Sorting Out the Enemy
Philip L Ferguson
PLF13 at SPAMstudent.canterbury.ac.nz
Thu Sep 16 00:02:51 MDT 1999
Back at the time of the war in the South Atlantic I had for some reason I
forget now strayed into membership in the Labour Party Young Socialists
during a period of living in Britain. The LPYS at the time was totally
dominated by the Militant Tendency, the largest Trotskyist formation in
Britain. (Since then Militant has largely disintegrated, the rump of it is
now called SPEW, the Socialist Party of England and Wales).
The LPYS branch I belonged to was one of the relatively few not
Militant-dominated. We were against Britain's war efforts and got up a
special resolution for the LPYS conference which was taking place at the
time, a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the British fleet which
had just been sent down to the South Atlantic.
>From what I knew of Marxism I understood that for those of us living in an
imperialist country, like Britain, it was fundamental that we should oppose
our ruling class and government going to war against anyone, especially
against a Third World country like Argentina. I had read stuff like
Lenin's 'Socialism and War', in which he states that it is immaterial who
fires the first shot, in a war between imperialists and non-imperialists,
we are on the side of the latter. Especially when the imperialists are our
Although Militant was a weird marriage of Fabianism and Trotskyism, rather
than undiluted Trotskyism, I just assumed that on something like this they
too would be against the British war effort.
I was therefore somewhat shocked when they used their control of the
conference to prevent any emergency motions being put which
attacked/opposed the British fleet then steaming down to sort out 'the
Militant totally opposed calling for the withdrawal of the British fleet.
Their main slogan seemed to be unionisation of the British forces then
heading off to slaughter Argentinian conscripts. Now, I was (and am) in
favour of unionisation of the armed forces, but this was a complete crap
demand to raise at that time, especially when it was counterposed to being
against the British war effort.
Now, how did Militant justify being on the side of Britain against
Argentina? Well, their great leader and 'theorist' Ted Grant argued that
Argentina was now an imperialist power in its own right, the proof being
that Bueonos Aires had a stock exchange!
At the conference, speaker after speaker from Militant - they had almost
all the delegates and controlled the microphone etc - got up and launched
ringing denunciations of the Argentinian junta and how great it would be if
Argentina lost the war because this would bring down the junta.
Of course, the problem with this or, should I say, one of several problems
with it, was that we were not in Argentina, we were in imperialist Britain.
Our task was to find ways to turn the war against the British ruling class,
not help them bring down the junta. That was up to the Argentinian people
to sort out.
Militant's position was a national chauvinist one. It deflected attention
from the British ruling class and turned the Argentine junta into the main
enemy. Of course, no workers in Britain supported the junta nor was the
junta an obstacle to working class advance in Britain; British workers did,
however, have illusions in British capitalism and the British state. That
was what needed to be dealt with by British leftists.
(I might add here that Militant also had a disgusting position of going
along with British imperialism in Ireland.)
In the end, the ratbag politics of this appalling group have done them no
good at all. They are a pale remnant of the massive obstacle they used to
be, and good riddance.
Sadly, however, the politics of forgetting about opposing your own
imperialist ruling class are not dead. Just as Militant wanted to make
overthrowing the Argentine regime the focus for British leftists, while the
British armed forces intervened against Argentina, so there are sections of
the Australian and NZ left who want to forget all about our tasks as
Marxists in relation to our own ruling class and state, and instead focus
on the Indonesian regime as the main enemy.
Personally, I hope the Indonesian masses overthrow the regime, and they can
string up Megawati Sukarnoputri at the same time as far as I'm concerned.
But as Marxists living in Australia and NZ, that is not *our* main task.
Our main task is to find ways to challenge the illusions that workers in
our own countries have about *our* ruling classes, governments and states.
Our task is most immediately to oppose the intervention of Australian and
NZ troops in East Timor. The fact that the most important left-wing
organisation in Australasia/South Pacific area actually demanded Australian
troops go in makes this task a great deal harder.
Rather than patting the Indonesian people on the back for opposing Habibie
and the army, we should take a leaf out of their book and learn to oppose
*our* rulers and their military actions abroad with the same determination
people in Indonesia are opposing theirs.
I hope the DSP leadership will reverse their position, although the signs
do not seem to be propitious. The longer the DSP leadership holds to its
current awful position, the harder it will be to reverse it and the more
likely it will become entrenched as a response to 'humanitarian
imperialism', especially when conducted by the DSP's own ruling class.
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