Part One of Two
Leninism vs. Liberal Pacifism
Defense of oppressed countries against imperialism
Military Defense vs. Political Support
. Demonstrators at antiwar marches in January were handed an odd leaflet denouncing "Bush's war" and declaring "No more blood for imperialism," while ending with a polemic against the slogan "Defend Iraq. " Published by the Marxist-Leninist Party (MLP), this tract is a case study in political schizophrenia. Filled with anti-imperialist phrases, the polemic appears to be directed at the most left-wing antiwar protesters. But what the MLP tells them is that they should oppose calls to defend the country which has been devastated by the Pentagon's murder machine.
. In contrast, the Spartacist League called to "Defeat U. S. Imperialism -- Defend Iraq!" We Trotskyists say that the working people of the world had a side in this war, to stand with the people of Iraq, an oppressed semicolonial nation, against the bloody onslaught of the imperialist powers and their cohorts and flunkeys. While denouncing the tyrant Saddam Hussein and calling for the working people of Iraq to work for the overthrow of the bloody Ba'athist regime, we drew a sharp class line against imperialism. As one SL sign put it, "Down with Washington's New War -- A Defeat for 'Our' Rulers Is a Victory for Us!"
. Why are the MLP "Marxist-Leninists" so exercised to denounce those who sided with Iraq against the US government? First off, this reflects a not-so-veiled effort to ingratiate themselves with the social-patriotic organizers of the "anti-war movement. " The MLP's constant practice is to offer left criticisms while being careful not to overstep the bounds of what is acceptable to the organizers of such "popular-front" protests which tie the left to the Democratic Party of US imperialism. The MLP wants to carve out a niche as the left tail of the pop front. But the price of admission to climb on board the bandwagon of the red-white-and-blue "peace" . movement is to swear a loyalty oath. And the MLP's opposition to "defend Iraq" did that.
. Its tailism was captured in one headline of its leaflet that declared, "Defy the Liberals, Don't Split the Movement. " Oh sure, the MLP criticized those who called for "UN sanctions" and who declare they "support our troops. " No problem, so did the SWP, FIT, RWL and a host of house-broken leftists. But the Democratic Party liberals drew the line at defense of Iraq. They even split from the January 19 D. C. demo organized by the rotten reformist Workers World Party and held an even more right-wing peace crawl the next week because the WWP didn't condemn Iraq. But the MLP did, with gusto. Far from "defying the liberals," it went further, declaring that those guilty of "cheerleading for the Iraqi side" represent a "current of opinion which. . . is also a problem for the anti-war movement," and which "undermines building a serious anti-war movement. " The "serious anti-war movement" that the MLP was building had as its main slogan "bring the/our troops home now. "It was emphatically social-patriotic, talking only of American casualties and waving the stars and stripes all over the place. It also disappeared the minute it was clear that Bush could get the oil without spilling hardly any American blood, while making the Tigris and Euphrates run red with Iraqi blood. Obviously communists siding with "the enemy" would be considered "a problem" for such a movement which agreed with Bush's goals and only begged to differ with his methods.
. The MLP's broadside against defense of Iraq was based on an article "Should the Anti-War Movement 'Defend Iraq'?" in their newspaper, Workers' Advocate (1 December 1990). Therein they criticized the WWP, ISO, Socialist Action and other nameless groups who are falsely equated with Trotskyism and who semi-, hemi-, demi-, sort-of sided with Iraq, usually in the fine print on the inside pages of their papers (since they are congenitally loath to take a stand that would be unpopular with the popular front). The unnamed chief culprit was the genuinely Trotskyist Spartacist League which uniquely and forthrightly defended Iraq against imperialist attack. We took the MLP (and other left groups who flinched at defense of Iraq) to task in our article "Down With the Two War Parties!" in WV Nol. 518 (18 January). Now the MLP has come back with a lengthy (seven-page) response in their Workers' Advocate Supplement (20 February).
. Before responding to their specific arguments, we'd like to say a word about why we are making
the effort. In the first place, unlike the general practice on the left, the MLP didn't try to duck the
issues but took them on directly, even reprinting the section of our article dealing with their
group. As we noted in our article, in contrast to consummate cynics like the ISO or WWP who
hide their supposed socialist politics whenever they become inconvenient, the MLP is
noteworthy more for its confusionism. And secondly, these "Marxist-Leninists" have been put up
against the wall politically by the terminal crisis of Stalinism. After having been some of the
zaniest "The East Is Red" Maoists around, then following the lead of the helmsman of the
Adriatic, Albania's Enver Hoxha, the MLP is now adrift on a sea of contradictions.
