The following article was first published in Proletarian Revolution No. 68 (Fall 2003).
The Spartacist League finally issued their account of the debate between our organizations in an article, LRP Exposes Itself, (Workers Vanguard, June 6.) Our report of the debate concluded: “We have no doubt the Spartacists will claim to have won a great victory.” Instead, the SL came up with this retort: “It is difficult to imagine just how one could claim ‘great victory’ on the basis of defending elementary Leninism and Trotskyism against the vicarious ‘Third World’ nationalism and garden-variety reformist practice -- occasionally masked by radical-sounding rhetoric -- of this minuscule ‘third camp’ outfit.”
Okay, we were wrong. We expected, given their history of lies about our views and wildly inflating their own accomplishments, that they would declare victory. The magnitude of their debate debacle evidently made that impossible. But it should have been possible to come up with something with more pizzazz than the embarrassing statement that great victories are difficult to claim. One would think that anyone claiming the banner of Bolshevism would remember Lenin’s polemical annihilation of Karl Kautsky, for example, as one historical example that such victories were perfectly possible -- and extremely valuable!
The SL, of course, is playing games. The Spartacists were soundly defeated precisely because they could not defend “elementary Leninism and Trotskyism.” If you have read their own speaker’s presentation (available along with the WV report on their website, www.icl-fi.org), you may have already noticed that Don Alexander did not offer a coherent view of the world today, much less a guideline for intervening in it. In contrast, the SL’s strategy for the debate -- which they had proposed to be on the topic “Which Way Forward” -- was to rely on trumpeting the alleged glories of the deceased Soviet Union. Aside from hollow hosannahs to the shattered Stalinist bloc, the SL’s speakers mostly regurgitated their usual bucketload of false accusations against us. The SL is accustomed to bullying and taking potshots against its opponents. They couldn’t win with that this time.
We believe that the Marxist and Leninist outlook we presented arms revolutionaries with a fundamental proletarian class perspective. Our understanding has allowed us to make accurate predictions of major world events, like the collapse of Stalinism. Cde. Richardson, our speaker at the debate, discussed the essentials of what must be done to fight capitalist imperialism in today’s world. In response to our discussion of critical support, united fronts and military support -- all tactical weapons developed by Lenin and Trotsky -- the SL answered with “defense of the Soviet Union” and “we never support liberals or reformists.” This is supposed to prove that they are always on the right side of the class line. As they say, you be the judge.
In responding to their article, we cannot possibly repeat our answers to everything they have brought up in the past. We will try to re-explain some basics. We encourage our readers to get a copy of the full transcript of the debate (which, no surprise, the LRP and not the SL has made available). Read it all, study the positions of both groups. And check out our new pamphlets, which provide detailed analyses of the questions in dispute. Let us know if you feel there are any questions raised at the debate or in their account of it that we have not taken up. We will answer them. After all, isn’t that what a debate is for?
The SL’s self-conception is that they are a group of “declassed intellectuals” bringing the wisdom of Marxism to the working class from outside. We have always agreed that they are a non-working class grouping; but we have argued that they defend opportunist middle-class anti-worker positions and practices, whereas they see themselves as coming from outside of class society altogether, a thoroughly anti-materialist view. (See our article, The Marxism of the Petty-Bourgeoisie, in Socialist Voice No. 4.) It flows from this, we believe, that they cannot find the proletarian way forward against imperialism. Rather than just present our interpretation at the debate, we chose to challenge the SL to explain their own positions.
At the end of his presentation, our speaker posed five basic questions. From our point of view, if the SL responded to the challenge, they would demonstrate our contentions about their politics better than our assertions alone would. Again, this is what a debate is for. But for good reason the SL refused to take up the challenges. So we will go through the questions (not in the same order) and explain what we think the answers really are.
One of our questions was based on our perception that the Spartacists have been going through an ultra-sectarian turn. Since the fall of the Stalinist empire, they have gone out of their way to keep a distance from the struggles of the working class. This is most evident in the U.S., where they have their largest group and therefore the best chance of putting their politics into practice. That is why our speaker asked: “Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky all believed that revolutionaries are militant fighters in the class struggle. So how in their name can you refuse to be active in the unions where you have supporters?”
