“State Department Socialists”

LRP Exposes Itself

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 805, 6 June 2003.

Some 200 people attended a public debate between the Spartacist League and the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) on May 10 in New York City, titled “The Fight Against Imperialist War: Which Way Forward?” In a 23 May Web posting, the LRP announced with typical bombast, “LRP Trounces SL in Imperialism Debate.” The postscript to the LRP’s account reads: “We have no doubt the Spartacists will claim to have won a great victory over the LRP in the debate.” It is difficult to imagine just how one could claim “great victory” on the basis of defending elementary Leninism and Trotskyism against the vicarious “Third World” nationalism and garden-variety reformist practice—occasionally masked by radical-sounding rhetoric—of this minuscule “third camp” outfit.

Given that the Trotskyist Spartacist League and the LRP were literally on opposite sides of the barricades during Cold War II, much of the debate necessarily had the quality of ships passing in the night. The LRP’s forebears—the petty-bourgeois opposition led by Max Shachtman within the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in 1939-40—took flight from the Trotskyist program for unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union under the pressures of petty-bourgeois public opinion. SWP leader James P. Cannon’s injunction that when you touch the Russian question, you touch the question of proletarian revolution—if you go wrong on the Russian question, you necessarily lose your compass and will deviate on every other key question—was fully borne out by the LRP’s performance at the debate.

As our comrade Don Alexander explained in his presentation at the debate (see page 7), the LRP’s “theory” of “statified capitalism” goes back to such renegades from Marxism as Karl Kautsky, who was a vehement opponent of the Russian Revolution. “State capitalism,” in all its variants, does enormous violence to Marxism. It is neither based on scientific socialism nor does it explain or predict anything of value. It is merely a “theoretical” justification for capitulating to one’s “own” bourgeoisie and abandoning the defense of the most important gains of the international working class.

In our fight for working-class liberation, we uphold the beliefs and values of rational humanism which underlie Marxism. We stand by Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto which stated: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” That is, that the fundamental division in modern society is between classes and their relationship to the means of production. Not so the LRP. With their grotesque and vicarious enthusing over ghetto upheavals and petty-bourgeois Arab nationalism, the LRP seeks to pander to those who share the 1960s New Left “white skin privilege” outlook—that the most fundamental division in the world is between the impoverished and oppressed dark-skinned peoples and the “privileged” white peoples in North America and West Europe. But where many New Leftists at least had a healthy gut hatred for the racist capitalist status quo, the LRP devotes its energies primarily to opportunist tailing after pro-Democratic Party “antiwar” movements and union-suing labor bureaucrats.

LRP: Trade Union Opportunism and Vicarious Nationalism

“Nothing would have dealt a blow to Washington’s war drive against Iraq than a strike shutting down the capital of world imperialism, and that’s what almost happened last December when transit workers voted unanimously to strike,” LRP speaker Matthew Richardson said in his presentation. True enough. But the LRP in its own small way helped boost New Directions (ND) leader Roger Toussaint, who deep-sixed a New York transit strike, into the presidency of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100. Speaking in support of the Spartacist League from the floor of the debate, a militant transit worker pointed out:

“As soon as Toussaint and New Directions won, they continued courting the Democrats—Hillary Clinton, Schumer and all the candidates for mayor. Toussaint even invited the head of the PBA [Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association] to speak at union rallies. After 9/11 this president—who the LRP supporter voted for—put American flags on every union T-shirt and button, supported the ‘war on terror’ and preached national unity.”

The LRP’s professed “anti-imperialism” has more to do with liberalism turned inside out than anything Lenin or Trotsky ever fought for. The LRP tails bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalism from the Near East to Ireland, promoting the notion of “progressive” and “reactionary” peoples—the latter having no rights, the former supposedly incapable of carrying out any atrocities (see “LRP: Apologists for Arab Nationalism,” WV No. 796, 31 January). A Spartacist spokesman said from the floor:

“We are for an international communist classless society. To that end, in Lenin’s words, we are for the unity of the workers of all nations on the basis of class against class. That means we are against all national privilege, that means we are for the right to self-determination for all nations. Now, in a case of interpenetrated peoples—I know the LRP believes that bourgeois democracy can accomplish wonders—but you cannot always get such democratic rights realized under capitalism. So, no, the democratic right of self-determination of the Hebrews and the Palestinian Arabs cannot be satisfied under capitalism. Your conclusion is one wins, the other loses. Our conclusion is international socialist revolution.

“The LRP, aside from the Zionist Ministry of Information, are about the only two entities in the world who don’t seem to acknowledge that Israel has several hundred nuclear weapons. So you want to deny them their national rights? Get those weapons!”

