Exchange between LRP and Batay Ouvriye

We reprint below a letter we sent to Batay Ouvriye (BO), a labor organization in Haiti, on May 19, 2008. (Having not yet received a reply, on June 4 we re-sent our letter to BO and other international labor organizations that were co-sponsoring a Latin American and Caribbean conference with anti-imperialist pretensions in Brazil in July.) Below our letter we present the lengthy response by BO to the LRP, sent on July 2.

The main purpose of the LRP’s letter to BO was to put into writing our views on important political questions that we had already expressed to BO at public meetings in New York. One big issue has been BO’s policy of accepting grant money from the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Solidarity, often just called the “Solidarity Center.” The Solidarity Center is funded by the U.S. government via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), whose pro-imperialist and counterrevolutionary aims are well-established. Along with other working-class, left and anti-imperialist organizations and individuals, we have always opposed the acceptance of funding and relations with the Solidarity Center, given its well-known association with the NED.

We also wanted to put in writing the big political dispute we have had with BO relating to the defense of Haiti’s right of self-determination as a nation oppressed by U.S. imperialism. BO has stated opposition to the current occupation forces in Haiti, but in 2004 it did not take a stand against U.S. imperialism’s ouster of Aristide. What it did do was equate the Aristide regime with the bourgeois opposition to Aristide -- at the exact time that the U.S. was ousting Aristide with the active support of much of the Haitian bourgeois opposition. BO’s political opposition to both bourgeois sides was correct in itself but they used the equation of the bourgeois Aristide regime with the bourgeois opposition as an excuse to taking no side in the specific conflict between the Aristide regime and U.S. imperialism over who has the right to govern Haiti.

BO’s refusal to defend Aristide represented a gross capitulation to imperialism. The LRP believes it is necessary to oppose every form of imperialist domination of its neo-colonies and colonies. This means defending neo-colonial capitalist rulers’ like Aristide from imperialist attack, while offering no political support to such bourgeois forces. (See Self-Determination and Military Defense: The Marxist Method for a fuller discussion of our view.)

In their response, BO does not deal with our two essential criticisms in a direct and straightforward manner. Rather BO includes a lot of tangential commentary and innuendos about their other opponents and critics, which appears to be an attempt to obfuscate the two key issues. In reading through their response, frankly, we often just do not know exactly who and what they are talking about. (One such example is the comment at the end of their letter about someone promising to get them money from Chavez.) For these reasons we cannot respond to much of what they write. We choose to stick to the two essential points between us.

As the reader will find, BO still maintains positions that, at best, seriously compromise a consistent fight against imperialism. They state that they have just now decided to no longer accept funds from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, but they refuse to take political responsibility for their past record of indirect relations with NED, stating rather “Batay Ouvriye has never had any relations with NED. That the Solidarity Center’s funds come from NED is another question...” Further, they even bring out the supposedly positive attributes of the Solidarity Center, stating that it “has at times had a verified bearing on struggles, particularly through pressure exerted on the “brands” within the United States.” (“Brands” refers to particular struggles against Nike, Coca-Cola and other multinational operations in Haiti.)

In regard to their abstensionism in the face of the U.S. intervention against Aristide, they repeat their position that “For us, we’ve always said it clearly, the Lavalas big-eaters and their ‘opposition’ bourgeois, are but ‘two rotten butt cheeks in a same stinky pants.’ And we maintain our position!” The LRP also politically opposes both wings of the bourgeoisie. As we have explained, however, this doesn’t justify failing to defend Aristide against a specific U.S. intervention which got the support of the “opposition” bourgeoisie.

We encourage readers to not only review the positions on our website but also to check out the BO website (www.batayouvriye.org), and in particular the document which they attached to their response (www.batayouvriye.org/English/Positions1/rebelionresponse.html).


