Slogans, contexts, worker-soldiers and/or a murdering army? Response to Harris
LouPaulsen at comcast.net
Wed Aug 13 01:48:37 MDT 2003
I have not written on the BTTHN slogan since the first moderator's note, so
this is my one bite of the apple and an attempt to seriously respond to
Of course I have had other responsibilities over the last couple days and
meanwhile the discussion has probably moved on. In the days of printing you
could take weeks to write a polemic; in the blog age, discussions arise and
die out in the space of a day or two. Furthermore it's impossible to keep
up with what everyone says and adequately address it. I know Juriaan said
some things similar to what I say in (1) below. I apologize for not noting
and crediting such points from him and others on the list.
(1) The BTTHN slogan isolated and in contexts
"BTTHN sounds just so Americans for Americans, which is what
the world hates."
"However deep you are (buried) in the Mid-west, the worldwide left press
First, a brief note on the whole issue of one slogan or another. I think
it's somewhat of a mistake to treat the slogan as primary in all this, and
to focus our vision entirely on one grouping of words as opposed to another
grouping of words, as if we believed that these words were like the genetic
code for the creation of one sort of living movement or another. This would
be metaphysical idealism in the bad sense.
What is actually going on is that classes, organizations, ideological
currents, etc., are in motion, vying for influence in this still-developming
movement. The BTTHN slogan does not exist in isolation either from the
organizations that are putting it forward, or from the campaigns in which it
is being given life. The campaigns, the actions, the giving out of leaflets
on the street or the posting of agitprop on the web, etc., all have to be
looked at as integrated affairs and judged as integrated affairs - and
judged not against 'timeless standards' but in view of their own contexts.
The BTTHN slogan at some times and places, used in certain ways, can be put
to the service of real internationalist revolutionary work. I am sure of
this. I am also sure that it would be possible for other forces engaged in
other campaigns to give the same five words a miserable and reactionary
spin, or for that matter an ultraleft spin. With a little imagination you
can write a Justin Raimondo BTTHN leaflet, a Pat Buchanan BTTHN leaflet, a
crazy ultraleft BTTHN leaflet, etc. Nobody goes out and hands out leaflets
containing only the five words "Bring the troops home now!" The leaflets
contain other text, graphics, demands, etc., which spell out what the
leaflet is really about. Demonstrations never consist only of a lot of
people chanting "bring the troops home now" without any other clues as to
what they are trying to do.
Therefore, getting back to Harris's original statements about how "BTTHN"
appears to the world working class, the fact is that elements of that
working class with training and experience will not respond to the BTTHN
slogan, raised in the United States, as a 5-word abstraction, raised by
nobody knows who in nobody knows what context. They will evaluate
organizations and campaigns and currents in the movement, not just 5-word
groupings of text. If they hear that ANSWER, for example, is using the
BTTHN slogan, they are capable of going to the internationalanswer.org
website, discovering, inter alia, that it is being used in conjunction with
the slogan "End the Occupation of Iraq!", and finding enough material to
evaluate the whole history and line of ANSWER, and determine whether it is
composed of narrow chauvinists or internationalists, and come to a
conclusion about whether ANSWER is raising it because they only care for the
lives of the "troops", or whether it is a way of taking an internationalist
progam to broader strata. The same is true for the Chicago Coalition
against War and Racism, to mention a group buried in the Midwest, which is
organizing a BTTHN demonstration on August 23; the "worldwide left press"
doesn't have to guess in the abstract what they are up to, and is not
limited to reporting the "slogan", they can go to chicagoantiwar.org and to
chicago.indymedia.org and find the Acrobat files for the leaflets and figure
out what else they are doing with the slogan in what context.
If a journalist is truly "left" and has had any training in Marxism, no
matter where in the world he or she is writing, then naturally his or her
stories will be discussing movements and class forces, not just "slogans".
If I write a story about some rally in the Middle East, for example, I will
not be doing my duty if I report only the slogan "Death to the United
States!" and leave my US-worker readers to their own devices to decide what
they think of it.
(2) "Parochialism" vs(?) the international movement
"Huge numbers of people throughout the
world are radicalised against US government policy because of the invasion
of Iraq. Yet because of the difficult situation in the US, perhaps comrades
there are bending the stick too far. I'm not suggesting we must have one
slogan in all contexts. At a rally of troops families, backing the slogan
BTTHN to move them on would be ok. But in all contexts, even in the US, is
this the one slogan?"
"I'm suggesting that slogans and tactics ought to be designed with some
awareness of the world wide audience, the world wide working class."
I am half in agreement and disagreement with the preceding sentence. I
certainly agree that revolutionaries in the US have to be very aware of the
world wide working class and the state of the global class struggle.
However, there are a lot of ways of interacting with other elements of the
world wide working class. There are international conferences, party
newspapers and websites, solidarity delegations, and so on, all of which are
something different from "slogans and tactics." If Harris were to talk
about STRATEGY and not tactics, I would be much more in agreement with him.
