Sunday, August 8, 2021

Concerning the July 11 protests in Cuba

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Protestors at Maximo Gomez monument in Havana, Cuba.


Note:


We are reprinting a statement from the Cuban blog, Comunistas, that provides an extended account of the anti-government demonstrations of July 11.  The original post is here: https://www.Comunistascuba.org/2021/07/acerca-de-las-protestas-en-cuba-del-11.html. Frank García Hernández  is a member of the editorial board of Comunistas. We wish to thank Robert Montgomery for providing the English translation. 

 

 

Part 1

 

Six days after the events and after a profound analysis, Comunistas makes known its official position on the protests that took place in Cuba last Sunday, July 11. 

 

Almost simultaneously and with greater or lesser intensity, on Sunday, July 11, Cuba experienced a series of social outbursts that covered at least 6 of the 14 provinces that make up the country. In the 62 years since the triumph of the Revolution led by Comandante Fidel Castro, Cuba had never faced a situation like this one. 

 

Although initially, the first protests began peacefully, almost all of the demonstrations ended up marked by violence, which was exercised by both sides. This series of simultaneous anti-government demonstrations is an event never seen before in socialist Cuba. This is a necessary factor to take into account in order to understand the facts. 

 

It is worth remembering that in Cuba, the last mass protests date back to August 5, 1994, later known as Maleconazo, which was contained in a few hours with the presence of Fidel Castro at the scene of the events. A demonstration of 200 people chanting slogans against the government in a central location is almost inconceivable in Cuban society. However, at least in Havana there was a spontaneous march of at least 3,000 people.

 

The events in Havana

 

The protests - the trigger for which was the demonstration in the city of San Antonio de los Baños, located no more than 100 kilometers from the capital - quickly spread to Havana. Shortly after 3:00 p.m. local time, around 200 people took over the central Fraternity Park, later moving in front of the Capitol (official seat of Parliament). 

 

During the first hour of the protest, police arrests were isolated, allowing, at least tacitly, the march of the demonstrators, who moved towards the central Máximo Gómez Park, located between the Spanish Embassy and the headquarters of the National Bureau of the Union of Young Communists. At that time, more than 500 people were peacefully gathered on the esplanade of the park, while arrests continued to be made on a case-by-case basis. 

 

Later, a group of approximately 100 people, waving Cuban and 26th of July Movement flags, with socialist and pro-government slogans, peacefully took over the Máximo Gómez Park. At the same time, other groups linked to the Communist Party and the Union of Young Communists, together with cadets of the Ministry of the Interior, ended up occupying the area. 

 

The demonstrators voluntarily demobilized and it seemed that in Havana, at least where they originated, the protests had ended, almost peacefully. However, it later became known that the march had turned into a long demonstration which was traveling through important streets of Havana. As the protest march progressed, people joined it, and according to unofficial sources, between 2,000 and 3,000 demonstrators chanted slogans against the government. 

 

At a certain point, the demonstrators decided to go to the emblematic Plaza de la Revolución, where the headquarters of the Presidency, the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of the Armed Forces, as well as the main national newspapers are located. In the vicinity of the Plaza de la Revolución, the demonstration was repelled by forces of public order and pro-government civilian groups, generating violent clashes between both sides, which resulted in an undetermined number of arrests and injuries. 

 

At the same time, in the 10 de Octubre Causeway, Havana, seriously violent events took place, where two police cars were overturned. Subsequently, videos of serious acts of vandalism were released, such as the stoning of a children's hospital. The death of civilian Diubis Laurencio Tejeda has been confirmed during the protests. No other deaths have been reported so far as a result of the demonstrations. Violence was exercised both by the demonstrators and by the civilians who came out to confront them, mainly with stones and sticks. The number of people injured on both sides is unknown. The number of people arrested at the scene is also unknown, as well as any subsequent arrests linked to the protests. We still do not know the number of citizens who six days later are still being held in irregular detention.   

 

While the protests were taking place in Havana, similar events took place in the cities of Bayamo, Manzanillo, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, among others of lesser intensity, which also ended, or even began, in a violent manner. 

 

 

Part 2

Origin and essence of the protests

 

The protests that took place in Cuba last July 11 cannot be understood as a confrontation between counterrevolutionaries and communists, as the government has tried to make it appear; nor of oppressed people versus dictatorship, as bourgeois propaganda has insisted; nor of revolutionary working class versus politically degenerated bureaucracy. 

