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
My Defense of Democratic Centralism and a Critique of Sectarian Politics by Shuvu Batta : February 23rd 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 expulsion of Shuvu Batta. Links to all the documents can also be found here.
Dear leadership of the New York Branch,
After reading the Transitional Program, Trotsky’s works on fascism and the United Front, and working as an atomized member of the Amazon workforce, I was developing the conclusion that our party line on the trade unions was sectarian, as we refuse to work within the trade unions to elevate the consciousness of the mass of workers contained within it. Furthermore our rejection of unionization for Amazon workers and other atomized workers is a reactionary line which in effect tells workers to vote against their interest of class unity.
Upon hearing of a critique on our trade union line submitted to the party, I reached out to the individual who authored the critique in order to gain access to it. After reviewing his critique, I declared my political agreement and shared the critique to other comrades. In response to the sharing of criticism of our public party line internally to comrades, I have been charged with a violation of party discipline and have been asked to withhold some of my important criticisms or face expulsion.
In the letter threatening expulsion the NY branch leadership writes “The New York Branch also rejects your assertions that anything that is not expressly forbidden is permitted and that as a member of the branch committee you had authority to go outside the party to solicit criticisms without prior approval.” To be blunt this is a lie.
Please point to where I have ever said or written that “anything that is not expressly forbidden is permitted?” This lie is a distortion of my verbal defense to the disciplinary commission composed of Cdes De Vries, Mazelis, and Van Auken. The commission asserted that because the NY branch committee had discussed that sometime in the unspecified future it would share the critique alongside documents defending the current party line on the trade unions, I violated discipline because I reached out to the former comrade, C, in order to read his critique of our trade union line and share to other party members. I defended myself pointing out that it was never decided that one could not reach out to C in order to obtain his critique.
By asserting that a party member has no right to go outside the party to solicit criticisms without approval from a yet unidentified bureaucratic body within the party, the argument being advanced has at it’s logical conclusion this: The flow of criticism must be controlled by party bureaucrats.
Ignoring the fact that this principle has never been formally written down or advanced in the party constitution or party statements, the argument advanced by the leadership means that rank and file cadre cannot purchase(solicit) and read documents critiquing our party line without approval from leadership. Disciplinary action for this reason would set a disastrous precedent within the party and allow for comrades to be expelled on menial grounds.
The NY leadership has thus advanced a demand which calls for the dismantling of the most basic elements of democratic centralism and is thereby an egregious violation of the spirit of proletarian democracy, the spirit of ruthless criticism.
The basic reason why democracy and criticism is necessary within the party is because it allows the party to reflect on the results of its actions on the objective situation, draw the correct balance sheet, and further develop it’s theory & practice. The sharing of criticism of our trade union line and vigorous debate on this issue will allow the party to grow and develop. By attempting to expel a cadre for sharing critique and initiating the inner party struggle, the democracy inherent in democratic centralism is being suppressed.
Inherent in the NY branch leadership’s argument is a deep hostility to the rank and file cadre and a fear that the party leadership is unable to defend its line under the fire of criticism internally. This is reflected in the letter of disciplinary charges against me, which did not at all confront the criticisms of our political line and practice which I raised in My Defense and a Critique of the ICFI’s Practice. Also notable is the fact that after writing this critique, I was barred from discussing with my branch and making my case in regards to disciplinary action. In effect, the plaintiffs(the NY leadership) were able to be make their case to the jury without the defendant in trial.
Furthermore it has been demanded of me to limit discussion within the branch and to wait till the Congress to make criticism public. Following this demand would suppress the formation of an opposition faction within the party as it would limit the number of cadre exposed to the critique of our trade union line. In addition, it is unclear when the Congress will take place, with it likely being held over a year from now, this would pose additional barriers to the spread of criticism. It is written nowhere in our official party documents that critique must be limited within the branch and that one must wait for the Congress to submit critiques. By rejecting these demands I thereby refuse to set an un-democratic precedent that would limit the rights of the rank and file cadre.
