David North's ICFI: From Support to Capitalist Counterrevolution in the USSR to Great Russian Chauvinism
The “ICFI,” headed by U.S. Workers League lider maximo David North, is one of the decomposition products of the now-infamous Gerry Healy's “international” organization of the same name. We have characterized charlatans like North and the late Healy as political bandits because of their manifest willingness to say literally anything, taking widely divergent political positions to serve their own convenient and grotesque opportunist appetites. For example, in 1979 their international tendency extolled the murder of 21 Iraqi CPers by Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime as a blow against “counterrevolutionary Stalinism.” Heralding the murder of Communist worker-militants paid big dividends for the Healyites, who raked in millions in pounds sterling for their services on behalf of various oil-rich Middle Easter dictators.
Consummate hatred for the Soviet Union has been one political constant in Healy/North's “ICFI." They supported every imperialist-inspired “movement” that aimed at destroying the remaining gains of the 1917 October Revolution, from Khomeini's viciously anti-communist “Islamic Revolution” to the barbarous CIA-backed mujahedin in Afghanistan, to Lech Walesa's company “union” Solidarnosc in Poland. But after the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state through capitalist counterrevolution, the “ICFI” refused to call for the military defense of Chechnya and the defeat of the Russian army in that neocolonial war. Thus, for the first time in their history, the Northites came out for the Russian army – now that it is the army of capitalist Russia!
Afghanistan, Poland, Chechnya
Northites: Counterfeit Trotskyists
As Trotskyists, the International Communist League stood for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution, while fighting for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy that undermined the October Revolution. The erosion of the revolutionary internationalist consciousness of the Soviet proletariat, as a result of decades of Stalinist misrule, ultimately led to the collapse of the USSR and the consolidation of new capitalist states in the area. This was a historic defeat for the proletariat, ushering in catastrophic declines in the living standards of the peoples of the former Soviet bloc, while freeing up the imperialists to unleash renewed attacks on the working masses in the West and the already savagely oppressed peoples of the semi-colonial world.
With the restoration of capitalism, the tasks for Marxists changed: we do not defend the Russian state, which is a capitalist state with resurgent imperialist ambitions. We fight for socialist revolutions throughout the lands of the former Soviet Union. As we have noted, aggressive nationalism was both the driving force for capitalist restoration in East Europe and the Soviet Union, and a product of the counterrevolutionary drive. From Milosevic's Serbia to Tudjman's Croatia and Yeltsin's Russia, nationalist demagogy is being used to turn working-class anger over economic immiseration against neighboring peoples and minority communities.
The decomposition of the USSR resulted in bloody nationalist conflicts in every republic of the former Soviet Union, with nationalist wars in the Caucasus and a sharp increase in Great Russian chauvinism. As we noted in our article, “Why Marxists Do Not Raise the Call 'Restore the Soviet Union'”:
“Today bourgeois Russia aspires to the role of a regional imperialist power. Its bloody handiwork is evident enough in the brutal colonial-style war against the Chechen people.... To talk of `restoring the USSR' is a nationalist trap. What is necessary is to sweep away the new bourgeois states and replace them with the rule of workers soviets. We know of no other road to this goal but the one pursued by Lenin and the Bolsheviks – a thoroughgoing struggle against all manifestations of nationalism and chauvinism as part of patient but persistent propaganda aimed at winning the proletariat to the program of international socialist revolution.”In an article by V. Volkov in Rabochii-Internatsionalist (May 1996), the Russian supporters of the so-called "International Committee for the Fourth International” (ICFI) attack us because of our opposition to the slogan of restoring the Soviet Union. The ICFI is a gang of political charlatans who falsely claim the mantle of Trotskyism. Led with an iron hand by Gerry Healy in Britain until it spectacularly imploded in 1985, producing a number of rump organizations, the “ICFI” is currently headed by one David North of the U.S. Workers League.
In his article, Volkov protests our call for the military defense of Chechnya in the war, asserting that this is “anti-communist” and “liberal” The ICFI's refusal to call for the defense of the Chechens in this brutal colonial-style war, and their opposition to the right of Chechen independence, is unvarnished Great Russian chauvinism. The Northites prove our point, that those who today loudly proclaim themselves for the “Soviet Union” are nothing more than Russian nationalists. Their whole history shows them to have been enemies of the defense of the Soviet Union; now, for the first time in their history, they have come out for the Russian army – now that it is the army of a capitalist Russia!
Thus the call to “restore the Soviet Union” in the mouths of the Russian Northites is simultaneously a self-solacing “left”-sounding slogan and a cover for naked chauvinism in a capitalist state. In the wake of the October Revolution's final undoing, which we fought to the best of our ability, we now raise the call for new October Revolutions that go all the way to the destruction of imperialism on a world scale. This was the Bolsheviks' program and it is ours still.
Volkov writes at length, purporting to show “the pro-Stalinist character of the Spartacist tendency” through such examples as our positions on Afghanistan and Polish Solidarnosc. In reality what Volkov, North & Co. have against us is that we are Trotskyists. In his 1933 article, “The Class Nature of the Soviet State,” Trotsky warned of the “tragic possibility” that the Soviet workers state “will fall under the joint blows of its internal and external enemies”:
“But in the event of this worst possible variant, a tremendous significance for the subsequent course of the revolutionary struggle will be borne by the question: where are those guilty for the catastrophe? Not the slightest taint of guilt must fall upon the revolutionary internationalists. In the hour of the mortal danger, they must remain on the last barricade.”In contradistinction, the ICFI under North and his predecessor Gerry Healy supported every counterrevolutionary movement internal to and on the borders of the Soviet Union. Thus they supported Khomeini's Islamic fundamentalists in Iran; the CIA-backed mujahedin in Afghanistan; the Pilsudskiite Polish nationalists of Solidarnosc; and bourgeois-nationalist movements, encouraged by the imperialists, within the USSR. They enthused over all manner of pro-imperialist Soviet “dissidents," publishing for example a glowing obituary for Andrei Sakharov. Sakharov was the quintessential pro-capitalist “dissident," winning kudos from the imperialists (and eventually the Nobel "Peace” Prize) for his advocacy of unilateral disarmament of the USSR, while of course opposing disarmament for the bloody-handed U.S. imperialists.
