day. He had an unfortunate experience with a deranged woman who was a total stranger to him. She lost her head, and for no reason at all, broke into his hotel room and shot him. They took Eddie to the hospital for an operation, and when he came out of the anesthesia they told him what had happened. His only comment was a question: “Why did she want to go and shoot a nice guy like me?” That is what f have thought all these years about my critics and opponents. They have been shooting the wrong guy all the time.

On the occasion of the celebration in New York, I received letters and telegrams from friends and comrades throughout the country. In several of them there was a recurrent note somewhat as follows: “Celebrating your 40 years in the movement, we expect you to give 40 more.” That sounds like a large order, but if, as it is said, longevity is determined by heredity, things might possibly work out that way. I come from a long-lived ancestry. All four of my grandparents lived into their eighties. Two of my aunts lived to be nearly 90. My father lived to be 89. It may be that I still have a long way to go. But I am not making any long-range commitments tonight.

Now I must frankly tell you that I have appreciated in the highest degree the joint celebration—this prolonged birthday—in New York and in Los Angeles. I wouldn’t go for the idea that I should stand in the corner and pretend not to know what was being prepared. I was the biggest promoter of the affair in New York.

I was assigned to be chairman of a public meeting where Vincent Dunne was the speaker, about a week before the birthday celebration. The New York organizer was in a dither as to how to announce my birthday celebration, with me as the chairman of the meeting. He thought it would be too delicate a matter for me to announce myself. When I called him up the afternoon of the meeting and asked him for last instructions about announcements, he said: “You don’t have to say anything about the dinner; that will he taken care of by someone else.”

I said, “Well, if I am chairman of the meeting, I might as well announce it”.

He said, “Would you?”

I said “Damn right I will. I’ve been waiting 60 years for this birthday!”

And I used the occasion of Vincent Dunne’s lecture to invite everybody down to the birthday party, and to make it very clear that I was as much in favor of it as anybody. I made only one proviso: I said, I want it to be a real party of friends and comrades, and I don’t want any enemies of our movement coming around telling me what a good fellow I am. I don’t want any Farleys or Baruchs or anybody else who has been opposed to the things I’ve fought for, coming around to give me some hypocritical personal compliments. I would feel dishonored if those whom I’ve fought against all my life came around to pay tribute to me on my sixtieth birthday.

I have enjoyed it here tonight, as I did in New York because there have been no formal compliments, no hypocritical praise – just, maybe, a little exaggeration. I understand that, and I don’t take it to heart. Flattery means falsehood, deceit. I take all the kind words you have said, rather, as what we Irish call the blarney. The blarney is not falsehood, it is the truth exaggerated and embellished to make it sound better. We always feel that under the husk of exaggeration there is a grain of truth and sincerity in the compliments, and we love the blarney.

After 40 years of experience, of ups and downs and battles and denunciations, criticisms and hardships and rewards – it is nice to sit down at the end of 40 years and hear the friendly words of comrades. Somebody once said: “The sweetest music a man ever heard is the applause of his fellows.” And if one can be sure, as I am tonight, that the applause is sincerely meant and freely given, it is doubly sweet.

I also like the fact that this drawn-out celebration, beginning in New York and ending here tonight, has not been isolated and separated from our life and our work, In New York it was simply one of the features of the plenum of our National Committee. We had already been meeting a whole day. We held the celebration in the evening, and then we went back the next morning into another session  of the plenum to deal with the problems of today and tomorrow, and not merely to confine ourselves to reminiscences.

I don’t want to do that here tonight: but still I think I might be justified to make a brief review or, more correctly, a summary of these 60 years. Rose and I are the same age, with only a few weeks difference, and we have both been in the movement all our lives. This gathering marks her 60 years of life and 40 years of socialist activity too. In all the years we have been together, we never paid much attention to birthdays. The years went by. We were busy and had no time. I don’t even remember celebrating birthdays in our house as a rule. Not from year to year at any rate. But when we reached the age of 60, it occurred to both of us, as it has probably occurred to others who have reached that age, to take a little time out to think what has happened, and to make a sort of appraisal of the 60 years.

Speaking for myself, and making a bow to the acquisitive society we live in, I will begin with point one: What have you accumulated’? Well, even there it’s not so bad. I have a new suit of clothes which was given to me by a friend as a birthday present. I have my weekly allowance from Rose in my pocket. That’s more than I had to start with, and it’s as much as I ever had. So I feel that in the matter of accumulation, if I haven’t gained much ground I haven’t lost any. That’s a satisfactory inventory.

The second point I ask myself: What have you accomplished? There, I can tell you that I have perhaps made a more objective judgment than you have. I am one man who took seriously the injunction of the Greek philosophers: Man, know thyself. And if I don’t know myself, I’ve come as close to it as a man can. Because I know myself, I don’t claim great accomplishments. I am well aware of all the negligences and all the faults. I can’t, in good conscience, stand up and say that I did the best I knew; I only – did the best I could. That’s quite a difference. I only did the best I could, falling short of the best I knew, because I am human and therefore fallible and frail, prone to error and even to folly, like all others. In summing up the answer to that question — what have you accomplished? — I can only say honestly: I did the best I could.

Then I come to the third point of my self-examination: Has your life been consistent with your youth? For me that has always been the most decisive criterion, for one’s youth is the gauge to measure by. Youth is the age of wisdom, when our ideals seem to be, as they really are in fact, more important than anything else in the world. Youth is the age of virtue, or more correctly, the age of courage, which is the first virtue. Every man’s younger self is his better self.

The struggle for socialism, with all its hazards and penalties, has always been comparatively easy for me, throughout the entire 40 years, because my youth was always with me. My youth was like another person who never forsook me, not even in the darkest hours. It was then that he was always most vividly present as a friend, easygoing and indulgent as a friend should be, with a benign indifference to my faults and my follies which disturbed other people so much. The faults and follies never disturbed my younger self, and I liked that, because I like to have a little leeway in my personal life.

I never promised anybody to be perfect. I only promised to be myself and to be true to myself — that is, to my better self, to my youth. That in itself was a pretty big undertaking, easier to promise than to perform. And this seemed to be the view of my younger self, who followed me everywhere I went. He insisted on that, but on nothing more. He consistently checked me up on that. He was a friend, as I said, but also a censor and a judge — sometimes looking over my shoulder, sometimes looking me straight in the eye, but always confronting me with the one imperious command: Remember, I am your youth, don’t betray me!

As long as I didn’t do that—-and I never did –I felt sure, with never a doubt, that I was on the right road, even though it put me in the minority, and more often than not in the minority of the minority. That wasn’t my fault. I have been in the minority, not because I don’t like crowds, not because I am sectarian by nature, but because I couldn’t agree with the majority. I couldn’t agree with things as they are. I was in favor of things as they ought to be and will be.

That is what put me in the minority and out of step with the others. I found the explanation of that in the writings of Thoreau, and the justification for it too. Thoreau wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Have 40 Years of activity, of struggle, of life, resulted in defeat or victory? That is a fair question to put on such an occasion as this. And I say the answer depends on how you measure defeat end victory. Our goal is the socialist society, and it is clear that that goal has not yet been attained. But in my youth, when I became a socialist, I associated the ideal of socialism with my own way of life. I decided to be a socialist and to live as a socialist, insofar as physical restrictions would permit, even within the capitalist society. And having that philosophy, I have felt that every little thing [ contributed from day to day to the struggle for the socialist goal of the future, was a vindication of my own life that day, and that every day was a victory. If one has that conception of socialism, and lives by it, he does not need to wait for the final victory of socialism. He has his own share of socialism as he goes along.

The prophet Joel, prophesying great things for his people. said: “Your young men shall see visions.” In my own youth I saw the vision of a new world, and I have never lost it. I came out of Rosedale, Kansas 40 years ago looking for truth and justice. I’m still looking, and I won’t give one percent discount.

I have always agreed with Emerson, who said: “He who has seen the vision of a better future is already a citizen of that future.” I take that literally. That was always true in my case. And that was all the reward I needed for anything done or given to the movement. I never found it possible, nor did I ever even think of renouncing my citizenship in the socialist future of humanity. And here with you tonight, in the midst of friends and comrades, I feel like a privileged citizen of the good society of the free and equal, of that future which Jack London so beautifully described as “the golden future when there will he no servants, naught but the service of love,”

It is very rarely, and only on the most exceptional occasions, that we revolutionists dare toy permit ourselves to express such sentiments, or even to utter such words. In the society which we have been fated to live in, a society divided into classes, deception and hypocrisy rule supreme. The noblest and most fraternal sentiments, which inspire the better selves of the great majority of the people in their relations with each other, are perverted for opposite uses and exploited for the selfish aims of’ a few.

The most beautiful and holy words that people have articulated to express their deepest feelings and their highest aspirations, have been so prostituted by misuse that they have lost their original values, like coins worn smooth from too much handling. All this perversion of sentiment and prostitution of language makes us cautious and reserved in expressing ourselves, lest we too sound like the hypocrites and the vulgarians who are so glib and free with the use of words which mean nothing to them.

But on this occasion, here among comrades, I will disregard that fear and tell you what I really think and feel, what I have always thought and felt since I became a socialist 40 years ago. I believe in people and in their unlimited capacity for improvement and progress through co-operation and solidarity. I believe in freedom, equality and the brotherhood of man. That is what we really mean when we say socialism. I believe in the power of fraternity and the love of comrades in the struggle for socialism. Walt Whitman said: “I will build great cities with the love of comrades.” I would go farther and say: We will build a great new world.

It is not illogical or inconsistent for us soldiers of the revolution to pause in the midst of our labors and our battles, as we do tonight, to rest and relax, to take it easy and have a good time. We are soldiers, that is true and therefore we must be Spartans. We must be able to endure hardship and privation, but we should never inflict it upon ourseIves. Soldiers and Spartans, yes but not aescetics. For socialism, the philosophy of the good life and the life more abundant, is alien to all asceticism. Socialism, if you stop to think about it, is the doctrine of the good time coming and “the great gettin’ up morning! “

That is how I have thought about it: and it was my good luck that this conception fitted so neatly with my own personal temperament. I just made a small amendment: if socialism means a good time for everybody in the future, why not have a good time in the struggle for socialism? I was always in favor of that. It wasn’t always possible. There were some tough times. Forty years of fighting for socialism was not all beer and skittles, as the British would say. But by and large, taking the good with the bad, I had a good time for 40 years and I really have no right to ask for sympathy. I had a good time, and perhaps that is one reason why I lasted longer than some of the others.

And finally, just by patience, the greatest achievement of all became mine. Just by having patience and waiting around I reached my sixtieth birthday, which formally ends tonight, and tomorrow morning I will be entering the first day of my sixty-first year. The question then naturally poses itself: What next? Rose and I have to answer that question, as we have answered every important question for 26 years, together.

When we were 40 we took stock of the situation at that time. That was when we had been expelled from the Communist Party for defending the program of Trotsky, and had to start all over again. We were 40—that’s older than 20—a little tired. We realized that revolution is rather a young people’s occupation, like athletics. But we had to recognize that the movement depended upon us more than ever then, and that we had to make an exception of ourselves. So we said: Well, we’ll give 10 more years to the party; after that perhaps they won’t need us so much.

Those 10 years passed so quickly, we didn’t have a chance to count them. Then we were 50. That was the time of the biggest fight for the existence of the party, in 1940, the fight with the petty-bourgeois opposition. Right in the middle of that fight we celebrated our fiftieth birthday, and we had to admit that we were still needed. There was nothing for us to do but agree to give 10 more years.

Those 10 years went by, busy, active years. We didn’t have much time to think about getting old. We were always on the go, both of us, and before we knew what had happened, we reached 60. So here we are, and where do we go from here?

Everybody, I suppose, gives to the movement what he can. It takes all kinds of contributions from all kinds of people to keep the movement going. All we ever had to give was our time, our years. So we sat down, on the eve of our sixtieth birthday, to consider one more donation. We thought: The party is growing, and growing up, and the demands upon us are not as heavy as they used to be. The young recruits of former times have become veterans. A great cadre of leaders has developed. They can do many things that we had to do in the past. We are by no means as much needed as we were 10 and 20 years aoo. But still, we thought, we might be useful if we’re there to help a little. So we decided: All right, we’ll give the party another 10 years. And then we’ll see.

Labor Shakes Generals’ Brazil

Round Three: 400,000 Metal Workers Struck

Labor Shakes Generals’ Brazil

[First printed in Workers Vanguard #256, 16, May 1980]

What was potentially the most explosive strike in a decade and a half of military rule in Brazil was broken April 12 as tens of thousands of metal workers in the Sao Paulo region returned to work. Their leaders are still in jail and 40,000 face loss of their jobs after 41 days on strike against “multinational” giants such as Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen and Volvo. The battle began April I when 400,000 walked out in the most industrialized state in the country demanding a 15 percent wage hike. Seeing the danger to the generals’ rule it was the third round in as many years of mass strikes against the dictatorship – from the beginning the military responded with a heavy hand: helicopters buzzing strike meetings, armored personnel carriers patrolling the streets, strike leaders arrested. And the police repression took its toll: first the outlying sections of the state went back, then one by one the industrial suburbs of Sao Paulo, finally leaving the metal workers’ fortress of Sao Bernardo isolated.

The threat to the authoritarian regime of Joao Figueiredo was evident: the fall of Portuguese strongman Caetano in 1975 and the subsequent working-class radicalization in Lisbon are still fresh in everyone’s mind. So even before workers downed their tools, divisions arose in the Brazilian ruling class on how to handle this strike. Though metal workers were scheduled to receive only a 1.9 percent increase under government wage policy, the employers offered 5 percent off the bat and a regional labor arbitration board ordered 7 percent. The board also refused to declare the strike illegal. But on April 19 police raided the homes of union leaders and arrested Luis Inacio da Silva; the country’s foremost labor leader, as well as 16 others. Two thousand demonstrators gathered to protest the arrest of da Silva, popularly known as “Lula,” and were clubbed to the ground by army troops in riot gear.

This brutality did not break the strikers’ will- 40,000 gathered in the soccer stadium to proclaim that the struggle would go forward: “No one works until Lula is free!” they chanted. On May Day, after a month on strike, thousands of workers defied a government ban to hold a march beginning at Sao Bernardo’s main church. And on May 5, when they again voted to continue the walkout, police violently attacked, leaving 53 strikers wounded. When the stadiums were cordoned off to prevent strike meetings, Sao Paulo’s archbishop Arns announced that the churches would be available for union rallies. Thereupon President Figueiredo charged the paulista cardinal with inciting the strike. When the bishops issued a call for a new “social pact,” Figueiredo declared the episcopal conference no longer authorized to speak for the Brazilian church. As for business interests, a vice president of Ford Motor Co. told the press that the dispute could be easily settled if the government would only stay out of it.

Sympathy for the strike extended far beyond the working class. Brazil’s fabled “economic miracle” is clearly over, and the disenchantment has spread to the middle classes and sectors of the bourgeoisie. For more than a decade the military dictatorship maintained itself in power by brutally repressing the workers and guaranteeing superprofits to the capitalists. As economic difficulties deepened, the regime tried to avoid an explosion by a series of political pseudo-reforms and by curbing the feared “esquadras da muerte” (death squads). But appeasement hasn’t worked. For the last three years the country has erupted again and again in broad strike waves in direct defiance of the government. Brazil’s several million-strong proletariat is seething and is likely to produce in the near future a labor revolt of vast proportions which will shake the continent. What it lacks is a revolutionary leadership that can transform the fight to bring down the dictatorship into a struggle against the capitalist order.

“EconomIc Miracle” Goes Up In Smoke

The present regime originated in the overthrow of President Joao Goulart on 1 April 1964 and the installation of a U.S.-backed military junta. The “March Revolution” took place with American naval and air force units standing by if needed, and was supported by virtually the entire Brazilian bourgeoisie. It was supposed to save the country from communism, corruption and 81 percent inflation. At first the new regime aimed at dismantling state controls and protectionist legislation inherited from 30 years of populist governments. This was the first application by a Latin American dictatorship of the right-wing economic policies of the “Chicago School” which later became notorious as advisers for Pinochet’s program of mass starvation in Chile. Brazilian planning minister Roberto Campos was so pro-American that he was derisively referred to as “Bob Fields.” But economic growth in 1964-67 was barely more than in the crisis years under Goulart when businessmen were carrying out an investment boycott.

Then in the next decade Brazil’s economy suddenly “took off” at a rate that surpassed that of every other “underdeveloped” capitalist country except those based on oil. From 1968 to 1977 the Brazilian gross national product, adjusted for inflation, grew steadily by 10 percent a year. This was supposed to be the “free world’s” sterling success story, confirming imperialist bourgeois economists’ theories from CIA Keynesian W.W. Rostow to the generals’ monetarist Milton Friedman. But the economics of the Brazil “miracle” were far from untrammeled “free enterprise” – Finance Minister Delfim Neto’s policies were more accurately described as military technocratic state control. And the main source of financing for the boom was a massive influx of imperialist investment, increasing by 25 percent a year since 1970. Consequently “multinational” corporations not only totally control the auto and pharmaceutical industries but also dominate traditional sectors of Brazilian capital such as textiles, beverages and machinery (Le Monde Diplomatique, January 1979).

The fundamental basis of the business boom was super-exploitation of a working class prevented from defending itself by the soldiers’ bayonets. From 1964 to 1974, real wages fell by 30 percent, a drastic cut in living standards. Today the legal minimum wage purchases only half what it did in 1959; and while the share of income of the poorest 50 percent of the population fell from 18 to 12 percent during 1960-77, the richest 5 percent increased its slice from 28 to 39 percent (Economist, 4 August 1979). But the capitalist economy can go only so far through continual immiseration of the working class. The soaring population of the favelas (shantytowns) provides a reservoir of cheap labor but not much of an internal market. And even though finance wizard Delfim Neto has now been brought back, inflation in the last 12 months has risen to 83 percent, exceeding the worst year under Goulart. As a result sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie are demanding fundamental changes in economic policy, and some would not greatly mind if the metal workers actually win their strike.

Labor Revolt

Driving down real wages after the 1964 coup was accomplished by heavy suppression of the union movement already tied hand-and-foot to the state through the paternalist structure established by Getulio Vargas’ Estado Novo (New State) in the 1940s. Modeled on Mussolini’s “Labor Charter,” the vertical syndicates had no right to strike or to collective bargaining; all disputes were submitted to government labor tribunals. As under the similar Peronist regime in Argentina, leftists were ruthlessly purged from the unions and replaced by government henchmen (pelegos). The unions were financed by a compulsory dues checkoff kept in state coffers, and their officers paid directly by the labor ministry; the government had the right to disband any labor organization or remove its leaders without redress. Crowning this corporatist structure was Vargas’ Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) to politically tie the workers to the populist regime.

After the initial crackdown following the 1964 coup the military soon had the unions in hand by placing their own pelegos in the top spots. The generals also added new legal aids to management, such as the practice of rotatividade (“labor turnover”) whereby a company could dismiss its entire workforce by pleading economic difficulties and replace it with new labor at lower wages. Leaderless, stripped of all rights and starving, the Brazilian working class managed to survive these early years only by working 60-70 hours a week and sending women and children into the factories. But the rapid industrialization has produced a result that is potentially lethal for the dictatorship: a burgeoning proletariat. And the greatest growth has been in new mass production industries such as auto, where the workforce is not cowed by a long tradition of government tutelage. Thus in the last decade a loose movement has come together known collectively as the oposicao sindical (OS trade-union opposition), led by a new layer of militants opposed to the grip of the pelegos on the unions.

The OS has been centered on metal workers in the Sao Paulo regime, particularly the so-called ABC industrial belt (the suburbs of Santo Andre, Sao Bernardo and Sao Caetano), and this combative sector is where the series of powerful strikes has exploded recently. The first wave took place in late 1977, after student protests had broken out in nearly every major Brazilian city earlier in the year (see “Student Struggles Engulf Brazil,” Young Spartacus No. 56, July/August 1977). The metal workers were demanding a 34 percent wage increase, and by early 1978 tens of thousands’ were on strike in Sao Paulo and the ABC, South America’s largest industrial center. The government was unable to suppress the auto workers, and as late as August of that year fresh strikes were occurring at a rate of three per day.

Fearing the consequences of a wholesale crackdown against students, strikers and bourgeois liberals, then president Ernesto Geisel inaugurated a series of paper reforms in his last months in office. But this only whetted the workers’ appetites, and when Figueiredo was inaugurated in April 1979 he was immediately faced with a strike by 215,000 metal workers demanding a 70 percent wage increase. The nine-day old administration called in the police to seize union headquarters so government officials could oust union leaders, particularly Lula, who had gained national prominence as the head of the 1977-78 strikes. However, when the regime reached an “agreement” with its pelegos, it was torn up by militant strike leader Bendito Marchio, president of the Santo Andre metal workers union. The government did manage to impose a 4 day “cooling-off” period, and on May 12 the government was able to negotiate a “compromise agreement.” The metal workers didn’t win their wage demands; however, the government announced that Lula and other union leaders were reinstated.

Figueiredo’s flunkies crowed that “social peace” had been reestablished in the ABC, but this was only a lull in the biggest strike wave since the 1964 military coup. Two days later 200,000 public employees and teachers in Sao Paulo state walked off their jobs, and as strikers became increasingly militant, the army and military police retreated to the barracks. In mid-July the government proposed a new wage policy of moderate quarterly wage increases, but the workers didn’t buy it. A few days later construction workers in Belo Horizonte voted to strike immediately for a 110 percent wage increase. Under Lula’s leadership, the construction workers won a victory August 3 when the labor tribunal doubled the minimum wage even though the strike had been declared illegal. Strikes mushroomed all over Brazil. Truck drivers set up roadblocks in some regions, and on October 16 one hundred people were injured in clashes between security guards and construction workers in the steel center of Volta Redonda.

While the American and European media have played down the recurring strikes in Brazil, the business press is increasingly concerned. Business Week (17 March) summarized: “In 1979, Brazilian unions mounted nearly 300 strikes, a fundamental social change in a country where 15 years of government repression of workers and unions had made work stoppages a rarity…. For the first time since the military revolution of 1964, corporations operating in Brazil must learn to live with officially sanctioned collective bargaining – but the resulting strains on Brazil’s economy could bring a revival of the repressive measures.” And the Economist (26 April) asked, “Can They Shut Lula Up?”:

“Power in Brazil still remains firmly centralised in the government’s hands. But an attempt to destroy Lula … could backfire. With little or no ideology to back them up, successive army-led governments have relied on economic progress to seduce the middle and working classes. Now, as inflation bites deeper and unemployment grows, a bid to punish a very popular man could work out badly.”

“Abertura”-Face-Lift for the Dictatorship

The imperialist press tries to present the unraveling of Brazil’s military dictatorship as a plan by the country’s rulers to “open” the regime to civilian influence. Business Week writes: “In a surprising turnabout, Brazil’s leaders are releasing some of the restraints on organized labor as a necessary step in their effort to establish a political democracy [!]. … The political liberalization process -called abertura – is a concomitant of economic reforms that are being undertaken to make Brazil a modern industrial nation.”

Talk of abertura by the military dictatorship is nothing but sucker bait for gullible liberals, and hardly qualifies presidents Figueiredo and Geisel as “democracy-leaning officers,” as the Economist would have it. It has been going on since the late ’60s when the government allowed the formation of two “parties,” the pro-regime ARENA (National Renovating Alliance) and the kept “opposition” MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement). Meanwhile, under Institutional Act No.5 decreed in 1968, the president was permitted to suspend Congress at will, issue new laws, dismiss officials and suspend anyone’s political rights for ten years. Newspapers were censored and banned; government critics were imprisoned and exiled; leftists were beaten, tortured, murdered. An urban guerrilla movement which arose in the late ’60s was broken up by the army using the most brutal terror methods available.

Proposals for extensive “liberalization” really only began with the student and labor agitation of 1977-78. In June 1978 Geisel announced a reform package including abolition of Institutional Act No.5, of the death penalty, life imprisonment and political banishment. As he was preparing to leave office the next March Geisel declared an end to political imprisonment, torture, censorship and the president’s absolute power over Congress and the courts. (Of course, he could still do all of the above by simply declaring a state of emergency.) His successor Figueiredo was the former chief of the secret service who had engineered the notorious death squads. One of Figueiredo’s more famous sayings was that “I prefer the smell of horses to the smell of the people.” But by Brazilian army standards he qualified as a “dove.” In addition to treating the 1979 strike wave gingerly, Figueiredo declared a general amnesty for political exiles (hoping that this might disrupt the loose opposition coalition around the MDB). All but 200 political prisoners were released and 5,000 exiles were expected to return.

The amnesty ploy didn’t work. The battle horses of 15 years ago awakened little enthusiasm in the Brazilian masses, and certainly they were of no use in derailing the strike movements. Former PTB leader Leonel Brizola, the millionaire rancher and populist governor of Rio Grande do Sul state who had distributed arms to the population to quell an army uprising against Goulart in 1961, arrived in September virtually unnoticed. While Brizola hinted at conciliation with the government, another populist leader, Miguel Arraes (former governor of Pernambuco), had made a name as a critic of the regime and drew a crowd of 60,000 on his return. However, he called on the opposition to remain united around the MDB at a time when even the middle classes were fed up with phony oppositionists who had played by the junta’s rules, doing nothing to threaten the generals’ rule even though they had twice won its fraudulent elections. There was an aura of expectation around the return of the Communist Party (PCB) leader, 81-year-old Luiz Carlos Prestes, but the Moscow-line PCB called for maintaining the “unity of the MDB “the regime’s safety valve!

The Labor Party Movement

Meanwhile, the Communist Party is in the process of splitting. After PCB leaders returned from Europe, a “Eurocommunist” wing led by Jose Salles (who had been exiled in France) took command and on several occasions publicly disavowed statements to the press by general secretary Prestes, finally declaring he was no longer authorized to speak for the party. Salles gained notoriety by calling for a “constituent assembly with Joao [Figueiredo]” – going along with the government’s plans for yet another phony legislative cover to military rule. But with the Brazilian working class ever more directly challenging the regime, Prestes responded at the beginning of April in a “Letter to the Communists” declaring PCB policy “out of touch with the realities of the workers and people’s movement today” (O Trabalho, 8-14 April). Prestes denounced the present party leadership as opportunist, careerist and unprincipled.

The present situation in Brazil recalls similar moments in the decomposition phase of bonapartist regimes from Portugal to Peru. The local CP works out a modus vivendi with the dictatorship (as in Batista’s Cuba) and as it comes apart the Stalinists find themselves outflanked on the left by sizable sectors of the workers movement. In Peru this led to a split in the party in 1978 as CP labor leaders sought to break from the Morales Bermudezjunta and its increasingly hated austerity policies. In Portugal during the last years of the Caetano / Salazar regime the CP worked only in the vertical syndicates, so that it was bypassed in 1974-75 by the combative “workers commissions” which had sprung up in the Lisbon industrial belt. In Brazil also the PCB has refused to work outside the corporatist unions, and in the mass metal workers strikes they have sided with pro-government pelegos against the dominant oposicao sindical.

Meanwhile the strike movement has been accompanied by a burgeoning movement to form a labor party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) led by Lula and other OS activists. In launching the PT last January, Jose Ibrahim, leader of the 1978 metal workers strike, said that it would be “a party of the workers, not a party for the workers.” With the Stalinists still trying to tie the workers to the carcass of the MDB (now called the “PMDB”) and the heirs of the Vargas tradition vainly trying to resuscitate their phony “Brazilian Labor Party,” the apparently enthusiastic response to the labor party movement among the combative unions indicates a welcome break from decades of corporatist populism. But what is the political orientation of the new PT? Does it put forward a program capable of mobilizing the working class to successfully wage the revolutionary struggles facing it? What is its policy toward the dictatorship?

The new party’s inaugural manifesto talks only of “a more profound democracy,” “social and economic equality,” and a “free multiparty regime.” It doesn’t even call for “Down with the dictatorship”!The document concludes, “The PT intends to arrive in the government and at the head of the state in order to carry out a democratic policy” (Movimiento, 14-20 January). At best this is a right-wing brand of social democracy, a rather insipid brew especially for Brazilian conditions. It expresses the fact that the mass strike movement and the nascent PT are led by a group of syndicalist militants with limited political perspectives. (As recently as last June at a meeting of opposition forces Lula had opposed the formation of a workers party.) Their views approximate the Russian “Economists” at the turn of the century, who only wanted to “lend the economic struggle a political character.”

But despite the reformist perspectives of the PT leaders, in the context of the present working-class turmoil in Brazil a broad labor party movement could escape their control and assume explosive proportions. Already, some of the bureaucrats originally associated with the PT project have been pushed out (On the other hand, a number of former MDB legislators have hitched their carts to the rising PT star.) What, then, should be the attitude of proletarian revolutionaries toward such a contradictory labor party movement? The Stalinists, of course, from the pro-Moscow PCB to the pro-Albanian PCdoB and various smaller groups, have simply turned a cold shoulder, since their goal is some kind of popular front alliance with capitalist forces.

Among ostensible Trotskyists, who claim to stand for working-class independence from the bourgeoisie, the response has been varied. The Convergencia Socialista, a group associated internationally with Nahuel Moreno’s Bolshevik Faction, appears more interested in tailing after the populist holdovers. When Miguel Arraes landed in Recife, they were there with a banner reading, “The People Are With Arraes” – this for the man who led the repression against the radical peasant leagues of 1963-64 (remember Juliao?)! The Organizacao Socialista Internacionalista (OSI), tied internationally to Pierre Lambert’s French OCI, is promoting a left-social-democratic policy of pressuring the Lula/Ibrahim leadership of the PT. During the metal workers strike they simply called on the PT to “assume its place” in the leadership.

But the core of the OSl’s policy is its call for “Down with the dictatorship! For a constituent assembly!” Not once in recent issues of the paper O Trabalho, close to the OSI, do they call for a workers and peasants government. Their program is unambiguously stagist: bourgeois democracy now – it’s too early for socialism. This places the OSI only marginally to the left of the PT leadership itself and certainly doesn’t prepare the militant sectors of the Brazilian working class for the tasks ahead. A genuine Trotskyist leadership would have called from the very beginning of the metal workers’ struggle for concretely preparing a general strike; the OSI raised this only after four weeks, and then in the vaguest terms. And while calling for a revolutionary constituent assembly as part of their program for sweeping away the murderous dictatorship, Bolsheviks would warn that unless a workers and peasants government is established, resting not on bourgeois parliamentarianism but organs of proletarian power, what faces Brazilian workers is the prospect of “democratic counterrevolution.”

The cycle of militant strikes and the labor party movement point to an early demise for the generals’ rule. Compared to other recent upsurges in marginal sectors of Latin America (Nicaragua, EI Salvador), the coming battle in Brazil will be labor-centered – in a country of 120 million, with the largest industrial proletariat in the backward capitalist countries. The revolutionary possibilities are manifest and the need for a Trotskyist party to lead the struggle could not be clearer. This will be built not by watering down the communist program to the syndicalist/social-democratic consciousness of the present leaders, but by fighting for the full Transitional Program and for the rebirth of the Fourth International

Correction: The article “Labor Shakes Generals’ Brazil” refers to the Brazilian industrial proletariat as the largest in the backward capitalist countries; however. India, at least. exceeds Brazil on this score. [Correction first printed in Workers Vanguard #258, 13 June, 1980]

Student Struggles Engulf Brazil

Pitched Battles Against Police-State Regression:

Student Struggles Engulf Brazil

[First printed in Young Spartacus #56, July/August 1977]

June 25-In a continent known for the unbridled savagery of its many military dictatorships, the Brazilian regime of “president” Ernesto Geisel has earned- a reputation for its wanton recourse to police-state terror.

Long the darling of imperialist investors and their academic braintrusters, the ruling camarilla of army generals is notorious throughout Latin America for its brutal repression and the systematic torture and “disappearance” of political opponents of the Brazilian regime. But in recent weeks the Brazilian gorilas have been confronted with an eruption of popular discontent that has shaken their ironheel “law and order.”

For the first time since 1968, a major upsurge of student protest against the military regime has sparked a series of courageous confrontations with the brutal armed forces of the state. Despite vicious beatings at the hands of the police and mass arrests, student strikes have continued to defy the authorities, demanding the release of political prisoners and the granting of full democratic rights-most notably, freedom of assembly and speech.

First Tremors of Protest

The first tremors of the current upheaval occurred On March 30, when students staged a demonstration in the industrial center of Sao Paulo. In response to a government announcement of a 40 percent reduction in the Universidade de Sao Paulo budget, widespread layoffs among faculty and campus workers and a price rise in the university restaurants, students took to the streets and distributed an “open letter, ” which in part declared,

“Our struggle is not ours alone; it is that of the whole population, of all who struggle against a hard life, for better wages, for more schools, for university restaurants, for the freedom to demonstrate” ,”

-reprinted in Informations Ouvrieres, 2 June 1977

Although this protest remained geographically isolated and politically limited to campus-parochial concerns, it nonetheless represented a tentative step toward a broader mobilization against the Geisel regime.

On April 28 the current wave of protest began when police seized eight students and workers (apparently members of a left-wing organization) as they were distributing leaflets calling for a “Day of Struggle” on May Day. Protests quickly escalated after students and trade-union oppositionists from the Sao Paulo metalworkers issued leaflets demanding the release of the imprisoned leftists.

To the dismay of Geisel, May 5 brought 10,000 students (supported by the metalworkers) into the streets of Sao Paolo in what was the largest protest rally since 1968. The demonstration- which electrified the entire spectrum of Brazilian political life – witnessed the issuing of a second “Open Letter to the Brazilian People,” which in a more political fashion demanded “that the authorities respect the freedom to demonstrate and the right of expression and organization of all oppressed sectors of the population” (quoted in Intercontinental Press, 13 June).

The open defiance of the authorities exhibited in Sao Paulo on May 5 intersected the pervasive disgruntlement of Brazilian working people with the continued arbitrariness and repression of the regime. Under the impact of the collapse of the “Brazilian miracle” (which impressionistic bourgeois economists such as Walt Rostow had taken as proof of the “take-off stage” in anti-Marxist theories of industrial development) rifts have become apparent even within the ruling bonapartist cabal. Increasingly isolated, Geisel was forced to dissolve Congress in April, and he has come under increased pressure from the fake-opposition Movimiento Democratico Braileiro (MDB) and from renewed stirrings of discontent among junior officers in the military.

Strike activity broadened, and by the May 19 “National Day of Struggle” at least ten campuses were shut down. Demonstrations spread to 16 cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and Brasilia (where the entire student population of 15,800 struck).

Police around the country assaulted protesters with what eyewitnesses termed the most vicious repression since 1968. 77,000 police and troops were placed on alert in Sao Paulo as an estimated 8,000 students rallied at the University medical school. As the police closed in to arrest demonstrators, they beat reporters who had – despite a government ban – covered the earlier protests.

National Student Meeting

In the aftermath of the “National Day of Struggle,” “May 1 Amnesty Committees” began to spread across Brazil as students sought to create national bodies to press their struggle for democratic rights. In Sao Paulo freely elected Student Central Directorates were created. In the words of the student organizers, these bodies “are free because we do not abide by the laws imposed by the authorities that do not permit direct, free elections and that restrict our freedom to demonstrate and organize.” Over 16,000 of the 30,000 Sao Paulo students participated in the Central Directorate elections.

Meanwhile, an attempt was made to revive the National Student Union, the banned organization which led Brazilian student protest during the 1960’s. A call was issued for a student “National Meeting” on June 4 in Belo Horizonte – the capital of the industrial state of Minas Gerais with the aim of electing a delegated leadership body on a nationwide scale.

Police repression once again intensified as the government tried to halt the protests by arresting known strike leaders. In Rio de Janeiro 30 students suspected of being delegates to the Meeting were rounded up, interrogated and released only after it was too late to travel to Belo Horizonte. In Sao Paulo, the police were unable to round up the delegates, but according to the newsweekly Veja (8 June), “the Sao Paulo police have in their hands the names of a good number of the delegates to the Meeting – the score will be settled upon their return to Sao Paulo.” When the Meeting was staged as planned, the police attacked and arrested over 800 students en masse; 98 are to stand trial under the draconian National Security Law.

“SWAT”- Brazilian Style

The stage was set for a major confrontation on the second “National Day of Struggle” called by student leaders for June 15.

Activity centered in Sao Paulo, where 32,000 police were mobilized – 2,000 occupying a central square where a demonstration had been called for the evening rush hour. The head of “public security,” Colonel Erasmo Dias, arrived on the spot and took the opportunity to display his new anti-demonstrator “novelties” to the assembled press: a “flash-light” which projects a high-intensity beam capable of blinding demonstrators for several minutes, pocketsize tear gas cannisters (which he “playfully” set off among the reporters and a display of M-16 rifles (very popular among the Brazilian military after the introduction of the American television series “SWAT”). Wildly waving his favorite 9-millimeter Browning revolver, top-cop Dias blustered, “Nobody’s going to get through here” (quoted in Veja, 22 June).

Despite the police vigilance, a daring group of students managed to hold a brief rally in the square. Avoiding police scrutiny, approximately 50 students (in a square which regularly holds 500,000 during the evening rush hour) began to chant “freedom, freedom.” As it turned out, the chanting was a cue. Dias and his stormtroopers gaped in stunned amazement as the square suddenly became alive with chanting demonstrators. What appeared to be mere passers-by and shoppers turned out to be student protestors awaiting the cue to emerge from bus queues and cafes.

As the police gave chase with trained dogs and began savagely beating protestors with clubs and belts, onlookers cheered the’ students, and the streets were flooded with confetti thrown from overhead balconies. Even neighborhood storeowners solidarized with the students; Sao Paulo movie theaters opened their doors free the next day in a gesture of solidarity.

As we go to press, the strikes continue. Ten universities are completely shut down either by student protest or administration retaliation. Meetings of the Universidade de Brasilia student body continue to vote unanimously to remain on strike – and the rector closed the school for the entire period through the July recess. (Moreover, a Third Student National Meeting had been scheduled for Sao Paulo on June 21.)

Down with Geisel!

Despite the manifest courage of the student radicals, the campus centered protests lack any strategy for the revolutionary overthrow of the Geisel dictatorship. Banners proclaiming “Workers and Students Unite” appear at demonstrations, but far more prevalent is the moralistic slogan, “To be silent is to be complicit” (the Brazilian equivalent of the New Left dictum, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”). The “Open Letters” to the Brazilian people were followed by an open letter to Rosalynn Carter during her stopover in Brazil – replete with appeals for the enforcement of “human rights” in Brazil. To top it off, the Economist (28 May) carried a photograph of students blindfolding a bust of John Kennedy in order to “shield his eyes” from the police onslaught – as if Kennedy had not been responsible for training torturers in Latin America and lending a helping hand to tin-pot tyrants and military dictators through his so-called” Alliance for Progress.”

Furthermore, student demonstrators have on several occasions not only joined forces with the MDB – which in itself is not incorrect – but expressed illusions in the MDB’s democratic pretenses. With the growing fissures in the military government, everyone in Brazil is paying lip service to “democratic” populist demagogy – from Geisel on down. When Geisel last spring arbitrarily altered the Brazilian constitution in such a way that appointment of state governors was firmly in the hands of his lackeys, he dashed the hopes of the MDB politicians who had expected to come to power in several states at the next election. Consequently, the MDB was driven into a mock “opposition” to Geisel. The MDB’s ultra-democratic utterances have gone so far as to call for “a Constituent Assembly [that] will be the synthesis of the struggle for democratic legality and the restoration of juridical dignity to the country” (Jornal do Brasil, 19 June).

But, its pseudo-democratic rhetoric aside, the MDB can be counted on to oppose the students the moment their struggles were to pose a serious challenge to the regime. The MDB was formed in 1965 by the military junta to provide a tame “electoral opposition” to the military’s captive National Renovating Alliance (ARENA). The MDB, which included formations such as the bourgeois “Labor” Party of former military strongman Getulio Vargas, has been complicit in the murderous activities of the Brazilian dictatorship throughout its thirteen-year reign of terror. Students must not rely upon any section of the Brazilian bourgeoisie to oppose continued military terror. The military seized power in 1964 to prevent former president Goulart from carrying through his proposal to implement the most minimal land reform (far less “reform” than was enacted by bourgeois governments in Italy and Guatemala in the post-World War II period), and to grant restricted democratic rights for soldiers and non-commissioned officers. The fear of arousing the masses’ was so intense among all sections of the bourgeoisie that there was no significant opposition to the coup -despite the knowledge that the military government would monopolize political power in its hands. Thus, even at the height of its “opposition,” MDB parliamentary leaders took pains to denounce the student demonstrations in June (Veja, 22 June).

In the epoch of capitalist decay, the tendency for bonapartist regimes generally based upon the military mounts in countries where imperialist domination and modern industry often stand alongside near – feudal land conditions. The “democratic” populist pretensions of junior officers and domesticated house oppositions are nothing but the demagogy of would be petty bonapartes out of power. These are the “oppositionists” who stood by and watched while the Brazilian generals have done for a period of thirteen years what the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance has done for the last few: murder, torture and ruthless oppress.

For a Workers and Peasants Government in Brazil!

In the context of uneven and combined development in Brazil, what began as student protests has flourished and intersected a reservoir of generalized hatred for the dictatorship: “The “Brazilian miracle” has fizzled and in its wake remains the same mass poverty, police terror and imperialist plunder. The modern skyscrapers and technologically advanced factories coexist with sprawling shantytowns and the abject misery of plantation-worker peonage. This provides dramatic proof that in the epoch of imperialism, so long as the bourgeoisie holds state power, backward countries such as Brazil can neither reach the level of imperialist industrial development nor qualitatively raise the standard of living of the working masses. At the same time, a working-class centered revolutionary upsurge against the military rulers would clearly elicit mass popular support – including large sectors of the urban petty bourgeoisie.

Nowhere is this clearer, and nowhere is it more important to lay the basis for united actions between the working class and radicalized students than in Sao Paulo – the classic boom town of Brazil. In this modern industrial center there are as yet no sewage or sanitary facilities for many of its 11 million inhabitants. The average worker-whose subsistence ages are quickly eroded by the 44 percent annual rate of inflation spends six hours a day simply traveling to and from work. Unemployment, which is endemic among the unskilled masses, has been sharply rising among the skilled with 5,500 auto-workers as well as electrical and construction workers recently thrown on the street.

The social emancipation of the hideously oppressed and impoverished Brazilian masses awaits the seizure of power by the proletariat and the formation of a workers and peasants government. The student protests of today must be linked to the strategic power of the proletariat in the industrial zones of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

The urban and rural masses must be mobilized around a revolutionary program which includes democratic demands including – for the immediate freedom of all victims of right-wing repression; for full trade-union rights; for a sweeping agrarian revolution; for freedom of political association, press and speech; and for a genuine constituent assembly based upon universal suffrage. The struggle for democratic freedoms, the overthrow of the Brazilian generals and the expropriation of the rapacious imperialists demand above all else the building of a Brazilian Trotskyist party, section of a reforged Fourth International.

The Bolivian Revolution and the Fight Against Revisionism

The Bolivian Revolution and the Fight Against Revisionism

by Sam Ryan

First printed in the Socialist Workers Party Discussion Bulletin, October 1954],Republished in and scanned from the LRP publication “Bolivia: The Revolution the ‘Fourth International Betrayed.”

“For Pablo the historical mission of the Fourth International has lost all meaning. The ‘objective revolutionary process’ under the aegis of the Kremlin, aliied with the masses, is taking it’s place very well indeed. That is why he is mercilessly bent upon liquidating the Trotskyist forces, under the pretext of integrating them into the ‘mass movement of the masses as it exists.’

“The salvation of the Fourth International imperatively demands the immediate eviction of the liquidationist leadership. A democratic discussion must then be opened within the world-wide Trotskyist movement on all the problems left suspended, befogged, or falsified by the Pablist leadership during three years. Within this framework, it will be indispensible for the health of the International that the greatest self-criticism be carried through on all phases and causes of the development of the Pablist gangrene.

“… these ideas and this liquidationist tactic were subsequently extended to the reformist parties and to all mass organizations under petty bourgeois leadership (the Bolivian MNR, the Peronist movement in Argentina, the Ibanist in Chile, etc…) (From International Committee Bulletin No. 1)

This article is intended as a contribution to the discussion on the “development of the Pablist gangrene.”‘ At the same time it is also intended as a contribution to the struggle against Pabloism. In my opinion such a discussion, long overdue, is an indispensable part of the struggle and must not be postponed any longer; that one of the major victories of Pabloism is precisely the fact that problems of major theoretical and practical importance have been “left suspended, befogged, or falsified”. The “greatest criticism,” which is indeed necessary, will show that Pablo s greatest help in betraying Marxism came in the silence and the acquiescence of the “orthodox Trotskyists.” One of the crimes of revisionism during the past two years is the betrayal of the Bolivian revolution.

That the Bolivian revolution has indeed been betrayed should be plain for all to see. Last November the Bolivian Trotskyist party, the POR, was publishing a weekly newspaper, Lucha Obrera. For a working-class party in a tiny, backward country with a high rate of illiteracy this was a tremendous achievement, an indication of powerful mass support. In December Lucha Obrera was suppressed by the government, with hardly any resistance. There has been no struggle since then important enough to be reported in the paper here. This fact is itself a very significant piece of news.

Marxism is a science. That is to say, its generalizations are not god-given imperatives but the distillation of past events. And the distinguishing characteristic of all science is not simply that it yields true generalizations (more correctly, approximations of the truth) but that it yields generalizations which can be tested in terms of material reality. To fail to examine any important event in its relation to Marxist theory is to turn Marxism into a dogma, with truths that are given once for all. And once Marxism is turned into a dogma, it is both useless and unnecessary for the solution of practical problems.

What events, above all others, demand investigation by Marxists? If Marxism be regarded not as a contemplative exercise but as a guide to action, the answer springs to mind immediately. Revolution is the supreme test of theory. Revolution strips away all pretense, lays bare the real class character of all parties, all programs. No brand of revisionism can pose as Marxism in time of revolution; no Marxist can ignore a revolution. It is only logical to expect that close attention should be paid to the Bolivian revolution, for more than one reason. Not only is it a test of theory and practice, especially in view of the fact that a Trotskyist party is playing an important role; it takes place under the very walls of the bastion of world reaction.

But the Bolivian revolution is now more than two years old, and there has been no discussion on this important event. Only two discussion articles have appeared, both by the present writer. And, though both articles were sharply critical, they have elicited no reply. Even the news from Bolivia has been very meager. Pablo, the advocate of a centralized international, has not even conducted a decent letter-box!

What a crushing answer Pablo would have had to the charges of revisionism! “Can revisionists pursue a revolutionary policy in the very course of a revolution?” But Pablo chose not to make this reply, and this is a clear mark of his revisionism. Revisionists prefer to act rather than explain; the longer they can keep silent the longer they can mislead revolutionists. And Pablo was left in peace to do his work of betrayal.

That it is Pabloism which is the inspiration for the line of the POR is easy to prove. The POR’s characterization of the MNR and of the MNR government as “petty-bourgeois,” its prognosis of the possibility of the reform of the government, its stubborn refusal to make any criticism of the treacherous and anti-revolutionary line of the labor leaders, and its complete silence on Stalinism — these come not from the arsenal of Marxism but of revisionism.


At its tenth national conference, held in June, 1953, the POR adopted a political resolution which, though full of admirable Trotskyist phrases, contain a few paragraphs which are sufficient to turn the whole document into an exercise in revisionism. This resolution (Etapa Actual de la Revolution Y Tareas del POR [“The Present Stage of the Revolution and the Tasks of the POR”]) ]) has been published in the Mexican publication, ” Que Hacer?” but has not been translated into English.

“The The petty-bourgeois government,” says the resolution (VII:7), “…acquires a transitory and Bonapartist character … Submitting to the powerful pressure of the proletariat as well as of imperialism, it vacillates constantly between the two extremes. From this situation follows the two fold possibility for the development of the present government. If the masses with a new impulse decide the political defeat of the right wing by the left, the possibility is opened that the government will transform  itself to a stage antecedent to the workers and peasants government (se abre la possibilidad de que el gobierno, se transforms en etapa previa del gobierno obrera-campesino). This process would be accompanied by a whole series of measures of a revolutionary character, such as the spread of nationalizations, the agrarian revolution, etc. If the right wing with the aid of imperialism bars the governmental scene to its adversaries, it will have consolidated a petty-bourgeois government in the service of the ‘Rosca’ and of finance capital.”

Two paragraphs further we read:

“The right wing is definitely compromised with landlord and imperialist reaction and therefore we cannot simply disregard the possibility of a future split with the left wing. Complete predominance of this faction would profoundly alter the character of the MNR and permit it to move closer to the POR. Only under such conditions could we speak of a possible coalition government of the POR and the MNR which would be a form of the realization of the formula ‘workers and peasants government,’ which in turn would constitute the transitional stage toward the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

A Bonapartist regime can appear to be only between the classes to people who have forgotten the class nature of the state. All governments have always been, for Marxists, the instruments of the ruling class, incapable of being reformed, in their class nature, by any amount of pressure. Bonapartism is simply a form which a bourgeois or a proletarian regime assumes under certain conditions. The POR was not the first to forget that there can be neither an in-between regime nor the reform of a regime. It was the Third World Congress, with its “intermediate status” of the buffer “countries,” and the IEC with its characterization of the Mao regime in China as neither a bourgeois nor a workers state, but an in-between, a “workers and peasants government”.

A Bonapartist regime is a dictatorial regime, rule by an arbiter. Marxists have never favored this form of rule; they always promote the intervention of the masses in politics. Thus, the Bolsheviks demanded a constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage to replace the Bonapartist rule of Kerensky. The demand for democratic elections is one of the foundation-stones in the Trotskyist program for the revolution in backward countries. This slogan is certainly not a “putschist” one; it can be raised by — it is most suitable to — a revolutionary party which is not yet in a position to take power. And raising this demand is certainly not incompatible with giving defense to the government against counter-revolutionary attempts.

Yet nowhere in the whole resolution of the POR is the demand for elections raised! And this despite the fact that the present government was elected five years ago, and a military coup and a revolution have occurred since then. There is no mention, even of the existence of an elected legislature or of the desire to elect a new one. There is no mention of the question of popular elections. The POR is obviously satisfied with the present Bonapartist government; is convinced of its capability of being transformed, step by step, into a workers government.

In the light of the refusal of the POR to demand general elections, what is the significance of the slogan it raises: “Complete control of the State by the left wing of the MNR”? How does it expect this to come about? Naturally, through appointment by the Bonaparte, Paz Estenssoro. This is not a mere deduction. This is actually what the POR proposed. In August, 1953, a cabinet crisis erupted, a division between the right and left wings in the government on the question of division of the landed estates. In a situation like that, with the peasant movement on the upsurge, it is obvious what a Trotskyist party should propose: Resignation of the government, including the president; national elections of a president and a congress; the left wing of the MNR should run independent candidates, including a candidate for president; the POR should give critical support to the campaign of the left wing and raise the slogan: the Left Wing to power.

The POR did not demand general elections; it did not demand that the masses be allowed to settle the disuse within the government. It proposed that the left wing be given “power” by appointment by President Pa.Z Estenssoro.

In No. 43 (August 23rd, 1953) of Lucha Obrera, we read the following touching appeal to the Bonaparte of the Bonapartist government:

“To the revolutionaries, the conduct of the President appears ambiguous and we believe that it indicates the intention to save some right-wing positions undermined by the rising pressure of the masses. Granted that a Chief of State has responsibilities, but he has these before the people. In reality it is the toilers who alone have the right to judge the acts of the government especially since it is the working class which with its sacrifices put him in Power. If these masses, who are the sole support of the President, out of their class instinct, out of distrust of the right wing, appeal and demand that men emerging from their ranks be put into the cabinet, replacing the elements linked to reaction, there would exist no grounds for denying them this right. And if Paz Estenssoro respects his responsibilities before history, he is motivated primarily by a desire to respect the will of the people and carry out the aspirations of the toilers, organizing a cabinet composed exclusively of men of the left of his party. “

Would such a “labor” cabinet make any difference in the character of the government? Not the slightest. It would make no more difference than the “labor” cabinets of the Spanish Loyalist government, or the “labor” cabinet of Kerensky. It would mean as little as a cabinet appointed by Eisenhower or Truman composed not of “nine millionaires and one plumber” but of “ten plumbers.” A “labor cabinet” appointed by Paz Estenssoro would be responsible not to a legislative body elected by universal suffrage, as in England or France, but to a supreme ruler responsible to no one but his class. Such a cabinet would not be the result of a break of the labor leaders with the capitalist class. On the contrary, it would make them the official representatives of this class.


It is now possible to see what the POR means by characterizing the MNR .as a “petty-bourgeois” party and the MNR government as a petty-bourgeois government. All the literature of the POR is very consistent in this; the MNR and its government are never called anything but petty-bourgeois. Far from being merely a terminological question (petty-bourgeois means bourgeois, I have been told by a defender of the POR line — orally, of course), this is a formulation that conceals the rejection of Trotskyism in theory and the betrayal of the revolution in practice.

If politics is concentrated economics, then political parties are the expression of economic interests. But the dominant fact in present-day society is the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Political parties, therefore, are, and cannot help but be, expressions of and instruments in the class struggle. They serve the interests of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. This is what gives them their class character. Not their social composition, not the composition of their leadership, but which of the two major classes they serve. This is true in the backward countries as well as in the advanced.

There are parties which Marxists call petty-bourgeois — the social-democratic and labor parties. We use this term by convention; not because these parties serve the interests of the petty bourgeoisie —the petty bourgeoisie has no independent class interests — but because these parties are in a certain sense between the classes. They speak for socialism and the working class but they act for capitalism and the bourgeoisie. The petty-bourgeois parties are largely or predominantly proletarian in composition and bourgeois by political character. To prove this it is sufficient to ask whether the class nature of any government has ever been changed by the accession to office of a petty-bourgeois party. The victory of the British Labour Party, for example, did not change the character of the government from bourgeois to petty-bourgeois.

The MNR is not a petty-bourgeois party in this sense. It is not a labor party; it does not claim to represent the working class or advocate socialism. Its program is typical of a bourgeois nationalist party in a backward country. It claims to speak for all the people; it is for peace and prosperity. It is the conception of the POR that since native capital is very weak and very reactionary (bound up with imperialism), and since the MNR is trying to accomplish the bourgeois national revolution but is not a working-class party, therefore it represents the petty bourgeoisie and is a petty-bourgeois party.

To find the precedent for such a conception of a petty-bourgeois party — a party which represents the petty bourgeoisie and fights against the bourgeoisie for the bourgeois revolution — we have to go back to the pre-October Bolshevik writings. This is the conception put forth by Lenin in 1903 as a prognosis for the Russian revolution. The Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry, according to Lenin, would be headed by a peasant party and supported, perhaps in the form of a coalition government, by the proletarian party.

In justice to Lenin it must be added that he did not conceive of such a government as an in-between or “petty-bourgeois” government, but as one which would stay within the bounds of capitalism, removing the vestiges of feudalism, building capitalism, and thereby strengthening the capitalist class. This was to be a transitional government, not one of transition to socialism, but of transition from feudalism to the bourgeois democratic republic. Lenin’s April Theses and then the October revolution mark the definitive rejection of the conception of a petty-bourgeois party, a party which is neither proletarian nor bourgeois. Thereafter all Marxists have accepted the theory of Permanent Revolution, put forth by Trotsky in 1903. According to this theory, the government which carries out the bourgeois revolution cannot stay within the bounds of capitalism; it must begin the socialist transformation. But this government cannot be “a government of a peasant or a “petty-bourgeois” party; it must be a government animated by the party of the proletariat.

Stalin betrayed the second Chinese revolution using as a pretext for his Menshevik policies a vulgarization of Lenin’s conception of the Democratic Dictatorship. It is not without significance that Mike Bartell, a leading American Pabloite, defended the line of the POR (orally, of course) by maintaining that Lenin’s theory of the Democratic Dictatorship had not been completely invalidated. Nor that Murray Weiss. in defending the Pabloite position on the in-between character of the Mao government (orally, of course) seized on what he asserted was Lenin’s belief, in 1903, on the possibility of a petty-bourgeois, transitional government. The POR, while claiming to support the theory of Permanent Revolution, believes that a “petty-bourgeois” party can be reformed and its government become a workers and farmers government, “the transitional stage toward the dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

“The zig-zag line between imperialism and the proletariat which characterizes the conduct of the government,” says the POR in its resolution, “does not permit it to plan its actions and causes it to fall into a formless empiricism, suited to giving isolated and improvised answers to problems as they present themselves. Thus the observer discovers that the government policy is characterized by lack of consistency and the thought of the leaders by total absence of coherence and a unified doctrine.”

This is, of course, a characteristic of all petty-bourgeois and bourgeois thought. Is it, then, the chief characteristic of the activities of a “petty- bourgeois” government? No. The activities of the petty-bourgeois politicians, however inconsistent they may appear to themselves and to others, have a consistency which scientists can uncover. They are governed by law just as completely as are the actions of physical bodies or chemical elements, which have no thoughts whatever. Marxists can see the consistency in the seemingly inconsistent actions of the petty-bourgeois politicians. Marxists can see that, however they view themselves, they actually serve the interests of the bourgeoisie.


The conception that the MNR and its government are petty-bourgeois is the betrayal of the Bolivian revolution. It implies that the MNR and its government are not fundamentally the enemy of the working class, that they may be reformed. Not to warn the working class that this government will smash it when it can is to leave the workers politically disarmed and helpless, a sitting duck whenever the enemy is ready to strike.

How can we know the character of the MNR? First of all, we can study its past, especially when it held state power. The MNR of Paz Estenssoro is the MNR of Villaroel. Estenssoro was Villaroel’s vice-president. Villaroel suppressed the working class, executed protesting students. He was hanged from a lamp-post in an uprising led partly by the Stalinists. The MNR was so exposed as an enemy of the working class that in the 1949 elections Juan Lechin, head of the Miners Federation, refused its nomination for vice-president and instead made an electoral bloc with the POR. This election showed that the MNR, although it got a majority of the votes, was already discredited with the vanguard of the proletariat. The Trotskyist and the Miners Federation each elected four deputies. Then came a three-year military dictatorship, which naturally strengthened democratic illusions among the masses.

Yet during the April 1952 revolution an incident took place which indicated that the MNR did not have the confidence of the working class. The MNR appealed to the workers for support in the uprising.The textile workers demanded as a condition for their support that two trade union leaders be accepted into the new government. The demand was granted and the workers supported the uprising. Guillermo Lora, who gave these details in an interview which was printed in the paper in May 1952, did not say whether the POR supported this demand; but the fact that the POR has never criticized the presence of the labor leaders in the cabinet indicates that it did.

