International Bolshevik Tendency
P.O. Box 405,
New York, NY 10276
30 May 2003
League for the Revolutionary Party
P.O. Box 769
Washington Bridge Station
New York, NY 10033
In the report on your 10 May debate with the Spartacist League
(SL), you note:
"Two other left organizations took part in the
discussion, both founded by former SL members: the Bolshevik Tendency and the
Internationalist Group. One BTer complained that the LRP had manufactured
differences that dont exist by bringing up the Spartacists
chauvinist position on immigrants. A handy evasion: the BT shares the SL line
and has every reason to be ashamed of it. Not to defend the right of immigrants
to enter the imperialist countries is a very big difference that
does indeed exist."
--"LRP Trounces SL in Imperialism Debate," (http://www.lrp-cofi.org/statements/SLdebate.html)
The IBT has a record of consistently defending the rights of
all immigrants, including "the right of immigrants to enter the
imperialist countries." We had imagined that our essential programmatic
difference on immigration was largely resolved by your renunciation of the
petty-bourgeois utopian call for "open borders" ("Correction on the Slogan
Open the Borders," Proletarian Revolution, Spring 2002).
This slogan had been rejected 28 years earlier by the then-revolutionary
Spartacist League for reasons we elaborated in a 1988 polemic with Workers
"Workers Power's hysterical denunciation of our Marxist position
on immigration/emigration as potentially reactionary and based on a
racist fantasy reveals in a particularly stark fashion the
substrate of petty-bourgeois moralism which underlies so many of the MRCI
positions. In the interest of political clarity we will nevertheless attempt to
unravel some of the key elements in your argument.
"First, your statement that it is a racist fantasy
to assert that there can be cases where a mass influx of people from one
country (unspecified) into another (unspecified) can jeopardize the right
to self-determination of the host population, is a deliberate smear. Anyone who
takes the trouble to read what we actually wrote can see that we
specified three historical examples of situations where such
migrations have in fact occurred: Zionist immigration into Palestine in the
1930's and 1940's; French colons immigrating to New Caledonia in the past
several decades and Han immigration into Tibet in Maoist China. To imagine that
such scenarios could be repeated in the future is neither fantastic nor racist.
It is obvious that your attempt to label it as such is due only to your
political inability to deal with our position.
"Secondly, you allege that we reject the democratic right
for the free movement of workers across all countries. Again, if the
comrade who concocted this nonsense had taken the trouble to read the document
he polemicized against, he might have noticed that it very clearly states that
we support the basic democratic right of any individual to emigrate to
any country in the world. We uphold the democratic right of individual
emigration, while recognizing that it is neither categorical nor absolute. In
some cases it could abrogate other democratic rights, as in the examples cited
above--or it may conflict with a higher principle, such as the defense of the
deformed and degenerated workers states.
"Finally, you suggest that we pose as the immediate answer
to fight a particular aspect of imperialist policy--racist immigration
controls--the revolution. Once again we have to refer you to what we
"In the U.S. we defend Mexican workers apprehended by
La Migra. We oppose all immigration quotas, all roundups and all
deportations of immigrant workers. In the unions we fight for the immediate and
unconditional granting of full citizenship rights to all foreign-born
--Trotskyist Bulletin No.3 (http://www.bolshevik.org/TB/tb3.html)
What "very big difference" does the LRP have with this? We note
that the Proletarian Revolution article claims:
"Our position has nothing in common with those of the Spartacist
League or its spin-off debris, which oppose Open the Borders on
chauvinist grounds. These groups advocate instead full citizenship
rights for all immigrants -- that is, only when they get here. The
Spartacists say they oppose open borders as liberal utopianism
unachievable under capitalism, which is true enough. But their real reason is
that they are against ending all immigration restrictions by imperialist
powers. Here is the Spartacist argument, presented over 25 years ago and
"However, on a sufficiently large scale, immigration
flows could wipe out the national identity of the recipient
countries...Unlimited immigration as a principle is incompatible with the right
to national self-determination...."