Today, when the Soviet Union is no more, the Northites are a mouthpiece for Russian chauvinism and defend the territorial integrity of the Russian capitalist state. But earlier the Northites had no problem in supporting all manner of fascist-infested nationalist movements, which the imperialists sponsored as a means of tearing apart the Soviet Union.
For our part, in August 1991 the ICL - while giving no support to the pro-perestroika coup plotters – called for a workers mobilization to sweep away Yeltsin's counterrevolutionary barricades. We raised the call for the formation of independent workers committees to take over the plants, as the basis for soviets drawing in collective farmers, oppressed minorities, working women, Red Army soldiers and officers, pensioners, etc. We called for workers militias to defend workers, Communist Party members, Jews and other minorities against Yeltsinite reactionaries and racist pogromists. And we wrote:
“The alternatives posed before the Soviet bureaucratically deformed workers state have always been: counterrevolution or Trotskyism. Today Stalinism is dead. The key to frustrating the bloody plans of Bush, Yeltsin and their counterrevolutionary cohorts is the early forging of a Trotskyist nucleus in the Soviet Union, representing those elements in the workers movement, the army and throughout society who would fight for the program of October.”While the Soviet Union existed, we recognized the right of self-determination for the constituent nations of the USSR, as long as this was not a cover for capitalist restoration. As Trotsky explained, the right of self-determination is a general democratic right, subordinate to class considerations:
-“Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!” Workers Vanguard No. 533, 30 August 1991
“We do not only recognize, but we also give full support to the principle of self-determination, wherever it is directed against feudal, capitalist and imperialist states. But wherever the fiction of self-determination, in the hands of the bourgeoisie, becomes a weapon directed against the proletarian revolution, we have no occasion to treat this fiction differently from the other 'principles' of democracy perverted by capitalism.”Today, when the Soviet Union is no more, the Northites are a mouthpiece for Russian chauvinism and defend the territorial integrity of the Russian capitalist state. But earlier the Northites had no problem in supporting all manner of fascist-infested nationalist movements, which the imperialists sponsored as a means of tearing apart the Soviet Union. An example was the Sajudis – a Lithuanian secessionist movement shot through with outright fascists – which had its own program of "ethnic cleansing” for the non-Lithuanian component of the population. In 1990, North's Workers League denounced U.S. president Bush for not imposing imperialist sanctions against the Soviet workers state on behalf of Lithuanian “independence,” i.e., capitalist restoration. At the same time the ICFI demanded “immediate pullout of all Soviet troops from the Baltics, Moldova and other republics where Moscow's Stalinists are trying to strangle the democratic hopes of the oppressed nationalities. The working class must unconditionally defend the right of these peoples for self-determination including national independence from the USSR” (Russian language Bulletin of FI, February 1995).
- Social Democracy and the Wars of Intervention in Russia, 1918-1921 (1922)
Afghanistan: How the Northites Backed the CIAWhen all the imperialists raised a hue and cry about “poor little Afghanistan,” the ICFI chimed in, calling the actions of the Soviet Army “a brutal campaign of military and police repression against a semi-colonial people” whose “national rights were being criminally violated” and stated that “the movement of the Red Army into Afghanistan” was “aimed at sealing off the radical impulse of the [Khomeini-led] Iranian Revolution" (Bulletin, 8 July 1986).
Unlike the Northites, who gloried in supporting the counterrevolutionary, CIA-backed Islamic mujahedin, we in the ICL said, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan! Extend Social Gains of October to Afghan Peoples!" We noted that Afghanistan was not a nation but a preindustrial society of different peoples and tribes with little or no indigenous proletariat. Although the Brezhnev bureaucracy certainly did not intervene from the perspective of proletarian internationalism, we pointed out that a prolonged Soviet military occupation would likely mean the integration of Afghanistan with the economy of the USSR, thereby posing social liberation of a society saturated with medieval backwardness.
The Soviet Army intervened in a civil war between the left-nationalist government of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and Islamic reactionaries. This was the first and only time in modern history that a civil war was ignited centrally by the issue of women's rights. After coming to power in an April 1978 coup, pro-Moscow intellectuals and army officers in the PDPA sought to implement some minimal reforms to bring the country closer to the 20th century: land distribution, freeing women from the burka (the head-to-toe veil), reducing the bride price to a nominal sum and providing education for girls. However, such basic democratic reforms can be explosive in a cruelly backward country like Afghanistan, not least because women's subordination in the family meant that they were considered the “bearers” of the “national culture” to the next generation. Afghan landlords, tribal chiefs and mullahs launched a ferocious jihad (holy war), burning down schools and flaying teachers for the “crime” of teaching girls to read.
The conservative Brezhnev leadership didn't send 100,000 Soviet troops to Afghanistan to make a social revolution. But independently of the motives of the Soviet bureaucracy, the intervention of the Red Army in this civil war on the side of social progress strengthened the position of women, providing the possibility for young Afghanis to learn to read and write, and opened the road to progress through social assimilation by the Soviet Union.
But Islamic reaction, the woman question, and defense of the Soviet Union from imperialism are precisely what the Northites do not mention, in order to portray the Soviet intervention as one continuous brutality. It is no accident that they never say a word about the $2 billion invested by the CIA in the arming of the mujahedin, since for years their goals and the goals of the CIA-backed fundamentalist cutthroats coincided. In 1980, their German newspaper, Neue Arbeiterpresse, headlined: “Pull Soviet Troops Out of Afghanistan! Defend the Iranian Revolution!”