Letter from LRP to Batay Ouvriye (May 19, 2008)

Recent reports of the National Endowment for Democracy’s role in Bolivia and Venezuela impel us to bring up again the question first raised several years ago regarding your organization’s acceptance of U.S. government funds for your work. We hope that you will clarify, correct or confirm the information that is available to us on this matter, and let us know of any changes in policy that may have occurred.

To our knowledge, the funding matter was first written about by some pro-Aristide North American journalists, chiefly Jeb Sprague. We consider that their political bias makes their accounts unreliable, so we have relied instead on discussions at a Grassroots Haiti meeting in New York and subsequent statements by your organization.

We should state at the beginning that we consider opposition to U.S. intervention in Haiti a matter of principle and an internationalist duty for revolutionaries. For this reason, we opposed Aristide’s agreement to imperialist demands of privatization and social service budget cuts, accelerated loan repayments to the IMF and other austerity measures -- deal which was the precondition for Aristide’s resumption of the presidency in 1994.

That event was also an imperialist intervention, since it occurred under the escort of 20,000 U.S. Marines. For the same reason, we opposed the U.S.-backed overthrow of Aristide in 2004. Batay Ouvriye, however, did not oppose Aristide’s overthrow by the imperialists, with Mario Pierre later describing Batay Ouvriye view that “it didn’t make a difference for the workers whether Aristide left power or not” (Letter to the Editor, ZNet, September 26, 2006; www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/3106).

On the question of funding, Batay Ouvriye has argued that there is nothing wrong with accepting money from U.S. government sources as long as their activities are not compromised by doing so. In January 2006 LRP comrades attended a public meeting in New York organized by Grassroots Haiti with a Batay Ouvriye speaker, Paul Philomé. Cde. Philomé brought up the issue of Batay Ouvriye accepting funds from the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, which has been intervening in labor struggles especially in Free Trade Zones in Port-au-Prince and along the Dominican border, where Batay Ouvriye is especially active. According to him, Batay Ouvriye organizers on the ground, desperate to keep up their expanding work, had accepted $3500 from the Center in 2004. Then there was a payment of some $20,000 in 2005, and finally a recently-announced funding of just under $100,000, which at this meeting Paul said Batay Ouvriye had not seen or even been told of. But he reported that Batay Ouvriye had come under attack from pro-Aristide forces who found this sum mentioned in Solidarity Center documents.

As is well known, the Solidarity Center is the continuation of the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), notoriously funded by the State Department's National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In the lengthy debate on this matter at the January 2006 meeting, we and others argued that Batay Ouvriye should repudiate these compromising subsidies. We were opposed by Philomé and most of the Grassroots Haiti members.

Subsequently, while Batay Ouvriye has denied receiving a larger amount (about $450,000) that Sprague had charged, it has acknowledged receiving the reported $100,000. It wrote: “To begin with, we’ll clearly state: the financial sum advanced by Sprague is totally false. We have obtained funds from the Solidarity Center, first, following an public appeal (to which many others also similarly responded) and later with a financing of roughly 100,000 total for struggles in the free trade zones ... .” (Batay Ouvriye letter to Rebelión magazine, October 15th, 2006, www.batayouvriye.org/English/Positions1/rebelionresponse.html.)

Batay Ouvriye goes on to argue that it retains complete independence from the Solidarity Center and the NED:

“This logic of support, we understand it as such and all can also understand it so, insomuch as they think a little, if they can think a little. Ourselves, we use it. Furthermore, several times, we’ve repeated that as long as we can draw funds from wherever, we’ll do it. A militant criticism, at this point, might be threefold: to what use would these funds be put? According to what line of functioning, of struggle, would they be employed? What degree of independence might such a relation allow? In our case, it is with TOTAL independence that we function, in which the workers’interests, and, more largely, those of the people, are the only pertinent criteria for us. Anyone can verify this. Further yet, we’ve openly and even in meetings organized by the Solidarity Center itself, criticized both its line and it past history in Latin America, as can be confirmed in our answer within this very debate, in a report on a meeting organized in Guatemala by the Solidarity Center itself and in the ‘Letter’ that, after the event, we sent to the participants. In the same way, our position concerning the NED is also equally clear.”

