After the American Century, us! The new world perspective of the SWP
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Nov 9 08:41:33 MST 2003
I am submitting this item to express my response to the presentation
of the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz analysis of Iraq as the position of
revolutionary Marxism in the pages of the current Militant. I am
keeping the form of a letter to Jose Perez -- a response to a request
for information from him about the SWP's stance on the character of
the former Soviet Union and Eastern European states.
Although the article polemicizes against Jose's attribution of the
reactionary positions in these articles to "adaptation" to the US
working class, subsequent correspondence has shown that we have a
significant area of agreement on this, whatever issues may still be up
Yes, indeed, the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern
Europe are still workers' states in the Militant, if nowhere else,
which were strengthened if anything by the events of
As you may know, my own view today is that the workers states as an
expression of a social relation of workers dominance economically,
ceased to exist during the Brezhnev years, when the society seems at a
certain point to have gone into free fall.
The overturns of 1989-1991 both had the effect of registering the
changed situation, conquering some political space for ALL classes in
the new situation, and breaking the Stalinist formations and the
The social catastrophe that began to take shape in the later Brezhnev
years accelerated. This represented a gain overall for imperialism,
but not a CONQUEST by imperialism.
I have a much more mixed view of the current balance of forces than
either the SWP or many others who think that 1989-91 put US
imperialism in full command of the situation.
I think the description of Iraq as a Vietnam is very premature, and
the argument of the Militant is accurate as far as it goes on this. In
Iraq, people are beginning to fight to reconquer the degree of
sovereignty and independence THEY HAD WON IN THE PAST. That struggle
must inevitably pose the question of extending that very limited
independence of imperialism. But the battle, as it is today --
different from Vietnam, or from Bolivia and Venezuela today where
broader and deeper challenges to imperialist domination are being
posed -- is nonetheless a very important battle for the working people
of the world today, win, lose or draw.
Can imperialism reverse some of the fundamental gains of the colonial
revolution today? That is being fought against by the the fighters for
Iraqi sovereignty, Baathist or not.
But how does the fact that Iraq is not a "Vietnam" invalidate support
to all manifestations of popular resistance? How does that prove that
the resistance is merely "remnants" of the Saddam Hussein regime? And
why should we be indifferent to the outcome of a conflict between
supposed "remnants" of Saddam's regime and US imperialism?
Clearly, contrary to Barnes' assumptions, avoidance of the mantric
forumulation "out troops" or indifference to the caduslties among US
troops (for which imperialism is ultimately responsible) is no
guarantee of a revolutionary defeatist or internationalist position.
After all, Rumsfeld is clearly even more indifferent than Barnes to US
casualties, but that doesn't make him more internationalist than
Barnes. He may not be much LESS internationalist at this point, but he
certainly isn't more.
Notice how Barnes uses the exaggeration of the current strength of the
resistance to justify his own even wilder exaggeration of the
invincible power of imperialism unless confronted by "revolutionary"
organizations -- this is the two-positions theory that Barnes has
always used as part of intimidating the ranks who, remember, are
largely barred from discussing their political views among
themselves. You either think that Iraq is now another Vietnam (the
"petty-bourgeois"position")) -- or you accept the Barnes-Rumsfeld view
that the resistance is mere Saddamist remnants and therefor deserving
of no solidarity from fighters in the United States (the "proletarian"
position -- I kid you not!). Hence you abstain on Prop 54 (the
"proletarian" position) -- or you agree that all the gains of the
civil rights struggle will be reversed by its passage (the
"petty-bourgeois" position).. And so it goes.
Actually I had been largely prepared for this rightist outbreak by the
previous week's issue that hailed Washington's "best month" in the war
so far. (The Militant has acknowledged no bad months.)
What shocked me most was the description of the straight up occupation
of Iraq as a "soft" protectorate -- a situation where the government
is directly appointed by Washington and formally subject to the
occupation authorities, and where US forces roam the country, killing
at will and being killed in return. It is possible that Barnes
believes a somewhat "harder" protectorate may be needed to block any
return to power by the supposedly Saddamist "remnants" -- a goal to
which the editorial commits the party under the conditions of the
The SWP position is that the workers states still existn in the Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe. Of course a group of workers states does
still exist, and quite an important one, encompassing China,
Vietnam-Laos, N. Korea, and, above all Cuba. The US lost the cold
war, the SWP argues, the US working class fought its way to and
maintained its place at center stage (nobly refusing, I might add, to
take any unfair advantage of this position to advance its own material
interests). The end result of all this victory is just what you would
An irresistible drive toward unchallenged world domination by
This can only be opposed by "revolutionary organizations",
i.e.,"communist" leagues, i.e., SWP-type organizations, which
currently stand at "rock bottom." (Barnes's words -- and also remember
the statement about Marxist culture being limited on a world scale to
the SWP and its associated "communist leagues" -- a statement that
consciously wrote off the Cubans as a Marxist leadership). Imperialism
can only be contained, let alone defeated, only when vanguard Iraqi
workers and farmers begin reading the English-language Militant cover
And until such organizations exist, it is unnecessary -- really a
waste of time, since nothing can come of it since the US supremacy is
the verdict of history -- for the SWP to stand with the oppressed
against the oppressors.
