Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt 3
FOR THE REBIRTH OF THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL!
“The ETs ought to inspire fanatical hatred in iSt members….”
“Liars, traitors, apologists for racism and genocide, petty bureaucrats, red-baiters, anti-Soviet pop-frontists, wreckers, the ETs are truly a sorry lot….”
—”Notes on the ‘External Tendency,” Al Nelson, SL Internal Bulletin No. 40, August, 1983.
“Whereas the ETs have been very forward in their characterizations of us…we have been reserved and empirical in our characterizations of them.”
—”From Cream Puffs to Food Poisoning,” Workers Vanguard No. 349, 2 March 1984.
Table of Contents
This publication also contained the following items that were republished in:
- Trotskyist Bulletin No. 1
- Only Trotskyism Can Defend the Gains of October”
- Trotskyist Bulletin No. 2
- Marxism and Social-Patriotism
- British Sailors and American Marines
It is one thing to resign yourself to the leadership’s “Marines Alive” position in the privacy of your own local meeting but quite another to try to argue this social-patriotic drivel in a roomful of contacts who you are working hard to recruit. This point was driven home forcefully last winter to SLers all over North America when the External Tendency went on tour for Trotskyism.
The various local leaderships tried many different tactics to deal with our criticism as they winced and squirmed and generally sought to avoid a head-on confrontation on the nature of the U.S. Marines. This technique was perhaps best exemplified by Tweet Carter in Detroit on the first stop of her midwest tour. Speaking on the topic “U.S. Hands Off the World!,” she managed to avoid any mention of Lebanon! And this when U.S. military intervention in that unfortunate country was at its height! At Oberlin on 12 February the SL tried to avoid dealing with the vexing Marines question by limiting the ET to a single speaker. Elsewhere they tried to distract attention from the Marines by slanders directed at individual ETers or by attacking caricatures of other ET positions.
When SL members did respond to us on the Marines they came off sounding awful. At a public class in New York in mid-January several SL/SYL comrades received a round of applause when they mentioned that they had friends or relatives who are or were in the Marines. In Detroit an ETer was told that he was lucky that one of the SL’s black contacts who had a relative planning to join the Corps hadn’t been at the forum to hear the nasty things that we said about them because he might have been hard to restrain! In Chicago we heard a tear-jerking account of how one bereaved mother who had lost several sons in Lebanon had started a petition to bring the rest of the boys home safely. Another comrade, parrotting the Daily World, suggested that the Marines themselves were the victims of an economic draft. The chairman of the Chicago meeting, on the other hand, told cde. Riley of the ET that he recalled reading in the SL press that the act of blowing up the barracks was defensible! Riley challenged him to find such a citation and offered to send him 10 dollars when he did so. (He still hasn’t collected.) In Los Angeles on 4 March a female comrade told an ET supporter that if the SL took such a hostile attitude to the Marines it could make it extremely difficult to recruit any of them!
We heard many attacks on us for being “bloodthirsty” because of our attitude of “Live Like Pigs—Die Like Pigs” towards the trained imperialist killers who were blown away in the Beirut barracks bombing. Meanwhile the guns of the battleship New Jersey were pounding the defenseless Muslim villagers and showing beyond a shadow of a doubt who the bloodthirsty ones in Lebanon were! When we pointed this out many comrades responded that “no one is fighting imperialism” in Lebanon, anyway. As if this would make any difference in the attitude that revolutionists should take toward the indiscriminate terror inflicted on the hapless Lebanese civilians by the U.S. military!
All of these arguments were supplemented with an undercurrent of race-baiting innuendo that the real reason we didn’t care about the Marines was because so many of them are black. (The truth of the matter is that the Marines are a racist outfit which has historically been infested with active chapters of the KKK.) Over the course of our interventions it became disturbingly clear that at least a section of the membership of the SL/US has begun to assimilate the social—patriotic logic of “Marines Alive.”
At the February 11 forum in Cleveland, Tweet announced that she was “taking off the gloves” with the ET and that the SL’s internal bulletins on us were going on public sale. But this material proved to be a rather blunt weapon. It is mostly just reprints of our material supplemented by Al Nelson’s amazingly crude and transparently dishonest polemic against us. Little wonder then that when our comrades in other locals tried to purchase copies of these documents, they were told that the policy had changed again and they were no longer for sale.
At these meetings we refuted every nasty little lie or slander thrown at us. One lie that kept popping up throughout the midwest was that we had supposedly referred to blacks in one of the forums as “alien elements.” But the SLers who made this charge couldn’t get it straight where it had supposedly occurred. In Detroit we were accused of saying it in Chicago. In Chicago it was supposed to have taken place in Detroit. In Cleveland we were told that it had happened in Chicago but at a different forum than the Detroit SLers had alleged!
In Detroit on 29 January Tweet had spoken to Kathy, a Cleveland supporter of the ET, and got her phone number. On the day of the Oberlin forum Kathy received a phone call from Tweet. They talked for two hours. During the conversation Tweet once again made the accusation about “alien elements.” After getting Tweet to clarify where this statement was supposedly made (Tweet said Chicago), Kathy suggested to Tweet, as we had suggested to other SLers in the past, that if she went back and listened to the tapes of that forum she would discover that no such statement had been made. Tweet responded that she had in fact gone back and listened to the tapes but, by some incredible coincidence, the tape was being turned over just as the statement was being made! If Rosemary Woods had been half that clever Nixon might have kept his job.
On the afternoon of January 6, 3,000 people marched to protest the release of ex-San Francisco cop and ex-Supervisor Dan White from prison. White was released after serving four years for murdering S.F.’s first gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, and liberal Democratic mayor George Moscone. The four-year sentence was widely perceived among gays and others as a license to kill homosexuals and any politicians too closely allied with them. The demo had wide support— indeed, one of its sponsors was the Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Tens of thousands greeted the protesters from windows, offices, and cars. The ET participated in the demonstration under the following slogans: “Full Democratic Rights for Homosexuals!,” “Break With the Democrats and Build a Workers Party to Fight for All the Oppressed!” and “For the Right of Self-Defense Against Homophobic Attacks!” The SL had a small sales team, but did not march.
(Reprinted below are three letters. The first is a facsimile of the formal application submitted by the External Tendency to the iSt, dated 15 February. The second is a copy of the 27 February response by iSt Secretary Helene Brosius. The third is a copy of our 12 March preliminary response to Workers Vanguard’s 2 March “Cream Puffs” polemic against us.)
February 15, 1984
Recently various leading members of your organization have suggested that we should seek membership in the international Spartacist tendency. Please consider this our formal application. We apply for membership as a group and not as individuals.
From the inception of our tendency, we have stated that: “we would rejoin the organization if guaranteed mutually agreed upon minority rights” (“It Is Desparately Necessary to Fight,” October 1982). We have reiterated this position in the first two issues of our bulletin. We have always considered ourselves part of the Spartacist tendency politically inasmuch as we have shared a common program. For this reason we have sought to function as a tendency of the iSt in an attempt to act as a catalyst for its regeneration, rather than attempting to build a competing public group.
We believe that our programmatic agreement with the iSt provides a principled basis of unity. At the same time, we emphasize the real differences we have with the leadership, centrally on the regime question, as well as on other political questions. The most recent of these, of course, is the “Marines Alive” position which we characterize as “social-patriotic.” “Marines Alive” is the first of our critiques to which you have chosen to respond extensively in the pages of WV. We refer comrades to our founding declaration, our document on the liquidation of trade-union work and our bulletins. Please find them enclosed as part of this application.
We agree to vigorously uphold the discipline of the iSt and to fulfill all the duties of membership, understanding that to fight to win a majority to one’s positions is the duty of members of a democratic-centralist organization.
Please reply at your earliest convenience so that we may arrange a meeting to discuss this matter.
for the External Tendency of the iSt
international SPARTACIST tendency
Box 1377, G.P.O.
New York, N.Y. 10001
27 February 1984
External Tendency of the iSt
Box 332, Adelaide Street Station
Dear comrade Nason:
Thank you for your letter of 15 February l984 and enclosures.
The question of the relationship of the External Tendency of the iSt with the iSt has been one to which our tendency has given some thought, as should be evident to you by our readiness to respond to your criticism resulting in sometimes fertile polemical exchange.
In a CC plenum of the SL/U.S. in December 1983, also attended by representatives of other iSt sections, a certain provisional assessment was arrived at. And that plenum authorized the printing in Workers Vanguard of an appraisal of the several constituents of your “External Tendency.”
This appraisal will appear early on in an issue of WV. Since the American plenum we are in receipt of a second petition by the E.T. alleging anti—working—class organizational and physical atrocities. This too, naturally, needs weighing in a balanced appraisal by us and should be reflected in the forthcoming article in WV.
After you have had a chance to digest our views, either we would be pleased to hear from you or, failing that, we will get back to you on our own initiative.
We appreciated your enclosing in your 15 February letter North American materials which you have produced since you coalesced your tendency. But you did not include the document “Where is the iSt Going?” by your German co-thinkers who initiated the first petition and signed the second protesting our alleged abuses. And we are afraid that you are indeed saddled with the German E.T., because you yourselves have claimed that signatories to these petitions are limited to those who are in some way within the gravitational field of the iSt. While we think it very likely that you have seen this German pamphlet, we are enclosing the English translation just in case you have not. Perhaps you could explicate it for us.
External Tendency of the iSt External Tendency of the iSt
Box 332, Adelaide Street Station P.O. Box 904
Oakland, CA 94668
March 12, 1984
international Spartacist tendency
Box 1377, GPO
New York, NY 10116
We read with a sense of disbelief your unsavoury and profoundly dishonest polemic against us, “From Cream Puffs to Food Poisoning,” (Workers Vanguard No. 349, 2 March). We will be sending you a comprehensive reply to it in due course. However, despite the numerous slanders contained in the article, we wish to reassert our sincere desire to seek reintegration into the iSt so that we may sort out our political differences with the leadership of the tendency within the framework of building a common revolutionary organization.
We believe that the groundless accusations contained in the “Cream Puffs” polemic may be aimed at simultaneously laying the basis for preventing our re-entry into the iSt while obscuring the leadership’s recent programmatic shifts away from Trotskyist orthodoxy. The pressures of the Reagan years on the iSt’s leadership have never been more evident than in the shameful social-patriotic call for saving the lives of the U.S. Marines in Lebanon (WV No. 341). Samuels’ response to us on the “Yuri Andropov Brigade” (WV No. 348) opens the door to a Pabloite revision of the Trotskyist position on the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy. The symmetrically revisionist knee-jerk flinch on the Russian question over the KAL 007 spy-flight (when Workers Vanguard announced that its defense of the Soviet Union was conditional on the safety of airline passengers) merely demonstrates that the political departures of the leadership of the iSt have not yet acquired a characteristic direction.
We make no secret of the fact that we seek to rejoin the iSt so that we may play a role in reversing this political drift. Yet, we have witnessed a series of incidents which seem to be aimed at foreclosing this possibility. First came the slanders and low-grade physical violence on the Greyhound picket line in San Francisco on 3 December. You chose to ignore our 14 December letter of protest to the Political Bureau of the SL/US (reprinted in the second issue of our bulletin). We therefore felt compelled to initiate a petition in order to protect our supporters. We did not seek to widely publicize the event and chiefly circulated the protest petition to individuals with a significant prior history with the Spartacist tendency. We made it perfectly clear in our cover letter (a copy of which we sent to you with the petition on 9 February), that we had chosen not to ask for statements from the half-dozen OROs who witnessed the “Nazi-lover” provocation against Ursula, precisely because we refused to provide ammunition to the enemies of the iSt. Instead of repudiating the actions of your supporters on 3 December, you have chosen to lie and to attempt to brazen it out. The “Cream Puffs” polemic provides a disturbing index of the political degeneration of the leadership of the iSt. Particularly disgusting is the attribution to us of cop-like behaviour. Comrades, the “Cointelpro-type” slander should ring a bell. How many times have reformist and centrist organizations, fearful of debate with Spartacist comrades, accused them of acting like police provocateurs as a pretext for exclusion?
We must also vigorously protest the violation of Bob Mandel’s security throughout the article. We can only regard this as another deliberate and cynical provocation. You are well aware of the significance of “naming names” in this period in which a rerun of the McCarthy hearings is widely anticipated. This new provocation is, in its own way, as serious as those of 3 December. And this time you have acted in plain view. While brother Mandel is the chief victim of this breach of proletarian morality, it also by implication, endangers all former and present trade-union supporters of the SL.
At your public forum on 8 March in Berkeley, you took the unprecedented step of forcing our supporters and witnesses to leave the hall as soon as the meeting was formally concluded in a blatant attempt to prevent informal political discussion between ourselves and your membership.
In the past period we have stood side by side with you physically and financially against the attacks of your sworn enemies. We joined your San Francisco demonstration against Deukmejian, endorsed and contributed to the anti-Moonie suit and our supporters in the ILWU aggressively defended Stan against the bureaucrats’ witchhunt last year. We have participated in numerous Bay Area demonstrations and courtroom appearances in support of Lauren and Ray. A trade-union supporter of ours in Ohio obtained the endorsement and a $100 donation from his local for the two trade unionists. In Canada, our comrades actively built the defense rally for Paul and Mike, postering and leafletting with the comrades of the TLC. One of our supporters also managed to get his union local to endorse and send a $50 donation for the campaign.
We seek to appeal to the Spartacist tradition of revolutionary integrity against the current symptoms of degeneration and hereby reaffirm our desire to rejoin the iSt as per our letter of application of 15 February. We are happy to accept the invitation proffered in the concluding paragraph of the “Cream Puffs” polemic, “to struggle against the leadership of the iSt on the basis of Leninist democracy and discipline, eschewing collaboration with those who have shown their appetite to destroy the iSt by any means.”
We await your prompt reply.
for the External Tendency of the iSt
P.S. We are not now, nor have we ever been, politically or organizationally linked to the Gruppe IV Internationale, as you well know. You therefore fail your own “Test of Truth.”