Much of the Soviet and Western “left” compared the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan with the American imperialists' slaughter in Vietnam - a shameful position later echoed by Gorbachev. During the Vietnam War some two million Vietnamese were killed, while Saigon was transformed into a giant bordello. The Soviet military presence in Afghanistan was manifestly different, as aspects of Soviet society began to be reproduced, attracting youth looking for a future and the deeply oppressed women.
Our fight for Red Army victory was counterposed to the halfhearted policies of the Soviet bureaucracy. We fought for a proletarian political revolution in the USSR, pointing out that the Kremlin gang was perfectly capable of selling out the Afghan peoples in order to placate the imperialists. Instead of fighting the war to a victorious finish, Brezhnev sought to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, while at the same time offering concessions to sections of the fundamentalists. Land reform was sharply curtailed, as the government declared a “general amnesty” under which feudal landlords who had defected to Pakistan would be given back their property if they returned, while many categories of landowners were now exempted entirely from the reform. Meanwhile, compulsory education for girls was revoked.
All wings of the Kremlin bureaucracy ultimately agreed to abandon Soviet intervention into Afghanistan. So-called "hardliners” like Yegor Ligachev were crucial in delivering to Gorbachev the necessary support in carrying out the decision to withdraw the troops. None of the Stalin-loving “patriots” (such as Nina Andreyeva and Viktor Anpilov) ever tried to mobilize against withdrawal. Thus all wings of Stalinism were complicit in this outright capitulation to imperialism which emboldened the imperialists, guaranteed a bloody revenge against modernizing nationalists and women in Afghanistan, and brought capitalist counterrevolution much closer to the Soviet Union.
While impudently accusing us of supporting the politics of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the ICFI's Volkov literally repeats the arguments that the defeatist Gorbachev bureaucracy used to justify withdrawal and demobilize and dismiss pro-socialist and would-be internationalist sentiments among Soviet workers and soldiers. Thus Volkov claims:
“The redirection of an enormous quantity of resources was undermining the planned economy. The Afghan proletariat, extremely small in number, was either ignored or suppressed. The position of the USSR in the world had weakened and world imperialism gained invaluable advantages using the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan to escalate the 'Cold War'.”This is a mixture of factual nonsense, pro-imperialist cant and outright anti-internationalism. The Afghan proletariat could not be an independent factor: in fact there were more mullahs in Afghanistan (more than 250,000 of them) than there were industrial workers, and only two factories in the entire country! At the time the USSR intervened, more than 90 percent of the population of Afghanistan was illiterate; life expectancy was only 40.
The assertion that the Soviets were responsible for escalating the Cold War because of their intervention in Afghanistan is simply a rendition of the line spouted by Ronald Reagan. As far as the imperialists are concerned, the whole world belongs to them to plunder however they see fit, and nobody better get in the way... or else. Gorbachev in effect endorsed this line to justify abandoning Afghan leftists and women to their fate.
Many Soviet soldiers serving in Afghanistan rightly believed they were doing their internationalist duty. The claim that the money would have been “better spent at home,” which the Gorbachevites argued, was not only anti- internationalist but racist as well, deliberately appealing to sentiments like “why should our boys die in Afghanistan for those blacks?” It is no accident that today as well, the Northites scandalously maintain silence about racism directed against people from the Caucasus.
In Afghanistan, soldiers from Soviet Central Asia were particularly aware that they were fighting against the same kind of benighted social relations that had held their own grandmothers in virtual bondage prior to the victory of the Bolsheviks. A New York Times reporter traveling through Soviet Central Asia in 1980 found absolutely no sympathy for the Afghan “rebels” and broad support for the Soviet Army's intervention. An irrigation engineer in Khiva, near Dushanbe, showed the reporter where the town's slave market had been located before the Soviet authorities deposed the last Khan of Khiva. He added, “The Afghans are our neighbors. Where there is poverty and backwardness it is our duty to help” (New York Times, 11 April 1980).
More generally, the position expressed here by Volkov is an apology for the nationalism of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which viewed “export of revolution” as the original Trotskyist heresy. The conservative bureaucracy's suicidal “theory” of “socialism in one country” was based on the illusory search for peaceful coexistence with capitalist regimes abroad. To be sure, the Bolsheviks did not believe the victory of world socialism would come mainly through military triumph by the Red Army. But they did not reject revolutionary war as an instrument of social liberation. Perhaps the most important example came in the summer of 1920 with the Red Army's counteroffensive in Poland. In a speech at the Ninth Party Conference, Lenin forcefully defended the Polish campaign against conservative critics of this attempt to extend the revolution militarily, pointing out that on the other side of Poland lay Germany, whose powerful proletariat was the key to the European revolution: “Rote Fahne [German Communist Party daily] and others could not accept the idea that we should help with our own hands to sovietise Poland. These people regard themselves as Communists, but some of them are still nationalists and pacifists.” (“Political Report of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party to the Ninth Conference of the RCP(B),” printed in In Defence of the Russian Revolution ).
The revolutionary imperative to extend the revolution -- taken for granted by the Bolsheviks until this program was overthrown by Stalin -- flows straight from Marx's elementary observations that capitalism had become a world system, hence it had to be destroyed on a world scale. In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels pointed out that the international development of the productive forces made possible by world revolution
“is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and destitution, the struggle for necessities, and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced.... Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples `all at once' and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and world intercourse bound up with communism.”In the 1920s, the Red Army's smashing of the reactionary Basmachi in Central Asia propelled the Soviet Central Asian republics on a course of intensive economic growth, significantly raising living standards while achieving an impressive success in the liberation of women. A similar process occurred in Mongolia, a terribly backward country similar to Afghanistan, with little in the way of an indigenous proletariat (and therefore no material basis for proletarian revolution). A Soviet republic was established there in 1921-22 largely through the intervention of the Red Army, leading to the founding of the first city in Mongolia, Ulan Bator (Red Dawn).
