Showing posts with label pacifism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pacifism. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Happy Birthday Keith Richards -The Limits of The Pacifist Message- John Lennon Tribute


Come Together, John Lennon Tribute, Yoko Ono Productions, 2001

I am here to rain on this tribute to the work of John Lennon in New York City in early October 2001 on two counts- musically and politically. As to the music. I make no bones about the fact that, as a product of the Generation of ’68, I grew to adulthood with this music, however, in any choice between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, in my book the Stones win hands down. The same applies to comparisons to Lennon as an individual artist. John Lennon could write lyrics with the best of them, no question, but here is the real question- which song, for example, better expresses the sense of working class alienation and, more importantly, what to do about it- Lennon’s Working Class Hero or The Stones’ Street Fighting Man?

That said, even taking comparisons between artists out of consideration John Lennon’s work, as witnessed here, has not aged well. This, despite the profuse trade puffing by host Kevin Stacey and other narrators to the contrary. Part of this is because his works are so personal that they are not easily covered. Recently listening to some covers of the The White Album leads me to believe that this is true, as well, for most Beatles songs. Thus, the tribute, as a whole came off rather muzak-like, with the partial exception of Sean Lennon’s work with Rufus Wainwright on That Boy and Nancy Marchant’s rendition of Nowhere Man.

Now to the politics. Yes, we know that John Lennon, sincerely I believe, stood for ‘giving peace a chance’ and for ‘power to the people, right on’ but frankly, those slogans today, as we are in another titanic struggle against the imperial monsters over Iraq and Afghanistan just seems like some much children’s talk. What the narrators held to be Lennon’s profound wisdom on the peace question are things that seemed embarrassingly childish to me back even when they were first uttered. No, it is not enough to just think good thoughts about peace or have peace in our hearts for that to occur as if by magic. We have to go out and struggle for it against some people who will see us in our graves before they give ‘peace a chance’.

And here my friends is the kicker. This tribute was performed in New York City on October 3, 2001 a few weeks after the criminal actions of a bunch of Islamic fanatics wrecked havoc on that city. Perhaps I would have been more impressed by the tribute if one person- host, performer or from the audience- in the whole one and one half hour program had mentioned peace and the desire for it, not in the great by and by, but by actually mentioning opposition to the war in Afghanistan that was being prepared even as they sang and was only a few days from starting. Maybe, in the light of circumstances that couldn’t be done in New York City during those weeks but I will be damned if I will listen to people spout forth about peace when they were not out in the streets with the few of us who were protesting the Afghan war then. Hell, I too was afraid to go out in the streets and face the redneck reaction that was stirred up then. But that is where ‘peaceniks’, if you will, had to be. What would Mr. Lennon have had to say about that? Mrs. Lennon didn’t have anything to say at all.

Friday, August 04, 2017

*The Political Evolution of Eugene V. Debs- Professor Currie's View

Click on title to link to the James P. Cannon Internet Archives copy of his tribute to, and political analysis of, the place of Eugene V. Debs in the pantheon of American and international labor movements.


Eugene V. Debs, Harold W. Currie, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1976

Every January militants of the left wing of the international labor movement, the European sections more than the American, honor the Three L’s, the key leaders of the movement in the early 20th century- Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht. Since opening this space in early 2006 I have paid individual honor to all three in successive years. In that same spirit for this year’s, and for future January observances, I will highlight some other lesser figures of the revolutionary pantheon or those who contributed in some way to the development of this movement, mainly American at first as befits the title of this blog but eventually others in the international movement as well. This year’s first honoree was the Trotskyist founder and organization leader James P. Cannon. Cannon represented that first American generation who formed the core of cadre directly influenced to the left by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Here I take a step back to the pre-World War I period and honor probably the most well-known socialist of that period, Eugene V. Debs.

For many reasons, the most important of which for our purposes here are the question of the nature o the revolutionary party and of revolutionary leadership, the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was a turning point in the international labor movement. In its aftermath, there was a definitive and I would argue, necessary split, between those leftists (and here I use that term generically to mean socialists, communists, anarchists, syndicalists and the like) who sought to reform the capitalist state from within and those who saw that it needed to be destroyed ‘root and branch’ and new institutions established to create a more just society. This division today continues, in truncated form to be sure, to define the contours of the question. The heroic American pre- World War II socialist labor leader and icon, Eugene V. Debs, as is very well described in this little book, contained within his personal political trajectory all the contradictions of that split. As will be described below in more detail we honor Debs for his generosity of socialist spirit while at the same time underscoring that his profile is, in the final analysis, not that of something who could have led a proletarian revolution in the earlier part of the 20th century.

