Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Sparticist League Backing ISIS: Once Again.

with 15 comments


Sparts Campaigning.

Spartacist League Forms Syrian Battalion in Support of ISIS

RAQQAH, SYRIA – Marking the first time since the Bolivian National Revolution that Trotskyists have rallied in armed defence of their values, members of the Spartacist League of Britain have travelled to “the Caliphate” in order to defend ISIS from “imperialism”.

The formation of the so-called “Hammer Battalion” follows an announcement earlier this week of Spartacist League support for ISIS military victory.

“However, a senior ISIS source has hinted that not everyone in the movement is supportive of the group’s actions: “They spend more time condemning others for not being ISIS enough than actually fighting. Three of our best men were killed last month in a fight over whether the Soviet Union was a ‘deformed’ or ‘degenerated’ worker’s state.”

See more on Workers’ Spatula.

The source for this?

SL/B National Conference Summer 2015. The fight for a Leninist party

We must guard against a tendency, noted in the documents adopted by the December 2014 plenums of the ICL International Executive Committee and the SL/US Central Committee, to succumb to the pressure bearing down on our party to weaken our opposition to imperialism. The reintegration of Crimea into Russia in the aftermath of an imperialist-sponsored, fascist-infested coup in Kiev and the referenda for “self-rule” in the East Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk were largely met with howls of outrage by the liberal and reformist left in the West…. We took a correct, Leninist stance in forthrightly declaring “Crimea is Russian” and in defending the right to self-rule in Eastern Ukraine.

The US, supported by Britain, is now at war with the Islamic State (ISIS), which was initially funded by extremist Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. [An IS motion of 23 October 2014 said:] “We have a military side with the reactionary ISIL when it engages in military conflict with the imperialists and their local forces on the ground, including the Iraqi Kurdish pesh merga, the Baghdad government, Shi’ite militias and the Syrian Kurds. We give no political support to any of these retrograde forces.”…

The justification?

Here is some background:

Workers Vanguard 3rd of April 2015.

It is the duty of class-conscious workers everywhere, particularly in the U.S., to oppose all wars and occupations carried out by the imperialists. When the U.S. began air strikes against ISIS last year, we explained that “any force, however unsavory, that attacks, repels or otherwise impedes U.S. forces strikes a blow in the interests of the exploited and the oppressed” (“U.S. Out of Iraq! No Intervention in Syria!” WV No. 1051, 5 September 2014). We take a military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists and forces acting as their proxies, including the Baghdad government and the Shi’ite militias as well as the Kurdish pesh merga forces in Northern Iraq and the Syrian Kurdish nationalists. This does not mean we give the slightest political support to the reactionary ISIS butchers.


Workers Hammer(UK) Winter 2014 – 15.

Many liberals and reformist organisations, while claiming to oppose the imperialists’ intervention in Syria/Iraq, are simultaneously backing the Kurdish forces that are acting as imperialist proxies. In the battle for the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobani in northern Syria, the US has carried out airstrikes against ISIS and dropped arms and other supplies to fighters on the ground, mainly from the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is allied to the nationalist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) based in Turkey. PYD military forces are acting as ground troops and spotters for the US imperialists, thus tying the fortunes of the oppressed Kurdish population to the imperialists’ war against ISIS. While we uphold the right of national self-determination for the Kurdish people, who are oppressed by the bourgeois regimes in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, “championing the Kurds in the current conflict can only mean lending support to imperialist plunder”, as we explain in “Down with US/British war against ISIS!”

Workers Vanguard. 31st October 2014.

ISIS today is in battle against the local tools of U.S. imperialism, the main enemy of the world’s working people. A setback for the U.S. in Syria might give pause to Washington in its military adventures, including by encouraging opposition at home. Such opposition adds to the tinder that must be ignited in class struggle against the capitalist rulers who, in their quest for ever greater profits, beat down the workers, black people and immigrants.

In our opinion the Sparts show the ultimate degeneration of revolutionary “defeatism” (wishing the destruction of one’s own ‘ruling class’ and its military).

This is where it led during the Second World War: saying that the Allies, backed by the French Resistance, were the same as the SS and Vichy.

