Saturday, April 23, 2011

*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal-Connolly: A Marxist Analysis- A Book Review

Click on the headline to link to the “Revolutionary History” Journal entry listed in the title.

Markin comment:

This is an excellent documentary source for today’s militants to “discovery” the work of our forbears, whether we agree with their programs or not. Mainly not, but that does not negate the value of such work done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.

On The 95th Anniversary- From The In Defense Of Maxism Website-James Connolly and the Easter Rising

James Connolly and the Easter Rising

Written by Alan Woods and Ted Grant
Saturday, 14 April 2001

This Easter marks the 85th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin (Ireland) against British imperialist rule. The outstanding leader of that movement was James Connolly. There have been many attempts to portray him simply as an Irish nationalist. But Connolly was, first and foremost, a militant workers' leader and a Marxist. He alone in the annals of the British and Irish Labour Movement succeeded in developing the ideas of Marxism.

Born in 1868 into a poor family in Edinburgh, James Connolly was a genuine proletarian. His working life commenced at the age of ten. All his life he lived and breathed the world of the working class, shared in its trials and tribulations, suffered from its defeats and exulted in its victories. Connolly was a self-educated man who became a brilliant speaker and writer. He alone in the annals of the British and Irish Labour Movement succeeded in developing the ideas of Marxism.

On the basis of a careful study of the writings of Marx and Engels, he developed an independent standpoint and made an original contribution. Even more remarkably, he did this without the benefit of direct contact with the other outstanding Marxist thinkers of the time: Lenin, Trotsky or Luxemburg.

From the first, Connolly had to contend with the same problems that blighted the existence of the rest of his class: dire and unrelieved poverty, which at times made it all but impossible for him to feed his family. But nothing could deter him from his chosen path. With unceasing vigour and absolute single-mindedness, Connolly fought for socialism. The programme of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, written by Connolly, was not a nationalist but a socialist programme based upon:

"Establishment of AN IRISH SOCIALIST REPUBLIC based on the public ownership by the Irish people of the land, and instruments of production, distribution and exchange. Agriculture to be administered as a public function, under boards of management elected by the agricultural population and responsible to them and to the nation at large. All other forms of labour necessary to the well-being of the community to be conducted on the same principles."

Connolly was, first and foremost, a militant workers' leader. The Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU), under the leadership of Larkin and Connolly, led the stormy wave of class struggle that shook Ireland to its foundations in the years before 1914. Rarely have these Islands seen such a level of bitter class conflict. This affected not only Dublin but also Belfast, where Connolly succeeded in uniting Catholic and Protestant workers in struggle against the employers. In October 1911 he led the famous Belfast Textile workers strike and organised the workers of that sector - predominately low-paid and very exploited women.

The wave of strikes was countered by the employers in the notorious Dublin lockout of 1913. Here we saw the real face of the Irish bourgeoisie: grasping, repressive, reactionary. The Dublin bosses, organised by William Martin Murphy, the chairman of the Employers' Federation and owner of the Irish Independent newspaper, set out to crush the workers and their organisations. The ITGWU replied by blacking Murphy's newspapers, and he retaliated by locking out all ITGWU members.

The issue of class unity runs like a red thread through all the writings and speeches of Connolly: "Perhaps they will see that the landlord who grinds his peasants on a Connemara estate, and the landlord who rack-rents them in a Cowgate slum, are brethren in fact and deed. Perhaps they will realise that the Irish worker who starves in an Irish cabin and the Scots worker who is poisoned in an Edinburgh garret are brothers with one hope and destiny." (C.D. Greaves, James Connolly, p. 61.)

Throughout the lockout, Larkin and Connolly repeatedly appealed to the class solidarity of the British workers. They addressed mass rallies in England, Scotland and Wales, which were also the scene of big class battles in the years before the war. The appeal of the Irish workers did not fall on deaf ears. Their cause was enthusiastically supported by the rank and file of the British movement, although the right wing Labour leaders were preparing to ditch the Irish workers as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Despite the solidarity and sympathy of the workers of Britain, the trade union leaders refused to organise solidarity strikes, the only way that victory could have been achieved. In the end, the workers were starved back to work. Bitterly, Connolly noted:

"And so we Irish workers must again go down to Hell, bow our backs to the last of the slave drivers, let our hearts be seared by the iron of his hatred and instead of the sacramental wafer of brotherhood and common sacrifice, eat the dust of defeat and betrayal. Dublin is isolated." (p. 23)

The Citizen's Army

In the years preceding World War One, the British ruling class was facing revolutionary developments in Ireland and in Britain. In order to head off the danger of revolution, they resorted to the "Orange card". Lord Carson organised and armed the hooligans of the Belfast slums in the Ulster Volunteers, pledged to resist Irish Home Rule by force. When the Liberal government in London contemplated using the British army in Ireland, they were met with the "mutiny at the Curragh". Connolly remained firm in the face of the sectarian madness. He organised a Labour demonstration under the auspices of the ITGWU, "the only union that allows no bigotry in its ranks." In answer to the sectarians and religious bigots, he declared class war, issuing his famous manifesto: "To the Linen Slaves of Belfast".

In order to protect themselves against the brutal attacks of police and hired thugs of the employers, the workers set up their own defence force: the Irish Citizens' Army (ICA). This was the first time in these Islands that workers had organised themselves on an armed basis to defend themselves against the common enemy: the bosses and the scabs. The latter, it should be remembered, were much more numerous than at the present time, as a result of the widespread conditions of poverty and despair. The two main leaders were Connolly (himself an ex-soldier) and Captain Jack J. White DSO - a Protestant Ulsterman. But Connolly saw the ICA not only as a defence force, but as a revolutionary army, dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism. He wrote:

"An armed organisation of the Irish working class is a phenomenon in Ireland. Hitherto, the workers of Ireland have fought as parts of the armies led by their masters, never as a member of any army officered, trained, and inspired by men of their own class. Now, with arms in their hands, they propose to steer their own course, to carve their own future." (Workers Republic, 30 October 1915)

As we see from these lines, Connolly envisaged the ICA in class terms, as an organisation organically linked to the mass organisations of the proletariat. It was funded out of the subscriptions of the members of the union, and its activities were organised from Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the ITGWU in Dublin. The Citizens Army drilled and paraded openly on the streets of Dublin for several years before 1916. Here was no secret organisation engaged in the methods of individual terrorism, but a genuine workers' militia: the first workers' Red Army in Europe.

Unfortunately, the movement in the direction of revolution in Ireland was rudely cut across by the outbreak of the First World War. In August 1914, despite all the resolutions passed by the congresses of the Socialist International, every one of the leaderships of the Social Democratic Parties betrayed the cause of socialist internationalism and voted for the War. The only honourable exceptions were the Russians, the Serbs - and the Irish. Right from the start, Connolly adopted an unswerving internationalist stance, which was, in all fundamentals, identical with the position adopted by Lenin.

Commenting on the betrayal of the leaders of the Socialist International, he wrote in Forward (15 August, 1914):

"What then becomes of all our resolutions; all our protests of fraternisation; all our threats of general strikes; all our carefully built machinery of internationalism; all our hopes for the future?"

And he reached the same conclusion as Lenin. In answer to the kind of pacifism that was the hallmark of Labour Lefts such as Ramsay MacDonald (at that time) and the leaders of the ILP, he wrote:

"A great continental uprising of the working class would stop the war; a universal protest at public meetings would not save a single life from being wantonly slaughtered."

Connolly was not just a socialist, not just a revolutionary: he was an internationalist to the marrow of his bones.

The Easter Rising

From the start of the War, Connolly was virtually isolated. Internationally, he had no contact. Outside of Ireland, the Labour Movement seemed to be as silent as the grave. True, there were symptoms of a revival in Britain, with the Glasgow rent strike of 1915. But Connolly feared that the workers of Britain would move too late. The idea of an uprising had clearly been taking shape in Connolly's mind. The threat that Britain would introduce conscription into Ireland was the main issue that concentrated the mind, not only of Connolly, but also of the petit bourgeois nationalists of the Irish Volunteers. Connolly therefore pressed them to enter a militant alliance with Labour for an armed uprising against British imperialism. In the event, the leaders of the Volunteers withdrew at the last movement, leaving the Rising in the lurch.

Was Connolly right to move when he did? The question is a difficult one. The conditions were frankly unfavourable. Although there were strikes in Ireland right up to the outbreak of the Rising, the Irish working class had been exhausted and weakened by the exertions of the lockout. There were rumours that the British authorities were planning to arrest the leading Irish revolutionaries. Connolly finally decided to throw everything into the balance. He drew the conclusion that it was better to strike first. He aimed to strike a blow that would break the ice and show the way, even at the cost of his own life. To fight and lose was preferable than to accept and capitulate. When Connolly marched out of Liberty Hall for the last time that fateful morning, he whispered to a comrade: "We are going out to be slaughtered." When the latter asked him: "Is there no chance of success?" he replied: "None whatever."

Connolly was undoubtedly a giant. His actions were those of a genuine revolutionary, unlike the craven conduct of the Labour leaders who backed the imperialist slaughter - with the enthusiastic support of the Irish bourgeois nationalists. Yet he also made some mistakes. There is no point in denying it, although some people wish to make Connolly into a saint - while simultaneously ditching or distorting his ideas. There were serious weaknesses in the Rising itself. No attempt was made to call a general strike. On Monday 24, 1916, the Dublin trams were still running, and most people went about their business. No appeal was made to the British soldiers.

Only 1,500 members of the Dublin Volunteers and ICA answered the call to rise. The nationalists had already split between the Redmondites - the Parliamentary Irish Group - who backed the War, and the left wing. However, on the eve of the Rising, the leader of the Volunteers, Eoin MacNeil publicly instructed all members to refuse to come out. As so many times before and since, the nationalist bourgeoisie betrayed the cause of Ireland.

The behaviour of the nationalist leaders came as no surprise to Connolly, who always approached the national liberation struggle from a class point of view. He never had any trust in the bourgeois and petit bourgeois Republicans, and tirelessly worked to build an independent movement of the working class as the only guarantee for the re conquest of Ireland. Since his death there have been many attempts to erase his real identity as a revolutionary socialist and present him as just one more nationalist. This is utterly false. One week before the Rising he warned the Citizens Army: "The odds against us are a thousand to one. But if we should win, hold onto your rifles because the Volunteers may have a different goal. Remember, we are not only for political liberty, but for economic liberty as well."

