Anatomy of a Split in Socialist Action

It is indeed quite unusual when a political party, such as ours, widely distributes a report that describes a political split from its ranks. How the U.S. antiwar movement should respond to the U.S. government’s ongoing deadly wars of intervention across the globe – from Syria to Iran, Venezuela and Nicaragua – was central to the departure of some 29 members in October 2019. We present below, for the information of socialist and antiwar activists across the country, an edited version of the Political Resolution approved by the October 6, 2019 plenum of Socialist Action’s National Committee that describes the main issues in dispute. –Editor

The U.S. war against Syria

We began this debate on the nature of the U.S. war against Syria in 2015 during the lead up to our 2016 Kansas City National Convention where it was resolved with the passage of several comprehensive resolutions. Nevertheless, the internal debate continued through the lead up to our 2018 Minneapolis National Convention, where SA’s position was again reaffirmed following a full pre-convention discussion and debate. In total there have been several scores of counterposed texts on Syria, with the debate now extending to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran and Kashmir. SA’s adopted positions on Syria have been presented in a steady series of newspaper articles over the past four years and longer. They have appeared in two SA Syria pamphlets, including the most recent published in 2018 entitled, Syria: Anatomy of Another U.S. Imperialist War.

The essence of our view is as follows:

1) The war in Syria, including at this moment, is a U.S.-led, NATO and Gulf State monarchy abetted imperialist war against a poor and oppressed nation. SA is not neutral with regard to this war, which has taken the lives of some 500,000 people and driven half of the Syrian people into internal or external exile. We unconditionally support the right of Syria to self-determination, including its right to request and receive aid and military support from Russia, China, Iran and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah. Indeed, had not Syria sought and received aid from Russia, Iran and others, Syria today would be a U.S. neo-colony.

2) In this military and political sense, we stand for the victory of Syria against the U.S.-imperialist led war. We are for the defeat of this U.S. led 14-nation “coalition” in all its manifestations. In the course of this monstrous U.S. imperialist war, SA tragically found itself divided with a minority asserting that it would be on the side of a nondescript “Syrian masses.” In Syria, the SA majority insisted, we demand U.S./NATO Out Now! The SA minority insisted that we add “Russia Out Now!” as well. Had we forces in Syria, the minority would be on the opposite side of the barricades in what they insist is a civil war between the Syrian government and the Syrian people.

3) SA rejected this minority view that the war in Syria is a civil war, if not a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. In contrast to a few years ago when the so-called independent rebel forces, which were supported by the minority, occupied some two-thirds of Syria, today these same “rebels,” whose calling card is the reactionary fundamentalist ideas of Al Qaida, the Nusra Front and related forces in the pay of Saudi Arabia, various Gulf State monarchies and U.S. imperialism, are isolated and defeated.

4) The minority had been explicit in its assertion that the right to self determination of oppressed nations does not apply to Syria since Syria, they claim, is not fighting U.S. imperialism but rather the Syrian people. In this battle, they stated that they favor the “Syrian people,” that is to say, the “rebels!” The minority similarly asserted that U.S. imperialism and its allies are barely involved in Syria, that they only “dole out aid with an eyedropper” to the “rebels.” 

5) We conclude this review of the SA Syria debate with a response to the minority accusation that we have abandoned permanent revolution in Syria, that is, that we have abandoned the struggle for socialism because we support Syria’s capitalist government’s military victory over the U.S, invaders. There is not a grain of truth to this contorted argument. Unconditional support to the right of self-determination of oppressed nations, that is, the national question, is inseparable from the class question. In Syria, we are for the rule of the working class, not the capitalist class. The pre-condition for the rule of the working class—in Syria or any other nation on earth—is the construction of a mass revolutionary socialist party. The building of such a party cannot be settled by “theoretical debates” where one proclaims fealty to ideas separate and apart from the reality of the class struggle. In Syria, we assert, no revolutionary socialist party can be constructed that stands aside – neutral – with regard to an imperialist invasion, not to mention, standing in the camp of the invader using the pretext that the imperialist-backed “rebels” are revolutionaries! The only way for serious revolutionaries to win the hearts and minds of the Syrian masses is to be on the front lines of the battle against imperialist intervention and invasion. This simple fact is true with regard to every oppressed nation on earth. It stands at the core of our existence.

