The following letter, initially published on our website, is available in Proletarian Revolution No. 69 (Winter 2004).
August 8, 2003
International Bolshevik Tendency
P.O. Box 405
New York, NY 10276
You say in your letter of May 30 that the International Bolshevik Tendency stands for the rights of all immigrants, including “the right of immigrants to enter the imperialist countries.” You provide us with evidence from your British and German publications, which we were unaware of before receiving your letter. We acknowledge that, in the literature of the IBT, you have defended the rights of immigrants in relation to the imperialist countries in more sweeping terms than has the Spartacist League. Therefore, we now correct our unequivocal statement that you “share the [Spartacist League] line” opposing that right.
But to correct our charge is not to withdraw it, because the rest of your letter proves that your underlying position on the question is in contradiction to the correct assertions in the IBT press that you point to. In fact, you insist that you do share the SL line and approach. And the SL’s line and its underlying methodology on the question are in fact palpably chauvinist and appalling.
In particular, you quote for our benefit—and defend -– the Spartacists’ openly chauvinist January 1974 article, which (while calling for full citizenship rights for all immigrants) worries that large-scale immigration could “wipe out the national identity” of the recipient countries and states that such mass immigration is incompatible with the principle of self-determination. Since you agree with the SL’s notion that the principle of self-determination applies to imperialist countries, how can you escape reaching the atrocious conclusion that the “principled” defense of the “national identity” and “self-determination” of an imperialist nation are of greater concern than the needs of the oppressed migrants?
In your letter you say that the SL statement about large-scale immigration “is simply a truism, as cases like Palestine or Tibet illustrate.” But the Spartacists use examples of immigration into oppressed countries only as a cover. In reality they are concerned with immigration into the imperialist countries. As you well know, they spell it out: “If, for example, there were unlimited immigration into Northern Europe, the population influx from the Mediterranean basin would tend to dissolve the national identity of small countries like Holland and Belgium."
As we have pointed out, Belgium and the Netherlands may be small, but they are imperialist countries and have as bloody a colonial history as any. As you know, Trotsky correctly refused to defend the national identity/self-determination of small Holland, Belgium and Czechoslovakia from the Nazi imperialist invaders. Do you really think he would have been concerned about defending their “national identity” from poor and desperate workers from oppressed countries?
And since the SL states that the position applies to all imperialist nations, including the U.S. and not just the small ones, the line is even worse.
Note also that in a recent reply to us on the question (Workers Vanguard, August 9, 2002), the SL opposed our slogan “End all Restrictions on Immigrants and Refugees” to the imperialist countries, on the grounds that it is only a rewording of “Open the Borders.” They say it is “tantamount to advocating the abolition of national states under capitalism.” You say there is no “big difference” between the SL and the LRP on immigration, but how is that possible if we raise and they oppose the eminently Leninist slogan, “End all Restrictions on Immigrants and Refugees"?
The argument occasionally used by SLers that our slogan is as utopian as calling on capitalist states to disarm is nonsense. We agree that such disarmament calls raise illusions that the imperialist nations can forego having armies, an absurdity. However, we oppose every action of those armies. In rejecting “open borders,” as Bolshevik-Leninists we certainly do not reject opposition to every bourgeois restriction on the immigration of oppressed and exploited workers from “Mediterranean” nations.
The SL, like the overtly pro-bourgeois national chauvinists, buys into the notion that the influx of too many immigrants into an imperialist nation is a real danger. This is the miserable conclusion of their line. For example, they wrote in the same 1974 article that you cited:
In reality, of course, long before immigration would actually affect national identity, a chauvinist reaction, penetrating even into a traditionally pro-socialist working class, would cut off further inflows. This is demonstrated by the experience of Britain in the late 1950s/early 1960s. One of the unexpected by-products of the dissolution of the British Empire was that the Commonwealth population continued to possess British citizenship. This formal right, when combined with the Tory policy of encouraging immigration, led to a significant population inflow from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent throughout the 1950s. Set against a background of economic stagnation, a widespread anti-immigrant reaction set in, highlighted by the Notting Hill (London) race riot of 1958, and the election of a racist Tory in the traditionally Labour Midlands seat of Smethwick in 1964. Facing a widespread popular ’backlash,’ the Tories passed the racist-exclusionist Immigration Act of 1962, while the Labour Party equivocated. (WV, January 18, 1974)
Thus according to the SL, a policy of unrestricted immigration of workers inherently creates a chauvinist reaction in the working class of the host country. Since the “background of economic stagnation” is increasingly the norm for capitalism, they are in effect describing the growth of chauvinist reaction as an inevitable law of social relations between nationalities. No wonder they don’t call for an end to all immigration restrictions. Such cynicism puts the blame for racism on the expected tide of oppressed immigrants.
