Note from the Editors: Classconscious.org is publishing a series of articles and documents relating to the break of Shuvu Batta and Peter Ross from the SEP. The crux of this break was over the issue of revolutionary work within trade unions.
Based on the writings of Trotsky and Lenin we disagree with the ICFI’s position that workers must break with trade unions and form a network of new “rank and file committees”. (Read our position on Trade Union work here). It is only through and open and robust discussion that scientific socialism, ie Marxism has developed in the past. We invite anyone who disagrees with this position or has something to add to this debate to consider submitting an article to classconscious.org
These documents were first published on Permanent Revolution and have been republished here with permission of the authors.
In the wake of the union defeat at Bessemer an expelled SEP member speaks out – by Shuvu Batta and Peter Ross
Ancillary documents for article ‘In the wake of the union defeat at Bessemer expelled SEP members speak out
Once Again on the Question of Trade Unions and the Tasks of the Party – by Comrade C
Letter to Peter Ross: February 5th 2021
The following is an ancillary document for the article In the wake of the union defeat at Bessemer expelled SEP comrades speak out. It relates to the rejection of the membership of provisional member Peter Ross by the US SEP. Links to all the documents can also be found here.
Dear cde Peter,
After receiving your application for full membership, you have raised questions that you have characterized as minor differences, however we view them as a rejection of fundamental principles upon which the Marxist movement was founded. For your application to proceed, we need clarification.
We suggest to you that the objective basis for your change of position is the intensification of the crisis of world capitalism and democratic rule, which is especially evident here in the US with the emergence of a fascist threat led and organized by former President Donald Trump. How this finds expression among our cadre is a matter to which we must give full attention, as it reveals pressures from alien forces upon our movement.
You say you have come to doubt some of the most fundamental positions of the party in recent days, although you do not identify them as fundamental. Namely:
• We cannot definitively say that we have entered a decade of socialist revolution. • We cannot even definitively say that we are in a pre-revolutionary period. • The working class has failed to dominate the second stage of the pandemic. • The definition of a “Civil War election” is hyperbolic.
• The party should discuss widely, including among provisional members, an issue raised by a comrade which calls into question a fundamental conception of the party (as to the trade unions in the current historical conjuncture).
• The party should handle media personalities with kids gloves, so as to be sensitive to the consciousness of their audience, even when they promote fascist elements and publicly attack our leadership. In the case of Jimmy Dore, the party should not have elevated its criticism to an open exposure: Dore deserves a defense from the vilification he suffered from the party.
While the party has articulated that the crisis of capitalism has given rise on one hand to the pursuit by the ruling class of authoritarian methods, and on the other to the resurgence of the class struggle — a process that is becoming more and more evident under conditions of a world pandemic — you criticize the party for having made unfounded predictions. The working class, according to you, is not dominating the second phase of the pandemic, as we had originally projected.
Are we in a decade of socialist revolution?
Our position is that there is a method of theoretical history applicable to the development of socio-economic phenomena, which is as legitimate as theoretical physics in the domain it cognizes. Your position rejects this conception, as it judges the veracity of a perspective not to a historical materialist analysis, but rather by one applicable to theoretical physics and mathematics. In essence your analysis takes a subjective idealist (i.e., empiricist and pragmatic)
position. The fact that we cannot know with certainty what we will know next week or month, makes it impossible to predict historical trends and developments. That is a position of skepticism that places you in the philosophical camp of David Hume’s agnosticism. Two years into your relationship with, and on the eve of, membership in the party, you are questioning fundamental principles of Marxism. This does not equate to raising just any question.
Our position is that the development of human knowledge is a process governed by historical laws. It is the development of labor and the productive forces, not the development of thought, that constitutes the ontological foundation of social knowledge. It is entirely possible and, in fact necessary, to study historical trends in the development of labor, i.e., in the development of the class struggle, and to delineate major trends and trajectories. Such assessments are not “predictions” of events; rather they measure the historical direction of the class struggle and, by so doing, they enable the party to intervene as the necessary subjective element in the objective situation.
