by Tim Hall
(CV #33, March 25, 2004)
The gist of LRP's reply
Lenin against militarism
Scenes from the 60's anti-war and anti-draft movement
. Last fall the League for the Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist organization, announced that it would not oppose military conscription. (See No. 66 of their journal Proletarian Revolution, winter 2003. ) It was sad to see leftists acquiescing in advance to a potential resumption of the draft. The draft has been a hated symbol of U. S. imperialist foreign policy. Anger against the draft was one of the main ways working-class and student youth in the 1960's expressed their hatred of the brutal war against the Vietnamese people. Now the U. S. military machine is finding itself stretched thin and is considering resuming the draft. In its struggle for world domination, the American ruling class is bogged down in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus interventions and conflicts elsewhere. It is looking for more cannon-fodder. At this moment of difficulty for the Bush militarists, liberal Black Congressmen Charles Rangel and John Conyers (the latter a darling of the liberal leadership of the anti-war movement) have come to the rescue, introducing a bill into Congress renewing the draft. They even drape this bill in anti-war colors! (See Communist Voice, Vol. 9, No. 1, May 20, 2003 for an analysis of the bill. )
. So this is not the time for revolutionaries, as the LRP'ers style themselves, to be giving the militarists a go-ahead sign. Instead, it is a moment when sharp exposures of militarism and imperialism should be made, exposures not only of the right-wing, neo-conservative naked imperialism of the Bush type, but also exposures of its collaborator, liberal imperialism of the Conyers variety. Exposing liberal imperialism gains added importance since Bush may be defeated in November by the Democrat Kerry, whose imperialism differs from Bush's only in that he prefers multilateral action by several imperialist powers over Bush's go-it-alone unilateralism. But the LRP's acquiescence in the draft shirks the opportunity -- the duty, in fact -- of making these exposures.
. In Communist Voice last May I wrote an article denouncing the LRP's stand. My article must have touched a raw nerve because the subsequent issue of Proletarian Revolution (No. 69, winter 2004) carried a lengthy reply. (1) My present article will consider this reply.
, First, I will note briefly the tone of the LRP's article. While my article against them was reasoned and calm and ended by stating that "the LRP's stand harms the development of an anti-imperialist movement,' the tone of the LRP reply is shrill and frantic. According to them, I am a "dishonest," "thumb-sucking," "middle-class," "moralist," and I "butcher" the truth. Here LRP descends to the strident, factional, ad hominem rhetoric we are familiar with from the rest of the Trotskyist movement, most notably the Spartacists (and, we might add, from Stalinists towards Trotskyists). Vituperation is not conducive to rational debate.
. One of the LRP's opening charges should be dealt with here, albeit briefly. They state that our
Communist Voice Organization "descends from the Stalinist tradition that has its own notorious
devotion to fabrication." It seems that no Trotskyist can debate against a non-Trotskyists without
calling the latter a Stalinist. To a mouse, all cats have one color. The CVO's predecessor
organization, the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA, broke with the Stalinist tradition 20 years ago, in
the 1980's, after we repudiated Maoism. The LRP knows this.
The gist of LRP's reply
. The gist of LRP's reply to my article is that to oppose the resumption of the draft is to support the imperialist mercenary (non-drafted) military. The only way, according to them, to bring about the overthrow of the bourgeois war machine is to accept militarization, remain silent about the resumption of the draft, go into the military and from there organize the soldiers for revolutionary class struggle. While the CVO certainly aims to organize the soldiers for revolutionary class struggle (and in the 60's some of our comrades were active with soldiers and in the military), in our view the LRP abandons an absolutely crucial weapon: the weapon of anti-militarism. Without encouraging among working-class youth a bitter hatred for the whole spectrum of militarization of society, including the draft, a militarization that is inextricably linked to the reactionary capitalist goals of the war(s), it is impossible to see how the workers in the military could be aroused to revolutionary class struggle.