Professor Currie has here done the very valuable service of outlining the highlights of Debs’ political career and of his inner ideological turmoil for those who need a short course on what set Debs, above all others except, perhaps, “Big Bill” Haywood in the pre-World War I movement. The professor makes clear that his is a political profile and not the extensive detailed informational one of traditional biography. For that, if one is so inclined in that direction after reading this primer, then it is still necessary to go Ray Ginger’s “The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene V. Debs”. I will review that effort in this space at a later time. For now though let me give the highlights I found that every serious labor militant or every serious student of socialism needs to think through.

If history has told us anything over the past one hundred and fifty years plus of the organized labor movement it is that mere trade union consciousness under conditions of capitalist domination, while commendable and necessary, is merely the beginning of wisdom. By now several generations of labor militants have passed through the school of trade unionism with varying results; although precious few have gone beyond that to the class consciousness necessary to “turn the world upside down” to use an old expression from the 17th century English Revolution. In the late 19th when American capitalism was consolidating itself moving onto its industrial phases the landscape was filled with pitched class battles between labor and capital.

One of those key battles in the 1890’s was led by one Eugene V. Debs and his American Railway Union against the mammoth rail giant, The Pullman Company. At that time the rails were the key mode of transportation in the bustling new industrial capitalist commerce. At that time, by his own reckoning, Debs saw the struggle from a merely trade unionist point of view, that is a specific localized economic struggle for better wages and conditions rather than taking on the capitalist system and its state. That strike was defeated and as a result Debs and others became “guests’ of that state in a local jail in Illinois for six months or so. The key conclusion drawn from this ‘lesson’, for our purposes, was that Debs personally finally realized that the close connection between the capitalists and THEIR state (troops, media, jails, courts) was organic and needed to be addressed.
Development of working class political class consciousness comes in many ways; I know that from my own personal experiences running up against the capitalist state.

For Debs this “up close and personal” confrontation with the capitalist drove him, reluctantly at first and with some reservations, to see the need for socialist solutions to the plight of the workingman (and women). Professor Currie details this transformation very nicely, including the seemingly inevitable thrashing about that every political person does when a politically transformative experience occurs. In Debs’ case this involved an early infatuation with the ideas of cooperative commonwealths then popular among radicals as a way to basically provide a parallel alternative society away from capitalism. Well again, having gone thorough that same kind of process of conversion myself (in my case 'autonomous' urban communes, you know, the ‘hippie’ experience of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s); Debs fairly quickly came to realize that an organized political response was necessary and he linked up his efforts with the emerging American Socialist Party.

Before World War I the major political model for politically organizing the working class was provided by the Marxist-dominated German Social Democratic Party. At that time, and in this period of pre-imperialist capitalist development, this was unquestionably the model to be followed. By way of explanation the key organizing principle of that organization, besides providing party discipline for united action, was to create a “big tent” party for the social transformation of society. Under that rubric the notion was to organize anyone and everyone, from socialist-feminists, socialist vegetarians, pacifists, municipal reformers, incipient trade union bureaucrats, hard core reformists, evolutionary socialists and- revolutionaries like Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg who we honor to this day.
The American Social Party that Debs joined exhibited all those tendencies (and some even more outlandish) of the German model. And as long as no great events acted to disrupt the “unity” of this amorphous formation the various tensions within the organization concerning reform or revolution were subdued for a time. Not forever though.

Various revolutionary tendencies within the workers’ movement have historically had opposing positions concerning parliamentary politics: what to do politically while waiting for the opportune moment to take political power. The controversy centered (and today centers around) whether to run for elective executive and/or legislative offices. Since World War I a very strong argument has developed that revolutionaries should not run for executive offices of the capitalist state on the principle that we do not want to be responsible for the running of the capitalist state. On the other hand running for legislative office under the principle of acting as “tribunes of the people” continues to have validity. The case of the German revolutionary social democrat Karl Liebknecht using his legislative office to denounce the German war effort DURING the war is a very high expression of that position. This question, arguably, was a little less clears in the pre-war period.

