Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Downward Spiral of the International Committee of the Fourth International

This space is devoted to a discussion and commentary on the series, The Downward Spiral of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

English Version: The Downward Spiral of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

Link to Chapter 1:  Concocting a smear campaign:  A dash of political blackmail and a serving of pseudo-history.

Link to Chapter 2: Concocting a smear campaign: Falsifying my history

Link to Chapter 3: Concocting a smear campaign: North distorts the history of the Workers League/SEP

Link to Chapter 4: The Talbots weigh in: An olive branch to liberalism and misrepresentations on science

Link to Chapter 5: Dialectics vs. positivism in the philosophy of science

Link to Chapter 6: Notes on philosophy and science

Link to Chapter 7: A defense of positivism in the guise of a defense of science

Link to Conclusion: A new stage in the degeneration of the International Committee

Español : Espiral descendente del Comité Internacional de la IV Internacional 

Capítulo 1: Preparando una campaña de desprestigio: Un guión de chantaje político al servicio de una seudo historia

Capítulo 2: Confeccionando una campaña de desprestigio: falsificación de mi historia

Capítulo 3: Confeccionando una campaña de desprestigio: North distorsiona la historia de la Liga Obrera/SEP

Capítulo 4: El balance de los Talbot: una rama de olivo al liberalismo y una serie de flagrantes tergiversaciones sobre la ciencia

Capítulo 5: Dialéctica vs positivismo en la Filosofía de la Ciencia

Capítulo 6: Notas sobre filosofía y ciencia

Capítulo 7: Una defensa del positivismo so pretexto de una defensa de la ciencia

Conclusión: Una nueva etapa en la degeneración del Comité Internacional

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The deadweight of sectarianism

By Frank Brenner

Oct. 21, 2009

I want to follow up a previous blog of mine (“The PSG and the EU elections”[1]) by commenting on a recent article by PSG leader Peter Schwarz called “The PSG and the German Left Party”.[2] While Schwarz’s article is an exchange of letters with a reader, it isn’t hard to see that he is also addressing my earlier posting (though without bothering to mention the latter, a practice all too common in the polemical style of the ICFI leadership).[3]

Without repeating material from the previous blog, it needs to be said that the trends analyzed there became more evident in the Sept. 27 German federal election. The Social Democrats (SPD) had their worst result since the end of the Second World War, losing over 11 percent of their vote. The other ‘natural’ governing party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), also had one of its poorest showings ever. Lesser parties – the Free Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party – all made substantial gains. The German political landscape is being altered by the seismic shifts within global capitalism.

From the standpoint of the working class, the key development is the decline of the SPD and the growth of the Left Party. It is clear that many workers and youth, facing increasingly bleak economic prospects, no longer see the SPD as a party of social reform. They identify it – rightly of course – as a pro-business, establishment party. This represents an important shift in the political consciousness of a significant section of the German working class, and that shift has manifested itself in a turn towards the Left Party.

It is this last point, evident to anyone who has followed the German political scene, which Schwarz and the PSG vehemently deny. They are happy to discuss the political decline of the SPD but see no significance, so far as the development of working class consciousness is concerned, in the growing support for the Left Party. To this end, Schwarz marshals a number of arguments, all of which repeat earlier PSG statements and none of which stand up to critical analysis.

[2] “The PSG and the German Left Party: An exchange of letters,” WSWS, Sept. 28, 2009: The article was originally posted in German: “Die PSG und die Linkspartei”, WSWS, Sept. 26, 2009:
[3] It is worth noting that the letter Schwarz is responding to makes no mention of the Left Party. Schwarz, however, spends six-and-a-half pages discussing little else but the PSG’s attitude to the Left Party, which also happens to be one of the main themes of my article. Moreover, while the letter-writer, F.S., demonstrates political confusion when he calls on the PSG to collaborate with various revisionist outfits, he also criticizes the PSG’s EU election campaign very much along the lines of what I had written, a point I’ll come back to later.

Monday, August 31, 2009

History turned into a dead letter

By Frank Brenner

The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) just finished running a four-part series on the Minneapolis Teamsters strikes of 1934, whose 75th anniversary has just passed.[1] Alas, while this is important history and while the series does a competent job in recounting it, this is a case of a tradition being honored more in the breach than in the observance. To anyone familiar with the work of the SEP today, there could hardly be a starker contrast between its abstentionist practice and the inspiring record of James Cannon’s party in providing revolutionary leadership in these strikes.

For this reason, a notable feature of this series is its inability to draw any lessons from this history for today. This is evident at the end, when after four long instalments, the series is concluded in an abrupt and perfunctory way, with two brief paragraphs which do nothing but repeat obvious truths about the need for revolutionary leadership.

The series ends with the following line:

“The lessons of 1934 and those of the entire history of the Trotskyist movement internationally must be assimilated to prepare the leadership of the struggles to come.”

We agree that the lessons of 1934 “must be assimilated”, but the real meaning of that injunction is that this rich history should be more than an occasion for a retrospective essay. It should inform our practice. Yet nothing could be further from the current practice of the SEP than the lessons of 1934. The trouble for the WSWS editorial board is that any attempt to draw concrete lessons from this history becomes implicitly an indictment of the SEP’s abstentionism.

For example, at one point Cannon is quoted as saying that The Organizer, the local strike paper which was edited by Max Shachtman and which Cannon wrote for, was "the crowning achievement" of the party's work in the strike – and yet this is precisely the kind of work that SEP leader David North disparaged in his polemic with us over the NYC transit strike. When we criticized the SEP for the unserious manner in which it intervened in the New York transit strike of 2005, North replied with a sneer that organizing strike committees is not the work of Trotskyists. He wrote,

“No, we did not attempt to write a manual on how to form strike committees. To the extent that workers understood the need for an alternative to the TWU Local 100 leadership and its policies, they would be more than capable of working out the details of creating and running rank-and-file strike committees. But we most certainly did explain what such committees should fight for: the statement outlined the political strategy upon which the fate of the strike depended.” [2]

But listen to the following assessment of the work of the Trotskyists in the 1934 strike by James Cannon:

“Trotskyism made a number of specific contributions to this strike which made all the difference between the Minneapolis strike and a hundred others of the period, some of which involved more workers in more socially important localities and industries. Trotskyism made the contribution of organization and preparations down to the last detail. That is something new, that is something specifically Trotskyist.” [emphasis added] [3]

The gulf between Cannon in 1934 and North in 2005 could not be wider. Thus it isn’t surprising that the WSWS series on the Minneapolis strikes, while providing an overview of these events, can say nothing about the fact that the lessons of this history, to which the series alludes on several occasions, have absolutely no impact on the current practice of the SEP.

Another example of the forgotten lessons of the Minneapolis strikes is this analysis of the role of the Stalinists in 1934:

“During the May strike, the CP revealed its inability to advance correct Marxist tactics in relation to the Farmer-Labor Party and Governor Olson. It demanded that Local 574 call a general strike directly against Olson. This was at a time when Olson was verbally—not to mention financially, having personally contributed $500 to Local 574—supporting the strike. The overwhelming majority of workers harbored illusions that he would aid the struggle of Local 574. The Trotskyist leaders judged correctly that his ‘support’ would have to be tested and exposed in the course of the struggle before workers could shed their illusions in the FLP governor.”

Again this is implicitly an indictment of contemporary political practice: Today it is the PSG in Germany that has “revealed its inability to advance correct Marxist tactics” in relation to the Left Party, to say nothing of the wholesale abstentionism of all the SEPs with regard to the unions.[4]

In the history of the Marxist movement, there have often been cases of parties that maintain a formal, ‘orthodox’, adherence to a revolutionary tradition, while deviating from the lessons of that tradition in practice. That is increasingly what characterizes the WSWS and SEP.


[1] “75th anniversary of the Minneapolis truck drivers’ strike”, WSWS, Aug. 26-29, 2009:

[2] North’s statement is from his Marxism, History and Socialist Consciousness, (Mehring Books, 2007), pp. 44-45.
An online version can be found at
For our reply, see Marxism Without its Head or its Heart, chapt. 5:, pp. 120-3. This chapter also contains a discussion of the relevance of the 1934 strikes to a critique of the SEP’s abstentionism, cf. pp. 124-6.

[3] James P. Cannon, “The History of American Trotskyism”, p. 156.

