Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Unity Organization

Sooner or Later

Questions & Answers on War, Peace & the United Front

Section D: The Struggle of the U.S. Proletariat

1. But isn’t the chief responsibility of American communists to combat American imperialism?

Was it the chief responsibility of American communists to combat the imperialism of their own bourgeoisie when the opening up of new fronts in Europe and Asia by U.S. imperialism provided relief to the U.S.S.R. and made possible the defeat of fascism? Would this slogan have been correct in 1938-40 when Nazi Germany was swallowing up Eastern Europe, when Japan was dismembering China? Is it now correct when the Soviet Union is invading, colonizing and even exterminating small countries in Asia and Africa, when it menaces the national independence of Western Europe and China and the whole world with a world war? In this situation should American communists devote their chief efforts to denouncing U.S. imperialism in Southeast Asia and South America? This is what the Guardian and P.W.O.C. do, and of course the “communist” apologists of Vietnam and Cuba on the left. But is that our chief task?

There is a “left” vesion of this which says that “the chief responsibility of American revolutionaries in the struggle against the two superpowers is to make revolution in the U.S.” This sounds properly anti-“class collaborationist” and very revolutionary, but what does it mean politically? It means that the clearest exposers of appeasement, the most consistent opponents of Soviet social imperialism, should bend their main efforts to “making revolution in the U.S.” Such lines are a great boon to social imperialism which is why it has proved so willing to support ultra-left groups of various stripes, including those who denounce the “two superpowers”.

The subjective conditions in this country are very far from revolutionary or pre-revolutionary. But one thing is certain: the struggle for socialism in the U.S. must go via the route of the anti-hegemonist united front. This is not only because the prospects for the revolutionary movement in the U.S. would be better after a war if the Soviet Union loses, better under a democratic than a social fascist regime. It is also because the struggle to unmask Soviet social imperialism is indispensable for forming a socialist consciousness among the broad masses of Americans. If broad sections of the American people continue to believe that a regime which brutally denies the rights of its own people and callously enslaves others is socialist and not “social”-fascist, anti-hegemonism and anti-communism will be more securely intertwined in their minds. And if these Americans are forced to go to war before the Soviet Union has been exposed, and if they fight that war convinced that their vicious fascist enemy is socialist, anti-hegemonism and anti-communism will become many more times difficult to sever and defeat.

American communists do have a great responsibility to struggle against American imperialism – it is always their special responsibility even when it is not their chief one. Under the concrete conditions of the united front against hegemonism, this means struggling against American chauvinism and imperialism within the united front; it means being particularly alert to the problems of Browderism, taking the lead in summing-up that phenomenon. But it does not mean boycotting the united front under the cover of “left” and r-r-revolutionary slogans, abstract formulae and empty “maximum” political programs.

2. How can a united front with their own bourgeoisie be reconciled with the interests of the struggles of the American proletariat?

This question must always be approached from the standpoint of proletarian internationalism. We should remember what Lenin said: “Proletarian internationalism demands, first, that the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a world-wide scale.”[1] To forget this, to counterpose the interests of the American struggle against those of the international proletariat, or to give primacy to the former (in the name of “the internal contradictions”, the “concrete” etc.) is to slide into a position of conscious or unconscious national chauvinism. The U.S. proletariat is a contingent of the world proletariat. Its interests are identical (in the long run) and subordinate (in the short run) to those of the international proletariat. As communists we must keep this in mind always:

The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development ... they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. (Communist Manifesto, Part II.)

But while communists represent the future of the movement, they also struggle for the immediate interests of the working class. In the United States, as in the rest of the world, the most vital interest of the masses is to avoid, or to postpone, the horror of a new world war. In the United States, the main seat of the ”nuclear reply” to the U.S.S.R., the elementary, vital interest of the American masses is defense against attack. Without life there can be no struggle at all against oppression.

The Soviet Union has a mammoth and costly civil defense program consistent with their strategic doctrines envisioning the possibility of fighting and winning a nuclear war. The U.S., on the other hand, now has virtually no civil defense against nuclear attack. Civil defense spending and training has been reduced drastically since the early 1960s even as the Soviets have vastly expanded their offensive strike capability and the world has become demonstrably more dangerous. The prevailing “strategies” of “Mutually Assured Destruction” and of appeasement amount to a betrayal of the vital interests of the American masses. A basic plank of the platform of the united front against hegemonism in this country must be the demand for adequate civil defense. This is an elementary, vital interest of the American people.[2]

As the clearest and most consistent supporters of the active defense of their own people, communists must then link the question of defense with the demands of the people for democratic rights and against the continuous deterioration of their standard of living.