In the course of the uprising the army and police were disarmed. The workers, led by Lechin and the POR, possessed ten thousand rifles and machine-guns, all the arms in the country. What did the government do? It proceeded to reorganize the army and police force and to rearm them with new and more modern weapons. Then it began slowly and cautiously to take steps toward disarming the proletariat. And this is the measure of its bourgeois character.

The state is armed force in the service of the ruling class. To allow the government to rebuild the special bodies of armed men means to put the fate of the revolution in the hands of the bourgeoisie, its mortal enemy. Only by keeping their fate in their own hands, by preventing the rebuilding of the special bodies of armed men, by maintaining the state as the people in arms, can the working class safeguard itself and its revolution. The POR should have warned that those who rebuild the police force and army are preparing civil war against the workers and peasants.

This is not the same as proposing the overthrow of the MNR government. But it is an exposure of its bourgeois character: if the MNR were truly for the workers and peasants, if it were going to carry through the revolution, it had no need of special bodies of armed men, it could base itself on the people in arms. Its “betrayal” (not really a betrayal, since it only acted in accordance with its real class character) dates from the moment it began to reestablish the army and police —that is, from the moment it assumed power. The betrayal of Lechin and the labor leaders dates from their failure to oppose the rebuilding of the bourgeois state.

The POR did not expose the bourgeois nature of the government; it did not criticize the betrayal by the labor leaders. It completely overlooked the question of the rebuilding of the armed forces of the class enemy. In the aforementioned political resolution of the Tenth National Conference there is not one word on this question, not one warning against the rebuilding of the counter-revolutionary army and police force; literally not one word on the military question as the real question of power. The POR obviously believes that questions of power are decided not by armed force but by shifts and maneuvers in the top circles of the government.

The Trotskyist transitional program is totally ignored. And this program was worked out precisely for a revolutionary situation, such as exists in Bolivia. Following this program, the POR should have demanded that the defense of the country and of internal order be entrusted not to special bodies of armed men, but the workers militia, that these be armed by the government with the most modern weapons, including heavy ones, and trained under the control of the workers and peasants organizations; and that the officers be chosen by the workers and peasants. There is no hint of these demands in the political resolution nor in all 1953 issues of Lucha Obrera.

Lucha Obrera cannot, however, completely ignore the military question; and what it says is a damning supplement to its refusal to recognize the transitional program. By August 1953, the government had gone so far as to set up a military academy, to train an officer caste for its counter-revolutionary army. No. 43 of Lucha Obrera (the same issue which carried the touching appeal to the president) protested in an article headed: “Military Academy, Danger to the Revolution.”

“The reactionary right wing,” says the article, “wishes desperately to create an armed force in which it can support itself against the advance of the unions. This is the mission assigned to the reopened military academy which will be a den of counter-revolution for the petty-bourgeois militarists. The only force which can destroy the counter-revolutionary conspiracy is constituted by the armed masses.

“Undoubtedly,” continues the article, “the the Revolution will achieve the building of a regular Army, but this will occur when the workers and peasants organize their own government, without any subterfuge permitting counter-revolutionary infiltration. The class feeling of the toilers should not permit the organization of any military force while the whole power is not in their hands. Only a Workers and Peasants Government can organize a true proletarian and revolutionary military force. In the meantime, it is an inescapable revolutionary duty to strengthen the trade union militias in each factory, each mine, and prepare them for whatever repressions which will utilize as their instrument the military academy.

Here is the opening renunciation of the transitional program, of the proletarian military policy. This is a completely unrealistic and unworkable policy, one which absolutely cannot be carried out by the Party, and is incapable of convincing anyone. We should we not permit the government to organize any military while the whole power is not in our hands? Who and what, then, will defend the country in case Yankee imperialism succeeds in provoking a military attack by one of its satellites? A standing army is absolutely necessary. The trade union militias are not sufficient. No one can be convinced, least of all the revolutionary militants, that there could be no army “in the meantime.” That is why the government is able to win such an easy political victory and build up its army (a counter-revolutionary army) without any opposition. Because a concrete alternative to a counter-revolutionary army cannot be no army, as the POR advocates, but a revolutionary army.

And there is no reason in the world why this alternative has to wait until “all the power is in our hands.” If enough mass pressure can be brought to force the government to build such a revolutionary army (by arming and training the workers under trade union control) then the power will be in our hands. If, as is infinitely more likely, the government resists all such pressure, its counter-revolutionary character is exposed and all the necessity for its overthrow made much more clear. That is what the transitional program is for.

The POR, instead of posing the realistic alternative of the transitional program, is going to wait until “all the power is in our hands,” by appointment of the very president responsible for rebuilding the counter-revolutionary army. This is the policy of watching quietly while the axe is being sharpened and then waiting for it to fall.


Who, then, is responsible for the betrayal of the revolution? Who is responsible for the fact that the workers and peasants have sunk into apathy. The MNR simply carries out it’s appointed task — to save capitalism in Bolivia. The labor leaders have collaborated fully in saving capitalism. They entered the government at the beginning and have remained in it ever since. They gave silent consent to the rebuilding of the counterevolutionary armed forces and to the suppression of the POR. They allowed the workers’ militia to fall into decay, as was shown in the fascist insurrection of November 9, 1953. The Falange, a comparatively small group led by officers of Paz Estenssoro’s army, was able to sieze Cochabamba, second city of Bolivia and center of the peasant movement, and hold it for six hours before the militias could mobilize in sufficient force to drive them out, The POR has never criticized the labor leaders for entering or remaining in the cabinet. It has never criticized them for their silence on the rebuilding of the counterrevolution. It does not even criticize them for their silence of the suppression of Lucha Obrera.

Guillermo Lora, writing in the March issue of “Que Hacer?”, complains that the MNR is betraying the aspirations of the masses. The betrayal, according to Lora, consists in the fact that the government is holding back the agrarian revolution, is reversing the nationalizations, has unloaded the burden of the economic crisis on the backs of the workers and peasants, has bureaucratized the COB, the trade union center. It is noteworthy that Lora does not even mention the suppression of Lucha Obrera! This, apparently, is as unimportant to him as is the suppression of the Chinese Trotskyists to Pablo and Germain.

Lora is consistent in accusing the MNR of betrayal, since he expected better of it. But who and what made this betrayal possible? Without the support of the labor leaders, Paz Estenssoro could not have succeeded in his counter-revolutionary role. Lora does not mention that the labor leaders remain in the cabinet to this day.

Lora, of course, claims to be superior in perspicacity to the average worker.

“For the bulk of the militants (of the MNR),” he writes, “and for many other people, the year 1954 will be the year of betrayal. We speak of the betrayal by the petty-bourgeois leadership of the aspirations of the masses. For us it will be the year of the verification of our theoretical conclusions on the capability of a petty bourgeois party to carry out revolutionary and anti-imperialist tasks.

The prognosis that the MNR would suppress the working class and its party was not made by the POR, because the POR has never regarded the MNR as a class enemy. The “prediction” of the POR which has, according to Lora, been verified, was completely useless in preparing it or its followers for a struggle against the MNR. Such a struggle, in fact, was characterized by Lora in his interview as “hysteria.”

“One cannot exclude the possibility,” said Lora in his interview, “that the right wing of the government, faced with the sharpening of the struggle against it, will ally itself with imperialism to crush the so-called `Communist’ danger.” ,

In a letter commenting on Lora ‘s interview (Internal Bulletin, June 1952) I wrote as follows:

“One thing does appear clearly: Comrade Lora does not regard this government as an enemy of the working class and of the POR. This formulation is wrong, very wrong! This is an error which, if it actually represents the position of the POR, can have tragic consequences for the very physical existence of the cadres of the Bolivian Trotskyist party. This is the warning the leaders of the POR must give the working class and above all its own supporters: `We must expect with absolute certainty (not merely “not exclude the possibility”) that the government (not merely its right wing) will ally itself with imperialism and try to crush the mass movement and first of a all its vanguard, the POR.'”

In the same letter:

“I think it is incontestable that the present Bolivian government is a bourgeois government (I didn’t dream that anyone would contest it!) whose task and aim are to defend by all means available to it the interests of the bourgeoisie and of imperialism. It will, if it can, harness and disarm the working class, smash its revolutionary vanguard, and rebuild the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, which has been shaken and not destroyed by the first phase of the revolution. This government is therefore the deadly enemy of the workers and peasants and of the Marxist party.”

And one more:

“Lechin’s is a treacherous, an undependable friendship. Lechin will capitulate again, and again. He will help disarm the workers. He will help smash the POR, no matter how it may try to placate him. And Lechin’s betrayal will be facilitated if the POR continues to support him.”

It does not take a genius, as can be seen, to make correct and useful predictions. Armed with the Marxist doctrine and the Marxist method, quite ordinary people can see the direction of events and prepare for them with a revolutionary policy. But without the Marxist method, there is no possibility at all of projecting and carrying out a successful policy. Marxism is not the guarantee of victory, but revisionism is the guarantee of defeat.


Matching the POR’s capitulation to the reformist labor leaders was its pro-Stalinist conciliationism. In this the POR outdoes Pablo. On this question I can do no better than to reproduce portions of a letter that I wrote to Murray Weiss on January 2, 1954 (unanswered, of course):

“I was pleased to see you take cognizance of the ‘counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinists in Bolivia’ in the paper of December 21st. However I find your passing reference entirely inadequate, since it is completely unsupported by any facts. … Do you have such facts, Murray? I, for one, would be very interested in seeing them…. I wonder where you got your facts about the counterrevolutionary role of the Bolivian Stalinists. Certainly not from the Bolivian Trotskyists. As you no doubt know, they never criticize the Bolivian Stalinists, not in public print.

“Look over the issue of the Lucha Obrera, the paper of the POR. In all the issues of 1953 you’ll find just one single reference to the Stalinists. This is an announcement of a split in the Stalinist PIR and the formation of the `Workers and Peasants Communist Party.’ Aside from that there is no other reference to the Stalinists. This fact, so incredible and so glaring, is no doubt known to you. How do you explain it? Has anyone asked the POR for an explanation?

“Even when Lucha Obrera mentions the assassination of Trotsky, it does not say who was responsible or for what reason. (This is No. 43, the same issue I have twice quoted from. The article mentions the assassination and deals with Trotsky’s contributions — led the Russian revolution, built the Red Army, elaborated the theory of Permanent Revolution, and founded the Fourth International. But it manages to omit any mention whatever of the dominating theme of the last seventeen years of his life — the struggle against Stalinism.

“Lucha Obrera carried two article on the fall of Mossadegh — and it did not so much as whisper of the existence of a Stalinist party in Iran, much less denounce its betrayal. ‘The fall of Mossadegh’, says Lucha Obrera, ‘is indubitably a triumph for British imperialism, but it is at the same time the product of a vacillating policy, which attempted to limit the Iranian revolution, turning its back on the aspirations of the masses. And Lucha Obrera means the ‘vacillating policy’ not of the Tudeh Party, which would be bad enough (it does not even hint of the existence of such a party); it means the ‘vacillating policy’ of Mossadegh.

“‘The Pabloite talk about the “inadequacy” of the Stalinist policy during August, of the ‘failure of the Stalinists to project a revolutionary orientation” is false and misleading. It is a question of calculated betrayal.’ So say you in the paper. Isn’t also the POR’s failure to go even as far as Pablo in criticizing, the Iranian and above all the Bolivian Stalinists at least ‘false and misleading’?”

For the sake of accuracy, I must make a reservation to the foregoing. I find that Nos. 38 and 39 of Lucha Obrera are missing from my collection: I cannot therefore say that I have examined all the issues of 1953. Also, I have found one other reference to the Bolivian Stalinists — a reply to their calumnies against the POR, in No. 35 (March 1953). On international Stalinism, there is an article translated from the paper here on the case against the Jewish doctors in No. 34 (February 1953) and a small item on the Berlin strike in No. 40 July), which reported, oddly enough, that one of the demands of the strikers was withdrawal of the Red Army. These reservations do not change the picture of conciliationism to Stalinism.

In No. 36 (April 1953) there is the following panegyric to Mao Tse-tung:

“On the first of March the central Chinese government adopted an electoral law which is fully democratic and allows the revolutionary forces to crush reaction. Full democracy for the exploited and liquidation of all guarantees for the reactionaries, is the spirit of the law.

“The new law establishes that all Chinese (men and women) over 18 ‘With the exception of the counter-revolutionaries’ and former landed proprietors who have not been converted to productive labor, have the right to vote. The illiterate are included and will vote by sign, raising their hands. The Chinese Communist Party and all the other democratic organizations may present their lists, common or separate. The elector will retain the right to vote for candidates on no list.

“The elections will be by proportional representation. One delegate for each 800,000 inhabitant of non-proletarian regions. The proletarians will elect one delegate for each 100,000. Mao Tse-tung explains that the electoral law reflects the leading role of the working class.

“As has been seen, the electoral law is fully democratic for the peasants and proletarians (fundamental forces of the revolution). It concretely establishes that the right to vote cannot be exercised by counter-revolutionaries and old landlords who have not been converted to production. In the China of Mao there is no democracy for the reaction.”

This item appeared at about the same time that the paper here printed the appeal of the International Executive Committee against the persecutions visited on the Chinese Trotskyists. During the rest of the year, until it was suppressed, Lucha Obrera had not one word to say on the subject. It did not even report the news to its readers. And, indeed, why should it care? If the revolution is so well-led by Mao Tse-tung, then are the Trotskyists not truly “fugitives from the revolution”? As one result of the post-war revolutionary events, Maoism has found a place in the Fourth International.

This is no academic question for the POR, for it involves the whole question of the colonial revolution. Maoism is class-collaborationism, the idea of the possibility of a “Peoples Democracy,” which is neither a proletarian nor a bourgeois state, but a transitional government. The POR believes in the same possibility; it believes that the Mao government is such an in-between government. The POR has many nice things to say about the theory of Permanent Revolution. Its actual theory, however, is a caricature of Trotskyism. The theory of Permanent Revolution holds that the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the colonial revolution can be carried out only by a workers state; the POR holds that socialist tasks can be undertaken by a non-proletarian government.

The POR is not alone in this, of course. It finds its inspiration and support in Pabloism, which is one of the names of Maoism.

Could Maoism lead a revolution in Bolivia, as it did in China? While this is not absolutely excluded, it is extremely unlikely, much more unlikely than it was in China. “The revolution advances under the whip of the counter-revolution,” said Marx of the French revolution of 1848; and this empirical observation has turned out to be a general law. Faced with a powerful class enemy, the revolution can be successful only if led by a resolute, fully conscious leadership, that is, the Marxist party; under the tempering blows of the counter-revolution, the leadership will develop, become theoretically and politically hardened, and gain the confidence of the working class.

In China the native ruling class was very weak and very corrupt; deprived of the effective support of imperialism, it could be overthrown by a weak revolution, held back and sabotaged by a bureaucratic and class-collaborationist leadership. Wall Street will not dare allow such an easy victory in any part of its Latin American empire, and it will have much more power, both political and economic, to prevent it than it had in China.

One additional condition is necessary for the success of Maoism; this is the absence of a mass revolutionary Marxist party. For Maoism is not completely revolutionary; while leading the revolution into which it has been forced by the weakness of the class enemy, it deforms the revolution, it expropriates the working class politically.

The victory of Maoism results in a deformed workers state. The political expropriation of the working class can take place in no other way than by the smashing of its class-conscious vanguard and of its Marxist party. Mao left the bulk of this task to Chiang Kai-shek; that is the meaning of what the IEC delicately calls “the lack of coordination” between the workers’ upsurge in 1945-47 and the peasant movement, which the Communist Party halted; that is the meaning of the persecution of the Trotskyists, who are not, as the Pabloites shamelessly and heartlessly quip, “refugees from the revolution,” but rather refugees (if they are lucky) from the counter-revolution — the Stalinist counter-revolution which Mao also represents. Between Maoism and the Marxist party there can be no peaceful coexistence.

Maoism is incompatible with Marxism. That is why Pabloism in Bolivia and everywhere else is the betrayal of Marxism and the liquidation of the party.


It has been objected (orally, of course) that I have criticized not Pablo but Lora and the POR, and that Lora is now “on our side.” If Lora is indeed on the side of Marxism, this would not invalidate the conclusion that he and the POR were the instrument through which Pablo betrayed the Bolivian revolution. Lora can, of course, repudiate the reformist line he has been following. This would be a great help in rearming the Bolivian revolution, and could only be welcomed. But if Lora is accepted as an orthodox Trotskyist on the basis for being for revolution in the USSR while he is for reformism in Bolivia, then the orthodoxy of the “orthodox Trotskyists” is called into question, and they would share with Pablo the onus of the Bolivian betrayal.

The fight against Pabloist revisionism cannot be confined to the slogans of ‘No capitulation to Stalinism” and “The right of the party to exist.” For the past two years the POR has been organizationally independent while capitulating politically to the bourgeois government. Why? Because the revisionism of the POR is on a more fundamental question: the class nature of the state. And Pabloite revisionism as a whole is also based fundamentally on the rejection of the Marxist position on the class nature of the state.

Before the Third World Congress Comrade Cannon recognized the danger. In 1949 he, together with the majority of the national committee, rejected the position put forward by Cochran and Hansen that the bourgeois states of Eastern Europe had transformed themselves into workers states without revolution.

“If you once begin to play with the idea that the class nature of the state can be changed by manipulations in the top circles,” said Comrade Cannon, you open the door to all kinds of revision of basic theory … It can only be done by revolution which is followed by a fundamental change in property relations.”

This prophecy has been completely fulfilled; yet the prophet prefers to remain without honor for his prophecy. He prefers to fight some of the manifestations of the revisionism he predicted and ignore the foundation on which it rests.

When the Third World Congress adopted the very position which Comrade Cannon had attacked so sharply, he and all his supporters joined in its unanimous endorsement. They accepted the “intermediate status” of the “buffer countries” from 1945 to 1948; they accepted Pablo’s and Cochran’s economist criteria on the class nature of the state; they accepted the idea of a fundamental social transformation and of a change in the class nature of the state without revolution. They weren’t happy with this position; not one article has ever appeared defending or explaining it.

They later also accepted Pablo’s position that there was in China not a workers or a bourgeois state but a transitional, an in-between, a “workers and peasants government.” They never defended this position either — in writing — and defended it orally only when they had to; when they were faced with the attack of the Vern tendency in Los Angeles. Murray Weiss and Myra Tanner showed then that this position could be defended only with the most blatant and open revisionism — such revisionism as they would not dare put on paper. They also accepted Pablo’s betrayal of the Bolivian revolution, also refusing to defend it in writing and consenting to an oral debate — in Los Angeles — only after much hesitation and several changes of mind.

For the last four years the political line of the international movement has been in the hands of Pablo, with the “orthodox Trotskyists” I following docilely behind. They were, as Murray Weiss said, “in the arms of Pablo.”  “The right of the party to exist” and “no conciliation with Stalinism” were nowhere to be found when Pablo and Germain presented their Maoist position on China. They voted for a resolution that declared: ‘By putting itself in matters of doctrine on the plane of Marxism-Leninism, by affirming that its historical aim is the creation of the classless Communist society, by educating its cadres in this spirit, as well as in the spirit of devotion to the USSR, the Chinese CP presents by an large the same characteristics as the other mass Stalinist parties of the colonial and semi-colonial countries.” (Is this why the POR refuses to criticize the Stalinists?)

They accepted the line of “critical support” of the Mao government, even when Germain showed that this really meant solidarity with the Mao government against the Trotskyists. With a brutality worthy of a Stalin, but unprecedented in the Trotskyist movement, Germain declared that the refusal to give support to Mao, put forth in the IEC by Comrade Jacques, was , “counter-revolutionary“. Not one member of the International, or of any party in the movement, raised a voice against this piece of Stalinist brutality. To call Jacques’ position counter-revolutionary signified that the difference over whether to give critical support to Mao was no terminological dispute; it signified solidarity with the secret police against all independent thought, against all Trotskyists. Comrades who emitted shocked gasps at a much more insignificant defection, that of Grace Carlson, took this with equanimity. Not only were there no protests, but this Stalinist position was actually defended by Max Geldman, a leading majority supporter, in a debate. “You have no trust,” said Geldman, “you are suspicious of the IEC.” This was in April, 1953.

Yes, Vern and Ryan, and the comrades supporting their position, did not trust the IEC, led by Pablo and Germain; they were more than suspicious of their revisionist line. And they had much less concrete knowledge than Geldman and the rest of the National Committee were in a position to have. We didn’t know what Peng knew. But Marxism is a better guide to people and events than empiricism or faith. Murray Weiss had faith in Pablo. “How do you know”, he asked in a debate with Dennis Vern in May, 1953, “that the Chinese Communist Party cannot become a Marxist party?”

“I am willing,” replied Comrade Vern, “to stake the whole validity of my position on this: when the pressure of the Korean war lets up, the government, rather, than, as you and Germain say, unfurling the proletarian power, will become even more bureaucratized; it will intensify its repressions against the Trotskyists.”


Now the comrades are indignant at the Pabloite jibe that the Chinese Trotskyists are “fugitives from a revolution.” But indignation is no answer to a political position. The Pabloites are confident; they believe that Maoism is or can become completely revolutionary. What do his opponents say? Nothing. They still formally retain the Pabloite position. All attempts to raise the question are met with stony silence. Comrade Stein made an attempt to approach the question in an internal document of the Majority Caucus, but he was rebuffed and has since kept his peace. The National Committee resolution criticizing Pablo’s line on Stalinism, (“Against Pabloist Revisionism,” FI, Sept.-Oct. 1953) retains Pablo s position on China.

Why have they remained silent? Why do they still remain silent, as the International Committee admits, on problems left suspended, befogged or falsified by the Pabloist leadership during “three year”? Is it because, as we have vapidly been told, they didn’t want to “dignify” the Vern tendency by replying to its criticisms? But the questions on which they hold such a stubborn silence involve the life and death of the movement! Is the tiny Vern group so powerful that it can lock the minds and typewriters of the party leadership on such vital questions?

No. The “orthodox Trotskyists” have a much more important reason for having defaulted to Pablo. While Pablo has taken up and answered important problems as they arose — in an empirical revisionist manner — his opponents have been unable to give any answer to these problems. Both Pablo and his opponents find that they cannot make reality conform with their doctrine; that, in the aphorism used by both Harry Frankel and Max Geldman, “theory is gray and life is green.” Pablo turns his back on doctrine and rivets his eyes in an empirical and impressionistic manner on “the new world reality.” His opponents turn their back on events and maintain their doctrine as revealed dogma.

Stalinism cannot be reformed — says Comrade Cannon in public statements. Then has the Chinese CP, which certainly was Stalinist, been reformed or not? No answer.

The Soviet bureaucracy must be overthrown by revolution. What of the Chinese bureaucracy; is a refusal to give it critical support still counter-revolutionary? No answer.

The class nature of the state, says Comrade Cannon, cannot be changed without revolution. What of the changes that took place in Eastern Europe? When and how were these states transformed from bourgeois to proletarian? On this question, once having voted for Pablo s position, they have neither defended (in writing, that is) nor attacked it.

And they have answered no questions on the Bolivian revolution.

Is it then not possible to face the post-war reality and at the same time maintain and defend the Marxist doctrine? Yes, it is. Both the empiricism of Pablo and the abstentionism of Cannon have their common foundation in the rejection of Marxism on the nature of.the state; and this has its origin in the Russian Question. The belief that the Soviet bureaucracy is completely counter-revolutionary, which is the origin of the errors of both sides, signifies the rejection of Trotskyism on the nature of the Soviet state.

When a working class organization, no matter how bureaucratized, carries on a struggle against the capitalist class, no matter how inadequately, that is a class struggle. If the Soviet state is a workers state, then its struggle against Nazi Germany was a class struggle. A class war is a class struggle on the plane of state power — that is, revolution-war and counter-revolution-war. This thought, which has been hesitatingly and equivocatingly accepted in regard to the Third World War, has been rejected in regard to the Second. Yet this is the only position which can bring all the post-war events, the whole “new reality, into conformity with Marxist theory. With the victory over the Germans the Red Army was left as the only real power — the only state power — in Eastern Europe. That was the revolution, the transfer of power from one class to another. Without this transfer of power, the subsequent economic and social transformations would have been impossible.

This revolution is ignored by the International. The Stalinist bureaucracy was completely counter-revolutionary, it was held, and therefore could not carry out a revolution. The buffer states could not be workers states, concluded the International; they must still be bourgeois states — degenerated bourgeois ‘states, on the road to structural assimilation into the Soviet Union. But the Third World Congress could not ignore the fundamental economic and social transformations that had taken place; there must be workers states. How had they come into being? Bourgeois states on the Road to Structural Assimilation turned out to be states with an “intermediate status,” transitional states, the betrayal of Marxism on the state. The “orthodox Trotskylsts” assented to the theoretical betrayal because they had no way out. And they still hold to their original error, the cause of their abdication to Pablo.

Is the Soviet bureaucracy counter-revolutionary completely and to the core? The “old Trotskysts ” can get no support from Trotsky on this point. They can find only one quotation which can in any way be made to appear to support their point of view. And this sentence is part of a passage in which Trotsky explains to Shachtman that the Soviet state is counter-revolutionary, but nevertheless still a workers state. The comrades have their own good reasons for calling the Vern tendency “Talmudist” and “scholastic.” Admitting that the bureaucracy does do progressive work, Comrade Weiss maintains that bourgeois politicians also do some progressive things without changing their completely reactionary character.

This shows a complete disregard of class distinctions. Building roads, scientific research may be progressive in the general sense of the struggle to control nature; but for Marxists the terms progressive and reactionary have political meaning only in relation to the class struggle. A capitalist who gives a concession in response to a struggle is no more progressive than one who resists; the effect of capitalist resistance may even be more progressive, in that it forces workers to organize and fight more militantly. While a capitalist who makes the most liberal concessions is not doing anything progressive, a trade union leader who organizes a picket line is. And the activity of the Soviet bureaucracy in organizing the struggle against the Hitler counterrevolution was profoundly progressive. If the bureaucracy had deserted (and many bureaucrats did) the Soviet Union would have been conquered. It will be objected that the absence of an alternative, a Marxist leadership, was due entirely to ferocious suppression by the bureaucracy — and that is true. But this merely serves to point up the dual role of the bureaucracy, both progressive and reactionary.

If the Soviet state is really a workers state, then how can the administrator of the state, faced not only by a rebellious working class but also by a ferociously counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, be completely and to the core counter-revolutionary? This position cannot be held consistently; the supporters of the International Committee still cannot deny the fundamental changes in Eastern Europe. They insist that the changes were carried out by “military-bureaucratic action” and that the Chinese Stalinists are no longer Stalinists. How this proves the completely reactionary nature of the Soviet bureaucracy no one has yet shown.

The choice cannot be evaded: either give up the theory that the Soviet bureaucracy is completely counter-revolutionary, or give up more and more completely and openly Marxism on the state. The choice will have to be made. The silence will have to be broken. Until it is, the struggle against Pabloism cannot be carried to a conclusion.

Above all, and first of all, the silence on the Bolivian revolution must be broken. Pablo’s betrayal must be exposed and combatted. If Pablo’s silence on Bolivia is a sign of his abandonment of Marxism as a science, what shall we say of the silence of his opponents? To remain silent is to shield the betrayers and share in the betrayal.


Not only has there been no discussion of the Bolivian revolution, as though we have nothing to learn from it and no political aid to give; the Bolivian revolution has been almost completely absent from the propaganda activity of the Party.

When the revolution began, two years ago, the paper responded quickly and carried a goodly amount of material in the first few weeks. George Breitman wrote several good articles, which shows that he knows what a revolutionary policy should be. He even called the MNR government a bourgeois government, and wrote that “Lechin’s stay in the cabinet had better be brief.”

But after the first few weeks the paper carried only occasional references to the Bolivian revolution. Breitman apparently lost interest until, stung by the suppression of Lucha Obrera, he wrote a brief article in which he again called the MNR government “a capitalist government.” Even when Labor Action [Shachtman’s paper] accused the POR leaders of having accepted posts on governmental commissions, no reply was forthcoming. Even a letter written by the Secretary of the POR denying the charges was denied publication. (On this point, I admit an extenuating circumstance: the denial by the POR appeared to be a diplomatic one. The secretary of the POR denied being in the government, but said nothing about being on commissions. An open letter to Labor Action, promised by the Secretary of the POR, has never appeared.)

Since the first weeks, the paper has aped the line of the POR, calling the MNR government petty-bourgeois, pointing to the presence of labor leaders in the cabinet as proof of its progressive character, and later accusing the MNR of betraying the revolution. The last time, until this writing, that mention was made of Bolivia was on December 28 [1953]. That was an editorial dealing with the suppression of Lucha Obrera. The editorial denounced the cowardly labor leaders for their silence on Bolivia! The paper did win one victory. After two editorials calling for recognition of the MNR government, without any mass demonstrations, public meetings, or petitions, the State Department was convinced. Two later editorials protesting the suppression of Lucha Obrera did not have the same effect.

The Party has done nothing to popularize, defend, or explain the Bolivian revolution to the public. In two years there has been just one (1) public meeting on Bolivia; not one meeting per branch, but one meeting for the whole party! This was held in New York, and Bert Cochran was the speaker. The Bolivian revolution is sometimes mentioned in holiday orations, usually not at all. There has been just one branch discussion on the Bolivian revolution in the whole party, a debate in Los Angeles; and this took place six months after it was requested. “You have a fixation on Bolivia”, I was told, “we are busy with the American revolution.” This from the organizer of the branch in Los Angeles, with its large Latin American population!

This shameful neglect of the elementary duty of international solidarity is in glaring contradiction to the directives given by the Founding Congress of the Fourth International:

“Just as the Latin American sections of the Fourth International must popularize in their press and agitation the struggles of the American labor and revolutionary movements against the common enemy, so the section in the U.S. must devote more time and energy in its agitational and propaganda work to acquaint the proletariat of the U.S. with the position and struggles of the Latin American countries and their working class movements. Every act of American imperialism must be exposed in the press and at meetings, and, on indicated occasions, the section in the U.S. must seek to organize mass movements of protest against specific activities of Yankee imperialism.

“In addition, the section in the U.S., by utilizing the Spanish language and literature of the Fourth International, must seek to organize on however a modest scale to begin with, the militant revolutionary forces among the doubly-exploited millions of Filipino, Mexican, Caribbean, Central and South American workers now resident in the U.S., not only for the purpose of linking them with the labor movement in the U.S. but also for the purpose of strengthening the ties with the labor and revolutionary movements in the countries from which these workers originally came. This work shall be carried on under the direction of the American Secretariat of the Fourth International which will publish the necessary literature and organize the work accordingly.”

Due to reactionary laws, international affiliation is barred. But no capitalist law can prevent genuine orthodox Trotskyists from acting like internationalists. The Bolivian revolution should have the same importance for us as a strike in Minneapolis or Detroit.

Class Collaboration Makes a Recruit

Class Collaboration Makes a Recruit

by Sam Ryan, Los Angeles.

First published in the Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, August 1953. Republished in and scanned from the LRP publication “Bolivia: The Revolution the ‘Fourth International Betrayed.”  

“Without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary practice.”

— Lenin


It is now sixteen months since the Bolivian revolution began. It is sixteen months since this little nation, of three and one-half million people, presented the Fourth International the opportunity of proving that Marxism — Trotskyism — can conquer the masses and thereby lead them to victory.

Considering the fact that a Trotskyist mass party, the POR, is involved in a revolutionary situation, we should expect by this time to have a mass of information from Bolivia, such information as would immeasurably enrich, deepen and concretize our Marxist theory.

How has the POR gone about the task of winning the massesfrom the NNW from the labor-fakers of the Lechin stripe?

How has the POR dealt with the various concrete questions which arise with the various stages of the struggle?

Who controls the COB? What is the strength of Lechin? of the POR? of the Stalinists? How has their strength varied in the course of the past sixteen months?

What about the curve of strike struggles? How has the strength of the POR varied with it? Have political strikes been increasing in intensity? If not, why? What has been the role of the POR? of Lechin?

Have any disputes arisen within the POR? Or has the POR, in a revolutionary situation, been completely monolithic?

These are just a few of the many questions on which we should by this time have a rich treasury of information.

Actually we have been given practically no information on the situation in Bolivia — the one revolution in which the Trotskyists play an important role.

It is not true, however, that we know nothing at all about what is going on in Bolivia. For the past month detailed reports have been circulating about the activities of the POR. According to these reports received from non-Trotskyist sources, the POR is accepting posts in the governmental machinery; Guillermo Lora, former Secretary of the party, has been appointed [to] the Stabilization Office; Comrade Moller, present Secretary of the POR, is director of the Workers Savings Bank, which is controlled by Juan Lechin, a member of the Cabinet; Allayo Mercado, another POR leader, is a member of the Agrarian Commission. In the face of these reports the silence of the PC of the SWP and of the International Secretariat should cause deep concern to all comrades.

Silence is acquiescence. And those who remain silent before a policy which politically disarms the workers and peasants before their class enemy must share the responsibility for the inevitable results.

The reports of coalitionism and class-collaboration by the POR do not come as a bolt from the blue. This is the direction the political line of the POR has taken, with the encouragement of the leading comrades of the International, since the April 9th, 1952 revolution.

In May, 1952 the paper carried an interview with Comrade Lora. I wrote a letter to the PC, which was printed in the June 1952 Internal Bulletin, expressing sharp disagreement with Lora’s political line. I stated then that I thought it was a conciliationist and class-collaborationist line, rather than the line of revolutionary Marxism; and I asked whether this was the line of the POR. The PC replied that this was “obviously a difference of opinion between you and Comrade Lora,” and it, the PC, was in no position to participate in the discussion.

Now we have the official position of the POR, in the form of an unsigned article in the magazine ( “One Year of the Bolivian Revolution” [Fourth International, Jan.-Feb. 1953]). This article, continuing Lora’s line, unmistakably lays the basis not for leading the proletarian revolution but for propping up the bourgeois state. Immediately on reading the article, I prepared a criticism, intended for the Internal Bulletin. On hearing of the actual steps the POR has taken toward getting into the government, I refrained from sending in my article, waiting for a denial, or an explanation, or a criticism, by the PC or the IS. However, no comment has up to now been forthcoming; and this fact is in itself a harsh indictment not only of the policy of the POR, but also of the line of the IS and of the PC.


Since the Second World War, the International has been in the habit of finding “exceptional” situations in which, “exceptionally,” the “classical’ laws and traditions of Leninism do not hold. In Eastern Europe the denial of the revolution-war character of the Soviet-German war led the International to see the establishment of workers’ states without proletarian revolution. In China the International sees a transitional state, neither bourgeois nor proletarian, baptized dual power and “workers and peasants government.” Furthermore, the International sees the Chinese Stalinist party reformed into a party that it expects will lead “the demonstration of proletarian power’; the role of Trotskyism is reduced from the struggle for power to that of “pushing” the CP and the masses. For these “exceptional” situations the International has adopted the concepts and methods of reformism. But a reformist course once embarked upon, cannot be confined; it is not at all difficult to see every situation as “exceptional”.

But the article (“One Year of the Bolivian Revolution”) notes that we have here no exceptional situation. It sees the close resemblance of the course of the Bolivian revolution to that of the Russian revolution. One would think that much could be learned by studying the strategy and tactics — above all, the conceptions — of the Bolsheviks in the February-October period.

The political line of the POR, however, is not that of Lenin but that of his class-collaborationist opponents, Kamenev and Zinoviev. The latter, in fact, did not go as far as the POR; they did not accept posts in the bourgeois government.

“If that policy (of Kamenev and Zinoviev) had prevailed,” says Trotsky, ‘die development of the revolution would have passed over the head of our party and, in the end, the insurrection of the worker and peasant masses would have taken place without party leadership; in other words, we would have had the repetition of the July days on a colossal scale, i.e., this time not as an episode but as a catastrophe. It is perfectly obvious that the immediate consequence of such a catastrophe would have been the physical destruction of our party. This provides us with a measuring rod of how deep our differences of opinion were.”

The same measuring rod should indicate to us the very serious penalty our movement will incur as the result of a wrong policy. Let me cite the three central paragraphs of the magazine article:

“The POR began by justifiably granting critical support to the MNR government. That is, it desisted from issuing the slogan down with the government’; it gave the government critical support ll against attacks of imperialism and reaction, and it supported all progressive measures. But at the same time it avoided any expression whatever of confidence in the government. On the contrary, it propelled the revolutionary activity and independent organization of the masses as much as it could.

“The POR limits its support and sharpens its criticism insofar as the government proves itself incapable of fulfilling the national-democratic program of the revolution, insofar as it hesitates, capitulates, indirectly plays the game of imperialism and reaction, prepares to betray and for this reason tries to harry and deride the revolutionists.

“The POR has been applying this flexible attitude which requires a carefully considered emphasis at each moment, one that is not confused but neither is it sectarian, and in applying this attitude the POR is demonstrating a remarkable political maturity. The POR has adopted an attitude of constructive criticism toward the proletarian and plebeian base of the MNR with the aim of facilitating a progressive differentiation within it.

Every sentence in these three paragraphs contains at least one assault on the theory and practice of revolutionary Marxism; the policy outlined is the direct opposite of the one carried out by Lenin. It has become -the fashion here in Los Angeles to point out that Lenin is dead; but we can easily judge with what choice and pithy characterizations ations he would have answered anyone who called any kind of support of a bourgeois government’ justifiable.”

“‘Why didn’t you arrest Rodzianko and Co.’ (the Provisional Government)? he bitterly flung at the Bolshevik leaders on his arrival in Petrograd. The next day he wrote: ‘No support whatever to the Provisional Government.’ In the mass demonstrationtion toward the end of April the Bolsheviks raised the slogan: ‘Down With the Government’.”

Lenin withdrew the slogan “Down with the government.” But this had nothing in common, as Trotsky points out in “Lessons of October,” with the position of Kamenev that the slogan itself was an adventuristic blunder.

“Lenin, after the experience of the reconnoiter,” says Trotsky,

“withdrew the slogan of the immediate overthrow of the provisional government. But he did not withdraw it for any set period of time — for so many weeks or months — but strictly in dependence upon how quickly the revolt of the masses against the conciliationists would grow The oppositionists, on the contrary, considered the slogan itself a blunder. (They favored critical support of the provisional government—S.R.) In the temporary retreat of Lenin there was not even a hint of change in the political line. He did not proceed from the fact that the democratic revolution was not completed. He based himself exclusively on the idea that the masses were not at the moment capable of overthrowing the Provisional Government and that, therefore, everything possible had to be done to enable the working class to overthrow the Provisional Government on the morrow. ‘

Lenin’s “flexibility” in tactics has nothing in common with the flexible attitude” of the POR toward the MNR government. Lenin was not at all flexible but very rigid in his attitude toward the Provisional Government. All of Lenin’s flexible tactics were part of one unchanging line: overthrow of the Provisional Government.

Lenin reposed no confidence at all in the Provisional Government, nor in the parties that composed it; his confidence was entirely, reserved to the Bolshevik party. This statement is a truism, almost a tautology. The magazine, however, feels constrained to protest that the POR  “avoided (!!) any expression of confidence in this government.” What is this but the purely formal language of diplomacy? And like all diplomatic language, this passage is more useful in hiding than in clarifying the thought behind it.

What does this sentence mean? That the POR never said: “We have confidence in the government”? But there are many way to express the essence of confidence, above a in action, while “avoiding” the form. First of all, in the April 9,1952 revolution the POR, rather than striving for power for itself, for the working class, proposed that the MNR take power; that is, the POR proposed to maintain the bourgeoisie in power.

If confidence is not placed in the working class and its party, that they can take and exercise power, it is thereby given, like it or not, to the bourgeois government. Lenin understood this. When, in answer to his demand that the bourgeois government be overthrown, the Mensheviks asked the, to them, rhetorical question — Who among us will form a government and rule the nation? — Lenin shouted out — “We will!” And he was answered by derisive laughter, for the Bolsheviks were but a small minority in the Soviet and in the country.

The magazine article itself exposes the glaring contrast between the attitude of the POR and that of Lenin.

“The The direction of the Bolivian revolution up to now confirms step by step the general line of this type of classic development of the proletarian revolution in our epoch. It bears more resemblance to the course of the Russian revolution, although in miniature, than it does to the Chinese revolution, for example. It began by lifting the radical party of the petty bourgeoisie to power (as was the case with the Russian revolution in a particular stage before October) with the support of the revolutionary masses … and of the still revolutionary party of the proletariat, the POR.”

This is not “avoiding any expression of confidence in the MNR government”! Furthermore, it is arrantly false to imply that the Bolsheviks gave any support to any”radical party of the petty bourgeoisie” which ruled Russia ‘in a particular stage before October.”


Could the working class have taken power in April, 1952? The above-quoted paragraph implied that a proletarian revolution was not possible. But this is a hopelessly formalistic view of the matter. The working class was armed and had defeated the army and the police. Nothing prevented it from taking power except its own illusions and its own capitulationist leadership. Exactly as in Russia! the power of the working class is shown by the fact that it was able to force the MNR to admit two of its leaders into the government.

Nothing at all is said about this in the magazine article. The author speaks of a future differentiation with the MNR, of a future revolutionary wing emerging from the MNR, but he says nothing at all of the fact that this differentiation is already over a year old; that what the masses supported in April, 1952, was not the MNR but its proletarian (class-collaborationist) left wing. What were, and are, the relations between the POR and this already-existing left wing? This question is not even discussed. The article “avoids” mentioning the “expression of confidence” which the POR extended to the class-collaborationist labor leaders (and to the government) when it supported ttheir entry into the government. And to this day the POR has not raised the demand that the labor leaders break with the bourgeois government and take power.

The decisive question of the revolution is not even mentioned! The struggle of the POR for power is concretely embodied in its struggle with the MNR left wing for leadership of the workers and peasants. Before the Marxists can take power they must defeat the Compromisers ideologically and politically. This is an integral and unavoidable part of the class struggle; the Compromisers embody the influence of the enemy class within the working class.

How did the Bolsheviks defeat the Russian Compromisers? The Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries also had the support of a majority of the workers and peasants. They also entered the bourgeois government. The Bolsheviks mercilessly attacked the Compromisers for their class treachery. They intransigently opposed the collaboration of the Mensheviks and SRs in the bourgeois government. When the Bolsheviks were in a small minority they insistently demanded that the Mensheviks and SRs break with the bourgeois politicians and take power, and not some time in the future, but now, immediately. Even if the Mensheviks and SRs had taken power in the spring of 1917, that would not have won them the confidence of the Bolsheviks, nor a governmental coalition with them; the Bolsheviks promised only to overthrow them peacefully, insofar as that should be possible.

How is the POR going to expose and defeat the Bolivian compromisers? Far from attacking their class treachery, the POR demanded their inclusion in the MNR government. Far from calling on them to break with the MNR and take power (establish a “workers’ and peasants’ government”) ) the POR relegates the workers’ and peasants government to “the final aim of the struggle.” The POR speaks of the “collaboration of a revolutionary wing emerging from the MNR in a future workers’ and peasants’ government. It has thus solved the problem — verbally. If the future left wing is revolutionary, all we have to do is merge with it and form a bigger revolutionary party. But to grapple with the present reformist left wing? This the POR fails to do.

The assumption that a POR government was inevitable is an attempt to whitewash the false and treacherous leaders of the working class by blaming their class treachery on the “backwardness” of the masses.


The question of critical support has become a difficult thing to discuss in our party; its meaning has become obscured since the International decided to give critical support to the Mao government in China and to the MNR government in Bolivia. Is critical support political support? Is critical support material defense against armed counter-revolution? Is critical support of a government merely support of its progressive measures? All these definitions are included in one brief and very confused passage in the magazine article.

In the Spanish civil war the Trotskyists were quite clear about the distinction between material aid and critical support. We gave material aid to the bourgeois Loyalist government; but we gave it no hint of critical support. Shachtman was sharply rebuked by Trotsky for proposing it. Our attitude toward the working class parties, including the POUM, the most left of them all, was the same; we refused to give them critical support.

Lenin likewise drew a sharp line between defense and support. At the time of Kornilov’s attempt to overthrow Kerensky he wrote:

“We ought not even now support the Kerensky government. This is unprincipled. You may ask ‘Ought we not to fight against Koraov?’ Yes, of course, But these are two entirely different things. A boundary line divides them which some Bolsheviks transgress and fall into conciliationism, allowing themselves to be carried away by the flood-tide of events.”

Lenin’s defense of Kerensky was an integral part of his struggle to overthrow Kerensky.

In the conception of the POR, as exemplified by the magazine article under discussion, the word “defense” as applied to the bourgeois government is nowhere to be seen. The word “support” is applied indiscriminately to mean both political support and material defense. Besides being an impoverishment of our theoretical heritage, this confusion gives aid and comfort to all the compromisers.

“The POR limits its support and sharpens its criticism insofar as the government proves itself incapable of fulfilling the national-democratic program of the revolution, insofar as it hesitates, capitulates, indirectly plays the game of imperialism and reaction, prepares to betray and for this reason tries to harry and deride the revolutionists.

What is this but political support — that is, support of the policy of the MNR government, insofar as it does carry out the national- democratic. program of the revolution? How reminiscent of the “insofar” as of Stalin and Kamenev, who, before Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd, proclaimed their readiness to support the Provisional Government “insofar as it fortifies the conquestsrevolution. `insofar as ” it fortifies the conquests of the revolution.”

What is wrong with both examples of “insofar as”? Just this — to correlate “support” and “criticism” means that our support is political; how can you correlate physical defense with political criticism?

If, however the POR means that we “limit” our material defense of the treacherous ally depending on their political policy or there attitude toward us, then this could only result in sectarian isolation and passivity at the very moment when material defense is necessary. This is another instance of the well-known fact that opportunism and sectarianism are carried in the same theoretical shell. Let us remember that Kornilov’s attempt on Kerensky came in August, precisely during Kerensky’s repression of the Bolsheviks; Trotsky was in prison, Lenin in hiding. Kerensky had certainly “proved proved himself incapable of fulfilling the national-democratic program of the revolution”‘; he was certainly “harrying and deriding the revolutionists.” Furthermore, Kerensky was actually plotting with Kornilov to destroy the Soviets. Wasn’t this the ideal time for Lenin to “limit his support”? Yet if he had taken such “revenge” on Kerensky the revolution would have suffered a smashing defeat.

Before the recent plenum of our National Committee, the Los Angeles Local held a discussion in which the question of critical support of the Mao Tse-Tung government figured prominently. “Critical support,”  said Myra Tanner, “is not political support”. “Critical support”, said Murray Weiss, also a supporter of the IEC position, “is political support.” And he castigated the Vern tendency as hopeless sectarians because they oppose giving critical support to a working class party which has led a revolution. Together with Comrade Vern I have written a reply to this position, which has been submitted but not as yet published in the Internal Bulletin (“Open Letter to the National Committee ). [This Open Letter was published in the same issue of the SWP Internal Bulletin as the current document.]

But the argument of Murray Weiss does not apply to Bolivia; and this was pointed out several times in the course of the discussion. When we asked “What about Bolivia?” our only answer was an embarrassed silence. And this silence has been maintained by Murray Weiss and all the comrades supporting the position of the IEC all through the discussion and to this very day!

The question whether critical support is political support could only arise because the traditional Trotskyist position on critical support has been overthrown. The question could not arise in the past because Trotskyists have never before given critical support to a party  or a government. We have never hesitated, however, to give critical support to all progressive actions of any party, any government. Giving critical support to President Truman’s suggestion for an increase in the minimum wage, for example, did not imply critical support to the Democratic party, and did not raise the question whether or not we were giving political support to the government.


Is the Bolivian government a bourgeois government? Does it serve one of the two major contending classes of modern society? On this question too the POR has abandoned the traditional and principled position of Marxism. And in making this “exception” it finds support in the other “exceptions” found by the International in the “intermediate status” of Eastern Europe in 1945-48 and in the “workers’ and peasants’ government” the IEC sees in China.

“The MNR, says the POR, “is a mass party, the majority of its leadership petty-bourgeois but fringed with a few conscious representatives of the nascent industrial bourgeoisie, one of whom, for example, is very probably Paz Estenssoro himself” And the government is, naturally, characterized as a “petty-bourgeois” government “fringed with conscious agents of the native feudal-capitalists and of imperialism.” The agents of imperialism and of the capitalist class are on the fringes of the party and of the government. Such a ludicrous assertion is possible only in an atmosphere poisoned with neo-reformism. The bourgeois politicians are on the fringes of the MNR in exactly the same sense in which Henry Ford is on the fringe of the Ford Motor Co.

How do the leaders of the POR account for the fact that these agents of the bourgeoisie and of imperialism control the government, including in their ranks that prominent inhabitant of the “fringe,” the president of Bolivia? Every successful and unsuccessful revolution since 1917 teaches us that the petty-bourgeoisie (and this applies doubly to the urban petty bourgeoisie) cannot have a party of its own; cannot establish its own government. This is the cornerstone of the Permanent Revolution.

Contrast the superficial approach of the POR with that of Trotsky:

“The revolution,” he says in “Lessons of October,” “caused political shifts to take place in two directions; the reactionaries became Cadets and the Cadets became Republicans against their own wishes — a purely formal shift to the left; the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks became the ruling bourgeois party — a shift to the right. These are the means whereby bourgeois society seeks to create for itself a new backbone of state power, stability and order.”

We should not forget that the counterpart of the Mensheviks and SRs is not the MNR, but its labor left wing. Trotsky does not fail to characterize those Bolsheviks who favored critical support to the government:

“But at the same time, while the Mensheviks were passing from a formal socialist position to a vulgar democratic one, the right wing of the Bolsheviks was shifting to a formal socialist position, i.e., the Menshevik position of yesterday.


Why is it so important to understand that the MNR government is a bourgeois (and not a petty-bourgeois) government? Because the Trotskyists must be absolutely clear that the government is their deadly enemy. And the Trotskyists must be the deadly enemy of the MNR and its government. This is not the conception of the POR.

“In a more advanced stage of the revolution, says the magazine article, “it (the Paz Estenssoro government) will fall under the drive of the right seekingking to impose a military dictatorship, , or of the left to establish the genuine workers’ and peasants’ government, the dictatorship of the proletariat allied to the peasant poor and the urban petty-bourgeoisie.”

What will the MNR do? Will it wait to be overthrown?

No. The MNR will tie the hands of the working class, entangle it in bourgeois legalism and red tape, using its labor lieutenants for this purpose. It will persecute the revolutionary militants, disarm the workers politically (again, using its labor lieutenants), then physically.

And the forces of “the right, seeking to impose a military dictatorship,” who are they? With what will they impose this military dictatorship? Aren’t they the officers, the general staff, of precisely this “petty-bourgeois” government? Don’t the petty-bourgeois democrats always, like Kerensky, like Azana, like Paz Estenssoro, build up and conspire with their own generals? Kornilov was Kerensky s chief of staff. Franco was Azana s mllilitary ruler of North Africa. And let us not forget that most left of democrats, the darling of the Stalinized Comintern, Chiang Kai-shek, who was his own Kornilov, That the future would-be military dictator of Bolivia is at present preparing himself and his forces under the protection of Paz Estenssoro is indicated by the recent attempt at a coup d’etat by army and police officers.

The MNR government is the deadly enemy of the working class. Its overthrow is an urgent necessity.


One of the most striking features of the POR line is its fatalistic optimism. One example:

“The urban petty bourgeoisie,” says the magazine article, “is divided between a very poor majority, highly radicalized because of its unstable conditions and always available (my emphasis—S.R.) as an ally of the revolutionary proletariat…”

But the impoverished petty bourgeoisie is not always available as an ally of the revolutionary proletariat. One of the major lessons of the Russian October, and of the aborted German revolution of 1923, and of the rise of Hitler, is exactly this: The radicalized petty bourgeoisie, and the working class for that matter, cannot be regarded as so much bullion, always available to the Party once they have been convinced of the necessity for a revolutionary change. They have turned first to the social reformists. Disappointed in Marxists critically, suspiciously. If the Marxists prove timorous, hesitate in carrying out their allotted task of overthrowing the bourgeois government, the support of the masses will quickly melt away. The radicalized petty bourgeoisie then become easy prey for a fascist demagogue; the petty bourgeoisie is then “available” not for revolution but for counter-revolution.

That is why the insurrection is so very necessary a part of the revolution. That is why the moment of insurrection is the decisive moment in the life of the revolutionary party. That is why Lenin was so insistent that the Bolshevik Central Committee treat insurrection as an art.

“The persistent, tireless, and incessant pressure which Lenin exerted on the Central Committee throughout September and ctober arose from his constant fear lest we allow the propitious moment to slip away.” This is Trotsky speaking, in “Lessons of October.” “What does it mean to lose the propitious moment? …the relation of forces undergoes change depending on the mood of the proletarian masses, depending upon the extent to which their illusions are shattered and their political experience has grown; the extent to which the confidence of intermediate classes and groups in the state power is shattered; and finally, the extent to which the latter loses confidence in itself During revolution all these processes take place with lightning speed. The whole tactical art consists in this: that we seize the moment when the combination of circumstances is most favorable to us… Neither the elemental disintegration of the state power, nor the elemental influx of the impatient and exacting confidence of the masses in the Bolsheviks could endure for a protracted period of time. The crisis had to be resolved one way or another. It is now or never! Lenin said.”

There is nothing of this sense of urgency in the line of the POR, as expressed in the magazine article. “The final aim of the struggle strygle” is expressed as:I

“the formation of a genuine workers’ and peasant’s government. This government will not arisemechanically but dialectically, basing itself on the organisms of dual power created by the mass movement itself..” “The workers’ and peasants’ government will appear tomorrow as the natural emanation of all these organisms on which it will base itself.”

All the expressions used — “formation,” “arise dialectically,” “appear” — can describe an evolutionary process. The decisive question, however, is not how the workers state will appear, arise, or be formed, but how it will take power, become the ruler of the nation. What is missing is the consummation of the revolution, the consciously organized insurrection.

One possible reply to my criticism (if it is answered at all) may be that I am too critical of the POR; that the leaders of the POR know what has to be done in a revolution; that they simply do not want to tell all their plans.

Unfortunately, such reasoning, alluring as it may appear, demands an exercise of faith rivaling that of the believer in the Immaculate Conception. For it is not the subjective intentions of the leaders of the POR which are at issue (I admit they are only the best), but the objective results of their neoreformist conceptions.

It is a very difficult thing to shift a party’s line from peace to war, from critical support to revolutionary overthrow. Even if the POR had the line of irreconcilable opposition to the government from the very beginning, the change from preparation to actual overthrow would bring with it a crisis of leadership, such as plagued the Bolsheviks in October, when a section of the Central Committee, led by Kamenev and Zinoviev, came out in public opposition to insurrection.

“Each party,” says Trotsky, “even the most revolutionary party, must inevitably produce its own organizational conservatism; for otherwise it would be lacking in the necessary stability… We have already quoted the words of Lenin to the effect that even the most revolutionary parties, at a time when an abrupt change occurs in a situation and when new tasks arise as a consequence, frequently pursue the political line of yesterday, and thereby become, or threaten to become, a brake upon revolutionary development. Both conservatism and revolutionary initiative find their most concentrated expression in the leading organs of the party.”

In overcoming the opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev, Lenin had this advantage: the publicly-stated party line was on his side. Six months before, in April, Lenin had rearmed the party; he had decisively defeated those who wanted to give critical support to the Provisional Government. Since then the party had openly agitated for the prepared the overthrow of that government.


Who will have the advantage in the POR — the partisans of conservatism, or the partisans of revolutionary initiative? The question is already answered. the POR is to the right of the right-wing Bolsheviks who, as Trotsky says, adopted a formal socialist position.

The POR occupies, on all major questions, the positions occupied by Menshevism in the Russian revolution, and by Stalinism in the Second Chinese Revolution of 1925-27.

The POR, in its reformist conceptions, its conciliationist attitude, and its class-collaborationist methods, bases and supports itself upon the neo-reformist position adopted by the International since the Second World War. Such is the theory adopted by the International in explaining the transformations in Eastern Europe. This theory, which since its adoption has received no defense in our press, either public or internal, holds in effect that reformism worked in Eastern Europe; that the class nature of the state was changed without proletarian revolution, by manipulations in the top circles; that the state for three years was in an intermediate status. This revision of Marxism had its roots, like all revisionism since 1917, in the Russian Question; and inability or unwillingness to see the Soviet-German war as a class war — that is, as revolution and counterrevolution.

The political line of the International in China brings its neoreformism down from the realm of theory (or terminology ), to that of political activity. The idea of a transitional state, a state that is neither a bourgeois nor a workers’ state, is made more explicit; through “critical support” of the Mao government the leading role of Stalinism is affirmed, while the crucial necessity of Marxist consciousness, embodied in the Trotskyist party, is thrown overboard. Revolutionary consciousness is to be replaced by the “pressure of the masses.”

The POR has introduced nothing new. It is applying in Bolivia the revisionist line of the International — moreover, with the support and encouragement of the International.

I have no doubt that a majority of the comrades are uneasy over the course being pursued in Bolivia; that they do not agree with the line of the POR. But an embarrassed silence is not enough. Those who remain silent for the sake of a false harmony cannot escape responsibility for the consequences of a wrong political line.

A Letter on the Bolivian Revolution

A Letter on the Bolivian Revolution

by Sam Ryan

First printed in the Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, June 1952. Republished in and scanned from the LRP publication “Bolivia: The Revolution the ‘Fourth International Betrayed.”

The Secretariat, SWP

June 1, 1952

Dear Comrades,

This letter is a request for clarification on the program and policy of the POR of Bolivia. The POR has been presented the opportunity of leading a revolution and thereby rendering a great service to our international movement. Our movement, and not least the SWP, has the duty of giving the Bolivian comrades all possible aid, both material and political. It is only natural that we in United States should be extremely anxious that the Bolivian comrades pursue a policy that will bring them success.

The interview with Comrade Guillermo Lora, carried in The Militant of May 12 and May 19, raises some serious questions about the program and policy of the POR which, I believe, should be resolved as soon as possible. The questions raised in the interview, and not satisfactorily answered by Comrade Lora include:

1. The class character of the government;

2. The character of the MNR;

3. Our attitude toward the compromisers;

4. The revolutionary transitional program for Bolivia.

Let me comment briefly on the manner in which Comrade Lora appears to answer these questions.


