Spartacist League’s ‘Real World’ Social-Imperialism

Imperialist Troops Out of Haiti!

The following statement was posted on on 9 February.

In a stunning and almost inexplicable move, the Spartacist League/U.S., leading section of the International Communist League (ICL), has announced its opposition to calling for the removal of U.S. troops from Haiti (Workers Vanguard [WV], 29 January). The core of the SL’s argument, which flatly contradicts the Trotskyist tradition it claims to uphold, is contained in the following passage:

“there are no good alternatives facing Haiti today. The U.S. military is the only force on the ground with the capacity—e.g., trucks, planes, ships—to organize the transport of what food, water, medical and other supplies are getting to Haiti’s population.”

But it is no secret that the “trucks, planes, ships” of the U.S. military occupation are not being devoted to providing “such aid as the desperate Haitian masses can get their hands on.” Imperialist forces have in fact been obstructing the delivery of aid and assistance, most of which has been provided by relief agencies like the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières. The objective of the U.S. military has been to “secure” the country—its role in delivering aid is essentially just a cover. The New York Times online, in an item dated 17 January, reported:

“The World Food Program finally was able to land flights of food, medicine and water on Saturday, after failing on Thursday and Friday, an official with the agency said. Those flights had been diverted so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety.
“‘There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,’ said Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency’s Haiti effort. ‘But most of those flights are for the United States military.’
“He added: ‘Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.’”

The reason that the priorities are not “in sync” is because the imperialists are now, and always have been, indifferent to the welfare of the Haitian masses. CounterPunch (28 January) quoted an Al-Jazeera correspondent as saying:

“Most Haitians have seen little humanitarian aid so far. What they have seen is guns, and lots of them. Armored personnel carriers cruise the streets and inside the well-guarded perimeter [of the airport], the United States has taken control. It looks more like the Green Zone in Baghdad than a center for aid distribution.”

An article that appeared on USA Today online (25 January) casts some light on the priorities of the U.S. military intervention:

“The [Marine] Corps governed Haiti from 1915 to 1934 after an invasion force was sent to prevent an anti-American dictator from assuming power. Young, non-commissioned officers governed Haiti with little supervision.
“The Marines were reminded of that history as they prepared for the Haiti mission, said Lt. Col. Gary Keim, who commands a logistics battalion.
“‘We were required to reread it,’ he said. ‘We’ve been here before. We’ve been successful before.’
“The Marines viewed those years as a model for nation building and counterinsurgency strategy. Many Haitians viewed it as imperialism. Roads, bridges and schools were built during the U.S. occupation, but that did little to help Haiti govern itself.”

John Pilger, writing in the New Statesman (28 January), also provides some insight into what the U.S. is up to and why:

“The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured ‘formal approval’ from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to ‘secure’ roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in a US naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.
“The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is now a US military base and relief flights have been rerouted to the Dominican Republic. All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US air force dropped bottled water to people suffering dehydration.”
·     ·     ·
“Not for tourists is the US building its fifth-biggest embassy. Oil was found in Haiti’s waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington’s ‘rollback’ plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela’s abundant petroleum reserves, and sabotage of the growing regional co-operation long denied by US-sponsored regimes.”

Marxists do not call on aid agencies to leave, nor do we demand that whatever aid the imperialists might send be refused. Rather we call for the unconditional removal of all imperialist troops, who serve the oppressors, not the oppressed, and who will do no good for the Haitian people. Trotskyists have always taken this position in distinction to all sorts of fake-socialists, who argue that it is more “practical” and “realistic” to beg or seek to pressure the imperialists to act in a humane and helpful way.

As is commonly the case when ostensibly Marxist groups make revisionist departures, this latest shameful dive by the SL is covered with lots of “orthodoxy.” WV also throws in some pointed criticisms of reformists who promote illusions in the role of imperialism:

“The ISO [International Socialist Organization] demands that ‘Obama immediately stop the military occupation of Haiti,’ while calling for the U.S. to ‘flood the country with doctors, nurses, food, water and construction machinery’ (Socialist Worker online, 19 January). Likewise, a January 14 statement on Workers World’s Web site demands ‘the removal of all U.N. combat troops,’ while calling for ‘all bonuses from executives of financial institutions that received bailout money to be donated to Haiti.’”

The WV article continues:

“The notion that U.S. imperialism can be pressured into serving the needs of the oppressed, rather than its own class interests, shows boundless illusions in the good offices of the rapacious American ruling class….But neocolonial domination and aggrandizement are inherent to imperialism, and no amount of pressure and pleading can change that.”

Very true. But this observation only sharpens the contradiction in the SL’s position. Instead of demanding the removal of the hired guns of “the rapacious American ruling class,” the SL wants them to remain in Haiti—a position to the right of that of the ISO and WWP:

“We have always opposed U.S. and UN occupations in Haiti and everywhere—and it may become necessary to call for U.S./UN out of Haiti in the near future—but we are not going to call for an end to such aid as the desperate Haitian masses can get their hands on.”

