The IBT and Socialist Fight in 2009-20103
01/12/2018 by socialistfight
The IBT – Flying the flag in the Malvinas war in 1982 for British and US imperialism
When the Socialist Fight began as an independent magazine in 2009 we attempted to enter a discussion with the IBT in Britain. Below are two letters from the IBT. It includes the incredible claim from Christoph Lichtenberg for the IBT on which we comment below:
“Regarding the Malvinas/Falklands war, you advocate a position of Argentinean defencism on the grounds of a “proletarian internationalist duty to defend a semi-colony against an imperialist attack.” We do not dispute this in the abstract, but, in the concrete, this particular conflict did not involve an attack by imperialist Britain on semi-colonial Argentina (FFS!!!!).”
From: David Watts <email@example.com>
Subject: To the International Trotskyist Current
Date: Wednesday, 7 January, 2009, 10:34 PM
To the International Trotskyist Current
We read your 20-point Platform with interest, and note your agreement with Trotsky that programme must come first. While some points of your platform are formally correct at an abstract level, there is a lack of concrete positions that should be of concern to any organisation that sees itself as Trotskyist.
Point 17 of your platform seems to imply that you agree with the core Trotskyist position of unconditional military defence of deformed workers’ states. However, you neglect to relate this point to actual cases in recent history where this question was posed in practice: in December 1981 in Poland with the showdown between the Stalinist government and Solidarnosc, and a decade later, in August 1991 when the Stalinist Emergency Committee was pitted against Boris Yeltsin and his supporters. In these cases, Trotskyists would have militarily sided with Jaruzelski and Yanayev in defence of the deformed and degenerated workers’ states of Poland and the USSR. Which side of the barricades would the ITC have been on?
Point 8 of your platform makes the orthodox Trotskyist case for working class independence and opposition to popular fronts – the main question of our time. Once again, how do you relate this point to actual events in Britain? Was it correct to support the popular-frontist Stop the War Coalition? Was it correct to vote for the Respect popular front? Do you think it is acceptable to vote for the so-called workers’ component of popular fronts, as the CPGB did by voting for some Respect candidates in 2005? Was it correct to critically support Ken Livingstone (who gathered around him a cross-class coalition) in the London GLA elections of 2008? These and other real-life events provide opportunities for leftists to uphold – or to betray – the central Marxist principle of independence of working class organisations.
Point 11 of your platform correctly asserts that the Labour Party is still a bourgeois workers’ party, and states that Marxists adopt tactics towards it that may include entrism and critical electoral support. While this is a general truth, you fail to give concrete examples of such tactics in relation to the Labour Party in recent years. In 1997, would you have voted for Blair’s Labour Party (as we refused to do) or for Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (as we did)? Would you have voted for Labour or for other left parties in 2001? (We took the position that a critical vote for the SA/SLP/SSP was a sensible tactic to help encourage a break from Labourism.) Who would you have voted for in the 2005 general election? (We applied the tactic of withholding support from all the candidates.)
Your platform is unfortunately vague on several key questions of imperialism and nationalism. Do you militarily defend Iraq and Iran against imperialism? What is your position on Ireland?
Our programme is elaborated in various articles and pamphlets on our website, http://www.bolshevik.org. We look forward to hearing more of your views on these questions.
International Bolshevik Tendency
The IBT and the ICC, Predecessor of the Socialist Fight:
From Christoph Lichtenberg For the IBT 21 January 2010
We are in receipt of your 15 December 2009 response to a communication we sent 11 months earlier (7 January 2009). We note that in the pamphlet version of your letter – issued as No.1 of In Defence of Trotskyism – you begin by asserting that you have been “reluctantly forced to adopt this open letter tactic” because one of our comrades remarked on 7 November that you had “blown” any prospect of serious discussions. You also complain that we have been “no-platforming” you, something that, frankly, strikes us as a bit far-fetched.
The first paragraph of the letter you sent us (which was omitted in the pamphlet) begins “This is a belated reply but we have been concentrating on building up our group, producing a journal and developing international relations….” Contact between our two groups began when Comrade Gerry Downing sent us an email on 15 June 2008 urging us “to join the Campaign for a Marxist Party [CMP] and collaborate with the Trotskyist Tendency there”. We talked to Gerry a few weeks later when he attended our fringe meeting at the SWP’s annual Marxism conference. While we saw no reason to join either the CMP or its Trotskyist Tendency, we continued to monitor your political development.
