wreckers, spies, parasitism

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wreckers, spies, parasitism
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Critics within/around the DSA (US) sometimes speak about "wreckers" (mostly in reference to people playing identity politics to disrupt organising), but even in general among the US Left there is a basic awareness about the reality of things like COINTELPRO, etc.

The WSWS has re-emphasised the role of spies in Trotsky's entourage and their possible role in his assassination. Incidentally on Trotsky, I want to publish the following strange info (from email correspondence, so forgive my indiscretion). In a recent email the historian Getty claims that many years ago, when checking Trotsky's Harvard papers, he found that file 15765 was empty, and he believes its contents were purged (only the file's description apparently remaining). However, when I checked the site it says this file contains 3 pages: [Notes on various Russian agents and suspects]. TS.; [Coyoacán, ca 1940]. 3s.(3p.)., 1940 https://hollisarchives.lib.harvard.edu/repositories/24/archival_objects/2042383

Ideally someone should verify whether the file at the archive today is still empty, as Getty now remembers it being in the 1980s when he did his research (or whether Getty now just suffers a false recollection – leaving aside the possibility that the file had been emptied, but now is full again). The title appears to show that Trotsky himself did have suspicions about spies among his group.


But still, perhaps a few mainstream Pabloist/reformist-anarchists, trying to be "respectable", will still try to dismiss this as paranoia from crazy Marxist sects. So here is a piece by a centrist voice, a leading theorist in the SPA (Socialist Party of America) in October 1909, the American Marxist writer Algie Simons, who talks about wreckers: https://archive.org/details/SocialistStagnation/page/n5/mode/2up Simons notes the rapid growth of the SPA membership, and yet, it's felt that there is a crisis in the SPA. He considers one cause to be wreckers or spies in the SPA. I quote the entire relevant passage in Simons. I think it aligns with the "parasitism"-theses by the ICC:

"Another explanation, which at first sounds almost fantastic, has been offered. It is that the Socialist party has been filled with spies, not to seek out secrets (for we have none), but to actively disrupt the movement. When this explanation was first suggested I laughed at it, as indeed did nearly all the other best informed Socialists. But little by little what seemed like evidence accumulated until today I do not think I am wrong when I say that nearly every one who has had to do with the management of the national organization, or is familiar with the whole situation has come to agree that there is at least a strong probability that secret agents play a part in the disrupting work going on within the party.

The more the facts are examined the less improbable this explanation appears. Every one knows that the unions are honey-combed with spies. Single agencies employ thousands of men for this purpose. We know that the capitalists have come to recognize that the only force that is really threatening exploitation is Socialism. They need only to look to Europe, with which most of them are familiar, to confirm their fears.

Moreover, we have very direct evidence that they do recognize the menace of Socialism. The Civic Federation is undoubtedly the organized expression of the keenest, most far-seeing and unscrupulous capitalism in America. Its policy of corrupting the union movement, tricking the leaders of labor into the position of bell-wethers by which to lead their followers to the slaughter, the very men who compose it, all testify to the truth of this statement. This organization has definitely declared war upon Socialism. It has called for a fund of fifty thousand dollars to be used in fighting- Socialism. We know that it has gathered around it and is supporting the most disreputable gang of literary prostitutes that this country has ever known, and is using them in its war upon Socialism. We know that those who have been driven out of the Socialist party because ef dishonesty and immorality find a ready welcome from this defender of bourgeois morals. We know that those who manage it are adepts in the use of spies. We know that they have long been using them for other purposes. Is it, then, too fantastic a thing to suggest that some of the funds which the Civic Federation is spending, in its war upon Socialism are used in the hiring of spies to act as agents of disruption within the Socialist party?

Once within the party the course of conduct for a spy is plain. He would counterfeit the fanatic. He would be a radical of the radicals. He would be intolerant and most vehement in his denunciations of capitalism. He would be extremely active in party work and very ready to show his devotion to Socialism.

So far there would be no way by which to distinguish the spy from the sincere and faithful fanatic (and I would be the last to say that the time will ever come when the Socialist movement can afford to dispense with him whom we call the fanatic).