 

The July 11 protests brought together at the same time the three previous perspectives: the counterrevolutionary organizations -paid by the United States- violently attacking the Communist Party; groups of intellectuals who feel their civil liberties severely curtailed confronting censorship and the working class demanding from the Government improvements in their living conditions. However, although this last variant was the overwhelming majority, it cannot be understood as a politically conscious socialist mass, demanding more socialism from the stagnant bureaucracy.

 

The July 11 protests could be characterized in nine essential points:

 

The great majority of the demonstrators were not linked to counterrevolutionary organizations, nor were the protests led by counterrevolutionary organizations. The main cause of the demonstrations was the discontent generated by the terrible shortages caused by the economic crisis, the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government and the questionable and inefficient management of the state bureaucracy. It was the shortage of food and cleaning products, the existence of stores in freely convertible currency which can only be accessed through foreign currency and which accumulate an important part of the supply of basic products; the long lines for the purchase of basic foods such as bread; the shortage of medicines; the restriction on the deposit of dollars in cash in banks; the price hikes in public services (transportation in Havana increased the fare by 500%); the cutback of gratuities; the drastic increase in inflation; the increase in the price of basic products; and the long power cuts, the objective factors that caused a scenario conducive to a social outburst.  

 

Part 3

 

At the same time, let's not forget that Cuba is going through its biggest economic crisis in 30 years. Cuba needed the visit of 4 million 500 thousand tourists and stable prices in the international market for its Gross Domestic Product to grow at least 1% in 2020. In 2020 Cuba only received 23% of the tourists needed, or 1.5 million tourists, and the world economy went into crisis. The decrease in foreign visitors caused the loss of about 3 billion dollars in 2020. Cuba imports about 80% of its food and the government spends about 2 billion dollars on this.

 

Except for a discreet recovery in China, the rest of all Cuba's trading partners fell into economic recession. As of June 2021, Cuba had only received a little more than 130,000 tourists. Most of the country's reserves had been consumed by 2020. The costs of public attention in confronting the coronavirus have caused serious damage to the Cuban economy. To this must be added the serious sanctions imposed by Donald Trump, which have not been lifted by President Joe Biden, intensifying the already accumulated impact of the blockade.  

 

However, the reasons why the Cuban economy is in crisis do not matter to the working family at the time of serving the table, even more so when the political legitimacy of the government is progressively deteriorating.

 

2. The political legitimacy of the Government is considerably diminished. The official political discourse is far from being effective; it does not reach the youth. The political propaganda of official youth organizations is alien to the youth. As an example of this, among the participants in the protests there was a large number of young people (at the moment it is impossible to give an exact figure). 

 

At the same time, the political wear and tear of several years of crisis and the accumulated errors of the state administration in general. In addition, the current government does not have the political legitimacy of the historical leadership of the Revolution. The separation between the country's leadership and the working class is increasingly visible, and a gap in living conditions is being questioned.

 

Part 4

 

3. The protests originated in working class neighborhoods and those with the greatest social problems. Social inequality is a growing problem in Cuban society. Poverty. Social neglect, the precariousness of public and social policies, the scarce supply of food and basic products from the State, as well as impoverished cultural policies, are predominant characteristics in the peripheral or lower-income neighborhoods. In these areas, political awareness tends to diminish, imposing the rigor of precariousness and survival over ideology. In addition, political discourse often runs parallel to the daily needs of working people. In contrast to this socioeconomic situation, in the imaginary of these economically vulnerable neighborhoods, the country's leadership is associated with high standards of living.

 

4. The protests did not have a majority character. The majority of the Cuban population continues to support the government. Although it is true that the demonstrators had support among part of the neighbors of the areas where the events took place, an important sector of the population also rejected and has rejected the protests. Although the protests in Havana gathered in general around 5000 people, it would be a complete lack of objectivity if we were to say that the demonstrations had a majority support. In spite of the political deterioration suffered by the Cuban government, the latter is gathering the political capital of the Revolution, capitalizes on the image of Fidel Castro and maintains a hegemony over the socialist imaginary. It is largely due to these factors that it achieves considerable political legitimacy among the majorities. 

 

5. There were no socialist slogans in the protests. The slogans launched in the demonstrations were centered on "Homeland and Life", "Freedom", "Down with the dictatorship" and offenses against President Miguel Diaz-Canel. "Patria y Vida" is a slogan born from an openly right-wing song, propagandized from Miami and by the right-wing opposition. The other slogans mentioned have the character of demands for citizens' freedoms, which does not imply socialist demands. Beyond the claims against censorship and the demand for greater civil liberties, the slogan "Down with the dictatorship" is a slogan used and capitalized by the Cuban right wing and the counterrevolution. Members of the Editorial Committee of Comunistas spoke with several demonstrators who were not against Fidel Castro or Socialism, but were demanding better living conditions. However, this differentiation was not made explicit in the protests.

