The Emperor Has No Clothes
‘Fear and Obedience’ in the ICL
IBT statement, 12 September 2003.
After several weeks of ducking and diving, hurling threats and licking wounds, in its 29 August issue Workers Vanguard (WV No. 808) finally bites the bullet and advances an alibi for Spartacist League (SL) chairperson James Robertson’s 1978 grossly chauvinist reference to Kurds as “Turds.” But the explanation is so ridiculous that even hardened SL hacks appear mildly embarrassed by it.
WV concedes that in early October 1978 Reuben Samuels, the group’s expert on the Middle East, flew to London from Toronto “to give a ‘good educational’ on the struggle against Kurdish oppression–a need particularly posed by the recent recruitment of Turkish comrades to our British section.” Samuels’ talk was preempted by a purge of the British leadership (headed by Bill Logan—today a leading member of the International Bolshevik Tendency—IBT), as Robertson explained to the SL’s New York branch a week later:
Samuels spent most of the week preceding the purge in the British Museum preparing his educational. WV absurdly pretends that Robertson’s comment about “studying about the Turds for his class” (on the Kurds) was an “indictment” of Samuels “for having his head in the toilet when what was posed was a fight to save our British section from Logan.” The only connection with a “toilet” was Robertson’s puerile and crudely chauvinist vulgarity.
There will undoubtedly be some Robertsonians who will eagerly swallow the official line. But those capable of making such a leap of faith must first embrace the credo of Saint Anselm of Canterbury: “I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand.” Even Jan Norden and his confreres in the Internationalist Group, who uncritically defend every egregious deviation by the SL leadership prior to their own purge in 1996, are unlikely to sign on for this one.
One former SLer commented in an email to us:
The WV article seeks to shore up its explanation with several supplementary arguments. In the first place they complain that we are dredging up a remark Robertson made some 25 years ago (about the same time he falsely attributed a description of Albanians as “goat-fuckers” to Karl Marx at an SL forum in New York). WV also argues that it is implausible that Robertson could have said such a thing because:
They did indeed. Had anyone else made such a disgusting comment they would have been severely criticized, but by 1978 the SL cadre were very well aware that Robertson had a special license to do what he felt like. The process through which Robertson gradually freed himself of all constraints through purging imaginary dissidents was already well underway. The reason Logan was removed in London was because Robertson feared that the British section was developing into a potential counterweight to the hegemony of the SL/US within the international Spartacist tendency (iSt).
In the founding document of our tendency we noted that earlier in 1978 Liz Gordon, a widely respected member of the SL Political Bureau and the group’s leading female comrade, had been humiliated for daring to criticize the SL lider maximo:
WV does make one legitimate criticism in its recent polemic, the observation that we too sat still for Robertson’s chauvinist slur:
No member of the Spartacist tendency present for Robertson’s speech, nor anyone who read the text in the internal bulletin, including future IBT members, raised any objection. Nor did our comrades object to many other things that were not right. In part this was due to organizational loyalty and a mistaken conviction that the Robertson regime represented the living embodiment of the Trotskyist program. We have addressed this question in our May 1985 document “The Road to Jimstown,” and in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 5, “ICL v. IBT,” points 1-4.
WV’s shrill and irrational denunciation of us as “A Walking Provocation” and its frantic attempts to change the subject by rehashing various slanders against comrade Bill Logan (all of which we dealt with in detail in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 5, points 45-60)reflects the desperation of the SL’s head office in the aftermath of their public humiliation for attempting to sidestep Robertson’s “Turd” comment. The contradiction between the group’s Trotskyist pretensions and the unpleasant reality is starkly illuminated by the SL’s organic inability to simply admit that their founder/leader made a grossly chauvinist remark. The SL cadre is compelled instead to defend the indefensible and abase themselves by pretending to believe WV’s ludicrous and incoherent story.
But there is a price to pay for explanations that explain nothing. Many members of the International Communist League (ICL), particularly younger and more political ones, are obviously distressed by the whole affair. Contrary to WV’s allegation, we do not regard these comrades as “worthless” nor as “obedient tools, fools and perhaps racists themselves.” Over the years we have recruited a good number of former ICLers and we expect to recruit more.
Many ICLers know that Robertson’s remark should be repudiated, not defended. But they are also well aware that anyone who dares to criticize what is so obviously a mistake risks immediate excommunication. Serious people in the ICL should ask themselves whether genuflections to James M. Robertson serve any revolutionary purpose. In 1966, in his final statement to the London Conference of the International Committee, as he was being thrown out by Gerry Healy, Robertson proclaimed:
The same mechanism governs life in the Spartacist tendency today. Anyone in the ICL who remains committed to the Trotskyist program has a duty to act, as Robertson did in 1966, on the basis of consciousness rather than fear and obedience.