Socialist Action supports the Syrian government’s military defense of Syria against the U.S. invaders, without lending one iota of political support to Syrian capitalism in all of its manifestations. We are for the working class overthrow of the Assad government not the imperialist overthrow of the same government. The pre-condition for the former’s success is the construction of a mass revolutionary party that defends Syria against its would-be U.S. imperialist colonizers. 

This has always been our focus. No serious revolutionaries in Syria will ever win the confidence of the Syrian masses with any other approach. Indeed, we have repeatedly referenced opinion polls conducted by the Gallop-associated polling organization in London demonstrating the U.S./NATO coalition and its associated components have the least support (single-digit percentage)among the Syrian population, while the majority of Syrians support the Assad government! 

The real meaning of the Syria debate

Since the last convention in October 2018, the very issues that were resolved with regard to Syria are now raised as “new issues” by the minority as they relate to U.S. wars, threats of war, sanctions and interventions in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran and now Kashmir. In summary fashion we will review these “new issues” of world import.

Venezuela

The U.S. imperialist beast has sanctioned and embargoed Venezuela, the nation with the largest oil reserves in the world, since the Obama administration and before. These sanctions have led to mass starvation and the death of 50,000 Venezuelans. The sanctions are coupled with crippling acts of sabotage of the nation’s power generating systems and other key aspects of its infrastructure. The U.S., invoking the historic imperialist Monroe Doctrine, warned all Latin American nations that any that challenged the U.S. embargo of Venezuela would be similarly sanctioned. The U.S.-engineered coup effort included attempts to bribe Venezuelan military officers and politicians to physically seize power by force and to stage and televise a fake military takeover of a Caracas military base to give the impression of an ongoing military revolt. All this was accompanied by a united corporate media effort to initiate rebellion, including strikes initiated by pro-coup unions and a full court U.S.-led international effort to recognize the U.S.-appointed rightwing stooge, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela’s president. 

This overt U.S.-orchestrated coup effort included a media covered international ploy to literally escort the arriving Guaidó through Venezuela’s Caracas Airport, surrounded by international imperialist stooge diplomats. This culminated in Guaidó’s announcement declaring that he was Venezuela’s new president. This was accompanied by the U.S. literally stealing billions of dollars of Venezuela’s gold and dollars that had been deposited in its bank accounts around the world as well as stealing the assets of Venezuela’s CITGO oil corporation. And finally, the U.S. minions orchestrated a spectacle broadcast live throughout the world by the international corporate media, showing large mobilizations at Venezuela’s Colombian and Brazilian border bridges preparing to militarily enter Venezuela to take power. The world was made witness to one of the crudest U.S.-orchestrated coup efforts ever. 

And what was SA’s response? We did everything within our means to mobilize against this overt threat of a U.S. war, demanding, via united front protests initiated by UNAC and many others, from coast to coast: U.S. Out Now! No to the U.S. Coup! And U.S. Hands Off Venezuela!

And the comrades of the minority in SA? What did they propose in their April 12, 2019 “Counter-Amendment to the Draft Political Resolution on Venezuela”? 

Their motion included the following:

“The U.S. ruling class must also take into consideration growing economic competition from China in the region, Russian investment that includes bailouts of PDVSA [the Venezuelan oil company] in return for equity, and foreign policy initiatives on the part of Maduro and Ortega that align with Russia.”

Their text continues:

“A March 19 meeting in Rome between the U.S. and Russia, in which they aimed to find a common resolution for Venezuela, suggests that the threats to Venezuelan sovereignty come from more than one pole of world imperialism. The introduction of a small cadre of Russian troops indicates that Russia, too, is concerned about its investments and political prestige.”[Emphasis added.]

As with Syria, the minority’s focus was on attacking the Maduro government and posing the need for Russia and China to cease their aid to Venezuela even though the beleaguered Venezuelan government has requested it! 