. LRP's abandonment of anti-militarism is evident in the following statements in their article:
"So while we in no way support the bourgeois draft and would never vote for one or call for its resumption, we argue against campaigns that oppose the resumption of the draft. We also argue against those who advocate refusing to enter the draft, should it be resumed." "Ignorantly labeling Lenin 'a most determinedly anti-militarist revolutionary,' Hall tries to obscure the fact that Lenin time and again warmly welcomed the inevitable militarization of the masses because it advances the capacity of the workers to overthrow capitalism!" And: "His (Lenin's -- T. H. ) fundamental outlook was expressed by his 'Full speed ahead!' in relation to the bourgeoisie's wartime militarization of the population; that is incompatible with campaigning against the draft."
. These quotes obviously raise the question of what was Lenin's stand on militarization and conscription. We are Leninists, but we are not Leninists because we accept every phrase of Lenin's writings like religious people do the Bible, the Koran or the Talmud. We weigh Lenin's analysis against current and historical conditions. Over a period of nearly 40 years of our continuous communist political activity we have found that Lenin's writings, together with those of Marx and Engels, offer the most consistent and profound political guidance. We hold that they do so on the subjects of militarization and conscription as well, and we will explain our view below.
. However, we must first note that, with the above quotes, the LRP reveals that it is not only
opposed to a fight against conscription but also to a fight against militarism in general. This is
evident in their opposition to my claim that Lenin was "a most determinedly anti-militarist
revolutionary," in their claim that he "warmly welcomed" militarization of the masses and that
his "fundamental outlook: on militarization was "Full speed ahead!" So the LRP is citing a
"Lenin" whom it believes to be a supporter of capitalist militarization! But early in its article the
LRP claimed that it is "flat-out opposed to any support whatever to the capitalist military
machine." We have to ask: Why? Why do you claim to oppose the capitalist military machine
when this "Lenin" you have created and claim to follow has a "fundamental outlook" of "Full
Lenin against militarism
. Now, to return to the question of Lenin's stand on militarization and conscription. He saw them as horrors that had to be resisted by the workers and as inevitabilities that could not be prevented or eliminated until capitalism was overthrown. Similarly, he called for resistance to capitalist exploitation as absolutely necessary for the militant organization of the working class, but he also held that exploitation could not be prevented or eliminated until capitalism was overthrown. More, he held that the faster the development of capitalism, the nearer the day of socialist revolution.
. I stated both aspects of Lenin's stand on militarism in my article. The LRP sees only the second aspect of Lenin's stand and builds their whole strategy on it, supplying voluminous quotes, including the "full speed ahead" statement, to support their view. They view this as Lenin's "fundamental outlook." No, Lenin's fundamental outlook was not "full speed ahead!" to militarization. His fundamental outlook was opposition to militarism and imperialism.
. Incredibly, right next to its article asserting "Full speed ahead!" as Lenin's "fundamental outlook," the LRP reprints a 1907 article by Lenin ("Anti-Militarist Propaganda and Young Socialist Workers' Leagues," Collected Works, Vol. 41). The Lenin article hails anti-militarist propaganda among the workers and cites activities in such places as Austria, where "ardent anti-militarist speeches" were given by socialists to military recruits before their induction into the service. Lenin hails the spread of anti-militarist sentiment among the recruits: ". . . everything is done to awaken the recruit's consciousness, to ensure him against the evil influence of the ideas and emotions which will be instilled into him in the barracks by fair means and foul." That sounds like all-sided anti-militarism to me. But LRP shrugs it off, saying that Lenin only called such activities anti-militarism because he "had not yet worked out his theory of imperialism." According to the LRP, as soon as imperialism arises, it's wrong to fight militarism.
. In my article I illustrated Lenin's opposition to a bourgeois standing army with a quote from 1916: "On the question of a militia, we should say: We are not in favor of a bourgeois militia; we are in favor only of a proletarian militia. Therefore 'not a penny, not a man,' not only for a standing army, but even for a bourgeois militia, even in countries like the United States, Switzerland, Norway, etc."(2) The LRP conveniently ignores this resolutely anti-militarist quote because it firmly establishes what I call the first aspect of Lenin's attitude towards militarization and conscription. This statement was made in the same year that Lenin published Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. The statement clearly shows that Lenin did not abandon the fight against militarism once he had developed his analysis of imperialism. But the LRP is blind to this. In fact, the quotation of "not a penny, not a man" for a standing army comes from the same Lenin article from which the LRP takes their lengthy quote which includes the words "full speed ahead!" I guess if you want to be just a tad dishonest about Lenin's views you can quote the part of Lenin's article that seems to agree with you and ignore the part that refutes you.
