Ten Years After Assassination


[reprinted from Workers Vanguard #207, 26 May 1978]

Ten years after he was assassinated in Memphis nearly every black ghetto in the U.S. has its renamed Martin Luther King Avenue, its King school and asphalt playground. The day of his birth is now institutionalized as a national holiday. Young black school children are carefully taught the political gospel of M.L. King, Jr. as the martyred embodiment of the civil rights movement- the prophet of “nonviolence” and “patient moderation” which all black people who yearn for equality ought to follow.

It is no wonder then that the tenth anniversary of his murder has been the occasion for further mythology. It does not seem to matter to the mythmakers that the ghetto school named in his honor is probably less integrated today than it was ten years ago, that the parents of its black schoolchildren are more likely to be unemployed, that their housing is even less habitable and more expensive: and most of all, that the future of these ghetto youth in racist capitalist America appears even more desperate as their jobless rate climbs above 50 percent.

While the anniversary of the King assassination is the perfect occasion for mythologizing, it is indicative that this year the festivities were actually smaller than ever. The purpose of the celebrations has always been to dilute the memory of that original “Martin Luther King Day” which sent shivers of fear through America’s ruling class: the ghetto explosions which swept the country upon the news of his death. On the night of 4 April 1968 hundreds of thousands of black people took to the streets, leaderless and without political focus, in outrage over the cold-blooded murder of the man who was seen as the leader of blacks in struggle against their oppression. A nervous bourgeoisie once pushed this holiday as a diversion and cheap concession to an enraged minority population. But as the spectre of a political mobilization of the ghetto masses against their oppressors has grown dimmer, even “saints” like Martin Luther King become expendable.

The ten-years-after assessments are not able to completely cover up reality, so they have sounded this refrain: King brought us a long way-we’ve got a long way to go (presumably along that same “glory road”). The major chord is that King and the liberal civil rights movement won increased democratic rights, and the minor chord is the rendition of the “economic miracle” of a racially harmonious “New South.” Thus the New York Times (3 and 4 April) published a two-part article entitled, “The Legacy of Martin Luther King,” in which the “New South that King made” is presented as a bouquet of fresh liberal magnolias and black elected officials:

‘”A street named for Dr. King in Selma, racial harmony in Birmingham. burgeoning black power in Atlanta: These are the triumphs of political change in the South.”

The important and real partial gains made for blacks during this period exist largely in the realm of formal democratic rights-resulting in desegregation of public facilities, voter registration as well as a degree of school integration. But even the liberals must acknowledge that these real gains have not eliminated the “handicap” of being black in white capitalist America. Down the street from the office of Atlanta’s black mayor, Maynard Jackson, the unemployed still hang out in doorways. And as a veteran civil rights activist interviewed for the New York Times “Legacy” article bitterly remarked, “What good is a seat in the front of the bus if you don’t have the money for the fare’!”

The fact is that the “social miracle” of the “New South” is based on the old refrain of the “community of interest” between oppressor and oppressed, one which harks back to the days when the plantation owners insisted that, unlike cutthroat Northern capitalists, they “took care” of their slaves. More currently the working premise is that what is good for business is good for the poor. If Jimmy Carter is the supreme being of the “New South,” and Martin Luther King its messiah, the non-union led workers remain outcasts in this land of milk and honey. “Racial harmony” is today enforced by “black power” Mayor Jackson who smashed the 1977 strike by Atlanta’s largely black sanitation workers with a brutality that rivaled Bull Connor.

Self-serving King mythmaking is by no means restricted to the liberals whose purpose is rather obvious. Reformists on the left have joined this pilgrimage to the King shrine to stay in close touch with the “progressive forces” they tailed then and now. They add left “miracle stories” to the case for liberal canonnization. And there is an odd intersection of the liberal and reformist myths with regard to King’s assassination. For different reasons they both agree he died just in time.

Certainly the most cynical statement on the subject was made by the purest product of that movement-the King aide who made it to the top as black front man for U.S. imperialism. As Andrew Young said in a 1977 Playboy interview about King’s assassination:

“He was fortunate … really…. It was a blessing… Martin had done all he could…. He was misunderstood…. God decided Martin had had enough. It was time to go on home and claim his reward.”

Of course, Andy Young (whose readiness to sellout was so famous that even King jocularly called him “Tom”) claimed his reward in a more temporal realm, at the doorstep of the capitalist class. For the liberals King’s murder makes it somewhat easier to blame the failure of the civil rights movement on an assasin’s bullet rather than on their own political misleadership. After all, what kind of symbol would King have made had he lived on? His pacifism was utterly discredited by the ghetto explosions, his preaching of reliance on the capitalist state was exposed as the federal troops bloodily suppressed these upheavals. As a preacher of poisonous bourgeois ideology King had lost his credibility and thus outlived his usefulness to the ruling class.

For its part the reformist left has a different reason tor feeling it was a blessing King died when he did. The Communist Party (CP), for instance, claims that King was shot down just as he was embarking upon a revolutionary course. His last trip to Memphis to support the sanitation workers strike and his opposition to the Vietnam War are cited as proof positive of his growing partisanship on the side of the working class. King did come out against the war. if only for a negotiated settlement, and that opposition was to cost him his privileged relationship with LBJ. Undoubtedly King was feeling pressure from more militant black SNCC youth who saw Vietnam as a racist war. However, he anticipated the important current of bourgeois defeatism in demanding that the guns for Vietnam be replaced by government butter for the black poor. “The Great Society has been shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam,” he said in New York City.

But to hear thc CP tell the story, you would think King was some sort of crypto-Marxist by the time he goes to Memphis:

“He guided the movement for liberation… He began to see the relationship between the class struggle and the struggle for equal rights. He also saw these struggles as part of the worldwide struggle against imperialism. US imperialism in the first place.”

Daily World, 1 April 1978

This sounds more like the M.L. King of J. Edgar Hoover’s imagination than the one who actually existed. In fact, King would be no more suitable for such an honored place in the “progressive pantheon” than is Ralph Abernathy had he lived to slosh around in the mud in front of the Capitol in the “Poor People’s Tent City.” The fact is that the civil rights movement had died when King was shot. This is what makes his death so “timely” for Andrew Young, the CP and others who want to cash in on the moral capital of the “good old days” without taking responsibility for the failure of that movement.

The central theme of the bourgeoisie’s hosannahs to Martin Luther King is to present him as the symbol of a civil rights movement that went from success to success by the good old American way of pressure politics. The present condition of the ghetto populace is sufficient proof of the emptiness of this fairy tale. In fact King produced defeats every time he directly confronted the economic roots of black oppression. And from early on the preacher of nonviolence and reliance on the liberals was challenged bv more militant forces in “the movement.” The tragedy was that none of the forces in the emerging left wing of the civil rights movement had grasped a political program which could mobilize a united proletarian army to liberate all the oppressed, by smashing the capitalist system which forges the chains of their oppression.


By far the most publicized media event was Abby Mann’s King, broadcast last February over national TV for six hOllrs on three successive nights. Evcn belore it was shown, objcctions to the program were heard from disciples who feared the King image was not heing properly worshipped. Along with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) president emeritus Ralph Abernathy. Hosea Williams objected to his diminished role and tried unsuccessfully to organize a national boycott of the production. Supporters of Mann’s version included Andrew Young, Coretta King and her lawyer, Stanley Levison. all of whom are portrayed as playing key roles in the TV “docudrarna.” But for all the squabbling there was no disagreement over what ought to be the purpose of the program. As Williams said, “Our preoccupation is that King be presented as the greatest peaceful warrior of the 20th Century. That’s aH” (Po/itiks, 14 Fehruary).

That’s all? Mann’s failure to take into account the left wing of the civil rights movement brought more serious objections from a number of ex-Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) memhcrs. Mann said he “understands” thc criticisms made by the former SNCC members (who organized some of the projects Mann attributes solely to King). But he added in his defense: “This is the kind of film Martin Luther King wanted” (New York Times, 16 February). He’s probably right about that.

Certainly the TV “docudrama” is the appropriate genre for slickly packaged contemporary myth making. Its discomfiting mix of fact and fiction, data and impression, history and fantasy all serve to hlur rather than clarify an already obscured reality. It captures the cymclsm of post-Watergate liberalism with its syndrome of exposure and cover-up and ultimate unanswered questions. King focuses on the government’s targeting of black leaders, particularly the FBI’s criminal COINTELPRO program whose first commandment was: “Prevent the rise of a black messiah.”

In Ahby Mann’s King the liberal view of the FBI is given melodramatic import with J. Edgar Hoover portrayed as the arch-paranoid villain sitting stone-stiff in a dark room clenching his teeth and planning to get King. No doubt this is true. As FBI agent Arthur Murtaugh of the Atlanta field office later told Kennedy assassination buff Mark Lane (in an interview for his book, Code Name “Zarro”): “The concentration of effort against King was grea ter than any single investigation that I saw take place at the bureau and I saw a lot of them in twenty years.”

But it is not the whole truth. Relying on Lane’s research and theories, Mann paints a dark picture of the FBI to whitewash the role of the liberal government. In an early segment when then-president John Kennedy is asked what the government will do about attacks on civil rights activists, he says: “We’ll do what we always do. Nothing.” Fair enough. But by the end of the program John and his attorney general brother, Bobby, have been cast as warriors against Hoover, the FBI and the Ku Klux Klan. This post-Watergate convention of the mortal combat between Hoover and Camelot is phony in King and in history.

Far from being reluctant “good guys” the liberals differed with Hoover over tactical assessments on how to best contain the struggle for hlaek equality. The government’s attack on the hlack movement, particularly against its most militant sectors such as the Black Panther Party, was so intensive and widespread that to suggest it was done without the knowledge of Kennedy or Johnson is ludicrous. Indeed, liberal columnist Carl Rowan wrote that Hoover had leaked word to the press that Bobby Kennedy had authorized wiretaps on King’s phone, a charge he repeated in a 19 June 1968 interview in the Washington Star. But while for Hoover the “black messiah” had to be stopped by any means necessary, the liberals increasingly saw King as the man most capable of containing the civil rights movement within the bounds of liberal pacifism. The more the masses thrcatened to break out of these bonds. the more the liberals supported King against spokesmen for more militant strategies.

Yet by the late 1960’s the mood of the black population had become so explosive that a fearful bourgeoisie tended to allow Hoover a freer hand. After Harlem, Watts, Newark and Detroit went up in flames, any black leadership began to seem a threat. And so they were systematically put out of action or simply “eliminated.” Malcom X had already been assassinated; SNCC leader Rap Brown was in jail; within a Yiar Chicago Black Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton would he murdered in their beds, while Newton. Cleaver aild Seale were hounded with arrests.

We may never know how much of the post-Watergate liberal speculation ahout FBI involvement in the King assassination is fact and how much conspiratorial paranoia. But it is certainly proper to make thc sinister connection with the government’s search-and-destroy missions against the black movement. We demand to know the whole truth about the King assassination, the murder of Malcom X and the all-out secret police war against the Black Panther Party! Instead we arc  dished up post-Watergate apologia for pacifist liberalism.

From Montgomery to Washington

The Mann docudrama presents its hero as the leader of a long march of stunning victories for the hlack masses. But the truth is that Martin Luther King did not hegin the civil rights struggle in the U.S. And he certainly did not make possible the partial gains that characterize its tarly years. After World War II. the government found formal Jim Crow segregation increasingly embarrassing. It stood in stark contradiction to the integration of masses of hlack workers into the industrial proletariat of the cities; and it exposed U.S. pretensions as champion of a “Free World” both in the Cold War with Russia and in the jockeying for inlluenee in decolonizing Africa. By 1’147 the U.S. military and all departments of the fedcral govcrnmcnt were desegregatcd, and when black soldiers came back from integrated units ill Korea they sworc they would no longer submit to Jim Crow. Even before the 1954 Brown VS. Board of Education decision, the National Association for the Advanccment of Colorcd People (NAACP) had won a number of legal victorits for school desegregation in the South.

It was with the arrest of Rosa Parks in Montgomery. Alahama in 1955 that the movement that became known as the civil rights movement dramatically overtook NAACP legalism and led to the )Tar-Iong bus boycott. It was also the event that thrust Martin Luther King to center stage as a national spokesma n of pacifist Hd ircct act ion” for hlack equality. Contrary to popular myth it was not King. hut Ralph Abernathy. a less polished Montgomcry preacher at a less esteemed church. who was the d riving force hehind the hoycott. Ahernathy, E. D. Nixon (of the local NAACP and Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) and others pushed King, the “new hoy” preacher of the prestigious Dexter Avenue Church into the leadership of the hoycott for reasons of security. As he himself confirmed in his hook, ,.,'(ride Toward Freedoll1, “I neither started the protest nor suggested it,” adding in messianic terms, “I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman.”

Rather than a spokesman for the people, in Montgomery King became the spokesman for the policy of reliance on the federal government with a new cover of Gandhian passive resistance. As religious philosophy it is claptrap, hut in the mouth of a Gandhi or King it was the bleating of the .I udas goat. King wrote in the mid-1950’s:

“I he Ncgro all ovcr the South must comc to the point that he can say to his \\hite hrother: ‘We will match your capacity to inflict suttering with’ our eapacit~ to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul lorcc. We will not hate vou, hut we will not ohey vour evil law~. We will soon wear y,iu’ down hy purc capacity to sutkr’.”

–quoted in David L. I.ewis, Aing. A Critical m()grall/7I’ 1(70)

While King preached that the nonviolent resister had “cosmic companionship” in his struggle for justice, it was clear that he saw as temporal political companions the liberal capitalist government and its courts. After a year of unyielding struggle by Montgomery’s blacks, it must have seemed to King part of the cosmic order of justice when the Supreme Court declared the local laws re4ulring segregated seating on buses unconstitutionaL A voice from the hack of the adjournment proceedings is reported to have cried out, “God  Almighty has spoken from Washington, D.C.”

In Abby Mann’s King the Montgomcry hus boycott ends victoriously with the hero stepping aboard the newly integrated hus and the “New South” takes off. Coretta King’s voice is heard as the hus pulls away:

“When Martin hoarded that hus-the tirst integrated hus–hc felt as though he were Columhus discovering America. It seemcd to him then, anything was possihle.”

King was riding high with his sermons on “soul force” and t he “capacity to suffer,” but Montgomery blacks were left to face the racist flak-courageously, but tactically, politically and morally disarmed. Following the Supreme Court decision the racist terrorists crawled from their rat holes, put on their sheets and picked their black targets. The KKK staged a provocative nighttime torchlit procession into the black neighborhoods. Black churches were burned to the ground. Buses were attacked and burned in a campaign of terror. Even King’S house was dynamited; but angry blacks who rose to his defense (and their own) calling for protest action were told by King to love their enemies.

!t was in Birmingham in 1963 that the pacifism of King and the SCLC was exposed in blood and death. Mann’s King recreates the indelihle images of that time-Bull Connor and his stormtroopers; the police dogs set loose upon the crowd; the firehoses set at pressures sufficient to strip off tree bark, hurling children up against the walls. But these dramatic scenes are only part of the story. Mann glosses over the black population’s fighting response to Connor and the racist thugs. In Birmingham King’s nonviolent philosophy was junked by the black masses who with sticks, rocks, knives and bottles fought back against the racists in the streets. It was at that moment-and not before that Kennedy sent troops to bases outside the city and announced that he had taken steps to federalize the Alabama National Guard.

In Birmingham, pacifist persuasion was put away, but not before that tragic Sunday morning, 15 September 1963, when a bomb exploded in the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church that would put four little black girls into their graves. For his part, King remained loyal to his god and his saviors in the government. And the government recognized it had a loyal representative in the field. Even when his brother’s home was bombed, King continued to “marvel” at how blacks could express “hope and faith” in moments of such tragedy.

Just how loyal King was to the Democratic Party was proved that summer in the fabled March on Washington. In Mann’s King and all King mythology the March on Washington is taken as the victorious high point of “the movement.” In fact it was here that King helped engineer a “mass” political defeat for the cause of black liberation, treacherously tying it to the Democratic Party. The numbers were certainly impressive, and so was the participation of every important civil rights organization along with the liberal wing of the union bureaucracy, most notably Waiter Reuther’s United Auto Workers. Marxists call for mobilizing the power of the organized working class as key to winning democratic rights for the oppressed. But this was not what the March on Washington was about. Rather it was an attempt to channel the movement into pressure politics for the passing of the civil rights bill and to cement ties with the Democratic Party.

Even the most conservative civil rights leaders initially saw the march as a means to put the heat on the Kennedy administration, which was dragging its heels on the bill and other antidiserimination legislation. But when Kennedy called in the “representative leaders” for a conference, they quickly changed their minds. They changed their destination from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial, issued a new march handbook deleting a “statement to the president” and the call to confront the Congressmen. They specifically denied partIcIpation to “subversive” groups and censored all speeches. Although John Lewis of SNCC was invited to speak, he was pressured into deleting from his prepared text the following sentence: “We cannot depend on any political party for both Democrats and Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.”

Although the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a supportable declaration of minimal democratic rights, the march was meant to build support for precisely that party whose purpose was to sabotage any attempt by blacks to gain those rights. Characterizing the march as the “Farce on Washington,” Malcolm X wrote of the period which King came to see as the high point of his career:

“In ‘6.1 it was the march on Washington. In ’64, what was it” The civil rights bill. Right after they passed the civil-rights bill they murdered a Negro in Georgia and did nothing about it: murdered two whites and a Negro in Mississippi and did nothing about it. So that the civil-rights bill has produced nothing where we’re concerned. It was onlya valve, a vent, that was designed to enable us to let 011 our frustrations. But the bill itself was not designed to solve our problems.”

~George Breitman. ed.

Malcolm X Speaks (1965)

It was the felt need for a program to “solve our problems” which led to the emergence of a left wing in the civil rights movement which challenged King.

Civil Rights Movement Divided

One of the more pernicious aspects of the King myth is the treatment of the civil rights movement as a continuous parade of victories with little or no challenge to King’s leadership and philosophy of nonviolence. Here Abby Mann makes a most worshipful offering to that idol of liberalism at the expense of truth. ror Mann the entire political struggle against liberal pacifism is reduced to an anachronistic dialogue between King and Malcolm X in which the latter is portrayed as a charming demon of defeat while King is the inchby-inch realist. Basically, the liberals put into the mouth of Malcolm a strategy for race war and allow King to point out that such a strategy would amount to race suicide. In fact it was not race war. but collective self-defense that was the issue for Malcolm X, for Robert Williams, the Deacons for Defense and many others.

Through “creative editing,” King fails to show that not only was its hero opposed by more militant, courageous activists, but that he was also pushed by the left wing of the civil rights movement into many actions for which he is now given credit. Mann gives SNCC the most cursory mention, buried under a mountain of King rhetoric, as the militant wing of the civil rights movement. And the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). which organi7ed the first freedom rides, is not mentioned at all.

Hut history is different from “docudrama” and the developing split was to become all important to the fate of the civil rights movement. The fight was only partly generational, and at root ideological. Certainly at the beginning SNCC was a creature of the SCLC and (as its name clearly indicates) accepted its nonviolent strategy. But unlike King many of the SNCC. CORE and NAACP youth council members were not committed to nonviolence as an inviolable religious principle. They tended to accept King’s strategy as good coin. and while they had illusions in the federal government. their real commmitment was to the struggle for democratic rights for black people. Thus from the same events they learned different lessons from the preachers! When the social explosions of the mid-1960s occurred they identified with the aspirations of the black masses while King feared for the bourgeois order.

As early as the April 1960 Raleigh, North Carolina youth conference-out of which SNCC would emerge–King was already warning that “the tactics of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence may become a new kind of violence.” And by the following year during the confrontation in Albany, Georgia (“one of the meanest little towns” in Carter country) King had even more reason to be suspicious of the students–and they of him.

It was here that the students ~aw that despite King’s capacity to land thousands of activists in the jails, he was unable to dent the stone wall of racist reaction. I n midsummer 1961, after sustained and repeated racist attacks, with 3.000 Klansmen massed outside town, the protesters began to fight hack. As he did so often in the future. King called for a “moratorium” on -action. And the militant black youth began to refer to him derisively as “De Lawd.”

Hut it was at Selma, Alabama in 1965 that the tensions came to a head on the Pettus Hridge. In the face of King’s betrayal the song. “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” rang with painful irony for the returning marchers. Responding to Justice Department pressure, King stopped the Selma-toM ontgomery march, knelt in prayer and turned it around. With Selma there was open talk of King as sellout and coward. To the song “We Shall Overcome,” the young militants began to counterpose, “We Shall Overrun.”

King Goes North

It was in Chicago in 1966 that the premises of the liberal civil rights movement came most clearly into explosive collision with economic and social reality. Northern ghetto blacks had lived with “equality under the law” for years and it was abundantly clear that King had no program to fight the causes of racial discrimination rooted deep in the economic and social structure of capitalist society. And despite the reformists’ claim that King was moving left when death overtook him, what grew out of the Northern experience was not a turn toward the working class, but Jesse Jackson’s “Operation Breadbasket,” the quintessence of black capitalism.

By the time King arrived in Chicago the civil rights movement was already irreversibly divided, not the least over the ghetto upheavals which had burst upon the political scene. The emerging black nationalists were enraged by the support King and the preachers gave to the vicious police repression. As King said of Watts, “It was necessary that as powerful a police force as possible be brought in to check them” (Nell’ York Times, 16 August 1965).

While talking in vague terms about attacking economic problems, King simultaneously launched an attack against his left flank, striking out against “violence” in the black movement. He had already directed his fire at CORE’s stall-in at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and a trip to Harlem that year had resulted in his car being pelted with rotten eggs while the crowd chanted, “We Want Malcolm.” He knew he would not get much besides suspicion from CORE and SNCC in his Palmer House negotiations with Mayor Daley.

The most subtle apology for King’s liberalism comes from those who agree that the civil rights movement was finished in the North, but attribute the failure to the unbreachable divide between the ethnic white neighborhood and the black ghetto. Nationalism politically tied blacks into the ghetto, despairing of a successful struggle against the segregation of minorities at the bottom of the economic ladder. Yet in the North was also the integrated workplace, the integrated union, the possibility of an alliance with other exploited sectors against the common cnemy. But this fighting alliance did not mean the empty “unity” of black liberals with liberal labor bureaucrats. In Chicago the struggle for racial quality meant directly confronting the Daley machine. and the Reuthers, Rustins and Randolphs were not about to mount a campaign against this Democratic Party kingpin. What was needed was a proprogram of class struggle; what King offered was a program of class collaboration.

Chicago blacks were presented with the choice of two dead ends: the liberal pacifism of King or the no less defeatist ideology of Carmichael and the black nationalists. Both failed to see the need to mobilize the power of the unions, through challenging the racist, procapitalist labor bureaucracy: King and the SCL.C because they were committed to the Democratic Party; Carmichael and the black nationalists because with the defeats and sellouts of liberal pacifism, they had taken the road of black separatist militancy which ignored the “white working class.”

The situation came to a head with the projected march into the lily-white suburb of Cicero. King was under pressure to make a show of militancy; SNCC was anxious to show its mettle; the racists got ready. Nazi leader George Rockwell came to town amidst considerable fanfare to recruit among the Cicero residents. The white working class communities had already made clear that they would not allow blacks to march through their streets when King was stoned to the ground earlier in Marquette Park. No one doubted the racist terror that would meet the planned King-SNCC march. But two days before it was to occur King signed the Palmer House “Summit Agreement” and backed off in exchange for a formal agreement on housing.

For the militant wing of the civil rights movement it was Selma all over again. SNCC on its own led a march of 200 people into Cicero on September 4. There were triple that number of Chicago police and thousands of National Guardsmen. The marchers were courageous and sustained many injuries and arrests, but they had lost. It was all over long before it began. The racists had out-mobilized them in the streets. Nearly a decade later busing was defeated in Boston for much the same reason: the labor movement was not brought into the struggle on the side of integration. Responsible for these defeats were the labor bureaucrats, the black liberal leadership and the seudosocialistswho tail after them.

Class Power and Civil Rights

King and the coalition of black ministers of the SCLC had never intended to unleash a movement of the black masses. Their civil rights movement was meant as a gesture by the “talented tenth” to pressure the capitalist government for legal reform. They saw the Democratic Party as the natural political vehicle for legislative pressure and black political expression. They saw the courts as their main ally and ultimate battleground. But when the black, masses moved onto the stage of U.S. history, the SCLC’s role became one of fearful containment.

It was different for SNCC whose young activists identified with and encouraged the organization of black social power. An orientation toward different class forces began to show early, if only sociologically, as SNCC turned toward “grass roots” local organizing and King continued his reliance on the federal government. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)-which grew out of the SNCC voter registration campaigns-revealed all of the contradietions of a militant civil rights organization lacking revolutionary programmatic alternatives. The MFDP shared King’s illusions in the party of Kennedy and Humphrey, illusions it paid for at the 1964 Atlantic City convention when the Johnson/Humphrey machine crushed its attempt to unseat the Jim Crow Mississippi delegation. Out of this experience the Lowndes County (Alabama) Freedom Organization was formed with a political thrust independent of the capitalist parties.

In the end no sector of the civil rights movement was able to decisively break out of the confines of liberal politics. Yet throughout this period literally thousands of its left-wing militants were in rapid political motion. That this motion was not intersected by communists with a program to broaden the fight for democratic rights of blacks into a struggle for black equality through united class struggle was a major setback for the U.S. proletariat.

In the early 1960s the predecessor of the Spartacist League, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) within the Socialist Workers Party (S WP), fought for just such an active intervention into SNCC and other components of the left wing of the civil rights movement. The RT saw the crucial opportunity for the crystallization of a black Trotskyist cadre. Its 1963 opposition document, “The Negro Struggle and the Crisis of Leadership,” read in part:

“The rising upsurge and militancy oft the black revolt and the contradictory and confused groping nature what is now the Ieft wing in the movement provide the revolutionary vanguard with fertile soil and many opportunities to plant the seeds or revolutionary socialism …. We must consider non-intervention in the crisis of leadership a crlme or the worst sort.”

In part it was for this fight that the RT was expelled from the SWP while that already degenerated party continued its criminal abstentionism. Within a few years the opportunity would be lost–with the hardening of the black nationalist mood, the terrain would be sealed off to communists for severaI years, with many thousand of black radicals lost to the revolutionary movement.

Far from being a transcendental leader of a united movement, King was one of the political poles against which the left wing of the civil rights movement was defined. Yet there are those on the left who still yearn for the “good old days” of a “united” civil rights movement, and toward that end they falsify the movement and the man who symbolized its liberal, religious wing.

It is ironic that the rehabilitation of King within the left was begun by the black nationalists on the basis that “no whites ought to criticize” any black. But the present reformist stance toward King is dictated by desires to once again get close to the liberals. Thus the SWP, for instance, in the most cynical fashion not only talks about a “New Civil Rights Movement” as it tails after the moribund hyper-legalist NAACP, but at the same time it continues to support the residues of the black nationalist wave. In fact, both movements are dead, but these shameless reformists continue to support all of their most treacherous aspects–calls for federal troops to “protect” black schoolchildren, reliance on “peaceful, legal” means to pressure the capitalist state, support for government union-busting “Affirmative Action” schemes in the name of civil rights.

Marxists must not disguise King’s liberal pacifism and the dead end it represented in the struggle against racial oppression. We must break through the myths of “passive resistance,” crack the mask of “King the Peaceful Warrior,” and present a revolutionary analysis of the failure of the civil rights movement to provide a program for fighting the social and economic oppression of blacks under American capitalism. It is not through liberal “docudrama” that the new generation of youth will discover the true story of that period. While the reformists cover for King to camouflage their own treacherous tracks, the task of creating a black communist cadre requires destroying politically the exalted symbols of passive defeatism and reliance on the bourgeois state which led to the death of the civil rights movement.

Rise and Fall of the Panthers

Rise and Fall of the Panthers: End of the Black Power Era

[First printed in Workers Vanguard No. 4, January 1972. Copied from ]

The spectacular and violent split in the Black Panther Party can be viewed as the symbolic end to a period in American radical politics. The impact of the Panthers, in vast disproportion to their actual size and strength, indicated the pervasive black nationalist mood of which they were the most militant expression. Following the collapse of the liberal-oriented civil rights movement, virtually all U.S. radicals saw the struggle of black people against racial oppression as the central and overriding contradiction within American capitalism. The Panthers’ popularity, enhanced by the vicarious black nationalism of white-guilt liberal circles, coincided with the rejection by impatient petty-bourgeois radical students of a perspective based on the revolutionary role of the working class, black and white. The current split, with tragic implications for the defense of jailed Panthers, certainly gladdens the hearts of racists and cops, but has far-reaching implications for the left as well. No longer can the Panther leadership use unquestioned moral authority to claim automatic allegiance from militant black youth and uncritical support from radical whites regardless of their particular experiences and views.

It is important to recognize that the Panthers came into being at the ebb of the mass black civil rights movement, as a selection of the best black militants in the battles waged over the corpse of the movement. The particular character of the Panthers was shaped by two interrelated developments which marked the death of the respectable civil rights movement of King, Farmer and the early SNCC. One was the movement’s obvious failure to change the living conditions of the black masses–in particular, its inability to do anything about the terrorization of the ghetto population by the cops, the armed force of the bourgeois state. This point was driven home by the anti-cop “riots” that swept the ghettos from 1964 to 1967, which proved that militant blacks were through with the non-violent reformism of the SCLC and CORE. The other major development was wholesale ruling-class purchase of black leaders–not only moderates like Farmer but also self-styled black power advocates. The sordid fate of the black power movement was personified in individuals like Roy Innis, who drove the whites out of CORE and later hustled tickets for the Frazier-Ali fight in partnership with General Electric. Another example is LeRoi Jones, black power ex-beat poet, who became aide to His Honor Mayor Gibson and prominently assisted in his attempt to destroy the Newark Teachers Union. The Panthers were thus defined negatively, in reaction against the dying civil rights movement on the one hand and the rise of “pork chop” nationalism on the other.

Ghetto Uprisings and the Myth of Urban Guerrilla Warfare

It was clear to all that the ghetto uprisings, which began in Harlem in 1964 and continued with undiminished intensity until Newark in 1967, marked the end of the old civil rights movement. What was not clear was how the uprisings affected the future of the black movement. Rather than recognizing the ghetto outbursts for what they in fact were–the final spasm of frustration and fury in the wake of a movement that had raised great hopes and activated enormous energy only to accomplish nothing–the left wishful-thinking saw in the ghetto-police battles the beginning of mass revolutionary violence which presumably had merely to be organized in order to be made effective. The notion that the ghetto was a base for urban guerrilla warfare was common not only among black nationalists, but was accepted by most of the left, from serious Maoists like Progressive Labor to the pundits of Monthly Review. The Panthers were outstanding in their willingness to face jail and even death for their theory.

The ghetto uprisings did not give the black masses a sense of their own power. They did just the opposite. During the rioting, it was blacks’ own homes that were burned down and the cops who went on a killing rampage. The riots proved that police brutality was not an isolated injustice that could be eliminated through militant action. The cops are an essential part of the armed force of the state; if defeated locally, they came back with the National Guard or Army. To drive the cops out of the ghetto and keep them out was equivalent to overthrowing the American state; thus as long as the majority of white workers remained loyal or only passively hostile to the government, black activism could not liberate the ghetto. It was not their lack of formal organization but a sense that they really could not win that gave the ghetto uprisings their spontaneous, consciously self-sacrificing character.

The Panthers chose to make a stand on their ability to purge the ghetto of police brutality when experience had shown the black masses that this could not be done given the existing over-all balance of political forces. The Panthers, realizing that the masses could not be organized to aggressively confront the police, developed a conscious policy of substituting their own militants for the organized power of the masses. In so doing, they developed a self-image of a band of warrior-heroes avenging the historic injustices visited upon the downtrodden black population. Adventurous black youth joining the Panthers did not see themselves as building a successful social revolution, but anticipated “leaving the Party in a pine box” with a dead cop to their credit, having done their share to avenge the centuries-old oppression of their people.

The Panther leadership knew they were standing up to the cops in isolation from the black masses. In his essay, “The Correct Handling of a Revolution,” Huey Newton contended that armed Panthers would set an example which the rest of the black people would follow. Written after thousands of blacks had battled the cops and lost in Harlem, Watts and Chicago, Newton’s argument had a forced and unreal quality. History was about to give Newton a swift and deadly counter-argument.

The Panthers Pick Up the Gun and Are Defeated

Taking advantage of California’s liberal gun laws, the Panthers applied their theory. At first their tactics appeared successful. Newton’s armed patrols in Oakland went unmolested. The Panthers held an armed rally in Richmond commemorating the murder of Denzil Dowell by a deputy sheriff, and faced the cops down. Most spectacularly, Bobby Seale led a group of armed Panthers to the State Capitol during a debate on gun control, and received only a light prison sentence. Taken aback by the Panther flamboyance, and uncertain how much support they had in the ghetto, the authorities at first demurred. But beginning with the wounding and jailing of Newton in October 1967, and gaining steam with the killing of Bobby Hutton and the arrest of Cleaver in April 1968, a coordinated national campaign to wipe out the Panthers was launched by local police and the FBI operating in many cases with the assistance of cultural nationalist groups (the murder of Los Angeles Panthers by members of Ron Karenga’s US). Over the past few years, the murders of Panthers have continued and virtually the entire leadership has been imprisoned on capital charges.

Contrary to Panther theorizing, the crackdown on them did not provoke mass ghetto rebellions. In fact, the Panthers’ real weakness can be seen by comparing the response to their persecution with the spontaneous eruptions of ghetto rage at the assassination of Martin Luther King.

The Panthers’ feeling of desperate isolation as the police rifle sight zeroed in on them is expressed in a moving account by Earl Anthony, a former Deputy Minister of Information who later split from the Party in the direction of mainstream nationalism. Writing after the Battle of Montclaire, where three Panthers were killed by the cops in Los Angeles, Anthony reflects:

“I kept thinking to myself. . . about the ease with which the Panthers were being killed, and I couldn’t do anything about it, and nobody I knew could do anything about it. And I thought about the thousands upon thousands. . . of black people who have been murdered, and nobody could do anything about it…. What really burned me inside was that I was forced to realize the untenable position the Party and other blacks who dare to put their toe to the line are in. I knew that white people didn’t really care that Little Tommy, Captain Steve, and Robert were gone, or that the pigs were scheming the murder of the rest of us…. I had learned to accept that attitude from whites. But the painful reality was that many blacks had it too. When you got down to it, we were pretty much alone. Not many people really cared….”

-Earl Anthony, Picking Up the Gun, pp. 138-39.

The Panthers Defend Themselves and Move Right

Isolated, with repression bearing down on them, the Panthers shifted the focus of their activities to legal defense work in an effort to gain the broadest possible support. The Panther alliances with white radicals were not motivated by any realization that American society could only be revolutionized by an integrated working-class movement, but by the material needs of their defense campaign. As Seale openly admitted, the Panthers’ support for the ill-fated Peace and Freedom Party was not based on a desire to establish an integrated radical third party, but by a belief that the PFP was a convenient vehicle in gaining left liberal support for defense of Newton. The other widely divergent groups supporting the PFP, such as Progressive Labor and the Independent Socialist Clubs (now the International Socialists) were no less opportunistic, although in their case the motivation was chiefly a desire for a recruiting vehicle.

The Panthers’ tendency to move closer to liberalism, implicit in their support of the liberal program of the PFP, was made explicit in the equally abortive United Front Against Fascism, launched in 1969. Guided by the Communist Party’s legal apparatus, the UFAF was an attempt to create an alliance of everyone to the left of Nixon-Agnew on an essentially civil libertarian basis. The UFAF’s main programmatic demand–community control of the police–combined liberal illusions over the nature of the bourgeois state with black nationalist illusions that the oppression of black people can be ended through “control” of ghetto institutions.

The Panthers’ overtures to the liberals were not very successful since the Panthers were too notorious for defense by bourgeois politicians. A few West Coast black Democrats, like Willy Brown and Ronald Dellums, protected their left flank by coming out for the Panthers. Some politicians like Cleveland’s Carl Stokes, questioned whether the police might not have actually violated the Panthers’ rights! The Panthers were somewhat more successful in garnering support and money from the cultural wing of the liberal establishment, as indicated by Leonard Bernstein’s famous party where the “beautiful people” met the Panthers and paid handsomely for the titillation of exposing their bourgeois sensibilities to the black revolution in safety, an expensive delight somewhat recalling the Roman arenas. But despite their efforts to present themselves as simple anti-fascists, the heat continued to come down on the Panthers.

Although the Panthers since 1969 have clearly given up street patrols in favor of defense rallies and soirees, they have not officially abandoned their claim to be the vanguard of urban guerrilla warfare. In the current split, the Cleaver wing points to this contradiction and claims with some truth that Newton’s Oakland group has deserted the original Panther banner.

Along with their turn toward the liberals, the Panthers launched a series of ghetto social work programs, exemplified in their “breakfast for children” drive. The new activities were designed to gain support from the black masses who had not rallied to the confrontationist image, as well as give the Panthers a more humanitarian image when facing white middle-class juries. Thus, Panther attorney Lefcourt forced the undercover agent in the New York 21 case to admit that the defendants spent most of their time doing good works in the community and not plotting to blow up buildings.

The “breakfast for children” program is also a rather ridiculous attempt to apply literally the standard Maoist “serve the people” strategy. While Mao’s Red Army could give some real material aid to the Chinese peasants in protecting them from rapacious landlords, helping with the harvest and the like, the notion that the Panthers could compete with the Welfare Department or the Baptist Church in feeding the ghetto poor is simply ludicrous. But the fundamental flaw in the “serve the people” line is not that it doesn’t work, but that it strengthens the paternalistic character the Panthers already present in their self-image as avenging angels of the black masses seen as grateful clients of a revolutionary organization, not as potential conscious revolutionists in their own right.

The Panthers’ need for activities like the “breakfast for children” program to improve their image in the ghetto destroys the myth that they are a spontaneous expression of black militancy. Some radical groups–notably the International Socialists, who followed the Panthers right up to the gates of Peking Stalinism–contended that one should support the Panthers regardless of their politics because they were the highest organic expression of ghetto political consciousness. In contrast, the Panthers have always regarded themselves as a highly self-conscious vanguard tendency. On the one hand, they sought to win the loyalty of the ghetto youth from competing groups, mainly the cultural nationalists. On the other, they beat the ghetto life style out of their new recruits (while glorifying it in their press), recognizing that a lumpenized life style is incompatible with serious and sustained revolutionary activity. The contention that lax political standards should be employed in judging the Panthers because they are an authentic cry from the soul of the black masses is not only factually false but reflects a patronizing attitude toward blacks that borders on racism.

Glamor and Terror

The Panthers’ serious internal difficulties, manifested not only in the present decisive split but also in the endless series of expulsions, reflects the impossibility of building a revolutionary organization with street gang methods. Because the Panthers recruited adventurous youth without a stable axis, they could only prevent the disintegration of their organization into competing warlordisms through the imposition of a kind of military terror. New recruits were assigned fifty push-ups for failing to memorize the Panther program, and pressure was put on them to do two hours of reading a day. It is argued that such coerced internal political life is necessary in any radical organization not composed primarily of middle-class intellectuals. But the history of the proletarian socialist movement in the U.S. and elsewhere yields many examples of organizations in which articulate and politically able industrial workers though often lacking formal education, shaped policy, and did not merely memorize a program by rote, like a prayer. This was possible because the socialist movement recruited workers to a comprehensive program for long-term political goals. The Panthers, on the contrary, recruited on the basis of a radical street gang mentality, with its attendant personal, ethnic and geographical loyalties. The Panther program did not shape their organization and its activities, but was treated as a decoration like icing on a cake.

The Panthers’ concept of rule through terror, and its application to internal factional struggles as well as relations with other radical groups, can no longer be ignored by the opportunists who tailed after the Panthers and their popularity, hoping it would rub off. In discussing the factional struggle with Cleaver, Newton simply said “We’ll battle it out” and “… I have the guns,” to which Cleaver replied, “I got some guns too, brother” (Right On!, 3 April 1970). In a like manner, the Panthers responded to criticisms of their “United Front” with the CP and liberals by physically throwing the critics out of the UFAF conference (see Spartacist West, No. 18) and making repeated public threats against all left critics. At no time has the Panther leadership reacted to criticism by seeking to politically discredit their opponents within the radical constituency. At no time have they recognized that building a revolutionary party requires methods in any way different from conducting a street gang rivalry.

Apart from terror, the main element holding a street gang together is a power mystique, manifest in the warrior-hero cult of the Panthers. Seale testified to the importance of glamor to the Panthers in noting that a number of members left the Party when ordered not to wear their uniforms except on Party assignment. The best expression of Panther glamor-mongering is the ascending order of hero worship, culminating in the cult of Huey Newton which appears even more absurd than the Stalin and Mao cults because of its imitative character.

The disastrous effect of building an organization through hero worship is apparent in the split, which has been dominated by personal rivalries and clique politics. The split originated not in clear political differences, but in accusations that Chief of Staff David Hilliard was playing favorites in allocating defense funds and expelling out-of-favor Panthers, like “Geronimo” Pratt, to avoid the responsibility for their defense. But there are political differences implicit in the split. Each faction occupies one of the two poles around which Panther politics have revolved. The Cleaver group represents the anti-cop confrontationism characteristic of the early Panthers while Newton’s group reflects the liberalism and social-work do-goodism of the defense campaigns. In terms of internal dynamics, the Algiers group tends toward reconciliation with mainstream Black Nationalism, while the Oakland group has gravitated toward liberal reformism sometimes more naked than that of the Communist Party. The actual faction fight has touched these differences only marginally, and has been conducted almost entirely in terms of competing heroes, character assassination and counter-retailing of atrocity stories (e.g., the claim that Cleaver is keeping his wife prisoner, the accusation that Hilliard is doping Newton). The main programmatic demand of the Algiers group is a call for collective leadership and an attack on the personality cult, while the Newton group has defended itself by asserting the personality cult, namely Newton’s own.

Sections of the left have of course attempted to find a qualitative political superiority of one wing over the other, as a rationale for drawing close to it. Perhaps the crudest attempt to paint one of the wings as “Marxist” or close to it was that of the assertedly Trotskyist “Workers League” of Tim Wohlforth. Wohlforth hailed Newton’s proclaimed embracing of the dialectic in a fit of organizational appetite early last year. Newton very soon thereafter announced his peace with black capitalism and the church, teaching Wohlforth again that “dialectic” is a word of four syllables and “method” of two, and that it takes much more than the mouthing of the two words to make a Marxist, or even a potential Marxist. To make his short-lived praise of Newton more grotesque, Wohlforth printed fulsome praise and carefully selected revolutionary proletarian quotes from Newton in the same article in which he defended, against SWP-YSA criticism, his view of the New York police “strike” as “a reflection of a very general, deep and profound movement of the working class”! (15 February Bulletin) “Only the Workers League”… dares to suck up to the Panthers and defend the “job action” of their mortal enemies, the cops, in the same issue of the same publication.

Hero worship is one of the ways bourgeois ideology enters the revolutionary movement and destroys it. Its corrupting nature is evident in Huey Newton’s $650 a month penthouse, paid for out of Party funds raised in defense campaigns, while rank-and-file Panthers hide from the police in rat-infested hovels. The Panther paper justifies Newton by noting that he had “stood up and faced the pigs (from which he was wounded and spent two years in prison)” and that he had “put his life on the line in the fight to end this racist, exploitative system.” The paper went on to state: “Huey and his generals of staff should have the best as they plan their party’s strategy.” (The Black Panther, 27 February 1971) The belief that the pest sufferings of militants entitle them to the good life at rank-and-file expense is an important subjective justification for bureaucracy in the labor and radical movement. Moreover, left-wing leaders can continue to enjoy the good life only with ruling-class cooperation, obtainable by holding back the organizations they are supposed to lead against it. Many present leading AFL-CIO bureaucrats were beaten, shot at and jailed in their youth. Newton’s penthouse and the Party’s defense of it indicate a deeply anti-socialist attitude. The revolutionary movement is not like a medieval joust where the best knight gets the castle. Its purpose is to destroy the castle.

Lumpens, Hippies and New Left Ideology

An analysis qualitatively superior to the Workers League’s general pattern of alternating denunciation and grovelling before the Panthers was written by “Lil Joe” for the 15 March 1971 Bulletin. The author, no longer with the Workers League, well analyzed the tension between the “national” and “class” orientation of the Panthers:

“The Black Panther Party was organized as a nationalist organization. Unlike the other nationalist groups, however, it was organized for the most part, by ghetto Blacks–the most oppressed sections of the ghetto youth–the unemployed and if employed, employed in low paying industry. As nationalism is a middle class ideology of ‘unity of race or nation’ rather than ‘unity of class,’ the Black Panther Party, organized by and for Black working class youth necessarily took on a class character.

“Hence in its earliest development the Black Panther Party was thrown into conflict with nationalism itself. The Black Panther Party, however, externalized this struggle by declaring itself ‘Revolutionary Nationalist’ as in primary opposition to that which they described as ‘Cultural Nationalism.’

“What the Panthers would not do was confront the fact that ‘cultural nationalism’ and ultimately ‘Black Zionism’ under the guise of ‘Pan Africanism’ was the logical conclusion of Black nationalism by virtue of the fact that Black people in America share not a national, but a cultural or racial identity.

“By externalizing their struggle against ‘Black nationalism’ or ‘cultural’ nationalism, the Black Panther Party was able to prolong, to ‘put off,’ an inevitable explosion within the Black Panther Party itself. While denouncing ‘Cultural’ nationalism and maintaining itself as a racial rather than a class organization—‘Revolutionary Nationalist’–the Black Panther Party was able to make criticisms of sorts, while at the same time bowing to the pressures of the Black middle class ‘nationalists’ themselves.”

To avoid the Marxist contention that the organized working class is the key revolutionary element, the Panthers came up with the theory that black lumpens are the revolutionary vanguard, and that all employed workers, black and white, have been bought off by the ruling class. The Panthers’ “theory” of lumpenism is a mixture of self-aggrandizement and impressionism. Its role is similar to the theories of “student power” and the “new working class” that were popular in SDS a few years ago: our revolutionary organization consists largely of lumpens (or students); therefore lumpens (or students) must be the vanguard of the revolution. This kind of “theorizing” unfortunately does not merit serious consideration.

A lumpen life style has very different social roots among ghetto black youth and middle-class whites; but in both cases youth rebel against the prospect of holding down a meaningless job, raising a family and suffering a deadly “respectable” life. Such rebellious attitudes are not merely justified, but are the subjective raw material out of which revolutionary consciousness is made. No one will be a revolutionist who does not hate a society that makes life for working people boring, trivial, deadening and often heartbreaking. But a political movement which isolates itself in a social milieu hostile to normal work-a-day society must become irresponsible, individualistic and ultimately cynical and contemptuous of the mass of working people. It is precisely that task of revolutionaries to penetrate the mainstream of social and economic life and explode “normal work-a-day” society on the basis of its terrible oppressiveness–the very oppressiveness which drove individuals to become revolutionaries in the first place.

The Left’s Panther Cult

The Panther split is another nail in the coffin of the New Left. For years, the U.S. left has defined itself in terms of supporting this or that militant action or opposing particular acts of oppression and injustice. Within the issue-oriented movement, support for the Panthers has been one of the few common elements that prevented the left from fragmenting completely through “doing one’s own thing.” The net effect of the Panther influence on the left was negative, not only because the Panthers’ own politics never transcended black nationalism and crude Stalinism, but because Panther-worship and uncritical concentration on their defense campaigns prevented the political interaction essential to revolutionary program and strategy. It was Cleaver’s presence at the head of the ticket that enabled the PFP to bring together a collection of left McCarthyites, Yippies, orthodox Maoists (Progressive Labor) and “third campers” (IS) into an unprincipled, liberal-program “unity” for a time. In a like manner, uncritical support for and from the Panthers was one of the few concrete issues the diverse anti-labor elements in the old SDS could unite around in expelling the “Worker-Student Alliance” tendency. The Panther split proved once again that hero worship and tail-ending are no substitute for the struggle for Marxist clarity as a foundation of a revolutionary party.

Since their inception, the Panthers have been a test for the predominantly white American left as a whole–a test of its ability to apply Marxist analysis, and a test of its consistency and courage. The absence of a Leninist vanguard party made the ruin of the Panthers likely if not strictly inevitable. Lacking a link to the revolutionary party of the working class, organizations fighting special oppression stand isolated from the rest of the working class and endangered by the problems and backwardness of their particular, isolated areas of struggle. The extreme result of such a situation is “self-determination for everybody” with every organization and particular struggle competing for a larger share of the capitalist pie.

It is important to note the significance of how the Panthers were defeated. That the Panthers were defeated physically by the state rather than politically through the intervention of the vanguard party means, in effect, that many of the lessons of their demise will surely be lost. It means that more despair and less consciousness of what went wrong has been created in many of the best subjectively revolutionary elements. On a smaller scale, the difference is not unlike that between the destruction of a bureaucracy like, say, the North Vietnamese by American tanks and bombers instead of by the North Vietnamese workers in political revolution.

But did any of the various left organizations show by their attitude toward the Panthers the fitness, the right (or for that matter even any intention) to construct the vanguard party which was lacking? Nearly all self-proclaimed Marxist organizations failed the test, most of them repeatedly on a variety of issues and occasions. The gutless IS, loudly proclaiming their anti-Stalinism, tailed the Panthers throughout the process leading to their embrace with the Stalinists and their liberal allies in the United Front Against Fascism. The SWP-YSA, the most vociferous “Marxist” proponent of black nationalism, consistently ignored the Panthers’ systematic errors and violations of proletarian ethics until, we presume, they became scared. They refused to sign a protest issued by the Spartacist League against the beating and exclusion by the Panthers of radical tendencies selling their literature outside a Panther “Birthday Party” celebration in Berkeley, California, in February 1970. Their proclaimed reason for refusal was their unwillingness to intervene in Panther internal affairs–as if physical attacks on competing radical tendencies were an “internal affair”! But they were shortly to repudiate the Panthers as part of their general “orthodox” shying away from the guerrilla warfare line they had preached–for others–for years. (See Spartacist No. 20, April-May 1970, “World Trotskyism Rearms” for an analysis of their newly-discovered Leninist opposition to guerrilla warfare strategy when their European co-thinkers proposed that the U.Sec. implement its pro-guerrilla stance.) The SWP’s new criticism of the Panthers whom they supported for so long, is fundamentally criticism from the right, expressed CP-fashion in orthodox-sounding rhetoric about the need to rely on the movement of the masses. The SWP criticized the Panthers also for not being nationalist enough; the scattered references in Panther leaders’ speeches to class struggle (of which the Workers League briefly made so much) were too much for the thoroughly reformist SWP to swallow. In an article “Which Way for Black Liberation” in the December 1969 Young Socialist, the YSA leadership condemned the Black Panthers for “waving the little red book, or calling this the year of the gun” instead of “reaching out to the broadest masses of the community” around “the questions of black control of the schools, ending police brutality, better jobs”–precisely the issues the liberals can campaign on. The YSA’s critique is thus not a critique of the crude Panther brand of Maoism, but an attack on their attempt to popularize their conception of communist consciousness as opposed to the SWP’s classless community reform line.

From Black Power to Communism

If the Panther split is disorienting for the “white” radical movement, it is devastating for the black radical movement. With the demise of the Panthers as a united organization, no national black organization exists which can claim the allegiance of large numbers of radical blacks. The civil rights movement, which attracted young militants through its social activism and a sense that it was engaging in decisive political battles, is long dead and buried. The mainstream black nationalists are openly and unashamedly on the payroll of “the man.” Localized ad hoc groups like black student unions or tenants’ unions cannot have serious revolutionary pretensions, whatever their members might think. The Panthers were the only organization which could seriously claim to be both black and subjectively revolutionary. And now the Panthers are no more. Two competing apparatuses exist in disarray, stripped of moral authority. The only black organization now existing which can claim both a degree of militancy and rudiments of national structure is the Black Workers’ Congress. BWC leader James Forman, assertedly converted to anti-imperialism from his SNCC liberalism, expounds a policy of separate organizations of black workers and a view of Marxism as [a] handbook of how-to-run-an-organization-and-be-serious. The BWC appears at this time to be capable of sowing considerable revisionist confusion especially among unionists, but not likely to acquire the widespread moral authority enjoyed by the old Panthers. There is now no place for a black revolutionist to go … except the integrated proletarian socialist movement.

The shriveling of the civil rights movement in the fires of Watts and Detroit, the rise of pork-chop nationalism and the external and internal destruction of the Panthers cannot be explained in terms of the problems of particular organizations and the defections of particular leaders. Rather, these developments prove the impossibility of building a black liberation struggle independent of the rest of American society. The civil rights movement failed because the oppression and degradation of black people is deeply rooted in the American economy and society and cannot be eliminated through legalistic reforms. Only a socialist economic system can lift the ghetto masses off the bottom of the economic order. That the black power protests of H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael produced a movement of Uncle Toms in dashikis and professional strike-breakers was not because the movement was always composed of corrupt opportunists. The black power advocates realized the ghetto was not economically viable. If black power meant more black principals, welfare department heads and police chiefs, then only the ruling class could finance a substantial increase in the black bureaucracy. And the ruling class always demands a return on its money. The Panthers could not defeat the cops because the cops are an essential part of the capitalist state and the Panthers could not defeat that state. Given that fact, the Panthers could only alternate between the bitter consequences of heroic adventurism or appealing to the liberal establishment.

The oppression of the black people cannot be ended by black activists alone, but only by the working class as a whole. The breakup of the Panthers’ organization and authority creates greater opportunity–but only opportunity–for the struggle for an integrated proletarian socialist vanguard party. The process is in no sense inevitable; there will always be plenty of hustlers and romantic rebels to attempt endless repetition of the old mistakes and betrayals. But the intervention of Leninists among radical blacks can stimulate the understanding that the liberation of black people will be both a great driving force of the American proletarian revolution, and a great achievement of the revolution in power. That revolution will be made, not in the name of black power, but of working-class power–communism.


[Appendix 2 to Letter of Resignation from the International Bolshevik Tendency by Samuel Trachtenberg]

Exchange between the International Communist League and the International Bolshevik Tendency

Excerpted from

A report from the Permanent Revolution Group (published as part of the Riker/Smith document collection reprinted in Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League No. 8) gives evidence that Logan is up to his old tricks. This report positively describes a “communist criticism” session, in which “all comrades were expected to comment openly and frankly on the good and bad characteristics of other comrades..” At the end of this torment—which lasted three days—the organizer, who had a young baby, resigned for not showing enough “vigour and consistency.” Such “methods” were used for years to break critics and mold mindless hacks in Stalinist organizations, and they were also adopted by the moralists of the New Left. But they are antithetical to the training of critical Leninist cadres. And look who’s calling us a “cult”!


No. 58

The PRG “commcrit” exercise in early 1993 was perfectly innocuous. The organization was overdue for adjustments to the division of labour, and one result of the exercise was the election of a new organizer. Having spent a number of years in this demanding post, the PRG organizer was interested in changing his role in the organization. There was no question of any loss of political authority.

Beyond such normal organizational adjustments, it was also necessary to address the fact that the political functioning of some comrades had begun to slip. There were various other symptoms of political demoralization and expressions of dissatisfaction which also had to be dealt with. These ranged from criticisms of the operation of the group as a whole and the performance of various members (particularly leading comrades) to calling into question the fundamental programmatic basis of the Marxist movement.

Initially the PRG executive had intended to raise its concerns with the functioning of various comrades as personnel points in the regular Wellington branch meeting. But it was subsequently proposed that the essential points could be made equally well if, instead of simply focusing on the shortcomings of a few, the discussion were broadened to include the functioning and political development of the group as a whole, from the leadership down to the most recent recruit.

The exercise, which was always projected as a “one-off” event, took place over three branch meetings. While some comrades (including some leading comrades) found it a bit uncomfortable at points, everyone, including the (now ex-) comrades who had been the initial source of concern, felt that it was a positive experience and had helped to clear the air.

Commenting on the SL’s allegations that these meetings were about “breaking critics” and “molding mindless hacks,” comrade Marcus Hayes remarked:

“I can’t see any objection in principle, and the only question to me then is: was the actual event in practice abusive and unhealthy? It’s entirely a contingent question….

“Concerns based on what the exercise might have been like in other circumstances, or what these things can sometimes turn into, etc., etc., in fact assume circumstances different from what we actually had, that is, something less than a healthy regime.”

By projecting their own internal life onto us, the SL scribes conjure up a truly nightmarish scenario. Their conviction that it must necessarily have been an abusive psychological torture session is presumably grounded in their own experience. In a similar fashion many ex-Communists concluded that Lenin’s democratic centralism led inexorably to Stalin’s gulag.

But in politics the truth is always concrete.

[Back to Letter of Resignation]


[Appendix 4 to Letter of Resignation from the International Bolshevik Tendency by Samuel Trachtenberg]

Letter (circa 1998) by the IBT’s Jason Wright documenting his leaving the Revolutionary Workers League

The following letter (circa 1998) by the IBT’s Jason Wright (see documenting his leaving the Revolutionary Workers League is appendix #3 to Resignation from the International Bolshevik Tendency by Samuel Trachtenberg. In it Wright documents the RWL’s leadership’s history of attempting to neutralize internal critics (including eventually himself) by seeking to convince their followers that criticisms of themselves must reflect mental illness. a tactic now also used by the leadership of the International Bolshevik Tendency. In the letter Wright documents his own previous history of acting as a “handraiser” and unscrupulous hatchetman against the RWL bureaucrats opponents (a role he has now chosen to reprise inside the IBT), before receiving a bit of karmic justice in eventually getting the same treatment himself from his masters. In the experience of all social movements, it almost seems that some people are destined to be perpetual hacks. The IBT previously itself quite accurately described a similar regime loyalist hack inside the Spartacist League, a universal type most activists will recognize having encountered at one time or another.

” [Al] Nelson’s detractors may grumble that he’s rather dull, very insecure, has a tendency to be a bully and is sometimes a bit unstable. But they ignore his other qualities: he has a certain base cunning, and, more importantly, he is thoroughly, deeply, unremittingly loyal to Robertson. Robertson is well aware of Nelson’s limitations and has occasionally had to jerk his chain—-but one needs to do that with pit bulls.

“Workers Vanguard De-Collectivized”, 1917 #18, 1996



Thanks for your note. I found your message very disturbing but not particularly surprising. In fact the RWL in Detroit has had a long history of attempting to have its disaffected members or individuals attempting to organize oppositions, committed into mental institutions. I speak from experience, having been committed in the Capitol District Psychiatric Center at Shanta’s instructions about 48 hours before I quit the RWL in an attempt to prevent me from attending a Central Committee meeting (which I was entitled to attend as an observer) in Detroit. I was very fortunate in that my Mother, with whom I had been on bad terms since joing the RWL, came to my rescue and threatened to sue CDPC if they did not release me. The first document we published when founding the MEG was Don’s resignation statemment. He devotes several paragraphs of this to what can only be called the RWL’s “tactical policy” of attempting to institutionalise any leading cadre who threaten to oppose the RWL PC and show the least sign of depression. I had been reluctant to mail you the MEG back materials right away because I think they contain a few imperfect formulations that I would not stand behind today. In reading them today, I as their primary author, would desperatly want someone to view them in the context of Don and my movement at that time, ie. a course we charted away from the RWL and toward an orthodox anti-revisionist Trotskyism. This or that formulation I would have today developed differently, though on the whole I think what little original MEG literature there was represents a vast improvement over that of the RWL. If you would like to see it I would be happy to mail you copies so that you can see that this is not a fundamentally new development.

It is so old in fact that I remember the SL in the early 80’s ran an expose on a comrade the RWL had attempted to institutionalise when she quit the organization. That the SL, well on the “Road to Jimstown” still felt comfortable denouncing the cultism of the RWL shows how unhealthy the RWL’s internal life was even at that time. Heather herself had a similar experience to this before. The incident was perhaps one of the most critical ones in my decision to leave the RWL. In Decemeber of 1993 she began a secret relationship with Luke behind the back of her then boyfriend,Sheldon, a young black worker from Detroit. When Sheldon discovered Heather’s “infidelity” in January of 1994 he attempted to kill himself. I was in Detroit at the time for some sort of winter school or conference (I don’t recall exactly right now.) While most of the time when visiting Detroit I was put up at either Luke’s apartment or George and Eileen’s house, on this occassion there were so many comrades in town that I stayed in Heather and Sheldon’s apartment. Sheldon was supposed to walk me to Wayne State University where the RWL was meeting the next day. When we woke up however Sheldon told me he wasn’t feeling well and gave me directions to the campus instead. I and the other comrades who had crashed in that apartment proceeded to the RWL or NWROC event. During the lunch break Shanta approached me, concerned by the fact Sheldon had not some with us. Evidently she was aware of the recent turbulance in Heather and Sheldon’s relationship and had an inkling of what had happened. After we left the apartment I am told Sheldon swallowed a bottle of aspirin and a bottle of draino.

The PC, which included Luke, met in special session that evening. At night a special meeting of all RWL candidate members and members currently in Detroit and Ann Arbor was convened. Leland presented a motion, endorsed by the PC, to censure Heather, Luke and Jodi, who at that time was Heather’s best friend and a former lover of Luke’s. The accusation against Jodi stemmed from the allegation that she had, with deliberate malice and forthought, made possible the relationship between Heather and Luke, knowing that the results would be disasterous and that they would reflect badly on Luke as a member of the PC. Everyone, including I am ashamed to say myself, voted for the PC’s resolution.

Luke made a speech that reaked of Maoist self-criticism, stating that the struggle for revolutionary consciousness under capitalism was a constant battle to assert true, revolutionary consciousness over the false consciousness imposed by capitalism. A struggle between our best aspects and our worst. Luke felt that in succumbing to his attraction for Heather he had capitulated to his worst side which prided personal pleasure and sexual satisfaction over the welfare of the organization. He made a statement that as the person who had been most responsible for developing Sheldon as a contact of the organization, he knew better then anyone the profound mistrust Sheldon had of all white people and the lingering influence of Black Nationalism on his consciousness. Luke stated that his actions had been absolutely inexcusable. Heather and Jody then made similar self criticisms about themselves.

While the general pattern in the RWL was one of ushering comrades into mental wards,they did everything in their power to see to it that Sheldon’s hospital stay was as short as possible. The stated reason was that the RWL wished to minimize the risk of a scandal in either the bourgoise press or the workers movement. Specifically Leland, in a private conversation that same weekend, told me he was terrified of Workers Vanguard getting a hold of the information and printing it. While the SL went through its own string of suicidal comrades in the 80’s Leland believed they would not hesitate to make ammo of this. For both Leland and Shanta, the recruitment of Sheldon, a black worker, represented exactly what the organization “needed” and they were scared shitless that they would gain a reputation of being a cult that drove such individuals to suicide.

To this end the RWL organized “private care” for Sheldon. At first this took the form of Heather being ordered to break off all relations with Luke and make herself available to administer to all Sheldon’s needs. I suspect it may also have involved the pilfering of some form of psychotropic or anti-depressent drugs from the hospital in which Shanta and others worked and the RWL administering them to Sheldon on their own authority. I had not heard the rumor about the drugs before leaving Detroit, but the policy of chaining Heather to Sheldon’s bedside had already been decided upon by the time I had that private meeting with Leland.

I had had an argument nearly a year earlier over the attempt by the leadership to dictate comrade’s private lives. In that instance it had involved the RWL denouncing a lesbian couple, Liv and Andi, who had founded the RWL operation in Albany, when they refused to take complete financial responsibility for supporting their housemate (also now an RWL member) Tanya. Tanya had been unemployed for some time and Andi and Liv had carried most of the bills. When Tanya found a job they asked her to pay some of the money back. A short time before Liv had dropped out of active membership and Shanta had begun “suggesting” that Andi break off their relationship. In fact Andi did break off her relationship with Liv around that time. Andi was then told that they did not have the right to expect any financial renumeration from Tanya, she was told they should both kick Liv out of the apartment and expect her to swallow most of the expenses. When Andi sided with Liv in this financial argument pressure was put on her which, among several other factors, led to her leaving the organization.

Shortly after Andi quit I was in Detroit as an invited guest observer at a Central Committee meeting, the same one in which Kieth H., who was shortly to defect to the SL, objected to Leland’s position on the Russian question. After the meeting I approached Shanta and expressed the opinion that Andi had been unjustly pushed out of the organization. Foolishly, I belived at that time that I was within my rights to raise such a criticism (in private no less). The experience disavowed me of the notion. Shanta began shrieking that I was a racist (Tanya is black while Andi and Liv are white) in the middle of the room attracting the attention of numerous other comrades in the room. the experience was thoroughly humiliating and damaging and taught me to keep my mouth shut when it came to directives emerging from the PC.

The experience had a somewhat scarring effect on me in that it showed a number of comrades, already possesing a certain appetite for Stalinist style beuracratism, that I was fair game for criticism in the leaderships eyes. As such my political life was for several months very difficult in Albany. Sarah W. and Yvette F. were continually denouncing me for one thing or another and I was held at candidte membership for an extended period of time.

This changed only because of an anti-Operation Rescue campaign organized by the Albany local in Philladelphia. Luke was sent out from Detroit to head the operation. Yvette was the tactical leader while I ended up by being left behind in our Motel room because some prior arrests whose trials were pending made the lawyers feel it was unadvisable for me to risk a further arrest. As such I headed the mobile office, which involved preparing studies for contacts we had brought with us, taking clippings from local papers and ultimately writing propaganda in the form of an NWROC newsletter called “The Organizer.” Because the org devoted so few resources to Phillie, and there were so many abortion clinics and we never knew which one would be hit, I proposed we institute “flying pickets” just as the American trotskyists had done with the Teamster strikes in the 1930’s. A comrade was assigned to watch each clinic and report back to me at the office and I acted as a dispatcher. Because everyone was calling in to report as soon as we knew where a hit was happening I would tell the other comrades calling in to go to the clinic under seige.

Philadelphia marked a shift of wind for me that made me think that I could continue in the RWL. Leland and Luke, impressed by my writing, study preperations and tactical suggestion “advised” the Albany local to elect me to the executive committee and make me a full member. It also strengthened an alliance between Leland and myself that persisted throughout most of the time I remained in the RWL.

I think this digression is significant in order to point out why I was a hand raiser during the self crit session, but why I thought in private I might be able to reason with Leland. Before leaving Detroit in January of 1994 I suggested, in my private conversation with Leland, that it was psychological torture to “chain” Heather B. to Sheldon’s bedside. That the org had no right to order her to play nurse maid to man who she had a relationship with that had obviously been heading toward a break up. Leland said that of course I was “theoretically” right, but that certain exceptional circumstances justified an exceptional course of action. that the health of the RWL had to be placed above the personal welfare of individual members. I was relieved that he did not denounce me as a racist, but he did tell me that if I objected to the PC’s handling of the case the moment I should have raised the criticisms at the special session called immediately after the event and that the matter must now be formally considered closed. Of course in a sense this itself was a warning to me, I knew, and Leland knew I knew, that had I raised criticisms at that public meeting I would have been driven to capitualate or quit the org then and there. In fact, no doubt Luke would have denounced me at that moment for defending him.

Later handling of the Sheldon case proceeded from bad to worse. I was told by Luke that there was a second failed suicide attempt and I later learned from Don that after I left the organization there was a period in which Sheldon’s “private treatment” ammounted to the RWL keeping him under a form of “house arrest” with comrades standing guard 24 hours a day. The PC did reverse itself shortly thereafter on the need for Heather to remain as Sheldon’s compainion. Instead it decided to move her as far from Detroit as possible, reassigning her to the BA Local. Outside his self-criticism, Luke’s part in the affair was quickly forgotten and never-again (to the best of my knowledge) held against him. You would be in a better position then me to know what ever became of Sheldon. I did hear a report from a former European supporter of the ITC that he attended (as a guest observer) a National Conference in Detroit, where a working class black man stood up and decalred that he was “all better now” and “would try to never cause the RWL such problems again.” I am assuming this was Sheldon though I have no way of verifying it.

It was just a few months later that I quit the RWL. The events that led to my quit began with the submission of a minority tendency document called “For a Democratic Centralist RWL” to an RWL CC meeting I attended on November 21, 1993. This document, co-authored by Lisa W. and Marty S. (who now run the Marxist Workers Group an ostensibly Trotskyist Organization that exists almost exclusivly in their rich imaginations and the ethers of the internet). In the end I was not in agreement with this document. But I was appalled when the leadership attempted to prevent them from distrubuting it and tried to recollect the copies they had handed out to mebers. I was one of several comrades who hid the copies I had been given and lied saying I had not recieved it. Eventually several of us met secretly to discuss the document, we thought it’s over all political orientation was flawed but that certain fundementals (drift toward sectoralism and New Left style multi-vanguardism, lack of a pledge schedule, inadequate attempts to politically educate comrades, the disorganization of our office) were supportable. We agreed not to join the Lisa/Marty faction, but that I would meet privately with Leland on our behalf to outline what parts of this paper we believed to be accurate.

My meeting with Leland was a disaster. In retrospect I think it was when the leadership made up its mind to break me or drive me out trying. Leland fumed that I knew nothing about Marxism, that I was a petite-bourgoise dilletante and that Lisa and Marty’s criticism’s were correct only in the manner that a broken clock is right at least twice a day. I foolishly alluded to having several comrades (including one in the BA) behind me, but nevertheless did not name several comrades who were fence-sitters in order to protect them. Leland worked very hard to convert us to the leadership side and met with each of us for hours to convince us we had to back the leadership and give things time, that a mojor split would be disasterous and that the course could be changed and our grievences redressed if we backed Leland. I think we reluctantly bought into this. The comrade from the BA and I both returned to our locals as “experts” on the Lisa-Marty tendency and gave classes on why the document was wrong and why no-one should support them. It was a bold move on Leland’s part of course to attempt to convert people who peripherally supported the dissidents into their main denouncers. Lisa and Marty through their sectarian intrigues which were wretched even then,made this slightly easier to do. We didn’t really want to line up behind them. And we had tremendous faith in Leland’s revolutionary integrity.

Nontheless I can’t helping feeling in retrospect that I did absolutely the wrong thing at that moment. I had one foot on the road to becomeing a part of beuracratic time-serving apparatus, inenouncing Lisa and Marty without expressing my own reservations I was standing somewhere apart from the best traditions of Trotskyism. My personal low point is perhaps epitmoized by the fact that I was of the few who knew that the allegations contained in Marty and Lisa’s January 27, 1994 letter accusing “A member of the [ RWL of being] caught stealing private correspondence from the mailbox of one of our members, and sending it to the RWL Political Committee (PC)” (An Open Letter to the RWL/U.S. from the Communist Internationalist Organizing Committee) was true, it happened in the BA on the intsructions of the PC. I think I had a number of doubts at that time, reservations which centred on the fact that “Democratic Centralism” as practised by the RWL had more in common with the politics of Zinoviev or German Social Democracy than those of Trotsky and Lenin. I loved reading history, and in all the histories of the Bolsheviks I had read I could see nothing comparable in their best period to the politics of the RWL. In fact in both programme and internal life I began to recognize more then a smattering of third period stalinism about the RWL.

I never believed the problem stemmed from democratic centralism itself, but rather the RWL’s perversion of democratic centralism. I could see that the degree of rigid centralism dictated by the RWL’s PC was more then would likely be necessary even in a revolutionary, military situation (a situation we were as far from then as today) and tha it strangled any sort of healthy political functioning. This was the reason I decided not to attempt to initiate a faction fight, despite the fact I felt we should formally retract our wrong Solidarnost position, reopen discussion on the current nature of the Soviet Union, critically examine our attitude toward the rest of the left and adopt some of the policies Marty and Lisa had in passing suggested. Odd as it may sound, I simultaneously felt I could pressure Leland to chart a better course, and that there was too little democratic functioning to launch any sort of fight.

Two years of continual lumpenization in the RWL had meanwhile taken a toll on my mental health. While formally enrolled in college I neither attended classes nor worked. The RWL did not have many paid staffers, nonetheless I was subsidised (in an extremely minimal manner) by the organization in order so that I could work for the org. full time. I was constantly broke, without money for books or an adequate diet, couch surfing at various comrades apartments. I was devoting my every waking moment to an organization in which I sensed, with growing alarm, that something was fundementally wrong. I was heading for a break down.

This was exacerbated by a relationship I was in with a young female contact. Because this was against org. rules they argued for Stacey to be moved to Detroit, saying her political development would be greatly accelerated if she were not constantly forced to function in my shadow. I privately endorsed this just as Luke, Heather and Jody had publicly endorsed the RWL’s verdicts on their private lives. This only served to heighten the conflict that raged within me. I fell into a deep depression.

Luke was sent out to Albany to work with me on a special project we were then involved in. I welcomed this because I thought it was Leland’s delivery of his promise to reform the RWL’s internal structure. Luke was also very depressed at this time. After endless hours of political work, at the end of each night we would stay up pouring our hearts out to each other about Heather and Stacey. I expressed all of my concerns regarding the RWL to Luke, I felt we had established a deep rapport and that our side was one and the same. Shortly thereafter Luke began asking me if I had considered suicide at all. He informed me he had had a number of self-destructive impulses since his enforced seperation from Heather. I admitted that suicide had entered my mind, at least in an abstract sense. Luke spent several nights encouraging me to talk along these lines as well as to share my criticisms of the organization with him.

I told Luke that at the upcoming CC meeting (called for the day before a joint Albany/Detroit anti-Klan action in Indiana), just a few days ahead, I intended to assert myself much more forcefully in the RWL’s decision making process. I did not want to keep my criticisms to myself any longer. The day before I was due to leave for Detroit Leland called me up and told me I was not to be allowed to attend the CC meeting because of my depression. I was informed that the PC thought that a visit to Detroit and Stacey might send me “over the edge” and they could not afford a repeat of the the incident involving Sheldon. I firmly informed Leland that it was my right as an alternate memebr to attend any sitting meeting of the CC and that I would appeal Leland’s decision to the next full conference of the RWL, I was shocked by Luke’s betrayel of my trust and that Leland was perpetrating the same heavy handed tactics I had come to identify with Shanta.

Leland backed off somewhat (or so I thought) and suggested that if I got a psychiatrist’s approval (!) I would be allowed to attend the CC meeting. I pointed out that it was then Friday night and that the possibility of me seeing a therapist before our cars caravaned out to Detroit the next morning was next to impossible. Leland then promised to help me by arranging the matter if he could. He asked me to put Luke on the phone, which I did, after which Luke and Leland had a long private conversation.

After that Shanta must have phoned up Mark A. (who I understand you knew in the BA local) who was the senior comrade living in Albany, which was otherwise exclusively a youht local. Luke told me that Leland and Shanta were having Mark come over to pick me up and drive me to CDPC where I could be admitted to the 24 hour suicide crises center. I was told that Leland and Luke had decided that if the therapists at CDPC gave me a clean bill of mental health I would be allowed to attend the CC meeting.

When Mark and I arrived at CDPC Mark went off and had a private discussion with one of the doctors. Later I gathered from the doctor who spoke to me that Mark had told him I had attempted to kill myslef several days before and was threatening to do so again now. The clinic refused to allow me to leave, asking me to voluntarily commit myself, which would give them the right to hold me for a couple of weeks. I was informed that if I did not commit myself voluntarily they would be forced to commit me and that I would be held until they felt I was “better” or until I obtained a court order for release. I was horrified, I never felt so trapped against my will. In all the times in the RWL that I had been arrested I always felt confident that George or Eileen was waiting in the Police Station with bail and that the RWL would never leave me to rot in prison. Now they had dragged me to a mental hospital and arranged for me to be held there against my will. After Mark left I managed to call my Mother, who I had not spoken to in months, but who nevertheless arranged my release.

My traumatic personal experience confirmed, beyond any lingering personal loyalty, all my doubts that the RWL in any way represented a continuation of the policies of the Fourth International. I made up my mind there and then that I could not remain in the ITC. But I was concerned about my lover, Stacey, who was in Detroit. In knew from watching the RWL’s handling of Liv and Andi (and also my friends Ben and Venessa, another excellent couple who quit) that as soon as the RWL learned I was quitting Stacey would be subjected to incredible pressure to distance herself from me in every way.

I telephoned her as soon as I got back to my Mother’s house. My worst fears were confirmed. She informed me that Shanta had told her I was in the hospital because I had tried to kill myself and that it was obviously in both our best interests if she ended our relationship. Stacey told me she had not believed Shanta and wanted to know what was going on. I told her that I was coming to Detroit and that I would tell her everything that had happened. I let her know I was planning on leaving the RWL and made her promise not to divulge this information to anyone else. I told her we could discuss the whole matter in Detroit and that I wanted her to know I loved her wether she remained a supporter of the RWL or not, but that my own mind was made up.

I then proceeded to return to the apartment where Luke was staying in time to catch the car to Detroit. Needless to say Mark and Luke were stunned to see me. I told them that CDPC had told them I was fit to travel to Detroit and that I fully expected to be seated in the CC meeting. More hurried discussions with Leland and Shanta in Detroit occurred. It was decided I would be allowed to travel to Detroit after all. I was a bit nervous that once in Michigan they would attempt to commit me again, but I was desperate to talk to Stacey and share with her both the personal and political reasons why I was about to leave the RWL. My fear and my decision to leave prevented me from raising the criticisms I had intended in the CC meeting, which must have been a source of great relief to Leland et al.

Stacey agreed to flee the RWL with me. She told them her grandmother was very sick and that she would have to return to Albany for a week (this was the weekend before Easter weekend) and that she would come back to Detroit after Holliday. The RWL must have sensed somehting was amiss, but nonetheless approved her leave. From that moment on we were never left alone together. But at the same time the leadership was reluctant to share with the comrades they stuck around us the reasons why we were not to be left alone. At one point, when we were left with only a recent member, Dwayne and a contact Don (who later co-founded the MEG with me) Stacey and I emptied our luggage of all our least valuable belongings and packed anything she cared about into our luggage. Despite our attempt to be discrete I am certain Don and Dwayne saw what we were up to. But a sort of wink and nod passed between us, without speaking they knew what was going on and they let us know in essence that they would not rat us out. I can divulge that much now since both Don and Dwayne were later to leave the RWL expressing criticisms very similar to my own.

The next day we attended the anti-Klan demonstration in Indianapolis. When the demonstration began to dissolve I headed for the car returning to Albany. Stacey was seated in the car while I was informed I would not be immediately returning to Albany, but would be going back to Detroit in Luke’s car in order to meet with Leland. I was told I’d be put into a car going from Detroit to Albany on Monday instead. All my fears about another attempt to commit me erupted again. But I felt that without money I was at the mercy of the RWL. My options as I saw them then were either go back to Detroit with Luke or stay behind in Indianapolis and they were practically put to me in those terms. I actually considered staying in Indianapolis, knowing that my step-fathers parents lived somewhere in the suburbs and that if I found them I might be able to get busfare back to Albany. But I ultimately decided to return to Detroit. I was actually paranoid Luke might try to leave me on the road somewhere or might ask me lots of probing questions to flush out my intentions. Thinking quickly I encouraged our contact Don, who was also returning to Detroit for a day of studies, to come with me in the car so we could talk about the campus work he was involved in. I don’t know if this was necessary, but I was relieved that Don’s presence provided me with a witness and prevented Luke and I from engaging in an internal discussion.

Upon arriving in Detroit I attended a debriefing meeting in the office attended by members and close supporters, we were told it was alright to speak as if this were an internal meeting. When Shanta gave her opening speech, which as usual hailed RWL action as a great victory (regardless of the outcome) and portrayed us on the road to a pre-revolutionary situation, I objected. I criticised the RWL’s direction (in exceedlingly soft terms) for being more interested in limited tactical victories then in the real task before us of building a revolutionary party. The impetus for my change of heart was that I at last recognized that my best defense might not be in hiding and playing it safe, but rather in letting people kniow that I was being put through the political meat-grinder because I had objections to the course away from Marxism and towards cultism that was constantly steered by the leadership. I hoped if I was institutionalised others would see that it was a way of politically removing me from the party. The fact that people the RWL was hoping to recruit in the near future witnessed my attack gave me reason to hope. These individuals were not so totally locked in and the RWL would miss loosing them if they were seen to treat me in too heavy handed a manner.

The next morning I met with Leland. I was attacked for my performance the night before. I was told that I was mentally unhealthy. I was ordered to resign from the local exec and disengage from all practical work and forfeit my seat as a CC alternate. I was not surprised, knowing I would be out of the org or back in a mental hospital by the end of the day I agreed. I agreed to everything Leland said. There was no point in arguing with him. I respected how widely he had read and how much he knew, but I had little respect for him as a political leader anymore. Perhaps I even saw him with a glimmer of sympathy, I saw him as being something of a hostage to Shanta’s hyper-activity and penchant for military adventures. There was nothing left to discuss. When he told me I would be allowed to remain on the Fighting Worker editorial board (a body I had recently been co-opted onto) I spoke as if I thoroughly intended to stay in the organization. Was I a coward? I don’t know, after everything I went through even today I don’t feel certain of what the RWL is or isn’t capeable or willing to do.