From a military point of view the Rising was doomed in advance - although if the Volunteers had not stabbed it in the back, the Uprising could have had far greater success. As it was, the British used artillery to batter the GPO (the rebel centre) into submission. By Thursday night, after four days of heroic resistance against the most frightful odds, the rebels were compelled to sign an unconditional surrender.

Although the Rising itself ended in failure, it left behind a tradition of struggle that had far-reaching consequences. It was this that probably Connolly had in mind. In particular the savagery of the British army, which shot all the leaders of the Rising in cold blood after a farcical drumhead trial, caused a wave of revulsion throughout all Ireland. James Connolly, who was badly wounded and unable to stand, was shot strapped to a chair. But the British had miscalculated. The gunshots that ended the life of this great martyr of the working class aroused a new generation of fighters eager to revenge Ireland's wrongs.

The Easter Rising was like a tocsin bell, the echoes of which rang throughout Europe. After two years of imperialist slaughter, at last the ice was broken! A courageous word had been spoken, and could be heard above the din of the bombs and cannon-fire. Lenin received the news of the uprising enthusiastically. This was understandable, given his position. The War posed tremendous difficulties for the Marxist internationalists. Lenin was isolated with a small group of supporters. On all sides there was capitulation and betrayal. The class struggle was temporarily in abeyance. The Labour leaders were participating in coalition governments with the social-patriots. The events in Dublin completely cut across this. That is why Lenin was so enthusiastic about the uprising. But he also pointed out:

"The misfortune of the Irish is that they have risen prematurely when the European revolt of the proletariat has not yet matured. Capitalism is not so harmoniously built that the various springs of rebellion can of themselves merge at one effort without reverses and defeats."

Had the Rising occurred a couple of years later, it would not have been isolated. It would have had powerful reserves in the shape of the mass revolutionary movement that swept through Europe after the October Revolution in 1917. But Connolly was not to know this.

Importance of leadership

Some sorry ex-Marxists criticised the Easter Rising from a right wing standpoint, such as Plekhanov. In an article in Nashe Slovo dated 4 July 1916, Trotsky denounced Plekhanov's remarks about the Rising as "wretched and shameful" and added: "the experience of the Irish national uprising is over....the historical role of the Irish proletariat is just beginning."

Unfortunately, this prediction was falsified by history. The tragedy of the Irish working class was that, unlike Lenin, Connolly did not create a revolutionary Marxist party, armed with theory, that would have carried on his work after his death. This was his biggest mistake, and one which had the most tragic consequences. In the same way that the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht later beheaded the German revolution, so the killing of Connolly removed any chance of the Irish working class leading the revolutionary movement against British imperialism. This was a heavy price to pay!

Connolly had created the Irish Labour Party, with a solid base in the trade unions and the working class. In effect, it was the workers of the Irish Citizens Army who had led the Easter Rising, not the petit bourgeois Volunteers. In fact, Sinn Fein played NO role in the uprising, while the Irish bourgeois nationalists openly betrayed it.

Yet, when Connolly was removed from the picture, it was the bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalists who took advantage of the situation to seize control of the movement. Tragically, the leaders of the Irish Labour Party, lacking Connolly's grounding in Marxism, proved to be hopelessly inadequate to the tasks posed by history. Instead of maintaining Connolly's fight for an independent class policy, they tail ended the nationalists, standing down in their favour in the general election after the War.

Under the leadership of the bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalists, the movement was side-tracked into a guerrilla struggle, and then betrayed. Fearful of the prospect of revolution, the rotten Irish bourgeoisie reached an agreement with London to divide the living body of Ireland. All Connolly's warnings about the treacherous role of the bourgeoisie were confirmed by the terrible events surrounding partition. The legacy of this betrayal is still with us today.

For the last 85 years, the Irish bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalists have demonstrated their complete incapacity for solving the tasks of the Irish national liberation struggle. In 1922, the bourgeois leaders signed the partition of Ireland. This problem cannot be solved on a capitalist basis. For the last 30 years the Provisional IRA have been trying to solve the problem by a senseless campaign of bombing and shooting. These tactics of individual terrorism have absolutely nothing in common with the methods of Connolly and the Citizens Army, which were always based on class politics and organically linked to the proletariat and the mass workers organisations.

What have these methods achieved after 30 years? Over three thousand deaths; the destruction of a whole generation of Irish youth; the splitting of the population of the North into two hostile camps; a terrible legacy of sectarian bitterness. And with what result? Has the border question been solved? Let us speak clearly: After three decades of so-called armed struggle, the cause of Irish reunification is further away today than at any other time. Ignominiously, the leaders of the Provisionals have capitulated for the sake of a few paltry ministerial portfolios. Nothing has been solved for either Catholics or Protestants.

This is the terrible legacy of decades of individual terrorism and the total lack of any class or socialist perspective. True, there was a serious division in the past between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. But now in place of division we have a yawning abyss. Yet none of this would have been necessary if Connolly's ideas and methods had prevailed.

In his lifetime, Connolly always fought for the unity of the working class above all national and religious lines. By concentrating on class issues, he succeeded in uniting the Catholic and Protestant workers in the struggle against their common enemy - the employing class. That is the only way to get out of the present mess. The only way to solve what remains of Ireland's national problem is as a by-product of the revolutionary struggle for socialism. That was true in Connolly's day. And it remains true today. There can be no reunification of Ireland while the working class remains divided along sectarian lines.

The socialist revolution in the North is inextricably linked to the perspective of socialist revolution in the South - and in Britain. In other words, it can only be solved with a proletarian and internationalist policy. There is still a ray of hope in the North of Ireland. Despite everything, the fundamental organisations of the working class - the trade unions - remain united. They are probably the only real non-sectarian mass organisations that still exist. This is the base upon which we can build! That would undoubtedly be the message of James Connolly, were he alive at this time.

Eighty five years later, it is necessary to cut through all the fog of historical fantasy and nationalist mystification that surrounds the events of Easter Week, and see the key role of the proletariat. What a great opportunity was missed with the death of James Connolly! But the new generation must take the lesson to heart. Connolly failed because he did not create - as Lenin created - the necessary instrument with which to change society: a revolutionary party and a revolutionary leadership!

Today we pledge ourselves to defend the heritage of this great Marxist, fighter, and martyr of the working class. We must rescue the ideas of Connolly which have been stolen and distorted beyond recognition by people who have nothing to do with Connolly, socialism or the working class. We must continue the fight for Connolly's ideas - the only ideas that can guarantee the ultimate victory. We must create the necessary revolutionary organisation, soundly based on the programme, policy and methods of Marxism. And we must understand that such an organisation must be firmly based in the only soil in which it can grow and flourish: the trade unions and the mass organisations of Labour in Ireland, North and South, as well as on the other side of the Irish Sea.

The Easter Rising was a glorious harbinger of what is still to come. The job was left unfinished in 1916. The task now falls upon our shoulders. Armed with the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky - and Connolly - we shall not fail!

Friday, April 22, 2011

*In Honor Of The 141st Anniversary Of Vladimir Lenin's Birthday-The April Theses (1917)

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the great Russian revolutionary and leader of the Bolshevik Party, Vladimir Lenin, for some quick background information. As always with this source, especially on political questions and personalities use with care and as a start, then move on for more in-depth analysis.

Markin comment:

In honor of the 141st birthday anniversary of the great Russian revolutionary and leader of the Bolshevik Party, Vladimir Lenin. And the leader, along with Leon Trotsky, come hell or high water, of the only successful workers' revolution in history, thus far. Forward

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution
[a.k.a. The April Theses]

Published: April 7, 1917 in Pravda No. 26. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the newspaper text.
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 24, pp. 19-26.
Translated: Isaacs Bernard
Transcription: Zodiac
HTML Markup: B. Baggins
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2005), (1997), (1999). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

This article contains Lenin’s famous April Theses read by him at two meetings of the All-Russia Conference of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, on April 4, 1917.

I did not arrive in Petrograd until the night of April 3, and therefore at the meeting on April 4, I could, of course, deliver the report on the tasks of the revolutionary proletariat only on my own behalf, and with reservations as to insufficient preparation.

The only thing I could do to make things easier for myself—and for honest opponents—was to prepare the theses in writing. I read them out, and gave the text to Comrade Tsereteli. I read them twice very slowly: first at a meeting of Bolsheviks and then at a meeting of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

I publish these personal theses of mine with only the briefest explanatory notes, which were developed in far greater detail in the report.

1) In our attitude towards the war, which under the new [provisional] government of Lvov and Co. unquestionably remains on Russia’s part a predatory imperialist war owing to the capitalist nature of that government, not the slightest concession to “revolutionary defencism” is permissible.

The class-conscious proletariat can give its consent to a revolutionary war, which would really justify revolutionary defencism, only on condition: (a) that the power pass to the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants aligned with the proletariat; (b) that all annexations be renounced in deed and not in word; (c) that a complete break be effected in actual fact with all capitalist interests.

In view of the undoubted honesty of those broad sections of the mass believers in revolutionary defencism who accept the war only as a necessity, and not as a means of conquest, in view of the fact that they are being deceived by the bourgeoisie, it is necessary with particular thoroughness, persistence and patience to explain their error to them, to explain the inseparable connection existing between capital and the imperialist war, and to prove that without overthrowing capital it is impossible to end the war by a truly democratic peace, a peace not imposed by violence.

The most widespread campaign for this view must be organised in the army at the front.


2) The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution—which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie—to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.

This transition is characterised, on the one hand, by a maximum of legally recognised rights (Russia is now the freest of all the belligerent countries in the world); on the other, by the absence of violence towards the masses, and, finally, by their unreasoning trust in the government of capitalists, those worst enemies of peace and socialism.

This peculiar situation demands of us an ability to adapt ourselves to the special conditions of Party work among unprecedentedly large masses of proletarians who have just awakened to political life.

3) No support for the Provisional Government; the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear, particularly of those relating to the renunciation of annexations. Exposure in place of the impermissible, illusion-breeding “demand” that this government, a government of capitalists, should cease to be an imperialist government.

