"Support the troops"? Why the words matter.
robinmaisel at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 18 21:44:36 MDT 2003
I, too, disagree with Jose. But there are two points which come up
out of Fred's message (below) which I think could use some clarification.
First is the difference between a "slogan" and a "demand." A demand
is made against our enemy, the US Ruling Class and their acolytes,
embodied in the government(s) who use state power to prosecute not only
this war (or wars if you count up all the various places imperialists
are attacking directly by force of arms). A slogan is quite different.
A slogan is something of the nature of "part of the way with LBJ" or
"Better Red than Dead" (and "Better Dead than Red" on the other side of
the coin). I look at this difference with some alarm about the
consequences of confusing them. Popularizing a demand with the use of a
slogan, such as "Out Now" as a shorthand way of saying "Bring All the
Troops Home Now" has great merit. But adding "Support Our Troops"
crosses a border best crossed. It is a patriotic slogan which embodies
everything bad about patriotism in an imperialist country. As I said in
a previous posting on this, they are not "our" troops. They are in an
imperialist army, owned and operated by our class enemy. That army is
carrying our the political and economic strategic aims of the ruling
class at home and abroad. At home, so far, the protectors of private
property in the means of production are the cops. The protectors of
imperialist ownership of the means of production in other countries is
carried out by the armed forces. As conditions of the world economy
deteriorate and crises are multiplied, the use of the armed forces "at
home" moves up the agenda of the ruling class in both imperialist
countries and in the semi colonial world.
The second problem I have with Jose, which Fred's very good response
to Jose highlights, is the under estimation of the class
collaborationist "radicals." As the 2004 elections approach, the
concept of "lesser evilism" moves onto the agenda of "the left" (not to
mention its consequences for the entire working class). Patriotism and
bending to it becomes more and more of a problem for those who call
themselves communists or socialists. That is exactly the time when
"slogans" get turned into apologies for class collaboration. What
should you say to your fellow worker when he/she asks "Who are you going
to vote for and why?"
Are you going to say "I am voting for a lesser capitalist evil even
though I am opposed to everything he stands for" (whether Green Blue or
Red to use the delightfully colored maps on the news and election eve
programing). Do you really believe that voting for a Democrat or
Republican capitalist party or a "third" party or "fourth" party which
rests upon class collaborationist programs is a step forward. I think a
little truth telling will be of more value. You cannot construct a
party (or if you please, a cadre) capable of leading our class in
battles against the enemy class (from a picket line and a strike,
turning the unions into fighting tools of our class, to a decisive
battle for state power) by "hedging" the truth, a "little white lie",
especially if you are at the sad starting point our class finds itself
The fact that the vast majority of workers in the country do not
have trade union consciousness doesn't mean you change your program to
reach them. That is letting the slogan over rule the demand. [For
those who were not politically active back in the bad old days, the
slogan of "Part of the Way with LBJ" was raised by SDS to cover over the
fact that they wanted to vote for Johnson as a "lesser evil"" to Barry
Goldwater. They did not notice that votes are counted as discrete units
which are not divisible - 2/3 vote for Johnson, 3/4 vote for Clinton,
7/8 vote for Carter. And that problem gets worse as time goes on. 2/3
vote for capitalism is a vote for capitalism. 2/3 vote for socialism is
a 0 vote for socialism. Brecht was correct in the poem 'All of Us or
Communists can make temporary alliances with almost anyone in
battles against a common enemy -- but only if you stick to the communist
program and do not bend to bourgeoisie or petty bourgeois prejudices
(like sloganeering "support our troops" when you in fact mean we demand
"Out Now") During the Vietnam war we learned and relearned that lesson
through a decade of fights and experience. No matter what the slogans,
the key issue was whether you support the concept that this capitalist
government has a right to "negotiate" anything. It has no such
"right!" Does that mean that the majority or even a really big number
of let us say 500,000 demonstrators who said "Out Now" were communists?
Of course not. But it did mean that a large number of people began to
see that you could not "convince" the ruling class not to go to war.
