Workers Vanguard No. 976

18 March 2011


“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Imperialist Military

No to ROTC on Campus!

(Young Spartacus pages)

With the brutal occupation of Iraq dragging on, tens of thousands of additional troops sent to Afghanistan and increased “secret” drone bombings and CIA operations in Pakistan, the armed forces are looking for a “few good men and women” to serve in their officer corps. All U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now! Hands off Pakistan! In his January 25 State of the Union address, imperialist Commander-in-Chief Obama invoked the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy to bolster military recruitment: “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.” Within days of the Senate’s December 18 vote to allow the repeal of DADT, university presidents, including at Columbia and Yale, scrambled to bring ROTC back to their campuses. Meanwhile, the media blathered on about how the military can contribute to the “diversity of the intellectual and moral climate” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 January). On March 4, Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust reinstated Naval ROTC.

ROTC had been driven off over 100 campuses by the early 1970s, as opposition to U.S. imperialism’s dirty, losing war in Vietnam roiled the country. Since that time, ROTC has quietly crawled back onto many of these campuses or set up joint programs with neighboring universities. Unlike radicalized students in the 1960s, in the last few years, campus activists and liberals have narrowly focused their opposition to ROTC on the military’s discriminatory DADT policy. Most recently, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups have objected to ROTC’s return because the military continues to forbid transgender people from enlisting.

As revolutionary socialists, we have a principled stance against the imperialists’ war aims and their armed forces, upholding German revolutionary Wilhelm Liebknecht’s call: “not a man nor a penny” for the capitalist military! ROTC is a training program for officers. It’s an appendage of the military, which exists to defend the bourgeoisie’s interests both through war and colonial plunder abroad and by violently repressing class and social struggle at home. While we fight against discrimination, including discrimination against homosexuals in the armed forces, our goal is not to clean up the image of the capitalist military but to destroy it, along with the racist and sexist capitalist order it defends, through socialist revolution.

Since our founding, the Spartacus Youth Clubs (and our predecessors) have mobilized to keep military recruiters and ROTC off campuses, and have protested military research and CIA and cop training on campus. The universities are not ivory towers, but part of the capitalist society they exist in—campus administrations run them to serve the interest of the capitalist class, in order to train the next generation of managers, technicians, government administrators and war criminals. Nonetheless, we oppose every attempt by the ruling class to turn the campuses into direct training grounds for agents of U.S. imperialism. ROTC, military recruiters and cops off campus now!

The Imperialist Military and Capitalist Society

Militarism and imperialist war are inherent to this class-divided society in which a tiny minority of the population owns the banks and industry and amasses profit by exploiting the labor of the working class. Imperialism is not a policy that can be reformed. The final stage in the development of capitalism, characterized by the export of finance capital, imperialism is a system in which rival advanced capitalist states are compelled by the need for cheap labor, natural resources and new markets to wage wars to divide and dominate the world. The U.S. imperialists, who sit on the largest stockpile of operational nuclear weapons and have a military budget greater than that of the next 19 countries combined, are the greatest danger to the world’s peoples.

The release by WikiLeaks last April of a video showing an Apache helicopter gunning down Iraqi civilians while the pilots gloated over the carnage provided a glimpse of the brutality of the U.S. imperialists’ military. And for those the imperialists see as domestic opponents of their war aims, witness the treatment of Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking this video and other materials. He has been held in solitary confinement at a military brig since last May. Since March 2 his clothes have been confiscated at night. In the morning he has been forced to stand naked outside his cell to have them returned. Obama has endorsed this treatment, which is supposedly a “precautionary measure” for Manning’s safety. Free Bradley Manning!

The imperialist military is a microcosm of society, reflecting the class divide between the ranks and the bourgeois officer corps, as well as the deep-rooted racism and anti-gay and anti-woman bigotry of American society as a whole. Historically, black troops have often been keenly aware of the hypocrisy of U.S. wars for “freedom” and “democracy” while they are oppressed and discriminated against at home. As we pointed out in “Sex, Race and the Military” (WV No. 671, 11 July 1997): “Until the late 1940s, the military was rigidly segregated, with blacks by and large excluded from combat duty because of the bourgeoisie’s overriding fear of ‘Negroes with guns’.” As the massive need for manpower temporarily overwhelmed traditional racist practices toward the end of World War II, blacks began to be integrated into white fighting units.

In the U.S. today, the volunteer army relies on the economic draft to recruit the bulk of its rank-and-file soldiers. With dwindling access to higher education due to nationwide tuition hikes and the eviscerating of affirmative action, military recruitment is up. Many working-class and poor youth—disproportionately black and Latino—see joining the military as their only opportunity to get a college education or learn a skill. For black youth in particular, who face special race-caste oppression under U.S. capitalism, options are largely limited to the military, a McJob, prison or death on the streets.

