Workers Vanguard No. 1090
20 May 2016
Again on IGs Defense of Popular Front in Brazil
Our front-page article “Brazil Impeachment: Workers Have No Side” in WV No. 1089 (6 May) exposed the Internationalist Group (IG) for its support of the capitalist popular-front government headed by Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) president Dilma Rousseff against the drive to impeach her. Obviously stung, the IG dashed off a scattershot response barely days after WV hit the streets (“SL/ICL Impeached By Its Own Past,” internationalist.org, May 2016). The IG’s haste is matched by its convoluted alibis for defending the Rousseff government in a situation that its own Brazilian comrades describe as a “dispute between two bourgeois forces” that “share the same fundamental program of resolving, the capitalist economic crisis by attacking the working people.”
The IG sneers that the “single count of WV’s indictment” against them is that its call “No to Impeachment” is “a vote of political support for Rousseff’s popular-front government.” (How about a second count of adulating Stalin as commander-in-chief?) In the case of Brazil, it may be one count, but in political terms it is the equivalent of murder in the first degree, i.e., a betrayal of the proletariat. As we wrote last issue:
“To oppose Rousseff’s impeachment would mean a vote of confidence in—that is, political support to—the PT-led popular front. To favor impeachment would amount to support to the right-wing political forces mounted against Rousseff. As Marxists who stand for the political independence of the proletariat, we say the working class has no side in this conflict.”
Deriding our defense of the Marxist principle of working-class independence from the government and all representatives of the capitalist class enemy as “passive neutrality,” the IG proclaims that we have “no program for class struggle in Brazil.” In fact, proletarian political independence is the precondition for workers to fight in their own class interests. It is the IG that has given up on the fighting capacity of the Brazilian working class by calling on workers to defend the Rousseff government. The key task, we wrote, is to “fight to break the proletarian base of the PT and the trade unions away from their current leadership as part of the struggle for socialist revolution and for workers rule.”
Not so for the bold “class warriors” of the IG, which has staked out a position as militant defenders of the PT popular front. Its Brazilian cohorts, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB), call for no less than an “unlimited general strike” to “block impeachment by the nest of corrupt politicians in Congress” as well as “to smash the judiciary/police right-wing threat” and “prevent the budget cuts and sink the privatizations and labor and pension ‘reforms’.” Thus, the workers are to mobilize against the austerity attacks that have been perpetrated by the PT-led popular front by…fighting to keep the head of that government in power! So much for smashing the military, judicial, police and prison apparatus, which was at the core of capitalist rule under Rousseff, just as it is now that she has been suspended from office. Or does the IG consider these forces neutral when commanded by a popular-front government as opposed to right-wing bourgeois parties?
“Pure sophistry,” protests the IG, arguing that far from supporting Rousseff, its opposition to her impeachment is aimed at blocking the “seizure of power” by the “traditional bourgeois right wing.” On May 12, Michel Temer of the bourgeois PMDB did take over the presidency following a Senate vote to suspend Rousseff pending an impeachment trial. The PMDB was one of the bourgeois coalition partners in the PT-led government. Far from “seizing power,” Temer was already the vice president, having been Rousseff’s running mate in 2010 and 2014—and thus next in line for the presidency. In short, the PT-led government paved the way for the growing forces of right-wing reaction aimed at the working class, the poor and the oppressed.
The IG snorts that the LQB, “uniquely on the Brazilian left, opposed the PT-led popular front from the beginning.” Whatever the case, they aren’t opposing it now. We have little idea of the LQB’s actual record on the ground in regard to the PT popular front. The International Communist League severed relations with this outfit when it refused our demand that its leader relinquish his post at the head of a cop-infested union in Volta Redonda. Now they have trouble differentiating themselves from the rest of the popular-front left in Brazil.
In “Brazil’s Opportunist Left Tailing After the Bourgeois Blocs” (internationalist.org, April 2016), the LQB denounces other self-proclaimed socialist organizations for calling the movement to impeach Rousseff a coup. Yet the IG, masters of confusion, denounces us for commenting on its statement that a coup in Brazil is unlikely and leaving out their “explanation of the mounting dangers of an authoritarian regime being installed without a coup d’état”—i.e., through a vote in Congress. Thus the IG parrots classic fight-the-right reformism by supporting the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in its “democratic” popular-front face rather than in its “reactionary” form.