Warren Street: “Home of the Whoppers”
One of the axioms of factional struggle is that it is easier to tell lies than to rebut and refute them. However, in politics, as in everything else, honesty is the best policy. We nonetheless face a formidable challenge in responding to the five pages of slanders and distortions aimed at us in “From Cream Puffs to Food Poisoning” (Workers Vanguard No. 349, 2 March). We ask those who are interested in the truth about the differences between the External Tendency and the leadership of the iSt—issues which both sides regard as key to the future of our common movement—to bear with us as we undertake the Augean task of responding in substance and in detail to this monumental dung-heap of frenzied name-calling, slander and political misrepresentation. We have included a number of appendices at the end of this article for the reference of the reader.
The “Cream Puffs” polemic depicts the External Tendency as an amalgam of gutless quitters, united solely by hostility to the leadership of the iSt. We are portrayed as degenerates for whom political questions count for nothing and for whom no person or tactic is too rotten to be used in our unprincipled struggle against the leadership. We are supposed to reflect everything “backward and wrong in the SL.” And yet, inexplicably, the SL leadership claim to have been planning to offer to readmit us to their organization to hash out our political differences.
This is an inherently contradictory posture and one which is very difficult to maintain. Throughout the polemic, despite the assertions that our positions are chiefly a cover for a wrecking operation, the SL leadership feels compelled to attempt a few political responses to our criticisms. We welcome the opportunity which this provides to clarify the real substance of our differences.
In the opening lines of our founding document, we declared that:
“The SL/US-iSt today is an organization with a profound contradiction. It is a degenerating, but still revolutionary organization which is nonetheless the only contemporary organizational embodiment of the program of Bolshevism. As such it has enormous importance for the future prospect of socialist revolution on this planet. Yet while the SL’s program remains revolutionary, its leadership collective increasingly exhibits hyper-centralist, paranoid and personalist characteristics. These tendencies on the part of the leadership have reached the point where they call into question both the possibility of significantly enlarging the organization and of reproducing Trotskyist cadres within it.”
This statement is not a “declaration of bankruptcy,” as is alleged in “Cream Puffs.” It accurately characterized the state of the iSt. While the SL leadership portrays the victims of the irrational internal purges over the past several years as “conservatized, demoralized, scared [and] tired” quitters, there are many comrades both within and without the iSt who know differently. In fact, the “Cream Puffs” polemic itself reveals the run-up to a couple of these “quits:” “Harlan’s quit came just six days after a Bay Area district membership meeting declaring him ‘unfit for membership in the organized Marxist movement’” and another “quit at the 1980 SL National Conference, in the face of overwhelming sentiment by conference delegates to seek his expulsion.” Anyone who has spent any time at all in any ostensible Leninist organization knows how to read that. When Jack Barnes pulls this kind of stuff, WV calls it “driving out cadres.” For those who were not in the tendency at the time, we suggest that they try to listen to the tapes of some of the meetings which preceded such “quits” to get a little of the flavor of what was going on.
Unfortunately most future ET members were not able to generalize and draw the proper political conclusions while they were still in the organization. In many cases, our present comrades remained so loyal to the Robertson regime that they acquiesced in their own “purges” (as they were described internally at the time). We should have stayed and fought. We have sought to rectify this error by reapplying for membership in the iSt. We won’t make the same mistake again.
Bright Lights and Pails of Ice Water
With mock innocence WV wonders: “what we used to approximate the cellars of Lubianka, not being possessed of the instruments of state power,” and then goes on to inquire whether they shone “bright lights in your eyes while keeping you up all night with your feet in pails of ice water?” The short answer is no—there were no bright lights and no ice water. But Stalin didn’t rely primarily on physical torture to secure his hegemony within the CPSU in the 1920s either. Between 1923 and the blood purges of the l930s there was a process of political degeneration. Just such a process (with all proportions guarded) is going on in the iSt today.
On a more appropriate scale, we recall a polemic against Sollenberger’s RWL (WV No. 269, 28 November 1980) which gives a sympathetic portrayal of one RWLer who paid “a terrible personal cost” for falling afoul of that regime. It seems that she was “given the Sollenberger version of the Mennonite custom of ‘shunning,’ and she cracked.” WV characterized these practices as “anti-political personal abuse.”
Or what about Healy’s treatment of the SL delegation at the 1966 IC conference? No bright lights, no pails of ice water. But Spartacist No. 6 reported that Healy/Banda had “used their hammerlock at the recent conference to drive out a number of candidate and observer sections.” The SL concluded that: “the Healy-Banda machine subordinates real political issues of agreement and disagreement to the exigencies of organizational issues and personal prestige politics. That organizational tendency is itself a political issue of the first order.” So this stuff is not new.
Devoted and serious revolutionists who begin to note things which aren’t quite right in the organization which they belong to face a difficult dilemma. In explaining why it took him so long to rally to the Left Opposition, Cannon made the following observation:
“One who bears no responsibilities, who is a mere student or commentator or side-line observer, does not need to exercise any caution or restraint. If he has doubts or uncertainties, he feels perfectly free to express them. That is not the case with a party revolutionist. One who takes upon himself the responsibility of calling workers to join a party on the basis of a program to which they are to devote their time, their energy, their means and even their lives, has to take a very serious attitude toward the party. He cannot, in good conscience, call for the overthrow of one program until he has elaborated a new one. Dissatisfaction, doubts, are not a program….A serious and responsible revolutionist cannot disturb a party merely because he has become dissatisfied with this, that or the other thing.”
—The History of American Trotskyism, p. 41
Developments since the formation of the External Tendency in October 1982 have confirmed our fundamental view that the iSt is degenerating. Indeed, this process has now reached the proportions that it is taking on a programmatic expression. And it is not just the members of the ET who have noticed this phenomenon. Al Nelson in his crude hatchet job, cranked out for the 1983 SL National Conference (entitled “Notes on the External Tendency”), observed that: “We have had quits in the past, part of the normal membership turnover, who mainly stayed friendly as sympathizers. But suddenly a whole layer of quits are openly hostile, a clear indicator of the heavy pressure of the popular front.” Al’s observation is as accurate as his explanation is erroneous. It is not primarily the “pressure of the popular front,” but the increasingly bizarre and abusive internal regime which in most cases accounts for the resentment among ex-members. Unfortunately many are so bitter about their experiences in the SL that they have given up on revolutionary politics altogether—a characteristic exhibited by most former Healyites.
The Sharpe Case: the ET is Not a Garbage Can
The prime example which “Cream Puffs” cites as evidence of our supposed hostile, anti-party orientation is the case of John Sharpe. When we learned that he had been expelled for theft from the iSt, we didn’t automatically assume he was guilty. There have been too many others expelled or driven out of the iSt amid bogus charges of racism, fascism, stealing from the party, sexual manipulation, etc. to presume that this was necessarily true. So we contacted cde. Sharpe to get his side of the story. He confessed that he had stolen money and stated that he deserved to be expelled. If the leadership is right about our “wrecking” orientation, we should have congratulated him on his thievery and offered to deepen collaboration with him. We didn’t. And the fact that our relations with comrade Sharpe were limited to sending him our documents, as he requested, and that we had no further contact with this self-confessed thief (now once “again an iSt member and proud of it”) is supposed to prove that we are hostile to the organization! Really comrades, it is just too absurd to require comment.
While comrade Sharpe, the self-confessed thief, is welcomed back with open arms, we are smeared with the charge that some of our members are guilty of “gross crimes against the workers movement.” Which ET members are you referring to? If you think that some of our members are guilty of such crimes, it is your responsibility to name them and present your evidence so that we can deal with them. But, of course, you know as well as we do that this is just a dirty smear.
Lisa, Harlan and PATCO
As we noted earlier, most of the founding ET members allowed themselves to be forced out of the iSt without a fight. But this was not the case with either comrade Lisa Sommers or comrade Harlan, both of whom fought to prevent the SL/US from discrediting itself by flying during the PATCO strike. They opposed the leadership’s secret position of “fly, fly, fly” and argued against this reversal of the organization’s longstanding policy of honoring labor-initiated consumer boycotts (see RCY-IDB No. 12, 15 June 1974, on the UFW boycott debate). Contrary to the dishonest allegation in “Cream Puffs,” neither Lisa nor Harlan ever counterposed this to the need for massive labor action to shut the airports down tight. In fact, Harlan was one of the main advocates of the “Shut Down the Airports” strategy within the Bay Area labor movement and was also the primary SL liaison with the local PATCO strikers. Lisa argued at the time:
“To say that comrades of the SL/SYL should not fly during the PATCO strike is totally different from calling for a consumer boycott. SL/SYL members should not refrain from flying as a tactic to win the strike, but rather, should refrain from flying, except in the most urgent circumstances, as a principled gesture of solidarity with the striking PATCO workers, and in accordance with the principle of the SL/SYL that picket lines mean don’t cross.”
— SYL IDB No. 28, November 1981, p. 29
Even San J., a survivor of the great clone-hunt of 1978/79, who was designated to write the reply to Lisa, was forced to admit that “flying under certain circumstances could be an act against PATCO.” He suggested that: “if the AFL-CIO had chartered a hundred planes to fly to Washington on September 19th: this would have been a big ‘fuck you’ to PATCO” (ibid., p. 32). The SL leadership’s own “fuck you” to PATCO, which contrasted sharply with the paper position of “Shut Down the Airports,” wouldn’t win any popularity contests with those who wanted to see the PATCO strikers win. So “fly, fly, fly” had to be kept a big secret.
The preposterous allegation that Harlan abused his position on the Central Control Commission was used in the SL as an organizational pretext for the leadership’s suppression of political opposition from those who argued against the shameful position of flying throughout the strike. It reappears in “Cream Puffs” for the same reason.
However, for the sake of leaving no stone unturned, we will briefly outline what happened. Lisa approached Harlan (as the West Coast CCC rep.) in August 1981 to initiate an investigation of her charge that the SL/SYL leadership had condemned her as a liar because she claimed, accurately, that she had been denied adequate access to tape recordings of discussions about the PATCO strike in the Oakland branch which she needed to prepare her own position. Harlan quite properly advised her to submit written statements detailing her complaints to both the CCC and the SYL leadership. As soon as she did so, the party leadership took away her office keys and those of Harlan and Jensen. This signaled the beginning of a hysterical campaign in the Bay Area to vilify Harlan and to break Lisa.
Honesty and Soviet Defensism
A central component of the SL’s characterization of the ET is that we have shown “a deep flinch from the Trotskyist defense of the Soviet Union.” Yet they cannot produce one shred of evidence for this assertion. We are commited to the defense of the USSR. We have put our position in print numerous times and we have marched publicly with Soviet-defensist slogans on many occasions. So where’s the “flinch?” There isn’t one—it is just another lie. All that WV can offer as “proof” is wishful thinking: “If the ET were more honest, they would admit that they hated it when we hailed the Soviet Red Army’s military intervention in Afghanistan.” Not true. As Marxists we oppose female chattel slavery. Consequently, we do hail the Red Army’s intervention against the barbaric Afghan reactionaries. If WV were more honest, it would say what it means: that if we were Shachtmanites, it would make the job of polemicizing against us a lot easier.
The “Shachtmanite” lie is supported by another, supplementary one: “the ET says that since their departure, the iSt has gone Stalinist.” Again, all we can do is ask for proof. Again, there is none. We have never said that the iSt is Stalinist.
We have, however, criticized some of the organization’s recent proto-Pabloite conceptions of how to defend the deformed and degenerated workers states. One example is the “Yuri Andropov Brigade.” Another is the emergency “24-hour notice” demonstrations called last September 1983 to demand a U.N. seat for Heng Samrin. The leadership was in such a rush to do a little PR work for the Cambodian Stalinists on the occasion of the 4th annual seating of Pol Pot’s delegate, that it omitted the call for political revolution. There was time, however, to “hail” the Stalinists’ economic planning and to assert that the pro-Vietnamese Stalinist cadres were “Real Khmer Communists.”
We stand for the traditional Trotskyist conception of the defense of the deformed and degenerated workers states—that it must be linked to the call for political revolution. We are willing to build and actively support the work of the SL in this, the year of the fifth anniversary of the seating of Pol Pot. If you consider it necessary to hold such demonstrations next September, there is no need to do it on a 24-hour emergency basis. We will help you build for the demos several weeks beforehand and—perhaps—attract more support for them. We do, however, intend to carry placards critical of the Indochinese Stalinists and to raise the call for political revolution from Hanoi, to Phnom Penh to Moscow.
The motion from the 1981 TLD conference/purge which you purport to have so much trouble comprehending would probably be a lot clearer for your readers had you the political courage to print Weber’s counterposition. The IEC’s Marcyite motion stated: “We take responsibility in advance for whatever idiocies and atrocities they [the Stalinists] will commit” in a Soviet crackdown on Solidarność’. Weber (who is now a supporter of GIVI) put forward a Trotskyist motion which read:
“The TLD Conference confirms the Trotskyist position of defense of a workers state under the condition that the actual leadership of this defense is through the Stalinist apparatus:
1) every taking of responsibility for the action of the Soviet troops against reactionary rabble;
2) to take no responsibility for acts of anti-proletarian character.”
Weber’s motion failed.
The difference between these two motions is so clear that we’d guess most political novices could pick it out without even having to think twice, let alone three times as the authors of “Cream Puffs” claim to have done. (For further explication, see “Poland: No Reponsibility for Stalinist Crimes,” ET Bulletin No. 1, August 1983.)
On the Trade-Union Bureaucracy
Another key charge made in “Cream Puffs” is that we have a political tilt toward the trade-union bureaucracy. The article asserts that we feel “lots of sympathy for poor, maligned Doug Fraser.” Not true. In our 25 June 1983 document, we state our position on the SL’s trade-union liquidationism. There we refer to “a recent article accurately entitled ‘Doug Fraser: Company Cop!’” (WV No. 330, 20 May 1983). This article stated that: “One can compare Fraser’s joining the Chrysler board with the German Social Democrats’ voting for war credits on August 4, 1914.” We observed that this comparison “implies an assessment that there has been a fundamental shift in the character of the UAW.” The vote for war credits signaled the qualitative transformation of the entire SPD (not just the parliamentary faction which actually voted) into a reformist agency of imperialism. Fraser, as an individual, became an open company cop when he joined the Chrysler board (which is why we labelled the WV headline “accurate”) but that didn’t signal any transformation in the nature of the UAW. At best, therefore, the analogy in WV was inept.