4) Recognition of the fact that in most of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies our Party is in a minority, so far a small minority, as against a bloc of all the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements, from the Popular Socialists and the Socialist-Revolutionaries down to the Organising Committee (Chkheidze, Tsereteli, etc.), Steklov, etc., etc., who have yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie and spread that influence among the proletariat.

The masses must be made to see that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government, and that therefore our task is, as long as this government yields to the influence of the bourgeoisie, to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses.

As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticising and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience.

5) Not a parliamentary republic—to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step—but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.

Abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy.[1]

The salaries of all officials, all of whom are elective and displaceable at any time, not to exceed the average wage of a competent worker.

6) The weight of emphasis in the agrarian programme to be shifted to the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies.

Confiscation of all landed estates.

Nationalisation of all lands in the country, the land to be disposed of by the local Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. The organisation of separate Soviets of Deputies of Poor Peasants. The setting up of a model farm on each of the large estates (ranging in size from 100 to 300 dessiatines, according to local and other conditions, and to the decisions of the local bodies) under the control of the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies and for the public account.

7) The immediate union of all banks in the country into a single national bank, and the institution of control over it by the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.

8) It is not our immediate task to “introduce” socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies.

9) Party tasks:

(a) Immediate convocation of a Party congress;

(b) Alteration of the Party Programme, mainly:

(1) On the question of imperialism and the imperialist war,

(2) On our attitude towards the state and our demand for a “commune state”[2];

(3) Amendment of our out-of-date minimum programme;

(c) Change of the Party’s name.[3]

10. A new International.

We must take the initiative in creating a revolutionary International, an International against the social-chauvinists and against the “Centre”.[4]

In order that the reader may understand why I had especially to emphasise as a rare exception the “case” of honest opponents, I invite him to compare the above theses with the following objection by Mr. Goldenberg: Lenin, he said, “has planted the banner of civil war in the midst of revolutionary democracy” (quoted in No. 5 of Mr. Plekhanov’s Yedinstvo).

Isn’t it a gem?

I write, announce and elaborately explain: “In view of the undoubted honesty of those broad sections of the mass believers in revolutionary defencism ... in view of the fact that they are being deceived by the bourgeoisie, it is necessary with particular thoroughness, persistence and patience to explain their error to them....”

Yet the bourgeois gentlemen who call themselves Social-Democrats, who do not belong either to the broad sections or to the mass believers in defencism, with serene brow present my views thus: “The banner[!] of civil war” (of which there is not a word in the theses and not a word in my speech!) has been planted(!) “in the midst [!!] of revolutionary democracy...”.

What does this mean? In what way does this differ from riot-inciting agitation, from Russkaya Volya?

I write, announce and elaborately explain: “The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government, and therefore our task is to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses.”

Yet opponents of a certain brand present my views as a call to “civil war in the midst of revolutionary democracy”!

I attacked the Provisional Government for not having appointed an early date or any date at all, for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and for confining itself to promises. I argued that without the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies the convocation of the Constituent Assembly is not guaranteed and its success is impossible.

And the view is attributed to me that I am opposed to the speedy convocation of the Constituent Assembly!

I would call this “raving”, had not decades of political struggle taught me to regard honesty in opponents as a rare exception.

Mr. Plekhanov in his paper called my speech “raving”. Very good, Mr. Plekhanov! But look how awkward, uncouth and slow-witted you are in your polemics. If I delivered a raving speech for two hours, how is it that an audience of hundreds tolerated this “raving”? Further, why does your paper devote a whole column to an account of the “raving”? Inconsistent, highly inconsistent!

It is, of course, much easier to shout, abuse, and howl than to attempt to relate, to explain, to recall what Marx and Engels said in 1871, 1872 and 1875 about the experience of the Paris Commune and about the kind of state the proletariat needs. [See: The Civil War in France and Critique of the Gotha Programme]

Ex-Marxist Mr. Plekhanov evidently does not care to recall Marxism.

I quoted the words of Rosa Luxemburg, who on August 4, 1914, called German Social-Democracy a “stinking corpse”. And the Plekhanovs, Goldenbergs and Co. feel “offended”. On whose behalf? On behalf of the German chauvinists, because they were called chauvinists!

They have got themselves in a mess, these poor Russian social-chauvinists—socialists in word and chauvinists in deed.

[1] i.e. the standing army to be replaced by the arming of the whole people.—Lenin

[2] i.e., a state of which the Paris Commune was the prototype.—Lenin

[3] Instead of “Social-Democracy”, whose official leaders throughout the world have betrayed socialism and deserted to the bourgeoisie (the “defencists” and the vacillating “Kautskyites”), we must call ourselves the Communist Party.—Lenin

[4] The “Centre” in the international Social-Democratic movement is the trend which vacillates between the chauvinists (=“defencists”) and internationalists, i.e., Kautsky and Co. in Germany, Longuet and Co. in France, Chkheidze and Co. in Russia, Turati and Co. in Italy, MacDonald and Co. in Britain, etc.—Lenin

From The Histo:Mat Blog-Once again on revolutionary discipline

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Once again on revolutionary discipline

'A revolutionary party is an instrument for making a revolution. If it is blunted or broken another must be built.'

Such a statement is only half-correct from the standpoint of classical Bolshevism. If a revolutionary party is 'broken' then it is indeed the duty of revolutionaries inside such an organisation to try and join with whatever healthy elements still exist inside that organisation and try and build another such organisation. But how to judge when an allegedly revolutionary organisation is broken? Let us take perhaps the most extreme but also one of the clearest cases from revolutionary history - Leon Trotsky's 1933 break with the Communist International after the rise of Hitler's Nazis to power in Germany and his declaration of the need the need 'To Build Communist Parties and an International Anew'. Trotsky broke with the Communist International as it had been taken over by the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia and first created and then continued with its disastrous strategy of equivocating the 'social fascist' German Social Democratic Party with Hitler's Nazis, and so failed to build a united front against fascism in the run-up to the fateful year of 1933. In July 1933, after Hitler had come to power, Trotsky noted that:

The Moscow leadership has not only proclaimed as infallible the policy which guaranteed victory to Hitler, but has also prohibited all discussion of what had occurred. And this shameful interdiction was not violated, nor overthrown. No national congresses; no international congress; no discussions at party meetings; no discussion in the press! An organization which was not roused by the thunder of fascism and which submits docilely to such outrageous acts of the bureaucracy demonstrates thereby that it is dead and that nothing can ever revive it. To say this openly and publicly is our direct duty toward the proletariat and its future. In all our subsequent work it is necessary to take as our point of departure the historical collapse of the official Communist International.

This is, as I say, an extreme case of a revolutionary party being 'broken' as it had shown no sign of changing course or direction after the rise of fascism to power in a country that hitherto had the strongest working class movement in history. There are other, less extreme examples, of course. As I wrote on this blog just over a year ago, it would be 'absolutely justified' for a revolutionary to leave one's party 'if one's party had made a betrayal of the principles of socialism and the class struggle itself (eg supported an imperialist war/not supported a strike by workers, etc etc)'.

'If the party had made such a betrayal - and showed no signs of correction after one had put the opposing arguments in the democratic forums of the party - then one would have a duty to form a faction within the party to fight for the correct position - and if that did not work - then to resign from the party, form a new revolutionary Marxist grouping and call on the members of your old party to join your new organisation because the old was irredeemably bankrupt and had become 'social-imperialist/class collaborationist/ etc etc'

The failure to break organisationally with the formally 'Marxist' but actually social-imperialist and class-collorationist German Social Democratic Party before the First World War (which the SPD supported) and form a new revolutionary organisation then was perhaps the most serious failing of Rosa Luxemburg, an otherwise outstanding revolutionary, for example.

Yet what if a revolutionary party is not 'broken' but is only 'blunted'? Is it correct for a revolutionary to leave their revolutionary organisation if they think it is 'blunted' as an instrument for making a revolution? Here again, for those who stand in the tradition of classical Bolshevism, matters are very clear - and once again it is worth quoting Trotsky, this time from 1923:

A Bolshevik is not merely a disciplined person; he is a person who in each case and on each question forges a firm opinion of his own and defends it courageously and independently, not only against his enemies, but inside his own party. Today, perhaps, he will be in the minority in his organization. He will submit, because it is his party. But this does not always signify that he is in the wrong. Perhaps he saw or understood before the others did a new task or the necessity of a turn. He will persistently raise the question a second, a third, a tenth time, if need be. Thereby he will render his party a service, helping it to meet the new task fully armed or to carry out the necessary turn without organic upheavals, without fractional convulsions.

For Trotsky, the Communist International in 1923 was not yet the Communist International in 1933, and while it was perhaps distinctly blunted as a revolutionary instrument - hence the German Communist Party's failure to follow the example of the Russian Bolsheviks in 1917 and lead a successful revolution in the 'German October' of 1923 - see Trotsky's The Lessons of October - it was clear that he therefore had a revolutionary duty to try and win the Communist International back for revolutionary politics. As I put it before:

In other words, were one say a revolutionary socialist inside a revolutionary socialist organisation who disagreed with the strategy and tactics of that organisation, one would have a revolutionary duty to persistently raise one's opinion inside of that organisation, even if one was still in a minority. One would critically defend one's independent position within the framework of democratic centralism - within the democratic frameworks of the party - e.g. a national conference - and then 'submit, because it is your party' outside of such times to what was agreed by the majority of the party at that conference - even if one did not agree with the majority. What one does not do, if one is serious about revolutionary politics, is to resign with a whimper from one's revolutionary socialist organisation just because one has lost an argument over strategy and tactics and is in a minority.

The question is one of revolutionary discipline. To quote from Chris Harman's excellent article on 'Party and Class':

"Discipline” means acceptance of the need to relate individual experience to the total theory and practice of the party. As such it is not opposed to, but a necessary prerequisite of the ability to make independent evaluations of concrete situations. That is also why “discipline” for Lenin does not mean hiding differences that exist within the party, but rather exposing them to the full light of day so as to argue them out. Only in this way can the mass of members make scientific evaluations.

