Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

James Robertson, Founder of the Sparticist League, and Progenitor of the Private Eye Columnist, Passes On.

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spart nk

Sparts’ British Supporters.

James Robertson, (born 1928) was National Chairman of the Spartacist League (US), the original national section of the International Communist League. Robertson is now, it is reported (Marxism List), a consultative member of the ICL’s international executive committee in the depths of Hades.

Contacted by this Blog the venerable scion Comrade Dave said,

Image result for dave spart

Julian Assange,  Aaron Bastani…and now Comrade Robertson, who has not been the victim of the racist declining British empire as it is smashed by the Spartacist League/Britain  which will honour his memory in our fights to build such a revolutionary workers party, one that stands as the tribune of the people in defending all the oppressed including the downtrodden. Building such parties internationally is part of reforging the Trotskyist Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution.  As Trotskyists, we stress that just as workers in the US must defend their unions against the bosses despite the sell-out union leadership, the international working class, especially in the US, must stand for unconditional military defence of the Deformed North Korean Workers’ State against imperialism and internal counterrevolution.

Down with the Pabloite Revisionists!

Glory and Hail to the Memory of the Robertson Victorious Red Army!

Dave Spart: Chair of the Aldeburgh Climate Collective/Free Julian Assange, People’s Brexit Alliance.

Full accounts of his life and his passing, the public mourning,  and planned commemorative meetings have yet to appear.

For those who only know the Sparts from the celebrated offspring’s regular Private Eye Column the excellent Hatfull of History offers this introductory guide, which concentrates on their British activities.

Taking a break from writing book chapters and ARC proposals, I have been plunging into bizarre world of the Spartacist League (UK) through the recently digitised Spartacist Britain (1978-84) and Workers’ Hammer (1984-2011), made available online through the Riazanov Library Digitization Project and the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online. The Spartacist League were a breakway group from the Workers Socialist League (led by Alan Thornett) who had broken away from Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party in the mid-1970s. The SL joined up with other Spartacist groups in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, forming the International Communist League – a version of the Fourth International that opposed the Mandelite Fourth International which the IMG belonged to. In his 1984 work, John Sullivan described the Spartacist League as ‘very unpopular’ and ‘increasingly unbalanced’ and are probably best known nowadays for their absurd defence of regimes such as North Korea (accompanied by unintelligible placards announcing their position – see here).

SECTARIAN HILARITY FOR THE LEFT-WING TRAINSPOTTER! THE UK SPARTACIST LEAGUE’S PAPERS FROM 1978-2011 NOW DIGITISED AND ONLINE

(Note if I could be arsed there is an issue which denounces ‘Bully Boy Coatesy’ to boot).

 

A guide is offered in the Bible, our look-up-to, As Soon as This Pub Closes. (1988) – one could update it at length, right to the recent expulsion of the Polish section (maximum 3 members, “ICL Expels Members of Polish Section. Statement by the International Executive Committee. 5th of April 2019).

THE Spartacist League (Sparts for short) are a colony of an American group of the same name who split from the American SWP in the early 1960s, when the parent group became Castroites, lost interest in the labour movement, and became ardent supporters of armed struggle (except in the United States, where guerrilla war is illegal). Consequently, the SWP fired Gerry Healy, who had been their British concessionaire up till then, made it up with their old enemies Pablo and Mandel, and created the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. Those, mainly in the SWP’s youth wing, who could not accept the change in policy were expelled and eventually became the Spartacist League. They tried to work with Gerry Healy, who the Sparts’ leader, James Robertson, recognised as a kindred spirit, but Healy demanded unconditional obedience and worship at his personal shrine. If the group was to escape from national isolation it needed its own International, so teams of missionaries were despatched to strike at the revisionists’ European base. Although less successful than the Mormons, they managed to recruit some natives and now have a group of about 60 people, which publishes a journal named Workers Hammer.

The Sparts’ complete parasitism on other groups makes them very unpopular on the rest of the left, so, regrettably, little attempt is made to understand the theory which explains their behaviour. The Sparts’ core belief is that, for the foreseeable future, it is impossible for revolutionaries to address themselves to significant sectors of the working class, as anyone open to revolutionary politics is already a supporter of one of the groups which falsely claim to be revolutionary. The key task of revolutionaries is, therefore, to win over supporters of these Ostensibly Revolutionary Groups (ORGs), by heckling their meetings and hoping to be thrown out. The Sparts will in this way achieve the primitive accumulation of cadres which is a necessary stage to be gone through before proceeding to a direct involvement in class struggle. The belief in the long slow haul is combined with the view that there is not much time left to build the vanguard party before the final struggle between socialism and barbarism. Such a theory may be contradictory, but it is necessary if the group is to maintain revolutionary fervour while confining its activity to a propaganda onslaught on the ORGs.