The expropriation of capital and elimination of the bourgeois state apparatus through military occupation in the western Ukraine and Byelorussia in 1940, and in the East European countries following World War II, are other examples where the Red Army was an instrument of social liberation, although in a bureaucratically deformed way. The Soviet Army, as an instrument of the Soviet bureaucracy, reflected both aspects of the bureaucracy's contradictory nature. The crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the suppression of the “Prague Spring” in Czechoslovakia in 1968 were counterrevolutionary acts of Stalinist repression which we Trotskyists forthrightly opposed. The Afghanistan intervention, though undertaken for defensive geopolitical reasons, opened up the possibility for social liberation and cut against the grain of the Kremlin's “peaceful coexistence.”
Trotsky certainly did not fetishize national borders, and he never placed the “sovereignty” of so-called neutral and buffer countries above the revolutionary obligation to defend the Soviet Union. Indeed, he sharply criticized the Stalinist bureaucracy for fostering the illusion that long-lasting agreements could be negotiated with the imperialists in order to stabilize the world order. Thus in The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky wrote:
“The question of Mongolia is already a question of the strategic positions to be occupied by Japan in a future war against the Soviet Union. The Soviet governmentfound itself this time compelled to announce openly that it would answer the intrusion of Japanese troops into Mongolia with war. Here, however, it is no question of the immediate defense of `our land': Mongolia is an independent state. A passive defense of Soviet boundaries seemed sufficient only when nobody was seriouslythreatening them. The real method of defense of the Soviet Union is to weaken the positions of imperialism, and strengthen the position of the proletariat and the colonial peoples throughout the earth. An unfavorable correlation of forces might compel us to surrender many `inches' of land, as it did at the moment of the Brest-Litovsk peace, the Riga peace, and in the matter of the handing over of the Chinese-Eastern Railroad. At the same time, the struggle for a favorable change in the correlation of world forces puts upon the workers' state acontinual obligation to come to the help of the liberative movements in other countries. But it is just this fundamental task which conflicts absolutely with the conservative policy of the status quo.” [our emphasis]The betrayal in Afghanistan was a significant milestone in advancing capitalist counterrevolution. The withdrawal of Soviet troops was followed by counter-revolutionary Solidarność taking power in Poland, Gorbachev giving the green light to capitalist reunification of Germany, and Yeltsin's pro-imperialist countercoup in Moscow in August 1991. And in Afghanistan the military defeat of the PDPA government by Islamic fundamentalists has led to the institution of a reign of medieval terror, torture and virtual enslavement of women, and continuing bloody civil war between the ultrareactionary local factions. These are the fruits of the victory of the reactionary forces that the Northites supported.
We sought to fight counterrevolution while there was still time: far better to defeat counterrevolution in Afghanistan than be defeated by it later in the Soviet Union. When Gorbachev pulled the Soviet troops out, we offered to the Afghan government that we would organize an international brigade to fight against the CIA-backed mujahedin. Not least, this would have served to awaken the revolutionary internationalist consciousness of Soviet workers and soldiers in the direction of proletarian political revolution. Several months later, we threw a significant proportion of our international resources into East Germany, fighting for workers and soldiers soviets throughout Germany to smash capitalist reunification, through political revolution in the East and socialist revolution in the West. We called for “A red Germany of workers councils, part of a Socialist United States of Europe.”
Poland: Northites in League with Solidarność
At a time when virtually the entire Western left was proclaiming “Solidarity with Solidarity,” our tendency sought to expose before the world's working class that Lech Walesa & Co. were a counterrevolutionary agency for the CIA and Western bankers, Ronald Reagan, the Pope and clerical nationalists. We supported the Jaruzelski regime's spiking of Solidarność's bid for power in December 1981, while emphasizing that the Stalinist progenitors of Poland's crisis were incapable of politically defeating Solidarność and that what was necessary was to forge a Trotskyist party that could lead a proletarian political revolution to oust the sellout bureaucracy. Volkov quotes as if it were an outrage our forthright statement from that period: “If the Kremlin Stalinists, in their necessarily brutal, stupid way, intervene militarily... we will support this. And we take responsibility in advance for this; whatever the idiocies and atrocities they will commit, we do not flinch from defending the crushing of Solidarity's counter-revolution” (WV No. 289, 25 September 1981). David North et al., in the name of “anti-Stalinism,” lined up with the counterrevolutionary Solidarność cabal and held them up as a model “trade union.”
The purpose of the Northites' embrace of Solidarność had little to do in any case with the Polish workers. Fully in step with other fake leftists at whom the Northites like to sneer as “diseased petty-bourgeois" tendencies, they were joyfully cuddling up to the American AFL-CIO, the German SPD, the British and Australian labor parties, etc. In hailing Solidarność, the social democrats and their “left” tails were simply doing the bidding of their imperialist masters once again, providing a “labor” face for Cold War anti-Sovietism.
According to Volkov, Jaruzelski's coup “expressed the fear of the bureaucracy in the face of spontaneous protest by the working class that could have led to a new political revolution in Poland and the establishment of a genuine workers republic there.” But had Solidarność taken power, it would not have been a political revolution but a social counterrevolution (and when Walesa & Co. did eventually take power as Stalinism was collapsing worldwide, a counterrevolution is exactly what it was). The Northites are cynically distorting the views of Leon Trotsky, who used the term “political revolution” to mean the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste by the workers and the establishment of a regime of soviet democracy, based on preserving the dictatorship of the proletariat and the nationalized planned economy. Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the October Revolution and organizer of the Red Army, stood unconditionally for the defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state against capitalist counterrevolution.
