BT Doth Whine Too Much
Editorial Statement Appended
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No.806, 4 July 2003
We reprint below excerpts of a letter
to us that can be found in full on the Bolshevik Tendency
12 June 2003
To the Editor:
The 6 June issue of Workers Vanguard (WV) features two polemics against the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT), both based on gross misrepresentations of our politics. In the account of your 10 May debate with the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), you quote Jon Brules claim that in the late 1980s: The BT retrospectively dumped our slogan of Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! in order to be at one with the anti-Communist left in this country. As Comrade Brule is well aware, we proposed instead Military Victory to the Soviet Army!, a slogan the reformists found no less objectionable. We recall that in the 1960s, the then-revolutionary Spartacist League (SL) called for military victory to the Viet Cong. In the early 1980s the SL also called for military victory to the leftist insurgents in El Salvador....
The second polemic is contained in a speech on the Kurdish question by Comrade Bruce André who claimed to have been left almost speechless by our observation that:
In the present circumstances an independent Kurdish state would find itself in very great difficulty. The situation would be even worse if such a state were limited to a fragment of Kurdish territoryfor example Turkish Kurdistan. Not only would such a mini-state be entirely landlocked and surrounded by its historic oppressors, but it would be a society characterized by backward, pre-capitalist social structures. Because of its underdevelopment, an independent Kurdistan would find itself at the mercy of the regional as well as imperialist powers.
1917 No. 12, 1993
While not disputing our analysis, André asserts that this amounts to pos[ing] preconditions and demanding that, before the Kurds can be independent they must be free of backward social structures and not be at the mercy of imperialist powers. We have never and would never raise such absurd preconditions. To do so would be to reject the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. There is no question that the Kurdish people have an inalienable right to self-determination; the question is how it can be achieved. After pointing out the difficulties involved in any attempt to create an independent capitalist state, our article concluded that the road to national liberation for Kurdistan lies through revolutionary struggle against the neo-colonial regimes of the region:
The Kurdish bourgeoisie is so weak that it does not even pretend to be leading a struggle for Kurdish freedom. This task falls to the Kurdish working class, at the head of the peasants and other oppressed layers. Those militants who are committed to winning equal national rights for Kurds must embrace a strategy of common struggle with the working class of the nations that oppress them. In Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq the struggle against the oppression of the Kurds is closely connected with the overthrow of the bourgeois dictatorships. It is extremely unlikely that the dismembered Kurdish nation can be reunited on any road other than that of the struggle for a socialist federation of the Near East.
...We never opposed independence for Kurdistan. We simply pointed out that Kurdish national liberation will require revolutionary struggle, a conclusion André echoes....
Tom Riley for the International Bolshevik Tendency
Riley and his cohorts defected from our organization in the early 1980s because they could not stomach our hard Soviet-defensist line in the context of Cold War II. Their explicit repudiation of our Hail Red Army slogan in 1988 came as no surprise. As we replied the first time they kvetched about our supposed misrepresentation of their line: What does it mean to call for military victory now, precisely when [Soviet president] Gorbachev & Co. are pulling the Soviet troops out? Its an empty statement to try to cover the fact that youre openly renouncing the Spartacist slogan, Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! (BT Protests Too Much, WV No. 453, 20 May 1988). We explained, Theyre paying the admission price to crawl into the all-Canada popular front: no soft-on-Russia pinkos allowed.
As for the Kurdish question, the difference between us is not over howbut whetherthe Kurds should achieve national self-determination. Nowhere in its 1993 article, including the passage cited by Riley, does the IBT raise the call for an independent Kurdish state, even under proletarian rule. In fact, as we asserted, the IBT is against the call for an independent Kurdistan, as they make very clear in a 1999 article on the arrest of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan headlined Permanent Revolution and Kurdistan: Free Öcalan! Defend the PKK! There they say:
We unconditionally defend the right of the Kurdish nation to self-determination, that is, to establish a separate state, but we do not currently advocate that the Kurds attempt to exercise this right.