Also note that while US workers have successfully fought to remain at
center stage, Iraqi workers have no such mighty achievements to their
credit, despite the growth of workers struggles against the occupiers'
exploitation and plunder.
This is a truly bizarre assessment of the world, exaggerating vastly
both our victories in the past and our apparently resulting
helplessness in the present.
I disagree with your assessment that the politics of the SWP reflects
and comes from the politics of the US working class. The US working
class has enough problems without being held responsible for the
politics of Jack Barnes.
His rightist twitches are a becoming more systematized. But how
different is his case, at bottom, from those of David Horowitz, Todd
Gitlin, Jared Israel, and the like. All are intellectuals who, under
the impact of the capitalist offensive at home and the imperialist
offesnive abroad, have been attracted by the arguments of the right.
This process can be traced back to the beginning of the era when
Barnes had eliminated all challenges in the leadership and suppressed
the right of organized opposition in the ranks, establishing a rigid
bureaucratic leadership structure basically submissive to his will and
whim. In my opinion Jack Barnes carried this out for basically
ideological reasons, convinced that this was the nature of a real
revolutionary organization, and that anything else, including the SWP
as it had existed since 1938, was centrist or even reformist by
comparison. He insisted, consistently and I believe sincerely, that
the organization question was always the central question facing the
As often happens in small organizations, a material basis has grown up
around this apparatus -- since last year,at least, a multi-million
dollar one. Today, the SWP not only manages a small group of worker
members, but a much larger block of labor-absorbing capital. I guess
it is an irony of history of sorts that the exchange value of the
party's property soared as the use value of the party politically
In US society today, after 25 years of the "turn," the SWP counts for
more as capital than as labor. It is vastly more successful as a
business than as a workers party -- a fact that an intelligent fellow
like Barnes can't help thinking about when he thinks about the
prospects of revolutionary politics in our time.
I want to stress that the political impact of being legal and
practical owners of a significant block of capital does not depend on
individual corruption, or vast expenses on personal needs. I find the
claims about opera tickets and occassional dinners at posh restaurants
very unimpressive -- I spend as much or more on similar pleasures from
time to time, and I generally have less money than party subsistence
used to be. My impression is that the party leadership has modest
personal needs and standards -- that was always true in the past and
noone has ever proved different.
But a miser who owns a significant block of capital is still a
capitalist even if they never spend a penny on their personal needs.
The social relation is not a product of personal consumption but
ownership of capital.
While I believe that Barnes' rightist position has other roots, it may
not be entirely accidental that the article is almost entirely written
from the standpoint of capitalists who recognize the necessity of the
basic Bush course from the standpoint of their economic interests.
(I also think the war party or war parties is still "on the rise," as
the Militant claims, in the US at this point -- and that this will
continue even if Bush is not re-elected although I think it makes his
re-election probable AT THIS POINT. (Not having been anointed, I am
trying to avoid prophecy these days).
The other source of Jack's power is the relative passivity of the
working class that presents no obstacle or resistance to Jack's
evolution, which is tending to the right of any section of the class
that I have ever had direct contact with. I found being in the working
class a relief from the party politically -- I found the workers from
all layers more tolerant and all-around more human than the atmosphere
in the party which I now realize was very, very reactionary
politically, and very, very sick emotionally.
I have come under pressure -- and I think I have resisted it to the
best of my ability -- in the working class to adapt to moderate or
liberal or pacifist views, but never the kind of hard-right
ideological argumentation put forward by the Militant today. I am not
saying advocates of such views were completely absent -- NOTHING is
totally absent from the working class today -- but they were quiet and
exerted little real pressure on the likes of myself.
I have wanted to write for weeks about the drift of the coverage on
Iraq, but it is better that I I waited for Jack's enthusiastic
adoption of Rumsfeld's outlook as his own.
Think about five rightist watersheds since my expulsion in 1999; the
opposition to the removal by the INS from the captors assigned by the
INS to hold him;electionthe pro-Bush claim that Gore, not Bush, was
stealing the 2000; (3) Prop 54; (4) opposition to the prewar antiwar
protests; and (5) the current hailing -- that's what it is -- of Bush
staying the course in Iraq.
Of these only no. 3 had any strong base in the working class that I
know of (and this required its presentation as an "antiracist"
color-blind proposal). None of them originated in any way from
experiences on the job. I am dead certain from long experience that
all of these responses attempted to turn around the spontaneous
response of the fractions on the job.
