Bring the troops home
ozleft at optushome.com.au
Mon Aug 11 07:57:23 MDT 2003
Bring the troops home and the nature of internet discussion
By Bob Gould
About four months ago, when I got set up to directly access the web I signed
up simultaneously to the Green Left Weekly list in Australia, and to
Socialist Register, Marxmail and Leftist Trainspotters.
As a result of this, each morning I start up the computer and there are 100
or so messages. I've acquired the knack of quickly glancing at each message
and deleting most of them and keeping the ones that interest me. This
procedure takes about 15 minutes.
In the last day or so there has been a slightly eccentric verbal custard pie
match on Marxmail and coincident with it an equally eccentric thread on
Trainspotters highlighting the internet activities of a one-time cadre of
the British Militant group who had a breakdown a few years ago and now
writes wild proclamations on his website, which he says are the most
important things we'll ever read.
Judging by my inbox, some of the discussion on Marxmail over the past two or
three months hasn't been too far removed from the man in the psych ward, who
accuses all and sundry who've crossed his path of being agents of big
business, starting with Frederick Engels, and including Lenin and Trotsky.
The Marxmail discussion hasn't quite reached that point of high theory, but
a few people on Marxmail, such as the departed comrade Melvin P, have
moments approaching a similar elevated level of conspiracy theory.
I'm reminded that when I first put something on Marxmail making a gentle
characterisation of some people as ultraleft, Louis ticked me off gently,
for being a bit pompous.
It seems that Louis has decided to let things run a bit and not worry too
much about the shafts of abuse throw around, in the expectation that the
abusers will wear themselves out. Louis is the moderator, and I respect his
judgement in these matters, and my instinct is, anyway, that people who
overuse abuse tend to make themselves look foolish, as abuse is obviously no
satisfactory substitute for argument. I've noticed that Louis is currently
very loath to unsub even the most abusive people, and I think that's wise,
in that eventually sometimes unsub themselves at moments of high emotion,
etc, and anyway the ones who have something useful to contribute mixed in
with their frenzy usually come back.
It's fascinating to me that many who are most abusive are of Stalinist
inclination, and that holds true for both Marxmail and Trainspotters.
Personally, I have a very thick skin and abuse doesn't worry me much and I
can throw a bit back when necessary, but my basic instinct is that we should
try to get back to real political business and put the abuse aside.
We have serious and weighty matters to argue between us and gratuitous abuse
mystifies and clouds the issues most of the time. The odd good-humoured dig
does no harm, but a rational, serious tone is more useful.
My Australian mates and I have been constructing our own modest website,
Ozleft, which is not a discussion site, but more a collection of documents
to assist discussion and debate on socialist perspectives, and it has been
quite useful to us, as a matter of routine, to post pointers and
introductions to new documents on Marxmail, Trainspotters and the Green Left
site, and when we do that we get a gratifying result, which suggests that
there are a lot of rational lurkers on all the sites who use them for
information and discussion and keep their heads down when the weird verbal
pyrotechnics are going on.
My basic socialist preoccupations are not quite the same as those of Louis
and his closest associates and friends on the list, but that's not the
point. Louis and Les Schaffer labour hard to preserve the list as a sensible
platform, even for people like myself who don't entirely agree with them on
Of late, I've found myself in broad agreement on a number of questions with
Jose Perez, with whom I had some disagreements in the past. For instance, I
think his careful observations about potentially healthy developments even
in a rather cultish group, such as the US SWP, is worth noting, and he has
done that several times in a meticulous and useful way.
In the US, Britain, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, we all face political
circumstances that are not too dissimilar, in that after the extraordinary
mobilisation against the imperialist war on Iraq, the relative initial
success of the US invasion produced a fairly immediate demobilisation and we
are all swimming a bit against the stream in the spectacular letdown from
the big mass movement in which we all participated six months ago.
Observing US political circumstances from a distance, it seems to me that
despite their political differences, three political organisations have kept
their heads: the US ISO, Solidarity and the Workers World Party and ANSWER,
and even to some extent, so has the SWP.
In particular the demands put forward by ANSWER in the antiwar movement are
sensible and transitional in the difficult conditions of the US, and aren't
at all inconsistent with the demands of the people in opposition groups
directed at US military personnel who emphasise bring the troops home now.
It's a rather hopeful sign, as Jose Perez, has pointed out, that the SWP is
beginning to approach the antiwar movement in a similar spirit. If I lived
in the US I would be participating as far as possible in the antiwar
movement while also advocating a public, serious political discussion
between the four groups that I've mentioned with the ultimate aim of
regroupment including those groups and thousands of socialist independents.
A wildly optimistic long shot, you might say, but the kind of thing demanded
by the times.