However, in our view it is a serious misjudgment at best to accept funds from imperialist institutions that regularly intervene in Haiti and other countries against the interests of the working class. Even if no specific conditions are imposed by the imperialist agencies, use of their funds automatically creates the suspicion that Batay Ouvriye will tailor its political decisions to avoid antagonizing imperialist sponsors.

Meanwhile, the NED has recently come to the fore again. As you know, Bolivia and Venezuela, along with Haiti, have been especially targeted by the U.S. government. Imperialist interference and infiltration into the politics of oppressed nations via the NED and the Solidarity Center is commonplace. Thus the NED is a source of funds for the racist, pro-imperialist autonomous movements of Eastern Bolivia, as well as for the generally reactionary student opposition in Venezuela. Oppressed peoples have every right to be extremely suspicious of groupings and individuals that are beneficiaries of NED and Solidarity Center funding. It is no accident that U.S funding is a subject of much protest, especially by revolutionary-minded workers and youth who are seeking a principled fight against imperialism. The subject is a very live one internationally, including here in New York, to say the least.

We therefore urge Batay Ouvriye to consider repudiating your prior decisions, in order to alleviate the compromising and politically dangerous course that we believe you have taken with regard to U.S. government funding.

Internationalist greetings

Walter Daum

for the League for the Revolutionary Party -- Communist Organization for the Fourth International (LRP-COFI)

Letter from Batay Ouvriye to LRP (July 2, 2008)

Due to our recent involvement in several serious and potentially critical struggles here, adding to broad deliberations on the question amongst ourselves, we apologize for not having been able to get back to you earlier.

We were surprised, however, to find that you chose to send your message to the ELAC conveners as well. First, because we thought you wished for a discussion with us; but also because, as we’ve always said, our standpoints are publicly on our website which all ELAC conveners visit, as do our Brazilian comrades. In any case, this doesn’t upset us at all since the matter at hand, for us, is a public debate allowing for clarification and, particularly, to elaborate concrete facts -- rather than of “associating thoughts” and hastily making conflations (as appears characteristic of some, abroad, wishing to judge, accuse, denigrate, without really investigating to determine, beyond doubt -- and especially without the slightest inkling of proofs -- to support the “logic” they supposedly advance).

For instance, you mention that recent NED activities have led you to return upon the question of Batay Ouvriye’s relations with this organization. First of all, once again, as we’ve always said: Batay Ouvriye has never had any relations with NED. That the Solidarity Center’s funds come from NED is another question, which the practice of hasty and oriented confusion has interest in passing upon swiftly. Furthermore if each time NED organizes its activities, one must return upon such a question, it will be quite impossible since, in view of our latest public denunciations of the NED, for a large number of person, sectors, web owners, and so on, the question has been considered a case closed... So we see no interest in returning upon the same issues again. And finally, NED continues to carry out its activities (usual practices) basically due to the incapacity of militants in the country it is in. We note the inexistence of the least organization capable of truly worrying NED within the US, not to mention actually closing it. Generally, these groups’ main concern is “solidarity links” with other countries. The perspective of fighting their own state and ruling classes is totally remote for them; their social weight is so insignificant, their true real capacity for mobilization of the masses so inconsequential... so the NED rests at ease.

Nevertheless, we believe, as we’ve always believed and expressed clearly and openly, that, setting aside all opportunistic and muddled up accusations, the debate on funding should allow for the development of closer relations on the basis of broad exchanges pertaining to related points as well. For instance, the concept of “solidarity” could/should gradually appear to be usefully replaced with that of “common struggles”, to be led internationally, BEFORE ALL by each organization within their own country, but then linking up with these struggles in all countries, each place where the same struggles are being waged. Even with such a perspective in mind, as we stated previously, for us, the issue of financing remains a legitimate one, one we need to consider.