I think it is incontestable that the present Bolivian government is a bourgeois government, whose task and aim is to defend by all means available to it the interests of the bourgeoisie and of imperialism. It will, if it can, harness and disarm the working class, smash its revolutionary vanguard, and rebuild the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, which has been shaken but not destroyed by the first phase of the revolution. This government is therefore the deadly enemy of the workers and peasants, and especially of the Marxist party.

Comrade Lora does not take up explicitly the question of the class character of the government. The closest he comes is the following:

“The Paz Estenssoro government, dominated by its reactionary wing, shows all the characteristic features of ‘Bonapartism, operating between the proletariat and imperialism. “

Does this imply the bourgeois character of the government? Perhaps. I hope so. But this is question that will have to be answered, and not by implication or inference but directly.

One thing does appear clearly: Comrades Lora does not regard this government as an enemy of the working class and of the POR.

“One cannot exclude the possibility,” he says, “that the right wing (of the government) faced with the sharpening of the mass struggle against it, will ally itself with imperialism to crush the so-called ‘Communist’ danger.

This formulation is wrong, very wrong! This is an error which, if it actually represents the position of the POR, can have tragic consequences for the very physical existence of the cadres of the Bolivian Trotskyist party.

This is the warning the leaders of the POR must give the working class and above all its own supporters: We must expect with absolute certainty (not merely “not exclude the possibility”) that the government (not merely its right wing) will ally itself with imperialism and try to crush the mass movement and first of all its vanguard, the POR which is the real (and not “so-called”) communist danger.

“It is beyond doubt,” concludes Comrade Lora, that the new government is now being subjected to enormous pressure by the feudal bourgeoisie (this term is no doubt the result of a faulty translation) and by imperialism to make it capitulate or to destroy it. Under such conditions the POR defends the government with all its strength and by means of mobilization of the masses … Today, far from succumbing to the hysteria of a struggle against the MNR, whom the pro-imperialists have baptized as ‘fascists,’ we are marching with the masses to make the April 9 movement the prelude to the triumph of the workers and peasants government.

Three separate questions seem to be mixed up here:

a. The Marxist political opposition to a bourgeois government; a government which, because of its weakness, is forced to maneuver with the working class and appear to have not yet “capitulated” to the bourgeoisie. Comrade Lora seemingly is taken by the appearance of impartiality.

b. The opposition of the more open pro-imperialists to the government as “fascist.” This opposition aims at strengthening the hand of the government against the working class or at overthrowing the government or both. This opposition has nothing in common with the Marxist opposition from the left; and Comrade Lora is guilty of a serious error confusing the two when he says that the POR is “far from succumbing to the hysteria of a struggle against the MNR.”

c. The technical and material cooperation and aid which Marxists would give the MNR government against a Kornilov or Franco-type coup. This must be sharply differentiated from political support, which we would never give. We would continue to struggle against the government — with means suited to the situation, naturally — even while striking together with it against a military overthrow

This confusion by Comrade Lora of two different types of “opposition” and two different types of “support” appears to parallel the potentially disastrous March-April (1917) policy of the Bolsheviks, who in the absence of Lenin declared their support against reaction or counter-revolution. I ~ But it does not appear to parallel the policy of Lenin in the struggle against Kornilov, Lenin wrote:

“It would be the profoundest mistake to imagine that the revolutionary proletariat is capable, so to speak, out of ‘vengeance upon the SR s and Mensheviks, of refusing to `support them against the counter-revolution … We ought not even now to support the government of Kerensky. That would be unprincipled. You ask: But mustn’t we fight Kornilov? Of course, yes. But that is not the same thing. There is a limit here. Some of the Bolsheviks are crossing it, slipping into compromisism, getting carried by the flood of events.”


Comrade Lora answers this question as follows: “The MNR is a petty-bourgeois party which bases itself on the organizations of the masses.” I think this is wrong, and is the basis for a conciliationist attitude toward the MNR. The MNR is a bourgeois party, which politically exploits the masses. The majority of its members, as in all mass parties, are no doubt workers and middle-class elements; but that does not determine its class character. It is controlled not by its majority but by its tiny minority, and the absentee controllers, the capitalist class. How else explain the composition of the government which, as Comrade Lora says, “is weighted with the most reactionary elements of the MNR and particularly the Freemasons… the most effective agents of imperialism”?

Is this the type of government the POR meant when it raised the slogan: “The MNR to Power”? The composition of the government is in complete conformity with the character of the MNR. I think it was wrong to raise this slogan. Unless our comrades retrieve their error by reconsidering their characterization of the MNR, they will inevitably suffer along with the MNR when the masses, through their own experience, begin to see the real class character of this bourgeois party.


Toward the labor leaders in the government, Comrade Lora takes an unequivocal attitude; he supports them, and presents no criticism of their role. The textile workers, he recounts, obliged the MNR to accept working-class elements into the cabinet. Did the POR support this demand? The presumption is strong that it did. Comrade Breitman quotes the New Leader as saying that Comrade Lora is Lechin’s Secretary; and Breitman does not contradict this report. If true, would not this place the POR as a subordinate, ex-officio member of the bourgeois coalition government? And if the report is not true, the situation is not decisively different. Suppose the POR had been strong enough to force its way into the cabinet? Suppose, as we all hope and envisage, the POR gains more mass support in the future, will it then enter a bourgeois coalition government? This is the logic of the position outlined by Comrade Lora.

The Marxist attitude has always been and will continue to be one of hostility toward the compromisers; to call on them to break with the bourgeois politicians and form a workers’ and farmers’ government. According to late reports, Lechin is capitulating to the right wing of the government on the question of nationalization of the mines. This should be no surprise to us. It was inevitable. How much would the POR have gained in the confidence of the masses if it had predicted this capitulation? How much has it lost by its support of the compromisers?

Of course the POR would thereby have lost Lechin’s friendship. But Lechin’s is a treacherous, and undependable friendship. Lechin will capitulate again, and again. He will help disarm the workers. He will help smash the POR, no matter how it may try to placate him. And Lechin’s betrayal will facilitated if the POR continues to support him.


The independence of the revolutionary party is an absolute law in a revolutionary situation. But this does not fall from the sky. It arises out of the Marxist theory and the program of the party. The central slogans put forward by our party, according to Comrade Lora, were as follows:

“1. Restoration of the constitution of the country through the formation of an MNR government which obtained a majority in the 1951 elections.

“2. Struggle for the improvement of wages and working conditions.

“3. Struggle for democratic rights.

“4. Mobilization of the masses against imperialism, for the nationalization of the mines, and for the abrogation of the UN agreement.

Points 2 and 3 are clearly insufficient to differentiate our party from other tendencies in the labor movement. They are too general. The question how we carry on the struggle must be elaborated, and in such a way as to form a part of the revolutionary transitional program.

Is the demand for nationalization sufficient to differentiate the Marxist program from those of all other tendencies? I don’t think so. Both the right and left wings of the MNR are for nationalization. And there is no compelling reason to suppose the MNR cannot accomplish it to one degree or another. Cardenas, Mossadegh, Peron, have carried through nationalizations without thereby giving up an iota of their bourgeois character.

Nationalization does not change the class character of the state. Nationalization itself has a class character, deriving it from the class character of the government that carries it out. Of course, we don not oppose such nationalizations; we defend them against imperialism. But the decisive question remains: Which class has political and military control? Is the state power in the hands of the bourgeoisie or the proletariat? And the bourgeois power can be removed only by proletarian revolution.

Comrade Lora apparently does not draw this sharp line in the class character of the state. By his designation of the present government as “Bonapartist”  operating between the proletariat and imperialism, by characterizing the MNR as a petty-bourgeois party, and by his emphasis on nationalization, he seems to regard the present regime as a transitional regime having no fixed class character.

“It is now necessary”, says Comrade Lora, “to fight for the nationalization of the mines, the key industries, and the land. This struggle will be intimately connected with the development of the mass upsurge, with the involvement of new working-class sectors in the struggle in such a way that it assumes nationwide scope, and finally with the constitution of a workers’ and farmers’ government.

An elaboration of this statement would of course result in the projection of a transitional program. I hope it will be so elaborated.

But how does this square with the demand for restoration of the bourgeois constitution? I well remember how sharply the French right-wing Trotskylsts were castigated (and very correctly) for voting for a bourgeois constitution. They defended themselves by pointing to the fact that the working-class organizations were for it, while the reactionaries were against. Is this the justification of the POR? This would make Marxist policy very simple: Look at what the extreme right is doing and do the opposite.

But the masses were fighting under the slogan of restoration of the constitution? Marxists can participate in the struggles of the masses without their wrong slogails. True, they would then be a minority; but that is the penalty we must pay for pointing out the objective necessities which the masses do not yet completely understand. The Marxists must patiently explain.

Comrade Lora points to the influence which the POR gained in the leftwing of the MNR. Worthless influence, it appears to me, if it is achieved by adopting the program of the MNR. A united front with a bourgeois party with the aim of establishing a bourgeois constitution and placing the bourgeois party in power is not a united front but a peoples front.

The united front that the Marxists advocate aims to unite the workers and peasants on a minimum program embodying a stage of the revolutionary transitional program. This united front, in a revolutionary situation, turns into the workers and peasants soviets. And even in the soviets the struggle goes on. Far from accepting the conciliationist program which may be imposed on the soviets, the Marxists advocate their own program, calling on the soviets to break with the bourgeoisie, their parties and their government, and take the complete power, establishing a workers’ and peasants’ government.

But Comrade Lora does not raise the question of a break with the bourgeois government. The workers and peasants government he advocates appears as some ultimate conclusion to a gradual reshuffling of the personnel of the bourgeois government, whereby the right wingers will be forced out and the cabinet take on a more and more left tinge.

In a revolutionary situation the slogan of a workers’ and farmers’ government is not an ultimate goal but an immediate demand, inseparable from a break with and overthrow of the bourgeois government. The workers’ and farmers’ government can be realized in actuality only as the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This letter, comrades, is based on one interview with one leader of the POR. I realize — rather fervently hope — that I have not a sufficient basis to characterize the policy of the POR. I have therefore restrained the tone of my criticism to the utmost. But there is a danger, or at least the possibility, in the midst of a great struggle, of being carried away by the flood of events. Without dictating to the Bolivian comrades their specific tactics, the leaders of our party must help the POR base its tactics strictly on the revolutionary Marxist program, the only hope of victory.

I hope you view this letter in the spirit in which it is written: more an inquiry than a criticism.

Centrist Debacle in Bolivia

Centrist Debacle in Bolivia

Originally published in Workers Vanguard No. 3 (December 1971). First posted online at http://anti-sep-tic.blogspot.com/2009/05/1971-dec-centrist-debacle-in-bolivia.html  

The issue of the role of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario in the recent Bolivian events has become inevitably a factional football in the power fight between the Healyite (SLL-WL) and Lambertiste (OCI) wings of the now split International Committee. But in addition to providing a test of, the revolutionary capacity of both wings of the IC, the lessons of Bolivia are important in their own right, as a verification, in the breech, of the lessons of the October Revolution of 1917. The POR is an avowedly Trotskyist organization under the leadership of Guillermo Lora, which since 1970 has claimed agreement with the anti-revisionist avowals of the IC. Despite its opportunist policy following the 1952 Bolivian uprising in Conciliating the left wing of the bourgeois nationalist MNR government of Paz Estenssoro, the POR is an organization which must be, treated seriously because of its considerable implantation in the most militant sector of the Bolivian proletariat, the tin miners.

People’s Assembly

The POR played an active role in the People’s Assembly which came into existence under the bonapartist regime of left militarist General Juan Jose Torres, which was overthrown by the rightist coup of General Hugo Banzer in August. The People’s Assembly was composed of a majority of representatives from working-class organizations and included representatives of the significant left political organizations. The basis for adherence to the People’s Assembly was defined as support to the Theses of the Fourth Congress of the Central Obrera Boliviana, the main trade union federation, which is heavily influenced by left nationalists and Stalinists. The People’s Assembly pledged to lead the struggle against imperialism and for socialism:

“The People’s Assembly is a revolutionary anti-imperialist front led by the proletariat, constituted by the Central Obrera Boliviana, the trade union confederations and federations of a national character, the people’s organizations and the political parties of revolutionary orientation. It recognizes as its political leadership the proletariat and declares that its program is the Political Theses passed by the Fourth Congress of the COB, held in May 1970….

 “The People’s Assembly constitutes itself as the leadership and unifying center of the anti-imperialist movement and its fundamental goal consists in attaining national liberation and the establishment of socialism in Bolivia.

(from the statutes of the People’s Assembly, reprinted in the POR organ Masas of 13 July 1971)

According to the POR, the People’s Assembly was a body of the soviet type which had the potential to become an institution of dual power – i.e., that it was an embryonic workers government within and in contradiction to the bourgeois government under Torres. Masas engaged in occasional sharp criticism of the CP for pursuing a “rightist and pro-government line” in the Assembly but did not systematically expose the CP and the other reformist parties for their betrayal of the working class in attempting to subordinate the Assembly to Torres, devoting at least as much emphasis to praising the Assembly and defending it against “leftist” detractors.

Centrist Vacillation

Even on the basis of insufficient documentation, what emerges clearly is a pattern of centrist vacillation on the part of the POR. For example, in an article written by Guillermo Lora after Banzer’s coup is the admission:

“At this time [October 1970] everybody thought – including we Marxists – that the arms would be given by the governing military team, which would consider that only through resting on the masses and giving them adequate    firepower could they at least neutralize the gorila right. This position was completely wrong….”

 (Bulletin, 27 September 1971)

To have placed any confidence in Torres to arm the masses shows the most severe disorientation on the part of the POR over the crucial question of the class nature of the state. Torres was a bonapartist seeking to balance between the working class, roused by a foretaste of power and eager to struggle for its own, class rule, and the reactionary generals – at the head of a bourgeois state. Although forced to grant concessions to the masses, Torres, as Lora points out:

“…preferred to capitulate to his fellow generals before arming masses who showed signs of taking the road to socialism and whose mobilization put in serious danger the army as an institution.”

The issue is clear, but the attitude and role of the POR is not. For in the 31 May 1971 issue of Masas we find a call for the formation of independent workers and peasants militias and the categorical assertion that: “General Torres Will never arm the workers and peasants militias. “

An article in the SLL’s Workers Press of 24 August quotes POR leader Filemon Escobar:

 “…we will work for political objectives that help radicalize the present process – for example, worker-participation in COMIBOL [Bolivian Mining Corporation].”

And Lora’s Bulletin article speaks of “the danger to the state that majority working class participation in COMIBOL would mean.” Yet a major article in the 31 May Masas exposes the plan for “worker-participation at COMIBOL as the point of departure for the bureaucratization and political control over the ‘worker-managers’ on the part of the state,” counterposing to this the demand for “workers control – with veto rights” and pointing out that workers control does not obviate the class struggle.

A severe blunting of a hard Leninist edge is apparent in an article in the 9 May Masas which states:

“…the fundamental contradiction in Bolivia is nothing else than that which exists between the proletariat and imperialism.”

Our question is simple: what role does the national bourgeoisie play in this schema? For the fatal illusion fostered by the nationalist-Stalinist cabal was precisely the conception of the “anti-imperialist” bourgeoisie as an ally. What was required of the POR was precisely to break the working class from subordination to the “revolutionary,” “anti-imperialist” regime of Torres. To Marxists, the counterposed class forces are the working class supported by the peasantry on the one side and the bourgeoisie – both the puppets of imperialism and the “progressive” nationalist wing – on the other.

The OCI’s response to the grave accusations levelled against the POR is an attempt to bluff it out. The 19 September statement declares:

“…the coup d’etat organized by the CIA and the military dictators of Brazil and Argentina and facilitated by the action of the Torres government is the proof that the policy carried by the POR was fundamentally based on the interests of the Bolivian proletariat…

 “… All those who attack the POR through this, represent the enemies of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They take the sides of imperialism and Stalinism. They are agents of counterrevolution and are enemies, conscious or unconscious, of the Fourth International.”

This kind of argumentation can simply be dismissed out of hand. As Trotskyists, we have listened too many times to the hysterical accusations of Stalinists of all stripes along the same lines: the ferocity of U.S. imperialism’s aggression against the NLF and the North Vietnamese regimes proves that their leaderships have not sold out; all those who attack Chairman Mao are taking the side of imperialism; Trotsky was a conscious or unconscious agent of fascism; those who stand in opposition to the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, ad nauseam. We only that this “defense” of the POR says nothing about the POR but a great deal to the discredit of the OCI.

The OCI asserts that the People’s Assembly was “under the leadership of the Trotskyist party, the POR.” This statement is open to question. In an interview in the 9 August Bulletin, POR leader Victor Sossa States that “the POR represented only around 20 per cent of the delegates, perhaps a little more.” Yet he expected that the Assembly, still predominantly influenced by Stalinists, bourgeois nationalism and “ultra-left adventurist petty-bourgeois groups, ” to do the following:

“In the case of a coup the People’s Assembly will call a general strike, will assume the military and political command of the masses. The decision to go over to the systematic organization of militias is geared to this perspective and prepares the working class for the inevitable confrontation, the fight to fully install its own government, the workers and peasants government.”

The question here is not whether the POR had already established its hegemony over the workers organizations, but whether it was struggling to do so – whether the POR’s perspective was to expose the reformists’ and nationalists’ treachery before their supporters by demanding that the Assembly counterpose itself to the regime, breaking all ties with the regime and struggling to establish a workers and peasants government – i. e. the dictatorship of the proletariat. It would appear that the POR placed political confidence in the Assembly under its existing leadership.

Soviets: Form vs Content

What was the role of the POR within the People’s Assembly? The OCI notes that:

“…the setting up of the People’s Assembly expresses the fundamental trend of the period, the will of the proletarian and peasant masses to enter into the struggle for power.”

But Allende’s Popular Front government in Chile, for example, also without doubt represents “the will of the proletarian and peasant masses to enter into the struggle for power” – yet we know that the Chilean masses have been terribly deceived and they are likely to pay for their misleaders’ promises in blood. The willingness of the working masses to struggle is not in dispute. In Bolivia, as in Chile, Spain, Vietnam and dozens of other instances, the question is whether their combative heroism has been betrayed.

The OCI declares:

 “It is the unity in and around the People’s Assembly, organ of dual power, which under the leadership of the Trotskyist party, the POR, dominated the whole revolutionary process before and after the confrontations of August 20-23.”

What does it mean to acclaim the “unity in and around the People’s Assembly”? If the People’s Assembly was indeed an embryonic soviet form, how was the struggle for its leadership carried out? A soviet is a united front of the working class raised to the level of struggling for power. There is nothing sacred about the soviet or any other united front form. Soviets arise, even spontaneously, in revolutionary crises as the proletarian axis in the dual power situation, with the potential under revolutionary leadership to oust the bourgeois state power and become the agency of working-class rule – i.e. to consummate the revolution on the national plane. They are the best arena in which the Bolsheviks can demonstrate their superiority in carrying forward the tasks implicit in the soviet as an embryonic form of the state of a different class: the seizure of power and the dictatorship of the proletariat. A Menshevik-led soviet, for example, may indeed be an authentic soviet – but it will inevitably betray. Thus a Leninist call for the formation of soviets, for power to the soviets, must contain within it the perspective of struggle within the soviet: in order to demonstrate to the workers that it is they, unlike the revisionists and reformists, who have nothing to fear from soviet power and that only their policy can achieve and defend it. The existence of a soviet is in itself no guarantee of revolutionary principle. (Even the Stalinists have called – bureaucratically, to be sure – for the formation of soviets in their “left” zigzags, after having doomed the workers in advance by their policies – policies which guaranteed the ruin of the soviet.) Without the presence of revolutionaries intransigently struggling at every point to expose before the working class the traitorous misleaders within its ranks, the People’s Assembly offered no more promise for the Bolivian proletarian revolution than George Meany’s AFL-CIO raised to the political level. Does the OCI really want to boast that the POR expounded “unity in and around the People’s Assembly”?

When questions of power politics between the wings of the IC were not so clearly and ultimatistically posed, the OCI was willing to take a more critical attitude toward the POR on precisely this question. A letter to the POR leadership dated 30 July 1970 and later published in the Lambertistes’ public theoretical magazine discussed the COB Theses which the POR had helped prepare and voted for. The sections of the COB document singled out for sharp criticism by the OCI include the following:

“In order to attain socialism, it seems necessary first of all to make a unity of all the revolutionary and anti-imperialist forces. The people’s anti-imperialist revolution is linked to the struggle for socialism. The people’s front is an alliance of related classes, and the unitary instrument for making the revolution. The expulsion of imperialism and the realization of national and democratic tasks will render possible the socialist revolution.” (La Verite, October 1970)

What this paragraph sets forward is the Menshevik theory of stages, pure and simple – first national liberation, then socialist revolution. It is the classic reformist rationale for class collaboration, which has led to the most bitter and bloody defeats for the working class. And yet the POR supported this resolution and continued to acclaim it in Masas. Instead of struggling around this question, the POR compromised around a contradictory hodge-podge document which contained affirmations of internationalism, condemnations of class collaboration alongside praise of the so-called “socialist” nations and clear popular frontism.

It speaks well of the Lambertistes that they were willing to raise to the POR and subsequently make public their criticisms of the POR’s departure from principle. Now, however, the OCI’s opportunism has gained the upper hand, and so all critics of the POR become “agents of counterrevolution”!

And what of the POR’s conduct since the coup? The 6 December issue of the SWP’s Intercontinental Press reprints a declaration signed by the POR – along with the Communist Party, the “POR” of the Moscoso Pabloists, left nationalist groups and General Torres himself! The document again pays lip service to “the leadership of the proletariat, the ruling class of the revolutionary process” but the tone of the document is nationalist-populist (“revolutionary priests,” “revolutionary officers,” “patriots,” “the power is now in the hands of foreigners,” etc.) and its core is the following:

“Therefore the need is undeniable to build a fighting unity of all the revolutionary democratic and progressive forces that the great battle can be begun in conditions offering a real perspective for a popular and national government….

“This is not a battle that concerns only one sector of the exploited people, or one class, institution or party. … Any form of sectarianism is counterrevolutionary. Let us be worthy of the sacrifice of those who fell August 21 defending Bolivia.” (our emphasis)

In fact, the declaration is a classic popular front which subordinates the working class to alien class forces and ideologies to which it is in fundamental and irreconcilable opposition.

Healyite Pop Frontism

For the political bandits of the Healyite SLL-WL, the OCI’s decision to march in lockstep behind the POR is a godsend, a cheap way to assert their Leninist orthodoxy and cast themselves as the principled left wing in the IC split. But the real difference between the Healyites and the POR on proletarian policy toward a “leftist” bourgeois government is that the POR has had the opportunity to wreck a pre-revolutionary situation and the Healyites have not. Healy-Wohlforth have seized on Bolivia as a pretext for ridding themselves of the OCI, which was increasingly playing a dominant role in the IC — and that’s all. For although they would now prefer to bury it, the Healyites have a shining example of how they would deal with a Popular Front bourgeois government: Chile.

The 21 September 1970 Bulletin advised the workers of Chile:

“There is only one road, and that is the revolutionary road of the October Revolution…. as a step in this understanding the workers must hold Allende to his promises….”

Wohlforth’s road is not that of the October Revolution, but of those Bolsheviks, Stalin prominent among them, who very nearly ruined the chances for October by their policy – denounced by Lenin and Trotsky – of support for the bourgeois Provisional Government “insofar as it struggles against reaction or counterrevolution.” Wohlforth’s statement parallels the notorious Pravda articles capitulating to Menshevism in February and March of 1917, filled with statements like the following:

“The way out is bringing pressure to bear on the Provisional Government with the demand that the government proclaim its readiness to. begin immediate negotiations for peace.”

Against this policy Lenin declared: “To turn to this government with a proposal of concluding peace is equivalent to preaching morality to the keeper of a brothel,” And Trotsky, in Lessons of October, said:

“The programme of exerting pressure on an imperialist government so as to ‘induce’ it to pursue a pious course was the programme of Kautsky and Ledebour in Germany, Jean Longuet in France, MacDonald in England, but never the programme of Bolshevism.”

One must be sharply critical, as was Trotsky, of those Bolsheviks who would have let slip a revolutionary opportunity if it had not been for the sharp correction of Lenin. But more than criticism is merited by the Healyites, who claim to stand on the shoulders of the Bolsheviks, to have assimilated the “lessons of October.”

Lenin expressed his policy in an uncompromising formula:

“Our tactic: absolute lack of confidence; no support to the new government; suspect Kerensky especially; arming of the proletariat the sole guarantee;. . . no rapprochement with other parties.”

Against Lenin’s policy stand both the centrism of the POR-OCI and the Healyite pseudo-Leninist posturing.

And now the Healyites sanctimoniously denounce the POR-OCI for the same kind of Pop Frontist capitulation which they themselves espoused for Chile!

Healy lawyers for the LSSP

But perhaps an even purer example of Healyite hypocrisy is the question of Ceylon. The 30 August Bulletin declares:

“…Though less known than the evolution of the LSSP in Ceylon, the role of Lora and the POR has been no less treacherous and important.”

For years, in endless articles, the Healyites have used the betrayal of the Ceylonese masses by the LSSP – which tail-ended the bourgeois nationalist party of Mrs. Bandaranaike and when it came to power in 1964 entered the government – as an expose of the United Secretariat Pabloists, who covered for the LSSP until the last moment. (The Bulletin has just concluded yet another four-part series on the subject.) And rightly so, for their role over Ceylon was an important verification of the SWP-United Secretariat’s departure from Trotskyism. But what the Healyites are unlikely to mention is that they themselves are tarred with the same brush!

In May 1960 the SWP, then affiliated with the IC as was Healy’s SLL, began to get increasingly nervous about the line and conduct of the LSSP. On 17 May Tom Kerry addressed a letter on behalf of the SWP’s Political Committee to the LSSP. It states:

“We are greatly disturbed by the parliamentary and electoral course now pursued by the leadership of the LSSP….

“Your policy of working for the creation of an SLFP government appears to us to be completely at variance with the course of independent working class political action which you have always promoted in the past as a matter of principle….

“Your new political course also appears to us to be a form of ‘popular frontism’ of the kind promoted in many countries by the Stalinists since 1935 – that is, class collaboration between the working-class parties and a section of the bourgeoisie….”

Despite their concern the SWP leadership hesitated to raise this betrayal in the public press.

On 8 August James Robertson, then a member of the SWP, wrote to the Political Committee:

“I am addressing you on the matter of our party’s public silence concerning the recent and continuing betrayal of the Ceylonese working class and of the world Trotskyist movement by the, Lanka Sama Samaja Party. I refer, of course, to that party’s entry into a ‘Popular Front’ electoral pact with the Stalinist party and with the left bourgeois nationalist party represented by the widow Bandaranaike.

“In raising this matter privately with several members of your body I was told that letters have been sent the Ceylonese and that your view is that for the present a greater advantage is to be gained by revolutionary Marxists in the LSSP through our remaining publicly silent, I must disagree and urge you to reconsider…”

The letter concludes:

“Comrades, that you condemn the Ceylonese ex-Trotskyist I have no doubt, but your failure to raise this publicly and with great seriousness does the movement internationally a disservice.”

And what was the position of Gerry Healy, who now proclaims himself the world’s only consistent anti-Pabloist After having written to the SWP that delicate maneuvers among the Pabloists were required in Ceylon, Healy on 14 August wrote to the SWP’s Joe Hansen:

“We discussed at some length… the proposition concerning the situation in Ceylon. We think that it is necessary to write again asking for the fullest possible information concerning the present situation in the party in Ceylon.

“There is no doubt that they are in a severe crisis but if we take their situation and recent events in Europe it is not improbable that there will now be important developments inside the Pablo camp, This is all the more reason for us to proceed with caution – as you have in the past so rightly insisted.

“We are going to cable them tomorrow for information and we suggest you do likewise and hold up for the time being publication of anything in the Militant

Rebuild the Fourth International!

It is their own sordid history which gives the lie to the Healyites’ claims of internationalism and anti-revisionism. If the Lambertistes – who in 1952 launched the struggle against Pabloism never transcended centrism and have now hardened themselves in opportunism – their line on Bolivia and their conduct at Essen, the Healyites’ pretensions of principle have always rested on sand.

Only the Fourth International – rebuilt in the process of struggle against all varieties of Pabloist revisionism, including the inverted Pabloism of the IC – can provide the way forward toward the decisive victory of the international working class.

Militant Longshoreman No 7

Militant Longshoreman

No #7  January 5, 1984

Re- Elect Keylor (36-A) to Executive Board

Build A Fighting Union

“What’s going to happen with our contract?”

That’s the question asked dozens of times a day on the waterfront. Everyone sees the U.S. employers demanding and getting wage cuts and contractual take-sways all dot-in the line. The army of unemployed remains at a high level, no end of the depression is in sight, and the visciously anti-labor Reagan administration seems determined to make workers and minorities pay for the depression. On the other hand the organized labor movement, which has declined to less than 20% of the work force, has given only isolated and sporadic resistance to emnloyer/government attacks.

The real question that needs to The asked (and answered) is, “What, is the state of our union and what can we do about it?” Let’s start by taking a quick look at the record for 1983. This newsletter neinted out last car that one of the most alarming symptoms of our weakness was the PMA’s increasingly blatant violation of the contract on the job. At that time, 1982, the officers had tried in a limited way to resist employer contract violations. But no sooner were they re-elected when our officers appeared to collapse; now almost no resistance is offered. Tn fact, inexcusable concessions violating the contract are frequently granted, such as permitting PMA companies to work past the contractual shift quitting time.

PMA ran two big tests on us this year, one coastwise and one locally. Coastwise occured when the reconvened Negotiating Committee met with PMA to discuss the continuous 3-shift proposal. PMA dropped the three shift idea and proposed to reconstruct PGP eligibility and earnings so that a longshoreman’s PGP would be based on his individual earnings. This divisive move, which would have drastically cut PGP for San Francisco longshoremen, was just, narrowly rejected. PMA will undoubtedly try gain this year.

Locally PMA demanded, and it looks like they will get, a drastic cut in gangs. This attack on the gang system came at the same time PMA was bypassing the gangs by ordering “unit gangs” or” make-up gangs” at the last minute on break bulk cargo. Instead of exposing PNIA’s sabotage of the gang system by refusing to dispatch these non-contractual “unit” and “make-up” gangs, the officers attempted to “negotiate” concessions and finally arbitrated the issue. Instead of defending the gang system so that we could go over to the offensive in 1984 and demand that gangs be used on container ships, the formula agreed to by the officers and the Executive Board spells the end of gangs in San Francisco.

The International and the Coast Committee gave no leadership or help to the local in resisting PMA during 1983. When they weren’t “unavailable” their “advice” was usually limited to telling the local to put it in the grievance machinery. We all know what that means — let the arbitrator decide!


A year ago we warned in Militant Longshoreman #5 that Levin’s threat to our job jurisdiction could only be met by shutting down the port, mass picketing of Paar 5 (old Richmond Yard 1), getting support of other maritime unions, and ignoring injunctions. When the membership saw the threat to their jobs materialize that’s exactly what they did! Levin was stopped cold in their attempt to take auto, container, and break bulk cargo out from under our jurisdiction. Local 10 membership proved that when they see a threat clearly they stand ready to put. up one hell of a fight.

As the Militant Longshoreman has been pointing out (and the Longshore Militant before that) the union lacks and needs a class-struggle leadership that knows what needs to be done, has a strategy for getting it, and has confidence in the rank and file to fight. Our local officers, who probably had good intentions when they started, lack any of these qualifications and have failed dismally to give any real leadership. Just for example: Our local President Brother Carr showed his lack of confidence in the membership by ruling “out of order” more Executive Board and membership motions than any other presiding officer that the author can ever remember seeing in the ILWU. Brother Carr clearly feared the membership’s judgement.


The above is the second most frequent question asked this season. Maybe the easiest way to approach an answer is to describe the main parts of a candidate’s program that shows if he has some idea of what it takes for a union even to defend its’ members, let alone wage an offensive battle for what workers need.

First – the union has to be willing to break out of the hand-cuffs and leg-irons imposed on us, take job action and strike action that may violate the work-now – arbitrate later provisions of the contract. Ask your favorite candidate whether he agrees that we have to be ready to defy court injunctions when the chips are down. Most of them — if they are honest– will tell you that they don’t want to go to jail.

Second – Labor unity: No union can win alone. We have to rebuild the kind of, labor unity that enabled unions in the 30s to organize millions of workers in the face of massive opposition from employers. That means mass picketing and refining to handle seat, or struck cargo.

Third – International working class solidarity. Corporations are organized worldwide but the labor movement is divided up by national boundaries. We need to take concrete actions to support workers outside U.S. borders. Your officers didn’t even tell you about the Canadian longshore strike (and that is the same union) where cargo was being diverted to the Puget, Sound area.

Fourth – Labor can only depend on its own working class strength and power. The government is hostile to labor and only grants concessions (unemployment insurance, Social Security etc.)) to “keep the peace”. law suits that bring the courts and government into the union are extremely dangerous. At best they end up with a pro-capitalist judge rewriting your contract. At worst they can permanently strangle unions’ ability to take the necessary strike actions to wring concessions from the employers.

Fifth – Workers need their own political party. None of our problems can be permanently solved under capitalism. But tailing after the Democrats, as our local and International officers do, leads them to avoid strikes and try to win a few crumbs from the pro-capitalist politicians.

When you look around the hall you see a bushel basket of candidates for union office who either duck these questions or come down on the wrong side of a winning class-struggle program. That’s why the Militant  Longshoreman is making no endorsements at this time.


Before the February round of elections, which will elect Caucus delegates, another issue of this newsletter will describe what we will have to defend, what we need, and how we can get it. The program printed on the back page describes very briefly the position of Howard Keylor on the main issues facing longshoremen and other workers.


We can expect Stan Gow and the Longshore/Warehouse Militant Caucus to again come out just before the election with a leaflet entitled “No Vote for Keylor – the fink, racist, would-be bureaucrat, Nazi lover, wife beater etc….”. The union faces threats far too serious to waste much paper and ink in a pissing contest or to try eternally to deny and refute slanders and lies. We’ve already devoted more than enough newsprint to this purpose. Enough said.



Reagan is driving whole-hog toward a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The U.S. labor bureaucrats are falling right in line behind the anti-communist hysteria  generated by Reagan’s provocations toward the U.S.S.R. Our union in the past (1950 – Korean war – for example) stood almost along at times, resisting anti-communist war hysteria. But when the 007 Korean passenger plane (spy plane) was shot down President Herman flinched badly when he said in effect that the Soviet Union doesn’t have the right (and the obligation) to defend it’s most important Far Eastern military bases from provocative incursions. Instead of condemning the log Angeles Local 13 Longshore leadership which refused to work a Russian ship and instead of attacking Reagan for trying to precipitate World War III, Jimmy gave backhanded support to Reagan’s anti-Soviet crusade painting the Soviet Union as a brutal, satanic, evil empire. To their credit Canadian and Mexican longshoremen continued to work Russian ships.

We would remind Jimmy Herman that PATCO’s kissing Reagan’s ass didn’t save the Air Controllers union from being smashed and its’ leaders from being jailed.


1. DEFEND OUR JOBS AND LIVELIHOOD – Six hour shift, no extensions, at eight hours pay. Manning scales on all ship operations; one man, one job. Full C.O.L.A. on wages. No cap, weekly PGP; no 25%  “coding out” rule; no further restrictions on PGP eligibitity. No “take back” on travel time.

2. DEFEND THE HIRING HALL – Use regular gangs  on container ships; no dispatch of “unit gangs”. Prepare the union for a coastwise fight to eliminate 9.43, S.E.O., and crane supplement from the contract.

3. DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS AND SAFETY THROUGH JOB ACTION Stop PMA chiseling on the contract. Elminate “work as directed”, “no illegal work stoppage”, and arbitration sections from the contract. Mobilize to smash anti-labor injunctions.

4. DEFEND OUR UNION – Eliminate class R registration category from the contract – promote all class B to class A coastwise. Keen racist anti-labor government and courts out of the union. Support all ILWU, locals’ resistance against court suits and government “investigations”. Union action to break down racial and sexual discrimination and employer favoritism on the waterfront.

5. BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY – against government/employer strikebreaking. No more PATCOs. Honor all picket lines. Don’t handle struck or diverted cargo. No raiding of other unions. Organize the unorganized and the unemployed. Labor strikes to stop cuts in Social Security, Medical, Medicare.

6. STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union organized labor/black/Latino defense actions. No dependance on capitalist police or courts to smash fascists.

7. WORKING CLASS ACTION TO STOP REAGAN’S WAR DRIVE AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION – Oppose reactionary boycotts against Soviet and Polish shipping. Labor strikes against military litary blockades of Cuba or Nicaragua. Boycott military cargo to Chile, South Africa, El Salvador, Israel, and Turkey.

8. INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY – Oppose protectionist trade restrictions. ILWU support to military victory of leftist insurgents in El Salvador. Defend the Palestinians – U.S. Marines out of Lebanon -by all means necessary.

9. BREAK WITH DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES – Start now to build a workers Party based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will seize all major industry without payment to the capitalists and establish a planned economy to end exploitation, racism, poverty, and war.

Militant Longshoreman No.2

Militant Longshoreman

No.2, January 29, 1982

Build A Fighting Union


Brothers may be surprised that Howard Keylor and the MILITANT LONGSHOREMAN urge Local 10 members to vote for Stan Gow after his hyster­ical, leaflet of January 6 attacking the editor. The MILITANT LONGSHOREMAN supports candidates for union office on the basis of their program, not on their tactical sense or their effectiveness. I hope that Local 10 longshore­men will again follow my advice, as they did January 8 when they reelected both Keylor and Gow to the Executive Board with the highest percentage vote we’ve ever received.


Their is no denying that the attempt of the LONGSHORE – WAREHOUSE MILITANT CAUCUS to destroy and discredit Keylor represents a setback in the struggle to promote those principles of Militant Trade Unionism which can help to build the alternative class-struggle leadership our union so desperately needs. The frantic and dishonest misrepresentation of Keylor’s positions on a whole range of important issues tends to discredit the Cau­cus, the LONGSHORE MILITANT, and Brother Gow and makes it increasingly un­likely that they will be able to build an alternative leadership.


It’s impossible to completely counteract the lies and distortions about my positions that are contained in the MILITANT CAUCUS leaflet. For every word of slander I would have to use 10 words of factual description in order to set the record straight. Nevertheless, it could be useful to describe some of the background to my resignation from the MILITANT CAUCUS in November 1981.

Stan’s leaflet says that “Keylor no longer supports the MILITANT CAUCUS prograrn!” The fact is that until the November 1981 Caucus meeting where the votes had been lined up to pass a motion forbidding me to run for reelection to the Local 10 Executive Board and the Coast longshore Caucus, none of the issues dealt with in Stan’s leaflet were raised or discussed in a Caucus meeting: No differences on program between myself and the Caucus existed then or exist now!.

So what is behind this hysterical attack on me? I had developed differ­ences early last year with same Caucus members on issues which did not involve the union or the Caucus program. Those differences led the Caucus leadership to engage in a campaign of character assassination outside the Caucus, leading up finally to the meeting where they demanded that I cooperate in my own polit­ical suicide in the union. At that meeting I told the Caucus that I could best advance the program of the Caucus by running independantly for reelection and. continuing to argue for those principles and actions that could defend the union and advance working class solidarity.


It would be much easier to set the record straight if Stan and I had been permitted to issue a LONGSHORE MILITANT after the April contract coast caucus, which formulated contract demands and than turned them over to the Negotiating Committee. Keylor was successful at the April Caucus in getting motions on the floor for debate and a vote on a whole range of issues vital to the union in­cluding:

100 % Cost of Living formula in pension contract
Abolish all Master Contract sections allowing steady equipment operators
Honor all union picket lines
Abolish “work as directed” and arbitration sections of the contract grievance procedure
Abolish 20.61 allowing PMA to cancel PGP for alleged union actions

I argued after the April Caucus that it was vital to issue a LONGSHORE MILITANT warning the membership that the coast caucus had failed to put togeth­er a contract program which could unite the membership for a strike to get what we need and that in fact the caucus had left everything (including the right to extend the contract past July) in the hands of a Negotiating Conmittee dominat­ed by 6 International officers. I wrote an outline fora leaflet but the MILITANT CAUCUS refused to. allow it to be printed. The Caucus leadership dismissed the outline with the cynical comment “we’re not. an informational bureau, besides it’s boring.” This was the first tine in the history of the LONGSHORE MILITANT that we had not issued a leaflet to prepare the membership in advance for a contract fight.


After the June International Convention  in Hawaii I wanted to issue a LONGSHORE MILITANT, warning the membership that the union leadership was falling in behind Reagan’s anti-Soviet war drive, refused to support military victory for the worker and peasant supported leftist insurgents in El Salvador, continued to rely on the capitalist courts and cops to stop the KKK and Nazis, and blocked even a floor discussion on the need for a workers’ party. Again the Caucus re­fused to issue a leaflet leaving the membership in the dark about the direction the union was taking.

It’s apparent now that the real reason for the refusal to issue leaflets on the caucus and convention was to “disappear” Keylor as much as possible, making it easier to rewrite later the history of Keylor’s role as Local 10 delegate.


Keylor was the only Local 10 delegate to vote against attempts to modify  the SEO system at the April Caucus. Brother Gow has been making a big thing out of the fact that in Item 1 of my program I demand: “Call all SEO men back to the hall. Dispatch all skilled equipulent jobs from the hall.” Is Brother Gow, oppos­ed, to this action? Does he advise us to wait until the contract is open in 1984? Doesn’t Stan remember that in previous non-cmtract years we, the LONGSHORE MILITANT, advised smashing this section of the contract in practice rather than suf­fering three more years?

After the September membership meeting I realized that I had made a mistake when I said that I would probably vote for Brother Reg Theriault’s motion to limit SEO men from driving rolling stock against the ship. At that meeting I argued (to a lot of applause) that it was impossible to simply modify the system; that any fight could only succeed if it upped the ante to call all SEO men back to the hall. I spoke before Brother Gow whose comments were largely unintelli­gible, so I don’t know what he said. After that meeting I argued that when the issue came before the Executive Board, we should vote against Brother Theriault’s motion and came up with a practical alternative motion to call SEO men back to the hall.


Brother Gow’s January 6 leaflet tries. to link Keylor’s June 1981 position on Poland with Reagan’s anti-Soviet war drive. But it is unclear from his leaf­let how Brother Gow sees the International officers December 21 statement deploring the Polish Anny’s smashing of Solidarity’s moves toward counterrevolution.

I have no intention of ducking the issue of Polish Solidarity. It is a tragedy that the bulk of the Polish working class was led by their hatred of the incompetent, repressive, Polish government bureaucracy to support the clerical-nationalist moves to take Poland out of the Warsaw Pact and lay the basis for the restoration of capitalism. The Polish. workers would have been in far worse shape if Solidarity had brought the Polish economy under western capitalist control, and a civil war had developed, in which the most right-wing catholic-nationalists had seized political power.


It’s painful to have to say that Brother Gow’s January 6 leaflet lies when it says that Keylor was for consumer boycotts and against labor solidarity ac­tion to shut down the airports. At strike support meetings, at Executive Board meetings, and elsewhere Keylor argued vehenently that only the united power of mass labor picket lines could shut down the airports and win the strike of the air traffic controllers.


Some Brothers commented that the famous January 6 MILITANT CAUCUS attack on Keylor sounded unbelievable and at times incomprehensible.

That’s right – the leaflet was not written for longshoremen! The leaflet was written for a wider audience than Local 10; it was designed to be reprinted and quoted from in publications addressed to the left in Chicago, Toronto, Melbourne, Hamburg, Paris and London. The lies and distortions contained therein could be used to discredit Keylor outside the union. Waterfront workers know enough about these issues to detect the inaccuracies strained arguments and conclusions.


The January primary election showed that none of the leading contenders for full time union office have anything approaching a real mandate from the member­ship. This is not surprising, since none of the leading candidates or groups competing for office have a program to unite the membership, in defending us against the employers and their government.


Brother Gow in his election leaflet ducked the question of the Gibson case, where the issue is coast longshore unity against lawsuits, which threaten our hiring hall. The Local 10 politicians have cynically created such anger and hysteria around this issue that it’s not surprising that Brothers who know better have hidden out on this question. I hope Brother Gow will see fit to publicly support a move for local 10 to pay our share of the coastwise costs of this anti-union lawsuit.


The LONGSHORE – WAREHOUSE MILITANT CALICUS, appears to be giving up on the task of building a principled class-struggle caucus in longshore. Their atti­tude towards Keylor reveals a position that no one who does not subject himself to the discipline of the MILITANT CAUCUS can provide honest leadership to the union – that anyone who finds it counter-productive to militant trade unionism to remain in the Caucus must be discredited and destroyed.

We still face the task of building the core of an alternative class-strug­gle leadership in the ILWU.

The Black Question (Communist International)

Fourth Congress of the Communist International

The Black Question

30 November 1922

Copied from http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/4th-congress/blacks.htm

1 During and after the war a revolutionary movement began to develop among the colonial and semi-colonial peoples and this movement is still successfully challenging the domination of world capital. Therefore, if capitalism is to continue, it must come to terms with the increasingly difficult problem of how to intensify its colonisation of the regions inhabited by black people. French capitalism clearly recognises that the power of pre-war French imperialism can only be maintained by creating a Franco-African empire, welded together by a Trans-Saharan railway. American finance magnates (who already exploit twelve million blacks in their own country) have begun a peaceful invasion of Africa. The extent to which Britain, for its part, fears any threat to its position in Africa is clearly shown by the extreme measures it took to suppress the strikes in South Africa. [This refers to the Rand Strike of 1922, an all-white affair conducted under the slogan: “For a White South Africa”. The Communist Party supported the strike movement, while calling for the unity of black and white workers] While competition between the imperialist powers in the Pacific has grown into the threat of a new world war, imperialist rivalry in Africa, too, is playing a more and more sinister role. Finally, the war, the Russian revolution, and the powerful anti-imperialist rebellion among the Asiatic and Moslem peoples have awakened the consciousness of millions of blacks who for centuries have been oppressed and humiliated by capitalism, in Africa, and probably to an even greater degree in America.

2 The history of the American blacks has prepared them to play a major role in the liberation struggle of the entire African race. 300 years ago the American blacks were torn from their native African soil, transported to America in slave ships and, in indescribably cruel conditions, sold into slavery. For 250 years they were treated like human cattle, under the whip of the American overseer. Their labour cleared the forests, built the roads, picked the cotton, constructed the railroads – on it the Southern aristocracy rested. The reward for their labour was poverty, illiteracy and degradation. The blacks were not docile slaves; their history is full of revolts, uprisings, and an underground struggle for freedom, but all their efforts to free themselves were savagely suppressed. They were tortured into submission, while the bourgeois press and religion justified their slavery. When slavery became an obstacle preventing the full and unhindered development of America towards capitalism, when this slavery came into conflict with the slavery of wage labour, it had to give way. The Civil War, which was not a war for the emancipation of the blacks but a war for the preservation of the industrial hegemony of the North, confronted the blacks with a choice between forced labour in the South and wage slavery in the North. The blood, sweat and tears of the ‘emancipated’ blacks helped to build American capitalism, and when the country, now become a world power, was inevitably pulled into the World War, black Americans gained equal rights with the whites … to kill and to die for ‘democracy’. Four hundred thousand coloured proletarians were recruited to the American army and organised into special black regiments. These black soldiers had hardly returned from the bloodbath of the war before they came up against racial persecution, lynchings, murders, the denial of rights, discrimination and general contempt. They fought back, but paid dearly for the attempt to assert their human rights. The persecution of blacks became even more widespread than before the war, and the blacks once again learned to ‘know their place’. The spirit of revolt, inflamed by the post-war violence and persecution, was suppressed, but cases of inhuman cruelty, such as the events in Tulsa, [City in Oklahoma. Scene of a pogrom in 1921 which turned into a veritable race war] still cause it to flare up again. This, plus the post-war industrialisation of blacks in the North, places the American blacks, particularly those in the North, in the vanguard of the struggle for black liberation.

3 The Communist International is extremely proud to see the exploited black workers resisting the attacks of the exploiters, since the enemy of the black race and the enemy of the white workers is one and the same – capitalism and imperialism. The international struggle of the black race is a struggle against this common enemy. An international black movement based on this struggle must be organised: in America, the centre of black culture and black protest; in Africa, with its reserve of human labour for the further development of capitalism; in Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua and the other ‘independent” republics), where American capitalism rules; in Puerto Rico, Haiti, San Domingo and the other Caribbean islands, where the brutal treatment of our black brothers by the American occupation has provoked a world-wide protest from conscious blacks and revolutionary white workers; in South Africa and the Congo, where the growing industrialisation of the black population has led to all kinds of uprisings; and in East Africa, where the inroads of world capital have led to the local population starting an active anti-imperialist movement.

4 The Communist International must show the black people that they are not the only ones to suffer capitalist and imperialist oppression; that the workers and peasants of Europe, Asia and America are also victims of imperialism; that the black struggle against imperialism is not the struggle of any one single people, but of all the peoples of the world; that in India and China, in Persia and Turkey, in Egypt and Morocco, the oppressed non-white peoples of the colonies are heroically fighting their imperialist exploiters; that these peoples are rising against the same evils, i.e., against racial oppression, inequality and exploitation, and are fighting for the same ends – political, economic and social emancipation and equality.

The Communist International represents the revolutionary workers and peasants of the entire world in their struggle against the power of imperialism – it is not just an organisation of the enslaved white workers of Europe and America, but is as much an organisation of the oppressed non-white peoples of the world, and so feels duty-bound to encourage and support the international organisations of the black people in their struggle against the common enemy.

5 The black question has become an integral part of the world revolution. The Third International has already recognised what valuable help the coloured Asiatic peoples can give to the proletarian revolution, and it realises that in the semi-capitalist countries the co-operation of our oppressed black brothers is extremely important for the proletarian revolution and for the destruction of capitalist power. Therefore the Fourth Congress gives Communists the special responsibility of closely applying the “Theses on the Colonial Question” to the situation of the blacks.

6 i) The Fourth Congress considers it essential to support all forms of the black movement which aim either to undermine or weaken capitalism and imperialism or to prevent their further expansion.

ii) The Communist International will fight for the racial equality of blacks and whites, for equal wages and equal social and political rights.

iii) The Communist International will do all it can to force the trade unions to admit black workers wherever admittance is legal, and will insist on a special campaign to achieve this end. If this proves unsuccessful, it will organise blacks into their own unions and then make special use of the united front tactic to force the general unions to admit them.

iv) The Communist International will immediately take steps to convene an international black conference or congress in Moscow.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X [Obituary]

[First printed in Spartacist #4, May-June 1965]

Of all the national Negro leaders in this country, the one who was known uniquely for his militancy, intransigence, and refusal to be the libberals’ frontman has been shot down. This new political assassination is another indicator of the rising current of irrationality and individual terrorism which the decay of our society begets. Liberal reaction is predictable, and predictably disgusting. They are, of course, opposed to assassination, and some may even contribute to the fund for the education of Malcolm’s children, but their mourning at the death of the head of world imperialism had a considerably greater ring of sincerity than their regret at the murder of a black militant who wouldn’t play their game.

Black Muslims?

The official story is that Black Muslims killed Malcolm. But we should not hasten to accept this to date unproved hypothesis. The New York Police, for example, had good cause to be afraid of Malcolm, and with the vast resources of blackmail and coercion which are at their disposal, they also had ample opportunity, and of course would have litle reason to fear exposure were they involved. At the same time, the Muslim theory cannot be discounted out of hand because the Muslims are not a political group, and in substituting religion for science, and color mysticism for rational analysis, they have a world view which could encompass the efficacy and morality of assassination.

No Program

The main point, however, is not who killed Malcolm, but why could he be killed? In the literal sense, of course, any man can be killed, but why was Malcolm particularly vulnerable? The answer to this question makes of Malcolm’s death tragedy of the sharpest kind, and in the literal Greek sense. Liberals and Elijah have tried to make Malcolm a victim of his own (non-existent) doctrines of violence. This is totally wrong and totally hypocritical. Malcolm was the most dynamic ntional leader to have appeared in America in the last decade. Compared with him the famous Kennedy personality was a flimsy cardboard creation of money, publicity, makeup, and the media. Malcolm had none of these, but a righteous cause and iron character forged by white America in the fire of discrimination, addiction, prison, and incredible calumny. He had a difficult to define but almost tangible attribute called charisma. When you heard Malcolm speak, even when you heard him say things that were wrong and confusing, you wanted to believe. Malcolm could move men deeply. He was the stuff of which mass leaders are made. Commencing his public life in the context of the apolitical, irrational religiosity and racial mysticism of the Muslim movement, his break toward politicalness and rationality was slow, painful, and terribly incomplete. It is useless to speculate on how far it would have gone had he lived. He had entered prison a burglar, an addict, and a victim. He emerged a Muslim and a free man forever. Elijah Muhammad and the Lost-Found Nation of Islam were thus inextricably bound up with his personal emnacipation. In any event, at the time of his death he had not yet developed a clear, explicit, and rational social program. Nor had he led his followers in the kind of transitional struggle necessary to the creation of a successful mass movement. Lacking such a program, he could not develop cadres based on program. What cadre he had was based on Malcolm X instead. Hated and feared by the power structure, and the focus of the paranoid feelings of his former colleagues, his charisma made him dangerous, and his lack of developed program and cadre made him vulnerable. His death by violence had a high order of probability, as he himself clearly felt.

Heroic and Tragic Figure

The murder of Malcolm, and the disastrous consequences flowing from that murder for Malcolm’s organization and black militancy in general, does not mean that the militant black movement can always be decapitated with a shotgun. True, there is an agonizing gap in black leadership today. One the one hand.there are the respectable servants of the liberal establishment; men like James Farmer whose contemptible effort to blame Malcolm’s murder on “Chinese Communists” will only hasten his eclipse as a leader, and on the oher hand the ranks of the militants have yet to produce a man with the leadership potential of Malcolm. But such leadership will eventually be forthcoming. This is a statistical as well as a social certainty. This leadership, building on the experience of others such as Malcolm, and emancipated from his religiosity, will build a movement in which the black masses and their allies can lead the third great American revolution. Then Malcolm X will be remembered by black and white alike as a heroic and tragic figure in a dark period of our common history.

Bay Area Spartacist Committee

2 March 1965

Militant Longshoreman No. 17

Militant Longshoreman

No. 17,  January 2, 1987



Six months before the coast contract runs out the most common question that brothers in Local 10 are asking is’ “Do you think PMA is going to demand concessions?” Three years ago the question most often asked was *What are we going for in this contract?” It’s just possible that PMA will miscalculate the mood of longshoremen and insist on concessions – “take aways” in either conditions or money. We know that the waterfront employers want more “flexibility”, that they want to eliminate categories and assign men to any jobs. We also note that, PMA is demanding that the dispatch hall be moved to Oakland and all travel time be done away with.

What PMA may not figure on is that Longshoreman know that we gave the employers major concession many years ago, lost thousands of jobs as a result, and got very damn little in return. Bridges and Goldblat’s two M and M agreements 1961/1966 gave up manning and allowed massive mechanization. The 9.43 -skilled steadyman section drove a wedge in the union, undermined the hiring hall, and gave Bay Area PMA the highest coastwise production on container ships. Longshoremen are in no mood for concessions; if PMA doesn’t understand that they could walk into a strike situation. Just recently PMA came very close to precipatating coastwise work stoppages over their refusal to employ partially disabled longshoremen in three different ports and their demand that these men be deregistered.


International President Jimmy Herman seems to be pushing a strategy of trying to buy off PMA by offering a long-term contract in exchange for a status quo agreement with “modifications”. Look out for those “modifications”! There are two things wrong with long contracts. First of all, too many of us remember how the employers ran wild, tearing up job conditions during Harry Bridge’s two 5 year contracts 1961-1971. With no strike threat, at the end of a contract facing them PMA, backed up by a tame arbitrator and a timid international could go even further than they already have in undermining job conditions and weakening the union.

Second- many powerful unions tried to hold on to wages and conditions in the face of capitalism’s anti-labor offensive by signing long term contracts. What happened? Their employers arbitrarily violated the terms of the agreement, demanded contract reopeners, and cut wages and benefits mid-way during the contracts.

We have to get the union ready for a strike even to keep what we have contractually. Our weakest link is the International. Even before going into a strike we have to demand that the strike and negotiations be run by a broad rank and file strike committee based on locally elected strike committees. If negotiations and strike strategy are left in the control of the Coast Committee we’ll be in deep trouble.


The disastrous erosion in their jurisdiction that overwhelmed the ILA in their contract this year made a deep impression on our ILWU brothers. After non-union stevedoring companies successfully wrested more than half the work away from the Gulf and South Atlantic ILA, those locals signed special contracts with massive take-aways in wages, benefits, and manning. Then when the ILA international called a union-wide strike following stalled negotiations for their master contract, the Gulf and South Atlantic Ports kept working! Result- New York and the North Atlantic ILA made major concessions in manning and wage guarantees.


The growing international crisis of capitalism and the weakness and disunity of the trade union and working class political movements leave ILWU longshoremen with no real economic security. Even those of us approaching retirement know that our pensions and social security are no more secure than this rotting economic system from which our union wrested these gains in earlier decades. Our appeals for the ILWU to take the lead in organizing a workers party to expropriate basic industry and finance capital aren’t just utopian demands; we’re simply describing the only way out for the working class here and internationally.

One way our union can try to influence events is to reaffirm and send to the coast longshore caucus the resolution we sent to the last international convention; a resolution calling for a 48 – hour coast longshore protest strike if Reagan takes military action against Nicaragua.


12 Crowley contracts with the IBU-ILWU (INLAND BOATMEN’S UNION) are up on Feb. first, next year. Crowley is demanding 33% wage concessions and an end to the union hiring hall. These contracts cover tug and barge work from Alaska to Los Angeles. Crowley is a PMA member and has contracts with the ILWU longshore division in Hawaii and the northwest. Full longshore support to the IBU-ILWU to defeat Crowleys takeaway demands would be a signal to PMA to back off on any concession  demands. But don’t forget; several years ago Jimmy Herman ordered Local 10 longshoremen to cross an IBU picket line against a Crowley scab barge at the army base I


1. DEFEND OUR JOBS AND LIVELIHOOD – Six hour shift, no extensions, at eight hours pay. Manning scales on all ship operations, one man – one job. Weekly PGP. Full no – cap C.0.L.A. on wages. Joint maritime union action against non – union barge, shipping, and longshore operations. No chest riders or witnesses. Ho long term contracts.