The implicit methodology of Volkov & Co. is that any attempt to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy constitutes a “political revolution.” But Solidarność was very different from the pro-socialist Hungarian workers who rose up against the Stalinist bureaucracy in 1956. And the consciousness of the Polish working masses in 1981 was much different than during earlier periods of working-class protests in 1953, 1956, 1968 and 1970-71, when the influence of capitalist-restorationist tendencies was far weaker. What is decisive here is from what class standpoint the Stalinist bureaucracy is opposed. As we have noted, “whether the collapse of Stalinist rule led to a workers government or to capitalist restoration would be determined by the political consciousness and leadership of the working class, specifically the ability of the workers movement to overcome and combat illusions in parliamentarism and nationalist prejudices” (“On the Collapse of Stalinist Rule in East Europe,” Spartacist No. 45-46, Winter 1990-1991).
Back in 198, North's U.S. Workers League literally gushed over Solidarność, hailing it as “an undaunted, young, vigorous and independent trade union movement” (Bulletin, 15 September 1981). Naturally now that the Polish workers have been through the brutal experience of Walesa's capitalist-restorationist government, it is no longer fashionable for fake leftists to be cheerleaders for Solidarność. To prettify their earlier support to Walesa & Co., Volkov has to pretend that somehow the organization has degenerated. Thus he writes that “it was precisely the violent suppression of Solidarność which drove it to total anticommunist degeneration.”
This is utterly absurd. When Solidarność first emerged in a wave of strikes in August 1980, a revolutionary leadership would have sought to split Solidarność, winning the mass of the workers away from the anti-Soviet and pro-Vatican leadership around Walesa. But by the time of its founding conference, in September 1981, the forces of clerical reaction and capitalist restoration had decisively taken the ascendancy. In sharp contrast to the Hungarian workers councils of 1956, the Solidarność congress resolutions made no mention of socialism. Instead they espoused “self management,” calling for the abolition of centralized economic planning. Solidarność's central political demand was for “free elections” to the Sejm (parliament), thereby rejecting soviet democracy in favor of "democratic” counterrevolution.
Taking its cue from its advisers in the fanatically anti-Communist bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO, the American trade-union federation, Solidarność called for “free trade unions.” While the demand for trade unions independent of bureaucratic control is integral to the Trotskyist program of proletarian political revolution, the slogan of “free trade unions” was long associated with NATO imperialism. For the U.S. Cold Warriors who authored it, it had one meaning: trade unions without communists, i.e., its central thrust was the same as the slogan of “soviets without Bolsheviks” raised by the Kronstadt mutineers of 1921. Were the ICFI more honest, it would denounce Trotsky for the necessary suppression of the counterrevolutionary Kronstadt uprising.
There was nothing “independent” about Solidarność, least of all its financing. Years later, the American bourgeois weekly Time (24 February 1992) said openly what we had exposed years before: “Until Solidarity's legal status was restored in 1989 it flourished underground, supplied, nurtured and advised largely by the network established under the auspices of Reagan and [Pope] John Paul II.... Money for the banned union came from CIA funds, the National Endowment for Democracy, secret accounts in the Vatican and Western trade unions.”
Solidarność leaders hobnobbed with anti-Communist leaders of the American “AFL-CIA” and big-time capitalists. Invited to Solidarność's first conference in 1981 as part of the AFL-CIO delegation was one Irving Brown, identified by ex-CIA official Philip Agee as the “principal CIA agent for control of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.” Brown's notorious career began in the post-World War II years, when he used hundreds of thousands of CIA dollars and the services of gangsters to split and destroy militant Communist-led unions in West Europe. And in October 1981, barely two months before Solidarność's bid for power, Walesa was wined and dined at a hush-hush breakfast (subsequently exposed in Le Canard Enchaine, 16 December 1981) with some 20 top-level American financiers and industrialists who flew in just to meet him at a posh restaurant at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. As the saying goes, “Tell me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are.”
Nor did Solidarność solidarize with the struggles of the workers in the capitalist West. When Ronald Reagan fired 12,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981 – the entire national union membership – practically every trade-union federation in the Western world protested. But not Polish Solidarność! Nor did Walesa & Co. support the British miners when they went on a year-long strike in 1984-85. Not for nothing did we say that Solidarność was the only “trade union” in the world supported by Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and the Vatican!
On the eve of the British coal strike, it was North's own international leaders, in Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party, who instigated an anti-communist witchhunt against Arthur Scargill, the head of the miners union. Healy's press blasted Scargill for accurately calling Solidarność an “anti-socialist” organization. This was a completely calculated act on the part of the Healyites, timed to be a bombshell, and one which was played for all it was worth by Thatcher, the bourgeois press and the anti-Communist labor bureaucrats in Britain in their campaign to cut off solidarity with the miners. The Healyites were so proud of themselves that they published an entire pamphlet about it.
The British miners strike was a class confrontation which could have toppled the Tory government and posed the question of which class would rule. And it was seen as such by the British state. Subsequently it emerged that the political police (MI5) were up to their necks in a vendetta against Scargill, which sought to starve the miners into submission by seizing their treasury and the funds being raised in solidarity internationally, including from Soviet trade unionists. On a more modest scale, our tendency, working with our defense organization, the Partisan Defense Committee, also raised funds for the British miners, in the face of hostility from the American AFL-CIO tops who considered Scargill a dangerous “red.”
Whitewashing the counterrevolutionary character of Solidarność, Volkov claims that there were “several political tendencies fighting inside ‘Solidarność.' The question of which was going to achieve overwhelming dominance depended entirely on whether the Polish proletariat could break from the influence of Stalinism and liberalism.” But the leaders of Solidarność were not Stalinists or social democrats, or even liberals. They were ardent enthusiasts for Western capitalism and the Roman Catholic church hierarchy. Thus, one of the demands of the Gdansk ship workers who struck in August 1980 was for access to the mass media for the Roman Catholic church. And the church had strong support particularly among the one-third of the population employed in agriculture, most of whom worked on privately owned farms. This represented a substantial spearhead for capitalist counterrevolution.
