Class Struggle or “Anti-Imperialism”

A debate with leftism


During recent months CWO militants have been working with others in Sheffield to build an opposition to the bosses’ war-drive based on developing a class struggle. The emergence of a successful co-ordination (Sheffield No War But Class War) has clarified the differences in theory and practice between class struggle militants, on the one hand, and the liberal pacifists and leftists in the Stop the War Coalition (STWC), on the other.

The differences have been explored in leaflets, by interventions at meetings and within debates on the Sheffield STWC mailing list.

The lines of debate have become particularly clear as STWC has become increasingly openly pro-Palestinian and, in preparation for the next military episode, pro-Iraqi.

We reproduce below extracts of a dialogue between John S, a Castroite, Chris C of NWBCW and the CWO.

The exchange deals with the national question and leads on to the tactic of revolutionary defeatism towards imperialist wars in the present period.

The CWO, together with the left communist groups of the Italian and German left who survived the counter-revolution, argue that contrary to Lenin, the period when communists could give tactical support to the bourgeoisie in their struggles for the democratic revolution and national republics ended with World War 1. This is because the productive forces and the proletariat itself were then sufficiently developed for the creation of communism. We argue that the change in the Bolshevik programme in April 1917, via the April Theses, in which support for the national bourgeois revolution was dropped in favour of the socialist revolution, was correct. The launching of the October revolution, as a first step in the world revolution, was a move which correctly reflected the state of global capitalism at that time and the consequent possibilities for socialist revolution. The nationalities programme of the Bolsheviks was, however, a mistake, and the later moves by the Comintern on this issue, such as in China 1927, were counter revolutionary. We argue that from World War I on, the proletariat could only follow the policy of revolutionary defeatism in the face of bourgeois wars, which were all imperialist. This entails total opposition to the bourgeoisie of both sides and propaganda for turning the imperialist war into a civil war. No support can be given to any war but the class war.

John S argues that support should be given to national bourgeoisies such as Cuba and Iraq because this will weaken US imperialism.

The exchange reproduced below has been edited of extraneous and repetitive material.

Chris C [a supporter of No War But Class War]

... if you support a military victory for Iraq then it’s logical to support arms sales too ... The logic of taking sides in conflicts between states... is actually one that does lead to a pro-war position... supporting Iraq against the US.

John S

The US rulers aim to take over that country, its government, its natural resources, in order that they can subjugate and exploit its people. At one time, the US rulers considered they could best achieve this aim by installing and supporting the Ba’ath dictatorship. But Saddam is a former henchman of Washington who has slipped his leash. By seeing the Iraq-US confrontation as simply a confrontation “between two states”, Chris’s logic leads him towards a position of neutrality, which would be a reactionary, cop-out stance.

Chris and his fellow anarchists talk a lot about “states”, but never mention the word “sovereignty”. Whatever one may think of the Iraqi regime, Iraq is a sovereign nation which has a right to defend itself against aggression, and this means that it has the right to acquire the means to do so. This is not an ideological statement, but a fact. .. Denis Halliday has repeatedly defended Iraq’s sovereign right to attempt to shoot down British and US warplanes who violate Iraq’s sovereignty and drop bombs on its people, and I agree with him on this. The right of self-defence is codified into international law, although the imperialist domination of the UN and other such bodies means that oppressed nations like Iraq have no means of asserting their legal rights. The anti-war coalition should say that only the Iraqi people have the right to determine who rules that coun try. It is not our business to “oppose the Iraqi regime”. What we must do is to tell the truth about the relations between Saddam and the west, and let the facts speak for themselves... The only way that Iraq

could possibly hope to defend itself against the coming war, the only thing which could stop this otherwise inevitable war, is a revolutionary mobilisation of the Iraqi people. Only this could transform the international situation and create the conditions where one could talk of the possibility of the Iraqi people defeating the might of the US empire.