The SL leadership pretends that we have invented some mysterious contradiction in the trade-union bureaucracy the better to “serve the bureaucrats.” They choose a couple of quotes from Trotsky to emphasize the unarguable point that in the epoch of imperialist decay, the union leadership increasingly functions as the political police of the bourgeoisie within the working class. WV feigns ignorance of what we mean when we say the trade-union bureaucracy, like the Soviet bureaucracy, has within it contradictory elements. This is glossed over with the observation that: “the union bureaucracy is not ‘contradictory’ per se but it reflects the class contradiction between the capitalist state and the unions as defensive organs of the working class” (emphasis in original).
OK, but what does this mean? The trade-union bureaucrats serve as agents of the bourgeoisie within the proletariat. Corrupt and commited to class collaboration, they are nonetheless occasionally forced to take steps to defend the organizations from which they derive their livelihoods. They are also vulnerable to being swept aside in periods of militant upsurge. Now and then, in the course of struggle, a few Bill M.’s and Farrell Dobbs’ evolve into conscious revolutionists. (These elements are equivalent to the Ignace Reiss layer of the Stalinist bureaucracy.) More generally though, under mass pressure, sections of the bureaucracy will take partial, temporary steps to defend their base. This ABC proposition can be demonstrated as follows: in ILWU Local 10, some of the same bureaucrats who the Militant Caucus equated with Reagan and the CIA during the witchhunt against Stan Gow, a few months later shut down the port of Richmond and defied cops and court injunctions to win the defensive victory at Levin Terminals last June. (They also endorsed both the SL’s November 27 anti-KKK( demonstration and the defense of Lauren and Ray.)
John L. Lewis was a bureaucrat who, for decades, broke strikes and purged reds and other militants. In the 1930s however, he broke with the entrenched craft unionists of the AFL and spearheaded the creation of the CIO—the greatest breakthrough to date in American labor history. The fact that he did so largely to contain the labor rebellion which communists were intersecting doesn’t change the fact that he gave enormous impetus to industrial unionism on this continent.
Or take the case of the “Minneapolis 18.” Despite the overwhelming enthusiasm for Roosevelt’s war drive within the union bureaucracy, when he prosecuted the Trotskyists in Minneapolis for their principled opposition to the imperialist war, there were many lower-echelon trade-union officials who came to their defense. According to Farrell Dobbs: “During 1942 around one hundred fifty central labor bodies and local unions, speaking for over one million workers, passed resolutions protesting the violation of our constitutional rights; and a steady stream of financial contributions…flowed in from those sources” (Teamster Bureaucracy, p. 264).
The Revolutionary Tendency’s draft resolution to the 1963 SWP Convention, “Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International” (reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 9) was quite clear on the proper attitude to take toward the labor tops:
“Marxists must at all times retain and exercise political and programmatic independence within the context of the organizational form involved. Support to tendencies within the labor bureaucracy, to the extent that they defend essential interests of the working class or reflect class-struggle desires within the labor movement, is correct and even obligatory; but this support is always only conditional and critical. When, as is inevitable, the class struggle reaches the stage at which the ‘leftist’ bureaucrats play a reactionary role, the Marxists must oppose them immediately and openly.”
The key to successful work in the unions is not in orienting to this or that wing of the bureaucracy, but in building one’s own forces which, when necessary, and if possible, build blocs around particular issues. The Spartacist League, in the course of abandonning the fight for a new leadership centred in the caucuses based on the transitional program, is now in the process of generating a theory to justify this practice—that the bureaucracy is a monolithic agency of imperialism. One side of the disorientation which this produces is the dead-end substitutionalism of Stan’s picket of the Lafayette in March 1983. The flip side is opportunism—and the offer in the TWU of a no-contest agreement to Arnold Cherry (who, as WV admits, is in no sense programmatically superior to John Lawe, the incumbent) appears to be one of the first examples of this.
Keylor/Addison’s Defense of Stan Gow
We can readily agree with “Cream Puffs” that: “the ET’s real program is demonstrated concretely in the actions of…Howard Keylor” in ILWU Local 10. Keylor and Fred Addison, for instance, played a key role in defending Stan Gow against the bureaucratic attempts to railroad him out of the union last year. WV’s outrageous claim that these militants were “acting as the bureaucracy’s agent to drive revolutionists out of the unions” is one of the biggest lies in the whole foul compendium.
Gow’s trial was precipitated by the Militant Caucus’ foolish and substitutionist action in picketing the El Salvador-bound Lafayette without first attempting to mobilize rank-and-file support for the action in the union. In fact, Gow was the only member of Local 10 on the picket line. Keylor, and most other longshore militants, didn’t even hear of it until it was over.
At the Executive Board meeting, Keylor’s attempt to speak was bureaucratically suppressed but he, of course, voted against the charges. Keylor and Addison took the initiative in defending Stan within the local. They published a leaflet in his defense (reprinted in the first issue of this publication) and spent a week gathering 72 signatures (including that of Stan himself) on a petition demanding that the charges be dropped. Stan and the Militant Caucus responded more sluggishly and came out with their leaflet several days after Keylor and Addison’s. At the local meeting which ultimately overturned the conviction, both militants spoke passionately and effectively in defense of Stan.
All of this is fully verifiable. WV’s allegation that: “when Gow was witchhunted by the local leadership [of Local 10], Keylor stood aside and offered alibis for the witchhunters” is simply another despicable lie. We defy the SL leadership (or anyone else) to produce one shred of evidence to back up this slander. It certainly doesn’t wash among Stan’s co-workers in Local 10.
WV also claims that: “Keylor opposed the Militant Caucus’ campaign for a port shutdown against the war in El Salvador.” Another lie. In fact, Keylor and Addison were co-signers of the call for such action—the call was even reprinted in WV (No. 326, 5 March 1983). What they opposed was the unserious and counterproductive stunt at the Lafayette which the MC decided to carry out as a substitute for a serious campaign to build effective labor solidarity in the union on the model of the successful boycotts of Chilean and South African ships in the mid-l970s. Even after the fiasco at the Lafayette, Keylor and Addison proposed a united front to the Militant Caucus to attempt to organize a port shutdown in solidarity with the leftist insurgents of El Salvador. The MC rejected this proposal using the idiot sectarian pretext that a port shutdown “in solidarity” would be unprincipled! (See ET Bulletin No. 2, January 1984.)
As for Stan’s trial itself, we recounted in our first issue how Keylor and Addison’s offers of aid were rejected by Gow. The trial committee, selected by lottery from the ranks, was largely black and represented about as good a body as possible in Local 10. To the consternation of our supporters, Stan managed over the course of the trial to alienate most of the trial committee members and thus played into the hands of the local officers.
Stan began the trial by bringing a lawyer into the room and seating her beside him at the table. The trial committee saw this as a provocation (as the lawyer was not an ILWU member). They also interpreted it as a threat of possible future legal action against the union in the event of a conviction. The trial committee instructed Stan to dismiss his non-ILWU attorney. He refused to do so for an extended period of time, throwing the committee into an uproar.
At the trial all witnesses were instructed to leave the room until called. This is a normal practice in Anglo-Saxon law which is also adhered to in SL trials. All the prosecution witnesses left. Stan objected and only agreed to send his witnesses out of the room after another angry confrontation with the trial committee.
By the time Stan presented his defense, he had so antagonized the members of the trial committee that the Secretary-Treasurer, Bancroft, was able to get a reversal of their earlier ruling that non-Local 10 members could be called as witnesses. At this point Peter Woolston exploded with anger and was dragged shouting from the room by a black trial committee member.
Meanwhile, Bancroft was threatening to call the cops to enforce the ruling. Addison and Keylor, who were in the spectators’ gallery, decided on the spot that to interrupt the trial to protest the undemocratic exclusion of Woolston would be tactically unwise as it would only further enrage the trial committee.
WV claims that a subsequent MC/SL picket of the South Africa-bound Nedlloyd Kimberley “found a ready response in the union local, which is two-thirds black.” What they didn’t tell their readers is that Stan once again failed to mobilize a single longshoreman (besides himself) to join the picket line and that (unfortunately) every longshoreman dispatched walked through their line to work the ship. This kind of stuff may make exciting copy for WV and impress a few leftist students, but a serious class-struggle opposition to the pro-capitalist bureaucracy in the unions cannot be built through such impotent, counterproductive grandstanding.
Gow’s dishonest attacks against Keylor, his flip-flops in the union on a series of political questions and his growing posture of abstentionism punctuated by the occasional isolated stunt, has seriously eroded much of the support that he won in the local over the years of his joint work with Keylor. The marked decline in Stan’s support within the union was reflected in his recent defeat for Caucus and Convention delegate. (Keylor’s vote meanwhile has increased and this year he won election as one of the 10 delegates from Local 10.)
“Redbaiting” and All That
Another charge made in the “Cream Puffs” article is that Howard Keylor “redbaited” Stan Gow in the passage from the Militant Longshoreman which WV reprints. In order to assess such a charge, it is necessary to understand the circumstances which surrounded it.
ILWU Local 10 is probably the safest union local in the country for politically active leftists like Stan and Howard. The ILWU is, after all, a union that was the target of decades of vicious redbaiting from government, employers and anti-communists; it is one of two survivors of the anti-communist union-busting of the McCarthy period; and it is a union that became a refuge for hundreds of blacklisted communists and union militants. To our knowledge the Longshore Division of the ILWU is the only sizeable union body in the U.S. which has contractural language specifically forbidding employer reprisals or discrimination for political activity or affiliation. Gow and Keylor’s profiles as SL sympathizers were probably the most open and explicit in the history of SL-supported trade-union work. Only in longshore did SL supporters openly sell WV in the hiring hall on the job.
In November 1981 Keylor was forced out of the Militant Caucus. Two months later, Longshore-Warehouse Militant published a two-page leaflet entitled “NO VOTE TO KEYLOR!” This leaflet claimed that despite Keylor’s assertions to the contrary and despite the politically identical program which he had published only a few days earlier (see Appendix 1): “Keylor quit the Militant Caucus because he no longer supports the Caucus’ program! The fact is that Keylor has no intention of building a new leadership…He has broken from his political moorings and is in rapid motion back to the opportunistic politics he came from. By trying to conceal all this from the membership he is not to be trusted politically. You don’t vote for people who lie to you.” The leaflet ranted on, claiming that Keylor “disagrees with the Militant Caucus position of labor action to shut down the airports” over PATCO (a lie), as well as alleging a number of non-existent “differences” running from Solidarność to the SEO steady-man system in the ILWU.
In response, the Militant Longshoreman pointed out that:
“Stan’s leaflet says that Keylor ‘…no longer supports the MILITANT CAUCUS program!’ The fact is that until the November 1981 Caucus meeting where the votes had been lined up to pass a motion forbidding me to run for reelection to the Local 10 Executive Board and the Coast Longshore Caucus, none of the issues dealt with in Stan’s leaflet were raised or discussed in a Caucus meeting! No differences on program between myself and the Caucus existed then or exist now!
“So what is behind this hysterical attack on me? I had developed differences early last year with some Caucus members on issues which did not involve the union or the Caucus program. Those differences led the Caucus leadership to engage in a campaign of character assassination outside the Caucus, leading up finally to the meeting where they demanded that I cooperate in my own political suicide in the union.”
(emphasis in original)
Militant Longshoreman went on to respond to many of the other charges in Longshore-Warehouse Militant and then concluded with the section quoted in “Cream Puffs” that the leaflet was “written for a wider audience than Local 10” in order to discredit Keylor in the left internationally. As he pointed out in the one sentence from that paragraph which WV omitted: “Waterfront workers know enough about these issues to detect the inaccuracies and strained arguments and conclusions.”
In Militant Longshoreman No. 5 (4 February 1983), Keylor addressed the issue of “redbaiting” as follows:
“Now on the subject of ‘redbaiting.’ Many union members in both Local 6 and 10 know that Stan and I have long been supporters of the political program of the Spartacist League and its paper the Workers Vanguard, and know that in the past we were both supported by it. Last year in Militant Longshoreman #2 I referred to ‘differences…with some Caucus members on issues which did not involve the union or the Caucus program.’ These differences did involve the WV and the Spartacist League whose program I support but of whose practices I am increasingly critical.
“Much of what Stan writes was, in the past, and is now influenced by the views of the WV. WV reports extensively on Stan’s leaflets. I support their right to report on and attempt to influence the ILWU as I support this right for any tendency in the workers movement. But I don’t support WV when they distort things in a misguided effort to make their organization and its genuinely socialist program look better any more than I support the People’s World (with its reformist program and apologias for the liberal capitalists and their labor lieutenants) when the PW distorts things to make their organization look better.”
A particularly vicious form of lying redbaiting was that practiced by the Stalinists toward the Trotskyists in the l930s. Communist Party supporters in the unions routinely attacked Trotskyist unionists as “fascist agents” who stood opposed to the real interests of the working class. The Trotskyists have never hesitated to expose the political motivation behind such slanders. Supporters of the revolutionary SWP in the unions from the 1930s to the 1950s found it necessary to counter Stalinist lies by exposing the factional purposes which they served. SLsupported trade-union caucuses never hesitated to expose the actions of CP supporters which were against the interests of workers, whenever these exposures did not open the Stalinists to reprisals. That was no crime—just as it was no crime for Keylor to explain the motivation behind the MC’s slanderous attack on him. It was certainly not “redbaiting.” He was merely telling the truth, a practice that the SL and its supporters would do well to emulate.
Perhaps the sleaziest part of “Cream Puffs” is the attempt to paint the ET as “worse than Debsian” on the black question. The captions for WV’s pictures of last summer’s ILWU strike in Richmond would do any Stalinist or Maoist (or Cointelpro) falsifier proud. What’s the matter comrades—don’t you think it was a good thing that the Masters, Mates and Pilots-manned tug (on which Howard is shown talking to his “hoped-for white constituency”) refused to move out the ship struck by the largely black longshore local, thereby ensuring the defensive victory? Howard played a key role in the strike as the de facto coordinator of the ILWU’s water-borne pickets. (Stan, in contrast, didn’t even turn up for the second day of the three-day strike! Instead he took the opportunity to work overtime. See ET Bulletin No. 1.)