2. DEFEND THE HIRING HALL – use regular gangs on container ships; no dispatch of “unit gangs”. Call all 9.43 men back to the hall. Stop work action to defend the hiring hall and older and disabled men.

3. DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS AND SAFETY THROUGH JOB ACTION Stop PMA chiseling on the contract. Eliminate “work as directed”, “no illegal work stoppage”, and arbitration sections from the contract. Mobilize to smash anti-labor injuntions. No employer drug or alcohol screening.

4. DEFEND OUR UNION – No Class B or C longshoremen. Register directly to Class A. Keep racist anti-labor government and courts out of the union and BALMA. Support unions resistance against court suits and government “investigations”. Union action to break down racial and sexual discrimination and employer favoritism on the waterfront. Organize for a coastwide strike to get what we need – No concessions – no give backs.

5. BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY – against government/employer strikebreaking. No more defeated PATCO or HORMEL strikes. Honor all class struggle picket lines – remove phony, racist, anti-working class picket lines. Don’t, handle struck or diverted cargo. No raiding of other unions. Organize the disorganized, and the  unemployed. Defend IBU – ILWU (INLAND BOATMEN) against Crowley union busting.

6. STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union organized labor/black latino defense actions. No dependence on capitalist police or courts to smash fascists..

7. WORKING CLASS ACTION TO STOP REAGAN’S WAR DRIVE – Labor strikes to oppose U.S. military actions against Cuba, Nicaragua, or Salvadoran leftist insurgents. Boycott military cargo to Central America. Build labor action to smash the apartheid injunction.

8. INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY – oppose protectionist trade restrictions – for a massive trade union program of aid to help non-U.S. workers build unions and fight super-exploitation by the multi-national corporations – Defend undocumented workers with union strike action.

9. BREAK WITH THE DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES – Start now to build a workers party based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will seize all major industry without payment to the capitalists and establish a planned economy to end exploitationo racism, poverty, and war

Militant Longshoreman No 8

Militant Longshoreman

No #8  February 3, 1984







Local 10 will elect 10 Caucus delegates this Friday, February 10. These delegates (plus the Local President) will represent the Local at a Coast Contract Caucus, probably in March. That Caucus will put together contract demands and strategy for the 1984 negotiations with PMA. After negotiations the Caucus will recommend either acceptance or rejection of the proposed contract. Which levers you pull for this office is about the most important vote a member can cast in affecting his and the union’s future.


It’s too early to predict whether PMA will follow the national pattern and demand direct give-backs in contractual guarantees on wages, seniority, job security etc. However, there are four areas in which the editor thinks. that PMA will press hard to undermine our union.

PMA will undoubtedly reintroduce their demand that a longshoreman’s PGP will be based in the future on his earnings for actual jobs worked in a previous base period (like unemployment insurance). This would put a real hardship on ports like San Francisco. Even if all dispatch categories were abolished and all longshoremen were availble 7 days a week, the lack of jobs (and earnings) would still result in reduced PGP payments in San Francisco to all except steady killed men. The most immediate result of such punitive contract lanuage would be PMA pressure to reduce categories (combine Dock and old Borads for example) and increase compulsory availability (signing n the hall every day – no stop line).

Partially disabled and older longshoremen would be the first to suffer since to maintain their maximum earnings (and PGP) these men would be compelled to accept steel and lashing jobs or suffer a drastic cut in heir own individual PGP.


Along with reduced PGP partially disabled men will probably be faced with pressure to accept a cash payment (Buy-out) to give up their books. Just as in U.S. capitalist society as a whole, where 25% of the workers including a high proportion of blacks) are being more and more openly treated as unwanted, excess human beings, PMA wants to get rid of older and disabled welfare recipients (men drawing PGP) in the longshore work force .


There are also signs that PMA wants to eliminate most travel time by demanding an East Buy dispatch hall. We can also expect PMA to bring up their demand for a fully computerized dispatch eliminating any possible choice or selection of job, virtually abolishing union control of dispatch.


Many brothers ask the honest question, “If we can keep our contract as It is, without any give-backs, won’t we be ok?”. That’s whistling in the dark brother. PMA already has contract language that allows continuous future give-aways in manning, jobs, conditions, and earnings. For over 20 years language surrendering manning (1961), equalized earnings (1966 – steady skilled men – 9.43), “PGP abuse”, “work as directed” and other sections have been added to the contract to give PMA all the weapons they need to continue taking away jobs and conditions. To add insult to injury Local 10 has been singled out to bear the full brunt of  the worst PMA stooges as arbitrators, Barsamian and Sutliff. That’s why we urge Local 10 delegates to go into the Caucus with contract demands to take-back for the union powers that we once had to protect our members. Eliminate steady skilled men, “PGP abuse”, work, now -arbitrate later” contract sections. Restore manning scales on all ship operations.


“Bay Area Tonnage UP – Jobs and Earnings of Longshoremen Down!”

That could be the headline on a yearly “state of the union” report. And it’s not what some demagogic politicians shouted in the past: “Los Angeles is taking our world”, “All the ships are going to Seattle!” Brother Harry Bridges gave away manning, the stevedoring companies mechanized, the world’s shippers went over to bigger and ever more efficient (less men) container ships. The hour is getting damned late for us. If we don’t get manning and a shorter work shift in 1984 the next contract could see us facing a lay-off.


Anyone who pays close attention to Brother Herman’s editorials and speeches can see that he’s running scared. Jimmy has done everything possible to avoid a conflict with the employers. Meanwhile he f/’es around making militant sounding speeches threatening to shut down the country. Probably. the most disgusting picture in the editor’s mind Is Jimmy Herman standing in front of the door of Greyhound on December 3 in San Francisco trying to disperse an angry crowd of pickets.


Brothers ask us “Why do you say in your election card ‘Prepare for a strike in 1984’ when you know we don’t have any leadership?” These brothers remember how Brother Bridges and the international officers sabotaged the 1971/1972 strike. What these brothers forget is that the 1971 Caucus in its last minutes turned over all powers to run the strike to the Negotiating Committee dominated by Bridges, Herman and the International officers! If you’re really serious about defending your jobs and your union you have to be willing to prepare for a strike. That also means taking control of the strike away from the mis-leaders in the International and the Local. We will have more to say later about elected strike committees and how to win a strike. The defensive victory we won last June at Richmond Levin Terminals Paar 5 shows what can be accomplished when the membership begins to organize.


We’ve gotten damned little in our local miscellaneous contracts with -IMA. Linemen, gearmen, coopers, sweepers, baggagemen haven’t made any -eal gains in years-why? Because the International hastens to sign the Master contract with PMA beforelocal agreements are reached leav- Ing us with no strike power to compel PPIA concessions. The only way to creak out of this no-win strategy is to start local negotiations early, flien PMA stalls tell them: “No contract extensions of local or master, last July 11No contract – no work! No Master contract signed until Local contracts agreement reached!” Only by linking Local and Coast  contracts together with the threat of a strike can we get PMA to negotiate seriously on the miscellaneous contracts.


Last month we made no written endorsement of Brother Stan Gow for Executive Board. After we had published issue No. 7 of this Newsletter Brother Gow distributed his campaign leaflet which completely omitted for the first time since 1974 any itemized program for the union. When Gow was asked whether his program was dropped in order to duck the question of whether he still opposes law-suits against the union Stan (and the organizer of the Militant Caucus, Brother Woolston) replied that Stan still opposes bringing the capitalist government, courts, and agencies into the union.

On that basis we advised members to vote for Brother Gow even though we remain increasingly critical of his actions. Howard Keylor will vote for Stan Gow for Caucus Delegate. We recommend that while brothers also vote for Stan that they urge him when elected to work with Brother Keylor at the Caucus in fighting for local 10 and the Longshore Division membership’s needs.

Militant Longshoreman No 15

Militant Longshoreman

No #15  January 25, 1986

[This issue was reprinted in 1917 #2,  Summer 1986. First posted online at http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no2/no02bafs.html ]

BAFSAM’s Impotent Tactics

Reprinted below is the text of Militant Longshoreman No. 15, which was distributed to participants in a impotent BAFSAM-initiated ‘‘picket’’ of Pier 80 last January.

BAFSAM (Bay Area Free South Africa Movement) has had a leaflet out calling on enemies of apartheid to ‘‘Stop Nedlloyd Ship at Pier 80—Saturday, January 25 at 5 p.m.’’ People who respond to this call thinking that they are supporting a labor boycott of South African cargo may be surprised to find no ship with South African cargo docked at Pier 80. So what is BAFSAM doing? Is this just incompetence? Ever since the 11-day longshore boycott in 1984, BAFSAM has pulled a series of small, ineffective picket lines at Pier 80 in San Francisco, sometimes cynically picketing the entrance even when no Nedlloyd Line ship was docked there! Meanwhile BAFSAM has continued its lunchtime picket line in uptown Oakland at Pacific Maritime Association offices.

BAFSAM Strategy—A Total Failure

Last fall at U.C. Berkeley, BAFSAM spokespersons reported that their ‘‘Peace Navy’’ and picket lines had stopped South African cargo in the Bay Area. The truth is that in the Bay Area not one ship carrying South African cargo has been delayed in either docking, discharging or loading. Free South Africa Movement token picket lines in other West Coast ports resulted in at most a single 10-hour delay of one ship in Vancouver, WA. In every case arbitrators ordered longshoremen to work the cargo; orders promptly obeyed.

BAFSAM has refused to build a picket line big enough and militant enough to shut down Pier 80 when a Nedlloyd ship is in port; meanwhile they have ignored the ten US Lines and three Lykes Lines vessels carrying South African cargo calling at least weekly in the Bay Area. BAFSAM has been at Pier 80 in order to whore off the credit gained by S.F. longshoremen’s history making 11-day political strike. These friends of Archie Brown’s are the same people who later went on to organize BAFSAM. They are the same misleaders of the working class who helped the S.F. police to break up a picket line at Pier 80 on Dec. 4, 1984—the picket line which had temporarily halted work on the Nedlloyd Kimberley the day after the Federal Court injunction against Local 10 longshoremen.

If BAFSAM had just held demonstrations off to the side of the pier entrance while issuing their appeals to the ‘‘individual consciousness of longshoremen,’’ they would have been guilty of liberal ineffectiveness and political impotence. By putting up token picket lines they have prostituted this traditional trade-union weapon. Their actions are counter-productive; the only result is to train longshoremen to go through and work South African cargo behind picket lines. These cynical and irresponsible picket lines are only making it harder to organize a new longshore boycott. Clearly, the last thing BAFSAM wants is well organized and effective labor solidarity actions with the embattled black masses in South Africa.

BAFSAM’s Real Strategy—Beg the Capitalists…

BAFSAM’s presence at Pier 80 has nothing to do with working-class or trade-union action against apartheid. This was made very clear at a West Coast Labor Conference against apartheid called by BAFSAM in August last year. The underground South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU—supported by the ANC [African National Congress]) had just issued an appeal to trade unions, especially transport workers, in North America and Europe urging them to refuse to handle cargo, mail, communications to or from South Africa. One of the conference workshops introduced a motion to send delegates to the various labor union bodies in the Bay Area urging a union-organized two-week boycott of South African cargo during the forthcoming national period of protest against apartheid. Franklin Alexander and the other BAFSAM spokesmen demagogically attacked this motion for concrete action and were successful in getting it defeated.

Instead of labor action the conference passed a carload of liberal motions for letters to Congress, appeals to local government bodies, petitions to Port Commissions, and research into constitutional law. Their strategy is dead set against real actions of labor solidarity, and is centered on making liberal moral appeals to the consciousness of the capitalists and their political flunkies. During the Vietnam war these same people refused to even try to organize labor strikes against the war. They were conspicuous in the ineffectual pacifist peace crawls. It was the courageous struggle of the Vietnam workers and peasants against U.S. imperialism that led the U.S. to finally pull out of Vietnam. It’s not liberal appeals to the non-existent ‘‘moral consciousness’’ of capitalists that is causing banks and corporations to pull out of South Africa; it is the revolt of the black masses which is making their investments in apartheid too risky to continue.

* Smash the apartheid injunction through a mass labor boycott of South African cargo!

Militant Longshoreman No. 19

Militant Longshoreman

No. 19,   March 13, 1987

Herman, Liddle, Estrada
Endanger Inland Boatmen’s Strike
Against Crowley!

Going into the fourth week of their strike against Crowley’s union busting the IBU-ILWU has stopped most of Crowley’s struck West Coast operations. With the help of longshoremen and clerks all Crowley tug docking and undocking and bunkering of ships worked by ILWU members has been stopped cold. A major victory was won when two struck Crowley barges brought from Hawaii by scabs sat idle in Oakland when longshoremen and clerks refused to work behind mass IBU pickets. On March 4 Coast arbitrator Sam Kagel upheld the union’s contention that Crowley had extended the struck site to his barges even when they were docked at Howard Terminal and Berth 10, and that the contract picket line language precluded PMA from forcing us to work the struck barges.

The main danger that threatens the Boatmen’s strike is the apparent fear of Jimmy Herman, Don Liddle, and the IBU leadership that a tough, effective militant strike will antagonize Crowley and make it impossible to “cut a deal” with the company. The IBU leaders tried to stop or delay a coastwise strike, kept vital information from the rank-and-file, and threw militants off the strike committee in Puget Sound and the Bay Area. IBU Regional Director, Rich Estrada, suppressed information that the two Hawaii Marine Lines barges had-been loaded in Hawaii when the longshoremen capitulated to a court injunction. We still don’t know whether Herman and Liddle ordered IBU pickets of the barges in Hawaii after the injunction came down; but you can be damn sure that Herman ordered the longshoremen to load those scab barges. IBU rank-and-filers have been unable to find out to what extent the struck Crowley barge trade to Alaska is still operating. Estrada dragged his feet, held back the documents and paperwork on the barges and handicapped the Local 34 and Local 10 officers in preparing for the arbitrations when PMA ordered clerks and longshoremen to work behind IBU picket lines.

Estrada Purges Strike Committee

Finally, on his own “authority”, Estrada removed George Gutekunst and Jack Heyman from the elected strike committee in spite of the widely recognized fact that they had organized an unusually effective strike in the Bay Area and had built excellent working relations with the clerk and longshore locals. The IBU Regional Executive Board ordered new elections and Gutekunst and Heyman were re-elected with the highest votes from their units.

One sinister and alarming result of the recent IBU elections is the placing of Estrada’s ally Doug Crute on the strike committee. Doug Crute  is the former regional Director of the IBU who was censured by his own membership for grossly racist remarks at a membership meeting. Is this an attempt to disrupt longshore local 10’s support for the boatmen’s strike?

Liddle’s Pipe Dream —Cut A Deal With Crowley

Herman, Liddle, and the IBU leadership are trying to strangle and defuse the membership’s determination to win this strike, and to save their jobs and their union. Crowley openly advertised for and hired scabs days before the strike and has made no bones about his intention to gut the union. The IBU leaders had by their own admission 15% concessions on the table when the strike broke out and have given every indication that they are willing to go even further in a desperate attempt to cut a deal. They, are afraid that militant strike tactics will escalate the conflict to where Crowley will not be open to even major give-aways.

Nice Guys Don’t Win!

What the IBU membership needs to understand is what we in longshore learned decades ago. The only way to protect the membership is to be willing to go as far as necessary to economically hurt the employer when he’s trying to smash you. It’s all a question of power – not wheeling and dealing. Crowley has departed from the fourty years of class collaboration since Taft Hartley that has dominated maritime labor relations. Crowley defeated the ILA in three ports on the Gulf and South Atlantic wiping out longspore union jurisdiction on his barge operations. When he bought Delta Lines he fired the entire Master, Mates and Pilots crews, ordering them hauled off ships by Federal Marshalls. Crowley will only sign acceptable contracts with the IBU if he’s hurt economically!

George Gutekunst and Jack Heyman issued a joint election statement which has most of the ingredients for what they call a “Program for Victory”. A) Winning support and cooperation from longshoremen and clerks. B) Mass Picketing to stop scab operations. CJ Defiance of court injunctions, that would limit mass picketing or allow scab operations.

Tell the Truth:
Herman and Liddle Will Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory!

Unfortunately, the two brothers did not clearly warn their membership in their election statement that Herman, Liddle, Estrada and their cronies will sabotage such a winning strategy short of victory, because they don’t believe it’s possible to win in open battle. Gutekunst and Heyman failed to advise the IBU membership that they, the rank-and-file, will have to control the strike, overrule or replace their leadership when they try to sow confusion and demoralization in the ranks. Even if the ranks didn’t like to hear this necessary criticism of their leadership they must be told the truth if the strike is to be won.

After he purged the strike committee and took over its functions Estrada failed to inform Local 10 officers that three more H.M.L. barges had been loaded in Hawaii and were headed for the West Coast, and that Crowley had gone to the NLRB to get a Federal Court order overruling the ILWU-PMA contract grievance procedure and ordering longshoremen and clerks to work the scab barges! Crowley scab barges will shortly be tied up in three areas on the West Coast. If the IBU and the long-shore division capitulate to court injunctions it will be a major blow to an otherwise effective strike. We can expect no help from Herman and the Coast Committee. In both the Richmond Levin action and the Longshore South African cargo boycott the International sided with the PMA in finding Local 10 in violation of the contract leaving us open to legal actions.

Mass Picket Lines to Smash Court Ordered Scabbing!

If injunctions come down longshoremen and clerks will have to pull everyone out and join the IBU picket lines coastwise. If Crowley breaks the IBU he’s sure to ignore our jurisdiction and start working barges (and even ships) at so-called industrial docks utilizing non-ILWU workers at 1/4 to 1/3 our wages and benefits!

Theses on Ireland

Theses on Ireland

[reprinted from Spartacist no 24, Autumn 1977. Originally posted online athttp://www.workersrepublic.org/Pages/Ireland/Trotskyism/thesesonireland2.html ]

The theses on Ireland reprinted here were adopted by the International Executive Committee of the international Spartacist tendency on 5 August 1977.

1. The current situation and social configuration in Ireland is the result of centuries of brutal British imperialist domination. It contains features characteristically associated with the former multi-national states of Eastern Europe, as well as with both the colonial settler states which established their own political economy by excluding or destroying native populations, and colonies in which the native population is exploited and oppressed by a relatively thin colonial hierarchy.

In the absence of any significant section of the Irish working class historically freed from national/communal insecurity, the result is a seemingly intractable situation in which prospects for the development of a genuine class-struggle axis and for an end to the interminable cycle of imperialist exploitation/repression and inter-communal violence appear remote. The strong possibility remains that a just, democratic, socialist solution to the situation in Ireland will only come under the impact of proletarian revolution elsewhere and concretely may be carried on the bayonets of a Red Army against opposition of a significant section of either or both of the island’s communities.

Nevertheless, no matter to what extent a bleak immediate prognosis is justified, the conflict in Ireland presents a crucial test of the capacity of a revolutionary internationalist tendency to provide a clear analysis and programme and to confront the national question in the imperialist epoch. For revolutionists, who refuse to deal in the simplicities (ultimately genocidal) of the nationalists, the situation in Ireland can appear to be exceedingly complex and intractable. The ‘Irish question’ provides a strong confirmation of the unique revolutionary potency and relevance of the international Spartacist tendency’s understanding of Leninism, particularly in relation to geographically inter-penetrated peoples.

2. An essential element of our programme is the demand for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of the British army. British imperialism has brought centuries of exploitation, oppression and bloodshed to the island. No good can come of the British presence; the existing tie between Northern Ireland and the British state can only be oppressive to the Irish Catholic population, an obstacle to a proletarian class mobilisation and solution. We place no preconditions on this demand for the immediate withdrawal of all British military forces or lessen its categorical quality by suggesting ‘steps’ toward its fulfilment (such as simply demanding that the army should withdraw to its barracks or from working-class districts).

At the same time we do not regard the demand as synonymous with or as a concrete application of either the call for Irish self-determination (that is, a unitary state of the whole island) or for an independent Ulster – two solutions which within the framework of capitalism would be anti-democratic, in the first case toward the Protestants and in the second toward the Irish Catholics. Nor is the demand for the withdrawal of British troops sufficient in, itself, as though it has some automatic, inherent revol-utionary content or outcome. As the eminent British bourgeois historian AJP Taylor observed in an interview:

‘ I don’t know what the term bloodbath means. If it means people will be killed, they are being killed all the time. The alternative is not between an entirely peaceful Northern Ireland in which nobody’s being killed and a Northern Ireland in which a lot of people will be killed. If the British withdraw some sort of settlement would be arrived at. You can’t tell what it is because the forces in play can’t be judged until they can operate….

‘ … the presence of the British Army in Ireland prolongs the period of conflict and uncertainty…

‘ This [possibility of a united Ireland] is a matter of relative strength. Owing to the history of the last thirty years or perhaps longer, owing to history since 1885, when Randolph Churchill – Winston’s father – first raised the cry of ‘Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right’ – in the past ninety years the Protestants of Northern Ireland have been taught to think of themselves as a separate body, almost separate nationality within Ireland, and have established now a longterm domination of Northern Ireland, partly, because of their superior economic strength, partly because of the backing they have received from the British Government, and partly because they are, or up to now have been, the more determined. For them, Protestant domination is the answer to the situation in Northern Ireland.’
Troops Out, No. 2

As historically demonstrated by examples such as India, Libya, Cyprus and Palestine, the withdrawal of British imperialism, while a necessary objective of the communist vanguard, in itself does not automatically ensure an advance in a revolutionary direction. Thus, the demand for the immediate withdrawal of the British army from Northern Ireland must be linked to and constitute a part of a whole revolutionary programme.

3. As Leninists we are opposed to all forms of national oppression and privilege and stand for the equality of nations. Writing in 1913 Lenin succinctly set forth as follows the fundamental principles underlying the revolutionary social-democratic position on the national question:

‘As democrats, we are irreconcilably hostile to any, however slight, oppression of any nationality and to any privileges for any nationality. As democrats, we demand the right of nations to self-determination in the political sense of that term … i.e., the right to secede. We demand unconditional protection of the rights of every national minority. We demand broad, self-government and autonomy for regions, which must be demarcated, among other terms of reference, in respect of nationality too.’
‘Draft Programme of the 4th Congress of Social Democrats of the Latvian Area,’

Collected Works, Vol. 19

Thus, the right to self-determination means simply the right to establish a separate state, the right to secede. We reject the notion that it means ‘freedom from all outside interference and control’ or entails economic indepen-dence. In the general sense the right to self-determination is unconditional, independent of the state that emerges or its leadership.

However, for Leninists this right is not an absolute demand, a categorical imperative, to be implemented at all times and everywhere there is a nation. It is only one of a range of bourgeois-democratic demands; it is a part, sub-ordinate to the whole, of the overall programmatic system. When the particular demand for national self-determination contradicts more crucial demands or the general needs of the class struggle, we oppose its exercise. As Lenin notes:

‘The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now, general socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected.’ [emphasis in original]
‘The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up,’ Collected Works, Vol. 22

In particular, in the case of interpenetrated peoples sharing a common territory, we oppose the exercise of self-determination by one nation where this flatly conflicts with the same right for another nation. In this situation the same general considerations apply, namely our opposition to all forms of national oppression and privilege, but in such circumstances the exercise of self-determination by one or the other people in the form of the establishment of their own bourgeois state can only be brought about by the denial of that right to the other. Under capitalism this would simply be a formula for reversing the terms of oppression, for forcible population transfers and expulsions and ultimately genocide. It is a ‘solution’ repeatedly demonstrated in history, for example in the cases of India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine and Cyprus.

In general our support for the right to self-determination is negative: intransigent opposition to every manifesta-tion of national oppression as a means toward the unity of the working class, not as the fulfilment of the ‘manifest destiny’ or ‘heritage’ of a nation, nor as support for ’progressive’ nations or nationalism. We support the right of self-determination and national liberation struggles in order to remove the national question from the historic agenda, not to create another such question. Within the framework of capitalism there can be no purely democratic solution (for example through universal suffrage) to the national question in cases of interpenetrated peoples.

The same general considerations apply not only to ‘fully formed’ nations, but also to nationalities and peoples which may still be something less than fully consolidated nations, for example the Eritreans in their struggle against Amharic domination or the Biafrans at the time of the Nigerian civil war. Indeed, not infrequently the historical formation of nations is tested and completed in the process of struggles for self-determination. Our opposition to the exercise of self-determination by an interpenetrated people would also apply where one or more of the groupings, though not a historically compacted nation, has sufficient relative size and cultural level that the exercise of self-determination could only mean a new form or reversal of the terms of oppression.

4. Concretely, in Ireland the question of Irish national self-determination was not fully resolved by the establish-ment of the Republic of Éire. But to demand ‘Irish self-determination’ today represents a denial of the Leninist position on the national question. It is incumbent on revolutionists to face up to exactly what the call for ‘self-determination of the Irish people as a whole’ means.

Obviously the call is not one for the simultaneous self-determination of both communities, an impossibility for interpenetrated peoples under capitalism. In another sense the demand is about as meaningful as calling for ‘self-determination for the Lebanese people as a whole’ in the middle of last year’s communal bloodletting. In the case of Ireland such a demand utterly fails to come to terms with the question of the Protestant community of Ulster, comprising 60 percent of the statelet’s and 25 percent of the whole island’s population. Such a demand is a call for the formation of a unitary state of the whole island, including the forcible unification of the whole island by the Irish bourgeois state irrespective of the wishes of the Protestant community. It is a call for the Irish Catholics to self-determine at the expense of the Protestants. It is a call for the simple reversal of the terms of oppression, an implicit call for inter-communal slaughter, forced population transfers and ultimately genocide as the way forward to the Irish revolution.

5. The present six-county enclave in Northern Ireland is a ‘sectarian, Orange statelet,’ the product of an imperial-ist partition. Prior to the partition revolutionaries would have opposed partition, striving to cement revolutionary unity in the struggle for independence from British imperialism. However, with the partition, the accompanying communal violence and demographic shifts, and the establishment of a bourgeois republic in the south it was necessary to oppose the forcible reunification of the six counties with the rest of Ireland. At the same time the present statelet guarantees the political and economic privileges of the Protestants. We oppose the Orange state and the demand for an independent Ulster as forms of determination for the Protestants which necessarily maintain the oppression of the Irish Catholic population of Ulster, an extension of the Irish Catholic nation. Since they are the local bodies of the British repressive state apparatus and the training ground for the present Protestant paramilitary groups and a future reactionary Protestant army, we demand: Smash the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

6. There is a series of urgent democratic demands that apply to the situation of the oppressed Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland. We demand full democratic rights for the Catholic minority and an end to discrimination in housing and hiring. But such demands must be linked to class demands which transcend the bounds of bourgeois democracy. Without the demand for a sliding scale of wages and hours, for example, the call to end discrimination will simply imply leveling in an already economically depressed situation. The relevant partial, negative, democratic and economic demands must be integrated into the revolutionary transitional programme which transcends the capitalist framework of economism and democratic reformism.

7. Historically the Protestants of Ulster were an extension of the Scottish and English nations. The 1798 United Irishmen uprising was led by the Protestant middle class and reflected the impact of the French and American bourgeois revolutions on the nascent capitalist class (overwhelmingly Protestant) in Ireland. This insurrection against British imperialism, which was defeated in part by development of the reactionary sectarian Orange Order and the mobilisation of the peasantry by Catholic priests, was the opportunity for the establishment of a modern nation of the whole island. Since that time, though the most modern capitalist sectors remained Protestant for a long period, the Protestants have acted for the most part as loyal and fervent defenders of the union with British imperialism. The bigotry and discrimination among the Protestants toward the Irish Catholic nation necessarily exceeds the worst excesses of Irish Green nationalism, and most of the sectarian murders in the current period have been carried out by Protestant paramilitary groups.

Though not yet a nation, the Protestants are certainly not a part of the Irish nation and are distinct from the Scottish and English nations. Presently their separate existence is defined in large part as against the Irish Catholic nation and at the ideological level is expressed in religious terms. With their own social and cultural fabric (epitomised in the Orange Order) and history of opposition to the Irish nationalist cause, they have therefore acted as the ‘loyalist’ allies of British imperialism. At the same time, in this century the allegiance has been more a means than an end, demonstrated, for example, by the willingness of Sir Edward Carson to seek German aid if British imperialism would not fulfil the Ulster Protestants’ demands and by the 1974 Ulster Workers Strike.

In all likelihood, a definite resolution of the exact character of the Ulster Protestant community will be reached with the withdrawal of the British army and will depend on the circumstances surrounding this. The particular conditions will pose point-blank their future and the ‘solution’ to the Irish question. The solution posed by AJP Taylor is but one possibility.

‘The question is whether the Irish nationalist majority is strong enough to expel the Protestants. If they are, that is the best way out’
quoted in the Guardian [London], 13 April 1976

At the same time the social organisation, weaponry, military expertise and alliances of the Protestants, make a ‘Zionist’ solution entirely conceivable. On the other hand, if the withdrawal of the British army was in the context of massive class mobilisations, opportunities would undoubt-edly arise for a class determination of the question.

8. Attempts to ignore or deny the separate identity and interests of the Ulster Protestants through the familiar liberal plea that British or other socialists cannot ‘tell the Irish how to wage their struggle’ or the argument that only oppressed nations have a right to self-determination can be rejected easily on general theoretical grounds. The Protestants are neither a colonial administration (as were the British in India) nor a closed colour caste (as are the whites in South Africa). Arguments that the Protestants have no legitimate claim because they were originally settlers and the present statelet is an artificial imperialist creation are based ultimately on notions of nationalist irredentism and ‘historical justice.’ Although sometimes expressed as the demand that the Protestants go ‘home,’ such arguments are in the last analysis genocidal. Also inadequate is the explanation of the Protestants as simply a backward sector of the Irish nation, whose loyalism/Orangeism is purely an imperialist ideology given a certain nationalist tinge in order to attract a mass base.

9. Protestant communalism does have a material basis in the marginal privileges enjoyed by the Protestant workers. The most explicit attempt to confront and discount the Protestant community’s separate identity in ‘Marxist’ terms is the description of the Protestant work-ing class as a ‘labor aristocracy.’ This explanation is similar to the New Left theories about the American white working class and involves an attempt to broaden the term so as to destroy its original meaning, while failing to recognise that the Protestant community extends through all classes and strata of society. Even to claim that the entire Protestant working class of Northern Ireland is a labour aristocracy is a gross distortion of the term. The Northern Ireland working class as a whole has some of the worst wages, unemployment and housing in the British Isles. Moreover, wage differentials between Protestant and Catholic workers are not so marked that the two communities have significantly different living standards.

10. From the point of view of the general interests of British imperialism the border between Ulster and the Republic is now anachronistic:

‘United Kingdom soldiers and officials and money are heavily deployed in Northern Ireland because Westminster has clear obligations there. English Governments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries planted the garrison-colonists whose descendents’ presence has been the principal source of Ireland’s twentieth century distress; and London is the seat of such authority as the Province knows To withdraw that authority now would intensify the problem of public order without in the least advancing a settlement of the central political question. The search for an acceptable local administration would simply continue in worsened circumstances. Britain’s strategic interest in Northern Ireland is dead, and its economic interest is all on the side of withdrawal; but moral as well as practical considerations demand that British resources should remain engaged until both the political and the public order problems are at least within sight of resolution.’

Observer [London], 1 February 1976

While historically British imperialism has used the sectarian divisions, played the ‘Ulster card’ to its own advantage, it is not now committed to the preservation of the Orange statelet and would prefer a settlement which would remove its direct political responsibility on the island. With the decline of Ulster industry and the growth of investment opportunities in the south, the border is an obstacle to its overall intentions. But at the same time as it adopts various schemes to this end British imperialism is constrained to maintain capitalist law and order and prevent a complete breakdown in the social order. The increase in independence talk by Ulster Protestants, the Ulster Workers Strike of 1974 and the significant number of Protestants imprisoned for political offences do not reflect mere ‘tactical’ differences between the imperialists and their subordinates, but rather a divergence of interests between genuinely distinct forces.

11. We reject the argument that Protestant workers are so reactionary that only force will convince them and that theprecondition for winning them is the destruction of the Orange statelet. The understanding that the current partition is inherently oppressive is perverted into a conception of a ‘two-stage’ revolution in which the socialist tasks can only follow the completion of Irish national unity on the whole island. Sometimes linked to this is the claim that it is ‘naïve’ to expect the Protestant and Catholic workers to unite on ‘economic’ issues, since it is these that divide them. By analogy, no working class could ever transcend its sectional interests. Economism is the political expression of the failure of the working class in the absence of a revolutionary leadership to reject bourgeois ideology and place its revolutionary class interests above particular, sectional or apparent needs or desires. The above argument is based on the central premise of economism – that the working class cannot transcend its immediate sectional interests and identify with all oppressed and the future of humanity. Such ‘anti-economism’ is in fact a denial of the pertinence of the Transitional Programme in the service of the nationalism of the oppressed.

12. The Protestants feel legitimately threatened by the proposal for a united (bourgeois) Ireland, that is, their forcible absorption into an enlarged version of the reactionary clericalist state of Éire. The communalism/nationalism of the Protestants has a defensive character and is not the chauvinism of a great power. A united bourgeois Ireland would not provide a democratic solution for their claims and we must therefore reject such a solution. Such a state would necessarily be sectarian, and the Protestants will not voluntarily enter such a union.

The difficulties of such a solution are indicated in the earlier experience of the Bolsheviks. At the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 the Ukrainian delegate Merejin observed in an amendment to the ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Questions’:

‘The attempt made to settle the relationship between the nations of the majority and the minority nationalities in territories of mixed population (Ukraine, Poland, White Russia), has shown that the transfer of the power of govern-ment from the hands of the big capitalists to the groups of petty bourgeoisie constituting the democratic republics not only does not diminish but, on the contrary, aggravates the friction among the nationalities. The democratic republics oppose themselves to the proletariat and attempt to convert the class war into a national one. They become rapidly impregnated with nationalistic exclusiveness, and easily adapt themselves to the practices of the previous dominating nations, which fermented discord among the nationalities, and organised pogroms, with the assistance of the government apparatus, to combat the dictatorship of the proletariat.…’

The present Irish bourgeois republic is a clerical reactionary state in which the Roman Catholic Church enjoys considerable real and latent powers. An essential aspect of this is not the current level of religious persecution or discrimination (though the current repressive measures directed mostly against the IRA are an indication of the Irish bourgeoisie’s intentions), but the relationship of Roman Catholicism to Irish nationalism, especially as it helps to define the divisions between the two communities.

Leninism and nationalism are fundamentally counterposed political viewpoints. Thus, while revolutionists struggle against all forms of national oppression, they are also opposed to all forms of nationalist ideology. It is a revision of Leninism to claim that the ‘nationalism of the oppressed’ is progressive and can be supported by communist internationalists. In one of his major works on the national question Lenin stressed:

‘Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the “most just,” “purest,” most refined and civilised brand. In place of all forms of nationalism Marxism advances internationalism….’

‘Critical Remarks on the National Question,’ Collected Works, Vol. 20

To attempt to dismiss the above-mentioned features of Irish nationalism and the Irish Republic, to suggest that somehow these matters are not important, is to imply that Irish nationalism and capitalism are in some way ‘progressive’ and (unlike all other nationalists and capitalists) will not promote racial, sexual and communal divisions in the working class, in particular will not discriminate and persecute non-members of their national grouping.

13. Ireland, like other situations of interpenetrated peoples as in the Middle East and Cyprus, is a striking confirmation of the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. The inevitable conclusion is that while revolutionists must oppose all aspects of national oppression, they must also recognise that the conflicting claims of interpenetrated peoples can only be equitably resolved in the framework of a workers state. We struggle for an Irish workers republic as part of a socialist federation of the British Isles. while the establishment of a united workers state of the whole island may be preferable, the above demand is algebraic, leaving open the question of where the Protestants fall. This recognises that the nature of the Protestant community has not yet been determined in history. As such, it is counterposed to calls for a ‘united workers republic’ or for a ‘united socialist Ireland’ (where this demand is not simply an expression for left/nationalist or Stalinist two-stage theories). Placing the demand in the context of a socialist federation has the additional advantage of highlighting the essential relationship of the proletarian revolution in the whole area and the virtual impossibility of the resolution of the Irish question on a working-class basis outside this framework. This, and the strong representation of Irish workers in the working class in Britain, points to the demand for a British Isles-wide trade-union federation as a method of promot-ing joint struggle and cutting across the divisions in the working class in Ireland.

14. Particular emphasis must be placed on the demand for programmatically based anti-sectarian workers militias to combat Orange and Green terror and imperialist rampage. The British bourgeois press and the local imperialists’ bloodstained henchmen in the British Labour Party responded hysterically to a composite motion at the 1976 BLP Conference demanding the withdrawal of British troops and the formation of a trade-union based militia, despite the fact that the motion was the inadvertent result of right-wing culling of motions expressing ersatz Irish nationalist positions and a mealy-mouthed resolution from the Militant grouping. Our demand is not the same as that of the deeply opportunist and BLP-entrist Militant group, which links its call for trade-union militias to the call for troop withdrawal in a way that makes the existence of trade-union militias a precondition for troop withdrawal and which sees the militias as growing organically out of economist struggles. In Ulster the problem is not that the workers are not armed. Such militias will need a broad and strong programmatic basis if they are not to be derailed or co-opted. They cannot develop just out of trade unionism but fundamentally require the existence of a strong and authoritative revolutionary cadre. Each militia unit would need at least one member of each community and the presence and strong influence of trained revol-utionary cadre. Consequently, the demand for an anti–sectarian workers militia is closely linked to the growth of a Leninist party based on a developed revolutionary programme. Without being based on the demand for the immediate withdrawal of the British army and without our analysis of terrorism, for example, such workers militias would simply be the armed adjunct of the women’s peace movement.

15. In military conflicts between Irish nationalist organisations and the British army/state authorities we defend the actions of the former since this is still a struggle of an oppressed nationality against imperialism, even though their struggle may be associated with a programme which, if accomplished, would violate the democratic rights of the Protestants. This stance implies nothing about the programme of these groups, which can range from those similar to the Zionist Stern Gang and Grivas’ EOKA to more radical ‘socialist’ nationalists.

Outside this military struggle with British imperialism and its direct agents, in the conflict between the Irish Catholic and Protestant communities and their respective organisations, the national/communal aspect transcends any formal left/right differences. Such violence is frequently directed against symbols of non-sectarianism (for example, pubs where both Catholic and Protestant workers socialise) and is an obstacle to any form of integrated class struggle. Terrorist acts directed against the Protestant community by organisations of the oppressed Irish Catholic community are in no way a blow against imperialism, not justifiable as the ‘violence of the oppressed’ and are no more ‘progressive’ or defensible than similar acts by Protestant paramilitary groups. Thus, while attacks on British army posts or the bombing of Aldershot military barracks are politically defensible acts, the pub bombings (both in Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods), the London underground bombings, the South Armagh shootings and other such acts of indiscriminate terrorism are completely indefensible, in no way representing a blow against imperialism. Such acts, based as they are on nationalist and genocidal premises, can only deepen com-munal divisions and erect barriers to working-class unity.

In such circumstances we recognise the right of both communities to self-defence. Simply because an org-anisation claims to be fighting on behalf of the oppressed and against imperialism does not make all its acts defens-ible. If this were so, then revolutionists would be com-pelled to defend the actions of both the EOKA in Cyprus and the Zionist Stern Gang in Palestine (organisations to whom the Provisional IRA are akin), not only when they attacked British imperialism but respectively in their attacks on the Turkish community and the Palestinians (at Deir Yassin, for example). Only with this understanding of terrorism can the workers militias in Northern Ireland be armed against capitulating to a blanket approval of the terrorism of the oppressed or becoming a mask for the machinations of imperialism.

16. In the history of the Irish labour movement there have been examples of significant workers’ solidarity which have temporarily cut across the sectarian divisions. Invariably, as in the case of the 1919 Belfast engineers’ strike and the mass unemployment marches in the 1930s, they have been countered with massive sectarian mobilisations intended to wipe out the fragile proletarian unity. In the absence of a revolutionary party, there can arise examples of transitory unity, albeit on pacifist or reformist grounds. A sequel to the South Armagh shootings was joint marches of Protestant and Catholic workers; but they marched to demand the strengthening of the RUC, which must be smashed.

Even such examples indicate the potentiality for workers unity. The instances of class solidarity are not proof of a deep-seated strain of class unity or that the situation is not poisoned by sectarian hatreds, but indicate that the opportunity can arise for a revolutionary organisation, though perhaps hitherto isolated, weak and small to intervene, altering the course of the conflict toward a class determination and proletarian revolution.

For the Immediate and Unconditional Withdrawal of the British Army!
Smash the RUC and the UDR!
Down with the Prevention of Terrorism Act and all Other Special Powers Acts in Britain and Ireland!
Full Democratic Rights for the Catholic Minority in Northern Ireland!
No Discrimination in Hiring and Housing! For a Sliding Scale of Wages and Hours!
For a Programatically Based Anti-Sectarian Workers Militia To Combat Orange and Green Terror and Imperialist Rampage!
For a British Isles-Wide Trade-Union Federation!
Forward to the Irish Section of the Reborn Fourth International!

Militant Longshoreman No 14

Militant Longshoreman

No #14  January 3, 1986

Re-Elect Keylor to Executive Board

A few days ago a brother approached the editor and asked, “Are you still going to run for office on that pie in the sky program? Stan [Gow] doesn’t print up a program any more. You know the union is going down hill fast and these guys won’t fight PMA – and sure not the government.” This leaflet will try to respond to these questions.

First a few obvious examples why this brother is so pessimistic. The 1984 contract settlement allowed PMA to code hundreds of men out of PGP. The local was unable to stop many of these brothers from losing health and welfare benefits.

The increasingly desperate job squeeze for older men led to a dangerous confrontation between Locals 34 and 10 over the extra clerk jobs. At one point the Local 10 Executive Board seriously debated taking our sister local to court — a clear invitation to the capitalist courts to “administer” our contract. One of the few positive events this past year is that this issue was finally resolved, leaving our two locals free to fight PMA instead of each other.

The decline in traditional winch and lift skilled jobs due to containerization and the monopoly of better paid skilled jobs by 9.43 men means that a longshoreman in San Francisco has to spend 20 years working on the hold board. During the last couple of years we’ve seen continued attempts to wipe out seniority in promotions and skilled dispatch categories. Fortunately the membership recognized that seniority is the only remaining protection we have for older and partially disabled longshoremen, and voted these motions down.


Those members who were at the November meeting got a real shock when it was reported that the class collaboration policies of the International has reached a new low. The union side of the Coast Committee has agreed with PMA to a “screening program” for alcohol and drug use. Applicants for registration and longshoremen being promoted will be subject to a screening or check for drug and alcohol use — supposedly to make the waterfront a safer place to work. This cynical and hypocritical demand from PMA should have been summarily rejected by the union side with the counter demand that the employers stop their speed-up, unsafe work practices, and short manning that create unsafe working conditions on the waterfront. For instance: In 1984 PMA adamantly refused to even consider updating the safety code to provide for safety conditions working aboard container ships that have been in effect in Asian and European ports for years. This is just another move by the stevedoring companies to try to make the individual longshoreman legally responsible for the high accident rate in the industry.

Think about it: How will this “screening” for drug and alcohol addiction take place? This program makes all arrest and legal actions and all medical records outside the job evidence that can be used against a longshoreman. There are two outstanding dangers here. “Evidence” accumulated in this way could be used by employers to get out of paying claims to longshoremen injured on the job. Even more sinister is the danger opened up by the Coast Committee grant of approval to PMA for the acquisition of this kind of information, thereby giving the bosses another weapon to use against union activists and militants!

Almost all unions have resisted employer drug testing programs, pointing out among other reasons the notorious unreliability of these “tests”. For example: A person who never uses marijuana but happens to be in a room or enclosed space where someone else is smoking a joint will test out as a user for up to 30 days afterwards. Our local Caucus delegates must go into the February Coast Caucus and demand that the Coast Committee reverse their decision to act as cops for PMA.

There is a traditional union solution to the problem of brothers who use substances that affect their functioning. In the earlier history of the union, before Harry Bridges and his buddies surrendered so much union power and control back to PMA, the union handled such problems internally. But when our local tries to exercise union discipline as part of the effort to help our brothers overcome their problem, PMA has rushed in to stop us. Our union must reassert this right and exercise internal union discipline and control.


Most brothers and sisters see no way out of the weakness, decline and isolation of our union. We say that the history of the working class and of our union has valuable lessons that show the way for workers to protect themselves and finally seize control of society. The MILITANT LONGSHOREMAN program, printed at the end of this issue, tries to apply these lessons to our own union as a guide to those things we should fight for, and the tactics we have to use to get them. That’s why we call for concrete acts of workers’ solidarity, from joining other unions on their picket lines to political strikes against U.S. imperialist intervention against Central American revolutionary movements. Unless we break out of our isolation and help to build ties with other workers, our isolation will lead to even more defeats.

We should be ashamed that, except for a tiny handful of longshoremen, the Restaurant workers on strike for months just a couple of blocks from our hall got no help from our local. While Chilean longshoremen are in a desparate strike to defend their union, ILWU locals continue to unload cargo from that country, while the International issues mealy-mouthed statements of support. No group of workers can even defend and preserve their hard-won gains without working class solidarity. Those who forget this lesson lead the working class into one defeat after another.


Local 10 sometimes takes very good positions on paper, but doesn’t follow through. Last April our local went into the International Convention having .unanimously passed two historically important resolutions for working class solidarity. One resolution called for union wide boycott of South African cargo demanding the International organize the action, and urging other locals to make the same demand of the International. The second resolution  called for a 48-hour coastwise longshore strike if Reagan intervened militarily in Central America. [Stan Gow opposed both of these resolutions in the Executive Board — probably because Keylor proposed them.] But what happened then? Our convention delegates sat on their hands and failed to put up a fight for these resolutions allowing Jimmy Herman to line up his cronies and handraisers and defeat the proposals in the Resolutions Committee — thus preventing these issues, from even coming up on the floor for debate. Keylor was not a delegate, having failed to be elected in the February 1985 election Local 10 and our union appear even further away than in previous years from developing a class-struggle leadership — but the need is even greater. No other candidate for office besides Keylor has a program that answers the needs of our union. No other candidate is committed to such a program.


In February we will deal with the coastwise erosion of our jurisdiction and the sub-standard longshore contracts being negotiated by the International. We’ll try to describe an alternative to this no-win strategy to stop nonunion longshore operators.

We’ll also deal with the danger to workers posed by protectionism, union busting and the growing racist and fascist movements.


1. DEFEND OUR JOBS AND LIVELIHOOD – Six hour shift, no extensions,at eight hours pay. Manning scales on all ship operations; one man, one job. Weekly PGP, eliminate all “coding out” rules. Full-no-cap C.O.L.A on-wages.  Joint-Maritime union action against non-union barge operations.

2. DEFEND THE HIRING HALL – Use regular gangs on container ships; no dispatch of “unit gangs”. Call all 9.43 men back to the hall. Stopwork action to defend the hiring hall, the stop line, and older and disabled men.

3. DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS AND SAFTEY THROUGH JOB ACTION – Stop PMA chiseling on the contract. Eliminate “work as directed”, “no illegal work stoppage”, and arbitration sections from the contract. Mobilize to smash anti-labor injunctions. No employer drug or alcohol screening.

4. DEFEND OUR UNION – Eliminate class B registration category from the contract – promote all class B to class A coastwise. Keep racist anti-labor government and courts out of the union. Support union resistance against court suits and government “investigations”. Union action to break down racial and sexual discrimination and employer favoritism on the waterfront. Organize now for a coastwise contract fight to get what we need.

5. BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY – against government/employer strikebreaking. No more PATCOs. Honor all picket lines – remove reactionary ones. Don’t handle struck or diverted cargo. No raiding of other unions. Organize the unorganized and the unemployed. Labor strikes to stop cuts in Social security, Medical, Medicare and Workmen’s Compensation.

6. STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union organized labor/black/Latino defense actions. No dependance on capitalist police or courts to smash fascists.

7. WORKING CLASS ACTION TO STOP REAGAN’S WAR DRIVE AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION – Oppose reactionary boycotts against Soviet and Polish shipping. Labor strikes to oppose U.S. military actions against Cuba, Nicaragua, or Salvadoran leftist insurgents. Boycott military cargo to Chile, El Salvador, Israel and Turkey. Defy the apartheid injunction. Boycott all South African cargo.

8. INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY – Oppose protectionist trade restrictions. Defend undocumented workers with strike action. ILWU support to military victory of leftist insurgents in El Salvador.

9. BREAK WITH THE DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES – Start now to build a workers party based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will seize all major industry without payment to the capitalists and establish a planned economy to end exploitation, racism, poverty, and war.

When Anti-Negro Prejudice Began

When Anti-Negro Prejudice Began

by George Breitman

[From Fourth International, Vol.15 No.2, Spring 1954. Copied from http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/breitman/1954/xx/prejudice.htm ]

IT IS now common knowledge even among conservative circles in the labor movement that race prejudice benefits the interests of the capitalist class and injures the interests of the working class. What is not well known – it still comes as a surprise to many Marxists – and should be made better known is the fact that race prejudice is a uniquely capitalist phenomenon, which either did not exist or had no perceptible influence in pre-capitalist society (that is, before the sixteenth century).

Hundreds of modern scholars have traced anti-Negro prejudice (to take the most important and prevalent type of race prejudice in the United States) back to the African slave trade and the slave system that was introduced into the Americas. Those who profited from the enslavement of the Negroes – the slave traders and merchant capitalists first of Europe and then of America, and the slaveholders – required a rationalization and a moral justification for an archaic social institution that obviously flouted the relatively enlightened principles proclaimed by capitalist society in its struggle against feudalism. Rationalizations always become available when powerful economic interests need them (that is how most politicians and preachers, editors and teachers earn their living) and in this case the theory that Negroes are “inferior” followed close on the discovery that Negro slavery was exceptionally profitable.

This theory was embraced, fitted out with pseudo-scientific trappings and Biblical quotations, and trumpeted forth as a truth so self-evident that only madmen or subversives could doubt or deny it. Its influence on the minds of men was great at all levels of society, and undoubtedly aided the slaveholders in retarding the abolition of slavery. But with the growth of the productive forces, economic interests hostile to the slaveholders brought forth new theories and ideas, and challenged the supremacy of the slaveholders on all fronts, including ideology. The ensuing class struggles – between the capitalists, slaves, workers and farmers on one side and the slaveholders on the other – resulted in the destruction of the slave system.

But if anti-Negro prejudices and ideas arose out of the need to justify and maintain slavery, why didn’t they wither away after slavery was abolished? In the first place, ideas, although they must reflect broad material interests before they can achieve wide circulation, can live lives of their own once they are set into motion, and can survive for a time after the disappearance of the conditions that produced them. (It is instructive to note, for example, that Lincoln did not free himself wholly of race prejudice and continued to believe in the “inferiority” of the Negro even while he was engaged in prosecuting the civil war that abolished the slave system – a striking illustration both of the tendency of ideas to lag behind events and of the primacy of material interest over ideology.)

This is a generalization, however, and does not provide the main explanation for the survival of anti-Negro prejudice after the Civil War. For the striking thing about the Reconstruction period which followed the abolition of slavery was the speed with which old ideas and customs began to change and break up. In the course of a few short years millions of whites began to recover from the racist poisons to which they had been subjected from their birth, to regard Negroes as equals and to work together with them amicably, under the protection of the federal government, in the solution of joint problems. The obliteration of anti-Negro prejudice was started in the social revolution that we know by the name of Reconstruction, and it would have been completed if Reconstruction had been permitted to develop further.

But Reconstruction was halted and then strangled – by the capitalists, acting now in alliance with the former slaveholders. No exploiting class lightly discards weapons that can help maintain its rule, and anti-Negro prejudice had already demonstrated its potency as a force to divide, disrupt and disorient oppressed classes in an exploitative society .After some vacillation and internal struggle that lasted through most of Reconstruction, the capitalist class decided it could make use of anti-Negro prejudice for its own purposes. The capitalists adopted it, nursed it, fed it, gave it new clothing, and infused it with a vigor and an influence it had never commanded before. Anti-Negro prejudice today operates in a different social setting and therefore in a somewhat different form than a century ago, but it was retained after slavery for essentially the same reason that it was introduced under the slave system that developed from the sixteenth century on – for its convenience as an instrument of exploitation; and for that same reason it will not be abandoned by the ruling class of any exploitative society in this country.

But why do we speak of the introduction of anti-Negro prejudice in the slave system, whose spread coincided with the birth of capitalism? Wasn’t there slavery long centuries before capitalism? Didn’t race prejudice exist in the earlier slave societies? Why designate race prejudice as a uniquely capitalist phenomenon? A brief look at slavery of both the capitalist and pre-capitalist periods can lead us to the answers.

Capitalism, the social system that followed and replaced feudalism, owed its rise to world dominance in part to its revival or expansion of forms of exploitation originally developed in the pre-feudal slave societies, and to its adaptation and integration of those forms into the framework of capitalist productive relations. As “the chief momenta of primitive accumulation” through which the early capitalists gathered together the capital necessary to establish and spread the new system, Marx listed “the discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins.” The African slave trade and slavery produced fortunes that laid the foundations for the most important of the early industries of capitalism, which in turn served to revolutionize the economy of the whole world.

Thus we see, side by side, in clear operation of the laws of uneven and combined development, archaic pre-feudal forms and the most advanced social relations then possible in the post-feudal world. The former were of course in the service of the latter, at least during the first stages of their co-existence. This was not a mere repetition of the slavery of ancient times: one basic economic difference was that the slave system of the Americas produced commodities for the world capitalist market, and was therefore subordinate to and dependent on that market. There were other differences, but here we confine ourselves to the one most relevant to the subject of this article – race relations in the early slave societies.

For the information that follows we are indebted to the writings of an anthropologist and of a sociologist: Ina Corinne Brown, Socio-Economic Approach to Educational Problems, 1942, chapter 2 (this government publication, the first volume in the National Survey of the Higher Education of Negroes sponsored, by the US Office of Education, is now out of print, but the same material is covered in her book. Race Relations in a Democracy, 1949, chapter 4); and Oliver C. Cox, Caste, Class, and Race, 1948, chapter 16. [1] Dr. Cox’s treatment is fuller; he also has been more influenced by Marx.

This is what they write about the ancient Egyptians:

So many persons assume that racial antipathy is a natural or instinctive reaction that it is important to emphasize the fact that race prejudice such as we know did not exist before the modern age. To be sure there was group antipathy which those who read history backwards take to be race prejudice, but actually this antipathy had little or nothing to do with color or the other physical differences by which races are distinguished. For example, the ancient Egyptians looked down upon the Negroes to the south of them. They enslaved these Negroes and spoke scornfully of them. Many writers, reading later racial attitudes into the situation, have seen in this scorn a color prejudice. But the Egyptians were just as scornful of the Asiatic sand dwellers, or Troglodytes as Herodotus called them, and of their other neighbors who were as light or lighter than the Egyptians. The Egyptian artists caricature the wretched captives taken in the frequent wars, but they emphasize the hooked noses of the Hittites, the woolen garments of the Hebrews, and the peculiar dress of the Libyans quite as much as the color or the thick lips of the Negroes. That the Egyptians mixed freely with their southern neighbors, either in slavery or out of it, is evidenced by the fact that some of the Pharaohs were obviously Negroid and eventually Egypt was ruled by an Ethiopian dynasty. (Brown, 1942)

There seems to be no basis for imputing racial antagonism to the Egyptians, Babylonians, or Persians. (Cox)

On the Greeks:

One frequently finds mention of the scornful way in which Negro slaves were referred to in Greece and Rome, but the fact is that equally scornful remarks were made of the white slaves from the North and the East. There seems to be no evidence that color antipathy was involved, and of the total slave population the Negroes constituted only a minor element. (Brown, 1942)

The slave population was enormous, but the slave and the master in Greece were commonly of the same race and there was no occasion to associate any given physical type with the slave status. An opponent of Athenian democracy complained that it was impossible in Athens to distinguish slaves and aliens from citizens because all classes dressed alike and lived in the same way. (Brown, 1949.)

… we do not find race prejudice even in the great Hellenistic empire which extended deeper into the territories of colored people than any other European empire up to the end of the fifteenth century.

The Hellenic Greeks had a cultural, not a racial, standard of belonging, so that their basic division of the peoples of the world were Greeks and barbarians – the barbarians having been all those persons who did not possess the Greek culture, especially its language … the people of the Greek city-states, who founded colonies among the barbarians on the shores of the Black Sea and of the Mediterranean, welcomed those barbarians to the extent that they were able to participate in Greek culture, and intermarried freely with them. The Greeks knew that they had a superior culture to those of the barbarians, but they included Europeans, Africans, and Asiatics in the concept Hellas as these peoples acquired a working knowledge of the Greek culture.

The experience of the later Hellenistic empire of Alexander tended to be the direct contrary of modern racial antagonism. The narrow patriotism of the city-states was given up for a new cosmopolitanism. Every effort was made to assimilate the barbarians to Greek culture, and in the process a new Greco-Oriental culture with a Greco-Oriental ruling class came into being. Alexander himself took a Persian princess for his wife and encouraged his men to intermarry with the native population. In this empire there was an estate, not a racial, distinction between the rulers and the un-Hellenized natives. (Cox)

On the Romans:

In Rome, as in Greece, the slaves did not differ in outward appearance from free men. R.H. Barrow in his study of the Roman slave says that “neither color nor clothing revealed his condition.” Slaves of different nationalities intermarried. There was no color barrier. A woman might be despised as a wife because she came from a despised group or because she practiced barbaric rites but not because her skin was darker. Furthermore, as W.W. Buckland points out, “any citizen might conceivably become a slave; almost any slave might become a citizen.” (Brown, 1949)

In this civilization also we do not find racial antagonism, for the norm of superiority in the Roman system remained a cultural-class attribute. The basic distinction was Roman citizenship, and gradually this was extended to all free-born persons in the municipalities of the empire. Slaves came from every province, and there was no racial distinction among them. (Cox)

There is really no need to go on quoting. The same general picture is true of all the societies, slave and non-slave, from the Roman empire down to the discovery of America – in the barbarian invasions into Europe, which led to enslavement of whites, in the reign of the Moslems, in the era of political domination by the Catholic Church. There were divisions, discriminations and antagonisms of class, cultural, political and religious character, but none along race or color lines, at least none that have left any serious trace in the historical materials now available. As late as the middle of the fifteenth century, when the West African slave trade to Portugal first began, the rationalization for the enslavement of Negroes was not that they were Negro but that they were not Christian. Those who became Christians were freed, intermarried with the Portuguese and were accepted as equals in Portugal. Afterward, of course, when the slave trade became a big business, the readiness of a slave to convert to Christianity no longer sufficed to gain his emancipation.

