The following report, first published online May 22, 2003, was printed in Proletarian Revolution No. 68 (Fall 2003).
It was no contest. The League for the Revolutionary Party met the Spartacist League on Saturday, May 10, for a debate on “The Fight Against Imperialist War: Which Way Forward?” Close to 200 people attended, perhaps half of them Spartacist supporters. But while the SL, a much larger organization, showed up in numbers, they were politically absent, making no effort to deal seriously with the vital issues under debate.
We outline here the LRP’s main presentation, describe the Spartacists’ speech, and sketch a number of the comments during the discussion period. Our report of the debate may seem one-sided, but that’s because the event itself was one-sided. We will publish as soon as it is transcribed the entire three-and-a-half hour program, including the statements of all speakers from the LRP, the SL, the other organizations present and independents. That way, our readers will be able to judge the debate for themselves.
In his opening half-hour presentation for the LRP, Comrade Matthew Richardson began by summarizing the Marxist and Leninist theory of imperialism and our approach to the anti-war movement. He explained that imperialism is the very nature of the capitalist world today. Not simply an evil policy, the great powers’ domination and super-exploitation of the so-called “Third World” of colonies and semi-colonies is essential to the system’s survival. Imperialist super-exploitation, backed by military aggression, will only intensify as capitalism plunges toward another world depression.
His theme was that “working-class communist revolution to overthrow imperialist capitalism is the only answer.” But it is not enough to just say so. Revolutionaries today must actively participate in the struggles of the workers and oppressed to demonstrate the role of imperialism and prove in struggle the power that our class has to overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with a world of freedom and abundance for all.
Cde. Richardson then commented that if he were speaking only on the LRP’s views on opposing imperialist war, he would concentrate on the struggles of the workers and oppressed. “But this is a debate and I’ve got to start with the Spartacists’ world view, which begins and ends not with the working class but with Stalinism and the fate of the Stalinist states, particularly Stalinist Russia.”
Therefore he outlined both Trotsky’s understanding of Stalinism and our own theory. By the mid-1930s Trotsky had left no doubt that Stalinism was “thoroughly reactionary” , and “the chief obstacle on the road to world revolution” (The USSR in War). Trotsky condemned Max Shachtman’s “assertion that in my opinion a ‘bureaucratic revolution’ of the proletariat [by the Stalinists] is ... possible. This is not only incorrect but disloyal.” (From a Scratch -- To the Danger of Gangrene, in In Defense of Marxism) But Trotsky continued to argue until his death in 1940 that the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR was not a new ruling class; rather, he insisted it was a parasitic caste sitting uneasily atop the degenerating workers’ state. He regarded Stalinism as profoundly weak and unstable, predicting that it would not survive much longer.
Stalinism not only strengthened its rule in the Soviet Union; it survived the Second World War and extended its empire after the war. Cde. Richardson said that it was necessary for revolutionaries to recognize that Trotsky had clearly been wrong in underestimating the strength of Stalinism, and explain why: Stalinism had transformed itself into a new ruling class. The social counterrevolution was completed with the Great Purges of the late 1930’s, when the Stalinists jailed and killed every last living connection with the October revolution. They established themselves as a state-capitalist ruling class.
The degenerating Trotskyist movement of the time drew opposite conclusions. They argued that Stalinism had proved capable of being revolutionary by supposedly overthrowing capitalism and building “deformed” workers’s states in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Since the Stalinists had crushed the working class and ruled in popular-front coalitions with bourgeois forces, the "deformed workers’ state" theory meant throwing out the ABC’s of Marxism: that only the working class can overthrow capitalism, and that class collaborationism is counterrevolutionary.
Our theory of Stalinism as statified capitalism was the only way to remain loyal to Trotsky’s and Marx’s revolutionary principles. With our theory, the LRP is the only group in the world to have predicted the crisis of Stalinism, its rulers’ attempts to privatize and bourgeoisify their economies, and their inevitable failure. It was also the only theory that could guide the working class in the Stalinist states in an effective struggle to defend their interests.
Cde. Richardson pointed out that the Spartacists, in contrast, embraced all of the anti-Marxist conclusions of the degenerating Trotskyists and provided some of their most anti-working class conclusions. The differences between the LRP and the SL could not be clearer. We regarded the USSR as not just a statified capitalist state after the late 1930’s, but an imperialist one; the Spartacists regarded it as a workers’ state and an anti-imperialist bastion. History has left no doubt as to who was right.