A curious charge in the document by the NY branch threatening expulsion is that “the language you use in your letters of January 20 and 29 is not that of one conducting a principled political struggle”. Complementing this charge is the focus on my usage of the phrase “sow chaos in the ICFI”, ignoring it’s context. The reason I wrote “My intention is not to sow chaos within the ICFI, though if that is a result, so be it.” is because I understand that the inner party struggle is inherently chaotic as it involves a clash of opposing forces and will bring up sharp underlying differences.
As Frederick Douglas wrote “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters”
It is precisely this denial of the struggle for revolution inherent in our abstentionist line towards the trade unions, revealing the absence of the dialectical method, that was the heart of my critique and the critique of C, a critique which has yet to be responded to. From this flows the labels of “sectarianism” and “dogmatism” which I had placed on the party practice.
Are we sectarians?
The founding document of the Communist movement, of which we are a fragment, is the Communist Manifesto.
Near the end of this document it is written that:
The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.
Communists fight for the immediately achievable goals of the working class while preparing the ground for its ultimate aim of seizing political power on a worldwide scale. By denying the internal contradiction within the trade unions between the bureaucracy and the working class and furthermore by labeling virtually all left-wing movements as “psuedo-left” we have followed a clear sectarian line which has divorced us from the mass movements of the working class and revolutionary segments of the petty bourgeoise and youth, thereby divorcing us from the momentary interests of the working class. This has been increasingly apparent in our reaction to the gains won by Chicago Teachers in the CTU, our slander against Amazon workers fighting for unionization and our “intervention” in the George Floyd Protests.
Our participation in the George Floyd protests which involved tens of millions of workers and youth around the world was concentrated almost exclusively through our WSWS writing and social media activity. Furthermore the line advanced by our party failed to address the momentary needs of the masses in protest, calling for an end to racism and police brutality. Rather than employing the dialectical method, connecting the immediate needs of the masses with the ultimate goal, as so powerfully outlined by Trotsky in the Transitional Program, we offered no such demand to workers and youth. Rather our writing focused on simply laying out the case for socialism and calling on the working class to join our movement, a movement which had no significant role in the organization and in the on-the-ground agitation for this “world-historic” event.
Our denial of the trade unions as organizations in which cadre should have physical participation has placed us in a similarly sterile situation in regards to Chicago teachers. In our “Lessons of the Betrayal by the Chicago Teachers Union” we downplay and avoid the fact that immediate and real gains were won by Chicago teachers in their strike, namely that almost all grade school classes won’t open until March, teachers have been put on a priority list for vaccinations, and they can opt out of returning if they feel unsafe, though it’ll be unpaid leave.
These gains are by no means enough in granting the security and well being of teachers, but 68% of the membership voted FOR the deal. Had we had forces in the union, actually fighting with the teachers and explaining to them why they must reject the deal, and in its stead advance more radical, aka transitional demands, we would have been able to win further gains for workers and develop real ties to them. It is only in this dialectical process of struggling alongside the working class and against bourgeois consciousness that we will be able to win immediate and practical gains for the working class, and further aid them in the process of developing socialist consciousness.
Instead our policy on this issue has been to advance the demands for workers to join our rank and file committees while breaking from their union activity, thereby we are advancing a sectarian demand calling for the split between workers in our rank and file committees and the workers in the unions. As analyzed by C’s document, the correct, ie. the Trotskyist practice that we should adopt is to utilize both our rank and file committees as centers of organization and education for the advanced workers while developing consistent work within the trade unions to popularize increasingly radical demands and develop socialist consciousnesses with the workers where the workers are.
Our incorrect and sectarian line of the trade unions has now pitted us against militant sections of Amazon workers, who recognize the desperate need for organization and are reacting with enthusiasm to the unionization drive in the BHM1 plant in Bessemer, Alabama. In an article which I have written but now denounce titled “The unionization vote at Alabama Amazon facility”, we are calling on workers to vote NO to unionization despite the fact that it would provide a platform of organization for thousands of atomized workers while initiating a mass union drive in Amazon around the country.
