NEFAC Statement Anarchists Against the War:
Pressure Politics in Militant Clothing
Reprinted from Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard No. 803, 9 May 2003.
A leaflet distributed on the East Coast by the Open City Anarchist Collective of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), titled Anarchists Against the War (15 February), stands out from all other anarchist antiwar statements we have come across in that it takes a side in the U.S. war on Iraq. It states, We hope the U.S. is defeated in its aggression. Anarchists typically call for neutrality in the face of wars between colonial or semicolonial countries and the most deadly imperialist power on the planet. For example, a principal slogan of NEFAC has been: No war between nations, no peace between classes. The logic of this superficially radical slogan is ultimately chauvinist, damning the struggle for self-defense of oppressed nations in the same breath as they condemn pillage and rape by the imperialists.
It is the duty of revolutionaries to defend oppressed and dependent countries against imperialist attack. Easy wins for the imperialists, as the war in Iraq has been, embolden them to undertake further rampage and bloody conquest. A defeat of the U.S. would be a victory for workers of the world, not least in allowing more room for class struggle to emerge. Since the U.S. war moves against Iraq began, we emblazoned on our banners: Defend Iraq Against Imperialist Attack! Defense of Iraq no more means political support to the bloody Saddam Hussein regime than defense of protesters against a police assault means political agreement with them.
On some level, NEFAC and Open City agree that wars are inherent to the capitalist system in the age of imperialism. NEFACs Aims and Principles states that war is a manifestation of imperialism, and the Open City leaflet says, Capitalist states like the U.S. exist to wage war. So from these observations it should be elementary that to successfully oppose war it is necessary to shatter the war-driven system we live under today. Yet, despite their call for a social revolution, Open City offers no alternative to the strategy of the reformists whose antiwar coalitions are consciously designed to build a platform for Democratic Party politicians! Thus, its commendable position in siding with Iraq against U.S. imperialist aggression is undermined by its pushing the same old pressure politics.
So they say, A large movement is necessary, including a wide range of viewpoints and methods, operating in a democratic and pluralistic fashion. As anarchists, we are prepared to work in a united front of anti-war forces. But as American Trotskyist James Burnham stated in War and the Workers (1936):
To suppose, therefore, that revolutionists can work out a common program against war with non-revolutionists is a fatal illusion. Any organization based upon such a program is not merely powerless to prevent war; in practice it acts to promote war, both because it serves in its own way to uphold the system that breeds war, and because it diverts the attention of its members from the real fight against war. There is only one program against war: the program for revolutionthe program of the revolutionary party of the workers.
The Open City leaflet continues, We need a movement that does not rely on or work with the Democratic Party. But behind the broad antiwar coalitions is the false idea that to stop war requires consummating a political bloc with representatives of the capitalist class in whose interests imperialist war is waged. So while the leaflet aptly describes the role of the peace Democrats as to divert the dissent of the anti-war movement to permissible, diffuse channels that wont upset the status quo, Open Citys left criticism of the Democrats is empty inasmuch as it finds no application in what it actually advocates doingworking in coalitions that presuppose the inviolability of capitalist class rule!
The attempt to distance the large movement from the Democratic Party is simply a cover for pressure politics. Pro-imperialist liberals would not join coalitions that did not cater to them. ANSWER, Not In Our Name and United for Peace and Justice court the Democrats and look to unite antiwar youth behind them. The coalitions as well reached out in the spirit of unity to those who opposed this war because they felt it was not in the best interests of the U.S., that the U.S. should save its strength for more important wars, like against North Korea. And Open City accepts the rationale behind a pro-imperialist peace movement, terming it a united front of anti-war forces.
It was with pious declarations about the sanctity of a united front of anti-fascist forces including a wide range of viewpoints and methods that anarchists became ministers of the bourgeois state during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, their opposition to all states notwithstanding. Only months earlier in 1936, victorious anarchist-led workers militias in Catalonia were betrayed when the anarchists renounced the consolidation of a workers state, voluntarily leaving a severely crippled bourgeoisie in power. Thus the anarchistsin virtually the only country in the world where they ever had a mass proletarian followingalong with all the other reformists, like the Stalinist Communist Party, prevented the insurgent working class from toppling the Republican government and taking state power. This betrayal led to Francos victory and decades of murderous reaction in Spain and robbed the proletariat throughout Europe of a powerful impetus in their own revolutionary struggles. The Spanish Trotskyists fought for the mobilization of the proletariat independent of the class enemy, the starting point in the struggle for socialist revolution.
