Letter to Workers Vanguard

LaVerne Sims and MOVE's attitude to her

10 June 2005

To the Editor:

The 13 May issue of Workers Vanguard (WV No. 848) chose to revisit one of the more outrageous violations of workers’ democracy ever committed by the Spartacist League (SL). In July 1985 the SL held a public meeting in New York to denounce the racist murder of eleven MOVE members in Philadelphia two months earlier. At the meeting, LaVerne Sims, a former MOVE member and featured speaker, gratuitously cop-baited a member of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP). The SL leaders present not only refused to defend the LRP comrade against what they knew to be a false accusation, but when he protested, had him ejected from the premises. The entire episode is documented in WV No. 384, 26 July 1985. While not endorsing the political content of the LRP speaker’s remarks, we unequivocally condemned the SL’s gross violation of workers’ democracy in an article in the first issue of our journal 1917 (Winter 1986).

The recent WV polemic falsely alleges that our 1986 article was "intimating vilely that the victims of the racist cop terror were in collusion with the cops!" This is not true. We simply reported that at a public inquiry into the massacre held in Philadelphia in October 1985, Sims stated that during a secret meeting with Mayor Wilson Goode in July 1984, she had "begged and pleaded" for a police round-up of MOVE (New York Times, 11 October 1985). In reporting the same event, Workers Vanguard (No. 390, 1 November 1985) described "the powerful testimony of Louise James and her sister LaVerne Sims," but discreetly omitted any mention of Sims’ damning admission.

Our short article on this subject, entitled "SL’s Cop-Baiting Celebrity—‘Powerful Testimony’…to the Police," was appended to a lengthy analysis of the similarities between the internal regimes of James Robertson’s Spartacist League and Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League/Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain. Healy was well known for his propensity to slander rival leftists, including the SL. The SL leadership did not appreciate the comparison with Healy, nor our exposure of Sims and their cynical behavior toward the LRP at their public meeting. Twenty years later it obviously still rankles. Unable to address what we actually said, WV dishonestly alleges that we were attacking the MOVE victims, an invention it then proceeds to denounce.

Like the New York Times, WV only publishes "news that fits." And even after two decades, the truth about Sims apparently just won’t fit. We note that MOVE has an entirely different policy on the question. Instead of covering up for Sims, MOVE supporters have forthrightly denounced her (and her sister Louise James) for colluding with Goode. In an 8 April 2004 statement on the Internet, entitled "The Prisons, The Allens & Uncle Sam: The Many Faces of COINTELPRO," "Big Moon" alleges that "Louise James and LaVerne Simms were used to provoke the 1985 bombing and subsequent murders of 11 innocent MOVE adults and babies." The "ICFFMAJ [International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal] Urgent Summer 1999 Update" posted on the Internet by the Jamal News Service on 28 July 1999 made a similar charge, referring to:

"2 former MOVE members and long-time, proven traitors, Louise James and Laverne Simms, who were exposed through the May 13th commission hearings, as well as the 1996 federal suit, as meeting with city officials prior to May 13th, 1985…."

The SL has recently acknowledged a series of serious political mistakes (for our comments see Whatever Happened to the Spartacist League?). We suggest that LaVerne Sims, the SL’s "Cop-Baiting Celebrity" should be added to the list and that WV should formally apologize to the LRP supporter she slandered.

It is not clear to us why the SL leadership has chosen to reiterate its defense of Sims, whose actions any decent leftist can only condemn. We must assume that it is somehow intended to help politically consolidate the loyalty of the membership, and bolster the leadership’s authority. In 1917 No. 1, in discussing the SL’s internal regime, we quoted Roy Wallis’s observation that to forestall threats "to their free and untramelled authority" lideres maximos of various sorts frequently introduce "new beliefs and practices which provide an opportunity for followers to display their commitment, or lack of it, to whatever issues from the leader’s mouth...." The attempt to defend Sims by wholesale inversion of reality (i.e., alleging that to criticize her collusion with Goode is to criticize the MOVE victims) would seem to be designed to lock in SL cadres using some of the same techniques employed by Gerry Healy: "breaking down their self-respect" and "using their loyalty to the professed ideals of socialism to make them complicit in crimes against their comrades and the comrades of other groups" (Spartacist Nos. 36-37, Winter 1985-86).

Such attempts can be risky, however, for a leadership that only recently had to acknowledge that it had been wrong about some pretty important questions for a very long time, while its leftist critics (particularly ourselves) had been right. Some younger, less cynical, SL members may decide to investigate things for themselves. Those who do, will soon see who is telling the truth. And, if they take the next step, and look into other disputed questions, they will discover that the attempt to cover for LaVerne Sims is not an isolated error, but part of a larger pattern of political departures from the Trotskyist tradition the SL leadership falsely claims to represent.

Bolshevik Greetings,

Tom Riley
for the International Bolshevik Tendency

Posted: 15 July 2005