The Spartacists took their theory to its reactionary conclusions: for example, they defended the Stalinists’ crushing of the Polish workers’ movement in 1981. They hailed the “Red Army” that invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to replace the Stalinist bourgeois-democratic revolutionary government with one that would accommodate to Islamic “traditions.” This vain effort to propitiate the CIA-backed Islamist guerrillas undermined the deeper social revolution that was brewing in neighboring Iran and in the whole unstable region.
The argument that socialists who couldn’t defend the past gains of the working class can’t lead the struggle to win new gains is correct. By defending the Stalinist states against the workers, and by supporting the Stalinists’ imperialist military adventures internationally, the Spartacists not only failed to defend the working class, but frequently called for the masses’ defeat.
Cde. Richardson explained that in the fight against imperialism and for communist revolution it is a principle for revolutionaries to defend oppressed nations against every imperialist attack, giving them military support and fighting for the defeat of the imperialists. While the LRP has taken this stand in every confrontation between imperialism and its victims, the same cannot be said of the Spartacists. When the Soviet Union was not directly involved, they often failed to support liberation struggles against imperialism. Richardson gave the examples of Angola in 1975, Argentina in 1982, Lebanon in 1983 -- and above all, the various wars that the U.S.’s apartheidist ally, Israel, fought against the Arab states and for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian masses.
Richardson then made the case for another essential principle in the revolutionary communist fight against imperialism: the defense of the right to self-determination of oppressed nations. He argued that the internationalist unity of the working class will only be forged through an uncompromising struggle for the rights of the oppressed against imperialism. He took aim at the Spartacists’ position that this right should apply to oppressor nations also, and that in cases where both oppressor and oppressed claim the same territory, the oppressed must sacrifice their rights. Thus the Spartacists oppose the democratic demand of the oppressed Catholics of Northern Ireland for a united Ireland out of concern for the British-backed Protestants, and defend Israel’s right to exist at the expense of the Palestinians.
Richardson argued that in the case of Palestine, revolutionaries maintain the Palestinian liberation slogan that “All Israel is Occupied Territory!” and fight for Arab workers’ revolution to overthrow the Israeli state and establish a Palestinian workers’ state. In that state, Israeli Jews will have the right to live free from discrimination and have their cultural rights, but they will have to accept the rule of the majority, the Palestinians, and relinquish control of all that they have stolen. The Spartacists, on the other hand, defend Israel’s right to exist, and this means either that the Israelis have a right to keep land stolen from the Palestinians, or that if Palestinians are allowed to return to their lands and thus outnumber the Israelis, Israelis will be allowed minority apartheid rule over the Palestinian majority.
Richardson made a point of taking up the Spartacists’ claim that their position is the same as Lenin’s. Of course, the SL can find quotes where Lenin says that all nations have the right to self-determination. It would never have occurred to Lenin to say otherwise, because oppressor nations already had their self-determination; it was the oppressed who needed it. Moreover Lenin only wrote that way, Richardson argued, because he lived before the age of apartheid in South Africa and Israel.
Trotsky, however, did live to see South Africa develop. When asked about the “national” character of the future workers’ state in that country, he made no mention of rights of self-determination for whites in general, or for Afrikaaners in particular, but rather insisted on the rule of the African majority. In words that were coincidentally re-printed in the edition of the Spartacists’ Workers Vanguard current at the time of the debate (quoted not by the SL but in a letter arguing against their position on Palestine), Trotsky explained:
A victorious revolution is unthinkable without the awakening of the native masses; in its turn it will give them what they are so lacking today, confidence in their strength, a heightened personal consciousness, a cultural growth. Under these conditions the South African Republic will emerge first of all as a “black” Republic; this does not exclude, of course, either full equality for whites or brotherly relations between the two races (which depends mainly upon the conduct of the whites).... We have not the slightest reason to close our eyes to this side of the question or diminish its significance. On the contrary the proletarian party should in words and in deeds openly and boldly take the solution of the national (racial) problem in its hands. (On the South African Theses)
A “Black Republic” means a state of the oppressed and not the oppressor, precisely the position of the LRP in the case of Palestine.
