USWV repeats its slanders

A group of militants, formerly associated in their activity with the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party, have since decided to go off in their own direction. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, in the pages of their publication they reprint some of their earlier hostile statements regarding the IBRP. Some points of clarification must be made for those who might be reading their polemics against the IBRP and their supporters. Their last attack on the IBRP is a reprint of an article they wrote in Internationalist Notes 3 (Vol. 3 No. 3, 4th Quarter 2001). They have taken an article from two years ago, slapped on a new introduction and reprinted it as if it were something new.

They claim that the IBRP and the ICC both are seeking to "run society through their own political party fiefdoms". It has been stated again and again in our press and in our correspondence that the IBRP is for the revolutionary party, it does not claim to be the revolutionary party, and neither is it the task of the revolutionary party to "run society". A cursory glance through the pages of Internationalist Communist (the central theoretical journal of the IBRP) should be enough to demonstrate that maintaining a political fiefdom is neither the purpose nor the intent of the IBRP.

The claim made in this reprinted article is that we are denigrating the very activity of agitation and propaganda itself, when we in fact we merely criticized their use of the phrase borrowed from their days in an Albanian Stalinist outfit. Agit-prop is an expression that comes into common use during the worst periods of Stalinist counterrevolution. It should not be a surprise that Left-Communists might object to its use.

In their minds they believe they have their finger on the pulse of the working class. They believe they are bridging the gap between the revolutionaries' consciousness on the one hand and the workers' consciousness on the other. They write:

This kind of "homogenization" is not building a steeled party of/in the working class, but instead a circle of dogmatists, who pride themselves on their "separation from the working class," which via their lack of any connection to workers, they turn into a virtue, blaming all problems on "objective conditions." This detachment from workers, much of it self-imposed, creates a pre-party formation already infected with the disease of hierarchy and elitism, and a de facto ranking system of playing favorites, where some comrades are held up to ridicule while others are not allowed to be criticized at all.

This is a real gem. They came to the idea that they were the only ones facing criticism. That a "Leninist and Bordigist" IBRP was unjustly criticizing them. On the contrary, all the comrades face criticism of their writing and activity. The IBRP's purpose is to serve as a means of regrouping revolutionaries internationally. The purpose of the organization is not "party building". The IBRP exists as a focal point for the regrouping of revolutionaries. Until workers are able to reclaim their class identity and struggle against their exploiters on their own class terrain, we cannot begin to talk about building the revolutionary party. Talk of building a "steeled" party is premature. It is the task of a revolutionary proletariat organized as a class to build such a party. A handful of revolutionaries cannot will a party into existence by virtue of their own activity. If militants cannot function in an organization carrying out the most basic organizational tasks, even as a group of sympathizers, they cannot expect to build any kind of organization, let alone a revolutionary organization.

Revolutionaries' consciousness and the consciousness of the broad layers of the working class are separated by a large gulf. This is not in any way a "self imposed" condition. It is the result of the work of decades and decades of counterrevolution. It is the result of the activity of capitalist ideology masquerading as liberation. It is the result of Stalinists, Social Democrats, Trotskyists and even Hoxhaists. Coming out of an Albanian Stalinist outfit is not a badge of honor that gives militants privilege to some special recognition.

One hallmark of the leftist swamp is in the conviction that objective conditions can be surmounted by the collective will of a small organization rather than by the motion of workers towards revolutionary consciousness. Trotsky's Transitional Thesis of 1938 is a case in point. It crystallized years of errors that grew out of a failure of revolutionary perspective, a failure that caused one who was once numbered among revolutionaries to ignore the material reality of the counterrevolutionary situation. The objective conditions are that workers have to come to their consciousness through their own activity and through reflection on their activity. Revolutionaries can't do this for them. They only attempt, as it is in their material capacity to do so, to put forward the revolutionary perspective as clearly as possible in the hopes that if their analysis is sharp enough and clear enough that it will find resonance among the most conscious layers of the working class.

One of the most striking distortions the USWV group makes concerning the article in Internationalist Communist 20, "The Way Forward for IBRP Sympathizers in the US", is the claim that the aim of the article was to "trash the movements of the '60s and '70s, and their valuable experience because these movements were not revolutionary enough."

