[Marxism] "Armed Struggle" vs Leninist Party building: a false debate

David Walters dwalters at igc.org
Thu Jun 24 17:09:19 MDT 2004

Many of us on this list come from the very anti-"Armed Struggle as a 
Strategy" wing of the SWP-US. Again, despite Dave Murray's pleas to the 
contrary, no party carried on a more systematic polemic against 
guerrilla warfare than the SWP, none, zip, nada. It dominated the 
internal, and often external politics of the SWP for a good 7 years 
straight (1969 to 1976).

The debate between Dave and Phil is a false one, as they seem to be 
engaged in tit-for-tat polemics in a very narrow political range. The 
problem is that neither really is listening to the other, or taking in 
the bigger picture. Plus they are not even in the same 'universe' in 
terms of goals. Here is how I look at it:

1. Ireland. First, the armed struggle waged by the Provo IRA was 
clearly defensive at lest it started out that way. This why Grant/Woods 
views are so skewed. The first few yearx of actual armed 
struggle...guns as opposed to bombs, was to defend the *nationalist* 
community against attacks by the oppressor *loyalist* community and 
British occupying power. And it started from the point of view that 
Ireland is *occupied*. The Militant tendency has always been in denial 
about this. That's why Socialist Party (Labor Militant) MD Higgins who 
I heard speak at the US Labor Party founding convention talked for a 
hour about his groups campaigns in Ireland and never once mentioned the 
British occupation of Ireland specifically or British imperialism in 
general. Clearly they want the national struggle to go away, so they 
can talk about 'socialism' and 'working class unity' [Lenin would turn 
over in his grave at this one]. So, the goals of what Phil talks about 
and that of Dave are simply apples and oranges... it's not as if they 
are talking about the same thing, they are not, and their private 
polemic is thoroughly circular.

I think the problem is that the IRA developed a correct defensive armed 
struggle of the nationalist community and turned it into a method to 
drive the British out of Ireland. I think this was a mistake as it 
subordinated, at least it seems to me, the need to organize the 
nationalist community itself against the British occupation. In this 
sense, the "Leninist" perspective of NOT turning armed struggle into an 
overall strategy is true. It is incorrect as many pointed out that no 
one in the pantheon of Marxism ever opposed the TACTIC of armed 
struggle...never. The question is what are the political and military 
conditions in which the tactic is being implemented. It *seems* that at 
no point does Dave ever concede that it might be appropriate to take up 
guns, even defensively...

2. The US SWP got into a problem it was accusing those in the Fourth 
International of doing at least methodologically, and this saw it's 
height in the Fausto Armador polemic against the FSLN in 1978 or 1979: 
that "not supporting armed struggle strategy" was as much an inflexible 
non-Marxist concept as the "Strategy of Guerrilla Warfare"....that 
groups like the FLSN and later the FMLN developed into 
"politcial-military organizations", that saw the development of this in 
El Salvador as the height of this highly flexible form of organization, 
and totally congruent with everything "Marxist-Leninist". We could have 
a great discussion about this in another thread, I'm sure.

The SWP believed, incorrectly, that because a group had initiated a 
struggle in the hills away from the proletarian centers like Managua 
(and I use "proletarian" in a very flexible way) that it was 
"impossible for them to come to power". They were wrong, we were wrong. 
We were wrong because we didn't examine the conditions that the FSLN 
was functioning in, nor the actual evolution of the FSLN's strategy of 
organizing across the board, in the cities, in unions, and especially 
in the working class and poor communities, etc. In my view, they took 
what was clearly an incorrect strategy of Che (he didn't even speak the 
language of the peasants he was trying to lead) and the Cubans in the 
mid-60s, learned the lessons, and applied a broader political 
organizing strategy, which armed struggle was but one (albeit the most 
important) aspect of. The SWP got major mud on their faces on this one.

3. For any discussion like this to bear fruit, people like Phil (who 
I'm probably closer to analytically than Dave) we have to set the 
discussion parameters or what exactly we are talking about. If it's a 
question of Leninist party building vs. guerrilla warefare, fine, so 
long as we understand the history, first, of communist points of view 
on this (Marx/Lenin/Trotsky/whomever, the Comintern's views, etc.). 
Then we have to really see what it is we are all fighting for, which I 
don't think we agree on (Militant's views on the national question vs 
Phil's...if they oppose the goals, why are we talking about strategy 
and tactics????).

David Walters

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