Programmatic Statement of the Spartacist League/U.S.



Opponents of the Revolutionary Internationalist Workers Movement

The fight to transform the working class from a class in itself—the object of capitalist exploitation—to a class for itself—conscious of its revolutionary purpose as the agency for the eradication of the capitalist order requires battling the false consciousness which ties the proletariat to its “own” bourgeoisie. Within the workers movement it is not only the trade-union bureaucracy which serves to reinforce the rule of capital but also the reformist pretenders to Marxism as exemplified in the U.S. by groups such as the International Socialist Organization, the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Action, Workers World Party, Socialist Alternative and remnants of the Communist Party. Others such as Progressive Labor cloak the same liberal-reformist politics with “fight for communism” rhetoric. Centrist organizations like the tiny Internationalist Group, composed of renegades from our organization, invoke Trotskyist orthodoxy in words while in deeds their appetites lead them to accommodation to alien class forces.

Polemical combat to expose the pretensions to Marxism of other tendencies in the workers movement is crucial to removing the obstacles on the road to proletarian socialist revolution. As fighters for new October Revolutions we are informed by Trotsky’s distillation of the universally applicable lessons of the 1917 Russian Revolution—the only successful proletarian seizure of power—articulated in his book Lessons of October. Here, Trotsky succinctly summarized the differences between Bolshevism and Menshevism:

“The fundamental controversial question around which everything else centered was this: whether or not we should struggle for power; whether or not we should assume power. This alone is ample proof that we were not then dealing with a mere episodic difference of opinion but with two tendencies of the utmost principled significance. The first and principal tendency was proletarian and led to the road of world revolution. The other was ‘democratic,’ i.e., petty bourgeois, and led, in the last analysis, to the subordination of proletarian policies to the requirements of bourgeois society in the process of reform. These two tendencies came into hostile conflict over every essential question that arose throughout the year 1917.”

For the radical movement, the impact of the Russian Revolution—including the events leading up to it and the revolutionary years following it—was decisive. Before 1917 the anarcho-syndicalists could, roughly, be defined as the maximalists on the left. Occupying the center was the orthodox wing of the Second International as exemplified by Karl Kautsky with the revisionist wing of the Social Democrats, personified by Eduard Bernstein, constituting the right wing of the workers movement.

While affiliated to the Second International up to World War I, the Bolshevik Party was forged in the furnace of the tsarist empire as an instrument of struggle for proletarian power. As Lenin noted in “Left-Wing” Communism, the Bolsheviks went through 15 years of “rapid and varied succession of different forms of the movement—legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, local circles and mass movements, and parliamentary and terrorist forms. In no other country has there been concentrated, in so brief a period, such a wealth of forms, shades and methods of struggle of all classes of modern society, a struggle which, owing to the backwardness of the country and the severity of the tsarist yoke, matured with exceptional rapidity, and assimilated most eagerly and successfully the appropriate ‘last word’ of American and European political experience.”

The Bolsheviks broke with the Second International which disintegrated with the onset of World War I with each component supporting their “own” bourgeoisie’s imperialist war aims. The pseudo-Marxist rhetoric of the Kautskyan center simply provided the cover for this gross opportunism and social-patriotism. Only a small minority of the Second International opposed voting for war credits to the capitalist rulers in WW I. This tendency, particularly centered in the Slavic countries and the Balkans—the Bulgarian “Narrow” Socialists and the Serbian Social Democrats—as well as the Liebknecht/Luxemburg wing of the German Social Democracy, stood with the Bolsheviks in calling for proletarian opposition to the imperialist slaughter. This polarization laid the basis for the formation of the Third (Communist) International following the 1917 Revolution.

When the fledgling Russian workers state was a beacon of liberation, and at the height of the international revolutionary upheavals spurred by the Russian Revolution, the best of the anarchist and syndicalist movements—those like James P. Cannon, Victor Serge, Andrés Nin, Alfred Rosmer and Harrison George—came over to Lenin and Trotsky’s Third International. Anarchism became a negligible force on the left and Bolshevism emerged as the hegemonic force in the left wing of the workers movement.

The isolation of the Soviet Union, the failure of a revolutionary opportunity in Germany in 1923 and the general restabilization of the capitalist order in Europe led to the degeneration of the Russian Revolution with a political counterrevolution installing a bureaucratic caste headed by J.V. Stalin in power, initially in a triumvirate with Zinoviev and Kamenev (whom Stalin later had put to death as part of the mass purges of the Bolshevik Party). Under the banner of building “socialism in one country,” which turned the Communist parties internationally into border guards for the Kremlin’s foreign policy of conciliating capitalist imperialism in the name of “peaceful coexistence,” Stalin destroyed the Third International. This anti-revolutionary course was made programmatically explicit with the adoption of the “popular front” strategy of alliances with the “democratic” imperialists at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935.

