First Published: Class Struggle, #13, Summer 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s Note: Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Class Struggle conducted this interview with Michael Klonsky, chairman of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) focusing on how the CPML looks at the present international situation and the tasks of the working class forces.
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Given the recent Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, how do you assess the current international situation? Is it the beginning of World War III, as some people say? Or are the Soviet moves limited to defending a client regime on its borders?
I don’t think either is necessarily true. We certainly can’t say that this is the beginning of World War III since the present situation is still characterized by the growing preparations for such a war. While there are many conflicts going on which are taking a devastating toll in human lives, they are still primarily local or regional.
Of course there is a connection between what’s taking place now, especially with the stepped up Soviet expansion on the one hand and the growing threat of a world war on the other. The Soviet invasion into Afghanistan shouldn’t be viewed as a “mistake” or in isolation from the overall Soviet war strategy. In immediate terms, the invasion achieved mainly negative results for the USSR. But taken in light of the need to control the sea lanes; to strengthen their strategic position vis-a-vis Iran and Pakistan; to come within striking distance of the Persian Gulf, gateway to the Indian Ocean which is essential to the flow of oil to Europe, the Soviet move into Southwest Asia had a very clear purpose.
The fact is that both superpowers are rapidly gearing up for war. Both the Brezhnev Doctrine of “limited sovereignty” and the Carter Doctrine are clear signs of these war preparations. This is now becoming evident to the great majority of people. This is significant when you think back a few years to a time when the warnings of the Chinese government and the warnings of the Marxist-Leninist parties about the growing war danger were mainly falling on deaf ears.
We must recognize that some of this was due to the weakness of our own movement, particularly here in the U.S. It was not yet in a position to have much influence on the country’s political affairs. Some ultra-“left” errors in the past led to a downplaying of the need to exert such influence on a very broad level and this hasn’t helped the situation very much. In some ways we have left the job of political education about the world situation mainly up to Brezhnev and Carter and, I must admit, they have been very good teachers. Brezhnev has especially done a lot to awaken much of the anti-war and anti-hegemonist sentiment among the people of the world.
The invasion of Afghanistan, more than anything we could have done, laid a basis for a broad front of peoples and countries opposed to war, aggression and hegemonism, from whatever source it may come. It is also no coincidence that the word hegemonism has now become directly associated in the minds of many with the Soviet Union, just as the words war and fascism became identified with Hitler Germany in the 1930s.
But again, when we view the world situation we must be concrete or we cannot call ourselves Marxists. We must distinguish between the period of preparations and local or regional expansionism, on one hand, and the outbreak of world war itself, on the other. Our main task in this area at present is to oppose the superpower war preparations and work to block and resist Soviet aggression.
The reason for this distinction is that we must still work to prevent the outbreak of war, especially of the nuclear type, or at least to postpone it. Whether this or that particular war breaks out and when it breaks out are questions which can be influenced by the people’s struggles.
In other words, we shouldn’t be fatalistic about war or simply accept the inevitability of nuclear mass destruction. Much depends on the actions of the various countries, of the working class movement and the movement for peace and national independence.
The invasion of Afghanistan isolated the Soviet Union in the eyes of world opinion, just as the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea did to these Soviet frontmen in Asia. A broad united front against hegemonism is taking shape involving significant forces from among the many countries threatened by or opposed to hegemonism. Appeasement towards the Soviet offensive, once the dominant trend in Western Europe and U.S. ruling circles, has suffered some set backs. The stand taken by many countries giving the USSR its overwhelming defeat in the UN, the unanimity of the Islamic Conference in its denunciation of the invasion, and the condemnation of the invasion even by many Soviet allies–all these developments and more have served to broaden this front. It shows that such a front can definitely play a role in resisting the outbreak of a new world war.
In your opinion, what are the strategy and tactics required to block Soviet expansion in West Asia and elsewhere?
The way to bloc Soviet expansion is through the united front against hegemonism. As I already mentioned, this is a common front of all those forces who are threatened by or in opposition to aggression, foreign domination and the growing war danger. This front cannot be built on the basis of any one ideology and initially its shape will be more or less informal and loose. But such a front is certainly in the interest of the working class and all oppressed people who stand to lose the most in a superpower war.
