Saturday, April 12, 2014

On Stalinists and 1934 Strikes

Workers Vanguard No. 1043

4 April 2014
On Stalinists and 1934 Strikes
Dear comrades:
I appreciated the excellent article on the port truckers in the WV 1038, “For a class struggle fight to organize port truckers.” Equally important was the drawing of parallels with the general strike of 1934 led by Local 574, and the Trotskyists of the Communist League of America. But what was left out was the role of the Communist Party which played a counter-revolutionary role at every turn.
The taxi drivers voted to go on strike and to join the Local 574. They won the strike, the CP which did not participate in the strike, attacked the settlement. As a “Trotskyite sellout” to the Citizen’s Alliance (this was the period of the CP’s left turn, which was a move away from what was previously a policy of reconciliation with the trade union bureaucracy and capitalist politicians.) The CP was isolated in Minnesota, and for not taking an active role in the class struggle, so they tried to muscle their way into the union by denouncing Carl Skoglund and the Dunne brothers as “traitors and agents of the bosses.[”] They demanded that members of a paper union (the Trade Union Unity League) be made members of the strike committee. When this was rejected they put out more flyers calling the strike leaders “undemocratic.” The CP’s members were almost physically attacked by members of 574.
As a result of this action the CP was losing support in Minnesota. On the day of Bloody Friday (July 19th) the CP tried to convince Harry Deboer [DeBoer] to seize the Court House, as opposed to stopping scab trucks. Deboer turned down this offer because he realized he would have been shot by the cops, since the workers were unarmed. The CP was also losing the little support they had among the unemployed in the Unemployed Councils that they had organized as a place to register picket credentials in Local 574.
Of course, this was turned down by 574, and the CP was told to go to the MCCW (Minnesota Central Council of Workers). The CP also attempted to force themselves on the ERA—Emergency Relief Administration’s Strike Committee. They were turned down as a result of a lack of credentials.
By now the Stalinists were completely isolated. They wrote and published articles in the Daily Worker and their magazine, the Communist, and a pamphlet called “The Permanent Counter-Revolution—Role of the Trotskyites in the Minnesota Strike.” For this the CP members were given a belt in the jaw—and rightly so!
The CP and Stalinism have destroyed many idealistic and serious youth and revolutionary workers. Having to apologize for every twist and turn of Uncle Joe Stalin, and wrapping themselves in the American flag during the Second World War, and denouncing striking miners and leftists who were supporting the miners’ strike as “social fascists,” and “German agents,” etc.
It’s no wonder that the CP was so hated by radical youth and workers. It was only the Trotskyists of the CLA/Socialist Workers Party that could lead and organize the masses in the Minneapolis general strike. And it is only Trotskyism that has the program to lead the masses now.
Karl R.
WV replies:
Our article “For a Class Struggle Fight to Organize Port Truckers!” (WV No. 1038, 24 January) highlighted both the 1934 Trotskyist-led Minneapolis Teamsters strikes and the 1934 Stalinist-led West Coast maritime strike as examples of class-struggle union organizing that provide crucial lessons for today. The interested reader can find more on Minneapolis in other of our writings, such as the article “Lessons of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strikes” (WV No. 940, 31 July 2009).
Karl R. gives some details of the despicable role played by the Stalinists in the Minneapolis strikes, which deeply discredited the CP among militant workers there. But the Trotskyists in the forefront of those Teamsters organizing battles, while politically exposing the Stalinists, did not treat them as counterrevolutionaries. For example, after striking workers gave “a crack in the jaw” to the distributors of a CP leaflet slandering the union leadership, Local 574’s strike newspaper, The Organizer (7 August 1934), declared this response wrong, explaining: “They are not stool pigeons—at least not conscious ones; they are just a little bit nutty and what they need is a friendly boot in the posterior. Maybe the shock will bring them to their senses.”
The Stalinists at the time were near the end of their 1928-34 “Third Period” phase of bombast and adventurism in which proletarian revolution was fatuously declared to be imminent, more or less worldwide. The Stalinists in the U.S. denounced the established AFL trade unions as “social fascist” and abandoned them in the late ’20s to form marginal “revolutionary” unions. As a result, the CP was largely isolated from the strike waves that erupted in 1933 and ’34.
The significant exception was in San Francisco. District CP leader Sam Darcy was then no longer wedded to the CP’s Third Period “dual union” policy and in mid 1933 CP longshoremen followed the mass of Bay Area dock workers and joined the AFL-affiliated International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). Harry Bridges and other CP supporters in the ILA, who at that time advocated class-struggle tactics and did not bow to the Democratic Roosevelt administration, went on to lead the 1934 West Coast maritime strike that forged a powerful longshore union and won a great deal of political authority for the CP.
The fact that the Stalinists in San Francisco were in a position to lead that strike and fight it out class against class was conjunctural. In 1935, the CP abandoned its Third Period policies for the openly class-collaborationist politics of the “People’s Front” adopted by the Communist International after Hitler came to power in Germany. Under this banner, the Stalinists sought to consummate a bloc with the bourgeois-democratic imperialists, which in the U.S. meant support to Roosevelt and his “New Deal.” The Stalinists’ lasting political crime in this country was to help channel the working-class radicalization of the mid to late 1930s into support for the Democratic Party as a supposed “progressive” wing of capitalism. Labor’s support to the capitalist Democrats is a shackle on working-class struggle to this day.

James P. Cannon

The New International


Minneapolis and its Meaning

June 1934

Written: 1934
Source: The New International. Original bound volumes of The New International and microfilm provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup:Andrew Pollack

