Still Dancing Around the “Serious Explanation”
While correctly criticizing many of the Spartacist League’s current positions, the leadership of the Internationalist Group has rigidly persisted in defending the political integrity of that organizations entire record preceding their own exit in 1996. The IG leaders have chosen to build their new organization around that myth and more specifically continue insisting the SL was “uniquely correct” throughout the 1980s in its distorted understanding of the Trotskyist position on Stalinism and defense of the Soviet Union. Having themselves been former central leaders of the SL who actively participated in developing its line, defense of the SL record has always been a matter of protecting their personal political legacies and bureaucratic prestige. As a consequence of the German Communist Party’s stubborn insistence in defending its line which allowed Hitler to ascend to power without resistance (“After Hitler, us”), Leon Trotsky was forced to conclude that any organization that puts the prestige of its leadership before telling the truth deserved to be written off for revolutionary purposes.
In politics, it is inevitable that following through on the logic of a bad position on one question will ultimately have unforeseen future consequences for what, at first glance, may at times appear to be an unrelated issue or whole series of unrelated issues. In the aftermath of Haiti’s recent earthquake, the chickens have come home to roost for the SL as it scandalously and somewhat unexpectedly ended up supporting Haiti’s occupation by the US military, buying into Obama’s line it was there to provide aid to the suffering Haitian masses.
Haiti, Afghanistan & Lebanon
In the course of a recent letter to the SL criticizing its belated and inadequate self-criticism of what, relative to the rest of the far left, was its “uniquely” incorrect line on Haiti (see “Spartacist League: Our Line’s Been Changed Again”), the IG leadership lectures the SL for a previous attempt to distance themselves from their original embarrassing position while dancing around openly repudiating it, while refusing to fully examine the “root of the betrayal” in their more recent and explicit acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
“You admit to the crime, but fail to give a serious explanation of the reasons for it. And that virtually guarantees it will happen again…
“Despite your pious proclamations today, how is one to know that what you say tomorrow isn’t a continuation of what you said yesterday?
“Open Letter from the Internationalist Group to the Spartacist League and ICL” May 8, 2010
Reprinted in The Internationalist #21, Summer 2010
The IG’s letter to the SL claims the position on Haiti was “an extension of previous capitulation to the pressures of U.S. imperialism”, pointing to the SL’s open repudiation of calling for the defeat of US imperialism in Afghanistan in 2002, which the SL still defends, as the most significant precedent.
“You then proceeded to viciously attack the Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International for our call from the very outset (in our 14 September 2001 statement) for defense of Afghanistan and for the defeat of U.S. imperialism. You wrote that our line amounted to “Playing the Counterfeit Card of Anti-Americanism,” as you stated in a subhead, and of appealing to an audience of “‘Third World’ nationalists for whom the ‘only good American is a dead American’…”
But the SL’s position on Afghanistan, in turn, had a precedent with the position it took on Lebanon in 1983, when it refused to militarily side with forces struggling to end the US military occupation of their country. Since they were still in the leadership of the SL at the time, the IG’s founders still defend that position today. Similarly, in a 1990 SL pamphlet (also produced while the IG founders were still SL leaders) titled Trotskyism: What It Isn’t and What It Is! the SL claimed that the International Bolshevik Tendency who at the time took the correct position (but has bureaucratically degenerated itself since then, see “The Road out of Rileyville”),
“praise the indiscriminate mass killings of Americans ..”.
Since the SL’s position on Lebanon is one the IG’s leadership still defends, one can also reasonably ask of them how despite the “pious proclamations today”, does one ”know that what you say tomorrow” will not be a repetition “of what you said yesterday.”
“Political Compass” as the “serious explanation” of the “roots of the betrayal”
In our own statement on the SL and Haiti, we noted
“the IG has implied the SL has taken a dive in the face of chauvinist hysteria. While the SL certainly has taken such dives, such as their frightened reaction to 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan in 2001, no such similar atmosphere exists in relation to Haiti at the moment.”