The front must recognize the right of all nations to self-determination and respect fully the sovereignty of every country. It is a front that opposes the war preparations of the superpowers and uses every and all means to resist open aggression and foreign interference. Such a front is already taking shape in accordance with the conditions of today’s world. In each area or region, the struggle has its own form–whether that be the armed struggle for national liberation in Kampuchea and Afghanistan, the efforts of the non-aligned countries to unite and protect their interests or the movements against the arms race and for democratic rights in the biggest imperialist countries.
What do you think of the Carter Doctrine? Has there been a shift in the administration’s policy? Is there anything positive to it?
The Carter Doctrine does reflect a shift in the administration’s policy. Under previous administrations since the U.S. defeat in Indochina ’there was a blindness to the new shifts in the power relationships between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Kissinger and Sonnenfeldt, for instance, promoted a doctrine based on jointly-divided “spheres of influence” and on parity in arms development. We must admit that Nixon did recognize that opening up relations with China was in the U.S.’s interests, but his weak political position and the policies of Kissinger still led to foot-dragging in this area.
Until recently, Carter was like a man trying to ride two horses because of the uneasy coalition that exists within his administration between the “detentists” like Vance and Shulman and those who are more realistic about Soviet power like Brzezinski. At the time of the normalization of relations with China, Brzezinski seemed to be riding high. Then for nearly a year Vance’s policies seemed to hold sway and more and more Brzezinski fell from grace. The U.S. stepped up its arms to Taiwan, its backtracking on the question of the Soviet brigade in Cuba and its confrontationist attitude towards Iran.
Since the invasion of Afghanistan, Carter’s doctrine reflects a setback for the appeasers. But there are still many problems with it. It is one thing to threaten the Soviet Union and to place embargoes and boycotts against them. It is quite another to take a realistic account of them and act in a way that coincides with the interests of the vast majority of peoples and countries around the world. His embargo on Soviet technological trade and grain are good. His call for an Olympic boycott is also a small step. But all these things are done in an inconsistent and contradictory way due to the U.S.’s own ambitions.
The Carter Doctrine is still an imperialist doctrine like the ones from Monroe through Truman and Nixon, it views contention with its rival as being carried out through oppression abroad and tightening the screws on the U. S. working class at home. This reflects the basic character of U.S. imperialism which remains unchanged even during this period of relative decline. What is different is that Carter’s doctrine was in large measure a reaction to Brezhnev’s doctrine. What is different is that Carter’s doctrine is a doctrine of a country for the first time on the strategic defensive. Within this framework, it is in the interests of Carter’s administration to support a strengthened third world and show some willingness to make some changes in the U.S. relationship with these countries that would reflect their actual role in the world today. For example, Carter should accede to Arab demands to a genuine solution to the Palestinian problem and to the Iranian demand for a repudiation of previous domineering policies towards that country. But none of these are shown in the Carter Doctrine.
In fact, Carter’s attempt to free the hostages with armed force was a disastrous failure. The Carter Doctrine pays lip service to resisting Soviet force but in practice directs itself at the third world.
Carter also calls for new attacks on the American people. His militarization plans are coupled with further cutbacks in social programs at a time when the people, especially minorities, are being hit with new assaults on their living standards. The working people are asked to bear the full burden for the energy crisis, rising inflation and unemployment, and at the same time to accept the draft. Carter expects the youth of this country to peacefully line up for his draft registration and forget all about Vietnam. But today’s young people don’t see these war preparations as being in their interests.
So while I can understand Carter’s new-found opposition to Soviet aggression, the administration’s approach to this and other basic problems is not the kind that the working class can support.
In relation to the anti-hegemonic front, what is the potential role of the U.S.?
As for any role for the U.S. in the front against hegemonism, I think under the present conditions there is such a role.
The U.S., of course, is one of the two superpowers in the world. It is one of the people’s main enemies and certainly the direct enemy of the American people. The united front is based on opposition to hegemonism and the U.S. itself is a hegemonic power. This is especially true in those areas where the U.S. has long carried out its most oppressive and aggressive policies. For example in the Middle East because of U.S. support for Israeli expansion and in Iran because of U.S. interference; in Latin American countries like El Salvador and Puerto Rico, and in Southern Africa where the U.S. has bolstered racist regimes, the people continue to struggle against U.S. imperialism.
