Thursday, April 23, 2009

Revolution and Truth (1966)

Spartacist No. 8 (November - December 1966)

Revolution and Truth

G. Healy, general secretary of the British Socialist Labour League, and his publicists in the American Committee for the Fourth International are evidently striving to compensate with volume for what they lack in cogency. Determined to do a "job" on the Spartacist League, Healy's efforts to discredit our "clique of petty-bourgeois friends" is frankly impressive: very heavy coverage in five issues of Wohlforth's Bulletin, four of the SLL's Newsletter, sections of the August issue of Fourth International, and a 38-page pamphlet reprinting the first six attacks. As if the split itself did not have enough of a Kafkaesque quality, Healy and his ACFI mouthpiece accuse Spartacist of "sectarianism," "declaring war," and "pouring out slanders and lies" – in replying to the attack which the Bulletin initiated.

But the split's grotesqueness must not obscure its seriousness. The Hansen pamphlet, Healy 'Reconstructs' the Fourth International, published by the SWP, only suggests the value of the breach to the revisionists. Healy and Wohlforth, with whose organizations the Spartacist League remains in essential political agreement, actually seem to gloat that unity with us was not consummated, yet we have already expressed our bitterness over "the temporary set-back to the world movement and to our prospects in the U.S.," "the resultant aid and comfort given to the SWP and to Pabloist revisionists internationally," and the "delight to Stalinists of all varieties who have for years attacked Trotskyists as unprincipled splitters." (Letter of Spartacist leader H. Turner to Healy, 30 April 1966.)

The Calculated Lie

A set-back of another sort has also resulted: ACFI's efforts to rationalize Healy's anti-Leninist organizational practices have driven these comrades into a truly appalling anti-Marxist direction: the conscious embrace of calculated deception as political methodology. Our comrades formerly in the Socialist Workers Party first fully tasted Wohlforth's talents in 1963 when, as de facto party prosecutor, his lying accusations were the basis for their expulsions. The April conference debacle has again revealed Wohlforth's and Healy's expertise. Striving defensively to project the image that everybody is a bit of a liar, they challenge our assertion that James Robertson, Spartacist editor and a delegate, was expelled from the conference for refusing to acknowledge our "petty-bourgeois" nature and other characterizations. These charges constituted the bizarre motivation of a demand for an "apology" for Robertson's absence from a session.

ACFI brands our version as "mythology"; but they and Healy have inadvertently let slip a glimmer of the truth. The 12 September Bulletin, While ignoring Robertson's several apologies to the delegates for an unintentional infraction of "protocol," describes the ultimatum thus "Only when he continued to refuse to acknowledge that he had caused the conference to be inconvenienced was his attitude characterized as that of a petty-bourgeois… . But he continued, for the next 24 hour period of the conference .... to refuse to apologize." Healy's letter of 15 April to Turner picks up the story: "At the end of this session … Robertson was then asked if he would carry out the unanimous request of the Congress and apologize for his attitude towards the Congress. He refused to do this and was accordingly asked to leave." (Our emphasis.) Healy's docile words fail to convey the full flavor of this verbal hate session, culminating in our delegate's expulsion.

Wohlforth and Struggle

Our ACFI comrades have been particularly hard put co defend, the allegations that we "write off the white working class as quiescent and oppose any agitational work," especially since this charge emanates from a group which in its entire existence has issued three leaflets directed to situations of struggle – and two of these were issued jointly with Spartacist, which has more than 90 of its own to its credit! Wohlforth's isolation from civil rights struggles, as from the labor movement, is reflected in his obsequious "Open Letter to SNCC" (Bulletin, 10 October) and more significantly in ACFI's incapacity to recruit a single Black member. Apparently as a wishful consolation, the Bulletin prints a photograph of a tin-hatted Black worker as its "Labor Scope" mascot; and while claiming to be "printed entirely by union labor," the paper lacks the authority of a printers' trade label – a suggestion of cynical ignorance of even the anti-scab traditions of militant trade unionism.

But the profoundly cynical assertion of deception as a principle – which represents Wohlforth's abdication of any intention to function as a revolutionist – was learned from Healy, not Trotsky.

Having many times acknowledged the Spartacist League's modest but real involvement in mass struggle, our ACFI comrades had to explain their post-conference public fabrication. After first expressing unconcern, ACFI members tragically began to suggest that dishonesty as such is correct in principle. On 17 September, at ACFI's first public function since their April rupture with us, a Coordinating Committee member privately boasted, in the presence of unafiliated members, that ACFI would stoop to any debasement to safeguard its connection with Healy. Similar cynical admissions began to accumulate. Finally on 2 October, in the first of several classes on "Leninism" (actually an Aesopian re-run of the split aimed at hardening ACFI's Membership) Wohlforth codified his "method." Discussing Trotsky's 1925 denial of Lenin's Testament, Wohlforth acknowledged that Trotsky misled his comrades. But, said Wohlforth, exalting this desperate evasion into a principle, "Trotsky taught us when to lie and when not to lie."

The fact that Trotsky's disavowal was committed at the decision of the leading body of the Opposition, and under terms dictated by Stalin, did not prevent it from accruing heavily to Stalin's advantage and producing no little disorientation among Trotsky's followers. But the profoundly cynical assertion of deception as a principle – which represents Wohlforth's abdication of any intention to function as a revolutionist – was learned from Healy, not Trotsky. In fact, Wohlforth takes that action which our opponents have sought to exploit as the "core" of Trotskyist practice and himself turns it into the essence of Trotskyist practice!

