Friday, 8 August 2008

More Left Confusion Over War

Reading some of the comments of various members of left groups raised in response to Sean Matgamna's article suggesting Israel should not be condemned for attacking Iran - how could they they previously told us an Israeli surgical attack on iRan would be "good" - I have been appalled at some of the mistakes comrades have made on the issue. On rhe one hand we have some AWL old carde claiming that TRotsky distinguished between the German fascist version of imperialism and the bouregois democratic version! - in fact TRotsky declared them both to be two masks for the same thing which should not cause them to confuse the class nature of these regimes for the political form - see his critique of the Palestinian Trotskyists on that in particular - whilst one comrade from another organisation claimed that revoluitonary defeatism meant supporting another state as against your own! No it doesn't.

As a brief rejoinder to some of these comments the following is an article I produced some time ago on Lenin and Revolutionary Defeatism.

Anti-Imperialism and Independent Working Class Politics

Take two situations, and two statements.

First Kosova. “we do not support NATO, but if it succeeds in stopping Milosevic we will be glad.” (because we want genocide stopped.)

Second Iraq. “We oppose the Islamic fundamentalists, but if they succeed in throwing out the occupation we will be glad.” (which must follow if removal of the occupation is a goal.)

Or take this statement. “The only support we owe Saddam Hussein and his regime is support if they fight for Iraqi self-determination against an American imperialist invasion or blitzkrieg.” (WL 2/3 p184.)

(NB. Actually, the AWL refuse to take this position in respect of Iran arguing for defeatism on both sides.)

I think all of these statements are wrong. The first statement in respect of Kosova has all the hallmarks of saying one thing and doing another, or worse in this case hoping for another. It flows from our weakness. Its like the person who claims to believe that superstition is bunk, but checks their horoscope everyday in the hope of good news. In Kosova an independent working class position would have been to oppose both NATO and Milosevic, to give no credibility to any positive result coming from the victory of either side even if the victory of one (NATO) appeared to have produced a positive result, but to have argued for an independent working class response, the building of workers militias and international workers defence of Kosova, workers blacking of all trade with Milosevic etc. The fact that we are not strong enough to effect these things is not the point, the longer we rely on other forces to resolve these issues the less chance there is we will ever become strong enough. If a picket line is attacked by fascists we do not rely on the police, instead we build workers defence squads pure and simple. A baby will never walk if, being afraid of falling down it refuses to try to stand up.

In Iraq socialists have to be unequivocally for the immediate withdrawal of the occupation else how can they gain the ear of those that have not yet reached socialist consciousness and for whom the occupation is the main issue. But they should build that opposition on the principle not just of no support but outright political opposition to the bourgeois and clerical forces opposing the occupation, as well as those Iraqi forces supporting the occupation and acting as a comprador regime. They could agree to joint military action with those fighting the occupation on the basis of a shared immediate goal, but only as a tactical consideration, and only on the basis of the clearest organisational and political separation. To accept the occupation as a necessary measure to prevent the victory of the fundamentalists is not to take an independent working class position but to put yourself on the side of imperialism as a lesser evil vis a vis those forces. It is ultimately pessimistic and demoralising of independent working class politics because it effectively says the working class is too weak, it has to rely on imperialism to fight its battles.

In respect of support for Saddam socialists owed no such support even in the face of imperialist invasion. They owed a duty to oppose imperialism, but that is not the same as supporting Saddam. Socialists should have opposed the invasion, continue to oppose the occupation, demand the ending of the occupation and right to self determination, but built that opposition on the basis of their own forces not on the basis of support for their class enemies inside Iraq.

This question is inextricably linked to the question of revolutionary defeatism and defencism. Countries that were colonies can become imperialist, but the reverse is also true. What should have been the position of revolutionaries in occupied France? Having been defeatist at the outbreak of the war to be glad that their enemy at home had been defeated by their enemy abroad, and simply carried on propaganda for socialism? I don’t think so. The issue of national liberation of their own country is immediately placed on the agenda. They would try to build resistance on the basis of workers struggles, and socialist propaganda, as opposed to national chauvinism, but in doing so the primary task is the defeat of the occupying force, and they would need to enter military alliances with their class enemies on occasion to do so - just as Trotsky advocated such alliances with the KMT in China against Japanese imperialism. Any other course would lead to their marginalisation, and leave the majority of workers for whom everyday the occupation was a reality, at the mercy of bourgeois and reactionary forces. Under such circumstances socialists would have to consider the Vichy government as effectively no different from the occupation force.

The question then arises at what point do socialists stop being defeatists and start becoming defencists. The Russian workers resolved this question for themselves.

‘“The soldiers are definitely expressing the opinion,” reports the chief of the Grenadier Division on the 23rd March , “that we can only defend ourselves and not attack.” Military reports and political speeches repeat this thought in various forms. Ensign Krylenko, an old revolutionist and a future commander in chief under the Bolsheviks, testified that for the soldiers the war question was settled in those days with this formula “Support the front, but don’t join the offensive.” In a most solemn but wholly sincere language, that meant defend freedom.’

(Trotsky. “History of the Russian Revolution” p278).

In other words the working class resolved this question for themselves in practice by saying we have no interest in the imperialist ambitions of our own bourgeoisie, we do not seek your land and property, we hope you take the same attitude as our brothers and sisters, but if you do not be aware we have no intention of becoming slaves of your rulers, we will defend our freedom. But in reality how was that so different from the position adopted by Kautsky? TRotsky in a number of his writings states clearly that revolutionary defeatism DOES NOT mean supporting the principle of victory to an enemy state, nor even does it mean engaging ina cts of sabotage etc. less still does it mean engaging in pacifist acts such as desertion or refusal of conscription. On the contrary it means using positions in the armed forces and elsewhere to propagandise against your own GOVERNMENT against the rule of your domestic RULING CLASS and an attempt thereby to turn the War into a class Civil War.

In reality despite all the insistence on building an ideologically pure, disciplined party of professional revolutionaries, the Bolshevik Deputies adopted the same position as those parties Lenin was decrying as traitors to the working class.

”The Bolshevik faction in the Duma, weak in its personnel (!sic), had not risen at the outbreak of the war to the height of its task. Along with the Menshevik deputies, it introduced a declaration in which it promised to ‘defend the cultural weal of the people against all attacks wheresoever originating’. The Duma underlined with applause this yielding of a position. Not one of the Russian organisations or groups of the party took the openly defeatist position which Lenin came out for abroad.” (Trotsky – “History of the Russian Revolution” p 59)

The slogan revolutionary defeatism is confused and confusing. How can workers decide only to defend their freedom after it has been taken away? It is like workers faced with a factory closure waiting until the machines have been removed and the gates shut before deciding to occupy the factor. During WWII the inadequacy became apparent. Imagine going to the East End of London during the Blitz and trying to explain to workers who night after night have been under attack, seen their homes, communities and families destroyed and telling them that “The main enemy is at home.” It is no better than trying to argue that Blair is responsible for the Tube bombings. By the time you tried to explain to the workers what you meant by “revolutionary defeatism” they’ve already stopped listening to you.

Under those conditions rather Marxists should have been raising propaganda about why if the War was about defence, British troops were spread all round the world oppressing other nations like India. Why were they not at home defending the country? Why was the Government not providing better protection against air attacks and so on? All of that could have been linked to the real basis of the War as an Imperialist War.

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