First Published: Young Spartacus, No. 91, May 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Can’t find a job? Join the regular Army. Or join the National Guard, find out about the ’split-option’ program for college students. –“Build InCAR in the Military! Open Letter to All InCAR Members and Friends.”
“Same enemy, same fight–Workers of the world unite!” is a favorite chant of the Progressive Labor Party (PL). It’s a nice rhyme, but for PL it’s devoid of any but the most abstract meaning. Ask them about a real situation concerning the workers of the world, like El Salvador: PL doesn’t take a side in that civil war, in which a U.S.-backed junta is ruthlessly killing off thousands of workers and peasants.
In an article on El Salvador (Challenge, 18 March), PL tells the U.S. to “get out,” but then it goes on to ominously list all the imperialist “crimes” in Latin America committed by...the Soviet Union! A few of PL’s examples: building dams, increasing trade, buying grain from Argentina. The article’s thrust comes dangerously close to the Moonie slogan: “USSR out of El Salvador”! While refusing to take a side in the Salvadoran civil war, Challenge writes:
“The heroic struggle of the Salvadoran workers, peasants and students must not be allowed to become a pawn in the rivalry for world domination between the U.S. and Soviet imperialists. Nor must they change one oppressor for another.
PL goes on to say that they understand why the U.S. is getting desperate and might start World War III. PL’s conclusion seems to be that the Soviet Union is driving the world inexorably to the brink of world war by provoking a U.S. military response to its vicious programs of building dams and buying grain in Latin America! PL has the gall to print this bunch of hogwash without even one word about the malicious U.S. grain boycott, not to mention the MX missile system, the military-oriented space shuttle (presumably to be armed with nuclear warheads) and vastly increased U.S. military spending.
Over the past few years PL has slid ever closer to the view that the Soviet Union is the “main enemy in the world.” Sound familiar? Reagan/Haig and Carter/Brzezinski have been saying it for years. As with all proponents of the theory that Russia is “state capitalist” and therefore not worthy of defense from imperialism, PL is discovering that there is no easy way to avoid the Russian question. Under pressure from the U.S. ruling class’ anti-Soviet Cold War campaign, PL is finding out that its “plague on both houses” position is untenable. It is being forced by life itself to take a side in the historic conflict between U.S. imperialism and the Soviet degenerated workers state.
Is it mere coincidence that PL recently–amidst daily condemnations of and military threats against the USSR by the U.S. government–came out for enlisting in the U.S. armed forces? PL’s mindless workerism has in the past led it into countless reformist dead ends. But its call to workers, students–everyone!–to join the imperialist war machine is qualitatively more right-wing than anything PL’s workerist opportunism has produced before. Unless this pro-enlistment campaign is abandoned, its logic will lead PL openly into the imperialist anti-Soviet camp.
Just last fall PL was in the thick of the National Committee Against Registration and the Draft (NCARD) swamp, busily advising youth to individually resist draft registration while refusing to address the very reason it existed, the U.S. bourgeoisie’s war drive against the Soviet Union. When the projected hundreds of new members for PL did not materialize, PL then apologized for its error in calculating the recruitment possibilities of the anti-draft milieu, and announced a complete turnabout. Instead of opposing registration, PI. and its front group, the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR), are now advocating joining the U.S. Army voluntarily. In a leaflet entitled, “Build InCAR in the Military,” PL proposes that if you can’t get into the Army, you should join the National Guard; if that dreary option fails, why not investigate the “split option” your college might offer? On top of all this, PL urges students to throw military recruiters off campus, presumably to allow PL a monopoly on military recruitment for the U.S. Army!
Why such a sudden, drastic change in line? Well, PL says, they made a mistake. Contrary to their expectations and the exhortations of the myriad NCARD chapters, a lot of youth actually did register for the draft. In addition, PL notes that a certain percentage of young people, especially black youth, are unable to find jobs in Reagan’s America; some are attracted to a stint in the military as an alternative to unemployment. While some youth may look to the military as a means to learn a skill, those whose older brothers were drafted during and survived the Vietnam War know that napalm defoliation and “kill ratios” are the skills offered by the U.S. military.