There is no shortage of attempts by bourgeois theoreticians to distinguish between “trends” and “laws.” This can be summarized by Karl Popper’s infamous statement: “The social sciences do not as yet seem to have found their Galileo.” You tend to approach the class struggle with a degree of mathematical rigor, subordinating the analysis of the struggle to laws of thought (mathematics), rather than of historical development.
Comrade Don the other day pointed to the science of collapseology with reference to environmental threats. To that, we can add meteorology as a science that cannot make “absolute predictions” and yet it is regarded, rightfully, as a science.
The party has based its historical perspective on the scientific character of Marxism. It would be incorrect, however, to think that we can learn from the WSWS what is going to happen tomorrow, or next week with certainty. That type of predictions belong to the occult. As Trotsky suggested, those seeking exact predictions should consult an astrologer. However, our movement has discovered and continues to analyze the laws that regulate socio-economic and political development, and thereby successfully and correctly develops a strategy for the working class to fight for socialism.
The fact that the party’s “predictions” have been fully vindicated throughout its history is itself proof of the accuracy of Marxist analysis. While the establishment has sought to minimize Trump’s fascistic trajectory and attempted to reduce it to the personal characteristics of an individual, we were the only ones who were able to predict the emergence of fascism in the US. We saw clear signs of this process on June 1 when Trump attacked the Constitution, as well as with the attempted kidnapping and potential murder of a governor by pro-Trump conspirators who Trump egged on. This process has thus far culminated in the January 6 attempted coup. Its roots, as we have discussed in our most recent educational class, are to be found in the historical crisis of global capitalism and the response of the financial oligarchy to the crisis. This danger will not simply disappear in a puff of smoke with Trump out of office.
Moreover, the formation of politically independent rank-and-file committees, in opposition to all the organizations that failed the working class (including trade unions), is not simply a theoretical proposal: our work in the working class has produced immensely important results, with committees in every major industrial center in the US as we intersect the development of the class struggle. Our industrial groups are rapidly developing along the lines of the recruitment plan proposed recently by the National Committee. As a consequence, we have seen a substantial increase in party membership. Los Angeles in this is no exception, currently with five provisional members and two additional applicants. This is not simply the result of organizational skills, but evidence of a correct strategy built on a solid historically worked out perspective.
I strongly urge you to read the following lecture by cde David North on Marxism, History and the Science of Perspective: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2005/09/le4-all.html
Do you agree with these positions?
Your comments about inaccuracy of our perspective call into question whether the working class can be considered a revolutionary class. They also raise the question whether a revolutionary party is needed at all.
Your thought reflects the thoroughly demoralized position of a disoriented worker, Shuvu. With his highly subjective reaction to life’s vicissitudes and hardship. Shuvu gives full credit to the ahistorical analysis of former member Carlos concerning our analysis of the trade unions in the current historical juncture and our position on work in the trade unions, which was developed in the course of a protracted discussion in the party and against significant opposition, and which has ever more been shown to be correct since then. Are you giving more credence and validity to Carlos’s position than to the decades of rich scientific analysis that have characterized the development of our International? It is one thing to attempt to clarify yourself on this question, but quite another to expect the party to devote substantial time to its review, as Shuvu has demanded.
And while our movement has a rich history of principled opposition and splits, such developments cannot ignore party procedures and discipline.
You may recall the development of the WRP split. Cde North started raising concrete principled concerns as far back as 1982. He chose the correct path for such action: a discussion at leadership level. Given Healy’s opposition to any discussion on the matter, cde David even retracted his initial criticisms when he understood that the future of the entire International was bound up with such a struggle. In contrast, an impatient and quite frankly reckless action can lead only to disastrous political results: a confused minority of one (perhaps two if you count yourself in agreement with the criticisms raised).
Your conception of the party is not the Leninist conception. This is not like any other organization: the SEP is a revolutionary party and we must protect it from bourgeois interference and attacks. As such, we proceed on the basis of a struggle against theories and programs that embody the interests of the bourgeoisie. When we submit to the discipline of the party, that means that we realize we are serving the interests of the proletariat. In the case a comrade raises an objection, he does so with a deep understanding of that.