 

Part 5

 

6. A minority sector of intellectuals was linked to the protests. A minority group of intellectuals, mainly grouped in the 27N movement, demanded civil liberties, centered on the right to free creation and expression. However, this was not the central character of the protests. To a large extent, this was due to the fact that the demands of dissident intellectuals did not respond to the needs of the majorities, who were demanding basic demands for a better life.

 

7. The lumpenproletariat played a significant role. In the protests the lumpenproletariat played an important role. These groups engaged in looting and aggressive actions of vandalism, which distorted the peaceful beginning of the demonstrations in Havana.

 

8. It is becoming more and more obvious that the propaganda of the counterrevolution had an organizing character in the protests. Although this was not the main factor that triggered the protests, it is undoubtedly undeniable that the United States orchestrated a strong right-wing campaign in the social networks, openly focused on the overthrow of the Cuban government. This campaign had a strong impact on an important sector of the population. It is necessary to take into account that 4.4 million Cubans have access to social networks from their cell phones. 

 

9. The demonstrations ended up being marked by violence. In Havana, initially, except for isolated events, the demonstrations in the center of the capital took place peacefully. However, in the capital, the demonstration degenerated into a serious confrontation with police forces and pro-government citizens when the demonstrators tried to gain access to the Plaza de la Revolución where the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the seat of the Government, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the headquarters of most of the national newspapers are located. At that time, violent events took place on both sides, causing serious injuries among civilians. At the same time, violent groups carried out acts of vandalism and attacked communist militants and government sympathizers with sticks and stones.

 

Conclusion

 

Why was comrade Frank García Hernández, founder of our Editorial Committee, arrested?

 

Comrade Frank García Hernández, who was on his way to a friend's house, with whom he had been with since the beginning of the demonstration, accidentally ended up at the scene of the violent confrontations that took place near the Plaza de la Revolución, but just as they were coming to an end. Comrade Frank had been present at the protest from the beginning, but as a Communist Party militant. When the demonstrators left the Máximo Gómez Park (around 6:00 p.m.), Frank and the comrade assumed that the protest was over, which is why they both went to the girl's house. She lives less than 200 meters from where the violent clashes took place between the demonstrators and the police forces, who were trying to prevent the protest from entering the Plaza de la Revolución. 

 

According to Comrade Frank, when they arrived at the corner of Ayestarán and Aranguren streets, shots were fired into the air. They both ended up inside a pro-government group which was marching accompanied by police officers. At that moment, Comrade Frank accidentally meets Maykel Gonzalez, director of the pro-LGBTIQ rights magazine Tremenda Nota, a publication that has reproduced the texts of Comunistas. Maykel Gonzalez had participated in the course of events, from the birth of the march to the violent events between the two groups, taking part of the demonstrators, although without carrying out any violent acts. 

 

When the protests were coming to an end in the presence of Comrade Frank Garcia, a police officer arrested Maykel Gonzalez, falsely accusing him of having thrown stones at the forces of public order. In view of this, Comrade Frank Garcia, as a Communist Party militant, tried to intercede calmly between the officer and Maykel Gonzalez. While trying to convince the policeman, asking him not to arrest Maykel Gonzalez, Frank Garcia was also arrested by the officer. The police officer accused Frank of violent acts and of being on the side of the demonstrators. This accusation was later proven false by the authorities. 

 

The arrest took place at around 7:00 pm. Both were taken to the nearest police station. Subsequently, around 1:30 a.m., Frank was taken to another detention center, where the facts were immediately clarified, proving that he had not participated in violent acts, nor in the group against the demonstrations. Together with the director of Tremenda Nota, Maykel González Vivero, comrade Frank García Hernández was released on Monday, July 12 at around 8:00 pm. During his detention of just over 24 hours, Frank affirms that he was NOT physically abused or tortured in any way. Frank Garcia is not currently being held in house arrest, but is under a precautionary measure that regulates his ability to move, limiting his access to his workplace and medical care. However, Frank is not required to make any statements to the authorities regarding his daily movements. The legal measure is part of the procedure to be followed until his non-participation in violent acts or in the demonstration is officially demonstrated. 