For a Revolutionary Vanguard Party!
What is necessary is not more unity with those who defend, and indeed thirst to run, the capitalist system. The first step toward revolutionary consciousness is to break ruthlessly from the supporters of the rule of capital. Revolutionary-minded youth and workers need to be won away from leftists who peddle an alliance with the class enemy. But to win them requires they be won to somethinga revolutionary program and party. The anarchist infatuation with leaderless movements misses the essential point: there will always be leadership, and if it is not revolutionary it will be counterrevolutionary.
Nowhere has a spontaneous, atomized movement overturned an old social order. The ruling class is organized, and it has a state to protect its interests. It is conscious of its class aims. In order to smash capitalism, the workers must be equally organized and conscious of their class interests: the ending of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.
The leaflet contends, Unions are relatively weak and top-heavy with bureaucrats. But a real class struggle program would shake up the capitalists and their state. Too true. But who is to fight for this class struggle program? Someone must or else the pro-Democratic Party union misleadership will remain at their posts. Revolutionaries must intervene into the unions to fight against the illusions that workers have in the Democrats. Marxists seek to forge a class-struggle leadership of the unions that champions the cause of the oppressed and mobilizes the social power of the proletariat in struggle against the bosses and their system.
Fighting Imperialist War: Liberal Reformism or Class Struggle?
Open City proposes a two-stage pro-gram: for now pressure the capitalists, later revolution in the indefinite future. They say, To limit their wars, we must put pressure on these states [like the U.S.]. To end their wars, we must end all states. It is a common illusion that the excesses of capitalism can be curtailed by exerting enough pressure through appeals to the good conscience of the capitalists. But it is not a question of greed, lack of morals or other personal failures of a handful of capitalists.
The capitalist produces for profit by exploiting labor or is no longer in business. Imperialism is the stage of capitalism marked by competition among the advanced industrial nations for control of markets, raw materials and spheres of exploitation in pursuit of such profits. This control over and subjugation of other parts of the world is enforced militarily in the final analysis. Likewise, the competition to exploit and plunder the world leads sooner or later to wars between the imperialist ruling classes, as was demonstrated in two bloody world wars.
It should be clear to all that the broad antiwar coalitions that mobilized millions across the world in protest did nothing to stop or even limit the desires and the ability of the worlds bloodiest imperialist power to devastate Iraq. It is a good thing that millions took to the streets. But it is a crime that their just anger over the attack on Iraq was channeled into avenues safe for the bourgeoisie. The Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs intervened to win antiwar protesters to the understanding that the working class must take up defense of Iraq against the U.S. and that only socialist revolution can end imperialist war. To that end, we mobilized our Revolutionary Internationalist Contingents in many of the nationwide demonstrations under the slogans: All U.S. troops out of the Near East now! Down with U.S. imperialism! Defend Iraq! For class struggle against U.S. capitalist rulers!
Since the mass antiwar rallies proved ineffectual, many youth took up direct action protest. But through this direct actionwithout a force of sufficient social weight animated by a revolutionary programthe same dead-end pressure politics are at work. Behind the more attractive militancy is the timeworn pacifist idea that if courage is shown in taking the blows of the oppressor, the evildoers will undergo a moral regeneration and work for the betterment of humanity. A ruling class that glories in mass slaughter in Iraq will not mind dishing out cop attacks or jail sentences to its perceived opponents at home. Moreover, as the anti-globalization protests of the late 1990s showed, setting oneself up as an easy target for state repression is hardly inspiring to the oppressed masses who face factory exploitation and police terror on a daily basis. It is the potential for victory, not victimization, that will rally the oppressed masses to a revolutionary movement.