Yet what of the argument that allowing such disagreement means the revolutionary party will be 'afflicted by factionalism'? It is true that it is a problem if 'factionalism' and internal arguments over strategy and tactics become preponderant and mean that a revolutionary organisation spends most of its time looking inwards rather than outwards to the wider working class movement. This is, for example, what happened to the International Marxist Group around Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn in Britain during the 1970s. Yet the idea that therefore in order to avoid the danger of 'factionalism' a revolutionary who thinks that their own organisation is 'blunted' would just resign from that organisation without arguing for their position is even more problematic from the perspective of classical Bolshevism. As Tony Cliff noted in the first volume of his biography of Lenin, Building the Party:

'Once while walking, Leo Tolstoy spotted in the distance the figure of a man squatting and gesturing strangely; a madman, he thought – but on drawing nearer he was satisfied that the man was attending to necessary work, sharpening a knife on a stone. Lenin was fond of citing this example.’

In other words, if one thinks a revolutionary party is 'blunt' - and no revolutionary would ever be so complacent to think that there are not areas where a revolutionary party could be 'sharper', then one does not just go and 'build another organisation' - one devotes themselves to 'sharpening' up that organisation. It may look 'mad' or 'factional' to do this to outsiders - but in fact as anyone who has as much as glanced at the Collected Works of Lenin knows, internal disagreement and argument is central to Bolshevism (which is why internal party democracy is so fundamental). All this should not really need stating - but it is worth re-stating here and now quite simply because it is critical if 'Leninism in the 21st century' is to have any meaning whatsoever.
Labels: Marxism, socialism

posted by Snowball @ 2:37 PM

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous said...
Hmmm, the analogy is a bit ridiculous. One party has a tiny toehold in the working class (despite its ambitions and many good things about it) and the other had the loyalty of millions of workers worldwide.

The other question is one of duplicity - and I am by no means in a position to say this is the case here - if the minority fills they have been purposefuuly misrepresented and adminstratively closed down, how can one fight for ones position effectively.

The party notes statement reads like something out of Hoxha's Albania where a comrade charged with important work (and previously held in good stead if the party press is to be believed) suddenly becomes a notorious opponnent overnight. It's not an edifying spectacle for new members.

Again, I think it shows that this stuff should be debated openly within party publications like, dare I say, the best traditions of Bolshevism.

At 10:08 AM, Snowball said...
Just a brief response for now (I wrote a longer one but blogger somehow lost it):

1. Yes perhaps the anology is a little stretched, but in my opionion questions of revolutionary principles are generally much clearer when seen from the heights of revolutionary experience and history rather than low level more mundane examples of betrayals and retreats from revolutionary politics.

2. On 'duplicity' etc - well, the idea that if Rees and German et al - people who had been leading figures in the party for decades - had resigned from the CC (or been voted off) and just fought for their positions as ordinary members of the SWP they would not have been given a fair hearing at party conferences/ in internal bulletins etc etc to argue their position is frankly impossible to imagine - they would have still carried lots of credibility and respect in the wider party. Unfortunately, it was them who could not stomach just returning to being 'ordinary rank and file SWP members' like the rest of us and fighting for their position from that position - they thought they were somehow above all that - an ugly strain of elitism that runs through their politics. I am a little surprised/disappointed by Bambery - who I thought did have a less elitist attitude and a slightly better grasp of Leninism.

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous said...
Can't disagree with most of that. I did write a longer bit about openness, the fact that the statement on CB in Party Notes is in precisely the type of language that alienates people and (although I have no truck with JR/LG's and Bambery's politics) I think that the SWP's strategy via RTW is misguided. However, I decided that this is not the place for it (the place is Socialist Worker and, perhaps, the SWP website). Quickly though, thankfully in my area there is no RTW as such and SWP members are playing an extremely constructive role in the local anti cuts group.

At 3:20 PM, johng said...
agree with snowball's response to anon, but this:

"Again, I think it shows that this stuff should be debated openly within party publications like, dare I say, the best traditions of Bolshevism"

I'm afraid just obvious now. If there had been open debate of differences on the CC before the membership none of this would have been remotely possible. We need to ensure that this kind of thing never happens again if there is to be any future for the organisation. Its not as if this debate has not been had before. I'm furious with bambery. But I'm much more furious with those with whom I am politically much more sympathic.

This whole situation is absurd and unneccessary. And the time is long gone for worrying about appropriateness. There won't be any appropriate forums left (or rather no one will care anyway) if changes are not made quickly.

At 5:44 PM, partha said...
The conditions under which the Communist Party was organised have radically changed. The current party structure has failed teh challenges of our times. Even the method is under rethink. Party sr tructure is central ; but it does not say is laid for aall times to come. For instance Comintern plyed a role and vanished once its job was over. It is time we rethink a suitable structre and also methods and models.

K.S.Parthasarathy, Bengaluru, India

At 1:44 AM, Anonymous said...
What kind of changes need to be made?

At 5:20 PM, Snowball said...
John is right to argue that 'This whole situation is absurd and unnecessary.'

However I disagree slightly when John says that 'the time is long gone for worrying about appropriateness. There won't be any appropriate forums left (or rather no one will care anyway) if changes are not made quickly.'

Personally I think the existing internal party democratic arrangements are/were adequate enough to allow dissent - the problem was that (apart from the briefly existing 'Left Platform') those who wanted to dissent simply refused to use these channels at all and instead just announced they were leaving, partly because they were arrogant enough to think they had an automatic right to a leading position in the party. Bambery's leaving was not an entire surprise - there is no need I think to make any major changes with respect to these in the aftermath of it. That is not to say that the party should not discuss making other changes to try and stop such things ever happening again (more accountability, caucuses etc etc). But I guess these are for the party to discuss in the appropriate forums.

At 4:53 AM, Anonymous said...
Snowball am I not right in suggesting that the Bolsheviks considered that the 'appropriate' place to discuss differences within the party was in their public press?

From The Pages Of "Spartacist Canada"- From the Cold War to the G20:State Repression Targets the Left

Spartacist Canada No. 168
Spring 2011

From the Cold War to the G20:

State Repression Targets the Left

The Partisan Defense Committee (PDC) held its 25th annual Holiday Appeal benefits in December and January, including events in Toronto and Vancouver. The PDC is a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League in the U.S. and the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste in Canada. The funds raised at these events go toward providing monthly stipends and holiday gifts to class-war prisoners and their families, an expression of proletarian solidarity and material support. (See “Free the Class-War Prisoners!” SC No. 167, Winter 2010/2011, for details on the prisoners.)

The PDC events highlighted the case of death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. We also honoured 16 other class-war prisoners including American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier. Greetings to the PDC gatherings from the stipend recipients, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jaan Laaman of the Ohio 7 and Janine Africa of the MOVE organization, were read out and displayed.

Speakers at the Toronto event, held on January 28, included David Bleakney, National Union Representative of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), a speaker for the Spartacus Youth Club (see article, page 7), and speakers from the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste and PDC. Mike Larsen, a managing editor for the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, spoke on behalf of the Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee. Harkat was one of five Muslim men detained in December 2002 under Ottawa’s draconian “security certificates,” which allow the indefinite detention of any refugee or immigrant whom the government considers a national security threat. Harkat was jailed without charge or trial for 43 months and was then placed under house arrest with extremely onerous conditions. The security certificates have been a cutting edge of the Canadian state’s repressive “war on terror.”

Sophie Harkat, Mohamed’s wife, also sent greetings to the event. Referring to a decision by the Federal Court in December, she wrote:

“The certificate was found ‘reasonable’ under the lowest standard of proof in a Canadian court. This decision was based on secret evidence neither Mohamed nor his public counsels could see or test for national security reasons. All that because CSIS believes, thinks, or assumes that Moe was involved or will be involved with terrorism in the past, present, or future. That position could cover any one of us at any time.”

Indeed, while the first targets of the ruling class have been the vulnerable Muslim minority, the “war on terror” has been from the beginning a political pretext to expand the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state. The fight to defend the Secret Trial Five and all those targeted by the “war on terror” dragnet is crucial to all working people. After the court’s verdict, Harkat has now been issued with a deportation order to Algeria, possibly to torture or death. From the beginning, the PDC has called to free the detainees and to abolish the security certificates. No deportations! Defend Mohamed Harkat!

We print below the speech to the Toronto fundraiser by a PDC representative, slightly edited for publication.


We’re here to honour those behind prison walls for their political beliefs. The political climate in North America never has been very receptive to those who challenge capitalist rule.

On January 18, an estimated 13,000 police took over the downtown streets of Toronto in a show of police bonapartism at a funeral for one of their own. A lone protester, not even a leftist, objected to the massive show of police power that day, holding a placard that read “No Police State” on one side and “Soldiers Die, Electricians Die and People Die” on the other. He was knocked to the ground, arrested and held for hours.

You couldn’t pick up a newspaper, watch TV or listen to the radio for over a week without hearing the horrendous media campaign in the wake of the cop’s death. Contrast this to what happened when four migrant construction workers died on Christmas Eve 2009, when the scaffolding they were working on broke in two and they fell 13 stories to the ground. The federal government took the opportunity to go after “illegal” immigrants—those without the right to work in this country. When Amalgamated Transit Union worker Tony Almeida died in 2007 in a subway tunnel accident due to unsafe conditions, the press and TTC bosses smeared him as a drug user. These examples highlight the privileged status accorded to the lives of cops, the guardians of private property, in stark contrast to the lives of the working class and poor, who are treated as expendable. The PDC stands with the victims of capitalist exploitation and repression and those who fight against it.

The cops are the hired guns of the capitalist ruling class. Their job is to uphold racist capitalist “law and order” through brute force: breaking strikes, rounding up minority youth, repressing social protest. The courts, to which many look for some justice, are an essential part of this murderous repressive machinery. Capitalist so-called “law and order” is based on frame-ups, lies and police violence.

Last summer during the G20 protests there was a larger, more ominous police occupation of the city. Some 1,100 people were arrested, the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. The cop rampage exposed the lie that capitalist Canada is some kind of “progressive” alternative to the U.S. Today, a host of G20 protesters face serious conspiracy charges. It is crucial that we defend them. “Conspiracy” charges are one way the state goes after perceived opponents when there is no evidence of any crime. There’s a very long history of this in Ontario, going back to 1837 when trade unionists were targeted by conspiracy laws.

