Letter to Spartacist Canada on imperialist troops and killer cops

28 July 2009


The current issue of Spartacist Canada (Summer 2009) features an article, “‘Antiwar Movement’ Pushes Illusions in Canadian Imperialism,” in which the social pacifism of the International Socialists (IS) and their Toronto Coalition to Stop the War is aptly illustrated with a photo of a placard reading “Support Our Troops—Bring Them Home!” in front of a “Support Our Troops” billboard sponsored by the reactionary National Citizens Coalition.

Yet many Spartacist Canada readers may not be aware that the Spartacist League/U.S. (SL) raised a similar call in October 1983 when an “Islamic Jihad” truck bomb killed 240 U.S. Marines in Beirut. In that instance your organization called for “Marines Out of Lebanon, Now, Alive!” (Workers Vanguard [WV], 4 November 1983). We criticized this as a social-patriotic flinch in our 12 November 1983 response and counterposed the slogan “Imperialists Out of Lebanon—By Any Means Necessary!” The polemics that ensued are all reprinted in our Trotskyist Bulletin No.2.

The failure of the International Communist League (ICL) to repudiate this deviation makes your attack on the IS seem rather hypocritical. Your concern for the well-being of the trained killers of the U.S. Marine Corps appears particularly incongruous given your developing idiosyncratic “leftism” on various issues relating to the bourgeois state. In “Of Presidents & Principles” (1917 No. 30) we took up your claim that Engels, Trotsky, Cannon et al were wrong to think that Marxists could take advantage of heightened political interest during American presidential contests by fielding a revolutionary candidate.

And then there is your opposition to the call to jail Johannes Mehserle—the Bay Area Rapid Transit cop who, on 1 January, murdered Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black man. In response to our article, “On Jailing Killer Cops” (1917 No.31), WV glibly commented that “in the increasingly unlikely event that Mehserle is thrown behind bars, the purpose will simply be to give the state’s armed thugs a more ‘democratic’ facade” (Workers Vanguard, 24 April). This sectarian indifference toward the intense desire expressed by thousands of blacks and militant youth in the Bay Area to “jail the killer cop” discredits the ICL and undercuts any claim to be a tribune of the oppressed.

In Workers Hammer (Spring 2008), your British comrades correctly criticize those fake-revolutionaries who treat cops as workers:

“support by ‘socialists’ for better pay for the cops is obscene, particularly now in London where the police carried out the brutal, cold-blooded killing of Brazilian immigrant Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 and got away with it. This outrage by the Metropolitan Police is in continuity with their years-long role in shielding the racist killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, despite a huge effort by the family campaign to have his killers brought to justice.”

A good point. But is the Spartacist League/Britain prepared to support the Lawrence family’s campaign? If so, would this not amount to calling to “jail the racist killers”? Why should revolutionaries not also be prepared to participate in mobilizations that seek to ensure that the cops who murdered de Menezes do not “get away with it”? In our view, it is the duty of socialist militants to actively participate in such campaigns. We fully agree with the observation in the Winter 2007-08 issue of Workers Hammer that “anyone with a shred of decency would wish to see the cops responsible for this heinous crime [de Menezes’ murder] rot in jail.” So why not raise this as a demand? It is true that reformists will try to push the lie that by punishing the perpetrators of such crimes the inherently oppressive nature of the capitalist police can be changed. But this is no reason for revolutionaries not to seek to organize the eruptions of mass anger at racist police killings while popularizing the idea that it is necessary to get rid of the social system that lies at the root.

When it was a revolutionary organization, the SL understood that bourgeois democratic rights can only be preserved by opposing egregious violations committed by state authorities. And it knew how to address such issues without creating illusions. For example, in discussing post-Watergate investigations of the extra-legal activities of the political police, the SL wrote:

“Without exception the entire secret police—the most felonious organization in the country—is guilty of the same charges [brought against John J. Kearney, head of the FBI’s ‘Squad 47’ charged with illegal phone taps and letter opening in New York] and probably much more that is far worse. From Kearney of ‘Squad 47’ to William Calley [a junior American army officer who ordered the massacre of civilians in the village of My Lai during the Vietnam War], to Adolph Eichmann, capitalism’s butchers and hit men are always ‘only following orders.’ And while we demand that the big guns who gave the orders be brought to justice, the scum who actually pull the triggers must not be allowed to beat the rap. Put away all the FBI/CIA criminals! Smash the capitalist secret police though workers revolution!”
Workers Vanguard, 21 April 1978

This approach still makes sense to us. We note that the December 1977/January 1978 issue of Spartacist Canada made similar comments about revelations of RCMP “dirty tricks”:

“The RCMP’s surveillance and harassment of left and labor militants and organizations are carried out with the purpose of impeding their legal activities today, and of preparing their destruction when defense of the ‘security’ of the capitalist state requires it. The release of all secret files to the persons and organizations who have been victimized, the jailing of the criminal cops, and the abolition of all the so-called special ‘security’ and spying police forces are elementary democratic demands of the workers movement. But as long as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie remains intact, the state through its agencies like the RCMP will continue to direct terror and ‘dirty tricks’ against the working class and oppressed.”

The next year, in July 1979, when U.S. federal agents dragged Jane Margolis, a Spartacist supporter in the Communication Workers of America, off the floor of her union’s national convention, the SL responded by suing the U.S. Secret Service. The 23 November 1979 issue of Workers Vanguard reprinted the following from Margolis’ lawsuit:

“This is no ordinary lawsuit. At its heart, the case of Jane Margolis versus the Secret Service poses a significant question concerning the independence of the labor movement from coercive state control….

“The facts of this case are without precedent in the history of the organized labor movement in America. Never before have federal police agents disrupted a national convention of a major trade union to forcibly remove an elected delegate….”

The statement went on to observe that “the rights of labor are the cornerstone of democratic rights generally….” One such democratic right is the right not to be executed by racist cops—and in such cases Marxists actively participate in struggles to try to ensure that “the scum who actually pull the triggers” do not “beat the rap.”

In the early 1980s, the SL launched several successful lawsuits to defend its democratic rights against threats by the anti-communist Moonie cult, California Attorney General George Deukmeijian, as well as by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General. Those campaigns helped protect the democratic rights of the entire left and labor movement. Does the ICL now consider that in launching them it was promoting illusions in the possibility of reforming the capitalist state? If not, what possible basis is there for objecting to the call to jail racist cops who murder innocent people?

Bolshevik greetings,
Tom Riley,
for the International Bolshevik Tendency

Posted: 06 August 2009