Trotskyist Bulletin no. 3
In Defense of the Trotskyist Program
Reply to WP by IBT
5 May 1988
Thank you for your extensive critique of our programmatic statement "For Trotskyism." We appreciate the opportunity it affords us to elaborate some of the important methodological and programmatic questions which separate centrism from Trotskyism. Unfortunately, it has taken us longer than we anticipated to produce an adequate response to your letter.
We regret that you consider our characterization of Workers Power as "centrist" to be an example of "the cheap name calling method of polemic so typical of the Spartacists." We note that you have no difficulty labelling our positions as "sectarian"--a designation which, as Trotsky observed, can generally be taken as a compliment when it comes from a centrist.
During our debates in Oakland in the fall of 1986, it became clear that we had fundamental programmatic differences. At that time we verbally characterized your positions as centrist. Thus it came as a surprise to us when, a few months later, we learned that you proposed to include us in a purported "bloc against centrism," which you attempted to throw together with the Italian Revolutionary Workers Group (GOR) for the WRP's then-projected international conference.
According to Trotsky:
The critique elaborated in your letter of 2 April provides a case study of centrism in our time: a studied repudiation of Trotskyist principles, together with an evasion of many of the central questions in dispute. Whether fetishizing the united-front tactic, bowing to Khomeini or Galtieri, blurring the line between nationalism and Marxism, or defending capitalist-restorationists in Poland, Workers Power is consistent only in its attempts to veil with radical commentaries its opportunist adaptation to the present bourgeois consciousness of the masses.
Spartacist and Revolutionary Continuity
Your "overall view" of our politics is that they "are based on a sectarian method inherited from the Spartacist League." Our group was founded by cadres from the Spartacist tendency and we regard the Spartacist League (SL) and its progenitor, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP), as an important link in the chain of Trotskyist continuity. The Spartacist tendency, virtually alone among ostensibly Trotskyist organizations, correctly analyzed the perplexing phenomenon of the Cuban Revolution at the time. It recognized that while Castro's 26 July Movement did preside over the destruction of capitalism in Cuba, it would be incapable of establishing anything other than a deformed workers state on that island.
As we noted in our document, "We stand on the Trotskyist positions defended and elaborated by the revolutionary Spartacist League" of the 1960's and 1970's. We are proud of that record. The SL fought for a revolutionary perspective on all of the significant international questions which it addressed in that period. Today, however, the international Spartacist tendency (iSt) is today no longer a revolutionary organization, but a cynical political bandit cult (see "The Road to Jimstown," Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt No. 4).
We reject your notion that the degeneration of the iSt is traceable to its fundamental programmatic positions. Applying this formula to the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party, one arrives at the familiar conclusion, "Leninism leads to Stalinism." Surely you would agree that the bureaucratic strangulation of the CPSU was already far advanced when Stalin first enunciated his theory of "Socialism in One Country." To understand the degeneration of the Spartacist group, it is necessary to comprehend the dialectical relation between the formal programmatic positions of an ostensibly Leninist formation and its actual activity in the world--including the condition of its internal regime (which is in turn conditioned by a number of objective factors). Over time the two must inevitably converge, but this is not to say that there is a direct one-to-one correspondence at every step of an organization's development (or degeneration).
Your one-sided assertion that, "regimes are the product of definite politics, definite programmes" is an argument which Robertson and his cronies clung to for years. They claimed that their brutal, dishonest and cynical behavior internally could only be taken as evidence of a bad regime if, in the pages of the group's public press, there was evidence of overt revisionism on the Russian question, the national question, etc. In the case of the Spartacist group, the cultist and highly bureaucratized evolution of the internal regime--in itself a programmatic departure from Trotskyism--prepared the way for a series of other programmatic departures from the organization's own revolutionary tradition. We have documented a good many of the more consequential revisionist positions adopted by the Robertson leadership--from social-patriotic defense of the U.S. Marines in Lebanon to hailing Yuri Andropov, the Stalinist butcher of the Hungarian Revolution.
The 1951-53 Split
Our differences on the question of revolutionary continuity do not simply involve an assessment of the Spartacist tendency. You assert that there was no significant issue of principle involved in the 1951-53 split in the Fourth International. As we noted in "For Trotskyism" we stand on the fight of the organizations which formed the International Committee (IC), while recognizing that this fight was "profoundly flawed both in terms of political framework and execution."
Each of the components of what was to become the IC exhibited distinctive political impulses alien to Trotskyism. Cannon's arguments in favor of a federated international were completely erroneous, and the activity of the Healy group in the Labour Party was both unprincipled and in no important way different from what Pablo proposed for the rest of the international. The IC groups had also shared the earlier disorientation of the movement over Yugoslavia and China.
However, despite these problems, the bottom line is that in the 1951-53 fight, the main sections of the IC opposed Pablo's project of liquidating the Trotskyist cadres into Stalinism and social democracy. For revolutionists this is a question of principle. The sections which constituted themselves as the IC rejected the pessimistic conclusions which Pablo's faction drew from the phenomenon of the post-war expansion of Stalinism: that in the "New World Reality" Trotskyism had no necessary historic role. Pablo's objectivist conceptions, and his concomitant negation of the subjective factor in history, was captured in "Where Are We Going?" where he asserted that, "the objective process is in the final analysis the sole determining factor, overriding all obstacles of a subjective order."(2)
The SWP mistakenly endorsed this and other revisionist documents produced by the Pablo leadership of the international--while seeking to avoid the practical consequences by arguing for a form of "American exceptionalism" and a federated international. This was evidence that the revolutionary edge of the SWP leadership was dulling under the tremendous anti-communist pressures of McCarthyism. Yet when faced with the practical requirements of the liquidationist course demanded by Pablo on their own national terrain, the American Trotskyists asserted the historic necessity of a conscious Trotskyist leadership in the struggle for socialist revolution.
By contrast, the American Pabloists, led by Bert Cochran, called for "junking the old Trotskyism," and, after leaving the SWP, rapidly dissolved into a social-democratic literary circle. The SWP in the 1950's was isolated and besieged, with an aging cadre and no prospects of significant growth in the foreseeable future. It was visibly drifting rightward. Yet, despite its growing political disorientation, it clung to formally orthodox positions on most important programmatic questions. It was therefore, unlike the Cochranite formation, an organization which possessed the capacity for its own political regeneration.
The SWP's "Open Letter"
We find your attitude toward the formation of the IC to be light-minded. Your assertion that "in all essentials they [the IC] agreed with him [Pablo]" is followed by the glib comment that, "the criticisms of the IS's positions on the French general strike and the East German events made by the SWP in its open letter of 1953 were correct." But comrades, this was the founding document of the IC. The French general strike and the East German revolt were the two critical political events in Europe that year, which, as the SWP correctly asserted, demonstrated the irreversibly revisionist and anti-Trotskyist character of the Pablo current.
