“The highest honor” – imperialist and proletarian; and the war on Syria

According to many imperialist country patriots, the “highest honor” one can have is to fight and die for “my country”. You’ll find find this sentiment being expressed on TV, in church, in presidential statements, in movies, during speeches, on the radio, in homes and shopping malls, and many places of congregation. It is a sentiment believed by many conservatives and liberals alike, including those who oppose particular US imperialist wars and interventions. In the United States, it has attained the status of something like a state religion, and deviation from it is considered sacrilegious and “anti-American” (communists should recognize, by the way, these are both good things).

“Fighting and dying for [insert imperialist aggressor of choice] is the highest honor” is really, when you think about, incitement to violence against the Third World. It is a statement to the effect of, “I’m going to keep honoring someone’s direct involvement and participation in imperialist aggression, regardless of whether or not I agree with this aggression.” It is a statement that one will keep on honoring, and therefore facilitating, participation in imperialist war.

In truth, the sentiment is puerile trash, and Americans in particular need to be thoroughly disabused of it – for the highest honor that one can have is not to fight and die for one’s “own country” (i.e. imperialist bourgeoisie) but to fight and die for the masses oppressed by imperialism. There are many gradations beneath this highest universal honor that themselves far outshine the imperialist-chauvinists’ favorite “honor”. One of them was expounded by Lenin: to BETRAY one’s “own country” in its imperialist endeavors, and to work to bring about the DEFEAT of one’s “own country”.

This is as relevant now as ever, because even many “leftists” support imperialist war when done “for the right reasons”. These people seem to think that the Marxist-Leninist analysis of the class character of the state is “outdated” and that class questions, such as in whose class interests an imperialist war is being waged, somehow no longer matter very much when it comes to, say, the imperialist assault on Syria. These people implore “their” imperialist government to “do the right thing” and are in favor of “shaming our representatives” to “stop Assad” – i.e. to intensify the ongoing imperialist program of covert operations, sponsorship of terrorism, propaganda and economic sanctions by also topping it with open war. In so doing, they turn themselves into clowns and puppets for imperialism’s decades-long assault (really, genocide) against the people of the Middle East in the name of a narrow and stunted moralism that is divorced from a concrete analysis of class interest and regional struggle against imperialism, and that is replete with national chauvinism and white supremacist assumptions. These left-opportunist clowns want to “unite as one” behind “their” imperialist bourgeoisie and to put aside such trifling matters as class interest in order to help engage in something that will make them feel like they’re “doing the right thing”. If imperialist “regime change” can don a human face, then these left-opportunists are all for it, and are happy to couch everything against the backdrop of their imperialist privileges.

The rank opportunism of this crowd might appear to be an irritating but trivial sideshow if not for how grotesque and utterly steeped in imperial culture it really is (particularly in the consumerist “feel good” character of their self-righteous pronouncements). Many of these types are also petty-bourgeois intellectuals with comfortable jobs and salaries, who talk about socialist politics but reserve most of their ire against whatever government (or “regime”) just happens, ever so coincidentally, to be on imperialism’s hit-list at a given time. They are aghast at the prospect of revolution in their own countries, perhaps sensing – correctly – that their own platforms for pontificating on the moral “responsibilities” of imperialist states would be swiftly taken away from them by the dictatorship of the proletariat. Given their relatively comfortable existence derived largely from the spoils of imperialism, coupled with their soggy revisionism, it is quite natural that they will come to see the imperialist state as a potential vessel for carrying out their delusional pet projects, if only “enough of us can get together” to “shame the government to do the right thing” (i.e. to intensify what it is already doing against the people of the targeted country). But we have seen the results of the imperialist assaults on Iraq, Libya and Yemen, and these revisionist “Marxists” have no excuses left for their opportunism and the mass murder of workers that they helped unleash. Nevertheless, they still want to keep believing in fantasies about Syria’s “democratic opposition” and that imperialism will somehow stop being imperialism if “we can make our voices heard to help the people of Syria”, as though imperialism worked that way. This is historical idealism taken to its zenith – itself another sign of the petty-bourgeois origins of First World revisionism and “intellectual Marxism”, which lounges casually in its imperialist privilege, denies the need for revolution in the imperialist countries, comes to see the masses as something to hide from except when mobilized in the interests of imperialist war, and surely and unmistakably turns itself into the handmaiden of imperialism, national chauvinism and capitalist plunder.