[4] See “The PSG and the EU elections”,

Friday, August 21, 2009

69th Anniversary of the Assassination of Leon Trotsky

[On this, the 69th anniversary of the assassination of Leon Trotsky, we are republishing the obituary delivered by James P. Cannon to the memorial meeting of the Socialist Workers Party held a week following the assassination. The text is courtesy of the Marxist Internet Archives:]

James P. Cannon
To the memory of the Old Man (Trotsky Obituary)

This speech was delivered to the Leon Trotsky Memorial meeting held at the Diplomat Hotel in New York City on August 28, 1940.

It was first published in Socialist Appeal, September 7, 1940.

Comrade Trotsky's entire conscious life, from the time he entered the workers' movement in the provincial Russian town of Nikolayev at the age of eighteen up till the moment of his death in Mexico City forty-two years later, was completely dedicated to work and struggle for one central idea. He stood for the emancipation of the workers and all the oppressed people of the world, and the transformation of society from capitalism to socialism by means of a social revolution. In his conception, this liberating social revolution requires for success the leadership of a revolutionary political party of the workers' vanguard.

In his entire conscious life Comrade Trotsky never once diverged from that idea. He never doubted it, and never ceased to struggle for its realization. On his deathbed, in his last message to us, his disciples-his last testament-he proclaimed his confidence in his life-idea: "Tell our friends I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International - go forward!"

The whole world knows about his work and his testament. The cables of the press of the world have carried his last testament and made it known to the world's millions. And in the minds and hearts of all those throughout the world who grieve with us tonight one thought-one question-is uppermost: Will the movement which he created and inspired survive his death? Will his disciples be able to hold their ranks together, will they be able to carry out his testament and realize the emancipation of the oppressed through the victory of the Fourth International?

Without the slightest hesitation we give an affirmative answer to this question. Those enemies who predict a collapse of Trotsky's movement without Trotsky, and those weak-willed friends who fear it, only show that they do not understand Trotsky, what he was, what he signified, and what he left behind. Never has a bereaved family been left such a rich heritage as that which Comrade Trotsky, like a provident father, has left to the family of the Fourth International as trustees for all progressive humanity. A great heritage of ideas he has left to us; ideas which shall chart the struggle toward the great free future of all mankind. The mighty ideas of Trotsky are our program and our banner. They are a clear guide to action in all the complexities of our epoch, and a constant reassurance that we are right and that our victory is inevitable.

Trotsky himself believed that ideas are the greatest power in the world. Their authors may be killed, but ideas, once promulgated, live their own life. If they are correct ideas, they make their way through all obstacles. This was the central, dominating concept of Comrade Trotsky's philosophy. He explained it to us many, many times. He once wrote: "It is not the party that makes the program [the idea]; it is the program that makes the party." In a personal letter to me, he once wrote: "We work with the most correct and powerful ideas in the world, with inadequate numerical forces and material means. But correct ideas, in the long run, always conquer and make available for themselves the necessary material means and forces."

Trotsky, a disciple of Marx, believed with Marx that "an idea, when it permeates the mass, becomes a material force." Believing that, Comrade Trotsky never doubted that his work would live after him. Believing that, he could proclaim on his deathbed his confidence in the future victory of the Fourth International which embodies his ideas. Those who doubt it do not know Trotsky.

Trotsky himself believed that his greatest significance, his greatest value, consisted not in his physical life, not in his epic deeds, which overshadow those of all heroic figures in history in their sweep and their grandeur-but in what he would leave behind him after the assassins had done their work. He knew that his doom was sealed, and he worked against time in order to leave everything possible to us, and through us to mankind. Throughout the eleven years of his last exile he chained himself to his desk like a galley slave and labored, as none of us knows how to labor, with such energy, such persistence and self-discipline, as only men of genius can labor. He worked against time to pour out through his pen the whole rich content of his mighty brain and preserve it in permanent written form for us, and for those who will come after us.

The whole Trotsky, like the whole Marx, is preserved in his books, his articles, and his letters. His voluminous correspondence, which contains some of his brightest thoughts and his most intimate personal feelings and sentiments, must now be collected and published. When that is done, when his letters are published alongside his books, his pamphlets, and his articles, we, and all those who join us in the liberation struggle of humanity, will still have our Old Man to help us.
He knew that the super-Borgia in the Kremlin, Cain-Stalin, who has destroyed the whole generation of the October Revolution, had marked him for assassination and would succeed sooner or later. That is why he worked so urgently. That is why he hastened to write out everything that was in his mind and get it down on paper in permanent form where nobody could destroy it.

Just the other night, I talked at the dinner table with one of the Old Man's faithful secretaries - a young comrade who had served him a long time and knew his personal life, as he lived it in his last years of exile, most intimately. I urged him to write his reminiscences without delay. I said: "We must all write everything we know about Trotsky. Everyone must record his recollections and his impressions. We must not forget that we moved in the orbit of the greatest figure of our time. Millions of people, generations yet to come, will be hungry for every scrap of information, every word, every impression that throws light on him, his ideas, his aims, and his personal life."

He answered: "I can write only about his personal qualities as I observed them; his methods of work, his humaneness, his generosity. But I can't write anything new about his ideas. They are already written. Everything he had to say, everything he had in his brain, is down on paper. He seemed to be determined to scoop down to the bottom of his mind, and take out everything and give it to the world in his writings. Very often, I remember, casual conversation on some subject would come up at the dinner table; an informal discussion would take place, and the Old Man would express some opinions new and fresh. Almost invariably the contributions of the dinner-table conversation would find expression a little later in a book, an article, or a letter."

They killed Trotsky not by one blow; not when this murderer, the agent of Stalin, drove the pickax through the back of his skull. That was only the final blow. They killed him by inches. They killed him many times. They killed him seven times when they killed his seven secretaries. They killed him four times when they killed his four children. They killed him when his old coworkers of the Russian Revolution were killed.

Yet he stood up to his tasks in spite of all that. Growing old and sick, he staggered through all these moral, emotional, and physical blows to complete his testament to humanity while he still had time. He gathered it all together-every thought, every idea, every lesson from his past experience-to lay up a literary treasure for us, a treasure that the moths and the rust cannot eat.

There was a profound difference between Trotsky and other great men of action and transitory political leaders who influenced great masses in their lifetime. The power of such people, almost all of them, was something personal, something incommunicable to others. Their influence did not survive their deaths. Just recall for a moment the great men of our generation or the generation just passed: Clemenceau, Hindenburg, Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Bryan. They had great masses following them and leaning upon them. But now they are dead; and all their influence died with them. Nothing remains but monuments and funeral eulogies. Nothing was distinctive about them but their personalities. They were opportunists, leaders for a day. They left no ideas to guide and inspire men when their bodies became dust, and their personalities became a memory.

Not so with Trotsky. Not so with him. He was different. He was also a great man of action, to be sure. His deeds are incorporated in the greatest revolution in the history of mankind. But, unlike the opportunists and leaders of a day, his deeds were inspired by great ideas, and these ideas still live. He not only made a revolution; he wrote its history and explained the basic laws which govern all revolutions. In his History of the Russian Revolution, which he considered his masterpiece, he gave us a guide for the making of new revolutions, or rather, for extending throughout the world the revolution that began in October 1917.

Trotsky, the great man of ideas, was himself the disciple of a still greater one-Marx. Trotsky did not originate or claim to originate the most fundamental ideas which he expounded. He built on the foundations laid by the great masons of the nineteenth century-Marx and Engels. In addition, he went through the great school of Lenin and learned from him. Trotsky's genius consisted in his complete assimilation of the ideas bequeathed by Marx, Engels, and Lenin. He mastered their method. He developed their ideas in modern conditions, and applied them in masterful fashion in the contemporary struggle of the proletariat. If you would understand Trotsky, you must know that he was a disciple of Marx, an orthodox Marxist. He fought under the banner of Marxism for forty-two years! During the last year of his life he laid everything else aside to fight a great political and theoretical battle in defence of Marxism in the ranks of the Fourth International! His very last article, which was left on his desk in unpolished form, the last article with which he occupied himself, was a defence of Marxism against contemporary revisionists and sceptics. The power of Trotsky, first of all and above all, was the power of Marxism.

