Tuesday, October 6, 2009

D. North “Abolishes” Right to Self-Determination 2 (1995)

Workers Vanguard No. 627, 25 August 1995

A Case Study of Chauvinism

David North “Abolishes” the Right to Self-Determination


Part One of this article, polemicizing against a pamphlet by David North ‘s International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), titled “ The Road to Tuzla.” appeared in WV No. 626 (28 July).

From Sri Lanka…

In his speech, “Permanent Revolution and the National Question Today,” North says he drew inspiration for the ICFI’s opposition to self-determination from Keerthi Balasuriya, a former leader of their largest section, the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL) of Sri Lanka.

Following Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948 from the racist colonial rule of the British and the subsequent passage of a Sinhala-only language law in 1956, the national chauvinism of the Sinhalese ruling class has led to au increasing, and increasingly bloody, communal polarization of the Sinhala and Tamil peoples of the island. This reached a watershed with the 1983 government-inspired pogroms against the Tamils. Hundreds upon hundreds of Tamils were murdered in bloodcurdling wholesale massacres, Tamil homes and businesses in Colombo were burnt to the ground (often with the occupants inside), economic and geographic interpenetration of the two peoples was severed in blood as the Tamils were increasingly compacted in the North and East of the island.

Sinhala communalism, designed and instigated by the Lankan ruling class, has always been wielded to assert its own class domination over both the Tamil and Sinhalese working people and oppressed, to head off any popular revolt by preventing class unity. From our inception as a tendency in the 1960s, we have championed the rights of the oppressed Tamil people. At the same time, we oppose Tamil nationalism, which, for example, dismissed the struggles of the strategically placed Tamil plantation workers in the central highlands of the island. In fact, the Tamil nationalist politicians wrote off these stateless “Indian Tamils” who had lived and worked on the island for more than a century. In fighting against the popular-frontist betrayals of the once-Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), we pointed out that their class collaboration was rooted in an accommodation to anti-Tamil Sinhalese chauvinism.

We had always called “For the Right of Self-Determination of the Tamil People!” From the time of the 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms, we raised the demand for the right of Tamil Eelam. As we wrote in “Massacre in Sri Lanka” (WV No. 336, 12 August 1983):
The impact of the bloodletting and mass population transfers can only be described as a catastrophe….
“What is posed now as a minimal democratic demand is a plebiscite of the Tamil working people to decide on the formation of an independent state in the North….
“What is desperately necessary is the building of an internationalist Trotskyist party in Sri Lanka, necessarily substantially based among the exploited Tamil masses. The struggle against the hideous national oppression of the Tamils and communalism is central to forging such a party.
In the early 1970s, Healy’s ICFI stridently opposed the national rights of the oppressed Tamil people, arguing that a separate Tamil slate would only serve imperialism. By the late ‘70s, however, they were uncritically cheering the petty-bourgeois nationalist “Tamil Tigers” (LTTE). In the late 1980s, the RCL did manage to approximate a decent and correct line — defending the right of self-determination for the Tamil minority, opposing the intervention of India, demanding the withdrawal of the Sinhalese government troops from the Northern and Eastern Provinces and calling “For a United Socialist States of Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka.”

Now, RCL leader Wije Dias repudiates the Tamil struggle for self-determination. For all North’s denunciations of Healy, he and his supporters have come full circle to the original chauvinist position (as articulated by Michael Banda) of Healy’s ICFI. In Dias’ words:
If the LTTE established a separate Eelam state, it would, like any other comprador regime, offer the masses of Tamils as cheap labour to the transnational corporations. This is inevitable, as there exists no possibility of implementing any programme of national development under the present capitalist global system of production…. These nationalist aspirations lead not to national liberation, but to national subjugation to imperialism.”
International Worker [Britain], 22 January 1994
This is truly Orwellian — to “prevent” national subjugation to imperialism one must preserve national subjugation to the dominant state power and to ...imperialism. Even the demand for withdrawal of the Lankan army from the Tamil areas is missing from articles in the ICFI’s International Workers Bulletin — rather contradicting all the bombast about the RCL’s opposition to what is euphemistically termed the government’s “racist” war. The Northites even mimic the chauvinism of the Sinhalese rulers by referring to the Tamil areas with quotation marks around the term traditional homelands.

This chauvinist denial of the right of self-determination for the Tamil people is alibied in the name of “proletarian internationalism.” But the Northites’ opposition to Tamil national rights is not simply confined to the “here and now.” The RCL’s previous call for “A United Socialist States of Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka” has been changed to the call for a single “Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and Eelam.”

J.V. Stalin had a similar idea when in 1922, as Commissar of Nationalities, he highhandedly sought to subordinate the national independence of the Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani soviet republics by turning their nascent Transcaucasian federation into a single federated republic. When Lenin then objected to Stalin’s subsequent plans to bring the Transcaucasian republics into the Russian republic, Stalin stubbornly persisted by incorporating the Transcaucasian federation again as a single republic into the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The last fight of Lenin’s life was against the Great Russian chauvinism which was the initial signature of the emerging Stalinist bureaucracy.

Every few years, the membership of North’s ICFI have their heads put through another “dialectical” wringer. From prostration before bourgeois-nationalist regimes, it is now pronounced that any and all struggles for self-determination must be vigorously opposed.

Of a piece with their new appreciation of the Tamil national question in Sri Lanka, in “The Road to Tuzla” the Northites write, with apparent alarm, that “India is faced with the threat of dismemberment.” Citing the fact that “the Marxist movement opposed the partition of India and Pakistan along ethnic and religious lines in 1947” — a partition that was engineered by British imperialism as the culminating act of over 300 years of colonial “divide and rule” — they oppose legitimate national struggles such as those in Kashmir and of the Sikhs in the Punjab. This is nothing other than an apology for the maintenance of bourgeois “secular” India, a living hell for oppressed castes, women and myriad different peoples and nationalities.

…to Quebec

In Canada, leading up to the electoral victory of the bourgeois-nationalist Parti Quebecois (PQ) in the Quebec elections last fall, the Northites were screaming like a bunch of Alberta prairie yahoos: “A PQ victory would throw the continued existence of the 127-year-old Canadian nation-state into question and raise the specter of a Yugoslav-style civil war in North America” (International Workers Bulletin, 29 August 1994)! The idea that Quebec is about to become the next Bosnia is truly dérangé. Unlike the Balkans, where the bloody nationalist conflicts are inspired by the competition of interpenetrated peoples for the same territory, Quebec is a separate French-speaking nation with a common people, common language, common culture and common history. Although Native Indians would certainly continue to get it in the neck should Quebec secede (not that they aren’t presently abused and denigrated by the English-Canadian imperialist rulers), independence would hardly require “ethnic cleansing” to drive out another people or nationality.

Quebec was forcibly incorporated into British North America following the 1759 defeat of the French garrison on the Plains of Abraham. In 1867, the national subjugation of the Québécois was the cornerstone of Canadian confederation. Almost 100 years later, the belated emergence of Quebec from clerical-dominated backwardness produced an upwardly mobile French-speaking petty bourgeoisie, and at the same time there emerged one of the most militant and class-conscious proletariats in all of North America. Opposition to Anglo chauvinism and the suppression of the national and language rights of the Quebecois fueled an upsurge in labor militancy in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

The Quebec labor bureaucrats channeled the militancy and combativity of the Québécois working class into support for the bourgeois-nationalist Parti Québécois. In this they were assisted by the Anglo chauvinism of the labor misleaders in the rest of Canada, who militantly opposed the legitimate national and language rights of the Québécois. The fact that Quebec is a separate nation, with corresponding national rights — -i.e. the right to independence — -is similarly not even given a nod in the Bulletin’s articles on the question. Nor do they mention, much less oppose, the raving Anglo chauvinism against Quebec in English Canada.

Today, such chauvinism is particularly represented by the prairie-based Reform Party, which is now one of the two major opposition parties in the Canadian parliament. The other major opposition party is the Bloc Quebecois — the federal’ analogue to the PQ which now rules Quebec. This alone should give some idea of the dominance of the Quebec national question in Canada and the extent to .which it poisons relations between the workers of Quebec and English Canada.

Our Canadian comrades of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste have consistently championed Quebec’s unconditional right to independence, not out of support to the emergent Quebecois bourgeoisie‘s aspirations to become maîtres chez nous (masters in our own house), but out of a proletarian internationalist commitment to remove the national barriers to the class unity of the English — and French — speaking workers of North America. The Northites, however, although claiming to fight “to unite workers in Canada with their class brothers in the US and Mexico,” refuse to defend Quebec’s right to independence. This is antithetical to an internationalist struggle for revolutionary working-class unity.

On the contrary, it is simply a backhanded endorsement of the “unity” of the Canadian bourgeois state. In the words of Lenin:
The proletariat cannot remain silent on the question of the frontiers of a state founded on national oppression, a question so ‘unpleasant’ for the imperialist bourgeoisie. The proletariat must struggle against the enforced retention of oppressed nations within the bounds of the given state, which means that they must fight for the right to self-determination. The proletariat must demand freedom of political separation for the colonies and nations oppressed by ‘their own’ nation. Otherwise, the internationalism of the proletariat would be nothing but empty words; neither confidence nor class solidarity would be possible between the workers of the oppressed and the oppressor nations; the hypocrisy of the reformists and Kautskyites, who defend self-determination but remain silent about the nations oppressed by ‘their own’ nation and kept in ‘their own’ state by force, would remain unexposed.”
— “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (January-February 1916)
Counterfeit “Orthodoxy”

While the Northites’ open rejection of right of nations to self-determination may be a new innovation, getting there is not a very big step. They have long sneered at racial and other forms of oppression born of capitalist exploitation somehow irrelevant to the “class struggle” — by which they meant the pursuit a crude workerist adaptation to the racist Cold War labor bureaucrats. At the height of the Vietnam antiwar protests and struggles for black freedom, the Bulletin put forward a program for a labor party which took up neither opposition to the war nor the fight for black liberation!

In a long series of articles in the U.S. Workers League’s Bulletin titled “The Politics of the Spartacist League,” written in the mid-1980s, the denounced us for “An Obsession With Race.” Why? By the Northites’ lights, Workers Vanguard featured too many articles on the question of black oppression, racist terror and opposition to fascism, and not enough on “workers.” Never mind that blacks are heavily represented in the ranks of organized labor and that the fight against racist and fascist terror is integral to the defense of the labor movement as a whole. But obviously not for the Bulletin. In 1983, it ran an article smearing the SL-initiated November 1982 labor/black mobilization in Washington, D.C. — in which over 5,000 black workers and youth came out and stopped the Klan — as “an adventure which played right into the hands of the police”!

Even Gerry Healy wrote of “D. North’s whiter than white socialism.” In American society, where the forcible segregation of blacks at the bottom is a keystone of U.S. capitalism, labor must champion the cause of black liberation if it is to break the chains of capitalist exploitation and degradation. This, the Northites claimed, is to “counterpose …struggle against racism” to “the struggle of the working class.”

The same Bulletin series reviled us for the simple (and eminently truthful) statement that the hard-fought 1986 strike by Hormel meatpackers had been knifed by the “labor traitors that currently make up the top leadership of the American labor movement.” The Workers League sneered that this was only further evidence of our “virulent hatred of the working class and deep pessimism.” The Northites’ equation of the trade-union misleaders with the unions themselves has been one of their few political constants. Now they have simply reversed the equation. From squealing that to attack the labor bureaucrats was some kind of “proof” of “hatred of the working class,” they have gone on to pronouncing that the unions as a whole can no longer be considered workers organizations!

A few years back, in one of his ponderous speeches, titled “The End of the USSR,” David North declared that “to define the AFL-CLO as a working class organization is to blind the working class” (Bulletin, 10 January 1992).

The unions have been grievously undermined by the pro-capitalist labor tops to the point where organized labor in this country is increasingly a hollow shell. Nonetheless, even though now only representing a small percentage of the working class, the unions are still the economic organizations of the working class. To transform them into fighting organizations for the working class and all of the oppressed requires a political struggle to break the trade-union bureaucracy’s stranglehold and replace these sellouts with a class-struggle leadership.

