Reply to the Militant (SWP-US)

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Reply to The Militant

Forty-five years ago the many-times SWP candidate Hedda Garza told us that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was in the anti-democratic grip of Jack Barnes and his clique of friends from Carlton College. The occasion was the ruling by the National Executive Committee that the Proletarian Orientation Tendency was to have no representation on the National Committee of the party, that the tendency would be barred from organizing a tendency in the Young Socialist Alliance and that it was to dissolve itself forthwith. This amounted to an expulsion of leaders like Barbara Gregorich and Phil Passen and began the series of volcanic paroxysms expelling everyone who had any idea that Marxism was an allegiance to the historical program of the working class, or even the sectoralist, single issue program Barnes, et. al. rode to the top of the heap in 1971. Hedda warned us that Barnes had little understanding of the socialism of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, and that Barnes was a “power-trip manipulator”. As we write on May 21st, a byline London May 23rd article in “The Militant”[1] illuminates these manipulators in the act.

Nothing appears in “The Militant” without the approval of Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters. No phrase, nor hint of a change in any political position can appear in its pages without the endorsement of the surviving members of the “Carlton Clique.” Where a signed article appears, you may detect a signal that a retreat path of deniability is in place, even though the clique is actually committing to print its real feelings.

Cloaked in the May 23rd article by Jonathan Silberman, ostensibly concerned with the existence and expression of anti-Jewish prejudice in the British Labour Party, Barnes and Waters use pages of the once-highly-regarded “Militant” to smear the pro-Palestinian Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign as “anti-Jew” and part of a rising tide of such evil across the world. Of course Silberman (read Barnes!) did not mention that BDS has recently been banned in Britain and France, (and we expect that Hillary Clinton will do the same in the U.S., if she can).

Nor is there a word of protest about the judicial persecution of pro-Palestinian activists, notably in Austria and the U.S.A. That the palpable, inhuman race prejudice against millions of Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees run out of their towns by Washington’s and London’s wars is being expressed at the highest levels of the European bourgeois states and by figures like the “know nothing” Donald Trump[2] is not a subject for special notice for these self-styled liberators of the working people. When you realize that the Barnes-Waters leadership has junked the party’s former (1971) position calling for a democratic, secular state of Palestine and reduced its Pro-Palestinian position to a call for a mere “contiguous Palestine” in line with their reversal legitimizing the existence of Israel[3], then you realize the Barnes clique has driven from the SWP ranks anyone who would remember Trotsky’s pre-war warning that Zionism would not and could not liberate the world’s Jews.[4]

The American SWP has been on a long trajectory politically downward from the revolutionary Trotskyist party it once was.  It is quite ironic that the SWP is talking about opposing anti-Semitism, considering they long ago cast aside the Trotskyist program to actually defeat the fascists.  In a 1961 letter, SWP leader Joseph Hansen, abandoning the 1938 SWP position,[5] made it clear that the SWP respected the so-called democratic rights of the American Nazi Party fascist leader George Lincoln Rockwell:

“Finally, in everything the New York local did, it stressed the fact that Rockwell’s democratic rights were not being challenged. On the contrary. The counterdemonstrators were similarly exercising their democratic rights.

  Aside from the question of principle involved in this, it would be a great political mistake to permit our worst foes to maneuver us into the position of seeming to deny democratic rights to others, no matter who, and to claim them only for ourselves.” – “Letter from Joseph Hansen to Larry Trainor“, February 6, 1961, Boston

Hansen then went on to deny that Rockwell and his American Nazi Party, all decked out in swastika armbands, were real fascists:

Another point of difference concerns the estimate of the Rockwell outfit. Does this represent incipient American fascism? I do not think so. The real American fascists look more like Mayor Hague, Senator McCarthy possibly Senator Goldwater. It can be put down with absolute assurance that in no case will they wear Nazi uniforms, swastikas, and praise Hitler. To picture Rockwell’s outfit as representing American fascism thus helps create the illusion that the real fascists, when they show up, will be identifiable with similar ease…

