Arguing against Militarism and Imperialism - reply to Tom O'Lincoln

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Thu Jul 17 09:02:22 MDT 2003

Hi Tom, one of these days I am going to have to go to Australia, and argue
this out with you :)...

I wrote:>>military policy depends on the foreign policy adopted through
political processes<<

Elaboration: War is the conduct of politics by military means, and military
policy is decided by the polity, which must allocate taxpayers funds for
this purpose; notice how the German social democrats had to actually vote
for the war credits, in August 1918, in order to get started with World War
1, and that they did so on the basis that they felt they needed to be "with
the masses". If you reject this argument, then you say that Dick Cheney is
inevitable, that he is a puppet of the military industry and a puppet of the
US armed forces, but this is not completely true. Congress had to actually
VOTE for a war budget, for a militarisation budget, and they did so in a
climate of hysteria, fear and panic whipped up about 9/11. (There was, of
course, no hysteria at all in the USA about the genocidal US foreign policy
towards Iraq, especially in the years since 1990, killing millions upon
millions of Iraqis; more Americans die in traffic accidents every year than
died in 9/11). This was a POLITICAL process. Only after that, could Dick
Cheney go on a spending spree and provide Xmas for the military industry.
Prior to 9/11, there were plans for military spending already, of course,
but not to the same extent. The events of 9/11, and a shocked, unnerved
president, provided a great business opportunity for the military bandwaggon
and others seeking to "smite the infidels". The ideology of "anti-terrorism"
was convenient in justifying a lot of policies that had already been
drafted, but even that ideology itself was not inevitable either. Behind the
political process, there are other processes going on, I would agree with
you there, and I agree that "when [militarisation] happens again and again
over 150 years or more, we should recognise there is a pattern and analyse
it, rather than denying it". In my previous post regarding a talk by Scott
Ritter was giving in New York, I mentioned already that there has never been
a genuine "pause" in the growth of the military-industrial complex since
1945, and Michael Perelman frequently talks about "Military Keynesianism" in
relation to the USA. But of course the military industry goes back much
further than that, as Rosa Luxemburg notes among others. Lenin's critique of
the Second International was among other things that imperialism is not just
a "state policy", which one can decide to have or not to have, it is a state
policy driven by the economic imperatives of the capitalist system, and that
imperialist policies are reflective of economic interests and territorial
ambitions. In other words, the division of the world into spheres of
influence by the industrialised capitalist countries necessarily generates
imperialism. I am not denying any of this, I am merely saying that the
decision to expand the military is a political decision, not an
inevitability, and you can have an effect on that, but to have that effect,
a bit of rhetoric is insufficient. If we regard that political decision as
just inevitable or a capitalist plot, then we are in no position to affect
it, in which case we can protest all we like, but it does no good other
than, perhaps, attracting more people to socialist organisations which fall
apart again when their meagre intellectual basis becomes evident.

I said that Australia spends proportionately more on arms than New Zealand
and that 'there are no "inevitable laws' determining the total amount of
military expenditure." And you agreed that indeed there aren't. My point was
slightly absurdist, I was highlighting that it is possible for living,
active people to affect the level of military expenditure, and that an
increase in military expenditure is not a cosmic inevitability. If it is a
cosmic inevitability, the peace movement might as well pack up and go home,
but since it is not a cosmic inevitability, then the peace movement should
try to fight militarisation on every level it can. The question then is how
you can do that in an effective way. Check out for example the case of Ohio,
where Yoshie lives. Or check out the campaign of the Dutch Socialist Party
against the government expenditure of 800 million euro on developing the
American Joint Strike Fighter, which we don't need, for which there is
little market demand, and which increases the possibility of terrorist
attacks in Holland (the greater the complicity of Holland in supporting
imperialist military adventures, the greater the likelihood of terrorist
attacks in Holland). We don't actually want just to spout rhetoric against
imperialism, we want the government expenditure plans dropped.

You asked: [military spending] is going up, because Australia moved toward a
more "independent"stance - and doesn't that suggest that calling for a more
independent foreign policy under capitalism is not such a hot idea?" Prima
facie, no, but really I am looking more at the political openings this
situation creates for Australian socialists, in a non-schematic way,
mmooting some ideas. Your wrote: "Australia became imperialist in the course
of the 19th Century, and has been imperialist ever since. This is a brutal,
concrete, empirical fact." I agree with that, as far as it goes, but I need
to work more on the analysis of it myself, insofar as a formally British
colony which engages in imperialist policy has its own peculiarities. You
say, "In the face of that, to say it's "not inevitable" is the mother of all
schematism". My reply is: imperialism may be inevitable, specific foreign
policies are not, and you can do something about them. You reject doing
something about them, beyond expressing your rejection of them, I do not.
The Dutch Socialist Party actually has people in parliament arguing about
these things.

