Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 14, 2005

Carl Davidson, continued

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:14 pm

Carl Davidson writes:
Louis, you sort of slide over the main point. Of course the Trotskyists ‘supported’ the defeat of Germany, et al. I’m not claiming they didn’t. There’s no ‘bald-faced lie’ here. But they also supported the defeat at the same time of the bourgeoisie in every country, the defeat of all imperialists in the inter-imperialist war, including ours. You couch this in terms of ‘revolutionary mobilization to do the job.’ I’m not quite sure quite what this is supposed to mean, since the Civil War analogy doesn’t really hold, but it usually meant, in the language of the time, something like ‘overthrow the bosses government, install a workers and farmers government,’ and then conduct the war of a difference class basis from there.

The only defeat that Trotskyists ever urged with respect to Roosevelt was at the hands of the American working class, not the Wehrmacht. I must say that you are rather adept at characterizing the position of the SWP even if falsely. But you must learn to cite what the SWP actually *said*. Your analysis of the Trotskyist position on WWII is utterly bereft of any direct citations. Instead of foggy declarations about “the language of the time,” you would be well-advised to read what Trotsky or other people wrote. This is especially important in light of the fact that your attack on Trotskyism was simultaneously a defense of Stalin. You even put the words “Stalin’s crimes” in quotes, a sign of the Stalin worship that the Progressive Labor Party infected SDS with and that people like you and Bob Avakian eventually succumbed to. I guess your intention was to show Peking that you were even more anxious to turn back the clock to the mid-1930s than your rivals in PLP.

Rather than putting words into our mouths, you might want to consult what the Trotskyists were actually saying. As should be obvious from what I have been writing on the Internet for the past 13 years or so, I am a critic of the organizational model of the Fourth International. Despite that, I remain sympathetic to what Trotsky wrote about fascism, Stalinism, etc. Here’s what Ernest Mandel has to say about WWII. Mandel, in my opinion, was the deepest thinker that this movement produced in the post-WWII period:

Or movement was inoculated against nationalism in imperialist countries, against the idea of supporting imperialist war efforts in any form whatsoever. That was a good education, and I do not propose to revise that tradition. But what it left out of account were elements of the much more complex Leninist position in the First World War. It is simply not true that Lenin’s position then can be reduced to the formula: “This is a reactionary imperialist war. We have nothing to do with it.” Lenin’s position was much more sophisticated. He said: “There are at least two wars, and we want to introduce a third one.” (The third one was the proletarian civil war against the bourgeoisie which in actual fact came out of the war in Russia.)

Lenin fought a determined struggle against sectarian currents inside the internationalist tendency who did not recognise the distinction between these two wars. He pointed out: “There is an inter-imperialist war. With that war we have nothing to do. But there are also wars of national uprising by oppressed nationalities. The Irish uprising is 100 per cent justified. Even if German imperialism tries to profit from it, even if leaders of the national movement link up with German submarines, this does not change the just nature of the Irish war of independence against British imperialism. The same thing is true for the national movement in the colonies and the semi-colonies, the Indian movement, the Turkish movement, the Persian movement.” And he added: “The same thing is true for the oppressed nationalities in Russia and Austro-Hungary. The Polish national movement is a just movement, the Czech national movement is a just movement. A movement by any oppressed nationality against the imperialist oppressor is a just movement. And the fact that the leadership of these movements could betray by linking these movements politically and organizationally to imperialism is a reason to denounce these leaders, not a reason to condemn these movements.”

Now if we look at the problem of World War II from that more dialectical, more correct Leninist point of view, we have to say that it was a very complicated business indeed. I would say, at the risk of putting it a bit too strongly, that the Second World War was in reality a combination of five different wars. That may seem an outrageous proposition at first sight, but I think closer examination will bear it out.

First, there was an inter-imperialist war, a war between the Nazi, Italian, and Japanese imperialists on the one hand, and the Anglo-American-French imperialists on the other hand. That was a reactionary war, a war between different groups of imperialist powers. We had nothing to do with that war, we were totally against it.

