[Marxism] Cowards, scoundrels and complete imbeciles

Steve Gabosch bebop101 at comcast.net
Mon Feb 16 05:31:30 MST 2004

Louis gets Malapanis wrong in his review of the Militant article from the 
February 23, 2004 issue, which deals with the SWP's position on Iraq.

Louis says:
"The article even comes dangerously close to saying that imperialist 
intervention was a good thing, allowing a representative of the CP in 
Bahrein to speak for them ..."

The article says just the opposite.  Malapanis is severely criticizing the 
CP youth group representative for advocating the position that Louis 
attributes to the SWP.  This delegate to the January meeting of the World 
Federation of Democratic Youth in Larnaca, Cyprus, whose views Malapinis 
describes, does not at all "speak" for the position of the SWP.  According 
to Malapanis, this delegate was arguing that since the imperialist 
occupation of Iraq was bringing democracy there, the occupation should be 
supported.  This is not the position of the SWP.

Malapanis explains that Stalinists and class collaborationists in general 
arrive at such positions because they "end up on the bandwagon of one or 
another imperialist power that imposes certain bourgeois democratic forms 
as part of its imperialist offensive and occupation."  Malapanis 
acknowledges that there is more space for political work now than under 
Hussein, but "class-conscious workers don’t therefore support democratic 

Louis is simply 180 degrees wrong in his interpretation.  The Militant and 
the SWP do not support imperialist occupations, and do not support the US 
occupation of Iraq today.  Malapanis is not saying that the U.S. occupation 
of Iraq is a "good thing" nor is he coming "dangerously close" to such a 

There has been some speculation on Marxmail in recent weeks that the 
Militant is no longer for unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops. Although 
many writers on Marxmail including Louis have expressed sharp disagreement 
with the political positions and analysis of the SWP on Iraq, the summary 
Malapanis provides in his article, quoted below - and perhaps a closer 
reading of the recent Malapanis article as a whole - should settle some of 
the confusion over what the SWP is really saying.

"In numerous editorials and columns over the last year, the Militant has 
called for unconditional withdrawal of U.S. and all other occupying forces 
not only from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from the Balkans, Korea, Guantánamo 
Bay, Cuba, and any other place Washington and its imperialist allies deploy 
their armies for plunder. It has urged participation in peace marches and 
other actions where such demands can be advanced, even if the main 
organizers don’t agree with such slogans. It has also explained that 
antiwar demonstrations, however large, have never stopped imperialist wars 
and will not halt them now. It has pointed out that the patriotism of the 
liberal-left that dominates today’s peace groups helps mislead workers and 
farmers into the war party’s framework of defending “America.” The Militant 
has also tried to win youth and working people, including those who march 
for peace, to the perspective of the Bolsheviks­building proletarian 
parties capable of leading the toilers to take power through a popular 
revolution, establish a workers and farmers government, overthrow 
capitalism, and join in the worldwide fight for socialism. In short, the 
Militant has promoted the road towards the dictatorship of the proletariat."

Here again are the url's Louis provides to the Malapanis article, and the 
letter to the Militant that it is a response to.
(Malapanis article): http://www.themilitant.com/2004/6807/680735.html
(letter to the Militant): http://www.themilitant.com/2004/6807/680735.html