 

The Editorial Committee of Comunistas is grateful for the impressive wave of international solidarity that arose to demand the release of Frank García Hernández. Soon, Comunistas will publish a detailed report of the internationalist campaign, through which a just recognition will be made to the people and organizations that fought for the freedom of our comrade. 

 

It is worth noting that during the protests no other member of the Editorial Committee, collaborator or comrade close to our publication was arrested. Based on our elementary sense of revolutionary justice, this does not prevent us from demanding the immediate release of the rest of those arrested during the July 11 demonstrations, as long as they have not committed actions that have attempted against the lives of other people. 

 

 

 

Somewhere in Cuba, July 17, 2021, Comunistas Editorial Board

 

Note and comments

 

NOTE: At the time this statement was published, Comunistas was aware of the call made by the government and the opposition to demonstrate in the streets. Apparently, both sides have called for a rally at the same point in Havana, known as La Piragua. Comunistas rejects both calls as irresponsible, taking into account the seriousness of the health situation of the coronavirus, with more than 6,000 cases per day. But with greater force we condemn any possible act of violence that may occur in the clash between the two groups. 

 

 

 

 


Monday, July 12, 2021

Freedom for Frank García Hernández and other detainees!

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Update: 


It has been confirmed that Frank García Hernández and Maikel Gonzalez Vivero have been released.  However they remain under a form of house arrest, restricted in their movements and still face charges.  The other two comrades who were arrested have not been released.  Here is a statement of solidarity from a supporter of the detained comrades:


***********************************************************************************

Greetings to all, friends of the IV International and also persons that signed in support of the liberation of Mikael González Vivero, Frank García Hernández, Leonardo Romero Negrín y Marco Antonio Pérez. 

 

I want to thank you personally for having responded to the call for solidarity that I made in moments in which they were arrested.  I never expected so much support.  I never expected so much love from so many different places.  It really moved me to see people from all over the world concerned by the situation of this young socialists that have been arrested in these demonstrations. 

 

For now, we are still giving the fight though some of them were released: Frank, our comrade Frank, and Mikael González Vivero.  However, Marco Antonio Pérez, a minor, and Leonardo Romero Negrín, 21 years-old, are still detained.  They are very close to me, personally, and they are also young socialists that should not be there (detained).  They were not violent during the demonstrations and they did not commit any crime yet they were detained in an arbitrary and violent manner by the repressive arm of the State. 

 

I greatly appreciate the support and I tell you that in Cuba my battle for them to be freed will not cease. Nor will my battle to defend freedom and socialism, true socialism, in my country, cease.


Cuba without annexation!

Cuba without embargo!

But Cuba, free, democratic and of the workers!

Socialism, yes! Repression, no!

 

A fraternal embrace.

 

 

***********************************************************************************


There has been a groundswell of support for the release of the comrades that were arrested.  A petition on change.org has gathered the signature of many prominent activists and public intellectuals including Noam Chomsky.  You can go to this link to sign the petition.

https://www.change.org/p/cuban-government-release-frank-garc%C3%ADa-hern%C3%A1ndez-and-his-comrades

Note: We just learned that Frank Garcia Hernandez, the courageous Cuban scholar and activist who organized the first International Conference on Trotsky in Havana in 2019, has been detained by the Cuban authorities.  We have no details as to the circumstances of Frank’s detention except that it is connected to a government crackdown on dissidents in Cuba spurred on by massive protests throughout the island that broke out yesterday.  The demonstrations, spread through social media, were protesting the shortages of food and electricity, the mishandling of the pandemic and in general the repressive actions of the Cuban bureaucracy. The economic crisis in Cuba has been greatly aggravated by the cruel blockade imposed on Cuba by U.S. imperialism. The economic sanctions against Cuba were amped up significantly by the Trump Administration and has been continued under the Biden Administration.  

 

Beyond this context we do not have any information about the specific details of the crackdown on dissidents.  What we do know is that among the detainees are  left wing dissidents, committed socialists who have defended the Cuban revolution against imperialism such as Frank Garcia Hernandez.

Since the news broke messages of solidarity have poured in from international comrades.

The Workers Revolutionary Party of Greece (EEK) have called for the freedom of Frank Garcia Hernandez and the other detainees.

Also joining the call for the liberation of Frank and the other detainees was the Workers Revolutionary Party of Turkey (DIP).

Other calls for solidarity have come from Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Spain, Finland, and Belgium.  Many more messages of solidarity are expected as news of this repressive action by the Cuban government spreads.

We are asking all supporters of socialism and internationalism to join us in demanding the release of Frank Garcia Hernandez and the other detainees!