Standing by itself, the magnificent strike of the Minneapolis truck drivers would merit recognition as an extraordinary event in modem American labor history. Its connection with the second wave of labor struggles to sweep the country since the inception of the NRA, however, and its indubitable place as the high point of the present strike wave, invest the Minneapolis demonstration with an exceptional importance. Therefore it has come by right to be the subject of serious and attentive study and of heated discussion. This discussion, despite all the partisan prejudice and misrepresentation injected into it, is bound on the whole to have a profitable result. The best approach to the trade union question, the key question of revolutionary politics in the United States, is through the study and discussion of concrete examples.
The second strike wave under the NRA raises higher than the first and marks a big forward stride of the American working class. The enormous potentialities of future developments are clearly written in this advance. The native militancy of the workers, so impressively demonstrated on every strike front in recent months, needs only to be fused with an authentic leadership which brings organization, consciousness, and the spirit of determined struggle into the movement. Minneapolis was an example of such a fusion. That is what lifted the drivers’ strike out above the general run. Therein lies its great significance—as an anticipation, if only on a comparatively small, local scale, of future developments in the labor movement of the country. The determining role of policy and leadership was disclosed with singular emphasis in the Minneapolis battle.
The main features of the present strike wave, on the background of which the Minneapolis example must be considered, are easily distinguishable. Now, as in the labor upsurge of last year, the attitude of the workers toward the NRA occupies a central place. But the attitude is somewhat different than it was before. The messianic faith in the Roosevelt administration which characterized the strike movement of a year ago and which, to a certain extent, provided the initial impulse for the movement, has largely disappeared and given place to skeptical distrust. It is hardly correct, however, to say, as some revolutionary wishful thinkers are saying, that the current strikes are consciously directed against the NRA. There is little or no evidence to support such a bald assertion.
It is more in keeping with reality to say that the striking workers now depend primarily on their own organization and fighting capacity and expect little or nothing from the source to which, a short year ago, they looked for everything. Nevertheless they are not yet ready even to ignore the NRA, to say nothing of fighting against it directly. What has actually taken place has been a heavy shift in emphasis from faith in the NRA to reliance on their own strength.
In these great struggles the American workers, in all parts of the country, are displaying the unrestrained militancy of a class that is just beginning to awaken. This is a new generation of a class that has not been defeated. On the contrary, it is only now beginning to find itself and to feel its strength. And in these first, tentative conflicts the proletarian giant gives a glorious promise for the future. The present generation remains true to the tradition of American labor; it is boldly aggressive and violent from the start. The American worker is no Quaker. Further developments of the class struggle will bring plenty of fighting in the USA.
It is also a distinct feature of the second strike wave, and those who want to understand and adjust themselves to the general trend of the movement should mark it well, that the organization drives and the strikes, barring incidental exceptions, are conducted within the framework of the AFL unions. The exceptions are important and should not be disregarded. At any rate, the movement begins there. Only those who foresaw this trend and synchronized their activities with it have been able to play a part in the recent strikes and to influence them from within.
The central aim and aspiration of the workers, that is, of the newly organized workers who are pressing the fight on every front, is to establish their organizations firmly. The first and foremost demand in every struggle is: recognition of the union. With unerring instinct the workers seek first of all the protection of an organization.
William S. Brown, president of the Minneapolis union, expressed the sentiment of all the strikers in every industry in his statement: “The union felt that wage agreements are not much protection to a union man unless first there is definite assurance that the union man will be protected in his job.” The strike wave sweeping the country in the second year of the NRA is in its very essence a struggle for the right of organization. The outcome of every strike is to be estimated primarily by its success or failure in enforcing the recognition of the union.
And from this point of view the results in general are not so rosy. The workers manifested a mighty impulse for organization, and in many cases they fought heroically. But they have yet to attain their first objective. The auto settlement, which established the recognition of the company union rather than the unions of the workers, weighs heavily on the whole labor situation. The workers everywhere have to pay for the precedent set in this industry of such great strategic importance. From all appearances the steelworkers are going to be caught in the same runaround. The New York hotel strike failed to establish the union. The New York taxi drivers got no union recognition, or anything else. Not a single of the “red” unions affiliated to the Trade Union Unity League has succeeded in gaining recognition. Even the great battle of Toledo appears to have been concluded without the attainment of this primary demand.
The American workers are on the march. They are organizing by the hundreds of thousands. They are fighting to establish their new unions firmly and compel the bosses to recognize them. But in the overwhelming majority of cases they have yet to win this fundamental demand.
In the light of this general situation the results of the Minneapolis strike stand out preeminent and unique. Judged in comparison with the struggles of the other newly formed unions—and that is the only sensible criterion—the Minneapolis settlement, itself a compromise, has to be recorded as a victory of the first order. In gaining recognition of the union, and in proceeding to enforce it the day following the settlement, General Drivers Union No. 574 has set a pace for all the new unions in the country. The outcome was not accidental either. Policy, method, leadership—these were the determining factors at Minneapolis which the aspiring workers everywhere ought to study and follow.
The medium of organization in Minneapolis was a craft union of the AFL, and one of the most conservative of the AFL Internationals at that. This course was deliberately chosen by the organizers of the fight in conformity with the general trend of the movement, although they are by no means worshippers of the AFL. Despite the obvious limitations of this antiquated form of organization it proved to be sufficient for the occasion thanks to a liberal construction of the jurisdictional limits of the union. Affiliation with the AFL afforded other compensating advantages. The new union was thereby placed in direct contact with the general labor movement and was enabled to draw on it for support. This was a decisive element in the outcome. The organized labor movement, and with it practically the entire working class of Minneapolis, was lined up behind the strike. Out of a union with the most conservative tradition and obsolete structure came the most militant and successful strike.
The stormy militancy of the strike, which electrified the whole labor movement, is too well known to need recounting here. The results also are known, among them the not unimportant detail that the serious casualties were suffered by the other side. True enough, the striking workers nearly everywhere have fought with great courage. But here also the Minneapolis strike was marked by certain different and distinct aspects which are of fundamental importance. In other places, as a rule, the strike militancy surged from below and was checked and restrained by the leaders. In Minneapolis it was organized and directed by the leaders. In most of the other strikes the leaders blunted the edge of the fight where they could not head it off altogether, as in the case of the auto workers—and preached reliance on the NRA, on General Johnson, or the president. In Minneapolis the leaders taught the workers to fight for their rights and fought with them.
This conception of the leadership, that the establishment of the union was to be attained only by struggle, shaped the course of action not only during the ten-day strike but in every step that led to it. That explains why the strike was prepared and organized so thoroughly. Minneapolis never before saw such a well-organized strike, and it is doubtful if its like, from the standpoint of organization, has often been seen anywhere on this continent.
Having no illusions about the reasonableness of the bosses or the beneficence of the NRA, and sowing none in the ranks, the leadership calculated the whole campaign on the certainty of a strike and made everything ready for it. When the hour struck the union was ready, down to the last detail of organization. “If the preparations made by their union for handling it are any indication,” wrote the Minneapolis Tribune on the eve of the. conflict, “the strike of the truck drivers in Minneapolis is going to be a far-reaching affair. . . . Even before the official start of the strike at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday the ’General Headquarters’ organization set up at 1900 Chicago Avenue was operating with all the precision of a military organization.”
This spirit of determined struggle was combined at the same time with a realistic appraisal of the relation of forces and the limited objectives of the fight. Without this all the preparations and all the militancy of the strikers might well have been wasted and brought the reaction of a crushing defeat. The strike was understood to be a preliminary, partial struggle, with the objective of establishing the union and compelling the bosses to recognize it. When they got that, they stopped and called it a day.
The strong union that has emerged from the strike will be able to fight again and to protect its membership in the meantime. The accomplishment is modest enough. But if we want to play an effective part in the labor movement, we must not allow ourselves to forget that the American working class is just beginning to move on the path of the class struggle and, in its great majority, stands yet before the first task of establishing stable unions. Those who understand the task of the day and accomplish it prepare the future. The others merely chatter.
As in every strike of any consequence, the workers involved in the Minneapolis struggle also had an opportunity to see the government at work and to learn some practical lessons as to its real function. The police force of the city, under the direction of the Republican mayor, supplemented by a horde of “special deputies,” were lined up solidly on the side of the bosses. The police and deputies did their best to protect the strikebreakers and keep some trucks moving, although their best was not good enough. The mobilization of the militia by the Farmer-Labor governor was a threat against the strikers, even if the militiamen were not put on the street. The strikers will remember that threat. In a sense it can be said that the political education of a large section of the strikers began with this experience. It is sheer lunacy, however to imagine that it was completed and that the strikers, practically all of whom voted yesterday for Roosevelt and Olson, could have been led into a prolonged strike for purely political aims after the primary demand for the recognition of the union had been won.
Yet this is the premise upon which all the Stalinist criticism of the strike leadership is based. Governor Olson, declared Bill Dunne in the Daily Worker, was the “main enemy.” And having convinced himself on this point, he continued: “The exposure and defeat of Olson should have been the central political objective of the Minneapolis struggle.” Nor did he stop even there. Wound up and going strong by this time, and lacking the friendly advice of a Harpo Marx who would explain the wisdom of keeping the mouth shut when the head is not clear, he decided to go to the limit, so he added: “This [exposure and defeat of Olson] was the basic necessity for winning the economic demands for the Drivers Union and the rest of the working class.”
There it is, Mr. Ripley, whether you believe it or not. This is the thesis, the “political line,” laid down for the Minneapolis truck drivers in the Daily Worker. For the sake of this thesis, it is contended that negotiations for the settlement of he strike should have been rejected unless the state troopers were demobilized, and a general strike should have been proclaimed “over the heads of the Central Labor Council and state federation of labor officials.” Dunne only neglected to add: over the heads of the workers also, including the truck drivers.
For the workers of Minneapolis, including the striking drivers, didn’t understand the situation in this light at all, and leaders who proceeded on such an assumption would have found themselves without followers. The workers of Minneapolis, like the striking workers all over the country, understand the “central objective” to be the recognition of the union. The leaders were in full harmony with them on this question; they stuck to this objective; and when it was attained, they did not attempt to parade the workers through a general strike for the sake of exercise or for “the defeat of Governor Olson.” For one reason, it was not the right thing to do. And, for another reason, they couldn’t have done it if they had tried.
The arguments of Bill Dunne regarding the Minneapolis “betrayal” could have a logical meaning only to one who construed the situation as revolutionary and aimed at an insurrection. We, of course, are for the revolution. But not today, not in a single city. There is a certain unconscious tribute to the “Trotskyists”—and not an inappropriate one—in the fact that so much was demanded of them in Minneapolis. But Bill Dunne, who is more at home with proverbs than with politics, should recall the one which says, “every vegetable has its season.” It was the season for an armed battle in Germany in the early part of 1933. In America in 1934, it is the season for organizing the workers, leading them in strikes, and compelling the bosses to recognize their unions. The mistake of all the Stalinists, Bill Dunne among them, in misjudging the weather in Germany in 1933 was a tragedy. In America in 1934 it is a farce.
The strike wave of last year was only a prelude to the surging movement we witness today. And just as the present movement goes deeper and strikes harder than the first, so does it prepare the way for a third movement which will surpass it in scope, aggressiveness, and militancy. Frustrated in their aspirations for organization by misplaced faith in the Roosevelt administration, and by the black treachery of the official labor bureaucracy, the workers will take the road of struggle again with firmer determination and clearer aims. And they will seek for better leaders. Then the new left wing of the labor movement can have its day. The revolutionary militants can bound forward in mighty leaps and come to the head of large sections of the movement if they know how to grasp their opportunities and understand their tasks. For this they must be politically organized and work together as a disciplined body; they must forge the new party of the Fourth International without delay. They must get inside the developing movement, regardless of its initial form, stay inside, and shape its course from within.
They must demonstrate a capacity for organization as well as agitation, for responsibility as well as for militancy. They must convince the workers of their ability not only to organize and lead strikes aggressively, but also to settle them advantageously at the right time and consolidate the gains. In a word, the modem militants of the labor movement have the task of gaining the confidence of the workers in their ability to lead the movement all the year round and to advance the interests of the workers all the time.
On this condition the new left wing of the trade unions can take shape and grow with rapid strides. And the left wing, in turn, will be the foundation of the new party, the genuine communist party. On a local scale, in a small sector of the labor movement, the Minneapolis comrades have set an example which shows the way. The International Communists have every right to be proud of this example and hold it up as a model to study and follow.