A CWG member recalls being at a demonstration in Boston in 1975 against the fascists, where the SWP formed a cordon through the street telling anti-racist protesters to go to the peaceful rally. The SWP of 1975 was very clear about invoking the equal application of the bourgeois democratic right of free speech in the face of fascist provocation and terror, even creating illusions that the cops and the capitalist state are the forces to stop fascist violence:

While opposing government denial of free speech and assembly to anyone, the antiracist forces should vigorously call for government arrest and prosecution of racists or right-wingers who carry out any acts of violence. A call for the arrest of rightist terrorists is not a call on the government to restrict democratic rights, but rather to enforce the democratic right of everyone to equal protection under the law against physical attack. (emphasis added)” – “Free Speech and the Fight Against the Ultraright“, Malik Miah, August 1975

And then there is this gem from the same time period in a critique of the Spartacus Youth League (SYL):

But the SYL’s argumentation hardly justifies its view that the struggle against fascism will be advanced by placing attacks on the democratic rights of fascists at the center of antifascist propaganda and action.” – “An Example of Sectarian Adventurism in the Struggle Against Fascism Introductory Note“, Fred Feldman

We do not dispute the judgement that the Spartacists are ultra-left.  Their reading of Cannon’s claim that the party is the vanguard absolves them in practice from forming united fronts.[6]

Feldman’s jibe at the SYL demo at SF State College shows that for the SWP the Spartacist’s ultra-leftism is the main lesson and even the whole subject. For Feldman, the horrendous crimes of fascism are nothing for working class youth to fixate on in the era of American exceptionalism. Feldman and the SWP will be satisfied so long as no one is denying the fascists their democratic rights. This means the SWP would be happy to sell you a pamphlet quoting Trotsky saying ‘acquaint their (fascist) heads with the pavement’ but then tell you not to expect any real danger the police would not handle or that fascists in the U.S.A. would ever be seen wearing their Nazi regalia. Ask anyone who has spent any time in prison about the Aryan Nations or the National Socialist Movement!

Historical materialism is clearly not for the SWP. Our tendency and all its forebears have always said “SMASH FASCISM IN THE EGG!” We tell the working class what its historical line of march is, i.e., what “our line” is, at all times, even as we seek united fronts where the consciousness of the present day is mediated. In contrast, both the SWP and the Spartacists defend the gospel that the party is the vanguard. For the SWP this means there is ONLY the question of democratic rights, and therefore the line of the party in the mass movement is none other than the line of the mass movement. And where there is no mass movement the party does not intervene. This is the opportunist flip-side of the Spartacist’s sectarianism.  Ultimately these two phenomena are united by the petty-bourgeois majority influence and composition of the two leaderships who have for decades recruited in their own image.

Like the SWP of the ‘30’s and 40’s we say no platform for fascists or anti-Semites! We reject Barnes’ idealist Libertarian position defending free speech rights for fascists, racists or anti-Semites. The SWP, like the Spartacists, have abandoned Trotsky’s Transitional Program. They just did so first and dishonestly and did so without fanfare (in 1971). Therefore, if present day practice is an indicator of what the program of Barnesism is, the party has retrieved the Hansen idealization of a free speech without class content in an opportunist adaptation tailing the Chomsky and Gandhi pacifist sentiment of a section of the masses who have been sold this suicidal politics by the ruling class.  We have participated in shutting the fascists down from Berkeley to Kansas City to Philadelphia and have done so alongside Jewish and Palestinian militants.   We note that Jack Barnes no longer cares for the UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism.  We stand with the defenders of Rasmea Odeh and Michael Proebsting.  We wonder whether Barnes, et. al. are defending their torturers and prosecutors.

