For Class-Struggle Defense

by Toni Reade
Discussion Bulletin, No. 28, Spartacist League/U.S., June 1977

Since the third North American Summer Camp in 1975, at which the successful conclusion of the Jagadish Jha fund-raising campaign was announced, the PDC has undertaken two major international campaigns Muñoz and Marcos) in addition to a considerable volume of other defense and legal work. The impressive success of our campaigns testifies not only to increased professionalism on the part of the comrades but also to the development of a PDC and party periphery which respects and trusts the PDC.

Our comrades can take pride in the recent work of the PDC and the hard work and developing political sensitivity and sophistication which made success possible. The purpose of this document is to seek to illuminate some confusions and disorientations which were brought to light in the course of this work, as a technical political memo supplementing the main PDC discussion document, "On the Partisan Defense Committee" by Comrade Samuels, printed in Discussion Bulletin No. 27.

The most common problems indicate some misunderstandings of the PDC’s purpose and scope. Most concretely, these are expressed in an inability to fully grasp and apply the working definition of the PDC: "The PDC is a class-struggle, anti-sectarian defense organization which stands in defense of the whole of the working people without sectarian or factional regard, in accordance with the political views of the Spartacist League." In particular the political tie between the PDC and the party ("in accordance with the political views...") has been the source of recurring confusion and defensiveness among some comrades.

Lingering Legacy of Stalinist "Defense" Work

For us to want to suppress or downplay the political link between the PDC and the SL would be to accept a Stalinist perversion of the united-front anti-sectarian defense policies embodied in the tradition which produced the early International Labor Defense (ILD). One of the primary tasks of the PDC is to cut through this poisoned atmosphere to reestablish those principles, which means that we swim against the stream by rejecting the front-group methods of most other current defense organizations. Comrades should see our working definition as a valuable tool for demonstrating that we have nothing in common with sectarian front groupism, which covers up its real political links.

During the Marcos campaign, some Chicago comrades expressed an impulse to "drop" the SL’s relationship to the PDC when contacting potential contributors, believing that funds would be more easily collected. To "drop" the SL is to vitiate one of the political aims of the PDC, which is to show that only a Marxist world view and Marxist understanding of the class nature of the state produces the principled defense work which many people find pragmatically appealing. Such defensiveness is short-sighted at best, seeing fund-raising as the ultimate or sole function of the PDC. Our campaigns serve immediate and often urgent ends, but also serve to build the authority of the PDC and SL.

A front group hides the identity and politics of the organization which controls it, adapting to its putative supporters’ lowest common denominator politics. Eventually it is unmasked by people who wish to destroy it; often these people are successful. Our definition and above-board approach to soliciting support and funds, acknowledging the PDC’s political tie to the SL, protects us against liberal/Stalinist red-baiting. The PDC cannot be "exposed" as a "front group" precisely because it is not a front group--that is, it openly acknowledges its politics, including their necessary organizational connection.

Is PDC Work "Political"?

A symmetrical impulse which has sometimes impelled some comrades to deviate in a different direction is the argument that PDC work is not fully "political," or that its defense--centered axis constitutes a watering down of our program. A logical outcome of this fear was a proposal that the SL and PDC carry duplicate slogans at an intervention. A demonstration in defense of "Soviet dissidents" sponsored by various anti-communists and the SWP/USLA, scheduled to be held in front of the Soviet airlines’ office in New York, prompted in our comrades a correct impulse to see anti-Sovietism as the main thrust of the mobilization and to sharply counterpose ourselves. Signs calling for the military defense of the USSR against imperialist attack were produced, signed by both the SL and the PDC. The error was not in desiring that the PDC as well as the party separate itself from "human rights" Carter-style, but in proposing that the PDC in effect usurp the essential responsibility of the vanguard party which must be the central bearer of the Trotskyist position of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union. In the present political situation, an appropriate response might have been a counterdemonstration. Depending on the relationship of forces, another possible PDC counterpoint to a party intervention might have been to carry PDC slogans defending particular Soviet dissidents who have not embraced anti-communism. As long as the PDC marches with the party, the point is made of the PDC’s solidarity with the SL’s slogans.

