A Response to “Trotskyist” Left-Nationalists

Below is an edited version of a political response I posted on the Google/Usenet group alt.politics.socialism.trotsky, which appears to be heavily influenced by a current around Stephen Diamond (former member of the US Workers League from many years ago), VN Gelis (a long time Greek Trotskyist who, when I encountered him in the 1980s, was a supporter of the Archeo-Marxist Greek Workers Vanguard group), and their co-thinkers. This current combine a left-wing, anti-capitalist rhetoric with a virulent anti-immigrant nationalism that leads them to be politically soft on all kinds of deeply reactionary imperialist forces who are hostile to immigration.

I have no interest in a shouting match with them over this, as one could have a shouting match with all kinds of reactionary- and racist-minded people in numerous parts of the internet if one sought them out – it would be a waste of precious time, effort and energy.  But I strongly suspect that these views are, at least in part, the result of a flawed understanding of Marxism and misunderstanding of current social and economic reality. Those kinds of things are worth debating. Such errors and misunderstandings give meaning to the commonplace that ‘the road to Hell is frequently paved with good intentions’. In that spirit, it may be fruitful to debate with this current, who though badly flawed in their nationalist responses, are at least in a flawed way, partially addressing real issues.


‘Global Zionism’ is a misnomer. What you have is various imperialist ruling classes, which, in a situation where the productive forces (as Lenin noted) have already spread beyond, and are in contradiction with, national borders. The means of communication have now developed to the point that production of many things that were once carried out within the imperialist countries can now be carried out in low-wage, underdeveloped countries and thereby super-profits can be made. Which is why it is done. This is the export of capital, which Lenin spoke about in Imperialism, augmented for the computer age.

In this situation you have part of the bourgeoisie that is not simply nationally limited, but goes a bit beyond that because it is actually part of an older, capitalist or quasi-capitalist tradition, and also has no proper nation-state of its own. That is, the Jewish bourgeoisie. It acts as a kind of vanguard layer, transcending the old imperialist nationalism that led to two inter-imperialist wars. They act politically as a kind of a ‘yeast’ within the bourgeoisie, making the dough rise as it were, and politically lead the wider imperialist bourgeoisie to transcend the old narrow imperialist nationalism.

The same Jewish tradition, in an earlier period, also acted as a ‘yeast’ similarly in cohering Marxism and the vanguard of the proletariat. The latter was profoundly a good thing by the way. I am not hostile to Jews or their so-called ‘cosmopolitanism’ (i.e tendency towards internationalism). I am hostile towards those weapons being wielded in support of capitalism. My hostility is to capitalism, not Jews.

Their influence in the bourgeoisie is mainly political, not organisational per se. It is wrong to see them as some sort of self-contained ‘plutocracy’ that has replaced the bourgeoisie itself as an enemy, for the simple reason that, though they are overrepresented in the bourgeoisie beyond the number of Jews in wider society, their numbers are too limited to allow that, and they always will be.

The Israel question is of strategic importance, because this is the centre of their international-national-tribal project. Israel, as the ersatz ‘nation-state’ of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie, is what holds this unique tribal bourgeois-vanguard layer together. If it were defeated by the struggle to reassert Palestinian rights over their own homeland, the Jewish-Zionist bourgeois project would collapse, as the glue that holds it together would have disappeared. That would be a strategic defeat, not just for the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie itself, but for imperialism itself. Because it would cause their vanguard to collapse.

You are wrong to see globalisation simplistically as the work of a ‘Jewish plutocracy’. The potential was always inherent in imperialism itself. You can see that in Lenin. The Jewish element is just what has helped to give it a temporary new lease of life.

You are also wrong, and arrogant indeed, to say that if I do not embrace your politics, I will retreat from my own current views. Since I never heard of you until after I had developed those views, that is logically incongruous. Though I was familiar with VN Gelis from his earlier days as an supporter of Greek Workers Vanguard (when I was a Spart – not a Cliffite by the way), and had some memory of Stephen Diamond from old apst many years earlier, I owe you nothing in political terms.

My insights come from independent study, political experience of my own, and interaction with the ex-Israeli dissident layer such as Atzmon and Sand, who though they are not Marxists, are often more insightful that many who claim to be so.

Globalisation is imperialism, it is reactionary utopianism to believe that it can be forced back within national borders in the old way, and even if it were the working class would be forced to pay for that reactionary project also. Even without the coherence of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie it would continue, though it would have lost its most concious and far-seeing element. It is perfectly possible to point out the truth about the bourgeoisification of Jewish ‘internationalism’, but at the same time propagate genuine internationalism, which properly understood gives the working class a strategic advantage against the whole of the bourgeoisie, including its semi/pseudo-internationalist Jewish-Zionist component.

It is the deference of the left before ‘the Jews’ as a persecuted people in the past (true enough) which has blinded the left to the development of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie and thereby squandered our strategic advantage over the entire bourgeoisie. But by retreating into support for imperialist nationalism and anti-immigrant nonsense, you are also surrendering that strategic advantage.

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4 comments

  1. Stephen Diamond

    It’s your prerogative, Ian, to conclude my politics are nationalist. But you should know that I reject the label, although others in the named forum consider themselves nationalist. [David Walters, who participates sometimes (with caveats), belongs to the Lambertiste tendency, which is _responsible_ for introducing the nationalist virus into the Trotskyist movement, and whose theories vngelis has taken to its logical conclusions. This is why he’s so sensitive about vngelis’s positions.]

    My starting point is NOT the nation state, which (unlike some others on that forum), I don’t “defend.” My starting point is a need for a defensive program to secure the continued existence of the core working class against mass immigration and capital flight (if it can be figured out how to do without unleashing the military power of the state at the border).