At previous Holiday Appeals we’ve heard about the repressive history of the Canadian bourgeoisie, including around the Winnipeg General Strike, part of the upsurge of working-class struggle that followed the victorious Russian Revolution of 1917 (see “Class-Struggle Defense in Capitalist Canada: From Winnipeg 1919 to Montreal 1970,” SC 164, Spring 2010). Tonight I want to expand on this and talk about Cold War state repression starting in the late 1940s. The imperialists’ Cold War was aimed at the counterrevolutionary restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. At home, it meant witchhunting anti-Communism throughout North American society. I’ll begin with the so-called Gouzenko Spy Affair and what was known as the PROFUNC program, connecting these to state repression today. I’ll also talk about the class-war prisoners we’re highlighting tonight, including Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In 1945, a cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy, Igor Gouzenko, defected in Ottawa, announcing he had proof of a widespread Soviet spy ring. This set off a chain reaction of anti-Communist hysteria. Fifteen people, including prominent supporters of the Communist Party, were arrested in February 1946 under a secret detention order made possible by the Royal Commission on Espionage, which the federal government instituted to track down “spies.” The Royal Commission is comparable to today’s security certificates. It allowed the state to secretly imprison people without charge and to hold them incommunicado for long periods, ignoring the right to engage counsel. It was one of the more thorough abuses of individual rights of the many carried out by the Canadian state.

The anti-Communist investigations surrounding the Gouzenko affair left a trail of destroyed careers and ruined lives. But they were no aberration. The capitalist class utilized the War Measures Act to imprison Canadians of German and Ukrainian descent in World War I and Japanese Canadians during World War II. Another of the state’s weapons was and is the Official Secrets Act, which was designed to prohibit and control access to and disclosure of “sensitive government information.”

At the height of the Cold War, the government approved a plan to round up thousands of Canadians with “Communist links” in the event of a “national security threat” and lock them away indefinitely, simply because they were perceived to be a threat to so-called Canadian democracy. Under PROFUNC, which stands for PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist Party, a list was prepared of some 16,000 suspected Communists and 50,000 sympathizers, to be monitored and interned. Under the plan, targets could be detained indefinitely, subjected to severe discipline and shot if they tried to escape detention.

The blacklist included prominent Canadian public figures—men, women and children—whose identities were kept on file, in secret, at RCMP detachments across the country. The files were regularly updated until PROFUNC’s demise in the early 1980s. This paralleled developments in the U.S., where detention camps for known communists were authorized. As revolutionaries, we recognize that anti-communist victimizations are aimed above all at beheading the workers movement.

The Cold War wasn’t just about getting the reds but was also waged more widely. The concern over so-called communist subversion eating away at the fabric of wholesome Christian life meant that differences based on sexual preference, gender and race were themselves signs of subversion. You did not need to be a communist to be considered a Cold War enemy; you could equally be a woman who wanted to work outside the home, a man who liked to visit gay bars or even an anti-nuclear bourgeois pacifist. The RCMP even developed the “fruit machine” to test if a man was gay. Believe it or not, they would show “suspects” photos of naked men and measure the dilation of their pupils to “determine” if they were gay!

It was only with the major social upheavals of the 1960s that the reactionary Cold War domestic climate, including the stultifying atmosphere of “family values,” was broken. The key place that this happened in this country was Quebec. A documentary on PROFUNC that recently aired in Quebec detailed the use of the RCMP-compiled lists during the “October Crisis” in Montreal in 1970. The October Crisis was used by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau to try to smash a mass labour and social radicalization in Quebec, including growing support for independence. The government used the kidnappings of two government officials by the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) to declare martial law and send the army in to occupy the streets. Hundreds of people were rounded up and thrown in jail. Other abuses in Quebec included the RCMP burning down a barn to prevent a meeting between members of the FLQ and Black Panther Party, and breaking into Parti Québécois offices to steal their membership files.

Many youth we talk to think that the oppression of the Québécois is a thing of the past. This is at best wishful thinking. The Liberal Party, backed by the NDP, imposed the Clarity Act, which bans Quebec from exercising its democratic right to self-determination. Our opposition to the Canadian state today is exemplified by our advocacy of Quebec independence.

Free the Class-War Prisoners!

Here I’d like to say a few words about Leonard Peltier. The labour movement must be mobilized to defend Native rights. This would be a step toward the emancipation of the working class as a whole in this country. It was important that the now locked-out Steelworkers (USW) Local 1005 sent several delegations to the occupation site of Native protesters in Caledonia. The occupation began when developers began building a residential subdivision despite a longstanding land-claim dispute. The USW flag has been prominently displayed there, along with that of the CUPW postal union, among others. Organized labour has the social power to possibly prevent further police and military attack against the Six Nations occupation.

Leonard Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize the racist repression of Native peoples in North America, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. It was Pierre Trudeau who extradited Peltier to his tormentors in the U.S. Peltier’s frame-up trial for the 1975 deaths of two marauding FBI agents in what had become a war zone on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation shows what capitalist “justice” is all about. The lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts also admitted blatant prosecutorial misconduct, yet the 66-year-old is still locked away. Last year, the U.S. Parole Commission again turned down his request for parole and shockingly said they would not look at his case for another 15 years. I’d like to quote from a prison dispatch, “Greetings from Leonard Peltier, February 2010”:

“The Indian wars are not over; they just are fought more in the courtrooms and the boardrooms these days. But the issues are mostly the same—the land, resources, and freedom. Freedom to think. Freedom to live as we wish. Freedom to be who we are.”

Now to say a few words about Mumia Abu-Jamal. December marked the 29th anniversary of Mumia’s arrest. His case gives flesh and blood to the Marxist understanding of the state and its courts as organs of repression against the working people and the oppressed. The latest threat to Mumia’s life happened on November 9, 2010 when the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia heard oral arguments on whether or not to reinstate the death penalty. It may take months for the Third Circuit to announce its decision, which will then likely be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The PDC took up Mumia’s case many years ago. We’re proud of our massive efforts including the groundbreaking work of our attorneys debunking the phony ballistics evidence, exposing state coercion of witnesses, detailing the constitutional violations. We were instrumental in uncovering the confession by Arnold Beverly that he shot the police officer, and that Mumia had nothing to do with it. We have always struggled polemically against the various reformists who ignored this evidence. I’d like to make the point that the Gouzenko arrestees’ Communist affiliations made many of Canada’s liberal “civil rights activists” cringe from defending them against the Royal Commission on Espionage. This is echoed today when “respectable” liberals steer clear of the evidence proving Mumia’s innocence that was uncovered by the PDC. These liberals and the reformist left undermined the fight for Mumia’s freedom by diverting protests into pleas for a “new, fair trial” and by not proclaiming his innocence. At the last Mumia rally in November called by these reformist groups, it wasn’t until the PDC spoke that illusions in the bourgeois courts and the notion of justice under capitalism were countered. There is no justice in the capitalist courts!

If linked to a revived labour movement, the fight for Mumia’s freedom could strike a powerful blow against this system of state terror. What do I mean by a revived labour movement? Multiracial unions internationally, representing millions of workers, are on the record in support of Mumia, but they haven’t been mobilized in action. This is due to the fact that the union bureaucracy’s class-collaborationist politics tie workers to their exploiters. These politics have dissipated the fighting strength of the unions. We need to fight for a class-struggle leadership in the unions, using Jamal’s cause as part of the fight against the whole rotten system, replacing it with one in which those who labour rule.

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man! Abolish the racist death penalty!

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard' -Once Again-Jena, Louisiana: Free All Victims of Racist Cop Roundup!-State Vendetta for 2007 Protest

Workers Vanguard No. 978
15 April 2011

State Vendetta for 2007 Protest

Jena, Louisiana: Free All Victims of Racist Cop Roundup!

Before dawn on 9 July 2009, more than 150 cops from nine federal, state and local agencies, complete with a SWAT team and helicopters, raided the black neighborhood of Jena, a small town in rural Louisiana with barely 300 black residents. A dozen people were arrested on drug charges solely on “evidence” provided by a convicted dealer acting as a police informant. No drugs were found in the raid. But under the threat of rural Southern “justice,” most of those arrested recently pleaded guilty and now face years-long prison terms. One man who was convicted of drug distribution was sentenced to 25 years’ hard labor.

The racist crackdown was more than just the vicious repression that is regularly meted out to black people in urban ghettos and Southern towns in the name of the “war on drugs.” For the local sheriff’s office and other government authorities, it was payback for the mass protest for black rights that shook Jena in September 2007. Tens of thousands of people from across the country marched through the small town to protest on behalf of the “Jena Six”—black youths framed up on charges of second-degree attempted murder in a case redolent of the lynch law of the “Old South.” The 2009 drug sweep, dubbed “Operation Option Three,” was planned by Sheriff Scott Franklin in the immediate aftermath of the 2007 protest, when he was elected. One of those convicted was Catrina Wallace, a single mother of three who received wide acclaim for her role in helping organize the protests for the Jena Six, among whom was her brother, Robert Bailey.

As reported on the Huffington Post Web site (13 May 2010) by Jordan Flaherty, a co-editor of Left Turn who broke the story of the drug raid, cops initially claimed that they found marijuana on Wallace’s kitchen table, “but later discovered that they had collected broccoli stems, left over from dinner the previous night.” Nevertheless, Wallace was convicted on March 31 of three counts of distribution of a controlled substance, taken to jail after the verdict was read and hit with bail of one million dollars. Her sentencing is expected to come this month.

As reported in Town Talk, a newspaper in the neighboring town of Alexandria, Franklin prepared the raid by gloatingly telling his posse: “It’s going to be like Baghdad out in this community at five am…. They will get put in handcuffs, put behind bars today and never see the light of day again unless they are going out on the playground in prison.” One man, Samuel Howard, had his door broken down by cops at 5:00 a.m. and was dragged out of bed naked, his house badly burned by police flares. Tasered by the cops, who also pointed guns at his three kids, Howard was brought to a baseball field, along with other people who had been rounded up, where he spent another hour without any clothes until he was given an orange jailhouse jumper.

