TB #2: Imperialist War, the Armed Forces and Revolution
[From Young Spartacus, No. 113, November 1983]
On the Slogan “Marines Out of Lebanon, Now, Alive!”
We reprint below edited excerpts of a presentation given by comrade Reuben Samuels to the New York Spartacist League, November 6, on the U.S. intervention in Lebanon and invasion of Grenada. Reagan first sent the Marines into Lebanon in the late summer of 1982, at the request of Yasir Arafat among others, in order to disarm and expel the armed forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The imperialist “peacekeepers” thus set up the massacre of defenseless Palestinians at the Shatila/Sabra camps by the Israeli-organized Phalange fascists. At the time much of the U.S. reformist left, notably Sam Marcy’s Workers World Party and Jack Barnes’ Socialist Workers Party (SWP) supported the U.S. military intervention in the name of “saving lives.”
These groups are notorious for their uncritical tailing of anti-proletarian, petty-bourgeois nationalist forces. In the 1975-76 Lebanese civil war when a potential social explosion of the oppressed and downtrodden Muslim masses was channeled by their feudalist leaders into an inter-communalist bloodletting, Workers World and the SWP were vocal cheerleaders for the Muslim clan chiefs who were no less brutal and unsavory than the Maronite rightists. From the standpoint of the toiling masses, all sides were reactionary.
Today these fake-leftists look to the Lebanese Muslim Druze and Shi’ite groups which have become an appendage of the Assad regime of Syria, which intervened in the civil war in favor of the Christian Maronite Phalange! None of the treacherous forces in the current Lebanese imbroglio are fighting U.S. imperialism. However, a U.S./Israeli attack on Syria could easily escalate into a war against the Soviet Union. Should this happen, revolutionaries must give unconditional military defense to the Soviet Union.
One can see in the conditions of war those things which hasten the day of self-emancipation of the proletariat, those conditions which are indeed revolutionary. One aspect of our attitude towards the Vietnam War, as well as the many wars that Reagan is fighting, is that the more bogged down U.S. imperialism gets in these various colonial and anti-Soviet adventures and confrontations, it’s a good thing, even though–and this is dialectical–we demand the U.S. get out everywhere. We want to see U.S. imperialism hemorrhage. This provides a certain breathing space for social struggle elsewhere as well as generating the conditions of social struggle within the United States itself.
In the Vietnam War we supported the demand for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of American troops. But not by itself. Because we were not only for the defeat of our own imperialist bourgeoisie in Vietnam, we also supported the other side which was the side of a social revolution as well as a struggle against colonial subjugation which had been going on for decades. We realized that U.S. imperialism could not be decisively defeated in Vietnam unless that social revolution was victorious and consolidated. So these demands were interrelated, the demand for the U.S. to get its troops out and victory for the social revolution in Vietnam.
The Socialist Workers Party attempted to tailor its propaganda to the worst sorts of social patriotism–“Bring Our Boys Home.” Well, our boys in Vietnam were the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army. There were a number of ways that the American boys could have been brought home. They could be withdrawn or they could be brought back in body bags. The important thing was that the U.S. get out and the other side win.
Now, why is our current line in Lebanon not the same as in the Vietnam War? If there was any side that was fighting the Marines, we could give them military support. The problem is there’s no side that’s fighting the Marines. The side that was most likely to, whose cause is clearest, the Palestine Liberation Organization, saw the Marines as their principal protectors and invited them into Lebanon in the first place. All of the other forces in Lebanon are simply jockeying for position with the other imperialists in the region.
We were the only force on the left, you will recall, to be outspoken from the very beginning in opposing U.S. intervention in Lebanon. But now that they’re there and are getting bogged down, we also realize the contradictions that causes for this government. This blowing up the Marines headquarters came after there had been a great deal of disgruntlement towards Reagan’s policies in Lebanon, which we have exploited jocularly with headlines like “U.S. Up Lebanese Creek.”
