From Intercontinental Press, 23 January 1984, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 16–17.
First published in Quatrième Internationale, 1 December 1983.
Translation from French is by Intercontinental Press.
Downloaded with thanks from the Ernest Mandel Internet Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Among the many questions debated in the antiwar movement in Europe, the questions of “non-alignment” and unilateralism occupy a special place. A great deal of ink has flowed concerning the supposed need for the antiwar movements of Western Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia to adopt a non-aligned attitude toward the “two superpowers” or the “two blocs” (China’s place in this whole affair is rather unclear, to say the least).
If “non-alignment” is used simply to mean that the antiwar movement in the imperialist countries should not subordinate its objectives to the Kremlin’s diplomatic maneuvers; that it must examine each Soviet proposal on partial disarmament exclusively from the vantage point of its ability to encourage or, inversely, hinder the broadest possible spread of mobilizations taking place in the Western countries against imperialism’s remilitarization campaign; that it must develop continuous propaganda in favor of the total abolition of nuclear weapons in all countries of the world, without exception, and under strict international control (which is possible today through satellites and other sophisticated means) – then that conception has our complete approval. A united and massive antiwar movement in the Western countries can only exist in the form of a movement independent of any government and any state – including the government of the Soviet bureaucracy, whose twists in foreign policy (not to mention its internal political regime) create legitimate distrust among the working masses. This distrust is not the product of “anti-Soviet propaganda,” but of the concrete experiences that have marked the consciousness of these masses: the armed interventions that repressed the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and the “Prague Spring” in 1968; the open military and political pressures against the rise of proletarian struggles and independent organization in Poland in 1980-81; the military intervention in Afghanistan; the terrible repression of dissidents (not only the pro-Western ones, but also oppositional socialists and communists) in the USSR; the absence of elementary democratic freedoms for the working class, such as the right to strike, and so on.
But revolutionary Marxists do not subscribe to the neutral notion of “superpower,” which is applied without any socio-economic content and without the slightest consideration of class character.
In our view, the USSR is not a capitalist country and is not driven by internal contradictions toward a policy of expansion or aggression on a world scale. We also think that the “threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe” is a dangerous and absurd myth. American imperialism – and this is all the more true for the whole international imperialist alliance (US + Western Europe + Canada + Japan + Australia) – has far greater technological, industrial, military, and financial resources that the “Soviet bloc.
Since 1945 it has always been imperialism that has taken the lead in the nuclear arms race. Today this remains just as true as ever. The Kremlin has only reacted to these threats, without ever matching or surpassing them.
In our view, the very nature of capitalism drives it to international expansion and aggression and gives it a destructive tendency. One cannot say the same about Soviet society, whatever its weaknesses, insufficiencies, and perversions. If one lays to rest – as mountains of irrefutable evidence indicate we should – the no less dangerous myth that paints Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Andropov as the apostles of the “spread of the world revolution,” we must recognize the essentially conservative character of the Soviet bureaucracy and the fact that its fundamental strategic line is not to disturb the world status quo but rather to maintain it.
What is incorrectly portrayed as “Soviet expansionism” is actually the extension of the world revolution by forces independent of the Kremlin, forces that have acted or are acting contrary to Soviet pressure, instructions, and recommendations.
When this extension takes place anyway, the Kremlin faces an agonizing choice. It can let these forces grow to the point of becoming centers that pursue an independent policy in international affairs, and that might even be transformed into revolutionary centers that could help overcome the atomization of the Soviet and Eastern European masses themselves. Or it can try, with varying degrees of success, to channel them, control them, or “retrieve” them through limited economic and military aid.
Having said this, we in no way seek to impose on other political components of the antiwar movement our analysis of the fundamentally different character of the imperialist powers and the USSR. We do not make acceptance of this view a precondition for building this movement as a mass movement based on a united front. In our view, what we need is a movement whose objective is united action in pursuit of a highly progressive goal, not a battlefield or an ideological alliance between different tendencies of the world workers movement.
We do not accept the notion that anyone can forbid us from putting forward our positions on all questions that might come up, including on the differing character and dynamics of capitalist and Soviet societies. At the same time, we defend that same right for all other tendencies. But we refuse to subordinate the struggle for the common practical goal to the outcome of some ideological debate.
In our opinion, the important thing is that this be an independent, democratic, self-governing movement of mass mobilization and action. Concretely, this means we see unilateralism as a decisive question, because you cannot have a mass movement that is really oriented toward action in the West unless it fights for the unilateral elimination of its own government’s nuclear weapons and the nuclear bases of its own country.