WV must hold its readers in low regard if it thinks workers of any color are dumb enough to buy this kind of race-baiting crap. Obviously the largely black and relatively politically sophisticated membership in ILWU Local 10 doesn’t—that is why Howard outpolled Stan in recent elections in the local.
The poisonous “Cream Puffs” tract charges that our position on the SL’s “Labor/Black Struggle Leagues” is: “worse than Debsian, as [the ET] sees ‘the working class’ as separate from and counterposed to the black plebeian masses.” Here are the passages from our document of 25 June 1983 which are being criticized:
“The tactic of the LBSL is fine; it is only wrong if it is counterposed to and built on the corpses of the union-centred caucuses…
“Without the anchor of the trade unions and the nucleus of their leadership in the caucuses, the effect of anti-Nazi/KKK mobilizations, however powerful, will tend to be dissipated back into the amorphous community. This is an ABC lesson about work among the unemployed and unorganized drawn by Cannon from the CLA’s experiences in the l930s.”
LBSLs: Transitional Organizations or Front Groups?
A genuine black transitional organization must be organically connected to the organized proletariat. Such an organization must function as a transmission belt to the party—not just a mailing list. As well as undertaking immediate campaigns such as the defense of Lauren and Ray, a transitional black organization would conduct education on basic Marxism and the integral connection between black liberation and socialist revolution. While there are currently no organizations comparable to SNCC or the Black Panthers of the 1960s, the conditions of life in racist America constantly bring new recruits to black OROs. A black Trotskyist transitional organization would seek to intervene in such black political organizations to win the best elements to Bolshevism.
But to date the LBSLs resemble front groups more than transitional organizations. The emphasis on socials and the slang employed in the newsletter are reminiscent of the Workers League’s revolving-door youth operations of the mid-1970s. The LBSLs do not even hold regular meetings because, as one black comrade explained, “we don’t want to build a competing organization to the party.” No danger of that if the LBSLs have no organizational life of their own! But then one can’t really expect that such “organizations” will compete very well with the C.P., Jesse Jackson or Amiri Baraka either.
Uli Sandler: iSt’s “Big Lie”
“Cream Puffs” is the first time that the iSt has committed itself on paper to its revolting lie that Uli Sandler, former TLD Central Committee member, is a “proto-fascist.” Sandler’s history is no secret, especially in Germany. From 1970 to 1974 he was an active new leftist working in the Socialist Student Movement, the Vietnam Committee and other leftist organizations in North Germany. He has been a militant in the German metal-workers union since 1976. In 1974 he was recruited to the USec’s German section, the Gruppe Internationale Marxisten (GIM). In 1978 he was bureaucratically expelled from the GIM for having Spartacist positions. The next year he joined the TLD. From 1981 until Uli resigned from the iSt, he was a member of the local executive in West Berlin and also a member of the TLD Central Committee.
On August 29, 1982 Uli Sandler resigned from the TLD. Only later, after the fact, was his resignation rejected. He was then retroactively expelled. Two months after he had resigned, on 5 November 1982, Sandler was refused entrance to a public forum of the TLD in West Berlin. Here, a TLD CCer accused him of being a “proto-fascist.”
Some former TLDers wrote up a protest declaration. When we received it, we spent both time and money checking into the substance of the accusations. And it came down to this: when Uli was 12 years old he had bought a World War II fireman’s helmet; some two years before his expulsion he had once sung the “Deutschlandlied” (the German national anthem from 1922 to 1952) in the bathtub to annoy his girlfriend; shortly before resigning, he had rudely interrupted his former girlfriend at a local meeting while she was reading the minutes; and Uli likes “oi” (punk rock) music.
When we raised the issue of the slander against Uli, we heard a wide variety of supplementary allegations from various iSt members in North America. We were told that Sandler has a swastika hanging on his wall, that his flat is covered with swastika wallpaper and even that he had recently joined a fascist organization. We have investigated each of these allegations and found that they are all false.
Now, there is a new allegation: that Sandler had “disdain for colored immigrant workers” and, more specifically, that he said that “one German was worth fifty Tamils.” The first we heard of this is when we read it in “Cream Puffs.” No iSt member whom we have talked to since has been able to tell us when, where or to whom this remark was supposedly made. We presume that, like the rest of the “evidence” adduced by the TLD, it was allegedly witnessed by TLD members while Uli was still a member of the organization. Accordingly, we checked with comrades who were in the TLD for the entire period of Sandler’s membership. Not one had heard of such an allegation before. We can only presume, therefore, that it is another fabrication.
Trotsky once remarked that “even slanders should make some sense.” The TLD’s fantastic lie about Uli Sandler makes none. If he is a proto-fascist, then why, after the circulation of the petition among the West German leftists (one of whom, by the way, is a Turk who knew Uli while he was in the TLD who doesn’t buy the “anti-immigrant” charge), did the TLD suddenly reverse itself and agree to let Sandler into future public meetings?
Then there is the interesting question (presuming that the big lie were true) of whether the TLD actively recruited a proto-fascist and then elected him to its Central Committee? Is the German section so “slow to catch the drift” that it can’t tell the difference between a communist and a Nazi (proto-, neo- or otherwise)? Or, alternatively, if you admit that Sandler was not a fascist when he was recruited or promoted to the CC, do you claim that his experiences in the TLD inclined him toward the program of “fascism?” And then, there is the really big question: how many other “fascists,” whose numbers have not yet been “got” by the omniscient leadership, lurk on the leading bodies of the iSt? The whole thing is so ridiculous that it would be comic were it not so serious.
The case of Uli Sandler is unfortunately not an isolated one. It is merely the worst one. Gone are the days when the perceived (or actual) enemies of the leadership were generally characterized as Mensheviks, cliquists, etc. Today the targets of such antipathy are frequently labelled as “racists,” “thieves” and now “proto-fascists.” We reported in our first issue how several leading members (now ex-) of the British section were falsely accused of “racism.” We have heard of other cases in other sections. As a consequence of our defense of Uli Sandler, ET supporters were called “Nazi-lovers” by the SL at the 3 December Greyhound picket in San Francisco. (WV pretends that this charge was never made. But Nelson’s charge that we are “apologists for racism and genocide,” which we consider to be an equivalent slander, is going to be a little harder to deny. It appears in print.) By the way, Oskar Hippe, a surviving member of the German Left Opposition, joined Sandler’s defense. Are you going to call him a Nazi-lover?
We’ve got a few remarks to make on the specifics of the charges against Sandler. First, the charge of “proto-fascist” itself is a slander with an escape clause. For all practical purposes, it is the same as calling someone a fascist—i.e., it exposes them to the wrath of anti-fascist militants. In West Berlin, particularly among the Turkish population, this can be a life and death issue. On the other hand, when (and if) the charge becomes an embarrassment to its initiators, they can always claim that they never actually called him a fascist anyway. We think that being a “little bit” of a fascist is like being a “little bit” pregnant.
Secondly, on Uli’s fireman’s helmet. Yes, like everything else from World War II in Germany, it has a swastika on it. Uli never wore it anywhere. He kept it near his toilet, as many young German leftists do with things they wish to show loathing or contempt for. Virtually all of the TLD, and certainly most of the current national leadership, had occasion to use Sandler’s toilet and were quite familiar with his helmet. They thought nothing of it at the time. But today it becomes proof of “his fondness for…Nazi memorabilia.”
We can hardly deign to comment on the idiotic assertion that “fondness for skin—head punk rock” is evidence of proto—fascism. In West Berlin, as it happens, many of the punks are anarcho-leftists. The point is, of course, that musical styles (country, punk or classical) are neither inherently progressive nor reactionary. Besides, Uli wasn’t the only oi music fan in the TLD: the other one, Fred Z., is today the national chairman!
None of this excuses—although it may partially explain—Uli’s final and definitive break with Trotskyism. We have broken all contact with him since he became involved in suing a TLD member. (The suit involved money due Sandler for TLD expenses.) But we stand by the protest declaration. Sandler is not a fascist. We will hold the iSt accountable for any attacks on him which may result from the TLD’s slanders.
Robertson’s “Steak à la Auschwitz”
As for Ursula, we’ll tell you what she’s upset about: she resents being maliciously misquoted. She neither said, nor does she think that: “people made too big a thing of what had happened to the Jews during WWII.” Under the Third Reich, the Jews were exterminated. Systematically. Genocide. One cannot make “too big a thing” out of that. But there are many North Americans, particularly those of the post-war generation, who don’t know about the trade unionists, communists, social democrats and others in the concentration camps. And, that is no accident. The bourgeoisie sheds crocodile tears over the Jews precisely to obscure the fact that fascism was fundamentally aimed at destroying the organizations of the German working class.
In 1931 Trotsky wrote:
“The coming to power of the National Socialists would mean first of all the extermination of the flower of the German proletariat, the destruction of its organizations, the eradication of its belief in itself and in its future.”
—The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p. 125
Shortly after Hitler came to power, Trotsky explained the Nazi persecution of the Jews as follows:
“This is the sole thing left him as far as ‘solving’ the internal problems is concerned. Defending capitalism which he has promised to destroy, Hitler is forced to distract the attention of the masses from social questions to national and race problems.”
— “Answers to Questions by Anita Brenner,” Writings 1933-34
There was only one incident that really upset Ursula during her time in the iSt. That was when Jim Robertson ordered “Steak à la Auschwitz” in a German restaurant. We have not attributed motives to the comrade for making such a remark. We doubt that he meant to mimic apologists for genocide; we imagine merely that he was seeing fascism through the eyes of a smug American petty bourgeois.
The Galloping “Irrelevance” of the ET
The attitude of the iSt leadership to the ET has undergone a considerable evolution since our inception in October 1982. As recently as last August in SL Internal Bulletin No. 40, which was prepared for the national conference, the leadership asserted that: “…the ET as a group has no political future. Thus we do not intend to take them on in our public press but simply to circulate their material and respond to it internally for the benefit of our membership.” Three months later we made a modest debut in WV’s account of this same national conference (WV No. 342, 18 November 1983).
In January, WV published a lengthy response to our criticisms of its social-patriotic “Marines Alive” position which coyly avoided naming us. (See our reply reprinted in this issue.) Then, WV No. 348 (17 February) published half of our ongoing polemic over Trotskyism and the “Yuri Andropov Brigade.” The next issue of WV (No. 349) contained the lengthiest polemic to date—”Cream Puffs.” Clearly the leadership’s stated perspective for how to handle the ET has changed.
The first attempt at a “definitive” response to the ET was by cde. Nelson in the internal bulletin referred to previously. He began his 13-page diatribe with the injunction that: “The ETs ought to inspire fanatical hatred in iSt members” (our emphasis). We checked the dictionary on that one. A fanatic is “a person possessed by an excessive and irrational zeal, especially for a religious or political cause,” and the term “implies the pursuit of a given interest to lengths that are considered inordinate and even irrational and often to the exclusion of virtually all other interests.” It sounds like a prediction of the behaviour of the SL supporters (supervised by Nelson and Foster) on the Greyhound picket line in December.
In “Cream Puffs” WV disingenuously asserts that: “Whereas the ETs have been very forward in their characterizations of us…we have been reserved and empirical in our characterizations of them.” Here is how cde. Nelson summed up his assessment of the ET in the concluding paragraph of his document for the national conference:
“Liars, traitors, apologists for racism and genocide, petty bureaucrats, red-baiters, anti- Soviet pop-frontists, wreckers, the ETs are truly a sorry lot.”
We shudder to imagine what the characterizations of us would be like if the comrades of the SL leadership were for a moment to let their “reserve” drop. Of course, if one is out to “inspire fanatical hatred in iSt members,” then this frenzied name-calling begins to make some sense. We leave it to the cadres of the iSt to decide whether we are “apologists for racism and genocide” or whether Nelson is a liar and a slanderer.
Nelson’s crude tract and the belated decision to circulate our material internally some ten months after it was first available, reflected the growing consciousness on the part of the leadership that we had been “peripatetically” successful in getting the material into the membership’s hands and that some of our criticisms were getting a hearing.
The move to terminate the MAC stewards generated significant opposition in the SL/US. In the wake of the bitter and ultimately successful defense of the MAC stewards by rank-and-file phoneworkers in Los Angeles, a layer of SL cadres didn’t buy the argument that CWA stewards could be nought but cops for the company. The dishonest misrepresentation in “Cream Puffs” that the ET “…document claimed our policy that phone union stewards should be elected by the ranks to represent them, not appointed by the sellout bureaucrats, was a flight from union work,” cannot hide the fact that what we objected to was the wholesale resignation of the MAC stewards.
Suddenly the leadership switched gears and began publishing our material internally while insisting that we didn’t merit a public response. They simultaneously attempted to harden up the membership by invoking “fanatical hatred.” But none of this worked too well. For a revolutionary organization fundamentally cohered by common agreement to the Marxian program, it is not sufficient to simply demand “fanatical hatred” to produce deep conviction in the cadres. It is necessary to demonstrate the political validity of such an attitude. And this the leadership found itself hard-pressed to do. So they approached the 1983 National Conference with a new problem. They were attempting to make a political turn away from the organized working class which was generating resistance internally which, in turn, the ET was intersecting. The leadership’s obsession with the ET mounted when we intervened effectively at the conference.
In the months that followed, our persistence, seriousness and demonstrable loyalty to the Spartacist program (if not to the current leadership) often led to fruitful political exchanges with iSt cadres. Some individual comrades suggested that we should reapply, or alternatively, challenged us as “quitters” to do so.
“Marines Alive” blew the lid off the SL leadership’s strategy of a limited, internal response to the ET. For the first time a majority of the cadres knew that, at least on this one programmatic position, the ET was right and their leadership was wrong. No one ever joined the Spartacist tendency to save the U.S. Marines! A few short weeks after our initial statement on the question was circulated, the leadership staged its provocation against Bob Mandel and other Bay Area ET supporters at the Greyhound picket line in San Francisco. As we stated in our protest to the SL Political Bureau of 14 December:
“Historically, gangsterism has been used by left organizations only when they have no answer to political criticisms and/or to distract from internal crises. We note that the December 3 incident came hard on the heels of the ET’s intervention into the debate currently occurring inside the iSt over the SL/US leadership’s social-patriotic concern for the lives of the Marines in Lebanon.