(Workers Vanguard, Jan. 18,
There is nothing "chauvinist" about this observation - it is
simply a truism, as cases like Palestine or Tibet illustrate. But you insist
that these sentences constitute evidence of some sort of "chauvinist" cover-up:
"That is, a tide of poor proletarians from third world
countries endangers the national identity of the advanced
capitalist countries. This is obviously a cover-up for a national chauvinist
position. The SL and its offspring defend the right to self-determination of
the imperialist U.S. -- which means the suppression of the national rights
of people across the globe. Communists, in contrast, defend resisters and
refugees against imperialism. As framed by the Bolsheviks, the right to
self-determination distinguishes between oppressed and
You can offer no evidence beyond bald assertion that the SL or any
of "its offspring" have ever failed to "defend resisters and refugees
against imperialism." The SL is guilty of many things but it is not, to
our knowledge, guilty of this; nor is the IG. It is not a good practice to make
serious allegations without proof.
And then there is the question of whether or not Leninists uphold
the right of all nations to self-determination, or only some
nations. In your report on the recent debate (addressing the question of
interpenetrated peoples) you observe:
"Of course, the SL can find quotes where Lenin says that
all nations have the right to self-determination. It would never have occurred
to Lenin to say otherwise, because oppressor nations already had their
self-determination; it was the oppressed who needed it."
Very true, which is why communists today spend no more time
campaigning for self-determination for France, Russia or the United States than
the Bolsheviks did 90 years ago. Lenin (and Trotsky) insisted on the strict
equality of all nations, a position that conflicts with your own despite your
attempts to prove otherwise at the debate:
"[LRP spokesperson] Richardson pointed out that Trotsky also
addressed the question of Lenins attitude toward the rights of oppressor
nations. In a discussion of Ukrainian self-determination, Trotsky wrote:
"The right to self-determination, i.e., to separation,
Lenin extended to the Poles and the Ukrainians alike. He did not recognize
aristocratic nations. To any tendency to be silent about or to put off the
problem of an oppressed nationality, Lenin related as he did to expressions of
--"On the Independence of Ukraine and
Sectarian Muddleheads, our emphasis [LRP]
"As Cde. Richardson stated, Let those words ring in the
ears of every Spartacist today: Lenin did not recognize the rights of
aristocratic nations, and any tendency to put off the rights of the oppressed
he condemned as great-power chauvinism!"
If you look a bit more closely you will find that this quotation
does not say what you would like it to. Contrary to comrade Richardson, Trotsky
did not claim that "Lenin did not recognize the rights of aristocratic
nations." What he said was that Lenin did not "recognize aristocratic nations,"
i.e., he considered all nations equal, with an equal right to self-government.
Lenin was, of course, well aware of national privilege and national oppression,
but he rejected (or refused to recognize) the legitimacy of such disparities,
just as he rejected the notion that some people (aristocrats) are entitled to
special social status.
In 1997 our British comrades, then members of Arthur
Scargills Socialist Labour Party, began publication of the Marxist
Bulletin. Each issue featured "A Marxist Programme for the Socialist Labour
Party" (see: http://www.bolshevik.org/mb/prog.htm)
that clearly stated: "The SLP calls for the scrapping of the Asylum Act; we
should extend this to all other immigration laws."