For a Class-Struggle Fight to Organize All Port Workers!-Port Truckers Strike Beats Back Bosses’ Attacks-Vancouver, B.C.

Workers Vanguard No. 1043
4 April 2014
For a Class-Struggle Fight to Organize All Port Workers!-Port Truckers Strike Beats Back Bosses’ Attacks-Vancouver, B.C.
The following article was written by our comrades of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste, Canadian section of the International Communist League.
After a bitter month-long strike, some 1,600 Vancouver, British Columbia, port truckers returned to work on March 27 with a settlement that includes significant gains. The strike began on February 26 when more than 1,200 mostly non-union drivers, members of the United Truckers Association (UTA), walked off the job demanding higher pay rates and shorter wait times at the port. On March 10, they were joined by about 400 unionized truckers in Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association.
The strike, waged by a workforce that is mainly Punjabi, became one of the most prolonged waterfront labour battles seen on the North American West Coast in years. Facing down attacks by the port authority, the trucking companies and the federal and provincial governments, these heavily immigrant drivers stood firm, powerfully demonstrating that even a fairly small number of workers can have a huge impact when they act collectively.
Vancouver is the largest export port in North America. As grain and forest products began to pile up in containers outside the port, the Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) bosses went after the UTA with a vindictive lawsuit, claiming that the strike was costing up to $885 [US $800] million a week and causing untold harm, including “to Canada itself.” Braying about “violence,” the PMV got an injunction prohibiting pickets on port property only days into the strike. Nevertheless, the determined strikers succeeded in choking off the movement of cargo. Truckers protested and picketed outside the terminals every day, while making would-be scabs aware that strikebreaking would be dangerous to their health. Vindictively, police and security forces were mobilized to continually film the strikers. The PMV also threatened to terminate the permits of striking UTA truckers, which would bar them from future work at the port. On March 19, the British Columbia Liberal government, egged on by the Conservative rulers in Ottawa, announced that it would enact legislation to break the strike by Unifor workers.
Strikers responded to these moves with defiance. As Unifor’s B.C. Area Director Gavin McGarrigle said, “What I’m hearing from some of the members on the picket line is they’re considering going to jail” (Canadian Press, 20 March). Earlier, Unifor and UTA members had both overwhelmingly rejected a settlement proposed by a government mediator. Now, rather than leave the UTA alone on the picket lines, an angry and militant Unifor membership pushed the union leaders to take an uncharacteristically defiant stand. After flying into B.C., Unifor national president Jerry Dias announced that the union would refuse to obey back-to-work legislation and demanded an immediate reopening of negotiations.
Though it represents only a minority of the port truckers, Unifor is part of the largest private-sector union in Canada, with a $135 million strike fund. When the union declared that it would defy the strikebreaking law, the government blinked, abandoning its hardline “no negotiations” posture. Half a day later, both Unifor and the UTA had a deal that saw the government make numerous concessions.
Labour’s Got to Play Hardball to Win!
These events hold important lessons for the whole labour movement, which has seen one defeat after the other thanks to the cap-in-hand begging to the bosses that most union bureaucrats call “bargaining.” Indeed, five years ago the leaders of the Canadian Auto Workers, one of the unions that merged to found Unifor last summer, surrendered to the auto bosses’ demands for wage and benefit cuts of $19 an hour.
In contrast, the determination and unity of the UTA and Unifor truckers temporarily put some steel in the backbone of their leaders and forced the government and port authority to withdraw the strikebreaking bill, the punitive lawsuit and the revoking of permits. The settlement also includes improved wages and trip rates as well as payments for wait times. However, it states that the PMV will only rescind permit suspensions “where no criminal charges have been laid against any driver or operator by the police.” While no one has yet been charged for activities on the picket lines, this measure could open the door to reprisals. In the event of any retaliation, all labour must stand in defense of the strikers.
Port truckers have immense potential social power. They are a vital part of the waterfront workforce and a key link in the worldwide cargo chain. Yet large numbers remain ensnared by the “owner-operator” system that downloads all the risks and costs of trucking onto individual truckers. This system also impacts negatively on the political outlook and consciousness of many truckers by giving rise to an entrepreneurial mentality. Do they identify with the workers, or do they aspire to become a boss? The idea that by owning your own truck you can get ahead and maybe even start your own business is a myth that does not stand up against the harsh reality.
Some 150 cutthroat trucking companies operate at the Vancouver port, fuelling the pernicious practice of undercutting that has seen some drivers forced to work for even less than the already-low standard rates. An additional burden is that port truckers must meet the costs of expensive emission controls in the name of keeping the port “green.”
In 2005, the port truckers, then largely owner-operators, struck for 47 days. In the aftermath, the port authority imposed a moratorium on new owner-operator permits. The result is that today a slight majority of truckers, 54 percent, are employees rather than owner-operators. Going into this year’s strike, drivers had not seen a wage or rate increase for eight years; many were making less than they did in 2006. Average pay was just $15.69 an hour, much less than the $23 made by other B.C. truckers, with employees getting slightly more than owner-operators. More than half are paid by the trip rather than by the hour and work eleven-hour days under gruelling conditions. Cutbacks inside the port have contributed to longer wait times—up to six hours—which were hitherto unpaid. Less than a third of the workers get health and pension benefits. As one trucker told our comrades on the picket line, “We were slaves in India and we are slaves in Canada.”
Like the truckers that work U.S. coastal ports, Vancouver port truckers remain largely non-union. Recent years have seen repeated protests and strikes by port truckers in cities up and down the East and Gulf Coasts as well as the West Coast, from Los Angeles to Seattle, but the Vancouver strike was by far the most sustained. In the course of this struggle, many of the divisions between unionized Unifor workers and the non-union UTA fell away as strikers stood shoulder to shoulder on the picket lines, their banners intermingled. But organizing all the port truckers into a common union—part of organizing all port workers—remains a vital task.
As they return to work, many port truckers are already wondering how the gains won in the new deal will be enforced. Indeed, truckers at a mass UTA meeting on March 27 heard that some 60 men had been fired by trucking companies who claimed no work was available. Most have since been rehired. But this underlines the workforce’s vulnerability to the whims of the bosses. Instead of the parasitic, profit-gouging trucking companies deciding who gets to work, port truckers need to be fully unionized with their own union hiring hall and a strong seniority system to undercut favouritism and reprisals.
Overturning the whole owner-operator system that enslaves drivers to the trucking companies will take hard class struggle by all unions on the waterfront. Coupled with a fight for all drivers to get full union-scale wages and benefits, the entire owner-operator scam could be shattered. Port truckers would come to view joining the ranks of organized labour as wage workers as a far better alternative to their present destitution.
For United Struggle by All Port Workers!
The truckers fought hard and managed to shut down a good part of PMV’s operations, but they stood alone as the rest of the labour movement did little to support this vital class battle. What was posed was a struggle to shut down all the terminals, from Burrard Inlet to the Fraser River, bringing Canada’s only major West Coast port to a standstill. Such a class-struggle perspective requires confronting and defying the bosses’ laws. Tactics like secondary boycotts, hot-cargoing and sympathy strikes are what built the unions in the first place. Today, however, they are more and more alien to a pro-capitalist labour leadership that is mired in legalism and loyalty to the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP).
It took three weeks for the slick bureaucrats who lead the B.C. Federation of Labour to even call a rally in support of the truckers. Some 1,500 hospital workers, teachers and others joined the protest in downtown Vancouver on March 21. But the union movement should have been putting its muscle to work on the picket lines, helping to ensure that nothing moved in the port.
Criminally, leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) did the opposite. Chained to the job by the legalistic union tops, longshoremen continued to load and unload ships. The ILWU brass did not express even pro forma solidarity with the port truckers. Some of the South Asian UTA truckers have also reported being harassed and bullied by members of the ILWU, and examples of racist conduct were mentioned to our supporters on the picket lines. This is poisonous and can only weaken the position of all port workers in the face of the profit-hungry bosses.
Longshoremen should recall that many decades ago they were in a situation not so different from that of the truckers today, treated as “contract labour,” forced to line up for the morning “shape up” in which they were hired by corrupt gang bosses based on favouritism and kickbacks. Their strikes were broken and their unions wrecked. The solidarity of truckers at the San Francisco port was crucial to the eventual victory of the 1934 strike that laid the basis for the founding of the ILWU as a powerful industrial union. The workers movement will either advance as one or be thrown back separately.
Immigrant Workers: Key to Class Struggle
The truckers’ action sparked widespread sympathy among the large Punjabi community in the Vancouver area. Sikh temples fed strikers while local Punjabi radio stations gave the strike extensive coverage. On March 21, strikers and supporters flooded a Skytrain transit station in the heavily South Asian suburb of Surrey during the morning rush hour to galvanize support.
The strike showed how crucial immigrant and other minority workers are to the class struggle, but it also underscored their vulnerability. At least one boss threatened a trucker with deportation if he backed the strike. This drives home that it is in the direct interest of the labour movement to defend all workers, regardless of status, while fighting for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
When supporters of the Trotskyist League visited the picket lines, strikers snapped up copies of Workers Vanguard with the article “For a Class-Struggle Fight to Organize Port Truckers!” (No. 1038, 24 January). On March 24 at Deltaport, a group of some 50 truckers applauded a TL representative as he declared our solidarity and saluted the strikers’ determination. Speaking in Punjabi, he explained that we are a Marxist organization and “look to workers as the social power to overthrow this capitalist state.” He continued, “Whether it is the NDP, Liberals or Conservatives, they have always tried to break picket lines and force workers back to work.” Indeed, every time it has run the B.C. provincial government, the NDP has upheld capitalist rule, including through breaking workers strikes, from pulp, rail and other workers in 1975 to school support workers in 2000.
The labour movement is under sustained attack at every level as unions, jobs, pensions and every other benefit are shredded. The response of the union bureaucrats has overwhelmingly been marked by cowardice, defeatism and a paralyzing acceptance of the bosses’ laws and rules. The outcome of the Vancouver port truckers’ struggle gives a taste of what would be possible if workers social power was unleashed around a consistent class-struggle program.
For the workers to prevail against the exploiters, they must be armed with the understanding that labour and capital have no common interests. This perspective requires a political fight against the pro-capitalist union misleaders and their NDP political partners. The working people need their own multiracial workers party, which would be in the forefront of the struggles against union-busting and act as a beacon for workers and the oppressed everywhere. Only in this way can the workers go forward to their own class rule, ripping the means of production from the exploiters through socialist revolution and placing them in the hands of those whose labour makes this society run.
From the Archives of Marxism-“Letter to the Workers and Peasants of the Ukraine”By V.I. Lenin, December 1919

