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‘Revolutionary defeatism’ and the anti-war movement

Published Jan 17, 2011 9:37 PM

John Catalinotto
WW photo: G. Dunkel

Excerpts from the Nov. 13 talk to the Workers World Party National Conference by John Catalinotto, a managing editor of Workers World newspaper.

My favorite pamphlet by Workers World Party founder Sam Marcy is “The Bolsheviks and War.” I recommend it for all comrades to read and study, especially for anyone working within the anti-war movement.

If capitalism has no normal, cyclical way out of the crisis, what then can we expect? Imperialism’s setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t allow us to rule out an even larger war against Iran. A ruling class frantic about threats to its system will try to agitate the workers against an enemy abroad, such as China. We Marxist-Leninists can’t exclude what appears to be the most irrational reaction of the masters of an irrational system.

Look at Afghanistan. A year ago, President Barack Obama made a compromise with the Pentagon generals. He sent another 30,000 troops in return for a withdrawal date of July 2011. Now the withdrawal is off until at least 2014.

The lesson: Presidents come and presidents go; the military-industrial complex remains.

Though there has been no really massive national anti-war demonstration in five years, a strong anti-war movement is more important than ever. Filling the vacuum, a new coalition called the United National Anti-War Committee has called for mass protests next April 9 in New York and San Francisco. Our article in Workers World newspaper shows that we could support the current slogans of this demonstration. They oppose all the U.S. wars, they oppose U.S. support for Israel, and they defend the Muslim community within the U.S. They call for solidarity with immigrants, and back the anti-racist struggle and the workers’ struggle at home.

I won’t try to make now an analysis of the character of that coalition. It is clear that these demonstrations have some potential. The party is committed to making them as successful as possible. Even a simple mass gathering behind these slogans would be a big step forward in the face of imperialist propaganda.

However, as a party of revolutionary communists, we must behave as revolutionaries within the anti-war movement. Let’s look at what the Russian communist leader Lenin wrote about fighting the imperialist First World War.

“During a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government.” In addition, there is an “inseparable link between revolutionary agitation against the government and helping bring about its defeat.” We are for those actions that can bring about a defeat for the imperialists.

Comrade Sam Marcy also wanted to go beyond symbolic protest. He wrote, “As long as the war machine is permitted to function smoothly, a little dissent and mass protest kept within bounds may even make the capitalist government operate more effectively and smooth the machinery of war.”

During the war against Vietnam, in an atmosphere of anti-imperialist sentiment among the youth, the party was able to surpass symbolic protest. We sometimes led street struggles that clashed with the state apparatus. Within the military, we organized GIs to oppose the war and prepared them to refuse orders to fight against the Vietnamese, working within the American Servicemen’s Union to break the chain of command.

Within the liberal/pacifist-led coalitions that existed then we always pushed the envelope in an anti-imperialist direction. For example, in 1967 we opposed Israeli aggression when this issue was even more isolating than now. We became a revolutionary pole of attraction.

In our anti-war work, too, we must be conscious of and stand up against the enormous weight of bourgeois public opinion — ruling class opinion — dragging everyone to the right. We must once again stand out as a revolutionary pole even as we function to build the strongest protests against the imperialist wars.