A letter to an IG contact
19 January 2024
All parties agree that Logan was guilty of running an abusive regime in Australia. I am glad you recognize that Robertson was aware of what was going on and therefore shared responsibility….
There are several political points arising from your 16 January note which I would like to respond to and/or attempt to clarify.
1. The Logan & Socorro Trials: ‘Political Persecution’
….Logan’s trial was a central feature of the founding conference of the international Spartacist tendency which was attended by some 300 delegates and observers. The venue and the methods employed led us to characterize it as a “show trial.” The trial was conducted in camera and after his conviction Logan was given a mere [five] minutes to appeal to the delegates, most of whom had heard little or none of the evidence. In both his trial and Socorro’s, the verdict was a foregone conclusion.
The only witness willing to testify on Logan’s behalf (his then partner Hannah) was unable to participate as the trial was held in England and she, as a low-paid [undocumented worker] in New York without any financial resources, could not afford to pay her way. While flights and accommodation costs were covered for various prosecution witnesses from North America (including the BT’s Cathy Nason) Hannah’s request for funding, or even a loan, was rejected on the grounds that she was not facing any charges. (Hannah, a member of the IEC, was expelled without trial immediately following the vote to expel Logan simply on the basis of her association with him.)….
Socorro’s trial had a less prestigious venue. She was expelled for suggesting that as a rule bourgeois courts provide a fairer shake for defendants than she received from the SL. At the recent debate we reminded Cde. Norden that he and the other IG founders voted in favor of Socorro’s expulsion for having truthfully criticized the juridical processes of the Spartacist leadership. Of course, they all knew that Socorro was right, but were hoping that by voting to expel her they would signal their loyalty to the Robertson regime and retain their membership. But a few days later, when their own trial dates were set, they did not bother to turn up because they knew what shams these proceedings were.
2. When did things go wrong with the SL?
In a December 1996 letter to the IG (to which they never responded) we observed:
The picture of the ICL circa 1996 presented by the IG comrades is one of an organization that for decades operated as a model of Leninist democracy and was then transmogrified almost overnight into a cynical, bureaucratized sect. This flies in the face of both elementary logic and the facts.
If the SL was until very recently characterized by a scrupulous regard for truth in its dealings with internal (as well as external) opponents then why would the cadres so eagerly repeat the lies and the false charges made against you? Why would they be willing to condemn comrades without studying the documents? How could a trial body composed of long-time SL members be willing to stack the deck so blatantly against the defendants? Why would every single ICL section (with the sole exception of the unassimilated LM [Liga Quarta Internacionalista do Brasil]) immediately support the bogus charges without even asking any questions? And why would the membership of a healthy Trotskyist group, with an experienced cadre, accept, with hardly a murmur of dissent, the rupture of relations with the LM over such a cynical and absurd pretext?
No one with any political experience can take seriously the contention that revolutionary cadres, forged over decades in an atmosphere where critical thinking was encouraged, where differences were openly debated and minority opinions respected, could suddenly be transformed into a solid bloc of hand-raisers, liars and political cowards.
The IG comrades can only maintain their present position on the history of the iSt/ICL by denying their own experience. No revolutionary organization in the history of the workers’ movement has ever undergone the process the IG describes. The only explanation is that much of the revolutionary fibre of the ICL cadres had been destroyed long before the campaign against Norden-Stamberg-Negrete-Socorro was launched.
The abusive treatment the future IG comrades received was hardly unprecedented as we discussed in a 1998 article:
The remarkable similarity between the IG’s account of what happened to them, and our descriptions of previous purges, published over ten years earlier, is, in itself, enough to disprove the IG’s claim that the SL regime trampled on internal party democracy for the first time in 1996. Because Negrete, the head of the Mexican group (GEM), was thought to be a Norden ally, the SL sent a special delegation to Mexico to purge the section. Here is Negrete’s description:
“Having gone through the `Brazil/Mexico fight,’ I can state categorically that the current campaign involves a chain of willful fabrications. The fight blew up when Camila and I had questions about significantly inaccurate statements on Brazil in an I.S. mailing cover letter. At the same time as some of these statements were then explicitly corrected, a story was fabricated that I had behaved as a `sexist bully’ towards Camila (which Camila herself denied was true) and browbeaten her into posing the questions she put in writing. When witnesses said and wrote that this is not what happened, not only was the content of what they said ignored, but they were smeared as cliquists, personalists and anti-internationalists. At the same time as requests by Socorro and myself for a formal investigation of the charge were rejected out of hand, the lie was not only repeated but inflated into a supposed pattern.”
In the first issue of this journal , published in 1986, we recounted another case where a Spartacist cadre who had fallen into disfavor with the regime was accused of “sexual manipulation”:
”When the accused inquired how this charge could be made when he denied it, and all his purported victims denied it, he was informed that this was the worst kind of manipulation—it had been done so skillfully that, even under considerable party pressure, the victims themselves couldn’t see what happened! Such is the Alice-in-Wonderland quality of the `richly democratic’ internal life of the Spartacist tendency. Sexual manipulation, like everything else in the SL, means exactly what the leadership wants it to mean.”
— “The Robertson School of Party Building” 1917 No.1
In another document, Norden and Stamberg describe their own interactions with Spencer, the SL’s newly appointed leader:
“When we objected to the multiple inaccuracies and un-supported outrageous claims, Parks [Spencer] flew into a rage and proceeded to purge first Negrete and Socorro from Mexico and then Norden from the I.S. In both cases, invented charges were tossed around with abandon, and when one didn’t fly it was simply replaced by a new one. This mud-slinging is an all-too familiar witchhunting technique, based on the assumption that eventually something will stick or the targets will tire of scraping off the slime.”