Furthermore, to tell the truth, in a number of positions we took around the issue, we were more concerned with opposing opportunistic attacks than addressing serious militants’ legitimate apprehensions. And it is true that most organizations do receive their funding either by agreement with their financers on questions of line and orientation, or because at the start, they are put in line by the very threat of potentially losing such funds. All this is revealed clearly IN THE FIELD, a complex terrain especially not limited to “denunciations” (although this is, indeed, an important aspect within it). Landing in the field of struggles, in its practices, is for us the KEY factor. Nationally and internationally, and in the articulation of both...: here is the main debate. For us who claim absolute independence, all is already PROVEN and those who claim the opposite should come up with their own proofs, so as not to be considered jokers. Here’s the debate.

This discussion is posted on our website. Your selections are extremely limited (intentionally?). On the funding issue, for instance, there is absolutely no articulation -- which would be needed to establish correspondences (or non-correspondences) with our practices, aigain: in the field, with our very real independence practices there, directly. As you are not in, our true independence, emerging from there, based on objective demands, starting from the workers... nothing of this appears. For us, this is an object of major discord.

The only moment in which the reader observes Haiti in its reality is when you mention Aristide. For us, we’ve always said it clearly, the lavalas big-eaters and their ‘opposition’ bourgeois, are but “two rotten butt cheeks in a same stinky pants”. And we maintain our position! And are totally ready to prove it to anyone, anywhere. The present reality of reconciliation between part of these two groups grants us complete reason.

This said, the present imperialist policy of invading any country, at will, to do as they wish, is for us INTOLERABLE as we’ve always denounced, as it must be denounced, in the major places it should be denounced (the struggle isn’t in the internet!). Especially since -- as we must know and continue to reflect and act upon: it’s the very same imperialists who went away with Jean-Claude Duvalier! All these facts, these debates are openly discussed on our website, for a serious confrontation -- which has never taken place, and in truth, has remained basically... juvenile.

We understand that for some, especially in the United States where the working class aristocracy is so corrupt and corruptive in numerous countries, money indexes are basic in questioning the functioning of organizations and differentiating on the basis of this parameter. But we still have yet to read a serious analysis taking into account declared capacities of resistance, demonstrating that in fact they may very well exist. We remain to read articulations with activities in the field (in dominated countries, AS WELL AS IN THE U.S.). THIS is what should be explored... to be serious -- as long as simply “giving support” isn’t the issue’s limit...

The need for finances in a country such as Haiti where workers positively can’t contribute materially zilch (not being able to support their own daily subsistence) remains a problem to be solved. Particularly since, in their development, such practices can’t continue be perceived as “solidarity”, but rather as the regular and necessary practices needing to be engaged everywhere, taking into account variations which may exist. There is a great need for serious linkages to take place, especially politically, which leads to questioning imperialist domination, the role of the working class aristocracy living off the backs of workers in dominated countries on the basis of transfers of values, in various forms; how imperialists are using so many NGOs or governmental agencies to play on the money question... But also, on the basis of clarity here: what is the capacity to recuperate that which can be recuperated without ever losing our struggles’ independence, our organizational line?

Once again, this requires the scrutiny of activities within the imperialist social formation, the deep struggles, massive, full and in their required permanent advancement, in order to structurally address the issue. So: the extent of supposedly ‘militant organizations’ commitment (or non-commitment) and alleged ‘presence in the struggle’ calls for a requisite humility.

Presently, specifically in the past few months, the Solidarity Center has contacted us again. Contrarily to various other political currents in this debate, with scarce contribution in their countries and internationally, the Solidarity Center has at times had a verified bearing on struggles, particularly through pressure exerted on the “brands” within the United States. Their need to have this true force is objective: as we already pointed out, it responds to the needs of the working class losing jobs and the working class aristocracy also suffering from this situation, as well as the bourgeois political party they are affiliated with (the Democrats) -- this despite the fact that various aspects of their line, the orientation of their activities and at times even criminal practices are in major contradiction with practices in the interest of the working class in dominated countries.