Lenin warned the proletariat about the danger of going along with the left-opportunists and social-imperialists of his day, when he exposed and fought against the revisionist usurpers of socialist movements during the period of the First World War. In that infamous slaughter, many socialist parties in Europe declared fealty to “their” imperialist country and justified it on the basis that to oppose it would be in effect to support the imperialism of an opposing European power. But as Lenin pointed out, this is still imperialism! Lenin and the Soviet government were absolutely correct in immediately terminating Russia’s participation in this worthless bloodbath and signing a peace treaty with Germany, which gave the newly established worker’s state breathing space rather than uselessly hemorrhaging itself for the sake of “honor” or other twaddle. Current social-imperialists, revisionists and “Marxist” intellectuals, on the other hand, are at least a little more averse compared to their predecessors when it comes to expending the lives of “our boys”, but they are not above calling on NATO air power to enforce “safe zones”, and backing terrorist proxies to get the job done, hemorrhaging countless Syrians in the process and tearing apart the fabric of that society for the sake of “doing something about the brutal dictator Assad”. Once the dust settles and millions of lives are destroyed, ruined or traumatized, these intellectuals learn nothing and dutifully move onto the next imperialist bloodbath for which they behave as errand boys.

A handy rule of thumb is this: if you ever hear a socialist talking about “our military” or gushing about the “highest honor” of serving in an imperialist war, this person is a fake socialist and a vacuous chatterbox, capable only of leading the working class down the dead end of imperialist chauvinist politics and the meat grinder of imperialist slaughter, however garbed in a “socialist” veneer it might be. Challenge them on the question of WHY the war they defend or vacillate on is being waged; chances are, they’ll become glassy eyed and travel along the path of least resistance in the bourgeois political landscape they have grown comfortable navigating: jingoism and national pride in their imperialist terrorist state.

“I must argue, not from the point of view of ‘my’ country (for that is the argument of a wretched, stupid, petty-bourgeois nationalist who does not realize that he is only a plaything in the hands of the imperialist bourgeoisie), but from the point of view of my share in the preparation, in the propaganda, and in the acceleration of the world proletarian revolution. That is what internationalism means, and that is the duty of the internationalist, of the revolutionary worker, of the genuine Socialist.” V. I. Lenin

*the sense in which I am using the term “revisionism” does not refer to historical revisionism but to the trend within Marxism that deviates from and “revises” many of the key tenets of revolutionary Marxism, replacing them with liberal-democratic fads such as doing away with the need for revolution (in place of a “gradual transformation towards socialism” within the framework of bourgeois democracy and electoral politics), parliamentarism, a focus on developing the forces of production at the expense of transforming the relations of production, equating “socialism” with simple state ownership of control of certain enterprises, lack of clarity on the question of small privately owned businesses, lack of clarity on the necessity of economic planning by the dictatorship of the proletariat, and indeed a lack of clarity on the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat itself.

On the necessity of combating social-chauvinism/conservatism within progressive and revolutionary movements

We must firmly oppose and fight against social-chauvinist attitudes in the communist movement. Social-chauvinism in the hands of the peoples’ progressive organs of struggle is theoretical detritus dumped on the heads of the masses and a massive disservice to many comrades who are engaging in concrete struggles against atavistic/religious prejudice from the refuse of history. It is the continued persecution of homosexual, women and non-white comrades on the basis of atavistic trash. Social-chauvinism is the recreation of class divisions within the movement, it is the failure to tap into the contradictions of bourgeois society to broaden our ranks by drawing in people who are doubly or triply or quadruply exploited because of their skin color, nationality, gender or sexual preference. It is a lack of seriousness in the politics of revolution and is really just acquiescence to “traditionalist” and religious refuse from the sewer of human history. It is the implacable enemy of emancipation; it is the retention of class oppression within the household; it is the embodiment of irrational and anti-scientific notions; it is the lurid expression of base desires and catering to the lowest common denominator. It is rummaging in filth in the attempt to elevate garbage on the basis of ugly male bluster and bravado. It is assistance lent to the bourgeoisie, who are either lent a helping hand in further persecuting segments of the working class in the interests of dividing us against one another, or of casting themselves as the saviors of those segments of the working class (and therefore of casting the peoples’ revolutionary organs as the real reactionaries). It is, in many ways, really a way to tell the working class to drop dead.