Surprise is sometimes expressed that such an introspective strategy comes from a group born in the stirring 1960s, heyday of youth revolt and the movement against the Vietnam War. Are the Sparts not too kind to the ORGs, in spite of continually bad-mouthing them? As usual, an examination of the group’s own history and political predicament will provide an explanation which eludes us if we confine our attention to the realms of grand theory where the Sparts would like to contain it. The core of the Sparts joined the SWP in the late 1950s, after splitting from Max Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League, a formerly Marxist organisation which moved rapidly to the right during the 1950s. Shachtman had split from the SWP in 1940 and ended up supporting the Vietnam War, so the young men who joined the SWP were accepting that that party embodied the revolutionary tradition. They were almost alone in joining what was already an ossified liberal sect, which is why they immediately dominated its youth movement and breathed some life into a decrepit structure.

When the Sparts found themselves outside the SWP, they had, in order to justify joining it in the first place, to construct a myth that it had degenerated recently. The contention puzzled other American leftists. Some of the old SWP members were loyal and dedicated comrades, but the party’s intellectual level was abysmal, it had hardly any industrial clout, and young people, apart from those who were to become the Sparts, saw it as an irrelevance. So did their younger sisters and brothers, when the anti-Vietnam War movement developed in the 1960s. James P. Cannon, the Healy prototype, who the Sparts continue to see as the American Lenin, retired from active leadership but retained political solidarity with the subordinates who replaced him. The SWP, after the departure of the Sparts, acted as handboys of the liberal Democrats in opposing the more radical elements in the anti-war movement. Our indigenous Sparts are carefully brought up in a myth which dates the SWP’s degeneration a decade-and-a-half later than the facts warrant. The contradictions in the Spart view of the movement’s history conditioned their inability to understand British politics, once they stepped ashore. The antics of the American SWP’s co-thinkers here were appalling, so the Sparts slated them mercilessly. On the other hand, the theory said that such groups embodied the revolutionary tradition, in however deformed a fashion, so the Sparts could not abandon them and search for a healthier corpse to feed off.

Why stick with such a contradictory theory and live in such a repulsive environment? It is a more intellectually satisfying variant of the Mandelite belief in the revolutionary potential of the flotsam of that milieu, and fulfils the same function of providing a justification for avoiding the working class. No one unfamiliar with American society can appreciate the enormous difficulty in maintaining a hold on reality in an environment where student radicals have to compete with Hari Krishna and Lyndon La Rouche, a former Spart who is now a leader of a Moral Majority sect. It is surprising, not that the Sparts are crazy, but that they are not even madder. The Sparts’ belief that the ex-Trotskyist movement was healthy until the 1950s allows them to avoid any discussion of the much more important discussions of the 1940s. They cannot help but be aware that the British section of the Fourth International, the Revolutionary Communist Party, was one of the healthiest and most working-class and that their hero Cannon helped in its destruction when he imposed his clone Healy as its leader. Consequently, their anti-British chauvinism seems like a mirror image of Militant’s patriotism. The Sparts’ fixation on their very individual view of history and their chosen field of operations limit their interests. They found it easy enough to outrage your average middle-class trendy by reiterating traditional Marxist views on such issues as Black and Female separatism. As unusually learned Marxists, they are well aware that the founding fathers’ views on Gay Liberation are even more shocking to many of those who consider themselves their followers, but they wisely decided not to press that point. [1] It is more difficult to extend this method to cover areas such as political economy where the trendies do not have a view. In any case, the Spart heart was not in this. Once the overriding aim to zap the ORGs is understood, everything else about Spart activity falls into place. For example, a revolt in South Africa is intrinsically less interesting than the wrong response of the Dutch or German Pabloites to that event. As illusions in Eurocommunism, feminism and the youth vanguard crumbled in the mid-1970s and the radical left was thrown into crisis, the Sparts hoped to benefit from the decline of their softer rivals. In practice, the collapse of that milieu had a calamitous effect on them in the early 1980s. When the dog dies, the fleas also die. Unused to developing the independent activity which was clearly necessary, now that there was not much meat on the ORGs, the Sparts lost most of their cadre in Britain.

Because many of the Sparts’ formal positions are more acceptable to labour movement activists than the lunacies peddled by their competitors, there is the danger that people outside the radical middle-class milieu will want to join them. To prevent the inevitable tensions which would result from recruiting working-class militants, reasonable positions are expressed in an intolerably harsh manner that works quite well. American ex-Sparts describe a very Healyite organisation where Robertson sits behind a steadily growing pile of empty beer cans carrying on a rambling drunken harangue interspersed with senile laughter, yet we have found Robertson charming on his visits to London. It is true that many of the leading Sparts go in for a macho-man image of guns and swords. The perfectly reasonable call for the abolition of the licensing hours is elevated to a central demand, and there are signs of a flirtation with Scots nationalism. As befits its American origin, the Sparts are individually competitive. New ideas are floated, and if successful their originators get promoted, while if the idea is found to be revisionist they are demoted. If you believe that she who lives by the sword will die by the sword, you have probably guessed the Sparts’ destiny. In the early 1980s, a group of veteran Sparts in the Bay Area of California, where they had their only toe-hold in the labour movement, defected. The renegades, who originally called themselves the External Tendency, had absorbed their Spart training well. They re-classified their parent group as an ORG and turned up to intervene at its meetings, carefully restraining themselves against attempts to goad them into violence. Innocents in Bootle or Lyon can hardly be expected to understand that the main purpose of all Spart literature is to discredit that tiny group in California.