After departing the CMP and setting up “Socialist Fight,” you published a 20-point “Platform” which we read over carefully and sent you our 7 January 2009 letter asking for clarification on several points. Four days later, comrade Downing responded:
“We are pleased with the interest you have shown in our platform. We have produced ‘concrete’ answers on some of your questions and are in the process of elaborating a full programme. We are, of course, prepared to discuss these questions with you at a mutually agrees [sic] venue and with a mutually agreed agenda.”
Two days after that, comrade David Watts replied to Gerry’s suggestion of a “membership-to-membership” meeting:
“We would be interested in seeing the ‘concrete answers’ you have for some of our questions as this would help clarify what we disagree and agree on and therefore what might sensibly be on the agenda for discussion at the membership-to-membership meeting.”
Two weeks later (27 January 2009) Gerry responded: “Have not gotten around to reading all the old stuff yet, although I have reread the BT/LTT Fusion document and we can discuss that. Attached is a pdf version of Socialist Fight No 1.” We wrote back on 3 February thanking you for your journal, but received no subsequent communication – formal or informal – with any “concrete answers” to our questions until your 15 December 2009 letter arrived.
To our way of thinking, this record hardly suggests that you have been “no platformed.” More importantly, however, we do not find, in reviewing In Defence of Trotskyism No.1, evidence of much programmatic agreement between us. Your pamphlet begins by chiding us for sectarianism, and then goes on to outline seven areas of “major differences.” We believe that the substance of these differences is dealt with in previously published materials to which we direct your attention.
Trade-Union Work & Rank-and-Fileism
Your perspective of building “a rank-and-file movement on the immediate class struggle issues of the day” is clearly counterposed to our policy of seeking to build programmatically-based caucuses on the basis of the Transitional Programme. Our policy is explained in articles reprinted in our edition of Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Program as well as the following:
- “What Program for Trade Union Work?” subsection of In Defense of the Trotskyist Program (http://www.bolshevik.org/TB/tb3.html)
For examples of exemplary trade union work carried out by militants see:
- “11-Day Anti-Apartheid Struggle On San Francisco Docks” in Bulletin of the External Tendency No. 4
- “No Pay, No Work! Workers Occupy Plant— F. Progress Plundered” and “Militant Printer’s Class-Struggle Program,” 1917 No.6 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no6/no06mprt.html)
- “S. Dockers Take Historic Step – Anti-War Strike,” 1917 No. 31
Labourism & Popular Frontism
Your policy of automatically voting for bourgeois workers’ parties (including your electoral support to Gordon Brown’s New Labour in the upcoming election) is one we do not share. For examples of our approach to this question in various concrete situations, see:
- “British Election 2001: Vote SA/SLP/SSP! No Vote to Labour!,” 191724 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no24/Brit_election2001.html)
- “What Choice for Workers? Labour, trade unions and reformist dead ends” (http://www.bolshevik.org/Leaflets/Britishelection05.html)
- “Canadian Federal Election 2004: No Choice for Working People,” 191727 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no27/Canadian%20Election%20statement.html)
- “New Zealand Elections 8 November – No choice for the working class! Spoil your ballot!” (http://www.bolshevik.org/statements/NZ_Election_2008.html)
While not addressing the specific examples of recent popular-frontist formations referred to in our letter it is clear that you see electoral support to popular front candidates as an acceptable tactic. For our views on this subject see:
- “Communist Tactics and the Popular Front” and “Trotsky and the POB: ‘Critical Support’ to Coalitionism?” subsections of In Defense of the Trotskyist Program (http://www.bolshevik.org/TB/tb3.html)
- “The Popular Front: A well-covered trap,” Marxist Bulletin8 (http://www.bolshevik.org/mb/8popfront.htm)
For our criticism of the views of your co-thinkers in the Groupe Bolchevik see:
- “No to Popular Frontism!,” 191730 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no30/no30-French_elections.html)
Lindsey, Immigration & Falklands/Malvinas Conflict
