Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A Debate: Should Johnny Get His Gun?

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 29, August 4-17, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Call Note: Following are two letters from readers criticizing The Call’s review of a new book, Sooner or Later, and a reply by C.E., author of the review.

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’Soviet threat not well understood’

I am glad to see The Call opening up its pages to the debate now unfolding on the American left on the Soviet threat and what to do about it. In “A One-Sided View of the United Front,” (June 30), C.E. offers, however, a rather one-sided critique of the recent book Sooner or Later–Questions and Answers on War. Peace and the United Front by the Communist Unity Organization.

With the Soviets’ strategic offensive reaching a new stage with the seizure of Afghanistan, with the present Soviet build-up in South Yemen and the. Pacific Ocean, and now with the recent Vietnamese incursion into Thailand, this question has become the most urgent and central one facing the U.S. communist movement.

But, I find C.E.’s contribution to the debate somewhat disappointing. Not only does C.E. fail to treat many of the key questions the book raises, he misrepresents its positions on some of the questions he does treat, taking quotes out of context and making several blanket and unsubstantiated charges.

He claims that Sooner or Later merges all of the demands of the workers and minorities into one demand for opposition to Soviet expansionism, when in fact two of the five sections of the book (pp. 70-104) are devoted to the relation between the domestic struggles of the workers and national minorities and the struggle against Soviet expansionism.

He alleges that Sooner or Later goes “so far as to oppose the struggles of the Puerto Rican and Philippines independence movements,” when actually it states that “as in the case of the Philippines, the strategic importance of Puerto Rico cannot be seen as obviating the need for struggle against U.S. imperialism.” The book goes on to demand that American military bases be used “not [as] spearheads against their national liberation struggles” but to “protect these countries’ national independence from the social imperialists.” (p. 57)

C.E. implies that Sooner or Later overlooks that it is the U.S. and not the Soviet Union which is the “main exploiter and oppressor of the American people” and the “immediate oppressor of millions of people in places like the Philippines and Puerto Rico.” But in fact the book gives attention to the imperialist nature of the U.S. ruling class throughout. Is it C.E. who has overlooked something: that the peoples of the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the rest of the world are faced with the menace of a social fascist superpower bent on world conquest and world war?

It is also alleged that in Sooner or Later “... no mention is made of U.S. imperialism’s offensive aspect.” This is simply false. While it is true that exposure of U.S. imperialism’s “offensive aspect” is not the main emphasis, yet in a book directed to the genuine communist forces in the U.S. why should it be? Such forces are well aware of the nature of U.S. imperialism. The Soviet threat, and how to deal with it, is far less well understood by them.

There are more examples of C.E.’s unsubstantiated allegations and careless misinterpretations of Sooner or Later, but let me use this space to focus on the positive value and importance of this inevitably controversial book and the questions it poses.

Its thoughtful analysis of Soviet expansionism and threat of war, its presentation of the parallels as well as the differences with the 1930s and its discussion of correct and incorrect approaches to the formation and conduct of united fronts are extremely useful and thought-provoking to anyone concerned with these questions. The facts presented on the Soviet-U.S. military balance, and the role of U.S. military power as a force to deter Soviet aggression are matters about which most Americans (communists included) are fairly ignorant.

What is the nature of the united front in this period? Is the U.S. a target of it or a part of it? Given the military weakness of the second and third world (viz. the situation in Thailand currently menaced by the Soviet/Vietnamese drive), does U.S. military power acquire positive features? If so, should we support the draft and increased military budgets? Or is this to be condemned as “war preparations”? Has a “democratic” current emerged in U.S. foreign policy (e.g. changing policies toward Zimbabwe, South Africa, Israel, Nicaragua, Jamaica, South Korea and China) or is this just “dangerous illusions” as C.E. believes.

These and other issues presented in Sooner or Later demand that the book be studied seriously and debated seriously. A commitment by The Call to promote debate, discussion and understanding of these vital questions would be a valuable and welcome service for the entire U.S. left.

Larry Harris. Berkeley, Cal.

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War danger raises tough questions

I was very disappointed in your review of the book Sooner or Later by the Communist Unity Organization. It did not come up with The Call’s usually high standards of reporting.

Sooner or Later is an important contribution to the discussion of what approach we must take in this period towards Soviet aggression and the U.S. role in opposing it. The book raises many questions which may be difficult for communists and activists to deal with, but that is no reason to distort and misrepresent the opinions expressed in it.

I hope that The Call will continue to print articles discussing these issues.

S.M., Oakland, Cal.

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Don’t jump on the patriot bandwagon

First let me express my thanks to these readers for responding on this vital question and offering their criticisms. I am sorry if the found my comments on Sooner or Later to be one-sided; I certainly didn’t intend to distort in any way the essence of this important statement by the Communist Unity Organization.

I fully agree on the urgency and centrality of the issue of Soviet aggression for the U.S. movement and in many ways view it as a cutting-edge question for all of us.