"Disintegration in the Post-Soviet Period: Spartacist League Supports US Troops in Haiti! "
February 15, 1020
While the two positions were both programmatic betrayals and do indeed have many parallels with each other, unlike Afghanistan the SL line on Haiti did not so much reflect any immediate external pressure as much as their own internal long term political/methodological and organizational contradictions.
In the course of addressing some of those contradictions, our February 5, 2010 statement on the SL’s pro-imperialist line referenced our previous polemic with the IG over its defense of the SL’s 1980’s legacy on the "Russian question".
“As more fully elaborated in a previous polemic (“IG: Trotsky's Transitional Program or Robertson's Political Compass”, May 6, 2009) the SL based practically its entire existence in the 1980's on the issue of defending the USSR. In the face of its demise they have constructed a worldview in which, just as previously all questions were seen through the narrow prism of the Soviet Union’s defense, today all questions are viewed through the narrow prism of the Soviet Union’s demise. It is not just the subjective crisis of leadership that holds back working class struggles but new objective circumstances where the question of taking state power is off the historical agenda for one reason or another.
“Those who give up on the working class are forced to look to other social forces for salvation. During the 1980's, in a symmetrical disorientation to todays, the SL wildly exaggerated notions and fears about the dangers of the “Reagan years” combined with their dismantling of their trade union fractions lead them to look to the Soviet Stalinists and their military and economic might to protect them from the ravages of imperialism. Today the USSR no longer exists and Cuba cannot act as a sufficient substitute in the region.”
In that polemic with the IG we quoted an intervention at an IG class that summarized an important aspect of the SL’s methodology on the issue,
“I agree with much of the IG's current criticisms of the SL's explicit abandonment of the Transitional Program. I also agree that this position is related to the SL's extreme demoralization over the collapse of the USSR. This was expressed in their recent position on the anti-CPU struggle in France where they proclaimed that in the "Post-Soviet World" a successful general strike is not likely to succeed. A few years ago when Afghanistan was attacked, SLers similarly argued that in the post-Soviet world military victories by neo-colonies against the imperialists were not on the agenda. While the collapse of the USSR was a huge defeat, by itself it is not adequate as an explanation. One must also look at the SL's own history prior to that collapse and it's various zig-zags over the Russian Question, positions that the IG leadership share responsibility for developing and still stand on today, and on which I'll only touch on one aspect of.
“Throughout the 1980's the SL developed a strong tendency to reduce Trotskyism to the issue of Soviet Defensism. That drift was partially acknowledged at the time I was an SYCer where ICL members were criticized for somehow abandoning the view that they were the party of world revolution. From seeing defense of the USSR as the central question at all times and places from Nicaragua to Alice Springs, Australia there developed a tendency to look at world events from the narrow prism of, to paraphrase an old Jewish joke, "Is it good for Russia?".
“It was frequently written and stated internally that defense of the USSR was the SL's "political compass" which would prevent their degeneration, a sort of talisman to ward off anti-Trotskyist spirits if you will. In contrast, the Transitional Program states that the Fourth International must "base ones program on the logic of the class struggle", which is quite different than using defense of the USSR as ones political compass. But what happens when you continue using such a compass after it no longer exists (we found out 2 years ago that trading accusations internally of wanting to abandon defense of the USSR is still the norm for them)? The further development into a passive propagandist or De Leonist grouping the IG has described and the SL's recent position on France again confirms. But the IG's leadership is incapable of making such an analysis. They are determined to defend those positions since they themselves are fully responsible for helping develop them while SL leaders….”
We also showed how that understanding played a part in distorting the Trotskyist attitude towards imperialism during the 1980’s as well.
“In another part of the Middle East, the SL tried to cover their abandonment of military support for those struggling against the US Marines occupying their country by cynically asking “Where is the just, anti-imperialist side in Lebanon today?”, then explaining the conditions where they would take a side
‘Should the U.S. go to war against Syria, a complete reevaluation would be indicated, not least because such a war could become a de facto U.S./USSR conflict in which Marxists would defend the Soviet side.”