If Eugene V. Debs is remembered politically today it is probably for his five famous runs for the American presidency (one, in 1920, run from jail) from 1900 to 1920 (except 1916). Of those the most famous is the 1912 four- way fight (Teddy Roosevelt and his “Bull Moose” Party providing the fourth) in which he got almost a million votes and something like 5 percent of the vote- this is the high water mark of socialist electoral politics then and now. Professor Currie goes into some detail here about the demands on these campaigns personally on the aging Debs and of the internal political oppositions to his candidacies. I would only mention that a strong argument could be made here for support of the idea of a revolutionary (and, at least until the early 1920’s Debs considered himself, subjectively, a revolutionary) running for executive office- the presidency- without violating political principle (of course, with the always present proviso that if elected he would refuse to serve). Certainly the issues to be fought around- the emerging American imperial presence in the world, the fierce wage struggles, the capitalist trustification and cartelization of industry, the complicity of the courts, the struggle for women’s right to vote, the struggle against the emerging anti- black Jim Crow regime in the South would make such a platform a useful propaganda tool. Especially, as the good professor as noted, since Debs was one of the premier socialist orators of the day, if perhaps too flowery and long-winded for today’s eye or ear.

As the American Socialist party developed in the early 20th century, and grew by leaps and bounds in this period, a somewhat parallel development was occurring somewhat outside this basically parliamentary movement. In 1905, led by the revolutionary militant “Big Bill” Haywood and with an enthusiastic (then) Debs present probably the most famous mass militant labor organization in American history was formed, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, Wobblies). As it name denotes this organization stood as, in effect, the nucleus of the industrial unionism that would win the day among the unorganized in the 1930’s with the efforts of the CIO. But it also was, as James P. Cannon an early IWW organizer noted in one of his books, the nucleus of a revolutionary political party. One of the reasons, among others, for its demise was that it never was able to resolve that contradiction between party and union. But that is an analysis for another day.
What is important to note here is that organization form fit in, very nicely indeed, with Debs’ notions of organizing the unorganized, the need for industrial unionization (as opposed to the prevailing narrow craft orientation of the Samuel Gompers-led AFL). Nevertheless Debs, to his credit, was no “dual unionist”, that is, committed to ignoring or going around the AFL and establishing “revolutionary” unions. This question of “boring from within” organized labor or “dual unions” continues to this day, and historically has been a very thorny question among militants faced with the bureaucratic inertia of the trade union bureaucracy. Debs came down on the side of the angels on this one (even if he later took unfavorable positions on IWW actions).

Although Debs is probably best known for his presidential runs (including that one from Atlanta prison in 1920 that I always enjoy seeing pictures of the one where he converses with his campaign staff in his cell) he really should be, if he is remembered for only one thing, remembered for his principled opposition to American war preparedness and eventual entry into World War I in 1917. Although it is unclear in my mind how much of Debs’ position stemmed from personal pacifism, how much from Hoosier isolationism (after all he was the quintessential Midwestern labor politician, having been raised and lived all his life in Indiana) and how much was an anti-imperialist statement he nevertheless, of all major socialist spokesmen to speak nothing of major politicians in general , was virtually alone in his opposition when Woodrow Wilson pulled the hammer down and entered American forces into the European conflict.

That, my friends, should command respect from almost everyone, political friend or foe alike. Needless to say for his opposition he was eventually tried and convicted of, of all things, the catch-all charge of sedition and conspiracy. Some things never change. Moreover, that prison term is why Debs had to run from prison in 1920. Professor Currie does a good job here giving the narrative of the basis of his conviction, the tenor of the times, the appeals process and his eventual release by President Harding.

I started out this exposition of Debs’ political trajectory under the sign of the Russian Revolution and here I come full circle. I have, I believe, highlighted the points that we honor Debs for and now to balance the wheel we need to discuss his shortcomings (which are also a reflection of the shortcomings of the internationalist socialist movement then, and now). The almost universal betrayal of its anti- war positions of the pre-war international social democracy, as organized in the Second International and led by the German Party, by its subordination to the war aims of its respective individual capitalist governments exposed a deep crevice in the theory and practice of the movement.

As the experiences of the Russian revolution pointed out it was no longer possible for reformists and revolutionaries to coexist in the same party. Literally, on more than one occasion, these formally connected tendencies were on opposite sides of the barricades when the social tensions of society exploded. It was not a pretty sight and called for a splitting and realignment of the revolutionary forces internationally. The organizational expression of this was the formation, in the aftermath of the Russian revolution, of the Communist International in 1919. Part of that process, in America, included a left-wing split (or purge depending on the source read) and the creation, at first, of two communist organizations. As the most authoritative left-wing socialist of the day one would have thought that Debs would have inclined to the communists. That was not to be the case as he stayed with the remnant of the American Socialist Party until his death in the late 1920’s.