Goaded by the External Tendency, the Sparts became increasingly unbalanced, and now agree with the despised Pabloites that a wave of sexual repression is sweeping over Britain. If the External Tendency (now known as the Bolshevik Tendency) are able to smuggle a colonist with the requisite ethnic qualifications past Thatcher’s racist immigration police, so that she or he could do to the Sparts what they do unto others, they would lose control completely and go the way of the Healyites and accuse their rivals of working for the CIA. The Bolshevik Tendency is an extremely small flea, but its bite could well prove fatal.]

See also: (1964), EXPULSION LAID TO TROTSKYITES; Socialist Workers Accused of Arbitrary Actions

 

The Socialist Workers party the American Trotskyite group, has been accused of expelling members solely “on the basis of opinions,” allegedly for the first time in its 35‐year history.

The charge is being circulated by the expelled members, led by, James Robertson and Geoffrey White. Mr. Robertson is the editor of a new 16‐page bimonthly, Spartacist, started here by the ousted group; Mr. White is the West Coast editor.

Mr. Robertson said in an interview last week that “more than a quarter of the membership,” including Mrs. Myra Tanner Weiss, former Vice Presidential candidate, and Arne Swabeck, a founding member, had opposed the expulsions last December although many disagreed with the opinions of the expelled group.

Farrell Dobbs, national secretary, has declined to comment on the charges, circulated in a Spartacist edition of 2,000 copies, according to Mr. Robertson.

Mr. Robertson asserted that past expulsions had been based on actions outside the party. He cited the ouster of Max Shachtman and James Burnham in 1940 after they began operating an independent publication.

While the Socialist Workers party does not make known its membership, Mr. Robertson estimated it was down to about 500 members nationally. A subscription drive recently brought its weekly publication, The Militant, up to perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 subscribers, he estimated.

The Trotskyites’ policy flows from the world Communist program of the late Leon Trotsky. The party is currently running a Presidential ticket headed by Clifton DeBery, who Mr. Robertson said was Mr. Dobbs’s sonin‐law. Mr. Dobbs polled 40,165 votes as party candidate for President in 1960.

Mr. Robertson said that five members of his so‐called Revolutionary Tendency group were expelled by the national committee on Dec. 28 on charges of having a “hostile attitude.” He said the five were not granted “the formality of a trial.”

Another, he said, was expelled by the New York local on Feb. 13 for having picketed Queen Frederika of Greece “without prior consultation or approval.” Five more, he went on, were expelled by the local last Thursday on charges that included their having voted against a report branding his group “a hostile faction.”

Mrs. Weiss voted against the latest expulsion on the ground that the party should allow “different democratic interpretations” even though she opposed the Robertson group politically as “sectarian and ultra‐leftist.” Those expelled are demanding readmission and could appeal to a national convention.

The Revolutionary Tendency group was formed in 1961, The Spartacist said, in response to what it called the national committee’s “surrender of all Marxist responsibility toward the Cuban Revolution through abasement as an uncritical apologist for the Castro regime.”

The group asserted this had been repeated with regard to the Ben Bella regime in Algeria. Most recently, it contended, the majority engaged “within the United States in a will‐o’‐ the‐wisp chase after Black Nationalism.”

Of those expelled, Mr. Robertson said, the oldest was Mr. White.

Mr. White, 37 years old, is a former chairman of the Communist party of Rhode Island. He resigned from that party in 1957 after Premier Khrushchev’s disclosures of Stalinist terrorism.

Mr. Robertson said that Mr. White then joined the Socialist Workers party and polled 2,000 votes as its candidate for the City Council in Berkeley, Calif., Jast year.

Mr. Robertson said he himself was 35 and had joined the Communist party in California at the age of 18 in 1946. From 1949 to 1957, he said, he belonged to Mr. Schachtman’s Workers party, called the Independent Socialist League in its later days, and then he joined the Socialist Workers party.

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Written by Andrew Coates

April 12, 2019 at 4:24 pm

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  1. […] via James Robertson, Founder of the Sparticist League, and Progenitor of the Private Eye Columnist, Pass… […]

  2. […] via James Robertson, Founder of the Sparticist League, and Progenitor of the Private Eye Columnist, Pass… […]


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