To trash the movements of the 60s and 70s is simple, but that was neither the purpose nor the intent of the article. Our priests of mass struggle omit the central point made in the article, that the reformist movements of this period failed because the forces at work in capitalist society were busy rendering them obsolete. With the end of the post WWII boom came a period where the capitalist class could no longer afford to be the benevolent patriarchal master and had to begin to exploit the working class with even greater vigor. With the collapse of the Bretton Woods accords and the ending of the gold standard, world capitalism turned a corner. Gone was the benevolent bourgeois master willing to grant concessions to appease and divide the workers. In the US, the start of this period was marked by a long slow decline in real wages. The movements and groups that once pressed for reform were increasingly pushed aside to make way for capitalism's new imperative. In their writing the USWV group conveniently ignores the bourgeois politics and petty-bourgeois class composition of these movements. Instead of assessing them in the cold light of historical material reality they cling to them as if their perspectives were simply misguided, rather than being openly bourgeois, nationalist and reactionary.

Another pearl of wisdom from the USWV group is the following statement:

A revolutionary platform and program of the revolutionary party is not a biblical text, a Talmudic document, a holy grail to be presented by high priests to a flock of sheep called the proletariat

This is perfectly true. However, it would be better that the USWV comrades apply this to themselves. Their very tactic of addressing all "struggles" at the microscopic level they are at, of treating all protest movements as being actions of workers amounts to preaching and proselytizing to the class. "To the masses" was the cry of the Bolsheviks faced with the failure of the Revolution to spread beyond Russia. The Bolsheviks at least had a good reason for that slogan. They were operating in a period where the outbreak of revolution was a possibility. The USWV operates this way out of an ingrained political habit. A process of political evolution towards revolutionary positions must take place before workers start taking up their struggle as workers rather than as good little citizens in petty-bourgeois issue movements.

In the final paragraph of their article they come out with a Maoist style homily before they get around to introducing what they claim is their central point:

If one won't bother to retill the existing class soil, and plant revolutionary seeds in the soil of the working class today, the harvest will bring us nothing but rotten fruit.

This openly describes their view of the relationship of revolutionaries to the revolutionary class. The workers exist to be educated in revolutionary politics by the USWV. Despite their claims to being anti-hierarchical and libertarian there is nothing more authoritarian and more elitist than their idea that they are apostles sowing seeds of revolution among the working class. So if the "emancipation of the working class can be and will be accomplished by the working class itself" then surely these comrades do not need to go about "retilling the existing class soil". Those who think that the role of revolutionary workers is to act as apostles to the proletariat have imbedded in their consciousness the very heart of elitist and hierarchical deviations. They believe that they only need to teach and preach to the masses of workers who will then flock to these apostles of revolution by virtue of the message preached. This is a fundamentally idealistic notion. It seeks to mold reality to fit their ideas. Before the revolutionary minorities within the class start attracting the interest of the broad layers of the class there has to be a break in the discipline of the state, a rupture in the edifice of the democratic capitalist ideology itself.

The USWV upheld, as Hoxhaists in the Marxist-Leninist Party, that Stalinist Albania was some sort of a "worker's paradise". When they finally left this political tendency, of "Marxism-Leninism", they never established a clear political break on the level of their practice with this political trend. They carried a great deal of political baggage and they bore the scars of their political experience, as they sought to leave the orbit of the leftist swamp. While at once seeking greater clarity they also sought a political home to call their own where they could conduct the same activism they had always conducted. The signs of this incomplete break with the leftist swamp and the ideological damage inflicted on their consciousness by this tendency are found in their activism, localism and in their failure to function organizationally in any group larger than themselves. For them, even the Hoxhaist MLP was simply a vehicle for their activism. A coherent theoretical starting point for their activity has consistently taken a back seat to their activism.

Now they officially take a position that the capitalists hijacked the Russian Revolution in 1918. To them now, the revolution was over before it began. With their new ideological turn they must either come to the conclusion that the Russian workers were simply duped by a party wholly bent on assuming power as a capitalist class, or that the material circumstances were just not right and therefore a state-capitalist dictatorship was the inevitable outcome. It might bear mentioning here that the Bolshevik Party was the sole political grouping putting forward the alternative of the seizure of power by the Workers' Soviets themselves. Even the idea of the Soviets in power was something that many Bolsheviks themselves believed was not possible. A minority of Bolsheviks had to press and cajole the party towards the correct course, towards power to the Worker's Councils. For other groups, the Soviets were nothing more than precursors to legally organized party-aligned Trade Unions whose function was never meant to advance beyond the most immediate of struggles. In a similar manner, the thinking of USWV as shown in their writing, does not seek enough to advance past the more immediate struggles in their area. The success or failure of the revolution in Russia depended upon the success or failure of the revolution outside Russia. The consciousness of the workers of Petrograd did not arise spontaneously. As a class they had already been through the fire of the 1905 revolution. In taking this new position the USWV group lends too great a weight to the role of the revolutionary party and ignores the role of working class by treating the class as a mere appendage of the party. Beyond setting the official date for the start the counterrevolution backwards, the real difference the USWV has with the IBRP is their attitude towards activism and reformism. The USWV's talk of Kronstadt is a straw man argument that hides the real rupture between their methods and ours, that they still carry illusions in the reformist movements in which they "cut their teeth".

