[R-G] anti-war agitation and (1) the labor aristocracy, (2) socialism
left-transparency at Leninism.org
Mon Oct 8 02:12:56 MDT 2001
anti-war agitation and
(1) the labor aristocracy,
Various responsibilities as well as a shortage of time have
prevented me from playing a more active role on this forum.
However I have been able to read or skim many of the posts and I
would like to make some comments and criticisms.
A few hours ago the first wave of US imperialism's bombing
campaign began. There are many indications that this war may be
lengthy. If this war turns out to be lengthy--this will mean
that the anti-war movement, already off to a fine start, will
have an opportunity to develop and mature, both in size and in
political maturity. Part of this maturity would be in the form
of thousands of serious anti-imperialist activists, in countries
like the US and Britain, learning about the true nature of the
various existing political trends--and developing increasingly
In the early 1970's hearings were held in the chambers of the US
Congress to discuss the conduct of the war in Vietnam. During
these hearings one section of imperialist politicians accused
another section of imperialist politicians of turning the young
people of the United States into revolutionaries--by continuing
the war. The movement against the war in Vietnam radicalized a
generation of American youth--and led many to the conclusion that
they must devote their lives to the overthrow of the political
and economic _system_ of imperialism. This political development
represented a powerful threat to the interests of the ruling
class in the US--and served to shorten the war.
I hope that the significance of this is clear to readers: it is
the consciousness of an _alternative_ to the political and
economic _system_ of imperialism (also known as the system of
bourgeois rule) that the bourgeoisie most fears--and which gives
the greatest strength to the anti-war movement.
My comments in this post are organized around two themes that I
believe must be present in our anti-war work if we want this work
to be of maximum power and to represent the maximum threat to the
interests of the bourgeoisie.
One of these themes concerns our attitude toward a section of
society that is usually called the "labor aristocracy" but which
actually encompasses a fairly broad section of opinion makers and
people of influence in addition to the trade union bureaucrats.
The other theme concerns our attitude towards the system of
bourgeois rule itself--and whether or not we are serious about
proposing an alternative to it.
I believe that my criticisms here may not be appreciated by some.
And I may not have time to back up all of my arguments or to
reply to all comments. But this is the best I can do at this
time and I hope my arguments will result in thoughtful
consideration by many of the serious activists on this list.
One of the items which caught my attention on this list was an
article  by Fred Goldstein for the Workers World Party (WWP)
that Mac posted on September 27. I have some criticisms of this
article. I will note that I considered the article useful and
that the WWP has been doing a hell of a lot of very useful work
in organizing the anti-war movement. This work, like similar
work by many organizations, deserves support. But we should also
keep in mind that criticism is also a form of support.
An impending world oil shortage?
Before getting into the more serious issues, however, I would
like to first bring up the question of whether the world is
running out of oil. Petroleum is a large part of the reason that
US imperialism needs to dominate the Middle East and the Caspian
basin. The WWP article implies that an oil shortage is not on
> According to the Oil and Gas Journal and World Oil,
> two principal industry research organs, the proven oil
> reserves in the world came to approximately 1 trillion
> barrels as of Jan. 1, 2000. This doesn't include future
> discoveries that are expected to be much larger.
I am not particularly knowledgeable about the oil industry but I
do note that scientific opinion appears to be moving in the
direction of the view that world oil production may peak within
the next decade. Such a development would have an immense and
terrible impact on the entire world economy--which is completely
dependent on cheap oil. I first heard views of this sort a few
years ago from the well-known (in our circles) Mark Jones. I
have been somewhat skeptical, partly because Mark is sometimes
given to wild misstatement or exaggeration. But when I see views
like this expressed in Scientific American, they carry more
review of "Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage"
Our attitude toward the labor aristocracy
As important as may be a looming shortage of petroleum with
potential to gravely cripple the entire world economy--I would
like to pass on to what I consider a more important question: our
attitude toward the (broadly defined) labor aristocracy.
Paragraph two of the WWP article is as follows:
> Bush and the Pentagon are using so-called war powers
> to mobilize aircraft carriers, cruise missile destroyers
> and B-52 bombers and to call up thousands of reservists
> for military intervention. Only Barbara Lee, a Black
> woman representing the district that includes Oakland,
> Calif., cast a heroic "no" vote in Congress.