The pretext for this racist depravity was an “anti-drug” campaign in which Franklin presented his targets with the “options” to stop dealing or using drugs, move out of town or spend the rest of their lives in prison (“option three”). This case is starkly reminiscent of what happened in the town of Tulia, Texas, in 1999, when a full 10 percent of the black population was rounded up on the basis of a police informer and jailed on drug charges, only to be released four years later after the whole operation was exposed as a grotesque frame-up (see “Tulia Victims Freed, Finally,” WV No. 813, 7 November 2003). Entire generations of blacks and Latinos have been criminalized through the racist “war on drugs,” which was championed early on by such black Democrats as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. This underscores the urgent need to fight to decriminalize drugs, as well as all other “crimes without victims,” such as gambling, prostitution and pornography. Free Catrina Wallace and all victims of “Operation Option Three”!

What happened in Jena and Tulia speaks to how little has changed in the conditions of life for most black people, North and South, since civil rights and voting rights legislation was passed in the mid 1960s, when struggles for black rights rocked the country. Jena, for example, was a stronghold for “former” Klansman David Duke when he ran for governor in 1991. As we wrote in “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration—Black Liberation and the Fight for a Socialist America” (WV No. 955, 26 March 2010): “From slavery to convict labor, from the chain gang to the assembly line, American capitalism has been built upon the lash-scarred backs of black labor. Any organization that claims a revolutionary perspective for the United States must confront the special oppression of black people—their forced segregation at the bottom of capitalist society and the poisonous racism that divides the working class and cripples its struggles.”

The Jena case began in September 2006 when a black student requested and received permission from a school official to sit under the so-called “white tree” at his high school, which is 80 percent white. The next day, black students arrived to find three nooses hanging from the tree, leading to an impromptu protest some days later. That December, a white student found himself on the ground in a fight that ensued after he hurled the epithet “n----r” at a black youth, leading to the arrest of the six. Mychal Bell, who spent over a year in prison, wrote in “Surviving Jena Six” (CounterPunch, 3-5 April 2009): “The kids who put up the noose…nothing happened to them.”

At the massive September 2007 protest, black Democrats Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton helped divert the mass outrage into reliance on the capitalist government. Calling for “federal intervention to protect people from Southern injustice,” Sharpton appealed to the same Feds who would take part in the “Option Three” dragnet. For his part, Barack Obama, then looking toward a run at the White House, deigned only to call for “fairness” while claiming the Jena case wasn’t “a matter of black and white”! Once the Democrats’ hot air was spent in Jena, the town’s black population was left to the very untender mercies of the local cops and prosecutors. Those who had dared stand up for their basic rights, like Catrina Wallace, paid the price.

Jackson, Sharpton and other bourgeois politicians spout the lie that racial oppression can be ameliorated through pressure on the government—the executive committee of the racist capitalist ruling class. The truth is that black oppression has been and remains embedded in the foundations of the American capitalist profit system. While fighting against all forms of racist segregation and injustice, we realize that social conditions for workers and the urban and rural poor cannot be fundamentally altered short of the overthrow of the decaying capitalist system and the construction of an egalitarian socialist society. We fight to build a revolutionary workers party, with a strong black leadership component, to lead all the exploited and oppressed in socialist revolution, the only way to get rid of the organized violence of the capitalist courts, cops and prisons.

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"- Supreme Court Gives Green Light to Troy Davis Execution-Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!

Workers Vanguard No. 978
15 April 2011

Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!

Supreme Court Gives Green Light to Troy Davis Execution

In a supreme act of racist contempt, on March 28 the highest court in the U.S. greased the skids for the execution of Troy Davis when it refused to consider his appeal. This latest and probably last appeal for Davis sought to reverse a Georgia federal district court ruling last August upholding his conviction and death sentence. Expressing how cheap America’s capitalist rulers consider the life of a black man, the Supreme Court made no reference to the extensive evidence of Davis’s innocence presented at the district court hearing, dismissing his appeal out of hand. With the stroke of a pen, another black life is to be disposed of.

Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, who has campaigned around the world for her brother’s exoneration, responded to the Supreme Court ruling by describing the sham evidentiary hearing held last June in Savannah: “Once the judge opened his mouth and looked at my brother with disgust I knew that no matter what Troy’s lawyers had to present the judge had already made his decision to deny Troy, so he was just going through the motions like a puppeteer.”

Sentenced to death in 1991 for the killing of off-duty Savannah policeman Mark MacPhail, Davis was convicted based on questionable “eyewitness” identifications, dubious accounts that Davis confessed to the killing and testimony coerced by the cops. Seven of the prosecution’s nine witnesses have since recanted. The only holdouts are one man who may be the actual killer and another who initially denied being able to identify the shooter only to pin it on Davis at trial two years later. At last year’s hearing, some of these witnesses were finally able to tell how they were forced by the cops to falsely implicate Davis. But the federal court decision sneered that this testimony was “smoke and mirrors” and declared the accounts of police/prosecution coercion—a regular feature of the capitalist justice system—were not credible…because the cops said it didn’t happen that way! (For more on that hearing, see “Troy Davis Appeal Turned Down,” WV No. 965, 24 September 2010.)

One day after the Supreme Court turned Davis down, the Court overturned a $14 million jury verdict awarded to black former death row inmate John Thompson against former New Orleans D.A. Harry Connick Sr. Thompson had spent 14 years on death row and came within weeks of execution, when his attorneys found evidence that prosecutors had concealed from the defense blood samples and eyewitness statements that exonerated him. According to the decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, such frame-up methods did not constitute “deliberate indifference.” In an op-ed column he wrote for the New York Times (10 April) that powerfully recounts his ordeal, Thompson remarks: “I was lucky, and got lawyers who went to extraordinary lengths. But there are more than 4,000 people serving life without parole in Louisiana, almost none of whom have lawyers after their convictions are final.”

The broad exposure of so many men and women on death row proven innocent in recent years has given the ruling-class parties some pause in the accelerated rush to execution that has marked the 35 years since the death penalty was restored in 1976, following a nine-year hiatus. On March 9, Democratic Illinois governor Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing capital punishment in the state. Illinois thus became the fifth state since 2004 to eliminate the death penalty, either through legislative action or through court decree. Yet some 3,200 people remain on death row, over half of them black and Latino. And while executions dropped last year by 12 percent to 46—less than half of those executed in 1999—the U.S. is still one of the world’s leaders in capital punishment.

The death row speedup launched in the mid 1980s was accompanied by a vast expansion of repressive laws and police powers, fueled in large part by the racist “war on drugs.” Untold numbers of black youth were tried, convicted and sentenced as adults. Mandatory sentencing did away with parole. The later adoption of “three strikes” laws meant that one could get life imprisonment for stealing a tape deck out of a parked car.

On top of all this, a plethora of state laws limited the right to present new evidence on appeal in capital cases, while the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996 greatly restricted the right to challenge state convictions through federal habeas corpus. Earlier this month, when the Supreme Court reinstated the California death sentence of Scott Pinholster, which had been overturned on new evidence presented in his federal court appeals, Clarence Thomas baldly stated that although state prisoners may sometimes submit new evidence in federal court, federal law “is designed to strongly discourage them from doing so.”

Among those whom Clinton’s laws help keep trapped on death row is political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. A former Black Panther Party spokesman, a supporter of the Philadelphia MOVE group and an award-winning journalist, Mumia was framed up on false charges of killing Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 and sentenced to death based on his political views. Court after court has refused to consider the mountain of evidence of Mumia’s innocence, including the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, killed Faulkner (see the Partisan Defense Committee pamphlet, The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent!). For the poor, for fighters against racial oppression, for labor militants, there is no justice in the capitalist courts.

As Marxists, we stand for the abolition of the death penalty on principle—for the guilty as well as the innocent—and everywhere. We do not accord the state the right to determine who lives and who dies. The lynching of American black men—by racist mobs and by the august courts—is deeply embedded in this country’s history, particularly but by no means exclusively in Southern states like Troy Davis’s Georgia. In the U.S., capital punishment is the lynch rope made legal, with black people making up over 40 percent of the death row population.

The death penalty stands at the apex of the machinery of repression wielded by the capitalist rulers to contain the potentially explosive contradictions between the handful of filthy rich at the top and the many at the bottom. To put a final halt to the grisly workings of the U.S. rulers’ machinery of death—from the judicial guardians of death row to the cops who operate as judge, jury and executioner in gunning down minority youth on the streets—requires sweeping away the racist capitalist system through proletarian socialist revolution.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

From The Internationalist Group Website-From Messengers for Qaddafi to Cat’s Paws for Imperialist Intervention-Libya and the Opportunist Left

From Messengers for Qaddafi to Cat’s Paws for Imperialist Intervention

Libya and the Opportunist Left

Qaddafi TV speech, March 2. In the 1970s, most of the left hailed him as an “anti-imperialist” while authentic Trotskyists gave no political support to the bourgeois nationalist strongman. Today the opportunist left supports the pro-imperialist opposition, paving the way for U.S./French/UK bombing. (Photo: Moises Saman for The New York Times)

Over the decades authentic Trotskyists have defended Libya against imperialist attack while giving no political support to Muammar al-Qaddafi. For opportunist leftists in the early years, however, it was enough that Qaddafi taunted Washington. They portrayed the Libyan leader as a paragon of the “Arab Revolution.” This was a strange “revolution” that was not aimed at toppling the local ruling classes – in fact, its protagonists were bourgeois nationalists – but instead was directed mainly at an external enemy, Zionist Israel. Thus Intercontinental Press (8 December 1969), published by the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, carried an article noting that “The leaders of the Libyan revolution of September 1 are continually disavowing Marxism and the class struggle.” Still, it declared the foundation of the Libyan Arab Republic to be “A Step Forward of the Arab Revolution.” [1] The laws of uneven and combined development, the SWP argued, would force Qaddafi to abandon his “narrow, nationalist” version of a Koran-based Arab Socialism. Instead, the laws of the market induced Qaddafi to abandon his socialist claims in favor of free-market capitalism.

