Bolshevik Tendency letter to the Trotskyist League, 4 February 1988
On 2 February the recently reconstituted Toronto Anti-Intervention Coalition (TAIC), sponsored a demonstration to “Oppose U.S. Contra Aid!” which drew almost 300 participants. Unlike other “anti-interventionist” demonstrations held in this city in the past few years, this was organized as a genuine united front with a simple one-slogan summons to the streets. All who opposed U.S. contra aid were welcome to join in, carry their own banners, and chant their own slogans. On Saturday 23 January and again at your public class on 26 January, you were approached by a supporter of the Alliance for Socialist Action and specifically invited to participate in building the demonstration and guaranteed the opportunity to have your own speaker at it. Your refusal to either endorse or participate in the demonstration confirms our characterization of the Trotskyist League as a sterile, introverted, non-revolutionary sect.
It seems you think something is wrong with the slogan “Oppose U.S. Contra Aid.” At your public class you attempted to justify your non-involvement by saying that the demonstration was popular-frontist because the Democratic Party opposed contra funding! In fact the Democrats support continued funding to the contras — they just oppose Reagan’s inflexible tactics toward the Sandinistas. As a supplementary proof of the “popular frontist” character of the demonstration Trotskyist League comrades pointed out that the basis of unity included neither a call for military victory to the FMLN in El Salvador nor for the defense of the Soviet Union. Why stop there? The following correct positions were also not included in the basis of unity for the demonstration: 1) the right of self-determination for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka; 2) the necessity for the rebirth of the Fourth International. No doubt you can think of a few more.
Your conception of what a united front should be is radically different than Trotsky’s. He ridiculed the idea that a united front should be organized around one’s own full program. His polemics against the idiocy of Third Period Stalinism with its proposals for a “united front” with the reformists on the Stalinist program are entirely applicable (with all proportions guarded) to the farcical ultimatism of the TL toward the TAIC:
In its own inimitable comic-opera fashion the “Trotskyist” League mimics the bureaucratic ultimatism of the Stalinist Third Period, complete with references to participants in such demonstrations as “squeezed lemons.” The stupidity of the TL’s position is manifest in the fact that, according to your leading political spokesperson in Toronto, cde. Masters, you “of course” oppose contra aid. There is, consequently, no rational reason for you to abstain from a demonstration organized on such a basis which guarantees full freedom of criticism for all participants.
We remind you of the words of Joseph Seymour: “A united front is essentially a common action characteristically around concrete, usually negative, demands on bourgeois authority.” Seymour’s document, “On the United Front Question,” which dates from the period when the Spartacist tendency was still Trotskyist, first appeared in an internal bulletin in 1974. It was written to refute a notion which had “permeated our ranks that while a united front with bourgeois forces was permissible to defend democratic rights, it was impermissible over issues central to the class struggle (e.g. opposition to an imperialist war).” In fact there were no bourgeois participants in the 2 February demonstration—but your position seems to be that it was “unprincipled” because there hypothetically could have been. As a friendly suggestion to those comrades of the TL who can still think, we propose that they read Seymour’s article and consider their abstentionism in its light.