The third issue of Marxist Bulletin published an article on
the hotly debated question of immigration controls:
"Many comrades from South London, Manchester and Birmingham put
forward a number of amendments to this policy of keeping humane and
non-racist immigration controls. They rightly pointed out that
given the historical legacy of British colonialism and imperialism it is
impossible to have humane exclusion or to have
non-racist discrimination. One Asian comrade powerfully stated she
had left the Labour Party precisely because it supported immigration controls,
and she expected the SLP to oppose all the capitalist parties immigration
"Comrade Brian Heron defended the existing policy against the
amendments, arguing that Cuba had immigration controls, and that Britain would
need them, citing a hypothetical mass exodus of rightist white South Africans
escaping a workers revolution there. This seems to almost deliberately
confuse the question that was being debated. Does the SLP defend or oppose the
British capitalist states immigration laws? Yes or no? Socialists clearly
do not advise the capitalist class in Britain how best to keep foreign-born
workers out. This is ABC for any socialist! The SLP should loudly and proudly
oppose all capitalist immigration laws.
"On the other hand there is Cuba, a deformed workers state.
Socialists defend Cuba from capitalist counter-revolution and attack. Cuba
belongs to the international working class, despite its leadership. It has the
right to defend itself and this means it must tightly police its borders as it
is encircled by hostile capitalist enemies led by the US. This means
restricting immigration and more importantly emigration of its trained
professionals and skilled workers.
"The SLP should be against all capitalist Britains
immigration laws, and for the right of Cuba to defend and police its borders.
There is no contradiction here, as Britain and Cuba are two different,
antagonistic, types of state. In capitalist Britain all immigration controls
are necessarily discriminatory, racist and anti-working class."
"We oppose the capitalists immigration laws for many of
the same reasons the capitalists support them. Our interests are opposite. Most
people who try to come to Britain are refugees from terror or economic migrants
escaping poverty at home. They are mainly working people, and they will
strengthen our class here. They will strengthen our links with workers and
socialist parties in such places as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the
Caribbean. The capitalists oppose their entry because they are poor, and if
they dont require the extra labour see them only as a drain on their
"We do not demand the right of rightist, white South
Africans to come en masse to the UK. The SLP would not be pleased about
such possibilities. But it is not socialists job to design ideal
immigration laws for the bosses. We do not run this country. We would rather
campaign for real solidarity, such as blocking armed intervention against a
South African workers state.
"The SLP should be very clear on opposing capitalist immigration
laws and harassment of our foreign-born comrade workers. Any SLP local
councillor who does not oppose any sacking or police roundup of so-called
illegal immigrants, however humanely or
non-racially, should be denounced and expelled immediately as a
traitor. Any future SLP MP who does not oppose all capitalist immigration laws,
however liberal, should also be denounced and expelled immediately
as a traitor."
--"Anti-Racism and the
Fight Against the Bosses Immigration Controls," Marxist Bulletin No.
3, August 1997
A statement by our German comrades (reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 8,
February 1999) stated unequivocally: "The struggle against state racism must be
directed against all immigration legislation and deportations and must demand
full citizen rights for all immigrants." In an article discussing the question
of strategy for anti-fascists, our German comrades noted:
"At officially sponsored trade-union demonstrations, the demand
for Bleiberecht (the legal right to remain) dominates the banners and
speeches. Many left groups capitulate to the union bureaucrats at best
half-hearted defense of immigrants by uncritically taking up this slogan."
"While the call for open borders is more radical
than the union bureaucrats demand for Bleiberecht, it implies that
the German bourgeoisie can be pressured into redressing the wrongs done to
people victimized by imperialism by permitting unlimited immigration.
Communists generally uphold the democratic right of individuals to live where
they choose and oppose laws limiting immigration into imperialist countries.
But we do not attempt to transform liberal sentiments into a utopian/reformist
answer to the gross inequities of the capitalist world order."
--"German Reunification Fuels Fascist Terror,"
1917 No. 11, 1992
In a 21 January 1945 letter from prison, James P. Cannon observed:
"Lenin said: It is very hard to find a conscientious opponent. That
was in Russia. In America it is impossible." We would like to be able to
consider the LRP an exception to this rule, and to this end, suggest that you
either substantiate your allegation that we have a "chauvinist position on
immigrants" which we have "every reason to be ashamed of," or withdraw it.
Yours for debating real differences,