Indeed, the “several political tendencies” which Volkov refers to as fighting within Solidarność did not include a single known current which opposed capitalist restoration. "Tendencies” there were: liberal anti-Communists, Catholics, monarchists, fascists, etc. The “left wing” of Solidarność, including Adam Michnik and Jacek Kuron (who later became minister of labor in capitalist Poland), refused to oppose the church. Their newspaper Robotnik enthusiastically greeted the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland in 1979 (Robotnik, 1 June 1979). Nor were the ranks mostly workers – at the time of Solidarność's bid for power, two-thirds of its members were peasants and priests!
As we noted in our article headlined “Stop Solidarity's Counterrevolution!” (WV No. 289, 25 September 1981):
“What do revolutionaries do when the Marxist program stands counterposed to the overwhelming bulk of the working class, a situation we of course urgently seekto avoid? There can be no doubt. The task of communists must be to defend at all costs the program and gains of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Today Trotskyists find themselves in such a position over Poland, and it is necessary to swim against a powerful current of counterrevolution.”In this same article we note that “in Poland it is the Stalinists themselves, through decades of capitulation to capitalist forces, who have produced the counterrevolutionary crisis.... The crimes of Stalinism, not least the present counterrevolutionary situation in Poland, mandate proletarian political revolution in the Soviet bloc.” Naturally, Volkov does not quote this!
Nor does he acknowledge that after Jaruzelski's countercoup, we wrote: “As the immediate counterrevolutionary threat passes, these martial law measures must be ended, including release of the Solidarność leaders. A Trotskyist vanguard seeks to defeat them politically, by mobilizing the Polish working class in its true class interests" (“Power Bid Spiked,” WV No. 295, 18 December 1981). In fact, nowhere in his long screed does Volkov ever admit that we have consistently raised the slogan of proletarian political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy in our propaganda directed to the deformed and degenerated workers states. This alone testifies to the total intellectual mendacity of North, Volkov & Co.
Dual Role of the Bureaucracy
Volkov claims that “the main theoretical reason that made the Spartacists the eager defenders of Stalinism was their inability to understand the dual nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR.” What chutzpah from the people who systematically and with loud “theoretical” fanfare falsified Trotsky's views on the bureaucracy while in practice portraying it as a pure and simple “counterrevolutionary” agency working hand in hand with imperialism. Thus in his 1989 tract on Perestroika Versus Socialism, North declares that “the political and economic goals of the bureaucracy in its relations with world imperialism” are “the destruction of the planned economy and the social conquests of the October Revolution” and restoration of capitalism. And, more generally, in his 1988 tome, The Heritage We Defend, he declares that “Trotsky had branded the Stalinist bureaucracy as 'counterrevolutionary through and through'.” This stupidly one-sided formulation was the banner of every latter-day anti-Soviet fake Trotskyist.
Trotsky never said the Stalinist bureaucracy was “counterrevolutionary through and through" In fact this dubious formulation had its origins in the 1953 faction fight in the American Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) against the pro-Stalinist Cochran-Clarke faction. Used in the heat of argument by the majority's Dave Weiss, the formulation was then picked up and defended by Joseph Hansen.
Today Volkov seeks to refurbish the Northites' longtime perversion of Trotsky's analysis of the USSR with a new twist: the claim that they agree that the bureaucracy has a “dual nature.” Their best hope is that the reader will emerge totally confused. So a selection of excellent quotes from Trotsky is followed by the mind-twisting statement that “the progressive function of the bureaucratic caste was always relative, but its counterrevolutionary role was absolute”! Of course, the bureaucracy – the usurpers of political power from the proletariat and the executioners of the Old Bolsheviks – never had any “progressive function.” But so long as it rested on the proletarian property forms, it was constrained to behave in a contradictory fashion with respect to the defense of the degenerated workers state.
When Trotsky referred to the dual role of Stalinism in the USSR, he meant that the bureaucracy was not a ruling class but a brittle caste, resting on the collectivized property forms inherited from the October Revolution, while serving as a transmission belt for the pressures of imperialism. Thus at times the bureaucracy was constrained to defend – in a bureaucratic fashion – the workers state in order to protect its own privileges. Simultaneously, in myriad other ways it was undermining the workers state. In a 1937 article against the future renegade Burnham, Trotsky noted:
“The function of Stalin, like the function of Green [then head of the American trade-union federation, the AFL], has a dual character. Stalin serves the bureaucracy and thus the world bourgeoisie; but he cannot serve the bureaucracy without defending that social foundation which the bureaucracy exploits in its own interests. To that extent does Stalin defend nationalized property from imperialist attacks and from the too impatient and avaricious layers of the bureaucracy itself. However, he carries through the defense with methods that prepare the general destruction of Soviet society. It is exactly because of this that the Stalinist clique must be overthrown. But it is the revolutionary proletariat who must overthrow it. The proletariat cannot subcontract this work to the imperialists. In spite of Stalin, the proletariat defends the USSR from imperialist attacks.”In situations where the bureaucracy felt compelled to defend the workers state, albeit in a bureaucratic fashion, it was in order for Marxists to enter into a united front “with the Thermidorian section of the bureaucracy against open attack by capitalist counter-revolution” (in the words of the founding program of the Fourth International). This was the situation in Poland in 1981, when Jaruzelski took measures that temporarily suppressed capitalist counterrevolution. But for North, Volkov et al., since in practice the bureaucracy was “counterrevolutionary through and through,” it was permissible, indeed obligatory, to support any force that opposed it, no matter how reactionary. Using this revisionist methodology, the ICFI ended up in bed with the imperialists' favorite “union” in Poland, the CIA-backed mullahs in Afghanistan, and fascist-infested nationalists in the Baltics.