There are, of course, so-called “unions” which have fit North’s description as “direct instruments of imperialism.” Solidarność in Poland is one, and one which the Northites eagerly and vigorously supported.

But it is precisely such a political struggle that is excluded in either incarnation of the Northite line on the unions. From appealing to the AFL-CIO tops to do everything from launch general strikes to form a labor party, the Northites now equate all of organized labor with the bosses and their government. Such a view of the unions is one that is obviously not shared by the capitalists or their state, which have poured some billions of dollars into mercenary strikebreaking outfits. Far from promoting working-class struggle, the Northites’ appeals for the workers to junk their unions neatly dovetail with the interests of the union-busting bosses.

There are, of course, so-called “unions” which have fit North’s description as “direct instruments of imperialism. Solidarność in Poland is one, and one which the Northites eagerly and vigorously supported. Another is the “Union of Democratic Miners” in Britain. Consisting of a bunch of scabs on the heroic British coal strike of 1984-85, this “union” was set up at the behest of the Thatcher government to destroy the National Union of Miners (NUM).

Healy/North’s ICFI had its own hand to play against the British miners union. On the eve of the strike, Healy’s press made a big splash by scandalizing NUM leader Arthur Scargill for his correct opposition to Solidarność as “anti-socialist.” This scurrilous anti-Communist campaign was instantly picked up by the Fleet Street tabloids as well as the Labour Party/Trades Union Congress right wing with the aim of isolating the miners union and trying to crush it. The campaign to smear and discredit Scargill was taken up by the British secret police of MI5 as part of a full-scale mobilization of all the forces of the capitalist state aimed at destroying the miners union. Yet even now the Northites’ only criticism of Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) when it comes to the British miners is that it supposedly “ruled out any criticism of Scargill” (International Workers Bulletin, 25 April 1994)!

Classless Demagogues

In the concluding portions of “The Road to Tuzla,” North’s ICFI statement declares that Cliff Slaughter’s WRP “has been transformed as the result of a protracted national opportunist degeneration into a bourgeois tendency.” That just about finishes it. North’s organization has written off the unions, the social-democratic and ex-Stalinist parties, all of what they perceive as their major “Trotskyist” contenders — from Ernest Mandel’s United Secretariat to Slaughter’s WRP — as thoroughly bourgeois organizations. As Hegel and Marx would say, the Northites have obliterated all contradictions — to the end of portraying themselves as the last, the only, proletarian leaders on the face of the planet.

The Northites’ description of Slaughter’s organization sounds all too much like their own, particularly the statement that the positions of the WRP serve to “ideologically” condition its membership “to reject any connection between the party’s politics, on the one hand, and the class interests of the proletariat and the principled positions of Marxism, on the other.” More than ten years ago, in responding to the Bulletin’s smear of our anti-Klan mobilization in Washington, D.C., we wrote that the leaders of Healy’s ICFI were “classless demagogues, all-purpose mock extremists whose radicalism has nothing in common with socialist struggle” (“Smash Fascist Smear of SL,” WV No. 379, 17 May 1985).

Every few years, the membership of North’s ICFI have their heads put through another “dialectical” wringer. From prostration before bourgeois-nationalist regimes, it is now pronounced that any and all struggles for self-determination must be vigorously opposed. After years of pandering to the AFL-CIO tops, the membership is now told that the unions are the “direct instruments of imperialism” and must be destroyed.

North’s grand speeches proclaiming “decisive turning points” for the proletariat not only serve to justify and reinforce his organization’s distance from the class struggle, they are a direct echo of the interests of the imperialists. The ICFI’s “theories” are nothing but cowardly rationalizations for sneering at struggle against chauvinist oppression, and for writing off the economic defense organizations of the working class, in order to boost their own petty advantage. The Northites’ policies are those of poseurs seeking a niche as spoilers. Otherwise, they are utterly devoid of, and antithetical to a program which can lead the international working class and oppressed to a socialist victory over their exploiters.

D. North “Abolishes” Right to Self-Determination 1 (1995)

Workers Vanguard No. 626, 28 July 1995

Revelation on the Road to Tuzla

David North “Abolishes” the Right to Self-Determination


The collapse of the former workers states of Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union unleashed an orgy of nationalist bloodletting. Today the imperialist media denounces Serbian war crimes in the fratricidal slaughterhouse that is now Bosnia. But “ethnic cleansing” is hardly a practice unique to the Serbs. Not only are grisly atrocities carried out by all sides in the Balkans, but no less bloody national wars have been waged between Armenians and Azeris for possession of Nagorno-Karabakh, by Georgia against the Ossetians and Abkhazians, and throughout the Caucasus. To assert its domination in the region, the Russian army launched a full-scale military invasion of Chechnya which has virtually obliterated the capital city of Grozny and devastated the countryside.

To read the bourgeois press one would get the idea that these gruesome nationalist slaughters are inspired by the revival of some ancient “tribal” feuds. In fact, it is the logic of capitalist counterrevolution that is the motor force behind the resurgence of nationalism from Central Europe to the Caucasus, as economically more advanced peoples seek to consolidate their own advantage at the expense of their less-developed neighbors. As we wrote in “`Ethnic Cleansing’ and Nationalist Wars” (WVNo. 580, 16 July 1993): “What is happening in Bosnia is a recurrent phenomenon in this epoch of capitalist decay.... Thus national consolidation under capitalism has been reduced to its stark component of communal savagery to drive out or eliminate minority nationalities.”

Yet it is to the capitalist imperialist rulers that a whole number of Vietnam-era “doves,” liberals and radical intelligentsia appeal for military intervention to bring “democracy” to the Balkans. Among this lot is one Tim Wohlforth, former leader of the American Workers League, the U.S. satellite of the now-departed Gerry Healy and his International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). In his current role as saved sinner and “born again” anti-Leninist social democrat, Wohlforth called for U.S. imperialist intervention in Bosnia under the headline “Give War a Chance” (In These Times, 26 July 1993).

Wohlforth’s former master, Gerry Healy, was the consummate example of what Lenin called a “political bandit” able to wield Trotskyist orthodoxy when that suited his purpose and equally capable of being the bought-and-paid-for press agent for a variety of bourgeois-nationalist Mideast regimes (which he and his organization were for many years). Almost a decade ago, Healy’s organization blew apart, but the mark of this self-proclaimed “founder-leader” of the ICFI can be found today in the heated exchange between Healy’s one-time lieutenants over their mutual responses to the Balkan quagmire. One side openly embraces Bosnian Muslim nationalism, while the other feigns orthodoxy in a supposed anti-nationalism which turns out to be de facto support for imperialism and national oppression.

For the past couple of years, Healy’s former “theoretician,” Cliff Slaughter, and his Workers Revolutionary Party have occupied the leading position in the campaign for “Workers Aid to Bosnia.” Running supplies to the bourgeois-nationalist Bosnian Muslim regime, with French and British imperialist troops in “UN” blue helmets riding shotgun, the WRP calls this an example of “working class internationalism”! To believe this line, one would have to include former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher — who is beating the drums for more aggressive aid to the Bosnian Muslim government — in the ranks of “proletarian internationalists.” In short, “Workers Aid to Bosnia” is nothing other than a direct echo of, and stalking horse for, those ruling-class forces who want to take a more belligerent military stance against Serbia.

North’s ICFI screams foul at its former comrades, sputtering with indignation, “Never before has a group claiming to be Trotskyist directly collaborated with bourgeois regimes....” Actually, Healy’s ICFI dragged the banner of Trotskyism through that pigsty some years ago — and not without the complicity of one David North.

Occupying the “orthodoxy” corner is David North, who replaced Wohlforth as leader of the Workers League and is now the head of the various national fragments who lay claim to the heritage of Healy’s ICFI. In response to Slaughter’s “Workers Aid” campaign, North’s group published a lengthy statement titled, “The Road to Tuzla — How Slaughter’s WRP Aids Imperialism in the Balkans” (May 1994).

Correctly arguing that communists must “fight intransigently against the nationalist poison spread by capitalism,” North’s ICFI screams foul at its former comrades, sputtering with indignation, “Never before has a group claiming to be Trotskyist directly collaborated with bourgeois regimes....” Actually, Healy’s ICFI dragged the banner of Trotskyism through that pigsty some years ago — and not without the complicity of one David North.

It is hardly a large leap for Slaughter and the WRP to go from singing the praises of Libya’s Qaddafi, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Iranian Revolution” to becoming the blatant press agent for the Islamic regime of Sarajevo’s Alija Izetbegovic. But North’s Workers League was also up to its neck in backing the sheiks and colonels in the name of the so-called “Arab Revolution.” If today North’s ICFI chooses to wax “orthodox,” it is simply because that is what fits their perceived opportunist advantage.

In the aftermath of the destruction of the Soviet Union, amidst the imperialist chorus hailing the “death of communism,” North’s organization began issuing strident statements writing off the unions as “direct agents of imperialism.” Any and every other tendency within the workers movement have been deemed to be thoroughly bourgeois organizations. To what end? The obvious conclusion is that one is to believe that David North is now the sole uncontested proletarian leader on the face of the planet. Now, posing as Marxist theoretician maxim, North writes off the right of nations to self-determination as completely retrograde.

Proletarian Internationalism and the Right to Self-Determination

There can be no democratic solution to the bloody nationalist conflict in Bosnia and other regions of ex-Yugoslavia short of a thorough-going socialist revolution. Bosnia is not a nation, and there is no Bosnian “people.” Rather, Bosnia-Hercegovina is composed of three heretofore intermingled and closely related peoples — Serbs, Croats and Slavic Muslims. Formerly a province in the Ottoman and then Habsburg empires, Bosnia — Hercegovina was set up as a constituent republic in Titoist Yugoslavia, intended to be a model of interethnic harmony. Now, within the framework of capitalist counterrevolution, the heavy geographic interpenetration of these various peoples means that the national rights of one can only he realized through savage persecution aimed at driving out the others.

While various social-democratic and pseudo-Trotskyist organizations back the Bosnian Muslims and some leftover Stalinists back the Serbs, as communists we oppose all sides in this national/ communalist slaughter. We also, naturally and necessarily, oppose all imperialist intervention in the Balkans. Concretely this means that our organization internationally has stood for the defense of the Serbs against repeated NATO air strikes, as well as demanding that all UN troops, including those of Yeltsin’s Russia, get out of the Balkans and calling for an end to the UN/NATO blockade of Serbia. The only perspective that offers a way out of this all-sided slaughter is for the working class throughout the former Yugoslavia to overthrow their bourgeois-nationalist leaders in an internationalist struggle for a socialist federation of the Balkans.

To realize such a perspective, to forge proletarian unity and bring revolutionary consciousness to the working class of the Balkans, requires a leadership which in Lenin’s words acts as a “tribune of the people,” fighting against every manifestation of nationalism, chauvinism and ethnic hatred. Only in this way can the various competing nationalisms be undercut and the common class interests of all of the working people be brought to the fore. It was in this respect that the Bolshevik Party championed the right to self-determination for the myriad nations and peoples imprisoned in the tsarist empire.

But such a leadership is not what the Northites have on offer, nor could they. While they write that the “strong internationalist traditions of the Yugoslav proletariat must be revived on the basis of a scientific analysis and revolutionary program,” in “The Road to Tuzla” they simultaneously write off the whole question of the defense of the right to self-determination as an anachronism, inapplicable in today’s “global economy”:

“In politics, terms which had a definite social and class content in one period often come to represent something quite different in the next. This is the case with the slogan of ‘self-determination.’...
“Those who advance the demand for self-determination through national separatism and bourgeois rule are responsible for the global consequences of such slogans. This ‘right’ will be championed by imperialist powers and backed by their military forces in other
parts of the Balkans and throughout the world.”

Beyond Bosnia, the Northites argue against the right of self-determination for Kashmir, the Punjab and other nations locked into the “prison house of peoples” that is the Indian bourgeois state. Similarly, they come out against the national rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Quebecois in Canada.

