Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 1, 2021

The Socialist Equality Party Member who rejected sectarianism

Filed under: sectarianism,Socialist Equality Party,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 10:21 pm

On March 8th, I received an email from Shuvu Batta, a former member of the NY branch of the Socialist Equality Party that publishes World Socialist Website. He had recently been expelled on the typical bureaucratic basis that Trotskyists seem to have purloined from 1930s Stalinism. He wrote:

I came across your site and while I may not agree 100% with what you’ve written, I think your critique on the SEP is correct. I was a former SEP member who after 2 and half years around the organization, have been forced to admit that the party line on the trade unions is absolutely incorrect and more-over an anti-worker stance. A former member wrote a scathing critique of the trade union line and our party politics which I was able to read. After sharing the critique to other comrades, I was put up for disciplinary action and eventually expelled.

He included a number of attachments written by him and replied to by David North’s cohorts. I believe he has made an important contribution to Marxism by taking on the SEP’s grotesque misinterpretation of Trotsky’s ideas and demonstrates a keen awareness of Marxism that persuades me that a new generation of revolutionary socialists is being born. In the memorial meeting for Ernie Tate, Tariq Ali struck a rueful note about Marxism being at a low ebb. Unless you are preoccupied with the academic left that uses NLR or Historical Materialism to carry out its debates, you will miss the reality that thousands of people in their 20s to 40s are embracing Marxism at a higher level than I ever saw in the 1960s and 70s. When you read two of his contributions to the debate within the SEP, you’ll agree with me that Comrade Batta is part of the cream of the crop.

1. From a document titled “My Defense of Democratic Centralism and a Critique of Sectarian Politics”:

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.

2. Socialist Equality Party National Secretary Joseph Kishore spreads lies about an Amazon worker and former party member: The worker responds:

Comrade Batta advised me that this article that appeared on the Permanent Revolution website “is more current and gives a deeper exposure of the SEP.” So, the two together will give you a sense of how a grain of sand can create a pearl of political wisdom although sand hardly conveys the level of irritation the SEP can produce.

Blog at WordPress.com.