We have just seen your statement, “A Significant Step,” issued by the IBT’s Third International Conference. It says, “Marxists must oppose, as a matter of principle, all bourgeois immigration controls, but remain sensitive to the ways in which large-scale population transfers can be used by reactionary demagogues to promote chauvinism and undercut class consciousness.” The first clause seems to be in full agreement with our slogan and seems to contradict your claimed agreement with the SL. The contradiction exists because the SL has never, to our knowledge, stated that they oppose all bourgeois immigration controls as a matter of principle. We note, of course, that Marxists recognize the right of oppressed nations to foster laws and border policies which protect them against imperialist intrusion and intervention. What should be a principle is opposition to all imperialist immigration controls and all bourgeois controls whose motivations are racist, nationally chauvinist and anti-working class.
But in particular it was the second clause of your cited sentence that was disturbing since it seems to qualify your defense of immigrants in an ambiguous way at best, echoing the Spartacist stance. According to the above quoted SL article, being “sensitive” means accommodating to the feelings of the aristocratic, i.e. imperialism-identified white workers who will inevitably get mobilized into chauvinist attacks if there are too many immigrants. How many phony “socialists” and rotten liberals told the U.S. Black masses to limit their demands, lest they fuel the reactionary fires of racism! Revolutionaries oppose those reactionaries and their demagogy and always stand with the oppressed and exploited workers trying to reach U.S. shores, in opposition to all restrictions.
It would clarify your position immensely if you were to explain what you meant by the statement about ‘being sensitive’ and would unequivocally indicate agreement or disagreement with the slogan “End all Restrictions on Immigrants and Refugees.” If you really agree with the SL and oppose our slogan then you are indeed still close to that outfit’s pro-imperialist and national chauvinist line. You can’t have it both ways.
You challenge us to find evidence that the SL has ever failed to “defend resisters and refugees against imperialism.” We know of no such instance with regard to immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. or any of the other major imperialist powers. That is because the SL’s position is so far just generalized propaganda, a dangerous promissory note for openly opposing large-scale immigration in the future when the chips are actually down.
The move toward crystallizing the position has been stated a bit more explicitly by the Spartacists’ ICL: “we seek urgently to mobilise the working class to take up the fight for full citizenship rights for all who manage to cross the borders…” (Capitalist Europe’s War on Immigrants Is a War on All Workers, statement by the International Communist League, July 2, 2002; our emphasis.) They specifically omit the rights of would-be immigrants who have not managed to get here. Likewise the Internationalist Group, which you acknowledge shares the same line, has written, in regard to immigration into the Netherlands, that they “stand for the right of anyone who has reached Dutch territory to remain here.” (The Internationalist No. 14, September-October 2002; our emphasis.) They likewise overlook those who have not reached imperialist territory.
Further economic collapse in the super-exploited countries combined with rising chauvinism in the imperialist countries is a likely scenario in the coming period. Today’s propaganda, whether issued by Pat Buchanan or the SL, paves the way for large-scale acceptance of anti-immigrant agitation and acts in the future.
For the moment, the mainstream of the U.S. ruling class largely accepts immigration, since it provides a layer of readily exploitable workers. But when times shift, the ruling class may move not just to harass immigrants but also to try to bar them, and you can be sure that a good chunk of the union bureaucracy will join in the chauvinist chanting against unlimited immigration. It certainly can be thwarted, but the acceleration of this racist effort is highly likely.
Where will the Spartacist League stand then? They have done the methodological and propagandistic spadework for giving a Marxistical cover to the anti-immigrant racism that capitalism will inevitably try to intensify. “Socialists” have joined the outcry against the “yellow peril,” in the past; why would not such elements echo this crap tomorrow against the “brown peril?"
On a couple of other points raised in your letter:
1. You reject our statement that “Lenin did not recognize the rights of aristocratic nations,” claiming that Trotsky meant something else when he said that Lenin “did not recognize aristocratic nations.” Comrades, this is logic-chopping at its worst. Lenin always emphasized the distinction between oppressor and oppressed nations, but he never defended the national rights of the oppressor, imperialist, nations. Self-determination simply means the right of national separation from an oppressor nation.
