Open Letter to Socialist Challenge/Gauche Socialiste
I hereby resign my membership in Socialist Challenge/Gauche Socialiste [SC/GS]. My decision to leave the organization was not taken lightly but on consideration of the political program of SC.
I have been a member of SC, previously known as the Alliance for Socialist Action [ASA], for over fifteen months, serving as an executive member of the Toronto branch for over half of that period. Prior to my membership in SC, I was a founding member of the first Canadian branch of Ted Grant’s British-based Militant tendency. I joined the socialist movement as part of Canada’s social democracy, the NDP [New Democratic Party], in 1983. The basis of my resignation is not simply a clash of personalities or organizational differences, but rather the logical result of an unsuccessful six month struggle for Trotskyism in SC.
I am issuing this open letter in order to explain the dispute within SC. Rather than allowing this semi-public debate to be consigned to ‘historical differences,’ I find it necessary to make a formal clarification.
The unraveling of SC’s pretensions to Trotskyism began for me over the question of the Nicaraguan revolution and in particular the so-called Arias ‘peace’ plan. SC’s error in Nicaragua began in July 1979. The bourgeois state machine was smashed; the question was posed—what class relations existed in Nicaragua? By rigidly relying on past theory of the Cuban revolution that a smashed bourgeois state equals a workers state, the radical petty-bourgeois nationalists of the FSLN were transformed into unconscious Marxists or practical revolutionaries. The very notion of unconscious Marxists makes a mockery of Lenin’s theory of a vanguard party bringing socialist ideas to the working class. The idea that a healthy workers state could arise by ‘accident’ is alien to the tradition of Trotskyism. More importantly, it revises the Marxist theory of the state. The state, for Marxists, is simply armed bodies of men committed to the defense of particular property relations. The Sandinistas have played a bonapartist role; that is balancing between classes. A party which subsidizes the bourgeoisie, while claiming to represent the interests of the workers, cannot be considered Marxist.
The signing of the Esquipulas II Accords last summer presented a problem which after some months of discussion, the Toronto SC [ASA], on January 31, agreed was a plan to “contain and isolate the Nicaraguan Revolution and to prop up U.S. supported dictatorships in the region.” At the [ASA] February 28 meeting, after it became apparent that this position implied criticism of the Sandinistas, the position was reversed and the peace plan was regarded as a victory and a danger! The recent ceasefire has further hardened this view. To view the reintegration of the contras into Nicaraguan society as some kind of victory and as proof of the Sandinistas’ revolutionary credentials is almost beyond belief. It is an abandonment of the methods of Marxism in favor of uncritical enthusiasm over the early achievements of the FSLN.
Programmatic liquidationism cannot but help having organizational consequences. It is no coincidence that during its four year tradition, the Toronto Anti-Intervention Coalition (TAIC) which Socialist Challenge helped found, and has more or less run ever since, has on only one occasion seen Marxists speak from the platform in their own name. At other times it has been as a representative of this or that social movement, thus ensuring the commentary remains acceptable to the Dan Heaps, etc. It is also significant that during the February 2 TAIC demonstration when Robert, an SC member, spoke from the platform presenting some elements of Marxist criticism, Barry, a leading member of Socialist Challenge found it necessary to coax a reformist from the solidarity milieu to publicly rebut him. SC has in TAIC, and in its other work areas, built platforms for liberals (or worse)—the most charitable description of which would be propaganda blocs. By counterposing the building of a ‘mass movement’ on the lowest common denominator to fighting for correct ideas and winning the movement to them. Socialist Challenge does a disservice to the tradition it claims to represent. Lest it be forgotten, the Bolsheviks built a mass movement, but one that was committed to disarming and expropriating the Russian bourgeoisie.
The importance of building the mass movement to SC is a reflection of a conception of program. For SC, Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is not a revolutionary program used by the revolutionary party, rather it is a supra-historical process. Ultimately this is part of the conception of the party. SC is not a Bolshevik organization, at the very best it is a Menshevik formation. Rather than a democratic-centralist organization which strives to be, in Lenin’s words, a tribune of the people,
SC is a rotten federalist bloc which has capitulated to every conceivable sector. The recent fusion with the Quebec-based Gauche Socialiste, on the basis that the GS National Conference cannot be overruled on Quebec issues, flies in the face of Leninism. Moreover, SC supports an independent women’s movement, an independent black movement, etc., etc…To Leninists these should be familiar arguments. It is simply the separatist arguments of the Jewish Bund from 1903 given new clothes (see Lenin’s What Is To Be Done). It is worth recalling Lenin’s comment that communists aim to split mass movements into their ideological components and build mass communist movements.
