Notes on Third Campism and liberal interventionism

1. Read the series of posts on Libya at Lady Poverty: 1234.

2. Read Kellie on Eammon McCann’s reminiscences in Socialist Worker of his meeting with Gaddafi in 1987.

3. An extract from Boffy’s comments at Though Cowards Flinch:

However, the problem I still have is that if you argue that workers intervnetion is alright up to a point, but given our weaknesses at the moment, there is a limit to what they can achieve, you still end up with the “Something Must Be Done” argument. The point is that sometimes doing nothing other than what you can do, which might simply be saying what should be done if workers had the power to do it, is better than doing something, which is a lesser evil.

For example, a while ago, I wrote some blogs about the AWL’s position taken from Albert Glotzer about the establishment of the state of Israel. Glotzer & ImmigrationGlotzer & The Jews As Special, and Glotzer, anti-Semitism and the degenerated workers state. Glotzer argued that the socialist position argued up to that time that nationalist struggles were reactionary and divisive of the working class could no longer hold for the Jews after the Holocaust. Jews could not wait for the working-class to come together and resolve the problem. Only the Zionist idea of creeating a separate Jewish State could address the immediate concerns of Jews. Something had to be done. It was a moral not a Marxist argument.

But, as I have set out, what that moral argument actually set up was the situation we face today of a sectarian Israeli State, and 6 decades of bloodshed and war between that state and the surrounding Arab States. Precisely what Marxists had argued, that such solutions based on a moral imperative to do something, has led to the very conditions of international divisions of the working class, and strengthening of reactionary ideas on both sides, and of the role of Imperialism in the Middle East. Ironically, the very same Third Campist, subjectivist argument that something must be done, that there is no time to wait for the working-class to provide a lasting solution, is used by the other side of the coin of that same Third Campist tendency. The SWP, argue in exactly the same way that Glotzer did, to argue that faced with terrible oppression and atrocities committed against them by Israel, “something must be done”, to assuage the plight of the Palestinians. The same argument about not waiting for the working class to provide that solution is what leads the Third Campist SWP to support the reactionary, anti-working class forces of Hamas, and other “anti-imperialist” forces, that lead the Third Campist Glotzer and his supporters in the AWL to proceed from the idea that “something must be done”, to the conclusion that the solution had to be found not from the workers but by supporting the reactionaries within Zionism, and “Democratic Imperialism”.

Down this road lies only ruin, and the dead end of ambulance chasing after atrocities. It is a moral imperative that can offer no strategic solution for the working class, which has to focus upon its own long term interests.[…]

I was speaking about the “Third Camp” as an ideological trend. The term itself was used by Lenin in relation to arguing for support for the workers rather than lining up with either of the two contending Imperialist Camps. But, as Trotsky pointed out its use by Burnham and Shachtman and the petit-bourgeois faction within the SWP was meaningless, precisely because in reality there are always far more than just three camps within global politics. It was used as an excuse by this trend not to defend the USSR against Imperialism, a decision they had taken on the basis of their subjectivist analysis, and aversion to the Totalitarian regime of Stalinism. It was this methodological basis of the trend which called itself the “Third Camp”, which as Trotsky pointed out ensured that ultimately they would end up in the Camp of the bourgeoisie, precisely because it meant they had given up on the working class.

On the question of Glotzer its necessary to separate out different things. Would a Marxist have separated themselves from the Jews in the Ghetto because they adopted a position they thought was wrong? No, absolutely not! But, would a Marxist continue to argue against a course of action they thought was wrong? Yes, of course. Arguing for solutions based upon the working-class is not the same as arguing that individual problems can only be resolved by the revolution. Take the situation of a nuclear power plant that is about to be built, and is facing large scale opposition. If the construction workers can be persuaded to stop work that is one method of relying upon the workers that does not require waiting for the revolution. A year or so ago, US dockworkers blacked work on war materials for Iraq. Workers in South Africa also blacked arms from China destined for Mugabe. These are solutions based on direct action by workers rather than relying on bourgeois states or institutions.

A shop steward in a weakly organised workplace might find that a worker having been unfairly dismissed seeks to remedy the situation by going to a Tribunal. A marxist would argue against such a course of action, pointing out that the solution lies with mobilising their fellow workers in the workplace. If that doesn’t happen, and the worker still wants to go to the Tribunal, the steward would go along with them, but would use the experience to expose the biased nature of the Tribunals, and to argue for the building up of workplace strength to avoid that situation in future. In a dispute where the workers could win, but were becoming weary, a Marxist would oppose with all their might the intervention of the State to propose “neutral” arbitration and so on.