As soon as I was safe in Albany I quit. To the RWL’s consternation I did not drop out of politics. In fact I stood on a joint electoral slate with them (something we had already established prior to my quit) in student government elections and several months later I tried to start acting (with occassional assistance from Stacey) as an external tendency pressuring the RWL to the left and trying to win supporters out of their organization. The RWL asked me to rejoin at one point, at the price of signing a letter denouncing myself for quitting the organization which they could distribute to members. Outside the cultish pressures I laughed at this tranparent trap presented to me by Mark A on behalf of the PC. But I aslo engaged in a great deal of self questioning, afraid that outside the RWL I was worthless, outside the class struggle and abandoning my meaningful commitment to scientific socialism. I had to wait almost a year for the first real breakthrough, that was Don U’s resignation statement which outlined the history of abuses perpetrated by the RWL against its membership.

Your story about Heather brings all the old anger and pain back to me like it was yesterday. The RWL’s internal life has only a few of the most formal similarities to what structure is like within a healthy revolutionary organization. The RWL in no way practices democratic centralism. I feel quite confident that you will find no example in the history of Lenin’s Bolshevik party where comrades were forced to “voluntarily” admit themselves to psychiatric hospital. Heather’s affair with Luke, wether it was ill advised or not, was in no way the business of the party. Her sexual relations with Sheldon and her growing seperation from him, like her growing involvment with Luke were her personal affair. It is only in occassional, exceptional cirumstances (almost unthinkable in this period) that the party would have any business in dictating comrade’s sexual relations. If Heather were sleeping with a member of the KKK this would be a reason for the party to act, but to abandon one comrade for another may be personally painful to the individuals involved and may impair for a time their functioning, but it is not a concern of org policy.

In the early Trotskyist movement, while nothing that I know of compares to the RWL, there were some sections (notably the Chinese and the French) where rearrangements of peoples sleeping partners caused subsequent tensions and personal/political splits. It is a proud legacy of the U.S. section that it generally towered above this, being a sizeable disciplined party with good leadership it was not buffeted about by petty arguments over who was sleeping with who. In the RWL the situation is amplified because the funtioning is just the opposite. It was also exagerated because of the youth of all the parties involved. In all the relationships I have mentioned (Liv and Andi, Ben and Venessa, Sheldon, Luke, Heather, Stacey and myself) we are dealing with people who at the oldest end (Luke) were 25 and at the youngest (Stacey) were 16. Capitalism plays a distorting and deforming role on all relationships and the pressures of a cultish party like the RWL only increase that distoriton. Young people, falling in love and breaking up for the first time place a great deal of stress on such events, not necessarily amplifying them but rather having not become yet used to them they often have much greater problems dealing with the powerful emotions unleashed. But even that does not make them primarily the responsibility of the organization.

Luke and I and no doubt the others involved were genuinely depressed. But ultimately the RWL, cyncically or sincerly, took advantage of my depression to have me committed in what can really only be read as a political move. For a lonmg time I have pondered wether I or not I really was in need of psychiatric therapy at that time. Nver before and never since have I experienced such dark bouts of depression. I believe psychiatry under capitalism is still in its infancy, which does not mean that comrades should not have the option of resorting to it when necessary. Even a treatment in an experimental stage is often an improvement on no treatment at all. But the RWL, in ordering comrades to undergo treatment, is utilizing a form of bourgoise medical process to marginalize inactive or oppositional cadre and isolate them from the party. This is horrible.

I have kept silent on many of these affairs in order to a degree to protect the RWL from bourgoise authorities. As a part of the workers movement (however deformed they are) I have not wanted to risk bringing state repression to bare on their group because of my stories. I have shared them only with other ex-RWL members, a handful of my closest friends and a few of the American IBT comrades. But I now want to commit these experiences to the record before they’re forgotten, to let you and Heather and others know that this sort of thing is not the healthy functioning of a revoltuionary organization, it has nothing in common with the manner in which the IBT operates, and is enough alone (without even addressing the plethora of RWL programmtic deviations) to insure they have no right to claim the mantle of Trotskyism.



[Back to Letter of Resignation]

Appendix I to Letter of Resignation from the International Bolshevik Tendency

[Appendix I to Letter of Resignation from the International Bolshevik Tendency by Samuel Trachtenberg]

Posting To alt.politics.socialism.trotsky —“Publish and be damned”

Newsgroups: alt.politics.socialism.trotsky

From: Philip Ferguson <pl…>

Date: 1998/12/17

Subject: Att: Peter West, Re: Publish and be damned

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To Peter West,

Peter here’s some stuff that was posted on apst some time back by a former PRG member, dealing with how the Logan regime operates.

The ex-member is a guy called Peter de Waal, who was one of a number of members whom Logan decided constituted a ‘Menshevik Bulge’ in the organisation. In fact the moves against this ‘Bulge’ were part of Logan conducting a disciplining of the organisation, so that the mebers ot to understand that only those who truly loved him and saw him as the world proletariat’s lost leader would be fit to stay in the PRG.

Those refusing such obeisance had to be destroyed, both to get rid ogf them as non-believers and also to send a clear message to the rest of the members. This is the methodology Alan Gibson and Barbara Duke have been trained in.

I’ve edited out references to the names of a number of other PRGers who supported the purging but have since left the outfit. At the end I add a few comments of my own. Where events or people need some explanation, I have added info in brackets, along with my initials. Other stuff in brackets was in the original text. Where PRGers use party surnames, I have changed the name in the text to their party name.)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

From Peter de Waal:

Sheepstation Zero Presents “PRG Quotes – The Stuff They Hoped Wouldn’t Come Out.

Here’s a few examples of the kind of stuff that circulated on the IBT’s international bulletin boards after I left the PRG. In my previous postings I have only alluded to this stuff, here’s the evidence! It’s pretty obvious from reading it that these people are unreconstituted Stalinists, the postings from Bill Logan and Harlan being particularly interesting. It all reminds me of a joke I once heard – “we’ll torture you so slowly, you’ll think it’s a career”.

– How to break a comrade

>from Logan BL30526 26/5/93 – Developments in the PRG

p.3: We are not used to this kind of political discussion in the PRG, although of course it is not historically unusual for a demoralized comrade to leave a revolutionary organisation in a messy argument which involves some combination of disciplinary problem and accusations of bureaucracy. In general the important thing to do is to have several long hard rounds with the intention of exposing to the departing comrade (and to other members) the subjective motivations involved and the general deep inadequacy of the departee. In these cases of course, where you are fundamentally dealing with personal demoralisation, questions of personality and programme are fused. Such comrades make program out of their personal needs.

We would prefer that such people have as little to do with politics as possible for a period, and a hammering can sometimes deepen the demoralisation, which is to the good.

Because there was no preparation whatever, and because we have never had such a situation before, the process in this instance was unusually kind in my experience, although there may have been comrades who nevertheless felt the process not sufficiently kind on Peter.

And there may also be comrades who hoped that a softer touch with him was more likely to enable us to use him in damage control exercises in Auckland and the South Island. My own view is that if there is any prospect of using him in such exercises – and that seems unlikely – it would only be after a sharp confrontation in which he got a thorough political beating.

Part way through the second round of the discussion Peter said that he was incapable of continuing the discussion – and it was pretty mild. I still hoped that we would be able to elicit more information from Peter and believed that he should in any case face up to the discussion, so I moved a motion making it clear he was under discipline to remain at the meeting. That motion was passed with only Peter dissenting.”

(Logan still):

p.4 “My own sense is that the comrades are being a little over-critical of me, a little to scrupulous about the proper mode in which political struggle is conducted. There is a view that this is a personal rather than a political attack. I don’t have much in the way of regrets here.

Furthermore my judgement of him is that sharply pointing out to him that he has little to offer politics might well help him along in the direction of retirement.

Rory RT30527 27/5/93 (Rory was one of the ‘Menshevik bulge’ – PF)

p.1: “My experience of this organisation is that it is not a place for clarifying differences, rather, it is a place for dismantling the opposition.”

– from a note to Sari “Bill’s psycho-pathology had become imprinted in the organisation”. Apparently Rory was referring to a conversation he had with Bill, where Bill candidly asked Rory of his opinion of the PRG, as a trained counsellor.

Harlan (Leader of the German IBT)

Document dated 16/6/93, copies to all points except London – Jill & Garry in London were only supporters at the time and Bill didn’t want to scare them off

p.1 Nevertheless, I am slightly alarmed that a number of comrades internationally appear not to have understood that the tone and manner employed by Bill and Adaire in the 25th May meeting was appropriate to dealing with a member of a revolutionary organisation who covered up the theft of internal PRG materials, characterised the leader of the section as non-Bolshevik, and refused to make a political fight.

This was not a ‘normal’ political fight; not even one which could lead to a split over real political differences. Peter collaborated with an enemy of the organisation to which he had given his allegiance, an organisation which embodies the historical needs of the international working class. (I think this refers to someone from IS staying at Logan’s and nicking a PRG document, with de Waal knowing about this and not saying anything, but I’m not sure – PF)

Harlan continues:

He initially lied about that collaboration. I think it would be useful to address how the PRG would have dealt with the traitor Peter in the context of proletarian insurrection or a civil war between revolutionary proletarian forces and capitalist forces. A revolutionary organization leading such a desperate struggle would have promptly physically disposed of the traitor after extracting information from him by whatever means were found necessary.

In the present situation the tasks for the PRG were to get rid of Peter in a manner which accomplished two purposes:-

One: render him ideologically and emotionally incapable of doing the PRG damage.

Two: drive home to the PRG membership the full scope of Peter’s betrayal and his uselessness to revolutionary Marxism.

Bill and Adaire’s conduct were well within the REQUIRED parameters. Confusion between the desired norms of inter-party differences and struggle and between workers democracy on one hand and the extraordinary means appropriate to dealing with a morally weak traitor on the other hand causes me concern about the present ability of some IBT comrades to distinguish Bolshevik norms of internal life from the sometimes necessarily brutal measures an organisation must use in dealing with the Peter’s of this world who accidentally wander into a revolutionary combat organisation.

The aggressive and (politically-personally) abusive posture of Bill toward Peter during the break was an appropriate device to try to elicit either

  1. a) a more political elucidation of his perception of the PRG as distorted by Healyite organisational practices.

  1. b) an emotional breakdown into self contempt (quite appropriate) which could help in damage control.

  1. c) a cornered rat reaction of physical violence which would have been useful to the PRG in discrediting Peter in his probable future career of anti-PRG “expert”.

  1. d) getting more information.

p.2 The worrisome thing is that some PRG members still think that Bill and Adaire’s tactical leadership was ‘deficient, in that there was a pattern of conduct on the part of these two comrades involving behaviour the tone and style of which was excessively inflammatory, and was therefore inappropriate to this particular (!) situation’. (quoted from Marcus Hayes, PRG, emphasis Harlan’s) ‘and that Adaire’s intervention on the round was ‘extremely contemptuous’.

(This above stuff refers to the fact that at this bizarre meeting Peter de Waal was subject to vitriolic tirades by Logan and the madwoman Hannah, and that in the break Logan attempted to provoke Peter de Waal into hitting him. This would have then been used to destroy de Waal politically in the eyes of PRG members and make his name dirt on the left. Some PRGers, including one of the leaders – Marcus Hayes -thought this approach was a bit out of order, and Marcus, to his credit, subsequently said or wrote that if Peter de Waal had’ve hit Logan, then Logan would have borne some of the moral respsonsibility. This led Harlan, the maniac in charge of their German operation, to go off the deep end at Marcus, as evidenced in what you’re reading now.- PF)

Harlan continues:

Extreme contempt was the only appropriate “tone” in which to characterise Peter’s conduct and Peter as a soon to be expelled member of a revolutionary organisation. Peter had made a commitment to revolutionary proletarian Marxism. Whether he was personally of sufficient emotional maturity and capable of an objective evaluation the requirements of commitment are quite beside the point. Making a proper example of Peter and driving him into political suicide was the desirable outcome of the 25th May meeting.

I do not think that Bill’s characterisation of Peter as a ‘pathetic piece of human material’ was inappropriate or unnecessarily abusive, I just think it was unscientific and insufficiently insulting.

p.3 We want the traitors such as Peter to exit in a demoralized state as we can possibly help bring about. We have no interest in or perspective in keeping in touch with Peter, or of sorting out our differences with him whilst he is outside of the organisation. Nor are we interested in re-recruiting him in another possible conjecture.

Peter de Waal wrote about this:

– Pretty simple really:- 1) destroy Peter, 2) put a flinch into the rest of the comrades. Notable is Harlan’s belief that the IBT embodies the historical needs of the working class. Bill used to rave on that as an ex-Spartacist Leaguer he was connected by organisational method and inculcation to the original SWP(USA) and therefore to Trotsky, Lenin, in an uninterrupted bloodline of communists. I used to refer to this notion as the S.T.D. (Sexually Transmitted Disease) theory of Marxist consciousness – you have to catch it by personal contact and you can only get a dose from one of the chosen, e.g. Bill. With regard to Harlan’s reference to what they would have done to me under a war communism setting, it reveals more about the functioning of Harlan’s mind than is relevant to the discussion. I suppose the feelings of powerlessness arising from his life experience find expression in such calls for bloody justice.

Physical Intimidation – Boyd – BABT 15/6/93 (This is a contribution to the discussion by an IBTer in the Bay Area, who was also disgusted by Logan’s method – PF)


p.2 Worse than simply staying in the viscinity of Peter, Logan admits to having consciously aggravated him by using a loud, angry and insulting tone. Logan’s demeanour was by all accounts calculated to reduce the situation to fisticuffs. Logan admits to being aware that Peter was at breaking point and might have hit him. Logan even wrote that it might not have been a bad thing if Peter had hit him. This is not the kind of atmosphere we want to be creating internally.

We must hold our comrades, senior leadership in particular, as we recently held myself, to a higher standard of behaviour. The IS has let comrade Logan off the hook and in doing so has set a precedent. To what extent this precedent becomes practise we will have to see.

Indirect Intimidation – Boyd 9 June,1993

p.5 Lastly and most importantly, my experience is that junior comrades (observers to the harsh and angry exchanges) might be intimidated. I think Adaire and Bill, in particular, don’t see the issue of indirect intimidation. It has been my observation that comrades with less intestinal fortitude, comrades who may already be insecure in their thoughts and feelings, upon observing the treatment of Peter will be even less likely to speak up. It doesn’t matter that this has not been the usual pattern of discussion in the PRG. For some comrades it may only take one such incident to intimidate them. Perhaps, this is also an unexpressed concern of comrades who voted to criticise Bill and Adaire.

I can tell you that it is a very slippery slope you will be on if you decide that angry and emotion laden confrontation is the general approach you want to take.

That style is then communicated to new recruits who either adopt it or silently put up with it. It is the road towards the CULTISH ‘gang bang’ method of the SL. It is not the general approach we want to take. We GENERALLY want to encourage the style and method that the PRG have traditionally used. At this point I really don’t fear your degeneration into the Smith/Ryker style, but I’m a bit bothered by written defences such as Bill and Adaire’s that would seem to counsel such.

– Here Boyd correctly ascertains the reason for the manner in which the 25 May 1993 meeting was conducted, to put a flinch in the rest of the organisation. The following is a statement by Nicci, told to Sari “Nicci said that she wanted to talk to Adaire about her intervention against Peter, but she didn’t feel able to, as she felt intimidated by Adaire and didn’t think that Adaire would listen anyway.”

(these are two people who left as part of the purge of the ‘Menshevik bulge’ – PF)

Security Stuff

“Motions of the PRG Meeting – Tuesday 8th June, 1993

The executive on Monday 7th June voted by majority to recommend the following to the PRG:-

‘That we note that insufficient thought was given by the exec to the security implications of having Glenn stay at Bill’s place while he was in Wellington. In view of the centrality of Bill’s place to certain aspects of our organisation it would require a level of care which would be very disruptive, or the installation of a lock on Bill’s study door, to make the place safe for someone such as Glen. Adaire objected to Glenn’s being placed at Bill’s in a gathering of members of the executive, and Bill assured comrades that it would be OK, so he must take primary responsibility for this. The precautions discussed among exec members (having to do with computer security), and other precautions which were taken, proved to be inadequate.”

More from Bill Logan on his fuck-up BL30526 26/5/93 – Developments in the PRG:

p.4 “First there is Adaire’s point, which precedes the meeting. She had warned that Glenn was a cunning and experienced bastard and should not be allowed in my house. In retrospect it is hard to argue with that.”

Harlan Document dated 16/6/93

“But the most alarming aspect of this incident is the ease with which a hostile person got access to internal printed materials dealing with personnel questions. Laxness on security is not limited to the PRG. After Smith was placed on suspension without access to IBT internal political life he apparently had access to Compuserve until Jensen’s intervention into technical security questions in the Bay Area. I suspect that some of the material printed in the CWG ‘historical’ document post-dated Smith’s suspension.”

Sari: “Glen was invited by Bill to use his study desk whilst staying with Bill. He saw the 7th May doc on the desk and read it. He told Peter that night of it’s contents and that they intended to ‘do Peter’. The next day Glenn returned to Bill’s to collect his gear and grabbed a copy of the 7th May doc and brought it back to Peter before he left for Auckland.”

(Glen is the guy from IS who as staying at Logan’s – PF)

General Weirdness

>from David Wincop DW30604 “Tactics Concerning Peter” 30/6/93

p.1 “Marcus says that ‘if Peter had struck Bill, then Bill would have shared a kind of low-level responsibility for the violence’. I feel that this statement needs to be thoroughly opposed and that Marcus should retract it. If a sexily dressed woman, who dances dirty, is subsequently gang raped(as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the true-story-based film “The Accused”), does that mean she “would have shared a kind of low-level responsibility for the violence”? Of course not. If Peter had struck Bill then the only person responsible would have been Peter.”

– Bill as a sexy woman, Peter as a rapist??!!!! Sex = violence? Sick puppy stuff! David is now available for viewing in the London IBT section.

The Menshevik Bulge’s Revenge


“When Peter left, I was allowed to rejoin as they wanted to refute the commonly held perception that they were engaging in a “purge”. They went to extreme lengths to keep Nicci in the organisation, and when Spike left they didn’t tell anyone for ages that he had gone. Apparently Spike agreed to go along with this deception, as the PRG still seem to have some sort of moral hold over him and he’s still friends with a few of them, I guess he feels guilty about working in a structure devoted to throwing workers on to the streets. Unfortunately for them Rory left three weeks after Peter, after some bitter arguments over the structure and methods of the PRG and particularly it’s behaviour towards Peter.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Since this time, 1993, the PRG has hardly recruited anyone. They have lost rather than grown in numbers. This whole episode and the behavior of Logan and Hannah showed conclusively that they hadn’t changed from the days when they were running Spart operations in Australia and Britain like a pair of sociopaths. Logan was expelled by the Sparts for being a sociopath and lacking even the most rudimetary human decency. The Sparts actually produced three volumes dealing with his internal trial and his sociopath behaviour in Australia and britain. W he came back to NZ, they donated copies to all the public libraries, to warn everyone on the left here about him.

The Menshevik bulge episode gives a small glimpse into the recesses of a totally sick and warped outfit, run by a pair – Logan and nutburger Hannah – whom no healthy left-wing organisation would let within a mile.

The IBT is disintegrating – most of the North American IBT has up and left, a chunk of the wee band in Germany has gone, the British operation has been an unmitigated failure over the past three or four years Logan’s cubs have been there, and in New Zealand the attempt to expand into Auckland has seen most of the people sent there drop out.

The PRG hasn’t produced an issue of its deadly dull ‘journal’, ‘The Bolshevik’, for over two years. The last issue was a few badly photocopied A4 sheets stapled together in one corner. The IBT hasn’t produced their wooden and soporific supposedly ‘quarterly’ journal ‘1917’ since January of this year.

Everyone involved in left politics in this country has favourite stories about the psycho-pathology called the ‘PRG’, but one of my recent favourites is this. At the last Socialist Student Conference in Wellington, Adaire Hannah did her usual ranting, raving piece from the floor (she really is, as one ex-PRGer described her, “the stereotypical middle-aged spinster school marm from hell”. Other people just call her ‘Nutburgher Hannah” or “Mad Adaire”). Anyway, after that particular session, the PRG tops sent their members around at break time to eavesdrop on people’s conversations – this kind of whacko stuff is what the Logan-Hannah school regard as clever ‘Bolshevik’ organisational procedure. One of their innocent rank and file was doing her eavesdropping duties, hovering and listening in to a conversation including a woman the PRG had its eye on. Just as the Purg was eavesdropping, this woman started talking about Adaire Hannah being mad! The poor PRGer! What the PRG think is some kind of clever tactic (eavesdropping) resulted in the typical eavesdropper’s nightmare – hearing something that they really would rather not have heard.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Logan regime – and which is further conclusive evidence of how little he has changed – is the manner in which he tries to inculcate loyalty. This seems to consist fo two tricks:

One is that he is the world proletariat’s lost leader, who has inherited the mantle of Lenin (via Trotsky, Cannon and Robertson)

The second one is by playing the victim. The way this works is that he presents himself as poor old Bill, he’s gay, he was treated real mean by the Sparts, nobody understands or loves him, even his lover committed suicide a while back. Thus everyone is supposed to rally around poor old Bill, and help protect him from the cruel world. So people are psychologically tied to him with this particular mind game crap.

As time has gone on, anyone healthy has left the PRG and they are starting to get down to the hard core of people who will always go along with the pathology.

Lastly, to the CPGB, if you want a debate with the MB, you need to understand that Gibson and Duke are just the monkeys. Logan is the organ-grinder, and neither Gibson nor Duke would do anything or write anything to you without it all being cleared (if not actually written) by the organ-grinder.

Some times, you know, groups on ht left just have crappy politics. Some other times they are just plain psycho cases. Logan is the latter.


Philip Ferguson

[Back to Letter of Resignation]

IBT Exchange With ICL On ‘Revolutionary Regroupment’

IBT Exchange With ICL

On ‘Revolutionary Regroupment’

[Reprinted fom 1917 #30 2008.Originally posted online at ]

On 3 November 2007, the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) held a public meeting in Toronto to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution. Guest speaker Bryan Palmer, James P. Cannon’s biographer, addressed a crowd of 60 on the topic of “The Russian Revolution and the North American Left.” Among those in attendance were supporters of the New Democratic Party, Socialist Action, Socialist Equality Party, Socialist Project, and the Trotskyist League (TL—aka “Spartacists”), as well as a representative of Upping the Anti, a semi-anarchist publication.

During the discussion period, several Spartacist speakers disputed the idea that any significant revolutionary re-groupment is possible today. Tynan M., declared, “in the 1960s through to the 1990s, we Spartacists pursued regroupments with organizations around the world claiming to be Trotskyist…but what we discovered was that we were the only organization in the world that stood on the program and principles of Trotskyism.” John Masters, the TL’s senior figure, added:

“The possibility of regrouping the genuine revolutionary forces in the period roughly 1919 to 1921 was decisively shaped by a huge epochal victory for the proletariat—the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. There have been other epochal or major events which, while not of the same scale, have posed the possibility of major regroupment of genuine revolutionary forces. For example, May ‘68 in France shook the left. In a different way, the Khrushchev revelations and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 shook big parts of the left. There were possibilities, things opened there. But let’s face it: the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991 is what shaped the current period and it is a disastrous defeat that has produced demoralization, disillusionment, heavily into the working class. And I’m sorry, ‘fragmented’ isn’t the point: the vast majority of the left, including self-professed Marxists, supported counterrevolution. There is no basis for any substantive revolutionary regroupment there. That’s not to say there isn’t a basis for winning individuals or even small groupings here or there. But what we are faced with in this period I think is a very different task—it is fundamentally upholding the principles of revolutionary Marxism, including learning the lessons of history and not pretending to blur over things….” 

While comrade Masters is quite right that epochal victories are usually required before massive political realignments occur within the workers’ movement, some very important regroupments have taken place in periods of generally rightward motion. The handful of socialists of the “Zimmerwald Left,” who met in September 1915 in Switzerland to raise the banner of proletarian internationalism in the midst of a barbaric world war, took a very important step on the road to a new, revolutionary socialist international. In the aftermath of the Nazi victory in 1933—one of the most severe defeats ever suffered by the international working class—Leon Trotsky actively sought to regroup the best militants from various small splits from social democracy and the Stalinized Communist International. During the McCarthyite 1950s in the United States, the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party made a small, but significant, regroupment when a few young revolutionaries (including James Robertson, Shane Mage and Tim Wohlforth) broke with Max Shachtman’s rightward-moving Independent Socialist League.

There is abundant evidence that millions of people around the world are eager to fight capitalist oppression. Some of them join various ostensibly socialist organizations. The job of revolutionaries is to win the best militants to the program of genuine Marxism, i.e., Trotskyism.

Comrade Samuel Trachtenberg, speaking for the IBT, responded to Masters as follows:


“I think that the political perspective put forward by the comrades of the Trotskyist League today is one that you will find they have been putting forward in their newspapers for the last several years. And I would argue that it is an extremely demoralizing and pessimistic perspective. It boils down to arguing that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the so-called post-Soviet era that they are talking about, what we have seen is not just a huge defeat for the working class, which it certainly was, but a defeat of the working class so monumental that no class struggle, no real progress of any sort—whether a call for a general strike in France last year, whether we see uprisings by workers in Bolivia or Mexico, or fighting to build a revolutionary party through revolutionary regroupment— is possible. Nothing is possible in the so-called post-Soviet era, according to them, but [to] uphold the Trotskyist tradition in their own bunker. As they put it, they themselves have developed a ‘bunker mentality’ in reaction to the so-called post-Soviet era.


 “So what do you do? Well, it seems that the argument that is being made today [is] that revolutionary regroupment was possible because of the victory of the Russian Revolution. Well, we don’t have the Russian Revolution around at this moment, so what do you do? Well, you wait for another Russian Revolution to occur. But guess what? We cannot have another revolution in the United States, Canada or anywhere else without a revolutionary party. And you cannot have a revolutionary party hiding out in their bunker abstractly upholding the tradition in isolation from the class struggle and from the rest of the left.

“In terms of how do you build a revolutionary party and what the Bolsheviks did for 20 years before the revolution—well, the Marxist movement at that point did something similar, I would argue, to what we are doing at the moment. [Georgy] Plekhanov, in a period when Marxists were extremely small and tiny and did not have the capacity to go out and organize the masses and mass struggles, put out publications, polemics and critiques of the populists, Narodniks, anarchists and other left socialist trends within Russia at that moment. (Trotsky himself was recruited from the populists.) And I would argue that is something we can do today. Because within groups like the International Socialists, within groups like the Communist Party of Canada, even within groups like the Trotskyist League, even there, you will find people, comrades, who are subjectively revolutionary—who really are interested in a revolution—but are stuck in a bad organization with bad politics and bad program.”

On Federal Troops in Little Rock

On Federal Troops in Little Rock

by Richard Fraser

[Reposted from ]

Attachment to Socialist Workers Party Club Executive [Political Committee] Minutes No. 18, 5 November 1957. On 10 October 1957 Fraser wrote this letter from Seattle, Washington to the SWP Political Committee, protesting the Militant’s call for federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas.

The editorial on the action by the Federal government in sending troops to Little Rock, published on the front page of the Militant of September 20th, brings the dispute over this question into sharp focus.

This episode has posed the fundamental question point-blank: shall the struggle in the South be waged in abject dependence upon the government, or independently by the masses?

The entire Negro community of Little Rock, numbering 25,000, was poised and ready for action. Their eagerness to participate in the struggle at times overflowed in dramatic eruptions, as testified to by the Negro press. Moreover, this mass eagerness occurred within a favorable relationship of forces.

The Negro middle class leaders refused the masses any part in the struggle, demanding that they cease aspiring to act and to accept a passive role meekly. Having betrayed the masses’ desire for action, the leadership appealed instead to the government to solve the crisis.

The demand for Federal Troops to the South is revealed in action, not as an adjunct to but as a substitute for the organized action of the masses and is counterposed directly to it.

The editorial sees in this situation a “Valuable Precedent”— “For the use of federal troops in Little Rock constitutes a precedent for the Negro people that the capitalist politicians—much as they will squirm and try to weasel out of—will never be able to get away from. At each crucial stage in the fight for the enforcement of the rights they now possess on paper, the Negro people will be in a position to demand federal intervention if they need it….”

If they need it? Who is to determine if they need it? The editors of the Militant seem quite willing to take the word of the middle class leadership whether the Negro people need Federal soldiers—and this leadership will continue to prefer governmental action to mass action, as has been their tradition.

This perspective for the struggle is justified by the Militant in the following manner: “The resulting political pressure…can blow the Republican-Democratic political monopoly sky high.” Such a formula provides a political justification for continued dependence on the government and for perpetuation of the policy of no organization of the masses.

Spokesmen for the P.C. convention resolution have repeatedly claimed that one of its central points was the question of mass action vs. dependence on the government. The editorial in question, however, illustrates the contradictory character of the resolution which at one and the same time calls for a class struggle policy in the Negro movement, but also endorses parts of the consciously collaborationist and anti-revolutionary program of the middle class leadership.



by James P. Cannnon

[First printed in The Militant,  April 9, 1932. Copied from ]

The Scottsboro case reveals American capitalism in one of its most hideous aspects, and offers to the Communists an exceptional opportunity to deal the whole system a mighty, world-resounding blow. The deliberately planned assassination of the unfortunate Negro children is notice to the entire world that imperialist America, this pretended pacifist and friend of justice, is in fact a monster. The endeavor to thwart its bloody designs in the present case calls out the deepest and best human instincts.

The words solidarity and justice acquire fresh values, they become new again in the struggle for the liberation of the helpless young Negro boys who await their fate in the Alabama jail. It is hard to think of a cause that could appeal more strongly to the hearts of the workers and all the oppressed than that of these obscure and friendless symbols of a doubly persecuted race and class.

From the revolutionary standpoint, the struggle, of course, goes far beyond the immediate objectives of the court appeals. To save the lives of the intended victims and restore their liberty is indeed our aim; but the only hope of accomplishing this is to set a really immense movement into motion. And such an achievement could have great implications for the strengthening of the Communist influence over the workers and the Negro masses. All of this is bound up together with the concrete fight for the freedom of the prisoners. To separate the one from the other, as the liberal and Socialist snivelers try to do, would only make the sacrifice of the prisoners doubly certain.

The problem consists primarily in the mobilization of the white workers for the fight. In our opinion it is incorrect to view the Scottsboro case as a “Negro issue”; it is wrong to direct the main agitation toward the Negro people and concrete organizational work around them, including their churches and lodges. Such a tactic will not be able to arouse a movement of the necessary breadth and power. And, moreover, it will fail even to make the desired impression on the Negro people.

There is no doubt that the Negro masses burn with indignation at the Scottsboro outrage and suffer their own thousandfold wrongs again in sympathy with the prisoners. But along with that, they cannot help being conscious of their position as a hopeless racial minority. What they need to inspire them for struggle is the prospect, or at least the hope, of victory. Direct agitation alone will never suffice for this. The sight of a significant movement of white workers fighting on their side is the agitator that will really move the Negroes and make them accessible to the Communist organizers of that movement.

The central problem of the Scottsboro defense movement is the organization of the white workers for the fight. Once a good start is made along this line, the enlistment of huge Negro contingents in the common struggle will be a comparatively simple matter. In this question, as in every important undertaking in the class struggle, the trade union movement exhibits its decisive importance. The trade unions ought to be alive at this moment with Communist agitation on the Scottsboro case. Here is an unexampled opportunity to explain to the organized workers the necessity of solidarity with their Black brothers, and to dramatize the argument with the monstrous story of Scottsboro.

Assuming a Communist Party that knows how to work in the trade unions, a big response can be expected from this agitation. The sympathies of the organized workers can be quickly crystallized into a network of conferences. The movement of the unions in this direction will give a tremendous impetus to the propaganda among the Negroes; they will join in the movement with enthusiasm and hope. The concrete demonstrations of white and Negro solidarity, ominously foreshadowing their coming union in the revolution, will impress the judicial hirelings more than a thousand lawyer’s briefs; will make them pause and weigh the possible consequences of their murders. The Communists, as the organizers and leaders of the unprecedented demonstration, as the loyal and capable champions of the most oppressed and persecuted, will gain an enormous prestige.

In such a perspective there is nothing fantastic. It assumes merely an active Communist Party which understands the essence of the Negro question, which applies the tactic of the united front, and which has not isolated itself from the trade union movement. Even in the present situation the deficiencies can be made up by a timely correction of policy. The best way to serve the Scottsboro case is to press for this


Darrow and the Scottsboro Case

by James P. Cannon

[First printed in The Militant, January 16, 1932. Copied from ]

The withdrawal of Clarence Darrow and Arthur Garfield Hays from all participation in the legal side of the Scottsboro case has called forth a chorus of praise from the bourgeois press. Darrow didn’t like the agi tational methods of the International Labor Defense. “You can’t mix politics with a law case,” he said. He would take pan in the legal defense only on the condition that the ILD keep out. The withdrawal of the fa mous lawyer on these grounds affords the brass-check newspapers -whose attention was drawn to the Scottsboro case by the stormy agita tion of the ILD—another occasion to point a moral about the harmful effects of “Communist interference” on behalf of any victim of bourgeois justice. Liberal snivellers and muddleheaded workers, whose thinking is done for them by the ruling class, are echoing this judgment.

Such arguments are not worthy of a moment’s consideration. The ILD was absolutely right in rejecting the presumptuous demands of Darrow and Hays, and the Scottsboro prisoners showed wisdom in supporting the stand of their defense organization. Any other course would have signified an end to the fight to organize the protest of the masses against the legal lynching; and with that would have ended any real hope to save the boys and restore their freedom.

There are people, of course—and too many of them—who hold a contrary view. But they are the credulous ones, who have faith in the justice and fairness of the class courts. We rejoice at the blow that has been dealt to this servile and treacherous philosophy. It is true that the lawyers in question are celebrated in their trade. But from our point of view, that fact only invests the calling of their bluff with a greater sig nificance and merits for it a warm approval.

“You can’t mix politics with a law case”—that is a reactionary lie. It is father to the poisonous doctrine that a labor case is a purely legal re lation between the lawyer and client and the court. It was under that sign with the same Darrow in the leading role that the McNamaras and Schmidt and Kaplan were sacrificed, and the labor movement was dealt a blow from which it has not yet recovered. It was the influence of this idea over the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee which paralyzed the protest mass movement at every step and thereby contributed to the final tragic outcome. Not to the courts alone, and not primarily there, but to the masses must the appeal of the persecuted of class and race be taken. There is the power and there is the justice. The affair of Darrow, the Scottsboro prisoners, and the ILD will help to inculcate this lesson.

Jesse Jackson: Judas-Goat for the Bourgeoisie

Jesse Jackson: Judas-Goat for the Bourgeoisie

Democrats, Dixiecrats and Rainbows

[First printed in 1917 #5, Winter 1988-89. Originally posted on ]

“When you keep the Democrats in power, you’re keeping the Dixiecrats in power.”

–Malcolm X, 1964

Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination stirred the hopes of millions of blacks and working people. Most of those who supported Jackson did so as a protest against the fundamental injustice of the racist capitalist system. Yet, despite the illusions of his base, he ran as a candidate committed to preserving and maintaining the oppressive status quo. Jackson is not a leader of struggle against the bourgeois rulers–he is a Judas-goat for them. In the final analysis, “Jackson action” was a scam to fool those for whom the “American dream” is a cruel joke into getting out and voting Democrat.

In drawing the lessons of the revolution of 1848, Karl Marx insisted that the German workers “must do the utmost for their final victory by clarifying their minds as to what their class interests are, by taking up their position as an independent party as soon as possible and by not allowing themselves to be seduced for a single moment by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeois into refraining from the independent organisation of the party of the proletariat.” The necessity for the independent political organization of the working class has been an axiom of Marxism ever since.

Most of the fake Marxists in the U.S. have a tendency to forget this elementary lesson. Discouraged by their own relative social isolation and perceived irrelevance, many would-be socialists latch on to anything that moves, and inevitably find themselves adapting to the Democratic Party as the “left wing of the possible.” The wholesale accommodation, either overt or implicit, to Jesse Jackson’s campaign to carry the standard for the Democratic Party of racism and imperialist war, is the latest example of this opportunism and short-sighted “pragmatism,” which has crippled the American left for generations.

Jackson and the Black Question In America

Jackson campaigned as a representative of the “left wing” of bipartisan bourgeois political consensus. He spoke to the dissatisfaction and desperation of large sections of the oppressed and exploited in American society. What really distinguished his campaign, however, was not his populist demagogy so much as his color–Jackson is the first black to mount a serious campaign for the presidential nomination. His candidacy thus acted as an emotional magnet for millions of blacks, for whom presidential politics has always been an exclusively white man’s game.

From the days of the slave trade, the history of American blacks has been one of brutal oppression and systematic dehumanization. Living in the citadel of “free enterprise,” blacks in this country remain profoundly alienated from the flag-waving imperial patriotism of the Democrats and Republicans. Forcibly segregated at the bottom of this violent and deeply racist society, subjected to constant cop terror, scourged by chronic and worsening unemployment, life in America’s rotting ghettos is now worse than ever. Ghetto schools, which don’t teach anything, are more like prisons. The drastic cuts in welfare and social services carried out by the Reagan administration as part of their war on the poor, have translated into increased homelessness, malnutrition and infant mortality across America. At the same time, there has been a sharp rise in murderous racist attacks, from Forsyth County to Howard Beach, as the limited and largely cosmetic gains of the Civil Rights movement are increasingly eroded.

Jackson deliberately attempted to run a “color-blind” campaign, and pointedly refused to make an issue of the increasing tempo of racist atrocities. Yet while Jackson attempted to ignore the black question, the racist reality of American society nonetheless dogged his campaign. Jackson, the “life of the party,” the man who made the Democratic primaries interesting and garnered seven million votes in the process, was guaranteed in advance that he could not win because of the color of his skin. His eventual rebuff by the Democratic power brokers once again reminded American blacks that they are nothing more than voting cattle in the eyes of the capitalist big-wigs who run the party.

Jackson’s appeal was not limited to blacks. Also significant was the substantial number of unionized white workers who voted for him in several primaries, mainly in the unemployment-stricken “rust belt” of the Midwest. This demonstrates that despite the pervasive racism of American society, many white workers–after more than a decade of union-busting and givebacks–are prepared to support someone they perceive to be acting in their objective interests, regardless of their color.

Jackson in Atlanta

If Jackson’s rhetoric and the issues he raised struck a chord among the many millions for whom life in Reagan’s America is a nightmare, the finale in Atlanta–and the events leading up to it–once again underscored the futility of attempting to reform the Democratic Party. By choosing Lloyd Bentsen, a contra-loving oil baron, as his running mate, Dukakis proclaimed that his campaign strategy would be aimed at right-wing constituencies, especially Southern whites, who defected to Reagan in 1980. “Special interests” (labor, blacks, women, etc.–the majority of the population) could expect nothing from a Dukakis administration. Dukakis drove this point home with an extra measure or spite; he waited for Jackson to publicly express an interest in the vice-presidency…and then chose Bentsen the next day. Dukakis didn’t even bother to tell Jackson, who found out from reporters. This was not an oversight but a calculated insult; it was Dukakis’ way of telling Jackson to forget about becoming a power broker and to stick to his appointed role of hustling black votes for rich white men. Jackson’s initial reaction was bitter:

“It is too much to expect that I will go out in the field and be the champion vote picker and bale them up and bring them back to the big house and get a reward of thanks, while people who do not pick nearly as much voters, who don’t carry the same amount of weight among the people, sit in the big house and make the decisions.”

    –New York Times, 15 July

By convention time, however, Jackson had once again resigned himself to the fieldhand’s (or, more properly, the black field boss’s) role. The promise of an evening in the Atlanta limelight and a campaign plane for himself and his staff were enough to persuade him that it was time for “lion and lamb to lie down together.” But as Shakespeare’s Henry VI observed, “When the lion fawns upon the lamb, The lamb will never cease to follow him.”

On Jackson’s instructions, a threatened floor fight over the election platform was abandoned in favor of a perfunctory presentation of a few proposed planks (tax the rich, no first use of nuclear missiles, etc.), all of which were duly voted down. A deal was made to prevent the controversial issue of an independent Palestinian mini-state from even coming to a vote.

When some Jackson supporters, ignoring their leader’s instructions, held up signs that read “Renounce Savimbi” and “No Contra Aid,” and began chanting “No Contra Aid” during the speech nominating Bentsen and during his acceptance statement, they were pressured by state delegation leaders to cease these “disruptive” activities. “In the New York delegation ‘we almost had a riot,’ according to state Assemblyman and Rainbow Coalition chair Arthur Eve, when ‘security guards came down and started inspecting credentials’ of delegates holding signs” (Guardian, 3 August).

The most significant “gain” claimed by the Jacksonites at the convention was a vague promise to end support for “irregular forces” in Central America. Less than three weeks later, the Democrats pushed a $27 million contra aid bill through the Senate!

Despite minor tactical differences, Jackson shares the bipartisan consensus on containing the Central American revolution. During the campaign he took an explicitly pro-imperialist position on Nicaragua in a nationally televised debate:

“Yes, we should negotiate bilaterally with Ortega. No foreign military advisors. No Soviet base. And if they, in their self-determination, choose to relate to the Soviets in that way, they must know the alternative. If they are with us, there are tremendous benefits. If they are not with us, there are tremendous consequences. If we are clear… the response will be clear.”

    –In These Times, 23 December 1987

Jackson’s performance at the convention closely followed the script of his first presidential effort in 1984, as described by Mary Summers, his chief speechwriter for that campaign:

“In 1984 he called for a 20 percent cut in the military budget, for putting people in this country to work and for a new non-interventionist foreign policy. He was not afraid to emphasize how different his priorities were from Hart’s and Mondale’s. When he actually arrived with his delegates at the Democratic Convention, however, ‘peace’ became an elaborately choreographed accommodation with the party hierarchy. The ‘jobs’ he fought for placed a handful of friends in the Mondale campaign apparatus. ‘Justice’ was his chance to speak to a national prime-time television audience for forty-five minutes, an event in which he demonstrated his personal charisma to millions of people but did not attempt to involve them in an ongoing fight for ‘a new direction’…”

    –The Nation, 28 November 1987

The Jackson campaign, far from an “opening for the left,” provided another example of how the capitalist two-party system succeeds in containing potential opposition. As Malcolm X once aptly commented, you cannot make a chicken lay a duck egg. The slavemaster’s organization will never be the instrument for the liberation of the slaves.

The Function of Capitalist “Democracy”

In the bourgeois democracies, the capitalist class employs physical force on a mass scale only as a last resort. The electoral process is important to the bourgeoisie not only as a method of resolving differences among its various factions, but also of validating its class rule in the eyes of the masses. Whatever anti-popular measures politicians take once in office, they can always point to the fact that it was “the people” who put them there.

Electoral democracy is not without potential pitfalls for the bourgeoisie. The majority of the electorate is comprised of workers and other plebian and semi-plebian layers whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the capitalists. Bourgeois democracies have therefore evolved highly sophisticated electoral machines to deceive and politically paralyze the popular masses.

In countries where the majority of workers are organized into their own political parties, the bourgeoisie relies upon its ability to buy off and corrupt workers’ leaders. The popular front–an electoral bloc between bourgeois and workers parties–is also an important means of subordinating the proletariat, through their misleaders, to their class enemies in situations of sharpening class struggle.

In the United States, where no workers party exists, the role of ensuring popular support for bourgeois class rule more commonly devolves upon various reformers, populist demagogues and black preachers, usually operating within the Democratic Party. Their game consists in first building a mass base by voicing popular discontents, and then using their base to support one of the candidates of the status quo when election time comes around. Alternatively, they may seek office themselves, in which case, if they are successful, they get to personally implement right-wing policies. The derailing and co-optation of the leadership of the Congress of Industrial Organizations during the 1930’s and 40’s; of the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s; and of the anti-Vietnam war movement, demonstrate that the Democratic Party is not a “springboard” but a graveyard for social movements.

Jackson’s voting base was overwhelmingly concentrated among poor and working blacks, but his active supporters were largely drawn from the black petty bourgeoisie with a leavening of white “radicals” and left-liberals. The Jackson machine, and the delegates it selected, could hardly be numbered among the wretched of the earth.

    “To begin with, both Jackson and Dukakis delegates are far wealthier than the national average. Only nine percent of Jackson’s backers (and four percent of Dukakis’s) earned less than $25,000 last year….

    “On the other hand, sixty per cent of Dukakis’s delegates-and forty percent of Jackson’s-have family incomes of more than $50,000 a year, more than double the national average.

“…fifty-eight percent of the Dukakis delegates, and forty-nine percent of Jackson’s, are ‘professionals’ of one sort or another.”

    –Express, 5 August

Knowing that Jackson was willing to play ball, the other Democratic presidential contenders refused to join New York’s racist mayor, Ed Koch, in his attempt to initiate a “stop Jackson” movement. The 13 June issue of America’s leading financial publication, The Wall Street Journal, editorialized, “Mr. Jackson, despite his heady rhetoric and rapport with Third World thugs, has on net served as an integrating force in American society.”

Jackson’s “Socialist” Backers

While the Jackson campaign’s role in defusing potential social explosions was apparent to leading spokesmen of the bourgeoisie, most of the ostensibly-socialist left did not display similar insight. Assorted social democrats, Stalinists and ex-New Leftists had been wandering too long in the wasteland of Reagan’s America to resist the mirage of renewed influence conjured up by the “righteous reverend.”

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), who have consistently acted as rank apologists for the Democrats regardless of the political conjuncture, were determined to jump on Jackson’s coattails whatever the cost. Gerald Austin, Jackson’s campaign manager, initially turned down DSA’s endorsement for fear that association with “radicals” would tarnish the Jackson image. DSA honcho Michael Harrington understood this perfectly: “We raised the problem with Jackson that we want to support you but we don’t want to support you in a way that would harm you” (New York Times, 5 December 1987). Jackson reversed Austin’s decision the next day–after all, somebody had to do the donkey work! The whole flap was unnecessary. Had Austin been familiar with Harrington’s yeoman service in red-baiting New Left radicals out of the League for Industrial Democracy twenty-five years ago, he would have known that America’s premier social democrat has always kept his promises to the liberal bourgeoisie.

Where the social democrats tread, the Stalinists are never far behind. For the first time in decades, the Communist Party (CP) decided not to run even a token presidential candidate, in order to devote all its resources to the Jackson campaign. And if the pro-Moscow Stalinists of the CP were true to form in supporting yet another Democratic presidential hopeful in their perennial quest for an “anti-monopoly coalition,” various Peking-loyal splinters like the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS–led by Amiri Baraka/Leroi Jones) were no more reluctant to look to the Rainbow. In the mid-1970’s Baraka had numbered Jackson among “the most corrupt vacillating collaborators” of American imperialism (Black Scholar, January-February 1975). But Baraka’s days as a left-posturer are long gone. The 18 July issue of the LRS’s Unity, featured a special supplement entitled “A New Day,” which included a 15 by 22 inch centerfold of Jackson. The LRS rhapsodized that Jackson’s campaign “kindled hope in a new generation as it laid the foundation for a new electoral majority which can change the face of America.”

For those who succumbed to the illusions generated by the Jackson campaign in the first place, there was little alternative but to put the best possible face on their standard-bearer’s ignominious surrender to Dukakis in Atlanta. Just as it is Jackson’s job to sell a rightward-moving Democratic Party to the masses, so his “socialist” camp followers willingly embrace the task of retailing a thoroughly compromised Jesse Jackson to the more critically-minded left-wing workers and activists.

Typical of the reaction of Jackson’s leftist admirers is the following comment from Frontline, journal of Irwin Silber’s Maoist-cum-Muscovite Line of March group:

“There was the elation of having been part of a historic moment and witness to a tremendous stride forward for Black empowerment and the broader progressive agenda. But there was also the sense of having been soiled in the gritty politics of compromise.”

“Jackson sent his supporters home from Atlanta both inspired by his example and charged with the specific and difficult task of working a transformation in the Democratic Party.”

The “Rainbow” is a classic example of reformism without reforms. What Jackson “won” was access to a jet to campaign for Dukakis; a few jobs for his followers in the Dukakis campaign machinery; some procedural changes in the method of delegate selection; and a few seats on the Democratic Party’s National Committee–one of which just happened to go to Jesse Jr. And of course Jesse Sr. got to deliver a unity pitch to the convention. In return Jackson pledged to do what he could to rope in the votes of the black masses for the Democrats, leaving the party free to pursue its “Southern strategy” of openly courting the racist vote.

Jackson’s Fake-Trotskyist Admirers

For those pseudo-Marxists who pretend to uphold the historic legacy of Trotskyism, indulging their reformist appetites toward the Jackson campaign was slightly more awkward than it was for the social democrats or the Stalinists. Political independence from capitalist parties has always been a matter of principle for Trotskyists, and cannot be discarded without renouncing the explicit programmatic pronouncements of Trotsky himself. But the fake-Trotskyist reformists and centrists find it as difficult to resist the pull of any left-sounding “mass movement” as to resist the force of gravity. They were therefore obliged to come up with a formula which allowed them to maintain a figleaf of orthodoxy while sidling up to the Jackson camp. Calling upon Jackson to break with the Democrats and run independently fit this requirement to a “T.”

Prominent among those trying to pressure Jackson to the left was the International Workers Party (IWP), American section of the Argentine-based International Workers League, which advised the Rainbow Coalition to run Jackson as an “independent.” Unable to tell the simple truth about Jackson to the workers–that he is a fraud and that his Rainbow is simply a vehicle for the preservation of the entire social system which breeds racism, poverty and war–the IWP tricksters promote illusions in the “progressive” character of the Jackson Democrats with their call for this bourgeois formation to change its spots.

A similar “tactic” was taken by “Solidarity,” an unprincipled amalgam of anti-Soviet third campists and supporters of Ernest Mandel’s United Secretariat. In a pamphlet entitled “Jesse Jackson, The Rainbow and the Democratic Party–New Politics or Old?” Solidarity laments Jackson’s affiliation with the Democrats but emphasizes its “keen appreciation for what is different and inspiring about this candidacy and the Rainbow Coalition that supports it.” Solidarity goes on to praise Jackson’s “generally progressive program with a powerful appeal to the needs and interests of U.S. workers and farmers, as well as an inspirational message of hope for Black America under siege” and asserts, “Our quarrel is not with the spirit and message of the Rainbow. It is with the Democratic Party” (emphasis in original). Like the IWP, Solidarity’s bottom line is that, “Jackson should be pressured to run as an independent in November; the often neglected Rainbow Coalition should be a key player in that pressure campaign.”

The hope that Jackson will break with the Democrats is as farfetched as the expectation that he will succeed in reforming that party from within. Jackson has made it clear that he has no intention of breaking with the organization in which he is vying to become a “somebody.” Andrew Kopkind reported that during a bus ride on the campaign trail, Jackson and his supporters were discussing the future of the Rainbow Coalition:

“Should the campaign fold into the Democratic Party, remain a kind of external caucus (‘a progressive adrenal gland on the sluggish Democratic kidney’ as someone had said) or make a clean break and become a party in its own right? Jackson spoke up. He would be in favor of a third party–provided that his could be the Democratic one. Sam Nunn and that ilk could go off and have their own party if they wanted to. But the Democratic Party was too important and too powerful to leave to the enemies of progress.”

    –The Nation, 16 July

“Black Capitalism” and the “Talented Tenth”

Jackson’s declaration of loyalty to the Democrats is completely consistent with his entire history, ideology and social base. As head of Operation PUSH in Chicago, Jackson is a longtime advocate of “black capitalism,” and has made a career of accommodating to the racist establishment. Well known for negotiating “trade agreements” with Coca-Cola, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and various other giant corporations, Jackson has been willing to do business with anyone who could promote his political ambitions. In 1983, in a prelude to his first bid for the Democratic nomination, Jackson visited the Alabama State Legislature, where he lauded arch-Dixiecrat George Wallace as a man of “charisma, stature and grace.” Standing near the spot where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as the president of the Confederacy of slaveholders, Jackson commented, “This has been a marvelous place to speak, where Jeff Davis spoke…” (Washington Post, 25 May 1983).

On a tour of South Africa in 1979 he pushed for “operational unity” with Gatsha Buthelezi, the Zulu tribalist leader whose Inkatha thugs work closely with the apartheid regime in murderous attacks on black trade unionists and young militants in the townships. Jackson complimented Pieter Koornhof, apartheid minister for “black affairs” as a “courageous man’ for whom he had high regard”! For this he was denounced by a black militant in Soweto, Tom Manthata, as “a diabolical Western agent” who was more interested in being elected to the United States Congress than in advancing the real interests of South African blacks” (New York Times, 2 August 1979).

In the United States, a thin layer of black entrepreneurs, professionals and government bureaucrats have risen above the grinding poverty and hopelessness to which the vast majority of America’s ghettoized black population is condemned. Like all petty-bourgeois strata, this black elite is driven by the desire to obtain its slice of the “American Dream,” i.e., to become a legitimate and accepted part of the ruling capitalist establishment. Its quest for upward mobility is, however, severely limited both by the declining fortunes of U.S. capitalism and the pervasive racism of American society. As the ”American Century” fades into a memory of things past, there is less and less room at the top for parvenus of plebian origin. This in turn reinforces the racial prejudice of the U.S. bourgeoisie, in whose eyes even the wealthiest of black men and women are still regarded as inferior because of their color.

The black petty bourgeoisie has no other means of exerting pressure for social acceptance on the nation’s white rulers than by periodically attempting to rally the impoverished black masses behind them. And it cannot do this except by appealing to the resentment that all blacks share as social outsiders. This appeal obtains its broadest scope when extended to other outsiders as well–for example unemployed blue-collar workers and working mothers, sectors that mainstream bourgeois politicians have long since written off. But these are sectors that the black petty bourgeoisie is also willing to abandon for the first crumbs tossed in its direction by the ruling class. And if late capitalism has no room within its contracting walls for the aspirations of the black masses or increasingly impoverished white workers, the crumbs capitalism can offer to the black petty bourgeoisie are still tempting enough to keep them in tow.

Today’s American metropolitan centers–from Newark to Detroit, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia–are more than ever inhabited by blacks and other minorities, and hence cannot be effectively governed by old-line white machine bosses. For this job, slick black politicians are needed. If Philadelphia’s white racist tough cop ex-mayor, Frank Rizzo, had bombed the MOVE commune in 1985, the black population of that city would have been up in arms. Only his black surrogate, Wilson Goode, could commit this unspeakable atrocity and survive politically.

For the black middle class, black elected officials (BEO’s) represent the success of their striving for respectability. And these BEO’s can only maintain their control of the urban Democratic machines by remaining in the good graces of the white ruling class. It was the endorsement of the BEO’s that Jackson sought in 1984, and obtained in 1988. It is also to them, and the social stratum they represent, that Jackson is primarily responsible, and for them that he was all too willing to betray the hopes he had aroused among his larger black and white working-class constituency. Calling upon Jackson to break with the Democrats is enjoining him to bite the hand that feeds him–something bourgeois politicians, black or white, are notoriously unwilling to do.

Jackson’s candidacy was not a great “historic event” but a temporary interlude in the twisted development of the American working class’ struggle for independent political action. The job of revolutionaries is not to promote illusions, but to tell the truth. And the truth is that Jackson’s “Rainbow”is not a step on the road to the emancipation of the workers and oppressed– it is a prop for the maintenance of the system of racism and exploitation.

The downtrodden and oppressed in this country desperately need hope for a brighter future, but not a sugary false hope. American workers and blacks need a party separate from their class enemies–a party to lead the struggle to expropriate the landlords, the bankers, and the bosses; a party committed to fight for a workers government. Such a party, based on the unions–the mass organizations of the proletariat–can only be forged through an uncompromising struggle against all wings of the twin parties of the bourgeoisie.



[Spartacist leaflet dated 6 April 1968. Reprinted in Young Spartacus, May 1977]

The murder of Martin Luther King is an indication of the increasingly violent attacks coming against black working people and poor. King was attempting to lead the strike of 1300 Memphis sanitationmen, mostly black, who have been on strike since 12 February. Tremendous community support had developed for the strike, and a successful economic boycott of downtown stores was carried out. The strikers are demanding union recognition, a dues checkoff system and higher wages, since of course black workers are lowest paid.

The response ot the racist white power structure was swift and violent. On 28 March, a march led by King supposedly “exploded” into violence, resulting in the murder of a black youth, Larry Payne, age 16, by the Memphis police. And then on 4 April, King himself was assassinated.

Every capitalist politician has expressed deep grief over the loss of King. LBJ made a nationwide address deploring Violence, after which he called 12,000 troops into Washington, D.C. to keep “order.” Vice President Humphrey shed bitter tears, and the Memphis city government promised to catch the killer, although they promised nothing to the striking Memphis sanitationmen. (The garbage in Memphis is still being collected by scabs.) Now Mayor Lindsay wants to attend King’s funeral, after having attempted to use troops against the New York City sanitationmen’s strike in February.

No government official expressed grief when Malcolm X was murdered while New York City cops stood by, or when Larry Payne was murdered by the Memphis police. None of these weeping officials have even mentioned the striking sanitationmen, who have hung on without regular income for almost two months!

What are these fakers really weeping about? As they keep repeating with urgent tones, they miss the nonviolence which King preached. That’s not to say that LBJ and the other fakers themselves believe in non-violence the black ghetto residents of Washington, Detroit, New York, etc., can testify otherwise. But they do believe in non-violence for black working people and poor, since that makes their job so much easier. Reject “blind violence,” says LBJ – and let the cops handle things!

These weeping politicians also miss the “friendly” approach of King, who said he was “always willing to negotiate” — meaning talk behind closed doors with LBJ, Kennedy, etc., to work out some new fake concession. Now they may have to deal more in the open, and perhaps the Democratic and Republican parties may lose their oppressive grip on black working people.

What Now?

1 – The only defense of black working people and poor is by being armed and organized. The racist power structure and its private allies are not nonviolent and so we must be equipped for self-defense. As the Black Panthers of Oakland, California urge: “Buy a gun and stay home.”

2 – We must build a Freedom Labor Party. The two major parties, Democrat and Republican, have shown themselves to be tools of the bosses, of the white power structure. All working and poor people, black and white, need a Freedom-Labor Party, based on the power of workers and unemployed, to destroy racism and fight for the interests of working and poor people.

3 – We must fight in the labor movement to throw out the conservative and racist bureaucrats who make deals with the bosses and help maintain the poverty of black workers. To this end, we must struggle for the shorter work week with no loss in pay, which paves the way for the hiring of the millions of unemployed.

4 – We must aid the Memphis sanitationmen to victory against the racist government, upgrading the black worker. We call for united labor action in other cities in support ofthe strikers — such as the proposed shutdown of the garment center in New York. And we demand that the AFCSME (AFL-CIO), to which the sanitationmen are affiliated, participate in these efforts as well as send money.

Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International

Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International

[DRAFT RESOLUTION ON THE WORLD MOVEMENT submitted to the 1963 SWP Convention by the Revolutionary Tendency.  This version copied from]


1. For the past fifteen years the movement founded by Leon Trotsky has been rent by a profound theoretical, political, and organizational crisis. The surface manifestation of this crisis has been the disappearance of the Fourth International as a meaningful structure. The movement has consequently been reduced to a large number of grouplets, nominally arrayed into three tendencies: the “International Committee,” “International Secretariat (Pablo),” and “International Secretariat (Posadas).” Superficial politicians hope to conjure the crisis away through an organizational formula—”unity” of all those grouplets willing to unite around a common-denominator program. This proposal obscures, and indeed aggravates, the fundamental political and theoretical causes of the crisis.

2. The emergence of Pabloite revisionism pointed to the underlying root of the crisis of our movement: abandonment of a working-class revolutionary perspective. Under the influence of the relative stabilization of capitalism in the industrial states of the West and of the partial success of petit-bourgeois movements in overthrowing imperialist rule in some of the backward countries, the revisionist tendency within the Trotskyist movement developed an orientation away from the proletariat and toward the petit-bourgeois leaderships. The conversion of Trotskyism into a left satellite of the existing labor and colonial-revolutionary leaderships, combined with a classically centrist verbal orthodoxy, was typified by Pablo—but by no means was confined to him or his organizational faction. On the contrary, the Cuban and Algerian revolutions have constituted acid tests proving that the centrist tendency is also prevalent among certain groups which originally opposed the Pablo faction.

3. There is an obvious and forceful logic in the proposals for early reunification of the centrist groups within the Trotskyist movement. But “reunification” on the basis of centrist politics cannot signify reestablishment of the Fourth International. The struggle for the Fourth International is the struggle for a program embodying the working-class revolutionary perspective of Marxism. It is true that the basic doctrines of the movement, as abstractlyformulated, have not been formally denied. But by their abandonment of a revolutionary perspective the revisionists concretely challenge the programmatic bases of our movement.

4. The essence of the debate within the Trotskyist movement is the question of the perspective of the proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard elements toward the existing petit-bourgeois leaderships of the labor movement, the deformed workers states, and the colonial revolution. The heart of the revolutionary perspective of Marxism is in the struggle for the independence of the workers as a class from all non-proletarian forces; the guiding political issue and theoretical criterion is workers’ democracy, of which the supreme expression is workers’ power. This applies to all countries where the proletariat has become capable of carrying on independent politics—only the forms in which the issue is posed vary from country to country. These forms, of course, determine the practical intervention of the Marxists.


5. The recovery and prolonged prosperity of European capitalism has not, as revisionists of all stripes contend, produced a conservatized workers’ movement. In reality, the strength, cohesion, cultural level, and potential combativity of the European proletariat are higher today than ever before. The defeat of DeGaulle by the French miners and the persistent, currently accelerating, electoral swing to the Left in the bourgeois-democratic countries of Europe (most notably Italy, Great Britain, Germany) illustrate this fact.

6. The European workers’ attempts to go beyond partial economic struggles to the socialist transformation of society have been frustrated by the resistance and treason of the labor bureaucracy. The four years of reaction in France following the seizure of power by DeGaulle show the terrible price still exacted for tolerance of these misleaders. The Belgian general strike showed once again that “leftist” bureaucrats like Renard would also do all in their power to block or divert a movement capable of threatening capitalist rule. But the experiences of both France and Belgium prove a spontaneous desire of the workers to engage in struggle against the capitalist class—rising on occasion to an open confrontation with the system.

7. The task of the Trotskyists in the European workers’ movement is the construction within the existing mass organizations (unions and, in certain instances, parties) of an alternative leadership. Marxists must at all times retain and exercise political and programmatic independence within the context of the organizational form involved. Support to tendencies within the labor bureaucracy, to the extent that they defend essential interests of the working class or reflect class-struggle desires within the labor movement, is correct and even obligatory; but this support is always only conditional and critical. When, as is inevitable, the class struggle reaches the stage at which the “leftist” bureaucrats play a reactionary role, the Marxists must oppose them immediately and openly. The behavior of the centrist tendency around the Belgian journal La Gauche in withdrawing during the general strike the correct slogan of a march on Brussels, in order to avoid a break with Renard, is the opposite of a Marxist attitude toward the labor bureaucracy.

8. The objective prospects for development of the Trotskyist movement in Europe are extremely bright. Large numbers of the best young militants in all countries, rejecting the cynical and careerist routinism of the Stalinist and Social-Democratic bureaucrats, are earnestly searching for a socialist perspective. They can be won to a movement capable of convincing them, practically and theoretically, that it offers such a perspective. The structural changes stemming from European integration pose the issues of workers’ democracy and of the independence of the political and economic organs of the working class as the alternative to state control of the labor movement—and impel the working class into increasingly significant class battles. If, under these objective conditions, the West European Trotskyists fail to grow at a rapid rate it will be because they themselves have adopted the revisionist stance of a satellite of the labor leadership as opposed to a perspective of struggle around the program of workers’ democracy.


9. Since the Second World War, the countries of Eastern Europe have been developing into modern industrial states. As the proletariat of the deformed workers’ states increases in numbers and raises its living standards and cultural level, so grows the irrepressible conflict between the working class and the totalitarian Stalinist bureaucracy. Despite the defeat of the Hungarian workers’ revolution, the Soviet-bloc proletariat has won significant reforms, substantially widening its latitude of thought and action. These reforms, however, do not signify a “process of reform” or “destalinization process”: they were yielded only grudgingly by the unreformable bureaucracy, are under perpetual attack by the faction of “Stalin’s heirs,” and remain in jeopardy as long as Stalinist bureaucratic rule prevails. These concessions are historically significant only to the extent that they help the proletariat to prepare for the overthrow of the bureaucracy. Real destalinization can be accomplished only by the political revolution.

10. A new revolutionary leadership is emerging among the proletarian youth of the Soviet bloc. Inspired by twin sources—the inextinguishable Leninist tradition and the direct and tangible needs of their class—the new generation is formulating and implementing in struggle the program of workers’ democracy. Notable in this regard is the point made recently by a long-time participant in Soviet student life. Regarding the fundamental character to much of the widespread opposition among Russian youth, it was stated, “Because he is a Marxist-Leninist, the Soviet student is much more radically dissatisfied than if he were an Anglo-Saxon pragmatist” (David Burg to The New York Times). The Trotskyists, lineal continuers of the earlier stage, have an indispensable contribution to make to this struggle: the concept of the international party and of a transitional program required to carry through the political revolution. Assistance to the development of a revolutionary leadership in the Soviet bloc through personal and ideological contact is a primary practical activity for any international leadership worthy of the name.


11. The programmatic significance of workers’ democracy is greatest in the backward, formerly colonial, areas of the world: it is precisely in this sector that the program of workers’ democracy provides the clearest possible line of demarcation between revolutionary and revisionist tendencies. In all of these countries the struggle for bourgeois democratic rights (freedom of speech, right to organize and strike, free elections) is of great importance to the working class because it lays the basis for the advanced struggle for proletarian democracy and workers’ power (workers’ control of production, state power based on workers’ and peasants’ councils).

12. The theory of the Permanent Revolution, which is basic to our movement, declares that in the modern world the bourgeois-democratic revolution cannot be completed except through the victory and extension of the proletarian revolution—the consummation of workers’ democracy. The experience of all the colonial countries has vindicated this theory and laid bare the manifest inner contradictions which continually unsettle the present state of the colonial revolution against imperialism. Precisely in those states where the bourgeois aims of national independence and land reform have been most fully achieved, the democratic political rights of the workers and peasants have not been realized, whatever the social gains. This is particularly true of those countries where the colonial revolution led to the establishment of deformed workers’ states: China, North Vietnam…and Cuba. The balance, to date, has been a thwarted success, either essentially empty, as in the neo-colonies of the African model, or profoundly deformed and limited, as in the Chinese example. This present outcome is a consequence of the predominance of specific class forces within the colonial upheavals, and of the class-related forms employed in the struggles. These forms imposed upon the struggle have been, for all their variety, exclusively “from above,” i.e., parliamentary ranging through the bureaucratic-military. And the class forces involved have been, of course, bourgeois or petit-bourgeois. A class counterposition is developed out of the complex of antagonisms resulting from failure to fulfill the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The petit-bourgeois leaderships with their bureaucratic forms and empiricist methods are ranged against participation by the workers as a class in the struggle. The involvement of the working class is necessarily centered on winning workers’ democracy and requires the leadership of the revolutionary proletarian vanguard with its programmatic consciousness of historic mission. As the working class gains ascendancy in the struggle and takes in tow the more oppressed strata of the petit-bourgeoisie, the Permanent Revolution will be driven forward.

13. The Cuban Revolution has exposed the vast inroads of revisionism upon our movement. On the pretext of defense of the Cuban Revolution, in itself an obligation for our movement, full unconditional and uncritical support has been given to the Castro government and leadership, despite its petit-bourgeois nature and bureaucratic behavior. Yet the record of the regime’s opposition to the democratic rights of the Cuban workers and peasants is clear: bureaucratic ouster of the democratically-elected leaders of the labor movement and their replacement by Stalinist hacks; suppression of the Trotskyist press; proclamation of the single-party system; and much else. This record stands side by side with enormous initial social and economic accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution. Thus Trotskyists are at once the most militant and unconditional defenders against imperialism of both the Cuban Revolution and of the deformed workers’ state which has issued therefrom. But Trotskyists cannot give confidence and political support, however critical, to a governing regime hostile to the most elementary principles and practices of workers’ democracy, even if our tactical approach is not as toward a hardened bureaucratic caste.

14. What is true of the revisionists’ approach toward the Castro regime is even more apparent in regard to the Ben Bella regime now governing Algeria on the program of a “socialist” revolution in cooperation with French imperialism. The anti-working-class nature of this petit-bourgeois group has been made clear to all but the willfully blind by its forcible seizure of control over the labor movement and its suppression of all opposition parties. Even widespread nationalization and development of management committees seen in the context of the political expropriation of the working class and the economic orientation towards collaboration with France cannot give Algeria the character of a workers’ state, but leaves it, on the contrary, a backward capitalist society with a high degree of statification. As revolutionaries our intervention in both revolutions, as in every existing state, must be in accordance with the position of Trotsky: “We are not a government party; we are the party of irreconcilable opposition” (In Defense of Marxism). This can cease to apply only in relation to a government genuinely based on workers’ democracy.

15. Experience since the Second World War has demonstrated that peasant-based guerilla warfare under petit-bourgeois leadership can in itself lead to nothing more than an anti-working-class bureaucratic regime. The creation of such regimes has come about under the conditions of decay of imperialism, the demoralization and disorientation caused by Stalinist betrayals, and the absence of revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class. Colonial revolution can have an unequivocally progressive significance only under such leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. For Trotskyists to incorporate into their strategy revisionism on the proletarian leadership in the revolution is a profound negation of Marxism-Leninism no matter what pious wish may be concurrently expressed for “building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.” Marxists must resolutely oppose any adventurist acceptance of the peasant-guerilla road to socialism—historically akin to the Social Revolutionary program on tactics that Lenin fought. This alternative would be a suicidal course for the socialist goals of the movement, and perhaps physically for the adventurers.

16. In all backward countries where the proletariat exists as a class, the fundamental principle of Trotskyism is the independence of the working class, its unions, and its parties, in intransigent opposition to imperialism, to any national liberal bourgeoisie, and to petit-bourgeois governments and parties of all sorts, including those professing “socialism” and even “Marxism-Leninism.” Only in this way can the ground be laid for working-class hegemony in the revolutionary alliance with the oppressed petit-bourgeois strata, particularly the peasantry. Similarly, for a working-class party in an advanced country to violate class solidarity with the workers of a backward country by politically endorsing a petit-bourgeois colonial-revolutionary government is a sure sign of centrist opportunism, just as refusal to defend a colonial revolution because of the non-proletarian character of its leadership is a sign of sectarianism or worse.

17. The inter-relationship between bourgeois-democratic and proletarian-democratic struggles in the colonial revolution remains as formulated in the founding program of the Fourth International, a formulation which today retains complete validity:

“It is impossible merely to reject the democratic program; it is imperative that in the struggle the masses outgrow it. The slogan for a National (or Constituent) Assembly preserves its full force for such countries as China or India. This slogan must be indissolubly tied up with the problem of national liberation and agrarian reform. As a primary step, the workers must be armed with this democratic program. Only they will be able to summon and unite the farmers. On the basis of the revolutionary democratic program, it is necessary to oppose the workers to the ‘national’ bourgeoisie. Then, at a certain stage in the mobilization of the masses under the slogans of revolutionary democracy, soviets can and should arise. Their historical role in each given period, particularly their relation to the National Assembly, will be determined by the political level of the proletariat, the bond between them and the peasantry, and the character of the proletarian party policies. Sooner or later, the soviets should overthrow bourgeois democracy. Only they are capable of bringing the democratic revolution to a conclusion and likewise opening an era of socialist revolution.

“The relative weight of the individual democratic and transitional demands in the proletariat’s struggle, their mutual ties and their order of presentation, is determined by the peculiarities and specific conditions of each backward country and to a considerable extent by the degree of its backwardness. Nevertheless, the general trend of revolutionary development in all backward countries can be determined by the formula of the permanent revolution in the sense definitely imparted to it by the three revolutions in Russia (1905, February 1917, October 1917).” (The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International.)


18. The task of the international revolutionary-Marxist movement today is to re-establish its own real existence. To speak of the “conquest of the masses” as a general guideline internationally is a qualitative overstatement. The tasks before most Trotskyist sections and groups today flow from the need for political clarification in the struggle against revisionism, in the context of a level of work of a generally propagandistic and preparatory nature. An indispensable part of our preparation is the development and strengthening of roots within the broader working-class movement without which the Trotskyists would be condemned to sterile isolation or to political degeneration in the periods of rising class struggle and in either case unable to go forward in our historic task of leading the working class to power. Above all what can and must be done is the building of a world party firmly based on strong national sections, the assembling of a cadre of working-class militants won and tested in the process of the class struggle and on the firm basis of the revolutionary perspective of the Fourth International, the program to realize workers’ democracy—culminating in workers’ power. A fundamental statement expanding on this perspective, its opposition to Pabloism, and its relevance in the United States is contained in the Minority’s “In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective” (in SWP Discussion Bulletin Vol. 23, No. 4, July 1962).

19. “Reunification” of the Trotskyist movement on the centrist basis of Pabloism in any of its variants would be a step away from, not toward, the genuine rebirth of the Fourth International. If, however, the majority of the presently existing Trotskyist groups insists on going through with such “reunification,” the revolutionary tendency of the world movement should not turn its back on these cadres. On the contrary: it would be vitally necessary to go through this experience with them. The revolutionary tendency would enter a “reunified” movement as a minority faction, with a perspective of winning a majority to the program of workers’ democracy. The Fourth International will not be reborn through adaptation to Pabloite revisionism: only by political and theoretical struggle against all forms of centrism can the world party of socialist revolution finally be established.

June 14, 1963

The Necessity of Revolutionary Organization

Introducing 1917

The Necessity of Revolutionary Organization

[First published in 1917 #1, Winter1986. This version copied from]

‘‘The whole history of the struggle between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks is dotted with this little word ‘process.’ Lenin always formulated tasks and proposed corresponding methods. The Mensheviks agreed with the same ‘aims’ by and large, but left their realization to the historic process. There is nothing new under the sun.’’

—Leon Trotsky, ‘‘To Comrade Sneevliet on the IAG Conference,’’ Writings (1934-35)

This is the first issue of 1917, the political journal of the Bolshevik Tendency. We take our name from Year One of the proletarian revolution, the year the Russian working class smashed the chain of world imperialism at its weakest link. The October Revolution was not primarily a Russian event in its significance—it was the beginning of the international struggle for power by the proletariat.

The bright promise of the early years of the revolution has been dimmed by six decades of Stalinist treachery and betrayal. Today the Kremlin is no longer the headquarters of the proletarian revolution but the domain of a nationalist bureaucratic stratum which is a roadblock to socialism and which must be overthrown through workers political revolution. Nonetheless the lessons of the Russian Revolution retain all their significance for the revolutionary future of the working class and the defense of the social gains of 1917 remains a litmus test for demarcating authentic revolutionaries from the assorted social democrats of the ‘‘Third Camp.’’ We are partisans of 1917. We base ourselves on the program and strategy of the leadership of that revolution, Lenin and Trotsky. We stand on the documents of the first four congresses of the Communist International; on the struggle of the Left Opposition against the Stalinist political counterrevolution; on the founding documents of the Fourth International and the revolutionary traditions of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) led by James P. Cannon from the 1930s to the 1950s. The SWP leadership abandoned the struggle to build a Trotskyist vanguard in the early 1960s in favor of reliance on the objective process of history (personified, in the first instance, by Fidel Castro). The Revolutionary Tendency, the progenitor of the Spartacist League (SL) was born in the struggle against the liquidationist implications of the ersatz Castroism of the SWP majority. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the programmatic heritage of Trotskyism was represented by the Spartacist tendency. This tradition we claim as our own.

The founders of the Bolshevik Tendency are, for the most part, veterans of the international Spartacist tendency (iSt) who were purged, along with dozens of other cadres, in the course of that organization’s transformation from a Trotskyist propaganda group to a pseudo-revolutionary obedience cult. Initially organized outside the iSt as an ‘‘External Tendency,’’ we decided that given our formal programmatic similarity it was appropriate to reapply for membership in the Spartacist tendency. We did so with the declared intent of crystallizing an opposition to the organization’s accelerating political degeneration. The SL leadership (which at one point pretended to be interested in our reintegration) responded to our application with a barrage of slander and invective designed to slam the door shut once and for all. We have since succeeded in consolidating an organization which represents the continuity of the Trotskyist tradition which the SL had carried forward from the SWP two decades earlier.

The Spartacist League can no longer be considered, in any sense, a revolutionary organization. An early indication of the SL’s political break with its Trotskyist past was the leadership’s decision to rip up the group’s implantation in the industrial working class. It has been a wild ride since then. From apocalyptic proclamations of an incipient fascist coup in San Francisco in July 1984 to misogynist characterizations of black feminist opponents as ‘‘female doberman pinshcers in heat,’’ the SL is today one of the nuttier (and nastier) centrist outfits on the left. Theirs is a peculiar type of centrism—political banditry—in which the formal political positions of the group are subject to wild fluctuations according to the perceived exigencies of maintaining ‘‘the party’’ (in particular its organizational apparatus and other assets) and/or the whim of the ‘‘founder-leader,’’ Jim Robertson. One of the articles of faith required of all those who take up residence in ‘‘Jimstown’’ is the paranoid delusion that virtually every other tendency on the left is involved in a gigantic web of police-sponsored intrigue aimed at (what else?) the Spartacist League. This schema is referred to in Workers Vanguard as the ‘‘Big Lie Campaign’’ and it is used to ‘‘justify’’ SL exclusions and cop-baiting against its opponents on the left.

Program and Period

The current period in North America is characterized by a general rightward shift across the political spectrum and concomitant shrinking of the organized left. A wide variety of ostensibly ‘‘revolutionary’’ organizations, notably the once formidable Maoist currents, have simply closed up shop and gone out of business. Those which have survived, particularly among the ostensible Trotskyists, have shifted significantly to the right in search of a milieu within which to operate. This is perhaps most evident in the case of the adherents of Ernest Mandel’s ‘‘United Secretariat’’ of the Fourth International (USec). Fifteen years ago young Mandelites were running around Paris and London waving the flag of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front and singing the praises of Ho Chi Minh. No more. In the past few years the USec has embraced every anti-communist mass movement from Ayatollah Khomeini’s ‘‘Islamic Revolution’’ to Lech Walsea’s capitalist-restorationist Solidarnosc. The Mandelites capped their orientation to social democracy with the formal adoption at their 1985 World Congress of ‘‘Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’’ in which these illegitimate pretenders to the mantle of the Fourth International propound the ‘‘democratic socialism’’ of Karl Kautsky and the Second.

Revolutionists must take account of the political and social climate within which they exist. One must necessarily adapt the style of presentation to the existing level of class consciousness and experience of one’s audience. But a revolutionary organization cannot adapt the content of its program without thereby ceasing to be revolutionary. The Marxian program represents the historic interests of the proletariat as a conscious factor in world politics—a ‘‘class for itself.’’ As such it is necessarily counterposed to the existing, false consciousness of the class ‘‘in itself’’ in bourgeois society.

The Problem of Revisionism

1917 will be both partisan and polemical. A blunt knife draws no blood. To struggle for revolutionary Marxism in our time means above all to politically combat those fake-revolutionary formations which are the organizational embodiments of bourgeois ideology in the working class. The history of the Marxist movement is one of a continuing struggle against those currents, which, under the banner of ‘‘continuing,’’ ‘‘deepening’’ or ‘‘extending’’ Marxism, attempt to corrode (or revise) the fundamental tenets of the revolutionary program.

‘‘Revisionism’’ at bottom reflects the pressure of bourgeois society upon those who seek to change it. The common denominator of all such currents is the ‘‘pragmatic’’ resignation to the immutability of the world as it is. The form of the political accommodation proposed varies according to circumstance but in general revisionist tendencies add little that is new—rather they tend to resuscitate schemes and impulses long discredited by the historical experience of the proletariat.

Revisionism in the Marxist movement rarely appears full-blown under its own colors. Initially, at least, it expresses itself in the terminology of Marxism. Rosa Luxemburg commented on this phenomenon in a polemic (‘‘Reform or Revolution’’) written almost ninety years ago:

‘‘To expect an opposition against scientific socialism at its very beginning, to express itself clearly, fully, and to the last consequence on the subject of its real content; to expect it to deny openly and bluntly the theoretic basis of the social democracy [i.e., the Marxist movement]—would amount to underrating the power of scientific socialism. Today he who wants to pass as a socialist and at the same time would declare war on Marxian doctrine…must begin…by seeking in Marx’s own teachings the points of support for an attack on the latter, while he represents this attack as a further development of Marxian doctrine.’’

Careful attention to questions of program and theory and the vigorous defense of the political acquisitions of the past is neither an exercise in Talmudic scholasticism, nor a form of ancestor worship, as is often imagined by the smug and cynical proponents of ‘‘non-sectarianism.’’ What may appear to the novice or dilettante as pointless hairsplitting over minute nuances of a position often represents profound differences in political appetite with enormous implications in the future. Politics is a field in which a difference of one percent will often prove decisive.