Leninism vs. Liberal Pacifism
. So what arguments does the MLP use to justify its refusal to stand with Iraq against the onslaught of the most powerful imperialist military juggernaut in history? First and foremost, they try to paint calls for military defense of Iraq as "support for the tyranny of the Iraqi regime." This willful equating of military defense and political support is at the heart of the MLP's rationale. But they know full well that the Spartacist League doesn't "cheerlead" for Hussein. In fact, in their Supplement article they say the SL carries "hypocrisy to new heights" by being "among the most loudmouthed in demanding support for Hussein's military efforts, while at the same time it also shouts against Hussein. "
. But, they claim in order to cover their blatant distortion of our position, "this stand is impossible in practice," and accuse the SL of using "verbal tricks" to cover this up. So what are these "Spart tricks"? Well, that "when it talks about support for Hussein's army, it talks of 'defending Iraq' or 'defending Iraq against American imperialism,' but when it talks of overthrowing the Iraqi regime, it is 'overthrow Hussein'. " Some trick! In fact, the MLP is forced to admit that this stance might be appealing to would-be anti- imperialists: "To overthrow Hussein while defending Iraq might sound reasonable, if one forget[s] that what is meant by defending Iraq is lauding Hussein's military efforts. "
. What they're referring to is the "military effort" against the 500,000-plus U. S. troops and the warplanes that flew over 100,000 sorties against Iraq in the most concentrated bombing campaign in history. Any Iraqi worker or peasant, soldier, mother, father or youth who burns with anger against the mass murderers who turned their country into a killing field could only despise those leftists who refuse to support a war against the imperialist oppressors.
. So why would professed Marxist-Leninists take such a position? The article in the December Workers' Advocate lets the cat out of the bag when it says that "the working people and youth instinctively feel" that since the "Iraqi regime is a despicable tyranny," Iraq "has no noble or progressive goals in the war" -- and therefore should not be defended. Obviously they are not referring to the workers and youth of the Near East, who demonstrated in the hundreds of thousands in defense of Iraq and for the defeat of U. S. imperialism. Rather they are responding to opinion in the US, where the population has had Bush's "Saddam equals Hitler" war propaganda relentlessly pushed down their throats.
. When it came down to the duty of revolutionaries in the belly of the imperialist beast to stand for the defeat of their "own" rulers' bloody aggression, as the White House whipped up patriotic war frenzy at home, the MLP shamefully took a dive, bleating like any good pacifist liberal that "this is a criminal war on both sides." This is exactly the kind of thing Lenin was talking about when he insisted:
". . . there must be no toleration of the verbal condemnation of imperialism while no real revolutionary struggle is waged for the liberation of the colonies (and dependent nations) from one's own imperialist bourgeoisie. "
. -- "The Tasks of the Third International" (July 1919) [Collected Works, Vol. 29, p. 505, Section IV, the sentence begins with the word "Fourthly. " --WA Sup. ]
. And what does the MLP say to the Iraqi masses? Well, "to the working people of Iraq and the
Middle East, we say they are right to oppose the US imperialist buildup. . . . " But, pray tell, how
are they supposed to do that without defending Iraq? And if this is an "unjust war on both sides,"
does this mean they call upon Iraqi soldiers to turn their guns around? This would have been
quite pleasing to Washington, which hoped that its terror bombing would provoke a rebellion of
officers in Iraq who would then fire in the same direction as Washington's troops. In other words,
an organization that sought to put the MLP's line into practice in Iraq could only play a quisling
role as U. S. puppets in the face of imperialist attack.