Workers Vanguard No. 1043

4 April 2014
From the Archives of Marxism-“Letter to the Workers and Peasants of the Ukraine”
By V.I. Lenin, December 1919
The proletarian revolution of October 1917 in Russia was the defining event of the 20th century. In taking state power, the multinational proletariat of Russia not only liberated itself from capitalist exploitation but also led the peasantry, national minorities and all the oppressed in ending feudal tyranny and imperialist bondage. What made it possible for the Bolsheviks to unite the toiling masses of the former tsarist empire in common struggle was their internationalist program, which declared full and equal national rights for all peoples, including the right of national independence.
Ukraine, which had been partitioned between the Russian tsarist and Austro-Hungarian Habsburg empires, was an important front in the civil war that followed the October Revolution. In the course of the civil war, successive short-lived Ukrainian bourgeois-nationalist regimes, deeply hostile to proletarian rule, allied with the White Guards and various imperialists—notably France and Germany—in an attempt to crush the revolutionary proletariat. (For more on Ukraine in this period, see “Soviet Power and the Liberation of Ukraine,” WV No. 1042, 21 March.)
After the November 1918 German surrender ending World War I, the Red Army was able to wrest Kiev from German control. But in the summer of 1919, Anton Denikin, commander of the southern White forces, went on an offensive and recaptured Kiev and Kharkov with the help of the Ukrainian nationalist forces of Simon Petlyura. In the conquered territories, Denikin’s troops, as well as Petlyura’s, carried out mass executions and plunder, murdering tens of thousands of Jews in pogroms. When Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin addressed the workers and peasants of Ukraine in the letter printed below, the Red Army had stopped Denikin’s advance at Orel, 220 miles south of Moscow, and was pushing back into Ukraine, liberating the cities of Kharkov and Kiev.
It would take a couple more years to put down other counterrevolutionary forces so that the Ukrainian Bolsheviks could consolidate proletarian power in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Thus, Ukraine achieved self-determination for the first time, not through the good graces of the capitalist powers, but as a result of the defeat of imperialist-backed counterrevolutionary armies. In 1922, Ukraine became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
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Comrades, four months ago, towards the end of August 1919, I had occasion to address a letter to the workers and peasants in connection with the victory over Kolchak.
I am now having this letter reprinted in full for the workers and peasants of the Ukraine in connection with the victories over Denikin.
Red troops have taken Kiev, Poltava and Kharkov and are advancing victoriously on Rostov. The Ukraine is seething with revolt against Denikin. All forces must he rallied for the final rout of Denikin’s army, which has been trying to restore the power of the landowners and capitalists. We must destroy Denikin to safeguard ourselves against even the slightest possibility of a new incursion.
The workers and peasants of the Ukraine should familiarise themselves with the lessons which all Russian workers and peasants have drawn from the conquest of Siberia by Kolchak and her liberation by Red troops after many months of landowner and capitalist tyranny.
Denikin’s rule in the Ukraine has been as severe an ordeal as Kolchak’s rule was in Siberia. There can be no doubt that the lessons of this severe ordeal will give the Ukrainian workers and peasants—as they did the workers and peasants of the Urals and Siberia—a clearer understanding of the tasks of Soviet power and induce them to defend it more staunchly.
In Great Russia the system of landed estates has been completely abolished. The same must be done in the Ukraine, and the Soviet power of the Ukrainian workers and peasants must effect the complete abolition of the landed estates and the complete liberation of the Ukrainian workers and peasants from all oppression by the landowners, and from the landowners themselves.
But apart from this task, and a number of others which confronted and still confront both the Great-Russian and the Ukrainian working masses, Soviet power in the Ukraine has its own special tasks. One of these special tasks deserves the greatest attention at the present moment. It is the national question, or, in other words, the question of whether the Ukraine is to be a separate and independent Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic bound in alliance (federation) with the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, or whether the Ukraine is to amalgamate with Russia to form a single Soviet republic. All Bolsheviks and all politically-conscious workers and peasants must give careful thought to this question.
The independence of the Ukraine has been recognised both by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of the R.S.F.S.R. (Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic) and by the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). It is therefore self-evident and generally recognised that only the Ukrainian workers and peasants themselves can and will decide at their All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets whether the Ukraine shall amalgamate with Russia, or whether she shall remain a separate and independent republic, and, in the latter case, what federal ties shall be established between that republic and Russia.
How should this question be decided insofar as concerns the interests of the working people and the promotion of their fight for the complete emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital?
In the first place, the interests of labour demand the fullest confidence and the closest alliance among the working people of different countries and nations. The supporters of the landowners and capitalists, of the bourgeoisie, strive to disunite the workers, to intensify national discord and enmity, in order to weaken the workers and strengthen the power of capital.
Capital is an international force. To vanquish it, an international workers’ alliance, an international workers’ brotherhood, is needed.
We are opposed to national enmity and discord, to national exclusiveness. We are internationalists. We stand for the close union and the complete amalgamation of the workers and peasants of all nations in a single world Soviet republic.
Secondly, the working people must not forget that capitalism has divided nations into a small number of oppressor, Great-Power (imperialist), sovereign and privileged nations and an overwhelming majority of oppressed, dependent and semi-dependent, non-sovereign nations. The arch-criminal and arch-reactionary war of 1914-18 still further accentuated this division and as a result aggravated rancour and hatred. For centuries the indignation and distrust of the non-sovereign and dependent nations towards the dominant and oppressor nations have been accumulating, of nations such as the Ukrainian towards nations such as the Great-Russian.
We want a voluntary union of nations—a union which precludes any coercion of one nation by another—a union founded on complete confidence, on a clear recognition of brotherly unity, on absolutely voluntary consent. Such a union cannot be effected at one stroke; we have to work towards it with the greatest patience and circumspection, so as not to spoil matters and not to arouse distrust, and so that the distrust inherited from centuries of landowner and capitalist oppression, centuries of private property and the enmity caused by its divisions and redivisions may have a chance to wear off.
We must, therefore, strive persistently for the unity of nations and ruthlessly suppress everything that tends to divide them, and in doing so we must be very cautious and patient, and make concessions to the survivals of national distrust. We must be adamant and uncompromising towards everything that affects the fundamental interests of labour in its fight for emancipation from the yoke of capital. The question of the demarcation of frontiers now, for the time being—for we are striving towards the complete abolition of frontiers—is a minor one, it is not fundamental or important. In this matter we can afford to wait, and must wait, because the national distrust among the broad mass of peasants and small owners is often extremely tenacious, and haste might only intensify it, in other words, jeopardise the cause of complete and ultimate unity.
The experience of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution in Russia, the revolution of October-November 1917, and of the two years of victorious struggle against the onslaught of international and Russian capitalists, has made it crystal-clear that the capitalists have succeeded for a time in playing upon the national distrust of the Great Russians felt by Polish, Latvian, Estonian and Finnish peasants and small owners, that they have succeeded for a time in sowing dissension between them and us on the basis of this distrust. Experience has shown that this distrust wears off and disappears only very slowly, and that the more caution and patience displayed by the Great Russians, who have for so long been an oppressor nation, the more certainly this distrust will pass. It is by recognising the independence of the Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian and Finnish states that we are slowly but steadily winning the confidence of the labouring masses of the neighbouring small states, who were more backward and more deceived and downtrodden by the capitalists. It is the surest way of wresting them from the influence of “their” national capitalists, and leading them to full confidence, to the future united international Soviet republic.
As long as the Ukraine is not completely liberated from Denikin, her government, until the All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets meets, is the All-Ukraine Revolutionary Committee. Besides the Ukrainian Bolshevik Communists, there are Ukrainian Borotba Communists working on this Revolutionary Committee as members of the government. One of the things distinguishing the Borotbists from the Bolsheviks is that they insist upon the unconditional independence of the Ukraine. The Bolsheviks will not make this a subject of difference and disunity, they do not regard this as an obstacle to concerted proletarian effort. There must be unity in the struggle against the yoke of capital and for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and there should be no parting of the ways among Communists on the question of national frontiers, or whether there should be a federal or some other tie between the states. Among the Bolsheviks there are advocates of complete independence for the Ukraine, advocates of a more or less close federal tie, and advocates of the complete amalgamation of the Ukraine with Russia.
There must be no differences over these questions. They will be decided by the All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets.
If a Great-Russian Communist insists upon the amalgamation of the Ukraine with Russia, Ukrainians might easily suspect him of advocating this policy not from the motive of uniting the proletarians in the fight against capital, but because of the prejudices of the old Great-Russian nationalism, of imperialism. Such mistrust is natural, and to a certain degree inevitable and legitimate, because the Great Russians, under the yoke of the landowners and capitalists, had for centuries imbibed the shameful and disgusting prejudices of Great-Russian chauvinism.
If a Ukrainian Communist insists upon the unconditional state independence of the Ukraine, he lays himself open to the suspicion that he is supporting this policy not because of the temporary interests of the Ukrainian workers and peasants in their struggle against the yoke of capital, but on account of the petty-bourgeois national prejudices of the small owner. Experience has provided hundreds of instances of the petty-bourgeois “socialists” of various countries—all the various Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian pseudo-socialists, Georgian Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and the like—assuming the guise of supporters of the proletariat for the sole purpose of deceitfully promoting a policy of compromise with “their” national bourgeoisie against the revolutionary workers. We saw this in the case of Kerensky’s rule in Russia in the February-October period of 1917, and we have seen it and are seeing it in all other countries.
Mutual distrust between the Great-Russian and Ukrainian Communists can, therefore, arise very easily. How is this distrust to be combated? How is it to be overcome and mutual confidence established?
The best way to achieve this is by working together to uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat and Soviet power in the fight against the landowners and capitalists of all countries and against their attempts to restore their domination. This common fight will clearly show in practice that whatever the decision in regard to state independence or frontiers may be, there must be a close military and economic alliance between the Great-Russian and Ukrainian workers, for otherwise the capitalists of the “Entente,” in other words, the alliance of the richest capitalist countries—Britain, France, America, Japan and Italy—will crush and strangle us separately. Our fight against Kolchak and Denikin, whom these capitalists supplied with money and arms, is a clear illustration of this danger.
He who undermines the unity and closest alliance between the Great-Russian and Ukrainian workers and peasants is helping the Kolchaks, the Denikins, the capitalist bandits of all countries.
Consequently, we Great-Russian Communists must repress with the utmost severity the slightest manifestation in our midst of Great-Russian nationalism, for such manifestations, which are a betrayal of communism in general, cause the gravest harm by dividing us from our Ukrainian comrades and thus playing into the hands of Denikin and his regime.
Consequently, we Great-Russian Communists must make concessions when there are differences with the Ukrainian Bolshevik Communists and Borotbists and these differences concern the state independence of the Ukraine, the forms of her alliance with Russia, and the national question in general. But all of us, Great-Russian Communists, Ukrainian Communists, and Communists of any other nation, must be unyielding and irreconcilable in the underlying and fundamental questions which are the same for all nations, in questions of the proletarian struggle, of the proletarian dictatorship; we must not tolerate compromise with the bourgeoisie or any division of the forces which are protecting us against Denikin.
Denikin must be vanquished and destroyed, and such incursions as his not allowed to recur. That is to the fundamental interest of both the Great-Russian and the Ukrainian workers and peasants. The fight will be a long and hard one, for the capitalists of the whole world are helping Denikin and will help all other Denikins.
In this long and hard fight we Great-Russian and Ukrainian workers must maintain the closest alliance, for separately we shall most definitely be unable to cope with the task. Whatever the boundaries of the Ukraine and Russia may be, whatever may be the forms of their mutual state relationships, that is not so important; that is a matter in which concessions can and should be made, in which one thing, or another, or a third may be tried—the cause of the workers and peasants, of the victory over capitalism, will not perish because of that.
But if we fail to maintain the closest alliance, an alliance against Denikin, an alliance against the capitalists and kulaks of our countries and of all countries, the cause of labour will most certainly perish for many years to come in the sense that the capitalists will be able to crush and strangle both the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Russia.
And what the bourgeoisie of all countries, and all manner of petty-bourgeois parties— i.e., “compromising” parties which permit alliance with the bourgeoisie against the workers—try most of all to accomplish is to disunite the workers of different nationalities, to evoke distrust, and to disrupt a close international alliance and international brotherhood of the workers. Whenever the bourgeoisie succeeds in this the cause of the workers is lost. The Communists of Russia and the Ukraine must therefore by patient, persistent, stubborn and concerted effort foil the nationalist machinations of the bourgeoisie and vanquish nationalist prejudices of every kind, and set the working people of the world an example of a really solid alliance of the workers and peasants of different nations in the fight for Soviet power, for the overthrow of the yoke of the landowners and capitalists, and for a world federal Soviet republic.
Crimea Is Russian-Self-Determination and Russian Intervention: Strengthening Our Position