Further, Richardson pointed out that Trotsky also addressed the question of Lenin’s attitude toward the rights of oppressor nations. In a discussion of Ukrainian self-determination, Trotsky wrote:
The right to self-determination, i.e., to separation, Lenin extended to the Poles and the Ukrainians alike. He did not recognize aristocratic nations. To any tendency to be silent about or to put off the problem of an oppressed nationality, Lenin related as he did to expressions of Great-Russian chauvinism. (On the Independence of Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads -- our emphasis.)
As Cde. Richardson stated, “Let those words ring in the ears of every Spartacist today: Lenin did not recognize the rights of aristocratic nations, and any tendency to put off the rights of the oppressed he condemned as great-power chauvinism!”
Even a quotation cited by the SL in their preparation for the debate makes our point, not theirs:
Wherever we see compulsory ties between nations we, while by no means insisting that every nation must secede, do absolutely and emphatically insist on the right of every nation to political self-determination, that is, to secession. (On the Question of National Policy, 1914.)
If oppressor nations need to have Leninists defend their right to self-determination -- that is, to secession -- what are they supposed to secede from? Are communists supposed to argue for the U.S.’s right to secede from Puerto Rico?
Richardson completed his discussion of the revolutionary principles of internationalism against the Spartacists’ record of Great Power chauvinism by citing the struggle for immigrant rights. Revolutionaries fight for an end to all restrictions on immigration, and do not give an inch to chauvinist hysteria about immigrants from the Third World flooding the white imperialist nations. The Spartacists, on the other hand, defend the rights of immigrants if they manage to get into imperialist countries but oppose the demand for an end to all the restrictions on them getting there in the first place. Again, the Spartacists’ rationale is concern for the supposed rights of imperialists, in this case to their “national identity” . As Workers Vanguard explained:
... on a sufficiently large scale, immigration flows could wipe out the national identity of the recipient countries ... Unlimited immigration as a principle is incompatible with the right of national self-determination ... (Jan. 18, 1974)
“Do we really need to remind the Spartacists,” asked Richardson, “of the words of the Communist Manifesto, that ‘The working men have no country’?” He added that it is outrageous that Great-Power nationalism is advocated in Lenin’s name. As Lenin wrote in a letter to American socialists:
Socialists in America ... who are not against any restrictions of immigration ... are in reality jingoes.
Richardson concluded: “Jingoes, Great Power Chauvinists. Tragically, that is what the Spartacist League is. No wonder they can’t fight imperialism!”
“The same need to super-exploit and divide the working class that drives the imperialists’ oppression abroad,” Richardson noted, “drives its racist oppression at home.” So he turned his attention to the struggle against racism in the U.S. and outlined the LRP’s strategy of working-class interracialism in the U.S., as opposed to the bourgeois alternatives of Black nationalism and integrationism (assimilationism), of which the Spartacists’ “revolutionary integrationism” is a variant.
Analogous to Lenin’s method of forging international working-class unity through the fight for the right to self-determination of oppressed nations, working-class interracialism insists that class unity can be forged across the racial divide only by defending the right of Blacks and all people of color to choose either a united struggle or to build their own organizations and conduct their own struggles if they desire. Given the betrayals of the struggle against racism by the predominantly white, bureaucratically dominated unions, and the relative conservatism of white workers, this is a crucial question.
We fight for a united working-class struggle whenever possible. But often the Black masses have no choice but to launch their own struggles and build their own organizations rather than wait for white workers to join them. Revolutionary interracialists do not feel threatened by this; on the contrary, where such independent struggles are necessary they advocate them, and seek to show how independent struggles by Black workers and poor can offer leadership to the rest of the working class and thus can and should lead toward a united working class struggle.
The Spartacists, however, advocate their own supposedly “revolutionary” brand of integrationism. In practice, this has meant tailing bourgeois integrationism. In general, integrationism can only mean demanding that Black people dispense with their own identity, culture and organizations and assimilate into the dominant white nationalist society. Thus integrationism is just another form of American nationalism. Black people have tried every possible way to be accepted by America, and white capitalist America has rejected them every time. Thus as Black people’s sense of militancy and power has grown in the course of struggle, they have always rejected integrationism.