This statement is immediately followed by the quote from their 1993 article quoted by Riley above and cited by our comrade. So by their own terms this isnt just a factual observation but an argument against the establishment of a separate Kurdish state.
To defend the Kurdish right to self-determination while opposing an attempt to exercise this right simply means acceptance of the existing state boundaries. In the context of a polemic against the PKK, the IBT writes in its 1993 article:
As Leninists, we of course support the right of national self-determination. We are not opposed in principle [!] to raising this as a demand. But pushing for an independent capitalist Kurdistan against the wishes of the feeble Kurdish bourgeoisie, and with the bulk of the Kurdish people indifferent, makes no sense at all. Moreover, such a perspective could turn Kurdish revolutionaries away from the necessity to participate in, and, if possible, initiate struggles of the workers and peasants against the existing oppressor states.
In The Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1914), Lenin explained that recognition of the right of nations to secede in no way precludes agitation against secession by Marxists of a particular oppressed nation, just as the recognition of the right to divorce does not preclude agitation against divorce in a particular case (emphasis in original). For Leninists, assessing whether or not to advocate independence for a subjugated nation does indeed require concrete analysis. But there could hardly be a clearer case than that of the Kurds, who have struggled for national liberation against overwhelming odds for nearly a century. Calls for joint struggle without unambiguous support for the national aspirations of the oppressed are worse than empty. They can only be a cover for the chauvinist status quo, as is the case as well with the IBTs opposition to our call for independence for Quebec. There will be no joint revolutionary struggle in the Near East if the Arab, Persian and Turkish working masses are not won to the cause of Kurdish independence.
Our starting point and programmatic conclusion are very different from theirs. As comrade André stated: To win independence for the entire Kurdish nation would require the revolutionary destruction of at least four capitalist regimesand accompanying imperialist dominationright across this strategically important region. Thats what we mean by the slogan of a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan. That is the revolutionary perspective we fight for, and what Riley & Co. do not currently advocate.
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 807, 1 August 2003.
In publishing the exchange with the International Bolshevik Tendency (BT) in WV No. 806 (4 July), the editor and other comrades centrally responsible for the production of the paper did not inform comrade James Robertson of the BTs scurrilous, lying smear of him as a chauvinist in a P.S. to a letter ostensibly on the Kurds. Instead we unilaterally decided to excise the P.S. On July 4, the BT surfaced with the P.S. in the form of a leaflet at the Socialist Workers Partys Marxism event in London, sneering that WV implicitly accepts their vile accusations. No we dont! We excised the P.S. because it was a contemptible lie, but in so doing fell into the BTs trap and implied guilt with our evasive silence. Behind this lay a bloodless conception of politics taking as good coin the BTs screed on the Kurds, which was nothing other than a wrapper for a poison pill.
The BTs 4 July leaflet proves that their provocative P.S. was the whole point of their letter. We should have known. The BT could not care less about the Kurds or any other oppressed people. From its inception, the BT has been a dubious outfit with a hostile obsession for the Spartacist League and in particular its founding co-leader, Jim Robertson.
Slanders against leaders of the communist movement are nothing new. They are the stock in trade of opponents of revolutionary Marxism to set up entire organizations for hostile attack and state repression. The method is: kill an organization by chopping off its head.
The Editorial Boards actions flouted the democratic-centralist norms on which the Spartacist League and International Communist League operate. Comrade Robertson is a member of the Editorial Board and Spartacist League National Chairman, and was personally the target of the BT slander. Yet he was never sent a copy of the BT letter including the P.S. Beyond stupid, arrogant and uncomradely, this break in collaboration was an attack on our own revolutionary continuity. The Spartacist League is, and has been from its inception, an organization that says what is, without bowing to petty-bourgeois sensibilities. The actions of the Editorial Board could be borrowed from the practices of centrism, i.e., a divergence between what we stand for and what we do.
Our Declaration of Principles adopted at the 1966 founding conference of the Spartacist League/U.S. cites Trotskys injunction: To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base ones program on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrivesthese are the rules of the Fourth International. Consistent with this purpose, we publicly acknowledge the disservice we have done to our party, to comrade Robertson, and to our readers.