Letter to Workers Vanguard
Quebec, Tibet and Falun Gong
15 July 2004
To the editor:
Your lengthy response to our 12 March letter on the Canadian National (CN) rail strike (Workers Vanguard [WV], No. 827, 28 May) attempts to sidestep the key issue in dispute, i.e., that this labor action:
The CN strike demonstrates that, contrary to your pessimistic prognostications, the objective interests of English-Canadian and Québécois workers continue to produce instances of proletarian class unity. Your reply implicitly concedes this, but attempts to give it a negative spin:
The fact that the "depths of the national divide" did not prevent joint action during rail, postal and civil service strikes over the past 40 years is highly significant. We do not share your assessment that we are currently witnessing "the biggest outburst of anti-Québécois chauvinism in the last 15 years". But if you were right, it would only make the united action of the railworkers all the more important.
There is no question that workers on both sides remain in the grip of nationalist, reformist and other pro-capitalist ideologies, but this does not change the fact that Québécois workers, the most militant and relatively class-conscious sector of the North American proletariat, continue to exert a positive political influence on their English-Canadian sisters and brothers on issues ranging from imperialist military adventures to same-sex marriage. This connection could be of major strategic importance in future class battles on this continent and is, therefore, not one that Marxists should be eager to sever.
Your insistence that united class struggle by Anglo and Québécois workers is impossible, despite all the evidence to the contrary, reflects profound political demoralization. For two decades after its formation in 1975, the Trotskyist League (TL) maintained a Leninist position on the question:
You now characterize this as "Kneeling Before the Body of General Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham," and claim that it amounts to "opposing independence for Quebec". In fact, like the TL in the 1970s and 80s, we have always unequivocally defended Quebec's right to independence. In its 1977 article Spartacist Canada also observed: "opposition to advocating independence now by no means precludes advocating independence in the immediate future (e.g., by the time of the PQ-proposed referendum in two years)." Three years later, when the Parti Québécois government held its referendum, the Trotskyist League argued:
This position was correct in 1980 and remains correct today.
Some newer members of your Toronto branch have suggested that it may not be appropriate for non-Québécois to express an opinion on the question. Lenin addressed this concern in his comments on Norway's separation from Sweden:
While the TL claims to be the most consistent opponent of Anglo-Canadian chauvinism, it has yet to set the record straight on its Canadian nationalist political wobbles:
On Combating the Opiate of the Masses
Instead of addressing the substance of our differences on Quebec, your 28 May polemic raises a welter of unrelated issues, most of which we have dealt with previously. One, however, is new and noteworthy your denunciation of our supposed "embrace of counterrevolution" and "desire to 'co-exist' with feudalism" in China. These allegations are based on the following passage from our recent article on China:
As every beginner socialist knows, a workers' state (even a bureaucratically deformed one) can only be created through a social revolution i.e., the effective expropriation of the indigenous ruling classes. This was the major accomplishment of the Chinese Revolution led by Mao Zedong's Stalinist Communist Party. Yet the transformation of property relations did not put power directly in the hands of the working class, nor did it automatically eradicate the influence of capitalist and pre-capitalist ideologies, particularly among the oppressed nationalities. The latter is the problem we sought to address.
Our proposal for regional autonomy for national minorities in China, including the right to elect whoever they choose to administrative positions, is simply an attempt to speak to the deeply-felt grievances and suspicions of peoples long oppressed by the dominant Han. The social backwardness of Tibet and Xinjiang make it likely that, initially at least, members of the reactionary traditional elites would be among those elected. "Co-existing" with such persons within the economic/legal framework of a workers state does not imply tolerating attempts to undermine the system of collectivized property.
You sneer at us for showing "respect for the devotion of the benighted peoples to their religious leaders," but what we propose is exactly how the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky sought to deal with the peoples of the former Czarist Empire among whom superstition and ingrained habits of deference to traditional authority persisted. In its first appeal to the Muslims of the former Tsarist Empire, the fledgling Soviet government proclaimed:
Despite this pronouncement, the first period of the Russian civil war saw conflicts between Red Army units and various "benighted peoples" of the East in which:
The Bolsheviks provide us with a model of how a revolutionary leadership in China should seek to deal with Islamic mullahs, Tibetan monks and other purveyors of reactionary mysticism, as WV noted in a major article on Falun Gong a few years ago:
Yet, while you cited the Bolshevik example, your article hints that in contemporary China you incline to a policy of repression, at least toward Falun Gong. Branding it a "Force for Counterrevolution in China," you chastised two Hong Kong-based ostensibly Trotskyist tendencies (the USec-affiliated October Review and the Pioneer group) for opposing the "persecution of Falun Gong" and "rally[ing] to the defense of the Falun Gong reactionaries against Beijing's 'high-handed repression'." While acknowledging that Falun Gong is "not different in substance from any other religion," you nevertheless equate defense of it with the USec's scandalous support to the CIA-connected leadership of Polish Solidarnosc in 1981 (see our pamphlet "Solidarnosc: Acid Test for Trotskyists").