No one would argue that the early communist movement in America was not filled with more than its share of political mistakes, esoterica and just plain weirdness but that is where the revolutionaries were in the 1920’s. And this brings us really to Debs’ ultimate problem as a socialist leader and why I made that statement above that he could not lead a proletarian revolution in America, assuming that he was his desire. Professor Currie, and not he alone among academic students of Debs, has pointed out that Debs had a life long aversion to political faction and in-fighting. I would agree, as any rational radical politician would, that faction and in-fighting are not virtuous in and of themselves and are a net drain on the tasks of propaganda, recruitment and united front actions that should drive left-wing political work. However, as critical turning points in the international socialism movement have shown sometimes the tensions between the political appetites of supposed like-minded individuals cannot be contained in one organization. This question is most dramatically posed, of course, in a revolutionary period when the tensions are whittled down to choices for or against the revolution. One side of the barricade or the other.

That said, Debs’ personality, demeanor and ultimately his political program of trying to keep “big tent” socialist together tarnished his image as a socialist leader. Professor Currie also has several sections at the end of his book on Debs’ positions on convicts, women, and blacks, education, religion and government. Debs was no theorist, socialist or otherwise, and many of his positions would not pass muster among radicals today. I note his economic determinism argument that the black question is subsumed in the class question. I have discussed this question elsewhere and will not address it here. I would only note, for a socialist, his position is just flat out wrong. I also note that, outside his support for women’s suffrage and working women’s rights to equal page his attitude toward women was strictly Victorian. As was his wishy-washy attitude toward religion. That said, Eugene V. Debs, warts and all, gets a fair exposition here. And should get a fair nod from history as the premier American socialist of the pre-World War I period.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

*From The “Catholic Worker” Website- A Washington Demonstration Today On The 20th Anniversary Of The American “Presence” In Iraq

Click on the headline to link to a Catholic Worker website entry for a demonstration and other events in Washington, D.C. scheduled for today, January 15, 2011, to mark the 20th anniversary of America's Iraq war.

Markin comment:

In the nature of my political work, and having a little time to do such things, I am responsible in my circle for “surfing” the blogosphere. Most of the time it comes up dry for an idea for a commentary but today I have one from a seemingly unusual source, at least for me, the Catholic Worker. This organization, founded in the 1930s by Dorothy Day among others, is no stranger to this blogger. I will discuss that below in a separate note. What is important here is that they are organizing a demonstration and other events today to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the American “presence” in Iraq. That event is worthy of some comment.

Of course, tracing back the American occupation in Iraq to the first George Bush administration’s murderous rampage in Iraq, complete with saturation bombing beginning on the night of January 15, 1991 at about 7:00PM EST, is exactly right. Although in general memory most people split the first Bush (41) Iraq War from the second Bush (43) March 2003 Iraq War that is wrong. The “interlude” Clinton Democratic administration’s savage and murderous economic blockade, no fly zone, and occasional bombings count as well. The days of counting wars in a few years and done are, apparently, over. The notion of the age thirty and hundred years wars that we read about in our old childhood history books and that we thought were well done and over is still with us. Although I cannot support the pacifist and religiously-derived philosophical non-violent thrust of the Catholic Worker program for this day as set forth in their announcement I can appreciate their efforts in commemorating the nature of modern war, and war-makers. And just in case it is not clear who they are and what they are doing- Obama-Immediate. Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops (And Mercenaries) From Iraq And Afghanistan!

Note: The Catholic Worker spirit hovered, and hovered profusely in every room, around my growing up households both when we lived down at the edge, the flotsam and jetsam edge, of society in the old public housing projects when we were grindingly poor-struck and later when we moved an inch up to the regular poor, downwardly-mobile working class neighborhood of my teen years. I may have known the name Dorothy Day (and a little later, Ammon Hennessey, from out in Utah desert country, Joe Hill House Catholic outpost to Western bums, tramps, and hoboes, and also drifters, grifters, and midnight sifters he turned none away, as far as I knew) better than the pope’s. Well, maybe not as well, but close. Why? Well, for one, old grandma, crippled-up, house-bound , sweet, high saint Roman Catholic grandma, beatified grandma, no, not that “beat” beatified but beatitude-worthy, primo tuna fish sandwich on Friday- making grandma who was “hip” to the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930s when New York-based Ms. Day came to Boston to spread the non-communist (although not anti-communist, remember those were "popular front" days) good tidings. And that fuse was carried over in my mother’s generation, although not the tuna-fish sandwich stuff (at least she was not as good as grandma at it, no way). Lesson: the meek may not inherit the earth, but they sure as hell should. And you and I, being “hip,” can show the way. How? By fighting for a workers party (an earthly workers party) that fights for a workers government (ditto, on the earthy thing). Here and now.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Not Read For Prime Time Class Struggle- A Rehash Of “M.A.S.H.”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link ot a YouTube film clip of the movie trailer for M.A.S.H.
DVD Review

