Spartacist Canada No. 165
Repudiating Our Position on Haiti Earthquake
A Capitulation to U.S. Imperialism
Statement of the International Executive Committee of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)
The following statement was issued on April 27.
In its articles on the Haitian earthquake, Workers Vanguard, the newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S., committed a betrayal of the fundamental principle of opposition to one’s “own” imperialist rulers. In addition to justifying the U.S. imperialist troops as essential to the aid effort, these articles polemicized against the principled and correct position of demanding the immediate withdrawal of the troops. This line was carried in a number of presses in other ICL sections, becoming the de facto line of the International Communist League. Without a public accounting and correction, we would be far down the road to our destruction as a revolutionary party. From the beginning the only revolutionary internationalist position was to demand that all U.S./UN troops get out of Haiti!
In our article in WV No. 951 (29 January), repeated in subsequent issues of the newspaper, we baldly stated:
“The U.S. military is the only force on the ground with the capacity—e.g., trucks, planes, ships—to organize the transport of what food, water, medical and other supplies are getting to Haiti’s population. And they’re doing it in the typical piggish U.S. imperialist manner. We have always opposed U.S. and UN occupations in Haiti and everywhere—and it may become necessary to call for U.S./UN out of Haiti in the near future—but we are not going to call for an end to such aid as the desperate Haitian masses can get their hands on.”
The International Executive Committee of the ICL repudiates this betrayal of our revolutionary program. As stated in the SL/U.S. Programmatic Statement: “We unconditionally oppose all U.S. military intervention—and U.S. military bases—abroad, and defend the colonial, semicolonial and other smaller, less developed countries in the face of U.S./UN attack and embargo.”
Even in very belatedly raising the call for “All U.S./UN Troops Out of Haiti Now!” in WV No. 955 (26 March), we continued to evade and reject the principle of opposition to the U.S. imperialist occupation of neocolonial Haiti. Moreover this article stated: “As we made clear in our article, ‘Haiti Earthquake Horror: Imperialism, Racism and Starvation’ (WV No. 951, 29 January), while we were not for the U.S. military going into Haiti, neither were we going to demand, in the immediate aftermath of that horrific natural disaster, the immediate withdrawal of any forces that were supplying such aid as was reaching the Haitian masses.” In fact, our earlier article had not clearly stated that we were not for the U.S. troops going in nor did it even call the U.S. military takeover what it was.
The U.S. military invasion was designed to provide a “humanitarian” face-lift to bloody U.S. imperialism and was aimed at securing U.S. military control in Haiti and reasserting American imperialist domination over the Caribbean, including against imperialist rivals like France. In failing to oppose the invasion, we also ignored the particular danger this posed to the Cuban deformed workers state (as well as to the bourgeois nationalist-populist regime of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela). We accepted Washington’s line that the provision of aid was inextricably linked to the U.S. military takeover and thus helped to sell the myth peddled by the Democratic Party Obama administration that this was a “humanitarian” mission. Our statement that “it may become necessary to call for U.S./UN out of Haiti in the near future” (emphasis added) amounted to giving conditional support to U.S. military intervention. As one leading party comrade argued, the only difference between the position we took and August 4, 1914, when the German Social Democrats voted war credits to the German imperialist rulers at the outset of the First World War, is that this was not a war.
Thus we gutted the revolutionary internationalist essence of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution linking the fight for social and national liberation to the struggle for proletarian state power both in neocolonial and in more advanced countries. This means educating the proletariat in North America, and internationally, that its class interests lie in actively championing the fight against the imperialist domination of Haiti. Instead our articles did the opposite, promoting illusions in U.S. imperialist “democracy” as the savior of the Haitian people. We all but echoed Barack Obama as he dispatched imperialist combat troops, including elements of the 82nd Airborne Division and a Marine expeditionary unit. One doubts that we could so easily have taken such a position if the Republican Bush administration were still in the White House.
In its latest article, “SL Twists and Turns on Haiti” (Internationalist, 9 April), the centrist Internationalist Group (IG) writes: “While support to imperialist occupation is a small step for reformists, who only seek to modify imperialist policies rather than to bring down the imperialist system, in the case of the SL/ICL it should be harder to digest.” Indeed it is. For its part, the IG treated the earthquake as an opening for revolution in Haiti, asserting: “This small but militant proletariat can place itself at the head of the impoverished urban and rural masses seeking to organize their own power, particularly at present where the machinery of the capitalist state is largely reduced to rubble and a few marauding bands of police” (“Haiti: Workers Solidarity, Yes! Imperialist Occupation, No!” Internationalist, 20 January).