The proponents of direct action think that if you disrupt business as usual through acts of civil disobedience you can force the rulers to listen and thereby create a real democracy. This falsely assumes that the ruling class, or a section of it, would do the right thing if only we could grab their attention and show the way. Some of those who engage in civil disobedience locate the problems of capitalism in the appetites of a few corporations, specially targeting them for correction. But its a system thats at work.
Open City also hopes that the militarys business as usual can be disrupted. Thus they state, The rank-and-file of the military can do this [stop war], by refusing orders. But the army is not a democracy! Rank-and-file soldiers who refuse to obey the officer corps can be court-martialed and shot. A perspective of individual martyrdom can never generate a mass revolutionary movement of the working class. The idea that war will end when individual soldiers, one by one, decide to refuse to fight is an old and discredited notion. It properly belongs to religious pacifists like the Quakers, who believe that what happens in society is the sum total of the moral decisions of each individual. But in capitalist class society, the ruling class has the power to compel the young workers to fight its wars or face the consequences. The working class must organize to take that power away from them through socialist revolution.
Leon Trotsky, co-leader of the only successful workers revolution in history, the Russian Revolution, and later commander of the Red Army, observed in his History of the Russian Revolution (1932):
There is no doubt that the fate of every revolution at a certain point is decided by a break in the disposition of the army. Against a numerous, disciplined, well-armed and ably led military force, unarmed or almost unarmed masses of the people cannot possibly gain a victory. But no deep national crisis can fail to affect the army to some extent. Thus along with the conditions of a truly popular revolution there develops a possibilitynot, of course, a guaranteeof victory.
As in Russia in 1917, the military can be split only when bourgeois rule is in the grip of a deep social crisis and the proletariat shows itself to be a real contender for power, organized and conscious of its aims through the active intervention of a vanguard party.
For New October Revolutions!
But even when proletarian power is realized, anarchists deny the revolution the right to consolidate its gains in the form of working-class rule. Just as the capitalist state is the fundamental force for defending the capitalists and their interests against the workers, so too is the workers state the central organization for defending the workers and their interests against counterrevolution. Anarchists renounce the state in general, which explains why they renounced defense of the Russian Revolution.
To justify their refusal to stand with the gains the working class has already won, the anarchists of NEFAC and Open City claim that capitalism was never overthrown, just restructured into state capitalism. Thus Open City writes, With the collapse of the state capitalist Soviet Union, a struggle for dominance is also fought out behind the scenes with wealthy competitors [to the U.S.], the imperialist states of Europe and Japan. But if the Soviet Union was just state capitalist, why did it make such a difference that it became supposedly plain capitalist and changed its name to Russia?
The destruction of the USSR has emboldened the U.S. bourgeoisie to pursue its unbridled appetites for world domination. We Trotskyists of the International Communist League fought until the end in defense of the deformed and degenerated workers states of the USSR and East Europe, and those leftists who capitulated to anti-Soviet bourgeois public opinion and cheered counterrevolution can only be seen as complicit in the horrors inflicted in consequence. And the question is not merely a historical one: the devastation that counterrevolution has wreaked on the former Soviet Union shows graphically why all those who support the international proletariat must defend the remaining deformed workers statesChina, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.
At the same time that they recoil from defense of gains already won, anarchists shun the task of party building essential to new victories. Although radical youth by their own direct actions will never actually disrupt the system of profit and war, historically mass working-class movements, with the social power to effectively paralyze capitalist society, have done so. In Italy in the early 1920s, the radicalized proletariat engaged in nonstop strikes and general strikes for two years. But the workers lacked the resolute revolutionary leadership to take the offensive against the ruling class and fight for state power. While capitalist society was held hostage, it was never dealt its death blow. The crisis drove the desperate middle classes into the arms of reaction, and Mussolinis Fascists came to power, welcomed by the bourgeoisie in the name of restoring order.
Capitalism cannot be reformed; it must be overthrown. We fight to build the party that can make the revolution possible. Even if todays anarchists could somehow win mass support, they would have no more of a clue than the Spanish anarchists or Italian syndicalists of how to finally put an end to this hateful system. Youth serious about wanting to change the world would do well by studying the lessons of history and Marxist theory with the SYCs while intervening in social struggles alongside us.