A young leftist speaking from the floor at the debate was ignored by the LRP when he pointedly asked:

“You claim that in the ’48 war you took a side with the Arab bourgeoisie because they’re anti-imperialist. How can the Arab bourgeoisie be anti-imperialist when the governments of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and pretty much every other Arab government in the Middle East was either a puppet government of either the French imperialists or the British imperialists?... How can they be anti-imperialist, and how can you say that Hebrew-speaking Jews, especially those that were forced to flee to Palestine by British imperialism and were kicked out of Europe and banished and forced to go to Palestine after the Holocaust, how can you say that these people are no different than the Afrikaner fascists in South Africa? To me that’s ludicrous. Your position of all Israel is occupied territory is basically saying, ‘These people don’t have a right to live’.”

“Thank You, Greg”

In his presentation, Richardson intoned that although a united working-class struggle against racism is the “strongest and most preferable answer,” “it’s not going to happen any time soon and it would be criminal to tell black people to pin their hopes on an interracial defense that won’t come in time to save them.” God forbid the role of revolutionary leadership is to actually fight for such a strategy.

Instead, the audience was treated to the sickening spectacle of one after another LRP speaker hailing “ghetto riots” as a strategy for struggle. A former supporter of the Black Panther Party and new member of the Labor Black League, which is fraternally allied with the SL, commented after the debate that the LRP sounded much like the “pork-chop nationalists” the Panthers denounced, and said: “I can’t believe some of the LRP’s rhetoric. Where are they in the black areas? They are armchair revolutionaries.”

At the debate, a young woman cadre of the SL and Spartacus Youth Club explained, “The LRP looks to the black ghetto revolts because they don’t see the possibility of building a revolutionary party that is integrated and internationalist. They say that black people should not wait for white workers, and they lump the white workers with the racist ruling class. This objectively helps the bourgeoisie to keep the working class divided.”

In contrast, we fight to mobilize labor to defend the ghetto masses. During the 1992 upheaval in Los Angeles following the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King, the Partisan Defense Committee issued a statement declaring: “The working class must not allow the black population to be isolated—the powerful L.A. unions such as longshore, aerospace and city workers should organize work stoppages and mass mobilizations to solidarize with and defend the black community as the LAPD looks to spill more blood to ‘celebrate’ their racist victory over Rodney King” (see WV supplement, 4 May 1992). The statement also explained: “The point is not to seize articles of consumption but to expropriate the means of production. That’s a big leap, representing the shift in consciousness from that of outraged poor people to that of conscious and organized working people.”

An SL floor speaker ripped apart the LRP’s empty cheering over the ghetto upheavals:

“Yes, there are spontaneous outbursts of rage and yes, they are understandable. And from ’64 on, we defended them. 1964: we stand with the ghetto masses in defense but recognize that this is not a program. 1964 we organized a defense rally when Harlem was under siege by the cops—a thousand in the garment center. We sought labor defense of the ghetto masses, linking the ghetto to the factory floor where minority workers have real social power....

“Look at the neighborhoods where those ghetto rebellions happened. What was the outcome? Whole swathes of neighborhoods destroyed and never rebuilt. We care about the people that were killed and we care about those destroyed neighborhoods. Not you!

“What was the real gain of those rebellions? Black mayors, Democratic Party mayors in cities across the country for the purpose of keeping a lid on struggle. One of those mayors, Wilson Goode, ordered the bombing of the MOVE family in 1985. We held a defense rally in their support. You came and spit on it!”

Richardson’s summary remarks exposed just how despairing the LRP’s nonexistent program for black liberation is: Spartacist spokesmen from the floor nailed the LRP for promoting as a “united front” an October 1999 “tolerance for the Klan” demonstration in New York City built by Democratic politician Al Sharpton, the International Socialist Organization and...the cops of the Latino Officers Association (LOA), who even invited the race-terrorists to share their sound system. This was organized in explicit opposition to the “Stop the Klan” labor/black mobilization initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee. Richardson devoted a fair chunk of his summary to trying to justify the LRP’s support for a “united front” with the LOA cops in order to “expose” them! In the aftermath of the NYPD killing of black unionist Alberta Spruill, the LRP issued a leaflet lamenting that Sharpton, as “the city’s most prominent opponent of police brutality,” had failed to lead the struggle against Mayor Bloomberg.