You were perhaps not present at any of the public events in London last winter where our comrades clearly outlined our position on the industrial action at the Lindsey Oil Refinery. We are sorry you were disappointed that you had to wait until June to see anything in writing by us on that episode. For revolutionaries of course, the most important issue is whether a given political position is correct or incorrect. On this particular question there were important points of agreement between us, but it is clear that we have rather sharply counterposed views on the question of union control of hiring. See:
- “Militant tactics & poisonous nationalism” (http://www.bolshevik.org/statements/LOR_strikes_2009.html)
You object to our criticism of the “No Borders!” slogan, and approvingly cite a polemic by the Third Campists of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP). In this instance you ignore our written response to the LRP, while seizing on a less comprehensive off-the-cuff statement by one of our comrades. See:
- “Leninism & Immigration,” 191726 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no26/no26lrp.html)
Regarding the Malvinas/Falklands war, you advocate a position of Argentinean defencism on the grounds of a “proletarian internationalist duty to defend a semi-colony against an imperialist attack.” We do not dispute this in the abstract, but, in the concrete, this particular conflict did not involve an attack by imperialist Britain on semi-colonial Argentina. See:
- “Malvinas/Falklands War” subsection of In Defense of the Trotskyist Program (http://www.bolshevik.org/TB/tb3.html)
Below is the miserable excuse the IBT gives for its support for British Imperialism in the Malvinas war; the war was fought in the wrong place! A shameful episode in the history of the entire Spart family. Of course, the main issue in this war, as in the examples that Trotsky cites – he could also have included China/Japan in 1937 – was the effect that the victory of neoliberal capitalism over a semi-colony in the consciousness of the workers in the imperialist countries. The IBT only mention this in passing in a passage that actually calls on Argentine workers to assist the British war effort:
“Revolutionists therefore called on the Argentine workers to turn their guns around. Of course, we would address the same call to the British workers.”
The second sentence is clearly an afterthought; ‘must not forget ‘prompted by a bad conscience about their obvious support for British, and global imperialism.
Look at what Trotsky said in 1938:
“I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!”
Well the IBT did not reduce the struggle to one between fascism and democracy. Their empty heads reduced the struggle to one of sovereignty over a few small islands and colonial settlers and were completely unable to see the global ramification of that war, which marked a very significant victory for global imperialism and prepared the ground politically for Thatcher’s attack on the miners in 1984-85 and the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR itself in 1989 and 1991. Ted Grant’s Militant took the same line, as did labour leader Michael Foot, thereby reviving Thatcher’s ratings from the mid 20% to bout 70% and sweeping her to victory in the 1983 general election. The IBT share responsibil8ity for that victory because of their capitulation to national chauvinism.
Read this diatribe here and cringe at it:
IBT on the Malvinas/Falklands War
Your support to Khomeini’s bogus “anti-imperialism” finds its analogue in backing Galtieri’s adventure in the South Atlantic in 1982. Galtieri’s Malvinas gambit was deliberately intended to derail a powerful working-class mobilization with an orgy of social-patriotism. It was launched three days before a threatened general strike. Support to Argentina in that squalid conflict did not express “anti-imperialism,” but political confidence in an extremely repressive bonapartist regime. For the Argentinean workers, as for the British, the main enemy was at home.
You defend your Argentine defensism in the Malvinas/Falklands conflict by claiming:
“In carrying through this policy we are following exactly the methodology elaborated by Trotsky in relation to Ethiopia, but also, more pertinently, that he used in relation to Brazil when the danger of war between it and Britain was posed. He argued that regardless of Brazil’s reactionary regime a victory for it against British imperialism was the outcome every communist should work for and hope for. Comrades, how on earth do you square your miserable abstentionism with any of the teachings of Trotsky? Cite us your references.”