One might say that the ultimate blame for this moral bankrupcy can be put at Trotsky’s feet.

As this indicates –  on the eve of the Second World War.

Trotsky sharply rejected any notion of taking sides in the war:

By his victories and bestialities, Hitler provokes naturally the sharp hatred of workers the world over. But between this legitimate hatred of workers and the helping of his weaker but less reactionary enemies is an unbridgeable gulf. The victory of the imperialists of Great Britain and France would not be less frightful for the ultimate fate of mankind than that of Hitler and Mussolini. Bourgeois democracy cannot be saved. By helping their bourgeoisie against foreign Fascism, the workers would only accelerate the victory of Fascism in their own country. The task posed by history is not to support one part of the imperialist system against another but to make an end of the system as a whole.

Just as in 1914, Trotsky was urging his followers to swim against the stream. In doing so, he cut through the ideological claptrap of the ‘democracies’ opposed to Hitler. What he failed to do was to offer any real indication of a strategy which would enable the tiny Trotskyist current to relate to the broad anti-Fascist movement that would emerge in occupied Europe.

More:  With the Masses, Against the Stream  Marxists Archive.

Ian Birchall, the author of the article cited above, is a lot more forgiving to the “errors” that resulted from these words than the Tendance is.


15 Responses

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  1. Wow. I can remember a time when the Sparts were accusing the rest of the Left of supporting the Afghan mujahedeen. This is just amazing.

    The Spanish Prisoner

    August 25, 2015 at 10:10 am

  2. As you can it’s a position that’s been developing amongst them for some time.

    Andrew Coates

    August 25, 2015 at 10:17 am

  3. “One might say that the ultimate blame for this moral bankrupcy can be put at Trotsky’s feet.” That’s a little harsh. Trotskyism is only *politically* bankrupt. The Sparts are responsible for their own morality,


    August 25, 2015 at 10:27 am

  4. The strand of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ in Trotskyism has its origins in one man’s political confusion faced with the Second World War, but as you say Francis, by definition ethical choices are made by people themselves.

    This stands out as particularly vile,

    “Many liberals and reformist organisations, while claiming to oppose the imperialists’ intervention in Syria/Iraq, are simultaneously backing the Kurdish forces that are acting as imperialist proxies. In the battle for the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobani in northern Syria…”

    Andrew Coates

    August 25, 2015 at 10:32 am

  5. The USSR was a degenerated workers’ state, that much is obvious. No arguments required.

    redkorat☭ (@red_korat)

    August 25, 2015 at 11:09 am

  6. And surely the correct argument is that the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers’ state and other similar societies were deformed workers’ states?

    Andrew Coates

    August 25, 2015 at 11:33 am

  7. The category “workers’ state” – “degenerated” or otherwise – in which the working class does not in any meaningful sense hold political power is not a useful one. This is one of the main problems with Trotskyism (and other variants of Marxism, although Trotskyism is by far the worst offender) – a tendency to think in abstract categories derived from the works of The Masters.


    August 25, 2015 at 1:04 pm

  8. … that way of thinking ends up in the sort of nonsense spouted by the Sparts, cited above. Perfectly justifiable in terms of theory, but completely preposterous when measured against reality.


    August 25, 2015 at 1:08 pm

  9. There is a lot of important material about the nature of the former Soviet Union its ‘allies’, and other Communist countries.

    Many of them rest on political economy. This involves ‘abstract’ theory – that is efforts to generalise from particulars, to discover causal mechanisms, and other forms of explanation.

    In any case there are plenty of them, and they contain some which indicate that using ‘classical categories’ can be productive as sources of analysis: see Western Marxism and the. Soviet Union. A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates. Since 1917 by. Marcel van der Linden.


    Water is ‘abstracted’ from the ground, this does make it unreal.

    The problem with the Sparts is scholasticism – not religious reverence – the need to always justify their arguments by previous authority without critical thought or developing anything new.

    This is buttressed by ‘famous quotations’ at work here if you look at the assumptions of the articles – notably the idea that true resistance begins at “home”.