However, in view of the overall world situation distinctions must be made between the role of each of the two superpowers. It is the Soviet Union that today is on the offensive. Who will be next in the Soviet drive–Pakistan? Iran? Thailand? These are the questions being asked in the capitals of countries around the world.
To stand up to the Soviet war machine, these countries are required by present circumstances to take advantage of the effective power of the U.S. and its nuclear umbrella. Of course there are great dangers in such a policy. But the danger of fighting both superpowers equally at the same time or in the same way, or of going against one of them alone is even more dangerous. This doesn’t mean that these countries should drop their struggle against U.S. imperialism to fight the Soviets. It simply means that this struggle should be carried out with the present realities in mind.
Several third world countries, for example, have requested more economic and military assistance from the U.S. while opposing direct U.S. military presence in the region. The NATO countries want the U.S. to strengthen its commitment to European defense, while at the same time rejecting the U.S.’s unilateral approach and inequality in decision making.
The Kampuchean resistance to the Vietnamese invasion has brought about a shift in the policies of Democratic Kampuchea. They have asked for and gotten some assistance on the diplomatic front from the U.S. But as for military assistance, there is none.
China has utilized the contradictions between the superpowers well. Without any compromise of principles, they have received some economic and technical assistance from the U.S. although our government still stubbornly clings to its no-arms policy to China.
We should mobilize public opinion in this country away from the previous tilt towards Soviet appeasement, and even away from the supposedly “even-handed” policy advocated by Secretary of State Vance. The U.S. vote in the UN on the Kampuchean and Afghan questions were positive developments. There is no reason why under such pressure, the U.S. cannot have more policies like this.
Basically, it is too soon to tell exactly what role the U.S. will play, because as we can see from studying WWII, it went through many different stages of development from its preparation to its end. The role of the Western imperialists changed as did the conditions. From appeasers and direct enemies, they shifted to a position of allies against fascism when the realities of the fascist menace forced themselves on them.
Whatever role the U.S. may assume in the world situation, the working and oppressed people of this country will still have to carry out their struggle in accordance with the conditions. The working class must have its own independent policies based on its class interests. They cannot give the ruling class a free rein or write them a blank check, or they will be made the real victim of the times rather than the Soviet aggressors.
What do you think of the response of the U.S. left?
Well, here too we must make distinctions. The U.S. left has come out of a long period of struggle when the U.S. was alone the main and single enemy of the world revolution. Now this has changed, but due to many complicated factors, the left is still lagging behind in its understandings of realities.
On one hand, you have the out-and-out defenders of Soviet aggression like the revisionist Communist Party and the Trotskyists. They have been the main forces trying to cover up the Soviet role by appealing to the anti-U.S. imperialist instincts of the left. I might add that they still are very much on the defensive and have to rely on the most cautious tactics, hardly ever confronting people in public with their full position.
Then there is a small centrist trend with little influence among the working class, which makes some minor criticisms of the Soviet Union’s policies in some cases but offers no program at all for opposing it because of the fear of strengthening the U.S. role. Others in this trend go even farther in outright support for the Soviet invasion. These centrists seem to think that by opposing the invasion of independent countries with real action, you are in fact supporting imperialism. What kind of logic is this?
On the other hand, there are some small groups who try to mechanically copy China’s foreign policy but without any attention paid to the concrete conditions here in the U.S. To their credit they are vocal in their opposition to the Soviet drive. But they have no real program for the working class and therefore are isolated from the masses. Who do they hope to bring into the united front? So without any regard for the past or for the present consciousness of the people they hope to lead, they solidly endorse the Carter Doctrine, the draft (even before Carter has called for it), a blank check in defense budget and put themselves at odds with every progressive force in the country. These people may have good intentions. But despite their denials, they are dogmatists who copy blindly from other countries or other periods in history and do a disservice to the anti-hegemonic united front.
What is encouraging is that a significant trend is developing in the U.S. left which stands firmly in its opposition to hegemonism, but at the same time is developing its ties with the working class and progressive movements in the country. It is also encouraging that among these the Marxist-Leninist forces are developing more unity in their efforts to join in a single unified communist party.
They are carrying out work in the peace movement and anti-draft movement to give them an anti-hegemonist direction and orientation. They are working to build support for beseiged Kampuchea and Afghanistan, while continuing to support the movements of those under the heel of U.S. imperialism.
If we are in a common front with the U.S. ruling class, how is this different from class collaboration?
