Thoughts on the Spartacists' "Logan Dossier"

by former chair of Spartacist League of Australia and New Zealand

Steve H. was a member (1975-86) of the Spartacist League of Australia and New Zealand and for a time the group's national chair. He sent the following notes on the degeneration of the international Spartacist tendency and the purge of Bill Logan to the Internationalist Group, the Spartacist League/Australia and ourselves. Although his focus is more psychological than our own, and we do not draw all the same conclusions, his rather different lens tends to confirm the most important parts of our analysis.

From: Stephen H
Sent: Thursday, 6 March 2008 9:04 p.m.
To: Bill Logan
Cc: Spartacist League Australia; Internationalist Group
Subject: Thoughts on your recent posting

Below are thoughts ("diary notes") on the recent posting On the Logan Show Trial.

Sunday 24 February

This past week saw the response of the IBT to the ICL’s Logan Dossier series that was headed On The Logan Show Trial.

Once again we return to the early and traumatic days of the first International Conference of 1979. Undoubtedly the events in Britain, the International Conference and then the series of purges in Europe (Germany) and the United States and Canada that led to the formation of the External Tendency, taken as a whole, represent a turn of sorts, understanding consciously and unconsciously, the major change in economic and social relations that was coming, and the period that had ended.

The main point I have got out of this round of re-thinking is that the sociopathic aspect is not something that can be solely attributed to particular individuals, although obviously individuals, leading or otherwise, reflected what was more generally a sociopathic internal life that developed and was developing in the iSt as a whole. Robertson, seen in the wider development, and his central and dominating role in this organisational history, appears to be himself the major sociopath. More usefully, more impersonally and objectively, one can identify sociopathic personalities that emerged from this matrix in its development, itself a result of sharpening external pressures and the ebb and contraction of the radical opening and disjuncture in social relations that were occurring at this time. An internal document written for a CC Plenum in the U.S. at the time addressed these things and set the stage for what was to follow. From memory it was called We’re Looking for a Few Good Communists.

Paul C for example is a sociopathic type, and was known as such, not just from the documented Chicago events where he played a leading role but in later SL party history. However he was seen as loyal, and completely dependent, psychologically and politically, on the Robertson-Foster-Nelson regime. He figures again in the campaign to drive out and eventually expel the Norden-Stamberg group in 1995-96. Marjorie Stamberg characterised Paul C at the time as a borderline personality. Joel Salant was also a key figure in the Control Commission that expelled the Mexican supporters of Norden-Stamberg.

What then did the trial itself represent? As well as the obvious purge of Logan-Hannah its larger significance has to do with this organisational sociopathic character that was developing, and had developed, in the organization as a whole. The classic psychological explanation for what happened, in the group mind, was to split off this objectionable aspect from the whole, then deny it existed, and to project onto the split off aspect all the “evils”, allowing the remaining part to be “good” and “pure”. As such it then made impossible a real materialist enquiry into the reasons for this development and the substitution of demonology. I was reminded of this recently, reading Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, specifically section VI – “ … the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations (my emphasis).”

Perhaps this sociopathic organisational disease can be better understood broken down into some of its elements. Obviously, one of these elements is the distinction made between members’ political and personal lives, and the increasing tendency of the organization to give itself rights to intrude further and further into members’ private lives, to control not just their external political activities but increasingly all aspects of its members lives. Externally the SL/iSt condemned the New Left dictum that “the personal is political”. Internally, however, the process went the other way.

At the very top, in the person of Jim Robertson, where traditionally, and rightfully, the standards and the gap between the political and the personal narrows, the top leader’s personal rights were hugely expanded. In the normal male world power and money can and does bring access to sex and sexual favours and Robertson controlled both the power and the money. It is not so strange or abnormal that he developed around him a group of women, apart from his wives, who, as well as acting in the traditional feudal sense as courtiers and courtesans, formed an important part of the sociopathic fabric of his regime with roots that extended deeply and informally into many aspects of the organization. That is, this is not strange or abnormal either in religious or spiritual sects and cults, although less so in bourgeois society in its more recent developments (John Kennedy to Bill Clinton).

However these developments are deeply incongruous for a genuine Marxist political formation that seeks the road to becoming a party of the advanced workers, a party of the leading class of the future. And, in that fact, they needed to be hidden from public view, and internally rationalised.

