[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.
                                      Ernie Tate
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.

Hello John:
            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 
North America.

    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.

                                 Best wishes,


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