Since their speaker refused to answer, we repeated the challenge from the floor. Specifically, since both groups are present in the important Transport Workers Union Local 100 in New York, we used that as a key example. When the 34,000 transit workers were building momentum toward all-out clashes with the bosses in 1999 and 2002-3, we were actively fighting for strike action from the start. Thousands of workers in Local 100 read each issue of our Revolutionary Transit Worker bulletin (RTW) and know the leading role that we played in the fight for a strike during both struggles.
In 1999, when an LRP supporter in the local made the motion to strike -- which was passed unanimously by thousands of angry, fighting workers -- the union reformers in New Directions (ND) at first tried to detour it and the Willie James bureaucracy opposed it. The SL has a few more supporters in the local than we do, but they did not champion a strike or even speak in favor of it. In 2002, when the strike momentum was again building up, the SL again refused to endorse a strike, let alone fight for one -- until Roger Toussaint, the newly elected ND president of the local, had his own strike motion passed. And these people call themselves the “workers’ vanguard”!
Two of the SL’s speakers from the floor at the debate were transit workers. They too dodged our question; they talked instead about their purported work in the union on other issues -- even though the SL itself acknowledged the key importance that a strike in 2002 would have had (without explaining their abstention from the struggle). Our National Secretary, Sy Landy, speaking from the floor, threw the spotlight on that unbelievable evasion, characterizing the Spartacists scientifically as “chickenshit” in the face of the living class struggle. The SL still refused to defend their abstentionism from this pointed attack -- both at the debate and in their account of it -- thus re-proving its accuracy.
The SL’s main way of deflecting the question is to attack us for having given Toussaint “critical support” when he ran for president in 2000. Their article says, “But the LRP in its own small way helped boost New Directions (ND) leader Roger Toussaint, who deep-sixed a New York transit strike, into the presidency....” It also says, accurately, that Toussaint in office was an unashamed flag-waver and supporter of the capitalist Democratic Party.
“Critical support” is a weapon developed by the Bolsheviks, elaborated by Lenin and then by Trotsky. When reformists have captured the support of militant fighting workers who have illusions in their leadership, it is necessary to do more than issue propaganda attacks upon them; Bolsheviks have to put them to the test of office and expose them in practice. That is why we counterposed our program of mass action, revolutionary leadership and socialist revolution to ND’s reformism.
When Lenin advocated electoral support to the British Labour Party in 1920 (“as a rope supports a hanged man”), Labour had already proved itself to be counterrevolutionary, imperialist traitors to the working class. The question was how Leninists could intervene to convince their fellow workers of that fact. Anyone who thinks the SL has even a fraction of a case here should at least ask them: why don’t you attack Lenin for having “boosted” the murderous Labour Party into power?
When we gave critical support to Toussaint, we openly told militant workers that in office New Directions would sell out. ND leaders demanded that we stop giving them our “support”; they were under no illusions about what it meant. When at the same time, an LRP supporter, as an open revolutionary socialist, ran for and won the office of Track Division Vice-Chair, ND supported an opposing candidate in a desperate effort to stop him. Since then, they have tried to prevent him from functioning by bureaucratic means. And of course, after the election, RTW did what it had done before and during the election: it continued to expose ND and Toussaint. (Our Leninist method is spelled out in detail in our article, Revolutionary vs. Reformist Methods, in PR 63.)
Our difference with the SL on critical support is long-standing. No matter how they wiggle, the fact remains that the SL in no way answered why they didn’t lead a fight for a strike either time. And as for critical support, they say it was urgent to stop Toussaint’s rise to power. If they did not believe critical support was the right tactic, what alternative tactical weapon did they prefer to expose Toussaint and split militant workers away from him? Yes, they sold their paper to a handful of transit workers -- propaganda from the sidelines. Of course, revolutionaries must sell their press, and sometimes we have no access to alternative methods. But if you are in a live and important struggle, you have to seize opportunities for mass work. The SLers didn’t run for office themselves or do mass leafleting calling for workers to not vote for ND. We put out thousands of bulletins exposing ND. For all their blather about stopping Toussaint, the SL did nothing!