The divide between workers and revolutionaries exists because of the political outfits, like the former Marxist-Leninist Party. There is no way this gap can be truly bridged unless the working class starts to act consciously against the dominant ideology that strangles them. This requires some fundamental rupture in the edifice of bourgeois ideology and a break in the discipline of the state. It is up to the workers to start to take up class struggle again, to form their own revolutionary organizations and seek to link them with struggles worldwide. For workers to start forming their own organizations, it will take something far bigger than what any single group of militants can achieve.

There was never any criticism from the IBRP on whether or not they should intervene in workers struggles. Nobody was telling them that they shouldn't be active and present putting forward the internationalist perspective among the class. What was questioned was their willingness to uncritically consider every leftist protest a "mass action" of workers. It was posed to them that they should consider the balance of class forces present, bourgeois, petit-bourgeois or proletarian. Indeed, one of their key errors is their inability to assess the class composition present in any given struggle. Without being able to assess and analyze events as they arise from a historical materialist perspective they lose the very heart of Marxism itself.

They, or their leader, thought the coronation of little Bush would bring "mass actions" that would galvanize the "masses" and make workers more militant. Even a cursory glance at the situation of the time should've indicated to them that this wasn't going to happen. And it didn't happen. The root problem for them here is their desire to always be where the biggest crowds are found, without putting enough coherent thought into their aims or content of the message put forward. Dealing with contacts on a formal and meaningful level, in the sense of holding a public meeting for them is considered a frivolous activity. Putting out a professional revolutionary publication is something to be left for when the "masses" rise up. Getting a professional revolutionary publication distributed at places where conscious workers might possibly be looking for something to read is something they would consider useless as it doesn't involve placing themselves in demonstrations. Engaging in debate with other organizations that approach revolutionary positions is also considered wasteful, as it isn't an activity they would consider as placing themselves with workers in their struggles. If the IBRP carried out its activity as the USWV group in LA would have it, there would be no contact or debate with other organizations. There would be no central theoretical publication. There would be no political statutes that members could refer to as a guide to functioning within a larger organization. In short, there would be no organization. These militants drag behind themselves the baggage of their political experience as if it were a cherished possession and then proudly proclaim that they are "pulling their own weight".

Revolutionaries have a primary task of laying the foundations of organizations that may be of actual use to workers when they, as the revolutionary class, take up their historical tasks. When and where revolutionaries intervene among workers, it is to gain some exposure for their perspective among those workers who are seeking some revolutionary substance. If revolutionaries have an analysis of events that can point workers in the direction towards their own self-emancipation then they will be able to find a response among the conscious elements of the class. If revolutionaries wish to have something meaningful to offer in their agitation they must deepen their analysis of events. The criticism made of their activity, in Internationalist Communist 20, was the product of a debate concerning the means and methods of the activity of sympathizers of the IBRP in the US. It was a debate that had nothing to do with Kronstadt or the Russian Revolution. The USWV group throws up the "Kronstadt" question as a straw man, which they proceed to tear down because they refuse to confront the criticisms that have been made of their activity.

The USWV's slander and the ICC's Critique

The IWG/GIO is constituted as a group actually within the IBRP as members. We were never able to reach this point in dealing with the LA group that now calls itself USWV, because of the fundamental differences in basic questions regarding our activity. The criticism of the LA group in _Internationalism 124 (Defending the PPM: Internationalist Notes underestimates the danger of LAWV)
is fair enough. However, we do take issue with the term "parasite". Also there is a question of how the critique of the USWV should be put forward. The LA group intentionally lied and distorted our position, and the position of the whole of the Communist Left, regarding the Kronstadt rebellion. For them this was their first opportunity to seize upon something and use it as a distraction to avoid answering any criticism. Our position regarding this uprising has been made clear in our press and in the press of other groups of Internationalists. To answer this criticism is to stoop to their level and allow them the luxury of framing the debate. That the IBRP helped create this "monster" may be true, although the term "monster" blows the importance of this group out of proportion.

During our association as sympathizers of the IBRP, with those who now call themselves the USWV, they genuinely seemed to be moving towards Internationalist Communist positions. Internationalists have an obligation to make the attempt to debate and work with those who are genuinely moving out of the left swamp towards the positions of communism. If we did not do so we would be shirking our responsibilities.

