Workers Vanguard No. 916

6 June 2008


Note to IG: When in Hole, Stop Digging

When Jan Norden and his coterie departed from our ranks in 1996 to form the Internationalist Group (IG), this “action faction,” whose opportunist proclivities had earlier been constrained by our Marxist program and discipline, became free to pursue various get-rich-quick schemes, centered on tailing Stalinist has-beens, Latin American nationalists and left-talking labor bureaucrats. They have become shameless in their support for International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 Executive Board member Jack Heyman. In February, Heyman authored a motion—which was sponsored by Bay Area Local 10—for the longshore Coast Caucus that called for a May 1 port shutdown and “an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East.” But that motion’s content was immediately dumped by ILWU International president Bob McEllrath, who declared the projected action’s aim to be “support for the troops by bringing them home safely”—only from Iraq, i.e., not from Afghanistan, the occupation universally supported by the Democrats.

In a 15 May posting on their Web site (“‘Workers Vanguard’ Brings Up the Rear—The Opportunist Left and the Port Strike Against the War: The Sound of One Hand Clapping”), the IG declares us “schizophrenic” for stating the truth about the May Day action in WV No. 914 (9 May):

“The ILWU port shutdown points the way to the kind of working-class action that needs to be mobilized against the bloody U.S. imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But the ILWU leadership politically undermined this action by channeling the ranks’ anger at the Iraqi occupation and desire to defend the union into pro-Democratic Party ‘national unity’ patriotism.”

What particularly gored the IG’s ox is that we exposed its role in the syphilitic chain that keeps labor tied to the capitalists and their political parties. The IG covers for Heyman, who in turn covers for the ILWU International tops, who in turn chain the union to the Democratic Party of U.S. imperialism. Shortly after announcing the May Day action, the ILWU International announced its endorsement of Barack Obama for president.

The ILWU International bureaucrats, using Heyman as their tool, effectively maneuvered to make a statement of union power to the Pacific Maritime Association bosses in the midst of contract negotiations, while at the same time striking a posture that longshore workers are “supporting the troops,” in the words of ILWU International president McEllrath in a May 1 press statement, and “loyal to America,” as opposed to “foreign” shipping companies that “aren’t loyal or accountable to any country.” Making up its own reality, the IG gushingly portrays this contradictory outcome as an unequivocal blow against U.S. imperialism and its political parties.

The IG in League with Social-Patriotism

To bolster its claims, the IG repeatedly cites Heyman’s original February motion. But except for one leaflet issued by Heyman on April 17 in his own name—“One Longshoreman’s Opinion”—the content of that motion, including opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan, never saw the light of day in any official union May Day announcements (including those by the Port Workers Organizing Committee led by Heyman and others in Local 10). Heyman himself wrote an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle (9 April) that said nothing about the International’s patriotic basis for the action or its endorsement of Obama.

Citing our statement that the ILWU bureaucracy undermined the union’s action by channeling the ranks’ anger into pro-Democratic Party patriotism, the IG responded: “That’s certainly what the ILWU tops sought to do.” Sought to do?! That’s exactly what they did, with the complicity of Heyman. With over 600,000 Iraqis killed and an entire country’s infrastructure virtually wiped out, Heyman, in his April 17 leaflet that the IG uncritically reprinted in its Internationalist (19 April), described “support the troops” as a “trap” that “doesn’t do them any favors—it ends up with the flag draped over coffins.” At an April 29 press conference, Heyman provided a social-patriotic echo of the ILWU International’s red-white-and-blue patriotism, saying, “we want the troops home.”

At the ILWU May Day rally in San Francisco organized by Heyman (who also co-emceed) and other Local 10 bureaucrats, McEllrath’s chauvinist May 1 statement was read from the platform, declaring that “longshore workers” are “loyal to America” and “won’t stand by while our country, our troops, and our economy are destroyed” by the war. The purpose of this rally was not class-struggle opposition to the capitalist system that breeds war, but class collaboration to promote the lie that capitalist “democracy” is the road to peace. That is why the rally was politically dominated by capitalist politicians like black Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney and Congressional candidates Cindy Sheehan and Democrat Shirley Golub.

The IG Taking a Side—Not

In our article in WV No. 914, we underlined that in the lead-up to the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq the international working class had a duty to stand for these countries’ military defense, while politically opposing the Taliban reactionaries and Saddam Hussein’s bloody capitalist regime. We stated that today, “insofar as the forces on the ground in Iraq aim their fire at the occupiers and their Iraqi lackeys, we call for their military defense against U.S. imperialism, while vehemently opposing Islamic fundamentalism, nationalism and the communal slaughter devastating the Iraqi population.”