If the spy did nothing more than this he would do little damage. But he is there to do something more. He will naturally desire posts of authority. He will be especially eager for administrative positions. He will try to create factions and to make himself the candidate of a faction. He will cling to any official position he may secure and declare that he holds it in defense of a principle. He will foster everything that makes for divisions within the party. He will be ultra-orthodox and demand the expulsion of all who do not agree with the faction from which he derives his power. He will become a professional proletarian, skilled in all the arts of the demagogue. He will attack any constructive work undertaken within the party, or by any member of the party. He will pretend to veil such attacks behind questions of principle and seek to arouse a factional struggle on every point. For in this way two objects are accomplished: the party is disrupted and the work of Socialist propaganda is hindered. He will foster all jealousies within the organization, and seek to destroy the effectiveness of any one who may be accomplishing anything for Socialism. He will play upon the petty vanities of the incompetent and the ignorant and seek to inflame them against those who are capable and willing to accomplish any work of agitation and education. When he is trusted with party work he will permit its enterprises to fail through carelessness, or even apparent incompetence.* (Note. — Since this has been in manuscript I have shown it to a number  of Socialists. On reading this portion the almost inevitable exclamation has been, "I see you are hitting ....," but always a different name. At least five such names have been so inserted by persons who thought they recognized the individual described. There could hardly be any stronger proof of  the existence of the type, or of the fact that no individual is especially selected for description.)

Whoever is doing these things and displays these characteristics within the Socialist party is doing the work of an agent of capitalism. Whether he is receiving the pay or not is unimportant. In fact, it is a debatable question as to which is the more dangerous to a successful organization — the cheap fanatical politician who sincerely believes with regard to the Socialist party as Baer does of the coal mines, that "God in His infinite mercy has confided it to his care," and who through petty jealousy and narrow demagoguery clings to an official position, or the paid spy of capitalism, who does these things as part of a general plan.

In either case such a person should be a marked man, to be gotten rid of by the organization as quickly as possible. The Socialist party does not need guardians in its official positions. It does not want leaders of factions there. What is needed in the offices of state and local secretaries is men who know how to reconcile differences within the party and to utilize all forces for Socialism. The place to settle questions of principle is in legislative bodies such as state and national and delegate committees or in branch and local mass meetings. The less that administrative offi- cials have to say in such gatherings the better.

The party official who starts out to reform the party, who organizes factions or becomes the creature of one, who attacks those who are working for Socialism instead of utilizing their work and fitting it into a part of the general party work, is either incompetent or worse, and deserves no consideration in either case. If this rule is followed and all such persons are speedily relegated to private life, then the spy can do us no harm, because it is only through these methods that disruption comes.

Practically every one of the localities in which the party is now disorganized has one or more persons who display the characteristics described. It matters very little whether these persons are really paid agents of capitalism, or simply very cheap party politicians and loud-mouthed demagogues, they should be gotten rid of as promptly as possible.




There are spies and

There are spies and provocateurs in organizations of some importance, but there are not in all.

It depends on several factors:

  • state secret service policy
  • party counterintelligence
  • party size

But it should not be forgotten that there are also unreliable elements who enter the party without being specially directed by the state. That spying accusations are often used to discredit political opponents without proof. That these same accusations are very often made by the provocateurs themselves in order to sow discord in the party.

That is why, although it is permissible to freely discuss party security and all related issues, I think it should be prohibited to publicly lay charges of espionage in the party. These charges must be communicated, together with any evidence and testimony, to the party's counterintelligence service or, failing this, to the central committee which will appoint a commission of inquiry. The central committee cannot ignore the accusations of espionage. He must conduct an investigation.

Conversely, the charges engage the responsibility of the accusers. If the investigation reveals that the accusations are false or in bad faith, it is the accusers who will have to assume the repression of the party.

We know the gravity and the danger of the accusations without proof, and their political use to establish the dictatorship in the party or to destroy the organization.

The counterintelligence service or commission of inquiry must have broad powers to gather evidence, but they must also seek evidence that exonerate the accused. The accusers must themselves undergo an investigation to verify whether they are telling the truth and whether they are in good faith.

No charge without a responsible accuser, and no conviction without evidence.

Dear D-man, you seem to well

Dear D-man, you seem to well know the discovery of spies!

But let me tell you that your methods of investigation are, to say the least ... unreliable, and that they may be more damaging to the party than the spies themselves.

Counterintelligence must be based on solid evidence, not "behavioral" investigations, the real purpose of which is to settle political scores.

