Friday, May 8, 2009

WL Debates Spartacist League in L.A. (1973)

Workers Vanguard No. 22 (8 June 1973)

WL Debates Spartacist League in L.A.

The elusive Los Angeles debate between the Spartacist League and the Workers League actually took place on Thursday, 17 May at noon on the UCLA campus, the only time and place the WL would accept. At the same time the WL continues to refuse to debate the SL elsewhere, despite repeated challenges from SL locals in New York, the Bay Area. and the Midwest. The WL had earlier tried to worm out of ifs offer by lying, claiming that "Spartacist Refuses Debate Challenge" (Bulletin, 16 April 1973). The SL had written a letter accepting the debate, suggesting it be held not on a weekday at noon on a college campus, but in a central Los Angeles location on a weekend night, when trade unionists could attend (see WV No. 19, 27 April 1973). After the WL had announced in its usual peremptory style, "The negotiations are over. The matter is closed," Workers League National Secretary Tim Wohlforth again agreed to the debate when the Bulletin's lies on the debate issue were exposed by the SL at a public meeting. Thus, after a seven-year refusal to meet the SL in debate, the WL was forced to come out into the open in Los Angeles (where its local organization has been virtually shattered and it therefore has little left to lose).

"You get a rat in the corner and it will fight; you get a fake Trotskyist, a gangsterist part of the workers movement, to a place where it can't get out and it will even try to defend its politics," explained Tweet Carter, Political Chairman of the Los Angeles local of the SL, in opening the debate.

The Workers League split its floor time between Dennis Brehm on "The Crisis" and Irving Hall on "Theory," with WL West Coast organizer Jeff Sebastian limiting himself to remarks from the floor. After Brehm set the framework by identifying the basic contradiction in society today as that between gold and the amount of money in circulation their politics man, Hall, rejected programmatic differences is "nitpicking over different little disagreements over.police strikes, Bangla Desh, etc." Instead of wasting time on such 'petty squabbles,' he simply asserted that the SL was Pabloist, shared methodology with Shachtmanism and was totally hostile to objective reality as well as to the Fourth International.

Hall's analysis of Watergate finally broke through the mystical fog of “method" which, the WL uses to avoid any examination of its actual policies. He polemicized against the SL's supposed "inability to see Watergate as any different from the way Time magazine or Newsweek sees it, somehow a comic opera, where we sit back in our middle class glory and laugh at poor Nixon's discomfiture at a time when this country faces the most serious political crisis in its history based upon the whole economic death agony of capitalism in its final throes."

Carter demolished this as sensationalist crisis-mongering. For the WL, she said,

" ... the October Revolution was a mosquito bite; the First World War – a little conflict; the Great Depression – no crisis; the Second World War – well, a lot of people got killed. But Watergate and gold: That's the crisis of humanity:"

Carter identified the method behind the continual claim of the "crisis at hand," over which the WL has been in a frenzy for the past ten years, as an automatic theory of revolution where revolutionaries are no longer needed, where "The Crisis" will finish off capitalism, eliminating the need for the vanguard party.

Trotsky characterized the epoch of imperialism as being in decay since 1914, with the working class incapable of seizing power while dominated by its bureaucratic leadership, the agents of the bourgeoisie. The Workers League, in contrast, sees Watergate as the final crisis of capitalism, with the crumbling of the bourgeois parties forcing the present leadership of the workers movement (Meany, Abel and Co.) to contend for state power because (believes the WL) there is no capitalist alternative.

In the discussion period, Bob Larkin, Los Angeles organizer of the RCY, pointed to recent WL slogans calling for 'Nixon Out, Labor In' and 'Labor Must Force Nixon to Resign,' which turn labor into an abstraction, an undifferentiated mass, and vitiate the Trotskyist struggle for revolutionary leadership of the class. "To talk about the collapse of the capitalist system outside of the internal political life and struggle of the working class is simple objectivism and idealism in the service of Pabloism," he said.