Do you want a concrete illustration of the power of Marxist ideas? Just consider this: when Marx died in 1883, Trotsky was but four years old. Lenin was only fourteen. Neither could have known Marx, or anything about him. Yet both became great historical figures because of Marx, because Marx had circulated ideas in the world before they were born. Those ideas were living their own life. They shaped the lives of Lenin and Trotsky. Marx's ideas were with them and guided their every step when they made the greatest revolution in history.

So will the ideas of Trotsky, which are a development of the ideas of Marx, influence us, his disciples, who survive him today. They will shape the lives of far greater disciples who are yet to come, who do not yet know Trotsky's name. Some who are destined to be the greatest Trotskyists are playing in the schoolyards today. They will be nourished on Trotsky's ideas, as he and Lenin were nourished on the ideas of Marx and Engels.

Indeed, our movement in the United States took shape and grew up on his ideas without his physical presence, without even any communication in the first period. Trotsky was exiled and isolated in Alma Ata when we began our struggle for Trotskyism in this country in 1928. We had no contact with him, and for a long time did not know whether he was dead or alive. We didn't even have a collection of his writings. All we had was one single current document - his "Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern." That was enough. By the light of that single document we saw our way, began our struggle with supreme confidence, went through the split without faltering, built the framework of a national organization and established our weekly Trotskyist press. Our movement was built firmly from the very beginning and has remained firm because it was built on Trotsky's ideas. It was nearly a year before we were able to establish direct communication with the Old Man.

So with the sections of the Fourth International throughout the world. Only a very few individual comrades have ever met Trotsky face to face. Yet everywhere they knew him. In China, and across the broad oceans to Chile, Argentina, Brazil. In Australia, in practically every country of Europe. In the United States, Canada, Indochina, South Africa. They never saw him, but the ideas of Trotsky welded them all together in one uniform and firm world movement. So it will continue after his physical death. There is no room for doubt.

Trotsky's place in history is already established. He will stand forever on a historical eminence beside the other three great giants of the proletariat: Marx, Engels, and Lenin. It is possible, indeed it is quite probable, that in the historic memory of mankind, his name will evoke the warmest affection, the most heartfelt gratitude of all. Because he fought so long, against such a world of enemies, so honestly, so heroically, and with such selfless devotion!

Future generations of free humanity will look back with insatiable interest on this mad epoch of reaction and bloody violence and social change-this epoch of the death agony of one social system and the birth pangs of another. When they see through the historian's lens how the oppressed masses of the people everywhere were groping, blinded and confused, they will mention with unbounded love the name of the genius who gave us light, the great heart that gave us courage.

Of all the great men of our time, of all the public figures to whom the masses turned for guidance in these troubled terrible times, Trotsky alone explained things to us, he alone gave us light in the darkness. His brain alone unravelled the mysteries and complexities of our epoch. The great brain of Trotsky was what was feared by all his enemies. They couldn't cope with it. They couldn't answer it. In the incredibly horrible method by which they destroyed him there was hidden a deep symbol. They struck at his brain! But the richest products of that brain are still alive. They had already escaped and can never be recaptured and destroyed.

We do not minimize the blow that has been dealt to us, to our movement, and to the world. It is the worst calamity. We have lost something of immeasurable value that can never be regained. We have lost the inspiration of his physical presence, his wise counsel. All that is lost forever. The Russian people have suffered the most terrible blow of all. But by the very fact that the Stalinist camarilla had to kill Trotsky after eleven years, that they had to reach out from Moscow, exert all their energies and plans to destroy the life of Trotsky-that is the greatest testimony that Trotsky still lived in the hearts of the Russian people. They didn't believe the lies. They waited and hoped for his return. His words are still there. His memory is alive in their hearts.

Just a few days before the death of Comrade Trotsky the editors of the Russian Bulletin received a letter from Riga. It had been mailed before the incorporation of Latvia into the Soviet Union. It stated in simple words that Trotsky's "Open Letter to the Workers of the USSR"14 had reached them, and had lifted up their hearts with courage and shown them the way. The letter stated that the message of Trotsky had been memorized, word by word, and would be passed along by word of mouth no matter what might happen. We verily believe that the words of Trotsky will live longer in the Soviet Union than the bloody regime of Stalin. In the coming great day of liberation the message of Trotsky will be the banner of the Russian people.

The whole world knows who killed Comrade Trotsky. The world knows that on his deathbed he accused Stalin and his GPU of the murder. The assassin's statement, prepared in advance of the crime, is the final proof, if more proof is needed, that the murder was a GPU job. It is a mere reiteration of the lies of the Moscow trials; a stupid police-minded attempt, at this late day, to rehabilitate the frame-ups which have been discredited in the eyes of the whole world. The motives for the assassination arose from the world reaction, the fear of revolution, and the traitors' sentiments of hatred and revenge. The English historian Macaulay remarked that apostates in all ages have manifested an exceptional malignity toward those whom they have betrayed. Stalin and his traitor gang were consumed by a mad hatred of the man who reminded them of their yesterday. Trotsky, the symbol of the great revolution, reminded them constantly of the cause they had deserted and betrayed, and they hated him for that. They hated him for all the great and good human qualities which he personified and to which they were completely alien. They were determined, at all cost, to do away with him.

Now I come to a part that is very painful, a thought which, I am sure, is in the minds of all of us. The moment we read of the success of the attack I am sure everyone among us asked: couldn't we have saved him a while longer? If we had tried harder, if we had done more for him - couldn't we have saved him? Dear comrades, let us not reproach ourselves. Comrade Trotsky was doomed and sentenced to death years ago. The betrayers of the revolution knew that the revolution lived in him, the tradition, the hope. All the resources of a powerful state, set in motion by the hatred and revenge of Stalin, were directed to the assassination of a single man without resources and with only a handful of close followers. All of his coworkers were killed; seven of his faithful secretaries; his four children. Yet, in spite of the fact that they marked him for death after his exile from Russia, we saved him for eleven years! Those were the most fruitful years of his whole life. Those were the years when he sat down in full maturity to devote himself to the task of summing up and casting in permanent literary form the results of his experiences and his thoughts.

Their dull police minds cannot know that Trotsky left the best of himself behind. Even in death he frustrated them. Because the thing they wanted most of all to kill-the memory and the hope of revolution-that Trotsky left behind him.

If you reproach yourself or us because this murder machine finally reached Trotsky and struck him down, you must remember that it is very hard to protect anyone from assassins. The assassin who stalks his victim night and day very often breaks through the greatest protections. Even Russian tsars and other rulers, surrounded by all the police powers of great states, could not always escape assassination by small bands of determined terrorists equipped with the most meager resources. This was the case more than once in Russia in the prerevolutionary days. And here, in the case of Trotsky, you had all that in reverse. All the resources were on the side of the assassins. A great state apparatus, converted into a murder machine, against one man and a few devoted disciples. So if they finally broke through, we have only to ask ourselves, did we do all we could to prevent it or postpone it? Yes, we did our best. In all conscience, we must say we did our best.

In the last weeks after the assault of May 24, we once again put on the agenda of our leading committee the question of the protection of Comrade Trotsky. Every comrade agreed that this is our most important task, most important for the masses of the whole world and for the future generations, that above all we do everything in our power to protect the life of our genius, our comrade, who helped and guided us so well. A delegation of party leaders made a visit to Mexico. It turned out to be our last visit. There, on that occasion, in consultation with him, we agreed upon a new campaign to strengthen the guard. We collected money in this country to fortify the house at the cost of thousands of dollars; all our members and sympathizers responded with great sacrifices and generosity.

And still the murder machine broke through. But those who helped even in the smallest degree, either financially or with their physical efforts, like our brave young comrades of the guard, will never be sorry for what they did to protect and help the Old Man.

At the hour Comrade Trotsky was finally struck down, I was returning by train from a special journey to Minneapolis. I had gone there for the purpose of arranging for new and especially qualified comrades to go down and strengthen the guard in Coyoacan. On the way home I sat in the railroad train with a feeling of satisfaction that the task of the trip had been accomplished, reinforcements of the guard had been provided for.

