Friday, June 1, 2018

The gutter politics of David North

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Gerry Healy addressing a conference of the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1980. 
by Alex Steiner



The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) edition of May 17 featured a hysterical diatribe against me by the leader of that organization, David North.[1] North’s piece was triggered by an informal comment I made in response to a WSWS supporter.  [2]


A few words are in order.

First, the title of North’s piece, “An aging liar peddles his wares,” is notable.  It is the title of a chapter of a polemic North and I co-authored against Wohlforth in 1976.  In those days it did not occur to us that the title is an insult to a large section of the population who were considered something of a burden on society, namely the elderly.  But in those days we were equally blind to many other prejudices that were not recognized for what they were even in left wing circles.  For example, in 1976 and for many years afterward, if you were an acknowledged homosexual you were automatically barred from membership in the Workers League, the predecessor organization of the Socialist Equality Party.  Some of us have become more enlightened since those days, while some of us have learned nothing.

Moving on to the substance of North’s diatribe, what is peculiar about it is that nowhere does North challenge or try to rebut any of substantive issues I raised. 
Here is the comment that set North into motion.

The so-called ICFI has nothing to do with the heritage of Trotsky other than appropriating the name… In truth, they turned their back on those traditions decades ago to become the sterile sect they are today.

Between those two lines I listed 12 separate ways in which the ICFI/SEP/WSWS has departed from Trotskyism.

The “smoking gun”


North’s response does not address a single one of the 12 points I listed.  Rather North launches an ad hominem attack against me in hyperdrive.  He introduces into the evidence what he insists is a “smoking gun” – a letter I wrote 20 years ago in which I gave an honest assessment of my political evolution. In that letter, which was written privately and never meant for publication, I presented a candid account of the contradictory forces that were pushing me.  North focuses on the part of my letter where I discuss the temptation of a comfortable middle-class existence, while neglecting to mention that I overcame those temptations to throw in my lot with the struggles of the working class.  North also neglects to mention that he previously used the same “smoking gun” in his previous smear campaign against me and to which I responded in detail in Chapters 2 and 3 of Downward Spiral. [3]  To North and the trolls who buzz around the comments section of his diatribe, my admission of being tempted to abandon the political life is equivalent to an admission of an original sin from which there is no deliverance.  As if they themselves have never been tempted. 

I think I have done a fairly good job of resisting the trappings of that middle-class life that at one time seemed so desirable. But the irony here is that I don’t know anyone who lives a more comfortable life than Mr. North himself. And it would be wrong to call it a “middle class” life. After all, we are talking about the CEO (or by now the retired CEO) of a medium sized business.  He owns a palatial home in Southfield, a well-to-do suburb of Detroit. When comrade North travels to give one of his lectures, all his needs are attended to by a personal assistant and his devoted followers.  And I have little doubt that unlike the rest of us who are forced to sit in the bone-crunching spaces the airlines reserve for economy and sub-economy class, Mr. North travels leisurely in Business Class. As Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be the king.”

Other leading comrades in Southfield have homes adjoining a river with a marvelous view.  I can testify to that personally as I was a guest at one of these houses in 2003. If you are one of those leading comrades in the Southfield area, it’s a good life. That being said I don’t doubt that all these people have made personal sacrifices along the way and things were not always so comfortable. I recall the days when some of us in the Workers League would get up before 5 AM so that we can make it to the Brooklyn waterfront to sell the Bulletin before the morning shift of longshoremen arrived. I also recall Dave Neita and Ed Bergonzi working through the night on the printing press. A number of us regularly did “all-nighters” to earn extra income from the print shop during the period of Wohlforth’s manic drive to “Bolshevize” the Workers League. And then some of us had to go to our full-time jobs in the morning. I only want to point to the incredible hypocrisy and dishonesty involved in North’s use of a letter I penned 20 years ago to prove that I am an enemy of the working class because I was once tempted with a “comfortable life”. 

The swarm of commentators

I note that the great majority of commentators on North’s screed begin by taking North’s statements on faith and then fall over themselves to come up with ever more lurid denunciations of me and ever more imaginative recitations of my crimes.  Here is a typical example from a commentator,

If Steiner is among those who assert that U.S. Imperialism is intervening in Syria in order to back a "revolutionary" movement against Assad (who is certainly an authoritarian) by the Syrian people, then that's all I need to know about the man & his philosophy, notwithstanding his past efforts.

So this person refuses to read anything I write (“that is all I need to know”) because I support the U.S. intervention in Syria.  Only problem here is that I never said anything of the sort. He “knows” that I support U.S. intervention in Syria because David North or someone in his group told him so.  This is a typical illustration of the mindless and destructive nature of the comments North’s piece has elicited. Other comrades who know better than this fellow remain silent, thereby encouraging more such slanders. The comments on the WSWS have the dynamic of an online lynch mob.  It’s a nauseating spectacle.

The question of ‘When’

Aside from his pulling out the 20-year-old “smoking gun” from his hat, the only other issue that exercises North is his insistence that I come up with a precise date when the ICFI ceased representing the heritage of Trotsky.  But that question is equivalent to asking someone to give a precise date and time when the Soviet regime turned its back on the October Revolution. It was a process that took place over a number of years and not something that happened all at once.  With the ICFI there were indications that we were dealing with a very sick organization as far back as the early 1960s. The thuggery practiced by Healy was one indication of that sickness.  Among the leadership of the WRP there was a coverup of Healy’s abusive behavior that long preceded the blow up of 1985.  And that coverup was a bigger indication that we were dealing with a sick organization -  even more than Healy’s abusive behavior itself.  Healy’s behavior was not merely a personal failing, but a reflection of a deep political disorientation of the organization he led. That political disorientation became much more obvious from the early 1970’s.  Much of this was exposed in the literature related to the split with Healy.  I should add that North’s account of that split in his “Heritage we Defend” was one sided and incomplete and has been used in more recent years to create a legend about his own role in those events.  There are other sources that present a far more honest and comprehensive account of Healy’s degeneration and the subsequent dissolution of the WRP.  [4]

I thought that after the split with Healy in 1985 the ICFI had an opportunity to rethink a lot of issues and return to the road of Marxism.  And for a few brief years, there was a certain openness to discuss issues within the ICFI.  But as we have noted, that period ended decisively after Sept 11.

The possibilities that seemed to open up with the split with Healy – the promise of an organization that is capable of discussing differences rather than condemning points of view that challenge the leadership – that promise disappeared after 9/11.  Neither Frank Brenner nor myself had a good understanding of that when we began our polemics with North in 2003. Initially we still thought there was a possibility of having a real dialogue with the members and supporters of the ICFI.  But we had underestimated the degree to which this organization had degenerated.  In the face of North’s turn to a campaign of personal vilification and slander against us and the failure of anyone in the leadership of the ICFI to come forward, it became clear to us that we were dealing with an organization that resembled a cult more than a party rooted in the history and traditions of Trotsky. At which point we ceased our fruitless attempts to try to reform this organization. 

I gave an exhaustive account of my own political evolution in relation to these events in Downward Spiral, the book that North never mentions.  But search as much as you like in the archives of the WSWS, and while you may find lots of effusive praise about North’s “contributions to Marxism”, you will find absolutely nothing about his formative years or his political evolution.

