International Bolshevik Tendency
Box 332
Adelaide St. Station
Toronto, Canada
M5C 2J4

12 June 2003

Workers Vanguard
Box 1377, GPO
New York, NY 10116

To the Editor:

The 6 June issue of Workers Vanguard (WV) features two polemics against the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT), both based on gross misrepresentations of our politics. In the account of your 10 May debate with the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), you quote Jon Brule’s claim that in the late 1980s: "The BT retrospectively dumped our slogan of ‘Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!’ in order to be at one with the anti-Communist left in this country." As Comrade Brule is well aware, we proposed instead "Military Victory to the Soviet Army!," a slogan the reformists found no less objectionable. ("On the Slogan `Hail Red Army!' ", 1917 no. 5) We recall that in the 1960s, the then-revolutionary Spartacist League (SL) called for "military victory" to the Viet Cong. In the early 1980s the SL also called for "military victory" to the leftist insurgents in El Salvador. Indeed, in your account of the debate you quote Brule attacking the LRP for being "so afraid that the El Salvador rebels [in the 1980s] were tainted by Stalinist germs that you weren’t for their military victory." When the SL called for "military victory" to Stalinist/leftist forces did it do so "in order to be at one with the anti-Communist left"? As Trotsky remarked, even slander should make some sense.

The second polemic is contained in a speech on the Kurdish question by Comrade Bruce André who claimed to have been left almost "speechless" by our observation that:

"In the present circumstances an independent Kurdish state would find itself in very great difficulty. The situation would be even worse if such a state were limited to a fragment of Kurdish territory—for example Turkish Kurdistan. Not only would such a mini-state be entirely landlocked and surrounded by its historic oppressors, but it would be a society characterized by backward, pre-capitalist social structures. Because of its underdevelopment, an independent Kurdistan would find itself at the mercy of the regional as well as imperialist powers."
--1917 No. 12, 1993

While not disputing our analysis, André asserts that this amounts to "pos[ing] preconditions" and "demanding that, before the Kurds can be independent they must be free of ‘backward’ social structures and not be at the ‘mercy’ of imperialist powers." We have never and would never raise such absurd preconditions. To do so would be to reject the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. There is no question that the Kurdish people have an inalienable right to self-determination; the question is how it can be achieved. After pointing out the difficulties involved in any attempt to create an independent capitalist state, our article concluded that the road to national liberation for Kurdistan lies through revolutionary struggle against the neo-colonial regimes of the region:

"The Kurdish bourgeoisie is so weak that it does not even pretend to be leading a struggle for Kurdish freedom. This task falls to the Kurdish working class, at the head of the peasants and other oppressed layers. Those militants who are committed to winning equal national rights for Kurds must embrace a strategy of common struggle with the working class of the nations that oppress them. In Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq the struggle against the oppression of the Kurds is closely connected with the overthrow of the bourgeois dictatorships. It is extremely unlikely that the dismembered Kurdish nation can be reunited on any road other than that of the struggle for a socialist federation of the Near East."

In his speech, a decade after our article was published, Comrade André drew the same conclusion, and ruled out, in somewhat more categorical terms, any possibility of an independent capitalist Kurdistan:

"It is obvious on the face of it that to win independence for the entire Kurdish nation would require the revolutionary destruction of at least four capitalist regimes—and accompanying imperialist domination—right across this strategically important region. That’s what we mean by the slogan of a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan—a united independent Kurdistan could only come about through the struggle for proletarian revolution."
--WV, 23 May

Comrade André continued:

"There is no other way that one can even imagine achieving the democratic right of national self-determination for the Kurdish people. Within the nationalist framework, it’s not even conceivable on an abstract level. Which is why Kurdish nationalist organizations almost never even raise the call for independence of the entire Kurdish nation."

André then went on to grotesquely distort our position, and allege that the IBT:

"even comes out in opposition to independence for Kurdistan….Claiming to uphold the ‘right of self-determination’ for the Kurds, the IBT in 1993 declared that the PKK’s [Kurdish Workers Party] call ‘for an independent capitalist Kurdistan against the wishes of the feeble Kurdish bourgeoisie, and with the bulk of the Kurdish people indifferent, makes no sense at all’ (1917, 1993)."
--WV, 6 June

The two sentences following this snippet help put it into context:

"Moreover, such a perspective could turn Kurdish revolutionaries away from the necessity to participate in, and, if possible, initiate struggles of the workers and peasants against the existing oppressor states. The most practical way to drive forward the struggle for Kurdish national freedom is by driving forward common class struggles to overthrow the oppressor despots of the region."
--1917 No. 12, 1993