3. That won’t be easy. How do you see this happening?

Since the great mobilizations of the 1960s, the mass movement in this country has been at a low ebb. This dashed the spirits of some impatient comrades who had expected that the economic crisis would produce a revolutionary situation in the United States. With the bursting of that bubble there has been much talk of a “non-revolutionary period”, a “period of lull”.

Yet the lull in the U.S. and in other developed countries has been more like the stillness before a storm. As international contradictions sharpen, borne forward by the widening antagonism between Soviet hegemonism and the world’s peoples, the American masses will be drawn inexorably into the whirlwind which is now beginning to engulf Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Our “period of lull” will give way to a tumultuous period in American politics. The commotion over Iran (and now Afghanistan), which initially seemed to many to be nothing but a chauvinist backlash, has led to a new mass involvement in foreign policy, a widespread sentiment that things can no longer be left to the experts and specialists. This new concern over foreign policy will combine with the struggle against the effects of the deepening economic crisis: inflation, the energy crisis, the housing crisis, the international financial crisis, etc. All together they portend a period of “great disorder”, of growing masss unrest and involvement, set in motion by the sharpening of international contradictions.

The “lull” in the mass movement has been the principal reason for the ebb in communist and anti-imperialist influence in the past several years. Now this lull is coming to an end. It is not ending as we may have wished, with militant anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist resurgence but with a confusing release of pent-up feelings and ideas. The Iranian commotion has been characterized as much for its restraint as for its ferocity, for its patience as much as for its saber-rattling. Within it there are national contradictions – the oppressed nationalities being divided between support for the Iranian revolution and concern for the hostages and violations of international law. Among the white masses there is certainly an admixture of great nation chauvinism (not absent from the oppressed nationalities either) along with the resistance to “being pushed around again.” There is an indefiniteness and hesitation about the reaction, a sense of complexity, and above all of concern over “where the world is going.”

We may be witnessing the first harbinger of a mass reaction to hegemonism, one which will certainly be deepened by the events unfolding in Afghanistan. How this reaction will be channelled politically will depend on the struggle of the political forces involved. It is for anti-imperialists and anti-hegemonists to clarify exactly who is “pushing us around” and who is fighting for national independence.

As the spontaneous reaction to Soviet hegemonism develops it will pose hard tasks for communists. They must first know how to analyze concretely the present state of affairs, to sum-up accurately the sentiments of the masses. This of course cannot be done if the movement is boycotted because of its repellent chauvinist sectors. Such a policy will only insure that its reactionary features are strengthened. But communists must also know how to distinguish correct sentiments from incorrect ones. They must be able to unite with the democratic and anti-hegemonist sentiments and raise them to a higher, more consistent level; and they must also be able to counter the chauvinist passions instilled in the masses by imperialist political and ideological leaders. They must help the backward sectors of the masses to “divide one into two” – to separate out the reaction against “foreigners” into the just reaction against Soviet imperialism and the unjust opposition to Third World independence and revolution.

In this way the mass struggle against hegemonism can be “diverted” along democratic and progressive lines. In this way the unfolding mass resistance to the Soviet danger can be linked to the struggle for democracy and for a better life here in the U.S. The Soviet Union’s hegemonist drive represents a clear and present danger to the independence of small, big and all countries and to world peace. In this there is a direct link to the interests of the American masses, for their peace and independence (make no mistake about it) are also menaced. By listening to the masses, by patiently pointing out to them their real enemies, we can indicate who their real allies are in the struggle against Soviet hegemonism. In the context of the mass movement which the pre-World War III period will unfold, we must then forge the “democratic link” which binds together the interests of the masses at home and their interests abroad.

4. What about the charge of class collaborationist!!?

We must be clear about what is meant by “class collaboration”. For Lenin class collaboration referred to a policy of collaborating with the bourgeoisie to betray the interests of the proletariat. His favorite example was Mitterand, a French socialist who joined the French government and notoriously supported its suppression and murder of French strikers. There still lingers among us remnants of the ultra-“left” notion of class collaboration which regards participation in united fronts with the bourgeoisie as class collaboration per se. This notion was very prevalent at the time of the Gang of Four, here as well as in China.

Not all “working together” or, as Lenin put it, “marching side by side” with the bourgeoisie is class collaboration. Sometimes it is in the interest of the proletariat to work together with the bourgeoisie. This was certainly the case of the united front against imperialism in China, and of the united front against fascism in the 1930s and ’40s.