The continuity of Trotskyism

North invests all his political authority in the claim that the organization that he heads, the “International Committee of the Fourth International” is the sole legitimate heir to the organization launched by Trotsky in 1938, The Fourth International.  This has become a matter of faith for his followers who view it as a form of heresy to question it.  To justify this assertion North cites several landmark factional splits in the history of the Fourth International and its successor organizations, namely the 1953 split from Mandel/Pablo, the 1963 reunification of the SWP with the United Secretariat and the 1985 split of Healy and the remnants of the Workers Revolutionary Party from the International Committee. 

But the history of the Trotskyist movement has demonstrated over and over again that groups who were on the right side of a faction fight were far from healthy organizations themselves. While it was correct in 1953 for Cannon and other defenders of “orthodox Trotskyism” to oppose Pablo’s conception that the Stalinist bureaucracy could play a progressive role, the Socialist Workers Party was then at the beginning of a process of accommodating itself to the middle-class movements that would eventually destroy it.  And while it was correct to oppose the precipitous reunification of 1963 with the United Secretariat, by the late 1970s the most enthusiastic Palbloite on the planet was none other than Gerry Healy whose groveling before the reactionary regimes of Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini and Muammar Gaddafi surpassed anything dreamed off by Pablo.  As for the events of 1985, it was correct to address the corruption of Healy and the degeneration of the WRP and North was on the right side of that split.  But it was also clear that the remnants of the International Committee that were left after the 1985 split had a lot of work to do.  All the baggage that was inherited from the organization Healy built needed to be rethought. But the critique of the IC that took place in the 1985 split was superficial in nature.  And while there was a certain openness to exploring theoretical and political issues within the International Committee for a number of years after the 1985 split, all that came to an end after the events of Sept 11.

And here we are today, 33 years after the split with Healy. Does the fact that North was on the right side of that split confer upon him the legitimacy of a hereditary monarch? Reading North’s comments, one would think that for him the Fourth International is some kind of franchise that he alone can operate. If the continuity of the Fourth International is to have any meaning, other than a ritualistic invocation meant to shore up the flagging morale of one’s followers, it can only be in one’s adherence to the program and theoretical conceptions of the Fourth International. If we examine the political conceptions and organizational practices of the group North has led for all these years it is clear that in all respects it bears little resemblance to the organization Trotsky founded in 1938. It is in fact our exposure of the hollowness of North’s claims to be the inheritor of the mantle of Trotsky that has so infuriated him. Why else would he be spending more time writing about me and Frank Brenner, two individuals, than about the Stalinists, Pabloites and state capitalists?

 The 12 issues ignored


Moving on from a consideration of North’s attempt to divert the discussion away from the issues I raised, let’s address those issues.

I will briefly review each of my charges and present some evidence from the more recent coverage of the WSWS to back up my characterization of this organization.

1  1.   The SEP/WSWS have abandoned the transitional program. Is this true or not?
We have written extensively about the disappearance of transitional demands from the pages of the WSWS over the years.  And it just so happens that I touched on this in an essay I wrote just a few weeks ago, Hatred of the Dialectic. I was pointing out the WSWS position on the Greek referendum of 2015 and how it was so at odds with the method of the transitional program and the past practice of the Trotskyist movement.  Here is an excerpt from that essay,

“They [the WSWS] labeled the call for a referendum “a reactionary fraud” but then - inconsistently - urged workers to cast their votes in this “reactionary fraud” of a referendum.  But anyone in Greece and internationally with the slightest connection to the working class understood that while the logic of the Tsipras government could only lead to a betrayal of the working class, the fact that they were forced to call a referendum presented a golden opportunity to educate the working class.  That was not possible with the WSWS’s sneering dismissal of the referendum.”

“There was indeed a similar issue that came up in discussions with Trotsky in the 1930’s in relation to a proposal for an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Ludlow Amendment.  The Ludlow Amendment called for an end to war. It encapsulated illusions in pacifism and the efficacy of bourgeois democracy. Yet Trotsky’s attitude to this referendum was the very opposite of the WSWS’s attitude toward the Greek referendum of 2015 which was also intertwined with illusions. Rather than calling the Ludlow Amendment a “reactionary fraud”, as the sectarians at that time were doing, Trotsky urged his followers to participate in the campaign for the amendment and in the process seek to educate the working class. He wrote,

“We must advance with the masses, and not only repeat our formulas but speak in a manner that our slogans become understandable to the masses…”

“The referendum is not our program, but it's a clear step forward; the masses show that they wish to control their Washington representatives. We say: It's a progressive step that you wish to control your representatives. But you have illusions and we will criticize them. At the same time we will help you realize your program. The sponsors of the program will betray you…”

“It is not hard to guess what Trotsky’s attitude would have been to the WSWS’s calling the Greek referendum of 2015 “a reactionary fraud”. [5]

I should add that the abandonment of the transitional program goes hand in hand with a lack of concern with mass psychology. If you have no interest in developing a program to bridge the gap in the consciousness of the working class, why bother with trying to understand mass psychology, with “keeping a finger on the pulse of the masses” to paraphrase Lenin? [6]

   2.    I assert that North and his organization have abandoned any concern with dialectics.  If North wishes to refute that claim all he has to do is provide some citations for a serious discussion of dialectics in the pages of the WSWS.  He can’t because there isn’t any. This is a point I made in an essay a dozen years ago when I noted that the WSWS had published exactly one article devoted to dialectics in the previous decade! [7] Were I writing that essay today I would have to update it slightly by noting that since his review of 2006 North has added one other article that touches on dialectics, namely an assessment of the role of the Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov. [8]  However, the article on Plekhanov deals with dialectics only perfunctorily. And what is astonishing about this article is that nowhere does it even mention Lenin’s critique of Plekhanov.  Yet it was Lenin’s exposition of the inadequacy of Plekhanov’s understanding of the dialectic that began the entire cycle of our polemics with North way back in 2003.  In an essay I published that year I called attention to Lenin’s remarks in his Philosophical Notebooks where he takes issue with Plekhanov’s understanding of dialectics. [9]  I highlighted the following remarks of Lenin about Plekhanov,

“Plekhanov criticizes Kantianism .. more from a vulgar-materialistic standpoint than from a dialectical-materialist standpoint ...”

“Marxists criticized (at the beginning of the twentieth century the Kantians and Humists more in the manner of Feuerbach (and Buchner) than of Hegel.”

“Work out: Plekhanov wrote probably nearly 1000 pages (Beltov + against Bogdanov + against Kantians + basic questions, etc. etc. on philosophy (dialectic). There is in them nil about the Larger Logic, its thoughts (i.e. dialectic proper, as a philosophic science) nil!!” (CW Volume 38: 277) [10]

Later in my essay, I explained the significance of Plekhanov’s adoption of a vulgar understanding of the dialectic for his political evolution.