In practice, integrationism necessarily means fear of, and hostility to, independent struggles of the Black masses. Thus it was no coincidence that the Spartacists dismiss the great ghetto rebellions of the late 1960s as a “final spasm of frustration and fury ... in the wake of a movement which had raised great hopes and activated enormous energy only to accomplish nothing ...” and left Black people feeling more powerless than before (Marxist Bulletin No. 5, p. 34.) On the contrary, as Cde. Richardson explained, the ghetto rebellions were a high point of the Black liberation struggle in the U.S. They forced the ruling class to grant unprecedented concessions of jobs, education and civil rights, and emboldened the Black working class to even greater struggles. The Spartacists’ fear and dismissal of the ghetto rebellions is indicative of the attitude they will take when future rebellions break out.
Richardson then turned to the immediate class struggle at home, spelling out the LRP’s strategy for advancing mass struggles while exposing the trade union bureaucrats. These officials time and again prevent workers from defending their interests through militant strikes and thereby give the ruling class the freedom to wage imperialist war without a major challenge at home. He ended with the crucial example of how the LRP fought for a strike by the New York City transit workers (TWU Local 100) in December that would have shut down the capital of world imperialism and thereby dealt a devastating blow to Washington’s war drive against Iraq. The LRP played a major role in building the strike movement: fighting for a strike in mass meetings, exposing the betrayals of the Toussaint leadership of the union, and campaigning against Toussaint’s sell-out contract.
The Spartacists, with more supporters in the union, refused to advocate a strike, and did absolutely nothing in this decisive struggle. As Cde. Richardson explained, abstention from the class struggle, and retreat into their newspaper offices only to venture out to sell their paper at protests and harangue leftists opponents, has become Spartacist policy. The Spartacists’ pinned their hopes on Stalinism, and have been utterly demoralized and disoriented by its collapse. Their retreat from the class struggle and degeneration into a cultish sect, are symptoms of this.
Richardson concluded his presentation by posing five specific questions to the Spartacists that summed up the challenges of his speech.
“Don't try to leave this debate without answering these questions,” Richardson demanded, “and don't try to write about this debate in your newspaper without recording these questions and your answers to them.”
In shameful contrast to the LRP’s thorough summary of revolutionary principles, the Spartacists presented no strategy at all. Their debater, Don Alexander, spent much of his time denouncing the LRP for not defending the former Soviet Union. He gave no analysis of Stalinism, imperialism, or anything else. His argument was purely negative: if you couldn’t defend the working class’s gains of the past (for the Spartacists, the imaginary workers’ states of the post-war USSR and Eastern Europe) you can’t win new gains for the working class. But how the SL proposes to lead working-class struggles to future victories, Alexander didn’t even think to say. Even though the Spartacists had proposed the debate topic, “The Fight Against Imperialist War: Which Way Forward?” their speaker barely mentioned the subject.
Shockingly, Alexander did not even acknowledge let alone try to answer any of Richardson’s challenges. Nor did he respond to Cde. Richardson’s argument that you couldn’t defend the workers’ past gains in the Stalinists states, nor defend workers’ gains against imperialism elsewhere, by supporting the Stalinist states.
The Spartacists mocked the LRP’s fight to speak from anti-war platforms to denounce the Democratic imperialists; continued to equate the rights of oppressed and imperialist nations; did not even try to defend their opposition to ending all restrictions on immigrants and refugees to the imperialist countries; and refused to say why they did not fight for strikes inside the New York transit union.
In defense of their generally personally provocative and nasty tone of political combat, the Spartacists used to say that their style is their politics. Indeed. Their main speaker’s rambling, often ranting pre-written speech that went well over the time limit without coming to a point was an embarrassment to the speaker and his organization.
In fact, after dodging our challenges to a debate for two decades, we were surprised when the Spartacists finally agreed. As it turned out, the Spartacists still did not want to debate us. They refused to answer even just one of the questions our speaker had demanded answers to. The only LRP the Spartacists felt able to debate was an imaginary one with imaginary political positions.
In his talk, Alexander repeated the SL’s usual litany of lies about the LRP: that we endorse segregation, that we supported the Islamic counterrevolution in Afghanistan, and that we endorsed the “Yeltsin-Bush capitalist counterrevolution” in Russia. These charges have been thoroughly dealt with in our press, and we issued for the debate a small pamphlet summarizing our replies, The Spartacist School of Falsification, in order not to have to spend time with this sort of crap during the debate. (This pamphlet, along with a longer compilation of LRP articles dealing with the SL’s politics, is available from the LRP.)
