The hypocrisy of ``military, but not
political, support'' for tyranny

Building an anti-imperialist movement, or
putting hopes in Hussein's military? (part 3)

(from the Workers' Advocate Supplement, June 15, 1991)


SL against the mass struggle
Turkey: SL as Empire-Socialists
"Military, not political, support''
Does it mean critical support?
The example of Nicaragua
"Military support'' for Teamster hacks?
Is it Lenin's formula?
The Kornilov revolt
"Military support'' for tyrants, but sectarianism towards "anti-war movements''
"Labor strikes against the war''
Mindless dogmas

. Day after day, new events show the criminal nature of both armies in the Persian Gulf war. Only one side deserved support in this war, and that was the struggling masses, oppressed by murderous US imperialism and its favorite monarchies, and also by the savage tyranny of Saddam Hussein. The White House and Hussein have even tacitly collaborated in suppressing the revolt of the Iraqi masses.

. The Trotskyists and related groups, however, advocated "military support'' for Hussein's tyranny under such slogans as "defend Iraq'' or "victory to Iraq''. They pretended that there was something anti-imperialist in Hussein's driving of the Iraqi people into yet another war.

. We have denounced this sham militancy as a betrayal of the working masses and of the real tasks of anti-imperialism. In this particular series of articles, we are dealing with the views of the Trotskyist Spartacist League (SL), which has directly polemicized against our party. Along with Parts One and Two of this article, we reprinted in full statements from the SL opposing the stand of our Party (see the Workers' Advocate Supplement for February 20 and April 20).

. In defending their reliance on Hussein's bayonets, the SL has repeatedly brought forward an extract from Lenin's 1915 pamphlet Socialism and War. Lenin wrote that if Morocco (a protectorate) were to be at war with its oppressor France, or India (a colony) with its occupier Britain, or Persia or China (semi-colonies) with Russia, then these would be liberation wars on the part of oppressed Morocco, India, Persia or China--no matter which side attacked first. The SL made the astonishing discovery that this meant that Lenin was giving military support for local tyrants. As SL put it,

"When Lenin wrote this, Morocco was ruled by the sultan Mulai Yusuf, Persia by the military dictator Ephraim Khan and China by the warlord Yuan Shih-kai--rulers such as bloody and reactionary as Iraq's Saddam Hussein. '' (For example, see the January 18 Workers' Vanguard cited in the Supplement, Feb. 20, p. 25, or the March 15 WV, cited in the Supplement of April 20. )

. In Part One of this article we showed that Lenin in fact opposed the local reactionary dregs. He was talking of liberation movements, and they were not only going up against the European imperialists, but the local tyrants as well. In Morocco, the war Lenin was talking about actually broke out, and it was led by Abd el-Krim while the imperialists had been making use of the sultan. In China, Lenin talked about the possibility of European capitalism sending troops to back up Yuan Shih-kai against the Chinese people. In Persia, Lenin backed the revolutionary movement being suppressed by the military dictator.

. What was the response of the SL theoreticians?

. Why, they said, this history was all "thoroughly scholastic". (Cited in the Supplement, April 20, page 10, col. 1) They were the ones who put forward the activities of sultan Mulai Yusuf, warlord Yuan Shih-kai, and military dictator Ephraim Khan as proof of the revolutionary nature of their "military support'' for Saddam Hussein. They were the ones who drew an analogy between Morocco, China, and Persia in those days and Iraq today. But when we pointed out that they were lying about history and prettifying these notorious tyrants from history, they suddenly turned silent. They pretend to be communists. But the distinction between the movement of the oppressed on the one hand, and the warlords and military dictators on the other, is just empty "scholasticism'' in their eyes.

. Furthermore, they wrote that we were supposedly trying "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. '' (Ibid. , emphasis in the original)

. What slippery liars the SL leaders are! How bitterly they attempt to obscure the real issues in a controversy! What we proved was that Lenin's position on Morocco, China, India, and Persia was diametrically opposed to SL's licking of the asses of tyrants and warlords. We did not claim that this was a difference restricted to one or two minor historical episodes. On the contrary, what we showed that Lenin's general position is utterly opposed to SL's.

. The SL theoreticians continued with two more theses that further underlined the dramatic difference in their general stand and that of Lenin. The first concerns the mass movements, and the second concerns Turkey.