In a certain sense then the trial, while outwardly and ostensibly purging this sociopathic development in the person of Bill Logan, also allowed it the freedom to continue to grow and develop internally, expressing itself in the series of internal “struggles” and purges that preceded the formation of the External Tendency. In this the “style” of the Robertson regime was also consolidated and rationalised so that all the incongruous elements of it became thereafter essentially taboo subjects, as did much of the content of the political struggles that were involved.

Robertson’s introduction of strongly personal elements into the organisational regime and the political flavour of the group’s campaigns was also dealt with in classic psychological fashion with these elements denied internally and projected externally onto the ET/BT which was characterised as a purely personal group without any real political content or substance of their own. When they mirrored back to the SL these personally derived deviations from the Marxist or communist norm they were treated as provocateurs that were motivated only by spite and malice, seeking to set the organization up for repression from the bourgeois state, again, psychologically, a form of adolescent acting out while fearing retribution from a fearful authority or father figure.

Importantly, while much use was made internally of psychological and sub-political mechanisms to enforce conformity and weed out dissidents and potential opponents, this is, and was, coupled with strong leadership hostility to psychological knowledge and the development through the 20th century of knowledge of the internal life of human beings as a vital and necessary part of social and political development and knowledge.

Given that psychological factors and mechanisms were a central factor in the purge and at the same time knowledge of these questions was both denied and derided it was difficult for most members to grasp its fundamental character at the time, or even afterwards. Members were complicit, and were made complicit, in all these questions, that reached deep into the organization and its psyche.

The Marxist, materialist, response to this seeming confusion is that politics and program are primary. The ET/BT answered this, correctly, by asserting that the organizational question, the regime question and style and methods are themselves political and programmatic questions of the first order.

However, as time progressed, it was clear that there were differences on major programmatic questions, not least the Russian Question, the central political question of the renewed period of Cold War that began at the end of the 1970s. Much of this has already been covered.

On the question of Afghanistan and the slogan “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan” I would like to add the following. Much was made at the time of having angular, interventionist slogans, slogans that addressed a contradiction in the situation and furthered, or opened up, opportunities for the communist program. In this case the programmatic demand was “Extend the Gains of October to the Afghan Peoples”.

Such angular slogans are, by their very nature, based on the conjuncture. Extended beyond the open conjuncture, in this case the initial period after the Russian army intervention into Afghanistan in support of the nationalist reformist regime, there is a qualitative change in their character. The SL/ICL maintained this slogan up until, and after, the withdrawal of Russian troops, long after it became obvious that Moscow was committed to maintaining the social and political status quo. In this sense, politically, the slogan became transformed into political support and promoting illusions in the Stalinist bureaucracy. The BT eventually made this correction, pulling the slogan back to its basic military support character in the Afghan civil war and the larger Cold War context.

This fixation on “making it happen”, and being at the “cutting edge”, while the real social and political relationships were contracting and moving the other way is more easily understood in retrospect but it figured prominently in many of the disputes.

Also the “Logan Dossiers” and the BT’s reply reflect a development in this decades-long political freeze between the two groups, and, by extension, to the Internationalist Group/LFI, the third leg of the Spartacist tradition.

The recent extensive polemic that ensued from Robertson’s flippant and chauvinist reference to the “Kurds as Turds” (in his triumphalist speech narrating the course of the purge of the Logan group from the iSt’s British section) was won hands down by the BT, and left Robertson and the ICL impotent and humiliated, setting off an internal crisis of faith. There was a need for something new, thus the dossiers. But, at a distance, in a more mature light of day, the material only further undermines the ICL’s demonological history of the purge and its own political history.

This is all to the good. The groups that represent the anti-revisionist trend in the post WWII period in the history of the Fourth International and Trotskyism-Marxism as a definite political trend, tradition, program, doctrine and method in the world labour movement are now fragments, partial in their reflection as aspects of the whole after nearly 30 years of social and political reaction and counterrevolution. Each group, including the International Committee, itself regenerated after near political death following its implosion in 1985 from the corruption and poison of at least 20 years of the Healy-Banda-Slaughter regime, has its strong sides, areas of knowledge and expertise, and geographical extension in the world.

This is just to state the facts. History and a new upsurge in the world labour movement will provide the fuel and the heat for its resolution, potentially to a higher and more unified order, or not.

Steve H. [member SL/ANZ 1975-86]

Posted: 23 March 2008