USLA Redbaiting: Sectarian Sabotage Fails

Class-Struggle Defense Saves Mario Muñoz

[from Workers Vanguard, No. 123, 3 September 1976]

The safe exit from Argentina of Chilean miners’ leader Mario Muñoz Salas in early August was a victory for the international workers movement. The broad support mobilized behind the international campaign to defend Muñoz against the four-month police manhunt in General Videla’s Argentina transformed the campaign into a symbol of the plight of all victims of right-wing repression in Argentina and Chile. Labor, socialist and civil-libertarian organizations and prominent individuals on five continents endorsed and contributed to the campaign to save this courageous workers leader and his family. Coinciding with Muñoz’s safe arrival in Western Europe, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees announced that six countries were now willing to grant asylum to 2,000 South American political refugees from Argentina, reflecting the impact of this exemplary militant protest campaign based on anti-sectarian, class-struggle defense policies.

Against the backdrop of this impressive victory for international workers solidarity, those groups which placed narrow factionalism above the defense of this imperiled workers leader stand out with special infamy. Criminal sectarianism could be expected from the Stalinists since the Communist Party of Argentina actually acclaimed the “democratic” hypocrisy of the Videla junta following the Argentine coup. But the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) demonstrated that it is second to nobody in its willingness to sacrifice elementary proletarian solidarity to the pursuit of reformist respectability and narrow factional considerations.

The SWP did more than bloc with the Stalinist sycophants and apologists for Videla in refusing to endorse the campaign: it consciously attempted to sabotage the defense of Muñoz. The SWP in its own name simply refused to endorse the campaign and left the dirty work to the Latin American defense organization it dominates, the U.S. Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners (USLA).

USLA claims to defend victims of political repression in Latin America. In a mimeographed letter dated April 1976, USLA even claimed it was launching a special campaign on behalf of victims of repression in Argentina. Not very much has been seen of this “campaign.” In regard, however, to the particular campaign to save the life of Mario Muñoz—a campaign which focused international attention on repression in Argentina and was a real factor in pressuring several countries into accepting political refugees currently in Argentina—USLA’s role was that of wrecker and saboteur.

At first USLA simply refused to endorse or support the campaign to save Muñoz. But the impressive and growing support for the campaign finally forced a reluctant verbal endorsement out of USLA. Then on May 17 USLA spokesman Mike Kelly informed the Committee to Save Mario Muñoz that USLA was withdrawing its endorsement because the campaign was “sectarian.” Kelly’s consummately anti-communist circular reasoning is perfect McCarthyite “logic”: the campaign is closely associated with the Partisan Defense Committee (PDC), the PDC is closely associated with the Spartacist League (SL), the SL is “sectarian” (as every supporter has been taught to repeat like a “Hail Mary” to ward off the evil spirit of the SL’s revolutionary politics), therefore the campaign must be “sectarian.”

The only concrete example of the campaign’s “sectarianism” that Kelly could conjure up was the singing of the “Internationale” at the conclusion of the April 22 New York demonstration. What USLA and the SWP really object to about the “Internationale,” the song of international labor solidarity, is its class partisanship on the side of the international proletariat.

USLA knew before it endorsed the Committee to Save Mario Muñoz that the PDC was the U.S. co-sponsor of the campaign and that the PDC explicitly describes itself as in accordance with the political views of the SL. Thus the redbaiting “sectarianophobic” departure of USLA was nothing but a calculated attempt to disrupt the campaign and drive away supporters. USLA’s narrow factionalism was underlined by Kelly’s proposal that the Committee to Save Mario Muñoz liquidate into USLA’s non-existent “campaign” against repression in Argentina.

When the SWP hypocrites wished to feign concern for the victims of reactionary terror in Argentina, they were very willing to exploit propaganda and protest carried out by the Committee to Save Mario Muñoz. The SWP’s Intercontinena/ Press (3 May) quoted extensively from the “Urgent Appeal for Solidarity to Save the Life of Mario Muñoz” in an article on repression in Argentina and also reported on the April 22 demonstration at the Argentine Consulate. The demonstration report listed several liberal endorsers of the Committee who did not attend the march, while omitting the PDC and SL, both of which had prominent contingents present. Thus the alleged “sectarian domination” of the campaign— which is supposed to bear the blame for the SWP’s criminally sectarian willingness to abandon Mario Muñoz to the tender mercies of the Argentine assassination squads—is conveniently disappeared so that the SWP can implicitly share credit for the defense work when it suits.

USLA’s Sectarian Record

This is not the first time that USLA’s sectarianism has marred the defense of the victims of reactionary terror in Latin America. In early 1974 the SL initiated the Committee to Save Van Schouwen and Romero, two leaders of the Chilean MIR imprisoned and subjected to brutal torture by the Chilean secret police. As part of the defense of all victims of the Chilean junta’s rightist terror, it was particularly important to underline the cases of far-left militants, who are often ignored while support is mobilized around the defense of liberal-bourgeois opponents of the military juntas. These efforts were endorsed by the Chile Solidarity Committee, North American Congress on Latin America, Puerto Rican Socialist Party—but not by USLA. Claiming it was too busy with activities around the “respectable” Chile 7 (of whom only two were leftist political leaders), USLA from the beginning refused to campaign in defense of Van Schouwen and Romero.

Last year, USLA announced it was launching a campaign of its own against the State Department’s barring from the U.S. of Hugo Blanco, a Peruvian peasant leader and spokesman for the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (where he is a member of the same international faction which the SWP supports). USLA deliberately restricted its “campaign” for Blanco to telegrams to the American government, refusing to organize militant protest activities.