The bourgeoisie is not a monolith. In most concrete struggles there are bourgeois forces aligned with the proletariat. This was the case with the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement, and it is still true in the struggle for the ERA, affirmative action and against racial attacks. Even in the united front against hegemonism, we do not unite with the entire bourgeoisie. Senator Kennedy is nothing if not bourgeois, but he is the leader of the pro-appeasement element of the bourgeoisie with which we do not unite.

The particular difficulty many people have supporting the united front against hegemonism seems to be that it means uniting with the bourgeoisie, elements of which, on domestic questions, are reactionary. The problem is not “working together” with the bourgeoisie as a whole, and it is not class collaboration, it is uniting with the bourgeoisie on the basis of its overall stand, and in particular international stand, rather than in terms of domestic positions.

It will take a great labor of agitation and propaganda in this tumultuous period when world and American politics are undergoing sweeping change to explain patiently our reasons for making such alliances. But as the Soviet threat becomes clearer and more dangerous, this will become more understandable. It has happened before. The British masses were able to understand why communists would unite with a reactionary like Churchill when Hitler took Czechoslovakia and Poland. There was no doubt left when after the summer of 1940 one had only to look across the English Channel to find a fascist alternative to Churchill.

In the pre-World War III period communists in the U.S. have all the difficulties of the pre-World War I and the pre-World War II periods, and more. We have the difficulties of World War I in that we can afford no confusion about revisionism. We cannot mistake the outward, progressive form of modern revisionism for its counter-revolutionary, reactionary essence.

We also have the difficulties of the period before World War II. Now as then we must unite with an important sector of our own imperialist bourgeoisie. This was hard for communists in the 1930s and the Trotskyists sought to profit from this difficulty. It is even harder today because the main sector of the bourgeoisie with which we must unite may not be, overall, as conveniently liberal as the New Dealers of the 1930s.

This problem is linked to one we mentioned earlier – the tendency to proceed both theoretically and programmatically from parochial concerns: the struggle in one’s union or community, or in one’s own country. It was Lenin who said that the economists consistently tended to merge Marxism and liberalism. We have perhaps grown accustomed to uniting with liberals, especially on international questions. But as in everything there is unity and difference.

As many of us came to see during the struggles around busing in Boston, the question is not “Who’s on my side?” (bourgeois? liberals? reactionaries?) but “Who stands to gain?” As Lenin said:

In politics it is not so important who directly advocates particular views. What is important is who stands to gain from these views, proposals, measures.[3]

5. How does what you are advocating differ from Browderism?

Browdensm was the capitulation to American imperialism within the united front; it was not the decision to participate in the united front. An all-round assessment of Earl Browder’s role in the U.S. Communist Party must include a recognition of his struggle for the united front and not be limited to his role in the struggle within the united front. While anarchists and Trotskyists opposed the united front against fascism as a “betrayal” of the working class, Browder correctly recognized that a united front was in the interests of the working class. In his struggle for this united front he made a valuable contribution to the interests of the world’s people.

But within the united front, Browder, as Chairman of the CP.U.S.A., made the serious and costly error of pursuing a policy of “unity at all costs” and “everything for the united front.” In the process he gradually surrendered all ideological and political independence, up to and eventually including the very existence of the party. It could be said that the CP.U.S.A. never really recovered from this, from what became known as Browderism, and that Browder’s errors contributed to the development of worldwide revisionism, including the triumph of revisionism in the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, participation in the united front contributed to the defeat of fascism, a world-wide movement, which would surely have destroyed the Soviet Union and crippled national liberation and proletarian movements throughout the world. In criticizing Browderism, we must not forget this.

Participation in united fronts with secondary enemies against the main enemy is not Browderism but Marxism-Leninism.

We have drawn attention to the Chinese Communist Party’s participation in and building of the united front with the K.M.T. against Japan. In this united front the C.C.P. maintained its independence. The CP.U.S.A., on the other hand, surrendered its independence and initiative in the united front against fascism, and U.S. imperialism emerged strengthened. U.S. communism weakened. But it did not have to be that way.

We have to distinguish between a line and the errors made in carrying out that line. There are anarchists and “left”-wing communists who conclude that because Lenin’s party degenerated into a bureaucratic revisionist clique, we must discard the Leninist concept of the party. They overlook the fact that without a Leninist party there would have been no Russian revolution, and they fail to understand that its degeneration was due to deviations from Marxist-Leninist norms. By the same token there are some who hold Stalin’s and Dimitrov’s united front against fascism to blame for the victories of revisionism in the late 40’s and 50’s. But it was not the united front against fascism but the failure to carry out the Stalin-Dimitrov-Mao Zedong line of unity and struggle in the united front which allowed the opportunism of Browder, Thorez, Togliatti and Khrushchev to flourish.