. The LRP attempts to refute the other quote I use to show Lenin's anti-conscription, anti-militarism views. Lenin in 1917 talked specifically about the prospect of conscription in the U. S. , which the American capitalists were then considering: ". . . it is difficult to conceive them (the American people -- T. H. ) standing for compulsory military service, for the setting up of an army pursuing any aims of conquest . . ."(3) According to the LRP, I am guilty of using that quote out of "a highly specific context." They say the context is that, as Marx had speculated, during the 19th century a violent revolution might not have been needed in the U. S. , since, for one thing, the U. S. did not then have an army. Lenin pointed out that one of the reasons the U. S. bourgeoisie entered World War I was to have an excuse to build just such a standing army. But Lenin made this statement in 1917, the year after the quotes the LRP uses to "establish" "Full speed ahead!" as his "fundamental outlook" on militarization and conscription. Why didn't Lenin just say, in the later 1917 article, "Full speed ahead!" to the American capitalists and discourage American proletarian resistance to militarization? Why didn't he say "plenty of pennies, plenty of men" for the standing army? A year had already passed since he had written Imperialism, his classic analysis of monopoly capitalism. Did he somehow believe that this analysis did not apply to the United States, even though statistics on American economic development underpinned much of its argument? Did he think that militarization and a standing army were not inevitable in the U. S. absent a proletarian revolution?
. The Lenin quotation I cited in my earlier article and re-quoted above, the "not a penny" quote, sheds some further light on this question of the "highly specific context" of the U.S. which, the LRP alleges, negates any general application of Lenin's statement against conscription. Note that Lenin declares "not a man" for "a standing army" (echoed by the most militant 1960's anti-draft slogan: "Hell No! Nobody Goes!") or a bourgeois militia "even in countries like the United States, Switzerland, Norway, etc." (emphasis mine -- T. H. ) Here Lenin is opposing militarism and conscription in all bourgeois countries and explicitly including countries which developed standing armies later and fall within LRP's "highly specific context." In fact, this quote shows that Lenin's view on the importance of anti-militarism and anti-conscription in that "highly specific context"" was the exact opposite of the LRP's. The LRP thinks that the significance of Lenin's belief that the American people would resist conscription has been lost since it is obvious that the U. S. has long since developed a massive standing army; they think that such a belief or call does not apply to countries with developed standing armies. But Lenin's 1916 statement, "not a penny, not a man," makes it clear that his anti-militarism applies most strongly to countries with standing armies. The phrase "even in" indicates that he has applied "not a man" precisely to those countries and is then adding that it also applies to countries still developing a standing army. Do I detect some "butchering" of Lenin's views here?
. One might ask: if "Full speed ahead!" was Lenin's "fundamental outlook "on militarization,
what was the point of the whole struggle against the leaders of the Second International leading
up to, and at the outbreak of, the First World War? The best socialist of all countries opposed this
war. Led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the most conscious revolutionaries denounced the main
leaders of the International, who were betraying the workers by voting credits for the war where
they were members of parliaments and refusing to break with the war-mongers. The stand of the
Bolsheviks and the left led to the Bolshevik Revolution, the formation of new communist parties
in many countries and the establishment of the Third Communist International, which for a time
strongly promoted the revolutionary proletarian movement in the world. Was all this wrong?
Should the militants have gone along with the social-chauvinist opportunists, who voted plenty
of pennies, plenty of men for the standing armies? Or was the Leninist policy, with its two
aspects, which led to the Bolshevik Revolution, correct? Of course, the LRP would say that it
stated in its article that it would not vote for an imperialist war, but if "Full speed ahead!" is its
"fundamental outlook" on militarism, then we would ask, why not?