The ‘Organizational Question’

From the origins of our tendency we have insisted that the organizational question is a political question of the first order for a revolutionary grouping. A revolutionary tendency need not always be correct—indeed it cannot always be correct—but it must always be correctible. Whether or not it is correctible is a function of the internal regime which prevails. This is not primarily a question of adherence to formulae but of the living reality of the internal life of the organization. James P. Cannon, the founding leader of American Trotskyism once observed that:

‘‘It is perfectly possible for slick leaders to write ten constitutions guaranteeing freedom of criticism in a party and then create an atmosphere of moral terrorization whereby a young or inexperienced comrade doesn’t want to open his mouth for fear he will be made a fool of, or sat on, or accused of some political deviation he doesn’t have in his mind at all.’’

—The Socialist Workers Party in World War II

A vibrant and democratic internal political life in a revolutionary organization is not a desirable option but a vital necessity. It is simultaneously the only mechanism for the correction of errors by the leadership and the only framework within which revolutionary cadres can be created. Groupings like the SL of the late 1970s, in which the leadership is able to appropriate an effective monopoly of political expression internally, in the interests of ‘‘efficiency’’ (i.e., by short-circuiting the necessarily time-consuming and difficult process of settling political disputes through democratic internal struggle) prepare their own inevitable political degeneration.

The membership of a Leninist organization has the right to elect those individuals to positions of leadership in whom it has the most political confidence and to replace them as it sees fit. At the same time a revolutionary organization can only operate on the basis of strict centralization, with the leading bodies having full authority to determine the public political line of the organization as a whole and to direct the work of all subordinate party bodies as well as individual members. Protection of the right to dissent within the party (and particularly of the right of minorities to struggle to replace the leadership) and the political consciousness of the membership itself provide the only guarantees against the degeneration of the vanguard short of the victory of the proletarian revolution.

The Necessity of Revolutionary Organization

The revolutionary vanguard is distinguished above all by the fact that it is the bearer of the historically derived programmatic knowledge necessary to advance the struggle for workers power. This is not something which can be announced or proclaimed, it must be proven by the responses of the organization to the events of the class struggle. Centrists scoff at those who carefully check the historical record in evaluating an organization’s revolutionary credentials. To them this is all so much ‘‘bookkeeping.’’ But the best test of what an organization will do in the future is not what it promises today but rather what it did at critical junctures in the past.

The importance of a revolutionary organization in the workers movement in periods of ebb in the class struggle is primarily to serve as an ideological pole to which to recruit and train the cadres necessary to lead the inevitable struggles to come. A revolutionary vanguard cannot be improvised on the spur of the moment. It will not emerge semi-spontaneously in the ‘‘process’’ of the class struggle. It must be forged in advance in political combat between revolutionary Marxism and the entire panopoly of working-class misleaderships from social democrats to fake-Trotskyists. It is to this struggle that 1917 is dedicated.

‘‘The decisive element in every situation is the force, permanently organized and pre-ordered over a long period, which can be advanced when one judges that the situation is favourable (and it is favourable only to the extent to which such a force exists and is full of fighting ardour); therefore the essential task is that of paying systematic and patient attention to forming and developing this force, rendering it ever more homogeneous, compact, conscious of itself.’’

—Antonio Gramsci, ‘‘The Modern Prince’’

The Private Life of Islam: A Review

The Private Life of Islam: A Review

[First printed in Women & Revolution #10, Winter 1975-76]

Young, Ian.

Private Life of Islam: A Young Doctor’s Harrowing Account of a Season-in an Algerian Maternity Hospital.

New York: Liveright, 1974.

Algerian masses’ successful war of national liberation against French colonialism was for the early New Left a living symbol of the revolutionary potential of the “Third World.” Along with the overturn of capitalism in Cuba, the self-proclaimed construction of “socialism” in Ben Bella’s Algeria focused the vicarious “anti-imperialist” energies of the radicals of the 1960’s, as the Spanish Civil. War had embodied the “anti-fascist” anti-sentiments of an earlier generation.

Unlike the social revolutions which established deformed workers*states in Cuba and later in Indochi­na, the Algerian war for national independence stopped short of any fundamental transformation of the class nature of Algeria. At a tremendous human cost, the mainly peasant Algerian liberation fighters drove the French from their country but did not destroy capitalism, instead replacing the colonial rule of French capital by the domination of a native bourgeoisie which remains tied to imperialism through the world market.

American New Leftists uncritically solidarized with the struggle to build “socialism” in post-revolutionary Algeria. They viewed the Ben Bella regime as unequivo­clly progressive and considered it axiomatic that the defeat of imperialism would open the road to socia emancipation. Rejecting the Leninist view that only a socialist revolution under the leadership of a proletari­an revolutionary party can accomplish the liberation of all the oppressed, the New Leftists envisaged many “vanguard” layers—the colonial masses, American blacks, women, youth—each of whose struggles would automatically advance the aims of the other oppressed strata.

The reality of the grinding oppression of women in post-revolutionary Algeria explodes this myth. Neither the Ben Bella regime nor the less leftist Boumediene government which succeeded it significantly altered the subserviant position of women in Algerian society. “Socialist” Algeria has shown itself completely incapable of completing even elementary democratic tasks, instead finding itself compelled to buttress the Muslim religion and and the authoritarian family structure as essential props of bourgeois rule.

The Private Life of Islam demonstrates the reactionary role of religion and the family in perpetuat­ing the degraded condition of Algerian women. The book is a young British doctor’s account of his training in an Algerian maternity hospital, a place where women are mutilated and killed as often as helped. The hospital is run “like an obstetrics book turned upside down, every do a don’t, every never an always.” The incompetence of the hospital staff is matched only by its sadism.

The staff has no time for the fear, pain or even hygiene of its patients. Beds, sheets and patients are covered with food, blood, excrement. Those infants who survive delivery are wrapped in rags and left unchanged and unwashed until they leave. No medical histories are charted,.and examinations are cursory or skipped entirely. Curettage is routinely performed without anesthetic, although bottles of it sit unused on  shelves. If a slip of the hand punctures the womb, it is removed—with curses for the extra work.

The foreign doctors excuse their criminal neglect of medical standards and ordinary human decency by reference to the attitude ‘of Algerian men themselves toward the patients. In incident after incident, terrified and suffering women are mocked, insulted., struck and most often simply ignored by male relatives and the hospital staff. Ian Youing sums up one young husband’s attitude toward his wife’s confinement as “a trip to the vet.” Still filled with moralistic ideals, Young guiltily waits for one of the patients to reproach him with a look or a word for his complicity, bul the women submissively accept the pain and brutalization as their lot.

The deprecatory attitude toward women emerges clearly in one bit of dialogue between members of the hospital staff:

“‘It’ll be born dead at this rate.’ Fatma says to the girl: ‘if you don’t push harder next time, it’ll be a little girl.’ And to me, Djamila says: ‘A dead baby, or a little girl—it’s kif­kif, it’s the same thing’.”

In another incident, a young girl who has become pregnant after being raped faces a choice between returning to her village, where she will be killed by her father to avenge the family’s dishonor, or going to prison for the “crime” of bearing an illegitimate child. Occasionally a woman informed of her pregnancy timorously asks for an abortion, but most respond with despairing resignation.

Ian Young is indignant and ashamed. Blaming the foreign doctors, he seeks government aid to institute hospital reforms. He goes to see a bureaucrat described as a real “revolutionary.” He initially flatters and conciliates the English doctor but he reveals his true attitude by boasting of how he put a doctor’s wife who is a nurse, back in “her place” by telling her: “Medicine comes before women, Madame. Show some respect ­for your husband.” Young gradually comes to understand that the hospital is the product of the society which, supports it: “These men were the unhappy executors, working in blood, excrement and death, of the most respected attitudes in Algeria.”

“Muslim Socialism”

“We prefer the woman who gives birth to a pilot, to the woman who becomes a pilot herself.”

–Mouloud Kassim

Member of the Revolutionary Council

Algerian rhetoric concerning women’s liberation and socialism notwithstanding, the government upholds Islam. Some Muslim reformists, citing the Koran’s injunctions against burying female infants in the sand and noting the vagueness of the passages used to justify the enforced seclusion of women and the wearing of the veil, claim that true Islam provides equality between the sexes. But the Koran makes itself abundantly clear on its attitude toward women:

“Men are superior to women on account of the qualities which God hath fitted the one above the other and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them. Virtuous women are obedient, careful during the husband’s absence, because. God hath of them been careful. But chide those for whose refractoriness ye have cause to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourge them: but if they are obedient to you, then seek not occasion against them: verily, God is high, Great!”

The “equality” of Islam is the equality of apartheid. That is how Algerian women lived before and during the French occupation and that is how they continue to live today—covered up, locked up, uneducated and sold in marriage to strangers, often as children. Seclusion may be vague in the letter of Koranic law, but, it is wholly in keeping with its spirit. The religious teachings of Islam, like the teachings of Judaism and Christianity, depict women as excessively sensual and morally inferior, needing the guidance of men to protect them from their own weaknesses.

The French made use of the Islamic degradation of women to justify denying democratic rights, particularly suffrage, to Muslims. The Algerian reacted with increased Muslim orthodoxy, praising their women as the perpetuators of their true culture against French influence. Due to their seclusion, Algerian women were indeed less affected by French influence than were Algerian men, although the French made a special effort to reach them. During the struggle for national liberation, the French initiated public pro-French unveilings of Muslim women and organized a Feminine Solidarity Movement which offe­red them medical care, legal aid, gifts and education, in an attempt to draw them out of their isolation and into the service of French imperialism.

The FLN (National Liberation Front) responded with the slogan “For a free Algeria, not a free French woman!” Rather than raising a genuinely socialist program for women, thus releasing them from the bondage of Islam as well as from French imperialism, the Algerian nationalists took the veil as their symbol! They placed the oppression of women on the pedestal of revolution.

The popular film “Battle of Algiers” dramatizes the heroic role of women in the struggle, but it was expediency not ideology which integrated the FLN, and this equality of the barricades was short-lived.,

On the eve of independence the Algerian masses had before them the possibility of sweeping away their own feudal elite along with French domination and of advancing their struggle past the attainment of bourgeois democracy and on to the construction of a socialist society. The petty-bourgeois leadership of the FLN, however, did everything in its power to avert such an outcome and ensure the future of Algerian capitalism  At Evian the FLN pledged economic cooperation with French imperialism  in exchange for technical and financial aid, a pledge which made the completion of even democratic tasks impossible. Respect for French landholdings meant that only deserted land could be distributed. The promised agrarian revolution necessary to feed the cities’. war-swollen population was put off year after year while French industrialists continued to suck oil out of the Sahara.

For women the mass unemployment and food shortage which followed the war meant starvation and mass prostitution. Even child prostitution was common.

The constitution proclaimed Islam the national religion and the family the basic unit of Algerian society. Men, since they were automatically considered the heads of households, were given preference in employment. Polygamy was only moderately restricted. Forced marriage was forbidden by law, but for most women, with no possibility of employment, the only practical alternative to marriage was suicide.

The Algerian revolution did achieve national liberation from the yoke of French imperialism, but it did not free the urban and peasant masses from poverty and exploitation, nor from the savage social oppression which is rooted in the fabric of capitalist class rule. In the era of imperialist decay, there is no room for independent capitalist development of the underdeveloped countries; the weak “national bourgeoisie” cannot break from even the most reactionary and feudalist elements of its class and is consequently propelled into the arms of foreign imperialism. Far from building “socialism,” countries such as Algeria cannot even address the democratic tasks formerly associated with bourgeois revolutions. It remains for the revolutionary proletarian party, which must also be a “tribune of the people,” to lift the veil of women’s oppression in Algeria.

Algerian Coup- A Crushing Blow to Revisionists Theory

Algerian Coup-

A Crushing Blow to Revisionists Theory

[First printed in Newsletter, 3 July 1965. Reprinted in Spartacist #5, Nov.-Dec. 1965]

[CLIFF SLAUGHTER examines reactions to the coup in “The Militant,” or­gan of the Socialist Workers Party, and “World Outlook,” of the ‘United Secretariat’ of revisionists in Paris.]

The. recent military coup d’etat in Algiers contains most important les­sons for Marxists. Colonel Boumed­ienne’s army, which deposed President Ben Bella, is the instrument of “order” on behalf of the native capitalist class in Algeria.

A national-revolutionary struggle, in­volving years of large-scale conflict, was necessary before these native capi­talists could take hold of state power. As in all national revolutions, the bourgeoisie had a double problem: to establish their own power by shaking off the foreign imperialist domination; and to push back the forces of the workers and peasants whom they had to mobilize for the first aim.

So great is their fear of the popular forces of the workers and peasants, and so impossible their development as an “independent” capitalism in the modern world of monopoly capitalism, that these bourgeois-nationalist gov­ernments do not even carry out the elementary tasks of the national strug­gle for the bourgeois-democratic rev­olution. Land reform, a complete break with imperialist power, and democracy —all of these become the subject of compromise with the imperialists, and repression of the people.


Marxists in our epoch, organized be­hind the program of Lenin and Trot­sky in the Fourth International, have approached this problem always with the theory of Permanent Revolution. Only the working class, leading the poor peasantry, with its own Marxist party in a struggle for workers’ state power, can complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and for this, a political struggle against the national bourgeoisie is necessary.

In Algeria, these problems were pre­sented in almost classical form.

However, a whole group of so-called Trotskyist, the revisionists, Pablo, Germain, Frank and later the leaders of the American Socialist Workers Party, who came to their support in 1963 in the “United Secretariat,” instead of opposing the national bour­geoisie and fighting for an independent proletarian revolutionary party, offer­ed themselves as apologists for the bourgeois-nationalist leaders.

These revisionists encouraged the fatal illusion that colonial liberation movements would transform themselves into socialist revolution without the independent Marxist party, and with­out a struggle against the bourgeois nationalists.

They went further, and concluded that nationalist leaders, such as Ben Bella, would lead the nation to the establishment of a workers’ state.

Pablo, who recently split from Ger­main, Frank and Hansen in Paris, went to the extreme of taking a post in the Ben Bella administration.

For something like a year, these Pabloites, particularly the Paris clique, have expressed shamefaced doubts about their “premature” conclusion that Algeria was a “workers’ state.”

They have written “worried” arti­cles about the masses’ resistance to bureaucracy and the concentration of power in the centralized state and Presidency.

Final Blow

The Boumedienne coup has delivered the final crushing blow to this revision­ist school (see last week’s Newsletter). A. revolutionary situation with a divided ruling class today finds the Al­gerian working class and peasantry leaderless.

Those revisionists who lent the name of “Trotskyism” and “Marxism” to the stifling of independent working-class politics bear a historic responsibility for this situation.

They condemned the International Committee, and its sections, such as the Socialist Labour League, for “sectarianism” when we denounced the arrests of oppositionists like Boudiaf, and when we drew attention to the capitalist character of the Algerian state and of the Evian agreement, to the suppression of independent trade unions and, to the centralized state’s restrictions on workers and peasants.

Above all, we were condemned for an insistence that the workers must have their own party, independent of the National Liberation Front (FLN), independent of the bourgeoisie, and op­posed to the myth of national unity perpetrated by Ben Bella and the bourgeois leaders.

The supporters and sympathizers of this revisionist tendency are now of course in disarray.

The Militant, organ of the Socialist Workers Party, appeared last week­end with just over 100 words on the coup—”the facts are still unclear.”

It would have been better to remain silent, we suggest, than to say in one sentence:

“The military coup that overthrew the Ben Bella regime is obviously a political move of the deepest significance for the Algerian people and the world socialist movement.”

And then to say in the next:

“… it is not realistically possible to determine if General Boumed­ienne’s seizure of power will mean *a general continuation of the ‘pol­icies of the Ben Bella government or a significant shift away from them.”

Fortunately, perhaps, The Militant now goes on to its summer schedule and will not appear again until 12 July.

If we turn to World Outlook, pub­lished by the United Secretariat in Paris, we find a more comprehensive treatment.

“Boumedienne’s seizure of Power” is the main news article, which in­forms us that the Algiers’ coup “has been judged by experts [?] in this field to be one of the most skillful in history. It caught virtually everyone by complete surprise, the most stunned of all being Ben Bella who was hauled out of his bedroom at 2:25 a.m. by the conspirators.” No doubt!

Once the inspired journalism is done with, we get down to the political ver­dict.. Says World Outlook:

“In the absence of a well-organized vanguard party, of unions with an independent leadership, the army stood as the only cohesive power in the country.”

In the guise of a “Marxist” commen­tary, we here have a. blanket drawn over the decisive questions.

What is a “well-organized vanguard party”? There is deliberate confusion here.

World Outlook wants one set of readers (Ben Bella’s entourage, the July 26 movement in Cuba and all sorts of “progressives”) to understand by this phrase the official party of the Algerian state, the National Libera­tion Front. One wing of the Algerian national bourgeoisie and most, perhaps, of the Algerian petty-bourgeois poli­ticians, would prefer control through this party to army control.

At the same time, World Outlook hopes that those who regard themselves as Trotskyists will understand by a “vanguard party,” the revolutionary proletarian party of Marxism.

Above all, the relation between the two things. must not be clarified.

But this clarification is precisely what has been necessary in the past period. In this way, the revisionists complete their betrayal, just as they did in Ceylon.

In the same issue of World Outlook is published a declaration by the “Unit­ed Secretariat of the Fourth Interna­tional” (i.e., Paris revisionists) on 23 June, “Defend the Algerian Revolu­tion.” Here, the position of the revi­sionists is stated more precisely.

In this declaration, all manner of radical phrases are thrown out, but the question of independent working-class politics and a Trotskyist party of the Fourth International in Algeria, is avoided.


This same World Outlook com­mented only a few weeks ago that Ben Bella’s announcement withdrawing the death sentence on Ait Ahmed was a “sign of the strength of the Ben Bella regime.”

Now they say:

“The ease with which Ben Bella was removed from power . .. shows the correctness of the criticisms which the revolutionary Marxists offered while supporting Ben Bella against the right-wing forces that sought to block, slow down and de-rail the Algerian revolution.”

How “correct” can you get? World Outlook says all this has happened’ be­cause:

“… the Algerian revolution had not been carried through to the end, to the institution of a workers’ state based on committees of workers and, poor peasants exercising the real power.”

The main question is ignored: such a state could only have been created by building a Marxist revolutionary party, opposing the bourgeois nation­alists in every one of the actions which they took to halt the revolution and consolidate their own power.

The revisionists, instead, speculated about whether Ben Bella was “another Castro,” i.e., someone capable, in their opinion, of taking the revolution through to workers’ power.

All the criticisms in the world of Ben Bella’s compromises with the Right, his attacks on the unions, his concentration of personal power, are worse than useless without the struggle to build an alternative, the basis of which must be a revolutionary work­ers’ party.

In so far as the revisionists only campaigned for greater “pressure,” or­ganized by the “left wing” to change the policy of the FLN, they helped the reactionary forces to prepare the pres­ent situation.

Their deception now will convince no one in Algeria, France or anywhere else. The sum total of their politics was to persuade militants that the FLN itself could become the “mass van­guard party” which they now talk about at every turn.


And so to the miserable conclusions of this declaration (of bankruptcy). The theory of the permanent revolu­tion, it appears, has “been strikingly confirmed; this time, unfortunately [sic] not in a positive sense as in the case of Cuba, but in a negative way.”

After advocating liquidation of the revolutionary party, placed by Trotsky at the center of the theory of the permanent revolution, you then pro­nounce the verdict that “unfortunate­ly,” the theory has been confirmed in a “negative” way.

The whole process is viewed as something separate from Marxist theory, not as a process in which this theory, given concrete form in the rev­olutionary party, plays a decisive ob­jective role.

Only after the negative confirmation, is it necessary to say, as does the declaration’s next sentence, that‑

“No conquests in a colonial revolution can be considered to have been consolidated until a workers’ state has been created, until a revolutionary socialist party has been built, until the workers and poor peasants hold power through their own institutions of proletarian democracy.”

Not a word about the criminal con­fusion beween the working-class rev­olutionary party and the bourgeois-national movement. Not a word about the criminal responsibility of the auth­ors of the same declaration, who have been in the forefront of the revisionist subordination to bourgeois-national leaders like Ben Bella.

Their vagueness about the “Algerian left wing” is matched by the state­ments earlier this year by Pablo, re­cently expelled from the leadership of the United Secretariat. He referred constantly to “the organized left, the marching wing” of the revolution, but he discussed always within the frame­work of Algeria as a country on the road to socialism.

When he criticised government tutel­age of the unions he did this always in terms of the state becoming isolated from the masses.

What was actually required was a struggle of the workers, leading the poor peasantry, to fight behind a Trot­skyist party for their own power in opposition to the existing state.

Ben Bella has for years been con­solidating the centralized state power against the workers and peasants. Boumedienne and the right have thrown him out because he did not go far enough and was too prone to give concessions to the masses.

As soon as Ben Bella had worked with Boumedienne for the 1962 over­throw of the old provisional govern­ment, he used Boumedienne’s army to consolidate bourgeois state power.

This army was quite separate from the popular liberation force which fought the French. It was preserved in relatively privileged and comfortable conditions after the liberation, having previously been kept out of the fight­ing.


It was used to suppress and disarm all remaining forces of the Maquis in the different regions of Algeria. The resolution of the National Liberation Front Congress to create a people’s militia remained just a scrap of paper.

This army consolidated its power while independence of the unions was eaten away and the land reform was halted. It was a classical example of the bourgeoisie halting the democratic revolution, to collaborate with impe­rialism, and attack the workers and peasants.

Ben Bella, with his demagogic speeches and popular appeal, was ne­cessary to the Algerian bourgeoisie and the imperialists only during the initial difficult period.

The reactionaries behind Boumedi­enne have now decided that his “left” talk about socialism can be dispensed with, and they will provide their own substitute.

This does not mean that the struggle is over or that the new regime is firmly established, but there can no longer be any doubt about the forces which have been established.

Certainly the Algerian events are of great consequence for Marxist theory and for the working-class movement. But the revisionists of the “United Secretariat” cannot calculate this sig­nificance because it involves above all an accounting of their own role.

As in Ceylon, revisionism has led to betrayal, and has prepared the way for defeats. But the struggle against that revisionism can be strengthened now that the lessons are being driven home.

Just as the workers and peasants of Ceylon and Algeria have not yet spok­en their last word, so the Fourth International is no longer held back in its development by the revisionists.

On the contrary, they are being rap­idly dissolved and defeated. This is a necessary part of the revived international struggle of the working class.

LA: Days of Rage

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

LA: Days of Rage

[Reposted from

Supplement to 1917, May 1992

With the “end of communism” America’s rulers dreamed of a “new world order” in which the oppressed would meekly submit to their oppressors. The fires that swept Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict proclaimed that such an order is not to be. In the greatest explosion of anger since the ghetto upheavals of the 1960s, tens of thousands of blacks and Latinos took to the streets of the country’s second largest city to serve notice that they would no longer endure deepening poverty and rampant racist terror without fighting back.

In most respects the incident that ignited the LA explosion–the near-fatal beating of an unarmed and defenseless black man–was nothing new. Escalating police violence and lethal force against inner-city blacks and other minorities–from Philadelphia to New York to Miami–has been the calling-card of the Reagan-Bush era. The badges and batons of the LAPD, which pioneered the choke hold and the doctrine of massive police “response,” have long been symbols of racist terror on the streets [of] the South-Central and East-Side ghettos. The assault on Rodney King was different only because it was captured in agonizing detail on videotape and broadcast continually on TV screens throughout the country for over a year before the trial. So clear-cut, in fact, was the case against the police, that the LA judiciary and District Attorney–part of the same repressive apparatus as the LAPD–probably feared that any inner-city jury would make too harsh an example of the four uniformed marauders. It was no doubt to prevent such an outcome that the presiding judge transferred the venue of the trial to Simi Valley, a prosperous white suburban enclave which is home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, as well as 2000 of the 8300-member LA police force.

But the tactic backfired. It was widely expected that even the most right-wing jury, confronted with the irrefutable evidence of their senses, would at least try to maintain the outward appearance of justice by imposing light prison terms on one or two of the indicted cops. However, in the racist climate of the 1990s, the overwhelmingly white jury was not concerned with appearances. Their verdict merely affirmed explicitly what Bush, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Congress have been saying implicitly for years: that blacks are less human than whites; that the kind of treatment meted out to Rodney King is not only to be winked at, but commended; that thousands of victims of police terror can expect more of the same without hope of redress in the courts; that batons and bullets, overcrowded prison cells and lethal injections are a degenerate system’s only answer to the despair of America’s impoverished urban ghettoes. As revolutionary Marxists, we share the rage of South-Central Los Angeles.

LA: “City of the Future”

The conditions that led to the South-Central upheaval are not confined to Los Angeles; they are endemic to all major urban centers in the U.S. But Los Angeles, more than any other American metropolis, is widely perceived as the “city of the future”–the most concentrated expression of major trends in national life. And, indeed, the city’s social geography reveals in a starker form the contrasts typical of the country as a whole: on the one hand, fortified suburban islands of affluence, where the rich and well-off indulge in narcissistic life styles; on the other hand, an increasingly desolate urban core–populated by blacks, Hispanics and Asian immigrants–whose streets resemble third-world battle zones.

The “future” revealed by LA’s ghettos is grim. As is to be expected in this profoundly racist society, it is blacks who suffer most acutely from U.S. capitalism’s economic decline. The statistics speak for themselves: almost half the black families in central LA fall below the official poverty line, while unemployment among black youth has remained steady at almost 50 percent since the 1970s. The few decently paid blue-collar jobs that were available have been steadily disappearing, as those industries that have not moved their operations abroad or folded entirely, flee the inner city for outlying industrial parks. Most of the jobs that remain are in the low-wage sweatshops that have mushroomed in recent years.

The effects of this economic erosion are compounded by a government policy of “malign neglect.” The “anti-poverty” programs initiated to help put a lid back on the ghettos after the 1960s rebellions have been all but eliminated. The Neighborhood Youth Corps was dismantled under the Nixon administration, and Reagan followed suit by terminating the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). Public school classrooms in central LA, the country’s second largest school district, are today more crowded than those in Mississippi; high schools have a 30-50 percent dropout rate.

In the face of hopeless unemployment and poverty, it is hardly surprising that inner-city youth have turned in large numbers to the only available source of income: the underground drug economy. In the mid-1980s LA became the main U.S. pipeline for a new, highly concentrated form of cocaine–rock cocaine or crack–shipped in by drug cartels. Many members of LA’s biggest street gangs, the Crips and Bloods, together with hundreds of smaller gangs, plugged into this deadly traffic to become street-level pushers.

So long as the violence of the crack trade was confined to the ghetto, municipal authorities were content to maintain police repression at “normal” levels. But as ever larger amounts of drug money hit the streets, gangs required more sophisticated weaponry to protect their investments. When gun battles, often waged with Uzi submachine guns, escalated and began to spill over into adjoining white neighborhoods, stopping “gang violence” became a media crusade and a favorite hobby horse for local pols. The city administration responded with what is becoming the capitalist state’s preferred method of solving inner-city problems: police terror on a quasi-military scale.

In 1988, LA police chief Daryl Gates launched “Operation HAMMER,” a massive, indiscriminate police sweep of South-Central for the ostensible purpose of curbing drug traffic. This was not the first time the area had been subjected to Gates’ hammer-blows. The LAPD, long infamous as a gang of trigger-happy rednecks, had recently mounted nine smaller dragnet operations there. South-Central also remembers Eulia Love, a 39-year-old black widow gunned down in a 1979 dispute with police over unpaid gas bills. Moreover, in 1982 Chief Gates responded to criticisms concerning the choke-hold deaths of young black men in custody by saying that the “veins and arteries [of blacks] do not open up as fast as they do on normal people.”

But “Operation HAMMER” surpassed all previous LAPD thrusts. Billed as the “D-Day of law enforcement,” it was probably the single largest application of force in a black ghetto since the Philadelphia MOVE massacre of 1985 (which Gates has publicly praised). In the first phase, over a thousand cops, backed by elite tactical squads, swooped down upon ten square miles of central LA, arresting nearly 1500 black youths. In the months that followed: an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by police because he was alleged to be reaching suspiciously into his trousers; an 81-year-old retiree died after being pumped full of buckshot when police mistook his residence for a “crack house”; a group of apartments was attacked by almost 90 shotgun and sledgehammer-brandishing police, who shouted racist epithets, and proceeded to spray-paint walls, smash furniture and appliances, and force residents to run a gauntlet of fists and flashlights.

By 1990, the LAPD and sheriffs of adjacent municipalities had rounded up a total of 50,000 “suspects.” There are only 100,000 black youths in Los Angeles! One member of the district attorney’s office, commented that “Operation HAMMER” was “Vietnam here.” It has been officially discontinued only to be replaced by permanent, institutionalized police sweeps.

The beating of Rodney King must be understood in this context: as a minor episode in the transformation of South-Central into a “free-fire zone.” Such developments are by no means unique to Los Angeles. King was at least lucky enough to escape with his life–unlike many other innocent victims of heightened police brutality from coast to coast. Yet Los Angeles has led the way in investing that brutality with a military dimension, thus showing the entire ruling class how to handle “surplus populations” in a period of economic contraction, and once again living up to its reputation as the “city of the future.”

BEOs, Democrats and Black Capitalism: No Answer

The Los Angeles events again demonstrate the utter folly of attempting to fight racism and police brutality by putting black elected officials (BEOs) or more Democrats in office. LA has had a black mayor–Tom Bradley–for the last 17 years. After capturing office on a program of “social activism,” Bradley presided over drastic reductions in city budget allocations for South-Central in favor of greater spending for LA’s affluent Westside residential neighborhood and the downtown business district. Bradley has been almost as zealous in proving his loyalty to the ruling class as his East-Coast counterpart, Wilson Goode, who, as Philadelphia’s first black mayor, ordered the 1985 terror-bombing of the MOVE compound. Until the King tapes were broadcast, Bradley backed Daryl Gates and his “law-and-order” grandstanding.

The infamy of a Republican like Gates does not change the fact that LA has for decades been in the hands of a Democratic municipal administration. According to Mike Davis (whose 1990 book, City of Quartz, provides a compelling portrait of contemporary LA) Democratic District Attorney James Hahn, the immediate predecessor of the present DA, “probably traveled further than any metropolitan law enforcement official in the country towards establishing the legal infrastructure of an American police state.” Hahn’s legal strategy aimed at extending criminal liability for drug-related offenses from individual perpetrators to those who supposedly aid and abet them. By criminalizing whole groups of people, Hahn created the legal framework for super-sweeps like “Operation HAMMER.” Such measures, concludes Davis:

“imply a ‘West Bank’ towards the troubled neighborhoods of Southcentral LA. The ‘terrorism’ metaphor has metastasized as Hahn and Reiner have criminalized successive strata of the community: ‘gang members,’ then ‘gang parents,’ followed by whole ‘gang families,’ ‘gang neighborhoods,’ and perhaps even a ‘gang generation.”’

In LA as in Peru, the “war on drugs” functions as a camouflage for the repression needed to maintain capitalist law and order among the most oppressed and desperate social layers. And this class warfare by the bourgeoisie, on the home front and abroad, is, as ever, a truly “bipartisan” affair.

Just as futile as electing BEOs is the notion of “black capitalism”–the solution to the plight of the ghetto advocated by everyone from George Bush and his housing secretary, Jack Kemp, to Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. Capitalist America is not the society of hardworking, prosperous small businessmen conjured up in Frank Capra films. It is a highly polarized class society, where a permanent underclass of unemployed and semi-employed act as a brake upon the wages of employed workers. Blacks have always comprised a disproportionate part of this economically marginal population. It is simply a petty-bourgeois pipe-dream to think that the government or the banks are going to underwrite the creation of new black businesses when many white-owned businesses are going to the wall and millions of people who only yesterday considered themselves “middle class” can no longer pay their mortgages or afford to visit a hospital.

The crack trade now thriving on the streets of South Central LA is the only kind of “black capitalism” available to a whole generation of lumpenized street youth; because it is illegal, drug trafficking is one of the few forms of commerce not monopolized by “legitimate” capitalists. And repression is the only answer of the capitalist state for millions of black, Hispanic and other minority youth who can no longer survive by living within the rules of the larger society. Not “black capitalism,” but socialism–a society in which production is based on human need instead of profit–is the answer to the desperation of South-Central and inner-city ghettos throughout the land. The fight against racism and police brutality must be a central part of the struggle to forge the multi-racial party of the working class necessary to break the power of the capitalist state and lay the foundations for a socialist future. It is in light of these goals that we assess the Los Angeles upheaval.

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

In the wake of the LA events, bourgeois media and politicians are quick to remind us that “rioting accomplishes nothing.” This may be true in the long term, but it is also true that every paltry reform or gesture toward racial justice that the capitalist state has made in the past has been in direct response to anger in the streets. LBJ’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s was aimed at keeping social peace in the wake of nationwide ghetto explosions. When things settled down, the “Great Society” spigot was almost entirely turned off. The only reason that one of Rodney King’s club-wielding assailants, Laurence Powell, will stand trial a second time (unfortunately not before an all-black and Hispanic jury) is because of the South-Central eruption. Voting for BEOs and Democrats, on the other hand, has only led to a deepening of black poverty and an escalation of police brutality.

The bourgeois media is full of admonishments that all citizens must “respect the law.” But since when has the American legal system ever treated blacks as equals? The response to the beating of the white truck driver, Reginald Denny, exposes the “neutrality” of the state when dealing with the rage of poor black ghetto residents. Four black men, identified from videotape as participants in the beating and robbing of Denny, were immediately arrested (one by Chief Gates himself), and dragged into court wearing prison overalls. The four cops who beat King, by comparison, were allowed to turn themselves in and immediately posted bond. Further, while the LAPD thugs were charged with assault and “using excessive force,” three of the four arrested for assaulting Denny were charged with attempted murder–which carries an almost guaranteed life sentence in California.

Marxists can have nothing but contempt for the hypocritical condemnations of “violence” and “lawlessness” now gushing forth from newsrooms, pulpits and capitalist presidential aspirants. Yet serious militants must also recognize that racism, poverty and the violence of the capitalist state will not be ended by unorganized explosions of black and minority rage, however justified. Because the black masses lack the program and the leadership to fight for a real social revolution, their spontaneous anger often strikes at the wrong targets, and leaves their real exploiters and oppressors untouched. The burning and looting of the stores of petty capitalists in the ghetto does nothing to break the stranglehold of the multi-billion-dollar banks and corporations who own the major means of producing and distributing wealth, and who are the real power behind the small-time frontmen. Attacks upon Korean businesses and a few white people who happen to pass through only punish other powerless individuals and families, many of whom are also victims of the current ruling-class offensive against workers and the poor. Such senseless and indefensible acts are partially explained by the fact that many black youth, in the isolation of inner-city wastelands, are inclined to misperceive local non-black businessmen, landlords and whites in general as representatives of a malignant and incomprehensible power structure bent upon destroying them with drugs, AIDS and police bullets. But part of the responsibility must also be laid at the door to black demagogues like Sharpton and Farrakhan, who trade on the fears of the ghetto by spewing forth anti-Semitic and anti-white poison.

The key to black emancipation lies not in spontaneous ghetto upheavals, “black capitalism” or “community control,” but in the fight for socialist revolution. Such a revolution requires that the outrage of the black ghetto masses be linked to the struggles of the only force with both the social power and objective interest in uprooting the existing social order–the integrated American working class, and especially its organized, trade-union component.

Many blacks believe that the white working class, blinded by the racism that runs so deep in this country’s history, has more in common with the white capitalist ruling class than the beleaguered residents of Harlem, South-Side Chicago or South-Central LA. The more backward white workers believe the same thing. The LA events will undoubtedly drive some of them deeper into the arms of open racists like David Duke and Pat Buchanan. George Bush is busy blaming the LA explosion on 1960s social programs in a disgusting attempt to parlay the “white backlash” into four more years in the White House.

But the Los Angeles upheaval could also be a forerunner of another, potentially much larger “backlash”: the “backlash” of ordinary people–black, brown, yellow and white–against the unrelenting attacks by the ruling class upon their standard of living over the past 20 years. While blacks and minorities have been hit hardest by these attacks, millions of whites have also been forced to pay the price of American capitalism’s economic decline. Union busting, obscene tax breaks for the rich, longer working hours for lower pay, speed-up, drastic cuts in social services and soaring health-care costs–these are the bitter fruits of the capitalist offensive on the home front, begun under Democrat Jimmy Carter and intensified during the Reagan-Bush years. Looting on the streets of LA is trifling by comparison to the $500-billion Savings and Loan bailout, which is correctly understood by most citizens as the massive looting of public coffers by the rich.

Revulsion against the class arrogance of this country’s rulers is not limited to blacks and minorities. It is reflected in a disillusionment with the twin parties of capitalism so widespread that even Democratic hacks like Jerry Brown and billionaires like Ross Perot feel compelled to pander to it, cynically posing as “political outsiders.” It is registered in polls which show that 76 percent of whites disapprove of the Rodney King verdict and that 54 percent of whites are not happy with the way Bush is handling race relations (New York Times, 11 May). It is confirmed by the fact that many white youths joined with blacks in demonstrating their outrage over the King verdict on the streets of LA. These are strong indications that the only effective response to years of capitalist attacks–integrated class struggle–is a real possibility today.

Blacks and minorities form a large percentage of the industrial working class in the U.S. They are also concentrated in the unions that maintain the nation’s cities. These workers run the buses and trains, collect the garbage, sweep the streets and staff the hospitals. They can provide the necessary link between the ghetto and the organized working class. A single general strike against police brutality could bring cities like LA to a halt, and would prove an infinitely more potent weapon than a hundred ghetto upheavals. Such strikes could open the way for a powerful working-class counteroffensive against racism and capitalist austerity. But this requires a militant, class-struggle leadership committed to breaking the stranglehold of trade-union bureaucrats and Democratic Party BEOs. The Bolshevik Tendency is dedicated to the task of forging such a leadership in the struggle for a socialist society, which can alone deliver justice to Rodney King and countless other victims of the “new world order.”

On the Propaganda Perspective

On the Propaganda Perspective

[Originally posted on Feb 7, 2003 at

An exchange between an Internationalist Group supporter and one of our comrades [Samuel Trachtenberg] on the question of revolutionary press policy recently took place on a New York City leftist discussion list. We reprint below the reaction of the IG’s comrade Abram to our posting of a historical article on the Korean War, followed by two emails from our comrade in response.


Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003

Subject: [reconstruction] question

A question prompted by S’s recent postings:

Why has his organization, the “International Bolshevik Tendency,” apparently published no article, leaflet or statement on two of the most crucial recent battles of the class struggle: the lock-out against West Coast longshore workers, and the struggle of New York transit workers?

Both are key examples of how imperialist war abroad means repression against labor, blacks and all the oppressed within the U.S. Both are arenas in which any organization genuinely struggling for Bolshevik politics would seek to intervene. In both cases the Internationalist Group intervened actively, fighting for the program of revolutionary Trotskyism. But from the IBT, nothing. (And I saw zero from them when I was on the West Coast for the recent conference against Taft-Hartley, even though one of their long-time supporters attended the ILWU Coast Caucus.)

I think this is one more confirmation that the IBT is little more than a literary society on the road to open social democracy.

— Abram

The first response by our comrade

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2003

I gather that Comrade Abram had no criticisms of the political line of the rather important historical article on the Korean War I posted, but there is a clear implication in his comment that this sort of article is somehow less useful or important than agitational leaflets on more current issues. I think it is a mistake to counterpose the two, and I think that both the New York transit dispute and ILWU lockouts pose important issues for the working class today. If my group had more capacity it would have been good to have produced statements on these and a variety of other current struggles.

At this time, given our resources, we have decided that our main orientation as a tiny organization must be to seek to clarify major issues of program, often through polemical struggle with other ostensibly revolutionary groups, in order to assist in the regroupment of people who are already somewhat radicalized and politically active. Of course we welcome opportunities to recruit directly from among raw workers, but for very small propaganda groups this cannot be a primary strategy. First one must build a nucleus of cadres, and that can only be done on the basis of struggle for political program.

The question of press policy and “mass orientation” has been the focus of many political debates in the Marxist movement, see, for example., Lenin’s polemic with the economists in What Is To Be Done?, James P. Cannon’s critique of Albert Weisbord, and Trotsky’s writings in The Crisis of the French Section. The early Spartacist League had parallel debates with Healy-Wohlforth and Ellens-Turner on questions of press policy and Potemkin Village fake-mass pretensions.

These are, I think, a valuable part of our revolutionary heritage and deserve some attention. I think we can begin with the recognition that the IBT and the IG are both very small organizations (“sub-propaganda groups”) aspiring to help build the nucleus of a future mass revolutionary party. The job of a propaganda group is to disseminate Marxist propaganda, as James P. Cannon, pointed out in his History of American Trotskyism:

“…these circumstances made obligatory that our primary work be propaganda rather than mass agitation. As has already been pointed out, in the terminology of Marxism quite a sharp distinction is drawn between propaganda and agitation, a distinction which is slurred over in popular language. People commonly describe as propaganda any kind of publicity, agitation, teaching, propagation of principles, etc. In the terminology of the Marxist movement, as it was defined most precisely by Plekhanov, agitation and propaganda are two distinct forms of activity. Propaganda he defined as the dissemination of many fundamental ideas to a few people; what we perhaps in America are accustomed to call education. Agitation he defined as the dissemination of a few ideas, or only one idea, to many people. Propaganda is directed toward the vanguard; agitation towards the masses.”

The following quotes are from two sources that the IG and IBT both regard as part of the political tradition of authentic Trotskyism: James P. Cannon in the 1940s and the Spartacist League of the 1970’s.

From The History of American Trotskyism:

“Our paper was aimed directly at the members of the Communist Party. We didn’t try to convert the whole world. We took our message first to those whom we considered the vanguard, those most likely to be interested in our ideas. We knew that we had to recruit at least the first detachments of the movement from their ranks.”

“The fate of every political group–whether it is to live and grow or degenerate and die–is decided in its first experiences by the way in which it answers two decisive questions.

“The first is the adoption of a correct political program. But that alone does not guarantee victory. The second is that the group decide correctly what shall be the nature of its activities, and what tasks it shall set itself, given the size and capacity of the group, the period of the development of the class struggle, the relation of forces in the political movement, and so on.”

“…if the group misunderstands the tasks set for it by the conditions of the day, if it does not know how to answer the most important of all questions in politics–that is the question of what to do next–then the group, no matter what its merits may otherwise be, can wear itself out in misdirected efforts and futile activities.”

“The [founding] conference didn’t take up every question posed by the political conditions of the time. It took up only the most important questions, that is, those which had to be answered first….”

“The problem was to understand the actual situation, the stage of development at the moment. Of course, you have to find a road to the masses in order to create a party that can lead a revolution. But the road to the masses lies through the vanguard and not over its head. That was not understood by some people. They thought they could by-pass the Communistic workers, jump right into the midst of the mass movement and find there the best candidates for the most advanced, the most theoretically developed group in the world, that is, the Left Opposition which was the vanguard of the vanguard. This conception was erroneous, the product of impatience and the failure to think things out. Instead of that, we set as our main task propaganda, not agitation.

“We said: Our first task is to make the principles of the Left Opposition known to the vanguard. Let us not delude ourselves with the idea we can go to the great unschooled mass now….

“At that time there appeared on the horizon a figure who is also perhaps strange to many of you, but who in those days made an awful lot of noise [Albert Weisbord]….His revelation was: The Trotskyists must not be a propaganda circle, but go directly into ‘mass work.’ That conception had to lead him logically to the proposal of forming a new party, but he couldn’t do that very conveniently because he didn’t have any members. He had to apply the tactic of going first to the vanguard on us….The heart and core of the fight with Weisbord was this question of the nature of our activities. He was impatient to jump into mass work over the head of the Communist Party. We rejected his program and he denounced us in one thick mimeographed bulletin after another.”

“There were impatient people in our ranks who thought that Weisbord’s prescription might be worth trying, a way to get rich quick. It is very easy for isolated people, gathered together in a small room, to talk themselves into the most radical proposals unless they retain a sense of proportion, of sanity and realism. Some of our comrades, disappointed at our slow growth, were lured by this idea that we needed only a program of mass work in order to go get the masses.”

“We, with our criticisms and theoretical explanations, appeared in the eyes of all as a group of impossibilists, hairsplitters, naggers. We were going around trying to make people understand that the theory of socialism in one country is fatal for a revolutionary movement in the end; that we must clear up this question at all costs. Enamored with the first successes of the First Five Year Plan, they used to look at us and say, ‘These people are crazy, they don’t live in the real world.’ At a time when tens of thousands of new elements were beginning to look toward the Soviet Union, going forward to a new Five Year Plan, while capitalism appeared to be going up the spout; here were these Trotskyists, with their documents under their arms, demanding that you read books, study, discuss, and so on. Nobody wanted to listen to us.”

“We decided that the most revolutionary thing we could do was not to go out to proclaim the revolution in Union Square, not to try to put ourselves at the head of tens of thousands of workers who did not know us, not to jump over our own heads.”

“Our task, our revolutionary duty, was to print the word, to carry on propaganda in the narrowest and most concentrated sense, that is, the publication and distribution of theoretical literature.”

From the introduction to Documents of the Buffalo Marxist Collective (Young Communist Bulletin No. 1)

“Given the lack of a mass working class party in the United States, the primary task of the SL/RCY is to accumulate a cadre and reach the advanced workers and students attracted to revolutionary politics. This is a point profoundly misunderstood by New Leftists, PLers, Maoists and ‘radicals’ of all stripes full of utopian schemes to conquer the masses ‘now.’”

“While the ex-New Leftists with their new-found ‘Leninism’ delude themselves into thinking that a group of a few hundred or even a few thousand, with a minimum program but lots of good intentions, can organize the ‘working-class as a whole,’ the SL/RCY is accumulating a cadre that will enable it to intervene in a principled and effective way in the working-class movement. These New Leftists, ignoring the preparatory and propagandistic tasks necessary to the construction of a mass revolutionary party, incorrectly view the SL/RCY’s emphasis on public polemics and regroupment as some sort of insane sectarianism.

“The SL/RCY has always argued that all get-rich-quick schemes that ignore the need to develop a conscious coherent cadre can only lead to the worst opportunist politics. Opportunism flows from a misconception of the relationship of the party to the class. A small grouping, expecting to ‘lead the masses’ without the necessary preparatory work, inevitably finds itself tailing after the present level of working class consciousness, adding a few ‘socialist’ flourishes.

“While a regroupment today cannot lead immediately to the type of mass parties that affiliated to the Communist International (because of the relatively small size of the left and it’s lack of a real working-class base), the SL/RCY seeks to attract all militants who will aid in the preparation to such a mass party. In doing this, we have actively intervened in the ostensibly revolutionary movements as a hard pole of communist attraction. The cadre we are attempting to recruit are not only the ‘untouched pure’ radicals that PL enthuses over, but equally important, those that have organizational and theoretical experience in the left-wing organizations.”

The second response by our comrade

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2003

In my previous post I tried to explain what the IBT views as the main responsibility for a small propaganda organization. What is essential is to produce first-rate Marxist material, which is well written, but most importantly, programmatically correct. “Better fewer but better,” to borrow a phrase from Lenin. Of course it is also good to address as many issues as possible.

Unfortunately we were not able to produce a leaflet on the recent transit contract, but at the union rallies we concentrated on distributing our statement on the impending war on Iraq which I previously posted to this list, and selling the then current issue of our journal 1917 along with a back issue with the lengthy front page article titled “American Labor Besieged,” which discusses the historical development of the American labor movement and it’s current political state due to the betrayals of the union bureaucrats. We also sold our edition of Trotsky’s Transitional Program which includes a lengthy introduction on its relevance for today and a collection of documents on the history of Communist and Trotskyist work in the unions. We believe that the more politically conscious transit workers who may be directly recruitable to a revolutionary organization will be interested in broader political questions in addition to their current contract dispute.

Even with a statement on the current situation in transit, without supporters in the union it would have been virtually impossible for us or the IG to fight for leadership of the workforce. We want to avoid the kind of Potemkin Village fake-mass posturing the SL engaged in with their claims that their tiny group was anywhere close to playing the role of a revolutionary leadership for the workers of the DDR in 1989-90.

The first bound volume of Spartacist, which throughout the 1960s, along with some leaflets, was the publication of the then-revolutionary Spartacist League, laid the basis for the regroupment of a significant layer of New Leftists in the early 1970’s that qualitatively transformed it as an organization and vastly expanded its propaganda capacities. It also provided the human material necessary to begin to construct active communist caucuses in the unions, as Comrade Abram will confirm. This history is outlined in our edition of the Transitional Program. As the SL degenerated, its leadership made a conscious decision to dismantle all their union caucuses, something the IBT’s founders waged a struggle against.

The revolutionary SL of the 1960s lacked the capacity to make serious mass interventions and its paper came out at best twice a year and sometimes was only eight pages in size. This meant that it missed some very important issues. For example, the SL was unable to publish an article on the 1968 Soviet intervention in Czechoslavakia, nor did it publish any significant analysis of the Black Panthers until 1972 when they were in an advanced state of political decline. There were also many union struggles that the SL was unable to cover in this period. This was not due to political indifference, but rather limited capacity.

In contrast to the SL’s irregular but programmatically superior press, Tim Wohlforth’s Workers League produced a regular paper with mass pretensions which covered a much wider range of issues. The Wohlforthites derided the SL and claimed that it was uninterested in the struggles of the masses. The Buffalo Marxist Caucus (BMC), one of the left-Maoist collectives the SL successfully regrouped in the early 1970s, explained why they were won to the SL instead of the WL:

“While at first we were hostile to the SL based on WL statements about SL ‘abstentionism’ in the class struggle, we found that we could not defend political points that we advanced from the WL perspective. This was brought out to a focus around the WL’s ‘mass press.’ The Bulletin, the RCY argued, did not reflect the limited reality of the WL’s work in the trade unions which was confined primarily to one white collar union. Most of the articles are written from the outside, many of them rewrites from the bourgeois press, while the centerfold features destined for the Bulletinpamphlet series are reserved for the methodological profundities. To this conception of a ‘Bolshevik’ press the SL counterposed its own: They demonstrated the way in which Workers Vanguard was an organizing tool, directly related to the tactic of posing themselves as a pole of communist attraction in the trade unions on the basis of a full program. Workers Vanguard did not pretend to be the mass organ of a mass party. Things must be called by their right names. Rather, Workers Vanguard was mainly directed toward advanced workers with whom the SL had contact through implantation in the trade unions, and towards ostensibly revolutionary organizations, students and intellectuals. Polemics were directed against other left tendencies the SL intersected in it’s actual trade union work, work on campus and in political events on the left, and was thus connected with the SL’s Leninist perspective of splits and fusions. The SL compared the Bulletin to PL’s Challenge, pointing out that real mass work was the penetration of the working class through it’s most advanced layers, not tailing the class at it’s present level of consciousness.”

The BMC quoted from Trotsky’s article, “What is a Mass Paper?”:

“What is a ‘mass paper’? The question is not new. It can be said that the whole history of the revolutionary movement has been filled with discussions on the ‘mass paper.’ It is the elementary duty of a revolutionary organization to make its political newspaper as accessible as possible to the masses. This task cannot be solved except as a function of the growth of the organization and its cadres who must pave the way to the masses for the newspaper—since it is not enough, it is understood, to call a publication a ‘mass paper’ to have the masses accept it in reality”

The WL’s political descendent, the Socialist Equality Party, has an even more frequent press, with its web site being updated on a daily basis with lots of articles. Yet their politics remain revisionist, and they consciously attempt to whitewash their history while posturing as a far more significant social force then they really are.

While Wohlforth is rightly remembered as a despicable a toady of Gerry Healy, he once played a positive political role, and, as James Robertson on occasion stated, it was a shame he had no backbone as his literary talents would have been very useful to the Trotskyist movement.

I think that the comrades of the IG could also make a valuable contribution to building a genuine Trotskyist organization if they were able to critically examine their own political histories and evaluate the SL’s prolonged degeneration that preceded their own purge. This is a history that must be carefully studied and from which the essential political lessons must be learned, just as they have been learned from the Pabloist degeneration of the leadership of the Fourth International, and subsequently of the descent of Cannon’s SWP into revisionism. We attempted to engage the IG in a discussion of our common history in a lengthy letter addressing the degeneration of the SL several years ago (reprinted in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 6).

To use this list to post a serious assessment of an important historical question such as the Korean War (which clearly is directly relevant to today’s headlines) does not, I would argue, qualify one for membership in a “literary society.” Because if we are unable to learn from the past we will be condemned to repeat it.

Bolshevik Greetings


International Communist League on Afghanistan

International Communist League on Afghanistan

The following rwo interventions were reprinted in Trotskyist Bulletin #8 “Afghanistan & the Left”


ICL on Afghanistan: Healyites of the Second Mobilization?

The following is a reconstruction, from notes, of the intervention of International Bolshevik Tendency [IBT] supporter Samuel Trachtenberg at a Spartacist League (SL) forum in New York City on 9 February 2002. Our comrade pointed to the parallel between the SL’s refusal to call for the defeat of the U.S. imperialist attack on Afghanistan in 2001 and the position adopted by David North’s Workers League a decade earlier when Iraq was under attack. The SLers at the forum were unable to respond politically.

I am speaking on behalf of the International Bolshevik Tendency. Now, most comrades in this room have been following the polemical exchanges between us, the Internationalist Group and the SL in relation to the SL’s recent abandonment of revolutionary defeatism over Afghanistan—that is, their refusal to call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism. To many younger comrades, the SL’s arguments in defense of this new line may sound new and original, but they don’t sound very new or original to me.

During the period of the Gulf War, I was a teenage member of David North’s Workers League [WL—today the Socialist Equality Party]. At that time the Northites also decided to drop the call for defeating U.S. imperialism [the WL had initially called for defeating the U.S. before the outbreak of hostilities, but jettisoned the slogan when the attack began]. I would like to read some quotes from their book where they defend their position [against criticism from other fragments of Gerry Healy’s former “International Committee”]:

“Revolutionary defeatism is neither an agitational slogan nor a special tactic for engineering the military defeat of one’s ‘own’ bourgeoisie, but the continuation in time of war of the perspective for which the revolutionary party fights under all conditions.…

“Both Pottins and Athow reject this perspective. They substitute for the mobilization of the working class the actions of other class forces – in the case of Pottins and [Cliff] Slaughter, the middle class protest movement; in the case of [Sheila] Torrance and Athow, the bourgeois regime of Saddam Hussein.

“Athow’s rhetoric about the prospects for an Iraqi military victory was criminally irresponsible. An outright military defeat of the US-dominated coalition was not merely unlikely, but virtually impossible, given that Iraq, a nation of 17 million people, was isolated and blockaded, while facing a coalition of all the major imperialist countries, equipped with unchallenged air power and a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons. So long as the struggle remained a purely military one, its ultimate outcome could not be in doubt. Only the intervention of the working class in the United States and internationally could have prevented the shattering defeat of Iraq which took place between January 16 and February 28.”

—Desert Slaughter: The Imperialist War Against Iraq, Labor Publications, 1991, pp370-72]

[David North responded in a similar vein to criticism from the SL and the Revolutionary Workers League:]

“Revolutionary defeatism is not any sort of radical phrasemongering. It is not running around shouting in a bankrupt, empty and really meaningless way for the military defeat of American imperialism. We don’t entrust to others the task which only the working class, armed with a revolutionary leadership, can achieve. That is, our conception of revolutionary defeatism is not fighting to the last Iraqi. It’s not standing as cheerleaders for the military forces of Saddam Hussein.”

—Ibid., p474

These arguments will of course have a very familiar ring to readers of Workers Vanguard of the last few months.

Comrades in this room who were around in the 1960’s can probably also remember many similarly orthodox-sounding arguments used by the Socialist Workers Party as a cover against calling for the military victory of the NLF [National Liberation Front] in Vietnam. In using these sorts of arguments, the SL is following in the footsteps of a long line of other organizations in their flight from Marxism.

A decade ago, the SL recruited me from the Workers League by thoroughly convincing me that all these “arguments” were in reality rationalizations for betrayals and “alien appetites.” A decade later, the SL is using essentially the same rationalizations for its own betrayals.

ICL on Afghanistan: ‘Realist’ Wiseacres

The following is a reconstruction, from notes, of an intervention by International Bolshevik Tendency [IBT] supporter Samuel Trachtenberg at a meeting of the Spartacus Youth Club (SYC—youth group of the Spartacist League [SL]) in New York City on 12 February 2002. Once again the Spartacists were unable to respond politically.

The SYC comrade mentioned that his organization defends Afghanistan without discussing why they don’t call for thedefeat of U.S. imperialism. What does it mean to defend Afghanistan without calling for the defeat of U.S. imperialism—that one “defends” Afghanistan only to the extent of seeking to limit the damage inflicted upon it? Since the SL claims not to call for a U.S. defeat because the struggle for the Afghans would be militarily futile, that’s the only possible conclusion I can see.

If we accept the assumption that the SL makes about the military futility of any struggle by the Afghans, what does the SL suggest they do? Show no resistance? Allow the U.S. to completely take over their country?

Marx believed that the workers who launched the Paris Commune were doomed to defeat from a purely military standpoint, yet he still supported them and called for their victory.1

In the current issue of 1917 we cite Lenin’s comments in “Socialism and War”:

“‘A revolutionary class cannot but wish for the defeat of its government in a reactionary war, and cannot fail to see that the latter’s military reverses must facilitate its overthrow’; and in a war of Morocco against France, or of India against Britain, ‘any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory “Great” Powers.’” [emphasis added]

Lenin called for the defeat of imperialism in colonies as undeveloped as Afghanistan is today. The struggle between imperialism and the Third World was always unequal, but only the most wretched Kautskyites use that as an excuse to abstain from a revolutionary defeatist position by counterposing “class struggle at home.”2 In raising the issue in these terms, the SL is simply attempting a cowardly dodge. Whether forced to pull out by resistance from the Afghans, the U.S. working class, or as a result of class struggle in other parts of the world, a defeat is a defeat.

As for how, theoretically, the “ragtag fundamentalists” could have driven out the U.S. “without even an army”— well, “Islamic Jihad” drove the U.S. out of Lebanon by blowing up the Marines’ barracks in 1983. Of course in that case the SL flinched and denied that it was a militarily supportable blow against imperialism.

Lastly, I’d like to report an interesting conversation I had with a friend today, who, back in high school, was also a member of the Northites’ youth group [the Young Socialists—affiliated with David North’s Workers League, now known as the Socialist Equality Party]. When I left the Northites over their refusal to call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism during the Gulf War, she and another youth member left with me. Unfortunately both were too burned by their experience with North’s version of Healyism to want to continue in politics, but they subscribed to Workers Vanguardfor a few years after I joined the SYC. Not having followed the SL for several years, she reviewed the new position on Afghanistan and, remembering the position on defeating U.S. imperialism at the time she left the Northites, commented “Wow, it seems like the SL really had its back broken.”


1. Lenin in 1907 wrote the following:

“In September 1870, six months before the Commune, Marx gave a direct warning to the French workers: insurrection would be an act of desperate folly, he said in the well-known Address of the International. He exposedin advance the nationalistic illusions of the possibility of a movement in the spirit of 1792. He was able to say, not after the event, but many months before: ‘Don’t take up arms.’

“And how did he behave when this hopeless cause, as he himself had called it in September, began to take practical shape in March 1871?… Did he begin to scold like a schoolmistress, and say: ‘I told you so, I warned you; this is what comes of your romanticism, your revolutionary ravings’? Did he preach to the Communards, as Plekhanov did to the December [1905] fighters, the sermon of the smug philistine: ‘You should not have taken up arms’?


“Ah, how our present ‘realist’ wiseacres among the Marxists, who in 1906-07 are deriding revolutionary romanticism in Russia, would have sneered at Marx at the time! How people would have scoffed at a materialist, an economist,an enemy of utopias, who pays homage to an ‘attempt’ to storm heaven! What tears, condescending smiles or commiseration these ‘men in mufflers’ would have bestowed upon him for his rebel tendencies, utopianism, etc., etc….


“Kugelmann apparently replied to Marx expressing certain doubts, referring to the hopelessness of the struggle and to realism as opposed to romanticism….

“Marx immediately (April 17, 1871) severely lectured Kugelmann.

“‘World history,’ he wrote, ‘would indeed be very easy to make, if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favourable chances.’”


“Marx was also able to appreciate that there are moments in history when a desperate struggle of the masses, even for a hopeless cause is essential for the further schooling of these masses and their training for the next struggle.”

—“Preface to the Russian Translation of Karl Marx’s Letters to Dr. Kugelmann,” Collected Works Vol.12, pp.108-112

2. Lenin had nothing but contempt for the self-proclaimed socialists who derided the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin as a “putsch” doomed to fail because of the overwhelming strength of British imperialism. He commented:

“The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene.”

—“The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up” (1916), Collected Works Vol. 22, p. 357

World Trade Center Terror Bombing

World Trade Center Terror Bombing

U.S. Imperialist Rule: An Endless Horror

[The following is an IBT statement issued on 18 September 2001 after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Reprinted in 1917 #21, 2002 and Trotskyist Bulletin #8 “Afghanistan & the Left”. Copied from ]

The destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September is a horrific act which the International Bolshevik Tendency unequivocally condemns. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers had friends or family members who lived, shopped or worked in the area. Unlike the personnel in the Pentagon (the command center of the U.S. military), the thousands of victims trapped in the World Trade Center’s twin towers and the hundreds of passengers and crew on board the four hijacked airliners were civilians whose deaths we mourn. As revolutionary socialists we abhor terrorist attacks that identify ordinary citizens with their imperialist rulers.

The record of the U.S. ruling class includes many instances of mass murder, including the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg, the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the massacre of over a million Vietnamese civilians in the 1960s and 70s. The current U.S. embargo on Iraq has resulted in the death of at least a million Iraqi children. However, the destruction of the World Trade Center is being treated by the imperialist media as an “attack on civilization” because this time American lives were lost.

The patriotic bloodlust whipped up in the U.S. over the past week has already resulted in a couple of murders and hundreds of racist attacks on Muslims, Arab-Americans, Sikhs and others perceived as “foreigners.” It has played into the hands of America’s pro-Israel lobby, and undercut popular sympathy for the Palestinian victims of the racist Zionist state.

In declaring “war” on as yet unspecified targets, America’s rulers hope to achieve several objectives. Firstly, they wish to demonstrate that in a one “superpower” world, other countries better do as they are told:

“The [anticipated] blow [against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime] would be intended not only to destroy terrorist bases in Afghanistan but also to demonstrate to other nations that there is a heavy cost to be paid for those who shelter enemies of the United States.”

—New York Times, 17 September

The Cheney/Bush administration is openly seeking to channel popular outrage into support for a major (and potentially open-ended) military intervention in the Middle East, which would tighten the U.S. grip on this strategic region. America’s most subservient imperialist allies—Britain, Australia and Canada—have given their unlimited support to whatever Washington decides. Support from Germany, France and other EU imperialists has been more qualified, while the Russians have opposed any U.S. military passage through the former Soviet republics bordering Afghanistan.

In the U.S., the “war” psychosis provides a useful pretext to expand police powers to run ID checks, control movements and interfere with private communications. Under the guise of combating terrorism, attempts will be made to limit free speech, free assembly and other civil rights. A sign of the new policy direction is the U.S. government’s public declaration that assassination will once more be considered a legitimate tool of foreign policy.

The Real Enemy is at Home

The real enemy of workers, blacks and other minorities in the U.S. is not some shadowy Islamic fanatic in Afghanistan, but their own ruling class. Though U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been supported passively (and sometimes actively) by a majority of the population, the objective interests of ordinary working people in the U.S. are counterposed to Bush & Co. This may come into focus more clearly as the implications of looting the Social Security and Medicare “lock box” to finance the upcoming military expedition (and bail out airline and insurance company shareholders) become apparent.

The workers’ movement in the U.S. should be setting up union-based defense guards to protect Muslim neighborhoods, mosques and shops from attacks by the racist, flag-waving bigots who are being egged on by the chauvinist ranting of the corporate media. But the current pro-capitalist leadership of the unions is jumping on the jingoist bandwagon. In a statement released the day after the attack, AFL-CIO president, John Sweeney, bragged:

“I have called President Bush to express the AFL-CIO’s full support for him in this time of crisis and offer any and all assistance from the labor movement.”

A class-conscious union leadership would be making preparations to launch political strikes in response to military aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq or any other neo-colony. As a step in the struggle to break the grip of the pro-imperialist labor bureaucracy on the unions, revolutionaries must win the advanced elements of the American working class to the recognition that their interests lie in opposing the bloodthirsty military adventures of their rulers.

A revolutionary socialist perspective for the Middle East must combine implacable struggle against Zionist oppression with exposure of the “anti-imperialist” pretensions of the petty-bourgeois leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and flat opposition to the reactionary, misogynist Islamicist fanatics. If the oppressed Arab masses equate American workers with America’s rulers (or Jewish workers with their Zionist bosses), this only helps bind American and Hebrew workers more closely to their masters. Conversely, to the extent that Israeli and American workers identify with their “own” exploiters, they help cement the control of the sheiks, generals and mullahs over the Muslim masses.

Marxists oppose terrorism as a strategy for the liberation of the oppressed because, even in the best case, it substitutes the acts of a tiny handful for the conscious activity of the working class. But revolutionary Marxists differentiate between acts aimed at imperialist military targets and those aimed at innocent civilians. For example, we recognize that the demolition of the U.S. and French garrisons in Lebanon in 1983 by “Islamic Jihad” were defensible blows against imperialist attempts to establish a military beachhead in the Middle East. Some supposed Marxist organizations flinched, including the left-posturing Spartacist League/U.S., which issued a social-patriotic call for saving the surviving U.S. Marines.

Afghan Mujahedin: From ‘Freedom Fighters’ to ‘Terrorists’

Osama bin Laden, the elusive figure the U.S. is blaming for the 11 September attacks, was a long-time CIA asset during the 1980s, when the Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin carried out a jihad against the Soviet Army and its left-nationalist Afghan allies. The mujahedin rebellion began when the modernizing, pro-Soviet government encouraged girls to go to school. The Afghan “freedom fighters” were not only supported by the imperialists, but also by a wide spectrum of the fake-left, including the adherents of Tony Cliff’s International Socialist Tendency.

In August 1998, after the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, Bill Clinton ordered aerial strikes against bin Laden’s Afghan bases (which the U.S. had bought and paid for a decade earlier):

“The Afghan resistance was backed by the intelligence services of the United States and Saudi Arabia with nearly $6 billion worth of weapons. And the territory targeted last week, a set of six encampments around Khost, where the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden has financed a kind of ‘terrorist university,’ in the words of a senior United States intelligence official, is well known to the Central Intelligence Agency.

“The C.I.A.’s military and financial support for the Afghan rebels indirectly helped build the camps that the United States attacked. And some of the same warriors who fought the Soviets with the C.I.A.’s help are now fighting under Mr. bin Laden’s banner.”

New York Times, 24 August 1998

The fact that bin Laden and his mujahedin friends were trained by the CIA has not featured prominently in the capitalist media during the past week. But it is evidence that the attack on the World Trade Center is only one link in a long chain of events. A massive imperialist military attack on Afghanistan and/or Iraq would be a catastrophe that would produce many thousands of additional innocent victims and ultimately strengthen the forces of Islamic reaction in the region.

For World Socialism!

Revolutionaries must take a position of unconditional military defense of any neo-colony targeted for imperialist attack. It is the duty of class-conscious American workers to stand fast against the tidal wave of chauvinist filth and not lose sight of the historic interests of U.S. working people. The real threat to workers in the imperialist West does not come from bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or the Taliban, but rather from the cynical, racist imperialists whose global economic order created and nurtured them.

As Bolsheviks, we are committed to the struggle to create an internationalist world party capable of organizing the working class to overthrow the entire system of organized imperialist piracy. The only road to a future in which every member of humanity can enjoy a secure, peaceful and productive life lies through replacing the rapacious dog-eat-dog capitalist system with a planned socialist economy in which production is geared to human need.

CUNY Struggles

The following 3 statements, Students Under the Ax, Budgets Bankers & Bloodsuckers and Fight the New Round of Tuition Hikes! were distributed by CUNY [City University of New York] student activists supporting the International Bolshevik Tendency during the 1995-97 struggles.

Students Under the Ax

[The following statement was issued on March 1995]

As part of thr nation-wide war on poor and working people that has intensified following the Republican electoral sweep, Pataki and Giuliani have announced massive cuts in the New York state and city budgets for higher education. The CUNY state budget is slated for a reduction of 25.75%; TAP grants will be reduced by 10% for full-time undergraduates, and eliminated altogether for graduate and part-time students; the SEEK program for the most disadvantaged students will also be scrapped; course offerings will be greatly reduced; large numbers of faculty and other staff will lose their jobs; and, in a system that once prided itself on free education for working-class youth, yearly tuition will be increased to the tune of $1,000. The Giuliani administration  is also planning deep cuts in the city education budget. These state and city cuts will have a devastating effect on education in the city, causing many, especially minority students, to drop out of school altogether.

Republican and Democratic politicians, along with the mass media, portray these slash and burn policies as a necessary and inevitable response to the region’s fiscal plight. In fact, they represent nothing more than a big-time hatchet job performed in the service of New York’s bankers, bond-holders and big corporations. The austerity measures represent an escalation of the attacks on social services that began in the 1970’s, and have been pursued by the Democratic state and city governments as well as the new Republican administrations. Their purpose is to ensure that governments remain “fiscally sound” from the standpoint of finance capital, i.e. that New York will be able to pay a healthy rate of interest on money lent it by the banks and rich bondholders. At the same time that Pataki and Giuliani preach austerity to the municipal unions, students and welfare mothers, they are introducing a host of “incentives” and tax breaks for businesses, in hopes that they will be attracted to the region by increased opportunities to amass even bigger profits. These cuts represent a huge transfer of wealth from poor and working people to the rich, carried out by their faithful servants in public office.

These policies can be seen as “natural” and “inevitable” only by those who accept the insane logic of the capitalist system, which decrees that the majority of people are entitled to remain alive only so long as the capitalist class can reap huge profits from their labor. But the capitalist exploiters represent only a tiny minority of the population. One way they are able to maintain their grip on power is by setting various social groups against one another: men against women, natives against immigrants, employed against the unemployed and welfare recipients, whites against blacks, They usually attempt to do this by attacking these groups one at a time. The most striking feature of the current Pataki/Giuliani offensive, however, is that they are attacking everyone at once. And it is precisely the wide scope of their attacks that also presents a unique opportunity to fight back.

Students cannot fight back alone. This was clearly demonstrated in 1991, when the student strikes and building takeovers mounted against the last CUNY tution increases went down to defeat. In January, Jose Elique, University Director of Security and Public Safety, wrote to Dr. Elsie Scott, Deputy Commissioner of Training for the NYPD, requesting crowd control training for 22 to 30 specially selected campus police prior to the Spring of 1995. The administration expects trouble… and is ready for it!

However, students don’t have to look very far to find allies. Many students on city campuses, as well as their relatives, belong to municipal, hospital and other unions that are also directly threatened by these cuts. And it is precisely these unions that have the power to bring the entire city to a halt. Only by linking up with the organized labor movement, by becoming part of a wider, worker-based struggle, can students stand any chance of stopping the mad slashers of Albany and Gracie Mansion.

But such a united fight-back faces many obstacles. One obstacle is the notion that something can be gained by lobbying legislators in Albany or Washington. This strategy helps perpetuate the illusion that the politicians are mainly responsible to the electorate, when in fact, their principle job consists in deceiving and manipulating the population in order to further the interests of the capitalist class, to whom they are really responsible. And, despite lesser differences between them, Republican and Democratic politicians ultimately serve the same masters. The last round of CUNY tuition increases were the handiwork not of Republicans, but of Mario Cuomo, a stalwart of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The very same politicians who will shake the hands of student and faculty lobbyists today will call out the police to crush student protests tomorrow.

Another obstacle is the bureaucracy that presides over the unions. These “labor statesmen” — with the inducement of hefty salaries and generous expense accounts — view the capitalist system with as much religious awe as their many friends in high public office. They are entirely dedicated to working within the logic of the existing social order, and regularly collaborate with the politicians and bankers to ram austerity down the throats of the workers they supposedly represent. They shun mass struggle in favor of reliance on Democratic Party politicians. More often than not, they see the possibility of common struggle with students and minorities as a threat to their comfortable niche in capitalist society.

To unite workers, students and minorities in common struggle, and to clear their path of misleaders and false strategies. political leadership is needed above all. The Bolshevik Tendency seeks to intervene in this struggle — as well as all other major social struggles — to build a genuine revolutionary leadership. We view victory in the fight against cutbacks not as an end in itself, but as part of a struggle for a socialist society, based not on profit but human need. Only in such a society will education be viewed as a necessity of individual development rather than, as it is today, a luxury for the few, or as a preparation for taking one’s place as a cog in some capitalist money-making machine.

Down with the Budget Cuts!
For Class Struggle to Defend Higher Education!
For Open Admissions!
For Free Tution and full Stipend for All Students!
Break with the Democrats and Republicans!
Build a Workers’ Party!

Pataki and Giuliani Bleed New York

Budgets, Bankers & Bloodsuckers

[The following statement was issued on March 1995, it was originally posted online at]

Riding the wave of reaction from Washington, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani have proposed state and city budgets aimed point blank at the poor and working people of New York. As is usually the case when American capitalist politicians point their fiscal guns, blacks and minorities are most directly in the line of fire. But these cuts are by no means limited to minorities and the poor. If enacted, they will gut everything from transportation to public parks, hospitals to housing, day care centers to AIDS hospices. Many thousands of New Yorkers now living on the margins will be plunged into an abyss of homelessness, hunger and disease. Only those who inhabit an insulated world of private wealth and privilege—of plush-carpeted corporate boardrooms, luxury high-rises, stretch limousines, expensive boutiques, tony health clubs and private security guards—will escape the effects of the scorched-earth measures now being proclaimed from Albany and Gracie Mansion.

An Injury to All

At the top of the Pataki/Giuliani hit list are welfare and Medicaid. In proposals reminiscent of the horrors of the nineteenth-century British workhouse, welfare recipients in New York State will be fingerprinted to prevent “cheating;” men deemed to be “able-bodied” will be cut off welfare after ninety days, during which time they will be forced onto public works projects. Many mothers receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children will likewise be compelled to work for the pittance they get, even though the cuts will result in fewer day care centers for their children. Twenty-one thousand people will immediately lose their rent subsidies and many of them will end up on the street.

Billions of dollars are to be slashed from Medicaid, which pays health costs for welfare recipients and the disabled. The Medicaid cuts will, in turn, create grave financial difficulties for the city’s already underfunded public hospitals. Hundreds of hospital beds will be eliminated, and Harlem Hospital, the sole provider of medical care for tens of thousands of the poorest people in the city, will probably be forced to close. In addition, Giuliani plans to privatize five or six public hospitals. Over 80,000 hospital workers are expected to lose their jobs. Yet these Medicaid “savings” in the state budget did not go far enough for New York City’s ax-wielding mayor; he urged Pataki to cut even deeper.

The budgets also target the disabled, the blind, the mentally ill, children and the aged: allocations for foster care are greatly reduced; school children will no longer get free subway rides to school; funding for child abuse prevention will be halved; aged and handicapped people on disability will be denied their cost-of-living adjustment and their home care will be severely restricted.

Education is another major target. Pataki proposes to freeze state aid to public schools at a time when the student population in New York City is growing by 20,000 a year. Summer school and extra-curricular enrichment programs will cease. The state and city university systems (SUNY and CUNY) are expected to lose a total of over 1,200 full-time faculty and more than 12,500 class sections, mostly in the arts and humanities. The SEEK program, which provides counseling and tutoring for disadvantaged university students, will be eliminated. Tuition at the senior colleges will jump from the current $2,450 to $3,450, an increase of 40 percent. Working-class, black and Hispanic students unable to come up with an extra $1,000 will be forced to drop out.

New York’s already dilapidated public transportation system is also slated for the chop: many express bus lines will be discontinued; all-night service will be suspended on some subway lines; cleaning and repairs will be scaled back; token booths will be reduced and at least one station will be closed. And, of course, fares will be hiked.

Giuliani is demanding $600 million in wage concessions and “productivity” from the city’s unions. In addition to the 12,000 jobs eliminated through last year’s severance package, he wants another 11,000 (supposedly through attrition). These job cuts and the anticipated layoffs in education and health care (the city’s largest employer), will massively increase demands on the very social services that are being gutted.

The only part of city government that escaped Giuliani’s budget ax is the New York Police Department, which is getting an increase of $2.4 million. Pataki, who pushed through the death penalty bill, plans to save money by cramming two prisoners into state penitentiary cells built for one. Batons, bullets, prison cells and lethal injections—these are the answers of Pataki and Giuliani to the upsurge of “anti-social behavior” that will be the inevitable by-product of their regime of “fiscal responsibility.”

Only by the Grace of Wall Street Shall Ye Live!

This ferocious assault on every vestige of civic decency in an already blighted city is conducted in the name of the almighty Budget Deficit—that rapacious deity who rages about the mists that envelop the top of the World Trade Towers, and must be placated from time to time with ever-greater sacrifices of human flesh. Politicians (when they are not invoking the Deity) often like to rationalize their attacks on poor and working people as necessary obedience to the automatic and insuperable laws of the marketplace. The general economic upturn in the rest of the country, we are told, has bypassed New York City, thereby creating a huge shortfall in expected tax receipts. Hence, the need to starve infants and grandmothers.

Yet New York has the greatest concentration of multi-billion-dollar corporations, banks and finance companies in the world. An analysis of census results conducted by the New York Times (25 December 1994) showed that in 1980 the median annual income of those in the richest fifth of the Manhattan population was a little more than 21 times that of the poorest fifth. By 1990, the gap had widened to 33 times. The Times concluded that the gap between rich and poor in the wealthiest city in the wealthiest country in the world is larger than in Guatemala. Within the U.S. the only county that has a wider gap is the site of a former leper colony in Hawaii, whose population consists of former colony members and rich people attracted by the scenery.

For Pataki and Giuliani, and the rest of the ruling class politicians, taking more money from corporations or the rich is as inconceivable as defying the law of gravity. In fact, they are doing just the opposite. One billion of the projected $5 billion state budget gap Pataki is trying to fill by slashing social services is the result of the regressive tax “reform” he is also pushing. Pataki wants to maintain the existing tax rate for those in the bottom bracket, while lowering taxes on the top bracket by 25 percent!

With one hand, Giuliani snatches subway tokens from grade-school children, while with the other he delivers fistfuls of lucre to downtown landlords in the form of a $234 million abatement on commercial rent and real estate taxes—to help “revitalize” the Wall Street business district (New York Times, 16 December 1994). He plans to eliminate the 5 percent tax on hotel owners, and recently doled out $50 million in tax breaks to a single financial company, CS First Boston Corporation, to persuade them not to leave town (New York Times, 25 January). As Leona Helmsley, the billionaire real estate queen convicted of tax fraud, remarked several years ago, “only little people pay taxes.” But on what eternal tablet is it written that budgets can only be balanced on the backs of students and union members, children in foster care and mothers on welfare?

Yet these starvation budgets, if not ordained by heaven, are not simply the result of corruption, malice or stupidity. The bare-knuckled tactics of the mayor and governor express the same logic that drives the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to demand sacrifices of the masses from Moscow to Mexico City. Simply stated, this logic decrees that individuals, communities and nations have a right to exist only in so far as their activity contributes to the profits of the tiny handful of capitalists that owns and controls the resources, corporations and financial assets of the global economy.

This logic operated in a somewhat more disguised fashion during the cold-war competition with “Communism.” Then, the existence of a global non-capitalist rival compelled the Western regimes to provide some support for housing, health-care, the arts, education and the poor, in order to ensure social stability at home. Now, intensified inter-imperialist rivalries compel corporations to cut production costs through shrinking payrolls and investing in more advanced technology. Those firms that fail to keep pace go under.

To raise profit margins, the capitalists have intensified the pressure on workers lucky enough to have kept a job. Another method is to cut taxes and channel government expenditures on social services into direct and indirect corporate subsidies. Today the “welfare state” is a luxury that the ruling classes feel they neither need nor can afford (meager as its American version was). Profitability is fast becoming not merely the major criterion for public policy decisions, but the sole criterion. This could change if massive popular discontent threatens the security and legitimacy of the existing system of social privilege. FDR’s celebrated “New Deal” in the 1930s was a conscious attempt by the more sophisticated wing of the capitalists to defuse the potential for mass radicalization created by the Great Depression.

These days, when city or state governments need to find funding for social services, they must borrow from Wall Street, which evaluates them according to their ability to make the payments. If public debt is high, the banks and bond holders demand higher rates of interest, thus compounding the growth of government indebtedness. In extreme cases they may refuse to lend at all. The big money men are interested in the balance sheet of expenditures vs. revenues and typically seek assurances that governments will not spend too much on “non-remunerative” items, especially poor people, whose human needs cannot easily be turned into cash.