Then, as the train passed through Pennsylvania, about four o'clock in the morning, they brought the early papers with the news that the assassin had broken through the defences and driven a pickax into the brain of Comrade Trotsky. That was the beginning of a terrible day, the saddest day of our lives, when we waited, hour by hour, while the Old Man fought his last fight and struggled vainly with death. But even then, in that hour of terrible grief, when we received the fatal message over the long-distance telephone: "The Old Man is dead"-even then, we didn't permit ourselves to stop for weeping. We plunged immediately into the work to defend his memory and carry out his testament. And we worked harder than ever before, because for the first time we realized with full consciousness that we have to do it all now. We can't lean on the Old Man anymore. What is done now, we must do. That is the spirit in which we have got to work from now on.

The capitalist masters of the world instinctively understood the meaning of the name of Trotsky. The friend of the oppressed, the maker of revolutions, was the incarnation of all that they hated and feared! Even in death they revile him. Their newspapers splash their filth over his name. He was the world's exile in the time of reaction. No door was open to him anywhere except that of the Republic of Mexico. The fact that Trotsky was barred from all capitalist countries is in itself the clearest refutation of all the slanders of the Stalinists, of all their foul accusations that he betrayed the revolution, that he had turned against the workers. They never convinced the capitalist world of that. Not for a moment.

The capitalists - all kinds - fear and hate even his dead body! The doors of our great democracy are open to many political refugees, of course. All sorts of reactionaries; democratic scoundrels who betrayed and deserted their people; monarchists, and even fascists - they have all been welcomed in New York harbor. But not even the dead body of the friend of the oppressed could find asylum here! We shall not forget that! We shall nourish that grievance close to our hearts and in good time we shall take our revenge.

The great and powerful democracy of Roosevelt and Hull wouldn't let us bring his body here for the funeral. But he is here just the same. All of us feel that he is here in this hall tonight - not only in his great ideas, but also, especially tonight, in our memory of him as a man. We have a right to be proud that the best man of our time belonged to us, the greatest brain and strongest and most loyal heart. The class society we live in exalts the rascals, cheats, self-seekers, liars, and oppressors of the people. You can hardly name an intellectual representative of the decaying class society, of high or low degree, who is not a miserable hypocrite and contemptible coward, concerned first of all with his own inconsequential personal affairs and saving his own worthless skin. What a wretched tribe they are. There is no honesty, no inspiration, nothing in the whole of them. They have not a single man that can strike a spark in the heart of youth. Our Old Man was made of better stuff. Our Old Man was made of entirely different stuff. He towered above these pygmies in his moral grandeur.

Comrade Trotsky not only struggled for a new social order based on human solidarity as a future goal; he lived every day of his life according to its higher and nobler standards. They wouldn't let him be a citizen of any country. But, in truth, he was much more than that. He was already, in his mind and in his conduct, a citizen of the communist future of humanity. That memory of him as a man, as a comrade, is more precious than gold and rubies. We can hardly understand a man of that type living among us. We are all caught in the steel net of the class society with its inequalities, its contradictions, its conventionalities, its false values, its lies. The class society poisons and corrupts everything. We are all dwarfed and twisted and blinded by it. We can hardly visualize what human relations will be, we can hardly comprehend what the personality of man will be, in a free society.

Comrade Trotsky gave us an anticipatory picture. In him, in his personality as a man, as a human being, we caught a glimpse of the communist man that is to be. This memory of him as a man, as a comrade, is our greatest assurance that the spirit of man, striving for human solidarity, is unconquerable. In our terrible epoch many things will pass away. Capitalism and all its heroes will pass away. Stalin and Hitler and Roosevelt and Churchill, and all the lies and injustices and hypocrisy they signify, will pass away in blood and fire. But the spirit of the communist man which Comrade Trotsky represented will not pass away.

Destiny has made us, men of common clay, the most immediate disciples of Comrade Trotsky. We now become his heirs, and we are charged with the mission to carry out his testament. He had confidence in us. He assured us with his last words that we are right and that we will prevail. We need only have confidence in ourselves and in the ideas, the tradition, and the memory which he left us as our heritage.

We owe everything to him. We owe to him our political existence, our understanding, our faith in the future. We are not alone. There are others like us in all parts of the world. Always remember that. We are not alone. Trotsky has educated cadres of disciples in more than thirty countries. They are convinced to the marrow of their bones of their right to victory. They will not falter. Neither shall we falter. "I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International!" So said Comrade Trotsky in the last moment of his life. So are we sure.

Trotsky never doubted and we shall never doubt that, armed with his weapons, with his ideas, we shall lead the oppressed masses of the world out of the bloody welter of the war into a new socialist society. That is our testimony here tonight at the grave of Comrade Trotsky.
And here at his grave we testify also that we shall never forget his parting injunction - that we shield and cherish his warrior-wife, the faithful companion of all his struggles and wanderings. "Take care of her," he said, "she has been with me many years. Yes, we shall take care of her. Before everything else, we shall take care of Natalia.

We come now to the last word of farewell to our greatest comrade and teacher, who has now become our most glorious martyr. We do not deny the grief that constricts all our hearts. But ours is not the grief of prostration, the grief that saps the will. It is tempered by rage and hatred and determination. We shall transmute it into fighting energy to carry on the Old Man's fight. Let us say farewell to him in a manner worthy of his disciples, like good soldiers of Trotsky's army. Not crouching in weakness and despair, but standing upright with dry eyes and clenched fists. With the song of struggle and victory on our lips. With the song of confidence in Trotsky's Fourth International, the International Party that shall be the human race!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The PSG and the EU elections

By Frank Brenner

Deutsch: Die PSG und die Europawahl

After the recent European Union elections, the WSWS ran a number of articles assessing the results of these elections, including the performance of the German section of the International Committee, the PSG (Partei fur Soziale Gleichheit). These articles bear some comment.

First, some facts. The PSG received 9,673 votes in the election. This compares to the previous election, in 2004, where the PSG received 25,800 votes. Which is to say that the party’s vote fell by a whopping 62.5 percent. To call this a steep decline is an understatement. Moreover, the PSG scored dead last of the 31 German parties contesting the EU election, including some very obscure and makeshift groups peddling everything from spiritual politics to the merits of internet file-sharing. This result is all the more noteworthy given that these elections were held in the midst of the global financial crisis, which is hitting the German working class hard.

So what accounts for this? Surely that should be a pressing concern for the party. But you won’t find a coherent explanation in the WSWS commentary. Here is how PSG leader Ulrich Rippert handles the issue in his assessment of his party’s campaign:

"The PSG received 9,673 votes. While this total is significantly less than the vote won by the party in the European election five years ago, it would be a mistake to assess the significance of the elections from the narrow viewpoint of how many votes were won."

Now, it is true that Trotskyist parties are not electoralist machines and that votes are not the primary consideration determining our politics. But clearly votes have some significance. Imagine if the PSG vote had increased by 62.5 percent: of course the party would have trumpeted such as a result as indicative of a growing influence in the working class. Indeed this is just what happened in 2004. Then the WSWS was so proud of the PSG vote that it put the vote numbers in the headline: “Socialist Equality Party of Germany receives nearly 26,000 votes”. The article went on to declare: “This increase in votes is of considerable political significance. It shows that a section of workers, intellectuals and youth are beginning to seriously take up political issues and support an international socialist perspective.”

But you can’t have it both ways – you can’t take credit for a good result but dismiss the significance of a bad one. There is – or should be – no question that such a dramatic fall in the party’s vote calls for a critical reappraisal of what the PSG has been doing to reach the working class.

Read entire essay HERE

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sectarianism, Centrism and the Fourth International


By Leon Trotsky

[We are posting here an important article by Trotsky, from October 22, 1935. There is something especially timely about this article now. We are living through an unprecedented global economic crisis, while at the same time the traditional labor movement is disintegrating, with little credibility left. Under these conditions, it is inevitable that makeshift formations will emerge in the working class to fill the political vacuum. In many ways, how revolutionary Marxists respond to these developments will determine whether we can find a road to the masses or not. Trotsky’s article is a timely reminder of two grave dangers facing Marxists under such circumstances – the danger of sectarianism and the danger of centrism. As Trotsky notes in his article, these two apparent opposites are in fact closely related: they are both diversions from the essential struggle of Marxists to intervene in the living movement of the working class, and through that intervention, build bridges to socialist consciousness. A further point needs to be made, specifically with regard to centrism: “We draw a distinction,” Trotsky wrote elsewhere, “between the centrism of the workers, which is only a transition stage for them, and the professional centrism of many leaders among whom there are also incurables” (“Two Articles on Centrism”: This is a distinction that sectarians routinely ignore.]