Thus, interpretation of "in accordance with the political views of the SL" to mean duplication of roles is a flawed and mechanical understanding of the division of labor between the two organizations. In some instances the PDC will carry the greater emphasis in a defense-centered intervention or within the amorphous "defense" milieu. During defense efforts on behalf of Desmond Trotter and the SASO 9 this approach was used most effectively.

Exemplary Work and Selectivity

With our limited resources, the PDC cannot devote equal attention to defense of all those whose militant defense is in the interests of the working class. Even the ILD picked and chose its cases selectively, concentrating its resources on those causes and cases which were most symbolic of the needs of the workers movement in that period. Hence, the Palmer Raids and related attempts to deport or frame up immigrant leftists were emphasized in the ILD’s international campaign on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti; repression of militant trade unionists was played up in defense work on behalf of Mooney and Billings. Some of the ILD’s major campaigns centered unashamedly on the state’s attack on the CP’s own members and supporters.

Thus, the PDC’s first emphasis will be where repression endangers our political work. The PDC can be an important auxiliary of the struggle to build and consolidate the vanguard nucleus to the extent it can help protect our political work and our comrades from legal harassment and bourgeois repression. As our tendency grows and becomes more obtrusive, there will be an acceleration of legal defense work involving defense of our movement, and an increased priority devoted to the crucial legal work of our legal counsel.

That the PDC is for us and others was a founding premise of the PDC. A letter to supporters in September 1973 explained:

"The Spartacist League is about to initiate a Partisan Defense Fund. This will be a special fund designed primarily to provide legal defense for the members of the Spartacist League and for our supporters and also to make contributions to other appropriate defense cases.

"...Bourgeois ‘justice’ and ‘democracy’ are frequently not extended to the left and working-class movements; we realize that we must prepare for the inevitable frame-ups and arrests of our own members and supporters.

"The Spartacist League has always insisted that an attack on one section of the left is a threat to the entire movement. We have an outstanding and principled record of defending the working-class movement against bourgeois attack and of struggling for democracy on the left.... We believe also that energetic provisions for our own defense are necessary to preserve our ability to intervene with the full strength of our political program and organization at critical moments in the class struggle. Without such preparations we could be fatally deflected as defenseless others have been before us."

Selectivity toward cases has nothing in common with sectarianism. Our tendency’s international campaign for MIR leaders Van Schouwen and Romero was an exemplary expression of the responsibility to defend the "far left" of the political spectrum, nearly always ignored by liberals and by Stalinists and others who defend only the prominent victims of repression (intellectuals, bourgeois politicians) and their own co-thinkers.

The PDC’s campaign for Mario Muñoz also proceeded from the recognition that the far left, in this case opponents of the Chilean popular front, could rely on nobody but the PDC and SL to initiate a militant campaign on their behalf. The disproportionate resources devoted to this campaign reflected a responsibility to our own fraternal comrades of the OTR. Intersecting powerful popular revulsion against junta terror in Latin America, our campaign became a real symbol of the plight of Latin American political refugees fleeing right-wing repression. Through exposing the repressive Argentine junta, the PDC and SL were able to assist these refugees on an unexpectedly significant scale.

The PDC also seeks to emphasize cases and causes which illuminate aspects of the characteristic political program of the SL. One illustrative example was the case of two imprisoned South African black playwrights, Kani and Ntshona, who were not likely to be defended by most radicals because their efforts to produce their anti-apartheid plays within South Africa did not accord with the "cultural boycott" of South Africa. In such cases, our responsibility to defend all those whose defense is in the interests of the workers movement intersects an opportunity to emphasize the unique Trotskyist program of the SL.

In the recent period, the PDC has made some impressive beginnings in reestablishing the tradition of anti-sectarian, class-struggle defense work. We can continue to extend and consolidate these gains if we continue to deepen and refine our organization’s grasp of the intimate political connection between the work of the PDC and the tasks of the SL.

T. Reade
9 June 1977

Posted: 12 December 2005