Workers Power’s Two-stage “Trotskyism”
The front page headline of the October issue of Workers Power boldly proclaims: “Defend Afghanistan, Defeat Imperialism, Stop US/UK’s War’. The LRCI correctly asserts that “From the Afghan side this war is about the defence of the country’s sovereignty against the imperialists’ grip”. Its official pronouncements are unambiguously Afghan defencist:
“In the event of imperialist attack, the LRCI stands clearly for the military victory of all Afghan forces that resist the US/UK offensive. This would include Taliban forces if they resist the imperialist offensive.”
(“Defend Afghanistan From Attack; Defeat Imperialism”, Workers Power Global Week, 4 October)
This represents a clear step to the left from the LRCI’s scandalous refusal to defend Bosnian Serbs against NATO air strikes in August-September 1995 and its subsequent solidarity with NATO’s KLA/UCK auxiliaries during the imperialist attack on Serbia in 1999. Whatever one thinks of Milosevic’s regime, it could hardly be considered more reactionary than the misogynist theocracy run by the Taliban.
Yet it seems that the LRCI’s defencist position is for propaganda purposes alone – in practice Workers Power has eagerly endorsed the overtly pacifist, class-collaborationist politics of the SWP/CND’s “Stop the War Coalition”. Thus the LRCI leadership apparently imagines that it can have things both ways – appealing to subjective revolutionaries with a left-wing literary posture without forgoing the “privilege” of participating in the reformist-dominated “mass movement”. It rather recalls Kautsky’s attitude to the principle of proletarian internationalism – a wonderful thing in the abstract, but not particularly useful in time of war. The unwillingness of the LRCI leadership to actually fight for positions they claim to hold suggests that they have decided that their original defencist position on Afghanistan was a mistake. The other possible explanation is that it was all a cynical charade from the beginning.
The LRCI’s adaptationist character shone through in uncritical coverage of the 50,000 person demonstration against the war in London on 13 October (Workers Power Global Week, 11 October [sic]):
“This was a great start to the national protest, building on the 2000 that rallied outside Downing St when the bombing started on 7 October. We must build it until Blair is forced to recognise that his unquestioning support for the US led war against Afghanistan does not have the backing of working class people in this country.”
Unlike reformists, revolutionaries have no interest in “building” bourgeois pacifist movements, nor are we particularly concerned with getting Blair’s attention. Trotskyists have a duty to expose the bogus “revolutionaries” of the SWP when they organise events where purveyors of pacifist drivel monopolise the platform while anti-imperialist politics (which the SWP ostensibly uphold) are systematically excluded. Half the crowd on 13 October was subjectively anti-imperialist and a substantial section was Afghan defencist. Revolutionaries must seek to organise, develop and give expression to these sentiments and fight to break the blockade on Marxist politics.
The only slogans and ideas that have any substantially progressive content are revolutionary socialist ones, as Lenin pointed out in condemning social-pacifism during World War One:
“A propaganda of peace at the present time, if not accompanied by a call to revolutionary mass actions, is only capable of spreading illusions, of demoralising the proletariat by imbuing it with confidence in the humanitarianism of the bourgeoisie, and of making it a plaything in the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries. In particular, the idea of the possibility of a so-called democratic peace without a series of revolutions is deeply erroneous.”
(V.I. Lenin, “Conference of the Foreign Sections of the RSDLP” Social-Democrat No. 40, 29 March 1915)
“Ending the war swiftly”
At the national Stop the War Coalition meeting in London on Sunday 28 October IBT comrades intervened with a flyer proposing that the coalition adopt the following slogans as its basis of unity: “Defend Afghanistan”, “Defeat imperialism” and “Stop US/UK’s war”. Our motion never made it to the floor, and Workers Power representatives did not attempt to put forward any motions of their own. Instead they endorsed the SWP’s “broad and inclusive” (i.e., reformist, social-patriotic) approach. The first sentence of the coalition’s “Aims and Objectives” states:
“1. The aim of the coalition should be very simple: to stop the war currently declared by the United States and its allies against ‘terrorism’.”
The problem with this is that the imperialists themselves are anxious to end the war as quickly as possible. The New York Times of 31 October reported a division within the imperialist bourgeoisie over how to achieve this:
“In the United States, some seem increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of the military campaign, and conservative politicians have begun to talk about escalating it by using ground forces on a larger scale. In Britain and other European countries, however, public opinion seems headed in the other direction. The European public appears more concerned about civilian casualties than ending the war swiftly.” (emphasis added)
A section of the US rulers want to “end the war swiftly” by escalating the killing of Afghans. We would like to see a swift end to the war as well – through a rapid defeat of the imperialists. But we favour the war continuing as long as it takes to defeat the imperialist aggressors. There is no necessary connection between Afghan defencism and demands for “stopping the war”.