IT would be absurd to deny the presence of sectarian tendencies in our midst. They have been laid bare by an entire series of discussions and splits. Indeed, how could an element of sectarianism have failed to manifest itself in an ideological movement which stands irreconcilably opposed to all the dominant organizations in the working class, and which is subjected to monstrous, absolutely unprecedented persecution all over the world?

Reformists and centrists readily seize upon every occasion to point a finger at our “sectarianism’’. Most of the time, they have in mind not our weak but our strong side: our serious attitude towards theory; our effort to plumb every political situation to the bottom, and to advance clear-cut slogans; our hostility to “easy” and “comfortable” decisions which deliver from cares today, but prepare a catastrophe on the morrow. Coming from opportunists, the accusation of sectarianism is most often a compliment.

Curiously enough, however, we are often accused of sectarianism not only by reformists and centrists but by opponents from the “left” — the notorious sectarians, who might well be placed as exhibits in any museum. The basis for their dissatisfaction with us lies in our irreconcilability to themselves, in our striving to purge ourselves of the infantile sectarian diseases, and to rise to a higher level.

To a superficial mind it may seem that such words as sectarian, centrist, and so on, are merely polemical expressions exchanged by opponents for lack of other and more appropriate epithets. Yet the concept of sectarianism as well as the concept of centrism has a precise meaning in a Marxian dictionary. Marxism has built a scientific program upon the laws that govern the movement of capitalist society, which were discovered by it. This is a colossal conquest!

However, it is not enough to create a correct program. It is necessary that the working class accept it. But the sectarian, in the nature of things, comes to a full stop upon the first half of the task. Active intervention in the actual struggle of the working masses is supplanted, for him, by an abstract propaganda for a Marxist program.

Every working-class party, every faction, passes during its initial stages through a period of pure propaganda — that is, the training of its cadres. The period of existence as a Marxist circle invariably grafts habits of an abstract approach to the problems of the workers’ movement. He who is unable to step in time over the confines of this circumscribed existence becomes transformed into a conservative sectarian. The sectarian looks upon the life of society as a great school, with himself as a teacher there. In his opinion, the working class should put aside its less important matters, and assemble in solid rank around his rostrum. Then the task would be solved.

Though he may swear by Marxism in every sentence, the sectarian is the direct negation of dialectical materialism, which takes experience as its point of departure and always returns to it. A sectarian does not understand the dialectical interaction between a finished program and a living (that is to say, imperfect and unfinished) mass struggle. The sectarian’s method of thinking is that of a rationalist, a formalist and an enlightener. During a certain stage of development rationalism is progressive, being directed critically against blind beliefs and superstitions (the eighteenth century!) The progressive stage of rationalism is repeated in every great emancipatory movement. But rationalism (abstract propagandism) becomes a reactionary factor the moment it is directed against the dialectic. Sectarianism is hostile to dialectics (not in words but in action) in the sense that it turns its back upon the actual development of the working class.

The sectarian lives in a sphere of ready-made formulas. As a rule, life passes him by without noticing him; but now and then he receives in passing such a fillip as makes him turn 180 degrees around his axis, and often makes him continue on his straight path, only ... in the opposite direction. Discord with reality engenders in the sectarian the need to constantly render his formulas more precise. This goes under the name of “discussion”. To a Marxist, discussion is an important but functional instrument in the class struggle. To the sectarian discussion is a goal in itself. However, the more he discusses, the more actual tasks escape him. He is like a man who satisfies his thirst with salt water: the more he drinks, the thirstier he becomes. Hence the constant irritability of the sectarian. Who slipped him the salt? Surely, the “capitulators” of the International Secretariat. The sectarian sees an enemy in everyone who attempts to explain to him that an active participation in the workers’ movement demands a constant study of objective conditions, and not haughty bulldozing from the sectarian rostrum. For analysis of reality the sectarian substitutes intrigue, gossip and hysteria.

Centrism is in a certain sense the polar opposite of sectarianism; it abhors precise formulas, seeks routes to reality outside of theory. But despite Stalin’s famous formula, “antipodes” often turn out to be “twins”.[1] A formula detached from life is hollow. Living reality cannot be grasped without theory Thus, both of them, the sectarian and the centrist, depart in the end with empty hands and join together ... in their feelings of animosity towards the genuine Marxist.

How many times have we met a smug centrist who reckons himself a “realist” merely because he sets out to swim without any ideological baggage whatever, and is tossed by every vagrant current. He is unable to understand that principles are not dead ballast but a lifeline for a revolutionary swimmer. The sectarian, on the other hand, generally does not want to go swimming at all, in order not to wet his principles. He sits on the shore and reads lectures on morality to the flood of the class struggle. But sometimes a desperate sectarian leaps headlong into the water, seizes hold of the centrist and helps him drown. So it was; so it will be.

In our epoch of disintegration and dispersal there are to be found a good many circles in various countries who have acquired a Marxist program, most often by borrowing it from the Bolsheviks, and who have then turned their ideological baggage into a greater or lesser degree of ossification.

Let us take, for example, the best specimen of this type, namely the Belgian group led by Comrade Vereecken.[2] On August 10 Spartacus, the organ of this group, announced its adherence to the Fourth International. This announcement was to be welcomed. But at the same time it is necessary to state beforehand that the Fourth International would be doomed if it made concessions to sectarian tendencies.

Vereecken was in his own time an irreconcilable opponent of the entry of the Communist League of France into the Socialist Party. There is no crime in this. The question was a new one, differences were entirely permissible. In a certain sense, equally permissible, or at any rate unavoidable, were exaggerations in the ideological struggle. Thus, Vereecken predicted the inevitable ruin of the international organization of the Bolshevik-Leninists as a result of its “dissolution” into the Second International. We would advise Vereecken to reprint today in Spartacus his prophetic documents of yesteryear. But this is not the chief evil. Worse yet is the fact that in its present declaration Spartacus confines itself to pointing out evasively that the French Section remained true to its principles “in a considerable, we may even say a large, measure”. If Vereecken behaved as a Marxist politician should, he would have stated clearly and definitely wherein our French section departed from its principles, and he would have given a direct and an open answer to the question of who proved to be right: the advocates or the opponents of entry?

Vereecken is even more incorrect in his attitude towards our Belgian section that entered the reformist Labor Party [POB]. Instead of studying the experiences relating to and resulting from the work carried on under new conditions, and criticizing the actual steps taken, if they merit criticism, Vereecken keeps on complaining about the conditions of the discussion in which he suffered defeat. The discussion, you see, was incomplete, inadequate and disloyal: Vereecken failed to satisfy his thirst with salt water. There is no “real” democratic centralism in the International Communist League! In relation to the opponents of entry the League evinced ... “sectarianism”.

It is clear that Comrade Vereecken has a liberal and not a Marxian conception of sectarianism: in this he obviously draws close to the centrists. It is not true that the discussion was inadequate: it was carried on for several months, orally and in the press, and on an international scale besides. After Vereecken had failed to convince others that marking time in one place is the best revolutionary policy, he refused to abide by the decisions of the national and international organizations. The representatives of the majority told Vereecken on more than one occasion that if experience proved that the step taken was incorrect, we would rectify the mistake jointly. Is it really possible that after the 12-year struggle of the Bolshevik-Leninists, you lack sufficient confidence in your own organizations to preserve discipline of action even in case of tactical disagreements? Vereecken paid no heed to comradely and conciliating arguments. After the entry of the majority of the Belgian section into the Labor Party, the Vereecken group naturally found itself outside our ranks. The blame for this falls entirely upon its own shoulders.

If we return to the gist of the question, then Comrade Vereecken’s sectarianism stands out in all its dogmatic uncouthness. What’s this! cried Vereecken in indignation: Lenin spoke of breaking with reformists, but the Belgian Bolshevik-Leninists enter a reformist party! But Lenin had in mind a break with the reformists as the inevitable consequence of a struggle against them, and not as an act of salvation regardless of time and place. He required a split with the social-patriots not in order to save his own soul but in order to tear the masses away from social patriotism. In Belgium the trade unionists are fused with the Belgian Labor Party; the Belgian party is essentially the organized working class.