Why did race prejudice develop in the capitalist era when it did not under the earlier slave systems? Without thinking we have in any way exhausted the subject, we make the following suggestion: In previous times the slaves were usually of the same color as their masters; both whites and Negroes were masters and slaves; in the European countries the Negroes formed a minority of the slave population. The invidious connotations of slavery were attached to all slaves, white and Negro. If under these conditions the notion of Negro “inferiority” occurred to anyone, it would have seemed ridiculous on the face of it; at any rate, it could never have received any social acceptance.

But slavery in the Americas became confined exclusively to Negroes. [2] The Negro was distinguished by his color, and the invidious connotations of slavery could easily be transferred to that; it was inevitable that the theory of Negro “inferiority” and that anti-Negro prejudice should be created, that they should be extended to other non-white people who offered the possibility of exploitation, and that they should be spread around the globe.

Thus anti-Negro prejudice was not born until after capitalism had come into the world. There are differences of opinion as to the approximate birthdate. M.F. Ashley Montagu, discussing the “modern conception of ‘race’,” says:

“Neither in the ancient world nor in the world up to the latter part of the eighteenth century did there exist any notion corresponding to it … A study of the cultures and literatures of mankind, both ancient and recent, shows us that the conception of natural or biological races of mankind differing from one another mentally as well as physically, is an idea which was not born until the latter part of the eighteenth century,” or around the French Revolution. (Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race)

Cox says that if he had to put his finger on the year which marked the beginning of race relations, he would select 1493-94 – when the Pope granted to Catholic Spain and Portugal jurisdictional control over, and the right to exploit, all of the (pre-dominantly non-white) heathen people of the world and their resources. He sees “nascent race prejudice” with the beginning of the slave trade: “Although this peculiar kind of exploitation was then in its incipiency, it had already achieved its significant characteristics.” However, he finds that “racial antagonism attained full maturity” only in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Whichever century one chooses, the point is this: Anti-Negro prejudice was originated to justify and preserve a slave-labor system that operated in the interests of capitalism in its pre-industrialist stages, and it was retained in slightly modified form by industrial capitalism after slavery became an obstacle to the further development of capitalism and had to be abolished. Few things in the world are more distinctly stamped with the mark of capitalism.

The implications of this fact are so plain that it is no wonder it has received so little attention in the schools and press of a country dominated by capitalists and their apologists. Anti-Negro prejudice arose out of the needs of capitalism, it is a product of capitalism, it belongs to capitalism, and it will die when capitalism dies.

We who are going to participate in the replacement of capitalism by socialism, and who have good reason to be curious about the first stages of socialism, because we will be living in them, need have no fear about the possibility of any extended lag with respect to race prejudice. Unlike the capitalist system that dominated this country after the Civil War, the socialist society will be free of all exploitative features; it will have no conceivable use for race prejudice, and it will consciously seek to eradicate it along with all the other props of the old system. That is why race prejudice will wither away when capitalism dies – just as surely as the leaf withers when the tree dies, and not much later.


1. Neither of these would claim they were the first to discover this historical information, and it may well be that other scholars unknown to us preceded them in writing about this field in recent years; all we know is that it first came to our attention through their books. Historical material often lies neglected for long periods until current social and political needs reawaken interest in it. These writers were undoubtedly stimulated into a new and more purposeful interest in the subject by the growth of American Negro militancy and colonial independence struggles during the last 15-20 years.

2. Slavery was not confined to Negroes at the beginning. Before the Negro slave on the plantations, there was the Indian slave and the white indentured servant. But Negro slave labor proved cheaper and was more plentiful than either of these, and eventually they were abandoned. The most satisfactory study of this question is in the excellent book by Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, 1944. Williams writes:

“Here, then, is the origin of Negro slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor. As compared with Indian and white labor, Negro slavery was eminently superior … The features of the man, his hair, color and dentifrice, his ‘sub-human’ characteristics so widely pleaded, were only the later rationalizations to justify a simple economic fact: that the colonies needed labor and resorted to Negro labor because it was cheapest and best. This was not a theory, it was a practical conclusion deduced from the personal experience of the planter. He would have gone to the moon, if necessary, for labor. Africa was nearer than the moon, nearer too than the more populous countries of India and China. But their turn was to come.”

Militant Longshoreman No 13

Militant Longshoreman

No #13   January 7, 1984

Re-Elect Keylor (40-D) to Executive Board

From Defending Our Jobs at Levin to Opposing the Contract to Boycotting South African Cargo He’s Had A Strategy to Win!

Local 10 Shows the Way

Our eleven day boycott of South African cargo has done this Local proud. We pointed the way to effective international labor solidarity by reviving the “hot cargo” tactic. The unions used this tactic throughout the organizing drives of the 1930s and the bitter battles in 1946-48 to isolate struck employers. By refusing to transport or handle cargo from an anti-union employer workers even thousands of miles away and at widely dispersed locations could exert pressure to help other unions or oppressed workers. That’s why the infamous Taft-Hartley law passed in 1947 made “secondary boycotts” illegal. Our dramatic and effective action brought hundreds down to the docks in our support. We won the admiration of tens of thousands, showing that when the labor movement acts against apartheid the black community and trade unionists will rally to its support. We sparked a wave of anti-apartheid protests in the Bay Area which are still continuing, and we proved that concrete labor solidarity can have vastly greater impact than picketing embassies. Our union’s action was the longest political strike in memory on the West Coast. When the next ship carrying South African cargo comes in; if Reagan invades Nicaragua; or the next time the bosses try to break a union like PATCO or the Hotel and Restaurant workers, we should wage a solidarity strike again, appealing to other unions to join us in mass strike action. Actions which defend other workers give us strength and make real the ILWU motto “An Injury to One Is An Injury to All”.

At the same time, we should face squarely the shortcomings in the boycott, particularly since the Local is about to elect its officers for the next year. The South African cargo was finally unloaded, the Local lost PGP, ILWU-IBU member Jack Heyman was suspended by Crowley Maritime for approximately two weeks as a result of his participation in the embargo, and Local 10 is under a preliminary injunction which will be used against us when we act again.


None of this had to happen. If Local 10 had officers and an Executive Board worthy of our fighting  membership, officers willing to risk jail if necessary, we could have won outright. From the moment the membership voted to act, our officers should have been inviting union and community support and publicly demanding that International President Herman sanction the action and extend it coastwise. Instead, our officers were telling the media that our action was unauthorized and individual. Our officers should have sent delegations to the other ports to meet with other local officials and-to appeal directly to all longshoremen to refuse to work the blood stained cargo. When PMA proposed to unload the Nedlloyd Kimberley in Stockton, Local 54 told them to go to hell. With support like that, and backed by the thousands of Bay Area residents who wished us success, we could have defeated the injunction, like we did at Levin. Instead, the officers and the Executive Board caved in and ordered us to work the Nedlloyd Kimberley.

Make no mistake about it: the PMA and the capitalist government were scared. They recognize how deeply blacl Americans feel about the oppression in South Africa and how popular our union action was. That’s the main reason why they were so slow in arbitrating and imposing an injunction, and that’s why so far the fines/damages have been suspended. When the continuing rebellion of the black trade unions and the South African masses stirs us to act collectively again, it is precisely that community support, properly organized in our defense, and spread to other unions which can help us smash the injunction.

Some union members, particularly Brothers Leo Robinson and his closest supporter, Dave Steward, who played an important role in the boycott, honestly believe that Local 10 has no choice but to give in to the injunction. The difference hereis that they don’t understand that the working class’ ability to stop the economic machinery of the capitalist system and their government makes us uniquely powerful, whether in the U.S. or in South Africa. Leo and Dave have a commitment to individual acts of consciousness and a belief that community action can force the multinational corporations to forgoe their enormous profits extracted from the super exploited black South African workers. This belief is combined with a lack of confidence that the organized labor movement can lead political struggles to victory, and can be won to successfully defy and defeat government/court repression.

For the same reason, during contract fights over the past ten years brother Leo Robinson in particular has failed to go beyond calling for a no vote, and has refused to advocate organizing coastwide strike action to defeat bad contracts and get what we need.


If Leo and Dave want to engage in something more effective than symbolic acts of protest, they should reexamine their strategy and especially that of their allies around Archie Brown and the People’s World. Their strategy of pressuring the liberal Democratic wing of the capitalist class rather than trying to overturn the capitalist system has led the working class to disastrous defeats for the past 50 years. The People’s World played a large role in sabotaging an attempt to continue the boycott by other means after the Local Executive Board had agreed Monday night, December 3, to capitulate to the injunction. When I and others encouraged the several hundred supporters present at Pier 80 Tuesday morning to set up an effective picket line and shut down the pier, Franklin Alexander panicked the crowd by telling them that they faced 6 months in jail. People’s World supporters acted in conjunction with the SFPD to open up the picket line when we had the trucks stopped and the pier effectively closed. They managed to turn the picket line into an impotent demonstration, and thereby destroyed it.


International President Jim Herman should be thrown out of office for his back-stabbing. During the Levin strike, he sided with the employers. During the ILWU-IBU tankerman’s strike, he ordered longshoremen to cross the picket line. During the South African boycott he agreed with the PMA that our action was an “illegal work stoppage” in violation of the contract, and thereby Herman laid the legal basis for PMA being able to get  their apartheid injunction. Recently, in describing Herman’s disapproval of cargo boycott actions, the Pacific Shipper (December 24, 1984), an employers magazine, said: “Despite the fact that it was a local of his union that ignited the controversy in the Bay Area, Mr. Herman believes that the ‘proper place’ for demonstrations against South African apartheid are at that nation’s consulates, or by way of organized public demonstrations of limited duration.” We haven’t noticed him getting arrested along with the other labor “leaders”. While all actions against the apartheid regime are welcome, particularly those in support of the labor movement, it’s clear that many of the congressmen, clergymen and labor bureaucrats picketing the embassy are motivated by a desire to clean up the image of the Democratic Party after the Mondale fiasco.


As I said in Militant Longshoreman No. 12: “Some brothers favor a policy of divestment of shares of corporations which invest in South Africa, Personally I regard this as ineffective and potentially even counterproductive. It also creates the illusion that the big banks and investments houses, which make billions of dollars of blood-money from the racist exploitation of black labor in South Africa, can be pressured into becoming friends of the black masses in that racist hell-hole. The only kind of ‘divestment’ which I’m interested in pushing is the divestment of the white supremacist rulers and their international investors by the black workers of South Africa and the establishment of a black-centered government.

“Protectionism” is another issue where there are differences. Some brothers think that we shouldn’t unload South African steel because so many American steel workers are laid off. This action is aimed solely at providing a blow against the apartheid regime. That is why we shouldn’t unload that steel. The answer to the unemployment of U.S. steel workers is not to side with the shareholders of U.S. Steel etc. to export unemploy merit, and thus divide American workers from workers of other countries. It is by fighting with steel workers and other sections of the labor movement against the banks and the corporations for a shorter work week at no loss in pay. Nonetheless, despite my differences with other members of the committee on these and other questions, we can all agree to work together to build this fight and spread it coastwise.”


Finally, Stan Gow merits special mention. As ILWU members are aware, Stan and I worked together for years. Until now, I have urged longshoremen to vote for him despite my criticisms, because on paper his program was largely correct. However, his actions during the boycott have drawn the line. Together with Peter Woolston and other Militant Caucus supporters in Local 6, and fully backed by the Spartacist League, Stan did everything he could to divide, confuse and disrupt our action.

We noted in Militant Longshoreman No. 4 that Stan and the Militant Caucus had begun to abandon their orientation to the organized working class. During his El Salvador stunt Stan substituted himself for the union with his one-longshoreman picket line, a sign of growing disorientation and disbelief that union members could be won to action. But at least he was on the right side on the El Salvador question, and I defended him. Now his actions served to split and confuse the most important political Strike in years.

On Saturday night, November 24, he and a handful of others piceted the Nedlloyed Kimberly despite the mebership’s decision to work the Australian cargo. When Keylor originally opened the discussion on the South African boycott he urged that longshoremen refuse to work the ship, but when it became clear that the overwhelming majority consensus of the membership was to not work the South African cargo he found that quite supportable, and actively worked to make the boycott a success. Stan says that’s “treachery”! Success is treachery! — Sabotage is militance! Stan and the Militant Caucus attempted to counterpose their fake-militant picket line to the real activity of the union. Stan and his friends were aiming to split the union action that should have been automatically supported by all genuine labor militants. In fact, the Militant Caucus and Spartacist supporters became so deranged that they called the unionists who came out to carry out the South African boycott “scabs”, and those in the crowd who were supporting them “racists”. Stan’s attitude was: adopt my program or I spit on you — even though you’ve stopped the South African cargo cold. Then when the injunction came down, after a lot of bluster about defying the injunction, Stan and his cohorts refused to join the picket line which I and many others had established in order to try to force the Nedlloyd Kimberley to leave port.

Stan makes much of the difference between working the cargo and working the ship. Why? He knows it’s just a matter of tactics. The membership decided on what they thought would be most effective. After two days the ship sat perfectly idle anyway. In 1974 the union refused to handle Chilean cargo but worked the ship. Stan and I helped to initiate the action and considered it a real victory. In 1977 we argued for more extensive action but still supported and helped build the South African cargo boycott. What’s new this time?


Similarly Stan accused the union, and me in particular, of treachery around the Nedlloyd Kyoto off-loading pig iron at Richmond Yard 1. First of all, the ship was, diverted, and we didn’t know it was arriving until two hours prior to starting work. Secondly, when you are planning a battle, you pull it where you are strongest. The ILWU has full and uncontested jurisdiction at Pier 80, San Francisco. At Richmond/Levin we had to wage an all out battle just to reestablish our toe hold, and the right to ghost riders when the dockside cranes are used. If we had had sufficient time we could have appealed to the Operating Engineers to stop the cargo at Levin’s, but in San Francisco we were able to rely on our own forces. Without adequate preparation the Local’s action could very easily have ended as unsuccessfully as Stan’s isolated attempts.

What lies behind this sorry story is that Stan’s Militant Caucus has given up on the working class. In 1974 and 1977, during the Chile cargo boycott and the first South African cargo boycott Stan, the Militant Caucus, and the Spartacist League played a principled role in trying to support the ILWU action and extend it coastwise. This time shamefully, they tried to wreck it. No vote for Stan Gow.



By now, six months after the disastrous 1984 contract was imposed on us, everyone should be able to see that business as usual won’t preserve our union or our jobs. We’re going to have to carefully pick the issues and take arbitrary stopwork action outsidethe contract grievance procedures. Whether it’s PMA coding older and disabled men out of PGP, arbitrarily mis-ordering men, working in violation of the contract, or tampering with the dispatch system and hiring hall, we must be prepared to go to the mat, any not simply knuckle under to Sutliff or Edwards.

If we do it right we can lay the basis for a coastwise movement to cancel the contract, and go for what we all need. In spite of repeated indications that the mebership is ready to fight, neither the officers nor the Executive Board have been willing to even systematically discuss a program of action to resist PMA. None of the many brothers running for office have developed and come forward with a program that can even be seriously discussed as to whether the brother merits electoral support. For that reason the Militant Longshoreman makes no endorsement of any candidate for local office.

We appeal to brothers and sisters to carefully read the program printed below, and vote for Howard Keylor.


1. DEFEND OUR JOBS AND LIVELYHOOD – Six hour shift, no extensions, at eight hours pay. Manning scales on all ship operations; one man, one job. Full- no-cap C.O.L.A. on wages. Weekly PGP, eliminate all “coding out” rules. No restrictions on PGP eligibility. No “take back” on travel time.

2. DEFEND THE HIRING HALL – Use regular gangs on container ships; no dispatch of “unit gangs”. Call all 9.43 men back to the hall. Stopwork action to defend the hiring hall, the stop line and older and disabled men.

3. DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS AND SAFETY THROUGH JOB ACTION – Stop PMA chiseling on the contract. Eliminate “work as directed”, “no illegal work stoppage”, and arbitration sections from the contract. Mobilize to smash anti-labor injunctions.

4, DEFEND OUR UNION – Eliminate class B registration category from the contract – promote all class B to class A coastwise. Keep racist anti-labor government and courts out of the union. Support union resistance against court suits and government “investigations”. Union action to break down racial and sexual discrimination and employer favoritism on the waterfront. Lay the basis for cancelling the contract and waging a coastwise fight for what we need.

5. BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY – against government/employer strikebreaking. No more PATCOs. Honor all picket lines – remove reactionary ones. Don’t handle struck or diverted. cargo. No raiding of other unions. Organize the unorganized and the unemployed. Labor strikes to stop cuts in Social Security, Medical, Medicare and Workmen’s Compensation.

6. STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union organized labor/black/Latino defense actions. No dependance on capitalist police or courts to smash fascists.

7. WORKING CLASS ACTION TO STOP REAGAN’S WAR DRIVE AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION – Oppose reactionary boycotts against Soviet and Polish shipping. Labor strikes to oppose U.S. military actions against Cuba, Nicaragua, or Salvadoran leftist insurgents. Boycott military cargo to Chile, El Salvador, Israel and Turkey. Defy the apartheid injunction. Boycott all South African cargo during periods of intense struggle and repression.

8. INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY – Oppose protectionist trade restrictions. Defend undocumented workers with strike action. ILWU support to military victory of leftist insurgents in El Salvador.

9. BREAK ‘WITH DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES – Start now to build a workers party based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will sieze all major industry without payment to the capitalists and establish a planned economy to end exploitation, racism, poverty, and war.

Coletivo Lenin/Brazil breaks relations with the International Bolshevik Tendency

Coletivo Lenin/Brazil breaks relations with the International Bolshevik Tendency

December 2010

With the following statement, the Coletivo Lenin/Brazil publically breaks off relations with the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) and establishes fraternal relations with Revolutionary Regroupment, an IBT split from 2008.

I – The origins of our contact with the IBT 

The Coletivo Comunista Internacionalista – CCI (forerunner of the Coletivo Lenin) was set up in October 2006 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We were a Trotskyist group of a few militants who were sure of one thing: we could never remain a national organization. For Trotskyists, it is necessary that a revolutionary organization to belong to a world party or strive to build one. We therefore, from the very beginning, we made a serious attempt to study the different political currents which claimed the legacy of Trotskyism. We conducted research into 27 organizations that had their origins in the Fourth International, studying their documents on the internet having meetings with those organizations that had sections in Brazil. We looked to join an organization whose political understanding was closest to our own. At that time our three main criteria were:

1)     That the current considered the destruction of USSR and the deformed workers’ states in East Europe as counterrevolutionary defeats. That consequently, it would have been necessary to have temporarily entered into military blocs with those sections of the Stalinist bureaucracy opposed to capitalist restoration whenever they showed any resistance.

2)     That the current should recognize the politically strategic importance of fighting against all forms of special oppression (such as sexism, racism and homophobia) for a successful socialist revolution. That the current therefore prioritize recruiting workers who suffer those forms of oppression, who are also usually the most exploited workers under capitalism.

3)     That the current should reject the notion that the productive forces had ceased developing in the imperialist epoch, since only through such a rejection was it possible to make a coherent analysis of contemporary capitalism.

We discovered that those currents which traced their political origins to the early Spartacist League/USA (SL/USA) most closely fit that criterion. They were the Spartacist League (and its international co-thinkers in the International Communist League) itself and two splits – the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) and the Internationalist Group (IG). In the course of studying their documents, the issues they were arguing over appeared small, but they were also over many questions and issues that were completely new to us.

We learned that the SL had taken up a variety of strange positions by the end of the 1970’s. In 1979, while correctly siding with the Soviet Army against CIA backed Islamic fundamentalists, their response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was to also raise the uncritical slogan “Hail Red Army!” Similar pro-Stalinist adaptations followed, such as organizing a contingent at a protest named the “Yuri Andropov Brigade” after the leader of the USSR at the time, and responding to criticisms by then printing a poem in his honor on the front page of their newspaper following his death. Adaptations to US national chauvinist pressures were also expressed such as the 1983 failure to militarily side with forces in Lebanon struggling to drive out the US Marines occupying their country. When a bomb then exploded at the Marine barracks the SL raised the call “Marines Out of Lebanon, Now, Alive.” These criticisms were raised by the IBT. A criticism raised by both of the split groups was the bureaucratic organizational degeneration the SL had gone through by that point. The SL was transformed into an organization with little internal life; the leadership was in the hands of a bureaucratic clique which suppressed its internal critics and stifled debates through threats, intimidation and repression. Through such methods all critics were effectively driven out or, when that failed, expelled.

That was why we were repulsed by the SL and felt closer to the IG and IBT from the very start. At this point we established discussions with both groups with the objective of studying the degeneration of the Spartacist League, whose earlier politics we were in close agreement with and believed (and still believe) provided an important programmatic foundation for rebuilding a revolutionary Fourth International.

We engaged in personal meetings and online chats with Bill Logan and a few other IBT members and had personal meetings with the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB), the IG’s Brazilian comrades in the League for the Fourth International. We also had some personal meetings with IG’s main international leader, Jan Norden. After a period, we realized that the IBT’s analysis of the SL’s degeneration was more coherent than the IG’s. For example, the IBT argued that the SL’s deliberate destructions of their trade union caucuses in early 80’s was a clear demonstration that the organization’s leaders main priority was keeping the ranks under tight control rather than building a base in the working class. The IG on the other hand argued the SL’s degeneration only began from the point they were pushed out in 1996. The very similar organizational measures through which several future members of IBT were driven out or expelled in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s were ignored, denied or defended in their analysis. The IG also defended all the SL’s positions (including the mentioned positions on Afghanistan, Yuri Andropov and Lebanon) before the period of their expulsion as well.

One question that the IG sought to use against the IBT was the scandal surrounding Bill Logan. Bill Logan (who had been a prominent leader of the Spartacists in New Zealand and Australia during the 1970’s) was expelled from the International Spartacist Tendency on grounds of being a “sexual psychopath” who suppressed his internal critics and psychologically manipulated his ranks. We were aware that Logan, like most other SL leader, was guilty of bureaucratic abuses and organizational crimes. But we also knew that the IG was looking to exploit the scandal surrounding Logan to deflect from responding to the IBT’s criticisms of their politics. Unfortunately, at that time we also took the IBT at their word that they had not inherited any of the SL’s bureaucratic organizational methods and that Logan personally had profoundly changed his ways.

In the aftermath of Bill Logan’s visit to Brazil in October 2007, we decided amongst ourselves on a perspective of fusing with the IBT. We believed our few outstanding differences and questions were insufficient for continuing to remain a separate group for too long. We hoped in time many of these differences would be resolved through discussions and were willing to co-exist in a common group as disciplined comrades. What actually occurred during the entire subsequent period though was the consistent frustration of attempts at discussions by the IBT’s leadership, whose ultimatums and stalling tactics towards discussing our differences were very apparently geared towards wearing us out and demoralizing us into complete submission as the price for fusion. It gradually became obvious that the IBT’s leadership was not looking for political fusions with militants who, while sharing their political analysis, also had secondary political and tactical differences to debate internally, but rather looking to transform us into docile pliant hacks who could then be organizationally absorbed into a group where their absolute control was fully safeguarded from future challenges.

Our relations with the IBT in many ways paralleled early Spartacist relations with Gerry Healy’s International Committee during the 1960’s. Healy similarly feigned interest in a loyal fusion while in reality engaging in a variety of unscrupulous tactics designed to psychologically break a young group of revolutionaries. Like us, along with substantial political agreement, the Spartacists also had their own analytical appreciations of different questions and expressed an apparent capacity to stand up to and challenge Healy’s authority. Following the final breaking of relations in 1966, the Spartacists commented:

“The reason for the behavior of the SLL leadership toward the Spartacist delegation is not hard to find. You obviously wish to create a Trotskyist movement in the U.S. which would be completely subservient to the SLL leadership…  You were not interested in creating a movement united on the basis of democratic centralism with strong sections capable of making theoretical contributions to the movement as a whole and of applying Marxist theory creatively to their own national arenas. You wanted an international after the manner of Stalin’s Comintern, permeated with servility at one pole and authoritarianism at the other.” 

II – Three years of stalling and stagnation 

We ended our engagements with the IG in January 2008. In our last discussions with them, we were appalled to hear from Jan Norden himself that the IG/LFI not only defended the SL’s adaptations to the Stalinists and failure to advance a revolutionary program during fall of the Soviet bloc, but was also intent on repeating their political behavior if the opportunity arose in the future. We also recognized the bureaucratic nature of IG’s League for the Fourth International. The IG in the US was the leadership responsible for formulating all the political decisions and the Brazilian and other sections would simply execute them. This did not correlate with our understanding of Leninist democratic centralism. Our contact with the LQB and the IG’s Jan Norden reinforced our decision to seek a fusion with the IBT.

In the course of further relations with the IBT, we were able to identify and correct many of our previous political and organizational misconceptions. From reading their literature we were able to establish a more precise understanding of the nature of the united front tactic (see our document “Leninism, United Fronts and Propaganda Blocs”, available on our web site in Portuguese), develop a more coherent analysis of political developments in Brazil, and learn how to apply the Transitional Program in our daily political work. Studying the history of the Trotskyist movement we expanded our appreciation of the historic significance of the early SL, which sought to uphold the Trotskyist program after the political destruction of the Fourth International and the US Socialist Workers Party by Pabloite revisionism. We started to understand the nature of a propaganda perspective for a small revolutionary organization of our size which, along with engaging in exemplary mass work, would initially need to grow by focusing on winning the politically conscious vanguard to our programmatic conceptions through polemically engaging with other ostensibly revolutionary currents. Most of our political and theoretical direction since early 2008 had been informed by the IBT’s historic writings and perspectives, making us believe we were very methodologically and programmatically close.

At the same time, we also had our own unique theoretical understanding of certain questions that we potentially differed with the IBT on. We sought to discuss these with them as (we thought) we were making progress towards becoming their Brazilian section. Our differences were the following: [*]

1)     We shared with Rosa Luxemburg her theory of capital accumulation, with its conclusion that capitalism is leading society to barbarism. This position didn’t lead to any practical differences, but simply called attention to our intent to discuss the Leninist understanding of imperialism.

2)     We were influenced by the theories of Brazilian Marxist Rui Mauro Marini. We regarded countries such as Brazil, India, Israel, Russia and South Africa as sub-imperialist countries rather than dominated neo-colonies. In these countries, the fusion of national and foreign capital establishes a base for them to control and exploit other countries within their region of influence. That would be the case with Brazil and its relationship to other South American countries for example. Therefore, in a hypothetical war between Brazil and Bolivia, we would militarily side with Bolivia against its regional oppressor. We also recognize that sub-imperialist countries are at the same time also dependent countries and would therefore, in turn, defend them against imperialist military attacks. We know that ultimately any real freedom from imperialist oppression, for either the neo-colonies or sub-imperialist countries such as Brazil, can only be achieved through world socialist revolution.

3)     Like most Latin American organizations, but unlike the IBT and possibly other smaller propaganda groups based in the more economically developed capitalist countries, we have traditionally accepted comrades with religious beliefs into our membership. Since a requirement of membership is agreement with the organizations political positions (including the defense of science, separation of church and state, defending the rights of women, gays and lesbians and other similar questions), we believe this represents the religious comrades’ personal contradiction as long as they maintain the organizations collective discipline. As Marxists we remain materialists and defenders of science, recognize the historic role that organized religion has played in serving the interests of the ruling class and struggle to educate all our militants in that spirit.

4)     While we argue that the Chinese state is still a deformed workers’ state, we also recognize that large sections of China’s economy have been allowed by its Stalinist rulers to become privatized. These measures have in turn strongly undermined and placed in question the dominance of its traditional (bureaucratic) planned character. We believe these measures initiated by the bureaucrats currently ruling China create large openings and dangers for the victory of capitalist counterrevolution. We also see strong historic parallels with the NEP period of the Soviet Union during the 1920s. There the lack of a developed planned economy combined with a temporary reintroduction of capitalist measures placed in strong question the nature of the dominant economy, but, similarly, was also not decisive in determining the class character of the state.

5)     We believed that the IBT was overly focused on continuing to organizationally pursue its historic differences with the SL to the detriment of what should be the main responsibility of a Trotskyist propaganda group, looking to engage with the more dynamic groups that were either in leftward motion or had an active animated rank and file. While we recognized the historic significance of the early Spartacist League and the importance of educating militants about its history and were not arguing for completely ignoring them, the truth is the contemporary Spartacist League (and its co-thinkers in the International Communist League) has for many years now been a shrinking stagnating organization that along with being in rightward political motion had a largely depoliticized rank and file. For what appeared to be similar reasons of continuing to pursue historic differences from their personal pasts, the IBT’s leadership planned for us to mainly focus on organizationally pursuing Jan Norden’s followers, who, at least in Brazil, have also visibly shrunk and aged over the years. At the same time it seemed to us the IBT had shown far less interest in pursuing groups whose membership can actually play a role in rebuilding the revolutionary movement. We saw this as a tactical difference perhaps arising from the IBT leadership being stuck in a political time warp, without yet fully understanding the reasons for such passivity and routinism.

The IBT’s leadership continued to postpone clarifying these issues with us through written discussions over the next two years. They would only, at our insistence, agree to briefly touch on these questions in the course of our online chats dealing with other issues.  At the same time they argued for resolving these differences as a precondition for merger. We believed these minor theoretical and tactical differences should not be a bar to unity, since they paled in significance next to our areas of important agreement.

On Luxemburg’s accumulation theory and Marini’s sub-imperialism, the IBT leadership expressed a total lack of interest in understanding our concerns. We tried summarizing our views on these complex theories and referred them to documents for a deeper study, but they never followed up. On the tactical question involving their focus on the SL/IG and our view on China, the IBT acknowledged that in principle they should not necessarily prevent a fusion, while at the same time they made “resolving” these issues a precondition for organizationally moving forward. On the question of our religious members, the IBT seemed uncertain as they never argued for excluding religious members as a principle, while continuing to use this issue as a barrier to further progress. They seemed uninterested in investigating the experience of the different political culture in Latin America, where members of ostensibly revolutionary organizations have historically been permitted to hold private religious views.

It is important to reiterate that during this entire period we were willing to accept the position of being a disciplined minority on these questions inside the IBT’s ranks, since we seemed to have reached agreement on the major issues. By demanding these issues previously be resolved, while barring their resolution for either side by stalling for years on engaging in written discussions, the IBT made moving forward, in practice, impossible. At the same time we were kept in limbo through constant assurances they took the prospect of fusion with us seriously.

For almost three years, we used an adaptation of the IBT document “For Trotskyism!” as our main programmatic statement. We regarded and publically argued (until two months ago) that the IBT represented the programmatic continuity of Trotskyism on our website and in our activities in the workers’ and students’ movement. We translated all of the documents they used for the Portuguese language section of their web site. Despite this, the IBT refused to publically acknowledge having any relations with us or even our existence. We considered their behavior strange since public recognition of fraternal relations is usually a first step for a future fusion perspective with another organization.

In December 2008 we wrote a letter to IBT demanding a discussion of our outstanding differences and asking them to take practical measures to facilitate the possibility for a future fusion. At that point we began suspecting that perhaps the IBT, despite its claims, had no interest in fusing with us. That they would only fuse with groups who would previously renounce all differences and independent opinions. Such a monolithic “fusion” would require that we first be psychologically broken, thereby ceasing to be revolutionaries.

In early 2009, the CCI became the Coletivo Lenin (CL) following a fusion with a group of comrades who had resigned from the Brazilian PSTU, associated with the late Nahuel Moreno. This represented a qualitative leap in our group’s capacities. With some organizational advice from the IBT, we established more intelligent organizational priorities, improved our finances, and established a regular press. We elected a National Leadership, since we were now present in two cities. We also saw the need for the comrades in the newly fused group to start engaging in common work. One way of doing this was to choose to center our work in Rio de Janeiro with a homeless organization, the Internationalist Homeless Front (FIST). It was an opportunity to work with radicalized militants from one of the most exploited and oppressed sectors of Brazilian society

The IBT responded in a harshly sectarian manner towards our tactical choice. They appeared to believe a propaganda group should completely focus their entire work on other left groups, particularly the Brazilian Nordenites in our case, to the total exclusion of all other possible arenas. We were falsely accused of being movementists who were looking to recruit politically raw people.

In response, some of our comrades began considering the possibility that our differences with the IBT could be more significant than appeared on the surface. The IBT seemed to be extremely passive and conservative, not only in moving forward towards fusing with us but also to trying to do any broader mass work. Because of this we wrote a formal letter to the IBT in October 2009 discussing the recent reorganization of our work and demanding they state more forthrightly their views on the prospects of a fusion and how to proceed towards it. Another letter from February 2010 explained our work in FIST and responded to their criticisms and misconceptions about it.

That letter for the first time elicited a written formal response from the IBT since it stated our refusal to continue engaging in online chats until we receive a document responding to our concerns. Though their answer only strengthened our suspicions that they had a passive/organizationally conservative attitude towards party building, we agreed to have their representative visit us and attend our first conference to be held on August 2010. Up to this time we still believed they were open towards fusing with us.

III – The IBT’s conduct at our conference: bureaucratic maneuvers

As part of the process of further consolidating our organization, we organized our first conference with the goal of mapping out the Coletivo Lenin’s perspective for the following two years. As is common in any healthy democratic organization in a pre-conference period, three different internal factions arose inside CL. On our relations with IBT, the decisive majority supported continuing to work for a fusion, while a minority, concluding that the IBT was sectarian and passive/ conservative, was opposed. As was already our established custom, we shared all our internal documents and opened our internal life to the IBT, (a practice which the IBT never reciprocated on during the entire time). As a result, the IBT became very close to one of the three internal factions.

During the conference (which the IBT’s representative participated in) two of the internal factions and the majority of CLers supported fusing with the IBT. The Coletivo Lenin decided to continue pursuing a fusion and requested that the IBT finally start responding to our differences (whose resolution they had always insisted was a precondition for further progress in relations) within the next month since we were also all frustrated and anxious to move forward after three years of stagnating relations. The newly elected leadership was an expression of this decision: it was composed of those comrades who were supporters of fusing with the IBT. At the same time, the CL also decided to take a firmer attitude on ending the 3 years of IBT inaction in further developing relations with us. We asked for concrete proof of the IBT’s sincerity in wanting relations to move forward – a statement publically acknowledging our relationship (which the IBT subsequently decided to not do).

The IBT’s immediate response stunned us all greatly. After phoning in a report to his leadership, the IBT representative informed us their evaluation was that the CL was organizationally unstable and that the CL was politically moving away from the IBT (after we had just voted for a direct fusion proposal!). It was true that a minority consisting of one comrade was moving away from the IBT, but the majority’s commitment was firm. As for the CL being unstable, our organization had (and still has) an internal life where differences arise and are therefore debated, as we believe every Bolshevik organization should have. That doesn’t mean we are organizationally unstable or undisciplined. We now know that for the IBT (which had its last organized faction in late 1997), any serious internal differences with the leadership is a sign of dangerous “instability”. Fusing with us represented a danger for a bureaucratic leadership whose primary objective is absolute control over their organization, rather than building a group that can grow, develop and be capable of acting as a vehicle for advancing working class revolution.

The worst, however, was still to come. The day after the conference, while still claiming to desire moving towards a fusion, the IBT secretly “invited” a couple of comrades from the faction closer to it to resign from CL and become the IBT’s representatives in Brazil. It is important to look at their decision more closely. First, this indicated to us that all of the differences that the IBT pretended to feel so strongly about (our willingness to accept religious members, sub-imperialism, their SL centered focus) during this entire time was actually meaningless to them, since the comrades they tried to split had the same positions as the rest of the group on these issues. Secondly, it indicated the organizationally unscrupulous character of the IBT’s leadership. While claiming to have close comradely fraternal relations with us, they were secretly maneuvering to split us, treating us in reality as a hostile enemy. Thirdly, it displayed a great lack of confidence in their politics and organization which also no doubt reflected a deeper demoralization. While a majority of the CL was not only willing but actively supporting a fusion they preferred to attempt to split our group instead of moving further with us. Fortunately, the comrades turned down their offer and reported it to the rest of Coletivo Lenin.

The impact of the IBT leadership’s bureaucratic and disloyal cowardice increased with the passage of time, as our comrades sought to process the recent turn of events and make sense of it in light of all their previous dealing with them. That action on their part made clear to us that the IBT was not willing to fuse with our organization, despite their disingenuous claims to the contrary, but only maneuvering us to try to win a minority of our youngest and least inexperienced militants. They assumed it would then be easy to absorb and assimilate these comrades into their bureaucratized internal culture and convince them to abandon their differences. We were still puzzled though as to why the IBT would behave in a manner so at odds with their professed politics and their past criticisms of their parent organizations bureaucratism.

IV – Revolutionary Regroupment

A few weeks before our conference, we had our first contact with Revolutionary Regroupment’s Sam Trachtenberg who split from the IBT in the fall of 2008. The IBT had chosen to never inform us of his resignation and decision to set up a competing organization. Trachtenberg gave a Marxist explanation for the IBT’s behavior in his resignation letter entitled “The Road Out of Rileyville”. He also developed some of that explanation in the course of a brief correspondence we had before our conference. At that point we unfortunately did not give his analysis the sufficient attention it deserved, since we were very eager to carry out a fusion with a group whose positions, on paper, seemed so close to ours and in whom we had already invested three years of work. One of the topics discussed in the conference was a proposal to establish relations with Revolutionary Regroupment. The proposal was rejected, but no doubt also impacted the panicked attempt to wreck our organization by the IBT’s leadership. But the analysis (and future predictions) we received from Revolutionary Regroupment fit our experience with the IBT like a glove.

As explained by RR, the IBT over the years had become transformed into a bureaucratized organization controlled and manipulated by a clique of “permanent leaders”. Those leaders place their ability to control their organization above their professed claims to want to see the group grow and develop into an instrument for socialist revolution. The IBT was at this stage narrowly dominated by a leadership clique consisting of those who previously also had corrupt histories as SL leaders before being purged by their fellow bureaucrats. With the passage of time, the other senior members (without such corrupt previous histories) who helped found the group either left or were driven out, while the remaining leadership was never replenished by younger comrades, becoming smaller in composition and acting as a tight self-protective unit in all their dealings with the rank and file.

Meanwhile, after almost 30 years of existence, much of the ranks also aged and grew increasingly tired and passive in reaction to the lack of any significant organizational breakthroughs. This allowed the remaining leadership to feel fewer and fewer constraints in their ability to use the corrupt unscrupulous methods they had previously wielded in their careers as SL leaders. These methods, along with some newly developed ones, were used on the IBT’s membership, sympathizing groups and peripheries for the purpose of maintaining their absolute control. Abandoning any hopes for growth and breakthroughs in the class struggle, the IBT (like its parents inside the SL) has instead opted to preserve internal order and allow itself to “die with dignity.

The IBT’s main role is to protect and preserve the personal legacies of its aging leadership (now all well into their 60’s) rather than seek to use their group as a vehicle for building a revolutionary party. Under such circumstances, any serious expression of differences inside the organization is seen as a threat to the stability of the organization and its new unstated purpose, rather than as an opportunity to correct errors and theoretically develop its membership. Fusion with our organization therefore, which roughly equals a third of the IBT’s current membership and which would eventually be included within the leadership of the fused organization, posed a threat to the IBT’s leaders’ current unchallengeable status. Our ability to differ with them may have also have re-politicized and set an example for others inside the IBT’s ranks to begin to speak up their minds. That is why the IBT chose to attempt to wreck our group rather than fuse with it.

In his resignation letter Sam Trachtenberg argued: “However formally correct its paper program may be for the moment, history has shown that the sort of organization which the IBT has developed into, a static, stagnating group dominated by a Machiavellian deeply entrenched permanent leadership, can never have younger comrades grow, develop, and therefore play little role in that process [of rebuilding the Fourth International].” Defense (or rather “preservation”) of the IBT’s history and program has thus become divorced from being an organic expression of the groups revolutionary aspirations and is instead used as a mechanism to transform the group into an authoritarian sect. The sects leaders become “guardians” of the “program” (or rather their own personal historic legacies). Along with the IBT, this has previously happened to the Spartacists and others. In the previously cited 1966 document on their split with Gerry Healy’s International Committee, the Spartacists explained;

“Under conditions of pronounced isolation of the world movement from the working class, the revisionists abandoned a working-class revolutionary perspective for an orientation toward petit-bourgeois formations such as Stalinist bureaucrats, social-democratic labor bureaucrats, and the nationalist leaderships of the colonial countries…  The British leaders seem to have responded to the “theoretical, political, and organizational crisis” of Trotskyism by retreating into “orthodoxy,” Their reaction to revisionism seems to have been that of high priests entrusted with the protection of holy writ; thus the emergence of an iron-fisted, authoritarian leadership.”

V – Final Attempt

In September, the CL’s newly elected leadership, that is those comrades inside our group who had previously been the most ardent in their desire to fuse with the IBT, reacted to the turn of events by convincing others of the need to re-establish contact and engage in discussions with RR. We had not, however, fully decided to close the door to the IBT yet. We wanted to be absolutely sure of any decision we were going to make. So we continued discussing with the IBT and communicated our reactions to their underhanded dealings with us in the hope they may be pressured to acknowledge wrongdoing and change their methods. The IBT’s response was to rationalize their behavior, disingenuously deny any wrongdoing, and attempt to convince us we were reacting in a paranoid manner. That was received by our members as an insult to our intelligence.

In a desperate attempt to deflect our course towards RR, the IBT sent us a limited selection of internal documents involving the departure of Trachtenberg from its ranks. Remarkably, the IBT leadership seemed deluded enough about their practices to think the documents put them in a good light. However, even the selection of documents they chose to send us showed a generalized pattern of the criminal bureaucratism that we experienced in our own relationship with them. In these documents, the leadership simultaneously denied and explicitly defended the use their use of bureaucratic procedures against past internal critics. They defended (secretly) withholding internal organizational information from their internal critics (including those who formally held positions of leadership before exiting), and attempts to prevent internal debates by putting the rest of the organization under informal discipline not to discuss their differences. This in effect transformed those comrades membership into a fiction. The IBT leadership argued that it was correct to use the same kinds of dishonest methods on members of their organization who they decide are in “rapid political motion” and sympathizing groups (not to mention others on the left) that they would use with opponent or enemy organizations.

The internal documents showed the leadership defending their right to use both “formal and informal sanctions” against members who present “opportunist politics”. Outside the fact that “opportunist politics” implies simple disagreement with the leadership rather than any actual organizational wrongdoing, the use of “informal sanctions” is an implicit defense of the bureaucratic leaderships right to pursue such “sanctions” informally, that is without ever formally pressing any charges or even informing the comrade as part of their effort to either break them or drive them out without, at the same time, leaving any record of bureaucratic wrongdoing on their part.

The document also showed similar methods used to drive out Trachtenberg, one of the few remaining IBT comrades with a record of opposing the leadership on many questions (which included their initial attempt to have the IBT support voting for Hugo Chavez to stay in in office during the 2004 recall referendum in Venezuela). Even the partial record they sent us showed a pattern of attempts to demoralize him and, as with others, transform his membership into a fiction. The leadership also attempted to exploit his history of depression by frequently alluding to the possibility that his criticisms of their organizational methods were due to a “mental disorder.”

The IBT’s leadership tells their members that groups, such as ours, who decide to end contact due to such bureaucratic methods in reality do so due to hidden opportunist disagreement. The IBT has attempted to publically rewrite history by making similar claims about a fraternal Argentine group which translated most of the documents currently on the Spanish section of their sites.

“A less public, but more significant, setback was our failure to successfully regroup with a small circle of Argentine comrades who appeared to be rather close to us programmatically. This is partly attributable to language difficulties, but a more important factor was a gap in political culture manifested in differences over the tasks and priorities of a micro-propaganda group.”


But the documents they sent us indicate the Argentine group broke contact due to the sort of dishonest behind the scenes manipulations we ourselves have experienced and their own selection of documents verify they’ve used with so many others. We have little reason to not assume that similar false explanations will be given about our decision. While we have been informed by recent ex-IBT members that most of the IBT’s ranks have been given very little information by their leaders about us for the past 3 years, it is their responsibility to face the painful reality and recognize that our experience with their organization follows a long pattern that will continue to be repeated.

VI – Conclusion

We have not abandoned our revolutionary program! We continue to defend the political legacy of the Spartacist League and the political legacy of the International Bolshevik Tendency until their respective bureaucratic degenerations. We will not be demoralized by this experience! We will not draw false conclusions on the impossibility of re-building a revolutionary Fourth International, or rationalize the situation publically by changing our politics as the IBT’s bureaucratic leadership hopes. We have only concluded that the contemporary IBT can no longer contribute to rebuilding a revolutionary workers movement.

We will continue to critically analyze the IBT’s history to better understand the reasons for its degeneration, as well as the degeneration of its predecessors. We will continue seek out comrades and groups interested in rescuing the important contributions of organizations which once represented Trotskyist continuity, rather than looking to defend the histories of leaders who themselves played a role in their degeneration. Our objective is to build a party capable of leading a revolution – which means being unafraid of taking organizational risks when necessary and maintaining a healthy internal life where critics are treated in an honest loyal manner, and are able to challenge long held orthodoxies without persecution. A party that can swim against the stream in defending temporarily unpopular ideological conquests as well as be capable of reviewing previously held positions if they have been shown to be wrong.

Therefore, we declare our fraternal relations with Revolutionary Regroupment. We invite those IBT militants and ex-militants who remain uncorrupted by their experience, as well as others who may agree with our political objectives, to discuss with Revolutionary Regroupment and with the Coletivo Lenin on how to go forward.

Saudações Comunistas!

Coletivo Lenin/Brazil

December 2010

[*] Note from Revolutionary Regroupment: Although we maintain what we see as the central elements of the Lenin Collective program, from the first moment after our separation we abandoned most of the positions described in the first four points (except for the characterization of China as a deformed workers state, but without the undue comparison with the Soviet NEP). Even within CL, these were unconsolidated positions among most members, reflecting a certain programmatic looseness.

Bolshevism and Trotskyism

Bolshevism and Trotskyism

Defending our history

[First Printed in Marxist Bulletin #8, February 1999. Copied from http://www.bolshevik.org/mb/8trotskyism.htm ]

In the middle of last year, Marxist Bulletin supporters received a document from the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) which stated their desire to ‘clarify the attitude of a number of Trotskyist organisations and individuals towards the project of revolutionary unity at this stage’.

The CPGB are advocating a process of ‘rapprochement’, which consists of attempting to convince other groups on the left to join with them in the ‘Communist Party’ and argue out political differences within that framework.

The International Bolshevik Tendency has a different project. We believe that shared organisational frameworks and communist discipline grow out of fundamental programmatic agreement and cannot precede it. Building such programmatic convergence in a party with the strength to implement its programme is the historic task of communists today – but we cannot take shortcuts by simply bringing larger numbers together.

The CPGB say that they had been asked to ‘provide a “collective position” on Trotskyism by some comrades’ to help in that process. While stating that they were incapable of coming to a collective position (and could not even understand why they should even try) they did provide a set of ‘brief notes’ to act as a ‘gateway to exchange’. Apparently this document has also been sent to a number of other ‘Trotskyist’ organisations.

These eight points were indeed brief on one important thing – the closest they came to addressing the political and programmatic differences between Trotskyism and Stalinism was in point 5 which mentioned internationalist opposition to socialism in one country along with other unspecified positions.

For a group breaking from Stalinism this is hardly a serious approach to an analysis of Trotskyism and shows a weakness in understanding the centrality of programmatic clarity to Bolshevism. The CPGB need to explain where they stand on the central programmatic distortions of Bolshevism by the Stalinists and the defence of that Bolshevik programme by Trotsky (programmatic distortions which lead, where they had any significant influence, to real material disasters for the working class). One would have thought that this was particularly important in a letter specifically aimed at persuading groups who call themselves Trotskyist to enter serious discussions. It is incumbent on the CPGB to show that they have truly broken from the political revisionism of Stalinism.

In the interests of political clarity and debate we reproduce the letter from the CPGB and our reply, as first printed in the Weekly Worker of 16 July 1998.


Frozen in dogma

Notes by Mark Fischer in consultation with PCC members

1. Leon Trotsky was a great intellect of the 20th century, one of the two towering figures of the Russian Revolution. The calumny heaped onto the head of this revolutionary should be rejected with contempt by all partisans of the working class.

2. Despite this, Trotsky’s contribution to the revolutionary workers’ movement did not constitute a qualitative development of the theoretical categories of Marxism, an extension according to its own logical laws of development. In this sense therefore, there is no ‘Trotskyism’ in the same way there is a ‘Leninism’.

3. In the struggle against the rising bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, Trotsky and the left (and later, the united) opposition defended many positions of orthodox revolutionary Marxism, centrally the need for world revolution. However, Trotsky made numerous tactical errors in the inner-party struggle, blunders that contributed to eventual defeat. Crucially, Trotsky failed to correctly estimate the potential strength of the Stalin centre, based on the Party apparatus. In this error, he evidenced a tendency to mechanically collapse political forces into social base. This combined with a certain technocratism contributed to the eventual political fragmentation of the opposition, with many capitulating to Stalin after 1928.

4. Trotsky’s analysis of the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party and the social consequences of the USSR’s isolation contained many brilliant insights. Yet it must be taken as the product of the provisional working categories of a brilliant Marxist attempting to understand the laws of motion of a totally unprecedented social formation in the very process of its emergence and consolidation.

5. Thus, to the very end of his life, Trotsky’s thought revealed development and dynamic tensions within itself. This is true despite a certain degeneration of his thought conditioned by the intense pressure of Stalinism and his personal isolation. It is entirely possible that – given the developmental logic of his ideas before his assassination – Trotsky would have been able to resolve the contradictions in his analysis positively, to critique and outgrow his conditional category of ‘degenerated workers’ state’.

6. Trotsky’s followers subsequently froze his method and these provisional categories into dogma. This was evident in the immediate aftermath of World War II and was a characteristic of both sides in the 1953 split in Trotskyism. Trotskyism thus emerged – in contrast to the method of Trotsky at his best – as sterile sectarianism.

7. We observe that today Trotskyism in Britain is embodied in general in two degenerate forms. First, there are the tiny, biblical sects engaged in squabbles over the letter of Trotsky’s work, not his method and its results in the real world. Second, where Trotskyist groups have attempted to relate to the mass, they have adapted to social democracy and become practically indistinguishable from left social democrats.

8. The place for all revolutionaries and communists is in a single revolutionary party. Trotskyists committed to the creation of a mass revolutionary workers’ party should begin immediate discussions with the Provisional Central Committee with a view to the reunification of Trotskyism with the Communist Party of Great Britain.


Lenin’s Heir

Reply by supporters of the Marxist Bulletin/IBT

We have recently received a document from the CPGB presenting some views on Trotskyism and asking for a response. While we do not think this is a subject that can be adequately covered in a short exchange, we would like to make a few essential points in defence of Trotskyism.

You suggest that, unlike Lenin, ‘Trotsky’s contribution to the revolutionary workers’ movement did not constitute a qualitative development of the theoretical categories of Marxism’. However, it is not clear what ‘theoretical categories’ of Marxism you mean, and what contributions to their development you ascribe to Lenin. In our view, Lenin’s most important political contribution to the Marxist tradition was on the Party question – rejecting the social democratic notion of a party of the whole class in favour of a disciplined, democratic-centralised combat party composed of only the most advanced workers. Some of Lenin’s other important contributions are his analysis of the nature of the imperialist epoch, his programme for addressing the national question, his development of the tactics of the united front, and his recognition of the importance of the proletarian vanguard championing the interests of the specially oppressed.

Trotsky was Lenin’s continuator on all these questions – not merely in the abstract but in politically combating the revisionism of the bureaucratised CPSU led by JV Stalin. In addressing the central political questions that arose in the 1920s and 30s, Trotsky certainly extended and deepened Lenin’s programme ‘according to its own logical laws of development’. The Trotskyists upheld the internationalist traditions of Marx and Lenin against the narrow Russian nationalism of ‘socialism in one country’. Against the criminal sectarianism of the Stalinised Comintern’s denunciations of social democrats and other members of the workers’ movement as ‘social fascists’, the Left Opposition advocated the creation of a united front to smash the Nazis, modelled on the Bolshevik Party’s united front with Kerensky to defeat Kornilov in 1917.

In China, Trotsky counterposed a policy of working class political independence to the Comintern leadership’s disastrous policy of capitulation to the ‘anti-imperialist’ bourgeoisie. The Trotskyists opposed the Comintern’s turn to the popular front (i.e. overt class collaboration) in the mid-1930s. The Comintern’s popular front policy in Spain succeeded only in beheading the Spanish revolution and directly resulted in Franco’s victory. During World War II in the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries, the cadres of the Fourth International upheld the Leninist position that ‘the main enemy is at home’, while the Stalinists poisoned the workers with social-patriotism.

Trotsky brilliantly analysed the social roots of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. He located the profound contradiction embedded in the degenerated Soviet workers’ state between the proletarian property forms and the political monopoly of the parasitic caste headed by Stalin. Trotsky’s prediction – that if the Soviet workers did not rise in a proletarian political revolution to overthrow the Kremlin oligarchy, the Soviet Union would ultimately succumb to capitalist restoration – has (unfortunately) been fully vindicated by history.

The designation ‘Trotskyism’ is important precisely to distinguish Bolshevism from Stalinism – the ideology of the gravediggers of revolution. But one cannot counterpose Leninism to Trotskyism, any more than one can counterpose Marxism to Leninism. Of course Marx, Lenin, Trotsky (and countless others) addressed different questions and made distinctive contributions, but they are all contributors to the development of humanity’s ‘positive self-consciousness’.

Trotsky is no more responsible for the multiplicity of ‘Trotskyists’ who prostrate themselves before Lech Walesa, Ayatollah Khomeini or Tony Blair than Marx or Lenin are for the crimes of ‘Marxist-Leninists’ like Stalin or Pol Pot. (The history of the Trotskyist movement after Trotsky can only be understood in the context of the struggle against the Pabloist revisionism that destroyed the Fourth International.)

A revolutionary party can only be created by embracing the living tradition of Leninism – and that must mean a decisive rejection of Stalinism. Instead of ‘socialism in one country’ – world revolution; in place of the minimum/maximum programme – a revolutionary transitional programme of the sort advocated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A ‘reunification’ of the Trotskyist and Stalinist traditions would be just as retrograde as a reconciliation between Leninism and Kautskyism.

On Sunday July 19 we will be speaking on the subject of the transitional programme at a CPGB seminar in London. We will also be presenting the Trotskyist view on the Soviet Union at your ‘Communist University’ in August. We hope that these discussions can help further clarify the differences between our two organisations. Perhaps a process of discussion and debate can narrow the political distance between us. In any case we think it would be a mistake to paper over these differences in the interest of promoting the appearance of ‘revolutionary unity’ where there is none. For the question of Trotskyism versus Stalinism is not merely a historical question – it poses issues of methodology and programme that are crucial to building a viable international revolutionary movement today.

Coletivo Lenin on Student Struggles

A Communist Perspective

for Student/Educational Struggles

[The following is a slightly edited English translation of “A New Political Group at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University: Join the Hora de Lutar [Time to Fight].” The statement was distributed to students on August 2010 at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University as an introduction to the Coletivo Lenin’s student group on campus..]

Hora de Lutar [Time to Fight] was formed by the Coletivo Lenin in the aftermath of the last student union elections. It was necessary to form a new group which was politically independent of existing student organizations, and which based itself programmatically on orienting students to the working class.

An alliance with the working class is essential for winning even the smallest steps towards the goal of a free quality university education, since the working class produces all the wealth in society and compromises the majority of the population. Student struggles will therefore only be effective and have lasting long-term value if they are linked to a working class political strategy. Only when the working class takes power and establishes its democratic political rule can we ensure that the wealth it produces be used to meet society’s needs. Otherwise, even the very small and specific temporary reforms that have been won under capitalism remain fragile and reversible with a change in the correlation of forces. This will remain true as long as the capitalists and their political agents continue to rule society. In this statement, we offer students a brief political evaluation of other left groups active at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University and some of our main programmatic proposals related to current campus struggles.


Elections for the Rio de Janeiro Federal University student union are a time when many questions get debated and help highlight and clarify the differences between competing political groups. The left groups who ran in the last elections all opportunistically lowered their politics and limited themselves to demands they believed would win them more votes.

In their initial slate meetings, Correnteza [Stream], student group of the orthodox Stalinist Partido Comunista Revolucionário, put forward a highly advanced program of an alliance with workers which included a call for a universal free quality education. But as the campaign developed, they politically retreated from that initial platform, chose to drop the call for open admissions and limited themselves to defending the currently existing affirmative action programs.

A Plenos Pulmões [With All the Strength of Lungs], student group of the formerly Morenoite Liga Estratégia Revolucionária – Quarta Internacional, took a similar political turn. Their slate also limited themselves to only defending racial quotas, even though they frequently claim to be militant fighters for open admission, instead choosing to leave the demand for their “Sunday Socialism” speeches and articles. Calls for solidarity with and permanently hiring the campus’s grossly underpaid and predominantly black and female temp agency workers were similarly scrapped. While these issues were at first prominently raised in their initial leaflets, they were simply disappeared from subsequent statements once the campaign was in progress.

Despite having many serious political differences between themselves (including whether or not to break away from the National Student Union), student supporters of the Morenoite Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado and the Mandelite Enlace chose to run as part of a common slate which mostly did not go beyond advocating increasing the school budget and some other minor reforms. The minimal low level quality of the politics put forward was necessary to ensure the participation of both groups, who could only run as part of a joint slate by publically burying their existing differences. Both groups could have raised the level of political discourse and clarity amongst both students and their own supporters had they chose to openly debated these issues instead

We support participating in united fronts with other groups around specific issues and campaigns we may agree on. While engaging in joint struggles, everyone would maintain their political independence and be free to raise disagreements and express their full politics. On the other hand, opposing groups which choose to participate on a common political platform, such as an election slate, are forced to dishonestly water down and hide their politics in order to get elected. Besides, there is no purpose for socialists to be in the students’ union leadership unless it is to openly lead their struggles in a socialist direction.