Scenes from the 60's anti-war and anti-draft movement
. Now let us take up the matter of the LRP's views on the 1960's anti-war movement. In my article I related some history of the anti-draft and anti-war movement in order to support my arguments for the potential anti-imperialist value of agitation and action against the draft and militarism. The LRP says it wants the efforts of activists to lead towards a revolutionary class war of the proletariat against the imperialist bourgeoisie. This is precisely what a section of activists came to want, as a result of the struggles we went through and the increasing study of Marxism and Leninism that we turned to in order to solve the problems posed to us by the mass movement. The degeneration of the CPUSA into revisionist betrayal and the factionalism and class collaborationism that pervaded the Trotskyist movement left us without Marxist-Leninist organization and Marxist-Leninist mentors to guide us. But, despite these obstacles, the anti-draft and anti-war movements contributed to weakening imperialism and to producing a class-conscious, revolutionary trend of activists.
. The version of the 60's the LRP gives in their article would make a fine text for a book entitled The 60's Movement, as told by Archie Bunker.
. In the LRP's 60's only middle-class boys, not workers, hated and resisted the draft. This is laughable for anyone who participated in the movement of the time. It makes one wonder where the LRP gets their information -- Time Magazine? In Cleveland, nearly all the members of the Cleveland Draft Resistance Union in 1967-8 either came from worker background or from lower-middle class background; all held working-class jobs except for two activists who lived on pennies, and all lived in working-class communities. One of the main motivations in organizing the group was the drafting of young workers all around us as cannon-fodder for the slaughter of the Vietnamese. Our office was in a Black working-class area. We advertised and conducted draft counseling, which attracted mostly proletarian youth, Black and white, who came through in a constant flow. (We not only counseled them on escaping the draft but we held political discussions and mobilized them for our demonstrations. ) There were three main colleges in Cleveland at the time, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College. CCC was attended largely by workers and it was the source for the largest number of people whom we counseled and who took part in our actions. We also got support from Case Western Reserve students, the most middle-class of the colleges, mostly for our demonstrations. We got the least support at Cleveland State University, which enrolled many lower-middle-class and worker students who were interested in rising into management. There was also a variety of older, working-class leftists, influenced by various opportunist political trends, from revisionist to Trotskyist to nationalist, who gravitated towards the Draft Resistance Union, as it offered a vigorous alternative that appealed to their sincere class instincts which had been stifled by opportunism. They tried to draw us in various directions, but we consistently went our own way; however, our contact with them taught us a great deal about the history of the proletarian movement. Our close ties to this varied working-class base resulted in a number of young workers joining us as we began to take up Marxism.
. This was our experience in Cleveland but it was echoed in the experience of the left-wing of the draft resistance movement nationally. The right wing of this movement conformed more closely to the LRP picture, isolating moral protest from working-class politics. But in a number of places, activities similar to ours were carried out.
. In the LRP's version of the 60's, draft resistance was not motivated by protest against the war and imperialism but only by a middle-class desire to throw off authority. Actually, the motivation of the CDRU organizers, and most other anti-draft activists nationwide, was to try to stop the war by stopping the flow of inductees. The war was the overriding issue, not authority in general. While draft resistance couldn't in fact stop the war, it contributed to the general anti-war movement, and that's what activists were aiming at. At the same time there developed a most bitter hatred of the authority of the government, the military and the draft machinery, for their class role, and this hatred was the most powerful among the young workers. The LRP's concern that the anti-draft movement was primarily anti-authoritarian is, in this case, a diversionary issue. If the class instinct of young workers to hate the capitalist authorities is not fanned to a white-hot pitch and an attitude of defiance is not spread, how can one even think of revolution? The CDRU and other militant anti-draft activists fanned the flames of this defiant spirit, to their ever-lasting credit.
. There was another way in which the connection of worker resistance to the politics of the war became evident to us. We were inexperienced activists, with backgrounds in the civil rights movement and other struggles, and we had begun informally studying Marx and Lenin, in order to find an explanation for the war, racial discrimination, etc. We had been influenced by the anti-communism of the mass media and cultural establishment, one of whose messages was that the workers do not want Marxism and socialist politics. But when we related our study of Lenin's Imperialism to the workers whom we counseled and mobilized in our actions, they affirmed the analysis powerfully. This showed us that it related closely to their view of the world, completed it and made it systematic. Our experience of introducing Leninism to the workers thus brought workers closer to communism while it taught us that Marxism is the philosophy of the working class and that the workers will embrace it when it is presented directly to them. This also affirmed the link of the draft resistance by the workers to the nature of the war and imperialism, which LRP denies.
