David North’s “Left” McCarthyism
It's not often that the New York Times, liberal mouthpiece mouthpiece for U.S. imperialism, deems letters from ostensible socialists “fit to print.” But the Times (22 October) clearly saw some value in publishing a missive by David North of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP, formerly Workers League). Having ceased publication of his fake-Marxist International Workers Bulletin last year in favor of a pseudo-academic Web site, the national secretary of the now organless SEP descended from cyberspace to engage in polite “debate” with professional anti-Communist Ronald Radosh. Radosh has made a career out of retrying, reconvicting and re-executing Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as “Soviet spies” in 1953 in an anti-Communist, anti-Semitic witchhunt.
In commenting on a Times (18 October) “Week in Review” piece titled “Rethinking McCarthyism, if Not McCarthy” which cited Radosh, North whines: “Mr. Radosh’s assertion that the debacle of the American Communist Party has discredited the entire Socialist movement is indefensible.” North begs to set the record straight: “In fact, before the cold war, anti-Stalinism was associated principally with the Socialist left — above all with Trotskyists. Long before anti-Stalinism became fashionable among liberals, who had previously embraced ‘popular front’ alliances with the Communist Party, left-wing anti-Stalinists had insisted that the Kremlin’s policies had nothing in common with Marxism or with the Socialist program.”
And North’s SEP has nothing in common with Trotskyism — the Marxism of our time. “With the approval of North,” the SEP Web site assures us, his letter was abridged by the Times to omit even passing references to anti-Communism or the October Revolution of 1917. But even the unabridged version does not so much as hint at the Trotskyist position of unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union when it existed — nor, to be sure, of the remaining deformed workers states (China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam) today — against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. Nor does North raise a finger in defense of the heroic Rosenbergs in the face of Radosh’s calumnies. Recognizing a kindred spirit, Radosh replied to North in ever so polite terms that McCarthy “gave a bad name to the very legitimate cause of anti-Communism” (New York Times, 24 October). In fact, this aptly captures North’s own view.
North falsely amalgamates revolutionary Trotskyism with that wing of the “socialist movement” which opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and supported its “own” imperialist rulers in World Wars I and II, as well as with the liberals who were the left wing of the post-WWII anti-Communist crusade. He reduces Trotskyism to an anti-Soviet loyalty oath. Polemicizing against North’s forebears in a 1947 article titled “Stalinism and Anti-Stalinism,” James P. Cannon, leader of the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP), wrote at the onset of the Cold War witchhunt:
“We Trotskyists, as everybody knows, are also against Stalinism and have fought it unceasingly and consistently for a very long time. But we have no place in the present ‘all-inclusive’ united front against American Stalinism. The reason for this is that we are anticapitalist. Consequently, we can find no point of agreement with the campaign conducted by the political representative of American capitalism in Washington, with the support of its agents in the labor movement and its lackeys in the literary and academic world. We fight Stalinism from a different standpoint.As Cannon pointed out, the Stalinists paved the way for their own isolation during the red purge by their class betrayals — in league with the social democrats — in the service of U.S. imperialism, from support to Democrat Roosevelt’s “New Deal” coalition in the 1930s to the wartime no-strike pledge. But while fighting for proletarian political revolution against the Kremlin bureaucracy and politically combating the Stalinist syphilis in the labor movement, the Trotskyists rallied to the defense of Stalinist and other militants driven out of the trade unions (of which not a word in North’s letter) by “left-wing anti-Stalinists” like Walter Reuther. The SWP denounced the murder of the Rosenbergs as “a bestial act of capitalist class terrorism intended to help intimidate into silence all who would criticize or oppose Wall Street’s policies abroad or at home.”
“We fight Stalinism not because it is another name for communism, but precisely because of its betrayal of communism and of the interests of the workers in the class struggle.”