Instead of simply exposing the IG’s Third Worldist fantasies, we concentrated in our polemics on zealous apologies for the U.S. imperialist military intervention, a position to the right of the IG. These centrist apologists for Third World nationalism quite correctly characterized our position as “social imperialist”—socialist in words, support for imperialism in deeds. This is a bitter pill to swallow. Only through a savage indictment of our line can we avoid the alternative of going down the road that led the founders of the IG to defect from our organization in the pursuit of forces other than the proletariat. In their case, this has ranged from remnants of the Stalinist bureaucracy that sold out to imperialist counterrevolution in the DDR to Latin American nationalists and left-talking trade-union bureaucrats.
In the context of polemics with the IG, Workers Vanguard misused the authority of the revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky in order to alibi support to an imperialist occupation. In his 1938 article “Learn to Think,” Trotsky argued that one should not always put a minus where the bourgeoisie puts a plus. He was referring not to a military occupation force but to instances where an imperialist government might send military aid to anti-colonialist fighters. Moreover, Trotsky’s reference in this article to workers fraternizing with an army called in to fight a fire manifestly did not refer to a situation like Haiti where U.S. imperialist troops were invading a neocolonial country, an act which Leninists unconditionally oppose on principle.
However, neither do revolutionaries foster illusions in such non-military aid as capitalist governments may provide. In responding to the U.S. imperialist invasion of Haiti following the earthquake, we would have done well to look to the position of our Australian section in 2005 responding to the imperialist “aid” intervention in Indonesia, specifically the secessionist province of Aceh, following the tsunami. Demanding “Australian/all imperialist military/cops get out of Aceh now!” an article in Australasian Spartacist titled “Australian Imperialists Seize on Tsunami Catastrophe” (No. 190, Autumn 2005) indicted imperialist aid programs. The article pointed out that “whatever short-term benefit a part of them may provide to a small number of oppressed people,” such aid is “always aimed at reinforcing neocolonial subjugation of the Third World masses.”
The “Politics of the Possible”
From the time of our tendency’s inception as a left opposition within the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the early 1960s, we have recognized that national isolation must in short order destroy any subjectively revolutionary formation, not least one subjected to the pressures of operating in the heartland of world imperialism, the United States. Genuine proletarian internationalism means disciplined international collaboration, without which we cannot successfully counter the powerful pull of nationalist opportunism.
The handmaiden to our embellishment of U.S. imperialist intervention was the abrogation of international democratic centralism. The role of propaganda as the scaffolding of a revolutionary party is to publish the line of the party as decided through discussion and motions by the party leadership. Prior to going into print opposing the call for “troops out of Haiti” in WV No. 951, the SL/U.S. Political Bureau and the International Secretariat (the resident administrative body of the IEC) abdicated responsibility by not holding an organized discussion and vote, instead setting our line through informal consultation. However, once the line was published in Workers Vanguard it was picked up by many of the ICL’s other sectional presses, indicating that there was little initial disagreement.
A meeting of the I.S. on March 18 did at last vote to call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. and United Nations troops. However, the motions adopted at that meeting, which became the basis for the article in WV No. 955, reaffirmed that “we were correct in not calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.” In stating that “the particular exceptional circumstances that obtained two months ago no longer exist,” the motions also continued to insist that conditional defense of the U.S. military invasion was correct in the immediate conjuncture of a natural disaster. Moreover, while criticizing the formulation that the U.S. military was the only force on the ground with the wherewithal to deliver aid, the I.S. motions did not mandate a public correction of this statement. This kind of dishonesty was condemned by James P. Cannon, founder of American Trotskyism. In addressing a situation where the Trotskyist SWP at its 1954 convention needed to acknowledge mistakes, he noted: “You know, the Stalinists make more changes, and more rapid and drastic changes, than any other party in history. But they never say: ‘We made a mistake.’ They always say: ‘The situation has changed.’ We should be more precise and more honest.”