Undoubtedly every word in the above paragraph is true. It must
have taken courage for Barbara Lee to vote against the war
hysteria that is being whipped up. But I do not believe that
this approach is the best way to write agitation--because it can
create the illusion, among many readers, that people such as
Barbara Lee can be relied on to be more than what they are. And
I think it is better to oppose such illusions. I know that many
readers of this email list will not understand why I would make a
point of what would appear to be such a small issue: calling a
woman "heroic" who did, indeed, display a measure of courage.
All I can really add is that I believe that the significance of
this kind of thing will become more clear with time--if the war
is prolonged and the anti-war movement has an opportunity to
mature politically. If so--a large number of activists will
learn that not everyone who displays courage today can be counted
on to display it tomorrow--and that this fact has a very large
significance for our most basic conceptions of how to build a
movement that is independent of bourgeois influence and control.
The concept of a movement that is independent of bourgeois
influence and control is important beyond anything I can describe
with words. Barbara Lee, whatever her characteristics as an
individual, is part of a _strata_ of society that serves
bourgeois interests and which the bourgeois keeps on a leash.
Sometimes this leash is long and sometimes it is short (depending
on what best serves bourgeois interests at a given time). The
anti-war movement will find itself, in innumerable instances,
faced with a _choice_ between orienting itself towards:
(a) trying to move this strata of society to the left, and
(b) raising the consciousness of the masses.
To the extent that illusions exist that this strata of society
can be moved to the left--activists at all levels of the movement
will feel pressure to make the wrong choices.
I will cite here some comments which show that illusions in the
labor aristocracy (broadly defined, to include individuals like
Barbara Lee) are very widespread. Allow me to illustrate this
with some quotes from a recent article  by Jack Smith, a
supporter of the International Action Center (IAC), to Proyect's
list at marxmail.org:
> The birth of a new antiwar movement took place Sept. 29. [...]
> Maybe it will stiffen the backbone of a few Democrats so
> that California Rep. Barbara Lee won't be all alone [...]
> Democratic Party politicians have neutralized much of
> their potential effectiveness by rallying around the Bush
> administration's warlike objectives
The view here (which, unfortunately, is very widespread) is to be
mesmerized by the "potential effectiveness" of the Democratic
Party. This is a view that we can win the left wing of the
Democratic Party to anti-war positions if we orient our tactics
in this direction. The problem with this view, however, is
(1) Activists will frequently be faced with a choice of toning
down their militancy (and the anti-imperialist orientation
of their agitation) in order to avoid frightening off or
embarrassing the Democratic Party politicians they
would like to win over.
(2) The labor aristocracy will move to the left only when
it is in the interests of the bourgeoisie that they do so.
As the anti-war movement develops, it will tend to _break away_
from the influence of the labor aristocracy. This will be the
time at which the bourgeoisie will lengthen its leash and give
the signal to section of this strata that "the time is right" to
move to the left. From the point of view of bourgeois interests
it is far preferable to have a section of the labor aristocracy
move to the left--than to have a big section of militant
activists break free of the influence of the labor aristocracy.
It is the analogous to the way a fisherman may play out his line
when the fish attempts to swim away: rather than allow the line
to _break_ the fisherman will play the line out knowing that, as
long as the line itself is unbroken, he will be able to reel the
fish in when it has exhausted its strength.
If we want to move the labor aristocracy to the left--so that
people like Barbara Lee are not alone--then we should strive to
assist activists to _break from_ the political influence of the
labor aristocracy. _This_ (more than anything) will put pressure
on the labor aristocracy to move to the left.
I am going to cut off, at this point, my argument on the
importance of independence from bourgeois influence. Anyone who
is interested in more on this topic is invited to read the thread
(38 posts) where I confronted Louis Proyect about this three
Also I will add that some readers may believe that I am being too
harsh on Jack Smith's article. Allow me, therefore, to reproduce
here the article's concluding paragraph, which, in my view, is
saturated with illusions:
> We have within our grasp the most effective method for
> halting modern-day terrorism against innocent civilians.
> This is to conduct a thorough reevaluation of Washingtons
> policies toward the great majority of peoples of the world;
> to take sincere steps to end global poverty and inequality;
> to discontinue playing the role of world policeman; and to
> construct a foreign policy based on generosity, respect
> and fairness toward all peoples, including in the Middle
> East. Such action would provide our country with genuine
> national security and freedom from international terror.