SL against the mass struggle

. First of all, they wrote:

. "MLP wants to claim that . . . Lenin was not speaking of a war against imperialism by the bourgeois rulers but rather a `revival of the revolutionary movement. ' Not so. '' (Ibid. , col. 2)

. Just as the SL hates the current anti-war movement, and curses it, so do they write off the history of the movements of the oppressed. Oh, they are full of talk about how it would be good to have the "dictatorship of the proletariat, resting on an alliance with the poor peasants" and "an extension of the revolution to the imperialist metropoles. '' Anything you like. But when it comes to practical politics, they denounce the very thought the anti-imperialist struggle has anything to do with "the revival of the revolutionary movement. '' Instead they look towards the powers-that-be, and don't hesitate before "third worldist" dreaming about the supposed anti-imperialist feats of reactionary sultans like Mulai Yusuf, the warlords like Yuan Shih-kai, military dictators like Ephraim Khan, and tyrants like Saddam Hussein.

. The SL ignored all the statements of Lenin we cited about the concrete situation in the oppressed countries of this time. They refuse to discuss Lenin's analysis of the democratic revolution spreading in Asia, of the situation facing the revolution in Persia, etc. All this is irrelevant to them. All they can see in China, which Lenin said had become "a land of seething political activity, the scene of a virile social movement and of a democratic upsurge'', was the warlord Yüan Shih-kai. All they could see in Morocco, where the ruling sultans felt the ground shaking under them and turned to French bayonets for help, was these same blood-stained sultans. And SL attributes its own blindness to Lenin, and insists that Lenin was not making a concrete statement in support of the movement of the oppressed, but simply expressing a geographical platitude about any country with any degree of dependence on imperialism.

. The SL theoreticians insist that they "can cite any number of other quotes from Lenin'' (Ibid. , col. 10) to back up their divorce of anti-imperialism from the revolutionary movements. But we showed in Part Two that every single statement from Lenin given by SL came from a work which was discussing the movements of the oppressed, the mass national movements, or the revolutionary movements.

Turkey: SL as Empire-Socialists

. But the SL leaders also unleashed another historical analogy. They gave up right away about comparing colonial India to Iraq. And they feel shaky with Morocco, China, and Persia. So they moved over to Turkey. They present it triumphantly. It is supposed to prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt. As long as there is another third world tyrant in history to fall back on, SL will continue chasing over the globe to find another analogy to justify their support for Saddam Hussein.

. We had pointed to the difference between movements of the oppressed against imperialism and Saddam Hussein's bloody efforts to make Iraq into a regional bully. The SL ridiculed this distinction. They pointed to Lenin calling the Turkey of 1920 a "semi-colony''. Ah, they imply, now we have the MLP:

"Under Hussein, they [MLP] says, 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?''(Ibid. , col. 20)

. So it doesn't matter to SL that presently Iraq's Hussein has been recklessly spilling Iraqi and other peoples' blood to become a regional bully. After all, the upper classes in Turkey (the dominant nationality in the Ottoman Empire) were also bullies in the early twentieth century. And why not be more concrete? The Turkish upper classes, including the upper class reformers, had dragged Turkey into one war after another in order to preserve the Ottoman Empire and their dominant position. And they had staged infamous massacres, such as the genocidal slaughter of the Armenians.

. By comparing Turkey and Iraq, the SL are declaring "military support'' for these wars and massacres which was the way the government of the Ottoman Empire tried to maintain itself against the threat of partition. The SL are declaring themselves empire-socialists.

. It is true that, back in the early twentieth century, Turkey was both the ruler of an empire, and a target of the European imperialist powers. But only for SL does this mean that one can issue a blank check for the military efforts of the Turkish government.

. Consider the statement from Lenin in Socialism and War about wars which Morocco, India, China, and Persia might wage. Lenin does not include Turkey in this list. And still less does Lenin call for "military support'' for the rulers of the Ottoman Empire.

. This was not an accident or an oversight.

. Indeed, Lenin refers elsewhere in this pamphlet to Turkey. And the question of Turkey and Turkish wars, and imperialist attempts to partition Turkey, were a major issue in the analysis of World War I. Furthermore, Turkey was waging war against England and Russia at the time Lenin was writing, since Turkey was a German ally in World War I.

