From the IG to Trotskyism
Dutch ‘VVI’ Joins IBT
In the month preceding the U.S./UK attack on Iraq, the web site of the Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International (IG-LFI) highlighted the activity of its Dutch affiliate in the port of Rotterdam:
“In contrast to the classless appeals to ‘citizens’ and civil disobedience, the Verbond voor de Vierde Internationale (VVI—League for the Fourth International) has been calling since last fall to mobilize workers action to stop the war cargos. A leaflet put out by the VVI in October 2002 appealed to dock workers to boycott U.S. and Dutch warships, and to refuse to handle military goods.”
—Internationalist, January-February 2003
On 25 February 2003, a united-front demonstration initiated by the VVI took place:
“In response to the news of trains with U.S. military equipment heading to Rotterdam, the VVI issued an appeal for a mobilization on February 25 that would march to the docks of the company shipping war goods to the Gulf. Leaflets of the VVI and a united-front flyer calling for the action were distributed in largely immigrant and working-class areas of South Rotterdam and the protest was announced on Radio Rijmond (in Rotterdam).”
Fifty militants, including many immigrants, marched to the docks in an action that contrasted sharply with the cross-class “peace” mobilizations of the reformist left. At the demonstration:
“A speech by a representative of the VVI explained the need to defend Iraq through the call for workers action against the war, including trade-union boycotts and strikes. He also emphasized defense of the immigrant population, which is under constant racist attack as imperialist war in Afghanistan and elsewhere is brought home.”
It was a good speech and a good initiative. At the time we did not know that the speaker, Comrade W. Spector of the Dutch VVI, was also its only member. He had considerable experience in the organized left, having spent a few years with affiliates of both Jack Barnes’ Socialist Workers Party/U.S. and Tony Cliff’s British group of the same name, and then a couple more as the sole Dutch supporter of James Robertson’s International Communist League (ICL—formerly the international Spartacist tendency [iSt]).
Comrade Spector, who had come to understand the importance of a correct political program from his experience with the opportunist Barnesites and Cliffites, was initially attracted to the ICL’s ostensibly orthodox Trotskyism. Over time, however, he became increasingly troubled by the apparent discrepancy between the frequently correct-sounding positions of the ICL and the commandism and peculiar internal dynamics of the organization. He began to look around and discovered the IG/LFI on the internet. In December 2001, during a trip to New York, he had a few days of discussions with IG leader Jan Norden and other members. It was proposed that he join their group and return to build an LFI affiliate in Holland. Impressed by the IG’s apparent seriousness and its hard anti-imperialist posture, Spector willingly accepted their account of the political degeneration of the ICL and its leading section, the Spartacist League/U.S. (SL), as originating with the demoralization of the leading cadre in the wake of the destruction of the Soviet Union. He also accepted the IG’s claim that the definitive turning point in the ICL’s degeneration came when Norden et al. were tossed out in 1996.
This was a position that the comrade began to question, in an increasingly serious fashion, as he explored first one, and then another, of the historical polemics between the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) and the iSt during the 1980s. At first Spector expected to find ample confirmation of the IG’s characterizations of the IBT as “anti-communist” renegades. But the more he read, the more uneasy he became with his leadership’s explanations. He gradually realized that there were serious discrepancies between the hard-edged Trotskyist positions advocated by the contemporary LFI and some of the historical ICL positions they stand on. He was also surprised to find that on virtually all the disputed questions, the positions of the IBT (and its forerunner, the External Tendency of the iSt) were superior to those of the ICL/LFI.
‘Hailing’ Brezhnev’s Afghan Policy &
Saving U.S. Marines
The first question Spector grappled with concerned the debate between the IBT and the iSt over the correct formulation of the Trotskyist position of defense of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. In a 4 January letter to the IG explaining his decision to support the IBT, Spector included two counterposed formulations that captured the nub of the controversy over “hailing” the Soviet Army:
“In fact we [IBT] rejected ‘Hail Red Army’ in favor of ‘Military Victory to the Red Army in Afghanistan.’ We did so because ‘hailing’ Brezhnev’s military intervention in Afghanistan tended to blur the critical distinction between political and military support…just as the SL supported the Vietcong against the U.S. in Vietnam militarily. It was the Pabloites who ‘hailed’ Ho Chi Minh’s armies….We saw no reason to apply different criteria in Afghanistan.”
—“IBT Letter to IG/LQB,” 15 December 1996, reprinted in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 6
“We [IG] proudly stand on the [Hail Red Army] slogan and program we defended at that time, which was deeply and explicitly counterposed to the Stalinist program of ‘peaceful coexistence’ with imperialism and intimately linked to our fight for proletarian political revolution in the Soviet Union itself.”
—IG letter to MEG, 18 July 1998, reprinted in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 6
After careful consideration, Spector concluded:
“The IBT didn’t ‘duck’ by dropping a pro-Stalinist (Hail Red Army) slogan that implied political support to the Stalinists in favor of military victory to the Soviet Army. The facts seemed pretty well set in cement, while maintaining the call for political revolution as well as defending the deformed workers states, they had followed the Trotskyist program of defending the degenerated workers state which was the USSR.”