The failure to distinguish between a line and the implementation of that line leads some comrades to reject the united front against hegemonism because of the danger of Browderism. This is not a correct way to proceed. We must first ask whether a line is correct. Does it correspond to objective reality? Once we have judged a line to be correct then we must ask with what dangers the line presents us. We must be vigilant against these dangers, but we must not reject a correct line of action because it holds dangers.

And we must not forget that communists face two sorts of dangers, not just one. Historically our movement has tended to forget this, and to focus all attention on one danger, whether the right or the ”left.” Those who would boycott the united front against hegemonism because of the danger of Browderism should recall that the united front faced a danger other than Browderism. The greater danger to the communist movement in the 1930’s was Trotskyism. Had Trotsky’s line triumphed, there would have been no united front and no international communist movement, no Soviet Union and thus no Browderism and modern revisionism to worry about.

Trotskyism has continued to sow confusion even to this day. The notion that the Vllth Comintern Congress, which adopted the united front against fascism, is the source of the revisionist trend in the communist movement has been popularized by Trotskyists and semi-Trotskyist historians. Such ideas have been common in our own ranks, as has been the notion that to place greater importance on the defense of socialism or to approach the question of tactics in individual countries from the standpoint of the interests of the proletariat as a world-wide whole is “flunkyist” or “Stalinist.” Those who oppose participation in the united front against hegemonism because of the danger of Browderism run the risk of falling into the opposite error of Trotskyism.

6. Does support for the united front against hegemonism mean supporting the re-institution of the draft in this country?

A. The international united front that is needed to blunt the Soviet drive for world domination includes the military forces of the United States, which, at this early stage, have a crucial role to play in offsetting the military might of the Soviet Union until the Third and Second World forces grow in strength, unity, and independence.

At present, however, the U.S. (and NATO) forces have important weaknesses, which, if not corrected, will allow the Soviets to dominate parts of the Third World and eventually Europe.

The active U.S. armed forces have declined sharply in the past 10 years to their lowest point since 1950. From a high of 3,547,000 in 1968 the count has gone down to 2,022,000 in 1979. (During that same period the Soviet armed forces have climbed by over 400,000 to 4,437,000.) While the basic figures for the U.S. reveal no shortages – the Air Force and Navy are at 99% of their authorized levels and the Army and Marines are at 98% of theirs – these figures are deceptive.

For one thing, many experts believe that the authorized levels are too low to meet present requirements. For another, there is a shortage of skilled and experienced personnel. The Navy, for example, lacks 17,000 skilled petty officers. The Army is short more than 46,000 non-commissioned officers. The Air Force badly needs pilots and technical officers. Two major factors that contribute to this are pay and the authoritarian nature of our armed forces. The average salary for all enlisted personnel, including all allowances, is $9,900. More than 100,000 military families are eligible for food stamps. After spending several years training in the armed forces, most pilots or mechanics, for example, realize that they can make much more money in private industry (and without the suffocating command structure) than they can if they re-enlist. This is a very serious problem for a military so dependent on high technology. As one official put it, “The absence of skilled people can take a very sophisticated weapons system and turn it into mush.”

Equally important, there exists a real shortage of trained reservists, who would be absolutely critical in any European war. Of the 2 million active forces, one quarter are deployed abroad (There are 325,000 in Europe – nearly 5,000 fewer than last year; 131,600 in the Far East – 6,700 fewer than last year; 15,000 in the Caribbean; and 5-8,000 in the Middle East). (The Soviet Union has over 1,000,000 troops stationed in foreign countries.) There are an additional 2 million in the ready, standby, and retired reserves. U.S. reserve-component units – on which NATO depends in case of war – are 18 to 20 percent understrength at the present time.

The U.S. Ready Reserve strengths have dropped dramatically since 1970, from 2,661,000 to 1,308,000. This decline will continue because there are fewer people entering reserve status at a slower rate than during the years of the draft. (The Soviet Reserves stand at 5,945,000 with no decline anticipated. 65 to 75% of all draft age males in the U.S.S.R. serve in the military.)

This situation is critical and getting worse. If, under the present circumstances the Soviet Union were to invade Western Europe, the U.S. would not be able to replace the casualties that would occur within the first 30 days. This troop shortage acts as a restraint on any U.S. decision to commit its forces to the defense of Europe, and consequently it acts as an encouragement to Soviet aggression. Troop strength, not nuclear weapons, could decide the Third World War.