Unfortunately at this moment there are some who believe that the antiwar
demonstrations could prevent the Iraq war or any of the other wars of
imperialism. That is, unfortunately, a step back. And no slogan can
Fred Feldman wrote:
>I disagree with Jose basically.
>But first I want to clarify something. I left the impression, unlike
>in my first comment on this a week or so ago, that I was
>unconditionally opposed at all times and places to anyone saying
>"support the troops, bring them home now" in any context. I have no
>problem with a lot of what Stan Goff said as a practical agitator
>trying to reach a certain group of people at certain times. The
>response he got from Stars and Stripes indicates that the positive
>class message is beginning to get across.
>During the Vietnam war, I said a lot of things to people in an effort
>to get across my point that I would have completely opposed making a
>slogan of the movement, or even putting on a banner. Anyway, if an
>agitator goes off this way or that, it's usually not hard to
>straighten it out or at least make known an alternate view with a
>modest and civil discussion in meetings or on lists such as this one.
>What I am opposed to is "support the troops" as one of the overarching
>slogans of the movement. I am opposed to presenting Bring the Troops
>Home Now as primarily a measure to defend "our troops" (and by the
>way, are only the US troops "our troops"? what about the Iraqi
>fighters?) , rather than primarily as a slogan for the immediate,
>unconditional end of the US aggression against the people of Iraq.
>Within that framework, I am for reaching out to the troops and saying
>whatever can honestly be said to help them understand that we do not
>view them as our enemies, but also as victims of and potential
>fighters against the imperialist war.
>I am also for facing reality. Right now, the troops in general are
>not on our side. They belong overwhelmingly to the oppressed and
>exploited, we have common interests with the great bulk of them. But
>while they are unhappy and in a process of thinking and exchanging
>views and moving in our direction, they are not fighting against the
>war. They are fighting the war against the people of Iraq, as their
>commanders demand, with the brutality that requires.
>It is clear that many are learning from this ugly educational
>experience, but we shouldn't delude ourselves about what is happening
>at the moment. I am not for moralistic denunciation, and I expect to
>be fighting against the war alongside GIs who are participating in
>some very grim things today.
>Turning to the troops is a valuable idea, but antiwar sentiment among
>the troops or "support the troops" slogans are not a magic bullet for
>solving the problems of building a mass antiwar fight in this country,
>or a mantra that will turn the confused and substantially demobilized,
>though actually quite large, antiwar forces in the country today into
>a vibrant mass movement. We should not have the illusion that there
>is no mass movement today because we forgot to say, "Support the
>Of course most working people and rank and file GIs and so forth
>aren't going to be aware of the strategic issues that are involved in
>the wording of slogans when they become involved in the fight. (The
>debate over "Bring the Troops Home Now" versus negotiations was a
>strategic debate, and I tend to think, in a different way, that this
>is a strategic debate, too.)
>As they become leaders, I think they will be more concerned about such
>things. As that changes -- as rank and file soldiers become more and
>more part of the fight -- I tend to thing the meaning of "supporting
>the troops" will tend to change, as it did during the Vietnam war, or
>for that matter during the Russian revolution. But I think we should
>leave how we will formulate our central slogans at that time to that
>I don't think that the main danger of bending to patriotism is among
>the soldiers who are beginning to debate and beginning to objectively
>challenge the patriotism of the scoundrels or among the workers who
>marched on February 15 or among the students participating in their
>first fight. In my opinion the danger of giving ground on the war
>issue to patriotic or imperialist or liberal dovish prowar sentiment
>is greatest precisely on the left and in the broad and varied
>leadership of the movement -- and I am not referring to just one "bad"
>current or group of "bad" currents here but to broad problems that
>exist across the leadership of the movement today. I also think the
>strategic debate over these issues is winnable (although the elections
>will undoubtedly be a big obstacle).
>It matters what "the" left thinks because, with all the left's
>problems, virtually the entire movement in all its sectors is led by
>one or another sector of "the" left.
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