         “It was a truism among Marxists that following the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, capitalist social relations would soon take root and wipe out the remnants of the obischinia, the Russian peasant commune. The emergence of capitalist social relations, according to this prognosis, would give rise both to a liberal bourgeoisie with a vested interest in a constitution and democratic reforms, and a modern working class. The early Russian Marxists, Plekhanov above all, therefore suggested that the progress of the working class and its eventual emancipation was tied, for an entire historical period, to the cause of the liberal bourgeoisie. This was what Plekhanov argued against the Russian populists. It can be argued that throughout his political career, whether he was defending revolutionary principles against the Economists and the Revisionists, or opposing the Soviets in the 1905 revolution, or taking the standpoint of Russian patriotism in 1914, he was consistent. It is not Plekhanov that changed, but the world around him. In 1905, the Russian working class demonstrated that it was not content to wait for the bourgeoisie to lead a revolution, while the bourgeoisie demonstrated that it had no interest in leading a revolution, but only wanted to gouge out a small role for itself from the monarchy. Plekhanov, who still believed himself a defender of the working class and its cause, threw in his lot with the cause of the bourgeoisie, thinking that the working class had overreached itself and threatened to upset what he viewed as the inevitable march of history. It was the same logic that lead him to become a social patriot in 1914. He thought that the cause of the Russian working class would be served by supporting the Russian bourgeoisie, who were at one with the war aims of the autocracy. Somehow, Plekhanov had missed the moment of transformation into opposites, the moment where the bourgeoisie had been transformed from a relatively progressive social force to a backward one. To identify this decisive moment, the study of empirical data is of course indispensable, but by itself it is insufficient. One must be able to make sense of the facts. This is where Plekhanov fell short of the mark. He thought formalistically and could not cognize the whole as it was changing into something new.” [11]

That North could write a lengthy treatise claiming to provide an assessment of Plekhanov and not even mention Lenin’s critique of Plekhanov’s version of dialectics is nothing short of astounding. It’s a fair indication of his contempt for the subject.

This decades-long abandonment of dialectics is a good measure of how far the ICFI/SEP/WSWS have strayed from Trotskyism when you recall that Trotsky, in his last polemical battle against the Shachtman-Burnham faction in the SWP, emphasized that training the comrades in dialectics should be given the highest priority in the educational work of the party.

     3. I made the claim that North and his acolytes have done no theoretical work on such burning issues as the nature of Russia and China.  Again, all North has to do to refute that statement is provide a reference to the major theoretical articles in the WSWS that explored this issue. Funnily enough, just a few days ago the economics specialist of the WSWS, Nick Beams, weighed in on the nature of China.  He wrote,

“This domination of finance, to which Rachman points, exposes the economic nonsense advanced by the various pseudo-left groups which, in their support for US imperialism, seek to label China as an imperialist power. There is no possibility of the renminbi functioning as a replacement for the dollar as a world currency, and China’s financial system is completely dependent on US finance capital.”[12]

This passing comment can hardly be considered a serious discussion of the nature of China but that is all you will find in the pages of the WSWS. Aside from the swipe at an anonymous “pseudo-left”, a recurring trope in practically all WSWS commentary, the stupidity of this statement is beyond belief. Is the criteria for whether a nation is an imperialist power whether its currency can replace the dollar? If that were the case then neither France nor Germany could be considered imperialist powers.

[Our discussion of the nature of Russia and China and our critique of the WSWS on these seminal questions can be found in the essay, Russia as an imperialist power and the follow-up essay, Once more on the nature of Russia and China.

   4.   I stated that the WSWS has aligned itself with right wing forces in calling for the breakup of unions. A recent article in the Guardian explores some of the right-wing forces that are today trying to destroy what is left of unions in the U.S. and much of their work is focused on the pending Supreme Court decision in the Janus vs AFSCME case.  The Guardian writes,

“…the US supreme court is poised to deliver its ruling any day in Janus v AFSCME, one of the most important trade union cases in recent times. If the five conservative justices on the highest court vote in favor of the anti-union plaintiff, as many expect, they would deal a severe blow to organized labor by giving employees the right to opt-out of paying their share of the costs of collective bargaining even though they benefit from negotiated higher wages and improved conditions.

That in turn would give the green light to conservative groups like SPN to step up their efforts to encourage mass resignations of union members. As a clear statement of intent, SPN invited Mark Janus, a child support worker in Illinois who is the named plaintiff at the center of the supreme court case, to speak at its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, last August.” [13]

What is the position of the WSWS toward Janus vs AFSCME?
In an article devoted to the Janus vs AFSCME case the WSWS explicitly renounces any defense of the agency shop,

“There is nothing democratic or progressive in requiring workers to pay agency fees to the right-wing, pro-capitalist unions.” [14]

The same article later goes on to denounce rallies in defense of the agency shop organized by unions.  The article also characterizes the right-wing organizations backing Janus,

“Among those backing Janus’s challenge are a host of right-wing groups including the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Committee.”

It would be hard to find a more explicit statement calling for the breakup of the unions.

North has nothing to say about this at all but one of the comments on his piece attempts a rescue operation by providing the argument missing in North’s piece. The commentator, writes,

“The ICFI does not call for the 'break up' of the unions, but for workers to extricate themselves from the control of the union bureaucracy by setting up workplace committees. The role of the unions in the current teachers strikes more than validates the ICFI's analysis of the unions as anti-working class organizations.”

But this just a cop out.  You cannot say that you are “only” asking workers to “extricate themselves from the control of the union bureaucracy” when you refuse to defend the agency shop.  Furthermore, if it is true, as this person and the WSWS claim, that the unions are “anti-working class organizations” then why shouldn’t you call for their dissolution? You can’t have it both ways.

   5.   I maintained that the analysis of world politics that you find on the WSWS has degenerated to the level of conspiracy theories.  This is not to deny that conspiracies by governments and individuals exist.  But a genuine Marxist analysis could never be reduced to a description of the machinations of the ruling class. Yet that seems to be the substance of most WSWS articles when it comes to world politics as a quick glance at headlines on the WSWS would show.
There is a difference between acknowledging conspiracies and ‘conspiracism’, which is an outlook prone to find conspiracies anywhere and everywhere regardless of the evidence. Much of WSWS journalism, whether the topic be the threat of war with China or the #MeToo movement, is embedded in the mindset of conspiracism. For example, an article by WSWS columnist David Walsh claims that the press coverage of the Russia investigation and the #MeToo movement is part of a plot by the New York Times and the Democrats.

“The promotion of the #MeToo hysteria serves to obscure the basic class issues motivating the opposition of workers and youth to Trump, counter growing anti-capitalist sentiment, and sow divisions within the working class.”[15]

I don’t doubt that those elements exist in the Times coverage of #MeToo, but is that all there is to the #MeToo movement? If so it is hard to explain why the headliner for the #MeToo movement is Harvey Weinstein, a person of pronounced liberal views and no political friend of Trump. Wouldn’t this anti-Trump conspiracy function more effectively if it targeted a well known Trump supporter? There are no shortage of such people who have also been accused of sexual misconduct. (Think of the late Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly. ) But if Harvey Weinstein is the most well known of those accused of sexual misconduct, might there not be something else going on here besides a plot to channel anti-Trump sentiment into the Democratic Party? Perhaps a genuine spontaneous movement of outrage?

6.  I maintained that the WSWS has abandoned any perspective of defending the rights of women.  This is particularly glaring in their coverage of #MeToo which features lots of sympathy for the alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse and no sympathy for their female victims.  While there is certainly legitimate criticism to be made of some of the leaders of the #MeToo movement, and some people who were accused were treated unfairly, the fact that women are standing up after eons of silence should be welcomed by any progressive movement let alone revolutionary socialists. One has to conclude that the WSWS’s approach to this issue is nothing other than misogynistic. My colleague Frank Brenner has done a superb job in disentangling the logical gymnastics of the apologia offered by WSWS journalists on behalf of sexual abusers. I refer readers to those articles. [16]
  
   7.   I asserted that one particularly destructive legacy from Gerry Healy from which the WSWS never recovered was in its crisis mongering.  Healy was notorious for claiming that a Bonapartist dictatorship and a struggle for power was just around the corner.  While the group headed by North correctly criticized these conceptions of Healy during the 1985 split the conceptions underlying that false perspective were never really challenged.  Here is the critique from 1985,