Defense of oppressed countries against imperialism
. Evidently feeling pressure to defend its neutrality in Washington's bloody war on Iraq, the MLP's polemics have grown increasingly tortured in attempting to square this shameful position with Leninism. Last fall the Spartacist League, in going after pseudo-socialists who refused to defend Iraq ("The Left and the Persian Gulf/Desperately Seeking Imperialist Doves," WV No. 510, 21 September 1990), cited a classic quotation from the 1915 pamphlet by Lenin and Zinoviev, Socialism and War:
"For example, if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, these would be 'just' and 'defensive' wars, irrespective of who would be the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory 'Great' Powers." [Lenin's Collected Works, vol. 21, pp. 300-1, in the section "The difference between wars of aggression and of defense". --WA Sup. ]
. In its December article, the MLP claimed there was no parallel between the "hypothetical wars Lenin was discussing" and Iraq today, because India was a colony, and besides, Hussein wasn't seeking a confrontation with imperialism. After we pointed out that at the time Morocco was ruled by a sultan, Persia by a military dictator, and China by a warlord -- all of them reactionaries every bit as bloody as Saddam Hussein -- the MLP now comes back with pages of a thoroughly scholastic attempt to prove that Lenin's 1915 position on China, India, Morocco "and so on" was not a general position on wars between imperialist countries and countries oppressed by imperialism.
. They accuse us of quoting out of context in the service of the SL's "view. . . that since the US is an imperialist power and Iraq is a Near Eastern country, the war is automatically a just war on the part of Iraq. " What the MLP derisively calls a "little set of stereotyped dogmas" is in fact the body of political principles of Bolshevism. They can twist and turn as much as they want, but we can cite any number of other quotes from Lenin making the same point. For example:
"A war against imperialist, i. e. , oppressing, powers by oppressed (for example, colonial) nations is a genuine national war. . . . 'Defense of the fatherland' in a war waged by an oppressed national against a foreign oppressor is not a deception. Socialists are not opposed to 'defense of the fatherland' in such a war. "
--"A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism" (October 1916) [Collected Works, vol. 23, p. 34, near the end of section 1. "The Marxist attitude towards war and 'Defense of the fatherland' "- WA Sup. ]
. The MLP wants to claim that in Socialism and War, Lenin was not speaking of a war against imperialism by the bourgeois rulers but rather a "revival of the revolutionary movement. "Not so. Lenin stated explicitly:
"To the extent that the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation struggles against the oppressing one, we are always, in every case, and more resolutely than anyone else, for it, because we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. "
-- "On the Right of Nations to Self-Determination" (February-May 1914) [Collected Works, vol. 20, pp. 411-2, about half way through section 4. " 'Practicality' in the National Question" -- WA Sup. ]
. The MLP also implies that Iraq is not an oppressed country. It quotes Lenin's reference to "semi-colonies, as, for example, Persia, Turkey and China," and then concludes: "This meant that their situation was quite different from present-day Iraq. " Under Hussein, they say, Iraq seeks "to become a regional bully. " Would the MLP like to claim that Turkey was not then acting as a bully toward the subject peoples of the collapsed Ottoman Empire? In his famous "Report of the Commission on the National and Colonial Questions" at the Second Congress of the Comintern (1920), Lenin stated:
. "The characteristic feature of imperialism consists in the whole world. . . is now divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressor nations, which command colossal wealth and powerful armed forces. . . . The oppressed nations. . . are either in a state of direct colonial dependence or are semi-colonies such as Persia, Turkey and China, or else, having been defeated by the armies of a big imperialist power, have become greatly dependent on that power by virtue of peace treaties. This idea of distinction, of dividing the nations into oppressor and oppressed, run through all the theses."
. [. -- Collected Works, vol. 31, pp. 240-241]
. Not relevant to Iraq today, comrades?
. Does this mean that the SL "has lost sight of the toiling masses and the revolutionary movements," that we engage in Maoist-style 'cheerleading" for "Third World" bourgeois governments as the MLP claims? On the contrary, the Trotskyists have always fought against any political alliance with the bourgeoisie, both in imperialist and in backward capitalist countries. Trotsky's program of permanent revolution, which was confirmed by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, explains that the "national" bourgeoisie in nations of belated capitalist development is tied by a thousand threads to the imperialist order, and is therefore incapable of carrying through the tasks of bourgeois-democratic revolution. These can only be achieved through the dictatorship of the proletariat, resting on an alliance with the poor peasants, an extension of the revolution to the imperialist metropoles. Part of this perspective is uncompromising struggle against imperialist attacks on colonial and semicolonial countries (see page 11 [page 11 of the Workers Vanguard was entitled "Trotsky on the Sino-Japanese war" and had statements from Trotsky referring to the Japanese aggression against China in the mid-1930s in which he tries to convince other Trotskyists to oppose imperialist aggression in China and the fascist revolt in Spain. -- WA Supplement])
. It was Stalin who used the Menshevik theory of alliance with a "progressive" bourgeoisie in a
"two-stage revolution" to subordinate the Chinese Communist Party to Chiang Kai-shek's
Kuomintang, leading to the beheading of the Chinese workers revolution in 1927. Ever since, the
Stalinists have pushed the program of class collaboration with the "anti-imperialist, progressive
bourgeoisie," from Indonesia to South Africa to Chile, etc. , with similarly disastrous results.