. No, the situation in the Ottoman Empire was complex, and the wars it fought were of varying character. Isn't it clear that this had something to do with the fact that, in SL's words, "Turkey was . . . acting as a bully toward the subject peoples of the collapsed Ottoman Empire?'' Isn't it clear that, if Iraq is really analogous to Turkey and the Ottoman empire, then only empire-socialists could render "military support'' to Hussein's attempts to be a regional bully?

. Lenin approached Turkey from the point of view of supporting the movements of the oppressed in Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, movements which were part of the revolutionary upsurges throughout Asia. He did not brush aside the Turkish bullying of subject peoples, but regarded the resolution of the national question as one of the basic issues confronting the Ottoman Empire. He did not divorce this from the analysis of the wars Turkey was involved with. Still less did he lecture the subject nationalities to render "military support'' to the Ottoman Empire, as SL lectures the Kurds to back Hussein's war to make Iraq a regional power.


. In polemics with other Trotskyists, the Spartacist League has referred back to the 1982 war between Britain and Argentina over Malvinas (Falklands) Islands. (Workers Vanguard, July 27, 1990, pp. 7-8) The SL denounced both sides in the war. It denounces the "military support'' of the Morenoite Trotskyists for Argentina and declares

"We said `Sink Thatcher! Sink Galtieri!'' while Moreno and his followers placed themselves, explicitly, `in the military camp of the Argentine dictatorship'. ''

. We ourselves ardently denounced both sides in the 1982 war between British imperialism and the Argentina fascist generals and instead supported the working masses. We also denounced the various "three worldists'', pro-Soviet revisionist, and Trotskyist rationales for supporting the military adventure of the Argentine generals. (See "Opportunists sacrifice the Argentine workers to the generals'' in the July 20, 1982 issue of the Workers' Advocate. ) There is, however, a difference between our denunciation of both sides and that of the Spartacist League. Our stand on the war in 1982 followed from a consistent stand on the class struggle in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. But the Spartacist League has had to eat its own words.

. Look at the arguments the SL used in 1982, and you see that they were slapping themselves in the face in advance for their present stand in the Persian Gulf war. Apparently the Morenoites argued that Argentina was a semi-colony, and hence that any war it waged against imperialism automatically deserved support. How did the SL reply?

. For one thing, they said that:

. "But even if Argentina were a semi-colonial country, the Malvinas adventure would still be a diversion. The PST reports that many workers are asking: 'Are we going to eat the Malvinas?' 'On the 30th [of March] they beat us with sticks; two days later they call us to the Plaza de Mayo! What do they think we are?' Obviously, the dictatorship needs some cover of its left flank and that is what the Morenoites seek to provide. According to the IWL statement, the Falklands/Malvinas clash is a 'clear anti-imperialist struggle' that has only been 'besmirched by the character of the Argentina government. ' '' (WV, June 11, 1982, page 11, col. 3, emphasis as in the original)

. Could not the same thing be said about Iraq? Were the masses, suffering from the aftermath of the bloody Iran-Iraq war, supposed to eat Scud missiles? Were the Kurds, slaughtered by poison gas attacks by Saddam Hussein, supposed to turn around and loyally serve as Hussein's shock troops? What does the SL think the Iraqi people are?

. The SL went on to state:

. "What's anti-imperialist about the 'recovery' of this tiny archipelago hundreds of miles from the Argentine coasts?'' (Ibid. )

. Today too the SL holds that there is nothing anti-imperialist in Hussein's takeover of Kuwait. But they give "military support'' to the war over Kuwait anyway. Apparently they no longer think that the object of a war is relevant to whether the workers and peasants and oppressed nationalities should suffer and die for it.

. The SL went on to display indignation over what Morenoite military support for Argentina meant:

. " . . . does Moreno want to go to the Malvinas to exhort the troops to lay down their lives for Argentina's claim to the boggy islands? . . . Their support to the Falklands/Malvinas adventure is the Morenoites' worst betrayal of the Argentine revolution by far. They recognize that Galtieri 'aims to divert them [the workers] away from the struggle against their exploiters and the dictatorship'. . . and then support this diversion on the grounds that 'recovery' of the archipelago is necessarily an anti-imperialist act''. (Ibid. , col . 4)

. Of course, back then various other Trotskyists, and reformist trends derived from Trotskyism, argued that the best way to overthrow the Argentine generals was to support them in the war. The SWP argued that the victory of the Argentine junta would put the "working people. . . in a better position to carry forward the fight against the military dictatorship and imperialism. '' (The Militant, April 30, 1982, p. 4) Presumably SL didn't think much of this argument back then, but regarded it as an example of giving left cover to the Argentine generals. But today they themselves repeat similar arguments with respect to the oppressive Ba'ath regime in Iraq.