The Internationalist Group (IG) correctly identified what this means:

“So here we have the SL saying, first, that it opposed U.S./U.N. occupation in the past, and may do so again in the future. But it doesn’t oppose it now! And now is when the troops are arriving. WV denounces us for calling for U.S./U.N. troops to get out, and when it says the military machine is indispensable to provide aid, it means it wants the troops to stay, ‘piggish imperialist manner’ and all. The bottom line is, the Spartacist League supports the imperialist occupation.”
—“Spartacist League Backs U.S. Imperialist Invasion of Haiti,” 30 January

The WV article attacked the IG, which like the IBT is calling for the immediate departure of imperialist troops, as “cynically toying with rhetoric, blithely unconcerned with the fact that, in the real world, if the policies they advocate were implemented, they would result in mass death through starvation.” In the past, the Spartacists have been sharply critical of similar “real world” rationalizations by reformists demanding that imperialist troops act in the interests of the oppressed. The Autumn 2007 issue of Workers Hammer, published by the ICL’s British section, bitterly recalled how Tony Cliff’s International Socialists supported the dispatch of British troops to Northern Ireland in 1969:

“In a classic example of capitulating to their ‘own’ bourgeoisie and shamelessly peddling illusions in British imperialism as a force for ‘peace’, they declared: ‘The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital. Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists’ (Socialist Worker, 11 September 1969).”

The SL was similarly critical when in 1974 the American Socialist Workers Party, then led by Joe Hansen, called for sending federal troops into Boston to protect black schoolchildren on the basis that there was no other “practical” way they could be saved from rampaging racist mobs.

In 1982, during the murderous siege of Beirut by the Israeli military, the Palestine Liberation Organization asked that U.S. Marines and French troops be sent in as “peacekeepers” to ward off the Zionists—a demand that was dutifully echoed by much of the left. WV printed an exchange between an SL supporter and a reformist who defended this policy on the grounds that “We live in the real world.” The SLer described the U.S. Marines as a “threat” to the Palestinians, and noted: “If anybody thinks those Marines are going to be a buffer [between the Israeli army and the Palestinians], just look to Vietnam, just look to the Dominican Republic to know what that threat means” (WV, 6 August 1982).

When the Marines set up camp in Beirut, it became very clear that they were not there to rescue the oppressed Palestinians but rather to establish a beachhead for the U.S. military in the Middle East. The 15 October 1982 issue of WV summed up their mission as follows: “They are there to shore up the new Gemayel regime which is based on the Phalange killers who carried out the Sabra and Shatila massacre.” A year later, in October 1983, when the Marines’ barracks were destroyed by an “Islamic Jihad” truck bomb, the SL leadership flinched and called for “Marines Out of Lebanon, Now, Alive!” Our criticism of this cowardly social-patriotic call to save the Marines led to a series of sharp polemical exchanges (reprinted in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 2). This was not the only such flinch by the SL leadership (see “A Textbook Example,” Bulletin of the External Tendency No. 2 and “No Disaster for the Working Class,” 1917 No. 2).

While we are broadly in agreement with the IG’s assessment of the SL’s scandalous capitulation over imperialist intervention in Haiti, we do not agree that it signifies a qualitative degeneration. The IG leaders’ eagerness to come to this conclusion results from their willfully blind allegiance to everything the SL did prior to their own departure in 1996. Their refusal to acknowledge, or even discuss, the SL’s various deviations from the Trotskyist program in that period, including the “Marines Alive” position, is hardly mysterious, as the leading IGers were integral components of the SL regime at the time.

For many members of the ICL, however—particularly younger recruits—this latest political deviation does test their faith in their leadership’s claim to represent the continuity of Trotskyism. At a Spartacus Youth Club public event in Toronto on 3 February, a couple of our comrades who raised the issue of the U.S. military in Haiti found considerable confusion among the membership. The most senior ICL comrade present became so frustrated at his inability to successfully defend the indefensible that he “lost it,” to the evident consternation of others in attendance.

In “The Road to Jimstown,” our 1985 analysis of the political degeneration of the SL, we wrote:

“The Spartacist League was not just one left grouping among many—it was the crystallization of the left-wing opposition to the political destruction by Pabloite revisionism of the revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (SWP)—a party built by James P. Cannon and trained by Leon Trotsky to carry forward Bolshevism amid the destruction of the Communist International by the syphilis of Stalinism.”

The Spartacist League in its best period was distinguished from its centrist competitors by its fidelity to revolutionary principle. But its social-imperialist position on Haiti is just the latest confirmation that the revolutionary flame that once animated the Spartacist tendency was extinguished long ago.