... Saddam’s brutal capitalist regime is incapable of doing any such thing. Yet the sectarianism of the British left knows no bounds. A few weeks ago, local SWP leaders were arguing to me that when millions of Cuban workers and farmers rally in Havana to support their revolution, this is no diferent than when the Saddam regime stages a pro-government demonstration in Baghdad. There’s none so blind as they who won’t see. Sitting on the fence doesn’t give you a better view, either.


The recent correspondence on the ongoing and, possibly, soon-to-be escalated war in Iraq has begun to clarify the differences between the No War But Class War position and those such as John S who pick which anti-working class element to line-up behind.

In John’s latest mailing on “Iraqnophobia” he comes clean that he, alongside the adherents of the other left groups, are quite prepared to side with one bunch of ruling-class

The opposing view, that workers have no country and certainly have no interest in defending one state (or indeed national “sovereignty” as John prefers to refer to) against another, is described by John as “a reactionary, cop-out stance”.

John’s politics are not simply the product of his (and his political mentors the US SWP’s) slavish support for all things Castroite, including Cuban foreign policy - if that were the case then the other left-wing animators (SWP (GB), AWL, Socialist Party etc.) of the STWC might differentiate themselves. In fact all those groups attempt to carry their followers and organisations such as SWTC along the path of choosing sides in times of war. That flag-waving for national “sovereign” states is the real reactionary position, but far from being a cop-out it sows confusion about the real possibilities of class struggle against capitalism and war and also serves to actively reinforce divisions within the working-class.

The taking of sides in wars and the encouragement of workers to identify “progressive” bourgeois forces (when in truth capitalism has long passed any progressive capability) is embedded in the theory and practice of John and his Trotskyist political ancestors and cousins. They are able to chime in with the siren cries of the open agents of one or other ruling-class who will cry for support for the “national” struggles of China and Abyssinia (1930s), unconditional defence of the USSR (1941-5), support for Stalinist Russia and China and their Korean and Vietnamese puppets, applaud numerous national liberationists who emerge to run capitalism in their new “sovereign” national territories (e.g. Algeria, Mozambique, Angola and, of course, East Timor) etc. etc.

John, and his comrades’, political method forces them to pick sides again and again in times of war. For socialists, class struggle is our antidote to each and every national movement or war, whether actual or threatened.

John S

... I do believe that we should take sides in the coming war, but not between Saddam and George Bush, because history shows that they are both on the same side. We should take the side of the Iraqi people and Iraqi national sovereignty and oppose the imperialist aggressor. Because I support this in practice, and not just in principle, I support the right of Iraq to defend itself against the RAF and USAF. This is my personal point of view. I don’t think it is necessary for the anti-war coalition to agree to this.

The reality is that Iraq is the target of imperialist aggression. The ultra-lefts in NWBTCW can’t understand this because they don’t believe there is any such thing as imperialism. As they have explained in previous postings and on their web-site, “all states are imperialist”. This even includes the embryonic Palestinian state. They are therefore opposed to the Palestinians’ struggle for statehood. They detest the Palestinian and Israeli flags equally, and argue for a “no-state” solution. They have disconnected what they call the “class struggle” from the real world. They sit high up on their fence, waving their “No war but the class war” banners. They abstain from the real struggle, counter posing to it their fantasy of an instant socialist revolution, simultaneous in all countries, leading without stages to an anarchist utopia. They champion the Bolshevik revolution but forget perhaps the single-most important contribution of Lenin, its leader, to the world socialist movement - his understanding of imperialism and his proposal that “Workers of the world unite” should be changed to “Workers of the world and oppressed nations, unite”. Their ultra-leftism leads them into a neutral stance when the US imperialist aggressor prepares to attack and invade an oppressed, third world nation, having lost control of a regime which they themselves installed. In sum, you have sussed NWB TCW when you see that behind their shrill extremist slogans there is nothing progressive.


... John’s view that the root of the crisis is “The US rulers aim to take over that country, its government, its natural resources, in order that they can subjugate and exploit its people” is incompatible with a socialist i.e. an independent working class approach.