Again, on the fundamental question of the trade unions, our movement has an enormous history of struggle against the nationalist treachery of the bureaucracy. It also has developed a theory based on globalization of production and finance that has not only shown the limits of the trade union form, it has also been vindicated by the subsequent development of the unions into corporate tools to subordinate workers to the dictates of their employers.
You mentioned in a national aggregate that one of the determining studies you conducted was precisely when I sent you Globalization and the International Working Class (1/21/19). On that occasion, I emphasized the power of the document “because it not only reviews the historical roots of Spartacists’ middle-class orientation: it foreshadows the resurgence of the class struggle, a development the Spartacists fear and seek to impede by aligning with and supporting the counterrevolutionary trade unions.”
In other words, our historical perspective on the resurgence of the class struggle is not some opportunistic view we have conjured up, but has deep roots in this historical analysis of the process of globalization of the mode of production.
Also, on 5/24/19 I sent you an excerpt from David’s book The Russian Revolution and The Unfinished Twentieth Century. The excerpt is an important lecture called “Why Are Trade Unions Hostile To Socialism?” which laid the foundation as to our understanding of objective changes in the global situation.
This in turn was translated into the political need for the development of new organs of struggle, namely rank and file committees, that would be built to ensure the political independence of workers. This initiative is immensely important, as it seeks to politicize the working class outside the treacherous influence of bourgeois consciousness, including that of the unions. And you might be interested to learn that such proposals have a long and distinguished Marxist lineage. For example, Rosa Luxemburg argued for similar independent workers bodies as against the trade unions and their bureaucracy.
Once again, do you agree with these positions?
Your apparent suggestion that sensitive discussions on issues that you say have not been properly discussed but in fact have long been settled should be open to provisional members is also troubling. The party has a program, which is the complex result of decades of political, theoretical and historical analysis. It is on that program that we train our cadre, not on the basis of a comrade who is attacking fundamental principles of the party’s strategy and who is hostile to party discipline. That debate will be handled in the proper fashion and forum and, once settled, it will be used for the training of our cadre.
It’s absurd to think that a revolutionary party would give hostile forces a forum where to spread bourgeois ideas. What next? Perhaps someone who had a calling to serve God, proposing that the party has been wrong all along and that we should subordinate our thought and program to religious teachings instead of dialectical materialism? Or perhaps even a backward worker who discovers Mussolini’s Third Position and thinks the party should adopt it as its new strategy? Judging by your take on the Jimmy Dore case, you may well be open to such accommodations. But that has nothing to do with being a member of a Leninist-Trotskyist party.
On this question, I strongly suggest you review Lenin’s seminal work “What Is To Be Done,” in particular its first chapter on the question of “freedom of criticism,” which should give you a concrete idea about what we mean by party discipline and procedures:
Do you agree with the need for the party to defend its program and its cadre, especially new comrades, from bourgeois ideas and hostile ideology? Do you agree that the party may have to take security measures in order to protect itself, its cadre and the working class against such conceptions, and not just as to matters such as party finances?
One more time, on Jimmy Dore. You showed indifference to the fact that he does not represent the interests of the working class. The fact that workers tune in does not make him their representative, no more nor less than the workers who are members of a trade union do not give the union the character of workers organization on the basis of membership only. If that were the case, you could say we should try to be tactful with the Catholic Church, since a lot of workers believe in it.
This is a perilous form of adaptation to the bourgeois consciousness of workers. Lenin was adamant about the need to fight workers’ bourgeois consciousness, defining the dialectical process as a “unity of opposites.” We do not walk on egg shells when we talk to workers; our responsibility is to give them the truth about social relations. Figures like Dore serve very hostile interests when they seek to blur the line between the left and the right. Whatever his intentions, his action to invite a fascist leader on his show must be viewed not as a subjective act of naivete, but rather objectively as a deployment of reactionary forces to confuse and fracture the working class.
Do you agree with these positions?
We hope you will consider carefully these positions. Agreement with our program is obviously a prerequisite for full membership. While the bar is lower during provisional membership, the criterion for full membership cannot ignore fundamental differences such as those that have transpired in our recent discussions.
It should be understood that this is an internal discussion and it should not be distributed outside our branch full members at this stage.