Saturday, August 1, 2009

Organization for Hire 2 (1985)

Workers Vanguard No. 379 (17 May 1985)

Smash Fascist Smear of SL

[Part 2]

Healyites’ Message: Trust the State

What keeps drawing the establishment press, the glossy news magazines and the TV types back to the Goetz case, as a tongue is drawn to a hurting tooth, is their incomprehension that so many people of all backgrounds don’t think the answer to crime is the cops. As Marxists, we oppose the monopoly of the means of violence in the hands of the capitalist state: gun control means nobody will have guns except the racist cons. the criminal elements which capitalism spawns, and let’s not forget the Times editors with their pistol-packin’ chauffeurs. When the Times’ Sulzberger lectures that everything would be okay if people would just be reasonable and the cops would act responsibly, he knows he’s got his armed men downstairs and his pistol in his desk drawer. So the bourgeois press just can’t stand the widespread alienation from the capitalist “justice” system and cops. Their line boils down to: in the interests of social orderliness, the citizens must rely on the cops no matter what. Nobody is more explicit on this than William Safire, the former Nixon press agent who is now the house ultraconservative for the New York Times. In his Times column on April 8, Safire wrote:

The only way to stop crime is to uphold the law. If you are carrying a handgun without a license in New York State, you are breaking the law. Don't do it and don't condone it. If you start to make exceptions for people who are especially frightened, you undercut the authority of the police.
“If you are menaced by someone who demands your property, give it to him, remembering his face or voice: only if you are reasonably sure he means to kill you, and you happen to be legally armed, should you give it to him in the more vigorous sense. Most of us are not legally armed, nor should we be; in those cases, our anti-crime responsibility is to be noisy and observant victims.
“Certainly victims have rights, and all too many innocent people are
terrified by punks; that is more reason for law-and-order hard-liners to keep the amateurs out of the job that must be done by professionals.
“Become involved with law enforcement: bear witness; but leave lethal counterforce to the people we authorize to wear their guns on the outside.”

Safire, who sees himself as a conscious agent for the capitalist state, thinks that unless you happen to be legally armed, you should die for the higher good of the state. This, curiously enough, doesn’t satisfy most people. But at least Safire is consistent; he knows he’s a particularly right-wing mouthpiece for America’s rulers. His line is: trust the state. And so is Healy’s. For Healy too, only duly constituted authority should have guns. The corollary is that the British cops had the right to do anything they wanted to the striking miners. We say no, everybody has the tight to carry and to be accountable for their deeds. Which in the case of Goetz is a moot point, for the “subway shooting” was an ambiguous situation: a disturbed, possibly racist, previously victimized, armed man and four menacing criminal youth, one of whom may now be paralyzed for life.

In the British Isles everybody (with the conspicuous exceptions of the IRA and the British government) believes that firearms are a bad business. Well, we have to observe that great questions are generally resolved with guns, and sometimes daily individual existence also involves this question. In this racist society, blacks have been terrorized since the beginning of slave times; the gravest offense for them has been the mere possession of a firearm, just as for the Irish Catholics in Ulster. Those who intend to engage in social struggle cannot afford to be principled pacifists. We continue to feel keenly and bitterly the Greensboro massacre, where a well-organized cabal of Klansmen and Nazis with the assistance of the cops and FBI opened fire on a peaceful anti-KKK demonstration and selectively assassinated five supporters of the leftist Communist Workers Party. We wish that we could have been part of an effective security squad protecting those anti-racist demonstrators. And through our strategy of mobilizing the organized power of labor and blacks against fascist terror we assisted the black unionists and youth of Washington, D.C. in stopping the emboldened Klan in the streets.