The ICFI statement invokes the authority of the Marxist movement and Lenin. But in fact the Northites’ position is a purely chauvinist one which accepts the rule of the dominant nation in multinational states. Or as Lenin himself put it in “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (1914): “Repudiation of the right to self-determination, i.e., the right of nations to secede, means nothing more than defence of the privileges of the dominant nation and police methods of administration...”

Far from having become some kind of anachronism, defense of the right of self-determination is, if anything, increasingly important. The escalation of interimperialist rivalries coming in the wake of the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the drive by major powers to redivide the world into regional trade blocks and the increasing offshore production in low-wage “Third World” countries reinforces the need for communists to champion the rights of neocolonial and oppressed nations in order to advance the interests of international proletarian class struggle.

North’s ICFI and Nationalist Reaction

The Northites try to find refuge in the statement that in “Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in particular, nationalism arises today as part of a retrograde tendency seeking to restore both direct imperialist domination and capitalist property relations.” But nationalist reaction is not simply a product of counterrevolution. It was also a driving force for capitalist restoration in the former Stalinist-ruled workers states. In the latter case, North’s organization was among the bigger fans of nationalism.

For decades the imperialist rulers howled about the “oppression” of the so-called “captive nations,” seeing them as a battering ram for shattering the former Soviet bloc. And the Northites howled right along with them. In 1979-80, when the Soviet army intervened in Afghanistan, we of the Spartacist League said, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan,” noting that this brought with it the possibility, albeit unfulfilled, of breaking the chains of Islamic feudal reaction and extending the gains of the October Revolution to that hideously backward country. The Northites, in contrast, squealed along with U.S. president Jimmy Carter that the Soviet intervention was an attack on “the national rights and feelings of the Afghan people” (Bulletin, 8 July 1986). But there was no Afghan “nation,” and the peoples whose “rights” were being attacked were a cabal of tribal chiefs and Islamic mujahedin funded by the CIA.

Together with the Vatican and the CIA, North’s Workers League made the counterrevolutionary cause of the Pilsudskiite nationalist Solidarność in Poland their own, hailing it as “an undaunted, young, vigorous and independent trade union movement” (Bulletin, 15 September 1981). In 1990, they echoed crazed anti-Communists like U.S. Senator Jesse Helms in denouncing then-president George Bush for refusing to take retaliatory action against the Soviet Union for its clampdown on the right-wing nationalist Sajudis government in Lithuania.

An article headlined “Gorbachev Steps Up Stalinist Aggression Against Lithuania” (Bulletin, 30 March 1990) decried that the “Bush administration has pointedly refused to make any condemnation of the Soviet military actions in Lithuania.” As we wrote in our article, “Imperialists Demand the Baltics” (WV No. 518, 18 January 1991):

As Leninists and internationalists, we stand for the democratic reorganization of the Soviet Union and for the right of any nationality with a leadership that opposes counterrevolution to withdraw to any extent it sees fit. But in Lithuania and the other Baltic republics the fig leaf of ‘national independence’ is being used as a cover for capitalist restoration. And this must be fought.... To prevent the disintegration of the USSR amid fratricidal nationalism, it is necessary to recapture the proletarian internationalism which animated the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky.”

Looking to establish their own independent capitalist states, the nationalist movements in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had their own program for “ethnic cleansing,” calling for the suppression of any and all rights of other peoples (Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Jews, Poles and others) within these states, if not openly advocating their forcible removal. But this didn’t much bother the Northites then.

Now they try to palm themselves off as the epitome of proletarian internationalism. Not only is this a monumental fraud, but the ICFI’s new-found opposition to nationalism is neither “orthodox” nor even vaguely leftist. Rather, once again, their position mirrors that of the imperialist rulers. Whereas yesterday they aided and abetted reactionary nationalism in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union, today international capitalism is far from happy that the spoils they expected to loot from the victory of capitalist counterrevolution are being drowned in a sea of bloody nationalist-inspired regional conflicts. While raising a hue and cry about “poor little Bosnia,” the imperialist rulers now generally decry the very nationalist forces they fomented, and the Northites join the chorus.

Was It All Gerry Healy’s Fault?

In his article, “Permanent Revolution . and the National Question Today” (The Fourth International, Winter-Spring 1994), David North declares that Healy’s WRP “systematically betrayed the principles of Trotskyism as it subordinated the proletariat to...bourgeois regimes such as those of Libya, Iran and Iraq.” From here he goes on to opine that only the “split within the International Committee made possible an intensive reexamination of the entire historical significance of the movements of ‘national liberation’ and their relation to the proletariat and the perspective of socialist revolution.”

North certainly has an elastic view of his own history — similar to his organization’s relation to any question of Marxist principle or proletarian morality. His support to bourgeois — nationalist forces was far from abstract. In 1979, North’s Bulletin reprinted articles from Healy’s News Line hailing the execution of 21 Iraqi Communist Party members by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist government. The Bulletin (30 March 1979) even reprinted from News Line an official Iraqi communiqué, under the grotesque headline, “Where the Iraqi Communist Party Went Wrong.” That same year, celebrating the “Tenth Anniversary of the Libyan Revolution,” the Workers League sent a telegram to Qaddafi praising his “progressive socialist policies.” The ICFI, including North and his current cohorts, also enthused over “the anti-imperialist content of the struggle being waged by Khomeini” — i.e., the Iranian ayatollah’s “struggle” for an Islamic Republic (to the best of our knowledge this praise was gratis).

Healy’s financial ties to Arab regimes were a notorious scandal on the left long before the 1985 implosion of his Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain. As for the so-called “split” in the ICFI, it would better be described as a falling out among thieves. Healy was ousted, North rushed to claim his mantle as the ICFI “leader,” and Slaughter took the name of the WRP and ran. For years, North & Co. have sought to clear their name by claiming they had no idea Healy was being paid for the role as publicity agent for Hussein, Qaddafi and others. In other words, their defense is that they betrayed the very same Trotskyist principles — except that unlike Healy, they did it for free! But even this “defense” would appear to be rather threadbare, considering that, for one, North’s colleague Nick Beams, leader of the Australian Socialist Labour League, got censured by the Central Committee of his own organization in February 1986 for failing to report the receipt of monies from Arab regimes to the IC (Socialist Labor League Internal Bulletin, February 1986).

To alibi their former support for a whole variety of reactionary nationalist causes and regimes, today North’s ICFI acts as if nationalism has only recently become a “retrograde tendency.” In the “Road to Tuzla,” they write of the “progressive, unifying characteristic of the national movements of the epoch in which Lenin put forward the slogan of self-determination of nations.” But in calling for military support to national movements fighting against imperialist-colonialist subjugation, Lenin never praised their supposed “progressive, unifying character.” On the contrary, in his “Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions” at the Second Congress of the Communist International (1920), Lenin called for:
“...a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations.”
The Bolsheviks championed the right of self-determination not to advance the cause of nationalism but to advance proletarian class unity. The fundamental propositions of a Marxist position on the national question in the imperialist epoch were underlined by Lenin in “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination”: “on the one hand, the absolutely direct, unequivocal recognition of the full right of all nations to self-determination; on the other hand, the equally unambiguous appeal to the workers for international unity in their class struggle.”

The right to self-determination is purely a bourgeois-democratic demand and as such is correspondingly a subordinate part of a revolutionary-internationalist program. This question was posed point-blank for the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Russian Revolution in the Ukraine and in the Caucasus. In the latter region, newly independent bourgeois regimes sought and found the direct military backing of the imperialists — first the Germans and then the British — posing a direct threat to the revolution. At the close of the Civil War, the Bolsheviks took power in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan through a combination of local uprisings and Red Army intervention. As Trotsky wrote two decades later, “Forceful sovietization was justified: the safeguarding of the socialist revolution comes before formal democratic principles” (“Balance Sheet of the Finnish Events” [April 1940] in In Defense of Marxism).

The “Global Economy”

Other than claiming that their newfound “wisdom” on the national question is the fruit of having got rid of Healy, the ICFI claims a “new world reality” for its line change:
“Vast changes in world economic and political relations have created corresponding changes in the character of the national movements.... Can it be seriously argued that the resurgence of ethnic chauvinism in the Balkans, or for that matter in the former USSR or the Indian subcontinent, expresses an effort to put an end to the legacy of imperialist and feudal domination? Can one speak today of the national bourgeoisie of Bosnia, or Kazakhstan or Kashmir seeking to ‘capture the home market,’ thereby creating conditions for the ‘victory of commodity production’ and hence a fuller development of the class struggle?”
The idea of an “era of global economic integration” which North presents as if it were yet another of his unique “theoretical breakthroughs” has been known to the Marxist movement for over a century now. It’s otherwise known as imperialism!

Up until the mid-1880s, Marx and Engels judged national movements according to their ability to consolidate modern independent nation-states favorable to economic development. But with the development of imperialism the terms of reference changed. Marx and Engels began to address this over the question of Irish independence. As Marx wrote in a paper on the Irish question in 1869: “it is in the direct and absolute interest of the English working class to get rid of their present connexion with Ireland.... The English reaction in England had its roots in the subjugation of Ireland.”

Marx’s position on Ireland was further developed by Lenin in his writings on the national question. For Lenin the question of self-determination had nothing to do with the ability to develop a modern, economically independent capitalist nation. Indeed he polemicized at some length against Rosa Luxemburg, who declared that self-determination had become an “illusory” demand with the development of imperialism. In “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” Lenin answered:
Not only small states, but even Russia, for example, is entirely dependent, economically, on the power of the imperialist finance capital of ‘rich’ bourgeois countries. Not only the miniature Balkan states, but even nineteenth-century America was, economically, a colony of Europe, as Marx pointed out in Capital....
“For the question of the political self-determination of nations and their independence as states in bourgeois society, Rosa Luxemburg has substituted the question of their economic independence.”
Unlike the Northites, however, Rosa Luxemburg was animated by genuine proletarian internationalism. Although wrong, her visceral opposition to the right of self-determination was motivated by revulsion with the various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist forces in Poland (forces which some decades later the Northites would cheer on in the name of Solidarność counterrevolution).

Lenin recognized that imperialism was the epoch of capitalist decay, in which the development of a national economy and emergence of a vigorous bourgeoisie were stifled by imperialist exploitation and domination over the more backward capitalist countries. The understanding that the national bourgeoisies of these countries are incapable of carrying out the most elementary bourgeois-democratic tasks, such as genuine national independence, is ABC Trotskyism — in fact it is a fundamental underpinning of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

Of course, very real changes have taken place in the world in the aftermath of the collapse of the former Soviet Union. The relentless drive to destroy the Soviet workers state provided a point of unity for the various imperialist powers. With that removed, inter-imperialist rivalries have escalated. The global system of “free trade” the economic cement which held together the U.S.-dominated anti-Soviet alliance — has crumbled as the major powers seek to redivide the world into regional trade blocs. But what is going on is not “new.” Rather, the post-Cold War world increasingly resembles the pre-1914 world of heightened interimperialist rivalries intersecting regional nationalist conflicts.

The so-called “globalization of production” — i.e., the export of capital — simply means that the capitalists have moved large chunks of industry to low-wage “Third World” countries. This, for example, has meant the attempted wholesale takeover of Mexico by U.S. imperialism under the conditions of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Far from being a negation of the Leninist position on the national and colonial question, the current situation underlines the importance for communists of defending the rights of neocolonial and oppressed nations against imperialist depredations in order to advance the interests of international proletarian class struggle.


Workers League vs. the Unions (1993)

Workers Vanguard No. 571, 12 February 1993

Workers League vs. the Unions

For more than five months, United Mine Workers members have been battling the coal bosses with one hand tied behind their backs, straitjacketed by UMW president Richard Trumka’s “selective strike” scam. From the outset, Workers Vanguard has told miners the truth: to wage a militant strike “means a clean break from Trumka’s Democratic Party ‘friends’ like Clinton, and a fight for a workers party …. You need a class-struggle leadership prepared to take on the Taft-Hartley ‘slave labor’ law, court injunctions and the cops, as well as the capitalist politicians from plutocrat Democrat Jay Rockefeller to ‘right to work’ Clinton” (WV No. 570, 26 February).