In short, one of the major drawbacks of the present volunteer army – and one of the major arguments in favor of a draft – is that there are not enough personnel to allow for trained reserves in case of war. Of course, some restructuring of U.S. military deployment is possible – and highly desirable from the viewpoint of the international proletariat (such as the removal of the 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea). However, this would not be enough to meet the Soviet threat. Nor is it possible to withdraw the troops from the Western Pacific, close the bases in Japan and the Philippines, and transfer those forces to Europe. That would seriously jeopardize the security of Japan, the Philippines, China, and the ASEAN nations at a time when they are directly threatened by Vietnam’s drive in Indochina and the Soviets’ militarization of the northern Japanese-claimed islands and the rapid build-up of the Soviet Far East and Indian Ocean Fleets.

Defense preparedness for a war with the Soviet Union requires at least stand-by draft procedures in the United States. Far from the draft being a “war preparation” as many critics claim, this move would decrease the likelihood of a Soviet attack and would be a concrete step towards postponing the war. The Soviets are much less likely to attack a strong, prepared country.

A draft would also help resolve the second major drawback to the present volunteer army – the unfair burden it imposes on the poor and working people of this country. “Volunteer” means that the army has a 30% minority and overwhelming working-class composition – these are the young men and women who volunteer when faced with otherwise bleak job prospects. While most wealthy and middle class youth avoid military duty (and anti-draft sentiment continues to run high among them – particularly those in college) working class youth shoulder the burden. Blacks are now 34% of all new recruits and if present trends continue, 45% of the junior enlisted ranks in the Army will soon be black. Is this democratic? Is this “volunteer” Army really preferable to a draft? Most Americans don’t think so. While small anti-draft rallies have blossomed at the elite campuses of Berkeley and Harvard, opinion polls and newspaper interviews show that although working class and minority youth don’t want to go to war, the majority don’t oppose registration and the draft. Despite 15 years of strong antiwar sentiment, these polls show that in the face of what is seen as a growing Soviet threat, the solid majority of citizens favor a return to the draft, while opposing U.S. military interventionism. This is not “war hysteria” but a reflection of the differences between a draft for another Indochina war and a draft for legitimate defensive needs.

The dominant left-liberal position against the draft argues that the U.S. already has more than enough military power to meet any conceivable emergency. They argue, like Bertram Gross in the Nation:

To maintain more than 208,000 American troops in West Germany is a boondoggle. Assuming there is any reality to the military establishment’s fears of a Russian invasion of Western Europe, there are certainly enough Western Europeans capable of handling their own self-defense.... At most a ’tripwire’ force of 30,000, like that in South Korea, might be needed.[4]

The Boston Study Group, authors of The Price of Defense (NY Times Books, 1979) argue that “... .the probability of such an attack is very low. With or without U.S. troops in Europe, it is doubtful that Soviet Union would want to attack Western Europe.” (p. 156)

These views substitute subjective desires for actual fact. They wish that Europe were strong enough to withstand a Soviet blitzkrieg by itself. They hope that the Soviet Union is a tired old superpower, beset by so many internal difficulties that it could not start a war. They still believe that the Soviets are reacting defensively to U.S. aggression and that the U.S. has more than enough forces to defend its national borders. They believe, therefore, that the key to peace in the world is to disarm the dragon of U.S. military might, – by stopping new weapons development, cutting defense funds, blocking a draft, passing SALT II, etc.

Coupled with this sentiment is the righteous desire to put an end to U.S. interventionism in the Third World. But this is separable from maintaining the defensive capabilities needed to blunt a Soviet attack. Gross himself partially recognizes this when he states, “If a draft were ever needed again, how should it be run?... An honest draft would apply to the Air Force, Navy and Marines as well as the Army... Also, there would be none of the upper-class and middle-class deferments...” (p. 362, loc cit.)

Gross also proposes an oath to be taken by every officer that they would not “(1) obtain subsequent employment with any company or institution doing business with the armed force, (2) promote the subversion of any government anywhere in the world or (3) deny constitutional freedoms to subordinates.”

These seem to be reasonable components to a genuine communist position on the military. A full comprehensive position is urgently needed that would encompass all the military questions confronting us – not just a piecemeal, knee-jerk approach to the draft and the military budget.