The ignominious role played by the German Social Democracy—which continued to command the allegiance of millions of German workers—in allowing Hitler’s Nazis to come to power without any resistance fully demonstrated again their complete bankruptcy. Although the German Communist Party had also refused to mobilize the proletariat to crush the fascists in the egg, Stalinism was given a new lease on life with the victory of the Soviet Union over Hitler’s Nazis in World War II. The creation of deformed workers states in East Europe and, especially, the later indigenous revolutions in China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam served to continue to maintain the sway of Stalinism among the working class and radicalizing youth. The final proof of the total bankruptcy of Stalinism only came with the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states in East Europe. Those who today espouse Stalinist ideology are minuscule and widely regarded as grotesque. Concomitantly there has been a recrudescence of miscellaneous anarchist tendencies among radicalizing youth. Part of our task in winning a new generation to revolutionary Marxism, the communism which animated Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, is to bring home the essential lessons of the international workers movement throughout the 20th century.

Trotsky fought to the end of his life against those renegades who went over to the side of world imperialism and abandoned the defense of the gains of the Russian Revolution which remained despite its Stalinist degeneration. Under the pressure of bourgeois anti-Sovietism, in the 1980s virtually every organization on the left went over to cheering the forces of capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and East Europe. (An exception could be made for the pro-Moscow Communist parties. Yet while they may not have joined this chorus for counterrevolution, their longstanding politics of class collaboration were the basis for the undermining of the Soviet Union, not least through actively sabotaging opportunities for proletarian revolution in the imperialist West.)

All of our party’s activity is directed to organizing, training and steeling the proletarian vanguard party necessary for the seizure of state power. In contrast, the politics of the reformists and centrists consist of oppositional activity completely defined by the framework of bourgeois society. The latter was sharply characterized by Trotsky as “the actual training of the masses to become imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state.” Such accommodation to capitalist class rule by organizations nominally claiming adherence to Marxism is, if anything, more decisively pronounced today in a world defined by the final undoing of the Russian Revolution and the triumphal assertion by the imperialist rulers that “communism is dead.”

Having made common cause with capitalist imperialism against the workers states in the Soviet Union and East Europe in the name of “democracy,” the reformist and centrist organizations are now even more shameless in their embrace of the aims and interests of their “own” capitalist rulers whom they forthrightly parade as agencies for advancing “human rights” and “democracy” around the globe. This was dramatically seen during the U.S.-led NATO imperialist war against Serbia in the spring of 1999. In the crucible of the first major war in Europe since World War II, the left in the U.S. and Europe championed the aims, if not necessarily the methods, of the NATO imperialists. With positions ranging from overt calls for the entry of ground troops into Serbia (often under the fig leaf of the United Nations or the European OSCE) to calls for the imperialists to send “aid” not bombs, they all joined in the imperialist war cry over “poor little Kosovo” while rejecting the military defense of Serbia whose very right to national existence was under attack by the imperialist powers. During the Balkans War, the Spartacist League raised the call: “Defeat U.S. imperialism through workers revolution! Defend Serbia against U.S./NATO attack!” while not giving an ounce of political support to the capitalist Milosevic regime.

The grotesque promotion of the “human rights” credentials of bloody American imperialism—the greatest enemy of the working people and oppressed throughout the world—has been the continuing theme of the reformists lining up behind the AFL-CIO bureaucracy in the protests against the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund. While thousands of youth poured out to these demonstrations looking for a means to combat sweatshops, poverty, child labor and the myriad other brutal depredations of imperialist exploitation around the globe, the purpose of the labor bureaucrats with the reformist left in tow is in fact to corral these youth behind the interests of U.S. imperialism in its escalating trade wars against its imperialist rivals and in its drive for the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Chinese deformed workers state.

The unconditional military defense of the gains won in the 1949 Chinese Revolution—which ripped the country out of the hands of imperialism, destroyed the rule of the rapacious landlords and capitalists, and established collectivized property—against capitalist counterrevolution is the central question posed today for the working class internationally. The triumph of counterrevolution in China would immeasurably strengthen the hand of capitalist imperialism while throwing the Chinese working class and peasant masses into a maelstrom of mass poverty, unemployment and untold immiseration. One need only look at the former Soviet Union, where life expectancy has dropped by 10 years, for a measure of the devastating effects of capitalist counterrevolution.

Guided by the anti-revolutionary nationalist logic of “building socialism in one country,” the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy is opening the door to imperialist penetration. The Chinese proletariat must be led by a revolutionary-internationalist Bolshevik party in struggle to oust the bureaucracy through proletarian political revolution, not only to preserve the remaining gains of the Chinese Revolution but to extend them through working-class revolution internationally, particularly in the imperialist countries.

As Trotsky wrote in In Defense of Marxism: “It is the duty of revolutionists to defend every conquest of the working class even though it may be distorted by the pressure of hostile forces. Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones.” But just as they did during Cold War II against the Soviet Union, the left now stands on the side of imperialism against the interests of the working class not only in China but internationally.

What distinguishes our organization from all manner of reformist and centrist organizations can be reduced to one word, the state. The understanding that the capitalist state—which at its core consists of the cops, the military, the prison system and the courts—is the instrument for organized violence to ensure the rule of one class, the capitalists, over another class, the proletariat, is elementary for Marxists. All historical experience has shown that the working class cannot reform the state and use it in its own interests but must smash it and create its own state, a workers state.