Workers Vanguard No. 1043
4 April 2014
Crimea Is Russian-Self-Determination and Russian Intervention: Strengthening Our Position

A letter we received from a sympathizer of the International Communist League points out a significant flaw in our principled support to self-determination of Crimea and the intervention by Russia that allowed the referendum enabling that right to take place. In agreement with the line taken in “Ukraine Coup: Spearheaded by Fascists, Backed by U.S./EU Imperialists—Crimea Is Russian” (WV No. 1041, 7 March 2014), our sympathizer, Jonah, wrote in his March 14 letter that “as the Crimea is predominantly Russian and the majority favors unification with Russia, Marxists are bound to support that democratic demand for self-determination, while taking note of the fate of non-Russian minorities in the equation.” The problem, he wrote, is the article’s statement that support to Russian intervention was principled “so long as Russia were to implement special rights for the Crimean Tatar minority, who are plenty oppressed under Ukrainian rule.”
The article in WV No. 1041 further declared that “if Russian forces use the takeover of the Crimea to deepen the oppression of the Tatars, it would then be unprincipled to support the Russian intervention.” Jonah wrote: “That sentence and the provision on ‘special rights for the Crimean Tatar minority’ comes off as placing the self-determination for the Crimean Russians as being conditional on how well the Crimean Tatars are treated by Russia if and when the Crimea votes to become part of Russia. If that’s a criteria for self-determination then I don’t see how self-determination can be supported anywhere” (emphasis in original). He observed, “If the difference is the presence of Russian troops in the Crimea, then I don’t see how or why that would change matters. Even if the Crimea had managed to successfully secede peacefully from Ukraine (without needing Russian intervention) then Russian troops would still enter the Crimea when it became part of Russia proper.”
Jonah is correct in pointing out this problem, and we thank him for his letter, which is too long to print in its entirety. The condition we placed on support to Russian intervention, and hence to the exercise of self-determination by the Crimean majority, bent to the pressure of the imperialist propaganda barrage directed against Russia and its bourgeois strongman, Vladimir Putin. The U.S. and European Union imperialists and their media hacks, having backed the fascist-infested coup that overturned the Yanukovich regime in Ukraine, raised a hue and cry about a non-existent Russian “invasion” of Crimea—in fact Russian troops from the Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol were already there. They also condemned its “annexation” of Crimea, even comparing this to Nazi Germany’s Anschluss of Austria.
As we wrote in WV No. 1041: “Contrary to how it is often presented in the Western media, the Russian intervention into Crimea is not an intervention into a ‘foreign country,’ notwithstanding Crimea’s formal status as part of Ukraine.” Crimea was first incorporated into Russia in the late 18th century, when it was wrested from the Ottoman Empire. Our article noted: “It was only in 1954 that Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ceded Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Later, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, this took on significance, as the fate of the area was the subject of heated disputes between the now bourgeois states of Russia and Ukraine.” Putin’s intervention was essentially defensive, aiming among other things to protect the Black Sea Fleet.
Jonah wrote that the fears of the Tatar minority “do not invalidate the democratic right of the Russian Crimean majority to seek unity with Russia, any more than the fears of aboriginal people in Quebec invalidate the Quebecois majority’s right to independence.” (On the oppression of the Tatars, including their mass expulsion from Crimea by Stalin’s bureaucratic regime, see WV No. 1041.) Revolutionary Marxists seek to mobilize the working class in defense of oppressed minorities as part of the struggle against the capitalist class enemy. Thus, while advocating independence for Quebec, our Canadian comrades of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste are intransigent fighters for the rights of Native peoples and other minorities, whether under English Canadian or French Québécois capitalist rule. This includes defending the right of Native peoples with a land base to decide their own future, including the possibility of secession.
In Russia, a crucial task for Marxists is championing the rights of the Muslim Tatars and other ethnic and national minorities. In supporting Russian intervention in Crimea, we have not given the least amount of political support to Putin’s Russian-chauvinist capitalist regime. It is the duty of Marxists to oppose all forms of nationalism and Great Power chauvinism. Upholding the right of nations to self-determination, as V.I. Lenin explained in the article reprinted on page 2 of this issue, is a crucial means of combating nationalist prejudices and breaking down the barriers to uniting workers of different countries and nations in the fight for socialist revolution.
Crimea: Not a Case of Interpenetrated Peoples
In “Ukraine Turmoil: Capitalist Powers in Tug of War” (WV No. 1038, 24 January), we quoted an ICL resolution, first printed in January 1995, stating that the breakup of the Soviet Union following capitalist counterrevolution revealed a “considerable interpenetration of peoples and of economic production units which were inherited from and geared to a (bureaucratically) centralized planned economy.” The quoted resolution continued: “Thus in a number of regions (particularly eastern Ukraine, Crimea, northern Kazakhstan) a democratic resolution of the national question cannot be achieved except through a socialist federation or federations of workers states transcending national boundaries.” The resolution was part of our attempt to grapple with a historically unprecedented event: the counterrevolution that destroyed the degenerated Soviet workers state and unleashed an orgy of nationalist bloodletting throughout much of its former territory.
In fact, the use of the term “interpenetrated peoples” in regard to Crimea does not reflect reality, and it was not repeated in our last two issues. The resolution was superseded in April 1995, when the ICL called for a plebiscite so that the people of Crimea and Chechnya could decide their fate, a tacit recognition that self-determination for those areas could be achieved democratically short of the overthrow of capitalist rule. Jonah put the question, “If that situation of interpenetration still exists in the Crimea with the Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar populations, then why did WV come out with ‘Crimea is Russian’?”
When we speak of interpenetrated peoples, we are not talking about any mixture of nationalities and ethnicities within a single state, which is the norm in the world. Rather, we are addressing situations where two (or more) peoples claim the same territory, e.g., Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland, and the programmatic implications for Leninists. While many reformist leftists divide the world into supposedly progressive and reactionary peoples, with democratic rights accorded only to the former, we uphold the right to self-determination for all nations, as Lenin did. In cases of interpenetrated peoples, as the ICL’s International Declaration of Principles states, “the democratic right of national self-determination cannot be achieved for one people without violating the national rights of the other. Hence these conflicts cannot be equitably resolved within a capitalist framework. The precondition for a democratic solution is to sweep away all the bourgeoisies of the region” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 54, Spring 1998).
Crimea is fully 97 percent Russian speaking, with even the ethnic Ukrainian minority heavily Russified. This is in contrast to the Caucasus, which is populated by many peoples speaking different languages. Nor is it like Northern Ireland, with its deeply split but roughly numerically equal Protestant and Catholic populations. The recent referendum in Crimea and its aftermath have underlined that the region is not a case of geographically interpenetrated peoples but one centrally defined by its Russian history and ethnic makeup. Just under 97 percent of voters favored reunification with Russia, although many Tatars boycotted the referendum. Furthermore, Russia’s reabsorption of Crimea was accomplished with virtually no bloodshed or any real resistance. The bulk of Ukrainian troops and officers in Crimea simply went over to the Russians.
Faced with a fait accompli, Barack Obama, with the assistance of his imperialist allies, has mustered some sanctions, low grade for now, against various Russian figures while also showing some force through increased air patrols in the Baltic states and a heightened military presence in Poland. This has been accompanied by an outpouring of bellicose statements replete with hypocrisy and double-speak. Addressing his European Union and NATO allies in Brussels on March 26, Obama condemned “the invasion of Crimea” and “Russia’s annexation” while admitting that Russia is not about to be dislodged from Crimea through military force. Obama passed off the U.S. occupation of Iraq, which destroyed an entire society and racked up hundreds of thousands more victims of American imperialism’s worldwide depredations, as leaving a “fully sovereign Iraqi state.” And after all, he said, it wasn’t about grabbing resources “for our own gain.”
This can be believed about as readily as Obama’s “shocked, shocked” denial that “America is somehow conspiring with fascists inside of Ukraine.” Washington has assiduously backed the Svoboda party—the more “moderate” face of Ukrainian fascism—throughout the turmoil that culminated in the coup against Yanukovich, as a result of which several fascists won high government offices, including deputy prime minister, prosecutor general and minister of defense. There is nothing new in Washington’s collaboration with such scum. After the Soviet Red Army drove out the Nazi invaders and their local hitmen in World War II, the U.S. enrolled and bankrolled Svoboda’s forebears—the fascist gangs led by Stepan Bandera, infamous for massacres of Jews and Poles—as soldiers in the Cold War against Communism.
“Leftists” Echo Imperialist Propaganda
Most of the reformist left in the U.S. has willingly served as tribunes in the imperialists’ verbal blitzkrieg over Russian intervention in Crimea. In WV No. 1041, we noted that the International Socialist Organization (ISO) retailed bourgeois propaganda by prettifying the mass protests in Kiev, replete with fascists, as a fight for “democracy,” describing the protests as “action from below.” Now over Crimea, the ISO asserts that it stands in a “third camp”—encapsulated in the slogan, “Neither Washington nor Moscow”—as it did when the Soviet workers state existed. In reality, the “third camp” was always the camp of imperialism, as the ISO proved time and again by backing counterrevolutionary forces arrayed against the USSR in the name of “democracy.”
Having reveled in the destruction of the Soviet workers state in 1991-92, the ISO continues to direct its fire to the east as U.S. imperialism ramps up the pressure against capitalist Russia. While objecting to what it calls “the imperialist conflict being fought out in Ukraine,” the ISO shows its real animus by shamelessly echoing the Western propaganda mills: “Russian imperialism has made its move to retain political and economic domination over the country with its takeover of Crimea—this should be unconditionally condemned by all revolutionaries claiming to be anti-imperialists” (“Ukraine and the National Question,”, 11 March).
The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), for its part, has given abstract recognition to the national rights of Crimea’s majority population only to say that it really doesn’t matter because the need of the hour is the call raised by its Russian group on March 2: “Russian Imperialism—Out of Crimea!” The CWI is the same outfit whose leading section in Britain capitulated to its imperialist rulers by refusing for decades to call for British troops out of Northern Ireland, where they along with local police and Protestant paramilitaries brutally oppressed the Catholic minority.
As we observed in U.S./EU Imperialist Frenzy as Crimea Rejoins Russia” (WV No. 1042, 21 March), the CWI’s stance was “little more than a left-sounding cover for the U.S./EU position that a vote for self-determination in Crimea is invalid because the U.S./EU imperialists say it is invalid.” On March 4, the CWI elaborated its position, declaring: “What is happening now will not lead to genuine self-determination; it will only mean that Crimea becomes a Russian protectorate, like South Ossetia, or, even worse, an occupied region with a dictatorial ruler, like Chechnya’s Kadyrov” (“Russian Troops Take Up Positions Throughout Crimea,”
Here the CWI willfully conflates very different situations. Unlike Crimea, the peoples of South Ossetia and Chechnya, both located in the Caucasus, are not Russian. The Russian chauvinists who rule in Moscow certainly know the difference, as seen in their two brutal wars against the Chechens, who had attempted to assert their right to secede. Russia’s wars against Chechnya required that Marxists support the call for Chechen independence and demand: Russian troops out!
As for South Ossetia, shortly after the collapse of the USSR it seceded from the former Soviet republic of Georgia under the protection of the Russian bourgeois state. In 2008, the invasion of South Ossetia by Georgia, which was heavily supported by the U.S., touched off a war with Russia, with Abkhazia also attempting to secede from Georgia. In that war, the national rights of the South Ossetians and Abkhaz were subordinated to what was pure power-play politics on the part of both Russia and imperialist-backed Georgia. The Marxist position was one of revolutionary defeatism: the class interests of the workers of Georgia and Russia lay in a struggle to overthrow their respective capitalist rulers through socialist revolution.
Defense of self-determination for the people of Crimea has posed an acid test for all organizations claiming to oppose capitalist imperialism, a system in decay that was given a new lease on life by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. The reformists, true to form, have directed their main fire away from the U.S. capitalist enemy and its European allies. Combatting the imperialist blowback to Crimean self-determination and the Russian intervention is part of the perspective raised in the conclusion of our last issue’s article: “The crucial task facing revolutionaries is to forge Bolshevik parties committed to the struggle against imperialism and all manifestations of nationalism, charting a course of independent working-class struggle leading to the fight for new October Revolutions.”
Venezuela: U.S. Imperialism Fuels Right-Wing Protests-Break with Chavismo! For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