First of all, let it be clear, we Marxist-Leninists and other working-class forces have no “united front” with the U.S. ruling class except perhaps in the minds of the defenders of the Soviet Union. Because we recognize the objective fact that the U.S. has some role to play in the anti-hegemonic struggle, this cannot be taken to mean that we “collaborate” or have made any agreements with them. As for China, that is a socialist country which has the right and the necessity to enter into certain agreements and to utilize every tactic they can to oppose the Soviet drive.
But we Marxist-Leninists in the U.S. have made no such agreements and there are no prospects for any such agreements. In fact, it is precisely those who support Soviet aggression that have played the role of class collaborators within the working class movement. It is they who have abandoned the revolutionary aims of the class struggle and they who destroyed the old communist movement.
Furthermore, the agreements reached between China and the U.S. require and are aided by the mass people’s struggle within this country. We can ask ourselves, would normalization of relations with China have come about as it did without the mass movement that was built around this question? Of course the events in the future could in many ways shape this struggle in many of the same ways that the anti-fascist struggle of the 1930s and 1940s did. But the various tactics that are used to oppose aggression and hegemonism cannot be equated with “class collaborationism.”
If we oppose appeasement, won’t we be supporting the more aggressive confrontationist trend within the bourgeoisie? Do you support an increase in the arms budget, or the rapid deployment force? What about the new plan for missiles in Europe?
First I would warn against equating those who appease Soviet aggression with “peace doves.” Don’t forget, it was Kissinger, the architect of “detente” who bombed the hell out of Cambodia.
The fact that our Party carries on a struggle against these appeasers cannot be interpreted as support for any other wing of the monopoly capitalists. Anti-appeasement is a part of the struggle against imperialism, war and aggression, and this is how we carry it out. It would be ultra-“leftist” to claim that a special fight against one particular policy or tendency within the bourgeoisie means capitulation to those reactionaries who also oppose this trend or policy. Otherwise, how could we fight the threat of fascism, or hit at union busting or school segregation, all of which find some opposition within the bourgeoisie itself.
As for the arms race, in general we oppose it. We especially oppose it because it leads to war and puts and extra difficult burden on the backs of the people. However, we are not pacifists nor idealists. We are against unilateral disarmament, for instance, which would allow the Soviet Union to attain overwhelming superiority in armaments.
Neither should we ask the Europeans or the third world countries to face the threat of aggression with empty hands. As long as there are thousands of Soviet nuclear missiles aimed at the population centers of Europe, then the Europeans should have missiles in their countries to defend themselves. It is obvious that Belgium, West Germany or Britain is not about to launch an assault on the Soviet Union. Everyone knows that the opposite is most likely. We are for general disarmament, but it should begin with both superpowers.
As for the Rapid Deployment Force, this appears to be a force aimed at going into the Middle East, against the wishes of the majority of Arab countries, to secure oil fields. This should not be supported. Aid and assistance that serves the interests of these countries should be carried out in a different manner.
On the whole, you can see that blanket opposition or support for such programs goes nowhere. In each case we must look at the part and how it fits into the whole picture. But without grasping the whole picture, especially where the main source of war is in the world today, then it is impossible to develop a sound policy on arms.
If we oppose both trends in the ruling class, is there a third alternative, a peaceful and democratic foreign policy that we should support?
At present, there isn’t any such trend within the ruling class. But there are some policies that we should struggle for and support, such as the ones I have mentioned–the grain embargo, the Olympic boycott, friendship with China, aid to Pakistan, etc. If some new trend arises out of the realities of the world situation, we will evaluate it at the time.
Meanwhile we cannot sit back and wait, placing our hopes that some positive trend will arise from above. The struggle against hegemonism, against war and aggression is expressing itself today in various movements among the American people as well as among the world’s people.
It can be found in the workers struggle where the sentiment for jobs and decent working conditions is not something totally separate from the longshoremen boycotting Soviet ships. It can be found in the peace movement where many forces rejected the sham SALT II treaty in favor of the Hatfield amendment which called for an end to the arms build-up of both superpowers. It can be found in the nationalities movements which have rejected war and foreign domination as part of their own freedom struggle. These are but a few examples.
Let’s build on this powerful force, a force which historically has played a major role in the struggle against war, against fascism and against aggression, wherever its source was to be found.