“…The SL leadership is attempting to draw a bloodline between the SL membership, some of whom are challenging the developing social-patriotism, and the ET’s supporters.”
The Campaign Against Bob Mandel
The provocation at the Greyhound picket was not only a response to our Leninist critique of the leadership’s cowardly flinch over the Marines. It was also one of an escalated series of unprincipled acts directed at the ET in general, and Bob Mandel in particular.
Mandel’s long record as a prominent Bay Area leftist was a prime asset for the Bay Area SL for all the years he was an SL supporter. Today, however, it is a liability for Robertson & Co. so he has become the target of some particularly unpleasant attacks by the SL leadership.
Mandel’s fall from grace began shortly after the Bay Area SWP meeting that he and Keith D. had participated in disrupting. When Bay Area honcho Al Nelson heard about it, he performed a little pantomime of what the Maoists used to call “class struggle in the party” by threatening first Keith D. and then Mandel with a potentially lethal instrument.
When word of this novel heuristic device spread throughout the district, several SL members raised objections to Nelson’s conduct. They were promptly discovered to be “cliquists” who had launched a campaign to “get” poor Al! They were denounced and driven out of their local leadership posts. Waters was forced to resign her trade-union position, ostensibly due to errors committed in the course of her work in the industry. Al himself came in for a bit of gentle remonstration for his thuggish behaviour. But the main lesson for the leadership was that anyone whose public profile was too high was a potential threat to them. In particular they noted that, partly as a result of the significant role which he had played in the ANCAN mobilization a few weeks before, Mandel had a dangerous amount of authority within the membership. They therefore decided that it was necessary to launch a pre-emptive strike. The disposal of this well-known supporter became a prime issue at the 1980 SL National Conference. At the time, Mandel was in the midst of a financial/personal crisis precipitated by his years-long blacklisting in the ILWU. He was also distraught and badly shaken by the prospect of separation from the political tendency to which he had devoted his life. Mandel did everything he could to prove his loyalty to the organization. He was presented with a statement penned by Al Nelson. The statement reads like an FBI-style confession. It begins: “I freely admit the following statements to be true and understand they are to be filed as a confidential statement with the Central Committee of the Spartacist League…”This bogus “confession,” composed of some pretty bizarre allegations, as well as various other statements, a few of which are true, was intended to be used to discredit Mandel publicly in the future. Having signed it, he found himself in a Catch-22 situation which the SL leadership has since sought to exploit. Mandel certainly made a big mistake in blindly signing such a “confession,” but the whole incident casts an unpleasant light on the routine practices of the SL leadership. When challenged on this fundamentally dishonest method, the sarcastic response of several iSt members has been to state: “nobody [threatened Mandel with a potentially lethal instrument] to make him sign it.” No, not on that occasion at least.
Even after Bob was driven away from the SL, he continued to support its work because it embodied the Trotskyist program he remained loyal to. By this time however, he had begun to raise a few criticisms (PATCO, the abuse of cadre and the false accusation that leading trade-union cadres had quit rather than face “…a period of virulent anti-Sovietism”) with leading comrades in the Bay Area. When he attended the memorial meeting for Toni Randell in San Francisco, WV reported that various ex-members in the audience walked out of the meeting after some remarks to the effect that Toni Randell hated quitters. A few weeks later a letter from Bob Mandel appeared in WV asserting that no walkout ever took place. WV responded by calling Mandel names but neither denying his allegation nor issuing a retraction (see Appendix 2). Of course, there never was any walkout. It was simply an irrational and baseless lie. But the important point for anyone seeking to evaluate the SL’s “Cointelpro-style” charge against us (which necessarily hinges on who to believe) is to understand that this is a conscious, deliberate and verifiable instance of the SL leadership’s lying about Bob Mandel. (See Appendix 3, Letter from Nedy.)
Since Mandel has been associated with the ET, the leadership’s antipathy for him has only increased. The incident at the Greyhound picket line on 3 December marked the transition from “soft-core” violence (lies) to a more physical variant. What happened that day is simply that two SL supporters attempted to set Bob up for a beating, and did a little shoving in the process to get him to throw the first blow. Even the dishonest account published in WV tacitly admits that they tried to set Mandel up for attack. When “Mandel showed his face at a labor demo [he] was loudly and politically confronted by indignant and vocal SL supporters who called him a scab.” Certainly the experienced “military” leaders of the Bay Area SL, Foster and Nelson, who stood no more than a few feet away throughout the whole incident, knew that to yell “scab” in the middle of a crowd of angry pickets is like yelling “fire” in a crowded auditorium. They also know that Mandel is no more a scab than they are Klansmen. But there were lots of people there that day who didn’t know any such thing. It is entirely possible that “a couple of hotheaded supporters” (read: angry pickets) could have been incited to take “a swing at the worm Mandel.” Fortunately that didn’t happen because Mandel had the presence of mind to loudly point out where the real scabs were and because a female militant intervened to demand that the internecine altercation cease.
We hadn’t anticipated the possibility of such a provocation that day and so we were unfortunately not prepared with a video camera to record the events. The question of physical contact is simply therefore one of Mandel’s word against Woolston and Bradley’s. Joseph Blum (a well-respected figure in the Bay Area left) testifies that they were indeed pressed right up to Mandel (see Appendix 4), but as he doesn’t possess x-ray vision, he wasn’t able to see what was occurring at the points of contact between Mandel’s chest and Woolston’s forearm, and Bradley’s elbow and Mandel’s kidney.
Eva’s slanderous verbal provocations against Ursula and Howard are another matter. But these are disappeared from WV’s “refutation.” These are verifiable, although we have purposely not sought to approach the various anti-Spartacist OROs who were among the identifiable witnesses to that element of the provocation on 3 December.
We can hardly be expected to sit tight for this kind of treatment. Instead, we carefully and deliberately mounted a response of gradually escalating pressure on the iSt leadership in an attempt to get them to repudiate the actions of their supporters.
On December 6 we sent a mailgram to the Political Bureau of the SL/US protesting the provocation at the Greyhound picket lines. No response. On 14 December we sent a registered letter, again to the SL/US PB, explaining in some detail exactly what had happened, offering a political explanation for it, and demanding that “all such provocations and attacks cease immediately.” Still no response. (This letter is reprinted in ET Bulletin No. 2.) After another few weeks, we began to cautiously solicit a few signatures, mainly from former SL supporters widely respected within the organization, for the protest declaration reprinted in WV No. 349. Far from trying to scandalize or discredit the organization which we seek to rejoin, we hoped that this kind of pressure would make the leadership think twice before engaging in similar acts in the future.
Unfortunately, the response of the leadership has been to compound their provocation with a lying denial that anything untoward occurred. Instead, in the time honored tradition of those who practise such tactics, they have sought to “blame the victim” and have counter-charged that our protest statement is a “Cointelpro-style” provocation against them! This incredible charge could easily be interpreted as a symptom of a persecution complex which does occasionally seem to color the leadership’s interpretation of reality. But the “Cointelpro-style” charges are simply a smokescreen. The SL leadership was caught out on a provocation that backfired.
One of the nicest touches in “Cream Puffs” is the inspired speculation that our December 3 protest was deliberately intended to block our own re-entry! “Can the timing be an accident? Well maybe, but nobody can blame us for believing that somebody got wind of the plenum discussion and rushed to foreclose the reintegration option.” Chutzpah is one thing the iSt leadership has plenty of!
So now the “Cointelpro-style” smear is being used in an attempt to effect what the original provocation failed to achieve: sealing off the ET from the membership of the iSt. But we refuse to do the leadership the favor of writing off the Spartacist tendency—we still seek political struggle over the programmatic issues which increasingly separate the leadership from its own revolutionary heritage, represented today by the External Tendency.
The provocations against Mandel didn’t end on December 3 either. As we noted in our letter of 12 March to the iSt, “Cream Puffs” itself violates his security and, by implication, that of all former and present trade-union supporters of the SL:
“You are well aware of the significance of ‘naming names’ in this period in which a rerun of the McCarthy hearings is widely anticipated. This new provocation is, in its own way, as serious as those of 3 December. And this time you have acted in plain view.”
Meanwhile the slanders continue apace. Cde. Nelson publicly announced at the Berkeley International Women’s Day forum that within two or three years Bob Mandel could turn out to be another Phillip Abbott Luce. (Luce was an early leader of Progressive Labor who became an FBI fink—the Whittaker Chambers of his generation.) Pretty ugly stuff. But apparently that is what the leadership feels it is reduced to as a result of its demonstrated inability to handle our criticisms politically. (Al must have been having a bad day. After receiving a copy of our reapplication from Ursula, he tore it up and loudly called her a “lying bitch,” and this on International Women’s Day!)
These are the actions of a small group of entrenched leaders flinching under the weight of the Reagan years after two decades of generally principled and determined struggle for Trotskyism. Feeling acutely isolated; having lost ground internationally and domestically through purges of longstanding cadres; with negligible and shrinking weight in the unions, the leadership of the iSt is experiencing a crisis of confidence. Having failed to recruit on any significant scale after November 27, the leadership’s current “turn” to a 70% black party is chiefly an attempt to cover the manifest stagnation of the organization by exhorting comrades to “do better, work harder,” etc.
For Trotskyist Unity—Readmit the ET!
The SL leadership has a problem with the ET. They decreed that “the ETs ought to inspire fanatical hatred in iSt members,” but that didn’t wash. Our Trotskyist criticisms have stood as an obstacle to a smooth transition to revisionism. There are still enough cadres in the iSt who aren’t ready to give up the call for political revolution in the Vietnamese and Cambodian deformed workers states, who don’t mourn Yuri Andropov and who aren’t interested in saving the U.S. Marines in Lebanon. As the leadership’s political disorientation is increasingly manifest to the cadres, our influence has increased. We haven’t automatically inspired hatred and we can no longer be simply ignored.
So what to do? Perhaps half-believing their own lies that we are not interested in winning the SL cadres and are just a motley crew of burnt-out quitters, Robertson & Co. decided to try a maneuver. They would pretend to offer the ET membership in the SL with full democratic rights. That would silence those members who thought we had something to say. Perhaps the leadership didn’t think we would take them up on it. We don’t know. But it is hard to believe that they were ever really serious about their proposal. After all, much of the last five years has been spent preemptively lashing out at anything that looked like it might ever offer any kind of political opposition to the regime.
But then again, perhaps we are wrong. If so, it is an easy thing for the leadership to demonstrate. Just implement the line of the Central Committee and readmit us as members. We stand ready to loyally serve the iSt. When we called the readmission bluff, the leadership (which certainly does possess “fanatical hatred” of us) was forced to find some excuse to keep us out, without having to renounce its initial demagogic offer. Accordingly, they seized on our protest statement—which does no more than restate the facts which we elaborated in our letter to the Political Bureau of 14 December. But this is simply the excuse for keeping us out of the iSt—not the reason. The reason is that we represent the orthodox Spartacism which the leadership is slowly jettisoning.
“Cream Puffs” asserts that the “door is still open” at least for some of us. There are just two little preliminaries: we must renounce our views and break with a section of our tendency. We are certainly ready to renounce any slander—forthrightly and immediately—but we will not renounce the truth. Nor will we “eschew collaboration” with any of our members who are the victims of your provocations.
Many comrades have been puzzled by the “Cream Puffs” polemic. Considering the number of obvious falsehoods it contains, it won’t be of much use in discrediting us with the SL’s membership and periphery nor with the left in general. But even so, it has a purpose. Since the SL leadership is too cowardly to let us rejoin and has not succeeded in inspiring “fanatical hatred” toward us, it has instead produced this compendium of lies as a sort of loyalty test for the membership. SL members will henceforth be expected to repeat and defend all the assertions made in the “Cream Puffs” diatribe even though they cannot help but know that a great number of them go beyond what can be legitimately termed “gross exaggerations” and are simply outright lies. It will no longer be good enough to simply disagree with us politically—now it is necessary to lie about us in public to show “party loyalty.”
Obviously such a morally corrosive procedure can produce some very “loyal” people, but they are of the type who would vote to elect a stuffed animal to the central committee should the leadership nominate one. This kind of “party loyalism” cannot produce cadres who will be able to shake the world. We urge the comrades of the iSt to readmit the External Tendency. Let us take our places in the ranks of the iSt and let us settle the political issues which divide us through principled political struggle in the course of building the world party of socialist revolution. Refusal to readmit the ET can only hasten the political degeneration of the iSt.
The excerpt below originally appeared in Workers Vanguard No. 349, 2 March 1984. Below that, we also print cheque values sent from the ET to a number of organizations affiliated with the iSt in support of various campaigns and related undertakings.
“The discussion on the ET at the SL Central Committee plenum centered on the disjuncture of the ET posture: on the one hand, they claimed to be our loyal opposition, seeking to reverse unjust exclusion from a deformed revolutionary party; at the same time, whenever our party is out front, its meager forces and resources committed to urgent undertakings, and the target of the combined hostility of the capitalist state and the reformist “left,” then does the ET show at best indifference to our survival and often an active appetite to see us go down.”
—Workers Vanguard No. 349, 2 March 1984
Interview With Bay Area Union Militants
On April 26, Young Spartacus interviewed Howard Keylor and Bob Mandel, two longtime trade-union militants in the Bay Area. In the interview, Keylor and Mandel discussed what efforts they and other union militants in the San Francisco Bay Area have made to drive forward the city workers’ strike, and what lessons can be drawn from the strike.
Howard Keylor is a longtime trade unionist, with over twenty years activity on the waterfront. Brother Keylor is on the Executive Board of International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union Local 10 (longshore division) and, along with Executive Board member Stan Gow, edits the Longshore Militant. Since the beginning of the city workers’ strike, he has been speaking at numerous union meetings, putting forward a program to extend and defend the city workers’ strike. He has also spoken at two campus rallies sponsored by the Emergency Committee to Support the City Workers’ Strike and was the guest speaker at a San Francisco Spartacist League forum, “Shut Down San Francisco! Victory to the City Workers!”
Bob Mandel has also been playing a prominent role in the current strike events in the Bay Area, in particular, the Victor strike of ILWU Local 6 (warehouse division). Mandel has a long history not only in the Bay Area union movement, but also as a civil rights and antiwar activist during the 1960’s and as one of the “Oakland 7.” On April 23, Mandel was the guest speaker at the San Francisco Spartacist League forum, “Bust the Union Busters!” Brother Mandel is a member of in Militant Caucus in ILWU Local 6, which publishes the Warehouse Militant.