. The LRP implies in their article that draft resistance was a white thing. Amusingly, they are then forced to admit the example of Muhammad Ali's draft refusal, while treating it as isolated. Again, we have a Time Magazine account of the 60's. Actually, hatred of the draft and resistance to it was quite widespread among African-Americans. In Cleveland, there were many Blacks in the anti-draft demos and the membership of CDRU was about 50 per cent non-white. This provided at least one humorous incident, when LRP-style perceptions about draft resistance clashed with reality. A right-wing radio talk show personality invited the CDRU to send a delegation to participate in his show. He was shocked when three Black worker-activists and one white worker appeared, defied his bullying and threatened to walk off his show every time he pulled his usual demagogical tricks. During the 1968 Black rebellion in the Glenville area, our activists held a demonstration of support at the federal building, attended by Blacks, whites and Filipinos, with a young Filipino worker as spokesman. Again, the LRP's picture of the 60's has an establishment slant.
. The LRP also believes that draft resistance was resented by the soldiers. I am sure that you could have found some soldiers who did resent it, but at the same time many soldiers were then joining the anti-war movement. Dave T., a Black veteran returning directly from Vietnam, joined the CDRU and went on speaking tours with us. I remember at one engagement some right-wingers in the audience jumped up and threatened to kill us. Dave just giggled and said something to the effect that he had just returned from combat and if they thought they could scare him they were out of their minds. They shut up. Dave's brother, Tom, had organized a group of 12 anti-war Black soldiers, calling themselves "The Dirty Dozen," in basic training at Fort Knox, and they requested our help. We made a trip down there to interview him and give him support. It was hilarious to see the MP's frantically running around to keep us under surveillance once they had made the mistake of letting our van on the base. There was one white male (me), one Black male (Dave), a Filipino woman in a bright Mexican serape and a Black woman with a big natural. (I describe us only to further illustrate the internationalist nature of our draft resistance activity. ) We publicized the anti-war stand of "The Dirty Dozen" as best we could. That there were 12 Black soldiers in a group at one time at one base calling for the help of the draft resistance movement was far more typical of the situation around the country than the LRP would like to admit. They certainly didn't see any contradiction between draft resistance work and work among soldiers.
. Most of the demos of the CDRU were held to support youths resisting the draft, but one of our members was drafted and decided to go into the Army and organize. The FBI and the Cleveland Red Squad were shocked when we showed up at the induction center picketing in support of someone entering the service (apparently they shared the LRP's view of the draft resistance movement as unconnected to activity in the military). This comrade also ended up at Fort Knox. There he organized a group which published an anti-war underground newspaper in the Army, entitled FTA. (FTA was an acronym extremely popular with soldiers at the time; it means Fuck the Army!) This paper got a wide circulation. Such a close connection between draft resistance and activity within the army was not unusual; all around the country anti-war coffee houses were being opened near military bases, where anti-war literature was circulated and discussions and meetings held attended by many soldiers. Many of the people involved with these coffee houses were involved in anti-draft activities as well.
. Spreading anti-militarist thought and feeling, whether through draft resistance or other means, is crucial to creating a revolutionary trend among the working class in general and among soldiers in particular. I believe that this is why Lenin's attitude has two aspects, as I pointed out in the first part of this article. Without creating an anti-militarist atmosphere from the first, from outside the military, it is hard to see how one can be created within the military. The LRP's desire to build a proletarian militia is inconceivable without such a spirit.
. Views similar to the LRP's on draft resistance were held by members of the Socialist Workers Party that we encountered then. The SWP was the largest and most influential Trotskyist group in the 60's and it was heavily active in Cleveland. It advocated meekly accepting the draft and then organizing the soldiers inside the military. I do not recall that their "go-in" line resulted in any significant soldier activity. It did, however, give them a rationale for disrupting anti-draft actions on the outside.