Anyone who looks at what Trotsky actually wrote, will see that the key question in both the Italian-Ethiopian war and the projected conflict between Brazil and Britain was that of the defense of independence of the underdeveloped countries against imperialist conquest. For example, in a short note entitled “The Italo-Ethiopian Conflict” published on 17 July 1935, Trotsky stated, “When war is involved, for us it is not a question of who is `better,’ the Negus or Mussolini; rather, it is a question of the relationship of classes and the fight of an underdeveloped nation for independence against imperialism” (emphasis added). In “The Fourth International and the Soviet Union,” 8 July 1936, he wrote: “If, for example, they [i.e., the Fourth Internationalists] support Ethiopia, despite the slavery that still prevails there and despite the barbaric political regime, it is, in the first place, because an independent national state represents a progressive historical stage for a precapitalist country….”(25)
Several years later, in discussing the prospect of war between Britain and Brazil, Trotsky used a similar criterion:
“I will be on the side of `fascist’ Brazil against `democratic’ Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil.”(26)
Had the sovereignty of Argentina been at stake in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, then we would indeed have had an Argentinean defensist position. But this was not the issue in the conflict in the South Atlantic. No one thought for a moment that a British victory would result in the installation of a Thatcherite puppet regime in Buenos Aires.
In 1916, Lenin made a pertinent distinction between legitimate popular struggles against national oppression and various “sordid national squabbles” entered into by the bourgeoisies of the oppressed nations. In these latter cases, “the criticism of revolutionary Marxists should be directed not against the national movement, but against its degradation, vulgarisation, against the tendency to reduce it to a petty squabble.” He continued:
“We shall not `support’ a republican farce in, say, the principality of Monaco, or the `republican’ adventurism of `generals’ in the small states of South America or some Pacific island. But that does not mean it would be permissible to abandon the republican slogan for serious democratic and socialist movements. We should, and do, ridicule the sordid national squabbles and haggling in Russia and Austria. But that does not mean that it would be permissible to deny support to a national uprising or a serious popular struggle against national oppression.”(27)
You attempt to slide around the critical question of Argentine sovereignty with the assertion that, “Its sovereignty over its islands–stolen from it by Britain–was very much at stake.” Marxists are not revanchists. We do not recognize the “right” of Argentina to govern a few thousand English-speaking sheepherders on the grounds that Argentina had briefly possessed the Malvinas for a dozen years in the 1820’s and 1830’s. The fact is that for a century and a half there had been no Argentinean presence on those islands. The population of the Falklands had no historic connection to Argentina and evinced no particular desire to become Argentineans.
Argentine workers had no stake in the junta’s war–their main enemy, and the agency of their oppression by imperialism, was at home. Revolutionists therefore called on the Argentine workers to turn their guns around. Of course we would address the same call to the British workers. It is completely illogical to assert, as you do, that, “The necessary adjunct of defeatism in Britain was support for Argentina.” There was no just side in the squabble over those desolate pieces of South Atlantic real estate and consequently no reason to call for Argentine workers to shed their blood in Galtieri’s military adventure.
Revolutionary Continuity, Cannon’s SWP & the Legacy of the Revolutionary Tendency
Important aspects of our view on the question of revolutionary continuity are outlined in the following:
- The first four subsections of “Reply to WP by IBT,” In Defense of the Trotskyist Program (http://www.bolshevik.org/TB/tb3.html)
- “Revolutionary Continuity & the Split in the Fourth International,” 19178 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no8/no08icis.html)
On December 16, 1981 General Jaruzelski’s police killed 9 striking coal miners at the Wujek Coal Mine in Katowice. The Poles continued to oppose the WRON (Martial Law) – many Solidarity members worked underground. They established, the so called, Revolutionary Solidarity and were involved in publishing independent newspapers, organisation of street protests, broadcasting radio programs usually cut off by the government jammers). Thousands were arrested and prosecuted. The IBT here supports the destruction of trade union Solidarity, the organisation of Polish working class, thereby ensuring the restoration of capitalism in Poland in 1989. The communist security police killed nine miners from the Wujek and Manifest Lipcowy mines and dozens were wounded.
Soviet Defencism in Poland (1981)
In the conflict between Poland’s Stalinist regime and the pro-capitalist leadership of Solidarnosc in 1981 we have counterposed positions. If you review the final section of our pamphlet on this issue you will see that it is inaccurate to characterise our position as one of advising Polish workers “to meekly bare their breasts to the bullets of Jaruzelski’s repression.”