Were the problems I have outlined merely a national deviation effecting only this organization, the problem might not be so serious. Unfortunately, they originated in the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) to which the SC/GS is affiliated. The USFI may be the largest of all the ‘Internationals’ which claim to uphold the political legacy of Leon Trotsky and the revolutionary Fourth International he founded in 1938, but it is in no way qualitatively superior. The USFI has repeatedly demonstrated its tendency to come down on the wrong side in the international class struggle.
In Iran, the USFI criminally tailed Khomeini, dubbing him an ‘anti-imperialist.’ The U.S. SWP’s [Socialist Workers Party] headline the week after the fall of the Shah read “Victory in Iran.” Victory for whom? USFI leader Ernest Mandel was later to insist it was correct to support “the uprising against the Shah even though it was led by the clergy” (Revolutionary Marxism Today). It was a mistake that was to prove fatal for the HKS, the USFI section. It is the ABC of Trotskyism, which the USFI proved
unable or unwilling to grasp, that the bourgeoisie, much less feudal reactionaries, have no progressive role to play. It is clear that revolutionaries must defend Iran against imperialist attacks; however, we extend no political confidence in the Islamic republic and call for its overthrow and the establishment of a workers republic.
When the Soviet Army intervened in Afghanistan to defend an Afghani Stalinist regime that was trying to implement some progressive reforms against reactionaries of the same kind that had triumphed in Iran, the USFI opposed it but did not call for Soviet withdrawal. That subsequently changed. Now, on the verge of a Soviet withdrawal, the USFI has become aware of the imminent bloodbath and has belatedly started to insist that there be a defense of the women and leftists who will be slaughtered in Afghanistan. While extending no confidence in the Soviet bureaucracy, we ought to have called for military victory to the Soviet Army.
Finally in Poland, the USFI hailed the clerical-nationalists of Solidarnosc as leading the political revolution. The USFI has been strangely silent on Solidarnosc’s identification with reactionary Polish nationalist Pilsudski rather than Rosa Luxemburg. Never mind the growing strength of the sinister anti-Semitic KPN [Committee for an Independent Poland] or the plan to dismantle the planned economy in favor of ‘market socialism.’ Under such circumstances Trotskyists would call for a military bloc with the Stalinists to stop Solidarnosc and to defend working-class property forms.
In each of these cases we [see] an abandonment of Trotskyism. While this charge might seem incredible, it is worth recalling that sections have abandoned Trotskyism in name as well as in practice. The American SWP has openly declared Trotskyism to be a sectarian doctrine, likewise its followers in Canada in the Revolutionary Workers League. The Australian SWP took Barnes’ theories to their logical conclusion and split in favor of an eclectic third-world Stalinism.
Other sections have been more sophisticated. The French LCR [Revolutionary Communist League] reportedly has a sizeable state-capitalist minority and has expressed a desire to liquidate into the ‘Renovateur’ milieu led by the ex-Stalinist, now populist, Juquin who led a right-split from the CP. A taste of what is waiting for the LCR is the German United Socialist Party (VSP). The GIM [International Marxist Group] (the German USFI affiliate) merged with the ex/semi-Maoist KPD [Communist Party of Germany] to form a hodgepodge organization with no position on the Russian question and is in a state of organizational paralysis. The American corollary of the VSP is the Solidarity group. Formed by expellees from the SWP and Shachtmanite remnants, Solidarity was formed ‘in opposition to the Democratic Party,’ but their work exhibits a gravitational attraction to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.
Even the supposedly orthodox wing of the USFI, led by Mandel is little better. Rather than the program of Marxism, the appetite is for an objective dynamic. This revisionist current reflects at base a deep pessimism about the prospect of world revolution and is based on a rejection of the necessity of building Marxist-Leninist (i.e., Trotskyist) parties throughout the world in favor of settling for the next best thing—be it Sandinista guerrillas or Vietnamese Stalinists. While it is possible, and even likely, that the building of a truly democratic-centralist revolutionary International will involve large numbers of USFI cadre, it is clear that as it presently stands, the USFI is a major obstacle to such a development.
In leaving SC I do not leave the Trotskyist movement. I remain convinced that a revolution in this country can only be led by a revolutionary party of the working class of English Canada and Quebec. It must be a multi-racial party built on the traditions of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. It must also be an internationalist party, for unless that revolution is transformed into the North American socialist revolution, it will be doomed to failure. In its desire to simultaneously capitulate to the English-chauvinist NDP and to Quebecois nationalism, to reform Canadian imperialism and many other examples of the abandonment of Marxism, it is clear that SC/GS cannot be that party. Comrades, study the history of the Trotskyist movement.
Learn the lessons.
“The basic ideas of Marxism, upon which alone a revolutionary party can be constructed, are continuous in their application and have been for [over] a hundred years. The ideas of Marxism, which create revolutionary parties are stronger than the parties they create, and never fail to survive their downfall. They never fail to find representatives in the old organizations to lead the work of reconstruction.”
—James P Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism
June 3 1988