7. Does that program include support for an increase in the military budget?

A. It has to. The bourgeoisie of this country has pursued military policies that have left us with demoralized, overweight, authoritarian armed forces which desperately need overhauling. The popular, hopelessly generalized positions such as “cut the defense budget” or “increase the budget by 5%” simply won’t do. Just as blindly throwing money at U.S. defense problems will not ensure the substantial improvements that are necessary, blindly swiping at the military won’t solve the problems either – or gain us the attention of the American people.

For example, there is a lot that can be cut in the budget, such as the monies allocated for the training of counterinsurgency forces for Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well as military aid to those oppressive regimes for use against their own people. Exposures such as the existence of the Textron slush fund for entertaining Pentagon officials and the millions of dollars that company paid in bribes to insure the purchases of their Bell helicopters by Third World countries should be used to show how corruption ends up increasing the defense budget and weakening our defense.

We could also use the example of General Dynamics’ $2.5 billion sale of F-16 fighter planes to four NATO countries and the U.S. Air Force. This “sale of the century,” as it has been called, was supposed to provide a new NATO front-line, all-purpose fighter. However, Gen. John Vogt, Commander, Allied Air Forces, Central Europe, admits that Europe bought the wrong plane. One of the reasons is pointed out in a 1978 GAO report which states that “The rate of loss for the F-16 due to engine malfunction is currently estimated by the Air Force to be three times higher than that called for by Air Force specifications.” The engine – a Pratt and Whitney F-100 – failed to get through its performance tests in 1973 until an Air Force general secretly ordered the standards be lowered. As a result, hundreds of F-16s and F-15s (which uses the same engine and is considered the most advanced fighter plane in the world) are grounded with engine problems which may be irreparable. Exposing and stopping this kind of corruption can save billions and improve our defensive capabilities.

However, real increases in spending are seriously needed to meet the Soviet threat. While the Soviet Union has been consistently, steadily, building up the most powerful military machine the world has ever seen, U.S. military spending has declined both in real dollar terms, and as a percentage of the Gross National Product and the overall national budget. In 1979, military spending represented 23% of the budget and 4.9% of the GNP – it’s lowest point since the early 1940’s. By comparison, in 1965 military spending represented 40.1% of the budget and 7.2% of the GNP; in 1955 it was 58.1% of the budget and 10.5% of the GNP.

The only way to evaluate the meaning of this trend in the U.S. defense budget is in relation to Soviet military spending. While U.S. spending has declined, Soviet spending has increased by an average of 5% per year over the past 15 years. In the past 10 years alone the U.S.S.R. has spent $100 billion more than the U.S. As large and as powerful as the U.S. military was at its peak, the Soviet military is now larger and more deadly. Nor will this situation change at any time before the 1990s.[5]

This tremendous growth in the Soviet military led China to make defense one of its Four Modernizations. It is why China, a poor country desperately in need of economic development, is willing to sacrifice an estimated 107o of its GNP to military spending. But there is no way that China and other Third World countries will be able to check the Soviet military juggernaut by themselves in the next 10 to 20 years. Immediate steps must be taken by those countries most able to deter Soviet aggression – the U.S., NATO, and Japan. Technological embargos alone won’t do it. Olympic boycotts and votes in the U.N. alone won’t do it. And compromise and appeasement certainly won’t do it. NATO, Japan, and the U.S. all must increase their defense budgets to make the much needed improvements in their military opposition to the Soviet Union.

These improvements include both the conventional and nuclear forces of the U.S. The MX, the Trident, and the B-l bomber all have substantial problems associated with them. But if not these programs, then other, improved programs must be implemented to close the “war window” – that period in the 1980s when the U.S.S.R. will have a “first strike” nuclear superiority that could be decisive in its decision to launch a war.

The situation is similar for the European theater nuclear systems. NATO must deploy new, larger missiles in order to prevent the Soviet fleet of Backfire bombers and SS-20 missiles from dominating the continent. Unfortunately, there is no choice.

The U.S. NATO forces must be modernized and well-supplied. They must be prepared actually to fight a conventional war for more than a few days – which is currently the limit of their capabilities. The present situation is an extremely dangerous situation which could lead to either surrender (possible) or a nuclear exchange (which cannot be ruled out) in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion.

The list of improvements goes on. Many of these improvements are double-edged swords, capable of being used against the Third World. But to look only at this aspect (and therefore oppose them) is to ignore the changed international context in which these improvements are being made. It was not, after all, the lack of military power that prevented the U.S. from intervening in Nicaragua – or Iran before the Shah fell. It is the new balance of forces that pushes the Third World and the U.S. into closer co-operation against the Soviet Union – not by choice, but by necessity. This new necessity may force the U.S. to change its positions on many issues, for instance Palestine, but it will not be at all consistent. This is what it means that the U.S. is a vacillating and unreliable ally.