In the UK an April 2018 the

In the UK an April 2018 the inquiry has confirmed that undercover police had infiltrated the following groups and movements: 


Anarchist groups, Animal Liberation Front, Anti-Apartheid Movement, Anti-Fascist Action, Big Flame, Black Power movement, Brixton Hunt Saboteurs, Colin Roach Centre, Dambusters Mobilising Committee, Dissent!, Earth First!, Essex Hunt Saboteurs, Friends of Freedom Press Ltd, Globalise Resistance, Independent Labour Party, Independent Working Class Association, International Marxist Group, International Socialists, Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front, London Animal Action, London Animal Rights Coalition, London Boots Action Group, London Greenpeace, Militant, No Platform, Antifa, Operation Omega, Reclaim the Streets, Red Action, Republican Forum, Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party, South London Animal Movement (SLAM), Tri-Continental, Troops Out Movement, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, West London Hunt Saboteurs, Workers Revolutionary Party, Young Haganah, Young Liberals, Youth against Racism in Europe

I didn't propose any methods to deal with this problem, and I don't know if it's interesting to discuss yours. I merely quoted Simons in 1909 about spies/wreckers in the party. By the way, it's not particularly about agents of the state, but agents of employer organisations.

But as you reject "behavorial" investigations, and the word of an accuser/witness, then it seems the kind of evidence you desire is unclear. And just because an accusation can't be proven, doesn't mean it is false (and in your proposal the accuser would even be punished for the inquiry's insufficient finding of evidence). Another possible risk with providing "evidence" in cases like this is also that, if it's to be presented in public, as reason for the expulsion, this will involve detailing lots of sensitive information, ie this will compromise the security. On the other hand, when the evidence is found but is not provided to the public, then the expulsion from the party will anyway still be called unjust.

My God, but you speak like

My God, but you speak like the American government! Know that it is very possible to carry out reliable recruitment and reliable investigation to check the value of militants.

It is quite obvious that the "investigations" that you propose are politically motivated, with a view to a witch-hunting, and not for security reasons, since you say yourself: "Whether he is receiving the pay or not is important. " and you amalgamate political opponents with state spies.

This is the reason why neither the truth nor the evidence matters to you.

But let me tell you the truth matters to me, and that I will not allow a member to be accused without evidence. An attack on one is an attack on all. I will not allow the party atmosphere to be poisoned with rumors, suspicion and false accusations.

"Burning heart, cool head and clean hands" said the cheka.

I don't think you have a cool head, and I think that security operations, like surgical operations, are not done with dirty hands.

You still misunderstood: I'm

You still misunderstood: I'm quoting the text of Simons (I didn't put it into a quote-box, because it's too long a passage). I didn't discuss methods of dealing with the problem. I simply note that it was considered a problem, by a fairly moderate "mainstream" Marxist during the Second International. This was at the time when SPA was growing in membership size. Perhaps they should had, as you say, a more reliable recruitment, or "background check" (what language!...). 

Your objection to my language I guess refers to the term "security", but if you're familiar with the WSWS, you'd know it has a book titled Security in the Fourth International (see link I gave). I guess you, as most reformist Trotskyists, reject the WSWS' research, as being just sectarian destructive paranoia. You have not answered whether your proposed method involves making public the evidence. As to the kind of evidence, you have not answered my question; if you apparently reject witnesses (/accusers) and behavioural reports, then what kind of evidence do you seek (some concrete examples would be helpful)? 

You worry the party would "amalgamate" any opposition with spies/agents of capital, and the danger that expulsions will be made due to political motivations. Of course, a spy/wrecker can belong to the opposition (and as Simons writes, they often present themselves as the most fanatic defenders of principles). Just because someone appears to defend the highest principles, it doesn't preclude that at the same time they act in a disruptive manner (whether they are agents or are simply incompetent). The expulsion from the party, although for the real reason of a suspected spy, can be justified on grounds of mere disruption. Note what Simons wrote, that this is about the performance of "politically neutral" bureaucratic tasks of "party officials". In such tasks there should not be factional/political favouritism.

I do not see how that could

I do not see how that could harm the party from publishing the evidence. On the contrary, if an militant is guilty of being paid by the police to spy on or disrupt the party, it will be an excellent lesson to denounce him during the congress, and to explain precisely how the investigation was conducted, during the preparatory discussions. In any case, neither the central committee nor the commission of inquiry can expel a militant; the central committee may however suspend him as a precautionary measure until the next congress, which will decide his fate according to the elements reported.


I have already carried out investigations on behalf of my organization, but it was on outside people, in a professional context, against officials who had acted against us. I practiced interrogations by telephone which I recorded, pretending to be someone else, or in my own name. I also recorded face-to-face interviews. I gathered confidential documents.

I undertook all these actions in accordance with the law.

I was able to provide irrefutable proof of the offenses that officials had committed against us.

