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COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

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MORE FUZZY THOUGHTS FROM THE DOCTRINAIRE LEFT

A Lesson in Kautskyism and Betrayal

by Jose G. Perez

Carl Davidson, who used to be a leftist of some note and notoriety, and is a member of the National Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, has collapsed under the pressure of the imperialist offensive and is offering his services as an advisor to the US campaign against terrorism.

Writing on the portside mailing list (which---my opinion---seems to be listing to starboard rather heavily nowadays), Davidson argues that September 11 was an attack on "two Americas" namely and to wit, "the America of Empire" and "The America of Popular Democracy."

(The full post---for those who can stomach it---is here:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/portside/message/1688)

Now, the rhetorical device of speaking about "the two Americas" is a time-honored one among revolutionaries going back at least to the times of Eugene Debs. It is especially useful at moments like these, when the country is gripped by a fevered bloodlust and hysteria, to counter charges of lack of patriotism and the like. But people forget it is just that, a rhetorical device, at their peril. Those who start to imagine that the really ARE two Americas are invariably lost to the revolutionary cause for good. Because there are most decidedly NOT two Americas. There is ONE America, a very specific social, economic and political formation, the very heart and soul of the world imperialist system.

Like a good Kautskyite, Carl Davidson believes the current U.S. policy is a "mistake."

"The White House and the media immediately described the hijackings and attacks as acts of war, and that the required U.S. response was to wage war in return," he writes, sagely opining, "This was their first mistake."

Not, he assures us, because it wasn't an act of war but because "it ceded to the terrorists exactly what they were trying to do: provoke a holy war between the U.S. and militant Islam."

Davidson urges instead an alternative policy:

"A better approach for our America is to name the Sept 11 events as a crime against humanity, a crime that has evoked a national and international security emergency. Because of its scope, all necessary forces-police, civil authority, national guard, intelligence and military, here and abroad-should be mobilized to deal with it. But the insistence on the criminal character of the perpetrators is required, not only to deny them a political victory, but also to frame further action and response within the duties, limitations and constraints of law, national and international."

Davidson's dispute with Bush seems to be on a couple of levels:

First, there is a truth in labeling issue: this is a police action that should not be foisted on the public as a war.

Second, there is the matter of the "duties, limitations and contraints" to be followed in carrying out this war, I mean police action. But as for the essence of the matter, he is in full solidarity with Bush: this is a "security emergency" and all "necessary forces" ought to be "mobilized to deal with it."

He insists the war, I mean police action, OUGHT to be   carried out:

"How to stop and defeat this danger is the principal question on the minds of the American people. It can't be ignored or set aside by any progressive force working for peace that wants to be taken seriously.  

We may not yet have all or even a substantial part of the answers to the questions involved, but we must do our best to deal with it.

Refusal to include a focus against al-Quaida's terrorism as a critical part of the struggle for peace dooms the movement, at best, to irrelevancy and failure."

Davidson goes on to argue at some length that he knows how to run the campaign against Al Qaida better than Bush. He urges people "to focus on the hard right ... rather than, say, imperialism generally" to bring about "the military defeat of the present immediate danger, al-Quaida."

The revolutionary working class has a decidedly DIFFERENT opinion about "the present immediate danger." It isn't Osama Bin Laden who is starving working people the world over, raping the land, denying shelter to the homeless, medicine to the sick and dignity to the dying.

A couple of days ago on the Marxism list I saw a post querying about how to characterize Al Qaida. It seems to me a correct understanding begins with viewing them as an etreme expression of imperialist decay, and in a fairly direct way: it is very revealing that the groups charged with doing September 11 were originally trained by the CIA. But is also true in a more general and deeper way, imperialism is pushing the Third World back towards barbarism. It is doing so through the "automatic" mechanisms of the imperialist world economic system, and to such a degree that it is no longer just Fidel saying that the current world economic and social order inunsustainable;

Just a few days ago I heard the head of the World Bank making the same argument in an interview with CNN, including the point that it is illusory to think that the "West"---the imperialist countries---can somehow isolate themselves from being affected by the growing catastrophe.

The discussion now beginning among some in imperialist circles about returning to old-style colonialism is, in my opinion, deadly serious, and seeks to address this problem. "Nation building" is failing across the entire third world. The operation of the economic mechanisms of the imperialist system simply do not allow sufficient resources to remain in country for any such luxuries. The U.S. and company may succeed in taking apart Al Qaida, but even so, given current world conditions there are going to be more Al Qaidas, because there is going to be even more misery and despair.

The policy advocated by Davidson of trying to nudge imperialism towards being a little bit more democratic, a little more social, a little less greedy, a little less heartless and soulless and cruel, is self-defeating. The problem is NOT the excesses of the worst imperialists, but the automatic operation of the imperialist system itself.

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The problem with Davidson's position is that it fails to recognize that the primary planter of terrorism in the world today is the CIA and NSC, and that its ideological seed-bed is extreme reaction. Ideology does not spring into the world without a class base. Ideas reflect the interests and prejudices of a class, and the ideas of terrorism are the transport of capitalist ideology into nominally anti-capitalist movements. The working classes of people have no interest in racism, religious fanaticism, sexism or reactionary nationalism.

The dialectic of the situation is that US imperialism, a.k.a. "Empire", through its intelligence agencies, eagerly promote such ideas among its enemies and actively organize and arm them against their own people. That these adventures blow back on them occasionally actually can actually serve their purpose, as in the current situation demonstrates in the drive toward fascist-like measures within the US (secret, undocumented arrests and detentions, a la Pinochet, for example). The movement must support the legitimate demand of the people for government action against terrorism.   Carl Davidson is right about this. But he fails to link his position with the reality that progressive support means demanding that the government extirpate the authors of terrorism, and defend democracy in the US.   There can be no progressive struggle against terrorism without struggle against the chief terrorists, who are here. If we're not clear on this, then we'll be severely hobbled.

Ted Pearson  ##

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