While the working class taking state power can guarantee free access to and make vast improvements to social programs such as education, health, housing and transportation, this would simply not be possible for any government tied to the capitalists and their system. The last 8 years of Brazil being governed by Lula and the PT [Workers Party] has amply demonstrated this. Unfortunately, large sections of the student movement are under the direct influence and control of this very government. Even while defending REUNI and PROUNI, government programs designed to attack public universities by transferring large chunks of their budgets to fund private universities, student supporters of the PT [Workers Party] and PCdoB [Communist Party of Brazil] formed a common electoral slate and were able to reach second place.

Despite its bureaucratic leadership, the UNE is still the largest student union federation in the country. It is therefore necessary to participate in it while maintaining a perspective of fighting against students illusions in the government and its supporters in the leadership. We believe those groups who call for abandoning the UNE to create a new federation (such as the PSTU-controlled ANEL [Free Students National Assembly]), are therefore making a serious tactical mistake. We are not for abstaining from ANEL either, but as participants also oppose the politics of its leadership and argue for ending the organizational division amongst student unions.

We invite those who agree with our aims to join our new organization. Along with the selection of demands raised in the charter below we also fight for others, including – free childcare and cafeterias open to students, teachers and all workers; down with the super-exploitation of female and black workers – equal pay for equal work; for the integration of temp agency and other part time workers into the permanent workforce; and for student/ campus-worker control of the universities.


I) Our group’s central task is in politically connecting student’s struggles to those of the working class. Most of us will either become workers in the future or already work to pay for our education. So we either already now, or will upon graduation, share the same interests as the rest of the working class. The values and ideology of exploitation are also deeply integrated into the present educational system, whose main purpose is to instill them into students from the earliest age as a way of politically and socially conditioning us in preparation for our future roles as disciplined workers in a capitalist society.

II) We oppose all policies aimed at the super-exploitation of young people at the workplace. We oppose poorly (or non) – paid internships/apprenticeships where the real aim is more frequently to exploit rather than teach us. We are opposed to poor starting salaries and the lack of job security for less experienced workers, which particularly effect youth and force them to the bottom of the job market.

III) We fight for a truly free and universal higher education, which must include financial assistance that would cover all living expenses, including food, transportation, housing, textbooks as well as leisure and cultural needs. Such assistance must also allow students to attend school without the obligation of working to support ourselves and studying at the same time, which frequently damages our academic progress and leads many to drop out of college.

IV) Education can only be free if it is accessible to everyone. Thus we fight for an end to admission tests. We are for the expropriation of all private universities and vastly expanding and improving the quality of the public university system.

V) We defend affirmative action as a partial gain, while also recognizing it’s inadequacy in addressing racial inequality for more than a minority. So while defending affirmative action, our main demand is for free tuition and open admissions for all, which would permanently end the universities status as the elite racist institutions they currently are.

VI) We fight against every form of oppression, such as sexism and racism, mechanisms for increasing capitalist profits through the super-exploitation of the oppressed, and for hindering the organization and dividing the struggles and of workers and students.

VII) We are opposed to the state and its armed bodies (such as the police and the military), which exist to serve the interests of the ruling class. We oppose the Brazilian military’s international presence, as in Haiti, where it suppresses black workers and helps maintain order to protect the property interests of the Haitian and international bourgeoisie.

The 1934 San Francisco General Strike

Then, As Now, CLC Tops Were Main Obstacle to Victory

The 1934 San Francisco General Strike

[First printed in Workers Vanguard #109, 14 May 1976]

The recently defeated San Francisco craft workers’ strike induced many comparisons with the S.F. general strike of 1934. International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (lLWU) leader Harry Bridges, who played a key role in sparking the 1934 strike, remarked ironically at one point: “Well. I came in during a general strike, and it looks like I may be going out with one.” Although this year’s conflict never reached the proportions of the earlier struggle which proved the major event in making San Francisco into a union town for several weeks it teetered on the brink of becoming a general strike. It was above all the actions-and inaction of Bridges and his cronies that stood in the way,

The most important of the lessons of 1934, confirmed this year as well, is the need to defeat and take leadership away from the treacherous pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy. In 1934 Teamster president Michael Casey and Central Labor Council head Edward Vandeleur sold out the general strike. If the struggle for union recognition did not suffer an irremediable setback it was only because the leadership of a key section of the workers– the maritime workers– was in the hands of rank-and-file militants who were able to at least conduct an orderly retreat. In 1976 every union was controlled by hardened bureaucrats– from CLC head John Crowley to Harry Bridges, the completely domesticated militant of yesteryear– and there existed no elected strike committees at all, a fact which is central in explaining the total rout of the workers. The whole bunch of labor fakers, moreover, give political support to the Democratic “friends of labor” who are among the most dangerous leaders of the union-busting crusade.

How It Began

The general strike of 1934 grew out of the shipping companies’ determination to smash the reviving dock workers’ union. In the years since the destruction of the AFL longshoremen’s union in 1919, employers had a free hand in dictating working conditions on the waterfront. Longshoremen were forced to join a company union to get work, militants were blacklisted, the speed-up was grueling, and bribery and favoritism were the rule in the daily “shapeup.”

By the middle of 1933, however, partly under the impetus of the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NRA), of which section 7(a) purported to guarantee the right of union organization, there was a mass influx of longshoremen into the virtually defunct AFL union, the International Longshoremen’s Association (lLA).

The union’s demands, which were circulated up and down the Coast and used as the basis for recruiting new members, included: union recognition, union-controlled hiring halls with preference for ILA members (closed shop), a six-hour day /30-hour week, and a wage increase from 85 cents per hour to $1 (with $1.50 for overtime). By early March 1934 the employers had already decided to oppose these demands unconditionally, provoke a strike and break the union. After an initial delay, a coastwide longshore strike began on May 9 and rapidly gained support from the other maritime trades, tying up shipping on the entire coast.

The shippers retaliated by using oldline AFL leaders, principally ILA president Joseph Ryan, to compel arbitration of the key issues. When that failed, they attempted to open the S.F. port by force. But the strike held solid for 80 days. When police killed two strikers and the governor sent in the National Guard, the result was a three day general strike in San Francisco.

These events did not occur spontaneously, however. Supporters of the Communist Party and the” Albion Hall” group (named after their meeting place) around Harry Bridges, provided the driving force behind the struggle to build the union. It was these militant trade unionists who, while unable to present a program of consistent class struggle, pushed the strike forward. Their serious errors led to the betrayal of the general strike by the treacherous AFL misleaders, but without these militants the strike probably never would have happened in the first place,

The Communist Party, by that time a pliant tool of the Stalinist counterrevolutionary bureaucratic usurpers in the Kremlin, was still operating on the basis of the ultra-left sectarian “Third Period” line laid down by Stalin in 1929. Following this policy both the New Deal and the AFL union tops were denounced as “fascist” and dual unions were the order of the day, The Stalinist dual union on the West Coast waterfront was the Marine Workers Industrial Union (MWIU), composed of both seamen and longshoremen.

After 1933, however, the Stalinist line began to shift in an empirical reaction to Hitler’s unopposed march to power in Germany. Already preparing to build “popular-front” alliances with liberal bourgeois politicians, the Stalinist parties began to reconsider working in the unions dominated by old-line bureaucrats. Thus when longshoremen flocked to their historic AFL union in 1933-34, CP cadres followed and were thus able to link up with Bridges’ group, rather than being totally isolated in their own sectarian “red” union.

The longshoremen who began joining the ILA in 1933 faced difficulties at once. The employers defended the “Blue Book,” a company union formed after the defeat of the 1919 strike, and fired workers for wearing ILA buttons on the job or for not having their “Blue Book” dues paid up. The newly elected ILA leadership advised workers to refer such disputes to the NRA administration, which promptly ruled that the “Blue Book” was a bonafide union! It was the “Albion Hall” group which actually built the AFL union by organizing job actions and a successful strike against Matson Lines in 1933, to reinstate four fired workers.

Membership dissatisfaction with NRA stalling was evident and a coastwide ILA convention was called for February 1934. Bridges prepared for it by making a tour of the Northwest ports, discussing the issues and urging the election of militant delegates from the ranks. As a result, the convention adopted a democratic constitution and called for the federation of all unions in the industry, which drastically cut across craft-union prejudices. The interunion solidarity prepared for by the militants at this convention was critical: seamen had crossed longshoremen’s picket lines in 1919, while the longshoremen scabbed on seamen in 1921.

Following the employers’ flat refusal to bargain- based largely on the assessment that the West Coast union was in the hands of radicals who had to be smashed- and the taking of a coastwide strike vote, Bridges initiated an elected strike committee in the San Francisco Bay area. Delegates, who were elected from the docks and gangs on both sides of the Bay as well as from casuals totaled nearly 50 in number. The need for such a measure became even clearer when the head of the ILA Pacific Coast District. “Burglar Bill” Lewis, unilaterally called off the strike in March on a request from F.D.R.

The Key: Inter-Union Solidarity

The strike finally got under way on May 9, and inter-union solidarity of maritime workers was the key to its initial success. The MWIU led its members off the ships as they hit port. This sparked general walkoffs of seamen, even from foreign ships, and the eventual sanctioning of the strike by the AFL seamen’s union. Other maritime crafts also walked off in sympathy and a joint strike committee, as called for by the ILA convention, was set up, with each union pledging not to return to work until the others had settted. Shipping on the entire West Coast was halted.

Despite this militant maritime solidarity, support from truck drivers remained critical to the success of the strike. The shippers immediately recruited scabs ·-many of them students from the University of California dubbed the “scab incubator”- to unload the ships, while police armed with an anti-picketing ordinance kept the strikers at a distance. Over the vigorous objections of its president, Michael Casey, however, the S. F. Teamsters local voted not to move scab goods off the piers. By May 27, there were at least 25,000 workers out, and the San Francisco port alone was losing $100,000 per day because of the strike.

While maritime workers were marching on the Embarcadero, ILA president Ryan, a fossilized craft unionist who defended the “shape-up” system against hiring halls, flew into town at the request of government mediators and attempted to convince longshoremen to arbitrate wages and hours and accept a jointly controlled hiring hall (i.e., leaving control in the employers’ hands) with no closed shop provision. Though roundly voted down in all ports, he proceeded to sign an agreement to this effect about two weeks later in San Francisco Mayor Rossi’s office, pledging the longshoremen’s compliance with the agreement. But the dockers rejected the deal, and Ryan was booed off the platform in the San Francisco local. More importantly, Ryan’s treachery made the need for militant leadership clear, and the joint strike committee established earlier was empowered by the ranks to replace the regular executive board in handling negotiations.

At this point, city rulers represented by the S. F. Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Association decided to open the port by force. Trucking goods from the piers to the warehouses was the employers’ immediate tactical objective, so they focused on breaking Teamster support for the strike. Police formed cordons for scab trucks and attacked strikers. For two days clubs flailed, and on “Bloody Thursday,” July 5, two strikers were’ killed by police bullets. The port was immediately occupied by the National Guard.

Bridges and the Communist Party (CP) had already begun agitation for a general strike in response to the employers’ “open the port” declaration, and now the movement mushroomed, although stalling AFL leaders prevented immediate action. Bridges and 1,000 longshoremen and seamen were present at a July 11 Teamster meeting, despite protests from Casey and CLC president Vandeleur, who argued vigorously against the strike. Through rank-and file pressure, Bridges was allowed to address the Teamsters, and an overwhelmingly pro-strike vote was taken following his speech.

Similar delegations of up to 75 strikers were sent to other unions throughout the city, with similar results. Sympathy strikes were declared by ship boilermakers, machinists, welders, butchers and laundry workers. By July 13, 32,000 workers belonging to 13 unions were on strike. Some of them, like the Market Street streetcar employees, put forward their own contract demands.

The Central Labor Council was rapidly being forced to revise its tactics under this intense pressure. Earlier in June it had passed a resolution demanding that the ILA “disavow all connections with the communistic element on the waterfront.” However, to undercut the rising general strike sentiment after “Bloody Thursday” the CLC set up a Strategy Committee, which stalled for a week while supposedly “studying” the possible implementation of a general strike. The CLC also sent a whining telegram to the governor, saying that the National Guard wasn’t necessary because the city police were well-equipped to do their job. And this, after they had just murdered two strikers!

General Strike!

The maritime strike committee had called a mass meeting for July 7, to which all Bay Area unions had been urged to send delegations for the purpose of implementing general strike action and forming a broad strike leadership. The support for a general strike was solid, but when the establishment of the officials’ Strategy Committee was announced the maritime committee decided to postpone action in order not to undercut the CLC which was apparently taking steps toward a general strike. This deferral by Bridges and his CP supporters to the Labor Council bureaucrats handed the strike leadership to labor fakers whose sole aim was to betray the strike. This was the critical mistake of the militants, from which disastrous consequences inevitably followed.

The CLC began to feel an increasing pressure for strike action. Finally, the Strategy Committee asked all city unions to send five delegates each to a meeting July 14, at which a vote of 315 to 15 authorized a general strike for July 16. A strike committee was appointed by the Labor Council, consisting for the most part of salaried union officials who were chummy with the top AFL bureaucrats.

On Monday, July 16, the city was seriously crippled, but the CLC began to sell out the general strike from the very first day. Employees of the Municipal Railway (Muni) were told to return to work on the grounds that striking would jeopardize their civil service status. Phone, telegraph and power workers were never called out on strike, leaving communications in the grip of the bourgeoisie. Printing union leaders dangled the restoration of a 10 percent pay cut before the eyes of union members, convincing them to stay at work. Moreover, since the CLC did not publish a central strike bulletin, the city’s workers were totally dependent for news on the bosses’ press, none of which supported the strike. A publisher’s committee censored all newspapers to make sure the strike was slandered and red-baited from every column. The Hearst papers in particular were so vicious that several unions took boycott action and their members refused to read them!

Sheet metal workers were told by the CLC to repair police cars, a traitorous act providing direct aid to the military fist of the class enemy. While originally only a few services, such as hospitals and milk deliveries, were allowed to function, permits were soon given to hundreds of owner-operators of trucks, amid charges of scandals in issuance of permits. Numbers of restaurants were allowed to open, feeding the rich, while many small groceries were kept closed.

In addition, squads of police agents, posing as dissatisfied workers, were organized to carry out a vicious witchhunt. On the second day of the strike (and with at least tacit support of the AFL bureaucracy), these provocateurs went on an anti-communist rampage, smashing the offices of the CP’s Western Worker, the IWW and the MWIU. The police who “mopped up” after them arrested more than 300 “radicals” in one day. Militants were even pulled out of picket lines and victimized. These activities had a demoralizing effect on the strike, and the CP’s isolation from the labor movement plus its tactical sectarianism made it difficult to mobilize a broad defense against these “red scare” attacks. Meanwhile, Bridges’ strike committee had already undercut the defense by affirming that, while it was willing to accept support from any source, it was an “anti-communist” organization (Charles Larrowe, Harry Bridges, 1972).

Bureaucratic Sabotage

On July 17 the CLC strike committee presented a resolution to the city unions calling for arbitration of all issues in dispute. This passed the assembled body of delegates, over the protests of the maritime unions, by a hand vote of 213 to 180. The labor brass then met with General Hugh Johnson, head of Roosevelt’s supposedly “pro-labor” National Recovery Administration, who had just denounced the strike in violent terms. With such “leadership,” it was easy to call off the general strike only three days after it began. Even so, the vote was close and the ranks never voted to return to work.

With the general strike over, the Teamsters could then be pressured to end their strike on July 20, but only after verbal assurances from Casey that this would not mean handling scab cargo. Yet the next day truck drivers found themselves going through picket lines under armed guard, while Casey’s goons helped police protect them from the strikers! This final blow forced the longshoremen to vote to accept arbitration on July 21 and return to work ten days later. In the intervening period, however, they provided a dramatic display of solidarity to other maritime unions. Although they had voted to go back, the longshoremen honored their commitment to stay out until all other maritime unions had also voted. When the maritime workers returned, they all marched across the Embarcadero together, as an unbroken group.

Although the general strike was sold out and the dockers were forced to accept arbitration of all their demands, the workers had built powerful union organizations and decisively smashed the company unions. The strikes strengthened the entire Bay Area labor movement with an influx of new members. And in the following months, maritime workers (both longshoremen and seamen) were able to establish the closed shop and union-controlled hiring halls through militant job actions, despite the fact they they lost on these points under the arbitration award.

Although the leadership provided by the Albion Hall group and CP was decisive at several points in preventing defeat of the 1934 strike at the hands of ILA chief Ryan and his cronies- and in laying the basis for the later creation of the Maritime Federation of the Pacific- both faiIed at the critical point to prevent domination of the general strike by the AFL bureaucrats. The AFL tops, in turn, after spending months trying to cram arbitration by Roosevelt’s NRA down the throats of the longshoremen, only took over leadership of the general strike because they were afraid of losing control of their organizations.

The Communist Party admitted shortly afterwards that:

“The Party. at the decisive moment when the bureaucrats stood isolated and the workers were rallying for the General Strike in the first meeting at which the General Strike leadership was elected, did not develop a struggle against the misleaders and saboteurs. It allowed them through this course to place themselves at the head of the General Strike and overcome their isolation by feigning support for the General Strike.”

-“Lessons of the Recent Strike Struggles.” CP Central Committee, 5-6 September 1934

Thus at the same time as it was victimized for its ultra-leftism, the CP adapted opportunistically to trade union militants within the maritime unions. The politics of the CP longshore fraction was indistinguishable from “rank-and-file” activists like Harry Bridges, who strongly distrusted the AFL bureaucrats but shrank from the task of challenging them for leadership at key points. Though militant, Bridges was never more than a practical trade unionist, ready to check the AFL leaders, but lacking a full political program for smashing the bureaucracy by building a class-struggle leadership.

Throughout the entire strike, although it lambasted the AFL, the CP refused to criticize Bridges’ conciliationist failures. And within a few short months, the “fraternal” alliance between Bridges and the CP became part of the Stalinists’ trade-union back-up for a “popular-front” alliance with Roosevelt, under which it ceased to play a militant role even on a trade-union level. Though persecuted for years as an “alien” and “Communist,” Bridges was soon transformed into a trade-union bureaucrat.

1934 and Today

The few general strikes that have broken out in the history of the U.S. labor movement have been of a localized and defensive character. This was true of San Francisco in 1934 and characterizes the situation today as well. Responsibility for the defeat of these strikes lies squarely with the reactionary leadership of the unions.

This year’s craft workers’ strike proves once again the treacherous role of the legalistic and cowardly union bureaucracy, which acts as the labor lieutenants of capitalism in sacrificing the most fundamental union gains and betraying the most bitterly fought struggles. These class traitors’ support for the bourgeoisie extends from obstructing the movement for a general strike to opportunistically seeking to take it over for the purpose of derailing it.

The task of revolutionaries is to begin now to lay the groundwork for ousting these dangerous fakers, by educating the working class in the need for uncompromising independence from the capitalists, exposing the betrayals of the present misleaders and providing militant leadership for the workers movement in its vital struggles. Only a strategy of consistent class struggle can lead to victory—the “realistic” conciliators have nothing to offer but defeat.

The Spartacist League, the Minority and Voix Ouvriere

The Spartacist League, the Minority and Voix Ouvriere

By Liz Gordon

[Key internal factional document with supporters of the Voix Ouvriere/ Lutte Ouvriere group in France. First printed in Spartacist League Internal Bulletin #7, December 1968. Reprinted and scanned from the SL publication “Lutte Ouvriere and Spark: Workerism and National Narrowness”.]

While the Turner-Ellens-Stoute Mi­nority faction has not, at least yet, taken a formal position on the Voix Ouvriere group, the organizational meth­ods of VO, at least as described by Comrade Ellens, have played an important role in the present factional dispute in the SL. Presumably the Minority has chosen not to take a position as a fac­tion on the questions raised by Ellens’ report of 8 April 1968 on “Organiza­tional Methods” of a European Trotskyist group which was circulated by Comrade Ellens nationally. The group in ques­tion, the French “Union Communiste,” has since been dissolved by government de­cree as a result of the May general strike and its organs, Voix Ouvriere and the bilingual Lutte de Classe/Class Struggle, no longer appear. (The docu­ment submitted by Turner on 17 July 1968 is-the first document to be signed by the Minority comrades collectively.) At the same time, the tendency of which Comrade Ellens is a leading spokesman has concentrated its fire heavily on questions of organization and so-called “Leninist functioning.” Comrade Ellens’ first documentary contribution to the discussion was an attachment to the PB minutes of 25 March 1968, as a statement qualifying her vote in favor of Comrade Robertson’s motions on how we seek to function politically and organizational­ly. These motions were presented and motivated in the PB meeting of 4 March. Her entire statement was, “The three motions on organization do not take into account that we are not functioning in a Leninist manner. This must be done in their implementation.” While Comrade Ellens’ justification for having circu­lated her report on VO’s organizational methods herself and over the head of the PB was that the report was not a fac­tional document, her use of the time allotted her during her recent July trip to the Bay Area for a factional presen­tation to present the organizational ideas of VO has made it clear that VO is being used as a major factional issue by the Minority. This makes it necessary that the Majority respond to the issues raised.

It seems clear that the Minority, or Comrade Ellens at least, has been at­tempting to sell VO’s successes and impressive aspects, especially in lieu of a more concrete schema of proposals by them for what the SL should seek to be and to do. This is not to say that there has been no political basis of real differences in the founding of the Minority tendency. The general proposi­tion of “getting to the masses” and an implied policy of proletarianization as the solution to the SL’s ills has become more and more clear, and poses legiti­mate political questions which must be discussed in their own right. But the question of VO and its organizational methods has been a second current running through the proselytizing of Com­rade Ellens and, further, is one which ties in well, at least superficially, with the expressed concern with “getting to the working class,” since VO is pre­sented as being the model of a proletar­ian Trotskyist organization with proper “Leninist functioning” which the SL should emulate. VO has been used as a prime recruiting device of the Minority and is therefore de facto part of the Minority’s program for change.

It is in a way unfortunate that VO has become a factional football. The necessity of answering the attributions and attacks of the Minority makes us insist here on the weak sides of VO. The comrades must keep in mind that VO is in many respects a fine and Trotskyist organization, and it is not an accident that the SL has chosen to maintain fra­ternal relations between our two groups. Further, VO has behaved towards the SL and the IC (the two opportunities we have had to observe VO most closely) in a serious, comradely and scrupulous manner. Likewise, the comrades must keep in mind that, despite the Minority’s attempt to suggest an implicit identity between itself and VO, the Minority is not VO. In choosing to wear the mantle of VO, Ellens is implicitly assigning to VO her opinions of the SL and her con­cept of what VO is. A VO’er, for ex­am]ile, might choose to accentuate some of its disagreements with the SL over political questions which Comrade Ellens has not chosen to treat in her represen­tation of what is basic to that organi­zation. For another example, Comrade Ellens has stated that VO’s position against having full-time political func­tionaries is not very important and flows from a specific difference between French and U.S. conditions, i.e., the allegedly greater ease of getting a part-time job in France. Judging from the whole of VO’s organizational out­look, it seems likely that VO itself considers this question of considerable importance and strongly disapproves of having full-timers whose only political assignment is party work. In short, we cannot exclude the possibility that VO views itself differently from the way Comrade Ellens views it and/or that she has chosen to emphasize those ideas and aspects of VO which would be most “sale­able” to SL’ers, in order to recruit to her faction. Similarly, we have had rather little day-to-day contact with VO’s actual functioning and cannot judge whether Ellens’ picture of VO’s effi­ciency is idealized. One SL’er whose contact with VO was much more limited than Comrade Ellens’ points out that, despite Ellens’ assertion that “meetings start on time,” those which she [this other SL’er] attended started late, monthly meetings 45 minutes late, classes less so. Trivial reminders like this may serve to keep us within the bounds of reality. But the most impor­tant point, of course, is that we must not be misled by the spectre of VO being raised to lend weight to the arguments of the Minority; if Comrade Ellens has received the VO “franchise,” we are not aware of it.

False Comparison

One obvious point to be made about the use of VO as a factional point by Ellens is that the comparison is not particularly fitting. While the organi­zational theories of VO are certainly relevant points to be debated, as are VO’s political differences with the SL, VO certainly cannot be used as a measure of efficiency or effectiveness. Accord­ing to Comrade Ellens’ report, the VO organization has four times as many full members as the SL, four times as many candidate members and again four times as many organized sympathizers. Using our membership criteria, this would give them eight times as many members as we have (we do not distinguish in counting our members between fulls and candi­dates) and four times as many of a cate­gory for which we have no equivalent, but would be roughly whatever close contacts we have regular working rela­tions with in arenas and, in addition, have sufficient agreement with us to work with us to some extent as the SL, circulating the paper and the like. Thus the SL has at this point roughly one-twelfth VO’s strength in members and contacts. Clearly our existence is much more tentative, our standards for what makes a minimally acceptable member somewhat lower by necessity, and our expected efficiency of functioning in no way comparable. Further, while VO’s membership is overwhelmingly concen­trated in Paris, ours is very lightly spread over an area which, translated into French terms, extends over the equivalent of Paris to the. Sahara to the Urals. Hence the effective force we can bring to bear on the main American cen­ter, New York, is in the range of one one-hundredth of VO’s sheer numerical impact in Paris! It is clear that the burdens on our national center include not only maintaining local functioning in the political center of the country with far less concentrated forces but. also attempting to service a national organization with local groups thousands of miles away. While we must concern ourselves with VO’s theories of organi­zation, we must realize that to reduce them in our minds to being identical with VO’s more efficient functioning is to render them absurd.

Selection of Leadership

The actual organizational structure of VO is, in our terms, rather fright­ful. According to the information in Comrade Ellens’ written organizational report and verbal presentation to the PB of 30 January 1968, VO’s structure may be described as federated in the choos­ing of a national political leadership. (“Federated” in this context should not be taken to mean that locals are autono­mous in their coordination with each other or with the central leadership.) Members of the VO equivalent of the Central Committee are chosen on the following basis: one member of each cell is elected by the cell to serve on the higher body. This is not necessarily undemocratic (cells are undoubtedly of roughly equal size; this system is not equivalent to our having, for example, one representative apiece from Berkeley and Austin) but it is most certainly not Leninist. In a Leninist organization like the SL, the central political lead­ership is chosen by the membership as a whole irrespective of what local they come from, on the basis of political positions. Attempts to make VO’s system more workable in practice (for example, by having a second CC-level person from a cell choose to attend CC meetings as an observer, or juggling the membership in the cells to be sure that there is somebody qualified in each one–and who would get to gerrymander the cells in this way anyway?) may rectify individual inequities but are in principle not enough to reconcile this structure with Leninist principles of organization. Such a selection of national leadership on the highest bodies of the organiza­tion is clearly incompatible with proportional representation for national minority factions. If one cell is in its majority in opposition on some question, it can of course send somebody repre­senting its particular views to the CC. But what if a minority view is spread across several cells, without a majority in any? The selection of a leadership geographically, rather than on the sole basis of political views, does a funda­mental injustice to the right of fac­tional democracy in a Leninist organiza­tion. The right to factions is key in the Leninist method of determining the line of the organization. While it is quite likely that minority elements are given some leeway in the VO organi­zation–we have no knowledge of VO’s provisions for internal discussion–and may well be positively encouraged by the leadership, VO’s structure means that any representation of minority views necessarily has the character of a privilege, not a right. To be permit­ted–if they are permitted–to discuss differences internally is not enough; part of the Leninist concept of internal discussion is the right to stand for election on the basis of views, have representation proportional to the strength of those views in the entire organization, and seek to become a majority and determine the line of the organization. Minority views should not simply be aired as criticisms; there must be a mechanism for their competing with the majority line, which means ultimately the right to elect leaders embodying the line.

A further aspect of the selection of the political leadership is even strang­er. Three particular leading VO’ers are automatically put on the CC-type body, without standing for election by the membership in the cells or otherwise. While we have no evidence to indicate that the co-option of these particular leading comrades is anything but in accord with what would be the result if these designated leaders stood for elec­tion on the same basis as the others, it is certainly clear that such a provision leaves the door open to bureaucratic abuse of the worst sort. At best this feature is a kind of benevolent despo­tism, even if it is never abused.

Contact Work and Education

Other features of VO’s organiza­tional practice are quite good. These features are not so much structural as practical, although there are theories behind the emphasis they are given. Undoubtedly the most touted of these practices has been VO’s systematic con­tact work. Another is the heavy emphasis on internal Marxist education of mem­bers. I would hope it is clear that the SL is strongly in favor of both these practices. Energetic pursuit of contacts and an attempt to make high Trotskyists of all members are mainly just common sense. The New York local has adopted a motion in favor of energetic and sus­tained contact with contacts, and has put Comrade Ellens in charge of this aspect of functioning. The local has also nominated Ellens for local orga­nizer on two occasions in order to assist her in putting into action what­ever practical improvements in function­ing she had learned from VO or could think up. (She has repeatedly refused to accept the post, perhaps to avoid taking responsibility for making her schemas live up to the implied promises.)

At the same time there are features of VO’s emphases on systematic contact work and internal education which are not wholly positive. In our discussions in the PB following Comrade Ellens’ presentation, some comrades felt that the extreme emphasis on individual con­tacting seemed to produce an excessively linear assessment of tasks. A process of individual members discussing with indi­vidual contacts can proceed almost independently of the course of development of objective situation and struggle; each member should recruit a certain number of contacts per year by individu­ally convincing individuals. Such a conception leads to a kind of theory of stages; everybody recruits contacts until we reach a size of x members, then we move on to a different stage. (There is no room in such a conception for the possibility that under some circum­stances a group might get smaller rather than ever and automatically larger.) PB comrades also feared that such an ap­proach, if overemphasized, could lead to VO’s ignoring political struggle with competing organizations and leftward-moving sections of other groups, the possibility of splits in opponent groups on the basis of Bolshevik politics. The struggle to become the vanguard party entails not only increasing one’s own forces but also combating whatever “os­tensibly revolutionary organizations” are competing for the banner of revolu­tionary Marxism, by exposing them and seeking to win individual members and sections of such groups to one’s own program. Otherwise, all groups might grow by linear contacting, with little progress being made toward political clarification and the crystallization of a vanguard party.

Regarding internal Marxist education and a disdain for coffee-klatch, cafe-society politicking, this indicates first of all VO’s concern with being serious. But VO’s method of putting this desire into practice can be criticized. One of the features considered by VO, according to Comrade Ellens, as integral to this approach is the organizing of people according to their levels of commitment. The resulting division into full and candidate member cells has something of a hierarchical character. In the candidate member cells, each of which contains one full member assigned to it, a kind of student-to-teacher relationship could develop; instead of all members being considered as equals, the newer members would be second-class citizens. Great stress is put by Comrade Ellens on the advantages this type of organization offers for education and re-shaping the minds of new members in an anti-petty-bourgeois direction. How­ever, such a concept of education is a very formalistic one. With the exception of the monthly political meetings and the contact with the one assigned full member, the candidate members are iso­lated from working contact with the real cadres of the organization on the living political questions. In addition, the Leninist concept of education is that the most important way in which comrades are educated is through internal fac­tional struggle. Purely on educational grounds, then, the lack of this basic Leninist practice renders the VO concept of education purely formal in character. Education means to a Leninist far more than the study of texts.

Organization Tied to Politics

The function of organizational structure and methods is to safeguard against bureaucratic abuse and political stultification. While the leading cadre of VO may well lean over backwards to prevent these faults, whatever internal democracy exists in VO exists in spite of and not because of VO’s much-touted organizational procedures. We want our members to have rights, not to be con­stantly granted privileges by a benev­olent and paternalistic leadership.

Thus we have severe criticisms of VO’s organizational practices. Before going on to examine VO’s intimately related theoretical positions on organi­zational and political questions, we would like to establish that they are extremely relevant to the present dis­pute within the SL. No doubt the Minor­ity would like to disclaim responsibil­ity for VO’s positions, pointing out that they have never tried to defend all of VO’s views. In fact, our Minority would probably like to avoid defending any of them. Our Minority would like to stand entirely on the basis of VO’s functioning. And certainly, if one seeks only to demonstrate that VO is a more effective organization than the SL (i.e., visits more contacts, holds more classes, has more union fractions, has a better publication schedule) then one need not defend VO’s theories. But, as shown above, to show that an organiza­tion twelve times the size of another is more effective is not very startling, and cannot exhaust the relevance of the VO example in the eyes of the Minority. In having made VO a factional point, Comrade Ellens has made it incumbent upon her faction to show 1) that the SL’s weaknesses relative to VO are a result of the SL’s political line and/or its organizational practices, and 2) that the Minority’s program and pro­posals have the answer. So far, with the exception of the question of energetic contact work (which suggestion has been widely accepted by the organization and the leadership), no other specifics of VO’s practices have been frankly sug­gested for the SL out of the totality of the VO example. Yet this cannot possibly exhaust the criticisms of Comrade Ellens or explain why she felt it necessary to make an extended report on VO’s func­tioning as part of the time allotted her in the Bay Area for a factional presen­tation. It is hardly necessary to form a faction in order to argue for systematic contact work. What Ellens seeks to capi­talize on through raising the issue of VO is the non-success of the SL over the past year or so, during which time mem­bership size has been about constant. The Minority attempts to lay these dif­ficulties at the door of 1) our alleged­ly non-proletarian orientation and, 2) our allegedly non-Leninist mode of func­tioning. Both Ellens and Turner have submitted documents dealing with the first point; VO has been offered as the model of what we should be if not for the second. But to select a few gimmicks (e.g., systematic contacting) out of one’s model is not enough. Since VO is irrelevant as a quantitative measure of the SL (i.e., efficiency in function­ing), the Minority must mean VO to be a qualitative measure–i.e., relevant for its principles of organization, its politics, since the question of who has the right line is always relevant to any organization no matter what its size. The theories and practices of VO form an integrated whole, and the Minority must take responsibility for the organiza­tional and political theories of VO, not simply seek to take credit for its efficiency and its practical features.

Theory Behind Organizational Emphasis

Underlying VO’s emphasis on organi­zational methods is the proposition,. with which we heartily concur, that organizational questions are not sepa­rate from politics and that organiza­tional theories are themselves political questions. According to Ellens, the con­cern with organizational questions began during and after the second World War, when the individuals who were to form VO reacted against the increasing social-patriotism of the formerly-Trotskyist organizations in France. VO’s founders sought to determine what practices and concepts of functioning had facilitated the deterioration into revisionism. From Ellens’ representation to the PB of 30 January 1968: “They decided that the policies taken by the other groups had come about in the absence of contact with working-class areas, as a way of meeting widespread petty-bourgeois sen­timent. They wanted to avoid themselves coming under such strong petty-bourgeois influences. They saw that groups could change their policies very easily under pressure and concluded that this was a function of a lack of basic education and training and an attitude toward being a lifetime Trotskyist revolution­ary….” Ellens’ presentation to the PB of 6 May also dealt with this point and stressed VO’s determination to avoid functioning like an unserious, dilet­tantish discussion group. Ellens’ or­ganization report of 8 April deals with the necessity of rooting out petty-bourgeois hang-ups, proletarianization of the organization and of the minds of petty-bourgeois recruits and deepening seriousness and commitment. Through its internal education and organizational methods, VO, according to Ellens, is frankly trying to prevent the seeds of political degeneration from springing up in their organization.

At the London Conference of the IC in April 1966, the VO comrades submitted several documents dealing with the ques­tion of Pabloism and the Fourth Interna­tional. Their view was that this revi­sionism stemmed primarily from the petty-bourgeois composition of the Trot­skyist movement. To quote from their documents:

“…the the failure of the Fourth Inter­national was due to the refusal of its militants and of its leaders …to admit that the social compo­sition of the sections in majority petty-bourgeois, intellectuals, necessitated strict political and organization measures to keep out corrupt elements, and, as far as possible, to escape from the influ­ence of petty-bourgeois ideology by making a maximum effort to recruit within the working-class, and by obliging elements of petty-bourgeois origin to tie themselves to work in the factories…. Pabloism, in the form of liquidationism, was but the finished expression of this petty-bourgeois opportunism of all the sections of the International…. Pabloism was not the cause of the failure and the demise of the Fourth International; it was its product.”

And later:

“Our organization was born precisely of the necessity to separate physi­cally from the petty-bourgeois envi­ronment with its Social-Democratic practices which made up the Trotsky­ist organizations in France at the beginning of the war, to be able to recruit, educate and form cadres capable of putting into practice Leninist and Trotskyist organiza­tional principles and which were not content with ‘Bolshevik’ verbiage covering up opportunist practice. It is because we ran up against the sarcasm and incomprehension of the militants of the Fourth Interna­tional with respect to these ques­tions that we had to carry on an activity separate from the Fourth International, although we have always upheld its ideas and its program.”

Another document makes it clear that “petty-bourgeois ideology” is defined by VO by the class composition of those who hold the ideas; in another document they speak about seeing “the Pabloite degen­eration as an elaborated form of the ideology of certain strata of the petty-bourgeoisie influenced by the apparatus of imperialism and of the bureaucracy” (our emphasis). In our opinion, Pabloism is a petty-bourgeois ideology because it denigrates the idea of a proletarian class party and a proletarian revolution in favor of revolutions made by petty-bourgeois or bureaucratic strata in the interests of a class other than the proletariat–e.g., Negroes as a multi-class nationality, peasants in Latin America, a petty-bourgeois bureaucratic elite. On the question of the roots of Pabloism, see Spartacist No. 6, the statement of the SL delegation to the IC conference. While one may argue with merit that the lack of deep roots within the working class is a built-in source of weakness and can in changing circum­stances reinforce and even produce deep disorientation and a tendency to shift the axis of the party away from a revo­lutionary line, should one then conclude that a super-proletarian orientation is a safeguard against political error and revisionism? A number of questions are raised: Should one expel one’s members of petty-bourgeois origins? This would undoubtedly reduce the size and effec­tiveness of the organization, but surely it is preferable to have a small organi­zation with the right line than a large group which is necessarily centrist. How completely can one revamp the conscious­ness of one’s petty-bourgeois members by formal Marxist education? Or, alternate­ly, are one’s members of petty-bourgeois origins still petty-bourgeois despite having chosen to become “class traitors” in favor of the cause of the proletar­iat? What of Lenin’s concept of de­classed professional revolutionaries? With such an analysis, how does one ex­plain the conservative tendencies that have developed in the Russian Bolshevik party, or the CPUSA, or the SWP, among the party’s trade unionists? (Regarding the latter, see Cannon’s article on the Cochran group, “Trade Unionists and Revolutionists,” Fourth International  magazine, Spring 1954.) Or, on the most serious note, what do you do in.an ob­jective situation (which includes your size, composition and roots) in which you are not likely to have great success in reaching and recruiting workers? .

The Politics of VO

Continuing with the correct proposi­tion that politics and organization are intimately related, we come to the po­litical positions of VO. Let us note first of all that we are dealing here with the positions of difference between VO and the SL, which is to say, in our terms, with their wrong positions; we must continue to keep in mind that many of VO’s positions are correct. The Minority, ignoring the intimate con­nection between organizational and political questions, has chosen re­peatedly not to deal with VO’s political differences with the SL. They have not chosen to defend VO’s positions; neither have they put themselves on record as being opposed to them. In fairness to the Minority, this should be taken to constitute not necessarily agreement on VO’s politics, but rather an elaborate non-concern over political questions. Yet we must assume that VO itself, unlike the Minority, would agree that political questions are important in evaluating an organization. And perhaps this document will at least cause our Minority to tell us where they stand on VO’s political differences with the SL.

In general, VO’s emphasis on class composition is indicative of its semi-syndicalist deviation from Trotskyism. In a letter to a comrade in Europe on 20 January 1967 I characterized VO as having “an excessive concentration on ‘the point of production”‘ and as having “semi-syndicalist tendencies.” This leads them to a de-emphasis of the importance of Marxist theory and the con­sequent over-emphasis on organization. It is not an accident that in the “Out­line of Study-Week Session” reproduced in the Ellens document, of the 13 num­bered points 11 of them, in her words, “elaborate points on organizational methods.” VO seems to feel that it is defined primarily as a tendency by its organizational theories rather than by its politics; and in the sections quoted above from the documents presented to the IC conference VO frankly defines its modes of functioning as the basis for its separate existence.

VO’s semi-syndicalist deviation from Trotskyism (which is not to say that VO has a semi-syndicalist perspective or that it is not Trotskyist) is the main methodological point which produces both VO’s political strengths and its politi­cal weaknesses. In its domestic line, VO was the only left-of-Stalinism organiza­tion with a significant base in the working class, but was limited in its influence in the radical student move­ment. Unlike the SWP’s orientation ex­clusively to the petty bourgeoisie, excessive concentration in the working class cannot be defined as a political sellout, but may well be a tactical error. When elevated to the level of a theory, it is a theoretical one.

In its international line, VO does very well indeed whenever the working class is a real factor in the situation; VO’s line on, for example, the Chinese “Cultural Revolution” made its primary insistence, correctly, on the need for the working class to act as a class in its own interests and the need for a Trotskyist vanguard party. Unlike the Healyites, Pabloites, Posadasites and their ilk, VO knew that the Shanghai general strike was important, that the working class is not a fascist class, that the Cultural Revolution is directed against the workers. They were not about to give any quarter to the enemies of the Chinese working class.

Yet in situations in which the as­cension of the working class to power does not seem to be an immediate possi­bility, VO is disoriented. Their strong proletarian class instinct (the positive aspect of their emphasis on working-class composition and work in the mass movement) is not a sufficient substitute for consistent Marxist theoretical anal­ysis in such cases. On a whole series of issues involving what seem to them to be national questions or sections of the population other than the working class (U.S. Negroes, Latin American peasants, petty-bourgeois guerrilla movements, the Viet Cong) VO’s line and essential meth­odology is not qualitatively different from that of the Pabloists.

VO on the U.S. Negro Question

Regarding the Negro Question, Class Struggle/Lutte de Classe of October 1967 (No. 8) stated: “If a Trotskyist organi­zation appears within the black popula­tion this could, through a quirk of history, and our epoch abounds in such quirks, bring down the international citadel of capitalism through a class struggle in which the national and ra­cial factor is predominant at the begin­ning.” VO here sees the Negro Question as a legitimate national question, al­though they nonetheless view the na­tional question as ultimately secondary to the class question. Further, we have here the possibility that the black movement, or, by implication, any move­ment, can spontaneously generate a Trot­skyist leaderhsip. In methodology, this is not different from the Pabloists’ abdication.

To quote further, “The white popula­tion can learn to forget its racism, half through solidarity with people who know how to defend themselves and half through fear.” Of the two criteria here, the first is sensible—i.e., respect. The concept of the white population’s increasing fear having any progressive, anti-racist aspect is wishful thinking and is dangerously wrong. White working-class racism can only be eroded by the opposite of fear, the realization of common interests with the black workers. Race fear, on the contrary, has only reactionary effects. In Algeria, the increasing predominance of the race-nationality question ended by the total eclipse of the class question and caused the total demise of the communist move­ment which had previously had strong holdings among the white workers in Algeria. The classic response of the racial or national grouping which is “on top” in the society to fear of the other race is a massacre. A fear reaction can only strengthen a reactionary solution. It is the recognition of common class interests which alone can heighten the tempo and intensity of class struggles and increasing consciousness on the part of the whites.

VO goes on, “The oppressed must build their own power to free them­selves.” The lesson drawn by us here is an anti-nationalist one, the fight against lumpenization of the ghetto masses. To the extent that the Negroes have no economic power through unions and the possibility of strikes, etc., they become increasingly vulnerable to a fascist solution, in the worst case, of concentration camps, deportation, exter­mination. VO continues, “The most radi­cal among the present leaders of the black movement [i.e., H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael] have already pro­gressed a great deal. Will they, in the course of the struggle, come to a so­cialist consciousness, a clear vision of the antagonistic classes…? One cannot say.” Again the possibility of sponta­neous development of socialist con­sciousness without the intervention of the Trotskyists is raised. Continuing, “The first necessary step is to create a black revolutionary organization, strictly independent on a national basis on all levels from American organiza­tions including whites. It is not a matter of creating a mass organization. It is a matter of creating a Trotskyist revolutionary party, an authentic orga­nization of the struggle of American blacks, since the black population has the highest level of consciousness.” This is a frank statement of a dual vanguardist position.

Examining VO’s conclusions, we find: “If the Trotskyists are incapable of taking the head of the black movement, as it is now constituted, and in a man­ner appropriate to the movement, they have only several years, if not several months, left before they can do nothing but support Carmichael and Brown uncon­ditionally, attributing to them an un­conscious and transcendent socialism in order to appease their own conscience. At the present time, the actions of Brown and Carmichael must be physically supported, while their limits must be pointed out unhesitantly.” Thus, to the extent that the present leaders are not supplanted, they must be supported. Having nothing to offer as transitional demands, with the exception of the question of self-defense, it is hard to see how VO could avoid this position which is essentially liquidationist and capitulatory to Black Nationalism. An active VO’er, informed on American conditions, with whom we discussed, agreed with our criticisms of this line and said that it flowed simply from lack of knowledge of the U.S. situation. Yet this issue is not the only example of .such disorientation.

VO took a position of support to the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict. To be sure, their line was less obnox­ious and more honest than that of the Pabloists; VO denied that there was any such animal as the “Arab Revolution.” Yet VO’s position, while more honest and therefore less consistent, shows again the inability to respond in a correct manner in a situation where the class question seems immediately less promi­nent than some other question, i.e., the national question. It is worth noting here that at that time Comrade Ellens held the VO position on this question. Despite the PB having raised political criticisms of this and other political positions of VO at two times (PB meetings of 30 January and 6 May), Comrade Ellens is evidently so little interested in VO’s politics that there has been no way to tell whether she still holds her former position on this question; she has never bothered to say.

VO on the Soviet Bloc

As VO would no doubt be quick to say, the Russian Question is paramount for Trotskyists. And on this question, VO has shown itself unable to develop and apply Trotskyist theory to the East European Soviet bloc countries, China and Cuba. As all comrades should already be aware, VO recognizes the Soviet Union as a deformed or degenerated workers state and China, Cuba and the East Euro­pean Soviet bloc countries as capital­ist. (From the logic of their analysis, they should not recognize the Soviet Union as a deformed workers state ei­ther.) The methodology here is again that of the Pabloists, with the impor­tant difference that VO chooses to take essentially a revolutionary state capit­alist position while the Pabloist posi­tion is liquidationist of the Trotskyist vanguard party and essentially a capitulation to Stalinism regarding political revolution.

The underlying methodology of the VO position is made clear in VO’s comradely and serious critique of the SL’s Guer­rilla Warfare Theses (Spartacist No. 11) which appeared in Class Struggle No. 15, May 1968. This critique is mainly con­cerned with the question of Cuba. VO shares with the Healyite IC the view that Cuba is a capitalist state, and for much of the same reasons. The view seems to be that if we grant that Cuba is a deformed workers state, there is no more reason for a Trotskyist party; if the petty bourgeoisie can ever be forced to break with the capitalist economic sys­tem and establish what is viewed as a deformed kind of socialism, Trotskyists can have no perspective except to become a left pressure group seeking to push the Stalinists to the left. A few quota­tions will make their position clear.

“In the last analysis, such a state will be a workers’ state only if the working class seizes power and builds its own state apparatus. And this holds true whatever the extent of the economic reforms carried out” (page 13). “And to consider that this state interference has the slightest ‘workers’ or ‘socialist’ character leads directly to abandon­ing the proletariat in favor of other social groups supposed able to play the same historical role. Indeed, this conception leads to openly admitting that bourgeois organizations (or petty-bourgeois organizations) can, by leaning on certain petty-bourgeois and in any case non-proletarian social layers, create workers’ states, even de­formed ones, and lay the bases for significant economic progress in the underdeveloped countries. This is the very negation of the Communist Manifesto. It is also the negation of the reasoning which led Trotsky to characterize the USSR as a ‘de­formed workers’ state’ because of the particular and decisive role played by the proletariat in its creation” (page 14).

It is clear that a kind of healthy attitude leads VO to this analysis: they fear that to grant Cuba (and by implica­tion East Europe or any place where the workers never took power) a characteri­zation of “deformed workers state” will cause them to sell out. And they don’t want to sell out. This is admirable. However, this position also leads them to deny reality. The East European states, and Cuba, and China, are identi­cal in qualitative terms to what now exists in the Soviet Union as a result of its degeneration. The power of theory and a dynamic and creative approach to a changing world is that it is not necessary to falsify history in order to reach a revolutionary conclusion.

The basis of VO’s theoretical in­capacity over these questions is a too close identification between a “workers state” and a “deformed workers state.” It is this error which leads the Pablo­ists to liquidationism: if the Stalin­ists or the petty bourgeoisie can ever, under the pressure of one of the two contradictory forces operating on them, actually create something which is “pretty good,” then what role is there for the Fourth International? What the VO comrades forget here is that in order for the Soviet Union to go from being a workers state, however seriously threat­ened and in crisis, to a deformed work­ers state, it required a political coun­terrevolution and the physical extermi­nation of the old Bolshevik party. VO and the Pabloists see only a quantita­tive difference between the victorious Russian workers state and the product of its degeneration.

The Spartacist analysis has two virtues: it leads us to a revolutionary conclusion, and it is correct. We concur wholeheartedly that “such a state will be a workers state only if the working class seizes power and builds its own state apparatus.” But the VO comrades apply this same criterion to a deformed workers state. Is this criterion true now for the USSR? Certainly not. Yet VO considers it a deformed workers state. Their only reason must be that in the USSR the working class once did hold political power. This can be only a sentimental reason for characterizing the Soviet Union as a deformed workers state. Further, to hold that such a state does not have the slightest “work­ers” or “socialist” character is over-simplistic, and denies the fundamental contradiction facing the bureaucracies: that they are both the enemies of the working class in their own countries and internationally and at the same time rest on top of a state in which the economic system and the formal ideology constantly pose the issue of workers control. The renunciation of the recog­nition of this fundamental contradiction has been the basis for all third camp theories–Shachtman’s bureaucratic col­lectivism and J.R. Johnson’s or Tony Cliff’s state capitalism. Finally, VO’s semi-syndicalism leads them to write off the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie (for example, in the Cuban case) as fundamen­tally irrelevant to Marxists. In fact, the cause of intermediate classes can at times overlap to some extent the inter­ests of working-class revolution; in such cases we will conclude an uneasy alliance with these forces–for example, the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government. Where we agree with VO is that the working class must maintain hegemony over the peasants and that the vanguard party is absolutely not a two-class party, but a party of the proletariat.

Further, let us not be too bemused by the fact that VO’s analysis is at present both incorrect and episodically revolutionary. Incorrect analysis takes its toll, and we may in the future find our positions dramatically counterposed. VO would critically defend the Soviet Union against imperialist aggression. But what line would they take in a war between East and West Germany? Let us hope that VO would find some inconsis­tent excuse to avoid being neutral about the reintroduction of capitalism into the deformed workers states. Or, what was their line on the India-China border war? Here is a clear case in which the logic of their position must lead them to be neutral.

The “Trotskyist Family”

Another political weakness of VO has been a too-fraternal and non-combative attitude toward other formally “Trotskyist” groups. At the London Conference in 1966 we raised the criticism that VO seemed to have a conception of a “Trot­skyist family” (see Spartacist No. 6), that they seemed to have the conception that all groups calling themselves “Trotskyist” were actually Trotskyist. This criticism, at least, of all the ones we have raised, has been disputed by Comrade Ellens as a question of fact. She has stated that VO only recognizes a certain responsibility to new members of “Trotskyist” groups who may have joined such groups on the basis of their formal “Trotskyism” rather than their opportun­ist practices. If this is the case, of course, the SL has the same view, in insisting on the necessity for a contin­ual struggle to expose the Pabloists and others as not really Trotskyists and for clarification and polarization in groups which are the only representatives of formal “Trotskyism” in their countries and therefore may include members who would choose a revolutionary position. Yet the present rather disturbing course of VO lends some preliminary support to our criticism of their “Trotskyist fami­ly” orientation.

Re-Unification with Pabloism?

Much concern has been voiced within the SL over the unity-of-action pact signed between the Pabloists and VO, and later also signed by the Pablo Pablo­ites, who are insignificant in France. The text of the pact is:

“In view of the development of the present situation, which cruelly points up the absence of a revolu­tionary leadership, and considering that it is essential to unify the struggle carried on by the organiza­tions claiming to be Trotskyist, representatives of the Union Commu­niste [VO], the Parti Communiste Internationalists [Pabloist] and the Jeunesse Communiste Revolutionnaire [Pabloist youth] met on Sunday, May 19, 1968, and decided to form a permanent coordinating committee for their three organizations. This coordinating committee now calls on all organizations claiming to be Trotskyist to join in this move. The three organizations advise their members everywhere to come together to coordinate their activity.” –Reprinted in Intercontinental Press, 3 June 1968

While initially it was not clear whether VO viewed this agreement as the beginning of a reunification of the “Trotskyist” movement, the Healyites in their denunciations and the Pabloists in their applaudings of the pact certainly view it as such. Several comrades in the PB raised the fear that VO had been dis­oriented by finding itself on the same side of the barricades with the Pablo­ists and were reacting in an over-fraternal manner to this, and perhaps also as a reaction to the inability of the leftists to bring France past the negative situation of a general strike into a positive struggle for workers’ power. It was decided after discussion in the PB and NYC local to raise in the article for Spartacist No. 12 on the French events the criticism that VO had chosen the wrong axis to capitalize on the French events and the exposure of the PCF-CGT; that the comrades should have called upon all those who stand in favor of workers’ committees and work­ers’ power to come together to form the needed new vanguard party of the working class–that is, for regroupment based on the Bolshevik program, not only the basis of the formal protestations of Trotskyism of the various groups, which latter axis might include some who actu­ally stood outside the actual basis for the formation of a new revolutionary party and might exclude sections of groups who had moved left under the pressure of the events and now stood for workers’ power. Although we consider it highly unlikely that VO now wishes con­sciously an unprincipled unification with the Pabloists, a group such as VO which has functioned on the basis of subjective revolutionary class instinct without much theoretical capacity could well find itself in such a situation despite its intentions.

Concern over this point has been strengthened considerably by the front-page editorial in the new Lutte Ouvriere No. 4, dated 17 July 1968, entitled “Towards the Revolutionary Party.” The article states:

“May ’68 has been a forceful demon­stration of the validity of revolu­tionary ideas…. The future now depends on the capacity of the revo­lutionary movement to capitalize on this acquisition of confidence…. We have already written and repeated several times in our columns that this is only possible if the revolu­tionary movement is capable of sur­mounting its division into multiple indifferent tendencies however dis­trustful each is of the others…. To struggle for the fusion of the forces which, until now, have been fighting dispersed, and to surmount for that the obstacles, the mis­understandings, the dangers, this is the most imperative duty of all revolutionaries at this time. The objection which one meets most fre­quently among even those revolution­aries who are most sincerely desir­ous of seeing the far left possess­ing the organization strength equal to its ideas concerns the seeming incompatibility between effective­ness and the absence of centralism, the latter being understood as mono­lithism…. However it is not only that the unity of action doesn’t exclude the free confrontation of ideas= this is even the condition for action to stand on a sane base. The bolshevik party…has known in the course of its history numerous tendencies and sometimes even fac­tions. Its militants have by all means the right and even the duty to publicly defend their own ideas even when [the ideas] are in contradic­tion with the official positions of the Party. (?)… Also it is not a question of hiding that the politi­cal differences which separate the revolutionary tendencies are impor­tant and sometimes grave… It is the experiencing of action and ex­perience (of the facts) which will be charged with selecting the ideas. But in order for that to bet it is necessary that the revolutionary  movement have a stake in the events  and that will not really be the case unless they are united. What seems  the most difficult [problem] to sur­mount is that the differences are not only political, but concern,even the conception of the Party. But even that is up to experience to determine, for if the different revolutionary currents wait, before uniting themselves, to convince one another only by the discussion, they can wait a long time. Events, by contrast, do not wait. Certainly the unification of the existing revolu­tionary forces will not give [us] ipso facto a party capable of lead­ing the struggle of the proletariat to victory. Such a party will be forged through long years of strug­gle…. Unification is not an end, it is a beginning…. Revolutionary militants that are separated by important differences learned to struggle together in the factories, in the neighborhoods, in the differ­ent committees, and to make a common front against their common enemies. They discover, through the daily combat that they lead together that, although what separates them is sometimes very important, what unites them is fundamental” (our emphasis).

This seems to be a call for a unifi­cation among the ostensibly revolution­ary organizations. Parenthetically, one might note that the most serious diffi­culty is conceived to be differing con­cepts of the party, i.e., of organiza­tional questions, rather than political differences. No demands are raised as to the basis of such a unification–unifi­cation on the basis of what political program, workers power? formal Trotsky­ism? being left of CP?–except that all the revolutionary organizations (in this conception, there seem to be lots of them) should unite in order to make their combined force strong enough to influence the events. From having called for all Trotskyist organizations to get together on no particular basis except an implied opposition to the CP’s ref­ormism (in the original unity-of-action pact), there is now a move to call for all “revolutionary” groups to get to­gether on no basis whatsoever. Judging from VO’s past history of principled (and perhaps too standoffish) behavior towards other groups, we find it likely that Trotskyists will pull back from the present course before such a unification, or at least find itself compelled after such a unification to split out and reaffirm a program which is to be found nowhere in this editorial and a commitment to Trotskyism which is to be found nowhere in this publication.

What is pervasive to VO’s political errors is the syndicalist-related feel­ing (and resulting practice) that the working class is immune from anti-revo­lutionary deviations and a kind of nar­row “workerism” which leaves them with­out a revolutionary line towards other struggles (U.S. Negroes, the Arab peas­ant masses) and without any axis towards social transformations in which the working class has been largely absent (East Europe, Cuba). This “workerism” is a current in the Bolshevik movement which has been fought since the Leninist amplification of Marxism, e.g., in “What is to be Done?”, written by Lenin in 1902. The working class is our class because it is the only class capable of decisively smashing the capitalist sys­tem and laying the basis for social progress in our epoch. The working class is not, however, a magic talisman to ward off evil and bring automatic suc­cess to the socialist movement.