In its November 1953 letter, the SWP noted:
A similar divergence was evident in the orientations of the two tendencies toward the French general strike:
The Pabloists' response to the East German uprising and the French general strike was not accidental. It reflected a profound political difference over the nature of Stalinism and the relevance of the "old Trotskyism" which the Pabloists were in such a hurry to "junk." Pablo made this clear in a December 1953 reply to the SWP's "Open Letter":
It was not by accident that, at the time of the split, the IC was right against the IS on every important contested question. The Pablo faction generalized from the phenomenon of the post-war expansion of Stalinism that Trotskyism had no necessary historic function. While the Pabloists have since periodically relocated the "epicenter" of world revolution (from the Stalinist CPs of Western Europe to the Algerian FLN, the Castroist July 26 Movement, the New Left "New Mass Vanguard," Khomeini's Islamic Revolution, etc.) the fundamentally liquidationist impulse of their objectivist methodology has remained constant.
The IC was flawed by its hasty and superficial struggle against this liquidationist current, and its subsequent failure to attempt to reestablish a democratic-centralist Trotskyist international organization. But in politics, as in many other fields, it is vital to have a sense of proportion. Despite its flaws, the IC, at the time of the split, upheld the most fundamental proposition of Leninism--the necessity of a conscious Marxist vanguard at the head of the proletariat, as the only agency capable of leading successful socialist transformations. The SWP put it well in its "Open Letter":
The respective responses to the events in France and East Germany in 1953 demonstrated in life the profound political distance which separated these two currents. This is why, despite our criticisms, we consider that the IC was qualitatively superior to the IS, and why we believe that authentic Trotskyists today have a side in that fight. Frankly, we find the idea that there were no Trotskyists on the planet for two and a half decades--from 1951 until your own immaculate conception in the womb of Tony Cliff's anti-Soviet "Third Camp" swamp in the mid-1970's--hard to take seriously.
The SLL and the 1963 Pabloite "Reunification"
We find your criticisms of the Socialist Labour League's 1961 document "The World Prospect for Socialism" (a document which played an important part in the crystallization of the Revolutionary Tendency within the SWP) essentially trivial. The SLL, even in its best period, was imperfect and you are correct to criticize the characterization of Mao and Tito as "centrists." A more consequential--but not unrelated--error was Healy's insistence that Cuba remained capitalist even after the expropriations of 1960. Yet at a time when the SWP was rapidly moving rightward toward "reunification" with the Pabloists on the basis of a shared enthusiasm for Castro, this document unambiguously reasserted the role of the conscious factor in history--the necessity of the Trotskyist vanguard as the agency of proletarian revolution. This was illustrated in the critique of Mandel's shameful role as left cover for the trade-union "lefts" in the 1961 Belgian general strike:
The fact that the authors of this document subsequently degenerated into cheerleaders for the "Arab Revolution," the Vietnamese Stalinists, Mao's Red Guards and finally Qaddafi's Green Revolution does not negate the positive role which they played in rearming Trotskyist cadres for political battle in the struggle against the revisionist "reunification" which created the United Secretariat in 1963. We stand on the record of the RT and the revolutionary SL and seek to carry forward this struggle, and by doing so to play our part in a regroupment of revolutionaries which can once more establish "orthodox" Trotskyism as an important current in the international working class.
What Program for Trade Union Work?
You take exception to our advocacy of programmatically-based caucuses in the unions and allege that this is implicitly opposed to building "united front rank and file organisations." This, you claim, amounts to a rejection of the tradition of the revolutionary Comintern in the field of trade-union work. "Of course," you hasten to add, "we are in favour of building communist caucuses, but we do not counterpose them to united front bodies." If this is indeed the case, we can only wonder why you assert that our advocacy of programmatically-based caucuses "can only mean...the exclusion of all other forms of organisation within the unions."
The hypothetical example which you cite--of a "rank and file movement" emerging "as a result of the contradiction between the material interests of the rank and file and those of the bureaucracy"--does little to clarify your perspective for the communist caucuses which you supposedly favor. You ask rhetorically whether we should:
We are not familiar with the trade-union work of Workers Power. However your talk of "united front rank and file organisations" and your assertion that we should not be "content" with communist caucuses suggests that you share the opportunist notions of most centrists: i.e., now is the time to build lowest common denominator "rank and file caucuses" with left bureaucrats on a reformist program; only later will it be appropriate to advance a revolutionary program. We reject such stagist conceptions.
The bridge between the present consciousness of the masses and the objective necessity of proletarian state power is the transitional program. Your willingness to ascribe the role of "bridge" to an as-yet non-existent "united front rank and file movement"--which you apparently conceive of as a bloc with various left bureaucrats--is a prescription for economist liquidationism.
It is an elementary proposition of Leninism that the advanced workers can only be won to communism through the active intervention of revolutionists fighting for a Marxist program. The struggle for programmatic clarity distinguishes Leninists from all manner of opportunists and spontaneists in the unions--as in every other arena. The consolidation of revolutionary nuclei in the unions is therefore the first requirement for creating a class-struggle left wing in the working class. The Comintern was very clear on this. For example the "Theses on Tactics" adopted by the Third (1921) Congress noted that:
Or one can look to point 9 of the famous 21 "Conditions of Admission into the Communist International":
The united front is only one of a variety of tactics which communist formations may use to expand their influence in the political struggle against bourgeois consciousness in the proletariat. As a tactic it must necessarily be subordinated to the strategic imperative of creating a class-conscious, revolutionary wing within the unions. The united front is not an alternative to class-struggle caucuses organized on the basis of the Transitional Program, but a means by which revolutionaries in such formations can expand their influence. It is therefore literally meaningless to talk of "counterposing" the one to the other.
Trotsky's 1922 document "On the United Front" poses the relationship in the following manner:
How can revolutionaries function in united fronts as an independent detachment if they are not first organized and defined by their adherence to a particular set of ideas (i.e., a program)? Only on this basis is it possible to demonstrate the seriousness of communists in the day-to-day struggles while simultaneously exposing the programmatic bankruptcy of the centrists and reformists in the united front.
The Spartacist League concluded in the early 1970's that what the revolutionary SWP of the 1930's lacked in its work in the unions was organizational vehicles based on the full Transitional Program. These caucuses are not counterposed to united-front work, but rather its sine qua non. In polemicizing against this orientation, you quote an instruction from the CI at its Fourth Congress to the British section in 1922. You quote Lovosky's remarks to the British delegation:
But Lovosky was not arguing against the independent existence of party nuclei as you suggest. The next couple of sentences, which you omit, make this obvious:
The Comintern's objective was the formation of a left-wing movement in the unions under communist hegemony. The founding conference of the National Minority Movement (NMM) in August 1924 openly declared that its aim was to:
In raising a program which was capped with a call for a workers government, was the NMM also guilty, in your eyes, of "being against the organisational bridge" which you imagine to be necessary to introduce revolutionary ideas to rank-and-file workers?
In the U.S. the first point of the 1922 program of the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL), the Communist Party-led left wing in the unions and the analogue of the NMM, called for "the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a workers republic." Other points advocated a policy of class struggle, repudiated dual unionism, called for support to the Russian Revolution, and called for independent labor political action. On this basis, the TUEL entered into various united fronts and offered critical electoral support to trade unionists who stood on a program which broke, on some crucial question, from business unionism.
In both Britain and America our practical tasks today are somewhat more modest than those posed before the communists of the 1920's. The most that a small number of class-struggle trade-union militants aligned with a Trotskyist propaganda organization can hope to do is to show by example how victories can be won. Tactics like united fronts (or critical support in elections), must be employed by a very small vanguard to reach larger audiences of workers. But in the unions, as everywhere else, the political organization of those who agree with the communist program is a precondition for engaging in broader blocs.