You wrote: "But here is what you're getting at, and it is indeed different
to me: >>a more specific analysis of the problem may reveal that there is a
margin of options and choices where conscious intervention may be able to
cause policy changes and affect outcomes.<"Policy changes"? "Affect
outcomes?" You call this a "Leninist approach", but it is standard social
democratic stuff."

No, it is heterodox socialist stuff. According to heterodox socialism, there
are many different socialists and progressive people who are placed in
different positions in the world, and do different sorts of jobs, have
different sorts of expertise. Some are more revolutionary-minded, some are
less revolutionary-minded, some are further to the left, some are further to
the right within the socialist camp, the socialist movement has many
different batallions in that sense, and circumstances change. Some of them
are completely under cover, incognito. Within their own sphere of activity,
they are able to have an effect, large or small. Rather than condemn what
they do, on the basis that they aren't revolutionary enough or that they
haven't sworn allegiance to particular Marxist holy books, the heterodox
socialist says, "I am really interested in what you are doing, what you do
is valid, how might we be able to achieve a common objective ?". If my claim
that beefing up military spending in Australia is not inevitable but rather
a political outcome is correct, then, for a simple example, it might be
possible to get socialist or leftwing public servants to affect the policy
actually made WITHIN the state apparatus. If I bash them over the head with
a copy of Lenin's Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, I might not
get anywhere (although some might be interested in reading it) but if I gave
a cogent argument based on facts, it might get a hearing and might have
influence. Heterodox socialism is different from social democracy in
programme and method, and it rejects the policy of seeking to drive a wedge
between socialist reformists and socialist revolutionaries. Heterodox
socialism argues that modern reformism is reformism of a different type to
classical social-democratic reformism, which inspired Lenin's and
Luxemburg's critiques, and that the historical analogies made here are often
false, and lead to political errors. Heterodox socialism aims for socialist
unity based on common political practice, rather than on the basis of
monolithic ideological unity. Heterodox socialism seeks to establish a sense
of proportion about the political situation we face in the socialist
movement, as against ludicrous sectarianism and Nazi-type practices.
Finally, heterodox socialism is pluralist in rejecting the idea that there
is only one correct socialist political tactic or strategy, and suggests
that in the "information age" the political methods of the New Left may in
some respects not be so relevant anymore. This means that the political
culture of heterodox socialism is just more open-minded and comfortable,
because there is less panic about ideological correctness. In my own life, I
and my friends invented different political models, first a Marxist Study
Group, then a Revolutionary Communist Club, then a Socialist Alliance, and
then a Socialist Workers Project, and then a People's Party. I have also
been in the Dutch Socialist Workers Party and now in the Dutch Socialist
Party, and I am now in interested in this concept of heterodox socialism, it
fits with me in my situation. It helps me to engage in socialist activity
without some Hitler standing over me and saying that I am ideologically or
politically incorrect.

You wrote:

>> (1) Most Australians do have some national identification, I do not
meanjust passports, I mean an affinity or love for their country,
patriotismand the lifestyle it offers<<
Err, you're forgetting racism. On this see also below.


I am not forgetting racism, I mentioned it in my post, and in fact last
night, I went to see the movie Rabbit Proof Fence. According to my logic, it
is possible to have a genuine and legitimate love of your country, and be
anti-racist through-and-through at the same time. And I am anti-racist, as I
have encountered a lot of prejudice personally since my days at high school
in New Zealand, I resent it. This perspective of mine perhaps does not fit
with stale leftwing rhetoric, but it does affect the ways in which you might
go and put forward the socialist case.

You wrote:

As a matter of fact, the Australian ruling class had a lot of trouble
constructing Australian nationalism. A big part of their solution was
racism. You continually ABSTRACT from such facts.