On 3 October 1975 the PDC addressed a letter to USLA proposing a demonstration on behalf of Blanco and pointing out:

“It was just such broad public, united front demonstrations combined with other forms of publicity and protest which galvanized international support behind Blanco when he was imprisoned on the Peruvian prison island of El Fronton and saved him from execution, eventually winning him his freedom…”

But the legalistic USLA would have none of it, explaining by telephone that it intended to rely on other channels.

When the PDC took the initiative in calling a demonstration on behalf of Blanco in San Francisco on October 16, USLA and the SWP openly worked to sabotage it, proclaiming they would contact sponsoring organizations and urge them to withdraw their backing. An SWP supporter intervened into a meeting on the Berkeley campus to insist that Blanco wanted only telegrams to Kissinger and that people should not participate in activities in defense of Blanco unless they were initiated by USLA.

USLA adamantly opposes militant protests because of its exclusive reliance on “different” channels. What this’ policy means is clarified by a set of correspondence involving USLA, Congressman Edward Koch and the State Department. USLA wrote to Koch asking him to intervene on Blanco’s behalf (backed up by a personal letter to Koch from prominent pacifist liberal Dr. Benjamin Spock). When the State Department responded to Koch’s solicitations by informing him that Blanco had been accused of terrorist activities in Peru, Koch backed off in a hurry—and submitted the entire correspondence to the 1 March Congressional Record (as reprinted in Intercontinental Press, 15 March 1976).

To be sure, a responsible defense campaign must spare no effort to bring pressure to bear through governmental and diplomatic channels. But USLA’s exclusive reliance on legalistic pressure tactics—seeking to suck in liberal support by avoiding an open association with leftists and rejecting militant public protests—is a testimonial to the arid reformist bankruptcy of the SWP. In contrast, the Muñoz campaign spearheaded in this country by the openly class-partisan PDC enlisted the active support of left-wing militants and trade unionists while winning impressive hacking among prominent liberals, academics and civil libertarians.

Hypocrisy and Liberalism

The broad support mobilized by the Muñoz campaign compelled USLA to respond, albeit in the privacy of the SWP internal bulletin. “Perspectives on Latin American Defense Work” (SWP Internal Discussion Bulletin Volume 34, Number 3. June 1976), co-authored by Mike Kelly and USLA head Mirta Vidal, blithely informs us that:

“USLA was formed in 1966 in an attempt to find the best way to defend Hugo Blanco and other political prisoners in Latin America. Existing organizations, such as Amnesty International (AI) tended to turn a cold shoulder when it came to defending revolutionaries and rejected certain effective methods of defense such as teach-ins, pickets and demonstrations.”

But it is USLA which turns a “cold shoulder” or red-baiting finger toward the defense of leftist militants like Mario Muñoz or Van Schouwen and Romero, while rejecting pickets and demonstrations even on behalf of the SWP’s own co-thinkers such as Hugo Blanco.

From the time of its formation, USLA demonstrated that its commitment is to liberalism and not to class-struggle defense. At a founding meeting of USLA on 21 December 1966. supporters of the SL objected to the proposed “Statement of Aims” which began: “To aid in defending victims of political persecution and injustice in the countries of Latin America regardless of their particular beliefs, affiliations or associations.” Since this class-neutral formulation deliberately does not preclude the defense of ultra-rightist action groups and outright fascists, SL supporters proposed as an alternative formulation “victims of rightist political persecution.” SWP supporters, insisting that a clear statement of class partisanship would alienate liberals, pushed through their “civil libertarian” formulation. This class neutrality now finds its logical expression in USLA’s criminal abstention from the Muñoz campaign and its McCarthyite attempt to red-bait the Committee.

Returning to the Kelly Vidal document, we find the following amazing passage: “Taking the International Labor Defense (ILD) of the 1920’s as a model, USLA agrees to defend victims of political repression regardless of their political persuasion and seeks support for their cases on a civil liberties basis.” To claim the ILD as the model for defense on a “civil liberties basis” is like claiming that the Third International was founded by Lenin and Trotsky on the principles of “peaceful coexistence.”

According to James Cannon, the founder and first Secretary of the ILD (1925-28), writing in the January 1927 issue of the ILD’s monthly magazine, the Labor Defender:

“Our policy is the policy of the class struggle. It puts the center of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favoring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations organized protest on a national and international scale. It calls for the unity and solidarity of all workers on this burning issue, regardless of conflicting views on other question.”

These are the principles of anti-sectarian, class-struggle defense upon which the campaign to save Mario Muñoz was based and to which the PDC is dedicated. They are as distant from liberal-reformist “civil liberties defense” as the class struggle is from class collaboration. A “civil liberties defense” puts its faith in the justice of the capitalist state. It was “civil liberties defense” which laid the basis for that standard bearer of civil liberties, the American Civil Liberties Union, to cave in to the witchhunt paranoia of the 1950’s, refusing to defend members of the Communist Party, and in 1940 expelling Founding member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from its Executive Board because she was a Communist.

The criminal sectarianism of the SWP and the Stalinists toward the campaign to save Mario Muñoz from the bloodstained butchers of the Pinochet and Videla juntas stands in sharpest contrast to the wide outpouring of sympathy and support for Muñoz mobilized by the Committee. All those whose solidarity and generous financial support contributed to the successful outcome of the campaign on behalf of Muñoz and his family must he proud of their participation in this significant victory for the cause of the victims of reactionary terror in Latin America.

Posted: 17 January 2006