M.A.S.H., Robert Duval, Elliot Gould, Donald Sutherland, Tom Skeritt, directed by Robert Altman, 1970

I have always been a fan of the late Robert Altman’s work as a director. A couple of his films that have withheld the test of time, Nashville and California Split, come readily to mind. Those slice of life films still “speak” to the subjects at hand, the glitter of country music stardom and its underside reality and the fight to get rich quick at the gambling tables. No so this film, M.A.S.H., a film that on first viewing I was very impressed with. On a recent re-viewing I found myself distracted most of the time. Not that the film’s “follies of war” theme in a front-line Army medical unit (then the Vietnam War, although the earlier Korean War is the thinly-veiled locale of the film, and not to be confused with the handful of American wars since then) has lost its significance. If anything that theme is more relevant that ever. What has lost power, and punch, is the notion that through the antics, and frankly this thing is filled with antics, that would embarrass even the lowliest “frat rat”, can draw those lessons about the folly of war. Sex, sacrifice, more sex, some off-hand skilled surgery, more hi-jinks and booze, and then off to home (and presumably a soft, country club life) do not make that same impression that first drew me to the film. Even Elliot Gould, who was great, and still is worth seeing, in California Split and as an understated Phillip Marlowe in the film version of Raymond Candler’s The Long Good-bye got on my nerves. Enough said.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Latest From The School Of The Americas Watch Website- Down With American Imperialism In Latin America! Close The Fort Benning SOA!

Click on the headline to link to the School Of The Americas Watch website.

From The United For Peace With Justice Website.

Vigil to Close the School of the Americas

Submitted by ujpadmin on Sat, 07/17/2010 - 1:50pm.

When: Thursday, November 18, 2010, 1:00 am to Sunday, November 21, 2010, 11:00 pm

Where: Fort Benning, GA

Start: 2010 Nov 18 - 1:00am
End: 2010 Nov 21 - 11:00pm

The November Vigil to Close the School of the Americas at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia will be held from November 18-21, 2010. The annual vigil is always held close to the anniversary of the 1989 murders of Celina Ramos, her mother Elba and six Jesuit priests at a the University of Central America in El Salvador.

November 2010 will mark the 20th anniversary of the vigil that brings together religious communities, students, teachers, veterans, community organizers, musicians, puppetistas and many others. New layers of activists are joining the movement to close the SOA in large numbers, including numerous youth and students from multinational, working-class communities. The movement is strong thanks to the committed work of thousands of organizers and volunteers around the country. They raise funds, spread the word through posters and flyers, organize buses and other transportation to Georgia, and carry out all the work that is needed to make the November vigil a success. Together, we are strong!

Vigil and Rally at the Gates, Nonviolent Direct Action, Teach-In, Concerts, Workshops and a Anti-Militarization Organizers Conference
There will be exciting additions to this year's vigil program. Besides the rally at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia with inspiring speakers and amazing musicians from across the Americas, the four day convergence will also include an educational teach-in at the Columbus Convention Center, several evening concerts, workshops and for the first time, the Latin America Solidarity Coalition will stage a one-day Anti-Militarization Organizers Conference on Thursday, November 18, 2010.
Shut Down the SOA and Resist U.S. Militarization in the Americas
Our work has unfortunately not gotten any easier and U.S. militarization in Latin America is accelerating. The SOA graduate led military coup in Honduras, the continuing repression against the Honduran pro-democracy resistance and the expansion of U.S. military bases in Colombia and Panama are grim examples of the ongoing threats of a U.S. foreign policy that is relying on the military to exert control over the people and the resources in the Americas. Join the people who are struggling for justice in Honduras, Colombia and throughout the Americas as we organize to push back.