Workers Vanguard No. 1043

4 April 2014
Venezuela: U.S. Imperialism Fuels Right-Wing Protests-Break with Chavismo! For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
For almost eight weeks, students and middle-class demonstrators demanding the salida (exit) of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro have set up barricades in affluent neighborhoods in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities. While deriding the country’s oppressed masses and raving against purported Cuban infiltration of the government, protesters have also attempted to tap very real popular grievances—shortages of necessities like cooking oil, flour and toilet paper, rising inflation and high crime rates. The government has called out the National Guard against protesters, but by several reports the protesters themselves are responsible for many of the almost 40 deaths. There have also been rumors of a coup attempt, leading to the arrest of three air force generals on March 24.
The U.S. imperialists, who back the right-wing opposition, and their media mouthpieces have raised a great hue and cry over Venezuelan government repression. On March 4, the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Maduro government by a vote of 393-1. Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry threatened sanctions against Venezuela and denounced Maduro for waging a “terror campaign against his own people.” (Actually, the U.S. secretary of state is the real expert in waging terror campaigns against civilian populations.) Florida gusano Congressmen are foaming at the mouth over the possibility of ousting Maduro and stopping the 100,000 barrels of oil that Venezuela ships to Cuba daily, partly in exchange for the services of 30,000 medics and other Cuban personnel.
Leading figures in the protest include neoliberal opposition politicians Maria Corina Machado, who was recently stripped of her parliamentary immunity, and the now imprisoned Leopoldo López. Machado, a congresswoman from a wealthy district who is known as the “Venezuelan Iron Lady” for her conservative views, was honored at the White House in 2005 by George W. Bush for her attempts to undermine the regime of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez. The group she cofounded, Súmate, has taken money from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a notorious CIA front. López, a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School of Government, has the blessing of Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank funded by ExxonMobil, Chevron and the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), which is another CIA conduit. A member of Venezuela’s oligarchy, he is a wealthy descendent of the 19th-century Latin American nationalist Simón Bolívar.
Since Chávez was first elected in 1998, the U.S. imperialists have sought to install someone more to their liking in Caracas. Hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. funds have been poured into attempts to undermine the Venezuelan government through U.S. AID’s “humanitarian” programs and NED grants to train political activists and provide “democracy assistance.” Toppling the regime was the goal of the failed U.S.-backed coup in April 2002, the capitalist lockouts designed to cripple the oil industry in the winter of 2002-03 and the campaign to recall Chávez in 2004. After Maduro was elected president by a narrow margin last April, Washington’s local agents claimed fraud and attempted to reverse the results in favor of their candidate.
Many of Venezuela’s capitalists made their profits as front men for imperialist interests. Gustavo Cisneros is one. The Cisneros family amassed immense wealth as the Venezuelan distributors of Pepsi, later branching into media and other industries. Cisneros’s backing of the 2002 failed coup against Chávez earned his TV station, along with three others, the nickname the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
In deeply polarized Venezuelan society, poor and working people overwhelmingly remain tied to chavismo, the left-wing nationalist populism associated with strongman Chávez and adopted by Maduro, who came to prominence on Chávez’s coattails. Chávez consolidated popular support by denouncing U.S. imperialism’s military interventions around the world and bucking its policies in Latin America. He used the wealth generated by selling oil to fund social welfare programs like food subsidies, improving pensions and health care (the latter with Cuban assistance).
In Chávez’s first 12 years in office, the population’s caloric intake increased 50 percent and the poverty rate fell from over 50 percent to less than 30 percent. He made it harder to fire workers, mandated pensions for domestic workers and repeatedly raised the minimum wage. Unlike the traditional political elite who flaunt their European roots while oozing contempt for the poor, Chávez boasted of his zambo (mixed African and indigenous) heritage. When Maduro—Chávez’s vice president and hand-picked successor—was narrowly elected president after Chávez’s death a year ago, he promised to continue the “Bolivarian Revolution” begun by Chávez in 1999.
Though in the crosshairs of U.S. imperialism and hated by the layer of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie most closely tied to the imperialists, Maduro, like Chávez before him, heads a capitalist government. Chávez himself repeatedly emphasized that his regime did not pose a risk to private property. While Marxists support the establishment of social welfare programs for the poor and defend nationalizations in dependent countries, these measures do not in any way alter the capitalist character of a society, no matter the amount of “socialist” packaging that’s given to them.
In fact, chavista nationalist populism helps deflect social struggle and ideologically binds the impoverished masses and the working class to capitalist rule. The nationalizations of land and private companies—carried out in large part through government buyouts—represent a means by which countries under imperialist domination can achieve a degree of economic independence. But far from placing the productive wealth of society in the hands of working people, these nationalizations have helped Chávez’s cronies in the so-called boliburguesía (Bolivarian bourgeoisie) line their pockets.
U.S. policy in Latin America has left a centuries-long bloody trail of military interventions, American-installed dictators and death squads. It is in the interests of working people in the U.S., as well as in Venezuela, to oppose a U.S.-backed coup or other imperialist intervention in the country. At the same time, political support to chavismo and the Maduro regime only subordinates the Venezuelan working class to its capitalist exploiters. For this reason, during the 2004 referendum to recall Chávez, we argued for abstention rather than a no vote. As we wrote in “U.S. Imperialism’s Referendum Ploy Fails—Populist Capitalist Ruler Chávez Prevails” (WV No. 831, 3 September 2004):
“The immediate perspective that is urgently posed is not only to oppose U.S. imperialist incursions into Venezuela and elsewhere, but to fight to shatter the support of the workers movement to either Chávez or the opposition, and to forge a revolutionary internationalist workers party to lead the working class to power. This requires an intransigent fight against nationalism in Venezuela, which obscures class divisions in the country. Only the victorious struggle for working-class rule, i.e., socialist revolution throughout the Americas, will ensure land to the landless and enable the oil workers and other proletarians to enjoy the wealth created by their labor.”
Nationalist Populism: Dead End for Working People
Like Lázaro Cárdenas who ruled Mexico in the 1930s or Argentina’s Juan Perón in the 1940s and ’50s, Chávez, a former colonel who had attempted an unsuccessful military coup in 1992, was what Marxists call a bonapartist ruler. The term applies to a strongman, typically a (former) military leader like the original Napoleon Bonaparte, heading a regime that in a period of crisis elevates itself to a position of “leader of the nation.” As revolutionary Marxist Leon Trotsky explained when writing about the Cárdenas regime which expropriated the petroleum and energy industries:
“In the industrially backward countries foreign capital plays a decisive role. Hence the relative weakness of the national bourgeoisie in relation to the national proletariat. This creates special conditions of state power. The government veers between foreign and domestic capital, between the weak national bourgeoisie and the relatively powerful proletariat. This gives the government a Bonapartist character of a distinctive character. It raises itself, so to speak, above classes. Actually, it can govern either by making itself the instrument of foreign capitalism and holding the proletariat in the chains of a police dictatorship, or by maneuvering with the proletariat and even going so far as to make concessions to it, thus gaining the possibility of a certain freedom toward the foreign capitalists.”
— “Nationalized Industry and Workers’ Management” (1939)
Populist reform and neoliberal austerity are two faces of capitalist class rule in dependent countries, that is, alternate policy prescriptions available to the national bourgeoisie, as demonstrated in Venezuela itself. In 1976, President Carlos Andrés Pérez nationalized the oil industry with compensation. Buoyed by increasing oil prices, he invested heavily in social programs, expanding government employment and improving education and health care. But when Pérez was elected president again in 1989, the oil market had crashed, so he implemented massive austerity at the behest of the International Monetary Fund.
