The two letters reproduced here, slightly edited, were sent in June and September 2018 to a group in East Asia with whom we have been in programmatic solidarity for a number of years. The relationship was terminated with mutual consent in October 2018, due the fundamental differences described below.
It is with deep regret that we read your statement “Iran, nationalism and imperialism” (29 May 2018), which makes it very clear that you have developed some profound political differences with the tradition the IBT and its predecessor organizations were founded to preserve. The document comes after a long period of discussion over email, Skype and in person and we do not believe you take these positions lightly.
The differences have been most thoroughly discussed over the question of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, where you repudiate the iSt position of “Down with the Shah! No to the Mullahs! Workers to Power!” on the grounds that refusing to side with Khomeini and his followers against the Shah meant being “in the service of imperialism.” You make the serious accusations that the IBT’s position on this question “abandons Lenin on the national question” and “pretends to be anti-imperialist.” Your position of military support to the Khomeinites against the Pahlavi regime is essentially identical to that of the Pabloist United Secretariat and virtually every other ostensibly Trotskyist current, including Workers Power, the International Socialist Tendency, Grantites, Healyites, Lambertistes and Marcyites. Opposition to this is a key aspect of the anti-Pabloite heritage that we defend, and we have polemicized against the type of arguments you raise in many articles and documents over many years, including recent substantial contributions to this discussion on Iran 1979 and the current war in Syria.
Your difference on Iran in 1979, as you note, has wide-ranging implications – you now consider that we were mistaken in refusing to take sides in the Ukrainian upheaval in 2014, and that we have made a similar mistake in Syria where you advocate siding with the Baathist regime against their Islamist opponents. You have raised differences with our tradition on the national question, including agreement with some aspects of the ICL’s Hydra document, which repudiates the Leninist position on the national question the Spartacists used to uphold. You agree with the present-day ICL when they describe the previous revolutionary position (our position) as “chauvinist, anti-internationalist” and the SL in its revolutionary period (which included our founding comrades) as “a nasty racist organization”.
Our organization was founded on the basis of a nuanced analysis of the degeneration of the Spartacist League, in which elements of future degeneration were present during a period where it was qualitatively revolutionary and uniquely defended and developed revolutionary politics – on Iran 1979 and on the national question in particular, as well as issues of special oppression and trade union work based on the transitional program, to name but a few.
In recent discussions, senior members of the IBT have pointed to our Trotskyist Bulletin #3 as a key document distinguishing our politics from those of centrism/Pabloism and therefore very pertinent to this discussion. In fact, it answers many of the points you have made and we advise you study it carefully. Unfortunately, the logic of the positions outlined in your documents and discussion indicates that after studying TB3 you may find that there are other instances where our positions would be counterposed.
Your arguments are not new. As well as echoes of Pabloism, the Workers Power letter in TB3 and the Spartacist’s recent self-critique, we can also see substantial alignment with the 1980 statement by Libby Schaefer published in Intercontinental Press that we cited in our recent response to the ICL’s Hydra document [footnote 7]. This statement codified Libby’s break from the iSt tradition to embrace that of Hansen/Mandel/Pablo.
We know and respect you as committed militants dedicated to the project of socialist transformation, so it is painful to watch you taking a similar path to embrace core elements of Pabloism. Comrades of the IBT have dedicated our political lives to upholding and continuing the revolutionary heritage of the RT/iSt, and you are not going to convince us to change our minds on issues that are so fundamental to that tradition. This opens up a wide political gulf between your politics and ours, one which seems ultimately impossible to sustain.
Decker, Dorn, [Breitman], Lichtenberg
In your document of 11 August you ask: “why shouldn’t we be critical of the iSt-Seymour tradition? Why should it be a golden rule?”
Criticism is one thing, but rejecting fundamentals is another. Our organisation exists to defend the programme that we believe has the best chance of leading to world proletarian revolution. Defending the continuity of the iSt, and our origins in it, is an important part of this. Of course the programme will require adjustments over time, but what you are proposing would essentially turn the IBT into an entirely different organisation, similar to many of our centrist competitors.
The following are the three main areas where you have either outright rejected the IBT line or have expressed doubts that lead in that direction:
1. Opposition to national bourgeoisie of semi-colonies without accepting false claims of anti-imperialism (eg, Iran 1979)
In rejecting the iSt position on Iran 1979, you pose a fundamental methodological difference: that in conflicts between two bourgeois forces in a non-imperialist country, it is necessary for revolutionaries to bloc with whichever side is not currently favoured by imperialism. You have extended this methodology to more recent conflicts in Syria and Libya. The theory of permanent revolution outlines how the national bourgeoisie of semi-colonies are deeply intertwined with their imperialist overloads, even when they are in temporary conflict with each other. We do not accept their claims of opposing imperialism unless they are in a military conflict with imperialism, in which case we give military, but not political, support. In this respect, one of the key differences between our tendency and centrists is our position on the Israel/Arab wars of 1948, 1967 and 1974? Do you agree with the line in TB3 (ie, dual defeatism) or do you side with the Arabs because they are not favoured by imperialism (as the logic of your Iran position would suggest)?
2. The right to national self-determination without advocating separation (eg, Quebec)
You have expressed the view that we should advocate independence for Quebec, convinced, it seems, by the recent Spartacist documents on the national question. Like the Spartacists your argument tends towards the view that national independence is in itself progressive. This is very far from the position of the IBT. Leninists support the democratic right to separation but advocate it only in cases where it would remove the national question from the agenda and improve the prospects for class struggle, not to advance the cause of nationalism, even the nationalism of the oppressed.
3. Interpenetrated peoples (eg, North of Ireland, Israel/Palestine)
Again these are situations where imperialism currently favours one side. Here, we defend the oppressed who fight back against their oppression, but unlike the centrist left, we do not write off entire communities as “oppressor peoples”. Both sides have a right to self-determination although, due to interpenetration, it cannot be exercised under capitalism without resulting in the oppression of one of the nations involved. You have said you have doubts. The logic of your positions above is to call for self-determination only for the Palestinians and for a united Ireland even under capitalism because of imperialist support to both Israel and the Protestant Loyalists. When you read TB3 on this issue are you closer to the argument of Workers Power than to ours?
These positions cover a large proportion of current and past international issues, and there may be more. They involve fundamental methodological differences about imperialism, permanent revolution, the national question, and the role of the state, which are leading you in the direction of our centrist and Pabloite opponents. Your assertion that the iSt was “racist” during its revolutionary period because of Robertson’s indefensible remarks, indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of, or rejection of, the programme of the organisation.
We have worked together for many years and I do not say this lightly. But it seems that your politics have evolved to the point where common work is no longer possible. Of course, we all hope that you will reconsider and can express a resounding agreement with the politics expressed in TB3, our other publications and those of the revolutionary iSt. But, based on your existing arguments, I do not expect it.
Comrades, let’s part now on friendly terms rather than carry out a frustrating fight, in which neither side will convince the other. Given the extent of our differences, this could only be destructive, create personal animosity and waste time for everyone.