Here again, their focus was on how to differentiate SA from the overall UNAC demands that focus on U.S. Out Now! We are entirely in agreement with UNAC’s focus and will add that UNAC properly takes no position on the nature of the Maduro government other than to support its right to defend itself from imperialist attack. It is in this capacity that SA has won the respect of the entire antiwar movement, including from the Venezuelan government, even though we have repeatedly stated, with the proper measure, emphasis and focus, that we consider the Venezuelan government to be capitalist, and that we seek to build a revolutionary party there to challenge capitalist rule. 

Nicaragua

With regard to SA’s stance during the April 2019 events in Nicaragua the immediate inclination of the minority was to denounce the Ortega government and support the forces that had been mobilized in the streets to overthrow it. The majority’s starting point was to determine who were the chief organizers of these mass anti-Ortega protests. Chief among them were the powerful COSEP (Superior Council of Private Enterprise), the reactionary Catholic Church, and rightwing student organizations whose leaders visited the U.S. to publicly meet with Trump’s top coup makers. We noted and repudiated the U.S. legislation that effectively embargoed Nicaragua and banned its access to loans from the world’s leading financial organizations as well as the role of U.S.-funded NGOs. We came to the conclusion that whatever our criticisms of the capitalist Ortega-led government and our opposition to its longstanding corruption and abandonment of its original revolutionary anti-imperialist struggles, we stood 100 percent against the U.S. imperialist effort to overthrow it. That was the adopted line of SA, and not the initial line presented by the minority. 

Iran

Iran, the nation with the fourth largest oil reserves in the world, today faces a U.S. imperialist-led full court press. This includes the U.S. imposing perhaps the greatest embargo and sanctions regime on a poor nation ever, certainly the most brutal we have seen in several decades. It includes Trump administration threats to obliterate Iran and the associated mobilization of a U.S. armada off the Iranian coast to literally stop any nation from trading with Iran. This includes blocking all ocean-going vessels that carry Iranian oil. It includes cyberwar against Iran’s infrastructure, assassination of Iranian scientists and the exclusion of Iran from world financial institutions. The result has been a catastrophic decline in Iran’s capacity to feed its people and massive inflation, as in Venezuela, that has put the price of food, medical supplies and other essentials beyond the reach of ever-increasing millions of Iranians. 

Here again, SA’s focus has been “U.S. Hands Off!” In contrast, the focus of the minority, reflected in the form of proposed articles for our newspaper, has been to direct SA’s fire against the capitalist Iranian government. 

Kashmir

The essence of our difference on Kashmir revolved around the exact issues in dispute with regard to Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Iran. SA stands in total opposition to India’s invasion of Kashmir, its arrest and slaughter of thousands of protesting Kashmiri Muslims, the cutting off of Kashmir from all means of communication with the world, the physical occupation by Indian troops of Kashmir and the abrogation of Indian constitution provisions regarding Kashmiri autonomy. All this was a prelude to the total absorption of Kashmir into India and the sequestration of Kashmiri land to the Indian government’s favored bourgeois usurpers. Our central demands must be “India Out of Kashmir!” and “U.S. Hands Off!”

In sharp contrast, the minority insisted that SA add, “All regional powers out of Kashmir.” This included Pakistan and, by implication China. But neither Pakistan nor China hasinvaded Kashmir! 

Domestic policy debates: Ex-ISOer City Council Election Campaign

Socialist Action’s editor, without consultation, posted on our website and proposed for publication an article that essentially touted the Athens, Ohio City Council election campaign of ex-ISO member Ellie Hamrick of the Athens Revolutionary Socialists. 

In dispute was whether Hamrick and her organization had endorsed the campaign of a Bernie Sanders DSAer who was running for Athens mayor. When we investigated the matter further, we found that Hamrick and her ex-ISO group were indeed supporting the DSA Democrat. In contrast to the originally posted Hamrick article, the revised version that appeared in our newspaper explicitly rejected SA support Hamrick’s campaign.