It is obvious that the “non-aligned” demand for mutual and parallel nuclear disarmament in the West and East cannot constitute the objective of mass action here and now in Britain, West Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, etc. If a demand of this type became the central objective of the antiwar movement in these countries, one would have to expect to see two things develop at the same time. First, the movement would be turned away from mass mobilization and action in the streets and would turn into a diplomatic pressure group in Geneva, Washington, and Moscow. Second, the democratic and non-exclusionary character of the movement would be dissolved under the pressure of unilateralist, denunciation of the “Reds,” and anti-activism.
Moreover, it is perfectly obvious that in practice the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people who demonstrate in the West can only act against the nuclear missiles and bases in their own countries, just as the millions of Polish workers can only act against the misdeeds and mismanagement of their own masters; and just as the hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants in Central America can only act against the repression, oppression, and super exploitation perpetrated by their own dictatorships and by the imperialism present on the scene. Everything else is propaganda, protest, and solidarity. And, while that is indispensable for internationalist proletarian education, it can never attain the breadth reached by mass mobilization and action around concrete goals.
Once you start to move away from mass action and orient toward diplomatic pressure, the presence within the movement of forces who want to carry out action on a unilateralist basis becomes a source of embarrassment and uneasiness, and there will be a tendency to exclude them through the well-known methods of witchhunts of communists, beginning with the assertion that they are at least “objectively agents of Soviet imperialism” if not completely on Moscow’s payroll.
So unilateralism is a life and death question, for the antiwar movement because of its ability to sustain the largest possible independent, united, and democratic mass mobilizations and actions against the threat of nuclear annihilation.
The fundamental logic of complete “non-alignment” pushes in the opposite direction from the fundamental logic of mass action. In effect, the logic of “non-alignment” is, as many opponents of the Western antiwar movement (including the reactionary wing of Soviet dissidents) have already stated repeatedly: as long as hundreds of thousands of people are not demonstrating in the streets of Moscow, Leningrad, Prague, Budapest, East Berlin, and Bucharest “against the deployment of Soviet nuclear weapons,” the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of New York, London, Tokyo, Rome, Bonn, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Madrid, and Copenhagen “obviously weakens the West.
The logic of unilateralist is the only one that makes it possible to oppose this logic in a coherent way. The struggle against the threat of a nuclear holocaust is much too crucial to be left in the hands of governments that have not shown the slightest inclination to end the nuclear arms race and destroy and ban atomic weapons once and for all. The only thing they have accomplished in 38 years is to “control” the nuclear arms race in their mutual interest and through their mutual consent, but not to put an end to it.
The more the nuclear arsenal grows, even in a “controlled” way, the more explicit becomes the threat of a nuclear holocaust. That is why the working masses of this planet must take the question of the nuclear armaments race out of the hands of governments and deal with it themselves.
The problem of nuclear disarmament will not be resolved around diplomatic conference tables, but in the streets and in the factories. One cannot advance along this road unless each people takes aim at its own government and its own nuclear weapons builders and merchants, without waiting for some miracle by which the peoples of the world decide suddenly to act at the same moment, all together.
Each success along this road will serve as an example and will be the best way to draw other peoples into action. The recipe of complete “non-alignment,” which consists of waiting for mass action to unfold somewhere else than where you are, is a recipe for passivity and hopelessness. The strategy of unilateralist is a strategy of action and hope.
That is precisely why the unilateralist movement in capitalist Europe can only maintain and assert its credibility in the eyes of broad Western masses if it consistently struggles for the right of the masses of the USSR and Eastern Europe to develop their own movements for peace that are democratic, self-run, and independent of their governments and of the bureaucracy.
If the Soviet and Eastern Europe bureaucrats refuse to recognize this right, they thereby show that the Kremlin views the defense of its monopoly of political activity and organization in the USSR and Eastern Europe as more important than the struggle to save their own people and all of humanity from nuclear holocaust, and as more important than the organization of a massive and united antiwar movement in the capitalist countries, which is an important element in achieving that goal.
In other words, the bureaucracy thereby confirms that it subordinates peace in the world, defense of the Soviet Union, and the interests of the Soviet and world working class to the defense of its own special and limited interests as a reactionary caste, its privileges, and its power.
Last updated on 13.6.2011