Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Sarah Johnston

A response to another Frontline attack: Who is “unreliable” in the U.S. anti-intervention movement?

First Published: Unity, Vol. 8, No. 4, March 15-28, 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Frontline (the newspaper of the Line of March organization – LOM) recently published two articles (by Irwin Silber and Bruce Occena) in its March 4 issue, attacking the League of Revolutionary Struggle’s international views and practice as class collaborationist with U.S. imperialism. These serious charges by the LOM are irresponsibly hurled without a shred of evidence – there is not one quote, not one reference to a concrete example, to back up the long stream of alleged or implied League offenses.

First, unable to answer the League’s article entitled “A Response to Frontline: On the Internationalist Duty of the U.S. Left” (UNITY, January 25), the LOM decides to rewrite it. Under the guise of reprinting our article “somewhat edited for space,” they eliminate major portions of our position and leave out the most damaging criticisms of their own views.

Then, rather than criticize the actual public and printed positions and practice of the League, Occena resorts to the guilty-by-association method to make a whole series of vague and unsubstantiated charges against the League. He tries to saddle the League with any and all stands which the LOM considers to have been held within the last 20 years by any group the LOM considers “Maoist.” This is clearly a ridiculous caricature of a Marxist-Leninist debate which should focus on the substance of a position and not on fabrications.

Why is the LOM spending so much energy attacking the League? Unable to maintain the fiction that the LOM had spent so many years promoting, that all and any forces which opposed the two superpowers are dead, “historically obsolete,” “ideologically no longer viable,” in “shambles, disarray,” etc. etc., and hoping that by saying it loud enough it would become true, the LOM is now shifting to a new strategy.

Occena is now uttering a clearly sectarian threat, saying the LOM is “prepared to combat any force that jeopardizes or discredits” the effort to build a communist movement in the U.S., and the LOM “will do whatever we can” to “stop” the League. Already having failed after several efforts at red baiting the League in different electoral campaigns, they have decided to resort to another tactic. Turning now to the Central America movement – the LOM has given itself the task of fanning up “concern and anxiety” among Central America solidarity activists over the League’s evident growth in that movement.

Our struggle for socialism in the U.S. is not served by such threats and polemics, which simply fan up misplaced indignation and self-righteousness and heap abuse and scorn upon one’s opponent without clarifying the issues or even substantiating the charges. The arrogant and shrill tone of both LOM articles is totally inappropriate to constructive debate on the left and cannot make up for the vagueness and lack of substance in their arguments.

The LOM’s unprincipled method actually is a way of avoiding struggle over its own position, which liquidates the right of nations to self-determination and national sovereignty. In fact, the LOM is known for not upholding the struggle against national oppression in the U.S., and it extends that same position worldwide. The LOM also pits the struggle for democracy against the struggle for socialism, promoting a view that socialism can be imposed from the outside at the point of a Soviet tank, as in Afghanistan.

However, despite the LOM’s method of debate, we will still try to address the LOM’s charges and attempt to clarify the real issues and political differences involved. The main charges in these two Frontline articles are: first, that the League must not be allowed to “avoid accountability for the demonstrated class collaborationist political consequences of the Maoist ideological baggage’’; second, that UNITY tries to “pretty up the Pol Pot years” and avoid the facts in Kampuchea (though Silber is careful not to accuse the League of actually supporting Pol Pot); and third, that the League is “an unstable and unreliable force in the anti-imperialist movement.” Let’s take these charges one by one.

Class collaboration

The LOM’s charge that the League is “class collaborationist” with U.S. imperialism is absurd and hardly warrants a response. The League is a communist organization dedicated to bringing about socialism in the U.S. We are known for our extensive and longstanding revolutionary practice among the U.S. peoples, targeting the main enemy – the U.S. monopoly capitalists. Over the last several years, we have vigorously struggled against Reaganism and the right. We have also consistently opposed all foreign aggression, particularly the expansionism of the two superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Such a stand is not “class collaborationist,” but a Marxist-Leninist stand that sides with the masses of people around the world who want national liberation, independence, democracy and socialism.

As for the LOM’s cynical remarks about what it calls “Maoism,” it is no secret that the League has always supported the Chinese revolution and respects the revolutionary contributions of Mao Zedong, although we have never called ourselves “Maoists.”

If Occena believes our stand is impossible to hold as Marxist-Leninists, then he should produce some real evidence. This should not be so difficult if his slander had any truth. But Occena thinks he knows us so well that he can ignore what we have actually said and done and can just fabricate stories about us. For example, unable to explain the League’s evident strength and growth in the mass movements and the left, Occena scrambles to come up with a fairy tale about a supposed League strategy for survival. He claims this strategy involves “digging into a few strongholds” and “biding its time.” But we have grown not by biding our time, but because our line and practice are correct and are winning respect among the people.

On Kampuchea and the facts

With regard to the effort of Irwin Silber to say we prettified Pol Pot and avoided facts in our article on Kampuchea (UNITY, January 25), we would like to point out that Silber, besides distorting our position, leaves out the main fact that we pointed out concerning Kampuchea – that the country has been invaded and occupied by Viet Nam.