. And back then Sam Marcy, chairman of the Workers World party, tried to combine calling on the masses to overthrow the junta with all-out support for the war. In the course of this, he admitted the "utter insignificance" of the Malvinas "when measured against the historically urgent and imperative needs of the masses to overthrow the fascist regime. '' (Workers World, April 9, 1982, p. 7) and declared "let those who are willing to abandon the struggle against the fascist junta jump on the camarilla's bandwagon in the name of defense of the homeland. In reality they will merely be defending the usurping junta's continuation of domination and suppression of the masses. '' (Workers World, April 16, 1982, p. 9) But he ended up lauding the junta's war as something that "enormously strengthened genuine anti-imperialist resistance not only in Argentina but in Latin America as a whole. '' (Workers World, May 7, 1982) Doesn't this sound awfully familiar after reading SL's declarations "against'' Saddam Hussein and their protests about how indifferent they are to who rules Kuwait, which they combine with cheerleading for every military or political blow struck by Hussein's regime?

"Military, not political, support''

. Today the SL still ridicules the Morenoite Trotskyists for being in the "military camp'' of the Argentine generals in 1982. But at the same time SL boasts that it renders "military support'', but supposedly not political support, to Saddam Hussein's regime.

. From the practical point of view, the SL use this slogan to justify utter hypocrisy. In their article of March 15 replying to us, they declare that, while supporting the Iraqi military efforts, they were "denouncing the tyrant Saddam Hussein and calling for the working people of Iraq to work for the overthrow of the bloody Ba'ath regime''. (Cited in the Supplement, April 20, 1991, p. 8 col. 1) Yet they said in the same article that any Iraqi organization that sought to overthrow Hussein at this time "could only play a quisling role as US puppets in the face of imperialist attack. '' (Ibid. , pp. 9-10)

. And what was their attitude when the Iraqi people rose up in an attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein? They were embarrassed. In the same March 15 issue they refer briefly and without feeling to "anti-government fighting''. They ignore it in their March 29 issue. And in their April 12 issue, when the rebellions have been crushed, they carry a lengthy article arguing that the Kurds should have supported the war instead.

. So much for SL "calling on the working people of Iraq to work for the overthrow for the bloody Ba'ath regime''. So much for SL's alleged lack of "political support'' for the regime. Their calls to overthrow the regime while supporting the war were just as fraudulent and cynical as Sam Marcy's similar appeals during the Malvinas/Falklands war of 1982. Their lectures to the Kurds and the activists that everything would have been better if only the Iraqi regime had won the war are just a repeat of SWP's view that the way to overthrow the Argentine junta was to support its criminal military adventure.

. But let us look a bit further into the theoretical basis of the "military, but not political support'' slogan, as it is one of the fundamental slogans common to most Trotskyists.

Does it mean critical support?

. In practice, politics and war are inseparably connected. Its aggressive wars are among the most concentrated political expressions of imperialism. The liberation wars of oppressed peoples are a political response to exploitation and denial of rights. The scientific attitude to war lays stress on the politics behind the war, the attitude of different classes to the war, and the movements that have created the conditions for the war over years and decades preceding them.

. The SL doesn't even attempt to deal with this theoretical issue. It doesn't deal with the profound class analysis of war by Marx and Lenin. It tries to stop the reader from thinking about why the materialists hold that "war is the continuation of politics by other, violent, means. '' It simply raises a practical issue. What would it mean, says SL, to deny the separation of politics and war? Why, the SL theoreticians sputter in indignation,

"So to defend Nicaragua against Yankee imperialism you have to politically support the Sandinistas? . . . To defend the Teamsters against government union-busters you have to politically support the corrupt sellout bureaucracy?'' (WV, Jan. 18, cited in the Supplement of February 20, page 25, col. 1)

The example of Nicaragua

. The SL is trying to present the separation of politics and military affairs as some sort of critical support. It is supposed to be an answer to the question of how to oppose the CIA-organized contras without endorsing everything the Sandinistas did. So how could this be done, say the SL, without separating military and political support?

