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
SEP Political Committee to Peter Ross: March 26th
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 ending of the provisional membership of Peter Ross by the US SEP, from the Los Angeles branch. Links to all the ancillary documents can also be found here.
Socialist Equality Party
March 26, 2021
Dear Peter Ross,
The Los Angeles Branch has unanimously recommended to the Political Committee that your provisional membership in the Socialist Equality Party be ended. The Political Committee has accepted this recommendation.
So that there be no misunderstanding, the action taken by the Political Committee, on the recommendation of the Los Angeles branch, is not an expulsion. You are not and have never been a full member of the party. You were a provisional member. The status of provisional membership is stated in Section IV of the SEP Constitution. The purpose of provisional membership is to establish a period of time to evaluate applicants, test their political sincerity, and determine their level of agreement with the program and perspective of the movement. It is not intended to open the party up to anyone, such as yourself, who decides they are in fundamental disagreement with the party’s program and perspective.
As you attempt, in your letter of March 23, 2021 to Comrade Marc Wells, to portray yourself as a victim of the SEP’s efforts to suppress differences within its ranks, it is appropriate to review the history of your association with the party.
Your decision to apply for provisional membership on April 6, 2020 was not based on a cursory familiarity with our politics. According to your application for provisional membership, you “discovered the WSWS during the 2016 election and became a regular reader by the end of that year.” With the encouragement of your friend and fellow UCLA student, Shuvu Batta (who had already applied for provisional membership), you established direct contact with the Los Angeles branch in October 2018.
During the next 18 months, you met frequently with Comrade Wells and other members of the Los Angeles branch, and held extensive discussions on the history, program and principles of the SEP.
Following this protracted period of discussion, you applied for provisional membership. In submitting this application, you signed a statement declaring, “I am in agreement with the Statement of Principles, accept the constitution of the SEP, and will participate actively in the party’s work.”
In the essay accompanying your application, you wrote:
I agree with the party’s perspective, its historical materialist and class-based analysis, and its emphasis on internationalism. The WSWS has been an invaluable resource, introducing me to Marxism, opening my eyes to the class character of society, relentlessly exposing opportunism, and teaching me the historical materialist method. The ICFI is the only organization which even attempts a principled analysis of the world situation. I’ve been struck on multiple occasions that there’s really nowhere else to turn. Paraphrasing Trotsky, I don’t have any right in a time of crisis to indulge in vacillation and doubt.
You attended the SEP’s Fifth Congress in July 2020. No restrictions were placed on the right of provisional members to participate in the extensive discussion of the perspectives resolution presented to the Congress. However, you expressed no disagreement with its analysis of the political situation and its assessment of the tasks of the SEP.
Indeed, you responded enthusiastically to the Congress. On July 25, 2020, the day after the Congress concluded, you wrote to Comrade Wells:
I’m writing this a bit after the fact, but I just want to say how impressed I was with the congress. I’m 100 percent behind this party and very much want to deepen my own understanding and make significant contributions.
Since March 2020, as a consequence of the restraints on personal contact created by the pandemic, the SEP has held weekly online meetings, open to the entire membership, to discuss the political situation and the analysis and activities of the party. As at our Congress, no restraints have been placed on members’ participation in these online discussions.
At the weekly national aggregate held on December 19, 2020, in a review of your own political development, you said the following:
Just on the question of the significance of Why are Trade Unions Hostile to Socialism, I was just going to say that Comrade Marc – when I was coming around the party – went through that document with me, and also Globalization and the International Working Class; and I would say those were the two most important documents for me in understanding the party’s perspective and deciding to join. They also formed the basis for discussion when we were talking to contacts, IYSSE contacts, during the cost-of-living adjustment movement at the UC. And I think they are critically important documents.
In the space of little more than 12 weeks, your appraisal of the SEP’s policies has undergone a complete transformation. In your letter of March 23 you dismiss with contempt the two documents that you had credited only 94 days earlier with being the most critical in your decision to join the party: “Both of these documents were written decades ago. Where is the rich scientific analysis of today?” In point of fact, both documents were written in 1998, which – if we may be precise – is not “decades ago.” For someone whose position on fundamental programmatic issues shifts 180 degrees within a matter of weeks, 23 years may seem like eons.
But the essential difference between a Marxist program and pragmatic improvisations is that the former is based on an appraisal of the fundamental socioeconomic processes and class dynamics of an entire historical epoch, not on the sort of impressionistically conceived “realities of living events” that send the heads of disoriented petty bourgeois spinning.