We never opposed independence for Kurdistan. We simply pointed out that Kurdish national liberation will require revolutionary struggle, a conclusion André echoes. Our 1993 comment that most Kurds were "indifferent" to the Stalinist PKK’s talk of an independent bourgeois Kurdistan, was merely a statement of fact. Instead of challenging what we actually wrote, André ascribes an entirely different position to us, which he proceeds to demagogically attack:

"Only self-satisfied great-power chauvinists like the IBT could make the obscene statement that the Kurdish people are ‘indifferent’ to the question of national liberation."
--WV, 6 June

But we said no such thing. We simply said that most Kurds were indifferent to the PKK’s call for an independent capitalist Kurdistan. If that is "obscene," what are we to make of André’s comment that such a project is "not even conceivable on an abstract level"? The PKK’s proposal did not resonate with the Kurdish masses because it was seen as unreal, not because Kurds are indifferent to their own national oppression.

André’s "polemic" on this difficult national question amounts to nothing more than a pseudo-political smear. We cannot say for sure if André is so blinded by factional malice that he is unaware he is attacking positions we do not actually hold. Perhaps he has talked himself into believing that his crude textual sleight-of-hand somehow proves that we are great-power chauvinists; or perhaps he thinks it does not matter because we are, after all, "enemies of the party." In any case, his comments on the issue were considered valuable enough to be reprinted in Workers Vanguard, the literary flagship of the International Communist League (ICL).

The bogus polemics by Brule and André fit a pattern. In the past the SL leadership has frequently resorted to epithets and falsifications to distract attention from their various deviations from the Trotskyist program they profess to uphold. Of late they have had real problems explaining their renunciation of the call for defeating the imperialist attack on Afghanistan in 2001. In a cowardly flinch designed to avoid appearing unpatriotic in the post-9/11 hysteria, the 9 November 2001 Workers Vanguard announced that: "the call for a U.S. military defeat is, at this time, illusory and the purest hot air and ‘revolutionary’ phrase-mongering." ("Where is the ICL Going? ", 1917 no. 24) This is so nakedly revisionist that the ICL leadership is still unable to settle on a rationale for it. Some members offer reformist apologetics, others argue that a defeatist posture was not appropriate because of the military disparity between the two sides, while some flatly deny that the ICL ever held such a position.

The flinch over Afghanistan parallels the SL’s earlier social-patriotic call to save U.S. Marines in the Middle East and its expressions of concern for the well-being of the military cadres involved in the Star Wars project. (See "Marxism vs. Social Patriotism", TB no. 2, "Challenger: No Disaster for the Working Class", 1917 no. 2 and "Letter to the Internationalist Group", 6 March 2003) The SL leadership, which long postured as last-ditch Soviet defensists (at one point openly identifying with former KGB chief Yuri Andropov) is also embarrassed by its neutrality in the August 1991 showdown between the sclerotic Soviet Stalinist remnants and the forces of capitalist restoration headed by Boris Yeltsin. (See "Soviet Rubicon & the Left", 1917 no. 11, "Centrists & Soviet Counterrevolution", 1917 no. 12 and "Polemics on the Soviet Coup: Robertsonites in Denial ", 1917 no. 12)

While older SL cadres like André have become used to unquestioning acceptance of whatever absurdities are handed down from above, some youth attracted by the ICL’s hard-Trotskyist façade are manifestly uneasy about the group’s political inconsistencies. While the SL leadership can easily handle the slings and arrows of centrists and reformists, their standard response to revolutionary criticism is demagogy and slander—the traditional methods employed by political bankrupts.

Bolshevik Greetings,
Tom Riley
for the International Bolshevik Tendency

PS--If Comrade André was rendered "speechless" by our "obscene" criticism of the PKK’s two-stage Stalinism, what does he make of ICL lider maximo James Robertson’s reference to Kurds as "Turds"? Does he detect any hint of "self-satisfied great-power chauvinism" in that? Robertson made this piggish remark in a 15 October 1978 speech to the SL’s New York branch in which he recounted how he had purged the leadership of the British Spartacist League. In the course of his talk, Robertson gently chided Reuben Samuels, the SL’s Middle East expert:

"Criticism of Reuben: the whole time, where was Reuben? He was off in the library, studying about the Turds for his class. Right? He wasn’t playing any role."
-- International Discussion Bulletin, No. 10, Part 1, January 1979, "Run, run, run, run, run, run, run…chop," p. 60

This remark cannot be explained away as a "joke" or an "angular" political characterization. It is simply vulgar chauvinism, yet because it was spoken by the SL’s founder/leader, it was duly transcribed and reprinted in the group’s internal bulletin without comment or criticism. It is startling evidence that the SL’s political degeneration from Trotskyism to political banditry was well underway in 1978.

Posted: 15 June 2003