Spread the word: Click here to tell a friend about the November Vigil.
For more information, visit

Saturday, October 30, 2010

From The Archives Of The Spartacist League (U.S.)- The Struggle Against Class Collaboration In The Anti-War Movement- New York Peace Parade Statement (1965)

Click on the headline to link to a Zimmerwald Conference website online copy of the Zimmerwald Manifesto, a document that heads in the right direction against pacifistic class collaboration in the anti-war movement discussed below.

Markin comment:

Earlier this month I started what I anticipate will be an on-going series, From The Archives Of The Socialist Workers Party (America), starting date October 2, 2010, where I will place documents from, and make comments on, various aspects of the early days of the James P. Cannon-led Socialist Worker Party in America. As I noted in the introduction to that series Marxism, no less than other political traditions, and perhaps more than most, places great emphasis on roots, the building blocks of current society and its political organizations. Nowhere is the notion of roots more prevalent in the Marxist movement that in the tracing of organizational and political links back to the founders, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the Communist Manifesto, and the Communist League.

After mentioning the thread of international linkage through various organizations from the First to the Fourth International I also noted that on the national terrain in the Trotskyist movement, and here I was speaking of America where the Marxist roots are much more attenuated than elsewhere, we look to Daniel DeLeon’s Socialist Labor League, Eugene V. Deb’s Socialist Party( mainly its left-wing, not its socialism for dentists wing), the Wobblies (IWW, Industrial Workers Of The World), the early Bolshevik-influenced Communist Party and the various formations that led up to the Socialist Workers Party, the section that Leon Trotsky’s relied on most while he was alive. Further, I noted that beyond the SWP that there were several directions to go in but that those earlier lines were the bedrock of revolutionary Marxist continuity, at least through the 1960s.

Today I am starting what I also anticipate will be an on-going series about one of those strands past the 1960s when the SWP lost it revolutionary appetite, what was then the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) and what is now the Spartacist League (SL/U.S.), the U.S. section of the International Communist League (ICL). I intend to post materials from other strands but there are several reasons for starting with the SL/U.S. A main one, as the document below will make clear, is that the origin core of that organization fought, unsuccessfully in the end, to struggle from the inside (an important point) to turn the SWP back on a revolutionary course, as they saw it. Moreover, a number of the other organizations that I will cover later trace their origins to the SL, including the very helpful source for posting this material, the International Bolshevik Tendency.

However as I noted in posting a document from Spartacist, the theoretical journal of ICL posted via the International Bolshevik Tendency website that is not the main reason I am starting with the SL/U.S. Although I am not a political supporter of either organization in the accepted Leninist sense of that term, more often than not, and at times and on certain questions very much more often than not, my own political views and those of the International Communist League coincide. I am also, and I make no bones about it, a fervent supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, a social and legal defense organization linked to the ICL and committed, in the traditions of the IWW, the early International Labor Defense-legal defense arm of the Communist International, and the early defense work of the American Socialist Workers Party, to the struggles for freedom of all class-war prisoners and defense of other related social struggles.


Markin comment on the peace and/or anti-war question:

If I was asked to name the number one political cause that I have fought for in my life, and I thought about it for a few moments, the answer would have to be the peace, or put a better way, the anti-war question. I will just quickly draw a distinction between the two terms for purposes of this commentary. Of course, everybody and their brother and sister wants peace, talks about peace, would love to see in their lifetimes, and so on. By this they mean, usually, no wars, or at least just little ones, or may an occasional civil war or something like that. Mainly though, truth to tell, no wars to intrude on their daily lives, and certainly nothing that they have to take up arms about, or worst, sent their children with those selfsame arms to fight. Sunday speech peace is what this attitude boils down to. We have heard that noise from politicians, high and low, for an eternity. And for a fair part of my political youth, truth to tell, that kind of peace, that kind of striving for peace as a political activist, if not quite put in that hard-boiled a manner had great appeal.

Yes, but I am a big boy now, and have been for quite awhile. Thus, sweet Sunday speech peace preachments leave nothing but a bitter taste in my mouth. First of all, as a historical materialist by political inclination I know that there are some wars, like the class struggle wars that I don not want to be peaceful about, at least if the bourgeoisies of the world get in our way as they usually do. Or certain wars for national self-determination by oppressed nations, like the Vietnam War that caused me to re-evaluate my “peace” principles on more than one occasion back in the 1960s. Or wars fought by progressive, or at least smaller sized and helpless entities against bigger, bullying ones. So no, in the year 2010, I do not want to fight for “peace at any price.” And while I am no inveterate war-monger by any means thems the facts. As to the anti-war part of the question I think that I can stand on that position a little better, a little more truthfully, by opposing the wars that world imperialism, and in the first instance American imperialism, constantly throw at us, including today’s Iraq and Afghan occupations for starters.