Alexander and other Spartacists added some new whoppers about what the LRP had said and done: that we said Trotsky gave political, not just military, support to the bourgeois Spanish Republic in the 1930’s; that we are "marching in lockstep with Black Democrats like Charles Rangel" who call for the reinstitution of the draft, and that we "support the integration of Blacks into the imperialist armed forces;" that we say "white workers [in the U.S.] are a labor aristocracy" whom we "lump with the white racist rulers"; that we "spat on" a rally in defense of the MOVE organization that was bombed by the Philadelphia cops; that we deny the existence of a "Hebrew-speaking" Israeli nation; that we "weren't for the defeat of American imperialism by China or North Korea." Given the Spartacists’ record, these are not honest misunderstandings but deliberate misrepresentations of what we have stated clearly in print.
In reporting highlights of the floor discussion, we will take some contributions out of the order in which they were made, in order to group together points on related subjects.
An LRPer from Chicago summarized our united front method with the example of our participation in a rally of five thousand against the Iraq war on April 5.
Our comrade was the only speaker to attack the Democrats.... We exposed the role and hypocrisy of the U.N. We combated pacifism by calling for the military defense of Iraq and the defeat of U.S./U.K. imperialism. We drew applause for raising the need for a general strike to stop the war, explaining that this begins with a political fight against the pro-Democratic Party union bureaucracy.... And we argued the need for revolutionary party leadership and the socialist revolution to put an end to imperialist wars for good.... This is not “left cover” for [an alliance with] liberals; this is political combat.... We are not afraid of standing on stage or in the union hall and put our Leninist method in the clearest possible relief to that of the pro-capitalist misleaders. However, the SL is, that’s why they refuse to play a role on stage or in the union hall and, instead, stand at the margins with their press.
One Spartacist floor speaker chose to misrepresent the LRP’s united front position. At a demonstration against a Ku Klux Klan rally in New York in 1999, the SL had attacked the ISO for speaking on the same platform with a cop, a representative of the Latino Officers Association. According to the SLer, we wrote that “It is not unprincipled to stand on the same podium as Latino officers at an anti-fascist protest.” And so we did, but as a later LRP speaker observed, she deliberately failed to point out that in the very next sentence we explained: “The point is to denounce the cops and their pro-capitalist and pro-Klan role from that podium, so that the protesters draw the right lesson. This is what the ISO deserves to be criticized for.” (The reference is to the articles New York: Why the Klan Wasn’t Smashed and Workers Vanguard’s Fabrications in Proletarian Revolution No. 60.)
When the Spartacists continued to denounce us for our supposed bloc with police, Cde. Richardson dared them to ask him to cite Trotsky on the subject. That silenced them except for some nervous laughter, so he went on to cite Trotsky’s advocacy of a bloc with the Social Democratic police chief in Berlin in 1932 in order to expose the Social Democracy’s unwillingness to really fight the fascists. When the Latino cops pretend to be against fascism and racism, they have to be exposed. Precisely because illusions in the cops can be so deadly, the LRP wants to be able to denounce cops and Democratic politicians in front of thousands as the bourgeois agents they are. The Spartacists are too sectarian and too cowardly to do anything but stand on the sidelines.
At the start of the debate, the Spartacists had distributed to all attendees a copy of their 1999 Workers Vanguard supplement headlined, “Labor/Black Mobilization Rides KKK Out of NYC,” in which the SL claims to have led the action that mobilized about 10,000 anti-Klan militants. This lie is dealt with in the PR 60 articles just cited.
The Spartacists, even though they had initiated the call for mobilizing against the Klan, were outmaneuvered by liberal politicians, who secured a permit for a rally close to where the Klan was scheduled to be, while the SL ended up with a separate anti-Klan rally two blocks away. Of course, given their objective of smashing the Klan, the thousands of protesters went to the liberals’ rally because they wanted the best chance to get at the Klan. When the thousands of protesters at the main rally, including many LRPers, surged forward and fought the police to get at the Klan, the cops were forced to lead the Klan away; the SL was at its own rally, spewing empty rhetoric. The union leader whom the SL featured at the rally and in their coverage was Charles Ensley of AFSCME. At a later labor meeting, we asked Ensley whether he really thought the rally he had spoken at had run the Klan out. He laughed, “That’s what we’d like our members to think, but the other crowd really did it.”