For these reasons, a commitment to social-chauvinism and conservatism is a commitment to turning ourselves into a joke in the eyes of the masses. It is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and to hand victory on a platter to the bourgeoisie. It is to defile ourselves as revolutionaries who serve the people and to become traitors who confuse the people, waste their time and deliver them to fascist politicians who then take up where we left off in peddling moral and theoretical detritus.

To oppose someone on the basis of their sexuality is to oppose them for no good reason; it is to cater to atavistic, feudal and religious backwardness, at the expense of and over and above the revolutionary vitality of the present movement. It is to dilute and fail to draw upon the resentments that capitalist society produces, on the thoroughly reactionary basis of attempting to preserve for oneself the benefits of the class relations that these oppressions embody. It is to behave like pitiful petty-bourgeois foot soldiers who expect their “due” for hardships suffered in the course of the revolution, and at the expense of other human beings and comrades who they should have been united with in common struggle in the first place.

Social-chauvinism, in short, is poison; utter, unambiguous, vile poison. It is a Trojan Horse laying in plain site, invited into our camp and ready to spring on us the seeds of our own defeat and to help perpetuate the hegemony of capital.

Social-chauvinism within the communist movement is a form of rank opportunism and tailism: tailing behind whatever sentiments the working class may have at a particular moment in order to curry their favor in the here and now, rather than developing the revolutionary consciousness of the working class and linking the short term to the long term.

As Lenin noted:

The opportunist does not betray his party, he does not act as a traitor, he does not desert it. He continues to serve it sincerely and zealously. But his typical and characteristic trait is that he yields to the mood of the moment, he is unable to resist what is fashionable, he is politically short-sighted and spineless. Opportunism means sacrificing the permanent and essential interests of the party to the momentary, transient and minor interests.” —V. I. Lenin, “The Russian Radical is Wise After the Event” (Oct. 18, 1906), LCW 11:239.

Let’s not have racist communists who will fight the class war only to fight a race war. Let’s not have sexist communists who will fight the class war only to reassert their feudal “rights” as men to keep women down, to maintain women in their “roles”, to cast domestic violence as a “private” matter. Let’s not have homophobic communists who will fight the class war only to call for and act as enforcers for hetero-supremacy. Therefore, to all those who are reading this, I say: resolutely work to expose and overcome conservative and reactionary deviations in your movements. Work to overcome that which dilutes the revolutionary and emancipatory character of peoples’ organs of popular struggle. If you see a male comrade making lurid remarks about women comrades, or a white comrade making belittling remarks about “SJWs” or denigrating black and Latino workers as “anti-white”, patiently but clearly explain why their position is a poison to the cause they claim to be championing. Explain why, in the long term, their position is self-destructive and strategically stupid.

Having said all that, please understand what I am NOT saying: I am not saying that because we support women’s emancipation, the rights of homosexuals and an end to racism, that we should support bourgeois imperialist politicians donning the mantle of these causes. We should not degenerate into imperial chauvinists when, for example, Hillary Clinton makes some pronouncement about women’s liberation. We should never side with imperialism, no matter what humanitarian or progressive garb it is wearing. As Che said: imperialism is not to be trusted, not one iota! We should never side with “our” imperialism against the comparatively minor imperialism of the Russian state on the basis of support for persecuted homosexuals in Russia. Women’s rights, homosexual’s rights, the rights of people of color: none of these causes should ever be beholden to support for imperialism. We support the struggles of the Russian working class, but we do not support all of its backward ideas. We support the struggles of homosexuals and women in Russia, the struggles of revolutionaries fighting to bring clarity on the questions to the Russian masses, but not by hiding behind “our” imperialist governments’ military confrontations with Russia. It is the duty of all communists to oppose, undermine and bring about the defeat of the imperialist wars waged by “our” imperialists. We ruthlessly oppose the bourgeois notion that the highest honor is to serve “one’s own” imperialist country. As the Indian Maoist peoples’ armed forces say, “To die for the masses is loftier than Mt. Everest! To die for the exploiters is lighter than a feather!” Those of us who live in the imperialist centers must serve the victims of imperialism and those under its foot at the expense of the interests of “our” imperialist bourgeoisie; when we begin aligning with and cheering on the imperialist bourgeoisie, we become despicable traitors to the world’s masses, enemies of humanity and worthless renegades more concerned with our own comfort and well-being than with the emancipation of the world’s masses.