The SL is a demoralized outfit that fears actual involvement in working-class struggles. And our class around the world does press forward in its struggles, even if it does not always take the direct path that the SL would prefer.
An even more obvious sign of the Spartacists’ corruption is their disparagement of the oppressed at home and abroad. Because Leninists and Trotskyists have always aligned themselves with the struggles of the most oppressed, three of our five questions were aimed at pointing out the SL’s terrible record on this score. For example, we asked: “Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky said that the workers have no country. So how in their name can you defend the national identity of imperialist countries?” And also: “Lenin said that any American socialist who supports any restrictions on immigration is a jingo chauvinist. So how can you be prepared to support such restrictions in his name?”
The SL has brought up the supposed need to defend the “national identity” of various countries. The danger they see is that too many immigrants will drown the national culture. The SL hasn’t explained its use of the term, but when they have used it they have stressed their concern to preserve the national identity of imperialist countries in particular. We expand here our previous quotations from Workers Vanguard’s original article on the subject (January 18, 1974):
[O]n a sufficiently large scale, immigration flows could wipe out the national identity of recipient countries.... If, for example, there were unlimited immigration into Northern Europe, the population influx from the Mediterranean basin would tend to dissolve the national identity of small countries like Holland and Belgium. More generally, unlimited immigration as a principle is incompatible with the right of national self-determination; to call for it is tantamount to advocating the abolition of national states under capitalism.
Holland and Belgium are imperialist countries. Trotsky opposed any attempt to defend their nation-state existence from “abolition” in two world wars -- in the face of domination by other imperialist invaders, let alone from any imagined threat by poor working-class immigrants from the “Mediterranean basin,” i.e., of darker skin. The SL has repeated this racist and national chauvinist line time and again. Is this not the same method that right-wing racists in the imperialist countries use to oppose “too much” immigration?
Bolsheviks shed no tears for the “national identity” of the imperialist countries. We do defend such rights with respect to oppressed countries and oppressed people against all imperialisms, large and small.
The WV report of the debate quotes one of our speakers saying that their approach to immigration was “like Pat Buchanan’s,” and denounces this as “garbage.” At the same time, they repeat that our call to end all restrictions on immigration amounts to calling for the imperialist states to dissolve themselves.
An LRP floor speaker, a Latino ex-Spartacist, did in fact compare the SL’s line to that of the Buchananites. He quoted Lawrence Auster of the right-wing American Foundation to Control Immigration. Auster had said: “Does the United States, does any nation, have a moral right to preserve its identity? If our answer is yes, then we have the right to open up this issue and re-evaluate our immigration law without fear of the crippling charge of racism.” This quotation was cited and favorably endorsed by Buchanan in his column in the New York Post of August 17, 1991.
Of course, sometimes even Leninist positions can appear to be the same as those of right-wingers. For example, unlike liberals and like many reactionaries, we support the right to bear arms. (So does the SL.) However, it is not hard to see that our position comes from a totally opposite class approach: that the working class and oppressed people must be armed, to defend themselves today as well as to make the socialist revolution tomorrow.
But in the Spartacist case against immigration, they not only draw the same conclusion as Auster but they use the same non-class reasoning. In fact they go further, because they say that an attack on national identity is an attack on the right of national self-determination, which for them is a principle applying to imperialist as well as oppressed nations. (More on that in a moment.) So they say that this principle is “incompatible” with unlimited immigration.
Given its reactionary view, the SL must remain vague as to how it proposes to actually stop the supposed threat of an immigrant tidal wave. Their evasion may suffice today. But when the impoverishment of the “third world” turns even more catastrophic and millions more immigrant workers seek to come to the advanced imperialist countries, how will the SL then propose to stop the “flood”? With their line today they are preparing to capitulate to restrictive measures in the future.