We pursue a STRATEGY of revolutionary defeatism, of opposition to
imperialist wars of conquest, of support for the right to self-determination
of the countries occupied by our imperialist government. Our STRATEGY is to
oppose and frustrate and defeat the imperialist war. This comes directly
from our internationalist world view. Our TACTICS, however, are designed
for what will actually work where we are. We are writing our leaflets with
the Chicago working-class audience in view.
"These are very conservative positions even to people in the UK (so you can
guess what it is
If Harris thinks that leaflets written for the Chicago audience seem
conservative by his standards, there is a good reason: the working class in
the US really IS in many ways much more backward, more conservative, less
developed politically, more devoid of class consciousness, less well
informed, less experienced with left politics, and more mentally enslaved by
the bourgeoisie than the working class in just about any other locale. This
is of course a gross generalization, and there is a lot of variation by
stratum, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, and so on.
But our 'average' is pretty bad. This is not just a matter of anti-war
organization, but also of our trade union movement, our electoral politics,
and so on. We don't even have a mass labor party, what does that tell you?
Add to that the fact that we have been in a war crisis for the last two
years. Nearly half the workers in this country believe that Iraq helped to
organize the 9/11 attack, and that the invasion of Iraq was straight-up
"defense of the fatherland". I am not saying that this changes our line or
our duties, but I am saying that when we are on the street in Chicago,
trying to educate people, we are starting from what I am sure is a very low
level by your standards.
(3) "Most lefts just say shoot them."
"You might like
to glance at the international socialist press to check that no one anywhere
(outside the US) is saying BTTHN. Most lefts just say shoot them."
Yes, but the other people (except in Britain) are mostly not organizing in
the neighborhoods that the troops have come from, are they? "Shoot the US
occupying troops" is an entirely understandable slogan elsewhere in the
world, but elsewhere in the world you are not likely to be putting the
leaflet in the hand of some worker whose friend, brother, father, son,
daughter, etc., is one of the US occupying troops. And here that is really
The fact that we are in the country whose working class has actually
supplied the occupying troops is not a trivial circumstance, and when I use
that as a justification for writing leaflets differently here than someone
in Spain, say, would do it, I don't think this is a silly technical point
and a mere excuse for not taking a courageous position. It's a material
reality that we face here. To illustrate this, there was a meeting here in
Chicago, before the invasion, of students from the different campuses of the
City Colleges, which is a set of mainly two-year colleges run by the city
government. It is the cheapest form of education, and the students are
predominantly working-class and heavily Black and Latino. At one point in
the meeting, someone asked, "who here has a friend or close relative in the
armed forces right now?" Nearly EVERY student raised their hands. These
are working-class youth, the very people we would most like to recruit to
our anti-war work. I am telling you, Richard, that BTTHN is a slogan that
works with this milieu, while if we were to say, with "most lefts", "just
shoot them," we would be sabotaging our anti-war work and, thus, betraying
our internationalist duty to the Iraqi people which is to ACTUALLY subvert
the war effort.
"But if they are against you
in Omagh, Belfast, Basra, Kosovo ~ you shoot them dead."
Yes, but I'm not handing out leaflets in any of those places, am I? I'm
handing them out in Chicago. Naturally none of our propaganda must say
anything against the right of the Iraqi people to defend their country
against occupation, and indeed it is our duty to defend it, but this point
has to be made with some care. It's a difficult lesson.
"What do you say to Iraqi fighters, put up
banners saying BTTHN? You should say shoot the invaders."
Of course BTTHN is not directed to "Iraqi fighters." Actually, what I would
say is, "In accord with the Leninist principle of self-determination, we
support your right to conduct your struggle against the invader by whatever
means you choose."
The coordination among the different sections of the world working class is
not in that they have the same slogans, any more than that all leaflets
should be written in Gaelic, or Russian, or Arabic. The thing is for the
different detachments of the international working class to take up the
duties that fall to them specifically in their own countries, their own
nationalities, their own situations of oppression. This is, I think,
fundamental to the Leninist approach. In the polemic over
self-determination during World War I, for example, Lenin argued
vociferously that socialists in the oppressed countries and the different
imperialist countries had different duties; comrades in Russia, in Germany,
in France, and in the colonies would indeed be raising different slogans.
This is because the most important thing for Lenin was to actually mobilize
the workers of all nationalities into the struggle.
In the current US-organized global imperialist war, it is the responsibility
of the workers in all the oppressed countries, Iraqi fighters for example,
to physically resist US conquest from without. It is our responsibility
here in the US to politically subvert the war from within. These are not
the same thing. As to whether or how we can "inspire" Iraqi fighters ...
"But do you not see that how the US left
acts is important for the world movement? Sometimes you might even have to
move into isolation in the US to inspire the world-wide struggle?"
... I firmly believe that if we successfully organize a large and visible
movement, THAT will "inspire" Iraqi fighters as much as anything will, if
they need "inspiration" from anything beyond the horrors of the conquest,
but that "moving into isolation" and having small and unsuccessful actions
will not be much "inspiration" at all.