When they finally did start to speak of actually forming a group as members of the IBRP it was necessary to press them on taking up the basic tasks that are required of members. It was also put to them that, if they meant to be members of the IBRP, it would have to be as a product of their own evolution as a group towards revolutionary positions, that the IBRP can't just artificially impose a copy of Battaglia Comunista on militants in the US. With the USWV group this meant, as sympathizers, they had to discuss and decide collectively what they wanted and what their positions actually were. They were then pressed on the following basic points: putting out a regular and well written and thought out revolutionary press, attempting to get our press seen in places other than protests (i.e. bookstores, newsstands and libraries), occasional public meetings. It was also suggested that they come up with a platform and a set of organizational statutes instead of simply borrowing from the British comrades of the Communist Workers Organization. The suggestions made to them regarding the progress of their activity were suggestions, not demands. It was asked that they put them up for debate in their own discussions. To this, their leader refused point blank and started on the offensive as if the suggestions made to them were an ultimatum. The organizations that adhere to the positions defended by Internationalist Communists will have to deal with people, such as USWV, who approach their positions as sympathizers but balk at the responsibilities that members of revolutionary organizations must undertake.

Divergences and differences should've been openly discussed sooner. However with one person serving as the sole transmission belt between the IBRP and his own group of comrades, it was hard to tell where they stood because of the dominance of one voice. Here again, the actual structure of the LA group belies their anti-authoritarian rhetoric. One could compare this with Marx and Engels' struggle with Bakunin. Bakunin's objection to Marx's so-called "statism" was because Bakunin himself did not get to be the sole person in charge. In fact Bakunin's entire conception of the revolutionary process relied on the rule of an elite group of revolutionaries, of which he would be the world leader.

Their organizational structure is far from libertarian, they are led by one man, and they are kept together primarily through his own activity. Their fear of having a specific set of organizational rules and a platform arising out of their own experience is in reality a part of their political practice that they have learned in the left swamp. They objected to those things because they required working with others beyond their own circle. The unspoken hierarchies that already exist within their group would be challenged by the formation of a coherent organization with a clear structure and a body of statutes on which to operate.

To the questions raised concerning their activist notions, they respond by saying the IBRP isn't with the "masses" in their "mass-actions" and that we were intentionally separating ourselves from the working class. The USWV's leftist approach is the same approach shared by other neo-maoist, so-called anti-revisionist variants. The organizations within the left swamp that pose as hyper-activist generally tend to overestimate how "in touch" they are with the "masses" and when they find that the masses aren't flocking to them then disillusion sets in. Their attempts to bridge the basic gap between themselves and the working class are guided by their internalized theoretical errors that are the result of their political experience. The use of non-class specific terms such as "masses" and "mass-actions" again demonstrates their failure to differentiate between workers and petty-bourgeois issue hacks. The focus on the "mass actions" hinges on a singularly idealistic conception that the consciousness of the most advanced layers of the working class will spontaneously emerge out of a "mass action" rather than originating out of a process of reflection on the part of militant workers. They adopt an idea of the spontaneous generation of consciousness. They show an unwillingness to look at an event or a movement and assess the class composition of the forces present. This represents a fundamental failure to analyze events from a Marxist perspective. While it is sad these militants have chosen this path, they need not be considered a "threat" or a "monster".

There has been no reversal on the part of Internationalist Notes. Our response to the ICC's, Los Angeles Workers Voice's parasitic attacks against the IBRP (in Internationalism 122) is in rejection of the link made between the "parasitism" of the Los Angeles group and the IBRP and the "parasitism" faced by the ICC in its' own organizational crises. Indeed, we have not shirked any responsibility in dealing with USWV. They attack the ICC because they know how the ICC will respond, and they can get the kind of reaction out of the ICC that they are seeking. They seek to provoke the sort of hostile denunciation that will give them the feeling of being on some sort of moral high ground.

The nub of the ICC's criticism is not simply directed at the USWV group but at the IBRP for having associated with them, even in the sense of having allowed the USWV group to claim an existence as sympathizers of the IBRP. So the expression of solidarity is in fact a criticism. While it also allows the LA group to paint Left Communists as evil hierarchical "Leninists", it also attacks us for trying to aid this group in its attempt to crawl out of the leftist swamp. To use a label, like "parasitism", lets them wriggle out of facing the critique by allowing them to focus on the fact that they have been labeled. Hostility and confrontation are easier for the USWV group, while a debate would require them to think and speak as revolutionaries rather than as leftists.