That said, let me go back to that Vietnam War anti-war experience or rather experiences for they will be illustrative of the transformation of my search for “peace” to that of class justice in this wicked old world. Early on in that war, before the massive escalations of the mid-1960s, I would characterize my position as pacifistic in the universal sense reflecting a Catholic Worker-type position tinged with not a little unkempt social-patriotism toward the American government. As the bombs kept endlessly falling on that benighted country and I studied and learned more about the historic struggle of the Vietnamese against foreign oppression I came to support their struggles under the rubric of a war of national liberation. As I moved further left I held quasi-positions (quasi in the sense of ill-formed, or not fully worked out in those hectic times when one could not move fast enough leftward, and as importantly, theoretically leftward) that the anti-war movement should act as an active “second front” in the Vietnamese national liberation struggle by “bringing the war home” (and rather passive toward what ultimately needed to be done to the American government). Finally, finally I came closer to Bolshevik positions on the war question, the need to defend a workers state (in whatever condition, that too evolved over time), the need to do with and in the American military to bring the war to an end the Bolshevik way.

That said, this particular series of entries from the archives of the Spartacist League would have made life infinitely easier if I had had access to them in those days as expressions of a clear way forward for the anti-war movement that I (and not I alone) was getting increasingly frustrated with as it got mired into bourgeois defeatism, and then into oblivion as that war wound down. Unfortunately I did not initially read this material until some time in the mid-1970s. I will make additional individual comments on each entry.

Markin comment on Spartacist statement

In many ways 1965 was a watershed year in the struggle against the Kennedy-Johnson Vietnam War. Not only was there a grievous escalation of troop levels and bombing attacks based on the usual frame-up set-up (the Gulf of Tonkin incident) that seem to be conveniently available when the tom-toms of war get beating but the fledgling anti-war movement (at least in the East) was getting organized in more than a token manner. Thus, on the serious matter of which way forward for that movement to drive it to victory those New York meetings, the epicenter of the East Coast opposition, described in the document below take on added meaning both for the immediate struggle against the war and the long term prospects for a real anti-imperialist opposition. And, maybe, more.

Listen, in 1965, I was at the height of my Catholic Worker/ Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)-tinged left liberal pacifistic political views. Although not philosophically absolutely committed to non-violence or to working totally within the parliamentary system I was no embryonic Bolshevik ready to raise all kind of hell. I still believed that “sweet” reason could be brought into play in bourgeois politics and the “better angels of our nature” (a term that I was fond of even then) would prevail. I was in no way hostile to communists, of whatever tendency, but merely saw them as another set of partners in the struggle against war. In short, I held a very popular frontist attitude to use a term of art in our communist movement that I was not familiar with then.

All of the above is by way of saying that had I been at the New York anti-war meetings, as I had been at various Boston meetings with the same kind of groups, including SANE (a group that I had worked with on their nuclear disarmament campaigns in the very early 1960s) which drove anti-war efforts around here in those days, I would have been nonplussed by the Spartacist League withdrawal statement. Whatever their reasons. Now, of course, long after the fact, I can see that the commitment of the vast majority of anti-war groups to “sweet” reason toward Johnson Administration war policy and a commitment to an essentially pacifist, parliamentary opposition that could easily be pieced off was doomed to failure. Failure, if the object, as it was for me to stop the bloody bastards.

Fortunately the North Vietnamese army and the National Liberation Front took matters into their own hands and saved the day by beating the American imperialist forces and ending the war. No one can say truthfully that the American anti-war movement was minimal in that effort but it was, in the end, hardly decisive as some would have it. Those famous pictures of the United States Embassy in Saigon being evaluated by helicopter from the rooftops graphically make the point for those who want to argue otherwise.

History is full of little twists and turns, and maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from studying it. Here is the lesson that we can use today. The next time that you are in an anti-war planning meeting and someone argues for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all troops and mercenaries from (name the current imperial adventure) as a central slogan for the demonstration vote for that proposal with both hands (and feet if you have to). That, in effect, is today’s anti-war version of those 1965 events.