“In fact, the theory of "Bonapartism" was created to fill the gap between the WRP's refusal to demand that the TUC and the Labour Party bring down the Tory government and its propaganda campaign for a Workers Revolutionary Government. The claim that Thatcher had been transformed, in the course of March 1984, into a Bonapartist dictator provided the apriori substantiation for the WRP line that a full-blown revolutionary situation existed in Britain. From this came the further deduction that Thatcher could be replaced only by a Workers Revolutionary Government under the leadership of the WRP, and that any suggestion that there existed a number of intermediate links was a capitulation to reformism. The theory of Bonapartism was not derived from any analysis of the development of the class struggle and the relations between class forces in Britain, but was concocted to justify a political line that had already been worked out.” [17]

An “apriori substantiation of a line” has been pretty much the method of the ICFI/SEP since the split with Healy, despite their correct criticism of 1985.  This is borne out in their numerous articles about the imminent threat of World War III.  It so happens that I wrote an article a while back pointing to this peculiarity of WSWS journalism in this area. My article was written in a humorous tone but its intention was to point to a serious problem in the WSWS perspectives, their blanket characterization of just about any turn in world politics or economics as portending a move toward World War. [18]

I also wrote another article pointing to the tired use of the “rising tensions” metaphor in WSWS journalism. [19] I made it clear in both articles that I was not all discounting the threat of war, even nuclear war, but that I was pointing to the fact that the WSWS analysis of events lacked any relationship to concrete developments in the world but was simply a refrain of a previously worked out scenario, a reliance on empty formulas.  And the continual fanning of the flames of imminent war and crisis had the effect, as it did in Healy’s WRP, of scaring the cadre into ever more heroic efforts.  This is no way to educate the working class.

The reaction to my articles from North and his army of trolls was entirely predictable – I was denounced as being a ‘complacent petit bourgeois’. North went on to accuse me of subscribing to Karl Kautsky’s theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ because I maintained quite correctly that the WSWS had never analyzed the new forms of imperialism that were predominant in the 21st century. [20]

As I wrote in Crackpot philosophy and double-speak,

Crisis mongering was a tried and true technique of Gerry Healy’s and he used it to good effect in order to insulate members further into the bubble he created, leading them to believe that the either one remains a loyal member or one joins the camp of counterrevolution.

North uses the same method of scaring new recruits with the proposition that either you join his party now and bring with you hundreds of thousands of others or the planet will go up in flames shortly.  This is not a reasoned argument for opposing imperialist war but a weapon used by a sect that is rapidly devolving into a cult bent on inculcating its members with the idea that there is no life outside of their little group. [21]

   8.   I maintained that North and his followers use gutter tactics against their political opponents. The evidence for this is overwhelming. One just has to look at the piece to which I am responding.  It’s little more than a smear campaign against me. It’s also full of lies. I am for instance accused of being a “Pabloite”.  North writes,

Steiner cannot explain why, having originally joined the Workers League in 1971 to oppose the anti-Marxist politics of the Pabloites and Shachtmanites, he now embraces their positions.

So not only am I a “Pabloite” but I am also a “Shachtmanite”. First of all, on the face of it that seems to be impossible since the positions of the Pabloites and Shachtmanites contradict each other. The other problem with North’s thesis is that I never subscribed to the key positions of Pabloism or of Shachtmanism and North cannot produce any evidence to this effect. Did I ever write that the Stalinist bureaucracy could play a progressive role or that petit bourgeois nationalist movements can bring about some form of socialism as Pablo maintained? Or that the Soviet Union was either a state capitalist or bureaucratic collectivist regime as the Shachtmanites maintained? No, I did not. So where does this accusation come from? North is also very big on producing guilt by association type arguments to condemn his political opponents.  This form of political debate has nothing to do with the traditions of Trotskyism. Rather it is borrowed from the playbook of Stalinism.

    9.   I stated that the WSWS publishes articles that are supposedly “theoretical” in nature but that in fact have no real content. I already provided one example of this in the article by Beams where he makes a statement about the nature of China.  This is a topic I explored in some depth in my essay on the nature of Russia and China. In that article I discussed some of the issues involved in a Marxist analysis of Russia and China and noted that with few exceptions, groups calling themselves Marxist, while spilling a lot of ink about Russia and China, have made no serious examination of the socio-economic foundations of these countries and how they have evolved in the 21st century. In that respect the WSWS is not unique. I also compared the poverty of theory in this area with a few serious investigations that went against that trend.  Chief among the investigations I cited was the work of Michael Pröbsting. I noted that whatever you may think of his conclusions, whether you agree with them or not, you have to acknowledge that he did some serious work in this area. Others who did some serious work here are Walter Daum and Jan Norden. I have serious political differences with all these people but that does not discount the fact that they did their homework.  I cannot say the same thing about the ICFI/SEP/WSWS which has done no work at all in this area and whose position is almost impossible to pin down.  The reaction from the WSWS to my calling attention to their theoretical vacuum was as expected. I was accused of sharing the politics of Pröbsting and others in their typical guilt by association arguments.

   10. I noted that the internal regime of the SEP bears far more resemblance to a cult than to a serious party following in the traditions of democratic centralism.  There is of course plenty of centralism in the SEP but democracy is unheard of.  We are talking about an organization that has not had a single serious factional struggle in more than 30 years. This is not to say that factions are some kind of a virtue. If your organization is constantly consumed by factions, then that is an indication of serious problems. But an organization that has had no factions in decades, and is proud of that fact, is even worse. It means that differences are artificially suppressed.  And we know from the testimony of many former members of the SEP, some of whom have contacted us over the years, exactly how this takes place. Comrades who expressed differences with the line of the party, or even who bring up questions about issues that are considered “unorthodox”, are viewed with suspicion. Their behavior and communications are closely monitored by a senior comrade and they are constantly harangued until the deviant ideas they expressed - or even inquired about - are withdrawn.  Those monitoring the behavior of wayward comrades try to isolate them from other comrades, lest the “infection” spread. That is one reason factions never emerge in the SEP.  In those cases where the unorthodox ideas are not withdrawn, life is made more and more uncomfortable for the holdout. Former associates and friends are informed that so and so has become influenced by “alien class forces”.  More and more demands are made of the comrade to show his or her loyalty.  There is indeed a reason why National Conferences feature resolution after resolution adopted unanimously and it is not because the truth of these resolutions is beyond discussion.

Should someone actually leave the organization or be expelled because of differences over party policy, or a fundamental challenge to the leadership, they are cut off from further contact with friends and associates remaining in the party and its periphery.  It is well known that the SEP/ICFI practices this form of shunning and uses the threat of it to discourage anyone from leaving.

11. I maintained that the ICFI/SEP has rewritten its own history, an effort spearheaded. by North, in order to hide from their newer members some of the more dubious enterprises they were involved with in the past.  There were many chapters in the history of the ICFI that were gross departures from Marxist politics and ethics, particularly in the period from 1975-1985. One particularly heinous episode that I noted in my series Downward Spiral was the support expressed by the ICFI and in the pages of the Bulletin, for the political persecution of members of a group affiliated with the United Secretariat in Iran by the theocratic Khomeini regime. [22] North’s approach to this history is to either ignore unpleasant reminders of these chapters in the history of his own organization or blame it all on Healy. 

12. I maintained that North’s push to label all his political opponents part of an amorphous group he calls the “pseudo-left” has no objective content.  It is but a thin veneer for name-calling. It is also meant to insulate his supporters from any contact with other left groups. It tries to maintain an “us” against “them” division and discourage any examination of opposing arguments. It provides the illusion for his followers that they have somehow resolved all theoretical questions by labelling every other tendency part of a “pseudo-left”.

