Sean Matgamna replies to Barry Finger’s On anti-war slogans: lessons from two wars (Solidarity 3-81)
SHOULD WE “DEMAND” CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ?
Almost all the the likely scenarios in Iraq are in varying degrees unfavourable for the labour movement. They will go on being unfavourable until a strong labour movement emerges and can create new possibilities; begin to make the working class the subject of politics and history rather than what it is now, their object and their victim. For that the Iraqi labour movement must survive and develop, organisationally and politically.
Socialists do not just mechanically take our “line” even from semi-co-thinkers in Iraq. We have to make our own understanding of the situation. But we take into account what working class people in Iraq say.
The Kurdish leaders want US troops to stay. The Shia alliance talked of troops out in the campaign for the 30 January elections, but the elected government (elected by a large majority, and contrary to the USA’s preferences) has shelved that. In any case it was a “general position” for troops out — like ours — not a call for “Troops Out Now”. Some Shia call for troops out, perhaps meaning immediately, and some do not, though in general the troops are very unpopular.
The Sunni Arabs are generally for troops out, meaning now, though some differentiation may be taking place there now.
Thus, outside the Sunni Arab areas, by no means a clear choice for Troops Out Now. It is left to the kitsch left to line up with the most intransigent of the Sunni Arabs and with the Al Qaeda people speculating that they would benefit out of chaos. It is left to the kitsch-left to shout: bring on the catastrophe — now!
The immediate or, in Barry Finger’s expression, “precipitous” withdrawal of the occupying troops would, most likely, lead to three-way sectarian (Sunni, Shia) and national (Kurdish) civil war.
The Sunni-supremacists and Ba’thists at the core of the “resistance” could not again emerge as the dominant force in Iraq without conquering Shia Iraq and the Kurds. From such a civil war, Shia southern Iraq would, perhaps, emerge as a theocracy akin to and protected by Iran. The Kurds might hold their own, or Turkey might invade the Kurdish territories, as two years ago it was threatening to do.
In those conditions, the nascent Iraqi labour movement — which is our central concern — would probably be destroyed.
The opposite is not necessarily true: that if the occupation continues, there will be no civil war, no theocracy, no destruction of the labour movement, no bloody disintegration of the Iraqi entity. In fact the chances of a “good” outcome from the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the occupation have in the last two and a half years grown less, without as yet having entirely disappeared. But a “precipitous” withdrawal would maximise the chances of destruction for the labour movement.
AWL was against the war. We preach “no political trust or confidence” in the American, British, or any ruling class, in their states, their politicians, or their armies. We analyse the motives of the American, British and other ruling classes in their dealings with Iraq; solidarise with the new Iraqi labour movement wherever it clashes with the occupiers; indict US/UK misdeeds unsparingly; say to those Iraqi socialists whom we can reach and to people in Britain that they cannot rely on the US and UK to bring democracy. We long ago, before the war, pointed out that the occupation of Iraq would not curb Islamist terrorism. That is enough for now.
We say that the peoples of Iraq must have self-determination. We maintain a stance of hostility to the troops and we do not call on the British and Americans to stay.
What we refuse to do, and it is the crux of our dispute with Barry Finger, is raise a “demand”, Troops Out Now, whose likely, calculable, practical consequences we do not want. Which may well bring on a catastrophe that will abort all the possibilities that the rising labour movement is opening for the working class of Iraq. (And for the region, perhaps, where, though there is a powerful working class, there is scarcely any labour movement except in Israel — at best, some elements of a labour movement, among the Palestinians, in Lebanon).
The behaviour of the occupying forces — the senseless brutality and slaughter of Iraqi civilians, the economic looting by the US rulers, the arrogance, the casual deployment of lethal firepower against civilians, and the sheer all-round epoch-defining ineptitude — has piled up, is piling up, enormous barriers against any “benign” scenario.
The only reason for not now deciding that the best thing is that the US, Britain, etc. should just get out is that that would calculably be to give up all hope for anything less bad than the scenario of three-way civil war and destruction of the labour movement. Things are not at that stage yet; but, the way they are doing, they may go that far.
Are slogans “principles”?