– “Not a Workers' and Not a Bourgeois State?” (November 1937) [our emphasis]
Northites Cover Their Tracks
Having supported every counterrevolutionary force that sought to destroy the Soviet Union, now that it no longer exists the Northites seek to pose as “Soviet patriots.” They take us to task, claiming that “the refusal of the Spartacists to raise the call for the restoration of the Soviet Union is the continuation of their policy of accommodation to Stalinism and to the national bourgeoisie.” The Northites admit that the progressive social foundations of the former Soviet state – based on the overthrow of capitalist class rule by the October Revolution and the construction of a planned, collectivized economy – have been smashed and capitalism restored. So what could the call to “restore the Soviet Union” mean today? It is cynical nonsense mouthed by the degenerate Stalinist remnants – now capitalist politicians who are outright nationalists – who seek to play on nostalgia for the Soviet Union in order to build support for a program of racist, anti-Semitic Great Russian chauvinism. And notwithstanding Volkov's declarations that the ICFI has nothing in common with the Russian nationalism of the Communist Party (KPRF), the facts show otherwise.
As we explained in our article “Why Marxists Do Not Raise the Call `Restore the Soviet Union',
“even after the Stalinist degeneration, the Soviet Union still retained a progressive character based on the collectivized economy established by the October Revolution. This progressive character had nothing whatever to do with its particular national composition. There is nothing inherently progressive about a state incorporating in its boundaries Russians and Uzbeks, Ukrainians and Chechens, etc. It is not for nothing that Lenin termed the tsarist empire a 'prison house of peoples'.”As is well known, Lenin strongly and clearly advocated the right of national self-determination, i.e., the right to secede and form independent states, for the subject nations of the tsarist empire. This was key in enabling the Bolsheviks to win the support of the non-Russian toilers. And later, after the successful October Revolution and against the opposition of Stalin, Lenin insisted that the right of national self-determination for the constituent soviet republics be written into the founding constitution of the USSR.
With the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state, the key task for communists in the former USSR is to work for proletarian socialist revolutions to overthrow the new bourgeois states. Whether future workers states in this region will form a multinational federation and what its configuration would be is a historically open and, at the present time, rather abstract question. What is sharply and directly posed at present is the defense of non-Russian peoples against renascent Russian chauvinist ambitions, including those would-be Russian imperialists who call for “restoring the Soviet Union.”
A central question for would-be Russian communists was the war in Chechnya. While giving no political support to Chechen nationalism, we called for the defeat of the Russian invading and occupying forces and for the right of Chechnya to decide its own fate. This obviously includes the right to establish its own state if the population so desires, as is apparently the case. As for the Stalinist has-beens in the KPRF, they attacked the Yeltsin government from the right, denouncing the withdrawal of Russian troops as a “betrayal.”
No less than for the Stalinists, the ICFI's call for “restoring the Soviet Union” serves as a cover for Russian chauvinism. Thus Volkov cites with approval a resolution by the KRD in Ufa, which says in part:
This “even-handed” position on the war reflects a chauvinist refusal to distinguish between a regional imperialist power (capitalist Russia) and a subjugated people (the Chechens). To seize on the Muslim leadership of the Chechen people to raise a spectre of Russia being in danger from “Muslim imperialism” simply reflects racist Russian imperialist propaganda. The position of Leninists and Trotskyists in wars between imperialists and colonial peoples is to call for military defeat of the imperialists. Thus in the war between China and Japan in the 1930s, while not giving any political confidence to the anti-communist butcher Chiang Kai-shek, the Trotskyists gave military support to the Chinese against Japanese imperialism. A similar position was taken in military defense of Haile Selassie's Ethiopia in its war against Mussolini's Italian imperialism.
“Yeltsin's victory brings colonialist oppression to the proletarians of Chechnya and to Russian workers, it brings death in other imperialist military campaigns which will surely come, for example, to the Ukraine or toward the Indian Ocean. For Chechen toilers, a victory of Dudayev means neocolonial oppression by Muslim countries, as well as maintaining a semi-fascist regime domestically....
“In imperialist war, communists must not justify or prettify a government or a bourgeoisie of any of the fighting powers because it means supporting the right of one of the fighting blocs (in this case Western or Muslim imperialism) to rob and oppress dependent peoples (including Chechnya). We cannot support 'self-determination' of the Chechen people in the abstract without posing its dependence on the revolutionary proletarian movement in Chechnya and in the other republics of the former USSR.”
In opposing independence for the Chechens, the Northites are making a political bloc with Yeltsin, Russian fascists like Zhirinovsky and chauvinists of the Zyuganov ilk. This kind of methodology, with the false appeal to “proletarian internationalism” as a smokescreen to avoid taking a side for the military defeat of one's own imperialist bourgeoisie, is typical of the methods of the social-patriotic Second International and alien to Leninism.
It is notable that nowhere in their statement do the Northites make any reference to the whipping up of a racist witchhunt against the Caucasian minority in Russia, fueled by the war in Chechnya. There is no criticism whatsoever of the anti-Semitism, anti-gay and racist bigotry which saturate the Stalinist milieu, nor any mention of the need to mobilize against fascist scum like Pamyat or the other fascist groups that have proliferated in Russia. Indeed, the Northite press in Russia is notorious for failing to address any of the questions of special oppression. In contradistinction, readers of our Russian-language material (see for example Biuleten Spartakovtsev No. 3) are well aware of our insistence that a Leninist party must be a “tribune of the people,” combatting all manifestations of oppression in society.