The abusive attacks on Stan Goff and the military opposition to the war are
incomprehensible to me, from a socialist point of view. Marxists are not
pacifists, armies exist, including imperialist armies, and a big part of the
Leninist tradition that I look to includes all sorts of experiments and
tactics directed at demobilising, weakening, undermining imperialist war
The point made by the comrade from Germany, that bloodthirsty rhetoric about
killing imperialist soldiers is completely counter-productive seems entirely
valid to me. Most imperialist armies are workers in uniform, and appeals to
them are a big part of the political arsenal of all opponents of imperialist
Bloodthirsty rhetoric is not Marxism or Leninism, or anything useful that I
A large part of my political activity in the 1960s and 1970s included
fighting against the imperialist war in Vietnam, in which Australia was
deeply involved as a client state of US imperialism. The main emphasis of
the militant heart of the movement, of which I was one of the organisers was
"Bring the troops home, get out of Vietnam". We took over those slogans
holus bolus from the US SWP and they proved powerfully effective slogans in
Our opponents in the antiwar movement here were a variety of Stalinists and
right-wing Laborites who opposed the withdrawal slogan in favour of general
propositions about peace. The fact that the courageous Labor parliamentary
leader Arthur Calwell, nailed his flag to the withdrawal mast in 1965 helped
give our agitation a mass character.
After some ups and downs, withdrawal of the troops became the dominant
demand by the time of the big Moratorium protests. It's a curious matter of
historical fact that a Maoist-Stalinist grouping of the time, led by some
colourful figures such as Albert Langer, denounced us as traitors using the
same rhetoric as some of the various ultralefts on Marxmail now.
The Maoists counterposed similar rhetoric about victory to the Viet Cong and
killing imperialist troops. Some of the main personalities in that group are
now vociferous supporters of the US invasion of Iraq and even have their own
website, Lastsuperpower.com, which gets coverage in the bourgeois press.
Marxist politics isn't any kind of religion, and the thing about Lenin's
politics and practice that is so useful is its combination of fundamental
Marxist principles with concreteness and realism. An emphasis on concrete
demands aimed at defeating imperialism, such as end the war, bring the
troops home now, is entirely consistent with Lenin's approach.
Those who use very leftist rhetoric in opposition to these demands now are
unlikely to have much concrete experience of struggle to build an effective
I've never been much of a revolutionary tourist. That doesn't appeal to me,
and for many years I've had a book business to run anyhow, which tends to
tie me down. Despite my deep emotional involvement in the struggle against
the Vietnam War -- the most useful decade of my adult life -- I've never
been to Vietnam.
However, a number of people I know have, and many have visited the museums
of struggle against US imperialism in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and Hanoi. A
number of visitors have reported to me the museum in Ho Chi Minh City has a
room featuring one picture from each country focussing on that country's
opposition to the war. My friends have broken up laughing at the fact that
the picture from Australia is the cover of our magazine Vietnam Action, with
a picture of one of our early demonstrations, in 1965, with a much younger
version of yours truly marching proudly beside our banner, "Bring the troops
Despite the rhetoric of assorted ultralefts, the Vietnamese themselves have
repeatedly stressed that the antiwar agitation in the US, Australia and
other countries made a very big contribution to the ultimate victory of
Vietnam in that war.
As I write this, the assorted more leftist and militant groups in the Sydney
antiwar movement are involved in a united and rational attempt to beat back
an attempt by a curious coalition of more conservative forces with assorted
Stalinist relics to split the Sydney antiwar movement and roll back the
unity that was achieved during the high point of the movement from November
The more conservative forces are focussing their attack against the demand
supported by all the far left and the militants in the movement for the
withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq. They counterpose to that
rhetorical emphasis on some fanciful scheme to bring the United Nations into
Iraq. Surely this highlights the cutting edge represented by the demand for
withdrawal of imperialist troops.
I don't believe that the assorted ultraleft noise-makers attacking the
demand to bring the troops home on Marxmail have a clue about how to
construct an antiwar movement in the current conditions.
PS. The many-faceted campaign against directed at military personnel
encouraging them to oppose the war in different ways had a wide and
honourable history in both the US and Australia during the Vietnam War. I
remember the many antiwar bulletins got out in the US army. I particularly
remember Andy Stapp, who I seem to remember was associated with the Workers
World Party, campaigning in the US army against the war.
Certainly the Vietnam Action Committee, which I was in, gave out a number of
leaflets under my name offering assistance to US servicemen on R&R in
Australia if they chose to leave the US army while in Australia.
As a matter of fact, a number of US servicemen did choose to leave the US
army while in Australia and got away to join the anti-militarist diaspora in
Sweden and Canada. One militant opponent of the war in the US army, Allen
Myers, came to Australia to address one of our Vietnam Action Committee
meetings, met up with an Australian woman comrade after the meeting and
eventually married her and settled in Australia to conduct a long and
interesting leftist political life.
Sensible agitation directed at workers in uniform drawn into military
machines, conducted in a calm and rational way, has always been good policy
from a Marxist point of view.
It goes without saying that crazy rhetoric about killing soldiers sharply
contradicts such a rational orientation towards potential opposition to wars
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