In opposition to this fundamental understanding, the reformists and centrists portray the capitalist state as a “neutral” body which can be pressured to serve the interests of the working class and oppressed. In the face of escalating police brutality, they sow illusions that civilian review boards or other schemes for police “reform” can fundamentally change the nature of the police into something other than the armed thugs of the capitalist state. To the thousands of youth and others who have taken up the fight for black death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, they push the illusion that he can get a “new trial” and “justice” from the very capitalist state that framed him up and sentenced him to death for his political opposition to racist American capitalism. In the unions, they appeal for the intervention of the union-busting, strikebreaking agencies of the class enemy to bring “union democracy.”

The complete and unconditional independence of the proletariat from all the parties and agencies of the capitalist class enemy is the most elementary principle of Marxism. In his “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” (an unfinished manuscript which was found on Trotsky’s desk following his assassination by a Stalinist agent in August 1940) Trotsky underlined the conditions faced by the trade unions internationally on the eve of World War II, writing:

“There is one common feature in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, of modern trade union organizations throughout the world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power.... The labor bureaucrats do their level best in words and deeds to demonstrate to the ‘democratic’ state how reliable and indispensable they are in peacetime and especially in time of war. By transforming the trade unions into organs of the state, fascism invents nothing new; it merely draws to their ultimate conclusion the tendencies inherent in imperialism.”

In the United States, the shackling of unions to the capitalist state and its agencies finds its central expression in the allegiance of the proletariat to the Democratic Party promoted by the trade-union bureaucrats who are themselves core components of the Democratic Party. The shell game through which the Democrats are sold as the “friend” of labor and blacks has been central to preserving the rule of racist American capitalism. By the same token, breaking the allegiance of the working class to the Democrats is a central strategic task in forging a workers party that can lead the fight for socialist revolution in the U.S.

Lacking a revolutionary perspective, the reformist left is inexorably led to the gates of the Democratic Party, reinforcing its influence. This has many expressions, from overtly calling for votes for Democratic candidates to somewhat more masked appeals to “fight the right” (i.e., the Republicans) to working hand in glove with the labor bureaucracy. Deriving from the reformist view of the “neutrality” of the capitalist state, and in the absence of a mass social-democratic party in this country, the Democratic Party is offered as the vehicle through which the capitalist state can be pressured to serve the interests of the working class and oppressed.

The other central and defining question in the fight for the proletarian conquest of state power in the U.S. is the fight for black liberation. At the time of the American Civil War, Karl Marx wrote: “Labor in the white skin cannot be free where in the black it is branded.” Racial oppression, the forcible segregation of the majority of the black population at the bottom of this society, is an enduring feature of American capitalist society in which the color bar was instituted as a fundamental dividing line aimed at obscuring the irreconcilable class divide between labor and capital. The fight for black freedom is correspondingly central to unlocking proletarian class struggle against capitalist exploitation and oppression in this country. Again lacking a proletarian revolutionary perspective, the reformist left veers between backing the idea of liberal integrationism—the illusion that black equality can be realized within the framework of racist American capitalist society—or capitulating to black nationalism which also accepts the enduring rule of the American bourgeoisie.

While currently there is a wide chasm between our proletarian revolutionary internationalist program and the abjectly reformist/liberal politics of the rest of the left in the U.S., during times of heightened social struggle these organizations can and will posture to the left. Even at present, they are capable of putting out theoretical journals which serve to mask their abject reformism in the cloak of Marxism. Moreover, with supporters in the unions, they can and do play a role in trying to give a more “left” face to the labor bureaucracy. There is more of a role for these putative leftists to do this today given that the AFL-CIO is now headed by right-wing social democrats who posture as a “new face” for the American labor movement.

Political combat to expose the fake left’s socialist pretensions is vital to winning the advanced layers of the proletariat as well as among youth and intellectuals to the cause of building a Leninist vanguard party as the necessary instrumentality to the fight for proletarian state power. Papering over political differences or slander and distortion of political views can only serve to obstruct this perspective. We oppose violence and exclusionism within the left and the labor movement as a cowardly substitute for political struggle, anathema to the process of programmatic clarification. We are also unmitigatedly opposed to any attempt to bring the bourgeois state into the affairs of the workers movement.

The revolutionary party is the collective memory of the working class. The Spartacist League maintains bound volumes of our publications, Workers Vanguard, Women and Revolution and Spartacist. The Spartacist League/U.S. also maintains the Prometheus Research Library, a working archive of American and international Marxist history whose purpose is to collect, preserve and make available the historical record of the international workers movement and to assist in Marxist scholarship. The PRL’s own publications make available rare materials that are an indispensable part of the documentary history of the Trotskyist movement.

Guided from our inception by the same revolutionary program and principles, we do not hide our political past and, in fact, use it as a measure of the correctness of our political program and appraisal of events. We publish our Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League series to make available to our readers our opponents’ most representative polemics against us. We encourage our members to read the newspapers and publications of our political opponents in order to make most clear why there must be an intransigent struggle between the Trotskyist program of socialist revolution and all manner of reformism and centrism, whose fundamental politics attempt to give brutal capitalist exploitation a more “humane” face.