Returning to the floor discussion, an LRP speaker noted the contrast between the LRP and the SL in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks “After September 11,” she noted, “our propaganda was dedicated to convincing our fellow workers, American workers, of the need to call explicitly for the defeat of U.S. imperialism. This was not popular, but we did not flinch, and the same could not be said about the Spartacist League." This was not an isolated accident, she continued. In 1975, the SL abstained on the Angolan struggle for national liberation, until the USSR got involved. In Lebanon in 1983, their slogan was “U.S. Marines Out, Alive” -- a slogan defending the lives of the imperialist troops, not the victimized Lebanese. In 1982, they took no side in the war between Argentina and imperialist Britain, on the grounds that Argentina was not an oppressed nation. “It was united imperialism against Argentina,” she added. Not only did the U.S. back its British ally, but even the SL’s favorite, the USSR, refused to use its U.N. veto to stop the war.
Another LRPer expanded on Cde. Richardson’s challenge to the SL on Israel: since they allegedly support the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homeland and clearly support the right of self-determination, that is, secession, for a hypothetical Israeli workers’ state, such a state would rule over territory with a Palestinian majority; that means subjugating the Palestinians either to land theft or apartheid. Either is a concession to imperialist chauvinism that offers no way to break Israeli workers from Zionism.
He further noted that the SL’s original position in the 1948 war that created Israel was to side with the Israelis, a position inherited from the Shachtmanite renegades from Trotskyism whose name the Spartacists like to label the LRP with. In 1974, they changed their line since Israel’s existence had never been imperiled. But they insisted that if it had been, they would have defended Israel; what remains consistent is their defense of the oppressor nation, which is now a small imperialist power in its own right. They went from defending the Zionist ethnic cleansers to mere indifference.
A self-identified “socialist-Zionist” speaker from the floor, sporting an Israeli flag button on his shirt, announced his “great sympathy” for the politics of the SL, especially on the Israel-Arab wars. He urged them only to return to their original line of supporting the Israeli side in the 1948 war. As an LRP speaker noted, despite his differences with the SL, this Israeli nationalist had correctly recognized his commonality with the Spartacists in the ongoing war against the Palestinians. Since the SL was obviously embarrassed by this unwanted support, we point out that in their paper issued just before the debate, they printed a letter that concluded:
Your article “LRP: Apologists for Arab Nationalism” ... was the most intelligent piece I’ve read on the subject in a long time. My wife, who is not a Marxist but who is an Israeli Jew, said, “That’s my position!” Good work.
That a non-Marxist Israeli and a labor Zionist endorse the Spartacist position does not exactly support their claim that it is Marxist and anti-Zionist.
On a related matter, the Spartacists’ Len Meyers also demanded to know, since the LRP raised the slogan that “All Israel Is Occupied Territory,” why we didn’t say the same of the United States, which had stolen its land from the Indians? In answer, Cde. Richardson stated the obvious: Native Americans were victims of an almost complete genocide, which the Zionists have never been able to come close to emulating against the Palestinians, in spite of their desire for it. Undefeated and continuing to demand their country back from the colonizers who stole it, the Palestinian masses struggle is thus headline news every day. For good reason, American Indians are not fighting a similar struggle and do not demand this country back; their struggle for democratic rights and liberation is thus a part of the U.S. class struggle. For these reasons Meyers’ question was as stupid as it was offensive.
One LRP intervention cited the SL’s self-definition as a party of “declassed intellectuals” intervening in the class struggle “from a vantage point outside bourgeois society altogether.” He noted their contempt for workers in theory and in practice, citing their defense of Stalinist suppression of the working class. He described their matching contempt for the very societies they term workers’ states, pointing out that they had denounced the Polish workers -- who rose up in 1980 against their Stalinist rulers in the millions to protest their exploitation -- for demanding a “free lunch.” They had even called on their favorite “workers’ state,” the USSR, to stage a nuclear attack on another, China, when it was militarily invading a third, Vietnam, in 1979. Spartacists from the audience vehemently denied the charge, but that quotation too was posted on the wall:
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 Vietnamese Revolution but rather in order to ensure its own survival. (Workers Vanguard No. 226, March 2, 1979.)