We reprint below a selection from the interview….
—Young Spartacus, May 1976
A CLASS-STRUGGLE PROGRAM
- DEFEND THE HIRING HALL – Call all SEO men back to the hall. Dispatch all skilled equipment jobs from the hall.
- DEFEND UNION CONDITIONS – Job action to protect union conditions and safety. No dependance on arbitrators.
- DEFEND OUR JOBS – Build now toward a contract fight in 1984 for manning scales on all ship operations, 6 hours shift for 8 hours pay, one man – one job.
- DEFEND OUR UNION – No “B” or “C” Registration lists. Keep the racist anti-labor government and courts out of our union. Support all ILWU locals defense against court suits and government “investigations”. No lawsuits against any union.
- BUILD LABOR SOLIDARITY against government/employer strikebreaking. Honor all picket lines. Don’t handle struck or diverted cargo.
- STOP NAZI/KLAN TERROR through union organized mass labor/black/Latino defense action. No dependance on capitalist police or courts to smash fascism.
- WORKING CLASS ACTION TO STOP REAGAN’S WAR DIVE AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION – Oppose reactionary boycotts against Soviet cargo and shipping. Labor strikes against military blockades of Cuba or Nicaragua. Boycott all military cargo to Chile, South Africa, El Salvador.
- INTERNATIONAL LABOR SOLIDARITY – Labor support to military victory for leftist insurgents in El Salvador. Oppose protectionist trade restrictions. International support to anti-capitalist strikers struggles.
- LABOR STRIKES TO SMASH REAGAN’S ANTI-LABOR/ANTI-BLACK DRIVE – National maritime strikes to defend the Longshoremen and Harborworker’s Act.
- BREAK FINALLY AND COMPLETELY WITH STRIKE-BREAKING DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES – Start now to build a workers party based on the unions to fight for a workers government which will seize all major industry without payment to the capitalists and establish a planned economy to end exploitation, racism, poverty, and war.
We reprint the following excerpt from Workers Vanguard No. 300, 5 March 1982, reporting on the memorial meeting in California for comrade Toni Randell. Following that is a letter sent to the editors of Workers Vanguard by ET supporter Bob Mandel which was reprinted under the heading “Cries and Whimpers” in Workers Vanguard No. 303, 16 April 1982. WV’s response, in the same issue, is also included.
“In the California meeting, the observation that comrade Toni had nothing but contempt for quitters actually triggered a walkout by some of the ex-members present. Those ex- members who did not join this unseemly display were Pat, who worked with comrade Toni on the WV production staff; Dave, an ex-member of the Australian section…”
—Workers Vanguard No. 300, 5 March 1982
Cries and Whimpers
March 29, 1982
Editors, Workers Vanguard:
The report of the Toni Randell memorial meeting in California (WV No. 300) states “the observation that comrade Toni had nothing but contempt for quitters actually triggered a walkout by some of the ex-members present.” This is completely untrue. No such walkout occurred.
I inquired of CC member Foster when the alleged “walkout” transpired. He said “after the Internationale was sung.” Those who attended the California meeting will recall that after the Internationale was sung, everyone was invited to stay to socialize. Anyone familiar with Spartacist functions knows that the singing of the Internationale marks the formal closing of an event. People remain at socials or leave as they choose. In fact, fully one hour was given over to socializing at the California memorial before the testimonials actually began.
I came (and I assume others did as well) to pay my respects to a comrade who had given her life to the cause of revolution. I left after the formal closing of the memorial, marked by the singing of the Internationale.
As to Robertson-Foster-Randell despising so-called “quitters”: while the SL can correctly maintain that continuing non-membership represents a difference on the party question, the blanket statement of hostility to comrades a number of whom devoted years to the SL and remain sympathizers is self-defeating. The SL’s attitude stands in marked contrast to the patience with which Trotsky tried to regroup subjective revolutionaries from around the world during his years in exile. It also contrasts with Cannon’s assessment of Lenin that part of his genius lay in his ability to build a party with the human beings at hand, imperfect though they were.
I urge you to retract your false reportage of the California “walkout.”
WV Replies: The sniveling self-centered spirit of your letter shows that indeed we understood your gesture.
San Francisco, Cal.
December 28, 1983
Dear Bob, Howard, Ursula and Whoever:
Thank you for sending your “Protest Declaration” regarding the incidents which took place at the Greyhound strike support demonstration in San Francisco on December 3. I don’t believe I want to sign it. Even without having heard the other side, I don’t necessarily doubt your account of the treatment received by Bob Mandel. Knowing the participants and situation as I do, it is easy for me to picture the altercation occurring as you describe it. But it seems odd to me to sign a declaration which says in essence: “I did not witness these provocations and know nothing about them personally, but if they did occur, I deplore them.” Also, while I am bitterly hostile toward the leadership of the Spartacist League, I don’t agree with your orientation toward the S.L. and I think that signing your declaration would imply a good bit of agreement with your orientation even though you have included a disclaimer.
However, there is something I would like to add, because I do certainly agree with something you are trying to say. You basically characterize the S.L. leadership as engaging in a widespread campaign of deliberate lies to brand you as chauvinists, traitors and finks unfit for inclusion in what the S.L. calls the workers movement. I believe from my own personal knowledge that this is a fact. I believe from my own personal knowledge that there is almost nothing that the S.L. leadership will not invent or (where half-truths and/or some of your past mistakes are involved) distort about you in order to picture you before their membership as something outside the S.L.’s ordinary standards of political debate. I should add that I believe from my own personal knowledge that they are largely successful in this—thus the harder you persist, the wilder they will grow in their slanders.
So why not give one example of what I’m talking about. I chose it because it is simple and clear, and my knowledge is clear and direct. As you recall, after Comrade Toni Randall’s tragic early death in February of 1982, a memorial was held in her honor at a San Francisco hotel. Bob Mandel attended this memorial, as did many other ex-members. In the course of George Foster’s speech, he made remarks the theme of which were “Toni hated quitters.” After the speeches, the meeting ended as formal S.L. gatherings traditionally do, with the singing of the Internationale. There was then an informal social hour with an open bar.
The WV report on this memorial said that “In the California meeting, the observation that Comrade Toni had nothing but contempt for quitters actually triggered a walkout by some of the ex-members present,” calling this “an unseemly display.” Specifically, we were all told that the ex-members referred to were led by Bob Mandel. Because of the incident related below, I’ve always assumed it was George Foster himself who gave this information to WV.
As you can image, the idea that “Bob Mandel walked out on Toni’s memorial” caused quite a flap among the leadership in New York and among all the members in the Bay Area. While it could be considered a small incident, the well-deserved affection and respect in which Comrade Toni was held automatically evoked feelings, in any decent breast, that any “quitter” who would walk out on her memorial because his own petty feelings were hurt is a thorough heel and someone to be held in revulsion and contempt. So the charge was very effective. It was also a lie.
The day after I heard this story, I spoke to George Foster about it. At that time I was assigned to work as his “secretary” in the separate office he maintains in the Oakland headquarters. As such, I spent much time “assisting” him in the activity to which he devotes most of his time—idle chitchat—and we were so engaged when this conversation took place. I asked him to describe the walkout to me. I knew that I had been on the other side of the room from both Bob and the door, and thought that I had missed all the fun. George told me that the “quitters” had “walked out” after the singing of the Internationale. I said in confusion that that was the end of the meeting. Yes, he said (and I do remember these exact words, because they are so astonishing), “maybe I should have said they walked out after the meeting was over.” Then, he appeared to come to a decision, shook his head and said something like no, never mind. So before my very eyes he consciously decided not to correct the slander which was proving so useful and had so pleased New York.
As you know, Bob wrote a letter to WV the next month, urging a retraction. WV replied not by retracting but by branding Bob as “sniveling” and “self-centered” for bringing the matter up, thus leaving the S.L. membership to believe (and they all believed it anyway up to the time I quit the S.L.) that Bob was lying when he denied walking out. Yet George Foster knew that he had slandered Bob in order to discredit him before the members. What happened was that some ex-members left at the beginning of the optional social hour. Maybe they were embarrassed, I don’t know. So what? Nobody can “walk out” on a meeting that has already ended.
I knew the truth too, of course, but I also knew that to accuse George of lying, in defense of the “traitor” Bob Mandel, would have subjected me to abuse, persecution, and possible exclusion from the party to which I had devoted 13 years and of which I still hoped to remain a member. This was cowardly and wrong, and for the little good it does now I apologize to Bob for it. Of course this incident contributed to my bitter disillusionment with the S.L.
In short, here’s one small example of the fact that the S.L. leadership is indeed out to slander you in a vicious and unpolitical way. George Foster makes a good example because he is probably the least dishonest of the S.L. leaders, having rather less personal misconduct to hide than either the inept Nelson or the thoroughly corrupt Robertson. They intend to destroy you by lying about you. You are quite correct in your charges about this.
9 January 1984
Oakland, California 94610
The following is the short statement you asked me to draw up for you concerning the incident with you and your former comrades that occurred on the Greyhound Picket line on Saturday, December 3, 1983.
I first saw you on 7th Street in front of the main entrance to Greyhound early on in the demonstration. We had a brief conversation, you mentioned you were with some people and after a few minutes we drifted apart.
The next time I remember seeing you was on Mission Street on the edge of the sidewalk much later in the demonstration when the number of demonstrators had decreased markedly. You were standing near the entrance where the buses enter and leave the Greyhound lot. I was standing no more than 5 to 10 feet to your right. You were engaged in a conversation with a rather large bearded white man. A black man stood slightly behind and to your left and he also appeared to be in the conversation. I did not pay a lot of attention to what was going on or what was being said except to be slightly surprised that you gave me no greeting or acknowledgement when I approached. I assumed you were engaged in a political conversation and gave the matter no further thought until the conversation became quite heated.
Not having heard any of the previous conversation I was somewhat taken aback when the bearded fellow begin screaming at you that you were a “sellout”, “racist” and a “quitter”. I believe those were the words; if not they were ones with a similar connotation. At first I passed it off as another rhetorical, heated political conversation so typical of our impotent left, but then I realized that his actions were becoming more and more provocative. He was yelling very loudly, his face was directly in your face (no more than inches apart), he appeared to be pushing up to you with his body, and his friend who was slightly behind and to the left of you was giving him verbal, if not physical support, as each new (or at least repeated) charge was hurled against you. After a few minutes I realized that this was no ordinary verbal disagreement. You seemed desparate to bring the conversation back to some rational level “let’s talk about this or that” and you seemed scared.
I don’t know how long the incident lasted but I became cognizant of the fact that I had to make a decision as to whether or not to defend you against the imminent physical attack I was sure was coming. For a myriad of reasons I had decided to help when the confrontation came to an end. You raised your voice, pointed toward the Greyhound Terminal and said something like “the scabs are over there”. At the same time I believe that at the urging of a woman, who said we should be uniting against the enemy (scabs and cops) rather than fighting among ourselves, the bearded fellow momentarily backed off. At that point you took the opportunity to leave. I was relieved probably as much as you as I was also scared, both because of the size of the bearded fellow and because I figured he was not doing this on his own. I asked if I could help and you said you were going to join some friends and that you were ok.
The incident; how, why and by whom it was initiated, your response as well as mine obviously raises questions about politics and the way we conduct our personal lives. Questions that I would find interesting to discuss with you and others perhaps in the future. For me I would just like to say that despite the huge political differences we have had over the years and the inability or unwillingness to ever really talk about them in a comprehensive and constructive manner I have maintained a respect and kind of love for you. It was that more than anything else which made me sure that I had to try and defend you had the incident come to that. I hope that this statement and the discussions you are having with friends and comrades will help you to gain a better understanding of how we can achieve unity despite our differences.
If you wish to discuss this further, please let me know.
love and revolution,
We agree with the assertion in “ET vs. the Test of Truth” (WV No. 349, 2 March) that: “there are decisive tests which can be applied at a distance” to evaluate our differences with the leadership of the iSt. “The matter of simple truthfulness is a decisive test: the liar is one with something to hide.” But the profound cynicism of WV’s dishonest performance on its own test is shocking.
As we noted in the postscript to our letter of 12 March, “We are not now, nor have we ever been, politically or organizationally linked to the Gruppe IV. Internationale [GIVI].” This is something that we are sure GIVI would also be anxious to confirm. There is no “German ET.” It is a fiction manufactured in the editorial offices of Workers Vanguard.
In the first issue of our bulletin we published an excerpt of correspondence with several of the former members of the TLD who went on to form GIVI. We argued against their impulse to write off the iSt and stated that in contrast to them:
“We do not think that we have a fundamentally different program than the iSt. Therefore in a certain sense there is no principled reason for our organizational separation from the iSt. That is why we do not encourage members to quit the iSt to join us but rather to fight inside the organization….
“We believe that premature attempts to extrapolate a definitive departure from the Trotskyist program on the part of the iSt could itself be an important political error…it is important not to write it off prematurely—the iSt is still correct on almost every question against everyone in the world.”
In the preface to the English edition of “Where is the iSt Going?” (dishonestly referred to as an “ET document” by WV), GIVI polemicizes against us as “the repudiated friends of the iSt who viewed—self-indulgent cynics as they are—our analysis as grossly exaggerated and our organizational consequences as wrong…”
Unable or unwilling to address our real political differences with the iSt, the frustrated polemicists at WV looked for an easier target—and found one in GIVI. With our application to the iSt of 15 February we submitted copies of all our published materials to date, totalling more than 100 pages. In her response of 27 February, iSt Secretary Brosius noted that we had not included GIVI’s document and was even good enough to include a copy of it in case we had not seen it! Brosius asserted that we “are indeed saddled with the German E.T.,” using the absurd pretext that we considered them “in some way within the gravitational field of the iSt.” All of the central cadres of GIVI emerged from the iSt and to date its only major polemic that we know of (the 32-page pamphlet referred to above) deals with their differences with the iSt.
So we plead guilty to considering GIVI “within the gravitational field of the iSt.” But this no more saddles us with responsibility for GIVI than the SL is “saddled” with the Freedom Socialist Party of Seattle even though both groups emerged from the degenerating SWP of the early 1960’s.