All their “revolutionary” bombast is meant to cover up the plain fact that they have taken a side against impeachment. If they had a representative in the Brazilian Congress, that would mean voting “no,” i.e., a vote to keep the head of the popular front in office. We noted last issue that sometime Trotskyist leader Edmund Samarakkody was confronted with a similar situation in the Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) parliament in 1964. He and one of his comrades voted for an amendment put forward by a right-wing politician that brought about the downfall of a popular-front government. (The amendment condemned the government for failing to protect working people’s living standards.) Samarakkody was roundly denounced for capitulating to the right wing, aiding the forces of imperialist-inspired reaction, etc. He later repudiated his courageous vote.
Today, the IG huffs at our “tortured attempt to contrast saying no to impeachment in Brazil” to “justifying a vote that brought down the government of Sri Lanka in 1964,” a position that IG leader Jan Norden powerfully defended a few decades ago when he was a leading member of our tendency. Trying to square the circle, the IG declares: “We uphold both positions, which are in no way contradictory.” Really?! Samarakkody’s vote was to bring down the popular front. The IG’s “No to Impeachment” position in Brazil upholds the popular front, with arguments that echo those who denounced Samarakkody for his principled action. What changed is that Norden went from being a revolutionary Trotskyist to becoming the leader of a slimy centrist organization that peddles its “class struggle” wares in the shadow of the Brazilian popular front.
The IG finds itself in the uncomfortable position of claiming to find a Marxist precedent for their defense of Rousseff in what they falsely claim was our opposition to the impeachment of U.S. Democratic president Bill Clinton. The IG argues: “By the SL’s current logic, in opposing impeachment it supported Clinton and the Democrats” (emphasis in original). Indeed, that would have been the logic had we opposed the impeachment. The problem for the IG is that we never did! In the article the IG cites as evidence of our opposition to the impeachment, we quoted the following statement from a previous article:
“Bill Clinton is commander in chief of U.S. imperialism, and as such a deadly enemy of working people and minorities in the U.S. and around the world. But we are not indifferent to the anti-sex witchhunt which has now targeted Clinton. The seemingly limitless powers of the Starr chamber to pry into Clinton’s and Lewinsky’s private lives through harassment and intimidation are a threat to the most elementary right to privacy for the population as a whole.”
—“Impeachment Drive Threatens Right to Privacy for All,” WV No. 697, 25 September 1998
This was simply a statement of fact. We also addressed the fact that many in the American ruling class were concerned that impeachment could damage the office of the imperial presidency. After the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton in December 1998, we reiterated the danger of the anti-sex witchhunt while noting that the weakening of the American imperial presidency “would not be a bad thing from the standpoint of the interests of the working class and the oppressed” (“Clinton Impeachment and U.S. Imperialism,” WV No. 704, 8 January 1999).
The IG declares itself the repository of our revolutionary heritage, which they claim ended for us with their cowardly defection from our organization in 1996. To do so requires some not inconsiderable distortion of this heritage. In “SL/ICL Impeached By Its Own Past,” the IG writes: “Back in the days when Workers Vanguard was the voice of revolutionary Trotskyism, the Spartacist League explicitly supported the impeachment of Richard Nixon.” The article disingenuously asks, “According to the present-day SL’s logic, did this mean supporting the Democrats?”
In fact, a large part of our articles on Nixon’s impeachment was devoted to attacking the pro-impeachment left as “useless donkeys” for the Democrats at a time when Nixon was increasingly exposed over the Watergate break-in. We did not raise the call for his impeachment, which, we noted, “can only mean a desire to have another bourgeois ruler.” But as Congress considered impeaching Nixon, we supported this while noting that Watergate was basically a dispute within the capitalist class and insisting that “Impeachment Is Not Enough!” In “What Labor Should Do About Watergate” (WV No. 34, 7 December 1973) we stated: “For his truly enormous crimes against the working class Nixon should be removed from office at once.... A class-struggle answer to Watergate must shift the axis of struggle. The fight to remove Nixon must become a fight not to replace Nixon with Gerald Ford, but a fight to replace the rule of capital with a workers government!” As impeachment hearings dragged on in the summer of 1974, we emphasized our class opposition to this imperialist war criminal by demanding that Nixon be extradited to Hanoi, where he could be tried by his victims.
Our support for Nixon’s impeachment as a means to further the class struggle and weaken the imperial presidency is the antithesis of the IG’s opposition to the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. We’ll leave it to them to continue flailing about trying to explain how supporting a bourgeois government furthers proletarian struggle. Keeping their “hands in the boiling water” in Brazil has so poached the IG/LQB’s brains that they can’t tell the difference between supporting and opposing the class rule of the bourgeoisie.