Barry Finger’s politics on Iraq are in fact quite close to those of the “anti-war movement”. His distinction between Troops Out and being for the victory of the reactionary Iraqi “resistance” is largely a notional one. The slogan Troops Out Now is inescapably, a siding with the reactionary resistance. Who else does he think would gain “now” from the troops disappearing “now”?
But he argues — if I understand him — that the slogan “Troops Out of Iraq Now” is a matter of principle. In doing so, he paints himself into a political corner from which, in terms of the reasonings and arguments he presents, there is no escape.
He more or less admits that “precipitous” withdrawal of the foreign troops would be likely to lead to the destruction of the Iraqi labour movement by the forces of Ba’thist-fascist and clerical-fascist reaction.
Nonetheless, he insists that if we let calculations about the practical, concrete — Iraqi! — meaning of “Troops Out Now”, inhibit us from demanding “the immediate withdrawal of imperialist forces”, then we are
• engaging in an impermissible “ideological compromise” with imperialism;
• “blatantly support[ing]” and engaging in “an interim appeasement programme towards the status quo on this side of the imperialist battle lines”;
• engaging in an objective united front with imperialism; relying on a provisional and tactical military reliance on imperialism”;
• seeking a social and political gain from the crime of imperialism without actually advocating it”;
• and may wind up going over to Blairism.
Ours is not to reason, calculate, or calibrate, and still less to decide on slogans and “demands” according to an analysis of the concrete situation and what they mean, or will most likely mean, in that situation. There are slogans that are above and outside of all such political calculations. We must raise a slogan whose calculable practical consequences, if it were to be implemented, neither Barry nor we want!
What’s wrong with what he says?
It is far too abstract. It conflates propaganda and agitation. It resides up in the clouds somewhere, far too high above the ground. It displays too little concern for the Iraqi labour movement.
Barry Finger “blurs” and fudges what for us is, in Iraq as in all other situations, the central question — the working class, the labour movement, and their fate.
“In truth, there can be no guarantees that such a precipitous withdrawal would not lead to the very disaster the AWL “fears.” “Guarantees” implies that there is, if not a “guarantee”, at least a fair chance that the Iraqi labour movement would survive.
If there is a chance, it is a very slim one.
It is not a matter of AWL unreasonably demanding “guarantees” from current history, but of whether socialists should “demand” that the USA and Britain act in a way that will most likely ensure the worst consequences of their destruction of the vile Ba’thist state.
At issue between AWL and Barry Finger is not whether socialists should give the US/ UK positive political support or political confidence, or forget for now who, socially and politically, and what they are. We don’t do any of these things. It is whether we gauge the concrete meaning of a slogan like Troops Out Now, and decide on its use accordingly, or make a fetish of it. Whether we use such slogans as tools or as a set of authoritative instructions to be blindly obeyed and served, to be raised mechanically without regard to their meaning in a given situation.
Why would sensible people, non-religious people fetishise such slogans?
The political corner Barry Finger has painted himself into, and into which he invites us to step, rising above our “political frailties”, “ideological compromises”, and objective united front with imperialism, is defined on one of its three sides by his admission that “precipitous” US-British withdrawal may mean the destruction of the Iraqi labour movement.
Its second side is defined by his belief — if I understand him — that Troops Out Now, is a matter of basic principle, whose absence in any situation amounts to a de facto denial of self-determination.
Its third and final side is Barry Finger’s belief that any notion of the Iraqi labour movement being able to benefit from, take advantage of, or find space to breath, think and grow, inside the present occupation — even temporarily — means basing ourselves on imperialism, and compromising with it ideologically. (So, if the new Iraqi labour movement has benefited from the US-British destruction of the Saddam regime — and it undeniably has, since 2003 — it would be better had it never come into existence? That is what the reactionary “anti-imperialists” say. But Barry Finger?
Barry Finger traps himself — against all his intentions, instincts, and beliefs, of course — into not only an absurd, but also an anti-working-class position.
The Iraqi labour activists will just have to be stoical, bear their fate bravely, and understand that though we reach the same conclusions as the reactionary “anti-imperialists” shouting for “Troops Out Now” and thereby succouring the Saddamists and clerical fascists, our motive is different — to put ourselves in the best position to resist the “gravitational pull” of imperialism.