Historically one major way for governments to fund social programs is through taxes on businesses and individuals that businesses employ. But the increased mobility of capital inclines companies to “vote with their feet” if wages or taxes in a given locality are too high. This generates pressure to ensure that the local economy remains “competitive,” i.e., that taxes and wages are kept as low as possible. A “favorable investment climate” requires cutting all public expenditures that do not directly contribute to profit-making activity. Such “wasteful” allocations include not only those aimed at alleviating poverty, but also spending on parks, playgrounds, libraries, museums, education and the arts—everything, in short, that tends to make urban life tolerable for most of the population.

In the months before the city budget was announced, Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating agency which grades city governments on their “fiscal health” for the benefit of prospective lenders, threatened to lower New York’s credit rating. In addition, holders of long-term city bonds were talking about charging higher interest rates. Immediately after Giuliani unveiled his plans, however, the “financial community” gave him an approving pat on the head.

Alongside this city of seven million plus inhabitants, who breath air, drink water and eat food, there is another city, comprised not of flesh-and-blood human beings, but of stocks and bonds, T-bills and long-term securities, futures and derivatives, which breath profits, drink liquid assets, and eat interest premiums. The health and welfare of this second city is, moreover, in inverse proportion to that of the first. And it is this second city—the city of capital—that forms the real constituency of the mayor, the governor, and all other elected officials in this country, Republican and Democratic, from the municipal level to Congress and the president.

Republicans and Democrats: Twin Parties of Capital

The direct domination of finance capital is nothing new to New York. In 1975, when investment houses refused to buy city bonds because they were considered too risky, the city was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. After the federal government refused to bail the city out, this crisis led to the formation of the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC) under the aegis of the State of New York. This agency was replaced a few years later by an even more powerful outfit called the Emergency Financial Control Board (EFCB), an unelected corporate governing body, which kept a tight grip on municipal purse strings. Under this regime the portion of the city budget allocated to debt service increased dramatically as 60,000 city workers lost their jobs, while the wages of remaining city workers were frozen apart from an inadequate cost-of-living adjustment. The CUNY system, which had always prided itself on free higher education for those who could not afford private colleges, began to charge tuition. Giuliani’s budget is only a somewhat more radical application of the policies imposed upon this city by bankers, investment fund managers and bond holders for the past two decades, and pursued more or less continuously by the administrations of Beame, Koch and Dinkins—all Democrats.

The Republicans, it is true, are the more consistent and aggressive partisans of the mounting capitalist offensive. They seek to peddle the austerity measures of the ruling class by appealing to every prejudice and mean-spirited instinct of those who are relatively better off. With the aid of Rush Limbaugh and a host of lesser demagogues of the airwaves, they attempt to mobilize white males for the Republican Party by convincing them that their distress comes from having lost status in the 1960s and 70s to women and minorities. In a time of shrinking unions and falling wages, they offer what appears to many as the only realistic way to maintain present income levels: lowering taxes. This is why the Republicans’ outrageous tax give-aways to the rich must always be padded with some reductions for middle-income earners as well. But, most important, the Republicans, with the aid of a few well-understood code words (“crime,” “welfare,” “affirmative action,” etc.), exploit white racism—now as ever in this country the trump card of rulers seeking to divert public attention from their own acts of piracy.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are less open about selling austerity to the masses, since they rely more heavily on the votes of the urban constituencies (blacks, Hispanics, unionized workers, etc.) who are the targets of such measures. They tend to be more squeamish and temporizing about administering the prescribed poison in the doses required. But they end up doing essentially the same things as the Republicans because, like the Republicans, they represent the bankers and corporate shareholders, to whom they must go cup in hand for campaign contributions. Their job is to convince the victims of capitalism that it is necessary to accept the logic of the banker’s ledger. The deficit, and the need to balance it, have in their eyes the status of laws of nature. Their opposition to the Republican steamroller seldom goes beyond a few polite whimpers or snivelling appeals to “spread the pain” more evenly. The Democrats cannot and will not fight the Republicans because they worship at the same altar and feed at the same trough. This is why socialists have always bracketed them as the “twin parties” of big capital.

Union Misleaders: Labor Lieutenants of Capital

Those who think that “market forces” are simply too powerful to resist should take a closer look at what happened in France only last year. First, Air France workers struck and successfully beat back a government job-slashing scheme. This, in turn, inspired the students, hundreds of thousands of whom demonstrated against a government proposal to lower the minimum wage for youth. With the trade unions poised to enter the fray, the rightist government of Eduard Balladur was forced to back down. The lesson is clear: mass struggle can defeat capitalist austerity attacks. It happened in Paris, and it can happen here.

Yet the union bureaucrats have no appetite for launching any such struggle. These “labor statesmen” —with their fat salaries, padded expense accounts and Democratic Party connections—view the capitalists’ budget-cutting imperatives with religious reverence. They are jealous of their control and shun mass struggle while preaching reliance on the Democrats. They are, in the immortal phrase of the pioneer American socialist, Daniel DeLeon, the “labor lieutenants of capitalism.”

Nearly thirty years ago, in a notable departure from the labor bureaucracy’s usual spinelessness, Michael Quill, head of the Transit Workers Union, told a judge who had just ordered New York’s striking bus and subway workers back to their jobs to “drop dead in his black robes.” Quill was jailed for contempt of court—but the injunction was defeated and the strike was won.

Quill’s courageous stand contrasted sharply with the cowardly capitulation of the city’s labor bureaucrats to the MAC in 1975. Victor Gotbaum, then head of AFSCME, the largest union of municipal workers, amicably negotiated away 60,000 jobs while $3 billion of the union’s pension funds were invested in the MAC. Gotbaum became a personal friend of MAC chairman Felix Rohatyn, and Gotbaum’s son subsequently got a job at Rohatyn’s investment firm.

The present head of AFSCME, Stanley Hill, following the example of his predecessor, is trudging dutifully to Gracie Mansion to negotiate more givebacks. Hill’s reward was Giuliani’s endorsement of Democrat Mario Cuomo’s failed bid to be reelected governor. One close observer of city politics, Robert Fitch, reports:

    “According to Queens Republican leader Fran Werner, it was no coincidence that the day after Giuliani announced for Cuomo, municipal labor announced they were giving Giuliani $200 million in the givebacks he’d been demanding.”

    —New Politics, Winter 1995

Then there are other champions of labor, like the former Teamster chief, Barry Feinstein, who, before stepping down last year amid accusations that he had misused $500,000 of his members’ money, commented that, “The New York City labor movement will never endorse a campaign to tax the rich.” Sandra Feldman, head of the American Federation of Teachers, and an associate of the CIA-linked Social Democrats USA, remarked: “I don’t see Mayor Giuliani’s effort to wrestle down bureaucracy and bloated government as an attack on the labor movement” (ibid).

The more “left-wing” union bureaucrats are little better. Jan Pierce, head of the northeast region of the Communications Workers of America, a former supporter of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, “publicly urged unions to join with Giuliani in a campaign ‘to identify waste and redundancy’.” Dennis Rivera, leader of hospital workers’ Local 1199, used his authority as a “militant” to get CUNY students to call off their 1991 sit-ins against Mario Cuomo’s tuition hikes. Rivera is chairman of the state Democratic Party, and, despite occasional posturing, has one basic answer to the Pataki/Giuliani offensive: vote Democrat. This is no answer, working people need a party of their own.

For a City-Wide General Strike!

In February the thousands of students who rallied on the Capitol steps in Albany to protest the CUNY cuts upset the pro-Democratic leaders of the march by sitting down and blocking traffic. On March 1, 30,000 hospital workers from Local 1199 demonstrated against the cuts in front of the Empire State Building. CUNY students are calling for a city-wide rally on March 23, under the slogan, “Shut the City Down!” We support this call, but students on their own cannot shut the city down, no matter how militant their protests. It is the organized labor movement, and particularly hospital, transit and other municipal workers, who have the power to bring the city to a halt.

Despite the flight of manufacturing jobs from the city over the past quarter century, 35 percent of the workforce in New York is unionized, the highest percentage in any city in the U.S. The membership of the city unions is heavily black and Hispanic, and would form a natural bridge to the communities that will be hurt the most by the proposed attacks.

Never in recent history have the interests of students, minorities and workers so clearly converged. A general strike could rally all the victims of the budget cuts, from Harlem, to Bedford Stuyvesant, to the South Bronx. It could unite welfare workers and welfare recipients, hospital workers and patients, subway workers and riders, teachers and students. United in action behind the organized labor movement, they could hand Giuliani, Pataki, and Wall Street a stinging defeat.

Union militants around the city should put forward motions in their locals calling for a united strike against the cuts. But the planning cannot be left to the bureaucrats who have already declared their intention to do nothing. Strike committees should be elected in every local union with a mandate to organize for an effective, city-wide strike. In building toward a general strike militant unionists would naturally seek to coordinate their efforts with organizations representing students, welfare recipients, black and Hispanic communities and all the other potential victims of the bankers’ budget.

Capital and Labor: Nothing In Common

Pataki/Giuliani budgets represent more than the benighted ideas of a few Republican Neanderthals. They embody, in the most concentrated form, the logic of the capitalist system. This is a logic that works to the detriment of the majority of people who live under capitalism, and which the majority therefore have no interest in obeying. If bank debt is draining public coffers, why not impose a moratorium on interest payments, or cancel the debt altogether? If banks and corporations register their disapproval by going on strike against the majority of society—the only answer is expropriation.

Such measures would never be contemplated by the governments of the rich and privileged. They could only be undertaken by a government responsible to those who work as opposed to those who live off interest and profit. Such a government must be prepared to expropriate the capitalists and ensure that the productive capacity of society is employed to benefit the whole of the population. This would signify a social revolution; it would require the dismantling of the capitalists’ armed guardians and the formation of a new social power, one committed to defending the interests of the exploited.

In today’s political climate, when the forces of reaction seem to be so firmly in the saddle, this perspective may seem impractical or utopian. But the alternative is more of the same lethal substances now being prescribed by Pataki, Giuliani, Gingrich and their counterparts the world over. One must choose between the logic of capital—production for profit—and the logic of socialism—production for human need. In the epoch of capitalist decline there is no middle way.

Pataki Enforces Wall Street’s Will on CUNY  

Fight the New Round of Tuition Hikes!

[The following statement was issued on February 1997]

Governor George Pataki’s war on CUNY continues. His January 14 budget aims at slashing over $300 million in state funds to public higher education. If this proposed budget goes through, students who come next fall will see their tuition raised by $400; added to the previous tuition hikes, it will make CUNY top out at $3,600 a year. Not only that, but Pataki also promises to cut $175 million in financial aid to poor students (TAP). For many students, CUNY is barely affordable as is and for many for many more completely out of their financial reach. Over half of the student body is forced to work, 27% of them full time, and 34% of students who dropped out in 1995 did so for financial reasons, not being able to afford the extra $750 Pataki added that year. How many more students will not be returning next year because they can’t afford it?

For generations of students coming from working class, black, Hispanic and immigrant backgrounds, CUNY was their only hope of getting a higher education. However within the last couple of decades, the capitalist rulers of this country have decided that education for the working class and the poor is a “luxury”, rather than a necessity in this period of corporate downsizing. Starting with the elimination of free education, CUNY has suffered cutback after cutback. The last few years have seen a severe increase in state reductions, with the tuition at senior colleges going up by 156%.

While Pataki has been cutting off funds to CUNY, he has at the same time been doling out tax-breaks to the rich. In 1995, Pataki wanted to lower taxes on the top economic bracket by 25% and a part of his new budget will include substantial tax-cuts on property, inheritance and business. And while we are seeing faculty being laid off and programs being eliminated, there always seems to be plenty of money to beef up security at CUNY. This school year CUNY security has seen it’s budget expanded by $9 million in government grants, and Hunter College has recently announced  its plans to introduce attack dogs and firearms for the use of Security personnel! Security on CUNY campuses has been almost exclusively used to intimidate, harass and spy on student activists, as witnessed by the revelation of an “enemies list”, an information dossier of student activists maintained by the campus cops.

Students must act now to defeat the cuts. It is vital we organize mass, militant and united coalitions of students, faculty and staff against the attacks on CUNY. This will mean struggle, not just letter writing campaigns or impotent pleading with state representatives in Albany as groups like NYPIRG suggest we do. All past victories, whether the gaining of open admissions, or the beating back of tuition hikes in 1989, came through a militant fight, not sending postcards upstate or voting for the Democrats, who, being as beholden to the needs of capital as the Republicans, have also cut vital social services that benefit the working class and poor. Previous tuition increases have been put forward by Democratic administrations — remember Gov. Cuomo in 1991?

While fighting against the current round of cuts, the student movement must be able to go beyond this single issue and link this fight with the struggle for free and open access to the CUNY system for all. Only through a free and open university can we guarantee quality education for every student, regardless of class and race. Students won it before, and students must win it back again!

We cannot look at these attacks on higher education as isolated incidents; they are part and parcel of the current offensive of American (and world) capitalism against the gains made by the labor movement, racial minorities, and the poor over the last 30 years. Across the country we are seeing many examples of these assaults on working people. Both parties have vowed to end welfare as we know it. Many states have, or are in the process of, instituting “workfare”, a program that will force welfare recipients to slave for the state at sub-minimum wage. Union busting has become a popular pastime with corporations again, as evidenced by the struggles around the Staley workers in Illinois and last winters’ 32B-32J strike. The creed of capitalism in the 90’s is the infallibility of the free market and a be-damned attitude to those whose lives are deemed unprofitable. This means the student movement has important allies among working-people, both on and off campus, in particular those organized in the trade-unions, who are suffering from capitalist cutbacks. We must forge links with them — students cannot defeat Pataki’s budget cuts by themselves.

Last year in Paris,  and more recently in Toronto, we saw the potential of such worker-student alliances. Trade-unionists, students and other sectors of the population shut down their cities in response to attacks on social services.

The corrupt and conservative leadership of New York’s major unions will never wage a real fight against the cuts because they are at the beck and call of the bosses and the bosses’ state. But the multi-racial rank-and-file membership of these unions are the best allies for a broad struggle against Albany’s slash and burn budget and Wall Street downsizing; we must join with them and move against the cuts.

As shown by past struggles around CUNY, reforms can be won, but as long as capitalism exists and its system of private property and profit, any reforms we do win will remain fragile and vulnerable to overturn. Trade-union militants and student activists need to orient around a perspective that goes beyond the limitations set by capitalism and its ideological agents within the labor and student movements. We need a revolutionary movement that aims at constructing a new society; a socialist society under the democratic control of workers and all the oppressed. Socialism isn’t a pipe dream or a utopian fantasy as various bourgeois academics claim, but is the best alternative to the horrors and irrationalities of modern capitalism. The Bolshevik Tendency is a revolutionary organization that is committed to fighting for such a society, and bringing this perspective to the struggles of the exploited and oppressed.

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Marxism, Feminism & Women’s Liberation

Marxism, Feminism & Women’s Liberation

[First printed in 1917 #19. Originally posted as a pdf file at . While this documeent is mechanical in some sections, and we have previously criticized the blindness towards the popular meaning of “feminism” in an introduction to this collection, the document provides an informative survey of a selection of feminist political currents from the latter half of the 20th century,]

Despite all the international conferences and ‘‘universal declarations’’ in favor of female equality, the lives of most women around the world remain confined by prejudice and social oppression. The means by which male supremacy is enforced vary considerably from one society to another (and between social classes within each society), but everywhere men are taught to regard themselves as superior, and women are taught to accept this. Very few women have access to power and privilege except via their connection to a man. Most women in the paid labor force are subject to the double burden of domestic and wage slavery. According to the United Nations, women perform two-thirds of the world’s work, and produce about 45 percent of the world’s food—-yet they receive merely ten percent of the income, and own only one percent of the property (cited by Marilyn French in The War Against Women, 1992).

From its inception, the Marxist movement has championed female equality and women’s rights, while regarding women’s oppression (like racial, national and other forms of special oppression) as something that cannot be eradicated without overturning the capitalist social system that nurtures and sustains it. Marxists assert that women’s liberation is bound up with the struggle against capitalism because, in the final analysis, sexual oppression serves the material interests of the ruling class .

While Marxists and feminists often find themselves on the same side in struggles for women’s rights, they hold two fundamentally incompatible worldviews. Feminism is an ideology premised on the idea that the fundamental division in human society is between the sexes, rather than between social classes. Feminist ideologues consequently see the struggle for female equality as separate from the fight for socialism, which many dismiss as merely an alternative form of ‘‘patriarchal’’ rule.

In the past several decades, feminist writers and academics have drawn attention to the variety and extent of male supremacist practices in contemporary society. They have described the mechanisms by which female subordination is inculcated, normalized and reinforced through everything from fairy tales to television advertising. Feminists have taken the lead in exposing many of the pathological manifestations of sexism in private life: from sexual harassment to rape and domestic violence. Prior to the resurgence of the women’s movement in the late 1960s, these issues received little attention from either liberal or leftist social critics. Feminists have also been active in international campaigns against female genital mutilation in Africa, female infanticide in Asia, and the imposition of the veil in the Islamic world. Yet while feminist analysis is often useful in raising awareness of the pervasiveness of sexism in capitalist society, it typically fails to make a connection between male supremacy and the system of class domination which underlies it.

Marxists maintain that class conflict is the motor force of history, and reject the notion that there are irreconcilable differences between the interests of men and women. But we do not deny that men are the agents of women’s oppression, or that, within the framework of existing social relations, men ‘‘benefit’’ from it, both in material and psychological terms. Yet the benefits that most men derive from women’s inequality are petty, hollow and transitory, and the costs that accompany them are substantial.

Job-trusting and female exclusionism, undervaluation of traditionally ‘‘female’’ work, and sex-based pay differentials, while appearing to benefit the men who are better paid and have more job security, in fact exert downward pressure on wages generally. This phenomenon was explained by Frieda Miller, director of the U.S. Women’s Bureau shortly after the Second World War:

‘‘It is an axiom of wage theory that when large numbers of workers can be hired at lower rates of pay than those prevailing at any given time, the competition of such persons for jobs results either in the displacement of the higher paid workers or in the acceptance of lower rates by those workers. Over a period of time this pressure tends to depress all wage levels, and unless this normal course is averted by direct action it results eventually in lower levels of earning for all, with a resulting reduction in purchasing power and in standards of living. Because of their new war-born training and skills, women are, as never before, in a position to be used by unscrupulous employers as wage cutters.’’

—-U.S. Women’s Bureau Bulletin No. 224, 1948 (quoted by Nancy Reeves in ‘‘Women at Work,’’ in American Labor in Mid-Passage, 1959)

The same applies to wage discrimination against immigrants, youth, racial minorities, or any other sector of the workforce. In addition to lowering wage rates, male chauvinism—-like racism, nationalism, homophobia and other backward ideologies—-obscures the mechanisms of social control, and divides those at the bottom against each other, thereby providing a bulwark for a hierarchial and intrinsically oppressive social system.

The Marxist strategy of uniting all those exploited and oppressed by capitalism is sharply counterposed to the reactionary utopia of a universal ‘‘sisterhood,’’ uniting women across class lines. While it is true that female oppression is a trans-class phenomenon that affects all women, not merely those who are poor or workingclass, the degree of oppression and its consequences are qualitatively different for members of different social classes. The privileges and material benefits enjoyed by ruling-class women give them a powerful interest in preserving the existing social order. Their pampered existence is paid for by the superexploitation of their ‘‘sisters’’ in Third World sweatshops. The only way in which female unity can be built across class lines is by subordinating the interests of poor, black and workingclass women to those of their bourgeois ‘‘sisters.’’

Origins of ‘Second Wave’ Feminism

Today’s feminists often refer to themselves as belonging to the ‘‘Second Wave’’—-‘‘First Wave’’ feminists were those who fought for access to higher education, equal property rights and the vote prior to the First World War. ‘‘Second Wave’’ feminism is often dated from the publication of The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan’s 1963 bestseller, which contrasted the ideology of ‘‘femininity’’ with the reality of women’s lives. In 1966 Friedan founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), liberal women’s rights organization, based on professional and career women, committed to ‘‘bring[ing] women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now….’’ NOW remains the largestfeminist organization in the U.S., but its appeal is limited by its role as a pressure group and unofficial Democratic Party auxiliary.

Another, more radical, strain of contemporary feminism merged from the American ‘‘Women’s Liberation Movement’’ of the late 1960s. Many prominent leaders of the New Left women’s movement were veterans of the earlier Civil Rights Movement against racial segregation in the Southern states. They were among the thousands of idealistic youth who had gone South to participate in the ‘‘Freedom Summers’’ of the mid-1960s, and were radicalized through exposure to the brutal realities of American capitalism.

By the late 1960s, many women in the New Left began to complain that their male comrades’ rhetorical advocacy of liberation, equality and solidarity contrasted sharply with their experiences in the ‘‘movement.’’ These feelings were articulated by Marlene Dixon, a young radical sociology professor:

‘‘Young women have increasingly rebelled not only against passivity and dependency in their relationships but also against the notion that they must function as sexual objects, being defined in purely sexual rather than human terms, and being forced to package and sell themselves as commodities. on the sex market.’’

‘‘The very stereotypes that express the society’s belief in the biological inferiority of women recall the images used to justify the oppression of blacks. The nature of women, like that of slaves, is depicted as dependent, incapable of reasoned thought, childlike in its simplicity and warmth, martyred in the role of mother, and mystical in the role of sexual partner. In its benevolent form, the inferior position of women results in paternalism; in its malevolent form, a domestic tyranny which can be unbelievably brutal.’’

—-‘‘Why Women’s Liberation?,’’ Ramparts, December 1969

Gloria Steinem: Sisterhood & the CIA

In the early days of the Women’s Liberation Movement, a division emerged between those who saw the fight for female equality as one aspect of a broader struggle against all oppression, and those who emphasized female solidarity and the necessity to remain organizationally and politically ‘‘autonomous’’ from other social forces.

While many early leaders of the ‘‘Second Wave’’ had had their initial political experience in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left, others had less honorable pasts. Gloria Steinem, the original editor of Ms., America’s largest-circulation feminist magazine, had worked with the CIA in the 1950s. She was involved in the operation of a front group ‘‘which financed Americans attending world youth festivals largely dominated by the Soviet Union.’’ According to Sheila Tobias, an unwitting participant on one such trip (who later taught women’s studies at Cornell University), the CIA:

‘‘was interested in spying on the American delegates to find out who in the United States was a Trotskyite or Communist. So we were a front, as it turned out.’’

—-Marcia Cohen, The Sisterhood 1988

When Steinem’s past eventually came to light, she opted to brazen it out:

‘‘When the CIA funding of the agency Gloria had cofounded back in the late fifties was exposed in the press, she admitted that the organization received funds from the CIA, denied being an agent of the CIA, and dismissed those Helsinki youth conferences as ‘the CIA’s finest hour.’’’


Only the more militant feminists, like the Bostonbased ‘‘Redstockings,’’ (whose leader Roxanne Dunbar was a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement) denounced Steinem for her CIA involvement. For the most part, the issue of her connection to the leading agency of imperialist counterrevolution was ignored, or dismissed as irrelevant, by mainstream feminists. This in itself says a great deal about the politics of ‘‘sisterhood.’’

Radical Feminism & Biological Determinism

Another feminist who began her political career in the Civil Rights Movement was Shulamith Firestone. In her 1970 book, The Dialectic of Sex, she attempted to provide a theoretical basis for radical feminism by arguing that the subordination of women was biological, not socialhistorical, in origin. The sexual division of humanity into ‘‘two distinct biological classes’’ was, she said, the origin of all other social divisions. Mimicking Marx, she wrote:

‘‘The sexual-reproductive organization of society always furnishes the real basis, starting from which we can alone work out the ultimate explanation of the whole superstructure of economic, juridical and political institutions as well as of the religious, philosophical and other ideas of a given historical period.’’

If the root of women’s oppression lay in anatomy, Firestone reasoned, then the solution must lie in technology—-increased control over contraception and, ultimately, gestation outside the womb. Firestone maintained that hers was a ‘‘materialist’’ analysis. It was a materialism of sorts, to be sure, but a crudely biological one. While she envisaged a historical resolution to female oppression, the solutions she offered were utopian and ultimately apolitical. Her book has remained influential—- perhaps because she was one of the first to take the radical feminist view that biology is destiny to a logical conclusion.

While not endorsing Firestone’s solutions, the 1970 ‘‘Redstockings Manifesto’’ agreed with the assertion that women are a class:

‘‘Women are an oppressed class….We identify the agents of our oppression as men. Male supremacy is the oldest, most basic form of domination. All other forms of exploitation and oppression (racism, capitalism, imperialism, etc.) are extensions of male supremacy: men dominate women, a few men dominate the rest. All power structures throughout history have been male-dominated and male-oriented. Men have controlled all political, economic and cultural institutions and backed up this control with physical force. They have used their power to keep women in an inferior position. All men receive economic, sexual, and psychological benefits from male supremacy. All men have oppressed women….We will not ask what is ‘revolutionary’ or ‘reformist,’ only what is good for women.’’

—-‘‘Redstockings Manifesto,’’ in Sisterhood Is Powerful, 1970

Radical feminist arguments parallel those of the most reactionary socio-biologists, who claim that social inequality is ‘‘in our genes,’’ and, therefore, attempts to fight it are futile. Radical feminists frequently argue for separatism, and some go so far as to suggest that women who continue to sleep with the ‘‘enemy’’ must be regarded with suspicion.In Lesbian Nation: the Feminist Solution (1973), Jill Johnson asserted that:

‘‘The sexual satisfaction of the woman independently of the man is the sine qua non of the feminist revolution….

‘‘Until all women are lesbians there will be no true political revolution.’’

Socialism & Sexism

In a 1970 essay entitled ‘‘The Main Enemy,’’ Christine Delphy presented a version of ‘‘radical feminism based on Marxist principles’’ in which men (not capitalism) were identified as the main enemy (reprinted in Close to Home,1984). Delphy asserted that, without an independent women’s revolution, even in a post-capitalist workers’ state, men would still have a material interest in seeing women perform the bulk of domestic chores.

The notion that women’s oppression would continue to be a feature of life under socialism seemed obvious to those New Left radicals who viewed the economically backward, nationally isolated, deformed workers’ states of Cuba, China, North Vietnam, North Korea and Albania as functioning socialist societies. While women made very important gains everywhere capitalist rule had been overthrown (a fact dramatically underlined by the devastating effects on women of capitalist counterrevolution in the former Soviet bloc), the parasitic (and overwhelmingly male) ruling bureaucracy in these Stalinist police states promoted women’s ‘‘natural’’ role as breeder, mother and homemaker. Leon Trotsky pointed ut in The Revolution Betrayed that the Stalinist apparatus was an obstacle to the development of socialism, and criticized ‘‘the social interest of the ruling stratum in the deepening of bourgeois law’’ in connection with its attempts to prop up the ‘‘socialist’’ family.

Feminist pessimism regarding the prospects for women under socialism (as opposed to under Stalinism) reflects an inability to comprehend the historical origins of women’s oppression. It also reveals a failure to appreciate the immense possibilities for reordering social priorities, and transforming every aspect of human relations, that socialism would open up through the elimination of material scarcity. The revolutionary expropriation of the productive forces, and the establishment of a global planned economy, would ensure that the most basic conditions for existence (food, shelter, employment, basic healthcare and education) could be guaranteed for every person on the planet.

Within a few generations, the socialization of production could afford all citizens a quality of life and a degree of economic independence enjoyed today only by the elite. Access to holiday resorts, summer camps, sporting, cultural and educational facilities, and other institutions currently beyond the means of most people, would immensely enrich the lives of the majority of the population. As society escapes the tyranny of the market, which only promotes activities that produce private profit, people will have an increasingly broad range of choices about how to arrange their lives. Domestic labor could be reduced substantially by the social provision of highquality childcare, restaurants and laundries. Eventually, as the competitiveness, anxiety and insecurity of life under capitalism recedes into the distant past, social behavior will be transformed.

The provision of the material conditions for a fulfilling personal life for all, impossible under the dictates of profit maximization, would simply be a rational choice for a planned economy. Just as investing in publicly subsidized immunization programs and sewage systems benefit all members of society, the assurance of a safe, secure and productive existence for each individual will improve the quality of life for all, by eliminating many of the causes of anti-social behavior, mental illness and disease.

It might be objected that even among the existing elite, who already enjoy material abundance, men oppress women. Marxists recognize that even though it ultimately reflects the material interests of particular social classes, ideology also has a certain relative autonomy. The general condition of women as unpaid childminders and domestic workers can only be justified within the framework of a sexist worldview that negatively affects all women, including those of the capitalist class.

The effects of these ideas and social practices will not immediately or automatically disappear when the conditions which gave rise to them are overturned. There will have to be an ideological and cultural struggle against the legacy of backwardness and ignorance bequeathed by the past. But where class society reinforces and promotes male supremacy, racism, etc., at every turn, in an egalitarian world, where everyone is assured of a comfortable and secure existence, the eradication of prejudice will finally be a realizable project.

Socialist Feminism: Ephemeral Half-Way House

The radical feminism of Firestone, the Redstockings and Delphy represented one wing of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the early 1970s. At the other end of the spectrum, hundreds of the best militants joined various ostensibly Marxist-Leninist organizations. Those who fell somewhere in between often identified themselves as ‘‘socialist feminists.’’ This current, which ultimately proved to be an ephemeral half-way house, was influential throughout the 1970s, particularly in Britain. Rejecting the biological determinism of radical feminism, the socialist feminists ruminated about developing a ‘‘dual systems’’ model, which would treat capitalism and ‘‘patriarchy’’ as separate but equal foes. The desirability of a ‘‘dual systems’’ analysis was widely accepted by socialist feminists, but difficulties arose in coming up with a plausible explanation of exactly how these two supposedly discrete but parallel systems of oppression interacted. Another tricky problem was how an analysis of racism, ‘‘ageism’’ and the various other forms of social oppression could be integrated into the ‘‘dual’’ capitalism/patriarchy model.

Nor could socialist feminists agree as to how exactly the system of ‘‘patriarchy’’ should be defined, or what caused it: male brutishness? jealousy? womb-envy and a consequent male obsession with maintaining strict control over women’s reproductive functions? language? psycho-sexual structures? material privileges? The list is extensive, and different theorists of patriarchy highlighted or combined all of the foregoing and more.

The political activity of the socialist feminists, to the extent that there was any, generally had a more proworking class tilt than that of the radical feminists, but was otherwise broadly similar. Marxists have traditionally favored the creation of socialist women’s organizations, linked to the working class and other movements of the oppressed through the agency of a revolutionary party comprised of the most dedicated and conscious militants from every sector. Such a woman’s movement would be ‘‘autonomous’’ from the reformists, the capitalists and the trade-union misleaders, but it would be organizationally and politically linked to the communist vanguard. Socialist feminists, by contrast, share the radical feminists’ insistence that only an autonomous women’s movement (i.e., one that is entirely separate from organizations that include men) could wage a serious struggle for female liberation.

But this too presented problems when applied to the real world. It is impossible to conceive of any movement attempting to launch a serious challenge to capitalist rule without attempting to mobilize the support of every possible element among the exploited and oppressed. To exclude half of the population from the outset, simply on the basis of sex, would guarantee defeat. Moreover, if one seeks to distinguish between friends and enemies primarily on the basis of their sex, then what attitude should be adopted toward women who join right-wing movements, or who sign up to be scabs or cops? And what of the female members of the ruling class itself? They would hardly seem to be natural allies in the struggle for feminist socialism.

Some radical feminists attempted to ‘‘solve’’ such problems by simply declaring that women who act like men (i.e., behave in a piggish fashion) are not really women at all. But this was not an option for socialist feminists, who aspired to develop a more scientific worldview. A decade after the collapse of the socialistfeminist movement, Lise Vogel, one of its more thoughtful exponents, republished an essay that had first appeared in 1981 entitled ‘‘Marxism and Feminism: Unhappy Marriage, Trial Separation or Something Else?’’ In the original version, Vogel had danced around the thorny question of how to treat female class enemies, but in the 1995 version she bit the bullet:

‘‘Socialist feminists maintain, against some opinions on the left, that women can be successfully organized, and they emphasize the need for organizations that include women from all sectors of society….It is precisely the specific character of women’s situation that requires their separate organization. Here socialist feminists frequently find themselves in opposition to much of the tradition of socialist theory and practice. Socialist-feminist theory takes on the essential task of developing a framework that can guide the process of organizing women from different classes and sectors into an autonomous women’s movement.’’

—-Lise Vogel, Women Questions: Essays for a Materialist Feminism, 1995

With this, Vogel (a red-diaper baby who 30 years earlier had gone down South as a Civil Rights worker) as much as admitted that it is impossible to reconcile ‘‘feminism’’ and ‘‘socialism’’—-two fundamentally counterposed ideologies—-with a hyphen.

While Marxists derided the class-collaborationist implications of the socialist-feminist call for women to ‘‘unite,’’ the radical feminists attacked them from the other direction as ‘‘male-identified politicos.’’ Catharine MacKinnon, a prominent American radical-feminist theorist, and Andrea Dworkin’s collaborator, put her finger on the fundamental political contradiction of socialist feminism:

‘‘Attempts to create a synthesis between marxism and feminism, termed socialist-feminism, have recognized neither the separate integrity of each theory nor the depth of the antagonism between them.’’

—-Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, 1989

Socialist feminism decomposed as a political movement because the incoherence of its postulates prevented its adherents from developing either a program, or an organization, capable of engaging in serious social struggle. In the real world, there is simply no political space between the program of female solidarity across class lines and that of proletarian solidarity across sex lines. For example, socialist feminists would agree that working women shoulder the principal burden of cuts to social programs. Pro-capitalist governments of every political stripe claim that the state can no longer afford to bear the costs of looking after children, the elderly or the sick; instead, these are to be the responsibility of the ‘‘family,’’ i.e., primarily women. So who would be the natural constituency to fight against these cuts? Bourgeois women generally support government austerity and the resulting redistribution of wealth. Their primary concern is not to overburden the private accumulation of capital with the public funding of social need. On the other hand, working-class men are natural allies in the fight against cuts to daycare subsidies, old-age pensions, medicare, and so on, because these are programs that benefit them.

Today, among trendy left academics, analyzing male supremacy within the framework of a materialist perspective is passé; Marxism is frequently dismissed as irrelevant, its place taken by the ‘‘post-modernism’’ of Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard. While sometimes identified broadly with the political left, the post-modernists in fact represent a return to the reactionary historical pessimism of Friedrich Nietzsche, whom Jurgen Habermas aptly characterized as the ‘‘dialectician of the Counter-Enlightenment.’’ Post-modernism has provided the pseudo-theoretical backdrop for a new brand of apolitical leftist conservatism that rejects the idea, central to both the Enlightenment and Marxism, that society can be remade on the basis of human reason: a bankrupt ‘‘humanist’’ notion according to the post-structuralists and post-modernists! Michèle Barrett, once an influential British exponent of ‘‘socialist feminism,’’ is an example of this ‘‘descent into discourse.’’ In the introduction to the 1988 reissue of her 1980 book, Women’s Oppression Today, she wrote that:

‘‘the discourse of post-modernism is premised on an explicit and argued denial of the kind of grand political projects that both ‘socialism’ and ‘feminism’ by definition are….The arguments of post-modernism already represent, I think, a key position around which feminist theoretical work in the future is likely to revolve. Undoubtedly, this is where the book would begin, were I writing it today.’’

‘Cultural Feminism’ & the Rejection of Politics

Many feminists in the imperialist countries have retreated into an attempt to escape the sexism of mainstream society through the creation of a female counterculture involving theater, music, ‘‘herstory’’ and literature. The growth of ‘‘cultural feminism’’ in the late 1970s was reflected in the growing popularity of writers who contrasted supposedly female values of caring, sharing and emotional warmth with the ‘‘male’’ characteristics of greed, aggression, ego and lust. Unlike the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s—-which brought many aspects of women’s oppression from the private into the public realm for the first time—-the cultural-feminist high priestesses of the 1990s invoke ‘‘The Goddess’’ in order to repackage traditional notions of feminine essence, which they peddle with talk of ‘‘empowerment.’’

The ‘‘herstory’’ industry provides an example of this political regression. In 1970, when a leading journal of the American women’s movement published a special issue on ‘‘Women in History,’’ its cover proclaimed:

‘Our history has been stolen from us. Our heroes died in childbirth, from peritonitis[,] overwork[,] oppression[,] from bottled-up rage. Our geniuses were never taught to read or write.’’

—-Women: A Journal of Liberation, Spring 1970.

Contemporary ‘‘herstorians,’’ like Dale Spender, reject his, and assert instead that male historians have written important women artists, writers, scientists and philosophers out of history:

‘‘when we assert that the reason for women’s absence [from the historical record] is not women, but men, that it is not that women have not contributed, but that men have ‘doctored the records’, reality undergoes a remarkable change’’

—-Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them, 1982

While the study of contributions by women in the past can certainly inspire those engaged in struggle today, the attempt to prettify the ugly truth can only undercut the urgency of bringing down the social order responsible for the perpetuation of female oppression. The relegation of women to the ‘‘private’’ sphere of domestic labor meant their exclusion, in all but a few cases, from the opportunity to be major participants in the historic developments of their time. The emphasis on women’s exclusion from the history books only serves to trivialize the extent of the injury.

The cultural feminists preach abstinence from, rather than engagement in, political activity, on the grounds that it must inevitably involve entering the male domain:

‘‘tokenism—-which is commonly guised as Equal Rights, and which yields token victories—-deflects and shortcircuits gynergy, so that female power, galvanized under deceptive slogans of sisterhood, is swallowed by The Fraternity. This method of vampirizing the Female Self saps women by giving illusions of partial success….

‘‘Thus tokenism is insidiously destructive of sisterhood, for it distorts the warrior aspect of Amazon bonding both by magnifying it and by minimizing it. It magnifies the importance of ‘fighting back’ to the extent of making it devour the transcendent be-ing of sisterhood, reducing it to a copy of comradeship. At the same time, it minimizes the Amazon warrior aspect by containing it, misdirecting and shortcircuiting the struggle.’’

—-Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology, 1978

The very concept of oppression, as well as the need to struggle against it, are derided as ‘‘male’’ notions to be transcended:

‘‘The point is not to save society or to focus on escape (which is backward-looking) but to release the Spring of being….Left undisturbed, we are free to find our own concordance, to hear our own harmony, the harmony of the spheres.’’


This reactionary drivel is a feminist restatement of the political demoralization that propelled thousands of petty-bourgeois baby boomers from the New Left to the New Age.

As the material progress of women has stalled, the feminist celebrants of passivity and political abstention promise salvation in some world other than the one in which real suffering occurs. There is a certain logic to this, for if women’s oppression derives from an eternal and unchanging disparity between the nature of the sexes, there is little reason to expect to see any significant change whatever you do. So instead of participating in the struggle to transform the institutions and social relationships that determine consciousness, New-Age feminists exhort women to embark on a personal spiritual journey to an inner space. Mary Daly advises that the road to psychic fulfilment can be found through discussions with other women in which language is ‘‘co-opted’’ and male ‘‘meanings’’ subverted:

‘‘Breaking the bonds/bars of phallocracy requires breaking through to radiant powers of words, so that by releasing words, we can release our Selves.’’

—-Pure Lust, 1984

While imagining themselves embarked on a daring feminist rethink of the entire course of human existence, the cultural feminists, in reality, merely reflect the conservative trends currently popular with the bourgeois intelligentsia. The new feminism embraces many of the key features of ‘‘post-modernism,’’ including an idealist focus on language and ‘‘discourse,’’ and a belittling of the significance of political and economic activity.

‘Women’s Work’

Even those feminists who have not entirely given up on political activity have abandoned the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the early 1970s. Many are engaged in operating abortion clinics, rape crisis centers and women’s shelters. Such services are certainly beneficial to those women who have access to them, and afford those providing them with the satisfaction of doing something ‘‘practical.’’ However, they only address the effects, not the roots, of women’s oppression.

Some feminists are also involved in campaigns to increase female representation in non-traditional jobs in skilled trades, the professions and corporate management. While this has created opportunities for a few, and helped break down some stereotypes, it has had little effect on the conditions faced by the majority of women, who remain stuck in traditionally ‘‘female’’ employment.

Much has been made of the narrowing of the male/female wage gap in the U.S. in recent years: between 1955 and 1991 wages for women working full-time rose from 64 percent to 70 percent of those of men. But this is largely a result of the decline in male wages due to the shrinkage of unionized blue-collar jobs. Marxists support women’s struggles for equal pay and equal access to all job categories, while recognizing that the resilience of sexual bias in the capitalist labor process will prevent women from achieving true equality.

In most cases there is no objective basis for designating jobs as ‘‘male’’ or ‘‘female.’’ The only important distinction between the sexes in terms of their capacity for work is that men are, on average, physically stronger than women. Yet among men, jobs requiring physical strength are not particularly highly rewarded—-skill, dexterity, mental and organizational ability count for much more. The reason that business executives, doctors and airline pilots are predominantly male, while secretaries, nurses and flight attendants are usually female, has a great deal to do with prevailing sexist social attitudes, and nothing to do with any disparity in ability. In her 1959 essay, Nancy Reeves provided a striking example of the arbitrary character of ‘‘male’’ and ‘‘female’’ work:

‘‘in the [American] Midwest, cornhuskers are traditionally women, while trimmers are almost always men. In the Far West, the reverse is true.’’

The male-supremacist tilt in capitalist society is so pervasive, and so flexible, that even when women gain entry to previously all-male occupations, new barriers, both overt and covert, soon appear:

‘‘In 1973 only 8 percent of law degrees [in the U.S.] were awarded to women. By 1990 the percentage had risen to 42 percent. This is a sizeable feminization of a prestigious profession. Women, however, are overrepresented among the less-well-paying jobs in law, such as jobs in legal clinics, and appear not to rise to the top even in the most lucrative area of large law firms.’’

—-Joyce P. Jacobsen, The Economics of Gender, 1994

The same phenomenon is observable in business:

‘‘Studies by Columbia and Stanford Universities of women MBAs [Master of Business Administration] show that starting salaries are similar between the sexes, but that seven years out the door, the women are 40 percent behind the men.’’


Even among librarians, one of the very few ‘‘female’’ professions, a disproportionate percentage of the top jobs (senior administrative positions in major research libraries) are held by men. Jacobsen notes that it is:

‘‘difficult to find an example of a truly integrated occupation, where the proportion of women closely matches their representation in the workforce, where the rate of change in the sex ratio is small, and where women are not ghettoized.’’

Occupations that have changed over time from the domain of one sex to that of the other provide another indication of the systemic nature of the problem. One of the few jobs that has shifted from ‘‘female’’ to ‘‘male’’ is delivering babies. In 1910 midwives delivered half of all babies in the U.S., but by 1970, this figure had dropped to less than one percent. When childbirth became something that took place in hospitals under the supervision of (predominantly male) doctors, the status and remuneration for this work rose dramatically.

Conversely, when jobs shift from males to females, the result is a decline in both status and money:

‘‘Although there were almost no women bank tellers before World War II, over 90 percent of tellers were female in 1980. Meanwhile, salaries and career-advancement possibilities dropped precipitously. Clerical professions, in general, were predominantly male when they first came into existence in large numbers as the industrial revolution generated more need for paper processors: all these occupations are now female-dominated and generally considered to be the female ghetto of jobs.’’


One of the most spectacular examples of a woman breaking into a traditionally male job category was Margaret Thatcher’s ascension to the office of Britain’s prime minister. There is no question that the ‘‘Iron Lady’’ made her way to the top by besting her male competitors, yet it is also well known that under her rule British working people and the poor (who are, of course, disproportionately female) faced attacks of unprecedented viciousness. Thatcher’s success may have undercut various male supremacist assumptions, and inspired a handful of ambitious British girls to reach for the top, but the real lesson her career holds is that the basis of social oppression lies in the inner logic of the capitalist system, not in the sex of those who operate its levers.

Anti-Porn Feminists

Among the most directly political (and most reactionary) initiatives undertaken by radical feminists in recent years is the campaign to ban sexually explicit material (see ‘‘Pornography, Capitalism & Censorship,’’ 1917 No. 13). Despite occasional disclaimers that they do not share the prudishness of the right-wing family-values crowd, anti-porn feminists have willingly joined forces with the bigots who want to criminalize abortion, persecute homosexuals, and prohibit the teaching of evolution and sex education in schools. In many jurisdictions where law enforcement authorities have played up the ‘‘prowoman’’ angle in defense of state censorship, the main targets of anti-pornography sweeps have been the gay and lesbian population.

Feminists who advocate censorship argue that women’s oppression is the product of an unchanging male identity centered on an inherently brutal sexuality. Andrea Dworkin, the queen of America’s pro-censorship feminists, claims that ‘‘sex and murder are fused in the male consciousness, so that one without the immanent possibility of the other is unthinkable and impossible’’ (‘‘Taking Action,’’ in Take Back the Night, 1980). Pornography should be banned, therefore, as a manifestation of this ‘‘male consciousness.’’

Besides pro-censorship feminists, there are also ‘‘promotherhood’’ feminists, who are distinguished by their obsession with the development of new reproductive technologies. The ‘‘Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering,’’ launched in 1984, holds that the central issue for women is the campaign against developments in artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. Where Shulamith Firestone imagined that advances in reproductive technology would pave the way to female liberation, these paranoids see it as the potential site of a new kind of enslavement:

‘‘Much as we turn from consideration of a nuclear aftermath, we turn from seeing a future where children are neither borne nor born or where women are forced to bear only sons and to slaughter their foetal daughters. Chinese and Indian women are already trudging this path. The future of women as a group is at stake and we need to ensure that we have thoroughly considered all possibilities before endorsing technology which could mean the death of the female.’’

—-Robyn Rowland, in Man-Made Women, 1987

Like their ‘‘anti-porn’’ sisters, Rowland and other ‘‘pro-motherhood’’ advocates have not been coy about climbing into bed with the traditional right: ‘‘feminists may have to consider alignments with strange pillowfriends: right-wing women perhaps’’ (Ibid.). Rowland’s ‘‘pillow-friends’’ include the avowed racist Enoch Powell. In 1985, when Powell introduced his (unsuccessful) ‘‘Unborn Children Protection Bill,’’ to ban embryo research and severely restrict in vitrofertilization, Rowland spoke at a press conference in his support (see Marge Berer’s ‘‘Breeding Conspiracies and the New Reproductive Technologies,’’ in Trouble and Strife, Summer 1986).

Susan Faludi’s ‘Backlash’

The center of gravity of the feminist milieu has moved rightward since the 1970s, but many feminists still identify themselves with the left, and many have sharply opposed the anti-porn crusade and the various other adaptations to the right. One of the most influential feminist books of the 1990s, Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women (1991), documents a decade of ‘‘pro-family’’ reaction and asks:

‘‘If women are now so equal, why are they much more likely to be poor, especially in retirement? … Why does the average working woman, in both the UK and the US, still earn only just over two-thirds what men do for the same work? . . .

‘‘If women are so ‘free’, why are their reproductive freedoms in greater jeopardy today than a decade earlier? Why do women who want to postpone childbearing now have fewer options than 10 years ago?’’

These are not the sort of questions that the capitalist media addresses, as Faludi points out. Her book provides a wealth of examples of how ‘‘public opinion’’ is manufactured and manipulated, in order to isolate women who dare aspire to social equality.

Faludi is critical of feminists who reject political activity in pursuit of ‘‘personal growth,’’ and clearly endorses a perspective of collective action. Yet she is unable either to explain the origins of the reactionary developments she decries, or to propose a program to resist them. Instead, she presents the backlash as a regrettable, but perhaps inevitable, part of some great cycle of existence:

‘‘A backlash against women’s rights is nothing new. Indeed, it is a recurring phenomenon: it returns every time women begin to make some headway towards equality, a seemingly inevitable early frost to the brief flowerings of feminism. ‘The progress of women’s rights in our culture, unlike other forms of ‘‘progress,’’ has always been strangely reversible,’ American literature scholar Ann Douglas has observed.’’

The gains won by women in the 1960s and 1970s were a direct product of political struggle. But concessions granted under the pressure of mass political mobilizations are subject to reversal when a different configuration of social forces arises. The struggle for female equality, like the battle against racism and other forms of social oppression, can never be finally victorious within the framework of capitalist society, because the maintenance of privilege and inequality is an inevitable corollary to the predominance of private ownership of the means of production.

The most glaring shortcoming of Faludi’s book is her tendency to treat the backlash against women’s rights in isolation. The campaign against women’s rights in America is only one front in an all-sided reactionary assault. The propaganda techniques which Faludi describes so well have also been routinely employed against others targeted by the ruling class—-from welfare recipients, to unionists, to Saddam Hussein.

In a footnote to her description of international resistance to the anti-abortion ‘‘Operation Rescue’’ fanatics, Faludi notes: ‘‘New Zealand saw clashes in 1989 outside a Wellington clinic when a Rescue squad arrived to find 30 women already there and intent on allowing women in.’’ Contrary to Faludi’s information, the clinic’s defenders on that day included both men and women (including some of our New Zealand comrades). Our supporters played a major role in organizing the ongoing defense of the Parkview clinic through ‘‘Choice’’—-a militant, non-exclusionist ‘‘rapid response’’ network, open to everyone prepared to defend abortion rights. One of the lessons of this work was the importance of drawing the line politically, rather than on the basis of sex, in the fight for women’s rights.

Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

The relegation of women to the household has historically permitted many issues of women’s rights to be dismissed as merely ‘‘personal’’ concerns. The Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s saw a proliferation of ‘‘consciousness-raising groups,’’ which explored the varied ways that women had internalized their oppression as personal concerns and the extent to which society treats the subordination of women as a ‘‘natural’’ condition of existence.

Legal and institutional restrictions on access to abortion, birth control, healthcare, childcare and employment are all clearly overtly ‘‘political’’ questions. But women’s oppression also encompasses the deeply rooted psychological and social attitudes and presumptions resulting from thousands of years of male domination. Girls learn early in life that they cannot aspire to everything that boys can. Misogynist assumptions are so deeply embedded in our culture that many aspects of women’s oppression are virtually invisible, even to people committed to the struggle for women’s liberation. For example, when feminists proposed the introduction of gender-neutral language (e.g., the use of chairperson’’ instead of ‘‘chairman,’’ or ‘‘Ms.’’ instead of ‘‘Miss’’ and ‘‘Mrs.’’) some left-wing Marxist publications proved more resistant than the mainstream bourgeois press.

Many women’s lives are stunted and deformed by sexual harassment, rape and domestic violence at the hands of men. While it takes place between individuals, such pathological behavior, like other manifestations of female oppression, are social problems. They cannot be eliminated until the social system which produces and, at a certain level, encourages them, is replaced by one that creates the material conditions for the emergence of a culture imbued with fundamentally different values.

Women’s liberation cannot be achieved within the arena of one’s own personal life. It is not enough to share domestic labor more equitably within the family—-what is necessary is that childcare, housecleaning, meal preparation, etc., be transformed from individual to social responsibilities. But this is not possible short of the total reconstruction of society—-the replacement of capitalist anarchy with a socialist planned economy administered by the producers themselves.

Just as the liberation of women is inextricably linked to the outcome of the class struggle, so too the fate of any social revolution depends on the participation and support of poor and working-class women. As Karl Marx remarked in a 12 December 1868 letter to Ludwig Kugelmann: ‘‘Everyone who knows anything of history also knows that great social revolutions are impossible without the feminine ferment.’’ Revolutionaries must actively participate in social struggles to defend and advance female equality. It is also necessary to promote the development of female leaders within the socialist movement. For it is only through participation in a struggle to turn the world upside down that women can open the road to their own emancipation and create the material circumstances for eradicating hunger, exploitation, poverty and the effects of thousands of years of male supremacy. This is a goal worth struggling for.

Trotskyism vs. the ‘Third Camp’

Korea: the Forgotten War

[First printed in 1917 #16, 1995. Copied from ]

The Korean War, which raged between 1950 and 1953, left over three million dead and a country divided. Many of the dead were victims of the massive, deliberate terror bombing of civilians by the forces of ‘‘Western Civilization,’’ under the flag of the United Nations. The war, which very nearly resulted in the second nuclear attack by the United States on an Asian nation, continues to echo in Korean politics today. Yet it is now remembered in the U.S. primarily as the backdrop for the sexual adventures and cynical witticisms of ‘‘Hawkeye’’ Pierce and his buddies in the anti-militarist 1970s American television series, M*A*S*H. Even most leftists know far less about the Korean ‘‘police action’’ than its Vietnamese sequel.

The Korean conflict illustrated how Washington’s Cold War strategy of ‘‘containing’’ and ‘‘rolling back’’ Communism meant intervening abroad to crush social revolution and national liberation struggles. Today, as liberals and various self-proclaimed leftists call for greater UN military involvement in world affairs, it is appropriate to recall that the United Nations’ first major military campaign was an attempt to strangle the Korean revolution. The Korean War also provided a test of the political character of the various supposedly Marxist currents of the early 1950s. Coming as it did a little over a year after Mao Zedong’s armies crushed the remnants of Chiang Kai Shek’s forces, the conflict in Korea appeared to many as the latest in the inexorable march of Moscow-inspired Communism. The various tendencies on the left reacted to this phenomenon in very different ways.

Most studies of the origins of the Korean War focus on the fundamentally uninteresting question of whose troops crossed the 38th parallel, the border between the Koreas, first on the morning of 25 June 1945 (the official start of the war). This focus is common to most Western historians, as well as the self-serving accounts inspired by both Korean regimes. This approach ignores the earlier massive social struggles in Korea, in which more than 100,000 people were killed or wounded, and which provides the only basis for understanding the partition of Korea and the subsequent civil war. New Left historian Bruce Cumings’ definitive two-volume work, The Origins of the Korean War (which was banned in South Korea) provides the most thorough and detailed examination of this history.

The international situation, primarily characterized by the U.S.-led global Cold War against Communism, provided the framework for the war. The intervention of the UN/imperialist forces on one side, and China on the other (with substantial material support from the USSR), determined the war’s outcome. But its roots were indigenous, and can be traced to the potentially revolutionary upheavals that followed the collapse of the Japanese Empire in 1945.

Until the beginning of this century, Korea was an essentially agrarian society, ruled by the Confucian Yi Dynasty, with the support of an elite of bureaucrat- landowners, the Yangban caste. As capitalism entered its imperialist stage, however, Korea, like the rest of the world, became an object of attention for rival Great Powers and the disruptive influence of world capitalism. When Japan defeated Czarist Russia in 1905, Korea came under its control. Five years later, it was officially annexed as the principal overseas colony of the Japanese Empire.

Korean society during the colonial period was a perfect example of what Leon Trotsky called ‘‘combined and uneven development.’’ The colonial regime instituted a land ‘‘registration’’ of Yangban and peasant holdings. Some land (mostly that of poor peasants) was lost when ‘‘undeclared’’ land became Japanese property. The purpose of the land registration was to allow the regime to extract more food from the Korean countryside. The Japanese allowed the indigenous elite to retain their land in return for their acceptance of and collaboration with colonial rule, while it forced many of the peasants off the land into the Imperial Army, or into the (mostly Japanese-owned) factories. Japanese concerns employed 1.3 million Koreans at the time of liberation in 1945. Hundreds of thousands of other Koreans relocated to Japan or Manchuria to find work.

During the forty years that Korea was occupied, the Stalinized Communist Party gained considerable support for its role in organizing strikes and anti-Japanese guerrilla operations. Japanese propaganda reinforced the popularity of the CP by attributing all anti-colonial activity to ‘‘Communist subversion.’’ The peasants longed to be free of their oppressive rents, and grew to despise the foreign overlords and their Korean Yangban collaborators. Capitalism, landlordism and foreign domination were inextricably mixed in colonial Korea.

With the Japanese defeat in 1945, the principal obstacle to social revolution was removed. The Korean elite was widely discredited by its decades of collaboration with the colonial government. The partial modernization carried out by the Japanese had destroyed the traditional society in which the Yangban had an organic role. A substantial section of the masses had become modern industrial workers, but, with a few individual exceptions, the members of the traditional elite had not transformed themselves into capitalists. On 9 August 1945, when the Japanese authorities handed over power to Yo Un Hyong, a bourgeois nationalist who formed the Provisional Committee for Korean Independence (PCKI), the situation in Seoul had many parallels with that in Moscow or Petrograd in February 1917. The PCKI was forced to rely on the leftist People’s Committees, which sprung up spontaneously from the political activity of workers and peasants. Under the banner of the Chon Pyong (the National Korean Labor Council), workers took control of industry across the peninsula. The Chon Pyong was predominantly under the influence of the Communist Party, but it also contained some social-democratic tendencies. According to Stewart Meacham, labor adviser to the American occupying forces, ‘‘virtually all of the larger factories’’ were taken over by workers’ unions (quoted in Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War). The Chon Nong (National Council of Korean Peasant Unions) was moving to dispossess the landlords. In short, the level of social struggle was comparable to that going on in Italy or Greece in the same period.

This was the situation that greeted the victorious Allied Powers. At Yalta, they had agreed that Korea would be administered under a joint trusteeship for a period of ten to thirty years. When the Soviet Army advanced into Korea after the USSR declared war on Japan on 8 August, the Americans quickly insisted that the Soviets not advance south of the 38th parallel (a line arbitrarily chosen by Dean Rusk, at the time a minor official in the U.S. War Department, in order to ensure that the American zone included Seoul). Stalin, anxious to preserve the wartime alliance, and relatively uninterested in Korea, immediately agreed, and Soviet forces withdrew to north of the line.

U.S. vs. Popular Movement

From the beginning, the Americans were chiefly concerned with halting the popular movement and suppressing what seemed to be an imminent social revolution. ‘‘General Order Number One,’’ issued by General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of American Forces in the Pacific, commanded Koreans to obey Japanese authority until American troops arrived. When the Americans, under General John Hodge, did land at Inchon Bay on 8 September 1945, they refused to meet either with the PCKI or the People’s Committees, which went ahead and proclaimed the establishment of a ‘‘Korean People’s Republic’’ a week later. On 15 September, Merrell Benninghoff, chief political advisor to Hodge, reported that:

‘‘Southern Korea can best be described as a powder keg ready to explode at the application of a spark.

‘‘…[S]uch Koreans as have achieved high rank under the Japanese are considered pro-Japanese and are hated almost as much as their masters….

‘‘All groups seem to have the common ideas of seizing Japanese property, ejecting the Japanese from Korea, and achieving immediate independence….Korea is completely ripe for agitators.’’

—-Cumings, op cit.

However, all was not lost according to Benninghoff:

‘‘The most encouraging single factor in the political situation is the presence in Seoul of several hundred conservatives among the older and better educated Koreans. Although many of them have served with the Japanese, that stigma ought eventually to disappear.’’

He proposed that these ‘‘democrats’’ ought to be given material support and encouragement by the occupiers. In a later report, he noted approvingly that this grouping, now organized as the Korean Democratic Party (KDP), ‘‘have stated that they realize that their country must pass through a period of tutelage, and that they would prefer to be under American rather than Soviet guidance’’ (Ibid.). Dr. Synghman Rhee, who had spent most of his adult life in the United States,

, was the ideal head of the KDP. The Americans assisted the fledgling regime by ensuring the cooperation of the Japanese-trained security forces. All Japanese laws continued in effect, subject only to the overriding authority of Mac-Arthur’s military decrees. In December 1945, the Military Government officially banned the People’s Committees. General Hodge admitted that, ‘‘‘pro-American’ had become an epithet akin to ‘pro-Jap national traitor’’’ in the popular mind (quoted in S. Lone & G. McCormack, Korea Since 1850).

Not surprisingly, the Korean masses turned toward resistance. In the summer of 1946, the American occupiers initiated mass arrests of Communists and finally managed to suppress the People’s Committees. Spontaneous resistance    was no match for the Japanese-trained and Americanb acked security forces. In all 200 police were killed, along with thousands of workers and peasants. Mark Gayn of the Chicago Sun described the struggle as ‘‘a full-scale revolution’’ and reported that, ‘‘hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people’’ were involved (Ibid.).

Unlike the Americans who suppressed the popular movement, the Soviets sought to incorporate it. Stalin ordered that ‘‘anti-Japanese groups and democratic parties and their activity should be aided.’’ Of course, they were also to be controlled by the Kremlin oligarchs. In February 1946, the Soviets set up the Provisional People’s Committee for North Korea, which was to co-ordinate the local committees in the Soviet zone. At the head of this organization, selected by Stalin himself, was a young Communist named Kim Il Sung. Although he had played a creditable role in the anti-Japanese resistance with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and as a captain in the Soviet Army, he was by no means the preeminent leader of Korean Communism, as he would later claim. His chief qualification was his apparently unquestioning loyalty to Stalin (see: G. McCormack, New Left Review No. 198). After assuming control, Kim quickly moved to arrest his foremost rival for popular support, the bourgeois nationalist Cho Man Sik (who was apparently later executed).

The regime set up by the Soviets was a bureaucratic workers’ state closely modelled on the Soviet Union. While there was no element of direct political rule by the working class, it did carry out, in a bureaucratic, top-down manner, a social revolution. Women’s legal equality was decreed for the first time in Korean history. On 6 March 1946, the decree on land reform was published, which distributed all large estates to those who tilled them and provided compensation only to ‘‘patriotic’’ landlords. The distribution of the land to individual farmers was put under the control of the District People’s Committees. Decision Number 91 of the North Korean Interim People’s Committee, proclaimed on 6 October 1946, nationalized all industry owned by the Japanese or by collaborators. Again, in keeping with Stalinist policy, there was an attempt to exempt the so-called patriotic bourgeoisie from these strictures. However, this attempt at class collaboration failed, since almost all Northern business owners and their families moved into the American-occupied zone, where many went on to play significant roles in the South Korean right. As long-time Korean expert and Harvard professor, George McCune, wrote in 1950:

‘‘The mass of the Korean people in the north reacted favorably toward the Russian regime especially when it was accompanied by many of the revolutionary benefits of a socialist society. In South Korea, on the other hand, the so-called fundamental freedoms of democratic society were not much appreciated by the Korean people in view of the lack of social reform and because of the irregularity with which democracy was applied.’’

—-G. McCune, Korea Today

The ‘‘irregularities’’ were of course due to fears about the results. According to a U.S. intelligence report of February 1946, the left would overwhelmingly win any fair election called on the peninsula. To avoid this, the American authorities were compelled to be a bit ‘‘irregular’’ in their application.

The dramatic difference between the Soviet and American occupations is not explained by Stalin having a more benevolent disposition toward workers and peasants than Truman or Hodge. It was because Stalin’s regime rested on a very different form of social relations than Truman’s: the major means of production in the USSR were socially owned. In order to retain control of occupied areas, whether in Eastern Europe or North Korea, it was necessary for the Soviets to bring local social relations into line with those prevailing within the USSR itself. Since the demands of the workers and peasants could only be met within the framework of socialized property, there was a certain correspondence between the indigenous drive for social revolution and the aims of the Kremlin.

The fundamental incompatibility of the social system in the USSR with that of its capitalist ‘‘partners’’ meant that, despite Stalin’s best efforts, the wartime alliance could not long survive the defeat of Germany and Japan. This global polarization had an immediate effect in Korea. Korea was supposed to be administered under a joint U.S.-Soviet trusteeship; however, talks between the two broke down both in the spring of 1946 and then again in the fall of 1947. During the latter round of discussions, the Soviets proposed simultaneous withdrawal of Soviet and American troops. Worried that their client regime in Seoul, which had barely survived mass uprisings in 1946, might succumb without an American military presence, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the negotiations. The American strategy was to turn the issue over to the United Nations, which they dominated. A United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) was set up to administer Southern affairs until Korea could make the transition to a ‘‘democracy’’ to the West’s liking.

The 1948 Cheju Island Uprising

The formation of the Commission set off another cycle of grass-roots resistance in the South. The Stalinist South Korean Labor Party (SKLP) organized a three-day general strike beginning on 7 February 1948. In April, after UNTCOK announced that it would be conducting a separate election in the South, there was a guerrilla uprising on Cheju Island off the south coast of Korea, in which some rightists and military officials were killed. The central government reacted with a bloody crackdown. With U.S. naval and air support, they massacred between thirty and sixty thousand islanders (10 to 20 percent of the whole population) and forced tens of thousands of others to flee to Japan. The guerrillas fought on for months without any source of supplies, but were finally crushed. When elections were eventually held on Cheju, after the bloody ‘‘pacification’’ campaign, UNTCOK reported that they were ‘‘marked by quietness’’ (J. Merrill, ‘‘Internal Warfare in Korea,’’ in ed. B. Cumings, Child of Conflict).

UNTCOK’s decision to conduct separate elections in South Korea was not only unpopular on Cheju, it was opposed by all elements of Korean society—-with the exception of the far right and, of course, the puppet regime. Even Rhee’s bourgeois opponents (among them Kim Ku, who had been Rhee’s second-in-command in the Korean Provisional Government in exile) denounced the move as signifying the permanent division of the country. They met with representatives of the North Korean regime at conferences in Haeju and Pyongyang. All the opposition parties boycotted the election, but UNTCOK’s official report nonetheless blandly declared the elections ‘‘a valid expression of the free will of the electorate in those parts of Korea which were accessible to the Commission’’ (quoted in Lone & McCormack, op cit.).

On the basis of these elections, the Republic of Korea   (ROK) was declared in the South, with Rhee as president. It was quickly recognized by the United Nations General Assembly as the sole legal government in Korea. In response, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was declared in the North, and the division of the nation was formalized. In late 1948 there was a renewed wave of unrest in the South. Elements of the ROK military at Yosu and Sunchon mutinied rather than be sent to suppress the remnants of guerrilla resistance from the Cheju rebellion. The reestablishment of People’s Committees in Yosu created a political crisis for the regime on the mainland that was only contained with American assistance. As in Cheju, the rebels eventually retreated into the mountains to carry on a guerrilla struggle.

In 1949 both Soviet and American troops withdrew from the peninsula. Rhee was busy consolidating his police state, and even arrested some of the deputies put in place by the fraudulent National Assembly elections of the year before. He also arranged the assassination of Kim Ku, a right-wing bourgeois opponent. As the year progressed, war between the two halves of Korea seemed increasingly likely. Rhee could not eliminate the pro-North guerrillas, but they could not win without bringing Kim’s regime into the conflict. Border incidents escalated throughout the year.

Kim privately sought support from Stalin and Mao Zedong for an invasion of the ROK. They were both somewhat reluctant, but ultimately agreed, based on the assurances of Kim and SKLP leader Park Hon Yong that Communist support in the South was so extensive that the invasion would meet with quick success. Stalin no doubt saw Kim’s plan as a relatively cheap way to cause problems for his imperialist antagonists, but he was concerned above all with avoiding a general war, and thus was only prepared to give covert assistance to the People’s Army. Mao also gave his blessing, although his attention was concentrated on invading Taiwan to uproot the last remnants of Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang government. All of this was denied in the official Soviet, Chinese and North Korean histories, which claimed that the North was simply attacked without provocation by the Rhee regime. Recent evidence from Soviet archives confirms that Kim planned an attack, and that Stalin and Mao knew about it (see S.N. Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War).

It is also clear that Rhee’s regime had aggressive intentions. Rhee publicly declared his desire to reunite the peninsula by force. In October 1949, he boasted that it would take him just three days to capture Pyongyang. General William Roberts, leader of the U.S. Korean Military Advisor Group (KMAG), the American military personnel who remained in the South to assist Rhee’s army after the general withdrawal, asserted:

‘‘KMAG is a living demonstration of how an intelligent and intensive investment of 500 combat-hardened American men and officers can train 100,000 guys to do the shooting for you…At this point we rather invite [an invasion from the North]. It will give us target practice.’’

—-B. Cumings and J. Halliday, Korea: The Unknown War

Gen. Roberts’ confidence was misplaced. In the first weeks of fighting, the People’s Army advanced quickly against the supposedly superior ROK forces. It turned out that the conscripted sons of workers and peasants felt no particular desire to fight for Syngman Rhee’s capitalist regime nor to ‘‘do the shooting’’ for his imperialist patrons. The South Korean Army melted away as the North advanced. In the wake of the People’s Army’s bayonets came the extension of the North’s deformed social revolution. In the three months when they occupied most of the South, the KPA redistributed land and confiscated the property of Rhee’s government and its cronies, Japanese corporations and other monopolists. The mass of the population appeared to welcome the ‘‘invaders.’’ U.S. General William F. Dean, writing at the height of the Cold War, observed: ‘‘To me, the civilian attitude [to the KPA occupation] seemed to vary between enthusiasm and passive acceptance’’ (W. Dean, General Dean’s Story, 1954).

The American government was not prepared to tolerate Korean reunification under Kim Il Sung. Earlier in the year, Secretary of State Dean Acheson had speculated that the U.S. would not get involved in an intra-Korean dispute, a statement which heartened Kim and outraged Rhee. However, when hostilities erupted, Washington intervened militarily to protect neo-colonialism in Asia. On 12 April 1950, President Harry Truman had received a confidential memo from the State Department (NSC 68) advocating a change of policy from ‘‘containment’’ of social revolution to ‘‘rollback.’’ The proponents of an Asian war in the so-called China Lobby were in the ascendant, and had the clear support of Douglas MacArthur, John Foster Dulles and other powerful civilian and military officials concerned with Far East policy.

Within hours of hearing of the North Korean advance, Truman decided in favor of intervention. On 29 June, UNTCOK determined that the war was caused by Northern aggression, and called for UN intervention. A U.S. motion was quickly passed in the Security Council, which the Soviet Union was boycotting to protest the refusal to seat Mao’s China. The UN army was made up of units from sixteen countries besides the U.S., including Britain, Canada, Australia and South Africa. The megalomaniacal MacArthur was placed in overall command. By mid-September, the KPA had the UN and ROK forces holed up behind the ‘‘Pusan Perimeter,’’ in the southeast corner of the peninsula and military defeat for Rhee’s forces loomed. But the imperialist coalition had control of the sea and air. On 15 September, MacArthur launched a massive amphibious assault at Inchon Bay, just to the west of Seoul, which was virtually unopposed. Within two weeks, the foreign expeditionary armies had chased the KPA back across the 38th parallel. The United Nations, its involvement ostensibly justified by concern for the sanctity of international borders, did not regard that line with undue sentimentality. MacArthur and Truman decided that this was a perfect opportunity to initiate the ‘‘rollback’’ of Communism they desired, and UN troops began their march to the Yalu River (the border between China and Korea).

UN Counterrevolutionary Terror

Counterrevolutionary terror is always vastly bloodier than social revolution, and the UN re-occupation of Korea was no exception. Unlike the KPA which had triumphed over ROK troops so easily because of its popular support in the South, the U.S.-led imperialist armies treated the entire population as enemies, whom they described in crude racist terms as ‘‘gooks in white pyjamas.’’ According to a Japanese estimate quoted by McCormack, over 100,000 people were executed during the UN ‘‘liberation.’’ This was to provide a model for the CIA’s notorious Phoenix Program of assassination during the Vietnam War. As in Vietnam, the imperialists used their superior air and sea power to inflict massive devastation. As his troops moved northward in November 1950, MacArthur ordered his psychopathic subordinate Curtis LeMay (who later became infamous for his call to bomb Vietnam ‘‘into the Stone Age’’) to bomb ‘‘every installation, factory, city and village’’ between the front and the Chinese border, (Cumings & Halliday, op cit.).The wanton, racist brutality of the U.S. assault derived from the nature of the war—-the Americans were not merely seeking to crush a hostile state, but to destroy a social revolution.

By November the imperialists clearly expected to reach the Chinese border without significant resistance. They howled with outrage when UN forces were counterattacked by 200,000 Chinese and 150,000 North Korean troops on 27 November. The entry of the People’s Republic of China threw the imperialists once more on to the defensive. The UN sanctimoniously condemned China for ‘‘aggression,’’ while Truman publicly stated that the use of the atomic bomb against China was ‘‘under consideration.’’ The racist perpetrators of Hiroshima and Nagasaki threatened to strike again.

As the UN troops retreated southwards, they were subject to guerrilla harassment, and MacArthur began to openly call for World War III. In early 1951, the CIA organized clandestine raids on the Chinese mainland, while MacArthur argued that he could only win the war by nuclear annihilation of major Chinese cities.

However, something important had happened since 1945: the Soviet Union had acquired the bomb. Truman might feel sanguine about the fact that the Soviets lacked the means to deliver it to the U.S. effectively, but his European allies were worried. British Prime Minister Clement Attlee flew to Washington to ask for assurances that nuclear weapons would not be used, and to demand that MacArthur be fired. This was not because he had any objections to the mass slaughter of Asians (Attlee had supported the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Britain was waging a bloody war of repression against leftist insurgents in Malaya at the time), but because he felt a little nervous about the prospect of Soviet bombers flying over London. Truman indicated he appreciated Attlee’s concerns, but refrained from making any commitments.

In fact, on 6 April 1951, Truman had signed an order granting MacArthur control of 26 atomic bombs, and it was only the fear of a total breakdown of the imperialist alliance that forced him to rescind his order and fire MacArthur five days later (Lone & McCormack, op cit.).Firing MacArthur did not end the consideration of a U.S. ‘‘nuclear option’’ in Korea. In 1953 Eisenhower publicly mused that nukes were ‘‘cheaper dollar-wise’’ than conventional weapons. There is no doubt that if it were not for the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the U.S. imperialists would have once again dropped nuclear bombs on Asian cities.

As it was, the USAF ‘‘conventional’’ bombing, which included 7.8 million gallons of napalm in the first three months alone, left North Korea a wasteland. Curtis LeMay recalled that, ‘‘over a period of three years or so…we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too’’ (Ibid.). After the ground war reached a stalemate in the summer of 1951, the UN engaged primarily in aerial and naval bombardment of the Northern population. In addition to repeated attacks on cities, the USAF also launched a campaign in May 1953, just as the war was winding down, against irrigation dams in the North in a bid to destroy North Korean agriculture and starve the people into submission.

Talks opened up in July 1951, but despite the fact that it had become clear that neither side had the capacity to impose a military reunification, the war dragged on for a further two years. One key sticking point was the question of repatriation of POWs. Hoping to win a propaganda victory, the imperialists insisted on the principle of ‘‘voluntary repatriation,’’ according to which POWs would get to decide on which side of the ideological divide of Chinese and Korean society they wanted to align themselves. Naturally, this choice was not all that ‘‘voluntary.’’ While wishing to encourage North Korean and Chinese POWs to defect, the U.S. military took a hard line on those who refused the blandishments of their captors. As General Ridgway, Mac-Arthur’s successor, later recalled: ‘‘I was determined that if the Red POWs made any resistance, or attempted any delay in carrying out our demands, we would shoot, and I wanted the killing machinery on hand to do a thorough job of it’’ (Cumings & Halliday, op cit.).

Eventually an armistice was reached on 27 July 1953, and Korea was left divided, as it remains to this day. Some 3 million Koreans (over 10 percent of the population) were dead, along with as many as a million Chinese soldiers(Ibid.).There were also 33,500 U.S. soldiers killed. The end of the war led to a carnival of repression in the South. Rhee’s orchestrated ‘‘conspiracy trials’’ for his bourgeois rivals reached such a level that his colonial overlords toyed with the idea of overthrowing him (‘‘Operation Everready’’). In the North, Kim Il Sung’s party was purged of those thought not to be sufficiently loyal to the ‘‘Great Leader.’’ One victim of this purge was Park Hon Yong, the former SKLP leader, who was accused, among other things, of misleading Kim about the ease with which an invasion could be carried out. This accusation is strange on two counts: first, because the campaign did go smoothly, and secondly, because Kim’s regime always claimed that the war was started by a Southern attack.

Kim Il Sung headed the state created by the deformed social revolution that the Soviet Army had initiated for a further 41 years. North Korea is one of the most bizarre Stalinist dictatorships in history—-certainly Kim Il Sung’s personality cult was the most grotesque. But the social transformation North Korea experienced represented important gains for its citizens, particularly in terms of women’s rights and the provision of food and shelter, day-care, healthcare and education for the population. Today, isolated in a hostile world, particularly after the collapse of the USSR and its abandonment by Beijing, North Korea’s economy is contracting and living standards are falling.

Nonetheless, the gains of the social transformation North Korea experienced remain, and must be defended. Today it is the task of the Korean working class to complete the unfinished business left by the War through the revolutionary reunification of Korea—-proletarian political revolution to oust the Kim Jong Il regime in the North and social revolution to expropriate the capitalists in the South.

The Reaction of the International Left

The various currents in the workers’ movement reacted to the Korean War (which many took to be the opening round of World War III) in characteristic fashion. The Communist Parties opposed the war and expressed their solidarity with the North Korean regime; however, they did so on a pacifist basis, hoping to find a ‘‘progressive’’ wing of the bourgeoisie in their home countries that would oppose the Cold War. They emphasized Pyongyang’s claim that Southern armies attacked first, and confined their agitation to pleas for ‘‘peace’’ and a negotiated solution.

The social democrats, for example the British Labour Party, parroted the line of their rulers, and applauded the imperialist intervention. This was to be expected, as the social democrats were acting as the chief agency of the capitalists inside the workers’ movement, and had, throughout Europe, knowingly taken money from the CIA, and enthusiastically spearheaded anti-Communist witchhunts.

Only the Trotskyists took a revolutionary position on the war. Before World War II, Trotsky had identified the Soviet Union as a ‘‘degenerated workers’ state,’’ whose social foundations were fundamentally antagonistic toward capitalism and which, as a result, should be defended in wars with capitalist states. By the time of the Korean War, the majority of the parties of the Trotskyist Fourth International recognized that the states created by the extension of the Red Army after the World War, including North Korea, were qualitatively similar to the Soviet Union, and called them ‘‘deformed workers’ states.’’ As a result, they concluded that the international working class had a side in the war, and backed the North against the imperialists and their allies.

Michel Pablo was the leading figure in the Fourth International during this period. His developing notions about the imminence of a global War/Revolution were largely shaped by the events surrounding the Korean War. Pablo’s conclusions were profoundly revisionist—-he called for the dissolution of the Trotskyist cadres into the mass social-democratic and Stalinist parties. But while Pablo’s liquidationist impulses were based on a crudely objectivist view of historical development, manifested in this case as an overly optimistic assessment of the revolutionary capacities of the Stalinists, at the outbreak of the war he was still capable of projecting a revolutionary position. In an article published in the American Socialist Workers Party’s theoretical journal, Fourth International, in September 1950, Pablo wrote:

‘‘The only possible revolutionary attitude is to participate in this movement of the colonial masses and to struggle within it against its exploitation by the Soviet bureaucracy. But the primary condition for realizing this possibility is the unconditional defense of this movement against the native feudal-capitalists and above all against imperialism.’’

The leader of the Socialist Workers Party (at that time the leading section of the Fourth International), James P. Cannon, also took the right position in an open letter to Truman, published in The Militant on July 31, 1950:

‘‘This is more than a fight for unification and national liberation. It is a civil war. On the one side are the Korean workers, peasants and student youth. On the other are the Korean landlords, usurers, capitalists and their police and political agents. The impoverished and exploited working masses have risen up to drive out the native parasites as well as their foreign protectors.

‘‘Whatever the wishes of the Kremlin, a class war has been unfolding in Korea. The North Korean regime, desiring to mobilize popular support, has decreed land reforms and taken nationalization measures in the territories it has won. The establishment of people’s committees has been reported. These reforms, these promises of a better economic and social order have attracted the peasants and workers. This prospect of a new life is what has imbued a starving subject people with the will to fight to the death. This is the ‘secret weapon’ that has wrested two-thirds of South Korea from U.S. imperialism and its native agents and withstood the troops and bombing fleets of mighty Wall Street.’’

—-reprinted in James P. Cannon, Notebook of an Agitator

The British Workers Power organization, citing this letter, absurdly concludes that Cannon failed to take a defeatist position toward the imperialist assault: ‘‘While the SWP could not be justifiably criticised for not raising ‘defeat’ in every article, we are justified in castigating them for never doing so!’’ (Permanent Revolution, Spring 1988, emphasis in original). In his letter Cannon repeatedly emphasizes the fact that, ‘‘The whole of the Korean people—-save for the few bought-and-paid-for agents of the Rhee puppet regime—- are fighting the imperialist invaders.’’ He concludes:

‘‘The right in this struggle is all on the side of the Korean people. Like the colonial peoples everywhere in Asia, they want no part of U.S., or even UN ‘liberation’.’’

This is clearly a call for the defeat of the UN/imperialist armies. Yet while correct on the fundamental question of which side to support, the political weaknesses of the SWP’s aging cadre, exacerbated by the extreme pressures operating on American leftists at the height of the anti-communist witchhunt, were reflected in some serious political wobbles. Cannon’s open letters to Truman, widely publicized by the Militant as the SWP’s major popular statements on the war, contained pacifist and even patriotic passages. For instance, Cannon concluded his 4 December 1950 letter:

‘‘This great and good American people abhor militarism and war. They love the ways of peace and freedom. They are trying to tell you their will: STOP THE WAR NOW!’’

He even included an appeal to ‘‘the revolutionary and democratic tradition’’ of the American War of Independence! Their more propagandistic materials evidenced the political disorientation of the SWP (in common with the other sections of the international) over the potential of the Stalinist parties to act as blunted instruments of workers’ revolution. This confusion was to crystallize in Pablo’s objectivist theory of a ‘‘New World Reality’’ in which there was no role for Marxist cadres besides acting as auxiliaries to the mass reformist social-democratic and Stalinist parties. The latter would, according to Pablo’s theory, be compelled by the exigencies of history to outline a roughly revolutionary path.