> It would transform hatred into respect. It would cost far
> less in treasure and lives. And it would serve as a
> splendid, lasting humanitarian memorial to the victims
> of Sept. 11.
My first response to this is to ask who is the "we" that Jack
Smith refers to? Jack says that "we" have "within our grasp" the
ability to "conduct a thorough reevaluation" of the policies of
US imperialism, to take "sincere steps" to end global poverty and
injustice and "construct a foreign policy" based on generosity,
respect and fairness toward all peoples.
This is bullshit.
98 percent (or more) of all readers will conclude from this
paragraph that it is possible to do these things within the
confines of present-day bourgeois rule.
To advocate that such things are possible is to promote illusions
in bourgeois rule. We cannot build a powerful movement by
promoting illusions. We build a powerful movement by helping the
masses to see thru these kinds of illusions. A foreign policy
that is sincere and is aimed against global poverty and injustice
is not possible under conditions of bourgeois rule. Such a
foreign policy can never be attained by moving the left-wing of
the Democratic Party (or the labor aristocracy) to the left.
Such a foreign policy would only be possible in the wake of the
overthrow of bourgeois rule. This is the bitter truth. Many
activists, it is true, lack the experience today to accept this
bitter truth. But that is no excuse to lie to them. Bitter
experience confirms that such lies will lead the anti-war
movement down the road to hell.
Jack Smith may possibly believe that his concluding paragraph may
suggest to readers to possibility of an alternative to bourgeois
rule. But, if so, this is the worst possible way to try to
introduce such an idea--because it has the effect of promoting
illusions that all these wonderful things are possible under
conditions of bourgeois rule. And that is exactly the wrong
thing to do.
Finally, we see similar logic expressed here by Barry Stoller.
Barry Stoller -- Oct 1:
> And thus the problem with living behind enemy
> lines. We cannot -- practically -- work for
> revolution in our nations, we are far too privileged
> for revolution; we must tend to the far more
> frustrating task of moving our labor aristocracies
> as far to the left as possible in the hopes that
> that, alone, will give the revolutions in the 3rd
> World the breathing room they require. To
> ... defeat us.
I have seen this kind of bankrupt logic expressed on hundreds (or
thousands) of occasions. But this may take first prize for
expression in such a naked form. Barry has presented a formula
for the complete demoralization of any would-be revolutionary
element. No one who maintains such a view over a prolonged
period will be able to maintain a revolutionary perspective.
US imperialism will be overthrown by the _i_n_t_e_r_n_a_l_
_f_a_c_t_o_r_ --by the actions of its working class--in alliance
with the struggles of the working class and peoples of the rest
of the world. The labor aristocracy will move to the left at
precisely that moment when large sections of serious activists
conclude that the labor aristocracy is part of the enemy camp.
Barry's comment reveals an ideological similarity between a
section of the progressive movement in a country like the US--and
the fanatical Arab nationalist reactionaries who murdered
thousands of people last month in New York. Barry himself is a
sincere activist and I respect him. But the _ideology_ here is
poison. If we cannot see that the overthrow of US imperialism is
a task for the working class in the US--we will never be able to
tell the workers in the US the bitter truth that they need to
And that brings the focus to the last topic: the need to talk
about the alternative to bourgeois rule.
The need to talk about the alternative to bourgeois rule
Let's return to the article by Fred Goldstein written for the
WWP. I believe his concluding paragraph is a good example of how
_not_ to talk about an alternative to bourgeois rule:
> The bosses will tell you that they must come first,
> otherwise businesses will fail and no one will have
> a job. But that is only true when the capitalist profit
> system is forced on society. The profit system is
> what stands in the way of keeping everyone on
> the job, working and producing the wealth of society,
> and distributing the products to those who need it.
> That is what the workers need, and it's called
> socialism. Needless to say, the capitalists don't
> like it.
Of course one well-known meaning of the word "socialism"
corresponds, more or less, to what in scientific language we
might call social-democracy. But social-democracy, as has been
shown repeatedly in Europe, is just another form of capitalist
rule, with a somewhat kinder face to disguise the oppression of
worker by capitalist.