To charge that the SL nitpicks over details, Carter counterposed the programmatic consistency of the SL, which still sells the first issue of Spartacist (published in 1963), to the Workers League, whose positions wander all over the map. "What is Marxist method for? Is it to hang on the wall? Method is for the proletariat to use in deciding what to do.... If you've got a method that keeps bringing up the wrong answers, there must be something wrong with your method. So 'The Dialectic,' 'The Method,' is something the Workers League brings out of the closet to obscure its real betrayals of the working class," she said.

There's been a lot of talk about Spartacist nitpicking, right? So let's do what they call "nitpicking," Carter added, pointing to the WL's support of Stanley Hill in the SSEU (welfare workers' union in New York), its subsequent denunciation of him a few days later and then endorsement of him in the following election.
"A group that calls itself Trotskyist supports an incumbent bureaucrat who
they themselves say is betraying the working class – the fate of the workers in
an important union is 'nitpicking.' "In Bangla Desh, the Workers League
supported the Indian bourgeoisie and called for those troops going into Bangla
Desh. They knew perfectly well India wants half of Bengal about as clearly as
Pakistan does. But the fate of the Bengali people doesn't concern the Workers
League – it's 'nitpicking.' "I challenge the Workers League to defend their line
that the cops are workers, or is that 'nitpicking'? Is whether or not cops are
scabs, murderers, and a main arm of defense of the capitalist class, or whether
they are workers whose demands for wages and working conditions have to be
supported, 'nitpicking'?"
The WL "method" was revealed as one of abandoning the struggle to mobilize the working class under Trotskyist leadership until such later date when the class will have fully digested the experiences of betrayal. In the meantime it is supposedly the duty of "communists" to lead the workers into these betrayals. On the subject of the "Brotherhood Caucus" (a reformist group posturing as militants in the Fremont GM plant), Hall was quite explicit:
“We have no illusions. about the Brotherhood Caucus, but the Brotherhood
Caucus has a certain following within the trade union. The working class is
going to have to go through certain struggles behind certain misleaders and you
go through that struggle with them, while at the same time pointing out the
basic class positions of those leaders that they've got to follow
The Workers League tries to convince its followers that to be a Trotskyist means supporting forces which even the Bulletin recognizes are holding back the class, under the guise that the working class must go through a reformist stage. The WL goes so far as to support James Morrissey in the NMU, whom Wohlforth calls "an out-bastard," over Gene Herson, candidate of the Militant-Solidarity Caucus for NMU president, who is running on a class-struggle program including a number of demands the WL claims to stand for. Carter predicted that the contradiction between the WL's need to pose as Trotskyists while at the same time feeding its voracious opportunist appetites would continue to tear apart its chapters.

The 28 May issue of the Bulletin account of the Los Angeles debate misquotes Carter in an attempt to prove that the SL denies the need for political struggle. According to its account Carter said: "What is needed is a general strike. This will paralyze capitalism and the revolutionary party steps in." According to the tape recording of the debate, what Carter actually said was:

“Notice the comrades of the Workers League did not call for a revolutionary party, but called for a labor party based on George Meany. In this pamphlet [The Case for a Labor Party] they don't call for a revolutionary party of the Fourth International; they call for a labor party and an international youth movement. They have abandoned Trotskyism in favor of something that looks pretty much like reformism.

“The Workers League says the crisis of capitalism is so great that the struggle for higher wages has become revolutionary. Their methodology is to make an occasional transitional demand here and there when it's cheap. The minute it gets expensive, they support bureaucrats for re-election like they did in New York City.

“Now, if you believe that revolutionaries have to wage a political fight to show the working class why it needs to seize power and that it has the power to do it through general strikes-there 's the motor force for the comrade who wanted to know how to carry out a revolution-general strikes, paralyze capitalism, and the revolutionary party leads the actual insurrection, having prepared the working class for it."