Chávez’s principal concern upon coming to power in 1998 was to solve the problem of the country’s faltering oil profits, the lifeblood of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. He moved immediately to discipline the oil workers union and to otherwise increase the efficiency of the state-owned oil industry, while pressing the OPEC oil cartel to jack up prices. It was for such efforts, and in the interest of political stability, that Chávez was initially supported by much of the ruling class. This included not least his former comrades in the military high command, who were instrumental in restoring him to power after the short-lived 2002 coup.
Chávez was lucky: the price of oil rose from $10.87 per barrel in 1998 to $96.13 in 2013. However, the price of oil is notoriously unstable and the United States, the largest recipient of Venezuela’s oil, has cut its imports. The social welfare programs introduced by Chávez cannot be sustained in the long term under capitalism. With declining productivity dragging down its economy, Venezuela has managed to keep afloat in no small part due to billions of dollars in loans from the Chinese deformed workers state in exchange for oil.
Most of the Venezuelan capitalist class enriched itself by siphoning off the oil wealth of the country. Chávez’s use of this revenue for social reforms angered elements of the bourgeoisie who had long seen this money as their personal slush fund. When Chávez implemented price and currency controls and nationalizations, the divide deepened. Some one million wealthy and middle-class Venezuelans have left the country from the time Chávez came to power. Many have sent their money abroad—including to Miami, the snake pit of anti-Communist Cuban exiles. In response, the government instituted more price and currency controls, which made it more difficult for private companies to get capital, hardening opposition to the government. As a result, many capitalist manufacturers, such as in the auto industry, have closed up shop, increasing Venezuela’s dependency on imported goods.
To boost profits, many private stores have refused to sell products at the official government rates, insisting on higher prices. Government-subsidized staples are illegally exported to Colombia by speculators and sold for higher prices. Hoarding is reported to be widespread. The traditional “market solution,” i.e., relaxation of price and currency controls and government subsidies introduced by Chávez, would no doubt spur private capitalists to produce and sell more products. Just as in Colombia and other Latin American countries, such measures would be good for the balance sheets of the capitalists, but disastrous for everybody else.
In Venezuela today, the poor are not starving, but shortages of basic products have made conditions more miserable. So long as the productive wealth of society is in private hands, production will be guided by what increases capitalist profits. The masses will remain subject to exploitation and oppression, and economic development will be subordinated to the dictates of the imperialist-dominated world market. There can be no permanent amelioration of the plight of the urban and rural poor without the smashing of the capitalist state and the overthrow of the capitalist social order. The perspective of the International Communist League is for a series of workers revolutions across the globe, which would pave the way for an internationally planned, collectivized economy and the accompanying expansion of the productive forces of society in accordance with human need.
Left Apologists for Chavismo
Most self-described socialist organizations flocked to support Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” and continue to act as the leftist marketing department for Maduro. Alan Woods, who leads the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), is prominent among these types, boasting of being a “Trotskyist” adviser to first Chávez and now Maduro. The March 5 article “Carry Out the Legacy of Hugo Chávez!” ( by Woods lauds the toiling masses for having “saved the Revolution and pushed it forward” and beseeches them to buckle down against the “reformists” and “bureaucrats” in the Caracas government.
In the declaration “Hugo Chávez Is Dead: The Fight for Socialism Lives!” (6 March 2013) issued prior to the election of Maduro last year, the IMT elaborated: “Hugo Chávez died before completing the great task he had set before himself: the carrying out of the socialist revolution in Venezuela. It is now up to the workers and peasants—the real motor force of the Bolivarian Revolution—to carry this task out to the end.” They go on to implore: “We must ensure that the next government will carry out a socialist policy.”
The IMT would have the working masses serve as foot soldiers to bolster the position of Maduro, thereby helping to prop up capitalist rule. The glorification of a former army colonel and his acolyte, who have been at the helm of the repressive Venezuelan capitalist state for the last 16 years, disarms the workers and binds them to a wing of Venezuela’s ruling class. The only reliable defense against capitalist immiseration, whether imposed by the rightist opposition or by the Maduro government, is the independent struggle of the working class. And the fight for socialism can advance only if the proletariat struggles under its own banner. Socialism will result not from the “Bolivarian Revolution” that does nothing to challenge capitalist property but from workers revolution that sweeps away the bourgeois state apparatus and expropriates capitalist property.
The IMT sees in the “Bolivarian Revolution” a repeat of the Cuban Revolution. As IMT spokesman Jorge Martin put it, the “dynamic of action and reaction of the Venezuelan revolution reminds us in a very powerful way of the first years of the Cuban revolution” (, 1 March 2005). Such a comparison, though, has no basis in reality.
When Castro’s forces marched into Havana on 1 January 1959 culminating several years of guerrilla war, the bourgeois army and the rest of the capitalist state apparatus that had propped up the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship collapsed in disarray. Initially, the heterogeneous petty-bourgeois rebels were committed to no more than a program of radical-democratic reforms, but under the pressure of U.S. imperialism would begin a series of nationalizations. By the time Castro declared Cuba “socialist” in 1961, the Cuban bourgeoisie and the U.S. imperialists and their CIA and Mafia henchmen had all fled and capitalist property had been expropriated. Quite unlike Venezuela, where the bourgeoisie is fully intact as a class, what was established in Cuba in 1960-61 was a deformed workers state: a society in which private property is collectivized, but a parasitic bureaucratic caste, not the workers, holds political power.
The fact that a petty-bourgeois guerrilla movement could overthrow capitalist rule was due to historically exceptional circumstances—the absence of the working class as a contender for power in its own right, hostile imperialist encirclement and the flight of the national bourgeoisie, and a lifeline thrown by the Soviet Union. The Cuban workers state itself was modeled on the Soviet Union after its bureaucratic degeneration at the hands of the Stalinist usurpers beginning in 1923-24. As we did with the Soviet degenerated workers state before its destruction, we call for the unconditional military defense of Cuba and for workers political revolution to oust the ruling bureaucratic caste.
The Castro bureaucracy in Cuba embraces the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country.” Thus, it denies the need for proletarian revolution internationally, not only elsewhere in Latin America but particularly in the advanced capitalist world. Further damaging the defense of Cuba, the bureaucracy has cozied up to and provided “revolutionary” cover for all kinds of anti-working-class capitalist regimes. Meanwhile, various “market reform” measures introduced in response to Cuba’s severe post-Soviet economic problems have brought widening inequality (see “Cuba: Economic Crisis and ‘Market Reforms’,” WV No. 986, 16 September 2011).
In those countries like Venezuela where capitalism emerged belatedly, the bourgeoisies are too weak, too fearful of the proletariat and too dependent on the world market—dominated by the U.S., Europe and Japan—to break the chains of imperialist subjugation and resolve mass poverty and other burning social problems. The only way forward is, as Trotsky stated in The Permanent Revolution (1930), the fight for “the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.” The dictatorship of the proletariat would place on the order of the day not only democratic but also socialist tasks, such as collectivizing the economy, giving a mighty impulse to international socialist revolution. Only the victory of the proletariat in the advanced capitalist world would ensure against bourgeois restoration and secure the possibility of bringing socialist construction to its conclusion.
It is the task of Marxists to break illusions in bourgeois populists like Chávez in order to forge revolutionary parties of the working class. As we wrote in “Venezuela: Populist Nationalism vs. Proletarian Revolution” (WV No. 860, 9 December 2005):
“History will reserve a harsh verdict for those ‘leftists’ who promote one or another left-talking capitalist caudillo. The way forward for the downtrodden throughout the Americas does not lie through painting nationalist strongmen as revolutionaries and populist forays as revolutions. It lies instead in constructing national sections of a reforged Fourth International in the spirit of uncompromising revolutionary hostility to any and all kinds of capitalist rule.”
South of the Río Bravo, such parties will have to be built in political struggle against widespread illusions in populism and nationalism. In the U.S., a revolutionary workers party will be built in the struggle to break the proletariat from the capitalist Democratic Party and to mobilize it in solidarity with all those oppressed and exploited by U.S. imperialism around the world.