The inroads that this revisionist methodology had made in the SWP can be seen in an article by J.B. Stuart (Sam Gordon), ‘‘Civil War in Korea,’’ published in the September-October 1950 issue of Fourth International, which, after making several insightful criticisms of the Stalinists, concludes by quoting Kim Il Sung about the importance of the leadership of the working class and declaring:

‘‘The force of the Asian revolution itself compels the native leaders to cast off their Stalinist miseducation and in contrast to Stalin’s policy for decades, to seek out, however hesitantly and confusedly, the great strategic oncepts of the October Revolution.’’

This tendency to believe that the objective situation alone could force Stalinists and other petty-bourgeois elements to become ‘‘confused’’ Trotskyists was first manifested in the Fourth International’s earlier short-lived embrace of the Titoite bureaucrats in Yugoslavia, and ultimately led to the SWP’s complete abandonment of Trotskyism when they opted a decade later to become uncritical publicists for Castro’s Cuba.

If the Fourth International was inconsistent in separating the necessity to defend the Stalinist-led movementsmilitarily against imperialism from the question of giving them any kind of political support, other currents, which also claimed affinity with the Trotskyist tradition, refused, under the pressure of the Cold War, to defend the Korean revolution against imperialism at all. A loose international bloc of groups, which came together to support a ‘‘Third Camp’’ position of ‘‘Neither Washington nor Moscow,’’ produced a steady stream of polemics against the Trotskyists for defending ‘‘Stalinist totalitarianism.’’ Most of these tendencies have long since disappeared, but one of them, Tony Cliff’s International Socialist tendency, has grown into a sizable group.

In the late 1940s, Cliff formed a faction within the British section of the Fourth International that held that the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe were ‘‘state capitalist,’’ despite the absence of private ownership of the means of production. Cliff asserted that the Soviet bloc regimes were capitalist because they accumulated means of production and engaged in ‘‘military competition’’ with the West. This theory was based on the elementary confusion between means of production, which exist in every society, and capital, which is a social relationship, as well as on the absurd assertion that military competition is specific to capitalism, when it is clearly a function of all states, regardless of social character. Cliff could never explain, for example, why the Soviet Union under Lenin and Trotsky should not also be considered ‘‘state capitalist,’’ as it too engaged, as best it could, in the accumulation of means of production, as well as vigourous military competition with the imperialist armies and their White allies from 1918 to 1921. Cliff’s notion about Soviet ‘‘State Capitalism’’ may have lacked theoretical rigor, but it had undeniable political advantages, as it removed the obligation to undertake the unpopular defense of the Soviet bloc during the height of the Cold War.

Cliff and his followers were expelled by the British Trotskyists when they broke discipline by publicly refusing to defend North Korea when war broke out. They remained in the Labour Party, where they published a journal calledSocialist Review, which advocated ‘‘the earliest possible return of a Labour Government’’ committed to ‘‘a foreign policy based on independence of both Washington and Moscow.’’ In the second issue of their journal, they published a statement from a Sri Lankan renegade from Trotskyism saying:

‘‘So long as the two governments [North and South Korea] are what they are, viz., puppets of the two big powers, the Korean socialists can give no support to their respective puppet governments.’’

—-V. Karalasingham, ‘‘The War in Korea’’, Socialist Review, January 1951

The invasion by the imperialist alliance, the murderous aerial bombardment, and the threats of nuclear attack did not change their minds:

‘‘Korea is merely the cockpit where the two power blocs are testing their respective strengths in readiness for World War III. Whoever defends either side in this war, no matter how well-intentioned, is rendering no service either to socialism or the Korean people.’’

—-‘‘Korea: End this ‘Liberating’!,’’ Socialist Review November 1952

Socialist Review avoided commenting on the pre-war class conflicts that had rocked Korean society, or the progressive measures implemented by the Northern government, except to dismiss them as irrelevant.

A decade after the end of the Korean War, the U.S. was becoming embroiled in another major conflict in Asia, this time in Vietnam. As in Korea, the imperialists sought to maintain the arbitrary division of Vietnam and refused to hold national elections when it became clear that their unpopular puppet regime would lose a free vote. Both wars began with popular insurgency in the capitalist half of the country, which led to conventional war. In both countries the conflict pitted a Stalinist regime supported by a mass based indigenous guerrilla movement, and backed by China and the USSR, against an unpopular neo-colonial client state supported by the U.S. and a coalition of its imperialist partners and vassals. In both cases, under the guise of defending freedom, the imperialists conducted a blatantly racist campaign of mass, indiscriminate extermination of people they regarded as sub-human ‘‘gooks.’’ In both cases the strategy of massive indiscriminate bombing was designed to inflict maximum damage on the ‘‘enemy’’ population, while minimizing imperialist casualties. In both wars the result was millions of civilian deaths.

The U.S. war came as a sequel to the struggle led by Ho Chi Minh’s Stalinist armies to defeat Vietnam’s French colonial masters. The January-February 1952 issue of Cliff’s Socialist Review reprinted an article that pointed to the similarity between the struggles then underway in Korea and Vietnam against foreign imperialists, and refused to support either of them:

‘‘In Vietnam likewise [i.e., to Korea], the war continues, and the people vomit with disgust at both Bao-Dai, the tool of the colonialists, and at Ho-Chi-Minh, the agent of Stalin.’’

An editorial note advised readers that Socialist Review ‘‘agree[s] entirely’’ with the article.

Yet fifteen years later, the Cliffites, who were then called the International Socialists (IS), and were operating outside the Labour Party, were actively building the Vietnam Solidarity Movement and supporting the victory of the Stalinists. In a retrospective published in the October 1993 issue of the new series of Socialist Review, Chris Harman reminisced:

‘‘The International Socialists, as the SWP was then called, had three or four hundred members at the beginning of 1968. I remember going on demonstrations when 2,000 people would march behind our banner saying ‘Victory to the NLF in Vietnam’, singing the Internationale—-something we’d never experienced before.’’

—-Socialist Review, October 1993

Why did the IS take such a different approach in Vietnam? The Cliffite zigzag cannot be explained by any difference in the character of the contending forces, because there was none. What had changed was the mood in the milieu from which they hoped to recruit. In the early 1950s, when anti-Communist hysteria was at its height, the Cliffites were buried in the Labour Party. In the 1984 edition of the Socialist Register Jon Halliday recounts how during the war the Labour cabinet held a:

‘‘discussion over whether or not to prosecute the Daily Worker—-for treason—-for publishing Alan Winnington’s pamphlet, I Saw the Truth in Korea (which simply exposed crimes by Rhee’s government, none of which had been disproved). There seems to be only one reason the cabinet decided not to prosecute—-because if the verdict was ‘guilty’ there was only one sentence possible: death, which was mandatory.’’

In the early 1950s the ‘‘Third Camp’’ was a nice safe place to be. But by the late 1960s things had changed—-there were tens of thousands of student radicals, and everyone to the left of Harold Wilson was for the victory of the NLF. Had the IS retained its ‘‘Third-Camp’’ position, it would have been isolated from the radical milieu. And so Tony Cliff & Co., never ones to let principles, even bad ones, get in the way of recruitment opportunities, hoisted the banner of Ho Chi Minh and the NLF.

We lay claim to a different tradition—-that of the Fourth Internationalists, who, despite terrible pressures, and considerable confusion and disorientation, attempted to apply the principles of Trotskyism to the world in which they found themselves, and at least had the courage to take a stand in defense of the North Korean deformed workers’ state against imperialism.

Getting Russia Right

Getting Russia Right

The following letter by Samuel Trachtenberg was distributed at a Partisan Defense Committee event in New York in December 1994. It was reprinted in 1917 #16. Originally posted online as a pdf file at

December 9, 1994

To the Workers Vanguard Editorial Board:

Dear Comrades,

The Spartacist League makes the point in a recent bulletin they published (Yugoslavia, East Europe, and the Fourth International: The Evolution of Pabloist Liquidationism by Jan Norden) that one of the historical precedents that led to the rise of Ernest Mandel’s revisionism was the inability of the Fourth International to understand the social transformations in post-war Eastern Europe. Yet, more than three years since August 1991, the SL still can’t say when the USSR ceased to exist as a workers’ state.

The SL writes that Yeltsin carried out a ‘‘piecemeal consolidation of a capitalist state’’ (WV No. 564). In practice that could mean that Russia was 80% a workers’ state and 20% a capitalist state, then 40% a workers’ state, 60% a capitalist state, etc. This is ridiculous! Revolution and counterrevolution are not piecemeal processes. To say they are goes against the Marxist teachings on the state. Only one class can hold state power at any one time, the working class or the capitalist class. The SL once understood all this: in ‘‘The Genesis of Pabloism’’ it wrote of Ernest Mandel’s theory of revolution that ‘‘the ‘revolution’ was implicitly redefined as a metaphysical process enduring continuously and progressing inevitably toward victory, rather than a sharp and necessarily time-limited confrontation over the question of state power, the outcome of which will shape the entire subsequent period’’ (Spartacist, No. 21, Fall 1972).

In the 1960s, Joseph Hansen and the Pabloites said that countries like Algeria had ‘‘Workers’ and Farmers’’’ governments presiding over bourgeois states, which would, they implied, gradually be transformed into proletarian dictatorships. In the 1980s the Socialist Workers Party used this phrase to describe Nicaragua. Years earlier, Jim Robertson correctly observed: ‘‘we should be clear what is meant by a workers government. It is nothing other than the dictatorship of the proletariat’’ (‘‘On the United Front,’’ Young Communist Bulletin No. 3, 1976). Is the SL now implying that, in a similar fashion, the USSR under Yeltsin was initially a workers’ state with a bourgeois government, which was gradually transformed into a bourgeois state at some unknown later point?

If, as the SL says, program generates theory, what program could have generated the theory of ‘‘piecemeal’’ counterrevolution in the USSR? Trotsky would have denounced this as ‘‘reformism in reverse.’’ The answer is in August 1991, when counterrevolution really triumphed, the SL abstained from the showdown between Yeltsin and the Stalinist coup makers, i.e., did not support either side militarily. Their theory tries to cover this up by denying the significance of Yeltsin’s victory, but they themselves wrote in their recent international conference document, ‘‘The August 1991 events (‘coup’ and ‘countercoup’) appear to have been decisive in the direction of developments in the SU,’’ adding, ‘‘but only those who are under the sway of capitalist ideology would have been hasty to draw this conclusion’’ (Spartacist No. 47-48, Winter 1992-93). That means that the SL knows it’s wrong but refuses to admit it. What makes it so difficult for the SL to admit to being wrong is the fact that one of their main competitors in the workers’ movement, the International Bolshevik Tendency, was right in siding with the Stalinist coup in defense of the gains of October, and recognizing its defeat as the death of the Soviet workers’ state. Trotsky called the SL’s position ‘‘prestige politics.’’ Any organization that puts the prestige of its leadership above telling the working class the truth has lost its revolutionary purpose.

What was the basis for this mistake? In the above-cited pamphlet on Yugoslavia and the Fourth International, Jan Norden makes the correct point that, while it was a strategic task for the Trotskyist movement to defend the USSR, its strategic line was world socialist revolution. The idea that the strategic line of the workers’ movement should be the defense of the USSR is a Pabloist or Stalinist conception. Yet this implicit two-worldist conception tended to color the SL’s view for much of the 1980s. From this they drew the conclusion, as was written in a recent issue ofSpartacist Canada (No. 100) that what you had was a ‘‘bipolar world—- polarized between the imperialist powers and the Soviet bloc.’’ That polarization, though, was only a reflection of the general class struggle between workers and capitalists, and did not replace it. The SL, though, started seeking revolutionary virtue in the Stalinist bureaucracy. This was shown when, for example, they proclaimed themselves the ‘‘Yuri Andropov Brigade’’ and then later wrote a eulogy for Yuri Andropov, butcher of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, claiming, among other flattering things, that he made ‘‘no overt betrayals on behalf of imperialism’’ (WV No. 348, 17 February 1984).

While correctly recognizing the dual character of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and rejecting the view that it was counterrevolutionary through and through, the SL also in practice rejected Trotsky’s analysis that the Stalinist bureaucratic caste was ‘‘in essence representative of the tendency toward capitalist restoration’’ (‘‘Against Pabloist Revisionism,’’ as quoted in Norden’s ‘‘Yugoslavia and the Fourth International’’). The SL’s conception of the Stalinist bureaucracy was evolving toward seeing them as subjective communists with an insufficient program. In truth, they were for the most part a bunch of cynical careerists who defended the Soviet Union only to defend their privileges, not out of principled belief in an egalitarian, classless society. The SL’s strategy was oriented not so much to the working class, but to the ‘‘Reiss faction’’ within the Stalinist bureaucracy, which they thought would emerge spontaneously. Thus in the DDR (East Germany) they looked to a section of the Stalinist bureaucracy to lead a non-existent ‘‘political revolution,’’ raising the slogan of ‘‘unity with the SED.’’ When, rather than being a bulwark of Soviet defensism, the Stalinists all over Eastern Europe either participated in, or capitulated without a fight to, capitalist restoration, the SL felt burned. The Stalinists’ actions shouldn’t have come as a surprise to genuine Marxists; after all, Trotsky himself wrote that ‘‘a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people (from the state apparatus) than a revolutionary party’’ (quoted in How the Soviet Workers State Was Strangled). When, in August 1991, a section of the Stalinist bureaucracy finally did rise up in defense of their privileges, the SL abstained.

While I was in the Spartacus Youth Club, I was told by SL members, in response to some of my arguments, that ‘‘piecemeal consolidation’’ of state power was not meant to be a historical prognosis, but merely described what happened. One is reminded of those Trotskyists in the 1950s who had a theoretically incorrect description of Stalinism as being counterrevolutionary through and through. Under changed historical circumstances, they came down on the wrong side of the Cold War. Likewise, under changed historical circumstances, the SL’s theoretical error could lead them to start talking about ‘‘structural reforms,’’ just like Ernest Mandel. If uncorrected in the long run, bad theory leads to bad program.

Despite what Michel Pablo, Joseph Hansen and Ernest Mandel said, there are no unconscious Marxists. The crisis of mankind is the crisis of revolutionary leadership, but the ICL cannot be the basis for that leadership. As a former member of the Spartacus Youth Club, I now support the Bolshevik Tendency.

For the Rebirth of the Fourth International,

Semeon G. [Samuel Trachtenberg]

Counterrevolution Triumphs in USSR

Defend Soviet Workers Against Yeltsin’s Attacks!

Counterrevolution Triumphs in USSR

September 1991 statement by the International Bolshevik Tendency, republished in 1917 #11, Third Quarter 1992. Originally posted online at


The aborted Moscow coup of 19-21 August was so ill-conceived and executed that it almost didn’t happen. Yet it will be remembered as one of the decisive events in the history of the 20th century. The victory of the openly pro-capitalist current around Boris Yeltsin after the coup collapsed shattered the state power created by the October 1917 revolution. This represents a catastrophic defeat not only for the Soviet working class, but for workers everywhere.

August’s events came as the culmination of recent power struggles within the Kremlin and the country as a whole. But, in a larger sense, they are the final act in the degeneration of the Stalinist bureaucracy, a privileged stratum that usurped political power within the Soviet workers state in the mid-1920s. In place of the democratically elected workers soviets of 1917, the Stalinists erected an authoritarian police state. For the proletarian internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky, they substituted the doctrine of ‘‘socialism in one country,’’ which justified betraying revolutions abroad to gain petty diplomatic advantage. Yet, for all its crimes, the Stalinist bureaucracy rested on the collectivized economy created by the October Revolution and, in its own distorted way, it frequently attempted to defend these economic foundations from imperialist pressure abroad and counterrevolution at home. The failure of the August coup ended the rule of this bureaucratic caste, and led to its replacement by a group of fledgling nationalist regimes committed to dismantling the state-owned economy and reimposing the rule of capital.

Over half a century ago, the leader of the Left Opposition, Leon Trotsky, warned that in the long run a social system based on collectivized property could neither be developed nor defended with bureaucratic police methods. The stagnation of the Soviet economy during the Brezhnev years represented a powerful confirmation of this prediction. In an attempt to reverse the USSR’s economic decline, Mikhail Gorbachev launched his celebrated market reforms. The economic and political chaos caused by perestroika polarized the Soviet bureaucracy, and the divisions within it became particularly acute during the past year. On one side a wing of the ruling elite—identified with former Moscow party boss, Boris Yeltsin—openly embraced capitalist restoration. On the other side an alliance of military men and party and state apparatchiks, the so-called hardliners, saw the drift toward the market and national disintegration as a threat to their power. Gorbachev acted as a middleman between these two factions, tilting alternately toward the ‘‘reformers’’ and the ‘‘hardliners.’’

Gorbachev’s Zig-Zags

Beginning in October 1990, the ‘‘hardliners’’ unleashed an offensive within the Soviet Communist Party. They forced Gorbachev to scrap Shatalin’s 500-day plan for the privatization of the economy. They sent ‘‘black beret’’ units to crack down on the pro-capitalist secessionist governments of the Baltic republics. They engineered a purge in the highest echelons of the party, compelling Gorbachev to remove ‘‘reformers’’ from key party and government posts and replace them with loyal servants of the apparat. These moves drove many leading ‘‘reformers’’—most notably Gorbachev’s foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze—into the Yeltsin camp, and caused widespread speculation in the Western media that Gorbachev had retreated from perestroika.

Yet, in the face of huge Yeltsinite demonstrations in Moscow early last spring, and the fear that the imperialists might be even less forthcoming with economic aid, Gorbachev backpedaled, and again tried to mend fences with the Yeltsin forces. He refused to carry the Baltic intervention to its logical conclusion and depose the governments there. He once more began pushing marketization. Most ominously of all from the ‘‘hardline’’ point of view, he accepted the ‘‘nine plus one’’ agreement that would have transferred most governmental powers to the USSR’s fifteen constituent republics. Gorbachev’s attempts at conciliation only emboldened Yeltsin, who responded with a series of decrees banning the Communist Party from the police force and the factories in the Russian Republic. The ‘‘hardliners’’ concluded that the middle ground occupied by Gorbachev was fast disappearing, and that they could no longer rely upon him to resist Yeltsin. This set the stage for the formation of the Emergency Committee and its arrest of the Soviet president on the morning of 19 August.

The Working Class Had a Side

In light of the coup’s abject failure, discussion of the positions of the rival factions may now seem a fruitless academic exercise. Yet only by adopting a correct orientation to past events can the working class arm itself for future struggles. The August coup attempt was a confrontation in which the working class had a side. A victory for the coup leaders would not have rescued the USSR from the economic impasse that Stalinism has led to, nor would it have removed the threat of capitalist restoration. It could, however, have slowed the restorationist momentum at least temporarily, and bought precious time for the Soviet working class. The collapse of the coup, on the other hand, led inevitably to the counterrevolution that is now in full flood. Without ceasing to expose the coup leaders’ political bankruptcy, it was the duty of revolutionary Marxists to side with them against Yeltsin and Gorbachev.

It comes as no surprise that most of the reformist and centrist left has cast its lot with Gorbachev and Yeltsin. These pseudo-Marxists are so fearful of offending bourgeois liberal opinion that they can always be relied upon to take the side of ‘‘democracy,’’ even when democratic slogans are a camouflage for capitalist counterrevolution. Somewhat more baffling are the arguments of centrist groups who recognize Yeltsin for the restorationist that he is, admit that his triumph was a grave defeat for the working class, but nevertheless refuse to take sides in the coup. The proponents of this ‘‘plague-on-both-your-houses’’ position include the U.S. Spartacist League and their overseas satellites in the International Communist League, who for years touted themselves as the staunchest defenders of the Soviet Union.

The advocates of neutrality contend that the coup leaders were no less committed to capitalist restoration than Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Some point to passages in the principal declaration of the Emergency Committee in which its leaders promised to honor existing treaties with imperialism and respect the rights of private enterprise in the USSR. Trotskyists, however, have never based their political attitude on the official pronouncements of the Stalinists, but rather on the inner logic of events. Anyone claiming that there was no essential difference between the contending factions would be hard put to explain why the coup leaders decided on such a desperate gamble in the first place. When one faction of the bureaucracy arrests the president, attempts to suppress the leading capitalist restorationists and sends tanks into the streets; when leading members of that faction carry out suicide pacts with their wives and hang themselves when they fail, it is abundantly clear that more is involved than a quibble over tactics.

The reasons for the coup leaders’ actions are obvious. They represented the Stalinist faction that had the most to lose from a return to capitalism. They saw the aggressiveness of Yeltsin, the growing power of the pro-capitalist nationalists and Gorbachev’s prostration before these forces as a mortal danger to the centralized apparatus upon which their privileges and prestige depended. They acted, if only half-heartedly and at the eleventh hour, to stem the tide.

There can be no doubt that the ‘‘hardliners’’ were thoroughly demoralized: they had lost faith in a socialist future of any kind, harbored many of the same pro-capitalist notions as their adversaries, and were only too willing to stoop to Great Russian chauvinism and even anti-Semitism to protect their political monopoly. But the Trotskyist position of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union always meant defense of the system of collectivized property against restorationist threats regardless of the consciousness or subjective intentions of the bureaucrats. The status quo the ‘‘hardliners’’ sought to protect, however incompetently, included the state ownership of the means of production—an objective barrier to the return of capitalist wage slavery. The collapse of the central state authority cleared the way for the juggernaut of reaction that is now rolling over the territory of the former USSR. To halt the advance of that juggernaut revolutionists had to be prepared to make a tactical military alliance with any section of the bureaucracy that, for whatever reason, was standing in front of its wheels.

Defeat the Counterrevolution!

All is by no means lost for the working class of the Soviet Union. The pro-capitalist governments that have hoisted themselves into the saddle are still extremely fragile, and have not yet consolidated their own repressive state apparatuses. Most of the economy remains in state hands, and the Yeltsinites face the formidable task of restoring capitalism without the support of an indigenous capitalist class. Workers resistance to the impending attacks on their rights and welfare will therefore involve a defense of large elements of the social/economic status quo. The embryonic bourgeois regimes now forming in the ex-USSR can be swept aside much more easily than mature capitalist states.

None of this, however, can change the fact that the workers will now be forced to fight on a terrain fundamentally altered to their disadvantage. They have not yet constituted themselves as an independent political force, and remain extremely disoriented. The Stalinist apparatus—which had an objective interest in maintaining collectivized property—has been shattered. Further resistance by the Stalinists is unlikely, since they have already failed a decisive political test, and those cadre who attempted to resist are now in forced retirement, in jail or dead. In short, the major organized obstacle to the consolidation of a bourgeois state has been effectively removed. Before the coup, massive working-class resistance to privatization would have split the Stalinist bureaucracy and their armed defenders. Now workers struggling to reverse the restorationist drive will face ‘‘bodies of armed men’’ dedicated to the objectives of Western capitalists and their internal allies. This incipient state power must be disarmed and destroyed by the workers.

The transition from a degenerated workers state to a full-fledged bourgeois state is not something which can take place in a month or a year. In 1937 Trotsky predicted that:

‘‘Should a bourgeois counterrevolution succeed in the USSR, the new government for a lengthy period would have to base itself upon the nationalized economy. But what does such a type of temporary conflict between the economy and the state mean? It means a revolution or a counterrevolution. The victory of one class over another signifies that it will reconstruct the economy in the interests of the victors.’’

    —‘‘Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State?’’

It was clear to him, as it is to us, that such a transformation can only occur as the result of a process in which the workers state is undermined by degrees. The task of analysis is to locate the decisive point in this transformation, i.e., the point beyond which prevailing trends cannot be reversed without the destruction of the state power. The momentum toward capitalist restoration had been building in the Soviet Union for the past several years. All available evidence leads us to conclude that the defeat of the coup and the ascension to power of the elements committed to reconstructing the economy on a capitalist basis constituted a qualitative turning point.

Revolutionary activity cannot be undertaken on the basis of pleasant fictions. The fight for the socialist future requires the ability to face reality squarely and ‘‘speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be.’’ The victory of the Yeltsinites is a huge defeat for the working class. The attempt to reimpose capitalism in the Soviet Union will involve attacks on the most basic interests of tens of millions of working people. Yet in resisting these attacks, Soviet workers can rediscover their own heroic traditions. The revolutionary ideas of Bolshevism, which alone correspond to the necessity of historical progress for humanity, can overcome any obstacle. But these ideas only become a factor in history through the agency of a party of the sort which lead the revolution in 1917—a party educated in the irreconcilable revolutionary spirit of Lenin and Trotsky. The struggle for such a party, a reborn Fourth International, remains the central task of our time.

Cops, Crime & Capitalism

Cops, Crime & Capitalism

First printed as 1917 West #2,October 1992. Copied from


Crime is an explosive issue in the United States. Bourgeois politicians win votes by promising to be “tough on crime” and to restore respect for “law and order.” Penalties have been increasing for those convicted of criminal activity, including harsher prison sentences and wider application of the death penalty. In 1988 George Bush sounded like a backwoods county sheriff during his presidential campaign, and this year we had the disgusting spectacle of Bill Clinton interrupting his presidential campaign to return home to Arkansas to preside over the execution of a brain damaged black man.

The prisons are overflowing in the “land of the free.” In fact the U.S. has the world’s highest per capita prison population, more than either the former USSR or South Africa. The U.S. is also the only major Western industrialized country which retains the death penalty. Despite the repression the U.S. also has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime. According to Interpol, in the year 1983-84 there were 7.9 murders per hundred thousand people, 35.7 rapes, and 205.4 robberies. Between 1970 and 1987 the population increased by twenty percent while murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft increased 143 percent (The Justice Juggernaut, Diana Gordon, p. 207).

Fear of crime has created widespread willingness to trade civil liberties for the futile hope of physical safety; hence the mass passivity towards the increasingly right-wing Supreme Court’s decade-long assault upon habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights (especially Fourth-Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure). Popular “solutions” to crime involve variations on the “more police with more power” theme.

Working people, blacks and other oppressed layers are ambivalent about crime. Black people, for example, are the most frequent victims of crime, and many want more police protection for their neighborhoods. On the other hand, they are also the most likely victims of police brutality and misconduct. Blacks, especially young males, have been so uniformly stereotyped as criminals that much of the bourgeois rhetoric about law and order is racist code for “get the blacks.” It is estimated that a black male is almost six times as likely as a white male to do time in a state prison during his lifetime (Ibid, p. 40).

The link between fear of crime and the race question creates a formidable barrier to working-class unity. The political and economic status quo is secure as long as the working class, and other victims of the system, are divided against themselves. Capitalism needs racism and breeds racism—because it keeps the working class divided.

Police brutality is an integral part of the crime problem. In one week in early 1990 New York City police killed three teenagers, two of them Latinos and the other black. And the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles represents standard operating procedure for police departments across the country.

Even if some cops are not subjectively racist, they all live by a “code of silence” which protects the racism of the others. The conditions in which the police perform their function of controlling people who live in brutally dehumanizing conditions on the margins of society, require and reproduce police forces which are brutal and racist institutions. As the armed fist of the ruling class they reflect, in a concentrated form, the essence of this inhuman social order.

Capitalism Cannot Eliminate Crime

The Bolshevik Tendency (BT) believes that citizens have a right to security of their persons and their personal possessions. However Marxists look beyond the surface manifestations for the material basis of the problem. Poverty, oppression, social inequality, and the dehumanization and brutalization they engender are the major causes of the burglaries, robberies, assaults and other crimes which cause so much fear among Americans. Pervasive oppression leads people to seek relief from intolerable circumstances in mind-and mood-altering drugs, and poverty leads a portion to engage in trade to supply those drugs. Government reports show that even in the most drug infested inner city areas only a very small percentage of youth are involved in drug trafficking, and those who do are mostly street-level dealers who make very little profit. But there is no doubt that this trade is one of the few avenues for enrichment (or even survival) for those at the bottom of the pile in this steadily decaying capitalist society. The laws against these substances are largely responsible for the violence and criminality associated with their sale and use, and the “war on drugs” is used as a further pretext for police oppression of black youth.

The capitalist state attempts to control, but not eliminate, organized crime. Recent disclosures of substantial interpenetration of organized crime and the ruling party in Japan are a reflection of the universal character of the relationship between the traditional sectors of the ruling class and the parvenu upstarts on its fringe who control drugs, prostitution and other illegal economic activities. The capitalists have often used the services of gangsters against militant trade unionists and leftists. The CIA and the Mafia have been cooperating for years in efforts directed at overthrowing Fidel Castro and reversing the Cuban revolution.

In capitalist America both the number of people living in poverty, and the gap between them and the rich has dramatically increased over the past two decades. There are few societies in which the contrast in living standards is so extreme, and in which wealth is so conspicuous. Americans are daily subjected to depictions of the super-rich flaunting their booty, and the glorification of those who accumulate vast amounts of money. Donald Trump maintains his Taj Mahal, a luxurious hotel and gambling casino, while legions of homeless roam the streets. Corporate executives grab multi-million dollar “golden-parachutes” while millions of hard-working people are thrown out onto the street with nothing. Real wages have fallen, the tax structure hits middle-income and working class people harder, and social services have been reduced and eliminated.

Poor and working class children of all colors face an economy increasingly incapable of providing them with meaningful futures. They are forced to attend schools in which even dedicated teachers can do little more than supervise day-time holding pens.

The American ruling class and its government present a picture of moral bankruptcy, violence, greed and corruption. From the gutting of industry, to insider trading on Wall Street and the looting of the savings and loans outfits, to the viciously racist slaughters in the Persian Gulf and Panama, the bourgeoisie shows its rottenness. It is inevitable that some of the dispossessed will turn to crime to survive, all the more so in a climate of massive social and economic crisis and decay.

Crime has been endemic to capitalism since it began, and crime will not be eliminated as capitalism continues to decay. In the wake of the social counterrevolutions which swept Eastern Europe and the former USSR there has been the explosive growth of criminal syndicates. In the U.S. the institution of a police state might at least in the short term, substantially reduce crime but it would require huge (and economically irrational) investments in the machinery of repression which would further erode the competitive position of American capitalism. Ultimately criminal activity (both civilian and police) can only be eliminated through a social revolution that brings the proletariat to power and lays the material basis for eliminating poverty.

Who Are the Police?

The state is the mechanism which guarantees the supremacy of the ruling class. The capitalists (or bourgeoisie) control science, education, culture and all the levers of social power. This allows them to run things for their own benefit and appropriate the lion’s share of social wealth. To maintain their rule the bourgeoisie requires a monopoly of armed power with which it can exert violence against those who might resist. The police are the institution charged with the day-to-day exercise of that power to coerce and suppress other classes when the preferred means of persuasion do not work.

The police are not part of the working class, and their “unions” are not part of the workers movement. They should be thrown out of all trade union federations and other working class organizations. The police serve as the first line of defense of capitalist property and safeguard the dictatorship of the capitalist class over society. As an arm of the state, the police are not neutral in any dispute between the powerless and the powerful, workers and bosses, tenants and landlords or oppressed and oppressor. Cops enforce a capitalist law and order which places the interests of property, wealth and social privilege above all else.

The police occasionally do useful things, of course, such as directing traffic, comforting children and even risking their lives to rescue victims of disasters. Sometimes they even apprehend real criminals or take action against some element of the bourgeoisie itself. But all the movies and television programs notwithstanding, anything socially useful they do is little more than a cover for their real role as the defenders of an unjust society.

Reforms and Crime

The liberal pretence is that these secondary “good” things that the police do can be expanded, and that effective controls can be put in place to prevent police “excesses.” But the police cannot be “reformed” out of their oppressive role, because that is their core function.

There are a variety of measures proposed by liberals to address the problems of crime and the police. Some demands are for more black police and for black or liberal police chiefs. More black police will not change the nature or role of the police, and neither will changing the color or political philosophy of the police chief. Berkeley’s black police chief, Dash Butler, is currently implicated in a lawsuit which charges that the BPD Internal Affairs division “routinely fails to sustain citizen complaints against members of the BPD….” Richard Hongisto, the quintessential liberal cop, presided over the San Francisco police at the time of the protests against the Simi Valley verdict. They arrested and charged 105 people with felonies, 90 percent of whom were black!

Equally futile are calls for “sensitivity training” for police or the propaganda about “community policing.” Community policing is essentially a public relations campaign for the police, covering their real role and activities with the image of smiling cops finding lost children. Sometimes presented in the form of Neighborhood Watch programs, the intent of this is to divide neighborhoods (often along racial lines) into those who are asked to cooperate with the cops and the “criminal element” who are informed upon.

In some cases these programs may result in removing a crime problem to some other part of the city. However, it ties working class residents of the neighborhood more closely to the police, their enemy, and tends to perpetuate the myth of the police as crime-fighters.

Calls for “community control” of the police are often proposed as the solution to police crime and brutality. But the “community” is composed of different classes. In capitalist society the police cannot be “controlled” for the benefit of anyone but the ruling class.

Civilian police review boards are also frequently suggested as a means of controlling police behavior, but they have been and will continue to be largely impotent in dealing with police misconduct. Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union, an advocate of civilian review boards as a means of avoiding the urban rebellions of the 1960s, captured what these boards are all about when he said, “There’s a percolating anger out there and if you don’t have a safety valve, I think it’s going to blow up” (New York Times, 3 March 1991). The liberals are mostly interested in containing the anger and explosiveness of the populace.

Where police review boards exist they should be used to achieve whatever amelioration of conditions is possible, and the BT has assisted in presenting individual cases of police misconduct before the Berkeley Police Review Commission. It is one of the most independent police review boards in the country, but it is virtually useless in reviewing the worst police abuses in that city. In any case its rulings against BPD officers are regularly overruled by City Manager Michael Brown.

We support any measure which limits the power and independence of the police, without in any way encouraging illusions that these measures will substantially alter the system. These commissions do allow some small level of public scrutiny of the police, and they may require them to give up information which may be useful to citizens in legal actions against the police. So, depending on the political composition and effective powers given to it, establishing a civilian police review board with a real measure of independence from the cops is a demand which Marxists can support. But in practice these review boards are usually ineffective. Some of them exist only to whitewash even the most clear-cut incidents of cop brutality.

We also support requirements that police wear their badge numbers or prohibitions on the choke-hold and various other dangerous practices. Such checks on the oppressive powers of the police can have a real, if limited, value.

However one liberal measure which must be opposed strenuously is the cry for gun control. Gun control speaks to widespread concerns about random acts of violence, but it also poses serious problems for workers and the oppressed. Ordinary people must have the right to self-defense. More importantly, it is the right of the oppressed to bear arms, and the bourgeois state should not be given an absolute monopoly on weapons. We say no to gun control!

In the United States the police generally have a level of independence from political authorities which amounts to semi-bonapartism; they operate with freedom from most restraints, as long as they do not attack members of the ruling class or have their activities recorded on video or audio tape. Many city charters are written in such a way as to make it virtually impossible to fire police chiefs or individual officers. Police chief Daryl Gates successfully defied the Los Angeles city council in the wake of the Rodney King beating. In the Bay Area the Alameda city manager professed not to have the power to fire city police officers who put explicitly racist messages onto police computers.

What Can Be Done?

In many cities throughout the United States there are organizations which seek to monitor the police and defend their victims. We support such work, because it can act as a check on some of the worst police excesses. In supporting measures to reduce abusive police behavior toward citizens, it is important not to feed illusions that such abuses can be eliminated under capitalism.

In Berkeley we participate in “Copwatch.” We believe citizens have a democratic right to be free of police harassment and brutality, and we support Copwatch’s overall perspective of reporting on police misconduct. Copwatch is an organization including people with a wide spectrum of views, many of which we do not agree with. Our Marxist analysis of a class-divided community has at times been a point of debate within Copwatch.

It is vitally important to link the activities of organizations which monitor the police and defend victims of the police to the organizations of the working class. The same cops who hassle homeless people and black youth also escort scabs through picket lines and beat picketers while breaking strikes. The history of the class struggle teaches that at some point there will be social upheaval and massive fightbacks by workers and the oppressed. When this occurs the capitalist state will use the draconian criminal laws against the working class.

Only the proletariat has the social power and the objective interest to eliminate the causes of crime. A strong workers movement which established integrated workers defense guards could take a big step toward defending workers and the oppressed from both crime and police brutality. Workers defense guards would have nothing in common with the Guardian Angels (or equivalent community policing scams) who work with the police, nor with vigilantes who are often racist, ethnically-based gangs defending “their turf” against “outsiders.”

To be effective workers defense guards should be integrated to cut through the racism which so divides the working class. They would generally be initiated in response to attacks upon workers’ picket lines by the capitalist state, its fascist allies or the private goons of individual employers. Once engaged in class struggle, workers will quickly see the usefulness of defense guards in protecting workers and the oppressed in other areas of their social life, including the fight to be free of crime and police harassment. This perspective is not simply pie-in-the-sky theorizing. St. Petersburg under the Czar had both a large dangerous criminal class (the “dark people”) and a large and brutal police force. After the February revolution in 1917 both the criminal class and the police disappeared from the workers’ districts. Armed workers’ militias created the most “crime free” period in modern Russian history up to that time.

A class-conscious workers movement would fight for full employment, through a sliding scale of wages and hours that would lead to a shorter work week with no loss in pay. If everyone in society who wanted a job had one and was able to feel they had a future, much of the material basis for crime would be removed. That’s not such a huge thing …but impossible short of socialist revolution. The workers movement must call for the decriminalization of all drugs and the repeal of other victimless criminal statutes; it is the illegality of drugs and prostitution which make them so lucrative for criminal elements. At the same time the workers movement must call for education programs administered under its control and inspired by neither moralism nor political expediency, for the dissemination of scientific information on the effects of various drugs.

The workers movement must defend the homeless. Among them are women and children who have escaped from abusive home environments, and people with HIV or who are in need of psychiatric care and who have been kicked out of their homes or institutions. Many are truly unable to cope with social life. If prolonged, homelessness often has a devastating, negative impact, both physically and psychologically, and tends to make its victims less socially acceptable. So wherever there are homeless people there is a body of citizens who seek a stronger police presence, and the homeless become the objects of police harassment—even in “progressive” cities such as Berkeley.

Across the country the police harass, jail and attack the homeless, steal their meager belongings and push them out of sight. They do not arrest the corporate big-wigs, landlords, bankers, speculators, developers or anyone else responsible for unemployment, low wages and obscenely high housing prices, nor do they force property owners to make unused buildings available to the homeless.

The working class must fight homelessness by utilizing its power to prevent landlords and sheriffs from evicting tenants. It must support the homeless when they take possession of abandoned housing. There must be a fight for low-cost affordable housing for all; and the workers movement must wage an uncompromising fight against racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of chauvinism. The working class must also fight for adequate support services for women and children such as free 24 hour childcare and decent refuge from abusive situations. The demand for free quality health care for all must include the placing of a high priority on AIDS research, care for people with HIV, and good psychiatric services. And above all, the fight against homelessness is the fight for jobs for all. Thirty hours work for forty hours pay!

Toward a Workers State

In order to carry out its historic mission of world revolution, the working class must have its general staff, a party, to link the struggles of the working class to the struggles of the victims of special oppression: blacks, hispanics, other national minorities, women and gays, and unite with the desperate struggles of the poor. There must be a complete and irrevocable break with the Democratic and Republican parties, the twin parties of capitalist rule, who will never act in the interests of the oppressed.

Incorporating the program outlined above, a workers party would fight for the expropriation of basic industry under workers’ control and for the establishment of a workers state with a democratically-planned economy in which production would be for human need and not for private profit.

The Bolshevik Tendency is dedicated to the task of building such a party as the American section of a future Fourth International, the world-wide party of international proletarian revolution.

The human race is facing enormous challenges at this time. Capitalism has given us wars, racism, sexism, poverty, hunger, economic depression and ecological degradation. U.S. capitalism has created one of the most violent and irrational societies on earth. Yet capitalism has revolutionized the means of production to such an extent that the technology exists to produce abundance for all people on this planet. The private ownership of the means of production for private profit acts as a brake on further human progress, and capitalism has long since outlived its usefulness. Workers power is the only choice!

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

LA: Days of Rage

[Reposted from]

Supplement to 1917, May 1992

With the “end of communism” America’s rulers dreamed of a “new world order” in which the oppressed would meekly submit to their oppressors. The fires that swept Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict proclaimed that such an order is not to be. In the greatest explosion of anger since the ghetto upheavals of the 1960s, tens of thousands of blacks and Latinos took to the streets of the country’s second largest city to serve notice that they would no longer endure deepening poverty and rampant racist terror without fighting back.

In most respects the incident that ignited the LA explosion–the near-fatal beating of an unarmed and defenseless black man–was nothing new. Escalating police violence and lethal force against inner-city blacks and other minorities–from Philadelphia to New York to Miami–has been the calling-card of the Reagan-Bush era. The badges and batons of the LAPD, which pioneered the choke hold and the doctrine of massive police “response,” have long been symbols of racist terror on the streets [of] the South-Central and East-Side ghettos. The assault on Rodney King was different only because it was captured in agonizing detail on videotape and broadcast continually on TV screens throughout the country for over a year before the trial. So clear-cut, in fact, was the case against the police, that the LA judiciary and District Attorney–part of the same repressive apparatus as the LAPD–probably feared that any inner-city jury would make too harsh an example of the four uniformed marauders. It was no doubt to prevent such an outcome that the presiding judge transferred the venue of the trial to Simi Valley, a prosperous white suburban enclave which is home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, as well as 2000 of the 8300-member LA police force.

But the tactic backfired. It was widely expected that even the most right-wing jury, confronted with the irrefutable evidence of their senses, would at least try to maintain the outward appearance of justice by imposing light prison terms on one or two of the indicted cops. However, in the racist climate of the 1990s, the overwhelmingly white jury was not concerned with appearances. Their verdict merely affirmed explicitly what Bush, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Congress have been saying implicitly for years: that blacks are less human than whites; that the kind of treatment meted out to Rodney King is not only to be winked at, but commended; that thousands of victims of police terror can expect more of the same without hope of redress in the courts; that batons and bullets, overcrowded prison cells and lethal injections are a degenerate system’s only answer to the despair of America’s impoverished urban ghettoes. As revolutionary Marxists, we share the rage of South-Central Los Angeles.

LA: “City of the Future”

The conditions that led to the South-Central upheaval are not confined to Los Angeles; they are endemic to all major urban centers in the U.S. But Los Angeles, more than any other American metropolis, is widely perceived as the “city of the future”–the most concentrated expression of major trends in national life. And, indeed, the city’s social geography reveals in a starker form the contrasts typical of the country as a whole: on the one hand, fortified suburban islands of affluence, where the rich and well-off indulge in narcissistic life styles; on the other hand, an increasingly desolate urban core–populated by blacks, Hispanics and Asian immigrants–whose streets resemble third-world battle zones.

The “future” revealed by LA’s ghettos is grim. As is to be expected in this profoundly racist society, it is blacks who suffer most acutely from U.S. capitalism’s economic decline. The statistics speak for themselves: almost half the black families in central LA fall below the official poverty line, while unemployment among black youth has remained steady at almost 50 percent since the 1970s. The few decently paid blue-collar jobs that were available have been steadily disappearing, as those industries that have not moved their operations abroad or folded entirely, flee the inner city for outlying industrial parks. Most of the jobs that remain are in the low-wage sweatshops that have mushroomed in recent years.

The effects of this economic erosion are compounded by a government policy of “malign neglect.” The “anti-poverty” programs initiated to help put a lid back on the ghettos after the 1960s rebellions have been all but eliminated. The Neighborhood Youth Corps was dismantled under the Nixon administration, and Reagan followed suit by terminating the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). Public school classrooms in central LA, the country’s second largest school district, are today more crowded than those in Mississippi; high schools have a 30-50 percent dropout rate.

In the face of hopeless unemployment and poverty, it is hardly surprising that inner-city youth have turned in large numbers to the only available source of income: the underground drug economy. In the mid-1980s LA became the main U.S. pipeline for a new, highly concentrated form of cocaine–rock cocaine or crack–shipped in by drug cartels. Many members of LA’s biggest street gangs, the Crips and Bloods, together with hundreds of smaller gangs, plugged into this deadly traffic to become street-level pushers.

So long as the violence of the crack trade was confined to the ghetto, municipal authorities were content to maintain police repression at “normal” levels. But as ever larger amounts of drug money hit the streets, gangs required more sophisticated weaponry to protect their investments. When gun battles, often waged with Uzi submachine guns, escalated and began to spill over into adjoining white neighborhoods, stopping “gang violence” became a media crusade and a favorite hobby horse for local pols. The city administration responded with what is becoming the capitalist state’s preferred method of solving inner-city problems: police terror on a quasi-military scale.

In 1988, LA police chief Daryl Gates launched “Operation HAMMER,” a massive, indiscriminate police sweep of South-Central for the ostensible purpose of curbing drug traffic. This was not the first time the area had been subjected to Gates’ hammer-blows. The LAPD, long infamous as a gang of trigger-happy rednecks, had recently mounted nine smaller dragnet operations there. South-Central also remembers Eulia Love, a 39-year-old black widow gunned down in a 1979 dispute with police over unpaid gas bills. Moreover, in 1982 Chief Gates responded to criticisms concerning the choke-hold deaths of young black men in custody by saying that the “veins and arteries [of blacks] do not open up as fast as they do on normal people.”

But “Operation HAMMER” surpassed all previous LAPD thrusts. Billed as the “D-Day of law enforcement,” it was probably the single largest application of force in a black ghetto since the Philadelphia MOVE massacre of 1985 (which Gates has publicly praised). In the first phase, over a thousand cops, backed by elite tactical squads, swooped down upon ten square miles of central LA, arresting nearly 1500 black youths. In the months that followed: an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by police because he was alleged to be reaching suspiciously into his trousers; an 81-year-old retiree died after being pumped full of buckshot when police mistook his residence for a “crack house”; a group of apartments was attacked by almost 90 shotgun and sledgehammer-brandishing police, who shouted racist epithets, and proceeded to spray-paint walls, smash furniture and appliances, and force residents to run a gauntlet of fists and flashlights.

By 1990, the LAPD and sheriffs of adjacent municipalities had rounded up a total of 50,000 “suspects.” There are only 100,000 black youths in Los Angeles! One member of the district attorney’s office, commented that “Operation HAMMER” was “Vietnam here.” It has been officially discontinued only to be replaced by permanent, institutionalized police sweeps.

The beating of Rodney King must be understood in this context: as a minor episode in the transformation of South-Central into a “free-fire zone.” Such developments are by no means unique to Los Angeles. King was at least lucky enough to escape with his life–unlike many other innocent victims of heightened police brutality from coast to coast. Yet Los Angeles has led the way in investing that brutality with a military dimension, thus showing the entire ruling class how to handle “surplus populations” in a period of economic contraction, and once again living up to its reputation as the “city of the future.”

BEOs, Democrats and Black Capitalism: No Answer

The Los Angeles events again demonstrate the utter folly of attempting to fight racism and police brutality by putting black elected officials (BEOs) or more Democrats in office. LA has had a black mayor–Tom Bradley–for the last 17 years. After capturing office on a program of “social activism,” Bradley presided over drastic reductions in city budget allocations for South-Central in favor of greater spending for LA’s affluent Westside residential neighborhood and the downtown business district. Bradley has been almost as zealous in proving his loyalty to the ruling class as his East-Coast counterpart, Wilson Goode, who, as Philadelphia’s first black mayor, ordered the 1985 terror-bombing of the MOVE compound. Until the King tapes were broadcast, Bradley backed Daryl Gates and his “law-and-order” grandstanding.

The infamy of a Republican like Gates does not change the fact that LA has for decades been in the hands of a Democratic municipal administration. According to Mike Davis (whose 1990 book, City of Quartz, provides a compelling portrait of contemporary LA) Democratic District Attorney James Hahn, the immediate predecessor of the present DA, “probably traveled further than any metropolitan law enforcement official in the country towards establishing the legal infrastructure of an American police state.” Hahn’s legal strategy aimed at extending criminal liability for drug-related offenses from individual perpetrators to those who supposedly aid and abet them. By criminalizing whole groups of people, Hahn created the legal framework for super-sweeps like “Operation HAMMER.” Such measures, concludes Davis:

“imply a ‘West Bank’ towards the troubled neighborhoods of Southcentral LA. The ‘terrorism’ metaphor has metastasized as Hahn and Reiner have criminalized successive strata of the community: ‘gang members,’ then ‘gang parents,’ followed by whole ‘gang families,’ ‘gang neighborhoods,’ and perhaps even a ‘gang generation.”’

In LA as in Peru, the “war on drugs” functions as a camouflage for the repression needed to maintain capitalist law and order among the most oppressed and desperate social layers. And this class warfare by the bourgeoisie, on the home front and abroad, is, as ever, a truly “bipartisan” affair.

Just as futile as electing BEOs is the notion of “black capitalism”–the solution to the plight of the ghetto advocated by everyone from George Bush and his housing secretary, Jack Kemp, to Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. Capitalist America is not the society of hardworking, prosperous small businessmen conjured up in Frank Capra films. It is a highly polarized class society, where a permanent underclass of unemployed and semi-employed act as a brake upon the wages of employed workers. Blacks have always comprised a disproportionate part of this economically marginal population. It is simply a petty-bourgeois pipe-dream to think that the government or the banks are going to underwrite the creation of new black businesses when many white-owned businesses are going to the wall and millions of people who only yesterday considered themselves “middle class” can no longer pay their mortgages or afford to visit a hospital.

The crack trade now thriving on the streets of South Central LA is the only kind of “black capitalism” available to a whole generation of lumpenized street youth; because it is illegal, drug trafficking is one of the few forms of commerce not monopolized by “legitimate” capitalists. And repression is the only answer of the capitalist state for millions of black, Hispanic and other minority youth who can no longer survive by living within the rules of the larger society. Not “black capitalism,” but socialism–a society in which production is based on human need instead of profit–is the answer to the desperation of South-Central and inner-city ghettos throughout the land. The fight against racism and police brutality must be a central part of the struggle to forge the multi-racial party of the working class necessary to break the power of the capitalist state and lay the foundations for a socialist future. It is in light of these goals that we assess the Los Angeles upheaval.

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

In the wake of the LA events, bourgeois media and politicians are quick to remind us that “rioting accomplishes nothing.” This may be true in the long term, but it is also true that every paltry reform or gesture toward racial justice that the capitalist state has made in the past has been in direct response to anger in the streets. LBJ’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s was aimed at keeping social peace in the wake of nationwide ghetto explosions. When things settled down, the “Great Society” spigot was almost entirely turned off. The only reason that one of Rodney King’s club-wielding assailants, Laurence Powell, will stand trial a second time (unfortunately not before an all-black and Hispanic jury) is because of the South-Central eruption. Voting for BEOs and Democrats, on the other hand, has only led to a deepening of black poverty and an escalation of police brutality.

The bourgeois media is full of admonishments that all citizens must “respect the law.” But since when has the American legal system ever treated blacks as equals? The response to the beating of the white truck driver, Reginald Denny, exposes the “neutrality” of the state when dealing with the rage of poor black ghetto residents. Four black men, identified from videotape as participants in the beating and robbing of Denny, were immediately arrested (one by Chief Gates himself), and dragged into court wearing prison overalls. The four cops who beat King, by comparison, were allowed to turn themselves in and immediately posted bond. Further, while the LAPD thugs were charged with assault and “using excessive force,” three of the four arrested for assaulting Denny were charged with attempted murder–which carries an almost guaranteed life sentence in California.

Marxists can have nothing but contempt for the hypocritical condemnations of “violence” and “lawlessness” now gushing forth from newsrooms, pulpits and capitalist presidential aspirants. Yet serious militants must also recognize that racism, poverty and the violence of the capitalist state will not be ended by unorganized explosions of black and minority rage, however justified. Because the black masses lack the program and the leadership to fight for a real social revolution, their spontaneous anger often strikes at the wrong targets, and leaves their real exploiters and oppressors untouched. The burning and looting of the stores of petty capitalists in the ghetto does nothing to break the stranglehold of the multi-billion-dollar banks and corporations who own the major means of producing and distributing wealth, and who are the real power behind the small-time frontmen. Attacks upon Korean businesses and a few white people who happen to pass through only punish other powerless individuals and families, many of whom are also victims of the current ruling-class offensive against workers and the poor. Such senseless and indefensible acts are partially explained by the fact that many black youth, in the isolation of inner-city wastelands, are inclined to misperceive local non-black businessmen, landlords and whites in general as representatives of a malignant and incomprehensible power structure bent upon destroying them with drugs, AIDS and police bullets. But part of the responsibility must also be laid at the door to black demagogues like Sharpton and Farrakhan, who trade on the fears of the ghetto by spewing forth anti-Semitic and anti-white poison.

The key to black emancipation lies not in spontaneous ghetto upheavals, “black capitalism” or “community control,” but in the fight for socialist revolution. Such a revolution requires that the outrage of the black ghetto masses be linked to the struggles of the only force with both the social power and objective interest in uprooting the existing social order–the integrated American working class, and especially its organized, trade-union component.

Many blacks believe that the white working class, blinded by the racism that runs so deep in this country’s history, has more in common with the white capitalist ruling class than the beleaguered residents of Harlem, South-Side Chicago or South-Central LA. The more backward white workers believe the same thing. The LA events will undoubtedly drive some of them deeper into the arms of open racists like David Duke and Pat Buchanan. George Bush is busy blaming the LA explosion on 1960s social programs in a disgusting attempt to parlay the “white backlash” into four more years in the White House.

But the Los Angeles upheaval could also be a forerunner of another, potentially much larger “backlash”: the “backlash” of ordinary people–black, brown, yellow and white–against the unrelenting attacks by the ruling class upon their standard of living over the past 20 years. While blacks and minorities have been hit hardest by these attacks, millions of whites have also been forced to pay the price of American capitalism’s economic decline. Union busting, obscene tax breaks for the rich, longer working hours for lower pay, speed-up, drastic cuts in social services and soaring health-care costs–these are the bitter fruits of the capitalist offensive on the home front, begun under Democrat Jimmy Carter and intensified during the Reagan-Bush years. Looting on the streets of LA is trifling by comparison to the $500-billion Savings and Loan bailout, which is correctly understood by most citizens as the massive looting of public coffers by the rich.

Revulsion against the class arrogance of this country’s rulers is not limited to blacks and minorities. It is reflected in a disillusionment with the twin parties of capitalism so widespread that even Democratic hacks like Jerry Brown and billionaires like Ross Perot feel compelled to pander to it, cynically posing as “political outsiders.” It is registered in polls which show that 76 percent of whites disapprove of the Rodney King verdict and that 54 percent of whites are not happy with the way Bush is handling race relations (New York Times, 11 May). It is confirmed by the fact that many white youths joined with blacks in demonstrating their outrage over the King verdict on the streets of LA. These are strong indications that the only effective response to years of capitalist attacks–integrated class struggle–is a real possibility today.

Blacks and minorities form a large percentage of the industrial working class in the U.S. They are also concentrated in the unions that maintain the nation’s cities. These workers run the buses and trains, collect the garbage, sweep the streets and staff the hospitals. They can provide the necessary link between the ghetto and the organized working class. A single general strike against police brutality could bring cities like LA to a halt, and would prove an infinitely more potent weapon than a hundred ghetto upheavals. Such strikes could open the way for a powerful working-class counteroffensive against racism and capitalist austerity. But this requires a militant, class-struggle leadership committed to breaking the stranglehold of trade-union bureaucrats and Democratic Party BEOs. The Bolshevik Tendency is dedicated to the task of forging such a leadership in the struggle for a socialist society, which can alone deliver justice to Rodney King and countless other victims of the “new world order.”

Only Socialism Can Bring Freedom to Lesbians and Gays!

Only Socialism Can Bring Freedom to Lesbians and Gays!

[First printed in 1917 West #1 Spring 1992]

Almost twenty-three years after the heroic Stonewall Rebellion in New York City against police harassment, the oppression of gays and lesbians remains a daily reality. The rebellion caused many individuals to affirm openly their sexual identity, and thousands celebrate it in yearly observations all over the country. In the intervening years homosexuals have made notable strides forward in many respects in some major cities. In San Francisco, gays are an important component of the local political scene, with bourgeois politicians vying to take part in the Gay Freedom Day Parade, one of the biggest annual political events. There has even been some legal recognition of gay and lesbian domestic relationships.

Meanwhile there has been an ugly anti-gay backlash that has been fueled by hysteria over the deadly AIDS epidemic and by the rightist shift in the bourgeois political agenda over the past period. This has led to an alarming increase in homophobic activity ranging from murderous gay-bashing in San Francisco to the repeal of gay rights ordinances in suburban Concord, California. Racist right-wing demagogue Jesse Helms, a Republican senator from North Carolina, pushed for Congress to require that recipients of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts sign oaths declaring their art to be free from “homoeroticism.” He also prevented the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from funding educational programs that might promote homosexual activity (Nation, 5 November 1990). From many pulpits present-day Billy Sundays thunder condemnations of “the gay lifestyle” under the guise of promoting “traditional values.” California Governor Pete Wilson got into the act by vetoing AB 101, which would have protected gays from job discrimination.


Many individual gays striving for liberation have become involved with high-intensity activist groups such as ACT UP or Queer Nation. The gross negligence of the capitalist ruling class in combating AIDS as well as in caring for those who are struck down by the HIV virus is an outrage. We share with ACT UP supporters the sense of urgency about the necessity to do much more. We also respect the courage of these activists in confronting the medical establishment and the state. But it is vitally important to the success of such confrontations that the campaign be popularized, and the Bolshevik Tendency, to the extent of its capacity, would seek to win the support of deeper social layers, particularly among workers and the oppressed. This is essentially a political struggle, and the isolation of the more militant elements can in the long run lead only to demoralization.

Queer Nation conducts ostentatious displays of gay affection in non-traditional settings with the intention of shocking heterosexuals into re-examining and changing their consciousness. We are not puritans and we consider that gays have the same right to be open about their sexual orientation as heterosexuals. However, such activities are limited in impact, and tend to presuppose that the roots of homophobia lie in the consciousness of individuals rather than in the material circumstances created by class society.

The gay movement, especially since Stonewall, has encouraged homosexuals to “come out,” to be open about their sexuality, despite the oppressiveness of this society. Coming out is considered by most gay people as a step toward self-esteem and personal adjustment, but it is a choice which can be made only by the person concerned, depending on their circumstances. The physical violence against gay men and lesbians, hysteria about AIDS, and other forms of oppression so prevalent in this period leads many homosexuals to fear exposure. These people value their right to privacy, and do not wish to come out. Most are just ordinary people, afraid of the consequences of being openly homosexual in an oppressive society, and it would be indefensible to force them out of the closet. But some homosexuals who stay in the closet may become prominent functionaries of the bourgeoisie, and may even come to represent the worst kind of homophobic politics.

Outing” is a political tactic adopted by some gay activists, which involves publicly revealing the sexual identities of such prominent right-wing closeted homosexuals. Although we share the gay liberationists’ disgust with the targets of outing, and their sense of frustration with the lack of progress in gay rights, we are opposed to this tactic as doing little toward improving the conditions of gay men and lesbians in today’s society. It merely adds to the fears of exposure which burden the ordinary inoffensive closeted homosexual, and creates a climate for the worst kind of muckraking homophobic journalism.

The Material Basis for Gay and Lesbian Oppression

Marxists fully support the right of gays and lesbians to be themselves and to participate fully in all that society has to offer, wherever they may be. Gays and lesbians should not be forced into their own ghettoes in a few liberal cities. And we favor the passage of legislation to ease the burdens of lesbians and gays—and all other oppressed groups. But we also realize that whatever gains are made by reforming the present system are incomplete and transitory. The continued oppression of lesbians and gays in this society is linked to the existence of capitalism and its basic social unit, the nuclear family. In bourgeois society individuals are isolated into families, which reproduce, rear and socialize the next generation. The nuclear family provides some stability for capitalism by providing a convenient outlet for the frustrations of oppressed workers. While a male worker may be powerless vis-a-vis the boss, he is the “master” in his home, wielding power over the wife and children. At the same time the man’s “mastery’ of his home creates an enormous pressure on him to submit to the dictates of bourgeois society and tends to reduce his willingness to engage in militant labor activity such as strikes. This is true even in the age of two-income households as most families rely primarily on the husband’s income, since discrimination against women means that the wife usually makes less money.

While the burden of cooking, cleaning, child rearing and maintaining the family falls most heavily upon women, gays are also negatively affected by the nuclear family; for the various purveyors of bourgeois ideology—churches, popular media and the educational establishment—create social prejudice against relationships which show there are alternatives to the present social norm. Under capitalism sexual impulses must be restrained and channeled toward the needs of the bourgeoisie, hence the incessant attempts by the church and the bourgeois state to enforce “morality.” As long as capitalism exists, there will be prejudice against “nonstandard” sexuality.

However there is nothing inherently revolutionary about homosexuality. There are gay areas in “liberal” cities such as San Francisco and New York; and gays and lesbians themselves debate assimilation versus liberation. Homosexuals are not a social class and they span the political spectrum from the far left to the far right.

The overturn of capitalist property relations will not automatically liberate gays and lesbians from oppression, but it will create the conditions in which oppression can be brought to an end. After the Russian Revolution in October of 1917, the Bolsheviks repealed all laws against homosexuality; and for one brief shining moment the world saw the beginnings of the freest society in human history. However, the Soviet Union’s isolation and backwardness, intensified by the imperialist blockade and military intervention, and the triumph of the counterrevolutionary Stalinist clique caused many of these gains to be reversed, although the collectivized property forms remained. In all other countries where capitalism was overthrown, such as Cuba and China, homosexuals were persecuted from the beginning. These new states were modeled on the degenerated Soviet workers state which, in the interests of consolidating the rule of the privileged bureaucratic social layer, also sought to prop up the nuclear family.

The liberation of gays and lesbians can only be achieved through the working class, led by its revolutionary vanguard, taking power and developing the productive forces to such a high level that it will be possible to eliminate poverty, ignorance and social inequality once and for all. In a socialist society the state, along with the nuclear family, will start to wither away and be replaced by freer, voluntary forms of human association. So the best contribution to the struggle for lesbian and gay rights is to work toward the building of a revolutionary party of the working class.

Workers Must Defend Lesbian and Gay Rights

 Building a revolutionary party requires transitional organizations to focus on the various struggles against different forms of special oppression, such as the oppression of women, of blacks, and of gays and lesbians. An organization actually capable of fighting against the oppression of gays and lesbians must be based on a program that locates the origins of oppression in class society, and that works for the end of oppression through the power of the working class. Such an organization will be part of a common movement with a revolutionary party which leads the movement as a whole.

Although there are many similarities, the issue of gay and lesbian liberation is not totally analogous to the black or woman question. Gays are not concentrated in the working class like blacks. Women, who like homosexuals, are members of all social classes, are the primary target and main victim of the necessity to force human relations into the straight-jacket of the nuclear family. In this sense the oppression of gays can be seen as linked to, and derived from, the oppression of women. Moreover, unlike a person’s color or gender, one’s sexual preference is a private matter that is not readily apparent in most circumstances. Indeed much of the oppression of lesbians and gays involves their being forced to hide their sexual identities.

It is the duty of all class-conscious workers, whatever their sexual orientation, to fight against anti-gay discrimination, not only because socialists believe that everyone has the right to their own sexuality but also because curtailing the rights of gay men and women inevitably leads to diminished rights for the working class and all the oppressed. Homophobic attitudes undercut the capacity of the class to understand its own historic interests in uniting all the oppressed. The bourgeois offensive against lesbians and gays is an attack against the working class at one of its weakest points, i.e., on a group which many workers, because of social conditioning, might be reluctant to defend. As we stated in an article in 1917 #2:

“The retributive moralists of the right have a larger agenda, however. They are trying to use the widespread fear of AIDS to promote a campaign of anti-science and anti-sex (particularly gay sex). These are the same people who want to ban Playboy, Penthouse, Darwin, rock videos and other examples of what they characterize as ‘secular humanism.”

The Trap of Sectoralism

While many groups such as the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) and the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL) agree that the overthrow of capitalism is necessary for gay and lesbian liberation, their politics are flawed by their sectoralist approach, i.e., they tend to see gays, women, blacks, etc. as sectors of society co-equal with the working class in the fight for socialism.

There are only two social classes capable of running a modern society: the bourgeoisie, which is the present ruling class, and the proletariat, which is the class that produces the wealth. In this era of capitalist decay and all-out attacks on personal liberty, the working class must stand as the defender of democratic rights.

Marxists recognize the importance of the fight against special oppression. But we also insist that the inequality of class society is at the root of all forms of social oppression whether of gays, women or blacks. Therefore while it is necessary to struggle against particular forms of oppression, and in favor of particular reforms, the roots of social oppression can only be attacked through linking the struggles of the oppressed to the class question, i.e., the necessity for the working class to rule. But this class-based approach, which does not lose sight of the fact that the working class as a class is the decisive force for social change is fundamentally different than “sectoralism.” Attempts to organize gays as gays, women as women or blacks as blacks will lead to multi-class formations and eventual failure.

Marxists seek to intersect and recruit the most militant women, blacks and gays to participate in the struggle for workers power, through winning them to understand that this is the only way to end, once and for all, sexism, racism, and homophobia. Class struggle and the fight for social and economic justice can overcome homophobia and unite gays and lesbians with other layers of oppressed people in a common cause. When the class struggle intensifies, the more conscious layers of the working class, who lead the class as a whole, will tend to rally behind its best fighters regardless of sexual preference, gender or color.

Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party!

A major political obstacle in the fight for gay liberation (as for women’s liberation and black liberation) is the Democratic Party. In San Francisco this bourgeois party exerts influence on gays through such organizations as the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club, and openly gay politicians such as Harry Britt have been active in Democratic Party politics for years. Since the 1970s, starting with the late Harvey Milk, open gays have served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. However the Democratic Party, despite its occasional rhetoric about concern for the “little people” or its criticisms of the brutal policies of the Republican Party, is not a vehicle for social change. The Democrats are just as committed to the rule of capital as the Republicans. The Democrats were in control of the United States Congress during most of the Reagan years and were accomplices in the all-out assault by government and big business on the working class, minorities and women. It was a Democratic Congress that confirmed all the right-wingers on the Supreme Court. Democratic mayors such as David Dinkins in New York, Wilson Goode in Philadelphia and Coleman Young in Detroit have helped administer draconian cuts in social programs. The role of the Democrats is to head off potential social protest movements, channel them back into the system, and render them impotent. Witness the way in which the local Democrats dissipated the justified popular anger at the brutal police beating of United Farm Workers (UFW) leader Dolores Huerta and allowed the cop involved to get off with only minor punishment.

The only way forward is a complete break with the Democratic Party (and its twin the Republican Party) through the formation of a workers party based on the trade unions and the organizations of the oppressed. This party would be a tribune for the oppressed and would lead the fight for a workers government. Such a party would fight for full democratic rights for lesbians and gays and for the repeal of the sodomy laws and all other laws regulating sexual activity among consenting individuals. It would organize workers defense guards to defend against anti-gay violence and would advocate free, quality medical care for all, including appropriation on a Star Wars scale for research in the fight against AIDS.

The Bolshevik Tendency is committed to the fight for such a mass revolutionary workers party. We base ourselves on the Transitional Program which was developed by Leon Trotsky and his co-thinkers for this era of capitalist decay, and we look forward to the re-creation of the Fourth International as the party of world-wide proletarian revolution. While George Bush and the American bourgeoisie celebrate the “death of communism” and prattle on about the coming of “freedom” to Eastern Europe, the new pro-bourgeois leaders institute rule by decree, while workers go hungry and fascist scum run wild terrorizing ethnic minorities. The world capitalist system is wracked with crisis and has no positive future to offer the vast majority of the human race. There is only one way out. The proletariat, armed with the Marxist program, can rise up and again continue toward the fulfilment of its historic mission to lead humanity to a socialist future of freedom, equality and abundance for all—a future in which we will all be free to be truly human.

Soviet Rubicon & the Left

Three Days in August

Soviet Rubicon & the Left

[First Printed in 1917 #11, Third Quarter 1992. Originally posted online at ]

In the weeks following the failed coup attempt of 1921 August, the International Bolshevik Tendency was virtually alone among self-proclaimed Trotskyists in recognizing that this event marked the end of the Soviet workers state. Every major political development has since confirmed our view. A few days after the coup, Gorbachev, at Boris Yeltsin’s instruction, proclaimed the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party. The Congress of Peoples’ Deputies voted to self-destruct. In December Yeltsin announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of the so-called Commonwealth of Independent States. He did this without even bothering to consult Gorbachev, whose subsequent attempts to maintain some semblance of all-union government were simply ignored. On Christmas Day Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president. The Soviet flag was lowered over the Kremlin and replaced by the czarist emblem the same evening. Yeltsin moved into the Soviet president’s office before Gorbachev could even pack his bags.

The major political institutions of the Soviet state could be dismantled without armed resistance because the fate of the USSR had already been decided. The post-coup developments were a mere epilogue to the three days in August when the demoralized defenders of the old Stalinist apparatus made and lost their last desperate gamble.

Yeltsin wasted no time in launching a full assault on the already disintegrating state economy. At the beginning of January he withdrew state subsidies for foodstuffs and many other items, raising most prices several fold. This was just the first of a series of measures designed to replace centralized planning with market anarchy. Stirrings of popular protest quickly followed. As Yeltsin toured the country to gauge public reaction, he was confronted by angry crowds. Food riots erupted in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, claiming the lives of several students; workers, military men and members of the old party apparatus demonstrated against the new regime in Red Square on Revolution Day; 5,000 army officers gathered in the Kremlin to protest Yeltsin’s plans to carve up the army along national lines. In February, 50,000 people poured into the streets of Moscow in the largest demonstration against the government to date. The anti-Yeltsin protests are extremely heterogeneous. While some demonstrators carried red flags and pictures of Lenin and Stalin, the ultra-rightist Liberal-Democratic Party and other monarchist and anti-Semitic elements were also prominent. As the Caucasus region is racked with communal slaughter, and Yeltsin continues to wrangle with the Ukraine’s new nationalist regime over the Black Sea Fleet, it is clear that the road back to capitalism in the former Soviet Union will not be a smooth one.

Yeltsin’s ‘‘price reforms’’ were introduced on the advice of Jeffrey Sachs, golden boy of the Harvard Business School, who spent the past few years acquainting Polish workers with free-market misery. The purpose of the reforms is to reduce the Russian state budget deficit and stabilize the ruble. Under the old planning system the prices of commodities were determined not by market forces, but by the social and economic decisions of state planners. The ruble functioned more as a labor ration ticket than as a measure of value. To establish a regime of generalized commodity production, and to open the economy of the ex-USSR to the world market, it is first necessary, according to the Harvard school, to have some sort of universal equivalent that establishes the ratios in which various goods can be traded.

On what terms will Russia and the other republics join the imperialist ‘‘family of nations’’? The productivity of Soviet labor has always lagged far behind that of advanced capitalist countries. The products of Soviet industry simply can’t compete in price or quality with Western goods. Western capitalists are reluctant to invest even in Poland and the former DDR, whose industrial plant is more advanced than Russia’s. Russian and Ukrainian industries are even less likely to find foreign buyers. Aspiring Russian ‘‘entrepreneurs’’ cannot simply take over existing state industries and start making money. To become competitive internationally, most Soviet enterprises would require massive retooling and upgrading, and that can only be financed from abroad. The imperialist giants, locked in ever intensifying economic rivalries with one another, are not about to underwrite the development of a major new competitor. The total ‘‘aid’’ earmarked for the former Soviet Union so far is only a fraction of what the imperialists spent each year preparing to wage war on the ‘‘evil empire.’’ The assistance they are providing is only enough to help Yeltsin keep a lid on his unruly population. There will be no latter-day Marshall Plan.

The lands that once made up the USSR are not without value to the predators of Wall Street and the Frankfurt bourse. The former Soviet Union was the world’s number-one producer of oil and timber, and its territories are also rich in minerals, metals and grain. The population is well educated even by Western standards, and is thus a huge potential market and reserve of exploitable labor. But the imperialists see the former Soviet Union chiefly as a producer of raw materials and agricultural products and a consumer of the finished goods of the U.S., Europe and Japan. The deindustrialization which will accompany capitalist restoration will lock the various republics into a pattern of economic dependency and backwardness more typical of third-world countries than the developed capitalist world.

The former Soviet Union, however, is no third-world country. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 tore the former czarist empire out of the imperialist orbit and laid the foundations for transforming it from a backward, largely peasant nation into a major industrial power. At the time of the revolution, over 80 percent of the Soviet population lived in the countryside; today, more than 60 percent are city dwellers.

The reintegration of the Soviet Union into the international capitalist division of labor will mean the ruin of entire economic sectors: steel, machinery, military hardware and consumer goods and the destitution of many of the tens of millions of workers whose livelihoods depend upon industry.

The states emerging from the breakup of the USSR are not likely to be reduced to third-world status without explosions of popular anger. As mass indignation at free-market ‘‘shock therapy’’ continues to mount, Yeltsin could easily fall. He has already been forced to modify some of the harsher aspects of his economic package. Yet none of Yeltsin’s would-be successors is any less committed than he to capitalist restoration; they differ only over tactics and timing.

For Workers Revolution To Smash Counterrevolution!

The one force that can turn back the tide—the working class—is confused and demoralized by years of Stalinist betrayal. Yeltsin’s regime remains extremely fragile and vulnerable to an upsurge from below. Revolutionists in the former USSR must attempt to turn popular hostility to price-gougers and food speculators into a weapon against the whole privatization scheme. By forming representative committees in each work-place and working-class neighborhood, workers could come together to recreate the soviets of 1905 and 1917. Such organs of popular power could ensure that the necessary food supplies are fairly distributed. They could also block the wholesale looting and theft of publicly-owned enterprises and counter layoffs with a campaign for a sliding scale of wages and hours, and constitute the organizational framework for a reborn workers state.

Mass hostility to Yeltsin’s austerity measures is being exploited by a host of right-wing nationalist demagogues and anti-Semitic descendents of the Black Hundreds. The demonstrations against Yeltsin in recent months have brought together ‘‘patriotic’’ Stalinists with Russian-nationalist fascists. Capitalist restoration has unleashed an explosion of reactionary nationalist blood-letting throughout the Caucasus region, in Moldava and elsewhere in the former USSR. Marxists uphold the right of all nations to self-determination and oppose the Great Russian chauvinism of Yeltsin’s Kremlin. At the same time, socialists champion the voluntary union of the peoples of the former USSR in a renewed socialist federation.

To avert disaster, the working class urgently requires revolutionary leadership. A revolutionary party would seek to mobilize the proletariat to drive Yeltsin and other nationalist potentates from power, reverse privatization programs and return the birthplace of the world’s first workers state to the revolutionary internationalist road of Lenin and Trotsky.

Any group aspiring to revolutionary leadership must be able to recognize reality and tell the truth. Political reality today is shaped by the fact that the victory of the counterrevolution in August 1991 destroyed the Soviet workers state. Most of the economy is still formally the property of the state, as in Poland, Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe. But those wielding the monopoly of force in society are committed to dismantling, not maintaining, state ownership of the means of production. The class that brought collectivized property into being and had the greatest interest in its survival—the proletariat—was excluded from direct political power with the rise of Stalin in the 1920s. Yet the Stalinist bureaucracy, for all its crimes against the working class, derived its social power from its role as administrator of the state-owned economy. It was episodically compelled to defend workers property forms from capitalist restoration and to repress pro-capitalist elements within its own ranks in order to safeguard its privileges. With the failure of the August coup, the deeply divided and thoroughly demoralized Stalinist apparatus collapsed, as forces openly pledged to destroy the economic foundations laid by the October Revolution seized power.

The success of the coup plotters would have represented an obstacle, however temporary and insubstantial, to the victory of the restorationists now in power. It was therefore the duty of those who defended the Soviet Union against capitalist restoration to side with the coup leaders against Yeltsin, without offering them any political support. Yet, to our knowledge, every other tendency purporting to be Trotskyist failed this last test of Soviet defensism. Most sided with the forces gathered around Yeltsin in the name of democracy. Others were neutral. To excuse their failure, many of these groups now find it expedient to play down the significance of Yeltsin’s August victory. We shall examine the responses to the coup by three pseudo-Trotskyist organizations: the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, Workers Power and the Spartacists.

USec: ‘Nobody Here But Us Democrats’

For the past forty years, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec), led by Ernest Mandel, has specialized in distorting and abridging Trotsky’s revolutionary program to adapt to the latest leftist political fad. Their search for a cheap ticket to ‘‘mass influence’’ has led them from support to insurrectionary Stalinists like Castro and Ho Chi Minh in the late 1960s, to unstinted praise for the anti-communists of Poland’s Solidarnosc a decade later. As the prevailing political winds shifted rightward during the past decade and a half, the USec has been trying to find a niche on the fringes of social democracy. It is hardly surprising, then, that during the August coup Mandel and his followers sided with the few thousand capitalist-restorationist liberals and black-marketeers who rallied to Yeltsin’s White House. Along with the entire international bourgeoisie, the USec applauded the Russian president’s victory over the Emergency Committee as a triumph for ‘‘democracy.’’ One American USec affiliate, the Fourth Internationalist Tendency, wrote, ‘‘The defeat of the coup was a genuine victory for the Soviet peoples’’ (Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, October 1991). Another American USec outfit saw in the Yeltsinite crowds a ‘‘popular uprising’’ with ‘‘few precedents since the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917, led by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky’’ (Socialist Action, September 1991). Mandel himself wrote:

‘‘The…putschists wanted to severely limit or even suppress the democratic liberties that existed in reality….This is why the putsch had to be opposed by all means available. And this is why the failure of the putsch should be hailed.’’

    —International Viewpoint, 3 February

Like every good Kautskyite, Mandel’s highest criterion is abstract ‘‘democracy.’’ The counterrevolutionaries in the Kremlin and their international backers in the IMF are not so worried about such ‘‘liberties.’’ The brutal austerity measures required for capitalist restoration will be imposed on the Soviet masses with bayonets, not stump speeches or election-day handshakes.

Marxists know that bourgeois democracy has a class content. The real social inequality between bourgeois and proletarians, between the homeless beggar and the president of General Motors, is not eliminated, but rather concealed, by formal equality of rights. Parliamentary institutions play an important part in legitimating the rule of the bourgeoisie by concealing the class policies of capitalist governments behind a facade of popular consent. The working class must defend democratic liberties in capitalist society against all attempts to curtail or suspend them. Yet, the conquests of the October Revolution weighed far heavier than bourgeois democracy in the scales of human progress. The abolition of private property over one sixth of the earth’s surface and the replacement of market anarchy by economic planning were social foundations upon which democracy could become real for the millions who do not own factories, banks or media empires. The hypocritical ‘‘democratic’’ imperialists hated the Stalinists not because they disenfranchised the Soviet workers, but because their rule depended on the survival of the gains won by the Russian proletariat in 1917. In Trotsky’s words:

‘‘We must not lose sight for a single moment of the fact that the question of overthrowing the Soviet bureaucracy is for us subordinate to the question of preserving state property in the means of production in the USSR…’’

    —In Defense of Marxism 

USec on the Wrong Side of the Barricades

The barricades of August formed a dividing line between those bent on bringing back capitalism and those who wanted to slow down the market reforms and preserve, at least for a time, the social and economic status quo. Social democrats, liberals and all those who openly favored capitalist restoration had little difficulty in grasping the significance of the coup and its defeat. Pseudo-Trotskyists, however, must falsify reality to justify shirking Soviet defensism and prostrating themselves before left-liberal public opinion. It is therefore extremely important for the USec to ‘‘prove’’ that there were no fundamental differences between the coup plotters and the Yeltsinites. Nat Weinstein, writing in the September 1991 issue of Socialist Action, opined:

‘‘To the extent there are divisions among those in governmental and state power—from Gorbachev, to the organizers of the coup, to Boris Shevardnadze—it is not between those supporting a market-based capitalist democracy, on the one side, and ‘hardline communists defending socialism,’ on the other.’’

The coup leaders were certainly not ‘‘communists defending socialism;’’ they were Stalinist bureaucrats attempting to hang on to the power and prerogatives of the central apparatus, which depended on the existence of a state-owned economy, against forces that had openly declared for capitalism. If the coup did not pit restorationists against those resisting restoration, what, according to Weinstein, were the rival factions fighting about? He continues:

‘‘All major currents in the state apparatus…support the reintroduction of capitalism.

‘‘The fundamental difference between them was whether it was possible to continue the process of capitalist restoration by political means, or whether an iron-fisted dictatorship was necessary to impose the anti-working-class measures this policy requires.’’

It is not hard to see where this reasoning leads. If the Yeltsinites and the coup leaders were equally in favor of capitalism, and differed only over the political means, the working class should favor the victory of the faction that sought to restore capitalism by less repressive methods. This, as we shall see, is the only logical argument offered by any of the so-called Trotskyists who refused to block with the coup leaders. Only its major premise—that the aims of the coupists and their adversaries were the same—is false.