For years, the IG has issued bombastic proclamations calling to militarily “Defeat U.S. Imperialism.” But now, as we noted in WV No. 914, amid the ILWU bureaucracy’s calls to “support our troops,” the IG disappeared in its 3 May article its ostensible position of military defense of those fighting against the U.S. occupiers. The IG responded by citing…an April 19 article that stated: “Revolutionaries fight to drive the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan—which will be anything but orderly, as the U.S.’ exit from Vietnam showed—by workers action.” This only proves our point. Conveniently omitted is any mention of military defense of those fighting against “our troops.”

Likewise, we exposed that the IG’s 3 May article did not even note that the ILWU dispatched longshoremen to work military cargo at the Concord Naval Weapons Station during a port shutdown against the Iraq occupation! In its response, the IG all but dismissed this: it was just “a few longshoremen” who were dispatched and, besides, “the fact remains that shipping was shut down.” In fact, this confirms the “support the troops” politics around which the ILWU bureaucrats organized this action.

The IG on Obama: The Sound of One Hand Clapping

In its 15 May article, the IG huffs that it is a “travesty” that we criticize Heyman or say that the IG “uncritically enthuses” over him. The IG doesn’t deny its praise for Heyman. They are simply covering for this left-talking bureaucrat while he covers for the ILWU International’s support to Obama and the Democrats. It is quite a statement that in three lengthy articles on the ILWU action, all the IG could say about the ILWU’s endorsement of Obama is that it “hurts rather than helps the struggle against imperialist war.”

The IG all but claims that support to the Democrats is limited to the ILWU International bureaucrats. They write that the Coast Caucus delegates voting for the May Day action “loudly denounced the Democrats in the discussion.” But as Heyman himself stated, delegates were “angered after supporting Democrats who received a mandate to end the war but who now continue to fund it” (San Francisco Chronicle, 9 April). This anger, which is widespread among liberal supporters of the Democratic Party, expresses illusions in the Democrats, not a break from “lesser evilism” based on opposition to capitalism. It is telling that in the face of massive illusions and voter turnout for the Democratic primaries, the IG has not posted a single article on the elections, quite a feat of evasion for an election year in which a black man or a woman is bound to be the Democratic nominee.

Marxists seek to transform workers’ discontent into revolutionary class consciousness—i.e., the understanding that the capitalist order has to be overthrown through socialist revolution. This requires a political struggle against prevailing illusions in the capitalist system, its state and political parties. With the IG one hears an echo of late 19th-century reformist Eduard Bernstein, who argued that the movement is everything and the goal of socialism nothing. In Reform or Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg replied that “from the revisionist standpoint,” the struggle for working-class rule is “impossible and useless. And therefore, trade-union and parliamentary activity are to be carried on by the party only for their immediate results.”

The Not-So-Strange Case of Jan Norden

In its response to our article on the ILWU port shutdown, the IG adds a postscript of sorts titled “The Strange Case of Bill Logan,” presently the leader of the dubious International Bolshevik Tendency (BT). Logan is a sociopath who used his authority as the leader of our Australian section in the 1970s to interfere in the most intimate aspects of comrades’ personal lives. Following a trial at our first international conference in 1979, he was expelled after conference delegates voted unanimously that Logan “cannot be and should never have been a member of a working-class organization.” But in common pursuit of Heyman, and as an entry ticket into the anti-Spartacist swamp, the IG is now cozy with Logan and the BT.

When Logan masqueraded as a bona fide “workers’ leader” at a Bay Area “Labor Conference to Stop the War” last October, at which Heyman was a leading light, a Spartacist floor speaker protested that Logan had no place at this or any working-class gathering. Heyman defended Logan against our supposed “personal slanders.” Norden, who is seldom at a loss for words (and who spoke after our comrade not before, as the IG claims in its article), said nothing about Logan’s crimes (see “Labor Opportunists, Renegades Embrace Bill Logan,” WV No. 901, 26 October 2007). Instead, the IG brags that Norden responded to Logan “politically” while we “screeched…about the crimes Logan committed 29 years ago.” In other words, they legitimized this sociopath—it’s like lecturing Jack the Ripper on the need for women’s liberation and free medical care!

In a footnote to their Logan piece, the IG states that when present-day IG leaders were in our organization, they voted for Logan’s expulsion in 1979, and “we have never had reason to revise our opinion of his guilt.” Yet in its article the IG writes that for the ICL to publish our two-part bulletin, The Logan Dossier (August 2007), “totaling over 400 printed pages, at a price of $10, reflects their increasingly bizarre/skewed priorities.” Our exposure of Logan, who is the very antithesis of everything communism stands for, is integral to our purpose of arming the working class with the consciousness and leadership necessary to sweep away this deeply inhumane capitalist system.

Not so for the IG, consummate opportunists, for whom the struggle for revolutionary consciousness is a matter of footnotes, far less important than cozying up to left-talking labor fakers. Norden and Heyman are cosmeticians working to cover up the evidence of the syphilitic chain that runs from them straight to the Democratic Party (with the BT functioning more as a spirochete organism). The standard method of centrists like the IG requires a certain amount of artful dodging over questions of principle, such as the political independence of the working class, which are the province of revolutionaries.