For black Trotskyism

James Robertson & Shirley Stoute
SWP-US Discussion Bulletin
(Vol. 24, № 30: July 3, 1963)

What follows is a classic but seldom read document from the history of American Trotskyism, covering a particularly tumultuous period of struggle against separatism within the party and institutionalized racism (like Jim Crow) in society at large. This was of course written at the height of the Civil Rights movement, as black nationalist groups like the Nation of Islam rose to challenge more mainstream integrationist currents such as Dr. King’s. As Trotskyists who still considered themselves part of the vanguard of the working class, the question was, as ever, one of leadership. Stoute and Robertson’s document also touches upon the relationship between theory and practice, as well as the crucial distinction of “class vs. class” rather than “oppressed vs. oppressor” as the center around which to orient a Marxist politics.

Moreover, the original nomenclature of “Negro” has been retained instead of “black” or “African-American,” both of which are common today. The term “Negro” was the standard, accepted, and inoffensive at the time.


If it happens that we in the SWP are not able to find the road to this strata [the Negroes], then we are not worthy at all. The permanent revolution and all the rest would be only a lie.

— Lev D. Trotsky, quoted in the
SWP 1948 Negro Resolution

The Negro Question has been posed before the party for exceptional consideration and with increasing sharpness as the gap has widened over the past ten years between the rising level of Negro struggle and the continuing qualitatively less intense general Trade Union activity.

I. General introduction

1. Basic theory: National or race/color issue? Breitman vs. Kirk, 1954-57

[The reference is to internal discussion in the SWP between George Breitman and Richard Fraser, whose party name was Kirk.]

To our understanding, what was involved then was a shading of theoretical difference. Breitman saw the Negro people as the embryo of a nation toward whom the right of self-determination was acknowledged but not yet, at least, advocated. Kirk interpreted the Negro question as a race issue which, under conditions of historic catastrophe (e.g., fascism victorious) could be transformed into a national question. Hence he agreed to the support of self-determination should it become a requirement in the Negro struggle, but he assumed it could conceivably arise only under vastly altered conditions. Both parties agreed to the inappropriateness of self-determination as a slogan of the party then.

The present writers agree essentially with Kirk’s view of the time, in particular with the 1955 presentation, “For the Materialist Conception of the Negro Question” (SWP Discussion Bulletin A-30, August 1955). We concur in noting the absence among the Negro people of those qualities which could create a separate political economy, however embryonic or stunted. This absence explains why the mass thrust for Negro freedom for over a hundred years has been toward smashing the barriers to an egalitarian and all sided integration. But integration into what kind of social structure? Obviously only into one that can sustain that integration. This is the powerful reciprocal contribution of the Negro struggle to the general class struggle. Continue reading

Know your enemy

Image: Pierre-Paul Prud’hon
Nemesis and crime (1808)

It would appear that the International Socialist Organization has launched a defamatory campaign intended to discredit me. Various members of the ISO have been gunning for me ever since I leaked a number of embarrassing internal bulletins from their organization last week. These were sent to me by several different members and former members of the ISO who were troubled by some of the developments taking shape within the organization of late. Some of these documents revealed their leadership’s inaction in resolving an incident concerning a member who had been accused of rape. Apparently this went unreported to the rest of the organization’s membership for more than seven months, until accidentally being brought to light by a few errant statements made in public regarding “Comrade Daniel” (the ISO’s rough equivalent to “Comrade Delta” across the pond).

Preconvention Bulletin 19 — which was only released a couple weeks ago — explained the sequence of events as follows:

During the investigation, it was revealed that two members of the current (2013) XVBC [Xville Branch Committee] had known a year prior that an accusation had been made, one of whom was also on the SDBC with “Daniel” at the time of the incident (July 2012). As of July 2013, no one had spoken to the victim, no disciplinary action had been taken against “Daniel,” no fewer than five Xville comrades knew that there was an accusation, including two members of the (2012) SDBC, and the ISOSC [ISO Steering Committee] was also aware.

Who knows if it would have ever been disclosed to the general membership if someone hadn’t posted about it on Facebook? How embarrassing. No wonder they’re so upset.

Anyway, enough about what the ISO mishandled or got wrong. There’s a clearly established protocol for how to deal with such leaks. If they don’t like the message that someone is spreading, the easiest way to resolve the matter is to kill the messenger. So let’s what calumnies they’ve concocted to convince people that I am untrustworthy. Right now this is the message they’ve decided to circulate:

Anyone who considers defending or associating with Ross Wolfe should always have this reposted, a defense of the FBI arrests of Palestine solidarity activists, as a reminder of what he is. Not just an utterly racist, elitist, sexist troll with a creepy, nasty obsession with wanting Muslim women unveiled. But also an utter scumbag and danger to the Left, ready to call for a state crackdown on activists, no matter what their background. Know your enemy.

Pretty boring stuff, really. The only problem with this kind of rhetoric is that it loses a lot of its effect when such accusations (“racist,” “sexist,” “troll”) are so routinely and casually made. Indeed, these all come from the ISO’s standard repertoire of abuse, terms used to tar anyone who crosses their path. When articles written by a few former members of the ISO critical of the leadership were published on Counterpunch a few months back — on “The Merchants of Shame” and “The Theory and Practice of Idealism in Trotskyism and the ISO” — the response was to dismiss the criticisms out of hand based simply on the venue where the articles had appeared. Sofia Arias wrote up this neat bit of guilt-by-association in an article hilariously titled “Contributing to a Constructive Debate”:

[The Renewal faction has] definitely found a new home at Counterpunch. Counterpunch is literally the last dwelling place that anyone with principled anti-oppression politics would ever go. And I take you to be sophisticated enough to know this, which is why I’m saying it. It has a dwindling readership of the old (white) (male) left. Why? Because it continuously repeatedly uses sexism and misogyny to attract readers (“Angelina Jolie Under the Knife: Of Privilege, Health Care, and Tits”), anti-Semitism (defense of Gilad Atzmon against a campaign initiated by Omar Barghouti, Ali Abunimah, and other BDS activists), out-and-out transphobia (initiating a series of “debates” sympathetic to Trans Exclusionary Rad Fems).

Counterpunch was called out by Jacobin magazine this past summer for its transphobia, and was subsequently threatened with a lawsuit by the vile trans-misogynist Cathy Brennan, who locks arms with the state to destroy trans leftists. Which publication, Counterpunch or Socialist Worker, republished Jacobin‘s call for solidarity? You can take a wild guess.

No one needs to lecture me about some of the truly odious material Counterpunch has been known to publish. With regard to anti-Semitism, one can look not only to Gilad Atzmon but also to Israel Shamir, an apologist for Pol-Pot and Holocaust denier. Should the former ISO members’ decision to have an article published on a site like this be considered an excommunicable offense? I really could care less what someone chooses to publish an article. But evidently the ISO prefers quasi-Stalinist tactics of “amalgamation,” guilt-by-proximity. Continue reading