When WV teams traveled through the coal fields of southern Illinois and West Virginia, miners were receptive to our call for a solid strike to reverse the gutting of their union at the hands of the coal bosses and the UMW bureaucracy. But the Bulletin (5 March) of David North’s Workers League (WL) vituperated against our article for “promoting syndicalist nostrums” and “bankrupt illusions in trade union reformism.” In a piece entitled “Trumka’s Accomplices,” after a few swipes at the craven apologists for the UMW bureaucracy in the Communist Party (CP), Workers World and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Northites turn to their real target, the Spartacist League: “The February 26 edition of their weekly paper Workers Vanguard carried an article which presented the bureaucracy as waging a serious fight against the coal bosses.”

And how, pray tell, do we do that — by our call, “Coal Miners: Fight for a National Strike!” (WV No. 569, 12 February)? According to the Bulletin, “The Spartacists issue their appeals not to the working class but to its corrupt bureaucratic leadership. They cover up the transformation of the UMWA under the grip of the bureaucracy into an appendage of the coal bosses and the government.” Similarly, North’s German followers recently denounced our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party as a “left fig leaf for the trade-union bureaucracy” (Neue Arbeiterpresse, 14 May) for the Spartakist headline during the recent East German metal workers strike, “Metal, Steel, Coal: Full Strike Now, East and West!” (along with the kicker “Workers Must Fight for Power!”).

Interestingly, the 21 June Bulletin headlines, “It Is Time for a Nationwide Strike,” but they coyly put this in the mouth of a “West Virginia miner.” Above all, for the WL there is no possibility of a fight for the union to wage a national strike. Equating the pro-capitalist bureaucracy with the union as a whole, the political bandits of the WL are currently claiming that the unions are in no sense working-class organizations.

This is pretty rich coming from North & Co., who for years have issued endless appeals to the pro-capitalist AFL-CIO traitors to do everything from call a general strike to form a labor party! As recently as the 1990-91 New York Daily News strike, when striking pressmen gave the WL some heat over the lack of a union bug on their rag, we were taken to task by the Northites: “Spartacist never makes any demands on the New York AFL-CIO” (Bulletin, 16 November 1990).

The one constant for the Northites is their identification of the unions with the pro-capitalist bureaucratic apparatus which chains them to the bosses’ state. Thus the WL has never fought to unchain the unions. Quite the contrary, from Arnold Miller to the 1985-86 Hormel meatpackers strike, they have supported government intervention into the unions. It is crucial that class-struggle militants recognize that the regime atop the UMW today is the continuation of the pro-Labor Department bureaucracy that was installed with the approval and assistance of the capitalist government — and to the applause of most of the left, from the reformist Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party to the Workers League. In our coverage of the miners’ class battles, we have repeatedly pointed to the key question — fighting for the independence of the union from the capitalist state:
From the Labor Department campaign of Arnold Miller, to Carter/Mondale’s use of Taft-Hartley against the long, bitter 1977-78 strike, to Trumka’s bowing before the injunctions of the coal company judges during the Pittston strike, the miners’ historic militancy has been throttled in the service of the bosses’ parties and the capitalist state.”
WV No. 569, 12 February
The Spartacist League stood virtually alone on the left 20 years ago in refusing to capitulate to the Labor Department-run Miners for Democracy “rank and file” opposition in the UMW. Though many miners only came to. recognize Miller as the class traitor he was during the coal strike of 1977-78, we told the truth from the beginning:
For communists, whose fundamental aim in the labor movement is to transform the unions into a tool of the revolutionary will of the proletariat, no reform can increase the power of the working class if ‘it is won by placing the unions under the trusteeship of the capitalist state, thus destroying the first precondition for their mobilization in the struggle to smash that state.”
— ”Labor Department Wins Mine Workers’ Election,” WV No. 17, 17 March 1973
In recent years, the WL pretends they always opposed Miller et al., whom they now term “‘reform’ candidates backed by the capitalist state. In the 1970s, the Labor Department put Arnold Miller in as head of the Miners for Democracy movement to suppress the powerful rebellion against the gangster leadership of UMWA President Tony Boyle” (Bulletin, 2 November 1990). But in the 1970s, when North was “Labor Editor,” the Bulletin (11 December 1972) hailed the MFD as “a real alternative to the Boyle leadership” and called on “all miners to vote for the Miners for Democracy slate, and to fight for this leadership to carry through a real struggle to defend the miners against the mining companies and the government”!

A few months before that, North himself held an “exclusive interview” with hidebound anti-Communist Steelworkers president I.W. Abel — in his Miami Beach hotel room, no less — where North enthused about the “developing break between the labor movement and the Democratic Party” (Bulletin, 24 July 1972). This was at a time when the Meanyite bureaucracy stood to the right of significant sections of the ruling class on the burning question of the Vietnam War. North reprinted excerpts from a speech to the AFL-CIO convention in which Abel “broke” with Democratic “peace” candidate McGovern, meticulously editing out his endorsement of the right-wing Democratic “Senator for Boeing” Henry Jackson.

Has North come clean after two decades of tailing the racist, anti-Communist AFL-CIO lieutenants of capital? Hardly. Since parting ways with his lord and mentor Gerry Healy (when their “International Committee” spectacularly imploded after the blood money from Arab sheiks dried up), North has continued as a political bandit who, as we put it, “will show any flag to attack any target. For this, the CIA-inspired graduate departments of elite universities attended by those among North and his crew were a good classroom. It, at the least, taught them how to write on every side of the question, like the position papers of the State Department” (“Why Should Anyone Believe David North?” WVNo. 487, 13 October 1989).

Take the “Russian question.” Trotsky argued, against those who wrote off the Soviet Union, that’ just as militant workers defend a trade union under bureaucratic leadership against the employers’ attacks, ‘so must they defend against imperialism the bureaucratically degenerated workers state. For decades — whether under Healy or without him — North tailed every anti-Soviet force from the “AFL-CIA” to Polish Solidarność, the CIA-sponsored Afghan mujahedin and the Lithuanian Sajudis. When Yeltsin formally dissolved the USSR in December 1991, North rushed to announce the death of the Soviet workers state. And in a grotesque inversion of Trotsky’s argument, North wrote off the unions as well, saying that “to define the AFL-CIO as a working class organization is to blind the working class” (“The End of the USSR,” Bulletin, 10 January 1992).

Over 50 years ago, Trotsky wrote of “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” (August 1940):
“They can no longer be reformist, because the objective conditions leave no
room for any serious and lasting reforms. The trade unions of our time can
either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the
subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution,
or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the
revolutionary movement of the proletariat.”
Subsequent historical development has fully borne out Trotsky’s warning. The anti-Communist trade-union bureaucracy installed in the Cold War is so beholden to the bourgeoisie that it has presided over the destruction of union gains and whole unions, like PATCO. Writing about the closing of the auto plants in Detroit, already a decade ago we denounced United Auto Workers leader “Doug Fraser: Company Cop” (/em)(WV No. 330, 20 May 1983). But the unions themselves remain the principal mass organizations of the working class, and the point Trotsky was underlining was the necessity for a communist struggle for leadership.

As always with the shameless opportunists of the WL, even as they deny that the unions are any longer workers organizations, this doesn’t stop them from appealing to the wretched bureaucracy in North’s vile campaign of helping to railroad Mark Curtis, a member of the SWP, into a 25-year prison term on frame-up charges of burglary and sexual abuse. Thus the 13 September 1991 Bulletin ran an article headlined “Iowa AFL-CIO Denounces Mark Curtis Campaign,” complete with photo of Iowa AFL-CIO South Central Federation of Labor president Perry Chapin! The WL reprinted the bureaucrats’ entire resolution, including a call on the national convention of the AFL-CIO to “refuse any support to the Mark Curtis defense campaign.”

And today, the Northites will in one and the same issue of the Bulletin (12 February) compare the UMW to a “company union” — which the workers must seek to smash — while trumpeting headlines from the coal fields calling for (that “syndicalist nostrum “?) a national UMW strike! Writing off the unions’ potential to act in pursuit of the class struggle and kowtowing to the pro-capitalist bureaucracy are flip sides of the same coin. Both variants exclude a communist political struggle within the unions. But though the WL’s two postures may be symmetrical, they imply rather different appetites, and one thing we know about the WL is that it determines its “political” positions by their utility in pursuit of egregiously corrupt (often financial) self-interest.

What new appetite does the WL’s anti-union incarnation serve? We don’t know, but we notice the Bulletin’s recent makeover into a yuppified, expensive-looking weekly done up in modish earth tones. The great prevaricator Stalin once boasted that “paper will take anything written on it,” and the WL evidently intends to prove that fancy paper will, too.

WL's "Vorkuta" Fund: Follow the Money (1992)

Workers Vanguard No. 563, 13 November 1992

Follow the Money

Workers League’s “Vorkuta” Fund

With great fanfare, David North’s Workers League and its bogus “International Committee” launched a “Vorkuta Miners Relief Fund” last year, ostensibly in response to an appeal by Soviet workers in the northern Russian coal fields “for desperately needed medical and pharmaceutical supplies.” This was announced as “one of the principal decisions” of the Northites’ November 1991 Berlin “World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism,” and the opening shot of the WL’s new “International Labor Defense.” The fund drive was scheduled to “run until February 29,” supposedly aimed at helping the Vorkuta miners overcome the brutal winter in the face of the ravages of capitalist restoration. Yet right through May, week after week, the WL’s Bulletin and North’s Australian and English acolytes carried impassioned appeals exhorting workers to “come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in the Vorkuta mining region.”

In “Workers League Vile Provocation” (WV No. 549, 17 April), we raised some questions about this dubious “aid campaign.” We noted that the Vorkuta miners “are not presently engaged in any particular struggle,” and that the Northites had not published the appeal on which the fund drive was supposedly based. We asked, “Could this be related to the fact that a few months earlier the AFL-CIO set up a ‘relief fund’ for Soviet miners?” The pro-Yeltsin leadership of the Vorkuta miners in the “Independent Miners Union” had well-documented links to the CIA, through the notorious National Endowment for Democracy and the AFL-CIO’s “International Department.” Two of these “Vorkuta miners” toured Britain in June 1990 — where they addressed a conference of the scab “Union of Democratic Miners” — under the auspices of the Russian fascist NTS, which has been financed for decades by Western intelligence agencies.

The Northites, who are wont to write voluminous multipart “exposes” on the Spartacist League at the drop of a hat, never replied to these questions. However, a month after our article appeared, the Bulletin mysteriously stopped running its Vorkuta appeal box, without further explanation. Nothing more was heard for months, until a front-page article in the 4 September issue of the Bulletin trumpeted “International Campaign Aids Soviet Workers,” claiming that “seven tons of medicines, worth over a quarter million dollars” had been sent to one “Doctor Alexander Apenko” in …the Ukrainian town of Shostka. This was supposedly in response to a personal appeal to a visiting IC delegation by the “Chernobyl Union of Shostka” in the summer of 1991. As far as we could tell, this Chernobyl “appeal” had hitherto gone unmentioned in the Northite press.

Whatever happened to Vorkuta? At the conclusion of the article the reader discovers those were the supplies that the WL had earlier “assured” would go “directly to the miners”: “Originally it was planned that the bulk of the medical supplies collected would go to the miners of Vorkuta,” but because of problems with “transportation,” “corruption” and “security,” the IC “could not obtain any reasonable assurance that its shipments would arrive safely in Vorkuta.” Yet in April, the Australian Northite Socialist Labour League declared in Workers News (24 April) that it had “this month shipped more than $40,000 worth of desperately-needed medical supplies” to Vorkuta.

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would have said. In reporting on its fund drive efforts, the Bulletin cited the fears of Detroit union auto workers at a plant gate collection: “Expressing their distrust of the trade union officialdom, workers wanted to make sure that their contributions really reached the miners and would not be pocketed by either the AFL-CIO bureaucracy in the United States or the Stalinist mafia in the Soviet Union.” Concerns about what happens to money donated to the WL are certainly in order. Indeed, we wonder if the shift of focus in the Northites’ philanthropical efforts from Russia to the Ukraine has anything to do with the fact that an AFLCIO delegation traveled to the Ukraine this past summer.