Jack has never worked in industry, or even participated in a plant
gate sale as far as I know. He is not "in" the turn. He administers
and controls it from the outside, like a parody of the intellectuals
in the misunderstood or open-to-misinterpretation passages from
Lenin's wonderful "What Is To Be Done?," and combats the spontaneous
tendency of the ranks to respond -- "adapt" -- to things like war
protests, the Mumia case, the fight for Elian, etc
Remember that the Cubans were genuinely inspired -- and to some extent
pleasantly surprised --by the response of the US masses around Elian.
The rightist opposition to returning Elian was not strongly based in
the industrial working class, as the talk about a "Buchananite wing"
of the working class suggested.
I know for sure that the spontaneous response of all layers of the
class that I work with was (1) Elian should go home to his real family
(including many anti-Castro Cubans, aside from the far-rightists) (2)
Bush was stealing the election; and (4-5) growing worry about the
prospect of invading Iraq and about the casualties and growing doubts
that the war was ever justified.
In the working class, the Vietnam syndrome still exists, but Barnes
declares it over. The working class that goes to war is bitter,
unhappy, and filled with personal, moral and political doubts, but
Barnes declares the new army to be united, highly motivated, and
essentially invincible. (The Militant has even compared the
supposedly new Rumsfeldized US military, from the standpoint of combat
capacity and motivation, to the Cuban military.)
I would summarize the new Barnes line on all these questions as
basically: AFTER the American century, US!
None of this comes directly from the class as you suggest. It comes
directly from the right-wing forces who have been influencing Barnes
for years -- Commentary magazine, Buchanan, Wolfowitz, National
Review and the like are respected political authorities in his eyes.
Back in the days when the leadership -- clearly reflecting the silent
Barnes -- was attempting to rally the party to the idea that gays
SHOULD be banned from the US military and that a proletarian army
would have to follow this example, I actually subscribed to National
Review for a year in order to keep tabs on what Jack was thinking. It
actually helped, too, but I had to drop it for financial reasons.
Back in 1996 I gave a talk to a district meeting in New York. The
meeting was organizerd by the Political Committee in order to crush
"adaptation" on Mumia -- a number of branches were guilty of joining
coalitions and so forth. Among other things I made the points that --
I remember this literally -- "Antiliberalism is not the same thing as
anticapitalism, although anti-capitalists are opposed to liberalism.
Independence from the liberals is not the same thing as class
independence. An antiliberal axis is not the same thing as a
proletarian revolutionary axis."
This talk was as close as I ever came to presenting a clear general
counterpolitical line to Barnes'. After that failure, I got depressed
and retreated rather than going forward on that line. But its
interesting that even back then, that was the axis of my argument.
What I would cautiously call to myself Barnes' "right-wing twitches"
were always very troubling to me from the time he began his retreat on
the national and colonial question.
This began openly in 1985 not around the Black question, but with
adaptation to Farrakhan and the proclamation (later dropped, when the
position on Jews became embarrassing and the attack on Black
nationalism opened) that "Blacks and Jews have no common interests."
because of the extreme difference in their class composition.
Formally, this was a workerist error although potentially much more
rightist than that with its suggestion of a possible specific class
struggle by the working class Blacks against the Jews.
Frankly, I found the working class -- I was always in the poorer
sectors bui I am referring to all sectors, warts and all, in my
experience -- a real refuge and a source of encouragement and
confidence about the future in the face of the growing
reactionary-sectarian atmosphere in the party. I found them vastly
less politically prejudiced, open mindked, solidaristic in their human
instincts, and all-around human beings in contrast to the
reactionary-sectarian atmosphere in the party.
I found not only racial divisions at a lower (but not at all
nonexistent) level than in the past, but in the last few years I began
to see acceptance of openly gay workers as a part of the workforce --
not without a touch or irony, but without the persecutions or terror
that I remember some comrades understandably fearing when they
confronted the prospect of joining the turn.
All I can say is that I have worked in industry for about 14 years. I
have come under pressure to adopt liberal, moderate or pacifist views
and have resisted to the best of mjy ability. But I never felt ANY
pressure to adopt the kind of rightist views that the SWP now advances
on the Iraq war.
The hard truth is that we will not really understand the workiing
class that is taking shape in the United States, the real divisions in
it and the real attitudes that have developed and so forth, until it
is divided and united in struggle again. This is being prepared
today, including by those swimming or crawling across the Rio Grande.
Keep in mind Barnes' warning that everybody must "internalize" his
views on this question in order to remain on a revolutionary course.
This means that "homogeneity" is to be extorted from the ranks by the
usual pressure-threats-cult/dependency methods. I do not think we
should rule out opposition or a purge by the party's owner and
operator. The fact that, as you noted in passing, the Militant
currently seems to have a different line an approach when it writes
about Venezuela and Iraq (both sectarian but one DEFINITELY the lesser
evil) may not be an accident or simply a problem of editorial
The reason I didn't hit the typewriter immediately when this watershed
stuff came out on Iraq is that I am still dealing with the flooding
and ruin of my apartment, living with others and working on getting
back in. Unlike Walter Lippmann, who continues to put out the
indispensable CubaNews list despite the obstacles, I have a working
computer but not in a place that is working
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