 

Below we are reprinting two articles – in English translation – that provide a few more details about the detention of Frank Garcia Hernandez and others.

 

From La Izquierda Diario México

http://www.laizquierdadiario.com.mx/Cuba-Libertad-a-Frank-Garcia-Hernandez-y-los-demas-detenidos

This Sunday, July 11, mobilizations were held in Havana and different towns in Cuba, in protest against the health crisis, the shortage and against different government measures, aggravated by the tightening of the criminal imperialist blockade of the United States.

Within the framework of the protests and the repression exercised by the police forces against those who mobilized, Frank García Hernandez was arrested, among other protesters. His friends and colleagues denounce this arbitrary detention and violent measures taken by the Cuban forces of repression, who used pepper spray against those who were involved in the actions. Frank is a Cuban Marxist, sociologist and historian, and a member of the Communists Blog collective. He was arrested along with Marco Antonio Perez Fernandez (a high school student, who had been arrested on April 30 for carrying a sign "Socialism yes, repression no"). Also arrested were Maikel Gonzalez Vivero (director of the LGTBQ community magazine Tremenda nota), as well as Mel Herrera, a trans activist for LGTBQ rights. All the detainees claim to be socialists, and in the case of Marco Antonio Perez and Mel Herrera, their whereabouts are unknown. The blog Comunistas, from Cuba, published a call for the freedom of detainees in Cuba. We join the voices that demand, in Cuba and other countries, the immediate release of Frank Garcia and his companions. We also say enough of repression and arbitrary arrests by the Cuban government, for the democratic right to protest and free union, social and political organization.

 

From Communistas Cuba


https://www.comunistascuba.org/2021/07/reclamo-por-la-libertad-de-los.html

 

In the demonstrations this afternoon in Havana, Frank García Hernández, among other members of the Cuban left, was arrested.

 

Note: not all members of the editorial collective of Comunistas Blog subscribe to this communication.

 

This afternoon the Cuban people took to the streets. A people that was not summoned by any organization other than the acute economic crisis facing Cuba and the government's inability to handle the situation. Cuba took to the streets with the “wrong” slogan "Homeland and life" [1] , but it took to the streets beyond a slogan, it came out to demand true socialism from the government. Those who were in the streets were not only artists and intellectuals, this time it was the town in its broadest heterogeneity.

 

This note from the Comunistas blog does not seek to analyze the situation in Cuba. It seeks to denounce the violent detention of the protesters, to denounce that this time the repressive forces of the State put themselves in the opposite place, that they repressed Cubans, that they used pepper spray and all available resources. This note is a claim for the freedom of all those detained and especially for the arbitrary detention of Frank García Hernández, a Cuban historian and Marxist. For the arrest of Leonardo Romero Negrín, a young socialist Physics student at the University of Havana. For the arrest of Maykel González Vivero, director of Tremenda Nota, a marginal magazine. For the arrest of Marcos Antonio Pérez Fernández, a minor, a high school student. For all those violently detained on this black afternoon that Cuba will not forget. Comunistas appeals to the solidarity of the international Marxist community and also to the conscience of the Cuban government. This time it is about a town that needs answers and dialogue.

 

It is about a civil society that does not want annexation, but rather to participate and decide the fate of its nation. Communist blog condemns the repression and says enough to the bureaucracy.

 



[1] The slogan is “wrong” because the traditional slogan of the Cuban Revolution is “Homeland or Death”. (A.S.)




Monday, April 26, 2021

Comments on David North and Joseph Kishore’s Letter

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[Note: This is part two of a response to recent actions by the leadership of the Socialist Equality Party. For the first part see, Socialist Equality Party National Secretary Joseph Kishore lies about an Amazon worker and former party member: the worker responds.]

In an 11-page letter written jointly by the National Chairperson and National Secretary of the Socialist Equality Party and distributed to the entire membership, one would expect at least an attempt at a political analysis, but instead we get a long series of misrepresentations that answer none of the political points that had been raised. Much of the letter consists of quote mining my party application and personal correspondences to prove that I praised the party in the past and have now turned 180 degrees in a brief period, into some form of subjectivist, anarchist, pragmatist petty bourgeois, who if he continues on his current path, will become no better than those “political wretches” Steiner and Brenner. What the quotes from my text messages and emails really reflect is my own militancy and a regrettable willingness to psych myself into enthusiasm for the SEP because I identified it with revolutionary socialism.

