ICL on Afghanistan: Healyites of the Second Mobilization?

The following is a reconstruction, from notes, of the intervention of International Bolshevik Tendency [IBT] supporter Samuel T. at a Spartacist League (SL) forum in New York City on 9 February. Our comrade pointed to the parallel between the SL’s refusal to call for the defeat of the U.S. imperialist attack on Afghanistan in 2001 [see: “Where is the ICL Going?”] and the position adopted by David North’s Workers League a decade earlier when Iraq was under attack. The SLers at the forum were unable to respond politically.

I am speaking on behalf of the International Bolshevik Tendency. Now, most comrades in this room have been following the polemical exchanges between us, the Internationalist Group and the SL in relation to the SL’s recent abandonment of revolutionary defeatism over Afghanistan--that is, their refusal to call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism. To many younger comrades, the SL’s arguments in defense of this new line may sound new and original, but they don’t sound very new or original to me.

During the period of the Gulf War, I was a teenage member of David North’s Workers League [WL--today the Socialist Equality Party]. At that time the Northites also decided to drop the call for defeating U.S. imperialism [the WL had initially called for defeating the U.S. before the outbreak of hostilities, but jettisoned the slogan when the attack began]. I would like to read some quotes from their book where they defend their position [against criticism from other fragments of Gerry Healy’s former “International Committee”]:

“Revolutionary defeatism is neither an agitational slogan nor a special tactic for engineering the military defeat of one’s ‘own’ bourgeoisie, but the continuation in time of war of the perspective for which the revolutionary party fights under all conditions.…

“Both Pottins and Athow reject this perspective. They substitute for the mobilization of the working class the actions of other class forces – in the case of Pottins and [Cliff] Slaughter, the middle class protest movement; in the case of [Sheila] Torrance and Athow, the bourgeois regime of Saddam Hussein.


“Athow’s rhetoric about the prospects for an Iraqi military victory was criminally irresponsible. An outright military defeat of the US-dominated coalition was not merely unlikely, but virtually impossible, given that Iraq, a nation of 17 million people, was isolated and blockaded, while facing a coalition of all the major imperialist countries, equipped with unchallenged air power and a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons. So long as the struggle remained a purely military one, its ultimate outcome could not be in doubt. Only the intervention of the working class in the United States and internationally could have prevented the shattering defeat of Iraq which took place between January 16 and February 28.”
[—Desert Slaughter: The Imperialist War Against Iraq, Labor Publications, 1991, pp370-72]

[David North responded in a similar vein to criticism from the SL and the Revolutionary Workers League:]

“Revolutionary defeatism is not any sort of radical phrasemongering. It is not running around shouting in a bankrupt, empty and really meaningless way for the military defeat of American imperialism. We don’t entrust to others the task which only the working class, armed with a revolutionary leadership, can achieve. That is, our conception of revolutionary defeatism is not fighting to the last Iraqi. It’s not standing as cheerleaders for the military forces of Saddam Hussein.”
[—Ibid., p474]

These arguments will of course have a very familiar ring to readers of Workers Vanguard of the last few months.

Comrades in this room who were around in the 1960's can probably also remember many similarly orthodox-sounding arguments used by the Socialist Workers Party as a cover against calling for the military victory of the NLF [National Liberation Front] in Vietnam. In using these sorts of arguments, the SL is following in the footsteps of a long line of other organizations in their flight from Marxism.

A decade ago, the SL recruited me from the Workers League by thoroughly convincing me that all these “arguments” were in reality rationalizations for betrayals and “alien appetites.” A decade later, the SL is using essentially the same rationalizations for its own betrayals.

As a last point, many younger comrades may be confused by the fact that the SL claims to oppose raising the call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism, while simultaneously vigorously maintaining they have not abandoned revolutionary defeatism, because at least they defend Afghanistan [just as the Northites claimed to be Iraqi defensists in 1991]. Of course, the SL has a precedent for this kind of deliberate confusionism. During the destruction of the Soviet Union, the SL refused to support either the Stalinist coupists or the Yeltsinites militarily [the IBT gave military support to the Stalinists against the Yeltsinites] while all the while insisting that they were not neutral in the conflict. If comrades feel confused by such positions it is because that is their purpose.


The 29 March 1991 issue of Workers Vanguard had the following comment on the Workers League’s allegation that the SL had joined the bourgeois propaganda campaign against Iraq:

“But for the Workers League to accuse the Spartacist League of trying to undermine the defense of Iraq while U.S. imperialism was raining down death on Baghdad is such a shameless lie that it would make the tsarist writers of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ blush.

“In our banners at antiwar demonstrations, in the headlines of Workers Vanguard, in our speeches to protesters—the Spartacist League forthrightly fought for the defeat of U.S. imperialism and military defense of Iraq (without failing to note the crimes of Hussein’s regime against the Iraqi toiling masses).”

Published: 14 February 2002