. Like the SWP of the 60's, the LRP today ridicules militant anti-draft actions as "confrontationalist." Apparently this means that the anti-draft activists sought confrontations with the police for their own sake, for "macho" reasons, that the confrontations that did take place were not forced on the movement by the police and were not handled in such a way as to defend the movement and carry it to a new level. This charge of "confrontationalism" recalls the traitorous behavior of the SWP in Cleveland in the fall of 1967, when they accused the CDRU of provoking the police. The CDRU held a demo at the induction center as a part of the national Stop the Draft Week in October. Anticipating police attacks, which had already beset the STDW in California, we wore helmets and carried shields -- strictly defensive weapons. The anticipated attacks came but the police were unable to disperse our picket line through a morning of conflict. At no time did we attack the police, not for moral reasons but because it would not have served our goal of promoting resistance to the war and the draft. Our tactics were carefully chosen according the level of the movement and what was needed both to defend it and to raise it to a higher level; they were closely connected to the anti-war sentiment of the working-class and student youth in Cleveland at that point. This was not "wilding" of the Weatherman type (and Cleveland's future Weathermen boycotted our action).
. Confirming the correctness of these tactics, our success had an electrifying effect on the movement in Cleveland (unlike the later Weatherman true confrontationalism, which alienated the working-class youth). But at a peace coalition meeting an SWP leader attacked the CDRU for "provoking" the police. We sharply denounced him and mobilized a larger demo, with more armor, for the following week. Unable to prevent this demo, the SWP joined it and, while the participants were gathering, this same SWP dreg sneaked over to the police without permission and told them we weren't planning on attacking them. We had never discussed attacking the police, but apparently these Trotskyists shared with the police a view that self-defense is "confrontationalism" and both viewed us in that light. The LRP, too, seems to view defense of the movement against police attacks, when the masses are ready and able to do so, in the same manner.
. In sum, the LRP has a distorted view of the 1960's struggles, one in which the positive elements of the movement are overlooked and the movement often belittled. The LRP's inability to see these positive developments is rooted in the non-materialist, philosophically idealist nature of the Trotskyist outlook. Instead of looking carefully at the specifics of the development of the mass movement of a particular time and place and using the framework of Marxism-Leninism to devise tactics to lead that movement towards revolutionary consciousness and more effective action, the LRP measures the movement against certain abstract, dogmatic yardsticks, finds the movement wanting, and condemns it arbitrarily. Since the Vietnamese people were the main force in defeating the U. S. war machine, the LRP belittles the importance of the anti-war movement altogether. Since the anti-war movement did not overthrow imperialism, the LRP belittles it and accuses me of exaggerating its significance. Since that movement was not led by the working class through its own revolutionary party, they again belittle the movement and refuse to recognize the elements, like our trend, that learned through their participation the need for such organization and began to work to bring it about. Since the Black rebellions in the cities took place separately from the anti-war movement and without conscious proletarian leadership, some of the sites where beginnings of this leadership were developing are ridiculed. Since the anti-war and anti-draft fights against police attacks were often waged by students (though in Cleveland the activists were heavily working class, and the student population nationally was more proletarian ever before), then such battles are to be belittled as "confrontationalism."
. In short, the LRP has a pre-conceived notion of how a movement should develop, a box it must fit into or be viewed with "proletarian" scorn. They refuse to look at the actual development. Bemoaning the lack of working-class leadership and revolutionary struggle, they belittle some of the very places, the very paths through which such leadership and struggle was beginning to develop. They call our activity retrograde. We must ask: in comparison to what? Where was the proletarian party, the proletarian movement that we could simply have followed, simply joined? They did not exist. We were forced to work through these problems ourselves. The LRP rolls out its Trotskyist daydreams of great proletarian days, finds the actual movement lacking, feels superior as hell and spits on those who struggled to learn and promote Marxist tactics in the midst of the mass movement. They think that someday a glorious, pure proletarian movement will suddenly appear, practicing all the tactics dreamed up by the "old man" (Trotsky), and anoint them the leaders.
. The LRP denigration of the anti-draft activists of the 1960's shows a view of the struggle that is mechanical rather than based on the real contradictions of mass struggle, abstract and not materialist, in a word, Trotskyist rather than Marxist and Leninist. <>
(1) The LRP's polemic will be posted in full on the CV website at www.communistvoice.org soon, along with this article and the rest of the contents of this issue of CV. (Return to text)
(2) "The military programme of the proletarian revolution", Collected Works, vol. 23, p. 85. , September 1916. (Text)
(3) "War and revolution",Collected Works, vol. 24, p. 417, May 1917. (Text)
Last modified: April 14, 2004.