He observed that “hailing” Brezhnev’s Afghan policy:
“left women, workers & leftists who had placed their faith in the military arm of the Stalinist bureaucracy, open to the Kremlin’s capacity for betrayal whose tragic consequences have brought it under the boots of US & Dutch imperialism today.”
The second major point Spector found himself in agreement with was the IBT’s criticism of the SL’s call to save the U.S. Marines after their barracks had been blown up in Beirut in 1983. The IG’s defense of this position is in contradiction to its openly defeatist attitude toward the current imperialist interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his 4 January letter, Comrade Spector recalled:
“What was most perplexing to me as a member, was that the IG-leadership’s proud defeatist position towards imperialist ‘kill-crazed’ Marines (terrorising the Iraqi women & workers there today, [a] case presented with merit in The Internationalist #16) is squarely counterposed to that SL’s tearful slogan (bowing before Reagan) they also advanced then, without ever having gone thru an honest reappraisal of the opposing slogans since the LFI’s founding.
“What if tomorrow whole US barracks [in Iraq were to] fly sky high with enormous casualties? This would leave the LFI-membership 20 years later, in times of increasing military setbacks to bloody imperialist plunder across the globe, with 2 irreconcilable positions.”
Whether in 1983 or 2004, Spector concluded: “Revolutionaries have no enthusiasm whatsoever for saving the lives of colonial troops!”
Goring Norden’s Ox
Another issue raised by Spector, to which Norden is particularly sensitive, is the iSt’s political disorientation during the terminal crisis of the German Democratic Republic (DDR—aka “East Germany”) in 1989-90. This is a touchy subject for the IG because Norden was personally in charge of Spartacist activity on the ground. While energetically pursued, the iSt’s intervention was decisively flawed politically. As the leaders of the DDR’s ruling Stalinist party (the Socialist Unity Party—SED) were negotiating a capitulation to the West German bourgeoisie, the iSt pursued a policy referred to internally as “unity with the SED.” This reached its nadir when SL founder/leader James Robertson absurdly attempted to arrange personal meetings with DDR master-spy Markus Wolf, Soviet General B.V. Snetkov and SED chief, Gregor Gysi. The SL, which seems to have developed amnesia about the whole business, today retrospectively denounces the SED for leading the counterrevolution and blames Norden for wanting to adapt politically to the Stalinists. The IG, on the other hand, flatly defends the whole iSt intervention. But neither is able to offer a coherent rationalization for Robertson’s ludicrous, and grossly opportunist, attempt to counsel Gysi, Wolf and Snetkov.
In bidding Spector farewell, the IG/LFI leadership acknowledged that: “As a comrade of the LFI, under the direction of the executive committee, you sought to bring about labor actions to boycott NATO war materiel bound for Iraq with a February 2003 worker-immigrant demonstration at the Rotterdam docks.” But they also sputtered indignantly at the IBT’s “anti-communist scandal-mongering” and our penchant for “prurient gossip and supposed horror stories.” This is somewhat amusing coming, as it does, from the former long-time editor of Workers Vanguard which, when it was a revolutionary publication, was regularly denounced in exactly these terms by various opportunists and political bandits who resented having their hustles and crooked maneuvers exposed. Name-calling is easy, but IG/LFI members who are serious about building a genuinely Trotskyist organization, rather than a Potemkin village, should carefully investigate the substance of the political differences between the IBT and the ICL/IG (many of which are documented in our Trotskyist Bulletin series) and draw their own conclusions.
To defend previous political errors is to open the door for future ones. The IG has always been reluctant to seriously address the origins of the SL’s degeneration, which was qualitatively complete long before Norden et al. were unceremoniously driven out. Largely for reasons of personal prestige, the IG’s founders pretend that, prior to their own departure, the SL had an almost pristine political and organizational record. Yet the IG’s own account of its cadres’ termination accuses SLers of “willful fabrications,” “smears,” “inventions” and “mud-slinging.” We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of any of this, as it tallies precisely with our own experience a decade and a half earlier. However, Norden’s own “horror stories” raise some uncomfortable questions he would prefer not to answer:
“how could the cadres of a revolutionary Trotskyist organization turn, on command, into purgers, wreckers, witchhunters and hand-raisers? Where did the layer of ‘self-conscious fabicators and liars’ who ‘boast’ of their misdeeds come from? And why were Norden and Stamberg so sure that there was no point in bothering to appear at their scheduled ‘trial’?”
—“IBT Letter to IG/LQB,” 15 December 1996, reprinted in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 6 [p.23]
We welcome the adherence of Comrade Spector to the IBT and fully endorse his appeal to supporters of the IG/LFI who are serious about the struggle to reforge the Fourth International that, as a first step, they seek to participate in “a regroupment of the LFI with the IBT that preserves the revolutionary elements of the LFI-politics and breaks with the inherited mistakes of the SL.”