Most groups in the petty-bourgeois left in the early 1970s portrayed Qaddafi as an “anti-imperialist,” but one tendency went further. That was the organization led by Gerry Healy which claimed to be the International Committee of the Fourth International. Although Healy had once labeled Qaddafi a fascist, by the mid-1970s his British organization, the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), and his U.S. subsidiary, the Workers League, positively lionized the Libyan leader. They also swooned for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. This was no accident. The WRP put out a daily newspaper, Newsline, which seemed far beyond the organization’s financial means. For years there were rumors of funny money behind it. But when in 1985 Healy’s lieutenants staged a coup and ousted the WRP’s “founder-leader” they revealed that the party had received over 1 million pounds over seven years from various Arab dictators and petro-sheiks, including rulers of Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Iraq and particularly Qaddafi’s Libya. Here is the breakdown:

Libya ........................ £542,267
Kuwait ....................... 156,500
Qatar .............................50,000
Abu Dhabi ...................25,000
PLO ...............................19,997
Iraq ................................19,697
Unidentified or other
sources .......................261,702

Total ......................£1,075,163

–reprinted in Workers News, April 1988

In exchange, the WRP performed certain services, including photographing Iraqi leftists who protested in London against Hussein’s executions of Iraqi Communists.

Healy’s American acolyte during this period was Workers League leader David North, now head of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) which runs the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). Today, the WSWS poses as champions of Trotskyism, with articles such as “Libya and the bankruptcy of Arab nationalism” (23 February) exposing Qaddafi’s “socialist” pretensions and hailing the anti-Qaddafi, pro-imperialist rebels. Nowhere do the Northites confess to the fact that they were once paid propagandists for Qaddafi, receiving blood money to hail his “revolution.” We have documented how North & Co. (in another incarnation he is the head of a non-union commercial printing operation) oppose unions, fingered supporters of the U.S. SWP for repression by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic in Iran and engaged in a host of anti-working-class actions.[2] But in the litany of crimes of these cynical imposters, it should not be forgotten that they were once messengers for Qaddafi.[3]

For many years, the staunchest defenders of Qaddafi on the U.S. left were the followers of ex-Trotskyist Sam Marcy in the Workers World Party (WWP). Marcy broke politically with Trotskyism in defending the Kremlin’s repression of the 1956 Hungarian workers uprising. A few years later he broke organizationally as well in siding with Mao Zedong’s China against the USSR in the Sino-Soviet split. The Marcyites typically sing the praises of hard-line Stalinist regimes (Kim Il Sung’s North Korea is a favorite) and of “Third World” nationalist strongmen such as Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi, while “at home” they organize protests with liberal Democrats such as Jesse Jackson and assorted popular-front antiwar movements. Lately, however, they have been waffling over Libya. An editorial in the 3 March issue of Workers World (published February 23) declared, “Of all the struggles going on in North Africa and the Middle East right now, the most difficult to unravel is the one in Libya.” On the one hand, it stated:

“Getting concessions out of Gadhafi is not enough for the imperialist oil barons. They want a government that they can own outright, lock, stock and barrel. They have never forgiven Gadhafi for overthrowing the monarchy and nationalizing the oil.”

On the other hand:

“Progressive people are in sympathy with what they see as a popular movement in Libya. We can help such a movement most by supporting its just demands while rejecting imperialist intervention, in whatever form it may take.”

Conclusion: “It is the people of Libya who must decide their future.” I.e., don’t ask the WWP.

Opportunist leftists push fiction of a “Libyan Revolu¬tion” that is opposed to imperialist intervention. Yet Libyan rebels have pleaded for U.S./French/British/NATO/U.N. forces to strike Qaddafi forces. Here rebel fighters atop bombed tank. (Photo: Patrick Baz/AFP)

A 2004 split-off from the WWP, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), continued the Marcyite tradition of political support to Stalinist and bourgeois nationalists and domestic reformism. In fact, their overall politics are still virtually identical to those of the WWP, although the PSL tries to give it a more hip radical veneer with portraits of Che Guevara while pursuing crass electoralism. But the PSL, too, has been having stomach pains over Libya. An article titled “Libya and the Arab revolt in perspective” (Liberation, 24 February) stated: “At present, the revolt has not produced any organizational form or leader that would make it possible to characterize it politically.” It also opined that “Gaddafi is not a puppet of imperialism like Mubarak was,” but “developments in the last decade have greatly and understandably diminished his credibility among progressive and anti-imperialist forces in the region, almost all of which have declared their solidarity with the Libyan revolt.” As in the case of the WWP, the conclusion is: “it is the people of Libya and the Arab world who will determine their future.” This is a “perspective”?!

The Marcyites continue to hail Qaddafi’s supposed “strong anti-imperialist positions” in the past, ignoring the evidence of his collaboration with Washington in the 1970s (see “Qaddafi and the Imperialists: On and Off”). But since the U.S. invasion of Iraq (according to the WWP), or “in recent years” (so says the PSL), Libya “finally succumbed to U.S. demands” (WWP) and “has made many concessions to imperialism” (PSL). A subsequent article in Workers World (10 March) details how Libya slashed billions of dollars of subsidies for basic necessities and sold off hundreds of state firms. But they seem to have discovered this fact only after February 17, for at the time of Qaddafi’s visit to the U.N., Workers World (24 September 2009) published an article gushing over Libya’s “40 years of revolution.” What changed was not Libya, which has avidly sought imperialist favor since the mid-1990s. Rather, the Marcyites’ recent mealy-mouthed positions reflect the fact that two different forces they tail after (liberal imperialists and semi-colonial bourgeois nationalists) have come into conflict. That’s why WWP and PSL now talk with marbles in their mouths.

If the Stalinoids are feeling conflicted over their one-time putative “anti-imperialist” hero Qaddafi, the social democrats are solidly for the pro-imperialist rebels. First and foremost is the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which seized on the WWP and PSL’s embarrassment to tweak their reformist rivals with whom they organizationally compete in the antiwar, student and other “movements.” An article by the ISO, “Taking Sides About Libya” (Socialist Worker website, 28 February), takes the Marcyites to task for not endorsing pro-rebel demonstrations in San Francisco and elsewhere, declaring that WWP/PSL “allegiance to police states” has “no place in the fight for social justice.” No place? Hmm. This was the line of openly pro-Democratic Party groups like the moribund United for Peace and Justice who insisted on no cooperation with the WWP (via the International Action Center) and PSL (via International ANSWER). But the ISO hastens to add, “Of course, socialists and radicals of all stripes must continue to work together to oppose U.S. military intervention” despite disagreements.

Covering its left flank with this fig-leaf (the ISO claims to oppose U.S. intervention while supporting a “movement” which is crying for it), the polemic also serves to ward off any internal dissent over its support to the Benghazi “democrats,” portraying any opposition as “siding with the tanks.” Earlier (February 22), the ISO ran an incredible string of outright falsehoods taken from Andrew Solomon in the New Yorker portraying Qaddafi’s Libya as identical to the usual U.S.-backed African dictatorship (it “does not take care of even the most basic government obligations,” makes “no effort to provide adequate public accommodation,” does nothing to “raise the standard of living for the population as a whole,” etc.). While of late, the regime has presided over mounting unemployment, increasing concentration of wealth, falling real income and other consequences of the U.S./IMF “free market” economic policies it has adopted, unless one understands that Libya has far and away the highest standard of living in Africa, one can’t understand why Qaddafi continues to have substantial support in much of the country.

Check out those wheels: this isn’t the wretched of the earth. Rebels flee from Ras Lanuf on March 30.
(Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Proof? There are the reports of residents joining loyalist troops and militias to fight the rebels, even in Benghazi. As for the standard of living, there is the fact that there are (or were) more than 1.5 foreign-born workers in Libya, mostly from Egypt and Tunisia. Or just take a gander at the photos of the cars the rebels are driving to battle: those are some pretty hot wheels. In most of Africa and the Near East, virtually nobody among the impoverished masses has a car, new or old, much less late model Toyotas, Nissans, 4x4 Land Rovers and Land Cruisers, etc. The “pro-democracy” rebels are hardly the downtrodden wretched of the earth but a well-to-do layer of businessmen, engineers, bankers, imams and managerial employees of “multi-national” corporations, plus some of their counterparts from the Qaddafi regime. In fact, a good part of Qaddafi’s travails are due to the fact that his regime didn’t carry out a social revolution and left the eastern bourgeoisie in place. Meanwhile, his economic policies created a substantial middle class which considers Qaddafi and his cohorts to be uncouth country bumpkins, wants to live like Europeans, and has been hard-hit by the regime’s new Western-inspired economic policies.

The ISO printed a piece by Richard Seymour (author of the blog Lenin’s Tomb and a supporter of the British Socialist Workers Party), “The West’s Fear of Qaddafi’s Fall” (Socialist Worker website, 24 February). Seymour insisted that “the trouble for the U.S. and UK governments in this revolt is that they really, really don't want Qadaffi to fall.” The trouble for the ISO is that the U.S. and U.K. governments really, really do want Qaddafi to fall. Barack Obama said so, Hillary Clinton said so, David Cameron said so, and now they’re trying to do so, while piously pretending to protect the civilian population. More fundamentally, the ISO’s “trouble” is that their “third camp” politics – taken from their mentor, the late Tony Cliff, who called the USSR “state capitalist” and during the anti-Soviet Cold War summed up his position as “neither Washington nor Moscow” – inexorably place them in the “first camp,” that of imperialism. As they focus on “democracy” while blithely crossing the class line, these “State Department socialists” end up with State Department-sponsored “youth movements,” and mercenary mujahedin (holy warriors) who want back on the CIA payroll like they were in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan (and the Cliffites praised them as “freedom fighters”).

Cliff’s SWP in Britain (with which the ISO was initially allied in the International Socialist Tendency, until they parted ways in 2001 accusing each other of being insufficiently opportunist) has been at the forefront of those who – while peddling imperialist war propaganda against the Qaddafi regime and hallucinatory tales of “new forms of democracy” in Benghazi – claimed that “Libyan revolutionaries” are opposing Western interference. It quoted Abdel Hafidh Ghoga, the spokesman for the rebels’ Transitional National Council, saying, “We are against any foreign intervention or military intervention in our internal affairs” (Socialist Worker [UK], 5 March 2011). That was when the rebels thought that the Qaddafi regime would simply collapse, but a few days later, this same Ghoga was singing a different tune: “The Libyan people are facing genocide…. We demand a bombardment of the camps where he (Qaddafi) keeps his mercenaries and the roads he uses to transport them and his security forces” (Reuters, 10 March). So much for the myth of an anti-intervention sector of the Libyan rebels.