- Steve Gabosch

Louis' post:
At 10:00 AM 2/13/04 -0500, Louis Proyect wrote:
>The Militant is the organ of a small group in the USA called the Socialist 
>Workers Party that I and a number of other Marxmail subscribers belonged 
>to, some more recently than others. I dropped out in late 1978. At one 
>time it was the largest group on the left in the USA in terms of active 
>cadre. Although it was prevented by reactionary legislation from being a 
>member party of the Fourth International, it was de facto one of the 
>largest and most influential parties. Trotsky the considered the SWP 
>leadership to be outstanding and held out hopes that the rest of the 
>Trotskyist movement could live up to its example.
>In the early 1980s the SWP began to disassociate itself from Trotskyism 
>and to consider itself part of an embryonic new international consisting 
>of the CP in Cuba, the FMLN, the FSLN, the New Jewel movement and other 
>revolutionary groups. A large part of this turn involved shedding elements 
>of Trotskyist doctrine, the theory of permanent revolution in particular. 
>What it could not shed, however, was the sectarianism of the Trotskyist 
>movement. In fact, as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s and the new century, 
>the group lost many members and influence as its sectarianism deepened. 
>Furthermore, while this turn provided an opportunity to engage with 
>broader Marxist thought, including figures like Mariategui who had an 
>enormous influence on Latin American revolutionary socialism, the opposite 
>has taken place. Not only was Trotsky's Marxism deemphasized, the entire 
>tendency of the past 20 years or so has been to accept party leader Jack 
>Barnes as the premier Marxist thinker of the epoch, an entirely unlikely 
>proposition at best.
>Since the mass movement continues to impinge on the consciousness of this 
>small group, it is forced to engage with it even as an adversary. This is 
>especially true for the antiwar movement that has emerged over the 
>invasion and occupation of Iraq, which is like an 800 pound gorilla 
>sitting on its doorstep. Since the SWP was a key player in the Vietnam 
>antiwar movement, it has to "make the record" for its current members and 
>sympathizers, who were veterans of this movement.
>While Marxmailers have very little confidence in the revolutionary 
>capacity of this small group, there has been a steady drumbeat of 
>criticism of the SWP's position on Iraq in the letters section of the 
>Militant by former members and current sympathizers. In the current issue, 
>you can read a letter by John Riddell who was a leader of the Canadian 
>section of the Fourth International in the 1960s and 70s. I am not sure 
>what happened to him in the intervening years.
>Although written in a deferential tone, Riddell (who had written a 
>complaint about SWP abstentionism before) mounts a serious challenge to 
>the Militant:
>"With respect to Iraq, the Militant has stressed the obstacles represented 
>by the military prowess of U.S. imperialism, the reactionary character of 
>the Baathist current, and the political disorientation of antiwar 
>protests. All this is true, and it makes the fight for withdrawal of 
>imperialist troops more difficult—but not impossible.
>"I hope the Militant will say more on the transitional forms through which 
>working-class solidarity with the Mideast peoples undergoing imperialist 
>occupation can be expressed."
>full: http://www.themilitant.com/2004/6807/680735.html
>Penetrating through the opaquely obsequious formulations, Riddell is 
>trying to say something like this:
>"Look, comrades, I know that the Iraqi resistance is not worth supporting 
>and that the antiwar movement is led by a bunch of disgusting 
>petty-bourgeois elements, but isn't there *something* that can be done to 
>force the USA out of the country?"
>The answer to Riddell is highly revealing, despite its patently bad faith 
>and cagey refusal to put things forward in a straightforward manner. You 
>sort of have to read between the lines, just as you would in a CP 
>newspaper during the late 1930s.
>The job of answering Riddell is given to Argiris Malapanis, whose reply 
>appears under the heading "It’s what you’re for that counts, not what 
>you’re against". Put simply, this means it is not enough to be against 
>imperialism. You have to be against capitalism as well. He says:
> >>The so-called resistance in Iraq today is dominated by remnants of the 
> Baathist regime. To the degree other forces are involved there is no 
> indication that they represent anything that’s progressive. The act of 
> throwing a bomb or firing a missile at a U.S. troop unit or helicopter in 
> Iraq today doesn’t automatically make one progressive. None of these 
> forces have announced to the world that they are for a program that’s in 
> the interests of the exploited majority—unlike the National Liberation 
> Front (NLF) in Algeria, for example, when it waged guerrilla warfare 
> against French colonialism in the 1950s and 1960s. National liberation 
> movements like the NLF have always put forward a program explaining what 
