[Marxism] Oppen letter to Riddel on Iraq
Ernie & Jess
mackenzie.tate at sympatico.ca
Tue Mar 9 10:43:53 MST 2004
Subscribers to the Marxism list, will have no doubt seen Argiris
Malapanis' "reply" to John Riddel in the February 23, 2004, issue of the
Militant.(http://www.themilitant.com/2004/6807/6807cols.shtml) Below is
an open letter I have sent John Riddel about the discussion. I hope
folks find this post of interest.
Saturday, March 6, 2004
"The stance they have adopted is very similar to that adopted by Gerry
Healy during the rise of the anti-Vietnam war movement in Britain.": an
open letter to John Ridde.
I've had a chance to look at your February 23rd., letter to
the Militant and Argiris Malapanis' reply. I think you have put your
finger on some important problems with the SWP's line on the struggle
against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Malapanis' "reply" is extremely weak and really avoids the question
you posed: how best to oppose the imperialist occupation? You ask a very
simple question: how should we express solidarity with the Iraqi people;
and instead of staying on topic, he takes a blunderbuss and shoots at
everything that moves.
Despite what Malapanis says, in the long build-up to the war, there
is no evidence whatsoever that the SWP has made a special effort to
build opposition. (Editorials in the Militant denouncing the U.S.
government don't quite cut it). The SWP has not participated in the
anti-war coalitions nor has it mobilized support for the anti-war
protests. Sometimes it barely reports on the actions. You don't have to
go very far to find evidence of this -- look at the Militant's awful
coverage of the mass mobilization in Britain against Bush and the war,
with the Militant painting it as some kind of "patriotic" outpouring.
This is also true of the Communist League here. They mainly see the
demonstrations as opportunities to sell literature; from what I see,
they don't participate by giving leadership in any way to help make the
mobilizations a success. And they don't explain why. By making the
political mistake of not fully participating in the anti-war movement --
such as it is in real life and not as we would like to be -- the SWP and
its supporters, when the historical balance sheet is made of this, will
bear some responsibility for the failures, if there are any. The sins
of omission are the same as the sins of commission, as far as I'm concerned.
For example, Jess and I have been participating in the mobilization
committee here in Toronto, the Stop the War Coalition, preparing for the
March 20th demo (around forty people show up at the planning meetings,
with the International Socialists playing a leading role) and there has
been nary a sign of CL people. Despite what Malapanis says, those
influenced by the Militant have been quite happy to sit on the
sidelines, while making sniping criticisms of the activities.
The SWP-influenced forces are making a classic sectarian mistake of
counterposing their tiny organizations to the mass movement, "promoting
the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat", as they say. Nothing
much "transitional" about that! The solution to everything becomes "the
perspective of Bolshevikbuilding proletarian parties". I would expect
this from the Spartacists -- who condemn the leaders of the anti-war
movement in Toronto for not being "anti-imperialist" -- but not from the
SWP. They are truly on a dangerous course. Everything they have ever
understood about the "united front" tactic, seems to have been forgotten.
The stance they have adopted is very similar to that adopted by
Gerry Healy during the rise of the anti-Vietnam war movement in Britain.
I can almost pin-point the time and place when Healy took the fateful
steps which led him to counterpose his organization to some of the
largest anti-war mobilizations in Britain at that time. At first, he had
difficulty dealing with the emerging anti-war movement, then he edged
closer to it, but because of his factional hostility to the
International Marxist Group and I.S., his people stormed out of a major
conference which had rejected Healy's programmatic ultimatum to it.
After that, his paper was full of articles attacking the
"petit-bourgoisie" who were planning the protests and how this was no
substitute for "building the revolutionary party", and how only the
working class could end the war. (Sound familiar?) Healy was even so
sectarian that on the day when well over 100,000 were on the streets of
London on October, 1968, he distributed a leaflet to the marchers,
denouncing the march as a petty bourgeois adventure. In my opinion, this
was the beginning of the end for the SLL -- from then on they became
more and more isolated and more and more comfortable in their
sectarianism. Of course, the situation today is not identical to then,
but the SWP's methodology is similar: the big task as they see it is
to show how different and superior they are to everyone else.
The SWP can make all the criticisms it wishes of the existing
anti-war movement -- its "middle class leadership", etc., but having
opened up the attack, it is now incumbent on the SWP to show us how much
more effective its line is and and how its supporters are more effective
in building opposition to the war than the existing leadership of the
movement. I think the question answers itself. There is no sign
anywhere that the SWP has even for a moment considered the building of
mass opposition to the invasion of Iraq as a central political and
strategic task, such as was done years ago on the issue of the Vietnam
war. You'll remember we set ourselves this task long before the mass
opposition developed against that war. Then, the SWP was prepared to
work alongside anyone who was prepared to go out onto the streets
against the war, to prove itself in life, and not only in words, to be
the best opponents of U.S. policy on Vietnam. And the obstacles to
doing that then were much greater than now.
Today, lecturing anti-war activists about how "anti-war
demonstrations, however large, have never stopped imperialist wars and
will not halt them now.", totally misses the point, (You could say that
about all immediate demands) and is nothing but another way of saying,
"only the socialist revolution can solve the problem." What is
transitional about that? I question the assertion, however. It's those
kinds of iron-clad assumptions and absolute certainties that sectarians
love to wrap their arms around.
But why do we have to answer that question now? It only serves to
ensure that we remain in splendid isolation. Surely we have to start
from the position that the mobilizations that have taken place to date
have been an extremely important and positive force for change in the
world, something the Militant has yet to say. We'll see what the future
will hold, however. At least we can say, the massive anti-war
mobilizations in Toronto and Montreal on February of 2003, certainly had
an important effect on Chretien and Canada's position on the war.
And Malapanis, typical of many when not too confident of their
views, tries to muddy the waters with long polemics against the C.P. and
Workers' World. (He throws the word "Stalinist" around rather freely, in
a red-baiting kind of way.) Any objective person -- who has been around
for a little while -- will only see this as a purely sectarian attack,
because it does not even attempt to explain, in the SWP's view, how the
politics of these two groups limit their effectiveness in building
opposition to the war. Sure, some may think the political line of these
two groups may effect their ability to lead a social revolution, but the
war? Many activists who have been won to the idea of resisting America's
war policies will probably see the Militant's comments as irrelevant.
I think Malapanis is also wrong about the situation in Iraq itself.
He is no different than many of us when it comes to getting
information about the state of the struggle against imperialism there:
we simply don't have much to go on and we mostly rely on what's reported
in the Western press. What he says about the opinions of some of the
participants in the conference in Cyprus is interesting, but is at best
only anecdotal. All the talk in the Militant about "political space" in
Iraq, is questionable, in my opinion. Political life in Iraq today is
very much like how life was, I am sure, under the Nazis in Vichy France
and we should be somewhat careful about giving political advice about
what to do there.
However, we don't need much information to know that the working
class and the Iraqi nation have suffered a historic defeat with the
occupation of their country. And it's not necessary to know who is who,
and who is doing what: revolutionary socialists support the national
struggle in all its forms, even religious, against the occupiers. To
start to speculate now about who has the best programme and talk about
how rotten the Hussein regime was, is nothing but a reflection of the
pressures of ruling-class "public opinion" and imperialism upon us in
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the "discussion" in the Militant. I
think we have a responsibility to tell these comrades what we think; I
hope someone is listening. Feel free to circulate this.
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