Libyan rebels threaten black African workers. Opportunist leftists alibi lynchings, claiming racism was due to Qaddafi. (Photo: AP)

While the ISO and SWP/UK are the largest and most outspoken left groups in championing the cause of the monarchist, Islamist, ex-Qaddafi and pro-imperialist Libyan rebels, they are joined by the whole of the social-democratic milieu in portraying these reactionaries as fighters for “democracy.” Socialist Action (March 2011) calls for “Victory to the Workers' and Peasants' Uprising Against Qaddafi!” while adding a ritual call, “US Hands Off Libya!” It says it must give its “political support” to the workers, peasants and youth who are supposedly separate from the “middle-class professionals—doctors, lawyers, academics, etc.” and defecting military officers who “would turn over Libya to imperialist intervention.” SA’s claim that it is only the latter who are pleading for aid from the U.S. and Europe is a fairy tale. Despite the single banner against foreign military intervention and a few quotes from youth interviewed by liberal media, there is no indication of any significant sector of the rebels opposed to the U.S./UK/U.N./NATO “no-fly” zone or to calls on the imperialists to use their bombs to get rid of Qaddafi and his regime.

Another social-democratic group, Socialist Alternative (SAlt), likewise calls, in a March 19 statement, for “Victory to the Libyan Revolution!” while adding “No to Western Military Intervention!” An earlier article by SAlt’s mentor and leader of the Committee for a Workers International, Peter Taaffe, hailed “Herculean efforts to remove Gaddafi dictatorship in Libya” (CWI web site, 8 March). SAlt and the CWI are less hot on promoting an imaginary anti-intervention, worker-peasant sector of the “revolution” and admits that “people’s committees” in the east are “not fully based upon the real involvement of working class people.” But while professing opposition to Western military intervention, SAlt/CWI calls for workers in the West to implement economic sanctions against the Qaddafi regime: “trade unions should block the export of Libyan oil and gas” and “bank workers should organise the freezing of all the Gaddafi regime’s financial assets.” Whether trade-unions or governments carry out such measures to strangle Libya economically, the Taaffeites are calling for imperialist sanctions which proletarian revolutionaries and class-conscious workers resolutely oppose.

Still another denizen of the social-democratic swamp, the Workers International League (WIL), a satellite of the Allan Woods’ Socialist Appeal group inside the British Labour Party and his International Marxist Tendency (IMT), is even more open about the fact that “reactionary bourgeois agents” are running things in Benghazi, and that the rebels are led by “direct representatives of imperialist interests” (“Libyan Interim Government – agents of imperialism,” In Defense of Marxism web site, 1 April). At the beginning, however, Woods was ecstatic: “Uprising in Libya: Tremble, tyrants!” (IDoM, 23 February). “The revolution has already spread to the west,” and “the fall of Gaddafi is now only a matter of time,” proclaimed Woods, who is forever announcing revolutions here, there and everywhere, from Venezuela to Argentina, Bolivia, Iran and now Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. While saying sotto voce (in a stage whisper) that “we must oppose imperialist aggression,” whether bombing or in other forms, the IMT is strangely low-key about this. As over Iran, which led to a split in Woods’ international, their big problem is that their hero Hugo Chávez is a big pal of Qaddafi’s.

In claiming to support the “Libyan Revolution” while simultaneously opposing imperialist military intervention, it should have occurred to the various social democrats that the very people they’re seeking to tail after in Libya won’t appreciate this pro-forma opposition to Western bombardment of Qaddafi, which the rebels see as their only hope of survival, much less victory. In fact, along with the “cruise missile liberals” and Labour Party leaders, a few Western leftists, of sorts, have come out for the imperialist bombing campaign – or at least against denouncing it. Like a number of left apostates did over the bombing of Yugoslavia by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in 1999, they want to “give war a chance.”

Chief among them is the British Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) of Sean Matgamna, who developed a passion for the anti-Trotskyist renegade Max Shachtman, who refused to defend the Soviet Union against imperialism in World War II and went on to become a propagandist for the U.S. government in the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the Vietnam War. Matgamna recently wrote an essay, “Why we should not denounce intervention in Libya” (Solidarity, 23 March). He takes his stand on the basis of “any humanitarian, socialist or even decent liberal point of view.” Of course, the imperialists “humanitarian” concern “is not unconnected with their concern for Libyan oil. Of course they are hypocrites.” Of course, the humanitarian “decent liberal” Matgamna would “not give positive political support to the governments and the ruling capitalists” while supporting their war. But of course. (He also backed the imperialist-backed Kosovo Liberation Army in ’99, and notoriously supports Israel in its war against the Palestinians.) Going a step beyond the reformists of the antiwar movement, the AWL are outright apologists for imperialist war.

Another of this ilk is the Lebanese academic Gilbert Achcar, a long-time spokesman for the USec and a fellow at the International Institute for Research and Education founded by USec leaders Ernest Mandel and Livio Maitan. In an interview which Achcar “gave to my good friend Steve Shalom” of Z Magazine and was reposted on the web site of the USec’s International Viewpoint (March 2011), Achcar claims that “given the urgency of preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces, and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal, no one can reasonably oppose it” [U.N. Resolution 1973, calling for military action against the Libyan regime in the name of protecting civilians]. This set off a flurry of responses, including from the SWP/U.K. leader Alex Callinicos, who in reply agrees with “my old friend Gilbert Achcar” that sometimes asking for help from the imperialists is okay, just not in this particular case. That such an oh-so-collegial “debate” between a coterie of “left” academics could even take place is proof positive that none of them have the remotest connection with revolution or Marxism.[4]

For revolutionary Trotskyists such a “discussion” is an abomination: it is not only necessary to fight against imperialist intervention tooth and nail, it is an obligation to defend a semi-colonial country under attack, whatever the pretext or its internal regime, and to seek the defeat of the imperialist attackers, no matter how “democratic” or “humanitarian” they claim their mission to be. Leon Trotsky defended Ethiopia (then called Abyssinia) under the feudalist and slave owner Haile Selassie against imperialist Italy in the mid-late 1930s. French Communists stood on the side of the Rif rebellion in the early 1920s, and Communist-led dock workers refused to ship munitions to the French troops defending the colony of Morocco. Was Berber tribal leader Muhammad Abd al-Krim a progressive? Hardly. V.I. Lenin defended the “Boxer Rebellion” in China in 1900 which sought to restore the Manchu Qing dynasty. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels defended the Sepoy Rebellion in India in the late 1850s, even while noting that it was sparked by a mutiny of mercenary soldiers who carried out no small number of atrocities and was led by feudalist Muslim forces.[5] In all these cases, the fundamental issue was the fight against imperialism. As Lenin wrote in his pamphlet, Socialism and War (1915):

“If tomorrow Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, those would be ‘just’ and ‘defensive’ wars, irrespective of who attacked first; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory ‘great’ powers.”

Today the overriding issue in Libya is the struggle against imperialism. For decades the dictatorships of this strategically vital region, as well as the Zionist oppressor state in Israel, have rested on the support of imperialism. The uprising in Libya was fueled precisely by Qaddafi’s adoption of the dominant capitalist economic policies as a part of his alliance with imperialism. To call on the imperialists to intervene, militarily or through punishing economic sanctions, is to guarantee that at this moment of great and potentially revolutionary upheaval, the dominant imperial powers, first of all the United States, will continue to be the arbiters, exploiters and oppressors of the Arab masses. It is necessary to organize a struggle for workers revolution throughout the region not only against the strongmen such as Qaddafi but also against imperialism and the “democrats,” monarchists and Islamists who would serve as its front men.

Those leftists who openly call for Western military action, such as the AWL and Achcar, are what Lenin called social imperialists, like the German Social Democrats who voted for war credits in 1914 in the name of fighting tsarist reaction. Once the Maoists might have called them “running dogs” of imperialism, although in this case “lap dogs” would be more to the point. On the other hand, by drumming up political support for the pro-imperialist Libyan rebels whose rebellion is dependent on and who call for U.S./UK/U.N./NATO intervention, the social-democratic and other “social pacifists” in the “antiwar” movement are serving as cat’s paws, that is to say dupes or stooges, who have paved the way for imperialist attack. Today as in the past, a real struggle against imperialist war and domination requires fighting to smash the imperialist system by socialist revolution throughout the region and the world. ■


[1] The American SWP was fraternally tied to the United Secretariat of the Fourth Internation (USec). Today, the Socialist Action group, which is similarly linked to the USec, writes that “much of the left fell for his [Qaddafi’s] rhetoric, as they had—and still do—for other bourgeois populists in neocolonial countries” (Socialist Action, March 2011). They neglect to mention that the cheerleaders for the Libyan leader included the SWP, to which most of the Socialist Action leadership belonged at the time.

[2] See “Where Were You, David North?” The Internationalist No. 29, Summer 2009; “Socialists in Bourgeois Electionland,” The Internationalist No. 28, March-April 2009; and “SEP/WSWS: Scab ‘ Socialists’” (December 2007) available on our web site,

[3] This sordid history is documented in several articles published by Workers Vanguard, the newspaper of the Spartacist League, when it was the voice of revolutionary Trotskyism, which can be found on the web site Anti-SEP-tic. These include: “Healyites, Messengers of Qaddafi,” WV No. 158 (20 May 1977); “More from Healy, Messenger of Qaddafi,” WV No. 174 (23 September 1977); “Healyites Got Blood Money,” WV No. 517 (4 January 1991); “Northite Blood Money,” WV No. 523 (29 March 1991); “Northite Fool's Gold ,” WV No. 533 (22 November 1991).

[4] Achcar is at least consistent in his support for imperialism: in 1980 he – along with Tariq Ali – put forward a resolution in the USec calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the face of the CIA-sponsored Islamist onslaught (see Gilbert Achcar, Eastern Cauldron [Monthly Review Press, 2004]). And in 2006 he supported the pseudo-elections being held under the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

[5] See “Lenin on the ‘Boxer Rebellion’” and “Marx on the Sepoy Revolt” in The Internationalist No. 21, Summer 2005.