The "Theses on Comintern Tactics" adopted by the Fourth Congress explicitly repudiated "attempts of the Second International to absorb workers' organizations further to the left and call this a united front" as "another opportunity for the social-democratic leaders to betray new masses of workers to the bourgeoisie." The Theses went on to explain that:
In this, as in practically all the documents of the Comintern in the days of Lenin and Trotsky, it is clear that the conception of the united front--whether based on a single issue or in the form of factory committees or soviets--is premised on the existence of independent communist formations. To attack our proposal for "building programmatically-based caucuses in the trade unions," you will have to look elsewhere than in the traditions of the revolutionary Comintern.
Programmatic Criteria for Critical Support
The united front, in the unions or elsewhere, is closely linked to the proper application of the tactic of critical support. You reject the idea that critical support for reformists has anything to do "with the programme they stand on" and tell us that, "Both Trotsky and Lenin made clear that the sole purpose of revolutionaries calling for a vote for reformists was that if they have the support of the masses then they have to be put to the test of office."
This is not in fact how Trotsky approached the question of critical support. He understood that it was necessary to have some point of programmatic intersection with the reformists for this tactic to be applicable. In the 1930's the SWP was too closely identified with Roosevelt's "progressives" in the trade unions. Trotsky kept probing the American Trotskyists for an approach to the Stalinist workers. With the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939, the CP struck an "anti-imperialist" posture and began to issue propaganda against the New Deal. This political turn allowed an appeal to Stalinist workers. Here is how Trotsky proposed that the SWP intervene:
The CPUSA was not a mass party in 1939, although it was several orders of magnitude larger than the SWP and claimed 100,000 members.(12) When dealing with mass reformist parties like the British Labour Party, the same programmatic criterion is applicable, but operates on a different level than with the American Stalinists in 1939. The programmatic contradiction to be exploited in the BLP is between its bourgeois (reformist) formal program and the fact that by its very existence, the Labour Party represents a deformed expression of working-class political independence. This contradiction enables revolutionaries to consider critically supporting such "bourgeois-workers parties"--depending on the particular conjuncture of the class struggle at the moment. When we call for a vote to the reformists it is to put the Labour fakers to the test of office, i.e., to expose the hollowness of their pretensions to stand for the independent interests of the workers. In this way revolutionaries advance the struggle to split the base from the top.
In the 1974 British general elections, the Tories ran an openly union-busting campaign while the Labour tops postured as the defenders of the workers. In this case it was clearly necessary to call for a vote to the social-democrats while warning that Callaghan/Wilson would only betray, i.e., to critically support the Labour Party. But when a mass working-class party runs on a program of coalition with a bourgeois party (e.g., the Lib-Lab pact) or on its record of savage anti-working class attacks, as the Labour Party did in the general election of March 1979, it can serve no useful purpose for revolutionaries to call for a vote to the Labour traitors, regardless of the number of workers who continue to support them. In such cases, the indicated tactic would be one of conditional non-support, that is, the condition for calling for a vote to any Labour candidate would be that she/he break decisively with the particular policy of overt class treason.
Communist Tactics and the Popular Front
Workers Power's call for electoral support to candidates of the popular front parallels its position on the united front. Both contain the same amalgam of strategic amnesia and tactical fetishism. In our document we quoted Trotsky's observation that:
One of the centrist ideas which Workers Power is busy peddling is the notion that a popular front is essentially the same as a social-democratic bourgeois-workers party. Comrade Hoskisson agrees that a vote for a candidate of a popular front is a vote to put a bourgeois political formation into office; but he goes on to assert that, "even if a member of a reformist workers party stands on the ticket of forming a purely social democratic government they remain representatives of a bourgeois formation." The denial that there is a fundamental difference between parties based on the organizations of the working class and class- collaborationist coalitions of reformist workers parties with bourgeois parties, is a blatant revision of one of the cornerstones of Trotskyism: the centrality of the political independence of the proletariat. As is usual in the history of the Marxist movement, this particular piece of revisionism did not fall from the sky. It is designed to justify voting for the candidates of the popular front.
In 1936 Max Shachtman, writing for the revolutionary SWP, explained clearly the dynamics of electoral class collaboration in an attack on the workers parties that signed on with the Spanish popular front:
When a "bourgeois-workers party" appears before the masses as part of a joint party with the bourgeoisie, it explicitly renounces any claim to stand for the political independence of the workers. For the duration of the bloc, the latent contradiction embodied in such a formation is suppressed. A vote for the "workers" component of a popular front is a vote for the "one party" of the bourgeoisie.
But for you the question of critical support is simply whether or not the reformists "have the support of the masses." This adaptation to the present backwardness of "the masses" is a hallmark of centrism. In 1935 Trotsky asked:
You complain that our refusal to vote for reformists in the popular front is "flawed" and "negative." Yet Trotsky's tactic of "kicking the bourgeoisie out of the popular front"--which you applaud--is precisely our own "negative" position. In Spain, in 1931, Trotsky advocated the Bolshevik tactic of breaking the reformists' coalition with the bourgeoisie and making them assume power in their own name:
If the reformists break with the popular front, and thereby destroy it as a "joint party," then, and only then, can revolutionists consider a tactic of critical support. This is the whole significance of Lenin's insistence that the Mensheviks and SRs break with the capitalist ministers in Kerensky's Provisional Government in 1917 as a precondition for any critical support from the Bolsheviks.
Trotsky and the POB: "Critical Support" to Coalitionism?
In your letter you suggest that, at least in Belgium, Trotsky was indifferent to the question of coalitionism:
This appears to be a case of Workers Power ascribing to Trotsky its own policy of unconditional "critical" support to the reformist misleaders of the proletariat. The MRCI appends the slogan "break with the bourgeoisie" as a left cover for its policy of unconditional "critical" support to reformists in the popular front. For Trotsky this relationship was inverted--any support to the POB was conditional on its break with the bourgeoisie. In the immediate aftermath of the June 1936 French strikes, he wrote:
We have reviewed Trotsky's remarks on the POB in the period preceding the betrayal of the June 1936 strike wave, and we find nothing to substantiate the claim that he ever advocated electoral support to the POB while it was in coalition with a bourgeois party. Workers Power may have drawn this mistaken impression from a letter dated 9 January 1934, entitled "Revisionism and Planning," where Trotsky defended the slogan "Let the Belgian Labor Party (POB) take power!" But advancing this slogan is not at all the same as calling for a vote to the social democrats in a coalition. In 1934, POB leader Hendrik de Man was talking about imposing "planning" on the market. Given the political hegemony of the POB within the working class, Trotsky said, "the whole situation must suggest to the proletariat the thought of a Social Democratic government." In calling for the POB to take power, Trotsky was well aware that the leadership of the party:
The call for a POB government was designed to take advantage of the possibility of such rapid swings in mass moods to set the social-democratic base against the top over the question of coalitionism. It is important to remember that Trotsky raised this demand in a particular historical conjuncture:
The call to put the POB in power when it was striking poses to "frighten the bourgeoisie" is identical in essence to the Bolshevik call for Kerensky, who claimed to represent the workers, to govern without the capitalist ministers. It is a demand that the reformists put their money where their mouth is. Far from being a call for a vote to a party despite its coalition with the class enemy, as Workers Power imagines, it is a call designed to break the alliance with the bourgeoisie:
Comrade Hoskisson's interpretation of Trotsky's advocacy of the slogan "POB to power" as electoral support to the reformists "despite [our emphasis--BT] that party's declared intention of governing in coalition with the monarchists" seems positively perverse!