In summary, communists have much more to say than simply “yes” or “no”, “for” or “against”, when it comes to military questions. A communist military program would articulate a dialectical and materialist position on military affairs. It would explain the distinction between bourgeois pacifism and Marxism-Leninism, between just and unjust wars, making reference to Lenin’s typology of wars (Letter to I. Armand, Jan. 19, 1917, LCW, vol. 35, p. 273). A military program would define the conditions under which American military forces should be employed and the conditions under which they should not be. It would include, for example, positions on:
1. Genuine disarmament, beginning with the mutual and balanced reduction of the nuclear and conventional arms held by the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. with the aim of total prohibition and destruction of all nuclear arms and delivery systems.
2. A foreign policy based on non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other nations, and the promotion of policies of mutual benefit and equality.
3. A strong defense against Soviet military aggression including aid to those countries and peoples fighting Soviet hegemony and based on the policy of collective security.
4. A strong NATO defense based on policies of mutual respect and equality in the relations among the U.S. and its European allies.
5. Support for the nations of Eastern Europe and the peoples of the Soviet Union in their struggle for national independence and democratic rights.
6. Support for the Third World nations and peoples in their struggles against hegemonism and imperialism.
7. Specific exposures of the corruption and waste in the U.S. defense establishment which rob the taxpayers and enrich the generals, bureaucrats and corporate leaders. Support for military programs needed to counter the Soviet war strategy.
8. All-round democratization of the Armed Forces including a democratic draft that includes all branches of service – the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines – and campaigns against the racism, sexism and authoritarianism in the military.

Such a program would link the struggle for democratization of American society with the demand for a democratic defense capable of postponing war. But it is only a beginning. With less rhetoric and more concrete analysis, less posturing and more honest debate among the anti-Soviet forces, we can start to construct a reasonable and popular military program for this period.

8. I can see the need for a renovation and strengthening of the American army, but should communists support such measures? State power, which is above all military power, is still in the hands of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The army remains a class army which may be utilized against the working people, against movements for national liberation and independence.

This was a position which was very popular in the Comintern in the 1930s. Even Dimitrov at one time held that while it was incorrect and infantile for communists “to adopt an attitude of indifference to the question of the defense of the country,” this only extended as far as foreign policy and civil defense. He drew the line at the military budget. This should be opposed “as a whole”.[6] In Togliatti’s speech at the VIIth CI congress there are some resonant passages approving the French communists’ opposition to the French military budget despite the signing of the Franco-Soviet mutual aid pact and Stalin’s declaration of ”approval to the policy of national defense pursued by France for maintaining her armed forces at the level corresponding to the needs of her security. The French communists were singled out for their independence and militancy, along with the Czechoslovakians.” (Ercoli, “On the Danger of Imperialist War and the Tasks of the Communists”, Serve the People Press: 40, 45-6) Six months after the Comintern congress (and two and a half years before Munich) the central organ of the Communist International published an article by the head of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party which strongly opposed support in the party for any increase in Czechoslovakian arms expenditures in the face of the fascist danger. Comrades who wished to see the army strengthened had “forgotten... the class character of the army”, were “agents of the class enemy”, etc. Communist International highly recommended the article as containing “questions of international significance”, “lessons... of great importance for all other sections of the Communist International.”[7] In the summer of 1939 when the Germans were dispatching troops to Danzig, members of the Polish Communist Party were advocating that workers and peasants in the Polish army lay down their arms rather than “defend the bourgeois state.”

We must learn from the negative as well as the positive examples in the Comintern’s pre-war experience. The correct line, which was generally Stalin’s, did not always win out, with consequences that are not difficult to assess: the overrunning of France, Czechoslovakia and Poland and the failure to postpone World War II. The ultra-“left” line, that because the bourgeoisie holds power the working class must not strive to influence military policy, proved disastrous to the interests of the working class in its struggle for peace. Though he did not apply it consistently, Dimitrov was correct in his approach:

The time has gone by when the working class did not participate independently and actively in deciding such vital questions as war and peace. The difference between Communists and reformists, between revolutionary and reactionary leaders of the working class movement, is not at all that the latter participate in deciding these questions while we revolutionaries remain aloof. No! The difference is that on these questions, as on other questions, reformists defend the interests of the capitalists, while revolutionaries defend the interests of the people as a whole.[8]

9. I can see that opposition to the draft and the military budget are not timeless communist principles, but has the time come? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until the American bourgeoisie shows that it recognizes the Soviet threat and will not use the army against the Third World? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until there develops a mass sentiment for such a policy which would constrain the imperialists?