I have made the case that North’s organization bears no resemblance to the history and traditions of Trotskyism. I provided lots of evidence for my statement, and not for the first time.  North’s response is a turn to the politics of the gutter. In doing so he is following the traditions not of Trotskyism, but of Stalinism. I don’t think it is necessary to delve any further to recognize what kind of leader Mr. North has become.

The author also recommends:







Crackpot philosophy and double-speak: A reply to David North


The SEP on the nature of Russia and China


Russia as an imperialist power


The working class in fantasy and reality


Sectarianism and the Greek working class


Marxism without its head or its heart 


Downward Spiral of the ICFI


A charlatan exposed: A review of Gerry Healy







[1] An aging liar peddles his wares, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/05/17/liar-m17.html
[3] Downward Spiral, Chapters 2 and 3, Concocting a smear campaign: Falsifying my history, http://permanent-revolution.org/polemics/downward_spiral_ch02.pdf and Concocting a smear campaign: North distorts the history of the Workers League/SEP, http://permanent-revolution.org/polemics/downward_spiral_ch03.pdf
[4] One such account that I would strongly recommend is the one from WRP member Bob Pitt, The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/healy/pitt/index.html .  While Pitt’s politics are very different than my own, and I do not subscribe to every interpretation of the events he presents, his account is factually truthful and far more nuanced and comprehensive than anything found in North’s writing on the subject. 
[6] I gave a lecture on the subject of dialectics, mass psychology and its relationship to transitional demands in Athens in 2015.  A transcript of that talk can be found here: The Dialectics of Revolutionary Strategy and Tactics,
[8] Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov (1856–1918): His Place in the History of Marxism,
[9] The dialectical path of cognition, http://permanent-revolution.org/polemics/dialectical_path.pdf
[10] The references for these quotes are taken from my essay, The dialectical path of cognition, pages 10-17.  Those interested in the context behind these quotes should read that section of the essay.
[11] The Dialectical Path of Cognition and Revolutionizing Practice: A Reply to David North, http://permanent-revolution.org/polemics/dialectical_path.pdf, pages 16-17.
[12] Two voices of concern over Trump’s “New World Order”,
[14] US Supreme Court hears arguments in union agency fees case,
[15] The Pulitzer Prize rewards witch-hunting and state propaganda, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/04/19/puli-a19.html
[17] How the WRP Betrayed Trotskyism, 39. The WRP Betrays the Miners Strike, http://www.wsws.org/en/IML/fi_vol13_no1/fi_vol13_no1_full.html
[18] A comment on the resolution of the SEP on the fight against war,
[20] North’s accusations were published in yet another attack on myself and Frank Brenner in 2015,
Foreword to The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique,
Part Two:
I responded to North in Part I of Crackpot philosophy and double-speak,
[21] Crackpot philosophy and double-speak: A reply to David North, Part I, War, Imperialism and Crisis Mongering

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. It reads like a bad breakup between former friends. You criticize North for not writing on Russia, China and whether they are imperialists or not, fine, when will you take up the challenge? Why have you not done so?
What has your claim about homosexuals not being welcomed in the Workers League in 1976 got to do with your break with that organization? I recall that you were married to a very pretty redheaded woman.
How has dialectics prevented anybody from the ICFI from degenerating? It's strange that you refer readers to a person who rejects what that organization stood for while you were a leader of its American section, for a 'true' assessment of Gerry Healy. What's your assessment of that gentleman? How do you evaluate the aims of the fourth international, based on your experience?
Finally, why were you so sure that revolution was eminent in the 1970s but less certain today when most of the organizations that were so powerful back then are really shaky now? A clown is US president, fascists are about to form a government in Italy, millions of people seeking asylum, etc.?

Anonymous said...

To the above commentator,
Do I have to be a homosexual or should I decide to become one in order to criticize someone’s discriminating prejudices or practices born of homophobia? Only under the conditions are you content to try to the author’s entire articles without your pre-judgements?

Anonymous said...

There wasn't any point of substance in North's hit piece on you. Just attack, attack, attack like he's been doing for years. His followers ate it up though as if it was a damning exposure of you. Says a lot about the followers attracted to the SEP. How does the SEP ever expect to achieve anything if they remain a tiny sectarian fringe who won't compromise on anything with anybody? They've been warning us about the start of World War III for about 10 years now and it's never materialized. When will they admit their malfeasance?

Anonymous said...

People say that making mistakes is not bad in itself. Not learning from the mistakes is bad. In fact, originally a mistake is not good. Even if we see the mistake in a favorable light, it's because we expect that we learn something from the whole experience of making a mistake, reviewing ourselves, and preparing not to do it again. However, do someone -- David North, here -- make a mistake over and over, how can I make sense of him? Isn't it natural to think that he may lack any willingness or sincerity? And isn't it legitimate to feel that his mistake is not a simple mistake but a sign of fundamental flaw?

I cannot help acknowledging that I once admired North's hatchet job on Robert Service. And I’ve tried to be as understanding of him as possible during the battle Steiner/Brenner and him, although I've thought the former to be the more compelling. Above all, he is the leader of a socialist organization with meager public recognition and support at the margin of the mainstream. At any rate, there survives an organization and its subsequent various attempts to spread socialist ideas, such as launching and managing the website WSWS. How many difficulties he must have undergone and managed to overcome! There'll be reasons for him and his men to be what they are.

Nonetheless, my constant efforts to be favorable finally failed for two reasons. Firstly, North has kept evading the serious discussion of issues raised by Steiner/Brenner. I cannot understand his intellectual irresponsibility or cowardice even now. Secondly, he has instead manipulated the tool of smear campaign continually, which I feel too much reprehensible and unforgivable. Especially, I'm too shocked about his small-minded habit of exposing private correspondences, leaving out their proper context and blowing up their specific parts in accord with his intentions. (More surprising and puzzling to me is that not a single one of his men has made a criticism about this mean act.)

I used to hope that rather than having arguments with North and his men, Steiner/Brenner would spend their precious time and energy on more worthwhile subjects -- the comprehensive research on the influence of pragmatism of American thought, the building-up of political movements based on the full understanding of mass psychology, etc. I know I was wrong. Steiner/Brenner couldn't stop. They have their own rights not to be misrepresented. I cannot let their lives, whether good or bad, slandered by others. In addition, their attack on North seems to have a new significance, which I haven't seen yet. What North has done may not be a couple of simple mistakes. It may be a phenomenon, very dangerous one, perhaps beyond reversion, I suspect.

I'll take as an example a passage in the recent article by North at issue: "Steiner seems to have forgotten, along with so many other things, Trotsky’s declaration in the concluding section of the Transitional Program: “Outside of these cadres [of the Fourth International] there does not exist a single revolutionary current on this planet really meriting the name.” Thus wrote the “sectarian” Leon Trotsky." I rubbed my eyes. The fallacy called circular logic. All people in WSWS take this for granted. I have no words for them.

Anonymous said...