The other well-known meaning of the word "socialism" corresponds
to the rule of the working class. And this may be what Fred
Goldstein has in mind. But the problem in this case is that talk
of working class rule tends to come across to ordinary people as
empty nonsense. They will think: "Isn't that the discredited
system that failed in the former Soviet Union?"
Today, just about everybody in the US or Britain old enough to
read has heard all about this kind of "working class rule". What
they have heard is that it amounts to a society based on thought
control--a police state where a monopoly of political thought is
enforced by a single-party regime that rules like feudal lords
and suppresses all serious opposition. Such societies, being
unsuited to modern conditions, tend to have a low productivity of
labor--which means that not only are such societies ruled by a
corrupt and privileged class (which appropriates to itself the
best of everything)--but also that there are less goods and
services, in total, to go around.
Unless we in the left, in the progressive movement, develop a
basic understanding of some of the key principles that will guide
a modern society run by the working class (something that has
never existed), we are in no position to engage readers in an
intelligent way and tell them that an alternative to bourgeois
rule is possible. For example, after everything that happened in
the Soviet Union, I do not believe that it is possible to raise
the issue of workers' rule in an intelligent way unless we can,
at the same time, address the question of what democratic rights
that workers will have.
And yet this concept (ie: that an alternative to bourgeois rule
is possible) is the most powerful idea that we can give to
serious activists and to the working class.
This is the concept that terrifies the bourgeoisie. This is the
idea that frightens the bourgeoisie more than anything bin Laden
can come up with. This idea, in the hands of the masses, is big
trouble for the bourgeoisie--because once the masses understand
that a better world is possible--their system of class rule which
looks so powerful that they have proclaimed the "end of
history"--is revealed to be the last barrier to history's true
And this is why we must (if we are serious about raising the
issue of workers' rule without insulting the intelligence of our
readers) give serious thought about the nature of genuine
workers' rule under modern conditions. But my experience is that
few, if any, want to do this. And until this changes--all of our
talk about workers' rule or "socialism" and so forth will be
nothing but hot air.
So my disagreement with the approach of Fred Goldstein is not
that he mentions socialism--but that he is unable to give this
idea anything more than lip service. And this is consistent with
the views and practice of many organizations that consider
themselves to be marxist. Typically the former Soviet Union (or
the current China) is considered to embody the definition of
workers' rule. And when our readers wonder about topics such as
democratic rights--we find clever ways to evade the subject--as
if our readers were too stupid to notice that we are in denial.
And until we awaken ourselves from denial we will never overcome
the bankruptcy of what has become of the marxist movement.
The current war is confusing to many activists because it is a
war of US imperialism against a radical Islamic
fundamentalism--which is a variety of reactionary Arab
nationalism. Reactionary Arab nationalism is a form of
anti-imperialism. But it is the anti-imperialism of fools in a
similar way as the nazi movement was the socialism of fools.
Our Arab brothers and sisters are left in a very difficult
situation. Marxism and "communism" have been both suppressed
and discredited within much of the Arab world. This has been a
decisive factor in the migration of the anti-imerialist sentiment
of the masses in the direction of reactionary Arab nationalism.
The reactionary Arab regimes have suppressed the progressive
movements. And the revisionist practices of the former Soviet
Union (and the current China) have served to discredit what has
not been suppressed. Not all the atrocities committed during the
1979-89 Afghan civil war were committed by the Islamic
fundamentalists: many were committed by Soviet troops who carried
out the same kinds of mass reprisals against civilians as Russian
troops carry out today in Chechnya--or as American troops carried
out thirty years ago in Vietnam.
If we want marxism to again be worthy of the respect of our
brothers and sisters within the Arab working class and masses--we
must work to overcome denial within our ranks here--so that we
can overcome the theoretical crisis of marxism--and bring the
news to activists and workers _here_ that a world without
bourgeois rule is not only possible but the fundamental path
Sincerely and with revolutionary regards,
How will economics, politics and culture work
when the working class runs modern society?
"Bush, Capitalism and the War Crisis", Fred Goldstein
>From the Oct. 4 issue of Workers World newspaper
Proyect's MarxMail.org, Oct 3, jacdon at earthlink.net
"Reports on Sept 29 DC Antiwar Protest"
This post consists of articles written by Jack A. Smith
for the Mid-Hudson National People's Campaign/IAC
(IAC probably stands for "International Action Center")
More information about the Rad-Green