[Marxism] The Militant drops a couple of rightist twitches

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Mar 27 07:08:51 MST 2004

I disagree with Tony Abdo.  I disagree with his assessments of the SWP's
policy on abortion rights and the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and I think
that the debates over the Militant have some political importance --
especially, for people like myself, who come out of that tradition
(forty-year of close association in my case).  Of course, the heart of
the discussion is the problems and politics of building a revolutionary
organization in the United States.  The SWP was a major effort in that
direction and its strengths and weaknesses in its good days, the causes
of its degeneration and collapse, and the errors in its politics today
-- some of which have a characteristic rather than unique character --
are a legitimate topic. 

I also think that Tony exaggerates the Militant's irrelevance today,
though not by very much. Its worth mentioning that party supporters have
been leaders in several small strikes in recent years and that they are
currently BUILDING the April 25 antiabortion protest.  They are still
part of the US left, a hardened political sect but not a Hare Krishna
organization. In any case, I can't shake the issue yet and so I'm going
to let it play out.  My obsessions sometimes turn out to revolve around
one or another political point that has some validity.

If Tony is past all this, he should go past these posts.  People submit
to the list what they want to write, and read what they want to read.

The comments on the absurdist coverage of the international March 20
demonstrations in the Militant is very on point. Re the Spanish
government, I think the worst thing about the coverage of the election
in Spain is not the skepticism about what the new government will do.
We are all too accustomed to Socialist-Labor parties rallying the voters
on one policy and carrying out the opposite ones, and there are signs
that the same thing may be  happening here. I suspect Zapatero will try
to hang on in Iraq at least until the November elections in the United
States and, if Kerry wins, he will may try to drop the withdrawal issue
entirely, but we will see.

The worst thing about the coverage is the implicit suggestion that the
election marks a further shift to the right in the ELECTORATE --
motivated by reactionary "Anti-Americanism". It is no surprise to me, of
course, that the basic course of the old regime is continuing in the
repression of Basques and Arabs.

But there is no recognition AT ALL that the opposition to the Iraq war
that drove the voting had any progressive content.  The
"Anti-Americanism" is decried as increasing the peril of war --
presumably with the United States.  From this standpoint, even Spanish,
British, Dutch, or Australian withdrawal from Iraq could be viewed as
not positive but a step toward war since it would probably mark an
increase of interimperialist conflict, among other things.  

The SWP views inter-imperialist conflict as simply a BAD thing, posing
only the threat of World War III, and believes that communists should
unconditionally denounce all inter-imperialist differences as disastrous
for working people. The Cubans, a genuine revolutionary mass leadership
engaged in real politics in the world (where they make mistakes of
course, but a lot fewer than most, in my opinion) do not respond in this
depoliticized way to divisions among the imperialists, and this is among
the Militant's many implicit criticisms of the Cuban leadership. 

The Militant ignores the fact that divisions among the enemy are also
good for working people and provide openings for progressive and
revolutionary struggle that should not be boycotted.  Spanish, British,
or Australian withdrawal from Iraq should be greeted, if and when it
happens, even if it reflects, among other things, sharpening
inter-imperialist conflict.

The article also reflects the continued tendency of the Militant to
impose a kind of "soft protectorate" over George W. Bush.  Anyone who
criticizes Bush will have to answer to them.  If Bush is denounced in
Europe, this is "anti-American" and therefore reactionary.  If  Bush is
criticized by anyone but the Militant in the United States, this means
they are a rotten Democrat and therefore reactionary.  Taken literally,
for example, the criticism of people who "blame" Bush and the
Republicans for the war seems to  suggest that Bush is not only not
solely to blame for the war, but that HE MAY NOT BE TO BLAME AT ALL.
Apparently, the liberals such as Senator Kerry must take ALL the blame.

However, I have to note two changes that represent rejection by the
Militant of some of the reactionary positions the paper has taken in
recent months.  For example,  the lead article, a statement by the
National Committee presented by Martin Koppel, states, "Working people
in the United States must demand that all imperialist troops be
withdrawn NOW om Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Haiti, Guantánamo, the
Balkans, and wherever else they may be."

This is the first time since the gubernatorial campaign in California
last year that the SWP has called for immediate withdrawal from any of
these occupied countries.


The list has included a number of criticisms of the Militant's recent
coverage of Haiti.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Militant
has joined the chorus of criticism on this point, publishing the
following letter and editor's note:

Aristide’s removal
Your coverage on Haiti in the March 22 issue takes an off-base stand
downplaying the nature of Aristide’s removal from power and even
provides some gratuitous and unwarranted credibility to the “lying with
truth” of a U.S. embassy stooge, Luis Moreno. 
Contrary to your editorial, Aristide’s abduction to the Central African
Republic by the U.S. government is emphatically the issue—the ultimate
evidence that this was a U.S.-controlled coup, and who, U.S. or Guy
Philippe, began the revolt is not the issue. 

Your editorial expends its energy (at great length) pointing out that
Aristide was just a capitalist figurehead and squanders an opportunity
to come down four-square on the side of democratic rights and rule of

In “Socialism and Democracy” [a 1957 speech], James P. Cannon says, “We
have all the more reason to value every democratic provision
for the protection of human rights and human dignity; to fight for more
democracy, not less
. The Marxists
have always valued and defended
bourgeois democratic rights, restricted as they were; and have utilized
them for the education and organization of the workers.” 

Aristide, pathetic figure that he is, is still the figurehead of
democracy in Haiti, and his and Haiti’s democratic rights deserve
defending. When Aristide says he was abducted, one can reasonably take
him at his word. The actual facts of his removal and supposed
resignation are out there, and you should report them and support them.
Save your distance-taking from Aristide for another article. 

Russell Dupree Freeport, Maine 

[Editor’s note: The March 22 Militant editorial incorrectly downplayed
the importance of the fact that the elected president of Haiti was
forced out of the country and sent to the Central African Republic by
U.S. armed forces. The reader is right in pointing that out. The
coverage in the last two issues of the Militant has corrected that error
(see front-page article this week).]  
Of course, the error on Haiti stemmed from one of the Militant's central
errors which has escalated in recent months: the tendency, in the
context of conflicts between US imperialism and semicolonial countries,
to center their fire on the actual or alleged bourgeois nationalist
leaderships.  It is very unusual for the Militant to publicly
acknowledge such an error.  This approach is central to the Militant's
refusal to express solidarity with either the military resistance  or
the Shiite protests in Iraq (since both have bourgeois nationalist
leadership), and their urgings to the Iraqi people to hold off on
directly challenging the occupation until they have built a
"revolutionary organization" in the "civic space" existing under the

Another example of this has also been prominent in coverage of
Venezuela. The Militant presents Chavez as having imposed a "bonapartist
regime" on Venezuela, when in fact there has been an unprecedented
flowering of democratic rights in that country under a popularly elected
government which has been quite responsive to the demands of the masses.
Since the 1992 military revolt, the Militant has continually labelled
Chavez a "bonapartist demagogue" without ever making a serious attempt
to prove it (as the SWP did in the past when it labelled McCarthy or
Father Coughlin incipient fascists, or as Marx did re Louis Bonaparte,
or Trotsky in reference to Von Papen and Schleicher in Germany).  The
Militant, which tended to present the US imperialist occupation --
falsely in my opinion -- as having opened "civic space" in Iraq, has
tended to falsely portray Chavez as representing  a Bonapartist threat
to democratic rights. 

At the same time, of course, the Militant is clearly opposed to the US
attempts to topple Chavez and supported the efforts of working people to
defend the government against the US imperialists.

Fred Feldman

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