The UNITY article clearly states that while the Pol Pot government committed grievous acts against the Kampuchean people, this was not the reason (stated or otherwise) for Viet Nam’s invasion. The article points out that if Viet Nam was so concerned about the violation of human rights in Kampuchea, why didn’t they bring this up in world bodies, press for economic and political sanctions, and at least attempt some international coordination before they undertook a unilateral invasion? And if saving the Kampuchean people was the main reason for invasion, why did Viet Nam immediately annex portions of Kampuchea’s territory after marching into Phnom Penh? The UNITY article discusses the dangers of allowing countries to justify or “prettify” their invasion of another country on the grounds of revulsion at the internal policies of that country. Let’s not forget how Reagan used the widespread revulsion at the murder of Maurice Bishop to lessen public outrage at the U.S. invasion of Grenada. Our article upheld the essential right to national independence and territorial integrity of sovereign nations, while recognizing that human rights violations must dealt with in some internationally coordinated fashion. The League opposes Viet Nam’s invasion of Kampuchea, but that doesn’t mean we supported the Pol Pot government’s errors and excesses. The overwhelming majority of countries, including Romania, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other socialist and third world countries have condemned the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Kampuchea and support the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. The League opposes the Vietnamese invasion because we believe that no one who upholds genuine independence and anti-imperialism can condone an invasion, no matter how much “revolutionary” rhetoric is used to “prettify” it. If Silber wants to justify the steady erosion of Kampuchea’s national sovereignty by Viet Nam, then let him do so up front, and not hide behind words in his article like how Viet Nam is consolidating “the Indochinese revolution as a whole,” as if there was only one and not three countries there. If Silber wishes to defend a naked invasion of a sovereign nation, then let him do so, because that is the issue, and that is the fact.

Who’s unreliable?

The last major charge made in both Frontline articles, and again unsubstantiated, is that the League is an “unstable and unreliable force in the anti-imperialist movement.”

In reality, the League and many of its members have been a part of the U.S. anti-imperialist movement for a long time. Many of the members of the League were among the first to advocate support for the National Liberation Front of south Viet Nam and its seven-point peace program and played leading roles in initiating and building broad united front opposition to U.S. aggression in Viet Nam. We continue that stand today in our opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America, as well as to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. We believe our stand is most consistent and reliable because we oppose all aggression and support firmly the right of all nations to self-determination.

We have never qualified our stand to condemn only certain invasions or to support only some peoples’ right to self-determination. To the LOM, U.S. subversion of Nicaragua is bad (which is true), but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is good; U.S. intervention in El Salvador is bad (which it is), but Soviet backing for military rule in Poland is fine; the U.S. invasion and continued occupation of Grenada is bad (which it is), but the Soviet invasion and continued occupation of Czechoslovakia (since 1968) is positive. We think it is the LOM’s stand that is “unstable and unreliable” in the fight against interventionism.

Clearly, we have differences here. In our view, the crux of those differences is that the LOM does not uphold the right of sovereign nations to self-determination and national independence, or their right to conduct their own internal affairs without superpower interference. The LOM opposes U.S. interference but supports Soviet interference.

To the LOM, defending Soviet expansionism is equated with the development and growth of socialism internationally. Thus the LOM proposes that the task of communists in “stabilizing” the U.S. peace and anti-intervention movement is “concretely concentrated in the defense of the Soviet Union.”

It is precisely this view – that the essence of the struggle in Central America is a conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union – that explains the LOM’s inability to give any real leadership to the anti-intervention movement.

In our view, the essence of the struggle in Central America is between the peoples of Central America fighting for a life free from poverty, exploitation and U.S. aggression and domination, and a U.S. determined to continue its imperialist domination. From this view, we see the role of communists in the anti-intervention movement in the U. S. is to help build the broadest possible united front against the U.S. government’s policy of intervention and subversion in Central America, an in support of self-determination for the peoples of that region.

We believe that if communists adopt the view advocated by the LOM, they will actually destabilize and narrow the movement by bringing in extraneous issues. In this way, the anti-intervention movement can be damaged and the cause of the peoples of Central America weakened. To make Cuba or the Soviet Union the main issue in the anti-intervention movement is to do precisely what Reagan is doing – to ignore the people’s actual struggle and make the issue one of the U.S. versus the Soviet Union.

Learn from the 1970’s

Many of us went through the 1970’s when the new communist movement, including the LOM, made its share of errors. And many of us besides the LOM have long memories. The point, however, is not just to remember what happened, but to learn from experience so we don’t repeat the mistakes.

Polemics have been part of every revolutionary struggle, but they can be carried out in constructive or destructive ways. One lesson we should sum up from the 1970’s is the difference between the two. Exaggeration, false statements, writing people out of the movement, all these unprincipled methods of struggle are not worth the paper they are printed on. Frontline has apparently failed to learn from the past and is attempting to resurrect a style of debate that should have been left behind.

We suggest that the LOM put its primary effort toward stopping Reagan and the right and building the movement for socialism, and not toward self-serving diatribes against other left groups. The movement does not need the spectacle of left groups spending more time attacking each other than attacking the real enemy – the bourgeoisie. The movement has seen too much of this in the past.

Real and serious differences do divide our movement, and we have tried to respond to the substance of Frontline’?, accusations and to clarify and focus on the issues. While we can and should struggle over our differences, we should do so in a tone and manner that is restrained, constructive and educational for the mass movement.

Sarah Johnston is a member of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L).