Even a cursory reading of the Northite press, raises myriad questions. On February 28, the day before the (first) announced end of the campaign, the Australian SLL’s Workers News lists a total collection of $631.45 in the U.S. and £700 in Britain. Two weeks later they added $1,400 Australian. In a few weeks this becomes $40,000 Australian, and after it is “shipped,” the next issue of Workers News announces a $60,000 “Party Development Fund.” After a few months, during which the campaign never again appears in their press, the Northites’ international collection mysteriously grew to $250,000 “worth” of supplies. Perhaps cynical political bandits like North have been lying so long they think no one notices.

The financial chicanery and deceptions displayed in the Workers League campaign is not surprising to anyone who knows the WL’s history of political prostitution in the service of anticommunist reaction. In the “Vorkuta” campaign, the Northites, with consummate cynicism, denounce British National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Arthur Scargill as a Stalinist, while condemning “the state orchestrated campaign against Scargill” (International Worker, 18 January) over the aid that Soviet trade unions sent to striking British miners.

Just who kicked off that campaign? On the eve of the 1984-85 British miners strike, when Thatcher and the ruling class were preparing all-out war on the NUM, the “International Committee” (then run by North’s mentor Gerry Healy) publicly crucified Scargill for opposing Solidarność — Reagan and Thatcher’s favorite union — as “anti-socialist.” Their redbaiting crusade was picked up, as Healy intended, by the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress traitors and the Conservative bourgeois press, and used as a battering ram against the miners. It was Healy/North who supplied the ammunition the bourgeoisie used to go after Scargill and the NUM.

We have noted before that the WL’s relationship to the class line is that of a man in a revolving door. Presently, the Workers League is engaged on several fronts in acts of profound hostility to the interests of the working class — from being junior G-men for the prosecution in the case of imprisoned Socialist Workers Party activist and unionist Mark Curtis, to blocking with racist scum against black schoolchildren in Detroit. Revolutionaries gag at the mercenary “IC” trying to appropriate the honorable name of the early American Communist Party’s International Labor Defense, led by James P. Cannon. In founding the Partisan Defense Committee, the Spartacist League has emulated the ILD’s strict accounting of funds through publishing in the PDC’s Class-Struggle Defense Notes a full list of numbered receipts for all in the workers movement to see. If the Healyite “IC” listed its receipts over the years, it would have to include the names of various Near East sheiks and bonapartist butchers who paid at least two million dollars for services rendered by the Healy gang as press agents, spies and provocateurs during the 1970s and ‘80s (see “Northite Blood Money,” WV No. 523, 29 March 1991). Now that the money from anti-communist bourgeois regimes has dried up… .

Freddy and the Mob (1992)

Workers Vanguard No. 562, 30 October 1992

Freddy and the Mob

In the early 1980s, as the Reagan White House kicked off a full-scale judicial counterrevolution — aimed at gearing up the state’s machinery of repression by shredding any semblance of democratic rights — it stepped up its legal vendetta against “the Mob.” As we noted, “The Reaganites want to institutionalize the frame-up principle, and what easier target for a frame job than vicious parasites like gangsters?” (“Feds Frame Up Mob,” WV No. 400, 28 March 1986). For the past ten years, the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) “conspiracy” law has been wielded for murderous frame-ups of the government’s leftist opponents, wholesale attacks on labor, and general intimidation of the population.

So when the feds’ RICO dragnet finally got John Gotti, the reputed New York “crime boss” who last summer was sentenced to life without parole, we responded with a straightforward statement based on the understanding that democratic rights are indivisible. As we observed in “Gotti, RICO and You” (WV No. 557, 7 August): “Civil liberties, if they mean anything at all, apply first of all to those perceived as really far out — whether they be Marxists, religious sects (recall Rev. Sun Myung Moon or Oregon guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) or even in fact mobsters.”

One would think that any self-proclaimed leftist, of whatever political persuasion, would by definition be opposed to RICO even if only out of self-preservation. But not David North’s Workers League. A raving response to our article on Gotti by the Northites’ vice-presidential candidate Fred Mazelis, titled “The Spartacists and John Gotti” (Bulletin, 2 October), doesn’t even mention, much less oppose, the police-state RICO laws that were used to nail Gotti.

On the contrary, Mazelis takes umbrage that the “Spartacists go on to compare Gotti favorably to the leading spokesmen of US imperialism in the Democratic and Republican parties,” citing our observation that: “If John Gotti were running with Noriega in this year’s elections, they’d be the lesser evil.” Mazelis is so insulted by the comparison of the Italian “mobster” and the Panamanian strongman with “his” imperialist rulers that he choked on quoting our next sentence: “Gotti’s probably not nature’s nobleman, but neither is the Arkansas executioner Bill Clinton nor George Bush, who regularly bombs small countries to rubble.”

This, writes Mazelis, “is the language of politically deranged elements of the petty bourgeoisie.” But somehow the oh-so-proletarian “Workers” League has been strangely mum on a law that has been the government’s primary legal weapon against the unions. Sponsored by segregationist Arkansas Senator John McClellan, who presided over the witch-hunting Senate subcommittee in the 1950s that went after Jimmy Hoffa and produced the Landrum-Griffin Act outlawing “hot cargoing” in the trucking industry, the RICO laws were in fact intended to equate “organized labor” with “organized crime.”

In the name of fighting “mob influence” in the labor movement, the gang of criminals that run this country invoked RICO to place the Teamsters under government trusteeship. Mine Workers, Longshoremen, Laborers and Hotel Workers number among the other unions to feel the RICO sting. And it is rare today that a picket line isn’t met by the threat of RICO suits.

RICO’s definition of “racketeering “ is so elastic it allows the government to go after whoever they want, whenever they want, without any evidence of any crime. You’re guilty until proven innocent and sentenced before convicted. The government has free rein to take everything you own, and without any assets it’s pretty hard to find a lawyer to take your case. Attorneys’ fees may be seized if the government claims these were paid with “ill-gotten gains,” RICO’s witch-hunting provisions were applied with a vengeance against the “Ohio 7,” a group of leftist opponents of U.S. imperialism, who were met with wiretaps, dragnets, preventive detention, kidnapping and interrogation of children.

Mazelis’ lips are sealed on all of this. But then again the Workers League would be hard pressed pretending to oppose government intervention in the labor movement or capitalist state persecution of leftists. After all, the Northites have a wealth of experience in using the capitalist courts to disrupt, harass, frame up and otherwise try to bankrupt their political opponents. In their psychotic vendetta against the once-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, which they charge with being a government conspiracy, the Northites have pursued their own version of RICO.

In the late 1970s, a Workers League provocateur, Alan Gelfand, filed suit against the SWP demanding the court seize its membership lists, financial records and minutes. In 1988, the WL’s Bulletin supplied the closing arguments for the bourgeois state’s prosecution of a young SWPer, Mark Curtis, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail on frame-up charges of sexual abuse.

One of the most common means the government uses to nail people under RICO is the charge of using the mails or wire services for “fraudulent” purposes. The Workers League, which has made an international campaign out of condemning “The Mark Curtis Hoax,” threw its support behind a court case filed by the father of the alleged victim claiming that Curtis’ defense committee was engaged in an “international smear campaign,” and demanding that the courts requisition monies raised in Curtis’ defense for damages.

Now Mazelis charges that our article “Gotti, RICO and You” is evidence of the “class affinity between the Spartacists and the mob.” This is pretty rich coming from an outfit which is internationally renowned for its gangsterism and truly criminal financial deals with a whole variety of colonels, sheiks and despots in the Near East. Moreover, given that the Workers League claims to be the most proletarian, the most internationally connected, indeed the sole repository of Marxism on the face of the planet, what kind of protection racket do they have going that makes them feel so smugly secure against the repressive legal arsenal of this capitalist government?

Would-Be Prosecutors... (1992)

Workers Vanguard No. 561, 16 October 1992

Would-Be Prosecutors Can't Get Their Story Straight

A couple of documents are being circulated by the campaign to get supporters of Mark Curtis’ defense to “dis-endorse.”

“Labor Defense and the Mark Curtis Case” was written in 1989 by Charles Adams. Adams is a former member of Socialist Action who was expelled by the group for conducting a private “investigation” into the Curtis case; they noted his “secret contact with the Workers League.”

“The Case Against Mark Curtis” was written by Greg McNaghten, a Seattle official of Brakemen’s Local 1024, in the form of a 29-page open letter to his “fellow UTU [United Transportation Union] members.”

These documents are cited as showing how a “leftist” and a “unionist” undertook “independent investigations” and supposedly found that the evidence proved Mark Curtis guilty. But some of this “evidence” is more than suspect: for instance, Adams’ account that after Demetria Morris was attacked, “blood was running down her face.” This is repeated as fact by other accounts, yet at the trial it was never stated that Morris was bleeding. Where does this come from?

Parts of these documents are bizarrely revolting: Thus Adams reports his “long conversation” with Assistant D.A. Catherine Thune, whom he asked to explain how a person like Mark Curtis, a union activist committed to the rights of the oppressed, could commit such a crime: “Mrs. Thune explained that she had handled many rape cases and that unfortunately is the profile very often. Mark is a very gentle passive person…. They do lots of little kind things for people but there’s an inner rage that may come out only once in a lifetime.” So Curtis is deemed prone to rape because he’s a quiet person!

Then there’s Adams’ dismissal of the time discrepancies in Demetria Morris’ testimony - he “explains” that black people can’t tell time, are guided by “Colored People’s Time,” and the only reason the defense attorney pushed the time question was that he “was viewing the conception of time from white cultural perspective.” This is blatant racism.

UTU official Greg McNaghten also says he “spent several hours on the phone with Mrs. Kathy Thune, the prosecuting attorney in this case,” as well as the Iowa State Parole Board, Polk County prosecutors and others, and “as a result of all this digging” concluded that “Mark Curtis was given a fair trial” and is guilty. McNaghten has a novel theory as to why the cops beat Curtis bloody - it was all part of Curtis’ plot to show he was framed up: “Ergo: create a mysteriously disappearing woman, throw in police racism and bigotry; get yourself beat up …and you’ve got yourself a defense.”

But, interestingly, on some of the key facts about the case, these two accounts contradict each other. Take the question of dog hairs. The forensic expert testified Demetria Morris had dog hairs all over her sweatshirt, yet no dog hairs were found on Mark Curtis. How can this be, if, according to the story, Curtis wrestled Demetria to the ground and attempted to rape her? The anti-Curtis people attempt to explain this, for instance Adams asserts that “The dog is never kept on the front porch.” But McNaghten states flatly, “Demetria testified that they often let the dog on the front porch.”

Curtis says that after work on March 4, he attended and spoke, in Spanish, at a large meeting (which was videotaped) called to protest the INS raid and arrest of 17 fellow workers at the Swift plant. Adams says he’ uncovered the fact that “Nobody remembers him [Curtis] even at the meeting,” the meeting was small and the media wasn’t present. But McNaghten says that he spoke with a member of Curtis’ union local who “said it was true that Curtis spoke and in Spanish but he did so from the assembled crowd and was one of a great many who spoke up.”

In repeating the lines fed to them by the prosecutors, the witchhunters can’t even get their stories straight.

WL Blocks with White Segregationists (1992)

Workers Vanguard No. 561, 16 October 1992

Fight over Malcolm X School

Detroit: WL Blocks with White Segregationists

Swastikas emblazoned on school doors. A poster reading “We won’t have Malcolm X” and signed “KKK.” A crowd of angry whites shouting “Open your school in a crack house!” Is this Little Rock, 1956? Selma? Ole Miss? No, it’s Detroit 1992.

Last year the Detroit school board opened three “black male academies” for elementary school students, named after Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson and Malcolm X. This summer, the Malcolm X school was moved to the closed Leslie school in Warrendale, a neighborhood on the far west side of Detroit. Warrendale, which is over 75 percent white (the inverse of the rest of this heavily black city) is home to many white cops who are forced by a residency law to live inside the city limits. There was an eruption of segregationist filth against the opening of the school at two school board meetings in August that left no doubt about the motives of the opposition: “Is this the forcible integration of Warrendale?” one racist shouted.