For socialists the root of today’s crisis (as indeed it was in 1914) lies precisely in the crisis inherent within capitalism, and in imperialism - “the highest stage of capitalism”. (John’s assertion that NWBCW don’t believe there is any such thing as imperialism is indeed a weird comment particularly as he quotes in his next sentence a statement from a NWBCW web site that “all states are imperialist”.)

The history of imperialism since it came to dominate the globe is one of War 1914-18, reconstruction until the late 1920’s, crisis roughly during the 1930’s, to be repeated with the Second World War, an extended period of reconstruction and expansion extending until the early 1970 followed by a further crisis which has remained unresolved for three decades. That extended imperialist crisis took a new turn at the end of the 1980’s when the Russian bloc (up to then an imperialist competitor which had forced the US, Germany and Japan into an uneasy alliance) collapsed. The resulting jockeying for power and control over resources between the bigger powers and their smaller clients is certainly real and underscores the slide towards barbarism during the 1990’s. However the underlying roots of crisis lies not in the politics of nasty politicians or “elites” but has at its root a basic contradiction within capitalism - the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. The scramble between competing powers and alliances to maintain control over resources, markets and, in particular, over workers (whose labour power is the real source of wealth) is the outward reflection of the imperialist’s effort to combat that crisis of their socio-economic system.

Secondly , the argument that US rulers wish to “take over that country” (perhaps they want to make it the 51st state) is a simplistic and misleading hotch potch which disguises the real way in which imperialism dominates all parts of the planet. It is a line of argument which naturally leads to John echoing every ruling class nationalist by blathering on about the defence of “national sovereignty”.

John’s view of imperialism implies that there is an “imperialist” camp, USA and its allies, and somewhere a number of non-imperialist parts of the world where states exist where the imperialist part is not able to “subjugate and exploit”. It is precisely at that point that John departs from anything identifiable as a revolutionary Marxist position. The historic reality is that imperialism has encompassed the globe for nearly 100 years. That was precisely the conclusion of Bukharin, Lenin, Luxembourg et al who were key inspirations to those who defended revolutionary internationalism during the first imperialist war. That understanding supported the interventions which helped support the Russian Revolution and found the Communist International. In contrast to that revolutionary workers internationalism John counter poses a perspective of the unity of “Workers of the world and oppressed nations”. His interpretation of “Leninism” is based on the formulations adopted in 1921-2 and subsequently when the revolutionary wave had been stifled and the Communists were left in a historic tragedy and they, massively incorrectly, sought alliances with “friendly” or “progressive” states and other forces. That striving to distil out progressive elements from a world system which is incapable of further historic progress is enshrined in the theory and practice of the Stalinists (including their Castroite offshoot) and Trotskyists alike. In contrast to the search for the virtuous “national” “sovereign” states Marxists counter pose the common interest of workers of all countries and the common

opposition to the capitalist rulers of all states. The idea that certain national states are capable of standing aside from the global dynamics of late imperialism is simply unreal. John’s Cuban state heroes make their money by seeking markets for their sugar and food products and opening up tourist hotels to attract foreign currency. The idea of “socialism in one country” was an anathema to all those socialists who resisted the degeneration of the Marxist movement in the 1920’s. John would now have us believe in the myth of “socialism on one island” with a network of progressive and well-meaning non-imperialist allies (Palestine, Iraq et al) as a second tier of progressive, non-subjugated, sovereign states.

More critically, his followers are not only asked to believe the fantasy, but to ultimately support their military efforts.

So, yes John, let’s “debate the central issue”. Is it time to encourage the working-class to become aware of its own capabilities as the grave digger of a system which can only offer misery and destruction? Or do we endlessly look for the mythical progressive national sovereign state for the deluded and deceived to support in peace and war?

The first is our path and the path of NWBCW - the second is John’s and the national liberationists. Those seeking a socialist path need to make the choice.

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