Second, there was a just war of self-defence by the people of China, an oppressed semi-colonial country, against Japanese imperialism. At no moment was Chiang Kai-shek’s alliance with American imperialism a justification for any revolutionary to change their judgement on the nature of the Chinese war. It was a war of national liberation against a robber gang, the Japanese imperialists, who wanted to enslave the Chinese people. Trotsky was absolutely clear and unambiguous on this. That war of independence started before the Second World War, in 1937; in a certain sense, it started in 1931 with the Japanese Manchurian adventure. It became intertwined with the Second World War, but it remained a separate and autonomous ingredient of it.

Third, there was a just war of national defence of the Soviet Union, a workers state, against an imperialist power. The fact that the Soviet leadership allied itself not only in a military way – which was absolutely justified – but also politically with the Western imperialists in no way changed the just nature of that war. The war of the Soviet workers and peasants, of the Soviet peoples and the Soviet state, to defend the Soviet Union against German imperialism was a just war from any Marxist-Leninist point of view. In that war we were 100 per cent for the victory of one camp, without any reservations or question marks. We were for absolute victory of the Soviet people against the murderous robbers of German imperialism.

Fourth, there was a just war of national liberation of the oppressed colonial peoples of Africa and Asia (in Latin America there was no such war), launched by the masses against British and French imperialism, sometimes against Japanese imperialism, and sometimes against both in succession, one after the other. Again, these were absolutely justified wars of national liberation, regardless of the particular character of the imperialist power. We were just as much for the victory of the Indian people’s uprising against British imperialism, and the small beginnings of the uprising in Ceylon, as we were in favour of the victory of the Burmese, Indochinese, and Indonesian guerrillas against Japanese, French, and Dutch imperialism successively. In the Philippines the situation was even more complex. I do not want to go into all the details, but the basic point is that all these wars of national liberation were just wars, regardless of the nature of their political leadership. You do not have to place any political confidence in or give any political support to the leaders of a particular struggle in order to recognise the justness of that struggle. When a strike is led by treacherous trade union bureaucrats you do not put any trust in them – but nor do you stop supporting the strike.

Now I come to the fifth war, which is the most complex. I would not say that it was going on in the whole of Europe occupied by Nazi imperialism, but more especially in two countries, Yugoslavia and Greece, to a great extent in Poland, and incipiently in France and Italy. That was a war of liberation by the oppressed workers, peasants, and urban petty bourgeoisie against the German Nazi imperialists and their stooges. To deny the autonomous nature of that war means saying in reality that the workers and peasants of Western Europe had no right to fight against those who were enslaving them at that moment unless their minds were set clearly against bringing in other enslavers in place of the existing ones. That is an unacceptable position.

It is true that if the leadership of that mass resistance remained in the hands of bourgeois nationalists, of Stalinists or social democrats, it could eventually be sold out to the Western imperialists. It was the duty of the revolutionaries to prevent this from happening by trying to oust these fakers from the leadership of the movement. But it was impossible to prevent such a betrayal by abstaining from participating in that movement.

What lay behind that fifth war? It was the inhuman conditions which existed in the occupied countries. How can anyone doubt that? How can anyone tell us that the real reason for the uprising was some ideological framework – such as the chauvinism of the French people or of the CP leadership? Such an explanation is nonsense. People did not fight because they were chauvinists. People were fighting because they were hungry, because they were over-exploited, because there were mass deportations of slave labour to Germany, because there was mass slaughter, because there were concentration camps, because there was no right to strike, because unions were banned, because communists, socialists and trade unionists were being put in prison.

That’s why people were rising, and not because they were chauvinists. They were often chauvinists too, but that was not the main reason. The main reason was their inhuman material living conditions, their social, political, and national oppression, which was so intolerable that it pushed millions onto the road of struggle. And you have to answer the question: was it a just struggle, or was it wrong to rise against this over-exploitation and oppression? Who can seriously argue that the working class of Western or Eastern Europe should have abstained or remained passive towards the horrors of Nazi oppression and Nazi occupation? That position is indefensible.