But there was one organization that rushed to defend the segregationists and deny that the opposition had anything to do with racism! The Detroit-based Workers League and their newspaper, the Bulletin, have championed the racists’ attempt to keep the Malcolm X school out of Warrendale. The WL brags that their candidates “were warmly received by residents when they canvassed the neighborhood” and “denounced the racialist policies of Mayor Coleman Young and the school authorities” (Bulletin, 14 August). With that line they could also get applause at a David Duke rally.

The WL says “the issue in Warrendale is not race,” and proceeds to disappear every racist taunt and placard at school board meetings and outside the school. With phony talk of uniting the working class in a “color-blind” fight against budget cuts, the WL covers up the raw racism spewing from opponents of the Malcolm X Academy. In dozens of pages denouncing the black Democratic Party liberals as “racialist,” there is not a single mention of the largely white crowd of several hundred that turned out for a school board meeting on August 3 and shouted down speakers with racist slurs.

Of course, there are whites in Warrendale who aren’t racists. However, unlike the Workers League, they can recognize the racist nature of the opposition to the school. One white woman whose son attends Malcolm X spoke out against protestors at the school opening: “It’s ridiculous, I’m just interested in getting my son into a good school. The school is mostly black, but so what?” One letter writer to the Detroit Free Press wrote: “I am a white resident of Detroit who grew up in the Warrendale neighborhood. I am appalled, but not surprised, at the racist sentiments expressed by many who oppose the new Malcolm X Academy.”

Giving a “left” cover to “we just want our neighborhood school” racists, the Bulletin (11 September) screams: “Radicals Defend Segregated Schools.” This is a prime example of the Workers League brand of laborite provocation, the product of years of tailing after the pro-capitalist, racist labor bureaucracy. While WL honcho David North today writes off the unions as’ no longer working-class organizations in any sense, on questions of racial oppression he sidles up to the racists in a way that even the UAW’s Owen Bieber couldn’t get away with.

“African-Centered” Education

After the board set up the schools as male-only academies, it was forced to admit girl students last year after a court suit by the ACLU and the National Organization for Women. Currently there are 422 boys and 39 girls enrolled in the Malcolm X school, and despite the WL’s claim that Warrendale residents cannot send their children there, 160 slots are reserved for neighborhood children.

These “African-centered” schools are a national phenomenon, a response by liberal nationalist educators and politicians to the destruction of the lives of black and Hispanic youth in the cities. But this “voluntary” segregation is a dangerous accommodation to the racist status quo. As opposed to the schemes of black elected officials and black nationalists who accommodate to the rollback of black rights with “Afrocentric” school proposals, the Spartacist League has consistently championed the fight for integrated education. In an exchange last year with jailed Black Panther Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, we pointed out:
White schoolchildren as well as black schoolchildren need to learn about Denmark Vesey, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and Karl Marx. But we‘re Marxists, not idealists, and understand that education is a class question. True quality education for the masses will be possible only with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of working-class rule.
- ”On Integrated Education and Black Liberation,” WV No. 526, 10 May 1991
Conditions for children in the Detroit schools mirror the devastation that capitalism has wrought on the working class of the city. The Detroit district’s 170,000 students are 90 percent black. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, Detroit ranks first among all major cities in the number of children living in poverty - 46.6 percent. Black Democratic mayor Coleman Young, installed by the Big 3 auto bosses to derail and repress social struggle in response to the 1967 ghetto rebellion, has been on the warpath against city unions, slashing wages and thousands of jobs. And school board superintendent Deborah McGriff has gone after the teachers union, provoking a bitter strike in her efforts to gut teachers’ seniority while packing more students into the overcrowded classrooms.

WL “Blind Eye” to Racism

The Workers League has campaigned heavily in Warrendale, holding a press conference there on August 25, and alibiing the racists on the Sally Jessie Raphael TV show in September. WL Congressional candidate D’Artagnan Collier spews their “color-blind” line that the racists in Warrendale “were justifiably angry at the news that Leslie was to be reopened as a `black academy’ with only a few openings for youth from Warrendale.” Then comes his “evenhanded” cover for his campaign pitch to Warrendale: “I am opposed to segregated schools, whether they are proposed by David Duke or by Deborah McGriff” (Bulletin, 11 September).

This revolting “blind eye” to racism is nothing new for the Workers League. From its inception, the WL has tailored its program to the most reactionary prejudices of the union bureaucracy. Rather than speak the truth-that the bedrock racism of U.S. society is the single greatest obstacle to the construction of a multiracial, revolutionary workers party-the WL has responded with something much worse even than the Debsian position that the socialist movement has “nothing special to offer the Negro.”

The WL sneeringly calls the Spartacist League’s commitment to build black leadership, our view that the black working class is strategic to the success of proletarian revolution in this country, an “obsession with race.” And in the streets of Boston and Washington, D.C., this denial of the need to fight against special oppression has placed North & Co. squarely on the wrong side of the class line.

When racist anti-busing mobs took to the streets attacking black schoolchildren in the early 1970s in Boston, the SL fought for mass mobilizations of labor/black defense to stop racist attacks and to extend busing to the suburbs. At the height of the violent, racist rampages, when black schoolchildren’s lives were in physical danger and defense of integrated education was posed in the concrete, the WL’s Bulletin (13 September 1974) declared: “The issue of forced busing is being used to whip up racism to divide the working class.”

In November 1982 in Washington, D.C., the Spartacist League initiated and led an important victory against the resurgent racist terror of the Carter/Reagan years, when 5,000 black and white workers and youth drove the KKK off the streets. It was built in sharp struggle against the black Democratic Party politicians and reformists like Workers World who sought to divert workers from stopping the Klan. But for the WL - which wasn’t to be found in D.C. that November 27 - the successful mobilization was a “Revisionist Frenzy Over Klan” (Bulletin, 7 December 1982) and “an adventure which played right into the hands of the police”: “For the Spartacists, the issue in America is race, not class…. The grotesque fixation with the issue of race plays an utterly reactionary role and the Klan undoubtedly sees it as an assist for its own recruitment campaign.” Only Northite pseudo-dialectics could claim that the Klan was emboldened by fleeing before they even donned their sheets. But the KKK will get a boost from the activities of the segregationist thugs the WL is shielding in Warrendale.

If the racists mobilize in the streets against the Malcolm X school, the multiracial Detroit labor movement should be organized to defend those wanting to attend the school. No reliance on the cops or the state! An integrated labor battalion from the nearby and historically militant Ford River Rouge auto plant should be dispatched to dissuade the segregationists from any provocations - including those of the misnamed Workers League.

Free Mark Curtis! WL Brokers Frame-Up Operation (1992)

Workers Vanguard No. 561, 16 October 1992

Free Mark Curtis!

Workers League Brokers Frame-Up Operation

There’s a first-rate anti-communist witchhunt in progress over the case of Mark Curtis, a member of the quirky reformist Socialist Workers Party, now doing 25 years in the Iowa state penitentiary on frame-up charges. The Des Moines district attorney’s 1988 railroading of Curtis was aided and abetted by the Workers League, a dubious outfit that specializes in provocation, in pursuing its vendetta against the SWP, long a target of government harassment and “dirty tricks.” But although Curtis has spent the past four years behind bars, his defense campaign has been the object of a frenzied assault by right-wing feminists who want to prevent him from getting out on parole. Their aim is to smear the entire left as racists, rapists and sexists. To do so, they pass off the Workers League as good coin, ignoring its history of many years of sinister provocation, insist on the existence of a “rape” which even the prosecution doesn’t claim took place, and cite a plethora of “pro-victim” sources which turn out to be linked to government agencies.

There’s some pretty strange stuff going on, particularly coming out of the Boston area. Consider the following:

• The Boston NAACP has been on campaign footing circulating a letter (dated March 14) declaring “MARK CURTIS IS A VIOLENT RAPIST!” and urging those who had defended him to withdraw their names from the Curtis campaign.

• When multiracial protests swept the country in solidarity with the Los Angeles upheaval against the acquittal of the racist cops who beat Rodney King, Boston NAACP official Mary ‘ Benin and some associates attended a May 8 demonstration at Boston City Hall. They were there not to protest the racist L.A. verdict, but …to circulate an anti-Curtis tract calling to “Dis-endorse now” and saying “it’s not anti-left to be anti-rape.”

• Days later, at a May 16 Boston SWP forum on the Rodney King case, a group of so-called progressives showed up including Bertin, Fred Pelka of “Men to End Sexual Assault” (MESA) and other activists of the “stop rape movement.” They had come, not to discuss police brutality, and certainly not to criticize the SWP’s reformist call on George Bush’s “Justice Department” to indict the cops, but …to set up a picket line outside the Pathfinder Bookstore, chanting “Racist, sexist SWP!” and “Keep Mark Curtis in jail!”

• On July 18, a forum was held at the Boston Public Library where Bertin, Pelka and Ann Russo, a women’s studies professor at MIT, participated in a panel discussion whose purpose was …to destroy the Mark Curtis Defense Committee activities in the Boston area. Mark Curtis was described here as a “white man” who “raped” “an Afro-American woman,” and the SWP as “racists” who “glorify” a “rapist.”

• At a demonstration in Boston on September 30, where thousands of black Haitian workers were protesting the anniversary of the military coup that overthrew the government of the radical priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the anti-Curtis crowd was back again, with leaflets not against the bloody junta and its links to the U.S. government but …denouncing a socialist group and its imprisoned member for “Racism and Rapism.”

What kind of people go to a Rodney King demonstration against cop brutality and a Haiti demonstration against a military junta in order to pillory a young socialist militant who was active in the defense of immigrant workers at a meatpacking plant in the Midwest? Even if they think he is guilty of rape, why are self-proclaimed advocates of the interests of women, blacks and labor so driven to go after someone who is already in jail? What is going on here?

What’s going on here is a sinister, organized provocation with a not-so-hidden agenda of vilifying the left. In the name of victims’ rights and stopping rape, a network has sprung up that works closely with the police, embraces vigilantism and is in the tow of reactionary forces. With liberal rhetoric they engage in witchhunting taken straight from the hook (literally) of J. Edgar Hoover. And the whole operation is being brokered by David North’s Workers League, which is obsessed with destroying the Socialist Workers Party and sees this case as its vehicle.

The Spartacist League has no love lost for the rotten-reformist SWP, but we can tell a dirty frame-up when we see it. And this one is a threat to everyone. Rape and sexual abuse are serious crimes, and we have given careful consideration to the Curtis case. We have read the 400-page trial transcript and the voluminous articles and pamphlets on this case, and we have documented our conclusion that Mark Curtis was framed – see the statement of the SL/U.S. Political Bureau, “The Workers League and Mark Curtis” (WV No. 480, 23 June 1989), and our article “Why Should Anyone Believe David North?” (WV No. 487, 13 October 1989).

The Railroading of Mark Curtis

Mark Curtis is a former national chairman of the SWP’s youth group, the Young Socialist Alliance. At the time of his arrest he was a union activist at the Swift packing plant in Iowa. There had been a lot of turmoil in the Midwest meatpacking industry, particularly around the protracted 1985-86 Hormel strike by Local P-9 in Austin, Minnesota, which was broken by the combined efforts of the company, the Democratic state government and the social-democratic national union bureaucracy. In the Swift plant in Des Moines, four days before Curtis’ arrest in March 1988, an INS immigration raid had picked up 17 workers. On March 4, Curtis spoke in Spanish at a meeting in defense of these workers. Only hours after this, he was arrested at the Morris residence in Des Moines by cops who took him to police headquarters where they beat him to a pulp, calling him a “Mexican lover.”