As Marxists we oppose anyone volunteering for the imperialist military. We also oppose the draft. However in the event of a draft, as during the Vietnam War, we would oppose radicals refusing to serve in the military, which would only strengthen the ideological purity and political reliability of the armed forces. Instead, we say young militants should go with working-class and minority youth and continue their political agitation. (See “You Will Go!” Spartacist No. 11, March-April 1968.)

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

For more than a decade, the U.S. stood out among economically advanced countries for its policy of excluding open homosexuals from the military. Last December, Obama and the Democratic Congress pushed through the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act just weeks before the Republicans took over the House, though the repeal may take months more to go into effect. When signing the repeal, Obama enthused, “This law I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.” Referring to the many soldiers forced out of the military under the discriminatory policy, “Independent” Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman lamented, “What a waste.”

Anti-sodomy laws and “perversion” screenings in the armed forces have long been used to separate out the “sissies” and “sexual degenerates” from the “real men.” In 1982, Reagan signed a formal ban asserting that “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” Since the implementation of DADT in 1993 under Democratic president Bill Clinton, over 13,000 service members were discharged and thousands more have endured aggressive harassment, victims of the military culture’s particular brand of macho brutality and piggishness. Continuously vilified as rapists and pariahs, gays in the military are frequently the target of harassment, abuse and beatings.

When DADT was implemented in 1993, we wrote, “Allowing gays into the military with full rights is a simple democratic demand. However even if the formal ban is dropped, gays will still face harassment and violence at the hands of bigoted officers and fellow soldiers in this bigoted society” (“Right-Wing Bigots Mobilize Against Gays in the Military,” WV No. 569, 12 February 1993). This has been the case for women, who were granted permanent status in the military in 1948. Today, women are discriminated against in the armed forces and violence against them remains prevalent—sexual assault is twice as common as in the civilian population.

The systematic oppression of gay and lesbian people in the military—as in society at large—cannot be eliminated under capitalism. Hatred of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people flows from the institution of the family. Under the capitalist system, any sexual arrangement that deviates from the heterosexual, monogamous paradigm is demonized. The patriarchal family acts as the main prop of the oppression of women and regiments and conservatizes each new generation whose future is to become wage slaves and cannon fodder for capitalist exploitation.

In the past, many of those hoping to avoid fighting American wars of depredation relied on what was known as the “gay excuse” to get discharged. (Famously, comedian Lenny Bruce reportedly faked being gay on board the USS Brooklyn during World War II, claiming that he was “attracted physically to a few of the fellows.”) Today, enthusiasm for joining the military is one expression of a socially conservative trend in the gay rights milieu, one that seeks bourgeois “respectability” including by embracing patriotism and marital “family values.” A statement by OutServe, an underground organization of gay and lesbian active-duty soldiers, exemplifies this patriotic trend: “Today’s vote by the Senate is a step forward for America. Today our military is stronger, our nation is stronger” ( Organizers of many gay rights demonstrations, including the International Socialist Organization (ISO), have promoted Dan Choi, a West Point graduate who was discharged after coming out on television. Choi, who often campaigned surrounded by American flags, revoltingly propounds the usefulness of gays to the imperialist war machine.

To swim in this stream, the fake-socialist ISO in many of its articles on DADT disappears the repressive nature of the military, while pushing liberal illusions that a mythical “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie can be relied on to fight for gay rights. After joyously gushing over Obama’s election in 2008, last October the ISO grumbled that if Obama and the Democrats were “truly the champions of LGBT equality they have so often claimed to be, they would have kept their promises” to end DADT (Socialist Worker online, 18 October 2010). Now that Obama and the late majority-Democratic Congress have agreed to overturn DADT, are they now “truly champions of LGBT equality”? No! The Democratic Party, like all bourgeois parties, defends the system of capitalism, which perpetuates the oppression of women and sexual minorities. The ISO channels outrage over anti-gay prejudice and discrimination into impotent pressure politics by telling leftists, workers and youth that the capitalist ruling class can be held “accountable” to their empty proclamations.

What is urgently needed is a revolutionary workers party, organized in opposition to the capitalist Democrats, that would champion the rights of all the oppressed. You cannot end war or the economic conditions that force working-class and minority youth into the military without overturning the capitalist system in which these are rooted. We stand on the model of the October 1917 Russian Revolution, which not only pulled a country out of the first imperialist world war but also eliminated all laws against homosexuality. As we stated in our article, “Marxism, Militarism and War” (WV No. 857, 28 October 2005), “As Marxists, our goal is not just to get ROTC and military recruiters off campus for now, but to win students to the struggle to organize the social power of the working class for socialist revolution to get rid of imperialist militarism, and the capitalist system it serves, once and for all.”