ICL on Afghanistan: ‘Realist’ Wiseacres

The following is a reconstruction, from notes, of the intervention of International Bolshevik Tendency [IBT] supporter Samuel T. at a meeting of the Spartacus Youth Club (SYC—youth group of the Spartacist League [SL]) in New York City on 12 February. This was the second time in a week our comrade challenged the SL on its refusal to call for the defeat of the U.S. imperialist attack on Afghanistan in 2001 [see: “Where is the ICL Going?” and “Healyites of the Second Mobilization?”]. Once again the SLers were unable to respond politically.

The SYC comrade mentioned that his organization defends Afghanistan without discussing why they don’t call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism. What does it mean to defend Afghanistan without calling for the defeat of U.S. imperialism—that one “defends” Afghanistan only to the extent of seeking to limit the damage inflicted upon it? Since the SL claims not to call for a U.S. defeat because the struggle for the Afghans would be militarily futile, that’s the only possible conclusion I can see.

If we accept the assumption that the SL makes about the military futility of any struggle by the Afghans, what does the SL suggest they do? Show no resistance? Allow the U.S. to completely take over their country?

Marx believed that the workers who launched the Paris Commune were doomed to defeat from a purely military standpoint, yet he still supported them and called for their victory. (1)

In the current issue of 1917 we cite Lenin’s comments in “Socialism and War”:

“’A revolutionary class cannot but wish for the defeat of its government in a reactionary war, and cannot fail to see that the latter’s military reverses must facilitate its overthrow’; and in a war of Morocco against France, or of India against Britain, ‘any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory “Great” Powers.’” [emphasis added]

Lenin called for the defeat of imperialism in colonies as undeveloped as Afghanistan is today. The struggle between imperialism and the Third World was always unequal, but only the most wretched Kautskyites use that as an excuse to abstain from a revolutionary defeatist position by counterposing “class struggle at home.”(2) In raising the issue in these terms, the SL is simply attempting a cowardly dodge. Whether forced to pull out by resistance from  the Afghans, the U.S. working class, or as a result of class struggle in other parts of the world, a defeat is a defeat.

As for how, theoretically, the “ragtag fundamentalists” could have driven out the U.S. “without even an army”— well, “Islamic Jihad” drove the U.S. out of Lebanon by blowing up the Marines’ barracks in 1983. Of course in that case the SL flinched and denied that it was a militarily supportable blow against imperialism.

Lastly, I’d like to report an interesting conversation I had with a friend today, who, back in high school, was also a member of the Northites’ youth group [the Young Socialists—affiliated with David North’s Workers League, now known as the Socialist Equality Party]. When I left the Northites over their refusal to call for the defeat of U.S. imperialism during the Gulf War, she and another youth member left with me. Unfortunately both were too burned by their experience with North’s version of Healyism to want to continue in politics, but they subscribed to Workers Vanguard for a few years after I joined the SYC. Not having followed the SL for several years, she reviewed the new position on Afghanistan and, remembering the position on defeating U.S. imperialism at the time she left the Northites, commented “Wow, it seems like the SL really had its back broken.”

(1) Lenin in 1907 wrote the following:

In September 1870, six months before the Commune, Marx gave a direct warning to the French workers: insurrection would be an act of desperate folly, he said in the well-known Address of the International. He exposed in advance the nationalistic illusions of the possibility of a movement in the spirit of 1792. He was able to say, not after the event, but many months before: ‘Don’t take up arms.’

“And how did he behave when this hopeless cause, as he himself had called it in September, began to take practical shape in March 1871?...  Did he begin to scold like a schoolmistress, and say: ‘I told you so, I warned you; this is what comes of your romanticism, your revolutionary ravings’? Did he preach to the Communards, as Plekhanov did to the December [1905] fighters, the sermon of the smug philistine: ‘You should not have taken up arms’?

“Ah, how our present ‘realist’ wiseacres among the Marxists, who in 1906-07 are deriding revolutionary romanticism in Russia, would have sneered at Marx at the time! How people would have scoffed at a materialist, an economist, an enemy of utopias, who pays homage to an ‘attempt’ to storm heaven! What tears, condescending smiles or commiseration these ‘men in mufflers’ would have bestowed upon him for his rebel tendencies, utopianism, etc., etc….

“Kugelmann apparently replied to Marx expressing certain doubts, referring to the hopelessness of the struggle and to realism as opposed to romanticism....

“Marx immediately (April 17, 1871) severely lectured Kugelmann.

“‘World history,’ he wrote, ‘would indeed be very easy to make, if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favourable chances.’”

“Marx was also able to appreciate that there are moments in history when a desperate struggle of the masses, even for a hopeless cause is essential for the further schooling of these masses and their training for the next struggle.”

“Preface to the Russian Translation of Karl Marx’s Letters to Dr. Kugelmann,”
Collected Works Vol.12, pp.108-112

(2) Lenin had nothing but contempt for the self-proclaimed socialists who derided the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin as a “putsch” doomed to fail because of the overwhelming strength of British imperialism. He commented:

“The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene.”

“The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up” (1916)
Collected Works Vol. 22, p. 357

Published: 17 February 2002