Ernest Mandel agrees with Weinstein that Yeltsin represents a wing of the Soviet bureaucracy, but doubts that either the Russian president or the coup leaders would or could restore capitalism:

‘‘The Soviet bureaucracy is too vast, its social networks too strong, the web of inertia, routine, obstruction and sabotage on which it rests too dense for it to be decisively weakened by actions from above. . . .

‘‘Yeltsin, just as much, if not more than Gorbachev, represents a faction in the top levels of the nomenklatura. Yeltsin, by his whole past and education, is a man of the apparatus. His gifts as a populist demagogue do not permit the modification of this judgement….

‘‘People will say that, unlike Gorbachev, who continued in some vague fashion to call himself a socialist, Yeltsin has come out openly for the restoration of capitalism. This is true. But professions of faith are not enough for us to form an assessment of politicians. We have to look at what happens in practice and what social interests they serve. ‘‘From this point of view, Yeltsin and his allies in the liquidation of the USSR…represent a faction of the nomenklatura distinct from the bourgeois forces properly so-called…although they can overlap at the margins.’’

    —International Viewpoint, 3 February

Thus Weinstein, on the one hand, argues that the entire Soviet bureaucracy was bent on restoring capitalism, while Mandel, on the other, is skeptical as to whether any wing of the bureaucracy, including its most rightist Yeltsinite elements, has the will or power to do so. These two assessments of the Soviet bureaucracy are diametrically opposed, and would give rise to heated contention in any organization that took such questions seriously. If, in fact, Weinstein and Mandel continue to live happily together under the same political tent, it is only because their apparent differences conceal a much more significant common denominator.

Mandel and Weinstein agree that the August coup and its denouement did not pose the question of the survival of the Soviet workers state. They concur that Yeltsin’s main political difference with the Emergency Committee was that he wanted to preserve democratic liberties. Thus, from opposite assumptions concerning the nature and direction of the Soviet bureaucracy, Weinstein and Mandel arrive at the same bottom line: support to the ‘‘democratic’’ Yeltsin camp. And by a happy coincidence, this practical conclusion situates the USec on the fair-weather side of liberal-left and social-democratic opinion. For opportunists, analysis of objective reality functions not as a guide to action, but as a rationale for cutting programmatic corners. Which rationale one chooses is a minor matter as long as the cash value is the same.

Yeltsinites and Coupists: Conflict of Interest

Like all rationales those of Weinstein and Mandel contain elements of truth emphasized to falsify the larger picture. It is true, as Weinstein would point out, that the Emergency Committee, unlike Soviet Stalinists in the past, did not seek to justify its actions with the rhetoric of socialism. Nor can it be denied that the attitude toward collectivized property expressed in their public statements was ambiguous: on the one hand, they voiced concern about the growing peril to the ‘‘integral national economic mechanism that has been shaping for decades,’’ and the offensive that is ‘‘underway on the rights of working people….to work, education, health, housing and leisure’’ (New York Times, 19 August 1991). Yet on the other hand, they pledged themselves to respect the different forms of property that had grown up in the Soviet Union, including private property, and to continue down the path of perestroika.

This equivocation is explained by the fact that the coup plotters were bereft of any positive historical outlook. Very few of them, in all likelihood, believed in the superiority of socialized property, let alone in ‘‘socialism.’’ Writing in the early 1930s, Trotsky described the Stalinist bureaucracy as a mixed bag: it ran the gamut from utterly cynical time-servers who would betray the Soviet state at the first opportunity, to sincere socialist revolutionaries; from fascists like Butenko to proletarian internationalists like Ignace Reiss. The Brezhnev years, however, saw the erosion of whatever socialist conviction the bureaucracy retained. As the Soviet economy lost its forward momentum, complacency, cynicism and corruption pervaded the apparatus at all levels. This corrosion was personified by Brezhnev himself, with his notorious fondness for accumulating fancy dachas and foreign sports cars. The only ideological conviction that motivated the ‘‘hardliners’’ was Soviet patriotism: a commitment to maintain the USSR’s standing as a world power. This ‘‘patriotism’’ explains the undeniably heterogeneous character of the opposition to Yeltsin, and the curious affinity between old-guard apparatchiks and czarist anti-Semites: for both, maintaining a strong Russian state is far more important than the property relations that support it.

But a Marxist analysis of the Soviet ruling caste is not primarily based on what the bureaucrats think, much less what they say in public. The key to explaining the political behavior of different social classes and strata lies in their objective social position and the material interests that derive from it. Unlike the bourgeoisie, the Soviet bureaucracy was never a property-owning group. In August 1991, as at the height of Stalin’s power, its privileges derived from its role as custodian of the centrally administered, state-owned economy. As the power of the center came under mounting attack from rebellious nationalities, breakaway bureaucrats and free marketeers, it was natural that some sections of the central state and party apparatus would attempt to reassert their prerogatives. This was the significance of the power struggle within the party that preceded the August coup, and of the coup attempt itself (see IBT September 1991 statement).

What requires explanation is not the fact that a section of the Stalinist bureaucracy offered resistance, but that it allowed itself to be overthrown unresistingly in most of Eastern Europe, and that the attempted counterblow of the Soviet nomenklatura, when it finally came, was so belated, irresolute and pathetic. The sclerosis of Stalinism was indeed far more advanced than had been thought prior to 1989.

The status quo, which the ‘‘gang of eight’’ sought to preserve, included something more valuable to Soviet workers and the workers of the world than a thousand constitutions or parliaments: public ownership of the means of production. No one could have known on the morning of 19 August that the barricades erected in defense of the status quo would prove as ephemeral as they did. But as we wrote before the coup:

‘‘It is possible that leading sections of the bureaucracy may attempt at some future point to arrest the process of capitalist restoration. If that happened, it would be our duty to side militarily with the ‘conservatives’ against the Yeltsinites. The Stalinist caste is incapable of solving the problems which gave rise to the ‘reforms’ in the first place, but slamming on the brakes could at least buy some time.’’

    —1917, No. 10

Ernest Mandel, who complacently assures us that the Stalinist bureaucracy is still in power, also buttresses his argument with certain fragments of truth. Yeltsin was indeed a creature of the apparatus, first gaining national notoriety as a party boss in the city of Sverdlovsk (now, as in czarist times, Yekaterinburg), and then going on to become Moscow party chief. A brash man with a very high opinion of himself, Yeltsin chafed at the autocratic party discipline imposed by Gorbachev, and publicly criticized the Party Chairman for not taking glasnost and perestroika far enough. Yeltsin’s rupture with Gorbachev eventually led to his dismissal as head of the Moscow party and his expulsion from the Politburo. He subsequently repudiated the Communist Party altogether.

Yeltsin survived politically only because his reputation as Gorbachev’s most prominent critic allowed him to become a spokesperson for forces outside the party. Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian Republic against the party as a champion of those elements, in Russia and the USSR as a whole, that sought to destroy the CPSU’s political monopoly. When he stood on a tank outside his White House to confront the coup makers, he spoke as a representative of foreign capital, national separatists and Moscow’s pimps, currency speculators and other ‘‘entrepreneurs’’ who, along with their private security guards, comprised the bulk of the crowd that rallied to his support. Mandel can paint Yeltsin as a ‘‘man of the apparatus’’ only by ignoring his defection to the camp of the class enemy.

‘‘Spontaneous Privatization’’ and the Nomenklatura

Mandel’s assertion that the bureaucracy remains in power contains an element of truth as well. The millions of individuals who constituted the nomenklatura have not disappeared and many of them have not even lost their jobs. The Ukrainian president, Leonid Kravchuk, and his Khazak counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, were Stalinist party chiefs who became fervent nationalists only after August. It is no surprise that holdovers from the old regime, and the lower bureaucratic echelons on which they lean, are scrambling for positions of influence in the new political and economic order. If a fully developed capitalist class, armed with a legal code and a repressive state apparatus to protect private property, were a precondition for capitalist restoration, capitalism could never be reestablished in any collectivized economy.

The 27 December 1991 New York Times quoted Graham Allison, a Harvard Sovietologist, on the new role played by many directors of state firms:

‘‘‘You are the manager of a state enterprise, say an aircraft company with 10,000 employees, and you begin to imagine there is no one above you,’ You don’t he said. ‘ get any orders, and the ministry you reported to disappears. You begin to imagine that the property is yours, and since you aren’t getting any supplies you have to look out for yourself and your employees. Sometimes you get a foreigner to buy half of the operation in a joint venture. That is spontaneous privatization.’’’

The USec’s International Viewpoint (20 January) contains a remarkable interview with Yuri Marenich, academician and delegate to the Moscow Council (Soviet) of Peoples’ Deputies. Marenich describes the process by which local Yeltsinite officials appropriated large chunks of real estate and other public property:

‘‘They ran their electoral campaigns under the slogan: ‘having won power, we will demonopolize property and manage the economy through the market.’ But once they got the power to manage the public’s property, they found themselves facing a tremendous temptation to grab this property for themselves. This was made easy by the possibility of combining jobs in government institutions with posts in private firms dealing with the government. ‘‘Briefly, those in charge of supervising privatization simply transferred the district’s property to companies they themselves head.

‘‘All the members of the soviet’s executive committee set up private companies that they headed. One firm took over the soviet’s information services; another its legal services, a third took over all the real estate, its sale and leasing rights on the territory of the district….

‘‘It’s quite simple. Since the 1930s, we’ve had a system of transferring property without payment. But it was all state property and the transfer was from one state agency or enterprise to another. All the parties were acting in the name of a single owner, the state. Now, however, we also have private owners. But they have used the same procedure to transfer real estate from the district soviet, a state body, to a private company….’’

Marenich speculates that a similar pattern is being replicated throughout the country. Many of the old nomenklatura are likely to find a place as members of a new post-Soviet capitalist class. Those who replace the Stalinist apparatchiks will no doubt for some time continue to operate the mechanisms of public ownership.

Reimposition of capitalism must obviously come about as the result of a process in which elements of continuity with previous modes of social and economic life will survive, as an indigenous bourgeoisie is formed from fragments of other classes and strata. Powerful centrifugal forces were at work in the Soviet economy years before Yeltsin’s triumph in August. But Mandel’s stress on the elements of continuity obscures the fact that the defeat of the coup marked a qualitative change. As long as the center in Moscow could exert administrative control over the economy, regional and local bureaucrats were obliged to work within (or around) the framework laid down from above; their appetite for the prerogatives of property owners ran into an objective constraint. Only after the central power was definitively broken in August were they free to embark on the path of ‘‘spontaneous privatization.’’ The August events sounded the death knell of the Soviet workers state. All of Mandel’s and Weinstein’s assurances that nothing fundamental has changed are, in the end, little more than elaborate attempts to avoid responsibility for having sided with the counterrevolution.

Workers Power: Defensists in Word, Yeltsinites in Deed

The ostensible Trotskyists of Workers Power (Britain) and its partners in the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) are a good deal more candid than the USec in acknowledging the significance of the aborted coup. Reluctant at first to admit that the Soviet workers state met its end in August, they initially described the post-coup situation as one of ‘‘dual power,’’ in which Gorbachev, representing the bureaucracy, continued to vie for state authority with the Yeltsinite restorationists. When, however, the ‘‘Gorbachev pole’’ capsized with a tap of Yeltsin’s little finger in December, Workers Power finally recognized reality and conceded that, ‘‘The Soviet Union is dead. The spectre that haunted the capitalists for over seventy years has been laid to rest.’’ (Workers Power, January).

Workers Power also sees the connection between the death of the Soviet workers state and Yeltsin’s August victory over the coup. A September 1991 statement by the LRCI International Secretariat asserts that the bureaucratic faction represented by the Emergency Committee ‘‘hoped by their actions on 19 August to defend their privileges on the basis of post capitalist property relations’’ (Workers Power, September 1991, emphasis added). The statement goes on to describe the Yeltsin forces in the following terms:

‘‘The former layer of [democratic and nationalist] oppositionists…lost almost all belief in reforming ‘really existing socialism’ and were oriented to western democracy and a market economy as ideals. The latter—the ex-Gorbachevites—became disillusioned with Gorbachev’s utopian project of ‘market socialism’, outraged by their leader’s vacillations and compromises with the conservatives and attracted into the service of imperialism as the restorers of capitalism in the USSR.

‘‘What does the Yeltsin-headed coalition of forces politically represent? Yeltsin, Shevardnadze, and indeed the whole military and political entourage of the Russian President, represent a faction of the bureaucracy that has abandoned the defence of its caste privileges and their source—a degenerate workers’ state—in favour of becoming key members of a new bourgeois ruling class.’’

Thus, according to the LRCI, the identity of the contending forces in the August confrontation is clear: on the one side, a section of the Soviet bureaucracy which, if only to maintain its privileges, sought to defend the Soviet workers state; on the other side, a coalition of nationalists, ‘‘democratic’’ intelligentsia and bureaucrats that sought to destroy the workers state and restore capitalism. In this confrontation, Workers Power did not hesitate to choose sides…with those who sought to destroy the workers state! The same issue of Workers Power proclaimed, ‘‘we had to stand with, and indeed take the front ranks in, the fight to stop the coup.’’ To underscore this point, the same issue features an article entitled ‘‘Their song is over,’’ which lambastes ‘‘the Coup’s Left Supporters.’’ Lest anyone doubt the LRCI’s seriousness on this score, they recently broke relations with a small California group called the Revolutionary Trotskyist Tendency for refusing to support the Yeltsinites against the Emergency Committee.

By what miracles of ideological contortion can the LRCI square this position with its claims to be communist, Trotskyist and Soviet defensist? The LRCI International Secretariat statement continues:

‘‘Major questions are posed by these events. Was the perspective of political revolution an unreal, a utopian perspective? Was the resistance to the conservative coup in itself counter-revolutionary? Would a successful bureaucratic clamp-down have given the working class a breathing space? The answer to all of these questions is no!

‘‘In what sense could it be said that SCSE [the Emergency Committee] ‘defended the planned property relations’? Only in this: that it resisted their abolition to the extent that they were the ‘host’ off which it was parasitic. However, this massive social parasite was the principle [sic] cause of the sickness unto death of the bureaucratic centrally planned economy, of the consequent disillusion of the masses in it.

‘‘Through their totalitarian dictatorship the Stalinists were also an absolute bloc [sic] on the self-activity and self-consciousness of the proletariat and its ability to crystalise a new vanguard, which alone could have not merely preserved but renewed the ‘gains of October’.’’

    —Workers Power, September 1991

It is axiomatic for Trotskyists that the Stalinists were an obstacle to the self-activity of the working class and acted as a parasite on the planned economy, which they ruined through their mismanagement, and ultimately proved incapable of defending. This is why a political revolution was necessary in the USSR: to oust the Stalinists and preserve the planned economy.

What Was To Be Done?

Even a relatively small revolutionary grouping could have made a great impact during those critical August days, when the weak and vacillating coupists faced Yeltsin’s motley rabble. The weakness and disorganization evident on both sides presented an opportunity for a Trotskyist group committed to preserving nationalized property under the direction of democratic organs of workers power. The immediate tactical objective in those first days would have been to organize an assault to disperse the few hundred lightly armed Yeltsinites in and around the Russian White House.

A determined initiative against the counterrevolutionaries would have won wide support in the working class, who were fed up with perestroika. It would also have been viewed sympathetically by a considerable section of the armed forces, and could have galvanized active support from pro-socialist elements. The floundering grey men running the coup would have had little choice but to accept this ‘‘help’’ even though, carried out in the name of workers power, it would in the end have threatened their interests too. The scattering of the Yeltsinites could have been followed up by a call for representatives from every factory, barracks and working-class housing estate to gather at the White House to create a real, democratic Moscow soviet.

The success of such an initiative could have sparked mass workers struggles throughout the USSR to rout the capitalist restorationists. It would also have further weakened the grip of the CPSU apparat. A military bloc with the coupists against Yeltsin was not counterposed to the struggle for soviet democracy. Just as Lenin’s bloc with Kerensky against General Kornilov in August 1917 prepared the overthrow of the bourgeois Provisional Government, a struggle against Yeltsin in which independent working-class formations pointed their guns the same way as the coupists would have strengthened the forces favoring political revolution, and blocked efforts by Yanayev, Pugo et al to resurrect their system of political repression.

There is no way to guarantee in advance that an assault on Yeltsin would have succeeded. Yet even bloody defeat would have been preferable to succumbing without a struggle. Millions of workers would have been exposed to the program of Trotskyism. The attempt to defeat capitalist restoration and to fight for direct workers power would remain as an example and as an important focus of debate in the developing consciousness of the Russian working class. But in the actual circumstances, defeat was by no means inevitable. The intervention of a small, but cohesive group armed with a correct political orientation might well have tipped the balance against the counterrevolution.

Unfortunately the Soviet working class did not play any independent political role. The struggle for power was between the Stalinist parasites who sought to preserve their host and the Yeltsinite restorationists who sought to destroy it. Workers Power complains that the Stalinists defend collectivized property ‘‘only’’ as a parasite. But the little word ‘‘only’’ obscures a convergence of interests that, during those three August days, was a matter of life and death for the Soviet workers state. A parasite cannot exist without its host, and therefore has a distinct interest in preserving it. If, at the hour of mortal danger, the parasite is armed and the host is not, the host’s survival depends on the parasite’s victory. That the Stalinists ruined the planned economy and could not be counted on to defend it in the future does not alter the fact that, in trying to preserve the status quo, their aims, for that moment, coincided with the interests of the working class. When Trotsky spoke of the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union, he did not mean that the Fourth International should defend the USSR only if the Stalinists ceased to rule, or became more competent or purer in heart.

Yeltsin Was the Greater Danger

Workers Power blocked with the Yeltsinites because it considered the Stalinists a greater enemy of the working class than the capitalist restorationists. This is spelled out in the September issue of Workers Power:

‘‘the only force capable of defending state property…is the working class. And it cannot act when its strikes are banned, when it is subject to curfews, censorship and political bans. It is far better that the fledgling workers’ organisations of the USSR learn to swim against the stream of bureaucratic restorationism than be huddled in the ‘breathing space’ of the prison cell.’’

The ‘‘democratic’’ breathing space which Workers Power values so highly is not likely to last long under Yeltsin, as WP admits: ‘‘Once installed in power and seeking to crystalise a new class of exploiters even full and consistent bourgeois democratic rights for the masses will become intolerable’’ (Ibid.). So the sole difference between the Stalinists and the Yeltsinites with regard to democratic liberties is in the time required to abolish them. The Stalinists, had they prevailed, would have had an already existing police state to use against the workers. The Yeltsinites, on the other hand, need more time to consolidate a repressive apparatus and cannot yet get rid of many democratic freedoms.

Workers Power concedes that capitalism will mean, ‘‘poverty, high prices, unemployment, back breaking work, social oppression and the threat of war’’ (Workers Power, January), and ‘‘a historically unprecedented expropriation of the rural and urban workers of the ‘fruits of their labour’’’ (Workers Power, December 1991). Is Stalinist political repression more harmful to the working class as a fighting force than the social chaos and mass destitution of capitalist restoration? To justify its decision to back Yeltsin against the coup plotters Workers Power must answer in the affirmative. But such an answer would fly in the face of the whole body of Trotsky’s writings on the Russian question. Trotsky insisted that the struggle to oust the Stalinist oligarchs was not counterposed to, but rather based on (and ultimately subordinate to), the defense of collectivized property. This is why Workers Power, which poses as an orthodox Trotskyist tendency, cannot openly state its real position: that the defense of the social gains of the Russian Revolution was subordinate to the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy. But its position on the August events will permit of no other conclusion.

Trotsky defined centrism as revolutionary in word and reformist in deed. Workers Power provides a chemically pure example of this phenomenon. While they frequently analyze events and political forces accurately, their opportunist impulse to tailor their politics to radical/social-democratic public opinion prevents them from translating that analysis into a program of action, and often forces them to practical conclusions that contradict their own reasoning. They have yet to learn from Ernest Mandel and the USec that the gap between opportunist theory and practice can only be mediated by false representations of reality. To bridge that gap the USec asserts that there were no differences between the Yeltsinites and the Emergency Committee over property forms—only over whether to use democratic or authoritarian methods. Workers Power, by contrast, allows that the two rival camps did objectively represent opposing property forms, but throws in its lot with Yeltsin nonetheless, and attempts to paper over this contradiction with a series of ‘‘orthodox’’ non sequiturs.

The Spartacists: ‘Neither the Coup Committee Nor Yeltsin’

James Robertson’s Spartacist League/U.S. and its overseas appendages in the International Communist League (ICL) have long claimed that, alone of all the so-called Trotskyist groupings on the planet, only they truly defend the Soviet Union. Yet this posture contrasts with their utter confusion over the victory of Yeltsin’s counterrevolution. The January/February issue of Workers Hammer, the publication of the ICL’s British affiliate, contains an exchange with Gerry Downing of the Revolutionary Internationalist League (RIL) entitled ‘‘RIL: neither the coup committee nor Yeltsin,’’ which castigates the RIL for remaining neutral in the coup:

‘‘for RIL there is no difference between a wing of the bureaucracy on the one hand and a wing of world imperialism and capitalist restorationism on the other. And of course if Stalinism is equated with imperialism, then the possibility of a military bloc with a section of the bureaucracy against capitalist restorationists is necessarily precluded, since by their lights this would boil down to a bloc against capitalist restoration with ‘capitalist restorationists’.’’

One would hardly suspect that the ICL, like the centrists they upbraid, also refused to take sides in the coup. IfWorkers Hammer wishes to take anyone to task for neutrality, we suggest that it begin with its American sister publication, Workers Vanguard (WV), which responded to the coup in its 30 August issue as follows:

 ‘‘Even up to the coup, many of the most advanced workers, who opposed Yeltsin’s plans for wholesale privatization and Gorbachev’s market reforms, looked to the so-called hardline ‘patriotic’ wing of the bureaucracy.There is no room anymore for such illusions.


‘‘[The] avowed program [of the coupists] was martial law to keep the USSR from breaking apart, which comes down to perestroika minus glasnost: the introduction of the market but not so fast, and shut up. . . .

‘‘During the coup, the Moscow workers council…issued a call to: ‘Form workers militias for the preservation of socialized property, for the preservation of social order on the streets of our cities, for the control of the carrying out of the orders and instructions of the State Committee on the Emergency Situation.’ There was not one word of criticism of the GKChP [Emergency Committee]. A call for workers militias to smash the counterrevolutionary Yeltsinite demonstrations was certainly in order. But if the Emergency Committee had consolidated power, it would have attempted to disband any such workers militias, which would otherwise have inevitably and rapidly escaped its political control.’’

Prodigies of exegesis would be required to interpret the above passages as suggesting anything other than ‘‘neither the coup committee nor Yeltsin.’’ And no amount of bombast can cover up the fact that the Spartacists’ arguments closely resemble those of the Mandelites, viz that there was no essential conflict between Yeltsin and the Emergency Committee. Like Mandel, the Spartacists seek to rationalize their failure to take a side by claiming that the coup left the class character of the state unchanged. For the ICL, the Soviet state still exists and Boris Yeltsin even now presides over a degenerated workers state.

Yet, unlike Mandel, the Spartacists cannot simply advocate a plague-on-both-your-houses position. Until August 1991 they had often endured the opprobrium of the entire mainstream left for advocating a military bloc with Stalinists against restorationist forces. The Spartacists correctly sided with the Jaruzelski regime in its 1981 confrontation with the counterrevolutionaries of Solidarnosc and gave military support to Soviet troops battling the reactionary, imperialist-backed insurgency in Afghanistan. The Spartacists were, in fact, so enthusiastic about siding with the Stalinists that they began to blur the line between military and political support. Their neutrality in August thus represents a radical departure from the noisy claims to be the last, best Soviet defensists.

Neutrality with a Bad Conscience

Because this turn has no real programmatic basis, the Spartacist leadership has been reluctant to acknowledge that a major political line shift has taken place. Hence, they insist, in defiance of all logic and contrary to their own written pronouncements, that they were not neutral. They present their stand as perfectly consistent with past positions, and hedge it with a variety of qualifications, ambiguous formulations and distortions of fact. To obscure the striking resemblance between many of their arguments and those of other centrist and reformist pseudo-Trotskyists, the Spartacists must turn up the volume of their polemics. But increased volume only makes more audible the discordant sounds emanating from the Robertsonite headquarters in New York.

To the extent that the Spartacists advance any coherent arguments at all, they revolve around the highly dubious claim that the Emergency Committee made no attempt to disperse the counterrevolutionary rabble that gathered to defend Yeltsin’s White House. Assuming for the sake of argument that this claim is true, it would mean either that the coup leaders were not really in conflict with Yeltsin, or that they did oppose Yeltsin, but were too weak and indecisive to move against him. The Spartacists are never quite clear about which of these assessments they favor. Their repeated claim that the Emergency Committee’s power bid represented a ‘‘perestroika coup’’ points to the former. Their characterization of the coup as ‘‘pathetic,’’ and of its leaders as ‘‘the gang of eight that couldn’t shoot straight,’’ on the other hand, lean toward the latter. Either conclusion, however, leads to a hopeless tangle of contradictions.

How, for instance, can the claim that both Yeltsin and the Emergency Committee were equally in favor of marketization be squared with the assertion in the same article that, ‘‘The working people of the Soviet Union, and indeed the workers of the world, have suffered an unparalleled disaster,’’ and that the coup’s failure ‘‘unleashed a counterrevolutionary tide across the land of the October Revolution’’ (WV, 30 August)? How could a counterrevolutionary tide have been unleashed unless some major obstacle to it had been removed? Were the forces that the coup leaders represented such an obstacle? Or would they have unleashed a similar counter-revolutionary tide had they won? In that case, why was their defeat an ‘‘unparalleled disaster’’ for the working class?Workers Vanguard can not answer these questions.

Workers Vanguard’s assertion that the Emergency Committee stood for ‘‘perestroika minus glasnost’’ echoes the arguments of Weinstein and Mandel. They all agree that Yeltsin and the coup leaders differed only over the question of democratic rights, with the latter wanting to impose capitalism by means of an ‘‘iron-fisted dictatorship.’’ A thoughtful Robertsonite might wonder if the Soviet workers would not be in a better position to organize against restoration with glasnost than without it. Of course, this soon leads to support for the ‘‘democratic’’ Yeltsin camp. Unlike the USec, Workers Vanguard stops short of pursuing this argument to its logical conclusion.

Then there is the second set of excuses for neutrality: that the Emergency Committee did in fact represent those elements of the bureaucracy with interests that conflicted fundamentally with those of the Yeltsin camp, but that they were too half-hearted and inept to stop the Yeltsinites. First, it should be noted that this judgment was made with the invaluable benefit of hindsight: the events unfolded so swiftly that WV’s first article on the coup was published some days after its fate had already been decided. Do the Spartacists claim to have known in advance that the coup would fail so miserably? It was long evident that Soviet Stalinism had reached the end of its tether, and could not have restored the pre-Gorbachev status quo in any event. But this general assessment was not sufficient to gauge the exact correlation of forces on 19 August. This could be tested only in action. Even if a victory by the coup leaders would only have temporarily slowed the momentum of capitalist restoration, this alone was adequate grounds for a military bloc. Trotskyists do not choose sides according to the resolve, tactical finesse or strength of opposing camps, but on the basis of their political character. The coupists either had an interest in stopping Yeltsin or they didn’t. But the Spartacists want it both ways: they simultaneously claim that the Emergency Committee never intended to stop Yeltsin in the first place and criticize them for bungling the job.

The Robertsonites’ criticisms of the Emergency Committee take an even more bizarre twist when they condemn the ‘‘gang of eight’’ for failing to mobilize the working class against Yeltsin:

‘‘The ‘gang of eight’ not only did not mobilise the proletariat, they ordered everyone to stay at work.

‘‘The ‘gang of eight’ was incapable of sweeping away Yeltsin in its pathetic excuse for a putsch because this was a ‘perestroika coup’; the coupists didn’t want to unleash the forces that could have defeated the more extreme counterrevolutionaries for that could have led to a civil war if theYeltsinites really fought back. ’’

    —Workers Hammer, January/February

The same article proudly recalled the Spartacist position on Solidarnosc a decade earlier:

‘‘Poland in 1981 posed the same question as the Soviet Union today, but in the earlier instance the Stalinists didtake measures to temporarily suppress counterrevolution. In the face of this confrontation it was impossible to waffle….’’

In the Soviet case, the Spartacists are turning waffling into a fine art. But the comparison with Poland in 1981 is an apt one. We do not recall Jaruzelski mobilizing the Polish working class against Walesa. The Spartacists seem to forget that Stalinists in power rarely mobilize the working class politically because the very existence of the bureaucratic caste is predicated upon monopolizing political power. To make military support to Stalinists fighting capitalist restorationists conditional on their mobilizing the working class is tantamount to demanding that they cease to be Stalinists.

Elsewhere in the same polemic Workers Hammer implies that it would have supported any measures the ‘gang of eight’ had taken against Yeltsin:

‘‘Calling for workers to sweep away Yeltsin’s barricades would have meant a military bloc with any of the coup forces that moved to crush the counterrevolutionary rabble….Against RIL’s Third Campism in the August events we wrote: ‘in an armed struggle pitting outright restorationists against recalcitrant elements of the bureaucracy, defence of the collectivised economy would have been placed on the agenda whatever the Stalinists’ intentions.   Trotskyists would have entered a military bloc with ‘‘the Thermidorian section of the bureaucracy against open attack by capitalist counterrevolution’’, as Trotsky postulated in the 1938 Transitional Programme’.’’

Jaruzelski’s 1981 crackdown involved no armed struggle because Solidarnosc offered no armed resistance. Martial law was imposed through a series of police measures. The Spartacists here seem to be suggesting that they would have blocked with the Emergency Committee had it moved more decisively to enforce martial law. By this logic, military support becomes contingent upon the firmness and skill of Stalinist tactics as opposed to the Stalinists’ social character, political aims or the objective consequences of their victory or defeat. Or, more precisely, the Spartacists judge the political aims and social character of the Stalinist ‘‘hardliners’’ by their behavior in the coup.

The argument has a circular quality: the Emergency Committee did not take adequate measures against Yeltsin because they had no fundamental differences with him. How do we know they had no fundamental differences? Because they took no adequate measures. In other words, forget the fact that the majority of the bureaucracy had an objective interest in preserving the state from which they derived their privileges and prestige; forget as well the whole inner-party struggle that preceded the coup attempt, in which Gorbachev came under increasing attack for giving too much ground to Yeltsin and nationalist schismatics; forget, in short, that the coup attempt itself was a blow directed against the Yeltsinite restorationists. The Spartacists treat the Stalinists’ motives as opaque, and the coup as an event without context or background.

Did the Coupists Go After Yeltsin?

The effectiveness of the coup leaders’ tactics are a question of secondary import. But did the Emergency Committee in fact attempt to move against Yeltsin? In the days following the coup’s defeat, reports began to surface that the KGB’s elite commando division, known as the Alpha Group (the same unit that assassinated the Afghan president, Hafizullah Amin, in 1979), was ordered to assault Yeltsin’s White House, but refused to obey the order. This version of events was first reported by Yeltsin himself, and later confirmed by the officers of the Alpha Group. The Spartacists have gone to great lengths to debunk these reports. Workers Vanguard of 6 December contains an article entitled ‘‘Why They Didn’t Go After Yeltsin—Soviet Union: X-Ray of a Coup.’’ The article quotes a piece by Robert Cullen in the 4 November 1991 New Yorker to discount the version of events given by the officers involved: ‘‘The Alpha Group’s post-coup interviews, in fact, have only one thing in common: in each case, the officer doing the talking tries to take credit for being the hero whose refusal to obey orders foiled the coup.’’ Workers Vanguard’s ‘‘X-Ray’’ relies heavily on excerpts from the interrogations of the coup plotters after their arrest, published by Der Spiegel, in which they all deny having issued orders to attack Yeltsin’s White House. It is peculiar that Workers Vanguard should be so skeptical of the claims of the Alpha Group officers yet so credulous of the denials by the coup plotters, as they prepare to go on trial for their lives.

Workers Vanguard, moreover, quotes very selectively from Cullen’s New Yorker piece. Cullen reports at least one attempt by the Alpha Group, supported by paratroop units, to advance on the White House. The first attempt, according to Cullen, was foiled when Yeltsinite crowds surrounded the armored personnel carriers moving into position, and a pro-Yeltsin military man, General Constantine Kobets, met with the paratroop commander and persuaded him not to attack. Cullen reports that this setback did not deter the Emergency Committee from trying to mount a second assault:

‘‘The leaks coming in to the White House suggested that the conspirators were trying desperately to find units both capable of seizing the building and willing to follow an order to do so….‘I know that there was a small group meeting at the Ministry of Defense concerning the realization of the plan for taking the building,’ Kobets told me.’’

The second attack never materialized. Cullen adds:

‘‘In the aftermath of this final, conclusive failure, various sources offered various explanations for the conspirators’ impotence….All the explanations, however self-serving and however contradictory, had a common thread: the Soviet Army had refused to shed blood on behalf of the conspiracy.’’

So, in fact, the Spartacists’ claim that the Emergency Committee attempted no concrete measures against the Yeltsinites is belied by the one credible source they cite to support it.

Yeltsin’s Victory: Counterrevolutionary Triumph

The details of what happened during the coup are still somewhat murky. But it would be a mistake to counter-pose the plotters’ timidity and incompetence to the refusal of their subordinates to obey orders. The two explanations are complementary, not mutually exclusive. The men of the Emergency Committee were not Stalinists of the 1930s mould. Their will to act was compromised by the fact that they were demoralized enough to accept the inevitability of loosening central controls and giving market forces a wider scope. Their difference with Yeltsin was that they favored market ‘‘reforms’’ within the overall framework of bureaucratic rule. By the time they decided to strike in defense of the beleaguered central state apparatus, it was already in such an advanced state of decay that it no longer commanded the unquestioned allegiance of the armed forces. These factors fed into each other, leading to the August debacle. The Spartacists emphasize the obvious affinities between the Emergency Committee and Yeltsin in order to obscure the fact that their conflict boiled down to a struggle over the fate of Soviet state power.

The Stalinist apparat, which was the backbone of bureaucratic rule, was shattered forever with the defeat of the coup. The Spartacists, who refused to block with the Stalinists in their last-ditch attempt to keep the ‘‘floodgates of counterrevolution’’ closed, now seek to rationalize this lapse of judgment by arguing that the former Soviet Union is still a (severely weakened and gravely endangered) workers state. This recalls the assurances given by the pet-shop owner of Monty Python fame to a customer whose recently purchased parrot lies supine and lifeless at the bottom of its cage. When the customer demands a refund, the store owner insists that the parrot isn’t dead, only resting, taking a nap, in a state of suspended animation, etc.

The Robertsonites have merely asserted their position that the ex-USSR remains a workers state without seriously attempting to argue for it. At public forums and in person they provide a range of, sometimes contradictory, explanations.

First, they point to the fact that most of the ex-Soviet economy has not yet been privatized and remains formally in state hands. Capitalism cannot be restored by government decree. Its restoration involves undoing structures, organizational forms and habits of life built up over the last seventy years. In November 1937 Trotsky remarked that:

‘‘In the first months of Soviet rule the proletariat reigned on the basis of a bourgeois economy….Should a bourgeois counterrevolution succeed in the USSR, the new government for a lengthy period would have to base itself upon the nationalized economy.’’

The victory of Yeltsin, Kravchuk, etc. was a triumph for the forces of counterrevolution because it signified that henceforth political power would be exercised by those unambiguously committed to the restoration of private property in the means of production.

Confronted with these arguments, the Spartacists retreat to a fall-back position. Yeltsin, they contend, heads a pro-capitalist government, but has not yet consolidated his hold over the state apparatus. At a Spartacist forum in New York City in February, much was made of the January gathering of 5,000 military officers in the Kremlin to protest the dismemberment of the old Soviet armed forces. A big offensive by the working class, the Spartacist League argued, could split the officer corps, with a sizeable segment going over to the workers. Such a development, say the Spartacists, would amount to a workers political revolution, which they still call for in their propaganda.

Such arguments trade on the inevitable ambiguities of the transition now taking place. The regimes that have emerged from the breakup of the USSR do not preside over consolidated capitalist states, any more than Russia, the Ukraine, etc. are full-fledged capitalist societies. Yeltsin’s hold on power is fragile, but this does not change the fact that Yeltsin and his republican counterparts are using their newly acquired power to unleash a social counterrevolution. Imperialism, perestroika millionaires and the black-market mafia now call the shots in the Kremlin. Many former Stalinist bureaucrats are appropriating huge chunks of state property. Yeltsin’s men hold the top military positions. As Workers Vanguard itself reported, the Moscow police did not hesitate to shed the blood of demonstrators calling for a return of the Soviet Union in March. A year ago Gosplan was still issuing planning directives and joint military-police patrols were on the streets harassing black-market speculators, and arresting and confiscating the property of perestroika profiteers. Now Gosplan is no more and profiteers and millionaires are in the saddle.

The social counterrevolution is far from fully consolidated, but it is victorious. A resurgent proletariat struggling for power would face far less resistance today in Russia than it would in a mature capitalist state. But a proletarian revolution would have to mop up the black-market mafia, suppress the Yeltsinites in the military and police, reverse the privatization drive and restore centralized state planning. With the passing of each month, the tasks confronting the proletariat become more and more those of a social, as opposed to a political, revolution.

The Spartacists say we claim the Soviet workers state is dead in order to wash our hands of responsibility for defending it. This argument is ludicrous on its face. The imperialist bourgeoisie is acting with the knowledge that the Soviet workers state no longer exists. Marxists too must recognize this bitter truth. Workers struggling to turn back the tide of counterrevolution in the ex-USSR will want to know when state power passed into the hands of their exploiters. They will also want to know where the various self-styled Trotskyist groups who aspire to lead them stood at that fateful moment.

‘‘Yuri Andropov Brigade’’—Long Ago and Far Away

The Robertsonites have always prided themselves on their mastery of the Russian question and the politics of the deformed workers states. Yet they have been consistently wrong throughout the terminal crisis of Stalinism. When mass demonstrations erupted against the Stalinist regime of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) in late 1989, they proclaimed the beginning of a ‘‘workers political revolution.’’ They thought that the prospect of reunification would provoke sufficient working-class resistance to split the SED (the DDR’s ruling Stalinist party), with a large section of it going over to the side of the proletariat in defense of collectivized property. The ICL threw large amounts of cash and every available cadre into its intervention. In January 1990, when the SED accepted the Spartacists’ proposal for an anti-fascist mobilization in East Berlin’s Treptow Park, the Spartacists’ Peerless Leader, James Robertson, became so flushed with delusions of grandeur that he (unsuccessfully) attempted to arrange a meeting with Gregor Gysi, then head of the SED.

But the anticipated political revolution never materialized. Instead of resisting reunification, the Stalinists entered into a coalition with pro-capitalist parties to engineer the liquidation of the DDR. By the time elections were held for theVolkskammer (DDR parliament) in March, the fix for reunification was already in. Yet still the Spartacists clung stubbornly to the notion that a workers political revolution was in progress, that workers and soldiers were about to set up soviets, seize the factories and establish dual power in opposition to the weak pro-capitalist government. The ICL leadership expected that hundreds of thousands of workers would support their electoral campaign and that they would be precipitated into the leadership of an insurgent, pro-socialist working class. The results were an unmitigated disaster for the Spartacists, as their candidates finished far behind the German Beer Drinkers’ Union.

The German disaster was probably the most immediate cause of the political shift that led to the Spartacists’ neutrality in the August coup. It was the culmination of a period in which the Spartacists exhibited an unhealthy fondness for Stalinist regimes. Trotskyists have always sided with the Stalinists against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution, while recognizing that the degenerated and deformed workers states could only be defended in the long run by a political revolution to oust the Stalinist parasites.

During the Reagan years, however, the Robertsonites all too often crossed the line between military defense and political support. In 1983 a contingent in a Washington anti-Klan demonstration was named the Yuri Andropov Brigade, after the then-Soviet party chief, who, in 1956, played a leading role in the suppression of the Hungarian workers revolution. When Andropov died, Workers Vanguard printed a laudatory obituary-poem on its front page. A picture of the Polish military strongman, General Jaruzelski, adorned the walls of the Spartacist League’s New York headquarters. And rather than simply calling for military victory to Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the Spartacists insisted on ‘‘hailing’’ the Kremlin’s intervention.

With the ignominious collapse of bureaucratic regimes throughout Eastern Europe in 1989, however, this pro-Stalinist tilt began to become a source of acute embarrassment. Months before the coup, Workers Vanguard was already steering a middle course between the Yeltsinites and the conservative faction of the bureaucracy (whom they simply referred to as ‘‘patriots’’):

‘‘Soviet working people must cut through the false division between ‘democrats’ and ‘patriots,’ both products of the terminal degeneration of the reactionary and parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy. Both are enemies and oppressors of the working class in the interests of world capitalism.’’

    —WV, 15 March 1991

Workers Vanguard never mentioned the possibility that this ‘‘false division’’ might lead to a confrontation in which it would be necessary for the workers to take a side. And when this confrontation did take place in August, the Spartacists swung from their previous tendency toward political support for Stalinist regimes, to abandoning the elementary Trotskyist tactic of a military bloc with Stalinists against the forces of open counterrevolution. The Robertsonites’ shameful neutrality in August, and their concomitant refusal to recognize the fact that the Soviet workers state is no more, demonstrates the hollowness of their pretentions to revolutionary leadership.

For the Rebirth of the Fourth International!

Over half a century ago, Trotsky wrote that the struggle for proletarian leadership is ultimately a struggle for the survival of human culture. The creation of a new revolutionary leadership for the working class depends above all on the conscious efforts of committed socialist militants. It is vitally important that every serious socialist absorb the lessons of the entire 74-year history of the Russian Revolution: its victory, degeneration and ultimate destruction. The forces of revolutionary Marxism today represent only an tiny minority. Yet through a combination of revolutionary determination and a willingness to struggle for programmatic clarity, the cadres will be assembled to shake the world once more. Revolutionary regroupment begins with the political exposure of the confusion, vacillation and treachery of the various reformists, centrists and charlatans who falsely claim the mantle of Trotskyism. Through hard political struggle, and a process of splits and fusions, the Fourth International, World Party of Socialist Revolution, will be reborn!

Yeltsin’s Counterrevolution Was the Greater Threat

 Our Position on the Soviet Coup:

Yeltsin’s Counterrevolution Was the Greater Threat

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

EDITORIAL NOTE: The following article is based on our comrade’s presentation in a November 1991 debate with the Revolutionany Trotskyist Tendency.

The Bolshevik Tendency does not have any very unusual insights into the coup in the USSR and its aftermath. It is really rather obvious what has happened. What’s different about us is the political conclusions we reach on the basis of our analysis of the August events.

A critical part of our analysis is shared even by bourgeois commentators around the world who believe that there has been a change in the framework for the governing of the USSR. They correctly believe that certain obstacles to the redevelopment of capitalism have been removed there and, not surprisingly, they’re very happy about it.

We don’t like anything that helps strengthen the world capitalist system. The restoration of capitalism in the USSR would not only be a defeat for the working class of the USSR, it would also be a significant defeat for the world working class. To the extent that capitalism is restored in the USSR, capitalism is strengthened worldwide. New markets, new sources of raw materials, and new poois of cheap, skilled labor become available to imperialists around the world.

What we have seen in the aftermath of the August coup in Moscow is a qualitative step in a process of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union that began in the early 1920s with the rise of Stalinism.

Prior to this, when the working class took power in Russia in 1917, it had established the most democratic regime the world has ever seen. Contrary to bourgeois falsifications, proletarian democracy flourished, and there was even a rebirth of artistic expression that inspired much of the civilized world. The young workers government removed laws against abortion and homosexuality, established easy divorce, and began to make advances in resolving the national question.

But there were very definite limits as to how far toward socialism it was possible to go in Soviet Union. Lenin and Trotsky, who led the Russian Revolution, did not at first believe that the revolution could survive more than a few months unless it spread to Western Europe. For Marxists, you see, socialism can only be built on the material base developed through advanced capitalism, and it can only be developed if workers have political power internationally.

Many people are now saying that socialism has been tried and has been shown to be inadequate. In fact, except for that brief period in Russia, the world has only seen various deformed workers states and the degenerate workers state of the Soviet Union. But from our point of view, even these politically deformed states, under the control of bureaucratic Stalinist castes, have proven the superiority of a socialized means of production and distribution. Further, it is important to keep in mind that none of these so-called socialist states has ever had at its disposal the resources developed by advanced capitalism. Moreover, the working class, except for the brief period after the Russian Revolution, has never had political power in these countries, let alone held power on an international basis.

Marxism certainly hasn’t been given a fair test in the Eastern bloc. The main strategy of Lenin and Trotsky after the revolution was to stabilize power in the Soviet Union and build an international socialist movement that could spread the revolution internationally. But the new revolution faced a long and bitter civil war, with the counterrevolutionaries getting military aid from all the main imperialist countries. This led to the destruction of much of the Russian working class, through economic disruption and outright physical annihilation. Internationally, too, the Comintern met a series of defeats. What was left of the rather small Soviet working class became somewhat demoralized and very isolated. Thus the way was opened for the Stalinists to take power.

In taking power bureaucratically, the Stalinists dismantled the Marxist program that had guided the Soviet Union up to that point. The Marxist program is centrally concerned with organizing the working class to take political power as a class fully conscious of its historical aims. Critical to this task is the internationalization of the struggle.

The Stalinist counterrevolution was an act counterpoised to the democratic exercise of power by the working class. While remaining within the parameters of the collectivized property established by the 1917 revolution, the Stalinists politically expropriated the Soviet working class by taking the reins of power for themselves. They established themselves as a bureaucratic caste living off the privileges of their positions, and very soon developed the theory of socialism in one country to justify giving up on the spread of proletarian revolution internationally.

So the important thing here is that Stalinism was not socialism or Marxism. The question is, what was it?

Some people thought the Soviet Union under Stalin was capitalist. But really that doesn’t make much sense. You didn’t have the main economic institutions of society owned by a number of individuals who could buy or sell their interests. You didn’t have people able to bequeath their share of productive property to their children. You didn’t have economic decisions made on the basis of profit. The Soviet Union simply did not work like a capitalist society.

The main spokesperson for revolutionary proletarian opposition to Stalinism was Leon Trotsky. Trotsky’s view was that the Soviet Union under Stalinism could not survive for long. He believed that it had the form of property ownership and many of the economic institutions that, if they were under workers democratic control, could be the basis for moving toward socialism. But they were not under workers democratic control, they were under Stalinist bureaucratic control. So Trotsky called it a degenerated workers state, a designation that we have kept until the defeat of the coup this past August.

The Trotskyist view is that the relatively backward Soviet economy regulated through bureaucratic planning was able to make some spectacular advances for a time, but as it developed the contradiction between collectivized property and the narrowly based bureaucracy which controlled decision-making ultimately paralysed it. This contradiction could only be solved in one of two ways: either by a democratic workers political revolution, wherein the workers maintained the collectivized ownership of property and replaced the Stalinists with democratic organs of workers control, or by capitalist counterrevolution.

Well, it’s taken longer than we expected, but Trotsky has been proven right. One of the things that delayed a resolution of this question for so long was the outcome of the Second World War, which gave the degenerated workers state access to a great deal of resources, technology, and skills while vastly boosting the political authority of the victorious Stalinist regime. Another thing that delayed the resolution was the absence of the working class as a conscious factor, fighting for its interests which was to a large extent the result of the bloody massacre of the cadres who had made the revolution, and those who remained true to the banner of Leninism, in the course of the purge trials of the 1930s. A working class fighting for power independently would have been possible only through the leadership of a revolutionary party.

During this period in which the resolution of the contradictory role of the Stalinists was hanging in the balance, the Trotskyist view was that we defended the degenerated workers state against imperialist attack from abroad or capitalist restoration at home, while simultaneously calling for workers political revolution to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and move forward toward socialism. So when the workers in Hungary rebelled in 1956 and attempted to put political control in the hands of the workers councils, we supported that uprising.

On the other hand, we have often opposed the efforts of the Stalinists to crush various forms of opposition that were not directly threatening collectivized property. For example, we opposed the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to repress the liberal Stalinist reform movement. Similarly, when the Chinese Stalinists mowed down a democratic opposition movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989, we opposed that, too.

But when the opposition to Stalinism was integrated with a program of capitalist restorationism, then we advocated a military bloc with the Stalinists. What does this mean? It means that we side with the Stalinists however pitiful their efforts to resist capitalist counterrevolution, which is to say that we view the Stalinists as a lesser evil in comparison with the imperialists. Therefore, when Solidarnosc in Poland was trying to reestablish capitalism, we supported the suppression of Solidarnosc’s restorationist leadership and its counterrevolutionary followers. And last August, when these tired old Stalinists very belatedly, inadequately and half-heartedly opposed Yeltsin’s moves to establish capitalism in the USSR, we were on their side against him.

Now over the last few years there was a strong movement toward the resolution of the contradictions in the Soviet degenerated workers state in favor of capitalism. But there were also a number of serious obstacles to the reimposition of capitalism in the Soviet Union, the major obstacle being the fact that the privileges of the Stalinist bureaucracy were tied to the command economy and the system of centralized planning. In other words, their objective interests were opposed to the redevelopment of capitalism.

Now, what happened in the August coup was that these bastards actually, belatedly, started a fight to maintain their privileges. And because the people who were actively endangering their privileges at the moment were the capitalist restorationists around Yeltsin, the Stalinists started to fight against him and his followers. We would have wanted to point our guns at these restorationists just as the Stalinist bureaucrats were feebly attempting to do themselves.

Now, we have no illusions in these Stalinists. We know they are a murderous bunch who have always been our enemies. They have historically killed and imprisoned our comrades and worked overtime to derail working-class revolution around the world. Let there be no confusion between our position and any political support for the Stalinist swine. Just as Trotskyists called for the political overthrow of the Stalinists while fighting with them against fascism in World War II, we also would not for a moment have given up that call while militarily blocking with them this past August. The military bloc is a tactic. It is one application of the tactic of the united front, which does not deviate from the principle or strategy of independently organizing the working class and undercutting a mis leadership of the working class, in this case the Stalinists. This, after all, is what we mean when we say that only Trotskyism can defend the gains of October.

If the opposition to the restorationists had been successful, it would have allowed us the chance to present the Soviet working class a different path than either the maintenance of the bankrupt Stalinist regime or the reintroduction of capitalism. What is necessary is to put another choice before the workers of Russia, the choice of reentering the road to socialism through maintaining the property system of the Soviet Union and administering it under democratic organs of workers power.

If during the coup and its aftermath there had been a clear voice for socialist property forms and workers democratic power, then the outcome might have been very different. The coup came at a time when just a few people with a clear program had a real chance of speaking to the whole country and setting the agenda. If there had been a Trotskyist grouping in a military bloc with the coup that counterpoised itself to the relatively small number of Yeltsinites on those critical August days, we might very well be facing a different future today in Russia.

Now, of course, our call for a military bloc with the Stalinists flies in the face of international public opinion, which has been molded by the bourgeois media. Public opinion and the bourgeois media were on the side of Yeltsin. Their main argument is the argument of democracy. The enemies of socialism have been very successful at harping on the importance of democracy. Exactly what these democracy-mongers mean when they talk of democracy has recently been revealed by bourgeois praise for Yeltsin’s latest effort to grab dictatorial powers for himself and his call to prevent local and regional elections because he’s afraid the Stalinists will make a good showing for themselves.

As Marxists, we never talk about democracy without talking about what class it serves. We know all too well the difference between bourgeois democracy and a genuine proletarian democracy. Of course, we are in favor of maintaining as many democratic rights as possible, and will fight to do so. But when the conflict poses the question of the survival of collectivized property, we are on the side of the Stalinists against their capitalist attackers.

Capitalists frequently paint themselves as democratic, but it is a lie. Yeltsin is no democrat, and today the objective conditions in the former USSR dictate that a liberal bourgeois democracy is simply not in the cards. In a capitalist context, the prerequisite for the kind of widespread democratic rights we have in advanced capitalist countries is a strong bourgeoisie whose power is secure—something clearly lacking in any part of the former USSR.

The development of capital in the former USSR is in its very early beginning stages and the would-be capitalists cannot possibly afford democracy, given the likely resistance workers will exert against the measures taken to establish capitalism. That is why they have started out by banning the Communist Party. They have banned it because they fear that, just as in Poland today, the CP could be a vehicle for mass working-class opposition to capitalist austerity measures.

As capitalism attempts to stabilize itself and develop in Russia, we will see more and more limitations on democracy, as the nascent capitalist regime institutes massive austerity measures as a necessary part of the move toward capitalism. The resistance to these austerity measures will have to be smashed. Widespread democratic rights are an obstacle to the restorationists’ plans.

Having said this, however, we do not believe that capitalism has yet been fully established in the former USSR. What has happened as a result of the collapse of the Stalinist coup is that the state, that is, the army and the top structures of the governing apparatus, are no longer committed to collectivized property. The old network of Stalinist bureaucratic interests has fallen apart. There is an embryonic capitalist state power in Russia of which Yeltsin is the central representative and a number of other nascent capitalist states in the former republics, too. These new states have not been fully consolidated—quite the contrary. But the forces of capitalism are ascendant and these new regimes are in the process of gathering the beginnings of a coercive state force necessary to secure a capitalist society. Russia has taken a course, through the victory of Yeltsin’s counterrevolution, of prolonged instability, turmoil and material deprivation. The prospects are not pleasant.

So the first argument for being on Yeltsin’s side is the argument of democracy, and that is simply wrong. Yeltsin’s side is not going to provide democracy.

The second argument for being on Yeltsin’s side is the argument that it was the popular side, but since the RTT doesn’t make too much of that argument regarding the August coup, I won’t belabor it. Popularity, as most of us know, is no guarantee of correctness.

The RTT does, however, hang a lot on the issue of democratic rights, and this is a common theme that links its position on support of Polish Solidarnosc in its bid to restore capitalism in 1981 and its current rationale for not supporting a military bloc with the Russian coupists. In the RTT’s supplement dated October 24, 1991, it wrote that “The conservatives would have crushed not only Yeltsin and company, but also all the democratic gains that the working class had achieved in the last five years.”

Well, first of all, we think this kind of prediction of the outcome of armed conflict that approaches civil war is fraught with mistakes. While the coupists are not known for their democratic impulses, no one can really tell if democratic gains would have been increased or diminished had the coupists won. Why? Because it depends upon the scenario by which victory was obtained. One scenario, of course, is that the coupists could have won while the working class remained passive and then immediately moved to enact severe political restrictions on the Soviet masses.

However, another scenario is that given the evident lack of internal cohesion of the coupists and current crisis of Stalinism, the Soviet working class might actually have increased its democratic rights and advanced the march toward workers political revolution had it been independently mobilized in the struggle against capitalist counterrevolution.

The RTTs position, in effect, is that it would have refused to direct any workers militias it might have organized to point their guns in the same direction as the tank divisions that initially had pointed their turrets at the restorationist bandits holed up in the Russian White House. The RTT would have refused to cooperate with Soviet troops had they attempted to scatter the reactionary bands who rallied to Yeltsin’s side.

This position of the RTT runs directly counter to a cardinal tenet of Trotskyism, which assigns greater importance to property forms than on democratic rights when the former are under attack. We agree with Trotsky, who wrote in his book In Defense of Marxism that “The question of overthrowing the Soviet bureaucracy is for us subordinate to the question of preserving state property in the means of production in theUSSR.”

The RTT, at least, remains consistent with its position on Poland in its latest departure from Trotskyism. The unfortunate reality is that workers are capable of being duped into fighting in favor of capitalism, as happened in Poland in 1981. After nearly 70 years of Stalinist treachery, and in the absence of a Marxist vanguard party, the working class of Russia, too, is severely disoriented.

So with the victory of the counterrevolution in the aftermath of the coup we have suffered a world-historic defeat. And we say so quite openly. Only by openly acknowledging our defeats and with coolness calculating the effects of those defeats will we lay the conditions for the eventual victory of the working class internationally.

The counterrevolution, however, is not fully consolidated. It’s not a finished process. There are favorable conditions in the future for Russia. The thing that is most favorable is that it will be very unstable, it will be subject to rapid change, and there will be opportunities for the working class to intervene in defense of the gains it has made. There will be struggles in defense of jobs, in defense of welfare benefits, in defense of housing, and so on. But there is nothing automatic about these struggles occurring. Still less is there anything automatic about these struggles opening the way to socialist revolution. Only with the building of a Leninist vanguard party is a victory possible

Counterrevolution Triumphs in USSR

 Defend Soviet Workers Against Yeltsin’s Attacks!

Counterrevolution Triumphs in USSR

September 1991 statement by the International Bolshevik Tendency, republished in 1917 #11, Third Quarter 1992. Originally posted online at


The aborted Moscow coup of 19-21 August was so ill-conceived and executed that it almost didn’t happen. Yet it will be remembered as one of the decisive events in the history of the 20th century. The victory of the openly pro-capitalist current around Boris Yeltsin after the coup collapsed shattered the state power created by the October 1917 revolution. This represents a catastrophic defeat not only for the Soviet working class, but for workers everywhere.

August’s events came as the culmination of recent power struggles within the Kremlin and the country as a whole. But, in a larger sense, they are the final act in the degeneration of the Stalinist bureaucracy, a privileged stratum that usurped political power within the Soviet workers state in the mid-1920s. In place of the democratically elected workers soviets of 1917, the Stalinists erected an authoritarian police state. For the proletarian internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky, they substituted the doctrine of ‘‘socialism in one country,’’ which justified betraying revolutions abroad to gain petty diplomatic advantage. Yet, for all its crimes, the Stalinist bureaucracy rested on the collectivized economy created by the October Revolution and, in its own distorted way, it frequently attempted to defend these economic foundations from imperialist pressure abroad and counterrevolution at home. The failure of the August coup ended the rule of this bureaucratic caste, and led to its replacement by a group of fledgling nationalist regimes committed to dismantling the state-owned economy and reimposing the rule of capital.

Over half a century ago, the leader of the Left Opposition, Leon Trotsky, warned that in the long run a social system based on collectivized property could neither be developed nor defended with bureaucratic police methods. The stagnation of the Soviet economy during the Brezhnev years represented a powerful confirmation of this prediction. In an attempt to reverse the USSR’s economic decline, Mikhail Gorbachev launched his celebrated market reforms. The economic and political chaos caused by perestroika polarized the Soviet bureaucracy, and the divisions within it became particularly acute during the past year. On one side a wing of the ruling elite—identified with former Moscow party boss, Boris Yeltsin—openly embraced capitalist restoration. On the other side an alliance of military men and party and state apparatchiks, the so-called hardliners, saw the drift toward the market and national disintegration as a threat to their power. Gorbachev acted as a middleman between these two factions, tilting alternately toward the ‘‘reformers’’ and the ‘‘hardliners.’’

Gorbachev’s Zig-Zags

Beginning in October 1990, the ‘‘hardliners’’ unleashed an offensive within the Soviet Communist Party. They forced Gorbachev to scrap Shatalin’s 500-day plan for the privatization of the economy. They sent ‘‘black beret’’ units to crack down on the pro-capitalist secessionist governments of the Baltic republics. They engineered a purge in the highest echelons of the party, compelling Gorbachev to remove ‘‘reformers’’ from key party and government posts and replace them with loyal servants of the apparat. These moves drove many leading ‘‘reformers’’—most notably Gorbachev’s foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze—into the Yeltsin camp, and caused widespread speculation in the Western media that Gorbachev had retreated from perestroika.

Yet, in the face of huge Yeltsinite demonstrations in Moscow early last spring, and the fear that the imperialists might be even less forthcoming with economic aid, Gorbachev backpedaled, and again tried to mend fences with the Yeltsin forces. He refused to carry the Baltic intervention to its logical conclusion and depose the governments there. He once more began pushing marketization. Most ominously of all from the ‘‘hardline’’ point of view, he accepted the ‘‘nine plus one’’ agreement that would have transferred most governmental powers to the USSR’s fifteen constituent republics. Gorbachev’s attempts at conciliation only emboldened Yeltsin, who responded with a series of decrees banning the Communist Party from the police force and the factories in the Russian Republic. The ‘‘hardliners’’ concluded that the middle ground occupied by Gorbachev was fast disappearing, and that they could no longer rely upon him to resist Yeltsin. This set the stage for the formation of the Emergency Committee and its arrest of the Soviet president on the morning of 19 August.

The Working Class Had a Side

In light of the coup’s abject failure, discussion of the positions of the rival factions may now seem a fruitless academic exercise. Yet only by adopting a correct orientation to past events can the working class arm itself for future struggles. The August coup attempt was a confrontation in which the working class had a side. A victory for the coup leaders would not have rescued the USSR from the economic impasse that Stalinism has led to, nor would it have removed the threat of capitalist restoration. It could, however, have slowed the restorationist momentum at least temporarily, and bought precious time for the Soviet working class. The collapse of the coup, on the other hand, led inevitably to the counterrevolution that is now in full flood. Without ceasing to expose the coup leaders’ political bankruptcy, it was the duty of revolutionary Marxists to side with them against Yeltsin and Gorbachev.

It comes as no surprise that most of the reformist and centrist left has cast its lot with Gorbachev and Yeltsin. These pseudo-Marxists are so fearful of offending bourgeois liberal opinion that they can always be relied upon to take the side of ‘‘democracy,’’ even when democratic slogans are a camouflage for capitalist counterrevolution. Somewhat more baffling are the arguments of centrist groups who recognize Yeltsin for the restorationist that he is, admit that his triumph was a grave defeat for the working class, but nevertheless refuse to take sides in the coup. The proponents of this ‘‘plague-on-both-your-houses’’ position include the U.S. Spartacist League and their overseas satellites in the International Communist League, who for years touted themselves as the staunchest defenders of the Soviet Union.

The advocates of neutrality contend that the coup leaders were no less committed to capitalist restoration than Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Some point to passages in the principal declaration of the Emergency Committee in which its leaders promised to honor existing treaties with imperialism and respect the rights of private enterprise in the USSR. Trotskyists, however, have never based their political attitude on the official pronouncements of the Stalinists, but rather on the inner logic of events. Anyone claiming that there was no essential difference between the contending factions would be hard put to explain why the coup leaders decided on such a desperate gamble in the first place. When one faction of the bureaucracy arrests the president, attempts to suppress the leading capitalist restorationists and sends tanks into the streets; when leading members of that faction carry out suicide pacts with their wives and hang themselves when they fail, it is abundantly clear that more is involved than a quibble over tactics.

The reasons for the coup leaders’ actions are obvious. They represented the Stalinist faction that had the most to lose from a return to capitalism. They saw the aggressiveness of Yeltsin, the growing power of the pro-capitalist nationalists and Gorbachev’s prostration before these forces as a mortal danger to the centralized apparatus upon which their privileges and prestige depended. They acted, if only half-heartedly and at the eleventh hour, to stem the tide.

There can be no doubt that the ‘‘hardliners’’ were thoroughly demoralized: they had lost faith in a socialist future of any kind, harbored many of the same pro-capitalist notions as their adversaries, and were only too willing to stoop to Great Russian chauvinism and even anti-Semitism to protect their political monopoly. But the Trotskyist position of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union always meant defense of the system of collectivized property against restorationist threats regardless of the consciousness or subjective intentions of the bureaucrats. The status quo the ‘‘hardliners’’ sought to protect, however incompetently, included the state ownership of the means of production—an objective barrier to the return of capitalist wage slavery. The collapse of the central state authority cleared the way for the juggernaut of reaction that is now rolling over the territory of the former USSR. To halt the advance of that juggernaut revolutionists had to be prepared to make a tactical military alliance with any section of the bureaucracy that, for whatever reason, was standing in front of its wheels.

Defeat the Counterrevolution!

All is by no means lost for the working class of the Soviet Union. The pro-capitalist governments that have hoisted themselves into the saddle are still extremely fragile, and have not yet consolidated their own repressive state apparatuses. Most of the economy remains in state hands, and the Yeltsinites face the formidable task of restoring capitalism without the support of an indigenous capitalist class. Workers resistance to the impending attacks on their rights and welfare will therefore involve a defense of large elements of the social/economic status quo. The embryonic bourgeois regimes now forming in the ex-USSR can be swept aside much more easily than mature capitalist states.

None of this, however, can change the fact that the workers will now be forced to fight on a terrain fundamentally altered to their disadvantage. They have not yet constituted themselves as an independent political force, and remain extremely disoriented. The Stalinist apparatus—which had an objective interest in maintaining collectivized property—has been shattered. Further resistance by the Stalinists is unlikely, since they have already failed a decisive political test, and those cadre who attempted to resist are now in forced retirement, in jail or dead. In short, the major organized obstacle to the consolidation of a bourgeois state has been effectively removed. Before the coup, massive working-class resistance to privatization would have split the Stalinist bureaucracy and their armed defenders. Now workers struggling to reverse the restorationist drive will face ‘‘bodies of armed men’’ dedicated to the objectives of Western capitalists and their internal allies. This incipient state power must be disarmed and destroyed by the workers.

The transition from a degenerated workers state to a full-fledged bourgeois state is not something which can take place in a month or a year. In 1937 Trotsky predicted that:

‘‘Should a bourgeois counterrevolution succeed in the USSR, the new government for a lengthy period would have to base itself upon the nationalized economy. But what does such a type of temporary conflict between the economy and the state mean? It means a revolution or a counterrevolution. The victory of one class over another signifies that it will reconstruct the economy in the interests of the victors.’’

    —‘‘Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State?’’

It was clear to him, as it is to us, that such a transformation can only occur as the result of a process in which the workers state is undermined by degrees. The task of analysis is to locate the decisive point in this transformation, i.e., the point beyond which prevailing trends cannot be reversed without the destruction of the state power. The momentum toward capitalist restoration had been building in the Soviet Union for the past several years. All available evidence leads us to conclude that the defeat of the coup and the ascension to power of the elements committed to reconstructing the economy on a capitalist basis constituted a qualitative turning point.

Revolutionary activity cannot be undertaken on the basis of pleasant fictions. The fight for the socialist future requires the ability to face reality squarely and ‘‘speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be.’’ The victory of the Yeltsinites is a huge defeat for the working class. The attempt to reimpose capitalism in the Soviet Union will involve attacks on the most basic interests of tens of millions of working people. Yet in resisting these attacks, Soviet workers can rediscover their own heroic traditions. The revolutionary ideas of Bolshevism, which alone correspond to the necessity of historical progress for humanity, can overcome any obstacle. But these ideas only become a factor in history through the agency of a party of the sort which lead the revolution in 1917—a party educated in the irreconcilable revolutionary spirit of Lenin and Trotsky. The struggle for such a party, a reborn Fourth International, remains the central task of our time.

Defeat Desert Storm!

Defend Iraq Against Imperialist Attack!

Defeat Desert Storm!

[Feb. 1, 1991 statement. Copied from ]

With the end of the Cold War, “free world” leaders proclaimed a new era of international peace and cooperation. On January 16, this “new world order” announced its arrival with a murderous rain of bombs and missiles on Baghdad. George Bush and his coalition partners claim that Operation Desert Storm is intended to defend the sanctity of international borders. Between the initial dispatch of American troops to “defend” Saudi Arabia and the initiation of hostilities four months later, the American people were subjected to an orchestrated media barrage by government officials, military officers, senators and congressmen, think-tank “experts” and servile journalistic hacks, promoting the idea that somehow the preservation of the House of Sabah, Kuwait’s reactionary feudalist ruling family, is essential to the American way of life. The only dispute among the various coalition partners, as between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S., was over tactics: the White House hawks favored bombing Iraq on Jan. 16, whereas the “doves” advocated giving sanctions more time to strangle Iraq.

Despite the near-unanimous support for the attack on Iraq among the world’s capitalist rulers, massive antiwar demonstrations in America and around the world show that millions do not believe George Bush or his accomplices. Washington’s professions of international morality are transparently hypocritical. The United States government is the butcher of Vietnam, the financier of the brutal Zionist occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the instigator of a ten year contra war against Nicaragua, the paymaster of the death-squad regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala and the invader of Grenada and Panama.

In explaining Bush’s real motives in the Persian Gulf, we as Marxists are guided by a premise that sets us apart from liberals of every shade: the United States government, like every other capitalist government, acts not according to the general popular will, but rather in the interests of a tiny minority that owns the factories, banks and corporations. Elections and parliamentary institutions may at times constrain the capitalists but do not prevent them from exercising their class rule; they have at their disposal billions of dollars with which to bribe politicians and manipulate public opinion, and will not stop short of violence should these gentler methods fail. All appeals to patriotism and the “national interest,” not to mention the purely fictitious construct of international law, are nothing but ideological subterfuges to gain the acquiescence of the millions who are periodically called upon to sacrifice, fight and die for the sake of capitalist profits.

Oil: Fuel of Empire

What ruling class interests prompted George Bush to unleash the largest concentration of military might since World War II? In her 19 December New York Times column, Flora Lewis, who often reflects the thinking of the CIA, commented: “What provoked the Persian Gulf crisis is money, oil money. It is prudish to deny that…” The popular anti-war chant “No Blood for Oil!” reflects the widespread recognition that oil is an important motive for the war. Ever since the rise of Western imperialism in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the major capitalist powers have depended upon “underdeveloped” countries for markets, sources of cheap labor and raw materials. And oil, more than any other single commodity, is the fuel of empire.

Until World War I the Ottoman Empire controlled most of the Middle East. The 24 October New York Times noted, “with its defeat in World War I, Turkey lost its claim to the empire, and British administrators carved much of the Arabian Peninsula into the nations now known as Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. That division left Iraq without a natural Persian Gulf port…” Iraq has traditionally rejected the legitimacy of the British decision regarding Kuwait.

The U.S. stepped into Britain’s imperial jackboots in the region after World War II. American dominance in the Arab world was cemented through a series of carefully-cultivated alliances. Foremost among Washington’s Middle Eastern clients is Israel; the state-of-the-art Zionist military machine, heavily subsidized by the U.S., serves as a powerful deterrent to Arab nationalist aspirations. The U.S. has also established a tight relationship with the oil-rich sheikdoms of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, whose ruling families wear an anti-Zionist mask for home consumption, but are politically and militarily dependent on Washington. It was these three states that broke ranks with the OPEC cartel to cut the price of oil to the West. They also deposit billions in petrodollars (dollars earned from oil exports) every year in British and U.S. banks. When Ronald Reagan needed secret funding for the Nicaraguan contras, he turned to the Saudis. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, heads a regime that has never been a close American ally. His takeover of Kuwait underscored Iraq’s long-declared ambition to lead the Arab world, while threatening American imperialism with the prospect that the oil and vital shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf might fall into less reliable hands.

Yet oil is only part of the picture. The U.S. imports only 11 percent of its petroleum from the Middle East, and this supply was never really threatened. As one Iraqi diplomat pointed out, his people can neither drink their oil nor irrigate their soil with it; it must be sold on the international market. Even if Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait had raised oil prices, it would not have cost the U.S. anything like the $l00 billion price tag on Operation Desert Storm.

Saddam Hussein, moreover, is no anti-imperialist fighter. Throughout the eight-year Iran/Iraq war, the U.S. tilted toward Iraq as a counterweight to the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Teheran, supplying bank credits and arms to Hussein. Saddled with an enormous war debt, Hussein had been leaning on Kuwait for almost a year without serious objections from the U.S. State Department. A week before the invasion, April Glaspie, the American ambassador to Baghdad, told Hussein: “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreements with Kuwait”(Village Voice,22 January). So when Hussein marched into Kuwait last August, he expected the U.S. to look the other way.

When Washington objected to the takeover, Iraq was willing to compromise. Noam Chomsky reported that in a 23 August approach to the U.S.:

“made public by Knut Royce in Newsday on October 29, [Iraq] offered to withdraw from Kuwait and allow foreigners to leave in return for the lifting of sanctions, guaranteed access to the Gulf, and full control of the Rumailah oil field ‘that extends slightly into Kuwaiti territory from Iraq.’ There was no demand that the U.S. withdraw from Saudi Arabia, or other preconditions.”

But Bush wasn’t interested in any deals. Saddam Hussein faced a choice between abject capitulation or a fight to the finish.

The fact that the Persian Gulf contains a major portion of the world’s oil supplies explains why the U.S. is not indifferent to Hussein’s power grab. Yet oil alone cannot account for such a high-stakes gamble by America’s rulers. They are well aware that Iraq is not Grenada or Panama. Why, with ample room left for the exertion of diplomatic and economic pressure, did Bush decide upon a step that could give rise to massive opposition at home, and ignite the entire Arab world in a firestorm of anti-American hatred? The answer lies in the shifting balance of power among the major imperialists.

Inter-Imperialist Rivalry and Bush’s “New World Order”

The United States emerged from World War II as the world’s hegemonic capitalist power. Over the past quarter century, however, American supremacy has steadily eroded. The turning point came with the humiliating defeat of the American war machine in Vietnam. Since then, the U.S. ruling class and its policy makers have been obsessed with overcoming the so-called Vietnam syndrome. One great obstacle stood in the way of this goal: the economic and military might of America’s chief global rival, the Soviet Union.

As Trotskyists, we are adamant opponents of the ruling Soviet bureaucracy, which expropriated the Soviet working class politically, and exterminated the original leaders of the October Revolution. The anti-working class Kremlin bureaucrats have undermined the USSR’s planned economy, and betrayed countless revolutionary and anti-colonial movements in pursuit of narrow diplomatic advantage. Yet, despite its treachery, the Stalinist ruling caste rests upon the non-capitalist economic foundations created by the revolution of 1917. For over seventy years the USSR has been the object of the unrelenting hostility of the capitalist world. This is not because the Soviet Union was “undemocratic,” but because capitalist exploitation was abolished within its borders. At times imperialist hostility compelled the Soviet bureaucracy to find points of support in revolutionary and national liberation movements around the world. The survival of the Cuban revolution, the victory of the Vietnamese masses, and the successful struggles against Portuguese colonial rule in Angola and Mozambique were helped by Soviet aid and/or the threat of Soviet military intervention. American aggression against Iraq, on the other hand, is facilitated by the process of capitalist restoration underway in Eastern Europe, and Mikhail Gorbachev’s wholesale capitulation to the U.S. in the international arena. The Kremlin’s craven support for U.S. policy throughout the Gulf crisis adds a new crime to the disgraceful annals of Stalinism.

U.S. “victory” in the Cold War is a product of the internal contradictions of the USSR—not renewed American strength. At the very moment the U.S. claims to have triumphed over its archenemy, the American economy is in the biggest shambles since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Once the world’s leading creditor nation, the U.S. now finds itself the largest debtor. As banks fail, unemployment lines lengthen and millions of homeless people roam the streets, the American Dream of universal prosperity, so mythologized around the world, is fading fast. The U.S. claims credit for victory over “communism,” but its German and Japanese capitalist competitors are best positioned to reap the spoils.

But the U.S. does not intend to relinquish its supremacy. The Pentagon still commands the most awesome arsenal of destruction on the planet. The more the position of the U.S. in the international economic order slips, the more America’s rulers feel driven to compensate by naked force. The more markets they lose for cars, computers and high-definition TVs, the more they are compelled to assert their superiority with B-52s and cruise missiles. This, as much as any immediate threat to oil supplies, explains the disproportionate ferocity of the U.S. response to Saddam Hussein.

Unlike the U.S., Germany and Japan import most of their oil from the Persian Gulf. Domination of the Gulf gives the U.S. considerable leverage in the intensifying economic struggle with its two principal capitalist rivals. The assault on Iraq simultaneously warns other neocolonial regimes of the blood-price to be paid for challenging the imperialist status quo.

In 1945 the U.S. proclaimed the American Century with the atomic bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The present hail of death over Iraq serves notice to the world that U.S. imperialism is not about to abandon the number-one spot quietly.

Defend Iraq Against Imperialist Attack!

Through the smoke and fire of war in the Persian Gulf the outlines of Bush’s “new world order” are becoming clearer. Its broad contours resemble those of the old world order that existed between the two world wars: global capitalist economic contraction, heightened inter-imperialist rivalry, a frenzied grab for “spheres of influence” in the neocolonies and renewed militarism, this time multiplied by the immense destructive power of modern technology and nuclear weapons. The main victims of this “new order” in every imperialist country will be the working class. In the U.S. the effects will be felt especially by blacks and minorities who are called upon to die in disproportionate numbers for imperialism abroad, while sinking deeper into poverty at home. The impoverished masses of the Third World, from the shanty towns of Latin America to the sweatshops of the Philippines, will suffer more acutely than anyone else. As Marxist revolutionaries we oppose the masters of this new order, and side with its victims. And the chief victim in the current hostilities is Iraq. While the imperialist oppressors weep torrents of tears over the fate of Kuwait, we do not defend the sovereignty of this petty sheikdom (which one observer remarked was less a country than an “oil well with a flag”). Kuwait is not a nation—it is a creation of imperialism. Marxists are equally hostile to Kuwait’s emir and Baghdad’s Ba’thist rulers. But Kuwait is not the issue—the massive U.S. blitzkrieg mounted against Iraq poses the question of the defense of a neocolonial country against imperialism.

After the massive high-tech terror bombing of Baghdad commenced, Hussein replied with a few Scud missiles aimed at Tel Aviv and Riyadh. The pro-imperialist media, which dismisses Iraqi civilian casualties from U.S. bombing as the unavoidable byproduct of war, has shown great concern over the much smaller number of Saudi and Israeli casualties from the Scud attacks. The Western media has reported, without comment, the refusal of the racist Zionists to use the vaunted Patriot missiles to intercept Scuds headed toward the Palestinian population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Responsibility for all civilian, as well as military, casualties lies squarely with Bush, who launched this cruel war of aggression in the first place.

Iraq’s missile attacks are militarily insignificant, but could be potent politically. Besides boosting Iraqi morale, they are intended to draw Israel into the conflict, a development that could split the U.S.-led coalition. The Scuds scored a propaganda victory for Hussein by deflating American boasts that Iraq’s missile bases had been knocked out by the first wave of bombing. The television coverage by panicked correspondents in Riyadh and Tel Aviv of continuing Iraqi missile sightings doused expectations among the allied populations that a cheap, quick victory was at hand.

The attempt by the imperialist media to portray Hussein as another Hitler, bent on world conquest, is a lie worthy of Hitler himself. Saddam is a small regional capitalist despot in an area of the world repeatedly invaded, carved up and rendered dependent upon a single commodity (oil) by Western imperialism.

We defend Iraq without illusions regarding Saddam Hussein. He is a bloody tyrant whose path to power was paved with the corpses of thousands of Iraqi Communists and Kurds (an Iraqi national minority). We have no doubt that we would be among the first to face his torture chambers and firing squads if we were in Iraq today. Yet the fact remains that the U.S.-led attack on Iraq is a colonial war waged to preserve a grossly inequitable international economic hierarchy that funnels wealth from every corner of the planet into the pockets of a tiny stratum of millionaires. Marxists defend “Third World” nations and peoples against imperialist aggression regardless of the nature of the oppressed country’s political regime.

The small-time dictators of the Middle East (the Husseins, Qaddafis and Assads, along with the rest of the sheiks, emirs, mullahs and colonels) are oppressors who must be swept from power. This however, is a task for the working class and oppressed of the Middle East, not the U.S.-led imperialist coalition, which millions of Arabs correctly perceive as a far more dangerous enemy. U.S. aggression against Iraq strengthens rather than weakens the ties of the Iraqi masses to Saddam Hussein, who can now pose as the champion of the Arab and Muslim peoples against the imperialist invaders and their Zionist allies. A defeat for the American-led imperialist coalition would help lay the basis for the Arab workers and oppressed to settle accounts with their homegrown butchers.

For Labor Strikes Against the War!

During the Reagan years in America the rich became richer while the middle layers were pinched and real income for poor and working people fell dramatically. The imperialist war against Iraq will only intensify attacks on working-class living standards. The entire U.S. financial system is in a precarious state. The massive government bail-out of the looted American savings and loan institutions, combined with a soaring national debt and a growing trade deficit, is aggravating the effects of the current economic downturn.

Bush hopes to pay for his Gulf War by leaning on his imperialist partners/rivals as well as extorting billions from America’s Saudi and Kuwaiti clients. But the bulk of the money will come from savage cuts in domestic social expenditures and higher taxes on the working class. Waging war on Iraq means opening a “second front” against the poor and working people at home. It also means increased government repression. The capitalist media have accepted wholesale military censorship with barely a whimper. If the war drags on and opposition mounts, the American and allied governments—which have already begun the harassment of Palestinian, Iraqi and other Arab nationals—may initiate a generalized assault on democratic rights in an attempt to quash protest and dissent.

The immediate material interests of American workers are inextricably bound up with a struggle against the imperialist war in the Gulf. To defend its own living standards the working class must intervene against the war. The corrupt pro-imperialist parasites who lead the American labor movement have repeatedly demonstrated their incapacity and unwillingness to initiate any serious struggles to protect their base. Instead of resisting the assaults of the bosses, they preach reliance on the Democratic Party of racism and imperialist war. Despite a few tactical quibbles, the Democrats have backed Bush at every stage in his criminal assault against the Iraqi people.