Do you imagine that the best way to destroy the popular influence of Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan monks and Xinjiang's mullahs is to round them all up and throw them in jail? Repression is appropriate when dealing with active counterrevolutionaries like Lech Walesa, but Leninists, unlike Stalinists, recognize that the popular influence of religion and other forms of reactionary idealism can only be effectively combated by a combination of education and the eradication of "want and suffering." Your assertion that this amounts to "embracing counterrevolution" only demonstrates your distance from the Trotskyist tradition you purport to uphold.
Robertson's Vulgar Chauvinism
The semi-hysterical tone of your response appears to reflect acute sensitivity to our earlier criticism of Spartacist League (SL) founder/leader James Robertson's grossly chauvinist reference to Kurds as "Turds" (see "Kurdistan & the Struggle for National Liberation"). While it may be embarrassing to admit, particularly given your penchant for characterizing your leftist opponents as chauvinists and racists, the SL cadre have long been familiar with Robertson's propensity for such vulgar slurs. In the same internal talk, as we pointed out, he referred to an Irish comrade as a "stupid Mick" and casually observed: "Okay, I have to admit that I m prone occasionally to ethnic jokes" (iSt International Discussion Bulletin No. 10 Part 1, p61, p54). These "jokes" are nothing more than vulgar, great nation chauvinism, which is why Workers Vanguard initially sought to duck the issue by editing out our comment.
In an outfit where the fundamental organizing principle is that the lider maximo is always right, such displays of independence are intolerable. So we had the public mea culpas and a bunch of unintelligible nonsense about heads in toilets which supposedly explained the meaning and context of Robertson's inexcusable remark (see: "'Fear and Obedience' in the ICL: The Emperor Has No Clothes", 12 September 2003). But there can be no defense for the indefensible, and those SLers who retain a minimum quotient of political integrity are clearly uncomfortable with the whole business, and show little appetite for defending their leader's "joke".
Besides Tibet, and a defense of Robertson's spotty reputation, your reply recycles a litany of charges against the IBT in general, and comrade Bill Logan in particular, that appeared in your 1995 pamphlet "The International Bolshevik Tendency What Is It?" We reprinted this document in its entirety, along with a point-by-point response (see: Trotskyist Bulletin No. 5, "ICL vs. IBT"). We remain ready to publicly debate any or all of the disputed issues should you ever find the political courage to do so.
* * *
Your complaint that the "oh-so-comradely" tone of our letter and our willingness to address you as "serious socialists" reveals two counterposed lines on the ICL is entirely mistaken. While there are doubtless still a few serious socialists within the ranks of the ICL, we have made no secret of our view that your central leadership cadre have long operated like political bandits for whom questions of program and principle are subordinate to the exigencies of the moment. This is evident in a tendency to repeatedly flinch under pressure e.g., the SL's denunciation of revolutionary defeatism toward the U.S.-led assault on Afghanistan in 2001 (see 1917 No. 25) and its earlier lamentations about the "tragic loss" of U.S. military cadres in Lebanon (see Trotskyist Bulletin No. 2) and aboard the ill-fated 1986 Challenger "Star Wars" mission (see 1917 No. 2).
You object to our description of the SL's internal life as an "obedience cult" around James Robertson, yet this view is shared by many former members. Certainly the SL is an organization in which one of the unwritten rules is that members must believe, or at least appear to believe, any pronouncement, however irrational, from their leader a characteristic the SL shares with Jack Barnes' Socialist Workers Party and various other leftist groups WV has characterized as "cults". The absurdities offered as explanations for Robertson's chauvinist "Turds" remark are a textbook example: no reasonable person can understand them because they are literally meaningless, except as a test of faith. Yet members of the ICL who express doubt risk excommunication.
The SL is hardly the first organization to operate like this the Socialist Labour League/Workers Revolutionary Party did so for many years in Britain. It too had a glorious founder/leader who brooked no criticism, bullied his subordinates and was much given to tantrums and delusions of grandeur. Like the ICL today, the SLL/WRP tended to characterize those who raised awkward criticisms (including the then-revolutionary Spartacist League) as "provocateurs" and police agents. Yet despite its unsavory reputation, the SLL/WRP remained capable of destroying scores of subjectively revolutionary youth attracted by its formally Trotskyist posture. Exposing such counterfeits, and regrouping the serious socialists within them, is an integral part of the struggle to forge an organization worthy of the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky the task to which we of the International Bolshevik Tendency are committed.
Posted: 19 July 2004