The documents of 1998, while rooted in Marxist theoretical work and historical experiences spanning more than a century, analyzed the underlying causes of the disintegration of all the old nationally based workers’ organizations, within the United States and internationally, during the last two decades of the 20th century. The events referenced in these analyses ranged from 1) the unbroken chain of defeated strikes in virtually all the major industrial countries; 2) the adoption of Thatcherite-Reaganite neoliberal policies by all the labor parties and trade union bureaucracies; 3) the complete acceptance by these bureaucracies of corporatist-style subordination of workers’ interests to an unrestricted process of surplus-value extraction and corporate profit accumulation; 4) the restoration of capitalism by the Maoist regime in the People’s Republic of China; and 5) the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of Eastern Europe. It is on the basis of these world-historical events that the International Committee developed its strategic appraisal of the dynamics of global capitalist crisis and the development of the international class struggle in the 21st century.
It should be noted, moreover, that the 1998 documents were by no means isolated excursions by the International Committee into the domain of Marxist perspectives. The documents of 1998 were themselves the outcome of theoretical work that was undertaken by the ICFI in the aftermath of the split of 1985–86. A detailed review of that critical theoretical work is presented in the volume titled The Fourth International and the Perspective of World Socialist Revolution 1986–1995. This 415-page volume consists of lectures that were given at the Socialist Equality Party’s summer school of July 21–28, 2019.
As for your query, “Where is the rich scientific analysis of today?,” this is a rather poor attempt at sarcasm. The World Socialist Web Site is the authoritative record, spanning 23 years, of the development of Marxist theory as the science of political perspective and guide to revolutionary practice. We have already called attention to your own tribute, written almost exactly one year ago, to the role of the WSWS in your own political and intellectual development.
So what has provoked, in the space of 94 days, the complete reversal in your positions? On the basis of what experience do you now conclude that the party’s analysis of the nature of the epoch and the character of the unions is fundamentally wrong? You make no attempt to explain your political evolution to anyone, including yourself.
As always, we must place your political implosion in the context of objective events. The pandemic, which has triggered the greatest global crisis since the 1930s, has shattered the social and political equilibrium of world capitalism. The crisis is finding its most acute expression within the United States. The entire society is deeply scarred — both physically and emotionally — by the staggering death toll and vast scale of social distress and suffering. Nothing in the
historical experience of the recent generations of Americans has prepared the population for the ongoing disaster. The impoverished state of the United States’ intellectual and cultural life — blighted by decades of bipartisan capitalist reaction and the viciously anti-Marxist irrationalism of pseudo-left race-sex-gender politics — has been laid bare by the crisis.
The first major political event of 2021 — the armed attempt of January 6 by a fascist mob to violently suppress Congress, nullify the election of Biden and to install Trump as a presidential dictator — exposed the fragility of the entire bourgeois-democratic order.
A crisis of the current magnitude radicalizes the working class. But it also tends to produce disorientation among broad sections of the petty bourgeoisie. Within the United States, the events of January 6 — which are without precedent in its history — have produced a range of politically bankrupt and reactionary responses among left representatives of the petty bourgeoisie. A substantial section of the affluent middle-class left, represented by the DSA, tries to steady its shaky nerves by asserting, more out of fear than conviction, that nothing of great importance happened on January 6. The most complete elaboration of this complacent and self-deluding interpretation has been provided by the pro-DSA academic, Bryan Palmer, in the essay “The Meaning of January 6, 2021,” originally published in Jacobin Magazine.
Another response has been that of various libertarian journalists, who have come to the defense of the fascist rioters, promoting them as genuine representatives of working-class opposition to Democratic Party neoliberalism and Big Tech. Among those who have adopted this stance are Glenn Greenwald, Jimmy Dore and Chris Hedges. Their response to the January 6 riot substantiates Trotsky’s observation about the capitulation of the disoriented petty bourgeois to reaction: “Force not only conquers. It also convinces.”
Your own response to January 6 clearly evinces sympathy for the position of the latter group. You state in your letter that you objected to Comrade Jerry White’s principled statement — when he learned without prior warning that his appearance on Jimmy Dore’s program had been immediately preceded by a friendly interview with a representative of the Boogaloo Boys — that he in no way sanctioned discussions with fascists.