To cover their tracks, the LRP routinely tries to portray the SL as racist, Zionist, “first-world chauvinist,” etc. One of their speakers at the debate claimed that we have a line “like Pat Buchanan’s” on immigration. A Spartacist spokesman refuted this garbage:

“Every country where we have a section, we are known for our fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. The LRP’s call for unlimited immigration and before that for open borders is basically a call on the imperialist nation-state to dissolve itself—not unusual for a group that calls on the bourgeois state to provide full employment and even to expropriate itself. This is counterposed to Leninism. And Lenin specifically polemicized against ‘Open the frontiers.’ Behind the LRP’s line is the premise that the imperialist order can be made more democratic and egalitarian.”

For us Marxists, debates are an opportunity for a clash of political opinions aimed at clarifying differences within the workers movement and raising the consciousness of workers and radicalized youth. With its lies and slanders, the LRP degrades polemical debate with the aim of obfuscation and confusion. They have whined that none of their “five questions” were answered at the debate. The LRP’s “questions”—like “Are you for Israeli minority apartheid rule or Israeli ethnic cleansing?”—were politically analogous to “when did you stop beating your wife?” In fact, a young activist around the Black Radical Congress told us afterward that he left the debate early because he could no longer stomach the LRP’s fabrications.

Lies and slanders are but the opening step to encouraging and justifying violence against political opponents in the workers movement. The Stalinophobic LRP apes the methodology of the Stalinists—though with its tiny handful of followers, the LRP could hardly emulate Stalin. It was impossible for Stalin to defend his anti-revolutionary doctrine of “socialism in one country” from any Marxist vantage point. When lying was no longer sufficient, Stalin brought down the fist of violence.

As a footnote to the above: while smearing the SL as anti-immigrant chauvinists, the LRP embraced an “independent” speaker who is an anti-immigrant chauvinist—one Greg Butler of Gangbox: Construction Workers News Service. In his tirade, Butler ridiculed the notion of “some unity between black and white workers” in integrating the construction trades, instead lauding the use of “baseball bats and chains” and “busting heads.” The next LRP speaker began his comments by saying, “Thank you, Greg, for your contribution.” Another LRP speaker said, “I want to really solidarize with what Greg said.”

Perhaps the LRP also solidarizes with what Greg says on his Gangbox Web site? In a 29 December 1999 posting, Butler acknowledges that his “baseball bats” were an auxiliary to the use of anti-union lawsuits under the auspices of “an unlikely ally, one Richard M. Nixon” and his administration’s union-busting “preferential hiring” Philadelphia Plan. And in response to an Internet letter dated 3 October 2002 insisting that “if the ‘workers of the world’ are to unite, we need to rise above the borderline mentality,” Butler replied the next day that “mass immigration benefits BOSSES on both sides of the border, and hurts WORKERS on both sides of the border.” On 5 October 2002, he stressed the need to “disable the flow of cheap labor that depresses wages and working conditions.” In the same posting, Butler ranted: “Ever wonder why the jails in every state (even heavily White states like Oregon) are packed with Black men? It’s in large part due to immigration”!

“First World” chauvinism, indeed!

BT & IG: Bringing Up the LRP’s Rear

While disgusting charges of “chauvinism” and worse were flung with abandon by the LRP and speakers sympathetic to them, the LRP had backup from other quarters, namely the Bolshevik Tendency (BT) and the Internationalist Group (IG). The BT chimed in, attacking “the Spartacist League’s adaptation to social-patriotism.” Not to be left out, an IG spokesman attacked us for “capitulation to U.S. imperialism,” ad nauseam.

While the BT and IG formally disagree with the Shachtmanites of the LRP on the Russian question, they have much in common. The BT cut and ran from our hard Soviet-defensist line at the start of Cold War II in the 1980s. And the IG was sent spiraling into cyberspace and a global search for alien class forces in the aftermath of the destruction of the Soviet Union, having despaired at the prospect of winning the working class to revolutionary consciousness. This debate between the anti-Soviet LRP and the Trotskyist SL clearly put the IG in a bind. IG supremo Jan Norden had to devote the bulk of his intervention to denouncing Shachtmanism only so that one of his comrades could get up and sound indistinguishable from the LRP in chauvinist-baiting the SL. Such is the price of admission into the anti-Spartacist opportunist swamp.

Explaining why we call the Shachtmanite LRP “State Department socialists,” a Spartacist floor speaker also demolished the “anti-imperialist” posturing of the IG and BT:

“We’ve gotten a lot of guff today about how the SL isn’t for the defeat of imperialism. This is really rich, coming from the LRP. You couldn’t even be for the defeat of the Nazi imperialists by the Soviet Red Army! You weren’t for the defeat of American imperialism by China and North Korea, either. You were so afraid that the El Salvador rebels [in the 1980s] were tainted by Stalinist germs that you weren’t for their military victory. You gave them ‘military support.’ What does that mean—shoot the other side in the feet, not the head?