That I changed my mind over the course of several months hardly discredits my positions. Thankfully, a few months was enough time to see through years of miseducation. The SEP has set up a self-fulfilling prophecy here, because they kick out anyone as soon as they have a disagreement. In fact, I had been uneasy about some of the party’s politics for some time, especially after my experiences with the so-called rank-and-file committees, but it was only after seeing the witch hunt against Shuvu and then reading the critique by C and revisiting Trotsky’s writings that everything clicked. Now, I can call the SEP’s politics by their proper name – sectarianism.

North and Kishore’s letter opens by declaring that my provisional membership has been ended (by unanimous votes all the way around), because the party is not open to anyone “who decides they are in fundamental disagreement with the party’s program and perspective.” The main “fundamental disagreement” in question was over the party’s abstentionist line on the trade unions. If this constitutes grounds for expulsion/removal it follows that if the party’s view on this issue (or any other) is wrong, it will be incapable of correcting it, since it expels anyone who disagrees.

I want to emphasize that what triggered my removal from the party was my statement in defense of Shuvu at a national meeting. This was followed by a critical comment, directly addressing points that had been raised during a discussion of trade unionism at a meeting of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) National Committee, of which I was a member. I was able to make most of this statement but was cut off halfway through the last sentence, on the grounds that “this wasn’t the place to express my disagreements.” When I protested this action in the IYSSE Signal chat, I was removed from the committee without a vote, within minutes of my first message in the chat. My silent excommunication from all other party group chats happened about five minutes later. Genevieve, the National Secretary of the IYSSE, displayed a remarkable lack of self-awareness when she wrote “Your attempts to persuade comrades that you have been censored have no validity” and then two sentences later said that she was “proposing” to remove me from the chat. By “proposing,” she really meant that she was about to do it unilaterally. If this isn’t censorship, then the word has no meaning.

The party leadership stooped even lower the following week, in their slanderous letter of April 2, accusing Shuvu, among other things, of being an agent of the RWDSU bureaucracy. I stand in complete solidarity with Shuvu Batta against these vile attacks.

Shuvu and I have been denounced incessantly for acting in a “totally unprincipled manner:” him for passing around documents and me for expressing a disagreement during a national meeting. Yet the response of the SEP has been to resort to personal attacks, slanders, and conspiracy theories: are these principled politics?

Since North and Kishore have devoted so much of their letter to my political history, I will try to briefly set the record straight. I discovered the WSWS during the 2016 election, during a time when I was putting my hopes for change in the Sanders campaign, even volunteering to make phone calls and go door to door. After Sanders capitulated to the Democratic Party, it became clear to me that this was not just the result of political pragmatism, but rather of a conscious effort to uphold the prevailing political system. The Marxist explanation of opportunism and class society presented by the WSWS aligned with this experience. I saw an alternative in the SEP, which presented itself as a world party and introduced me to the rich history of the socialist movement.

I came into contact with the party in the fall of 2018. Shuvu had contacted them a few weeks before, and together we launched into an abortive effort to build a youth and student section at our college campus. I was unsure of the party’s stance on the trade unions from the very beginning, which is one of the reasons I waited a year and a half before applying for membership, but I told myself that even if the SEP were wrong, it was doing an important service by exposing the union bureaucracies. I held the party in high regard, because I had come to see it as a lone voice speaking out against imperialism and opportunism. During this period, I read Globalization and the International Working Class and Why are Trade Unions Hostile to Socialism?, the two primary SEP essays justifying trade union abstentionism.

North writes, “In the space of little more than 12 weeks, your appraisal of the SEP’s policies has undergone a complete transformation,” but it would be more accurate to say that what underwent a transformation was my appraisal of these two documents, which form the backbone of the SEP’s whole perspective on the trade unions. However, I did not “dismiss” either of them “with contempt,” as North says. In fact, I wrote that Globalization and the International Working Class “made an important contribution, in that it outlined how globalization has brought about a degeneration of the unions,” but I went on to object that what had started as a correct opposition to union corporatism had evolved into an unmitigated hostility toward carrying out any struggle in any union. (I refer the reader to Chapter 5 of Marxism Without its Head or its Heart for a thorough discussion.)

North does not answer my point that in the 23 years since these two documents were published (two decades ago), the SEP has not produced a comparable theoretical investigation of globalization, trade unionism, or any other feature of world capitalism in the 21st century. Any healthy party would contain multiple currents constantly striving to question and update old analyses, which may after all be wrong. It is better to change your mind in 12 weeks than to march in the wrong direction for a quarter century!