I reply:

No, I do not abstract from it, I am searching for better abstractions.
"Constructing Australian nationalism" in a country with a large immigrant
population means that the ruling class is constantly searching for new
themes (and these days they do that with the latest media and marketing
techniques). That is something you can intervene in, because that
ideological hegemony is not monolithic. But if you do not appreciate the
genuine love many Australians have for Australia, you aren't in a good
position to do it. New Zealand also does not have a strong nationalist
ideology, it has a large immigrant population and a large amount of foreign
investment, but if you were to claim that New Zealanders do not have any
national feeling or national culture at all, you would be dead wrong. As for
myself, I am presently accommodating a homeless immigrant worker from
Morocco in my apartment, and that is part of a protest against the policies
of the Dutch Government. I take these things personally.

I said:

>>Dialectically speaking, you may be able to mobilise nationalfeeling
AGAINST militarism, AGAINST imperialist adventures, AGAINST bombastic
military sabre-rattling.<<

You reply:

Yes of course. This is just what much of the anti-war movement did. The
trouble is that it means legitimising alternative forms of imperialism, and
is therefore ultimately self-defeating. I'm for working in the space it
opens up, while warning against the dangers.

My response:

That's great. I am just referring to the specific ways in which an anti-war,
anti-militarist stance might be transformed into an anti-imperialist and
socialist stance, what the mediating links in this are, how I should frame
the real contradictions. I reject the idea that having a love for your
country automatically legitimises "alternative forms of imperialism" that is
all. There are plenty American socialists, for example, who are proud of
American culture. You would morally condemn them, a heterodox socialist
however says, okay, let's see how specifically we can utilise that fact to
help the socialist movement grow.

I wrote:

>>you can actually use and appeal to the positive sides of
Australiannational culture, the "better side of Australians",

You replied:

More abstraction. Let's get specific. Left activists here do indeed say it's
"Un-Australian" to lock up refugees. The trouble is, it's not un-Australian
at all - all the history proves otherwise. And to build the refugee movement
on a healthy basis, we have to start with the historical truth.

I answer:

If Left activists here do indeed say it's "Un-Australian" to lock up
refugees, and this evokes a popular response, that may be a powerful
argument against locking up refugees, and a heterodox socialist would
support that. You are correct, in the past the Australian authorities did
lock up refugees, but at the same time, there were also Australians opposing
those policies. You could see that even in the movie Rabbit Proof Fence,
where the aboriginal youngsters got different responses from different white
settlers, it wasn't all one monolithic racist plot of all Australians
against aboriginals. If you ignore that fact, you may only make people feel
guilty or ashamed, rather than suggest that alternatives are possible.
Generally, my experience is that people do not want you to make them feel
bad, they are prepared to acknowledge mistakes, but they seek for
constructive alternatives, they want to be accepted as human beings, even
although mistakes were made and are made. Anti-racist agitation these days
can often have the opposite effect to what is intended, because the
criticism is of a wrong type.

You wrote:

As for your précis of the Lenin-Luxemburg debate, you miss the whole point.
Lenin was for the RIGHT of self-determination, but AGAINST NATIONALISM. And
especially so in imperialist countries. This is real dialectics.

I reply:

This is a kind of formal subtlety, a bit of wordplay, the dialectic goes
deeper I think. Ummmph, do I have to go into this again ???  Lenin was in
fact for the RIGHT of NATIONAL self-determination, and on that basis he
supported the NATIONALISM OF THE OPPRESSED against the Czarist imperial
state, and he explicitly says so. You just conveniently leave out that word
"National" to help your case. That is why he got into this argument with
Luxemburg in the first place, because Luxemburg rejected this tactic and the
principled basis on which Lenin sought to advance it. Lenin does not say,
nationalism or no nationalism, he says what specifically is the class basis
and historical basis of this nationalism ? Where others see a unity, he
perceives a contradiction, and where others perceive a contradiction, he
perceives a unity. This problem also exists in New Zealand, where you have
various strands of Maori nationalism. The schematist will argue in terms of
"Maori nationalism or no Maori nationalism", but the more perceptive
heterodox socialist will ask "what really is the class and tribal basis of
these Maori nationalisms", what class forces and tribal forces are operating
here, who specifically is arguing for this and what are they doing ? What is
the objective meaning of this, in the specific situation ? And some Maori
nationalisms have a revolutionary, radical, proletarian impulse, others are
a middle-class opportunism where moral capital is being made out of the
struggles of poor Maori, in order to advance business interests which pit
Maori against other Maori. The heterodox socialist is therefore quite happy
to support some Maori nationalisms in practice, but reject other strands of
it, in order to advance socialist consciousness. The schematist on the other
hand has all the answers already in advance, based on axioms derived from
Lenin and Marx and other dead people.



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