The Minority and VO

As pointed out above, the Minority as a faction has not embraced the Ellens VO document as they have the Turner document. At the same time it is clear that VO is being used by Comrade Ellens as an at least informal recruiting device and an implicit comparison with the SL. Yet, Ellens has steadfastly refused to deal with VO in a serious and political way. She has sought to sell VO’s successes as a plank in the Minority’s program for the SL, but only covertly. She has created the image (perhaps some­what idealized) of VO as an eminently serious (which it is) and efficient organization through propagandizing VO’s gimmicks–systematic contacting, orderly meetings, internal Marxist educational programs, proletarianizing the psyches of petty-bourgeois members–while only tacitly accepting VO’s essential and theoretical organizational precepts and ignoring VO’s politics. We are tacitly promised that we can be “as good” as VO if we will support the Minority, but since neither the organizational philo­sophy nor the politics is frankly pushed, her assurances can mean only that an organization of our size can be as effective as one twelve times larger through the institution of systematic contacting and the like. Ellens has sought to concentrate on the gimmicks of VO and ignore the basic questions. Fur­ther, the strengths of VO are certainly not employed and embodied by the Minor­ity–any VO’er worth his salt would be horrified with the proposition that the situation for the SL in the New York hospital workers’ union was essentially unchanged by the departure of both party members in the union. If there is one thing which epitomizes VO’s strength it is the desire to be involved in real struggle, to have a caucus-building perspective in unions, to be above all serious and responsible in its work in the mass movement. Finally, there is no indication that a VO’er in the SL would concentrate so exclusively on the tech­niques of organization; in short, VO is not as non-political as our Minority.

The Spartacist League has very grave weaknesses–in its functioning, its re­sources, its human material. And it has a strength–its uniquely correct politi­cal line. It is the particular political ideas of the SL which justify its exis­tence as a separate organization. Let us not be so eager, as is the Minority, to sell our strength down the river in ex­change for phantom schemes and implied promises which cannot solve our prob­lems. Those who support the Minority are headed for a political destination which they perhaps do not know yet, but which is liquidation of Trotskyism.

–6 August 1968

Militant Longshoreman No. 5

Militant Longshoreman

No. 5 February 4, 1983

Re-Elect Keylor

Caucus and Convention Delegate

No Give – Backs. No Lay – Offs

In the last Militant Longshoreman the editor wrote about the critical state of the union, the need for an offensive program to save our jobs, and the danger of further disastrous concessions. These questions will come to a focus at the Longshore Division Caucus and the International Convention in April of this year. This issue of the Militant Longshoreman will talk about the two most critical dangers to the Longshore Division: 1) loss of jurisdiction through a combination of raiding and hiring non-union scabs and 2) lay-offs.

Given the economic crisis, the decline in foreign trade, and the cut-throat competition in shipping, we can expect an attack on our waterfront jurisdiction loading and unloading ships and barges. At Richmond Yard 3 last December, Operating Engineers Local 3 collabor­ated with Levin Terminals to raid our jurisdiction. We stood help­lessly out in the muddy street while a barge was unloaded and load­ed by non-ILWU and non-union people working unsafely and at sub­standard wages. But the stakes in Richmond are much higher than one or more barges. Construction at Yard 3 is rapidly nearing com­pletion as a coal exporting facility and Levin management is up front that the ILWU has no place in their plans. Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada coal shipments out of Northern California are expected to increase enormously during the next few years. Selby (among other places) is being talked about for building more loading fac­ilities. The various companies getting into this lucrative bus­iness will be encouraged to bypass the ILWU if Levin gets away with it at Richmond. It’s reported that Levin will start handling coal within 30 to 60 days; around 16 full-time jobs are immediately at stake.

Looking further down the road, we can expect businesses owning private docks to look around for non-PMA stevedoring outfits (or create them!) to load and unload vessels with non-ILWU and non-un­ion labor. The jurisdiction sections of our contract protect our jobs only where PMA member companies are involved.


How can we protect our jurisdiction? Mass pickets to stop scab­bing and union solidarity to avoid isolation are the only weapons that will work. A handful of token “informational pickets” help­lessly standing in the street while scabs drive past splashing mud on them won’t protect our jobs. But (we are told) if we do try to stop scabs the courts will issue injunctions limiting us to a few token pickets and the cops will beat on us while, they escort scabs past us. For the last 35 years the Taft-Hartley law has given jud­ges the right to issue “restraining orders” against mass picketing and “secondary boycott” picket lines. Thousands of strikes have been lost when workers obeyed strike-breaking, union-busting court orders.

This doesn’t have to go on. Even the government has been known to back off when faced with massive union action. Several years ago the State of Washington tried to break the Inland Boatmen’s Union manning Puget Sound Ferries. A state-wide strike of all ILWU locals supported by the IBT shut down Puget Sound, made the State back down and saved the IBU. We must organize now for just such port-wide strike action the minute another non-ILWU cargo operation (barge or ship) begins in Richmond. The full power of our union to shut down the port and put thousands of men on the picket line will be necessary to make clear to the murderous Richmond cops that union busting and scabherding will not be permitted.

Even our token picketing last December hurt Levin; Teamster truck drivers refused to go through our picket lines. Several months earlier Teamster warehousemen at the giant Sealand CFS in Oakland went on strike and picketed the Sealand piers at 14th St. When the ILWU honored the picket lines, Sealand had to capitulate. We must take the lead in initiating and building such joint support actions to defend each other against take-aways and union-busting. When the ILA negotiates a contract this fall, we must make it clear that we will honor their picket lines like we did in 1977 but that this time we won’t permit the courts to bust our solidarity action.


The editor warned in Militant Longshoreman #4 last month that it looks like we are being softened up for concessions. Our Internat­ional officers have “negotiated” wage freezes in Warehouse and in Hawaii. They have alibied and justified two of the historic betray­als in longshore: M&M, in which we gave up manning scales and job action, and 9.43 where we allowed PMA to undermine the hiring hall. Herman and the other officers have no program to meet the jobs cri­sis in longshore; they can only point to PGP and the “no-layoff” clause of the contract. Contractual guarantees sure didn’t pro­tect the auto workers from wage and benefit cuts and Supplement III provides for layoffs “…should unusual circumstances develop…” The unusual circumstances are already herel After haunting the hall for four to five days without getting a job, longshoremen are begin­ning to mutter “we have too many men”. Our leaders are not shouting as they should be “we have too few jobs”. In the past they co-oper­ated with PMA’s attempt to export poverty by forcing hundreds of longshoremen to transfer out of this port. Now they squash and ridicule any aggressive program for jobs (manning scales, shorter work shift), leaving the field open to debating which concessions like lay-offs we should swallow.

Strike action will be necessary just to block takeaways. We ought to take a lesson from the Canadian Chrysler workers who three months ago struck on their own against give-backs. The UAW US-Canadian brass sabotaged and isolated the strike. Nonetheless, they and Chrysler were forced to reopen negotiations. Many of the proposed benefit cuts were withdrawn and Chrysler was forced to of­fer a substantially better although still inadequate wage package.


Not even the most aggressive trade union program has a chance of success unless the unions take the lead in defending the livelihood of the 80% of unorganized workers, the over 10% who are unemployed, and the millions of retired, disabled and destitute who are suffering from cutbacks in social benefits.

The employers will try to hire the unemployed and destitute as scabs unless the unions organize them first. When the ILWU was foun­ded in the strikes of 1934, the union took action successfully to win over casual dock workers who could have been recruited to scab. The six hour day was demanded and won not to give overtime pay for the last two hours but to provide jobs for all who had fought in the str­ike. The union controlled hiring hall was the membership’s guarantee to each other that there would be no discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age, political beliefs, union loyalty, etc.

The Teamster strikers in Minneapolis in 1934 went even further. They won the unemployed to their side by organizing IBT auxiliar­ies of unemployed workers and workers on federal public works re­lief projects. These auxiliaries, backed by Teamster solidarity act­ions , fought for higher relief benefits for the unemployed and liv­ing wages for federal WPA workers.

That’s the basis for Point 5 of the Militant Longshoreman program which calls for: “Organize the unorganized and the unemployed. Labor strikes to stop cuts in Social Security, Medical, Medicare.”

Keylor will argue for such a program at the International Conven­tion. It is a key for union survival and will be a critical step in forging an alliance between the employed and the poor. Such an al­liance must be carried forward under the leadership of a workers party based on the unions to an actual fight to establish a workers govern­ment which will provide jobs for all through a planned socialist econ­omy.


I had hoped Stan would think about what I’d said last month. In­stead, he defended the new policies being pursued by the Militant Caucus and criticized his own fighting instincts. As I said, the Militant Caucus in Local 6 is largely pursuing extra-union issues and is paying less and less attention to union problems. Apparently dis­couraged by the near paralysis of Local 6, the constant giveaways en­gineered by the leadership (the last Master Contract included a 6 month wage freeze), and the inability of the membership so far to org­anize to halt these sellouts, the Caucus is turning its attention elsewhere, largely abandoning workers who are still employed and in the union. Recognizing the danger posed to our survival by Reagan’s drive toward nuclear war and by the growth of the fascists around the fringes of U.S. society, the Militant Caucus is beginning to look for shortcuts. Downgrading the fact that the most effective  opposition to the native fascists in the 1930’s and to Roosevelt’s war drive which brought the U.S. into World War II came from within unions led by class-struggle Trotskyist militants centered in the Teamsters in Minneapolis, the Caucus and their co-thinkers in Workers Vanguard are increasingly directing their organizing activity away from the unions and towards the unemployed, particularly in the ghettos.


Rather than openly stating their reorientation and defending it politically, they are trying to camouflage it by extending their cor­rect historic opposition to the union bureaucracy into a blanket con­demnation of the union. For example, they now say that because cer­tain sections of the ILWU leadership are racist that it’s OK to give backhanded support to court suits against the union (the Gibson Case). (Why didn’t Stan say he’s for defending the hiring hall against the government and that instead of longshoreman fighting longshoreman over ever fewer jobs, we should strike together coastwise for 6 for 8, all skill jobs through the hall, manning scales on container ships and full A status to all B men now?) Also, Stan now says that the union is so rotten that he’s just running for Caucus and Convention to expose Herman and the Caucus delegates rather than trying to win sections of the coast delegates over to a fighting program. Similar­ly the Militant Caucus doesn’t want to fight for d South African cargo boycott because they think a limited strike would only serve to re­build Herman’s credentials.


Equally dangerous is the Militant Caucus’ developing posit­ion that anyone is a hopeless case who is at this time pro-Demo­cratic or supports the strategy of pressuring the Democratic Party. That makes it OK to boycott their activities (the anti-Nazi march in Oroville) or even to urge workers not to demonstrate against Reaganism under the present pro-Democratic Party union leadership. Stan’s statement that “it was a bad thing that thousands of workers were out there that day because it strengthened the hands of our enemies” summarizes this developing abstentionist position. In ef­fect Stan and the Militant Caucus have said: accept our leadership’ or we’ll have nothing to do with you. This policy is out and out self-isolating sectarianism.

Until recently the Militant Caucus and.their co-thinkers would have been in Oroville, (as I and other longshoremen were), carrying signs aimed at winning the anti-Nazi demonstrators over to the winning strategy of labor/black/latino defense guards instead of essentially abandoning Oroville’s black community by dismissing their misdirect­ed efforts at self-defense as “an adventure” (remember Taft, Califor­nia, 1975?). Until recently the Caucus would have been in the labor parade with signs calling for a break with the Democrats and for a workers party as they did in last year’s SF Solidarity Day with PATCO labor parade. This year Stan marched with the 50-70,000 other unlonists who deeply resent Reagan’s policies which breed unemployment, cuts in medical care, cuts in care for the aged, etc., but he march­ed with no sign distinguishing him from the pro-Democratic “Vote Labor for Jobs and Justice”; and when I was subjected to an anti-communist exclusion for carrying a sign calling for a workers party and specif­ically for a vote for the Spartacist candidates for SF Supervisor, Stan kept right on marching without a word of protest.



Now on the subject of “redbaiting”. Many union members in both Local 6 and 10 know that Stan and I have long been supporters of the political program of the Spartacist League and its paper the Workers  Vanguard, and know that in the past we were both supported by it. Last year in Militant Longshoreman #2 I referred to “differences… with some Caucus members on issues which did not involve the union or the Caucus program.” These differences did involve the WV and the Spartacist League whose program I support but of whose practices I am increasingly critical.

Much of what Stan writes was, in the past, and is now influenced by the views of the WV. WV reports extensively on Stan’s leaflets. I support their right to report on and attempt to influence the ILWU as I support this right for any tendency in the workers movement. But I don’t support WV when they distort things in a misguided ef­fort to make their organization and its genuinely socialist program look better any more than I support the People’s World (with its reformist program and apologias for the liberal capitalists and their labor lieutenants) when the PW distorts things to make their organi­zation look better.


I urge you to vote for Stan again for Caucus and Convention dele­gate — but watch what he does. Stan and the Militant Caucus have shifted ground but they have by no means broken clearly from class struggle politics. Stan is still running on a supportable class struggle program. To regain his orientation toward fighting for a new leadership to build a fighting union which will work in the in­terests of all workers he’ll have to fight first within the Militant Caucus and with their political co-thinkers in WV to return to their old policies. I hope he does fight and I hope that he succeeds.


1.DEFEND OUR JOBS AND LIVELIHOOD – Reopen the contract if PMA cuts the PGP. For six hours work at eight hours pay; manning scales on all ship operations; one man, one job. Call all SEO men back to the hall. Prepare the union for a coastwise fight to delete 9.43, SEO, and crane supplement sections from the contract.

2.DEFEND THE HIRING HALL – No, surrender of union control over registra­tion.

3.DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS AND SAFETY THROUIGH JOB ACTION – No dependance an arbitrators. Mobilize to smash anti-labor injunctions.

4.DEFEND OUR UNION – No second class B or C registration lists. Full class A status for all B men coastwise. Keep racist anti-labor government and courts out of the union. Support all ILWU locals against court suits and government “investigations”. Union action to break down racial and sexual discrimination on the waterfront.

5.BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY – against government/employer strikebreaking. No more PATCOs. Honor all picket lines. Don’t handle struck or di­verted cargo. No raiding of other unions. Organize the unorganized and the unemployed. Labor strikes to stop cuts in Social Security, MediCal, Medicare.

6.STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union organized labor/black/Latin de­fense actions. No dependance on capitalist police or courts to smash fascists.

7.WORKING CLASS ACTICN TO STUD YONCMS WAR DRIVE AGAINST IM SOVIET UNION – Oppose reactionary boycotts against. Soviet and Polish ship­ping. Labor strikes against military blockades of Cuba or Nicaragua. Boycott military cargo, to Chile, South Africa, El Salvador and Israel.

8.INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY – Oppose protectionist trade restricttons. ILWU support to military victory of leftist insurgents in El Salvador. Defend the Palestinians – U.S. Marines, Israelis, French and Italian troops out of Lebanon.

8. BREAK WITH DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES – Start now to build a workers party based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will seize all major industry without payment to the capitalists and establish a planned economy to end exploitation, racism, poverty and war.

The ‘X’ That Won’t Go Away

The ‘X’ That Won’t Go Away

[First printed in 1917 West #3 December 1992 http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/West/1917%20West%20%233.html

A phenomenon has swept large parts of the United States. There has been a proliferation of people wearing the letter X, the symbol of Malcolm X, on pants, shoes, shirts, caps, etc. Many celebrities, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and even Arsenio Hall have appeared on national television with the X on their baseball caps. Something is definitely going on when Hall, who once shamelessly bragged about having told a friend to “put his Malcolm X tapes away,” now proclaims in an interview with Denzel Washington that people should read the Autobiography of Malcolm X! Many People are wondering if this is just a fad.

While it is true that many people are walking around with the X on their clothing but little of Malcolm’s story or ideas inside their heads, there is evidence that this is more than a fad. Fads generally do not enjoy four or five years of rising popular interest; the increased sales of Malcolm X books and speeches reveal the interest in Malcolm is beyond the visible fashion image. On a recent tour with Attallah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter, Yolanda King, Martin Luther King’s daughter said on national television she was more in agreement with Malcolm X’s philosophy than that of her father.

Why has there been such a resurgence of interest in a man who has been dead for almost twenty-eight years and who was vilified by the bourgeois media during his lifetime? Perhaps the most important reason is the realization by black people that the struggle for liberation in the U.S., which began the slave rebellions of the last century, is not finished. Malcolm, a key figure in the 1960s, made many important statements, observations, and predictions that are still relevant today. For instance his prediction that the mainstream civil rights organizations’ strategy of seeking to integrate black Americans into the existing social order would fail has been powerfully vindicated, and even many of Malcolm’s detractors, like Louis Lomax, have had to concede this.

Although the bourgeois media ignored or slandered Malcolm X during his lifetime, and was much more favorably disposed toward Dr. King because of his preaching of nonviolence and belief in the system, large numbers of black people, for good reason, looked upon Malcolm as an honestly committed man to be respected and revered for his fiery drive for black liberation. Black people know that these qualities are necessary for a successful liberation struggle and, as long as the need to struggle exists, Malcolm X will not fade away.

Great Man

By being sincere and dedicated to the ordinary black people who comprised his audience, Malcolm X built up a trust with his followers that neither the U.S. government nor his detractors were able to take away. He was a brilliant, eloquent and charismatic man who could break down and communicate his ideas on important issues to his audience. He harnessed these abilities and worked to enhance them. For instance, he learned to speed read, which enabled him to expand his knowledge more quickly. His prison transformation from “Detroit Red,” hustler, to Malcolm X, fiery orator, should be an inspiration to all.

With a burning desire, fearless spirit, and tireless energy he played a major role in building the Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (NOI—or “Black Muslims”) from about 5,000 members nationwide to 100,000 between 1954 and 1960. Although the Muslims played no significant role in the political and social struggles against racial oppression that were building during this period, their appeal—as a black-separatist self-help organization—lay not in their apolitical religious cultism but rather in their strident denunciation of the racist reality of American society.

Differences With Elijah Muhammad

For most of his time in the NOI Malcolm was a loyal and uncomplaining follower of Elijah Muhammad. After Malcolm had gained considerable notoriety for the NOI through his columns in Harlem’s Amsterdam News and the Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch, he did not object when these columns were appropriated by Elijah Muhammad. Nor did he complain when Muhammad Speaks, which he had started from his own basement in New York, containing mostly his own copy, was taken from him and placed under the administration of John Ali in Chicago.

As the NOI grew, a layer of members centered in Chicago around Elijah Muhammad’s family developed a vested interest in the considerable real estate holdings and commercial enterprises which had been financed by the contributions of the membership. Although the enterprises were owned by the NOI, which was tax-exempt because of its status as a religious organization, it was common knowledge that most of them benefitted Elijah Muhammad’s immediate family and their business partners. At the time of his death Elijah Muhammad had amassed a fortune of $25 million (Emerge, April 1992). Elijah Muhammad and his inner circle felt threatened by Malcolm X and his attempts to politicize their organization.

There was an uproar in the black community of Los Angeles when the cops shot down several unarmed Muslims, killing one and paralyzing another, on 27 April 1962. Malcolm saw this as the moment to “go out there now and do what I’ve been preaching all this time,” which was to organize the NOI with all black people against this barbaric attack. He also had strong support from local churches, community activists, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in what was to be mass protest action. Elijah Muhammad stopped all the protest campaigns. According to Louis Lomax, “Malcolm began to smart under charges from militant blacks that he and his group were all talk and no action” (To Kill a Black Man). The fact that no legal assistance was provided by the NOI to the four Black Muslims that went to prison as a result of this incident made matters worse.

Louis Lomax pointed out that:

“Malcolm was consistently pressing Elijah Muhammad for permission to become involved in demonstrations. Each time Malcolm received a flat and unequivocal ‘No!’ It finally came to the point that Elijah ordered Malcolm not to raise the matter again. Malcolm obeyed.”

Black Nationalism Makes Strange Bedfellows

There was a perverted logic in the NOI’s self-satisfied desire to maintain the status quo. Malcolm X explained that in December 1960:

“I was in the home of Jeremiah, the [NOI] minister in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m going to tell you the truth. I sat at the table myself with the heads of the Ku Klux Klan, who at that time were trying to negotiate with Elijah Muhammad so that they could make available to him a large area of land in Georgia or I think it was South Carolina. They had some very responsible persons in the government who were involved in it and who were willing to go along with it. They wanted to make this land available to him so that his program of separation would sound more feasible to Negroes and therefore lessen the pressure that the integrationists were putting upon the white man. I sat there I negotiated it. I listened to their offer. And I was the one who went back to Chicago and told Elijah Muhammad what they had offered.”

    —Malcolm X: The Last Speeches

Malcolm X concluded: “From that day onward the Klan never interfered with the Black Muslim movement in the South.”

This was not the first time that black nationalists, who claimed they were acting on behalf of the persecuted black masses, have made common cause with the most deadly enemies of black people. Marcus Garvey created an uproar in his Universal Negro Improvement Association, when he visited the Ku Klux Klan in June of 1922. In 1985 Louis Farrakhan, Elijah Muhammad’s successor, personally invited Tom Metzger, former grand dragon of the California KKK, to a rally in Los Angeles at which Metzger donated $100 as “a gesture of understanding;” and today in South Africa we witness the grotesque alliance between Gatsha Buthelezi’s Inkatha and the fascist Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB).

How can these black nationalist misleaders justify fraternizing with the avowed enemies of black people? If they really believe all white people are devils, or some equivalent, that means there are no significant political differences between whites, at least as regards blacks. The logic of this is that a marriage of convenience with white fascists is no worse than an alliance with any other whites. White racism, which justifies and advocates systematic oppression, should not be equated with black nationalism, which is a response to that oppression. There is nevertheless a strange symmetry between the objectives of black nationalists, who want a separate black “nation” and white supremacists pushing segregation.

The FBI and Malcolm X

As chief spokesperson for the NOI, Malcolm had attracted the attention of the FBI. He and many others were aware of the FBI’s surveillance of him and the NOI, but few people are aware of the extent of that surveillance (over 3,600 pages)! Clayborne Carson has contributed a useful and informative service to the public by gathering and compressing a selection of documents from Malcolm X’s enormous FBI file.

In a report dated January 10, 1955 the FBI interviewed Malcolm X and asked him if he would defend the U.S. in the event of a foreign attack. Malcolm X declined to answer. He also declined to answer whether of not he considered himself a citizen of the U.S. (Malcolm X—The FBI File). In contrast to the belly-crawling, flag-waving official leadership of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X was no flag-waving patriot of U.S. imperialism.

In a July 2, 1958 account the FBI, which recognized Malcolm X’s desire to play a leading role in the black movement, designated him a key figure in the NOI (Ibid, p 149). Later that year it had noticed that older members of the NOI were fearful of Malcolm’s radicalism. They even went so far to claim in a statement dated November 17, 1960 that Malcolm X was forming a nucleus within the NOI to take it over.

Elijah had declared that any NOI member that participated in the 1963 civil rights march on Washington would be suspended for 90 days. Malcolm went further: he denounced the march as the “farce on Washington,” taking King and other liberal civil rights leaders to task for making sure that the march was a tame event, in no way hostile to the Kennedy administration. When Malcolm responded to the assassination of John F. Kennedy by noting that it was a case of “chickens coming home to roost,” Elijah Muhammad suspended him from the NOI.

Exit From the Nation of Islam

During his time in the NOI Malcolm tried to close his eyes to the contradiction between the need to struggle against racist injustice and the passive acceptance of the status quo preached by Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X, to his credit, finally recognized that if he was going to play a leading role in the black liberation struggle it would have to be outside the NOI.

Initially his break with the Muslims was cloudy. At the March 1964 press conference he called to announce his departure from Elijah Muhammad’s organization he said: “I still believe that Mr. Muhammad’s analysis of the [race] problem is the most realistic, and that his solution is the best one.” He did not go into the reasons that compelled him to leave the NOI, and expressed reluctance at having to make the move. In an interview with Les Crane on December 12, 1964 he said that he didn’t think he would “contribute anything constructive to go into what caused the split.” Far from encouraging other members to follow his example, he explicitly stated: “my advice to all Muslims is that they stay in the Nation of Islam under the spiritual guidance of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. It is not my desire to encourage any of them to follow me,” (Malcolm—The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, Bruce Perry).

Such statements could only confuse and disorient people who may have looked to Malcolm X for leadership. The rebellious black urban youth who knew of and respected Malcolm X were not about to join any religious sect. They wanted a fighting organization.

But Malcolm X at this time had not developed an understanding of the importance of a clear revolutionary program to attract and organize the most conscious layers of the black liberation movement. This was clearly revealed in his assertion that:

“I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.”

    —Malcolm X: A Man and His Time

Build a Workers Party!

After leaving the Muslims, Malcolm made a pilgrimage to Mecca and toured various newly independent African states. While he was in Africa he commented that:

“The U.S. Peace Corps members are all espionage agents and have a special assignment to perform. They are spies of the American government, missionaries of colonialism and neo-colonialism.”

    —Malcolm X: The FBI File

It was statements like this, along with his attempts to enlist the support of African heads of state to denounce the U.S. government in the United Nations for its mistreatment of American blacks, that led to the FBI’s push for the use of the Logan Act to put Malcolm X behind bars—again. Unfortunately, while Malcolm was correct in situating the black struggle in the U.S. in an international context, he also displayed a certain amount of disorientation on this issue. His faith in the UN, which at the time was seeing an influx of black African states, was totally unjustified. It should have been obvious that the UN was dominated by world imperialism and could take no decisive action against the interests of the U.S. ruling class. Likewise he overestimated the ability of the petty-bourgeois leaders of the new African states to influence or oppose U.S. policy. Despite their claims to independence and even “socialism,” these regimes were never really able to escape the control of the imperialist powers.

Probably the most significant result of Malcolm’s trip to Mecca was the recognition that he had been mistaken to assume that all whites were necessarily and automatically evil and racist. This discovery opened the door to redefining the struggle against racist oppression and, potentially, connecting it to struggle against the capitalist system which produces it. In the last year of his life Malcolm paid tribute to the great abolitionist fighter, John Brown, and stated his willingness to ally with whites like him.

Malcolm’s attempts to build a new organization after his break with the Muslims led Louis Farrakhan to threaten that, “Such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death.” But it was not just Elijah Muhammad’s followers who wanted Malcolm out of the picture. Once Malcolm was independent of the Muslims and their religious dogma, he was perceived as a much greater potential danger to the status quo.

For all his talents as a thinker and an inspirational orator, Malcolm X left very little in terms of a tangible political legacy. Because he was in political motion at the time of his death, the legacy of Malcolm X has been claimed by everyone from the ex-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party to black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas.

Liberation for black people cannot come about within capitalist society, which needs and breeds racism as a mechanism of exploitation and control. Black capitalism, advocated by the likes of Farrakhan, is no alternative. Religion is a distraction from the struggle for equality. The creation of a society without racism and exploitation requires a force with the social weight to bring it about. No individual, no matter how serious or talented, can act effectively alone. Black nationalism, which can have a certain appeal in times of social reaction, offers no solutions for the oppressed black masses. Blacks in the United States are not a nation, but rather a color caste forcibly segregated at the bottom of this society. Only the working class which, because of its position in capitalist society as the creator of wealth, has both the social weight to overthrow capitalist rule and an objective interest in doing so.

The working class must have its own revolutionary party to accomplish its historic task through linking workers’ struggles to those of other people oppressed by capitalism, including blacks. Such a party must in turn be armed with the correct program, a road map pointing the way forward. As great an individual as V.I. Lenin was, he would not have led the overthrow of capitalism in czarist Russia if he were not part of a mass-based workers party, the Bolshevik Party, with a collective leadership and a program that answered the needs of the masses.

The Bolshevik Tendency, is committed to the task of building such a party, the American section of a reborn Fourth International, the party of world-wide socialist revolution. Our program for black liberation includes calls for a struggle against all manifestations of racism and all racial discrimination; for workers’ defense guards to stop racist violence and to smash the Nazis and Klan; for an end to unemployment through a fight for decent jobs for all; for special worker-run programs to upgrade the positions of women, blacks and other specially oppressed minorities; for open admissions to colleges and universities along with well-funded teacher-student-run programs to guarantee an education to everyone who wants one. As revolutionary socialists we call for a complete break with the Democratic and Republican Parties, the twin parties of capitalism; the expropriation without compensation of basic industry under workers control, and the establishment of a workers state with a democratically planned economy.

We urge all workers, blacks, women, youth and other oppressed peoples inspired by Malcolm X’s heroic fight for black liberation to consider seriously the political program and ideas put forward by the Bolshevik Tendency. Capitalism is in an international depression, and the U.S. economy, which is in a fairly advanced state of decay, is being hit particularly hard. The election of Bill Clinton, the governor of a “right-to-work” state, who interrupted his campaign for the Democratic nomination to preside over the execution of a brain-damaged black man, will not improve the lot of ordinary people in this country, regardless of color. Capitalism has long outlived its usefulness and can only offer oppression, environmental deterioration, racism, sexism, poverty, hunger and, eventually, world war. We are in complete solidarity with Karl Marx who said at the end of the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!”

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Brandon Gray’s Resignation Letter from the International Bolshevik Tendency

Brandon Gray’s Resignation Letter from the International Bolshevik Tendency

For the interest of our readers we are posting Brandon Gray’s 7/17/10 resignation from the International BolshevikTendency (7/17/10). Copied from


While we do not agree with all the arguments made here, it presents a truthful picture of the current state of the IBT. We will be posting a more in depth commentary on it. Please check back soon.


I hereby resign from the International Bolshevik Tendency. I have considered this action carefully and have concluded that it is no longer possible for me to remain under the discipline of the organization.

Our organization was guilty of abstentionism towards the solidarity demonstrations occurring throughout the city following the G20 Summit. This came on the heels of our cowardly performance on Saturday 6/26/10 at which we failed to distinguish ourselves from the trade union bureaucrats by passively standing by as they worked with the police to isolate the more militant activists committed to confronting the security fence. Contrary to the leadership’s hyper-cautious approach, it was an acceptable risk to participate in the solidarity demonstrations and at past protests we did not automatically flee when police started using repression against protesters. Nearly all the Left groups and trade union bureaucrats marched around mindlessly in a circle and then went running to their homes Saturday afternoon when the police attacked our basic bourgeois democratic rights. As a result the best and brightest youth suffered with little to no tactical or political support and were needlessly isolated. A smart and full engagement by our organization could have created real opportunities for us in the future to win over activists and youth to the banner of socialist revolution. Instead, by abstaining, we damaged our reputation in the eyes of the very people we need to win over to build a revolutionary party.

Contrary to the contentions of other comrades, there was never supposed to be a police line at Queen Street and when the TU march reached the intersection at Spadina Avenue. Comrades later noted that they saw individuals trying to pass by the line, as well as a commotion and several people screaming to not return to Queen’s Park, but instead to remain at the line. Despite being near the head of the march, under Tom Riley’s tactical leadership we failed to utter so much as a peep of protest against the TU bureaucrats’ immediate retreat. We were in a valuable strategic position that may have allowed us to agitate amongst the crowd, and encourage people to stay at the intersection and tie up the bulk of the riot police while the full 25,000 people streamed by us. Our contingent would not have been exposed as we filtered out the good from the bad and established a contingent at the police line that could have pushed the line or joined the breakaway protest as we did in Quebec City in 2001. In our local meeting before the protests it was acknowledged that we would be facing such a decision and were supposed to prepare for it. We did nothing but obediently follow the TU bureaucrats and as a result the breakaway march went it alone and was more vulnerable to identification and arrest upon reaching Queen’s Park where many, including us, had already dispersed.

Our chant “2, 4, 6, 8, We don’t want a police state” was taken up by many protesters, the bourgeois press reported this, and in protests later that week it had made it onto the chant sheets that were distributed to all protesters by liberal organizers. This, along with the general notion that many wanted to march south of Queen Street, indicates that it was not unreasonable to argue we may have influenced many to form a sizable contingent capable of playing a role in the more militant demonstrations, and assisted our comrades elsewhere.

In response to Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti’s pro-police letter condemning ‘vandals’ who left their march, about 250 officials, stewards, retirees, and rank and file activists published their own letter condemning Georgetti. They stated that after, “the ‘Peoples First’ march, many of us remained on the streets throughout the weekend contesting the unprecedented militarization of our city and the G20 neoliberal agenda.” Sadly, in this particular instance, the IBT is not in this camp, but rather, that of Georgetti. They note that, “thousands mobilized in front of police headquarters on June 28th in solidarity with the hundreds of activists still being detained and our unions and union flags were absent.” Of course, as our comrades well know, our placards were also absent. Even the overtly opportunist Socialist Action (Usec) displayed their banner. The union members’ retaliatory letter ends with a concluding statement that the IBT comrades should take to heart, “we will not and cannot win the struggle we face against the violent onslaught of neoliberalism by abandoning our allies and our communities in the wake of a massive crackdown on dissent.” That is exactly what Georgetti and the IBT have done and the refusal to acknowledge this error speaks volumes about our organization.

Several groups ranging from Anarchist to Maoist to the liberal NOII had publicly called for all to breakaway from the TU march and confront the fence which our IEC were well aware of. After testing the line in several places as we marched west on Queen Street and upon the bulk of the TU march reaching the intersection, the breakaway demonstration doubled back down Queen Street where there were less riot police and cut a path close to the fence before circling back to Queens Park. We contributed to their isolation by not doing our job of exposing TU bureaucrat betrayal and the riot police were able to close in on them as they reached the park. At the time I was severely disappointed as we marched up Spadina Avenue away from the best militants, but followed my leaders due to misplaced confidence in their experience and skill, despite their approach being, as our most senior comrade, HK, later described, as “conservative to the extreme.” However, I no longer will be making that mistake again. The continued abstention throughout the following week further deepened my dismay.

On my own personal initiative I and other activists spent Tuesday 6/29/10 supplying political prisoners with food and drink as they were released on bail. None of the Toronto left groups were there. Later the next day I learned via email that our main international leader Tom Riley spent that evening playing baseball with conservative gentlemen that were quite upset about how the police brutally trounced on civil rights, wanted to talk politics and had been phoning politicians. While this was taken as a reminder that “almost anything is possible”, it still did not dawn on him to leave the baseball game and join me to help those continuing to suffer under such repression. While comrades are entitled to their personal time, this sort of charge has been used against others inside and outside the group and therefore Riley should be held to his own standards.

Our characterization of the breakaway protesters was aimed at discrediting them by writing them off as powerless youth looking for a quick solution and undertaking isolated, individualist acts of brainless symbolic violence. I think this is satisfying to our leadership because it excuses their own abstention. I think our group is all too content with sitting at home regurgitating “For Grynszpan” for its seemingly Trotskyist orthodoxy regardless of whether it has any bearing on the tactics used. These protesters hurt nobody while Grynszpan shot a man dead. Equating the breakaway protest with ‘left-wing-terrorism’ by any stretch was dangerous, stupid and should have never happened. While this kind of direct action protest is insufficient to “pave the way” to revolution on its own, it does work to a limited extent in popularizing a subjectively revolutionary perspective for many young people. I do not think that any of the breakaway protesters thought that smashing some bank windows and torching cop cars was going to create an overthrow of capitalism nor was it done because it was emotionally satisfying. Rather, I think that those youth did what they felt was necessary at the time, however poorly conceived, despite being terrified throughout the ordeal. Our leadership’s failure to recognize this is endemic of a larger problem.

At every step of the way the immediate impulse by leading members of the group was to write off any potential gains that would be had by intervening vigorously in the Toronto G20 demonstrations and merely retreat to the safety of home.

Our silent and quick retreat Saturday and subsequent abstention is in stark contrast with our performance at the April 2001 FTAA summit in Quebec City during which we fully engaged with the breakaway protest that confronted the fence and stood shoulder to shoulder with those young militants as an incredible barrage of gas was fired on the crowd. At the time we denounced the Trade Union tops and media who “by playing up distinctions between the ‘violent’ protesters at the fence and the far more numerous ‘peaceful’ ones in the official march, the media sought to marginalize the young radicals who stood up to the cops.” [1] This time we found ourselves dutifully following the bureaucrats and internally scorning the breakaways as childish adventurists bent on mindless violence. One must therefore begin to draw the conclusion that our group has suffered significant degeneration during the decade or so since.

When I raised these serious criticisms, all but our comrade in Ireland immediately and mindlessly lined up behind our leadership before even addressing my points. A variety of personal slanders was used to discredit my opinion and I was shocked at how the overwhelming majority of our group could only view dissent as anger and hostility toward our dear leader Tom Riley. Any attempt to sympathize with my perspective was hedged in the conception that I was childishly fetishizing arrest and confrontation with the police despite making it clear that I was doing no such thing. Such unhealthy internal life confirmed my worst suspicions about our organization.

I formally joined the IBT in the spring of 2009 after being a sympathizer working with the group for two years in Toronto. The high level of programmatic education earned my confidence and respect despite the small size of the group relative to others. However, when the resignation of Sam Trachtenberg [2] in New York came to light I took some time to investigate his case and delayed applying for full-time membership. The political criticisms raised by Sam. were never explained to me. Instead, damning personal attacks were made against his credibility. Personal health issues were ruthlessly exploited and distorted in order to discredit him and avoid articulating any of his criticisms. Unable to recognize these attacks for what they were, I submitted my application and after being accepted, I brought up the fact that I had taken a good look at Sam’s case before finalizing my decision to join. I was told he was paranoid and delusional, and that it was a good thing he left so the leadership didn’t have to work even harder to push him out. I regret that I did not contact Sam, at the time to get his side of the split but in my defense, my personal ties to the younger comrades in the TBT local influenced me to leave the issue in the past though I kept my suspicions in the back of my mind for a day when more information would come to light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is an obvious pattern of degeneration present in the tradition of Jim Robertson’s brand of Trotskyism that we stand in. After abortion rights in Pennsylvania were restricted by Governor George Casey amidst the presidential elections of 1992, New York’s Village Voice newspaper gave Casey a platform to explain how a liberal can be anti-abortion. About one hundred angry protesters, including the now defunct New York Bolshevik Tendency, confronted Casey in order to disrupt his reactionary diatribe and draw attention to the legal lynching of political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal who continues to sit on death row in Pennsylvania. The IBT wrote the Spartacist League a letter criticizing them for sending a sales team to sell at the door for half an hour before leaving, without ever entering the building. The protest successfully called attention to Mumia’s case and stole the spotlight from Casey. Our letter asked the SL “how could you have passed up such a perfect opportunity to demonstrate in action the politics you profess on paper?” to which we provided our own explanation:

“We have noted in the past that the SL’s autocratic internal regime has created organization ‘permeated with servility at one pole and authoritarianism at the other,’ (as Harry Turner characterized Gerry Healy’s organization in 1966). Such organizations produce people accustomed to operating according to a script, in situations where all the variables can be controlled. When they venture into the big world, where events can sometimes take an unexpected turn, the limitations of such training are thrown in sharp relief. Did you shun the protest against Casey for fear of participating in an action you could not fully control? Or perhaps because the presence of other left groups would have prevented the Spartacist League from claiming exclusive credit? And does Workers Vanguardignore the events of October 2 out of embarrassment over this shameful abstentionism? [4]

Considering this in light of our performance during the Toronto G20 protests, one has to wonder how we can also find ourselves at the end of such charges.

During the CUNY student protests of 1995-7 [5], another symptom of organizational degeneration was demonstrated by the Spartacist League in a tactical betrayal of working-class youths on 23 March 1995. Roughly 15,000 students of all ages, including our NYC branch, demonstrated in front of City Hall and suffered mass arrests and high volume pepper spray to prevent them from then marching to Wall Street. As the confrontation rapidly heightened and the predominantly black and working class students began staging a mass sit in inside City Hall Park, the Spartacist League’s sales team quickly packed up their lit table and fled. This cowardly flinch was widely noted and commented on amongst CUNY’s student activists, ruining the SL’s reputation for years to come.

The “staid Marxists” of the Spartacist League forced us to address their “Politics of Chicken” yet another time [6] when they abstained from the 1984 anti-Moral Majority protests in the Bay Area;

“We will explain that, fearful of state repression, you were too cowardly to join the thousand or more anti-Falwell protesters; that we are the ones who put forward the Trotskyist program to those who had assembled to oppose this sinister rise of the reactionary “Moral Majority.”

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

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

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

-Brandon Gray

[1] FTAA Demonstration in Quebec: For Socialist Globalization!; 1917 No. 24, 2002


[2] The Road Out of Rileyville; 9/25/08

[3] Resignation from the Spartacist League

[4] A Letter WV Didn’t Print; by Jim Cullen 11/02/92


[5] IBT CUNY Documents 1995-1997

[6] ET Protests Moral Majority—SL Abstains: A Case of Mistaken Identity, ET Bulletin #4, May 1985


Black Family Firebombed in Chicago

Black Family Firebombed in Chicago

UAW Local Sets Up Labor/Black Defense Guard

[Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 67, 25 April 1975]

CHICAGO, April 18 — C. B. Dennis, black UAW union member, has been trying to move into the white neighborhood of Broadview. His house was firebombed and stoned repeatedly. But tonight, like every night for the past week, the Dennis family home is being protected by an integrated defense guard of his union brothers. Local 6 of the United Auto Workers, International Harvester, voted unanimously at the membership meeting Sunday to set up the defense guard.

At a time when there is a dramatic increase in racist terror against blacks all across the country, the UAW local’s action is a powerful example of what can be done to stop the night riders. And it is the best possible answer to those who preach reliance on the bourgeois cops by hiding behind the despairing lament, “workers won’t defend blacks against racist attacks — there’s no solution except to call on the troops”!

The attacks, which have caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the house and prevented the family from moving in, are part of a pattern of terror against blacks in white areas here, where right-wingers have been trying to stir up race hatred. In another neighborhood on the Southwest Side, four black families have been forced to live under a virtual state of siege, with the National Socialist White People’s Party (Nazis) all but taking direct credit for the firebombings (see article in this issue).

The first volunteers from Local 6, including Local president Norman Roth, were at posts outside the damaged house within hours of the union meeting. C. B. Dennis, who is a repairman at the Melrose Park IH plant and has been working there for 15 years, was interviewed at the house by Workers Vanguard. He said he had been unable to get adequate police protection.

“They said they would come by 20 minutes out of the hour. But that’s no protection at all,” Dennis told WV, observing that patrols had been by only once in two hours that night. “This is the best thing we could do,” he said, referring to the volunteer guards, “I was really proud of the union today. I think it’s a good thing.” An older black worker who was listening agreed, saying he could recall no similar action by the Local in its history. He likened it to the defense activities of the anti-eviction campaigns in which he had participated in the 1930’s.

The UAW Local’s defense action received considerable attention in Chicago. Articles appeared in both daily papers on Monday, and Dennis and Local 6 officers were interviewed on two television stations Monday evening. At least three radio reports were also made.

On the second night, the union guards were heckled by passers-by in the area, and a neighbor two doors down shouted at them to “get the hell out” of there. Another white resident, however, had earlier come over to talk to Dennis for 20 minutes, expressing sympathy and pointing out that some of the rocks had hit his house as well.

It is clear that the racial polarization runs deep but the entire neighborhood has not been terrorized. Local 6 defense volunteers speak in terms of the need to prevent another Boston-type racist mobilization in Chicago. There have been no new attacks as the teams of union volunteers have been guarding the house daily. Members vow the guards will remain “as long as necessary” to ensure that the family is safely moved into the house.

The attacks on black families have mounted during an organizing offensive by fascist and racist groupings in Chicago. Besides the attacks on four black families on the Southwest Side, there were earlier attacks on other families in Broadview. The Nazi Party ran candidates for alderman in five wards in the last elections, and the Ku Klux Klan has also been actively organizing lately.

These scum thrive on the despair generated by heavy inflation and unemployment in the working class, and their efforts to divide the workers along race lines can only benefit the employers. Resolute action such as that undertaken by Local 6 could, if followed through and adopted by the rest of the labor movement, prevent future attacks and quickly lay the tiny but deadly dangerous fascist movement in the grave where it belongs.

The third attack on the Dennis house, which occurred two days prior to the union meeting, particularly incensed many members of the Local. The motion to set up the volunteer union defense guards was made by a member of the Labor Struggle Caucus, which had distributed a newsletter in the plant before the meeting calling for a militant response to the wave of racist terror. The Labor Struggle Caucus is a grouping in Local 6 with a class-struggle program which has recently been active in successful struggles against a company leafleting ban in the plant and against a move to extend terms for local union officers to three years. Its resolution at the Sunday meeting supported the “struggle for integration of blacks in housing, education, and jobs,” as “vital interests of the entire working class,” and denounced reliance on the police, who “serve the employers and cannot be depended upon to defend the rights of blacks or of the trade unions.” The motion also called for defense activities to be extended to the black families on the Southwest Side, as well as Broadview.

Following the meeting, the Local issued a special number of its newsletter. Although this was reportedly not very well distributed, a special meeting held Tuesday night for volunteers was attended by 25 members from all political groupings in the Local, as well as by a television crew, which filmed the entire proceedings. President Roth chaired and took a lot of criticism for the inefficient distribution of the special Local newsletter which, it was said, kept the meeting from being larger.

He also relented under pressure on his earlier objection to the formation of a special committee to organize the defense guards. A steering committee was then set up under the chairmanship of the by-laws committee chairman. It includes two members of the Labor Struggle Caucus, a member of the syndicalist Workers Voice group, and other Local members. Members of the steering committee immediately began signing up volunteers in the plant.

Support for the defense activity was forthcoming, at least verbally, from the UAW officialdom in the area, including regional director Robert Johnston. The special Local newsletter asserted, “These efforts are in accord with our UAW principles and policies.”

On the other hand, the UAW officials seemed primarily concerned to get government officials to intervene, thereby relieving the union of its responsibility. At the Dennis house on Sunday night, Roth told WV of his intention “to exert every political pressure possible to try to get the authorities to do something.” He further claimed that “In some instances, the police have given some protection.”

Roth, who is a prominent supporter of Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy, the trade-union group backed by the reformist Communist Party, not surprisingly places confidence in the bosses’ state. Yet neither courts, cops, troops nor National Guard will protect blacks against racist victimization. This can be clearly seen in the Boston situation, where the courts are conciliating the racists and have taken a giant step backward on the busing plan.

In Boston there have been two sharply counterposed lines on how to defend the endangered blacks from racist attack. On the one hand there are the liberals, joined by the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party, who have called for federal troops. Against this dead-end reliance on the armed forces of the capitalist state, the Spartacist League has called for integrated working class defense. Both in Chicago and Boston or elsewhere, labor/black defense guards could quickly eliminate racist terrorists, neutralize wavering elements in the white population and eventually defuse racist mobilizations.

The Local 6 action could be the start of a general initiation of militant, class-struggle response to racist terror in the Chicago area, but only if the whole Local, leadership included, works to undertake it seriously and spread the idea to other locals. If the Local 6 leadership instead spreads illusions in the state, the way will be left open for a worsening racial polarization. The guard must not be ended prematurely, on the advice or promise of the cops or city officials that defense will be provided by the state.

The recent action of the Local 6 members stands as an inspiring example for all trade unionists and black militants: black and white workers can unite and organize to fend off racist terror. It will take an all-sided fight for class struggle policies and leadership throughout the labor movement to turn this example into the rule. But an important beginning has been made.

Seize the Opportunity! Revolutionary Regroupment

Seize the Opportunity!

Revolutionary Regroupment

[First printed in Spartacist # 14, November-December 1969]

The pressing need in this country for a united Leninist vanguard could never be more heavily underscored than at the present moment. In the past two years, it is clear, the major direction of social motion has been toward the right, with political and ethnic-racial polarization increasing. The country is perhaps more sharply divided now than at any tIme since the  early years of Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Flag-waving patrIotism with its blatant racist overtones is back in style; the Nixon administration has reassembled the Bourbon Dixiecrat/reactionary Republican alliance; “law and order” is the catchword; and the Black Panther Party faces a government attempt at root-and:branch destruction. All sections of society are deeply split over Viet Nam policy, giving rise to the seeming abberation of the anti-war bourgeoisie’s Viet Nam Moratorium. In the midst of thIs deepening polarization the the working class, rebellious and in motion, is turning to reactionary demagogues lIke Wallace for lack of a revolutionary alternative.

In general, the U.S. left-wing movement, pragmatic and opportunist, has moved to the right in keeplng with the general drift. However, in reflexIve reactIon to the prevaling mood, an impulse to the left has found expression within most. of the organized radical groups. Much recent evident fracturing has resulted from leftward-moving internal forces clashing with stand-pat or opportunist groupings with-In their organizations. The Spartacist tendency itself crystallized in opposition to the Socialist Workers Party’s capitUlation to Castroism, Black Nationalism and middle-class politics which marked its transformation from revolutionary Trotskyism to revisionism. In fact right/left tensions have recently appeared even in the remains of such fossilized reformist groups as the Socialist Party and Communist Party and even the Socialist Labor Party has had two recent substantial breakaways.

But perhaps the clearest expression of social motion refracted into left-wing politics is the SDS split in Chicago. The split took place over perhaps the two most fundamental issues facing revolutionaries today -the Black question and an orientation toward the workmg class. The result was a right/left split which has driven home to thousands of would-be revolutionaries the imperative necessity of political struggle and clarification. The winner in the SDS dispute was the Boston SDS, whose non-exclusionism embodied a recognition of this basic principle of political conduct. However, the behavior of the right wing-already split into violently hostile rival factions, the “RevolutIonary Youth Movement” and the “Weathermen” has undoubtedly served to disorient and demoralize many young radicals and drive them out of political activity.

Groupings like the Boston SDS and its Worker-Student Alliance caucus, and left tendencies in other organizations, are open to revolutionary politics. But, simple gut-level “leftism” and a crude working-class perspective only pose the question. Both major factIons in SDS have attempted to go beyond mindless activism toward a Marxist programmatic solutIon, yet large sectIons of them appear unable to reach beyond an arnazed rediscovery of the arch betrayers of the communist movement, Stalin and his various epigones! Nor was this abysmal nonsense separated out by an otherwIse clarifying, if unfortunate, split: the class-conscious WSA is led by the ProgressIve Labor Party, whose ambIvalence toward its most recent impulse toward a proletarian revolutionary line- places it in the excruciating. contradiction of maintaining Mao and Stalin as official heroes while often surreptitiously (and opportunistically) sweeping into the dustbin the grosser revisionist practices most characteristic of these self-same idols! (e.g., the bloc of four classes, the theory of the two-stage revolution, peasant-oriented “Third Worldism,” the popular front, violence. against left critics). An oscillation between a proletarian impulse and the tired old politics of Stalinism is the inevitable result of seeking a revolutionary practice in the anti-revolutionary dogma of Maoism. In fact, in the idiocies of Rudd’s Weathermen or Avakian’s Revolutionary Union, PL can see the journey to the Maoist shrine down the same path PL once unambiguously walked, and only marvel that these new Red Guards are more orthodox than they!

But PL is by no means the only organization with contradictions in its make-up. A group like the “third camp” International Socialists, like its sometime ally the Labor Committee of L. Marcus, can draw in young radicals on the basis of a revolutionary facade, although in essential thrust both groups might be best described as the extreme left wing of social democracy.

Left-Communist Regroupment

It would be sectarian and blatantly anti-Leninist to passively accept a situation which allows would-be Marxists to persist in following a program which falls qualitatively short of a revolutionary line. To reverse this process, we call for political and theoretical polarization of the ostensibly revolutionary groupings, leading ultimately to a left-communist regroupment of all organizations, factions, tendencies and individuals who stand on an anti-revisionist Marxist program, toward the formation of a Leninist vanguard party. The objective preconditions for such a process are, we believe, abundantly fulfilled; however, the subjective desire to transcend the existing organizational lineups is manifestly lacking on the part of many of those who should seek such a regroupment. And the opportunity is transitory.

What “Regroupment” Means

It should not be thought that a call for regroupment means a cessation of political and theoretical struggle; on the contrary, only a conscious strategy of increased polarization separating the future cadre of the Marxist movement from the opportunists and garbage will make any future unity feasible. By analogy, we might say that perhaps the most deserving victim of the SDS split was the postulate-an ideological cornerstone of the New Left-that fundamental political divisions of an earlier era and other movements could be casually relegated to the scrap heap.

For ignoring history carries no guarantee history will reciprocate in like manner! After the Communist Party of France sold out the revolutionary upheaval of May 1968, many of the outlawed groups to the left of the CP felt the need for unity to counterpose a mass working-class party to the Stalinists. At this juncture a great opportunity was derailed, as the Lutte Ouvriere tendency compromised themselves fatally. Rather than proposing unity on the basis of a proletarian Marxist program (that is, the Leninist method of splits and fusions) they retreated to a search for the lowest common denominator, gratuitously abandoning their political positions in favor of the hoped for programless collective. Rather than unity this brought chaos and a swelling of the ranks of the revisionists within the Trotskyist movement; in the bargain LO actually placed themselves to the right of the revisionists.

Mutual Amnesty

Such a “unity” is of course no unity at all, but merely an ultimately defective strategy for an unprincipled coalition for the purpose of dodging political issues, a mutual amnesty from the testing in practice of competing theories and programs. Speaking of his own struggle within the Russian movement between his own faction and a grouping of “pro-party Mensheviks,” Lenin stated that the task facing his group was to organize militants around “a definite party line.” “Unity,” he said further, “is inseparable from its ideological foundation.” The political differences which had formerly existed between Lenin and the “pro-party Mensheviks” were resolved in the course of extended common work and theoretical struggle, as he had anticipated. And while Plekhanov and a few other unreconstructed leaders of this Menshevik grouping soon broke with the Leninists, the bulk of its rank and file came over squarely to the revolutionaries. It was precisely this fusion in 1912 which hardened the political separation and forged the revolutionary faction into the Bolshevik party. This fusion was not different in kind from the infinitely more famous entry of Trotsky’s Mezhrayontsi (InterDistrict group) into Lenin’s party in the summer of 1917, which set the stage for the successful October Revolution which followed it.

United Front Tactic

In the past few months the left has found itself bombarded with calls for “united actions,” for a lessening of “factionalism” and, so far as SDS is concerned, an end to the pitched battles between competing tendencies. It is ironic but no doubt typical that such calls for an increase in political consqiousness have emanated from exactly those people who have done their damnedest over the years to ridicule and destroy that consciousness whose lack they now bemoan (as, for example, the Guardian, whose shameless “reportage of the SDS split continued their whitewash of earlier efforts by the old SDS leadership to purge PL from their organization).

“Unity of action” among left orgaizations-when there is a real basis of political agreement on the specific issue-is essential to the crystaIlizatiod of a revolutionary vanguard. United fronts as formulated by Lenin and Trotsky had as their main goal the regroupment of both the cadre and the rank and file of non-communist workers’ organizations into the communist party, by demonstrating in action that only the communists were willing to carry the struggles through to the end. The slogan of the united front was “march separately, strike together” meaning that these groups cooperate against the common enemy, but were not politically subordinated either to each other or to a common organization.

The class line is decisive here. Revisionists try to subordinate the working class to the liberal bourgeoisie or other sectors of the ruling class by means of popular fronts. Thus the CP, under the slogan of an “anti-monopoly coaIition, has fought the emergence of a labor party by supporting liberal Democrats against “reactionaries”; the Black Panther Party, panicked and disoriented by fierce government repression and lacking the bulwark of ideological clarity, calls for a “united front against fascism,” a cover for capitulation to the CP in order to seek as allies the “respectable” liberals-that force which willingly abets and apologizes for their persecution!; the SWP ferociously opposes the introduction of anti-imperialst, pro-socialist politics into their seemgly endless aggregate of classless “peace” actions while throwing open the door to politicians like McCarthy and Lindsay. The purpose of all such popuar fronts is to blur political issues. A revolutionary regroupment must forthrIghtly stand on a decisive repudiation of these and like betrayals.

Political Basis

As our contribution to furthering a process of principled regroupment of revolutionaries, we raise the following political points as the basis of such a reegroupment:

1. For Democratic Rights Within the Workers’ Movement!

The task of the left is to fight for working-class consciousness. Consistent with thIs aim must be the repudiation of gangsterism, which substitutes physical for political confrontation. Exclusionism (and the “cult of violence” so typical of the frenzied petty-bourgeoisie) exposes its practitioners as afraid that their politics will not stand the test of open poItlcal debate and competition in action.

Concommitantly, the left must repudiate the method of oversimplification and slander against ideological opponents. To attack those with different programs as subjectively “racist,” ‘counter-revolutionaries” “police agents” “proto-fascists” etc. is to obscure the issues and play into the hands of the anti-communists _ e.g., social democrats, pro-capitalist liberals etc.- whose pet attack against the ostensIble revolutionaries has always been that the pro-Leninist left is “as bad as the right wing,” “only the reverse side of the coin,” etc. This is not to downgrade the necessity to struggle against wrong politics, which certainly serve objectively to disorient and weaken the revolutionary cause. But it is a far cry from this to the allegation -always so appealing to those whose political educatlon has been in the Stalinist movement -that opponent organizations and indivlduals are subjectively trying to do the work of the enemy. Likewise, regardless of political disagreement, all honest militants must mobilize for the defense of other left-wing tendencies against reactionary terrorism or bourgeois repression.

Revolutionaries must fight the imposition of organizational separations where political differences no longer hold sway. All organizations claiming adherence to revolutionary principles must declare their willingness to participate in and actively initiate united actions where political agreement exists, and must refuse to permIt necessary political polemic and criticism to be construed as a bar to principled united fronts.

2. For a ‘Working-Class Orientation!

The basis of a revolutionary perspective must be the reaffirmation of Lenin and Trotsky’s understanding ofproletarian revolution as the only feasible model. Would-be revolutionaries must forthrightly reject the GuevarIst-type “peasant guerrilla road to socialism” and the petty-bourgeois nationalism of bureaucratic Stalinist leaderships.

The central tactic in fighting for communist hegemony in the working class must be an orientation toward buildingfractions within the trade union movement, rather than toward the doomed sterile approach of abstract propagandism from the outside propounded by the SLP, Marcus’ Labor Committee and others. The concept of transitional demands- i.e., demands whIch lead to revolutionary consciousness and are realizable only through struggle- is vital here in avoiding the otherwIse inevitable frantic oscillation between minimal economist tail-ending of the labor bureaucracy and face-saving ultra-revolutionary rhetoric. RevolutIonarIes must fight, against the intervention of the capitalist state in the trade unions, both directly (as an “ImpartIal” arbIter of disputes between the corrupt labor bureaucrats and the rank and file) and indirectly through the class collaborationist of the bureaucrats. The reliance of the workers, on supposedly “prolabor” capitalist politiclans must be broken by fighting. for independent working-class politIcal actIon.

3. Defeat Black Nationalism by Class Struggle Politics!

Several. groupings on the left found themselves in substantIal agreement in condemning the recent pro-CP turn of the Black Panthers. In general these groups have also come – unwillingly and after a hIstory of opportunism on the questIon- to a realization of the necessity to break with the dead end Black Nationalism of the sort slavishly tail-ended by RYM and the SWP. The petty-bourgeoIs separatIst, anti-class approach of these demagogues has assisted in compoundmg the racism of the white working dass and drIving natural class allies further from each other. Likewise the classless demand of “community control does not remain classless in a class society and can be infused with simple reactionary content as well as gutless Populism.