You write: “It was correct for Jerry White to take issue with Dore’s hosting of a boogaloo boy, but rather than probing the political issues, Cde. Jerry chose to simply repeat the point that socialists cannot ally with fascists.” Simply! As if the issue of discussing with fascists was a minor point, barely deserving more than a passing comment. The first and most fundamental responsibility of a Marxist leader is to identify the basic class issues present in a political struggle. Moreover, you ignore the fact that Dore responded to Comrade White’s declaration with a bitter attack. Dore was enraged that Comrade White refused to lend political credibility to his effort to promote a “red-brown” alliance.
You side with Dore, tenderly describing him as “a genuine but often misguided comedian who brought the boogaloo boy in because of his ‘left-wing speech…’” You complain that White “began to argue that he was ‘promoting an allegiance with fascism.’” You continue:
I am not recommending that media personalities should be “handled with kid gloves,” nor do I think that we should adapt to the consciousness of our audience. But by refusing to explain our perspective, and then contriving a narrative about Dore’s alliance with fascism, we forfeited the opportunity to engage with his working-class audience. This is the approach of a sectarian. [Emphasis in the original]
Your call for the “probing of the political issues” means nothing other than adapting the party to Dore’s reactionary political arena, in which his program provides a forum where socialists and neo-Nazis can mutually explore, in search of points of agreement, their approaches to the fight against bourgeois liberalism. What positive result can arise from such an engagement with the neo-Nazis? Our appearance with a Nazi in the type of debate staged and moderated by Dore can only work to the advantage of the fascists. It would undermine the development of class consciousness. “If the socialist Jerry White views the Boogaloo Boys as possible allies,” a worker might conclude, “perhaps these people are not so bad after all.”
Your defense of Dore testifies not only to your political disorientation but also to your ignorance of the most critical historical experiences of the international working class. A major role in the political disorientation of the German working class, which facilitated the victory of the Nazis, was played by the Stalinist-led Communist Party’s efforts to appeal to Hitler’s supporters, to obscure the unbridgeable chasm between socialism and fascist demagogy, and to present the Communist Party and National Socialists as potentials allies in a common struggle against the capitalist Weimar Republic. Such rotten opportunism demoralized the German working class and cleared Hitler’s path to power.
You first defended Dore at a meeting of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality National Committee on January 25. However, two days later, on January 27, you officially applied for full membership in the SEP. In a note to Comrade Wells, you wrote the following:
I am writing to officially petition the branch committee for full membership in the Socialist Equality Party. I made the decision to join the party under the double impact of the pandemic and the George Floyd protests. Alongside millions of people, I was profoundly shocked and angered by the videos of the police brutalizing protestors using military-grade equipment. The police response to the protests powerfully confirmed the class character of the state and the full thuggery and ruthlessness of the ruling class. The events of the last six months — and above all the deaths, due to the pandemic, of millions of people around the world — have demonstrated even more forcefully the need for a mass working class movement directed against the capitalist system. I will do everything I can to assist this movement and to help build the revolutionary party.
Comrade W. decided correctly that it was necessary to clarify your attitude toward Dore and therefore arranged to have a meeting at which this issue could be discussed. It was at that meeting, held on January 31, that you expressed disagreement with the party’s perspective. You opposed the SEP statement, published on January 3, 2020, “The decade of socialist
revolution begins” (published four months before you applied to join the party). You also told Comrade W. that the SEP’s characterization of the 2020 elections as the “Civil War elections” was “hyperbolic.”
In a subsequent text exchange with Comrade W. you declared that you thought that “the Dore issue and the ‘civil war election’ stuff were both fairly minor issues.” At the same time, you asked for a party-wide discussion on the positions of Batta, who, in violation of the discipline of the New York branch of which he was a member, was circulating his criticisms of party policy throughout the SEP and the ICFI.
You wrote to Comrade W., “If his points about the trade unions are correct, than [sic] this would indeed indicate the growth of opportunism in the party.” You added, “We’ll need to know the NY branch’s version of events. If, as he claims, his only offense was to distribute these docs to party members, they have no basis to pursue disciplinary action.”
In fact, Batta chose to ignore the decisions of the New York branch on how to conduct an organized discussion on the political differences that he had announced only a week before. Your intervention on his behalf was of an ex parte unprincipled character. Acting as Batta’s attorney, you substituted your personal relationship for the established constitutional mechanisms relating to party discipline.