Leninism and Immigration/Emigration
Workers Power's hysterical denunciation of our Marxist position on immigration/emigration as "potentially reactionary" and based on a "racist fantasy" reveals in a particularly stark fashion the substrate of petty-bourgeois moralism which underlies so many of the MRCI positions. In the interest of political clarity we will nevertheless attempt to unravel some of the key elements in your argument.
First, your statement that it is a "racist fantasy" to assert that there can be cases where "a mass influx of people from one country (unspecified) into another (unspecified)" can jeopardize the right to self-determination of the host population, is a deliberate smear. Anyone who takes the trouble to read what we actually wrote can see that we "specified" three historical examples of situations where such migrations have in fact occurred: Zionist immigration into Palestine in the 1930's and 1940's; French colons immigrating to New Caledonia in the past several decades and Han immigration into Tibet in Maoist China. To imagine that such scenarios could be repeated in the future is neither fantastic nor racist. It is obvious that your attempt to label it as such is due only to your political inability to deal with our position.
Secondly, you allege that we reject "the democratic right for the free movement of workers across all countries." Again, if the comrade who concocted this nonsense had taken the trouble to read the document he polemicized against, he might have noticed that it very clearly states that we support "the basic democratic right of any individual to emigrate to any country in the world." We uphold the democratic right of individual emigration, while recognizing that it is neither categorical nor absolute. In some cases it could abrogate other democratic rights, as in the examples cited above--or it may conflict with a higher principle, such as the defense of the deformed and degenerated workers states.
Finally, you suggest that we pose "as the immediate answer to fight a particular aspect of imperialist policy--racist immigration controls--the revolution." Once again we have to refer you to what we actually wrote:
Marxists unequivocally oppose all racist and discriminatory restrictions on immigration and uphold the right of individual emigration--but this does not imply support to the utopian/liberal demand for "open borders." The Marxist answer to the grotesque inequalities created by imperialism is not mass migration, but the creation of a rational, socialist world order through proletarian revolution. Rather than combat the liberal illusions which underlie the call for "open borders" and struggle to win those who raise such slogans to a Marxist perspective, Workers Power "goes with the flow" and thus compounds their confusion.
Khomeini and the "Anti-Imperialist" United Front
A similar methodology is evident in your support to Khomeini's movement in Iran in 1979. You assert:
You assure us that you have no illusions in Khomeini but that in supporting his movement you were implementing the "anti-imperialist united front." But Khomeini's movement was in no sense a national movement against imperialism--it was a movement which sought to protect and restore the privileges and authority of the traditional rulers of Iran against the unpopular and brittle regime of the "modernizing" Shah. There is no necessary or fundamental conflict between Islamic theocracy and world imperialism.
The roots of your error on Iran were not located at the level of a mistaken appreciation of the class character of Islamic fundamentalism. What you exhibited was the classic centrist impulse to follow along behind "mass movements." The correct and necessary task of revolutionists, which was carried out to our knowledge only by the Spartacist tendency (of which we were then a part), was to warn the Iranian workers of the inevitably reactionary consequences of Khomeini in power and to seek to rally them in opposition to the mullahs as well as the Shah. The fundamental axis of this orientation was captured in the slogan "Down with the Shah; Down with the Mullahs; Workers to Power in Iran!"
Let us recall how you actually supported the illusions of the masses in January 1979:
A centrist night in which all cows are black. We might paraphrase your formula as follows: Islamic ideology (preservation of the privileges of the clerical hierarchy and possessing classes; social slavery for women; the extermination of homosexuals and the eradication of the left, etc.) can have a progressive, anti-imperialist orientation until the plebian strata mobilized behind it begin to threaten the traditional social hierarchy--whereupon it assumes a reactionary character. If Khomeini's Iran proves anything, it is that Islamic ideology is a vehicle for the social subordination of the workers and poor peasants to the "native larger property owners." Your policy of "support [to] the anti-Shah movement led by the mullahs" is completely anti-Trotskyist. The lessons drawn by Trotsky from the Chinese Communist Party's prostration before the Kuomintang apply in all their force to your position on the mullahs' theocratic movement:
Khomeini made no secret of his intentions--as early as 1941 he was calling for the establishment of an "Islamic government" in Iran:
In 1963 Khomeini was still railing against the Shah's regime--but we imagine that it is difficult, even for you, to find a "`progressive' colouration" in comments like the following:
The victory of Khomeini's Islamic movement meant the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, and the substitution for the Iranian masses of one form of capitalist enslavement for another. Yet Workers Power ludicrously insists that what was going on was "a real conflict between a national movement of an oppressed nation and its oppressors."
The capitulation to the "Islamic Revolution" was capped by a policy of military support to Khomeini's regime when the Iran- Iraq war broke out. This shameful record is not expunged by the fact that Workers Power eventually found it expedient to withdraw its support from Khomeini's holy war (in company with virtually every other ostensibly Trotskyist current which had promoted the "revolutionary dynamic" of the mullahs in the heady days of the mass mobilizations).
Your support to Khomeini's bogus "anti-imperialism" finds its analogue in backing Galtieri's adventure in the South Atlantic in 1982. Galtieri's Malvinas gambit was deliberately intended to derail a powerful working-class mobilization with an orgy of social-patriotism. It was launched three days before a threatened general strike. Support to Argentina in that squalid conflict did not express "anti-imperialism," but political confidence in an extremely repressive bonapartist regime. For the Argentinean workers, as for the British, the main enemy was at home.
You defend your Argentine defensism in the Malvinas/Falklands conflict by claiming:
Anyone who looks at what Trotsky actually wrote, will see that the key question in both the Italian-Ethiopian war and the projected conflict between Brazil and Britain was that of the defense of independence of the underdeveloped countries against imperialist conquest. For example, in a short note entitled "The Italo-Ethiopian Conflict" published on 17 July 1935, Trotsky stated, "When war is involved, for us it is not a question of who is `better,' the Negus or Mussolini; rather, it is a question of the relationship of classes and the fight of an underdeveloped nation for independence against imperialism" (emphasis added). In "The Fourth International and the Soviet Union," 8 July 1936, he wrote: "If, for example, they [i.e., the Fourth Internationalists] support Ethiopia, despite the slavery that still prevails there and despite the barbaric political regime, it is, in the first place, because an independent national state represents a progressive historical stage for a precapitalist country...."(25)
Several years later, in discussing the prospect of war between Britain and Brazil, Trotsky used a similar criterion:
Had the sovereignty of Argentina been at stake in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, then we would indeed have had an Argentinean defensist position. But this was not the issue in the conflict in the South Atlantic. No one thought for a moment that a British victory would result in the installation of a Thatcherite puppet regime in Buenos Aires.