From the ex-member. The fact that SEP/ICFI is a sect becomes, at least after a while, apparent to everyone who is able to think critically. Stuck in the "middle ages" of the outdated orthodoxy, all they do is promise a paradise in another, post-revolutionary world. The apocalypse of capitalist order is just around the corner, just hold on and keep trusting the prophets. The new world will, as if by some magic, turn into socialist heaven where workers will be happy to labor and all the problems will be solved, e.g. none of them will be dying/getting injured on the job, the agriculture/ heavy industry will stop polluting the planet without the need to decrease the production and those in control (everybody) will be distributing all gains fairly. In the meantime, members should not mingle with the dirty pagans, aka pseudo-left or petty bourgeois, because they might get infected with their devilish tendencies. People who do something progressive in this world in practice, are reformists and capitalist lackeys.
Such "all or nothing" attitude requires authoritarian mindset; therefore young and inexperienced, "groupies" prone to submission are a preference as far as party membership goes. Young women/men might be chosen by the cadres to perform sexual and organizational services and, since they lack any philosophical/sociological/psychological training, are helped to write cookie-cutter articles making them feel as if they were very special minority/vanguard revolutionaries (the only true and righteous believers).
Anybody who questions the authority at the top, is shamed/ignored/ offended/ threatened/ forced into submission or isolated. He/she is accused of "subjectivity" or "petty-bourgeois tendencies". Words are censored, one is told what is "kosher" to read and any discussion is only possible within the framework imposed from above. Regardless of the real class affiliation, one becomes a petty bourgeois within minutes (magic again). I guess that's because the organization has a real issue with assessing current social structure of the global society as a whole. In consequence, a fascistic worker is just a misinformed, despaired member of a revolutionary class, while the leftist intellectual OUTSIDE of the SEP/ICFI organizational structure is the worst class enemy. But that's what happens when all attention is turned into writing a newspaper/rewriting mainstream press in place of thorough dialectical analysis of the ever evolving world.
It is all very sad, because we need the real left, real praxis, not petty polemics and empty words uttered by hypocrites who cannot support the true human liberation in everyday life.

Alex Steiner said...

Response to 'making mistakes comment':

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You should know that Frank Brenner and I continue to develop our theoretical work although it is true that we have not published very much of that on this web site. My own interest has turned toward the relationship between the science of cosmology and dialectical philosophy. I did publish one essay on this web site that touched on this topic. It is here:

The crisis in cosmology

I have also been giving classes and lecturing on this topic in recent years. I will be publishing more of that work.

Of course it is not pleasant having to take the time to respond to the slanders coming from North and his followers. But I regard that as a responsibility that cannot be avoided. Remember also that Marx took a full year out of his theoretical work to respond to slanders against him in his work "Herr Vogt". Following the example of Marx is not a bad model. I take the time to respond to North not just to defend my reputation but as a contribution to the education of a new generation in what Marxist politics is and what it is not.

Anonymous said...

Although the cosmology article was rather difficult, I always enjoy your reasoned writings. I'm pleased that there will soon be some writings from you.

I think how sound an organization is depends largely on its attitude towards likely views contrary to theirs. Then, ICFI/WSWS doesn't in the least seem sound to me. Superficially it appears to expand its influence or draw a lot of attention globally as well as in America, but it's more the matter accordingly. It's too late to come back after going so far in the wrong direction.

As I said before, I agree with Steiner/Brenner on almost all the issues they have raised against David North. However, even if they might be wrong and North and his followers right, I'd be displeased at the consistently insincere attitude shown by the latter party.

Now I'm resentful particularly about ordinary members, which is more than I feel betrayed by some influential people there, including David Walsh, who I once considered to have penetrating insight or good sense of judgment. The ordinary members ought to have thanked Steiner/Brenner for giving opportunity for them to look themselves in the mirror. Have I expected too much? Am I naive? The story has been the opposite, as everyone knows. I've wondered how on earth they cannot think on their own but parrot North's slanders or leave their own thinking at his mercy. Do they have confidence to have the same opinion in 10 years or 30 years? Do they really think that the organization they belong to is flawless or the only way towards hm... world revolution? Are All the rest, namely what they call pseudo-lefts, bullshit, right? Do North's patchwork pieces on postmodernism or Frankfurt School not suffer by comparison if they are published in any relevant academic journals? Shame on you, shame on you, all the members in ICFI/WSWS.

Anonymous said...

Among the numerous disappointments, the biggest is the looming suspicion in my mind that most so-called radical organizations, mostly small in size because of the pressure from outside, have a destiny-like tendency to try to boost integral unity to excess, therefore being impatient about a slight disagreement or reluctant to have an open discussion. If so, is it understandable that a significant number of people get disillusioned about this state of affairs, settle for the status quo, and turn to established big parties or organizations? What elements are vital in having, maintaining, and developing a healthy alternative organization?

Adam Cortright said...

Sorry for showing up again everyone, but the bracelet monitor Comrade North had installed on my wrist went off, and dutiful as ever, I came running to his defense as I have been trained to do. Ordinarily I would object to such physical intrusions upon my personal sovereignty, but as Comrade North explained to me (in between knocking his goat-hooves together to kick off the dust of The Transitional Program he had just burned and stomped on), we live several states away and without the police-like device, he may never truly know what comrades are up to here in New York and what it is we are openly discussing. Surely you can see why such a concession would be necessary.

But actually I'm not going to defend North (ha! defend the devil himself? What am I looking for, to get burned at the stake?), but just to pose a question to Comrade Steiner. At what point did you come to disagree with the SEP's stance on the unions? I of course strongly support the party's line on the unions (my life depends on it), but if you have an alternate idea of how one should approach the unions, I'd be open to hearing it. I'll assume that you were in agreement with the SEP when you attempted to join in 1999, but have since evolved into a more enlightened position in the intervening 2 decades. Perhaps two decades hence I, too, will see the light, but I'd prefer not wait so long. Educate me?

Regards,

Adam Cortright

JJP said...

"My own interest has turned toward the relationship between the science of cosmology and dialectical philosophy."

Look out mainstream scientists, we've got another Ted Grant/Gerry Downing on the scene! They might not understand the science, but they know it contradicts dialectics and must therefore be wrong!

Alex Steiner said...

Response to Adam:

When did we "come to disagree with the SEP's stance on the unions?" That question is very easy to answer and if you ever bothered to read any of our material you would know the answere to that.

Marxism Without its Head or its Heart: Marxism and the unions, the evolution of a correct analysis

See page 129 and following of that document.

I should add that the SEP has evolved since 2007. I don't think that in 2007 it would have occured to anyone in the SEP that they should be on the same side as union-busters and right wing legal groups who are attempting to destroy the agency shop.

Adam Cortright said...

Alex,

Page 129? See here's the thing. If anything you wrote about the WSWS even remotely rang true, based on my own experiences with the party, I might have read your page 129, instead of giving up somewhere around page 12. You can't blame me for not reading rubbish. The fault lies with the author.

The slander that the SEP's stance on unions is in alliance with the right-wing is a lie one hears frequently from the Sparts (your pals?). It's deliberate distortion, of course. The SEP's position is not to wave a wand and annihilate the unions, whose form itself has become inadequate to defend even reformist demands of workers (there can be no question about this); a call for dissolving the unions would be an undialectical approach to the question (and as much as we all hate dialectics over at SEP HQ, we just can't quite bring ourselves to come around to being against this one last issue). The effect of adopting the stance "Dissolve the unions!" instead of the one we take, which is "Transform the unions into worker's committees!" would have a devastating effect on the consciousness of the workers in relation to our party, rather than the extremely positive and receptive one we currently have. We could hardly count on the hundreds of workers that provide the WSWS with stories and accounts of their own experiences (sometimes even written by the workers themselves and submitted) if we took such a careless approach. And these workers evidently are able to tell the difference between the SEP and the various right-wing organizations you compare us to. It is such a phony and weak charge that I have to believe it is being made in bad faith.