When the Marines were blown away and the headquarters was blown away, from Camp Lejeune throughout wide sections of American society the American people were driven into an anti- government frenzy and outrage over the policies of the Reagan administration. Basically they saw the blood of Beirut on Reagan’s hands. This was the initial reaction in the interviews with these Marines, their families, in polls that were taken: that this is a senseless, stupid, destructive waste and that the culprit is in the White House. Well, we weren’t indifferent to this. We tried to find a slogan, “Marines Out of Lebanon, Now, Alive!”, which addressed this widespread sentiment, which was pacifistic, which certainly had an element of patriotism, and to exploit this contradiction between the people and the government pursuing a war policy which in this particular conjuncture looked extremely stupid and criminal.
Of course, the U.S. has gone into Lebanon as part of Reagan’s general anti-Soviet war drive. So we have raised a number of slogans over both Lebanon and Grenada, including the defense of Russia and Cuba. These slogans must be seen as interlinked.
The point is to take the pacifism of the masses and direct it against its own government, to make the masses recognize in their government their own enemy. If there is to be peace, then that government must be replaced with a government of the working people. Over Lebanon we were a couple of steps down that road. Because over Lebanon a lot of people saw Reagan as the main enemy for a moment.
Now, you get the argument that the Marines are the baddest, they’re the worstest, they’re the personification of evil. Well, in Grenada that’s true. And that’s why we have another slogan, “U.S. Out of Grenada, Dead or Alive!” There’s a UPI dispatch that a number of Cuban war prisoners sent back to Cuba have gangrene because of untended war wounds. The Marines in Lebanon are the same guys as in Grenada, but they’re not fighting at the moment.
Here’s the thing about the Marines that was very evident in Vietnam. The Marines are the vanguard units of combat, and so they’re the people who get the most shot up. Therefore to join the Marines very often involves a certain element of machismo, patriotism and all that. But also once you get over there, the contradiction between what it’s about and what’s happening to you is the sharpest. And very often those guys come back as the angriest. One of the most important developments in the antiwar movement in the armed forces were Marines who came back from Vietnam to Camp Lejeune and organized around a newspaper called Head On.
The armed forces, that is, the core of the state, is an armed body of men, separated from the population as a whole, which defends certain class relations. But there are gradations of how much an armed force can be separated from the population depending on the degree of military mobilization. If a country is going to war, it may need to mobilize substantial sections of the population. And the amount of separation, even with uniforms and barracks and barbed wire, begins to break down. When you have mass conscription it brings into the armed forces elements from all sections of society.
We make a class distinction between the rank-and-file soldier and the cadre, the professional soldier, the officer corps. The officers are basically going to devote their lives to the armed forces. The enlisted man is going to go back after a few years of service into the general population and has not severed his links, in that sense, with the rest of the population. Our policy in terms of the armed forces is to exploit this class differentiation between the enlisted men and the officer corps, between the enlisted men and the elite units, the killer squads like the Special Forces.
The question is, how do you get the power? We have our newspaper and the links with the mass organizations of the proletariat; and they have all the guns and the tanks and the air force. That is why all the talk about violence coming from a Marxist organization is completely absurd. The violence comes from the ruling class. The road to power is through the demoralization of that ruling class, the polarization of the armed forces in which, in the main, the soldiers either join the revolution or step aside. And the bourgeoisie are left without troops to defend their positions of power. Otherwise you don’t have a revolution.
There’s a nice joke from the Vietnam War days that sort of captures this. And it also captured what was happening to the United States. This was almost becoming true. There was an antiwar demonstration at the White House, and it was very noisy and boisterous and large. Nixon’s wife was looking out of the window. So Nixon says: “So there’s an antiwar demonstration out there, huh? And it’s getting closer to the White House? Okay, call in the 82nd Airborne.” And Pat says: “It is the 82nd Airborne.”