Brutus and Cassius both stab Caesar, but for different motives. If Brutus explains to the dying man that he was motivated by higher goals than those of the jealous Cassius and his friends, Caesar will understand and die happy…
I suggest that there must be something radically wrong either with comrade Finger’s reasoning or else with the “principles” that lead to these conclusions.
calls to action
We are rightly chary of making positive demands on the big powers. We would not try to tell them what to do next in Iraq, for example. But when it comes to negatives, we have no limits!
We can’t tell the US/UK what we would like them to do to ensure the best outcome, because we know that they act for their own reasons and objectives, which are not ours - we have no illusions about that, and do not want to teach others to have illusions. Yes - but we must on principle tell them to act to bring on the worst outcome?
We do not, and do not want to, shout positive “orders” to them — “get more Iraqis killed”, “get Iraqi trade unionists shot”. But we can, do, and on principle must shout the same “orders” to them in negative form?
Excuse me — why?
Because some of our slogans are not slogans, formulas whose use is regulated by what they might mean in a given situation, but fetishes outside of history and of society?
We, AWL, refuse to take that approach. I know of no respect-worthy Marxist in the past who did.
Barry Finger obliterates the necessary distinction between self-determination as a basic programmatic principle for us and one of its possible immediate agitational translations, Troops Out Now. He conflates propaganda and agitation. This is something that the “anti-imperialist”, pro-Iraqi-“resistance” “left” does too.
In part the problem here is the dominant style of left and pseudo-left politics now — tiny propaganda groups, with little or no power to shape events, shouting “instructions” for immediate action to governments, and made reckless by their own powerlessness, because — and they know it, if only subconsciously — what they say will not shape, or in most cases even affect, what happens. That style does not, among Marxists, go back further than the movement against the Vietnam war. It was not, for example, the style of the Trotskyist press in the 1940s.
For instance, after 1945 the Trotskyists demanded self-determination for Germany and that foreign troops should leave, but they didn’t often do that in the form of front-page demands for “Troops Out Now” or whatever.
A major problem with Barry Finger is that the echoes of old 1960s disputes on Vietnam play too large a part in his discussion of Iraq. He lets tactical arguments from then overshadow broader Marxist arguments.
Lenin’s discussion in What Is To Be Done (1902) of the relationship between our theory and propaganda and “calls to action” says a lot to the habits of the left and pseudo-left today.
“To single out a third sphere, or third function, of practical activity, and to include in this function “calling the masses to certain concrete actions”, is sheer nonsense, because the “call”, as a single act, either naturally or inevitably supplements the theoretical tract, propagandist pamphlet and agitational speech, or represents a purely executive function...”
Does the call “Troops Out Now” flow from Barry Finger’s all-round analysis of Iraq? When he concedes that the Iraqi labour movement may (we’d say, will) be destroyed, and sooner rather than later, if the occupation forces scuttle in a “precipitous” withdrawal, he admits it does not.
To make a particular “call to action” our fixed point is to turn our politics upside down. We make no “call to action” on the working class, and still less on anyone else, that does not spin organically and naturally out of our theory, propaganda, programme, and concrete analysis of a situation.
And the meaning of slogans is determined variously by different sets of concrete circumstances. It differs from circumstance to circumstance, and from time to time. Our overall picture of a situation, and of the forces and possibilities in it, determines what “calls to action” are appropriate or inappropriate.
The separation of “calls to action” and would-be catchy slogans from our programme and the general complex of Marxist ideas is one of the most corrosive habits of mind of much of the left today. It has been one of the long-term agents of destruction that has worked its way through, for example. the SWP like syphilis. It has produced what might be called “apparatus Marxism”, “focus-group Marxism”, “party manager’s Marxism” or, to use an older expression for such things, “wire-puller’s Marxism”.
If a slogan (“Troops Out Now”) carries with it the extreme likelihood of disaster for the labour movement (as both Barry Finger and AWL agree, with at most different emphases), then it contradicts our overall concerns. We do not raise it, or we do not raise it in the form that if realised implies disaster.
The general propagandist “position” — that is, the general explanation rather than “call to action” — is enough. We are not obliged to translate the explanation into a “call to action” which will promote forces like the Iraqi “resistance” and help them to turn the would-be summary formula against the fundamental ideas and concerns behind it.
For Marxists there is no slogan that we are obliged to treat as a fetish, something above and outside of its own concrete meaning. The very idea that there might be is ridiculous!
Principles are more or less immutable. How they are broken down into usable slogans or agitational axes is changeable. Slogans are selected not according to the confused idea that they are self-sufficient “principles, but for their immediate effect, concrete application, and practical meaning.
We do not do as the “apparatus Marxists” do and, for calculations of organisational advantage, raise slogans antagonistic to our programme and principles (and, in this case, to the interests of the Iraqi labour movement). The idea that we are obliged to raise or hold to a slogan irrespective of its practical meaning — that, again, is absurd.
In 1920 the Bolsheviks had, as the heirs of Russian Marxism, nearly 40 years — and Lenin, two decades — of sincerely fighting for Poland’s self-determination and its right to independence. I don’t know if that ever took the form of slogans for Russian “Troops Out Now” (I doubt it). But when the Red Army defeated the invading Polish army and chased it deep into Poland — with the intention, in Lenin’s expression, of prodding the German revolution with the bayonet — the slogan “Russian troops out” would have meant not the “democratic affirmation” of self-determination for Poland, but radical opposition to the interests of the Russian workers’ revolution, to its army, and to the international working-class revolution, including that of the Polish workers.
It makes no difference here whether Lenin was right or wrong in his calculations about the advisability of the Red Army pressing into Poland. Events seemed to prove Trotsky’s contrary calculations right. But the Russian workers’ government had a right to refuse to make a fetish of Polish self-determination.
Something higher was involved — the interests of the working class and its revolution. Polish self-determination could easily have been restored — and, if the German workers had taken power, possibly on a higher level, with the Polish working class in power.
The point here is not to compare the US army of today with the Red Army of 1920, but to see that slogans cannot stand apart from and above an overall Marxist analysis. To put it absurdly again: slogans cannot stand higher than their practical meaning!
Barry’s approach — that we are obliged to raise Troops Out Now as an affirmation of democracy and of revolutionary opposition to American imperialism and its British helpers, irrespective of the consequences for the Iraqi labour movement — could only make political sense if “Troops Out Now” embodied a commitment for us higher than the working class and its movement.
I can’t suppose Barry Finger would want to argue that. Yet it is in practice his “position” — that “Troops Out Now” has precedence and priority. It stands above everything else. It has right of way even over the corpse of the Iraqi working-class movement.
Even apart from the fact that Troops Out Now would probably mean, not Iraqi self-determination, but (because there are three “self-determinations”, each in varying degrees hostile to the others) the breaking-apart of Iraq into three statelets through civil war, that does not make socialist or working-class sense.
Democracy is a principle; but self-determination is only one of its forms, and Troops Out Now in turn is only one of self-determination’s possible immediate, sloganised, expressions. Troops Out Now would calculably in fact destroy democratic possibilities.
IMPERIALISM AND REACTIONARY ANTI-IMPERIALISM
Barry Finger seems to rule out the idea that imperialism can bring any progress. That idea amounts to “a provisional and tactical military reliance on imperialism”, etc.
Yet the whole of modern history consists of “progressive” things done by imperialism, from the destruction of fascist totalitarianism to the overthrow, in a different way, of Stalinist totalitarianism! The world we live in would be radically different otherwise.
For sure we give the big capitalist powers no credence, reliance, or confidence in advance. We put forward our own programme in every situation. But we cannot simply say no to the modern world — the world shaped and reshaped, and still being shaped and reshaped, by capitalism and imperialism.
Here, as in our attitude to the concentration and centralisation of capital, or to bourgeois efforts like the European Union, we have to operate within a capitalism that is, relatively, progressive — i.e. doing in its own brutal, predator’s, way, things that take society forward and the immediate alternative to which is reactionary (for example, a return to the walled-off nation-states of pre-EU Europe). We do not and should not relate to those developments by raising slogans which, though they oppose capitalism and imperialism, also “oppose” and contradict what we want, and would take us backward.
Barry Finger warns us “against seeking a social and political gain from the crime of imperialism without actually advocating it”. Again — why? Does he think we should turn our backs on capitalism and start a new society somewhere from scratch?
Our entire world — the world we say can be the basis from which the working class can build socialism — is built on the crimes of class society. The cities of Liverpool and Bristol were built on the slave trade. Early British capitalism accumulated its wealth from the slave trade, piracy against the Spanish pirates and plunderers of Mexico and Peru, and from pillage and genocidal wars in Ireland. European civilisation, on the achievements of which we propose to build socialism, rests on a gigantic mound of human skulls and bones!
Imperialism — that is, advanced capitalism, the dominant force in the world — amidst its horrors, and sometimes by way of its horrors — has done things on which socialists try to build. World War Two and its aftermath are the clearest example. In Europe, American and British imperialism — consider all that needs to be said about their reactionary policies, their enslavement of colonies, etc., said — cut down the totalitarian Nazi geno-imperialism and recreated bourgeois democracy.
In 1940 the labour movement in Europe was everywhere — except in Switzerland, Sweden, Britain, and Ireland — smashed, reduced to weak underground movements, most of them dominated by Stalinist totalitarians. Modern Europe, with its tremendously powerful and potentially world-transforing labour movement, re-emerged under the wing of British and American imperialism. (Yes, of course, peoples resisted the Nazis, struggled, and perhaps by their struggle expanded and broadened the bourgeois-democratic systems that emerged).
Better things would have been possible had we been stronger, had Stalinism not existed? Yes, and our comrades advocated those things. They were right to advocate them and counterpose them what the bourgeois-imperialists did.
Better, in those times, had the European working class asserted itself as an independent “class for itself” and overthrown capitalism, and driven out the occupying armies of Roosevelt-Truman, Churchill-Attlee, and Salin. But it would have been metaphysics-saturated political idiocy for European socialists (and socialists in Japan too, of course) to have foresworn “seeking social and political gain” from the bourgeois-democratic systems and the re-risen labour movements because they were “tainted” by their origins in the victory of American and British imperialism.
The system in Western Europe by, say, 1949 was immense progress, not direct socialist progress, but immense progress nonetheless, compared to 1940 or 1944, above all for the potentialities it opened up for the working-class movement. One of the things that derailed post-Trotsky “orthodox Trotskyism” was its incapacity to understand that and adjust to it.
Our attitude to such progress cannot be different from our attitude to, say, the economic progress which happens under a capitalist system which we want to overthrow, which we believe should and could have been overthrown long ago, and which we continue to work to overthrow.
We extend to the rulers of the USA and Britain no political credit in advance. We criticise them from our own socialist and consistently democratic point of view for what they do and don’t do, and for what they license and acquiesce in. We maintain towards them the stance of mortally hostile communist opponents of bourgeois society.
Nonetheless, we recognise — all of us but the most moon-struck or Mars-dwelling “revolutionary Marxists” — and utilise the imperialist-fostered bourgeois-democratic progress in Western Europe.
Granted, in Iraq now, the odds are lengthening against there being a Japan or Germany-like transformation as a result of the US invasion. We did not call on Bush or Blair to go and effect that transformation. We did not support their war. If they decide to go soon, we will not raise the slogan “don’t go, it’s too soon”. But we recognised the possibilities and discriminated between them. Many things are now possible for the sole superpower.
And in any case, now, today, the Iraqi labour movement has some space to operate in. If the “resistance” should triumph, it will have none.
(Discussion of the possibilities in Solidarity may have helped generate the neo-con nonsense of poor Alan Johnson and the Labour Friends of Iraq. But what makes them what they are, and what divides them from us, is their abandonment of an independent working-class, Third-Camp, stance in relation to Blair and Bush — their political capitulation to Blairism, capitalism, and imperialism. None of that necessarily follows from even the most optimistic expectations from the US-British occupation of Iraq. Johnson’s political collapse was not occasioned by any logical extension or increment of what they have in common with us on Iraq.)
If I understand him, Barry Finger also thinks the slogan Troops Out Now is an essential tool for the democratic education of the anti-war movement.
I grant that it would make intervention in that movement easier. Yes, accepting their fundamental slogan would of course do that, on the level of getting us a friendlier hearing! But it could only have a miseducational effect.
To make our assessment about the consequences to the labour movement if the imperialists “precipitously” pull out — that is “appeasement” claims Barry. Of whom? Of what? Of the status quo.
So to refuse to deny or be indifferent to the likely consequences of a “precipitous” destruction of the status quo is... appeasement... of the status quo. Unless we contradict the “status quo and demand its immediate destruction , irrespective of the consequences and of what, specifically, the immediate alternative to the status quo is, we are appeasing it? But then we — and Barry Finger — appease many, many status quos!
For example, not demanding the immediate abolition of the bourgeois police force — and never mind what replaces it, or that we are not yet in a position to provide a better alternative — is surely an appeasement of the status quo of the bourgeois state. Imagine! Not calling for “abolition of the police now” in the USA, where the police are as a rule a lot worse than their British counterparts (despite the general destruction of civil liberties and the increased arming of the police here)! Imagine an anarchist waxing indignant about it. You appease the filthy bourgeois police, the thugs, bullies, and racists who beat Rodney King and god knows how many others, away from the cameras! Shame on you! Cops out now!
The difference is in the foreign deployment of the troops — in someone else’s country? But one of the objections we would make to the “anti-war” movement is that it teaches young people indifference to all but their own British (or American) concerns - and never mind the consequences in Iraq. They operate double standards. At the root of that is the old invertebrate “liberal” idea that one cannot expect better from backward peoples, be they the people of Stalin’s Russia or those of Cuba today. Such “tolerance” overseas of what “we” would not want at home is something akin to racism. The “anti-war”, “pro-resistance” left is rife with it.
I think Barry Finger — his language and his theorising demonstrate it — has here climbed so far up the ladder of generality and abstraction that he can’t see the ground.
Barry Finger sees what we are saying and doing through the prism of old experience with the Shachtman group during the Vietnam war. He finds our reasoning “eerily familiar”.
“Namely, that the occupation provides the forces of Iraqi democracy with the necessary breathing spell during which it can reorganize and fortify itself for the democratic task of social reconstruction, which only it can see through to fruition”.
That may be Max Shachtman in his last years; but it isn’t AWL!
“By refusing to call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupation forces, [AWL] is…. seeking a social and political gain from the crime of imperialism without actually advocating it. Can the AWL realistically expect to withstand the gravitational pull that such ideological compromises exerted over previous generations of socialist militants?”
The difference in approach between Barry and us is again clear here. Barry is heavily concerned with slogans, demands, and postures that will allow the revolutionary militants to resist hostile “gravitational pulls”.
You cannot be a Marxist and argue for a slogan on the grounds of its usefulness to you in resisting uncongenial pressures, apart from whether it makes sense in terms of reality. That way lies confusion, irresponsibility, and irrelevance.
Can we resist the “gravitational pull”? Cut through the superstitious dread, and what “pull” are we talking about here? The “pull” of admitting that the imperialists are not always and everywhere reactionary, or the most reactionary? That there are forces more reactionary — the Sunni supremacists and political Islamists, for example?
If we were to resist the “pull” of the powers that rule the world only by closing our eyes to such facts — if we felt obliged to pretend that everything about the bourgeoisie and bourgeois society is reactionary, and that there is nothing more reactionary in the political world — then we would be paying too high a price for anti-imperialist, or even anti-capitalist, virtue. We would also be setting ourselves up to collapse if and when reality more complex than we have recognised breaks through — a very common experience with naive revolutionaries.
The basic question here is one dealt with by Marx in the Critique of the Gotha Programme: is the whole of bourgeois society, apart from the working class, “one reactionary mass”. Marx rejected the idea:
“In the Communist Manifesto it is said: ‘Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class’... [But] the bourgeoisie is here conceived as a revolutionary class — as the bearer of large-scale industry — relative to the feudal lords and the lower middle class, who desire to maintain all social positions that are the creation of obsolete modes of production...”
The short answer to Barry Finger’s fears for our political future is that we feel no gravitational pull towards the bourgeoisie or its system as a result of recognising that this system, towards which we are mortally antagonistic, is not always and everywhere, and not in every single thing, only or simply reactionary, and that there are in some situations, more reactionary things.
Such things as the installation of bourgeois democracy in post-1945 western Europe and Japan have been done by the imperialistic bourgeoisie. If that was reactionary, then it was so only compared to what the working class could have achieved if better mobilised; but it was not so mobilised.
Recognising such facts does not affect our fundamental hostility to capitalism and to bourgeois society. It sharpens and sustains our hostility — hostility to what they really are, as they really are, unalloyed with the patently false idea that everything in the bourgeois-dominated world is today reactionary, or the most reactionary thing is possible.
One of the most politically corrupting and debilitating things on the left today is what might be called “apparatus Marxism” — the method of choosing and changing slogans in order to promote the growth and influence of the organisation.
In what way does what Barry says about the supposed need to adopt the slogan “Troops Out Now” in order to protect ourselves against the “gravitational pull” of uncongenial forces differ from apparatus Marxism? In principle I can’t see that it differs at all.
We cannot adopt a slogan concerning Iraq or any other political question for reasons of our own organisational self-promotion, or because it helps us resist a “gravitational pull”. Of course it is important to resist the gravitational pull of the bourgeoisie, but that is a matter of having an overall picture which determines our basic posture towards the ruling power even when it does, or may be doing, something that is, or may be, itself desirable.
While honestly evaluating and recording what is happening, we give the bourgeoisie no positive political support; we give them no credence or credit to go on and consistently do “what’s right”; we distinguish between our reasons for wanting, or assessing as positive, something that they are doing, and their own reasons, their overall programme, their “context” for it. In short we continually point out who and what they are, who and what we are, and what the working class must be.
Thus we create a rounded, realistic, revolutionary world view in those whom we reach. You cannot create or sustain a sharp proletarian class consciousness on the basis of falsely negative accounts and condemnations of what in a “good” moment the bourgeoisie may do, any more than you can do it by letting the “good” moment, real or mere hope, blur your overall picture of what they are.
Suppose, for example, that Bush and Blair were to carry through their “project” in Iraq and create a high-level functioning bourgeois democracy there? Would that change our fundamental view of what they are and what, mainly, they and those they serve do in the world? Would it inhibit us from encouraging and helping Iraqi workers to use the new bourgeois-democratic openings to fight against Bush and Blair?
Not at all. At most it would imply an amendment to our view of them to explain why “in this period” they are doing this relatively good work — exporting and expanding bourgeois democracy. Would that blot out our overall picture of what they do in terms of expanding and increasing exploitation? No.
Would it imply that we extend them credit to do equally good work of expanding bourgeois democracy somewhere else? Not for us, it wouldn’t. The same bourgeois-democratic USA and Britain that — for their own reasons, as Germany’s rivals — brought down Hitler, simultaneously, and for three decades, sustained Franco, the fascist who had smashed Spanish bourgeois democracy and the Spanish labour movement with the support of Hitler and Mussolini.
What the experience of a Bush or Blair carrying through some large reform that we want, or anyway see as progressive and important — again, say, establishing bourgeois democracy in Iraq — what that would do to our thinking, of course, would be to introduce the idea that they might now behave similarly elsewhere. That would not incline us where we had the option of independent action to rely on them. It would not inhibit us from telling people in other countries to which their attention was directed neither to trust them nor to rely on them.
Deciding slogans for Iraq not from the realities, but in order to “anchor” our own resistance to the “gravitational pull” of Bush and Blair, would be wrong in principle and, in its own way, disorienting. Any attitude that pushes the immediate fate of the Iraqi labour movement to the margin of our concerns, or leads us to fatalistically accept that the labour movement must be sacrificed to something else, something higher — anti-imperialism, or “self-determination for Iraq” understood as Troops Out Now and damn the consequences — any such attitude is radically disoriented.
Purely negative and purely “Yankophobic” anti-imperialism plays a terrible role on the left.
Marxists tell the truth of situations. We face the practical implications of our slogans candidly and squarely. We are concerned at all times with the labour movement and the working class. We have to have very special and very good reasons indeed to even seriously consider accepting something else as higher in the scale of things and more important than the fate of the working class. “Anti-imperialism”, or vicarious “national liberation”, is not from our point of view, a self-sufficient ideology. The problem with much of the “left” is that for them, it is.