The Northites try to dress up their chauvinist line on Chechnya by claiming they are “fighting” bourgeois nationalism. Likewise, they have “discovered” that the Tamils in Lanka, the Quebecois in Canada, etc. have no right to independence. (See our article, “David North ‘Abolishes’ the Right to Self-Determination,” WV Nos. 626 and 627, 28 July and 25. August 1995.) There's hardly anything “leftist” about this position. As we noted earlier, Healy/North were shameless enthusiasts for bourgeois nationalists like the Sajudis, or Walesa's Pilsudskiites, when such outfits were being supported by the imperialists as a means to destroy the Soviet Union. But now that the USSR is no more, the imperialist powers are not happy that the spoils they hoped to loot from the victory of capitalist counterrevolution are being drowned in a sea of nationalist-inspired regional conflicts. And the Northites follow suit. It's notable that the American and European governments supported the territorial integrity of Russia and its war against Chechnya. U.S. president Clinton grotesquely drew a parallel between the Russian attempted rape of Chechnya and the struggle against the Southern slavocracy in the American Civil War, claiming that the common principle was “that no state has a right to withdraw from our union.”
It's particularly obscene to hear lectures about the dangers of bourgeois nationalism from this lot. The Northite tendency is not just a bunch of opportunists with bad ideas, but is deeply corrupt. Today fanning fears of “Muslim imperialism” in Chechnya, the Northites for years operated as shameless apologists for a number of Arab nationalist regimes. In 1979, North's Bulletin reprinted articles from Gerry Healy's News Line hailing the execution of 21 Iraqi Communist Party members by Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist government. That same year, celebrating the “Tenth Anniversary of the Libyan Revolution,” the Workers League sent a telegram to Qaddafi praising his “progressive socialist policies.” Operating as press agents for a variety of oil-rich Middle Eastern regimes, the ICFI was rewarded with millions in money from Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Abu Dhabi, among others. Of course, today the Northites would like to claim that it was all Healy's fault. But none of the leaders of the ICFI objected to the vicious betrayals that were carried out to get the money that came pouring in from Middle Eastern regimes. On the contrary, Healy was deposed by his former lieutenants only after the money was no longer coming in (see “Trotskyism: What It Isn't and What It Is” [“Shto Takoe Trotskizm,” Biuleten Spartakovtsev No. 1, Autumn 1990].
With the Northites, yesterday's orthodoxy is tomorrow's anathema. During the Vietnam War, the Workers League appealed to the viciously anti-Communist AFL-CIO union bureaucracy headed by George Meany to build a “labor party.” The Healyites' platform for such a party made no mention of either the war or the fight against racism, which is key to unlocking proletarian struggle in the U.S. But today the Workers League preaches that the trade unions are totally bourgeois institutions that cannot serve as economic defense organizations for the working class. The only constant here is the refusal to politically fight the sellout bureaucracy within the unions; formerly they prettified the “labor lieutenants of capital,” today they write off the unions, which they equate with the pro-capitalist leadership.
Or take Volkov's assertion that our tendency originated “in the wave of protests against the Vietnam War.” Actually our origins are earlier, in the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) of the American Socialist Workers Party. The leaders of what became the Workers League were also part of the RT until they and Healy decided to conciliate the then-centrist SWP tops by fingering us to the party leadership. One of the central planks of the RT was its criticism of the SWP majority for uncritically enthusing over the Castro regime in Cuba – a fact which it is inconvenient for Volkov to admit since it runs counter to his line that we are pro-Stalinist. Moreover, during the Vietnam War the Healyites oscillated between slavish support to the reformists who sought to keep the antiwar movement chained to the capitalist Democratic Party politicians, on the one hand, and opportunist lunges after assorted Stalinist outfits. Thus, they uncritically hailed Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Stalinists, who murdered the urban-based Vietnamese Trotskyists; they acted as cheerleaders for Mao's bogus “Cultural Revolution” in China – a power struggle between wings of the Stalinist bureaucracy which was ultimately settled by the army.
The Healy/North operation is sometimes capable of putting some orthodox-sounding stuff on paper, but the reader had better “hold on to his wallet.” To use Lenin's term, these people are “political bandits” – that is, they function as political pirates who will show any flag in order to attack any target. When it has suited its episodic interests, the ICFI has taken subsidies from oil-rich regimes; they have served the queen and the venal right-wing British trade-union bureaucracy by smearing the leader of the miners union as a desperate class battle was looming. And they crawled before any and all forces hostile to the social gains that existed for working people in the collectivized property forms of the former USSR. In their own small way, the Northites facilitated the destruction of the Soviet Union as they made common cause with the imperialist enemies of October, in the name of “anti-Stalinism.” We, the Trotskyists, fought for the only program that would have prevented the catastrophe of counterrevolution: proletarian political revolutions in the deformed and degenerated workers states, and the socialist overthrow of capitalism on a worldwide scale.
The final undoing of the October Revolution has unleashed in its wake intensified capitalist attacks on the working class on every continent, as each imperialist power scrambles to improve its competitive position against its rivals, seeking to turn the screws of exploitation tighter at home while jockeying for the spoils of neocolonial plunder abroad. Defensive struggles, often sharp, have broken out as the toiling masses seek to protect their living standards. But what is required to win such struggles and take the working class over to the offensive to finally put an end to the capitalist imperialist system is an internationalist revolutionary leadership rooted in the working class – a Leninist party which must fight to the finish to defend every past proletarian conquest as part of fighting for new ones. As we wrote in the last issue of Spartacist:
“In the remaining deformed workers states which emerged while the USSR existed, there is still a narrow window of time open for Trotskyist intervention, fighting to defend the remaining gains of the revolutions from China to Cuba through workers political revolution. Trotskyist parties, part of a reforged Fourth International, must be built to lead new October Revolutions to bring the workers to power all over the globe. It is for this aim and purpose that the International Communist League fights.”October 1997
-“Trotsky's Fight Against Stalinist Betrayal of Bolshevik Revolution,” Spartacist [English language edition] No. 53, Summer 1997