If you defend the right to self-determination of the imperialist countries, then you align yourself with the Shachtmanites, the German advocates of “historical retrogressionism” and other breakaway capitulatory segments of the Fourth International in Western Europe during World War II who called for the self-determination of imperialist countries then under the Nazi boot. Under Nazi rule, it was obviously correct to wage the revolutionary class struggle. However, authentic Bolshevik-Leninists correctly rejected national self-determination as a programmatic principle in such struggles in France, Italy, Belgium, etc.
Many years ago, we observed that the Spartacist League retained many of the basic features of Shachtmanism along with its Pabloite theory of “deformed workers’ states.” Historically, the two retrograde trends are not mutually exclusive, as our book, The Life and Death of Stalinism scientifically proves.
2. On the grounds that it is a workers’ state, you defend Cuba’s right to restrict immigration, “and more importantly emigration of its trained professionals and skilled workers.” We do not give blanket support to Cuba’s policies on emigration as you seem to. As we stated, blanket opposition to restrictions on immigration applies only to the imperialist countries; the oppressed countries have every right to exclude agents of imperialism from crossing their borders. This applies to every oppressed country, including Cuba, not just to those countries that many centrists mistakenly regard as workers’ states. However, oppressed countries often also restrict immigration and foster related policies on racial, chauvinist and other reactionary grounds; we are of course opposed to this, as you also should be.
As to emigration of professionals and skilled workers, we note that the USSR in the 1920’s, when Stalinist rule had not been consolidated, did not restrict such emigration. Instead, the Soviets made every effort to make their work productive and welcome. In the 1930’s, on the other hand, Trotsky protested against the prohibition of emigration of members of his family and others persecuted by the Stalinists. Your belief that Cuba is a workers’ state has blinded you to the abuses that Stalinism is capable of in the name of protection against imperialism, so that you take Stalinist practice as the norm for a “workers’ state."
Finally, you write that “we would like to be able to consider the LRP an exception to [Cannon’s] rule” that “it is very hard to find a conscientious opponent.” We too would like consider your organization as a “conscientious opponent.” There is no doubt that we are opponents, and that the fundamental differences between us are class in character. Nevertheless, in the interest of simple honesty, we have recognized the difference between you and the utterly cynical SL/IG. Frankly, we do not understand how you fail to see that your strong statements in defense of the right of unrestricted immigration to the imperialist countries stand in stark contradiction to the Spartacist heritage you defend.
In a letter on the Kurdish struggle addressed to the Spartacist League, dated June 12, 2003, the IBT appended a postscript. You noted that as early as 1978, the Great Leader of the SL, Jim Robertson, referred to the Kurds as “Turds.” You were rightfully indignant at this blatantly chauvinist sneer. The recent diatribe against you in Workers Vanguard utterly fails to disprove your claim that Robertson obviously meant to be contemptuous of the Kurdish people. Robertson’s accusation that Reuben Samuels, the SL’s leading specialist on the Middle East and an advocate of the importance of the Kurdish struggle, was wasting his time on “the Turds” (capitalized in the original) could have no other intent. One of the former Spartacists who are now supporters of the LRP was in the room when Robertson made his filthy comment; he tells us that everyone there knew he was referring to the Kurds.
WV’s “Editorial Statement” displayed incredible self-abasement by the SL’s New York-based national leadership in the face of Robertson’s apoplexy over what he deemed their failure to defend him. It was so embarrassing and humiliating that it could draw attention away from the most important issue, his blatant chauvinism.
We know that you are also well aware of the well-documented chauvinist and racist statements that Robertson made against Albanians, Greeks, American Blacks, etc. in a public speech given in early 1977. We note that the IBT, in The Road to Jimstown and elsewhere, exposed the cultish control that Robertson has exercised over the Spartacist League over the decades. The latest episode only confirms that the SL is “an obedience cult,” as your exposure piece stated. Given Robertson’s chauvinist predilections, it would be strange indeed if the SL and ICL did not also manifest them programmatically and politically.
Indeed, the SL reflects Robertson; it is a cesspool of chauvinism. This ought to lead the IBT to re-examine the SL’s position on immigration more carefully, and therefor look at its own methodology on the question more deeply. In our opinion, if you do not detach yourselves from its chauvinist stance on immigration, your position remains still infected by that virulent disease. We would not be conscientious if we did not make that conclusion clear.
With communist greetings,
for the Central Committee of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), U.S. section of the Communist Organization for the Fourth International (COFI)