‘Marxism and Bloodthirstiness’
Workers Vanguard #345, 6 January 1984
While the IG has tried to explain all their differences with the SL subsequent to their split as stemming from the SL’s demoralization over the fall of the USSR, it has previously refused to acknowledge that this extreme demoralization stems in any way from a methodology they were responsible for helping develop towards the question before their own split.
We were therefore caught somewhat off guard by appears to be an implicit acknowledgement of the correctness of our criticism in their letter.
“It all goes back to the devastating impact on the Spartacist League and International Communist League of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states in 1989-92…
“Take a look at what happened after the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which clearly shook up the SL and ICL. But having lost your political compass with the demise of the Soviet Union, the SL/ICL reacted by abandoning key elements of the Leninist-Trotskyist program toward imperialist war.” (emphasis added)
Doing a google search this is the first time that a discussion of the SL’s previous “political compass” has ever been raised by the IG in its literarture. The SL’s use of defense of the USSR as its “political compass”, as frequently stated by them at the time, was the defining feature of the SL when the IG founders were still SL leaders, thus a key part of their political legacies which they would be responsible to honestly own up to. Insofar as the claim is made that demoralization over the fall of the USSR was the key explanation to their origins out of the SL and justification for their independent existence as such, it would also offer the only explanation for the highly deep nature of that demoralization, even two decades after the fact when almost everyone else on the far left (outside the geriatric pro-Moscow CP’s) have either recovered or at least in the process of doing so. It would seem a far more explicit, forthright and rigorous acknowledgement would seem to be called for than the offhanded one made in a passing manner in the IG's letter. How is this any different than the SL’s initial attempt to dance around openly repudiating its position on Haiti?
We challenge the IG rank and file to test their “leaders” forthrightness, or perhaps more appropriately their own power inside their organization, by flexing their muscle and forcing through the explicit acknowledgment.
We have no confidence in the IG leadership’s ability or willingness to honestly come to terms with the role they played in the SL’s degeneration. Not only in terms of the degeneration in political line but also the role they played in the SL’s bureaucratization when they were in the leadership themselves, assisting when not leading the charge in witchhunting critics out of the organization and then slandering them afterwards.
While complaining of being the victim of an organizational “pre-emptive strike” by Alison Spencer (whose star inside the group has since fallen but at the time was groomed to replace Jim Robertson as SL “leader”) at the time of their expulsion, two years after the fact the IG’s top leader Jan Norden was still bragging about assisting her in a qualitatively similar Machiavellian/Zinovievite purge of the International Communist League’s (international organization dominated by the SL/US) Italian section.
“You reportedly said of the Italy document that it seemed Norden made a bloc with Parks (Spencer), given the differences over calling in any way for a general strike in Italy. In Italy, I did block with Parks against Gino, whose policy was a cover for the popular front. In that situation, to call on the bureaucrats (who were the only ones in a position to do so) to organize an unlimited general strike meant calling for more union militancy in order to lay the basis for a center-left coalition to kick out the right-wing Berlusconi/Fini government. A ‘bloc’ against the proto-factional opposition (emphasis added) [i.e. ‘pre-emptive’ organizational strike] to the Trotskyist program presented by Gino was not only principled but obligatory. It was utterly necessary to form a majority to fight against the popular frontist challenge.” (7/18/98)
Reprinted in "Polemics with the IG"
Trotskyist Bulletin #6
Never mind the fact that, after being driven out of the SL themselves, the IG developed fundamentally similar criticisms as Gino on the SL/ICL’s abandonment of calling for a general strike, or that they themselves ultimately fell victim to the same organizational methods used against Gino, what is involved after all is, once again, a question of their personal legacies and bureaucratic prestige.
In contrast, much of the IG rank and file, being subjectively revolutionary, can still play an important role in helping rebuild the Fourth International. But they can only do this only if they put broad loyalty to the struggle for socialist revolution above the narrow loyalty to the organization they are currently trapped in. As the recent debacle of the SL rank and file (who unanimously supported the pro-imperialist line on Haiti only to then switch around to unanimously go along in repudiating it after the SL’s “leader” changed his mind) shows, those who are incapable of standing up to their party bureaucrats can never be counted on to stand up to the ruling class.