> they are for, even when they were forced to function in completely 
> clandestine conditions.<<
>and, elsewhere:
> >>Being against Saddam Hussein, or even “anti-imperialist,” however, 
> doesn’t make one progressive either. What counts is what you are for. The 
> Stalinists, like others on the “left,” often say they are for 
> “democracy,” as the CP USA so eloquently explains. Because their 
> existence is based on class collaboration, not a revolutionary 
> class-struggle orientation, they end up on the bandwagon of one or 
> another imperialist power that imposes certain bourgeois democratic forms 
> as part of its imperialist offensive and occupation. Once the fight for 
> the dictatorship of the proletariat ceases in practice to be at the 
> center of the program of a workers party, everything else follows.<<
>full: http://www.themilitant.com/2004/6807/680736.html
>Now, I am not sure to what degree this kind of politics is a function of 
>forgetting what Trotsky and other Marxists said about anti-imperialist 
>struggles or instead a conscious rejection of them. The article even comes 
>dangerously close to saying that imperialist intervention was a good 
>thing, allowing a representative of the CP in Bahrein to speak for them:
> >>These individuals were euphoric about what they described as the result 
> of U.S. imperialist intervention in the Middle East since the opening of 
> the 1990s. There are more openings, more space, for communists to 
> function openly in Bahrain today, they emphasized, comparing the current 
> conditions to 25 years ago when CPers and other opponents of the regime 
> were routinely jailed, tortured, killed, or forced into exile, and when 
> tolerance of secular organizations was virtually nonexistent.<<
>Any normal person would follow the logic of this to the conclusion and end 
>up supporting the US intervention. If US troops make it possible for Iraqi 
>"communists" to organize, why endorse the March 20th protests? More 
>specifically, why not denounce the protests as reactionary. I suppose that 
>it is easier for the SWP to write meretricious items like this and simply 
>ignore the protests altogether.
>Needless to say, this was not Trotsky's outlook at all. Trotsky always 
>took the side of a colonial country against imperialism, no matter the 
>character of the resistance. In 1937, on the occasion of an upcoming 
>convention of the Trotskyist movement in the USA, Trotsky wrote a letter 
>to Mexican artist Diego Rivera that took up the sectarian objections of a 
>faction led by Hugo Oehler. Oehler and his co-thinkers thought that 
>supporting the Kuomintang against the Japanese invasion of China was a 
>betrayal of class principles--in other words, the same position put 
>forward by the Militant today. (The entire article can be read at: 
>http://makeashorterlink.com/?U25C52567.) He writes:
> >>We do not and never have put all wars on the same plane. Marx and 
> Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great 
> Britain, of the Poles against the tsar, even though in these two 
> nationalist wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the 
> bourgeoisie and even at times of the feudal aristocracy . . . at all 
> events, Catholic reactionaries. When Abdel-Krim rose up against France, 
> the democrats and Social Democrats spoke with hate of the struggle of a 
> "savage tyrant" against the "democracy." The party of Leon Blum supported 
> this point of view. But we, Marxists and Bolsheviks, considered the 
> struggle of the Riffians against imperialist domination as a progressive 
> war.l77 Lenin wrote hundreds of pages demonstrating the primary necessity 
> of distinguishing between imperialist nations and the colonial and 
> semicolonial nations which comprise the great majority of humanity. To 
> speak of "revolutionary defeatism" in general, without distinguishing 
> between exploiter and exploited countries, is to make a miserable 
> caricature of Bolshevism and to put that caricature at the service of the 
> imperialists.
>In the Far East we have a classic example. China is a semicolonial country 
>which Japan is transforming, under our very eyes, into a colonial country. 
>Japan's struggle is imperialist and reactionary. China's struggle is 
>emancipatory and progressive.
>But Chiang Kai-shek? We need have no illusions about Chiang Kai-shek, his 
>party, or the whole ruling class of China, just as Marx and Engels had no 
>illusions about the ruling classes of Ireland and Poland. Chiang Kai-shek 
>is the executioner of the Chinese workers and peasants. But today he is 
>forced, despite himself, to struggle against Japan for the remainder of 
>the independence of China. Tomorrow he may again betray. It is possible. 
>It is probable. It is even inevitable. But today he is struggling. Only 
>cowards, scoundrels, or complete imbeciles can refuse to participate in 
>that struggle.<<
>Trotsky was right. Only cowards, scoundrels and complete imbeciles would 
>refuse to participate in such struggles.
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