The Spartacists hint at their underlying position by repeatedly referring to their defense of immigrants once they get here. This, like “national identity,” is habitual Spartacist jargon, not part of the Leninist tradition at all. For example, in a website statement The War on Immigrants Is a War on All Workers (July 2, 2002), their international center writes:
[W]e seek urgently to mobilise the working class to take up the fight for full citizenship rights for all who manage to cross the borders and to drive home the understanding that the source of exploitation of all labour is the capitalist system of production, which is defended to the bitter end by the capitalist state. [Emphasis added.]
That is, the SL says they defend immigrants who manage to get here but not necessarily those who have not yet managed to cross the border. As a general rule, revolutionaries prefer that workers wage the class struggle and fight for socialist revolution at home. But millions are being forced out of their neo-colonialized countries by imperialism’s increasingly devastating exploitation and violent oppression. How a “communist” can even suggest defending the right of imperialist nations to exclude them at any stage in their journey we cannot fathom.
The SL has attacked our position of opposition to all restrictions on immigration as “utopian” and reactionary. We rejected the slogan “Open the Borders” because it suggests calling for self-dissolution of imperialist nation-states, an illusion. But we refuse to let that prevent us from opposing every restriction raised against immigrant workers. (Likewise, it is illusory to call for capitalist imperialist nations to disarm themselves, so we don’t call for it. Yet we oppose every dollar spent for the imperialist armies and every armed attack by those armies on the exploited and oppressed anywhere.) It is simple; whose side are you on: the desperate masses being forced to “flood” the imperialist states or those who restrict them so they cannot make it to these shores?
In the debate we cited Lenin’s denunciation of American “jingo-socialists.” Here is the passage in full:
In our struggle for true internationalism and against “jingo-socialism” we always quote in our press the example of the opportunist leaders of the S.P. [Socialist Party] in America, who are in favor of restrictions of the immigration of Chinese and Japanese workers.... We think that one cannot be an internationalist and be at the same time in favor of such restrictions. And we assert that Socialists in America, especially English Socialists, belonging to the ruling, and oppressing nation, who are not against any restrictions of immigration, against the possession of colonies (Hawaii) and for the entire freedom of colonies, that such Socialists are in reality jingoes. (Letter to the Secretary of the Socialist Propaganda League, Collected Works, Vol. 21.)
Funny that Lenin never worried about “too much” immigration of Chinese and Japanese workers into the U.S. being “incompatible with the right of national self-determination.” In fact, anti-immigrant sentiment is only beginning to intensify in the U.S. It will reach full tide when the economic bottom drops out. Once it was the racist warning raised by open reactionaries and “socialist jingoes” that the “Yellow Peril” will flood the U.S. and take away “American jobs.” Reactionaries like Buchanan and many labor fakers today are already talking about “the browning of America,” the “immigrant flood destroying the European cultural identity” of the U.S. These “socialists,” like their jingo-socialist ancestors, are preparing the way for the coming anti-immigrant tidal wave. Their propaganda today will be their agitation tomorrow. And that is why we warn of the danger now.
The SL didn’t like any of our questions, especially the one about Palestinian liberation. In their latest article they attempted to explain their refusal to answer by complaining: “The LRP’s ‘questions’ -- like ‘Are you for Israeli minority apartheid rule or Israeli ethnic cleansing?’ -- were politically analogous to 'when did you stop beating your wife?'”
Well, as we shall see, the SL has been “beating its wife.” First of all, they don’t give their readers the full question. It was:
We have proven that as far as Trotsky was concerned, neither he nor Lenin defended the rights of aristocratic, imperialist nations and condemned any putting off of the rights of the oppressed as great power chauvinism. So explain to us how you can defend imperialist Israel’s existence on Palestinian land in the name of Lenin and Trotsky. And for the sake of clarity again, since Israel can only exist by either keeping Palestinians’ land or by allowing Palestinians to return to their land but denying them the right to vote, what are you for? Colonialist land theft or apartheid?
The background to this is that we had pointed out in PR 64 that the SL could not consistently defend the “right of return” for Palestinians. WV responded that “the LRP resorts to lies and distortions” by asserting “that we oppose the right of return for Palestinian refugees” (January 31.) The fact is that the SL does claim to uphold the right of return, but this position is contradicted by their overall position on Israel.
