TB #2: Marxism and Social-Patriotism
February 7, 1984
“Marxism and Bloodthirstiness” (Workers Vanguard No. 345, 6 January) written in response to our 12 November critique of your social-patriotic call for “Marines Out of Lebanon, Now, Alive!,” tends to confirm rather than refute our analysis. As in your other recent material on Lebanon, while you’ve got lots to say about the “young men” of the U.S. Marines, you evince remarkably little sympathy for the Muslim villagers killed, maimed and terrorized by the Marines and their naval flotilla. These are the real victims of American intervention in Lebanon–along with the victims of Sabra and Shatila–not the occupants of the 240 aluminum caskets you seem so worried about.
You assert that you “can only despise those who call for the death of American soldiers for the crimes of their rulers.” We find it peculiar, to say the least, that all your loathing and spite are reserved for a handful of “bloodthirsty” ex-new left accountants (as well, of course, as your Bolshevik critics). You neglect to indicate any such antipathy for Reagan’s trained killers in the Marine Corps. For our part, we despise those whose kneejerk reaction in the aftermath of the decade’s worst military setback for “their” imperialists is to call for saving the lives of the survivors.
We note that you consider our critique of “Marines Alive” to be too dangerous to give us credit for. Instead, we are referred to vaguely as “those among our readership who… denounced our Lebanon slogan as ‘social-patriotic’.” It seems a trifle timid. But then perhaps you don’t want to advertise our adherence to Leninism in the face of your quavering.
What we object to far more than our sudden anonymity, is the deliberate falsification of our position. We raised two slogans in contrast to your social-patriotic call for “Marines Out of Lebanon, Now, Alive!” They were: “Imperialists Out of Lebanon–By Any Means Necessary!” and, perhaps more evocatively, “U.S. Marines: Live Like Pigs–Die Like Pigs!” Neither of these slogans is the least bit “bloodthirsty” and both are solidly within the Trotskyist tradition. You implicitly recognize this in your counterfeit polemic when you falsely assert that we “counterpos[ed] the supposedly radical sentiment: ‘the only good one is a dead one!’” But that is not our position and we did not counterpose it, as anyone who reads our statement can see. Your inability to deal with our real position gives rise to this dishonest and politically cowardly falsification. This is the method of political bankrupts.
Communists no more call for the death of every American marine in Lebanon than for every British soldier in Ireland. But when one speaks of “defeat” of one side of a military conflict (i.e., Grenada, Vietnam), or where one supports the military blows aimed against imperialist troops intervening in colonial and semi-colonial countries (i.e., Northern Ireland, Lebanon), it is reasonable to assume that this will entail losses on the part of the imperialist armies. We call for U.S. Marines out of Lebanon, now, by any means necessary. We’re not choosy if they go feet first or clamber back aboard their landing craft on their own–as long as they go. To refer to this as “bloodlust” is simply social pacifism.
Labeling Reagan’s Lebanon policy “stupid” and “senseless,” you counterpose the presumably sensible call for getting the Marines out now before more are killed. As we pointed out in our 12 November statement, this position is by no means unique to the Spartacist League. “Senseless” is precisely the way that Reagan’s Democratic critics in Congress perceive his intervention in Lebanon. “Senseless” from the point of view of the best interests of U.S. imperialism. They also want to be sensible and smart and get them out now, while they are still alive. Your position can only be seen as a deliberate adaptation to this pro-imperialist sentiment–“critical patriotism.”
In your reply to us, you make much of your claim to be “for the victory of just causes.” Who isn’t? The problem is that in life things are not always simply good or bad, just or unjust. The same forces which carry out criminal anti-working class acts one day, may very well turn their guns on the forces of an “evil empire” the next. And the Bolshevik attitude toward their actions will vary accordingly. The Provisional IRA, for example, are simultaneously for just causes (like driving British imperialism out of Ireland) and unjust causes (like driving the Protestants into the sea). Leninists distinguish between those acts which are defensible and those which are not.
You say that you do not have a side in the fight between the present configuration of backward, oppressed and politically reactionary semi-colonial Muslim peoples of Lebanon (who do not even constitute an independent state power) and the bodies of armed men of your “own” imperialist government. You even make an absurd equation between this conflict and the current war between Iraq and Iran. But there is no comparison. The Iraq/Iran war is between two more or less equally backward capitalist societies. A victory for either side could only be a setback for the international proletariat. Therefore the only principled position is one of revolutionary defeatism on both sides. But Lebanon is something else. In the battles there between the Muslim militias and the U.S. Marines imperialism is the issue.
The military struggle by the various muslim forces in Lebanon (including those linked to the reactionary governments of Syria and Iran) against the imperialist presence in their country is a just one. It is profoundly “just” that the imperialist garrisons stationed in and around Beirut are encountering military opposition from large sections of the population. (If the opposition to the imperialist presence originated in the Christian community, we would, of course, have the same attitude.) Leninists are not neutral in such conflicts.
You try to hide your social-patriotic neutrality behind a smokescreen of assertions (correct in themselves) that none of the Muslim factions are the least bit supportable in their squalid intercommunal feuds with each other and with the Christian population of Lebanon. But this does not at all preclude military support to those blows which they aim against the imperialist presence. All your talk about “just causes” is deliberately intended to alibi your objectively pro-imperialist call for rescuing the surviving marines.