To be sure, the entry of revolutionists into the Belgian Labor Party not only opened up possibilities but also imposed restrictions. In propagandizing Marxian ideas it is necessary to take into account not only the legalities of the bourgeois state but also the legalities of a reformist party (both these legalities, it may be added, coincide in a large measure). Generally speaking, adaptation to an alien “legality” carries with it an indubitable danger. But this did not prevent the Bolsheviks from utilizing even czarist legality: for many years the Bolsheviks were compelled to call themselves, at trade union meetings and in the legal press, not Social Democrats but “consistent Democrats”. True, this did not pass scot-free; a considerable number of elements adhered to Bolshevism who were more or less consistent democrats, but not at all international socialists; however, by supplementing legal with illegal activity, Bolshevism overcame the difficulties.

Of course, the “legality” of Vandervelde, de Man, Spaak and other flunkeys of the Belgian plutocracy imposes very onerous restrictions on the Marxists, and thus engenders dangers. But Marxists who are not as yet sufficiently strong to create their own party, have their own methods for the struggle against the dangers of reformist captivity; a clear-cut program, constant factional ties, international criticism, etc. The activity of a revolutionary wing in a reformist party can be judged correctly only by evaluating the dynamics of development. Vereecken does not do this, either in regard to the faction ASR faction or the Verite group. Had he done so, he would have been compelled to admit that the ASR has made serious advances in the recent period. What the final balance will be is impossible to forecast as yet. But the entry into the Belgian Labor Party is already justified by experience.

Extending and generalizing his mistake, Vereecken asserts that the existence of isolated small groups, which split away at different stages from our international organisation, is proof of our sectarian methods. Thus, the actual relationships are stood on their head. As a matter of fact, into the ranks of the Bolshevik-Leninists during the initial stages came a considerable number of anarchistic and individualistic elements generally incapable of organizational discipline, and occasionally an incompetent, who could not make his career in the Comintern. These elements viewed the struggle against “bureaucratism” in approximately the following manner: no decisions must ever be arrived at; instead, “discussion” is to be installed as a permanent occupation. We can say with complete justification that the Bolshevik-Leninists showed a good deal of patience – perhaps even a good deal too much – towards such types of individuals and grouplets. Only since an international core has been consolidated, and has begun to assist the national sections in purging their ranks of internal sabotage, has actual and systematic growth of our organization begun.

Let us take a few examples of groups that split from our international organisation at various stages of its development.

The French periodical Que Faire? [What Is To Be Done?] is an instructive specimen of a combination of sectarianism with eclecticism. On the most important questions this periodical expounds the views of the Bolshevik-Leninists, changing a few commas, and directing severe critical remarks at us. At the same time, this periodical permits a defence of social-patriotic garbage, under the guise of discussion, and under cover of “defending the USSR”, to go on with impunity. The internationalists of Que Faire? are themselves unable to explain how and why they happen to cohabit peacefully with social patriots after breaking with the Bolsheviks. It is clear, however, that with such eclecticism Que Faire? is least capable of replying to the question what to do (que faire).

The “Internationalists” and the social patriots are agreed on only one thing: never the Fourth International! Why? One must not “break away” from the Communist workers. We have heard the self-same argument from the SAP: we must not break away from the Social Democratic workers. In this instance, too, antipodes turn out to be twins. The peculiar thing, however, is that Que Faire? is not connected, and, by its very nature, cannot be connected with any workers.

There is even less to be said about such groups as Internationale or Proletaire. They also abstract their views from the latest issues of La Verite, with an admixture of critical improvisations. They have no perspectives at all of revolutionary growth; but they manage to get along without perspectives. Instead of trying to learn within the framework of a more serious organization (to learn is difficult), these haters of discipline, very pretentious “leaders,” desire to teach the working class (this appears to them to be easier). In moments of sober reflection they must themselves realize that their very existence as “independent” organizations is a sheer misunderstanding.

In the United States we might mention the Field and Weisbord groups.[3] Field – in his entire political make-up – is a bourgeois radical who has acquired the economic views of Marxism. To become a revolutionist Field would have had to work for a number of years as a disciplined soldier in a revolutionary proletarian organization; but he began by deciding to create a workers’ movement “of his own”. Assuming a position to our “left” (where else?), Field shortly entered into fraternal relations with the SAP. As we see, the incident that befell Bauer was not at all accidental. The urge to stand to the left of Marxism leads fatally to the centrist swamp.

Weisbord is indubitably closer to a revolutionary type than Field. But at the same time he represents the purest example of a sectarian. He is utterly incapable of preserving proportions, either in ideas or in actions. Every principle he turns into a sectarian caricature. That is why even correct ideas in his hands become instruments for disorganizing his own ranks.

There is no need to dwell upon similar groups in other countries. They split from us not because we are intolerant or intolerable but because they themselves did not and could not go forward. Since the time of the split they have succeeded only in exposing their incapacity. Their attempts to unite with each other, on a national or an international scale, produced no results in any single case: peculiar to sectarianism is only the power of mutual repulsion and not the power of attraction.

Some crank has computed the number of “splits” we have had and arrived at the sum of about a score. He saw in this devastating evidence of our bad regime. The peculiar thing is that in the SAP itself, which had triumphantly published these computations, there occurred, during the few years of its existence, more rifts and splits than in all our sections taken together. Taken by itself, however, this fact is meaningless. It is necessary to take not the bald statistics of splits but the dialectics of development. After all its splits, the SAP remained an extremely heterogeneous organization which will be unable to withstand the first onset of great events. This applies even to a larger measure to the “London Bureau of Revolutionary Socialist Unity”, which is being torn asunder by irreconcilable contradictions; its “tomorrow” will consist not of “unity” but only of splits. In the meantime, the organization of the Bolshevik-Leninists, after purging itself of sectarian and centrist tendencies, not only grew numerically, not only strengthened its international ties, but also found the road to fusion with organisations akin to it in spirit (Holland, United States). The attempts to blow up the Dutch Party (from the right, through Molenar!) and the American Party (from the left, through Bauer!) have only led to the internal consolidation of both these parties. We can predict with assurance that parallel to the disintegration of the London Bureau will proceed an ever more rapid growth of the organizations of the Fourth International.

How the new International will take form, through what stages it will pass, what final shape it will assume – this no one can foretell today. And, indeed, there is no need to do so: historical events will show us. But it is necessary to begin by proclaiming a program that meets the tasks of our epoch. On the basis of this program it is necessary to mobilize co-thinkers, the pioneers of the new International. No other road is possible.

The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, directly aimed against all types of utopian-sectarian socialism, forcefully points out that Communists do not oppose themselves to the actual workers’ movements but participate in them as a vanguard. At the same time the Manifesto was the program of a new party, national and international. The sectarian is content with a program as a recipe for salvation. The centrist guides himself by the famous (essentially meaningless) formula of Eduard Bernstein: “the movement is everything, the final goal – nothing”. The Marxist draws his scientific program from the movement taken as a whole, in order to apply this program to every concrete stage of the movement.

On the one side, the initial steps of the new International are made more difficult by the old organizations and splinters from them: on the other side, they are facilitated by the colossal experience from the past. The process of crystallization, which is very difficult and full of torments during the first stages, will assume in the future an impetuous and rapid character. Recent international events are of incommensurate significance for the formation of the revolutionary vanguard. In his own fashion, Mussolini — and this should be recognised — has “aided” the cause of the Fourth International. Great conflicts sweep away all that is half-way and artificial and, on the other hand, give strength to all that is viable. War leaves room only for two tendencies in the ranks of the working class movement: social patriotism, which does not stop at any betrayal, and revolutionary internationalism, which is bold and capable of going to the end. It is precisely for this reason that centrists, fearful of impending events, are waging a rabid struggle against the Fourth International. They are correct, in their own fashion: in the wake of great convulsions, the only organizations that will be able to survive and develop are those that have not only cleansed their ranks of sectarianism but have also systematically trained them in the spirit of despising all ideological vacillation and cowardice.