Class-conscious trade unionists must seek to connect defensive struggles over wages and working conditions to political initiatives against the war. The outbreak of labor strikes against the war in the U.S. and its imperialist allies could bring the murderous crusade against Iraq to a grinding halt and kick off a wave of struggles to regain the ground lost in the past two decades. In the U.S., such a perspective requires a clear commitment to the political independence of the working class from the twin parties of American capitalism. In the other imperialist countries, the call for labor strikes cuts against the nationalism of the social-democrats and labor bureaucrats whose opposition to the war is permeated with anti-American chauvinism and a desire to see their own rulers pursue a more “independent” foreign policy.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have filled the streets of the cities of the imperialist coalition in recent weeks to oppose the war on Iraq and demand peace. Revolutionaries also oppose this war, but we know that wars of aggression will continue as long as the resources of the world remain in the hands of a tiny minority of exploiters. That is why we are committed to building an international party of workers revolution, dedicated to freeing the productive capacity of humanity from the irrationality of capitalist competition and the endless struggle for division and redivision of spheres of influence. By establishing a rational global division of labor based on production for human need, not private profit, socialism will use the technical and material capacity of civilization to eradicate hunger, poverty, social oppression and war.

This may seem a distant goal amid the thunder of imperialist guns. Yet the oppressed and exploited of the earth have accomplished monumental tasks in the not-so-distant past. Hitler’s thousand-year Third Reich was buried in the snows of Stalingrad; the American military machine came apart in the jungles of Vietnam. All who want to see a just and equitable future for humanity must spare no effort to ensure that Bush’s “new world order” meets a similar fate in the sands of the Arabian desert.

The National Question in the USSR

The National Question in the USSR

[First published in 1917 #10, 3rd Quarter 1991. Copied from ]

The national question has been a central issue in Soviet politics since the time of Lenin. By guaranteeing the peoples held captive in the Tsarist empire the right to separate and form their own states if they wished, the Bolsheviks gained important allies in the civil war that erupted after the revolution.

All the non-Russian peoples of the USSR have suffered national oppression under Stalinism. The 1979 Soviet census listed 102 nationalities, 22 of which numbered over a million. Fifteen of these have their own republics, 20 others have the lesser status of autonomous republics, and 18 more reside in autonomous regions and national areas.

The Kremlin oligarchy, saturated with Russian chauvinism, has for decades attempted to extinguish the national cultures and languages of minority nations in the USSR. Sometimes the Stalinists resorted to jailings, deportations and police repression, but a variety of more subtle techniques were also used to promote Russification. Russians make up only 50 percent of the population of the Soviet Union, yet more than 80 percent of books and newspapers are printed in Russian. Access to many branches of higher education is effectively restricted to Russian-speakers.

Faced with a resurgence of separatist sentiment across the USSR, Gorbachev has sought a ‘‘resolution’’ of the national question that retains all 15 republics within a unitary state. Unlike the chauvinist Soviet bureaucrats, Trotskyists are internationalists. As such we are indifferent to the question of state boundaries. Lenin made this clear in 1917:

“They tell us that Russia will be partitioned, will fall apart into separate republics, but we have no reason to fear this. However many independent republics there may be, we shall not be afraid. What is important for us is not where the state frontier passes, but that the union of workers of all nations shall be preserved for the struggle with the bourgeoisie of whatever nation.’’

Free and equal development for the peoples of the Soviet Union depends ultimately on the extension of the world revolution. For only through an internationally planned economy, based on workers democracy, can the material basis be laid for abolishing scarcity, which lies at the root of every form of oppression. In the USSR the international extension of the revolution is inextricably linked to the overthrow of the Russian-chauvinist Kremlin bureaucrats through proletarian political revolution. A key element in the program of such a revolution must be the intransigent defense of the equality of all nationalities and, in particular, the right of oppressed nations to self-determination.

Yet, in upholding the general democratic right of nations to self-determination, Marxists do not automatically support the demands of all nationalist currents. Separatist movements that lure the oppressed nationalities to embrace capitalist restoration can only result in the brutal subordination of those peoples to imperialism. It is the duty of Leninists to say so forthrightly, and to oppose such movements. This vital distinction is ignored by most of the ostensibly Trotskyist left. Instead, they have hailed the growth of nationalist movements in the USSR, regardless of the latter’s attitude toward capitalist restoration.

Trotsky rejected the arguments of those ‘‘socialists’’ in his day who, in the name of ‘‘democracy,’’ made national self-determination their ultimate criterion:

‘‘The national problem separate and apart from class correlations is a fiction, a lie, a strangler’s noose for the proletariat.

‘‘…it frequently happens with formalistic thinkers that while denying the whole, they reverently grovel before apart. National self-determination is one of the elements of democracy. The struggle for national self-determination, like the struggle for democracy in general, plays an enormous role in the lives of the peoples, particularly in the life of the proletariat. He is a poor revolutionist who does not know how to utilize democratic institutions and forms, including parliamentarianism, in the interests of the proletariat. But from the proletarian standpoint, neither democracy as a whole nor national self-determination as an integral part of it stands above the classes; nor does either of them supply the highest criterion of revolutionary policy.’’

—‘‘Defense of the Soviet Republic and the Opposition,’’ 1929

Addressing the resurgence of Ukrainian nationalism in the 1930s, Trotsky proposed that the call for an ‘‘Independent Soviet Ukraine’’ could drive a wedge between those who stood for capitalist restoration and those who simply opposed the Kremlin oligarchy’s chauvinist attempts to Russify the Ukraine. This slogan was a clear statement of opposition to capitalist counterrevolution, even when it wore a cloak of resistance to national oppression. It also served to link the struggle against national oppression to the struggle against the parasitic Stalinist ruling caste.

Lithuania: Nationalism and Social Counterrevolution

Today within the Soviet Union the national question is posed most sharply in the Baltics. In March 1990, Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union. The bourgeois-nationalist Lithuanian Sajudis government is openly committed to regaining the republic’s prewar status as an imperialist satellite on the edge of the USSR. The imperialists, in turn, have loudly proclaimed their support for Lithuanian self-determination.

Chronic economic mismanagement and corruption, overlaid with bureaucratic and national oppression, have, in the absence of an organized socialist opposition, turned the nationalist movements throughout the USSR into vehicles for the generalized hostility toward Stalinism. One striking result of the referendum endorsing independence held in Lithuania last February was that ‘‘more than half the Russians, Poles, and other minorities in the Soviet republic had voted with them [the separatists]’’ (Manchester Guardian Weekly, 17 February). This is a significant indication of the level of frustration with Moscow felt by wide layers of the Soviet population as the country slides into economic chaos. Tragically, this sentiment has translated into widespread resignation to the ‘‘inevitability’’ of capitalist restoration as the only way out of the present morass.

Faced with this situation, the centrist League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) argues that revolutionaries must go along with the pro-capitalist independence movement because the majority of Lithuanian workers want it. In a polemic with our comrades, the LRCI’s German section wrote:

‘‘We say: for an independent workers state, let the masses go through their own experience with these false leaders. If we stay neutral, let alone support the attempts of the central government to maintain their rule, we will push the masses much more into the hands of radical right-wing elements. Of course there is the immediate danger of capitalist counterrevolution. But we can fight it best by cutting the ground from under the feet of the bourgeois forces….’’

—‘‘Kritik und Phrase’’

This is a typical example of centrist confusionism. The call for ‘‘an independent workers state’’ serves as a left cover for the LRCI’s capitulation to the ‘‘false [i.e., pro-capitalist] leaders.’’ The LRCI backs the bourgeois restorationists because it fears that neutrality would ‘‘push the masses’’ further to the right! It would never occur to these centrists to oppose the counterrevolutionary Sajudis.

The LRCI’s leading section (the British Workers Power grouping) is no better. They admit that a victory for the restorationist Lithuanian nationalists would mean disaster for the workers who, ‘‘would suffer as Lithuania fell into semi-colonial servitude’’ (’’Let Lithuania Go!’’ Workers Power, April 1990). Despite this, they flatly maintain that if it came to blows: ‘‘Within Lithuania a revolutionary Trotskyist party…would bloc with the nationalists in their confrontation with Moscow, including fighting Soviet troops sent in to crush the independent republic.’’ Again, there is an attempt to camouflage this capitulation to the bourgeois nationalists. This time, it is a worthless promise of a ‘‘determined struggle against the nationalists if and when they move to dismantle the state owned property relations and restore capitalism.’’ This ignores the fact that for the pro-capitalist Sajudis government, secession from the USSR is a crucial and indispensable step toward dismantling state-owned property.

When Gorbachev responded to the secessionists by economically blockading Lithuania, Workers Power urged the imperialists to break the Soviet blockade. In May 1990 Workers Power advised: ‘‘We should demand that the British government recognises Lithuania and supplies goods requested by Lithuania without conditions.’’ They denounced the imperialists for offering only token support to the Baltic counterrevolutionaries.

The fight to defend proletarian property forms against capitalist counterrevolution is not counterposed to, but intimately connected with, the struggle for the right of each nation in the USSR to establish an independent socialist republic. The struggle against the Great Russian chauvinism of the Stalinist bureaucracy will be a vital factor in mobilizing for workers political revolution. Trotskyists oppose all forms of national oppression: political, economic and cultural. We also oppose the straitjacket ‘‘union’’ run by the Kremlin bureaucrats. In advocating the voluntary unification of the peoples of the USSR on the basis of socialist republics, revolutionists simultaneously support the right to national self-determination, i.e., the right of nations such as Lithuania to secede. This does not mean the right to establish an independent bourgeois  state. For the Lithuanian working class, as for those of the other oppressed nationalities in the USSR, independence won through capitalist restoration would be a profound defeat. The job of Marxists is not to indulge in wishful thinking, or attempt to prettify reactionary forces, but ‘‘to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be.’’ For only by understanding reality is it possible to change it.

Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Smash Anti-Abortion Reaction!

[First printed in 1917 #7, Winter 1990. Originally posted online at . We are also including the box Women and the Russian Revolution originaly appended to this article and an undated Bolshevik Tendency leaflet produced from the late 80’s titled No More Wire Hangers]. 

The right of American women to choose whether or not to have children is under siege. The reactionary July 3rd United States Supreme Court ruling which upheld a Missouri law prohibiting the performance of abortions in publicly-funded medical facilities, represents an ominous step toward outlawing abortion altogether in the U.S. The Webster v. Reproductive Health Services decision did not overturn the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which upheld the right to abortion, but, as Justice Harry Blackmun noted in his dissent:

 ‘‘The plurality opinion is filled with winks and nods and knowing glances to those who would do away with Roe explicitly, but turns a stone face to anyone in search of what the plurality conceives as the scope of a woman’s right under the due process clause to terminate a pregnancy free from the coercive and brooding influence of the State…

‘‘…the signs are evident and very ominous.’’

The Webster decision is only one point on the Reaganite Supreme Court majority’s right-wing agenda. The ruling was accompanied by a series of decisions effectively removing the right of women and minorities to legal protection against racial or sexual discrimination. At the same time, the court upheld the ‘‘right’’ of white males to seek redress for so-called reverse discrimination where women or blacks got jobs through affirmative action programs.

In Canada last summer there were two well publicized cases where men obtained temporary court injunctions to deny their former lovers abortions. In July, Barbara Dodd was denied an abortion for a week on these grounds, before an appeals court overturned the original injunction. (In a pathetic postscript, Dodd was reconciled to her boyfriend and renounced her decision at a press conference organized by the anti-abortion fanatics.) The other case involved a heroic Quebec woman, Chantal Daigle, who was dragged through the courts for a month in a legal wrangle with her former boyfriend over her right to an abortion. Eventually the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in her favor; however, before they did, Daigle publicly announced that she had already obtained an abortion. Daigle’s courage and dignity throughout the whole humiliating ordeal inspired a groundswell of popular support for her which prevented the judiciary from citing her with contempt.

In the U.S., the Supreme Court is expected to broaden its attack on women’s rights with rulings on the constitutionality of compulsory parental notification before minors can have abortions. Last year there were over a million teenage pregnancies in the U.S.—including some 30,000 amongst youths 14 or younger.

Anyone old enough to get pregnant is old enough to decide whether or not to consult her parents about an abortion. Young women who consulted their parents about having intercourse in the first place will presumably continue to take them into their confidence. Parental notification legislation is aimed at restricting the right of young people to be sexually active. It represents a gross infringement on their right to privacy in medical treatment—not just to terminate pregnancy, but also to have access to birth control and treatment of sexually transmitted disease.

Access to abortion is already severely limited. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which studies abortion statistics, recently reported that 82 percent of the 3,116 counties in the United States now have no doctors, clinics or hospitals that perform abortions, an increase of 4 percent since 1980. There are only about a half-dozen doctors in the entire state of Montana that still perform abortions and, in Duluth, in Northern Minnesota, there is only one clinic to serve 24 surrounding counties—and the doctor must be flown in from Minneapolis because no Duluth doctor will do the procedure.

The decision to let each state determine the availability of abortion virtually guarantees that in many states women who can not afford private medical treatment will not be able to obtain abortions. Yet the Supreme Court ruling has galvanized pro-choice sentiment against the reactionary anti-abortion offensive. This was reflected by the 11 October vote of the House of Representatives to restore federal funding for abortion in cases of rape or incest (subsequently vetoed by George Bush). That same week, Florida Governor Bob Martinez’s attempts to introduce new restrictions on the availability of abortion were rebuffed. ‘‘Lawmakers said their action reflected what they were hearing from their constituents: a growing backlash against the recent United States Supreme Court ruling that opened the way for stricter abortion laws’’ (New York Times, 12 October).

Safe abortions will always be available for those who can pay; but for teenagers, poor and working-class women who cannot afford the high fees charged by private doctors, the denial of access to abortion can be a matter of life and death. It would mean a return to the dangerous back-alley abortions of the past.

‘Right-to-Lifers’: Anti-Choice Reaction In the Service of Capital

The anti-abortion campaign is part of a larger reactionary bourgeois offensive to take back rights won by working people and the oppressed over the past five decades. The Republicans, who led this drive, recognized the importance of establishing an electoral base among lower income voters, many of whom were Catholic and traditionally voted Democrat. The imperialist jingoism of the Reagan White House had a certain appeal to this constituency; but it was opposition to ‘‘secular humanism,’’ and the defense of ‘‘traditional family values’’ which cemented the alliance between the Republican right and the religious fundamentalists.

Like most movements of social reaction, the revival of the religious right did not originate with the bourgeoisie. It had its roots in the hysterical reaction of the most ignorant and backward elements of the petty bourgeoisie and the white working class to the social changes of the past quarter century. Yet regardless of their origins, such movements can be extremely useful to the ruling class. Every form of false consciousness, every bigoted notion and obscurantist prejudice which inhibits a rational understanding of society, ultimately serves as a prop for the existing social order. Workers who believe that their increasing difficulty in making ends meet is all part of god’s master plan, and that the local abortion clinic is the work of the devil, are far less dangerous to their bosses—and to the state—than those who understand that their declining standard of living is a product of an irrational economic system which puts profit ahead of human need.

In the vanguard of the ‘‘pro-family’’ forces’ most recent attacks is ‘‘Operation Rescue,’’ an organization devoted to putting obstacles in the path of women seeking abortion. This sinister collection of bible-thumping bigots gained national attention when it staged a series of attempts during the 1988 Democratic National Convention to block access to abortion clinics. The movement of ‘‘family’’-oriented social reaction not only wants to outlaw abortion, it also opposes equal rights for women, gay rights, sex education, birth control for teenagers, and publication of sexually-explicit materials (’’pornography’’). For the twisted moralists of the religious right, all sexual activity is sinful unless it occurs between married adults and is intended to beget children. Marxists, by contrast, believe that people have the right to do what they want in their personal/sexual lives and oppose all attempts by the state to regulate sexual morality. The right to the ‘‘pursuit of happiness’’ must include the individual’s right to engage in the sexual activities of his/her choice, subject only to the informed consent of the other party(ies).

Naturally, the anti-abortion movement overlaps significantly with those who advocate school prayer and the teaching of so-called ‘‘creation science.’’ ‘‘Pro-lifers’’ instinctively recognize that they have a natural enemy in scientific and medical progress. This is dramatically confirmed in their frenzied—and unfortunately so far effective—opposition to the RU 486 pill, developed in France, which enables women to terminate their pregnancies in the privacy of their own homes. Some 2,000 French women use this pill every month. If it were available in America, it could make abortion clinics virtually obsolete.

Roussel-Uclaf, the French company distributing the pill, has not attempted to retail the drug outside France. Its North American affiliate, Hoechst-Roussel, in deference to the clout of the anti-abortion constituency, as well as pressure from the federal government, has refused to even seek regulatory approval. For the moment, North American women only have access to the drug on the black market.

The Erosion of the Nuclear Family

The high-sounding talk about the ‘‘sanctity of life’’ spouted by the anti-choice bigots is only a religious/ideological disguise for what is really at issue: the erosion of the nuclear family over the past several decades. For much of this century, it was possible for ascendant American imperialism to preserve the ‘‘traditional’’ nuclear family: dad went to work, while mom stayed home and raised the kids. In the proletariat the man was a wage slave and the woman was, as Frederick Engels said, ‘‘the slave of a slave,’’ doubly oppressed—first as a member of the working class, and then as a woman.

Trapped and isolated at home, the wife/mother in the traditional nuclear family is responsible for providing psychological and emotional support for the alienated male wage laborer, and a secure and loving environment for their children. But for most women, the home is a prison, not a haven. Marxists have always encouraged female participation in the work force. As housewives, proletarian women are part of the working class, but they are atomized and powerless. Only insofar as they participate in production do they participate directly in the class struggle—the only means by which the fundamental conditions of their lives can be changed.

The dilemma of many contemporary working households is that while wage levels have declined to the point that the single-income working-class family is a thing of the past, capitalist society has not provided any replacement for the nuclear family or its traditional division of labor. More and more women today hold permanent, full-time jobs. Freed from the isolation of the home and their dependency on a husband-breadwinner, many women have at least been able to escape oppressive or unhappy marriages. This is reflected in an increase in the rate of divorce. Moreover, for educated, professional women, it is no longer necessary to get married; the wide-spread use of contraception and access to abortion have made it possible for greater numbers of women to pursue careers.

This loosening of women’s dependency on men has provoked a frightened reaction by a resurgent religious right which intuitively understands that the patterns of authority and obedience instilled in the family are essential to the preservation of the larger social hierarchy. Hysteria about the demise of the family is the basis for the campaign waged since the mid-1970s by the right-wing fundamentalists in Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and similar movements, to turn back the tide—to get women out of the workplace and back into the home.

In this society, the woman question also intersects that of race. Black (and other minority) working-class women are triply oppressed—as workers, as blacks and as women. Lack of equal educational opportunity and discriminatory hiring practices have meant generations of chronic unemployment in black neighborhoods, and the resultant poverty has greatly accelerated the breakdown of the black family. Black children are growing up in one-parent, poverty-stricken homes in unprecedented numbers. In 1950, nine percent of black homes were headed by one parent; in 1970 it had risen to a third. Today half of all black families with children are headed by a single parent, usually the mother. The culture of poverty at the bottom of racist America, into which ever greater numbers of black children are born, is a vicious trap with no way out except for a lucky few.

Bourgeois Feminism and the Fake-Left

Last April, the National Organization for Women (NOW), a bourgeois women’s organization, sponsored a huge march in Washington in defense of abortion rights. Since the march, NOW’s membership has jumped by 40,000 and is now over 200,000. This has caught the attention of various opportunist left organizations, who are always looking for new bandwagons to climb onto. In an article headlined ‘‘Will NOW fritter away this opportunity?’’ in the August issue of Socialist Worker, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) declared that: ‘‘Socialists and other supporters of abortion rights should welcome the news of NOW’s surging membership….’’ The supposedly Marxist ISO sees its role as nudging NOW to the left, and is thus offering helpful recommendations like, ‘‘If alliances are to be made, they should be made with anti-racists and with trade unionists’’ rather than the bourgeois politicians and ecology freaks NOW is currently pursuing.

Socialist Action (SA), an ostensibly Trotskyist paper published by a group of the same name, has for some months been featuring speeches and interviews with various bourgeois feminists (including NOW leaders) who are blandly described as ‘‘leaders of the women’s movement.’’ Indeed Socialist Action members have been joining NOW in an attempt to pressure it from inside. They report that some women in NOW are ‘‘suspicious’’ of their motives and ask, ‘‘‘If you don’t think that we can get equality anyway, what are you doing in a group like the National Organization for Women (NOW), which is fighting for equality within the system?’’’ (SA, July 1989). SA responds that, ‘‘We need mass independent feminist organizations like the National Organization for Women,’’ and claims that SA has ‘‘an important contribution to make to the abortion rights movement and to the National Organization for Women’’! At the same time, SA timidly ventures that NOW’s ‘‘single-issue focus in the electoral arena’’ is a ‘‘dangerous flaw.’’

Despite the wishful thinking of the opportunist left, NOW is not the reincarnation of the radical women’s movement of the late 1960s. NOW’s whole purpose is to channel women’s anger into bourgeois electoralism and pressure politics. NOW is a bourgeois organization, with an explicitly pro-capitalist ideology and leadership. The opportunists of SA and ISO, who hope to win members and influence among women in the pro-choice movement by adaptation to NOW’s program and leadership, cannot admit this simple truth.

While it is perfectly principled for socialists to join demonstrations initiated by NOW against reactionary attacks on the right to abortion, it is something else to promote illusions in its bourgeois leadership. The job of Leninists in the women’s movement is to help the working class and the oppressed to understand that their real interests arecounterposed to those of the capitalist class. Proletarian women do not need NOW, or any other vehicles of the racist, sexist Democratic Party—they need a movement committed to fight for their interests: a communist women’s movement, linked to a revolutionary workers party.

NOW is an organization with a history of explicit anti-communism. In 1977, after years of thankless donkey-work as the ‘‘best builders’’ for Steinem et al, the reformist Socialist Workers Party, (SWP—from which SA is descended) was red-baited out of NOW at its tenth national convention with the following motion:

‘‘…this conference protests attempts by the SWP to use NOW as a vehicle to place before the public the agenda of their organization and to exploit the feminist movement. We bitterly resent and will not tolerate any group’s attempt to deflect us from the pursuit of our feminist goals.’’

The SWP women were reportedly horrified when their bourgeois ‘‘sisters’’ gave them the boot. In the unlikely event that SA or the ISO make any headway retailing their brand of ‘‘socialism’’ in NOW, they can expect similar treatment.

NOW and the Politics of Women’s Liberation

These days, NOW’s leadership is concentrating on prospects in the bourgeois electoral arena. In a column in the July issue of Ms., Gloria Steinem wrote: ‘‘now is the time to translate pro-choice energy into votes and voter turnout…there is a lot of free-floating anger out there, and it should be channeled into political action.’’ By ‘‘political action’’ Steinem and NOW president Molly Yard mean electing more liberal Democrats to Congress and state legislatures. But the Webster decision itself underscores the futility of this approach. The Democratic Party has controlled both houses of Congress for most of the past two decades—yet every one of the conservative justices who ruled in Webster was confirmed in this period. Moreover, it was the last Democratic administration, under Jimmy Carter, which took away Medicaid funding for abortion.

While the Republicans have been more forthright in the campaign against abortion rights, it is important for activists to remember that the Democrats and Republicans are partners in administering U.S. capitalism. They have no fundamental differences. Reliance on the Democrats to fight for the oppressed is a prescription for defeat. The only way that women, blacks or workers have ever won anything is through social struggle against the interests of capital—not by the grace of either of the twin parties of racism and imperialist war.

NOW’s leadership is currently pushing Malthusian environmentalism. NOW president Yard recently remarked: ‘‘There is a direct connection between the environment, population explosion and the need to stabilize population growth….We must have a two-child family worldwide, and to achieve it we must have family planning and birth control.’’ However, the problem is not that too many people are being born, but that the production and distribution of food and other necessities under capitalism is determined entirely by the profit motive.

NOW reflects the concerns of its college-educated, professional and semi-professional membership, paying little attention to the burning issues affecting working women. Working-class women in America need access to well-paid, dignified jobs; they need good, affordable housing; they need free, comprehensive health care which not only covers abortion but also pre-natal and post-natal care; birth control and all medical costs; and free, 24-hour child-care centers. Because it accepts the continued existence of racist, class-divided capitalist society, which is rooted in social inequality and oppression, NOW offers little to the majority of women.

Feminists, who limit their perspectives to trying to advance women’s interests within capitalist society, inevitably come up with the wrong answers for many of the problems they seek to address. For example, the ‘‘take back the night’’ mobilizations (an attempt to deal with the very real dangers to women walking down American streets) end up demanding more cops. But increasing the number of racist, trigger-happy thugs for the bourgeoisie on the streets is no solution. Marxists understand that only by tackling the problem at its root—the dog-eat-dog system which creates a permanent under-class with nothing to look forward to and nothing to lose—can the growing social pathology within American society be eliminated.

Or take the question of child support. Both feminists and Marxists favor making divorce easier to obtain, but most feminists have also supported draconian legislation for police enforcement of child-support court decrees. This can be traced to an acceptance of the inevitability of the nuclear family as the basic social unit. Marxists uphold the socialist principle that the care and feeding of the next generation must be seen as a social responsibility; and we therefore advocate that the costs of child support should be borne by the state.

Feminism and the Family

While the bourgeois state attempts to promote the family both ideologically and through state intervention, the workings of the market tend to undermine it by driving down the family wage to the level of an individual subsistence wage. When survival requires two wage-earners, the working-class family faces a host of problems to which those of the professional petty-bourgeoisie are largely immune. Meals are not prepared, domestic chores are left undone, and children cannot be cared for after school. Juvenile crime and family tensions increase. Right-wing demagogues seek to tap this anxiety by preaching a return to traditional ‘‘family values’’ and directing this inchoate anger against ‘‘women’s liberation’’ in general, and abortion clinics in particular.

Middle-class feminists who see marriage and child-rearing as a personal rather than a social and economic matter, cannot understand why the issue of the family is so volatile in the working class. As long as the cause of women’s emancipation is associated in the public mind with the aspirations of relatively privileged career women like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, the religious right will continue to be the principal benefactor of the current crisis of the family. Some liberal feminists sense this and have sought to address it with talk of a ‘family agenda,’’ to assure working-class women that feminism is no enemy of the nuclear family.

Marxism versus Feminism

The oppression of women cannot be combated by pragmatic adaptations to the current political mood. Marxists, guided by a historical materialist understanding, have always argued that the question of the family stands at the heart of women’s oppression in capitalist society. The sexual division of labor within the family, which confines the woman to a subordinate role, is undeniably much older than capitalist society. But the modern nuclear family (which replaced the older extended family with the rise of the bourgeoisie), preserved the essential male and female roles upon which all family forms are based.

While the economic changes of the last several decades have seriously eroded the nuclear family, capitalism has not and cannot create the conditions for its replacement. The family can only be transcended through socialization of the functions now carried on within the domestic orbit—principally housework and child-raising. Only on a secure material foundation can decisions about sexual partners and/or child-bearing become a matter of choice for all, not just for a privileged minority. But an economic system driven by the necessity to maximize private profit is organicallyincapable of allocating sufficient material resources to provide these services for everyone.

The pervasive sexism of capitalist society places real obstacles in the path of every woman, including aspiring career women. Resistance to the idea of female equality may be more hypocritically concealed in corporate boardrooms or academic departments than it is on the factory floor, but it remains very real. Legal guarantees against job discrimination, programs to promote hiring of women, and legislation enforcing equal pay for equal work, are therefore of great importance for the upwardly mobile woman.

These issues, which have been paramount on the NOW agenda for the last fifteen years, were highlighted in the (unsuccessful) campaign for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). As advocates of sexual equality, Marxists support passage of legislation like the ERA, while warning against the illusion that it is possible to end women’s oppression without overturning capitalist property relations.

It is the class struggle, and not any ‘‘battle between the sexes,’’ which will ultimately determine the future of humanity. And only the working class, with its diverse sexual and racial composition, has both the social power and the objective interest to eliminate the material basis of all forms of social oppression through the socialist reconstruction of society.

The fight for women’s emancipation therefore cannot be separated from the struggle for a new social order governed not by private profit, but by human need—that is, the struggle for socialism. Such a struggle is incompatible with the fundamental premise of feminism in both its liberal and radical varieties, namely, that the emancipation of women is essentially the task of ‘‘women themselves.’’ Women belong to different social classes, and thus have different social interests. The more privileged strata lack not only the social power—but also the objective interest—in a radical transformation of the existing social order.

Women workers have a special interest in combating the poison of male chauvinism which pervades society. The working class cannot fight for the socialist future without championing the interests of women and all the oppressed, and it is within the context of the class struggle that the fight for women’s equality acquires its full power and scope.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s green light to the anti-abortion bigots brings to the forefront the defense of abortion rights. The main arena in which this struggle must be fought is not the courtroom or legislature, but the streets. Mobilizing the power of organized labor is key to winning this battle. The organization and deployment of union defense guards, backed by the power of the workers movement at the point of production, could soon send Operation Rescue and the rest of the ‘‘right-to-life’’ fanatics scurrying back to the safety of their bible classes. This requires a struggle for a new, class-struggle leadership in the unions, committed to rallying the workers and oppressed for the defensive struggles of today, and in so doing, cutting across existing racial, sexual and ethnic divisions, thus laying the basis for the revolutionary offensives of tomorrow.

Free abortion on demand! For union defense guards to protect abortion clinics!

Free quality health care for all! Free birth control on demand! Free quality 24-hour child-care facilities!

Immediate divorce on the request of either partner—full, state-funded child support!

Government out of the bedrooms! Full democratic rights for gays! No state intervention in sexual relations between consenting individuals! Decriminalize prostitution!

For a state stipend available to all young people, to allow them economic independence from the family!Women’s liberation through socialist revolution!

Women and the Russian Revolution

[Originally posted online at, ]

Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, which in October 1917 led the only successful proletarian revolution in history, understood that Soviet women would never achieve political and social equality unless they were allowed out of the stultifying isolation of the home and into the workplace. Even in the midst of a civil war and foreign invasion, the early Soviet government did what it could to socialize ‘‘women’s work’’ while instituting, for the first time in history, full legal and political equality for women. Free abortion was available on demand; dining halls, laundries and day-care centers were established, and the new regime sought to ensure equality of economic opportunity in the civil service, in industry, in the party and in the armed forces. In his 1936 book, The Revolution Betrayed, Leon Trotsky explained the aims of the early Soviet workers state in relation to women and the family:

‘‘The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called ‘family hearth’—that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution in which the woman of the toiling classes performs galley labor from childhood to death. The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, creches, kindergartens, schools, social dining rooms, social laundries, first-aid stations, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organizations, moving-picture theaters, etc. The complete absorption of the house-keeping functions of the family by institutions of the socialist society, uniting all generations in solidarity and mutual aid, was to bring to woman, and thereby to the loving couple, a real liberation from the thousand-year-old fetters.’’

Eventually the revolution succumbed to international isolation and the social backwardness of peasant dominated Russia; a conservative, parasitic bureaucracy, headed by Joseph Stalin, emerged and usurped the political power of the working class. Under the banner of ‘‘building socialism in one country,’’ the newly-privileged bureaucracy acted as the arbiter of a system of generalized want. Many of the gains for women established in the early years of the revolution were reversed. In 1934 homosexuality, which had been legalized after the revolution, was once again criminalized, and in 1936 legal access to abortion was restricted. In the course of the Stalinist political counterrevolution, women were once again relegated to the nuclear family and the provision of free domestic labor and child care:

 ‘‘It proved impossible to take the old family by storm—not because the will was lacking, and not because the family was so firmly rooted in men’s hearts. On the contrary, after a short period of distrust of the government and its creches, kindergartens and like institutions, the working women, and after them the more advanced peasants, appreciated the immeasurable advantages of the collective care of children as well as the socialization of the whole family economy. Unfortunately society proved too poor and little cultured. The real resources of the state did not correspond to the plans and intentions of the Communist Party. You cannot ‘abolish’ the family; you have to replace it. The actual liberation of women is unrealizable on the basis of ‘generalized want.’ Experience soon proved this austere truth which Marx had formulated eighty years before.’’


Despite the legacy of sixty-five years of Stalinist rule, the early years of the Soviet state still stand as a guide-post to the future for women’s liberation.

No More Wire Hangers!

The “Right to Life” in the United States has come to mean the “right” of right-wing religious bigots to run your life! The struggle for reproductive freedom in this country has been a long and bitter one. While the powers that be have granted women the legal right to abortion they did so only after mass protest forced the issue into the light of day and out from the back alleys. Like all gains granted by capitalism the right of abortion is only a hard won concession from the state that is always subject to repeal and for which we must always be prepared to fight again and again.

Now the legions of fundamentalist theocrats in the misnamed Operation Rescue are trying to prevent women from exercising that right and ultimately seek to abolish it entirely. And, of course, denying a woman’s right to an abortion is only the first target of these bible-thumping, contra-loving reactionaries who see anyone who isn’t praying as the enemy. The Bolshevik Tendency is one-hundred percent in favor of womens’ right to abortion and will defend it unceasingly and unconditionally!

Demonstrations such as the one today amount to a referendum on the abortion question and the BT believes it is important to stand with those who defend a woman’s right to choose. But we believe that it is necessary to mobilize the power of the trade unions in this country to mount political strikes to defend and extend democratic rights. A key component of this strategy is the formation of labor defense guards to physically stop these fundamentalist creeps from accomplishing their dirty work. Ultimately only a politically conscious working class that is willing and able to strike for such rights can defend them and win others.

Reproductive freedom is not simply a gender issue, it is a class issue. Under capitalism, members of the ruling class are nearly always above the law. Simply put, money talks and before abortions were legal in this country, women still had them. Wealthy women, of course, went to doctors who were willing to perform them illegally for an exorbitant , price and usually in a medically safe manner. Working women, on the other hand, were forced by economic circumstance to perform high risk acts of self-butchery, such as the now infamous wire hanger method or suffer humiliation, mutilation and frequently death at the hands of the back-alley abortionist.

The economic factors which lead to such desperate acts effect men as well as women. In Reagan’s America it is no longer possible for a family to live on one income. And yet, a man who is unable to support a family is considered a failure. The physical suffenng and social destabilization caused by unemployment or underemployment many times leads to abandonment of pregnant women. The women in these cases are left with only three choices: the desperate struggle of single-parenthood, the gut-wrenching pain of giving their children to adoption agencies or abortion. In the perpetual battle for food, housing, jobs and medicine, women are pitted against men, racial minorities against whites and youth against older people all with the effect of distracting the workers from the true enemy, the capitalist system itself. Given the discrimination facing working class women on the job and in education, many times abortion is their only realistic option. For black women this is doubly true.

Feminists who draw the mistaken conclusion from the oppression of women that men are the “enemy” draw a sex line as the main axis of oppression in this society. This mistaken idea is encouraged by the capitalists, who like nothing better than to see the workers fighting among themselves. Whether it goes by the name of feminism or “socialist-feminism” the logic of this analysis is sex war just as surely as the logic of Marxism is class war. Abortion is primarily a working class issue. If abortion is banned again the white, rich and middle-class women will still be able to get one! Working class women will once again become the victim of the coat hanger abortion or be forced to become the breeding stock for another imperialist war.

Ultimately, only a workers’ revolution, led by a Leninist/Trotskyist party, will free working women and men from the economic chains which bind them under capitalism. Only then will abortion, birth control and sex education be free and available on demand. Only then will food, jobs, housing, education and medicine be available to all, regardless of gender, race, sexual proclivity or physical handicap. Only then will the artificial barriers which divide humanity be smashed, allowing us, finally, to live as true equals. We call for a true workers’ democracy, not the phoney “democracy” of capitalism where only the rich are represented.

The ultimate goal of the workers’ movement must be workers’ power–the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not bureaucratic Stalinist rule but the rule of workers through democratically elected and recallable representatives. This is why the Bolshevik Tendency advocates the establishment of a world party of socialist revolution and the rebirth of the Fourth International.

For a Woman’s Right to Abortion-Free Abortion on Demand!
For Free, Quality Medical Care, Under Workers Control!
For a Workers’ Party and a Workers’ Government!
For the Rebirth of the Fourth International!

Revolutionary Continuity & the Split in the Fourth International

Revolutionary Continuity & the Split in the Fourth International

[First printed in 1917 #8, Summer 1990. Originally posted online at ]

The following letter, which deals with the historic split of the Trotskyist movement in the early 1950s, was addressed to the German Gruppe IV. Internationale [GIVI]. Like the Bolshevik Tendency, GIVI was founded by former cadres of the international Spartacist tendency. The letter is a response to GIVI’s equation of the revisionist International Secretariat of the Fourth International (IS), headed by Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel, with the forces organized as the International Committee of the Fourth International (IC), initiated by the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The 1963 ‘‘reunification’’ between the SWP and Pablo’s International Secretariat, which produced the United Secretariat (USec), was sealed by the expulsion of the SWP’s Revolutionary Tendency (forerunner of the Spartacist League—SL). The RT opposed the reunification and defended the original split with the Pablo current as ‘‘essential to the preservation of a principled revolutionary movement.’’


14 March 1989 Comrades:

We have discussed your document, Continuity or New Program—A False Alternative, and we find ourselves in sharp disagreement with your conclusion that the 1951-53 split was essentially politically inconsequential. In our view this represents a step away from the tradition from which both of our organizations derive.

Let us say at the outset that our knowledge of the political activity of the IC sections outside North America in the 1950s is limited. What we do know about their activity is not impressive, to say the least. We are somewhat more familiar with the record of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in this period which shows consistent rightward motion, including the call on the U.S. imperialist army to act as an instrument of struggle against racism.

We consider ‘‘Genesis of Pabloism,’’ [Spartacist No. 21, Fall 1972], the Spartacist League’s major study of the crisis of postwar Trotskyism, to be a fine document. As you point out, it stops at 1954—and while it refers to the activity of the Healy grouping within the Labour Party as ‘‘arch-Pabloist…opportunism,’’ it omits mention of the IC’s craven political adaptation to Messali Hadj in Algeria, or Peron in Argentina. ‘‘Genesis of Pabloism’’ also ignores the Bolivian disaster in 1952 and the role of the Cannon leadership in covering up for the Menshevism of the POR’s [Partido Obrero Revolucionario] ‘‘critical support’’ to the bourgeois-nationalist MNR [Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario] government. This is a particularly significant omission because of the existence of a tendency within the SWP’s Los Angeles branch (the Vern-Ryan grouping) which explicitly criticized this policy at the time. The SL’s observation that a key to forging an authentic Trotskyist current internationally is ‘‘an understanding of the characteristics and causes of Pabloist revisionism and the flawed response of the anti-Pabloists who fought, too little and too late, on national terrain while in practice abandoning the world movement’’ is one with which we heartily agree. We make no excuses for the national parochialism of the Cannon leadership, nor its conception of a federated ‘‘international,’’ nor its abstention from criticism of the opportunism of its bloc partners. Nor do we agree with the Proletarian Military Policy, nor the positions taken on Yugoslavia and China.

At the same time, it is necessary to judge political currents in their totality, taking into account their history and the social reality which they confronted. The world after World War II was a very different place than Trotsky had projected. The SWP was socially isolated with an aging cadre under tremendous pressure from the domestic witchhunt. It was clearly badly disoriented by the postwar events and poorly equipped to understand or deal with them theoretically. The Cannon leadership largely shared, or at least acquiesced to, the ‘‘new world reality’’ impressionism of Pablo which led inexorably to the conclusion that many of the lessons of the ‘‘old Trotskyism’’ no longer applied. This is evidenced by the SWP’s support for the decisions of the 1951 Third World Congress.

But, as the fight with Cochran revealed, it would be a mistake to simply equate Cannon and Pablo. The SWP leadership, while it was slipping badly, was not definitively hardened around this revisionism. When confronted with the implications of the liquidationist course of the Pabloites on their own domestic terrain, the Cannon leadership resisted. In this fight we take a side, without endorsing the way the fight was conducted or even many of the arguments used by the majority—for example, Hansen’s defense of the proposition that Stalinism is always and everywhere ‘‘counterrevolutionary through and through.’’ While the direction of evolution of the Cochranites was sufficiently clear at the time of their suspension from the SWP, it became even more blatant when they set up shop for themselves. Six months after leaving the SWP they brazenly declared that in the postwar period:

‘‘…there has been a clear test of the ability of Trotskyism to create an independent movement on a program broadly confirmed by the new revolutionary developments…the old Trotskyist perspective has become outmoded. As before the war, the vanguard seeks to realize its revolutionary aspirations within the old parties, leaving no room for a new revolutionary mass organization. Thus the Trotskyist movement…was doomed to remain isolated. The test was made for a whole historic era, both in periods of reaction and revolution, and is therefore a decisive one.’’

    —’’Our Orientation,’’ reprinted in International Secretariat Documents 1951-54, Vol. 4

We think that the PCI [Parti Communiste Internationaliste] leadership was correct in voting against the main document of the IS leadership at the 1951 Congress. The fact that the SWP did not support them in this, or that the PCI leadership did not carry out this struggle to the end, does not negate the fact that there was a significant political differentiation which clearly had a left/right axis. You admit that, ‘‘in the document Where Is Comrade Pablo Going? written by Favre/Bleibtreu in June 1951, they tried to defend Trotskyism’’ but conclude that because they ‘‘capitulated to the bureaucratic maneuvers of the Pabloites within the PCI’’ and unfortunately retreated from their earlier opposition to the line adopted by the Third World Congress, they ‘‘sealed their fate.’’ While this maneuver obviously significantly weakened their political opposition to the new revisionism, the fact is that they did continue to oppose the Pablo leadership and their French adherents. The next year Bleibtreu agreed with Healy and a representative of the Swiss section to ‘‘undertake together the defense of Trotskyism against Pablist revisionism and the struggle against the liquidation of the Fourth International’’ at the upcoming Fourth World Congress (International Committee Documents1951-54, Vol. 2). Cannon and the SWP leadership apparently aborted this with their ‘‘Open Letter,’’ issued the next month.

It is quite correct to point to the inconsistencies and inadequacies of the PCI and SWP, and the passive and inadequate fashion in which they carried out the fight against the Pabloist leadership. ‘‘Genesis of Pabloism’’ is certainly not uncritical on this count:

‘‘Despite a considerable body of mythology to the contrary, both the PCI and SWP vacillated when revisionism manifested itself at the head of the Fourth International, balking only at applying it to their own sections. Both groups compromised themselves by uneasy acquiescence (combined in the case of the PCI with sporadic resistance) to Pablo’s policies until the suicidal organizational consequences to their sections necessitated sharp fights. Both abdicated the responsibility to take the fight against revisionism into every body and every section of the Fourth International….The IC from its inception was only a paper international tendency consisting of those groups which had already had splits between pro-Pabloist and orthodox wings.’’

You observe that: ‘‘The sound political impulse to fight Pabloism, which had been developed by some IC components, was half-hearted in a programmatic sense and a disaster concerning its political practice.’’ True enough, but though the fight against Pabloism was profoundly flawed, it was not without political substance. The issues posed in the SWP’s Open Letter (the East German uprising and the French general strike) were not inconsequential. It is therefore a mistake to equate the positions adopted by the IC sections on these events with those of the Pabloites. As in the Cochran fight, despite our criticisms of Cannon et al, we cannot accept the position that this was a case of two ‘‘complementary’’ revisionist positions which were qualitatively similar. That is why the course toward ‘‘reunification’’ with the Pabloists over a shared capitulation to Castroism was a significant development, which signalled the irreversible consolidation of the SWP leadership around revisionism, while simultaneously initiating the Revolutionary Tendency (RT).

* * *

We find your notion of ‘‘continuity’’ to be rather one-sided. You suggest that ‘‘the exponents of ‘continuity’’’ see it as ‘‘an uninterrupted development of Trotskyism.’’ This is an easy position to argue against, but it is a simplification which ignores the crucial distinction between ‘‘developing’’ Trotskyism and defending it—even if partially and inadequately. We do not view ‘‘continuity’’ as a kind of metaphysical laying on of hands which can guarantee the apostolic succession of authentic Trotskyism. Nor does it consist in simply repeating the answers to yesterday’s problems in response to the new questions which arise today.

The fight against Pabloism in the SWP meant that, unlike the Cochranite formation, it possessed the capacity for its own political regeneration. This is borne out by the fact that the political demarcation of 1951-53 was a starting point for the RT within the SWP eight years later, when the latter finally converged with the IS leadership. In some important ways the RT/SL represented a positive development of Trotskyism after Trotsky—something that is not true of any other international current. But it did so on the basis of the prior struggles upon which it was based, including the fight against Pabloism in the early 1950s, imperfect as the latter was.

It is at least abstractly possible that a genuinely revolutionary proletarian current could arise somewhere in the world which would be capable of developing autonomously the essential programmatic positions of Trotskyism and applying them to such difficult problems as interpenetrated peoples in Israel/Palestine, the popular front, special oppression, the genesis of Cuba and the other deformed workers states, without ever learning of the existence of the Spartacist tendency or the RT or the IC or even Trotsky.

But the fact is that the RT was not replicated, to our knowledge, in any other ostensibly Trotskyist grouping internationally. Nor have any of the myriad currents spawned from the New Left/Maoist movement, in its various national permutations, spontaneously approximated the program of revolutionary Marxism defended and developed by the RT/SL.

It is in this sense that the question of continuity has meaning. It has a great deal to do with answering questions about how revolutionaries should have responded to various difficult problems posed by the international class struggle. The fact that the RT developed in the SWP and not, for example, in Livio Maitan’s Italian organization in the early 1960s, is not entirely fortuitous. In its 1962 founding document ‘‘In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective,’’ the RT posed itself as the continuator of the struggle against Pabloism begun in 1953.

‘‘In 1953, our party, in the Militant ‘Open, Letter’ (11/11/53), declared that ‘The lines of cleavage between Pablo’s revisionism and Orthodox Trotskyism are so deep that no compromise is possible either politically or organizationally.’

“The political evaluation of Pabloism as revisionism is as correct now as it was then and must be the basis for any Trotskyist approach to this tendency. ’’

The RT’s founding document charged that, ‘‘the SWP leadership has accepted the central theoretical position of Pabloite revisionism.’’ The RT was critical from the outset of the conduct of the IC’s struggle against the Pabloists, as well as the SWP’s temporizing and American exceptionalism. Yet it stood on the SWP’s eventual declaration of intent to ‘‘carry through a political struggle against Pabloism on a world scale in order to maintain its domestic revolutionary perspective.’’ While standing on the fight against Pabloism in the SWP in 1953, the RT did not take the position that the IC was the simple lineal continuity of the Fourth International. Indeed, the Spartacist grouping had to struggle to successfully reestablish revolutionary political continuity. In its resolution on the world movement presented at the 1963 SWP Convention in counterposition to the majority’s document motivating ‘‘reunification’’ with the IS, the RT noted, ‘‘the disappearance of the Fourth International as a meaningful structure’’ while correctly arguing that reunification with the Pabloists was ‘‘a step away from, not toward, the genuine rebirth of the Fourth International.’’ At the London Conference in 1966 the Spartacist group stated forthrightly that ‘‘Pabloism has been opposed within the movement by a bad ‘orthodoxy’ represented until the last few years by the example of Cannon.’’ Robertson noted further that:

‘‘After 1950, Pabloism dominated the F.I.; only when the fruits of Pabloism were clear did a section of the F.I. pull back. In our opinion, the ‘orthodox’ movement has still to face up to the new theoretical problems which rendered it susceptible to Pabloism in 1943-50 and gave rise to a ragged, partial split in 1952-54.’’

We see our struggle, in the first instance, as one to ensure that the precious political legacy of the RT and the revolutionary SL is not lost with the irreversible slide of its leadership into political banditry. Of course we do not contend that only groupings emerging from the RT/SL can be revolutionary, but we do think that would-be revolutionaries who study the history of the Trotskyist movement must come to see that in a vital programmatic sense the RT/SL tradition, and it alone, represents the authentic continuity of the Left Opposition and the Fourth International under Trotsky. And this continuity itself has a history, one which runs through the ‘‘ragged’’ and ‘‘partial’’ split that produced the ‘‘paper international tendency’’ that was the IC.

Your attitude to the tradition of the RT/SL seems, to us, ambiguous. On the one hand it seems that you find our declaration in the first issue of the Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt that we proposed to act as a ‘‘beacon of orthodox Spartacism’’ objectionable, and view our position on the 1951-53 split as a ‘‘hereditary vice.’’ On the other hand you ‘‘take into consideration the revolutionary heritage of…the iSt’’ without necessarily identifying yourselves too closely with it. Indeed you consider that the iSt remains revolutionary, and yet even though it is perhaps fifty times larger than yourselves, you do not propose unification. It seems to us that this is a peculiar kind of indifferentism on the question of revolutionary continuity. This impression is reinforced with your assertion that your assessment of:

‘‘the points of break in the development of Trotskyism in no way expresses neutrality or agnosticism, it only evades the time-machine-effect: How would we have acted, if…? This method is inoperational.’’

We fail to see any merit in ‘‘evading’’ the issues posed in the organizational breakup of the Trotskyist movement. What seems ‘‘inoperational’’ in this is your claim not to be agnostic or neutral, at least as regards the IC/IS split. If indeed the two sides in the 1951-53 fight were complementary forms of revisionism (or ‘‘centrist equivalent[s]’’), you must be neutral in the falling out; as we are, for instance, in the breakup of the Lambertiste/Morenoite bloc several years ago.

Fraternally, Bolshevik Tendency

Death Agony of Stalinism

Eastern European Regimes Implode

Death Agony of Stalinism

[First printed in 1917 #8, Summer 1990.  Also appended is a 9/9/04 letter to the Internationalist Group further elaborating the IBT position on these events.]

The unravelling of the political order imposed upon Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union after the Second World War has profoundly altered the configuration of world politics. The dramatic recent events can be traced to Gorbachev’s acceptance, last August, of a Solidarnosc-led government in Poland, which signalled that the Kremlin would no longer back up its Warsaw Pact clients with troops and tanks.

With the threat of Soviet intervention removed, mass popular demonstrations against decades of Stalinist tyranny exploded across the region. In Romania this popular upsurge spilled over into a bloody armed conflict with Ceausescu’s Securitate. Elsewhere the ruling Communist Parties, devoid of any belief in their own legitimacy, changed their names and sacked their leaders before running for cover. To date, overtly pro-capitalist governments have taken office in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany (DDR) and Hungary. In Romania and Bulgaria the ‘‘reform’’ Stalinists who still hold the reins of power promise to implement capitalist market measures in the near future.

While Moscow’s domination of Eastern Europe is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, the region’s future remains murky. But the momentum is clearly to the right. Forty years of Stalinist rule have profoundly discredited the very idea of socialism among broad layers of the working class. Misled, betrayed and confused, the East European proletariat has yet to assert itself as an independent political factor. The masses of people who tore down the Berlin wall and stood up to Ceausescu’s thugs were united by their hatred for the privileges, mendacity and economic mismanagement of their bureaucratic taskmasters. They knew what they didn’t want, but had no positive program.

The political vacuum created by the collapse of bureaucratic authority created an opening for pro-capitalist intellectuals and nationalist fanatics. Across Eastern Europe there is a recrudescence of fascistic organizations dating from the Hitler era. In the Romanian city of Tirgu Mures an organization calling itself the Iron Guard took responsibility for the murder of ethnic Hungarians; fifty years ago their namesake carried out pogroms against Jews. In Bulgaria vicious pogroms against the Turkish minority have caused thousands to flee for their lives. In the DDR, assaults on immigrants and leftists by gangs of Nazi skinheads have become common. Behind these forces stand the bankers and industrialists of the West who have been itching to reconquer the countries of the Soviet bloc.

The restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe—a prospect now acutely posed—would represent an immense setback for the international proletariat. The bureaucratically-decreed collectivization of the means of production brought concrete benefits for the working class. Employment was guaranteed; food, housing and transportation prices were stabilized (and frequently subsidized); and health care and education were made generally available. In the DDR, daycare has been cheap and widely available, and special provisions have ensured affordable housing for single mothers and retirees. These social gains, which are directly targeted by the architects of capitalist restoration, remain genuinely popular among large sections of the masses, despite their current infatuation with the ‘‘magic’’ of the market.

For Political Revolution—Not Capitalist Restoration!

Millions of East European workers are not going to enjoy the introduction of capitalist speedup and layoffs. They will not sit still as food prices and rents soar while real wages are cut, nor will they be herded quietly into the unemployment queues and soup kitchens that await them in the kingdom of ‘‘free enterprise.’’ This poses an acute problem for the new pro-capitalist governments. Their main asset is mass support, yet they have a mandate for social counterrevolution that requires them to savage their base.

The projected absorption of the DDR by West Germany would create potentially explosive contradictions as the bourgeoisie attempts to make the working class assume the costs of the Anschluss. But the West German capitalists possess both a powerful state apparatus and immense economic resources with which to impose their will. Elsewhere in the region however, the lack of an effective repressive apparatus presents huge problems for the new governments. The existing military/police apparatuses inherited from the old regimes are in a state of disarray and cannot be relied on without first undergoing deep purges and new selections of personnel. This will not be easily accomplished, and in any case, requires time. Meanwhile the economic situation is rapidly going from bad to worse. There is not going to be any new Marshall Plan. To pull off the Pinochet-style ‘‘economic miracle’’ the new regimes hope for, they will need the military capacity to crush working-class resistance.

At this point the openly fascistic formations, like the anti-Semitic Confederation for an Independent Poland (KPN), which aspire to translate the anger and desperation of the plebian masses into pogroms and white terror, are too marginal to do the job. Without a sufficient counterweight to a cohesive working class, the embryonic capitalist regimes remain extremely vulnerable as the initial euphoria of ‘‘freedom’’ wears off, and the masses begin to comprehend exactly what life under capitalism means.

Now more than ever, the masses of East Europe need a revolutionary leadership committed to defending collectivized property and instituting the direct political rule of the working class, i.e., the perspective of proletarian political revolution. The first qualification of such a leadership is the ability to face the truth squarely and acknowledge the gravity of the restorationist danger. On this score most of the groupings of the ostensibly Trotskyist left come up short. Whether out of reluctance to criticize ‘‘mass movements,’’ or unwillingness to admit that the present political tide is not running in the direction of progress, the majority of the left pretends that it lives in a world more to its liking than the one that exists. This can only disarm the working class politically in the face of the reactionary onslaught.

The Collapse of Stalinism: Trotsky’s Prognosis Vindicated

The test of any political theory is its ability to explain great historical events. Over fifty years ago Trotsky characterized the Stalinist bureaucracy as a privileged social stratum, resting on the economic foundations created by the October Revolution of 1917. He pointed out that the bureaucracy’s political stranglehold prevented the democratic input and control by the producers necessary for the proper functioning of a collectivized economy. In theTransitional Program Trotsky predicted that, ‘‘Each day added to [the bureaucracy’s] domination helps rot the foundations of the socialist elements of economy and increases the chances for capitalist restoration.’’

Trotsky also argued that the Stalinists’ quest for wealth and status contradicted the egalitarian property forms on which their rule was based. This is why the Stalinist caste could never congeal into a new ruling class. Trotsky further asserted that the bureaucratic oligarchy remained a highly unstable social layer, vulnerable to either working-class uprisings or capitalist-restorationist currents. This analysis has been powerfully confirmed in recent months by the dramatic disintegration of what various impressionists had depicted as an unchanging totalitarian monolith. If nothing else, current developments in the ‘‘Soviet Bloc’’ conclusively refute all claims that the Stalinist bureaucracies constitute a new ruling class.

For many years the best known proponent of the ‘‘new class’’ theory was Max Shachtman, who split from the Trotskyist movement in 1940, and went on to claim that the Stalinists represented a ‘‘bureaucratic collectivist’’ class, neither bourgeois nor proletarian. Shachtman’s new class theory was so indeterminate, and his eventual defection to the imperialist camp so ignominious, that few leftists now lay claim to the doctrine of ‘‘bureaucratic collectivism’’ in its original form.

A variant of Shachtman’s theory is that of ‘‘state capitalism,’’ according to which the Stalinist bureaucracy has transformed itself into a new, collective, capitalist ruling class. The largest ‘‘state cap’’ tendency is headed by Tony Cliff, leader of the British Socialist Workers Party. Cliff’s grouping originally deserted the Trotskyist movement in the early 1950s, just as the Cold War was turning into a shooting war in Korea. In North America Cliff’s followers are known as the ‘‘International Socialists.’’ While the ‘‘theory’’ of state capitalism absolved Cliff and his co-thinkers from the uncomfortable task of defending the Soviet bloc against imperialism, and made them ‘‘respectable’’ in their social-democratic milieu, it could not explain the Cold War or the social revolutions led (and misled) by the Stalinists in the Third World. Nor could it explain why, if there was no fundamental antagonism between the two variants of ‘‘capitalism,’’ the imperialists fought so ferociously to contain and roll back ‘‘communism’’ from the Chinese revolution of the 1940s, to Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.

Harman vs. Cliff on the Character of the Bureaucracy

While the Cliffites have spent most of their time enthusing about the collapse of Stalinism and promoting various social-democratic oppositionists as ‘‘revolutionary Marxists,’’ their occasional attempts to explain events (rather than merely describe them) clearly expose the insoluble contradictions of their theory.

In a piece which appeared in the press of the American International Socialist Organization, Chris Harman, the British Cliffites’ leading Soviet expert, explained that: ‘‘The market is a code-word for restructuring the economy in Eastern Europe. Those sections which are not competitive with the West are to be wiped out, workers in other sections will have to work harder for less’’ (Socialist Worker [U.S.], January). True. But if wholesale privatization will have such disastrous consequences for the working class, it should surely be the elementary duty of Marxists to defend the status quo of state ownership—call it ‘‘bureaucratic collectivist,’’ ‘‘state capitalist’’ or anything else—against the ‘‘free market’’ onslaught. Yet such a call for the defense of state ownership would flatly contradict the visceral anti-Sovietism which defines the International Socialists’ world-view.

The Cliffites seek to conceal the manifest bankruptcy of their theory as a guide to action by downplaying the restorationist danger and instead singling out the rapidly disintegrating Stalinist state apparatuses as the main threat to the working class. According to Harman:

 ‘‘It is premature to predict exactly how political life will now develop in Eastern Europe. What can be said with certainty is that the old ruling class is nowhere finished yet.

 ‘‘This is true even if, as seems possible in Hungary, the old ruling party collapses completely.

 ‘‘A ruling class and a ruling party are never quite the same thing…

 ‘‘…the class can preserve the real source of its power and privileges, its control over the means of production, even when the party falls apart. This was shown in Germany, Italy and Spain after the fall of their fascisms.

 ‘‘The formal networks binding together police chiefs, army officers, government ministers and industrialists disintegrated.

 ‘‘But informal networks remained, as did the drive to accumulate which gave them a common class goal against those below them. It was not long before they were able to build new ruling parties just as capable of defending their interests as the old ones had.

 ‘‘In Eastern Europe, whether these networks stick to the old parties or switch to new ones, they will be preparing now for the next round in the fight…’’


Harman is apparently not concerned that his superficial analogy directly contradicts his mentor, Tony Cliff. In State Capitalism in Russia, Cliff compared the two systems of ‘‘class rule’’ as follows:

‘‘Wherever there is a fusion of economics and politics it is theoretically wrong to distinguish between political and economic revolution, or between political and economic counter-revolution. The bourgeoisie can exist as the bourgeoisie, owning private property, under different forms of government: under a feudal monarchy, a constitutional monarchy, a bourgeois republic…In all these cases there is a direct relation of ownership between the bourgeoisie and the means of production. In all of them the state is independent of the direct control of the bourgeoisie, and yet in none of them does the bourgeoisie cease to be a ruling class. Where the state is the repository of the means of production, there is an absolute fusion between economics and politics; political expropriation also means economic expropriation.’’

Cliff at least recognizes that the ‘‘informal network’’ that binds capitalist classes together, regardless of which political faction is in charge of the state, is nothing less than private property in the means of production . And if, as Cliff and Harman will readily concede, the absence of private property is a distinctive feature of the collectivized economies of the USSR and Eastern Europe, then the only way that the Stalinist ‘‘ruling class’’ can maintain its power is through an absolute monopoly on the state. Why then are the Stalinists relinquishing their political monopoly in one Eastern European country after another? Are they the first ruling class in history to abandon power without a fight? If so, isn’t Harman wrong to call Eastern European opposition leaders ‘‘reformists,’’ who are naive about the dangers of Stalinist retrenchment? The reformist strategy would appear to be working.

Stalinist Bureaucracy: Caste Not Class

The Stalinists do not behave like a ruling class because they are not a ruling class. The main enemy of the workers of Eastern Europe today is not the various national bureaucracies, which are in an advanced stage of decomposition, but the capitalists of the U.S. and West Germany, who seek to reintegrate these economies into the imperialist world market.

In a particularly opaque piece in the February issue of Socialist Worker Review, the Cliffites’ monthly magazine, Chris Bambery claims that:

 ‘‘In reality, the choice for the bureaucracy is whether to cling to the old state capitalist methods of the past or to adopt policies similar to Thatcherite privatisation. Both Gorbachev and Thatcher are concerned with increasing exploitation.’’

Bambery’s notion that the impulse for the projected privatization of the economies of Eastern Europe originates in a conscious decision by the Stalinist rulers aimed at consolidating their rule by ‘‘increasing exploitation’’ is ludicrous. The drive toward capitalist restoration can only further disintegrate whatever social power the Stalinist apparatuses still possess. When and if the Comecon countries reintroduce capitalism, the Stalinist bureaucracies will be dismantled. The bulk of the nomenklatura is well aware that their replacement by the capitalist market as the regulator of economic activity will entail a loss of both material privileges and social status.

In the Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky anticipated that, ‘‘The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture.’’ In State Capitalism in Russia, Cliff ruled out such a development: ‘‘The internal forces are not able to restore individual capitalism in Russia…’’ Cliff’s mistaken projection was not just an unlucky guess; it is a necessary corollary to the claim that the Soviet bureaucracy is a new ruling class rooted in a new form of class society, rather than a parasitic growth on working-class property forms.

The precipitate panic and desperate backpedalling of the Eastern European bureaucracies in the face of recent events has graphically revealed the profound instability of these bureaucratic castes. Those elements of the bureaucracy who can, are already scrambling to find places in the emerging capitalist order, not as members of a Stalinist ‘‘ruling class,’’ but as individual entrepreneurs. Those bureaucrats who see no place for themselves in a Western-dominated economy will be compelled, regardless of their motives, to throw in their lot with the sections of the working class disenchanted with the ‘‘market reforms.’’ This is not the behavior of a ruling class, but rather that of an unstable social layer torn between major contending forces in any decisive class confrontation.

The current crisis of Stalinism has revealed Tony Cliff’s doctrine as what it has always been: a smokescreen for political accommodation to anti-Soviet prejudice. The Cliffites’ inability to answer the most elementary questions posed by the class struggle in Eastern Europe or explain, much less predict, the behavior of the Stalinists, testifies to the complete lack of scientific merit of the theory of ‘‘state capitalism.’’ Worse, if followed by leftists in Eastern Europe, it could only mean abstention in the major class question posed today: whether or not to defend the system of collectivized property (which alone can provide the basis of democratic planning) against those who would restore private ownership in the means of production.

USec Embraces ‘‘Dynamic’’ of Social Counterrevolution

Unlike the ‘‘state capitalists,’’ Professor Ernest Mandel’s United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec) claims to stand in the tradition of Trotsky, including his position on the ‘‘Russian Question.’’ Thus, they characterize the USSR as a degenerated workers state and recognize the states set up by the Kremlin in Eastern Europe after World War II as deformed workers states. But the USec has been, if anything, even more Stalinophobic and less fastidious about the character of the ‘‘mass movements’’ they champion in Eastern Europe than the Cliffites. The Mandelites have embraced any and all anti-Stalinist currents in the region, including those with openly fascistic sympathies. The 18 September 1989 issue of the USec’s main English language organ, International Viewpoint (IV), published a revolting appeal for the rehabilitation of the Estonian ‘‘Forest Brothers,’’ an anti-Semitic band of Nazi-collaborators (see ‘‘How Low Can Mandel Go?’’, 1917 No. 7).

The same Stalinophobic reflex was evident in the USec’s enthusing over Polish Solidarnosc, despite the latter’s adoption of an openly capitalist-restorationist program at its September 1981 congress. Today Solidarnosc, at the head of the Polish government, is aggressively pushing the program of capitalist restoration that it adopted nine years ago. The human costs for the Polish workers will be enormous. In the 25 March Toronto Star, liberal columnist Richard Gwyn commented that, so far: ‘‘The scale of the pain is—to us—utterly unimaginable. In January, the real incomes of Poles dropped by one-third.’’ Moreover:

 ‘‘The second shock, starting this summer, will knock some people flat on their faces when they find themselves unemployed while others, the black-marketeers and joint-venture employees, will skip and dance to the head of the income queue.

 ‘‘‘There is a risk of conflict that is growing all the time,’ says Maciej Jankowski, vice-chairman of the Solidarity union’s Warsaw district and a government loyalist.’’

None of this has prompted Mandel to rethink his position. His American adherents in the Socialist Action grouping, who have raised the openly counterrevolutionary call for the ‘‘unconditional’’ (i.e., capitalist) reunification of Germany, still use an adaptation of the Solidarnosc logo on the masthead of their newspaper. The USec’s European leadership, which is not quite so clumsy, attempts to distance itself from Solidarnosc in power, while remaining completely unrepentant about having tailed Walesa & Co. all the way to the Sejm.

Pabloite Objectivists: See No Evil

The USec leadership rationalizes its adaptation to the burgeoning pro-imperialist movements for ‘‘democracy’’ in Eastern Europe by downplaying the restorationist threat. In a lengthy analytical piece that appeared in the 30 October 1989 International Viewpoint, Mandel wrote:

 ‘‘The main question in the political struggles underway is not the restoration of capitalism. The main question is whether these struggles head in the direction of an anti-bureaucratic political revolution or of a partial or total elimination of the democratic freedoms acquired by the masses under glasnost. The main fight is not between pro-capitalist and anti-capitalist forces. It is between the bureaucracy and the toiling masses…’’

    —emphasis added

To back this assertion Mandel points to the ‘‘objective logic’’ of class forces. Noting that, ‘‘In none of the bureaucratized workers’ states does the petty bourgeoisie and middle bourgeoisie represent more than a small minority of the society…’’ He concludes: ‘‘The only minimally realistic possibility for arriving at such a result [capitalism] is relying outright on the ‘reform’ wing of the bureaucracy.’’ But even this is no cause for worry, because for the:

 ‘‘very great majority of the bureaucracy, the restoration of capitalism would reduce their power and privileges. Only a small minority would or could transform themselves into real entrepreneurs of big industrial or financial firms…

‘‘Assuming that the bureaucracy is heading in this direction means assuming that it is ready to commit harakiri as a crystallized social caste.’’

Mandel goes on to assert that the workers and poor peasants will never embrace capitalism because, ‘‘The weight of the ideological factor…remains subordinate to the confrontation of real social interests.’’ In Poland:

 ‘‘However delighted they may be by Solidarnosc’s spectacular political victory…and however great the real ideological influence (often exaggerated abroad) of the church and nationalism, the Polish workers will act decisively to defend their standard of living, their jobs and even the miserable social security that they have gained when any government, even one led by Solidarnosc, attacks them. It is their interests and not any ‘ideological values’ that in the last analysis will determine their day-to-day behavior…’’


Barnesites’ Criminal Idiocy

Jack Barnes, leader of the American Socialist Workers Party, Mandel’s partners in the USec, also sees the key issue in Eastern Europe as one of democracy versus Stalinism. The Barnesites, who are in the habit of uncritically retailing every pronouncement of the Cuban bureaucracy, have uncharacteristically taken issue with Fidel Castro over this question. In the 9 March issue of the Militant, SWP leader Cindy Jaquith criticized Castro for denouncing the ‘‘ferocious anticommunism’’ of Solidarnosc and its allies. Jaquith lectures the Cuban jefe that ‘‘it is not the case that the fight for democratic rights in Eastern Europe hurts Cuba; just the opposite.’’ She continues:

 ‘‘It is not socialism that is being dealt a blow by this upsurge, but Stalinism, which has kept a counterrevolutionary grip on the working classes of these countries for decades. And by dealing a blow to Stalinism, the workers are dealing a giant blow to world imperialism, which has relied on the stability of Stalinist rule in Eastern Europe to maintain the status quo for 40 years.’’

To portray the reopening of this major sector of the world economy to capitalist penetration as ‘‘a giant blow to world imperialism’’ is so completely at variance with reality that it defies description. Even the Barnesites must know that a return to capitalism in Eastern Europe will mean an orgy of anti-Semitic pogroms, attacks on women’s rights, wholesale reduction of living standards for the masses, and the transformation of millions of workers to homeless paupers. Yet Jaquith brightly opines:

‘‘as millions of workers in Eastern Europe confront the devastating consequences to their living standards and working conditions resulting from the introduction of capitalist methods, they will resist. And they will reach out for revolutionary ideas that have been denied them for decades…’’

What will the SWP hand the future paupers of Eastern Europe when they ‘‘reach out’’? Remaindered copies of the speeches of deposed Third-World bonapartists Thomas Sankara and Maurice Bishop?

False Consciousness in the Proletariat

Those SWPers and USec members who can think, and who are not cynics, should be deeply troubled by the attitude of their leaders. If the workers will always defend their interests ‘‘decisively,’’ why did they vote in overwhelming numbers for the pro-capitalist Solidarnosc candidates in the first place? The monumental false consciousness of the Polish working class, which imagines that it has friends from the White House to the Vatican, demonstrates that class consciousness is not an automatic function of objective social interest, as Mandel and Jaquith suppose. If it were, socialism would have triumphed long ago.

Humanity makes its own history, but often not as it intends. When workers act on the basis of a faulty understanding of their objective situation major defeats for the class can result. The history of the American trade-union movement contains abundant examples of white workers striking against the hiring of blacks, to ‘‘protect’’ their jobs. The Ulster Workers Council strike of 1974, one of the most powerful and successful labor actions in the recent history of the British Isles, was conducted with the aim of maintaining Protestant supremacy. The British miners’ strike of 1984-85 was defeated in part because a majority of the Nottinghamshire miners scabbed on their fellow workers.

Polish workers do not compare their lot with that of the impoverished masses of Latin America, but with the skilled workers of Western Europe and the U.S. They do not see the squalid ghettoes in which American blacks and immigrant workers are imprisoned, nor the millions of homeless indigents sleeping in cardboard boxes. Nor do they see the image of their future in the devastated industrial belts of the American Midwest or the north of England. Instead, their gaze is fixed upon the full shop windows, the VCRs, and the well-appointed suburban houses portrayed in capitalist propaganda as the birthright of all who live in the realm of ‘‘free enterprise.’’

The Necessity of Revolutionary Leadership

The attempt to reimpose capitalist exploitation on Eastern Europe will undoubtedly provoke massive resistance from the working class. But each defeat for the workers in the present weakens their capacity to fight back in the future.The Polish workers would have had a better chance of turning back the restorationist tide had they broken with Solidarnosc before it came to power. They will be in a stronger position by mounting a struggle against the Solidarnosc government now rather than waiting until millions are thrown out of the factories and living standards are slashed further.

The objective class position of workers in society makes their struggle for power possible, but it does not guarantee success. The workers are best able to fight when they are politically armed against the false conceptions that paralyse their capacity for struggle, and when they are alerted, at every step of the way, to the dangers that threaten them. This is the task of revolutionary leadership. Panglossian assurances that the ‘‘objective logic’’ of the class struggle will automatically lead the workers to reject false ideas, and act out their role in accordance with some predetermined ‘‘Marxist’’ script is, in the end, a rationale for abdicating the struggle for Marxist consciousness within the working class.

Such rationales are not new in the history of the socialist movement. Lenin’s Bolshevik party was forged in struggle against a doctrine known as ‘‘economism’’ or the ‘‘spontaneity of the masses.’’ According to the economists, the day-to-day economic struggles of the class would somehow lead to the ‘‘historically inevitable’’ triumph of socialism. In rejecting such doctrines, Lenin counterposed the need to organize the politically conscious minority of the class into a vanguard party committed to combat bourgeois consciousness in the working class and win influence for the revolutionary program. Mandel’s pronouncements to the effect that the workers ‘‘interests’’ and not their ‘‘ideological values’’ will determine their day-to-day behavior have far more in common with economism than with Leninism, a legacy the USec falsely claims.

Workers Power: Left Face of the Third Camp

The British centrists of Workers Power, who can usually be found a step or two to the left of the USec, seem more alert to the dangers of capitalist restoration. The September 1989 issue of Workers Power proclaimed: ‘‘Poland—No Return to Capitalism!’’ In 1981, while the USec was singing the praises of the ‘‘dynamic’’ embodied by the counterrevolutionary Solidarnosc leadership, Workers Power took a more critical attitude. But a close examination of the political record reveals that Workers Power’s ‘‘leftism’’ is nothing more than a posture. When the showdown came in December 1981, as the Stalinists moved to suppress the counterrevolutionary leadership of Solidarnosc, Workers Power joined the USec and various other fake-Trotskyist outfits in defense of this openly capitalist-restorationist movement. Eight years later the same Solidarnosc leadership, espousing the same program, has finally made it into the halls of power, intent on setting up a market economy. When it counted, Workers Power was on the wrong side of the barricades.

The March issue of Workers Power rationalizes its Stalinophobia as follows:

 ‘‘spontaneous working class opposition to Stalinism is likely to equate Stalinism with the revolutionary movement to which it owes its origins. This confusion can be overcome, not by siding with the Stalinists against the working class, but by basing ourselves on the mobilised working class in its progressive struggles.’’

‘‘Progressive struggles’’ are all very well, but when the working class is mobilized by the forces of clerical reaction and capitalist restoration, as it was in Poland, Workers Power falls right in behind.

Despite its ostensible Soviet defensism, Workers Power has not travelled very far from its origins in Tony Cliff’s International Socialists. An article on German reunification in the November 1989 Workers Power called, ‘‘For the expulsion of foreign troops from both states.’’ This is nothing more than a concretization of the Cliffite slogan, ‘‘Neither Washington Nor Moscow.’’ The March 1990 issue notes that ‘‘NATO is an imperialist alliance’’ and proclaims, ‘‘we fight for its dissolution and for the unconditional withdrawal of all its forces to their country of origin.’’ Very good. But the article continues:

‘‘The Warsaw Pact was created in response to the imperialist threat to the Soviet Union and those states it had conquered. Whilst its troops were and are a form of defence of the post-capitalist property relations of those states, the only combat they have ever undertaken has been the suppression of the insurgent working classes….and we are in favour of its dissolution and the withdrawal of its troops.’’

    —emphasis added

If the Warsaw Pact increased the defensive capacity of the deformed workers states against imperialist assault, why call for its dissolution? This is not just muddle-headedness. As its defense of capitalist-restorationist Solidarnosc demonstrates, Workers Power represents the ‘‘left’’ face of Stalinophobia in the ostensibly Trotskyist milieu.

The attitude of revolutionaries toward the Soviet military in the deformed workers states depends on the concrete circumstances. Insofar as it represents a bulwark against imperialist military pressure, or domestic counterrevolution, we defend it. Unlike Workers Power, we did not oppose Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Had the Soviet Union intervened in Vietnam against the imperialists, as the Chinese army did during the Korean War, we would have supported it militarily.

Where the Soviet army is used against the working class, as in the DDR in 1953 or Hungary in 1956, we demand its immediate withdrawal and defend the insurgents. In the DDR last fall Soviet troops did not pose any immediate danger to the mobilizations of the working class. Given the relative disparity between the military and economic weight of the DDR and West Germany, the withdrawal of the Soviet military presence would significantly weaken the defense of collectivized property. While paying lip service to the distinction between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, Workers Power’s position of even-handed opposition to both is pure third campism.

Spartacist Hallucinations and the Political Revolution

The U.S.-based Spartacist League (SL), and its satellites in the ‘‘International Communist League’’ (ICL) recognize that capitalist restoration, and not a resurgent Stalinist bureaucracy, is the main danger facing the workers of the region. For this reason we extended critical support to the candidates of the ‘‘Spartacist Workers Party’’ (SpAD) in the March 18 elections in the DDR (see statement reprinted in this issue).

Yet while the SpAD calls for the formation of ‘‘Leninist-Egalitarian’’ parties in East Europe, the ICL itself is little more ‘‘egalitarian’’ than Ceausescu’s Romania. Any recruits to the SpAD who think they are joining a democratic group are in for a rude awakening.

The ICL’s departures from Trotskyism go beyond the autocratic nature of its internal regime. There is a strain in their treatment of the crisis of Stalinism that dovetails with the pseudo-optimism of the USec. Immediately after the Tiananmen Square massacre last year, Workers Vanguard (WV, 9 June 1989) triumphantly proclaimed: ‘‘Chinese Stalinism has provoked a political revolution that may well spell the doom of this bureaucratic, anti-worker regime’’ (emphasis added). The article concluded, ‘‘That revolution has now begun.’’ But there was no political revolution in China last spring. In our statement on the Beijing massacre, we commented:

‘‘Various impressionistic self-proclaimed ‘Trotskyists’—from Ernest Mandel’s United Secretariat to the Spartacist Tendency—declared that a full-fledged political revolution was underway. While the upheavals were enormous in scope and certainly potentially revolutionary, they did not constitute what Trotskyists could characterize as a political revolution. First, any serious attempt to replace the CCP would require revolutionary institutions capable of challenging and ultimately replacing the existing bureaucratic state power. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which was an attempted political revolution, threw up workers councils, which could have become the main institutions of state power had the workers prevailed. But the Chinese ‘democracy movement’…created no organizational forms which could have constituted a framework for state power. The aim of the movement was not to destroy but to reform the institutions of bureaucratic rule.

 ‘‘Secondly, a political revolution in a deformed workers state would aim to throw out the bureaucrac preserving state ownership of the means of production. The ‘democracy movement’ possessed no such clarity regarding its objectives.’’

Some people interpreted the Spartacist references to political revolution in Beijing as only a premature and over-enthusiastic reaction to the Chinese upheaval. But the same error reappears in the group’s coverage of events in the DDR. A front-page article in the 29 December 1989 Workers Vanguard begins: ‘‘A political revolution is unfolding in the German Democratic Republic…’’ The 26 January WV features an article headlined: ‘‘A Chicago College Student Sees It Firsthand—The Political Revolution in East Germany’’ which reports from ‘‘the midst of the unfolding workers political revolution against Stalinist bureaucratic rule.’’ Why do the Spartacists insist on seeing proletarian political revolutions where none exist? Veterans of the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) of the 1960s and 70s can recall their leadership’s attempts to win new members and reassure old ones with claims that every organizational initiative would result in a ‘‘broader, deeper, more profound’’ mobilization of the masses. The same ‘‘everything’s going our way’’ syndrome that prompts Ernest Mandel to argue that the objective logic of the class struggle will lead inexorably to the triumph of the political revolution, leads James Robertson to claim that it is already in progress.

You’ve heard us talk a lot about the political revolution, Robertson might tell a starry-eyed Chicago college student or an older member whose commitment is waning, and if you belong to that small minority of our members still in the habit of reading, you’ve probably read about it in The Revolution Betrayed. Well, now you can see the political revolution with your very own eyes. Join (or stay in) the Spartacist League and go to the DDR!

So a few college students sign on and perhaps some long-suffering cadres dig a little deeper, hoping that maybe this will turn out to be the big wave they’ve been waiting for. But temporary organizational gains made by such methods tend to dissipate very quickly when the promised breakthrough doesn’t materialize. As Robertson well knows, the drunken euphoria of a Saturday night can turn into in a pretty wicked hangover on Sunday morning. And right now, after months of frantic activity, the mood in Robertson’s German ‘‘party’’ appears to be a bit down.

The 20 March issue of Arprekorr (the Spartacist’s DDR newsheet) contains a short article entitled ‘‘They Stole the Wrong Cars,’’ which reports that two star DDR recruits recently decamped, taking a number of their friends with them. Apparently the dissidents had grown tired of the commandist leadership style of Robertson’s lieutenants. One of those to leave was Gunther M., who had only recently been added to the editorial board of the German Spartakist, the main journal of the SpAD. Arprekorr claims that those who walked out, who we have heard numbered about a dozen, took a portion of the group’s assets, including automobiles, books and mail. To add insult to injury the SpAD dissidents immediately registered as a political group with the DDR government using ‘‘copies of the program and statutes of the SpAD.’’

For Leninist Realism—Not Idiot Optimism

The Spartacists, Cliffites and Mandelites are, each in their own way, inclined to substitute a more congenial reality for the one that exists. The arc of history bends toward socialism, but that arc can be long, and lead through many episodic defeats. The will to survive those defeats and persevere until victory requires tempered commitment—not fairy tales, idiot optimism or sugary-false hope. The class struggle will not disappear, regardless of the outcome of events in Eastern Europe. The future belongs to socialism, because it alone charts a path out of the barbarism and pathology of the imperialist world order.

Letter to the Internationalist Group

Stalinists and Counterrevolution

Orininally posted online at

International Bolshevik Tendency

New York

9 September 2004

Internationalist Group

New York


In your recent article (“Post-Soviet SL/ICL: New Zigzags on the Centrist Road,” Internationalist No. 19) you falsely characterize our position on the Stalinists’ role in the destruction of the Soviet bloc:

 “Lo these past eight years, since January 1996 to be exact, it has been the official story of the Spartacist League and its International Communist League that the Stalinists ‘led the counterrevolution’ in East Germany (the DDR).