The workers themselves need to transform the union form by breaking out of the exclusive inter-trade solidarity mindset by appealing to workers from all industries and professions. Whereas the right wing wants to stomp out unions from the capitalist courts on down, the SEP calls for the workers themselves to take control of the process by which they demand concessions from the capitalist class, in order to circumvent the forces of globalization and the corporatization of the union bureaucracy. The SEP has not evolved on this issue one iota.

Regards,

Adam Cortright

Anonymous said...

To Adam Cortright, I want to point out one point regarding your comments. Do you need to write interspersed with unpleasant sneers and mockeries? Do you think it makes you appear witty and your comments as penetratingly sarcastic as those of Marx or Engels? How many Marxists have tried to borrow the style, not the substance? (All right, eventually, almost all of them have proved to be 'self-styled' marxists.) Such writing makes lots of people feel distant or distracted from the matter at issue, like your opinions about the union.

To my opinion, we should not let my identity or identities become blind or uncritial identification with some person, organization, or theory. I have no objection to feeling affinity for the site like the WSWS, which are informative at times. However, doesn't it mean that we should make light of its weaknesses or blind spots? By the way, to all appearances and Steiner/Brenner's estimations, the problems of the WSWS have been getting too serious to be overlooked.

Thomas Cain said...

Yet again Adam faithfully recapitulates the SEP's political line, without going into any detail into the actual implementation of that line. Does he have nothing to say about the SEP's sloppy conduct in the NYC transit strike? Their condescending and unhelpful comments to workers seeking their help? Or how the SEP's proposals for tackling the unions have never gone past the stage of leaflets and articles? The fact of the matter is that the SEP's position on the unions has only ever had a distant and journalistic character, and as a result they have had little to no material involvement in the struggles of union workers. It was fourteen years when Steiner/Brenner documented these failures. How many has it been now?

One can grant Adam's last point, however. Indeed, they have not changed on this issue.

Alex Steiner said...

Adam,

You not only admit that you do not read what we have written but seem proud of it and see no problem in criticizing us despite that. This behavior is called willful ignorance. If that is the standard for WSWS true believers then so much the worse for them. In the language of the vernacular, those people are ignoramuses.

You are also just making stuff up. The WSWS has made it pretty clear that they think unions are not working class organizations but have become organizations of oppression against the working class. So it would be odd indeed if somewhere in their literature they say they want to "Transform the unions into workers committees". Can you point me to where they say that? If they do indeed say such a thing it would be quite odd. How would that be different than saying "Transform the Democratic Party into a workers party". I think you would agree the latter slogan is absurd. You cannot "transform" an organization of the ruling class into one serving the needs of the working class. Why do you think you could do that with unions, since as the WSWS claims, they are now no different than the Democratic Party, an organization of the ruling class?

Alex Steiner said...

Reply to JJP:

Are you saying that philosophy has nothing to say about cosmology, that we should leave all these questions to the scientists? That is certainly a popular position among mainstream scientists and philosophers today of a positivist persuasion. But it was not the position of Engels or the tradition of the dialectics of nature that he pioneered. And interestingly it is not the position of a number of working physicists in the field of cosmology who have come to the conclusion, in the words of Paul Steinhardt, one of the pioneers of "eternal inflation" theory, who said,
'I wish the philosophers would get involved.’

Anonymous said...

"Are you saying that philosophy has nothing to say about cosmology, that we should leave all these questions to the scientists?" Alex, he's/she's not saying that, what he/she said was that you aren't qualified to write on the subject. Prove him/her wrong by reviewing the writings of Grant and others, pointing where they went wrong and what you are bringing to the field that must be paid attention to. How do you deal with physical theories that can't be tested on principle? Stuff like multiverses, higher dimensions, many worlds interpretation of quantum physics. What's your opinion of Vladimir Fok's interpretation of quantum mechanics, or David Bohm's? Both were first class physicists. Fok claimed to be a Marxist dialectician.

Alex Steiner said...

Reply to JJP's Anonymous follower:

I guess you will just have to wait until I publish something to decide whether I am qualified or not to write on this subject.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have misunderstood my comment. I take no position on your qualification to write on the subject of science and philosophy. What I wrote was my impression of JJP'S comment, I may be wrong. Your cosmology article just mentioned the problems with cosmology, but it offered nothing that would resolve said problems or cast them in a new light. What's your opinion of Lenin's Materialism And Empirio-criticism? Most philosophers and scientists, I'm thinking here of Noam Chomsky and Steven Weinberg, dismiss it as worthless.
I can't wait to read your evaluation of Bell inequalities.

Anonymous said...

As for science in general, I’ve always felt up to it. How frustratingly thick were those science books, and how many overwhelmingly exotic terms clouded my eyes here and there even when gathering all my courage to succeed in opening them? From where do I have to start? Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, Carl Sagan's Cosmos, or The Essential Einstein? I'm ashamed to reveal my ignorance like this, but I cannot help admit it. I have nothing to say about the possibility of being laughed at, but there are also a lot of people in a similar state to mine. I seem to hear someone protest, "What's the use of science, particularly theoretical one?" Scientific discourse appears too far away from our everyday life, or it appears so accumulative in character as to require too much background knowledge from us. This is similar to our usual reactions to contemporary art. However, lack of knowledge can be forgiven or replaced by some creativity or subjectivity in the latter, whereas this cannot be so in the former.

I remember that a decade or so ago I happened to encounter an exciting debate over evolutionary biology in a socialist journal. I learned a lot. That's the first time that I heard about Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, etc. What I learned from the writings in the journal helped me to make a frame through which to understand, weigh, or criticize what the above mentioned scholars have said ever since. However, I felt a couple of problems. First, my way of learning was indirect or secondary. That is, I didn't read a book or an article by myself but made a short-cut way paved by interpretations by others. I suspected my knowledge should be a fake. Second, most debaters in the journal seemed to me to agree to one point -- so-called red scientists like J. B. S Haldane or dialectical biologists like Richard C. Lewontin are right a priori. It might be a fleeting impression on my lack of knowledge. Nevertheless, in retrospect the debate did me more good than harm. This may not have been restricted to me. In the same vein, I'll give my wholehearted support to the work of Alex Steiner, whether it may be cosmology or else. That must be a source of information to some people or a stimulant toward more learning to others.

I've heard more than enough that science really matters. To whom? Especially those who will revive the ideas of Marx and Engels and put them into practice. Who in the world are the people that sneer at Alex Steiner's attempt in the beginning or compare Steiner with Ted Grant? If they are true followers of Marx and Engels and defend the tradition of Enlightenment at odds with unscientific superstitions or irrational prejudices, must they embrace or encourage Steiner? How come they seem to show the un-scientific or un-Enlightened bigotry about this? Do they think they always have pre-determined solutions without testing the very hypotheses?

phila.ken said...

It is on the issue of trade unions that the WSWS has most clearly turned it back on the Transitional Program. They dismiss Trotsky's view on trade unions as obsolete. When this mysterious transition of the unions occurred they do not say. They have the position that the trade unions once were workers organizations and have transitioned into a part of the capitalist state. The union bureaucracy has ALWAYS been a servant of the capitalist state, but unions are where the workers are organized as a material force in society. This dialectical conflict between the rank and file and the union bureaucracy and its ties to the Democratic Party that is the heart of class conflict today. Look at Trotsky's view of unions in the Transitional Program and notice it has nothing to do with the ICFI today.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tp-text.htm#tu

muskrat said...