We note that Al Nelson’s “Notes on the ‘External Tendency’,” prepared for last summer’s national conference (some six months after the initial publication of GIVI’s tract), implicitly recognized that we have no connection with GIVI by omitting all mention of them. In fact the very positions which WV attacks GIVI for (its critique of WV Nos. 308 and 317) were criticized by the ET almost a year earlier:
“One specific criticism [of the iSt] which is made by [GIVI] is of the proposals in ‘Reagan, Begin & Hitler’ (WV No. 308) which asks: ‘What is the necessary response to the insane American provocations?’…
“[The article] makes the case for political revolution in the context of Soviet defensism in June 1982. And yet the GIVI characterizes it as one in which ‘Political combat against Stalinism is replaced by radical phrases and proposals for Brezhnev…’ This cannot even be considered to be a grotesque exaggeration, it is simply a falsification. The other article adduced to prove this point is in WV No. 317 which has one sentence of ‘applause for Brezhnev’s harder approach’— ‘And so we welcome a little straight talk at last from the Kremlin.’ This is followed by four paragraphs of criticism of the ‘nationalist to the core,’ ‘deeply conservative,’ ‘anti-revolutionary,’ ‘bureaucratic caste’ which has ‘blocked the road to world revolution’ since 1927.”
—ET letter, 4 April 1983, written in preparation for upcoming discussions with GIVI (emphasis in original)
In an internal report on the results of these discussions we wrote:
“WV No. 317: [GIVI] argued that it is an error in principle to write an article from the standpoint of ‘what we’d do in their shoes.’ This is supposed to represent a capitulation to the reality of Stalinist regimes (Two Worldism) and is therefore a tacit acceptance of socialism in one country. We argued that it is a perfectly acceptable journalistic device and used VIL’s ‘Impending Catastrophe and How to [Combat] It’…as well as Trotsky’s numerous suggestions that to win the Spanish Civil War required a social revolution in the republic (quite parallel to the suggestion in WV regarding Afghanistan). They didn’t have a very coherent reply except to snort about ‘journalism’.”
—ET letter, 7 May 1983
In a document entitled “Our Differences with the External Tendency” (October 1983) GIVI itself reported that:
“During the Berlin discussions about the issues of WV No. 317 (‘Russians [to Reagan]: Don’t Try It!’) and the article ‘Reagan, Begin & Hitler’ (WV No. 308) we criticized the ET’s failure to see in these articles disguised advice to the Stalinist bureaucracy. To the contrary the comrades defended these articles.”
We can only conclude that the deliberate intention of those who created WV’s “Test of Truth” is to force the membership of the iSt to defend in public a position which they know to be false. To paraphrase WV: it proves that the SL leadership is wrong in the most fundamental sense, because they are liars. And this you can tell, from anywhere at all on the planet.
On April 12, in the midst of the CIA’s terrorist mining of Nicaragua’s ports, U.S. Vice President George Bush visited Cleveland. Fifty people turned out for a protest rally called by the reformist Workers World Party/All-Peoples Congress. To the sundry reformist rad-lib slogans of the Marcyites and other OROs in attendance, the Cleveland supporters of the ET counterposed “Smash Reagan’s Bay of Pigs—Nicaragua Needs MIGs!,” “1-2-3-4, Leftist Rebels Win the War! 5-6-7-8, Nothing to Negotiate!,” “For Labor Strikes Against the Cruise and Pershing Missiles!,” “Defend the Soviet Union Against Imperialist Aggression!,” and “Break With the Elephant, Break With the Ass—Build a Party of the Working Class!”
Several Cleveland SLers attended the protest picket—but only to sell literature. One of these comrades told us that in his opinion the demonstration was a “popular front,” and pointed to a WWP banner promoting Jesse Jackson. The Marcyites’ prostration before the imperialist Democratic Party is indeed contemptible, but this was not the main political axis of the anti-Bush demo, and certainly didn’t make it a “popular front.” At the end of the protest, however, when the WWP began to chant “Run Jesse Run” and the bulk of the participants picked it up, the ET supporters stepped out of the picket line in disgust.
In early December 1982, the ET proposed that the SL should attempt to intervene in the Canadian Chrysler strike (see Appendix at the end of this article, reprinted from SL Internal Bulletin No. 40). “Cream Puffs” claims that this showed we were “scarcely able to conceal [our] disdain” for the 27 November 1982 anti-Klan demonstration in Washington! This absurd charge provides a startling confirmation of the SL leadership’s turn away from the organized working class.
For five weeks some 10,000 Chrysler workers in Canada (approximately 20 percent of the automaker’s whole workforce) struck against “give-backs.” The bulk of Chrysler’s Canadian facilities are in Windsor, which is exactly one mile from Detroit (see map). The strike began when Canadian production employees were offered the same lousy take-away contract that 70 percent of the American workers had already rejected. In the U.S., the UAW brass, which had recommended the settlement, succeeded in keeping the ranks in the plants without a contract. The workers in Windsor didn’t go for that. They had already fought a three-day wildcat in October to get the union to move up the strike date. When the official 5 November strike deadline finally arrived, they hit the bricks.
A week after the strike was launched, there was a rally at the Windsor racetrack. Five thousand workers attending voted unanimously to back the strike. A reporter for a Toronto newspaper was at the rally and interviewed some of the strikers:
“Some workers told the Star they believe Chrysler’s threat of bankruptcy is a bluff. Others said they are prepared to see it sink. “‘I’m fed up with their bull’ said truck driver Lyle Shipley, 42. ‘If we lose our jobs, they lose theirs. How much of a risk is it? I’ll tell you in January.’
“Greg Bejanger, 35, a van plant welder, says he can’t live on 1979 wages. ‘If we keep going like this, I lose everything. We gave up a lot and we want some back. It’s their shirt or ours…’
“Duncan Campbell, a union steward and 19-year Chrysler veteran said he can’t get by without a raise and most others are in the same boat.
“‘When your mortgage goes from $320 to $720 like mine did last year something’s got to give.’
“For years we fought for a standard of living, now its slipping away, but we’re going to fight to keep it and improve it.’”
—Toronto Star, 12 November 1982
These are the workers who WV sneers at as largely “East European anti communist immigrants.” They stayed out for five weeks to win a measly “40 cents an hour more than their counterparts in the United States” (Toronto Globe and Mail, 13 December 1982).
The paltry gains they won could have been a lot greater had the strike spread to Michigan, where the bulk of Chrysler’s plants are located. There were a lot of angry workers in those plants watching the Canadian strike pretty closely. Three U.S. Chrysler locals rejected Doug Fraser’s no-strike policy and had voted to strike on 1 November. The Canadian strike also resulted in the immediate lay-off of 6,000 American foundry workers.
Doug Fraser and Lee Iacocca were plenty worried about the strike spreading across the Detroit River. A special four-page issue of WV, as well as a few class-struggle UAW militants to talk it up on the Windsor picket lines, could very well have sparked some militants to send a few flying pickets over to Detroit. That could have been the beginning of the end for Iacocca’s “take-back” program once and for all. The effects of such a victory on the rest of the North American labor movement could have been enormous. To counterpose a couple of regional sub-drive trips from Toronto to Sudbury is farcical.
Our proposal to the SL was both modest and realizable. It was in no sense counterposed to the action in D.C. It would not have required a massive national mobilization. Most of the work (apart from writing and producing the propaganda) could have been implemented by a reinforced Detroit local with the support of SL supporters in the UAW. The problem was a lack of will. The SL leadership chose to do Fraser, the “company cop,” a favor and do nothing. The meaningless bombast by Robertson about the “proper attention” that Toronto’s Trotskyist League should supposedly be paying to the distant mining and forestry industries doesn’t change this a bit.
(Reprinted from SL Internal Bulletin, No. 40, August 1983)
LETTER TO THE SPARTACIST LEAGUE
by Bob Edwards, Howard Harlan, Ursula Jensen and Lisa Sommers
We urge you to make the Chrysler contract battle the focus of your U.S./Canadian work at least for the duration of the Canadian Chrysler strike.
As we see it, the situation is as follows:
A) The main battalions of the UAW are not out (GM, Ford) nor even the main battalions at Chrysler (Detroit).
B) Nonetheless, for the first time, despite the bureaucracy, a significant section of the UAW is battling against further concessions and for the restoration of the industrywide contract in auto.
The Canadian strike is linked to the U.S. in obvious ways:
1) Chrysler US and Canada have a common though not identical contract.
2) Chrysler Canada is physically proximate to the main Chrysler battalions in heavily black Detroit.
3) The Chrysler Canada strike causes layoffs in the U.S., making Chrysler US workers intensely aware of its existence.
4) NY Times November 24, page 13 reports Chrysler is retooling U.S. plants to produce parts normally made by striking Canadians.
The need for solidarity actions is obvious and time is of the essence. (We realize it will mean a turn for the SL after the DC anti-KKK mobilization and the necessary political and legal follow-up.) While Chrysler US workers are feeling cautious, not only did they reject the contract, but nearly one-third of them voted for a strike despite the depression, the holiday season and Fraser and Company. This is a situation where a determined effort by revolutionists could make a difference, particularly with Detroit seething.
We urge you to concentrate your black cadre and your former IIers (now laid-off) from around the country in Detroit at least for the duration of the Canadian strike. The TLC, which also has ex-IIers, should likewise concentrate, working from Toronto to Windsor.
We also urge you to publish an immediate WV supplement on Chrysler like “Unchain the UAW.” (The PB on 27 April, 1978 among other things said “…we actively seek reasons or excuses to bring out weekly supplements of WV on the odd week…”. Chrysler is a good reason). We believe the supplement should be written in an agitational style (for mass distribution) like the exemplary Bradley leaflet from New Jersey II.
The supplement should cover the present situation plus a “how to” section on organizing strike committees, mass pickets/flying squads, cross-border strike delegations, etc. A concise history of how the Flint strike was organized and won in the ‘30s would be highly illustrative. Also points on how, in the ‘30s, the unemployed were mobilized and willingly rallied to the strikers’ aid. This point should be linked now to the call for unlimited SUB benefits paid for by the company/government and unlimited recall rights. The whole point about the unemployed is certainly germane to Detroit today.
References to the Carter and Shorter-led plant seizure as well as to the 1000-man goon squad used to break the Mack Ave. action are clearly in order.
In other words, the WV supplement should lay out in plain terms the lessons the SL has learned in its years in auto.
In our opinion, the program proposed in WV #316 as the basis for electing strike committees (the equivalent of a full caucus program specifically including points on the USSR, Poland, etc.) was incorrect and the same type of error made in the early phases of the Miners strike.
As the SL has demonstrated repeatedly in its anti-fascist work, you still have the will and the resources to go on a national campaign footing. While the lack of working II fractions will clearly limit your effectiveness, the Canadian Chrysler strike requires the type of extra effort made by the SL In previous key strike situations. In San Francisco in 1976, for instance, extensive use was made of all the fractions, other non-fraction SL trade unionists, as well as SL sales teams and leafleters. A similar effort is called for here.
cc: Jim R.
Chrysler Canada is highly marginal to the Canada economy and to Chrysler generally. The strike came at a time when the Canadian economy was indeed facing desperate problems with the closures of the nickel/copper mines in Sudbury and the shrinking of the world pulp market. Furthermore, our own probes into Canadian Chrysler have revealed that these plants are heavily populated by recent anti-communist East European emigres who have not yet had the chance to move on to better and more stable jobs.
We would like to contrast the “External Tendency” proposal with the two trips to Sudbury by the Trotskyist League of Canada where we sold about 150 pieces of literature, including 107 copies of Spartacist Canada No. 56 (December 1982) with the front-page article “Sudbury Miners: Fight for Survival!” If this is followed up and proper attention paid to the timber/pulp industries, then our Canadian comrades will be pursuing the main and real sector of the Canadian proletariat of particular interest.
Thus the proposal by Edwards, et al., to concentrate our forces on the strike in Canadian Chrysler is in all known ways a completely regressive and wasteful policy. This would be the case even if they had no knowledge of the rich opportunities elsewhere that we are pursuing. But then to go after Chrysler Canada does sound so proletarian, doesn’t it?
10 January 1983
Impatient and disoriented, the SL leadership is losing confidence that workers can be won to a revolutionary program. It has effectively discarded the trade-union caucuses as transmission belts to the party. Unfortunately the prediction that we made in our document of 25 June 1983 has proved all too true:
“…the union-centred caucuses, based on recruiting workers to build an alternative leadership in the unions, are being transformed. The primary orientation of the remaining shells will be directed away from the unions. Trade-union work will be continued, but only to provide an economic base for the SL and an occasional orthodox veneer for its leadership.”
The performance of the Militant Caucus (MC) at this year’s ILWU Local 6 convention provided a graphic example of the decline of SL-supported trade-union work. In the past the caucus fought to elect its members as delegates in order to address the whole spectrum of issues facing union members: shop-floor conditions, contract demands, labor solidarity, racial and sexual oppression, etc. This year the MC in Local 6 raised only one motion. Even that one—in defense of Lauren and Ray—had a perfunctory quality. Virtually no delegates were lined up to speak for the motion. Unfortunately, the redbaiting local Lannon leadership which still loathes the MC for the threat it once posed and the class-struggle program which it still formally stands on, was able to easily defeat the motion.
CFTWU Loses Its Cherry
The caucus in New York Transit appears to be the exception to the rule. In this predominately black local with a militant history, the SL-supported “Committee for a Fighting TWU”’s activity has not been characterized by isolated dead-end stunts (like the Militant Caucus’ failed pickets of the Lafayette and the Nedlloyd Kimberley) but rather by departures in the opposite direction. In New York transit, Ed Kartsen, leader of the “Committee for a Fighting TWU,” proposed a no-contest offer to Arnold Cherry, an “opportunist-out-of-office.” Cherry would run for president and Kartsen would run for another position—thereby not splitting the anti-Lawe vote.
No-contest pacts are common in the European left, particularly in France. An agreement not to run against a particular candidate is a form of critical support one step removed, implying that the candidate you choose not to run against is better than the candidate he or she is opposing. The tactic is perfectly principled, providing there is some important issue on which the candidate to whom you offer a no-contest agreement is qualitatively better than his opponent. It is not enough to be a “lesser evil.”