- Solidarnosc: Acid Test for Trotskyists (http://www.bolshevik.org/Pamphlets/Solidarnosc/solidarnosc.html#VII)
Counter-revolution in the USSR (1991)
We gather that your position on the August 1991 showdown between the decrepit Stalinist “hard line” coupsters and Yeltsin’s pro-capitalist rabble is one of neutrality. Our view is that Trotskyists had a side in that conflict. See:
- “Defend Soviet Workers Against Yeltsin’s Attacks! Counterrevolution Triumphs in USSR,” 1917 No.11 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no11/no11crev.html)
- “Three Days in August – Soviet Rubicon & the Left,” 191711 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no11/no11ussr.html)
- “Centrists & Soviet Counterrevolution – ICL/LRCI: False Assertions and Foolish Consistencies,” 191712 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no12/no12icllrci.html)
China & Capitalist Counter-revolution
We cannot agree that the Chinese deformed workers state has been overthrown and China is today capitalist. You are mistaken in characterising our position as “a reversion to the old Grantite/Militant theory that a workers’ state is defined by the degree of nationalisations.” In our most recent analysis of developments in China we explicitly state that “Of course, a deformed workers’ state cannot be identified solely by the extent of state ownership,” and reiterate the fundamental Trotskyist position that “The decisive task of the capitalist counterrevolution is the political conquest of state power.” See:
- “Political Revolution or Counterrevolution—Whither China?,” 191731 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no31/WhitherChina.html)
- “China: Towards the Brink,” 191726 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no26/no26china.html)
- “China: The Gathering Storm,” 191714 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no14chin.pdf)
* * *
In our letter of December 2008 we observed that “While some points of your platform are formally correct at an abstract level, there is a lack of concrete positions….” This problem has now been rectified. It is abundantly clear that our political programmes are so sharply counterposed on so many questions that the idea of ongoing political exchanges (let alone a “joint intervention in the Labour movement” as you suggest) would simply be a waste of everyone’s time. In your view we are continuators of an unhealthy political tradition (that of the international Spartacist tendency of the 1960s and 70s). It will hardly surprise you to learn that we have a similarly negative assessment of your politics which appear to us to be essentially those of the Pabloist/Labourist mainstream of British ostensible Trotskyism. Naturally, such differences do not preclude the possibility of various sorts of cooperation where appropriate, but they do exclude the possibility of any special relationship and signify that continuing discussions at this time would be at best pointless.
With comradely regards,
For the IBT
Click to access in-defence-of-trotskyism-no-1.pdf
More lies from Gerry Downing.
The IBT did NOT support British imperialism in the Malvinas/Falklands war.
This should be obvious to anyone reading the IBT material on the question.
SF, and anyone else, can of course critique the IBT position of taking no military side in the conflict.
But that is quite a different thing from making up political lies as part of a campaign of similar political slanders since the split in the IBT.
I do not speak for any of the organisations coming out of the breakup of the IBT.
But as a former member of the IBT I am astounded by these repeated political attacks based on suppositions, guilt by association and outright lies coming from a supposedly reputable group claiming to stand in the political tradition of Lenin and Trotsky.
I call on Gerry to desist and restrict himself to political discussions based on the actual content of the political positions of his opponents.
I have trouble understanding why SF doesn’t answer comments like this; also your question about voting for bourgeois parties in the second round in another thread.
But your comment here seems a bit sanctimonious; as though you are using an opponent’s hyperbolic rhetoric as an excuse to disengage from the actual argument. I share your distaste for such hyperbole, but we all do it. For example, would you protest the claim that the Cliffites took a pro-imperialist position on the Korean War?
We have answered and debated this at some length on Facebook. The problem is that copying and pasting from there is both repetitious and likely to cause confusion.
It’s no more harsh than Trotsky was about Shatchtman. I do not know of any case where there was an armed confrontation between a backward country and the imperialists when the Comintern under Lenin and Trotsky were defeatist ‘on both sides’.
This is an appalling position for the following reason – in an inter-imperialist war the two sides are qualitatively the same. By being ‘defeatist on both sides’ you genuinely are not taking sides. But in a war between a semi-colony and an imperialist power, the former is qualitatively weaker. Its is very unlikely that it could defeat imperialism without the active support of the working class in the imperialists countries.
But the Spartoids tell their ‘own’ workers that that semi-colony deserves to be defeated. So the workers they influence will not fight for the defence of the semi-colony. So unless some miracle happens, the imperialists will win.
The call for dual defeatism therefore is meaningless and a left cover for saying that the imperialists should defeat the semi-colony. Without the conviction and action of the world proletariat to support the semi-colony, that will be a matter of course.