In other words: “wait till things become popular and easy; don’t go out on a limb’ don’t go against the tide.” We are communists. We are neither anarchists who believe that communists should have nothing to do with “politics” – with tainted things like foreign policy and military policy. Nor are we opportunists who wait to see which way the wind is blowing before taking a stand. Both the anarchists and the opportunists liquidate the active and leading role of communists: one by saying we should not dirty our hands by participating in politics or in fronts with our enemies; the others by allowing our politics to be determined by what the rulers or the “masses” think. One speaks of “principles”, the other of “mass line” – but neither have anything to do with communism.

The ruling class may or may not come to such an understanding. The masses may or may not. Or they may arrive at it too late. But the question is: do communists have any independent role to play? Should communists strive to give leadership to the masses on these questions, and in so doing expose the corruption and treachery of the rulers?

The imperialist ruling class may be tempted to use the military to suppress working class or national liberation movements. That is a real danger. What will stop them or constrain them? Certainly a mass anti-imperialist, anti-hegemonist movement could do that, but how will that come about? Will the masses learn to distinguish between right (anti-hegemonist) and wrong (imperialist) uses of American military power by themselves, spontaneously? Both “principle” and practice indicate that they will not. Anti-imperialist consciousness does not come spontaneously to the masses of a superpower constantly bombarded in their television, theatre, church and trade union (with chauvinist ideas). The American masses took anti-imperialist positions in the late ’60s and ’70s only after many years of quite unspontaneous propaganda and agitation and active examples by vanguards and youth. Communists, if united into a cohesive force, practicing a correct policy of alliances, could begin to play such a role today.

To get into a position to play such a role they must first do two things. They must permit and encourage a full-scale debate on the issues raised by the united front against hegemonism – the role of the U.S., the draft, etc. Then they must sum-up this debate and consolidate the results in a concrete program, which would include a concrete military program.

Agitation around such a program would enable the masses to gain an understanding of their situation in this country and in the world, an understanding of the nature of American imperialism and of Soviet hegemonism. In this way they would obtain not only a theoretical but above all a practical understanding of the political forces operating in the country and in the world. And such an understanding forms an essential condition not only for the working class and the oppressed nationalities taking the lead in the united front against hegemony but also for their struggle for socialism:

The consciousness of the working masses cannot be genuine class consciousness unless the workers learn, from concrete, and above all from topical, political facts and events to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical and political life... for the self-knowledge of the working class is indissolubly bound up, not solely with a fully clear theoretical understanding – it would be even truer to say, not so much with the theoretical as with the practical, understanding – of the relationship between all the various classes of modern society, acquired through the experience of political life....[9]


[1] “Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions”, LCW, Vol. 21, p. 148.

[2] Under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party the Chinese government several years ago initiated a program to “build tunnels and store grain” in preparation against nuclear attack. The Chinese people have now built “subterranean cities” of two and even three levels beneath the major population centers, with the capacity to place underground complete and functioning hospitals, factories and stores. In the event of attack their cities can be quickly evacuated and the vast majority of their people will survive.

[3] “Who Stands to Gain?” LCW, Vol. 19, pp. 53-4.

[4] Bertram Gross, “The Drive to Revive the Draft”, The Nation, Oct. 20, 1979.

[5] N. Y. Times, Jan. 7, 1980, which states in part:

“Intelligence estimates are that before 1985, the Soviet Union will begin construction of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and will complete a class of 32,000 ton battle cruisers, will replace the forward echelons of its armored force in Central Europe with a more heavily armed and heavily armored tank, and will increase the deployment of surface-to-air missiles.”

In this regard it is useful to note the words of Politburo member and Minister of Defense D. Ustinov: “The consolidation and improvement of the army and navy is a complex, all-embracing, creative process in which stagnation has not and cannot have any place. What was new yesterday becomes the past today. Herein lies the essence of the dialectics of military art.” (“Sixty Years on Guard Over the Conquests of Great October”, Radio Moscow, Feb. 28, 1978.)

[6] Dimitrov, “The Struggle for Peace”, in The United Front (Proletarian Publishers), pp. 177-8.

[7] K. Gottwald, “For the Correct Carrying Out of the Line of the Seventh Congress”; Communist International, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Feb., 1936, pp. 268, 278-9.

[8] Dimitrov, op. cit., p. 179.

[9] V.I. Lenin, What Is to Be Done?, LCW, Vol. 5, pp. 412-13.