On the level of individual existence too, one had better have a calculus of violence. Consider three cases: the crucial Willie Turks case, the tangential Tom Henehan case, and the dubious Bernhard Goetz case. Willie Turks was a black transit worker whose job took him to the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, an enclave of ethnic white losers. For the crime of wanting to buy a bagel on Avenue X late at night after getting off work, Willie Turks was beaten to death by a gang of racist punk kids. We think Turks should have been carrying; we think he should have had a fighting chance at self-defense. Following his murder we agitated that the Transport Workers Union should mobilize a massive demonstration of unionists on flatbed trucks through Gravesend to serve notice that Willie Turks: had thousands of union brothers who intend to protect the rights and lives of black working people. That’s the kind of law and order we support. But not Healy: he is for the absolute monopoly of armed force by the previously authorized gunmen of the capitalist state, which is of course presumed to be colorblind and class-neutral.

To recognize the ambiguity of the Goetz case means to defend the idea that Willie Turks ought to be alive. And that the Klansmen and not the anti-Klan radicals at Greensboro should be in the ground, like their comrades at Bitburg. Self-defense for Willie Turks is the individual unit of what, collectively posed, is simply the right to engage in social struggle: the right to demonstrate against the Klan, and ultimately the right of a Workers party to organize for power. Marxists understand that bourgeois democracy operates in this country, up to the point that the ruling class begins to feel itself threatened; at that point, the couple of communist representatives that we will have managed get elected to the bourgeois parliament get hauled off and shot. Whether or not you can abjure the use of force on principle depends on your aims. It’s not that Healy has flunked Lenin on the nature of the state, force and violence. No, it’s just that what he seeks is not socialist revolution but cooption, whether it’s in the government barracks in Tripoli, Libya or Baghdad, Iraq, or at home in England’s Buckingham Palace.

A Short Course in American History

The Bulletin article was written for foreign consumption. Healy intends it to be read by suckers who are moreover ignorant of American reality. Today in America near half our homes have firearms – long arms, handguns, often both. This is not generally known in countries with strong states that emerged to institutionalize the oppression of their own people, unlike America, created by European settlers pushing the frontier westward over the continent’s indigenous inhabitants.

According to the Nationals Rifle Association, every recent study shows that between 45 and 50 percent of American households have guns: the “Decision Making Information Survey” in 1978, for instance, put the figure at 47 percent. Furthermore, the guns are spread fairly evenly throughout the population; there are regional differences, but the only disparity between blacks and whites is that the weapons blacks own are usually less expensive. And it’s good for the cops that when they go to the shooting range they get to pass rows and rows of expert marksmen who are women, kids, blacks, Asians, you name it.

Formal legal equality for blacks, obtained only after World War II for the most part, includes the right to bear arms, and black Americans cherish that right no less than whites. Indeed, turning this point around, a powerful impetus to the civil rights movement was returning black soldiers who, having risked their lives in World War II and especially Korea, were not about to submit passively to the degradations of Jim Crow racism when they got back home.

The right to bear arms in America was established in a reactionary context: a frontier society murderously subduing the continent’s aboriginal peoples and controlling a laboring population consisting largely of black slaves, indentured servants, etc. But it became part of the formal legal doctrine of this country and is protected in the U.S. Constitution. Now there is a faction fight going on over this question: the right to possess a gun is mostly protected, but the right to carry is under fire. The purposes behind the gun control campaign, and its intended bloody consequences, are nowhere clearer than in the case of the martyred Malcolm X. As the most prominent militant champion of black rights and an outspoken advocate of self-defense against racist attack, Malcolm X was, in his own words, “a marked man.” Naturally the cops had less than no interest when he got death threats and his house was bombed. But when it became known that Malcolm was carrying a .30 caliber carbine in his car, the New York City Council zipped through legislation against carrying rifles or shotguns in public. And then when Malcolm X was shot down in the Audubon Ballroom, the man who was immediately arrested was one of Malcolm’s bodyguards who had managed to wound one of the assassins. Indeed the state, William Safire and Gerry Healy are very tender on the right of self-defense. In the face of deadly danger, they insist, you should just die, because it strengthens the state.

So Americans have guns, and want to keep them. This is a sociological fact of life in America, and will be a useful fact when the mass of the American population feels immediately and overtly threatened by a tyrannical government. As Marxists, we have campaigned consistently for the right of self-defense and against gun control. In reporting on our first electoral campaign, for Berkeley city council, we cited in our first paragraph our “support to the right of American Negroes to armed self-defense in the face of racist violence.” (Spartacist, May-June 1965).