[1] “Stalin’s famous formula” during the “third period” had that Social Democracy and fascism were not antipodes (i.e. opposites) but twins.
[2] Georges Vereecken was a leader of a group that split away from the Trotskyist movement’s Belgian section early in 1935, when that section voted to enter the Belgian Labor Party. After rejoining in 1936, Vereecken split again in 1938 in protest against the founding of the Fourth International.
[3] B. J. Field was expelled from the American Trotskyist movement after violating party discipline in 1934. He organized the League for a Revolutionary Workers Party, which soon disappeared. Albert Weisbord, who was expelled from the American Communist Party in 1929, organized a small group, the Communist League of Struggle, which proclaimed its adherence to the Trotskyist movement in the early thirties, although its politics vacillated between those of the Right and Left Oppositions. He later broke with Marxism and became an AFL organizer.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Martyred Apostles of Labor

Eugene V. Debs

Written: February, 1898

First Published: The New Time, February, 1898

The century now closing is luminous with great achievements. In every department of human endeavor marvelous progress has been made. By the magic of the machine which sprang from the inventive genius of man, wealth has been created in fabulous abundance. But, alas, this wealth has been created in fabulous abundance. But, alas, this wealth, instead of blessing the race, has been the means of enslaving it. The few have come in possession of all, and the many have been reduced to the extremity of living by permission.

A few have had the courage to protest. To silence these so that the dead-level of slavery could be maintained has been the demand and command of capital-brown power. Press and pulpit responded with alacrity. All the forces of society were directed against these pioneers of industrial liberty, these brave defenders of oppressed humanity—and against them the crime of the century has been committed.

Albert R. Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab and Oscar Neebe paid the cruel penalty in prison cell and on the gallows.
They were the first martyrs in the cause of industrial freedom, and one of the supreme duties of our civilization, if indeed we may boast of having been redeemed from savagery, is to rescue their names from calumny and do justice to their memory.

The crime with which these men were charged was never proven against them. The trial which resulted in their conviction was not only a disgrace to all judicial procedure but a foul, black, indelible and damning stigma upon the nation.

It was a trial organized and conducted to convict—a conspiracy to murder innocent men, and hence had not one redeeming feature.

It was a plot, satanic in all its conception, to wreak vengeance upon defenseless men, who, not being found guilty of the crime charged in the indictment, were found guilty of exercising the inalienable right of free speech in the interest of the toiling and groaning masses, and thus they became the first martyrs to a cause which, fertilized by their blood, has grown in strength and sweep and influence from the day they yielded up their lives and liberty in its defense.
As the years go by and the history of that infamous trial is read and considered by men of thought, who are capable of wrenching themselves from the grasp of prejudice and giving reason its rightful supremacy, the stronger the conviction becomes that the present generation of workingmen should erect an enduring memorial to the men who had the courage to denounce and oppose wage-slavery and seek for methods of emancipation.

The vision of the judicially murdered men was prescient. They saw the dark and hideous shadow of coming events. They spoke words of warning, not too soon, not too emphatic, not too trumpettoned—for even in 1886, when the Haymarket meetings were held, the capitalist grasp was upon the throats of workingmen and its fetters were upon their limbs.
There was even then idleness, poverty, squalor, the rattling of skeleton bones, the sunken eye, the pallor, the living death of famine, the crushing and the grinding of the relentless mills of the plutocracy, which more rapidly than the mills of the gods grind their victims to dust.
The men who went to their death upon the verdict of a jury, I have said, were judicially murdered—not only because the jury was packed for the express purpose of finding them guilty, not only because the crime for which they suffered was never proven against them, not only because the judge before whom they were arraigned was unjust and bloodthirsty, but because they had declared in the exercise of free speech that men who subjected their fellowmen to conditions often worse than death were unfit to live.

In all lands and in all ages where the victims of injustice have bowed their bodies to the earth, bearing grievous burdens laid upon them by cruel taskmasters, and have lifted their eyes starward in the hope of finding some orb whose light inspired hope, ten million times the anathema has been uttered and will be uttered until a day shall dawn upon the world when the emancipation of those who toil is achieved by the brave, self-sacrificing few who, like the Chicago martyrs, have the courage of crusaders and the spirit of iconoclasts and dare champion the cause of the oppressed and demand in the name of an avenging God and of an outraged Humanity that infernalism shall be eliminated from our civilization.

And as the struggle for justice proceeds and the battlefields are covered with the slain, as Mother Earth drinks their blood, the stones are given tongues with which to denounce man’s inhumanity to man—aye, to women and cellar, arraign our civilization, our religion and our judiciary—whose wailings and lamentations, hushing to silence every sound the Creator designed to make the world a paradise of harmonies, transform it into an inferno where the demons of greed plot and scheme to consign their victims to lower depths of degradation and despair.

The men who were judicially murdered in Chicago in 1887, in the name of the great State of Illinois, were the avant couriers of a better day. They were called anarchists, but at their trial it was not proven that they had committed any crime or violated any law. They had protested against unjust laws and their brutal administration. They stood between oppressor and oppressed, and they dared, in a free (?) country, to exercise the divine right of free speech; and the records of their trial, as if written with an “iron pen and lead in the rock forever,” proclaim the truth of the declaration.

I would rescue their names from slander. The slanderers of the dead are the oppressors of the living. I would, if I could, restore them to their rightful positions as evangelists, the proclaimers of good news to their fellowmen—crusaders, to rescue the sacred shrines of justice from the profanations of the capitalistic defilers who have made them more repulsive than Augean stables. Aye, I would take them, if I could, from peaceful slumber in their martyr graves—I would place joint to joint in their dislocated necks—I would make the halter the symbol of redemption—I would restore the flesh to their skeleton bones—their eyes should again flash defiance to the enemies of humanity, and their tongues, again, more eloquent than all the heroes of oratory, should speak the truth to a gainsaying world. Alas, this cannot be done—but something can be done. The stigma fixed upon their names by an outrageous trial can be forever obliterated and their fame be made to shine with resplendent glory on the pages of history.
Until the time shall come, as come it will, when the parks of Chicago shall be adorned with their statues, and with holy acclaim, men, women and children, pointing to these monuments as testimonial of gratitude, shall honor the men who dared to be true to humanity and paid the penalty of their heroism with their lives, the preliminary work of setting forth their virtues devolves upon those who are capable of gratitude to men who suffered death that they might live.

They were the men who, like Al-Hassen, the minstrel of the king, went forth to find themes of mirth and joy with which to gladden the ears of his master, but returned disappointed, and, instead of themes to awaken the gladness and joyous echoes, found scenes which dried all the fountains of joy. Touching his golden harp, Al-Hassen sang to the king as Parsons, Spies, Engels, Fielden, Fischer, Lingg, Schwab and Neebe proclaimed to the people:

“O king, at thyCommand I went into the world of men;
I sought full earnestly the thing which I
Might weave into the gay and lightsome song.
I found it, king; ’twas there. Had I the art
To look but on the fair outside, I nothing
Else had found. That art not mine, I saw what
Lay beneath. And seeing thus I could not sing;
For there, in dens more vile than wolf or jackal
Ever sought, were herded, stifling, foul, the
Writhing, crawling masses of mankind.
Man!Ground down beneath oppression’s iron heel,
Till God in him was crushed and driven back,
And only that which with the brute he shares
Finds room to upward grow.”

Such pictures of horror our martyrs saw in Chicago, as others have seen them in all the great centers of population in the country. But, like the noble minstrel, they proceeded to recite their discoveries and with him moaned:

“And in this worldI saw how womanhood’s fair flower had
Never space its petals to unfold.
HowChildhood’s tender bud was crushed and trampled
Down in mire and filth too evil, foul, for beasts
To be partaken in. For gold I saw
The virgin sold, and motherhood was made
A mock and score.
I saw the fruit of labor
Torn away from him who toiled, to further
Swell the bursting coffers of the rich, while
Babes and mothers pined and died of want.
I saw dishonor and injustice thrive. I saw
The wicked, ignorant, greedy, and unclean,
By means of bribes and baseness, raised to seats
Of power, from whence with lashes pitiless
And keen, they scourged the hungry, naked throng
Whom first they robbed and then enslaved.”

Such were the scenes that the Chicago martyrs had witnessed and which may still be seen, and for reciting them and protesting against them they were judicially murdered.

It was not strange that the hearts of the martyrs “grew into one with the great moaning, throbbing heart” of the oppressed; not strange that the nerves of the martyrs grew “tense and quivering with the throes of mortal pain”; not strange that they should pity and plead and protest. The strange part of it is that in our high-noon of civilization a damnable judicial conspiracy should have been concocted to murder them under the forms of law.

That such is the truth of history, no honest man will attempt to deny; hence the demand, growing more pronounced every day, to snatch the names of these martyred evangelists of labor emanicapation from dishonor and add them to the roll of the most illustrious dead of the nation.

