Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 2, 2008

Support our Troops–Bring them home now!

Filed under: antiwar — louisproyect @ 5:32 pm

Although I am reluctant to devote any attention to the bizarre groupuscle on the U.S. left called the Socialist Workers Party, some recent research I have been doing on the Vietnam antiwar movement was in the back of my mind when I noticed this item from their newspaper, the Militant.

Support our troops’ slogan is concession to Washington’s prowar propaganda


The city council in Berkeley, California, rescinded a decision to send a letter to the Marine Corps Recruiting Station telling the recruiters they were “unwelcome intruders.”

The council adopted a resolution February 13 to “publicly differentiate between the city’s documented opposition to the unjust and illegal war in Iraq and our respect and support for those serving in the armed forces.” The resolution said, “We deeply respect and support the men and women in our armed forces.”

Advancing such a position is a disorienting concession to the U.S. government’s patriotic prowar propaganda. It strengthens Washington’s ability to wage war.

As far as I can tell, this sectarian position was first put forward in 1990 on the occasion of the first war with Iraq. Although the archives for the Militant do not go back as far as that year, there is a reference to the 1990 position in a 1998 article titled “Lessons For Today From The Working-Class Campaign Against 1990-91 Gulf War“:

In addition to the disorientation that can come from the propaganda of the bourgeois war makers, “individuals and currents from the petty bourgeoisie – sometimes because of the depth of their shock at the horrors of war, and their fear of the consequences -lose their moorings and get drawn into the undertow of one or another section of the war makers and their political parties,” the article by Barnes in the ISR explained. Resisting the patriotic pressures transmitted by these middle-class layers is of the utmost importance for class-conscious workers. One of the forms this pressure took before and during the Gulf War was the slogan, “Support our troops – bring them home,” put forward by many radicals and pacifists.

While many SWP veterans, including me, are generally aware that the slogan “Support our troops, bring them home now” was used during the Vietnam era, I think most of us assume that we favored something more sharp-edged like “Out Now”. As it turns out, we had no problems with the “support” slogan in the antiwar movement as this excerpt from Fred Halstead’s “Out Now!” illustrates. Back then, the real divide was over “now”, not “social patriotism”, as the Militant in its current ultraleft version would lead you to believe. Fred is referring to a workshop in an organizing conference for the October 21, 1967 March on the Pentagon:

The workshop on mass action adopted the march on Washington idea overwhelmingly, recommending the date of October 21 and the theme: “Support Our Boys in Vietnam—Bring Them Home!” (The original proposal was for “Bring Them Home Now!” But there were still some forces who objected to the inclusion of “now” in a central slogan. The SMC, however, used the “now” in its publicity and it produced the bulk of the posters, buttons, etc., advertising the event. By the time of the demonstration, the Mobilization Committee itself was including “now” with no objections.)

Here’s a photo by the late Brian Shannon that appears in Fred’s book:

In a recent discussion about the SWP on the yahoo mailing list I set up for a postmortem examination of this once important group on the left, Adam L. took note of the fact that the SWP’s only interest in today’s antiwar protests is as a place to sell books. Ironically, they don’t sell Fred Halstead’s:

As someone involved in the anti-war movement up to my eyeballs, I got a lot of value from re-reading Out Now, and it’s something I recommended to other activists, including people in our (now-defunct) Solidarity branch.

The SWP’s only involvement–quelle surprise–was to set up a literature table at these protests. The funny, yet sad, part? They didn’t even have Halstead’s book on the table.

I made a point in that discussion that applies here as well. When a left group revises an important part of their program, they owe the rest of the left and the working class an explanation of why they changed their line and why they had come to a wrong position to start with. This is not done in the spirit of Maoist self-criticism, but simply to educate the movement. I wrote:

That’s one of the really puzzling things about the SWP nowadays. It feels under no particular compulsion to answer anything, the cushy living standards of its proletarian leaders or line reversals. We used to laugh at the CPUSA in the 1960s as a party that was notorious for changing positions without explaining why. When Stalin signed a pact with Hitler, their line became pacifist. When Hitler invaded Russia, the line changed overnight to backing all-out war. People like us who have read the Militant in recent years were stunned by the idiotic line on Iraq when it first appeared, but just as stunned when that line was no longer defended. For all the loose talk about Bolshevism here, Lenin never would have allowed something like that to happen, nor Fidel Castro. Revolutionary parties are obligated to explain major policy shifts. What the SWP does, of course, is its own business but nobody should mistake it with the Bolsheviks or the Cuban CP.


  1. It’s really interesting that you have ignored every single message I have sent you challenging the article you wrote here – http://ghadar.insaf.net/April2005/MainPages/persecution.htm – and yet you continue to paste your poorly researched and factually inaccurate “article” online (for example, here: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2006/05/19/wilson). It’s truly ironic that you write about freedom of discussion, yet you are too afraid to engage in discussion of your own work. I won’t re-cap the facts you got wrong (I’ve already done this on a number of occasions with no response from you), but I will repeat my request – fix your work. There is nothing wrong with correcting mistakes in your writing. If you don’t, you’re as bad as Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz, who got the Rosenberg and Churchill stories screwed up in their book. Their mistakes, like yours, was due to a lack of research and their laziness in not speaking (or having a research assistant speak to me in their case) to see if what they were writing was accurate. In late 2004, before I was editor-in-chief of The Spectator and during a semester when I was not affiliated with the paper (this was the ONLY reason I spoke out), I expressed my opposition to Rosenberg’s invitation to speak. The next year after Professor Rabinowitz (with whom I have a good relationship) invited Ward Churchill to speak, I wrote about it in the paper in an unbiased way that actually gave more weight in the article to the pro-Churchill side. Would you criticize the NYT or the Washington Post for reporting on something that resulted in public sentiment that you felt was in opposition to your beliefs? I hope not. In this latter case, we would have what you seem to object to – a lack of serious, academic discussion and a freedom of speech that allows us to have free discussion. Horowitz and Malkin never corrected their mistakes. Will you be better than them and correct yours? If not (at this point I don’t really care), at least stop cutting and pasting an inherently flawed story online. I would welcome a response.

    Comment by Ian Mandel — March 4, 2008 @ 5:04 am

  2. Nothing about the SWP is as you knew it.

    When I returned to political activism, I was at a demonstration. An SWP leader here, asked me, “What do you think about Cuba? Che? That is their approach to the masses.

    They don’t reach out like they did in your time.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — March 4, 2008 @ 7:56 pm

  3. As standard Marxist theory holds that “The State” is “bodies of armed men” the SWP is technically correct on this. It’s a distinction that’s lost on 90% of working people who are opposed to the war, though. Just another justification for the SWP’s abstention from the movement.

    Comment by John B. — March 6, 2008 @ 11:39 am

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