I think it interesting that David North has given the attention to Steiner and Brenner that he has. He must have a special place in his heart for you guys. Probably your critiques of the SEP/WSWS and North strike a bit too close to home.Also familiarity can bread contempt, and I am sure that both North and you guys get some enjoyment sharpening your wits at each other expense.

I do enjoy reading the WSWS on a regular basis. I have (over the last year or so) studied up pretty well on Healy,Wolforth,North including their careers and organizations. I was a long time Trostkyist although never affiliated with their tendency. I no longer see myself as a believer in the Trotskyist narrative. I think peak oil, peak non-renewable resources and overpopulation will pretty much take care of the idea that humanity will abolish capitalism and happily enter into a future of leisure and technological nirvana. The SEP seems to think that the workers of the future will spend their abundant free time attending operas and going to art museums. I have noticed that they and other left groups ignore topics that would tend to disrupt their narrative.
I have not given up on the struggle to for the abolition of capitalism,but I see a much different future will be coming our way, much more along the lines of what Richard Heinberg writes and speaks about.

Trotskyism has proven itself to be almost uniquely capable of splitting into smaller groups and subgroups. Wolforth references an 800 page book written on the history of world Trotskyism written in around 1985 in his autobiography. I read that book 15 or 20 years ago. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of groups and tendencies out there. Just think what of an updated version of what the world Trotskyist family would look like 34 years after the original book was written. Many of these groups claim to have a direct (and correct) pipeline to the great Trotsky himself including the SEP. None of these groups like to be called sects, despite the fact that all of them aptly fit the dictionary definition.I read Sedova's resignation letter from the 4th International and found it quite interesting. I noticed that most Trotskyists haven't commented much on what she had to say, but it probably means something when Trotsky's widow breaks with the movement her husband organized. Most Trotskyists engage in a form of Trostky hero worship,and many like the SEP,SL and Permanent Revolution spend a lot of time finding Trotsky quotes to sprinkle into their articles. Most of these groups will admit that Trotsky made some mistakes in the abstract but few will ever bring to light what those mistakes were. Some folks seem to view Trotsky's writings as sacred literature, such as the Transitional Program. Few seem to grasp the there is a "sell by" date on some Marxist writings including Trotsys. Marxism is supposed to be "scientific socialism". Marxism is supposed to be a living dynamic methodology, and yet so many Marxists out there treat it as a dogma. In my estimation were Trotsky or Marx still alive today it is highly probable that they would have refined their ideas to incorporate new scientific discoveries and other data into their world views. It is also a possibility that this new information might have dramatically altered significant portions of their concepts.

muskrat said...

Continued:
Trotsky has been gone now for 78 years. In 1940 most easy to exploit oil was still in the ground waiting to be pumped. High quality veins of copper,coal,iron and etc were still available to be mined. The human population was half as large. Things are different today. We are nearing the collapse of industrial civilization.

On a side note, (and a superficial one at that) hasn't anybody noticed that the SEP has a dress code. I call them "suit coat socialists." They sure look snazzy when addressing the working class. I noticed that one leading member even has a look alike outfit to North's vest suit comb that he wore on his Hedges interview. The "overalls brigade" that attended the founding IWW convention would be very impressed.

Anonymous said...
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Michael Hayman said...

I agree that the SEP is a cult-like sect, but I still think that some of your points could use further elaboration. You equate the SEP's refusal to OK rallies called in defense of the union shop with advocating the abandonment of the union shop. I do not think they are identical positions. The SEP refusing to participate is a sign of their sectarianism, but we already knew that. Where does the SEP label the Me Too-ers a conspiracy? The New York Times and other capitalist outlets and politicians advance the limited liberal conception of women's rights, but that is the result of their shared bourgeoise perspective, not conspiratorial machinations. Lastly, what is the difference between being a crisis monger and always being sensitive to the sudden eruption of an unexpected political situation? Did anyone foresee the storm that family separation would cause even a week before the Trump regime got it rolling?

Alex Steiner said...

Reply to Michael:

You bring up 3 points that you say need clarification.

1. The WSWS attitude toward unions:
The WSWS is not only "refusing to participate" in rallies supporting the union shop, although that would be bad enough. They denounce those ralllies and are not the slghtest bit disturbed by the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling against the unions. So I think you are finding a distinction without a difference in this case.

2. The SEP caricature of the #MeToo as a conspiracy.
Here I think you simply have not been reading the WSWS. You say that the NyTimes supports #MeToo from a bourgeois liberal perspective. I think that is a reasonable explanation of the NyTimes, if but a partial one. But that is definitely NOT the interpretation offered by the WSWS. They have said in article after article that the NyTimes support for #MeToo is completely reactionary (not "liberal") and it is part of an orchestrated attempt to divert the anger against Trump back into the safe channels of the Democratic Party and identity politics. There is a bit of truth to that I think, but it is only part of the story and a rather small part. The WSWS always wants to see these issues in black and white. And as my colleague Frank Brenner has brought out, they seem to have a perverse interest in defending the rights of alleged sexual abusers and little sympathy for their victims.

3. The SEP position on crises:
You cannot say that a movement that sees an impending World War III at every moment is just being "sensitive to unexpected events". That might be true if they ever said anything else. It cannot be true if that is all they ever say. It's actually an example of being grossly insensitive to unexpected developments.

Christie said...

The obsession with World War Three is akin to the apocalyptic cults of yore. Doomsday is always Neigh, and there is almost disappointment when it does not hit as planned. But never fear (or always fear, really) - there is a New World War Three prediction right around the corner. It would almost be funny, except World War Three has become another mere catchphrase - every development is a step closer to certain conflagration.

While there are many dire situations ongoing (and deepening), what is the working class to do to avert the promised World War? "Grow the party," is the pat answer; the only salvation. Anything else is, by their measure, adding more fuel to the fire-to-come.

Michael Hayman said...

The major difference between the SEP's world war anxiety and the medieval catastrophe cults is that the means to effect a world war are readily at hand while the religion's end time is a complete fantasy.

Christie said...

Michael, this is no small difference, of course, but this does not mean that every modern day crisis is another step toward World War Three.

Michael Hayman said...

You are of course absolutely correct. The working class in each country needs an everyday elaborated strategy to someday make a socialist revolution. It's just wise of us after the millions slaughtered through the last century and living under the armed hair trigger of a crisis ridden capitalist class to take the threat of war seriously. No

Anonymous said...

Trotsky wrote in the Transitional Program:

"Under the increasing tension of capitalist disintegration, imperialist antagonisms reach an impasse at the height of which separate clashes and bloody local disturbances (Ethiopia, Spain, the Far East, Central Europe) must inevitably coalesce into a conflagration of world dimensions."

You frequently accuse North of abandoning the Transitional Program. But on a truly fundamental issue, imperialist war, North's position is clearly in line with Trotsky's. Is Trotsky's analysis of the relationship between "separate clashes and bloody local disturbances" and "a conflagration of world dimensions" no longer relevant in the present world situation.

Michael Hayman said...

I eagerly await the perm-rev response as your quote seems as relevant today as then.

Anonymous said...

It would be an interesting experiment to see how many times they have predicted World War III and been wrong. Of course, they never admit that their stupid predictions never come to fruition.

Anonymous said...

"Stupid predictions," indeed. Catastrophists like North should study Eduard Bernstein, who so wisely and and with great foresight asserted: "Fortunately, we are increasingly becoming accustomed to settle political differences in ways other than by the use of firearms." [The Preconditions of Socialism]

Anonymous said...

Bernstein was proven wrong by the outbreak of World War One. North has studied Bernstein and recognised the incorrectness of that perspective.