The Spartacists have always supported the right of self-determination, i.e. existence as a nation-state, for all nations today, imperialist as well as oppressed. In Palestine they support the right of self-determination of two different nations: the “Hebrew-speaking” people (their euphemistic term for the Israeli Jews) and the Palestinian Arabs. They say, however, that since these peoples are “interpenetrated,” the situation is unresolvable short of socialist revolution -- because of the clash of two equally principled contending rights.
However, for Lenin the right of self-determination was exclusively the right of secession for an oppressed colony or submerged nation. Where that right conflicts with the “rights” of an imperialist or oppressor nation, we as Leninists take the side of the oppressed. Thus we do not defend the right of self-determination for Israel -- that is, its right to exist as an independent nation-state. Moreover, the so-called theory of “interpenetrated peoples” is itself just a convenient concoction. And their answer that this question can only be solved by socialist revolution is a non-answer.
Yes, Palestinians can only win real liberation through socialist revolution, just like black South Africans. But that does not eliminate the question of self-determination; it means that only the socialist revolution can fulfil this democratic right as part of its program. But revolutionaries must fight side by side with oppressed Palestinians in the struggle now in order to build a defense and prove the need for the proletarian revolutionary solution. That was Lenin’s point in terms of the fight for national self-determination of all oppressed nations. He wasn’t for postponing the struggle anywhere.
How has the SL’s support for the supposedly equal rights of both Israelis and Palestinians been manifested? When Israel was engaged in mass ethnic cleansing during the 1948 war, the SL originally defended Israel. They later changed their position to neutrality, the same position they took on the 1967 war that led to the further subjugation of one million Palestinians. So they have never opposed the original imperialist project of setting up the Israeli colonial-settler state in Palestine, even though they have never been able to deny that Israel occupies land stolen from the Palestinians. A real struggle against Israeli oppression means military defense of the Palestinians in every situation where they are under attack by Israel, as well as defending the Palestinians’ right to return to their land. That is the program for today as well as for the future revolutionary workers’ state.
This gets us back to our question about the SL and the right of return. If the Palestinians were allowed to return, they would constitute a sizeable majority throughout occupied Palestine (including what is today called Israel proper). Doesn’t that mean that any Jewish state would inevitably mean the rule of a minority over a majority?
So either the SL must end up opposing the right of return in favor of “Hebrew-speaking” self-determination -- which means defending the results of Israel’s ethnic cleansing and land theft -- or they would grant Israeli Jews minority apartheid rule over the Palestinian majority in part of now-occupied Palestine in order to create the new “Hebrew-speaking workers’ state”. That’s why in PR 64 we raised the challenge: “It’s time for the SL to put up or shut up: are you for Israeli minority rule, or Israeli ethnic cleansing? It must be one or the other.” And that is the same question we raised at the debate. The SL has not stopped “beating its wife” because it has not stopped defending Israeli self-determination.
At the debate an SL speaker from the floor covered up the real question in their standard demagogic way: “But if you don’t have national rights -- what are they saying? The Hebrew-speaking people don’t have a right to live? A right to be?”
This mirrors the Zionist theme that the self-assertion of the Palestinian struggle is an innate threat to Jewish survival. The answer is that a genuine Palestinian workers’ state, part of a socialist federation of the Middle East, would offer Jews the right to have all their cultural, personal and civil rights protected. But the right to exist does not mean the right to maintain separate colonial-settler states on stolen land claimed by masses of their original inhabitants. That is why we say that “All Israel Is Occupied Territory!”
A self-revealing comment was made by another SL contributor from the floor who said: “the LRP, aside from the Zionist Ministry of Information, are about the only two entities in the world that don’t seem to acknowledge that Israel has several hundred nuclear weapons. So you want to deny them their national rights? Get those weapons!”
The SL has always denied that their call for self-determination for the “Hebrew-speaking people” means defending the existence of the current Zionist state. Likewise, they have always claimed that they are interested in drawing the class line in Israel, separating both Jewish and Arab workers from the ruling classes. But Israel’s nuclear power is in the hands of the Zionist ruling class, not the Jewish workers! It is exactly the “national rights” of the Israeli state that they defend.