The SWP/WP motion continues:
“We condemn the attacks on New York and we feel the greatest compassion for those who lost their life on 11th September.”
We certainly condemn the attack on the World Trade Center and the massacre of the passengers and crew aboard the aeroplanes, but we shed no tears for the military planners in the Pentagon. The SWP’s motion fails to make this elementary class distinction, presumably to avoid offending the sensibilities of the pacifists, liberals and clerics they hope to attract.
The pacifist content of the coalition Workers Power is so anxious to join is explicitly spelled out a bit further along in the motion:
“But any war will simply add to the numbers of innocent dead, cause untold suffering, political and economic instability on a global scale, increase racism and result in attacks on civil liberties.”
Marxists reject the notion that “any war” will have the same outcome. Revolutionaries distinguish between just and unjust wars. We oppose unjust, predatory, imperialist wars, like NATO’s 1999 attack on Yugoslavia or the current US/UK assault on Afghanistan. As Lenin observed, war is a tool of political class struggle. A US/UK victory in this war could help Western oil companies secure control of the vast oil and gas fields of Central Asia. Conversely, a defeat for the imperialist predators would represent a victory for the exploited and oppressed all around the world – including working people in Britain and the US.
The LRCI pretends to agree with this. So does the SWP, at least in the abstract. But they both insist that now is not the time to put forward such harsh views. Now is the time to build a “broad” and “inclusive” movement on a bourgeois pacifist programme. The resolution declares:
“We call on all peace activists and organisations, trade unionists, campaigners and labour movement organisations to join with us in building a mass movement that can stop the drive to war.”
The coalition eagerly courts elements like Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and ARROW who call for UN intervention in Afghanistan. Yet the supposedly anti-imperialist LRCI dares raise no “sectarian” objections. As a reward for good behaviour Workers Power representative Mark H. was granted a seat on the coalition’s steering committee. He will keep this prestigious post just as long as he does not seriously attempt to push any of the left-wing ideas Workers Power purports to champion. The SWP welcomes Workers Power as a toothless left cover for their own reformist activity.
During the 28 October meeting Mark justified Workers Power’s capitulation with the lame assertion that it would not be right to try to “impose” an anti-imperialist, Afghan-defencist position on the mass anti-war movement. He did not explain why, if such views are not worth fighting for within the movement, Workers Power should want to put them on the cover of its newspaper. Instead he asserted that now is “not the time” for overtly anti-imperialist politics and that the immediate task is to build the broadest possible anti-war movement (on the basis of a reformist programme). This sort of “two-stage” argument has been used for years by Stalinists to rationalise the contradiction between their nominally socialist “maximum” programme and their reformist (i.e., bourgeois) practical activity.
The “broad and inclusive” approach approved by the Sunday meeting was reiterated in the Guardian the following day by Gary Younge:
“An anti-imperialist critique certainly informs opposition to this war; but it should not be demanded as a prerequisite for those who wish to see an end to it….
“All alternatives to the current military action must be aired within it and articulated through it. From those who would like to see firmer evidence against Bin Laden before acting, to some who believe only global poverty is the source of the discontent, it must showcase the range of options that have been put forward. Some back a United Nations military intervention under international law; others want to take up the Taliban’s offer of handing Bin Laden over to a third country; many want to put him before an international war crimes court; a few believe only a root-and-branch reform of US foreign policy will work. The anti-war movement should adopt none of these proposals but embrace all of them. It is not its job to be prescriptive about what course of action to take once the bombing has stopped. But to stop the bombing by exposing its futility and inhumanity and the sophistry of those who claim there is no alternative to it.”
Stating the truth
The Stop the War Coalition is tailored to the requirements of those interested in “demoralising the proletariat by imbuing it with confidence in the humanitarianism of the bourgeoisie”. The job of Leninists is to expose the reformists, combat pacifist illusions and demonstrate why any policy other than Afghan defencism plays into the hands of the imperialists. In voting for the Stop the War Coalition programme and taking a position on its leadership the LRCI assumes responsibility for the “progressive” social-imperialist rhetoric that will inevitably characterise its events.
The disparity between formal posture and practical activity is a hallmark of centrism. LRCI comrades who are serious about the position of military victory to Afghanistan against the UK/US attack must reject such adaptations to reformism and fight instead for an explicitly anti-imperialist intervention into the anti-war movement. To do otherwise is to promote illusions in “peaceful” pro-imperialists. For our part, we stand ready to work with any groups or individuals prepared to:
“state what is the truth, not adapt our position to the present consciousness of the majority. We need to use clear, patient language but not give in to the wave of chauvinism or imitate the pacifism that almost inevitably accompanies the onset of war in an imperialist country.”
(“Revolutionaries and the War”, Workers Power, No. 257, October)
Defend Afghanistan against US/British attack!
No pacifist illusions!
5 November 2001