    Revolutionary defeatism – that is the principal task of the left is the defeat of its ‘own’ bourgeoisie (a pretty nebulous term in a world of globalised capital) is a rather more enduring line than debates about the nature of the Soviet Union.

    It has survived the end of the USSR and is doing well in the Stop the War Coalition.

    Andrew Coates

    August 25, 2015 at 4:16 pm

  10. Hang on,

    you were cheer leading the Islamists in Syria and Libya. And I just know you are cheer leading the Saudi massacres in Yemen.

    At least the Sparticist League have some rationale that could be understood from a left wing perspective.

    Your utter imperialist apology makes your position infinitely worse than the Sparticist Leagues.

    In fact it is the policy you adhere to and consistently apologised for that has led to the rise of ethnic and sectarian division across the region. We told you your position would lead to this. And now you have the nerve to pontificate about the rights and wrongs.

    What a piece of work you are!


    August 25, 2015 at 5:59 pm

  11. “And I just know…” No, no you don’t. Sectarians are notoriously bad mind-readers.


    August 25, 2015 at 7:20 pm

  12. Andrew: I share your revulsion at the sight of so-called ‘Trotskyists’ giving support to ISIS. When I first read about the Sparts’ position I thought it was some kind of sick joke.

    I can also agree that Trotsky’s position of WW2 was mistaken (though we should always remember that we were not present and that we *do* have the benefit of hindsight). But I do not agree that the Sparts’ disgusting “military” support for ISIS has its roots in Trotsky’s position, the so-called ‘Proletarian Military Policy’ (PMP).

    The PMP was an attempt to marry the Bolshevik’s revolutionary defeatist stance from WW1 With the need to fight the Nazis – an imperative that Trotsky certainly recognised.

    In fact, the policy of most Trotskyists in the war was developed by James P Cannon, basing himself on a modified version of Trotsky’s PMP, was not even-handed as between the Allies and the Axis forces. In Britain and the USA, they argued for workers’ control and a workers’ government as the best way to beat Hitler and fascism.

    But they opposed imperialism on all sides. They argued for militant continuation of the working-class struggle and rejected the idea of giving political support to the capitalist governments of Britain and the USA as “lesser evils” in the face of the Nazi threat.

    Their explanations were skewed by mistaken expectations. They thought Britain and the USA were sure to move to police state regimes during the war. They discounted the possibility of any stable bourgeois democracy after the war. But their principles were right and the Cannon version of the PMP (expounded in the transcriptions of his speeches at his trial for sedition, in the book ‘Socialism on Trial’) was an honest attempt to marry revolutionary defeatism with the need to fight the Nazis – an attempt, perhaps, to square the circle, but one made in good faith and with the clear understanding that the Nazis had to be fought and defeated.

    Jim Denham

    August 26, 2015 at 9:19 am

  13. Jim, I know the complex French Trotksyists’ stand in the Second World War a lot better than the US SWP or the British Trotskyists’ positions and actions.

    It’s a big subject, but many of the chronically divided French Trotskyists certainly were found wanting.

    Revolutionary defeatism as not a strategy to deal with the Occupation and the Collaboration: wishing both sides’ defeat meant not doing anything to help the Resistance backed by the Allies.

    Some infiltrated Collaborationist groups (on the basis that this was the way to undermine them), some volunteering for work in Germany with the claim that this was “fraternising” with German labour, some doing practically nothing at all (Lutte Ouvrière are still proud of their forerunners, in this category), and only one section engaging in the Resistance (although the Stalinists made that hard, there were plenty of other branches they could have operated with).


    There remain allegations about Pierre Lambert cracking under interrogation.

    Personally my own stand is closer to the view that the fight against the Nazis and Fascists was a “People’s War’, amongst other things, including the side that fought for the Empire and the Kind).

    I would have supported the forces making the radical people’s war.

    Andrew Coates

    August 26, 2015 at 11:20 am

  14. Any chance that Ian Donovan might volunteer? Perhaps he has moved on from a minority of one to a minority of two. Not enough for a battalion, though, but then thats true of the Sparts worldwide.


    August 27, 2015 at 7:43 pm

  15. I for one would volunteer him.

    Andrew Coates

    August 28, 2015 at 12:08 pm

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