However I still stick to my criticisms of Sooner or Later. I maintain that the authors do submerge the demands and interests of the workers and minorities under the signboard of an anti-Soviet united front. They insist on limiting our alternatives to either believing outright in the “socialist” character of the Soviet Union, on the one hand, or targeting the USSR as the main enemy of the people of the U.S. on the other. These choices are not in tune with the real conditions of U.S. workers.

While the authors speak of the need to “link the question of defense with the demand of the people for democratic rights and against the continuous deterioration of their standard of living,” their program for doing so comes right out of the rhetoric of Business Week magazine and the capitalists’ plan for a new “social contract” between labor and business (Business Week, June 30).

According to the authors, “If the American worker is to cooperate by, say, restricting work actions at defense plants, then vigorous measures must be taken to assure his/her safety.. .and to prevent ownership from reaping the benefits of increased productivity” (p. 98). The CUO is even running ahead of the bourgeoisie in asking the workers to give up their right to strike for the war effort.

Sooner or Later also begs the question of just who is the immediate and direct enemy of the U.S. working class. It does correctly point out that there are no immediate revolutionary prospects in this country and thereby hits accurately at the ultra-“left” line of those like the RCP and Communist Workers Party who place the task of “revolution” immediately on the agenda. But the authors impose their own type of dogma when they assert that the question facing us is one of choosing between the “democratic” rule of the U.S. imperialists or the “fascist” rule of the Kremlin (p. 72).

To ask workers and minorities to accept the rule of the U.S. millionaires because it is not as bad as the fascist Soviet regime is the height of demagogy. That is certainly not the question involved in the contemporary struggle of the people of the U.S.

The fight in defense of the trade unions, the struggle for jobs and for the rights of Afro-Americans, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans and other minorities is in no way harmful to the needs of the international struggle. Why then dwell, as do the authors of Sooner or Later, on the subordination of the national struggle to the needs of the international struggle (p. 73)? Why then propose such a restriction of work actions?

Generally and on a worldwide scale it is correct to isolate the Soviet hegemonists as the main danger and the main threat of a new world war. But the direct enemy of the American people in particular is the U.S. monopoly-capitalist class.

It is the U.S. ruling class which every day is exploiting and oppressing the majority of the American people. The developing struggles of the working class, from Miami to California, are not aimed at Moscow. While CUO calls on communists to “position ourselves within the trade union structure,” their main program for doing so rests on the basis of anti-Soviet politics and opposition to the Iranian hostage seizure within the unions (p. 99-100). The struggle for economic demands and the rank-and-file insurgency in the unions are mainly looked upon in a negative light.

Yes, it is correct at the present time to point out the necessary role for the U.S. in the worldwide anti-hegemonic front. But this must not be used to mollify the domestic struggles of the workers and minorities. In fact, if anything, the low ebb of struggle in recent years has encouraged hegemonism.

Nor should this potential for the U.S. to play a role in the front be used to write a ticket for the arms race and the draft of Carter, Reagan and company. The CUO, however, goes so far as to praise the draft as an act that will encourage “peace” and to place the mass anti-draft movement in the camp of the USSR (P-81).

As for the question of whether or not the authors support or oppose the struggle of the Puerto Rican and Filipino people for independence, let them speak for themselves. On page 57 they oppose the “unilateral withdrawal [of the U.S. military] from Puerto Rico and the Philippines.” But, I would ask, who else should withdraw? If several great powers had carved up these countries as they did say in China in the ’30s, then we would call for the withdrawal of all the big powers. But, the U.S. is the main colonizer and dominant power in these countries.

To demand a “constrained” but continuous U.S. presence in the Philippines and Puerto Rico now puts the CUO at direct odds with the most progressive revolutionary and independence forces in these countries. Apparently, the CUO’s call to subordinate the struggle in any one country to the worldwide struggle doesn’t apply to their own responsibility, as communists in the heartland of the imperialist superpower, to coordinate their demands and slogans with their fellow communists in the colonial world an old problem for the U.S. communist movement.

The authors are correct in trying to raise the vigilance of the people against the growing Soviet threat in these areas of U.S. domination. But their dogmatic, one-sided approach to the anti-U.S. struggles in Puerto Rico and the Philippines will only serve to isolate the Marxist-Leninist forces.

Larry Harris obviously is in agreement with the CUO and this is certainly his right. But the problem here is not mainly how to interpret the CUO’s book. Rather my review and his letter reveal two different approaches to the fight against hegemonism and world war. Apart from the questions posed by Harris at the end of his letter I would pose these:

Can the approach taken by the authors of Sooner or Inter really mobilize the working and oppressed people in the U.S.?

Without such an independent mobilization of labor and minorities with U.S. communists an active force in the struggle, can we place our hopes on any “democratic current” within the ranks of the giant monopoly capitalists to oppose hegemonism? If such a current really has developed, who are its leaders and main representatives and how does Harris suggest we hook up with them?

Finally, if a new upsurge of class struggle develops among the workers or in the minority communities, what approach should communists take to the demands directed at our own ruling class, even in the face of the growing threat of Soviet expansionism?

In response to Harris’ last point, it seems to me that The Call is prepared and willing to take up this debate as well as others of vital concern to the U.S. left and is aided by your continued participation.