During the Vietnam War, the Spartacist League and the Revolutionary Communist Youth (forerunner of the Spartacus Youth League [SYL]) called for victory to North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front. We opposed such dead-end tactics as exile in Canada or going to jail as ways to protest U. S. intervention. We stated that the position, “Hell no, we won’t go” (which PL advocated in SOS until 1968), only did the bourgeoisie a favor by removing potential militants from the antiwar struggle.
Revolutionaries, if drafted, go into the army to give the soldiers communist direction and fight to win them to the side of working people and the oppressed, to the understanding that the real enemy is at home! We do not hide behind student deferments: or other special class privileges, but stand with the working class, which does not have ready access to such advantages. Individual draft resistance has never been an option for poor and working-class youth, who are unable to ride out wars jn the shelter of the campus but are forced to fight the dirty battles of the ruling class. The working class can only escape the draft by overthrowing “its own” bourgeoisie, as in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which both took the Tsarist empire out of World War I and put it out of commission for good!
But communists never advocate volunteering for the armed forces, the heart of the bourgeoisie’s power! PL does not consider cops to be part of the working class, yet it recruits for the imperialist police of the U.S. ruling class–in the middle of a war drive! Will the 200 or so black and white youth that turned up at the February 28 InCAR conference in Chicago end up fighting the “Communist Threat” in El Salvador? Or will PLers be among those National Guardsmen who–bayonets affixed–put down future ghetto explosions? Or smash the coal miners’ strike?
PL did not always seek inclusion in the ranks of the imperialist bomber squadrons, the strikebreaking brigades, the counterrevolutionary armed forces. PL was not always willing to prostitute itself for a few recruits. In fact, when it emerged some 20 years ago from the Communist Party (CP), its politics and size enabled it to attract a virtual generation of subjective revolutionaries. PL originated in a left split from the CP, with a primitive working-class orientation. But lacking a consistent programmatic basis, PL was unable to follow its original confused leftist impulses to the only program capable of realizing them, Trotskyism.
The Spartacist League was too little and too late to provide a revolutionary pole in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), so that PL was able to present itself as the pro-working-class tendency in this key organization. Crude as its “base-building” concept was, PL fought hard against such Maoist New Leftists as Mike Klonsky and Bob Avakian, who at the time were waving the banner of “Third World” nationalism. PL accrued a lot of authority and large numbers of subjectively revolutionary youth from its work in SDS, but without a programmatic basis and without genuine roots in the working class they frittered it all away. PL must have run through thousands of youth open to revolutionary politics, and where are they now? What’s left of them are “picking up the gun” for Uncle Sam.
PL’s theoretical and programmatic deficiencies have gotten them into trouble time and again. They’ve zigged and zagged, willy-nilly, from one thing to another, picking up a few people, losing a few people. They tried vigor, the$- tried sincerity, they tried the proletarian nuclear family and having babies, they tried “30 for 40,” they tried the left-center coalition. After each flashy campaign ground to a halt, PL would publish another “Road to Revolution” and try something new.
But PL’s “join the Army” campaign is not just one more gimmick. This time PL has fallen into the embrace of the most reactionary elements of American society. PL wraps its pro-imperialist campaign in the banners of anti-racism. But an anti-Soviet army is not an “anti-racist army.” On the contrary, the heightening attacks on the black population, begun by Carter and intensified by Reagan, are the domestic counter-part of the anti-Soviet war drive. The increased militarization of American life, as in the imperialist wars of the past, will signal an intensification of racial oppression. PL’s “anti-racist army” is as racist as they come.
The revolutionary tasks of defending the Soviet Union and fighting for black liberation are intertwined in the U.S. Only the SL/SYL has the program and the will to carry these struggles to the victory of proletarian revolution. When the KKK threatened to celebrate the Greensboro massacre with a march in the heart of Detroit, it was the SL, the SYL and union militants who mobilized 500 to stop them. When the Nazis announced that they would celebrate Hitler’s birthday in San Francisco last April, once again it was the SL and militant union activists who initiated a broadly endorsed union-supported rally that prevented it. And on May 3 in Washington, where all fake left groups will be ducking Reagan/Haig’s attacks on the USSR for its “terrorism” in El Salvador, it will be the SL/SYL’s Anti-Imperialist Contingent alone that will call for the defense of the USSR and Cuba and proclaim that the real terrorists, the real enemy is at home!