In 1916, Lenin made a pertinent distinction between legitimate popular struggles against national oppression and various "sordid national squabbles" entered into by the bourgeoisies of the oppressed nations. In these latter cases, "the criticism of revolutionary Marxists should be directed not against the national movement, but against its degradation, vulgarisation, against the tendency to reduce it to a petty squabble." He continued:
You attempt to slide around the critical question of Argentine sovereignty with the assertion that, "Its sovereignty over its islands--stolen from it by Britain--was very much at stake." Marxists are not revanchists. We do not recognize the "right" of Argentina to govern a few thousand English-speaking sheepherders on the grounds that Argentina had briefly possessed the Malvinas for a dozen years in the 1820's and 1830's. The fact is that for a century and a half there had been no Argentinean presence on those islands. The population of the Falklands had no historic connection to Argentina and evinced no particular desire to become Argentineans.
Argentine workers had no stake in the junta's war--their main enemy, and the agency of their oppression by imperialism, was at home. Revolutionists therefore called on the Argentine workers to turn their guns around. Of course we would address the same call to the British workers. It is completely illogical to assert, as you do, that, "The necessary adjunct of defeatism in Britain was support for Argentina." There was no just side in the squabble over those desolate pieces of South Atlantic real estate and consequently no reason to call for Argentine workers to shed their blood in Galtieri's military adventure.
Israel and the Arab Regimes
In your letter to us, you assail the historic Spartacist position on the Middle East as placing Israel, "The undisputed gendarme of imperialism in the region, kept afloat by millions of US dollars" on "a par with the Arab semi-colonies." Israel, while considerably more advanced than its Arab neighbors, remains a weak capitalist economy. It is dependent on handouts from America and world Zionism to maintain an artificially high standard of living. Esther Howard, in a 1983 article in MERIP Reports catalogued some of the features of its economy:
Israel is the world's largest recipient of military "aid" from U.S. imperialism ($1.8 billion this year), and has aspired to and to some extent has actually played the role of imperialist "gendarme" in the region. But Egypt, which aspires to play the same role, is the second biggest recipient. It is slated to receive $1.3 billion in military aid from the U.S. this year.(29)
In 1981, the U.S. saw fit to equip the Saudis with the high-tech AWACS planes despite howls of protest from the Israelis. Was this perhaps a reward for the "anti-imperialism" of the Saudi government? The semi-colonies of the Middle East can only move forward economically and socially by social struggle which destroys the regimes of the sheiks and sultans, the Ba'athist colonels and religious autocrats. The episodic contradictions which these regimes have with world imperialism are subordinate to their essential relationship as partners in the exploitation of their peoples.
Recognition of this relationship is at the core of the Trotskyist theory of Permanent Revolution. The Chinese Kuomintang of the 1920's was far more "anti-imperialist" than the Arab regimes of the Middle East today, yet Trotsky recognized that the contradictions between it and imperialism were far less profound than the contradictions between the Chinese bourgeoisie and the plebian masses:
Israel today is a racist, chauvinist, class-differentiated, and increasingly theocratic capitalist society with all the attendant social contradictions. Zionism is not in the historic interests of the Hebrew-speaking workers of Israel; the Zionist state threatens to become a death-trap for the Jews, as Trotsky predicted. Our strategy is to explode the Zionist state from within through the building of a bi-national Palestinian/Israeli workers party on a program of Permanent Revolution--championing the social and national emancipation of the Palestinian people through class struggle against the Zionist state and the Hashemites.
The Arab-Israeli Wars
You attack us for what you characterize as "disgraceful neutrality in the wars between the Arab regimes and the Zionist state, a neutrality that...is nothing less than a capitulation to Zionism." In the first place, as we made clear in "For Trotskyism" we have an Egyptian-defensist position in the 1956 war. French and British imperialist control of one of Egypt's prime economic assets, was a real obstacle to any prospect of national development and a blatant infringement on Egyptian sovereignty. We defend Nasser's nationalization of the Suez as an anti-imperialist act, and militarily support Egypt in its conflict with Britain, France and Israel.
The wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 had a different character. Let us remind you that the oppressed nationality in Israel is the Palestinians. What role did they play in any of these conflicts? In 1948, at the time of the birth of the Zionist state--which we oppose--it is now well established that there was active collusion between the Hashemite rulers of Jordan and the Zionists concerning the dismemberment of Palestine. In one recent account Amnon Kapeliouk reports: "According to the files [in Israeli state archives], there was an understanding of sorts between the Jewish leaders in Palestine and King `Abdallah of Jordan concerning the division of the country between them, although no precise and definitive border had been agreed upon."(31)
The issue in 1948 was how to carve up the land of the Palestinian people. Prior to the war, only five percent of Palestine was owned by Jewish settlers--but when the armistice was finally signed, Israel possessed over eighty percent of the country.(32) Most of the remainder went to Jordan with a smaller part to Egypt. To support the armies of either side in the 1948 war was to support the destruction of Palestine! Had there been an independent Palestinian armed force, we would of course have militarily supported it. The Fourth International correctly took a position of revolutionary defeatism on both sides in this conflict. After noting the reactionary character of the Zionist campaign for a Jewish state, the 31 May 1948 issue of the SWP's Militant editorialized against the Arab League:
The Fourth International took the correct position on the 1948 war. By 1967 the Jordanian army, which twenty years before, as the Arab Legion, had been officered by the British (the then-dominant imperialist power in the region), was totally dependent on U.S. imperialism. In the 1967 war, Jordan and Egypt were fighting for a redivision of the lands stolen from the Palestinians in the 1948 war. Where was the "anti-imperialism"? The correct position in this struggle over who was to oppress the Palestinians was, as in 1948, one of revolutionary defeatism on both sides. The Pabloist United Secretariat justified its support to the Arab regimes in this conflict by characterizing the anti-working class bonapartist regimes in Syria and Egypt as the embodiment of a supposed "Arab Revolution." We reject such revisionist notions.
In 1970, Egypt accepted the American "Rogers Plan" whereby Israel would withdraw from the Occupied Territories in exchange for the suppression of the Palestinian resistance. This gave Hussein the green light to butcher some 20,000 Palestinians in September 1970. In an important sense the 1973 war was a war for American imperialism's favor. In the preceding period Egypt had evicted the Soviets and engaged in extensive "de-Nasserization" as part of an attempt to attract imperialist investment. Sadat gambled that a military victory would not only regain the territory lost in 1967, but also demonstrate Egypt's strategic importance and pressure the U.S. to stabilize the region. The war was also seen by the Egyptian ruling elite as a means of co-opting plebian social unrest--just as Galtieri's Malvinas adventure in 1982 was dictated by the rising tempo of domestic class struggle in Argentina:
The National Question and Permanent Revolution
In your critique you devote more space to attacking our position on the national question than any other issue. You begin with the assumption that to recognize "that Marxism and nationalism are counterposed worldviews" implies, as a tactical corollary, "virtual abstention from involvement in progressive national struggles." Anyone who reads our document can see that we very clearly state, "Leninists are not neutral in conflicts between the oppressed people and the oppressor state apparatus. In Northern Ireland we demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of British troops...." We state categorically that we side with any blows struck by the oppressed people (in Northern Ireland the IRA) against the oppressor state apparatus.