It had become clear to Comrade W. that you had developed substantial differences with the SEP. He wrote to you on February 5: “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.”
In response, you wrote: “Ok. I’ve read the letter. It’s clear that we should withdraw my application for membership for now. I’ll need some time to dig further into the party’s history, especially on the trade union question and think over our disagreements.”
The result of your “digging” is the letter of March 23. However, its release was preceded by your intervention in defense of Batta at the national aggregate on March 19. No effort was made to prevent you from speaking, even though it was clearly your intention to ambush the party leadership and dishonestly present Batta as a victim of undemocratic methods. Your allegations were answered at length, and you were even given a further opportunity to speak.
Trotsky, writing during the 1939–40 struggle in the Socialist Workers Party, listed, as among the characteristics of a petty-bourgeois faction, “a lack of understanding of revolutionary centralism and hostility towards it; and finally, inclination to substitute clique ties and personal relationships for party discipline.” [“A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party,” In Defence of Marxism (London: New Park Publications, 1971) p. 56]
As for the working out of your document, its political inspiration is all too obvious. The March 23 letter is largely based on the positions of Steiner and Brenner. You have clearly pored through their collected works, even to the point of quoting three passages from lesser-known works of Lenin and Trotsky cited by Steiner and Brenner in their attacks on the party. Your denunciation of the SEP’s “sectarianism” mirrors the arguments of these embittered and totally unprincipled political wretches, whose positions have been comprehensively answered by the SEP. We do not know whether your engagement with them includes direct personal contact. Whatever the case may be, if you truly want Steiner and Brenner as your political gurus, you are welcome to them.
One final point must be answered, and that is your completely anarchistic rejection of any serious form of party organization and political discipline. In your letter to Comrade Wells, you translate your refusal to engage in disciplined political discussion within your branch to a matter of political principle:
I disagree with the assertion that the branch is the “basic unit” of the party, and therefore all criticism whatsoever should be channeled through it. Party members must be free to contact and express their opinions to all of their comrades.
The organization of the party into the “basic units” of the branches is inscribed in the constitution, which you accepted upon applying for provisional membership. This political structure was not invented by the SEP but is rooted in the history of the workers movement. This essential organizational form was explicitly adopted at the Third Congress of the Communist International, which was held in 1921 under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. Section III, subsection 11 of the Theses on “The Organizational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Content of their Work,” adopted on July 12, 1921, states:
In order to take part in daily work, each member should, as a rule, belong to a small working group, be it a committee, collective, fraction, or cell. This is the only way that party work can be properly allocated, led, and carried out. [To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921, edited and translated by John Riddell (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015), p. 981]
It is further explained in subsection 12:
Communist nuclei should be formed for carrying out ongoing Communist work in factories and workplaces, trade unions, proletarian co-operatives, military units, and so on — wherever there are at least a few Communist Party members or candidates. If there are many party members in the same workplace, union, etc., the cell expands into a fraction, whose work is led by a nucleus. [Ibid, pp. 981–82]
You are, quite obviously, utterly ignorant of and indifferent to the history and traditions of the revolutionary workers movement. Before you began firing off your emails, which combine
arrogance with self-pity, you did not take the necessary time to study the fundamental documents upon which the political principles and organizational methods are based.
What you advocate is not democracy for the party membership, but its complete negation. The branches are an essential mechanism which enable the membership to not only implement party policy, but to maintain continuous contact with the elected national leadership and bring to bear the weight of local experiences on the formulation of party policy. The branches are a forum where members can exercise their democratic right to raise political issues or differences and have them discussed in a structured way. It is precisely through the branch structure that the leadership of the party is elected and controlled.
What you want is a “party” whose basic unit is the individual (i.e., yourself), free to say and do whatever you want, whenever you please, subject to neither political nor organizational discipline. Functioning in the party as a one-man wrecking operation, you want the “right” to circulate internal documents outside of the party, solicit political support from opponents of the party, and, if you please, form alliances with opponents against party policy.
You want the obliteration of any serious party organization, in which middle-class anarchy prevails. Party decisions would be rendered meaningless, inasmuch as they are not binding on the membership and would be unenforceable. It goes without saying that in your anarchist paradise, police agents would run rampant and provocations would be the order of the day. Systematic, politically-directed activity in the working class would collapse.