    To be brief, I think the objective conditions for socialist revolution no longer exist (although I expect them to reassemble with the birth of a working class in imperialist China). The destruction of manufacturing is the destruction of the proletariat, at least in the critically important advanced countries.

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  2. Ian

    Stephen writes:

    “My starting point is a need for a defensive program to secure the continued existence of the core working class against mass immigration and capital flight (if it can be figured out how to do without unleashing the military power of the state at the border).”

    Capital flight can only be prevented in two ways. Either by expropriation of the threatened enterprises, or by collective action of workers organisations to prevent it across national lines. The former involves the existing state, and is increasingly unlikely. The latter requires international labour organisation, which anti-immigrant chauvinism can only undercut.

    It is not immigration per se that is a threat to the core working class, but rather undercutting. Open borders abolishes the pariah state of illegality, and thus undermines the key strand of undercutting. Combined with the abolition of restrictions on trade unions (a less radical demand, that does not necessarily attack the nation-state), it would lay the basis for international labour organisation not as a mere wish, but as a practical possibility and necessity.

    There is no way to stop immigrants without unleashing the bourgeois state in a manner that is highly reactionary.

    “The destruction of manufacturing is the destruction of the proletariat, at least in the critically important advanced countries.”

    The commodification of labour power is actually deepening in the imperialist countries also, despite the decline in manufacturing. This is hedged about with all kinds of nonsense about ‘upward mobility’ and the middle class, but austerity and the depression/great recession have largely put paid to that. These remain capitalist societies and they still depend on a modified proletariat to function. What is actually happening is that the proletariat is being internationalised along with capital. This has to have consequences for capital in the future.

    The dangers facing a proletariat in a new imperialist China would incidentally be not that different from similar dangers – of social chauvinism, in the past.

    Dealing with all these things requires internationalism, not nostalgia for the old days when the working classes of the major imperialist countries were concentrated in such a way as to give them a power that was not always exercised on behalf of the victims of their own imperialisms. Nostalgia and attempts to turn back the clock are not only almost classic definitions of ‘reactionary’ , they also have zero chance of working.

    I don’t definitively judge anyone. Some of Stephen’s stuff seems like sound Marxist analysis, away from the subject of migration. Debate can change minds.

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  3. Stephen Diamond

    Do you think the working class in the core countries will _welcome_ the reduction of their wages to the common denominator? More to the point, why should they?

    What it sounds like you’re advocating is a program that, not in the long-term but radically, would effectively eliminate national differences in standard of living. This may seem a wash from the standpoint of the international working class—except that the possibilities in the core determine the possibilities in the periphery (not strictly, of course). Open borders is likely to lead to lowering the standard of living of the working class internationally. (This is a pretty standard argument. If you’ve already addressed it, feel free to refer me to the page.)

    Your perspective appears to me to be utopian.

    [A side question. What is your understanding of Trotsky’s cryptic comment that if the working class showed it was incapable of seizing power, a defensive program for the class would be in order.]

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  4. Ian

    It is not ‘open borders’ that reduces the living standard of the working class, but neo-liberal strategy, which depends in part on pariah/illegal labour and draconian restrictions/repression against working class organisations. The abolition of pariah status for such workers is a counter-tendency to even the market forces that Stephen Diamond is accepting as a given. The tendency to level down wages exists anyway, and its main mechanism is capital flight, not labour migration. The internationalisation of labour likewise exists already, but under the control of the bourgeoisie. Taking it out of their hands, and the internationalisation of working class organisation that would result from a determined defence of migrants by working class organisations, would produce a counter-tendency towards levelling up. Which is also a counter-tendency and counter-incentive to capital flight.

    And also, given the truly enormous and staggering scale of the inequalities that now exist in the world, demands for levelling up are not utopian at all. Staggering inequalities demand staggering redistribution of wealth and income at the expense of the ruling classes. The framework that Stephen Diamond is accepting here is that of mere wage bargaining with an existing cake, and cutting it up in particular ways – more or less equally. Such trade unionist perspectives are inadequate on the national level, let alone the international.

    It is a complete fantasy that a working class campaign against immigration and against migrants themselves would result in some kind of successful defence of working class living standards in advanced countries. It would not stop capital flight, it would likely even accelerate it, while making it politically easier by deepening divisions between workers in imperialist countries and those elsewhere. No question of international solidarity in that case. A whole different dynamic. It is also an illusion to believe that in some way a left or Marxist trend could hegemonise that. It would be the far right who would win, hands down. Any economic gains made would be transitory and more than outweighed by the exacerbated divisions in the international working class. If you write off the international working class, or are cynical or defeatist about the possibilities, that might make sense, but that is a perspective that can only result in more defeats as I see it.

    I don’t think Trotsky would have considered a working class campaign against migrant workers as a defensive action. Sometimes there are supportable, defensive strikes against particular egregious practices that are discriminatory, such as the Lindsay Oil refinery strike in Britain at the beginning of 2009, where the strike was actually against the refusal of an employer to allow home-based workers to even apply for a particular set of jobs. The jobs were exclusively advertised abroad, in Italy, and people employed previously were pushed out. That should not be tolerated, any more than the opposite kind of discrimination.

    That was a defensive action because it was against a discriminatory action that was directly aimed at depriving ‘home grown’ workers from an equal shot at these jobs and equal pay. Obviously this situation provoked nationalism and an unpleasant situation, but it was not a reactionary strike. Thus there was room for attempts to address the migrant labourers who were being used. It would have been reactionary, however, were it aimed against even the possibility of migrant workers being employed (incidentally, the home-grown workers were themselves a mixed bunch, including quite a few of migrant background themselves).

    But any strategy that deeps divisions between workers of different nations is not actually defending the working class, but weakening it politically.

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