Despite our clearness on this point and our lucidity regarding its articulations, in the context of our objective independence and that of our practices... we remain extremely reluctant and distant as to the renewal of our relations with the Solidarity Center, since, despite all, we take into account the difficulties some have to engage in a more serious debate on this question and therefore how they “live” our position, given the limited significance of their own practices and their absolute incapacity to grant more importance to practices in the field (which for us are the quintessential element: the struggle not being one of “solidarity”!). We realize their disbelief / lack of understanding of our independence with respect to funds’ origins (in truth, many working class organizations in the U.S.A. are renown for their corruption, so objectively, militants emerging from this background can’t fathom, or even more imagine other existent forms... and they project their perception to all). So, in consideration for the debates that took place (although, once again, we feel their level was frankly shallow and sterile), we are contrary to heightening the lack of understanding some progressives of good feel. Consequently, to a certain extent, this has played a role in our decision.

But to tell the truth, this hasn’t been our main preoccupation. The fact of the matter is that we were alerted that while the Solidarity Center contributed 60 to 90,000 dollars to Batay Ouvriye workers’ struggles over the past 18 months, its administration pocketed $350,000 (!!!) for its own bureaucracy! For us, this represents a very serious and objective attack on the international working class’ interests -- the unending stealing of the NGO petty bourgeoisie on the backs of the workers in dominated social formations. In fact, because of this we’re presently preparing a text to denounce this publicly, just as we’ve always denounced the reactionary (and at times even criminal) practices and orientation of the Solidarity Center in Latin America, Haiti... Just as we stood across them in Haiti as well as in international meetings organized by them, just as we opposed their orientations in the field (in Port-au-Prince, Ouanaminthe, and everywhere). In order for those up to now unaware of our practices facing the Solidarity Center (such as the stands we took in view of our hoped serious debate on the question), we’re attaching our latest article on this, a synthesis compiling and annotating our various earlier positions.

All this explains why, concerning this question (unless it should open up on a serious debate -- and not merely opportunistic denigrations, childish confusions... such as has been the case up to now): WE WON’T INTERVENE AGAIN! For us, our position is clear, just as our practices are clear! The “comrades” say: they remain “suspicious”. For us, once again, this attitude is immature: in a so important case, one cannot stand being "suspect". Verify! Come with objective proofs, from the field. EACH evolves in their own field of action! So, there, we can both verify.

Because of all the reasons mentioned above, we refuse to continue recuperating Solidarity Center funds; especially in view of the framework of our unity with the working class internationally fighting TRULY in the field, as we mentioned it earlier. However, very seriously, adopting this position on the basis of the international working class don’t convince us that this is the best for the Haitian working class, in its extreme needs and total abandon.

Our direct contact with the Solidarity Center in the field permitted us to concretely fight their line and denounce this organization’s criminal actions in all spheres possible (see our participation in Guatemala, our letter and stands taken before comrade workers from Central America). At present, we no longer are on the terrain for such practices at the international level. Certainly, we’ll always find new ways to fight the orientations and practices of the Solidarity Center, although it will be more difficult. But we’re not sure this worries those who unilaterally and with deliberate mix-ups pose the funding debate.

We have a special thought for the New York meeting you mentioned, in which a member present guaranteed us that if we cast off Solidarity Center funds, he, “very close to Chavez” (sic!), could obtain for us the same amount (re-sic!). When, after discussion amidst us and considerations, once again, of what these militants consider a unique “litmus” test, we agreed (casting aside how the very fact of such a demand reveals their real lack of understanding, inability to understand the general issues we’re addressing). And we mailed a letter to the participant specifically concerned, a formal letter which specifically stated our openness to its use in all forms (published or other). No response ever came through, not to mention the alleged ‘support’.

... No comment!

Batay Ouvriye


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