What accounts for my change in position is not that I have abandoned my principles, but that as an inexperienced Marxist I lacked the theoretical tools to see through the one-sided arguments made in these texts. My real error is not that I changed my mind, but that, when I was wrestling with these questions over a year ago, I did not more carefully study The Transitional Program and Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, which demolish the position of the SEP. After reviewing The Transitional Program, it is hard to understand how I could have ever believed that the SEP’s politics were consistent with those of Trotsky.

North writes, “When it comes to the unions, the instruments of working-class suppression, you uphold their bureaucratically imposed organizational discipline against the efforts of the party to develop democratically organized rank-and-file committees.” I don’t know whether this is a willful misrepresentation, or simply another example of mechanical thinking, but I never suggested that anyone accept the authority of the AFL-CIO. I’m well aware of the duplicity of the bureaucracies and how deeply undemocratic these organizations are. But the reality is that tens of millions of workers remain in unions and the only way to break the hold of the bureaucracies over their lives is to fight them on the ground! This does not for an instant entail subordinating the revolutionary party to the bureaucracies. Let me quote Trotsky once more: Only on the basis of such work within the trade unions is successful struggle possible against the reformists, including those of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Sectarian attempts to build or preserve small ‘revolutionary’ unions, as a second edition of the party, signify in actuality the renouncing of the struggle for leadership of the working class.”

The SEP’s substitution of “rank-and-file committees” for trade union work amounts to abandoning the workers in the unions to struggle against the bureaucracies on their own. This is exactly why Trotsky said that this sort of politics amounted to “renouncing of the struggle for leadership” and a “betrayal of the revolution.” North claims that the party has organized “democratically organized rank-and-file committees,” but everything I know about these committees demonstrates that they are not democratic. When’s the last time any of the committees had an election? (Of course, you’d need members to have an election.) The reality is that party members dictate absolutely every aspect of their work.

The party’s declaration a few days ago, on April 23, that it will lead the construction of an “International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees,” marks a “new stage” in nothing but the SEP’s own illusions. I have no doubt that within a year, the WSWS will declare that this international alliance has been successfully built, regardless of the actual results. The International Amazon Workers Voice was declared into existence not long ago in a similar manner. That project seems to have largely been dropped. Perhaps if it had truly given voice to anything other than the WSWS editorial board, it would have fared better. We did, in fact, get to hear from an Amazon worker recently, but the SEP has done everything it could to silence him, and now resorts to character assassination.

The source of my change in position, according to North, is a swell of “disorientation among broad sections of the petty bourgeoisie.” This is exactly the kind of empty name-calling I objected to in my letter to Marc. For evidence of the petty-bourgeois roots of my “political implosion,” North relies completely on a misrepresentation of my criticisms of the party’s handling of Jimmy Dore: “Your call for the ‘probing of the political issues’ means nothing other than adapting the party to Dore’s reactionary political arena, in which his program provides a forum where socialists and neo-Nazis can mutually explore, in search of points of agreement, their approaches to the fight against bourgeois liberalism.”

I did not suggest that Jerry White engage in a discussion with the boogaloo boy, nor did I indicate, as North claims I did, that “the issue of discussing with fascists was a minor point, barely deserving more than a passing comment.” My argument was that Jerry should have explained the reasons that socialists can’t ally with fascists—that it’s not just a question of individuals but of delineating a program of political independence for the working class, etc. The SEP, committed to its sectarianism, thinks the only two options are capitulation or denunciation. Over the following days and weeks, rather than recognizing and patiently explaining the source of Dore’s confusion, the WSWS doubled down, falsely labeling Dore as a fascist sympathizer.

North claims that, in defending Shuvu during the national aggregate, it was my “intention to ambush the party leadership and dishonestly present Batta as a victim of undemocratic methods.” Does North honestly maintain that, had I made my intention to address Shuvu’s case known in advance, I would have been allowed to speak? As for whether these were undemocratic methods, by North’s own admission, the reason for Shuvu’s expulsion was that he “chose to ignore the decisions of the New York branch on how to conduct an organized discussion on the political differences that he had announced only a week before.” In other words, Shuvu attempted to have one-on-one discussions with other members. Democratic centralism does not imply that the branch has the power to impose any demand whatsoever on its members. The branch’s declaration, after the fact, that Shuvu was prohibited from internally distributing or discussing a document, was never legitimate.