We think that is instructive to trace the evolution of the rationalizations you advance for this shameful position. In the November issue of Young Spartacus, cde. Samuels was proclaiming it to be a brilliant Leninist tactic enabling you to channel the alleged mass “frenzy” and to split the Marine Corps. Now it is presented as just the latest application of some longstanding Gandhian-Trotskyist tradition of reverence for life.
In your article on “Bloodthirstiness” you tell your readers that: “We do not gloat over… those dead young men [marines] many of whom were considered expendable in the first place because they were black.” This statement is the rather bizarre product of the intersection of the SL leadership’s cowardly attempt to deflect the wrath of outraged Reaganites and the organization’s current black turn. A few comments are in order. In the first place, the Pentagon did not intend to expend any of its marines in the bombing of the Beirut headquarters. Secondly, let us remind you that revolutionaries no more regret the “loss” of Reagan’s black hitmen than his white ones. Those who sign up to fight the dirty colonial wars of U.S. imperialism can expect to occasionally encounter some resistance from their would-be victims, and some will inevitably pay the price. “Live Like Pigs–Die Like Pigs” is simply a description of the risks you run as one of Reagan’s enforcers.
We emphatically reject the implication in “Marxism and Bloodthirstiness” that the Marines Corps is comparable to the West German army. The Bundeswehr is a draft army largely composed of “workers in uniform.” Those comrades of the Trotzkistische Liga Deutschlands who are called up, serve their time in it like any other plebeian youth. But the Marines are different. No one has to be a Marine. Those who decide to become marines volunteer for service in one of the crack units of U.S. imperialism. Our advice to any marine, or any soldier (or even any cop) who doesn’t like what he is forced to do, is to cross the class line to the side of the oppressed.
We covered the essential points on your flinch on the KAL flight in the second issue of our bulletin. We note here merely that the position advanced in “Marxism and Bloodthirstiness” subtly distorts the position that WV took at the time.
“With KAL, the fact is that the Soviets did not knowingly down a civilian passenger jet. Had they done so, we said, it would have been worse than a barbaric atrocity, it would have been an idiocy worthy of the Israelis.”
This passage, which still echoes the anti-Soviet propaganda barrage, omits the following highly significant phrase: “despite the potential military damage of such an apparent spying mission” (WV No. 337, 9 September, our emphasis). This is not at all an “uncontentious position against wanton bloodshed” as you claim but rather, a deliberate retreat from the Trotskyist policy of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union. If, as WV said, you condemn the downing of a civilian airliner despite the potential military damage, then you are no longer unconditional Soviet defensists–you are defensists on condition that no civilian airline passengers stand to be injured.
“Marxism and Bloodthirstiness” is both deceitful and fraudulent. The fact that the newspaper that has published so many fine and powerful polemical defenses of Trotskyism in the past can do no better than turn out this piece of low-grade hack-work in defense of “Marines Alive,” should give thoughtful comrades of the iSt pause. Why are there no good Trotskyist arguments for the SL’s position? Why must the tendency’s leading organ resort to willful distortion of the position it polemicizes against? Why can’t WV find a single applicable precedent for “Marines Alive” in the entire history of the Trotskyist movement?
The whole piece rather reminds us of the anti-SL polemics that the SWP wrote in the mid-l970s denouncing those who would call on the bourgeois state to outlaw the fascists. The fact that the SL didn’t hold the position that the SWP attributed to it was of no interest to the hacks who churned out these bogus polemics–they only hoped that their tracts succeeded in confusing the issue in the minds of their readers. It would seem that WV is following the Militant’s inglorious example of how to deal with left critics. It’s a bad method comrades–far better to renounce your mistake than to follow its logic.
Robertson & Co. are scared. They are losing their nerve. They know that there is a good chance that things could get hot in the next few years. Perhaps they think that this dive will improve their chances of weathering any upcoming repression against the left. (There are doubtless few things that Reaganite witchhunters would find less endearing than leftists who are seen to be indifferent–or worse–to the fate of those 240 “young men” in Beirut.)
What makes this position so important is that it is not an accidental slip. It is not a result of disorientation due to some new historical development. It is a conscious and deliberate adaptation to the American ruling class. This social-patriotic rot must be cut out of the iSt before it infects the entire cadre. That means a fight. Those who are loyal to the program of Trotskyism have a responsibility to join with the comrades of the External Tendency in the fight to defend the Leninist heritage of the iSt from the political degeneration of its historic leadership.
External Tendency of the iSt
Militant Longshoreman on KAL 007
Reagan is driving whole-hog toward a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The U.S. labor bureaucrats are falling right in line behind the anti-communist hysteria generated by Reagan’s provocations toward the USSR. Our union in the past (1950–Korean war–for example) stood almost alone at times, resisting anti-communist war hysteria. But when the 007 Korean passenger plane (spy plane) was shot down, President Herman flinched badly when he said in effect that the Soviet Union doesn’t have the right (and the obligation) to defend its most important Far Eastern military bases from provocative incursions. Instead of condemning the Los Angeles Local 13 Longshore leadership which refused to work a Russian ship and instead of attacking Reagan for trying to precipitate World War III, Jimmy gave back-handed support to Reagan’s anti-Soviet crusade painting the Soviet Union as a brutal, satanic, evil empire. To their credit, Canadian and Mexican longshoremen continued to work Russian ships.
We would remind Jimmy Herman that PATCO’s kissing Reagan’s ass didn’t save the Air Controllers union from being smashed and its leaders from being jailed.
–Militant Longshoreman No. 7, 5 January 1984