There are lots of examples of this. At Lyndsey Oil Refinery, the SP opposed the demands being raised for “British Jobs For British Workers”, but their comrades on the ground in supporting the strike, were able to get these demands dropped. Trotsky in the Proletarian Military Policy argued that Marxists had to oppose WWII, but he argued that without the revolution the Capitalists would have their war, and workers would go to fight. Under those conditions he said, whilst continuing to oppose the war, continuing to argue that Fascism and Democratic Imperialism were just two masks of the same Imperialism, Marxists would sign up, attempt to be the best soldiers, and thereby win the confidence and support of the other soldiers to win them to the idea of turning it into a Civil War against their own bosses. It does not mean waiting for the revolution, but framing your immediate solutions around attempts to mobilise the working-class rather than reliance on, or acquiescence in the role of alien class forces.

In his writings on the National Question as it applied within the Tsarist Empire, Lenin always emphasised the need to build class unity across borders above the nationalistic demands for self-determination. Within the Labour Movement Lenin argued there was no place for such divisions or concessions. But, it was precisely on this basis, and thereby demanding at the level of the State a struggle for basic democratic rights for Minorities that should a separation of states become necessary, the best possible conditions for bringing that about would have been created.

If I were a Marxist in Libya today there are a number of things I would concern myself with. Firstly, I would want to know exactly what the character of the rebellion in Benghazi amounts to. What are the class forces involved, what are their politics. For example, my attitude towards the annihilation of the remnants of Hitler’s regime in Berlin in 1945, is completely different to the annihilation of thousands of people in Leningrad by the Nazis. I don’t take positions on moral, but on political grounds. To that extent the post by Mark E. over at the Commune, is educative. As I have written elsewhere my concern is with the working-class, and I have no desire to tie the workers interests to these alien classes, or for the workers to be defending these groups who tomorrow will have no compunction about massacring the workers.

To that extent were I a Marxist in Benghazi, besides probably needing to keep your head down to avoid being killed by both sides of this Civil War, my focus would be on the workers and their organisations there, and trying to build them up independently of the alien class forces. It would be to try to link those workers up with workers organisations internationally, and to try to provide them with arms. Depending upon the nature of the other class forces, it may be possible for the workers to ally with the other forces fighting in the area. As a Marxist outside Libya, my only contribution can be to try to do the same thing, to argue for workers internationally to support the workers in Libya, and to argue against the involvement of Imperialism into the Civil War. The fact, that currently the weakness of the Labour Movement makes this ineffective is not an argument against putting forward the correct strategy, any more than weakness in a workplace is an argument against workers direct action to resolve a problem rather than reliance on an Industrial Tribunal.

On Ossetia, I think the AWL position was correct. But, that is precisely the point. They adopted a correct position of opposing the Russian intervention DESPITE the fact that an ongoing massacre of Ossetians was taking place at the hands of the Georgian butchers. Yet, they take the opposite position when it comes to US intervention in Libya or in Serbia. I don’t know on what basis you think the Georgian massacres in Ossetia were not significant! Nor should it be a matter of numbers as to whether intervention is justified. This is a question of principles not mathematics. Nor am I bothered about who started the fighting. The only reason I raised the point that the EU had itself pinned the blame on the Georgians was to point out that even though that was the case, I still would have opposed the Russian intervention. It would be interesting to know in what sense you think that Georgia were in the right to launch its attacks on the South Ossetians. I am using the term “genocidal” in the normal sense it has now, of large scale attacks on a particular group, rather than an attempt to wipe out a people.

I also don’t know on what basis you think I overeggerate the attacks on Serbs. They were virtually completely ethnically cleansed from the Krajina. There have been a number of documentaries about the role of the KLA in Kosovo, who were backed by the US, and who engaged in a lengthy campaign of kidnapping and burning of Serbs. Moreover, since the takeover of Kosovo by the Albanians there has been widespread ethnic cleansing of Serbs from most of Kosovo. See Here.

But, the point is that it is precisely this kind of cherry picking of atrocities to say oh this atrocity isn’t as bad as that atrocity, which Trotsky was criticising in the quote that the AWL provided from Trotsky about standing by while blood thirsty bastards get about murdering people. A Marxist position can only be based upon principle, not some kind of moralistic position of choosing sides on the basis of who might be a lesser evil, rather more democratic or whatever. We are opposed to massacres of innocent civilians, especially workers, and we are for building a workers response to it.

See also: Loose talkWhere Failure To Oppose Imperialist Intervention Leads YouPopular Revolt & Civil WarThe Politics of Pontius Pilate. And at The Commune: Imperialist intervention in Libya: a debate.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Comrade,

    Thank you for your coverage of these posts. I think this is an important discussion, and signifies the need for the Left to clarify its ideas in some of these basic issues of Marxism.

  2. […] Notes on Third Campism and liberal interventionism ( […]

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