. But separating military and political support is an utterly mindless stand that doesn't answer any of the questions of anti-imperialist work in favor of the Nicaraguan people. It is necessary to provide all-round support to the Nicaraguan workers and peasants. It is necessary to criticize the wrong political stands of the Sandinistas not in order to withdraw political support from the Nicaraguan workers and peasants, but precisely in order to give political support to the toilers. It is necessary to oppose the CIA-organized contra war against Nicaragua not because this was "military support'' to the Sandinista leadership, but because the Nicaraguan people's struggle against counter-revolution was entirely just and legitimate.

. SL's formula evades and obscures the need for all-round support for the revolutionary movement of the Nicaraguan toilers, and makes everything depend on the Sandinistas. If the formula was supposed to apply to the Nicaraguan workers and peasants, then why deny political support? The formula instead centers everything on the Sandinista leadership. It makes the revolution depend solely on them. No wonder the SL organized a money-raising campaign for the Sandinistas rather than providing political support for the Nicaraguan toilers developing their own, independent revolutionary motion.

. Of course, as the Sandinistas were in power in the 1980's and maintained support from the majority of the population, opposition to the contras was, in some sense of the word, a type of support for the Sandinistas. But in what sense? What type of "support'' should be given?

. A bit of serious thought about the matter shows that the formula about "military, but not political'' support is totally useless to define this.

. 1) It doesn't deal at all with the fact that support goes first and foremost to the toilers and their struggle and their mobilization.

. Yet this is a central point of any communist criticism of the Sandinistas. This criticism had to be in support of the class initiative and mobilization of the toilers.

. 2) The formula could mean support for the military actions of the Sandinistas, while giving no support for their political actions.

. But the military way the Sandinistas conducted the war deserved criticism. For example, they gradually demobilized the masses, they eliminated the popular militias and relied exclusively on the regular army, and they suffered fiasco with the draft.

. At the same time, when the Sandinistas opposed the contras, this was definitely one of their political stands. Any support for them in this struggle was a support for a political stand of the Sandinistas.

. 3) The formula could mean that the solidarity movement should engage in military actions to support the Sandinistas, but not in political actions.

. But the task in the US was not to begin a military struggle against imperialism, but to build up a political movement of the masses. To be effective, the solidarity movement had to strain every effort to building up an independent movement, against imperialism and its parties of war and exploitation. The task was not to organize squads and battalions, or select the best guns and cannons, but to develop a class struggle.

. 4) The formula could mean that imperialism's military suppression of the revolution was separate from the issue of the politics of the revolution.

. But such a conception would undermine the struggle against the liberal politicians who claim to oppose the CIA murder squads in favor of political pressure on the Nicaraguan revolution. The liberal politicians themselves separate politics and war. This is how they pretend to be heroes of peace while supporting imperialist interests in Central America. This was how they promoted the suppression of the revolution through the Arias plan as allegedly a progressive alternative to war. Thus any slogan that weakens the consciousness of the activists about the connection between politics and war ultimately reinforces the standpoint of the liberal and reformist forces.

. The formula of "military but not political support'' turns out to be a useless, stereotyped dogma that says nothing about the real stand that had to be taken towards the Nicaraguan revolution. It does not answer any practical question of how to give fervent support to the Nicaraguan toilers and their revolutionary movement while staying critical of the Sandinistas. It is especially harmful because, by providing a grand-sounding phrase that means nothing, it prevents real thought about the tasks of the solidarity movement.

"Military support'' for Teamster hacks?

. Nevertheless the SL is so pleased with this formula that it uses it over and over. It is a single, pat answer to every situation under the sun. It is one of their little set of dogmas, which replaces real thought by mindless chattering.

. This goes to the extent that they actually use this formula to apply to the case of the Teamster bureaucrats. They are going to render "military support'' to the Teamster bureaucrats who, if anything, are all too infamous for their thugs and for their violent suppression of the rank-and-file workers. Only someone drunk on Trotskyist dogma could want to render the Teamster hacks more "military support''.

. Of course, the Teamster bureaucrats are not involved in military operations against the Pentagon. If anything, they are chauvinists and imperialists like the other pro-capitalist top union hacks. So the formula "military, but not political support'' reveals itself as simply a far-fetched analogy to hide SL's slavish expectations in the bureaucrats. But all it takes is another government anti-corruption probe or court order, and SL runs to render "military support'' to the Teamster bureaucrats.

