SLA: From “Heroic Guerillas” to “Police Plot”
Workers League Bitten By Seven-Headed Cobra
The uproar over recent assassination attempts against Gerald Ford together with the capture of Patricia Hearst and the remnants of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) has spotlighted the chronic inability of ostensibly socialist organizations to analyze social phenomena and events from a Marxist viewpoint. The Spartacist League has been unique in consistently maintaining that the SLA is not part of the left but "an irrational and cultist expression of lumpen-proletarian rage having nothing in common with the struggle of the working class for socialism" (WV No. 43, 26 April 1974).
Quite a different line is presented by the fake-Trotskyist Workers League (WL), which asserts that, "This fantastic tale [Patricia Hearst's 'amnesia'] is being whipped up as a smokescreen to cover up the fact that the SLA was a police operation from beginning to end" (Bulletin, 26 September). This is at least consistent with its cop-plot "theories" at the time the SLA kidnapping of Hearst first hit the headlines: according to a 19 February 1974 Bulletin editorial, "The SLA has all the characteristics of a CIA or FBI creation."
However, between then and now the WL said something entirely opposite. Shortly after Patricia Hearst announced her "conversion" to the SLA, Melody Farrow wrote in the Bulletin (19 April 1974):
"There can be no question of the courage and dedication of the SLA members who are willing to risk their lives to fight capitalism. They must be unconditionally defended against the plans of the government to massacre them."Thus with consummate fake-"dialectics" the SLA was transformed from a group with "all the characteristics of a CIA or FBI creation" into a band of courageous and dedicated anti-capitalist fighters. And with a wave of the Healyite magic wand - presto! - the SLA again becomes a police creation from start to finish, without a word of explanation.
The explanation is, however, self-evident to those who know the Workers League: discovering that Patricia Hearst and the SLA evoked sympathy from various petty-bourgeois radicals, the WL decided to appeal to these strata by transmogrifying their heros from cops into "revolutionaries." Nor is this something new for these practised political bandits.
Under the leadership of Tim Wohlforth the WL gained widespread notoriety for its political dishonesty, its subordination of political principle to pursuit of organizational opportunities. A truly gross instance was Wohlforth's hailing of Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton for turning to "dialectics" just weeks before Newton turned to the church and the Democratic Party. In the same issue of the Bulletin, Wohlforth also called for all-out labor support to the strike of New York City cops!
Wohlforth is gone, reduced to spending his time sniffing around the social-democratic Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the unsavory, ethereal sectlet of Michel Varga, the International League Rebuilding the Fourth International (LIRQI). But his fabled "method" remains. Under its new lackluster manager, Fred Mazelis, the WL is every bit as unprincipled and dishonest. (See page 8 on the Bulletin's recent flipflops over Portugal.) In addition to the time-honored technique of the Big Lie, one of its favorite modes of argumentation is the amalgam. Thus the 30 September Bulletin attempts to lump the Spartacist League together with the snivelling reformists of the SWP, claiming the SL has been driven into a frenzy by the bourgeoisie's antiterrorism campaign.
Mere facts are of little importance to the WL, but for anyone else there is an obvious difference between the SWP's condemnation of assassination attempts on Ford as "part of the violence, hatred and irrationality which seem to poison American society today," and the SL's forthright statement: "We wept no tears over the death of John Kennedy; and class-conscious workers are not concerned to protect the physical safety of the chief imperialist warmonger, Gerald Ford" (WV No. 78, 26 September).
The Bulletin writer is particularly upset that we could say: "That a disturbed crackpot like Lyn Marcus, for instance, can gain a following of hundreds of youth (some of whom want to see a socialist society) is an expression of the extreme weakness of the U.S. left and the present quietism of its misled and racially torn working class."
"Aha!" cries the Bulletin. "Here in its purest form, is the enormous cynicism and despair of the American middle class." It continues: "The exact opposite is the case. The use of provocations by the ruling class expresses its enormous weakness when confronted by the labor movement... . The key issue is not that the working class lacks sufficient strength to defend its rights, but that it is not conscious of its strength. The task of making it conscious is the central responsibility of the revolutionary party."
The Workers League specializes in the preposterous truism, first presenting false premises, then obscuring the issues and conveniently missing the point. Yes, we said the U.S. left is weak, the working class is quietist, i.e., not conscious of its strength and unaware of its true interests. Why? Because it is misled by confusionists and opportunists. Given the WL's penchant for changing its line as casually as most people change their underwear, it is evident that Mazelis and Co. offer no alternative but only more of the same. The construction of a truly revolutionary Trotskyist party in the U.S. will have as one of its by-products the political destruction of such pettifogging snake oil peddlers.