Furthermore it would provide a platform for cadre to radicalize workers within the union and build a strong nucleus. In effect by calling on workers to vote NO we are supporting the line of companies like Amazon and Walmart, which recognize that unionization would indeed bring immediate gains to workers and pose a threat to their profits, hence their ramping up of anti-union tactics and propaganda.
The line that we are following runs counter to our document “The Globalization of Capitalist Production and the International Tasks of the Working Class” written in 1993 in which we declared “The party must strive to create new forms of struggle among these workers [i.e. those already in unions], including factory committees and even trade unions, organized independently and in opposition to the AFL-CIO.”
The demands for factory committees within existing trade unions has been completely abandoned, and in pursuit of our “independent rank and file committees” we have abandoned the fight to create new trade unions among unorganized workers, instead advocating for workers to from what are essentially Soviets under the leadership of the party; we are demanding workers to immediately form revolutionary organs ignoring the transitional steps necessary to make this demand effective.
A thorough critique of our trade union line can be found in both C’s critique and the critique of Alex Steiner, in his article “ The trade union form and the butchery of dialectics”. We have not responded to Steiner’s criticisms even though they reveal severe weaknesses in our practice that has on the whole been ignored. This is why it is essential for us to seriously discuss our party line and critically analyze the results of our sectarian politics over the past few decades.
In the conclusion of the document My Defense and a Critique of the ICFI’s Practice, I advanced the following demands which will help expose our party’s strengths and weaknesses:
1. Temporary suspension from all party duties
2. Documentation of the party’s history, especially it’s practice, since the split with the WRP
3. Disclosure of the details of total party membership, its composition, and its growth over time to the entire rank and file
4. One month’s time to prepare my case
Only demand number one has been fulfilled, this too in a cynical manner so as to prevent me from advancing my defense to my branch. Why the leadership refuses to recognize the latter three demands, I will leave up to the reader.
I refuse to take back my criticisms of the party and thereby refuse to abandon my role as a revolutionary fighter for the working class. However, in what I have written thus far as criticism to the party I will take back these words:
“The International Committee of the Fourth International is the vanguard of the working class. This party is the culmination of an almost 200 year long struggle initiated by Comrades Karl Marx and Frederich Engels against the Young Hegelians, declaring in the 11th theses on Feuerbach “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”.
A party that does not fight alongside workers and advances their immediate demands while preparing the ground for their future has no right to call itself the vanguard of the working class. Furthermore it isthe height of arrogance to declare leadership of the working class when the working class has not selected it to be their leaders.
The vanguard of the working class is not just a phrase to throw around, it is not a title that can be self proclaimed solely on the basis of program. It is a title that has to be won through practice. We can only become a vanguard when we are on the front lines of the class struggle, whether it is within the union or in movements led by the racialist bourgeoisie. A potential vanguard does not enter into spontaneous struggle because it bows to spontaneity, the vanguard enters into struggle in order to prove to the workers and oppressed that it is their most steadfast and reliable supporters, a party that both fights for their immediate aims while ruthlessly criticizing and elevating their present level of consciousness through exposure of their leaders and transitional demands.
The vanguard party will only be forged through the hottest fires of struggle between labor and capital, struggles which are just beginning to dominate everyday life. What I have done is share a critique within the party in order to initiate democratic discussion and orient ourselves to the front lines of the class struggle. Along the way I have written harsh criticisms which I refuse to negate. For my supposed sins democratic centralism has been abandoned in favor of bureaucratic centralism by the party leadership and attempts have been made to silence and expel me without addressing the theoretical criticisms which I have advanced.
In accordance to the SEP Constitution I appeal this case to a higher body and I will continue to discuss with rank and file cadre as nothing that I have said and done is a violation of democratic centralism and is in-fact it’s very opposite: its assertion.
In order for the ICFI to become the vanguard of the working class it must abandon its sectarian line and return to the best fighting traditions of the Trotskyist movement. Critical discussion must not be stifled but allowed to flourish within the party.