Workers Power begins from "the conflict between the revolutionary national struggle of the oppressed and imperialism or its agents." Nationalist movements of the oppressed, which engage in struggle against their oppressors, warrant the military support of revolutionists. But Trotskyists do not automatically ascribe to petty-bourgeois nationalist movements an inherently "revolutionary" character, despite the heroism of their militants and their willingness to struggle against oppression. Revolutionaries approach all questions of special oppression--whether national, racial or sexual--from the standpoint of the class struggle.
You tell us that, "Leninists support struggles against imperialism in spite of the reactionary role of the `anti-imperialist bourgeoisie'." True enough, but unlike centrists, Leninists do not uncritically accept the "anti-imperialist" rhetoric of every "Third World" despot as good coin. Workers Power's inability to make this elementary distinction led it to support the fundamentally anti-working class mobilizations of Khomeini and Galtieri.
Today there can be no "revolutionary national struggle" standing separate and apart from the class struggle in the society in which it takes place. Only the proletariat, led by its conscious Marxist vanguard, and standing at the head of the peasantry and other toilers, can give consistent expression to the progressive national content of national liberation movements. The national bourgeoisies of the semi-colonial countries act primarily as agencies of imperialism within their own nations. This is the meaning of Trotsky's remark, cited above, that the "main force" of imperialism in the colonial and semi-colonial world is not in its gunships and soldiers, but rather "the economic and political bond between foreign capital and the native bourgeoisie." This is clearly expressed in The Permanent Revolution:
Under the pretense of "solidarity," Workers Power systematically capitulates to the nationalism of the oppressed. Since Stalin's disastrous policy of prostration before the "anti-imperialist" bourgeoisie in China in the mid-1920's, the axis of Trotskyism on the national question has been to stress the class issues posed by such struggles. The 1940 Fourth International resolution, "The Colonial World and the Second Imperialist War" made this crystal clear:
As against the historic positions of the Fourth International under Trotsky, you cite the "Theses on the Eastern Question" of the Fourth Comintern Congress in 1922. Here, you tell us, "the tasks of communists in the oppressor countries are spelt out clearly. They can be summed up in one word--solidarity." This document was written prior to the historical experience with the Kuomintang in China which clarified once and for all the relation of the "progressive" bourgeoisie to the colonial revolution. Even so, while calling on communists in the colonies to actively participate in the fight against imperialist tyranny, the theses clearly stated that, "The objective tasks of the colonial revolution go beyond the bounds of bourgeois democracy," and insisted that, "Only when its [the workers movement] importance as an independent factor is recognized and its complete political autonomy secured can temporary agreements with bourgeois democracy be considered permissible or necessary."(37) This is a clear anticipation of the position subsequently adopted by the Fourth International.
"Self-Determination" and Interpenetrated Peoples
Most of the national questions posed in Lenin's time have been resolved--the former colonies of the imperialist powers have generally achieved nominal political independence, without, of course, being emancipated from the imperialist world market. Many of the national questions which remain are particularly complex because they involve situations where two or more peoples are interspersed throughout a single territory (e.g., Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine). Unlike the classical cases of oppressed nations addressed by Lenin, simply advocating the right of self-determination in such situations does not resolve the problem, because two (or more) hostile populations cannot both self-determine themselves on the same piece of land. Under capitalism the exercise of the legitimate right of self-determination by either population can only come at the expense of the other. Such a "solution" can only result in maintaining or inverting the existing relations of oppression. For nationalists this is not a problem--they are only concerned with the national rights of their own people. Workers Power adopts a similar criterion--it asserts that the right of self-determination applies only to "good" (that is, the currently oppressed) people.
Leninists oppose forced population transfers and reject the reversal of the terms of oppression as an equitable solution to the seemingly intractable problems posed by interpenetrated peoples. There is a certain romantic attachment to the PLO and IRA within the radical/liberal milieu. But the plight of other interpenetrated peoples in comparable situations receives considerably less attention. We would be interested, for instance, in knowing exactly how Workers Power proposes to resolve the labyrinth of conflicting nationalist/communalist claims in Lebanon. Whose side do you take there? Or in Cyprus? In that case the relations of communalist oppression were actually reversed, revealing the anti-Marxist logic of simply embracing the nationalism of the oppressed in situations of intermingled peoples. Until 1974 the Turks were the oppressed. However, the invasion of the Turkish army that same year resulted in the brutal expulsion of some 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the northern portion of the island, which effectively reversed this situation. Yet in no sense was this a democratic resolution of the problems of communalist oppression.
You quote Lenin: "The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression and it is this content that we unconditionally support." Yet in the very next sentence Lenin continues: "At the same time we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness; we fight against the tendency of the Polish bourgeois to oppress the Jews, etc., etc."(38) In certain peculiar circumstances (and not in Catalonia, as you suppose), where peoples are closely intermingled, the exercise of the right of self-determination, the compacting of a territory to form a nation-state, can stamp a real genocidal quality upon that "tendency towards national exclusiveness." Witness the fate of the Palestinians in 1948 at the hands of the Irgun.
To say this is not to deny the abstract right of self-determination in such cases--merely to note that there are instances in which the exercise of such a right would not be in the historic interests of the proletariat. This coincides exactly with Lenin's approach to the question:
Catalan Nationalism and Interpenetrated Peoples
It would seem that you do not understand, or do not want to understand, what we mean by the phrase "intermingled" or "interpenetrated" peoples. This is evident from your assertion that Catalonia was a "case of an intermingled people [where] Trotsky was able to identify the progressive and reactionary character of the nationalism of the particular intermingled peoples...." But Catalans and Spaniards are not interpenetrated peoples. In Belfast or Beirut the hostile communities live literally within a stone's throw of each other. This is not at all the situation in Catalonia (or Quebec). In these latter cases the oppressed nationality is compacted in a separate and distinct geographical region, and forcibly incorporated within an imperialist state dominated by an oppressor nation. Consequently, the recognition of the right to "self-determination" represents a genuine solution to the problem of national oppression.
Yet even in such cases the nationalism of the oppressed does not necessarily contain any "revolutionary" aspect whatsoever. Indeed, the progressive historical role played by nationalist movements in certain circumstances does not derive from their nationalist ideology, but exists despite it. You quote Trotsky's qualified remark in May 1931 that: "At the present stage of developments, with the given combination of class forces, Catalan nationalism is a progressive revolutionary factor; Spanish nationalism is a reactionary imperialist factor." In the midst of a turbulent period of class struggle in Spain, Trotsky argued that Catalan nationalism had a revolutionary aspect insofar as it was directed against "Spanish great-power chauvinism, bourgeois imperialism, and bureaucratic centralism." In the same article he explains that only by championing the right of self-determination for Catalonia and "pitilessly denouncing the violence of the bourgeoisie of the ruling nation" would it be possible for revolutionaries to win "the confidence of the proletariat of the oppressed nationality" in order to unite the proletariat of Spain across national lines in the struggle for workers revolution.(40)
Trotsky returned to the question of Catalan nationalism two months later:
Leninists recognize that the struggles waged by petty-bourgeois nationalist movements can possess an anti-imperialist character. But this does not negate the fact that their leaderships have the capacity to betray their followers by seeking accommodation with imperialism and/or inflicting national oppression on other peoples. In the epoch of imperialism, when the liberation of humanity demands the establishment of an international socialist economy, no nationalist ideology can play a consistently progressive historical role. Consequently, against all nationalists, Leninists welcome and seek to promote the voluntary assimilation of peoples.