Military Defense vs. Political Support
. That the MLP attempts to pass off its capitulationist line as rip-roaring "Marxist-Leninist" politics testifies to the fact that, despite all its "study campaigns," it keeps its members in the dark about some very basic Marxist conceptions. Thus Workers' Advocate claims that "in fact the formula of 'military, not political, support' isn't Lenin's. And it isn't Leninist or Marxist or materialist. " No doubt most MLPers believe this distinction between military defense and political support is really a "Trotskyist deviation. "
. Yet Lenin himself insisted on the distinction between military defense and political support. In August 1917, the Bolsheviks blocked militarily with Kerensky's Provisional Government in Russia against the right-wing revolt led by General Kornilov. Lenin wrote at the time:
"We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky's troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference. It is a rather subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten. "
. -- "To the Central Committee of the RSDLP" (30 August 1917) [Collected Works, vol. 25, p. 286 -- WA Sup. ]
Lenin castigated as petty-bourgeois moralists those who sought to take " 'revenge' on the SRs and Mensheviks" by refusing to defend them against Kornilov. Far from giving political support to Kerensky, the Bolsheviks' intervention to defeat the Kornilov revolt prepared the overthrow of the tottering bourgeois Provisional Government a few weeks later.
. This issue of military defense vs. political support is closely related to the broader question of the united front. When this tactic was adopted by the Communist International in late 1921, the watchword was "march separately, strike together. " In fighting against the common enemy, there must be no mixing of political banners. This was perverted by Stalin into the program of the "popular front" (codified at the Comintern's Seventh Congress in 1935) which, far from preserving the political independence of the proletarian vanguard, instead subordinated it to the bourgeoisie. This is very relevant today, for example to the anti-war protest "movement" which the MLP vows not to "split".
. In its polemic against the SL in the Workers' Advocate Supplement, the MLP chastises us for being too charitable about its attitude toward the January peace demos (we said it denounced them as reformist), and their point is well taken. Notwithstanding some criticisms of reformist leaders, the MLP insists it "supported the Washington demonstrations" called by the pro-Democratic Party social-pacifists on the basis of liberal slogans. After emphasizing that it "supported" the peace crawls despite their social-patriotic program and leadership, the MLP underlines that it refused to defend Iraq since that would mean "support for Hussein's army. " An interesting counterposition, wouldn't you say?
. In line with the opportunist view that only those struggles are desirable that are possible, and those that are possible are the ones going on at the given moment, the MLP sneeringly dismisses the SL's call for labor strikes against the war as pie in the sky. "The problem. . . is that such strikes, even small ones, aren't going to take place at the present time. " Not thanks to the MLP, they won't. The MLP's tailism meant that when one of their supporters at the NYC Transport Workers Union was faced with the choice of standing with the bureaucrats when they called on everyone to "support our troops in Saudi Arabia," or sitting down in protest as did supporters of the Committee for a Fighting TWU, he remained standing with the bureaucrats (see "TWU Bureaucrats and Wannabees Stand Up for War," WV No. 521, 1 March).
. At the most fundamental level, these "Marxist-Leninists" have no conception of the class line. And the MLP is so insistent on refusing to defend Iraq and denounces those who do, because it senses, rightly, that if it admits that one can military defend Iraq without politically supporting Hussein, this would call into question its justifications for refusing to defend the Soviet Union against imperialism.
. Because we Trotskyists recognize that the Soviet Union, despite the bureaucratic degeneration
of the revolution under Stalin and his successors, remains a workers state, we therefore defend it
against the forces of internal and external counterrevolution. In contrast, the MLP, like other
Maoist-derived "M-Ls," claims that the USSR is "state capitalist" in order not to defend the
Soviet peoples against the looming threat of bloody capitalist restoration. It all comes back to the
Russian question. <>
Last changed on March 14, 2003.