North goes on: “Your intervention on his behalf was of an ex parte unprincipled character. Acting as Batta’s attorney, you substituted your personal relationship for the established constitutional mechanisms relating to party discipline.” What this legal jargon has to do with revolutionary socialism I don’t know. I did not act as Shuvu’s attorney or make my intervention on the basis of a personal relationship. I did my duty as a revolutionary in defending the political rights of my comrade. My statement was not of an “ex parte unprincipled character,” since the opposing side – the entire SEP leadership – was present and had a full two hours to rebut my two 5-minute statements. As I mentioned in my remarks, the disciplinary actions in the New York Branch were carried out without Shuvu’s presence. Shuvu was given no opportunity to personally defend himself to the entire branch. If North wants to discuss a proceeding carried out in an “ex parte unprincipled character,” we should start there.

North accuses me, in Trotsky’s words, of “clique ties” but does my previous acquaintance with Shuvu rule out any political intervention in his defense? No. I do not take the tie of comradeship so lightly as North and Kishore. In any case, the accusation of “clique ties” applies above all to the SEP leadership, which has concentrated all political power in the hands of the clique located in Detroit. And what of the questions I raised on elections and party democracy? In his 11-page letter, North has failed to answer a single one of them.

North’s citation of the Comintern to counter my points on party democracy proves nothing. What I objected to was not the organization of the party into local branches, but the claim that all communication and debate had to be channeled through them. North writes that I “oppose disciplined organization in the revolutionary party” in favor of an “an organization of free-floating atoms,” but I respected all forms of legitimate party discipline. What has North so worried? That I defended the right of the membership to distribute and discuss documents? That I expressed a disagreement during a national meeting?

In a draft resolution of the Tenth Party Congress of the RCP, during which factions were banned, Lenin wrote:

Analyses of the Party’s general line, estimates of its practical experience, check-ups of the fulfilment of its decisions, studies of methods of rectifying errors, etc., must under no circumstances be submitted for preliminary discussion to groups formed on the basis of ‘platforms,’ etc., but must in all cases be submitted for discussion directly to all the members of the Party.

In other words, even under those conditions, when the Bolsheviks were trying to prevent political differences from taking on an organizational form which could be taken advantage of by hostile forces, they still recognized the need for debate and allowed (in fact, required) criticisms to be submitted to ALL of the members of the party. It is worth noting that the whole history of Bolshevism before the rise of Stalinism is marked by rich political debate and polemics, and the banning of factions (but not debate or discussion) was widely regarded as a temporary measure, taken under very difficult conditions. The attempts to defend the SEP’s practice by invoking the Bolsheviks clearly do not hold water.

After falsely claiming for a third time that I have mounted a “defense of the chauvinist AFL-CIO,” North and Kishore once again wave away my political intervention as the result of my “subjective impulses” and my “chumminess” with Shuvu. I am told to “‘Repress’ the individualistic and anarchistic tendencies that are incompatible with disciplined revolutionary activity within the working class.” It should be obvious that if what I wanted was personal freedom, it would have been far easier for me to leave the SEP without a word. All of my efforts have been aimed at raising critical questions among the SEP’s cadre.

The task for a revolutionary is not to “repress” one’s individualism, but to overcome the false individualism fostered under capitalism, and direct oneself toward the cause of human liberation. Without a degree of independence of thought that is impossible in the SEP, there is no way a revolutionary can engage in the critical thinking necessary to make even the smallest step toward socialism.

North and Kishore end their letter with this note of reconciliation:

If and when, on the basis of your own actions from this date forward, the SEP is confident that you can abide by the party constitution and fight loyally for the policies of the party in accordance with the decisions of its National Congress, you will be allowed to reapply for provisional membership in the Socialist Equality Party.

This is obviously an insincere statement, made only for the benefit of the party membership. After my first comment at the national meeting, there was absolutely no chance that I would be allowed to stay in the party. Even if it were true that North and Co. would ever permit me to rejoin, it would be on the condition that I admit the error of my ways and submit myself to silence and acquiescence.

For North and Kishore, “subjective impulses” apply to everyone but themselves, who sit above the class struggle, issuing their statements and programs from their armchairs. They are right about one thing: at this point, we agree on nothing. When I said that there was much on which we still agree, I wasn’t directing myself to them, but to any genuine revolutionaries in the party.

To any such people in or around the SEP, I urge you to consider the demands Shuvu and I put forward in his April 23 letter – which are aimed at opening the party to free discussion and debate and establishing democratic oversight by its membership – and to take up the fight to build a genuinely revolutionary party. In closing, I will quote a slogan from the Statement of Principles of the IYSSE, which has always stuck with me, and which sums up my perspective now: “For the Rebirth of the Socialist Movement!”

-- Peter Ross

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