Trotskyism and the National Question in Ireland
You allege that our position on Ireland is dictated by frustration at being "unable to decipher the national riddle" posed by intermingled peoples, and characterize our position as "a plague on all their houses approach." This is a grotesque misrepresentation. We are intransigently opposed to the systematic and institutionalized discrimination against Catholics in education, housing and employment; as well as the brutal oppression by the forces of "law and order" of the Orange statelet and its imperialist creators against the republican population.
Our document unambiguously asserts that we "defend the blows struck by the Irish Republican Army at such imperialist targets as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the British army or the hotel full of Conservative cabinet ministers at Brighton." Where we differ with Workers Power is that we distinguish between blows against the British army of occupation on the one hand and communalist terror attacks on Irish Protestant (or English) civilians on the other. The latter we characterize as anti-working class acts.
Workers Power's method of "deciphering" the national riddle created by imperialism in places like Palestine/Israel or Northern Ireland amounts to simply choosing sides in the intercommunal conflict. The job of revolutionaries is to wrest leadership of these struggles against oppression from the petty-bourgeois nationalists, by posing democratic demands against oppression (and privilege) in the context of a full, revolutionary (i.e., transitional) program.
While you concede that a reversal of the present oppressive relationships "is a potential outcome of certain national struggles" you propose, in Northern Ireland, to "solve" this dilemma with the call for self-determination for "the Irish people as a whole...." But the problem is that there is no "Irish people as a whole." The population of the 32 counties is divided into two hostile peoples. Ireland cannot be "united" at this point in history without a bloody civil war between those populations. Unlike Workers Power, we believe that the working-class movement would have nothing to gain by such a conflict. That is why we advance the more algebraic formula "for an Irish workers republic in the framework of a socialist federation of the British Isles." One of the keys to breaking the Protestant workers from Orange reaction is to undercut fears of forcible incorporation into the reactionary clericalist Catholic state.
As you point out, our call "for an Irish workers republic in the framework of a socialist federation of the British Isles" is counterposed to the IRA's call for a "united (capitalist) Ireland". You ask whether we would oppose the "creation of a united Ireland should that prove possible prior to a socialist revolution throughout the British Isles." We would have no objection to such a development if it could be achieved without intercommunal warfare and massive bloodletting. But at this point, it is utopian to imagine that it might.
You state that your call for a united Ireland is "not conditional upon the creation of a socialist federation." In other words, you are prepared to support the Provos' project of a capitalist unification of Ireland. For this there is no need to promote "working class leadership of the national struggle...." Gerry Adams, leading spokesperson for Sinn Fein, was quoted in the Irish Times on 10 December 1986, as stating that "socialism was not on the agenda." In his book, "Politics of Irish Freedom, Adams said: "Republican struggle should not at this stage of its development style itself socialist Republican as this would imply that there is no place in it for non-socialists."(42)
Marxism has its own logic, as does nationalism. But there is no logic to centrism. That is why Trotsky dubbed it "crystallized confusion." Your position on Ireland seems to us to be armchair republicanism with a "Marxist" gloss. If there is any sense at all to your hybrid call for proletarian leadership in the nationalist struggle for a united Ireland, it is to pose this as a first stage in the struggle for the socialist revolution.
Materialism and the Struggle Against Reactionary Ideology
The stagist implications of your theory are evident when you call for winning Protestant workers in Northern Ireland to support "the right to self-determination for those whose national oppression they are currently complicit in." You continue:
If Protestant workers want the privilege of attending a Workers Power study class on socialism, they apparently first must agree to support a Catholic-dominated "united [i.e., bourgeois] Ireland." A materialist approach to fighting backward consciousness among workers does not begin with a demand for their a priori agreement to renounce their bad ideas (whether national chauvinism, racism or sexism). Marxists seek to intervene in situations where the objective common class interests of these workers conflict with their backward ideology. In Northern Ireland, where unemployment has soared in both communities (while remaining disproportionately high among Catholics(43)), revolutionists must advance a program which combines the fight against the traditional anti-Catholic hiring policies with demands aimed at expanding total employment--for example, a shorter workweek at no loss in pay.
Eamonn McCann's account of the early days of the New Left Catholic Civil Rights movement in Derry in 1968, gives an indication of the possibilities of such an approach:
County Armagh, bordering the republic of Ireland, has an interpenetrated population which is 47 percent Catholic and 53 percent Protestant. Do you think that over half of the population in this depressed rural area is simply an agency for the perpetuation of "the oppression of another people on behalf of imperialism"? The Protestant workers and poor farmers of County Armagh do not benefit from imperialism--they are its victims. The reactionary Orange ideology to which many of them adhere is a form of false consciousness which revolutionaries have a duty to struggle against. The Protestants of Northern Ireland are not agents of British imperialism--i.e., a layer of colonial administrators; nor a closed color caste which benefits in a direct and qualitative fashion from the system of discrimination in the fashion of South African whites.
In America, Trotskyists, unlike New Left petty-bourgeois moralists, do not demand that white workers abandon their "white skin privilege" as a precondition for engaging in militant class struggle. In fact this inverts the real process of breaking white workers from racist ideology. In the unions, Marxists fight racism by raising demands for black equality in the context of a program aimed at improving the conditions of the class as a whole. Trotskyists must pose demands in the fight for Catholic equality which make it clear that we are not simply arguing for a redistribution of misery, but for a general raising of working-class living standards. At the same time, it is necessary to make clear that we oppose forced unification with the bourgeois-clericalist regime in Dublin.
In Ireland and Palestine, you accuse us of a preoccupation with the privileged strata of the working class: Protestants, and Jews. In both cases our "preoccupation," is with the proletarian leadership of struggles against national oppression. Non-sectarian workers defense guards, drawn from both Protestant and Catholic communities, can defuse nationalist outrages and unite the working class against Orange and Green bosses.
The fate of a communist organization that fails to fight for working-class unity in a situation of intercommunal warfare was shown in Palestine. In 1929, the Supreme Muslim Council organized a demonstration in response to a right-wing Zionist provocation at the Wailing Wall. The demonstration turned into an anti-Jewish pogrom. The Palestinian CP saw that the Muslim Council was using this incident to divert the national struggle from an anti-imperialist to an anti-Jewish course. Joel Beinen describes the CP's initial reaction:
But Stalin's Comintern overturned what Workers Power would term "disgraceful neutrality," and directed the CP to embrace the Arab movement, regardless of its reactionary leadership. As Beinen concludes, "From this point on, the `Jewish national' vs. `Arab national' leanings of the PKP was a constantly recurring theme. The Party was rarely able to stabilize itself on a course between these two pitfalls for any length of time." In other words it split between Jews and Arabs, unable to unite the class against British imperialism or the Zionist conquest of the land.
For a "Fifth Column" Among South African Whites!