NY Peace Parade
Press Release:
Spartacist Breaks with New York Parade Committee
—from Spartacist No. 5, November-December 1965

The following statement was read by a Spartacist representative at the 29 September 1965 meeting of the New York Peace Parade Committee, an anti-war coalition dominated by right-wing pacifists and liberals. Among the "individuals" in the committee were members of Progressive Labor Party, the Socialist Party, Workers World, ACFL (predecessor of the Workers League), the Communist Party, the liberal New York SANE and the Committee for Non-Violent Action. Previous meetings had decided in favor of a single, liberal slogan ("Stop the War in Vietnam Now") for the October 16 anti-war parade and a speakers list at the rally featuring the liberal Dr. Benjamin Spock, among others. The committee's grossly social-patriotic "Call" objected to in the Spartacist statement said that the "war in Vietnam is not necessary for national security," since the "United Slates is the richest, most powerful...nation in the world," and the war "cannot enhance the honor of the American people." After reading its statement the Spartacist delegation withdrew from the committee.

At the last meeting on September 22, we raised serious objections to the "one slogan" policy and the political composition of the Rally speakers list.

Had we been invited to the first meeting on September 15 where the substantial issue of non-exclusion was discussed and decided, we would have made our views known then. We objected to the concept that this is a committee of "individuals" rather than organizations.

But of course votes are taken on the basis of organization and not individuals since that is the reality. In an attempt to obscure the exclusion taking place, speakers for the rally were chosen on the basis of artificial "representative" categories: Women. Art. Negroes. Puerto Ricans. Students, Marxist-anti-lmperialists. etc.. with one speaker from each category. But our objections are not simply petty organizational grievances they are political ones.

Since the last meeting we have carefully considered these issues as well as the line of the Call that has been issued and have decided that we can no longer participate in this committee on a principled political basis. Therefore we announce our withdrawal and request that our name be removed from the list of sponsors of the demonstration.

Stop WHOSE War in Vietnam?
The slogan "Stop the War in Vietnam Now" can mean many things to many people. But given the composition of this Committee, the fact that it is dominated by right-wing pacifists and "liberals," i.e., pro-capitalist and pro-LBJ, it is clear that the slogan is deliberately ambiguous in order to avoid facing the duty to advance the only demand that has any meaning: "For the Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal of All U.S. Troops from Vietnam!" Instead of this, the Call demands that "all foreign troops" be removed from Vietnam. This is only an endorsement of the position of the U.S. Government. Further, we are not simply for stopping the war, but rather for the victory of the social revolution that is taking place in Vietnam. It is absurd, and against the interest of the revolution, to call simply for disengagement of forces, and implies a confidence in the integrity of U.S. Imperialism to keep such a bargain. You have completely obscured what we think is the most important character of the Vietnam war -that this is a naked, ruthless intervention by U.S. Imperialism to interrupt and drive back a social revolution in Vietnam, a revolution that is the only road to freedom for the Vietnamese working masses. We are not neutral in this. What is involved is not simply a matter of self-determination or moral indignation or national security or the honor and reputation of the American people as the Call indicates. The best defense of the Vietnamese revolution in this country is to build a militant antiwar movement strong enough to compel the United States to get out of Vietnam!

For Real United Action!
There are many people in this committee with whom we share a number of positions on a range of issues including Vietnam. As in the past, we stand ready to work fully and loyally with you on the basis of political agreement. But we cannot be a party to this committee as it is presently constituted, containing forces that in a class sense are simply not compatible.

This split might have been avoided by a policy of genuine non-exclusion, where all political viewpoints could be expressed. This would have meant, of course, that SANE and some others would have left the committee as they have threatened to do. Instead, in the name of "unity," you have combined with these right-wing elements and chosen to frustrate this alternative and suppress all but the most "respectable" political views. The Socialist Workers Party has deliberately acted as a broker to cement this unprincipled alliance. Well, we for one value our political viewpoints more than we do such a fake "unity."

All those who recognize the truth of what I have said should seriously reconsider their continued participation in this committee and act accordingly.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

*From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal-Trotskyism in India

Click on the headline to link to the “Revolutionary History” Journal entry listed in the title.

Markin comment:

This is an excellent documentary source for today’s militants to “discovery” the work of our forbears, whether we agree with their programs or not. Mainly not, but that does not negate the value of such work done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

*Song To While Away The Class Struggle By- Bob Dylan's "Masters Of War"

Click on the title to link a "YouTube" film clip of Bob Dylan performing "Masters Of War".

February Is Black History Month

In this series, presented under the headline “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”, I will post some songs that I think will help us get through the “dog days” of the struggle for our communist future. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist, although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here.

Masters Of War

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Copyright ©1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music