It was perhaps most stunning that the SL did not answer our question regarding the so-called “deformed workers’ states.” For the SL, the defense of these remaining “workers’ states” is the main question of the international struggle against imperialism today, the ultimate proof of their adherence to the class line.
The “deformed workers’ state” theory was devised by Michel Pablo in the 1940’s to account for the takeovers in Eastern Europe that created systems modeled on the Stalinist USSR. Since it says that counterrevolutionary Stalinism could carry out the socialist revolution, it was from the beginning nothing more than an anti-Marxist theory to rationalize the suppression of the working class. It represented a qualitative leap in the degeneration of the Fourth International historically. (And since all factions in the International at the time embraced the “deformed workers’ state” rationalization, we designate them all as Pabloites. This issue outweighs the secondary factional disputes.)
To this point, our speaker asked: “Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky all said that only the working class could overthrow capitalism and build workers’ states. Trotsky said Stalinism was counterrevolutionary and that anyone who said he thought it could play a revolutionary role was dishonest and disloyal. So how in their name could you say that Stalinism created workers’ states?”
In the past the SL embalmed Trotsky’s final statements on the defense of the Soviet Union and exhibited them as a substitute for a living theory, which for Marxists must be tested by its ability to explain and predict social developments. (See Spartacist Statistics Reveal USSR Didn't Collapse in this issue for an example of the SL’s pseudo-science regarding the USSR.) But unlike the LRP, which openly acknowledges and debates our difference with Trotsky on the “Russian question,” the SL tries to bury theirs.
To elaborate, our speaker had noted: “Trotsky taught that Stalinism after the mid-’30’s was 'thoroughly reactionary' and 'the chief obstacle on the road to world revolution.' He condemned the assertion that a 'bureaucratic revolution' of the proletariat, that is, by the Stalinists, was possible. He condemned such a notion as 'not only incorrect, but disloyal.'" (The citations are to Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism, pages 19 and 130.)
The SL’s adherence to the Pabloite theory testifies to their belief in the revolutionary capacity of Stalinism internationally. By accepting this notion, the SL not only opposed Trotsky’s understanding that Stalinism could no longer play a revolutionary role internationally. If Stalinists or other non-working-class forces could create a workers’ state of any stripe, it meant that the working class was not fundamentally necessary for overthrowing capitalism -- in defiance of the most fundamental principle of Marxism. It also meant that popular fronts with bourgeois forces could make the revolution, another renunciation of the principle of class independence. Indeed, the working class could be crushed (as the Soviet Army did in East Europe) and still considered to be holding state power, albeit in a “deformed” way. All these anti-worker conclusions were eventually adopted by the leaders of the degenerating Trotskyist movement.
What distinguishes the Spartacists (and the ex-SL groups like the International Bolshevik Tendency and the Internationalist Group) is their zeal in expressing the most anti-worker conclusions of the “deformed” theory. This became clear during the massive strike movement of the Polish working class in 1980 and 1981, and it is here that the debate between the SL and the LRP over their defense of the Stalinist bureaucracy versus the working class was at its sharpest. Our position was to support the workers’ struggles against the Stalinist ruling class, while always warning that workers’ leaders in the organization Solidarnosc would betray them.
The workers had occupied factories and established workers’ councils, dual power organizations of the working class. The Spartacists from the start slandered the Polish working class as lazy: for challenging Stalinist rule, they were “demanding the biggest free lunch the world has ever seen.” (Workers Vanguard, September 5, 1980.) Because the workers’ reformist leaders embraced the reactionary line of the Catholic Church and were receiving aid from the CIA, the SL attributed these counter-revolutionary acts to the working class as a whole. In fact, the church and the Western powers were backing the Solidarnosc leaders because they were doing all they could to prevent the workers’ struggles from threatening the stability of the regime. (For background, see our 1981 article Church and State vs. Workers: A Marxist Analysis of Polish Events in Socialist Voice No. 12; it is also in our pamphlet of reprints prepared for the debate, LRP vs. SL.) If the SL were to follow its own reasoning consistently in the United States, it would have to condemn all workers in the unions here as counterrevolutionaries too, given the track record of American union leaders.