We note with distaste your attempt to amalgamate our position on South African whites with our attitude toward Israeli and Protestant workers. We explicitly stated that South African whites cannot be equated with these latter populations because they are a "privileged settler-caste/labor aristocracy dependent on the superexploitation of indigenous labor to maintain a standard of living qualitatively higher than the oppressed population." Unlike the Protestant workers of Northern Ireland, or the Hebrew-speaking proletariat in Israel, South African whites have a substantial material stake in the preservation of the racist caste system of the apartheid state.
You take exception to our observation in 1917 that the attitude toward the white population is "a key strategic question black workers in South Africa confront in their struggle for power." But you have little to say about the very real military/strategic considerations which, apart from anything else, necessitate a non-racialist program for the South African revolution.
South Africa is not Rhodesia. There are some five million whites--not a mere hundred thousand. As we wrote in 1917:
An intelligent revolutionary party within the apartheid fortress can ill afford to ignore the potentially enormous military importance of a committed fifth column operating within the laager in the struggle to smash apartheid. What's more, it is, as we noted in our article, a realizable prospect:
In a 12 December 1986 letter to the ex-LTT, on behalf of the MRCI, comrade Hoskisson argued that, in the event that the oppressed masses in South Africa are roused "to revolutionary action":
Perhaps it has not occurred to comrade Hoskisson that the reason the Iranian tanks and jets were neutralized had something to do with the fact that their occupants were drawn from the same population that was participating in the mass mobilizations. When the gunners in those tanks looked down their barrels at the crowds of protesters, they saw their brothers, their sisters, their cousins and schoolmates. White soldiers in the apartheid army confronting an insurgent black population will not automatically make the same identification. Workers Power's denial that the winning of a cadre of white collaborators is "a condition of victory" is simply petty bourgeois moralism masquerading as "solidarity" with the oppressed. Worse, it is a stupidity which, if put into practice, could abort the black workers struggle for power.
Solidarnosc: The Acid Test
Workers Power's embrace of Solidarnosc's counterrevolution in Poland offers a veritable embarras de richesses in centrist methodology. We dealt with the substance of your position on Poland in our recently published pamphlet Solidarnosc: Acid Test for Trotskyists. Of particular note is the section in which we demonstrate that the "self-management movement" (which your letter refers to as "a significant tendency committed to democratically centralised planning") identified completely with the overtly capitalist-restorationist program adopted by Solidarnosc's 1981 congress.
Your position on Solidarnosc boils down to the proposition that if the masses have illusions in their executioners, we must support them in their illusions. This is aptly illustrated in your comparison of Poland and Iran:
You deserve full marks for chutzpah! Your "tactic" in Iran amounted to prostration before the "mass movement" and therefore its leadership--that is, the Islamic theocracy. In Poland the "tactic" was similar--defending the clericalist, anti-communist Walesa leadership because it had a mass base. If the Bolsheviks had made similar distinctions in 1917 between Kerensky's Provisional Government and the illusions of the masses (a "tactic" Stalin, among others, advocated at the time), they would have found themselves defending Russia's new freedoms against Prussian militarism in World War I!
In addressing Poland, comrade Hoskisson begins with the admission that Solidarnosc's leadership was "committed to policies which, objectively, would have strengthened capitalist restoration in Poland." In this project, we are assured, they had the collaboration of the church and the Stalinist regime itself. But when we turn the page, we are told that capitalist restoration was not the issue, in fact it was never even a danger. "In reality what was at stake was whether or not the Polish workers could take the road of political revolution before being sold short by their compromising leadership or smashed by Stalinism."
Against an army of tens of thousands of priests, pro-Western Solidarnosc leaders, and presumably restorationist Stalinists, we are assured that, "the proletarian base of Solidarnosc prevented the organisation ever becoming a mass force for capitalist restoration." But Marxists do not judge movements simply on the basis of their social composition. We are also interested in their leadership, program, and the direction of their development.
Take for example Solidarnosc's call for "free elections" and "free trade unions," "voiced by the workers themselves" as you imagine. These particular demands were actually first raised by the anti-communist social democrats of the KOR. The use of these "free world" propaganda slogans reflected the rightward evolution of Poland's oppositional intelligentsia which, by the mid-1970's, was avidly embracing Jimmy Carter's "human rights" crusade. Who better to implement it than CIA labor operative Irving Brown?
You consider it "laughable" that we suggest the invitation to Brown and Kirkland was intended as a pro-imperialist political statement by Solidarnosc's leadership. Do you think that Walesa et al were unaware of Brown's widely-documented record in the European labor movement? Perhaps you think his name was picked at random from an American telephone book?
Drawing the obvious conclusion from Solidarnosc's fondness for CIA-connected "free trade unionists" is not "guilt by association," but merely placing the crisis in Poland in 1981 within the world context of a renewed cold war. You ask whether we would "relate" to the workers' demands for free elections and unions "by calling for unfree elections and unions?" This is the logic of a charlatan. We are all in favor of freedom--we merely place a precondition on it: "free trade unions" and "free elections" only within the context of defense of nationalized property in the means of production. This is the political axis for splitting the ranks of Solidarnosc from their counterrevolutionary leadership. Workers Power's willful blindness to the reality of Solidarnosc under Walesa derives from its "tactic" of embracing the mass movement as it is.
While admitting that Solidarnosc's program "does indeed suggest that the role of centralised planning should be diminished and that the role of the market should be increased," Workers Power is chiefly interested in comparing Solidarnosc's market-oriented self-management schemes with those of the Stalinists. Missing is any appreciation of the contradictory character of the Stalinist bureaucracy. While the parasitic ruling caste reflects the pressure of imperialism within the workers state, its interests diverge from those of the kulaks and other petty capitalists in that the bureaucrats' privileges depend on the existence of nationalized property. The bureaucracy is therefore episodically compelled to defend proletarian property forms against the dangers of capitalist restoration. It does this with its own anti-proletarian, repressive and bureaucratic methods. Gorbachev's attempt to overcome the economic irrationality of bureaucratic rule with his pro-market perestroika "reform" represents a grave threat to the Soviet workers and a dangerous concession to imperialism. At the same time, such "reforms" are a revolver to the head of the bureaucracy itself.
Unlike the bureaucratic caste headed by Jaruzelski, the pro-capitalist clerical nationalists leading Solidarnosc had no objective interest in defending nationalized property. Theirs was an economic "reform" subordinated to a program of bourgeois political "pluralism." This is why, in a confrontation between these two groupings, those who genuinely uphold the defense of collectivized property in Poland must bloc militarily with the Stalinists.
To resolve the historical crisis of proletarian leadership, it is necessary to forge revolutionary Trotskyist parties on the basis of the historic programmatic acquisitions of Trotskyism. Workers Power's organic incapacity to "swim against the stream" is matched by its proclivity for political accommodation to the illusions prevalent in the mass movements it is currently adapting to. A political tendency which capitulates to Labourism in Britain, to petty-bourgeois nationalism in Ireland, to Islamic reaction in Iran, and which defends capitalist-restorationist "mass movements" in the deformed workers states, can only be an obstacle in the political struggle to reforge the Fourth International, World Party of Socialist Revolution.
1. Leon Trotsky, "The Independence of the Ukraine
and Sectarian Muddleheads," Writings of Leon Trotsky (LTW) 1939-40, New
York 1973, p. 54