The minuteness of Wohlforth's literary sect does not deflect from the power of this poison. What is at stake is no less than whether the future Leninist vanguard – of which we today are the progenitors – will have the capacity to carry through the task of leading working people to revolutionary victory. But the proletariat's conscious understanding of its tasks, central to Marxism, is only nourished to the extent that the workers realize the clear and sober truth – including about ourselves and our opponents.

Treating this problem in Their Morals and Ours, Trotsky reasoned:
"The liberation of the workers can come only through the workers themselves. There is, therefore, no greater crime than deceiving the masses, palming off defeats as victories, friends as enemies, bribing workers' leaders, fabricating legends, staging false trials, in a word, doing what the Stalinists do. These means can serve only one end: lengthening the domination of a clique already condemned by history. But they cannot serve to liberate the masses."

The Bulletin itself of 29 March 1966, describing the "political methodology” of Progressive Labor, anticipated its own tragedy:

"It has been said by someone who probably learned the hard way, 'never trust anyone who lies to you.' ... It would be thought that anyone belonging to an organization that aspires to revolutionary victory of the working class would examine the history … and see the political method of the lie as an important component of the reformist degeneration of the Communist parties throughout the world.”
Wohlforth's Method

Armed with this "method," Wohlforth has had no difficulty in subordinating theory and truth to his tactical needs. Thus, to resurrect the slander of Spartacist's denial of the working class, Wohlforth in the Bulletin of 10 October isolates a quotation from our last issue referring to the New Leftists "image of an apathetic white working class" – in order to attribute this view to us in the very article by us calling for "arousing the working class" to a political struggle against capitalism! Similarly Wohlforth, like Healy, relishes in endlessly slandering individuals who break with the movement. Thus Wohlforth vituperates against Shane Mage while printing in the 24 October Bulletin, without a single acknowledgement, an article on Hungary almost wholly adopted and plagiarized from Mage's work!

Our experience with Healy's and Wohlforth's opportunism, which predicates such dishonesty, dates back to our original split in 1962. Rewriting the history of his relations with us in a series, "Problems of the Fourth International" (Newsletter, 22 and 29. October), Healy serves up as, "educational assistance" the ultimatum given our comrades then in the SWP – not simply to accept the discipline of his group with which they had only close but ill-defined relations, but to renounce their views before the party. Healy explains that he was "opposed to any attempt to sharpen up the internal faction struggle inside the SWP…" (Newsletter, 22 October), and, through Wohlforth at the time circulated charges of our comrades' "indiscipline" and "split perspective" (SWP Discussion Bulletin, June 1963); yet Healy's 29 October version endeavors to prove our alleged anti-internationalism by citing that we were "ready to accept SWP discipline"! Healy's contradiction reflects his flip-flop at the time: Healy was willing to police our tendency in exchange for a deal with Dobbs; when this proved fruitless, Healy had Wohlforth drop the "party loyalty" line and virtually invite expulsion. Our comrades, on the other hand, steered one straight course until their expulsion: a principled, vigorous struggle inside the SWP for a revolutionary program.

While Healy largely just rehashes the Bulletin's well-worn lies, these articles further reveal the man's Stalinist-conditioned idea of an International: not a disciplined collective of peer sections, guided by a democratically-selected center, but a network of puppets obedient to Healy for his "revolutionary integrity and rich experience." A dubious integrity, indeed, after the "rich experience" of "advice" to our "goodselves" like the following: "We do not want to impose [our proposals] on you. If you do not like to accept them, then there is no need to accept them. All those comrades who do accept them will be considered as part of an international tendency...." (Healy's letter to Revolutionary Tendency of SWP, 12 November 1962.)

As the servant reflects the master, Wohlforth exposes the political character of Healy; and their performance as micro-careerists repudiates their literary Leninism. The latest manifestation of ACFI's left-centrist behavior has been their electoral positions: in New York City they supported the middle-class Hal Levin campaign; meanwhile ACFI's man on the West Coast caved in to the "boycott" 'line Of the Scheer liberals – placing ACFI to the right of even the National Guardian, which supported the SWP's write-in campaign. Such opportunism links to Healy's own shortcomings which we would have sought to correct within the International Committee had we not been expelled: especially his tendency towards a Great-Power insensitivity on the national question; the SLL's tactical vacillations between unprincipled concessions and violent sectarianism; and the Healy regime's anti-Leninist bureaucratism. ACFI, parodying Trotsky, begs these questions by "defying " us to explain the "social roots" of Healy's practices. The Voix Ouvriere comrades have observed that while a bureaucracy such as the Stalinists' has a basis in social and economic causes, including the conservative protection of material privilege, Healy's bureaucratism is a product primarily of his incapacity as a revolutionist!

Trotskyism and Truth

While Healy's practices, aped by Wohlforth, increase our opponents' vulnerability, the Spartacist League takes no pleasure in the business; the 29 March Bulletin's sober commentary on PL ironically well-foretold our present assessment of ACFI:
"We do not simply gloat over the self-destruction of a political organization... Progressive Labor's behavior can have no other effect than to isolate and demoralize its own membership as well as creating, skepticism and mistrust in the minds of working class and student militants toward communist organization and struggle. All in all, a criminal waste!"
Yet Wohlforth assails us for not "closing ranks with the IC" by denying that a crime was committed! There is compounded irony here – the Spartacist League is politically much closer to the IC than, for example, to Voix Ouvriere, with whom we have strong differences over their state-capitalist position on the Sino-Soviet states, their tendency towards syndicalism, and their erroneous assessment of the Fourth International. But we, like VO, recognize that true solidarity with the International Committee forces requires that we help it purge its ranks of criminals, not deny their deeds. The honest engagement of this task itself facilitates the rebuilding of a Leninist Fourth International.