Finally, I am NOT saying that racial and sexual politics should take “precedence” over class politics. I am saying that in our struggles, in our recruitment efforts, in our agitation and propaganda, we should stress the relations between race, sex and class and how these inter-penetrate; we should explain and reveal to the working class (and make concrete to them through their own experiences) how class relations produce racist and sexist attitudes and how these attitudes in turn reinforce and buttress class oppression and exploitation. A crude and exclusive class determinism and focus is as inappropriate for guiding the work of an authentic revolutionary communist party and movement as one that smothers over class realities in favor of a cozy accommodation with imperialists who dangle identity politics in front of women, homosexuals and people of color in order to curry their favor. We oppose all such opportunist trends. We are for identity politics, but not just any identity politics; we are for an identity politics that properly situates class and imperialism in relation to class and sex, that listens to and prioritizes the struggles of the most marginalized and oppressed, that brings their perspectives into our movement and gives those people who are multiply oppressed by capitalism, sexism and social-chauvinism a leading role in these movements, rather than dancing around their experiences as “something that the working class doesn’t give a shit about” (note also that the latter sentiment is in fact a contemptuous slur against the working class, in painting it as a social force that cares only for its own immediate material satisfaction. Yes, the working class may at present be mostly concerned with its own immediate problems, but this is nothing to emulate; it is a thoroughly reactionary, bourgeois perspective instilled into the working class in the course of living in a bourgeois society, and that is something that we must fight resolutely to overturn. The point, from the perspective of revolutionary Marxism, is to fight to turn the working class into a force for universal emancipation rather than merely one that aims to put food on its table, pay its medical bills and then be done for the day. Otherwise, we just end up handing the working class over to gutter racist trash like Donald Trump who promises to be “pro-working class” through the lure of pigging out at the imperial trough, “bringing back jobs” and destroying the environment. And what’s the message there? That it’s alright for the working classes in the imperialist centers to benefit from the plunder and oppression of the semi-colonial countries so long as American workers (white heterosexual ones, at least) can pay their electricity bills and put food on the table? No, this is simply imperial-chauvinist opportunism, something that binds one to the imperialist bourgeoisie, whether one votes for an atavistic garbage monster like Trump or for a reformist-liberal “socialist” like Bernie Sanders (who aims to open the imperial franchise to people of color).

The only remedy, the only consistent and truly universal and emancipatory program for doing away with racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, religious-chauvinism and capitalism is to unite the working class around a revolutionary movement and party that focuses on all issues that affect it, encompassing both “strictly economic” problems, to problems having to do with race, sex, culture and other forms of identity, and to link all of this to the question of imperialism. A revolutionary checklist would have to ensure that:

1) If the movement is focusing on economic problems but ignoring and even belittling other problems, and taking social-conservative and chauvinist takes on them, it needs to be rectified.

2) If it is focusing on issues of race and sex but ignoring those of class, it needs to be rectified.

3) If it is addressing both social and economic problems faced by the working class, but airbrushing over the core question of imperialism, it needs to be rectified.

If these negative currents are not fixed, these movements will collapse, become diverted to serving reactionary and/or imperialist ends, and will become useless husks in so far as revolutionary politics are concerned, mere playthings in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Those who fail to heed these warnings are themselves taking a bourgeois stand by refusing to engage with material reality and instead mistaking their personal wishes and prejudices for reality. They are partaking in soothing delusions about the task at hand by cutting corners and doing shoddy workmanship on the vehicle of communist politics. The working class doesn’t need any more soothing delusions in this world of imperialist war, environmental despoliation, brutal and hateful class divisions and theoretical muddle; it needs a strategic outlook that brings a scythe to bear against all backward and bourgeois trash and binds together all progressive social struggle into a colossal fist to smash this disgusting capitalist system, and all its filth, once and for all.