Here again, an issue resolved at the convention was re-raised in another form – a “new” form. Our Minneapolis Convention resolved that SA’s central orientation in the period ahead was to the mass of unaffiliated radicalizing youth who repeatedly expressed preferences for socialism over capitalism and not, as the minority proposed, to DSA or perhaps to ex-ISOers, or to the U.S. affiliate of the Argentine-based Trotskyist Faction.

“Conspiracy theories”

Almost immediately after the Minneapolis Convention, the PC convened to debate the so-called conspiracy theory arguments presented by the minority wherein certain publications, indeed a wide range, were said to present false and invented information and therefore should not be used as a legitimate source of information. These included publications ranging from Moon of Alabama to CounterPunch. Further, we were told that we were confronted in the U.S. with “left” conspiracy theorists of varying types who were advocates or supporters of a “red-brown alliance” defined as groups including both “communists” and fascists who have joined with Russia’s Putin to support various proto-fascists in Europe and elsewhere. 

We were told that some SA friends or allies in the U.S. were actual supporters of this red-brown alliance idea. These included, at various times, UNAC’s Co-National Coordinator Joe Lombardo, Black Agenda Report staff writer Margaret Kimberly, and Black Agenda Report Senior Editor Glen Ford. Workers World Party was similarly thrown into the mix. The charge was based on the minority’s totally unsubstantiated assertions regarding these groups’ and individuals’ views and associations, including the minority’s vicious slander that these activists had consciously associated with reactionary racist and red-brown alliance groups.  

Democracy and Centralism

We reached the point where ever-widening political differences have compelled the minority to take their views outside SA, including publishing them in non-party listserves, not to mention posting them, without approval, on our website, in our public newsletter and, most recently on SA’s Internal Discussion Bulletin (IDB) where we were engaged in a literary discussion exclusively devoted transgender equality. In effect, we had in SA a public faction that repeatedly disregarded or thwarted the implementation of SA’s adopted views. 

Jim Cannon, the central founder of U.S. Trotskyism and the SWP, taught us well that in the preliminary and even later stages of internal party debates our norms should focus on political clarification of all issues in dispute and that any organizational measures taken against dissenting minorities who exceed the bounds of our democratic centralist party should be subordinated to this political clarification. If there was to be a split in the party, Cannon stressed, it must come at a time when every comrade fully understands the issues at stake. This, in Cannon’s view, best ensured that losses to the revolutionary party were kept to a minimum and that its programmatic banner remained clear to everyone.

Today, after five years of debate, we had reached a point where internal frictions and strife had reached fever pitch. This is why the Political Committee called for a special or emergency plenum on October 6 to finally resolve all outstanding issues. 

The essence of our being is to allow the test of life itself to determine the validity of our ideas. This is the core principle of the scientific method, where the validity ideas or hypotheses are tested in the real world. Unlike other parties who dabble in politics and engage in endless debates after which each tendency or faction carries out its own line in the political arena, a Leninist party – a party that exists to challenge capitalist power and prerogatives – operates in a disciplined manner wherein all comrades agree that, differences notwithstanding, all will work together to test adopted positions in practice. 

Minorities are included in our leadership bodies to learn from and share in the process of doing so and not to endlessly debate the validity of adopted positions as has increasingly been the case. 

Trans Liberation

Disregarding SA’s long-standing position of unequivocal support to the rights of transgender people and implacable opposition to any and all forms of discrimination, exclusion, persecution, and violence against them, the minority charged, without foundation and with malicious intent, that SA’s leadership was transphobic! 

SA fully supports transgender people’s fundamental right to self-identify and the full inclusion of transgender people in every aspect of society, including but not limited to, equal access to housing, restrooms, medical care, employment, education, sports, legal justice, body autonomy, dignity, and the full realization of human potential. Gender is a social construct, which is formed by economic, cultural, historical, biological, and class factors. In matters of gender identity, as with sexual orientation, an individual knows best what is right for them. We reject any assertion that their identity is in any way inauthentic or invalid. Trans women are women. Trans men are men.

This concludes our presentation of Socialist Action’s views on all disputed matters.