To find Spartacist-supported trade unionists using the no-contest tactic is somewhat curious. In the past the SL-supported caucuses generally insisted on hard-line polemics against individuals running for shop steward positions on the grounds that if they didn’t stand on most of the transitional program, they would necessarily betray. This was particularly true in the early years of MAC. By about 1978, the leadership realized that the stick had been bent too far in opposing other stewards and never giving critical support.
The ILWU Militant Caucus did subsequently offer critical support: once in Warehouse and twice in Longshore. In all of these cases, the candidates had broken with reformist trade unionism on at least one important programmatic question.
But in the TWU there were no grounds for a no-contest agreement. If Cherry had a record of opposing the scuttling of the 1980 strike and of fighting the sell-out contract which ensued, such a tactic might have warranted consideration. But Cherry did nothing to oppose Lawe. In the literature that we’ve seen, the CFTWU offers no programmatic basis for its stance toward Cherry. The only justification for the no-contest offer was that “it would be a defeat for all transit workers if Lawe were to run unopposed.” This clearly implies that it would be a “victory” if Cherry, who was programmatically indistinguishable from Lawe, had run. As it turned out, Cherry decided not to run and instead started redbaiting Kartsen et al. in an attempt to sabotage the CFTWU campaign and protect his own crumbling base.
The opportunist tactical shift of the CFTWU is paralleled by a number of positions taken by the SL recently which are at variance with its historic traditions—e.g., carrying the banner of the popular front in El Salvador demonstrations and omitting the “no court suits against the unions” position from the program of the LBSLs. The common thread which connects these positions is the increasing willingness of the leadership to blur or dull the edge of the Trotskyist program in order to secure gate-receipts or other transient advantage. The “no-contest” proposal in the TWU was dictated by a desire to find a short-cut to mass influence. To the CFTWU and its supporters in the SL, proposing the no-contest agreement with Cherry looked like it could be the start of something big.
MAC on the Road to Oblivion
Neither the MC in the ILWU nor the CFTWU is the bellwether of current Spartacist-supported trade-union work. That unfortunate distinction falls to the Militant Action Caucus in the CWA. The liquidationist course signaled by the departure of Jane Margolis is proceeding apace. The caucus is increasingly discredited within the union and its shrinking hard-core membership is disoriented and demoralized. The resignation of the MAC stewards has essentially relegated the caucus members to the role of sideline critics. MAC members are no longer conversant on a day-to-day basis with the bread-and-butter grievances which preoccupy many workers and through which the MAC was always able to raise much broader issues. While they retain the respect of a significant core of the membership, they have fared poorly in recent elections and their developing abstentionism can only lead to a further decline in their authority.
During the CWA strike there was considerable dissatisfaction with MAC at the turn to substitutionist tactics by the leadership. In previous strike situations MAC (and other SL-supported caucuses) issued leaflets and raised motions in union meetings addressing the issues involved in the strike and the character of the union leadership. They have called for specific steps to organize effective strike action (e.g., frequent membership meetings, an elected strike committee, a strike newspaper, mass pickets and defiance of court injunctions). Such calls served as the political focus for building blocs for action and drawing strike militants (and other potential recruits) around the caucus. This time MAC stayed away from union meetings and played no significant political role in the union. MAC members limited their role to regular and highly visible activity on the picket lines. The only leaflet that the Bay Area MAC issued during the strike came after the settlement was announced—it focused on the call for amnesty for the strikers rather than organizing resistance to the contract and reorganizing so the strike could continue in an effective way.
In similar picket-line situations in the past, SL-supported trade unionists have been careful not to substitute their own determination and small numbers for the activity of the rank and file. The caucuses sought instead to provide a class-struggle political alternative to the bureaucracy within the unions. The heroic—though foolish and ineffective—adventurism of Progressive Labor supporters has always been abjured by the SL. Such tactics can expose trade-union militants to bourgeois repression in much the same way that Stan’s courageous but substitutionist one-longshoreman picket of the Lafayette left him open to the witchhunt that followed. During the CWA strike last summer, an unusually high number of MACers were arrested, including Lauren and Ray. While several MAC veterans worried about what was going on, they were too intimidated by charges of “opportunism” to do anything but grumble privately.
MAC Abandons Regroupment Perspective
Another index of the MAC’s political state is its stance of passive ultimatism toward opponent groupings. In January 1983 an amorphous oppositional grouping, which had been coalescing for some time, ran candidates in elections in the San Francisco CWA. Their program included calls for a shorter work week at no loss in pay, a break from the Democrats and Republicans in favor of an independent party of labor, for international labor solidarity and opposition to protectionism. While falling considerably short of a full class-struggle program, it did overlap some key points in MAC’s program and could potentially have been critically supported.
Such transient formations embody a contradiction when they begin to move to the left. An intelligent and flexible class-struggle opposition must attempt to intersect such groupings by encouraging any halting steps to the left which they make, while firmly criticizing the fact that their program remains within the framework of bourgeois trade unionism. Through political confrontation as well as the judicious use of the united front and critical support tactics, this inherently unstable formation could possibly have been polarized along a left/right axis. This would lay the basis for winning the best elements to consistent class—struggle politics. MAC could thereby have strengthened its own forces while simultaneously weakening or eliminating a reformist or centrist competitor.
MAC’s policy toward this grouping at the point where it was making a few tentative steps to the left was to lump it in with other fake-oppositionists in the local and dismiss it. No serious attempt was made to engage the group in political discourse. Since its first program, it has been in motion to the right and has now evolved into “Members United for Workers Rights” (MUWR) with a program of simple trade-union democracy and economism.
A serious attempt to intersect these people would necessarily have entailed time and effort. However an effective class-struggle caucus can only be built through an aggressive political approach to all oppositional elements in the union who show any motion to the left. The internal differentiation that a more serious approach might have initiated never occurred. It would seem that MAC’s failure to pursue a regroupment perspective reflected its loss of confidence in its chances of ever “getting anywhere” in the CWA. This interpretation is confirmed by the decision a few months later to get out of the stewardships en masse.
Sectarian Error Mars Ikegami Defense
Kathy’s conviction was not a foregone conclusion. In our trade-union document we questioned “whether the basic surrender in the CWA explains the half-hearted defense of Kathy I. While the local campaign has been somewhat effective, there has been no serious effort to duplicate the successful, nationally organized defense of Jane M.”
During the week of March 9th, another nail was driven into the coffin of the old MAC. WV No. 350 (16 March 1984) reported that the MAC obtained over 500 signatures to force a special meeting. Despite the bureaucracy’s maneuvers and provocations, some 125 union members turned out to defend Kathy. WV does not, however, report that one week earlier, the MAC unilaterally cancelled a united-front effort designed to turn those 500 signatures into at least the 185 live bodies needed to meet the bureaucracy’s undemocratic quorum requirement.
On February 25 MAC held a meeting to launch a united-front mobilization for the March 9 meeting. At the meeting a leaflet (reprinted as an appendix to this article) was adopted. The goal was to obtain 50 signatures and to distribute the leaflet starting March 5. MAC members said that they already had the names of at least 50 people who would co-sign it. And then, over the weekend of March 3-4, the MAC suddenly informed its united-front supporters that the leaflet was off.
Two of the would-be united-front members decided to go ahead with a leaflet anyway (also reprinted in the appendix). (One of these people is a leader of the reformist MUWR grouping which played an honorable role in Ikegami’s defense.) MAC refused to provide them with the original 50 names. Nonetheless they persisted and eventually obtained 23 signatures. But the time taken to regroup after the MAC’s sudden cancellation delayed their leaflet until Thursday, March 9, the day before the meeting. We cannot help but wonder whether a united-front effort by leaflet and phone might have produced the 60 more members necessary to squash the bureaucrat’s phony quorum regulation and over turn Kathy’s conviction.
What happened between February 25th when the MAC initiated the united front and March 3-4 when they called it off? Well, on March 2nd, WV No. 349 came out with the “Cream Puffs” article. With the SL leadership trying to convince its members that we are doing the work of cops, MAC could hardly go through with a united front with CWAers, several of whom are known to have recently had dinner with Bob Mandel, could they?
In 1973 when MAC faced a similar attack in CWA Local 9415, WV reported that the caucus set up a defense committee “based on two points—‘drop the charges’ and ‘union democracy.’ It meets regularly, issues reports to the membership, and has launched a petition campaign which it hopes will spread to other CWA locals” (WV No. 16, February 1973). At that time MAC actively sought the participation of the International Socialist-supported “Bell Wringer” caucus in its campaign and worked with everyone in the local who opposed the witchhunt. At the same time MAC also raised the broader political issues which lay behind the bureaucracy’s attack. By contrast, the Ikegami case has been marked by oscillations in defense strategy with a tilt toward the sectarian (as evidenced by the last-minute scrapping of the united-front leaflet).
Kathy’s self-denigrating description of herself as an “obscure and esoteric red” in MAC’s 5 March leaflet (reprinted in WV No. 350) is particularly disturbing. This can only open her to ridicule. It is not the attitude of someone who is out to fight for leadership in the union. In fact, it is a reiteration of the view of MAC’s reformist critics— that MAC and its program are irrelevant and “esoteric.” Kathy’s remark only highlights the contradiction inherent in the SL’s turn away from a serious trade-union perspective for those class-struggle militants who remain in the unions.
In the past MAC members were able to play a significant role at the CWA convention. MAC established many important contacts with militants from all over the U.S.—an important step to becoming a recognized national opposition to the CWA bureaucracy. But this year it doesn’t look like MAC will have a delegate. The decision to nominate only Kathy Ikegami as a candidate for the upcoming national convention is another indication of its flagging interest in fighting for its program in the CWA. While it is imperative that Kathy be nominated as a sign of MAC’s determination to overturn her suspension from the union, she will almost certainly be disqualified by the bureaucrats and not permitted to run. If MAC were serious about taking that fight, as well as other issues, to the convention floor, they would have nominated at least one other candidate.
James P. Cannon might have been addressing the leadership of the SL/US when he polemicized against those whose:
“…impatience to reach the agreed upon objective is giving rise to ideas which are false in conception and which, if adopted by the party, would have fatal consequences.
“One of these false ideas born of impatience is the idea that we can find a short cut to a mass movement over the head of the trade unions. I mention this first because it is the most fundamental and the most dangerous. There are numerous other misconceptions, all related, however…
“Woe to the party that despairs of the trade unions and turns away from them! The harder such a party works and the more hysterically it shouts, the sooner it will wear itself out.”
—Socialist Appeal, 30 June 1939 (our emphasis)
Proposed united front leaflet by MAC
We, the undersigned members of CWA Local 9410, protest the outrageous conviction of Kathy Ikegami by former President Jim Imerzel’s trial court. She was charged with voting against Imerzel’s steward appointments and criticizing the local leadership. For these so-called “crimes”, she was illegally suspended by the Executive Board of the union for six months and fined $300.
Over 500 of us signed petitions demanding that this special meeting be held in order to guarantee our right to hear and decide on Ikegami’s appeal as mandated by the CWA Constitution. Now is the time for everyone to come out and stop this attempt to muzzle free speech in our union. If we don’t overturn Ikegami’s suspension, which one of us will be next? Every decent unionist must come to the special meeting on (date) and vote down this frame-up! If you value your right to speak your mind; if you value your right to vote by your conscience — COME TO THIS MEETING AND VOTE DOWN THE CONVICTION OF KATHY IKEGAMI. Defend your right to free speech in CWA!
. . .
(Leaflet signed by 23 CWA members, 8 March)
COME TO THE UNION MEETING
FRIDAY MARCH 9th
6:00pm, 240 2nd street
We, the undersigned members and stewards of Local 9410, encourage all other members to attend the March 9th special union meeting and overturn the conviction of Kathy Ikegami by the trial court. This politically motivated show trial sentenced Kathy to a $ 300.00 fine and a 6 month suspension from the union during which she will stand defenseless before the company. At issue was Kathy’s warning of the possibility of layoffs and job cuts in an April ‘82 MAC leaflet and her political stance in favor of elected (as opposed to appointed) stewardships in the local. As an issue every member must be made aware of the dangerous precedent this case sets. The right of free speech and the right to organize are dealt a devastating blow and without these, union democracy and membership control cannot exist. Suspension of any member is serious business traditionally involving willful actions against the union (such as scabbing during a strike), and not their ideas.
DEFEND FREE SPEECH AND THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE
DEFEND KATHY IKEGAMI
Come directly from work to S.F. Pete’s Bar, 625 Mission (at New Montgomery, next to El Faro’s) for a pre-meeting party!
. . .
The following motion was submitted to the Executive Board of ILWU Local 10 by Howard Keylor on 8 March 1984. It was ruled out of order by the bureaucrats.
FOR A 48-HOUR LONGSHORE DIVISION SHUTDOWN AGAINST REAGAN’S WAR MOVES IN CENTRAL AMERICA
WHEREAS: The U.S. Navy is maintaining a continuing presence off the coasts of Nicaragua; and
WHEREAS: The U.S. invaded and occupied Grenanda; and
WHEREAS: There are at least 5,000 U.S. troops in Honduras; and
WHEREAS: The CIA is funding and organizing attempts to over throw the Sandinistas; and
WHEREAS: U.S. military advisors, arms and economic aid are maintaining the bloody El Salvadoran junta; and
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That if Reagan launches direct air, naval or land action against Nicaragua, Cuba or the El Salvador leftists, the entire longshore division will shut down the coast in protest for 48 hours.
Amidst the reformism, feminism and fake-left carnivalism of Toronto’s 10 March International Women’s Day demonstration, the comrades of the External Tendency and the Trotskyist League of Canada counterposed the revolutionary road to women’s liberation. Chanting slogans which ran from “Free Abortion On Demand!” to “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” the 25-odd TLC and ET marchers appeared to the rest of the demonstrators to be a united contingent. Despite the common political position of both groups on all the questions raised on the march, the TLC rejected ET proposals for a joint contingent. Nonetheless, it was a positive sign that supporters of both groups joined in chanting the slogans raised by either. The fact that the ET was able to mobilize almost as many people as the TL for the demo was proof in action of our serious desire to be reintegrated into the international Spartacist tendency.