Soon the Spartacists were calling for the Soviet Union to invade Poland to crush the workers: “If the Kremlin Stalinists, in their necessarily brutal, stupid way, intervene militarily to stop it, we will support this. And we take responsibility in advance....” (Workers Vanguard, September 25, 1981.) As we pointed out at the time and in the debate, the Wall Street Journal also endorsed the Stalinist military crackdown. In its account of the debate, Workers Vanguard cited our claim about the WSJ (along with others equally true) and asserted: “Manifestly, no lie is too big for this little league.”
Well, they could have looked it up. We quoted it in Socialist Voice 16:
The imposition of military control in Poland could in the long run be reassuring to Western creditors, if it provides greater economic stability, an end to labor unrest and increased worker productivity -- even at the point of a bayonet. (Wall Street Journal, December 16, 1981.)
Like this reactionary bourgeois organ, like the reactionary Stalinist ruling class, the Spartacists demanded an end to labor unrest and increased labor productivity (no “free lunch”) -- “even at the point of a bayonet.” We have to amend our National Secretary’s label: the Spartacists are definitely not chickenshit when it comes to endorsing counterrevolution against the working class.
Under the Spartacists’ hero, General Jaruzelski, the Polish regime enforced an IMF-backed austerity policy and ultimately tried to privatize state-owned industries when Stalinism was on the verge of its economic collapse, and the workers rose up to defend nationalized property. (See for example Polish Workers Erupt, in PR 32.) In 1989, Jaruzelski proved our analysis of the Stalinist regime as capitalist one hundred percent right. He formed a coalition government with the Solidarnosc leaders in order to better carry out the bourgeois reforms that the Stalinists had failed to do alone. The SL, having hailed Jaruzelski’s crackdown, shared the blame for these attacks on the working class, along with all those who hailed the Walesa leadership of Solidarnosc. But did the Spartacists “take responsibility” for their alleged workers’ state’s anti-worker crimes, in advance or otherwise? No, but they have every right to: their Wall Street Vanguard called the shots.
The failure of the working class to defend the collapsing Stalinist “workers’ states” deepened the Spartacists’ contempt for the proletariat. Their “declassed intellectuals” began to treat their own isolation from the class struggle as a positive necessity, a way to avoid contamination by a class that didn’t live up to SL ultimatums. The fall of Stalinism deepened their self-satisfied justifications for anti-worker and abstentionist policies in the face of the class struggle and the struggles of all the oppressed.
We have also demonstrated that their abstention, when it takes the form of supposed neutrality between the rights of the oppressed and the oppressor, is actually a grossly opportunist policy of supporting oppressor nations like the Israeli Jews. We then showed that in the name of Trotsky they have buried the proletarian essence of Trotskyism and supported atrocities against our class.
To sum all this up, we can do no better than to quote from the SL’s own Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program (Spartacist No. 54, Spring 1998).
Trotsky’s assertion in the 1938 Transitional Program that “the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat” predates the present deep regression of proletariat consciousness.
The SL is blaming the loss of working-class consciousness on the working class. In reality, both Stalinism and traditional reformism served as crucial capitalist tools in undermining and devastating class consciousness and the struggle against imperialism and oppression around the world.
The League for the Revolutionary Party and the Communist Organization for the Fourth International share the view of Marx, Engels, Lenin (post-1905) and Trotsky that the working class comes to consciousness as a result of its actual experience in the mass class struggle. The present developing struggles now erupting around the world are the seedbed for the resurrection of working-class consciousness, which is why we so actively intervene in the battles of our class.
For us, spontaneous mass struggles of the exploited and the oppressed are not in themselves the answer to capitalism, but they are a vital component to the fight for socialist revolution. What is decisive is the intervention of proletarian revolutionaries. The advanced workers, the vanguard, must go through the struggle with their fellow workers, exposing the sell-out leaderships and pointing out the necessity of the authentic communist party and the socialist revolution.
This is what the SL denies at every step. The debate was a part of the class struggle, on the level of ideas and theory to be tested in front of a revolutionary-minded audience. No wonder they went through the motions but virtually abstained from the debate, too.