Courtesy of Marxist Internet Archives

Friday, April 3, 2009

Un intercambio con un apologista del liderazgo del Socialist Equality Party (SEP) (Partido Socialista por la Igualdad):

Sobre la " curiosa torpeza " del WSWS en Iraq y otros asuntos

Estoy poniendo algunos comentarios de un lector, Mdv, y mi respuesta .Al juzgar porlas observaciones de Mdv, es justo caracterizarlo como un apologista del liderazgo del SEP. Pero lo interesante es que, a diferencia de David North (o los Talbots), Mdv trata de dirigirse a la parte de las críticas sustantivas que hicimos de la línea política y práctica del SEP. Sus esfuerzos por defender al liderazgo de SEP en estos asuntos lo dirigen a hacer, aunque por inadvertencia, algunas declaraciones reveladoras que merecen ser notificadas a nuestros lectores. Otra razón para responder a Mdv es que los puntos de vista que él expresa probablemente son compartidos por otros en y alrededor del SEP.

Estos comentarios por Mdv son la última parte de un intercambio que él estaba teniendo con Andrew Rivers con respecto a un discurso de North en una conferencia de Estudios Eslavos sobre el cual River escribió para el blog de revolución
Hasta donde este intercambio se dio yo no tengo nada que añadir a lo que River ha dicho, y las últimas observaciones de Mdv no sustentan nada nuevo. Desde el segundo párrafo en adelante, sin embargo, Mdv se mueve a una basada y más amplia defensa del liderazgo del SEP, y son estas observaciones las que me conciernen aquí.

Frank Brenner

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Briefwechsel mit einem Apologeten der SEP-Führung:

Die „merkwürdige Verirrung“ der WSWS beim Irak-Krieg und anderen Angelegenheiten

Ich gebe hier die Kommentare eines Lesers, mdv, und meine Antwort darauf wieder. Ausgehend von seinen Bemerkungen ist es angemessen, ihn als einen Apologeten der SEP-Führung zu bezeichnen. Es ist jedoch bemerkenswert, dass er im Gegensatz zu David North (oder den Talbots) versucht Teile der grundlegenden Kritik zu erwidern, welche wir an der politischen Linie und der Praxis der SEP geübt haben. Beim Versuch die SEP Führung zu verteidigen macht er unbeabsichtigt einige aufschlussreiche Bemerkungen, welche für unsere Leser hervorgehoben werden sollten. Ein weiterer Grund für die Antwort an mdv ist, dass er Ansichten äußert, die wahrscheinlich von anderen SEP Mitgliedern und Unterstützern geteilt werden.

Mdvs Kommentare sind der jüngste Teil eines Briefwechsels der sich zwischen ihm und Andrew River entwickelt hatte. Dieser begann mit Rivers Blog-Eintrag auf über David Norths Rede bei einer Slawistik-Konferenz. Was diesen Briefwechsel angeht, habe ich nichts zu Rivers Bemerkungen hinzuzufügen, und mdvs jüngster Beitrag trägt nichts neues zum Thema bei. Doch vom zweiten Absatz an geht mdv zu einer breiter angelegten Verteidigung der SEP-Führung über, und mit diesen Bemerkungen setze ich mich hier auseinander.

Frank Brenner

Monday, March 9, 2009

On the WSWS's "curious fumble" on Iraq and other matters

I’m posting here some comments by a reader, mdv, and my response. Judging from mdv’s remarks, it is fair to characterize him as an apologist for the SEP leadership. But what is interesting is that unlike David North (or the Talbots), mdv tries to address some of the substantive criticisms we made of the SEP’s political line and practice. His efforts to defend the SEP leadership on these issues lead him to make, albeit inadvertently, some revealing statements which deserve to be brought to the attention of our readers. Another reason for responding to mdv is that the views he expresses are probably shared by others in and around the SEP.

These comments by mdv are the latest installment of an exchange he was having with Andrew River over a blog River wrote for concerning a speech by North to a Slavic studies conference. As far as this exchange goes, I have nothing to add to what River has said, and mdv’s latest remarks raise nothing new on this score. From the second paragraph on, however, mdv moves to a more broad-based defense of the SEP leadership, and it is these remarks that concern me here.

Frank Brenner

Click here for the exchange with an apologist for the SEP leadership

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

If Charles Darwin had never been born

Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould

I will grant one point to my scientific colleagues and freely allow that if Charles Darwin had never been born, a well-prepared and waiting scientific world, abetted by a cultural context more than ready for such a reconstruction of nature, would still have promulgated and won general acceptance for evolution in the mid 19th century. At some point, the mechanism of natural selection would also have been formulated and eventually validated, perhaps by Wallace himself who might then have expanded his few pages of speculation, written during a malarial fit on Ternate, into the same kind of factual compendium that Darwin composed, and that guaranteed the triumph of this view of life.

So why fret and care that the actual version of the destined deed was done by an upper class English gentleman who had circumnavigated the globe as a vigorous youth, lost his dearest daughter and his waning faith at the same time, wrote the greatest treatise ever composed on the taxonomy of barnacles, and eventually grew a white beard, lived as a country squire just south of London, and never again traveled far enough even to cross the English Channel? We care for the same reason that we love okapis, delight in the fossil evidence of trilobites, and mourn the passage of the dodo. We care because the broad events that had to happen, happened to happen in a certain particular way. And something almost unspeakably holy-I don’t know how else to say this-underlies our discovery and confirmation of the actual details that made our world and also, in realms of contingency, assured the minutiae of its construction in the manner we know, and not in anyone of a trillion other ways, nearly all of which would not have included the evolution of a scribe to record the beauty, the cruelty, the fascination, and the mystery.

Yes, the Renaissance would have unfolded-indeed, Europe already bathed in its midst-if Michelangelo had never been born. But how much poorer would our world have been without the magnificent statue of Moses, furious and disconsolate as he holds the tablets of the law while his people dance about the golden calf, still presiding in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli; and without the gigantic fresco of the Last Judgment, revealing all our blessed humanity in all our earthly sins, and still covering, in brilliant restoration, a full wall of the Sistine Chapel?

No difference truly separates science and art in this crucial respect. We only perceive a division because our disparate traditions lead us to focus upon different scales of the identity. The art historian looks right at Moses and knows the importance of its individuality. The scientist tends to gaze upon a world ready for evolution, and then discounts the centrality of a single, admittedly fascinating, individual named Charles Darwin. But if Darwin had never been born, we would have suffered the equivalent of a Renaissance without Moses or the Last Judgment-a biological revolution without the Origin of Species; without the invocation of Julia Pastrana, the bearded circus lady with two sets of teeth, to illustrate correlation of growth; without the Galapagos fauna to embody the principle of imperfection to prove the pathways of history; without pigeons to illustrate artificial selection; without barnacles to puncture half our pride with their dwarfed males upon the hermaphrodites.
Most of all, we would have experienced the same biological revolution without the stunning clarity, illustrated by wonderfully apposite metaphors, of a complex central logic so brilliantly formulated, and so bristling with implications extending nearly forever outward, at least well past our current reckoning. In this alternate world, we would probably be honoring a different and far less compelling founder by occasional visits to a statue in a musty pantheon, and not by constant dialogue with a man whose ideas live, breathe, challenge, taunt, and inspire us every day of our lives, more than a century after his bones came to rest on a cathedral floor at the foot of whatever persists in the material being of Isaac Newton.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin with beard

We would be enjoying an evolutionary view of life, but not the specific grandeur of “this view of life.” What can be more ennobling than a factual reality-the uniquely actualized result among innumerable potentials that did not obtain the most precious privilege of emergence into concrete existence? And what a stunning piece of good fortune, that this actuality came to us with all the grace, the moral weight, and the intellectual power of Darwin’s particular struggles and insights, clothing the structure of his thought in that apotheosis of human achievement-wisdom, which the Book of Proverbs, citing the same icon that Darwin would borrow more than two millennia later, called Etz Chayim, the tree of life. “Length of days is in her right hand,” for “she is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is everyone that retaineth her.”

From Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, (Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 1294-1295

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln at 200: Until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword


AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Abraham Lincoln

Second Inaugural Address

Saturday, March 4, 1865

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Darwin at 200: Endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

From the conclusion of The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection

Charles Darwin, born February 12, 1809