In September 1988, Curtis was convicted of third degree sexual assault and first degree burglary. The state charged that he had forced his way onto the porch of the Morris house, and attempted to rape 15-year-old Demetria Morris. Curtis said he was lured there by a request for aid. By no account, not even that of the police or the young woman at the trial, did a rape ever take place, nor was anything stolen, nor was there a weapon. Whatever may have happened to Demetria Morris, there was never any physical evidence of contact between Curtis and the alleged victim. The court refused to allow testimony about the government’s multi-year campaign of “dirty tricks” aimed against the SWP. And now Curtis is serving a 25-year sentence. Despite vows by members of the Iowa State Parole Board that he will serve his entire sentence unless he confesses his “guilt,” Curtis has not been broken. “I am not a rapist, but a fighter for women’s rights. And I am not guilty of the crimes I have been charged and convicted of,” Curtis declares.

But in the midst of all this imaginary psycho-projection and demagogic collective guilt-tripping, a simple fact has been left out: in this case there was no rape! In fact the state dropped the charge of rape against Mark Curtis. So why then this tabloid-style hysteria based on the assertion that there was a rape?

The Workers League has aided the capitalist state prosecution of this young socialist militant as part of their decades-long vendetta against the eccentric, and pretty irrelevant, reformists of the SWP. In the trial, the closing arguments of the Polk County prosecutor were taken virtually verbatim from the pages of the WL’s paper, the Bulletin. After the conviction, they have sought to destroy Curtis’ defense committee and drive away its endorsers. Through the father of the alleged victim, Keith Morris, they went to the capitalist courts demanding the names of endorsers, and access to the defense committee finances. WL agents have crisscrossed the globe searching out individuals who endorsed or contributed to the defense fund, contacting and harassing them.

In January, Mark Curtis won a police brutality suit against the Des Moines cops who beat him bloody the night of his arrest. (The verdict came a month after the Des Moines cops were exposed for the brutal beating of a black worker, Larry Milton, who they subsequently tried to frame up on “theft” charges.) The court decided the cops lied when they said they didn’t beat up Mark Curtis, and awarded him $11,000 plus attorney’s fees. Since the cops were critical witnesses at Curtis’ trial, that testimony is deeply suspect as well.

The Smear Campaign

All this has only been a spur for the Workers League to accelerate their campaign smearing Curtis as a “depraved rapist.” The WL went after Curtis’ labor support, lining up with the Iowa AFL-CIO officialdom as well as bourgeois black organizations like the Des Moines NAACP and Black United Front. More recently they have hooked up with a clot in Boston including the Rape Crisis Center, black politicos and union officials. As a result of their poison campaign, some 20 people have reportedly withdrawn their support, including former Boston mayoral candidates Mel King and Rev. Graylan Ellis-Hagler, IUE Local 201 president Jeff Crosby (Lynn GE), former Boston University professor Howard Zinn and feminist author Margaret Randall.

Circulating in the feminist milieu are several articles notable for their praise of the Workers League and virulent attacks on “the left” for supposed racism. “The Strange Case of Mark Curtis: Victim or Victimizer?” by Fred Pelka of Boston MESA appeared in an obscure Queens, New York “progressive woman’s quarterly” On the Issues (Spring 1991). And the Boston-based feminist newspaper Sojourner (October 1992) has , an article by Ann Russo, “Mark Curtis: When Racism Equals Rapism.” Russo calls the WL’s Martin McLaughlin “one of the few progressives who supported the rape survivor and her family.” She also lays out the witchhunt campaign in detail:

Efforts to challenge the propaganda of the defense committee escalated this past spring when Mary Bertin, on behalf of the Boston NAACP, got involved …. A group of us, including Barry Shuchter, Fred Pelka, Anita Saville and others, including myself on behalf of White Women Against Racism and Violence Against Women, have been directing our efforts towards supporters of Curtis, encouraging them to disendorse his defense campaign.”
“Some activists wonder why we are making such an effort to stop the Curtis defense campaign,” Russo writes. “In this case, the rape survivor faces an international progressive community that supports this white male rapist.” She quotes Mary Bertin saying: “For the past four years, [the SWP has] literally had the reign of the world, and that has to end. I felt the NAACP could be her voice, and so we designed a campaign to inform people of Demetria’s story.”

Russo’s piece is loaded with emotional white liberal guilt-tripping. At issue in the Curtis case, she claims, is “a young working-class African-American girl … brutally raped and beaten by a white man.” Russo keeps repeating: Demetria Morris was “brutally raped and assaulted,” she is “a rape survivor.” Russo puts herself inside the victim’s mind, saying “imagine being reminded” about “the good things that the man who raped you has done.” Russo imagines this, imagines that. Of the SWP, she says that “they consistently downplay the rape” of one of the “women of color who have been raped by white men,” and they ignored “the impact of their campaign on the rape survivor.” How has the SWP “gotten away with” a “support campaign in defense of a, rapist,” she asks. The “progressive community …supports this white male rapist,” and this supposedly “illustrates the racist ignorance and denial of sexual assault that continue to permeate the progressive community.”

Russo locates the source of this in “the ideology that so-called ‘good men’ (which in this country translates into white men) don’t rape.” In the May 8 (leaflet this is rendered as “‘good men,’ that is, progressive activists) don’t rape.” What is the conclusion? That all men rape? But in the midst of all this imaginary psycho-projection and demagogic collective guilt-tripping, a simple fact has been left out: in this case there was no rape! In fact the state dropped the charge of rape against Mark Curtis. So why then this tabloid-style hysteria based on the assertion that there was a rape? And what purposes does the exploitation of the non-rape of Demetria Morris serve?

In Defense of the Scottsboro Boys

In this respect, the article by Fred Pelka of Men to End Sexual Assault is instructive. This smear job paints the left as “sexists” who reflexively defend and harbor rapists if they are among “their own.” Pelka claims that a “feminist analysis of the Curtis case” shows “how effectively the left has acted to silence the survivor.” “What does it mean … when so many ‘politically correct’ people are willing to take, at face value, the word of a white man convicted of rape , over that of his Black victim?” And in showing that the left supposedly has a long tradition of vilifying rape victims, he obscenely cites the case of the Scottsboro Boys!

While fraudulently claiming to have recently resuscitated the traditions of the CP’s International Labor Defense, the economist WL never mentions any of the ILD’s defense of blacks. Moreover, the WL’s Bulletin (31 July) fulsomely quotes from Pelka and Russo without a mention of their vicious anti-communism and racism. Their silence on these issues is utterly damning.

This astounding claim comes in response to Russ Davis, a Boston supporter of the Curtis defense campaign, who wrote that there are historical precedents for the use of rape in frame-ups. Pelka asserts:
It’s significant that Davis’ list of cases where rape ‘has been used in frame-ups’ begins and ends with the ‘Scottsboro Boys’ – a group of African-American men convicted of rape by an all-white (and all-male) jury in Alabama in 1931 ….
“There is one similarity, though, between the Curtis case and that of the Scottsboro defendants. In both cases, the prosecution witnesses, women without access to power and unable to tell their stories, were vilified by the left. In 60 years that much, at least, hasn’t changed
What racist, anti-communist trash! Naturally Pelka doesn’t bother to mention that the Scottsboro Boys – nine young black men – were sentenced to die on the basis of the testimony of two young white women, based on charges of rape that had been manufactured by the Alabama cops! But to keep Curtis in jail, Pelka is glad to retry these victims of Southern lynch law.

Defense of the Scottsboro Boys was the focus of an international campaign, centrally led by the Communist Party, in which hundreds of thousands of people were mobilized to save these young black men from Jim Crow “justice.” As for the two women, one did “tell her story.” Ruby Bates later recanted her testimony, and in 1933 marched at the head of a protest in front of the White House demanding freedom for the Scottsboro Boys. As James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, wrote in a 1932 article entitled “Mobilize White Workers for Scottsboro Prisoners”:
The deliberately planned assassination of the unfortunate Negro children is notice to the entire world that imperialist America, this pretended pacifist and friend of justice, is in fact a monster. The endeavor to thwart its bloody designs in the present case calls out the deepest and best human instincts.”
Not so for Pelka & Co., for whom, even 60 years later, the case of the Scottsboro Boys calls out the basest, if reflexive, instincts.

What gets them seeing red is not the lynch rope, but that the lives of these young men were saved by mobilizations led by Communists. In his attack on the left over the Scottsboro Boys, Pelka is playing on an old theme. The NAACP sabotaged the Scottsboro defense, defended the court that convicted the framed-up youth, denounced the mass mobilizations and raised the cry of the “red menace,” accusing the CP of using the case for its own purposes. (Only four years later, under intense pressure from the black masses, did the NAACP finally take up the case.) During the McCarthyite witchhunt, the liberal historian Wilson Record vituperated against the CP over the Scottsboro case in his book The Negro and the Communist Party (1951). And today we have the Boston and Des Moines NAACP and Fred Pelka playing the same theme in the Mark Curtis case.

At the same time, the Workers League has scandalously erased the Scottsboro Boys from American working-class history. While fraudulently claiming to have recently resuscitated the traditions of the CP’s International Labor Defense, the economist WL never mentions any of the ILD’s defense of blacks. Moreover, the WL’s Bulletin (31 July) fulsomely quotes from Pelka and Russo without a mention of their vicious anti-communism and racism. Their silence on these issues is utterly damning.

The Scottsboro and the Curtis frame-ups are wielded in a cynical attempt to portray the left as enemies of women and blacks. Pelka, Bertin & Co. are supporters of the racist capitalist system. Just look at the charge of “lying.” Pelka approvingly cites the argument of prosecutor Catherine Thune that Curtis can’t be trusted because he lied …on an employment application! Is there another way to get a job? And what about the “illegal” immigrant workers at Swift whose jobs Curtis was defending – if their documents weren’t in order does that mean they should be deported? On the other hand, Pelka waves aside the fact that one of the cops, Gonzalez, had been suspended from the Des Moines police for lying, saying he was only “fudging an arrest report to protect the identity of an informant.” Actually, Gonzalez was caught lying about beating a suspect.

A lot of Pelka’s stuff sounds like it comes out of the House Un-American Activities Committee. “How is it,” he wants to know, that the SWP has gotten so much support for Mark Curtis? For the answer he goes to Barry Shuchter, formerly an editorial committee member of the Boston Labor Page. “The first thing (SWP members) do is the personal favors trick,” says Shuchter. “They say, ‘We’ve been on the line with you, we’ve come to your events. Now we’re asking for this one favor in return.’ Then comes the ‘Look who else has endorsed’ trick.” This sounded so much like a page out of J. Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit that we decided to check. Sure enough, the FBI boss gave as an example of Communist agitation:
The communists publish a story: John Doe has been arrested, the charge is murder …. The Party machinery springs into action, typical of thousands of mass-agitation campaigns …. The next step is probably the formation of the XYZ Committee to Save John Doe …. Finally come the unsuspecting noncommunists, with contact being made either in person or on the telephone.
“‘Mr. X, I’m So-and-So from the XYZ. Committee to Save John Doe. I was just over at Mr. Y’s office. You know him, don’t you?’ …
“On and on. ‘Dr. F, Rev. O, etc., have given statements’ ….
“‘Why,’ a friend will say after reading the testimonial, ‘if So-and-So endorses that organization [or issue], it must be OK.’ The dupe becomes a communist thought-control relay station
Pelka and Shuchter have learned well at the knee of this master of frame-ups. Incidentally, the first use of the term “PC,” to our knowledge, comes from J. Edgar’s how-to chapter on “The Communist Front”: “Don’t just ‘slap’ slogans on cardboard. Make sure they are ‘politically correct’.”

Police Aides, Vigilantes and Willie Horton

What’s behind the new assault on Mark Curtis is a right-wing trend that might be called yuppie feminism. One of the most tangible effects of the women’s movement has been the appearance of a layer of women professionals and executives: lawyers, professors, bank managers. They’re hostile to the left, and the heroines of this upwardly mobile strata include Democratic women politicians and lady prosecutors, from Liz Holtzman to Des Moines’ Catherine Thune. They have a ruling-class outlook, including seeing the state and its police as their defenders and allies, from going after rapists, child abusers and “pornography” to “protecting” abortion clinics (by clamping down on radicals who seek to stop the bible bigots besieging the clinics).