Menshevism often takes the guise of “realism” and “expediency.” Looking to come up with a “concrete solution” in a situation where there was no such solution from a proletarian revolutionary vantage point, we capitulated. What our small revolutionary party had to put forward was a proletarian internationalist perspective for the liberation of Haiti, above all through opposition to our “own” imperialist rulers. In the immediate situation, the only concrete expression of such a program was negative—to demand that any and all Haitian refugees be allowed into the U.S. with full citizenship rights, to oppose any deportations of Haitians who had made it here and above all to demand all U.S./UN troops out.
Our articles distorted reality in order to justify the American military presence. We correctly criticized the reformists for spreading illusions in the imperialist governments by demanding that they provide “aid, not troops” but our own response was worse. Our articles presented U.S. military intervention as the only “realistic” way for the Haitian masses to get “aid” and claimed demagogically that withdrawal of U.S. combat troops “would result in mass death through starvation.” This was to treat the question not from the standpoint of Marxist program, but through the liberal lens of “disaster relief.” Michael Harrington—the former leader of the Democratic Socialists of America and adviser to the “war on poverty” programs of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Democratic Party administration—captured the core of such a social-democratic worldview with the expression, “the left wing of the possible.”
The “politics of the possible” is a palpable pressure in the period of post-Soviet reaction, where revolution—or even, particularly in the U.S., militant class struggle—appears remote and there is an overwhelming absence of resonance for our political views. There is a yawning abyss between what we stand for and the consciousness of the working class and young radicals, even those who claim to be socialist. As we have noted, it has been very difficult to maintain our revolutionary continuity and very easy to have it destroyed.
The Fight to Maintain a Revolutionary Perspective
In fighting against the Cochranite opposition in the then-revolutionary American Socialist Workers Party in the early 1950s, James P. Cannon argued:
“The revolutionary movement, under the best conditions, is a hard fight, and it wears out a lot of human material. Not for nothing has it been said a thousand times in the past: ‘The revolution is a devourer of men.’ The movement in this, the richest and most conservative country in the world, is perhaps the most voracious of all.
“It is not easy to persist in the struggle, to hold on, to stay tough and fight it out year after year without victory; and even, in times such as the present, without tangible progress. That requires theoretical conviction and historical perspective as well as character. And, in addition to that, it requires association with others in a common party.”
—“Trade Unionists and Revolutionists,” 11 May 1953
The example of the degeneration of the SWP from a revolutionary party through centrism to abject reformism is instructive. The party endured more than a decade of stagnation and isolation during the anti-Communist witchhunt. Seeing their role reduced essentially to a holding operation in the citadel of U.S. imperialism, aging party cadre like those in the Cochran wing gave up on a revolutionary perspective. The SWP majority under Cannon and Farrell Dobbs fought to preserve the revolutionary continuity of Trotskyism against this liquidationism. But they themselves were not immune from the deforming pressures that led the Cochranites to split.
Four years later, in 1957, the SWP supported the introduction of federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas—the end result of which was the crushing of local black self-defense efforts against the howling racist mobs fighting school integration. Painting U.S. troops as reliable defenders of black people engendered significant opposition within the party in the 1950s, particularly from Richard Fraser whose program of revolutionary integrationism as the road to black freedom in the U.S. we take as our own. But the wrong line was never corrected and the view of the U.S. imperialist army as the only “realistic” force to defend civil rights protesters in the Jim Crow South against racist terror deepened. By 1964 the SWP had adopted the grotesque campaign slogan, “Withdraw the Troops from Viet Nam and Send Them to Mississippi!” By 1965, the SWP had thrown overboard the last remnant of a revolutionary opposition to imperialism, promoting the reformist lie that a classless peace movement could stop U.S. imperialism’s dirty war against the Vietnamese workers and peasants.
The young SWP cadre in the Revolutionary Tendency who fought the party’s degeneration were the founding leaders of our organization. Recognizing where the SWP went, and holding it up as a mirror of where we could go without correcting our mistakes and the outright betrayal of our revolutionary internationalist program in response to the Haiti earthquake, is part of the fight to preserve this continuity with Cannon’s revolutionary party that extends back to Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks.
But the ability to make such a correction is hardly cause for celebration. It merely lays the basis for political rectification. We crossed the class line and the urgent necessity is to reassert and struggle to maintain the proletarian internationalist program of Leninism.