Next chapter

This pamphlet documents the political struggle between the External Tendency of the international Spartacist tendency (ET) and the leadership of the Spartacist League/U.S. (SL) over the Leninist position on the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983. The initial response of the SL was to call for “Marines Out of Lebanon, Now, Alive!” (see Workers Vanguard front page). An ET statement condemned this slogan as a “cowardly, social-patriotic” betrayal of Trotskyism and counterposed the demand for “Imperialists Out of Lebanon–By Any Means Necessary!” This was followed by a series of polemics which constitute the contents of this bulletin.

The sudden concern for the well-being of the Marines, who only a year earlier Workers Vanguard had described as among “the world’s most notorious imperialist butchers,” marked a radical departure from the SL’s formal posture as the continuators of orthodox Trotskyism. It illuminated starkly the programmatic dimension to the SL’s evolution from Leninism to political banditry–a peculiar and eclectic form of centrism, chiefly characterized by a capacity for wild and capricious programmatic gyrations. The SL’s degeneration is rooted, in the final analysis, in a loss of confidence in the possibility of winning the working class to the revolutionary program, however it is overlaid by a substantial element of leader-cultism. Indulging the fancies and fantasies of James Robertson has become an increasingly important determinant of the real activity of the group in its decline.

Political bandits are always willing to subordinate questions of formal political line to the exigencies of their perceived immediate organizational requirements. The cowardly reflex exhibited by the SL leadership over the Marines in Lebanon was clearly motivated by fear of incurring the displeasure of their own ruling class. For Robertson, it is apparently more important to safeguard his privileged position, the groupies and the extravagant personal lifestyle which he affords himself as the big frog in the little pond of the Spartacist League than his claim to represent the continuity of Trotskyism.

The “Marines Alive” position quickly became a kind of loyalty test for the SL membership–particularly as it became clear that elements of the cadre preferred the “old” position of blanket opposition to imperialist intervention in the semi-colonial world. Henceforth all those SL members who were truly loyal to their infallible leadership (i.e., all those who wished to retain their membership) were required to show enthusiasm for saving the lives of the surviving colonial gendarmes in Lebanon.

As we noted in a letter of 7 February 1984, what made this position so important for the trajectory of the iSt was that it was “not the result of disorientation due to some new historical development. It [was] a conscious and deliberate adaptation to the American ruling class.” The aggressive political intervention of the External Tendency on this question at least ensured that the SL’s passage into revisionism did not go unchallenged.

–December 1984