In our article on the 1964 cop riot against the masses of Harlem, we called for neighborhood block councils to organize the ghetto struggles, wage rent strikes against slumlords, and oppose cop brutality: “Moreover, such councils form a natural basis for the organization of defense patrols to protect the community against future police riots-and such patrols are the embryo of that workers militia which will defend the coming American Revolution” (“Harlem Riot and After,” Spartacist No. 3, January-February 1965). A major document adopted at the SL’s Founding Conference in 1966 calls for revolutionary ghetto organizations: “One of the most important functions of such representative popular organs would be the organization and direction of effective self-defense against police and racist violence. The potential for rapid growth by the American fascist movement adds to the seriousness of this task...” (“Black and Red: Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom,” Spartacist No. 10, May-June 1967).

A leaflet which we mass-distributed in Newark following the 1967 ghetto upheaval contained the call to “Defend the Black Ghettoes – every serious and responsible working man should exercise his right to own a gun.”

In every one of the election campaigns our general outlook is to agitate, under particular, appropriate, urgent circumstances, for an armed popular militia independent of the established state power. There is a long historical tradition behind this. Concretely, where the armed forces of the state are seen as immediately illegitimate and abusive, the effective call for and creation of such a militia can be a springboard for dual power. In Russia such a formation was called the Red Guards. But of course England, already under Charles II, wiped away such ideas after the English Revolution. And the English parlour pinks, masquerading only sometimes in red wolf’s clothing, have gone but a very little way to undo that counterrevolution. And Gerry Healy is of that legally fetishistic English pinko ilk. But he is also specially dangerous, because he imposes this kind of nasty English authoritarianism on his followers in very different circumstances around the world where the question of social power is active and immediate. He is a racketeer in the “revolution” business.

Healyites Set Up South African Masses

Turning now to the Bulletin’s sinister article on South Africa, we find ourselves castigated for “the demoralization, cynicism and racism which characterizes the political attitude of declassed anti-Marxist radicals toward revolutionary struggles of the working class and the oppressed colonial people.” The Healyites derive this from our article “South Africa on the Razor’s Edge,” WV No. 376, 5 April, which calls for the building of a revolutionary proletarian party which counterposes to popular frontism and nationalism “the program of permanent revolution, for the emancipation and reconstruction of the oppressed nation under the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Our article warns that unless the apartheid state is smashed and the racist rulers expropriated by workers revolution, the South African butchers are fully capable of unleashing massacres like Sharpeville and Uitenhage many times over.

The Healyite polemic considers that our call for black-centered workers republic and our statement that “the white population must have a place in an anti-racist society” constitute “an ultimatum directed against the black masses.” And they say that “In its call for a 'multiracial working-class vanguard,' Spartacist takes the side of that elite section of the South African working class which Leon Trotsky described as the 'privileged, arrogant caste of whites'.” Of course, in order to portray us as some kind of white-lovers, the Healyites have to drop right out of the South African reality nearly a million Indians and two and a half million people of mixed race.

What is the situation of the South African struggle today? The black masses have repeatedly displayed the most courageous defiance of the racist regime. The country appears to be seething on the brink of a widespread, open insurrection. Only the apartheid regime is not on the brink of collapse, though it may be scared enough to unleash an orgy of bloodletting against the defenseless people. Those who think the South African apartheid regime is about to collapse are counting, naively or cynically, on the notion that the apartheid butchers can be restrained by world public opinion. Thus the whole perspective of “divestment,” which posits an international strike of capital led by the U.S., whose ruler, the terror-bombers of Vietnam and Hiroshima, are seen as somehow more moral than their allies in Pretoria. In the very same issue of the Bulletin which attacks us as “defeatist,” an account of the U.S. campus anti-apartheid protests gives pride of place to a Columbia student whose quoted remarks begin: “It has been really going well. We have had support from Bishop Tutu and Jesse Jackson...” Indeed the Healyites, when they are not mouthing slogans of “People’s War” for the consumption of militants, take a completely uncritical approach to those who believe that the decisive factor in South Africa will be the intervention of the Jesse Jacksons and Teddy Kennedys.