Unlike the SWP, the CWG salutes Jewish Palestinian rights activists such as Hedy Epstein who passed away recently.[7]  She escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, but lost most of her family in the Holocaust.  It was the Anti-Defamation League that characterized Hedy Epstein as an example of “anti-Israel campus activism [that] would meet both the United States government’s and Minister Sharansky’s definitions of anti-Semitism…

The pro-E.U. Austrian government, which in the recent period has been appeasing and almost lost the presidential election to Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party, a neo-Hitlerite outfit that caused France to boycott Austria in years past, is charging Michael Proebsting with illegal anti-Semitism for a speech he gave in support of the Palestinian liberation struggle.  This is grotesque and would be transparently cynical except for the present circumstances where the thrust of European anti-Semitism is focused on anti-Arab hysteria.  Austria along with the countries of the European Union have voted to explode the Schengen Zone agreement by signing on to the plan to confine Arab and Afghan refugees in Turkey in return for an accelerated Turkish application process for admission to the European Union.  At the same time the Austrian government resorts to judicial frame-up of Comrade Proebsting, it violates international treaties and angers the Italian government by closing the Brenner Pass.  When the SWP leadership cries wolf about a worldwide rising tide of “anti-Jew” anti-Semitism and attempts to blame Palestinians for it, we say the Barnes clique has achieved a new mark in its crimes against socialism.

(for the Communist Workers Goup support for the Palestinian liberation struggle, see Class War Supplement, July 2014).

[1] The Militant,  “The stakes in UK debate on Jew-hatred in Labour Party”, Jonathan Silberman

http://www.themilitant.com/2016/8020/802050.html

[2] Trump’s racist reaction:

“Later Sunday, Mr. Trump, who leads the Republican presidential field entering the Super Tuesday primary, defended a Mussolini quote posted Sunday on his Twitter account: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.””

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/feb/28/trump-goes-on-defense-over-mussolini-quote-david-d/

“Shockingly, Trump told Yahoo News that he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database, or worse, mandating that they carry special identification cards that note their faith.”

http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/20/opinions/obeidallah-trump-anti-muslim/

[3] Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist,  “On the SWP’s turn toward Israel”, Louis Proyect

https://louisproyect.org/2015/03/29/on-the-swps-turn-toward-israel/

International Viewpoint, “ISO rebuts SWP (US) charges of anti-Semitism”, Lichi D’Amelio

http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1647

[4] “On the Jewish Problem”, Leon Trotsky, July 1940

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/jewish.htm

“The attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine can now be seen for what it is, a tragic mockery of the Jewish people. Interested in winning the sympathies of the Arabs who are more numerous than the Jews, the British government has sharply altered its policy toward the Jews, and has actually renounced its promise to help them found their “own home” in a foreign land. The future development of military events may well transform Palestine into a bloody trap for several hundred thousand Jews. Never was it so clear as it is today that the salvation of the Jewish people is bound up inseparably with the overthrow of the capitalist system.”

[5] “How Teamsters quelled fascist thugs”,  libcom.org

https://libcom.org/blog/how-teamsters-quelled-fascist-thugs-07052012

[6] For more reading on the Spartacists abandonment of the Transitional Program see Jan Norden’s critique.  The CWG disagrees with the Internationalist Group on fundamental political questions of the present period ranging from the restoration of capitalism in China and other former workers’ states and the rise of Chinese and Russian imperialism.

http://www.internationalist.org/indefenseoftransprog0498.html

[7] “Remembering Hedy Epstein”, Kenn Orphann, May 2016

https://kennorphan.com/2016/05/26/remembering-hedy-epstein/

Also see:

“6 Holocaust Survivors Who Fight Against Israel’s Treatment of Palestinians”, Katie Halper, August 2014

http://www.alternet.org/world/6-holocaust-survivors-who-fight-against-israels-treatment-palestinians

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Jun 5, 2016 | Posted by in INTERNATIONAL, UNITED STATES | 0 comments

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