(4) March vs. August
"The Militant you refer us to is dated March 24th. Bring the Troops Home
a good slogan then. Indeed, the Militant combined it with 'End the
Imperialist trampling of Iraq's sovereignty.' Yes. BTTHN if fine if you
said that as well."
"I'm just not so sure about the slogan in mid-August, as the troops are now
an invading, murderous, conquering imperialist army."
The meaning of this escapes me completely, since I don't see the army as
being any more or less invading, murderous, or conquering now than in March.
(5) Are the troops our sister and brother workers, or are they the state?
In response to Friedman, who wrote,
> Here, it takes a mass movement,
> combined with a determined indigenous resistance, embracing the soldiers
> WORKERS -- and please note the emphasis: the call to BTHN engages soldiers
> as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, resonating with sentiments
> already developing among the troops and their families -- to end an
> imperialist war. That's the concrete reality.
"But they are not whilst they are soldiers. They are the state. In
Ireland, you shoot them (or they still should be shooting them."
The question of whether the people of a conquered territory are justified in
using violence against imperialist troops (of course they do) is not the
same as the question of whether the troops are workers or not (I would say
that most of them are).
Of course the "troops" includes a lot of officers, indoctrinated fascist
elite troops, and so on, but I think it is a mistake, and a departure from
the Leninist tradition, to write off the rank-and-file troops as being "not
workers whilst they are soldiers". If soldiers are considered to have
resigned from the working class, then what becomes of the whole Bolshevik
tradition of organizing within the military? Why were there soldiers' and
sailors' deputies in the Congress of Soviets? Why did the Chinese
Communists, in the civil war, make it their policy to release the
rank-and-file soldiers of Chiang Kai-Shek? They didn't say "just shoot
them." The Vietnamese comrades were always very clear about the distinction
between the rank-and-file troops and the state, and alert for possibilities
of undermining the war effort by undercutting the US troops' will to fight,
and not just by threatening to shoot them either.
This idea that a worker who joins the army, as Harris says, because "They
are poor, unemployed ... They hope the Army will give them a life. It's sad
shit.", has nevertheless forfeited his or her place in the working class is
more of a pacifist notion than a Marxist notion. It's like the song about
"the universal soldier, and he really is to blame." I think this ignores
some facts about the militarization of society as a whole. Imperialist war
requires not only the services of a couple hundred thousand occupation
troops, but a whole social army of publicists, workers in war industries,
tax collectors, and so on, and not only that but the collaboration of the
working class as a whole in paying their taxes, collaborating with the war
government, and so on. I don't know how you draw a distinction between the
worker who has put on a uniform, and the worker in the war industry, and the
worker who politically supported the war Republicans or the war Democrats.
It is "sad shit" all around, ignorance and false consciousness. From the
point of view of the conquered nation, all of us may be equally to blame and
equally subject to being shot, or killed some other way, as we have seen.
But from the Marxist point of view, the working class doesn't cease to be
the working class by the mere fact that the bosses use some of them to
murder and pillage the rest. The rank-and-file troops are not part of a
murdering-and-pillaging class. They are not getting any of the oil or
antiquities. They are not getting rich. They are not enjoying themselves.
They are doing dangerous, low-paid work. I don't ask Iraqi fighters to feel
any sympathy for them, that's not their responsibility. Their role is to
free their country however they can. My role is to get the soldier-workers
and their families and communties to realize that they are being played for
saps. They are in a contradictory position. They are being attacked by the
resistance. In the short term, their apparent material interest seems to be
in making themselves safer by crushing the resistance with overwhelming
force up to and including genocide. Our job is to show that this isn't
really in their interest - that their interest is in getting the hell out of
there. Richard, you talk about whether BTTHN would inspire Iraqi fighters
or not, but I want to point out that if we wage a successful and visible
BTTHN campaign in the US, regardless of what it does for Iraqi fighters, it
ought to UNinspire US fighters on the ground in Iraq. Who is going to want
to risk his or her life going out on some terror raid and maybe getting shot
or blown up, at the very time that a big campaign is going on at home that
might conceivably pull them out of danger?
(6) BTTHN "vs." Victory to the Resistance
Briefly, Jim Craven wrote to counterpose "Victory to the NLF" to slogans
like "US Out", BTTHN, etc. I think that "Victory to the NLF" was a good
slogan in its time, that time being somewhere from the Tet offensive through
1971. However (a) I don't think there's a contradiction between the two;
and (b) I think there are material differences between the situation then in
Viet Nam and now with Iraq, among which are (b1) the fact that by 1968 or
1969 there was already a split in the ruling class over whether to withdraw
troops, and the "US Out" movement was a real mass movement, in distinction
from the current situation (which is to say that "Victory to the NLF" was a
natural advance for the left wing of that movement), and also (b2) the fact
that the NLF was a well-known institution with a very public face and a
clear structure and praiseworthy line, not to mention control over large
parts of the country and obvious prospects for victory, whereas the case in
Iraq right now is somewhat different.
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