. The SL, of course, will denounce pro-capitalist labor bureaucrats, just as they denounce Saddam Hussein. But they still count on the "military'' action of these same bureaucrats, just as they counted on the bayonets and tanks and Scuds of the Ba'ath regime. All it took was an empty statement from some national union leaders (prior to the ground war, of course) in favor of starving Iraq, rather than bombing it, and SL went daydreaming about what the pro-capitalist union apparatus could do. They admit the "Teamster tops'' were waving the flag and didn't take part in the empty anti-war statement, but that didn't matter. The SL was too busy dreaming about what wonders would be accomplished by actions called by the Teamsters union, the longshore union, etc.

. The real working class opposition to imperialism, just as the real opposition to government and capitalist union-busting, will come from building up the independent movement of the working class. Such a movement will not be in a "military bloc'' with the pro-capitalist Teamster hacks.

Is it Lenin's formula?

. The slogan of "military not political support'' thus proves useless in practice. As well, despite SL's whistling in the wind, it was not Marxist and was never used by Lenin.

. Lenin never gave this formula in any circumstance whatsoever. Period.

. Furthermore, and more importantly, Lenin repeatedly opposed the basic idea behind this slogan. He emphasized the falseness of separating war from politics. In the pamphlet, Socialism and War, which SL likes to extract a single sentence from, Lenin endorses the statement of the German militarist Clausewitz that "War is the continuation of politics by other'' (i. e. : violent) "means''. He makes this statement into a title of a subsection, and writes:

. "This famous dictum was uttered by Clausewitz, one of the profoundest writers on the problems of war. Marxists have always rightly regarded this thesis as the theoretical basis of views on the significance of any war. It was from this viewpoint that Marx and Engels always regarded the various wars. '' (Collected Works, vol. 21, p. 304)

. Marx, Engels, and Lenin emphasized the insoluble connection of war and politics. But SL divides war and politics. SL and other Trotskyists believe that they can carry out any treachery in practice, and call this "military support'', and separate it from the realm of big promises and sweet-sounding declarations, which they call "political'' opposition.

. How does one judge any war, even liberation wars of oppressed countries against colonizers? Lenin stressed that one applies the standpoint of regarding this war as the continuation of the politics that preceded it. Explaining and amplifying his earlier statement in the pamphlet about wars of dependent countries, he writes:

". . . In China, Persia, India and other dependent countries, on the contrary, we have seen during the past decades a policy of rousing tens and hundreds of millions of people to a national life, of their liberation from the reactionary 'Great' Powers' oppression. A war waged on such a historical basis can even today be a bourgeois-progressive war of national liberation. ''' (Ibid. )

. For Lenin, the movement of the oppressed is what creates the possibility of a progressive war of national liberation. But SL, as we have seen, denounces the idea that a "revival of the revolutionary movement'' has anything to do with the character of an anti-imperialist struggle.

The Kornilov revolt

. SL makes one desperate attempt to give a communist color to its bogus dogma of "military, not political support''. It claims that Lenin "himself insisted on the distinction between military defense and political support''. (Cited in the Supplement, p. 11, col. 1) And it cites Lenin's letter on the Kornilov revolt of 1917 in Russia.

. Isn't it strange, if "military, not political support'' was the basis of Lenin's attitude towards reactionaries in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, like sultan Mulai Yusuf in Morocco, warlord Yuan Shih-kai of China, and military dictator Ephraim Khan of Persia, that SL can't find a single passage about it in this context? Isn't it strange that Lenin said nothing about it in the pamphlet Socialism and War and instead talked about the rousing of millions of people in the oppressed countries? Isn't it strange that SL has to run to an example of an imperialist country (Russia before the October revolution)?

. And stranger still is that the letter from Lenin about the Kornilov revolt says the exact opposite of SL's "military, not political support''.

. First of all, in this letter Lenin never uses SL's formula at all.

. Secondly, Lenin denounces support for Kerensky's government, even though he calls for fighting the Kornilov revolt, which sought to replace Kerensky's government with an iron-fisted military dictatorship.

. Russia at that time was in the midst of a profound revolutionary movement. The February revolution had overthrown the tsar, and millions upon millions of workers and peasants were rising in new life. That's why the Kerensky government, afraid of the masses, had actually flirted with the Kornilovites and its own overthrow.