Yet aspiring revolutlonarIes must utilize in the struggle against Black Nationalist illusions the recognition of Lenin’s dictum that the chauvinism of the oppressed is not IdentIcal to the chauvinism of the oppressor. Revolutionaries must transcend any impulse toward colorblind, oversImplIfied “workerism” in favor of a sensitivity to the pervasive special oppression of black workers.

4. For a Class Line on the War!

In the past virtually every orgamzatlon has climbed on the bandwagon of opportunist, middle-class anti-war politics, although none has exceeded the shameless machinations of the ex-Trotskyist SWP. Similarly, the left let itself be intimidated by the overwhelming mood of moralistic, anti-draft “resistance” confrontationism, refusing to raise the alternative of anti-war struggle in the army among working-class draftees until the creation willy-nilly of massive anti-war sentiment among G.I.s themselves forced the issue.

Those who are sincere in their anticapitalist intentions must break from their past mistakes as they would have the working class break from its misleaders. They must learn from the spectacle of avowed revolutionaries demanding a classless “peace” and catering to the social chauvinism of “Bring Our Boys Home Now” the necessity for a policy of revolutionary defeatism toward imperialism and a strategy’ of linking the so-called “war madness” to an understanding of the capitalist system with a program of workingclass- oriented anti-war demands, to break anti-war militants from middle class liberalism to proletarian intransigence.

5. For Internatioinalism!

Those who recognize the nature of capitalism as an international system must give more than’ lip service to the need for an international revolutionary movement to fight it. They must condemn the pragmatic know-nothing anti-internationalism of such groups as the Labor Committee, and also the slavish worship of what is which leads the RYM-Weatherman mob to betray those they profess to “serve” by issuing blank checks to the Stalinist mis-leaders of the “Third World.” They must carry further their condemnation of revisionism and recognize it as the inevitable result of a belief in “Socialism in One Country,” as the national bureaucracies desperately bargain away other revolutions in exchange for temporary curtailment of imperialism’s appetites toward the gains of their own. The urgent need for communist unity against imperialism presupposes political revolution in the deformed workers states to replace Stalinist nationalism with the revolutionary will of the international working class.

6. For a Vanguard Party!

The theoretical and organizational continuity of ‘the revolutionary movement cannot be preserved except through a Leninist vanguard. Without an internationalist vanguard party the spontaneous revolutionary aspirations of the working masses cannot effect the overthrow of capitalism. Class-conscious revolutionaries agreed on the essentials of principle and program must agree to join together in a democratic and’ centralist collective of those united in struggle on the basis of the above points.

Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay

Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay

by Leon Trotsky (1940)

[First Published in English: Fourth International [New York], Vol.2 No.2, February 1941, pp.40-43. Copied from http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/tu.htm ]

(The manuscript of the following article was found in Trotsky’s desk. Obviously, it was by no means a completed article, but rather the rough notes for an article on the subject indicated by his title. He had been writing them shortly before his death. – The Editors of FI)

There is one common feature in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, of modern trade union organizations in the entire world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power. This process is equally characteristic of the neutral, the Social-Democratic, the Communist and “anarchist” trade unions. This fact alone shows that the tendency towards “growing together” is intrinsic not in this or that doctrine as such but derives from social conditions common for all unions.

Monopoly capitalism does not rest on competition and free private initiative but on centralized command. The capitalist cliques at the head of mighty trusts, syndicates, banking consortiums, etcetera, view economic life from the very same heights as does state power; and they require at every step the collaboration of the latter. In their turn the trade unions in the most important branches of industry find themselves deprived of the possibility of profiting by the competition between the different enterprises. They have to confront a centralized capitalist adversary, intimately bound up with state power. Hence flows the need of the trade unions – insofar as they remain on reformist positions, ie., on positions of adapting themselves to private property – to adapt themselves to the capitalist state and to contend for its cooperation. In the eyes of the bureaucracy of the trade union movement the chief task lies in “freeing” the state from the embrace of capitalism, in weakening its dependence on trusts, in pulling it over to their side. This position is in complete harmony with the social position of the labor aristocracy and the labor bureaucracy, who fight for a crumb in the share of superprofits of imperialist capitalism. The labor bureaucrats do their level best in words and deeds to demonstrate to the “democratic” state how reliable and indispensable they are in peace-time and especially in time of war. By transforming the trade unions into organs of the state, fascism invents nothing new; it merely draws to their ultimate conclusion the tendencies inherent in imperialism.

Colonial and semi-colonial countries are under the sway not of native capitalism but of foreign imperialism. However, this does not weaken but on the contrary, strengthens the need of direct, daily, practical ties between the magnates of capitalism and the governments which are in essence subject to them – the governments of colonial or semi-colonial countries. Inasmuch as imperialist capitalism creates both in colonies and semi-colonies a stratum of labor aristocracy and bureaucracy, the latter requires the support of colonial and semicolonial governments, as protectors, patrons and, sometimes, as arbitrators. This constitutes the most important social basis for the Bonapartist and semi-Bonapartist character of governments in the colonies and in backward countries generally. This likewise constitutes the basis for the dependence of reformist unions upon the state.

In Mexico the trade unions have been transformed by law into semi-state institutions and have, in the nature of things, assumed a semi-totalitarian character. The stateization of the trade unions was, according to the conception of the legislators, introduced in the interests of the workers in order to assure them an influence upon the governmental and economic life. But insofar as foreign imperialist capitalism dominates the national state and insofar as it is able, with the assistance of internal reactionary forces, to overthrow the unstable democracy and replace it with outright fascist dictatorship, to that extent the legislation relating to the trade unions can easily become a weapon in the hands of imperialist dictatorship.

Slogans for Freeing the Unions

From the foregoing it seems, at first sight, easy to draw the conclusion that the trade unions cease to be trade unions in the imperialist epoch. They leave almost no room at all for workers’ democracy which, in the good old days, when free trade ruled on the economic arena, constituted the content of the inner life of labor organizations. In the absence of workers’ democracy there cannot be any free struggle for the influence over the trade union membership. And because of this, the chief arena of work for revolutionists within the trade unions disappears. Such a position, however, would be false to the core. We cannot select the arena and the conditions for our activity to suit our own likes and dislikes. It is infinitely more difficult to fight in a totalitarian or a semitotalitarian state for influence over the working masses than in a democracy. The very same thing likewise applies to trade unions whose fate reflects the change in the destiny of capitalist states. We cannot renounce the struggle for influence over workers in Germany merely because the totalitarian regime makes such work extremely difficult there. We cannot, in precisely the same way, renounce the struggle within the compulsory labor organizations created by Fascism. All the less so can we renounce internal systematic work in trade unions of totalitarian and semi-totalitarian type merely because they depend directly or indirectly on the workers’ state or because the bureaucracy deprives the revolutionists of the possibility of working freely within these trade unions. It is necessary to conduct a struggle under all those concrete conditions which have been created by the preceding developments, including therein the mistakes of the working class and the crimes of its leaders. In the fascist and semi-fascist countries it is impossible to carry on revolutionary work that is not underground, illegal, conspiratorial. Within the totalitarian and semi-totalitarian unions it is impossible or well-nigh impossible to carry on any except conspiratorial work. It is necessary to adapt ourselves to the concrete conditions existing in the trade unions of every given country in order to mobilize the masses not only against the bourgeoisie but also against the totalitarian regime within the trade unions themselves and against the leaders enforcing this regime. The primary slogan for this struggle is: complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state. This means a struggle to turn the trade unions into the organs of the broad exploited masses and not the organs of a labor aristocracy.

* * *

The second slogan is: trade union democracy. This second slogan flows directly from the first and presupposes for its realization the complete freedom of the trade unions from the imperialist or colonial state.

In other words, the trade unions in the present epoch cannot simply be the organs of democracy as they were in the epoch of free capitalism and they cannot any longer remain politically neutral, that is, limit themselves to serving the daily needs of the working class. They cannot any longer be anarchistic, i.e. ignore the decisive influence of the state on the life of peoples and classes. They can no longer be reformist, because the objective conditions leave no room for any serious and lasting reforms. The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.

* * *

The neutrality of the trade unions is completely and irretrievably a thing of the past, gone together with the free bourgeois democracy.

* * *

From what has been said it follows quite clearly that, 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. Every organization, every party, every faction which permits itself an ultimatistic position in relation to the trade union, i.e., in essence turns its back upon the working class, merely because of displeasure with its organizations, every such organization is destined to perish. And it must be said it deserves to perish.

* * *

Inasmuch as the chief role in backward countries is not played by national but by foreign capitalism, the national bourgeoisie occupies, in the sense of its social position, a much more minor position than corresponds with the development of industry. Inasmuch as foreign capital does not import workers but proletarianizes the native population, the national proletariat soon begins playing the most important role in the life of the country. In these conditions the national government, to the extent that it tries to show resistance to foreign capital, is compelled to a greater or lesser degree to lean on the proletariat. On the other hand, the governments of those backward countries which consider inescapable or more profitable for themselves to march shoulder to shoulder with foreign capital, destroy the labor organizations and institute a more or less totalitarian regime. Thus, the feebleness of the national bourgeoisie, the absence of traditions of municipal self-government, the pressure of foreign capitalism and the relatively rapid growth of the proletariat, cut the ground from under any kind of stable democratic regime. The governments of backward, i.e., colonial and semi-colonial countries, by and large assume a Bonapartist or semi-Bonapartist character; and differ from one another in this, that some try to orient in a democratic direction, seeking support among workers and peasants, while others install a form close to military-police dictatorship. This likewise determines the fate of the trade unions. They either stand under the special patronage of the state or they are subjected to cruel persecution. Patronage on the part of the state is dictated by two tasks which confront it.. First, to draw the working class closer thus gaining a support for resistance against excessive pretensions on the part of imperialism; and, at the same time, to discipline the workers themselves by placing them under the control of a bureaucracy.

* * *

Monopoly Capitalism and the Unions

Monopoly capitalism is less and less willing to reconcile itself to the independence of trade unions. It demands of the reformist bureaucracy and the labor aristocracy who pick the crumbs from its banquet table, that they become transformed into its political police before the eyes of the working class. If that is not achieved, the labor bureaucracy is driven away and replaced by the fascists. Incidentally, all the efforts of the labor aristocracy in the service of imperialism cannot in the long run save them from destruction.

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. Social-reformism must become transformed into social-imperialism in order to prolong its existence, but only prolong it, and nothing more. Because along this road there is no way out in general.

Does this mean that in the epoch of imperialism independent trade unions are generally impossible? It would be fundamentally incorrect to pose the question this way. Impossible are the independent or semi-independent reformist trade unions. Wholly possible are revolutionary trade unions which not only are not stockholders of imperialist policy but which set as their task the direct overthrow of the rule of capitalism. In the epoch of imperialist decay the trade unions can be really independent only to the extent that they are conscious of being, in action, the organs of proletarian revolution. In this sense, the program of transitional demands adopted by the last congress of the Fourth International is not only the program for the activity of the party but in its fundamental features it is the program for the activity of the trade unions.

(Translator’s note: At this point Trotsky left room on the page, to expound further the connection between trade union activity and the Transitional Program of the Fourth International. It is obvious that implied here is a very powerful argument in favor of military training under trade union control. The following idea is implied: Either the trade unions serve as the obedient recruiting sergeants for the imperialist army and imperialist war or they train workers for self-defense and revolution.)

The development of backward countries is characterized by its combined character. In other words, the last word of imperialist technology, economics, and politics is combined in these countries with traditional backwardness and primitiveness. This law can be observed in the most diverse spheres of the development of colonial and semi-colonial countries, including the sphere of the trade union movement. Imperialist capitalism operates here in its most cynical and naked form. It transports to virgin soil the most perfected methods of its tyrannical rule.

* * *

In the trade union movement throughout the world there is to be observed in the last period a swing to the right and the suppression of internal democracy. In England, the Minority Movement in the trade unions has been crushed (not without the assistance of Moscow); the leaders of the trade union movement are today, especially in the field of foreign policy, the obedient agents of the Conservative party. In France there was no room for an independent existence for Stalinist trade unions; they united with the so-called anarcho-syndicalist trade unions under the leadership of Jouhaux and as a result of this unification there was a general shift of the trade union movement not to the left but to the right. The leadership of the CGT is the most direct and open agency of French imperialist capitalism.

In the United States the trade union movement has passed through the most stormy history in recent years. The rise of the CIO is incontrovertible evidence of the revolutionary tendencies within the working masses. Indicative and noteworthy in the highest degree, however, is the fact that the new “leftist” trade union organization was no sooner founded than it fell into the steel embrace of the imperialist state. The struggle among the tops between the old federation and the new is reducible in large measure to the struggle for the sympathy and support of Roosevelt and his cabinet.

No less graphic, although in a different sense, is the picture of the development or the degeneration of the trade union movement in Spain. In the socialist trade unions all those leading elements which to any degree represented the independence of the trade union movement were pushed out. As regards the anarcho-syndicalist unions, they were transformed into the instrument of the bourgeois republicans; the anarcho-syndicalist leaders became conservative bourgeois ministers. The fact that this metamorphosis took place in conditions of civil war does not weaken its significance. War is the continuation of the self-same policies. It speeds up processes, exposes their basic features, destroys all that is rotten, false, equivocal and lays bare all that is essential. The shift of the trade unions to the right was due to the sharpening of class and international contradictions. The leaders of the trade union movement sensed or understood, or were given to understand, that now was no time to play the game of opposition. Every oppositional movement within the trade union movement, especially among the tops, threatens to provoke a stormy movement of the masses and to create difficulties for national imperialism. Hence flows the swing of the trade unions to the right, and the suppression of workers’ democracy within the unions. The basic feature, the swing towards the totalitarian regime, passes through the labor movement of the whole world.

We should also recall Holland, where the reformist and the trade union movement was not only a reliable prop of imperialist capitalism, but where the so-called anarcho-syndicalist organization also was actually under the control of the imperialist government. The secretary of this organization, Sneevliet, in spite of his Platonic sympathies for the Fourth International was as deputy in the Dutch Parliament most concerned lest the wrath of the government descend upon his trade union organization.

* * *

In the United States the Department of Labor with its leftist bureaucracy has as its task the subordination of the trade union movement to the democratic state and it must be said that this task has up to now been solved with some success.

* * *

The nationalization of railways and oil fields in Mexico has of course nothing in common with socialism. It is a measure of state capitalism in a backward country which in this way seeks to defend itself on the one hand against foreign imperialism and on the other against its own proletariat. The management of railways, oil fields, etcetera, through labor organizations has nothing in common with workers’ control over industry, for in the essence of the matter the management is effected through the labor bureaucracy which is independent of the workers, but in return, completely dependent on the bourgeois state. This measure on the part of the ruling class pursues the aim of disciplining the working class, making it more industrious in the service of the common interests of the state, which appear on the surface to merge with the interests of the working class itself. As a matter of fact, the whole task of the bourgeoisie consists in liquidating the trade unions as organs of the class struggle and substituting in their place the trade union bureaucracy as the organ of the leadership over the workers by the bourgeois state. In these conditions, the task of the revolutionary vanguard is to conduct a struggle for the complete independence of the trade unions and for the introduction of actual workers’ control over the present union bureaucracy, which has been turned into the administration of railways, oil enterprises and so on.

* * *

Events of the last period (before the war) have revealed with especial clarity that anarchism, which in point of theory is always only liberalism drawn to its extremes, was, in practice, peaceful propaganda within the democratic republic, the protection of which it required. If we leave aside individual terrorist acts, etcetera, anarchism, as a system of mass movement and politics, presented only propaganda material under the peaceful protection of the laws. In conditions of crisis the anarchists always did just the opposite of what they taught in peace times. This was pointed out by Marx himself in connection with the Paris Commune. And it was repeated on a far more colossal scale in the experience of the Spanish revolution.

* * *

Democratic unions in the old sense of the term, bodies where in the framework of one and the same mass organization different tendencies struggled more or less freely, can no longer exist. Just as it is impossible to bring back the bourgeois-democratic state, so it is impossible to bring back the old workers’ democracy. The fate of the one reflects the fate of the other. As a matter of fact, the independence of trade unions in the class sense, in their relations to the bourgeois state can, in the present conditions, be assured only by a completely revolutionary leadership, that is, the leadership of the Fourth International. This leadership, naturally, must and can be rational and assure the unions the maximum of democracy conceivable under the present concrete conditions. But without the political leadership of the Fourth International the independence of the trade unions is impossible.

America and the Negro question

America and the Negro question

by John Reed

Speech at 2nd Congress of Comintern, July 25 1920. Copied from http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch04.htm#v1-p121

In America there live ten million Negroes who are concentrated mainly in the South. In recent years however many thousands of them have moved to the North. The Negroes in the North are employed in industry while in the South the majority are farm labourers or small farmers. The position of the Negroes is terrible, particularly in the Southern states. Paragraph 16 of the Constitution of the United States grants the Negroes full civil rights. Nevertheless most Southern states deny the Negroes these rights. In other states, where by law the Negroes possess the right to vote, they are killed if they dare to exercise this right.

Negroes are not allowed to travel in the same railway carriages as whites, visit the same saloons and restaurants, or live in the same districts. There exist special, and worse, schools for Negroes and similarly special churches. This separation of the Negroes is called the ‘Jim Crow system’, and the clergy in the Southern churches preach about paradise on the ‘Jim Crow system’. Negroes are used as unskilled workers in industry. Until recently they were excluded from most of the unions that belong to the American Federation of Labour. The IWW of course organised the Negroes, the old Socialist Party however undertook no serious attempt to organise them. In some states the Negroes were not accepted into the party at all, in others they were separated off into special sections, and in general the party statutes banned the use of Party resources for propaganda among Negroes.

In the South the Negro has no rights at all and does not even enjoy the protection of the law. Usually one can kill Negroes without being punished. One terrible white institution is the lynching of Negroes. This happens in the following manner., The Negro is covered with oil and strung up on a telegraph pole. The whole of the town, men, women and children, run up to watch the show and take home a piece of the clothing or the skin of the Negro they have tortured to death ‘as a souvenir’.

I have too little time to explain the historical background to the Negro question in the United States. The descendants of the slave population, who were liberated during the Civil War, when politically and economically they were still completely underdeveloped, were later given full political rights in order to unleash a bitter class struggle in the South which was intended to hold up Southern capitalism until the capitalists in the North were able to bring together all the country’s resources into their own. possession.

Until recently the Negroes did not show any aggressive class consciousness at all. The first awakening of the Negroes took place after the Spanish-American War, in which the black troops had fought with extraordinary courage and from which they returned with the feeling that as men they were equal to the white troops. Until then the only movement that existed among the Negroes was a semi-philanthropic educational association led by Booker T. Washington and supported by the white capitalists. This movement found its expression in the organisation of schools in which the Negroes were brought up to be good servants of industry. As intellectual nourishment they were presented with the good advice to resign themselves to the fate of an oppressed people. During the Spanish War an aggressive reform movement arose among the Negroes which demanded social and political equality with the whites. With the beginning of the European war half a million Negroes who had joined the US Army were sent to France, where they were billeted with French troop detachments and suddenly made the discovery that they were treated as equals socially and in every other respect. The American General Staff approached the French High Command and asked them to forbid Negroes to visit places used by whites and to treat them as second-class people. After the war the Negroes, many of whom had received medals for bravery from the English and French governments, returned to their Southern villages where they were subjected to lynch law because they dared to wear their uniforms and their decorations on the street.

At the same time a strong movement arose among the Negroes who had stayed behind. Thousands of them moved to the North, began to work in the war industries and came into contact with the surging current of the labour movement. High as they were, their wage rates trailed behind the incredible increases in the prices of the most important necessities. Moreover the Negroes were outraged by the way all their strength was sucked out and the terrible exertions demanded by the work much more than were the white workers who had grown used to the terrible exploitation in the course of many years.

The Negroes went on strike alongside the white workers and quickly joined the industrial proletariat. They proved very ready to accept revolutionary propaganda. At that time the newspaper Messenger was founded, published by a young Negro, the socialist Randolf, and pursuing revolutionary propagandist aims. This paper united socialist propaganda with an appeal to the racial consciousness of the Negroes and with the call to organise self-defence against the brutal attacks of the whites. At the same time the paper insisted on the closest links with the white workers, regardless of the fact that the latter often took part in Negro-baiting, and emphasised that the enmity between the white and black races was supported by the capitalists in their own interests.

The return of the army from the front threw many millions of white workers on to the labour market all at once. The result was unemployment, and the demobilised soldiers’ impatience took such threatening proportions that the employers were forced to tell the soldiers that their jobs had been taken by Negroes in order thus to incite the whites to massacre the Negroes. The first of these outbreaks took place in Washington, where civil servants from the administration returning from the war found their jobs occupied by Negroes. The civil servants were in the main Southerners. They organised a night attack on the Negro district in order to terrorise the Negroes into giving up their jobs. To everybody’s amazement the Negroes came on to the streets fully armed. A fight developed and the Negroes fought so well that for every dead Negro there were three dead whites. Another revolt which lasted several days and left many dead on both sides broke out a few months later in Chicago. Later still a massacre took place in Omaha. In all these fights the Negroes showed for the first time in history that they are armed and splendidly organised and are not at all afraid of the whites. The results of the Negroes’ resistance were first of all a belated intervention by the government and secondly the acceptance of Negroes into the unions of the American Federation of Labour.

Racial consciousness grew among the Negroes themselves. At present there is among the Negroes a section which preaches the armed uprising of the Negroes against the whites. The Negroes who returned home from the war have set up associations everywhere for self-defence and to fight against the white supporters of lynch law. The circulation of the Messenger is growing constantly. At present it sells 180,000 copies monthly. At the same time, socialist ideas have taken root and are spreading rapidly among the Negroes employed in industry.

If we consider the Negroes as an enslaved and oppressed people, then they pose us with two tasks: on the one hand a strong racial movement and on the other a strong proletarian workers’ movement, whose class consciousness is quickly growing. The Negroes do not pose the demand of national independence. A movement that aims for a separate national existence, like for instance the ‘back to Africa’ movement that could be observed a few years ago, is never successful among the Negroes. They hold themselves above all to be Americans, they feel at home in the United States. That simplifies the tasks of the communists considerably.

The only correct policy for the American Communists towards the Negroes is to regard them above all as workers. The agricultural workers and the small farmers of the South pose, despite the backwardness of the Negroes, the same tasks as those we have in respect to the white rural proletariat. Communist propaganda can be carried out among the Negroes who are employed as industrial workers in the North. In both parts of the country we must strive to organise Negroes in the same unions as the whites. This is the best and quickest way to root out racial prejudice and awaken class solidarity.

For Trotskyism!

BT/LTT Fusion Document

For Trotskyism!

[The following document was adopted by the fusion conference of the Bolshevik Tendency and the Left Trotskyist Tendency on November 1986 as a codification of the programmatic agreement reached by the two organizations. It was originally printed in 1917 #3, Spring 1987. This version copied from  http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no3/no03btlt.html]

1. Party and Program

‘‘The interests of the [working] class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a program; the program cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party. ‘‘The class, taken by itself, is only material for exploitation. The proletariat assumes an independent role only at that moment when from a social class in itself it becomes a political class for itself. This cannot take place otherwise than through the medium of a party. The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious.’’

—L.D. Trotsky, ‘‘What Next?’’ 1932

The working class is the only thoroughly revolutionary class in modern society, the only class with the capacity to end the insanity of capitalist rule internationally. The fundamental task of the communist vanguard is to instill in the class (particularly its most important component, the industrial proletariat) the consciousness of its historic role. We explicitly reject all stratagems put forward by centrists and reformists, lifestylists and sectoralists which see in one or another non-proletarian section of the population a more likely vehicle for social progress.

The liberation of the proletariat, and with that the elimination of the material basis of all forms of social oppression, hinges on the question of leadership. The panoply of potential ‘‘socialist’’ leaderships are in the final analysis reducible to two programs: reform or revolution. While purporting to offer a ‘‘practical’’ strategy for the gradual amelioration of the inequities of class society, reformism acts to reconcile the working class to the requirements of capital. Revolutionary Marxism, by contrast, is based on the fundamental antagonism between capital and labor and the consequent necessity for the expropriation of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat as the precondition for any significant social progress.

The hegemony of bourgeois ideology in its various forms within the proletariat represents the most powerful bulwark to capitalist rule. As James P. Cannon, the historic leader of American Trotskyism, noted in The First Ten Years of American Communism:

‘‘The strength of capitalism is not in itself and its own institutions; it survives only because it has bases of support in the organizations of the workers. As we see it now, in the light of what we have learned from the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, nine-tenths of the struggle for socialism is the struggle against bourgeois influence in the workers’ organizations, including the party.’’

The key distinction between a revolutionary organization and a centrist or reformist one is found not so much in abstract statements of ultimate goals and objectives, but in the positions which each advances in the concrete situations posed by the class struggle. Reformists and centrists tailor their programmatic response to each new event in accordance with the illusions and preconceptions of their audience. But the role of a revolutionary is to tell the workers and the oppressed what they do not already know.

‘‘The program must express the objective tasks of the working class rather than the backwardness of the workers. It must reflect society as it is and not the backwardness of the working class. It is an instrument to overcome and vanquish the backwardness….We cannot postpone, modify objective conditions which don’t depend upon us. We cannot guarantee that the masses will solve the crisis, but we must express the situation as it is, and that is the task of the program.’’

—Trotsky, ‘‘The Political Backwardness of the American Workers,’’ 1938

We seek to root the communist program in the working class through building programmatically-based caucuses in the trade unions. Such formations must actively participate in all struggles for partial reform and improvements in the situation of the workers. They must also be the best upholders of the militant traditions of class solidarity, e.g., the proposition that ‘‘Picket Lines Mean Don’t Cross!’’ At the same time they must seek to recruit the most politically conscious workers to a world view that transcends parochial shopfloor militancy, and addresses the burning political questions of the day in a fashion which points to the necessity of eliminating the anarchy of production for profit and replacing it with rational, planned production for human need.

Our intervention in the mass organizations of the proletariat is based on the Transitional Program adopted by the founding convention of the Fourth International in 1938. In a certain sense there can be no such thing as a ‘‘finished program’’ for Marxists. It is necessary to take account of historical developments in the past five decades and the need to address problems posed by specific struggles of sectors of the class and/or the oppressed which are not dealt with in the 1938 draft. Nonetheless, in its essentials, the program upon which the Fourth International was founded retains all its relevance because it poses socialist solutions to the objective problems facing the working class today in the context of the unchanging necessity of proletarian power.

2. Permanent Revolution

Over the past five hundred years, capitalism has created a single world economic order with an international division of labor. We live in the epoch of imperialism—the epoch of capitalist decline. Experience this century has demonstrated that the national bourgeoisies of the neo-colonial world are incapable of completing the historic tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. There is, in general, no path of independent capitalist development open for these countries.

In the neo-colonial countries the accomplishments of the classical bourgeois revolutions can only be replicated by smashing capitalist property relations, severing the tentacles of the imperialist world market and establishing working class (i.e., collectivized) property. Only a socialist revolution—a revolution carried out against the national bourgeoisie and big landowners—can lead to a qualitative expansion of the productive forces.

We reject the Stalinist/Menshevik ‘‘two-stage’’ strategy of proletarian subordination to the supposed ‘‘progressive’’ sectors of the bourgeoisie. We stand for the complete and unconditional political independence of the proletariat in every country. Without exception, the national bourgeoisies of the ‘‘Third World’’ act as the agents of imperialist domination whose interests are, in a historic sense, far more closely bound up with the bankers and industrialists of the metropolis than with their own exploited peoples.

Trotskyists offer military, but not political, support to petty-bourgeois nationalist movements (or even bourgeois regimes) which enter into conflict with imperialism in defense of national sovereignty. In 1935, for example, the Trotskyists stood for military victory of the Ethiopians over the Italian invaders. However, Leninists cannot automatically determine their position on a war between two bourgeois regimes from their relative level of development (or underdevelopment). In the squalid 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war, where the defense of Argentine sovereignty was never at issue, Leninists called for both British and Argentine workers to ‘‘turn the guns around’’—for revolutionary defeatism on both sides.

3. Guerrillaism

Our strategy for revolution is mass proletarian insurrection. We reject guerrillaism as a strategic orientation (while recognizing that it can sometimes have supplementary tactical value) because it relegates the organized, politically conscious working class to the role of passive onlooker. A peasant-based guerrilla movement, led by radical petty-bourgeois intellectuals, cannot establish working-class political power regardless of the subjective intent of its leadership.

On several occasions since the end of the Second World War it has been demonstrated that, given favorable objective circumstances, such movements can successfully uproot capitalist property. Yet because they are not based on the mobilization of the organized working class, the best outcome of such struggles is the establishment of nationalist, bureaucratic regimes qualitatively identical to the product of the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution (i.e., Yugoslavia, Albania, China, Vietnam and Cuba). Such ‘‘deformed worker states’’ require supplementary proletarian political revolutions to open the road to socialist development.

4. Special Oppression: The Black Question, The Woman Question

The working class today is deeply fractured along racial, sexual, national and other lines. Yet racism, national chauvinism and sexism are not genetically but rather socially programmed forms of behavior. Regardless of their present level of consciousness, the workers of the world have one crucial thing in common: they cannot fundamentally improve their situation, as a class, without destroying the social basis of all oppression and exploitation once and for all. This is the material basis for the Marxist assertion that the proletariat has as its historic mission the elimination of class society and with that the eradication of all forms of extra-class or ‘‘special’’ oppression.

In the United States, the struggle for workers power is inextricably linked to the struggle for black liberation. The racial division between black and white workers has historically been the primary obstacle to class consciousness. American blacks are not a nation but a race-color caste forcibly segregated at the bottom of society and concentrated overwhelmingly in the working class, particularly in strategic sectors of the industrial proletariat. Brutalized, abused and systematically discriminated against in the ‘‘land of the free,’’ the black population has historically been relatively immune to the racist imperial patriotism which has poisoned much of the white proletariat. Black workers have generally proved the most militant and combative section of the class. The fight for black liberation—against the everyday racist brutality of life in capitalist America—is central to the construction of a revolutionary vanguard on the North American continent. The struggle against the special oppression of the other national, linguistic and racial minorities, particularly the growing Latino population, is a question which will also be key to the American revolution.

The oppression of women is materially rooted in the existence of the nuclear family: the basic and indispensable unit of bourgeois social organization. The fight for complete social equality for women is of strategic importance in every country on the globe. A closely related form of special oppression is that experienced by homosexuals who are persecuted for failing to conform to the sexual roles dictated by the ‘‘normalcy’’ of the nuclear family. The gay question is not strategic like the woman question, but the communist vanguard must champion the democratic rights of homosexuals and oppose any and all discriminatory measures directed at them.

In the unions communists campaign for equal access to all jobs; union-sponsored programs to recruit and upgrade women and minorities in ‘‘non-traditional’’ fields; equal pay for equivalent work and jobs for all. At the same time we defend the seniority system as a historic acquisition of the trade-union movement and oppose such divisive and anti-union schemes as preferential layoffs. It is the historic responsibility of the communist vanguard to struggle to unite the working class for its common class interests across the artificial divisions promoted in capitalist society. To do this means to advance the interests of the most exploited and oppressed and to struggle relentlessly against every manifestation of discrimination and injustice.

The oppressed sectors of the population cannot liberate themselves independently of proletarian revolution, i.e., within the framework of the social system which originated and perpetuates their oppression. As Lenin noted in State and Revolution:

‘‘Only the proletariat—by virtue of the economic role it plays in large-scale production—is capable of being the leader of all the toiling and exploited masses, whom the bourgeoisie exploits, oppresses and crushes often not less, but more, than it does the proletarians, but who are incapable of waging an independent struggle for their emancipation.’’

We live in a class society and the program of every social movement must, in the final analysis, represent the interests of one of the two classes with the potential to rule society: the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. In the trade unions, bourgeois ideology takes the form of narrow economism; in the movements of the oppressed it manifests itself as sectoralism. What black nationalism, feminism and other forms of sectoralist ideology have in common is that they all locate the root of oppression in something other than the system of capitalist private property.

The strategic orientation of the Marxist vanguard toward ‘‘independent’’ (i.e., multi-class) sectoralist organizations of the oppressed must be to assist in their internal differentiation into their class components. This implies a struggle to win as many individuals as possible to the perspective of proletarian revolution and the consequent necessity of an integrated vanguard party.

5. The National Question and ‘Interpenetrated Peoples’

‘‘Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the ‘most just’, ‘purest’, most refined and civilised brand. In place of all forms of nationalism Marxism advances internationalism….’’

—V.I. Lenin, ‘‘Critical Remarks on the National Question’’

Marxism and nationalism are two fundamentally counterposed world views. We uphold the principle of the equality of nations, and oppose any privileges for any nation. At the same time Marxists reject all forms of nationalist ideology and, in Lenin’s words, welcome ‘‘every kind of assimilation of nations, except that founded on force and privilege.’’ The Leninist program on the national question is primarily a negative one designed to take the national question off the agenda and undercut the appeal of petty-bourgeois nationalists, in order to more starkly pose the class question.

In ‘‘classic’’ cases of national oppression (e.g., Quebec), we champion the right of self-determination, without necessarily advocating its exercise. In the more complex cases of two peoples interspersed, or ‘‘interpenetrated,’’ throughout a single geographical territory (Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Palestine/Israel), the abstract right of each to self-determination cannot be realized equitably within the framework of capitalist property relations. Yet in none of these cases can the oppressor people be equated with the whites in South Africa or the French colons in Algeria; i.e., a privileged settler-caste/labor aristocracy dependent on the super-exploitation of indigenous labor to maintain a standard of living qualitatively higher than the oppressed population.

Both the Irish Protestants and the Hebrew-speaking population of Israel are class-differentiated peoples. Each has a bourgeoisie, a petty bourgeoisie and a working class. Unlike guilty middle-class moralists, Leninists do not simply endorse the nationalism of the oppressed (or the petty-bourgeois political formations which espouse it). To do so simultaneously forecloses the possibility of exploiting the real class contradictions in the ranks of the oppressor people and cements the hold of the nationalists over the oppressed. The proletarians of the ascendant people can never be won to a nationalist perspective of simply inverting the current unequal relationship. A significant section of them can be won to an anti-sectarian class-against-class perspective because it is in their objective interests.

The logic of capitulation to petty-bourgeois nationalism led much of the left to support the Arab rulers (the embodiment of the so-called ‘‘Arab Revolution’’) against the Israelis in the Mid-East wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973. In essence these were inter-capitalist wars in which the workers and oppressed of the region had nothing to gain by the victory of either. The Leninist position was therefore one of defeatism on both sides. For both Arab and Hebrew workers the main enemy was at home. The 1956 war was a different matter; in that conflict the working class had a side: with Nasser against the attempts of French and British imperialism (aided by the Israelis) to reappropriate the recently nationalized Suez Canal.

While opposing nationalism as a matter of principle, Leninists are not neutral in conflicts between the oppressed people and the oppressor state apparatus. In Northern Ireland we demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of British troops and we defend the blows struck by the Irish Republican Army at such imperialist targets as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the British Army or the hotel full of Conservative cabinet ministers at Brighton. Similarly, we militarily side with the Palestinian Liberation Organization against the forces of the Israeli state. In no case do we defend terrorist acts directed at civilian populations. This, despite the fact that the criminal terrorism of the Zionist state against the Palestinians, like that of the British army and their Protestant allies against the Catholics of Northern Ireland, is many times greater than the acts of communal terror by the oppressed.

6. Immigration/Emigration

Leninists support the basic democratic right of any individual to emigrate to any country in the world. As in the case of other democratic rights, this is not some sort of categorical imperative. We would not, for example, favor the emigration of any individual who would pose a threat to the military security of the degenerated or deformed worker states. The right of individual immigration, if exercised on a sufficiently wide scale, can come into conflict with the right of self-determination for a small nation. Therefore Trotskyists do not raise the call for ‘‘open borders’’ as a general programmatic demand. In Palestine during the 1930’s and 1940’s, for example, the massive influx of Zionist immigration laid the basis for the forcible expulsion of the Palestinian people from their own land. We do not recognize the ‘‘right’’ of unlimited Han migration to Tibet, nor of French citizens to move to New Caledonia.

The ‘‘open borders’’ demand is generally advocated by well-meaning liberal/radical muddleheads motivated by a utopian desire to rectify the hideous inequalities produced by the imperialist world order. But world socialist revolution—not mass migration—is the Marxist solution to the misery and destitution of the majority of mankind under capitalism.

In the U.S., we defend Mexican workers apprehended by La Migra. We oppose all immigration quotas, all roundups and all deportations of immigrant workers. In the unions we fight for the immediate and unconditional granting of full citizenship rights to all foreign-born workers.

7. Democratic Centralism

A revolutionary organization must be strictly central ized with the leading bodies having full authority to direct the work of lower bodies and members. The organization must have a political monopoly over the public political activity of its members. The membership must be guaranteed the right of full factional democracy (i.e., the right to conduct internal political struggle to change the line and/or to replace the existing leadership). Internal democracy is not a decorative frill—nor merely a safety valve for the ranks to blow off steam—it is a critical and indispensible necessity for the revolutionary vanguard if it is to master the complex developments of the class struggle. It is also the chief means by which revolutionary cadres are created. The right to internal factional democracy, i.e., the right to struggle against revisionism within the vanguard, is the only ‘‘guarantee’’ against the political degeneration of a revolutionary organization.

Attempts to gloss over important differences and blur lines of political demarcation internally can only weaken and disorient a revolutionary party. An organization cohered by diplomacy, lowest-common denominator consensus and the concomitant programmatic ambiguity (instead of principled programmatic agreement and the struggle for political clarity) awaits only the first serious test posed by the class struggle to break apart. Conversely, organizations in which the expression of differences is proscribed—whether formally or informally—are destined to ossify into rigid, hierarchical and lifeless sects increasingly divorced from the living workers movement and unable to reproduce the cadres necessary to carry out the tasks of a revolutionary vanguard.

8. Popular Fronts

‘‘The question of questions at present is the Popular Front. The left centrists seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the Popular Front. In reality, the Popular Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism.’’

—Trotsky,‘‘The POUM and the Popular Front,’’ 1936

Popular frontism (i.e., a programmatic bloc, usually for governmental power, between workers organizations and representatives of the bourgeoisie) is class treason. Revolutionaries can give no support, however ‘‘critical,’’ to participants in popular fronts.

The tactic of critical electoral support to reformist workers parties is premised on the contradiction inherent in such parties between their bourgeois (reformist) program and their working-class base. When a social-democratic or Stalinist party enters into a coalition or electoral bloc with bourgeois or petty-bourgeois formations, this contradiction is effectively suppressed for the life of the coalition. A member of a reformist workers party who stands for election on the ticket of a class-collaborationist coalition (or popular front) is in fact running as a representative of a bourgeois political formation. Thus the possibility of the application of the tactic of critical support is excluded, because the contradiction which it seeks to exploit is suspended. Instead, revolutionists should make a condition of electoral support the breaking of the coalition: ‘‘Down With the Capitalist Ministers!’’

9. United Fronts and ‘‘Strategic United Fronts’’

The united front is a tactic with which revolutionaries seek to approach reformist or centrist formations to ‘‘set the base against the top’’ in situations where there is an urgent felt need for united action on the part of the ranks. It is possible to enter into united-front agreements with petty-bourgeois or bourgeois formations where there is an episodic agreement on a particular issue and where it is in the interests of the working class to do so (e.g., the Bolsheviks’ united front with Kerensky against Kornilov). The united front is a tactic which is not only designed to accomplish the common objective but also to demonstrate in practice the superiority of the revolutionary program and thus gain new influence and adherents for the vanguard organization.

Revolutionists never consign the responsibility of revolutionary leadership to an ongoing alliance (or ‘‘strategic united front’’) with centrist or reformist forces. Trotskyists never issue common propaganda—joint statements of overall political perspective—with revisionists. Such a practice is both dishonest (as it inevitably involves papering over the political differences separating the organizations) and liquidationist. The ‘‘strategic united front’’ is a favorite gambit of opportunists who, despairing of their own small influence, seek to compensate for it by dissolution into a broader bloc on a lowest common-denominator program. In ‘‘Centrism and the Fourth International,’’ Trotsky explained that a revolutionary organization is distinguished from a centrist one by its ‘‘active concern for purity of principles, clarity of position, political consistency and organizational completeness.’’ It is just this which the strategic united front is designed to obliterate.

10. Workers Democracy and the Class Line

Revolutionary Marxists, who are distinguished by the fact that they tell the workers the truth, can only benefit from open political confrontation between the various competing currents in the left. It is otherwise with the reformists and centrists. The Stalinists, social democrats, trade-union bureaucrats and other working-class misleaders all shrink from revolutionary criticism and seek to pre-empt political discussion and debate with gangsterism and exclusions.

We oppose violence and exclusionism within the left and workers movement while upholding the right of everyone to self-defense. We also oppose the use of ‘‘soft-core’’ violence—i.e., slander—which goes hand-in-hand with (or prepares the way for) physical attacks. Slander and violence within the workers movement are completely alien to the traditions of revolutionary Marxism because they are deliberately designed to destroy consciousness, the precondition for the liberation of the proletariat.

11. The State and Revolution

The question of the state occupies a central place in revolutionary theory. Marxism teaches that the capitalist state (in the final analysis the ‘‘special bodies of armed men’’ committed to the defense of bourgeois property) cannot be taken over and made to serve the interests of working people. Working-class rule can only be established through the destruction of the existing bourgeois state machinery and its replacement with institutions committed to the defense of proletarian property.

We are adamantly opposed to bringing the bourgeois state, in any guise, into the affairs of the labor movement. Marxists oppose all union ‘‘reformers’’ who seek redress from bureaucratic corruption in the capitalist courts. Labor must clean its own house! We also call for the expulsion of all cops and prison guards from the trade-union movement.

The duty of revolutionists is to teach the working class that the state is not an impartial arbiter between competing social interests but a weapon wielded against them by the capitalists. Accordingly, Marxists oppose reformist/utopian calls for the bourgeois state to ‘‘ban’’ the fascists. Such laws are invariably used much more aggressively against the workers movement and the left than against the fascistic scum who constitute the shock troops of capitalist reaction. The Trotskyist strategy to fight fascism is not to make appeals to the bourgeois state, but to mobilize the power of the working class and the oppressed for direct action to crush fascistic movements in the egg before they are able to grow. As Trotsky remarked in the Transitional Program, ‘‘The struggle against fascism does not start in the liberal editorial office but in the factory—and ends in the street.’’

Leninists reject all notions that imperialist troops can play a progressive role anywhere: whether ‘‘protecting’’ black schoolchildren in the Southern U.S., ‘‘protecting’’ the Catholic population in Northern Ireland or ‘‘keeping the peace’’ in the Middle East. Neither do we seek to pressure the imperialists to act ‘‘morally’’ by divesting nor by imposing sanctions on South Africa. We argue instead that the ‘‘Free World’’ powers are fundamentally united with the racist apartheid regime in defense of the ‘‘right’’ to superexploit black labor. Our answer is to mobilize the power of international labor in effective class-struggle solidarity actions with South Africa’s black workers.

12. The Russian Question

‘‘What is Stalinophobia? Is it hatred of Stalinism; fear of this ‘syphilis of the labor movement’ and irreconcilable refusal to tolerate any manifestation of it in the party? Not at all….

’’Is it the opinion that Stalinism is not the leader of the international revolution but its mortal enemy? No, that is not Stalinophobia; that is what Trotsky taught us, what we learned again from our experience with Stalinism, and what we believe in our bones.

‘‘The sentiment of hatred and fear of Stalinism, with its police state and its slave labor camps, its frame-ups and its murders of working class opponents, is healthy, natural, normal, and progressive. This sentiment goes wrong only when it leads to reconciliation with American imperialism, and to the assignment of the fight against Stalinism to that same imperialism. In the language of Trotskyism, that and nothing else is Stalinophobia.’’

—JamesP. Cannon, ‘‘Stalinist Conciliationism and Stalinophobia,’’ 1953

We stand for the unconditional defense of the collectivized economies of the degenerated Soviet worker state and the deformed worker states of Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China, North Korea and Cuba against capitalist restoration. Yet we do not lose sight for a moment of the fact that only proletarian political revolutions, which overthrow the treacherous anti-working class bureaucrats who rule these states, can guarantee the gains won to date and open the road to socialism.

The victory of the Stalinist faction in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s under the banner of ‘‘Socialism in One Country’’ was crowned with the physical extermination of the leading cadres of Lenin’s party a decade later. By counterposing the defense of the Soviet Union to the world revolution, the Stalinist usurpers decisively undermine both. The perspective of proletarian insurrection in order to reestablish the direct political rule of the working class is therefore not counterposed but inextricably linked to the defense of the collectivized economies.

The Russian question has been posed most sharply in recent years over two events: the suppression of Polish Solidarnosc and the intervention of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. We side militarily with the Stalinists against both the capitalist-restorationists of Solidarnosc and the Islamic feudalists fighting to preserve female chattel slavery in Afghanistan. This does not imply that the Stalinist bureaucrats have any progressive historical role to play. On the contrary. Nonetheless, we defend those actions (like the December 1981 suppression of Solidarnosc) which they are forced to take in defense of the working-class property forms.

13. For the Rebirth of the Fourth International!

‘‘Trotskyism is not a new movement, a new doctrine, but the restoration, the revival, of genuine Marxism as it was expounded and practised in the Russian revolution and in the early days of the Communist International.’’

—JamesP. Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism

Trotskyism is the revolutionary Marxism of our time—the political theory derived from the distilled experience of over a century-and-a-half of working-class communism. It was verified in a positive sense in the October Revolution in 1917, the greatest event in modern history, and generally negatively since. After the bureaucratic strangulation of the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern by the Stalinists, the tradition of Leninism—the practice and program of the Russian Revolution—was carried forward by the Left Opposition and by it alone.

The Trotskyist movement was born in a struggle for revolutionary internationalism against the reactionary/utopian conception of ‘‘Socialism in One Country.’’ The necessity of revolutionary organization on an international basis derives from the organization of capitalist production itself. Revolutionists on each national terrain must be guided by a strategy which is international in dimension—and that can only be elaborated by the construction of an international working-class leadership. To the patriotism of the bourgeoisie and its social-democratic and Stalinist lackeys, the Trotskyists counterpose Karl Liebknecht’s immortal slogan: ‘‘The Main Enemy is At Home!’’ We stand on the basic programmatic positions adopted by the 1938 founding conference of the Fourth International, as well as the first four congresses of the Communist International and the revolutionary tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky.

The cadres of the Fourth International outside of North America were largely annihilated or dispersed in the course of the Second World War. The International was definitively politically destroyed by Pabloite revisionism in the early 1950’s. We are not neutral in the 1951-53 split—we side with the International Committee (IC) against the Pabloite International Secretariat (IS). The IC’s fight was profoundly flawed both in terms of political framework and execution. Nonetheless, in the final analysis, the impulse of the IC to resist the dissolution of the Trotskyist cadre into the Stalinist and social-democratic parties (as proposed by Pablo) and its defense of the necessity of the conscious factor in history, made it qualitatively superior to the liquidationist IS.

Within the IC the most important section was the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP). It had also been the strongest section at the time of the founding of the International. It had benefited by the most direct collaboration with Trotsky and had a leading cadre which went back to the early years of the Comintern. The political collapse of the SWP as a revolutionary organization, signalled by its uncritical enthusing over Castroism in the early 1960’s, and culminating in its defection to the Pabloites in 1963, was therefore an enormous blow to world Trotskyism.

We solidarize with the struggle of the Revolutionary Tendency of the SWP (forerunner of the Spartacist League/US) to defend the revolutionary program against the centrist objectivism of the majority. We stand on the Trotskyist positions defended and elaborated by the revolutionary Spartacist League in the years that followed. However, under the pressure of two decades of isolation and frustration, the SL itself has qualitatively degenerated into a grotesquely bureaucratic and overtly cultist group of political bandits which, despite a residual capacity for cynical ‘‘orthodox’’ literary posturing, has shown a consistent impulse to flinch under pressure. The ‘‘international Spartacist tendency’’ today is in no important sense politically superior to any of the dozen or more fake-Trotskyist ‘‘internationals’’ which lay claim to the mantle of the Fourth International.

The splintering of several of the historic pretenders to Trotskyist continuity and the difficulties and generally rightward motion of the rest opens a potentially fertile period for political reassessment and realignment among those who do not believe that the road to socialism lies through the British Labour Party, Lech Walesa’s capitalist-restorationist Solidarnosc or the Chilean popular front. We urgently seek to participate in a process of international regroupment of revolutionary cadres on the basis of the program of authentic Trotskyism, as a step toward the long overdue rebirth of the Fourth International, World Party of Socialist Revolution.

‘‘On the basis of a long historical experience, it can be written down as a law that revolutionary cadres, who revolt against their social environment and organize parties to lead a revolution, can—if the revolution is too long delayed—themselves degenerate under the continuing influences and pressures of this same environment….

’’But the same historical experience also shows that there are exceptions to this law too. The exceptions are the Marxists who remain Marxists, the revolutionists who remain faithful to the banner. The basic ideas of Marxism, upon which alone a revolutionary party can be constructed, are continuous in their application and have been for a hundred years. The ideas of Marxism, which create revolutionary parties, are stronger than the parties they create and never fail to survive their downfall. They never fail to find representatives in the old organizations to lead the work of reconstruction.

‘‘These are the continuators of the tradition, the defenders of the orthodox doctrine. The task of the uncorrupted revolutionists, obliged by circumstances to start the work of organizational reconstruction, has never been to proclaim a new revelation—there has been no lack of such Messiahs, and they have all been lost in the shuffle—but to reinstate the old program and bring it up to date.’’

—James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism

Healyites, Messengers of Qaddafi

Healyites, Messengers of Qaddafi

[First printed in Workers Vanguard No. 158, May 20, 1977. Copied from http://anti-sep-tic.blogspot.com/2009/07/messengers-of-qaddafi-200577.html ]

Something stinks in News Line, daily garbage organ of the British Healyite Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) -and it’s not simply that it continues these political bandits’ unsavory record of sectarianism, Stalinist gangsterism and egregious opportunism. Ever since News Line’s inception on May 1976, it has been a mouthpiece for the megalomaniacal ravings and “people’s democracy” pretensions of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi of Libya. Month after month articles in News Line have lauded the dictator in weirdly shameless fashion, hailing his “agricultural revolution,” his support to the “Arab Revolution,” detailing his every attack on the “high treason” of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, and so forth.

Thus a brief article in the 26 February News Line hailed the London publication of the Libyan strongman’s Green Book as “an uncompromising rejection of parliamentary democracy in favour of ‘the authority of the people’.” Two Labour MP’s who pushed the book were taken to task for giving it “a patronizing send-off”; their praise of the Green Book as “challenging, stimulating, moral” is evidently insufficiently fulsome for the WRP’s taste. Qaddafi’s Healyite press agents complain that his “writings and his drive towards people’s democracy hardly received the attention they deserve.”

The WRP has in the last year been making up for that with a vengeance. Over 20 articles on Libya have appeared inNews Line, not to mention a considerable increase in “special reports” from Tripoli and attacks on Sadat’s Egypt. News Line’s castigation of Egypt, described as “near bankruptcy,” for its repression of leftists is completely in accord with Qaddafi’s feud with Sadat – and contrasts sharply with the Healyites’ silence on repression in Libya.

An article in the 14 October 1976 News Line, for instance, discussed a BBC television interview with Qaddafi and dismissed the interviewer’s inquiry into political prisoners in Libya as one of the bourgeois media’s “stock-in-trade questions.” News Line smugly added, “Gaddafi was unmoved, saying that they were ‘enemies of the revolution’.” The Healyites praised the program for having “broken at least part of the Gaddafi enigma and answered some of the US State Department and Zionist lies,” but complained that the interview was not shown on prime time:

“Miss Kewley’s profile rightly belonged in the BBC’s prestige slot, ‘Panorama’.
“It is a measure of the censorship on television that it was squeezed into the ‘religious programmes’ department where it could not do justice to the subject of Islam or its leading advocate.”

What is perhaps most curious is that Workers Press, the previous Healyite daily –which folded in February 1976 with the presumption of “lack of funds” – paid little or no attention to Qaddafi and his so-called “Revolutionland.” In the six months prior to its collapse, we could locate only one article in Workers Press dealing specifically with Libya, and this was implicitly critical of Qaddafi, reporting a protest by Libyan students in London against the police slaughter of “at least 16 students” at a demonstration at Libya’s Benghazi University (Workers Press, 14 January 1976). On 8 September 1976 News Line carried a centerfold spread on Tripoli’s “anniversary celebration” of Qaddafi’s military coup. Boasting huge photos and snide comments about the bourgeois press’ lack of coverage of the glorious event,News Line’s spread on “Libya’s Day” was a sharp departure from the silence of Workers Press the year before. Something has changed, and it wasn’t the Qaddafi regime.


We are more than happy to give Qaddafi’s policies “the attention they deserve.” Qaddafi is fanatical in his devotion to the Koran, which sanctifies the feudal enslavement of women and prescribes legal punishments such as cutting off the tongues of liars and the hands of thieves. At least 700 political prisoners have been reported held in Libyan jails. Regarding one trial of 17 prisoners (acquitted in 1974) against whom Qaddafi personally intervened to impose new sentences of life imprisonment and death, Amnesty International recently noted: “The accused were allegedly Marxists, Trotskyists, and members of the Islamic Liberation Party” (Intercontinental Press, 4 April I977). Qaddafi’s 1973 “cultural revolution” laid out his “Five Principles,” including:

“We must purge all the sick people who talk of Communism, atheism, who make propaganda for the Western countries and advocate capitalism. We shall put them in prison.”


“We live by the Koran, God’s book. We will reject any idea that is not based on it. Therefore we enter into a cultural revolution to refute and destroy all misleading books which have made youth sick and insane.”

New York Times, 22 May 1973

Qaddafi’s idea of “refutation” is simple: he ordered “the burning of books that contain imperialist, capitalist, reactionary, Jewish or Communist thoughts” (New York Times, 18 April 1973).


The sordid history of the Healyites is replete with examples of slavering enthusiasm for left-talking “Third World” nationalists and Stalinists. Workers Press gratuitously proffered “leftist” cheerleading to assorted petty-bourgeois anti-working-class formations, from the Maoist Red Guards to the Angolan MPLA. But the WRP’s pandering to Qaddafi is surely a new low.

Perhaps the most disgusting was a full-page “special News Line interview” with Hamied Jallud, general secretary of the “Libyan trade union federation, equivalent of the British TUC” (14 September 1976). To News Line questions about collective bargaining and the right to strike, the Qaddafi bureaucrats replied, “The role of the trade unions in socialist countries is completely different from capitalist countries”! After all, “the responsibility of the trade unions is to educate the workers and increase production”; Qaddafi’s “General People’s Congress” will look after the workers’ interests. The WRP’s shameless presentation of Qaddafi’s repression of the Libyan working class leaves no doubt of its utter subjugation before this capitalist dictator.

News Line hailed the “General People’s Congress” held in early March in Shebha, a small desert village distinguished by Qaddafi’s having gone to school there. Fidel Castro was the guest of honor as the “Congress” renamed Libya the “People’s Socialist Libyan Arab Public” (sic) and kicked off Qaddafi’s “Third Universal Principle” which he modestly claims solves “the problem of democracy.”

The Healyites have had some “problems” with “democracy” themselves; their solution has generally been to beat up political opponents. Qaddafi, who-unlike the WRP-holds state power, has worked out a more elaborate schema. His little Green Book explains that “both administration and supervision become popular” through “committees everywhere” – while Qaddafi becomes head of the “General People’s Congress” which runs everything and is so “popular” that it meets once a year. The sinister meaning of this “solution” comes out in the slogans pasted up around Shebha: “Parliaments are defunct.” “representation is a fraud” and “Parties are treason” (London Guardian, 3 March 1977).

“Parties are treason” – what about the Workers Revolutionary Party? In this “People’s Public” where communists are to be jailed and butchered and their books burned, ostensible leftists would have to do some pretty peculiar things to survive – and News Line has made it clear the WRP would be more than willing to do them. The London Times (6 September 1976) reported:

“The repression… in Libya has not, of course, weakened the interest of left-wing groups in other countries. Representatives of Miss Vanessa Redgrave’s Workers’ Revolutionary Party, for instance, have visited Libya three times in the past twelve months. Nor has it diminished the affection of those countries like Malta, which feel, with some reason, that Colonel Qaddafi has proved to be their only friend.”

Malta’s reasons are obvious. About to be impoverished by the closing of NATO bases, Malta is now dependent on Qaddafi’s aid to remain solvent. The mendicant guerrillas who flock to Tripoli seeking Soviet-made arms and Libyan oil money reportedly have included Muslim secessionists from the Philippines and Ethiopia, opponents of anti-Qaddafi Arab regimes (Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco), the Provisional IRA and various Palestinian organizations. Naturally, such groups do not bite the hand that feeds them and have accorded Qaddafi a high place in the pantheon of “anti-imperialist” leaders.


Workers Press, which folded on 14 February 1976, titled itself the “Daily Organ of the Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party.” Heavy publicity in the preceding months for the paper’s “Crisis Fund” and dire warnings that “the future of the paper is in doubt” would lead to the presumption that it closed up shop for lack of funds. Yet the “Final Edition” Editorial Board statement does not explicitly say so; instead, the Healyites tersely announce that their printing firm, Plough Press, will cease operations.

The Healyites, normally so fond of denying inconvenient reports on the grounds of their bourgeois sources, hid behind an abstract and irrelevant set of statistics from one of the great bourgeois interests, the British Printing Industrial Federation, on “rises in general expenses” increasing printing costs. For two and a half months no Healyite newspaper appeared. Then News Line sprang to life – but not as any kind of party organ – with a format which included paid advertising. At about that same time Healy was replaced by Mike Banda as WRP general secretary.

The WRP ranks have been kept busy with the usual treks across England – and lately the “Children’s Crusade” across Europe – designed in part to keep them too exhausted to notice their corrupt leaders’ maneuvering. But even a cursory look at News Line’s year-long pandering to the oil-rich Qaddafi forces the observation that there is indeed something very rotten in the state of Denmark.


More from Healy, Messenger of Qaddafi
Workers Vanguard No. 174 (23 September 1977)

1 2 3 4 6