There is one glaring contradiction in your anarchist fantasy. You vehemently oppose disciplined organization in the revolutionary party, but you insist upon the unchallengeable organizational hegemony of the AFL-CIO over the working class. You accept as entirely legitimate the requirement — granted by the state to the unions in return for the guarantee of “labor peace” — that dues payments be deducted from workers’ paychecks without their consent.
When it comes to the party, the instrument of working-class liberation, you want an organization of free-floating atoms. When it comes to the unions, the instruments of working class suppression, you uphold their bureaucratically imposed organizational discipline against the efforts of the party to develop democratically organized rank-and-file committees. Here, in a nutshell, is your class orientation.
In your letter to Comrade Wells, you proceed from an outright rejection of the Constitution and the branch structure to a complete falsification. You state your concern over “questions about party democracy” and object to the procedures by which the party elects its national leadership. “Democracy is impossible without oversight,” you write, “hence my objection to the fact that members ‘nominate’ party leaders, but do not directly elect them.”
The Constitution of the Socialist Equality Party elaborates in detail the procedures through which the membership elects the leadership and ensures that this leadership is representative
of the party as a whole. These procedures are reviewed and discussed extensively at every party Congress, including the one that you participated in and enthusiastically endorsed.
You conclude your letter to Comrade Wells by stating that “there is much on which we still agree.” No, at this point we agree on nothing. Your professed opposition to war, chauvinism and censorship is worth as much as your previous professed support for the party and its program. Your defense of the chauvinist AFL-CIO will lead, if you continue along your current political trajectory, to a complete repudiation of opposition to imperialism.
You have made in the course of the past several weeks serious political errors. Acting on the basis of subjective impulses, without the necessary study of the political history of the International Committee of the Fourth International, you have rendered yourself vulnerable to all the forces of political reaction that operate within the United States, the citadel of world imperialism.
You have clearly violated the terms of the application that you signed on April 6, 2020. Your actions leave the Political Committee no alternative, at the present time, but to revoke your status as a provisional member.
How you now respond to the principled action of the Socialist Equality Party will determine the entire course of your future political development. You have dug yourself into a political ditch, and the only way out of it is for you to begin a careful reevaluation of your political trajectory. That is your decision to make. It is not our intention, nor our desire, to foreclose the possibility of your reintegration into the revolutionary Marxist movement. Nor was it our intention to be
patronizing when we stated at the national aggregate of March 19 that your errors were, to some extent, the product of inexperience. In its approach to the training of cadre, the leadership of the SEP is guided by the sage advice of Trotsky. Responding to serious problems in the development of the Left Opposition in Germany during the early 1930s, he wrote:
A revolutionary organization selects and educates people not for intrigues among cliques but for great struggles. That imposes very heavy demands upon the cadres and even greater ones upon the “leaders” or the candidates for the role of leadership. Moments of crisis, no matter how painful they may be, have this political significance in every organization – they disclose the real political character of its members; what sort of spirit animates them, in whose name they struggle, whether they have the power of endurance, etc.
Naturally, the political evaluation of people, especially of younger people, is not of a decisive character in most cases. People can learn on the basis of their experiences, repress some features and develop others. However, it is precisely in order to achieve just such a collective education that the International Left in general and various sections in particular must diligently pursue the development of every single one of its members, and especially that of the responsible workers; and with extreme attentiveness in times of crisis. They must not leave unpunished toying with principles,
journalistic light-mindedness, moral looseness, and pseudo “irreconcilability” – in the name of personal caprice. Only in this manner can the organization be secured against catastrophic surprises in the future. The spirit of circle chumminess (you for me, and me for you) is the most abominable of organizational sicknesses. With the aid of chumminess, one can gather a clique around oneself but not a faction of cothinkers. [“The Crisis in the German Left Opposition,” Writings of Leon Trotsky 1930-31 (New York: Pathfinder, 1973), pp. 149-50]
Peter, we urge you to reconsider your political position and class orientation. “Repress” the individualistic and anarchistic tendencies that are incompatible with disciplined revolutionary activity within the working class. Take up a serious study of the history of the International Committee of the Fourth International.
If and when, on the basis of your own actions from this date forward, the SEP is confident that you can abide by the party constitution and fight loyally for the policies of the party in accordance with the decisions of its National Congress, you will be allowed to reapply for provisional membership in the Socialist Equality Party.
On behalf of the Political Committee of the Socialist Equality Party
cc: Membership of the Socialist Equality Party