Let’s spell it out. First, the SL did not refer to Moscow’s "next" or "almost" ultimate option, but rather it’s “ultimate option” , which of course meant nuclear attack. Second, if “even” conventional forces could take out China’s oil industry, that means that China’s nuclear industry would require non-conventional forces -- that very “ultimate option.” And the SL certainly did not raise any objection on principle to one workers’ state launching a nuclear attack against another.
The Spartacists after the debate insisted that they had only called on Russia to extend its “nuclear umbrella” over Vietnam. What is that supposed to mean, if not to threaten the use of nuclear weapons against a country that attacked Vietnam? Do they think nuclear umbrellas keep countries dry when it rains? Anyway you look at it, the Spartacists were proposing that Russia nuke China. Their cynicism and contempt for their own theory, not to mention humanity, are breathtaking.
One independent speaker introduced himself as a carpenter who runs the “Gangbox” internet discussion site. He began by noting that Alexander hadn’t answered any of the questions that Richardson had put to him. Further, he cited the struggle of Black and Latino construction workers that broke the color bar and won him and others their union cards. Stating that he was a neither a Trotskyist nor a supporter of either the LRP or the SL, he sharply disagreed with the SL’s approach to the Black struggle: “The reality of the situation is that if white workers aren’t willing to join hands with Black workers ... Black workers have to struggle on their own.”
Two LRP speakers denounced the Spartacists for their attitude to the struggles of the oppressed. One, a comrade from Puerto Rico, had been in the SL until he saw their hostility to the Los Angeles riotous rebellion in 1992. He repeated the demand that the SL explain its refusal to call for ending all restrictions on immigrants and refugees. (In evasive response, an SL speaker reasserted that the SL stands for full rights for immigrants in the U.S., but did not address their right to get here.)
The second LRPer recalled the SL’s attitude toward Black uprisings: they label the spontaneous uprisings caused by years of oppression and police violence “aimless outbursts of frustrated violence” and “lumpen rage.” He explained: “Riots may not be the way to overthrow the system, but they are expressions of rage against the system that must be understood and analyzed by revolutionaries – not looked down upon as the middle-class SL has done.” He added that in the Cincinnati rebellion in 2001 we called for the Black working class and poor to prepare for mass armed self-defense, while the SL unrealistically called on the particularly conservative and mostly white trade unions in the area to stand “at the head of the ghetto masses.”
In response, one SL speaker denied that the rebellions had gained jobs or anything else for Black workers, just “Black Democratic Party mayors across the country” for the purpose of putting a lid on struggles. That indeed is the role of the bourgeois Democrats, but the SL did not explain why they would need to stifle struggles that had gained nothing and left the masses feeling more powerless.
One LRPer recounted our fight in the hospital workers’ union, Local 1199, against the pro-imperialist resolutions of the “progressive” union leader, Dennis Rivera, and for genuine anti-war statements over both Afghanistan and Iraq. Other LRP speakers echoed Cde. Richardson’s challenge that the SL explain why they never fight for a strike in the trade unions, particularly in the New York transport workers. An LRP transit worker explained that our use of the critical support tactic towards the TWU’s sellout leader, Roger Toussaint, was a weapon used to expose the bureaucrats’ betrayals, just as Lenin advocated support for the British Labour Party “as a rope supports a hanged man.”
Two SLers who identified themselves as transit workers spoke and attempted to trick the audience into thinking that they were militant fighters in the union, contrary to our exposure of their refusal to fight for a strike. They described what they had said and done in their division of Local 100, like raising motions against the war on Iraq -- hardly courageous, since the Local’s President had already made opposition to the war official policy. (In the process they claimed that the LRP had not participated in the in the 1999 anti-Klan protest; this lie is also refuted in the PR 60 article cited above.) But as the last LRP speaker from the floor, National Secretary Sy Landy, noted, neither of the SL TWUers gave any response to our challenge: when the LRP was fighting for a strike in the vital 1999 and 2002 contract struggles, “Where the hell were you?” He precisely labeled the fake-revolutionary SL as “chicken shit.” Far from being revolutionary fighters, the SL was too demoralized and too cowardly to so much as advocate a strike.
Throughout the debate, the LRP speakers presented their arguments with working-class seriousness and pride. In contrast, Spartacists sneered, snickered, and giggled with embarrassment when charges struck home. They could have been mistaken for snotty Ivy League ISOers.