As for the black militants of South Africa, and those like us who stand in defense of their rights, we don't have to love the South African whites, we just have to deal with them, because are there and have no intention of going anywhere else. Of course the Bulletin article makes no effort to answer the questions we have raised in our press, because they are concerned above all to make sure that no hint of what the Spartacist League is talking about escapes from the columns of the Bulletin. For the Healyites, the whites are a non-question; obviously, the answer is to drive them into the sea. Only there are four to five million of them and they have all the guns. What works on a thin slice of white settler colony in Rhodesia won’t work here.

In South Africa one race sits on top of another. This means that the whole white population partakes of the super-exploitation of black labor, living at five or ten times the standard of living of the blacks. This in turn means that white labor will in the main be violently hostile to black rights, tending to resist to the last man, at an unspeakable cost of black lives. It also means that the whites comprise a technical elite with an overwhelming share of crucial skills. Thus we wrote that:

The white population must have a place in an anti-racist society: the model is how Trotsky offered thousands of tsarist officers a job to do, placing their skills at the disposal of the new Bolshevik regime and the Soviet peoples, South Africa’s two and a half million coloureds, who compromise a strategic part of the Cape proletariat, and the nearly one million Indians, mainly a commercial population, are no less a vital component... . South African whites are an oppressor people who can easily and guiltily envision the terms of oppression reversed, and are determined not to be on the receiving end. That makes them dangerous.”

Though we do not envision the apartheid regime agreeing to dismantle itself after being shamed by international finger-wagging (that being a variant of Reverend M.L. King’s line, shared by Bishop Tutu, that if the oppressed show how nobly they can suffer, the slavemasters will have to grant them freedom). We see the fracturing of that society on the basis that in South Africa there has been created, in the mines and factories, a concentrated and increasingly organized core of five million black proletarians, the gravediggers of apartheid. Still the cost will be great for proletarian revolution to triumph against a murderous police-state regime with its awesome military machine. But the revolution in South Africa will be a profound liberating blow for the whole continent of sub-Saharan Africa, where world socialist revolution is the only alternative to continued mass starvation under conditions of imperialist-enforced backwardness and oppression.

The Bulletin article includes a couple of beautiful quotes from Trotsky, used in the standard Healyite manner. That is, they counterpose to the Spartacists’ views citations from Trotsky which are in no way countperposed to the Spartacists’ views. Thus Trotsky says:

The revolutionary party must put before every white worker the following alternative: either with British imperialism and with the white bourgeoisie of South Africa or with the black workers and peasants against the white feudalists and slave owners and their agents in the ranks of the working class.”

This squares nicely with our insistence on the need to seek to win over whites to the side of the oppressed, and not at all with Healy’s vicarious nationalist line, which simply dismisses as “racist” the idea of any place for whites in South Africa.

Another wonderful Trotsky quote in the Bulletin restates the theory of permanent revolution, that the proletariat must assume the leadership of the national struggle. Or, as we put it, we do not see that the democratic struggle against apartheid can triumph short of the overthrow of the capitalist ruling class by the proletariat leading all the oppressed. This is not at all the perpsective of the nationalist leaders of the South African struggle, even the best and most corageous of them. Since the rise of the black unions, the weight of the working class is acknowledged, but not programmatically; the proletariat is seen as a vehicle to haul the ideological cart of nationalism and not as the basis for reconstructing South Africa as a workers state.