. Lenin called for mobilizing the masses, including the rank-and-file soldiers in the armies of the Provisional Government, against Kornilov. Since the Kerensky government had finally vacillated against Kornilov, this required changing the form of the struggle against Kerensky. SL says this means that Lenin "blocked militarily with Kerensky's Provisional Government''. But that's not Lenin's view of what he was doing. He wrote, in the very letter cited by SL:

. "It is my conviction that those who become unprincipled are people who . . . slide into defencism or . . . into a bloc with the S. R. s, into supporting the Provisional Government [headed by Kerensky--ed. ]. Their attitude is absolutely wrong and unprincipled. . . .
. "Even now we must not support Kerensky's government. . . . We may be asked: aren't we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here, . . . '' (Collected Works, "To the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.'' vol. 25, pp. 285-6, emphasis as in the original)

. The actual nature of the tactics Lenin called for depended very much on the concrete situation of the times. And developing these tactics required dealing with some subtle distinctions. The point is that SL's "military but not political support'' covers over all the important points of tactics. SL demagogically presents the issue as if the only question is whether to oppose Kornilov. This is because SL is bankrupt on how to oppose Kornilov, and it is trying to hide the yawning chasm between its stand and that of Lenin's.

. Lenin's attitude to such broad phrases as a military block with Kerensky could be further seen in his following statement:

". . . We must relentlessly fight against phrases about the defence of the country, about a united front of revolutionary democrats, about supporting the Provisional Government, etc. , etc. , since they are just empty phrases. We must say: now is the time for action; you S. R. and Menshevik gentlemen have long since worn those phrases threadbare. '' (Ibid. , p. 298)

"Military support'' for the tyrants,
but sectarianism towards "anti-war movements''

. While the SL backs the tyrants like Hussein, they are sectarian and cynical about the anti-war activists and other progressive people.

. The anti-war movement against the Persian Gulf war was a breath of fresh air. It spread widely across the country, and brought a new generation of activists into the struggle. It irritated the imperialists no end. They slandered it, denounced it, arrested thousands, declared it didn't exist, organized yellow-ribbon campaigns to swamp it, and chauvinist goons to oppose it. But the anti-war movement had deep roots, and it left its stamp on the popular consciousness.

. SL claimed to be oh so militant against imperialism. But all it does is find one pretext after another to denounce the movement. It is irritated at the memory of the movement of the 60's, and lectures against it. It denounces "anti-war movements'' in general.

. The SL is indignant that the liberals and reformists (including Trotskyist groups) seized the speakers' platforms. Why, the SL whines, how can anyone but a "pop-frontist'' take part in such a movement?

. So the SL shouts about anti-imperialism, but is incapable of seeing how mass anti-imperialist sentiment expresses itself. Why, there were liberals and reformists in the movement. Oh, horrors!!! Oh, fooey!!!

. Has the SL ever seriously pondered how a revolution takes place? Has it even thought about the October revolution of 1917 that it phrasemongers about? Weren't reformists and liberals crawling all over the place after the February revolution? Didn't the reformists dominate the Soviets for quite a while, persecute the revolutionaries, hand power over to the Provisional Government, and engage in orgies of Russian chauvinism? How can one praise the proletarian revolution of 1917, which was prepared by a movement which also had to suffer torments from reformists and liberals, while looking on the mass actions of today the same way as a prissy society matron looks on someone from the wrong side of the tracks?

. What hasn't the SL accused the movement of? Pop-frontism, chauvinism, fascism, etc.

. In replying to us, the SL gets up on its high horse and says the movement was so chauvinist and patriotic, so concerned only with "American casualties'', that

"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. " (Cited in the Supplement, April 20, page 8, col. 2, emphasis as in the original)

Translated, this means that the movement ended when the ground war ended.

. In fact, there was mass revulsion at the Iraqi casualties. Anyone really doing anti-war work in the factories or on the streets knew how the various atrocities dampened the public image of the war.

. It is of course true that defeats and casualties help turn wars into major crises, and help fuel mass anti-war movements. Or does the SL really believe that it wasn't heavy Russian casualties and Russian setbacks that helped pave the way for the revolutions of February 1917 and October 1917? The SL complaint comes down to the old bourgeois denunciation of the selfish labor movement--it goes on strike in order to feed its own stomach. Or the stock bourgeois denunciation of the anti-war protesters of the 1960's--they just didn't want to be drafted.