 “The SL/ICL in effect took up the line that ‘Stalinism is counterrevolutionary through and through’ which it had fought against tooth and nail in the past. This was the logic of the Stalinophobic ‘Bolshevik Tendency,’ who held that the ‘main danger’ in East Germany was the SED regime, thereby whitewashing the actual counterrevolutionary threat of the West German bourgeoisie and its social-democratic lieutenants, and on that grounds accused the SL/ICL of having a ‘Stalinophilic tendency’.”

Unlike the SL, we never asserted that the Stalinists led the counterrevolution in the DDR or anywhere else. This position was just the flip side of the ICL’s earlier political adaptation to the Stalinist bureaucracy:

“In this period [the winter of 1989-90] the ICL did not focus on attacking [DDR prime minister] Modrow as a sellout whom the workers must sweep away in defense of the DDR. Instead, they criticized him only in passing….”

    —”Robertsonites in Wonderland,” 1917 No. 10, 1991

This was a critical mistake:

 “The right won on the ground, while confusion prevailed among the more politically conscious workers who trusted the ‘honest, reformed’ Stalinists. This is why the Modrow regime was especially dangerous, and why it was imperative to warn the workers against it.”


The ICL’s opportunist course reached its nadir with James Robertson’s ludicrous attempt to arrange private meetings with Soviet General B.V. Snetkov, DDR master spy Markus Wolf and SED/PDS party leader Gregor Gysi. This initiative was so grotesquely opportunist that neither the IG nor the SL dare defend it today.

We addressed your objection to our focus on criticism of the Stalinists in a December 1996 letter to you:

 “The complaint that we directed most of our criticism at the SED/PDS instead of the openly restorationist SPD [Social Democratic Party] and the bourgeois parties recalls the centrists’ objections to Trotsky concentrating his political attacks on the Popular Front, and particularly on its ‘far-left’ component, the POUM [Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification], during the Spanish Civil War. After all, was not Franco the ‘main enemy’? The same criticisms were made of Lenin in 1917, when the Bolsheviks directed most of their polemics at the fake-left misleaders rather than the Tsarists, Black Hundreds and other open counterrevolutionaries. This is of course A-B-C for Trotskyists, but the talk of the ‘main enemy’ in the DDR perhaps makes it worth reiterating.”

    —reprinted in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 6, “Polemics with the IG”

We also reminded you of Trotsky’s parallel observation in his 1940 article “Stalin After the Finnish Experience”:

 “I consider the main source of danger to the USSR in the present international period to be Stalin and the oligarchy headed by him. An open struggle against them, in the view of world public opinion, is inseparably connected for me with the defense of the USSR.”

You claim that the logic of our position is that “Stalinism is counterrevolutionary through and through,” but you can cite no proof, because there is none. In our 1996 letter we observed that, contrary to the SL, “Norden/Stamberg are quite right that the Stalinist bureaucracy is not ‘able to lead’ counterrevolution ‘without fracturing’.” We made this point repeatedly during the critical period. For example, in a 1990 polemic against Tony Cliff’s state capitalist organization we wrote:

 “The Stalinists do not behave like a ruling class because they are not a ruling class. The main enemy of the workers of Eastern Europe today is not the various national bureaucracies, which are in an advanced stage of decomposition, but the capitalists of the U.S. and West Germany, who seek to reintegrate these economies into the imperialist world market.


 “The drive toward capitalist restoration can only further disintegrate whatever social power the Stalinist apparatuses still possess. When and if the Comecon countries reintroduce capitalism, the Stalinist bureaucracies will be dismantled. The bulk of the nomenklatura is well aware that their replacement by the capitalist market as the regulator of economic activity will entail a loss of both material privileges and social status.”

    —”Death Agony of Stalinism,” 1917 No. 8, 1990

We made the same point in attacking Workers Power’s Stalinophobia:

 “The November 1989 LRCI [Workers Powers’ international group] statement on the DDR, entitled ‘The Political Revolution in East Germany,’ demanded: ‘Down with Stalinist and imperialist plans to restore capitalism!’ The problem with this slogan is that it fails to distinguish between the treachery of the Stalinist bureaucrats who capitulated to capitalist restoration and the imperialists who engineered it. In its July 1990 account of the demise of the DDR, Workers Power declared that ‘the principal enemy of the working class within the GDR’ had not been the burgeoning forces of a renewed pan-German capitalism, but the rapidly disintegrating ‘bureaucratic state apparatus’ (Trotskyist International No. 5, Autumn 1990).


 “The LRCI shares responsibility for this catastrophe [in the DDR]. Instead of trying to attract the most class-conscious elements of the working class to resist the demolition of the workers state, these ostensible Marxists did their best to convince the workers that the destruction of the deformed German workers state was a ‘historic victory’.”

    —”Doubletalk in the 2.5 Camp,” 1917 No. 10, 1991

The IG will go nowhere if it insists on attacking political opponents for positions that they do not hold. Revolutionaries do not play with the truth. As Trotsky observed, a viable revolutionary organization can only be built by being “true in little things as in big ones.”

Bolshevik greetings,

Samuel T. [Trachtenberg]

The Collapse of the DDR

Eyewitness Reports

The Collapse of the DDR

[First printed in 1917 #8, Summer 1990. Copied from ]

MARCH 10—One of the most striking things about events in the DDR [German Democratic Republic] is the almost total absence of political class-conscious activity by workers as workers. To understand why, you have to understand something of the social/political reality in the DDR. It seems clear that the elementary consciousness of the workers of themselves as a class, with their own class interests, exists on a much lower level in the DDR than in the Federal Republic [BRD].

Many DDR workers have no idea how capitalism works, or that workers and capitalists have opposing interests. A recent poll showed 56 percent of the people in the DDR believed that only minimal legal limitations should be placed on capitalists. In the BRD only 39 percent felt that minimal legal controls are adequate. The organized opposition, the mass demonstrations, the post-November ‘‘citizens’ movements’’ and the developing political parties had no independent working-class character. The leadership of all parties, from left to right, was and is in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie: doctors, academics, ministers, artists and lawyers. Even the United Left [Vereinigte Linke (VL)] activists are students and academics. The strike wave that occurred in late January and early February has tapered off. Issues were limited and varied: higher wages, demands for management (SED) resignations and for separating factories from Kombinat and economic control (narrow worker sectoral interest).

Capitalist Restorationism and Trade Unionism in the DDR

Some Betriebsrat [workers council] bodies have been formed but these are either like shop-steward groups or nascent trade-union formations. The maximum level of working-class organization to date has been a ragged and confused growth of trade-union activity. The FDGB (Stalinist-dominated union body) quickly got rid of its old leadership (many resigned without pressure), and is trying to rebuild a trade-union movement on a limited, defensive trade-union program.

Distrust of the old FDGB (which had done nothing for 40 years) gave rise to burgeoning independent trade unions with narrow interests. Teachers, police and railroad workers began asking for Beamtenstatus (as in the BRD). This has been a special category of public workers who give up the right to strike in exchange for fixed wages and lifetime jobs. When the independent teachers union asked for state guaranteed social protection, i.e., medical care, child care and cost of living (only for themselves), they were told rudely by the vice-minister of education that workers can have such guarantees only with socialism, and one can have socialism only with dictatorship. The ideology of the union movement is borrowed directly from the DGB [BRD trade-union movement] and the SPD [BRD Social Democratic Party], which are directly guiding and trying to control the DDR union movement.

The DGB is apparently having some success in persuading the FDGB that shop-steward bodies must be separated from the union with full-time, on-site workers representatives, paid by the enterprise, not the union. This is rationalized as giving full scope to workers democracy, but is really aimed at separating the trade-union functionaries from the rank and file, and limiting work-place meetings (whether meetings of the whole workforce or of shop-steward bodies) to economic matters. It is a framework for establishing a very bureaucratized trade-union structure, free from control by the base, which could get away with holding very infrequent membership meetings.

The DDR parliament amended the basic law to forbid lockouts and guarantee the unlimited right to strike. The law enshrines Mitbestimmung, which does not simply mean that workers and employers must sit down and talk, but also that both parties have common interests in efficient and uninterrupted production, and must act together for social peace. This is the legislative and ideological underpinning of the BRD trade-union movement. The proposed DDR trade-union law included language on ‘‘co-determination’’ that implied union veto power over management prerogatives such as joint ventures, outright sale of factories, placing economic enterprises on the stock market, etc. This was rejected by the parliament. ‘‘Co-determination,’’ by the way, is the maximum economic trade-union program of the West German SPD and DGB. The legislation, which was made part of the DDR constitution by a two-thirds Volkskammer [DDR parliament] vote, was passed despite the objections of some CDU (DDR) members of parliament.

The DDR trade-union law has some parallels with the Norris-La Guardia Act (the so-called Magna Carta of labor), passed in the U.S. in the 1930s. The CP [Communist Party] as well as the SWP [Socialist Workers Party] opposed the law as an extension of the ‘‘right’’ of the capitalist state to intervene in and exert control over workers struggles. The CP quickly capitulated, but the Trotskyist SWP did not. Of course the situation here is different because it is still a deformed workers state.

The fact that the new law does not place limitations on the right to strike resulted in a storm of anger from BRD capitalists, and threats of no economic ‘‘aid’’ unless the law is changed to conform at least to BRD restrictions (which are in some ways more restrictive than U.S. law). The SPD (DDR) candidate for prime minister, Boehm, stated darkly that this law will be ‘‘subject to disposition.’’ There is great anger at what is seen as a PDS attempt to cater to working-class interests and disrupt rapid capitalist restoration.

But the restorationist drive seems very strong. If, after the elections, a pro-capitalist government is consolidated and state property is privatized, new amendments to the trade-union law will rapidly be imposed to narrow the space for ‘‘legal’’ workers defensive actions. The Mitbestimmung establishes the framework for class collaborationism involving the unions. A sort of precedent for this already exists in the BRD. Elected workers representatives in the BRD often have legal access to employer financial and business records and information, but are prohibited from telling their fellow workers or union officials. Violation of this can lead to severe penalties.

The Legacy of Prussian Stalinism

Why did this happen? Forty years of Stalinism have resulted in a profound depoliticization of the working class in the DDR. Workers had neither independent organization nor even the most limited union rights. All benefits came from above, from the party. The SED/DDR catchword was not ‘‘working class’’ but ‘‘Volk.’’ This can be translated as ‘‘people,’’ but also carries extreme nationalistic connotations of race, culture and blood. Everything was Volks: Volks-parliament, Volks-army, Volks-police. In fact the old Prussian elitism was carried over into all institutions. Academics and professionals appear to have had more influence than workers in the state and economic apparatus; university graduates automatically became army officers. Workers could aspire only to be soldiers. Academics with doctorates occupied almost all leading positions, except for a handful of politburo members.

This was a state with non-capitalist Prussian-style organization and petty-bourgeois intolerance and smugness. The petty bourgeoisie is quite sizable. Eighty thousand private petty-bourgeois establishments (limited to ten workers) are in operation, ranging from pubs and restaurants, to repair and service, to small factories. There are close to a million people in the DDR working for private businesses outside the Volkseigentum [peoples’ property] sector of the economy. These petty entrepreneurs, together with clergy and academics, constituted the cadre of the movements and parties fighting for reunification and capitalist restoration. They were joined rapidly by most of the economic administrators and bureaucrats.

Political ideology did not exist in the DDR except as a crude form of Prussian Stalinism. Few people (including SED members) completely embraced or really believed in this world view. People just went home and watched BRD TV (except in and around Dresden). Enormous social pressure had built up, and when the mass demonstrations began, a number of writers and intellectuals attempted to give expression to a ‘‘democratic socialist’’ vision for the future of the DDR. This vision was very soon swept away and replaced with a vision of market economics and capitalist reunification as the way forward.

The regime virtually collapsed. The political bureau of the SED resigned, and the SED conference removed the entire central committee without replacing them. Many SED functionaries quit the party and left their government posts. An economic and political vacuum existed. The most important ministry, the economic ministry, ceased to function. Central (or even ministerial) planning collapsed or was abandoned. Kombinat and works management were left without power or guidance; regional government bodies collapsed either through resignation or lack of ‘‘legitimacy.’’ In the political field many SED state functionaries were initially replaced with ministers from the four bloc parties, and ministers without portfolio were added from the Round Table opposition. These were mostly from the ‘‘center’’ parties. The PDS is in a minority in the council of ministers. A significant number of government functionaries left the SED, and either joined the right-wing or the liberal parties or are knocking on the door of the SPD.

Most of the industrial and economic managers began demanding legalization of capitalist property. A few Kombinat managers are making half-hearted pleas for Volkseigentum in heavy industry, but of course subject to market pressures. Everywhere Round Table formations have sprung up and are assuming administrative powers. These often include the PDS, which appears to always capitulate to the majority. These Round Table formations have appointed working bodies to study, make recommendations, and to assume control of administrative functions, buildings, communications, press and former Stasi [disbanded DDR secret police] property.

The initial cry ‘‘we are the people’’ was rapidly replaced with the slogan ‘‘we are one people.’’ The orgy of nationalism is more widespread and hysterical than in the BRD. The ideological programmatic vacuum is filled almost entirely from the BRD. Capitalism, national re-unification and anti-communist slogans, as expressed by BRD political parties, have been adopted wholesale, and are reflected in simplistic slogan form by almost all the larger, influential DDR parties. German nationalism dominates. Our German brothers and sisters will not allow us to suffer, but will rapidly incorporate us into successful BRD capitalism, with its extensive social cushions. After all, we are all Germans! Television shows of factory and work-place meetings in the DDR show workers begging for advice as how to build capitalism, or workers passionately attacking former SED members and saying, ‘‘We can only move forward when we get rid of everything red.’’ It seems that, at the moment, conditions in the DDR are more favorable for the rapid growth of neo-fascist groups and ideology than in the BRD. The DDR regime was always extremely nationalistic. Fascism was always characterized primarily as anti-communist. At the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp there are no memorials or information about the large number of Jews who were imprisoned and murdered there. Schoolchildren learned very little about the Holocaust. The Ulbricht regime was openly anti-Semitic. A sizable number of Jewish communists returned to the DDR after 1945. Many were persecuted, and most Jews left the DDR in subsequent years. The DDR is supposed to have only 400 people of Jewish background (Gysi’s father was a German Communist Jew). About 0.8 percent of the DDR population is composed of non-German residents, mostly students or workers from Vietnam, Poland, Mozambique, Angola and Cuba. Non-German children born in the DDR have no rights to citizenship and apparently it is impossible for non-Germans to acquire citizenship. Foreign workers are limited to a maximum of five years residence. There are no exceptions. The PDS election platform makes no mention of allowing foreign workers to remain after five years, and Christa Luft, vice-premier, PDS member, and minister (without a ministry) of economics, is alleged to have sent laid-off Vietnamese workers back to Vietnam.

Foreign workers and students, especially in Leipzig and Dresden, are living in fear. They stay home during demonstrations, and the increasingly bold fascist elements are demanding the expulsion of all non-Germans. When a small group of students (German and foreign) put up a small exhibit against racism and Ausländer-fein-dlichkeit(hostility toward foreigners) during one of the regular Monday demonstrations in Leipzig, people denied the existence of racism but said that the foreigners should be sent home or strictly segregated.

Übersiedler (people who leave the DDR for the BRD) are demanding that the millions of Turks in the BRD be sent home to make jobs and living space for ‘‘real’’ Germans. Every morning thousands of people pour into West Berlin, demanding jobs held by Turks, and offering to work for less than legal or union contract wages. Mothers with black or Asian mates in the DDR fear for their children’s safety.

The Round Table recommended that the Republikan Party (neo-fascists) be forbidden in the DDR. The Volkskammer adopted the proposed law but no one enforces it. Skinheads and neo-Nazis openly demonstrate, shouting ‘‘Reds Out!’’ and ‘‘Foreigners Out!’’ and singing the verse from the old German national anthem that speaks of Germany from the Memel (a river in the USSR) to the Maas (a river running through France, Belgium and the Netherlands) to the Etsch (a river in northern Italy). BRD television has had plenty of coverage of the Republikan Party in the DDR, including meetings to establish new branches.

When a small group of anti-fascists (associated with the Autonomous movement) tried to confront a group of skinheads, the Volkspolizei (peoples police) protected the fascists. West German journalists went to the office of the district attorney in Leipzig. They showed him videos of the Republikan Party meeting establishing the party in Leipzig and shots of neo-fascist demonstrations there. He responded by flatly denying that any such activity was taking place. He also noted that the video footage was not taken from DDR television!

The DDR election commission refused to register the Republikan Party for the March elections. This move was probably made because a high neo-fascist vote would have alarmed many in the BRD (especially in the SPD base) and increased resistance to reunification in the other European countries. BRD capitalists don’t need the fascists yet. In fact the increased fascist vote is cutting into the CDU/CSU [Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union] vote and endangering the governing state, city and county administrations—especially in their strongholds in the states in the southeast of the

BRD. The necessity for the CSU and CDU to form governing coalitions with neo-fascists could jeopardize CDU/FDP [Free Democratic Party] coalition governments. After an Anschluss, of course, the Republikan Party will be legalized—the idea of a German confederation with a separate legal system and constitution in the DDR raises too many problems for rapid capitalist restoration. The right-wing and liberal parties are for rapid and total reunification under the BRD constitution and laws. The DDR Republikan Party is composed mostly of workers with some petty bourgeois. It includes many former SED members. Besides the PDS, the neo-fascists have the most plebeian membership and profile.

I have seen no mention or coverage of neo-Nazi demonstrations or activities on DDR TV. DDR television coverage of Leipzig demos carefully avoids mentioning the neo-fascists, which is not surprising, since the radio and TV are largely in the hands of the right-wing and SPD Round Table forces. Those DDR parties that are allied to BRD parties are well financed and have taken over newspapers or started up new ones. The huge West German publishers have formed a consortium for massive penetration of magazines and newspapers into the DDR, including the worst right-wing street tabloids (naked women, axe-murders by foreigners and communist/terrorist plots). The better quality press, like the Frankfurter Rundschau, the high-quality muckraking weekly, Der Spiegel, and the leftist dailyTageszeitung (TAZ) are of course excluded from this consortium.

All the former bloc parties and almost all the newly formed parties have moved rapidly to the right in the space of two months. For example, the CDU (DDR) bloc party, which used to stand for ‘‘socialism,’’ is now in an election alliance that opposes all forms of economic enterprise that are collective or public in nature. The ‘‘Democratic Awakening’’ opposition movement started out for ‘‘democratic socialism,’’ then tried for a bloc with the SPD and, when that failed, ended up in the same bloc with the CDU and the even more right-wing DSU.

The economic, political, ideological and programmatic vacuum is being filled almost entirely from the BRD. Discussions in the media reflect an unsophisticated, watered-down version of BRD politics and social/ economic thought. This is most apparent in the arena of economics. It seems that every DDR academic with a degree in economics is working full time explaining how laissez-faire capitalism has matured into responsible capitalism; how only the stock market is truly democratic; how market forces automatically result in flexibility and an efficient, productive economy; and how the very idea of a planned economy is unscientific. According to the economic academics, two-thirds of all businesses in the BRD and the U.S. are small or medium concerns (’’dismantle the Kombinats!’’); most successful U.S. businesses were started by one or two men in a garage, and rapidly grew larger (’’you too can get rich!’’), etc. They are equally adept at explaining how socially-owned property can only mean ‘‘party-owned’’ property, and can only operate through top-down commandism. By contrast, they claim private enterprises cannot be commandist because they must operate in accordance with the desires of consumers.

This is all embarrassingly naive, and the people in the BRD are much more cynical about how ‘‘democratic’’ the market actually is. A much larger proportion of BRD workers believe that only strong workers parties and unions can force the capitalists to part with a large enough share of the total social product to maintain their current standard of living.

Things aren’t all that rosy for the capitalists, and the steady stream of DDR people coming to the BRD (10,000 to 15,000 weekly) is a source of considerable social tension. The cost of maintaining them is astronomical. The BRD constitution regards all such people as full German (i.e., BRD) citizens who are automatically eligible for social insurance, schooling, unemployment assistance and retirement benefits. In addition, the law obligates the BRD (or individual states) to furnish housing, living expenses and help in finding jobs. The BRD already has a severe shortage of housing and almost two million unemployed. Most Übersiedler are currently housed in sports halls, cruise ships, cargo containers, trailers or military barracks. Alcoholism and drug addiction are a serious problem. There are a lot of reports of fights between DDRers and Poles of German descent. On top of that, even many of the well-trained and educated DDRers have proven unemployable. They are not used to either the pace or the capitalist work discipline. Unless they receive a direct order, they tend to play cards or stand around.

They expect only to be required to perform one simple task, and are in the habit of arriving late and taking off early. The rude, selfish, male-chauvinist behavior of many of them has apparently been causing problems with co-workers, as has their extreme intolerance for dress, behavior or lifestyles which even slightly deviate from DDR norms. Parents are not accustomed to the absence of accessible, very cheap and comprehensive child care. There have been reports of some of them simply walking off and leaving unattended children. Already there is evidence of demoralization among many of those who expected that a new car, a nice, cheap modern flat and an easy job were all part of the ‘‘free world’’ package.

The cost of capitalist restoration will be quite high. Before the economy can be profitably reoriented, simply treating the DDR as an exploitable colony could mean that the bulk of the 16 million population would flood into the BRD. They have the constitutional right! The employers are telling BRD workers that a shorter work week or significant pay raise is out of the question. The capitalists tell the workers that they will have to sacrifice to help their sisters and brothers in the East, i.e., taxes will have to be raised and social services reduced. The DGB and SPD may be developing sharp differences with the BRD government on the question of who will pay for reunification. The two million-member metal union is gearing up with a demand for a 35-hour week plus an 8.5 percent pay raise. The printing and media union has similar demands. There could be a major strike wave in the BRD by late spring. The initial enthusiasm for reunification is clearly receding from the earlier high point when all parties in the Bundestag (except part of the Greens) supported reunification.

In the DDR the planned economy has been effectively abandoned. DDR managers, confronted by workers anxiety about jobs and wages, plead helplessness, and argue that only rapid privatization can supply a Tarifpartner (a bargaining partner). The PDS program is limited to an occasional plea for retaining some mining and heavy industry as public property. The regime is retreating rapidly on all fronts, especially on the question of collectivized property. But the West German capitalists are holding out for removal of all DDR laws in any way restricting capitalist activities, including reducing the (previously high) tax rates for small and middle businesses. Incidentally, all land and property confiscated from medium businesses in 1972 were recently returned.

Capitalist counterrevolution will result in massive unemployment, higher rents and the dismantling of social programs. The reality of ‘‘actually existing capitalism’’ will result in extreme social anxiety, which could be expressed in everything from strikes to anti-communist pogroms. Social intolerance is quite high in the DDR, and Prussian Stalinism has taught DDR people that political struggle means suppressing your opponents. As the reality of capitalism becomes clear to large sections of the population, the PDS, playing the treacherous role of left social democracy, may give leadership to this elementary class consciousness, but limit it to bourgeois trade unionism and parliamentarism.

Enclosed is a copy of the critical support letter, which we addressed to the campaign of the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands [SpAD—German organization affiliated to Jim Robertson’s Spartacist League/US], which addresses their claim that a proletarian political revolution has been underway in the DDR for the past few months.

To make such assertions the TLD/SpAD simply closes its eyes to political reality. No workers councils are contending for power. No proletarian formations posing, or even aspiring to, dual power have developed in the DDR. The soldiers’ councils are either limited to simply addressing soldiers’ ‘‘work’’ conditions, or they represent pressure groups for professional military personnel, and are dominated by officers.

The SpAD must be going through a crisis of expectations. Their morale seemed low when we last saw them. The one thing they did well—distributing hundreds of thousands of leaflets and newsheets—apparently can’t be continued. Their orientation toward the demoralized and depoliticized SED/PDS ranks hasn’t paid off. They no longer list a Leipzig address, and, outside of Berlin, their only address is Greifswald, site of the main nuclear energy plants. Exposure of the dangerously deteriorated condition of these Chernobyl-type, first-generation technology plants has resulted in two of them being shut down. The SpAD intervened with the claim that the reported dangers were manufactured by the West. But almost no one buys this. Even the PDS agrees that bad construction, poor management and old age renders the plants unusable. SpAD arguments that only the plant workers could make the decision are not likely to get them much of a hearing.

To get a member elected to the Volkskammer, which at this point is probably their most optimistic scenario, the SpAD will have to get 0.25 percent of the vote or one vote in 400 straight proportional representation….

MARCH 21—The SpAD got fewer votes than we expected, less than the German Beer Drinkers’ Union, which ran only in Rostock. The total, 2,396 votes, is very low. Of course the tide was running heavily in favor of reunification, but I think their inability to adjust their election propaganda to the changing realities also hurt them. When it became clear that the vote was going to be overwhelmingly for capitalist restoration and unification, they should, without compromising on this key question, have also tried to address the more immediate questions of working-class defense and especially basic class-struggle trade-union questions. The Vereinigte Linke, with a few hundred members, addressed trade-union questions within the context of defending the working class, and ended up winning one seat in parliament, with 0.18 percent of the vote. VL supporters also actively intervened in the trade-union movement and shop-steward bodies.

We saw one DDR TV discussion with a participant from the SpAD. It was an embarrassing disaster. The Spart was a caricature of a new leftist in appearance and style, and a caricature of a Trotskyist politically. He simply read a series of slogans, and appeared unable to respond in any real way to questions about economic restructuring, rents, child care, unemployment, subventions or currency reform.

These were all good openings, which could have been linked to working-class power and collectivized property forms. On parliamentarism, he said, ‘‘We will smash this parliament with workers councils and workers militias,’’ while totally ignoring the question of trade-union rights, and the possible course of workers struggles in the near future. He was worse than the lowest-level SYL [Spartacus Youth League, defunct American Spartacist youth organization] recruit of the 1970s. SpAD style is lecturing and arrogant, just like the old SED style. The SpAD election leaflet emphasized defence of the USSR, but nowhere described the USSR as a degenerated workers state! Other parties in the television discussion simply ignored the SpAD speaker.

Election results show that the ‘‘capitalism now /unification now/ no interference from the trade unions’’ program of the conservative Allianz für Deutschland [Alliance for Germany] got its main support from the heavily industrialized south and the smaller towns and villages. In areas where over 45 percent of the people work in industry, the Alliance got 56 percent of the vote; where service and agriculture dominate the economy, the Alliance got 30 to 42 percent. Fifty-eight percent of those describing themselves as ‘‘workers’’ voted for the Alliance. Only 32 percent of those described as ‘‘intelligentsia’’ voted for the Alliance; an equivalent percentage of this group voted for the PDS and Bündnis 90. This latter group includes the three citizens’ movements, which largely led the November revolution. In cities with 200,000 or more, the Alliance got only 26.5 percent of the vote, contrasted with towns of 2,000 or less, where the right wing got over 56 percent. The smallest Alliance vote was, of course, Berlin (22 percent), where they ran third behind the SPD and PDS. The Alliance also did not get a majority in the northern areas of Rostock, Schwerin, and Neubrandenburg, nor in the areas of Potsdam (central DDR) and Frankfurt on the Oder.

The SPD, which began two months ago with over 50 percent support in the DDR, played the nationalist card, and Kohl won the game! The intellectuals who led the revolution, but couldn’t address economic questions with any clarity, got very little support.

DDR workers had been accustomed to receiving benefits and instructions from an authoritative, powerful state. It seems that in the elections they transferred this passive acceptance to the BRD establishment. The workers are as yet largely unaware of the difficulties ahead in trying to transform the DDR into a fully developed part of German capitalism.

In the last weeks of the election campaign, even the SPD and the other parties considered left-of-center (like Bündnis 90) and the Greens, were afraid to go into the streets in Leipzig. Anyone carrying a DDR flag in that city was likely to be attacked. Even in Berlin, gangs of skinheads attacked groups campaigning for the alternative youth list. Right-wing youths invaded youth centers and beat up people inside. Dozens of bomb threats against leftists went unreported in the BRD, except by TAZ. The most surprising result of the election was the 16.33 percent PDS vote. Two months ago the party was demoralized and at that time would have gotten at most five percent. In the election only 26 percent of former SED members voted for the PDS! Most top and many middle-level functionaries quit, but suddenly many young people joined the PDS, and it rapidly began to build a profile of defending living standards, the social net, and trade-union rights. The PDS even claims to defend the state sector of the economy—but of course within the context of market conditions.

Their whole style has changed. PDS representatives came across as pedagogic, ultra-democratic and humble. Their candidates and other public people were probably less contaminated by past collaboration with the Stasi than the Alliance candidates and functionaries. They took the lead in amending the DDR constitution to include the right to a job, the right to housing, the unlimited right to strike, and a constitutional prohibition on lockouts of workers. The PDS is now founded in Hamburg. Gregor Gysi, PDS secretary, says that the next BRD election will see the PDS in the Bundestag. This could mean a real base for left social democracy in the BRD.

The newly-elected Volkskammer cannot change the constitution or basic law without collaboration between the social democrats and the Alliance. The social democrats’ commitment to rapid restructuring and capitalist restoration will probably lead them to side with the BRD capitalists, who are holding out on large investments in the DDR economy until the laws and constitution are changed to allow a total capitalist takeover. BRD capitalists are rapidly gobbling up the most advanced and productive sectors of the DDR economy, such as heavy machine building, locomotive building, electronics, optics and auto assembly, or ‘‘picking the raisins out of the cake,’’ as it’s called.

The pre-’’November Revolution’’ DDR economy presented a contradictory picture. Although the DDR was the tenth-ranking country in the world in production of goods and services, the production per worker ranked behind every EEC country except Greece and Portugal. Farming supplied a surplus for export, but was only half as productive per person as in the EEC. Much industry operated with obsolescent equipment. The chemical industry has largely 1930s level technology, and the communication and transport infrastructure badly needed replacement and modernization. Pollution of the air, water supply, food and environment led to a decline in health, and a staggering rise in illness. Infant mortality is high for an advanced industrial country. Work-place health and safety was probably even worse than in the U.S. There were no mechanisms by which workers could raise demands for amelioration of work-place health hazards, since the SED claimed that all such complaints arose from petty-bourgeois life-stylist, anti-working class capitalist propaganda….

Once the border was down, the DDR effectively lost control of its currency. The erosion of the monopoly of foreign trade made DDR production vulnerable to Western market forces, just as the sharp fall in trade with the Comecon countries and increased trade problems with the USSR was idling large sectors of the export-based economy. The sizable foreign debt and growing imbalance of foreign trade confronted the SED with the necessity to sharply reduce imports and living standards. In this context, the hopes of many in the immediate post-November period for a ‘‘democratic socialist’’ DDR—aspirations expressed by practically all parties and movements—were rapidly replaced by a sense of fatalism, hopelessness and impotence. No group presented a believable or realizable solution to the economic problems, and people soon concluded that a ‘‘third way’’ was not possible. Today in the DDR ‘‘socialism’’ is one of the dirtiest words you can use. It is associated largely with Stalinist repression and commandism. The massive BRD destabilization campaign filled the programmatic vacuum with nationalism and the magic phrase ‘‘social market economy.’’ The capitalists have won, and won big so far. But the Kohl regime cannot deliver on its promises to the DDR population. As the unpleasant aspects of the ‘‘social market’’ manifest themselves in the days ahead, it will become clear that there is more to carrying out a social counterrevolution than simply buying an election.

Black Liberation & the Class Struggle

Black Liberation & the Class Struggle

[originaly printed in 1917 No.8 (Summer 1990), and posted at ]

Of the many ‘‘Big Lies’’ pushed by the Reagan/Bush administrations in the 1980s, perhaps the biggest is the proclamation of a ‘‘post-civil rights era’’ in which black people have supposedly been assimilated into the mainstream of American society. The truth is that for black America things are bad, and getting worse, as the rulers of this country ruthlessly slash social programs and abandon all pretense of support for integration. The ‘‘freedom, justice and equality’’ that the American bourgeoisie is so concerned about for the Eastern Bloc remains a dream deferred for the overwhelming majority of black Americans.

According to the National Urban League’s ‘‘State of Black America 1989,’’ per capita real income for poor people (a category which is disproportionately black) fell twenty percent in the decade after 1978. Black men working full time saw their real wages fall by ten percent in the same period. For those under thirty, average real income today is half of what it was in the early 1970s. Black unemployment, already more than double that of whites, is increasing. Infant mortality, already at Third-World levels in many ghetto neighborhoods, is also on the rise. Suburban segregation is rapidly catching up with the urban cores. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1987 and again in 1988, life expectancy for blacks declined (the first back-to-back annual declines this century). White life expectancy went up both years. The Urban League concludes:

‘‘It is ironic that in 1989, the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution that defined blacks as ‘three-fifths’ of other persons, black income is well below 60% of white income, and other indicators find blacks at an even greater disadvantage.’’

Why American Blacks are Not a Nation

Racism is a social phenomenon intimately connected to the rise of capitalism as a world system. The whole idea of racial inferiority/superiority first appeared as a rationale for the inhuman brutalities inflicted on the indigenous peoples of the ‘‘New World’’ by the Christianizing European conquistadors. A bit later similar theories were used to justify the slave trade. In fact, slavery was gaining commercial importance just as the revolutionary bourgeoisie was proclaiming ‘‘liberty, equality and fraternity’’ as the fundamental principles of human society. The logical contradiction posed by the slave trade was resolved by redefining ‘‘human’’ to exclude all but white European men.

One response to the pervasive racism of American society has been ‘‘black nationalism.’’ This was the dominant strain in the black movement of the late 1960s, and it remains widely popular today. Black nationalism has existed in other periods in American history as well. Sometimes it has meant a call for black ‘‘self-improvement;’’ other times it has taken the form of Pan-Africanism, or the demand for a separate black state. Today, black nationalists tend to focus on assertions of black ‘‘cultural identity’’ and a sentimental harkening back to ‘‘African roots.’’ What all forms of this ideology have in common is the belief that American blacks have an identity and a destiny separate from the rest of the American population.

Contrary to the nationalists, Marxists assert that blacks in America are not a nation but an oppressed race-color caste. A nation is a stable group of people with a common language and culture, common history, common territory, and a common economy. Blacks in the U.S. do not occupy a common territory, although there are large concentrations of blacks in all major urban centers, and particularly in the strategically important sectors of the proletariat. They do not speak a separate language, nor do they have a separate economy.

Far from being a separate nation, or a ‘‘colony’’ of white America, American blacks are integrated into the U.S. economy, while simultaneously segregated at the bottom of it. Wherever capitalism exists, it has produced a large group of workers who live on the margin of society, without steady employment or the resources or opportunities available even to the average member of their class. This layer (Marx called it the ‘‘industrial reserve army’’) provides a pool of low-paid workers who can be relied upon to do the dirtiest jobs, and are available to be thrown into new branches of industry. Their low wages tend to depress wages in general.

In the earlier phases of European capitalist development, the ‘‘reserve army’’ belonged to the same ethnic and national group as all other classes; it was distinguished only by its poverty and destitution. In contemporary Europe, this layer is mostly comprised of immigrants and ‘‘guest workers’’ from poorer countries. When American capitalism hit full stride after the Civil War, it had a ready-made labor reserve army in the multi-millioned black population, already branded from birth due to the ideology of racial inferiority handed down from slavery. Thus the specific features of American history combined with the general needs of capitalist development to create a black color-caste, forcibly segregated at the bottom of society.

The term ‘‘caste’’ is useful because it describes the social hierarchy of color which is superimposed on the class structure of capitalist America. Of course not all blacks are poor, nor are all poor people black. But blacks are barely represented among the rich and powerful, and even a black millionaire can never completely escape the social stigma that a racist society attaches to the color of his or her skin.

Black Separatism: A Product of Defeat

The late Richard Fraser, a long-time Trotskyist leader, was a pioneer in analyzing the historical dynamics of the struggle for black liberation in America. Fraser noted that upsurges in separatist sentiment tend historically to follow setbacks in the struggle for equality. More than a quarter of a century ago he observed that:

‘‘Because of the utter irrationality of race as a reason for social partition, segregation is absolutely required for the perpetuation of racial exploitation and because of this interdependence of segregation and discrimination, the Negro movement for nearly two centuries has directed its main line of struggle against segregation, against that barrier which prevents Americans from becoming a whole people, from becoming themselves.’’

—‘‘Revolutionary Integration,’’ 1963

It is significant that the first movement for black separation was initiated not by blacks, but by white slaveholders. The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816, with the aim of deporting all free blacks from the country. Free blacks, in the eyes of the Southern planters, were a living refutation of the ideology of white supremacy. After all, slavery was supposed to be the ‘‘natural condition’’ of black people. In answer to the Colonization Society’s schemes, free blacks launched the Convention Movement in 1817. Its members pledged to stay in the U.S. and fight for unconditional emancipation. That was the program of the first national black organization in American history.

In the ensuing decades, the abolitionist movement, with support from both blacks and many Northern whites, grew in size and militancy. The abolitionists suffered what seemed a historic defeat with the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Scott was a slave who claimed that his residence in Illinois made him a free man, and petitioned the Supreme Court for his freedom. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, representing the court’s proslavery majority, rejected Scott’s claim with the infamous decision that black people ‘‘have no rights that white men are bound to respect.’’ Moreover, Taney ruled, because he was black, Scott could not be a citizen and therefore had no right to sue in a federal court. This decision sanctioned the activity of slave catchers, and was interpreted by many as legalizing slavery in every state in the Union. The Southern slave power appeared to have a firmer grip on the national government than ever before.

Many blacks began to feel that the program of emancipation was ‘‘unrealistic.’’ Even a section of the abolitionist movement turned temporarily toward separatism. Martin Delany, a prominent black abolitionist who is often referred to as the ‘‘father of black nationalism,’’ concluded that the fight against slavery was becoming hopeless. He went to England to negotiate for a piece of Africa in which to establish a black state. But this flirtation with separatism was short-lived.

When the Civil War broke out, and the anti-slavery fight began in earnest, Delany was one of almost 200,000 blacks to enlist in the Union Army. Another 30,000 blacks served in the Navy. The courage and determination with which they fought for their freedom, as well as the efforts of the estimated 300,000 who provided logistical support, was a decisive factor in the victory of the North and the destruction of the slave system.

The Civil War was followed by Reconstruction, the most dynamic and progressive period in Southern history. Blacks gained control of many state legislatures, and black and white poor farmers banded together in some areas to defend their common interests against the former slavocracy. But Reconstruction was betrayed in 1877 by President Rutherford B. Hayes, who agreed to remove federal troops from the South, thereby leaving blacks to the tender mercies of the ex-slaveholders. This resulted in the enactment of a spate of Jim Crow laws, which remained in force for nearly a century.

Under these conditions, black-separatist sentiments appeared once again. Booker T. Washington, who emerged as the principal representative of black America in the post-Reconstruction period, accepted segregation as a ‘‘necessary evil.’’ He argued that blacks should forget about equality and concentrate instead on acquiring skills to ‘‘better their lot,’’ with the aid of white philanthropists.

During World War I thousands of blacks flocked north to take jobs in industry, while many more joined the Army. According to Robert Mullen’s Blacks in America’s Wars, blacks comprised ‘‘more than one-third of the entire American forces in Europe.’’ The American government responded to the revolutionary wave touched off by the Russian Revolution of 1917 with a reactionary campaign to deport foreign-born leftists. The nativist, anti-communist sentiments whipped up quickly spilled over into attacks on blacks, who were deemed to be especially susceptible to communism. The New York Times commented that there was ‘‘no use in shutting our eyes to facts…Bolshevist agitation has been extended among the Negroes’’ (quoted in Red Scare, R.K. Murray). In addition to vigilante attacks on foreigners and leftists, the summer of 1919 saw murderous race riots erupt in 25 cities, aimed at driving black workers out of traditionally white jobs and housing.

By the mid-1920s, the Ku Klux Klan, which played a leading role in organizing and promoting the attacks on both blacks and ‘‘foreign subversives’’ in the post-war period, was at the height of its power. But something had changed. In many places ‘‘lynch law’’ terrorists were met by armed black self-defense. One of the more militant black groups which stood up to the racists was the African Blood Brotherhood, many of whose members later joined the Communist Party.

The white-supremacist terror campaign after World War I gave rise to Marcus Garvey’s ‘‘Back to Africa’’ movement, which combined militant denunciations of racism with declarations that integration was hopeless. Garvey’s program was both utopian and reactionary: utopian because there was no way that most American blacks could or would emigrate to Africa; and reactionary in abandoning the fight for freedom at home.

The CIO and the Struggle for Black Equality

The Garvey movement, which at one point claimed a membership of millions, was eclipsed in the 1930s by the rise of industrial unionism under the banner of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which rejected the Jim Crow craft unionism of the American Federation of Labor. From the Chicago stockyards to Henry Ford’s auto factories, many employers routinely used blacks to break strikes. The CIO countered this by organizing black workers and actively seeking to break down barriers to working-class unity.

The 1939 convention of the CIO adopted the following resolution:

‘‘Whereas, employers constantly seek to split one group of workers from another, and thus deprive them of their full economic strength, by arousing prejudices based on race, creed, color or nationality, and one of the most frequent weapons used by employers to accomplish this is to create false conflicts between Negro and white workers, Now, therefore, be it—Resolved, that the CIO hereby pledges itself to uncompromising opposition to any form of discrimination, whether political or economic, based on race, color, creed or nationality.’’

—quoted in Caste, Class, and Race, Oliver Cox

To a large extent the CIO lived up to that resolution. Blacks soon saw that unionization was a means to fight for a decent life and social equality, and they flocked to the CIO. Unlike the Garveyites’ ‘‘Back to Africa’’ pipe dream, the CIO was real, and many former Garveyites became CIO organizers. Black union members played important roles in the militant battles that established the CIO as a vital factor in American social and political life, and black community organizations provided important auxiliary support in many battles with the bosses.

The relative success of the CIO in its first decade in breaking down racial barriers, despite the continuing backwardness of a large section of its white membership, was not attributable to the moral caliber of its leadership. It was a practical necessity of the class struggle. And it is this connection of the black question to the class question that is the key to black liberation in America.

From Civil Rights to Black Power

The civil rights struggles which erupted in the 1950s were, in part, the legacy of the industrial battles that created the CIO in the 1930s. It also resulted from the unwillingness of the half-million black soldiers, sent overseas to fight for ‘‘freedom’’ during World War II, to accept Jim Crow when they returned. The original goal of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was the full integration of blacks into American society. The leadership of the movement thought that black emancipation could be won by removing the legal barriers to equality.

We do not in the least disparage the dedication and courage of the thousands of blacks and whites who risked (and in some instances, gave) their lives in the lunch-counter sit-ins, freedom rides and voter registration campaigns that demolished the framework of legal segregation in the South. But as the civil rights movement went North, it encountered an obstacle to equality far more formidable than legal segregation: the economic segregation of black people into ghettoes, and into the lowest-paid and least secure sectors of the working class. It was chiefly as a result of the failure of bourgeois integrationism to overcome this obstacle that nationalist moods began to dominate the black freedom movement. When Martin Luther King Jr. went to Chicago in 1966, against the wishes of some of his fellow clergymen, he was stoned by white racists. This proved to be a turning

point. Many black youth quickly grasped that racism was not just a temporary obstacle to the fulfillment of ‘‘the American Dream,’’ but a fundamental part of the social order. Rejecting King’s ‘‘love-your-enemy’’ pacifism, they were drawn to the militancy of the black nationalists, who proposed that the goal of the movement should be ‘‘self-determination,’’ and asserted their right to self-defense ‘‘by any means necessary.’’ The failure of liberal integrationism and the default of the ostensibly Marxist left, which for the most part adapted to the reformist leadership, led the best militants to reject the whole perspective of integration.

Black Panthers: High Point of Black Nationalism

The early years of the Black Panther Party marked the high point of the black-nationalist movement. The Panthers proclaimed the necessity of a revolution to win black liberation. They took a militant stand against the pervasive police repression in the black community, and called for community self-defense. Initially, armed Panther patrols in Oakland met with success. However, they were soon targeted by a coordinated police campaign of state terror and assassination which, within a few years, had decimated their leadership. While those who survived ultimately degenerated into Democratic Party electoralism, the Panthers’ courage, sacrifice, and revolutionary spirit continue to inspire black and radical youth today.

Yet the politics of the Panthers were fundamentally flawed. In common with the vast majority of 1960s radicals, both black and white, the Panthers considered white ‘‘Middle America’’ to be a solid, undifferentiated reactionary mass. The white working class was not seen as a potential ally in revolutionary struggle, but as part and parcel of the American imperialist Babylon—hopelessly racist, bought-off and corrupted by capitalist consumerism.

The New Left imagined that revolutionary potential existed in the ghettoes, whose residents were supposed to be beneath the consumerist mentality, and on the campuses, where radicalized petty-bourgeois students were presumed to be above it. Given that radical students and ghetto youth were a minority of society, it followed that the main impetus for revolution would not come from within the U.S., but from without.

Consequently, there was a tendency to look for inspiration from Third-World liberation struggles, and particularly the Stalinist-led deformed social revolutions in China, Vietnam and Cuba. But all of these movements were peasant-based guerrillaist formations with little connection to the working class. As a result, the simplest elements of the class struggle in an advanced capitalist country (strikes, picket lines and trade-union solidarity) were completely foreign to the majority of the radicals of the 1960s.

The Panthers saw the struggle of black people in America as one of self-determination. While they talked vaguely about socialism, their operational program focussed on advocating ‘‘community control’’ of the ghettoes. But Watts, Roxbury and Chicago’s South Side are characterized by the absence of everything that makes life enjoyable and rewarding. The notion that the highest goal of black people should be to win ‘‘control’’ of these miserable slums is essentially defeatist in that it implicitly accepts the segregated and marginal existence to which capitalism has consigned them. Separate can never mean equal. Moreover, ‘‘community control,’’ when generalized, encourages every racial and ethnic group to see itself as inhabitants of exclusive enclaves, fighting for control of its own turf. Thus, it tends to divide the working class, instead of uniting it in a struggle against capitalism.

While the road to revolutionary intervention in the working class is not a smooth or an easy one, it is not an impossible one either. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a wave of militant class struggle in this country. In 1970 there was a bitter strike by workers at General Electric. That same year there was a militant and successful national postal workers strike, where black and white unionists stood together on the picket lines. But the political potential of these integrated class battles was not seen by the Panthers. The class struggle simply did not enter into their strategy for black emancipation.

In the Detroit auto plants a black nationalist formation evolved, known as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW), which did orient to workers at the ‘‘point of production.’’ The LRBW grew out of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), which was initially organized in the 60 percent black Chrysler Hamtramck plant in 1968. DRUM led a successful wild-cat strike against some racist firings and carried out several other actions. But DRUM’s nationalist politics, which led it to exclude white workers regardless of their politics, prevented it from ever seriously challenging the pro-capitalist bureaucracy of the United Auto Workers. By 1971 the LRBW had decomposed into several competing factions which variously degenerated in economist, syndicalist and bourgeois-electoralist directions.

The decline of the powerful black movement of the 1960s is ultimately attributable to the inadequacies of the politics of its leadership, both the peaceful-legal reformism of the civil rights mainstream, and the more militant, but equally impotent, alternative posed by the younger nationalist radicals. Despite the heroism of thousands of subjectively revolutionary youth who embraced ‘‘black power,’’ the net effect was to deepen the isolation of the most militant elements of the black movement from the mass organizations of the proletariat. The derailing of the potentially revolutionary social movement for black equality helped clear the way for the current right-wing assault on the rights of the poor and oppressed. Today many of the minimal gains of the civil rights period have been reversed. Instead of a ‘‘war on poverty,’’ the ruling class has declared a ‘‘war on drugs,’’ which is little more than a war on black neighborhoods.

The Charles Stuart Case: Justice American-Style

The climate of bigotry is so pervasive today in America that, last fall, when a white Boston yuppie decided to kill his pregnant wife to collect a million-dollar insurance policy, he could think of no surer way to beat the rap than pinning it on an anonymous black man. The eagerness with which the police, the media and the mayor swallowed his story, despite strong evidence to the contrary, touched off a wave of racist hysteria. In the days that followed, seven hundred black men were randomly stopped and interrogated by the police. The mayor of Boston, Raymond Flynn, and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis showed up at Carol Stuart’s funeral. The whole affair became a major political event.

When Charles Stuart found out that his brother had gone to the authorities with the real story, he jumped off a bridge. But there is a lot to be learned about how the American ‘‘justice’’ system works by looking at what happened in the meantime. The police had already arrested a black suspect, William Bennett, and extracted a ‘‘confession’’ from him. They even got his nephew to testify that he had heard Bennett brag about the murder. To wrap up the case, the cops told Stuart who to point out in the line-up (a routine police practice called ‘‘coaching’’).

If Charles Stuart’s brother had not come forward, Bennett would have been convicted. How many other black people have been jailed, hanged, electrocuted, or gassed after a ‘‘fair trial,’’ simply because of their color? No one knows, but a conservative estimate would put it in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. Needless to say, the cops who framed Bennett are not going to jail. This is the juridical face of the color-caste system of American capitalism.

The Crisis of Leadership in the Black Community

In the black community today there is not only a lack of revolutionary leadership, there is a virtual leadership vacuum.Even when the organs of state power are clearly exposed, as in the Stuart case, there is little or no pressure for any form of restitution or accountability. Black Democrats claim that the answer is electing more black officials to local and national office. Tell that to the victims of the MOVE massacre! If the eleven men, women and children murdered in Philadelphia in 1985 could speak today, they’d hardly be grateful to have been burned alive by a black mayor instead of a white one.

The Jessecrats, that is, the would-be socialists and nationalists who work for Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party, sometimes like to pretend that they are ‘‘using’’ the Democratic Party as a springboard to build a powerful new movement for social justice and equality. But the Democratic Party is no springboard for social movements—it’s a graveyard. From the days of the Populist movement of the 1890s, to the CIO of the 1930s, and more recently the civil rights, women’s and anti-war movements, the story is always the same. Once the Democrats lock on and coopt the leadership, the popular protests disappear.

Revolutionaries offer no support to Jackson, a Judas-goat for the capitalists. We call for a break with the Democrats, the ‘‘left’’ face of racism and imperialist war, and for the creation of a workers party based on the unions to fight for the interests of all the oppressed. Such a party must be organized around a perspective of class struggle—the expropriation of the capitalists and the creation of a workers government.

The absence of a militant leadership in the labor movement has opened the door for the likes of Louis Farrakhan, kingpin of the ‘‘Nation of Islam.’’ Farrakhan is a dangerous, anti-Semitic demagogue, yet his denunciations of racism strike a powerful chord with many blacks. However Farrakhan can offer no road forward for America’s brutally oppressed black millions. His program, apart from calling for veiling women and a prohibition on sex between unmarried people, proposes that blacks should liberate themselves through ‘‘black capitalism.’’

The strategy of ‘‘black capitalism’’ is a cruel hoax. There may be enough space for a few small-scale, sweat-shop operations, but how many black entrepreneurs can afford to start up car plants or television networks? For the masses of black people capitalism can offer nothing but an endless cycle of poverty and misery. What Marxists counterpose to the fraud of black capitalism is the program of workers power, of socialism. Despite the illusions of the American proletariat, and the tremendous social and political backwardness that weighs it down, the working class is the only historical agency for the creation of a society that can provide for the needs of all of its citizens, and ensure real social equality for all.

The black question is key to the development of a revolutionary movement in this country because racism has historically been the most important obstacle to class-consciousness in the white working class. Black workers, because of their oppression and their strategic weight in the working class, are destined to play a leading role in the coming American Revolution. But American imperialism cannot be overthrown by a ‘‘Black Revolution.’’ For a revolutionary movement to succeed, it must enjoy broad support from the whole proletariat. This means that it must be built on a program that, while championing the interests of blacks and other specially oppressed layers, is also capable of uniting all sectors of the working class.

The Power of Ideas

One of the key tasks of American revolutionaries is to try to reach the most class-conscious elements of the black community, and win them to a materialist understanding of the origins of racial oppression. The starting point for this is the proposition that ideas have no color. Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky were all white men. But their revolutionary ideas contain powerful tools for ending the social system that perpetuates racial oppression.

A socialist revolution of course is more than just a matter of ideas. It ultimately boils down to the question of state power—of defeating and disarming the thugs who serve and protect the system of forced segregation and racist terror. All the same, the battle of ideas—the struggle to change people’s consciousness about their lives and the world they live in—is an important part of preparing the ground for revolutionary change. The capitalists do not rule by force of arms alone. They also rely on the dominance of bourgeois cultural and political values. The communications corporations—television, radio and newspapers—are all in the business of making money. However, at the same time, they are more than merely business enterprises, they are the chief purveyors of bourgeois ideology.

The role of capitalist ideological instruments is to shape perceptions of the world beyond the audience’s direct experience in such a way as to make existing social reality appear natural and even inevitable. This is achieved through a process of selection, emphasis, presentation and exclusion; all guided by a tacit consensus about what exists, what’s possible, what’s worth covering and from what angle.

One of the most invidious implicit assumptions of capitalist propaganda is that of supposedly unlimited opportunities in the ‘‘home of the free.’’ Every American is supposed to be the master of his or her fate. The implication is that poor people stay poor either because they do not want to better themselves or because there is something wrong with them. Accepting this notion leads to internalization of oppression, which is ultimately the most effective mechanism of control. One important function of a revolutionary movement is to enable the oppressed and exploited to see through the carefully constructed ‘‘reality’’ presented by the capitalist media, in order to understand how the world they live in really works, and how it can be changed.

Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Because of the structural dependence of American capitalism on maintaining the racial divisions in the working class through promoting white chauvinism, the struggle for black liberation is tied, at every step, to the class struggle. Take the recent escalation of racist violence against black Americans. There are three interconnected levels to this. Firstly, there is the rising tide of police violence against blacks. Secondly, there is lynch-mob terror. (Michael Griffith was murdered in Howard Beach by a gang of white punks because he committed the ‘‘crime’’ of setting foot in a white neighborhood; Yusuf Hawkins was gunned down last year in Bensonhurst for the same reason.) The third level of this violence is closely connected to the first two, and that is the rise of organized Klan and skinhead terrorism against blacks and other racial minorities, gays and leftists.

How do Marxists propose to deal with this? First, we uphold the right of blacks (and others) threatened with racist violence to defend themselves. But that is not enough. It is also necessary to link the struggles of the labor movement to those of blacks and other specially oppressed layers. It is not an accident that the rising tide of racism is paralleled by attacks on labor. The recent turn of corporate America to violent union-busting, and the widespread use of scabs in strike situations, means that the union movement is going to have to organize self-defense guards if it is to survive.

The fat-cat bureaucrats who are today running the unions into the ground are, of course, opposed to such tactics. But there is a lot of sentiment in the rank and file for doing something besides turning the other cheek, or going through the rigged ‘‘proper channels,’’ when the bosses use the cops to start trucking in scabs. We call for organizing workers defense guards to counter the violent attacks of the bosses and their thugs. Such formations, which would inevitably be composed of the most militant and class-conscious workers, could be a natural starting point for organizing joint defense squads with members of minority communities against racist and fascist attacks.

The struggle against unemployment is another key issue in which unionists and members of the black community share common interests. Likewise, the struggle for the integration of black workers into the skilled trades, and other ‘‘non-traditional’’ sectors of the work force, is a vital part of the fight for real equality. During the height of the civil rights movement, marchers carried signs that read: ‘‘For Full Employment!’’ and ‘‘Jobs for All!’’ But with the decline of that movement, the watchword became ‘‘jobs for us.’’ This sometimes goes by the name of ‘‘affirmative action,’’ or ‘‘preferential layoffs.’’ These policies were, for a time, being pushed by the government, partly as a response to pressure from the black community and the women’s movement, but more importantly, as a pretext for encroaching on the seniority system and other union prerogatives. Today, with the union movement on the defensive, the Reaganite Supreme Court majority has come out against such programs as ‘‘discriminatory’’ against white males.

Whether or not the union bureaucrats are guilty of racist discrimination, or any other abuses of the membership, Marxists oppose calling on the capitalist courts to intervene. Such interventions can only open up the organizations of the working class to control by the class enemy. Instead, we counterpose a strategy which unites black and white workers around their common class interests against the bosses and their labor lieutenants in the union leadership. We call for reducing the hours worked per week without reducing the wage package to create jobs and end unemployment. Linked to this is the call for union hiring halls and recruitment programs to get women, black and other minority workers into skilled positions and other jobs that have been denied them in the past.

Another concrete demand which addresses the special needs of the black population is the call for free tuition and open admissions to universities. In addition, it is necessary to fight for special remedial programs and student stipends to make it possible for more blacks to go to college. In the public school system we support busing and any other measures which, although partial, represent a step toward greater equality for black students. For the same reason, we support special minority programs in schools—in fact, we think that black history should be part of the curriculum for all students.

The Necessity of Revolutionary Leadership

We do not propose that black people should scramble for crumbs from the imperialist rulers. The capitalists are both unable, and unwilling, to integrate black Americans into this society on the basis of genuine equality. The struggle to end the oppression and degradation of black America requires nothing less than a socialist revolution. This is why the Marxist program for black liberation is one of revolutionary integration.

Only the organized labor movement has both the objective interest and the social power to lead a successful struggle against black oppression, because only the proletariat has the capacity to overthrow capitalism. Yet, in itself, the class is simply raw material for exploitation. For the labor movement to take up the struggle for socialism, it is necessary to organize a political struggle within the unions, led by organized formations, or caucuses, of individual militants committed to a program of consistent class struggle. Such caucuses must be constructed on the basis of a program which connects the immediate, day-to-day shop-floor issues with the historical necessity for the proletariat to expropriate the capitalists and establish its own government.

The establishment of an egalitarian, socialist society will not only benefit blacks but all the oppressed and exploited. All workers have a material interest in the fight for black liberation, which will prove a powerful motor force for proletarian revolution in the U.S. The road to black liberation lies in building a Leninist combat party capable of connecting the factories to the ghettoes, and leading the struggle to uproot this system of exploitation and racial oppression.

BT Debates LRP

On the Nature of the USSR

[Reprinted from 1917 #6, Summer 1989]

The Bolshevik Tendency (BT) and the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) held a public debate on the Russian question on December 10 1988, in New York City. Approximately forty people attended, including supporters of both groups, a variety of unaffiliated leftists, as well as representatives of the Freedom Socialist Party and the Fourth Internationalist Tendency (FIT). One of the FITers was Frank Lovell, a long-time cadre of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Myra Tanner Weiss who, like Lovell, had a long and distinguished career as an SWP leader, was also in the audience.

Jim Cullen, who made the main presentation for the BT, opened with a spirited defense of Leon Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state which revolutionaries must defend against both external capitalist attack and internal counterrevolution.

Walter Dahl responded for the LRP with the assertion that social relations and property forms in the USSR (as well as in China, East Europe, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.) are fundamentally the same as those in the capitalist West. He argued that:

‘‘The reason the Soviet Union is capitalist is because they exploit the workers by means of wage labor. For Marx, the fundamental question that distinguishes all class societies is how is the surplus product extracted from the workers, from the producers. If it’s done through slave labor, that’s one kind of class society. If it’s done through wage labor, it’s another….on the basis of that, the entire structure of the society develops.’’

It is true that workers in the Soviet Union are paid wages, and it is also true that a significant portion of the social surplus is not returned to the workers in the form of consumer goods. But ‘‘wages’’ in the USSR do not constitute variable capital as they do in a capitalist economy.

In the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx observed that under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and even during the lower phase of communist society itself, bourgeois norms of distribution—including payment in accordance with the amount and quality of work—remain in force. Marx explained that, ‘‘the individual producer receives back from society—after the deductions have been made—exactly what he gives to it.’’ He explicitly stated that in this, ‘‘the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity-equivalents: a given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labour in another form.’’ The system of wage payment in the USSR is distinguished from that of a capitalist economy in that wages paid to Soviet workers are not money, the universal equivalent of all commodities. They are more like generalized ration tickets—exchangeable for a definite portion of the consumer goods mandated in the central plan. The means of production cannot be purchased with these ration tickets. This feature of the Soviet economy anticipates Marx’s projection for socialism in the second volume of Capital:

‘‘With collective production, money capital is completely dispensed with. The society distributes labour-power and means of production between the various branches of industry. There is no reason why the producers should not receive paper tokens permitting them to withdraw an amount corresponding to their labour time from the social consumption stocks. But these tokens are not money; they do not circulate.’’

    —Capital (Penguin)Vol. 2

The Law of Value vs. Centralized Planning

Dahl asserted that the Soviet economy has, for the last half-century, been driven by the law of value, citing various Stalinist bureaucrats as his authority. He argued that if one denies that the Soviet economy is governed by the law of value, ‘‘you have to say that it’s consciousness that applies, but if you say that it’s consciousness that applies and you look at what the conscious planners say, they say they’re operating according to the law of value, so you’re back at the law of value coming or going.’’ All this proves is that these Stalinist bureaucrats do not themselves understand the law of value—the law of spontaneous equilibrium of a market economy. Each factory in the USSR produces in accordance with the instructions it receives in the central plan. Its products are sold at the price specified by the planners. Whether or not the products eventually find buyers has little effect on the future activity of the enterprise. Future allocations of machinery, labor and raw materials are also specified in the supply plan.

In a capitalist economy, each company is free to produce as many commodities as it thinks it can sell. It is only limited by the capital at its disposal. The market imposes upon each enterprise a standard of socially-necessary labor time required for the production of each commodity. Enterprises that fail to meet this standard will prove unprofitable and eventually be forced out of business.

Virtually all economists distinguish between ‘‘command’’ and ‘‘free’’ (market-driven) economies. Alec Nove, a reputable liberal economic historian of the USSR, described the operation of the Soviet economy of the 1930s as follows:

‘‘The overriding criterion at all levels was the plan, embodying the economic will of the party and government, and based not on considerations of profit or loss but on politically determined priorities….Prices were out of line with costs, changed at infrequent intervals and not even conceptually related to scarcities, so the profit motive, had it been allowed, would have operated extremely irrationally.’’

    —An Economic History of the U.S.S.R. 

Planners in a collectivized economy who ignore the totality of available inputs in drawing up an economic plan invite massive economic dislocation, as Stalin discovered in the early 1930s. But allocating available economic resources in accordance with a predetermined plan, however unbalanced, is a fundamentally different manner of organizing a modern industrial economy than the spontaneous flow of investment from one sector to another in accordance with the law of value, i.e., on the basis of differential rates of profit characteristic of a system of generalized commodity production.

LRP: Rates of Growth and ‘‘Capitalism’’

One of the peculiarities of the state capitalist fraternity is that apart from using the same label for the Soviet Union, the various proponents of ‘‘state capitalism’’—who range from Maoists to Bordigists to various Third Camp ‘‘Trotskyists’’—cannot agree on why the USSR should be considered capitalist. Each political tendency has manufactured its own ‘‘theory’’ and a corresponding date at which the reversion to ‘‘capitalism’’ is supposed to have occurred. The LRP claims that ‘‘capitalism’’ was consolidated by 1939, during the third five-year plan. According to the LRP, the high rates of growth of the first two plans prove that the USSR must still have been a workers state.

The LRP recognizes that the Russian Revolution ‘‘nationalized and centralized property, established a monopoly over foreign trade, centrally controlled credit and banking, etc. in a way that the bourgeoisie could never have accomplished.’’ Yet even when the workers state was transformed into a ‘‘capitalist’’ one, ‘‘These gains were not erased by the Stalinist counterrevolution but seized, utilized and turned against the proletariat’’ (’’Exchange on State Capitalism,’’ Socialist Voice No. 6). Thus, according to the LRP, for half a century capitalism has ruled the Soviet Union on the basis of the property forms created by the proletarian revolution of 1917! This is an idealist perversion of one of the most fundamental propositions of Marxism, i.e., that it is changes in the forms of property which characterize the historical succession of class societies.

LRP and the Unresolved Contradictions of Left Shachtmanism

Max Shachtman was one of the founders of the American Trotskyist movement. In 1939, in response to petty-bourgeois outrage over the Hitler-Stalin pact and the Soviet-Finnish war, Shachtman began to back away from the historic Soviet-defensist positions of the Fourth International. The next year, after a sharp factional struggle, Shachtman and his followers split from the Socialist Workers Party to form the Workers Party (WP). According to the WP, the Soviet Union was no longer a workers state, and should therefore no longer be defended against imperialism. It was, according to Shachtman, a new form of class society, which he labelled ‘‘bureaucratic collectivist.’’ The Workers Party accordingly advocated the creation of a ‘‘third camp,’’ equally opposed to both the Soviet Union and capitalism.

For the next decade and a half, the WP maintained an ostensibly Marxist ‘‘third-camp’’ position, but Shachtman’s political evolution was steadily to the right. He eventually found his political home among right-wing trade-union bureaucrats of the likes of Albert Shanker. In 1962, he supported the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and was later a staunch supporter of U.S. imperialism in the Vietnam War.

The interesting thing is that Shachtman, in adopting these reactionary positions, did not explicitly renounce his socialist past. In his own mind, he was still as much a socialist as he had ever been. The LRP, which is descended from the Workers Party, wishes to distance itself from Shachtmanism because it correctly perceives that the explicitly pro-imperialist positions Shachtman wound up adopting in the 1960s were not unrelated to the ‘‘third-camp’’ position he elaborated shortly after leaving the SWP.

The connection is this: if one says that the Soviet Union and similarly structured economies embody a new form of class society, then one must ultimately answer the question: how does such a new social system stand in relation to capitalism? Is it a progressive step, as compared to capitalism? Or is it a step backwards? If the answer is the former, one must defend the Soviet Union and the various other non-capitalist societies against imperialism, because imperialism is constantly threatening them. If, on the other hand, one adopts the latter position, that the Soviet Union represents a historical regression, one is logically obligated to support imperialism against the Soviet Union and its allies. Shachtman for many years shied away from making this choice. But in the end he had to, and he chose the side of U.S. imperialism. His rationale was that workers in the capitalist West at least enjoyed democratic rights, which were denied to their counterparts in the Soviet Union.

The LRP’s leader, Sy Landy, received his political apprenticeship from Shachtman and remained within the orbit of Shachtman’s organization and its immediate continuator for nearly twenty years. The LRP says that, in hindsight, it would have sided with Cannon against Shachtman in the 1940 split in the American Trotskyist movement. But the Russian question was the principal issue in that fight and, like Shachtman, the LRP considers that by 1939 the USSR could no longer be considered a workers state of any type.

The LRP realizes that embracing any ‘‘new class’’ or traditional ‘‘state capitalist’’ position entails revising Trotsky’s appraisal of the whole nature of our epoch—and postponing indefinitely the fight for a revolutionary socialist program. The comrades of the LRP want to avoid the dilemmas of traditional third-campism, but not at the price of abandoning their historic attachment to it. So instead they attempt to reconcile these conflicting imperatives by asserting that the Soviet Union is ‘‘capitalist.’’ We can understand why the LRP, which is, after all, subjectively revolutionary, would like to distance itself from the political logic of the third camp. The impulse to depart from a road that leads straight into the arms of Albert Shanker and the CIA, is a healthy one. But the LRPers can never break from Shachtmanism without embracing the Soviet defensism which their progenitors renounced fifty years ago.

This ambivalence toward their own roots explains the many contradictions in the LRP’s writings on the Russian question. Among these contradictions is the LRP’s attitude toward insurgent petty-bourgeois movements which threaten to overthrow capitalist property relations in the third world. In the New York debate, Dahl argued that Stalinism is analogous to fascism, not merely in the methods of its political apparatus, but in terms of the operation of the social system over which it presides: ‘‘Most of the pseudo-Marxist arguments that the Soviet Union is non-capitalist would apply equally well to the private economy of Hitler’s Germany.’’ At the same time, the LRP has taken a defensist position toward the Nicaraguan Sandinistas (who are armed and equipped by the Soviets) against the American-funded contras. Indeed the LRP has criticized the Sandinistas for failing to expropriate the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie. But the LRP cannot explain why it makes such a call if the result (a ‘‘statified capitalist’’ society along the lines of Cuba or Vietnam) is going to have ‘‘close similarities’’ to fascism.

The October Revolution was an event so important that, despite the profound degeneration which the Soviet state has undergone and six decades of endless Stalinist betrayal, it continues to shape the world in which we live. You cannot be wrong on the Russian question and be right on the vital political questions which confront the international workers movement today.

We reprint below an edited version of the main presentation for the BT by Jim Cullen:


When I was a New Leftist in the 1960s, I thought that the so-called Russian question was of interest only to old CPers and hopeless sectarians. The conventional wisdom among us at the time was that the U.S. and the USSR were the world’s two great superpowers; their mutual hostilities were far outweighed by their joint interest in maintaining the international status quo; the Cold War was a thing of the past and detente was here to stay. The main political conflict in the world was not between the U.S. and the USSR, but rather between various national liberation struggles on the one hand, and the two superpowers on the other.

This attitude could not survive the next decade, however—at least not in the mind of anyone who thought seriously about world politics. By 1978 Carter was rattling the American nuclear saber at the Soviet Union. By the time Reagan came to office, Carter’s anti-Soviet fulminations had grown into a full-fledged crusade. Against this background, only the willfully blind could continue to belittle the importance of the Russian question. The second Cold War demonstrated beyond a doubt that the conflict between the USSR and the capitalist powers is still, in the 1980s, as much a central axis of world politics as it was in 1948 or ‘58. To deny this, as many leftists and ‘‘Marxists’’ still attempt to do, is to deny what is obvious to anyone who reads the newspapers or watches TV.

Today the conflict between the USSR and the West is a little more muted than it was seven or eight years ago. This is because Mikhail Gorbachev has surrendered to U.S. imperialism on one international front after another—from Afghanistan to Angola to Kampuchea. These retreats are being carried out in the service of the economic reforms, known under the collective head of perestroika. By cutting ‘‘costly foreign commitments’’ and placating imperialism, the current Soviet leadership hopes to concentrate greater resources and energy on what it considers its main task: the modernization of the flagging domestic economy. To this end, Gorbachev intends to introduce a series of economic reforms which will give greater scope to the market. There has even been talk of issuing shares in certain state enterprises and opening a stock market in Moscow, but this is only in the talking stage.

While not in and of themselves a restoration of capitalism, these measures only give aid and comfort to those within and outside the Soviet bureaucracy who desire to move in that direction. So, once again, events might seem to argue on the side of those who would stress the similarity or gradual convergence between the capitalist and Eastern bloc economies. Yet such a conclusion is possible only on the basis of the most superficial reading of events.

Of course, all the so-called opinion-makers in the West agree with Gorbachev that increasing the role of market forces in the economy will provide the magic answer to all the Soviet Union’s problems. And to read the American press, one would get the impression that the Gorbachev reforms are wildly popular with the Soviet masses. But, just occasionally, we receive reports that hardline bureaucrats are not the only source of opposition.

We all know that China is several steps ahead of the USSR on the road to take-the-money-and-run ‘‘socialism.’’ Yet a couple of months ago we read that the Chinese government is significantly slowing the pace of its reforms. Why? Not because a few bureaucrats in the planning ministries were becoming disgruntled, but rather because the higher prices, increased inequality and ruthless profiteering spawned by these reforms had given rise to massive popular resentment against the regime, particularly in the cities.

And even the New York Times lets slip an occasional hint that a similar popular opposition to perestroika may be forming inside the USSR. For instance, Boris Kagarlitsky, a spokesperson for the newly arisen socialist clubs, writes:

‘‘Naturally, conservative Western experts approve of these ideas [the economic reforms]. But should we in the Soviet Union approve of them? Letters to newspapers, occasional public opinion surveys and conflicts arising here and there provide evidence of public resistance. ‘‘Workers are understandably apprehensive that propagandists of ‘free competition’ simply want to force them to work harder for their former salaries. This may not worry the scientific and managerial elite, protected by its privileges. But perestroika for the elite may contradict perestroika for the people.’’

Or consider the following from the 10 May 1988 issue of the New York Times:

‘‘Mr. Gorbachev’s economists (says the reporter, in an article dealing with the problems of perestroika) tell him that if he is to lift this backward country to a modern standard of living and make it competitive in the world, the Soviet Union will have to begin loosening the safety net of cheap prices, job guarantees and cradle-to-grave entitlements that stifle initiative.

‘‘In principle, Mr. Gorbachev agrees. He argues that people should be rewarded for their work and for their initiative, not for simply showing up—and that society should not coddle those who refuse to pull their weight. ‘‘But the ruthlessness of the marketplace violates the sense of justice and equality reinforced by 70 years of Soviet rule.’’

The above snippets tell us something very important about the Soviet Union and China. They tell us that Russian and Chinese workers, unlike their Western counterparts, are possessed of the curious idea that they are alive not on sufferance of the rich and powerful, but by right. This belief, peculiar as it may seem in this country after eight years of Reagan, is not an illusion; it is based upon an economic reality: the reality is that in the USSR, China, Eastern Europe and Cuba, the means of production are not privately owned, but are the property of the state, which regulates the economy by means of a plan.

The reality is further that bureaucrats entrusted with the formulation and execution of the plan, no matter how incompetent, no matter how much they may abuse their authority, must still, as a matter of necessity, provide for the basic needs of the population. Thus the Soviet economy is in at least some sense based on the principle that human need, not private profit or the anarchic forces of the market, are the proper foundations of economic life.

This principle of planning stands at the core of the economies of the Soviet type. This is why they are resistant to all attempts at the gradual reimposition of capitalism, which will never occur without violent social upheaval. It is also the existence of this planned economy that continues to make the Soviet Union the object of the unrelenting hostility of the capitalist powers. This non-capitalist foundation of the Soviet economy is what we of the Bolshevik Tendency consider worthy of defense. We affirm, contrary to the prevailing wisdom of Reaganites, Thatcherites and Gorbachevites that the Russian and Chinese workers’ belief that they have a right to be alive is a good thing, and that the economic conditions that sustain such a belief are to be preserved and not discarded; that the inertia that today afflicts the Soviet Union is the result of the bureaucratic mismanagement and not the principle of planned economy itself; that the introduction of the ‘‘free market’’ is not the answer; that the Soviet worker, when restored to his rightful place as master of the country, will be capable of working efficiently and responsibly without hunger at his back or dollar signs in his eyes. If we did not believe these things, we would cease to be socialists.

Important theoretical problems arise, however, when we begin to consider the ‘‘class character’’ of the Soviet Union and societies of similar nature. According to the classical Marxist tradition, the only class of modern society capable of overthrowing capitalism is the working class. Once the working class had triumphed over the bourgeoisie, according to the classical scenario, it would bring the economy under its democratic, collective rule. Yet the twentieth century has effected at least a temporary disjunction between collectivized property and the political rule of the working class. Although, as we will argue, socialized property exists in the Soviet Union, no one but the most willfully deluded Communist Party hack will claim that the Russian workers exercise political power. All the decisions about the economy—as well as every other public matter—are made by an insular group of party and state bureaucrats who guard their privileges and power with an iron hand. How do we characterize this bureaucratic stratum and the society over which it presides?

Leon Trotsky, as most of you know, insisted to the end of his life that Russia remained a workers state despite the fact that the workers were disenfranchised. In what sense, according to Trotsky, was Russia still a workers state, albeit a degenerated one? Trotsky argued that, although the Stalinists crushed the workers politically, and physically liquidated the revolutionary cadres who remained loyal to the ideals of the revolution, there was one conquest of the October Revolution they could not so easily do away with: the economic foundations of the Soviet state, i.e., state ownership of the means of production and exchange and state control of foreign trade.

These institutions were the basis not only for the democratic rule of the workers in the early years of the revolution, but also for the rule of the Stalinist usurpers. This is why even the Stalinists are at times forced to defend those economic foundations from capitalist forces. But Trotsky argued that the methods used by the Stalinists in defense of the Soviet Union are inherently inadequate. The Soviet power could only be saved in the last analysis by a broadening of workers democracy and a further unfolding of the international revolution. Precisely because the bureaucracy could only consolidate its rule by undermining proletarian democracy and strangling world revolution, it would prove incapable of defending the Soviet Union in the long run. The Stalinist bureaucracy was therefore an inherently unstable social formation, with no independent historical role to play. It would either be overthrown by the international bourgeoisie, or by the Russian workers. If the second, optimistic variant came to pass, then Stalinism, in Trotsky’s words, would be remembered as nothing more than an ‘‘abhorrent relapse’’ on the road to socialism. Trotsky thought that, in this regard, World War II would provide the decisive test.

Well, the relapse has undeniably been a little more drawn out than any of us would like. World War II did not prove to be as decisive a test as Trotsky thought it would. The Stalinist bureaucracy was not overthrown either by Hitler or the Russian workers. Furthermore, the postwar period saw the extension of regimes similar to Stalin’s Russia to new parts of the world. These latter developments posed a host of theoretical problems for Trotsky’s followers. Trotsky had of course, assumed that the proletariat was the only social class that could bring into being collectivized ownership. But not only were the new Soviet-style states of the postwar period not run by the workers, the working class played almost no part in creating them. They were brought about either by the intervention of Russian tanks, as in most of Eastern Europe, or by the triumph of peasant-based armies led by the Stalinists, as in China and Yugoslavia. By what logic could they still be called workers states?

These postwar developments also raised an equally significant and related question. Assuming that collectivized property could be brought about by non-proletarian forces, was it not necessary to reassess the entire Marxist tradition regarding the revolutionary role of the proletariat? Had not the Soviet bureaucracy and various third-world peasant leaders proven themselves adequate to the historical task that Marxists had always assigned to the working class? Those who answered these questions in the affirmative came to comprise a trend called Pabloism. (The comrades of the LRP accuse us of being Pabloists, an accusation we of course reject.) These are the questions that perplexed Trotsky’s followers in the aftermath of the Second World War and continue to confound many self-proclaimed Trotskyists today.

If we claim to be orthodox Trotskyists (as opposed to Pabloists), it is not because we deny the existence of the problems posed by postwar developments, or because we think that Trotsky’s writings contain the answers to all the difficulties that have arisen in the half century since his death. We are orthodox though, in the sense that we think that Trotsky’s essential appraisal of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its significance in world history has stood the test of time, in broad outline if not in detail.

We begin with the facts. In the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam and Cuba, the bourgeoisie has been expropriated and vanquished as a class. I have already spoken of the undoubted benefits that the masses derive from these new property forms that have replaced capitalist ownership. But the larger question for Marxists, I think, is what do these societies signify historically, to what kind of human future do they point? We contend that these societies, in a partial, fragmentary and distorted way embody significant elements of the socialist future. And I think this argument can be made without falling into any Pabloist trap.

It is true that most of the states to which we refer were created without the active intervention of the working class. But the proper question to ask is not whether they have come into being through a workers revolution in the past, but whether they are capable of surviving without being brought under the democratic control of the working class in the future. And, despite the fact that the Stalinist bureaucracy has lasted a lot longer in Russia than Trotsky thought it would, we would still argue that the collectivized property over which the Stalinists preside is inherently unstable and insecure under their tutelage; that, to secure a solid foundation for itself, collectivized property must be complemented by the democratic rule of the working class in the state. Workers democracy, in other words, is not a pious wish on the part of Trotskyists, but a practical necessity for the survival of collectivized property. Whatever future collectivized property has, is intimately linked to the ability of the working class to make a political revolution and bring these economies under its control. In this sense, these societies can be said to be deformed workers states (with the exception of the Soviet Union, which remains a degenerated workers state).

I think that this way of looking at the problem highlights both the undoubted achievements, but also the limitations, of the societies in which collectivized property prevails. Most are underdeveloped countries. By driving out the old ruling classes and laying hands on the main levers of the economy, the ruling bureaucracies have been able to eliminate some of the most hideous injustices and effects of material backwardness. There have been vast improvements in health care, housing, literacy and the status of women. But these backward countries have not been able, on their own, to achieve the level of material abundance possessed by the West, which is the prerequisite for socialism. Indeed, although far behind the West, they are subject to its constant military and economic pressure. They may have the capacity to withstand this pressure temporarily; but in the long run, their only hope lies in the conquest of the West for socialism.

It is precisely on the road to international revolution that the various Stalinist bureaucracies stand as obstacles, and must be swept aside in a political revolution of the working class armed with the internationalism that inspired the Petrograd workers in 1917. But this cannot happen without preserving the gains already made—chief among them the social ownership of the means of production. The preservation of this conquest in turn demands the unconditional defense of these states against imperialism. This is the essence of the position Trotsky incorporated into the program of the Fourth International, and the one we uphold today.

I would like to turn now to the position of our opponents in this debate, the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP). And by way of introduction, I would like to recall an instructive episode in the history of the Trotskyist movement. For a number of decades, the ostensibly orthodox wing of the Trotskyist movement was headed by a Briton named Gerry Healy. Round about 1961 and 1962, events confronted our man Gerry with something of a theoretical dilemma. The events of which I speak are known under the general heading of the Cuban Revolution. Castro had just seized power in Havana and nationalized the major means of production. Any ordinary person looking at these developments would conclude that a social revolution had just occurred on that Carib