Two other left organizations took part in the discussion, both founded by former SL members: the Bolshevik Tendency and the Internationalist Group. One BTer complained that the LRP had “manufactured differences that don’t exist” by bringing up the Spartacists’ chauvinist position on immigrants. A handy evasion: the BT shares the SL line and has every reason to be ashamed of it. Not to defend the right of immigrants to enter the imperialist countries is a very big “difference” that does indeed exist.
The IG’s leader, Jan Norden, expanded on the SL’s record of slanders. He repeated the charge in his organization’s leaflet that the LRP’s supporter in the TWU got “elected as a mid-level bureaucrat as a quid pro quo” with Roger Toussaint’s New Directions (ND) slate. That is an outright and deliberate lie, since our comrade ran against ND, and his victory was bitterly challenged by ND. The IG also repeated the slander in its press that the LRPer in the union’s Track Division had done nothing to shut down unsafe working conditions, even though we refuted the obnoxious charge in PR 66. Norden, who had been responsible for the Spartacists’ addiction to lies and slander as the long-time editor of Workers Vanguard, is building an equally corrupt organization.
The Spartacists refusal to really debate the LRP, and the pathetic contributions of their splinter groups, confirmed the observation made by Cde. Richardson in his opening remarks that the collapse of Stalinism had left the Spartacists demoralized, disoriented and doomed:
They sent as many supporters as they could to Russia and East Germany in 1989 to rally the workers in defense of the Stalinist states, even in defense of the Berlin Wall, and invested huge amounts of money to fund the effort, only to find that the working class rejected their ideas. They came back with nothing. Since then they’ve retreated from participating in the class struggle: after all, if the working class is so stupid to not know it's in power, and even helps overthrow itself, what hope is there for them? Why should they fight for a strike of transit workers in New York? Today they live in their newspaper offices, try to sell their paper at protests, attack left opponents and do nothing in the real class struggle.
Stalinism has collapsed, and the Spartacist League is in the process of collapsing too. Some of the wreckage, in the form of its splits, the Bolshevik Tendency and the Internationalist Group, are here today. The Spartacists sat on the Berlin Wall and the Spartacists had a very great fall, and all the kings horses and all the kings men ... well, you know how it ends.
Cde. Richardson began his summary by apologizing to the audience for their having been invited to a debate, since none had taken place. He added that none of his five questions had been answered, whereas he had responded to all the questions posed by the SL. He concluded:
The working class will rise up in struggle again, as it always has. And it’s beginning to. And when it rises up in struggle, it will demand more than crumbs. It will demand more than the scraps of their land back that was stolen by imperialism; they’ll demand all the land back. They will demand more than a “free lunch” ; they will be bound to respect no rights of their oppressors. And when they rise up, the least that they can expect to find is a revolutionary leadership willing to fight for those demands. The Spartacist League has admitted that they’re not willing to fight for them. What the workers need is a revolutionary party leadership that can win those demands.
As Trotsky argued, the objective conditions for the overthrow of capitalism and the building of communism are more than ripe. What holds the working class back from challenging the system is its reformist misleaders, and the fake-revolutionary groups like the Spartacists who try to confuse and demoralize the most radical workers and youth. The crisis of humanity is the crisis of working class leadership.
Building the vanguard revolutionary party in the U.S., as a section of the re-created authentic Trotskyist Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution, is the most urgent task of the day. The League for the Revolutionary Party is dedicated to building this party, most importantly in the living struggles of our class. Our debate with the Spartacists was a step in our struggle to sweep aside the political refuse of the past, and clear the way for revolutionary-minded workers to build the revolutionary party and lead the great struggles of the future to victory.
Postscript: We have no doubt the Spartacists will claim to have won a great victory over the LRP in the debate. After all, if they can claim to have run the Klan out of New York City in 1999 when they were in fact blocks away from the struggle, they can claim anything. The Spartacists’ affinity for Stalinism goes beyond political program to its methods of historical falsification. We eagerly await the Spartacists’ account of the debate. We will of course respond to it. But most importantly, we repeat our commitment to transcribe and publish every word of the debate, so that all those interested can judge for themselves.
Note: The full transcript of the debate between the League for the Revolutionary Party and the Spartacist League, May 10 2003, New York City on “The Fight Against Imperialist War: Which Way Forward?” is available online and also as a pamphlet. The price of the printed pamphlet is $5.00. Order from: