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War and the Socialist Workers Party*

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Introduction

The following are two more sections of the counter-resolution of the Communist Tendency (CT) in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Historical Roots of the Degeneration of the Fourth International and the Centrism of the SWP—For a Return to the Proletarian Road of Trotskyism.

These sections concern themselves with the obligations of a vanguard party of the proletariat in the struggle against war. They do not represent the first salvos against the SWP’s class-collaborationist and essentially pacifist politics in the antiwar movement, its main area of activity since 1965. Cde. Fender, the CT delegate at the SWP convention, August 9, 1971 [see Vol.4, No.1, of Vanguard Newsletter In Defense of Trotskyism, pages 12-24, for Cde. Fender’s speeches] had, at the two previous conventions of the SWP In 1967 and 1969, carried on the polemic against the SWP’s reformist approach in the struggle against war.

Except for a few added details, Cde. Fender’s documents were the basis for the CT’s positions outlined below. However, one of the added details deserves some comment and correction. The first section below maintains that the SWP used the “single-issue” question as “a cordon sanitaire to exclude alien class Influence” of the bourgeoisie, but that the gimmick failed and the “single-issue” business was finally dropped. Actually, the opposite is true. The “single-issue” approach is only the other side of the same coin of non-exclusion under which the SWP Justifies the inclusion in the antiwar movement of a section of the liberal imperialist bourgeoisie and their representatives. While the SWP’s non-exclusion is designed to allure and protect the petty-bourgeois pacifists and liberals, “single-issuism” is designed to repel and muzzle any tendency who might raise political issues that would drive these same pacifists and liberals away. The SWP had no trouble conveniently forgetting about “single-issuism” when the liberals or the pacifists raised issues such as anti-draft campaigns, when during the lulls—and the liberals were not around—the SWP needed an extracurricular activity to tide them over to the next peace parade, or when, in response to a current vogue, it was more opportune to do so as with women’s liberation.

Not only does “single-issuism” provide a cover under which the SWP leadership can avoid any political struggle that might frighten its bourgeois allies, but It also provides a convenient excuse to hide the SWP’s s own lack of political struggle.

The SWP’s chase after this will-o-the-wisp of respectability is nothing new. To Ingratiate themselves with those influenced by the Cuban revolution as well as with Castro and Co., the SWP leaders have continually apologized for the petty-bourgeois Cuban leadership and kept any political criticism they might have had, strictly to themselves for fear of scaring off all the spontaneously developing “unconscious Trotskyists” such as Fidel himself. The telegram of condolences to Mrs. Kennedy was only one more of many similar steppingstones touched by the SWP on its way to today’s outright blatant opportunistic moves to gain favorable acceptance in the petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois milieus, such as the women’s “liberation” movement, where even the fight for free abortion on demand was considered too risky and, therefore, dropped In favor of a campaign against abortion laws—much more palatable in bourgeois circles.

The SWP like the CP of yesterday and today thinks that people can be fooled or tricked into playing a “progressive” or even “revolutionary” role and that the capitalists can be maneuvered into involuntarily forfeiting their “rights” to the “people,” or more correctly, to “the vanguard mass movements.” This objectivist approach permeates the whole of the political activity of the SWP and is tied in methodology to the guerrilla war and terrorist approach so prevalent today. All think that due to the “new” reality, the methods of class struggle and the building of a vanguard party, modeled after the Bolshevik party, can be discarded without compunction. While the guerrilla advocates substitute for the party a small group which is supposed to arouse the masses to revolutionary activity with their daring exploits and super-revolutionary calls to action, the SWP substitutes action and action alone by the greatest number possible and, therefore, organized strictly on the lowest, i.e., on a purely reformist, basis. The SWP sees its role as a mere coordinator of all the “mass vanguard movements” and as a centralized information clearing house for these movements. Both approaches are united in methodology in that they see their role as merely a technical one. The revolution is left to the spontaneity of the masses or perhaps to some divine inspiration. In reality, the revolution is abandoned.

In the antiwar movement—as well as in every other movement—the SWP maintains that it is not necessary to struggle for a conscious appreciation of capitalism or imperialism on the part of the masses. The antiwar movement is objectively anti-imperialist, as the women’s liberation movement is objectively anti-capitalist, merely because it is. The Stalinist NLP and the Stalinist regime in Hanoi are no longer considered to be Stalinist, but objectively as revolutionary merely because they actively defend themselves against imperialist aggression. And those like Hartke, who identify with the antiwar movement, are unconsciously betraying their own class and objectively helping to advance the world revolution. From the early days of Fidel and the Cuban revolution, the “unconscious Trotskyists” have multiplied in geometric progression.

In sacrificing the conscious element, i.e., the Bolshevik party, in the revolutionary process, the SWP has turned its back on the last half-century of history, from the defeat of the 1925-27 Chinese revolution through the rise of Hitler and the smashing of the Spanish proletariat to today, with the massacre of the Indonesian masses and the sell-out of the French revolution of May-June 1968. In so doing, the SWP as well as all its political bed-fellows have sacrificed their own capability of leading a revolution. They satisfy themselves instead with the shabbiest organizational maneuvering, the old political shell games and pretentious diplomatic wheeling and dealing. But for this, all that is required is money, technocrats, cannon fodder and, above all, respectability.7

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The Struggle Against Imperialist War

The struggle against imperialist war has always been the great test of a revolutionary party, and some of the most Important writings of the great Marxists have outlined the correct strategy for this task.

The SWP, despite its smug feeling of self-congratulation, has failed the test. From the beginning the party’s position was inadequate. Despite this, due to the totally wrong character of all other alternatives, the leadership has been able to convince its members and the best of the radical youth that the party has been wholly right. The party has been advancing the idea of immediate withdrawal—correct in itself, but not enough—as the basis for the “objectively anti-imperialist” character of its “single-issue united-front-type coalition.” These propositions deserve a little investigation. The “single-issue” character of the coalition has been the backbone of the leadership’s argument that the movement was not an evasion of revolutionary duty. If the program of the bloc was limited to the demand of immediate withdrawal, then everything was perfectly legitimate —no reformist demands were being smuggled in. What the “single-issue” business really was, only became gradually clear as the other “mass movements” began to develop. It was an artificial barrier which a centrist party erected to keep it from falling into the swamp of open reformism. Due to its total inability to project and carry out a revolutionary program, the SWP needed a cordon sanitaire to exclude alien class influence. With the influx of petty-bourgeois elements into the party, the gimmick was bound to fail. Soon the antiwar movement took positions on everything from the draft to the Black movement and union struggles. But instead of taking these positions on a class basis, the party merely went along with a totally reformist outlook, and objectively, by abandoning the program of Marxism, subordinated this movement to that “soft” wing of the exploiters, which wanted out of the Vietnam misadventure.

Several other points are connected with this evaluation of the nature of our participation in this movement. The movement obviously is not a “type” of united front, by definition, since this involves only the participation of working-class organizations, but neither is it formally a “Popular Front” as it is often called. This phrase poses the question too narrowly and too specifically. The most exact description of the essence of this formation is best given in Trotsky’s words:

“The matter at issue in all cases concerns the political subordination of the proletariat to the left wing of the exploiters, regardless of whether this practice bears the name of coalition or left bloc (as in France) or “People’s Front” in the language of the Comintern.” (Our emphasis— China and the Russian Revolution.)

Closely connected with this is the question of non-exclusion. Originally this policy was used, correctly, to fight against red-baiting against us and as a justification for blocking with anyone who would agree on a common action. It has gone far beyond this now and is used as a principle to demand the inclusion of liberal bourgeois speakers and representatives, at all times, as spokesmen for peace. This only legitimizes the deceit of the ruling class and furthers the illusions they perpetrate. Non-exclusion has become the means by which the leadership has cemented an alliance with the liberal imperialists. As a consequence, the party is unable to correctly handle the union bureaucrats who have followed their capitalist masters into the antiwar movement. Instead of utilizing the opportunity to reach workers and destroy the fakers, as in a real united front, the tactic has been to build them up and actually strengthen their hand. Just as all the so-called “radical” programs to end the war are in reality based on students, etc., and thus are just so much hogwash, so must a real program for revolutionaries look to the proletariat.

The Transitional Program shows the way. The party, rooting itself in the proletariat, in the factories and the armed forces, must struggle to win the proletariat to a “subjectively” anti-imperialist consciousness. Only revolution can end war for good, and if this war is ended on the terms desired by the liberals, then the next war is already near. A program for struggle would include, in addition to immediate withdrawal: workers’ control of war industries, confiscation of war profits and the expropriation of war profiteers, public works to employ war workers, open diplomacy and other appropriate slogans. Factory antiwar committees would be the organizing base for such a program, as well as for the political mobilization of the class in opposition to the capitalist class and its war. Such must be our perspective, and not the futile pacifist actions we are now engaging in—like the April 24th “Youth Festival -cum-Rites of Spring.”

The Proletarian Military Policy

Along with the abandonment of the rest of our program on the struggle against the war has gone the Proletarian Military Policy (PMP), which was a concrete expression, under American conditions, of the Leninist policy on military training and conscription. This policy was counterposed to the pacifist program of ending the war by ending the draft, and to the control of conscription by the imperialist government by demanding that the government finance training in the military arts in camps which would be under the control of the trade unions. The idea was to try to make a bridge between the level of the masses who saw the need, for learning how to wage war in an epoch of violent upheaval, and the future possibility of turning the army against the imperialist government. It was designed, as well, to ensure that no repetition of the disastrous policy of draft resistance, which isolated the radicals of WWI, would occur, and had the additional benefit of increasing the prestige and strength of the trade unions as organizations of the working class.

The present party leadership, which would very much like to forget that there ever was such a policy, has concocted several stories to justify its rejection of proletarian methods for pacifist ones. These stories can be summarized as follows: 1) WWII was basically an “inter-imperialist war,” and consequently that tactics of Marxists in the period of counterrevolutionary colonial wars must be different; 2) the party made an adaptation to the backwardness of the workers; 3) there was no movement against conscription, so we simply adjusted our tactics—today things are different. There is a certain division of labor on points 2 and 3. The slicker advocates of the present line combine them in a sort of “times-have changed” routine, while the more vulgar peace-nik elements simply claim that the stupid workers led us astray.

All these arguments and all their variants are false to the core. The first is simply the grossest kind of petty-bourgeois moralistic breast-beating. Even when we exclude the question of Russia in WWII, we are faced with the interesting case of it being alright for American workers to fight German and Japanese workers and peasants, and not alright to fight Vietnamese workers and peasants. Maybe we fought WWII to “defend Democracy?” The reality of the situation, of course, is that the party’s abstentionist policy of having comrades at Columbia [university] rather than Khe Sanh, has left the spontaneous GI revolts largely leaderless, and has hindered the defeat of US Imperialism.

What was the reality of the situation on conscription in 1940? The party did not in its propaganda oppose the introduction of conscription before its adoption, despite significant opposition to a peacetime draft from the “America-Firsters,” the radical movement in general, John L. Lewis and his section of the bureaucracy and many plain citizens. The draft law of 1940 passed by one vote. The OHIO (over the hill In October) movement, which encouraged mass desertions, spread rapidly at first. The party, however, stood firm against all those who wanted to go along with the crowd, despite the ravings of the Shachtmanites who called our policy “social-patriotic.” The party based Its stand on the clear and Irreconcilable position of Trotsky, who was largely responsible for the inspiration of our position. Trotsky said: “We can’t oppose compulsory military training by the bourgeois state just as we can’t oppose compulsory education by the bourgeois state.” This is not an Isolated quotation but is a good example of his thoughts on the question during his last year. (cf. Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40). The party leadership, of course, not being formalists, are not at all troubled by their departures from Trotsky.

The Proletarian Military Policy, nonetheless, was not just dreamed up by Trotsky in 1940. It was the continuation of the line laid down by Lenin in his polemics against the centrists and reformists of the Zimmerwald movement. Prior to WWI the Social-Democracy had proposed the establishment of a people’s militia as a means whereby militarism and war could be prevented. This fantasy of peaceful substitutionism was destroyed by the shock of the war. During the discussions among the Zimmerwaldists, an alternative was proposed to this now discredited theory. This alternative was, “disarmament!” Lenin reacted violently to this form of pacifist hogwash, and in two articles—”On the ‘Disarmament’ Slogan and “The Military Program of the Proletarian Revolution—demolished these idealistic conceptions of the nature of war and society. He pointed out that imperialism, not weapons, was the cause of war, and that the only way to end war was to end the system that produced it. Consequently, proletarian militarism had to be opposed to bourgeois militarism. As concrete steps to this end he proposed the drafting of women, the election of officers, and, especially, the setting up of military training under the control of workers’ organizations, as well as full civil and economic rights for soldiers. He fiercely fought against draft-dodging, whether individual or “mass.” This Is the root of the 1940 adoption of the PMP.

There is no great gap between 1915 and 1940. This outlook was continued in the theses on War and the Fourth International in 1934. It was clearly stated as a transitional demand in the Transitional Program of 1938, which says nothing about “abolishing the draft,” “capitalist” or otherwise. What the Transitional Program does say is crystal clear:

 “… we must tear from the hands of the greedy and merciless imperialist clique… the disposition of the people’s fate. In accordance with this we demand: …military training and arming of workers and farmers under the direct control of workers’ and farmers’ committees.”

In 1940, in the Manifesto on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution, this position was further enunciated. Nor was the PMP abandoned after the war, to which it was supposedly a subjective reaction. In a 1946 polemic against the Workers Party (International Informational Bulletin, Vol. VIII, No.10, August 1946) it was described as a major difference between the SWP and the Shachtmanites. Even in 1948 when conscription was reintroduced, we advocated the PMP although in a rather abstract way. It was not until 1953 that we abandoned this policy, but we would not vote on this question until 1969. (It seems that this puts an interesting light on the question of “adaptationism.” When was the working class more social-patriotic—in 1940 when we adopted the PMP, or in 1953 when we abandoned it? When was the party more susceptible to petty-bourgeois pressure—on the eve of WWII, or in the period of “McCarthyite-Fascism?”)

The question of a correct policy on conscription is no longer a question of great urgency for our movement. The bourgeoisie literally hungers and thirsts for a voluntary army. They must demobilize the present army which every day threatens them more and more. The Gates Commission has shown the ruling class that it can be done. When they say they want “no more Vietnams” they are not lying. They do not; they want more Santo Domingos! And with a relatively small, cheap, elite, cadre-type army they can have them. This Is the significance of the experimental TRICAP (triple capability) divisions which combine armor, airmobile infantry and helicopters into juggernauts which are not designed for use against students. The ruling class says “volunteer army.” We say “abolish the draft.” The juxtaposition makes it clear that our present policy objectively supports the bourgeoisie in its desires. The situation now, as well as all our traditional analysis, demands the adoption and implementation of the Proletarian Military Policy.

All the party’s documents state that members will enter the armed forces if drafted. What actually happens is something else. A comrade about to be drafted sends a letter to his draft board informing it of his political beliefs and affiliations, supposedly to provide future legal cover. If this does not have the desired effect, then it is followed by a press conference, and then by a demonstration. After all this, if a comrade is inducted, he enters the army as a marked man. Everything Is done, short of any illegality, for SWP’ers and YSA’ers to avoid their revolutionary duty. Trotsky once said, “If the leaders seek to preserve themselves, that is what they become—dried preserves.” This practice of the SWP shows its total unwillingness to leave behind a comfortable milieu and to penetrate into an arena where the proletariat is to be found. The hard and difficult work is avoided, just as with the unions. It is another manifestation, more hypocritical and despicable, of the party’s wish to turn its back on the working class.

*From Vanguard Newsletter, Vol 4. No 3*, pps 39-44. April, 1972. Editors: Harry Turner, David Fender and Ed di Tullio. This issue was numbered incorrectly as No.2 and its contents are missing from ITOL

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June 21, 2022 at 12:26 am

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