So the only correct position was to say that there was a fifth war which was also an autonomous aspect of what was going on between 1939 and 1945. The correct revolutionary Marxist position (I say this with a certain apologetic tendency, because it was the one defended from the beginning by the Belgian Trotskyists against what I would call both the right wing and the ultra-left wing of the European Trotskyist movement at that time) should have been as follows: to support fully all mass struggles and uprisings, whether armed or unarmed, against Nazi imperialism in occupied Europe, in order to fight to transform them into a victorious socialist revolution – that is, to fight to oust from the leadership of the struggles those who were linking them up with the Western imperialists, and who wanted in reality to maintain capitalism at the end of the war, as in fact happened.

full: http://www.geocities.com/youth4sa/mandel-ww2.html

Carl Davidson continues:
Anything like that was never in the cards in the US in that period, and you should know it a well as anyone. The closest to it was Randolph’s threatened ‘Double V’ march–victory against fascism abroad and Jim Crow at home. Only Randolph was calling for the victory of the US bourgeoise in Europe and Asia, correctly arguing that intergrating the Army and opposing segregation everywhere would strengthen the position of the US, especially in the colonial world, where the allies where up against the Japanese call for ‘a united front of the darker races under the leadership of Japan.’ Opposing Randolph, along with supporting the no strike pledge, the goverment crackdown on the SWP, and and the incarceration of the Japanese in camps, are to the everlasting shame of the CPUSA and all came back to haunt them, all point I believe I made in my 1970s writings, if not in this pamphlet, then in others. Harry Haywood certainly made it in his book, ‘Black Bolshevik.’

I have no idea what points you made in your 1970s writings and lack the patience or the free time to review them. All I know is that somebody who puts the words “Stalin’s crimes” in scare quotes needs to rethink the merit of standing on such writings. They are about as solid as a 3 dollar suitcase.

Carl Davidson continues:
I know SWP members took part in the US military, and never claimed they didn’t; they also submitted to the draft in the Vietnam war. Their line was always to carry out your duties as a soldier as best as you could to avoid a courts-martial and to continue doing SWP revolutionary propaganda work among the GIs. In the case of the Fort Hood 3 in the 1960, this had a positive impact. But I still stand by our SDS line of opposition to the draft as well as working in the Army.

I wasn’t aware that SDS worked in the army. I thought you guys were focused on developing a counter-culture.

Carl Davidson continues:
As for Kerry, I never endorsed him or even called him an antiwar candidate. I said he represented another faction of imperialism. I did urge people to register to vote, organized them to do so in large numbers, and to vote to defeat Bush. We left it up to them to decide whether to vote Kerry, Nader or Cobb, knowing, of course, that almost all would vote for Kerry and only a handful for any third party option that might be there. But we brought them to the polls nonetheless. In the process, we build our own organizations that belong to us, not the Democrats. If you can’t tell the difference between that and a reform Democrat line prettifying or kissing Kerry’s butt, then that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?

In his autobiography, CP leader Steve Nelson explained how Browder perfected the tactic now being employed by people such as you and Ted Glick:

“The fact that the Party [CP] continued to run its own candidates during the early New Deal may give the wrong impression of our attitude toward the Democratic Party. We supported pro-New Deal candidates and ran our own people largely for propaganda purposes….

“Earl Browder’s campaign that same year [1936] demonstrates how we ran our own candidates but still supported the New Deal. His motto and the whole tone of his campaign was ‘Defeat Landon [the Republican] at All Costs.’ In this way he sought to give critical support to FDR. We wanted to work with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and to achieve a certain amount of legitimacy as a party of the Left. We held a rally for Browder in the Wilkes-Barre [Pennsylvania] armory, which held over three thousand people, and the place was jammed. Many in the audience were rank and file Democrats. We didn’t get their votes on election day, but that’s not what counted to us. They were coming to recognize us as friends.”

Carl Davidson continues:
As for Gus Hall and the ‘peoples party,’ goodness, that’s a blast from the past. He used it as a ‘left’ cover to continue the main effort of working to reform the Democrats. I don’t care what name the replacement for the Democratic party has, but I’m working to build something new from the ground up, a broad nonpartisan alliance to defeat the right. So far, at least here in Chicago, we’re actually making some progress.

As for not having the same views I had in the 1960-70s, I can only quote Muhhamed Ali to the effect that ‘anyone who thinks the same at 50 as they did at 20 has wasted 30 years of their life.’

In your case, the pattern seems to be the classic transformation of an ultraleftist into a reformist.

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