The politics of these self-styled “progressives” are thoroughly bourgeois, and can get pretty reactionary. The Pelka article appeared in the same edition of On the Issues (Spring 1991) as a column by editor Merle Hoffman in support of Bush’ s Persian Gulf War! On the Issues has a distinct Zionist flavor, with articles on the “pros and cons” of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. It features photos of the Vigilante Queen, the Guardian Angels’ Lisa Sliwa (at the trial of the black youths who brutally assaulted the Central Park jogger). The current (Fall 1992) issue has an article, “Let’s Make Rape an Election Issue,” which blames Dukakis’ 1988 defeat on his wimpy response as to what he would do if Kitty was raped – supposedly showing his “insensitivity” – while Bush at least was addressing the “issue” with the Willie Horton ad!

In the Mark Curtis case, it’s striking how the people lined up in the witchhunt against him all base themselves on the story being disseminated by the Des Moines police and their adjuncts. Pelka quotes prosecutor Thune, Marti Anderson of Polk County Victim Services, Demetria Morris’ rape crisis counselor Terry Schock. Barry Shuchter, who kicked off the Boston disendorsement campaign, says, “We called the Des Moines Rape Crisis Center who gave us quite a different story” from Curtis’ defenders (Labor Page, April/May 1990). Well, we called the Des Moines Rape Crisis Center, too, and they answered the phone, “Victim Services.” We confirmed that all of these are Polk County, Iowa, official agencies: Catherine Thune, Marti Anderson and Terry Schock are all government spokesmen and worked together in preparing the case against Mark Curtis. So the witchhunters call up the prosecution, and surprise, they get the prosecution line.

How could you not believe the victim, these righteous feminists ask? A piece of literature titled, “Rape Myths and the Mark Curtis Case,” claims: “In fact, more than ninety-eight percent of all rapes reported to the police actually occurred as described by the victim.” Yet, as the SWP points out, the source of this assertion can only be the police themselves. In reaction to the whole history of rape trials, in which the woman victim was placed on trial, her character assassinated and her word dismissed, it has become an article of faith in the “stop-rape movement” that the victim never lies. Russo says the Curtis defense campaign must be fought because it “betrays the already shaky alliances between the feminist, civil rights, labor, and progressive movements,” since “trust …cannot be assumed when a white man’s word” is taken as truth “against the words and experience of an African-American girl.”

This brings to mind the Tawana Brawley case, in which a black teenager having family trouble invented a story about being a victim of a racist rape. This became a cause célèbre as it was pushed by black nationalists with their own agenda and taken up by liberals and radicals who implicitly took the word of “the victim” as good coin. And it was all a pack of lies.

In his article, Pelka quotes Claire Kaplan of the “National Coalition Against Sexual Assault” who sees in the Curtis case “this eternal denial on the part of the left to think that men among their ranks couldn’t possibly commit such a crime.” Kaplan is one of the main proponents of the victims-don’t-lie argument. So much so, that in a Virginia case where the day after a Manassas man was convicted of rape the alleged victim (who was married with two children) recanted, admitting the sex was “probably consensual,” Kaplan told the press that such an incident was rare: “if a case is falsely reported …it doesn’t even get to a conviction” (Washington Post, 9 May 1990). For her, Curtis must he guilty, because otherwise it will damage the “stop-rape movement” and “groups will be divided wherever the SWP takes this campaign.”

Kaplan & Co. not only work closely with the police, but they also sanction reckless vigilante action, with not the slightest concern for the rights of the accused. In 1987, a teenage boy in a small California town sued for defamation when his name appeared on flyers posted around the county by the Santa Cruz Women Against Rape listing supposed rapists. The flyers included not only his name but a physical description, his address, place of employment and what kind of car he drove. The young man commented bitterly, “It’s a vigilante thing – they’re the Lone Ranger and all of a sudden they started getting out of hand with it.” The young woman who initially named him to the Women Against Rape settled out of court, putting in writing that “I was not raped by you …on the night described in the flyer, or at any time.” Kaplan, however, justified this vigilantism, saying “the whole anti-violence movement got started by guerrilla tactics and this is just one of them” (Los Angeles Times, 10 December 1987).

Working as adjuncts of the police, vigilantism, slander, anything goes in this milieu. And don’t forget one of the favorite themes of the new McCarthyism, child abuse. The current uproar against and police investigation of Woody Allen, in retribution for leaving Mia Farrow, is the worst kind of frame-up, designed and guaranteed to destroy his reputation and his life. Here also, some enraged feminists are making common cause with the Republican right in their vicious crusade over “family values.”

Boston Feminist Witchhunters

In Boston the anti-Curtis campaign has taken on a particular frenzy. Here the Workers League found fertile ground for its frame-up campaign against Curtis and the SWP. A center of the “disendorsement” campaign is the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, which is the parent outfit of Pelka’s MESA. In passing, let us note that this center gets almost half of its funding ($81,000 out of a total of .$178,000 in 1991) from agencies of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Another chunk of their income comes from the Haymarket People’s Fund, based heavily on the inheritance of Abby Rockefeller and the Kellogg heirs, which underwrites various “progressive” causes in the Boston area. Until several months ago, NAACP official Bertin was on the Board of Directors of the Haymarket fund. What the WL has tapped into here is a feminist/popular-front milieu in which key actors have hated the SWP (and anyone they consider “Trots”) for the last 20 years.

It goes back to 1970 when the SWP split the Boston radical women’s group Cell 16, led by Roxanne Dunbar and among whose founders and funders was Abby Rockefeller. The history of “Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975” by Alice Echols (Daring to Be Bad [1989]), notes: “Cell 16’s shift from Marxism might have been related to the Socialist Worker’s Party’s (SWP) attempted take-over of the group some time after Dunbar’s departure …, non-SWP women circulated a letter throughout the movement alerting women to the SWP’s efforts to ‘infiltrate’ feminist groups.” Old history? Not at all. It’s still useful in whipping up anti-communist frenzy.

This summer, the New York Women’s Action Coalition (WAC) was a hotbed of controversy after abortion clinic defense demonstrations against the combined efforts of Operation Rescue and Cardinal O’Connor on the eve of the Democratic Party convention. Political polarization at WAC meetings led to an exclusion attempt against the Spartacist League and the ISO. At one meeting we found rent-a-cops and lady goons at the door, and leaflets of pages from a book by Flora Davis, Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America Since 1960(1990) retailing horror stories about how the Boston women’s liberation movement was “infiltrated” by “outsiders, primarily by the Socialist Workers’ Party,” which had “targeted” Cell 16. Railing against “takeover attempts by the Trots,” Davis wrote: “The Cell 16 women soon realized that they’d lost control. The Trots had their mailing list; they had the signature on the bank account …they had most of the back issues of the journal and the posters.”

Certainly, the SWP’s apolitical organizational maneuvering in the style of the Stalinist CP leaves them open to this kind of anti-communist attack (as occurred also in NOW at around the same time). Moreover, the by then anti-Trotskyist SWP recruited women not to Marxism but to socialist-flavored feminism. In contrast, the SL was able to beat back the WAC redbaiting attack with an up-front defense of our communist program for women’s liberation through socialist revolution (see “SL Zaps WAC Attack,” WV No. 557, 7 August). But in the Mark Curtis case, what’s notable is that liberal witchhunters are still burning over the SWP, and this feeds into their desire to burn Curtis at the stake. This is the culture medium of ex-New Leftists-become-social-democrats, the rad-lib Jamaica Plain crowd (more lib than rad) in which Pelka, Russo, Beltin, Shuchter and their friends are getting a hearing. And the SWP can’t fight it because they capitulate to it politically, not wanting to “alienate” potential bloc partners in their endless lowest common denominator pop-front coalitions.

WL and the Anti-Curtis Cabal

We have had our own experience with this crowd. In March 1991, when fascist David Duke tried to hold a rally at Boston’s Old South Meeting House, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee initiated a united-front demonstration and mobilized 1,500 people in the streets to stop this Klansman-in-a-suit. The NAACP and the various bureaucrats around Labor Page gave us the run-around and refused to endorse. And a slanderous whispering campaign was started, violence-baiting the Partisan Defense Committee and SL and claiming that the communists just want to “take all the credit,” to try to poison the atmosphere and prevent a united-front mobilization. Above all, this milieu of liberals, reformists and labor bureaucrats don’t like reds mobilizing in what they consider “their” constituencies, because it undermines their political “credit”-ability. It’s noteworthy that when there is a major class battle, to defend minorities against the fascist Duke or to protest cop brutality in L.A., these friends of the police are nowhere to be seen …or show up only to trash Mark Curtis!

These days, along with targeting the Curtis campaign, the Workers League’s other major activity in Detroit is blocking with white racists against the Malcolm X school... But in order to get Mark Curtis, the Northites suddenly and cynically “discover” black oppression and play to the bourgeois feminists and “stop rape” vigilantes

This slander campaign has become even more ominous now that it has been taken up by a “respectable” layer of antirape feminists and wannabe bureaucrats. Their anti-communism is their own, but their ammunition comes from the professional provocateurs of David North’s Workers League. This is hardly the first time that North’s sinister outfit has acted as fingermen for forces hostile to the interests and defense of the workers movement. In 1983, on the eve of the British coal miners strike, the WL’s British mentors, the Workers Revolutionary Party, set off an anti-red witchhunt against miners union leader Arthur Scargill by “exposing” his forthright statement that Polish Solidarność, the favorite “union” of Ronald Reagan, was “anti-socialist.” The WRP “exposé” was taken up by Cold War labor bureaucrats and the labor-hating Fleet Street press with the aim of crushing the militant miners union.

In the late 1970s, the WL tried to use the bourgeois courts against the SWP, in the Alan Gelfand case, demanding that it turn over its membership lists, financial records and minutes to the imperialist government which had been spying on it for 50 years, most recently in the COINTELPRO case. Meanwhile, for years North’s “International Committee,” then under founder-leader Gerry Healy, was on the payroll of virtually every Arab regime in the Near East. By its own later admission, the IC received over one million pounds sterling (at least) from these kings, sheiks and tin-pot colonels. In exchange, the “IC” offered to supply the names of, and intelligence on, prominent “Zionists” in “finance, politics, business, the communications media and elsewhere” to Qaddafi’s Libya. Financial backing from Saddam Hussein to the “IC” bought his regime not only the publicity services of the Healy/Northites – whose press hailed the 1978 execution of 21 Iraqi Communist Party members – but photographs of anti-Hussein protesters in Britain.

Insofar as one can speak of this Healyite outfit on a political level, its defining characteristics have been vicious anti-Sovietism and a crude workerist adaptation to the Cold War AFL-CIO tops. Their catering to the labor bureaucracy means mimicking every form of racial insensitivity and political backwardness. Or in the immortal words of former Workers League leader Tim Wohlforth: “the working class hates faggots, women’s libbers and hippies and so do we”! These days, along with targeting the Curtis campaign, the Workers League’s other major activity in Detroit is blocking with white racists against the Malcolm X school (see article on page 12). But in order to get Mark Curtis, the Northites suddenly and cynically “discover” black oppression and play to the bourgeois feminists and “stop rape” vigilantes.

The Curtis case is the latest installment of the Northites’ psychotic “Security and the Fourth International” campaign slandering the SWP as an organization supposedly controlled by the U.S. government. The WL’s Bulletin (17 July) writes: “The issue has gone far beyond the guilt or innocence of Mark Curtis. The real question is: What is the Socialist Workers Party, and whose interests does it serve?” The same article provides a veritable data sheet of the names of leading SWPers and their industrial employers. This scurrilous McCarthyism is then offered as “proof’ that they are police agents – because they got hired! (Of course, for Pelka & Co., it’s the opposite, Curtis is a dishonest commie because he lied to the boss!)

Today the Northites act as brain-trusters for government prosecutors, right-wing feminists, AFL-CIO labor traitors, to get the SWP. Only a paranoid believes history is a conspiracy, but everybody knows there are conspiracies in history. And about North’s organization we can only warn: Beware! To paraphrase the Bulletin, “what the Workers League is” is pretty hard to fathom, but “whose interests it serves” are definitely not those of women, minorities or the working class.