— Cannon, The Struggle for Socialism in the American Century (1977)
The heritage North defends is not that of Trotskyism, which was embodied through the 1950s in the now-reformist SWP, but of anti-Communist renegades like Irving Howe and George Orwell, who spied for His Majesty’s secret service against “Soviet totalitarianism.” During the 1980s Cold War against the Soviet Union, North’s outfit was on the same side as social-democratic witch-hunters like Radosh — cheering CIA-backed mujahedin cutthroats against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan, marching lockstep toward capitalist counterrevolution with clerical-nationalist Solidarność in Poland, enthusiastically promoting the fascist-infested Sajudis in Lithuania and the rest of the reactionary Baltic “captive nations” trash.
North was schooled in the political banditry of Gerry Healy’s International Committee (IC). In 1979, North joined Healy in hailing the execution of 21 members of the Iraqi Communist Party by the bourgeois-nationalist Ba’ath regime, while Healy’s outfit spied on Iraqi oppositionists in Britain. When the flow of petrodollars from various Arab regimes for services rendered dried up, Healy’s outfit imploded and North modestly proclaimed himself leader of the international proletariat.
The kind of respectability North now craves can only come to those who did their bit in aiding the cause of capitalist counterrevolution in the USSR, a historic defeat for the world’s working class.
Shortly before that, in 1983, the IC whipped up an anti-Communist furor against British miners leader Arthur Scargill over his correct denunciation of Polish Solidarność as “anti-socialist.” This crusade, picked up by the capitalist media and right-wing labor misleaders, was aimed at isolating the miners union on the eve of a bitter strike against the Coal Board and the government of Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher. With the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, North & Co. wrote off the trade-union movement as a whole as a tool of bourgeois rule, while extolling scabs as those who have the insight to recognize the “futility” of union struggles.
North’s own witchhunting credentials are impeccable. Beginning in the mid1970s, he devoted over a decade to the crazed “Security and the Fourth International” campaign launched by the corrupt, thuggish and megalomaniacal Healy with the aim of smearing the SWP leadership (primarily Joseph Hansen) with supposed complicity in Trotsky’s assassination by Stalinist agents in 1940. In the 1980s, North’s outfit virtually prepared the prosecution brief which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of SWP trade unionist Mark Curtis on frame-up rape charges. Meanwhile, the “Socialist Equality” Party spits on the fight against the oppression of women, blacks, homosexuals and national minorities.
The McCarthyite witchhunt was aimed at preparing the country for war against the Soviet Union and driving the reds out of the unions. The “anti-Stalinist” social democrats embraced by North shared that aim but opposed McCarthy for going “too far” by targeting Cold War liberals as well… It is notable that Radosh’s hatchet job, The Rosenberg File (co-authored by Joyce Milton), was published in the early 1980s to facilitate a new Red Hunt as U.S. imperialism again geared up for war against the Soviet Union (see “Cold War Rad-Libs Embrace FBI Frame-Up: They’re Trying to Kill the Rosen bergs All Over Again,” WV No. 340, 21 October 1983). It is also notable that North’s Workers League never appeared on the FBI’s ADEX list of organizations — including the SL and a range of other groups — to be rounded up in the event of a “national emergency.”
The current grotesque “rehabilitation “ of McCarthyism, seizing on CIA “revelations” that those who were witchhunted and murdered got what they deserved because they were indeed “Soviet spies,” is part of an all-sided attempt to again demonize communism. Even as the bourgeoisie and its mouthpieces proclaim that “Marxism is dead,” they seek to warn off militant workers and radicalized youth from revolutionary politics, aware that the growing gap between the rich and poor and the other enormous contradictions in this society have created seething discontents and are leading to a revival of labor militancy.
The kind of respectability North now craves can only come to those who did their bit in aiding the cause of capitalist counterrevolution in the USSR, a historic defeat for the world’s working class. As Leninists, one of our primary responsibilities is to expose especially the “left” (should North remain so positioned) opponents of proletarian revolution, who today join in seeking to bury the legacy of the October Resolution under a mountain of lies while rehabilitating the bloodsoaked imperialist world order. Indeed, a rapprochement between North and Radosh might well be possible — perhaps even a new joint Web site, “godthatfailed.anticom”.