Negrete recounts that during the Mexican purge:
“Once again, the grossly distorted picture was backed up by a series of demonstrably false statements. Yet each falsehood, once it collapsed, gave way to a new one….
“The above is only a sample of the false statements piled one on top of the other in that fight. Yet a number of well-meaning comrades have urged that all these `details’ be overlooked in favor of the `big picture.’ But…in this case the `big picture’ is made up of a lot of `little’ lies and fabrications, which keep getting bigger.”
In their description of the same purge, Norden and Stamberg write:
“In the opening statement for the I.S. delegation to the April 14 GEM meeting, Kidder began by reeling off a list of the names and ranks of eight full or alternate members of the IEC who had written documents on the fight, then saying: `You don’t have to take anybody’s word for it in our organization, leadership or not. Yet comrade Negrete would have you believe that these comrades who together represent about 150 to 200 years in our international tendency have it all wrong, don’t really know the facts, are simply engaging in gratuitous insults against him. What kind of organization is Negrete saying that you have joined, comrades?’”
Compare the above accounts to our own portrayal of a typical SL auto-da-fé, written in 1985:
“Here’s how it works in the SL. A meeting is called where the designated comrade is called to account for mistakes which he allegedly committed. Each item on the bill of particulars is grossly exaggerated and extrapolated; perfidious motivations (political and/or personal) are attributed. Incidental personal criticisms of the individual’s mannerisms, lifestyle or demeanor are thrown in for good measure. Those leading the attack typically do a good deal of histrionic screaming and posturing in order to create the proper emotionally-charged atmosphere. The assembled membership is expected to provide the chorus: repeating and embellishing on the accusations…. There is no beating the rap. If you can prove that some of the allegations are false, new ones are quickly invented. Or you are charged with using `lawyer’s arguments’ and attempting to obscure the overall picture by quibbling over `details’…After all, if you don’t agree with the charges, then you must think the campaign against you is a bureaucratic atrocity.”
—“The Road to Jimstown” (1985)
The parallels between these accounts leaves two possibilities open: either 1) our accusations were false when we made them in 1985-86, but the SL leadership used our literature as a how-to guide, from which they culled the techniques that were deployed for the first time against Norden, Stamberg, Negrete and Socorro in 1996; or 2) far from being new, these weapons had been part of the leadership’s arsenal long before the ill-fated four took their turn as targets.
3. The lie at the core of the SL’s case against Logan
We have always recognized that there was a lot wrong with the 1970s Logan regime in Australia—as the IG correctly points out. But we have also insisted that the essential facts (including the “Vicky” case) were well known to the entire SL leadership. In August-September 1974 there had been a formal investigation of complaints about the Logan regime in Australia after John Ebel, a member of the section, lodged a complaint. The investigation, which took place in the SL’s New York headquarters where both Robertson and Norden had offices, was no secret to the membership.
The case against Logan was based on the claim that: “What Logan did to the Australian comrades first emerged at a national gathering of the SL/ANZ in January 1979.” https://www.icl-fi.org/english/pamph/logan/preface.html But that is a lie—Logan had been cleared by the 1974 investigation. The obvious corollary is that Logan’s responsibility for the abuse of the young Australian comrades was shared by the entire SL leadership (including both Robertson and Norden). At the recent debate in New York, Norden attempted to sidestep this (as the IG has in the past) and simply asserted that Logan was guilty of the charges against him. But anyone who seriously looks into the facts will find evidence that his guilt was shared by the rest of the SL tops.
Ebel’s 1974 complaints about the Logan regime were mistakenly introduced into the 1979 proceedings by a prosecution witness. Marie H., quoted from both a document written by Ebel and Logan’s response https://bolsheviktendency.org/2021/08/10/on-the-logan-show-trial-appendix-bi/ ). The following portion of Marie’s testimony appeared on page 45 of Volume II of “The Logan Dossier” the Spartacists published in 2007:
“Marie H.: …I want to corroborate what Keith said in terms of the campaign against Vicky while she was pregnant and after she had the child. The only member of the organization who, you know, went against the leadership in this matter was (John) E____ and it was in the context of defending himself. But he maintained that the organization interfered too much in the personal lives of comrades. That was his whole argument. There’s a stack of documents this high of the (John) E____ case and I’ll read from one of (John) E____’s documents where he says, in the case of comrade Vicky, ‘It illustrated to me that there was little attempt to “advise,” persuade, or convince that comrade rationally, to have the child adopted. In other words, what I observed was uncomradely behaviour, shunning of comrade Vicky, and prolongation of her candidature status while I was in Melbourne and Sydney last year before my departure overseas.’ He’s referring to ‘73-’74. And I’d agree with him.
“Logan in answering (John) E____ simply, you know, talks about the red ogre who steals little children.”
You correctly note that Logan’s March 1973 letter to Robertson https://bolsheviktendency.org/2021/08/10/on-the-logan-show-trial-appendix-a/ proves Robertson knew the essentials about how Vicky was treated almost six years prior to when the story was supposed to have “first emerged” in January 1979….
There is a lot to unpack in this complicated story. But I think that doing so can shed a lot of light on the question of how and when the SL started to go wrong. This is important not only because it is the central political question separating us and the comrades of the IG, but also because of the enormous historical importance of the Spartacist tendency which fought to uphold authentic Trotskyism in the face of the terminal political degeneration of James P. Cannon’s Socialist Workers Party in the early 1960s.
With comradely greetings,