Nationalism is the ideology appropriate to a petty-bourgeois stratum which looks forward to its emergence as a new black ruling elite to oppress its “own” black workers in a capiatlist state on the “African socialist” model. If this schema could be carried out, it would mean a new exploitative regime resting on an ever-narrowing ethnic base: first go after the whites, then the Indians, the coloureds, finally ushering in fratricidal conflict along tribal-linguistic lines. For Healy, since the Spartacists are not black nationalists, they must therefore be white-lovers. Well, we are neither nationalists nor white-lovers, but Healy, oddly enough, is both. For while he is quite capable in the present polemic of baiting the Spartacists by assuming a black nationalist posture, in South Africa, those who are influenced by Healy espouse the same colorblind line we are already familiar with from Healyites elsewhere: hooray for the working class and not one word about the fact that certain South African workers (whites) benefit from the superexploitation of others and therefore back the apartheid state which deprives these latter of the most elementary democratic rights.

Healy’s sole purpose in quoting Trotsky on South Africa is, simply, to totally confuse the reader: counterpose to one another two things which say the same thing and hopefully the reader will figure that Healy must be smarter than the poor reader, and will take his word for it. Those who can think their way through the muddle and come out the other side Healy doesn’t want anyway.

In fact, anybody who doesn’t see bloody dangers in South Africa just isn’t living in this world, and mainly willfully. The Healyites have no response to our urgent warning to South African militants, and think none is needed. Once again they have precisely the attitude that all the reformists have: the people united will never be defeated. But modern history abounds with piles of corpses of militants whose leaders have “united” them under the hegemony of the class enemies of their liberation. And the Spartacists are not enthused at the military prospects for the “People’s War,” whatever the WL means by that exactly, against the apartheid state, then this proves, according to the Bulletin, that we “oppose the arming of the black masses” and positively enjoyed the slaughter of the defenseless blacks at Uitenhage. “People’s War” indeed - this from people who at Columbia are for Jesse Jackson and Bishop Tutu. But so long as you’re sufficiently far away from London's Clapham Common, they urge you to fight to the last man.

Classless Demagogues

The Healyites are intellectual thugs for hire, and not all that intellectual. They always have a simple answer for everything, but it’s isolated from reality, and not accidentally. It’s a bad thing to merchandize a counterfeit world, to know and to ignore, the essence of cynicism. The Healyites know that “Trotskyism” doesn't mean spreading the filthy lie that Trotsky surrounded himself with FBI/GPU agents in Mexico, they just don’t care. They know that a political revolution doesn’t proceed from the embrace of capitalist-restorationist Solidarnosc, but they will never let that stand in the way of achieving oneness with the anti-Soviet Labour statesmen. They believe, to use a famous phrase attributed to Stalin, that paper will take anything that’s written on it, and that nobody ever remembers anything, only they do have a little problem just now in the British coal fields.

And what about “fascism”? Well, we could say that for some of the regimes the Healyites support, fascism’s big problem is that it’s an enemy of Allah. That would be the snotty response, but we want to be serious. The Healyites have done their best to be an organization for hire. They’ve found their niche as kept creatures of various gangs of oil-rich nationalist murderers, whose slaughter of communist workers they extol. Thus they are classless demagogues, all-purpose mock extremists whose radicalism has nothing in common with socialist struggle. Of course Hitler was a radical too. As opposed to the old-time German conservatives, who merely wanted the Kaiser back, Hitler wanted a “New Order.” And he was a nationalist; he wanted to do away with all communists, Jews, the Pope – indeed anything trans-national.

Make no mistake about it, there is a real fascist potential here. What is Healyism? It’s mindless extremism even in pursuit of the most trivial aims and an unbounded admiraton for power in the hands of Third World strongmen. It’s baiting as “fascists” the revolutionary Marxists because we did our earnest, modest best to aid the miners’ struggle while Healy was going all out to stab the union in the back. It’s a social base that presently consists of lumpenized youth along with a thin layer of TV and cinema personalities leading a gilded existence and whose view of social reality comes through a camera lens. It’s an organizational “method” of lies, gangsterism and anti-knowledge. Indeed the Healyites have the potential to become just about anything. Winston Churchill is said to have remarked once regarding a prominent fellow MP, “Oh, that’s the chap who gives degeneracy a bad name.” Add to degeneracy wild vituperation devoid of any class basis or connection to social reality and you have... Gerry Healy and his Workers League.