. The SL's practical activities matched its contempt in theory for the movement. Their only concern with the movement was to get their slogans adopted, and to have official rights in the coalitions. And since the coalitions didn't accept their demands, and they couldn't get the official status they wanted, they denounced the movement as a whole. They were just as disruptive and bullying towards other views as the liberal, reformist, and Trotskyist chiefs of the coalitions were. They didn't have the spirit of patient anti-imperialist work with the activists and the rank-and-file at the base of the movement, but only cared about immediate endorsements of their stands and otherwise kept their eyes focused on the supposed prizes on the top of the movement.

"Labor political strikes against the war''

. The SL believes their activities were especially worthy because they called for "labor political strikes against the war''. Mind you, not just strikes against the war, but political strikes. The SL apparently thought it necessary to stay vigilant against the possibility of non-political anti-war strikes.

. But there weren't any conditions for anti-war strikes in the US during the war. The result was SL's talk about strikes was just that "verbal condemnation of imperialism while no real revolutionary struggle is waged'' that Lenin was so contemptuous of. The fancy talk of "anti-war strikes'' was just a cover to hide the fact that SL was impotent in real anti-war work among the workers. They used the slogan of "labor political strikes'' to make the actual work of agitation among the working class, and of demonstrating in the streets, seem small and insignificant.

. But, SL says, to consider the actual conditions in the factories and working class neighborhoods, is opportunism. Why, who cares about tailoring tactics to the objective situation? That's just opportunism, the SL preached:

. "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. '' (Cited in the Supplement, April 20, page 11, col. 2)

. Yes, SL sectarians, it is a long tradition in the movement to sneer at pie in the sky.

. Can pie-in-the-sky daydreams develop something new in the movement?

. On the contrary, it was the MLP that worked to develop new forms of the movement. We didn't accept what the liberal and reformist leaders of the coalitions decreed, but took anti-war agitation to factories, took anti-imperialist leaflets to demonstrations, agitated for demonstrations to go to working class and minority communities, raised militant slogans, etc.

. It is the SL which sat on its hands, paralyzed because the labor bureaucrats weren't calling strikes and hoping that Iraqi army would do something. It is the SL which is so tied to present-day possibilities, that even its pie-in-the-sky slogans bank on the labor bureaucrats. And indeed, the SL insisted not on workers' strikes against the war, but labor strikes. This was not just an accident of phrasing. The Trotskyists are fond of using the term "labor'' as a euphemism for calling on the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucrats to act.

Mindless dogmas

. SL has replaced revolutionary theory with a set of simple Trotskyist dogmas to be repeatedly mindlessly. This prevents them from analyzing the actual situation facing the masses.

. SL refuses to judge the Persian Gulf war on the basis of its concrete circumstances. Their dogmas about war and the oppressed country make them cast aside as irrelevant the class basis of the war, the political issues at stake, the question of oil, the situation in Kuwait, and so on. All that matters is that the government of an oppressed country may kill a few Western soldiers.

. SL's slogan of "military but not political support'' is supposed to apply to everything from war to trade union work. It is supposed to whitewash SL's hopes in the powers that be. After all, SL only has "military'' hopes in them, not "political'' ones. So it can grant "military support'' to tyrants like Saddam Hussein or corrupt union hacks involved in organized crime, like the Teamster bureaucrats, but it all's right. It doesn't involve "political support''.

. SL also holds the mass movements are suspect and probably liberal and reformist. From the anti-war movement to the liberation movements of the oppressed nationalities, the SL finds one way after another to denigrate their significance.

. The SL identifies the action of the working class with the present trade union apparatuses. When it appeals for "labor '' to act, it is hoping that the pro-capitalist union bureaucrats will mobilize the present-day union apparatuses. When it called for "labor political strikes'' against the war, it was hoping for action by the present bureaucrats, and Workers Vanguard was encouraged by the weak, pro-sanctions statement of these hacks.

. We have only mentioned it in passing in this series of articles, but the SL believes there is something socialist about the revisionist, state-capitalist economies and about the pro-Soviet parties. It demands all-out support for revisionist state-capitalism. And it constantly speculates about how this or that revisionist grouping, in East Germany, or Italy, or Russia, is composed at its base of the real proletarian fighters.

. But SL believes it is free of opportunism as long as it banishes the word "popular front''. Mind you, it can advocate alliances with all the worst butchers and capitalists. But so long as it's not called the popular front, it is all proper Trotskyist tactics. <>

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Last changed on March 14, 2003.