On 10 May in New York City a debate was held between the state capitalist League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) and the Spartacist League/US (SL). The debate, initiated by the SL, was held before an audience of 170 people, more than half of whom were SL supporters. The IBT and the Internationalist Group (both of whose founding cadres were former members of the SL) were the only other organizations present. The main presentations were followed by a discussion period in which a speaker who supported neither the SL nor LRP was called, followed by an LRP speaker, followed by an SL speaker. Two of the independent speakers called on were supporters of the IBT. We have transcribed their comments from tape and reproduced them below:

Jason W.:

"Well, you’d never know from the ‘revolutionary phrasemongering' in this room that the Spartacist League is an organization that, when push-comes-to-shove, ducks. Most recently, when the U.S. military was pounding Afghanistan, in a November 9, 2001 issue of Workers Vanguard, in a polemic with the Internationalist Group they rejected, repudiated the position of revolutionary defeatism, writing: 'the call for a U.S. military defeat is, at this time, illusory and the purest hot air and 'revolutionary' phrasemongering.’

"We, of the International Bolshevik Tendency, think it is not only absolutely appropriate, but absolutely essential for American revolutionaries to openly call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism in colonial adventures like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. Genuine revolutionaries welcome defeats for imperialist interventions, and unlike the SL, we don't care how many casualties it takes in colonial interventions -- as many as necessary to drive the imperialists out.

"Now in 1983, when the U.S. Marines occupying Lebanon were blown up in their barracks, the SL called to save the Marines. What's different this time? Why aren’t they calling to save the Marines now? Could it be that the war was incredibly unpopular with the U.S. working class; that some third to 50 percent of the population of the U.S. opposed it? Is that what is different this time?

"Now of course we do not disagree with the SL's attempts to debate the LRP on the Russian Question. The defeat of the USSR has immeasurably strengthened and unchained U.S. imperialism. Those who were not ready to defend the Soviet Union are now confronted with the logical political consequences of their positions -- and if they don't like the way the world looks today then it’s time for them to rethink and change their program.

"But I’m not just addressing the LRP here, because where was the ICL standing in the last decisive battle for the defense of the USSR in 1991?

"Because the ICL says in their announcement for this forum in Workers Vanguard:

"'those who cannot defend the gains of past workers' victories are incapable of conquering new ones and this underscores that the question of where one stood when defense of the Soviet Union was posed and that is hardly an academic or historical question, but one that reveals in practice whether one stands on the side of the proletariat against the imperialist order.'

"Well that’s quite right. What then does the neutrality of the ICL in August 1991 mean? Where a coup in opposition to counterrevolution took place and as the ICL itself later admitted the degenerated Soviet workers state ceased to exist. It is also a question that I would pose to the comrades of the Internationalist Group, since Jan Norden was the editor of Workers Vanguard at the time and since to our knowledge, in the ten years since then, the IG has written nothing to reassess the position of what happened in August of 1991.

"Their abandonment of the USSR in a critical moment in 1991 is not unlike the Spartacist League’s adaptation to social patriotism, ranging from Lebanon to the KAL 007 spy plane, to the destruction of the Challenger, to the most recent adventure in Afghanistan. The LRP labels this 'First World chauvinism,' we label it more precisely as a capitulation by the Spartacist League to U.S. social patriotism."

Samuel T.:

"I would just like to make the point before I start that we called for the military victory of the Soviet army in Afghanistan [John B. of the SL had misrepresented the IBT position on this point]. Now since my comrade did a pretty good job on tearing apart the SL, I will make a few comments on the LRP.

"Now whether it's the Russian question, the national question or the question of imperialism, which is supposed to be the topic of today’s debate, though it seems that discussing a laundry list of 50 differences is what’s going on--it seems the common denominator for the LRP seems to be the replacement of petty-bourgeois moralism for Marxist precision and class criteria.

"By claiming that both the USSR and Israel are imperialist today they make the most ridiculous equation to those that repeatedly claim they’re experts of Marxist theory of equating imperialism with expansionism and national chauvinism, which existed way before capitalism even existed, and in many different class societies.

"Soviet expansionism was motivated not by the drive for new markets, but military defense. While the Stalinists certainly participated in national oppression of countries they occupied, which Trotskyists opposed, but that is a very different phenomenon than imperialism and certainly not what was going on in Afghanistan.

"Israel is a country supported by imperialism, which is not to say that it is imperialist itself. It has an extremely weak economy which would completely collapse the second the U.S. stops its financial support. A ‘schnorrer [beggar] state’ as the SL occasionally likes to say. Its expansionism is not a reflection of imperialist economic appetites, but rather its chauvinist Zionist ideology.

"And in relation to this, I ask the LRP comrades, if winning Israeli workers over to support Palestinian national rights is utopian because of their privileged nature, then what about winning the relatively privileged U.S. workers to defend the significantly less privileged Afghans or Iraqis? Or what about winning male workers to defend equality for female workers [in the Middle East]? Also not an easy thing to do. It’s extremely defeatist.

"It seems that the main difference between the LRP and its Stalinophobic Shachtmanite predecessor is a newly developed taste for vicarious Third World nationalism. Now, the LRP vigorously protested being called Shachtmanite, because it itself does not claim it’s Shachtmanite. Yet it sees nothing wrong about claiming that all opponents, such as us or the SL, are ‘Pabloites’ despite the fact that our origins are in the faction of Trotskyist movement that opposed Pablo in the 50s which seems like a lot of hypocrisy to me.

"And lastly on the question of immigration, [the LRP had criticized a 1974 Workers Vanguard article] I think the comrades of the LRP are trying to manufacture differences that don’t exist, and I don’t think that is a good thing to do in a debate; you have enough differences that you shouldn’t have to do that.

"And as a last small technical point, I don't think it's very helpful when you call a debate on a particular topic, and that each side makes 50 different accusations about the other side and then complains that the other side, in the small, limited time allotted to speak does not answer all 50 accusations."

Posted: 16 May 2003