“You don’t like the ‘State Department’? Sorry, but the State Department, Ronald Reagan and the LRP all said the same thing about Afghanistan: Red Army out! That ain’t defeat of imperialism, baby, and as far as the BT and the Internationalist Group are concerned, you’re not so hot on Afghanistan, either. 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. Ditto the IG, when they initiated an action at Hunter College during the [2001] war in Afghanistan and had not one word to say about ‘Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!’ So nuts to you people and your ‘defeat imperialism’.”

The LRP’s bag of tricks on the Russian question included such outlandish allegations as: the Soviet Red Army took the side of the CIA-backed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan in the 1980s; the Wall Street Journal was for the crushing of counterrevolutionary Polish Solidarnosc; the Spartacist League called for the USSR to stage a nuclear attack on China. Manifestly, no lie is too big for this little league.

Responding to one of these absurd charges, our floor speaker continued:

“Here’s a picture of a young woman in the 1980s fighting in the militia when the Soviet Union was in the country. She’s got a Kalashnikov. Do you know the difference between that and a woman in a head-to-toe veil? That was the difference in the two sides in the war in Afghanistan.”

As for Polish Solidarnosc and the Wall Street Journal, to paraphrase Trotsky, even slander should make some sense! Could this be the same Wall Street Journal which in a 29 September 1981 editorial entitled “Communists and the AFL-CIO” directly threatened us for protesting the opening of a Solidarnosc office in New York at the headquarters of “democratic socialist” Al Shanker’s teachers union a few days earlier? The editorial noted our demonstration and warned: “Anyone seeking to delegitimize” the AFL-CIO tops’ support for Solidarnosc “should be aware of just how serious an attack he is launching.”

Regarding our supposed call for a Soviet nuclear attack on China, the LRP cited as “evidence” the following from WV No. 226 (2 March 1979), written at the time of China’s invasion of Vietnam:

“As for Moscow’s ultimate option, there is much that it could do to bring China around if Brezhnev & Co. were really committed to the international solidarity they cynically profess. Peking has an extremely narrow nuclear establishment, all of it targeted by the USSR. Likewise the Chinese oil industry is extremely vulnerable even to a surgical attack by conventional forces in Sinkiang and Manchuria. And the Russian bureaucracy could find its hand forced so that it must take action, not out of devotion to defending the gains of the Vietnamese Revolution but rather in order to ensure its own survival.”

The invasion was tacitly supported by Washington and we were serious about the Soviet Union honoring its treaty with Vietnam. In a press release announcing a demonstration outside the Chinese Mission to the UN, we said, “China is acting as the spearhead of a renewed drive by U.S. imperialism against the Soviet Union and the working people of Indochina,” and raised the call: “China: Get Out of Vietnam Now! Don’t Be a Cat’s Paw for U.S. Imperialism!” We denounced the reactionary nationalism of the Stalinist bureaucracies in both Beijing and Moscow, and called for communist unity against imperialism. The WV article quoted above also noted: “In calling on the USSR to honor its treaty with Vietnam we are addressing the Soviet masses, calling on them to break with Brezhnev’s capitulationist policy of détente with the imperialists and to remove the bureaucracy through workers political revolution.”

The LRP’s hostility to the degenerated and deformed workers states is a reflection of its hostility to Leninism and to the fight for a Leninist vanguard party to lead the proletariat to power. As a Spartacist floor speaker put it:

“The core premise of revolutionary Marxism is that the role of the revolutionary party is to bring revolutionary consciousness into the working class without which you can have splendid, inspiring, self-sacrificing struggle, but you will not have an overturn of property relations and the construction of a socialist egalitarian society without revolutionary consciousness....

“Your view is that consciousness develops spontaneously from the class struggle and you have explicitly renounced Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? and denounced the Spartacist League as condescending ‘middle-class saviors’ for taking up Lenin’s fight. Then I have a suggestion for you: If revolutionary consciousness is spontaneously generated, why don’t you disband?”

When we first debated Sy Landy in 1973, his Revolutionary Socialist League—the LRP’s predecessor—had just emerged from the social-democratic International Socialists, proclaiming themselves “born again” Trotskyists. We noted: “For the past fifteen years, Landy has been fighting as a Shachtmanite against Trotskyism. Now he comes here and claims he was born two months ago” (WV No. 27, 31 August 1973). Thirty years of Cold War and counterrevolutionary defeats later, the LRP is a hardened anti-Communist outfit that espouses in place of Marxism all manner of petty-bourgeois nationalism and trade-union opportunism. At bottom, the difference between the Spartacist League and the LRP comes down to this: We fight for new October Revolutions and they don’t.

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