“Workers of The World Unite, You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Chains”-The Struggle For Trotsky's Fourth (Communist) International

Emblem of the Fourth International.

Click below to link to documents of the early 4th International.

Markin comment:

Below this general introduction is another addition to the work of creating a new international working class organization-a revolutionary one fit of the slogan in the headline.

Markin comment (repost from September 2010):

Recently, when the question of an international, a new workers' international, a fifth international, was broached by the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), faintly echoing the call by Venezuelan caudillo, Hugo Chavez, I got to thinking a little bit more on the subject. Moreover, it must be something in the air (maybe caused by these global climatic changes) because I have also seen recent commentary on the need to go back to something that looks very much like Karl Marx’s one-size-fits-all First International. Of course, just what the doctor ordered, by all means, be my guest, BUT only if the shades of Proudhon and Bakunin can join. Boys and girls that First International was disbanded in the wake of the demise of the Paris Commune for a reason, okay. Mixing political banners (Marxism and fifty-seven varieties of anarchism) is appropriate to a united front, not a hell-bent revolutionary International fighting, and fighting hard, for our communist future. Forward

The Second International, for those six, no seven, people who might care, is still alive and well (at least for periodic international conferences) as a mail-drop for homeless social democrats who want to maintain a fig leaf of internationalism without having to do much about it. Needless to say, one Joseph Stalin and his cohorts liquidated the Communist (Third) International in 1943, long after it turned from a revolutionary headquarters into an outpost of Soviet foreign policy. By then no revolutionary missed its demise, nor shed a tear goodbye. And of course there are always a million commentaries by groups, cults, leagues, tendencies, etc. claiming to stand in the tradition (although, rarely, the program) of the Leon Trotsky-inspired Fourth International that, logically and programmatically, is the starting point of any discussion of the modern struggle for a new communist international.

With that caveat in mind this month, the September American Labor Day month, but more importantly the month in 1938 that the ill-fated Fourth International was founded I am posting some documents around the history of that formation, and its program, the program known by the shorthand, Transitional Program. If you want to call for a fifth, sixth, seventh, what have you, revolutionary international, and you are serious about it beyond the "mail-drop" potential, then you have to look seriously into that organization's origins, and the world-class Bolshevik revolutionary who inspired it. Forward.