Other measures can be taken in accordance with the party law.

Research on militants of the organization is easier to do than on external people, because the powers of the inquiry commission or the security services can be defined in the statutes or internal regulations, wich are accepted by all militants. 

These powers must nevertheless be limited in order to protect militants from abusive investigations, particularly in matters of privacy and political instrumentalization.


The accuser takes responsibility for his accusations.

Accuser and accused must submit their resignation to Congress.

Congress then decides whether to accept the resignation of either, none, or both, based on the evidence presented.

All guarantees must be taken so that the decision is made in a fair and impartial manner.

“Je ne crois que les histoires dont les témoins se feraient égorger.”

Blaise Pascal.

To find "irrefutable proof"

To find "irrefutable proof" (up to "confidential documents" - of what kind?) of "offenses committed against the party" is not the same as finding proof of being an agent (whether of the state, right-wing organisation, company spies, etc.). But even if it's different thing, I can't tell anything from your anecdote, but if you hold that "confidential documents" should be published, then there should be a link or reference to this material (or was it not published, and if not, why not?).

I stand with my comment about the security risk of publishing evidence, which doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, but rather precisely when it's done in a "safe" manner that doesn't compromise the research method, details, etc., so that there is no room given to retaliation against the "accuser", etc., the result is that even if these indications are published, they will not be an "irrefutable" smoking gun, not be satisfactory, still open to dispute. 

possible example

Here's a possible (old) example of something like parasitism in action, from Ukraine, that although it targeted mostly Western trotskyists, and the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste (Belgium), it did also include the leftcom IBRP (now ICT). Here is the article by IBRP itself (from 2003) about the story: https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2003-09-09/%E2%80%9Cradical-communists-of-the-ukraine%E2%80%9D

A couple of quotes from other (non-leftcom) sources about this story:

"Near 2001 the information about existence in Kiev of many left-wing organizations had begun to appear in Internet. All this virtual organizations were in contact with some Western left-wing organizations - trotskyist (AWL, ITO, LRCI, LRP, PTS), left-wing communist (IBRP, ICG), SPGB." 

from: Scam in the Ukraine (short text)


"There is also the possibility that one objective was to discredit the groups targeted. Yet the tendencies affected were quite diverse, ranging from the Trotskyist LFI to various pseudo-Trotskyist outfits (CWI, IBT, L5I), the neo-Shachtmanite LRP/COFI, .... as well as latter-day De Leonists and Bordiguists. Or did the scheme start with members of a leftist group deciding to supplement their incomes with some underhanded “creative financing”? The mode of operation, and particularly the training the “members” had to go through to play their parts in the charade, have the hallmarks of a classic “false flag” operation, in which agents of one power pretend to be representatives of another. This suggests a possible relation to intelligence agencies, either directly or involving former operatives “privatizing” their activities and putting prior training to profitable use.

We do not now know the answers to these questions, and may not know for some time. But however odd the particulars may be, it is important to put this affair in historical context. Revolutionary organizations have often been beset by adventurers, swindlers, police agents, quick-change artists and charlatans of all kinds. In some cases, they have gained prominenсe and played a tragically treacherous role, while others, as in this case, are minor actors. We have run into dubious elements on other occasions who have tried to pass themselves off as different things to different people."

from: A Band of Political Impostors and Swindlers in Ukraine (the article gives broader historical context on the issue of police spies, etc.)


"... Nevertheless, it is likely that theft was not the only motivation for these criminals. We have received an unverified report from Ukraine which points to a police link. The fact that funds were stolen certainly does not rule out intervention by the Ukrainian police; the Ukrainian state is particularly corrupt at all levels. On the other hand, the operation was carried out by highly intelligent people who, from our experience and all other reports, had great familiarity with the politics and activities of the international groups they were supposedly affiliated to. That is rarely true for agents of governments with far more sophisticated secret police operations. Moreover, it would be highly likely that police agents would try to garner as much information as possible about the work of the various Western groups, in order to trade with Western spy agencies, but the conspirators made little effort to learn of such activities or plans.

All in all, as of now we have no concrete evidence of secret police activity in the scam. However, experience tells us that given the duration and extent of the operation, it is likely that even if the Ukrainian state was not responsible for the affair it would have known about it and at least tolerated it."

from CWI Group Guilty of Ukraine Fraud (2003)


See also the text The brown masquerade (A critique of some anarchists or left communists who have cooperated with nationalists.)

Related to anarchists in Ukraine, see also Caution: platformist party and psychosect in one bottle!